Black Site, Light Box

Over the summer, I picked up an LED light box from B&H. This coincided with a major slowdown in painting and photographing my Pile of Shame, so I hadn’t actually used it for much yet. Around the same time, I also picked up a trio of building kits from Black Site Studios, whose specialty is pre-painted MDF – just glue and deploy.

Recently, I’ve had the free time to sit down and work on a few of my neglected projects. I went ahead and knocked these out. For what they are, and for the money and time invested, I’m pretty pleased with the results (and the light box works pretty well, too, even if these pieces are threatening to overflow it):

A few more photos and some notes on what’s what are over on my Flickr gaming photostream.

Expanded Hunting Results (Twilight: 2000 House Rule)

Although Kaserne on the Borderlands is on vacation right now, I still have campaign thoughts. One of them is that the default in 4e is to separate non-threatening-but-edible animal encounters (hunting results) and dangerous animal encounters (card draw results), and I mislike that. I’ve been wanting something a bit more in-depth for both random encounters and Pettimore’s hunting expeditions. Here’s a first stab at it, informed by Wikipedia’s inventory of Polish wildlife:

Yeah, that’s a percentile table. Don’t judge me. Right-click it and select “open image in new tab” to embiggenate.

Four Operators #4

Closing out the series after Brass, Fix, and Crashcart. Final thoughts about the team at the bottom.

Blank Path (Gaius Zimmerman)

Blank Path is a man of faith. What that faith may be is currently undefined, because I had no idea where to go when the dice gave me a Clergy background for my final operator, but this dude definitely believes in something strongly enough to be a militant street preacher of his particular truth. Moreover, with Voice of the People giving him Pop Idol 2, he apparently has a substantial following among the city’s underclass. Of the four characters I rolled up, he’s mechanically the least effective, and the most frustrating from a characterization perspective – a pure face with a cause. But I find myself surprisingly interested to see where he goes.

(Of the four, he had the objectively worst attribute rolls. The combination of a rolled CHA 7 and Clergy background pretty much obligated me to spend an edge slot on Prodigy to make him an effective man of the cloth.)

Attributes: STR 11, DEX 11, CON 8, INT 10, WIS 14 (+1), CHA 18 (+3 from Prodigy)

Skills: Lead-1, Perform-1, Stab-0, Talk-0

Edges: Prodigy, Voice of the People

Foci: Diplomat 1, Pop Idol 2

HP 6; attack bonus +0; saves physical 15+, evasion 15+, mental 12+, luck 15+

Contacts: see below

Equipment: Fashionable clothing; reinforced clothing; basic smartphone; sword; knife; trauma patch; $30 cash

Voice of the People and Pop Idol combine to give Blank Path access to a motley collection of the faithful (or those who are just entertained by his message). However, his inner circle contains a few regulars:

Athanas Kuroki, Gaius’ distant cousin, is a well-known counterculture musician and rabble-rouser under the stage name of Zen Bomb. They’ve worked together on occasion when the job called for their combined social and networking skills, and are frequently found enjoying the attention of their respective groupies. Despite his own fame and influence, Athanas thinks Gaius is the one who’s really going to make it big. His extensive network of fans feeds him all kinds of information, but he’s best at working those connections to find people who don’t want to be found.

Arlen Baggio is Gaius’ oldest acquaintance and first follower of the faith. Their friendship began when Gaius rescued Arlen from a gang fight, killing their childhood bully in the process. Today, Arlen works as an outlander smuggler under the handle Slice, and he can occasionally provide transport or loaner vehicles.

Sonja Porsche is a corporate middle manager whose ambition once led her into crimes against Gaius’ faith. Gaius spared her life and she’s still trying to make good on that (a random roll which suggests she may have undergone conversion at swordpoint). Perhaps Gaius spared her because of their childhood friendship (really, dice?). Her current job is in her corp’s government liaison office, and while she won’t betray her employer (yet), she has no qualms about siphoning off government data or getting official paperwork rubber-stamped or lost.

