With the end of the previous long-running (by our standards, at least) campaign, it’s time to look to the next thing. And it looks like the next big thing is… The End.Read the rest of this entry »
With the end of the previous long-running (by our standards, at least) campaign, it’s time to look to the next thing. And it looks like the next big thing is… The End.Read the rest of this entry »
We skipped a month, there, due to various illnesses and troubles, but this time, we had a full house. With Esmerelda, the changeling, captured and taken by the fae last session, we see the return of an old friend…
On the character development front, Mercy has been saving up for Ritual Adept, and Margaret invested a chunk of points in Magery and Path of Crossroads. We’re digging deeper into Ritual Path Magic, after a long time dabbling.
The dispirited survivors of last session’s defeat sailed through the night aboard Nayler’s oversized balloon, as he tended Margaret’s wounds from the fight with the lamia. They returned to London, docking at Mercy’s townhouse, where they met Mercy and Tommy Nine.
Tommy had only just returned the night before from a mission to the Continent, helping track down a faerie smuggling ring operating between the Middle East and Britain. His team had discovered clues pointing towards a connection with Russia, which was being followed up by other members of his organization. Due to his status as no more than a coveted piece of equipment, no one particularly noticed either his absence or his return.
That one guy has been pondering on a 600 point supers game. The idea, as I understand it, is that the PCs are the first generation of supers… so, of course, I had to make a legacy character.
After several revisions, here’s my proposed PC, assuming the game happens and scheduling works out and no zombie apocalypse and the creek don’t rise…
ST 12 ; DX 14 ; IQ 12 ; HT 12 .
Damage 1d-1/1d+2; BL 29 lb; HP 12 ; Will 15 ; Per 12 ; FP 12 .
Basic Speed 6.50 ; Basic Move 6 ; Dodge 9.
TL: 8 .
CF: Asian ; Western (Native) .
Languages: Chinese (Native) ; English (Native) .
Templates and Meta-Traits
Chin Na (Martial Arts; p. MA154) .
Appearance (Attractive) ; Damage Resistance 1 (Tough Skin) ; High Pain Threshold ; Luck (Defensive) ; Modular Abilities (Cosmic Power; Focus Limited: Highly versatile focus (Superscience Gadgets); Gadget/Breakable: DR 5; Gadget/Breakable: Object is complex machine; Gadget/Breakable: Size -7; Gadget/Unique; Per point of abilities (+2); Physical and Mental; Required Disadvantage (Maintenance, 1 Person, Weekly); Superscience; Trait Limited: One specific trait (Accessory Perks)) ; Modular Abilities (External Reconfigurable Mechanisms; Focus Limited: Highly versatile focus (Superscience Gadgets); Gadget/Breakable: Object is complex machine; Gadget/Unique; Physical and Mental; Required Disadvantage (Maintenance, 1 Person, Weekly); Slot 1 (+75); Slot 2 (+25); Superscience; Advantages Only; Variable Gadget (Combination of durability and size modifiers that varies from one device to the next; see SU46)) ; Signature Gear 1 (Uniform) .
Perks: Style Familiarity (Chin Na); Unusual Training (Pressure Points). 
Charitable (12 or less) [-15]; Code of Honor (Xia) [-10]; Curious (15 or less) [-2]; Discipline of Faith (Ritualism) [-5]; Duty (Ancient Order Of Masters; 9 or less (fairly often); Extremely Hazardous) [-10]; Enemy (Failed former student; Less powerful than the PC; 9 or less) [-5]; Pacifism (Cannot Kill) [-15]; Selfless (9 or less) [-7]; Sense of Duty (Innocents; Entire Race) [-15]; Susceptible to Ingested Poison -1 [-1]; Wealth (Struggling) [-10]; Workaholic [-5].
Bulky Frame; Disciplined; Methodical; Responsible; Serious.
Administration (A) IQ -12; Current Affairs/TL8 (Headline News) (E) IQ -12; Detect Lies (H) Per-1 -11; Diplomacy (H) IQ-1 -11; Driving/TL8 (Automobile) (A) DX-1 -13; Driving/TL8 (Motorcycle) (A) DX-1 -13; Esoteric Medicine (H) Per -12; First Aid/TL8 (Human) (E) IQ -12; Gesture (E) IQ -12; Innate Attack (Beam) (E) DX -14; Interrogation (A) IQ-1 -11; Intimidation (A) Will-1 -14; Judo (H) DX+4 -18; Mechanic/TL12 (Nanomachines) (A) IQ+6 -18; Move! (WC) DX -14; Philosophy (Taoism) (H) IQ-1 -11; Physiology/TL8 (Human) (H) IQ-2 -10; Pressure Points (Human) (H) IQ+2 -14; Savoir-Faire (Dojo) (E) IQ -12.
Techniques: Arm Lock (Judo) (A) -18; Choke Hold (Judo) (H) -16; Finger Lock (Judo) (H) -15; Head Lock (Judo) (H) -15; Leg Grapple (Judo) (H) -18; Pressure-Point Strike (Judo) (H) -16; Trip (Judo) (H) -11.
Advanced Body Armor (17 lb); Boots, Steel-Toed (4 lb); Cloth Cap (Styling, +2); Face Mask (Hardened Steel; Styling (+2); 2 lb); Heavy Leather Sleeves (Leather of Quality; 2 lb); Leather Gloves (Leather of Quality); Leather Pants (3 lb); Pouch.
Cell Phone ($250; 4 oz).
My, that’s quite the wall of text, isn’t it? Let’s see if we can shine some light into the dark corners. First…
Tom Tan grew up listening to his great-grandmother’s fantastic stories about the old days in China. So, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he had no options, he left behind his mundane life as an office manager, sold all his worldly goods, and set out for Asia.
There, he followed rumors of miracle cures until he found a certain unnamed group of Taoist priests. They practiced their own version of Chin Na with special emphasis on the use of pressure points, both to heal and to harm. The rumor was that these folks knew how to correct otherwise-incurable diseases. Over the course of a long training montage, Tom was accepted into their ranks and learned some of their lore.
In time, Tom was told the priests’ most guarded secret and the reason for the group’s existence. Hundreds of years ago, a being from far away had sought shelter with the people are the area, grew sick, and died while in their care. People at the time said that the being was a xian, a celestial being, but in modern times, some of the priests had speculated that the being was some kind of advanced extraterrestrial. What wasn’t debatable was that the being had left behind an artifact.
The artifact was the celestial being’s sole tool. It seemed to be all the tool a person would ever need. Over the years, cautious experimentation led to the formulation of a series of rituals that would allow a person to use the device, and a partial understanding of the rules of its operation. It would only abide a single user at a time, bonding to that person until death, appearing as a skin-tight, usually-featureless metal bracelet without apparent hinge or seam. It would follow the commands of the user, if they were given correctly. It could act as any tool and create any machine or device, limited only by the user’s knowledge and skill.
Eventually, a tradition grew up. The current user of the device would act as a sort of wandering hero, a youxia, and uphold the common good. As the users grew too old to wander, they would retire to train their replacements. Candidates for the position would be chosen from the monks, who would have learned the basics of operating the device in their training, disguised as esoteric ritual. The elder user would provide advanced training to a small group of candidates, sometimes for years, before naming a successor. Upon the user’s death, the device would unlock, and be handed over to the named successor, who would take up a life of adventure. The other candidates would live more sedentary lives, studying and becoming wise, to act as a council of elders to guide and direct the user’s activities.
