Category Archives: Second City Survival

Second City Survival part 6: Post-Apocalyptic Gangs

The gangs of Chicago were uniquely situated to survive after the collapse of mainstream authority in the city. While their populations were no more spared the initial die-off than anyone else, they were more accustomed to the violence that followed, had organizational hierarchies to follow, had caches of weapon, and were psychologically prepared to take harsh steps when required. They acted swiftly to appropriate foodstuffs and supplies, which they used themselves and sold to what civilians could afford their prices.

Over the next decade the gangs largely let old conflicts rest as survival took priority, and the die-offs brought plenty of elbow room. Survivors flocked to the gangs to protection, either joining them outright, or providing labor in exchange for food, shelter, and safety.

Of course, the gangs were themselves no less susceptible to the technological and communication breakdowns than anyone else. Cut off from leadership at any level above the local, individual sets within a gang drifted apart until they owed one-another no more loyalty than they did their formal rivals.

In 2050

In 2050 Chicago is ruled by gangs, each claiming their own territory and the resources within, which more often than not includes salvage rights and the civilian population. In some cases these civilians are little more than slaves. In others they are valued members of the community.

Most of them are isolationist, focused on their survival and the survival of those under their protection, but they will cooperate in defense of the city against both suburban mutants and any of their number who threaten to destabilize the rest. Any inter-gang warfare is limited to the occasional raid for resources or to count coup, or retaliatory actions for these raids. Nobody can afford to fight a protracted war, at least not yet.

Gang Structure

While the gangs have developed in relative isolation for the last decade and a half, they did grow from the common Chicago street culture as of 2036. As such, there are a few generalities we can make.

  • Leader: Each gang has a strong leadership, either a single individual or multiple individuals who each control a different aspect of the gang’s activities. The nature of the leader (or leaders) bleeds into every other aspect of the gang.
  • Committee: Those members most trusted by the leader. They see to it that his orders are passed along and fulfilled. In some gangs they may have specific duties, like Warlord or Bookkeeper.
  • Foot Soldiers: Most gang members are rank and file. They do everything from tag territory to scavenge for goods and clash with rivals.
  • Associates: Non-gang members who live in a gang’s territory under their permission. Some of them may provide services for the gang with the hopes of eventually joining.

The Core Members of each gang are primarily made up of those who were in the gang before the collapse, and the few newer members who’ve managed to make a name for themselves since then. As such, most are now in their thirties, and most gang leaders are in their forties.

In 2036 many of the gangs were split along ethnic lines, but these matters are less important after the apocalypse. Those who survived were those willing to put their differences aside.


The old People and Folk alliances still exist, but by 2036 they’d become little more than nominal history, observed more often in the breach. By 2050 they’re thought of as archaic, simply because the gangs are too busy trying to survive to worry about serious war; at worst, the gangs raid one another. This could change either way in the future with new alliances built on the bones of the old, or the struggle for resources could intensify into more frequent clashes.

Selected Gangs in 2050s Chicago

Folk Gangs

  • Gangster Disciples
  • Satan Disciples
  • Imperial Gangsters
  • Spanish Cobras
  • Two Six
  • Insane Deuces

People Gangs

  • Latin Kings
  • Vice Lords
  • Black P-Stones
  • Four Corner Hustlers
  • Gaylords

Unaffiliated Gangs

  • Black Gangsters
  • Black Souls
  • Lynchmen Sercaun Gangsters
  • Molotov Mafia



Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Second City Survival part 5: Community Areas

Before the apocalypse Chicago was organized into 77 community areas, each of which contained multiple neighborhoods. This division is useful to us in designing our version of it, because it allows us to parcel our information out in manageable chunks. As our PCs move through the city, we can use these areas and neighborhoods to tell them where they are, without having to track them block by block, street by street, building by building.

A crowded cityscape

That’s a lot of work.

What’s in an area?

We could just jump into our first area and start brainstorming, but there’s a better and more systemic way to go about it, one that allows us to both compartmentalize our creation process and to approach the city holistically. The faster we get down the basic information about each of our community areas, the more clear our overall city’s flavor becomes, and the more we can weave it all together.

77 areas isn’t even that many… that’s fewer than a 9×9 grid of hexes. We can handle it, and the best way to start is to decide what we need to create for each area.

What do we need?

We’ll start figuring out what to design from a utilitarian standpoint. We need to know what our players need us to know, and that’s determined by what they’ll be doing in the campaign. So what is there to do in a post-apocalyptic cityscape?

