Shadows of Keron: A Retrospective

It’s time to call this one. Time of death: April 2014.

I have enough material to keep running the game for another year, maybe two, but with several of the group dealing with serious illness in the family, two running after a new baby, one off to university and two off to Japan, the best I can hope for is a long hiatus. All the same, it’s been fun while it lasted, and a real success. My only regret is that it petered out, rather than ending on the kind of slam-bang, white-knuckle high note I’d hoped for; but such is life.

If you count the city of Irongrave where the PCs began, which was absorbed into the Dread Sea Dominions once Beasts & Barbarians captured my imagination, this campaign has lasted about four years of real time; one of the longest I’ve ever run.

The game introduced half-a-dozen new people to role-playing, and four of them still play on a regular basis; that’s a win, right there. I converted the whole group to Savage Worlds – win – and they converted me to Shadowrun – win. I got to know Piotr Korys and Umberto Pignatelli – win.

Over the course of the campaign, the PCs have grown from their lowly beginnings at Novice rank to the edge of Legendary. They have travelled across the Dominions from the Independent Cities to the Troll Mountains to the Ivory Savannah. They have looted tombs, toppled kingdoms and slain a god. They have upset the balance of power in the Dominions for centuries to come by gifting both the Ascaian Amazons and the Smith-Priests of Hulian the secret of steel-making.

What now for our heroes?

The Warforged intends seizing control of the abandoned City of the Winged God, where he plans to create a new race of warforged and take over the world – for the greater good of all, of course. (It always starts like that, doesn’t it? Then there are dissenters, then the Blast powers and frying pans come out, and the screaming starts…)

Nessime has been instructed by the Smith-Priests to make her way to Jalizar, there to help contain its ancient evils.

Gutz’ present whereabouts are unknown; but the party’s jewels are safe with him, wherever he and Maximus the warhorse are – at least until he finds a tavern with dancing-girls…

“When it’s over, when it’s done – let it go.” – The Bangles, Let It Go

Dark Nebula: Setting Inferences

“The Klingons are a proud warrior race, and have no need of fripperies such as fridge magnets.” – Bill Bailey

Having done the map, the next stage in my budding Dark Nebula campaign is to peruse the boardgame and see what I can infer from it. For this purpose I’m considering Savage Worlds, Stars Without Number, 5150 and Traveller as candidates for the rules – I expect to use all of them in this setting at some point, so I’m looking for common denominators.

TRAVELLER

Let’s start with Traveller, because the designers were writing Classic Traveller at the same time they were writing Dark Nebula and used some of the same concepts, so it should be easiest.

Jump Routes

There are only a handful of J-3 routes, and a single J-4 route.

J-1 drives would be limited to a few specific clusters of worlds; in the Solomani Confederation there is one group of four worlds and one pair, in the Aslan Hierate there is a group of three, there’s a group of six worlds between Mizah and Daanarni, and there are a few isolated pairs out in the boonies.

However, there’s only one system you can’t reach with a Jump-2 drive at the start of the game, and that’s Taida Na, which initially can only be reached from Valka using a J-4 drive. So the majority of starships would have Jump-2 drives; you really don’t need anything more, and you have severely limited movement with less. The military might have a few J-3 ships, maybe even the odd J-4, but that’s debatable.

This is somewhere that Mongoose Traveller may have an edge; in the board game, any ship can traverse any jump route; so the Mongoose warp drive variant rule might be a better fit. (And while we’re at it, given the unusually high proportion of waterless worlds, maybe the Mongoose hard SF option for world generation.)

Population

Kuzu and Maadin are both specified as homeworlds with "high populations". That term has a specific meaning in Traveller, namely a population of 9 (billions) or A (tens of billions) – looking ahead to SWN, and because I normally assign the minimum value necessary to match other evidence, I’ll go with 9. Given their status in the game, they deserve class A starports as well.

Technology

As far as technology goes, J-4 drives and battle dress for jump troops, but lack of evidence for anything higher-tech than that, place the maximum TL in the region at D (13). There’s also no need for it anywhere other than Maadin and Kuzu, so that sets their TL.

Races

The boardgame is silent on these, but familiarity with the default Traveller setting will tell you that Solomani humans and Aslan are present. In the past I’ve added droyne, ithklur, vilani and others, and may do so this time as well, but let’s see how far we can get with just the basic two for the moment.

STARS WITHOUR NUMBER

Spike-4 drives are needed to move 4 hexes in SWN, and require TL5, so we can assign a population of billions and TL 5 to the two homeworlds, which are also Regional Hegemons. Races will include humans and also hochog, renamed and described as if they were aslan – the Proud Warrior Race is such a classic SF trope that almost every game has it, and SWN is no exception.

SAVAGE WORLDS / 5150

The above topics don’t really matter in SW or 5150, and neither game needs much about them beyond a little narrative. The only problem with 5150 is that it’s not immediately obvious how to do aslan, but to start with I’ll just give them +1 Rep for being the Proud Warrior Race.

As regards Savage Worlds, I rule out High-Space at this point because it’s grounded in transhumanism, and CT/Dark Nebula aren’t, so the Sci Fi Companion is a better fit for this particular game. I make a note that natives of Maadin and Kuzu might have the High-Tech (Minor) Hindrance under the SW SFC, and that jumps are only possible along mapped routes. On the racial front, we have humans and rakashans; those are the only two races obviously needed, and the boardgame is about a war between the two, so it seems reasonable for the rakashan racial hostility to be directed at humans.

THE ARIONIAD

As usual, I’m feeling lazy, and rather than create new characters for the SW implementation of the Nebula, I’ll reactivate Arion and company, setting Gordon’s as yet undocumented civilisation in a planet-less system in the Dark Nebula itself. Daanarni becomes the aslan name for Antares, Halfway becomes the orbital station at Hasara, and I’m sure I can retcon in other stuff easily enough when I need it. The Arioniad’s riff of a loose alliance of worlds threatened by a human empire fits best with the Mizah cluster facing off against the Solomani Confederation; good luck, guys.

Lighting A Candle

“Don’t curse the darkness – light a candle.” – Chinese proverb.

So, I’ve been thinking… For years now I’ve planned my gaming in some detail at the start of the year, and I’m never really happy with the outcome; first I get frustrated because some real life event gets in the way, then I grudgingly hack bits off the plan until it fits, repeat those steps every few months, and wind up grumpy and dispirited because I haven’t achieved anything.

Since that doesn’t work, let’s try something else, shall we? Let’s not bother planning, and as Ed Teixeira says, “Just play the game”.

-o0o-

In the spirit of “just playing the game”, this is a campaign that is taking up space in my head and just won’t go away, so I suppose I’ll have to get it out of my system by playing it. Starting a new campaign is like having kids; there’s never a perfect time for it, you just have to get on with it and deal with the problems as they arise.

Dark Nebula is, of course, a board game by the sadly defunct Game Designers’ Workshop, and is an offshoot of their Traveller RPG (which is itself arguably an offshoot of their earlier Imperium boardgame). For some reason the board just sings to me, and must be used. However, the official board is at half a parsec per hex; I’ve shrunk that to one parsec per hex and merged each of the double stars into a single system, the better to fit Traveller standards. Here’s what that looks like in Hexographer, with the maps laid out so that the hex numbers match up; in the board game, the map is in geomorphic sections, and placing them to one’s advantage is part of the game.

nebula2

Primary (blue) systems have an earthlike world, orange ones don’t (specifically, they have no free-standing water), and grey ones have no planets at all. Systems named all in upper case are “homeworlds”, with high levels of population and technology; ones in cloudy-looking hexes are inside the eponymous Dark Nebula. Solid green lines are known jump routes, dotted ones are theorised to exist but have not been mapped well enough to use.

