Making an Isolated Theme Work


  • Coder

    Most of the apocalyptic games I've played on have suffered from what I'll dub Isolation Syndrome. When new players arrive, there's no easy place for them to arrive from. They often have to play the "I've been here all along, really" card, which can be awkward for a new person. When players inevitably idle out, there's nowhere for them to go. You're forced to roster/NPC them or kill them off.

    I've had some experience managing these types of themes, but I'm looking for other peoples' insights. What's worked well, what hasn't?

    (Btw, "never run a game like this" is not very constructive. It's just the only option for some themes.)



  • How do new characters get introduced in post-apocalyptic settings? They're travelers met on the road or tied to a settlement the wandering protagonists find.


  • Politics

    @faraday said:

    I've had some experience managing these types of themes, but I'm looking for other peoples' insights. What's worked well, what hasn't?

    I can only go with anecdotal evidence, but I think @Sovereign has a point there. If you want to allow PCs to come in "that have always been there," creating a roster of the extant population by concept might work.



  • @faraday I'm pretty much in the favor of a roster if you're playing with a closed group, or at least roster idled out characters (which I know some players would be very not okay with, since it's their baby that only they could play right etc). I would be adverse to not using a roster in a truly closed population where the only answer is 'they were there all along', especially if the population is thematically too small to really vanish into. I think this is one of those settings where there can be a real problem of scale. Like obviously if it's a game where there's only a hundred people dropped on a desert island, eventually the numbers would run out for character generation slots. I personally would just avoid that particular subset of these games in favor of a less defined number unless someone really wanted to go full out roster for it.



  • Depending on how large an influx of new people you're looking at, one can always Deus Ex Machina a new person into the Isolation group. Happens all the time with movies and shows. Another plane crashed on the deserted island, a small group of hikers found the crazy cannibal's cabin, someone got hit on the head and woke up inside the dome, etc. There's a neverending supply of excuses for bringing people in that -haven't- 'been here all along'. :)


  • Coder

    I do not "get" roster systems. That is, I don't understand how a likely complete change of personality and experience when characters are swapped out aids the game more than it might hamper setting and consistency.

    It works great short-term--a LARP setup where character to player still has a 1:1 ratio--but long term not so much.



  • @Thenomain I've had mixed experiences. The problem I encountered was actually more the opposite of what you'd expect. More serious roleplayers are more worried like, 'Oh god am I going to play the character as well as the last guy, or am I going be thought of as the shitty version of X? Am I going to be able to do as good a job?' It's more -that- problem than the incongruous person that wants to totally revamp a personality and play it dramatically different than the last guy. And everyone kind of tries to pitch in to make the new person acclimated to it and tries to reassure them that no, they do not suck at the beloved character.

    But when you think about it, it actually makes sense- if everyone is talking about how they loved X character and they were so fun and beloved for X, Y, Z, more people are going to be nervous about living up to that than thinking, 'oh shit yeah brah, that guy is a stat monster woo' or at least their application for the role might not really show a great understanding of the character.



  • I see the roster thing described here more or less like the feature characters on a superhero game. There seems to be some implicit understanding that there will be some differences in the way A plays Superman vs. how B is going to do it; this strikes the same chord.

    I also think @Miss-Demeanor pretty much nails it in cases in which you have a group of people apping in together. LOST and The Walking Dead have a lot of good examples for this alone, and there's enough in the genre to provide more options.

    Some policy has an impact here, too:

    • Whether you plan to allow alts on the game, and
    • if you plan to allow group apps to be handled distinctly from solo apps.

    For instance, you could have a requirement that a first solo character needs to be taken from the roster, but a second can 'come in new' with a group once the player has found people they enjoy interacting with on the game that wish to form one, or the player wants to invite friends to play there as a part of a new group application.


  • Coder

    @Miss-Demeanor said:

    Depending on how large an influx of new people you're looking at, one can always Deus Ex Machina a new person into the Isolation group. ... Another plane crashed on the deserted island, a small group of hikers found the crazy cannibal's cabin, someone got hit on the head and woke up inside the dome, etc.

    Doesn't that get jarring though? I know it did for me on Lost when they were constantly running into other strange groups of people on this supposedly-deserted island. Walking Dead makes more sense because they're moving around, but if they were in a stationary setting like on a MU* would it make sense to always have stragglers stumbling upon them?

    The other struggle is that those infusions of new people happen in groups, whereas MU players tend to arrive one-sy, two-sie. Still, it's a possibility.


  • Pitcrew

    @faraday I ran a zombie apocalypse game (MUSH of the Dead), and it was set in a clearly defined and established community, which meant it was easier for both stragglers (new players) AND raiders or rival communities (antagonists) to find.



  • @faraday Not to me. The good shows work it into a plot line, give the characters a chance to figure out how the Hell so many random strangers keep finding their way there. Hell, some shows turn it into a running gag for the audience!

    Random Stranger #362 has entered the <insert place here>. Current Leader rolls his eyes and asides to his new Love Interest, "Man, if we keep getting new people in, we're going to need a bigger island!" Cue laugh track, cut to commercial.

    The only thing I would look at is the size of the Isolated Spot you're trying to put the game in. If its a small area with few resources... that's not going to work for a MU*. That's why stuff like Walking Dead or other post-apocalyptic settings tend to work better. Small groups can still be isolated from one another, but the playing field is cast and can support a large number of players. The desert island scenario can only stretch so far before there's too many people for the island to support. If you're looking to sandbox or invite-only, that's not quite so big a deal. But if you're looking to open to the public, you'll need to make sure your isolated area can support a very large number of people.



