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Wandering in the Wasteland
Alias “Enrico Fermi’s Surviving the Hard Way”
I first stumbled across the “Let’s Play” concept (at least, the concept done well) on Shamus Young’s website (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/). Shamus does it to video games, but I think the concept would work just fine for RPGs, too. Kind of a weird “fourth wall” fiction exercise with a little game mixed in, if you will. So with that intro, let’s start the new series, featuring the further adventures of Enrico Fermi in the Mutant Epoch (or whomever succeeds him if Enrico dies).
Enrico’s adventures will be a creative framework I throw up around the components of the tale generated by the GM resources in the core TME rulebook. The rules provide for a bewildering variety of charts and tables, encounters, creatures, artifacts, traps, hazards, vehicles and rules to deal with all of it. On occasion I may stop and discuss a feature of the rules for clarification, which I shall put in italics.
So! Remember Enrico? Here he is:
Enrico FermiType: Mutant (minor); Former Caste: gladiator slave
Appearance: pitch black reflective skin, purple-grape bulbous eyes, a bulbous head, with rusty colored hair (probably long and in a braid to keep it out of the way from his fights); he has whip scars on his back. Gender: male Age: 18 Weight: 94kg Height: 1.69 meters
Traits: Endurance 37; Strength 55; Agility 58; Accuracy 46; Intelligence 47; Perception 59; Willpower 38; Appearance 88
Secondary Stats: Move: 6.75 meters; Healing Rate 4; Melee Damage Bonus +6; +30% strength range; Agility DV -6; Acc SV +4; Initiative Modifier +2
Skills: Brawling 2, Grapple 2, Riding 1, Stealth 1, Weapon Expert (pistols) 3
Mutations: fangs (medium), deviant skin structure (reflective skin), bulbous eyes, bulbous head, mental mine (1D20+4 damage; ranges based on WILL)
Gear: hatchet, spiked leather armor, spiked shield, iron helmet, one regular round of pistol ammo, tattered slave garb.
Armor: Total DV -27 (-6 AGL, -16 armor, -5 shield);
Weapons: Hatchet (SV 01-54; 1D12+6 damage); Brawling (SV: 01-59; 1D6+8 damage); If he ever gets a pistol his SV is 01-62 with a +6 damage modifier for skill.
Fermi looks a little like this, but shinier, more handsome, and coal black:
Today, Enrico Fermi is a free man! We’re going to put him through the wringer. The Mutant Wringer, that is!
The Mutant Epoch has a very interesting scenario mechanic, as evidenced in The Mall of Doom: you can run the game with a group, or you can run the game much like a programmed adventure with a party of 6-10 mutants done solitaire style, ala Tunnels & Trolls, Fighting Fantasy and other games. That said, the actual format of how this works is singularly unique, and I plan to sit down soon and try it out; it’s a really cool concept, as for the first time I might get to enjoy a published adventure as a player, without having to hunt down a willing GM. I’ll talk more how that goes in the future, but for now I thought I’d demonstrate some of the rules, GM tools and features in TME that are available by simulating a little tale of excitement and woe for our recently created mutant Enrico Fermi.
Remembering Enrico, he’s an escaped gladiator slave who looks like a shiny metal ebony alien with overly large eyes and cranium. He has a bounty on his head as his former owners very much want him back alive, and he escaped with some basic gear, probably grabbed from the armory of the gladiatorial pits where he was kept.
To elaborate on the time and place of Enrico’s environment I am going to place him deep in the Animas Wastes, the post-apocalyptic future of Southern New Mexico that I have devised for this setting. He was kept a slave in the compound outside of Silver City in the north mountains of the region, where the cruel warlord Brakas rules with an iron fist. After his escape, he found himself fleeing the mountains and down into the south valley, where he eventually emerged into the vast, trackless white salt flats of the Animas Playas, a wasteland even in the pre-apocalyptic era!
Many mysteries await Fermi, but I’ll give him a break and say he’s heard rumor of free civilizations south of the mountains. He knows that somewhere outside of Silver City can be found the ruins of ‘Kirkie, the Free City of Cruze and the settlement at Bordertown (formerly known as Lordsburg). He figures he can find one of these places, he’ll be safe, for a bit anyway. Only problem? No map, no knowledge of life outside the slave pens, and no idea where to go.
