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[Various SOLO + GURPS] Semiotic Apophany


Eager Critmouse
Validated User
I'm enjoying both playing and writing this, and if it wasn't for the IP issues I'd be tempted to turn it into a web serial. I still might take the base idea and strip out all the references to published games and modules and settings and come up with "fake" published games to jump between and turn that into a novel or something.
Gives you even more chance to meta-plot


Registered User
Validated User
It’s not bad here, at the Gazette. In a way I lucked out - the way I wrote a (heavily redacted) first hand account of what happened makes a hell of a journalistic debut, and the editors want me to do a column in the same pulp style. Maybe I can parley it into a serial, something closer to the writing I actually do.

It’s 1922. The year before my first trip here as CJ. It’s mostly the same, though I haven’t gone to see if CJ is here, if he’s already me. I don’t want to know.

The Rules, as I understand them:
  1. I jump into random RPG scenarios, entering at the start of the scenario. Sometimes as myself, sometimes into the persona of a character. I have no intrinsic understanding of my context at the start, so I need to pick up on what clues I have fast.
  2. If I jump into a character this is supported by documentation within the setting. If I am myself, I have an existence of some sort within the setting - job, friends, family, home.
  3. Any injuries I have before the jump will be carried over; I do not change mid-jump, though my possessions do.
  4. If I die during a jump I will jump again and be healed of my death injury or condition, though not necessarily other injuries.
  5. Otherwise I will persist within the setting for days to months depending on performance or participation, or both. The exact correlation is unknown, but attempting to avoid participation leads to a quick next jump.
  • Equipment and material goods do not persist, only my physical and mental state.
  • Better training = Better performance = more time between jumps.
  • The best use of downtime is preparation for the next jump. Since I can’t carry anything with me, the only meaningful preparation is training.
Skills I need:
  • Fighting: A martial art… jujutsu? A weapon skill. Maybe guns?
  • Sneaking around. Lockpicking? Climbing?
  • General athleticism. Been too out of shape for too long.
  • Languages. Latin, Greek, Arabic, Chinese. Maybe others.
  • Craft skills. Mechanical skills. Electrical skills.
  • Wilderness survival skills.
  • Horsemanship.
  • Better first aid.
  • Investigative? What does this even mean?
It was two months before I jumped again. I celebrated my birthday last week… not the one on my driver’s license. Just marking the point at which I think I’ve been around for 41 years. It’s hard to keep track, and I’m not totally sure when exactly I made that first jump. My pre-jump memories remain fuzzy.

I’ve started paying a local locksmith to teach me how to pick locks as a hobby. Showed him my press creds, told him I was writing a story, that was good enough. Every night I head on over and he shows me a little, I try picking some locks. It’s a start, I guess… I don’t feel very confident about it yet.

Spoiler: Show
Every 200 hours of instruction turns into 1 point of skill. Over two months I was able to get 80 hours of instruction towards a point in lockpicking. That seems like a good general ballpark.

I was asleep when I jumped, and suddenly woke to find myself lying on my back in the middle of the street in a small town, modern, either abandoned or having just suffered some kind of calamity… a lot of the buildings were crumbling or had missing roofs. It’s dead quiet, too. Cool. Twilight.

There’s a suitcase next to me. I roll over and open it, but all it contains is a pack of cigarettes. No clue to who I am or why I’m here, though carrying a suitcase with only a pack of smokes in it is pretty bizarre. I’m wearing some kind of grey jumpsuit, but there aren’t any nametags or other branding on it. Not even a tag.

I get to my feet and start walking through the silent city, wondering if I’m still in Lovecraft County, wondering what year this is. The architecture is vaguely central or northern European. I pass a few boarded up stores, and at the end of the street spot what looks like a three story hotel, with a sign reading “Gehenna Springs Chalet - A Place To Get Better.” A sanitarium, maybe?

I go into the lobby. It’s empty and dark, but not really ruined. There are elegant stairs going up to the second floor, doors heading off to a lounge area and restaurant, and what looks like a scale model miniature of the town set up on a broad table.

I take a look at it… it’s pretty impressive, showing what I take to be a resort town bordered by woods, a cliff, and a lake or sea. There’s a plaque that goes over the town’s 1910 founding, mentions some features like hydrotherapy pools and a cave network. And according to the map, there was indeed a sanitarium… but this building wasn’t it.

I left the model to check out the registration desk. Instead of computers, they had a big ol’ leatherbound registration book. Flipping it open, I found the book empty, except for one name - Mr. Smith, in room 217. This was getting weirder and weirder.

Both the side rooms were likewise deserted. The first was a dining room, the second a lounge hosting a “cabinet of curiosities” that included a conjoined twin fetus in a specimen jar and photos of the “elephant man.” Hokey tourist bullshit in exceptionally poor taste. I did, however, spot a room key under the cabinet… to room 217. Mr. Smith’s room. Okay.