So is it a viable team? Well… I haven’t played CWN, which means my capacity to judge is limited, but it looks like the dice gave me a fairly balanced group of hacker, shooter, healer, and face. The only cyber on the team is Brass’ cranial jack and they lack any big-ticket vehicles or drones, but that seems to be the intent for starting operators. Fix will definitely have to carry the team in combat for a while, though.

I still have no idea WTF to do with Blank Path’s faith, though, or how to integrate that into being an operator. I have some vague idea that it’s a syncretic faith that appeals to operators in particular, and that demands action against the market forces that control society. That would impel him to action – and would make him a major target for corporate retaliation if he ever started getting real traction.

As I was writing up these characters, it occurred to me that CWN’s random creation system doesn’t yield much in the way of PC backstory. The brilliant one-roll generator for contacts implies a lot of shared history, so that’s one way to find those hooks, but I also found I had more writing prompts for the contacts than for the PCs themselves. If I were actually going to do something with these characters, I’d’ve invested more time in profiling them, but this really was just an urge to use the random creation mechanics that I needed to get out of my head.

Four Operators #3

Continuing the series after Brass and Fix

Crashcart (Olga Novotny)

Crashcart is a former employee of the city’s largest emergency medical corporation. Originally trained as a physician’s assistant, she shifted career tracks to paramedic while studying for her cybernetician credentials. Her last few years of work saw her on the high-threat detail, where driving and marksmanship can be as essential as medical skills when it comes to keeping a patient alive long enough to reach a higher level of care. She wound up on the outs with the corp and working as an operator through an unspecified set of circumstances (unspecified because the character creation arc didn’t suggest anything really interesting).

Olga’s closest social connection is Marie Wallace, a corporate security agent who freelances in operator circles (under the handle Ice Bee) and remains a great source of insider info on their former mutual employer. Marie owes Olga a large unspecified debt, though Olga is too polite to bring this up when sober. They knew each other before Olga exited corporate employment, but didn’t really socialize outside work. That changed when they ran into each other at a club after Olga went freelance, and they’ve since worked together on occasion (and partied hard afterward).

Attributes: STR 11, DEX 14 (+1), CON 12, INT 16 (+1), WIS 13, CHA 11

Skills: Drive-1, Fix-0, Heal-1, Lead-0, Shoot-0

Edges: Focused, Masterful Expertise

Foci: Authority 1, Cyberdoc 1

HP 1; attack bonus +0; saves physical 15+, evasion 14+, mental 15+, luck 15+

Contacts: Marie Wallace (corporate security officer, described above) (friend)

Equipment: cyberdoc kit; light pistol w/ 2 magazines; ordinary clothing; reinforced clothing; basic smartphone; trauma patch; $25 cash

Every team needs a good medic and the rolls for Crashcart came out pretty well, with one glaring exception. That’s her sole, lonely hit point. Keeping her out of combat will be not only a priority but an absolute necessity until she has a few levels under her belt.

An Update on Updates

My three regular readers will note that I haven’t posted anything for Kaserne on the Borderlands for a while and my overall posting rate has dropped. I’m still here, and have a number of things I’d like to write, but life away from the virtual gaming table has had other priorities. The campaign is currently on pause while I deal with those items. Coincident with this, I’m also running low on archived or published-elsewhere material to release/re-release here. So, while I’m not going anywhere, content here will likely be more sparse going forward.

Four Operators #2

Continued from the previous post

Fix (Olaf Janssens)

Back in the day, Olaf Janssens was just another juviegang kid on the city’s streets, solving problems with applied violence. The corp recruiters said they saw potential in him – they just didn’t bother to tell him that he was a potential meat shield. He figured it out after a few years, though, and got out before he could be expended. Without many marketable skills for civilian life, he sidestepped neatly into the ranks of the city’s operators.

Outside his usual team, Fix’s closest associates are Nebo Ojeda and Vince Nakashima, the two other survivors of his juviegang. Nebo never really left his former life, moving up into a mid-level enforcer position in the organized crime syndicate that used the juviegang and others like it as a farm team. Today, he manages the syndicate’s safehouses and can make them available for a price. Vince got out of the city, more or less, turning his hand to pirate radio. He operates in the badlands just outside the reach of city services, broadcasting to an audience of badlanders, ruralists, and survivalists, and can tap that network to move things in and out of the city.