Fermi sees lots of flat, open cracked desert before him, with occasional scrub, periodic jutting stones, and far in the distance to the west he can tell that there’s some sort of craterous area dotted with ruins, and further south what looks possibly like an old city or township. Mountains wall in the entire region in the far distance. He decides to head south, to the sliver of building on the horizon.
In TME Fermi can typically walk at 3 meters per round, a round being 3 seconds, which means 60 meters per minute. Eight hours of walking in a day can get him 3600 meters in one hour, or 3.6 km, so Fermi is capable of getting approximately 28.8 km (17.9 miles) before he risks issues with fatigue. He’s traveling on relatively flat desert scrubland, so there are no movement modifiers. It’s about 80 km (50 miles) to the settlement in the distance, so he’s either going to have to push to get there or risk issues of thirst and starvation over time, as he left Silver City without any food or water.
Long before Fermi has to worry about dehydration, however, he’s got a problem with wildlife….
There’s a 1 in 10 chance of an encounter for every two hours of daytime travel in the desert (TME page 129), and that changes to hourly at night, and if the encounter does occur there’s a roll (in meters) to figure out the point at which both parties may become aware of one another. So, let’s see how Fermi’s first day of travel goes (firing up the official Mutant Epoch Die Roller app, of course!)
Fermi doesn’t travel 8 hours continuously, he’s stopping periodically to rest (1 hour of rest per four hours of travel sounds fair), of course, so the I as GM roll five times and get the following spread: 8, 6, 6, 1, 4. Looks like something happens on his seventh hour of travel…he’s journeyed approximately 21.6 km with an hour’s break by then, so he’s making good time, about a quarter the distance he needs to reach the distant settlement in the low-lying animas playas ahead, when suddenly…..(Page 131 has the desert encounter matrix, which uses a D1000 roll; I roll a 46!)
963 meters away a Colossal Scorpion crests the horizon! Anyone who’s ever played Fallout 3 might have an idea of what it’s like when you see a massive scorpion slaughtering Brahmin mutant two-headed cows, sure….but what Fermi is seeing is (according to page 169) is a 5 meter long (!) 810 kg monstrosity!!! Let us all be very happy it’s so far off. But wait….does it notice tiny little Fermi?
The ubiquitous and hypothetical GM in this scenario decides to grant Fermi an opportunity to act before the colossal beast turns to notice him in the distance, like a delectable bacon-wrapped shrimp at an Overeater’s Convention. Fermi, naturally, tries to hide. It’s not going to be easy, there’s flat, cracked plains and minor scrub as far as the eye can see. Luckily, Fermi is good at this, or at least has done it before with his Stealth 1. He can attempt to conceal himself (not moving, crouching down and trying to look like a boulder, or otherwise lowering his profile) which requires a class A hazard check by Fermi to pull off. The Hazard Table shows that a class A check with his Agility of 58 grants him an 85% chance of success. A quick check, Fermi rolls an 80, and he narrowly avoids detection as he hunkers down.
A note about TME’s Hazard Check Mechanic: the hazard check works as both a skill check, saving throw system and avoidance mechanic. It is player-driven for the most part, in that, as in the above example, the player rolls to hide, rather than the GM rolling to see if the creature spots him, although the chance of success for the player might be shifted one or more hazard codes if the circumstances were different. For example, if the giant scorpion was only 100 meters away and popped out of a cave unexpectedly, I as GM could decide that that’s a class C hazard to hide from, which would reduce the chance to 78%; and if the scorpion had made its own stealth check and was watching Fermi all along, he might require much worse, such as a class H, forcing him to roll 33% or less to hide in plain sight from a lurking predator that knows he’s out there. This is a very old school approach that will feel familiar to veteran long-time gamers.
So in short, the Hazard Check system in TME is player-driven and does not dither about opposed rolls or other issues, instead requiring the GM to adjudicate difficulty by hazard code accordingly.
Back to the story!