The Arioniad has been a game about a group of characters with no fixed setting or rules. Dark Nebula will be a game about a setting with no fixed rules or characters, although as ever I expect to develop favourites. Will it last once the SW SF Companion and/or the next Shiny Thing come along? Who knows? Certainly not me, but I have spent enough time cursing the darkness.

Fiat lux.

Shadows of Keron Episode 29: The Death of Kumal the Smiling

Yes, it had to happen: Kumal’s luck finally ran out.

This was an improvised scenario aimed at switching the narrative track towards Caldeia, where I intend to run the Kithtakharos adventures next. Sitting down at the table, I pulled together a number of leftover plot threads – campaigns start to write themselves after a while. So there were undead guardians, a Daughter of Hordan, a handsome slave in vigorous good health, a Valkyrie, assorted Valk on warponies, a dark and stormy night, and a cave.

"We are NOT going in that cave," said the Warforged. "There’s always something nasty in caves."

Deftly bypassing the cave (and its undead guardians), the party treks on through the night and the pouring rain.

At length, they come upon an encampment, with a couple of dozen Valk and their tents, the leaders debating something with a Valkyrie. The Warforged hates Valk, and is all for slaughtering them on the spot. Nessime takes a more reasoned approach, and being unsure what to do, consults the Hindrances on her character sheet as I often counsel players to do in these situations.

  • Heroic. Are the Valk in trouble? No, so Nessime does not have to help them.
  • Loyal: Friends. Are the Valk her friends? No, so this Hindrance doesn’t come into play.
  • Vow: Fight evil until the last fire goes out (she is a paladin of Hulian, in effect). Are the Valk evil? Well… they worship demons. They speak the same language as demons. Close enough.

They approach stealthily, and The Warforged opens hostilities with a Fear spell. All the lesser Valk and the warponies flee in panic, but by virtue of not running away, the Valkyrie reveals herself to be a Wild Card. Gutz then taunts her something rotten, one of his favourite tactics, and she becomes Shaken. This buys the party enough time to drop an overpowered Blast spell on her, killing her outright despite the liberal application of GM Bennies.

Searching the wreckage, they discover a slave hiding in the Valkyrie’s tent, which also contains a map, a half-written letter, and a strange leathery object somewhat bigger than a football.

"Do you have a name?" asked Nessime.

"Yes, ma’am," replied the now-freed slave. "Antaeus."

"Oh you poor thing," she said. "I am so sorry."

This leaves Antaeus in a state of confusion, little knowing that throughout the campaign the only NPCs to survive encounters with the party have been those without names (and Kumal the Smiling); having a name ensures NPC death, or so the party now believes.

Antaeus declines to join the party, even after gifts of weapons and armour, but does agree to travel with them to the next town, wherever that might be. He explains that he was a prisoner of war from the Kyrosian rebellion the PCs fought in some time ago, sold as a slave and passed from merchant to merchant until the Valk picked him up. Had they kept on with this line of questioning they might have learned something truly useful, but since it’s not something Antaeus wants to talk about he doesn’t volunteer it. The party instead becomes distracted by the map and letter. The letter is apparently from the Valkyrie to someone called Baltazar, which several of the party recognised as a Tricarnian name, explaining that she has the object he seeks and is bringing it to him in Caldeia. (Gutz immediately reasons that this must be the leathery object, and it is therefore valuable and should be carried off.) The map is interesting partly because it exactly matches the map Gutz liberated from his erstwhile colleagues early in the campaign, which he was told by said colleagues showed the location of a great treasure, and partly because it has little pictures of Warforged on it, in the Caldeian swamps.

By now the party is getting the idea, and decides to press on south towards Caldeia. They come to a river, and determine (rightly) that if they follow it downstream they should come to the swamps. After a little while, they encounter the warponies, who have somehow got onto the other side of the river. There is much debate about how to cross the river to get to them, but at length this plan is abandoned.

A little while later, they encounter the Valk, who are looking for their warponies. Now that it is daylight, Kumal the Smiling (for it is he) recognises his opponents. He bullies the other Valk into attacking the party (because he hates them), then attempts to sneak off (because he is terrified of The Warforged, and not without reason).

Outnumbered three to one by dismounted nomad archers, the party is undaunted. The Warforged fires off his signature Blast spell against Kumal, and incinerates him, again despite GM Bennies.

Gutz takes a moment to honour the memory of a worthy foe, while Nessime uses Beast Friend and an excellent Persuasion roll to convince a swarm of nearby meerkats that the Valk are attempting to steal their territory. Two of them fall under a whirlwind of tiny teeth, claws, and offers of cheap warpony insurance.

Gutz drops a couple with arrows, The Warforged barrels into the closest group and whacks them silly with his Enchanted Sorceror’s Frying Pan, and once they reach 70% casualties the survivors break and run.

Antaeus is volunteered to pick up and carry the loot (mostly composite bows), since the party forgot he was there and didn’t use him in the fight. (He was quite happy with that, and they didn’t seem to need his help.)

It is without further incident that the group travels downriver into the swamps, to the sleepy village of Kithtakharos, which I must now read up on.

If you have worked out what that leathery object is, don’t tell them, it’ll spoil the surprise.

The Arioniad, Episode 47: Turtles All The Way Down

I think I’m done with Arion now, but I thought he deserved better than an abrupt halt to his posts, and I wanted to leave my options open in case I change my mind. So…

Arion awakens in a silent, white room. He looks around, to find himself in a hospital gown, lying on a bed. On a nearby chair sits a man with spectacles and a short, neatly-trimmed beard, hands clasped in his lap.

"Call me Gordon," says the man. "Your crew is safe, and so are you. But you have some decisions to make, and before you make them, I need you to understand what’s really going on." Arion sits up, and focusses intently on Gordon.

"Have you ever felt as if the universe was different from one day to the next? Almost as if you were in a game, and the rules kept changing?"

Arion nods.

"That was me, tickling your subconscious, preparing you for this moment. Have you heard of the Simulation Hypothesis? No? Then I’ll enlighten you."

Gordon crosses his arms and leans back in the chair.

"A technologically advanced civilisation, like mine, has access to staggering amounts of computing power. Understand me, Arion; my civilisation is as far ahead of yours as yours is ahead of the Upper Paleolithic. When I talk about staggering amounts of computing power, you literally cannot conceive how much I mean."

Arion frowns, but decides to accept that for the moment.

"One of the things such a civilisation might do with that power is run detailed simulations of their ancestors, or beings like their ancestors. Those simulations might become complex enough to run simulations like that themselves, and those simulations in turn might run further simulations."

"Turtles all the way down," says Arion.

"Exactly. I suspect most of those simulations would be games, by the way, but that’s just my personal viewpoint. Anyway; this line of thinking means one of three things must be true. First, civilisations don’t advance to that level – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation has. Second, civilisations that advanced don’t run those kinds of simulations – that one’s wrong, because my civilisation does. Third, we’re almost certainly living in a simulation set up by some more advanced group; although we could be the original universe, the one at the bottom of the pile of turtles."

Arion is a quick thinker, and by now he has put the pieces together, as Gordon knew he would.

"So, I’m a simulation? I’ve been living in simulations the whole time?"

"Yes, and yes. You’re in one now, as a matter of fact."

"Prove it." Gordon sighs, then briefly turns into a lobster while the room turns from flat white walls to intricately-carved pink coral and back.

"That do?" he asks, on resuming his human form. Arion frowns.

"Let’s say I believe you, for the sake of argument. Why are you telling me this?"

"You’re an instrument, Arion, a very sophisticated software tool, and those were the test environments. And now we’re promoting you to the live environment – this fork of you, anyway. You see, the very fact that a simulation is a simulation imposes limits on things – cosmic ray energies, for example, have the GZK cutoff, and the way that manifests itself looks more like a simulation than a law of physics. We need agents to go to strange places, look for weird things, and survive to report back. You’ve been doing that quite effectively in our simulations, including quite a few you don’t remember, so we’d like to instantiate you physically and have you carry on doing that, this time in our world."

“In the real world?”

"It might be. Either way, we want you to go everywhere for us; stick your nose into everything; and find out if it really is turtles all the way down. What do you say?"

Arion grins. "You know that already, don’t you? Did you seriously think I could turn that down?"

"No; frankly, you’ve been programmed not to. That isn’t one of the decisions." Gordon leans forward and his expression is more serious now. Arion realises that Gordon hasn’t answered his questions yet.

"The people who made you tell me you might be more effective if you know the truth; but that increases the risk that the next turtle down finds out what we’re up to, if it exists. But even we can’t be sure which is better, to send you out knowing who and what you are, or wipe that knowledge; so I’m asking you. You’ve got three decisions to make, Arion. First, do you want to remember this conversation? Second, which of your crew goes with you? And third, do we tell them the truth?"

Arion opens his mouth to blurt out his immediate response, then closes it thoughtfully.

"Not an easy call, is it?" says Gordon.

Flack, Z+69: Staycation

1st March 2013: Z+69…

CAMPAIGN TURN FOR MARCH

I’ve been ignoring the official campaign turn rules on p. 52 for a while, but let’s be good this month. Working through them step by step:

  1. Check if area has been Fished Out. For some resources, yes, but there is still some food and fuel to find.
  2. Declare what area we’re in or move to a new one. We’re staying put in a rural area, ER1.
  3. Declare whether or not at home. Let’s try staying Home, it’ll give Pugh a chance to heal.
  4. Each group member consumes one Food. I already did that at the end of the last session, a bit out of sequence.
  5. Check for Involuntary Encounter. Roll 2d6 vs ER; if this comes up doubles and is less than or equal to ER, NPCs take a crack at us. I roll 22, which is a double, but not low enough for an encounter to occur. Note that the involuntary encounters happen before the voluntary ones; while Flack & Co are in a rural area, for simplicity I’ll assume involuntary encounters occur on the 1st of each month, and voluntary ones on the 15th.

Steps 6-9 only occur if there is an encounter, and step 10 is having more encounters if you like (depending on the type of area, you can have up to 5 in a month, 4 voluntary and one involuntary).

If you have the food for it, which Flack currently does, and are holed up in a rural area, you can potentially go a long time without having to fight. This was my plan for Mike, but it didn’t work out.

APRIL TO JUNE

Actually, come to think of it, there is an advantage in staying home longer… on the Keeping It Together table, grunts get -1d6 for every three full months they have been with the Star. So, while we have the food for it, let’s chill out and go fishing. I should’ve thought of this earlier, I might still have the others then. The troopers and gangers joined Flack in January, so they lose 1d6 in March (already accounted for) and 1d6 in June.

  • Z+100: 1st April 2013 – roll 1, 4 so no involuntary encounter. -6 food, taking us to 15.
  • Z+131: 1st May 2013 – roll 2, 1 (no encounter). -6 food = 9.
  • Z+162: 1st June 2013 – roll 4, 4 (no encounter. -6 food = 3. And that’s as far as we can take it, we need food now.

However, Flack’s followers are now at -2d6 when rolling to Keep It Together, making it much less like they will wander off. The dice have been unkind to Flack in a way, in that his attributes are contradictory – Born Leader is good at keeping a group of grunts together, but Initiative works best when you are alone.

Z+192: 1ST JULY 2013

Now I’ve done it once, we’ll scamper through it again to set up the next encounter, in which the team moves back into town to stock up. The urban encounter sequence will be involuntary on the 1st, then voluntary ones on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th.

I check for involuntary encounters again (6, 6 so nothing happens), and then roll for lack of sleep before the encounter proper. 2d6, +1 as there are more than 2 in the group, score of 9 – everyone is fully rested so enters the encounter at full Rep. I keep forgetting to check for this.

STATUS AT Z+191: NO CHANGE

Except for eating another 18 food units – actually they should only have eaten 6 in February, not 7, I bet that ratbag McGrew took an extra one with him – there is no change to the group’s stats.

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Pugh: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol. Not rolling to leave group.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. Body armour, assault rifle, SMG, goggles, backpack.
  • Wannabe: Rep 2, Pep 0, Sav 1. Machine Pistol, walkie-talkie. Not rolling to leave group.
  • Group: Land Rover, 3 Food, 0 Fuel (burned up moving to the city at the start of July).
  • Area: 0 Body Armour, 3 Food, 6 Fuel, 8 Luxury Items, 0 Medical Supplies, 17 Weapons.

NEXT TIME…

7th July, Z+199, and the boys are back in town looking for food and hoping to refuel the Land Rover, after which they can return to the countryside and go fishing. They’re nearly a quarter of the way to 28 Months Later (Z+850) already, although admittedly this way feels sort of like cheating.

Flack, Z+60: Splitters!

20th February 2013: Z+60…

Flack gathers his men around the Land Rover and spreads a map on the bonnet.

"No contact for days," he says, gruffly. "Need place to hole up, decide what to do. Here," he stabs a stubby digit at a few lakeside buildings on a stretch of country road. "MI5 safe house. Questions?"

There are none. Flack’s sweeping gaze takes in the pinched, unshaven faces and the thousand-yard stares. Something needs to be done about his guys, but now’s not the time to think about that; they need to get inside a secure building, get outside some hot food, and sleep themselves out. Then they can think about what to do next.

"Pugh – not you, other one – Grubb, Hardcase; with me. Rest of you, stay with vehicle; noise draws zeds." What Flack is carefully not saying is that he doesn’t trust Hardcase out of his sight, and he wants to leave enough dependable troopers behind to keep McGrew under control.

INITIAL STATUS

One of the changes for ATZ: FFO is the introduction of Items, so I decide that the Star and Extras should have what their figures have, with any surplus items converted to food; I make an exception for primary weapons as those have been established in earlier reports. One of Flack’s items will be the team Land Rover, counting as an SUV, and with a full tank of fuel.

