Campaign Setting for Atomic Highway RPG (Radioactive Ape Designs 2009)
Click the map for a hi-res version
They say that when you die you'll find yourself in a dark tunnel, floating towards a light at the end. Those brought back by medics say their passage was only cut short. I guess those who made it ain't here to tell about. I saw me a white light once. It was the last damned thing I ever saw. Like a second Sun had lit up above the city. And the silhouette of Berlin skyline wasn't black. It was red, like the light was shining right through concrete and steel. They call me a blind man now but it ain't true. I can still see the Berlin skyline, silhouetted against the Flash. I have watched it for twenty years.
Berlin Zero is set 20 years after a global nuclear holocaust. No one knows who started it. No one knows the cause. But the devastation, the mutations and the suffering are known to all.
Hit by a warhead of an unknown type, the city of Berlin is a hellhole of ruins, radiation and mutated monstrosities. Much of the countryside was torched by heat and radiation, turning farmland and forest into a wasteland dead trees, scorched walls and white bones. Twenty years later very little life has returned to the landscape. Hardy grasses and gnarled bushes cling on to gravel, bending away from Berlin as if trying to escape something. Rivers and lakes have either dried up or become radioactive swamps, their flow choked with fallout and debris.
Enclaves cling on to what
bits of civilization and infrastructure remain. These fortified
towns are often suspicious of outsiders but keep the lights on by
operating basic industries, power plants, militias and schools.
Their citizens enjoy a level of security and comfort only dreamed
of by those left in the Wasteland.
Guild is a loose federation of roving traders and wasteland brokers. It runs bartertowns, neutral grounds for meeting and trading with other people. While a visa into an enclave can be hard to come by all you need to enter a bartertown is something concrete to trade. The Guild traders are not out to save the world but they do have a vital role in maintaining what little fragments of civilization remain.
Good guys have the coolest hats (Fallout 3)
Reich is a fascist
dictatorship to the east. It is the only centralized government
in the region. Reich is expanding westward, seeking to conquer
the enclaves around Berlin and ultimately claim the Capital of
Germania for herself. It follows the ideology and tenet of the
Nazis and also mimics them in both appearance and policies. Three
enclaves have already fallen before it, their residents enslaved
in labour camps, dragged off to the mines in the East or simply
purged for not meeting the Reich's racial criteria.
Monks are a sinister new presence in the heart of Berlin. Seemingly immune to radiation, wielding technology far beyond the Pre-War level and controlling mutants by unknown means, these cloaked and hooded strangers are the subject of horror stories among wastelanders. Since they appeared five years ago, mutant attacks on travellers and enclaves have become more frequent and much better organized. People carried off by mutant raiders are never seen again. Some say the Monks are building a mutant army and that one mutants will finish the apocalypse that Humanity started.
Reich troopers at the outskirts of Berlin (for real!)
Raiders are an
ever-present danger to enclaves and travellers alike. These
motorized bandits strike on wheels or foot, grab what they want
and retreat. Raiders are said to have their own camps or even
enclaves hidden somewhere in the dead forests. Bounty hunters and
roadwarriors carve them up on a regular basis but there are
always more fugitives, outcasts and desperadoes to fill the gaps.
Stragglers are tattered bands of refugees roaming the wasteland. Starving, abused and ravaged by disease and radiation, they will beg, scavenge or steal whatever they need to survive. Cowardly when alone or in small groups, they are often dangerous if they think they can overpower you. Stragglers can be found anywhere but in recent years actual straggler camps, mostly horrible post-apocalyptic slums, have appeared on the maps. Residents come and go but the camps seem to remain, year after year.
Raiders on the move (Road Warrior)
Couple of athletes preparing for a game (Salute of the Jugger)
"Stead" is a permanent shelter for under 100 people. It is typically a farmhouse or small industrial building, turned into a fortress with sandbags, ditches, barbed wire and trash walls. Early settlements were all steads and they were common until stragglers appeared. Stead residents live on farming, small crafts and crude industries. Raiders haze them a little but they mostly leave steads alone because there is little to gain from attacking them. Even Reich regards them with contemptuous indifference.
The arrival of stragglers was the armageddon for steads. They were soft targets with food, clothing and filtered water. These are all priceless to the average straggler. Despite their makeshift fortifications, most steads were overrun and residents killed or driven out (many ended up in enclaves). There is talk of atrocities and much of the public resentment towards stragglers stems from these acts.
