Last week we talked about some of the philosophy and broad stereotypes of Survivalism as they relate to the tabletop RPG. This week we’re going to looking at some of the gear you can use to help even the odds in a Survival Horror game. We’ll talk about Every Day Carry, Bugout Bags and how to make a comprehensive and useful gear list without having to have a separate character sheet just for your rucksack.
EDC vs. BOB
Survivalists are, unsurprisingly, prone to adopting various acronyms for gear and tactics alike. In this particular example, we are referring to the two ways your characters are the most likely to be lugging their gear around. Our first method is the character’s EDC, or Every Day Carry. These are the items that the character has on them whenever possible, though certain items may need to be left behind on visits to airports, government buildings and other secured areas. These gear packages are meant to be small, lightweight and conveniently accessed from the character’s pockets or a small bag. Having a well-defined EDC is a good way to keep your character safe, even if the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse happens when they are somewhere far, far away from their precious cache of gear.
Everyone’s EDC is a little bit different, and they can vary wildly between characters depending on the budget, inclination and experience levels of various characters. There is a vast plethora of examples available for perusal at the Everyday Carry Site, but your character should probably consider adding some of the following to their standard wallet-cellphone-keys loadout.
- Folding Knife
- Lighter or other firestarting device.
- Compact Flashlight
- Paracord, either woven into a bracelet, watchband, or a loose bundle
- Handgun with one or more magazines (or speedloaders, if your character carries a revolver.)
- Various Keychain accouterments, such as lights, carabiners, flash drives, cutting tools, pill bottles and other such compact tools.
- Small Notebook
- Pocket Medical Kit
- Extremely Loud Whistle
So, now that we’ve filled out the basic inventory section of your character sheet, we can move on to the Bug Out Bag. These sets of gear can range from a small shoulder bag to a massive backpack, or even a series of bags crammed in the back of a vehicle. Their purpose is to serve as a prepackaged set of equipment and supplies meant to be kept close at hand in case of an emergency. Similar to the EDC, individual BOBs will very wildly between survivalists, but a good one will be tailored to the environment, the disasters likely to be faced by the character, and any specific personal needs they might have. Since these are typically much larger carry capacity and can therefore support a much wider array of functions, we’ll break it down into sections to help you pick and choose the right bits of gear for your character.
One of the most important pieces of gear your character can own is a good medical kit. The type and amount of medical equipment your character carries will be heavily influenced by their medical knowledge and qualifications. As an example, I have no formal medical training, my personal kit is fairly basic and is supplemented with a relatively small number of items that it didn’t originally possess. A veteran paramedic, conversely, will likely have a lavishly supplied, hand-built kit that will probably include a few items that aren’t even available to civilians. Since these kits usually consist of dozens to hundreds of small items, categorizing each individual one would be an incredibly laborious (and largely superfluous) task. Instead of denoting every last tube of disinfectant, consider a few of the tasks that a well-stocked medkit can offer a bonus to.
- Stabilizing a dying character
- Reducing Wound Penalties
- Stopping a heavily bleeding wound
- Reducing the mobility penalties inflicted by various forms of bodily trauma
- Making a resistance roll against infection
- Reducing the penalties for performing field surgery
- Resisting the effects of certain toxins or venoms, like insect bites and poison oak.
- Providing an Epinephrine Pen to counteract an anaphylactic reactions, or just make you very, very awake for a little while.
- Reduce the penalties to Stealth or Survival rolls to avoid being tracked because you are bleeding all over the damn place.
- Provide extra medication for anything the character or a close friend or family member might need to take on a regular basis.
Most BOBs have a decent chunk of gear devoted to dealing with the environment that the character intends to flee to, regardless of the amount of actual shrubbery present in said locale. Machetes, hatchets, fixed-blade knives, folding shovels, pocket chainsaws, rations, water filters or purifiers, flashlights, shelter and sanitary supplies, ropes, paracord and a few different methods of starting fires are all common to most bugout bags. Most survivalists also know how to properly dress for the weather, so the clothing on their back or in their pack will play a large role in their ability to survive a night out in the open. With a kit that is well developed in this area, a character should probably get a bonus to the following tasks.
- Starting fires
- Resistance rolls made against the elements to prevent things like heatstroke, hypothermia, sunburn, dehydration and other such environmental factors.
- Constructing shelter
- Setting traps
- Traversing difficult terrain more quickly and without injury.
- Concealing traces of their passage
- Cooking and purifying food and water, which should help with any rolls made to resist disease from these sources.
