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Lawleepawpz
2017-02-12, 07:50 PM
So this is something that I've been tossing back and forth in my head for a while. Following my recent interest in the rule of Justinian of Byzantium and Justinian's Plague, I've been wanting to run a game where the plague runs rampant. The basis is either that it starts after the players uncover a guy who is basically a bio-terrorist (criminal who wants to infect himself with a horrible disease and then surrenders) as the first quest.


The question I pose is how to simulate a Wrath-of-God grade plague (in a world where there is almost no magic, let alone anything which can cure a disease) and not have it just be a crap-shoot of which characters survive? I know they could take precautions like the historical plague doctors and maaaaybe not get sick, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't since the plague wouldn't be super obvious at first, just rumors of so-and-so's cousin who got really sick and died.

I want to avoid them just being "Magically immune to the plague because PC's" because I feel it's a major cop-out.

Having a random passer-by just tell them would ruin the surprise, but it would be much more realistic in my eyes. Just like them seeing the masses of bodies wouldn't be as realistic in the early stages of the plague.

Koo Rehtorb
2017-02-12, 08:40 PM
You can dial back the lethality of it some. It's fatal if untreated, treatment is expensive, therefore PCs can afford it but large sections of the population can't.

raspberrybadger
2017-02-12, 08:43 PM
You even have an excuse to reduce the lethality. Most diseases spread better if they are not too lethal. It's hard to move around to spread the disease to lots of people if everyone who gets the disease dies.

The Glyphstone
2017-02-12, 08:48 PM
What if this wasn't the first time the plague had struck? The villain could have uncovered samples from a plague that devastated the world in prehistory so long ago that it's been forgotten, and is unleashing it again. Rather than the PCs being immune because of Magic Plot Reasons, their immunity can be justified by their unknowingly having a direct ancestor who survived the first iteration of the plague.

daniel_ream
2017-02-12, 09:36 PM
I've been wanting to run a game where the plague runs rampant.

I think a better question is why.

Disasters that can't be interacted with, prevented, cured, (largely) avoided or even detected until it's too late aren't a lot of fun to play through in the first person, unless you're going for a misery tourism kind of game like Montsegur 1244 or any zombapocalypse.

What kind of experience at the table do you hope to get from this premise?

Max_Killjoy
2017-02-12, 09:54 PM
Just for inspiration / atmosphere, may I recommend Stand Still, Stay Silent (http://www.sssscomic.com/index.php)?

Lawleepawpz
2017-02-13, 12:27 AM
I think a better question is why.

Disasters that can't be interacted with, prevented, cured, (largely) avoided or even detected until it's too late aren't a lot of fun to play through in the first person, unless you're going for a misery tourism kind of game like Montsegur 1244 or any zombapocalypse.

What kind of experience at the table do you hope to get from this premise?

My intended experience is just to experiment with a different type of setting. I think my players would enjoy playing in a world where something like the Black Death is floating around. They tend to enjoy those types of scenarios, one where there isn't much in the way of safe havens. They adamantly refuse to ever establish bases of operations and support structures.

To be honest, if they didn't like it I'd start a quick plotline for them to find the cure to the plague and end it before it gets tedious.

Lawleepawpz
2017-02-13, 12:28 AM
Just for inspiration / atmosphere, may I recommend Stand Still, Stay Silent (http://www.sssscomic.com/index.php)? I'll give it a read, thanks!

Lawleepawpz
2017-02-13, 12:37 AM
I apologize for not directly replying to a few of you, but the I'd just repeat the same thing.



My intent is for a Black-Death grade plague, so we're talking millions of deaths and mass graves as they go through the place. They are kind of crazy when it comes to enjoying these types of scenarios, and making them utterly immune to the plague would, I think, take away some of their enjoyment of it.

WbtE
2017-02-13, 01:21 AM
It's a cop-out to make the PCs magically immune to the plague because they're protagonists. So, instead, make the PCs plague survivors. They've already suffered through the disease, recovered, and acquired an immunity. You could do some kind of "make a village" routine as a prelude and spend session 0 creating and killing characters until each player has a PC for the campaign. (This only works if your chosen system is lightweight, but it would set the tone nicely!)

daniel_ream
2017-02-13, 02:12 AM
The SF novel Doomsday Book (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Book_(novel)) contains particularly gruesome accounts of the Black Plague sweeping through rural England, if you need some flavour.

SilverLeaf167
2017-02-13, 02:42 AM
I want to avoid them just being "Magically immune to the plague because PC's" because I feel it's a major cop-out.

Assuming this is a new campaign, not one with established PC's: you should simply reverse this mindset. They're not immune because they're PC's, they're PC's because they're immune! The non-immune populace is a lot less willing (or able) to venture out into the world, hence the need for immune people to team up and do it instead. The same logic applies to every story ever, really: the focus is on the protagonists because they're the ones doing interesting things, not vice versa.

