Mapping is an integral part of Game-Mastering any roleplaying game. Maps are infinitely useful. They functionally visualize settlements (towns, fortresses), ships, or caves, ruins, and dungeons as well as over-maps of landscapes and countries. I also know it can be tough even to get started much less work through to a completed map.
Over a couple of decades of Game-Mastering, I have worked out a certain routine. A routine to follow when formulating and creating maps. Just to be sure of this, I took notes while I created the map for Manifold Maps #2. This routine can get my mind moving and the creative juices flowing even when caught at a standstill. Occasionally, however, I do still run into roadblocks.
Portions of the map I am not happy with or the inability to get a solid picture of what I am trying to do are common obstacles. I also sometimes just seem to run out of ideas somewhere near the beginning. I have learned to work through these dry spells. However, I never try to force it. Eventually, not counting for a possible time-crunch though, I can get going at it again. Although I can stall out for more than a day or two sometimes. Most map-making does involve some stops and starts.
Writing this piece was a personal exploration into my own creative process once I started to realize that I had a process and was working through steps to achieve a completed piece that I was ultimately satisfied with. I hope that others will in the very least find this interesting if not helpful in their own mapping endeavors. The first step in map-making is to have a symbol key at the ready.
Make the Master Key
It is important to have a clear and legible symbol key. This is in order to populate your maps with objects, features, and scenery not to mention encounters, treasures, and traps. A Map Key also sometimes referred to as a Legend is a listing of symbols with their meanings. It is needed to understand a map that uses its symbols. The key can be on the map itself often quartered off. However, often Games-masters(GMs) might want to use as much of the sheet as possible. So using a Master Key, a universal map key often on a separate sheet of paper, is most useful.
I have a standard master symbol key that I use for most of my maps. I also may use a few alternate symbols required in certain situations. The key that I use includes adopted symbols and has been refined over a period of several years. So, it might take a while to build or collect a master key suited to your purposes. Personally, I am more concerned when using my key with speed and clarity. I wanted to include symbols in my Legend that are easy to recognize and distinguish from each other. They also had to be easy to draw fast and easily especially when sketching. When in doubt, find already existing ones and crib and adapt them to your needs.
To Start With
I often start with the vision or concept of a single chamber. Which for one reason or another is interesting to me as well as clear in detail. It is often a central or entrance chamber that gives the players a visual taste or general atmosphere of the entire place but not always. Frankly, I grasp at whatever I can clearly visualize. This can be a central or entrance chamber, some side passage, or even the outside mouth/entrance to the place.
An alternate method is to just start laying down features then work a single chamber around those features. This to get the starting point from which to work outward. This I do when the first method is not working for me. This technique is a little more hit or miss. However, I usually come out with something if not a handful of possible chambers to begin plotting.
Going back to the visualized chamber; I will sketch this room and try to fumble around with surrounding chambers. How they relate on the map to the central chamber and how they connect. I make a real mess with a pencil on a piece of paper trying to refine the central chamber. Including as I try to find a layout and develop a few chambers that I can string together. This includes creating additional chambers to place on the paper like puzzle pieces, trying the best and most pleasing fit if not the most sadistic or unexpected configurations.
Once a map starts to form, I also try to gain another main idea that may add to the map in a few different ways. These central ideas or main features can include canyons, large pits or fissures, bodies of water, burrows or dugouts that were not a part of the original structure, historical additions or modifications, etc.
The Big Idea
This idea should fill a decent portion of the map, run through it, or help to shape the map and arrangement of chambers. This idea can be a natural or not-so-natural feature, the purpose of the structure that I am mapping or the history of the place that would shape it or its features. With this in hand, I will take a new sheet of paper, sketch the chambers that I designed previously, and use my new idea to arrange the layout.
After I have the layout sketched, I try to add as many details to each chamber (using the SYMBOL KEY) as possible but not so much as to crowd the sketch. I also write notes (sometimes with arrows) around the sketch that I need to draw the refined rough draft or those that need to be included as notes for the map even if they are not present on the map itself. This is also the time that I start writing down ideas for a title.
The title is often times, but not always, based on the central feature or main idea of the map because it is easier to conceive of a name that way. Other things to consider when running through names for your map are its history, current or former uses, what or who may or did reside there, and its reputation (if any). I also like titles that are eye-catching i.e. sound cool and maybe a bit cheesy.
Refining the Rough
Now I have my messy pencil sketch. The next step is to carefully pencil a copy of the map on a piece of graph paper. I try to include any notes or symbols on the original rough version. In addition, I take the time to refine my map, add, change, or subtract chambers or other details. In addition, I decide which notes are convertible into symbols and the need for any new ones.
I prefer working with my hands although most of you might want to use other methods, which is fine. Also, I already have all the art supplies so I should use them. My roughs are done entirely in pencil. This refined rough draft is what I use as my blueprint.
I then trace only the parts of the map I will ink. Those are scanned into Photoshop where I have all my Legend symbols ready to place. I trace the main non-keyed features and walls then clean it up in Photoshop. This is while dropping in the keyed elements and text resulting in the final draft of the map. Essentially, I use Photoshop to create the final polished version of the map. It looks cleaner and the quality is easier to reproduce across several maps if need be.
Decide on a Master Key/Legend to use
Try to come up with a single chamber as a starting point
Refine it and start thinking about other chambers around it and how they fit together with it
Add a central feature or idea to help shape the entire map
Start penciling a rough draft from your preliminary sketches
Trace off, detail, and refine a draft from the former that will be used as the map blueprint
Draw your map based on that blueprint refining your design were necessary
It is through this process that I draw maps. These include those found in the Zombie Horror book and hopefully future publications. The difficulty really is coming up with the bits and pieces then fitting them together into a coherent, useful, and hopefully aesthetically pleasing map. Start small and work your way out adding in new, bigger ideas as you refine the map. Eventually, you will end up with a complete map. Remember that it does not have to be huge or too complex to be useful. Lastly, the tools to produce should not matter as much as your own personal skill and knowledge with them.
This is a map to the Tabernacle of the Bottomless Gorge, a hidden temple carved from the living rock of a hollow mountain top. This is a free fully marked-up map (only lacking encounters, traps, treasures, etc.) for use with Dice & Glory. It uses a basic key (Note: the small triangular arrows denote edges of a domed ceiling) and numbered portions for the ease of GM’s wanting to populate them. A legend is included as this map uses a variety of symbols.
Manifold maps can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add a new crawl type adventure or dueling field to their game. These are self-contained maps that fit on a single page and require only the prep-work to populate them as well as descriptions to flesh out certain areas.
This map was designed around the idea of a hidden temple/tabernacle built around a large gorge. There is a chamber designed to catch rainwater in a reservoir and a simple cave system serving as a secret escape route. The map is contained enough for a brief raid or limited crawl. The terrain is also varied with roughly hewn chambers, temple chambers, caverns, and cliffsides. The scale is meant to be 5 sq.ft. per square.
The Armatelorum: Folio of Ancient & Medieval Arms & Armor released!
The Armatelorum is a 90-page resource manual filled with pre-generated weapons and suits of armor using the weapon and armor construction rules from the Dice & Glory Core Rulebook. It is a valuable resource for any Player that has a need to customize their character. Game-Masters will also find it invaluable to equip their NPCs with a variety of arms.
This fully illustrated book has 10 chapters: Medieval Weapons & Armor, Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, War Engines & Artillery, Shields-Helmets & Pieces, Suits of Armor, Stone-Age Weaponry, Ingenious Weapons & Gimmicks, Special Training, and Improvised Weaponry. Some chapters reprinted and expanded from the Character Codex series of books as well as portions of the weapon & armor chapter from the Dice & Glory Core Rulebook.
This sourcebook focuses on every major category of ancient weaponry such as swords, pole-arms, bows, scythes, even siege engines. It includes rarer versions of weapons and armor such as zweihanders, the zanbato, weapons of the samurai & ninja, messers, recurved bows, shillelagh, and ball & chain weapons even muscle cuirasses.
The weapons and armor found within this manual were written with historical facts as well as keeping the fun factor of fantasy roleplaying in mind. Each weapon or piece/suit of armor has a table statistics entry and a short paragraph description with some variations mentioned along with applicable stats and modifications.
The appendices include notes on punch weapons, prosthetic weapons, crystal weapons, and there is an index of stylized martial arts. A full resource of melee weapons, ranged weapons, siege weapons, and shields, helmets, and armor!
Last month I posted a quick and dirty poll about the feelings role-players have about in-game death when it occurs. The results were interesting although I think I could have been more specific. Perhaps I would add in a few other options should I ever post another similar poll. I published the results here if you have not already seen them in the original post. In addition, I try to clarify my intentions with the poll.
Above all, here are the results of the poll. You can view the entire original blog entry HERE.
This poll is no longer accepting votes
My Poll Answer
Subsequently, where I fall in the results would be a combination of the top three options. Although on the poll itself, I would have probably selected the top option. My reason is that I want death to mean something. Therefore, the occasion would be somber, maybe my in-game plans are dashed by the death (this has happened with my evil characters). This would allow my character to express their feelings about the situation in their own way. I find it fun to try to figure it out and then carry it out.
I like trying to construct and figure out my character’s emotional life. It’s fun to build their backgrounds, physical bodies, and spiritual qualities as well as working out their abilities and powers. After that, it is all about building their actual hearts during role-play taking every opportunity to explore them as well as using them to explore the game world.
I intended to try to find out how other Players and GM’s feel about the event of the death of Player Characters at their tables. Consequently, judging by the comments, I was perhaps not clear enough on that front. I was (and am) interested in the emotions directed at the game and its participants that character death provokes. That was what I was pursuing with this poll.
A few of the comments about the poll did point out that I had forgotten at least two points. These being Death for Drama’s Sake and In-Game Death serves to reinforce the idea of Death as a Looming Force. Death for Drama’s Sake means that a player willingly conspires with Games-Master to have their character die for dramatic or story purposes essentially, death for the sake of the narrative.
This to me seems to be more applicable to more story-oriented games. However, I do utilize NPC’s in a very similar manner. I try to get the NPC familiar with the Players even perhaps becoming a friend. When the Players become attached I try to manipulate that relationship to my ends. This can range anywhere from dramatic death hopefully towards an end not just for drama, to betrayal by an ally. In the latter case, if the character survives I try to have them become a thorn in the Players’ sides maybe even evolving the NPC into a major villain (see Dark Lords: Building Better Lords of Evil).
Death As Looming Force
I also seemed to forget to address Death as a looming force. If there is a potential for PCs to die even on a bad roll or badly misjudging a dangerous situation then death is ever-present. However, this just adds in the risk factor and the attached thrill when the PCs escape or power-through dangerous scenarios. A Player Character death just serves to bring this looming presence to the fore of everyone’s mind, fully integrating it and making it an actual part of the game world. I might have still left this option off the poll though even had I thought of it. The reason is that I am more interested in what emotions the participants are feeling generally directed towards the game precipitated by the actual death rather than about the general presence of it.
There are inevitably angles that I have still missed. However, as in-game death and even the narrowed subject of the general emotions it brings out, death is still a very broad subject with tons of nuance all over the place. Polls are meant to be focused and provide information about opinions that can be used to build generalities about the polled group. Note this poll was very small serving more of an opinion poll of those who bother to read my blog.
I See In-Game Death
I see in-game death as a natural risk of adventuring, if you are doing it right then you run the risk of dying sometimes horribly. Similarly, death is an ever-present shadow in the back of any adventurer’s mind. However, I do not think it should be an overwhelming aspect of the game. It should be attached to the major risks and challenges found in a good adventure and sudden unpredictable death should be a rare occurrence but something that can definitely happen on a bad roll. A unique aspect of the game based on the dice.
As mentioned before, I do see it as an opportunity for drama and roleplaying. It is a place where characters can express and build character. Previously, I did go into more detail in Tabletop Meditations #10: Death where I expand upon the idea of the Good Death and talk about Perma-Death and TPK’s. The blood spilled in the course of a quest lends the struggle meaning. Particularly if it is the blood of heroes, allies, and friends. Death flavors the sweetness of victory, enhances loss providing a real drive to dive back in, at least for me.
I definitely do not see
it as the tool of GM’s judgment. It is more something that is a part of the
game world. It is what is likely to happen in the course of high adventure.