I decided that there was no use in delaying, and ascended to take a look upstairs. The halls were in worse condition than the lobby, rotting beams and hanging wallpaper. I still couldn’t get an exact read on the hotel’s era… 70s maybe? All the doors were locked, and I didn’t feel like bashing them down. I was getting an eerie ‘Shining’ kind of vibe, so I just wanted to find Smith’s room and check it out so I could leave.

217 was dark inside, with only the feeble light from the hall to see by. Still, it seemed empty and unlived-in. I checked out the bathroom, the closet, even looked out the window… and when I turned back to go, saw a trunk at the foot of the bed. I was sure I hadn’t missed it. It hadn’t been there.

I was getting some serious Silent Hill chills here. This was a horror scenario, horror mystery - if I was lucky it’d stay mostly atmospheric and investigative, but I wasn’t feeling lucky. Almost reluctantly, I bent to the trunk… but it was locked. Hadn’t learned enough about picking locks yet to open it, and it was a bit too heavy to drag around.

A sudden noise from elsewhere in the hotel caught my attention - a giggle. I stuck my head out into the hallway just in time to see a young girl in a gray dress darting out of sight. Thinking of the Shining again I set off after her, getting to the stairs just in time to see her down in the lobby darting into one of the side rooms.

Unsurprisingly, she was gone when I got down there. I stuck my hands in my pockets and was surprised to find a lighter. It had gotten darker while I was out, so I used its flame to see by as I searched the dining room.

A sudden clatter from the kitchen - pots and pans. I pushed my way in. And then another clatter, sounding like it came from outside, so I left through the kitchen exit to the alley behind the hotel.

I found a girl in the alley, not the one I’d been chasing. She was older, maybe early twenties, wearing a zippered white racing suit and thigh-high boots.

She started when I stepped into the alley. “Who are you?”

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully, then elaborated with a “I don’t remember. Who are you?” It seemed appropriate for a silent-hill sort of abandoned town.

“Can I borrow your lighter?” She took out a cigarette.

“Sure.” I held it out, but she just leaned forward, cigarette in her mouth. Was she vamping at me? A stranger she’d met in an alleyway in an abandoned town?

I lit her smoke anyway. Her perfume smelled like burnt sugar.

“The name’s Ambrosia.”

I noticed track marks on her arms, and that made my own arm tingle. I pulled up my sleeve, and was shocked to note punctures in my own skin at the same places. It shocked me - usually my jumps left me physically unchanged.

Ambrosia exhaled smoke. “So what are you into?”

“I don’t know why those are there,” I said. “I don’t use.”

“Yeah right.” She snorted.

I pulled my sleeve down, not really sure if that was true in this incarnation. Heroin addiction was physical. So would the withdrawls be… but my body was usually my body. My facial hair might change, but I’d never jumped anywhere with new scars or a different body chemistry. These marks on my arms though… an unpleasant new wrinkle. My bodily agency was something I’d been taken for granted, and finding the marks took away one more pillar of my stability.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Look at me… I look like a hooker. No idea how I got here, or where ‘here’ is. Look at this place. From what I’ve seen…” she looked uneasy, glancing off into the night before laughing. “From what I’ve seen this is just one big empty town.” There was an awkward pause in conversation. “Look, we just met but… do you mind if we stick together?” she asked. “We’ll learn more together than we would separately.”

“Yeah, sure, of course.”

She looked relieved. “I woke up a few hours ago, and you’re the first… person… I’ve seen.”

“First person?”

“There are other… things here. Monsters. I don’t know. I’ve only… seen them in reflections.” She held up a compact mirror.

“Okay.” I didn’t know if I believed her, but it fit in with the place’s vibe.

The alley was a dead end, and written on the end in chalk were the words YOU MUST ESCAPE. No shit. Gesturing that Ambrosia should follow me, I set out the other way, to the street running alongside the chalet.

The streets were littered with trash, including a good deal of broken glass, possibly from blown out windows. After a few blocks we came to a long and winding road out of town through the forest. I wasn’t willing to risk a hike out of town, but we spotted an abandoned car with its door hanging open.

Ambrosia cracked the steering column open and tried to hotwire the engine a few times, when there was a sudden impact on the hood of the car, jolting the entire body. A dent had just… appeared. The woman used her mirror to look out the windshield and screamed.

Leaning to the side I got a look at the reflection - and in it I could see a shifting mass of flesh and bone, a maleable nightmare in a vaguely humanoid shape.

Spoiler: Show
Fright check passed.