Attributes: STR 12, DEX 15 (+1), CON 14 (+1), INT 15 (+1), WIS 8, CHA 12

Skills: Notice-0, Shoot-1, Sneak-0, Stab-1

Edges: Hard to Kill, On Target

Foci: Assassin 1

HP 5; attack bonus +1; saves physical 14+, evasion 14+, mental 15+, luck 15+

Contacts: Nebo Ojeda (gang enforcer, described above) (acquaintance); Vince Nakashima (public personality, described above) (acquaintance)

Equipment: heavy pistol w/ 3 magazines; knife; armored clothing; basic smartphone; ordinary clothing; 2 trauma patches; $51 cash

With acceptable physical stats and the Soldier background, Fix was unlikely to be anything other than a combat-focused character. This build leans into that, with his edges making him more durable and more accurate – fairly straightforward. The Assassin focus suggests a bit more finesse than a basic infantry grunt, though, and makes it easier for him to carry out his default team role in non-permissive environments.

Four Operators #1

I recently acquired my dead tree edition of Cities Without Number from the Kickstarter campaign reward drop. While I am not a huge fan of OSR games in general, CWN’s predecessors have a lot of GM tools, so I went into the KS expecting something similar for the cyberpunk genre and was not disappointed.

Coincident with this, I started listening to the second season of Tale of the Manticore, having recently finished the first. I usually can’t stand actual play podcasts (Two Past Midnight being the main exception), but Tale works for me because it is solo play. As such, there’s none of the usual annoying uncut table talk and in-jokes, and it flows very well. While I have neither bandwidth nor inclination to do a solo campaign right now (let alone, ye gods, podcast or blog it), Tale‘s S2 character creation episode inspired me to roll up a team of PCs using CWN’s random creation options. I used Behind the Name for all character names and Fantasy Name Generators for operator handles.

I don’t know that I’ll ever do anything with these folks again, but here’s the first one.

Brass (Jacinta Dumont)

Brass is a second-generation hacker. Growing up in the city’s crumbling low-income quarter, she spent most of her free time and cash in Tybee’s, the corner arcade, which was something of a safe haven for the neighborhood kids who were on the outside of gangs and other social structures. Her interest in how the games worked caught the attention of the owner, Tybee, who ran the place as a cover for their less-legitimate work.

Under Tybee’s mentorship, Jacinta grew into a skilled coder, going so far as to serve as a subcontractor for some of Tybee’s last jobs before they exited the business. Tybee, still well-known under their operator handle of Surveyor, finished Brass’ training and pointed her at her first few jobs before setting her loose to fly on her own.

In her off hours, Brass is something of a gym rat. It started as a way to convince the neighborhood gangers to leave her alone, but she’s found that weight and bag work are a good way to let her mind chew over a persistent coding problem. She’s never benefited from formal training, though, so she’s overspecialized in strength work at the expense of cardio.

Attributes: STR 16 (+1), DEX 10, CON 8, INT 15 (+1), WIS 8, CHA 8

Skills: Fix-1, Program-1, Punch-0, Sneak-0, Talk-0

Edges: Focused, Hacker

Foci: Safe Haven 1, Unarmed Combatant 1

HP 3; attack bonus +0; saves physical 14+, evasion 14+, mental 15+, luck 15+

Contacts: Tyler “Tybee” Biondi (formerly Surveyor), watchful neighborhood elder as described above (friend)

Cyberware: cranial jack

Equipment: scrap deck with cheap VR crown; ordinary clothing; basic tools; basic smartphone; armored clothing; light pistol w/ 2 magazines; $25 cash

The initial rolls for Brass left me scratching my head a bit. How to reconcile a Coder background with that STR score? Well, okay, lean into it and play against type. If I were using the optional Shadowrun-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off material from CWN’s deluxe edition, I’d make her an orc decker. Here, she’s an atypically-physical hacker who isn’t completely useless for fieldwork. The “watchful neighborhood elder” roll for her friend suggested a hacker mentor and the detailed d4/d6/d8/d10/d12/d20 one-roll flesh-out confirmed a lot of those details.

