T2000: Andriy and Alexei

Andriy turned the key in the ignition and the engine spluttered into life.

….

Four days earlier they’d been slogging along the road, close to Srem. Both of them were so bearlike they could be mistaken for brothers, but while Alexei kept his dark hair closely cropped and his nose looked like it had seen too many fists, Andriy’s scalp was hairless and leathery and his features pinched and hawkish.

The moon hung low that night, with a large lone tree casting dark shadows over a heavily frosted field. In the distance to the North was a copse of evergreens. Andriy focused on them, he had a bad feeling; one that was confirmed by a hiss from Alexei who crept up beside him.

“T-72. Six men.”

Andriy squinted trying to discern flora from human and machine but sure enough, the hunting shape of a T72 tank rumbled out of one copse and into another flanked by six human forms.

It’s not that Alexei and Andriy were deserters; their units had been completely destroyed to a man and they found each other at opposite ends of a makeshift trench. They’d become friends over the few weeks since and Andriy shared his intention to return home to Kyiv Alexei grunted back; he had nowhere to go anyway so Kyiv was as good as anywhere. The last thing either of them wanted was to bump into someone who still thought the war was on; that one last (possibly fatal) push was needed.

As the T72 disappeared among the trees, the pair moved deliberately more south. They were heading to a town called Srem at first, maybe to secure some transport and then east towards the Ukraine border.

A crisp set of footsteps disturbed them; up ahead, following a beaten path, was an old man, dreadfully thin and wrinkles upon his wrinkles. Wisps of white hair stuck to his chin below a thick brimmed hat and above a threadbare wooden cloak. A piece of string tied to his wrist led to a somewhat pitiful-looking goat and under his arm was a loaf of bread. The two soldiers stepped from cover and levelled their weapons at the old man who, with a little protest (Fucking Russians!) handed over both loaf and goat. They didn’t express any remorse as they walked down the path towards Srem, munching on slightly stake, ill-gotten Rye bread and what they couldn’t finish they tossed to the goat.

About three hours later they reached the outskirts of Srem. The town itself was mostly ruins but there was light from a large barn to the south of the ruins. The pair crept up quietly until they could hear muffled conversation in Polish. As Andriy readied his RPK-74, he caught it on a stick and in steadying himself let off a single round. The noise echoed around the empty buildings and the conversation inside the barn ceased. The door burst open and four men emerged; one with a shotgun and the other three with farm tools. They shouted something in Polish, Andriy shouted back in Russian. The standoff ended when Wieslaw, the man with the shotgun, lowered the barrel. There was no interest on either side in prolonging a firefight. The Poles were aware of the firepower outside and both Andriy and Alexei want to avoid making more noise and maybe attracting the attention of that T72, which was bound to have a nosy and dedicated officer aboard.

Inside the barn, the two found some warmth in both the air and the company. There didn’t seem to be any resentment here; just a thankfulness of no further violence. They were offered some soup and a place by the fire. Andriy explained about the T72 and troops nearby and the handful of men, woman and a child decided to evacuate. They led the soldiers to the shore where a shallow bottomed boat was moored and an hour later they were rowing upstream with Jerzy and Daniel providing the muscle at first and then Gustav and Waclaw taking over.

About an hour before dawn, the boat slipped in bedside a small dock beside a large boathouse and the crew and passengers clambered off. The head of this household was a fat man called Wojciech and his Russian was good enough to hold a proper conversation. Wojciech asked Andriy and Alexei to be a further escort to Daniel and Jolanta (his wife) and Wieslaw would come along as security. Jolanta was close to the end of her pregnancy and would need a doctor; the nearest doctor being in Jarocin. For this task, they could borrow Wojciech’s pickup truck and they’d get 4 days rations as a reward.

But as simple as this seemed; Alexei wasn’t comfortable and insisted on putting on a proper watch which turned out lucky as the building was approached in the night by two renegade Americans. These poor souls didn’t have much chance against the superior skills of Alexei’s Spetnatz training and Andriy’s marksmanship with the light machine gun. They quickly consigned Private Pete Ricketts and PFC Bobby Bell to their maker.

But noise travels – and it was decided that it would be safer to leave especially with that T72 still prowling. The pickup truck was loaded and the five ventured east towards Jarocin. The town was skeletal in appearance, once a thriving Polish market town but now with empty buildings with darkened windows looking like a row of skulls. They arrived as the sun began to climb into the middle of the day and unloaded their precious cargo outside a large townhouse that had been converted into a field hospital. A nurse checked them over for wounds, finding none, and didn’t seem to mind they were Soviets.

Wieslaw committed to helping them on the next leg of their journey. The first thing was getting them a pickup truck.

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T2000: W+35 (Flashback)

My situation is that I’m on the outskirts of Prague and I’m separated from my unit; perhaps they were all destroyed. I had to be careful, there was definitely a French unit around and some Americans. I stole a ragged uniform from a dead Polish regular and buried my own. I figured it would be the best way to keep alive.

I heard a vehicle approaching and ignored them until they cam close. I appeared weaponless (my PSM hidden in my groin). I could hear brash exuberance through their unguarded words as they slowed beside me and jabbered their questions. I replied with a smattering of Polish and Hungarian word and their doctor, a middle-aged woman of perhaps Iranian descent checked me for wounds. They didn’t seem to suspect that only a few weeks earlier we would have been deadly enemies.