Colossal Scorpions are pretty near-sighted, with an average perception of 24, and this one is no exception. It’s completely oblivious to Fermi in the distance and eventually wanders away. This is fortuitous for Fermi, as it turns out it was a mutated Colossal Scorpion with giant wasp-like wings and a hard outer carapace that could withstand ballistic strikes! He watches as the massive beast takes flight and heads off to new territory. The GM, ever burdened with a calloused and cruel soul, decides there is a 20% chance the giant beast takes flight in Fermi’s approximate direction. A quick roll of the dice gets a 95, revealing that fate is at least on Fermi’s side and the beast instead heads west toward the distant crater.
Three hours later, Fermi collapses at last, as night descends and he looks at the beautiful cracked moon in the sky and the ephemeral, whispery shards of light that run like a band across the starscape, oblivious to the fact that the band around the earth is a floating landscape of relic technology used in space warfare, thousands of dead satellites that have not yet been dragged into near Earth orbit yet to burn up, and a vast swathe of moon rock cast into space in its own eccentric orbit around the Earth from when the nukes were dropped on the Lunar Colonies in the final days of the pre-apocalyptic era. Fermi just thinks it’s cool, and appreciates that the extra light makes it easier to look out for danger.
The GM, ever the heartless soul, determines it’s approximately 7 PM when Fermi collapses. Fermi does decide to scrounge around a bit, see if there’s a slow moving animal or a source of water near his rest point. Unfortunately Fermi never learned to fend for himself in the wilderness, and lacks the Wilderness Survival skill, so his odds of success are slim. In TME if you have Wilderness Survival then you can basically do stuff that keeps you alive; it’s a 1 rank only skill, and no rolls are really needed. Without it, you must guess. The GM considers Fermi’s plight and decides that given it is night time, his surroundings are alien to him, and it’s a sparse desert that only a Class E hazard check on perception will yield any fruit. For Fermi this is a 62% chance, still not bad, thanks to being an observant fellow. Fermi rolls a 37%--take that, cruel world!
After a bit of consideration the GM decides to make Fermi’s success interesting. He decides Fermi has stumbled across some rusted relic junk in the desert, beneath which lies a den of desert rats. Rolling to see what sort of relic junk Fermi has found, we go to the table on page 210 and get 53: armor (using the low rank listing). Armor is usually something you wear, so the GM decides it’s got a body in it, and rolls on the corpse chart, getting an 18: White Plague! Next the GM decides to see what sort of guy this was who perished from the white plague, checking the NPC chart on page 137: rolling 28 we see he was a militia officer of some sort, maybe a soldier out of Silver City who went A.W.O.L. or was cast out when the white pustules started appearing on his body. He died out here with 8 gold coins on hand, a suit of scrap relic armor, a junk helmet, and just for fun the GM assumes he has a weapon (broken) and some random item: a quick roll reveals a broken razor sword and a pair of women’s knee high fashion boots, worth about 50 silver pieces, not that Fermi knows.
All Fermi knows is that there are desert rats in a nest under the corpse, partially burrowed in. Also, the corpse is rather mottled and covered with unpleasant white pustules. It doesn’t look like this guy was dead for very long before perishing. Fermi, none the wiser, flips the corpse aside and starts bashing rats.
Luckily for Fermi it’s a lone desert rat defending her den of babies, and it does not have a mutation. He tries to smack it with his hatchet as soon as he flips the corpse over, and the rat tries to escape! Initiative ensues.
Fermi rolls a D10 and adds his modifier (+2) for a total of 5. The rat rolls a 7 and has no modifier, but that means it still goes first. The GM figures it will try biting Fermi once first and then flee, so he rolls to attack. The rat has a SV of 01-30, modified by Fermi’s DV of -27. Fermi is well protected against rats! She rolls a 99, which is always a miss and almost a fumble.
Fermi reacts in turn, hatchet in hand, he strikes down with his modified SV of 01-54, and he needs to roll 39 or less after taking account for the rat’s DV of -15. He rolls a whopping 25! He hits. He deals 13 points of damage to the rat’s total Endurance of 1, probably cutting the creature in two. The babies are easy to mop up.
After killing the rat and its babies then gathering them up, he investigates the corpse. It’s got a decent sword that needs repairing (snags that), some cheap armor, and a few coins. Fermi loots it all and shakes the rotting corpse out. The GM chuckles evilly.
Now Fermi’s only problem is how to cook his meal. He has no flint and tinder, though he does have a case of ammunition, which means he has flammable gunpowder if he wants to crack open a bullet and try to ignite it with a hatchet swing. He needs tinder. The GM concedes that there’s dry brush all over the place, so tinder is good.
