"The Wave," It was the fall of humanity, the rise of the undead, and what would become one of the Darkest of Winters. For a small group of survivors on the Happy Trails Horse ranch, the end of the world is the beginning of their adventure, a search for salvation in the frozen north, a harrowing journey across the rotting remnants of what used to be America. Their travel is made all the more difficult by a young child and pregnant woman within their group, and the realization that even in a land of the dead, the living are ones worse enemy.
-Riley, a Gulfwar veteran and communications specialist, now the groups medic and sole source of military strategy, Can his training and discipline lead them to salvation?
-Jessy, Once the proud owner of Hannaford's department store chain, now, the sole surviving relative of his 12 year old nephew, can his wisdom and dogged determination see them to safety?
-Renee, Former Hollywood action movie star and sensational martial artist, will her athletic prowess and worldly experience be enough to keep the group alive?
-Heather, A southern cowgirl and dog trainer who's no stranger to six guns and rodeos, will her western skills and loyal canine companions prove an effective combination? Join them as they seek a safe haven within the chaos, and discover the most import part of being human, is hanging onto your humanity even when all hope is lost.
For those unfamiliar with zombie rpgs and Palladium’s Dead Reign in particular, you may want to check out this short review of the game setting:
(Also the excellent zombie image is courtesy of James Ryman, check out more of his artwork.)
Now on with: The Darkest of Winters
The Set up:
After telling them a bit about the Dead Reign setting and passing around the rule book for everyone to skim throughm I told them the only thing I required of them was they all have a reason for their chars being at the Happy Trails Horse Ranch vacation resort in southern Texas when the zombie apocalypse first occurred, and where our game picks up 60 days later.
Jessy Hannaford (Survivor Occupational Character Class/ O.C.C)
Big time department chain store owner on vacation at the Happy Trails horse ranch with his 12 yr old nephew as the kids 12th Birthday present. Firm believer of the NRA and used to enjoy big game hunting. (Caribou, Black Bear, Moose, etc..) in his younger years. More or less a civilian with a lot of hunting & tracking skills, off set by the moderately old age of 56 and the onset of arthritis which acts up in colder climates.
Tommy Booths (npc child/no O.C.C)
the 12 year old nephew of Jessy, young, eager, and mostly naive, he thinks the vacation to the ranch is the “coolest gosh darned thing he’s ever experienced” and is always asking endless questions of everyone, as well as pestering his uncle to “let me blast some more bottles with your six gun” (a small .22 revolver his uncle brought along to shoot rattlers with “just in case.”)
Heather Wilks (Hound Master O.C.C)
Ranch Hand at the Happy Trails horse ranch, Self professed hound master (owning two German Shepherds personally, with the ranch having a few coon hounds) and crack shot with a lever action rifle. (Always happy to take interested vacationers on a coon hunt, or skeet shootings) She has a love for showing off with her dogs to the city slicker vacationers and proving she’s “as good as any man.”
Riley Setson (Soldier O.C.C)
A soldier back from his tour of duty in Iraq, (infantry/communication specialty) looking for a place to unwind and spend some quality time with his wife away from the big city. (Not too happy to be spending it at a “horse ranch tourist trap” as he calls it, but willing to indulge his wife’s love for all things “wild west”)
Jamie Stetson (npc/Survivor O.C.C)
The wife of Riley, thrilled to have her man home in one piece after his service over seas, and strong believer of patriotism, freedom and democracy. (Also secretly pregnant, something she’s hoping to tell her husband if she can find an opportune time.)
Renee Black (Survivor O.C.C)
Famous movie star, out here at the ranch to get some “real life experience” among horses and “western ranch life” in preparation for her starring role in the upcoming Hollywood block buster “Dead Eye Jane.” (action/thriller about the infamous gunslinger calamity Jane) A fairly skilled martial artist as well as actress, she views her stay at the ranch as one long R&R trip to “get in the mood” and tends to treat the hired help around the ranch much like she did the stage hands on the Hollywood movie sets. (Which hasn’t made her the most well like gal around the place to put it politely, except by Heather, whom she's formed a close friendship with.)
* * * * *
“I can still aim well enough to shoot the fleas off a dogs testicles at 300 yards!” -Jessy Hannaford discussing his accuracy with Heather Wilks
“Uncle, wouldn’t a flea collar work better?” -Tommy Booth after over hearing his uncles’ marksmanship claim.
The beginning, a couple months after the pandemic and ensuing zombie outbreak which society simply came to call “The Wave,” which the group weathered at the Happy Trails ranch along with a few other vacationers and employees without too much difficulty by relying on the stockpile of supplies, a few cattle, and the ranches wind generator to get by. (Most of the Employees and vacationers fled trying to reunite with loved ones/head home when the wave started leaving only a dozen or so remaining plus the chars.)
Unfortunately for the group a camouflaged RV arrived one evening shortly before sunset, filled with almost a dozen Red Neck survivalists calling themselves “The Guns of Pure Humanity” and they set about annexing the entire ranch for their new outpost, and their leader, “Big Jake” was overheard by Heather, quietly ordering a couple of his men to “keep an eye out for good stuff and anyone who resists, mark’em for later use as zombie bait.”
(Their arrival sparked immediate tension and fear among the ranch dwellers, who had all gathered to greet these new comers. although with how heavily armed the redneck commando wannabes were, (assault rifles and assorted shotguns) no one was eager to start a fight, yet..