  • Salvage. One of the basic activities players can do is look for more stuff. So we need to know what stuff is in each area, and how difficult it is to find.
  • Deal with the locals. This might be fighting, trading, building an alliance, or just sneaking past. Whatever the PCs approach, they need to know who’s there. We need to know who runs bartertown, what kind of defenses they have, how much scrutiny outsiders will be under, and how easy it is to get away with shenanigans.
  • Fighting mutants. That’s basically what the mutants are there for. Hazards to avoid or blow up or whatever. Maybe some mutants can be reasoned with, and maybe some locals can’t. We can throw in other natural dangers here too, so let’s just call this category ‘Hazards.’
  • Forage for food and water. Probably just lump this under Salvage.
  • Places to go, things to see. What landmarks exist in an area, or other resources to be exploited.

Working it out

Population: First off, how many people live in the area? This is pretty easy to determine if we want something quick and lazy. Look at the current population levels, and reduce to 1%.

The problem with this is that pre and post apocalyptic Chicago have entirely different criteria for population density. Before the apocalypse it was available housing and access to public transit. After it’s arable land for growing food and a paucity of mutant rats. So adjust those numbers freely.

Health: How healthy are the locals? This depends on a few factors as well, such as how much food they’re getting and how careful the locals are with their waste.

Prosperity: How well off are the people here? We can lump together the availability of food and water as well as trade goods and barter, condition of equipment, and how well they’re armed. This implies a certain availability of skilled workers, as well as what technology has been recovered.

Politics: In our Chicago, many of our areas will be controlled by street gangs. Others will be free zones without any kind of imposed order or organized protection. So who rules the roost? What kind of leadership do they provide? How do they relate to the rulers of other areas? How much freedom does the ruling body give those passing through, or the non-gang-members who live there?

Defenses: How are the locals armed, and how are the ruling body’s forces organized? Do they have any fortifications or other features that give them a tactical advantage against invaders?


Post-Apocalytpic City by Ty'Onah Gallman

Disease: This ties in to Health, above. How much more or less likely are the PCs to pick up some illness in the area? Are there any particular contagions to worry about?

Beasts: What mutants and wild animals dwell here? What’s up with that? What about two-legged threats – bandit gangs and other scum – aside from what’s covered under Politics, of course.

Salvage and Random Encounters

With the above information in mind, we can work up a scrounging finds table and a random encounter table for each area. Maybe make up a few “base” tables for different sorts of neighborhoods, and then refer to them from our Community Area entries.

In the end, entries will look something like this:

  • Community Area
  • Who’s In Charge
  • Population
  • Salvage Table & Modifiers
  • Forage Table & Modifiers
  • Prosperity
  • Politics
  • Defenses
  • Hazards
  • Random Encounter Table

With some variation to account for unique features in each area.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Second City Survival part 4: The ‘Burbs

By 2034 Chicago was surrounded by a dense suburban sprawl to a distance of at least 30 miles in every direction. Residential neighborhoods, smaller towns, and commercial centers all blend together into endless concrete foothills before the city itself. It’s more spacious than the metropolis itself, a buffer between it and the more natural farmland and regrowing prairie of Illinois.


The years following the collapse haven’t been kind to the ‘burbs, as the native prairie has done what it can to reclaim the concrete, aided by the frequent super-storms. Much of it is in ruins, and much of it has been picked over, but life finds a way.

Cracked pavement


Nature has done its best to reclaim the ‘burbs over the last sixteen years, and many of the crumbling structures make excellent warrens for animals in the absence of man. Most of the plant life are tall prairie grasses growing out from between the cracks, across abandoned lawns, and anywhere else they can manage.

The largest predators native to the region are black bears, coyotes, and cougars, often preying on white-tailed deer, groundhogs, and other small mammals. Abandoned pets – feral cats and wild dogs – are also fairly common. Hunters will also find ducks, geese, and other fowl, and should watch out for the venomous copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes that find good hiding places in crevices.

Of course, there are also the mutants.


Mutant variation on the various animal species that live among the ruins are certainly possible, making even smaller animals that typically avoid humans potentially dangerous. I may discuss mutants in a future post, but their extent should reflect the tone you want for your game.

The Human Element

Desperate survivors cling to life in the suburbs, forming small farming communities around plots of arable land – former parks and community gardens and other greens paces. They eke out a substandard living in the shadow of the city, using the shape of the suburbs as defenses against the weather, mutants, and raiders from the city as best they can. These communities seldom include more than a dozen individuals, and are limited by the size of their farmland.

More and more frequently gangs from The City will demand tribute from these small communities in exchange for “protection,” taking food and supplies as they see fit. That may be the limit of their interference with the survivors’ way of life, or they may be treated like virtual slaves, with overseers left behind to keep an eye on them.

