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.
After our safe return from the Road Hog settlement with the three balloon ladies; we agreed to escort them back to their home, The 'Domed City'. In truth we were also curious about this city ourselves. The ladies informed us that typically the journey to the city would take about four days by hot air balloon. They could not estimate how long the journey would take over land.
We loaded the transporter with extra supplies, water, camping equipment, and an awning, all for an extended journey. We also included an additional power cell for the transporter, 'just-in-case'. The leaders of Haven had also requested that we take Derek 19-4-0 with us. They wanted Derek to record some scans of the city. Derek had to ride with us in the transporter. He couldn't take his transport module as it had to remain in Haven for some reason or other. As a result of this, the available seating space was tighter than usual, it didn't help that the three balloon ladies were not what would be described as 'dainty'. Fortuitously, both D4-VID and Cornelius did not take up much room. Although ultimately, we had to leave Bradley, the warhound and Crimson behind.
With us on this journey were Jasper, D4-VID, Cornelius and Derek. As well as Betty, Veronica and Sabrina.
The next morning, we set out on a south westerly heading. Our destination; The Domed City.
The day's travel through the bleak and relatively flat desert landscape was uneventful and we made reasonable time. Whilst the transporter wasn't the fastest of vehicles, it was never slowed by obstacles that we met. It's tracks were more than capable of traversing the wasteland here. The day passed and we set up camp for the night.
A few hours into the darkness and we spotted a meteor shower in the inky sky above. It was a fantastic display of light and we observed the spectacle closely. During the shower, it occurred to us that this did not seem like a typical meteor shower; the meteors were all too close to one another. Before we had the chance discuss the significance, a flaming meteor streaked overhead, low in the sky. It flew by and struck the wasteland close by with such explosive force that it shook the ground.
We scrambled over to investigate: There was a smoking crater and at its centre was an object. It was clearly man-made and was part of some sort of machinery, it also had a piece of sheet metal attached to it. The object was quite large, perhaps half the size of the transporter. We tried to have a closer inspection but it was emitting an immense amount of heat, forcing us to keep our distance.
By this time, the other meteors in the swarm had begun plummeting to the ground, their impacts as equally violent as this one. Searching around, we found another crater. There was movement at this one! Was something emerging from the crash site? Cautiously, we crept up until we acquired a clear view. The source of the movement were two giant scorpions! They were inspecting the meteor! We had not been spotted, the remains of a third giant scorpion were distracting them, this scorpion had been struck by the meteor and was clearly dead. The meteor seemed similar to the first one we examined. Man-made machinery covered with a sheet of steel.
Remaining still, we observed the scorpions until they seemed satisfied and burrowed themselves into the sand close by.
Here too, we decided to keep our distance. Not wanting to provoke the scorpions
The meteors continued striking the ground until the swarm was entirely spent, which took until the small hours of the following morning. We wondered where the swarm had come from? ISAAC's space station was the only answer we could think of. Perhaps the meteors were the station remains, falling to Earth after the explosion?
The dawn sun rose over a landscape now dotted with impact craters. The craters had cooled enough so that we could finally get that closer look we wanted. Unfortunately, further inspection of the machinery did not provide us any greater understanding of it's function.
We pressed onwards. Our slog through the seemingly endless and sun-blasted desert continued. In the afternoon, we passed the remains of a city from the ancient world. It had been half consumed by the wasteland as well as the passage of time. Only the tallest buildings - once known as 'skyscrapers' were now visible. These skyscrapers soared upwards out of the desert like the jutting dead fingers of a colossal buried hand.
We stopped and discussed our next step. There might be the opportunity to find something valuable or useful, but equally it might also prove hazardous or a waste of our time.
In the end we decided against it, not wanting to add to what might already be long journey. Moving on; we asked the balloon ladies if they recognised the buildings. They called it 'The Petrified City', a dangerous place to be avoided. They did not know why, but they had been told 'no one had ever returned' from it.