When it does happen, it should have some sort of impact whether that is a
downer session or an opportunity to turn up the roleplaying aspects of the
a Few of the Comments
Lethality in Gaming came up a lot in the comments concerning certain specific gaming systems. I was not particularly interested in game system lethality in this particular poll. Although maybe an option of “I Play in High Attrition Systems, It’s Just How it Goes” would be appropriate to address this. However, I do not think that the previously mentioned addresses the feeling of someone who is playing a character under those circumstances. I would assume that since they are willingly playing a system with a high mortality rate that they already know their character has a high chance of death so that seems like it would fit under the option No Big Deal, Time to Generate Another Character which did fall into 4th place with 11.26%.
Is death a more nuanced subject than the structure of this poll seems to address, well, yes but it is a very simple poll. In short, its purpose was to cull some very specific information on a subject narrowed to produce a specific if an informal range of data. As explained before the purpose was to gauge the feelings tied to in-game PC deaths based on what I have seen discussed across the internet and in my personal gaming experience.
These reactions to death range from viewing it as an opportunity, placing blame, viewing it as a problem to be solved (the 0% popular The Character Build was Wrong for the Campaign option by the way), to indifference. I did miss an option for anger but I have found that those who angry at the table over their character dying very rarely come back to run another character ever again, however, if I run a similar or more finely tuned Death Poll, I would include one or two anger options.
The death poll was an interesting exercise and in-game death is certainly a point of interest for many other hobbyists besides me. Death would be an overarching subject especially in any adventure game where risk is a part of the fun. Death also can stand for a permanent loss such as a loss of limb or complete isolation from a hard-fought opportunity via a heroic choice but this poll focused exclusively on Character Death. After all, what fun is it playing an immortal or a character that cannot lose in a meaningful way?
Please, if you have
suggestions or comments feel free to leave them. Especially, if you have a
suggestion for a new poll definitely feel free to post that.
P.S.: I will be taking a break from the blog for the holidays and New Year. The blog and the Cabal of Eight II will be back in late January. Later that same month the Armatelorum will be released (finally).
of Monsoon – Dawn was breaking but the sun’s rays were stifled behind
cloud-darkened skies and drowned in the heavy, humid air. Stray raindrops
randomly pelted the roofs, and cobblestones of the city as well as the heads of
retreating rag pickers and soot-brushes. The fitful sleep of two of the cabal
members was disturbed by the approaching ringing bell of one of the many city
Crier: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The city marshal has declared that all those found to
commit the crimes of theft, murder, and assault within the city limits that are
not citizens of our great city and are found to be the crew of known freebooter
and privateer ships will receive the penalty of death! Ships whose crews
comprise of more than a handful of such criminals will be banished from harbor
come hell or high water!”
(played by Cris) and Szoo (played by Isis) stumbled and slithered from their
rooms, slowly due to their bruised and aching bodies roused by the crier’s bell
and spiel. Already, Fauna (played by Jenn) was grinding the remainder of her
herbs into two doses of healing salve for her wounded companions. As both
Szoo’s and Excor’s wounds were still grievous. Fauna, on the other hand, was in
perfect health. After finishing the salve and having applied it, Fauna cleaned
out the stable and left for the market district. The other two went back to
their beds to heal.
in the afternoon, the sun had peaked between the clouds and Fauna was returning
from the market with her horse attached to a new wagon loaded with a few
months’ supply of oats and hay. As she led the wagon back home she entered the
alleyway and only then noticed a tail, someone was stealthily following her.
Calmly, she unhitched her horse and put him back into the stall next to her
giant frog, tossed that thing a bag of mice. She left the wagon just off the
stables. Suddenly, she rushed through the door and shouted.
“I’m being followed!”
both of her companions leaped from their beds and met her at the door against
which she was leaning. All she could
relate about her pursuer was that he was wearing blue with a short, matching
“*Sigh* Is this the dragon again?”
“Who else would it be!? Of course it is! Blue cape, sheesh, of course it’s the dragon!
Or her slaves.”
rushed to the door and carefully, quietly, cracked it and peeked through. He scanned
the scene outside the door from the alley wall to the stable. By a split
second, he missed the fleeting glimpse of a blue cape disappearing into the
hayloft above the stalls. Because of his spotting nothing, Szoosha cast Heat Vision on himself. In turn, Excor
cast See the Invisible on himself.
peeked back out the door and spotted Thorn the beggar ducking behind a rain
barrel. He yelled at Thorn to leave while Szoo, head above Excor’s, spotted a
heat trail moving from the ground and up into the loft. Thorn waved as he
jaunted off after a shrug.
“Guys! I got something! I think he’s inside already!”
immediately slammed shut the door and turned. Almost by accident, he caught sight
of a cape trailing behind its wearer as it flapped from above down behind a
piece of furniture.
(pointing the blue thief out): “Assassin!”
readied herself to cast Sleep as soon
as she could see her target. Szoo moved around to get a better line of sight
and was able to spot the blue thief. The short, brawny man was dressed in a
powder blue padded/quilted robe with a bright blue silver-trimmed cape and cowl
and a broad black belt. He was armed with paired superior quality silver
daggers each with a large quartz crystal in the pommel. Excor cast shadow ribbons but the magic went wild.
The black ribbons of shadow suddenly expanded into a cone of blazing red light
and the thief shrieked in terror, he stood and turned to run through the back
door. Fauna let loose her sleep spell
but it had no effect.
druidess let loose a lightning bolt;
the thief dodged the bolt easily and tumbled through the back door into the
rear courtyard. Szoosha charged towards the back door and made it outside into
the small courtyard amongst Fauna’s chickens and goat. Excor moved up to where
he could see the thief readying to scale the wall and cast paralyze I. The thief froze in his tracks.
(to the GM): “That was some sort of crazy fear spell huh? Hey! Can I try to
remember what I did with that spell with my spellcraft?”
GM (me): “Yup, um DC uh 20, it was wild magic. Totally randomly rolled spell
*roll*roll* “Damn, naw, I didn’t get it.”
Szoo had the paralyzed thief tied up with a rope he took from the thief’s belt. Fauna sensed some very strong magic from the silver manacle around his neck and the medallion with dragon-scratch runes that dangled from it. She simply tried to pull it off as it did not appear to be even locked or clasped but it did not budge. It even seemed bonded to the thief’s skin. Fauna then double-checked the ropes making sure they were tight. Szoo then inspected the collar and found the maker’s mark. It was the mark of the Golden Devil Company (The Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil).
(panicking): “Oh no! We made some BIG enemies guys!”
“Whatever, we’re adventurers, it’s what we DO!”
The three mages stood around while the chickens clucked and gathered around their feet expecting to feed. They did not know what to do with the man. The magic slave collar without a doubt would lead the blue dragon straight to them. They quibbled back and forth for some time before they finally decided on what was to be done with him. They did not want to kill him; after all, he had no choice whether or not to obey the dragon. They also did not want to take him to the guards. The trio did not know how deep the dragon’s connections went. They decided to freeze the thief in amber.
cast Amber Husk, an ancient spell
obtained from a scroll they had found in the Lotus Vaults. Excor looked at his
handiwork. The thief in blue could be seen at the center bottom of an iceberg
of glistening semi-transparent amber.
Excor: “That’ll do it.”
That situation dealt with, for the time being anyway, the trio decided to try to rest until their next cabal meeting on the 24th. However, Fauna had a meeting with the Brotherhood of the Rope on the next full moon, the 22nd.
next day, Szoo and Excor were sleeping the day away, Fauna, alternately, had
hitched her horse up to her wagon and was going shopping around the Old Market
District and the Bazaar. Soon her wagon was packed with a 1 lb. bag of healing
herbs, another 1 lb. bag of yellow & pink lotus soaked smoking herb (of which
she was currently partaking), a wood cage with four chickens in it, a sack of
feed enough for a month, an empty 1-gallon ceramic jug, and 5 potion bottles
for Szoo’s naphtha. She had watched Thorn while he had followed her the entire
time as well.
signaled the grey-cloaked beggar to jog up next to her she was riding in the
“So…you old beggar… still spying on us?”
“Yup! Just business y’know!”
(flipping Thorn a silver piece): “No info?”
“Well, I’d be amiss in my duty if I didn’t ask about certain Pirate friends,
ahem, certain friends of certain people maybe?”
eyeballed Fauna for a reaction, there was none so he continued.
(pulling out his pipe; Fauna offered to light it): *ffwwwp* *exhaling* “Certain
pirate friends of a certain party stealing from certain other people and yet
other people, friends of certain people maybe? No. Well, those people hiding
the treasure and those people’s friends maybe knowing something about it?”
glanced over at Fauna with a squint in his eye. Again, she did not react so he
shrugged and took another tug from his corncob pipe.
(exhaling, her eyes sparkling with lotus): “Maybe we can hire you as…..our…
houseboy? We could pay you a lot of money.”
suddenly tore off after shooting Fauna a polite smile. Someone was evidently
waiting for him near the corner the pair quickly disappearing into an alley.
However, Fauna could not focus enough to see who had been waiting for the old
beggar. She lazily trotted her way home through the crowded streets as she
toked on her pipe.
following afternoon, Excor had spotted Thorn hanging out in full view around
the house and he decided to see what he wanted. Excor tried to interrogate the
beggar but found the old man was far too clever to get any useful information out
of him. Even so, they conversed for quite some time. Eventually, Excor gave up
and tossed him a silver to move off. As the grey-cloaked beggar walked down the
alleyway towards the street he unexpectedly asked, “Hey! You know anything
about a Cabal of Eight?” Excor was shocked but hid his surprise well enough
that he was sure the old beggar did not read it.
(waving bye): “No, no. Never heard of it! If I find anything out I’ll tell ya!”
(walking away): “I’m all ears!”
“They’re getting close! Too close! Dammit.”
“Meh. We can handle it.”
that night when the full moon was high, Fauna found herself standing amongst a
lineup of certain other characters, all drawn from the anonymous ranks of the
cult, the Brotherhood of the Rope. Those in the lineup and her were all stark
naked slick with sweat; the caverns under the old Amphitheater were sweltering.
Those not participating in the “trial for high priest” were still in their dark
blue ropes and hoods with a golden noose around their necks. Anishi, the
caretaker of the grove, was presiding.
The cult had gathered in a deep chamber next to a very narrow entryway carved into the rusty, living rock. Vor Jetl “the dragonfly” had told Fauna that the trial would be a lethal one it would be the labyrinth. “Avoid the traps and you will make it to a final test, fail and no one will ever see you again.” Good advice as far as she could gather, after all, he was “on her side”. Apparently, the narrow opening was the entrance to this labyrinth.
gave the word and one-by-one the candidates walked up to him and he spat lotus
powder into their faces, kissed them on the forehead, and pushed them through
the aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.
Fauna the druid (played by Jenn), Excor (played by Cris), and Szoo the Black-Scael naga (played by Isis), were surveying the post-battle damage. A few shouldering clumps of slime remained not giving a hint to the tiny creatures’ formerly humanoid shapes. The statue of the four-armed goddess with dragonfly wings had fallen into the cellar up to its golden breasts (The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1). The floorboards around it were shattered, soggy and warped.
“See! I told you we should’ a killed that thing yesterday!”
“But we didn’t fight these down there!”
“What dya think sent those!”
continued her brewing of healing potions while Szoo inspected the hole. The gap
between the statue and the floorboards was enough for either of the human mages
to crawl through but it was too narrow for Szoo to slither into the cellar. As
the sunset and sky burned gold and pink, Fauna was finished, the trio decided to
go back down into the caves below to provoke a final confrontation with the
Excor holed the statue up in his Portable Hole revealing that the steps into the cellar were completely flattened. He activated his Ring of Ghost Form to float down to the cellar floor. Alternately, Fauna just jumped down after tying a rope off to the marble scrying pool that they had looted from the Lotus Vaults and installed in their makeshift lab-niche (The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1). Szoo slithered down into the small root cellar. Fauna took up the lead after finding the secret door wide open, smeared with fishy-smelling moisture and reeking of fungus.
druid took a few careful cat-steps into the gaping portal into the dark passage.