As a campaign concept, it's no different from "you've been summoned to save the princess", "you're part of an adventurer's guild" or even just "you're not level 1 Commoners". All make wide assumptions and place the PC's in a tiny minority, because that's simply what the game is based on.

Of course, this means you still need some established precedent and reason for immunity, and some immune NPC's too, but I think that's not a problem but an opportunity.

Koo Rehtorb
2017-02-13, 02:51 AM
Even for the bubonic plague the mortality rate of infected people is around 70%. That 30% is more than enough for the PCs to be a part of.

MrStabby
2017-02-13, 08:40 AM
Have it race specific? Let the PCs roll up their characters, pick a race that isn't represented by any PC then start the campaign in that race's homeland.

Plague is rampant - PCs are immune. Any support network they build there won't be immune.

Max_Killjoy
2017-02-13, 09:45 AM
Even for the bubonic plague the mortality rate of infected people is around 70%. That 30% is more than enough for the PCs to be a part of.


I'd say that a plague that kills 25% of the population over the course of a year or two, is a disaster of immense proportion that will be remembered into future ages. Everyone will lose relatives and friends. Everyone will either suffer, or see the suffering first hand. Especially true if there are a lot of non-lethal cases, and some survivors suffer lifelong complications.

Knaight
2017-02-13, 10:08 AM
It's a cop-out to make the PCs magically immune to the plague because they're protagonists. So, instead, make the PCs plague survivors. They've already suffered through the disease, recovered, and acquired an immunity. You could do some kind of "make a village" routine as a prelude and spend session 0 creating and killing characters until each player has a PC for the campaign. (This only works if your chosen system is lightweight, but it would set the tone nicely!)

This also provides the PCs a reason to give up their former lives and go adventuring* - the black plague's deaths weren't exactly evenly distributed throughout the population; there are plenty of places that got off comparatively lightly (emphasis on "comparatively") and others that were almost totally destroyed. If the PCs are people from one of the nearly totally destroyed places, they may well end up leaving to become adventurers. As former plague victims, they're also effectively immune.

*This is actually the common PC backstory in one of the two games I'm GMing, although that was based on the plagues in 1400s and 1500s North & South America, which were even nastier than the black plague where they were, although way more localized.

Inevitability
2017-02-13, 12:10 PM
What if this wasn't the first time the plague had struck? The villain could have uncovered samples from a plague that devastated the world in prehistory so long ago that it's been forgotten, and is unleashing it again. Rather than the PCs being immune because of Magic Plot Reasons, their immunity can be justified by their unknowingly having a direct ancestor who survived the first iteration of the plague.

We're talking what, millennia between plagues? That's enough for millions of people to have a direct surviving ancestor. In fact, all but the most isolated of communities would already have become immune.

Knaight
2017-02-13, 12:15 PM
We're talking what, millennia between plagues? That's enough for millions of people to have a direct surviving ancestor. In fact, all but the most isolated of communities would already have become immune.

On the other hand, only some of the people with said ancestor would have kept the immunity if it is somehow genetic - which just gets back to the case of some people catching the plague while others don't.

Lawleepawpz
2017-02-13, 05:57 PM
Hey guys, thanks for the input. What I'm likely going to do is have them roll a save at the beginning of the game for which of them are genetically resistant, and then expose the others to a less virulent version so the air won't infect them but direct contact would (I'd imagine even those with a genetic predisposition to avoid it would catch a disease upon direct contact with it.)


So what about progression? As far as I can tell, the Black Death took about 9 years to fully run it's course with a 2 year peak where the death rates were the highest. So assuming it is unleashed in a major trading port at the very beginning, would six months be realistic to have infected an entire kingdom? I'm no epidemiologist, and frankly I'd like to try to get it realistic if possible. Basic google-fu tells me that if people leave the epicenter and are infected it will spiral outwards very quickly.

In addition, does anybody know any funny or strange methods used to ward off the plague? I know the Pope was secluded in the Vatican and surrounded by torches and incense, apothecaries had their whole beak-mask getup, people nailed the sick into homes, etc.

BRC
2017-02-13, 06:11 PM
How much do you care about this being, specifically, The Black Death, because I think the game could be a lot more interesting if you don't hobble yourself with historical, or medical, accuracy.

How I would do it is have the Plague work in stages. Each time the PC's are Exposed to the plague (Touching an infected person/corpse, drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated food, spending too much time in a contaminated area where fleas and rats might expose them), they make some kind of roll to avoid the Disease advancing on them. In addition, they must make regular checks, the farther along the disease is, the harder those checks become.