Additional Pharmaceuticals (Twilight: 2000 House Rules)

As mentioned in my previous post on my campaign’s homebrew specialties, I’ve also added a few more drugs to the team medics’ pharmaceutical inventories. Here’s how we’re handling them:


Provides +1 STAMINA to resist food poisoning.


Once you’re ill, one dose provides +1 to one infection (STAMINA) roll made for any disease that has diarrhea as a symptom.  Dying ass-first sucks.


Provides +2 to your EMPATHY roll to recover from long-term mental trauma after your counselor makes a successful MEDICAL AID roll.


A liquid compound suitable for cleaning medical equipment.  Used during a surgical procedure, one unit ensures the patient doesn’t have to make a STAMINA roll to avoid infection.

Hydration Salts

When taken in conjunction with one ration of clean water, a character suffering from dehydration immediately heals one point of dehydration damage. Further doses have no additional effect.


Used for sedation and pain relief.  One does allows an attending physician to roll an extra d8 (treat as an ammo die) for stabilizing critical injuries or otherwise conducting surgery.  A second dose allows an additional d6 on the roll, but one or more 1s on an extra die mean the patient is addicted (if he survives the procedure).


A month’s supply for one character gives +1 STAMINA to resist disease or infection during that month.

Stimulant, Mild

Once per day, one dose restores one point of Stress.

[We’re also using this rule for coffee, which makes it a desirable trade good for more than – ahem – flavor reasons.]

Stimulant, Strong

Injected pharmaceutical.  One dose provides a +2 to MEDICAL AID when getting a downed character back on their feet from incapacitating damage.  Also usable for other story-appropriate effects.

The Twilight: 2000 Avatar Game

Back in the day, my World of Darkness group occasionally dabbled in what were then called “avatar campaigns” – porting the real-world players to the game’s character model. I’ve seen this done in a number of other settings, usually with results as grim and dismal as ours were. Off the top of my head, the only published systems that are designed for it are Outbreak Undead and its SPEW-AI assessment quiz, and possibly Legendlore (it’s been a while since I glanced at it).

During a discussion elsenet about Twilight: 2000 campaigns, someone commented on players who feel that their real-life military experience should entitle them to command roles or better character traits in play, regardless of the normal character creation process or results. I was inspired to provide something to… help… those folks. These, then, are my pre-alpha-test notes for running player-history-based characters. This should work for any edition of the game.

Step One

Bring to the table printed copies of the following:

  • your latest medical examination up to, but not later than, your nation’s official entry into combat (November 1996 for American players in most editions)
  • if claiming military service, your DD-214 or equivalent
  • if claiming education, transcripts from all postsecondary education attended
  • if claiming workplace experience, copies of income tax records for each year claimed that clearly show claimed occupation for that year

Step Two

Assign attributes and skills appropriate to your verifiable personal history up to November 1996 (or equivalent).

If you had no military service history prior to November 1996, assume you were drafted and apply additional skills appropriate to the training an infantry conscript would have received in your nation in 1997.

Step Three

Pass your personal history documentation and character sheet to the player on your right.

Using your choice of red pen, X-Acto knife, or Zippo lighter, audit the materials you just received and correct the character sheet as you deem appropriate.

When done, pass that character sheet to the player on your right. Continue this process until your own character sheet returns to you.

