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The Road

The Road


I'm new to the site and recently got back into roleplaying once i realised there was a lot of activity through forums. It hadn't popped into my noggin before.

Anyway, i've started to craft a world based on Cormac Mcarthy's post apocalyptic gut wrencher 'The Road', and i have been coming across some problems.

Firstly the actual world is fine to deal with, stark and grey yes, but scattered with interesting places to explore. The problem i'm having is just the lack of action simply because the lack of humans still around. I am trying to craft something quite minimal, and i would be happy to slowly develop a character in this environment without any crazy skills, but would any other players want this.

I was just wondering if any other GMs had experience of creating a very realistic minimal world, and how it went down with there players. Is the act of simply surviving not exciting enough? is the lack of NPC contact a problem.

Any advice greatly appreciated.


"Survival" games can be, in my experience, difficult to run. Most players (for the D&D crowd, anyway) expect to fight monsters, get treasure, and thwart enemies (be they good or evil). Running a game where the goal is simply to survive can be a challenge. If you do it correctly, however, it can be a great game.

I am not familiar with this series personally (at least, I don't think so, the author's name sounds familiar...), but if there are few humans, then what pushes the story forward? In most "survival" stories, if the protagonist is not opposed to some intelligent life form, there are only a few other options:
  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Machine (only a slight variation of Man vs. Man)
  • Man vs. Monster (again, usually a simply variation of Man vs. Man)
  • Man vs. Himself (inner conflict, but this would make for an unexciting role-playing game in most of the standard senses)
  • Man vs. Nature (in a looser sense, Nature simply refers to the environment, including urban cities and the depths of space)

It looks like this last one is what you want. If you intend to run a 'traditional' style RPG (traditional, here, referring to one in which the players have both combat and non-combat encounters, and in which victory over said encounters provides some reward, whether it is loot, an escape, or at least some experience points), I suggest creating at least some sort of small settlement of people. It could be anything from a small village to a simple farmhouse where the players can return and rest, trade goods, etc. It is certainly possible to run a campaign without this, but you will need to make sure that the players have access to food, water, weapons, supplies, etc. in some other manner. Perhaps they stumble across a hidden (well, not hidden any longer) cache of equipment.

Also, the mechanics of such a game would be significantly different than any system with which I am familiar. The D&D 3.5 rules have very little to say about food, water, and sleep, other than explaining that most kinds of creatures require these things. You will need to modify and adapt these rules if you intend to run a survival game, or simply use a different system (unfortunately, I have few suggestions here).

So, to wrap up my overly long post, I'll say this:
  1. This sounds like a Man vs. Nature game
  2. The focus should probably be gathering/purifying food and water and collecting other necessary supplies.
  3. You should consider at least a few NPCs, even if it is just a single family in a farmhouse.
  4. D&D and d20 are not built to handle this kind of mechanic (eating, drinking, and sleeping). However, d20's Wealth system would work well as an abstract bartering skill, if you decide to use some NPC interaction.

And finally, a thought that just occurred to me, this game would be much easier to run in large tim increments, rather than small. Every week the PCs might have to trek out into the wilderness to find food for next week, making appropriate skill checks or bringing down a bear in a straight fight. You don't need to alter the mechanics too much for this, no- to low-magic D&D would work or the d20 Modern classes could be adapted. Although I suggest looking for a more appropriate system or playing a rules-lite game.

If you provide more details on what you are looking for, I would be happy to help more.

Thanks, thats some good advice.

i wanted to play on the paranoia that is created in the book (read it by the way) and the distrust between people (read the book) and the fear that the protagonist have meaning they have to run and hide from what some people have become (have you ordered it on amazon yet).

So what you have is a world were some people have gone bad to survive, but still low level when there on there own, constant starvation, survial skills, morality issues. Just very real life after the bomb. I'm just concerned people might find it dull if they aren't in thunderdome and its raining all the time.

I think there could be some puzzle challenges for survival. eg, if only we had a strong enough rope we could get up to the top of the barn to the doodah where theres all that lovely food.
But it would also be a character evolution game where the interactions between people would develop the stroyline and maybe some good writing.

Personally id love the bleakness of it all...pity i have have to GM.

For what you're talking about, it's important you get the right players. I personally want to be a hero (or villain as the case may be) when I'm gaming (which is one reason I tend to shy away from neutral alignments, but that's another issue), and a game where the goal is mostly subsistence, I would lose interest quickly. When looking for players, make certain to take a lot of time and effort into conveying the tone and goals of the game--this is important in any kind of recruitment scenario of course, but for your game doubly so. The wrong player will lose interest and vanish quickly in this kind of game. The right players are always important, but I think you're going to find that for this type of game, you'll have a much more limited pool of suitable players to choose.