Her nostrils immediately assaulted by the choking stench of wet fungus. She saw
about eight tiny sized humanoid creatures identical to those they had already
faced above running towards her. The wet sounds of their tiny pseudo-feet
slapping on the stone floor alerted the other two mages. As the tiny fiends hit
the light of the lantern they appeared composed of black-spotted spongy
material with grains throughout and covered in white and greyish hairs.
battle was brief. Fauna slaughtered them with her dagger and Szoo scorched them
with fire. Excor had flung chrono-missiles
at them. During the battle, all of the creatures, the mouldmen, had swarmed
poor Fauna and dealt some acid damage and drained some of her health (Constitution
points). The mages lost no time in rushing into the caverns with Fauna in the
(to Jenn): “See! I told you that thing sent those things to screw with us! Hey,
you better let Szoo lead for a little bit!”
moves into the lead to try to allow Fauna to recover. However, as soon as he took
the lead, Szoo immediately spotted the oozing form of a violet blob slithering towards
them from further down the main cavern.
Again, the battle was brief but Szoo had been engulfed, as this creature was much bigger than the violet blob that they had faced before (The Cabal of Eight II Pt.6: Facing the Fungus). Likewise, the creature had scored a critical hit on Fauna with a tentacle causing some serious damage to both her and Szoo using its dissolve flesh ability.
Suddenly without warning, a myconid astride a giant centipede charged from the somewhere further down the main cavern followed by two more mushroom-men covered in a thick crust of lichen-like plate armor wielding granite maces followed by an ice imp flying above amongst the dripping stalactites.
whipped out his magic spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the centipede
wounding it. Fauna tried to cast Lightning
Bolt but the magic got away from her and went wild. A crackling burst of
tiny electrical bolts filled the area. Fortunately, Excor was a ghost and
unharmed. Szoo was able to avoid the bolts. Unfortunately, their enemies were
just outside of the area of effect. The myconid centipede rider held up a small
rod carved from red stone and the centipede surged forward heading straight for
Fauna, she dodged its venomous fangs. The ice imp soared above the mages and
blew a cone of icy breath at Fauna. Her magic shield absorbed the damage. Szoo shot a ray of fire at the centipede
dealing some damage to it. The lichen-armored myconids leaped from the wood
sled that the centipede was pulling and both attacked Szoo with their
bludgeons. Szoo’s shield absorbed
shot an electrical bolt at the centipede rider wounding it. The rider swung a
sling above its head and let fly a stone at Excor but it passed harmlessly
through his ghost form. The centipede
again struck at Fauna but missed. Szoosha pulled out his fire fang and
unleashed a cone of fire at the pair lichen-armored mushroom men barely singing
them. The ice imp flew down and tried to kick Fauna in the head with its hooved
feet. The druid easily parried the blow. The pair of lichen-armors again
attacked Szoo, one missed by a wide margin the other successfully dispersed the
shield spell protecting the naga.
cast energy tentacle. Shooting from
Excor’s hands a blinding bolt of energy took hold of the centipede rider like a
tentacle. Fauna threw a lightning bolt
at the imp wounding it. The giant centipede struck at Excor but again his ghost form protected him. Szoo backed up
a few steps and cast elemental half-plate
armor (fire) on himself. The armored myconids again struck at the naga but
parried by his flaming naginata.
pulled out a bottle of naphtha and tossed it at the armored myconids splashing
them both with the pungent substance. Fauna cast a fire ray at the ice imp
wounding it badly. The imp again blew a blast of frost at Fauna. The centipede
again fruitlessly snapped its jaws at Excor. Excor used the energy tentacle to
pull the rider from his saddle and lifted him 20 feet into the damp cavern air.
The armored myconids again swung at Szoo who once again easily parried their
blows. The rider struggled in the grips of the energy tentacle but was trapped.
used his fire fang and blasted the pair of armored myconids with fire also
igniting the naphtha spattered over them. They took a little damage but were
also on fire. Fauna cast another fire ray at the ice imp burning it badly. The
imp kicked at and hit Szoo in the head with its hooves but the naga’s fire
armor protected him. Again, the centipede struck at Excor’s ghostly form. Excor
used his tentacle to toss the unfortunate rider 20 feet down the cavern, a
sickly thud sounded from the darkness. The flaming armored myconids both struck
at Szoo again, one was easily parried but the other scored a critical hit
dealing Szoo a mild wound.
again unleashed his fire fang on the pair of myconids again causing their armor
to start to burn away. Fauna again struck the ice imp with her fire ray this
time killing the creature. It disappeared with a blood-curdling scream and a
burst of blue energy. The centipede continued to try to attack Excor. Excor tried
to cast Force Ram on the giant
centipede but failed the chaos of battle overwhelming his senses. The burning pair of myconids again struck at
Szoo but the naga again easily parried the both of them.
slashed at one of the burning myconids with his naginata but the myconid
parried. Excor successfully cast Force
Ram and squished the centipede against the cavern wall. Fauna flubbed her
spell too anxious to slay her enemies. One of the flaming myconids attacked
Fauna and was easily parried. The other attacked the naga and struck home with
a massive lucky blow dealing Szoo a mean wound. The battle continued for a few
more actions until the last pair of enemies collapsed into flaming smoking
“Jeesh! How many more of these guys are down here!”
“Yeah, he’s trying to wear us down before we get to him!”
“Well it’s working! I’m out of shields and low on spells. And I’m kinda hurt.”
“Same here sis. But I’m still in okay shape!”
Cris: “I’m still pretty good but yeah, I’m out of shields too. … Screw this.”
Excor was going to cast Ghost Form on himself again but thought better of it.
surveying the carnage and taking time to imbibe in some healing potions, the
mages charged deeper into the cavern turning south to where they had previously
encountered the boss mushroom. As fortune would have it, they ran straight smack
into the monster.
first round of battle was a blur of lightning bolts, a hurling destructive ball
of fungus, a slashing flaming polearm, and a well-placed slow spell. The second was a cacophony of energy rays, chrono-missiles, and repeated thorn blasts that left Excor resembling
battle raged on and slowed Boss Mushroom went on the attack as the trio of
mages went on the defensive casting healing spells on each other, drinking
potions, and Szoo casting elemental
half-plate armor (fire) on his companions. The monster’s club swept repeatedly
catching Szoo once and Excor twice. A well-placed fungus ball spell nailed
Fauna wounding her horribly.
final round found the mages exhausted and all badly wounded unable to take even
a mild hit. However, Boss Mushroom was just as wounded. Thorn blasts and energy
rays again flew then Excor captured the monster with a shadow ribbons spell. While the horrid thing was trapped, the mages
beat and stabbed it to death.
battle was finished and the trio stood over the large bloated body of the giant
mushroom creature. Its flesh was starting to break down and liquefy. Excor
observed the still brightly glowing ruby embedded in its chest. He shrugged and
reached out to pull the gem from the monster’s melting flesh. To his surprise the
gem was set into gold and attached to that was a fine gold chain, it was a
necklace. He continued to pull the treasure free though there was some
resistance so it took an effort on his part.
almost had it free of the gross corpse and gave a mighty final yank. The warty
skin of the chest split open and a human skeleton, the necklace still about its
neck bones, was pulled out with a gush of yellow pus-like liquid matter. The
skull clattered to the cavern floor, pulled off in a nervous reflex action by
Excor. The necklace was his.
identified the gold necklace bearing a large central ruby that sparkled like
blood-fire. The gem enraptured Szoo. His eyes sparkled in time with the strange
light of it. Excor described the magic abilities of the necklace. It was a
necklace of Shield three-times-a-day
at level 8. However, something about it was bothering him but he just could not
put his finger on it. Szoo grabbed for the gem, Excor let the naga have it. The
naga Elementalist immediately donned the magic necklace.
“I don’t want that stinking thing! It was embedded in a monster-mushroom’s
wanted to explore the cavern further but everyone was suffering significant wounds
including Szoo who only just realized his condition when prodded by Excor.
Disappointed the naga relented. To satisfy the naga at least a little, Excor
cast ghost form on himself once more
and scouted the cave getting a general sense of where all of the passages and
chambers were. The naga seemed even more disappointed afterward.
the trio moved back up into the house for some well-needed rest. Excor grumbled
something about having to hire some carpenters to fix the trap door and floor.
So, why a death poll? Well, I have seen especially lately, around the internet that many DM’s, GM’s, and Players of tabletop roleplaying games have a wide array of opinions on in-game deaths. Some blame the players exclusively seeing it as a personal failing on the unlucky character’s player’s part. Others see in-game deaths as unfortunate but a great opportunity for some intense roleplaying. There are quite a few other opinions on the matter typically ranging between the aforementioned. So I decided to put up a simple poll based on the most popular opinions that I have seen around. P.S. I have blogged about this very subject in Tabletop Meditations #10 – Death.
This death poll is different than asking how roleplaying games approach death, I am interested in how Gamemasters and Players feel about PC deaths. In effect, I am asking how do you feel about it when your character dies and/or when another player’s character dies? With that, I give you the death poll below.
The entire gang was at the dining
room table: Me (the GM), Jenn, Isis, Cris, Gil, Carlos, and Carlitos. For some
reason conversation before the game had turned to the events of the end of the
original Zombie Horror test-game some years back – the last pair of survivors outrunning
a nuclear explosion in a helicopter then crashing in the desert. It had sprung
out of Carlos wondering, “Where this will all end” and if everyone will die by
the end of the campaign. Carlitos mentioned that the military will probably
nuke the city and Cris concurred.
The original test campaign was a
single session escape-the-city scenario that turned into a desperate run-away from
everything scenario a la cannonball run. Eventually, the last two players, one
of which was Cris, stole a helicopter from a deserted airfield and made their
final run for it after finding out the military was going to use a tactical
nuclear strike to level the city and wipe-out the zombie-plague. In fact, if I
remember correctly, the other two players had shot each other over something
dumb with the survivor of that fiasco put down by Cris’ biker character.
Anyway, the conversation faded out
and the groups’ attention turned to the session at hand. El Guapo (played by
Gil), Wesley (played by Jenn), and Lilith (played by Isis) had survived an
outbreak while out on the town at the Goth Club and made their way to Lilith’s
father’s Wrecking Yard. There they had a shootout with outlaw bikers and met
the other three Player Characters: Steve (played by Cris), Kenny (played by
Carlitos), and William (played by Carlos) the next day.
The latter three had been stuck
when Steve’s car battery died stranding them on the Old Country Highway during
their chaotic flight from the city. Eventually, they decided to group together
for protection and then faced a small gang of zombies that threatened the
chain-link gate. During the attempt to fight them off Kenny was shot in the
leg, hobbled by William’s friendly fire. The group decided to flee in three
vehicles: Lilith’s armored up Chevy Sedan, Steve’s Old Police Car, and the
junkyard tow truck with snowplow scoop. They outran a giant tank-armored zombie
probably sent by the military, plowed through a slowly oncoming herd of zombies
on the road, and then finally got on their way to William’s survivalist haven.
The three-vehicle convoy puttered
slowly up to the chain-locked gates of an 8-foot tall chain-link security
fence. They had arrived along a steep dirt road completely enclosed by trees.
The rusted sheet metal signs to either side of the gate warned of the electric
fence and that trespassers should expect lethal force. Behind the high
electrical fence topped with barbed wire sat a small squat ranch-style home. It
was sometime around noon but the house and indeed the small yard was cast in
cool shadow from the thick umbrage of the crowded pine trees. The musk of old
pine filled their noses.
While the line of cars waited for William to unlock the gate, Steve got out of his car. He walked around his vehicle and made a careful inspection of its underside and blood-spattered wheel wells. He wanted to make sure that no corpses or animated parts thereof were “hitchin’ a ride”.
Gil: “Guys, we need to find a cure for this thing!”
Isis: “Where!? Where we gonna look! I can’t do anything!”
Carlitos: “Anybody got any skills that could help try to
make a cure ourselves?”
Jenn: “What!? We can’t find an antidote if we don’t know
what’s causing it! And none of us are scientists! We’re just a bunch a’
After the cars were all pulled into
the yard and the gate locked behind them, the gang began to filter into the
small house. Lilith took Kenny down to William’s bomb shelter. They accessed it
through a door hidden behind a shelf in the basement and spiral stair leading
into the small-reinforced shelter. She needed to measure his leg. She was going
to use some junk she had brought with her to whip up a brace for his
bullet-crippled leg. Steve had followed them down and changed Kenny’s bandages
after Lilith was done with him; at least the wound was not infected.