Step Four

Roll 1d20 and consult the following table:

  1. died in transportation accident or enemy attack during deployment or troop movement
  2. died from small arms fire
  3. died from artillery
  4. died from air strike
  5. died from other kinetic effect (e.g., minefield, heavy weapons fire, destruction of vehicle)
  6. died of strategic nuclear strike on critical infrastructure or military installation
  7. died of tactical nuclear strike
  8. died of radiation poisoning
  9. died of untreated chronic medical condition (either existing but previously-undetected or caused by wartime conditions)
  10. died of animal- or insect-borne illness
  11. died of foodborne illness or accidental toxin ingestion (e.g., eating the wrong frog)
  12. died of respiratory illness
  13. died of dysentery
  14. died of dietary deficiencies (e.g., scurvy, rickets)
  15. died of starvation
  16. died of dehydration
  17. died from medical error (e.g., incompetent surgeon, contaminated or incorrect drugs)
  18. died of environmental causes (e.g., heatstroke, hypothermia, drowning, snakebite)
  19. succumbed to despair and self-terminated in a manner of your choice
  20. survived to enter play

Step Five

If you rolled 1 through 19, contemplate the yawning abyss that is your own mortality and the inevitable triumph of entropy over everything you’ve ever been, done, known, loved, created, or experienced. Take two drinks.

If you rolled a 20, do the following

  • Roll a number of d20s equal to the number of edits the other players made to your character sheet. Add the total of all rolls. This is your starting rads.
  • Multiply your starting rads by 10. This is your starting budget for selecting equipment.
  • Roll 1d4-1. This is the number of promotions you earned after November 1996 (or equivalent). Record your new rank, then edit it off your sheet because it doesn’t matter any more.

At this point, you’re probably the only person at the table with a surviving PC. Good luck! You’re on your own!

This is intended as satire and should not be used for actual campaign setup. No grognards were harmed in the making of this post.

Kamiensk (23 September 2000)

23 Sep 2000 - Morning Shift (0600-1200)

Weather: light rain, 62ºF

Terrain: wooded (speed modifier x0.5, Driving -1)

Order of March: UAZ-469 (Erick driver, Betsy gunner/lookout), Industrial Light and Mayhem (Ortiz driver, Miko gunner), Comms (Bell driver, Cowboy gunner)

With an advance team from Ponikla on site, the train wreck is secured. The expedition team breaks camp. With Betsy keeping an eye on the bridge and ground-guiding each driver in turn, they cross the Pilica without incident. They’re in unknown territory now – they have a map, but the map is not the terrain.

The team advances cautiously west. Intelligence gathered from the prisoners taken at Radom indicates that the shattered remains of the Soviet 124th Motor Rifle Division have moved into Piotrków Trybunalski, so they have little interest in getting too close to that city. Their intent is to pick up the main highway at Kamiensk, roll south to the Warta River, find a safe place to cross it, and make their way to the area of Czestochowa.

As the lead vehicle breaks out of the treeline into the late-morning sun, Betsy spots two people on the far side of the large clearing, a few hundred meters away. They also sight the vehicles and go to ground, but not before Betsy is able to glass them with her binoculars. They’re in civilian attire, and armed, but that’s all she can make out at this distance.

This is a band of 2 hunters. They are Experienced NPCs with civilian firearms. They are moving by foot. 

Leader motivations: very sociable (heart 10), stubborn (club queen)

The team decides to try to make contact. Erick and Miko dismount (with Hernandez and Cat, respectively, taking over their crew positions). The initial communication is shaky, but Erick gradually draws out the elder of the pair. He introduces himself as Dawid Pasternack. Dawid is a weathered Pole in his 60s, carrying a hunting shotgun, and from his speech patterns, he’s probably as close as central Poland gets to an Appalachian redneck. This is a guy for whom the apocalypse was a step sideways, not down. He refers to Erick and Miko as “Minnesota” and “Warsaw” throughout the conversation – though he’s not too sure what Minnesota is, and asks if it’s anywhere near New York City.

Dawid advises them that the area in which they’re traveling is infested with Soviet deserters. He’s aware that a more organized force has occupied Piotrków Trybunalski, though he doesn’t know enough about military matters to identify specific units. He also informs them that several small groups of American survivors came through the area about a month ago, apparently fleeing some big battle up north.

Dawid has news of the team’s planned route, too. The town of Kamiensk was occupied by a large group of deserters, but they fled the town when the more organized Soviet force moved into the area. In their absence, Kamiensk is trying to put itself back together. The community’s de facto leader is Father Miroslav Kasprzak, a Catholic priest.