Today, the surviving steads tend to be remote, hidden away from the main routes and intensely xenophobic. They still send trading parties to bartertowns and enclaves to trade foodstuffs, fuel and fabric for tools and machinery. However, with the loss of so many steads the drop in food production is causing serious problems even in the largest enclaves.
|2Burg||Small fortified town built on and inside river barges stuck on the dried-up Beetzsee Lake. 2Burg has lots of expert craftsmen working wonders with metals and electronics they scavenged from Brandenburg an der Havel. This is probably the most technologically advanced enclave. Leader: Hannele von Bonsdorf|
|Fehrbellin||Rural backwater town ruled by a band of armed thugs. Rumoured to have deals with the raiders in Kremmen and goods stolen by raiders sometimes turn up here. Traders occasionally camp outside the enclave by road E55. Leader: Marco Sikorsky|
|Potsdam Collective||Big industrial centre with coal plants and windfarms for energy. Socialist and increasingly totalitarian but still has the highest standard of living and education in the whole region. The Collective has a well-armed and organized militia. Traders and salvagers are always welcome but getting to Potsdam can be tricky (Werder Radnest to the West, Berlin to the Northeast and Seddinen See raiders to the south). Leader: Friedrich Jüttner|
|Ludwig's Gate||Mainly a fortress where local farmsteaders flee to at times of trouble. It also has a bulwark blocking E30 to the east and hence the name "Ludwig's Gate". Peaceful travellers can pass by paying a small toll but Reich is not welcome. The Gate is surrounded by marshlands, lakes and other natural defences, making it strategically important. Leader: Ulrika Zapf|
|Badwald||An apocalyptic cult enclave hidden in a dead forest. Originally founded by surviving military personnel, Badwald Enclave is now the headquarters of God's Army. Some of the best weaponsmiths in the region can be found here but dealing with the fundamentalists can be tricky, even for Guild traders. Leader: Lothar Aumens|
|Storkow||A rural fortress-turned-refugee camp as the original residents were drowned in refugees fleeing from the Reich conquests to the northeast. Now there is no way to control the access in and out of the refugee ghetto. However, radioactive marshes all around the enclave offer some protection. Some consider Storkow as just another straggler camp but it does have a government, an assembly of family clans. Known for the skill of its hunters. Leader: Peter Juratovic|
|Kloster Lehnin||Lehnin Monastery survived the Flash intact and became a fortified base of operations for local traders early on. Today, Kloster Lehnin is a thriving bartertown where local steaders and trading parties from 2Burg and Potsdam meet. Leader: Roderich Keul|
|Biesenthal||Biesenthal ruins became a trading station for local farmsteaders even before Guild moved in. In recent years this bartertown has fallen on hard times. The loss of Bernau Enclave to the mutants, the Reich invasion in the East and growing straggler troubles have constricted trade and traffic in this region. Biesenthal is little more than a camp these days. It is only a matter of time before Guild pulls out. Leader: Jens Thiele|
|Wuster||Wusterhausen channel is clogged with debris and the town is in ruins but the old channel port is the largest and most populous (if not the most prosperous) Bbartertown in the region. Wuster is the Scavenger Capital of the Wasteland and only barely in Guild control. It draws a lot of visitors, many of them disguised raiders and other riff-raff. Its brothels, pit fight arenas and gambling dens are visited even by Reich officers. However, the real business is salvage and intel, especially from Berlin. Leader: Astrid Fell|
|Falkensee||A filthy refugee camp in a former park, built from materials stripped from the ruins of Falkensee all around it. The camp owes much of its size to Potsdam Collective, whose militia actively rounds up stragglers and sends them north to this camp. Recently the increasing mutant attacks from Wustermark and Berlin are taking their toll and many stragglers have fled north. Those who remain are trying to rebuild the camp into something more defensible. Falkensee may eventually become an enclave.|
|Oranienburg||This is the largest straggler camp and has had a very disruptive effect north of Berlin. Steaders consider it a bandit camp and shoot stragglers on sight. The camp has no perimeter but instead every building (or even a wall) in the houses that still stand shelters a family or two. The site is occasionally raided by mutants from Birkenwerder.|
|Mellensee||This ruined village at the edge of a marshy lake is a waycamp for stragglers coming from the South. Small, remote and often ignored.|
|Wriezen||The Flash left Wriezen intact but heavily irradiated. Survivors degenerated physically and mentally until the budding Enclave finally self-destructed in an orgy of caveman violence. Wriezen got a bad reputation and remained abandoned for over a decade. Then groups of stragglers started moving it. Now some of them are looking sickly and acting funny.|
Reich has a supreme leader somewhere in the east but he is only referred to as the Führer.