We journeyed on, unhindered for the day. As the sun sank, we camped once more. Whilst routinely checking our supplies, we discovered that our food supplies were lower than expected. The balloon ladies had been snacking, we had to keep an eye on them! Later in the evening the balloon ladies approached and asked us about the bathing facilities, they weren't too happy with the response - none! Unused to overland travel, they were perhaps finding it harder going than expected.
As was our routine, we set watches for the night and settled down to sleep. During Max's watch, D4-VID warned him that there was something close to the horizon, several kilometres away. Max needed his binoculars to see it: It was a light, Max saw it bob up and down for a time before speeding off, headed in the direction of Haven. It was too far and too dark to tell what the light was. Even D4-VID with its superior telescopic vision could not make out any details. There was no way to determine if it represented a threat to Haven? We considered trying to follow it, but it was kilometres away and already had a sizeable lead over us before we give chase. We had to let it go.
Our expedition continued on its way and soon there was a break from the monotony! Up ahead in our path was a black dot on the horizon, as we continued it became a smear of green. A little closer and we could see it was wide stretch of vegetation. There was lush foliage here and even trees. As we pulled up at the edge, between the trees we could see a large body of water past the vegetation.
Mindful of the burrowing scorpions we had seen earlier, we entered cautiously on foot, gripping our weapons as we approached the water. Our caution was of course futile. The balloon ladies ran past and dived straight in, laughing and cheering as they did so. Well, that's one way to check the toxicity I guess. The water turned out to be a small lake, a thing of calm stillness, mirroring the sky above and ringed by a thick band of vegetation. The water was clean and potable and the greenery seemed safe. We were indeed in an oasis in the middle of the wasteland. The ladies played and frolicked in the water for a while. Meanwhile we refilled our water reserves and collected dates from the palm trees to fill out our missing supplies. Once the chores were completed, even we felt relaxed in this verdant respite from the harsh landscape beyond.
It wasn't to last though. Our indulgence was shattered by the realisation that something was approaching from the west. At first it was a distant rumble but it soon became the fierce growl of a large engined vehicle closing fast. A huge vehicle crested a hill and rolled into view. Shaped like a tall vertical slab, it was featureless except for its two tracks and a cab at the front.
It came to a halt next to the lake and out of the cab jumped a man. He immediately opened a panel in his vehicle, pulled out a large tube, dragged it to the water and threw it in. Returning to the vehicle, he flicked some switches on a control panel and began pumping water out of the oasis.
He then stepped forward towards us and cheerfully introduced himself to us as 'Topper Henley, water merchant'. He went on to explain that he mainly traded water to the 'Drystone Maggot Men' and 'The Chrome Bois', but traded other items as the opportunity presented itself. He offered to sell us maggot meat, scorpion meat and even ant meat. We weren't buying although giant ants interested us. We asked Topper where he had gotten the ant meat? He explained that his travels had taken him into The Petrified City which was where he had encountered them.
Topper seemed like a font of useful information about the region, we asked him about The Domed City. Topper had never heard of it. We were slightly suspicious now. We asked if he had ever seen any hot air balloons. Topper had encountered them many times, they always dropped cosmetics down to him. He had no use for them. He had a whole box of them for sale if we were interested. We had no use for cosmetics.
The three balloon ladies saw things differently. They were desperate to replace the make-up they had lost in their escape from the Road Hogs and insisted we get the cosmetics for them.
Agent Pip grudgingly acquiesced and bought them the box.
We still had plenty of questions for Topper and he was happy to chat, it would be hours before his water tanks were filled.
Further south-west of here was 'Drystone', populated by the 'Maggot Men' who farmed the sand maggots for 'serum'. They were a religious lot, but quite reasonable unless angered...
We asked about serum. Topper said that it was used to make people 'stronger and better'. We asked if it was addictive and Topper had no idea as he never took it.
Next we asked about 'The Chrome Bois'. Topper told us that a day's travel to the west of Drystone was 'The Refinery', the home to The Chrome Bois who were a band of 'cyborgs'.
"What cyborgs like me?" Piped up Derek.