This is a tricky conversion. The monster we’re facing has - compared to an average character - very low attacking and defense stats, but a high Health. It’s also presented as a pack of creatures that nevertheless get one attack per round. GURPS has rules for fighting abstract swarms of small creatures, but that doesn’t really apply here.

Instead I’m going to call this a single creature with the stats provided.

The creature gave a loud shriek and attacked, smashing its body against the windshield, cracking it. I could see it now, without the mirror.

Ambrosia screamed, and I slipped out of the car, fists balled. There wasn’t any way I could outrun it, and I didn’t have a weapon to fight it with… I had to do the best I could, keep from letting the fear overwhelm me.

The creature howls and hurled itself at me, hitting the street with a wet splat as I ducked away. I swung at it before it could rise, driving a fist into its mass. It was soft, spongy, with a little give - like hitting a big mound of ground beef. I kept hitting and kicking it, feeling its gross flesh squirm around my attacks, dodging its clumsy return strikes - and then Ambrosia was there, beside me, screaming and hitting it with an equal fury. At one point I slip on some of the fluid its leaking and fall on my ass, but we don’t let up until the thing stops failing.

“Are you okay?” Ambrosia asks.

I touch a tender spot on my ribs, realizing it must have tagged me when I fell. “It’s nothing.” I’ve been hurt a lot worse.

Spoiler: Show

Round 1:
The Creature makes a pounce. I make a retreating dodge, it’s prone.
I attack, hit, but do no damage.

Round 2:
Creature rises.
I make a telegraphed kick. It dodges.
Ambrosia tries to hit it and misses.

Round 3:
Creature attacks, misses.
I try to punch it and miss.
Ambrosia kicks it, does no damage.

Round 4:
Creature misses.
I kick it for 2 damage.
Ambrosia misses with a punch.

Round 5:
Creature attempts an all out attack, and I fail to dodge. It does no damage.
I make a telegraphed kick, hitting it for 4 damage. It’s now at 7/13.
Ambrosia makes a telegraphed kick, hitting it for 2 damage. 5/13.

Round 6:
Creature makes another all out attack, but misses due to its shock penalty.
I miss with a telegraphed kick, fail my DX roll to stay up, and fall.
Ambrosia kicks it, but does no damage.

Round 7:
Creature makes an attack against me. I fail my dodge, it hits me for 2 damage.
I get up to a kneeling posture.
Ambrosia makes a telegraphed kick, hitting it for 3. It has 2/13.

Round 8:
Creature makes an all out attack and misses.
I stand and uppercut it for 4 damage, bringing it to -2.
Ambrosia kicks it, but does no damage.

It fails its HT roll and passes out. I’m at 8/10 hp.

I looked at the car. It was trashed. “We won’t be getting out of town that way.”

“And with those things in the woods…” Ambrosia trailed off.

Spoiler: Show
2 CP awarded. Beating on a giant ball of meat was good for me, putting 1 point in Brawl. Combat Reflexes fund is at 13/15 - unless something goes terribly wrong, I should be able to pick it up after next session.


Registered User
Validated User
I'm enjoying both playing and writing this, and if it wasn't for the IP issues I'd be tempted to turn it into a web serial. I still might take the base idea and strip out all the references to published games and modules and settings and come up with "fake" published games to jump between and turn that into a novel or something.
Hell, I'd read that. Good to hear the AP is gonna keep going.


Eager Critmouse
Validated User
I love how your character wants all these vital skills, but no ... you want Combat Reflexes :p


Registered User
Validated User
We continued along the edge of town to the cliffs overlooking the sea - not close enough to actually see them through the fog, but I could hear the waves, smell the salt. Through the mists ahead I could see a gazebo, and I wondered how tongue and cheek the writers of this scenario are. “Let’s attack it,” I muttered.

“What?” Ambrosia asked.

“I said let’s check out that gazebo.”

It was a crumbing mass of ruined wood, smelling like something feral had been nesting there. We did not tarry, instead heading East into town. On the periphery of my hearing was a strange, almost scratching sound, almost a thrumming.

Ambrosia likewise looked uneasy - using her mirror to keep an eye on our surroundings. The noise only increased in volume as we progressed, a thrumming sucking sound that echoed off the walls. So loud it hurt my ears.

I was just about to turn back when I saw a glimmer from an old dusty storefront. Instead of seeing ourselves in the window, it was glowing static, fading to a high-tech laboratory. Men and women in long white coats monitored the equipment, scribbling notes in front of floor-to-ceiling chambers like upright coffins. On the door of each chamber is a display of the subject's gender, age, and name.

One monitor was for Smith. As soon as I noticed this, the window shattered.

What did it mean? Was I Smith? Had I been in one of those chambers? Is that where the track marks on my arm came from? Maybe. Maybe I'd jumped into the scenario unconscious.

