Walkabout Cultures

I like the idea of flavouring groups in a setting, but understand that adding too much of a specific flavour leads to stereotypes and caricatures.

When it comes to the Walkabout setting, my thoughts on this haven't really changed in the last 12 years (see here and here). We've basically got four wide categories of people, and groups that crossover between them.

  • Those who survived in the cities
  • Those who survived in the rural lands
  • Those who survived in the wilderness
  • Those who evolved.

It's silly to assume that these groups are monocultures, with everyone following the same paths through life....which means it's also silly to assume they'll all have the same skills and abilities.

In the time since I started developing this project, an assortment of post apocalyptic media have been released....and a lot of those media have not-so-much changed the ideas in the setting, but have reinforced them and informed them in new ways. I'm thinking of TV series like Fallout, Sweet Tooth, Twisted Metal, The Last of Us, The Last Ship, Into the Badlands...and movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Annihilation, A Quiet Place, Vesper, Bird Box... I guess there are common tropes across them all, and the underlying concepts in Walkabout draw from these same ideas.

The idea to bring Australian Aboriginal spirituality into the mix is probably the biggest point of difference in this game. The notion that the Dreaming is real, and the mythlore of the Indigenous communities is just as real as the religion brought to the continent by colonial invaders holds the setting apart from others.

When we flavour groups in a setting like this, it might be easy to divide groups into Indigenous and Colonist, but that reeks of ethnocentrism, colonialism, and even racism. So that's never been the intention. Generally, we're looking at who survived, how they survived, and where they survived. These options use accepted concepts to give wide brushstrokes that establish context for our characters, but it is in the details where the interesting stories develop. It has always been the intention of Walkabout to tell the stories of outsiders who see the problems in the world, and who work to bring balance to an unbalanced and chaotic world. This means those characters aren't the easily defined broader categories, they often belong to edge cases, to overlapping communities, but they will never exist as outcastes trying to survive on their own, because one of the key themes of Walkabout has always been "community". I like having about a dozen different factions within a setting, so that breaks down our different survivalist communities into about three types each. The setting is roughly a century after an apocalyptic cataclysm.

(Each group's ability aspects are a blend of the typical things that this communities values in it's members, the types of skills that might make them considered valuable among their people, and things that are just commonly learned by people of this group.) 

Those who survived in the cities

Those who survived in the cities are generally divided into three groups. The apocalypse in this setting was mysterious, it included nuclear phenomenon, electromagnetic pulses, and disruption to technology on a number of levels. The actual level of technology reached by the world doesn't matter too much, because the global EMPs and nuclear fallout play havoc with anything containing circuitry more complex than a transistor. The more advanced and intricate the technology, the more likely it is to have been obliterated. This means that as far as technology goes, anything more recent than the 1960s-70s is probably useless... regardless of how far the world has come since then. This is a dieselpunk apocalypse. So, Mad Max. Reinforcing the setting is the idea that electromagnetic radiation draws the spirits of the Dreaming, and this can be dangerous, so high tech items are used sparingly, especially outside Faraday cages.

Group 1: The Clean Born. In the cities, rich survivors and their descendants may have been in vaults (such as Fallout), or enclosed compounds. These survivors don't really know what is happening in the outside world because they don't have to deal with it. They don't understand that their ongoing usage of electricity and high-tech paraphernalia keeps driving the apocalypse around them. They hear the stories of the lured monsters and hire outsiders to deal with them, while continuing on with their lives of privilege. There could easily be religious cults in these communities, but they'd make more sense to be scientists, or members of prosperity gospel churches (believing that they still live a comfortable life because they remained faithful). The deal with the Rust Scavengers and Nomads most often, who provide services they consider beneath them. The descendants of the rich survivors are the easiest to deal with, and the easiest to parody in a setting like this.

(Ability Aspects: Academics, Beauty, Computers, Etiquette, Literacy, Subterfuge, Technology)

Group 2: The Rust Scavengers. Not wealthy enough to get into the vaults, shelters, and compounds, the scavengers live in the ruins of the old cities, or maybe in the remaining regional towns across the continent. Some of these folk sell their services to the Clean Born, defending against monsters, repairing failing technology, or generally working as cleaners and tradespeople. Many more would live their lives independently, pretending to forget that the Clean Born ever existed (or hoping they'd die off in their hidden shelters). Most Rust Scavengers claim a territory in the old civilised parts of the world, and live a semi feudal life, farming and building scrounged parts into a semblance of the world that the old stories remember. Rust Scavengers are rarely ready to move on from the ways of the past. They mostly deal with Dirt Farmers for food supplies, Nomad groups for trade with distant communities, and the Darksider mutants who linger in the most irradiated parts of the old cities (however most interactions with Darksiders tend to be bloody and vicious).

