STALKER: Clear Sky Fanfiction

[About this Fic]
This is some fanfiction slightly embellishing about 10 minutes of gameplay in STALKER: Clear Sky. The game comes out of the Ukraine, and the term "Stalker" here is used in the sense of a hunter. The game is incredibly immersive, and the below should give you a taste. Comment/PM me if you want to hear me fan rant.

I'm scrambling up the muddy edges of a swamp that used to be a lake. At the top are the group of so-called Stalkers the Professor has sent me to meet. Lefty, the leader of the heavily-armed band, scrutinizes me as I approach, then says something into his radio in Ukrainian.

"Merc," he calls me. Everyone does. It's pretty obvious: The professional bearing, the accent to my Russian... the Rock River LAR-15 dangling in front of me on a three point sling. I miss my Diemaco... "I received information from Sakharov," he goes on. "Boy, what a mess. See that breach in the wall? That's our path - the shortest way to the machine. You follow me and don't jump ahead - my boys and I are a tight team, so you'd just get in the way. We clear?"

I look him up and down briefly. "Your men are well-armed, but you're carrying a Krinkov with a broken stock. We aren't clear at all."

Lefty starts to say, "My men come first, Merc," but one of his men--Yashka, I learn later--interrupts and blurts out, "Lefty lost his lost his beloved 'Katya' to a Whirligig while he was taking a piss!" The others laugh, but behind the jovial tones I can hear two things: Good-natured ribbing, and pre-battle jitters.

"You can't let your guard down for a moment in the Zone," Lefty nods, then rolling his eyes adds, "especially around these idiots."

I hold up my hands to show they're empty, then let the AK-74 slip down off my shoulder nice and slow. Even so, I can hear a pistol carefully clearing leather off to my side. Good, they are paying attention. "The man I got this off didn't need it anymore. Maybe you could find a use for it."

I hold the rifle out in present-arms, but one of his men takes it from me instead and gives the weapon a thorough inspection. I do the same of him. The shotgun hanging from his shoulder is a Mossberg like mine, and so well-maintained I have a hard time believing he's a local. He's looking in all the places they told us in Afghanistan to expect explosive 'surprises' from the locals first, and a few more I hadn't thought of. Then he takes his time looking over the works.

So much time in fact that Lefty prompts him with a cough.

"It's clean." Vasko hands the rifle over to his boss, then turns to me and reaches into his kit for some rubles. Amazing what the Zone has done for the value of Russian currency. "Very clean, who did the work?"

"Aydar, with Orest's people in the Agroprom." Hearing this, Vasko hands me a few more folded rubles.

The sound of Lefty swapping magazines is interrupted by the chirp of his radio. He holds up a hand for silence while turning up the volume so everyone can hear Professor Sakharov.
"Lefty, the psy-field emission level is currently at its lowest. Please begin the operation! All our hopes and prayers are with you! Good luck!"

I follow Lefty up the ramp of debris and take post at the top of the wall as he and his team descend the other side and into the alley between the perimeter wall of the factory compound and a warehouse building. As if that weren't bad enough, it is a maze of storage containers and discarded industrial equipment. Zombies are nasty in close quarters like this. That's why I took the high ground.

The suppressor on my LAR-15 keeps the sound of each burst down to a wh-ICK-ICK-ICK racket that's hard enough to pinpoint for regular people, much less braindead zombies. Vasko, the armorer, takes point with his shotgun, but everywhere he turns I've already taken down the zombies lurking there. He must be getting used to it: Halfway down the alley he passes a storage container with barely a twitch of his head.

Big mistake.

I don't have an angle on anything under six feet that far out. I'm lowering my LAR when I see the yellow strobe illuminating a nook just below my line of sight and hear the balloon popping sound of a Makarov. Vasko's back erupts in a spray of vodka and tools as the bullets shred his pack. As soon as my feet hit the ground I'm sprinting down the alley, but the distinct "Kalashnikov cough" tells me the boys have it under control. I can see Vasko pointing his shotgun at the ground and pumping round after round angrily into the zombie...

... but the AKs continue chuffing, and another shotgun joins in the cacophony. I hear the thump-and-yelp of rounds impacting someone to my left. I reach out to grab his arm as I pass, yanking the fellow with me as we slam into the cover of a shipping crate.
"Are you good?!" I shout while waving my hand past the container. Sure enough I'm greeted by the deafening sound of bullets hammering against the steel sides. I can't hear my new companion, but when I look at him he is smiling and pointing to the frays in his body armor: The white ducking beneath is exposed, but not stained with blood.

The boys make short work of the dozen zombies remaining once the initial shock wears off.
"We're almost there," Lefty reminds us as we reload and catch our breath. "I repeat: our objective is to fix the 2 valves in position and restart the cooling station." We gain access to the factory yard proper through another brick wall. There are at least a half-dozen zombies in the yard... and that's just what we can see around either corner of the hangar in front of us. Across the wide delivery drive from the hangar is the factory building with the coolant system exhaust valve.

"We need two of you at the valve and two of you with me! Merc, you get on the hangar roof and cover both squads." Lefty and another Stalker start hurrying across the street, while Vasko and his second prepare to enter the hangar. Taking a knee, I dispatch a few of the closer zombies for Lefty's team, then check around the other corner as Vasko enters the hangar.

There's a rattle above me and one of Lefty's men with a scoped rifle snaps,
"Quit wasting time, merc. Follow me!" as he finishes shoving a concrete slab against the wall, then sprints up the makeshift ramp and jumps onto the rusty maintenance rungs, the bottom eight feet of which had already been torn off. I ditch my pack and join him on the roof.

