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Tabletop Game / Neuroshima

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Never trust the Machinesnote 

Neuroshima is a Polish tabletop RPG, heavily inspired by everything post-apocalyptic.

The game is set in the United States in the mid-21st century, after a nuclear war started by a cybernetic revolt turned the continent into a barren wasteland. The military artificial intelligence responsible for the war, commonly referred to as Moloch, now has control over a net of old military facilities, automated factories, power plants and the like, covering the whole northern U.S., from Oregon to the Great Lakes. Advancing north from Latin America into the southern states is the Neojungle, a mass of semi-intelligent carnivorous vegetation that grows faster than kudzu. Caught in the middle are the surviving humans, trapped between the deadly creatures and robots created by Moloch on one side, and wild animals mutated by nuclear radiation thriving in a hostile jungle on the other. But what is stressed in the book is that the worst enemy of humans is within them: hatred, indifference, and greed.

In its heyday, Neuroshima was one of the most popular, if not the most popular tabletop game in Poland, but the popularity quickly disappeared after support for the game ended, leaving it in a half-finished state. In spite of taking place in the United States, the game treats them as a simple, almost fantasy backdrop, with content that is very Polish in its nature.

The game spawned a much, much more popular successor that managed to have multiple editions and eventually got turned into a video game: Neuroshima Hex!.

This tabletop RPG provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: At this pace, the game will be soon set in Alternate History, as Moloch came to life in the early 2020s.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Moloch, being Skynet in everything but name, rebelled against humanity the moment it was put online, starting a nuclear war.
  • Apocalypse How: Between Class 1 and 2, depending on location. The nuclear exchange affected the entire world, but we only hear about the United States. How the rest of the planet is faring is unclear, but at least some forces from Europe arrived in the States and started the Appalachian Federation.
  • The Apunkalypse: Obviously, as the entire setting is based on late 80s post-apocalyptic B-movies. For what it's worth, the punkiest locations tend to be Hegemony and Detroit.
  • Big Applesauce: New York somehow wasn't a target of nuclear bombardment, allowing it to survive relatively intact. Now it's a place which has established a strong government and would like to rebuild America. They maintain schools, factories and railways and send soldiers to fight Moloch. Surprisingly enough, they sometimes succeed.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Two flavours of it — "regular" mutated animals and all the nightmarish, half-plant hybrids coming out of the Neojungle.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Moloch really likes to experiment on organic tissue. Also, Neojungle is strongly implied to be an effect of some pre-war experiment that accidentally got released to the wild after the bombs dropped.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Raiders are described as being simply insane and unable to operate in a civilized world.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: The Orbital is a still functional pre-war international space station. At least five astronauts are still alive up there, but, as the communication was cut off relatively early, they know little beyond the fact that the world was devastated in a war and can only speculate on the details. The station seems to be equipped with some sort of hibernation device, so most of the crew is asleep with only one person actively manning the station at any given time. They spend most of their time using the comm-station to transmit stuff like survival tips, cooking recipes, music, poetry, unassorted stories and mental breakdowns. Those transmissions can be received using even crude radio equipment, although only for short period when the station is passing overhead, and they are a popular source of entertainment, as regular radio stations are long gone. Practically no one possesses a transmitter powerful enough to send anything back to the Orbital, so the astronauts have no way of knowing, if anyone even listens to them.
  • Canada, Eh?: The portrayal of Canada in the fan-made expansion is a collection of every single possible stereotype imaginable. Somehow, Quebec is not mentioned at all.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: the special ability of Salt Lake City characters.
  • Crapsack World: Civilization has been shattered by nuclear bombardment and is being fought over by humans, mutants, machines and stranger things, each trying to outdo one another. It is definitely not a pleasant place to live.
  • Creative Sterility: Moloch, for all its power, is just a military computer with relatively limited programming outside directing airstikes. After the initial success gained by the sudden nuclear attack and taking over the north-eastern corner of the States, it has a hard time adapting to all the different groups it now has to face and the multitude of tactics they apply. It's not helping it works as a Mind Hive, so there is nobody giving direct orders or coordination outside a localised area. Outpost scientists are perfectly aware of this and remorsely exploit this with their ever-changing approach against the machines.