|Erkner||Erkner was badly damaged by the Flash but the railyard was left intact. Abandoned trains and railcars became the home of a small enclave until it was invaded by Reich because of strategic bridges towards Berlin. Today Erkner is Reich's forward base and base camp for Reich-sanctioned salvage raids into the city. These expeditions often involve prisoners acting as porters. They have explosive collars and if they venture too far from their overseers the collars will take their heads off. While Reich usually keeps its finds to itself, some Berlin salvage ends up on sale in Wusterhausen. Probably because of corrupt officers. Leader: Kommandant Gerster|
|Straussberg||The largest Reich base in the region. The actual base is on a former airfield to the east of Straussberg ruins and include civilian quarters for the soldiers' families. Reich troopers also occupy a number of old factories and powerplants around town, including a massive chemical plant used for fuel distillation. In addition, there is a labour camp in the ruins, uncomfortably close to the intensely radioactive Straussee Lake to the west. Slaves are working on a railroad line leading towards Berlin. While Straussberg itself is relatively safe and quiet, the railroad construction is anything but. Leader: General Troost|
|Fürstenwalde||The medieval centre of Fürstenwalde was left standing while the modern town burned down around it. It became a small, easily fortified Enclave overlooking the junction of several smaller roads. Reich invaded it first because it was a hard target and gave it a defensible base close to the eastern run of E30. Fürstenwalde was at first the primary Reich base but was superceded by Straussberg. It is now a garrison, a training centre and a depot with a working railroad to Reich heartland in the east. It also has a small labour camp for prisoners to be transported to the mines in the East. Reich has been unable to restore the pre-Flash railroad link between Fürstenwalde and Erkner. Leader: Kommandant Wolff|
|Kremmen||Kremmen ruins are surrounded by scorched farmland, glowing marshes, dead forests, old farm houses, WW2 bunkers and Cold War tunnels. All of them can be used as raider hideouts and finding them or even moving about is difficult if you are not familiar with the terrain. Sommerswalde castle east of Kremmer is an imposing place even when in ruins and raiders use it to trade, meet and settle their disputes.|
|Seddiner See||Region in and around Seddiner Lake is a labyrinth of poor roads, dead forests, swamps, burnt villages and fallen bridges. Moving large forces by foot or vehicle is slow and there are hundreds of ways to find yourself at a dead end. Raiders retreat here to evade patrols from Potsdam Collective. They occasionally host wild races on the grounds of the former Seddiner See Golf- and Country Club. You can buy video clips of Seddiner Grand Prix from any bartertown.|
|Müncheberg||Reich has been unable to drive raiders out of the dead forests around Müncheberg and the raider gangs have swelled with escaped prisoners and refugees from the Reich conquests. Many local gangs see themselves as partisans and freedom fighters rather than raiders, although non-Reich targets are intercepted on the grounds of collecting a revolution fee". Unlike other raiders, Müncheberg raiders also use ultralight aircraft. Reich and collective fliers have tried taking them on but the raider pilots here are some of the best in the world. There are rumours that they are being trained by a former Reich ace called "Red Baron".|
|Berlin||A former city of 4 million and a
capital of a great nation, Berlin cannot be summed up
easil. The city took the full force of the Flash above it
but ironically, it was nothing new. Berlin was heavily
bombed in World War 2 with pretty much the same
consequences. Some city blocks have shielded each other
and only the top floors or roofs have caved in. Sometimes
all that are standing are the smokestacks, or the outer
walls hide an empty shell within. Some buildings are just
like before, except that windows are blown in. And
sometimes you only have a half of a building, with the
other half piled up on the streets or caved in when an
underground tunnel or other cavity collapsed. There is a
bewildering randomness to the levels of destruction.
Many of the old monuments are still recognizable if also blackened and scorched. Even Berlin Tower still stands and is clearly visible from everywhere in the city. Reaching it has become a Holy Grail for stalkers (scavengers specializing in Berlin). Also the residents directly exposed to the Flash are still present in the view since their shadows were burned into the walls or pavement. Some say you can still hear their ghosts whispering from these eerie marks.
Street level is often intensely radioactive although variation from street to street is great. There are also faerie fires, electrical disturbances and instances of abnormal magnetism. The fallout glows at night, especially in damp air, outlining rather than lighting up objects in the dark. Items brought from Berlin tend to be radioactive as well and there are limits to how well they can be scrubbed. Still, if it is Monk technology many consider it a risk worth taking.
Radiation levels drop with higher ground and some stalkers prefer moving through the upper floors of the buildings, crossing streets along collapsed beams or balancing on old electical cables. The most popular way to move around is the underground. While pockets of radioactive runoff have collected in places, the underground spaces are fairly clean and almost intact. The core of the underground is the subway system but Berlin is virtually hollowed out with maintenance passages, bomb shelters, underground bunkers and other WW2/Cold War leftovers. Some of them have been sealed shut since 1945.