"No..." Said Topper. "Not like you... More 'weaponed up'...
Topper told us that The Chrome Bois were also reasonable to deal with and they always had a demand for serum. Finally Topper warned us about 'rat-men', they infested the area.
We bid Topper farewell and left him to it and resumed our journey. The third day came to an end and we camped again for the night. The three ladies were content to coat their faces in herbal face packs and place cucumber slices over their eyes for the night.
Once again we assigned watches for the night. Once again D4-VID pointed out something to Max during his watch. D4-VID explained that it saw a line of figures in the north-west, shuffling across our view in a different direction and at least a kilometre away. Once again it was too dark see them. We asked Derek if he could see them with his 'infrared' module? Derek apologised and said his infrared module was currently 'non functional'.
We stayed unmoving and watching, whoever they were, either they didn't spot us or had no interest in us. They continued on their way and melted into the night. It was not too far away, we would investigate when it was light.
Morning came and we headed north-west to investigate what had occurred the night before. Easily enough we found some evidence. There were wheeled tracks and some sort of large clawed footprints. It was something we didn't recognise.
Looking further, we found giant sized rat droppings! Rat-men! Topper's warning came to mind. It looked like rat-men were pulling carts or wagons of some kind. I wonder what they were carrying? There was no point in pursuing rat-men, we instead continued heading south-west.
The day had ended as we encountered a dusty road, barely more than a trail that led us into a settlement. 'Drystone' stated a sign on the outskirts.
Rows of mud brick buildings ran along either side the road here as it threaded its way through the settlement. Wires hung from wooden poles, criss-crossing as they went to and from buildings. Light shone out of many of the buildings' windows, there was electricity here. Signs marked out eateries and bars among the buildings in Drystone. From the far side of town the tall steeple of a large church rose above all else. Well, Topper had said they were of a religious type here. Talking of religion. The townsfolk were a curious sort, dressed entirely in black, wearing very wide brimmed hats which they would touch when they saw us. Even curiouser, was the complete absence of women here. As we parked up, we noticed some windsail powered vehicles as well as couple of 'conventional' buggies. We weren't the only visitors in Drystone tonight.
We chose an eatery and entered. It was well lit and furnished with electrical fittings. The furniture had a roughly hewn look to it. A peculiar mix of the rustic and the high-tech. It was quiet with few customers, we had our first look at some 'Chrome Bois'. There were two of them sitting at a table. One was enormous, made bigger by the numerous cybernetic enhancements he was sporting. The other was missing his entire body from the waist down, it had been replaced by four spindly spider-like limbs. Derek was very excited, he may have been in love!
As we ordered drinks, I spoke with the barmen who introduced himself as 'Tzadkiel'. I asked him what he knew of The Domed City. Tzadkiel knew nothing about it. I asked what lay further south-west and he told me that there was only 'The Chasm', vast and impassable, he knew nothing else of it. This was something new. Could it be that The Domed City was beyond this chasm?
Next we approached the Chrome Bois, their posture changed and they immediately turned their full attention on us with aggressive looks on their faces. We assuaged their suspicions, explaining that we only wanted to talk. This seemed to satisfy them. The large one, 'Alinco' did all the talking, his spider-legged companion - 'Birmabright' was mostly silent. Alinco confirmed the existence of The Chasm, unsurprisingly they too had not heard of The Domed City. We also queried them about serum and asked if it was addictive. Alinco was evasive and didn't confirm anything about serum.
Now that we had learned about The Chasm, we turned to the Balloon ladies and asked them about it. They told us that they knew The Chasm as 'The Jungle Ditch'. They couldn't tell us any more about it. It was just something that they simply flew over when travelling to and from The Domed City. Thanks ladies! Shame you couldn't mention this earlier!
The hour was becoming late, should we spend the night in Drystone? The town seemed safe, but there was... something... something... that made us uncomfortable. We took a stroll around the high street and briefly observed the church seeing men coming and going, it all looked normal enough. During our little walk, we had also noticed a large building walled off from the rest of the settlement. We had no idea what was going on there. Perhaps this is where they farmed maggots? Or where the women were? It seemed suspicious, but ultimately investigating it did nothing to advance our cause, so we left it alone.
