Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Other Dust solo - character & setting

Various environmental factors have been conspiring to push me towards post-apocalyptic gaming. The heat of summer somehow always prompts me to dig out my 2nd edition Gamma World set. So I rolled up a party of mutants and ran them through the (frankly shite) solo module that came in the 3rd edition set. I wanted to continue from there, but -- as lovely as it is -- Gamma World just isn't the kind of game that would work for the vague idea I had for a campaign. Normally, I wouldn't be looking at a D&D-based game for this at all, but the other games I looked at all fell short in one respect or another. I thought about modifying Gamma World, but I'd rather play than tinker. I looked at Mutant Future, which has the Labyrinth Lord-compatible rules in an appendix, which I thought might work well with Scarlet Heroes. This line of thinking led me quickly to Kevin Crawford's Other Dust.

The adventure I want to play is a conflation of a handful of ideas that have been rolling about in my head for a while, for decades in some cases. When I was a kid I saw The Omega Man on TV one Saturday afternoon. I tried to emulate it with Gamma World, running a single PC driving around a ruined city of the Ancients (the Port Loren map from Star Frontiers) and avoiding dangerous mutants (from the random encounter tables). It was fun enough, but quickly devolved into just looting & shooting -- but at least there was no brassy music, wooden acting, or leisure suits. Anyways, the idea of a lone hero stalking the ruins of a broken world has plenty of cinematic and indeed literary antecedents, so a Scarlet Heroes overlay seemed like the right idea. But one needs a little more than just that to base a campaign on, so...

World-building and/or -destruction

I bought Other Dust for the rules, not the setting, as I already had my own setting in mind, which is essentially a less kooky Gamma World: at some point in the future there is a global nuclear war, and now it's a few hundred more years later and everything still sucks. I don't really need any more than that, and the Other Dust rules for settlements etc. can be used as written, minus a very little bit of the fluff.

For the specific setting, I am going with SE England, primarily the coasts of Kent and to a lesser extent East Sussex. My wife and I have done a lot of exploring down that way, and parts of it look like the end has already come (see the photo at the top of the post).

My other big campaign inspiration is from M.R. James' A Warning to the Curious, though it's technically set in Suffolk. Briefly, my PC will have been convinced by the enclave vicar (~shaman) that the only way to restore England and bring peace to the land is to recover the three holy crowns that were buried along the coast in ages past. The crowns probably don't exist, of course, but it's all just a pretext for hexcrawly adventure.

So, the scene is set for wandering across desolate landscapes, avoiding the predations of cannibalistic mutants, exploring strange installations, meeting warlords living in ancient castles and Napoleonic forts, and learning the shocking secret of the still-functional port of Dover.

But first I need a character. I will assume that my readers have a general grasp of o-/A-/BX- style D&D, and only elaborate major deviations from the norm. So, taking the steps from the book in order...

Roll your character’s six attributes.

Modifiers for high/low attributes are slightly different than other OSR games. 8-13 is the average (no modifier) range; 18 and 3 are +/-2, and everything else is +/-1. Modifiers can be changed without altering attributes by spending mutation points (see below).

3d6 in order got me: s14 i5 w8 d10 c16 ch12.

Normally I'd save the poor sod with a 5 INT for an NPC, but I'll be able to raise it as a feature of the class I want to take. So there we are.

Choose a concept and motivation.

Quixotic wanderer -- see above

Pick a background package.

My PC started as a Scavenger, sent out from her enclave to pick over the ruins for useful items to bring back.

Each package grants 4 skills at level 0, which is basic proficiency. Scavenger yields--
Combat/Primitive (any muscle-powered weapons such as spears, swords, bows, and thrown weapons, including hi-tech versions)
Culture/Enclave (for knowledge of your home)
Survival (hunting, foraging, &c &c)
Tech/Postech (anything that can be manufactured/understood with post-collapse technology).

Choose a class.
There are four character classes: Scrounger, Speaker, Slayer, Survivor. My PC's scavenging background would have made her a good candidate for Scrounger, but she views technology as merely a means to an end, so I went with Survivor.

In addition to all the usual attack & saving throw stuff, Survivors get 1d6+2hp/level (all other classes get a simple d6) and have the Hard to Kill special ability, which allows them to usually survive losing all their hit points. The Prime Requisites for a survivor are Intelligence and Constitution, either of which may be raised to 14, so the 5 I rolled for INT is happily improved.

Pick a training package from your class.

The training package determines your skills. I chose Stranger With No Name, which was the best fit for my character concept of Drifter on a Holy Mission.

The package grants 6 skills: Combat/Any, Culture/Traveller, Navigation, Stealth, Survival, Vehicle/Any

Two require specialisations, so my mutant will get Combat/Projectile and Vehicle/Water. Culture/Traveller is a special skill that cannot be increased above level 0, but counts as Culture/Enclave-0 in all but the most isolated regions (thus avoiding the Unskilled penalty). As she already got Survival in her background package, it increases to level 1.