The Old man, Lilith’s father, had
settled in the old easy chair in the front room and was using the duct-tape
wrapped two-button remote to flip through channels as he tugged from his hip
flask. After everything above seemed settled in Wesley, El Guapo, and William
went down into the shelter to convene with the others.
Once they were gathered, William
pointed out the bank of video monitors on a table in the shelter. There were
cameras monitoring the property inside of the fence and all around the
perimeter of the electric fence. The shelter had a small main room with a
walk-in gun safe, a small bedroom/bathroom off to one side and a decent-sized
grow room and small storage closet. He told them that the house and shelter
were running on a large diesel generator housed in a small brick and mortar shed
behind the house. He also warned them that there were a few traps outside the
fence. They were essentially tripwires that set of firecrackers to scare off
trespassers and deer.
As evening approached, El Guapo and
William decided to make a quick patrol around the outside perimeter. They made
it almost completely around the outer rim of the property, El Guapo remarked on
how dark it was. After the sun went down it was pitch black, the glare of the
city lights could be seen faintly as a halo around a few of the lower hills
from a certain vantage point as well as a few columns of smoke. The city was apparently
on fire. They were sharing the common sentiment of being fortunate to have
gotten out of the city when they heard a metallic tinkling coming rapidly at
them then a few happy barks.
El Guapo (pulling his gun): “Zombie Dog! Zombie Dog!”
Cris: “It’s a zombie dog!?”
The GM (me): “No. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a normal
stray dog running happily up to you guys.”
William checked the small dog’s
collar for its tag. His name was “Tops”. William recognized him as belonging to
a nearby neighbor. The dog looked like it had not eaten for several days. After
contemplating this new piece of information silently, William led El Guapo and
Tops back into his compound.
Meanwhile, Steve pulled out his
laptop from his trunk and set it up on William’s badly worn yellow Formica
kitchen table. He found that even trying to access the internet via the phone
line was near impossible not because there was no connection but because it
appeared that, someone had erected a firewall between the outside world and
everyone in Amorset. Wesley came in and took a gander and confirmed his
assessment, she also figured that most radio signals were probably also jammed.
They both looked over at the television, only the public access channel was
broadcasting something other than a test pattern or an emergency system
The pair outside came in from their
patrol with Tops running inside and jumping into the Old Man’s lap. They
explained where the dog came from and all decided that it would be best if some
of them would go check on the neighbor. However, they could not agree on a
timeframe for that. So, they decided to “sleep on it”.
Jenn (turning to me all of a sudden): “Don’t you kill that
doggie, you’re going to kill that doggie aren’t you.”
The GM (me): “Ummm, No?”
Steve decided to stay up, try to
hack through the internet firewall, and do a little research on Geno-Chem. At
this point, the others had convinced him of the shady bioengineering chemical
conglomerate’s probable responsibility for this mess. After about an hour, he
had successfully accessed the corporate site and found mostly public relations
garbage. However, he also found that the company had been operating a
specialized laboratory out of the old oilrig on the lake.
Apparently, they had been cited for
improper storage of Class I, VII, and VIII chemicals on the old platform.
Geno-Chem also announced that the platform would be a part of their new plan of
economic rebirth. From the sound of it as he read it, it sounded like they were
about to remake the world into the Garden of Eden.
He shut down the laptop hearing only
snoring throughout the house. Realizing how tired he was he went to go sleep in
the backseat of his car.
The Fleeing of the
It was already evening by the time
everyone was ready to start planning again. Earlier in the day, Lilith had
finished Kenny’s leg brace and he was moving around again albeit slightly
slower. Steve had told everyone what he had found out the previous night and
that the internet was completely down now. He also cooked dinner, cheese topped
spaghetti with spam cubes in it. William was busy setting up a “war room”
around the kitchen table.
After dinner, the crew was huddled
around the table looking at the maps that William had pinned to the wall. They had
already decided to pursue the oilrig lead and still wanted to send a group to the
neighbor out of sheer curiosity. A quiet thumping began to cause the kitchen
table to vibrate. They all stood up. The will to speak died in their throats.
They turned to the windows their eyes like rabbits under headlights of an
oncoming diesel. The glass and picture frames began to rattle as the noise
increased in volume and intensity. Vague shapes, just pale blurs, shot out of
the dark just outside the electric fence and then just as suddenly flew back
Lilith: “Oh Gawd! It’s that big thing again isn’t it!?”
Kenny: “Aww man! I shot it’s leg off! How!?”
William (looking out the kitchen window): “It’s deer? It’s
El Guapo (also looking out the window): “It’s just deer, whoa
a lot of deer. A stampede!?”
The group filtered out the back door from the kitchen onto the covered back porch. The ground was rumbling with the amount of deer running panicked around the house. Occasionally a deer touched the fence and a bright burst of sparks would cause them to jump away and correct course. Then, a big buck tried to correct course at the very last minute and another large buck slammed into him thrusting his bulk into the fence tearing the chain-link from the poles and the whole length of the fence exploded in a white-hot flash of sparks.
The sound of the stampede faded into the distance towards the road. The dust left in the wake of the animals still hovered like a cloud of choking pine-scented smog. The house was completely dark; the entire electrical system had shorted out.
Lilith immediately ran to the generator shed and found that the buck hitting the fence had blown a high voltage capacitor. William did not have a spare. He had gone to town to pick up another one but decided to have a beer instead and then the zombie apocalypse happened.
Wesley: “Crap! We got to get that fence back up!”
Lilith (shouting to the others): “I can get the electricity
back up after you guys fix the fence BUT I’ll be bypassing the capacitor and if
the fence gets hit again it’ll blow everything, permanently!”
William: “Screw it. Do what you guys gotta do.”
El Guapo and Kenny volunteered to disentangle and pull the buck’s corpse from the fence and repair the chain-link. Meanwhile, Steve and William were going to wait on the porch with their weapons ready and keep a lookout.
The operation was moving ahead at a
brisk pace as the pair of volunteers easily cleared the roasted buck from the wire
and began to work on bending the chain-link back in shape and a few poles back straight
as well. Lilith was waiting for the signal to switch the power back on. William
and Steve were keeping their ears and eyes open for anything. Wesley was
leaning against the brick generator shed watching El Guapo and Kenny fix the
Steve shouted, “Look out! Something
big is coming in fast!” A huge shaggy shadow was bearing down on the pair
working on the fence. Wesley dropped to firing position and waited for a clear
shot with her Desert Eagle. Steve readied a rifle from William’s shelter
gun-safe. William readied his deer rifle.
Cris: “Dude we can’t shoot!”
Carlos: “What, why? I can hit it.”
Cris: “Cause we’ll shoot THEM! They’re in between us and
Carlos: “Oh yeah, I guess. Too bad I wanted to use my RPG.”
Cris: “Wait. What.”
Carlitos (pointing a finger at Carlos): “Dude, do not shoot
El Guapo pulled his Desert Eagle
and drilled the massive animal with a lethal shot. As it began to fall,
however, it took a sudden swipe at Kenny hitting with a sickening whap! The
creature fell dead heavily to the ground joined by the thud of Kenny’s limp
body. The bear had torn open his shoulder and slashed his face with a single
Carlitos: “Oh man! Am I dead?”
Cris: “Pff! I dunno! What’re your hit-points at?”
A few arithmetical calculations
later, it was determined that Kenny was unconscious and very near death but
some first aid worked to stabilize the bleeding. Their attentions turned to the
Cris (to me): “Really!? A zombie bear!?”
Isis: “It was a zombie? Is that possible?”
To be safe El Guapo “double-tapped”
the dead bear. They could see the steam wafting up from the bullet holes in its
head and smell the fresh, hot blood against mixed with the cool night air. It
had been a living animal but it also had some disturbing puss-yellow cysts or
tumors swelling from under its greasy coat in places. El Guapo lit a cigarette.
El Guapo (exhaling): “Well, there’s definitely something
wrong with that bear.”
Steve helped El Guapo to complete
the fence and after about another hour Lilith was able to hit the power.
Meanwhile, Kenny recuperated in a bed in the shelter wrapped in fresh bandages.
The following day, the group killed
time by playing cards while waiting for Kenny to heal up enough to move. They
continued to toss around ideas as to what to do. They only confirmed their
previous plan to gain access to the oilrig on the lake. After dinner, Kenny was
awake and surprisingly almost in traveling shape. El Guapo went outside on the
back porch to have a smoke in peace. He puffed readily on his cigarette as he
wandered aimlessly around the back yard and wound up near the power shed.
He stood for a while staring at the
stars. When he finished he flicked the glowing stub against the bricks hard
enough to put it out in a flash. He heard a ricochet, then another, and
another. The ground around his feet began to jump and spit and he could hear
the semi-automatic gunfire. Almost as a reflex, he leaped behind the safety of
the brick shed.
The shots came from the large tree
branches that overhung the electric fence. Squatting on the branches above were
soldiers in green rubber suits bearing M-16s with drum magazines. Their exposed
heads and faces revealed the rotting and partially mummified visages of
zombies. With a heavy thump, one of them jumped to the ground. El Guapo swung
the A-K from his shoulder and pulled the firing bolt, his back against the shed.
Wesley ran up from the shelter and
yelled for the rest in the house to wake up if they were still asleep; she had
seen El Guapo’s position from the security monitors. A spray of bullets from
all three of the zombie soldiers tore at the bricks of the shed pinning El
Guapo down. A second thump signaled a second creature was in the yard. Lilith
ran out to the back porch and shot the creature squatting in the tree putting a
9mm slug between its eyes. It fell to the ground in the yard. Steve fired
William’s hunting rifle from the kitchen door putting a large hole in the
second creature’s forehead.
Wesley rushed out of the door
knocking Steve to the side. She shot and took off half of the last creature’s
face destroying it.
El Guapo: “They have guns now?”
Wesley: “See! I told you! It’s the military; they’re trying
to kill us!”
Lilith: “We gotta figure something out.”
Cris: “Huh. That was kinda easy.”
Lilith (digging at one of the zombie’s forehead with a
knife): “Huh. Hey guys, these have those little red lights too.”
After about an hour Lilith was inspecting a microchip she had pulled from the skull of one of the soldier zombies. It appeared to be some sort of control chip wired to receive a specific signal. She also found a built-in electronic locator but easily disabled it. She had no idea how to prevent the control signal from being received or even if she could disrupt it.
Come sunrise, Lilith began work on
building a set of walkie-talkies with signal scrambling and better range using
the electronic parts found around William’s lair and a set of new walkies she
found down in the shelter. El Guapo, Steve, and William were going to travel to
William’s neighbor to check on things there, they suspected the zombie soldiers
had come from that direction. The rest of the gang just tried to get as much
rest as they could.
After a quick breakfast of
pancakes, sausages, and eggs cooked by non-other than El Guapo, the three that
had planned to scout the neighbor’s property packed up and left. William guided
them through the woods and down the hill towards a deep cleft between the
hills. They soon found themselves walking through a rocky creek bed their feet
drenched in its cold gently burbling waters. The streak of sky above, a break
in the umbrage was blinding and the direct sun was making them pour sweat.
Steve (to William): “Is it always this quiet out here?”
The dull green of the dense foliage
of the trees and bushes swelled on both sides of them. Occasionally, a slight
breeze would disturb the leaves the sound breaking the unnatural silence for a
few seconds. The shadows in the deeps of the foliage appeared in contrast to a
bright almost white clear sky pitch black.
Steve: “Are we almost there?”
William: “Yup, up this way.”
They surmounted a steep dirt path
that winded its way over the top of a shallow bluff and into the shadowy cover
of the trees. It was a little while longer before they found themselves at an
old and ill-maintained cottage with a companion barn, everything covered in a
thick brown carpet of pine needles. William walked onto the plank-board front
porch and pushed the half-opened front door open. The television on white noise
filled the room. The place smelled of rotting meat. The source was the fat old
woman sitting in the overstuff-chair before the television. She had been shot
through the temple her sawed-off shotgun still in her lap and her slippered feet
still on the antique ottoman. William mentioned that she did not like trespassers
… and salesmen.
A large black dog also shot was lying
in a pool of blackened congealed blood near the front door. The walls around
where the dog was bore a few stray bullet holes. The tag on the black shepherd
mix’s spiked collar read “Laddy”. Zombies did not do this.
El Guapo: “Man, let’s get outta here!”
About an hour later, the three
intrepid explorers returned to home base and delivered the news to the rest of
Lilith: “I say we get outta here tomorrow morning.”
