Situation: Me running a game for three friends (Sky, Melly, and Supernova) who had finally given in and wanted to try my crazy hobby. Challenges: I’m out of practice, I’m trying out a system I’ve never actually used, and all three players are totally newbies.
Genre: 50s b-movie atomic Horror. Think: The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Little shop of horrors, Earth Vs the Flying Saucers, the Cosmic Man.
This means short and simple combats, simple characters and fairly simple plots. The players know the genre very very well (we watch a lot of these films together during our “Scifi sunday” get-togethers).
Rules: A variation of the SuperCrew rules with Aspects instead of superpowers. I almost went with Wushu but I think Supercrew fits the Atomic Horror genre a little better – Atomic Horror is not detail oriented.
Disclaimer: Feeding Hills is actually part of Agawam Massachusetts – our version is totally fiction. I’ve never even been there. But how can you not fall in love with a place called “Feeding Hills?”
so: I gave the players a 2-minute primer on the rules and told them that their characters would all be working the night shift in a Grocery store. I showed them a few of the store’s employees already written up, and told them they could play those or make up their own characters.
All they needed for a character sheet was a name and a list of Aspects.
Then we had soup, and then they got to work.
Sky chose Johnny, the big stock clerk. He wanted to add the Aspect “Deer hunter” (obviously thinking it would give him access to guns and such) and I agreed.
Johnny (stock clerk, twenty-ish)
Big and Strong
good with machines
always gives in
Supernova created Brenda, a middle-aged woman working as a cashier, out of whole cloth.
Brenda (cashier, forty-ish)
crazy ferret lady
Townie (knows everyone in Feeding Hills)
“What would Nancy Drew do?” (Reads a lot of mysteries)
Melly created Zoe around the idea of a young woman who has a van and a faithful German Shepard (two things she thought would be very useful). I accepted her claim that the dog waited in the van while she was working nights, and was therefore close at hand. She named the dog “Kurt” after the dog in the classic Turkish z-movie “Tarkan vs the Vikings” (but you knew that already!)
Zoe (cashier, twenty-ish)
All my stuff is in my van
Kurt, the loyal german shepard
“Dont move, the light is perfect!” (photography major)
When dinner dishes had been cleared away we wrote up their character sheets and I read them the opening text:
Feeding Hills is a small town in Hampden County in Western Mass, a suburb of Springfield. It was once home to Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher (there’s a small memorial downtown). Feeding Hills is next to Agawam MA (the home of the Six Flags New England Theme park) and near Southwick & Westfield MA and Suffield Connecticut.
Feeding Hills is a small, rather isolated town, set back between Mt Provin and the May Hollow State Forest and the Qualmish River. Feeding Hills is where Rt 187 (Westfield street) crosses Rt 57 (Southwick street). Feeding Hills has a junior High school and a High school. There’s a lovely downtown with a Town commons and a gazebo. Feeding Hills is the home of Hampden University, the Feeding Hills Civil War memorial, the famous Melton Robideux Golf Course, an All-Mart store, and a Cost Chopper Grocery HQ.
The Chop N Shop
The Cost Chopper Grocery HQ – known locally as the “Chop N Shop” – is the main grocery store for the area. It is located on a lonely stretch of Line Street between Downtown and University Heights. It is a big box surrounded by a cracked and cratered parking lot (formerly a drive-in theatre). The parking lot also serves an “Extra Pizza” eatery and the All-Mart, a big box department store (“You CAN have it ALL-Mart!”).
The Chop N Shop has all the features of a modern grocery store – it’s big and generic looking, with high shelves and wide aisles. Despite large glass windows up front by the registers you could wander the store for hours without being sure of the time of day or the weather. Everything sort of becomes the same under the slightly flickery glare of the endless fluorescent day. Pop Country rock plays endlessly in the background. The store’s omnipresent slogan is “Pretty Good Shopping!”
The Chop n Shop is open 24 hours a day, everyday but Xmas.
Our story opens on a particularly slow Friday night in April. It’s a cool but pleasant night. There were thunder showers around at dinner time, and more might but overhead at any time. The Late shift is getting tired, and many will be heading home soon as the graveyard shift takes over. things are slow.
