I love starting off campaigns with things already in motion but sometimes you’re starting something new and you need to take it slow. My preferred compromise is the Active Session Zero, a “pre-campaign” session where your gaming group can build characters together but also actually play the game. Today, we look at an Active Session Zero for Red Markets, the game of roaming zombies and cutthroat capitalism.
Red Markets already includes a lot of group worldbuilding so this is a natural fit for the game. On the other hand, the mechanics can be a little fiddly so it’s not as simple as using the rules as written. This is the scenario I would use, written below as the start of a campaign. I have character creation interlaced with enclave creation so that you end up with a fully formed campaign setup at the end. If you aren’t running a full campaign you can use this scenario and just describe your premade enclave in the spaces where players are asked to invent one.
Pick the Takers’ Names
The characters are meeting up for a breakfast of rough-made bread and beans. They see each other coming and the players get a chance to introduce their characters by name; try to focus just on name since the characters’ physical descriptions will be greatly impacted by spots later in the process. This is also an opportunity to begin the description of Taker culture since the players will need to pick a real name and a Taker name for their characters. More information on Taker names can be found in Red Markets page 184, and the Red Markets Resource Page has a massive list of names to help.
Example: A new group of players is starting a Red Markets campaign with an Active Session Zero. Brent is the Market and he is walking the four players through the process. Connor announces that his character is named Enoch, Margaritte says that hers is named Jaclyn the Ripper, Padraig says that his is named Max Deadroom, and Penny that hers is named Paragon. All of them keep their characters’ real names secret.
Pick the Enclave’s Name and Location
As they eat breakfast, the Takers reflect on the weather and what they’re going to do with their days after their work meeting/breakfast. To do this, of course, the Market needs to know where they are. This can be pretty general unless the group has a very clear idea of what they want, but this is also the best time to bring up the Recession and the Loss if it hasn’t come up already. Again, focus on the name and generalities here since the enclave’s character will be further developed later. More information on Enclave names and generation can be found in Red Markets page 407.
Example: Brent lets the characters describe their distaste for the stale bread and cold beans they are eating and lets some small talk happen. When there’s a lull in the conversation, he asks them where the characters live. Padraig and Penny, both West Coasters, lobby for northern California and the others agree. Connor suggests “Deadwood” as a fun western-themed name and everyone is amused enough to get behind it. Brent continues with the description: cool spring breezes blowing towards tall mountains to the east, folks walking by in boots and cowboy hats through the dirt streets of Deadwood.
Pick Some Soft Spots and Weak Spots
When it fits your table’s atmosphere, the Takers’ breakfast is interrupted by a young girl who rushes up to them shouting for help. Someone else in the enclave is injured and a group of people is cornering him, claiming that the injury is a zombie bite. This girl is sure that it isn’t, though, and she needs the enclave’s best troubleshooters to step in and talk sense to the crowd.
To facilitate this scene, the players need to pick soft and weak spots for their characters. Remember that soft spots are those things that make life worth living for a Taker while a weak spot is the thing that makes their resolve crumble. Players should pick their spots and then choose one of those to roleplay as their immediate reaction to this girl’s tale. Whether driven by their passions or running on adrenaline and fear, the Takers should head off with the girl to save the day. More information on writing soft and weak spots can be found in Red Markets pages 184-185.
Example: When the girl (Brent names her Maxine) shows up, players begin to pick their soft and weak spots as their characters process the news. Connor says that Enoch’s soft spot is “social justice” and his weak spot is “easily angered,” both of which make him immediately race off with Maxine. On the other hand, Margaritte decides that Jaclyn’s weak spot is “arrogant” which doesn’t help but that her soft spot is “control the situation” which does provoke a reaction. Padraig wants a soft spot of “waste not, want not” and a weak spot of “pedantic” for Max “MD” Deadroom so he immediately jumps to his feet to confront these ignorant sheep. Lastly, Paragon has a weak spot of “vengeful” and a soft spot of “karma is it’s own reward” so Penny has no problem justifying her involvement.
Describe Some Enclave Defenses
The face-off between the injured man and the crowd is happening in front of the enclave’s main entrance. Each of the players can contribute a bit to what this looks like and, in general, what the enclave’s defenses look like. This is a group effort of scene-setting: the Market describes the people and the mood while the players together describe the architecture and structure. Lots of information on enclave defenses can be found in Red Marktes page 407.
Example: Brent describes a rush through the dirt streets of Deadwood to the front gates where they find an angry crowd surrounding a frightened man, then he elicits descriptions from all the players. Padraig says that he thinks the enclave should be stuck into a box canyon with fencing across the open end and Margaritte says that the “fence” is probably a wooden palisade a la F Troop. This sounds great and it quickly starts informing the rest: Connor suggests a multi-level enclave with platforms and ladders heading up the walls, Penny wants snipers and guards up on the heights watching down the valley, and Padraig describes a short series of mine tunnels at the “dead end” where the enclave can hide if things really get bad. Brent grins and jots down notes as all of this sparks hooks for later problems.