That had been the way of things, up until 1920, when the user of that time was unexpectedly killed, after a time in which many of the order had coincidentally also died. This cost the order much of their gathered knowledge of the practical use of the device. The group went into a rebuilding phase, during which the users devoted themselves to re-learning how the device works.
As it turned out, at the time that Tom joined the order, the device’s user was getting on in years. Another long training montage, this time with more weird technology, and Tom ends up being (ahem) the chosen one. Along the way, the previous user applied one part Esoteric Medicine plus two parts alien medical technology, and pretty much cured Tom’s cancer. (He’s troubled by a sensitive digestion, a small price to pay.)
In light of the sudden appearance of supers (or if that doesn’t work in-story, then just because they’re feeling froggy with their young, naive new minion), the elders decided that they’ve kept a low profile long enough. They ordered Tom to go out and do heroic stuff in the wider world.
And so, the Jade Rocket was born.
That background is how Tom knows it. This next part is what I’ve been imagining, behind the scenes – the real story behind the partial story that Tom was told. Changing this stuff wouldn’t require Tom to get points for Amnesia.
The theory on which I’ve hung all that is that the “being” was actually an alien, probably extradimensional, definitely TL12^ or more. It was doing the extradimensional TL12^ alien version of camping, hoping from world to world, maybe universe to universe, when it ran into trouble. Extradimensional alien flu or the like. The weird local creatures – humans – took it in when it was in trouble. Sadly, it died anyway.
The device is actually a “sufficiently advanced” multitool. The bracelet part is the control unit for a cloud of nanomachines. They swarm around the control unit at all times. When activated, they can put themselves together to make just about any gadget. When not activated, they scavenge for whatever spare matter and energy they can find, replenishing their numbers and their strength for the next activation. The rituals for activation are hit-or-miss “voodoo programming” – kinda like using a voice recognition system that had spent a century adapting to a parrot who learned the commands in French from a native Japanese speaker working from a phrase book.
As far as learning how to make the thing work: Writing down instructions isn’t all that helpful, since the TL12^ interface is more-or-less telepathic, so there’s a strong “hands on” element to using the device. Furthermore, every user has to perform maintenance on the system. Some of that “maintenance” is actually tinkering with the configuration, sometimes to the point of “editing the registry”… so, if a user from a hundred years ago were to be handed the present-day device, it’s not certain that the old rituals would still work like they used to.
To sum up: it’s a super-hero origin, only works once.
As I was saying at the game t’other day, if I’m going to give a GM ulcers with a character, I’m going to first give a guided tour and point out all the way it could give ulcers, first. That way they’ve got no one to blame but themselves.
Why “Jade Rocket”? Because I’m ripping off Green Lantern, of course. I set out aiming for Hal Jordan, but along the way, I got interested in the idea of a “chosen one” character where there’s no supernatural choice-maker and no mystical criteria. Tom didn’t get the super-powers because he’s fearless, or because he’s strong-willed, or because he’s especially good at the martial arts, or because he follows the code. He got the job because he was at hand and mostly competent to do what needed to be done. The device doesn’t care who uses it.
A solid base of 12, with a standout DX 14. I kinda see straight 12’s as the baseline for a comic book superhero.
Tom’s Will is actually higher than his DX. It is my firm belief that, to put on the tights in the first place, a super hero has to be strong-willed. Stubborn. Obsessive. Possibly deranged…
I’m trying to steer a course between GURPS-like detail and comic book hand-wave. On the one hand, Tom’s paying points for a Cultural Familiarity, something our local games haven’t really emphasized; on the other hand, that CF is for all of Asia. He’s got a second language, and it’s listed as “Chinese”, which I understand is a gross oversimplification. I reckon I’ll tighten up both, if necessary.
Do I expect either one to show up in-game? No, not really, they’re mostly just background color. If they do, though, I want to be covered.
Tom is Attractive because he’s in a comic book. He’s got tough skin and a high pain threshold from being roughed up in training.
The real centerpiece of Tom’s Advantages are his two Modular Abilities. They’re based on the Nanoswarm power from the Improviser template on page 46 of GURPS Supers, plus some bits from the Reverend Pee Kitty’s “Cosmic Power for ‘Super-Gadgeteers’“. One is a 2-point Cosmic Power Modular Ability that can become any two Accessory Perks, while the other is an Externally Reconfigurable Mechanisms Modular Ability with a 75-point slot and a 25-point slot that can both become just about any super-gadget.
Why is one Cosmic and the other Externally Reconfigurable? Because the Externally Reconfigurable Mechanisms requires working from a list of known designs, and rolling to add new designs to that list. I wanted to be able to pull out any Accessory Perk, on the spur of the moment.
Aside from generally heroic stuff… The Discipline of Faith is the set of rituals that he’s been taught, half alien nanotech guesswork and half idiosyncratic Taoism. He’s got a Duty to the masters, who aren’t generally useful enough to be worth a Patron.
One of Tom’s fellow students didn’t appreciate the idea of a life of wisdom, rather than a life of action, and turned against the order in general and Tom specifically. He knows something of Mechanic (Nanomachines) TL12^, so if he could arrange for Tom to die while he’s nearby, he could hijack the nanoswarm.
Tom has Struggling Wealth. He didn’t go back to his office job. Instead, he drifts from place to place, doing odd jobs and the like, as he can pick them up, so as to keep himself free for super-heroics.
He’s big-boned. He won’t start a fight. He works slowly and carefully. He takes responsibility for his actions. He’s a bit of a stiff.
Tom’s primary skill from his old life is Administration. His Esoteric Medicine comes from his knowledge of pressure points, so it’s cinematic acupressure.
Tom doesn’t have any points in any particular Chin Na technique. I lean towards Arm Lock, of course, but we’ll see how things develop.
The stand-out skill on Tom’s list is Move! It fills in for all the fancy footwork that martial artists are known for. It’ll also work for anything acrobatic that he has to do once he starts pulling out jet packs, swim fins, and boots with giants springs. If need be, it’ll allow him to kick someone in the head. I’m expecting Tom’s role on the team to be more support/movement specialist, not so much as a heavy hitter.
The Jade Rocket costume is made up of several pieces of armor that are bought as Signature Gear. His hood and face mask are distinctively styled; they’re not just armor, they’re his mask. It’s Signature Gear, not because it’s special and unique, but because the order has a bunch of appropriate stuff, gathered over the years. Some of it’s ancient, some of it’s exceptional from a historical perspective… but in game terms, it just means he can always get a new pair of boots to wear while adventuring even though he can’t afford bus fare.
Embarrassing side note: The PCs were seeking Jacob, the NPC who had escaped Hell alongside Van der Decken, to use as a guide back into Hell. Due to a memory slip, I spent the entire session calling him “Joshua” rather than “Jacob”. Sigh.
As we left off last time, Captain Courvoisier had approved of Gabby’s plan to go ashore and wreak havoc upon Port Coleman. She was given command of the ship’s boat, with a dire warning of the consequences should the boat be lost, along with a crew of “volunteers” – all the PCs.
