GURPS After The End #6: “The Top of the Tower”

by mshrm

Invisible airwaves crackle with life

Bright antenna bristle with the energy

– Rush, “The Spirit of Radio”

An example of why the post-apocalyptic exterminator is to be pitied. Red Sticks Of Fun. The battle of the garden shed. With the shortage of chew toys, sometimes a dog just must make do. Horrible burns. A new pet. Vine does what they say can’t be done… twice. Conversations with Ray-Joe. “Watch out for that last rung.” A return to the valley and a parting of the ways.

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, they were set to rendezvous and investigate the astonishingly tall tower that Gus, their local guide, claimed was the home of an Ancient named “Ray-Joe Tenner”. After a restful night, those who had hiked cross-country were feeling quite restored, so the party proceeded to the base of the tower.

They found the tattered remains of a chain-link fence, a couple of small buildings, and several piles of wreckage around the tower. Even as they approached, they were making plans to harvest some of the fence as raw material for their long-running project to cover the wagon, Conestoga-style. One of the buildings was smaller, more of a utility shed, while the other was a more substantial concrete structure, likely with a couple of rooms.

Billy-Bob Bull, Chastity, Gus, and Spud volunteered to hang back with the ox and wagon. While Rufus and the dogs took a turn around the perimeter to make sure they wouldn’t be surprised, the others approached the semi-fenced compound cautiously.

Vine and Jimbob went to poke around in the nearest pile of wrecked machinery. As they got closer, Vine noticed that they were being watched. At least three obbs – mutated fungus in the shape of winged, flying eyeballs that shoot radiation when provoked – were lurking in the wreckage. After a short discussion, our protagonists decided on a course of action. They lit a stick of dynamite, handed it over to Vine, and fell back.

“Red sticks of fun!” Vine exclaimed, delighted, and tossed the explosive into the obbs’ hiding place. Seconds later, the obbs were no more, and Vine had their pick of jagged metal debris to use as improvised throwing weapons.

Next, our protagonists turned their attention to the small garden shed. Liberty, Jimbob, and Vine went to take a closer look. They found that the shed’s door was partially open, hanging by a single hinge. Again, Vine’s sharp eye caught the telltale gleam of malice in an obb’s pseudo-eye from the shadows inside. The shed was also infested.

Discussion ensued. From outside, they could see fallen shelves and clutter on the shed floor. They didn’t want to use the dynamite trick again, for fear of destroying any useful loot that might be buried in that debris. This time, they chose a different plan.

Vine, Liberty, and Jimbob crept up to the shed door. Jimbob kicked the door entirely open, then ducked to the side. Vine flung their handful of sharp metal (wounding an obb, as it happened) in hopes of provoking a response. The plan was, as the obbs piled out of the shed, Liberty would blast them with her shotgun.

That was the plan, but it didn’t work out that way. Jimbob and Vine did their parts, and as expected, three obbs burst out of the shed, right into Liberty’s sights. But, when she pulled the trigger, nothing happened. Misfire.

The obbs scattered to pursue their attackers, who fell back. Rufus and the dogs circled around from one side, while Francisco and Nabisco came in from the other direction. It was up to Liberty to hold the line. Not daring to waste the time it would take to get her shotgun working again, she dropped it on the ground and drew her revolver. It fired once, only hitting the side of the shed, and then jammed.

Entirely disarmed, Liberty retreated with a pair of obbs on her heels. Luckily, Rufus and friends were able to join the battle at this point. Rufus sliced one pursuing obb in half with his katana, and the other became the rope in a game of tug-of-war between Otto and Buck.

On the other side of the fight, Jimbbob and Vine had taken cover behind the great stone blocks anchoring the tower’s legs. Francisco got between them and the remaining obb. In a spirit of sticking with what works, he dropped a lit stick of dynamite in the obb’s hex as he rode by. Not recognizing the significance of the sputtering Red Stick Of Fun, the obb was obliterated in the explosion.

With the battle concluded, Jimbob and Vine went to scavenge the shed. They were pleased to discover a post-hole digger under the pile of fallen shelves.

Meanwhile, Rufus and the boys returned to their patrol. They found something in the grass that just smelled awful. Rufus and Buck were able to resist, but Otto felt compelled to roll in it.

