Original SA post
I found this book on Steve Jackson Games’s website literally days after you made that post and I’ve been keeping it under wraps ever since.
GURPS Zombieland, USA
PART 1 – BLACK LAKE
I’m flying completely blind here. I’ve never read this book before, and I don’t know what I’m in for. I also have a (relatively minor) case of PTSD that this might set off! Probably not, though, from a light perusal it looks more than bearable. Ah well. I promised myself I’d do this years ago, so, here we go!
So, this is a weird one. For those unfamiliar, GURPS Autoduel is GURPS’s post-apocalyptic car battle setting; players drive their vehicles around trying to blow other vehicles up. Apparently, this book is written with both horror and exploding cars in mind. Thematic! The book is designed around the assumption that the GM will choose between running the scenario in the present day or in the far off future of 2038. This was published in 88, so, damn, we’re closer to the first date than the second. Author Barry Link, whoever that is (I can’t find anything about him on the Internet) wants to use this thing as a mixture of setting and adventure; the town has too much for one adventure to cover and can be revisited after the book’s core adventure has been exhausted. He also introduces an interesting concept; GMs are supposed to choose between characters that the book presents and use certain ones as “stars” that shape the narrative around them. Sounds a bit rickety, but I guess we’ll see.
Christ this book is full of maps
The first chapter is entirely maps, location descriptions, and little biographies/character sheets in the sidebars, all describing the almost stereotypically small-town American Black Lake, California. Well, stereotypical in theory. The very first sidebar in the book lays out the three primary rules of a visitor’s social life in Black Lake: take things slow and steady, people are friendly to strangers but frown on bad behavior and snobbery, and any action outsiders take, positive or negative, will spread down the grapevine to the rest of the town and affect how people judge them. This is one of the few settings in which reaction roles are useful in GURPS; how people approach you, and how you react to them, will shape how your adventure plays out.
Fourth rule, for Autoduel games only? Irritating outsiders won’t live to see the sunrise
Good Lord is that a lot of people to sift through.
Yes, every one of those people has a little stat block squirreled away in the sidebars, and maybe a quarter of them have paragraph-long biographies to boot. No, that’s not a lot of information to sort through. Why do you ask?
Black Lake is actually pretty comfortable, no matter which time period you visit it in. Most buildings detailed in the book exist intact in oth Autoduel and out of it, with the same people running them (just with the addition of lots of guns in the former). In lieu of writing out every single building description and biography I’ll cover a few of the most important/interesting people in the town.
factor really starts out strong in this book! The very second person with a sidebar profile is one Mrs. Agatha Brown, an attractive (the book emphasizes this) middle-aged woman running a local boarding house who’s actually a “demented psi” who psychically enslaves the “troubled teenagers” who work there as maids. They are actually kidnapped teenagers she “gets secretly from area cycle gangs and rogues.” She doesn’t do anything with them; she’s just a sadistic asshole who gets her jollies from making these girls miserable by stripping their agency away from them. Once she’s done breaking them, she sells them off to anyone who will pay. The townsfolk don’t know about this and think she’s a wonderful woman for working with all these troubled youth. Jesus Christ what the fuck, Link! Yeah, she’s a pretty obvious villain for PCs to try to take down. I
want to take her down.
Next, Jerry Low, owner of the Pinetree Pub! He runs the town bar, a pretty quiet and civilized place – no brawls or roughhousing allowed. He’s an, and I quote, “Oriental” man who prides himself on his orderly establishment and also plays his tuba during happy hour. Badly. His stat block even includes “One badly-tuned tuba” under equipment and an atrociously low Musical Instrument (tuba) skill
With Autoduel active, he’s the president of the local chapter of the AADA (American Autoduel Association), the setting’s car dueling organization, and also the de facto leader of the town militia.
The truckers plot zombie murder.
Ben McKinley, a cowardly, scimitar-owning (even though he can’t use it) Scotsman and hipster runs a little café literally called the Granola which serves East Asian, vegetarian, and horrifyingly enough, Scottish food. He has no major plot significance, but I couldn’t skip over him. Instead, Vic the Knife! He a greasy, cantankerous man who runs the Cave Bar, the local dive, as well as the local biker gang, the Shards. Thing is, well, he’s also an artist, in a “cynical, self-destructive outcast” sort of way. He’s a nationally published poet (albeit one who writes things like A Field Guide to Women’s Breasts) whose nickname comes from his sharp writing style. He even knows Latin well enough to speak it
Likewise, the Shards are more a “show up and look tough” gang of three disenfranchised youth than any kind of social threat; in Autoduel, they don’t fight other townsfolk, they just sort of hang out.
