Second City Survival: A post-apocalyptic urban sandbox

Second City Survival is an urban post-apocalyptic sandbox campaign set in Chicago, Illinois.

A crowded cityscape

Why Chicago? Why not? I live here, so I can always wander off to whatever part of the city when I need inspiration. More importantly, perhaps, I’ve already done a lot of the future-research and speculation — the cyberpunk Shadow Decade books are set in the city’s future a decade hence, and being able to re-use research makes the time spent more valuable.

The Collapse

On October 13th, 2034, the world watched avidly as the cold war between Russia, the US, and China turned hot. After months of saber-rattling over the buildup of forces in the South China Sea, salvos were exchanged between the forces, and it seemed as if World War 3 was an inevitability. Nobody knows who fired first, but in the end it didn’t matter.

Almost an hour after the first reports of hostilities, the global communications network went down. A second layer of cyberwarfare is generally considered responsible, but it’s unlikely that anyone will ever know for sure. The great powers’ navies were cut off from command, left to their own devices, but we had more immediate concerns.

The Storms

A twister alongside a roadLess than 24 hours after the communication blackout the Midwest was battered by simply tremendous thunder and windstorms. Super-storms were not a new phenomena in 2034… hurricanes being the most common, but overland storm systems were not exactly rare. The storms that began that October 14th were like nothing anyone had ever seen, however, and without a communications network the heartland was caught off-guard. For almost an entire week devastating winds, hard rains, and lightning pounded the Great Plains.

Nothing had changed when they’d abated on October 20th. Radio communication was limited, as there seemed to have been a large amount of atmospheric interference… what little information gained was grim:

  • There had been a disruption of the earth’s magnetosphere.
  • The storms had erupted all over the country, possibly all over the world.
  • Communication with Washington, and even the state capitol of Springfield, was going unanswered.
  • Roving groups of men with guns had begun seizing supplies and fighting with local police forces.


Membership in anti-government militia groups had skyrocketed over the last twenty years, on both sides of the political spectrum. In the absence of official coordination, these militia groups had mobilized to “restore order,” often coming into conflict with national guard units, police, and each other. Rumors came in that foreign terrorist groups had taken similar action, striking at vulnerable targets across the country.

And Europe? Asia? Africa? Nobody knew. There was no word. At least, not in the Midwest.

Unaffiliated civilians lay low, waiting for someone to take control, waiting for things to get better.

Not Nuclear Fallout, the Other Kind

Years went by. Things did not get better. Millions died, from starvation, from the looting, from disease. From worse.

Ominous cloudsA series of plagues ripped across the midwest, believed to be works of bioterrorism. Engineered plagues that killed quickly and burned out, plagues that made you sick and stuck around, plagues that… changed you. So the rumors went. Tailored viruses capable of causing drastic physical or mental changes in the afflicted. Rumors at first, but sooner or later the survivors couldn’t deny that somehow, some sort of monsters had been created. Bodies and mind twisted. Not just humans… animals too, grown large, grown mean.

Everybody called them mutants, though the term wasn’t really accurate. Nobody cared about accurate.

Government in Isolation

For nearly a decade the survivors of storms, militia violence, famine, and mutants huddled and scavenged to survive as best they could. The population of the Great Lakes region had dropped from fifty million to several hundred thousand, a die-off of nearly 99%.

When the war had broken out, Secretary of the Interior Rachel Norman was appointed one of the government’s designated survivors and flown out of Washington in case of an attack on the capital. 8th in the line of succession from the president, her plane was over the midwest when the storms hit, forcing it to land at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis. She, the secret service agents assigned to her, and her staff, were forced to weather out the fall the same way everyone else had to.

As Secretary of the Interior Norman had no illusions as to how well the country could manage without an infrastructure, without leadership, and after years of failing to connect with the Federal government she adopted the role of Acting President, appointing a new staff, and coming up with a plan to restore order to the country.

Over the past six years she has traveled the midwest, gathering survivors and taking command over the remnants of Army, Marine, Air Force, Naval, and National Guard units. Occasionally a particularly dug-in militia will need to be dealt with, but by and large she has found Americans are eager to grasp on to the promise of a reconstruction, eager to follow someone with a plan.


As of 2050 Norman’s America controls an area of almost fifty-thousand square miles in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana, centered around the south edge of Lake Michigan, with an estimated four thousand survivors organized into agrarian towns carefully managed to maximize output, with a supply network and rationing system to distribute food as evenly as possible. With the severe weather food is still scarce, and many regions are still plagued by militia raids, but it’s a start.


One prize still eludes Acting President Norman’s grasp. The city of Chicago.

A gritty shorelineIt’s unknown how many survive yet in the windy city, or how much damage the structures have endured. All attempts at diplomacy have failed, as has any overt military action, rebuffed by surprisingly well-organized and equipped defenders. None of those contacted acknowledge the Government in Isolation’s authority.

Something must be done. The city is too tempting a prize, too dangerous a hive at the center of the pacified American heartland.

So, we have our exterior context, the world outside the campaign setting we’ll actually be playing in. We’ll take a birds eye view of the city itself in part 2.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *