The Portland Apocalypse, Session #4: “That escalated quickly”

by mshrm

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ:

  • Bro, a large dog of indistinct breed and unusual intelligence (PC)
  • Hanna Marlow, student of infiltration (PC)
  • Steve Borden, uncertain at decision-making but handy with a skateboard (PC)
  • Robert (“Bob”) T. Builder, at his wit’s end (PC)

What Happened:

When we left off, Bob was wounded and in an uncomfortable embrace with a giant, dead, pink, carnivorous worm, inside the tight confines of a playground climbing structure. He called for assistance, while Bro ran back to fetch the others. He returned with Hanna. (GM: Jones had been with Hanna, last session, but his player couldn’t make it, so he fell out of focus and faded into the background.) Working together, they pulled Bob out and got him back on his feet. They briefly looked over the worm, disagreeing about bringing the carcass back to Hershel’s, before finally deciding it would be too much work to move. At one point during the conversation, Bob tried to get Bro to help drag the corpse, sled-dog style, but the half-feral dog didn’t like the idea of being restrained in Bob’s improvised harness. Upset and in pain, Bob declared that the dog was more trouble than he was worth – “Bad dog! Bad!” – and they should get rid of him as soon as they could. (“One more mouth to feed!”)

They limped back to Hershel’s house, where the old doctor patched Bob up, using improvised equipment. Particularly prominent were a roll of duct tape and a bottle of bourbon, which somehow migrated into Steve’s hand, while Steve took up a position at the back door, strategically chosen to keep him out of sight of all the unpleasant bleeding. He noticed, and remarked upon, the smell of smoke from outside. Hanna and Bro went to investigate.

What they found was that a neighbor’s house was on fire. It was the next-door neighbor of the house directly behind Hershel’s. As they approached, Hanna could hear cries for help coming from the second floor. She climbed the fence, then turned back to help Bro scramble over. She tried to climb up a trellis to get to the upper floor, but it didn’t provide enough support. They ran around to the front of the house and inside, finding the front door unlocked. The stairs and dining area were blocked by flame, so Hanna ran into the kitchen and located a fire extinguisher.

Hanna started using the extinguisher to clear a path to the stairs. This was too much for Bro, who broke and ran. Hanna forged on alone, staying low to avoid the worst of the smoke. Upstairs, she found the source of the cries, a middle-aged lady who was quite surprised to see someone coming up the stairs that she had written off as impassible. Together, they exited down the stairs and out the front. Hanna led the woman back to the rest of the group.

There, they were confronted by Bob, on his feet and mad as hell. The rescued woman introduced herself as Judith. Bob wanted to know what resources or skills she brought to the table, that they should take her in. She said that she used to work downtown, for the city government. “So, nothing,” he said.

The others weren’t so hard-hearted, and let Judith inside to tell her story. She explained that she had been at city hall on the night everything went south. She had heard the reports from around the world: coastal cities behing attacked by unknown forces that seemed unstoppable, cities being destroyed outright, the complete breakdown of organized resistance. She had fled back to her home, hoping to escape the city, but had only just made it there when the lights went out and the cars stopped working. Since then, she had been trying to make do, until earlier in the evening.

Judith was reluctant to describe how the fire started, saying they wouldn’t believe her. When urged to trust them, she continued:  she had been startled by a “giant pink worm-thing” and knocked over an oil lamp in her fright. She had seen it, too! Or maybe… another one?

Clearly, this street had a worm problem. Talk turned towards the group’s next steps. Bob declared again that he needed to get mobile so he could head down to Oregon City to rescue his family, particularly his “useless deadbeat brother”. Hershel admitted to having an old jeep in the garage, but said it wasn’t working. Hanna went to look at it, declaring that it would need parts to be made serviceable. Luckily, she knew of a nearby auto parts store that catered to the classic car market; unluckily, in this case, “nearby” meant “about a mile and a half”. That sounded like quite the hike, through worm-infested streets.

Alternatively, Hanna said, they could search for older, simpler cars, which might require little or no repair. Nobody knew of such a car nearby, though. After some brainstorming, they came up with another option.

Diesel-powered forklifts.

Being robust, diesel-burning machinery, they would presumeably be less vulnerable to EMP-related damage. Given the state of the roads, a low rate of speed was no hinderance, and the ability to lift heavy objects would be a considerable asset. They could clear the roads as they went! The only question was, where could they find such a machine?

The local big box grocery store, of course. The one being held by an armed and unfriendly group.