Pick a Tough Spot
As the Takers reach the sight of the disturbance they get their first look at the injured man at the center. He is cradling an arm that is dripping with blood from a nasty, jagged wound. It’s bad enough that it might still turn fatal but the Takers, veterans of the Loss and facing down casualties, can see very quickly that it is not a bite wound at all. Most likely the man gashed his arm on a fence, a broken piece of metal, or something else sharp while just outside of the enclave’s walls. Coming back injured from the outside, though, is a good way to incite hysteria and that’s what happened here.
To describe how the Takers respond to this situation, both the topic of enclaves falling due to infection and the bloody business of mob violence, they need to pick some tough spots. This describes the character’s role in the Taker group but also how they have managed to stay alive in the Loss. So how do they keep today’s crisis from bringing it all crashing down? Profiles of all the tough spots can be found in Red Markets page 185-194.
Example: Ever since picking out his character’s name, Connor has assumed that Enoch is going to be a very religious person so he picks Believer as a tough spot. Enoch instantly wants to save this man as one of God’s children. Margaritte’s character Jaclyn the Ripper is a little more hardened and she picks Fenceman as a tough spot. Jaclyn is willing to help this guy because a riot this close to the fences might damage the gate and endanger them all. For MD, Padraig decides he’s a Hustler and he intends for him to be the salesman of the group. Considering his soft spot (“waste not, want not”) Max Deadroom is going to step in here because he doesn’t want the job market here unraveling. Lastly, Penny decides that Paragon is going to be Immune, just to complete the “untouchable” vibe she started with soft and weak spots. She’s going to go along with her fellow Takers because she tries to go with consensus and avoid scrutiny.
Assign Some Potentials
It’s time to do something about this situation, and when action is called for in Red Markets that brings potentials into the game. These are equivalent to attributes in other RPGs and Takers can use their basic ability to see who goes first in this situation and whether they can think of ways to avoid a riot. Each player puts 1 in each potential and then assigns 5 more points among them (maximum of 3).
Once potentials have been assigned, it’s time for the first dice rolls! Anyone trying to rush to get in between the crowd and the injured man makes an initiative check (roll and add Speed) while those wanting to come up with a clever plan can roll using Adaptability. Of course, they can also spend Will if they want to nail this check. Don’t force things, though, since potentials aren’t generally active in gameplay and we don’t want players to get the wrong impression here. More information on potentials can be found in Red Markets page 194-198.
Example: Enoch gets some points in Adaptability and Will to create a resourceful character looking out for his fellow man. Margaritte puts points for Jaclyn into Strength, Speed, and Adaptability so that she’s a consummate warrior in the enclave or out in the Loss. For Max Deadroom, Padraig maxes his Charm and Intelligence both at three and puts his last point into Adaptability. Penny assigns her points evenly into every potential except for Intelligence (she’s more “street smart”). With some rolls, Paragon and Enoch end up in front of the crowd while Jaclyn hangs back and formulates a plan and MD struggles to make his way through the crowd.
Assign Some Skill Points
Potentials are alright for initial moves but when the Takers head in to talk the crowd down (or egg them on, let’s be honest) they’ll need to use their skills. Characters assign 20 points (possibly modified by tough spot) among their skills, a process which can take some time. If the group is getting stalled out with all the options, the players might assign only half the points now and leave open the option to assign more later. Either way, players need to double check themselves during this step to make sure none of their skills’ ratings exceed the associated potential. Information on skills and a full list can be found in Red Markets pages 198-205.
Example: The group’s talker, Max, isn’t the most physical and so they have to buy time for him to get to the front. Paragon (who has some good Persuasion and Intimidation from Penny’s allocations) stands in front of the injured man making it clear he’s not to be touched. Next to her, Enoch uses his anemic Persuasion (low because his Charm is low) to try and talk them down but it doesn’t go well. Still, this buys them time for MD to get up front and use his impressive Persuasion to keep the crowd back while Paragon keeps Intimidating and Enoch tries First Aid on the man (still low but this time he makes it). Jaclyn uses her high Athletics to climb the fence to the catwalk above and Intimidate up there with a rifle (which she’ll have to get for real during the gear phase).
Describe the Enclave History, Exports, and Imports
Ideally at this point, the crowd is dispersed and violence averted. On the other hand, the Takers might not have been able to talk the crowd out of it and the man is now lying dead on the ground with a shovel blade through his head. Either way, the young girl will react (with gratitude or horror) and the people of the enclave will return to their business.
Which begs the question: “what is their business?” Players work together at this point to describe the nature of the enclave, how it came to be, what it was before the Crash, what it’s exports are, and what it’s imports are. Suggestions of all these things can be found in Red Markets pages 407-408.