Erick sends Miko back to ILM to retrieve a bottle of good prewar liquor as thanks for the information. Dawid is suitably impressed by the team’s generosity and bids them a warm farewell as they resume their journey.

With the information Dawid provided, the team definitely wants to check out conditions in Kamiensk. Knowing that the area is full of potential marauders, though, they proceed a bit more cautiously, ready for a gunfight. They’ve made another twelve klicks or so when everyone on board Comms is subjected to a sudden inarticulate shout from Bell as he slams on the brakes. There’s an almost-unnoticed thump from under the vehicle. “Aw, man,” Bell sighs. “I think I hit something.”

Ellis keys up the radio to halt the rest of the column while several people dismount to investigate. A young feral pig apparently picked the wrong moment to bolt from cover. There’s not much left. At least the BTR-70K is undamaged. [Behind the screen, Bell failed his Driving roll for this hex of movement, and I rolled a “roadkill” result on the mishap table. The team did get one ration of wild food out of the deal.]

With the possibility of the piglet’s mother being in the area and angry, there’s not much reason to linger. Everyone remounts. The convoy is about to begin rolling when Betsy, who’s been watching the team’s flanks, returns her gaze to the road and spots something about forty meters ahead of the UAZ. There’s an odd depression stretched across the dirt track, almost like the ground has subsided over a small buried pipe – and a few meters off the trail, nestled into a dead bush, she sees a squat tripod topped with a stubby tube.

“Ready to roll?” Erick asks at this moment.

“No. Oh, hell, no. Hold up.”

The characters' line of movement crosses the trigger of an off-route anti-tank mine. Time has taken its toll on the mine's concealment.

Noticing the mine is an Average: Observation or Combat Engineer task for a character on foot or horseback, Difficult for a character riding in a vehicle, or Formidable for a character viewing the scenery through an AFV's vision blocks. A walking character will not set off the mine. A bicycle, motorcycle, or horse has a 50% chance of triggering it. The first vehicle to cross the trigger automatically detonates it.

Hernandez takes over the UAZ’s M2HB while Betsy moves up to investigate. Her suspicion is confirmed – it’s an off-route antitank mine with a pressure tube trigger. By the accumulation of rust and bird droppings, it’s been there at least a year, probably longer. Miko and Pettimore check the surrounding area and find a squad’s worth of fighting positions, also abandoned for quite a while.

There’s a brief debate on what to do about it. Betsy thinks she could defuse it and has a decent chance of recovering it safely, but there’s no telling how reliable it is at this point. It would be easy for the team to drive around it, but that would leave a problem for the next people to use this route. Ultimately, the team takes Betsy up on her offer to just detonate it in place. She cranks the launch tube around 90 degrees, then walks up, giggles to herself, and drops a full ammo can on the pressure tube. There’s a satisfying kaboom as the mine vents its fury on a stand of trees.

23 Sep 2000 - Day Shift (1200-1800) 

Weather: light rain, 73ºF

Terrain: open (speed modifier x1, Driving +1) 

Order of March: UAZ-469 (Erick driver, Betsy gunner/lookout), Industrial Light and Mayhem (Ortiz driver, Miko gunner), Comms (Bell driver, Cowboy gunner)

The rest of the drive to Kamiensk passes without incident. The team finds a deserted commercial building about two kilometers short of the town where they can leave the vehicles in a tabor. Leaving Pettimore, Hernandez, Bell, Ortiz, and Comrade on guard, the rest of the group heads into town on foot. They’ve adopted a cover story as traveling traders – Ellis and Erick are the actual “merchants,” the rest of the group are caravan guards.

Before the war, Kamiensk had about 2,500 inhabitants now. It’s down to 190, and they’re struggling. As the team approaches, they can see that the community is barely managing to commit agriculture, and the half-dozen dairy cattle appear unhealthy (Octavia suspects parasitic infestation).

They’re only a few hundred meters outside the populated part of Kamiensk when the church bell starts ringing an alarm. The people in the fields drop their tools and run for shelter. There’s an awkward pause of a couple of minutes before the church’s door opens and a tall, white-haired man steps out. He’s carrying an AKM; a clerical collar is visible beneath the neckline of Soviet-issue flak jacket.

