As my re-occurring posts about Chthonian Highways might already have told you, I am still brewing up a little scenario I hope to play with my friends one day. Doing so I pondered the topic “How to scavenge a deserted, crumbling and potentially monster infested town or city while the players arrive with some kind of vehicles?”
Of course, the easy answer was “have them park their rides at the city limits and go in by foot” but I wanted to try something different. The following article is about two methods I came up with, they are not CH-specific but should fit any post-apocalyptic RPG where the characters drive around with their own vehicles.
Please feel free to comment.
1) Ride in – grab – leave
Prerequisite: motorcycles; 4+ persons; at least one firearm
A small group of scavengers moves into a ruined town or city by bike and finds itself a way past the car wrecks on the streets while it looks for a building that seems worth looting. Once such a target is found the team unmounts: two stay outside (at least one with a firearm) and guard the bikes, the others (at least two) enter the building and comb through it. If a danger is encountered that cannot be dealt with, everybody retreats back to the bikes and the team retreats. If the guards come into trouble they fire at least one shot to signal those inside the building to fall back. If the guards hear that there is trouble inside the building, they get onto their bikes and ready themselves. When the others come out of the building the guards will give cover fire while all mount their bikes and prepare to flee.
This method is good for” bikes only” groups or for a quick raid in unknown or dangerous urban territory. It is no good for moving large amounts of loot or for securing large and heavy objects as a bike cannot carry much loot without sacrificing maneuverability. The latter is key for the operation as the plan is to be in and out before trouble is homing in on the team. Working in groups of at least two is mandatory as one person can be overwhelmed quickly.
Note to the GM:
This approach is good for quick one-evening-sessions or one-shot-adventures. The characters first try to navigate the cluttered streets of the deserted town or city before they enter a ruin that becomes the “dungeon of the day”. NPC who will take up the role of the guards outside should be provided as those are unlikely to see much action. A complete urban hexcrawl could be played that way, so it would be important to have some social interaction at a nearby settlement or trade post, where the characters trade their bounty in for weapons, ammo, fuel and luxuries.
2) Urban Pathfinders
Prerequisites: 2+ persons who are quick runners. A vehicle for transport and perhaps more (and better armed) persons for the later “get-in-and-loot”.
If the group isn´t having bikes it is a wise choice to send some “pathfinders” in by foot first. Riding in with a vehicle right from the start that has to move slowly while others look for a navigable route is an invitation for trouble. The engine might attract attention and turning a pick-up or van in a pinch can become a complete disaster if there isn´t enough space due to rubble and wrecks. People on foot don´t make much noise (as long as they do not fire a gun) and have an easier time navigating the ruins.
The task of the urban pathfinders is not only to find a route for a vehicle but also to evaluate the surrounding of it. Pathfinders are likely to find themselves a high building first to get a good view point from which they can learn the layout of the streets and to see if they are obviously blocked or not.
Once a potential target and a general route is found they enter the buildings left and right of it to check for signs of trouble. Are the buildings stable or might the front come down at some point and block the pass? Is the building home to dangerous beings? Scouting a route thoroughly will often take more than a day. A stay overnight in the ruins might very well be dangerous and thereby pathfinders need to be wary and stealthy. It is better for them to avoid a fight as they cannot flee the area quickly if push comes to shove. Often there might be a point where it is better to leave before a building to be looted was found, and it is not uncommon for pathfinders to search for a save “haven” for the night first before they explore a larger city ruin. Smaller obstacles on the route are NOT removed by the pathfinders. This is a task for the whole crew, not for the scouts.
If the urban pathfinders were successful, which means they come back alive and with a navigable route, the complete team will prepare to go in the next day. Smaller obstacles on the path will be removed by the whole team and the general procedure is the same as for “Ride in – grab – leave”, but the team moves in in larger numbers and plans to fill up a van or pick-up truck before they leave.
Note to the GM:
“Urban pathfinding” can be played as an adventure on its own, with the characters sneaking through the ruins. Aside from the first vantage point, much of the adventure will not take place inside of the ruins but on the streets. This is a different kind of game than the regular “dungeon crawl” as the characters will be in the open and try to cover all the angles: from the roof tops to the dead windows of the ruins around them to the street corners ahead and behind them. Even the car wrecks left and right might be home to a hidden danger. Cluttered streets will be avoided as it would be time-consuming to clean the path for a larger vehicle. As a path that locked good at the start might turn out unfit later on, characters might need to double back on their starting point a few times before they find a route.
All in all, this is better played as a narrative with vignettes and spotlight moments played out. The characters will have to make decisions about which way to turn but often the GM will simply narrate their trail through the ruins until the point where there might be a bad surprise and the dice are rolled. At this moment the action should start quickly unless the characters are about to surprise somebody or something instead of being surprised. This might feel like railroading to some players, it is thereby better to talk to them about that approach first to make sure everybody is on the same page. Instead of centering on a complete dungeon the game will be about half a dozen of trouble spots and ruins that need to be dealt with. Each of them will be a small location in its own right, and all of them together are the adventure. The way back can be uneventful or feature an example of the kind of trouble the whole crew will have to face once they move in in force (and attract attention by doing so).