GURPS After The End #5: “Independence Day”

by mshrm

So when you’re waiting for the next attack
You’d better stand, there’s no turning back

– Iron Maiden, “The Trooper”

Stragglers’ return. Even in the wasteland, taxes. Getting to know Deep Water. Ships and boats and tall metal trees. A demonstration of different approaches to diplomacy, some more effective than others. The perils of traveling cross-country. The foot of the tower.

Who’s Who

  • 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.

What Happened

When we left our wastelanders last time, they were looking down on the towns of Deep Water and Alloy, but first, we rewind to a point a mile or so back, just after sundown, where Vine caught up with the main group. They came peddling doggedly up the road on their new bicycle, with a passenger riding double.

Vine had changed since the last time the others had seen them. They had grown, putting on some extra mass, but the most striking change was the layer of mushrooms scattered over their arms, neck, and especially head. The head mushrooms quivered in reaction to sound. A person touching Vine could feel a strong pulse of vibration in a steady rhythm. And apparently Vine could now see in the dark… or at least sense in the dark. Weird, but it’s Vine, what can you expect?

Vine’s new friend was Spud, formerly the leader of the valley’s team of “ankle-biters“: a gang of feral child soldiers armed with improvised weapons, fighting on behalf of the Mayor. The two of them had escaped the valley together, after Vine awoke from several days of tree-like slumber and Spud’s troops were routed by the invaders from the north.

Between Vine sleeping through most of the action and Spud’s unique perspective, it was difficult to get much detail about exactly what happened back at the valley, but they did learn a few things. The invaders from the north had continued south, reaching Mt Hope and taking it after a terrible battle. The invaders were “dog-people with weather magic”. (When questioned on this point, Spud was adamant: the weather was on their side.) As far as Vine and Spud could tell, the invaders now ruled the valley.

What about the Mayor? What about Purvis? Unknown. Maybe dead in the battle, maybe captured, maybe gone to ground.

The party was troubled by this news, but there was nothing for it at the moment. They pressed on, coming into view of Deep Water and Alloy a couple of hours after sunset, and leaving flashback mode.

Their guide, young Gus, had told them about the two towns on the trip. Alloy was a rare enclave of technical know-how, which is why they were able to provide the materials to keep the Mayor’s lights on. Deep Water was a town of fishermen who worked the glowing New River, but it had a dock. Ships would travel up the New River, all the way from the Missus Hip, to do business with the people of Alloy, but they would come to port in Deep Water. So, the two communities lived in harmony, with each providing something that the other needed.

In fact, they could see from the road that there was a ship in port at the moment. They got a good look at the layout of the town and the docks. They were puzzled by the ruins of a tall, moss-covered crane at the river’s edge, until Vine remarked that sometimes the Ancients grew metal trees like that. No telling why; they’re clearly no good for shade.

Gus was puzzled, but not particularly concerned, to see that the road into Deep Water was guarded. The road turned sharply to descend down the steep face of the hillside to the level of the town, right on the water. At the bottom of the hill, they could see two haywagons set up to block passage, with a couple of burning torches set out on either side of the road. Clearly, this was some kind of checkpoint.

After a brief discussion, the party moved forward, sending Gus ahead to make arrangements but staying close enough to hear what was said. They heard a low growl and whispered conversation from the far side of the haywagons, as the guards became aware of their approach. Then, as they entered the torchlight, they were challenged and asked their business.

Gus cheerfully explained that they were here on business from the Mayor of Mt Hope, just like a few months ago. He was surprised when the guards laughed and mocked the Mayor’s authority. The guards demanded a toll for passage, but Gus insisted no toll had been required in the past. As Gus became more flustered, Jimbob stepped up to smooth things over, asking to speak to the person in charge.

With a laugh, the guards agreed and sent a runner. “Bring out the guy in charge!” Shortly, the runner returned with a soaking wet man wearing a bathrobe. Gus recognized the man as Flynn, a respected member of the Deep Water community.

Flynn apologized for the state of things in town. There had been some events since Gus was last in town. When asked if he was in charge, Flynn admitted that he was the dude… or, at least, had been the dude. Now the power structure was somewhat more ambiguous. After some furtive discussion, Jimbob managed to negotiate an arrangement. The party would be allowed into town, where Flynn would guide them to the marketplace in hopes of barter in the morning, after paying their toll in the form of forty pounds of land shark jerky. (“That’s real land shark, too,” Doc pointed out, half delirious from blood loss and strong drink. “Organic. Free range.”)

The guards immediately shared out chunks of jerky among themselves, stashing the leftovers. Munching as they worked, they pushed one of the wagons back to allow our protagonists to pass. The more perceptive members of the party noted that food must be in short supply in these parts.