“I was expecting the village priest, not the village paladin,” Erick mutters.

Father Miroslav is suspicious at first, but he warms to the team once Erick name-drops Dawid and deploys some Church Latin. The community doesn’t have anything noteworthy to offer to traveling traders, and their capacity for hospitality is limited at best, but they’re welcome to spend the night under a roof.

The team settles into a warehouse on the east side of town, near the highway. It’s long since been stripped bare, but it’s good concealment for the vehicles and the service catwalks offer elevated observation and firing positions for defenders.

Ellis “directs” the setup, but his real motive for not doing a lot of hands-on work is to make some observations of the townsfolk. Demographics here are pretty typical – a general lack of military-aged men. The locals are warily assessing the team, too. There’s a general skittishness born from serious recent trauma. Ellis sees attitudes shifting a bit toward cautiously curious as Cat, Betsy, and Ortiz make themselves (and their personal autonomy and armament) visible.

Erick sets up a “hearts and minds” clinic. Octavia tags in with him – although she’s not too eager to draw attention to herself, being still somewhat skittish from her experiences in the last village she inhabited. Comrade, sensing his human’s mood, flops down nearby to keep an eye on the proceedings, and Cat also wanders over to provide security.

The medical team doesn’t have any urgent lifesaving work, but there’s a steady trickle of patients throughout the afternoon. Minor malnutrition and dietary deficiencies are nigh-universal. A number of the villagers are sporting half-healed blunt trauma injuries consistent with severe beatings; several have broken bones that have been inexpertly set, a couple of which are likely to result in permanent impairment without surgery that the expedition isn’t equipped to provide.

It’s also evident that Kamiensk is about to experience a baby boom. A majority of the women of childbrearing age are pregnant, between two and six months along. They’re also avoiding care from Erick, gravitating toward Octavia’s side of the makeshift clinic. Octavia and Cat exchange some dark looks as the pattern becomes evident.

Miko is gathering materials to feed the team’s fuel still when he gets the crawly “I’m being watched” sensation that’s becoming all too familiar to him. He looks around to see a small mob of pre-teen kids staring intently at him. After some whispering and nudging, the group pushes a spokes-urchin forward.

“What did you do to get them to let you carry that?” the child asks, pointing at Miko’s AK-74.

Miko shrugs. “Killed a Russian,” he says matter-of-factly.

There’s a faint screeching noise as several small paradigms undergo sudden, radical adjustment.

“Where are you from?”

“Um. Warsaw.”

“We heard Warsaw was all burned up.”

“It mostly is.”

There’s some more whispering and an awkward silence before the kids scurry off.

23 Sep 2000 - Evening Shift (1800-0000)  

Weather: cloudy, scattered showers, 65ºF

Actions: Pettimore and Comrade on watch; Hernandez brewing fuel; Bell and Ortiz gathering materials for fuel

Father Miroslav shows up as the team is starting dinner prep. He seems quietly relieved that these eleven outsiders and one giant murderdog won’t be consuming the community’s paltry food stores. He invites them to join him in the church after they’ve eaten – he can offer tea, which is the one luxury he has in abundance.

Once they’ve eaten, the PCs take him up on that offer. Night is falling and the village is mostly dark as they make their way to the church. Outside, the building shows the scars of conflict, with several windows boarded over and a few bullet holes in the wood.

Inside, it’s a different story. The wood is polished, the floor is swept, and the place is clean and in good repair. The glow of candlelight fills the sanctuary. At one side of the altar, the glow of an oil lamp flickers through the cracks in a door. That door opens and Father Miroslav emerges bearing a tray which contains a dozen mismatched teacups. He sets it down, goes back into his study, and returns with a large kettle and a small jar of honey.

