Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Is Leftovers?

So what is this game, anyway? The core of the setting came from the contest's requirement to mash together at least two disparate genres selected from a discrete list. I wanted to do a post-apoc game anyway (for some reason), so I went with that, and then the "Mythos" genre -- if it can be called that -- appealed to me. I figured some version of Cthulhu awakening was as good a cause as any for a civilization-destroying apocalypse, and not something I recall having seen before.

But the third genre is what really makes Leftovers sing, if you ask me: Punk. As in cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. Specifically, the contest defined this as a mix of body modification and grey morality. What better way, thought I, to incorporate the punk aesthetic into a post-Mythos-ocalyptic world than by having survivors replace parts of themselves with parts of the otherwordly, Lovecraftian horrors that still roam the Earth? That element really crystallized the game for me.

Here's how I summarized it for some friends, and it's still as good an explanation as any (barring, perhaps, the intro fiction in the PDF):

The basic premise is that the "apoc" in post-apoc was caused by a mass invasion of otherworldly Lovecraftian Horrors. The big Horrors ate up most of humanity, then, satiated, departed through the underwater gates through which they'd come. But they left behind many thousands of survivors scattered all over the Earth -- the crumbs left over from their meal, essentially -- along with thousands of smaller Horrors who stuck around to claim the table scraps.

It's been discovered that grafting parts of these Horrors to yourself confers some of the Horrors' powers, such as supernatural strength or toughness. Doing so also heals any injury
[or it can, at any rate] -- as long as the patient is even barely alive, a graft will bring him back in a hurry -- so for many survivors in the post-apoc landscape, grafts have been a grim necessity if they want to stay alive. It's amazingly easy to transplant these grafts, almost alarmingly so. Stick a severed tentacle to the stump of your severed arm, and it'll do most of the work on its own. They almost seem eager, in fact.

However, grafts come at a hefty cost (besides hunting down Horrors for harvest, that is): The more you have, the less human you are. The game has two main stats, Human Nature and Horrific Nature. As one goes up, the other goes down. If your Human Nature goes down to zero, you're officially one of
them. But some people are cool with toeing the line. They just want the power, or they're out of their minds, or they think the Horrors are the next evolutionary step, or all three. A lot of those people are at least as dangerous as the Horrors themselves, but there are those who manage to balance Horrific power and sanity. While the old world economy is a thing of the past, there's a thriving trade in Horror parts.

The player characters are a band of survivors trying to make their way through this Horror-stricken wasteland. They might fight against the Horrors or roving gangs of cannibals, or harvest Horror parts for fun and profit, or whatever. You get the idea.

So that's the deal.

The other ingredients I chose, besides those from the Genre Blender, were "Character creation does not allow characters to have access to all attributes" and "Must include an emotional connection mechanic binding characters together." The first made sense because in a grim world of perilous survival, it isn't easy to be a generalist -- there aren't many people left who'd be willing to teach you auto repair or knife-fighting or wilderness survival or any other skill that might give them an edge over their neighbors. The second made sense because it also doesn't pay to be a loner. There isn't much humanity left, and what little remains won't be alive for long unless they stick together. I like the seeming paradox there, and the fine line people would probably walk between helping others and ensuring their own survival.

That reminds me: I just saw a great movie on IFC that illustrates exactly that latter point. It's an old Ray Milland film called Panic in Year Zero! (exclamation point included!), and it's soaked in 1962 Cold War paranoia. The movie pretty much begins with Los Angeles being nuked by unknown enemies, and recounts one family's attempt to survive in the immediate aftermath. It's a bit on the campy side at times (from a 21st-century perspective, anyway), the characters are pretty two-dimensional, and the music is kinda awesome in its ridiculousness, but it's worth checking out if you're a fan of the post-apoc genre. In fact, could it be the first post-apoc film? (No, TCM's Robert Osborne says that honor goes to 1951's Five. Let's just say for the sake of argument you don't include Things To Come in that category, although maybe you should. It's kinda post-post-apoc, though.)

Next time: The Basics.

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