Follow TV Tropes


Tabletop Game / Red Markets

Go To

Red Markets is a roleplaying game of economic horror set in the post-zombie apocalypse United States. It is the premier release by Hebanon Games and Caleb Stokes.

The Blight caught people off guard when it emerged, not because they hadn't been prepared for it by decades of B-movies, but because they dismissed it as click-baity fake news. As a result, the Federal government, still reeling from the economic troubles of the early 21st century, gave up on salvaging the western states of the USA and just cut them off.

Eventually, some of the survivors in the West, or "The Loss" as it's commonly referred to now, coalesced into Enclaves fortified against the hordes of walking Casualties. These Enclaves survive by scavenging the carcass of the United States and trading their findings over the Ubiq, a network sustained by a series of balloon relays in the stratosphere. This is where the players come in, they are Takers, scavengers for hire taking jobs to recover specific goods, scout out reclamation sites for the Department of Homeland Quarantine and Stewardship, raid DHQS black sites, or just kill Casualties for the bounty on their ID cards.

Just because the world ended doesn't mean there aren't bills to pay.


  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The Convert is an aberrant Casualty that is rumored to lead entire herds of zombies in organized attacks on enclaves. They have all been reported to have been young children.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: An apocalypse where the internet has survived and there's plenty of people willing to pay good Bounty to secure stuff from before.
  • After the End: The Crash has largely settled into something fairly stable. Though Gnat defies this, since according to her, there's nothing "post" apocalyptic about the Loss.
  • The Alternet: The Ubiq, a network maintained by stratospheric balloon nodes, inspired by Google's Project Loon. Originally it was developed to counter the death of Net Neutrality but after The Crash, it became the only reliable form of communication.
  • Apologetic Attacker: When infectees are in the Vector stage, the Blight takes over everything but the poor victim’s language center. Cue your friend screaming in apology as they try to eat your face.
  • Artificial Limbs: Very high-maintenance but reliable, not uncommon among survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse, especially Immune who escaped the DHQS's marrow farms.
  • Beware the Living: Even After the End, it's a capitalist dog-eat-dog world out there and people are willing to kill for it.
  • Blatant Lies: The DHQS has stated it intends to reclaim the Loss in 20 years. Of course, that's what they said last year, and the year before, for the past 5 years.
  • Blessed with Suck: Congratulations! You're Immune! You can't be infected, you don't have ugly black veins and you don't have to quarantine yourself, and your bone marrow can produce a cure for the Blight. That means that you are the most valuable trade good in the Loss, and if anyone you can't trust completely learns about it, you'll be sold and scraped to buy someone a retirement plan.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The usual way to dispose of a casualty. It isn't even considered a called shot; every Taker knows how to put one in the head of someone shambling mindlessly toward you. Sometimes, an Aberrant isn't vulnerable to headshots, which is one of the most terrifying things you can see in the Loss.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: In-universe example. Nearly every problem in-universe can be solved by spending money, you can use it to skip legsnote , get information, even get higher rolls note , it’s even used as the method of leveling up the PC’s however as both living and achieving your goals requires that money you need to assess the benefits vs the costs.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: People may say that the taker “Cousin Fucker” is savage and unhinged, but him and his group(GILF) are some of the only people who try to honor the deceased elders, putting down the zombies and even giving them proper burials.
  • Code Name: Enforced, All takers are known by their handles while in the profession, this helps prevent people from tracking them down once they retire or stealing their identities.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: While the Americas, Africa, most of continental Europe and Asia fell to the Blight some countries like Britain, the Nordic countries, Saudi Arabia (now the world superpower) and Australia escaped largely intact.
  • Crazy Survivalist: The Vindicated are the survivalists who bunkered up before the Crash. They tend to be insufferable assholes now that they've been proven right, and their skills and useful goods make them common warlords.
  • Cult: Several new fanatical faiths have arisen in the wake of the Crash, known collectively as "Believers", notable examples include:
