Apocalypse Week continues here at Renegade Octopus! Today, I’ll be looking at the problem of resources, and how to handle them in a way that hopefully won’t put your players to sleep from the tedium of micro-managing every last bullet, can of spam, and band-aid.
One of the greatest struggles for apocalyptic gaming is how to handle resource management. Some of the most intense stories in this genre – be they books, movies, or video games – have made the scarcity of vital supplies a powerful source of tension and excitement. The problem is that in tabletop, all that resource management needs to be done by hand, and that can severely bog down a gaming session. It isn’t as bad these days, when almost everyone owns devices that can be used to quickly check off used supplies from a list, but it remains a drag.
Some GMs, when going into an apocalyptic game, have this desire to have the players track literally everything they have on them, often with an encumbrance system that potentially measures weight and bulk. While this is understandable – there’s a desire for realism among these kinds of games – I strongly recommend avoiding it. You’re going to have perhaps one or two people at the table who get really into it, while the others get bored and faff about with their phones or have conversations that pull them completely out of the game.
Instead, I recommend you find the most vital things to track in detail – for a Zombie Apocalypse, it might be ammunition and safe supplies of food and water; for a post-apocalyptic Natural Disaster, it might be medical supplies, batteries, and fuel reserves. Everything outside of these vital resources can be abstracted out to varying degrees; you don’t need a player in an Armageddon scenario to know exactly how many C-Cell batteries they have for their flashlight and exactly how much charge they have on their GPS.
This will work best if you use a system that has something similar to Bennies from Savage Worlds or Fate Points from Fate Core; whenever you, as GM, need to introduce a complication by having their flashlight run out of power, have the car run out of gas or have a flat tire, or deplete any of their other non-vital resources, offer them a token for it. They can refuse it by spending a matching token from their reserves, or accept it and let misfortune settle on them. The tokens can generally be used for other things as well – adding bonuses to their rolls, rerolling failures, or even modifying the narrative to introduce a favorable element.
This, in itself, may be the best resource management a GM has for apocalyptic games; the use of these tokens can save a character from doom, and so players will often both go looking for excuses to acquire them and then hoard them in fear of needing them for something important. Where most of the time the systems encourage giving them out, apocalypse games make a solid case for being sparing with them; more than any number of marks on their sheets for bullets left or days of water remaining, these fate-manipulating tokens have a phenomenal value. Getting players to sell out all kinds of other resources in exchange for them is simple, once they understand the utilitarian power offered.
And honestly, the best kinds of apocalypse games are those where chance swings wildly from one side to the other, right? So ease off most of the resource management, and stick to a few vital supplies and a system of fate-warping tokens. It’ll make the game faster and more cinematic, which are both advantages for this genre.