Deadman's Switch,Part Two: Life Behind the Wall

Geography -

Deadman's Switch is located in the Sandhills region of old Nebraska, about ten miles west of the ruins of Valentine. Nearby is the Niobrara River, which is often used by River Rats or other travellers who prefer to avoid encounters with Bugs or Warlords on the deteriorating highways of America. Much of the area is rolling, sandy hills covered in prairie grass and scrub brush, occasionally crossed by barbed wire fences (although salvage patrols have removed much of this). Nearby is a former state park filled with dense trees, brush and steep valleys and canyons; this place is often used by Bughunters or criminals to hide when on the run. Rumors persist of a fortified bunker hidden deep within the valleys, but no proof exists of the place. Cattle can be found in small groups throughout the area, remnants of the large pre-Meltdown herds that dominated the region (although by now most have been rounded up for slaughter). Other fauna includes deer, coyote, the occasional elk, pheasant, geese, and even the odd bison can be seen, although most wildlife tends to avoid the Switch.

Government -

The Switch operates on a sort of de facto monarchy - the six Bunker Lords effectively lay down the law and policies of the entire town and operate the salvage patrols and Blackshirts (the town guardsmen). The residents have few rights, but few complain because their standard of living is higher than most post-Meltdown communities. The residents are allowed to petition the Bunker Lords for changes they would like to see, and if approved, everyone works together to make the changes a reality. If any one Bunker Lord could be singled out as a leader, it would be Geoffrey Caldecott, a one of the six initial investors and the man who provided a third of the money himself. Caldecott tends to push the other Bunker Lords into doing what he wants, but nobody minds because he has the town's best interests at heart.

Order is maintained by the Blackshirts, a standing force of eighty men and women who constantly patrol the Wall and around the town to make sure no laws are being violated and no trouble is happening. The law in Deadman's Switch is simple: anything that hurts the community is not tolerated (including, but not limited to, murder, rape, theft and property damage), and any infraction is met with force. Blackshirts are authorized to shoot thieves and murderers on sight if caught in the act, and will detain anyone suspected or accused of a crime until satisfied of their guilt or innocence; property damage from acts of self-defense are not considered to be crimes. If found guilty, the offender is stripped of all possessions (right down to his or her birthday suit) and then dumped off by a Blackshirt patrol anywhere from ten to twenty miles away from the town and left to fend for themselves. If they return to the town, the Blackshirts can shoot on sight. This policy - and the fact that most residents realize that working together increases all their chances for survival - keeps the crime rate very low.

Day-to-Day Life -

Everyone who lives behind the Wall has to earn their keep, even small children. The most common jobs are working on salvage patrols, town maintenance, Blackshirt duty or sorting through and cleaning up the salvaged items. Salvage patrols (also called "hyena patrols") are always coming and going in the semi trucks that the town keeps running, hauling semi trailers full of material back from all across the region. The cargo can range from food to fuel to clothing and anything in between... so long as it can be used directly by the town or sold to those pasing through. A typical salvage run lasts from six to ten days, and is composed of two semi trucks and six or seven smaller vehicles, with sixty people total going on the runs. As this duty is the most hazardous, salvagers often get first choice of what is found... after the Bunker Lords, of course.

Town maintenance is comprised mostly of fixing leaky roofs, holes in the fences and razor wire, and keeping the few mechanical and electrical devices used functioning smoothly. Maintenance workers can be found day or night doing some task or other, as their work never seems to be done.

Blackshirt duty is reserved for the toughest (and meanest) of the town's residents, as they are the people charged with defending the town against Bug attacks and Warlord hostility. Few have had any sort of formal training (only one in eight or nine, probably National Guard), but all are committed to the defense of the Switch. Blackshirts are given an automatic rifle (usually an AK-47, M-16 or OSA-10 with three spare magazines) and patrol all fences and the Wall on a constant basis, watching for any sign of trouble. The Blackshirts are commanded by Byron Hailey, one of the Bunker Lords.

Cleanup duty is reserved for the most trustworthy residents of the town, as anything can be found in the semi trailers that salvage patrols bring back. All items must be cleaned, catalogued and then distributed to either the town store or one of the shops in the Marketplace, and it would be very easy for one to walk off with some item that could make his life very comfortable. Those who are caught stealing are treated as convicted criminals and banished from the Switch.