Next up, the larger building. From the dogs’ patrol, they knew that there were a set of double doors hanging open on the far side of the structure, revealing a small office space, now looted and destroyed. On the near side of the building, they saw a closed door, which clearly opened into a different, larger room. Peeking through this door, they could see several giant mutant roaches.

Everybody knew about those things. They were “bombardier” roaches, up to three feet long and able to spew acidic spit as an attack. Definitely not something they wanted lurking around behind them. Our protagonists decided to exterminate the roaches before proceeding.

They set up a plan that was very similar to the last time. Jimbob would fling open the door, taking the roaches by surprise, and opening a line of sight for Francisco, Vine, and Liberty to start blasting.

Again, it didn’t work out as planned.

It started out successfully enough. Jimbob pulled the door open, taking advantage of the cover from being between the wall and the door. The firing line took out a couple of roaches. Then the rest of the roaches came pouring forth from hiding places all around them room. Then a whole other group of roaches came charging from under a pile of trash around the corner of the building.

This suddenly turned Jimbob’s safe place of concealment into a deathtrap, as he was trapped in a tight corner with a swarm of angry mutant roaches coming at him. He scampered for safety, ducking and dodging to get around the bugs, and managed to break free with only minor wounds, thanks to the timely distraction of Rufus and the boys. They charged in to engage the new group of attackers. Rufus was very badly wounded by acid spit, which also corroded his cane armor to the point of uselessness.

Liberty was also hit and badly hurt by the roaches’ corrosive attack. Doc dove in to the fray to support her, tackling one roach right outside the door and wrestling it down while it whistled in distress.

Francisco fell back before the initial charge, then took decisive action. Shouting “Fire in the hole!”, he tossed a grenade inside the building, where the bulk of the roaches were crowded. Doc smacked his grappled bug against the door, slamming it shut. A moment later, there was a muffed explosion, the door crumpled, smoke poured out, and most of the roaches were history.

Even so, after mopping up the stragglers, several of our protagonists were badly hurt. Jimbob had taken a minor injury, easily bandaged. Liberty and Doc were both injured, Liberty to the point of reeling, but Rufus was the worst off. He had taken a hit to the face, and one eye was swollen shut.

Doc still had his now-stunned roach grappled, and declared his intention to raise “Roachie” as a pet and possible lockpicking assistant.

Doc offered first aid to Liberty and Rufus, getting them both on their feet. They took some time to rest and have lunch. Liberty led the team in scrounging around the building, finding lots of junk and a slingshot, which Vine immediately claimed.

Finally, at about midday, they turned their gaze upwards. The tower was several hundred feet tall, so tall that they felt dizzy looking up at it. The thin metal scaffolding was mossy and slimy. Doc tried to climb it, and slid back before even really getting off the ground.

Of course, this is what Vine was sprouted to do. They scampered up the side of the tower as easily as crossing the street, flinging climbing lines as they went. While on the way up, they were treated to a view of the surrounding area. To their surprise, miles in the distance, they saw a huge, inexplicable structure with a bright light on top of it. They described it as crab-like, since it seemed to be suspended from a pair of leg-like arches.

In minutes, Vine approached the “house” at the top of the tower. As they drew near, they started to hear a muttering voice! Whoever it was, they seemed to be talking to themselves, reminding themselves of different “calibrations” that needed to be done and wondering when “Buck” would come back.

Vine was cautious for the last few yards. They discovered a few feet of ladder hanging from the platform. Apparently the rest of the ladder had fallen away long ago. They climbed the ladder and peeked over the edge of the platform, finding a one room structure with windows, open to the air, in all directions. It was surrounded by a narrow walkway with no railing. Right at the top of the ladder, there was a door hanging ajar. On that door, Vine read:

A rusted dedication plaque for “Radio Tender #7” which is the “something something of the -mbine- -fense Forces something something Mindkeep”

Before Vine could discover much more, the owner of the voice came to the door. It was a spherical robot with several arms. It raised one with a threatening blade, remarking on how bad the kudzu infestation was this year, and approached Vine…

… who prudently retreated to a safe position, twenty feet down the tower, hanging over hundreds of feet of open air.