A good Bug Out Bag will have a map or two detailing escape routes from the character’s home or work, as well as navigational tools, survival reference materials, and any accumulated information on the area they’ll be traversing or the possible disasters they’ll be facing. Needless to say, having established it with the Gamemaster that you have predefined escape routes and good knowledge of the land you’ll be heading to when the crap hits the fan will go a long way towards keeping you alive.
The proper tools of hunting and self defense are a heavily contested topic among different factions of survivalists. These discussions can be civil, analytical debates designed to help everyone reach the best possible loadout for their needs… Or, much more frequently, these discussions will more closely resemble a swarm of wall-eyed howler monkeys in football helmets bludgeoning one another with antique rifles as opposed to a reasonable discourse on the merits of different firearm calibers.
Luckily, I’ve waded through all of that so you don’t have to! If you’re stuck for what kind of gun to lug around on your apocalyptic adventures, there are a few popular choices to equip your Survivalist with. If your system doesn’t have what you’re looking for, I wrote an article a few months back on implementing new technology in your game that should help you stat your weapon of choice.
Popular with Survivalists because of their versatility, reliability and defensive applications, many a shotgun has found itself included in the list of vital gear that will be dragged out of the house in the event of an emergency. The Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870 are two popular choices, though people with higher budgets can sometimes be drawn to fancier, semi-automatic models such as the Saiga 12. A survivalist on the road will likely be carrying a few (dozen) boxes of both shotgun slugs and double-aught buckshot, as well as any specialty ammunition they may have splurged on. Most of the systems that have shotguns will have some sort of special rules for them, so make sure you know what they are before you choose one as your primary weapon.
The process of acquiring an automatic weapon is long, tedious and crushingly expensive. In addition to several meticulous0 background checks, the character will likely have to spend quite the sum of money on various licenses, taxes and transfer fees… to say nothing of the thousands of dollars that an actual automatic weapon would cost on its own. As such, the semiautomatic, civilian-legal version of these standard military weapons are a much more common choice than their fully-automatic brethren.
Known as carbines, these weapons are usually fall into one of two camps in the various firearm and survival communities; the AR-15 and the AK-47. The AR-15 is based off of the classic M16 assault rifle used by the US military. Usually chambered in .223 (or .556 most everywhere outside of the States) These weapons are more accurate, have longer effective ranges, and the ammo is smaller and lighter than the rounds fired by the AK-47, allowing more bullets to be carried by weight. Conversely, they are significantly more expensive, prone to malfunction when not properly cared for and considered by some to be of a much piddlier caliber compared to some of the other options.
The AK-47, by contrast, is durable, inexpensive and capable of hurtling some fairly sizable chunks of lead downrange. They are also considered, usually by members of the AR-15 crowd, to be the cheap, inaccurate purview of third-world militants. Either weapon would serve your character well in the apocalypse, and selecting one will generally be a matter of personal preference as opposed to one having a clear set of advantages over the other.
Depending on the scenario, it would not be uncommon for Survivalists to be lugging around anything from a lightweight .22 caliber rifle that will fit inside of its own stock to their favorite, tricked-out Bambi Blaster that’s capable of taking down a Bull Elk at 600 yards. There’s a huge variety of longarms to chose from, and you should be mindful of your character’s finances, level of training and expected calamities while choosing one.
There is no real consensus on the best sort of handgun for a Survivalist. Some will eschew a sidearm all together in the favor of carrying a long, heavier weapon, while others will forego the longarm entirely and rely on their trusty pistols to see them through. For the purposes of this article, choosing a handgun is mostly about comfort and preference over any specific, pressing advantage that a Colt 1911 may or may not have over a Glock 17.
Bows and Crossbows
While far from an ideal weapon on the battlefield, these options can provide your character with a stealthy way to take down game or to quietly eliminate enemy combatants. Bowhunting is a popular sport, so it’s far from out of the questions for your character to have a great deal of practice and experience with these weapons. Like many ancient endeavors, bows have been heavily modernized. They can sport a huge array of accessories, utilizing fiber-optic sights, bow-mounted quivers and trigger-based firing accessories on the bows themselves, to say nothing of the very expensive carbon-fiber arrows tipped with even-more-expensive hunting broadheads.
This series of articles has really just scratched the surface of the possibilities, but sometimes it is important to keep the details minimal. A lot of unnecessary technical specifications can clog up the gameplay very quickly, especially if you are the only one who’s interested in them. It’s frequently better to work with your storyteller in advance and figure out what your kit can enable you to do, as opposed to just having an itemized list of every single thing that it might possibly contain.
While the grim and gritty settings are well and good, playing in a game with more story-oriented rule mechanics can be a great time to make a Survivalist character, since the usage of things like Plot-Points and Aspects can really let you use your training and equipment to great effect without having to invest a whole lot of time in preparing it beforehand.