Flynn led the group to a small market space, where most of the group set about making camp. He then took Jimbob to his office to talk. Jimbob was accompanied by Rufus, his right-hand dog, and Vine, who was starting to realize that people see them as a pet, or possibly valuable livestock, so it might be wise to stick close to their “owner” lest they be harvested by a hungry local.

At the camp, Liberty was approached by just such a hungry local, who wanted to know if one of the dogs were for sale. Overhearing from nearby, Rufus rejected that offer. The townie countered with an offer to buy the ox, which was also rejected. Finally, the townie looked over at Francisco, mounted on Nabisco… and decided to quit before he got himself in trouble.

Flynn’s office was sparsely furnished, with a couple of wooden chairs and one broken-down overstuffed armchair, which Flynn immediately claimed after mixing drinks. From the fading of the floor, a rug had once covered the center of the room, but now the rug lay against one wall, rolled up. With some prompting from Jimbob, Flynn brought them up to speed with current events.

As Gus had already mentioned, the town of Deep Water was accustomed to a having a ship or two arrive every year. The dock marked the furthest point up the New River that a ship could go; about a mile upstream, the falls made further progress impossible. During most of the year, the townsfolk would work the river between town and the falls. A few weeks ago, a ship had arrived in the usual fashion, but instead of traders and cargo, it carried a small army of raiders!

Caught off-guard and being people of peace, the folk of Deep Water proved no match for the raiders. Their leader, the self-styled “Captain” Frost, had come to Flynn’s office to explain who was now in charge. In the course of making his point, Frost had soiled Flynn’s favorite rug, which Flynn took as a personal insult. When Flynn objected, Frost had a couple of his minions drag Flynn out and dunk him in a horse trough until his attitude re-adjusted. Now, Frost ran the town to his liking, leaving Flynn to manage day-to-day concerns.

When Jimbob and Rufus speculated about armed resistance, Flynn shook his head. No good, he said. It wasn’t just that Frost had a small army of vicious killers. He had a secret weapon, too: a sniper stationed on the ship, with a good line of sight on much of the town. Some of the townsfolk had tried to fight back, only to painfully learn of the sniper’s existence.

When asked about Alloy, Flynn shook his head again. Ordinarily, getting a boat across the river would be no problem, but Frost had prohibited any travel on the water. Without the usual fishing, food supplies were getting tight, but Frost refused to relent. On a few occasions, Frost himself had crossed over to parlay with the people of Alloy, but as to the subject of those talks, the people of Deep Water were ignorant.

While the main mission might be blocked, there were still things they needed to take care of in town. They received permission from Flynn to camp where they had parked and asked about a doctor to take a look at Doc Rizzo, still recovering from a savage shark bite. Returning to camp, they delivered Doc Rizzo to the Deep Water doctor, who turned out to be an old student of Doc’s, glad to take care of him while he recuperated.

The next morning, Jimbob bartered away a pile of goods, mostly unwanted looted armor, in exchange for more useful equipment. Highlights of the haul included parts for a tent (so Jimbob can run tent revivals), parts for a scope for Francisco’s “Frankenstein” rifle, improved equipment for water collection, and an armload of scuffed-up books on the subject of demolitions. (Vine needed more reading material, having exhausted Doc’s collection of anthropological texts. They’re very interested in explosives.)

One notable sale was to one of the occupying raiders, a mutant badger (or “badder“) who had been on road guard duty when they arrived. He was very happy to trade for Walter’s old football helmet, pointing out icons marking it as a religious relic. “Wise Consin!” he said, “I follow! Me am Wise Consin Badder!”

At Francisco’s suggestion, Jimbob went looking for local maps, finding a grizzled old cartographer on the fringes of the marketplace. He came away with a map depicting the area of the New River, from the great bridge all the way to the river’s mouth, based on the old man’s travels in his youth. It also includes educational drawings of carnivorous plants found in the region and several amusing margin doodles.

For the next ten days, while Doc was laid up in bed, our protagonists kept their heads down and their eyes open.

Liberty worked on turning parts into finished products, and also did repairs for the locals. Billy-Bob Bull, Chastity the rat-girl gunsmith, and Spud pitched in doing odd jobs around town.

Doc and Jimbob took turns listening to the radio. Once again, they picked up bits of the strange “numbers and names” broadcast, being able to make out “4181 Pris” and “28657 Roy”.

Closer at hand, they were able to pick up frequent broadcasts that seemed to be related to the occupying raiders. “Guardpost 1, all clear.” “River watch, all clear.” “Guardpost 3, tell Bob he still owes me a pint of water!” Despite their best efforts, they weren’t able pin down exactly where the watchmen were, or what their schedule was.