Ambrosia and I exchanged a nervous glance, and continued on, back to the gazebo, then further along the cliffside until the pavement was replaced by the planks of a boardwalk, the buildings alongside taking on the same sad carnival character.

Among the shadows I caught sight of movement, and there spotted a man in a hospital gown dragging a corpse whose throat had been slit ear to ear.

Catching sight of me he was startled, then smiled. “Why Doctor Smith… what are you doing here?”

“What’s with the, uh,” I gestured at the body.

“Don’t you recognize me, Doctor?” he asked. “It’s because of you that I’m here. Because of you that we’re all here. Have you met the others? They’re around town.” His grin widened. “Oh, I see. You’re hiding out. Well. Don’t worry about me, doctor. Unlike some of the others, I’m cured. But don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret… if you keep mine.

“Uh. Sure.”

Ambrosia and I watched him drag his prize away, neither of us moving until the noise had faded to the point where we could no longer hear it. He was an obvious antagonist - and part of me wanted to jump the guy - but there was such an palpable aura of menace around him that I decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

We returned to the boardwalk and kept walking, eventually reaching a sheltered trolley stop. I brushed away the soot covering the sign with my sleeve, to discover that instead of a route map or times was the message “FIND A WAY OUT.” No shit.

At the end of the boardwalk we came to the base of a cliff. High above us was a once grand pavilion, sagging on the edge of the cliff, reachable by a staircase that had long since collapsed. Digging through it I was able to find a sturdy board with a nail sticking out of it that might serve as a decent enough weapon… or at least, better than nothing.

Spoiler: Show
The board with a nail in it counts as an improvised mace at -2 to skill that does swing-2 impaling damage, and parries as an unbalanced weapon at -2. That gives me an effective skill of 7.

As we turn to go, the sound of a calliope drifted down from above, continuing on for almost a minute as we walked back up the boardwalk. Turning into town, we came across a piano sitting outside a dance studio. As old and deteriorating as it was, I managed to dislodge one of the legs as a weighty club. I handed it to Ambrosia.

Spoiler: Show
The piano leg counts as a small mace with a -1 penalty. Easier for her to use unskilled, assuming a default skill of 4. Not great, but better than nothing.

A few blocks later and we came to an area where the second story of a building had collapsed, spilling rubble all across the street. A few mirrors had fallen and broken as well, but one, somehow, stood intact, propped against the side of a building. I took a quick glance at myself - jumpsuit, bloodshot eyes, wild beard - I looked a mess.

I also noticed a tattoo - a bar code - on the side of my neck. Another new and unwelcome discovery. I hoped it wouldn’t come with me when I jumped.

We pressed on, making our way through thickening fog to a park. It was grassy, largely flat, and easy to lose a sense of direction in. A sudden sound of rustling made us freeze, Ambrosia desperately scanning around us in her mirror. It came closer and closer, my sense of dread growing deeper and deeper… before abruptly stopping. After a few breaths, we pressed on.

While on the model the park wasn't overly large, it felt like we were traipsing over the grass for hours, unsure of our direction, unable to see more than a foot or two in front of us.

Eventually we saw something strange - a sinkhole in the earth, but one from which emanated the crackle of electricity and intermittent weak bluish pulses of light. At the bottom of the pit is a grid of blue light hexagons along which pulses traveled.

“What is it?” Ambrosia asked. “What does it mean?”

"This is some Matrix shit right here," I said.

"What?" Ambrosia asked.

"The movie? Matrix?"

"I don't know it."

I didn't elaborate. “These mists seem more like a Ravenloft thing.”

“A what loft?”

“Like we’re getting turned around in the mists.”

We went on, but after too long came across an abandoned ambulance, just sitting there, on the grass.

Ambrosia checked it out with her mirror. “It’s safe.” She went around to the back, while I checked out the front - the drivers were thankfully absent. She called from inside. “Hey - come check this out!”

I found her sitting on a gurney, holding up a small box containing medical drugs. She handed it over, and I looked through them, hoping to recognize something that might turn out to be useful. I turned back to find her sitting back, eyes closed, needle in her arm.

“I’m sorry,” she slurred. “I’m so sorry. I - I just can’t take this town anymore. The fog… the things that live here… I’m scared. I’m too scared to go on. You… you go on… without me. You… find a way out… Maybe come… get me when you… do? I’m so… so… sorry. I wouldn’t want to be alone here… either…

And with that, she was gone. Slipped off into a drug induced coma. Maybe I could have done something if I knew a bit more about pharmecology.

As it was I just stared down at her still form for a long moment before grabbing a first aid kit from the shelf. Should I feel bad? Is she even real? Even within the context of this scenario? Or just another illusion? “Shit.” I left her covered by a blanket, shut the door, and walked off into the night, taking her mirror with me.