(Ability Aspects: Hiding, Jury-Rig, Repairs, Scavenging, Stealth, Teamwork, Tinkering)

Group 3: Darksiders. The poor and those who were unable to get out of the inner suburbs and ghettoes of the cities were generally wiped out when the apocalypse came. However, some survived, and some developed into something new. The Darksiders have nothing but contempt for the Clean Born, and many have made pacts with the spiritual entities that are drawn to the electrical storms above the remaining cities. Darksiders try to avoid anyone, unless their territories are encroached, and they have limited interacts with anyone outside their clans. The few outside communities they do tend to respect are the Neo-tribals and the Outlanders, both of whom respect the spirits and who exist outside the structured of ancient civilisation. 

(Ability Aspects: Alertness, Brawl, Gathering, Intimidation, Occult, Stealth, Survival)

Those who survived in the Rural Lands

When I started developing this idea, I'd mostly lived in the city of Sydney, or on it's outskirts. For the past 7 years I've lived in rural communities, and while I'm not a farmer, I do know quite  few of them and I'm starting to get a better feel for how they might react to the apocalypse. In some cases, the farmers I know are pretty self sufficient. They avoid the city, and in a post-apocalyptic scenario where the cities are infested by mutants and spiritual entities they be just as happy to not visit then as the are now. The only thing's they'd really miss are the supplies, perhaps falling back on bows rather than rifles, perhaps finding natural remedies rather than fertilisers or weed-killers...on the other hand if the  apocalypse had an EMP element to it, all the loan and debt information would go down and they wouldn't need to make payments to avoid risking losing their land and livelihood. I could easily see a barter economy quickly re-establishing itself, because most things are done by traded favours even now. Those in rural towns really aren't much different to those who live in suburbs, but rather than working for corporations or wealthy citizens of the city, they provide services for the farmers. Since there's functionally little difference except for a change in location, the town dwellers would function as Rust Scavengers (so there's no change there).  

Group 4: Dirt Farmers. Regardless of whether they farm crops or livestock. Dirt Farmers are primary producers who work the land to produce the sustenance needed for life. They have often lived for generations on farms that their families have held since before the apocalypse, some tracing ancestry back to the original settlers and squatters who laid claim to the land. Some Dirt Farmers are religious, but most care only about the affairs of the physical world, how to survive in it, and how to make the most from it. They do this at various levels of success. Most Dirt Farrmers have respect for anyone who they consider useful, and contempt or hatred for those who are either not useful or who might be in their way. This basically means they accept Rust Scavengers, the occasional Nomad who is willing to do deliveries for them, and the rare Outlander who shares their evolved abilities for food and lodgings.  

(Ability Aspects: Animal Ken, Herbalism, History, Repairs, Ride, Stamina, Wisdom)  

Group 5: Nomads. The major cities of the old world were connected by a network of roads, constantly traveled by trucks and cars. In an attempt to find a safe haven, many survivors took to the roads travelling from city to city during the worst times of the apocalypse, often going until they ran out of fuel. Some stopped travelling, others modified their vehicles to run on steam, bio-diesel or methane that they traded with Rust Scavengers and Dirt Farmers, hydrogen fuel cells traded with Skyfarers, or other energy sources. For generations, the families driving modified vehicles now live as travelling merchants between the cities, towns, and other settlements across the world. Some nomad groups follow fixed routes, other travel wherever fate takes them. Nomads try to keep on good (or at least neutral) terms with everyone, but often leave when things look like they might be getting dangerous.    

(Ability Aspects: Drive, Navigation, Reflexes, Repairs, Survival, Teamwork, Tinkering)

(One of the towns I lived in, Barham, was on a river that had been a steamboat travel route in the 1800s. There were still a few folk who lived on riverboats travelling up and down the river, so it could be feasible to have nomads who switch out the "Drive" ability for "Sailing" or "Boat Piloting".)

Those who survived in the Wilderness

Life has always been hard in the wilderness, and communities of people have needed to gather together to share their knowledge and skills in order to survive. Typically, these survivors are those who abandoned the ways of civilisation, perhaps because they saw through the collapse of the old world and civilisation did little to help them. We're not including those who worked to create new towns and "utopias" in the new world (they're included among the rural folks), but instead focusing on those who have moved beyond the notions of civilisation...whether regressing tribalistically, evolving biologically, or using technology to become "something else".   

Group 6: Neo-Tribals. When the apocalypse came, many believers in new-age spirituality saw it as a sign that human civilisation had lost it's way and a return to the old ways of respect to nature was required in the world. They turned their back on technology and took on a subsistence life, hunting and foraging only what they needed and living in small family groups roaming across the landscape. The majority of these neo-tribals aren't Indigenous, but some of their members are and as communities they try to piece together the lore and wisdom of the lands where they make their homes. Sometimes they encounter the spirits of the dreaming, and usually these encounters are problematic because neither side knows how to properly deal with the other. Neo-Tribals most commonly encounter Dirt Farmers who consider them trespassers on their land, and the relationship is often hostile. They avoid the major cities, most of the larger settlements, and many of the old highways, and this keeps them away from most other groups. The Neo-tribals have positive relations with several groups across the land, including the Skyfarers (who also leave little footprint on the world), and the Outlanders and Hidden who they see as a gifted by the ancient spirits and gods. They rarely encounter the Darksiders (because those mutant rarely leave their irradiated territories in the ruined cities), but on the rare meetings between the groups there is mutual respect.      