The rest of the group concurred.
The rest of the day went on without interruption. After a dinner of chili beans
and canned corn, the gang was preparing to try to get a good rest before what
was going to be a rough adventure. At the kitchen table, Wesley was making sure
her weapons were in working order when she was done she slung her MP4 on her
shoulder. The others were watching the emergency messages on the television and
taking notes. She glanced through the kitchen window and saw several red pinpoints
of laser light dancing on the table and fridge. She shouted and kicked open the
backdoor and ran out onto the porch. She immediately had to duck for cover as the
back porch was shredded by automatic gunfire.
A squad of ten commandoes was bearing
down on the house. Two of them were setting up an M-249 SAW machine gun. Wesley
sprayed the area with her MP4 followed by El Guapo charging out onto the back
porch (hey they really did this) and sprayed some of the commandoes with fire
from his AK-47. Lilith ran to her car, which was parked, adjacent to the
backyard but next to the house. Steve got into firing position behind the
kitchen window with his rifle. After a few seconds, William joined him with a rocket-propelled
grenade launcher, an RPG-7, in his arms.
William: “Yeah, I’m gonna take these mother@#%$ers out!”
Kenny also charged through the back
door and tossed a grenade, it landed and exploded in a vacant area quite a
distance from the machine gun, his intended target. William stood up at the kitchen
window, took aim, and pulled the trigger hoping to blast the main group of
soldiers away. Click. The rocket failed to function it was a dud. The crack of
a single shot from a rifle and William collapsed onto the kitchen floor, blood
gushing from his belly. Another wave of gunfire washed over the place. Steve
took a shot dropping a soldier in the trees and turned his attentions to
stopping William’s bleeding.
The firefight lasted only a few
more seconds, the motley group of adventurers was victorious against all odds. The
generator shed had been shot to pieces but was still standing. The rear of the
house peppered with bullet holes. The soldiers had been living soldiers but
they had no markings as to indicate that they were government troops. Kenny found
a keycard on what he thought was the team leader. The card had the emblem of
the Geno-Chem on it and nothing else.
Carlitos: “Well that seals it I guess.”
Carlos: “I’m hurt, dude.”
El Guapo (to Wesley): “What’s wrong with you?”
Wesley: “Well, we can’t stay here anymore!”
Jenn (turning to me, the GM): “Damn, zombie game has No
Chill! No chill, man!”
Epilogue of the
The group began packing the vehicles
immediately. William disclosed the complete contents of his vault. It was
stocked with several boxes of 7.62 and 9mm rounds, 2 more rockets for the RPG, a
couple of 12-gauge shotguns, several hunting rifles, dozens of automatic
rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and a box of dynamite as well as a 1-kilo brick
Gil: “What? Seriously?”
Carlos: “Yeah man, I gotta make my money, I deal with
everybody back here.”
Kenny kept hold of the keycard and the vehicles were pulling out onto the dirt road.
Carlitos: “So where are we getting the boat?”
Gil: “What? What boat?”
Carlitos (turning to me): “It’s an oil rig in the middle of
a lake right?”
Cris: “Well, there’s lake houses around there somewhere,
there’s gotta be.”
Jen: “Yeah, someone has a boat we can steal.”
The convoy of vehicles kicked up a cloud of dust and pine needles as they roared away from the hilltop compound heading back to the Old Country Highway.
Later that night, my wife, Jenn, and I were driving home on the brightly lit freeway through Colton into San Bernardino when out of nowhere she turned to me.
“You know if you kill that dog I’m divorcing you.”
The Zombie Horror campaign
continues in Amorset, somewhere in the Northwestern U.S.A. This time around,
three new recruits join the fray. It has been a single day since all hell broke
loose within the city limits of Amorsetville and those that are able have fled,
spreading out into the suburbs and surrounding rural county. The radio and television
have been broadcasting a general emergency signal stressing all citizens to
remain where they are at as the army deploys from the Amorsetville base in a
Three figures trudged, loping with exhaustion through a sea of boiling air dancing over the hot pavement of the Old County Highway in the midday sun. All three puzzled by the complete lack of traffic along the road. It was terribly quiet, even the sounds of nature that should be abundant out here were non-existent. They could feel the alien silence pressing on their eardrums save for the soft scraping of their feet over the rough road. A couple of hours previously, the motley trio had leaped into the older guy’s car and fled the city during a chaotic night of blood and fire. Their car, an old surplus police car, stranding them on the old road after parking for a brief respite. When the older fella tried to turn it over, he found the battery dead. Thus, they abandoned it knowing that there was a junkyard “somewhere around here”.
The elder car owner, Steve McCullen
(played by Cris) was a Supernaturalist convinced that the outbreak had a
supernatural origin focused in the old cemetery that was also located in the
rural county. His companions were Kenny Logan (played by Carlitos) an off-duty
soldier from the Amorsetville base and William Fodder (played by Carlos) a
quiet survivalist that actually lived just off the road in the hills. After
what seemed like ages, baking under a hot afternoon sun on the blacktop, Kenny spotted
what appeared to be a biker at a distance of a few hundred feet shambling clumsily
towards them. He was on foot, dressed in a bloodstained denim vest and equally
stained denim bell-bottom pants. He also appeared to have several large bullet
holes in his chest and belly.
Steve kissed one of the charms
amongst the various religious symbols he wore around his neck, pulled his bow
from his back, and knocked an arrow. The three stopped.
Kenny (pulling his M-16 from his shoulder): “Is it one of
In response, William got in a
squatting position and scoped the biker out with his deer rifle. He could see
that the biker’s belly was bloated and seemed to pulsate and move as if
something were crawling inside of him. His eyes were yellow and dead, blood
crusted around his nose and mouth stiffening a scabby beard.
William: “Yup, it’s a zombie alright.”
Kenny unleashed a 3-round burst
into its head bursting its skull like a hairy rotten maggot-filled watermelon.
Quickly, William and Kenny jogged up to the headless corpse intent on looting it. However, Steve remained about a 20 ft. distance behind them. William saw a .22-semi-automatic pistol in the back of the biker’s jeans and reached for it with the intent of tossing it to Steve. Meanwhile, Kenny saw that the biker had a hunting knife in a hip-sheath. As the two manipulated the corpse to grab the loot, the biker’s stomach at the belly button split and burst open in a gross, gory gush of blackened organs.
The organs moved of their own accord like a disgusting blob and similarly, it tried to engulf William. An arrow flew into it with no effect. Shots rang out. Kenny had shot the Viscera Blob a couple of times but to little effect. William dodged and started to run away farther down the road until his disgust got the better of him and he nearly vomited forcing him to stop mid-flight.
Kenny saw that his bullets and
Steve’s arrow had little effect and so pulled out a hand grenade, another bit
of equipment he had “borrowed” from the base and shouted “fire in the hole!”
One end of the creature lifted up like a tentacle and vomited forth acid,
spraying William down, he screamed. Kenny tossed his grenade and ran, Steve
ducked where he was and William dove away to the side ditch.
Cris: “You have a GRENADE!?”
Carlitos: “Well, yeah.”
Cris: “Your on leave from the base?”
Cris: “What were you planning?”
Carlitos: “You know, whatever.”
Their ears ringing after the small
but intense explosion, the creature liquefied. Black foul-smelling bile splattered
everywhere. Steve ran over to William using the water in his canteen to wash
the acid from William’s torso preventing further damage. The crisis over, they
continued their trek after it was determined that William could still keep up
despite some pretty painful and deep chemical burns.
It was nearing dusk when they
arrived at the wrecking yard fence, the dirty old sign proclaimed Fletcher
& Sons Wrecking & Repair since 1965. As they neared the gate, they
could hear an argument in midstream, “Hey don’t knock out my father!”
Junk Yard Dogs
Wesley, El Guapo, and Lilith were standing by the front chain-link gate of the junkyard trying to decide where they were going to flee to in Lilith’s armored car. All three were debating their “options” when Lilith’s father emerged from the garage. He mumbled as he strode to the gate, mumbling about “nobody here” at work, “lazy S.O.B.’s”. At the same time, the debate became especially heated between Lilith and El Guapo. Meanwhile, Wesley noticed the old man approaching the locked gate and pulling a cluster of keys on a zip-line. He fumbled to find the right key for a few seconds then went to unlock it.
Wesley: “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! No-no-no!”
She grabbed the old man away from
the gate and he spat a nasty sexist insult in her face. Wesley slapped him,
Jenn: “Hey my girl assumes the old guy’s hysterical. So he
has to be slapped. Also for what he said.”
The old man stepped back, his face frozen in shock. Lilith and El Guapo were staring caught off-guard by the sudden situation. The old man started to throw a punch at Wesley. She immediately knocked him out with a perfectly timed jab to the jaw.
Lilith: “Hey! Did you just knock out my father!”
Wesley: “Hell yeah! He deserved it!”
Lilith: “Hey don’t knock out my father!”
Wesley: “He threw a punch at me!”
Steve (hanging on the chain-link): “*Ahem* Hey! You open?
You guys got any car batteries!”
After a brief bit of talking with
the three at the gate and assessing the situation, Lilith decided to let them
into the yard. Parked in the yard to the side of the main dirt driveway in a
space allotted for a parking lot was two custom choppers and a pickup truck
with its windshield shot out. Steve, Kenny, and William noticed there was
shattered safety glass all over the driveway outside the gate. El Guapo shared
the story of the gunfight the previous night with the outlaw bikers.
Steve was talking to Lilith. Her “goth senses” were tingling and she found the longhaired Supernaturalist very appealing. Kenny talked with El Guapo and Wesley. He wanted to get himself back on base thinking the military probably had a plan. At a minimum, that would be the safest place to be, as close to the army as possible. William remained silent but was extremely distrustful of the government and was not going to go with that plan.
Carlos: “Yeah dude, I’m not gonna go with that plan man.
After all, William believed the
military was responsible for this in the first place. He hugged his rifle
tighter than usual.
Eventually, Steve and Lilith
decided to take the yard “wrecker” and a charged battery to go and get his car.
He would then follow her back. At this point, the entire group had decided that
there was “strength in numbers”. The round trip would take anywhere from 40
minutes to an hour. They soon left and Wesley took William to the office to try
to treat his acid burns with the first aid kit located there.
Meanwhile, El Guapo was bragging to
his eager audience of Kenny about the biker gunfight. They walked around to the
rear of the garage where they had dragged the corpses. There were five corpses
El Guapo: “Um. Wait. Something is weird here.”
Gil (to me): “Wait, how many bikers did we kill?”
The GM (me): “The four that walked up on Lilith and Wesley
and three in the driveway, then you dragged two from the driveway and the four corpses
in behind the garage.”
Gil: “But. I shot ‘em all in the head. Right?”
The GM (checking notes): “The driver from the pickup was the
one you guys shot in the face and the other four… Yes, double-tap situation.”
Gil: “That’s six right? And five in the head?”
The GM: “Yupperooni.”
El Guapo: “Uh-oh.”
EL Guapo and Kenny barged into the
office and warned William and Wesley that there was probably a walker loose in
the yard. They were to stay put and watch the monitors while El Guapo and Kenny
tracked it down. Eventually, after several tense moments, the pair of hunters
picked up a trail of blood. As they stalked between rows of the high stacks of
crushed cars, pillars of old tires, and mountainous piles of scrap, they had a
softly spoken conversation. As a result, they realized the biker that Kenny and
his two companions had met on the road was probably a biker killed by El Guapo
and the two women during the shootout. They had just forgotten the corpse by
the driveway outside of the fence.
El Guapo tracked the blood trail
further into the maze of junk. Eventually, he lost it. Kenny tried to keep an
eye out but started to try to help El Guapo to find it again. They were out of
the view of any cameras. Both were kneeling studying the ground when Kenny, by
chance, heard a slight noise behind them. A zombie in leathers was stumbling
from behind a mound of rusted engine blocks.
Carlitos: “Well, there’s the stealth zombie.”
Jenn: “Hee hee. Ninja zombie.”
The GM: *cough*cough* “No yet.”
Everybody at the Table: 😐
After a three-round burst to the creature’s head, the pair let out a sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, Lilith and Steve made it
to his stalled out police car on the side of the road without complication. However,
by the time that they arrived at the vehicle Steve’s non-stop blathering about
the supernatural cause of the zombie outbreak had gotten on her nerves. Any
attraction that might have squirmed in her breast at the sight of his
pagan-symbol inscribed charms was stone cold dead.