Eventually I emerged from the fog into a town square, flanked by enormously tall buildings. A thick layer of ash covers the street, and I find myself in a partially collapsed church, with a bible sitting open on a crushed altar.

“That’s bait,” I say to no one, but go take a look anyway, sweeping the ash off the page with my arm. I miss having an audience.

There’s no bible verse there, but instead an essay on some kind of corrective dream therapy, creating a virtual mental computer reality. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it seemed apt. I was trapped in a computer constructed dreamworld. But was this a dream built from my psyche, or from that of the character whose life I’d stepped briefly into?

I leave the church, but instead of the square I find myself in a junkyard. Rusted cars and trash form tall walls, and I find it to be more of a maze than anything else - one of decay and rot.

I come to a black sports car sitting by itself, license plate reading "LIV FAST." Being set apart bestows it with significance. I take a closer look.

It's in remarkably good condition, other than a significantly dented front fender and hood. There's a significant amount of dried blood present.

I turn to go, and before I can take more than a half-dozen steps the headlights of the sports car go on, illuminating me. I shade my eyes and look, and a second car's lights go on, then a third, engines revving, and I'm in the middle of all of it.

I move out of the light and use the mirror to look for monsters - and boy, do I see one. It has the body of a little girl, but its entire face is a huge fanged mouth. As soon as I catch its reflection, I can see it fully.

Its approach is robotic, stiff, but as soon as it can tell I can see it, it rushes towards me, a flurry of sharp teeth. I manage to clip her with my piano leg, but she doesn’t fall - instead she pivots and latches onto the side of my abdomen, fanged maw ripping through the jumpsuit and the skin underneath. I scream and shove her bloodied face away, collapsing and grabbing my side.

She’s still snapping and trying to bite, and I get up with a kick, hitting her in the gut. I do better unarmed than I did with the club, throwing a knee into her chest, before finishing her off with another kick to the gut. The fanged girl falls, lies still.

Spoiler: Show
[Combat Notes]
Round 1:
Bite Girl makes an All Out Attack bite. I spend 1 FP for Extra Effort but fail the Will roll, and make a normal Retreating Dodge.
I make a telegraphed swing my piano leg, hitting the girl for 2 damage. She has no defense.

Round 2:
Bite Girl attacks, missing.
I make a telegraphed swing, but she manages a dodge.

Round 3:
Bite Girl makes a telegraphed attack. My dodge fails; she bites me for 6 damage.
I fail my HT check and fall, dropping the piano leg. 2/10 hp remain.
I make the HT roll to recover.

Round 4:
Bite girl attacks, but misses.
I move to a kneeling posture.

Round 5:
Bite girl misses.
I stand and kick Bite Girl for 2 damage.

Round 6:
Bite girl tries to bite me. I make my Will roll for Extra Effort, and manage a parry.
I throw a knee into Bite Girl, doing 2 damage. She’s at 2/8.

Round 7:
Bite girl bites, I remember that cross parries exist in GURPS… you parry with both hands, for a +1 to your parry, with the downside of not being able to perform further parries that turn. In a one on one fight, that’s no downside. So yeah, I parry.
I throw a punch, but miss.

Round 8:
Bite girl bites. I cross parry.
I kick for 3 damage, she fails her dodge. She’s at -1/8.

She fails her HT roll and collapses.

I collapse again, examining the bite mark - deep punctures - with the mirror, and pull out the first aid kit. I go through the motions methodically, applying antiseptic, a gauze pad, medical tape. It’s not the neatest, cleanest job, but it stops the bleeding.

Spoiler: Show
First Aid roll recovers 1 hp. Currently 3/10. Move and Dodge are still halved.

I half-rise into a stagger, clutching my stomach. More sounds are coming from all around me, more rustles, cars shifting in the darkness. More of them, or worst. I run as fast as the wound in my side will let me, concerned with aggravating it too much.

Spoiler: Show
Session ends. 2 CP awarded, and I’m able to buy Combat Reflexes. It gives me +1 to all defense rolls, +2 to fright checks, +1 to the Fast Draw skill I don’t have, and +6 to recover from mental stun. A decent package.


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Validated User
I hobble through the junkyard, looking for a way out, until I collide with someone heading the other way. He’s dressed in rags and carrying a bag of scavenged pots and pans.

“Yo, you better come with me.” He speaks fast, picks up his shit faster. “You stirred up some trouble, and they’ll be here soon… in force.”

“Who are you?” I ask.

He holds a finger to his lips. “Keep yakkin and they find us for sure. Wait till we’re inside.” He led the way through the maze of junk to its edge and a massive building with grand stairs leading up to a double door. From behind us we heard a shriek somewhere in the junkyard, and the hobo gave a chuckle. “We lost ‘em.”