Meanwhile, the GM suggests that Fermi make a Type C Endurance check, because he is starting to feel a little itchy as the night goes on.
Fermi may be in trouble here….his Endurance is only 37, but a type C hazard check means he has a 58% chance he hasn’t contracted the white plague from touching the dead body, so the odds are slightly in his favor. He rolls….a 71!!!! Fermi is idly wiping snot-like puss from his hands onto his face, mouth and jeans. Mmmm tastes like a gummi bear without any flavor.
On the side the GM starts tracking the disease. Fermi has 3D6 hours (rolling 10) before the illness begins to show. After that, things get ugly; but first let’s see if Fermi survives the night…
The GM decides that Fermi spent an hour hunting for rats and meanwhile Fermi has decided he likes bullets more than cooked rat meat, so he eats them raw. The GM feels sorry for Fermi so he doesn’t make him roll an Endurance check to see if he can stomach raw rat meat. Before going to sleep, Fermi takes the time to dig a hole for himself to lie in lengthwise, and drapes some stray brush around (gathered from his aborted fire) to camouflage himself. This is important; he’s using his stealth for concealment, but the GM rolls secretly since Fermi will be asleep and may muck up his own disguise. The GM gets an 88, over the 85% Fermi needs. A sense of foreboding layers over the night…
Over the next ten hours of rest until dawn the GM rolls for each hour to see if something unpleasant creeps up on the camp: we get a spread of 4, 8, 1, 8, 9, 8, 1, 5, 2, 2. Oh boy, looks like tonight is going to be rough.
Three hours into his rest and Fermi has a guest: a dune spider!
|Actual Size May Vary|
(It is at this point that the narrator figures Fermi is an idiot for traveling alone, but such is life in the wastelands….)
The dune spider starts 38 meters away from Fermi’s camp spot when they are first detected. They are not innately stealthy creatures, relying on pack hunter techniques instead, and dune spiders are large (2.4 meters in length). He figures Fermi might have a decent chance that he awakens to the sound of the razor barbed scuttling (hazard type A) modified by 2 (type C) for being asleep. That’s a 78% chance, and Fermi rolls a 97….this ain’t gonna be pretty….
The GM figures the spider is on the hunt, so it is actively looking for prey. Fermi tried to hide when he went to sleep and failed, and he’s not even awake now to react to the spider. However, he is motionless because of this, so the GM figures the spider has a chance it will overlook him and makes the spider check its Perception (62) against a Type A hazard (giving it an 85% chance it’ll spot Fermi). He rolls for the spider; and it notices the tasty meatbag nearby!
The spider has it on round one, and it rushes in to strike at the tasty prey. Fermi sleeps in his gear, but he’s not dodging actively nor is he wielding his shield so his DV is reduced to -16. The spider has an SV of 01-66, modified to 01-50. Worse yet, since Fermi is asleep it gets +80 to the SV (total now being 01-130; it can’t miss). The foreboding and doom thicken….
The spider attacks! It rolls a 77, and the spider’s razor sharp hooked fangs sink into Fermi’s left shoulder (the GM rolls on the location chart for fun), dealing 6 points of Endurance damage (on a D20 for damage). He is also down to 31 Endurance from his lowly 37.
A round in TME is 3 seconds long, and a human can run about 6 meters in a round. Fermi is starting prone from sleeping, but he is awake now. A new initiative is rolled….will Fermi fight or run? He rolls a total with modifiers of 11, and his foe rolls for a 6. Fermi has the upper hand!
Note: TME uses group initiative rolled at the start of each round. It’s classic old school in this regard, with the optimum or most eligible PC affecting the initiative with modifiers. It also makes the combat mechanics ideal for narrative style play and avoids the clutter of multiple-initiative tracks, though house-ruling in individual initiatives would be a snap.
The GM determines that Fermi can get up and attack, he can crawl and attack, or he can get up and run 3 meters. The spider looks very quick quick, so fleeing may not be a realistic option. Fermi decides to bury his hatchet in its skull and attacks.
The Spider’s DV is an impressive -30, so Fermi needs 24 or less. He rolls a 99; that’s an automatic miss, so his hatchet blow flies wide. He finishes by staggering to his feet and snagging his shield as he swings around wildly.