Isis (exasperated): “Aw gawd, I hate this guy.”
It was not long before Lilith had
the car hood up and replacing the battery in lieu of any conversation. Steve
was just standing around awkwardly trying to keep watch for any trouble. Lilith was almost finished when Steve spotted
several zombies filtering out of the woods onto the highway some badly rotted.
“Damn, it must be the old cemetery.” Lilith finished, slammed the hood, and they
got into their respective vehicles. Getting the lead out and into their
gas-pedal, the pair made it back in half the time to the wrecking yard.
However, before he had completely left the zombies in the dust Steve had seen
through his rearview mirror that the road was filling up with zombies, it was a
large horde. “Aw man! They’re gonna follow the f*&#@ing cars!”
It was already dark by the time
they had got back and alerted the others. They decided that Lilith would finish
her car ASAP and create a portable makeshift flamethrower for Kenny (he could
use one after all), and three others would take turns keeping watch from the
garage roof. Kenny was already there though it was not yet first watch, he
would stay until the watches started. After William relieved him, he went into
the office and decided to try to get in touch with the base and let them know his
location using the CB.
Kenny was soon able to get in contact with his base. At least they had the proper code words. Through intermittent static, he got orders to stay put and got some information about the checkpoints at the borders of the county and other side of the city having problems. The communique ended abruptly, the signal dropped and Kenny was unable to re-establish communications.
Suddenly, William shouted from the
rooftop. Ten Zombies were at the chain-link gate. It looked as if it were going
be pushed down at any minute. Fortunately, the rest of the fence had an outer
shell of old aluminum siding and was plenty sturdy. The metal gate groaned.
Fight with Fire
The group of zombies at the gate
pressed themselves into the chain-link seemingly oblivious to the presence of
the living within. That was until El Guapo and Kenny ran into the driveway
before the gate shouting. Immediately the zombies surged and the gung-ho pair
could hear the metal gate strain.
Gil: “We probably should have stayed out of sight.”
Kenny readied his M-16 and El Guapo his AK-47. Atop the garage, William put a foot on the elevated edge of the roof and got into firing position with his rifle at the ready. Steve ran around and stayed half-hidden around the corner of the garage knocking an arrow to his bow. Lilith and Wesley stayed inside of the garage still rushing to finish building the flamethrower having finished upgrading Lilith’s Chevrolet.
Kenny and El Guapo swept the
driveway area at a 45-degree angle at head level taking out only about three
zombies in total. A shot rang out, a halo of blood and brains around a blonde
head, a single zombie dropped. William’s carefully aimed shot had paid off. El
Guapo slung his assault rifle onto his shoulder and pulled his machete from his
belt. He did not want to do another spray and “waste bullets”.
El Guapo: “Machetes don’t run out of bullets.”
He then doused the blade in
gasoline from a container by the gate and lit it ablaze.
Gil: “I’m going to stab them in the head through the gate.”
The GM: “Um, a machete blade is not going to fit through the hole of a chain-link fence man.”
Gil: “The hell? Yeah, it will.”
The back and forth on the machete
debate went on for a few minutes until Gil showed me the picture on his phone. “This
is what I was thinking.” The picture was of a very fancy custom blade being sold
as “the ultimate machete”. I have to admit, it was nice. Eventually, I
relented. His argument: “I’m an awesome bounty hunter, so I need an awesome
The GM (me): “Yeah, whatever. Go ahead and do your thing.”
An arrow thudded into a zombie
temple, another zipped into a forehead and came out the back of the skull.
However, Steve had failed to drop either zombie with his archery. Another shot
cracked from the roof of the garage and yet another halo of blood and brains
signaled the demise of yet another zombie. El Guapo rammed his flaming custom
blade through the fence flamboyantly slaying another creature. Zombies
continued to drop as the gate continued to hold them back. Then a shot cracked
out again from William’s hunting rifle. Kenny’s right thigh exploded, he
screamed and dropped to the ground.
William’s misfire had hit Kenny in
the back of the thigh crippling his leg. El Guapo finished off the last zombie with
a flaming stab through the gate. He then turned and offered to cauterize Kenny’s
leg wound. El Guapo wisely decided not to do that when Kenny loudly objected,
as did the rest of the group.
Carlitos (to Carlos): “Dude! You shot me? You shot me in the
Carlos (shrugging): “Um yeah, I guess so. Um. Oops I guess,
Carlitos: “Dude you owe me man! You owe me.”
Jenn: “What!? Why does he owe you!?”
Carlitos: “He shot me in the leg!”
The zombies destroyed, El Guapo
helped Kenny into the office. There, Wesley stopped the bleeding from the
bullet wound; the bullet had gone straight through but it had still broken the
bone. He would need a splint to walk. As a result, Steve, Lilith, and even
Kenny himself had tried to splint the leg but it still took several tries
before Lilith and Steve in a conjoined effort finally got it right.
Fortunately, no one had further injured him.
Afterward, Steve went outside the gate. He took out a can of silver spray paint from his backpack and spray painted protective magical runes on the aluminum sheeting of the fence.
Steve (admiring his handiwork): “There, that’ll protect us
for a while.”
By the next morning, the gang was
ready to move out. El Guapo was ready to leave his custom chopper to ride in
the wrecker with Kenny and his flamethrower. However, before they left, Lilith
was going to mount a few plates of armor on it as well bolt the snowplow on the
front. While she did this assisted by Wesley, Kenny and El Guapo decided to
make Molotov cocktails. By the time the wrecker was armored, by early
afternoon, the pair had produced about 5 Molotovs apiece. They put four
cocktails in Lilith’s car.
Steve’s old police car, the wrecker
with Kenny and El Guapo, and Lilith in her armored Chevrolet sedan began to
move out convoy style. However, during their eagerness to leave, somehow Wesley,
Lilith’s father aka the Old Man, and William wound up in Lilith’s car along
with a substantial load of supplies. Steve was left riding alone.
All of them noticed that a deep
thumping sound began to beat on their eardrums and into their chests. This
sound was growing more intense by the second until it began to jostle the junk strewn
around the vehicles. The caravan of cars pulled to the front gate slowly and
stopped. Lilith’s car was in the lead with the tow truck at the rear. Lilith
got out of her car to undo the lock on the gate. The thumping was shaking the
cars. Kenny shouted. They could all see a large green helmeted head above the
tin-sheet fence. It was moving up and down in time with the thumps. The thing
came into full view slowly. Lilith ran back to her car and shut the door. The
tow truck tore off in a U-turn and took off in the opposite direction.
A 12-ft tall creature made of solid muscle towered over the gate. Its head encased in a green helmet with a single blinking light at the center of the smooth faceplate. The barrel-like torso was encased in a cuirass of similar material, it looked like tank armor. It was humanoid but it was not in human proportions, its legs were short and thick and its long heavily muscled arms hung down to the ground. Following this thing were dozens probably more, zombies undulating to the pace of the blinking electric eye. Some of the pathetic creatures had small red lights, like LEDs, embedded in their heads and temples, all blinking in unison with the large tank-zombie’s light.
The thing flung the gate a hundred feet behind it without effort. Thinking quick, Kenny fired his M-16 at the oil barrels and gas containers near the front gate. Miraculously they exploded and spread burning oil over the driveway. The giant monster stopped and flung an overlong arm seemingly to protect its non-existent face. However, during this brief respite, Lilith panicking had a hard time trying to three-point turn her way around while the other two vehicles were turning around and going out the rear off-road exit to the yard. Staring at that massive zombie-tank, Kenny had a sudden flash of memory.
Weeks ago while jerking around on base; Kenny had stumbled into a “secure area” run by both the government and some corporation. He wandered down the wrong hallway and through an open bay door where he spotted pieces of armor identical to those on the large zombie he currently faced. From around a corner, he had also heard a conversation about a “probably illegal” bio-weapon program and remembered seeing several corporate types in suits strutting around the on-base labs.
Jenn: “I knew it! The damned military sent that thing!”
Carlitos: “Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now, there
could be a good explanation behind this. Right?”
Lilith just had gotten her car around to face the right direction when the big guy hurdled through the fire grabbing her reinforced bumper. Screaming Lilith tried to maneuver her car to try to free it from the monster’s iron grip. The creature lifted her rear wheels off the ground. Kenny fired another burst at the creature but his bullets did nothing barely even scratching its armor. Wesley tossed a Molotov into its face from the passenger side window. It took a step back and let go. All of the cars began to move in a nerve rackingly slow convoy. As they proceeded, Steve saw the creature pat out the flames on its armored face. Galloping on hands and feet, it began to charge the last car, Lilith’s Chevy.
Lilith: “Oh no, oh no, oh no!”
Carlitos: “Wait! I have an idea!”
This time Kenny took careful aim with his M-16 and emptied his clip on one of its unarmored legs, specifically to the left knee. The sound of roaring engines and shouting drowned out the impact of bullets smashing into the bone of a giant kneecap and tearing through the tendons and flesh. The leg fell free of the beast and it stumbled and fell forward crashing into the ground with a tremendous thump. Lilith had just avoided the monster’s mass as it fell heavily into the dirt and the caravan proceeded to the rear of the yard as zombies flooded in.
Eventually, the lead cars moved aside
to let Lilith’s vehicle speed ahead to lead. Soon they were out and away via
the rear exit, a dirt road that led to a series of off-road paths that
eventually led back to the main highway.
The three-vehicle convoy wound its
way back to the County Highway continuing west. They were looking for William’s
home. He had a well-equipped bomb-shelter.
Cris: “Damn. We’re gonna run into those zombies.”
Isis: “Uhg, I forgot about those.”
Gil: “Wait. What? Weren’t those back there at the junkyard,
the group you guys saw?”
Jenn: “No, but the ones they saw were 11 hours away.”
She had calculated the time that
the zombie horde Steve and Lilith had seen would take to get to the junkyard on
Carlitos: “So those zombies came from the other direction
then. From the direction of the checkpoint!?”
Carlos: “Wait. What checkpoint?”
The convoy slowed as a dense mass
of about 60 zombies came into view, clogging the road.
Lilith: “Screw it! I’m going through ‘em!”
El Guapo: “Hell yeah! We’ll lead with the wrecker and if
anybody gets stuck we’ll hook you out!”
El Guapo stomped on the gas and plowed the tow truck right through the center of the crowd mashing every creature in his way, bodies shattering on the angled steel of the snowplow. In turn, Lilith hit the gas and got a corpse stuck in her wheel well stopping her dead in the middle of the gore trail surrounded by several zombies. Steve hit his gas trying to connect with Lilith’s bumper in an attempt to push her out but he only succeeded in getting himself stuck as well.
Seeing this, the tow truck backed up while Kenny climbed out of the window onto the wench with flamethrower on his back. He lowered the hook then used his flamethrower to keep the horde at bay away from the cars as El Guapo leaped out and hooked up Lilith’s car. A few seconds later and Lilith and her passengers were free of the zombie hoard. However, Steve was still stuck, his wheels spinning uselessly in a slick mass of mangled human flesh. All the others could do to help was to keep the zombies away until he could get himself loose. Fortunately, that did not take long and they all sped away at top speed soon after.
After about an hour’s drive up into the foothills and trees, they pulled up to a high barbed wire-topped chain-link security fence. The warning sign stated DANGER – Electric Fence! All was well. However, Kenny was still thinking about rejoining the military somehow, William would probably not want to leave the safety of his fortress home once ensconced, and Steve believed the tank-zombie was a “true undead” calling all of the zombies to him, the reason that his protection runes failed to work on it. Wesley was utterly distrustful of the government at this point and planning to murder Kenny before he could contact the army again. Lilith glanced at her father in the backseat he was asleep. She resolved to get some sleep finally.
After the third session of the Zombie Horror game (the Corpse World campaign), my wife Jenn and I were driving home on the 10 freeway going into Cherry Valley. We had just entered a stretch where it sank into the rising hills and where lights other than on the freeway were sparse. I was drunk and pleased that I had got through all of my bullet points slouching in my seat ready to sleep staring out at the black silhouettes of hills racing by. As we passed under a brightly lit overpass, she turned to me.
“You know. Maybe you should kill at least one of us next game, to make it more suspenseful!”