Example: The people of the enclave go back to their lives and the players breathe sighs of relief. Brent asks them what the enclave population might be going back to and Padraig immediately says that he thinks this place should be a former tourist attraction of an “historically accurate” Gold Rush town. Connor says he’d been thinking the same thing and suggests that the show forges have been repurposed and expanded so that Deadwood regularly exports worked metal goods. Margaritte says that streams nearby could have fish and the forests could have game but maybe they need to import grain and other agricultural products. Penny thinks they might have small vegetable gardens in Deadwood but rely on outside enclaves for the big stuff, trading them liquor from the still adjacent to the forges: mostly vodka from the gardens’ potatoes but also whiskey and hard cider depending on the imported grain and fruit supplies.
Pick Out Some Dependents
The people of the enclave go back to their grim, struggling lives and so do the Takers. Their breakfast forgotten (one way or another), the Takers return to their homes and see their dependents there waiting for them. So what are their dependents like? The players all take a minute to list those people and how they are greeted after returning from the riot. More information on dependents can be found in Red Markets pages 205-209. Depending on the group’s wishes, they can also can do References at this point (pages 209-211).
Example: The Takers head back home and Magaritte surprises everyone by saying that Jaclyn heads back to her hut to be greeted by her six-year-old daughter (staying with a neighbor during Taker-breakfast). Enoch, unsurprisingly, has an old priest whom he’s caring for and learning from in this bleak land. Both of these characters have a Charm of one so that’s all they need, but Paragon has a Charm of two so she describes two younger siblings (a brother in a sister) in their early teens who rely on her for food and supplies. Padraig’s character Max Deadroom has the highest Charm and so needs three dependents. After thinking over the pragmatic character, he decides that one of the dependents will be Max’s wife (missing an arm but very smart) and his two adopted children (both under ten and so mostly concerned with jobs around the house).
After a little bit of downtime, the Takers will need to go about the rest of their days and they begin to hear the fallout from the situation at the enclave entrance. If they succeeded then people are a bit sheepish and full of thanks, although if they failed they can note the tense feeling that remains and the dark looks from passersby. Either way, the other Takers of the enclave are making their own opinions known about the situation. Players can come up with suggestions of what those competitor Taker groups are like and the Market can describe how they respond. Arrogant groups will claim they could have done better, professionals will recognize the need to protect the enclave however possible. Any Takers from nearby enclaves can be noted now but they will probably factor in more with the next step. Suggestions for competitor groups are found in Red Markets page 408.
Example: As they’re feeling good about their performance at the front gates of Deadwood, Penny decides it would be interesting to have a rival group that instantly sours the mood by saying the players’ Takers acted without all the facts and endangered everyone. The group decides these guys are called the Untouchables and that they’re of the “shoot first and ask questions later” persuasion. Connor also has an idea for a group called the Franciscans who are a religious Taker group, but he explicitly doesn’t want Enoch getting along with them. Brent mentions the Chosen cult of Latents from Red Markets and the group agrees that these are exactly the sort of people that might sometimes be allies but also be kept at arm’s length. Padraig, reading through the book, absolutely wants a group of Randian jerks in the area, but not as part of Deadwood. They table that for now.
Describe a Social Structure, Neighbors, and VIPs
After hearing about the rumors from others and the public reaction to their efforts at the enclave entrance, the Takers will receive messages to someone important in the area. This necessitates knowing who those people are, though, which requires finishing up the profile of the enclave. Players can make suggestions to build out the social structure and VIPs of the enclave as well as any neighboring enclaves. One of these is going to be the source for the campaign’s first job lines (or several of them if the Market wants to get fancy). Information on all of these topics can be found in Red Markets pages 408-409.
Example: Brent figures it makes the most sense to figure out neighbors first since Padraig already brought up an outside Taker group in the area. Each player comes up with something: a large-scale farm that is the major suppliers of agriculture to Deadwood; a coastal enclave with the only active shipping lines to other parts of California and the Pacific Northwest; a deep-forest enclave of bunker-crazy survivalists; and (from Padraig) a Randian enclave in an old corporate park. Aside from the coastal enclave, Deadwood seems like the only “normal” game in town and so the group decides that it’s a fairly large enclave with a lot of refugee groups. There are the Old Timers who have been there since the beginning (and also hold a lot of the power), the McMurdoch family that started up the still (another major player), the Miners who are those people working to expand the tunnels, the Militia which patrols the heights and the fence, and Skid Row which is where the poorest of the enclave live.
Finishing Things Up
It’s probably best to wrap things up at this point. If your Active Session Zero go like mine people are pretty tired at this point and things are feeling a bit strained. They have a job offer coming but that can be part of the first actual session, particularly since they’ll have to negotiate the job’s details and that’s a different prospect entirely. As people are finishing things up and the Market completes any notes, the players can also buy some gear (gear packages on pages 211-213 of Red Markets are useful to expedite things) and they can also come up with retirement packages (pages 214-215 of Red Markets) to round out their characters.
Example: Everyone works on their character sheets as the session draws to a close and Brent lets them know how the next session will go. One of the Old Timers has a job for them bringing a shipment of custom metal pieces to the coastal enclave but Brent also has an idea of a trade run to the farming enclave, delivering whiskey and bringing back more grains. The group can mull these over in between sessions and they should email him their retirement plans so that Brent can start that long-term thinking.