Port Coleman was a rough village on a rocky area of the Moskito Coast. There was a single crude dock at one end of a strip of beach, with a handful of makeshift barns and sheds spead along the beach. A wooden stairway and capstan-driven lift provided access to the top of the thirty-foot bluff that sat behind the beach. The main part of the village was built atop this bluff. In particular, there was an earthen fort there, with several cannon aimed out to sea.
Thanks to those cannon, the ship could not approach the harbor. Courvoisier performed some clever navigation and anchored the ship well inside the cannons’ range, but in the shelter of a tall outcropping of rock off the beach. Raphael took a spyglass to examine the fort, noting that it flew the English flag – a disappointment to the several members of the crew who would rather be fighting the Spanish.
The mission started with a flurry of “hurry up and wait”. First, there was a rush of last-minute preparation: folks loading their weapons, knocking the bottom out of a barrel and putting it in the boat (for reasons unknown, as it remained there for the rest of the session), and so forth.
Papa performed further magical healing on Raphael to un-cripple his sword arm.
Raphael brought out a jug of oil and suggested that everyone cover themselves with it, with an eye towards making them too slippery to grab. There was no rush to take advantage of this plan.
Dirty attempted a ritual which backfired badly, disintegrating his fine clothes and leaving him wearing nothing but a loincloth. “Meant to do that,” he announced, taking the oil jug from Raphael and upending it over his head.
Finally, the group decided that they needed to wait for nightfall, anyway. The rushed preparations were shelved, and the deep plotting and planning began. In the end, they came up with a daring plan, which they dubbed “Operation Greasy Jesus”. (GM Note: I think it’s best appreciated if you pronounce it with a Dixie accent: “greeeee-zeee”.)
Dirty, still covered in oil and nearly naked, cast a ritual to allow him to walk on water for a few minutes. Papa, being a much quicker worker of magic, cast another ritual in parallel, summoning a school of bio-luminescent jellyfish, and ordered them to follow Dirty, under the surface, to provide dramatic lighting at the proper moment. The rest of the party set off in the boat with muffled oars, stealthily heading towards the dock, while Dirty set off at a trot, angling for a spot further up the beach. When he came close enough, the jellyfish lit up and he started chanting a few ominous-sounding biblical phrases that Mags (being an English-speaker, unlike most of the other PCs) had taught him.
In short, the plan was for Dirty to provide a distraction, so that the others could get ashore unobserved, by pretending to be the bizarre arrival of Jesus to the shores of the New World.
As it happened, the plan was fairly successful. Only a few of the bystanders on the beach were overcome with religious awe, but all eyes were at least drawn by the spectacle. Several people began moving towards Dirty, just to get a better look. Stepping over the waves, Dirty waved for a couple of nearby men to approach, which they did. He raised his hand as if in benediction, stepping out of the water onto the beach. This, of course, triggered his “dapper me!” charm, which instantly stripped all the oil from his body and left him wearing the cleanest, whitest loincloth you would ever care to see. He waved his hand as if blessing one of the approaching men, even as the man’s eyes went wide from seeing the sudden change from “greasy Jesus” to “clean probably-not-Jesus”… and Guillermo, Dirty’s magically-animated “living bullet”, zipped in from where it had been lurking in the darkness, going straight through one of the man’s ears and out the other.
Meanwhile, the others had taken advantage of the distraction to pull the ship’s boat up to the docks. The crew approached the peering bystanders from the rear, some more stealthily than others. Of the small group of four standing near the docks, only one noticed anything amiss, and he was only able to shout “Hey!” and point out Raphael before the PCs cut the entire group down. Notably, Mo’ cut down more than one person with no more than a single swing apiece from his boarding ax.
Papa stepped out of the boat onto the dock, but never made it to the sand of the beach. Instead, he vanished in a cloud of voodoo magic on an unknown, but no doubt important and mystical, mission of his own. (GM Note: Player had to leave. All kinds of mystical.)
During the initial scuffle, another enemy walked out of a nearby barn to see what the commotion was, only to be cut down with a major wound. Mags paused to poke him until he stopped wriggling, and Raphael moved to make sure there were no other reinforcements lurking inside the barn.
Unfortunately, there were three more men in the shed. Brandishing his blood-covered rapier and utilizing his fearsome glare, Raphael cowed them through intimidation. They obeyed his gesture to sit down and stay put. Then, Mags and Mo’ came in, planning to kill everyone inside. Mo’ again demonstrated how he could nearly bisect a man with one swing of his ax. Mags decided to one-up him: she reached out her sword and tipped a nearby candle over. Onto some straw. Right next to a keg of black powder.
The evacuation of the shed was immediate. Everyone besides Mags tried to leave. In the case of the local men, they managed to successfully evade Mags and make it out the door. As for Mags, she lingered in the doorway, stabbing folks in the back as they tried to run away. When the shed exploded a few seconds later, Mo’ took some incidental damage from flying debris, but since Mags had used up so much of her running-away time in Bloodlust, she took the brunt of the explosion. This was enough to throw her across the beach, into the water. Through sheer grit (and good dice rolls), she did not lose consciousness, and was left badly wounded, barely able to hold her head above water.
Meanwhile, further up the beach, Dirty was engaged in his own fight. He was able to use Guillermo and the element of surprise to take down another man, but then found himself pursued by a sailor carrying a flintlock. Dirty retreated back out onto the water, throwing himself flat to take cover behind the waves. After a few seconds of cat-and-mouse, Dirty finally found his shot, and took it, killing the enemy.
At some point during all this excitement, there came the sound of cannon fire from the fort. There was some concern that the fort was firing on the beach, but since nothing on the beach besides the shed exploded, the pirates concluded that this was not the case.
After the adventure with the shed, Raphael was even more determined to not let anyone get behind them and close off their path of retreat. He moved to the next shed up the beach, opened the door, and stuck his head inside.
Unfortunately for him, what he did not know was that there were two men inside that shed. They had heard the events outside, and had decided to mount a last, desperate stand. They were both armed with a pair of flintlocks. The plan was for one of them (later identified as Bob) to throw open the door, at which point the other man would charge out, guns blazing. The plan was for Bob to follow directly after. As it happened, though, Raphael opened the door first.
Even as this triggered the second man’s Wait, Bob got off a shot at Raphael, hitting him in the face. Only a grazing blow, this wasn’t quite enough to put Raphael down for the count, but it did put quite a fright into him and knock him to the ground. The second man rushed outside, meeting Gabby’s ready and waiting blade.
Even as she repeatedly stabbed the man, Gabby explained about how she was here to do a job, and she was going to do that job, by thunder, if she had to chew the eyelids off every man-Jack on the Spanish Main! She pointed her rapier at Bob, announcing that she was here to kill Bloody Bill Coleman, and asking if he would like to give her a hand?
Bob agreed that he had never really liked Bloody Bill all that much, anyway. Furthermore, it had been his life-long dream to one day turn pirate. What a lucky day it was for both of them!
With the immediate fight over, and everybody besides Gabby wounded, some gravely, the pirates took shelter in Bob’s shed. As they took turns bandaging one another, they searched through the shed’s contents. Luckily, they discovered a supply of medicine, which was a big help in getting Mags back on her feet, if only barely. Gabby interrogated Bob. They learned that Bloody Bill was up in the fort, no surprise. More usefully, Bob told them about a palm tree growing nearby that could be used to climb up to the top of the rise with ease.