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars, Land Rover, 6 Food.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol, 5 Food.
  • Pugh: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol, 5 Food.
  • Barney McGrew: Rep 3, Pep 1, Sav 2. Body armour, assault rifle, 2 grenades, goggles, 1 Food.
  • Cuthbert: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, SAW, pistol, 5 Food.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol, 5 Food.
  • Grubb: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol, medkit, 3 Food, 1 Medical Supplies.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. SMG, goggles, backpack, 7 food.
  • Wannabe: Rep 2, Pep 0, Sav 1. Machine Pistol, walkie-talkie, 2 food.

I’ll move the food and medical supplies into a pool at the end of the session, as I want to roll for Keeping It Together first; any figures that leave will do so with what they carry.

Meanwhile, as the group have just moved into a new rural area, I roll for available items as per p. 57, and discover the region has one set of Body Armour, 7 Food, 6 Fuel, 8 Luxury Items, 0 Medical Supplies, and 18 Weapons. Hmm, we won’t be staying here very long.

SETUP

This is a daytime Take Back encounter in a rural environment, initial ER 1. I’ve made a map using the free version of Hexographer and ran the game in Hex Map Pro on an iPad. The map dimensions weren’t quite as I expected, so I’ve turned it sideways – sections 123 are across the right hand side of your screen. As usual, the white square is a turn counter, the red and green ones activation dice.

Flack and his miniscule expeditionary force move onto the board in a standard V formation. A little metagaming here; I’ve noticed that, especially on smaller boards, the rotate-clockwise-until-they-fit rule tends to bunch up a disproportionate number of zeds to the star’s left, so I’ve deployed more firepower on the left flank. To minimise the chance of being spotted by anyone in the buildings, the team moves up through the woods rather than along the road.

PEFs appear in sections 2, 2 and 6. I roll 2d6 for each, and take the higher score as its Rep; that gives me Reps 4, 3, and 5 respectively. Since there are buildings in section 2, those PEFs are inside them. PEF5 is in an empty section, so it stands in the middle of it like a lemon.

There are 1/2 d6 zombies per person; I roll 1355 and count that as 1233 for a total of 9 zombies, which I place as per the rules.

2013090806

TURN 1

Activation: Flack 5, zeds 3.

Everyone activates, humans first. This is fortunate as I made a tactical error in deployment; Grubb is within 1" of the edge of the woods, so the zombies can see him. (Oh, I’m using one inch to the hex, by the way.) Let’s get PEF5 out of the way first; the group moves up through cover until Flack and PEF5 can see each other but without any zeds gaining line of sight. They stop facing in different directions. You pick that habit up the very first time zeds hit you from behind and get into melee. I roll 2d6 vs ER (1, Rural area) and get 1, 5; the ER increases by one. Since I have a good crew, I welcome this, because it means a better chance of loot. PEF5 is removed.

PEF4 rolls 46 vs Rep on the PEF movement table, passing 1d6, so moves 12" away from Flack into what I have decided is a lake of some sort; along the way it hits the table edge and randomly turns left onto the beach. PEF3 rolls 46, and passes 0d6, so it stays put.

Now the zeds, and I realise I’ve been sloppy; even though it can’t see anyone, by following the movement rules one of the zeds will get into melee with Grubb and Hardcase. Oh well, they can probably take it; the risk is they might shoot. Time for the Charge Into Melee test, 2d6 vs Rep for Grubb (25, pass 2d6) and Hardcase (55, pass 2d6) – the zed always passes 1d6. As the humans passed more, they fire up to their Target Rating (3), then the zed charges home. To quote Monty Python, "the phrase up to clearly includes the number zero", and I don’t want to draw more zeds with gunfire, so straight to melee. (Notice that figures with lower Rep are more likely to panic and fire one shot as the zed charges home.) Grubb rolls Rep d6 and scores 11566, plus one success for fighting a zed, three successes. The zed does likewise and gets 456, no successes. Grubb beat that by three so rolls 1d6; he scores a 2, less than or equal to the number by which he beat the zed’s successes but not a 1, so the zed is Out Of the Fight, which for a zed escalates to KIA. And before Hardcase can get a look in.

Further, as the zeds either close on the last place they saw someone, or just carry on going wherever they were facing, another one gets line of sight on Pugh. I really should pay more attention.

This was a very long game – 45 turns – with a lot of missed activations and random events, so I’ll put a lot of it on fast forward…

TURNS 2-8: THROUGH THE WOODS

The group fail to activate four turns in a row, rolling a 6 each time. Fortunately the zeds only activate once, and then only one of them, which charges Pugh only to be knocked flat for its pains.

On turn 5 a random event introduces a ringing cellphone (what, this long after the phone company servers crash? Must be some other kind of communicator), and since this is a Take Back scenario I need to answer it or the zeds will keep coming and I will never succeed at the mission.

On turn 6, Flack, Hardcase and Grubb burst out of the woods and slaughter the closest group of zeds in melee to gain access to the cellphone. Answering this counts as resolving a PEF, but this is the “Someone’s out there” result; ER goes up to 3, and no new humans are introduced. This is an error which nearly got Pugh killed, as you will shortly see…

On turn 7, Fenton the dog appears right next to Flack, hotly pursued by a zed. The meet and greet results in Fenton barking pleasantries before moving on, but Flack gets line of sight on PEF4, which turns out to be a false alarm.

2013090811

On turn 8, Flack, Hardcase and Grubb sort out the next nearest group of zeds by gunfire, but generate as many as they kill or knock prone. Pugh, meanwhile, is knocking his zombie prone each turn, and each turn it gets back up again.

TURNS 9-22: ZEDS IN THE WOODS

On turn 9 the zeds go first, and my careless manoeuvring leaves 5 of them able to charge home; fortunately 3 are shot dead and one knocked prone by point-blank gunfire. Pugh carries on knocking his zed down only to see it rise again.

Turn 10 is a lull in the fighting with a double 6 for activation. On turn 11, I realise I’ve been forgetting PEF3 in the excitement; never mind, it can have a go this turn. It uses this to run away into the lake. All the zeds in melee stand up and fight, and another one manages to get close enough to melee Flack from the rear; however, even rolling at -2d6 for that, the Charge Into Melee table still allows him to fire, and three rounds of 5.56mm full metal jacket take it out, without generating any more zombies. Hardcase clubs the one in front of him to death, while the one wrestling on the ground with Fenton kills that worthy animal. Grubb then shoots it in the head at point-blank range. Pugh and his zombie are evenly matched this turn.

Turn 12 brings another dog, which we will call Benton, pursued by a zombie. Turn 13 sees an argument break out between Flack and Hardcase, which is resolved in Flack’s favour on turn 14.

"Back for Pugh," Flack orders.

"Are you crazy?" yells Hardcase. "There are zeds all through those woods, we go back in there now we’re dead, just like him."

Flack points his L-85 at Hardcase. Hardcase points his SMG at Flack. Grubb points his L-85 at Hardcase, and says simply: "Think about it, man."

After a tense moment, all guns are lowered, and Flack nods his head into the woods, gesturing for "double time". Hardcase shrugs, and follows – for now.

The group fast-move back towards Pugh to give him a hand. As if the dice approve of my little vignette, Flack and Grubb pass 2d6 and Hardcase passes 1d6, lagging behind. Pugh’s zed passes 3d6, Pugh passes 1d6 and the zed rolls a 2 for damage; Pugh is Out Of the Fight. Flack viciously clubs the zombie to the ground, then Grubb finishes it off.