Our heros have been at work for hours, but they have a few hours to go. They are not really bored – they are living in Shop N Chop time, where the Universe seems to come to a halt and you just sort of stare into space and wonder – how is that my life turned out to be like this?
The story opens with Jeff Trent, local eccentric, coming into the store and yelling a lot about “black helicopters” and ‘lights in the sky” while buying yogurt and triscuits. He was very agitated and sort of picking fights with the “blind fools who refuse to listen to me! I’m muzzled by Army brass!”
Jeff was meant to be a nice opening vignette and an easy problem – a good way to try out the rules before things get serious. You just needed to generate several successes to shut Jeff up and get him out the door (perhaps by giving him the bum’s rush, for instance).
Brenda used her “townie” aspect to determine that Jeff was harmless. Then she rang up his order while matching his “paranoia” aspect with her “crazy ferret lady” aspect, and rolled some successes. This allowed her to stare him down and he left without making any more trouble. All in all, a short and satisfying opening encounter.
time for action!
Just Then Zoe looked out the plate glass windows and saw two men in the parking lot who rather looked like Zombies. They were pale, stiff, white-eyed, and slack jawed. Startled, she kind of screamed. Our heros – and the rest of the graveyard shift – stopped to stare at them.
But a third zombie had already wandered into the store unnoticed, and was closest to Johnny. Surprise!
Johnny reached for a broom as a weapon, but the zombie attacked with its special one-time attack of “terrifying.” Johnny fought back with fearless (neither rolled any successes) and so they shifted to a round of hand-to-hand combat, which the zombie won easily – throwing Johnny through the air and into a fig newton display with superhuman strength.
I should say that these were 50s-style Atomic horror zombies, not modern zombies. They were super strong, indestructible, slow, and robot like. They kind of glowed and they did not have fancy gore make up effects. Their eyes were milky white, and they kind of graoned instead of talking. They seemed dumber than wood.
Now several of the store’s NPC staffers ran forward, especially Bill, the big ex-biker butcher, who was easily thrown aside by the Zombie’s superhuman strength. (The NPCs where there, in part, to give the players time to figure out how to deal with the zombie – these were tough zombies!)
Brenda tried to call the police, but oddly, the store’s phone was dead. Zoe helped Johnny get up and they tried to block the zombie by pushing a line of shopping carts in front of him (they had noticed that he was slow, clumsy, and stupid). No luck, The zombie just pushed their line of carts aside, scattering them like tenpins. Johnny took his second hard blow of the night and would have been out of the scene, but he gobbled a point of stress with one of his Hero Points.
Next they tried chemicals – Zoe hit the zombie in the face with the C02 from a fire extinguisher, then Brenda splashed ammonia (from the cleaning cart) in its eyes. The Zombie seemed blinded/disoriented and they were able to push it out the door and lock up the store (they had earned enough successes to get rid of the zombie even though they hadn’t really hurt it all).
That meant the players and the NPCs were in the grocery store and at least three zombies were out front in the parking lot. Figuring the zombies would come through the plate glass soon enough, the players led everyone else out the back into the rear parking area where their own cars were parked.
As everyone ran for their cars, Zoe made a “come with us!” speech, but earned one success, so they could only choose one NPC: Bill, Or Don Davis, or Gloria Day (the store manager) or sixty year old Wilmer Penrose.
They considered trying to bring along Bill, the big butcher (because he could fight) but Bill seemed bossy and hard to control, and Johnny argued niche protection – how many big strong guys did the group need anyway?
So They chose Don Davis, the cowardly but brainy stock boy.
Smarter than you
good with gadgets
yeah, I’ve seen that movie
a coward and shy
They figured Don’s brains would come in handy and his shyness would keep him from being bossy. I ended up using Don to point out clues, allowing him to be both useful and annoying, which was about perfect.
At this point, I figured we were 1/3 of the way into the plot of a 90 minute 50s movie (right after the first attack!) so we took a short break to gather snacks and stuff.