Once regrouped, the party went to check out this palm tree. After some debate, they came up with a new plan. Gabby went up the tree, scouted out the situation, dropped a rope, and then slipped off to skulk around in the darkness. Everyone else gathered behind a building at the top of the cliff. (Dirty left Guillermo on patrol at the bottom of the tree, to defend their escape route.) There, Mags tied all their hands together, using trick knots that they could untie with a single tug. Carrying only concealed weapons, they had Bob drag them into the light, loudly claiming that he (and his comrades, still on the beach) had captured a bunch of attacking pirates!
This bluff was sufficient to get them into the fort itself, which was abuzz with activity as they fired the cannons out to sea. There, Bob was directed to a particular shack. He knocked, announcing the “news”. The door opened from inside. Bloody Bill Coleman stuck his head out. All the supposedly-bound pirates, and Bob, threw themselves prone. And…
… we rewind back to when Gabby slipped off into the darkness. With utmost stealth, she made her way to the only unattended cannon in the fort. (GM Note: As I recall, my words were something like “What unattended cannon? <looks> Oh, I guess there is one…”) Using the noise, smoke, and confusion of the cannons as cover, she had turned the cannon around, so that it was aimed directly at Bloody Bill’s front door. Then, when his face came into view and all Gabby’s comrades got out of the way… she fired a round of canister shot at him.
Well, it hit him, of course – Gabby’s a gunner prodigy, you know – but it ended up leveling his entire house. There wasn’t much left of Bloody Bill at all.
The pirates jumped to their feet, waving weapons, in the sudden surprised silence, and announced that now they were in charge. What with the sudden, brutal loss of their none-too-popular leader, the locals weren’t inclined to argue much. Gabby announced that from now on, Port Coleman would be known as Fort Gabby. Again, nobody wanted to argue the point.
The pirates signaled the ship. In the immediate looting, while the ship was making its way around to the dock, there were several noteworthy finds. First, a large amount of rum. Second, Dirty found another fancy outfit of clothes and put them on, to everyone’s relief. Finally, Raphael poked his head through yet another door – to the horror of the other players, in light of his earlier door-peeking – and discovered Jacob. (GM: Using the alias of “Joshua”! Yeah, that’s it…)
Jacob was politely, but firmly, taken into custody and handed over to Captain Courvoisier when he came ashore. The captain was observed to go in to speak with Jacob, only to emerge some time later, obviously in a fury. With the quartermaster unavailable, Dirty felt that it was his responsibility to see to his captain’s wishes. He went to speak with the captain, taking a bottle of rum with him.
As they drank and talked, the captain admitted that Jacob wasn’t willing to give up the exact location of the hole in the sea. Dirty asked what that information would be worth, if someone could get it out of Jacob? The captain replied, the person who got that information would be promoted to quartermaster and be put in charge of the next ship they took. That sounded good to Dirty, so he poured a glass of rum and announced that he would use his mystic arts to change it into a potion to compel truth.
One critically failed roll, and the glass of rum exploded into flames! Dirty took the worst of it, since he was holding the glass at the time, and was rendered unconscious. Captain Courvoisier was badly singed, and thrown back so hard that his chair fell over backwards.
Captain Courvoisier threw open his door and kicked Dirty out – literally, kicking him in the ribs hard enough to do even more damage – cursing him and his heathen magic the whole way.
Gabby went to see if she could help improve the captain’s mood, learned about the offer he had made to Dirty, and decided to take it up herself. (Courvoisier specifically warned her to leave Jacob alive.) Grabbing the rum, she went to where Jacob was being held, where she engaged him in drinking and conversation. After a short while, she struck up a bit of a friendship. Eventually, she convinced him that all he had to do was give them the location, and he would be free to go, unharmed. He agreed. Requesting the local charts, he marked the location of the hole in the sea. Furthermore, he wrote down a profane chant that would cause the hole to open into Hell.
This was pleasing to the captain, and so Gabby was named quartermaster. Her first job was to restock the ship for the next leg of the adventure.
After about a week of recuperation, refitting, and restocking, the ship set sail for the hole in the sea. This trip was accomplished with no particular drama.
(GM Note: In hindsight, I really should have sic’ed the kraken on ’em. I think they were expecting it. I remember several remarks along the lines of “the kraken is lurking just off shore” and so forth, earlier in the session. But it was getting late, and I was eager to show ’em pictures of the Great Blue Hole, and I just plain forgot about the kraken. I guess it was out running an errand and they slipped past it. That’s ok, there will come a rematch.)
There was some upset once they realized that the hole in the sea is actually a hole in a reef, making it impossible to place the ship over it without ripping out its hull. They remembered from Van der Decken’s story that his entire ship went through the hole. In time, they remembered that there had been some mention of it happening during a storm. Clearly, they reasoned, the ship must have been carried over the reef on a wave! But how would they do the trick?
Remembering how a previous critical failure at ritual magic had summoned bad weather, Dirty set out to perform a ritual to summon a big wave. He figured, either it would work, and he would have the necessary wave, or it wouldn’t, and they would get a storm, which might do the trick anyway!
Pushing his magic (and his luck with rolling the dice) to its limits, Dirty did the trick! A single rogue wave appeared, washing the ship over the reef with inches to spare, leaving it smack in the middle of the hole.
Next, the profane chant. Being the most literate among the crew, Raphael got the job. With a crack of thunder, the ship dropped through the hole, and into… well, Hell, or so they say. The sky there was roiling red and black. The ship floated on something like an ocean, but they weren’t at all certain that it was a sea of water. More pressing, though, was the sudden, nearby appearance of a huge ship with tattered sails.
Though there wasn’t a breath of wind – “Is there air?” was one muttered comment – the crew saw the other ship’s rags of sails stir. Slowly, creakily, the other ship began to move… towards them. The pirates could see movement on the deck of the other ship, but couldn’t make out any details until one of them went aloft with a spyglass. Then, they saw that the ship was manned by rag-clad skeletons.
Nobody wanted to be out-maneuvered by a bunch of ghosts, so Dirty again set out to make the most that he could of his relatively-weak magic. He performed a ritual to “let our sails use the same wind they’re using”. After several excellent rolls, he succeeded. A slim, tiny breath of wind came up, just enough to set them moving.
As the two ship maneuvered at an aching, snail-like pace, Gabby went below to ready the cannons…
Next time: against the ghost ship!
Cool Point: Gabby, for taking out Bloody Bill in such a decisive manner.
Booby Point: Dirty, for the “truth serum” scene, where he had everything riding on a single roll of the dice, only to roll triple-six and explode. (“Gee, Gabby, I’m sorry your bosun blew up…”)
The moral of the story: Even low-down dirty pirates need social skills.
One morning, during a middling-successful voyage, a sail was sighted. Captain Courvoisier asked the crew if they felt like taking a prize. The crew responded with a hearty affirmative, and so they approached the other ship. As they came to hailing distance, they hoisted the black flag. Surprisingly, the other ship tried to run for it.