I wish I hadn't. Scores of zombies dot the yard ambling about so mindlessly that two are shuffling against each other. The sight makes me giggle like a schoolgirl, but for the first time I wonder if maybe Sakharov is right. The only way to the riches in the centre of the Zone is through this factory. If there really is such thing as a 'psy-emitter,' that would explain the horde of Duty paramilitaries, Freedom narco-adventurers, Stalkers and bandits loitering around instead of killing each other.

Looking down through the wrecked roof of the hangar, I see Vasko working with his teammate to turn a rusted steel wheel like you'd see on a ship's hatch. The clanging rouses some of the nearer zombies, whose groans of alertness begin to rouse their neighbors. I hear a muffled
"Cyka" from the Stalker working across the roof from me, who then starts firing at the nearest zombies.

Across the drive I already hear a shotgun thundering. Peering through the ACOG on my rifle I can see Lefty hanging one-armed from the roof access ladder, firing his pistol. Below him a teammate is frantically jamming the shells from his sidesaddle bandolier into the tube while four zombies reload their assortment of arms. Neither of them hears the rattle of my rifle, but they both hear the wet crack of a zombified stalker's head exploding. I take aim and squeeze another burst. The impact spins the next zombie; the burst it had intended for Lefty instead riddles a third walking corpse in the side. A blast of buckshot takes down the fourth, and Lefty helps his man onto the access ladder. I take down two more 'zed-heads' firing wild shotgun blasts at them before the bolt-hold-open of my rifle reminds me that the world is much larger than what's in my scope.

I just drop the spent magazine--I can retrieve it later, I think as it skitters off the edge of the roof. The sound it makes falling into the bushes is just wrong. A split second later, as the edge of the hangar explodes in shards of brick and shotgun pellets I realize there must have been a reanimated corpse below me.
"Vasko!" I shout in warning, slapping a fresh mag home and working the charging handle. "You got company in fifteen seconds!" I can't spend any time helping: Lefty is about to come over the top of the factory roof and alert the trio of well-armed zombies there. With movement below, the two are trapped on the catwalk.

Looking through my scope I realize that the three zombies on the roof are all wearing the same military-grade armor that Sakharov is to 'lose' from his supplies if you wave sack full of Artifacts under his nose. Somehow, I doubt Lefty's squad is the first he's sent to fix the cooling station. My vision blurs up, causing my shots to go wide. I blink, but the effect doesn't go away. Lefty's second is squeezing his temples briefly, and it dawns on me: Sakharov said the psy-field emissions were at their lowest, not gone... and here we are at the centre of the psy-field. The one that creates zombies out of men.

Hell. We're running out of time!

I fight my bucking rifle as I unload an entire magazine on the armored zombie nearest the ladder. As I change magazines again I hear a great whine from below, then a shuddering from the pipes that run into the valve. Vasko lets out a triumphant cheer that turns into a shrieking solo of anguish when gunfire erupts from the other side of the hangar.
"Get down!" I shout into the hangar, yanking a grenade from my web gear and lobbing it through the dilapidated roof at the doorway. The explosion draws my fellow marksman's attention, and we focus on the zombies close by while Yashka desperately wraps bandages around Vasko's head. What he does next is the sort of story I always discounted until I took my first contract in the Zone.

From a sachet hanging off his armor Yashka pulls an Artifact of the Zone's anomalous energy and places it over Vasko's face. It looks like a long piece of jerkey from here, but I have one just like it: Like a double-helix of scabbed blood beads the size of your forearm--they call it 'Mama's Beads.' The red stains stop staining the bandages any further. Another Artifact is drawn out, this one a dull blue marble the size of your fist and surrounded by a diffuse yellow cloud of light. Inside the great marble is a pure white glow. Some say it is formless, some say the glow is shaped like a dove. I see an unborn infant of glowing ice. Yashka holds this in both hands gingerly while circling it around his injured comrade's fractured skull.

I don't have to watch this very closely, I've seen it before. By the time I reload, Vasko is sitting up and removing the bandages from his head. The man's hair is matted with blood, but only rapidly fading scars remain on his face. Just in time, too: From Yashka's radio in a lull I can hear Lefty's crackling cry for help.
"Zombies are coming from all sides!" I swing my rifle around just as a wave of blurred vision and tinnitus hits worse than ever before. My vision yellows out briefly like an old sepiatone photograph. The ringing in my ears seems to form words... or a word echoed over and over. Like a dream upon waking I can almost make out what it is. If I just listen, just for one second, maybe--

"How many of them are there? They're everywhere! Aaaaa!!" Lefty's panicked screams wake me back up.

"Damn Sakharov," I shout, shouldering my rifle, "this is impossible!" I squeeze the trigger, barely aiming. There's no need to, the zombies are so thick on the roof of the factory that I can't miss. The shouting of my own voice seems to keep the sibilant ringing in my ears at bay. "Machines don't cause psy-fields!" Another empty magazine skitters down the roof. I've emptied its replacement almost before it hits the ground. "Anomalies cause psy-fields! Anomalies!" Lefty and his pal have finally made it to the roof valve, but that one was never protected by a roof like the one in the hangar. Lefty pries at it with his broken Krinkov, then starts banging away in anger like the monkeys in that movie with the big black obelisk. "Damn the zombies! Damn that Sakharov! Damn the anomalies, damn the Zone!!"

A wave of zombies flowing from the factory proper keep Yashka and Vasko from fighting up onto the roof to help. My mag pouch is nearly empty. All I have after that is my 1911. I flick the selector to semi-auto and start aiming at the zombies closest to Lefty. "Who cares if Anomalies make Artifacts?" wh-ICK! "So what if Artifacts can bring you back from a coma?" wh-ICK! "I don't want firefighters using Artifacts to walk into a burning building unharmed!" wh-ICK! wh-ICK! wh-ICK! "Artifacts come from the Zone and I!"

wh-ICK! "hate!"

wh-ICK! "the!"

wh-ICK! "Zone!!"

wh-ICKety wh-ICK wh-ICK-ICK-ICK-whICK-whICK clack!!