  • Creator Provincialism: Aside from using very specific set of National Stereotypes, the setting of Neuroshima is basically Poland, that only accidentally uses the US map and names. There are numerous descriptions of elements that do apply to late 90s Poland, but are completely out of whack when applied to the USA, like unified school curriculum, heavily centralized government (and no signs of federal one or anything even resembling it), serf mindset, restricted access to firearms, utter lack of any other religions than Catholicism (and Protestants are virtually non-existing), incredible mistrust to people and so on and forth. Even the general set-up, with Moloch in the north and Neojungle in the south is the direct transplant of Polish paranoia about being between Germany and Russia and the self-created image of a pick-up kid for those two countries. A recurring riff over the setting is that it would actually improve if it was just set in Poland, since the very things that are immersion-breaking would help to get into it instead.
    • For what it's worth, the chief developer had once confessed to an idea for a setting he never got around to develop, a post-apo Poland menaced by mutated Russians and cyborgized Germans. Which... would seem to explain a lot.
  • Cyborg: Cybernetic modifications are relatively widespread, but also treated with great mistrust — only Moloch has both the technology and infrastructure to mass-produce them.
  • Divided States of America: New York controls most of the former state, as does Texas. The Appalachian Federation rules over the entire Appalachian region. Detroit is the main player of the Great Lakes region. Florida is either unclaimed swamp or the city-state of Miami. Utah is doing just about fine, once again as Mormon country. Vegas is a city-state and of course let's not forget about Native American confederations and coalitions. Also, raiders. Lots and lots of raiders.
  • Enemy Exchange Program: It is entirely possible to hijack Moloch heavy war machines and use them. They're most effective against other machines. The Outpost specialises in both stealing and reverse-engineering Moloch's weapons and weapon systems.
  • Enemy Mine: The only way that anyone in the setting seems to create alliances and cooperation is working against common enemy.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The setting is intentionally designed as such, with hostile creatures and creations all over the board, confining the characters within the former United States.
  • Evil Brit: Out of all possible people, European nobility, predominantly British, came to the States soon after the war with aircraft carriers and conquered what is now The Appalachian Federation. They imposed feudal rule and slavery, and cultivate Southern Gentleman archetypes.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Averted. Mutants are probably the biggest organised threat to Moloch operations, and Neojungle is a semi-sentient being killing everything in its wake, while also harmful for machine installations.
  • Expy: The game isn't very subtle about those:
  • Fan Work: After all future work with the system was cancelled, the small, but devoted fandom kept on creating new expansions, since the source book barely described most of the places on the map and the official expansion only focused on a literal handful of cities. This home-made content is not only regarded as much, much better than the official material, but is roughly twenty times bigger — the sole book describing The Appalachian Federation is 350 pages long, while in the original source book there is barely a single paragraph about it.
  • Feudal Future: The basis of The Appalachian Federation, alongside slavery.
  • Flanderization: The game takes place in the United States as they are known from movies and TV shows, so go figure.
  • Flat Character: The source book barely describes any of the factions of the setting, usually giving them a paragraph or two. Apparently this was intentional, to both give players free hand and sell expansion packs, but in the end, it makes the vanilla setting simply underdeveloped.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Played With. The setting can be best described as how Poles imagined life in America in the early 90s, based on watching things like Walker, Texas Ranger, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, a bunch of classic westerns, revenge flicks from the late 70s and Buddy Cop Shows. It can be really hard to take the setting as anything else than just plain insane without knowing this context.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: Moloch is a Mind Hive. Separating its drones and jamming the outside signal renders them inactive and ready for new programming, assuming one has sufficient skills and tools.
  • Gas Mask, Longcoat: Common gear for most adventurers, providing basic protection against the irradiated dust.