Goods and Services -

Deadman's Switch is a center for trade in the northern Flatland and southern Dakota regions, with traders coming from as far as the League of Free Cities on a regular basis (usually once every two months). This makes it a prime target for roving Warlords and the occasional Bug patrol, but also a haven for adventurers looking for supplies, a hot meal and a bed to sleep in for a night. Outside the town gate a makeshift marketplace has sprung up, with almost anything you could want being bought, sold and traded for twenty-four hours a day (usually at 150% to 300% of market value). The only rule here is caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. A lot of shady deals go on for merchandise and services of questionable origin ("Yeah, that blood on the seat should come right off."), but nobody here asks questions if they know what's good for them. Even weapons and ammunition are traded for (but at 300% to 450% above market value for the average rifle, more for military weapons or explosives). While trade is unimpeded by the Switch, Blackshirts are always watching in case a fight breaks out (which is always put down with lethal force, so very few regular visitors start trouble). Several makeshift businesses have sprung up as well, mostly saloons and whorehouses (if you don't mind an audience) and one chowhouse (just don't ask where the meat came from if you want to keep your appetite).

Within the town walls, the Marketplace is a very active trading center where salvaged items are sold or traded at reasonable rates. Reputable Freebooters are allowed within for brief periods (a day or two) to sell their stuff at controlled rates (usually about 10% to 30% above post-Meltdown values). Most common items are available here, and even some weapons and regular ammunition (but no military weapons or explosives). There is a medical clinic operated by two nurses, and a Sawbones usually comes around every six weeks or so. The nurses can set broken bones, tend to gunshot wounds, treat lascerations and burns, and even perform minor surgery, although major operations are beyond their abilities. There is a food bank where canned items and even a few fresh vegetables are available, a parts shop where machine and automotive components can be purchased, and several booths where local artisans sell metalwork, clothing, shoes, baskets, and other items. The Marketplace is also where those awaiting entrance to the rest of the town must wait for approval; one trailer serves as a makeshift barracks / hotel for those who can afford the $100 per night fee (payable in coin or trade, and includes one meal).

The most notorious building in the Marketplace is the Roach Motel, the only bar and gambling house in the Switch. Run by Billy Gaines, the Motel serves beer (bottled, canned or home brewed for the brave) and hard liquor (usually moonshine from the still in back, but sometimes real whiskey or tequila) for high prices. The place is always open, always warm, and always active; the fights are few, the drinks aren't watered, and there are always two or three card games going on that are open to new victims (I mean players, of course). The Blackshirts keep an especially close eye on the Motel to make sure no trouble starts there.

Most importantly, there is one shop that sells the town's most important commodity - alcohol fuel. With a huge still in the silo, the Bunker Lords can produce thousands of gallons of usable fuel in a week's time from fermenting the brush and grass found all around the town. Much of the fuel is used by the salvage patrols, but a fair portion is sold to adventurers for $25 per gallon. Alcohol fuel can only be used in specially modified vehicles (roll Automotive Mechanics at -20%; conversion takes 2D4 hours on a successful roll) and is lethal to drink. Since alcohol burns cooler than regular fuels, it takes more of it to achieve a vehicle's regular performance - to go normal speeds, range is cut to 1/3 of normal, and to get full range the vehicle's speed is limited to 1/3 of maximum. It takes 1D4 hours to convert the vehicle from one mode to the other with a successful Auto Mechanics roll.

Deadman's Switch

Deadman's Switch: Map Key

1 - Outer Fence - a chain-link fence topped by coils of razor wire across its entire length. Trying to scale the fence without cutting the wire will result in 1D6 damage, and the character will become entangled for 1D4 melee rounds unless he or she tears away from the fence (rather loudly). Anyone with a wire cutter can get right through.

2 - No Man's Land - between the fence and the wall, dozens of antipersonnel mines have been scattered for those who make it over without being detected. There is a 1 - 40% chance for every 5 feet of hitting a mine, inflicting 2D4x10 to a 10-foot radius.

3 - The Wall - made up of almost a hundred semi trailers, the Wall is a very substantial structure. Stacked two high and then filled with dirt, rocks and concrete, the trailers each have about 1000 S.D.C. and a natural Armor rating of 20 (anyone behind them is safe from anything less than full-power tank rounds). On top of the Wall tires of various sizes have been stacked with coils of razor wire on top of them, providing cover for the patrols that man the top of the wall day and night (120 S.D.C. per 5-foot section, A.R. 14).

4 - Main Gate - much the same as the Outer Fence (1), only able to swing inward to allow people and vehicles to enter. Always manned by at least 4 men with M-16 or AK-47 rifles (first to fourth level, average guys with minimal training) with access to a siren if trouble arises.