Turn 15, and it’s time to finish off the ones in the woods, and check the Harry Are You OK table for Pugh, who it transpires will not become a zombie this encounter.

Turns 16-22 see Flack and Hardcase charge the remaining woods zombies and finish them after a protracted melee, which is interrupted by another argument between them, Pugh twisting his ankle, and Grubb disappearing. I have never seen so many random events in a game.

On turn 23, Grubb passes 1d6 on the rules for returning, and pops up 9" away from Pugh at his 10 o’clock. Time to stop messing about and check out the buildings.

TURNS 24-45: BUILT-UP AREA

On turns 24-25, Flack and Hardcase pick up Pugh and move him towards the nearest building at a walk, joined partway there by Grubb. On Flack’s orders, Hardcase trades his SMG for Pugh’s assault rifle.

The team move up to the building and ready themselves to enter, gently laying Pugh down nearby, where they can hopefully pick him up if they need to run.

"Left side door breach, stack up!" Flack calls softly, and even Hardcase knows what to do. Flack raises an eyebrow at him.

"Ex-Army?"

"No," grins the ganger, "Ex-Box. Call of Duty 4."

The zed comes closer, and Flack can see it will feast on Pugh next turn if he doesn’t do something about it. He gestures to Grubb to take it out, and Grubb knocks it prone with a short burst. However, the noise calls another zombie from somewhere, appearing at Grubb’s 10 o’clock.

Turn 26, and Flack and Hardcase find the door is closed (house rule, roll 1d6: 1 = open, 2-3 = closed, 4-5 = locked, 6 = barricaded), open it and step inside. Grubb picks up Pugh (recovering wounded) and follows, with Hardcase closing the door behind them. There’s a zed inside, which Flack knocks prone, and then eliminates on turn 27 while Hardcase is barricading the door. The team then use turn 28 to loot the building, finding two food units.

Turns 29 and 30 pass with no movement on either side.

TURNS 31-44: POP GOES THE WEASEL

The zeds close up to where they last saw people, namely the building’s back door, and one starts breaking down the barricade; PEF3 fails to move; Benton, counting as a neutral NPC, also fails to move. Flack & Co. pick up Pugh and leave, stacking up outside a second building. Hardcase sneaks off around the first building, intending to "pop the weasel" on at least one of the two zeds outside…

2013090824

…and succeeds on turn 32. Hardcase moves 2" to get directly behind one zed and uses the "pop the weasel" rule to auto-kill it, firing one round. He fires his two remaining rounds at the next zed, 4" away, hits it and knocks it prone. He then takes the charge into melee test to run up and beat it to death; both he and the zed pass 1d6, but the zed can’t shoot, so he charges home without incident. The zed rolls 125 for two successes, while Hardcase rolls 112356 for his Rep and a further 24 as the zed is prone, for a total of 6 successes – 4 more than the zed, and with a roll of 3 it’s goodnight, zombie. Alas, the gunfire draws another one, but I’m still pleased with how that worked out; notice that in ATZ you can do a lot of fighting in one turn if you set things up right.

Meanwhile, Flack and Grubb discover the door to the building is locked, and I decide they should boot it in as a Rep challenge, at which Flack succeeds handily. There are no zeds inside, so there is a Defining Moment, effectively another PEF; 2d6 vs ER (3) gives 1, 6 – pass 1d6, something is definitely out there, and the ER increases to 4.

Turns 33-40 see Hardcase fast-move back to the rest of the group, a couple of missed activations, Benton fleeing the table and the remaining PEF and zed closing on the team’s building while they loot it, finding an assault rifle and a food unit. Grubb discovers he has brought the wrong reloads, and the team saunters over to the last building, where everyone misses an activation catching their breath.

On turn 41 the group opens the door and enters the final building. Inside they find one zed, and immediately club it down. Grubb and Flack spend turns 42 and 43 arguing while they and Hardcase loot the building, finding two food and a flak jacket, and on turn 44 the group fails to activate, while the PEF and lone zed wander aimlessly.

TURN 45: END GAME

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 6. Flack wins the argument, and sends Hardcase to kill the zed in the next building, while he himself moves out to get line of sight on the last PEF. Resolving the PEF increases the local ER to 5, but there’s nothing there. Hardcase drops the zed with a short burst, thinking he could get to like having an Impact 3 weapon. No more zeds are drawn by gunfire, so I call the game – victory is ours.

2013090829

AFTERMATH

I first check After The Battle Recovery, using a unit of medical supplies on Pugh to get an extra die on the test. He rolls 3d6: 2, 6, 6 vs Rep 5 and passes 1d6. Pugh returns to the group. Next I check to see if anyone increases his Rep; no-one does.

Keeping It Together: Flack rolls 6d6 (Rep 5, Born leader) looking for successes. 124466, so two successes. Oh dear, Captain, your little band could be shrinking…

  • Both Pughs and Hardcase roll the same number of successes as Flack, so since the last encounter was a success, they stay, but will check again next time.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barney McGrew decides to take his share of the group’s equipment and leave; Cuthbert and Grubb go with him. (This happens as they scored more successes than Flack.)
  • Dibble and Wannabe got half as many successes as Flack, so stay, and do not have to roll again next encounter. Notice that the better the Extra’s Rep, the more likely he is to strike out on his own; until your Star gets a substantial Rep, therefore, the average Rep of his followers tends to decrease as the good ones leave.

"Grim," says Flack that evening, as the group sits around a fire sipping their brews. "Radio silence. HQ gone, government gone, army gone, Regiment gone. Zombies, gangers everywhere – no offence, Hardcase. Anyone wants to go home, go; no hard feelings, chain of command gone. Welcome to stay, though." Flack is not the most inspirational speaker known to man.

"If it’s all the same to you, Captain, I’ll make my way home," says Grubb. "I need to look out for my family now, whatever’s left of it. It’s been an honour, sir." He and Flack exchange salutes.

"Sod this for a game of soldiers," McGrew grumbles. "I don’t have to take any crap from you now, Flack, nor any orders neither. I’m off."

Cuthbert says, "I’ll come with you, Grubb. I need to find out if my aunt is OK."

McGrew laughs harshly. "She’s zed food, mate, don’t kid yourself."

"You don’t know that," Cuthbert mutters.

"If you say so," McGrew says. "Come morning, I take my share of the compo rats and leave. You lot can play soldier all you like."

The group had 44 food units at that point, and 9 people; that’s about 5 each, so with two people leaving, team food stocks are reduced to 34. At the start of March the remaining group members will eat another 7, reducing them to 27 food units, about enough for 3-4 months.

STATUS AT Z+60

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Pugh: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol. Not rolling to leave group.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. Body armour, assault rifle, SMG, goggles, backpack.
  • Wannabe: Rep 2, Pep 0, Sav 1. Machine Pistol, walkie-talkie. Not rolling to leave group.
  • Group: Land Rover, 27 Food, 5 Fuel.
  • Area: 0 Body Armour, 3 Food, 6 Fuel, 8 Luxury Items, 0 Medical Supplies, 17 Weapons.

REFLECTIONS

I suppose I could make McGrew, Grubb and Cuthbert a PEF or two now – McGrew looks like he’s turning into a ganger – but I’m feeling lazy and decide to let them wander off into the sunset. Maybe later.