He pulled the doors open, ushered me in, and barred them behind us before dropping his junk sack with a clatter. I followed him down one hall, and then another, to an enormous auditorium lit by a number of campfires - I counted two or three dozen other people sitting around them, trying to keep warm.

“I bet you thought you was all alone,” the hobo said. “We’re safe here - the monsters can’t find us.”

“I’m pretty beat up,” I said. “You guys got anything for my injuries?”

“Do we ever,” said one of the vagrants, leading me down a ramp to where a small group were drinking, while others were shooting up. “Go ahead,” the bum says. “I won’t tell nobody. Sit back, relax, shoot up. Before you know it, everything’ll be just… fine.”

“No, man, I’m good,” I said, heading back up to the man who’d led me here. I need a clear head, and I try to stay away from harder drugs. “So what’s the deal?”

“In a hurry, huh?” He walked over to a nearby table and poured us both a coffee before launching into his exposition. He confirmed a few things - Gehenna Springs wasn’t a real place, the monsters out there weren’t real, all the weird stuff… but that we were there for a reason. Everyone had a different purpose.

Before I could ask him what I needed to do, there was a rumble from the entrance, and the hobos capable of it rose up and grabbed whatever weapons they had.

The doors fly open, and in walks this huge thing, a fifteen foot tall massively muscled headless ogre bristling with chains and spikes that writhe over its body like angry snakes. It was like something out of Doom.

“The Bad Man…” the hobo gasps.

The giant raises its arms and the spiked chains strike out, lashing at one of the hobos and looping around him. With a tug the giant pulls his chain back, eviscerating the poor bastard. Ever see a youtube video where they put a bunch of rubber-bands on a watermellon? Like that.

His compatriots scream and start to run, but the Bad Man only seemed amused by their attempts to save themselves.

I bug out, spotting a fire escape that takes me to a deserted alley on the side of the building. I can still hear their terrified screams, but shuffle away as fast as my injury lets me. I don't feel bad about leaving them all behind - there's nothing I can do about The Bad Man, and this place is a virtual reality anyway. Right?


A short time later I find a police motorcycle, its skeleton rider dead in his seat. He doesn’t have a weapon, but his jacket is in good condition, so I snag it and slip it on. Wish I’d had this earlier - it'll offer a bit of protection.

Further north I reach the edge of town and some kind of country club. I stagger towards the clubouse, feeling like a zombie in the mists. It's very dark in the small building - there's a check in area, a sign announcing planned events. I find a working flashlight behind the counter, and down a dark hall in the back I find a screwdriver.

I follow the outskirts further east - most of the buildings here have been completely flattened. In some of the rubble I find an intact refrigerator, holding an empty pillbottle prescribed to Smith, along with several packs of urine and blood. Was Smith trying to cheat a drug test? I also find another pack of smokes, which I take out of habit - too much Fallout, maybe, considering I don’t smoke.

Further south I notice that the pavement is steaming in spots, and there’s a sulfuric smell to the air. I decide to head back into town to avoid any underground fires. The road runs west, to a crumbling bank with an armored car sitting out front. I don’t think money’s going to be of much use here, but I do find a box of pistol bullets in the armored car.

I head back up around the edge of town, past the country club, and west to a cemetery. I spot the little girl from the Chalet, and she runs again, hiding behind a tombstone and vanishing. If it was hers, her name is Angela Ryan, and she was eight when she died. Not knowing the significance, I head back into town, and find a phone booth.

I page through the directory, and it's nothing but the same dictionary page again and again, for the word Gehenna. It's the third definition that grabs my attention - a starship constructed for the purpose of transporting Earth's prisoners to colonize distant stars. It vanished in 2657.

And in a flash, I know the score.

Abandon All Hope. It’s an obscure indie RPG, and that’s the basic premise. I’m not… super familiar with it, but I do remember that they’re going for an Event Horizon/Dead Space horror sci fi kind of vibe. But as far as I knew, the game was set on a prison ship sucked into a hell dimension, not a spooky Silent Hill mindscape.

I stumble out of the phone booth and continue towards the cliffs overlooking the boardwalk - it’s a cheap carnival sideshow with a lot of faded pictures of clowns. Oh god, I hope I don't run into any evil clowns.

As I walk among the concession stands, I have the sudden horrible sensation that I’m being hunted. I turn in a slow circle, using the compact to see, and there it is. A massive bloated white worm, at least eight feet in circumference, its head covered in chattering mouths.

I didn’t want to fight this thing. I wanted to run. But injured as I was, this slowly slithering beast was faster.

