Few remembered the details of the 'ancient age', the 'time before' or whatever they chose to call the past. But only 'the now' mattered, the day to day struggle to survive in a world with a scarred, ashen sky and a scorched, dehydrated landscape.
Haven was a bastion against this struggle and a home to my companions and I:
Agent Pip; an Infected. Played by Michaela.
Max Zanzibar; a Veteran. Played by Kevin.
Aoxomoxoa; a Savage. Played by Mark.
Sal Vige; a Scavenger. Played by yours truly AKA Giro.
Our intention was to go back to the underground complex and continuing exploring. We stocked up on flash lights, flares, ammo, grenades and more flash lights. Derek reconfigured to transportation mode and drove us to the headland.
Leaving the Warhound and Bradley at the top of the cliffs, we proceeded down the vertical air shaft and descended into the complex. Once again, we went into the north pipe and into the circular room. As we were brandishing more light, the humanoids could not surround us and retreated out of the other exit from the room.
Now that there was no immediate threat, we had the opportunity to examine this chamber. As well as the other exit, there was a vertical shaft in the centre of the ceiling much like shaft that we used to enter the complex. We could faintly hear music drifting from the shaft. The ceiling in this chamber was about 10 metres up and infuriatingly, we had no way to reach the shaft.
Drums in the deep
There was only one way to go and that was through the other exit. This passageway led us to another chamber. As we entered, our light drove the humanoids away. There was nothing in this chamber but multiple exits. Some could only be crawled down, many were too small for even that and one exit alone could be walked down. None of us fancied encountering any of the humanoids whilst crawling, so there was really only one choice.
Walking along the tunnel, it went through a couple of corners before branching off into more multiple routes. There was no obvious way, but after some examination we found tracks that only went one way. We followed this 'main' route and eventually it ended in a manmade wall, however a portion of the wall had been pushed in, granting us access to the room beyond.
This room contained two upturned empty oil barrels, next them were some sticks. No doubt they served as makeshift drums. Despite Max's eagerness, we did not beat these drums.
There were two ways out of this room, a way down and a way up. It was clearly visible that a layer of a substance similar to grease was coating the path along the downward route.
So we decided to take the upward route.
Zac Dolittle, I presume
The tunnel was long, parts of it had collapsed and we were forced to clamber over several obstacles. The tunnel rose for some thirty to forty metres and ran for several kilometres before it ended in the blazing golden glow of what could only be sunlight. Upon reaching the tunnel's end, it opened up into a wide blue sky and a lush jungle vista. The tunnel had bought us back to the mainland.
Leaving the tunnel behind, we noted a large concentration of the humanoid tracks here. Clearly they made frequent use of this tunnel. They despised the light and would only make use of the tunnel at night. It was just before midday, so we had eight or so hours of daylight left.
Continuing on out into the jungle, we saw the barest remains of buildings from the world before. Their height could be measured in centimetres and they were mostly covered in verdant foliage.
The further we went, the more frequent the ruins became. Not only that, the bigger and taller they became. Amongst these taller buildings we encountered patches of freshly cultivated land and planted crops. There must be people living here, but we had seen none of them.
Then, we caught a whiff of smoke and fire on the breeze, a campfire perhaps? Zoning in on the origin of the smell, we did indeed find a campfire amongst the tallest buildings. It had been hastily extinguished, embers still glowed and small flames still licked the fireplace. Whoever they were, they were close and had to be watching us.
Seeing no harm in trying: We shouted out. "Hello. We come in peace..."
There was a long pause before the reply came. "Who are you? Why are you here?".
We explained that we came from Haven, a nearby settlement and that we were exploring the underground complex and looking to deal with the threat from the strange humanoids that appeared to inhabit it. Someone appeared from a building. Dressed in a rudimentary loincloth and vest, he was armed with a spear and a bow. When he spoke, his voice seemed less guarded and he introduced himself as 'Zac Doolittle'. Zac explained that Doolittle was a word from the world before and meant 'talks with animals'. Agent Pip was sceptical of this; so Zac gave a whistle and a giant alsatian, far larger than any we had ever seen before, emerged from the undergrowth. Zac said, "Hello." to the dog which replied, "Hello!".
"This is Don." Said Zac, pointing at the alsatian! Don chose not to talk to us. Once Zac realised that we posed no threat, he invited us to meet the leaders of the settlement. We agreed and were taken up the tallest buildings, this was where they had made their homes. There were walkways the crisscrossed the gaps between different buildings, allowing the entire settlement to reside up here.
We conversed at length with the leaders and discovered that they were frequently raided by the humanoids who came and tried to kidnap people to eat. The leaders called the humanoids C.H.U.D.s. Apparently Chuds were known to people from the world before and the name meant Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. The leaders would help us defeat the chuds in any way they could, but would not enter the underground complex.
They were also keen to open a trade route between Haven and their own settlement 'Home'. They hoped to trade their exotic plants and medicines for Haven's technology and knowledge, but they had always been hesitant to approach Haven, fearful of being attacked. We agreed to help and accompany them to Haven and grant them entry.
