Sunday, March 3, 2013

No Tomorrow, a post-apocalypse campaign set in eastern Oregon

Nobody knows exactly when the world ended or why. Most people reckon the end came some seventy or eighty years ago. Nobody alive remembers it. A few old timers were born during the “long winter”, the years of night and cold that followed the end. They say that immediately after the long winter came the “crazy spring”, a time when life started to return, but it weren’t the same life as before. Life had changed. Life had become something to be feared. Mothers gave birth to freaks. Animals gave birth to monsters. Some folks had babies what looked and acted like animals. Some people gave birth to what looked like animals. All manner of new critters crawled forth and populated the land.

After the crazy spring came the “endless summer”, many years of heat when it didn’t rain hardly at all. That was during my momma’s lifetime. Momma says the endless summer drove everybody underground. Some hid in vaults and bunkers. Some hid in caves or sewers or tunnels. Some kept the old ways. Some reverted to that of the beast, them what are called ferals and trogs.

The endless summer ended afore I was born. My momma said eventually people started leaving their shelters, caves, and tunnels. They started looking for other survivors. People started to build villages and towns, they started trading with each other, started teaching the young’uns.

I was born in the village of Madness, the last village on the 26. Madness is a barter town, About a hundred folk live here. Scavengers from Ro City and Slumm bring their scav here to trade for food and livestock. Farmers from Red Man and Jonday bring their food and livestock here to trade for machine parts, wire, and manufactured goods from Ro City and Slumm. Boss Hale , of course, gets his cut. In exchange for some batteries, some copper wire, some cans of food, a few bullets, a chicken, or a few liters of grain, you get to sleep inside the walls, maybe find some intimate companionship, maybe get some rot-gut.

North of us lies the ruins of Theedlees. Theedlees was once a good source for scav. Then, about a year and a half ago, metal monsters started appearing from the Great Lumby river and started collecting all the metal it could find. Soon afterwards, a derrick was constructed in the middle of the Great Lumby. Soon after that, the derrick became a platform and a tower. The metal monsters, what the legends called “Robots” were building a fortress. Once the it was completed, more “robots” spewed forth from the fortress. Most to gather scav to return to the fortress, more raw materials to fuel its further construction and development. Then it started collecting anyone that got near Theedlees, so people stopped going that way. The area for about 40km around Theedlees became a no-go zone. A robot might fly a sortie as far south as Madness or Prinevuh about once a week, but for the most part it seemed the range of the robots was limited to about 100 miles radius from Theedlees.

Last year, some people from Jonday, some say the ones responsible for bringing God’s wrath onto that city, went north through Madness into the no-go zone. They were never heard from again.

No one in Madness has seen a robot since.

After a few months, Boss Hale sent a scout party north. They never returned. A few other travelers took a risk and went north, saying they’d come back with scav to barter. They never returned. So the north road to Theedlees remains a no-go zone.

Only traders head north of Madness. They take the 26 across the north pass to the ruins of Ro City. The north pass is patrolled by bandits led by a man named Fargus.

If you make it over the pass, you get to Ro City. Ro City is a dangerous place but there’s lots of scav, lots of weapons and vehicles and tools. Traders say that Ro City is ruled by a tribe of hairy ape-men who live in the hill-top fortress called Away-Chessyou where crazy wizards once lived that created strange monsters.

The 26 heads east to the fortress of Jonday. Jonday was built by Notsies men who hate the mutants and anyone who didn't have pale skin. They traded in slaves and were building an army to conquer all the free towns. One day last year, God smote the town of Jonday, killing everybody in one night. Some of the grown-ups say that it was God’s punishment against the Notsies for trying to build an army. It was Armies what caused the end of the world. Armies are taboo. What happened to the Notsies of Jonday is what happens if you try to build an army. Today, Jonday is home to some settlers from Prinevuh. Jonday is the only place around what can make ethanol to run our vehicles. Jonday is the biggest town anybody knows about.

The hills to the north east are home to the Hoppers. Hoppers are nomadic mutants with long ears like rabbits. Somewhere in Hopper territory is the Deep-Oh. The Deep-Oh is said to hold the ancient horrors of the before-time, where the before people imprisoned their demons. It's said that the city of Jonday was struck down by god for messing with these demons.

Farther east lies the Aerie of the Carrion Lords, evil men what look like vultures. The Carrion Lords trade in human slaves. Beyond them is the City of Boyz which is ruled by more Notsies.

