What follows is a session report for the second part of the adventure included in the playtest version of Outlive Outdead, available for free download as a PDF from Happy Bishop Games and currently in an Outlive Outdead Kickstarter for full publication. You can read the first session report in an earlier post on Omega Complex.
So, the group consisted of Julie, single mom, Alexei, ex-strip club owner, Michael, ex-local councillor, Jacob, ex-minor local league hockey player, and Micaela, his rebellious daughter.
The second session started where the previous left off. The whole group had just defeated three roaming zombies on the railway line beyond the sanctuary. Julie and Michael had shown themselves respectively inept and scheming in their approach, while Alexei, Jacob, and Micaela had shown a little more backbone in the face of a threat. Well, okay – Alexei had shown himself to be fundamentally unstable mentally and a genuine threat to others and himself with a shotgun.
We had a player turn up who didn’t make it to the first session, assuming the role of Marcos, illegal immigrant. Moreover, the player running Alexei couldn’t make it, leaving the unstable ex-club owner shambling and withdrawn, nor could the player running Julie, who didn’t seem much affected by the lack of a player (only kidding!).
So, we resume following the events from the last session, with our group standing amidst the remains of three slaughtered zombies. In the process of battling the undead, Alexei almost killed himself with a misjudged shotgun reload to the head. Oddly quiet before now, Marcos has stepped out of the shadow of the bridge overlooking the railway. Everyone mounts their bicycles and prepares to kick off southwards. Micaela uses her binoculars to confirm no dead ahead, while Michael presses a plan to keep heading south along the rail bed. He seems certain that keeping on the route of the track will guarantee the swiftest and safest route to their destination – though, he knows that the only place it will get them is the Macclesfield Sanctuary Zone, not even close to their destination. As an ex-councillor, Michael possesses an uncanny knack for a convincing speech and he succeeds in a conflict of Control to get the point across to those who might doubt him.
Further down the train track the group spy zombies massing. Two dozen zombies walk in a loose group along the track bed from somewhere to the south. At this distance, with the advantage of Micaela’s binoculars, the shambling flesh-eaters cannot yet sense their prey, so the whole group scales the embankment to their right and climbs over the fence at the top, hoisting their bikes over with them. Beyond the fence they take cover amidst a smattering of trees on the edge of a car park. A warehouse-sized sports and leisure outlet – Decathlon – lies behind them as they look down the track and discuss their plans. Chatting sharply, a disagreement brews about the best way to go – with Michael pushing for a continuation to the south – they all fall silent with the percussive crack of a rifle firing. The bullet misses, tearing into one of the trees.
Everyone ducks for cover. Another shot zips by and catches Marco a flesh wound. Worried eyes stare back towards the zombies down the track. The mass, previously without purpose, begins to shift towards the sound of gunfire. On the roof of the store, Oscar and Louisa keep a close eye on their potential looting rivals. Hidden from view, Oscar tells the group to keep away and keeps the rifle trained on the nearest targets. Micaela takes issues with the attitude of the resident looters, feeling that everyone has a common enemy and that no intent to stray into anyone’s territory was meant. Michael and Marcos seem intent on avoiding conflict, so they wheel their bikes out as wide from the store as possible and then pelt it down the road at top speed towards the nearby motorway slip road. Michael fails his Flee roll and falls of his bike, while Marcos rolls a Break. Not only does the oddly accented immigrant shoot off down the road seeking to avoid his attackers at all costs, he does so at breakneck speed with every possibility he won’t be able to stop. Jacob and Micaela, in the meantime, manage to talk their way clear of the car park without drawing any further firing, very aware that the looters will have drawn potential dangerous attention to themselves from the nearby zombies.
Helping Michael up off the road, the group head down towards the roundabout that precedes the motorway. Micaela wants to loot some cars in the hope of finding medical supplies of some kind – even if only a simple first aid kit, or some antiseptic cream and plasters. Breaking into several parked cars a lacklustre Scrounge roll finally locates a small first aid kit that Micaela pockets. A fresh discussion breaks out as to whether travel along the motorway will be safer or not, but in the end the directness of the route wins everyone over to some extent and they catch up with Marcos, recovered from his moment of abject panic.
Rather than tackle the motorway directly, the group chooses to follow the route via a cycle path that follows it. For the next 10 – 15 minutes, the group spend a lot of time arguing, while Michael spends a lot of time hogging the map of the local areas and wondering which way to go. He maintains an insistence that heading south, toward Macclesfield, would be better for everyone and an ideal staging post for the next leg of journey (while clearly stating out of character that he knows this isn’t true but values his life over some foolish act to rescue some jumped up Government official). The group essentially follow the clockwise curve of the ring of M60 motorway around the outside of Manchester, only deviating because of the changes in landscape. While the path follows the general route of the main road, it also takes in the snaking path of the River Mersey.
During the journey toward the Trafford Centre Sanctuary Zone, I attempt to inject an encounter with a barking dog and a golf course overrun with zombies, but neither pans out as I had expected. In both instances the group diverts away from the danger and I fail to follow up with any kind of tangible threat (see Inviews and Oversights, below).