Serendipitously, Jimbob had clipped the party’s small radio on the outside of Vine’s backpack before the ascent. After a short discussion, Vine held the radio up so Jimbob could negotiate with the robot on their behalf. (They’re shy with new people.) The robot was willing to talk, introducing itself as “Ray-Joe the Radio Tender”. It even recognized Jimbob, as “that preaching radio pirate”.

Eventually, they decided to send in the expert. Vine returned to the ground, strapped Liberty to their back, and once again completely the impossible climb… this time, heavily encumbered. Still no challenge for the sentient plant: Vine climbs like… well, let’s just say it’s not their name for no reason.

Ray-Joe was very pleased to meet its new maintenance tech, filling in for the long-delayed Buck. It rambled on while Liberty “performed diagnostics” and disabled its kudzu-trimming arm.

Between talking to itself, Jimbob, and Liberty, Ray-Joe dropped a fair amount of random information. It described itself as a radio tender, tending the radio for something called “Mindkeep”. It had been waiting for “Buck”, for maintenance, for a long, long time. One of its duties was to perform regular broadcasts for Mindkeep, though it grumbled that they probably weren’t being received, due to “the inversion”.

Liberty convinced Ray-Joe that it needed a software update that could only be performed on the ground. It agreed that it knew the way down. With a glare at Vine, it mentioned that it could use a resupply of defoliant. But first, it insisted on sending the day’s broadcast. From the ground, Jimbob was able to pick up the words on the radio: “34. Jarvis. 987. Bishop. 10946. Data.”

Having done its duty, with a grinding of gears, Ray-Joe trundled over to the ladder… laboriously mounted the rungs… took half a dozen steps down… and, without a sound, climbed right off the end of the ladder and into open space. As the observers below scattered, Ray-Joe plummeted seven hundred feet to the ground, leaving an impressive crater.

Without having to manage a damaged and possibly-dangerous robot, Liberty and Vine were able to investigate Ray-Joe’s workspace, finding a pair of binoculars and some other odds and ends. They took another look at Vine’s “crab building”, seeing that it was some kind of building of the Ancients, and it did have a very bright light source on its roofline. Liberty cross-referenced the structure’s location with their map, realizing that whatever it is, it seems to be the location of the “living metal” they’ve been warned about.

With several wounded among them, and a convenient concrete building standing nearby, our protagonists settled down for a few days’ rest. Liberty did some work on Doc’s revolver.

That night, while Doc was on watch, something came sniffing around the badly-damaged door. Peeking out, he observed a “hill alligator” outside. Like a regular alligator, but bigger, meaner, more mutated, and motivated to leave the water and march up hillsides to find prey. Immediately, Doc declared an intention to go outside and tame the beast. The ghost of Burt Reynolds – remember, Doc believes he’s haunted by a wise man of the Ancients, Burt Reynolds – advised caution, pointing out, “That is an alligator.”

The light sleepers of the group, Vine and Rufus, were startled awake from hearing Doc’s side of the discussion. Upon hearing “alligator”, Rufus started barking, which woke the rest of the group. While Doc tried to persuade Jimbob that Roachie and the ‘gator outside could be the nucleus of a travelling circus of mutant animals – “We could teach it tricks!” being countered by “Do you have any idea of the daily water requirements of a full-grown hill alligator?” – Francisco quietly slipped outside.

When the others peeked out, they found the alligator, happily lying on its back, purring, while Francisco stroked its belly.

For the next three days, our protagonists puttered around camp, resting and recovering. Liberty turned a lot of random loot into a new rifle, but when tested, it revealed a problem with its barrel overheating after so much as a single shot. Doc tended to the wounded and tried to cook up some homebrew antibiotics, but failed. On the third day, there was heavy rain, which they took advantage of by topping off their water supplies.

When the weather cleared the next day, our protagonists hit the road, making it almost all the way back to the valley before sundown. They cautiously chose to camp in the woods so they could make it to Newtown during daylight.

Coming in to Newtown the next morning, they could see that the community was subdued. No one was out in public. The communal stewpot stood empty over a cold firepit. Joan the Fox’s lieutenant, Cordozar, called out to them from an open tent, gesturing for them to get off the road and out of sight.

Behind the tent, Cordozar met with the group, explaining that it wasn’t safe to be out right now, assuring them that they’ll get the news soon enough, telling them where to go to get a bowl of stew, asking what kind of cargo they were hauling… and deftly sending Rufus off to talk with Joan, who considers him the natural leader of the gang, despite his insistence that he just works for Jimbob.