    • Black Math: Dedicated to evening the score by killing as many Vectors and Casualties as possible before they join the ranks of the dead. Nothing else matters but adding more tallies to those they tattoo on their skin. The problem comes from those who believe Latents count toward the tally, or from those who'll sacrifice an innocent to subtract a mob of casualties.
    • The Chosen: A group of Latents and some Immune who believe they've been divinely chosen as those who will inherit the Loss. Given how they can't be infected by the Blight.
    • Crusaders: Most of the Mad Doctors and Mad Scientists on the wrong side of the fence to join DHQS ended up joining their possibly hopeless quest to find a cure for the Blight. No matter how many Casualties and Immunes they have to dissect. Fortunately, they're willing to offer their medical services, but it costs an arm and a leg, sometimes literally. Made even worse by the fact that they didn't all START as lunatics- it's outright stated that since the Blight literally defies physics, the medical professionals who worked hardest to try and understand it just ended up losing their minds instead.
    • Detoxins: Their theology is some mixture of veganism, neo-primitivism, and organic non-GMO farming. Most are just New-Age Retro Hippie types, but then there's the green zealots and Animal Wrongs Group types who'll kill you for owning a dog.
    • Holy Communion: They believe the Immune are holy, so they eat them.
    • The Meek: An Apocalypse Cult that believes the Blight is God's wrath upon mankind, and thus they should actively spread it, to the point of infiltrating Enclaves with syringes of Blight to inject themselves with.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Being a Latent means that everyone treats you like crap, you have to stick to the quarantine section of town and you'll go hot the moment your brain dies, but you're too vital to Taker crews for most enclaves to write off entirely, and you're immune to re-infection without being a meal ticket for some asshole who wants to farm your bones.
  • Death Seeker: Members of the Black Math cult. For them, survival and retirement isn't the goal. Their goal is to die 'making a Significant Subtraction' in the difference between the number of Casualties and living. If they can add to the tally before that happens, so much the better.
  • Divided States of America: During the Crash the federal government decided to write off everything west of the Mississippi river as a Loss, leading to the current divide between the Loss and Recession.
  • Doomed Protagonist: A character who doesn't have a retirement plan is "lost for life." They're going to stay as Takers until their luck finally runs out; either they die on the job or crack under the pressure (which usually amounts to the same thing). Banhammer, one of the narrators, embraces this; he's already committed to living his life in the Loss.
  • The Dreaded:
    • The DHQS are the bogeymen of the Loss. When a reclamation squad comes out, they come out to kill, and a single squad can leave an enclave in ashes. And then there are the stewards; DHQS sleeper agents who are planted in the Loss until the time comes for them to do their job.
    • Aberrants are pure horror. Casualties normally work in a predictable way, and everyone knows that you shoot for the head, but an Aberrant breaks all the rules, which is scarier than anything else; Banhammer's segment on Aberrants finishes with someone else quoting H. P. Lovecraft. The mechanics enforce this; it doesn't matter how hard you are, encountering an Aberrant will leave you shaken at best.
  • Equipment-Based Progression: Bounty can be spent on either Equipment Upgrades or skill training.
  • Evil, Inc.: Due to the theme of the game man of these have popped up since the crash including but not limited to Singularity Security Solutions, Many Hands LLC and Alosine who operate Mercenary, Slavery note  and Human Experimentation respectively.
    The Rulebook: Some jobs even the stewards won’t do, but war crimes are Singularity’s bread-and-butter.
  • Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems: The reason why a Player Character is going to risk life and limb is that even with a Zombie Apocalypse going on there are still bills to pay.
  • Fallen States of America: Life in the Recession isn't great, a good chunk of the population lives in tent cities erected in vacant parking lots, the economy has reverted to an agrarian state, and public education is history. Though for most people it's still better than life in the Casualty-infested Loss.
  • Fantastic Racism: Many people are downright hostile to Latents. note  While somewhat justified in that they are highly infectious and turn into fast-moving vectors if killed, It doesn’t excuse people executing them on-site or treating them like filth. Players aren't immune to this either- the rules even heavily suggest that Latent Takers shouldn't wear any form of head protection, just in case.
