On Saturday night, I had the opportunity to playtest Gamecraft 2.0 with a couple of friends of mine, Tad and Chris. We didn’t use the setting that I am designing with it, but the system’s designed to be flexible enough to accommodate many settings. It was educating, to say the least. The following piece is based on that playtest. Be warned that it’s long; longer than I expected it to be. Everything here is based on what actually happened in the playtest; I used very little artistic license.
Simon had always had bad luck. His grandfather had trained him to be a boxer, and he had made a small name for himself in the amateur circuit before he had become indebted to the wrong people. His life had spiraled out of control as a result, plunging him into an existence of underground street-fighting and petty crime. When he’d witnessed a murder last week, he saw in it a chance to do the right thing, and maybe to haul himself out of the pit of iniquity that he found himself living in. So, he’d called a cop that he met a while back.
Right now, Simon was sitting on a subway train at 4 AM, talking to this cop, Rod. Rod was middle-aged and a little round around the edges, but I looked like he might once have been in excellent shape. Just from talking to him, though, Simon could tell that this was not a guy you could easily fool. He noticed things; he was always noticing things. They had been chatting, just bullshitting, for a few minutes, waiting until the other people on the subway car (three of them: a middle-aged white woman, an old black guy, and a Japanese high school girl) to get out of earshot before they really got down to it. Simon was reasonably sure he could say something safely, and he was about to open his mouth when the subway train came to a sudden, jarring, screeching halt.
Simon found himself standing up from a prone position, realizing that he had just been thrown across the car by the force of its stop. He sat up and rubbed his head, looking around. The Japanese girl had apparently skinned her knee, and was tending to that. The old man was pulling himself up, leaning heavily on his cane. The woman was up and looking out the window of the train. “There are people out there,” she said, her voice curious and a little afraid.
Simon looked out the window cautiously, noting that Rod was avoiding full exposure to the windows; he did the same. The people outside were just outside the light’s limit, standing still, looking at the train.
“I’m going to go talk to the conductor,” came Rod’s voice as he walked to the adjoining door. Simon looked back at the group of people outside and noticed that there were fewer now; he couldn’t have told you if there were three or four of them originally, but there was clearly one fewer now, as one of them was standing right next to the train, looking up at the window. Simon backed up, glad that he had decided to bring his sawed-off with him tonight.
“I think it was a person.” The conductor was sweating, obviously worried and probably feeling somewhat guilty.
“Did you get a good look?” Rod’s detective instincts were kicking in; clearly something unusual was happening here, and his mind was treating it like any other crime scene.
“Half a second or so,” said the conductor, shifting his weight. “All I know is I saw something on the tracks, and it looked like a person. I hit the brakes as soon as I saw, but I felt it when we hit it.”
Rod nodded, thinking. It didn’t make sense to him that someone would just be standing on the subway tracks in the middle of a tunnel at four in the morning. Something was definitely wrong here.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud cracking noise, and he whipped his head around toward the other train car just in time to see an arm come crashing through the window of the subway car, the hand wrapping itself in the hair of the middle-aged woman. A high, panicked wail came from the other car as her head was pulled through, and Rod found himself already running back to the other car, pistol in hand. How the hell do you punch through safety glass and still have a hand intact enough to grab anything?
He burst through the adjoining door and ran toward the screaming woman; her head was already through the hole in the glass, and the guy on the outside was still pulling. If he kept on pulling hard enough, he’d likely rip her head off; Rod knew that he had to act quickly. He stuck his arm through the hole as he reached it, pressing the muzzle of the pistol against the attacker’s forehead and pulling the trigger. The attacker’s head snapped back and he immediately released his hold on the screaming woman, but something was wrong about the way he reacted to the shot. He was just clinging to the side of the subway car, feet on the outer wall,one hand flat on the glass, just hanging there like some sort of grotesque parody of Spider-Man. Slowly, his head came level and he stared directly into Rod’s face, smoking bullet hole in the center of his forehead. No expression, no reaction; just a vacant look and glassy eyes.
Before Rod could react, the man clinging to the train made a grab for his arm. Rod could feel his touch; there was something unwholesome about it, squamous even. Rod backpedaled, almost falling over, and fired his gun again as he launched himself toward the other side of the train. With some satisfaction, he saw his bullet enter the man’s mouth, causing the top half of his head to be blown off. With some unease, it registered that there wasn’t nearly enough blood for such a wound. The man fell backwards, making a dull thud as he hit the ground outside the train.
Simon saw Rod fall backward, saw the man on the outside of the train blow apart and fall. He was also aware, however, of the fact that the other people who had been standing outside the train were no longer there. He heard a wrenching sound from behind him, and he spun, bringing his shotgun level with the train’s doors. At first he was surprised that they were opening by themselves. Then he noticed that they weren’t, that a figure on the other side of the doors was forcing them open with its bare hands. Without thinking, he aimed and pulled the trigger, sending the figure flying into the darkness as the doors slammed shut again. He looked over his shoulder to the spot where the figures had been, when he heard, once again, the wrenching sound of metal being pried part. He turned in the direction of the noise and saw that the access hatch on the ceiling of the train had been torn completely off, and a figure had dropped through the hole.
The figure made a lunging motion, lashing out with its hand as if it were some sort of claw. Simon dodged backward and swung the butt of his shotgun at the figure’s head, connecting with a fleshy thunk and tearing the figure’s head completely away from its neck. The body stood for a moment, as if in shock, then slumped to the ground, blood oozing slowly from the place where its head once was, like some foul black ichor.