As luck would have it, they fed me, gave me their water and piled into the back of their UAZ. I would have to bide my time. As soon as I had the chance, I’d be away but until then I would watch and wait.

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T2000: W+50

Necessity is the mother of invention. Yesterday I caught a rabbit with a snare I made from a bit of wire. I hid in the foot of a hedgerow and pulled the corpse from the wire. The rabbit had tried to gnaw itself from the wire but the gauge was too thick. It died trapped and in pain, suffocating itself. I couldn’t afford to make a fire, I’m terrified someone would see it. So, I ate it raw. With the blood and the stink of offal I must have looked like something inhuman. And maybe I was.

I fell asleep where I lay, face streaked with blood and dirt.

I woke in the dim light of a sunrise. Red streaked skies and the sound of footsteps. I could hear voices, but they weren’t speaking English. The same fear that gripped me the night they got Dal siezed me again. I watched as two men entered the clearing. Short hair. Wearing dirty sweatpants and heavy coats. They paused, one lit a cigarette and one of them locked eyes with me. He said something and the other turned. My blood froze, I felt the pressure of my bladder and cold sweat on my neck.

The second man turned, waved his cigarette and then said something in an excited manner. I recognised him. The lone soldier. He seemed a lot more lucid. The two of the grabbed me and dragged me from the hedgerow. I shouted, I clawed and I could feel panic rising and rising. That’s when the other one, the one I didn’t know, hit me. Red stars exploded into my vision. I shouted. He hit me again. Blood in my mouth. Twice more he hit me and everything went dark. I was dimly aware of more voices.

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An old ZOMBI review…

Because ZOMBI is back on sale, I figured looking at an old review might be timely.

From Caliverbooks (Valkyrie mag)

Zombi RPG
Crucible Design

Zombies have appeared in RPGs since D&D first appeared. Those early zombies were the sword fodder for many questing bands. Recently though the zombie horror movie has become a focus for games. Zombi, along with All Flesh Must be Eaten (AFMBE) from Eden Studios, are both part of this new wave, yet they take very different approaches to the same subject.

The skeleton of a character is similar to Crucible’s earlier game Space Ninja XDO Cyber Crisis. Ten traits (including close combat, scrounging and medicine) along with a character’s panic statistic (which simulates their reaction to the presence of the zombi menace) define a character. This system leads to characters that are significantly less detailed than those found in AFMBE but are also quicker to generate from scratch.

The game’s muscles are embodied in its simple mechanics. A dice roll, modified by the panic statistic if there are zombies about, is compared to a trait or an opponent’s roll. This mechanic is readily applied to a variety of death dealing methods. Zombi relies more on a referee’s judgment than providing rules, and so this section is considerably less detailed than AFMBE combat rules. Then again, how often do you need rules for dogfights in a zombie horror game?

The meat on the carcass in Zombi comes in the background section. The setting is detailed in a few pages and is straightforward enough. The Zombi plague-infected dead rose from the ground at the end of 1999 and shortly afterwards the widespread collapse of civilization ensued.

A wide variety of encounters with other survivors, from a loner in a recreational vehicle right through to major settlements, are suggested. This is where Zombi really shines. Instead of a long list of optional twists on the zombie, as found in AFMBE, they are treated as a force of nature. Zombi suggests they are used to force disparate groups of survivors together, creating the tensions from which great stories spring.

Zombies aren’t neglected though, along with game statistics come a random appearance generator and rules for the zombi plague. The book is rounded out with over thirty short adventure hooks.

Zombi is a sixty-eight page, A5 booklet. The layout is clear and effective with competent black and white, full-page illustrations. It certainly isn’t as pretty as AFMBE but the presentation certainly doesn’t detract from the product either.

While the system is competent, the focus on the living rather than the dead is where Zombi’s real strength lies. Anyone considering running a game in the zombie horror genre would make a wise investment of a bit of cash if they picked up a copy of Zombi. A nice little game that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Zombi is a game very much like the films that inspired it. There are zombies everywhere, it wasn’t made on a blockbuster budget and it’s full of interesting ideas.

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T2000: W+44

It’s all gone to shit.

It did get worse.

Two days after the Colonel died, I woke from a nightmare to find Monk and Doc packing up their gear. They said they were going and they didn’t want me to come. And so they left.

I spent the next two days eating what little food they left me and trying to continue south. I thought the end of the world was hard before, I hadn’t realised there were new horrors waiting for me.

I caught up with Monk and Doc just as I was about to give up all hope. From the looks of things they’d bumped into a Soviet patrol and hadn’t been much resistance. I felt numb as I searched around the ruins of my former friends, trying to scavenge anything that would quiet my grumbling innards but Ivan had been too thorough. I was just about to leave when I spotted a flash of red and blue near the gearbox well. Wrapped in a torn flag were two apples, a little distressed from their adventure. I remembered the Colonel hadn’t eaten his but wrapped them in a scrap of flag for later.

I ate one and pocketed the other. It would spoil soon but I felt renewed. This was a sign that I was going to make it, that just as I felt all hope was slipping away, something would step out of the darkness and save me.

Southward was still my destination and I left Monk and Doc to the crows.

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