(One of the players asked what was going on, that there were two armed thirteen-year-olds among the crew, so we had a flashback. When Captain Courvoisier was asked the same question, he just smiled and put a finger along his nose. “Don’t y’all worry,” Papa told the crew, “Cap’n’s got a plan.”)
Over the course of the day, they harried the other ship, firing the cannons when opportunity presented, and taking potshots with hand-held weapons at other times. It was noted that the other ship didn’t appear to be flying any nation’s colors, which was noted as an oddity. There were attempts at intimidation. Papa Sean Geaux played his balafon (made from human skulls) and shook his shrunken head at them. Finally, Gabby got a good shot off, disabling the sails of one of the other ship’s two masts. This slowed them enough to bring the chase to an end. Courvoisier brought the two ships together with bows almost touching, to avoid possible cannon fire, and ordered the boarders forward.
The PCs rushed forward. Gabby and Tuna led the way across the bowsprits, with Mad Mags close behind. (Tuna got his nickname from a mistranslated partial hearing of his real name, among other things. Mags get her epithet from her remarkably crazy eyes during combat, among several other things.) As they stepped onto the forecastle, they encountered… nobody. Tuna spotted one sailor cowering at the tiller, but everyone else seemed to be in hiding.
Meanwhile, Dirty and Raphael aimed to swing across on lines in the rigging. (Dirty got his name ironically. He uses conditional ritual magic so that the moment he steps off a ship back on land, his clothes are restored to perfect, pristine cleanliness.) Dirty made it over handily, landing perched on the other ship’s yard with a pistol in his hand. This gave him an overview of the deck, where he saw a good-sized and well-armed crew, all lying in ambush. Several were pressed up against the forecastle. Others hid behind the masts, the ship’s boat, and other cover. Some were dressed as Spanish soldiers, which was noted as another oddity. “Avast!” he shouted, before the vanguard on the deck walked right into the trap.
Raphael aimed lower, for the deck, but couldn’t quite manage the landing. He got one toe just barely on the other ship, then slipped and fell into the water. Everyone expected him to drown then and there, but just as he went under, a passing dolphin gave him a nudge, and his flailing hand landed on a trailing line. (GM Note: Crit failed the Acrobatics roll for the swing, landed in the water with no points in Swimming, and then rolled a critical success to stay afloat.) He spent a few seconds climbing back aboard.
Meanwhile, Papa unleashed a prepared spell meant to point out the other crew’s strongest warrior. He threw a handful of fine flour in the air, where it streamed off to mark its target. The cloud flew past the boarders on deck, then took a right-angle turn to drop straight down as soon as it passed over the edge of the forecastle. With a laugh, Tuna leaned over and delivered a titanic blow with a boarding ax, taking the unfortunate man directly in the skull.
In the rigging, a sailor jumped down with a shout to land on the yard between Dirty and the mast. Dirty immediately flipped his pistol and cracked the man on the skull. Staggered, he fell off the yard to the deck below, where things were getting chaotic. The hidden crew members came out to attack. Some fired wheellocks at the boarders, while others advanced with cutlasses.
Despite being outnumbered three-to-one, Gabby and Mags tore through their opponents. Tuna took a bullet to the calf, but it was only a flesh wound, barely enough to make him irritable. It wasn’t enough to stop him from rampaging across the deck, throwing sailors into each other and slamming the ship’s boat back to pin one man to the mast.
Seeing the battle turning so decisively against them, the enemy crew began shouting to each other in Spanish. (GM Note: At this point, it was realized that none of the PCs speak Spanish.) One soldier crossed himself, then stepped towards a stack of powder barrels. He took aim, clearly planning to blow the ship up.
Raphael had climbed aboard by this time, so he ran along the top of the railing towards the suicidal soldier. While Mags finished off the wounded, Gabby broke away to join the rush. Dirty tried to swing down to the deck, but missed his mark, falling painfully to the ship’s orlop deck. The fencers cut down the soldier, but another stepped up, also trying for the powder. Dirty stood up and threw his empty pistol at the second soldier, breaking his arm. With this, all organized resistance came to an end.
Accordingly, the crew set out looting. Noting that the crew had something that they would rather die than hand over, the pirates were in good spirits. They did make off with quite a haul of food and other sundries, but no cargo was apparent. Raphael found a shelf of fine books in the captain’s quarters.
Below, Dirty heard someone’s cries for help. Following the sound, he found a locked hatch, a new installation, leading down into the hold. He considered using magic to open the lock, but in the end, just blasted it with a flintlock. (Everybody on deck jumped.) In the hold, ankle-deep in water, he found an emaciated, raggedly-dressed man, bound hand and foot in irons. He asked if he were being rescued. When asked what he had to offer to make him worth a rescue, he whispered that he knew the location of “Lucifer’s treasure”.
Doing his duty, Dirty took this intelligence to Papa, who passed it along to the Captain. Tuna broke the man’s chains, and he was brought before Captain Courvoisier. The two retired to the captain’s quarters to discuss matters.
Cool Point: To Papa, for revealing the enemy crew’s strongest warrior and various other nice bits.
Boobie Point: To Raphael, who has Perfect Balance, but doesn’t have points in Swimming, and yet somehow managed to fall off the boat into the water as his very first action, ever. Word is, he’s thinking of investing the point in Swimming. 😉
I promised that I would go back and fill in some of the blanks from the apocalypse game (see session 1, session 2, session 3, and session 4). There are lingering questions, like, “What the heck was going on there?” and “You said there were no zombies! You’re a liar!”
Since the campaign started before the GURPS After Thed End series began, I never wrote up a formal description, but here’s how it would look in hindsight:
Primary Cause: X-Factor (ATE2 pg 7)
- Bombs Away (ATE2 pg 4)
- Mega-Virus (ATE2 pg 5)
- Things Fall Apart (ATE2 pg 6)
Appropriate Hazards: Chemicals and Munitions, Disease, Gangs, Paramilitaries, conceivably Radiation
Max TL Reached: TL 8
How long ago: GM looks meaningfully at watch
Location/Setting: The ruins of Portland and surrounding areas
Campaign Style and Morality: Depressingly gritty and shades-of-grey
But what does all that mean, really?
Well, it was aliens.
During the first few minutes of (I think) the second session, one of the players proudly announced his bet for the ultimate source of the trouble: “Panspermia!” I was startled, because… he was basically correct. The aliens were “reverse terraforming” Earth.
About the only plot-twist I had planned for the aliens was that they weren’t coming from the skies. These aliens had been on the planet for a long time. They were going to come out of the oceans. My vague intention was to tie them to the Cthulhu Mythos somehow, probably playing off the “dead Cthulhu waits dreaming” angle. The plan was to associate the falling stars from session 1 with “when the stars are right”. They came to the planet centuries (at least) ago, concealed themselves at the deepest parts of the oceans, and gathered their strength for a brutal takeover.
The pink snow was a product of the aliens. It was a biological weapon, a pollen that caused a terrible disease in those who came in contact with it. (Not the stuff to stick in one’s mouth.) The disease would cause bleeding, mental confusion, restlessness, aimless wandering, and eventual death. Those who didn’t die from it could end up with long-term brain damage.
