Second City Survival part 4: The ‘Burbs

By 2034 Chicago was surrounded by a dense suburban sprawl to a distance of at least 30 miles in every direction. Residential neighborhoods, smaller towns, and commercial centers all blend together into endless concrete foothills before the city itself. It’s more spacious than the metropolis itself, a buffer between it and the more natural farmland and regrowing prairie of Illinois.


The years following the collapse haven’t been kind to the ‘burbs, as the native prairie has done what it can to reclaim the concrete, aided by the frequent super-storms. Much of it is in ruins, and much of it has been picked over, but life finds a way.

Cracked pavement


Nature has done its best to reclaim the ‘burbs over the last sixteen years, and many of the crumbling structures make excellent warrens for animals in the absence of man. Most of the plant life are tall prairie grasses growing out from between the cracks, across abandoned lawns, and anywhere else they can manage.

The largest predators native to the region are black bears, coyotes, and cougars, often preying on white-tailed deer, groundhogs, and other small mammals. Abandoned pets – feral cats and wild dogs – are also fairly common. Hunters will also find ducks, geese, and other fowl, and should watch out for the venomous copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes that find good hiding places in crevices.

Of course, there are also the mutants.


Mutant variation on the various animal species that live among the ruins are certainly possible, making even smaller animals that typically avoid humans potentially dangerous. I may discuss mutants in a future post, but their extent should reflect the tone you want for your game.

The Human Element

Desperate survivors cling to life in the suburbs, forming small farming communities around plots of arable land – former parks and community gardens and other greens paces. They eke out a substandard living in the shadow of the city, using the shape of the suburbs as defenses against the weather, mutants, and raiders from the city as best they can. These communities seldom include more than a dozen individuals, and are limited by the size of their farmland.

More and more frequently gangs from The City will demand tribute from these small communities in exchange for “protection,” taking food and supplies as they see fit. That may be the limit of their interference with the survivors’ way of life, or they may be treated like virtual slaves, with overseers left behind to keep an eye on them.

Feudalism is making a comeback.

Others in the ruins may be canny loners, merciless bandits, or the occasional exile from the city, banished for some crime or another, real or imagined.


The ruins have been picked over for better than a decade, but canny scavengers can always find just a little bit more. Given how relatively diffuse the ‘burbs are, it would be difficult to do a truly comprehensive sweep. Areas in the immediate vicinity of a community will, of course, be picked clean.

The Northern Suburbs

Suburban hexmap

Hexcrawling Suburbia

Each hex in the above map is about 12 miles across, giving them an area of 127 square miles. That’s a lot of ground to cover. These hexes should not be presented to the PCs, but used as a convenience for the GM’s sake.

We can use an adaptation of the system introduced in Hexbox, applied to whatever you’re running Second City Survival in. This means we’ll need to build a random encounter table, hex key, and probably a scrounging table.

Hex Keys

Each Hex Key includes general notes on the hex in question, any special rules for scavenging and encounters, any settlements, and the hex’s Key Feature. PCs have a 10% chance of running across the Key Feature each day of travel, doubled if they’re taking the time to explore and scavenge rather than just passing through.

If they’re following a specific major highway or railroad, of course, they’ll only run across what the route intersects. Make a note of this in the key as well.

Example: D2

Waukegan: The city of Waukegan is a valuable source of salvage for those brave enough to risk their lungs with the asbestos that hangs in the air. Before the apocalypse, PCBs in the harbor’s mud had combined with leachates from an improperly sealed landfill to create small pockets of explosive gas. After the superstorms of 2034, enough of these pockets were disturbed to aerosolize the asbestos in an old roofing company, creating more-or-less permanent clouds in many of the buildings.  Just passing through can lead to chronic lung issues.

Due to this danger the ruins have been relatively unmolested, and it is rumored great riches await those willing to risk the odds.

It will be encountered by anyone traveling down the coast, or along I-94.

Great Lakes Naval Station, near Waukegan, was an active training facility at the collapse. It currently serves as an outpost for the gangs operating out of Chicago, particularly the CPD, when conducting raids on the surrounding suburbs.

It will be encountered by anyone traveling down the coast

Six Flags Great America: East if Waukegan is a derelict amusement park that serves as home to the Allfolks, a gang that makes heavy use of old mascot costumes in their equipment.  The heads are usually eschewed as cumbersome, but the rest of the costumes are enhanced with improvised armor.


We might want to come up with different tables for different regions or even individual hexes, but first let’s work up a “generic suburban encounter” table. We’ll check for an encounter daily and maybe every night while the group is encamped.

d100 Subtable
01-30 No Encounter
31-60 Hex’s Special Encounter
61-80 Animal Encounter
81-95 Human Encounter
96-00 Mutant Encounter



Scavenging is going to be abstracted a bit, and either done within the hex as a whole, or while traveling. If done by traveling it’ll slow down your overall speed by about half… in either case, it represents poking around in abandoned cars, looking into gas stations and convenience stores, and checking out likely looking houses.

We distill this all down into a single roll each day against whatever skill or ability the PCs possess that fits.

On a success we’ll roll on another table, to determine what we’ve found. Given that each suburban hex is 127 miles in area that includes entire small towns, we can include a master table to determine where the goodies were found, and a sub-table to decide exactly what it was.


  1. Foodstuff
  2. Weapons
  3. Fuel
  4. Tools
  5. Medicine
  6. Clothing

Example Foodstuffs Table

  1. six pack of beer
  2. Salt packets
  3. Bag of rice
  4. Can of condensed milk
  5. Military MRE
  6. Jar of pickles

Optionally we can let the PCs focus on a particular sort of scavenge, giving a slightly lower chance of success in exchange for finding a certain category of good. A “scavenging called shot” if you will.

Anticipate larger scavenging and encounter tables later in the series, but next we’re going to start detailing the city of Chicago’s community areas.


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