Fuzzy Dent is the town mayor, a rather amicable older fellow who has a habit of trying to mediate any argument he comes across; unfortunately, he’s also hard of hearing and frequently screws it up. At town meetings people just shout to make sure he hears them. He’s universally well-liked, visiting every business in town on the regular (including the Cave Bar, he thinks incognito), greets people on the street, and owns Black Lake’s general store – he manages to walk the fine line between running the town’s biggest store with pay and bonuses for his staff and not driving any of the specialist stores out of business. An all-around nice guy. Among those specialist stores is the flower shop run by Simpson Godot, the town’s most famous resident, an artist who does something with videos. The book straight up hints it might be hentai, which, okay.
A few unremarkable food shops until we hit
He’s a Polish immigrant with some kind of abusive relationship with his wife (one probably beats the other). Still, his pastries are popular all over town so he sees a lot of business. In Autoduel, he’s one of the vanishingly few people who knows how to get real wheat instead of post-apocalyptic algae, so he’s both one of the world’s few bakers and vigorously watched by the FBI. What’s this about that whole Zombie Father thing? Nothing in the text in this part of the book hints at it! Stop slandering this poor man!
Next time: more people!
BLACK LAKE, CONT
Original SA post
GURPS Zombieland, USA
PART 2 – BLACK LAKE, CONT
THE FACE OF TERRISM
Deputy Amber Lane is a police officer who also runs the Zen House, a local East Asian-styled religious commune that accepts anyone willing to work in the gardens and maintain the building. Lane doesn’t run it for profit; it’s a labor of love for her, combining her contempt for modern society with a desire to teach her particular version of Zen Buddhism and martial arts. This lady, from her description, sounds white as hell, but she actually has East Asian constituents some academic knowledge of Zen, even if it’s kinda low, so
. She makes up for budget shortcomings with donations. She’s also secretly a radical anarchist who hides terrorists on the lam and the FBI is after her in both settings. There are two other religious institutions in town; the Church of Pure Values, your standard evangelical, “family values” church, and the Black Lake Free Church, a socially progressive church (in Autoduel, part of a broader network of similar churches).
Jesus Ortega is the town mechanic and an unparalleled engineering genius. He’s also blind. Like many blind people, he can mostly function on his own, only needing the assistance of his daughter Maria (a mechanic in her own right considering going into physics) and Uncle (some guy) when working with unfamiliar parts; either way, his reputation is such that the local say “Jesus saves” to anyone with malfunctioning automobiles. He’s also a passionate socialist who gives substantial discounts to foreigners to kindle brotherhood between nations. In Autoduel, he extends the same mechanical ability to maintaining and installing weapons.
Barbara Fram runs the local paper and is kind of an ass, notable for trying to shout down interviewees and facing multiple libel lawsuits. Her paper is almost entirely local news and fluff pieces. She also employs Sydney Jonathan, a rich boy sent into rural exile by his father for misbehaving at Oxford. He fucking hates laid-back, friendly, isolated Black Lake and would leave if he thought it wouldn’t get him taken out of his daddy’s will; he’s taken to working at both the paper and the local radio station, and easy listening station that doesn’t seem to make as much as it costs to run, to make up for the gambling debts he’s accrued trying to stay sane. In Autoduel, he’s actually a very capable fighter, as good as anyone else in town, but he shuns these hicks and won’t join the militia.
Dr. Malcolm Fraser, the town dentist, isn’t terribly notable. He just has a high History (medieval torture methods) skill
EDIT: I doublechecked, it's substantially higher than his Professional Skill (dentistry) skill
Glory Muldoon is the Sheriff and (in Autoduel) leader of the town militia. She’s kind of a weird inversion of a stereotypical male ex-soldier; she has a military background, all sorts of military and policing skills, and she openly looks down on men while enjoying seeing male strippers. Despite this she’s universally respected by the townsfolk and runs a tight police department/militia. She doesn’t have any secrets beyond that. Her local opposite is Doc Willy Basset, the only doctor in town. He’s an expert physician, committed pacifist, and opponent of Sheriff Muldoon, someone he calls “the Soldier Bag”. He does have a secret; he has Magic Resistance, it runs in his family apparently. He doesn’t know why.
Wiley Kiley! He’s the ex-Army Col. who effectively runs the local retirement home. Kylie’s an old Patton-obsessed warhorse who spends his time organizing social events and doing whatever it is that old people do when no one’s watching. In non-Autoduel games, just like in real life, you want to tread lightly around the elderly retirees or they’ll ruin your life in the community. In Autoduel games? Kiley and his cohort play their part in defending their town by manning A FUCKING ARTILLERY BATTERY
Tourism dollars well spent!
Geography and town history! Black Lake started life as a mining town during the Gold Rush and then the rush folded. The inhabitants switched to logging, then to tourism as time went on. The old mine is still around, but it’s been abandoned and gradually crumbling since – until the hilariously euphemistic ResourceCo snapped up the land, promised the locals they’d reopen the mine and provide them with jobs, and imported workers instead that never spend their pay in Black Lake or pass through it or even leave the mine. Boy, I wonder what they could be? There’s also the Black Lake itself, a hospitable mountain lake notable for being both unusually warm and unusually deep. The bulk of the lake is open to the public, and though the locals play up the
factor for tourists it’s perfectly safe… (Ellipsis from the book) The only part of the lakefront closed to the outside world is a mansion owned by a Midwestern medical firm called Columbus Meditech. The property is patrolled by armed guards and walled off from the outside world.
