I’ve admired the game Mutant Year Zero for a while and have had the core rulebook pdf just waiting to be utilized. It’s a post-apocalyptic setting and does an excellent job of storytelling and narration. The basic format of the game, mutated characters as part of an isolated community called and Ark, means that players are forced to explore and think about the bigger picture while also rewarding them for dealing with the world at large. In the spirit of shows like The Walking Dead and games like Dead of Winter and Last Night on Earth a character can be totally successful personally and yet lose out overall.
Rather than wait for the opportunity to run a game, I’m going to try some character creation right here. I’m starting off not with a character, though, but with creating the Ark that my characters will be inhabiting. While Arks have been safe havens during the long, harsh fallout from the apocalypse things are taking a turn and the community needs heroes to head out into the wilderness and gather supplies. Namely, they need Player Characters.
There are two zones given in the core book to place Arks in: the ruins along the River Thames (the Big Smoke) and the ruins of New York City (the Dead Apple). These are both really great but I feel like starting anew with a Zone of my own creation.
Let’s pick a zone in the remnants of western Massachusetts, my childhood home. Like the rest of the world, the Berkshires have been devastated and are a husk of their former selves. The hills and valleys remain but instead of forests they are filled with twisted metal sculptures like welded blades. These blade-trees make new and horrifying forests that are an intimidating welcome to mutants emerging from the Ark along the river.
Zone Map and Ark Map
I don’t want to get stuck here so I’m going to wait on making a map. There are a few major landmarks that I want to make sure are on this map, though. First of all, the remnants of the Satanic (Housatonic) River runs through this area, though now it’s filled with large, monstrous creatures. The water is still fresh but it’s as dangerous an area as an African waterhole in terms of predators.
There are also a few moderately-sized ruins, the largest of which is The Pit (formerly Pittsfield). Two other sites which also have plenty of treasures are The Links (Lenox), with lots of food stores from before the end of days, and the Great Barrens (Great Barrington), a trove of raw materials despite the savage beasts that haunt it.
On the other hand, an Ark map shouldn’t be too hard. Fishing around on Pinterest I found this cozy little village which can become a gritty little refuge with a few tweaks. In fact, the Ark is hereby renamed as “The Refuge.” The road heading east (the bottom of the picture) goes towards the Satanic River. The one opposite that (top of the picture) goes… well we don’t talk about that place. The outside world is kept at bay by the Elder’s Wall, a thick barricade of solid iron twenty feet tall.
Type of Ark and Ark Position
So, before the fall of the world, what was this place? Given the rural nature of the area, I’m thinking a farm. When things were going to hell, someone had the forethought to seal off a hilltop farm near West Stockbridge. After years of isolation, the farm is a well-worn collection of houses where different extended families live.
There are about 150 members of the farm community and they work together to cultivate the fields and orchards but they are dying. Where lush crops once stood is now only played-out dirt and more and more of the fruit trees are succumbing to blight. To make things worse, the ancient pipes of the community relies on to pump water up from the Satanic River are degrading and have broken several times already.
The founder of the community, an ancient and decrepit man, lives in the largest building at the farm’s center. This is the highest point of the Ark and from here he can watch his works from his warp-around porch. His attendants and the day-to-day leaders of the Refuge live in some of the other rooms but most of the building is a quiet refuge where the Elder can live out his final years.
Doing this out of order, I haven’t made up any bosses yet but I’m going to add four at the moment.
- Natar the Planter (The Hard Worker): This boss controls the planting operations and is fairly protective of everyone in the Refuge. She also guards her purview jealously.
- Maximon the Praetor (The Bureaucrat): The leader of those aides and organizers who live in the house with the Elder, Maximon is a mean and petty man.
- Kristor the Priest (Revolutionary and Cultist): The Green Priest has formed a religion around green things and the coming Rebirth that will heal the world. He respects the Elder but hates Maximon and would love a radical shift in the Refuge.
- Serran the Primal (the Commander): The defense of the Refuge is handled by a militia led by Serran, a powerful and barbaric man who could care less about the Ark’s politics. He trains and oversees most of the groups going out into the wilds.
There are groups backing up each of these bosses, their followers and also the major factions of the Refuge. Natar is backed up by the farmers, a group of planters and cultivators who are desperately trying to save the healthy plant strains that remain. In the Elder’s house and the surrounding huts live the clerks, administrators and chroniclers who maintain the history and records of the Refuge. They work under Maximon and often cooperate with the farmers to track crop yields, gene strains and other items of interest.
Under the Green Priest Kristor are the verdants, the followers of his strange religion who often rub the farmers and clerks the wrong way. The verdants haven’t actually come to blows with the established pair of factions, it’s only a matter of time.
Serran’s milita are the defenders and the best-trained fighters in the Ark. While Primal Serran eschews politics, not all in the militia feel similarly. If things turn violent in the Refuge, whoever can win over the most militia members will have a decisive advantage.
Lastly, the Reimans are one of the largest extended families in the Refuge and also one concerned with purity. For a few generations now they have tried to create purer and purer children to avoid the omnipresent mutations of the world. While the Elder’s code praises stewardship and the maintaining of the land and living things, it carefully avoids mentioning anything like eugenics. However, it doesn’t prohibit them so the Reimans have been allowed to follow their experiment so far. With all the other pressures facing the Ark at the moment, though, that might change.
Population and Water Source
I already came up with this in earlier sections but the Refuge is about 150 people and has maintained that for a while. They get their water from a solar-powered pump connected to a system of ancient pipes that lead to the Satanic River. The pipes are underground the entire way which protects them, but Ark members also have a hard time getting at them to make repairs. The result is a jury-rigged and accident-prone system.
Arks in Mutant Year Zero have four different areas to measure their resources: food supply, culture, technology, and warfare. There are measured in Development Levels (DEVs) from 0 to about 40. At the start of the game, an Ark has 12 to distribute among them.
Like I do for a lot of situations like this, I’m going to start by figuring out what an even spread would be. Three points in each isn’t going to give the Refuge much to work with so something is going to have to be rock-bottom.
This is an agrarian society so I’m going to say that technology is 0 for the Refuge: apart from a few experts, no one really understands the pump system and the only other tech in the place is the hoes and plows used by the farmers. I’m also going to put culture low, we’ll say 1: there are stories and legends from the Elder’s Days but not much in the way of society.
The points from both of those go into food supply which puts that at an 8, still in the bottom tier as far as supplies but able to be bumped up to acceptable levels after a few PC missions. Lastly, the Refuge’s warfare is at a 3 thanks to the training and expertise of Serran the Primal. It’s definitely not enough to stop another Ark from attacking in numbers but the militia can fend off beasts coming up from the Satanic River after sniffing out their fruit trees.
Well, that’s the Refuge! This isolated farm is running into a lot of issues as the founding plan it was established with falters under the sheer weight of the apocalypse. Who are the heroes that are going to save the Refuge? Well, watch for future blog posts and see!