Last night, I ran chapter two of my zombie apocalypse setting "...And a Little Child Shall Eat Them" utilizing All Flesh Must Be Eaten's Unisystem. You may recall that I ran the first installment of this campaign for my guys back in September and ran another version of it at last month's Fear The Con in St. Louis. I'd been wanting to run session two for awhile and more than just continuing to tell the story, there were a few other items that had me excited.
As you may have seen elsewhere in this blog, I am jazzed about Savage Worlds, a game system that lends itself to very quick, clean, cinematic action. Despite my earlier comments regarding AFMBE's Unisystem, I find the mechanics to be a bit less than dazzling. They are simple, which I like, but they don't have the warm, gooey goodness of Savage.
Prior to the game, I didn't have time to Savage the whole thing. So, I pulled two elements that I groove to in SW: Bennies and Initiative Cards. Three bennies, or benefit chips, were issued to each player. Cashing in a bennie allows the character to re-roll an unsatisfactory to-hit roll. Instead of determining initiative with dice rolls, I dealt cards to the players and non-player-characters prior to each combat round. The sequence of action is determined by who has the highest cards. Aces are high. Jokers are wild. Jokers enable the character to choose when he acts in the round and provides for the opportunity to interrupt another's action.
Also of note for this session, and something that had me particularly pumped, was that it was the first time (of many, I hope) that Josh and James joined us. I met the two Js at Fear The Con. They played in my Zombie game. James played the honorable Farmer whose wife had to be rescued from the zombie infested church. Josh played the very put out Accountant who really just wanted to get back to his office and finish up that stack of 1099s. During the initial outbreak in the diner, the Accountant climbed onto his table employing sugar shakers to lethal effect by pitching them at the baby growlers.
These guys were a lot of fun at FtC. I knew they'd be a good match for our group.
We had a full house last night. Everybody was in attendance, plus our two new fellas.
The Players and Their Characters:
- Peter Badger - High school history teacher played by Rodger, who is in fact a high school history teacher.
- Prof. Blaise Pettigrew - College physics professor played by Gary, my IT guy, who graciously came over a little early last night to work on both my and The Wife's computers. Gary also recorded the "...And a Little Child Shall Eat Them" promo.
- Sgt Derek Fielder, USMC - A marine on leave from Iraq played by my buddy Aaron. His character is the only one of the bunch that's combat trained. And it shows. He's all gung-ho, rah-rah. It's an amusing contrast to the civillian characters.
- Sean - A severely autistic fellow whose gifts provide him with a keen awareness, but his condition limits his ability to communicate what he knows. So when warning the party of the two Growlers on the roof of the bus he might exclaim "Pie!" instead of providing more useful information. Jamie plays this character and does a marvelous job at it. Readers of this blog will remember Jamie from the regular Kirmser Sundays feature.
- Jaques Washington - Chef and owner of Washington's, the four-star restaurant on Calhoun's Lake Ramsey. When Josh was creating this character he said to me, "I think that if I learned one useful thing at Fear the Con, it is that the restaurant industry has access to some fairly effective anti-zombie equipment." Remember, Josh played the accountant who was killing zombies with sugar shakers.
- Dr. Jacobson - A general practitioner who works at Calhoun Community Hospital. James threw himself into this role. In a world where the sick and injured become flesh eating monsters, he continued to render aid. Very noble. Regrettably, nobility of character is rarely rewarded in the zombie apocalypse.
Also on the bus were Heather, a nineteen year-old waitress from the diner and Jenna, a very pregnant seventeen year old.
The zombie outbreak appears to have started with children. They are fast and ferocious with supernatural strength and agility. They are flesh eaters and have been dubbed Growlers. Their bite kills and turns those bitten into the shambling, slow-moving zombies so familiar to the Romero films. These are called Moaners.
At the end of the last session, our intrepid survivors had escaped from the townsquare having provisioned themselves with items looted from the sporting goods store and were motoring out of town in Mr. Badger's school bus. In direct contradiction to Dan's position in Fear The Boot episode 97, I started Session Two directly in the action. Picking up less than twenty minutes from the end of the previous game, the bus, one of those short numbers, was having a hard time of it out on the highway.
Rodger provided me with the image to the left captured at an actual school event and assured me that Mr. Badger visually inspected his bus to ensure no such padlock was present on the bus' emergency exit.
Wrecks littered the road with cars smashed into the railing and into one another. Many of the vehicles were aflame. Bodies strewn about in various states of consumption were not uncommon sights along the way. Mr. Badger navigated as best he could, but the obstacles were getting thicker. In fact, he could see that within another thirty feet or so, the road would be impassable.
As they slowed they could hear the all too familiar moaning of the stumbling dead.
And gun shots.
Sgt Fielder observed three figures running towards them, one of them firing behind at the Moaners in shuffling pursuit. Laying down covering fire, the marine stood in the door allowing The Doctor, The Chef and the third man to enter the bus as Mr. Badger stalled the bus' engine.