The spider senses its smaller prey is dangerous and tries to go for the kill. It needs a 39 or less to hit a standing, awake and armed Fermi. It rolls a 92! The two appear to be in a traditional dance of near-misses.
Round two begins. Fermi is ready to take the spider on, and he’s feeling like once again he’s in the battle arena in Silver City. He gets a 5 for initiative to the spider’s 7. As he maneuvers the spider strikes out again, this time with a 99 (hmmm the dice roller likes that number) and it wildly misses him. Fermi retaliates with a firm blow and rolls 24 exactly! His hatchet connects for 13 damage against the dune spider’s 42 Endurance, reducing it to 29; the DM says he lops off a leg.
Note: There is only one humanoid hit location chart that is mostly available as a reference for flavor or for use with specific critical charts; location-based damage is not specifically in TME other than for flavor.
Getting hit for more than 25% of its Endurance is worth a morale check, the GM decides. Dune spiders have excellent morale, which means a type A hazard check against Willpower. The dune spider has a 52 Willpower, so it has an 80% chance of success and rolls…100! That’s the TME equivalent of a critical failure in combat, and it means the creature is suddenly thinking twice about the meatbag it thought was an easy meal.
On round three, Fermi’s initiative is 9 and the spider’s is 1. Fermi decides to finish the spider off and strikes again with his hatchet, rolling a 58 at this time and missing. The spider, on its round, flees at its full movement rate of 9 meters/round. Fermi will not be able to keep up, but he has an ace up his sleeve.
On round four, Fermi goes first again (initiative 4) and the spider last (2). He uses his psychic mutation to generate a mental mine, and tosses it at the fleeing spider that is now 9 meters away from him, which puts it well within his radius of effect (10 meters) and keeps him outside of its blast radius (5 meters). His SV with the globe is 01-80 and he rolls a 29, bypassing the -30 DV of the fleeing spider (he also got a +20 to his SV since the spider was fleeing at full tilt away from him). He then deals 1D20+4 explosive psychic dripping plasma damage from the mental mine, dealing a lucky 23 points, almost maximum! The spider is now badly wounded with only 6 Endurance left.
Fermi hasn’t got the energy to make another mental mine, and he has no melee weapon. The dune spider scuttles off into the night, probably moving in odd patterns due to plasma scaring and a missing limb. Fermi breathes a sigh of relief, then goes back, remakes his camouflaged bed, and goes to sleep. Did I mention Fermi’s not very wise?
On the seventh hour we have one more tragic encounter, in which Fermi once again gets to dance with death….or does he? The GM rolls for the encounter and gets a 282. An event! This should be interesting. A couple rolls later and it’s a massive thunderstorm rolling in; sometime shortly before dawn the crack of thunder and a torrent of much needed rain is dousing the Animas Playas basin, and Fermi is soaked in his little hole.
At last, dawn arrives, and so does the creeping chills. Fermi is wet and miserable, so at first he may think its just a cold, but in fact the white plague is starting to settle in. As the day progresses, his traits are dramatically affected; his appearance drops by half as white, thick pustules begin to cover his skin (technically making Fermi look like a grey alien wearing a polka dot tuxedo) and he loses 1D20 from each trait (to a minimum of 1). His sickened stats now look like this:
Fermi’s Sickened Traits: Endurance 24 (18 counting the injury); Strength 46; Agility 49; Accuracy 31; Intelligence 40; Perception 46; Willpower 34; Appearance 44
Fermi doesn’t know it, but he’s only got 2D4 days to live, as in all likelihood he won’t make it with his weak Endurance as it is…
Fermi trudges onward, desperate in his delirium to reach the distant settlement! It’s less than 53 km away, maybe is he pushes all day he can make it. Before he leaves, he takes the time to drink deeply of puddle rain water, avoiding any issues with dehydration; he manages to fill up his only canisters, being his gladiator’s helmet and the pot helm he found on the corpse, to carry extra water. He ate the rats, and he is good to go.
Fermi can walk 8 hours (with about 2 hours of rest for a total of 10 hours), and he can push it for another 8 hours of travel time. This means he can force march himself 57.6 km in a day if he pushes himself to the limit, but he will suffer for it. Given that he needs medical attention, and his only chance of such is in the settlement, he decides to risk it.
