Monday 14 December 2015

The Catastrophe List

Some time ago, It struck me that a game about the run up to a terrible world-breaking disaster needed some structured sense of urgency. So I came up with this.

The Catastrophe List
If you're the Narrator, chance is you're going to be wondering what your job is going to be here. We've got an alien setting full of weird people, and protagonists who seem to be, by design, able to derail any plotline set in advance, can't be killed, and are almost certainly going to wreak a swathe of destruction and ruin across the earth.

Chariot isn't designed to be the sort of game where you have a fully set out plot laid out ahead of you. In a Chariot game, you, the Narrator I mean, have a place where the action is happening, a conflict that is happening there, and people who want things, hopefully different things (and if the players are on the ball with their Relationships, things that develop and grow in unexpected ways). How that develops depends wholly on the players; the supporting cast react to what the players do, some take advantage of the instability these super powerful beings create, some run, some hide, some fight. When the Fated turn up, people take sides. Encourage the Fated to take sides. Put them in positions where they have to take a side.

Atlantis is falling. It's going to die soon, maybe in a few years, maybe in a few months. And that sense of impending Catastrophe is a constant part of Chariot. What you need to do is get that across, and a useful way to do that is with the Catastrophe List.

All the Catastrophe List is is a list of things that are going to happen before the final Catastrophe happens, when the lands sink and rise, rocks fall from the stars and the cultures of the world fall into war, panic and chaos.

To begin with the portents are worrying. Later, they become frightening. At the end, they're horrific.
I've divided the Catastrophe List into three stages. What you do each session is pick a thing from the Catastrophe List and tick it off. This thing the players witness in the session, and more, witness the reaction to it of the people around them, concern, fear, despair, panic.

Pick them from the first list, to begin with. That's the list of portents, omens. Things that are wrong, worrying, off. Signs of something terribly wrong. These are mainly background details, part of the scenery. When they impinge on the story, they're portents, things that trouble the supporting cast, and by extension the players. Some of them bring suffering and death, but indirectly: as the land turns sour, people starve, tempers fray.

When you feel you're ready – and this might take a long time, or it might be a handful of games – move to the second list. This is the list of things really going wrong, the signs of a disaster that, although the God-Emperors of Atlantis might deny it, isn't going to be avoided. These things are frightening. People suffer directly from these things.

When the disaster seems to you to be ripe, move to the third list. These are the stages of the Catastrophe itself. These are the final horrors. Millions will die and the fabric of the earth will never be the same.

Use the Catastophe List to shape the disaster how you feel it should be shaped. Pick the things that appeal to you as fertile ground for drama. Don't feel you have to use all of the Catastrophe List, but remember, as you tick off the signs, each thing appears once, and once only.

When you're done with the third list, Lemuria sinks, and then Atlantis. And at some point in that final act, the players' characters die. Whether you play out the deaths is up to you, but I'm all for it. Done right, it could be the end of an epic, tragic tale.

First List
_____ An area of fertile farmland turns sour; the people who live there might starve.
_____ A rain of vermin.
_____ A rain of blood.
_____ A rain of marine animals.
_____ Hail as big as fists, potentially deadly to those caught out.
_____ The fish around the coast die, are seen floating on the waters, and are not good to eat.
_____ Beasts turn on their masters.
_____ The sky changes colour for a day.
_____ The Lemurians, migrating, meet with a settled people and tension ensues.
_____ A slave riot; food is short and the slaves are the first to go without.
_____ A plague of insects overruns crops.
_____ A freak rainstorm, strong enough to ground sky-chariots.
_____ A shower of meteorites, not large enough to do more than puncture a few roofs.
_____ Muvian lawkeepers begin to execute crowds of elementalists.
_____ Tlavatli pirates double their attacks; they have nothing to eat.
_____ Floods.
_____ River water turns sour and undrinkable.
_____ Wild animals, forced out of natural habitats, begin to plague inhabited areas.
_____ A summer day turns unnaturally cold, perhaps even having snow.
_____ A comet appears in the sky and fills everyone with fear.
_____ A winter day turns unnaturally warm.
_____ Elementalist Muvians stage a suicide attack against their Orthodox brethren.
_____ Everyone in the same hundred mile radius has the same series of nightmares, over a week.
_____ Earth tremors; a volcano rumbles, belches smoke.
_____ People abandon a coastal village after the sea encroaches.
_____ Disease, widespread.
_____ One of the God-Emperors denies, publicly, in a proclamation that there is anything wrong.

Second List
_____ Rmoahal slaves and proletarians commit public mass suicides,
_____ Migrating Lemurians collide with a large city and threaten its destruction.
_____ A rain of fire destroys crops in a large area.
_____ The sky changes colour and stays that way.
_____ A meteorite shower destroys a small habitation.
_____ Tlavatlis begin to abandon the Five Islands en masse, and refugees begin to arrive in Atlantis.
_____ Waves of wild animals overrun a city.
_____ No one catches any more fish. Fishing communities begin to starve.
_____ Civil unrest in Mu, clashes between Elementalists and Orthodox after Elemental worship begins to be practised openly.
_____ Black Atlanteans lose control of their Bestials, who run wild across a city.
_____ The Siriuns leave.
_____ Elementals swarm through a tear in the fabric of the Akâsha and plague an inhabited area.
_____ Earth tremors level buildings, cause deaths.
_____ Lava erupts from cracks in the earth.
_____ Drought. Famine.
_____ Plague, on a pandemic level.
_____ Suddenly, the people realise that an important food animal has become extinct.

Third List
_____ An asteroid turns a vast area of fertile land – and all its inhabitants – into a plain of black glass.
_____ War breaks out between Black and White Suns.
_____ Civil war breaks out in Mu.
_____ Tlavatli refugees, poorly welcomed, begin to sack
_____ Lemurians rain air-monoliths onto a Muvian or Atlantean city, levelling it.
_____ A vast swarm of thrallworms overrun a city; the inhabitants, all infested, sit quietly and wait to die.
_____ A coastal city is wiped out by a tidal wave.
_____ The Five Islands sink.
_____ Rmoahals rebel one final time.
_____ Another coastal city is wiped out by a tidal wave.
_____ An earthquake swallows a city in a single day.
_____ A city's government loses all control and dissolves into chaos.
_____ Accidentally or deliberately, a city is destroyed by a fission device. The sky turns black, and remains black.
_____ A full eruption of a major volcano renders a large area uninhabitable and entombs a major city in ash and lava.
_____ Unending winter.
_____ Tsunami.
_____ The Lemurian Cairn-Cities vanish into the Akâsha, leaving only wasteland behind. The air-monoliths cease to fly.
_____ One of the Atlantean capitols is destroyed, utterly, by natural phenomenon or human agency.