Notes from the Silo
The newest book in the series was released today: Second Shift – Order. I plan on reading it this weekend; in the meantime here are some thoughts on adapting WOOL themes to gaming…
(Spoiler alert, for those who have not read WOOL.)
The Surface as Punishment
In WOOL, silo-dwellers are condemned to “cleaning duty” on the surface as a result of breaking the rules. (The most notable being “never talk about going outside”.)
The default campaign model for Tempora Mutantur assumes that the characters are volunteers. But another option is to use dissidents, malcontents, and assorted rejects as fodder for the Surface Expedition Teams. If the characters recover enough useful gear from the surface, then their sins are forgiven and they are re-admitted to Tau.
The rest of the campaign model can be used with little modification; however, PCs are unlikely to trust and support the Vault Elders. Tau Expedition Control would still exist to monitor and control the Surface Expedition Teams – but they would also act as prison wardens and guards to protect Tau from the PCs.
A more complex option would be to populate the Surface Expedition Teams with both volunteers and criminals. The volunteers would be like “commissioned officers”, with the authority to act in the interests of Tau. The voluntold (criminals) would be expendable grunts (e.g., henchmen), although they could be “promoted” to NCO/sub-officer status if they perform well or in an emergency (e.g., when the primary PCs are incapacitated).
If I get ambitious, I could even come up with a separate list of quirks for volunteers and voluntold.
In WOOL there are fifty separate and self-contained silos. Although the particular arrangement is unique, the concept of multiple vaults is a common trope in the post-apocalyptic genre (i.e., the Vault Experiment from Fallout).
As a change, in Tempora Mutantur I went with the extreme isolation of a single vault, and suggested that Tau may be the last enclave of pure-strain humanity remaining in the wastes. (During the campaign, I softened this somewhat with the discovery of Eden Prairie.)
However, the existence of multiple vaults (or silos) that are in communication with one another would help promote another major theme from WOOL – namely, layers of deception.
Layers of Deception
Secrecy and deception is a (the?) major theme in WOOL (pulling the wool over your eyes). There aren’t “good guys” or “bad guys” who have a monopoly on truth (though Jules is a bit of a Mary Sue). The trick to using this theme in Tempora Mutantur is to provide multiple layers of facts and lies then engage the players in the process of discovery.
The first layer of deception could be the secret of multiple vaults. The elders of Tau would be in communication with these other vaults, but would not reveal this fact to the populace at large. Perhaps the PCs discover this during their forays on the surface. (Imagine the surprise when the party encounters scavengers from a different vault!)
Once the PCs know about these other vaults, they will of course want to visit one. If we assume that the vaults are a large distance from one another, then the journey could be a campaign in itself.
A second layer of deception could be the revelation of the true purpose and history of the vaults. Maybe the creators of the vaults are also the direct instigators of the Fall, a mutagenic plague which remade all life on earth. Perhaps the Tau vault doesn’t really exist, and the PCs are actually replicants with false memories of subterranean life. Or maybe the whole setting is not on Earth, but instead a (partially) terraformed world in a distant solar system.
Keep the motivations of the vault elders (or their true masters) as mysterious as possible. They shouldn’t be moustache-twirling villains, nor pure-hearted saints.
The key is to keep the players guessing. It might be best for a referee to randomly determine key campaign secrets at the start of play, and then figure out how it all fits together as the game progresses.