After The End #3: “Sounds Like Bull To Me!”
“On a warm summer’s evening
On a train bound for nowhere…”– Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”
Morlock trouble. A home invasion of the home that our protagonists invaded. Travel. Missing the start of the show, but not the end. Scary rumors. Friends in high, and low, places. A windy day spent inventing.
- Doc Rizzo Von Frankenstein Van Helsing, Hardy Doc.
- Francisco, Fast Nomad.
- Nabisco, his horse.
- James Robert “Jimbob” Eternity, Blessed Trader.
- Liberty Vargas, Pure Strain Human Tech.
- Rufus the Dog, Mutated Dog Hulk.
- Buck and Otto, big dogs.
- Vine, Sentient Plant Scavenger.
When we last saw our wastelanders, they had one more chore to complete before bedding down: the interrogation of the last “Bob”, taken captive in the ruined hospital, final survivor of a team that had been seeking computer parts. They accomplished this with remarkable finesse, for a bunch of PCs. While the others kicked back and admired Vine’s newly-sprouting thorns, Jimbob sat down and had a heart-to-heart with the captive, and the two quickly came to an understanding.
The captive’s story was consistent with what they had already learned. He had been a member of a larger group that had left the settlement of Blagg’s Burke, commanded by the great Vaetec to travel north to seek “beep-boop parts” – the brightly-lit components that the Ancients used to build thinking machines. They had spent some time resting with friendly citizens of Athens before beginning the last leg of their journey. After travelling north from Athens about 25 miles, along an old road of the Ancients, they had come to a fork in the road. The bulk of the group had taken the right fork, following rumors of living metal in that direction. “Bob” had gone with the smaller group, taking the left fork. They had traveled through ten or twelve miles of patchy radiation fields before coming to ruined city in the south of the valley, where they had eventually found the hospital. The rest of the story, our protagonists already knew.
Under questioning, “Bob” offered a few more details. No, he had never seen Vaetec – foot soldiers don’t dine with the general. Vaetec placed the greatest value on the “beep-boop” and would reward anyone bringing some to Blagg’s Burke. No, of course he didn’t hold a grudge about how things had played out. These things happen, in the wastelands.
Satisfied, our protagonists turned “Bob” loose, telling him to return to Vaetec with a message of peace… so long as it’s understood that the valley already has an owner and doesn’t need any outside looters. Then they settled down to sleep, planning to head back to Mt Hope at dawn. Francisco brought Nabisco inside the house for the night, but the ox was left in the back yard with the cart. Vine called dibs on the big deep bed in the small bedroom… and so slept in the bathtub.
During Liberty’s watch, in the wee hours of the morning, there was a disturbance. Someone was trying to open the locked back door from the outside! The noise was loud enough to catch Liberty’s attention and wake up Vine, a light sleeper. Liberty called out an alarm, waking the others. Hearing this, and knowing they had lost the element of surprise, the forces outside redoubled their efforts to break down both exterior doors.
Our protagonists chose their positions and stood ready to meet the attackers. Knowing that, as fierce as they were, the dogs weren’t ready for pitched battle, Rufus directed Buck and Otto to stand off to one side while he took a position commanding the front door. Liberty pulled her revolver and stood back with a clear line of sight on the front door. Ducking his head to keep under the ceiling, Francisco mounted Nabisco (“Now that I am mounted, I am in no danger!”) and drew his musket, moving to where he could see through the open kitchen door to the house’s back door. Bounding from the cover of the tub and scooping up a loose bit of debris to throw, Vine moved to help cover the back door and defend Jimbob and Doc Rizzo, who were huddled together in a corner, hugging each other and trying to look like a coat rack.
After a few seconds, the attackers resorted to brute force and broke through. They were the same skinny, shambling humanoids that had tried to enter the hospital, the “morlocks” that Walter had warned them of. This time, though, they in attack mode, glowing with the sickly green glow of dangerous radiation.
The back door gave way first, and a couple of morlocks dove through, taking cover against the far wall. Vine threw their missile, hitting the first morlock but doing no lasting damage. That caused the first morlock to duck back, causing Francisco to miss it when he fired his musket… but by pure luck, the second morlock was trying to get a look around the corner and caught the musket ball with its face! While Vine fell back, Nabisco advanced through the kitchen, knocking out the surviving morlock in passing and giving Francisco a view of the back yard through the open door.
In the backyard, Francisco saw a third morlock, attempting to lead the ox away to an uncertain future. He gave a whistle, and the morlock raised its head to find itself looking down both barrels of Walter’s old shotgun. Briefly.
Meanwhile, in the front of the house, the front door had likewise given way under a barrage of barefooted kicks. A grinning morlock armed with a tire iron stepped through the doorway…
… triggering a series of Wait maneuvers. Rufus took that morlock’s leg off at the knee with a katana swing, in what is becoming a trademark move. It dropped, revealing a bigger, meaner-looking morlock behind it.
