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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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…
…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.
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.
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.