I pull the trigger twice more to no avail; as soon as I tilt the rifle I see why: a spent casing sticking out of the chamber like a stovepipe.
"I hate the Zone and Eugene Stoner, gYAGH!!" I'm rattling the stupid forward assist and charging lever, trying to get the crimped round free. When the jam finally clears, I watch for a clean round slam into the chamber and take aim again.

"Valve fixed in position!" Lefty's ragged voice crackles over the discarded radio. Through the scope I can see he's used no fewer than three rifles from the zombies to leverage the valve into position. The roof is a carpet of bodies, some still and some clawing forward in various states of kinetic dismemberment to try and stop the process. "Activate initiation!" A burst from my rifle sends a zombie to one side of Lefty off the edge of the roof, while the man himself uses a metal panel to beat one back on his other side. He reaches into an exposed electrical panel and starts working the manual electric starter--a handle like the great big breaker on the outside of stores you just want to grab and throw for fun.

Suddenly the roof chimney lets out a deafening steam whistle that drowns out not just the chittering voice from the anomaly but the gunfire as well. On the down-side, zombies start streaming out of even upper floor windows of the factory complex, attracted to the initial pressure shriek. On the up-side, the blurred vision is gone.
"Great! The cooling station is working again," Lefty calls out. "The psy-field is stable. It's time for us to get out of here..." He uses a pair of zombies' shotguns to clear the roof ledge, then dangles down and drops the last ten feet.

I empty my magazine clearing a path for him to join Yashka and Vasko before running over to my fellow marksman.
"How do you say 'didi mau' in Ukraine?" I shout, slapping him on the shoulder as I pass to signal him to follow. He lobs a grenade high and far first. It doesn't land anywhere near the zed-heads, but it does draw their attention away. The six of us pick our way back through the breaches and storage alley as quietly as we can.

"You did it!" We are almost given up when Sakharov comes over the radio. Lefty cranks the volume down, but not so low that we can't hear. After what we've been through, it wouldn't be right to make us wait. "My sensors show tht psy-emission levels are falling! That means the cooling station is stable. I very much hope that Yantar will become a quieter place from here on in!"

I don't waste time hanging around with Lefty after that. I don't even want to visit Sakharov, but I've got to. I need magazines and ammo badly, and he buys them off any Stalker crazy enough to pick them off of dead zombies. Here at Yantar there are always plenty of both.

"Thank you, merc," he tells me. I could almost swear his is the backmasked voice in the tinnitus during the emmission... but maybe that's just my mind playing tricks on me. Before I have to ask he adds, "By the way, I'm getting a decent signal from Strelok. It looks like he's not far from you, heading straight for the Red Forest."

Strelok, aka 'The Shooter.' The only man to have ever made it to the centre of the Zone. That feat didn't just turn the Zone into a chaotic mess just when we had mapped it all out. Worse than that, the blowout he triggered caught me in its wake and put a countdown on my lifespan.

Oh yes. I'm going to find the Shooter, and then we're going to have a little chat...

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Trespassers, epilogue

Bob hits the back of Smythe's truck at a dead run, his speed and not-insignificant bulk nudging the idling vehicle forward slightly. The screams and moans almost drown out Smythe's backwoods accented voice--if Bob weren't desperate for some kind of guidance in this situation he wouldn't consciously realize she had spoken.

There is a body in the trench as lifeless as he is headless, the remains of the machinegunner. Another of his comrades will soon join him: Lying in the moonlight with no protest, no breath, only scorched blood marring his pallid face.

The others are quite a bit more vocal.

The nearest is crawling to his fallen comrade, grunting in pain and pleading with the man to understand. "It's not my fault, she moved--the bitch!--she moved, I didn't mean it, that's not what was supposed to happen, I'm sorry Phil!"

Phil? English? Sure enough, the bloke ten yards down the ditch is screaming in English as well, no discernible accent to be heard. "Just stop! Leave us alone, it's not our fault brah! C'mon man, it's nothing personal, just... Jesus-shit-shit-shit, I can't feel my toes, just, just somebody help me out, I-I was against this from the start..."

The Minimi and the Chinese assault rifles lie where they were tossed when personal gain took a back seat to wounds and pain. The QBZ-97, distinct from the -95 by the STANAG mag well. Few of the Chinese infiltrators had been discovered with the -95, as supplying it with the distinct Chicom 5.8mm ammo on a deep cover mission of indefinite duration would be problematic to say the least. The -95, however, chambered for the 5.56mm NATO? Common enough to say the least.

At least, among Chinamen. But these are whiteys, through and through. Curiouser and curiouser.

The men aren't the only ones screaming. There is the shrieking of the startled pack horse to contend with, and the rattling of Bob's truck as the beast bucks and tries to flee the gunfire and the scent of death: Death of men and death of the donkey, or what remains of it.

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Trespassers scene, Threat Tokens

Threat tokens are a short-term system of morale in T2k13/Reflex system. Unsurprisingly, they revolve around the Coolness Under Fire (CUF) attribute. It's like if Cyberpunk's Cool attribute got fleshed out some more.

The short version is that anything that would cause significant immediate stress gives you a Threat Level. When you have more Threat Levels than CUF, you start taking penalties. At -5, your character shuts down.

One of the coolest tips in the book, by the way, is the use of Threat Tokens to help players keep track. The two best examples are spent casings and candy. No eating until combat ends or you reduce your TLs! D:

So how does this affect our characters? Let's take a look!

