Saturday, August 22, 2015

Five or So Questions with Oliver Shead on Infected!

I interviewed Oliver Shead about his new game, Infected!, currently on Kickstarter!

Tell me a little bit about Infected! What excites you about it? 

Infected! is a zombie setting placed after the outbreak. It's around five years on, and the infected have been all-but wiped out after years of brutal quarantines, outright warfare and anarchy. There is now a chance for humanity to rebuild society - or to tear it down.

To be honest I've had a lot of people tell me that zombie settings have been done to (un)death, and when I first started this setting I would have agreed with them. 

However, after quite a long time playtesting it and re-working it, I found the setting had changed. It was no longer just a story of crazed survivors clinging together and killing zombies. Instead, it's a living, breathing world that has evolved to still work in many ways. That's the funny part - a lot of it is kind of normal, in a Dark-Ages style of normal.

I get excited when I think of the cultures that evolve in the wake of this sort of an event, as well as the political entities, and the countless ways they can interact. For instance, there are governments that still exist, holding a tenuous web of power over wide geographic zones. However, without much of a standing army, they are reduced to a sort of feudalistic-loyalty system, and some will resort to almost any measures to maintain that control - including having overseers who couple as standover men, commanding the loyalties of local factions - all the while with the risk of the infected looming in the a particularly dangerous pest that refuses to go away.

Basically, it's the richness of the setting that interests me. I think any setting should really inspire you to play it, and make you dream of some of the intense scenarios you can concoct as a Narrator or Player.

Infected! has a classless system. How do you handle experience and advancement?

It's done with a point-buy system. Basically, when you get experience, you can save it up to improve higher stats, or spend it more quickly to improve lower stats. I feel it quite accurately represents how people actually learn - a little bit at a time, rather than by suddenly jumping up to a new range of abilities. We ultimately leave it up to the Narrator's discretion as to what is permitted to be advanced, and by how much - with guidelines that stats should go up a bit at a time, not all in one go, and should represent what characters are learning and applying themselves to as they go. So if you never use Athletics, for example, it should not go up unless you start attempting to work the Skill.

Can you give me a brief description of the type of characters people would play in Infected!?

Ooh, this is a great question! 

Really, they can play anyone they want. I personally love to see real characters. Not muscle-bound, gun-toting Rambos, but rather deep, varied and interesting people. People who are ultimately flawed, and who all face their horrors in countless different ways. In a zombie setting, many people instantly assume that everything is about fighting and killing, but in fact the Immersion RPG system supports characters doing far more than that. We have had players in our games who almost never fired a shot. Their characters were all about discussion, statescraft, the controlling and manipulation of people, commanding groups, and so forth. Because of the lethality of the system, groups of relatively normal people are still a tremendous threat if they wish to be, so the use of your diplomatic skills is in many cases far more important than your fighting skills. Try fighting your way through ten armed men... talking, on the other hand? That's a real possibility.

Also, with the setting being quite dynamic and "alive" with trade routes, even highways, and societies ebbing and flowing along these channels as they always have (ultimately, it would be quite difficult to survive in complete fortress mode), there is the real possibility of players running characters like dedicated traders, scrap merchants, snake-oil salesmen, travelling shows, gypsies, spies, informants, farmers, soldiers... really, the gamut of usual societal roles.

I personally love unusual characters with detailed histories. They are shaped by their pasts. They may be scarred by them. But they are surviving in their own ways.

Can you tell me about the infrastructure and logistics in the Infected! setting? (anything from politics to how they handle power and water!)

Great question! However, the answer to this really varies greatly from location to location. One of the great things about the real world, is that there are just so many exceptions to every rule! It's almost impossible to generalise - when you do, you miss out on so much of the quirky, odd, different and outright bizarre things in the world. That being said, I'll now generalise as best I can!

By and large, the logistics are reduced to a 3rd or 4th world level. Because a fairly substantial portion of society is still alive and functioning, the need for supplies, water, sanitation and equipment is paramount. No society can survive without a steady stream of resources coming in and going out - few could be completely self-sufficient.

There are communities left in the ruins that range from a few lonely hold-outs, to burgeoning cities of ten thousand people or more. But no matter their size, their positions, strategy and very lives depend on a few basics - fresh water being one of the most critical. The loss of a functioning water system in the cities means that people rapidly shift to those areas that water can be readily found. Some townships use pumps (usually man-powered, as diesel is in short supply for powerful generators). Others use the most age-old method there is: the bucket.

This also creates other issues. Sanitation of river water is dodgy at the best of times. Some years on, much of the pollution has eased off from the waterways, but even so, it is an easy way to gain a nasty disease (or even the nasty disease). As such, most people at least try to boil their water before drinking it, or use other methods of purifying it, like tying cotton over the water spout, or making rudimentary carbon filters.

Power is another interesting one. In some areas, there are still power plants functioning - though they are highly prized commodities. Hydro-electric dams tend to be the most valued of all - an infinite power source at your fingertips. Despite this, most communities are without anything but the most rudimentary power supply. Lamps and candles are far more numerous. Working electricity is also a status symbol - only the greatest, richest political entity has access to as much power as they need. Just as only such groups have manufacturing of complicated items - like guns and bullets, or the refining of petrol.

This brings in the political entities of the world. It's a multi-layered situation. At the local level, many towns and communities band together out of mutual protection. Often they decide that having a government is a bad idea - they can handle things much better on their own! Most governments are fractured, splintered things, just vestiges of their former glories. However, they still have many resources garnered from those who remain under their sway. And many make use of "overseers" - those who watch, and observe...and sometimes take precipitate action to ensure loyalty is kept. Many are nothing more than glorified assassins, enforcing loyalty.

Really, the question of power comes down to knowing who will back you. It's a game of chicken. If you revolt against a more powerful group, then do you have enough support from other communities to see the revolt through? Or will they leave you in the lurch, even team up against you when the government soldiers arrive, and then seek to split the spoils?

Besides, most communities are all-but on their own anyway. So how important is it if a government claims them?

Then again, rival governments can attack and destroy communities, simply because they're part of the other side.

Ideally, what do you want players to experience when they play Infected!?

I would like them to experience a rich world, with the opportunity to really experience the adventures and the horrors of this new dark age. I would like them to make characters that live and breathe, and to have deep campaigns that are about so much more than zombie killing! I would very much love for the societies to shine through. The bizarre new cultures and trends.

And that being said... I would also love them to feel the gut-churning, cold-sweat fear of realising the Infected are hunting them - and then truly discovering what that terror would be like.

Thanks to Oliver for the interview! Make sure to check out Infected! on Kickstarter!

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