5 - The Marketplace - a fenced-in area where, once every six to ten days, the town allows outsiders in to buy, sell and trade anything of value. This is also the place where those awaiting approval to enter the rest of the town must wait. For those trading, prices are generally 10% to 30% above post-Meltdown list prices (see Systems Failure RPG, page 130), and most items short of heavy weapons and explosives are available for a price.

6 - Inner Fence - much like the Outer Fence (1) but always patrolled (only a 5% chance of breaking inside the town this way).

7 - Inner Gate - like the rest of the fence, but can swing inward to allow access to the rest of the town. Only able to be opened by the four guards manning the post next to it on authority from the Council.

8 - Registration Building - a wooden structure (150 S.D.C. per 10 square feet, A.R. 12) that everyone entering the town is required to check in with, usually under armed guard. Once inside, each person must submit to a full body search, have all their possessions inspected and catalogued, and all firearms and other weapons are confiscated while they are guests of the town... for 'the safety of the community'. Those applying for permanent residence are allowed to keep their weaponry.

9 - Town Hall / Church - one of two structures standing when the town was founded. Easily sixty years old, the building is made of brick (200 S.D.C. per 10 square feet, A.R. 15) and is one of the few buildings with a basement. The church serves as a town hall where anyone is welcome for a meal or a place to sleep until they can find more permanent housing elsewhere within the town's walls. The church is also the home of the town priest and the site of a weekly town meeting where residents can voice their views on various issues.

10 - Radio Transmitter / Receiver - an 80-foot tall tower (400 S.D.C.) capable of transmitting FM, AM, and shortwave radio signals, along with CB signals. Powered by a large generator, the station is usually shut down for fear of attracting a Bug patrol and only transmits every month or so to let neighbors know that the town is still there, or when an emergency arises. Any resident can send a brief message for a small fee.

11 - Supply Building ("The Store") - a large structure (150 S.D.C. per 10 square feet, A.R. 12) where residents can pick up basic foodstuffs and supplies and can barter for more exotic items. Much like a combination grocery store / hardware store / clothing outlet, much of the material gathered by the town's search parties ends up here.

12 - Supply Sheds - semi trailers (400 S.D.C., A.R. 10) with the wheels removed, the supply sheds store items unable to be contained in the supply building. The fence here is patrolled constantly, preventing any theft (only a 1-5% chance of getting in undetected).

13 - Motor Pool - a collection of semi trailers filles with automotive parts and repair equipment. This is the place where people with vehicles can get them repaired and find parts to fix them themselves. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for outsiders to get permission to bring vehicles inside the town.

14 - Residential Area - this is a collection of mobile homes, recreational vehicles and converted semi trailers (average of 150 S.D.C., A.R. 10) where single males are housed barracks-style, usually with 12 to 15 living in each dwelling. However, there are only about 5 or 6 staying there at any one time, as the rest are out on salvage duty or patrolling the walls.

15 - Residential Area - these five trailers house the few single women who live in Deadman's Switch, with six to eight living per trailer.

16 - Residential Area - all of the trailers on the western side of town house families. Usually there are two or three families per dwelling, for a total of six to ten people.

17 - Compound Gate - there are only two ways into the Compound, where the Council watches over the rest of the town. These gates are the same as the Inner Gate (7), and both are manned by four to six guards with M-16s or AK-47s.

18 - Compound Storage - the building where all the material brought back by the salvage patrols ends up. Here it is sorted and cleaned, and those items suitable for distribution to the town are separated and put into the storage sheds (12). The rest - heavy weapons, explosives, military items, etc. - are moved to the Bunker for use by town defenders.

19 - Semi Trailers - these trailers are used by salvage patrols to bring back their booty. At any given time, 60% are full and waiting to be sorted. These trailers have been fitted with plate steel armor and puncture-proof tires (500 S.D.C., A.R. 16) to protect their cargo. The semi trucks are also stored in this area, but are usually on the road.

20 - Fuel Tanks - these five tanker trailers now house the fuel supply for all Deadman's Switch vehicles. Two are for diesel fuel, one for gasoline, one is for fuel alcohol and one for kerosene to heat the residential dwellings. The tanks are guarded at all times by four to six men with M-16 or AK-47 rifles.

21 - The Bunker - the seat of power for the Council, and the most armored place in town. Several levels deep and capable of housing 150 people comfortably for three years, the Bunker is also home to the most precious of the cargoes that salvage patrols bring back - high explosives, military weapons, precious gems and metals, and even military vehicles. None of the residents and few militia members are allowed inside at any time.

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This page was created on December 10, 1999.
Last modified on February 10, 2005.