Stage 0: Perfectly Healthy, no check needed.

Stage 1: You feel a bit under the weather, no mechanical difficulties, not contagious, not showing any symptoms.

Stage 2: discoloration of the skin, still not contagious, still no mechanical penalties, but showing physical symptoms. You better cover them up.

Stage 3: You become Contagious, you are now an "Infected" individual, anybody that touches you physically runs risk of infection, same if they spend an extended period of time in an unhygenic space with you (As flies and flees carry the disease).

Stage 4: The disease begins to ravage your body. Mechanical penalties start to apply.

Stage 5: Severe mechanical penalties apply. You should probably be on bedrest.

Stage 6: You're on death's door, barely able to walk.

Stage 7: You're dead.

The checks to avoid advancing the disease should be pretty easy until they hit stage 3, but additional exposures force another role vs advancement.

If the normal checks for advancement are on, say, a week, then at worst it takes 7 weeks to go from first exposure to death, but that moves faster if the patient is continually exposed.

The Glyphstone
2017-02-13, 06:15 PM
A genetic predisposition might reduce the odds of not catching the disease at all, but more likely it would drastically reduce their odds of succumbing to it. They'd be more likely to recover entirely at an early stage of progression, before it builds up steam and becomes impairing or lethal. So rather represent it as a save to not catch it period but otherwise suffer normally, it'd be worth a large circumstance bonus on any saves involved to overcome it.

Traab
2017-02-13, 06:21 PM
Out of curiosity, is this going to be a low magic setting? I ask because the existence of magic makes a large difference in how things spread.

Another interesting setup is this. You had as an initial idea them to bring a bioterrorist to town who unleashes the plague, right? They leave before he can do so, then have them get trapped, say in a goblin warren or some other underground dungeonscape. Either a rule zero "you get captured by evil creatures and now its roughly 2 months later and you are all in the slave labor camp underground" type setup, or a "Hey, lets explore the cave. Oops, cave in, we need to find another exit." When they fight their way to freedom several weeks to months later in game, the plague has spread. This gives you both the setup and allows the plague to spread before your team of players can do anything to stop it. It also lets you avoid the whole initial sickness thing. The bad guy didnt release it until after he was locked up in the center of town, and now there is clearly something seriously wrong going on. So the party will be more cautious.

Lawleepawpz
2017-02-13, 07:45 PM
How much do you care about this being, specifically, The Black Death, because I think the game could be a lot more interesting if you don't hobble yourself with historical, or medical, accuracy.

How I would do it is have the Plague work in stages. Each time the PC's are Exposed to the plague (Touching an infected person/corpse, drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated food, spending too much time in a contaminated area where fleas and rats might expose them), they make some kind of roll to avoid the Disease advancing on them. In addition, they must make regular checks, the farther along the disease is, the harder those checks become.

Stage 0: Perfectly Healthy, no check needed.

Stage 1: You feel a bit under the weather, no mechanical difficulties, not contagious, not showing any symptoms.

Stage 2: discoloration of the skin, still not contagious, still no mechanical penalties, but showing physical symptoms. You better cover them up.

Stage 3: You become Contagious, you are now an "Infected" individual, anybody that touches you physically runs risk of infection, same if they spend an extended period of time in an unhygenic space with you (As flies and flees carry the disease).

Stage 4: The disease begins to ravage your body. Mechanical penalties start to apply.

Stage 5: Severe mechanical penalties apply. You should probably be on bedrest.

Stage 6: You're on death's door, barely able to walk.

Stage 7: You're dead.

The checks to avoid advancing the disease should be pretty easy until they hit stage 3, but additional exposures force another role vs advancement.

If the normal checks for advancement are on, say, a week, then at worst it takes 7 weeks to go from first exposure to death, but that moves faster if the patient is continually exposed. It doesn't SPECIFICALLY need to be the Black Death, I am primarily using it here because it's a way to communicate the idea more effectively.

I like your ideas here. Thanks :D

Lawleepawpz
2017-02-13, 07:46 PM
Out of curiosity, is this going to be a low magic setting? I ask because the existence of magic makes a large difference in how things spread.

Another interesting setup is this. You had as an initial idea them to bring a bioterrorist to town who unleashes the plague, right? They leave before he can do so, then have them get trapped, say in a goblin warren or some other underground dungeonscape. Either a rule zero "you get captured by evil creatures and now its roughly 2 months later and you are all in the slave labor camp underground" type setup, or a "Hey, lets explore the cave. Oops, cave in, we need to find another exit." When they fight their way to freedom several weeks to months later in game, the plague has spread. This gives you both the setup and allows the plague to spread before your team of players can do anything to stop it. It also lets you avoid the whole initial sickness thing. The bad guy didnt release it until after he was locked up in the center of town, and now there is clearly something seriously wrong going on. So the party will be more cautious. Very much low magic. I'm planning on playing the board game Dawn of Worlds with my party before this to have them create it with me, but I am going to effectively poison magic and cause it to make people go insane.