Determine starting mutations.

All PCs receive 3 mutation points. Each point can either be used to buy a mutation, or raise an attribute modifier by +1. A character with no mutations is a "null-strain human" who cannot suffer mutations from radiation, etc. But if I wanted to play a human PC, I'd have bought a different game.

According to the rulebook, about 1 in 5 humans are mutants, and many face some sort of discrimination in certain enclaves. Mutants without any visible signs of mutation may be one of the hated and feared psychics, and will be hunted down and killed by most communities (I'll be keeping this bit, even though I am not using the setting as-is, and crazed psychics did not help destroy the world).

Visible signs of mutation are known as stigmata, and there is a table to roll on for all mutant PCs. I rolled 1d10=1, Your skin is of a dramatically unnatural color and/or texture. I was messing around with Heromachine, so my PC is a bit more mutated than just being a different colour. Most stigmata have no effect beyond the cosmetic.

At this point I feel the need to point out an annoying error in the text. Stigmata (στίγματα) is a plural noun, of which the singular is stigma (στίγμα). And whilst I'm on the topic, the proper plural of necropolis (νεκρόπολις) is necropoleis (νεκροπόλεις), though necropolises is a common Anglicisation -- necropoli (νεκρόπολι) is a dative singular form in non-attic dialects. I find things like this really jarring, but it's a great game so I will overlook them.

So anyways, my mutant is blue and sort of weird-looking. But what else can she do? For each of her 3 mutation points spent, she gets a mutation with both a benefit and a flaw. Two points could be spent for a mutation that is only beneficial, but where's the fun in that? Both mutations and flaws are rolled on 1d12. Most of these results refer you to one or more sub-tables to determine the exact effects. You are encouraged to explain the benefit & flaw together to describe the specific mutation.

mutation 1

Flaw: (1d12=)You suffer a [Mental Debility]. Rolling on the Mental Debility table reveals that my PC is Paranoid.

Benefit: (1d12=)Hyper-acute awareness and sensory mutations grant you [Sensory Power]. For her Sensory Power, she rolled Danger Sense.

This one was easy to tie together; she has an uncanny sixth sense about dangerous people and situations, but every little thing sets her off. In game terms, she can't be surprised and gets +2 to Evasion saving throws, but needs to make a saving throw versus Mental Effects to make any kind of agreement with anyone other than a teammate or close friend. The save can be repeated once an hour if it fails, though she'd need to argue with herself the whole time.

mutation 2

Flaw: You recover slowly from stress, losing one accrued System Strain point every other night instead of each night. Use of some exotic mutations or high-tech devices can put a strain on the body. If system strain points ever exceed a person's CON, they are rendered unconscious.

Benefit: Your enormous vitality grants you [Endurance Power]. She gains Radioactive Vitality, making her immune to radiation damage (and further mutation there from). Instead, she heals 1d6 hit points of damage every time she would need to make a radiation saving throw.

Another easy connexion: some things don't bother her at all, others take longer to recover from. More importantly, this also gives me an idea for her background story...

mutation 3

Flaw: Your [Sense] is very weak.  She has (rolls) Weak Smell and Taste, which gives her a -2 penalty on all foraging checks and the inability to distinguish contaminated food from clean.

Benefit: You have a resistance to [Injury Source], forcing a second damage roll and using the lesser of the two. Rather luckily, she rolls Chemical: Acids, toxins, gas clouds.

Two things seem to be at work here. On one hand, she doesn't so much need a sense of smell as a survival tool. On the other, she's eaten so much spoilt food that she's built up a bit of resistance. As a social result, one of her childhood friends was a mutant called 'Stinky'. She could also drink her entire village under the table.

Roll hit points for your character.

1d6 +2(Survivor class feature) +1(CON bonus) = 8hp.

Choose languages.

Her native language (the language of her enclave) is certainly English. She gets a number of bonus languages equal to her INT bonus (+1 for INT 14).

I wasn't sure what this should be, so I decided to let a die roll decide. Using a list of the most common non-English languages in use in the UK, I came up with the following: (1d12) 1 Bengali, 2 Punjabi, 3 Hindi, 4 Gujarati, 5 Cantonese, 6 Italian, 7 Polish, 8 Greek, 9 Turkish, 10 Welsh, 11 Scots Gaelic, 12 Irish Gaelic.

1d12=7, Polish

She is, sadly, illiterate, but hopefully can fix that with skill points when she gains a level.

Choose starting equipment.

A character starts with a knife, 1d6+2 rations of clean food and the same number of clean water rations. You can also choose one weapon and one suit of armour off the starting lists. The rest of your equipment is determined by 6 rolls on the starting equipment table (you can spend two rolls to pick an item if so desired).

