Yellow Dawn: the scale of isolation pivots on communication and settlement dispersion

Storm Curtains & Wilderness

aurora borealis or meteorological phenomenon known as a storm curtain in Yellow Dawn

Meteorological phenomenon known as a Storm Curtain in Yellow Dawn

Following the destruction of the SOYAR corporation’s vessel “Kalisto” as it broke apart into hundreds of fireballs, tearing across the sky to rain burning debris across a 300 mile swath of southern Europe and North Africa, the population of Earth suffered several waves of cosmic, unexplainable horror and weird environmental changes that meant that life on the planet was never going to be the same again.

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Part of this includes distorted weather patterns and the alien meteorological phenomenon of Storm Curtains.  Storm Curtains resemble the ghostly and enchanting aurora borealis except are a dirty amber in colour; still beautiful, they carry the threat of deadly chill vortices and are responsible for planet-wide disruption to digital satellite communication systems.

(!) How much disruption is down to the GM and creates the pivot point for scale of isolation the GM wants for characters in their game.

The rulebook (2.5) standard is:

If you have a handheld PA or a larger computer / cyberdeck device with a PA module; you would equip it with either a City Comms phone chip or a SatCom phone chip.

  • City Comms Account: Gives you 99% coverage in any Living City in the world. Going more than 1 km into a Dead Zone and coverage drops to zero %. There is no coverage beyond the Living City. You can talk, surf internet and watch movies. You cannot use a CityComms account for cyberdecks.
  • SatCom Account: Gives you 99% coverage in any Living City in the world, and 80% coverage anywhere else in the world (one roll per hour). They provide the massive bandwidth suitable for cyberdecks and robot controller links.

But the rulebook also weaves in the idea that the electromagnetic interference created by the Storm Curtains can severely disrupt satellite communications, and suggests the idea that a signal booster may be employed to punch through this.

Under “Internet” the rulebook states

The global Internet still exists but you’ll need a device that can punch through the storm curtain interference and connect.

Under “Wilderness” the rulebook states

Many survivors are existing without electricity so the luxury of digital communications is scarce.  Also, high levels of electromagnetic interference in the atmosphere (Storm Curtains) prevent all satellite communication unless the settlement has access to powerful signal boosting technology: this would be a suitcase-sized bit of kit, or an old relay tower from pre-Yellow Dawn days.

GM dictates severity of this:

GMs should feel free (and confident) to interpret and define this as they wish, in order to create a flavour of Wilderness and accompanying isolation that suits the mood / atmosphere of tension they want in their game.  The GM should answer following questions:

  • What does the signal booster look like, how much does it cost and weigh? What is it’s power consumption like? Is it a part of a handheld PA (modification / clip-on component)?  Or does it need to be a separate piece of kit?

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In my flavour of Yellow Dawn:

I enjoy the idea that once out in the wilderness, away from the powerful antennae arrays of the Living Cities, they need an expensive and unwieldy, suitcase-sized device to punch through the atmospheric interference.  This enables the 80% chance (per hour) to establish a satellite connection.  Without it they are prevented from using PAs to talk to compatriots via satellite – and unable to access the vast wealth of information on the Net.  Without it they are forced to rely on line-of-sight laser links or radio sets that have a limited range.  The deeper they go into the wilderness, the further they get from a Living City, the more isolated and “on their own” they become.

I’ve defined such a signal booster for my group as:

  • Looks like a small suitcase.
  • Cost: 10,000 credits.
  • Weight: 10 KG
  • Operation: requires a universal power pod, that provides 144 hours of constant use (24 hours per power cell; 6 days in total).  Whilst active, it enables the 80% chance (per hour) to establish a satellite connection

One thing that should always remain sacrosanct, is when a Storm Curtain does strike – when the characters are caught within or near to the subsequent Chill Vortex – then regardless of boosters all communications including radio signals are totally severed due to powerful electromagnetic fields radiating from the nearby curtains of light. This effect lasts until the GM rolls ‘1’ on 1d20; one roll per hour.

The antennae arrays in Living Cities almost always guarantee satellite access except when a Storm Curtain strikes.

Other GM options:

Occasional impact from atmospheric interference: You could state that such a booster is only required at certain times, when interference grows particularly strong.  The GM would have to define a roll that determines when and how often this occurs.  It means that characters are not always at the risk of total isolation; but there’s a chance – forcing them to decide whether or not to buy-into signal boosting technology. In this option I would make the signal booster more unwieldy, expensive and vulnerable to damage.

Negligible impact from atmospheric interference: Alternatively, you could simply state that any handheld PA device with a SatCom account comes with a modified antennae stub allowing it to beat the interference (the GM is therefore defining the interference as generally weak except when a Storm Curtain strikes the local area).