The breaking point came less then an hour after their arrival when the leader of this group spotted Riley and his wife Jamie (the only African American people at the ranch) and immediately sneered to his buddies in a knowing glance and ordered them to “Get us real Americans a beer, then move yer belongins ta the barn where yo type belong!” (Isn’t it always the scum of humanity that seem to prosper in such dark times?)
Riley stood up, smiled, politely saluted the leader, then walked over handing him a beer he grabbed from the cooler on the way. As Big Jake was taking the beer, Riley impolitely quick drew and jammed the muzzle of his snub nosed .357 magnum revolver under the mans chin and blew the top of his skull off.
The shock and awe factor of this move momentarily stunned everyone, allowing Riley to grab the now “not so big” Jake’s AK-47 and stitch the few near by rednecks that were still dumbfounded with several bursts, ending their temporary annex of the kitchen area.
While everyone else was still sitting/standing around blinking in surprise Riley began barking orders and quickly killed the ceiling lights, (by “killed” read “shot full of holes with a half of a clip of 7.62mm ammo”) and injured Jimmy, one of the ranch hands in the room upstairs.
The follow up screams by the gentleman upstairs who found his foot sporting a half dozen large caliber bullet holes and doing a fairly decent impersonation of an electric juicer, along with his subsequent staggering/banging about drew the immediate panic fire from the red necks outside/on guard. (Alas poor Jimmy, they knew him well; well not really…)
This panic fire at the second floor allowed Riley, and his now recovered-from-shock companions, (thanks to his yelling at them like a drill sergeant) to grab up the dropped assault weaponry and fire out the windows dispatching the poorly organized and mostly drunk red necks with minimal difficulty, and only Jessy taking a flesh wound in the shoulder from a stray 5.56mm bullet. This withering rain of fire however Swiss-cheesed two jeeps and a station wagon that was behind the red neck commandos.
The rest of the “Guns of Pure Humanity” cut their losses and fled the ranch down the road, the few who tried to run back to their RV being torn apart by Heathers two German Shepherds, and her follow up control shots with her lever action .308
Afterward the group carefully disposed of the bodies in a ditch out back, rearmed themselves with a mixture of AK’s, shotguns and better quality handguns. (Heather kept her beloved lever action rifle however, but upgraded it with a high quality electronic scope from an enemy M4 rifle,)
The RV, when they dared investigate it turned out to have a zombie child locked in the bathroom, which, when unwittingly freed made very short work of ranch hand Clifford, and nearly chewed the ear off of another vacationer (Fred) before Jessy’s full auto AK spray removed the zombie child’s head, along with Fred’s, and Swiss cheesed the RVs transmission.
(as Jessy commented to Riley after he suggested using the single shot setting: “You mean this thing has a single fire setting? What the hell’s it got one of those for?” One would think after this and the previous incidents the characters/players would realize assault rifles, on full auto, in the hands of those who never used them before causes *lots* of collateral damage, but apparently this revelation escaped them, as evidenced later multiple times…)
With the body count from friendly fire now at 2 and the friendly fire vehicle body count at four, the group of heroes were politely asked by Julia to lay down the assault rifles or find a new place to call home.
This request was interrupted by the attack of the previously killed Ranch hand Clifford who erupted from the back of the RV and tackled Julia from behind. The panic fire of Renee, (whose 12 gauge was loaded with flechettes,) made short work of both the Zombie, and Julia rather messily. (In the players defense she thought it was loaded with slugs and her aim would have only hit zombie Clifford if that was the case)
After this third friendly fire incident, the group quickly decided to leave the ranch before the rest of the by now, quite angry/distraught and well armed ranch dwellers could enact vigilante justice upon them. Heather decided to accompany them as well, using her friendship with the vacationers as her reason for leaving.
Fetching Tommy and Jamie from the ranch basement (where they had hid when all the gunplay started) the group scavenged some survival gear from the back of the RV, took a few of the horses (after some sweet talking to the rest of the ranch dwellers by Heather) and rode off, Jessy mentioning his brother in law (Tommy’s dad) worked at a weather station in Alaska near a remote town, where the cold and seclusion should make for a safe place to hole up away from all the zombies and crazy militia folk.
* * * * *
Will the group’s new found destination prove reachable? Will the crazed racist militia men known as The Guns of Pure Humanity come looking for vengeance? Will the characters love for full auto gun play prove to be their downfall?
Find out in the next adventure synopsis #2 which can be found Here!
For those curious, we originally began play using the Palladium rule set, but it worked out kinda meh honestly. By default they have some very kooky damage rules, (going strictly by the rules you can do more damage with your bare hands and feet then with a .9mm pistol) and the rules themselves haven’t really been updated since the early 90?s.
After dealing with repeated rules contradictions and related headaches, (an inherent problem with the palladium rule set) my players begged me to switch the game to a different system; and after a short discussion, we converted Dead Reign to the Cortex rule set. (We almost used the SW rule set but only me and one other player had any prior experience with it, where as everyone knew Cortex rules from the Serenity and Supernatural rpgs. )
After this system change things flowed waaay faster, allowing for much more to happen in a single session, and the game took on a far more cinematic survival horror/post apocalypse feel (Similar to Mad Max/Road Warrior or Resident Evil you might say.) which improved the pacing and tone a *lot* as will be seen in future session recaps.