I wonder where the zombies come from?
Next time: Autoduel rules (pun probably not intentional)
Original SA post
GURPS Zombieland, USA
PART 3 – TOWN DEFENSE
Man, this town is weirdly square in BOTH settings.
In Autoduel, the worst parts of the biker-gang-pocalypse are long over, but there are still bandits, cycle gangs, and other assorted ne’er-do-wells roaming the nation and every town needs some kind of defense plan. The Town Council of Black Lake dedicates a full 4/5 of its budget to that task, primarily using it to outfit the Lakers, the town militia. A few pages of this chapter are dedicated to physical defenses of various kinds which I’ll largely skip. However! You know how I said the seniors had an artillery battery? Turns out I lied, it’s just a tank gun-equivalent made from spare parts mounted in the senior center’s tower. Still, they’ve got the land around town plotted out, have a spotter’s nest secretly positioned somewhere in the nearby mountains, and enough ammunition, operators, and training to greet unwelcome visitors with a tank shell to the teeth. Other than that it’s a mix of two drawbridges, a big ol’ ditch, and some gun emplacements.
The Lakers are actually pretty well organized, coordinated through the Sheriff’s office and divided into several squads. Hilariously, their backbone is three dozen arthritic old people, Kiley’s Senior Citizens’ Heavy Weapons Club. About 10 of them are on duty at any given time – the rest are sleeping, relaxing, or sick – and they man both the tank gun and a couple recoilless rifle positions. Then comes the foot soldiers: the scouts, who patrol the surroundings, gather information, and carry out raids on raiders; three infantry squads, one managing each drawbridge and another (associated with the Church of Purity) kept in reserve; a medical team run by the town doctor; and the irregulars, i.e. anyone capable of pointing a gun out their windows at intruders. Also there’s the AADA, the club that all the town’s Autoduelists belong to. Despite the name, these folks mostly avoid dueling in favor of target practice and nonlethal matches. The club’s membership is entirely NPCs described in sidebars, including my man the town dentist.
I love this guy so much
Next is a bunch of details on militia organization and planning I’ll cover if they come up in the adventure. Most important thing here is procedures for visitors; they enter through the southern drawbridge, get grilled by Sheriff Muldoon, and either enter without further harassment or get kicked out. Preparedness! Link emphasizes both the militia’s solid training and its inexperience. The only time they’ve had to face action was years ago: a bike gang slipped past Black Lake’s warning system but stumbled into the town defenses, the militia recovered from their surprise first and annihilated them. Since then they’ve never had to face anything worse then small raids on nearby farmsteads and the occasional rowdy visitor.
WARNING: THE REST OF THIS REVIEW WILL CONSIST OF SPOILERS! I’M NOT GOING TO BOTHER CENSORING A 30-YEAR-OLD ADVENTURE SO DON’T READ ANY FUTURE POSTS IF YOU CARE!
Zombie rules! A couple paragraphs of description on how Autoduel Americans might respond differently to zombies. Since I haven’t read the adventure yet, I’m not entirely sure how to interpret them thanks to their copious references to plot points. Still, three points emerge: violence is more common and accepted in general; second, the plot emphasizes using more subtle means than blowing shit up with mounted weapons to solve the scenario’s problems; and the adventure’s villain is some guy named Nash and his dastardly plot has something to do with clones. Organization!
A short section today; the whole chapter is like five pages long. Congratulations! We’re almost halfway through the book!
Next time: the actual adventure!
Original SA post
Whoops! I missed a whole page last chapter. Good luck it didn’t contain anything important!
GURPS Zombieland, USA
PART 4 – ENTERING TOWN
Let’s start the adventure! One of the PCs receives a letter from Mayor Dent of Black Lake asking for assistance (without naming what for) and offering them a check for 500 bucks if they show up. If they choose to accept, regardless of which setting you are using, the trip is pleasant and uneventful. If they don’t, the book advises you to consult a sidebar titled “Bending the PCs to Your Will”. Despite the name, it suggests relatively gentle methods like adding various hooks or, at worst, subjecting the PCs to minor engine trouble that directs them towards the town instead of punishing players for misbehaving, but never getting your players on board with the scenario before hand in any way. Eh. In Autoduel , things are mostly the same with one addition:
Once they arrive, after getting grilled and warned by the deputy on-duty, the PCs can enter the town and wander around greeting whatever NPCs the GM desires; they all extend a warm welcome while directing them to the town hall. After dealing with his secretary (who tries to chat them up for information out of pure nosy curiosity and will burst into tears if the PCs are big enough dicks) Fuzzy Dent himself welcomes them into his office.