  • Healthcare Motivation: Every. Single. Character. By. Rules. Yes. Every, repeat, EVERY character, by game rules, passes through the random illness assignment stage at character creation. You must spend a precious entry bonus (either initial cash or an initial perk) explicitly on skipping this stage before the game begins if you want to avoid the mess. If you don't, your character's life (and potentially that of others) is dependent on a secure supply of medicines to stave off the symptoms. Oh, and the illnesses? They range from mundane-but-crazy like Ebola, to just-plain-crazy like having acid for blood like a Xenomorph.
  • Hegemonic Empire: The Southern Hegemony, or The Hegemony for short. It's a collection of semi-feudal states, enclaves and outright warzones between various gangs, lead by the strongest of them and in constant struggle for leadership. The best way of showing your own power? Raiding outside territories.
  • Hungry Jungle: Neojungle is a literal example. It consumes everything on its wake, while being highly toxic (not poisonous — toxic) to regular life forms. It is also perfectly capable of ignoring how dry northern Mexico is.
  • Irony: The game is almost unknown abroad, while it created the basis for the widely successful Neuroshima Hex!. In turn, Neuroshima Hex is much less known in Poland.
  • Kill Sat:
    • The ARGUS system is a constellation of missile defence satellites equipped with powerful lasers.note  Some say it can be reprogrammed to hit ground-based targets. Although, if that were the case, the Moloch would probably have used it for that purpose long ago.
    • There are rumors that the aforementioned Orbital station has some kind of weapon system installed. Naturally some people are worried that the crew will start to shoot random targets once they finally Go Mad from the Isolation.
  • La Résistance: The Outpost's most defining trait is their fight against Moloch.
  • Las Vegas: One of the most successful post-war countries. A city-state and one of two enclaves of civilisation from the West Coast to the Mississippi river, the other being Salt Lake City. As long as you can afford things, life is peachy there.
  • Loads and Loads of Rules: Dear God, the game has just horrible mechanics design and is often cited as even worse than Crystals of Timenote . It uses a convoluted system of 3d20, which can make most checks simply impossible to pass, no matter what. The outcome of the dice is extremely counter-intuitive, it requires a lot of extra calculations to be made in the background (and the GM better get an abacus to keep track of a single turn of combat), and the numbers are inflated for no apparent reason. If characters start to shoot each other in hard terrain at range longer than 20 meters (and guns have realistic range), it's easier to just make arbitrary decisions how the combat went rather than try to decipher it from the rules.
    • And then there is Slider, which can turn even normally bearable calculations into an incomprehensible mess.
    • The "fixed" edition of the game, 1.5, only made things worse, as it tried to add all the rules from expansions to the core book, never addressing any of the problems, with the clumsy work at welding things together creating an unplayable game.
    • 1.5e also includes rules for so called "practice" combat which lets you ignore all this mess and just treat encounters as a series of skill checks.
    • The awkward rules are sometimes alleged to have stemmed from an odd case of Creator's Apathy: since the authors believed in role-playing over games, they assumed that having good or bad rules doesn't matter as nobody would ever play by rules anyway - Ignacy Trzewiczek, the head designer, is an infamous railroader who openly advocated storytelling approach with absolute GM power and zero "pesky dice that could ruin your (GM's) story". As such, he didn't need rules, but had to have a game to sell.
  • Man-Eating Plant: Neojungle is implied to be full of those. And anything venturing into the foliage will quickly die and be turned into fertilizer anyway.
  • Mind Hive: Moloch's biggest strength and weakness is its lack of a central commanding unit. While it's impossible to turn it off, it can't properly manage its own assets or muster well-organised defenses or reactions toward small-scale, widespread attacks.
  • Mobile City: The Outpost, considered to be the last organized army of Mankind, is constantly on the move, harassing the Moloch with hit-and-run attacks in a neverending war of resistance.
  • Mutants: Not counting more traditional ones that roam the wasteland, one of the core rules makes every single character (unless coming from Texas) one, usually in the form of some Black Comedy illness, like sweating in acid. Depending on the tone the GM picks for the scenario, such mutation can be played for laughs or the very reason why humanity is dying.