They introduced us to Zeera Camay. Both Zac and Zeera would journey with us to Haven. Zeera was carrying many samples of their medicines.
Our plan was simple:
Return to Haven.
Retrieve our robots.
Return to Home
Deal with the chuds.
What could go wrong?
By the time our dialog with the leaders had drawn to it's conclusion, it was mid afternoon and we shared a meal with them. Unusually, we noticed that they were vegetarian. We left for Haven immediately after the meal. Zac and Zeera were our guides. The flora and foliage in the dense jungle was thick and obfuscating and the paths that Zac and Zeera led us down were winding and twisting. But it was clear that they had a knowledge of the region and these paths that we could not hope to match.
We travelled along these paths for three hours until both Zac and Zeera abruptly halted. Ahead there was a clearing of sorts, neither of them had expected to find a clearing here and they were instantly suspicious. We carefully approached the clearing and realised it was not a clearing. It was more like some sort of road that ran perpendicular to our course?
The 'road' was straight as an arrow. A closer examination revealed some interesting facts. The road was a result of something extracting all of the vegetation, everything from trees to blades of grass and been removed. What remained was exposed earth. In the earth we saw tracks, a large number of tracks running in parallel along the ground in a straight line, creating the road It reminded us of something we had witnessed before; the zig-zagging tracks we had seen on the headland cliffs at the coast. This made sense, the road that stretched to the right would head in the direction of the coastline.
Whilst we reflecting on this information, Don began to growl, he was sensing something coming from right side. Pulling back from the road, we hid in some greenery and waited.
We did not have to wait long for an extraordinary sight to come travelling the road. It was a giant ant, so giant in fact that it was larger than Derek's minivan, probably faster too! It was carrying some vegetation and went past us without stopping.
Now we knew what was creating these strange tracks, we speculated where the giant ant was going to and didn't like the answer that we speculated. Despite this discovery, the plan had not changed. We still needed to reach Haven.
We crossed the track and continued on. An hour later, Don began growling again. This was trouble! Searching around we realised that a giant ant was tracking us somehow. It was not approaching us directly, it was following the same winding route that Zac and Zeera had taken us. It must be following us by scent! It was unlikely that we could outrun it, so we prepared for the worst.
Agent Pip and I hid in the foliage, whilst Max, Aoxo and the others climbed trees. When the giant ant appeared, it made straight for Agent Pip! Yelling loudly, Max leapt out of a tree and landed on it. He proceeded to blast it with his shotgun. The battle was joined and the giant ant secreted some of chemical that burned our skin and eyes. We fought on and soon the giant ant was defeated.
This was not the end of things however. There was the sound of something crashing through the foliage. From his vantage point up a tree Aoxo could see not one, but two giant ants heading for us, one from either side. But something was different. Instead of following a scent or path, they were heading straight for us, trampling through anything in their way.
We moved off and hid. The two giant ants arrived and began circling around and examining the dead ant. They appeared to pay no attention to us. Quietly we moved off, keeping an eye behind us to ensure we weren't being followed. We most certainly did not want to lead them back to Haven.
It wasn't behind us that we should have been watching...
Zipline Cannibals, one of evolutions blind alleys
Zac and Zeera informed us that we had left their territory behind and this was unknown land to them. Our progress suffered as a result. Continuing, we heard a whirling, whizzing noise from above us? Looking up, I saw something falling towards me. I didn't have time to consider anything, only time to dodge to one side. Two strangely dressed individuals crashed into the ground, clearly unconscious or dead from the fall!
Max also managed to dodge falling people, Agent Pip was not so lucky and Aoxo was particularly unlucky as one landed on Agent Pip and three of them landed Aoxo, crushing him to the ground in a heap. The attackers wasted no time in trying take bites out of Agent Pip and Aoxo.
"Zipline cannibals!" Zac yelled, pointing at the zipline, a moment too late.
The battle was short, but brutal. We targeted the leader and once he went down, the remainder ran for the zipline and fled.
We continued and marched through the night. After some time the forest began to thin out and soon after that we crested a hill to catch sight of Haven in the reddening dawn light.
It was not until the afternoon that we woke from our sleep, recovering somewhat from our injuries. Zeera began her trade negotiations with Haven's leader, whilst we went with Derek to retrieve our robots. It was late in the day when we returned.
The next morning we were ready to depart. During the previous evening, we had discussed matters with Haven's leaders and came to an agreement: Zeera would remain here and conclude her negotiations. The rest of us would investigate the situation with these giant ants. Zac was happy to accompany us as this issue would also affect Home. As a parting gift, Zeera gave some of her more potent medicine kits to Jasper.
So it was that we departed in the morning for the ant road. After we found it, we turned inland and followed the road in parallel. The forest was thick here and the going hard. It took a couple of days to travel thirty or so kilometres. We were untroubled by giant ants during this time.
During the second day we came to the source of the giant ants and it was not good. We had reached vantage point that gave a view of the area ahead. There was an anthill of massive proportions, so large was the nest, that it had 'consumed' most of a nearby large building. We could only imagine how far underground the nest went. Observing the nest, we saw that the part of the building that was still visible contained two nuclear cooling stacks rising above the nest. The realisation came that this was once a nuclear power plant.