Feudalism is making a comeback.

Others in the ruins may be canny loners, merciless bandits, or the occasional exile from the city, banished for some crime or another, real or imagined.


The ruins have been picked over for better than a decade, but canny scavengers can always find just a little bit more. Given how relatively diffuse the ‘burbs are, it would be difficult to do a truly comprehensive sweep. Areas in the immediate vicinity of a community will, of course, be picked clean.

The Northern Suburbs

Suburban hexmap

Hexcrawling Suburbia

Each hex in the above map is about 12 miles across, giving them an area of 127 square miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover. These hexes should not be presented to the PCs, but used as a convenience for the GM’s sake.

We can use an adaptation of the system introduced in Hexbox, applied to whatever you’re running Second City Survival in. This means we’ll need to build a random encounter table, hex key, and probably a scrounging table.

Hex Keys

Each Hex Key includes general notes on the hex in question, any special rules for scavenging and encounters, any settlements, and the hex’s Key Feature. PCs have a 10% chance of running across the Key Feature each day of travel, doubled if they’re taking the time to explore and scavenge rather than just passing through.

If they’re following a specific major highway or railroad, of course, they’ll only run across what the route intersects. Make a note of this in the key as well.

Example: D2

Waukegan: The city of Waukegan is a valuable source of salvage for those brave enough to risk their lungs with the asbestos that hangs in the air. Before the apocalypse, PCBs in the harbor’s mud had combined with leachates from an improperly sealed landfill to create small pockets of explosive gas. After the superstorms of 2034, enough of these pockets were disturbed to aerosolize the asbestos in an old roofing company, creating more-or-less permanent clouds in many of the buildings.  Just passing through can lead to chronic lung issues.

Due to this danger the ruins have been relatively unmolested, and it is rumored great riches await those willing to risk the odds.

It will be encountered by anyone traveling down the coast, or along I-94.

Great Lakes Naval Station, near Waukegan, was an active training facility at the collapse. It currently serves as an outpost for the gangs operating out of Chicago, particularly the CPD, when conducting raids on the surrounding suburbs.

It will be encountered by anyone traveling down the coast

Six Flags Great America: East if Waukegan is a derelict amusement park that serves as home to the Allfolks, a gang that makes heavy use of old mascot costumes in their equipment.  The heads are usually eschewed as cumbersome, but the rest of the costumes are enhanced with improvised armor.


We might want to come up with different tables for different regions or even individual hexes, but first let’s work up a “generic suburban encounter” table. We’ll check for an encounter daily and maybe every night while the group is encamped.

d100 Subtable
01-30 No Encounter
31-60 Hex’s Special Encounter
61-80 Animal Encounter
81-95 Human Encounter
96-00 Mutant Encounter



Scavenging is going to be abstracted a bit, and either done within the hex as a whole, or while traveling. If done by traveling it’ll slow down your overall speed by about half… in either case, it represents poking around in abandoned cars, looking into gas stations and convenience stores, and checking out likely looking houses.

We distill this all down into a single roll each day against whatever skill or ability the PCs possess that fits.

On a success we’ll roll on another table, to determine what we’ve found. Given that each suburban hex is 127 miles in area that includes entire small towns, we can include a master table to determine where the goodies were found, and a sub-table to decide exactly what it was.


  1. Foodstuff
  2. Weapons
  3. Fuel
  4. Tools
  5. Medicine
  6. Clothing

Example Foodstuffs Table

  1. six pack of beer
  2. Salt packets
  3. Bag of rice
  4. Can of condensed milk
  5. Military MRE
  6. Jar of pickles

Optionally we can let the PCs focus on a particular sort of scavenge, giving a slightly lower chance of success in exchange for finding a certain category of good. A “scavenging called shot” if you will.

Anticipate larger scavenging and encounter tables later in the series, but next we’re going to start detailing the city of Chicago’s community areas.


Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Second City Survival part 3: Campaign Frameworks

As presented, post-apocalyptic Chicago is a fine setting but we haven’t touched on the other elements required for a campaign. This is intentional, as the purpose of these posts is to provide you with the tools you can use to run your own games.

Part of it is simply the nature of the sandbox. Players drive the action and set their own goals. However, if we provide some sort of more specific context, we can save the PCs from the dangers of decision paralysis – a goal, even nebulous, gives them a direction to plan in.

A crowded cityscape


The framework I had in mind while conceptualizing Windy City Devils was that the PCs would be outsiders to the city, commissioned to infiltrate and explore. The Government in Isolation has no idea what the situation is within the city, only that their patrols have been turned back by increasingly forceful resistance.