Towards the end of his recovery, Doc Rizzo was able to walk around with a cane for short trips. On one of these walks, he came to visit the party’s camp. Taken by the imp of the perverse, Doc Rizzo began calling out “Reverend for sale!” to passers-by, indicating Jimbob. Spud popped out from under the wagon, holding aloft a shiny rock. “I buy!” they shouted. Doc accepted. So now Spud owns Jimbob. At night, around the campfire, Spud now tends to gravitate to a position clinging to Jimbob’s knee. If anyone approaches too close, they’ll glare and show a shiv.

In conversation with the locals, our protagonists mentioned the giant sky weasel they saw destroying an air car, which led to hearing a lot of stories about it. They say that the “budan”, or “sky-weasel”, is known to live in the area, and once every seven years, it comes to the pool at the foot of the New River waterfall to mate with the monster of the falls.

Finally, Doc Rizzo was given a clean bill of health. With the group back at full strength, they turned their attention back to the main mission. Since “Captain” Frost stood between them and their cargo in Alloy, they decided to go see what they could accomplish with diplomacy. They went over to the docks to take a look at the ship, which they found crowded with raiders.

Jimbob approached a gangplank and asked to speak with the captain. Seeing the “Wise Consin Badder” nearby, he call on the badder to vouch for him. After a lot of fast talk, the Captain finally came out to see what the fuss was.

It turned out that one-eyed “Captain” Frost was more hard-shelled than his crew. Jimbob tried to dazzle him with words, hinting that whatever Frost wanted from Alloy, but wasn’t getting, was something that Jimbob could easily broker a deal for. Frost was unimpressed, but not particularly irritated. He turned away, remarking to the badder that this had been a waste of time.

At that point, Doc Rizzo intervened. He jogged up, calling Frost’s name, claiming to recognize him as an old friend. Frost was bemused, until Doc tried to approach to touching distance. Being one with a firm sense of personal space, Frost immediately punched Doc in the mouth.

Being protective of his pack, Rufus went for Frost’s throat… and “paylay” became a fight that nobody wanted.

While wandering over, Vine had already picked up a good rock for throwing. They had a pessimistic suspicion that violence would break out. They also figured, everybody in town had been treating them like a pet, and who notices if someone’s pet picks up a rock? Thus, Vine was the only member of the party who was armed when violence broke out. They dropped back and flung the rock directly into Frost’s throat, causing him to stagger back.

At Doc’s shouted suggestion, Rufus pursued Frost, but wasn’t able to take him down. Francisco and Nabisco came charging in, knocking Frost to the ground and causing him to drop his weapon, only to have a chain-wielding raider step up and entangle Nabisco. Francisco drew his rifle and put that raider down. Nobody lays a hand on Nabisco.

While there were many raiders nearby, they were mostly taken by surprise at the unexpected fight. They took a couple of shots at our protagonists, which missed, and generally got in each other’s way trying to crowd down the gangplank.

Hoping to put a quick end to the fight, Jimbob drew his pistol and stepped up to stand over Frost. “Call ’em off!” he shouted.

“Cease fire!” Frost shouted, hands in the air. “Cease fire, you idiots, he has a gun to my head!”

For a moment, the raiders paused, confused by this sudden turn of events. Then Doc stepped up to Frost and punched him, claiming just retribution. That was enough to re-start the violence. A bullet zipped by, inches from Jimbob’s ear, killing a raider near him, as the sniper took his shot. Shaken, Jimbob and Frost again called for an end to the fight. One by one, the raiders stood down.

Then Vine threw a lit black powder grenade onto the deck of the ship.

Chaos broke out in all directions. Raiders scrambled for escape, some of them jumping off the deck into the glowing water in their haste. Our protagonists took advantage of the confusion to make their escape.

Later, Jimbob would say, “One day imma stand before the lord, and he’s gonna ask me, Jimbob, why’d you shoot that fella in the back? And I’ll tell him, well Lord, his back was t’ me…” In the escape, Jimbob took his shot – first time firing a shot in anger – and put down “Captain” Frost.

As our wastelanders retreated, the people of Deep Water took their chance. There was ragged gunfire on the docks, which carried on for several hours. Our protagonists found shelter and liquor to wait it out. Eventually, word came that the ship was leaving! Without their captain to put steel in their spines, the pirates had had enough and were pulling out.

It didn’t take long for boats to cross over to Alloy with the news. That night, there were fireworks in celebration.

Our protagonists were able to cross over to Alloy without trouble, where they met with Obie, spokesman for the town. As a sign of thanks, Obie had a special green drink prepared for them. “It’s from the time of the Ancients,” he told them. “They said it ensured good health. We think they made it from alligators.” Everyone agreed, they did feel more full of pep after consuming the beverage… everyone but Vine, that is, who became limp and wilted and had to be put to bed in the wagon.