Finally, breaking out of the fringes of suburbia, the group finds themselves on the outskirts of the Trafford Centre car parking, an expansive acreage of endless tarmac capable of holding thousands upon thousands of cars. It looks secure but quiet, with sandbags and wrecked cars piled around entrances in makeshift barricades and heavy barriers blocking most entrances. Bodies litter the car park, but very few zombies. Sniper nests and a couple of abandoned military trucks stand out from the civilian transport. As the team crosses the car park they find bodies of both civilian and uniformed personnel, most corpses mutilated beyond animation. Successful Scrounge checks makes the journey easy and the group find their way to the one accessible entrance. Parking their bikes outside, their approach alerts those inside who usher them in and barricade the doors behind them.
Inside, the group find the Trafford Centre Sanctuary Zone a darkened and uninviting place. Hundreds of people stand inside in various states of dress and attitude. Huddled groups focus on themselves, while others look on with interest at the newcomers. Obvious guards with weapons guide them inside and present them to Shauna, a dark skinned woman with immediate attitude. Shauna demands to know who the group are and who sent them, and Micaela speaks up to outline their purpose in finding the missing man from the Government. Shauna takes immediate issue that the group work for the military, without specifically outlining the reason for her distrust. She explains troubles have left the Trafford Centre without power and that the military forces have left after a disagreement that led to casualties on both side. In Shauna’s opinion the military only look out for their own interests and have no reason to treat the civilians well as a result. Micaela argues that everyone needs to work together to overcome the threat of the zombie plague and without the missing man a cure may not be found. Shauna believes in nothing but her own cause and the right of the people to determine their own fate. She can sense that the military have some alterior purpose, but has no specific proof about what that might be.
A heated argument means a lot of shouting, Micaela and Shauna virtually screaming at each other with the latter threatening violence. At the moment when shooting seems most likely to erupt, Kevin Fox steps in – Shauna’s second in command. He wears the outfit of a maintenance man, with a fairly laid back attitude and a tool belt. He pleads with Shauna to stand down and offers to escort the group away. He suggests that fresh eyes from an night of sleep might make it easier to agree to a way forward the following morning. In truth, Kevin knows that Shauna lurks on the edge of destruction almost all the time and will almost definitely do away with the group rather than tolerate their insolence. He escorts everyone to the food court, midway down the Trafford Centre, and then properly introduces himself. He takes in the groups issues with Shauna and confides in them that Shauna has serious issues with the military and their hidden purpose. If the group plan on continuing with their mission, they will get no support and Shauna will, more than likely, stop them from leaving at all. He suggests they wait until night fall and then escape – and asks they take him along for the ride.
After nightfall, the Trafford Centre in near darkness, the team set out with torches. Kevin guides them to a maintenance corridor that leads to a stairway, then out on to a gantry high in the roof of the shopping centre. If they follow the whole length of the gantry they can pass out through a door near the old security centre. Alas, the need to escape means mistakes and a Break in both Hide and Flee by Michael leads to an almost commical situation where he locks solid for a moment than pelts it down the length of the gantry at unreasonable speeds. The failure of other rolls leads to something getting dropped that alerts the guards set below, and Michael fleeing at full speed simply seems to draw more attention. The whole group seek to progress at maximum speed, hearing the sound of pursuit below, then on the gantry behind them.
With the clattering of heavy footsteps getting ever closer, Michael made to break the door open and managed to roll a Break in the process. He literally pummelled his way through the exit, beating on the doorway after it had already bust open, and necessitating others dragging him off it. Kevin led the way down the stairs at the end of the short passageway beyond out on to the roof of the Trafford Centre. The whole team stayed low and scampered across to an empty sandbagged sniper position, where Kevin unfurled a rope ladder and allowed everyone to descend. All safe on the ground, the survivors crossed a petrol station forecourt, raced across the wreck-cluttered throat of a main road, and out of harms way into an area of sports and leisure buildings beyond. Someone recalled the presence of a sports outlet nearby and everyone decided to head there to source out replacements for their bicycles…
Inviews and Oversights
Somehow, I lost my bottle in the midst of running this session. While I managed to keep the whole thing moving along, I suddenly found myself running a zombie-lite zombie apocalypse. I have no clue why. Every time I got the chance to run an encounter with a zombie they appeared far off or hardly posed any threat at all. The human threat reared its head at Decathlon and the Trafford Centre, but the brain-munching hoard sort of phoned in a performance at best. The dog and golf course should have been proper encounters, but instead of hitting the characters hard they hardly materialised any threat at all. I doubt blame the system or the adventure for that, as neither holds any responsibility – the fault lies squarely with me. I could easily have done the same with any other game, like a Middle Earth adventure without orcs and a World of Darkness story without the supernatural – but I have no real explanation for why it happened and why I didn’t correct it.
As with the first session, the players really enjoyed the whole Break process. Indeed, the players wanted to Break just to see what might happen. I continued with the view that a Break should translate into something applicable to the situation. Therefore, when someone rolled a suicide, they didn’t simply stab or shoot themselves, but did something suicidal. I suspect Plot Points got short shrift again precisely because people liked Breaking so much, so by the end of the session the whole Group still had more than they started with at the beginning of Session #1.