It was the cause of the giant ants and was probably still pumping out radiation even now. Continuing our observations, we saw multiple roads leading out of the anthill in multiple directions. We even observed some giant ants travelling along the road we had followed towards the nest. They were carrying the dismembered remains of crab creatures. The ants had reached the coast.
In the long term, this ant nest represented a most serious threat to both Haven and Home. We considered issues for a time and there was no strategy we could think of that would allow us to deal with this threat at this time. There was nothing else for it, but to leave it alone for now and address the chud threat.
The Muck Dragon
Turning back and after carefully crossing over the ant road we headed for Home. Our journey was without mishap; from there we returned to the tunnel entrance into the underground complex, now with Bradley and the warhound in tow.
We found ourselves back in the room with the makeshift drums and the 'greased' way down. I was highly suspicious of that passageway and felt that going down it was a 'one way trip' Max however, was determined to explore it. He took a rope and anchored it to the warhound and got it to lower him down the greased passageway which descended for about twenty metres before ending at a flooded cavern of some sort. The gap between the water level and the ceiling was about two metres, it was impossible to tell how much further down the cave went and how deep the impenetrable pool was.
Max lobbed a flare into the water, hoping to get a better view. As the flare sunk, Max caught sight of something briefly moving in front of the flare, a silhouette of some sort swimming rapidly through the water. In that moment it was hard to gauge, but the silhouette seemed massive. A second later, several monstrous reptilian heads rose clear of the water, one of them turned to glare at Max!
Just as Max ordered the warhound to pull him up, the head lunged at him. It struck him solidly and bit at the rope holding him. Luckily for Max, the rope did not break and he was hauled up and out of the monster's range. After getting back to his feet, Max threw a grenade down the tunnel. We heard an explosion ring throughout the cave followed by a weird howl. Max then rolled the makeshift drums down the tunnel for good measure.
We suspected that the chuds came here either to feed the thing or to provide it with a sacrifice and those drums were part of the ritual. Well, Max never got the opportunity to play those drums and now, neither would they.
Leaving this cave behind, we returned to the circular room with the musical vertical shaft. We discussed how to deal with the chuds.
Fighting them would be a long, drawn out affair. They would avoid our light at every opportunity and fighting them without light would leave us at too much of a disadvantage. So we came up with a plan. We knew that the chud would try and sneak up on us from any direction in which we did not shine any light. So we exited the circular room, not shining any light behind us, hoping to draw them in. At the same time we threw four grenades into the room behind us and ducked! The explosion in the pipes was unimaginably loud. Once the dust had settled, we entered the room. It was a horrific sight, the tactic had been murderously effective: Chud bodies were mangled and scattered throughout the room, blood and gore was splattered even across the walls. There were a few barely left alive and grimly we dispatched them.
After this we decided to return to Haven, rest and restock ourselves. We were done for the day.
The Wasted Hack
This is a post-apocalyptic RPG that was developed out of 'The Black Hack'. Thus, like The Black Hack, this is a 'rules-light' RPG that looks a bit like a old D&D clone, but actually plays in a quite modern manner. There are no skills in this game, instead all actions are tested against whichever is the most appropriate of the game's six attributes using a d20.
There are four classes; damage and hit points are based on these classes, as are 'specials'. Specials are unique to The Wasted Hack. Specials come in the basic and advanced variety for each class. Characters gain these every time they level up.
There's also the chance to gain a mutation after every level up. Mutations sort of fit the roll that was filled by magic.
The Wasted Hack is a little more 'crunchy' than The Black Hack and of course has been hacked to fit the setting, but if you've played one, you'll be familiar with the other.
Waste-Land Beasts and How to Kill Them
As well as the basic rule book there is also this handy 'Monster Manual' that details lots more threats for the player characters to overcome.
Because of lockdown, we're playing over Skype.
Jasper Prune and Crimson Pluck, loyal henchmen
Player map of the underground tunnels explored so far
Player sketch map of the above ground world
Max's trip to the home of the Muck Dragon nearly got him killed. The Dragon's attack severed the rope supporting Max and he was about to slide inexorably into the deep, watery lair.
However, characters are provided with a single luck point each session with which they can reduce the effectivness of an enemy attack, or increase the effectiveness of their own.
Max used his luck to reduce the Muck Dragon's critical success to a normal success, thus saving his life.
The highlight of this episode for me was the spectacularly ineffective Zipline Cannibals. They attack by dropping from their ziplines onto their victims but, if they miss, they are out of action- essentially they're reduced to 0HP and are effectively dead. Whilst I'm in awe of the visionary design of such opponents I found their utter, utter ineffectivness hilarious. If Monty Python had made a Mad Max film these unfortunates would have featured heavily.
On a personal level I was happy that my foreshadowing of the ants with their mysterious tracks on the cliff top last episode bore fruit so quickly here.
You can buy your own copy of The Wasted Hack and its supplements here:
These write-ups by Giro can be read on his excellent website Three Spellcasters and a Dwarf before they appear here.