Some threats are basic. For example, combat occurring is always 1 TL. It's just plain stressful. Ding!

Neither of our PCs have been attacked directly, but the enemy is using burst fire. Ding!

Moving along to some tactical considerations, our PCs are being ambushed (Ding!), fighting in darkness (Ding!).

Our PCs can see the enemy, though and what you don't know about can't hurt you--since the ones they can't see haven't attacked or made themselves known in any way, no threat levels from that.

Bob states that Donkey getting ripped up counts as a friendly casualty for him, adding another TL to Bob.

So Smythe has 4 TLs, Bob has 5. Now let's look at what mitigates them. These results temporarily raise your CUF. That's slightly different than lowering TLs, because you may need to make a CUF check... and these things provide a certain boost to confidence under duress.

So far they only benefit from Tango Down: Smythe can say with confidence that she has dealt with the machinegunner. +1 CUF (maximum bonus from this: +3)

Smythe has CUF 7, raised to 8 from that alone. She has taken 4 TLs, so suffers no penalties yet.

Bob on the other hand has a CUF of 3 which, while not terrible, isn't going to do his underpants any favours. Bob has 5 TLs, which is 2 more than his CUF... so all of Bob's actions take a -2 penalty.

On the other point, for roleplaying his character well the GM awards Bob a Survival Point. After all, he didn't have to count Donkey as a pet.

Something else to note: If Bob is attacked (Ding!) with lethal force (Ding!) by someone he can't see (Ding!), he'll be at -5 and no longer able to carry the fight.

Now might be a good time for Bob to dig into his 20kg of "Personal Gear" and decide he had some night-vision goggles!

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Trespassers, continued

As the sun slips under the falling western terrain the two travelers slow down to better spot a place to rest for the night. No-one has maintained these roads for a year--who would waste the petrol on mowers or asphalt?--and so the grasses and underbrush to either side have grown tall despite the nuclear-enhanced winters.

Little do they know, the area is already claimed.

The GM is evil (that's redundant) and has set up a little ambush. The leader has a Professional rating in Tactics, and 6 COG. All attackers are Novice in Tactics, so he has no penalties. The 3 dice for Pro rating come up 1, 9, and 20. The attackers' Margin of Success is 5.

Ambushes are Opposed Actions, so at 50m (Tight range band), the GM calls for a Tactics (AWA) check from Smythe, accepting that in searching for a good locale she mostly has a mind to detecting ambushes. Total penalties are -2: -2 for Tight range band, increased to Medium due to Dim light conditions (moonlit, clear sky) but decreased by 1 due to Smythe having the Eagle Eyes advantage. Smythe has an AWA of 7, so her target number is 5. Her dice come up 5 and 15... a marginal success (0 MoS). This does not reduce the attacker's 5 MoS, but still a success so the GM deems she sees the muzzle flare as they open up.

Normally Bob would be considered Lightly Encumbered due to his tactical vest, giving him an Initiative of 12, and Smythe would be Moderately Encumbered due to her vest with plates, so base initiative of 9. Due to being ambushed, Bob and Smythe both have a base initiative of 0.

They still get to make their OODA checks to add to their base initiative. Bob's OODA is 1, and he doesn't roll any ones. Initiative 0, Bob doesn't act this Exchange of Fire.

Smythe, however, is a bit more aware. Her OODA of 5 serves her well: She rolls a pair of fives. Every die that succeeds in addition to the best adds +2 MoS, so despite neither die being able to give even a 1 Margin of Success, she has a 2 MoS. Because they're both successful rolls.

The baddies are Lightly and Moderately encumbered, and none of them make their OODA checks. That still means the Lightly Encumbered ones have an Initiative of 12, the Moderately encumbered ones have an Initiative of 9. Smythe's 2 MoS gives her an Initiative of 2, which isn't much to work with... this Exchange of Fire. D:

Suddenly up ahead, the grassy ditch on the far side of the bend sparks bright red. Smythe has just enough time to shout "Front!" before the rounds start whizzing right towards her truck. They fly past, not even grazing. Are they aiming for Bob's SUV??

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Trespassers

From sunup to evening the two picked their way along the looted pile-up, the pantomime of normalcy along this highway intersection. The two travelers even managed to catch a surprise meal when Bob got spooked by a couple of equally frightened rabbits in the underpass.

Bob asks if he should tick off a shotshell from his ammo counter. The GM says, "Nah, it's not really a survival scene so only a cock would have you do that. Besides, if I need you guys to run out of ammo, I can make it happen." Sometimes we should learn to keep our thoughts to ourselves!

While the haul wasn't as big as they would have liked it to be, the parts certainly are more than they had hoped for. Bob insists that Smythe keep the parts, ostensibly because she needs them more than he does. The real reason isn't that Smythe is a looker--she's not, and besides as one of the cowboys who keep everyone alive Bob probably has a couple of hopefuls back home. What's going on is that doing so will prove his goodwill. Or so he hopes.

It also makes up for the fact that they have to move at the speed of their slowest member--in this case the GM states the roads are passable, so it is the pack horse at 12km/h. (On the other hand, if going offroad, it's the trucks: 8km/h assuming flat and open terrain.) For going well below their capable speed, the GM decides the vehicles use only half their usual fuel consumption, same as idling. It's 7 and a half miles an hour, that's practically idling anyway!

The two trucks and two pack animals travel for 4 hours, making it 50 klicks before something noteworthy happens. Bob's hybrid SUV burns 1.9 litres of Gasoline (58.1L left in the tank), while Smythe's technical burns up 4 litres of sweet sweet diesel (leaving 66 litres in the tank).