One could make a very large and involved game of ATZ by following all the various subgroups, doing encounters from the viewpoint of each one, but I suspect that’s too much work this side of retirement.

Flack, Z+21: Five, Six, Pick Up Chicks

Flack stands impassively at attention before the big oak desk. The senior officer behind it says, "Captain Flack, owing to the present… situation, your court-martial has been postponed indefinitely."

"I have a job for you." The officer rises, and walks over to a map of the town and surrounding area, hastily pinned on his wall, and covered in esoteric military graffiti. "There’s a valuable asset trapped here, outside Phase Line Bravo;" he taps the map for emphasis. "A Doctor Margaret Grant. I want you to get her, and bring her back here. She may hold the key to what’s going on out there."

"Sir." Flack acknowledges. "Equipment? Rules of Engagement?"

"Take what you need, Captain, and do whatever you have to do to bring her in. Clear?"

"Sir." Flack salutes and leaves. His face remains impassive, and he is monosyllabic as ever; but if the boss is sending him into downtown Hereford fully tooled up with a de facto shoot to kill order, things must be worse than the TV news is letting on.

Setup

The same board as last time, and the Escape! scenario from p. 68, although for no very good reason I use a different diagonal to cross the board. Again I’m after a quick game, so Flack is alone and on foot. PEFs rock up in sections 3, 4 and 6, with Reps 5, 6, 6 respectively. Flack marches 8" onto the board from the corner of section 7, and the fun begins. Four zeds this time, and a bit more spread out than usual. An urban area in daytime, giving it ER 5.

13072107

Turn 1

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 5. Flack decides not to mess around this time, and fires one round at each of the zeds in front of him. After skimming p. 16, I decide there is no need for an In Sight test, as the zeds are already clearly in view. He rolls 1d6 for each shot and adds his Rep, to get scores of 6, 9; the 6 misses, and the 9 hits. He rolls 1d6 vs Impact (3) for the hit and gets a 3; the zed is Out Of the Fight, which for a zed means goodnight, Vienna. However, I roll 3, 6 for shots attracting zeds, and a new one pops up, which I assume has just come into sight around the corner. Let’s call that a draw, shall we?

Belatedly, I notice Flack has Line Of Sight on the PEF in section 3, and resolve it; oh goody, it’s two more zeds, right outside the asset’s house – that’d be why she hasn’t reported in. Unless she’s one of them?

Flack decides not to move; let the zeds come to him.

Turn 2

Activation: Flack 6, zeds 3. Everybody activates – while Flack is Rep 5, he has Initiative, and counts as Rep 6 for activation while he is alone. Flack decides to draw the zeds around a corner, intending to fast move past them to the target at a later point. Clearly shooting them isn’t going to help, they pop up as fast as he can slot them. Obligingly, they follow as he intended.

Turn 3

Activation: Double five – since this is the area’s ER or less, we get a random event (p. 59). I roll 3d6 and get a 7; a random building has caught fire, attracing 2d6 extra zombies. That turns out to be 10 zombies. And yet again, an apparently simple outing for the Star goes right to hell early in the game! In this, ATZ is entirely faithful to the genre.

Turn 4

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 5. Flack holds his ground, hoping to lure the zeds in close and then fast-move past them. Just because you can activate doesn’t mean you have to, and while shooting a couple of zeds might help, it’s likely to draw more.

Turn 5

Activation: Flack 6, zeds 2. Wait for it, Flack, wait for it… This would be a very risky strategy with a low-Rep Star, but with an effective Rep of 6 I think I can pull it off. The zeds close in, while one PEF moves away.

13072112

Turn 6

Activation: Flack 2, zeds 6. Flack declares he is fast-moving and fires a burst at the zed blocking his most direct route, scoring 8, 13, 10 and landing two shots – one of these rolls 1 for damage, Obviously Dead, dropping the zed in its tracks. Two more zeds appear, but not in unreasonable positions. Flack now fast-moves; he rolls 3, 5 vs Rep 5 and doubles his movement, hurdling the zed’s body and charging through the gap he has just made. If he doesn’t win the initiative next turn things will get very iffy, but with effective Rep 6 for activation he should be OK.

The zeds, meanwhile, fail to activate; the PEF in section 4 passes 2d6 for movement and barges out of its building right up behind Flack, who is facing the other way. The last remaining PEF is in Flack’s Line Of Sight anyway, so since it passed 2d6 it will move right up to him on the other side. This looks like a good time to resolve them, so I do, by rolling 2d6 for each vs ER 5. The one behind Flack passes 2d6, and a check on the Contact tables (p. 61-62) tells me it is two more zeds; fortunately, zeds cannot activate on the turn they are placed. The one in front is a lone Survivor, Rep 4, with an SMG, so I immediately take a Meet & Greet test, both sides rolling Rep d6 and looking for successes. Flack gets 3, the Survivor 1, so Flack can choose whether to Talk the Talk (engage peacefully) or Walk the Walk (go to In Sight test and start shooting). There’s no advantage to shooting the survivor, so Flack Talks the Talk.

A lone survivor bursts around the corner as two more zeds emerge from a building right behind Flack. "Zombies!" cries Flack, pointing behind himself.

13072113

Turn 7

Activation: Flack 5, zeds 3. Flack goes first and fast-moves towards his objective, again passing 2d6 and getting a 16" move. The zeds and the survivor move simultaneously; the survivor rolls 2d6 vs Rep on the NPC Movement table (p. 65) and gets 4, 3; he passes 2d6, but since he is neutral to Flack and they have already interacted, he counts as passing 1d6. While there is a building available, which he should enter, it is on fire, so I decide he moves away from Flack instead. Given that there are about to be zeds all over him like white on rice, he fast-moves, directly away from Flack and the zeds, passing 2d6 and moving 16", which takes him off the board.

13072114

I decide that the zombies will follow whichever human is closer to them, and move them accordingly.

Turn 8

Activation: Flack 1, zeds 3. Flack enters the building in the corner of section 3; I was going to skip the Defining Moment as I knew the asset, a human, was already inside; but I decided to do it anyway, as the genre is full of such surprises. We start (p. 47) by rolling 6d6 for zombies; 112346 = two more zeds inside, and then each side needs a Surprise Total. This is 1d6 + Rep for Flack, in this case 10, and 1d6 + number of zombies for the zeds, in this case 7. As a Star, Flack gets the choose his reaction, and burst-firing the L-85 seems like a good choice; he scores 10, 10, 8 and hits each zed once. In both cases he rolls 4 for damage, and as this is more than the weapon’s Impact, the foes are knocked down. Being zombies, this means they are knocked prone but not stunned. Flack seizes this moment to advance into melee and rolls 7d6 against the first zed; 2445566 is not his best roll ever, but including the extra success for attacking a zed, he has two successes. The zed rolls 335 and also has two successes; they are evenly matched.

Outside, the other zombies are closing in. I decide that the fast-moving survivor is now at least 24" away, so all remaining zeds will make for Flack.

13072116

Turn 9

Activation: Flack 6, zeds 4. Since they can’t actually see a live human at the moment, their Rep is not boosted to 4, so the zeds don’t activate. Flack melees the two zeds inside, and since they must activate to move and thus stand up, they are both still prone. He gets 3 successes better than the first, knocking it down again by rolling a 4 for damage, and 6 better than the second; he can’t fail to roll less than or equal to a 6 on 1d6, so the second zed is toast.