That one ducked back to avoid a shot from Liberty’s revolver, then advanced into the house, jumping over its fallen comrade and swinging a baseball bat wildly. Rufus traded blows with the big morlock. Both warriors landed solid blows. Rufus’ blade was turned by the mutant’s thick hide, while the morlock’s bat cracked several ribs.
Doc put a well-aimed shot into the morlock with his pistol, but again, its thick hide saved it from damage. Liberty tried to do the same, but her pistol jammed. As she struggled to correct the problem, the morlock advanced into the room and hit her with a two-handed swing from its bat, dropping her to the ground and 0 HP. It howled in triumph.
During all of this, Vine had fallen back from the kitchen door and scooped up a brickbat. Now, they were the only thing between the rampaging morlock and the corner where Doc and Jimbob were taking cover. Furthermore, having seen the way the big morlock had shaken off both sword and bullet, Vine knew they didn’t stand a chance of really wounding the creature, even with their new thorns. Thinking quickly, they flung the brick directly into the morlock’s face, momentarily stunning it.
This gave Rufus the opening he needed. He came up behind the morlock like an avenging angel, landing a full-force cut to the back of its neck that left it sorely wounded. Then, adding insult to injury, Jimbob “anointed” it with the contents of the flask that he keeps in the hollowed-out pages of his holy book. When he spit the still-smouldering butt of his bedtime cigar in its face, it went up in flames.
The sole survivor of the morlock force was the one Rufus had crippled, who was trying to drag itself away across the front lawn. Rufus sent the dogs to take care of that one. Doc strapped up Rufus’ and Liberty’s ribs – doing a world-class job, providing maximum healing in both cases – while the others collected the morlocks’ remains, extinguishing them as necessary, and threw them unceremoniously into one of the house’s unused back rooms. They re-fortified the doors. This time, they brought the ox in to sleep in the kitchen.
Before disposing of the mutant corpses, the party asked Doc Rizzo if there were any value to be salvaged? Adrenochrome, maybe? Doc considered exploratory surgery before Burt Reynolds spoke up. (Remember, Doc Rizzo is haunted by Burt Reynolds, a wise spirit of the Ancients. Or he’s drank too much questionable liquor and has persistent hallucinations. One or the other… porque no los dos?) Wearing a white lab coat and an old-timey head mirror, Burt pointed out the risk of radiation exposure when mucking around in the innards of radioactive morlocks. Doc agreed, not worth the risks.
The next day was warm, clear, and windy. With their new bicycles, they made good time, arriving in Mt Hope in time for dinner. They pooled their food and water in common on this trip, where it had been mostly “every man for himself” on the previous hike. As it turned out, they had to empty every container that they had, and still had thirsty animals. Several party members spent some time scavenging for water, finding it difficult with so many people living nearby, but scaring up a few precious pints of clean water. They also located a few pints of tainted water that resisted Doc’s best efforts to purify it.
As they entered town, a boy intercepted them, claiming to have been sent to deliver an invitation to Jimbob to sit in on an exclusive poker game. Jimbob talked this personal invitation into general admission for the party, and a safe place out of the weather to camp for free. They were shown to the compound where the poker game would be held. It had once been a derailed train. The railroad cars, some unright, some still overturned, had been arranged to form a sort of open air casino. The party was given a sheltered corner between two cars as their campsite.
There was some time to kill before the poker game, so our protagonists wandered towards the marketplace, thinking they might do some light bartering before dark. To their surprise, they found a couple of dozen people listening to a traveling preacher, Billy Bob Bull, a mutant bull, horning in on Jimbob’s schtick. Pun intended.
To begin with, Billy Bob directed anyone in need of small arms repair to his comrade, Chastity the rat-girl gunsmith. “And you’ll need those weapons, brothers and sisters!” he continued, explaining how the valley would soon face an existential threat. On their trip from the north, Chastity and Billy Bob luckily hadn’t seen the invaders themselves, but they had seen burned villages and refugees. Mutant animals were safe, he said, but humans, pure or impure, were doomed. He had seen humans crucified, both hands cut off… terrible atrocities… Whoever, whatever the invaders were, they weren’t human. They could control the very weather itself! This unnatural wind was just one more piece of evidence!
Seeing how all this talk was affecting the mood of the crowd, Jimbob took to a soapbox and offered a response. While Billy Bob was trying to spread fear, JImbob offered reassurance. The rest of the party spread through the crowd to offer support, cheering Jimbob’s points while heckling Billy Bob’s. Notably, Francisco cried out, “Sounds like bull**** to me!”
In the end, Billy Bob retired in the face of the crowd’s jeers.