  • @Miss-Demeanor said:

    @faraday Not to me. The good shows work it into a plot line, give the characters a chance to figure out how the Hell so many random strangers keep finding their way there.

    Variations on this theme have been done many times. Riverworld for instance.

    Let's take the zombie apocalypse setting as a for instance. Deep underground or way over there in those mountains, you have a secret government installation. The government saw the writing on the wall and built them all over the country. They took as many people as they could and are keeping them in cryogenic tanks. It's not just the best and brightest though there are those as well but also the average Joe. Civilization needs plumbers and carpenters and just good breeding stock.

    The scientists are getting older so they need to train replacements. People outside are dying so they need replacements and an increased genetic pool. People are periodically unfrozen and released, implanted with false memories to bring them up to speed on current events and forget about the installation.

    It can even be part of the setting and theme the players have no idea about and staff can drop hints and let them figure it out. Once they do, you can even open CG up to characters from the installation and have them work together. Or go to war. Whatever.



  • Exactly! There's always a way to have more people brought into the isolated area without them having to have 'totally been here all along, no really'. :)



  • I think you need to ask yourself two questions. ONE: How many characters can reasonably fit into the setting and TWO: Does this setting/population reasonably allow for a large player base. If the setting calls for a smaller cast, then invite-only or limiting the number of available players might be the answer for you. Get 7-10 active, productive roleplayers and keep a roster of people you want to invite in the event that players drop off or start to idle.

    One idea I had for a zombie-genre mush was to have 5-6 grids within, say, 200 miles of each other. Have staff randomly roll (d6!) and drop their character in one of the zones. Like Walking Dead, you could have Alexandria/Prison/etc styled factions who could choose to work together or not. Assign a GM/ST to each region, so each region has their own disconnected stories, different housing, and different wants/needs that could cause them to unite or fight amongst each other as they saw fit. Oh, and NO ALTS. It will keep the rp pools a bit more pure. Sure, someone could decide to leave or be exiled from a faction and after the harrowing experience of wandering away from old faction, another d6 could be rolled (reroll if prior camp is rolled) and voila!, a new face arrives.

    Sometimes tiny communities and factions make sense


  • Admin

    @Ghost said:

    Assign a GM/ST to each region, so each region has their own disconnected stories, different housing, and different wants/needs that could cause them to unite or fight amongst each other as they saw fit.

    Generally speaking, systems which depend on an abundance of STs don't prosper.


  • Politics

    @Thenomain said:

    I do not "get" roster systems. That is, I don't understand how a likely complete change of personality and experience when characters are swapped out aids the game more than it might hamper setting and consistency.

    I think that's a little too restrictive and unnecessary. What I meant was a roster of needed concepts or occupations within the group and/or settlement.


  • Pitcrew

    @Miss-Demeanor said:

    Random Stranger #362 has entered the <insert place here>. Current Leader rolls his eyes and asides to his new Love Interest, "Man, if we keep getting new people in, we're going to need a bigger island!" Cue laugh track, cut to commercial.

    Though it is a matter of taste the quoted section annoys the hell out of me on a TV show where I have professional grade entertainment around it. On a mush a pose like, not the exact content but the wink wink nudge nudge thing would get me to log out never to return pretty quick.



  • @Arkandel said:

    @Ghost said:

    Assign a GM/ST to each region, so each region has their own disconnected stories, different housing, and different wants/needs that could cause them to unite or fight amongst each other as they saw fit.

    Generally speaking, systems which depend on an abundance of STs don't prosper.

    I think that's true in terms of WoD/Firan type games when you're dealing with hundreds of players who all want personalized special plots, weird powers and their uses, and oddly political stuff. In a Zombie setting, however, you'd just need a few good GMs with something to say and an eye for tv-grade linear storytelling. They wouldn't have to do much more than throw zombies/raiders, arbitrate life/death, let the PCS fight or fuck, and then provide direction (including locations and dangers). I think for a zombie setting, my idea could work.

    Then STAFF would gather regularly, discuss where each group is going, maybe throw in a unified threat (raiders, horde of Walkers, tornado) and go from there.

    In xWoD with spheres of 100+ players and two, three alts per player? Yeah, fuck that. Overload happens.


  • Politics

    @ThatGuyThere said:

    @Miss-Demeanor said:

    Random Stranger #362 has entered the <insert place here>. Current Leader rolls his eyes and asides to his new Love Interest, "Man, if we keep getting new people in, we're going to need a bigger island!" Cue laugh track, cut to commercial.

    Though it is a matter of taste the quoted section annoys the hell out of me on a TV show where I have professional grade entertainment around it. On a mush a pose like, not the exact content but the wink wink nudge nudge thing would get me to log out never to return pretty quick.

    Man, that's some low tolerance.


  • Pitcrew

    @Coin
    I have different tolerance for different things. I will put up with staff corruption and blatant favoritism with only bitching about it in a place like this fairly well.
    I will put up with out of theme stuff with out a care if the surrounding rp is good.
    Like i said it is a taste thing. I do not like comedy where the characters are winking and nudging to the "camera" for example that is why I don't read and will not be seeing Deadpool. I have no problem with mostly irreverent comedy a la the Hawkeye comics.
    If I am in my opening scene and see a wink wink nudge nudge moment as a new player I would have to assume that would be the general norm for rp and there for the rp would not be to my taste.
    PHBs are avoidable, favoritism short of outright cheating can be tolerated, RP i don't enjoy defeats the whole purpose of the thing.


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