"Mother...!" He swore.
Just then, Growlers pounced onto the school district transport...
Frenzied zombie fun followed!
Eight Moaners staggered to the stalled bus, beating at the door and sides, shaking the bus. Additionally, four snarling Growlers hammered at the bus seeking entry. One slammed into the window beside Sean's seat.
"Pie!" He exclaimed as cracks spider-webbed through the window.
Fielder rushed over, planting his gun against the window and firing. The feral child is blown back, the window exploding. Remarkably, the creature wasn't killed...
Mr. Badger turned the engine back over and at once cranked the wheel to turn the bus to the median and over to the other lanes of traffic. At the same time, the man who came aboard with the Chef and the Doctor was firing his gun out the window at the moaners.
Eventually, the boys made good their escape.
In a rare quiet moment on the bus, Jenna remarked to the man who came aboard with Dr Jacobson and Jaques: "I know who you are! You're that tough, smart lawyer from the TV!"
That's right Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer, was right there, smack-dab in the middle of my zombie apocalypse.
When I was thinking about what kind of celebrity might be wandering through Calhoun, Jim Adler came to mind. His onscreen personality strikes me as a Texas good ol' boy who's got a conceal-n-carry permit complete with 9mm strapped under his jacket.
Makes me giggle.
Of course, Jim Adler (the one in my world anyway) is an amazing shot!
Dr. Jacobson shared that everything was fine at the hospital when he left. The facility has lots of heavy doors with locks. Looking for some place providing a modicum of safety, Mr. Badger drove the bus to the hospital.
The gates to the parking lot were closed. Moaners staggered about out there moving amongst a number of State Trooper cars. Trying the service entrance, the bus backed into the loading dock. Dr. Jacobson moved out to the service door from the bus' emergency exit (true enough, no padlock). Sliding his cardkey through the slot, the sensor flashed green, but the door failed to open.
Sgt Fielder heard Growlers. Several of them coming from the end of the dock. And at least one coming from... above.
The doctor retreated back to the bus and called his co-worker who was on duty.
"Hey, Bhargav..." He began chatting with his friend. "...Let us in!"
The doc remained in the rear of the bus with pregnant Jenna.
Sean sensed them. He knew that there were four for them approaching the front of the bus and that there were two angling from the rooftop.
Two growlers bounce onto the hood of the bus, Mr. Badger freaking the hell out as Chef Jacques, Sgt Fielder, and Jim Adler open fire on the little darlings. Exploding through the roof of the bus, a precious little Growler lands in the center aisle - snarling and flashing teeth. A precious, darling boy.
Sean, as mentioned above, is autistic. On occasion he enters a savant trance and can engage in survival activities in heroic fashion. Sean entered such a trance...
As Mr. Badger hacked at a Growler with his machete, Sean gathered up a fire extinguisher and sprayed the precious, darling boy down.
Prof. Pettigrew rushed forward and jammed a burning flare into the child's mouth. This would prove to be the Professor's preferred mode of attack. As they worked to eliminate this Growler, one of the ones on the hood smashed through the windshield and another came through a side window...
Gun shots flashed and flares sparked within the tight confines for the bus.
At last one lone little girl Growler was left having taken much damage, she fled the scene.
All the characters remarked that this was the first instance they had witnessed of a Growler retreating. In previous encounters they fought to the death. It was also noted that the creatures appear to be acting in concert.
The door opened into the hospital and the group moved in abandoning their bloody, battered bus. After a thorough inspection to ensure none of them suffered a bite, they learned that the outbreak here started in the pediatric ward. In fact it got so bad so fast that they locked down the ward, abandoning any hope of rescuing those inside.
The hospital was choked with survivors all battered and beaten, horrified, and hopeless. Sgt Fielder and Dr. Jacobson quickly observed that while the Troopers were on site, the facility was absent any real leadership. Clearly, folks expected things to be resolved at a higher level and were in sit-tight-mode.
Viewing the security monitors, two dozen Growlers were seen stalking the halls of the fourth level pediatric ward. Moaners shambled about.
Dr. Jacobson excused himself to the physician's locker room where a handy flask of adult refreshment awaited him while the remainder of the player characters departed to the cafeteria. The boys were hungry and - hell - they had a Chef among them. Heather, Jenna, and Jim Adler stayed out in the lounge area catching their breath.
Chef Jacques was horried at what he found in the cafeteria. People were gathered here eating food from vending machines. With new found resolve, he set to cook for these people who had been through so much. The PCs bellied up the counter as Jacques set to preparing a frittata.
In the locker room, Dr. Jacobson sipped at his flask full of nerve. A thought struck him. How many children were there supposed to be in that ward? He only saw two dozen... Oh crap!
More than two dozen growlers charged into the Cafeteria mowing though the people gathered there. The player characters dived into the kitchen, pulling down the louvered security gate and barricading the door.