Photo deserted survivor settlement in California mountains  image David J Rodger - All Rights Reserved

Deserted survivor settlement [] image David J Rodger

Wilderness and settlement dispersion

Another key metric that can be modified to customise the scale of isolation, is simply the distance between settlements in the wilderness.  There are a handful of surviving, fully operational and – more importantly – protected cities across the world. So-called “Living Cities”.  New York, for example, is a Living City, but the nearest neighbour is over 1,000 miles away.  Every Living City is typically surrounded by a wide swath of Dead Zone, where the Infection is rife; and then like a surreal inversion of the horror of the Dead Zone is an even wider region known as the Rural Support Zone. But beyond all this, away from the Living Cities, the landscape has reverted to a wilderness, where survivors exist within an often lawless, sometimes predatory world.  Such survivors endure bleak or occasionally idyllic existences within settlements.  The dispersion of these settlements within the wilderness defines the scale of isolation for any characters travelling through it.

The rulebook (2.5) standard is:

The rule of thumb for the Wilderness is that there’s typically one settlement, of varying size, every 11 to 30 miles (1d20+10), or between 1 and 6 settlements (1d6) every 100 miles.  That’s a significant distance on foot, even on horseback.

GM Options:

A GM should always feel free to increase the average distance whenever they feel it is required or better suits the region. Such as one settlement every 1d100+20 miles or 1d4-1 settlements every 100 miles.

Photo California Highway 395 deserted road through post-apocalyptic landscape - image David J Rodger - All Rights Reserved

Highway 395: deserted road through post-apocalyptic landscape [] image David J Rodger

Notes from Rulebook (2.5)

{ Internet }

The Internet is not what it was.  As the bulk of locations hosting the infrastructure of the Internet became Dead Places, the power grid failed, the servers and routers switched to emergency back-up batteries, and then blinked out.  The global Internet still exists but you’ll need a device that can punch through the storm curtain interference and connect you.
Lots of the data that used to exist in mirror-sites and replication servers is simply dark now.  It’s ‘out there’ but inaccessible. There’s an abundance of contracts available for freelance data-salvage teams, willing to send people out into dangerous places (Dead Cities and bandit country) to hard-line a connection into a cold server to get access to information they want.  GMs could use this as a plot hook.

{ Wilderness }

Photo New England eerie light glows on forest covered mountain peak - image David J Rodger - All Rights Reserved

New England Wilderness – Lovecraft Country – Eerie light glows on forest covered mountain peak – image David J Rodger

Access to information is power – never more so in these isolated communities.  Many survivors are existing without electricity so the luxury of digital communications is scarce.  Also, high levels of electromagnetic interference in the atmosphere (storm-curtains) prevent all satellite communication unless the settlement has access to powerful signal boosting technology: this would be a suitcase-sized bit of kit, or an old relay tower from pre-Yellow Dawn days.
Occasionally, locals keep in touch with other settlements via radio sets; but the range is limited, restricting knowledge about what is happening out in the world.

This ‘exaggerated isolation’ of the Wilderness creates a viable market for people willing to courier messages to settlements beyond the range of available communications; these messages can be hand-written notes or a video on a data-chip, for example.  It also increases the risk and the horror for people caught up in bad events because there is often no way to call for help.

{ Maps}

Before Yellow Dawn happened the whole world had been scanned by satellites and mapped in infinite detail; terrain types; population distribution; environmental impact zoning.  Much of that data still exists; for Living Cities and Rural Support Zones the data is up-to-date and clearly shows the state of things as they are now; for the Wilderness, the satellites are not re-scanning or re-mapping the landscape so the only way to find out how any particular sector has evolved is to either point a satellite at the area (requires some serious contacts) or to just go there.  Some exceptions exist, in that corporate interests, military intelligence or scientific needs may have led to a particular area being recently re-mapped; ultimately this is down to the GM to justify.

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Role playing game - Yellow Dawn The Age of Hastur - post-apocalyptic horror investigation and survival in the sci-fi dark fantasy universe of British author David J Rodger

YD 2.5 available from LULU

Paperback : from LULU ¦ Hardback (with black cover): from LULU

Primary Rulebook (2.5) This book is crammed with everything you will need to create characters and run scenarios. [] Features narrative examples of key themes • The Influence of Hastur • Medical theories on the Infection • Zombie surges • Dead Cities • Wilderness survival • Comprehensive scavenging system and how to repair or build things with resources • Backgrounds and motivations of government bodies and corporations • Computer hacking and drug abuse • High-tech immortality options • Non-human characters • Enhancements through cyberware and bioware • Weaponry, equipment and armour • Complete character generation and development system • Complex political, corporate and quasi-religious tensions • Schools of Elemental Magick, occultism, demonology, and the alien horrors of the Outer Chaos – the Cthulhu Mythos.

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