Madness is pretty friendly towards mutants, so long as they keep their distance. Other cities don’t take kindly to mutants. The Notsies of Jonday actively hunted them down to kill ‘em. My momma says to stay away from them, what I could catch their taint. I’ve talked with a few mutants who say they’re headed south west. They hear of a place called Genie where mutants are welcome. Some folk hire themselves out as guides and help them take the 20 over the west pass to Genie.

The south east is called the Wasteland. It aint nothing but desert and rocky hills for ever. The deep Wasteland is home to crazy monsters, giant lizards, bugs what spit acid, worms the size of pickup trucks, coyotes the size of horses. Nobody knows what these critters eat to get so big cause there aint no grass or trees or water. Sometimes they wander north looking to eat our livestock, or us.

Momma says  we’re living in the Big Fall. We’ve had several years of good rains and harvests. But all the trees and plants in the mountains are dying. Even the ones what stay green all year long. Momma says another Long Winter is coming soon. We need to store up if we’re gonna survive it. The people of Mad Ash was smart. They planned ahead and we’ve been storing up supplies to last us the next few years. Not everyone thought that far ahead. Most of the other towns have been living life normal like. But they’ve figured it out. They know they’re not ready. Now they want our food, and don’t have enough to share. Momma figures they’re gonna start raiding us soon, that we’re gonna have to start defending our supplies from the other villages. ‘Cause Winter’s coming, so momma reckons.

About a month ago, a scavenger family came through Madness on their way north to Theedlees. There they found no robot kingdom. Instead, they found a community of humans that appeared to be ruled by women. Kallie, the matriarch of hte family,  tried to make contact with the women of the town while her husband and sons hid in the hills. She was then captured by slavers calling themselves the Croot-men. Her husband and sons helped rescue her and they fled south and made it back to Madness.

Kallie reported to Boss Hale of Madness that there are people living in Theedlees now, a matriarchal tribe known as Mana-rajah. The leaders of this tribe are known as the Zektis. The Zektis are able to communicate directly with the artificial intelligence known as Guh-Goh, which is still functional but now lacks its robot army.  Guh-Goh is teaching them things, educating them. The Zektis have enlisted the help their former rivals, a male-dominated tribe known as Ahti. The Zektis are a kind of royalty. The Mana-rajah and the Ahti form a kind of middle-class. They are served by hundreds of slaves. The slaves farm the land to feed the Zektis, build walls around their new town and homes for the Zektis, and generally serve the Zektis and Croot-men.  She said that while she was there she did see a few robots and that they served the Zektis, and that they used a small flat glass card to shine a light on the face of everyone else to steal their souls.

Kallie says most of the slaves were weaker Mana-rajah and Ahti and anyone that came north and have been captured by the Croot-men and enslaved.

The 97 south of Theedlees is patrolled by Ahti warriors on horseback and motorcycles. They are supposed to light a fire to alert Croot-men of approaching targets. However, if the target looks tempting enough they might attack the targets themselves so that they can get first pick of any loot.

The Shoot Canyon west of Madness is riddled with caves and old mines from the before-time. These caves and mines are inhabited by trogs, degenerate cannibalistic cave people what sometimes come out at night looking for food. The 97 crosses the canyon about 50 miles north of Madness over an old before-bridge. Not only is the bridge itself somewhat perilous to cross, what with bits crumbling away exposing rebar and huge gaps, but the trogs live under the bridge and will swarm anyone what tries to cross it at night.

Two weeks ago, three newcomers came to town looking for work.

One is a girl named Daarla. She has an affinity for animals, animal healing, and training. She hails from an enclave deep in the Deep Green on the West Side. She came here looking for her younger brother what got captured by slavers. The trail has gone cold so she follows what leads she can. Her mount is some weird mutant deer with wings. She says the crittur is a relic of the mad wizards of Away-Chessyoo. Everybody what's smart keeps their distance. She also has a pet eagle.

Another was Drek J'seepheny. He's a bounty hunter from Bendy, a rough bartertown a few dozen miles to the south.

And finally was Logan. He's from one of the nomad packs. He's an outrider with a custom motorcycle that rides some courier jobs between Madness and Prinevuh and Madness and Bendy.

Being as they were new in town, they just sort of came together, taking on odd missions in exchange for a place to sleep. Their first mission was to track down some deadbeats what reneged on a deal.

After that, they went north on an expedition to retrieve a hummer said to be found in pristine condition hidden off the side of the 197 half-way to Theelees.

They have yet to return.

The four major towns in the area are Madness, Prinevuh, Red Man, and Bendy.