There is no money; all trade is done by barter. A 1-kg ration of clean food (a day's worth for one person) is the standard measure of value.

My PC's choices/rolls yield: Breech loading Rifle + 20 bullets, Old Terran Clothing (AC7, 0 encumbrance), TL2 Binoculars, 5 Flasks of oil, Crowbar, 5 Patch stim doses, 2 Type A power cells, Tent.

Armour class is roughly the same as B/X D&D; pre-collapse clothing is highly durable. Stim doses are essentially high-tech healing potions, but each one adds a point of System Strain to the recipient. Type A power cells will fuel a laser pistol; it's a nice touch that you can start with equipment you can't use.

She could really use a backpack, so trades 2 oils and 1 clean food ration for one. To start off her first adventure at only Light Encumbrance, she'll also ditch 3 water rations.

Class: Survivor, Level: 1, XP: 0
Str 14(+1) Int 14(+1) Wis 8 Dex 10  Con 16(+1) Cha 12
HP 8, AC 7, Attack bonus +1
Languages: English, Polish
Skills: Combat/Primitive, Combat/Projectile, Culture/Enclave, Culture/Traveller, Navigation, Stealth, Survival-1, Tech/Postech, Vehicle/Water
Mutation Benefits: Radioactive Vitality, Danger Sense, Chemical Resistance
Mutation Flaws: Reduced System strain recovery, Paranoid, Weak taste/smell
Equipment: Breech loading Rifle + 20 bullets, Old Terran Clothing (AC7, 0ENC), leather backpack, TL2 Binoculars, 3 Flasks of oil, Crowbar, 5 Patch stim doses, 2 Type A power cells, Tent, Knife, 4 clean food rations, 2 clean water rations

Ewa grew up in Eastbourne. She was the only child of (apparently) non-mutant parents. Mutants are tolerated well enough in the enclave, but Ewa's particular genetic expression left her with few friends other than Stinky, the unfortunate skunk-man. She had a typical childhood of menial labour, sudden tragedy, and occasional bouts of privation -- no worse than most in her enclave.

Eastbourne is an average sized post-collapse settlement. It is divided into 4 main parts. As Ewa's leaving her home and probably not coming back, I didn't roll up all the details of her home enclave, just painted it in broad strokes.

The Fortress was built in 1804 to repel Napoleon's potential invasion. It fell into disuse, but was called back into use in both WWI & WWII, after which it became a museum. Now it is home to the Commander, the warlord who rules the enclave. He is the 4th Commander in his line (it's a hereditary title), and has continued his family tradition of semi-enlightened despotism. The casemates house his private army of c. 200 soldiers, and an assortment of servants and master craftsmen. He also has a small cadre of historians who study both the documents & artefacts left over from the museum and recovered from the wastes.

About a kilometre down the beach is the pier, which holds the public workshops and communal kitchens. It also holds the village shrine, which is tended by three spiritualist mediums, two Anglican vicars, and Buddhist monk.

The waterfront buildings running between the Fortress and the pier house the bulk of the enclave's population. The inland-facing sides and through streets have all been blocked off so that creatures and raiders cannot come through. In times of great need, the people take refuge in both the Fortress and the pier.

Surrounded by the ruins of the past are a few fields for vegetables and spelt (where once were public parks and a golf course). They are heavily fenced off but otherwise unprotected. Raiders have burnt them thrice in recent memory, but this was mostly an annoyance as the people mainly subsist off the bounty of the sea.

Most villagers fish, a few farm. If you do neither, you either are an important specialist (healer, historian, smith, technician) or are a scavenger. Scavengers are sent out in small bands. Each scavenger must have a Guarantor -- essentially a hostage -- who stays behind in the village to keep them from running off with the goods. A scavenger who proves to be both skilled and trustworthy is allowed to own weapons. Some of these are occasionally sent on inland missions which can last up to a fortnight; soldiers always lead these missions.

Ewa is a scavenger. She's no better at finding than anyone else, but she has an eye for useful tech and always made it back home with the goods, surviving even the worst mutant and raider attacks. There was of course the unfortunate time when she was an inexperienced scavenger, and brought back a case of highly radioactive medical supplies. Three villagers died before the cause was discovered. The Commander issued a formal pardon to young Ewa, assuming she too would be dead from radiation within the week. When she did not die, rumours began to spread that the Commander possessed supernatural powers, which was a better propaganda coup than he'd ever hoped to get out of it.

When Ewa's parents died (they were eaten by fish mutants), she became close to the old vicar, who became her new Guarantor. He told her the old tales and legends, as far as he understood them, and eventually inspired her Quest.

When he knew was dying, he told her to go on her next scavenging mission and not return.


  1. I've been curious about Other Dust, so this is super interesting!

    1. So far it's been playing a lot like Gamma World but without the enormous hit die inflation. Which is to say, exactly how I'd hoped it would.