Pushing the extra 8 hours amounts to a 10% reduction in Endurance for every two additional hours of forced marching (dropping it from 18 to 12, after rounding out). He’s sick, injured and exhausted, but he might have made it to the settlement sometime after dark, if the GM doesn’t roll a terrifying encounter…
Since Fermi started off right after dawn (about 5 AM) and pushed on for 16 total hours plus 4 rest hours, he has 7 rolls to make during the day and 6 night time rolls. Hooo boy….
So, our cunning and malicious GM rolls the following for daytime: 6, 1, 5, 10, 3, 8, 4, and at night: 3, 10, 7, 7, 5, 1. Looks like he’s got something unpleasant on the second hour of travel, and maybe right outside the settlement gates if he survives the first event…
So early in the morning as he is jogging tiredly along Fermi sees a massive armor-plated snake in the distance (937 meters away, thankfully). In the Epoch of Mutants it turns out EVERYTHING is massive. Or colossal.
|Tastes Like Chicken|
Fermi’s got this covered. He hunkers down and gets very still (rolls a 36, a success on his stealth). The snake has limited vision and is mostly interested in movement. The GM decides that Fermi loses an hour waiting for the snake (so he rolls for one more possible encounter at the end of the day, getting a 5).
The rest of the day goes uneventfully, although Fermi is in a delirium! He is about an hour away from reaching the walls of the distant settlement, which glows in the darkness of the evening with the lights of multiple torches, when the second event of the day happens.
|Dirk. Or maybe Gibs.|
Fermi looks hesitantly at the pair, his voice croaking from lack of use….he hasn’t spoken to a living being in weeks. “Fellas,” he says, studying their axes. “Nice to meetcha. You from that town out yonder?” he looks hopeful. Pleeease let them be from that town…
“Look at da little sweetz that’s come wanderin’ outta the desert, Dirk,” says one warmort.
Dirk nods. “Aye, Gibs! We’ve got ourselves a fine and tasty morsel! Get ‘Im!!!”
Welcome to TME’s Chase Rules. Survival in the wasteland is dependent heavily on recognizing when you’re outgunned and outclassed (or out mutated). Luckily for Fermi the warmorts are fresh out of ranged weaponry, so they take chase after him with their axes instead. Fermi is the target, the warmorts are the chasers.
Chase rules provide a way to resolve quick escapes, desperate runs, and any situation involving group A pursuing while group B flees. After adding up a series of modifiers, we get a +2 (as Fermi has a base run of 6m and they have 5m). Rolling a D10 plus the modifier yields a 12 total, compared to the appropriate terrain table (running across open ground).
As a result, Fermi takes advantage of the slight dips and rises in the area to elude his attackers, forcing them to make Hazard type D perception checks (to which they roll a 7 and 40, both better than the 52% chance they need). The warmorts have not lost sight of him!
Next chase round, Fermi is making ground but can’t shake them yet; he’s now run some distance and is at least 33 meters away from them. The modifiers haven’t changed, so with a new roll we get a 6; nothing special, so this continues for a while, until he is 37 meters distant when he stumbles across a shallow ravine, a crack in the earth. He can jump across it (the GM rules for an agility check for the sick fellow, who rolls a 16 and beats a type B hazard), but the warmorts have to make another type D perception check or stumble into the ravine; they get a 63 and 55 respectively, which fails the 52% target and both stumble at the crack in the ground, losing a round of movement while Fermi gains a round plus D6m for his agile maneuver (total of 12m!)
By the third chase round Fermi is 53 meters away, and the GM checks morale on the warmorts, who quickly get tired of chasing this skinny freak in the dark.
Ahead, Fermi sees the firelights of Bordertown….he has arrived!
A kilometer away, Dirk shakes his head. "Dat waz da faztest gibbet I ever sawr, eh Gibs?"
Gibs just shrugs. "Oi, more where dat one came from, Dirk. Oh yes indeed....get da' boys, we're gonna go gibbet huntin'."
The two warmorts trot off, rubbing their axes with glee....
TO BE CONTINUED! Part Two: Of Mutants and Men!!!!! With a special crossover guest appearance by the spider goat. Or not….