Also, have you put thought into what system you'll be using for this? Or if you'll be using a system at all? I'm mostly a d20/DnD guy, but if I were trying to DM something like this I personally wouldn't get anywhere near the d20 systems I'm familiar with. WoD miiiiight work for this--certainly much better suited to it than d20/DnD--but I'm not sure. I don't have a wide breadth of system knowledge, so I'd suggest you ask around on this. Unless you want to go freeform, which might be the best way to do this in the end.

I like character-driven stories, and you have the opportunity for that here in spades. The thing is, even if they're not in combat all the time, the battle for survival can still be, well - a battle.

For instance - it's post-apocalyptic, right? What did that do to the weather systems? What if they now have four seasons: Hurricane, flash flood, tornado, and fire? Now suddenly you take the theme of Man vs. Nature and give them something to contend with. It's conflict, in some cases combat as they literally battle nature.

You mentioned other people who struggle to survive and do bad things. What if there's a group of them, led by a crazed leader? Your heroes need to find ways to survive if they encounter them, too.

Also, keep in mind goals. Your characters/players will have goals - what are they? Are they trying to get back to the way things were? Are they trying to carve out a place where they can survive in peace? What are they looking to accomplish? That can help shape your story. Most characters in most games aren't driven with long-term goals of constant kobold-killing. Most have a larger or long-term goal - use that to shape what they do and what challenges stand before them.

If they want to create a conclave of people working together in peace to keep each other safe and happy and healthy, force them to figure out how they're going to establish such a thing. Will they have a leader? How does hunting/gathering work? Where will they get food from? How will they make advancements?

You could make this very open-ended depending on the people, because well - isn't that the point? After the apocalypse, wouldn't we want to establish some way for the human race to survive?

Pretty much anything I could say would echo the sentiments of everyone who's come before, but I can't stress enough that you have to have the right types of players. You will have to have players who can think critically, roleplay, and take the ball and run with it when the situation calls for it.

The hard part about such a game (though it sounds cool as hell, quite frankly), is you have to give your players some kind of conflict in order to make it interesting for them. And while the environment can give some of that conflict, as most literature shows, the most entertaining conflict is between people (or in the case of D&D, monsters). And while it would be great if your players could develop conflict amongst each other, you can't always count on them doing it. Too many RPG players are stuck in the mindset of "overcome what the GM throws at you" to create conflict within the group of their own volition This game sounds like it will be more of an exercise in creative story telling than an actual game, so in order to pull it off, you'll have to be very selective with your players.

Just my two cents

Originally Posted by ceefax View Post
i wanted to play on the paranoia that is created in the book (read it by the way) and the distrust between people (read the book) and the fear that the protagonist have meaning they have to run and hide from what some people have become (have you ordered it on amazon yet).
I'm going to start by putting out there how important it is, as a DM, to realize that the players are major parts of the game. They are co-writing the story alongside of you.

If a player does something, or sets some sort of goal, create challenges for that character to overcome to reach that goal or create situations that come from that character doing something. As an example, lets say a character kills a man for the man's food - the man had a son, who he was going to bring that food back to. This son now wants revenge - it's a bit cliche, but it's an encounter that shows that the PC's have an effect on the world.

You probably already realize this, but I want to highlight that before going on to the next part.

So you want your campaign to have paranoia? Here is a tip that I have read on another site; have some characters find notes or some sort of information that they would want to keep to themselves, but make sure the other PCs see that they have found such a thing (or you could bank on them Meta-gaming. Go-go Player Hive Mind!). If the player doesn't share the information, then the distrust between the party will have started.

How could this kind of situation start? The players are starving, and one finds a note to a cache of food. (S)he realizes that it will last him 3-4 days if he kept it to himself, or if he decided to share w/ the others it would last 1 day. In this case, even though the food won't last long either way, the player will generally want that fall-back of having 3 more days to find more food in order to survive.

After the first two days, you can drop hints (via some sort of perception check) to the other players that 'player A' doesn't seem to be as hungry as they are, and seems to be doing somewhat okay lately. This will instill a sense of betrayal at the withheld food-source (if they recognize that he is withholding such a thing), and they will likely start to do the same to each other, since they now know that it is a free-for-all. This kind of situation, if you are lucky, can spiral until they mark each other as rivals and are at each other's throats.

As another plot-hook, you can have the players be a group of individuals who have found quite a good source for food. The problem; another group(s) heard of this. They can approach certain individuals of the PC group and try to subvert them; perhaps by offering to let that player have the largest share of food, which would likely be split evenly amongst the group of PCs, or something of the sort.

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