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“In the cursed earth where mutants dwell– Anthrax, “I Am The Law”
There is no law, just a living hell…”
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 »
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…
The question has come up, once or twice: What’s a meal? The GURPS rules say that a character needs three meals a day, or else bad things begin to happen. What qualifies?
At one point in our jolly apocalyptic adventure, Hanna made a meal out of several energy bars. According to GURPS After the End 1: Wastelanders, in a pinch, a single MRE can be split four ways. (Happily more-or-less matching the way we played it.) Several references indicate that a standard can of beans should count as one meal. The way I see it, a “standard GURPS meal” is anything that’s about a half pound and provides a few hundred calories… and, in tight circumstances, I’m willing to skimp a bit on the half pound of weight.
From knowing my players, I’m guessing that this will lead to two further questions.
First, what about nutritional deficiencies? Rabbit starvation? Scurvy? Beriberi? The answer is, if any PC settles down and announces a plan to eat the same thing, day in and day out, for weeks on end, I’ll start devising diseases and that PC will start making HT checks. Unless somebody occupies a cheese factory or some such, I doubt it’ll be an issue.
Second, and more importantly: can you make a meal out of beer?
I would say, for purposes of the apocalypse, yes, a fair amount of beer could count as a meal, by itself. The nutritional density is low, though, so we’re talking about several drinks. The higher the number of calories, the fewer bottles would need to be consumed, but then, the number of calories is tied directly to the alcohol content. A review of the drinking rules from B439-40 points out some of the hazards of this course of action.
(Note for the players: This was where I was headed, last session, when I had my total train-of-thought derailment…)
GURPS After the End 1: Wastelanders, is here! If we had only waited a few short months, we would be making characters for a Fallout campaign right now, rather than working our way through a total party crippling… But! That’s neither here nor there. The important thing here is, I can steal bits from it. The first bit to be pried out, of course, is Long-Term Fatigue Points.
From the start, I knew that my apocalypse campaign would need to involve hunger, and thirst, and lack of sleep, and general all-around bad times for the PCs. I wanted more “survival horror” than “two-fisted action”. As I’ve often mentioned to the players, I wanted to find out what happens when there are six PCs and one remaining can of creamed corn. In session #2, the PCs started to feel the first hunger pangs.
… and we rapidly discovered the bookkeeping problem. It’s one thing to count off the last ten cigarettes in Steve’s last pack. It’s a whole other thing to keep track of a couple of Fatigue lost to cold, and one to hunger, and three spent on hiking… Cumbersome. Fiddly. I could feel the frustration with the paperwork mounting.
So, LFP couldn’t come along at a better time.
It seems like I’m not the only enthusiast, either. Christopher R. Rice, over at Ravens N’ Pennies, has a post expanding on the idea. I’m likely to use his “Scrappy” modifier for Fit and Very Fit. I think Farrah, in particular, could use it…
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