Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: post-apocalyptic

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

Invisible airwaves crackle with life

Bright antenna bristle with the energy

– Rush, “The Spirit of Radio”

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

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GURPS After The End #5: “Independence Day”

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

– Iron Maiden, “The Trooper”

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

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After The End #4: “Candygram”

“He’s a killer – he’ll rip out your heart
On a one way track and you’re not coming back
‘Cause the killer’s on the attack”

– Accept, “Fast As A Shark”

An early start and an uncomfortable lunch. A manifesto, gently delivered. What to do when the crops are coming right at you. Sky-weasels, houses in the air, and wholesale jerky production. The rolling wounded. A desperate standoff, at least on one side. “That was not only a dolphin!”

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After The End #3: “Sounds Like Bull To Me!”

“On a warm summer’s evening

On a train bound for nowhere…”

– Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

Morlock trouble. A home invasion of the home that our protagonists invaded. Travel. Missing the start of the show, but not the end. Scary rumors. Friends in high, and low, places. A windy day spent inventing.

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City Stats: The Valley

I’ve been fiddling around with GURPS City Stats and GURPS Mass Combat a bit, trying to get some solid stats around the valley where the action has been taking place, and the forces available to the Mayor. If nothing else, I figure I can get an idea of how many people are guarding that big bridge to the north.

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After The End #2: “The Holy Glow”

“So I’ll close my electronic door
And keep the cold outside
And hug my aluminum pillow
Oh so tight
And pray the radiation doesn’t
Make me sick tonight”

– Warrant, “April 2031”

In which our protagonists go scavenging around town, with mixed results… but the real loot is the friends they make along the way. Encounters with the outside world. Varying attitudes towards radiation. A rainy day spent inventing.

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After The End #1: “No Law”

“In the cursed earth where mutants dwell
There is no law, just a living hell…”

– Anthrax, “I Am The Law”
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We’re Running An “After The End” Hexcrawl, Y’all!

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.

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After The End Of The End; or, What Was Up With The Pink Snow?

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)

Secondary Effects:

  • 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:

  • Nobody’s sane and stable, after the end.
  • Nobody really knows what the heck happened.

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.

 

 

What Went Wrong

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?

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