Incidentally, I based the disease’s writeup off several of the sample diseases from GURPS After the End 2: The New World. When I first read the sample world-killer diseases, I was skeptical. They seemed like serious problems, sure, but enough to destroy civilization? Does “HT-4 to resist” really equate to a 90+% fatality rate? … and then we rolled all the resistance rolls for Cypys’ agonizing night of quarantine. Turns out, any disease that inflicts a HT penalty as one of its effects is going to be startlingly effective.
Which brings us directly to the “zombies”. The crowds of moaning, shambling folks who were bleeding from the eyes — they weren’t zombies, they were victims. They were the walking wounded, not the walking dead. They were people who had failed enough HT checks to start suffering the obvious effects of the pink snow disease. Yes, every time a PC poked one of these guys with a stick until they fell down, they were tripping a sick person. Don’t think it wasn’t still a good idea, though. I was watching for the first time one of the “zombies” managed to make physical contact with a PC, causing all manner of exposure to infectious bodily fluids.
If you’re reviewing the material looking for zombies, there’s one other candidate that I can think of: Al, the would-be looter who got picked up by a tripod. When he emerged, he was wearing a wire skullcap and seemed to have had some personality changes. In time, more of these capped individuals would have turned up. Of course, the caps were a way for the aliens to control the humans who resisted the pink snow disease.
I stole the “aliens in tripods using caps to control the minds of humans” idea from the Tripods books, by John Christopher. (And at least one person called me on it.) I’ve always wanted to use those tripods in a game. I’ve been a big fan since I was a kid. I remember being fascinated by the BBC series on TV, and then by the comic strip adaptation in Boys’ Life. The comic prompted me to search for the books, back then. Not too long ago, one of my kids reminded me of the books when he picked up the first one. For the apocalypse game, I changed the aliens’ methods and motivations, but kept the iconic visuals.
That wasn’t the big literary theft, though. The original core idea for the campaign — that an alien race might try to adjust the ecology of our planet for their own purposes — came from David Gerrold’s War Against The Chtorr. (Good luck finding all the books. There was a GURPS book for 3rd Edition, now out of print, and likely to stay that way, from what I understand of how licensing rights go.) Those books were also the source for the visuals, if not the effects, of the pink snow. The worms came from there, as well, but they never got enough game time to grow to their full “Greyhound bus” size.
Really, the underlying themes of the apocalypse game came from the Chtorr books, too. The main character in the books is a scientist who is working against the “chtorraforming” of Earth. (Massive over-simplification, but whatever.) A lot of the story is spent just trying to figure out what’s going on. At one point, it is observed that the end of the human race might already be inevitable, no matter how hard or effectively they fight back. Nobody knows for sure. When the worms first appear, humanity is too busy fighting the plagues to take notice. They don’t even think about the possibility that the plagues are alien until long after they’re over, when the worms and other extraterrestrial plants and animals start showing up. There’s a lot of talk about how there are no truly sane people among the survivors. How bad is the survivors’ guilt when an entire world dies? How does PTSD manifest when the trauma was the death of an entire civilization?
My take-aways, from the Chtorr books especially, but also from nearly every other good end-of-the-world story that I read:
Let’s see, are there any other lingering questions?
The glow to the north in session 1 was, indeed, Seattle being nuked. I hadn’t entirely decided if it was aliens destroying a human city, or humans pursuing a desperate “scorched earth” strategy, but I was leaning towards blaming the aliens. That would fit with the repeated rumors that coastal cities around the world were being destroyed.
There was some resistance to the aliens, which explains the plane crash from session 1. Portland has an Air National Guard base, with the 142nd Fighter Wing stationed there. What the PCs saw during the first few minutes of session 1 was those pilots putting up a doomed defense of Portland.
Judith chose to do what she did because of a series of bad reaction rolls. She started off feeling some gratitude for her rescue from the burning house, but her harsh reception afterwards put a bad taste in her mouth. When she heard about the grocery store gang, she figured she could do worse than to switch from the scruffy-and-sorta-hostile group to the well-armed and well-fed group.
Last session was fun, but it’s looking like the last session of the apocalypse game. The players described it as a TPK where all the characters lived, but the party died. The vibe is, we’re done with this campaign. It’s time to move on.
So, not a hit. That’s ok. But what have we learned? What went wrong?
Scheduling Is A Killer
What with one thing and another, the gaming schedule this past year has been hit-or-miss, with maybe a slight edge to the “miss” side. It’s hard to build up story momentum when you’re only averaging one get-together every three months. Maybe we should try some one-offs, or short campaigns, rather than aiming for the long haul from the beginning.
Fifty Points Ain’t Much
Small point totals and mundane characters means non-adventurer PCs. When people who aren’t adventurers go out trying to do a bunch of adventurer stuff, they kinda don’t do all that well. Then they die slowly.
This isn’t really a surprise so much as the original campaign premise… but I think we proved the point. Trying to sneak around while rolling against defaulted Stealth. Being unable to shoot the giant pink monster that’s right freakin’ there, or not knowing how many more shots the bad guy has because nobody put points into Guns. It’s fun for a bit, but gets old as a steady diet.
Simple solution: more points. Not every character has to be over a thousand points, but there’s a world of competence in between 50 and 150 points.
The End Of The World Is A Real Downer
Speaking of something getting real old, real quick and things that aren’t really surprises, it turns out that the end of the world is a pretty depressing subject. I think a true After The End campaign wouldn’t be so bad, because the world’s already wrecked when the PCs arrive on the scene. Dwelling on the death rattle starts to wear on one’s morale, long-term. Even a crapsack world (warning, TVTropes!) is better than one that’s still sliding downhill.
* * *
We’ll be shaking things up for the next session. Next: what to play?
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.
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.
Recently, I was discussing the intra-apocalypse game with a former player, and he brought up a point. “If the cars were wrecked by an electromagnetic pulse,” he said, “wouldn’t older cars be fine?”
The short answer is, “Yeah, probably” but let’s see if we can unpack it a bit more than that, shall we?
Strictly speaking, the characters can’t be sure there even was an EMP. They saw an immense flash of light to the north, all the lights went out, everybody concluded that game-world Seattle had become a crater. They identified the pink snow the next morning as fallout: the ash from the destruction. Totally reasonable.
After coming to those conclusions, though, they’ve seen hundred-foot tall* tripods. They’re avoiding “zombies”. I’m just saying, things might not necessarily be as they appear.
So I’m not saying it was an EMP… but it was an EMP. 😉
As a layman, it’s hard to pin down the realistic effects of EMPs. Casual research turns up a variety of possibilities. On the one hand, there’s stories about Soviet experiements during the Cold War that talks about burning out components of simple diesel engines. On the other, there’s talk of modern cars being entirely unaffected. Variables abound, but it seems that the most common effect of an EMP on cars would be to cause them to stall and require a re-start, with some needing minor repairs to be put back into working order. Lots of crazy blinking dash lights. GURPS Disasters: Meltdown and Fallout suggests a heavily penalized HT roll, or else the device in question fails until repaired, with repair rolls modified by the type of device and the quality of its surge protection.
Luckily, this isn’t a realistic apocalypse, it’s a cinematic one!
You can tell it’s a cinematic end-of-the-world, because everybody’s so hostile. In a realistic disaster, folks tend to help one another out, as best they can, but there’s a law of nature that says, in a cinematic apocalypse, people have to turn all grumpy and tribalistic. They also display an increased interest in piercings, mohawks, and punk rock fashion of all kinds. Can’t defy a law of nature.
