Thursday, 23 January 2014

Ruralpunk Part 4: the Opposition

The Opposition
Part 4 of the Ruralpunk series concerns itself with the Opposition. I almost said "bad guys" before I remembered the genre.

A big theme of ruralpunk is abandonment. The world revolves around the cities. The countryside is left to the agricorps or the rebels or the poor - left out in the suburbs and fading exurbs after the oil crashes. Flooded towns wash away or are torn apart by heavy weather. The rule of law fades away. Let the first Mad Max film be your guide! (but perhaps ignore the second one - the post-apocalypse is a whole different thing)


Oligarchs, oil-men and railway barons were stock enemies in Westerns, and work just as well here. All represent large scale corporate forces rolling over individualistic country folk - one of the reasons American crime fiction used to idealise bank robbers is because many rural people lionized them for fighting the banks that took their homes during the Great Depression.

A cyberpunk campaign can add frackers to that list. Games aping the neo-noir tradition might also choose a specifically Californian antagonist, old families in control of the water supply. (I rather like the idea of a setting in which a post-USA Californian nation is ruled by an aristocracy that combines the money of the hydrocracy with the style of Hollywood). 

Big Agriculture might be driving independent farmers off the land or dumping chemicals in the rivers. They might be using the deep countryside for hidden bases. PMC training camps are a definite possibility. Out here, there isn't much oversight to restrain their actions. 

Big cyberpunk corporations are big cyberpunk corporations. I'd prefer to spend this post talking about other enemies!

Political Violence

Historically, rural regions experience a good deal more political violence than cities. Landowners throughout history and across the world have hired thugs to hold down the peasantry or political activists, and land reform has been the issue behind more violence than any other. Cities experience paroxysms of bloodshed, in riots and revolution. In tense rural regions, it becomes more of an ambient background noise - assault rifles chattering in Andean farming villages, assassinations in Spanish peasant homes, civil rights advocates lynched in Alabama... death squads begat rebels begat death squads on and on.

In addition, flailing urban regimes often draw in conservative (or dollar hungry) forces from the countryside to defend them in the cities. Bringing in miners or farmers to beat up the students is a time-honoured tradition - it happened during the Egyptian spring. Political thugs have a plethora of fabricated terror weapons in their arsenal: ceramic blades, chainblades, air hammers, smart whips... 

The collapse of law and order empowers local ole' boy networks. Local vigilante forces can be a real force in the countryside, particularly in an age of 3d printers. Suddenly, western agricultural regions see the return of the old landholding bosses and their armed guards. Meanwhile, small towns besieged by gangs or rebels form "public safety committees" that turn on refugees or travellers passing through the town, along with local non-conformists. These groups often enthusiastically print drones and surveillance gear, making each village into its own surveillance state dystopia. Daily Mail island (NSFW)!

Local vigilante forces can be impressively, ludicrously well armed but are often surprisingly disorganized. A fat middle aged man with textbook training weighed down with expensive body armour and a tricked out smart rifle is often no match for a teenage road-ganger with an AK, a coordinated squad, and some real combat experience. There's a certain sort of amoral urban thief that views a well stocked militiaman's cache as a cheap source of unregistered weapons. 

Khans of the open road

Everyone knows about the bōsōzoku road gangs who terrorize the urban streets, and the biker gangs who roam the freeways. Biker gangs have a history that goes back to WW2. Its only recently, in the age of 3d printers, that the old gangs have been supplanted by a newer, more nomadic breed.

The Tribes are young and mobile. They attract the urban poor and rural teenagers chafing under the rules of the moral militias. They favour modern dirtbikes or fast monobikes. They wear cheap, fabricated heavy clothing painted in bright colours. Their extravagant death masks draw on ancient history and modern fear. They have stringent codes of honour and a system of dueling that sometimes escalates to lethal violence. Their skills with ceramic kukris and smart lassos are feared, respected, and lauded in action movies. Their soldiers chip skills or personalities from ancient tribal warriors and guerrilla leaders. Between towns they pitch climate controlled yurts carried in drone pick-up trucks or on the back of bikes.

Their leaders are called Khans and they rule great Khanates across the decaying countryside. When they come together they can put thousands of teenage soldiers into the field, organised into powerful tumans. Moreover, the Khanates produce 'runners, who often return to help their clanmates in times of trouble. Their main enemies are the political militias and the road police. 

The most powerful Khanate is in Northern California, although it draws many recruits from Los Angeles and Seattle. Following the rape of a clanmate's brother by militiamen associated with the town of Greenville, they descended on the town, swept away the defensive forces, and looted it with a vigour to match the barbarian hordes of old. The vigilante forces in Westwood and Chester believe that they will be next, and have called in supporters via a network of "self defense clubs." Already, crusaders are driving from across America to join them, while the Khanate calls in its own reinforcements. A group of Militia rolling in from Utah met a khan banner from Nevada on the road near Herlong, and the resulting melee almost burnt the town. Similar skirmishes have begun to occur allover the region, while the governor prepares to call out the National Guard.  He knows that the Queen of the Shasta Khanate might be the most powerful warlord west of the Rockies.

Rebels, gangsters and soldiers

Bandits are a social reaction to oppression in peasant societies, and they return to the countryside ruled by agricorps and militias. Rebel forces rise against the government or the corporations. With 3d printers and scavenged parts, they become a surprising threat.

Many rebels espouse autonomist views based on resilient energy and manufacturing technology which makes it fairly easy to live a good life outside of the capitalist system. Autonomist communities can be very difficult opponents - neo-Kibbutzim are as determined and disciplined as their forebears in the late 1940s. 

If the enemy has air superiority - which they usually do - and the capacity to bring overwhelming force quickly to any engagement, then rebel forces have to resort to infrastructure warfare. Bombing power lines, communications arrays and road bridges strangles the enemy economy and reduces their capacity to fight. It also encourages people to abandon centralised systems and adopt more distributed means of production, which is a mission goal for many 21st century radical groups. More isolated cities are besieged by rebel forces who block the roads and blast the bridges, forcing vehicles to move in convoy. 

Rebel forces which fail to achieve victory often follow the example of FARC and become little more than criminal organisations. Hell, the Mafia and the Triads are both descended from rebel groups. 

A regular source of income for 'runners is hostage rescue, taking back people kidnapped by rebel or bandit forces. 'Runners not working for the local rebellion might also sign on for caravan guard duty. PCs working for the rebels will spend more of their time blasting isolated infrastructure than directly tangling with government forces.

While we're on the subject of government forces... they often don't look that different from the rebels. They probably haven't been paid in three months. They occupy fortified blockhouses and guard towers, and cheap vehicles. They often extract protection money from local citizens. In confrontations between the road gangs and the police, local army units are often unreliable - many gangs encourage their members to join up in order to gain some free combat experience, while other soldiers remember their pre-service loyalties. Military encounters can be very unpredictable: you don't know whether you will meet a small group of poorly equipped conscripts or tanks with drone support.

Coming up next in Ruralpunk: biological killing machines! Ghost towns! Privateers!

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