When she heard all this, Judith took Bob aside to answer his original question. What could she do for the group to pull her weight? She could negotiate with the grocery store gang. Just tell her what they wanted, and what they were willing to pay, and she would take it from there. Mediating and making deals was a large part of her former work, so this task shouldn’t be all that challenging.

First Bob, and then the rest of the group, agreed. They chose to offer a pound of Hershel’s product for a forklift, and see where it went from there.

The group started out early the next morning, Christmas Day, 2012. Hanna made sure everybody had a bandanna dust-mask before they set out, even the reluctant dog. On the way, they noticed that the “zombies” seemed to be having a bad time of it. The night before, the playground had been host to a milling crowd of shambling people; this morning, it was littered with bloody corpses.

Just a few blocks beyond the playground, a “zombie” came around a corner and started staggering hastily towards them, arms outstretched, babbling. Everyone tensed for a fight, but the man fell, squishily dead, at their feet. This prompted a bout of nausea and light-headedness, causing the gang to fall back for a bit to regroup. After a short rest, they returned to the trek.

The four PCs and Judith arrived at the store. Knowing that the grocery gang had seen him before, Steve hung back, taking up a post near the bottle return. Bob and Hanna came closer to the front door, but sent Judith ahead alone to open negotiations. Bob immediately got fidgety and grabbed a shopping cart with a bad wheel to repair while waiting.

When Judith approached the door and started talking with someone inside, none of the PCs could hear her, aside from Bro, who only speaks Dog. The group figured out something was going awry when the person inside opened the door and Judith, carrying their trade offering, quickly slipped inside.

Infuriated, they charged the lone gunman in a strung-out fashion. Bro was shot, but still mobile. Hanna took a bruising blow to the face from the guard’s gun-butt, and staggered away around the side of the store. Bob tried to ram the gunman with his shopping cart, but missed, carrying on his charge into the inside of the store. This comparative victory was short-lived, as the gunman pivoted and shot him in the back, knocking him out. Steve, on his skateboard, arrived and tussled with the guard for a few seconds, but he could hear the sound of reinforcements coming. He was shot, badly wounded, and tried to escape, making it nearly the whole way across the parking lot before passing out. Bro was finally able to get a firm bite on the guard’s throat, killing him after some worrying. He then crept into the shadows inside the store, avoiding the other arriving gang members.

Meanwhile, Hanna went around the outside of the store, thinking to take advantage of the distraction out front. She found a locked door, picked the lock, and let herself inside.

Then came a long, convoluted game of hide-and-seek. Bro stealthily made off with a gun, handing it off to Hanna, who sadly knows nothing about guns. The guards captured and restrained Bob. At one point, they slapped him awake and performed a bit of stabby torture to get him to shout, in hopes of drawing out his friends. Bro and Hanna found themselves set up for a flanking operation, but Hanna couldn’t bring herself to shoot living people from ambush. Instead, when Bro started barking, the guards were briefly lured off to look for him. Hanna retreated, heading for the exit, but Bob was able to take advantage of the distraction to break free and stagger off into the shadows.

Hanna was able to get outside, but drew attention when she opened the door. One of the guards came to check, going so far as to aim at her back as she sprinted away, but finally decided he didn’t feel confident of his shot. He went back inside, re-locking the door. Hanna diverted to collect Steve. She got him mostly conscious, and they made their way back to the house, leaning on each other for support.

Back at the store, Bob and Bro were left alone, continuing the deadly game of hide-and-seek. Bob was able to use his knowledge of architecture and how buildings are built to find a good hiding place to hole up in, and Bro was eventually able to track him down. They spent some time huddled together in the dark, sharing their misery. “We both took a bullet, boy,” Bob observed, in a dramatic shift from his earlier tone towards the dog, “It’s just you and me now. You’re my only friend.”

In the long run, though, it was no use. The grocery gang found Bob, forcing Bro to flee. Being finally without a pack, Bro started an effort to make friends with the youngest of the gang members.

As for Bob, he was interrogated. Being a poor liar, he spilled everything he knew, confirming what Judith had already told them. The grocery gang was very interested in Hershel, as a doctor. They made Bob an offer: if he helped them capture Hershel, they wouldn’t do anything creative with him in the hardware department, and they would probably even patch up his wounds.

And we left it there.

* * *

Cool Point: Bro, for his takedown of the door guard. This wasn’t just a moment of win, it was also interesting from a game mechanics standpoint, as it was a rare application of the rules from GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. Bro was able to take advantage of the Control Points from his bite to dominate, and ultimately defeat, his opponent.

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