(Ability Aspects: Athletics, Gathering, Herbalism, Hunting, Music, Survival, Tracking)

(The Neo-tribals are a potentially problematic group, but they have appeared in most forms of post-apocalyptic media... such as the kids in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" known as "The Waiting Ones/The Lost Tribe", there's even a TVTropes page dedicated to the concept...although that page shifts off into mutants and evolutionary offshoots. The aim here is that not all of the Indigenous population becomes Neo-Tribals, and not all of the Neo-Tribals are Indigenous.)

Group 7: Outlanders. Sometimes called savages, troglodytes, cenobites, or anchorites, these small clusters of a family or two have often reverted to a pack-like existence.  One of the defining elements of the Outlanders is their common mutations that mark them as something other than human, in most cases these mutations will have some kind of benefit and some kind of drawback. Outlanders rarely keep to a single territory and roam seasonally. This puts them in contact with Rust Farmers who often try to drive them off unless they have something useful to offer, they are more often in contact with Neo-Tribal groups who treat them as kindred spirits. Occasionally, a migration path might take a group of outlanders close to an irradiated zone, where they meet up with Darksiders and trade news and wares.  

(Ability Aspects: Awareness, Geography, Navigation, Ritual, Savagery, Survival, Teamwork)

Group 8: Skyfarers. These are one of the groups that appeared in the original incarnation of Walkabout and I've never been able to drop them. They're just something a bit fun and different. The idea is that some survivors decided that the ground was too dangerous to live on, so they took to the clouds and some of them never touched the earth again. The "purest" of the skyfarers were born in zeppelins and floating balloon villages, but some make regular trading runs down to the ground (or to drifting settlements in the ocean) so they can stock up on food supplies and fuels. Skyfarers know of the Clean Born, but consider them trapped in the old traditions of the past, a relic of a bygone age that should be left to die. They treat the Nomads with grudging respect because they too have chosen a life of travel and no fixed roots. The understand that the Neo-Tribals are trying to restore the world, but feel that their methods are misguided. Except for the few settlements they trade with, they watch the rest of the world with clinical detachment, literally and figuratively considering everyone else beneath them.    

(Ability Aspects: Acrobatics, Focus, Jury-Rig, Navigation, Piloting, Sailing, Science)

Those who evolved

The Darksiders and Outlanders are the most common of the groups who evolved. But since this setting is heavily derived from Dreaming lore, and media such as "Tank Girl" (and now things like "Sweet Tooth"), it would be missing a golden opportunity to include creatures genetically mutated to survive and those that have evolved due to the return of spiritual entities. Such creatures might hide among the other communities, but probably exist more on the outskirts of society. They might gather according to common forms of mutations and evolutionary forms, but for consistency with the other groups in the setting, I'll divide them here according to ideological lines. There are those who tolerate the rest of humanity, and those who don't. The groups here are not recommended for starting players, and will typically be alies and enemies to call on during the course of a story. These beings who have evolved are think differently to most people and trying to get into that alien headspace can be difficult. These entities will often be used as the scapegoats for things that have gone wrong in the setting. The Angels and Demons of the Wasteland are collectively known to most outsiders as The Hidden.    

Group 9: Angels of the Wasteland. Many of the Angels have an appearance that looks like an animal, or some kind of creature from folklore or mythology, their natural habitat is the EMP storms that cause ruptures in spacetime between the physical world and the spirit dreamlands. They struggle to live in the physical world, and particularly have trouble near the ruined cities, or where electrical activity remains prevalent. These are the inhuman beings who still believe humanity has a hope of survival and a chance to transcend the troubles in the world. They know that most survivors do not trust them, and many actively hunt them down. Every one of these beings has an element that makes them more than human, and an element that makes them less than human. Some are close enough to regular humanity that they might pass as Outlanders, Darksiders, or even Neo-Primitives, they work undercover within these groups as agents of the Dreaming, and protectors of the outsiders.  Angels of the Wasteland know of the Demons (especially one living locally to them), and while they don't agree with one another's tactics, they generally try to act courteously to one another where they can, or avoid each other when then can't and let the other communities of humans struggle over any potential collective destiny.   

(Ability Aspects: Alertness, Arcane, Hiding, Literacy, Occult, Ritual, Wisdom)

Group 10: Demons of the Wasteland. Demons also tend to reside in the EMP storms, These beings have given up on non-mutated humans. Instead of taking the defensive, they actively hunt down the biggest threats in an area, and work to destroy any settlements that they consider to be a blight on the landscape. To these ends many have mastered abilities that allow them to linger near settlements and electrical activity, they may have also mastered powers of illusion, invisibility, mental manipulation or shapeshifting to get closer to the influential members of other communities, keeping them at conflict with one another as they play a long game against the Angels and against each other. The only groups whom the demons have any hope for are the Outlanders and Darksiders, but even they are considered disposable if they get too civilised.  

(Ability Aspects: Arcane, Deception, Etiquette, Larceny, Occult, Ritual, Subterfuge)


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