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Scavengers

Bob and Smythe, his newfound companion (it's fated she agrees, else there's little campaign :P), are immediately facing a problem in the desolate landscape: Parts. Bob's hybrid SUV has 3 points of Wear, meaning it's not in bad shape bit is undeniably due for some maintenance and refitting.

The armed-and-armoured "technical" truck Smythe is riding, though, has a Wear value of 6. This thing has been through some battles and looks it. While still functional it is starting to break down with identifiable regularity. It's so bad that the wear and tear makes it difficult to work on the vehicle by now--every time you fix something, you find two more things you didn't know were broken.

Luckily, they started off in a good location with a merciful GM. While it isn't literally a thirty-mile junkyard, the highway junction the two find themselves at has a traffic jam of abandoned vehicles on it for about a mile. A little research shows this is about equivalent to a city block, and while they have been picked over, shot at and often torched, the GM declares there may be sufficient parts for their needs to make things worth checking out. After all, what good are seventy fuel injectors when what you need is a sixteen inch wheel?

Base time to search a suburban block is 4 hours (GM declares it's a city block equivalent, but the haul isn't quite the same as a block of skyscrapers), but since they're searching just for vehicle parts (which count as Medium Mechanical Parts) the GM decides this counts as a targeted search which cuts the time in half to 2 hours. Also as a targeted search the roll becomes a Mechanics (AWA) roll. Instead of working separately, the two decide to work as a team. As Smythe is the better mechanic, she's the leader. Bob's Mechanics skill is one level lower, meaning his help gives her a +2. Besides, Bob's Awareness is terrible--maybe he's got ADD. Smythe's player asks if they're in a safe enough area to take their time, and the GM says that neither of them have seen any pursuers... yet. So they decide to take 5x as long, giving another +3. For each Margin of Success, GM decides they get 1 unit of Medium Mechanical Parts. The two players warily eye each other and roll.

Smythe has an AWA of 7 and Competent rating in Mechanics. She rolls 2d20L, against 12 (7+2 for Bob, +3 for time taken) and gets an 18 and an 8. She succeeds (the L means take the Lowest) by a Margin of success of 4.

At the end of 10 hours (4 base, 1/2 for targeted search, x5 time to get a +3 bonus) of searching they have netted 4 units of Medium Mechanical Parts (20kg total) to repair their vehicles with. The excitement never ends!

... especially not when this isn't enough to bring that 6 Wear down to 5 with!

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Prologue

So it's time to start the campaign! This will actually not be just a single person thing, as my buddy flinkie has joined the action! First things first is to give the setting. In brief...

The year is 2013. Two years ago, though no-one realized it at the time, World War III broke out. The one Einstein spoke of when he said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." The nukes first went off in Europe, an exchange between--get this--France and Russia which taught everyone the devastation of EMPs. The Chinese got into that game in 2011, blanketing the US in EMP airbursts to limit our effectiveness in thwarting their Asia-Pacific land grab. After EMPs had taken out most of the world's manufacturing, the two back to back nuclear winters took out most of the world's agricultural crop. And oil? Forget about it. Once the Middle East realized the rest of the world was neither paying attention nor trading food, the region devolved into Shi'a-Sunni genocide.

I'm Bob Sobieski--yeah, like the vodka. I came from Chicago, went to UCLA for film, and ended up in Spain when the balloon went up. That was... fun. And by "fun" I mean "pants-shittingly terrifying." We were on set in the Tabernas Desert in Spain for what must've been the last movie ever made. Fittingly, it was a modern day Spaghetti Western. With Nazis. Just trust me, it would've been awesome. It starred effing MacGyver!

Huh? Yeah, he's still alive. He doesn't have a ponytail anymore, and he can't make a radio out of tinfoil and a can of silly string, no, but he's... a lot more like Jack O'Neill, though. A hero. So here's how it went down.

There were fifty of us on set December 1st of 2011, filming this scene, when suddenly there was this flash and then a big, dull thump in the distance. One of the cameramen had seen it, we didn't know what had happened at the time but turns out that missile defense thing everyone said was a waste of money saved our lives. Intercepted a nuke headed right for the Plataforma Solar de Almería--big European solar power test platform. Of course, we didn't know that at the time, though Kowalski and I had been planning to visit the place on a down day. At the time we were as confused as everyone else. Hurried back to the hotel and tried to get in touch with family. Someone eventually got word on Facebook through the laggy as hell internet connection (the only communications that were working) that France had been nuked and power was out pretty much across France and eastern Spain.

So MacGyver, he says, "Listen up! This is why I got us a private flight through Dan's company." Dan's his bodyguard, worked for one of those private security firms who change their names every couple weeks. "We're all going to pack up nice and calmly, drive out of town at a normal pace, and once we hit the big intersection floor it to the airfield. Dan's confirmed their old Antonov plane's fueled up and ready to go."

That went about as well as you can expect, and two days later we finally got to the air strip. Dan's company had left the pilot and five "mechanics" with the plane. By the time we got there the pilot and one of the "mechanics"--his name was Irish Mike--were the only people standing. Literally. Some idiot saw the bodies and wrecked cars and asked what happened. "We done our jobs, get on the fookin plane," Irish Mike said, and we did!

We flew outta there like a bat out of hell. Spanish air traffic control threatened to have us shot down for deviating from our flight plan, but they had bigger fish to fry: The higher-flying Russian birds dropping paratroopers that night.

We landed in Mali--it's this big weird country in west Africa. We touched down, and we're greeted by the the Gendarmerie. MacGyver gets this twinkle in his eye and says, "Everyone get into costume and follow my lead." We'd all been suiting up as extras... now, the funny thing is, half of the uniforms were Waffen SS, but we put 'em on. Rifles too, MacGyver says.