Jenn was driving us along Sierra Avenue already in downtown Fontana, the sky orange and gold shadowing the old mission-style church and casting the newer library glass in dim blue. We were on our way to the game after picking up Cris in Muscoy. As we passed city hall the conversation about the game turned to the old test sessions just before the release of the first edition of Zombie Horror.
Cris: “…Just be careful what you say in this game.”
Jenn: “What? Why?”
Cris: “HORROR MOVIE RULES! That’s why. Fresh batteries, look
first. Y’know, in the test game those idiots wanted to stop for gas on our way
out of the city for some stupid reason!”
I started laughing.
Cris: “Look at ‘em! YOU remember! So we stopped at the
f&*#$n gas station and here it comes!
A gas truck on fire covered with zombies, and of course a big explosion,
and ugh! We didn’t even need the gas!”
Cris (whispered under his breath): “idiots”
Me (turning to Jenn): “Ha ha, I did do that!”
It was several minutes before we
arrived at our destination, Jenn’s parents’ house. We were playing at the
in-laws’ house because Gil was in town and this was going to be one of the rare
times we could all get together. It was not long before we sat gathered around
the 6-person dining table.
Preamble or the
Info-Dump of the Dead
The incident occurs in the City of
Amorsetville and the surrounding county somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The
main feature of the county is a large lake, polluted by an old oilrig at its
center, with a dense pine forest surrounding it. The main thoroughfare for the
county, connecting it to the city and the freeway, is the Old County Highway
that cuts through the forest passes and a shallow pass cut through the hills
and runs into the rural areas with old houses and hillbillies, then scattered
farms and ranches, then mostly new suburb developments until finally hitting
On the Southside of the lake, Lake
Ponchateaux, are narrow rocky beaches crowded with lake-goer trash, mostly beer
cans and bottles, and a significant concrete section near the road is the
termination point of the city storm drains. On the north and western sides, the
lake is bordered and feeds a significant stretch of marshland with hills and
thick forest on its east shore. Nearby the lake are a large and old trailer
park (Atomic Park) and a wrecking yard/junkyard. There is also an active
landfill a few miles west of these. To the south of the Old County Highway
which runs east and west, is a maze of back roads, mostly dirt, and patches of
old houses and trailers.
Near the far end of the county, at the western extreme, just off the Old County Highway is the Broken Saddle. It is an ugly faded yellow box of a building, an old dive bar. Currently, it is a pit stop for truckers and outlaw bikers who have some shady business to conduct on the county back roads. The old west style mortarboard has a chopper with a black saddle painted on it although the paint is long ago faded and peeling off to reveal a horse underneath the bike. The old horse ties still stand out front, sad leftovers from when it was a popular cow-punch themed nightspot.
The Outlaw Bar
In the Broken Saddle, the place was
full, it was not a large space by any means but it did pretty good business
considering its comparatively remote location. The jukebox was cranking out
classic country and rock hits and a blue smog of cigarette and reefer smoke
drifted lazily among the wood rafters and hanging pool table lights. Bikers in
dirty denim dominated the few pool tables and various clusters of truckers
occupied a few tables and some bar stools, yet there was room for more.
At a low table in the corner by the
bar and opposite the rank smelling and ill-maintained restrooms sat our heroes.
At the table nursing a pitcher of cheap beer were Wesley dressed in faux
country & western finery (played by Jenn), El Guapo in a road-grimed duster
(played by Gil), and Lilith, a pink-haired Goth in fishnets and gloss-black PVC
moto shorts (played by Isis).
The GM (me): “Wha…frickin’ El Guapo! What like from the Three
friggin’ Amigos movie!?”
Gil: “What? No. I haven’t seen that.”
Wesley, despite her plain looks and country-look reminiscent of a 70’s urban cowboy film, was a Bounty Hunter by trade. She was armed with a Desert Eagle in a hidden underarm holster underneath her shirt and another in a hidden holster in the small of her back accessible through a slit in the back of her shirt as well as a little .22 semi-auto hideaway pistol in her boot. She was a cousin of the Goth girl at the table, the same with the “outlaw” that was helping with the pitcher.
El Guapo, as he had dubbed himself, was a Gunslinger from southern Mexico and on the hunt for a bounty that he had pursued to the back roads of Amorset on the back of his chopper. While he was here, he had figured to source the help of his few relatives in the area. However, he was no closer to his quarry after a week of hunting. He had a wide-brimmed grey ten-gallon hat with a small peacock feather stuck in the band. Also, he was wearing, besides the dirty tan duster, a red lumberjack button-up, a brown leather belt with a large silver buckle, a pair of dark blue denim jeans, and a pair of well-worn cowboy boots.
IN addition, he was also armed with a Desert Eagle pistol in a hidden underarm holster underneath his shirt, a folding buck-knife in a sheath on his belt, and a bowie knife in his boot. He grabbed the half-full pitcher and refilled the Goth’s empty glass.
Lilith was by all appearances a club frequenting Goth-girl in the full drag, pancake makeup, bright red lipstick, and black fingernail polish. However, she was a consummate gear-head, Gizmoteer by trade, and was the only child of the severely alcoholic owner of the local wrecking yard. Her short pink hair was spiked into a faux-hawk, she was not armed to the teeth, however, she did own a gun, but she did have a multi-tool in a holster on her hip and a pocketknife zipped in a pocket.
All were bored and looking for a job, their prime concern to get some money, but here they were more likely to find trouble. Nonetheless, they began circulating amongst the truckers and bikers. Lilith talked with the bulky and somewhat tight-lipped bartender; her flirting got her a free shot. The trio almost happened upon a gunrunning deal but that would have required them to wait a while in the bar, a few hours. Already the bikers were picking fights with unfortunate randos walking into the place.
The motley trio decided to leave and head out to the Goth club after Lilith’s suggestion. Just as they cleared the tab and rose from their seats, they heard the wrack of smashing metal and the hideous bang of a car wreck. The place shook. For a brief second, the place was dead silent as the patrons exchanged wide-eyed glances. Suddenly, a scraggly older biker rushed in and shouted, “The bikes man! He hit our f*@#in’ bikes!”
The place cleared of bikers; most
of the bike-riding patrons were of the notorious local outlaw motorcycle club,
the Black Skulls.
Lilith: “Aw man! We need to get outta here.”
El Guapo: “Well, I’ll follow you on my chopper.”
Wesley (pointing at Lilith): “C’mon let’s go! I ride with
They rushed out of the nearly empty
bar and made it to their vehicles. They could see a small red four-door sedan
had smashed into the line of choppers out front of the place. The driver was in
bad shape as he was pulled from the wreck. He was drenched in blood, which El
Guapo thought odd; the wreck did not look that bad. The trio then heard a
biker-chick, a tall bleached blonde in leopard print and tight black leather
pants cry out, “oh my god! There’s a kid in here!”
The trio pulled away in their
vehicles and rolled to the dirt and gravel driveway to the street. Wesley saw
that the biker chick was cradling the apparently unconscious child.
Isis: “Aw c’mon! We gotta get outta here!”
Jenn: “Well, I was just lookin’!”
Gil: “Yeah this is bad, let’s go! I’m already going.”
As El Guapo followed Lilith’s
beat-up ’98 Chevy sedan, he saw the biker chick suddenly stand up screaming
with the child fixed to her neck by its teeth. Something else was also
happening with the passenger and driver but this was out of his sight. The trio
Gil: “Whew! Just in time!”
They had been on the road for about half an hour before passing a diesel tanker pulled over to the side of the Old County Highway. It was a chemical tanker, the graphics on its side indicated that the truck belonged to Geno-Chem. The tank sides were bulging and the truck emergency lights were blinking. El Guapo spotted the driver walking around the truck with a flashlight. He had a gas mask on. They drove by still about 30 minutes away from their goal in the heart of the city, the Goth club.
Zombie Goth Party
A while later, the trio found themselves in the city’s commercial district. The sodium lit streets appeared deserted and quiet. However, the line out front of the Goth club, known as the Bat Gate, was as long, black-clad, and morose as ever. The club had two large castle-style doors as its entrance and a bat silhouette above the doors limed in blue-white fluorescent lights. The bat suspiciously resembled the Batman symbol, which was a well-worn point of humor for goers and passersby alike.
Lilith pulled her beat-up sedan into the parking structure immediately adjacent to the club. El Guapo decided to cruise around the around block as he “was not parking his hog in there”. He eventually found a parking spot about two blocks north of the club, the curbs lined with cars from the club goers. So, he parked his bike under a street light and proceeded to walk to the club entrance. He passed by a wide alley that ran along the rear of the Bat Gate where some club-goers congregated to smoke cigarettes and “get some air” after drinking too much. The pale electric-cyan of mercury-vapor light illuminated the rear double-doors and limned the tight knot of smoking Goths in impenetrable black. El Guapo spotted the silhouette of what he assumed was a homeless man stumbling through the shadowed part of the alley that spilled into the sidewalk.
El Guapo yelled a command to “stop
right there” suddenly at the shadow. The lurching form seemed not to heed his
warning. However, it was advancing slowly so he walked away but at a more
hastened pace. As he put distance between himself and the shadow he heard a Goth-chick
in the alley mutter, “What was that, ha-ha-ha!”
Meanwhile, Lilith was busy flirting
with the bouncer at the door. Eventually, the flirting paid off; both women
were let in without having to be searched. They waited just inside the doors
for El Guapo as the deep bass thumped through the floor and vibrated their
bones. When El Guapo showed up, they entered. He did not mention his odd
The trio bellied up to the acrylic and glass neon-lit bar, the bartender was in full drag and heavily muscled with a multitude of face piercings and tattoos. They ordered a first-round and as they pronounced cheers, they vowed not to split up “no matter what”. Not long after their pledge, Wesley was approached by a Goth-Prince decked out in shiny black PVC, silver chains, and hairy chest exposed by his open-breasted outfit, a mane of pitch-black hair framing his white-painted face though his chiseled good looks still showed through. She immediately went off onto the dance floor with him.
El Guapo (as he took another shot of tequila): “Figures.”
Jenn: “Whaat!? My character doesn’t know what’s about to
happen and she needs a little!”
Isis: “Gaawd! I know! I’m so TENSE!”
Lilith (taking her goblet of red wine in hand): “Ya know
what? I’m gonna go see if I can get us up into the VIP tables.”
With that, Lilith went to the far side of the club opposite the entrance and began to work her charms with the bouncer minding the velvet rope that held off the commoners from the tables on the mezzanine. After easily getting past that hurdle she then spotted for somebody on the upper roped off mezzanine to charm, preferably a loner, she soon spotted her target, a lone effeminate looking person with only the top of their head shaved and butterfly tattoos between the heavily linered and lashed eyes. She seductively sauntered up to their table. In contrast, El Guapo haunted the bar served tequila shots from the muscly, fully cosmetically tricked out bartender.
El Guapo (stopping just short of a buzz): “This is too much for
me man! I got to get out of here.”
He left to smoke a cigarette out front. Then he started walking around the corner as the bouncer told him to “take it around the corner”. He decided to go check on his bike, his cigarette still between his lips. There were a few people on the streets, or more accurately in the street. A woman with a horrified look on her face ran past El Guapo so fast he could feel the draft in her wake. He turned back around and saw that four people were running at him!
All four appeared disheveled and dirty but they were not homeless. They were zombies, fast zombies. El Guapo quick-drew his Desert Eagle and took pumped two shots into the lead creature’s chest. It had little effect.
Isis: “No! Head! Head!”
Gil: “But my character doesn’t know that yet… hey, since my
shots should have already killed him, can I take a shot?”
El Guapo took careful aim at the
lead zombie it was almost upon him. He pulled the trigger and completely
missed. The lead zombie grappled his weapon-arm.
El Guapo: “Sh@#! Sh@#! Sh@#!”
The second zombie was also upon him
and grabbed a hold of his other arm biting into his forearm. Fortunately, it
only tore the heavy material of his duster sleeve. The other two zombies were close.
He strained his wrist to point his weapon at the first zombie. Its head burst
like a ripe melon covering El Guapo in a thick and rancid coating blood and
brains. He turned his pistol on the second zombie again. Again, he was
splattered with soupy gore. The third zombie ran at him and he moved just in
time to shove the barrel of his gun in between its bared yellow teeth blowing
out the back of its skull. He was able to put a bullet between the eyes of the
last from a comfortable distance.