  • Fantastic Underclass: Most Enclaves force Latents to live in isolated camps by the fence, which they're usually guarding. It's somewhat justified as they can set off a localized Zombie Apocalypse when they die.
  • Forbidden Zone: The Palo Verde exclusion zone, 100 miles around a melted-down nuclear reactor. "Phoenix's Ashes" is one of the most dangerous places in the Loss, perhaps the most dangerous, and even the nigh-fearless Banhammer won't go there.
  • Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: Advised against in the section on enemies. The book advises that if you're using an enemy with advantage, you should telegraph it ahead of time, particularly if they have multiple advantages. Players should know that they've seriously pissed someone off if a gifted adversary is coming after them, while determination advantage is pretty much reserved for the Final Boss.
  • The Gift: Some adversaries have the "gifted" advantage. These are natural-born masters of violence and the 1% among the player crew's enemies, a threat so powerful that you can be driven insane just by knowing they're after you. Mechanically, this means that there's no burning resources to do better against them; you've got to either have skill or will to come out on top.
  • Hospitality for Heroes: Takers can gain rep spots for doing good/awesome deeds, these can be bought up during Negotiation to get more money from the jobs, after all it’s gonna be pretty bad PR to extort some of the few good people in the loss. This trope is also inverted if your characters gain negative rep spots which can be used against you, they can also only be used once after which they fall into What Have You Done for Me Lately?.
  • Living Is More than Surviving: This is a major part of the Humanity mechanic. Neglecting one's mental or emotional health can be just as deadly as any Casualty.
  • The Immune: A small percentage of people are immune to the Blight, something in their bone marrow neutralizes it and then their body flushes it out. Latents, on the other hand, are infected but the Blight turned to its "cold" state after infecting them, so they have the Blight in them but they remain in control of their body until they die and get up as a Vector. Latency sometimes happens spontaneously, but usually, it's the result of Suppressin, a drug produced from the marrow of the Immune.
  • It's Personal: This is mechanically established by a "determined" adversary. This is an opponent whith the same Will to survive as the PCs, who's dedicating that will to taking them down...and is able to use the Luck Manipulation Mechanic against them. This is supposed to be limited to major antagonists; a gifted and determined enemy is by definition Final Boss material.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Zig-Zagged in-universe. Swords are usually laughed at due to the fact that during the Crash, most people who believed in Rule of Cool grabbed their swords and went out to fight zombies. Unfortunately, realism bites back as many died due to lacking any actual skill or experience. However, if you actually specialize in the sword, it's one of the best Melee weapons in the game, and anyone using it this late into the apocalypse are usually master swordsmen.
  • Kill Tally: Members of the Black Math cult tattoo tally marks on themselves every time they kill a zombie. Their leaders have what's known as "the face full of fives".
  • Kill the Creditor: Defied in the section on Loan Sharks. It's a game rule that the loan shark is not afraid of you and has the power to collect from you if you don't pay, because any other source of loans would have long since gone out of business.
  • Legally Dead: Everyone left in the Loss when the Recession closed it's borders is this. This is why retirement is so difficult, its not just bribing a border guard, the Taker needs purchase brand new identities for their dependents and themselves. A small fortune of bounty all together.
  • Loan Shark: The only source of banking in the Loss. Game mechanics ensure that anyone who makes a loan to the PCs is strong enough to force them to pay it back.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Played deadly straight. In the Loss, the term for a hermit is LALA (Last Asshole Left Alive). Almost by definition, these are even more warped than the usual nutcases, and they're usually deadly dangerous.
  • Meaningful Name: The term "Red Market" has multiple meanings IRL. Some use it to refer to the (often illegal) trade in human organs, while to some anarchist thinkers a “red market” is a market operating without government oversight where contracts and transactions are secured by threat of violence. The closest thing to the game's meaning is a market that's only legal because banning it would require the government to acknowledge its existence.