So the Gendarmerie's saying they're going to open fire on the plane if we don't come out. That's when MacGyver opens the hatch. He's wearing digicams, with a boonie hat and Colonel rank on... and a fat twelve-gauge levergun draped across his shoulder. He squints at the dozen Malian Gendarmerie for a straight minute. The guy on the bullhorn screams for him to identify himself. MacGyver spits, starts sauntering down the little metal staircase they'd rolled up and calm as you may says, "I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill, US Air Force, and I've come for the American ambassador." Then he turns around and shouts, "Form it up, I'm not out here to get a tan!"

I think I pissed myself--I think everyone did--but we did it. Just marched out there and made two squares: One in camo, one in effing SS uniforms. I thought we'd all get mowed down or something, since only a handful of us had guns that actually shot real bullets. But the only rapid-fire thing sent our way was apologies.

That's how we made our way home: Fraud, bluff, and bluster. The American ambassador found us, so having a few embassy Marines on hand helped. They taught us how to act like Marines on the overland trek to Morocco; we taught them a thing or two too. Like how to ride horses. From Morocco we went to the Azores, then from there caught the last flight home before the Chinese airbursted the shit out of the US. And we came back to this...

Bob gestures to the freeway, lined with abandoned and wrecked vehicles. "A junkyard thirty miles long," he says to his newfound companion, the woman in the suspiciously armored pickup truck with a missile launcher and no markings. She claimed she was from the Army. Yeah, he'd done that too. "And I told you the rest. Fifty people back at the ranch, one of the MacGyver and he needs a surgeon, bad. We're doing OK otherwise. Great even--we've got beef! So, whattaya say? Help me get to Oregon and find a doctor. We don't care who you are or where you've been, and we could really use a soldier like you."

"Did I mention we've got beef?"

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Character Wrapup

So by now you're wondering if this isn't "Pedantic: The Roleplaying Game!" No, that's just me. This will be a good project for me, since I get a bit carried away when I write (as you can tell). Also consider that little of this would seem like "talking a lot," especially since much of it is summarizing hypothetical conversation. Still, I'll get better at summarizing!

These posts may make character creation look a bit complicated. Eh, not really. Life Paths are about 50% of it, and are pretty damned fun to boot. All the crunchy derived values can be pawned off on the math junkie, and most are based off a certain base value. Get the base value, and you can fill in the rest while starting the first session. Hopefully you won't need to know your Critical values in the first 15 minutes!

Group Equipment has a bunch of tables, but Personal Equipment... that's when people can get bogged down. One of the suggestions in the book is for the GM to come up with a default portion of the gear for everyone. EG clothes, outerwear, tools, tent, backpack, canteens, sleeping bag, etc. Some basic stuff everyone should have. Not a bad idea.

I think what I'm going to do for Bob something similar, but just a little bit different. Remember Contacts, how you can just whip out this vague idea of one and flesh it out when needed? I'm going to do that with gear. At any point, if it's reasonable, you can just whup out whatever gear you need and say you've had it all along--so long as 1.) it makes sense, and 2.) you have the weight limit in Personal Gear for it. I think it should keep things dynamic, and ease some of the "oh shit I haven't played a real survival game before!"

The one thing we know he carries already is a Saiga-20 (semi-auto 20-gauge shotgun based on the AK frame).

The weapon weighs 3.4kg, the 5-round magazines weigh .5kg (loaded) each, and Bob decides to take 4 of them (plus the one you can assume comes with the weapon). When asked about carrying it in and out of the vehicle, Bob decides his has been 'tweaked' a bit with a folding stock and a sling (0.2kg). The weapon also gets the quirk "Durable 1," meaning its wear level functions at one level lower (better) than it should--the AK is legendary about such things. He also decides to add a Reflex sight, powered and nonmagnifying. This drops the speed of snap and aimed shots by 1, and adds a +2 bonus to snap shots. This adds .3kg to the weapon. So all total, his shotgun weighs 3.9kg or about ten pounds. The 3 mags take another 1.5kg.

Saiga-20: 3.9kg
o Durable 1
o Folding Stock
o Powered Reflex Sight
o Sling
Saiga-20 5rd Mags, 4x: 2kg (.5kg ea)

To carry all that he grabs a set of load-bearing equipment--the old-school stuff, he says, reasoning that his character wouldn't have the most high-speed-low-drag stuff. Plus sometimes it looks really cool to be old-school. Building it from the table he comes up with...

Belt-and-Yoke LBE: 2.1kg (2.5kg with 10rds shotgun ammo)
o Canteen Carrier
o Rifle Mag Carrier, Quad
o 2xUtility Pouch - 1 carries IFAK
o Holster
o Sheath
o Mag Carrier, Pistol, Triple
o Radio Pouch
o 2xShell Loops (5 shells ea, 10 total)

IFAK: 0.6kg (Individual First Aid Kit)

Stylin'. Speaking of, as a benefit from some background info he's using, the GM advises Bob to go with modern digicams. Bob picks out a few more pieces of gear, based on that:

Field Pack w/Frame: 3kg, 24 Attachment Points (for MLBE)
o Frame can be adjusted (10min), -10% weight of contents
o 12AP: Patrol Pack (see below)

Patrol Pack: 1.5kg (4.5kg w/water), 17 Attachment Points, 6AP max size.
o 3 Litre Hydration Bladder (3kg full)

Tactical Vest + Extensions: 4.5kg, 2 Armor on Chest, Abdomen, Upper arms, Neck.