  • National Stereotypes: Polish stereotypes about Americans and life in America, dialled up to eleven, are the basis of the setting. Certain elements are hard to take even for Poles. In case if you didn't figure it out: these aren't even the kind of stereotypes you'd expect, but an unknowledgeable second-hand take on them as imbibed through VHS-era movies.
  • Noble Savage: About any Native American in the setting. The backstory is that no reservation was anywhere near a good target for Moloch's WMDs, so their population suddenly spiked in relation to other survivors, and they all returned to the Old Ways. Why these Old Ways always happen to be a romantic vision of Plains Indians with extra layer of Karl May references, whether or not a given tribe has that heritage, is less explainable.
    • That said, it's obliquely mentioned that many tribal communities only formed after bombs fell and weren't actually founded by Native Americans, so not all Noble Savages in the setting are necessarily Native Americans by descent. Whether it makes it more or less sense we leave up for you to decide.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: Texas Rangers operate under this principle. Not because of tradition, but due to having really limited resources. That said, Rangers are highly trained individuals, perfectly capable of facing the average gang of raiders all by themselves.
  • Orphaned Series: The franchise carried on strong for a good while, but in time the author(s)... kind of lost interest, leaving it for fans to maintain. (He keeps the gamebooks in circulation, but devotes himself full-time to board games.) The same happened with their other RPG franchise, Monastyr.
  • Post-Apunkalyptic Armor: All sorts of protective gear will be this by default. Having some pre-war elements, like ceramic plates or kevlar vests, mixed with car tires, is a pretty normal sight.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The main "role" the Hegemony plays in the landscape. They've managed to destroy all California due to their extensive raids.
  • The Remnant: The Outpost older personnel are all former members of the US Army.
  • Rule of Cool: Subverted. The base game is very timid at making its own content cool or at least semi-aware of how crazy it is. Expansions helped a bit, but there is still a serious dissonance between the setting and its "coolness" factor, especially if the game is played in a more serious tone (heavily advised by the source book), as it simply doesn't fit.
  • Sci-Fi Kitchen Sink: The game has every single cliché element a post-apocalyptic setting can have.
  • Shaped Like Itself: The Appalachian Federation controls Appalachia and Texas is maintaining the state borders.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The setting is set 30 years after the nuclear war. This means the war itself or the world before it is barely remembered by anyone at this point and is the stuff of legends. Also, most knowledge about Moloch, mutants and Neojungle comes from gossip, tall tales and rumours.
  • Turned Against Their Masters:
    • Moloch in the backstory did that almost instantly after being put online.
    • One of the most effective tactics against Moloch forces and installations is sending reprogrammed drones against them.
    • Mutants, sort of. A mutant "nation" is a thorn in its side, despite mutants being created by Moloch itself.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Most of the surviving patches of civilisation are more focused on fighting each other than uniting together against Moloch or mutants. Unless a greater threat is present and directly affects both sides of the on-going conflict, they will continue their infighting.
    • New York and Outpost are the only exceptions to this, but it's also strongly implied the New York government is simply using the Outpost scientists to push their own agenda, rather than doing it for other reasons.
  • While Rome Burns: The Hegemony doesn't care about Moloch's operations, since they are relatively far away. They also ignore Neojungle, which is slowly crawling into their territory - instead of trying to fight it, they simply move away. All they care about is raiding new settlements and having a good time while doing so.
    • All that gangs of Detroit care about is car races, Moloch and its machines are just a fun obstacle along the way.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Most of the vanilla setting works only as long as players openly ignore logic and any pretense the setting even stood next to reality. Fan-made expansions avoid this trope like fire - the people behind them were fully aware how harmful it was for the size of the player base.
  • You Will Be Assimilated: What makes Neojungle really scary is its ability to incorporate new plants, animals and other creatures into its ecosystem. Mutants, at least the more organised groups of them, will gladly "recruit" new members if given a chance and infrastructure.