After passing a bickering Muldoon and Bassett on their way into the office, Dent tells the PCs he never sent a message or check and has no idea who they are. He’s genuinely confused – even extra-normal powers confirm this – but if they think to have them check his ledgers it looks like he actually did send them something. In the meantime he invites the party to stay at his motel. Did I mention he owns the only motel in town as well as the general store? Nope! Conflicts of interest! On the way he introduces them to yet more townsfolk including Deputy Pasha Lee.
Something else I missed! Pasha Lee is the adventure’s designated love interest. An Asian (again the book uses “Oriental”) woman with the Appearance (Beautiful) advantage, she’s almost sickeningly clearly designed to attract a PC’s romantic attention, from the love of animals to the mechanically-represented friendliness to the GM advice (mostly the circumstances in which she’ll fall in love with a PC). The only thing saving her from being completely awful is a love of sport shooting and the bonkers weapons skills to back it up, but still
Anyway. Once they reach the motel, Dent invites them to make themselves at home and departs. The book again emphasizes that the townsfolk are both friendly and a little suspicious of strangers. The first signs of trouble emerge here: any attempts to contact the outside world run into technical difficulties that the operator (it was a different time) promises to fix. The motel has two other groups staying. The first is a bunch of fishermen complaining how they can’t fish in Black Lake because a storm drowned three locals in the lake (who? Good question!) And they value sport fishing over their lives. The next morning they leave to go hang out in another adventure. Obvious info dump! The other group is actually plot relevant. Led by a new hotshot reporter named Marjorie Goldblum, they were sent here by a media company called DocuLife and they are here to film a documentary about small-town American life; the crew consists of Marjorie, her sound editor Tony Brummet, cameraman Cliff Sanger, and precocious daughter Julie. They filmed the funeral of the three locals, all sons of the baker Homencik; they can also describe the mine situation to the PCs. That night PCs with danger sense-type abilities see a black van they haven’t seen before go down the road outside their windows.
Plot time! The next morning, the three brothers’ graves are empty! The sheriff, Mayor, and documentary crew are on the scene. Blah blah dug up from the inside blah blah blah footprints from shoeless feet blah blah no signs of tools blah blah the grave keeper says he heard banging and horrible moans last night blah you get the idea, they’re probably zombies. If you suggest that to anyone they horselaugh you, as they should, but instead of coming up with a legitimate suspect Muldoon just goes and arrests Vic the Knife because she doesn’t like his face (he’s innocent (if still a dick); if the PCs can prove that, she’ll grudgingly let him go, and if they do it in a way that (somehow) impresses her she’ll respect them and help them out in the future).
Whatever happens at the graveyard, the police eventually haul the PCs through a crowd of enraged townsfolk to read them a statement about the incident, I guess, when suddenly! One of the deputies bursts in with news that there’s trouble at ol’ Captain Fred’s farm! The police rollout tailed by the documentary crew, Sydney Johnson (looking for a scoop), and probably the PCs.
Next time: human flesh tastes like chicken
SUPER ZOMBIE BROS.
Original SA post
GURPS Zombieland, USA
PART 4 – SUPER ZOMBIE BROS.
Fred’s farm! When the posse arrives, they meet Captain Fred, a local farmer still clutching his shotgun. Inconsequential back story! Fred might actually be a spaceship captain lost in time. He certainly has skills relevant to piloting spaceships but inappropriate to the setting. Or he might just be delusional, the sort of person who believes in ancient aliens or whatever without letting it affect his life. GM’s choice. Apparently last night he walked out to investigate who was messing with his chicken coops when he found the Homenciks eating his chickens raw. Salmonella!
You guys have no idea how many maps I’m skipping over.
By the way, the GURPS equivalent of a SAN check is a Fright Check; I won’t go into mechanical details here because eh. Every time something even vaguely unnerving happens in this adventure, the book has you roll a Fright Check like a scare chord's playing in the background. I think it serves the dual purpose of scaring the characters and making emotional beats clearer to the players, but it is a little clumsily delivered.
Anyway, Fred managed to scare them away with a few gunshots, but he noticed two things: first, the brothers were extremely pale and he couldn’t see their irises; second, he actually shot one, but he got up after he fell and just kept going. Yada yada a bunch of chances for the PCs to prove it was the brothers and also they were probably zombies. This is the first time anyone actually considers the possibility of zombies, though they won’t believe it for a while.
Now the PCs are let loose on the town to search for clues. Naturally Muldoon will be doing so as well, but if the party’s obtrusive and annoys the townsfolk (but not necessarily her), they’ll be run out of town on a rail (or at gunpoint in Autoduel). Though the Sheriff will deny the “Zombie Thesis”, if they are deferential and don’t interfere with the official investigation she’ll eventually warm up to them (even the men). Deputy Lee, a.k.a. the designated love interest, will be more amenable to working with the PCs in general. Link goes out of his way here to make the point that the Black Lake Police Department aren’t your standard idiot authority figures in a horror story; they legitimately want to catch the villain, whoever or whatever it is, and they are taking substantial steps in doing so, but they aren’t willing to turn to supernatural explanations yet.