  • Nintendo Hard: The Bust rules are designed to add an extra measure of fuck-you to players' lives and make it less likely that they'll ever see retirement. "No Budget, No Buy" is probably the harshest, trapping PCs in Perpetual Poverty by psychologically preventing them from using a windfall intelligently.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: You don't call them zombies, they're either "Vectors" or "Casualties".
  • Nuclear Option: While the Hunter Administration settled for blowing bridges when amputating the western states, they nuked Canadian cities near the Recession. Making Canadians the biggest source of terrorism in the post-Crash world.
  • One Last Job: A game mechanic in the long-term campaign called "Mr. JOLS" (Just One Last Score). Before a Taker retires they have the option to go on one final job that could buy them a real position of power or luxury, but which will very likely kill them.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They're caused by an "organism" (for lack of a better word) called Blight which takes the form of black tendrils creeping along the victim's skin. Upon first infection the Blight throws the victim into an unstoppable rage to spread it to as many victims as possible, before the "Vector" finally dies from either the internal hemorraging caused by the Blight or a hail of bullets. However, it doesn't stop there, the Blight then threads its way through the corpse forming a new nervous system controlled by a nexus in the victim's brain, rising after a couple days as a "Casualty".
    • The rules also feature several 'special' Casualties, known as Aberrants. Just seeing an Aberrant is enough to cause Sanity Slippage, because it means the Blight could still get worse.
  • Role-Playing Endgame: Player characters are trying to save up for a "retirement plan" that usually means bribing their way across the border wall from the zombie-infested Loss to the zombie-free but totalitarian Recession, though there's other possibilities suggested like establishing their own Enclave in the Loss.
  • Rule of Scary: Lampshaded The fact that the blight makes no scientific sense in bought up and one of the reasons the Crusaders note  suffers so much from Sanity Slippage.
  • Sanity Meter: Called Humanity and divided into three tracks:
    • Detachment measures your connection to your fellow human beings; Detachment is threatened when you watch a loved one get their leg amputated.
    • Trauma concerns threats to your own body; Trauma is threatened when your own leg is amputated.
    • Stress covers everything else, but given the focus of the game mostly concerns itself with financial hardship; Stress is threatened when you have to clear out your savings account to care for someone with an amputated leg.
  • Scavenger World: Most Taker jobs involve salvaging something that the survivors couldn't bring with them at the time.
  • They Would Cut You Up: The DHQS and Crusaders both have a history of horribly unethical experiments on Immune, Latents, and Casualties. And the DHQS still harvests bone marrow from the Immune to produce Suppressin K-7864, named for the number of attempts it took to get the formula rightnote 
  • Technically Living Zombie: Vectors are people who have fairly recently fallen under the sway of the Blight, and despite being rabid, psychotic killers intent on spreading the disease, they’re still very much alive. Although when their bodies finally give out either through the Blight’s toll on them or a survivor defending themselves and they’re not disposed of through headshot, they’ll turn full-zombie (Or Casualty) and reanimate within a few days of their death.
  • True Companions: Generally averted. While you can have other PCs as Dependents (close friends), doing so means that it's that much harder on their Humanity when one dies. More successful Taker groups keep a certain degree of emotional distance from their teammates for this reason.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The history leading up to the Crash relates several recent events such as the education bubble and the war on terror. Though there's enough of a gap for improvements in medicine, prosthetics, carbon nanotubes, and the Ubiq.
  • Uninhibited Muscle Power: The Blight doesn't care about muscle damage so Vectors tend to be very strong and fast, until they drop dead and resurrect as a shambling Casualty.
  • Weird Currency: Thanks to the hyperinflation of the U.S. dollar, restrictions on the "ration dollar" distributed to Recession residents, and the DHQS placing a bounty on pre-Crash legal documents, the "gold standard" on both sides of the fence has become driver's licenses or "Bounty".
  • Zombie Infectee: In the early days of the Crash, before Immunity and Latency or even the fact that not every bite carries enough Blight to cause infection were common knowledge, any bite warranted a bullet to the head. Now many Latents are treated like time bombs one heart attack away from starting a Vector outbreak.