There was nothing to indicate any risk in Drystone, so we spent the night. The ladies opted to stay in a hotel, along with Agent Pip. They spent the night doing 'make-overs' and whatever occurred during a 'sleepover'. Derek also spent the night in the hotel.. With them out of the way, there was plenty of room for the rest of us to sleep in the transporter.
All was well in the morning, at least until we noticed that Derek was missing! The Chrome Bois were not around either, had Derek gone of with them? We went to the hotel and spoke with the manager, Derek was still in his room. His bed was dishevelled and Derek was slick with sweat, he was writhing in agony. Then we saw the cause of it. Derek's right arm was gone, replaced with some sort of flash light. As he convulsed in his bed, a bright spotlight played over the interior of the room.
The manager said that he had seem this before. Derek's pain was being cause by the implant - the flash light. If the implant was removed, so was the pain. There was no way for us to remove it, The Chrome Bois might know how to, but they were a day's travel away. Otherwise Derek would need serum to alleviate the pain. The manager said that he could supply some serum - at a price. We would later find out that the price was exorbitant. I was unsure of this, we had no idea what the long term affect would be? Why did The Chrome Bois keep taking it? It would have to be Derek's decision whether to take serum or not. He did not hesitate and instantly screamed for it. After buying some serum, we had to hold Derek down in order to inject him. The effect was instantaneous and like unplugging the plug on a sink, the pain drained away!
Now that Derek was stable, we demanded he tell us what he had done. Derek explained that after we had all gone to bed, he went and spoke with The Chrome Bois. They agreed to sell Derek the implant and 'attach it' for him. It cost Derek all his credits and some of the food supplies from the transporter. Once again we had lost food from the transporter! Derek insisted that the food he bartered away were 'his own rations'.
We had not yet decided where to go next, but now the decision had been made for us. The Refinery was our next destination. The Chrome Bois might have the knowledge to modify the transporter to cross The Chasm. They could also possibly tell us about Derek's situation.
The journey to The Refinery took most of the day. The installation was huge. We could see it long before we arrived. It's smoke stacks looming over the horizon. As the facility came into view, we could see it had towers and structures spread out all over. It sprawled over hectares, reminiscent of some sort out-of-control monstrous metal growth. Oil pipes ran ubiquitously throughout The Refinery, akin to a three dimensional maze. The Refinery was well lit, lights dangling everywhere lending them the illusion of fairy lights. The power required to run of all this must have been tremendous. We could hear the strain of the generators working before we even reached The Refinery. The flow of traffic also added to the din. There were raider buggies wildly roaring in and out at top speed, darting and skidding round the slower, heaver trade vehicles that rumbled into the settlement. We even saw a certain 'slab-shaped' transporter parked up - Topper was here.
To the south was something we had not seen before: Ocean transports from the world before, 'oil tankers' and 'cargo ships' they were once called. The size of them was almost beyond imagination, they were half-buckled under their own weight and half-sunk into the sandy wastes. Once they would have ridden the oceans that flowed through here. Now these wind-blasted steel hulks, stained by rust with slowly peeling paint were colossal carcasses, the desert their cemetery.
The Refinery was also bustling with people, 'chrome bois' mostly - and 'chrome gels' too! Asking some questions we managed to find a vehicle workshop willing to look at modifying our transporter for flight. The assessment took some time, the chromers came back us and told us it was possible, but it would demand a lot of work. They would need to fit two sets of thrusters, one set for lift and the other for propulsion. The would have to place a fuel tank in the rear which meant removing half the seats. finally, an additional dashboard would need to be installed in the cab to house the extra flight controls, which also meant removing another seat. This would cost fifty seven thousand credits. We asked them what the flight range would be. Three or four kilometres probably was the reply. It was too costly, lost us half our seats and might not have the range required to cross The Chasm twice or even once! This was not a viable option.