I waited for it, piano leg in hand, swinging when it got close enough, smashing into its bulk. It responds by trying to lash its head into me. It’s not very fast or coordinated in the slightest, so even with my injuries it’s easy to avoid its thrashing as long as I keep moving. I circle it, smashing it with the table leg where I can, taking my time to line up my shots.

It throws back its head and gives this horrible cacophonous scream with its mouths that chills me to the bone. I hit it again, and it screams again, seriously unnerving me, but I’ve been through so much… I don’t let up, beating on the thing until it collapses.

Spoiler: Show

Round 1
I attack with the piano leg, hitting. It fails to dodge. I do 6 damage.
It tries to attack, misses.

Round 2
I miss.
It misses.

Round 3.
I hit again, it fails to dodge, I roll another 6 damage.
It misses.

Round 5.
I hit, it fails to dodge, I do 1 damage.
It screams, inducing a fright check. Every round it’s got a 50% chance of screaming instead of attacking.

Round 6.
I hit it in the neck, it fails to dodge. I do 4 damage. It’s at -1/15.
It passes its HT roll to stay conscious. Screams again. I blow the fright check, and acquire a new quirk: Hates screaming.

Round 7.
I make an all out attack, aim for the face, hit, and do 2 damage. It’s at -3/15.
It passes its HT check to stay conscious and to avoid stun. Thankfully, it misses me.

Round 8.
I get a critical hit. No special effects, but it doesn’t get to defend. I do 1 damage.
It passes its HT check. Misses me.

Round 9
I hit, it fails to dodge, I do 2 damage. It’s at -6/15.
It passes its HT roll, misses me.

Round 10
I miss.
It fails its HT roll and passes out.

Does it have to be so damn loud? Fuck. I hate that shit. The unearthly screaming.

I take walk to the overlook, a low cobblestone wall all that keeps me from the edge, and while I can hear the ocean, all I can see is that fog. Attached to the wall is a rusted skeet gun and a machine to hurl clay pigeons. It's screwed to a pivot, the rifle, but I picked up a screwdriver in that country club back room. I free the gun from its mounting, and see that it still has a round loaded. I’ve never fired a shotgun before, but I’m willing to give it a go.

Spoiler: Show
It’s unspecified, but I’m treating the skeet gun like a Remington 870. My Guns default is a 6, a 9 if I take a turn to aim.

Feeling slightly more prepared, I leave the piano leg near the wall and carry the shotgun over my shoulder towards the grand pavillion. It’s dark inside, so I turn on the flashlight I’d found. The interior is filled with rows of dusty old carnival games, leaving tight rows down which to walk.

Suddenly, a fortune teller machine lights up as I’m passing, gears whirring, lights flickering on. It’s like the Zoltar machine from Big. There’s a sign - ARE YOU READY FOR THE TRUTH?

“Sure,” I say.

A second sign lights up. ASK YOUR QUESTION

“Okay. Uh. What’s the deal? With this place, with the girl at the Chalet, with me, all this shit.”

There’s a ding, and the machine spits out a ticket.


I stick it in my pocket and the machine turns off, returning the pavilion to darkness. I wander back out, and see that the fog has thinned to the south, revealing a road running out of town. The sign? Yeah, Old Forest Road. I sigh and head down it.

It’s a long and foggy walk. The air gets colder, and I find myself rubbing my arms to stay warm. A couple times I catch sight of some large building in the distance that I realize must be the sanatorium. I figure I’ll end up there, eventually. It’s how these things go.

It’s been a rough one, this adventure, more than physically though the junkyard girl’s bite still throbs. Normally these… scenarios… have at least some level of internal consistency. This one, though… it’s all delusion and lies. Hellish. A nightmare dreamscape.

After half an hour the road splits at a T, and at the split is a clearing where some biker-lookin’ dudes are camping. One of them invites me over to have a seat.

We chat, and he confirms a lot of what I’d come to understand about my situation. I’m a convict, this place is a virtual prison, a dream moderated by a computer. He implies that he’s a part of the program himself, but one here to help.

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”I wondered briefly if that was the truth behind all my adventures. If I’m hooked up to some machine. Not the whole “Abandon Hope dream prisoner” thing, but just… in general. “The monsters?” I ask.

“You made, ‘em, man. It’s all you. Call them denial. All the weird noises, to draw you or distract you from the truth.”

“And the Bad Man?”

“Same thing. Only more powerful. Your subconscious mind’s last line of defense. It knows you, will use that, and can take any form it wants.”

I do a lot of thinking about character growth and change in my work, in my writing. Most of the four act structure is a protagonist resisting his own need to change - there’s nothing more threatening to someone than being forced to confront the fact that their self-image is flawed. We fear losing our conception of ego more than actual physical death.

