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.
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?
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
- Salvage Table & Modifiers
- Forage Table & Modifiers
- Random Encounter Table
With some variation to account for unique features in each area.