Evening had drawn in on us by now and we had to devise an alternate approach. However we noticed that Derek seemed unwell again. The colour had drained from the parts of his face not concealed by his 'implants' and he was unsteady on his feet. The chromers recognised what it was; withdrawal symptoms from serum. They went to on to explain how their cyborg implants functioned. All cyborg implants caused the 'user' constant excruciating agony. Serum was used to alleviate and manage that pain. Serum itself was acutely addictive, withdrawal caused eventual death. Even if the implant was removed from Derek, he would require a serum injection a day just to live.
This put us in a quandary: Derek needed a constant supply of serum, to our knowledge only Drystone produced serum. The Refinery traded with Drystone and had sizeable supplies of serum. Our discussion left us with only one reasonable course of action. Derek would have to stay and live at The Refinery.
I was sure he would fit in here, Derek always had cybernetic aspirations. Where better than here to fulfil them? Max bought ten days worth of serum and gave them to Derek. In the morning he would be put to work in the refinery.
"This'll be different to Haven." Stated Derek. "In Haven, people sent me out into the wasteland on strange missions and always seemed slightly surprised to see me when I returned."
In honour of the new direction in his life, Derek changed his name to 'D-REKT'. We made our goodbyes to D-REKT and left him with the chromers.
Next, we sought out Topper, he had travelled this region extensively and might have more knowledge about The Chasm.
The information he provided was not inspiring. "It's a dangerous place, easier to get into than out of and there are large things down there." Topper told us. He also agreed to help us find The Chasm. With this on our minds, we retired for the night.
In the morning we found Topper. He was heading out back to Drystone and we should follow. The day's journey passed without event as our little convoy navigated the wastes and in the late afternoon we arrived back in Drystone along with Topper. After restocking on our supplies, we spent the night at Drystone once more, again the night passed without incident.
Morning came and we left Drystone behind, still following Topper as he led us into the unknown. In the mid-morning, Topper's transporter slowed to a halt and he jumped out of his cab and waved us over whilst pointing ahead to a man-made barrier of some kind that ran from left-to-right as far as the eye could see. We went over to Topper, he explained that in front of us was a 'multi-lane road' from the world before.
Beyond the barrier was a relatively smooth black surface, although cracked and eroded by time. It was perhaps twenty metres wide and was fairly straight and stretched out to the horizon in both direction. Topper pointed down one particular direction and told us the road would lead us to The Chasm. Bidding farewell, we parted ways with Topper. Leaving him to his business again, we followed along for hours until the road simply ended. We had arrived at The Chasm.
The road went as far a it could go and ceased right at the lip of the chasm. We tentatively stepped up to the edge and surveyed our surroundings.
The Chasm was vast. We had to strain make out the other side, an indistinct horizontal line close to the horizon and shrouded in the hazy distance. We estimated to reach the far side of the chasm was a journey of about three kilometres. The Chasm stretched left and right out of sight, there was no way to go round. Below us, there was a descent of about one hundred metres to the chasm floor. It was carpeted in forest, a sea of treetops that rippled in the breeze like waves on a verdant ocean. It was impossible to see what lay beneath that canopy, however, flocks of birds circled above the trees. There were also swarms of insects in buzzing clouds so large that we could see them from up above. We could also feel the damp warm air rising from below, the humidity must be considerable. The chasm walls were vertical and would require no small amount of climbing to traverse.
The balloon ladies commented on how large the 'ditch' was. They seemed more at ease now, more acclimatised to overland travel. We continued looking around, hopeful for an alternative to crossing over. Close to where the road ended, there was some sort of tower. With a smooth exterior, it was clearly the product of the world before. There was a second tower on the far side of the chasm, barely visible without binoculars. It was of identical design to the one on this side.
There was a way into the tower, but there were mushrooms growing around the base and the entrance was thick with them.
Not willing to take unnecessary risks, we donned out respirators before going in. Mushrooms continued to grow on the inside and as we explored the first three floors, we found them sprouting through the skeletal remains and rib-cages of long dead people.