The heros drove off in two cars – Zoe’s van and Johnny’s pick-up truck. Johnny suggested that his truck had a shotgun in it, but since he hadn’t mentioned that before, I asked him for a Plot Point and he demurred – so no gun in the truck. We agreed that he had all the hunting gear he wanted back at his house – if he could get there.
And so our heros drove off. I had expected them to run to the All-Mart (next to the grocery store) and raid it for gear and weapons (which it certainly had) but they decided to high-tail it straight to the police station and get help instead.
They drove south toward the center of town. Along the way, they saw several cars on the side of the road and some people fighting Zombies. They were rather torn between “rescue” and “keep going.”
Johnny could not resist helping out (he got a plot point for having his “fearless” aspect lead him to take a stupid risk) so he pulled up and yelled “jump into the back.” One person made it, a young woman that Brenda (aspect: townie) recognized as a teller at the local bank.
Menaced by they zombies, they drove on.
They got to the police station, but were unhappy to find it under seige. The station was being attacked by zombies, and police officers within the building were trying to drive the zombies back with rifle fire. The zombies did not seem slowed down by the barrage of bullets.
They noticed a slain police officer on the ground. His skin turned white, his eyes turned milky, and he started to look phosphorescent. Then he got up, stiffly, and started to advance on our heros. They decided to get going.
Leaving the trapped police officers to their fate, our heroes drove away. They headed back north, and chose a new destination: Johnny’s home.
One the way back up the road they would pass the zombie-fight where they picked up Anna. They thought this was a good chance to test out a new plan: fire. Zombies seemed bulletproof, but how about fire?
Zoe came up with a plan. She made a torch out of a monopod and a t-shirt and some flammable chemicals (her van was full of her photography gear, after all) and planned to stop near the zombies and run up to one and set it on fire. Since she was putting a lot of thought into it, I let her make a planning roll (similar to Wushu prep dice). She earned two success, so I gave her two bonus dice that could be used while trying to set a zombie afire.
It all went perfectly well – Zoe lept from the van, made good use of her Aspect “Dont move, the light is perfect!” set a zombie’s sleeve on fire (that earned her applause and a hero Point). She escaped without injury. The players were catching on – the zombies could be avoided, but were hard to beat. Also, her bonus dice came in handy.
The Zombie was clearly upset at having her sleeve on fire, and made lots of groaning noises, but there was no real evidence that the fire was hurting it any. They drove on.
On the way, they noticed a bright, UFO like object whizzing overhead. This caused some discussion.
Johnny said that he lived with his mother in an old house. I said sure, and it placed it on the other side of Kelly Hill so that they had to drive past the old cemetery to get there. That made them wince!
(I was going to place that cemetery wherever they ended up anyway).
Johnny’s mother was fine. The power had gone out but otherwise, she hadn’t even heard that the town was under assault. Now, we know nothing about Johhny’s mother, but I let Johnny fill in her details and we added Mom to Johnny’s aspects. We wrote it in as “My mom is good with a shotgun”
The players and their NPCs huddled a bit and tried to come up with plans.
They thought about ways to fight zombies – they wanted to try electricity, but couldn’t think of a good approach. They considered going back to the All-Mart to look for tazers, but figured it was overrun with zombies by then.
They found some baseball bats. Johnny, having given up on guns, claimed that he owned a compound hunting bow, and since he had the aspect “deer hunter” and had gone all the way home, i agreed. He improvised some flaming arrows.
Don, the NPC with the “smarter than you” aspect, collected together aerosol cans to use as flame throwers. This annoyed the players who had not thought of it (and thus fit his character perfectly).
At this point it was getting late, and i was worried the player would sink into the “plan and prepare forver” trap, but no worries. Having chewed their problems over and made some preparations, they wanted to get moving again.
They discussed options, and decided that the UFO was the only real lead – they were going to go look for it.
At this point, they wondered about Anna -the girl they had rescued who just cowered and clutched at her bag all the time. They were curious about Anna’s story, but decided not to pursue it
Anna was a dangling story hook – her bag was full of cash she had stolen from the bank when it was attacked by zombies. “They all have a story” is an important Atomic Horror trope, but there just wasn’t time for them all, and Anna’s story, like others, was lost along the way. Really, I had just put more into the scenario than there was time for.