Obie had been in contact with the Mayor some weeks before, and had the cargo ready for pickup. It turned out to be two fifty pound boxes of dynamite and a gallon keg of nitroglycerine. “For the war effort,” Obie explained.

Doc has a dream of somebody building an autodoc like the Ancients used to have, and so asked if Alloy had any robot parts. None were available, but some of the locals said they knew of a place that was guarded by living metal. Nobody could approach without the robots trying to kill them. Our protagonists noted the location on their map.

Jimbob was able to trade a couple of pills for a good supply of ammunition and grenades, which were readily available in Alloy.

The next day, the party set out to return to the valley. They weren’t sure if the Mayor would be around to pay them or not, but either way, they figured they could do something useful. Worst case, if the Mayor were dead, they would own a wagon-load of explosives and might find a way to apply them. (“Maybe we’ll be the mayor now,” Rufus suggested.)

Spud, Chastity, and Billy-Bob offered to join them and were welcomed. They traveled together on the road of the Ancients for a few miles, then split up. After examining the map, they had decided to have most of the group continue on the road in the wagon, taking extreme care not to hit any bumps. Liberty, Jimbob, Francisco, and Rufus would cut cross-country to the site of the air car crash, aiming to scavenge what they could. They would then rendezvous at the tower that Gus has described as the home of Ray-Joe Tenner.

Going was rough. The terrain was rugged and steep. Between hills, they found marshy land and swarms of bugs. At one crossing, a swarm of leeches jumped out at them, hitting Jimbob, Doc, and Francisco in the face! Accustomed to disgusting and slimy things, Doc quickly detached the leeches from Francisco and his own face. With teeth-gritting concentration, Jimbob put out his lit cigar on the leech stuck between his eyes, causing it to squeal and drop off.

It didn’t take long to find the crash site. When they did, Doc looked around and noticed the signed – they were in an irradiated zone. They had probably been absorbing radiation all this time. Concerned, but figuring it made no sense to come half way, give up, and go back, they pressed on.

At the crash, they found the wreckage of the air car in two major pieces. With Liberty coordinating the team, they set about searching for usable parts. After spending three hours sifting through the wreck, they had recovered several pounds of useful parts, and a broken (but repairable!) geiger counter!

The smaller party hiked on through more rough country. Even Rufus was starting to pant when they finally came within sight of Ray-Joe’s house: a 700 foot tall scaffold tower with a square walled structure at its top. Seeing that they were the first to arrive, they cast around to find a top-quality place to camp, with good sight lines on both the road and the base of the tower, and settled down to wait for Vine, their expert climber.

To be continued…

GM Notes

Vine’s new mutation is Echolocation. They haven’t racked up enough Freakishness to require any side effects yet, but voluntarily took the symbiotic mushrooms anyway. We joke about our games being a TV series with an infinite special effects budget and a casting department that owns a time machine; this session’s notional “cold open” was filmed from Vine’s point of view, peddling down the road using their new sense to navigate through the darkness. Echolocation has a limited range and is relatively coarse-grained, so at first it’s just trees… trees… then vaguely humanoid outlines… then people… then a sudden jump-scare close-up of Doc’s smiling face! “Hi, Vine, who’s your friend?!”

I stole the “Missus Hip” bit from the original Damnation Alley short story.

It is becoming clear that the equivalent to Dungeon Fantasy’s “pouch full of rare gems and jewels” in this genre is “a sack full of drugs”. The party has a collection of drugs, some medical, some recreational, that they’ve started treating chiefly as a store of value. They’re lightweight, easily concealed, and extremely valuable.

Vine’s player had to drop out a bit early due to technical difficulties, so I actually rolled the crit failure that made the grenade a dud. It was the player’s decision, carried out in traditional Cold War style.

The players described the raiders’ jump into the river as “certain death”, but I wouldn’t be so sure. It’s not like folks fall in and melt. They just get a massive dose of radiation and have to face whatever wildlife lives in that water. So, not “certain”, just “highly probable”.

I haven’t been sharing the date according to the calendar of the Ancients, but this is a special occasion. By pure coincidence, our protagonists liberated Deep Water on the 4th of July.

Jimbob’s use of Serendipity came in the last moments of the game, to give them a snug base camp for next session.

Experience

Standard award was 3 points. Cool Point was awarded to Doc, for punching Frost. Bonus point was awarded to Vine, for having the bad luck to throw a dud grenade. Special bonus points to Jimbob, for recognizing that the rug really tied the room together, and to Rufus, for realizing that “Captain” Frost’s first name might be Kurtz.