As the crowd broke up, party members went in different directions.
Francisco was approached by a young man who admired Nabisco, asking if Francisco ever raced? There were some locals who were racing enthusiasts, maybe Francisco would be interested in a friendly little midnight race, winner take both mounts? Upon hearing that, Francisco flatly refused, calling the whole thing a stupid idea. Nevertheless, he would be interested to meet the man’s mount. The man had described it as a centisteed, very fast but very hostile and hard to control. The man agreed to introduce them, reiterating on the walk over how mean-spirited the beast was. To his great surprise, the ‘steed took right to Francisco, who ruffled its ears.
A mutant bird-man with black feathers and a baseball cap caught Liberty’s eye. Trying to be clandestine, and failing, he whispered from the corner of his beak that he was here at the behest of Shen.
“Who?” Liberty asked. There’s a reason Jimbob handled public relations.
“Shen!” the bird-man hissed. “Shady Shen!” Yes, his friends even call him that. To his face, even.
“Oh, yeah. Him. What?” Obviously flustered, the bird-guy made arrangements to meet with Shen the following day.
Meanwhile, Doc Rizzo had wandered off in search of hijinks and free liquor. He noticed a commotion and drifted in its direction. A scruffy mountaineer type had ridden in to town at speed and pulled his half-dead mount to a screeching halt, yelling for a doctor. He pulled a limp form from where it lay draped over his saddle, still shouting. “Where’s Doc Howzer?” he demanded.
A passing citizen of the town explained, in a roundabout fashion, that Doc Howzer was out of town delivering a baby. Doc Rizzo spoke up, volunteering that perhaps he could be of some service. The bystander, Gabby, enthusiastically agreed; given his choice, if he had a medical emergency, he would take good ol’ Doc Rizzo over that punk kid Howzer any day.
Doubtful but with little choice, the mountaineer handed the patient over to Doc Rizzo. She was a teen girl, unconscious and feverish. As Doc examined her, there in the street, he questioned the mountaineer. They had been out deer hunting, he explained, and she had suddenly cried out and dropped. Doc located a couple of puncture marks on the base of her neck, perhaps an inch apart. He suspected some kind of venomous animal bite, but wasn’t able to ascertain what kind of animal.
Without an antidote, Doc Rizzo fell back to a generally-effective treatment. He made a couple of quick incisions and went to work sucking out the poison. “Oh!” he remarked, after the second spit. “Tree cottonmouth. <suck, spit> Common ambush predator in these parts. <suck, spit> Recognize the taste… <suck, spit> … used to be a bartender would make a shot…”
Nodding enthusiastically, Gabby agreed. He remembered that bartender, gods rest ‘im.
While working to save the girl, it occurred to Doc Rizzo that he could try to isolate a sample of the venom, so he spit into a nearby container. Once the girl was out of danger, he turned his attention to this container to see what he could do. “The danger,” he remarked to Gabby as he bent to his task, “is the poisonous vapor. Exposure is…”
Doc Rizzo paused, as a gust of wind blow a visible cloud of foul vapor from the sample directly into his face. As he involuntarily inhaled, his eyes lost focus and a violent shudder ran through him, spilling the sample. He was still for one moment, then gasped, and continued as if nothing had happened: “… invariably fatal. Yes. Invariably. Shall we go have a drink to celebrate?”
When Jimbob stepped down, mopping his forehead with a bandanna, Purvis the marshall caught his eye. With a nod and a gesture, he indicated that Jimbob was invited to a meeting just around the corner. Taking the hint, Jimbob quietly withdrew around the corner. There, he was gestured into a stable, where he found a barrel being used for a table, set with a full bottle and two shot glasses, with two chairs set nearby. One chair was empty. The other held the Mayor. There was soft music. On the other side of the stable, Jimbob observed a half-naked albino playing saxophone.
The Mayor and Jimbob had a long talk. She expressed her thanks for what he had done by settling down the crowd in the face of Billy Bob’s performance. It wouldn’t do to have everyone upset and scared if there were no invasion… and doubly so, if there were.
The Mayor went on to explain that she found herself in a bit of a hassle. One of her men, Mac, handled her tech needs and ran various errands for her. He was due to make a trip to the nearby community of Alloy to pick up certain rare commodities for her. Sadly, some fool with a limited sense of self-preservation had jumped Mac, stealing valuable tools from him and leaving him in bed with a cracked skull. In light of Jimbob’s resourcefulness, his gang’s obvious mobility, and most importantly, their ox-cart, she wondered if they would like to take the task this season?
While stressing their independence, Jimbob agreed that they could take care of this little issue, as a demonstration of friendship, if nothing else. The Mayor said she would send around a boy with further instructions in the morning, and as her own sign of friendship, she would also cover the party’s water needs through tomorrow. Both satisfied, they shared another drink.