The PCs’ first obvious step is checking in with Fred; he says he has a feeling the boys will be back (he’s right). At the scene of the crime there’s a trail of footprints leading into the forest (did the Sheriff follow them? Who knows!) and the PCs can follow them/get lost in the forest. Either way, after a couple hours the party stumbles across a cave that looks like it might be some kind of zombie den. They are wrong, there’s a black bear living in. No matter what they do, the bear gives them a chance to
before it attacks and probably fucks up the PCs. Bears are scary, dude. Eventually they either make their way home or get found by search and rescue.
I was going to make a Thriller joke, but man, every woman in this book has a bad case of 80s hair.
If they decide to stake out the farm instead, the brothers show up! In the modern day, they are bog standard zombies who just eat their way through anything alive they can find. They are still pretty dangerous and need to be dismembered to be stopped, but a party with combat experience will make it out just fine. In Autoduel things are a bit tougher. The brothers have higher stats, more combat abilities, and are wearing Kevlar vests (
). They are no match for any armed vehicle to take out, but the book advises the GM to prevent cars from coming into play through whatever excuse they can think of. In either setting, the fight goes on (with Fred pitching in if the going gets rough, possibly with a laser pistol) until the zombies are all dead or Sheriff Muldoon arrives with extra firepower and quickly ends the fight. She’ll detain the party until she figures out she has no idea what questions to ask them and tells them to show up at a town hall meeting the next morning. As they head back to the motel the documentary crew shows up, digs for information, and films the scene of the crime.
If the party chooses not to stick around the farm that night, they find out the next morning that the three zombies ate Fred alive before the Sheriff and co. showed up and killed them. Great job following up on leads!
dude this is totally going on Instagram
The next morning the party runs into a crowd on the way to the meeting; they are all staring at something on the street. Someone wrote “SLAY THE BEAST” in the middle of the street with blood. Reassuring! After elbowing past the crowd the party arrives at the city council meeting, basically a town hall, where Doc Basset presents his autopsy (they are zombies, though he doesn’t say it), the town leaders split into a “throw them in prison” and a “when are we going to address the potholes on Main” faction, and Muldoon sides with the former and resolves to arrest them. Before throwing them into prison, the Sheriff allows the party one chance to talk their way free. If they succeed, they go free; if they fail, they get thrown in prison next to Vic the Knife (if they didn’t free him earlier) and given their traditional phone call (any calls outside of town hit a busy signal). Either way, they suffer a fate almost worse for an adventuring party then imprisonment:
They have their weapons confiscated.
Next time: evangelicalism gone wild
Original SA post
Just caught up on the thread. If this was in the shamanism section, isn't it probably someone using the shrink power?
Definitely, its just that the anatomy in the picture is bizarre.
Speaking of which!
GURPS Zombieland, USA
PART 6 –
From behind a sign in the street to behind the pulpit.
More people I missed! The Rev. Jim Fisher leads the Church of Pure Values and fills the role of wacky southern-style preacher right down to the copious Amens. He’s been convinced for a while that the End of Days is near, and guess what? It looks like he’s right! Except he isn’t, his stat block unambiguously says he’s delusional. Still, he has a sizable following in the town and in Autoduel he leads the Lakers’ crack infantry squad. The first time the PCs will see him is holding up his obligatory “The End Is Near” sign at the Council meeting.
Whatever happened to the PCs in the last section, Link wants them railroaded towards hearing Fisher’s next sermon, whether they hear it over the radio in prison or attend the sermon itself. He’s wrapped a few important points up in his rhetoric: zombies mean the apocalypse is near; the Beast is the devil; you have to slay him by being part of the Army of the Lord.
I’ll say it again here; I’m writing these updates as I read them, so I don’t know how much of the sermon will be relevant later or what, I’m just guessing. No, I’m not going to spend 20 minutes reading through the rest of the adventure. What, are you expecting me to put effort into this?
So some weird shit starts to happen. If the party’s still in jail they see Vic get dragged out, hear a gunshot, and meet a returning Vic who doesn’t remember them. If the characters are sharp enough, they catch a glimpse of that same black van from earlier driving by. Scare chord! Somebody seems to broken out the Men in Black memory wiper thing. Pasha Lee, if a PC has somehow already gotten her attention, will be invited out to a picnic before completely forgetting about them later that day; the party witnesses a small child running away from their mother screaming “she’s not my mommy"
before the mother sweeps them away. Hell, even Sheriff Muldoon will let them out of their cells/seek them out in the town and ask for help; apparently other members of the police department attacked her and she’s willing to trust the PCs as they seem to be on the level. If she leaves their presence for more than half an hour, she also forgets. Any rational person’s first instinct would probably be to get out of town, but if the PCs make the sensible and boring decision to leave town they’ll have two fight through posses of various groups in the town. They try to discourage leaving the town, only using lethal force if the party tries to push through, but, why would you try to leave the adventure like that?
