Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Reviews for Gamers: Damnation Alley

When I was younger I played a lot of Car Wars.  In the rules of Car Wars they had a list of books that inspired the setting.  Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny was on that list, and when I saw that book in the bookstore I had to buy a copy.  I recently grabbed a copy for my kindle from the Humble Bundle and reread it.

The cover of the edition that I read as a kid
Damnation Alley takes place in a post-nuclear future.  The Earth's winds are in a constant super-storm that whips around the planet, making flight impossible.  Hell Tanner, the book's protagonist, is a motorcycle outlaw who is captured by the California police.  He is offered a full pardon if he drives across the nuclear wasteland of middle America (Damnation Alley) and delivers a serum that will cure a plague that is devastating Boston.  The book has a funky 70's sci-fi feel (it was written in 1968) with a healthy dose of John Carpenter thrown into the mix.  It is a quick read and has plenty of action.  My favorite part is the description of Damnation Alley and the dangers that are there.  Giant bats and lizards roam the landscape.  Storms that drop rocks and fish tear down from the sky.  I love the idea of the weather being an obstacle.

I know that Zelazny is famous for high concept sci-fi.  This book is pure popcorn.  Hell Tanner races across the country as mutant animals and mutant weather threaten to pound him to dust.  He rides in a souped up car armed with machine guns and flame throwers.  I can see why Car Wars listed this book as inspiration.  If you are interesting in post-apocalyptic books or car combat, I would recommend this book.

Damnation Alley as Gaming Material

The plot of this book is ready to be lifted for a role-playing campaign.  Heck, it can even be used as a scenario for miniature games or wargames.  Can you get the package to the other side of the map/table while fighting off mutants, gangs, and environmental hazards?  In fact, the environmental hazards are one of the most interesting aspects of the book that can be used in a scenario or campaign.  While the book is science fiction, I think that you can apply the framework of the story to many genres.  Here are some ideas for running a Damnation Alley style rpg adventure for other genres.

Fantasy - The party has to transport a magical potion across the Chaos Desert.  This is a desert that was created by a magical war between the Wizard-Gods years ago.  The desert is full of whirlwinds, glass storms, strange creatures, and marauders.

Space Opera - The party has to deliver a load of cargo across a sector of space that is full of anomalies.  The sector has black holes, radiation storms, gravity tsunamis, and is the perfect place for pirates to hide.

Steampunk/Pulp - Tesla has created a weather machine that has gone haywire.  The area around the machine is a death zone where lightning strikes at random and storms tear up the ground.  A rival faction is also headed there to capture the machine.  Can the heroes get there first?

How I would run this game:

The parts of the story that resonate with me are the delivery of the McGuffin through the danger zone and the use of nature and the elements as an adversary.  I like the post-apocalyptic setting of the book and the car combat, so I would choose a game system that has both of those traits built in.

I would us Palladium's After the Bomb rpg along with the Road Hogs supplement.  After the Bomb is a post-apocalyptic game full of mutant animals, and Road Hogs adds rules for cars with guns strapped to them.  The Empire of Humanity has released a virus tailored to kill mutant animals.  The party will have to deliver the cure by driving across the US, while avoiding radiation zones, super-storms, and outlaw gangs.  It would basically follow the plot of the book except it would take place in the After the Bomb setting.  That is how I would run it.