Once pleasantries have been exchanged, the team asks about the village’s status. Father Miroslav confirms what they’ve pieced together so far and fills in some of the blanks. The deserters came to town about six months ago. In the process of taking over, they killed most of the local militia (which also reduced the community’s workforce and farming capacity by a measurable amount). The band originally numbered close to 50, but attrition and infighting reduced that somewhat. They fled about three weeks ago, after a couple of close encounters with patrols from the Soviets in Piotrków Trybunalski put the fear of capture and a field trial into them. There was some more infighting around that decision, which is how the village acquired the handful of weapons it currently possesses. He believes the marauders have split up into three bands, each with about a dozen men.

Octavia diplomatically approaches the subject of the pregnancies. The priest’s expression darkens and he confirms their suspicions. When the deserters took over, they took a number of “war brides.” He takes some pains to point out that he did not sanctify those “marriages.”

Father Miroslav also has some intel on the nearby city of Radomsko. Formerly home to some 44,000 people, it’s now down to about 4,000 – a quarter of those in the city, the rest scattered around its environs in farming collectives. It’s under the rule of a larger band of deserters (from which Kamiensk’s former occupiers were a splinter group). Radomsko’s current rulers number about 70 troops under the leadership of a man named Shotkin. The priest says they have something that looks like a tank, but which he’s told isn’t actually a tank – he’s not a military man.

Where is Radomsko? It’s about 16 kilometers south-southwest of Kamiensk. “I can show you if you have a map,” Father Miroslav offers.

record scratch

The team looks at one another in astonishment before pulling at that thread a little. Yep – thanks to Father Miroslav, Kamiensk is largely free of what the players and their characters have dubbed “the brain-fog.” He’s preserved his small church library and has been running elementary education sessions for the younger children, and his weekly church services and other outreach seem to be keeping it at bay for the adults. He’s seen the effects in smaller surrounding communities, as well as in Radomsko – to the point of seeing the light almost come back into someone’s eyes before some outside force flips a switch and makes them forget again.

If the team was leaning toward helping out Kamiensk before, they’re thoroughly committed now. In the long term, there may be a relocation effort – but for now, they need to find a way to help this place preserve itself and get through the winter before they move on. The obvious question, though – why haven’t they asked the 124th MRD for assistance in dealing with the deserters? Easy enough – they’re afraid that there’ll be a price for Soviet assistance, and the least-bad case is that the soldiers will take “payment” from the village’s food reserves.

The local harvest is struggling but Kamiensk will probably avoid starvation if nothing else goes wrong – and if no one else shows up looking for a share of those reserves. Beyond those basics, their greatest needs are defense and medical aid. There are only six firearms in the village, all of those seized in haste as the marauders cleared out, and precious few people know how to use them. Those marauders are likely to come back sooner or later, and as things currently stand, they’ll be able to walk right in and pick up where they left off.

On the medical aid front – well, the team does have a large supply of certain pharmaceuticals, including chewable children’s vitamins. Leaving a cut of those, with instructions to prioritize the pregnant women, will help with the worst of the dietary deficiencies until they can diversify their agriculture a bit more. There’s some other advice Octavia can leave – especially now that they’ve confirmed that the written word isn’t forbidden here.

As far as defensive measures, Ellis and Betsy have some thoughts. The community has ample building supplies free for stripping from the abandoned buildings. Moving everyone into a defensible core, hardening it, and making the rest of the town difficult terrain will be a force multiplier. If the marauders have split up into small groups, a few days of hunting them down and defeating them in detail will yield a good haul of weapons on which Pettimore can start training people.

With that, the team bids Father Miroslav good night and heads back to their bivouac to relieve the watchstanders, continue brewing fuel, and get some rest.

Overall, this session was the first real workout for the core rules’ hexcrawl mechanics. I used my own encounter generator rather than the 4e card draws, but still got plenty of emergent story from the randomization. Generator results are embedded in the narrative above.

As we’re in sandbox mode, resolution of the local marauder problem was entirely in the players’ hands. They’re interested in ensuring local security, so the next session or two will focus on that project.

The situation in Kamiensk and Radomsko – indeed, the entire regional infestation of ex-9th TD marauders – is drawn from the first edition boxed set’s Escape from Kalisz material. I have plenty of notes in case the PCs decide to tangle with Shotkin’s force down in Radomsko – or if he decides to mess with them first…