And you thought you hated closed MRIs!
Eventually their investigations will lead the party to Doc Basset, who bought this newfangled medical machine from one Dr. Bob Smith of American Medical Technologies (a company that doesn’t seem to exist). The machine is extremely advanced; it’s some kind of full-body scanner that produces crazy accurate medical information but just looks odd to any characters with medical training. PCs can have themselves scanned if they are dumb. Any attempts to examine the machine more closely will be rebuffed.
If the PCs try to break in to Basset’s office to get a closer look or stake it out, provided they don’t do it in broad daylight, they see Basset working with some shady types to load black boxes onto a van. If they spot the party, these folks will train their guns on them; if they back off, they’ll let them go. If not, the stranger opens fire, Basset presses a button that sets the boxes on fire, and the two of them lock themselves in the building while the van speeds away.
If the party chooses to chase after the van, it leads them on a merry chase through the woods across logging roads. Even in the modern setting, the van’s inhabitants will shoot at pursuers, and eventually a few deputies will show up and pitch in against the PCs. Even if they do manage to catch the van, its occupants will fight to the death. Unless the PCs manage to fight off everyone involved, they’ll be dragged off to jail afterwards (though the police will retreat if outgunned). If the party tries to break into the clinic, the gunmen in there will also fight to the death, though Basset will hang back and won’t fight back even if he’s attacked. If captured, he won’t say anything. Eventually the police will show up and also throw them into jail. Wow, productive endeavor all around! Link does encourage the GM not to kill off the PCs here, though.
Man, there are a lot of loose ends in this section. What happens if Sheriff Muldoon is still with the party when police show up? What happens if they try to tear apart the machine once the party’s disposed of its protectors? What happens if they tail the van instead of attacking it? If they kill any deputies, will the townsfolk react? It doesn’t help that the book’s organization is falling apart, with sidebars stretching into sections they don’t belong and areas getting disproportionate focus (the doctor’s office) at the expense of others (most of the allies the PCs might find in town are compressed into one page).
Except for one.
Next time: A Documentary of Lies
Original SA post
Part 7 – The Mansion
jesus christ more maps
Allies are a bit sparse on the ground in Black Lake. The party can try to enlist Mrs. Brown, but oh man, that’s a bad idea (see her bio). Less
options include Capt. Fred, the groundskeeper from the cemetery (he has a stash of ancient dynamite if you feel like taking a risk) and Maria Ortega and Uncle, who were convinced something is wrong with Jesus and will happily join forces. However, as useful as they might be, the party will hit a real gold mine if they convince Marjorie Goldblum to talk (i.e. convince her she’s safe with them).
A few months ago, Marjorie was approached about making a documentary about Black Lake by a company called Labac Inc. If the PCs have any knowledge about the occult they realize it’s a shell company run by the Cabal (GURPS’s conspiracy of evil wizards). So scary it warrants a Fright Check! One Mr. Bob Smith set her up with a crew and funds before sending her out, but in her biweekly checkup calls Smith began giving her tips on bizarre things before they happened, most notably the zombie attack the party foiled earlier. When she tried to refuse one of these “suggestions” Smith teleported in from Los Angeles, told her he kidnapped her daughter, and threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply. The last time Smith contacted her he told her one Mr. Walter Wong was going to get his “long-deserved reward as the armies of God roll over his beloved green lawns" at the mansion on the hill before laughing maniacally. Marjorie is terrified and suicidally depressed and she’s desperate to get out of this situation. Naturally, the moment she finishes her explanation her camera crew rushes in to kill her with clubs (when was the last time you saw and honest to God club? Where do they sell them?
). If they can’t kill her and get away, they laugh and die through inexplicable means. Fright Check!
FREE REFILLS AT THE MANSION! TONIGHT ONLY!
Eventually the next plot hook emerges: Smith calls Goldblum and implies her daughter is at the mansion on the hill. What happens if she’s dead? According to the book, just substitute in some other character! (The book tells you to just re-skin or dump any plot lines involving dead characters.) The book’s description of the lakeside manor takes up a page and a half alone; it’s pretty, isolated, well manicured, etc. etc. etc. It’s owned by the aforementioned Walter Wong, Columbus MediTech’s VP of Research; anyone familiar with medicine will recognize his department as famous for its ethical standards. The PCs are welcome to try and warn Wong, but his security is rigorous and suspicious, so unless they have the Sheriff along with them to smooth the way they are unlikely to talk their way in and if they are dumb enough to try and sneak in or fight their way past they’ll end up suffering. Even if everything goes right, Wong and his staff are unlikely to take them seriously.
