5th June 2012 - a date indelibly stamped on mankind’s collective sub-conscience.
On that day a new and devastating plague first appeared, almost simultaneously, in almost all of the world’s major cities. The disease, known simply as "The Madness", attacks higher brain function. Victims rapidly degenerate into lunacy, eventually losing all cognitive abilities.
Although the Madness was almost universally effective, some people had a kind of natural resistance that allowed them to survive. This appears to have been genetic in origin, in effect creating three separate and distinct human sub-races.
Normals: These people are virtually immune to the Madness. Only about 0.1% of the original population had this level of immunity. PCs are descended from this group.
Although virtually immune, normals can still catch the Madness. The onset time is extremely fast (about one week) and there is no known cure, so medical treatment is of no use. Infection is most likely to occur from contact with crazies or zombies, both of which are unknowing carriers.
Note that PCs who succumb to the Madness become NPC crazies and the GM takes control of their character sheets.
Crazies: These people have a partial immunity to the Madness. About 1% of the original population had this level of resistance, so crazies tend to be far more numerous than normals.
Crazies have lost much of their grip on reality and become highly susceptible mass psychoses. They generally create some bizarre pseudo-religious belief system, which they promote with the kind fanatical zeal that makes Al-Queda look like a bunch of moderate atheists.
Zombies: Not the undead monsters of legend, rather these are the people who have no resistance to the Madness at all. Around 99% of the pre-collapse population fell into this category. Since humans are not well adapted to the temperate climate only the hardiest survived their first winter and their numbers are therefore quite low (probably about the same as the crazies).
Zombies have lost all cognitive abilities becoming, in effect, little better than animals (about chimpanzee intelligence level). However they are still human so their reactions are sometimes a little unusual.
Zombies can, and do, use basic tools, which they make as and when they are needed.
In theory of course all the technology of the early 21st century still exists. However with total global population levels measured (or more precisely guessed) in hundreds of thousands, rather than the billions who lived prior to the Collapse, the infrastructure to support it (manufacturing industries, global trade networks, etc) has long since disappeared.
Thus, most people now live at a technology level somewhere close to the latter end of the pre-industrial age (think late 17th or early 18th century) supplemented with some later technology that can be maintained and operated relatively easily (e.g. a small generator coupled up to a steam engine).
Since the collapse there has been no unified banking system, and indeed nothing even vaguely resembling a central bank, so nobody can issue any form of money that is generally acceptable.
The old pre-collapse currency is, in theory, still in use. However since the collapse no new money has been minted since there is no organisation authorised to do so (i.e. there is no central bank). This means that bank notes no longer exist since they have all long since been destroyed by the ravages of time. In fact most people wouldn’t even recognise a banknote if they saw one.
In theory therefore the only valid currency is the coins that existed before the Collapse. Perhaps surprisingly, this actually works quite well since it fulfils the basic requirements of a monetary system: there is a limited (and indeed finite) supply and everybody recognises its’ value.
In practice this is not quite true since banking, like most pre-collapse concepts, did not disappear entirely in 2012. The PCs’ home town, like most well established settlements, does have a town bank which issues notes testifying that certain amounts of money have been deposited with it (this is in fact the origin of the word banknote). These notes are generally accepted as money in their own right but only in that town, in any other settlement they will most likely not be recognised.
Old Bill, the Mechanic
In 2012, before the Collapse, Old Bill was a motor mechanic working at one of the many motor vehicle service and repair garages so common at the time. At 81 he is the second oldest person in the village and one of only two people in the area who can actually remember the pre-collapse world (the other is Nightingale).
Never the fittest of men to start with, Old Bill is now decidedly unhealthy but his mind is a sharp as ever it was. He is fond of stating that he is an old man and not long for this world, but he’s been saying that for the past twenty years so nobody takes much notice these days.
Bill is responsible for the fact that the village can still boast some of the more basic pre-collapse technology. Most notably he has converted an old generator to run on methane (a gas easily available to any community that keeps livestock), so the village has electricity, even if the supply is a little unreliable. This is primarily used to run several freezers in which much of the community’s winter food reserves are stored.
Nightingale is a 93-year-old woman who lives alone in a long abandoned doctor’s surgery about a mile from the village. She is certainly a little senile and possibly a little crazy but she’s harmless enough. Nobody remembers the old woman’s real name, not even her. The name she uses is derived from her profession (she claims to have been a nurse before the Collapse).
Nightingale is certainly a very good healer, when she can keep her mind on her work, and is usually willing to treat anybody if, and this is a big if, they can convince her of the need. Generally the problem is convincing her not to refer the patient to the nearest hospital (which of course no longer exists).
The villagers are in the habit of sending somebody out there with food each day since she is no longer capable of looking after herself. After all, she’s a useful person to have around.
Campaign Starting Conditions
It is mid-summer in the year 2070AD. PCs are third generation members of a small community of normals living in a pre-collapse village.
The ruins of a large market town lie a few days travel from the village. The town is dominated by groups of crazies who follow a variety of pseudo-religious belief systems, making this a somewhat dangerous place to visit. Pre-collapse technology can still be obtained there by those brave (or foolhardy) enough to try.
Large numbers of zombies populates the surrounding countryside, but these are rarely a problem unless provoked.