Between the two different conversations, our protagonists put together an idea of what they had missed. The invaders were giant dog-people, all standing at least seven feet tall, and all trained warriors. They didn’t have much in the way of firepower, being mainly hand-to-hand fighters, but they excelled at their chosen form of combat.

Furthermore, they possessed formidable mutant powers. As our protagonists had heard, the invaders had some kind of control over the weather. Cordozar reported unnatural weather in Mt Hope when they had attacked there, and had heard second-hand reports of people being struck by lightning. Joan speculated that however they did it, affecting the weather wasn’t something they could do lightly, since they seemed to reserve it for major occasions.

Even individually, though, they had other powers. They could all manifest a telekinetic “third hand”. Worst of all, when enraged, they could summon a field of life-leeching energy that would suck the vitality from their enemies and heal themselves with the energy.

They had rolled over the valley’s defenses, taken Mt Hope, and imprisoned the Mayor and Purvis, the sheriff. Even now, they ruled the valley with an iron fist, making the Mangled Puppy, the only saloon in Mt Hope, their headquarters. Joan described them as “Zoopremicists” who took no disrespect from anyone but particularly didn’t like humans. They had killed many, and maimed even more.

Our protagonists were somewhat daunted at this news. With the Mayor in jail, it might be difficult to get paid for delivering her cargo. Should they try to break her out, maybe even using her own dynamite to do it? That sounded like a good way to get crucified by the invaders. Maybe give up on delivery for now, turn around, and investigate that weird crab building? That would mean facing hostile living metal, which Doc found fascinating but the others thought unwise, at best. Perhaps they could find another job, or maybe they should return to the tower and make a new life there – plant a little farm, fix the broken door, maybe put a coat of paint on the place…

Later in the evening, as folks sat quietly drinking around the fire, Jimbob noticed the bird-guy who had acted as a go-between from Shen in the past, and was noticed back. Through gestures and winks, they arranged to meet in private. There, the mutant offered to lead Jimbob to Shen, and offer that Jimbob readily agreed to.

Shen was laying low, several shanties down the street, with his usual flashy clothes covered by a thick cloak and hood. After a warm greeting, Shen offered to help with the problem of delivering the Mayor’s goods, since these days, he’s working for the Mayor.

Jimbob did a triple-take, but saw no lie. As unlikely as it sounds, Shady Shen is working for the Mayor.

To be continued…

GM Notes

The dogs found the smelly thing after they all failed Perception checks to notice the bugs lurking outside in the pile of trash. Two made their Will rolls, but Otto failed. Now Otto has the reputation of being the stinky member of the pack.

Rufus’ eye is temporarily crippled until he can get back to full health.

Before Doc can put points into “Roachie” as an Ally, he’ll need to put some points into Animal Handling (Big Mutant Bugs) and spend some time earning its trust.

Doc rolled a critical success for first aid to heal Liberty for the maximum amount, then rolled the maximum amount organically for Rufus. Later on, Francisco rolled a natural 3 on Animal Handling to get on the good side of the hill ‘gator. It was quite the day for crits, good and bad.

Vine had only just decided to invest in full literacy this session, which came in handy when reading the dedication plaque on the door at the top of the tower.

I was making a half-hearted effort to avoid using real calendar dates in-game, while still keeping track of time behind the scenes, but once I let the 4th of July slip, that cat was out of the bag. I figure the characters in the game world have lost track of the date, but we, as players, can use it. It’s just like the “GURPS $”: a convenience for bookkeeping that has no in-world existence.

That said, according to my notes, our protagonists arrived back in Newtown on 12 July. The last time they met with Shady Shen was the evening of 19 June, just before leaving the valley. They heard from refugees that the invaders had taken the valley over the course of 20-21 June, so they have held the valley for about three weeks, at this point.

Jimbob’s triple-take was from using Luck to get three rolls on Detect Lies.

Experience

Standard award was 3 points. Special bonus point to Francisco for providing the perfect illustration at the right moment. Cool Point also went to Francisco, for taking the role of “animal whisperer”, especially with the ‘gator. Bonus Point to Liberty, to make up for the repeated failures of the guns that she, herself, built.