That night, a bell begins to ring and the townsfolk mindlessly shuffle out into a mob outside the senior center. Everyone brings their weapons (except in Autoduel, when some of the old folks stay behind unarmed to man the tank gun). At their head is a black van with two mercenaries (who might have helped drive the van the PCs encountered earlier) their leader, the hilariously-named Linda Lovewar, and a bald dude in a lab coat who leads the mob. Any attempts to interfere with them are first ignored, then met with gunfire until the PCs run away; if they try to kill the bald guy, his body drops dead but his voice keeps coming out of his loudspeaker. Spooky! Then the mob opens fire and continues their march. Either way, this man – Ezra Nash a.k.a. Bob Smith – revs up the crowd by chanting “Slay the Beast!” and they all march on the mansion. According to the book this is, mechanically speaking, the scariest thing the PCs have seen yet.
Once the mob reaches the mansion a battle breaks out – including shelling by the tank gun if applicable. The mob will gradually chew through the guards before targeting the PCs (the GM is encouraged to fudge roles to make sure they survive) until the survivors arrive at the docks, before the obligatory boat chase scene breaks out until any mob members following them are killed. However, when the party reaches the docks, they find none other than a waiting Julie Goldblum! Who whips out a shotgun, shoots Wong and/or her mother, pulls the pin on a grenade, and blows up in a shower of green goo!
Next time: time for the mine!
Original SA post
Part 8 – The Mansion
golly gee willickers
After their lakeside escapades, the party docks near a cabin and unloads their precious cargo. With Wong safe and sound (Marjorie is borderline catatonic and will be out of commission for the rest of the adventure) they can grill him on what he knows. According to him, Nash was a brilliant researcher who Wong fired for ethics violations and he swore revenge on him in classic mad scientist fashion before disappearing. Wong can’t tell the party what Nash did to get fired (nondisclosure agreements) or how Nash might be controlling the townsfolk (he knows but isn’t telling), though. While he refuses to budge from his position, he’ll hang out in the cabin for the rest of the adventure and dispense information and advice.
Next up: finding Nash. Link points the GM towards the old mine (situated in the laughably on-the-nose Mt. Baldy), but the party can still go back into Black Lake to sniff around for more clues. They find things largely the same but with a twist; occasionally someone will mention Nash in a conversation and it will grind to a halt, followed by everyone in earshot chanting his name (the PCs have to play along or they’ll get hauled off to jail). Everyone now reveres Nash (and someone who might be his mother, though she is less of a focus) and views him as something between a father figure and a savior. Psionic or magical investigations reveal this reverence to have been artificially implanted in their heads (no shit, Link) and it can be removed with psionics. If the attempt fails, they turn them into a vegetable.
Even if they were involved in the firefight, the PCs will be largely ignored. However, they are looking for Wong still (unless they caught him back at the mansion, in which case patrols still roam the streets) and unfortunate questions will get the party hauled off to jail. Spend too much time in there, and the black van will come for you! The townsfolk also don’t have anything interesting to say, so why bother. I like imagining questions the PCs ask the townsfolk involving Nash, no matter how they are phrased, ending with them chanting “Nash! Nash! Nash! Nash!” Sounds like a great way to annoy your players.
So when the PCs actually reach Mount Baldy they find an old mine built into the cliff face. It looks like it’s been left untouched since the mine close except for tracks leading into and out of the mine, some trailers off to the side, and locks on the front gate. Also, the guard post built under the water tower. There’s a guard there that will try and warn off interlopers, only using force when words fail (and even then pausing to tell them to get out every so often); he’ll also call the cops, who will drag the PCs off to jail to wait for the black van to swing by and do its magic on them. There are a couple of ways into the mine involving breaking open doors, picking locks, etc. – your standard infiltrating-the-base shtick, you’ve seen it before. There’s even an air duct system for the PCs to crawl through!
This part of the book is mostly map descriptions, ways to get through the mine, and mechanics; I’ll just brush over these for the most part, only remarking on unusual features. The mine’s first level is dominated by a garage which contains the black van we’ve been seeing around town and a few motorcycles, including one modified for a little person. The party can also find a pit full of zombies in a nearby tunnel. Finally! On seeing the party will try to attack them but they can’t climb up the sides of the pit. It blocks off the way further into the mine and the PCs will have to find a way across (laydown planks, roll to balance), as well as spot an intercom and give “the password”. What password? I don’t know! If you don’t give the password, the mine’s primary protectors will mobilize from the floor below. Beyond lies a series of prison cells that contain the real Julie Goldblum as well as Capt. Fred to serve as extra muscle for the party (when was he captured? Am I missing something?), and beyond that lies the way down to the next floor.
Next time: The Thrilling Conclusion
Original SA post
Mt. Baldy in California is the location of a Zen monastery. Leonard Cohen spent some time there in the 90s.
Huh. There's no mention of a monastery in the book. The town has a Buddhism-inspired cult, though. Is there a Black Lake-equivalent nearby?