During this exploration I knocked a few mushrooms that burst in response and showered me in a cloud of spores. Luckily the respirator kept them at bay, but my clothes were coated in them.
Once we went past the third floor, the mushroom infestation ended. The remainder of the tower was free of them. Finally we reached what could be described as the 'control room'. It was filled with control consoles, button panels, dials and read-outs. All of which were labelled in an unrecognisable language and was undecipherable and none of them appeared to function.
Searching the room, we did find one piece of useful information.
It was a diagram that showed a bridge running between the two towers and it was no ordinary bridge. A bridge made of solid light! It must have been a wonder of the ancient world.
The diagram also seemed to indicate that both towers needed to be activated to create the bridge. It required power to do this and it was obvious that there was currently no power running through the control room. Both towers would require power.
There had to be power generators close by for both towers.
We continued exploring, there was no further way up, perhaps there was a way down? Returning to the ground level, we discovered that there was indeed a way downwards, into a basement but our path down was hindered by thick patches of mushrooms. We could not pass without disturbing at least some of the mushrooms. Even though we were wearing respirators, we were hesitant to push our luck. We needed a way to clear the mushrooms? The answer was straightforward: 'with fire'!
We left the tower and I cleaned off my clothing. Taking our flamethrower, Max entered the tower while the rest of stood back. Clearing the mushrooms was a balancing act, If Max used too much fire, it might damage whatever was in the basement.
We could hear the roar as Max burned the mushrooms away, we went down into the basement. None of the instrumentation had been damaged. After examining the controls, we ascertained that they were extremely complex, possibly they were the controls we were looking for. These controls were beyond our understanding though. Even I, a scavenger could not decipher them. It needed someone with a better knowledge of technology than us. One place immediately sprang to mind: The Refinery and The Chrome Bois, they were our best bet.
D4-VID filmed all of the controls so that we could show the footage to The Chrome Bois.
'Too bad Derek - or D-REKT wasn't here to light up the basement with his cybernetic flash light arm'!
Days Eight and Nine
From The Chasm, the journey to The Refinery took two uneventful days. Once back in the busy settlement, we asked around for any Chromers who could help us. We were directed to 'Tombaga' and 'Elinvar'. After they were shown D4-VID's footage, their curiosity was piqued and they seemed confident that they could help us.
Days Ten and Eleven
Another two unremarkable days and we were back at the Chasm and the tower along with Tombaga and Elinvar in tow.
There wasn't enough room in the transporter for the two Chrome Bois, luckily they had there own buggy. It was dark when we returned, we would examine the controls in the morning.
Today was the day! Tombaga and Elinvar went into the basement and began their work. They toiled for several hours until eventually... dials winked into life and panels lit up. A loud humming filled the air as generator powered up. Since no bridge appeared, we felt it was safe to assume that the other tower was in a similar state to this one.
One down and one to go. Even though we had watched The Chrome Bois work, we still didn't understand enough about the generator to operate it ourselves. It didn't matter though; Tombaga and Elinvar were eager to activate the other tower and see the results. They happily joined us as we prepared to cross The Chasm.
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.
No Mark again this week.
The Balloon girls fattened up by the Road Hogs.
The Petrified City
Giant Scorpions inhabit the Wasteland.
Topper Henley and his remarkable tanker, the Water Butt.
Drystone, home of the Maggot Men.
A Maggot Man (without his hat)
A Sand maggot.
D-REKT, really a cyborg now.
Once again we crammed an awful lot of gameplay into a two and a half hour session. This was undoubtably helped by the abscence of combat. Two weeks in a row that this has happened. I was able to prepare for this session by writing a few notes about the different locations and a list of possible encounters. The longest part of my prep was compiling a list of NPC names for the Chrome Bois and the Maggot Men (metallic alloys and Old Testament names respectively).
Finally, it was nice to slot in a character arc for Derek. Maybe we'll meet him again someday?
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.