Dead Man’s Land

Six months after the zombies first rose, and humanity still survives. In the far north, in high mountaintops, inside walled Sanctuaries humanity holds on.

Zombies throng the fallen cities of mankind, driven to gather by causes unknown. They crowd the streets and fill the buildings, wandering aimlessly… until a victim crosses their path.

Between the abandoned cities teeming with hunting corpses and the remote Sanctuaries of the uninfected lies a vast wilderness, the land of the carriers. Those sick with the rotting disease, but who have not yet succumbed to their inexorable death, are half-zombie, yet wholly sane.

Without fear of zombie bites or the zombie plague, they wander the wastes, performing tasks no one else can do: scavenging supplies, carrying mail, staging raids into the zombie hives, or rescuing stranded humans, then bringing them to Sanctuary.

Solely the province of carriers — those doomed to death via slow zombification — the wastes between the cities and the Sanctuaries are known as…

Dead Man’s Land.

Points of Divergence

I’m writing Altered States as an alternate history, which hews fairly close to real world institutions and people (as it is a technothriller setting, and verisimilitude is critical). Alternate histories ask the question “Given event Y, what might happen?” (The unstated parenthetical being “…that makes a good story.”) For example, “What if John F. Kennedy was never assassinated?” The critical event is called the point of divergence.

In the case of Altered States, there are two: VITAS and the Awakening of Magic. The campaign background is built around deciding how the real world might react to those two events. (The unstated parenthetical being “…in such a way that it creates an interesting campaign setting.”)

The first point of divergence occurs in July 2010, when VITAS begins spreading. Up until that event, the campaign world and the real world are nearly identical.

(I say “nearly” because I use fictional characters and organizations in building the background. Other than those, the background material uses real world elements and facts as much as possible.)

The second point of divergence is the Awakening of Magic, which begins in 2011 and culminates in the events of Dec. 24, 2011 (the first public appearance of dragons, and the escape of Howling Coyote from Leavenworth). The Awakening underlies much of the drastic changes in the world, including the NAN rebellion and the emergence of Feral Europe.

Taken together, these two points of divergence underlie the world of 2032. How each of them affects the world is the subject of most of the campaign documents of Altered States.

An Alt-History Technothriller Shadowrun

My current “live” project is Altered States, an Alt-History Technothriller Shadowrun. Let’s break that down.

Alt-History: This doesn’t occur in the canon Shadowrun timeline. Altered States has its own timeline, with many events that are similar to the canon (such as a VITAS plague) and many others that are wholly new. There are several differences, among them being:

The US still exists (but is almost balkanized). The NAN has collapsed (plus it had different boundaries in America, and never existed in Canada). There was no Resource Rush and no Seretech and Shiawase decisions, so no corporate extraterritoriality. Mexico, India, and Coastal China (the Republic of China) are the top three nations. UGE and Goblinization occurred at the same time in 2012 (an event called the Emergence). No Immortal Elves or “4th World” Great Dragons. No Toxic Shamans. And so forth.

Technothriller: Altered States is a technothriller campaign, best described as “Shadowrun, as written by Tom Clancy”. Technothrillers are military- and spy-oriented. They focus on national clashes, espionage, special forces units, and bleeding edge developments. James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Evelyn Salt (from Salt) are all inspirations (as well as Clancy’s novels, obviously).

Player characters are specially trained agents of the government, instead of criminals. Other than that, it’s pure Shadowrun.

Play involves stealing data, blackmail, wetworks, destroying facilities, infiltrating installations, extracting people, and all the other Shadowrun goodness players have come to know and love, just in a different context: instead of breaking into a Renraku gene lab, you’re breaking into an Aztlan air force base.

Many of the changes in the history of the campaign are to support the themes of the campaign (countries instead of corporations) and to develop some aspects of the setting more than in the official material (such as the alt-VITAS post, forthcoming).

Shadowrun: This is a cyberfantasy setting, just like Shadowrun’s. It has hermetic mages and shamans, paranatural creatures, and Orks, Trolls, Dwarves, and Elves. It has hacking, rigging, and cyberware. It is still Man meets Magic and Machine.

It isn’t a -punk setting, and draws inspiration from other sources. But it is definitely Shadowrun.