Part 9 – CONCLUSION
Now, my son, you ought to go apologize to your sister for killing and cloning her. It’s what God would have wanted.
At some point as the party reaches the bottom of the mine, they encounter Nash’s mercenary squad, the Four Horsemen. They are loyal to money before Nash and can be convinced to leave if paid off or if they face overwhelming firepower; they are still pretty tough, though. They might also encounter Fidel, Nash’s stereotypical underling, a hunchback who reveres him and tries to carry out his bidding without question, but he’s incompetent and entrusted with too much control over the hideout’s defense systems for him to handle. He’ll be hard to manipulate but easy to intimidate.
After a bit more wandering the party will finally hit paydirt; the three chambers Nash uses for his diabolical plots. In one they can find massive test tubes for creating zombies, including one currently gestating in the same green goo Julie exploded into earlier; the second contains cloning tubes and computers with the scientific data necessary to make more (clones of Capt. Fred and Julie take up two of them, but if the party tries to decant them the clones will fall out, writhe mindlessly, and die, provoking an extreme Fright Check); and the third has computers containing extensive profiles of every resident of Black Lake, complex enough to re-create every citizen of the town with their prior personalities restored. If these computers are somehow destroyed or damaged, some profiles will be deleted or corrupted and that citizen will be effectively dead. Well done! Once Nash is dead the party can use them to bring the townsfolk back to life and replace the clones.
At this point Link tells us the party should have enough information to reconstruct Nash’s history and motivations. Like Wong said, Ezra Nash was a brilliant but unethical scientist who got fired for performing really gross experiments on his own time. This pushed him off the deep end and he went to ground, eventually getting picked up by the Cabal (GURPS’s evil magical conspiracy, mentioned earlier) as a resident mad scientist. With their help Nash perfected a way to create digital copies of people’s minds, modifying them, and inserting them into clone bodies – he made Fidel as his first test subject – then headed to Black Lake to prepare his vengeance against Wong. His plan went like this: first, enter town with an identity and credentials (“Bob Smith”) provided by Cabal shell companies; persuade Doc Basset to “test out” his mind-scanning machine, get his information, clone him, and kill him and dump his body; have the clone run the rest of town through the machine, clone them, and kill the originals; threaten Wong anonymously until he fled to his retreat near Black Lake; and finally lead the clones against the mansion and kill his former employer. The plan was just kicking into action when the PCs arrive, hence the signal jamming. Also, Autoduel information. Been a while! Basically, Future Nash did those experiments with pre-existing cloning tech at Columbus before Wong noticed his clones were implanted with memories he’d constructed and had him fired. That’s it!
Finally, an opportunity for a REAL Thriller joke!
By the way? The zombies? Nash just made them as a distraction for investigators and/or observant townsfolk. This adventure is actually about clones. Holy false advertising, Batman!
The book provides schedules for Nash, Fidel, and the Horsemen, as well as the former’s plans for dealing with interlopers (spot them, sic the horsemen on them, arm himself and Fidel if they fail, call town for a posse of a dozen or so to come back them up, and hold the party off until help arrives). Link doesn’t tell us what Nash will do if they happen to catch him, but implies they’ll have to kill him; otherwise he’ll either escape through a hidden tunnel, escape AND join up with the clone posse to ambush the PCs, or capture them and kill them. Once he is dead or gone, the adventure is effectively over.
Forgot to mention: Nash implanted reverence for his mother in every clone. Because of COURSE he wasn’t evil enough without Oedipal themes.
Somehow the clones in town will detect Nash’s death and immediately fall into confusion, some committing suicide out of despair. From there the book suggests reconstructing the townsfolk from Nash’s database – no Star Trek transporter problem here! – and try and integrate surviving clones into the community. Two days later the authorities arrive, grill the PCs as they try to sort out what happened, and eventually let them go. The party completed the adventure! Yaaaaay! The last few pages of the book cover various reasons the party might return to Black Lake – just adventure hooks with little interesting about them so I don’t care about writing them up.
That was… interesting. This book smacks of someone trying to work in every part of GURPS they liked into one rickety adventure. There’s just too many connections to thematically conflicting settings and a lack of focus in general. Why the hell does this book contain Autoduel rules? They don’t add anything, they don’t connect to anything outside the town, and they clash with the fearful atmosphere the book tries to set up. To be fair, it remarks up front that the adventure is designed to break Autoduel characters out of their comfort zone, but why focus on that setting specifically? It clashes too much with the run-and-gun style you’d expect from it for the adventure to serve as a breather episode. The mechanics are clunky, the characters are broad sketches or stereotypes, and the story is clichéd. It’s not that it’s awful
, per se, it’s just not great. I can see why Link never wrote another adventure. But, whatever. It only cost me a few bucks, so it’s not like I regret buying it. I wouldn’t run it myself but I can see others running it for whatever reason.
Inklesspen, whenever you have time to next update the archive, I expect to see all THREE of my reviews marked as completed