Fatigues (DPM), Mild Weather, 2x: 2.4kg (1.2kg ea) (+3 Field/Streetcraft to avoid observation, +4 vs electronics)

Combat Boots: 2kg

M9/Beretta 92: 0.9kg
3x M9 mags: 0.0.9kg (0.3kg ea)
Machete: 0.7kg

That's 20.4kg, which Bob figures is a good place to stop:
1.) It leaves him 46.6kg (his Emergency threshold is 67kg) to "suddenly have."
2.) It lets him kit up for combat and adventure: Subtract 1.2kg (he's not going to carry his spare clothes), swap the 3kg of the patrol frame pack for 3 litres of water (which weighs 3kg, don't forget your Metric!!), and he's at 18.8kg. Add 3 survival rations and he's at 20.7kg, leaving 3.4kg he can add on before taking any penalties whatsoever.

As a final note, Bob decides that half his 100 rounds of ammo (remember that?) is buck, half slug. Makes sense.

Next time: Adventure!!

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Character Gear (Step 6?)

One of the problems with Twilight: 2013 was the organization. While logical on its own, it was not set up for play or character creation in many reviewers' view. For example, I can't tell whether to round up or down (eg for determining initial CUF/OODA, or for derived values) despite several searches. I know I've found that detail before, but I'm positive it's not in the chargen chapter.

Equipment, too, is in a strange place and yet, a completely logical one: The Equipment chapter. The chapter on chargen ends on page 134 and only includes the fact that you have equipment dice. You don't find out what to do with them until page 208. On the merciful side, you start play with a technically unlimited selection of Personal Equipment.

Personal Equipment

That's right, you start the game with your Emergency Load in Personal Equipment. Other than the weight it is unrestricted. There's no Availability to contend with, you can load up on up to your Emergency Load in kilograms of gear. Sure, you can make it all high-value antibiotics... and your game may take place in the Gobi desert, so some careful forethought is advised. "You can't eat mortar ammunition," as the text says. Bob has a 67kg Emergency Load, so he can have 67 kilos of Personal Equipment.

Now, Personal Equipment is special: It's stuff that's personally yours, that you've accumulated and taken a special shine or need to. When using Personal Equipment, you can reduce the total penalties applied to your roll by 1. Maybe it's placebo effect and your scalpel just makes you feel at ease despite the pressure. Maybe it's just subtly getting to know the ins and outs of your mountain-climbing gear, or perhaps you've customized this TI-80 graphing calculator with data and functions to make those civil engineering tasks just a bit easier.

There is an optional rule to sacrifice Personal Equipment when your character takes damage. The player declares they are exercising this rule, and the GM picks what piece of gear takes the final blow. This is a cute, cinematic system. I really like it, especially considering how deadly this game can be.

This leads to replacing personal gear: You can't just pick up a plow from an abandoned farm and say, "this is my Personal Plow! There are many others like it but this one is mine!" It takes 3 months of in-game time to make a piece of equipment Personal, and the gear must be frequently used in order to gain that special familiarity with its quirks. If this would put you over your weight limit of Personal Equipment, you have to sacrifice the "Personal Equipment" tag on however much gear would put you back under it--which makes sense, you've been focusing on this thing instead of that one.

I'm not going to worry too much about Bob's personal gear right now. You do have to buy clothes and other mundanities--that develops the theme since life is quite a bit less permanent than it once was. I'll worry about all that after Group Equipment. I will note however that the post-apocalyptic barter economy is based off gold, and you can make a PER+3 check to start off with 100+(25*MoS) grams of it. Bob has a PER of 10, so the TN for his check is 13. Attribute checks are 2d20L. First d20 comes up a 15, which is a failure. The second roll is a 13... So with a 0 Margin of Success, Bob just starts off with 100 grams of gold. That would be disappointing, except for Bob's ridiculous luck in his Equipment Dice roll. Maybe he has so much/such good special gear because he bartered away most of his gold for it?

Group Equipment

Most characters cannot carry a horse or motorcycle (although I did once make a machinegunner with high MUS and some Mule advantages who might have been able to carry a pony), so how do you go about getting something like that--much less the fuel for a vehicle? What about a generator? Food? That's where Equipment Dice and Group Equipment come in.

Gear you get with Equipment Dice is not Personal Equipment, and does not provide the benefits of such. It is considered Group Equipment--basically, stuff that may be "yours" but isn't going to cause a life-or-death struggle if someone else handles it. Hey, it's post-apoc, some things have taken on very special meaning to people. After all, if that bow and quiver are how Sallie keeps herself fed, wouldn't Bob asking to take it on a hunting trip be akin to him asking to take a limping geezer's cane?

Each Equipment Die gives you 1d6 to roll on one equipment table. Since most tables go well above 6, you can declare multiple dice to be used on one roll. As a third note, groups are allowed to pool some or all of their dice together for just such an occasion. There are 9 tables with a bunch of subtables, everything from animals to fixed base equipment, food and fuel to weapons, ammo and vehicles. There's also an additional rule that you can spend half your dice for gold: Roll the bones allocated for the purpose and multiply by 250 grams.

Bob's Choices

Bob's going to need something to ride, and as you all know I'm a fan of Mongols. Since the animals table only goes up to 6, but not all results include a horse as an option, Bob will assign 2 dice to the attempt. Why not 3? Because animals eat a lot! Based on previous experience, 1 horse and 2 oxen with a 2.5 ton wagon would need around 7 tons of food to last a mere 3 weeks. Granted some of that would be foraged, but since movie stars don't tend to live in Kansas, Bob's not likely to be able to support 3 large animals. Of course, maybe he'll get a pair of asses. Let's find out!