Mutants are the clear and present danger and neither man nor beast has been spared. Huge insects, giant bats, two-headed birds, rats the size of cats and packs of quadripeds of various origin roam the ruins. At the top of the food chain are humanoid mutants. Those controlled by Monks operate in a trained manner and can wield weapons, occasional even firearms. The rest hunt and forage in small groups like primates, living on fungi and slimes when no heartier meal is available. They are always hostile to non-mutants and sometimes even to other mutant groups.
|Werder||Surrounded by foul marshes southwest of Potsdam, the small town of Werder once had a Collective outpost. It was overrun by mutants lead by a Monk and has been an active Radnest ever since. Radiation levels have skyrocketed and the number of mutants seems to increase on its own. There is no explanation for it. Werder Radnest has virtually cut off Potsdam Collective in the west and has been the source of many mutant attacks on the Collective. Attempts to clear the mutants out from Werder by force have been costly failures.|
|Wustermark||If Werder was a Monk response to the growth of Potsdam Collective, Wustermark appears to be the Monk response to creation of a straggler camp at Falkensee. This time the source of the mutant influx is known. Wustermark sewers connect to an underground passage that probably leads into Berlin. Mutant presence has also spiked the radiation levels. Even if the tunnel was blocked, Wustermark would remain uninhabitable.|
|Birkenwerder||Years ago Birkenwerder used to be a small enclave, the only one North of Berlin. It was overrun by mutants that followed the railroad tracks leading north from Berlin. It has been a Radnest ever since. This was already before the arrival of Monks so the mutants may have been acting on their own. Since the arrival of Monks mutants from Birkenwerder have been attacking Oranenburg time and time again. Birkenwerder also blocks road E55 from all but the most heavily armed travellers.|
|Bernau bei Berlin||Bernau may or may not have an underground connection to Berlin but it sits on top of an underground complex. The complex has been taken over by Monks and mutants roaming the streets act as a deterrent to would-be intruders. Although there have been some encounters between mutants and travellers in the surrounding areas and the town itself is deadly, there have been no mutant excursion out of Bernau. Monks are clearly more concerned with defence than offence here.|
|Neuenhagen bei Berlin||Neuenhagen was heavily contaminated by the Flash and remained abandoned until the Reich invasion of Erkner. Now it is an open wound between Erkner and Straussberg, threatening Reich convoys and blocking attempts to link the two bases by rail. Attempts to eradicate the mutants brought them face to face with Monks for the first time. It was a crushing defeat and the Führer has been obsessed with Monk technology ever since.|
|Schulzendorf||This radnest is at an end of an underground tunnel system leading all the way into Berlin. Those tunnels were frequently used by stalkers from Wuster and it is widely believed that mutants eventually followed them back and now block the entrance by their presence. They have not attacked Wuster but have laid waste to steads and road convoys southeast of Berlin. Some expert stalkers claim to be still able to get into Berlin through Schulzendorf. If this is true, there are probably no Monks around.|
Going somewhere (Fallout 3)
Roads weathered the Flash much better than
buildings and weather changes that followed actually favoured
them. They are cracked, crumbling, riddled with potholes and
littered with wrecks and debris but they are most definitely
still there. Some enclaves and bartertowns even repair the roads
close to them. The E-rated autobahns are the biggest and the most
durable but with the loss of vegetation even forest roads tend to
remain clear year round. There are no guarantees though. Car
speeds vary but driving conditions are fairly uniform. Reasonable
travel speed is 60-80 kph on the better roads and goes down to 30
on bad gravel. This does not mean that roadwarriors and outriders
could not go any faster and in combat they do but it is pushing
it. Also note that it takes a full day to walk even 30 kilometres
in these conditions. Crumbling rtoads or not, a motor vehicle
clears the distance in half-an-hour. There can be no future
So roads are the blood vessels of the wasteland. Vehicles are the heart, beating with every strike of the piston. Getting around by other means is so difficult that even raiders rarely block roads as part of their ambushes. Real gasoline is rare. Most vehicles have multifuel engines that mostly run on various grades of ethanol or methanol. These can be distilled from almost anything organic. Besides vehicles, pack animals like horse, oxen or donkeys are also used, especially by the steads. Sometimes mutated beasts have been used for the purpose as well but that is rare. Compared to vehicles, a muscle-driven (man or animal) convoy is slow but it can go through harder terrain than vehicles can.