Madness is a barter-town on the northern "frontier". It's the last stop anyone makes before they head northwest to Ro City looking for scav. Up until a year ago, people also went north to Theedlees. It's also the first stop for anyone returning from these places. Madness is home to about a hundred or so. It's got a saloon called the Brass Spitoon and a whore-house. Most people live in houses built on the roofs of the before-time buildings that still stand. Cat-walks connect the buildings. The town is surrounded by an 8-foot burm topped with sharp rocks, broken glass, metal shrapnel, and barbed wire. The town also has some corn fields surrounded by a 4-foot rock wall. A few hand-pump wells still work from the before-time.

Madness is run by Boss Hale, a big powerful man who believes in the sanctity of the agreement. He's the sherriff, judge, and jury in Madness.

His second-in-command is Friendly, a thin reedy man who acts as Boss Hale's announcer and mouthpiece. Friendly is one part used-car-dealer, one part circus ringmaster, and one part game-show-host.

Boss Hale has about a dozen thugs that serve as the town defense and all-around enforcers. They are led by Spike, the smartest and most ambitious of the goons.

Known goons include:

Lance, a talkative teenager who's heard lots of stories and legends.
Marco and Paolo, twin brothers. They are fairly competent and somewhat adventurous.

Other notable inhabitants of Madness include:

Milo, the town doctor. He carries his surgical instruments around in an old rusty metal tool-box. He's not a great doctor (Understanding 2, Healing 2), but he doesn't get squeamish when he has to amputate a limb or remove a bullet.

Alexis, the potter. She's the voice of reason, critical thinking, and logical planning in the town. She also serves as the teacher.

Gabe, pimp, owner of the Brass Spitoon. A thuggish lout who beats his wife.

Blenda, whore. She does not have a heart of gold. She is not an indepdendent self-made woman. She was married off to a sicko named Gabe who keeps her chained and rents her out. She is bitter and resentful but has resigned herself to her lot. She refrains from entering into any kind of conversation.

Gizmo, town mechanic. Gizmo is the oldest resident in Madness at 65. He's skinny, wrinkly, and bald with a big white mustache, squinty eyes, and a squeaky raspy voice.

Bendy is ruled by Boss Sakata, a flamboyant but ruthless warlord.

Bendy is similar to Barter Town from Beyond Thunderdome. It has a population of over a thousand. They have electric lights powered by wind-mills and anaerobic digesters. Bendy is a slave trading hub of the region. Disputes are resolved in the arena. Bendy attracts the low-lifes from the Wasteland as well as travellers crossing the West Pass or water caravans from the Cauldron. There are few rules in Bendy and life is cheap. 

Red-Man, by contrast, is home to the monastary of Saint Jerome. The monks of the monastary study the artifacts of the Before Time, especially books and computers. They hope to build a history of the Before Time and to re-learn its sciences, mathematics, and philosophies.  The monastary is protected by thick high rock walls.

Prinevuh is primarily a farming community of homesteaders. They do some barter and are the last stop for travellers to re-supply before heading east on the 26 towards Jonday and Boys. Prinevuh is surrounded by a wooden palisade and rock burms. 

With all the recent deaths of town guards in Madness recently, the town needed to recruit some new guards. Travis, one of the guard, hired the team to escort him to Bendy so he could recruit some wanderers into the guard.

On the way, they stop in the town of the Red Monks to spend the night. They get in an altercation with hunters that tried to shoot Daarla's flying deer. But it was all a misunderstanding and soon everyone were friends. 

The next day, Daarla saw a merchant wearing a necklace that belonged to her brother. She asked the merchant where he got the necklace. He told her he purchased it from a gang member in Bendy, a thug named Sleeth who belonged to the Tophat gang. 

They drove on to Bendy, a wild town that is one part "Bartertown" from Beyond Thunderdome, one part Mogadishu, one part fair Verona. There was a bustling slave market, lots of merchants, mercenaries, wasteland gangs, city gangs, etc. The team stowed their gear in a gated storage unit and their vehicles in a nearby garage and went into town.

The Tophats lived in a walled compound just south of town. They are slavers run by a ruthless warlord named El Guapo. They go there under the auspices of trying to hire members of his gang as guards for Madness. Travis is killed on the spot for even suggesting the idea. The team quickly change tactics and offer to buy slaves from El Guapo, especially any slave that matches the description of Daarla's brother. They had no slaves like that, but they did sell one to a mutant named Skeksis just a few days ago. Skeksis bought several slaves, all mutants except for Daarla's brother. El Guapo thought it was odd that he purchased slaves that had not been broken or were ill suited for labor, but Skeksis simply said "Master Firth needs only their organs."