Gil: “Holy crap! I almost died… it only takes ONE bite huh? Crap!”
Meanwhile, in the club, Wesley was behind one of the giant hanging Persian rugs along the wall at the rear of the club near the alley exit. She and her Goth-Beau had their hands under each other’s clothes and going at it all hot and heavy. It was a well-known make-out place called the “tapestries” and to go behind them had become local slang for “let’s go do some heavy petting”. Wesley’s Goth-Prince had just unzipped his tight leather pants at her behest when she heard some screams. The sounds of dozens of trampling feet just on the other side of the carpet overwhelmed even the loud club music. Then she was pinned against her guy by innumerable bodies on the other side of the tapestry. She could barely breathe. A crush of people coming in from the alleyway was suffocating them!
It took her a while to push her way
along the wall and into the dense, panicking crowd. She could see people being
trampled on the dance floor and see others being attacked or attacking, biting
and scratching. The scene was insane and terrifying, the music abruptly cut-off
and all that could be heard after through ringing ears were stomping feet and
Jenn (joyously): “Alright! Now I can pull out my MP4!”
Me (the GM): “What!? You couldn’t carry that thing into the
Jenn: “Why not? It says it’s a machine pistol in the book.”
Me: “YES… it’s an SMG… *sigh*”
A few minutes of explanation later…
Me: “It’s in the trunk of Lilith’s car.”
Immediately, as the chaos began to spread, Lilith raced from her mark down onto the stairs to spot for her friends. She desperately messaged them on her phone. El Guapo was outside but Wesley was still near the back of the club. Fortunately, Lilith was able to spot her just as the fleeing crowd pushed her to the ground. Lilith leaped to action over the brass banister and made it easily to her friend in time to pick her up from the floor. They fled towards the entrance. The crowd pushed them along like a mudslide then suddenly as the flood of people hit the bottleneck to the entrance the riptide of the crowd forced the pair apart.
Lilith was pushed backward, Wesley
was knocked to the carpet immediately taking a few kicks to the stomach, and as
she struggled to rise using the wall, had the wind knocked out of her when
another club-goer was forced into her catching her in the gut with an elbow.
She blacked out when a knee smashed into her face while falling to the floor.
The next thing she was aware of was hanging on to Lilith’s shoulder for dear life
and tasting the blood flowing from her nose as they ran out into the already
The bruised pair of women spotted
their friend, El Guapo, inspecting some dead bodies lying on the pavement. He
had a smoking gun in his hand. They shouted to him and the trio agreed to meet
around the corner in their vehicles and get out of dodge post haste.
Lilith and Wesley ran to the parking structure via the caged-in pedestrian ramp, Lilith had parked her Chevy on the second level. As they beat it up the ramp they stopped when a twitching and badly wounded man blocked their path. He immediately charged them. Wesley immediately drew her Desert Eagle and put a hole in his chest but to no effect. As a result, Lilith quick-drew the twin Desert Eagle from the small of Wesley’s back. Her bullet nailed the zombie in the forehead blowing a fair portion of its head off spattering Wesley with blood.
Wesley: “My gun? You pulled my gun from my back?”
Wesley: “Don’t do that again.”
They made it to their car as another zombie charged them from across the structure. As they backed up, they knocked it back with the rear bumper then peeled out of the garage. Wesley called El Guapo. He was already at the agreed-upon nearby intersection, it was quickly becoming “a clusterf@#k”.
Later, on their way out of the city, they ran into an intersection choked with cars and crowded with zombies rushing over them like a wave of piranha. They immediately turned around by running over the curb and onto the sidewalk avoiding the other cars as they also entered that trap and crashed in desperate attempts to escape. After driving excessively fast through a maze of strangely empty residential streets they finally drove onto the Old County Highway. All let out a sigh of relief. They had agreed to hold up at Lilith’s dad’s place, the Wrecking Yard.
They had been driving for a good
while along the completely darkened road well over the county border when their
headlights glared back at them off a dense yellow fog flowing over the road. It
was gas coming from the stalled tanker on the side of the road. The very same
tanker they had passed hours ago on their way to the club. They stopped a fair distance
away, should the wind change. The bulging tank had apparently ruptured.
Lilith: “Screw it, I’m gonna ram right through it!”
Wesley: “What about the gas!?”
Lilith (shrugging): “Just roll up the window. I’ll go real
fast through it, or hold your breath.”
El Guapo: “What about
me!? I’m totally exposed!”
Lilith: “Then get in the car!”
El Guapo: “I’m not leaving my bike.”
Because of the gas, they decided to
not risk it and go around the long route via the country back roads. These
roads were rough, completely unlit, and mostly dirt. There was the occasional
old house and group of trailers as they drove. They did slow pace as to avoid
getting stuck in a rut, hitting a rock, or running into the deep drainage
ditches on the side that were becoming increasingly frequent. They were finally
nearing the highway. However, a few hundred feet from the highway just after
the sharp turn in the dirt road Lilith skidded to a stop. El Guapo rumbled up
alongside. A trailer home hauled by an old pickup sat jackknifed across the
road blocking it. The pickup was still idling.
El Guapo: “Aw crap.”
Wesley: “Well I’m not getting out of the car. Isn’t there a
The trio looked for a way around
the vehicle but the drainage ditches on either side were too wide and deep to
cross. If they tried, they would inevitably be stuck. El Guapo dismounted his
chopper, pulled a machete hidden in a scabbard behind one of the saddlebags on
the back of his bike, then slid it into his belt.
El Guapo: “*Sigh* Okay, I’ll go c’mon.”
Wesley (handing Lilith the 9mm from the glove box): *Sigh* “Okay.”
Lilith: “I’ll stay here and keep my headlights on.”
El Guapo slowly and carefully moved
around the trailer followed closely by Wesley. Both disappeared from Lilith’s
view. EL Guapo walked up to the cab of the idling truck and saw that the keys,
to his relief, were still in the ignition.
Isis: “Well, yeah it’s idling.”
Gil: “Oh yeah, hehe.”
El Guapo: “But that trailer. There’s probably something in
So, El Guapo decided to walk, very
quietly and carefully, to one of the trailer windows. Indeed, he could see
something moving in there.
Meanwhile, back at the car, Lilith was cradling her gun. A pair fists pounded on the driver’s side window. She immediately shot the zombie through the window.
The trailer door burst open and four zombies charged El Guapo. A large bearded zombie with its throat ripped out tried to tackle him but it missed, he took the opportunity to blow out its brains. He tried to shoot another that charged him but he hit its belly instead. Wesley aimed her paired Desert Eagles and dropped two more leaving only the one with a hole in its stomach standing. Two zombies then rose from the bed of the pickup, one armed with a shotgun which it fired mostly by accident. The shot missed entirely. The second leaped from the bed and tried to tackle El Guapo but fell flat on its face in the dirt.
Wesley felt a hand on her shoulder
and turned to shoot nearly killing Lilith, who had carelessly prowled around
the trailer to her friends. The last trailer zombie grabbed El Guapo’s gun-hand,
in response he whipped the machete from his belt and chopped off the creature’s
arm. Wesley dropped the one-armed zombie splattering its head all over herself
and her friends with a double-shot to its cranium.
Lilith put a bullet in the brain of
the zombie on the ground. El Guapo took a shot at the shotgun zombie but
missed. Wesley finished it destroying its head with another double-shot from
her paired weapons.
El Guapo: “Okay, I guess we better check the trailer?”
Wesley: “Uk! Do we have to?”
Lilith: “You first.”
Wesley went all the way to the rear of the trailer finding a bloody mess but no more creatures. Wesley and El Guapo were in the middle of the trailer standing by the closed bathroom door. They both could hear something moving around in there but were busy arguing about if they should open it. Then they started arguing about who should open it and who should wait to shoot. Of course, the door shattered and a small zombie, an undead child, charged Lilith. El Guapo missed horribly with his machete lodging it in the doorjamb. Lilith blew the back of the kid’s head out all over the toilet.
Finally, the trio arrived at the chain-link gate of the wrecking yard. The old-style billboard sign stood at an angle facing both the dirt and gravel driveway and the highway. The dirty faded white face of the old sign read Fletcher & Sons Wrecking & Repair since 1965. There was an old barely visible picture of a red tow truck next to the name. El Guapo sneered her family name was Flecha Hierro. Lilith got out, opened the lock & chain on the gate, and rolled it open. At this time in the morning, the gate should already have been open, the yard workers should have already opened the place up. However, the reality of last night began to slowly collapse on top of each of the trio’s heads.
They had a brief discussion and decided to “beef up” the car and get on the move as soon as possible, at least by tomorrow morning. Lilith pulled her car into the large corrugated steel garage and started work immediately, too energized with adrenaline to sleep, Wesley assisted. El Guapo asked where the office was finding out that there was not only television but also a CB and Shortwave radio system. The door to the office was at the rear of the garage past the tall warehouse shelving packed with new and old auto-parts. He tried to ask a few more questions but Lilith was not listening completely focused on her task. Wesley shrugged. So, El Guapo started around the shelves into the dark rear of the garage.
He soon saw the office door,
‘office’ painted in plain block letters across the bottom of the frosted glass
window of the old grease smeared door. Something groaned and El Guapo froze in
his tracks. His hand crept to the grip of his gun. The groaning was coming from
the wheelbarrow next to the office door. He saw a body lying there starting to
move. It was dressed in old, worn and oil-stained coveralls. He readied to
shoot taking careful aim and then the body raised a half-empty whiskey bottle
to its mouth. El Guapo sighed realizing he had almost shot Lilith’s alcoholic
father. Her father emptied the last drink and tossed the bottle mindlessly away
then gurgled and passed back out.
Soon enough he had found and was operating the CB radio. On the emergency channel, an evacuation message was mechanically repeating itself. It said something about a checkpoint at the far end of the county and a few others around the perimeter of the city limits as well. Next to him on another table was an array of security monitors that someone had forgotten to turn off. He glanced over and saw that the front gate and other areas around the vast junkyard had fixed security cameras.
He turned back to the CB trying to
find some paper and a pen to jot down the message details. He finally found
what he was looking for after a few more minutes and then he glanced over at
the monitors. At the front gate were a pickup and several choppers. He saw that
a few bikers had already skipped the barbed-wire topped fence and soon
disappeared out of view. They appeared armed.
Lilith had a welder’s mask on and
was welding some sheet steel to the side of her car, completely focused and
obsessing. Wesley had just set down some heavy steel poles. Lilith had
requested them. She would build the cowcatcher from them. Wesley stretched her
back and took in a deep breath. She heard a slight noise to her left and turned
to see a double-barrel sawed-off shotgun shoved into her face.
There were three bikers with guns
at the wide entrance to the garage. The guy farthest from them was wielding an A-K.
All were wearing the colors of the Black Skulls OMC.
Biker with Shotgun: “We’re gonna
take what we want … PUT YER F*#$IN’ HANDS UP!!! Now. Where’s the gas?”
El Guapo stepped out of the shadows like a gunfighter of old and put a single bullet in the shotgun-wielding biker’s forehead. With that, Lilith pulled out a 9mm, her personal firearm, and drilled some holes in the A-K biker’s chest, he dropped his rifle but was still standing, a confused look on his bearded face. Wesley pulled her paired Desert Eagles and dropped both of the remaining bikers. El Guapo ran over and picked up the AK-47 shouting, “they’re at the gate!”
He jumped behind some wrecks near the front of the yard and then peeked around the corner. A second later, he unleashed a full burst on the bikers waiting behind the gate. He knew he had killed a biker sitting on his chopper. Wesley shot into the pickup’s windshield killing the driver and the passenger. The rest of the bikers, under a hail of bullets, retreated swiftly.
Jenn (to Gil): “I am SO glad you didn’t miss this time!”
The horizon began to burn brilliant
blinding silver scorching away the beautiful bands of gold and orange of dawn.
The trio moved the bodies from the truck then dragged them around the back,
behind the garage. They pulled the pickup and the custom chopper into the yard
locking the gate behind them.
Epilogue or Dawn of the Doomed
Early morning. Lilith distracting herself with a side project out of nowhere, making leather gauntlets with steel plates for Wesley. It would be around 3 pm, after hours of wrenching madly and non-stop, when she finished armoring the car and adding an improvised cowcatcher in place of the front bumper. The other two passed out utterly exhausted. All three were safe… for now.