“What about Ambrosia?” I ask, pulling out the mirror. It’s cracked, now. Broken.

“Oh, she was real. Other patients, other prisoners. She gave up on trying to get out, though. But the monsters… they’re your subconscious mind trying to prevent you, your conscious mind from confronting the truth.”

Someone’s subconscious. Someone’s truth. If there was a symbolism here, it belonged to Smith, the character I was inhabiting.

“Anyway, the monsters can’t actually hurt you.”

“Oh?” I lift my shirt, indicating the bite mark.

The biker did a double take. “That… shouldn’t happen.”

“I agree. It’s a fucked up program.”

“No, I mean it shouldn’t happen. There are safety protocols in place… if you die in here, you die out there, so they prevent…” he trailed off, as if listening to something else. “Something’s happened. Out there. Safeguards are down, and no one is around to hit the manual override.”


“The control room is empty. There’s no one to bring you out… maybe an equipment failure, maybe a virus. So you’re stuck here for now. Sorry, bro, I don’t know what else to say.”

Spoiler: Show
That’s a good note to end the session on. 2 CP awarded. Only skill I used was Axe/Mace. I’ll save the points for now.


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“I’m surprised you didn’t ask the big question,” the Biker said. “What did I do to get put in here?”

Oh, right. I’d gotten so used to just being thrust into situations and having to cope, that I’d forgotten most people would be looking for reasons. And the character I was playing, Smith, he’d want to know if he was a criminal. “Right.” I thought back to the symbolism I’d seen, the common threads. “Drugs, I think. And there was a kid… hit her with my sports car.” I looked up at him. “So now what?”

“Now you go back into town. Face your demons. More specifically…” He pointed, and the fog cleared just enough that I could get a glimpse of the sanitorium. “And that’ll be the hardest challenge yet. I know a quick way in, a storm drain in the woods.”

“I guess that’s it.” I rose.

“One more thing. Your subconscious will be at its strongest there. Your challenge the hardest. The Bad Man won’t pull any punches. And if you die in there…” he trailed off.

“Got it.”

“Here.” He handed me his revolver. “I’m not supposed to do this but… with the protocols off, you need all the help you can get.”

“Thanks.” I slipped the gun into my pocket, a backup for after I fired the shotgun.

Spoiler: Show
The type of revolver isn’t specified beyond “six shots” so I’m going with a .357 Colt Python.

I left the biker camp and walked north along the road, eventually coming to a large lake with a massive storm drain. “Beep beep Ritchie.” Apparently I quote movies when I’m nervous. I entered - it was tall enough that I didn’t need to stoop, but so dark that even with the flashlight it was gloomy.

Ten minutes of walking. The red brick walls were coated with sulfur, and the smell was almost overpowering. The passages twisted and turned, split and merged. I wondered at the feasibility of mapping with a flashlight in one hand and shotgun in the other… it was a given in many dungeon crawls, but I hadn’t even come by anything to write with, or on.

I got the feeling that I was going deeper, somehow, though I couldn’t see a real grade to the passage. The air was getting cooler, though.

There’s a sudden rumbling and shifting of stone and soil, and the tunnel is collapsing. I run, doing the best I can to shield my head, going the only direction I can: Forward.

Spoiler: Show
I damage taken. Current hp = 2/10. Maybe I should spend CP on extra.

When it’s done there’s a small gash on my head from the falling rocks. I do my best to bandage it from the pocket first aid kit I have, but I don’t do much good.

The damage has caused a crack in the ceiling above, and I can see light. A way out. I tuck the shotgun under my arm and climb up into a dank basement. A small bulb hanging from the ceiling provides light, but burns out almost immediately. Fortunately, there’s enough light coming from the stairs at the end of the hall to see by.

I open the door on the left, and a torrent of icy water rushes out, soaking my shoes. It’s a laundry room, filled with rusty machines and murky gray water. I shut the door, not taking the bait.

The door across the hall opens into a boiler room. My eyes are drawn to a massive inky black shadow on the ceiling, in the process of drawing some poor bastard up into it. We make eye contact, but he, whoever he was, disappears into the shadow without so much as a ripple.

Before I can shut the door, it attacks, sending inky black tendrils towards me, wrapping around me before I could avoid them, hoisting me up into the air. The world turned upsidown as it yanked me, pulled me into the icy darkness of its infinite mass…

And then I was gone.

Spoiler: Show
Aaand I’m dead. 6 damage inflicted, and it gets 2 more attacks this round. My only hope had been to parry all three (allowing me to escape), but I didn’t. Technically I’m only unconscious, but death soon follows.

This was a short session - 1 CP awarded, which I save. It’s a little disappointing to die so close to the end, but honestly I’m lucky to have survived for so long.
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