So what does a cinematic EMP do to cars?
At the moment of the pulse, all the lights in the car go crazy, because that’s a cool visual, and then everything goes dead all at once. This happens to everyone at the same time, so what happens next depends on the situation. Someone cruising along at a low rate of speed might be able to roll to a safe stop on the side of the street, but 60mph bumper-to-bumper traffic would convert to utter, deadly chaos.
Once the wreckage has slid to a halt, even the otherwise-undamaged cars’ electrical systems will be fried, just like every other piece of electrical equipment that the PCs have encountered. Bob was able to rebuild a generator and get it running again, so it might be possible to do the same for a car. Or, it might not be so easy, since so many cars these days incorporate sensitive electronics. Burnt-out wiring is one thing, microchips are another.
Cinematically speaking, of course cars from before the late 1960’s will still work. True or not, everybody “knows” old cars shouldn’t be affected like these new-fangled computerized contraptions! (Despite those Soviet diesel engines.) Anyway, it’s at least seven times cooler for all the post-apocalypse punk-rock cannibals to be driving ’64 Stingrays and such, than it would be if they were all in Winnebagos and hatchbacks.
* The title character from The Iron Giant is meant to be 50 feet tall, for comparison’s sake.
In the background:
When we left our heros on the afternoon of 22 December 2012, they were all frozen by fear at their first sight of a hundred-foot-tall walking metal tripod. Steve had fainted with a laden hand-cart hung up on top of him, Cyprys and Hanna were both in panic, and Bob had suddenly got religion. Upstairs, Jones was just getting to the door to the fire escape. When he caught sight of the tripod, it was with a building between them, so he was only momentarily stunned at the sight. Still, he chose to keep quiet and observe.
The tripod advanced, moving in a clearly unnatural manner, following the highway. There was a sound of gunfire from the far side of the highway, and the tripod paused. It seemed to hunt about for a moment, then went rigid as it located its target. There were three sharp pops from the tripod’s hemispherical top, and fiery explosions across the highway.
While the tripod was thus distracted, our heroes started to pull themselves together.
Hanna yanked the cart off Steve and started pushing for the fire escape. Bob ran after her and passed her up, pulling the keys from his pocket; together, they opened a ground-level storage bay, rolled the cart inside, locked the door behind them, and then sprinted for a door.
Cyprys ran for the door that the attackers had come from during the ambush. Sturges, the attacker who had had his morale broken by Farrah, made a split-second decision, and decided it would be best to rack up points with the PCs: he left Albert, his former comrade, lying wounded in the parking lot, while grabbing Steve (still unconscious) and dragging him to cover. “Hold the door!” he shouted, and Cyprys complied. All three, plus Big Bad Dog, landed in a pile on the floor, kicking the door shut behind them.
[GM note: I just realized, we never explicitly said anything about Farrah. Presumably she staggered her way to the door in time to get inside with Bob and Hanna.]
Finished with laying down retribution, the tripod’s attention turned towards the area where the PCs were hiding. It advanced along the highway, then stepped down into the parking lot.
Everyone was holding their breath, as quiet as possible, when Cyprys’s nerve broke. “Oh god oh god we’re all gonna die!” Sturges tried to shush him, but when he failed, he was forced to punch Cyprys in the jaw, knocking him out. Cyprys’ glass jaw was duly noted.
Outside, the tripod seemed interested in Albert, bleeding and unconscious. It extruded a tentacle, picked him up by his collar, and pulled him up inside its hemispherical body. Some time went by. Steve came to, finding Sturges wildly gesturing “Quiet! Friend!” while standing over Cyprys’ unconscious body. Assuming he was a captive, he threw his hands in the air and stayed quiet.
Eventually, the tripod opened and let Albert back down to his original position. It then straightened up, climbed back onto the highway, and proceeded east along its original course at a rapid pace.
After a few minutes of watching, our heroes regrouped. Sturges begged Steve to vouch for him. He claimed to be terribly sorry for helping ambush them, saying he was misled by bad companions. When the PCs didn’t seem to buy it, he pulled out his backup offer: if they shared their food and didn’t hurt him, he would lead them to something of great value. Food? No. Weapons? No. Better — a doctor.
This sounded interested, so they pressed him for details. He said that he was friends with this doctor, who lived just up the hill in the residential area, just a few short blocks from the barricaded grocery store. He suggested that it would be best to stay put for the night, since it was already getting dark, and get a start with the daylight tomorrow. The group found this to be acceptable, so they made the deal.
Everybody went to check on Albert. They found him with the top of his head shaved and fitted with a metallic skullcap. Uncertain what to make of this, they armed themselves with the attacker’s discarded baseball bats and woke him up. His demeanor was one of comfortable befuddlement. He claimed to have no recollection of being inside the robot, nor of much anything else. He was eerily pleasant and agreeable. In the end, they suggested that he talk a walk in a random, pointed direction. He nodded and ambled off.
So, weird, but all’s well that ends well. Everybody and the food got together in the third-floor campsite. While Cyprys entertained the group with stories, Steve prepared a feast for the entire group.
Dinner was interrupted when the heroes heard someone opening one of the exterior storage bays downstairs. The able-bodied members, led by Hanna, grabbed up weapons and charged down the fire escape. There, they found a man with a heavily-loaded shopping cart, apparently homeless, in front of the open door. When confronted, he raised his hands in the air and offered no resistance. When asked who he was, he responded “My friends call me Jesús.” Under questioning, he explained that this was his storage area, and he was just stopping by to gather some equipment. What kind of equipment? Oh, camping stuff, mainly — a camp stove, a tent, some tarps…
This was enough to satisfy the PCs. Jesús was declared to be a member of the group and invited upstairs to dinner. He gladly accepted.
Everyone has having a relatively good time, under the circumstances, when Cyprys developed the nosebleed.
It rapidly became clear that something was badly wrong with Cyprys. His thinking was clouded, his nose would not stop bleeding, and he was clearly feeling poorly, even after he stopped responding to conversation. What to do? Sturges offered to help throw Cyprys outside. That solution was rejected, but everyone agreed with Sturges’ basic point, that it might be unhealthy to sleep near him. Finally, they decided to quarantine him. They took him down to the ground floor, to one of the external storage bays, and locked him inside on a makeshift pallet.
Remembering that Cyprys had tasted the pink snow, it became the fashion to wrap something about one’s lower face. Hanna and Jesús were already doing so. Now, everybody scrounged up some bandanna or scrap of cloth.
The next morning, when the sun came up, they returned to check on him. Hanna was the first. She had to fight to control her stomach. Cyprys had grown much, much worse through the night. He was bleeding heavily from head to toe. He could no longer speak. Carol fed him his share of breakfast, while Bob, Jones, and Jesús put together an improvised travois from several brooms and some tarps, to be dragged by Big Bad Dog. Careful to avoid contact, they gently loaded him up. Jones, Hanna, Steve, and Bob went along, following Sturges.
Sadly, they had barely made it to the top of the hill when Cyprys stopped breathing. They concealed his body as best they could, and carried on.