Jacobson, returning to the security station saw the horror there. The Troopers agreed to assist, but needed to gather resources... Not wanting to wait, Jacobson enlisted Jim Adler and the two dash off to the hallway outside the cafeteria.
They had been through this corridor earlier. At the time it was full of patients on gurneys, in chairs, on the floor. Returning here, they found no one alive - all looking as if they'd been through a thresher. Down the hall, the doors were wide open... Watching in amazment, they stared on at the massacre taking place in there.
"Suddenly," Jim Adler gulps, "I don't feel quite so tough, or smart."
The two resolve that they cannot go the direct route... they'll have to go around outside through the garden and try and reach the rear entrance to the kitchen...
Meanwhile in the kitchen, the Growlers were beating the hell out of the door and security gate.
The folks in kitchen retreated out the rear while Sgt Fielder cranked the gas up on the stove and, borrowing a flare from Prof. Pettigrew, tossed it back just as the Growlers breached the barricades...
The explosion tossed the fleeing marine far onto the parking lot, but he emerged mostly unscathed.
The PCs all hooked up there by the dumpsters as the Cafeteria burned. Jim Adler reported that Moaners had entered the gardenand were heading their direction. Most likely, these were the mauled patients that they left in the hallway...
The hospital revealed as the evil opposite of a safe place, the players boosted an ambulance. Before departing, Sgt Fielder busted into a couple of State Trooper cruisers gathering up guns and bullet proof vests.
It was around this point that Gary started nodding off. He'd get startled awake as we dealt each hand of initiative cards. He asserted that he was having a good time, but that he'd had a very long day. It was amusing though to see him jump out of his skin as I retrieved the last hand's card from him.
Driving ten miles away to Washington's, Chef Jacques' lakeside restaurant, they aim the ambulance's spotlight onto the dark restaurant to find a dead Moaner on the porch. They found that the staff and some of the customers were hiding within, lights off. Three of their number had been bitten by the Moaner.
Dr. Jacobson set Mr. Escame down on the bumper of the ambulance to treat his rather significant shoulder wound while the Cardenas' - also bitten - opted to head home. Mr. Badger and Professor Pettigrew were only too happy to see them go.
Engrossed in Mr. Escame's medical condition - high fever, difficulty forming words, necrotizing flesh - Dr. J was taken by surprise when his patient took a big, juicy bite from his upper arm!
Sgt Fielder blew Escame's head clean off. Suddenly, there was an uncomfortable silence amongst the players and the characters. Something would have to be done about the Doctor.
The doctor volunteered to do a walk-through of the restaurant as he could not be further compromised. Finding no other zombies within, he went to the kitchen, located the meat saw, and without asking for any assistance from his travelling companions set about to amputate his own arm. The others only became aware of it when Jacque's kitchen staff started freaking the eff out.
Though the brulee torch was recommended, Jacques employed a hot grill to cauterize the wound.
Attracted by the sounds and the ambulance's spotlight, more Growlers approached. Lots of them. Perhaps fifteen? Maybe more.
The lake! A pier lay behind the restaurant where patrons moor their boats. One of the larger boats out there could handle all of them. It was Mr. Escame's. But they would need his keys...
Mr. Escame's body was lying prone by the ambulance...
Sgt Fielder dashed out to fetch it and was attacked by four of the precious, darling Growlers. The kevlar vest he wore proved to be valuable, deflecting what would have otherwise been successful bites... He wrestled and tumbled with these angelic children as his companions shot at the creatures from the doorway. Sean, entering another savant trance, gathered up a shotgun and fired into the onrushing monsters as well.
Standing near the Chef, Dr. Jacobson bit at Jacques - narrowly missing him.
Josh, playing Jacques, considered for long moments his next action... but in the end rolled and successfully put a bullet in his friend's brain.
"It's what the doctor would have wanted me to do," Jacques said.
I suggested that perhaps his response was a bit extreme in that all the Doctor tried to do was bite him and he was unsuccessful at that. Maybe they could have hugged it out? But no, Chef Jacques' is hardcore. He grants no quarter. You should see how he reacts when someone breaks a ramekin. Take cover!
Fielder made it back without a bite and the remaining players and Jim Adler ran for the boat, Growlers hot on their tail. With only a few near catastrophes they escape to fight zombies another day, death and destruction bubbling far behind in their wake.
I had a blast! Comments from the players were all positive. I particularly liked the bennies. My guys seemed to as well. Initiative cards were fun, too. Both seemed to integrate well.
I think what I like so much about the bennies and the cards is that they are an additional tangible quality to the game. One of the fun things about role playing games that we often forget is that chucking dice is fun. It is a physical, tactile act in an otherwise very cerebral experience. Adding bennies and cards enhances that aspect.
I loved the guys throwing chips in when they cashed a bennie for a do-over roll. The groans when the cards were dealt was also satisfying.
James and Josh meshed great with the group and us with them, too.
It was a hoot. We're gaming next on May 10th at which time I expect to run my new Savage Worlds Sci-Fi setting. More on that later.