Plus given how much they like the Runequest 6 system I may end up running that, and it is easily made low magic.


And yeah, the idea was the guy infects himself in a madness and then surrenders to be taken to prison and infects the town, which then spreads it.

WbtE
2017-02-13, 07:58 PM
This also provides the PCs a reason to give up their former lives and go adventuring* - the black plague's deaths weren't exactly evenly distributed throughout the population; there are plenty of places that got off comparatively lightly (emphasis on "comparatively") and others that were almost totally destroyed. If the PCs are people from one of the nearly totally destroyed places, they may well end up leaving to become adventurers. As former plague victims, they're also effectively immune.

*This is actually the common PC backstory in one of the two games I'm GMing, although that was based on the plagues in 1400s and 1500s North & South America, which were even nastier than the black plague where they were, although way more localized.

I was reading about "Squanto" a few months ago and thought he was a fascinating historical personage. A group of PCs with a background similar to his sounds like a fantastic idea. Are you writing up a journal for the game anywhere? (A link would satisfy my curiosity and might help out OP. :smallsmile: )

Knaight
2017-02-13, 08:42 PM
I was reading about "Squanto" a few months ago and thought he was a fascinating historical personage. A group of PCs with a background similar to his sounds like a fantastic idea. Are you writing up a journal for the game anywhere? (A link would satisfy my curiosity and might help out OP. :smallsmile: )

There's no journal, and I really wouldn't say the PCs have a background similar to his. The whole "abduction into a foreign culture" bit isn't there, and that's a fairly major part of Tisquantum's life.

Traab
2017-02-13, 10:20 PM
Very much low magic. I'm planning on playing the board game Dawn of Worlds with my party before this to have them create it with me, but I am going to effectively poison magic and cause it to make people go insane.

Plus given how much they like the Runequest 6 system I may end up running that, and it is easily made low magic.


And yeah, the idea was the guy infects himself in a madness and then surrenders to be taken to prison and infects the town, which then spreads it.

It could still work then. If the carrier takes time to become infectious they could still miss the initial plague from patient zero. Then come back from wherever they were to see the plague has gone on a rampage through the various towns, villages, and cities.

Algeh
2017-02-14, 12:51 PM
Another thing you need to think about is that your players (presumably) come from a modern culture where germ theory of disease is a thing, and generally, when people get sick we expect to know what made them sick down to the specific disease-causing agent. We except to learn how it spreads, how to reduce the spread, and generally expect that society has a plan for dealing with it (getting vaccines, mosquito control, antibiotics, etc depending on the disease and the vector). When society doesn't have a plan for a new disease that kills people, there's a lot of studying of that specific disease, isolating it, and trying stuff in a fairly scientific way to deal with it while also trying to quarantine if possible. We don't always succeed right away, but there's a certain series of steps that we tend to take to control, contain, and hopefully treat a disease outbreak. This is a very specific world view of how disease works and what you should do about it.

Do you want your players to attempt this model? Or would you rather have them react in the way a person from a society that didn't have this model of disease would? If so, how will you encourage that kind of thinking in your players? Will you have the underlying modern idea of the disease being caused by a specific infection agent be right? Or will it really be caused by, say, an imbalance in the bodily humors brought on by bad air?

Mark Hall
2017-02-14, 01:00 PM
As others have said, go with a not-necessarily-lethal plague... something that, say, inflicts Strength, Dexterity, Con, and Charisma damage as it goes on, but that stronger or lucky people can recover from.

So, say the plague lasts in a person for 3d4 weeks, and every week, you take 1d4-2 points of damage to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Some people will roll a REALLY long duration, and die because it just slowly saps them. Someone else might roll a short duration, but it kills them because it rips through their Constitution. Some people will completely avoid damage (i.e. not have any symptoms), but will still be sick, and therefore carriers.

oudeis
2017-02-14, 01:01 PM
Don't forget Divine punishment for wicked behavior, which could be directed at the population or just the rulers. Nothing like a revolt in the middle of a pandemic to make things interesting. :smallamused:

daniel_ream
2017-02-14, 02:43 PM
Do you want your players to attempt this model? Or would you rather have them react in the way a person from a society that didn't have this model of disease would?

This is a marvelous way of upending their assumptions. Make up a bunch of rules that are consistent but completely abiological - you can catch the plague from wearing too much red, or from being impious, or from being a third son (adopted or otherwise). The PCs will probably put huge amounts of effort into things that don't work, which would nicely model the flailing around of the contemporary response to the plague.