Unwilling to commit to a full-blown assault, the Acting President has assigned a small group of specialists to infiltrate the city, determine what’s going on, and integrate themselves as best they can. Eventually they may be “activated” as an sleeper cell to pursue the Government in Isolation’s agenda.


Players are loyal members of one of the larger gangs or other factions. The game focuses on their lives and careers as they rise in importance, build relationships, and vie with their rivals to try and dominate the city.

This game is a bit more slice-of-life, with a focus on the PCs personal stories within their chosen hierarchy. It deals more deeply with the personalities and relationships of their faction, as well as their development both in prominence and in power.

Even more than the other frameworks, this one is heavily character-driven, perhaps more individually so.

Little Gs

As above, but the PCs belong to a minor faction, a gang or group or family with fewer than a dozen members. Maybe the PCs are the entire faction. Regardless, they have more authority, but fewer resources.

In this framework the focus is on the development of the PC faction as they navigate in the shadows of the larger groups, surviving and trying to thrive. The element of personal development is still present, but the PCs have more of an influence on how well their faction does.


The PCs are independent operators in the city, offering their services to the different factions and survivors of Chicago, choosing which allies and enemies to make. Maybe they have a larger agenda, or maybe they’re simply profit-focused mercenaries.

This is a bit of a combination of the OG and Little G setup, in that they have freedom of action, but also focus on the PCs personal development. Of course, being freelancers there’s little protection from the other factions, and no expectation of loyalty.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Second City Survival part 2: Chicago Overview

In our first post we introduced the notion of a post-apocalyptic urban sandbox set in Chicago, covering the setting in broad strokes aside from the city of Chicago itself. Let’s handle that today.

Structure of the City

Chicago is divided up into 77 community areas, each comprised of multiple neighborhoods. The community areas have stronger definition than the neighborhoods, so we’ll focus on them as we develop the city’s post-apocalyptic future. This also gives us less work to do.

More broadly, we can divide the city up into four “sides:” North, South, West, and Central. East is Lake Michigan.

Before the apocalypse Chicago boasted a strong light rail system, the ‘El’ or ‘elevated train’ that carried commuters throughout. While it’s certainly possible that the factions within the city might get it up and running again, it is assumed that at the start of the game they have not.

Bringing the el back to life makes for a fine campaign goal, but for now the rails do serve as a possible means of travel for those who want to walk along them.

Speaking of Factions

In the 16 years since the Apocalypse, the most obvious source of factional power are the gangs. Chicago has a lot of gangs. Many of them belong to one of the two prominent gang families, the Folk and the People, but a lot can change, alliances can shift, gangs can die out, new ones can be born. And that’s before the apocalypse.

This gives us free reign to base our fictional future on the modern Chicago street gangs as much or as little as we like.

For our purposes, the gangs will essentially serve as the basic unit of social organization. There are some smaller scavenger families scrabbling among the ruins, but they have little protection – there are no laws, there are no social services, there is no authority to appeal to. Most have accepted a gang’s protection in exchange for labor, if not joining outright.

There are, of course, other factions.

The gangs exist, currently, in the form of a loose alliance, focused on maintaining their own holdings and occasionally raiding one another. Maybe they have some sort of council, or a stronger authority figure holding together their social plan.


The remnants of the Chicago Police Department are the largest gang in the city. They wear gang colors, they protect their brothers, they are not afraid to use force or the threat of force to pursue their goals.

It’s been over a decade and a half. They know that there’s no change coming to the city. But they maintain their moral high-ground as the only legitimate authority in Chicago.

The Company

2034’s Chicago was already pretty cyberpunk, so it’s not entirely unlikely that some corporate entity or another might have its own residential enclave for its employees. This isn’t even unheard of in the city’s history — the Pullman district still bears the name of the Pullman Palace Car Company.

Life in the Corporate Enclave is perhaps the closest to normalcy that can be acquired — they’d have the most resources after the Fall, a hierarchical organization, and perhaps a selection of skilled technical workers.

They’d also have the resentment of the rest of the city and a Feudal attitude towards their employees. After all, it’s not like they have anywhere else to go.

Mapping Chicago

So, with our community areas and social overview we can start making a map of the city. We start with just the community areas.

These will be the basic tiles of our sandbox. Each area will be described, it’ll have its own random encounter table, it’ll have its own resources.

Each will also have a certain amount of influence from the various city factions.

In the future we’ll flesh out some of these districts and the factions that inhabit them, as well as come up with some more defined campaign frameworks to set within our city.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.