There are no street lights and few vehicles have working headlights. As a result, few people attempt to drive after sunset. During the winter and in foul weather the effective driving time per day can just a couple of hours. Travellers rarely opt to spend the night out in the open. Instead, they find an abandoned building or even a piece of wall to use as a shelter. Most people also prefer not to travel alone if they can help it. Some also set traps and tripwire mines to catch any would-be assailants during the dark hours. Running into forgotten traps and bombs around otherwise promising campsites or shelters is one of the many ways to get hurt. Many brave explorers have died because of a humble tin can filled with nails and gunpowder.
Haulers and Roadwarriors arguing (Death Race)
Although Potsdam and Reich have issued their own money, almost all trade is barter. There are three items that are always acceptable: food (usually in tin cans), ammunition (using cartridges as coinage) and fuel (unit size 20 litres, enough to fill a gas canister) . Everything else has the evaluated case by case. Prices do not fluctuate as much as the willingness to buy and some scavengers have been stuck with potentially valuable loot for months before finding a buyer.
Haggling over the price (Metro 2033)
The region has four radio stations. The
city of Berlin (and other radnests to a lesser extent) blocks
radio transmissions, so it is almost impossible to find a spot
where you would hear all four at once. You can hear the first
three stations anywhere in the south, the first and last stations
in the West and the three latter stations in the East. In the
North, all you get is the Voice of the Divine. Some travellers
triangulate their position using these radio stations.
The People's Radio of Potsdam from Potsdam Collective
Signal somewhere in the East (Reich propaganda and Nazi marches)
Megahurtz - Wusterhausen Bartertown
Voice of the Divine Bad Freienwalder
Some television sets have survived as well but in the absence of broadcasts people use them to watch old and new videos stored on optical disks.
The Signal radio station has traditions (Signal Magazine)
The Flash destroyed the Internet along with any other exposed advanced electronical systems. Some computers have survived by chance and are eagerly sought after by Reich and the Collective. The largest enclaves and bartertowns have their own local area networks. Reich bases are also connected to each other by a landline network. Wireless networks are not used because of disruptions from background radiation.
The Flash wreaked havoc on electronics (unknown)
There are no mobile phone networks. Radio communicators are working, although the range is reduced in proximity of radiation sources and there is no way to send messages across or within Berlin. Many vehicles carry short-wave radio tranceivers. Patrol readers and the more advanced scavenger parties have handheld radio communicators.
Useful car accessory (timboucher.com)
Although Berlin Zero is system-independent
(and I hereby release it into public domain), it was
written as my personal campaign setting for Colin Chapman's
excellent roleplaying game Atomic
Highway. Although none of the rule
mechanics are present, some terminology is copied from the
rulebook. If you plan to use Berlin Zero, my sincere wish is that
you buy his roleplaying game. That is the best way to ensure he
will be writing more.
Berlin Zero was written as a European alternative to the American roadwarrior concept. The setting owes a great deal to the ancient computer game Roadwar Europe, the entire Fallout series (in fact, Fallout 3 was my model for exploring and scavenging the small ruined towns) and the movie Last Border. Those of you familiar with my own published roleplaying games will find some similarities with Stalker RPG (published in 2008 with a license from B. Strugatsky) and to the French art house film Land of the Wolves.
The basic idea was to merge urban exploration of, say, Fallout 3 with the enclaves, bartertowns and vehicle battles of the traditional post-holocaust roadwars theme. The setting is Noir in appearance and Pulp in execution: Cheap tricks, obvious villains and heart-pumping high-octane fun, not philosophical lamentation over the fate of Man. Berlin Zero is to the post-holocaust genre what high-fantasy is to the fantasy genre: If there is a cliche or a stereotype, if there is something that works in films, games and genre media, Berlin Zero's got it too. Realism be damned. I have no idea where all the food tins are coming from. And while fuel is mostly methanol I don't give a damn how many acres of grain producing sufficient amount of that would take. There is fuel because the cool vehicle battles won't happen without it. Wroom!
This is exploitation, really. Engine and gun porno. I'll better add Death Race (2008) to the list of movie inspirations.
Berlin Zero is free and written on a wave of inspiration. This page has only the bare bones but wre are all grown-ups here: if you are using it, build on it. I have tried to provide clues, hooks and red herrings to get you started but I expect we will all be making stuff up as we go. So write it down somewhere and the setting will practically complete itself. This is good advice for any setting, really. And if you come up with something really good for Berlin Zero, you can either link it to the AH forums, or email it to me and I can add to this page.
I know that all this requires for somebody out there to like both Colin's work and mine but hey! I am entitled to dream, right?