Jaycee immediately perks up. Firth was a former Red Monk that was exiled from the monastery. When Firth left, he took many forbidden books and artifacts from the Before-Time. The Red Monks offered a large reward for the return of the books and artifacts. 

El Guapo said that when Skeksis left, he mentioned something about the "three day journey back to the Cauldron." The team took that to mean Crater Lake. 

Suddenly there was an explosion back in Bendy and the sound of a riot. The team rushed back to town to find a massive riot going on. Looting, shooting, rape, explosions, mass-hysteria. Daarla went to the storage units which were being looted, Logan went to the garage which was under siege, and Jaycee went to the slave market to liberate him a sex-slave. After a fierce fight, the team re-united, minus all their accumulated gear which was looted, plus an appropriated female slave named Princess Leela, and headed south.

On the road, a massive thunderstorm rolls over the mountains. The cars, minus headlines, windshield wipers, or windshields, must slow to a crawl. They eventually find the road to Crater Lake, the turn-off is barricaded and decorated with skulls, heads, and decaying bodies of various mutants. They also find a heaving mass of flesh, like a beached walrus, lying in the middle of the road. They get out of their vehicles and approach cautiously. It is a walrus or manatee body with a human face and stubby human hands. The body is covered in blisters and radiation burns, and cancerous growths and tumors. He is in great pain, confused, and frightened. Daarla makes psychic contact with it and is hit by migraines and waves of nausea, but gets a vision of once being more-or-less humanoid but "made" into this form by a mad scientist, then dumped off the back of a pick-up onto the road, discarded and left to die. The team puts a bullet into the creature's head and move on.

They come across a wall and a gate big enough to drive a truck through, and a gate tower that can see for dozens of miles around, but because of the twilight and the rain they were able to approach unseen. Logan climbs over the wall and stealthily opens the gate. They are soon spotted  by three approachign guards, huge 9-foot-tall ogre-like mutants wielding clubs covered in cactus-like needles. There is a fierce fight, joined by two more guards from the tower, but the team eventually wins. 

Inside the guard tower they find a frail creature that looks like a House Elf from Harry Potter. The creature's name is Darby and they set it free. Darby says that he was once a human, though mutant, that was changed into this diminuitive form by the wizard Firth. Firth lives in a tower on Wizard Island in the middle of the Cauldron (Crater Lake), where he conducts terrible experiments on living subjects. When the experiments fail, the creations are left to die in the wilderness. He says that the area round the Cauldron is patrolled by ferocious Guardian Beasts created by Firth, and that a Lake Monster lives within the Cauldron itself. He says that the skies are patrolled by flocks of Blood Crows that swarm their targets. 

By now its too dark to drive the vehicles down the forest trail in the rain, so they break some chem-lights and put some red filters on their flashlights and head off on foot. Halfway there they fight and defeat a massive plant creature.

Darby shows them a shortcut to the boat launch. By the time they cross the ridge and descend to the lakeside, it has stopped raining. The boat is on the island, so Daarla summons her flying deer, flies across to the island and gets the boat. They cross on the boat and attract the attention of the lake monster, a giant pliesiosaur. They spend fortune points and dump some barrels of chum, used to feed the lake monster normally, into the water. 

They eventually get to the island, eliminate the guard bird (a two-headed vulture), ascend the tower, and throw a sleep-gas grenade into the laboratory of Firth. 

After the gas clears, the enter the room and find Firth, a bald man wearing red monks robes, and Skeksis, a large (9-foot tall) vulture-man with no hair or feathers, lying asleep on the floor. The room is filled with radiation-projecting apparatuses, petri-dishes, chemistry equipment, books, and other scientific parahprenalia. Daarla's brother is tied to a table. 

Skeksis was only pretending to be asleep, however. He used mind control on Jaycee to prevent him from shooting, then tried a mind blast and failed. Daarla's giant mountain lion, Miss Kitty, then attacked Skeksis with 6 successes, eating up all his Fortune Points, and Jaycee opened up with his submachine gun. Skeksis was riddled with bullets and died. 

They rescued Daarla's brother, took Firth prisoner, and made their escape.

In retrospect, Skeksis went down too quickly. I was very unhappy about that, and the players just responded with "Uh.. was that it?"I should have had Skeksis and Firth have more guardian beasts with them for the final fight, and Skeksis' mind control should have been area effect to make him a tougher opponent. 

Throughout this campaign, I was hesitant with my opposition. Now that I've got more experience using the system, I'd be more confident making tougher opponents and not feeling guilty about it or worried about imbalance. I have a better sense of what should be challenging and what will be a push-over. 

Like most campaigns with new rules, I always wish I could get a do-over.