So the team loaded up Johnny and his Mom got in the truck. Zoe, Brenda, Don, Anna and the dog Kurt got into the van. They drove over the crest of Kelly Hill and down past the cemetery. Closer to the main road they saw two zombies pulling a man along.
They decided to rescue the man, and they got out of their vehicles and attacked. The zombies seemed unwilling to let go of their captive, which meant they could not defend themselves well, so they were assailed with flaming arrows and baseball bats until they were driven back and over an embankment (again, it became obvious that our heros could not kill the zombies, but they could drive them out of the scene, at least temporarily).
The rescued man turned out to be Dr Jeron King from the University. Don annoyingly recognized him as “the famous physicist” and pointed out that they had never seen the zombies try to take captives. King made it clear he wanted to level (Let’s get out of here!), but the players held onto him.
By then, the whole cemetery was lit up like a shopping mall opening and the heros decided to head towards the light with Dr King in tow.
They found a great, disc-shaped light floating over the cemetery, and under it, several zombies seemed to wait for them. These zombies (unlike all the others) could speak.
“I am Erox of the Prime,” one of them said. “We come to warn and to correct. Your Earth-aggressions have gone too far, your science has become corrupted!”
Erox turned out to be loud, abrasive, and unable to get to the point. he upbraided the humans in all sorts of ways, and much of what he said involved weird science doubletalk and made little or no sense. The players tried to engage him but it was all along the line of “Is there anyone else we could talk to?”
Finally, they could make out some of the ramblings; Dr King had foolishly developed the “Anti-life gun” – the ultimate crime in the universe – and the Prime had come to stop him. They had already destroyed his lab at the university (which the players would have seen if they had gone there, but oh well). Now they were going to finish the job. Humans could not be allowed to have the Anti-life gun, which would spread “abomination and destruction throughout the stars.”
King reached into his tweed jacket and pulled out a ray-gun (I used a picture of a Lost in Space laser pistol, a classic atomic horror style weapon) and threatned to destroy the Prime and their Starship (apparently composed of massless “balanced forces” for interstellar travel) with the anti-life gun.
Neither King nor the Prime would give in – And so it was stalemate, the players would have to decide the outcome!
They didnt even think about it. Brenda smacked King in the head with a baseball bat and Johhny knocked the anti-life gun to the ground, where they proceeded to smash it to pieces.
The Prime seemed satisfied with that. They said “Dr King must die, or Join the Prime!” and the players agreed. The Prime gave up their corpse-hosts (revealing themselves to be shimmery space phantoms) and they pulled King out of his body – he joined them as a shimmery space ghost.
The Prime gave a final annoying message, warning the humans not to seek the “even greater weapons” and told them that while humans had always looked up at the stars, from now on, the stars would be looking down, “watching you!”
And the Prime ship zipped off into space, game over. It was just 10:30pm and my players were starting to fade, so just in time.
All in all, I was happy. The players had a good time, I think. They took to the rules well – for instance, they were eager to roll against weaknesses and earn Hero points, and at the end of the game the hero points came in handy.
The rules worked well enough, though there were times when I resolved things that should have been short fights as simple ability contests- letting the one with the higher roll win – I’m not sure why, it just made sense at the time. I’ll have to think about that.
The players loved the collaborative elements with one exception – they really wanted me to describe the outcomes of combat rolls, and by the end of the game I was just doing that for them all the time. Apparently, there was no fun in having to describe their own victories, they wanted to hear the ref say it. And they had trouble interpreting the failures (The zombie is “out of the scene?”)
Also, the players didn’t realize they were redoing “Plan 9 from outer space” until the very end, which was just as well.
All in all, it was good fun, and took about 4 and a half hours, with dinner and chatting. I’ll definitely keep working on the rules, I feel like they’re heading in a good direction. I will probably write up “The Horror of Feeding Hills” but it likely has limited appeal – it’s likely only to thrill fans of “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”