(At this point, as he transitioned to full PC-hood, it was revealed that “Big Bad Dog” was just what Cyprys called him. The dog’s real name is “Bro”, because whenever anybody asks him, “What’s your name?”, he answers “Bro…”)
The group scavenged as they went. In particular, Hanna discovered a dead policeman, and was able to overcome her squeamishness long enough to recover his pistol.
In time, they made it to their destination, a nondescript home with a greenhouse in the back yard. There was no answer when they knocked at the front door, so they went around the side to the gate into the back. There, they met an older gentleman, who agreed to speak with them if they would return to the front. He joined them on the front porch to talk.
In the beginning, the man wasn’t interested in their plight. They explained that they had been in a train crash. He pointed out, if that’s all they had been through, they were doing pretty good by current standards, and recommended that they go to the hospital like normal folks. Why were they bothering a poor retired fellow who had his own problems? They explained how Sturges, who had been hanging back, had offered to introduce them. There didn’t seem to be any great warmth between the two, but the old man offered to get down to brass tacks: why should he help them?
Hanna cheerfully offered, “Well, we’ve got this gun!” If it had been anyone else, this sentence would have been taken as a threat, but delivered with Hanna’s trademark perkiness, it was correctly understood as an offer of trade. There was a general sigh of relief when the old man agreed to take the gun in exchange for giving the wounded a checking-over. Times being what they were, he said, an extra gun might be a handy thing. He invited them inside, introducing himself as Hershel.
Jesús announced that now that they were where they needed to be, he would be taking off again. He was on his way to Kelly Butte, where there used to be an old civil defense installation, now long since condemned. He claimed that some of his friends had been inside. He figured a buried structure built to withstand a nuclear war on top of a steep hill would make a wonderful place to hide from giant, three-legged robots. Wishing them well, Jesús left on his own.
Medical care took up the rest of the day, so Hershel shared dinner — mostly salad and vegetables — with the group, and offered to let them spend the night. At dinner, after trading stories, he became engrossed in conversation about gardening with Cauliflower Jones. [GM: Activating the reaction bonus from Jones’ two levels of Green Thumb.] His growing fondness for his fellow gardener prompted Hershel to take Jones into his confidence. He invited Jones to go out back and take a look at something.
That something, as it turned out, was an illegal marijuana growing operation. (“Oh, that’s how Sturges knows this guy — he was his dealer!”) He led Jones to the back yard, into the greenhouse, and through a concealed trap door. The foundation of the greenhouse was over a basement area, packed with now-dark grow lights and potted plants. They discussed how he had used a generator, but it had gone out, along with all the other electrical devices around, in the general blackout, and how he wanted to move the crop upstairs but wasn’t going to be able to do all the work himself in time. Between the two of them, they thought of a deal, in which the PCs could stay and finish getting patched up, if they pitched in around the house and helped get the place fortified and set up for current circumstances. When the others heard of this, they agreed.
[GM: During the private conversation, the other players loudly insisted that Hershel was working up the nerve to hit on Jones.]
The group spent the 23rd fortifying Hershel’s house. Bob was able to rewire the generator and get it running again, saving a bunch of labor and making them the only house on the street with even a little power. Bob made a point of putting the slacker, Sturges, to work. (Memorable line, after getting Sturges to admit that his main skill was in playing video games: “If you’ve got time enough to lean, you’ve got time enough to clean!”) He also started mentioning making a trip down to Oregon City to collect his family. Hanna brought up the possibility of locating a working car, or one that they could get working between the two of them.
On the 24th — Christmas Eve! — the fortifying continued. Bro made the trip, solo, back to the storage facility. [GM: By this point, they were referring to it as “the other settlement”.] He checked on those left behind, finding them safe but hungry. Farrah had improvised a sling, and was sitting at the top of the fire escape, practicing with it. Satisfied, but unable to deliver any message, Bro returned to Hershel’s. Going both ways, he kept an eye out for game, but didn’t find anything. [GM: He did crit fail the Survival roll coming back, though.]
When Bro returned, the others were scattered around the place working on various projects. Bro went to the gate, where Bob let him in. Seconds after he latched the gate, it was struck on the other side by some large mass. Someone, or something, was trying to ram its way through the gate! Bob and Bro raised the alarm.
Jones heard the ruckus from where he had been working in the greenhouse basement. He quickly moved to close the trap door, concealing himself underground.
Steve took a look out the window from the kitchen, where he had been trying to figure out how to can vegetables with the available equipment. He was able to see what was pounding on the gate. It was a pink and purple worm-like thing, nearly the size of a man, with eye-stalks and thousands of sharp teeth! The space worm! It had followed them! The shock was too much to bear, and he fell to the floor in a swoon.
The others went on the offensive. Bro jumped the fence, closely followed by Bob and Hanna. Between the dog’s teeth, Hanna’s trusty tire iron, and the shovel Bob grabbed, the worm found itself outmatched. After taking several hits, and with a successful Intimidation attempt by the growling Bro, the worm had enough. It turned and fled, displaying speed that none of the PCs could match. They guessed it was running at over 30 mph!
Bro wasn’t about to give up the fight, and made to follow the worm’s trail. Bob borrowed the pistol from Hershel and went to follow the dog. Jones emerged from his place of concealment. After Hanna filled him in on what had happened, the two of them armed themselves and went to back them up.
The trail led up the block, around some houses, and into a small neighborhood park. There, Bob and Bro were confronted by an obstacle. The trail led directly through a crowd of “zombies” — glassy-eyed, bloody, aimlessly-milling people affected by the pink snow. They cautiously circled around the crowd and picked up the scent on the far side.
It led directly into the playground area, to an elaborate play structure. It went straight up the slide to a raised enclosure. There were other entrances to the enclosure, but as Bob discovered, to get to them, one had to go to the other side of the structure, climb a stair, cross a rope bridge, and crawl on hands and knees through a child-sized opening. He paused there, uncomfortable with presenting himself to a cornered space worm in such a posture.
Back covering the slide, Bro decided it was time to flush out their target. He set up a ruckus of loud barking. This startled the worm into running out its back door, right into the unready arms of Bob. Hearing this, Bro scrambled up the slide and entirely through the enclosure, aiming to take the worm by surprised.
The inside of the enclosure was an unsettling place. It was like crawling into nest built by human-sized wasps. Luckily, the worm didn’t seem to have any friends along with it.
The battle on the play structure was tight and desperate. The worm bit Bob badly in the abdomen before it was forced to defend itself against the dog’s ripping teeth. While the two animals wrestled back and forth, with the worm snapping at Bro’s throat and Bro gnawing tenaciously on its eye-stalks, Bob tried to bring the pistol into play. After missing four times at point-blank range, he finally managed to put a bullet into the injured worm, putting it down, just as Hanna and Jones arrived.
* * *
Cool Point: Posthumously awarded to Cyprys, for not dying nearly so quickly as one might expect. As it happened, Cyprys’ death was a lot more agonizing than I let on. “He was sick for twelve hours, then he died,” sums it up, but we rolled out every HT roll along the way. If it weren’t for the massive penalties he was under because he stuck the pink snow in his mouth he might have pulled through. Instead, we stepped through four or five cycles of the sickness, as the damage mounted up. The player described, with some relish, the progress of the delirium and Cyprys’ feeble attempts to find some relief. Nasty, but moving…
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