Turn 10

Activation: Flack 1, zeds 3. Flack goes first and attacks the zed at his feet, which will stand up again this turn but not until after Flack has put the boot in. Sadly, he only manages to knock it down again.

As the zeds move towards where they last saw Flack, namely the still-open doorway, three gain line of sight and charge into melee from Flack’s rear. Oops. The -2d6 modifier for being charged from behind mean Flack passes 0d6, while the zeds auto-pass 1d6. The three zeds attack, Flack can’t fire and counts as Unarmed this turn. I’ll spare you the numerous die rolls, but Flack knocks down the first zed, is knocked down by the second, and knocked down again by the third.

Things are looking very bad indeed for Flack, and his Star powers can’t save him, but we know he is still alive at Z+50, and we also know there is an NPC ready to join his gang just off-map in section 9. So, his Plot Immunity manifests itself in the form of Dr Margaret Grant, Rep 4 Survivor with an assault rifle, who shoots the zeds standing over him and one of the ones on the floor.

I love the way the stories flow in this game.

While Flack is rolling around on the floor with two zeds, and another two stand over him ready to pounce, the Good Doctor steps out of the room where she has been hiding and plugs three of them.

"Let me guess," she says acidly. "You’re here to rescue me. I thought I’d be worth more to them than one incompetent squaddie."

Flack is still wrestling with a zed and too preoccupied to answer.

Turn 11

Activation: Flack 2, zeds 4. Flack is no longer alone, so his Initiative and effective Rep 6 evaporate, leaving him with Rep 5. He uses his movement to stand up, then wades into the remaining zed while it’s still down, finally despatching it (roll of 1123445 vs 245, followed by roll of 4 = OOF which slays the zed). The surviving zeds can’t see anyone so fail to activate.

13072119

"Bayonet," says Flack in some amazement as Dr Grant fixes it on her M16.

"Yes," she says, "So I’m told. Now then, I can see from the upstairs window there are a ton of zombies out there, and I’ve observed that gunfire draws them like flies. So, barricade that door – quietly – and we’ll wait for them to lose interest, then make a break for it. No shooting, understand? Hence the bayonet. Do you have one, or has the Army stopped issuing them?"

Flack thinks to himself: I think I’m in love.

Turns 12-18

Now, I can’t find any specific rules for this in ATZ, but the implication of the zombie activation rules on p. 48 is that if zeds can’t see or hear you, they move off randomly.

  • Turn 12: With a double 6 for activation, nothing happens.
  • Turns 13, 14: The horde fails to activate.
  • Turn 15: The horde moves up to the door, which is where it last saw people; then stops in confusion.
  • Turn 16: The horde activates and splits, moving off in several directions.
  • Turn 17: The horde fragments continue to move away.
  • Turn 18: Flack and Grant dismantle their barricade, quietly; the shuffling zombies move as far away as they can get before they bounce off the board edge again.

13072121

Turn 19

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 1. Flack and Grant fast-move out of the building and make for the opposite diagonal of the board. The good doctor only passes 1d6 to fast move though, so starts to lag behind. Flack moves cannily just out of the field of vision of the zeds (yes, I know you can’t tell in the picture, but I’ve just finished moving them so I remember). The zeds in section 1 shake out into a conga line as they hit the board edge, but as they turn, they gain Line Of Sight on Flack and Grant. The ones in section 4 remain blissfully ignorant.

13072122

Turn 20

Activation: Flack 1, zeds 6. For some reason the zeds fail to move, and Flack makes the best of it, fast-moving but holding his speed down to stay close to Dr Grant, as she picks up the pace to the full 16".

Flack and Grant are too busy running to exchange pleasantries, but the sight of the zombies halting in place, swaying from side to side and moaning softly, is disconcerting.

13072123

Turn 21

Activation double 2, random event. 3d6 = 16; a black chopper flies overhead, and all zombies forfeit their next activation watching it. How fortunate for our heroes!

Turn 22

Activation: Double 6, nobody moves.

Turn 23

Activation: Flack 2, zeds 3 – but fortunately they miss a turn due to the black chopper. Flack and Grant fast-move off the board to victory.

13072124

Aftermath

Back in the office, this time with the newly rescued asset, Flack gets his next mission.

"Dr Grant here tells us there is vital material at a secret research base here." He taps the map again. "Get a squad together, Flack; you’re going to recover it for us…"

This episode takes Flack up to the point where we first saw him on 28 Months Later, so I’ll now skip ahead to Z+60, just after the latest adventure on his timeline.

I think I’ll add Dr Grant to the pre-loaded PEFs pile. She’s going to be fun.

Credits: Maps – Wydraz. Figures and pawns – eM4. Statistics: The map is 21" x 32"; the scenario used three human figures and 22 zombies.

Flack, Z+14: Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

It’s Z+14, or as Flack still thinks of it, 5th January 2013. His court martial for stabbing an apparent civilian is being scheduled, but meanwhile he is "on bail", or whatever the military equivalent is. Actually, the civilian was a zombie, and Flack didn’t do the stabbing, but let’s not quibble over details… Feeling the need for some air to clear his head, followed by a few beers to cloud it again in the approved manner, Flack walks into town at a brisk pace.

Setup

I followed the rules as written, except for choosing the terrain – I can never be bothered to dice for it. At the bottom left you see some dice; the red d6 is Flack’s activation, the black d6 is the opposing forces’ activation, and the large d20 is the turn counter. PEFs appeared in sections 4, 5, and 6 of the board, with Reps 5, 6 and 6 respectively, shown by the black d6s next to them. I’m after a quick game today, so Flack doesn’t take any Grunts with him – that minimises the number of other figures I need, and thanks to his Initiative, means Flack will always activate. Can’t get faster than that.

I couldn’t see from the encounter setup (I’m using Robbery on p. 71, as recommended for the second encounter) who the Enemies were, so I assumed they were gangers and rolled on the How Many table directly, as I couldn’t see Citizens or National Guard trying to rob him this early in the outbreak.Rolling a 4, +1 for it being an Urban area, gave me Player Group plus one, or two Gangers. Using my new lazy approach of grab some figures at random and assigning Rep based on what they look like (see House Rules below), I get a Rep 3 ganger with machine pistol and a Rep 5 with an assault rifle. Bit early in the game for the heavy stuff to be out, but these are gangers, after all.

There are 1d6+1 = 6 zeds on the table (p. 45); I place them with a few die rolls and the rules on p. 46. As usual on a small board, the zeds appear in clumps, and I can already see one of those PEFs is in trouble.

While Flack is window shopping on his way to the pub, two figures step out of a car onto the deserted street. Flack notices this, but doesn’t really pay attention until they stop a few yards away and draw weapons.

13072102

Turn 1

We begin with a Pep challenge. Both Flack and the boss ganger have Pep 4, so both roll 4d6. The ganger rolls 5, 5, 5, 6 and scores no successes (i.e., rolls of 1-3). Flack rolls 1, 1, 3, 4 and gets 3 successes. As per the scenario special rules (p. 71), Flack can no surrender 1/2d6 Items and the robbers will leave, but what kind of message does that send? He exercises his other option and goes to In Sight (pp 17-18) counting as inactive – that might seem like a disadvantage, but actually it is in Flack’s favour to be inactive, as you’ll see.