Rod hurriedly tore a strip of clothing from the woman’s dress, using it to staunch the flow of blood from the back of her neck where the window’s glass had torn her flesh. Whether from shock and fatigue or from her injuries, she had lapsed into unconsciousness, and that made the job a little bit easier. Once he had finished, he laid her back down on the floor of the train car and looked up at Simon, who was standing with his shotgun in his hands, muscles tense and eyes moving.
The lights flickered. No. Please no. Then again. Come on. Finally, they went out. Shit Rod pushed his panic down, reciting catechisms in his head in order to calm himself. These people needed him to be calm. He reached into his coat and pulled out a small flashlight, turning it on.
“What the hell? Now the lights are out?” Simon looked down at him. “What did the conductor say? Is someone coming for us?”
“We don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “He was in the middle of transmitting when his radio went dead, so he’s not sure if anyone got the message.”
“And if they didn’t, then what? We walk out of here?”
Rod didn’t say anything.
Simon reminded himself that he was an undefeated street fighter with a sawed-off shotgun as he and Rod circled the train, making sure there wouldn’t be any surprises when they set off with the other passengers down the tunnel toward the next station. They had searched the body inside for identification, and had found some–as well as fifty bucks in cash–but it had raised more questions than it had answered. Initially, Simon had through that the guy looked like a junkie. Rod’s descriptions of people on PCP performing seemingly superhuman feats seemed to back that assessment up. On the other hand, though, this junkie had been carrying fifty dollars cash around with him, as well as car keys, a house key, a driver’s license, and a Visa Platinum card. It didn’t make a lot of sense.
There were seven of them, in all. There was Rod and Simon, the conductor, the Japanese girl, the woman (now awake, though shaken), the old man, another man in a business suit, and a shabby man with tousled hair. They walked through the tunnel slowly, allowing the old man and the injured woman to keep pace, making sure that nobody fell behind. The darkness seemed oppressive–the lights in the tunnel had gone out, as well–and the silence was eerie. Rod kept talking, trying to reassure everyone, to let them know that he was in charge and wasn’t going to let anything happen to them. Simon, for his part, simply tried to look as menacing as possible, even bending down to get some mud to smear on his face, like some sort of warpaint.
A sound came from behind. They had set up a trip line with some twine that they’d found in the train’s emergency kit (along with some flares and a large, heavy-duty flashlight that Rod was now carrying), and the sound that came sounded uncannily like someone tripping in the dark. They hurried their pace, but they knew that whoever was behind was likely moving faster than they were. The panic rose.
Suddenly, Rod brought everyone to a stop. At the end of his cone of light stood a figure, a security guard in uniform. He made no movement; simply stood there looking at them.
Rod stepped forward, gun at the ready. “I’m detective Rod O’Malley of the Richmond City Police Department. Identify yourself.” The security guard was silent. “Identify yourself!”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” The man in the business suit was striding forward, clearly able to take no more. “He told you to identify yourself; why aren’t you–”
The attack came like a thunderbolt, hitting hard and fast and from the side. Something came charging out of the darkness to their left, slamming directly into the man in the business suit and carrying him into the darkness to their right. Screams came from the darkness, as well as wet crunching and tearing sounds. Rod came very close to swinging the flashlight, taking his eyes off of the security guard, but at the last minute he saw the man raise his pistol. Rod didn’t think; he just shot.
Simon shone his flashlight–duct-taped to the barrel of his shotgun–into the darkness where the two had disappeared and caught a glimpse of a human figure hunched over another one, prone, apparently tearing with its teeth. His eyes widened when he saw a third stranger step into the light, then charge forward. Without thinking he fired, hitting the figure squarely in the shoulder. The figure flinched, but didn’t break stride; it simply kept coming. When it got close enough, it lashed out with one hand, raking its fingernails across Simon’s face and drawing blood. Grunting in pain, Simon brought his fist back and then forward, slamming it into the creature’s face, pushing its nose through the back of its skull. It fell to the ground.
Rod fired twice at the security guard, hitting twice but not dropping the man. The security guard simply raised his gun and started firing indiscriminately but, thankfully, with little accuracy. Thinking quickly, Rod placed the flashlight on the ground, still illuminating the security guard, and slipped into the shadows. He moved around behind the man and took careful aim at his head, then fired. Rod was relieved when he saw the guard slump to the ground.
Simon advanced on the third attacker, still tearing at the businessman’s flesh. He raised his shotgun and fired, obliterating the thing’s head and sending its body flying. When he finally got a good look at the corpse below it, he saw that the thing had eaten a hole through the back of the man’s skull and devoured his brain.
A frightened, weary, and slightly smaller group arrived at the next station, climbing up onto the platform. The platform was dark; evidently the power was out here, as well. Even more disturbing, there were corpses here, two or three of them, strewn around the platform. Rod reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, thanking God that there was a signal now. He dialed.
“Yeah? What?” It was not the response he expected from the precinct.
“Bev? This is Rod. I’m in the subway, and we’ve been attacked. The power’s out, and–”
“You’re not the only one, Rod. Power’s out all over the city, and there’s riots or something breaking out. It’s chaos out there. We’ve barricaded ourselves into the building, and some of the officers have even had to shoot at people trying to get in. They let someone in at first, and the guy tried to kill us.”
Rod didn’t say anything, just stood there dumbstruck.
“Rod?” came the voice on the other end. “Listen, you’d better get over here and hide out at the precinct with us. It’s not safe out there.” No, he thought. It sure isn’t.