Later, as the sun went down, the bulk of the group went to join the poker game, which was held in a battered train car. There, they met a couple of local farmers and one professional gambler named Hawke, who gave them all a lesson in applied mathematics. At the end of the night, they were poorer by several pints of water, but made a new friend. Friendly acquaintance, anyway.
The next morning, the unusually strong winds were even stronger, strong enough to knock a person down if they weren’t careful. And they were coming from the north, which was itself unusual. The townsfolk were concerned, remembering Billy Bob Bull’s talk of weather-controlling invaders from out of the north. Some sought out Doc Rizzo to ask, in light of the strength and direction of the wind, and considering the zone of radiation on the other side of the river to the north, if there was any concern of airborne fallout? Doc paused to consider the question, about to have his third shot of breakfast, and agreed, that would certainly be a valid worry.
Still, while nobody in town was too keen to be out and about, there were some with pressing business. The bird-guy came around to lead Jimbob to the rendezvous with Shady Shen. Jimbob kept his feet in the wind, even when his guide was knocked down and blown halfway across the street.
Shen was laying low in a garage off a back alley. In exchange for the drugs they had stolen from Walter, the party had requested a crash kit for Doc Rizzo and tools for small arms repair for Liberty. Shen explained that he had those, but he might have an even better deal on offer, if they were interested. He pulled aside a tarp, revealing a portable generator, a set of electrical tools, and a lever action carbine.
As a skilled trader, Jimbob knew the second offer was more valuable, on the face of it. He had a bad feeling about it, though. After all, they do call him Shady Shen. He made diplomatic excuses so he could step away to confer with Liberty, then returned to tell Shen thanks, but no thanks, they would take the deal as negotiated.
Aside from that one interruption, Liberty spent the day inside, taking things apart and putting them back together. She took Francisco’s musket and the flintlocks captured from the Bob Squad and combined them into an oversized contraption that she claims will offer performance equal to a bolt-action rifle. Francisco noted the extra weight, but wasn’t bothered by it. He has a horse, after all.
Later in the day, the boy that the Mayor promised came by, clutching his hat to keep it from blowing away. He introduced himself as Esophagus, “but everybody calls me Gus”. He had been Mac’s apprentice, had been on the trip to Alloy twice, and was ready to help guide the party there… tomorrow, if the wind died down.
When questioned, Gus admitted that he had seen the attack that had put Mac in his sickbed. Gus had run away and hid at the first sign of trouble; he makes no bones about it, he’s more comfortable with math than melee. Mac stood and got his skull cracked for it. The attackers were a mixed bunch, some human, some mutant animals.
As for the trip itself, they could expect it to take somewhat more than a day, so they should anticipate at least one night camping in the wilderness. If the weather were cooperative, at least. They would follow the remains of an old road of the Ancients. It was pretty tore up, but what remained would ease their passage.
The party agreed, it would be folly to try to leave town under the current conditions. They arranged for Gus to return on the morrow. The plan is to do some barter in the morning to get rid of unwanted loot, then arrange for a safe place to stash their spare equipment in town to maximum cargo space in the cart for the trip.
Session was a bit shorter than usual – I tired out quick – but we got down to business quicker than usual so I feel like we got a lot done.
The party has quite a collection of tire irons, now. I’m forced to assume that they’re not all literal tire irons, but metal objects of similar size, shape, and weight. Otherwise, the Ancients must have suffered from a remarkable number of flat tires.
Jimbob had two uses of Serendipity coming, since I neglected him last time. He used one to light up the morlock leader, and the other to get a good campsite in town.
This time around, Burt Reynolds was Common Sense, not just Delusions.
Vine’s player had to drop out early, which is why Vine didn’t have much to say for the last half of the session.
The incident with Doc Rizzo and the poison went like this: Roll Diagnosis, success by 2, enough to get the general cause but not the specific. Roll Physician to treat the problem, success by some huge margin – 7? 9? – enough to save the patient and figure out the nature of the poison as a free bonus. Roll Hazardous Materials to capture some of the venom, crit fail. Crap. Exposed to the deadly venom. Roll HT. Plus Fit. Plus poison resistance. Plus a bunch of other stuff. Succeed by, I dunno, 12 or so. I swear, Doc Rizzo could drink the devil under the table doing shots of Drano…
The party’s stated goal this session was to ingratiate themselves with the folk of Mt Hope, especially and particularly the Mayor. I don’t think they much cared for the idea of being the Mayor’s gofer, but they felt obligated to go along with whatever she suggested.
Standard award was 3 points. Cool Point was a split decision, going to both Vine, for the timely brick to the face that halted the big morlock’s charge, and to Jimbob, for winning the preach-off.