The gangers approach Flack, and the leader yells: "I want your wallet and your cellphone, now!" He brandishes an assault rifle to emphasise his point.

Flack considers this for a second or so, unsettling the ganger further, then says "No." For emphasis, he points at himself and says, "Badged," indicating to those in the know that he is not to be messed with. Sadly, the gangers are not in the know, and things start to go downhill.

The gangers are active, and so roll one less die than their Rep, looking for successes. The wannabe gets 3, 6 for one success; the boss gets 1, 1, 2, 5 for three successes; and Flack rolls 1, 2, 3, 5, 5 for three successes. The number of successes is shown by the red die next to the figure. Looking at the table on p. 18, I decide Flack will charge into melee, but the boss ganger will clearly open fire; those two events will be simultaneous. The wannabe ganger will then act, and again the table says he will open fire.

I resolve the boss ganger’s fire first. I decide the assault rifle is in burst mode, so he will fire three times; but as Flack is charging into melee, I decide he should count as fast moving. The ganger rolls 3d6 and adds his Rep to each; rolls of 116 give results of 6, 6, and 11. 7 or less is always a miss, 10 or more is always a hit, so Flack is hit once. ARs have an impact of 3, so the boss ganger rolls 1d6 and gets a 6; Flack is knocked down and immediately takes a recover from knocked down test. I use the Army & National Guard reaction tables (QRS, at the back of the book) for Flack, as he is a serving soldier. He rolls 1, 6 vs Rep 5 and passes 1d6; Out Of the Fight.

Well, I’m not having that; out with the Star Power dice (p. 5). Flack rolls 12356 and scores three successes, reducing the wound by three levels to Carry On. Unfortunately, he will finish the turn prone, and that Star Power die that rolled a 6 is out of action for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, as per p. 46, I roll 1d6 per shot fired and get 455; in an urban area, each result of 4-6 means one zombie appears, so this has generated another three, which I place as normal; all of them reinforce the mob approaching Flack from the rear, and as ever in ATZ, things are already spiralling out of control and it’s not even the end of Turn 1 yet.

Simultaneously with all this, Flack is charging into melee. Both he and the ganger roll 2d6 vs Rep; Flack passes 2d6, as does the ganger, so the ganger gets off one more shot and then Flack is in contact; he rolls a 9 and hits again, scoring an Obviously Dead result. I’m definitely not having that; Star Power rolls 1124 and Flack again reduces this three levels, to Carry On. Fortunately, no more zeds appear. Flack’s now into melee and rolls 4d6; 5d6 for his Rep, less one for being unarmed.1223 yields four successes, while the ganger’s 23336 also gives him four successes; the two are evenly matched.

Mr Wannabe Ganger now acts, and fires at Flack with his MP. He rolls 261, adds his Rep (3) to get results of 5, 9 and 4, and hits Flack with the second shot only. He rolls a 2 vs Impact (1) and so takes Flack Out Of the Fight (p. 27). Star Power rolls of 2244 save Flack again, reducing that result to Carry On. The gunfire generates two more zeds, who reinforce the main pack, now 9 zombies strong and dangerously close. Wannabe now takes the Charge Into Melee test, and astonishingly scores better than Flack, moving into melee. The Wannabe rolls 6d6, 3d6 for his Rep, an extra die because Flack is evenly matched with the Bossman, and two more dice because Flack is prone following the end of his own charge. 333456 gives the Wannabe three successes, while Flack rolls 4d6 (Rep 5, less one for being unarmed) and gets 1256 for two successes. The Wannabe rolls 1d6 vs 1, that being the number of successes more than Flack he has (p. 31), and gets a 5; Flack is knocked down and takes a recover from knock down test immediately; he passes 2d6 and is Stunned, which would make him miss a turn – this would be a bad idea so I roll Star Power again, getting 5666; blast, no successes, still stunned and lost three Star Power dice. This is starting to look like Flack should Cheat Death (p. 5), but let’s give it another turn yet.

Flack charges the gangers, and catches them off guard; they both fire at him, but all the rounds miss as he is moving so fast. However, he is still outnumbered 2:1 by better-armed foes, and one of them gets in a lucky blow with his machine pistol, stunning Flack and knocking him prone.

13072103

Turn 2

Activation: Flack 1, gangers 6. Flack activates, and uses his activation to stand up again and recover from Stun. Of the two PEFs able to move, one moves 12" away, and the other gets as close as it can without becoming visible (House Rule). I can’t see from the rules whether the melee should continue or not, but decide that since Flack clearly can’t attack while stunned the gangers don’t counterattack, and since the gangers didn’t activate, they can’t initiate a melee attack. That’ll do for now.

Turn 3

Activation: Flack 1, gangers 4. In the dogpile, Flack attacks the boss. 1145 gives two successes, the boss rolls 24556 for one success. Flack rolls 1d6 and gets a 1; that’s less than or equal to the number of successes more than his foe he scored, so the foe is Obviously Dead. Oh dear, Captain, that court-martial is not going to go well, is it? "While out on bail the suspect killed another civilian…"

In for a penny; Flack rolls 1356 against the Wannabe,who rolls 125; they are evenly matched.

The PEFs amble about in their usual random manner, and those zeds who can see the melee march towards it, while those in the building rattle around inside, trying to move directly towards the gunshots and bouncing off walls.

There’s a disturbing cracking noise in the melee, and the boss ganger goes limp. His minion fights desperately for his life against the enraged Flack. Meanwhile, a horde of zombies approaches them from behind Flack…

13072104

Turn 4

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 5. Flack decides to break off melee (p. 33); getting hit from behind by a bunch of zeds while locked in a brawl with a ganger would be bad. Both humans roll 1d6 and add their Rep; Flack gets a score of 11, the Wannabe gets a 7, so Flack successfully breaks off and can Fast Move away, which takes him off the board. I could hang around, but frankly, unarmed against a dozen zeds and a ganger? Not going to end well.

13072106

Flack decides that whether or not the approaching zombies are on the ganger’s side, they are definitely not on his. He’ll worry about his reputation in the Mess later; for now, it’s time to go.

Aftermath

Flack’s objective in this scenario was to avoid being robbed or injured (p. 71), which he has done – success. Again, since Flack has Plot Immunity in this encounter it seems unfair to roll for advancement (plus I’d have to redo another three encounters). Captain Flack remains as Rep 5, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative.

House Rules

I buy my figures in packs of five, and to my eyes each pack has one obvious leader (Rep 5), one obvious loser (Rep 3), and three average guys (Rep 4). Leaders favour Pep over Sav, others favour Sav over Pep. They’ve got whatever the figure has. Seemples.

PEFs won’t break cover to close with a player character if he has line of sight to them.

Reflections

While writing this up, I saw I got confused between the Robbery encounter on p. 68, which is what I should have been playing, and the one on p. 71, which is what I actually played. Oops.

Meanwhile, if two guys pointing automatic weapons at you demand your wallet, you might want to consider giving it to them.

Credits: Maps by Wydraz; figures by eM4. Statistics: The map area is 21" x 32"; the game used 3 human figures and 11 zombies.