The first die comes up a 3, which givesh im the option of a draft horse or a riding horse. We have a winner! A Riding horse can carry 90kg as its March load; considering how Bob weighs just under that, he'll go with a Draft horse. He also has to roll 1d20 to determine how well trained it is. This one comes up an 8, which tells us it's Docile and therefore comes with a pack saddle. Taking a quick look 75 pages later or so, it turns out that you can ride these at a little risk (mostly to the animal), and training Docile into Riding is a Mounts (RES) check taking 2 weeks per roll and requiring a total MoS of 6. Not bad, Bob can probably manage this over a month or two. However, Bob is going somewhere to get someone, so he's still going to roll for more horses. Maybe he'll get a properly trained horse, or a wagon to carry enough goods (or Gatling guns? :P) to convince the doctor to come back with him! Roll #2 comes up with a donkey or mule; after a little research and thought, Bob chooses a (sterile) mule: while donkeys are eaten in some places and can be milked, it doesn't make as much sense that he's leaving with yet another valuable piece of breeding stock. So he takes the mule, which needs less food and can travel longer than an equivalent-sized horse. So it looks like Bob isn't getting any ass, like his player. ;) For the mule's disposition Bob rolls and gets a result of Docile, so it comes with a pack saddle and thus will also require training to ride.

So a docile pack mule and a docile pack horse. This should allow Bob to travel a goodly distance, provides him with something to trade (or emergency food supply if necessary), and with some good fortune allow him to train up a riding animal--maybe even a cavalry mount! While the idea of a war-mule is enticing, Bob's (player's) brief research tells him that mules tolerate heavier loads than horses. Bob would therefore choose the horse as a riding animal.

He also spends 50 of his starting grams of gold (GGs) on a Cart, which he can have his mule or horse haul. Maybe he'll swap it back and forth each day, to allow one to travel relatively unburdened. The Cart can carry 250kg if towed by the donkey; 300kg if towed by the horse. The draft horse can carry 115kg as a March Load, 210kg as an Emergency Load. The mule, 95kg/170kg. So it looks like Bob may be able to swap which animal pulls the cart each day if he travels lightly on the donkey.

1 Riding Horse (Docile, pack saddle)
1 Pack Mule (Docile, pack saddle)
1 Cart

Well let's see how much those 2 hungry animals need to eat. A quick game of cat-and-mouse with the index finds a section about ranching that tells us a cow needs 100kg of forage per day, and provides a table for animals' nutritional needs. Cows and horses both take 2.4 hectares of pasture area, the mule (donkey) will take 0.8 hectares--which doing the math tells us 33kg of forage. Hrm. Looks like a few dice will be going towards food. While Bob is going to train the horse for proper riding, he's already going to be Pushing the animal to ride it--including during travel. Pushing requires a roll each hour. Since the mule travels at half speed (7km/h) hauling the cart, Bob should have ample time to train the horse... but he's not going to push it much past its March load. His GM is evil by definition, and just may penalize his rolls if he tries to train it to ride while carrying a bunch of weight too. (Perhaps he'll even get a bonus for riding it at nearly half its movement rate!)

The cart can carry minimum 250 kg of cargo, so we shouldn't be running out of room any time soon. Needless to say, Bob decides to allocate a few dice here. 3 of them, 1 roll at a time. Each roll is 1d6 for quantity, 1d00 for food type. 90kg of balanced wild food, 120kg of fresh food, and 6 cases of survival rations (144 rations).

This is a hell of a lot of food for him, and not much for the animals. After correllating a few charts, using a calculator and his food requirements, Bob finds he has the following amounts of food: 120kg Fresh Food: 23 days and 1 meal of food. 90kg Wild Food: 4 days and 2 meals. 6 cases Survival Rations (14.4kg, 144 rations/meals): 54 days and 2 meals of food with less flavour than packing peanuts.

Since the food table doesn't have anything for animals (nor does the fuel table), Bob's player puts on the kneepads and pleads with the GM. Considering that he's from a ranching community which based on backstory and rolls seems to be raising cattle with no trouble, it stands to reason that the community has perhaps an excess of either animals or food. The GM agrees on a little stop and further develops the ranch community's history: They have an excess of grains... the kind grown just for feeding animals. On a days-equivalent basis, Bob's 120kg of Fresh Human Food for his 2 animals and their 133kg of forage requirement per day is 3,059kg of grain. Luckily, the GM doesn't feel like bothering with horse-specific grain. Besides, they aren't in the desert. The GM agrees to swap the Fresh Food for Feed--and after some research, 1kg of Feed is roughly equivalent (keep in mind this is a ballpark figure, SWAGged for an RPG) to 2.5kg of forage. So 120kg of Feed, equivalent to 250kg of forage. TLDR, about 2 days of Feed. This way if Bob needs to travel nonstop to flee pursuers, he can; he may also trade this high quality feed to struggling communities or travellers.

120kg Feed (works as 2.5kg forage, 2 days)
90kg Wild Food (4d+2m)
14.4kg Survival Rations (6 cases/144 rations/54d+2m)

That's a lot of food. Then again, he's got something to trade that absolutely everybody needs! Then again, it's that's almost all (224.4kg) of his 250kg cart load. That means Bob is going to need (or just want)...

Vehicles and Fuel
Yep, something to drive around in. Bob's not crazy about the idea, but considering everything including backstory he's not going to roll for another animal. Since his last phase wasn't Twilight Warfare, Bob can't have a military vehicle roll. Poor Bob. The max one can allocate on the Civilian Vehicles table is 2d6 in one roll; Bob wants something in about the middle of the table so he goes for 2d6... and gets a 7. Bob picks a Light Hybrid SUV from the list of choices for a 7, figuring that a bunch of Hollywood types would have at least one they could spare after a year. He rolls 1d3, and gets a Wear value of 2.

On the downside, he'll absolutely need gasoline, and is down to 6 dice. At least it comes with a full tank of gas.

Risking it at first, Bob decides to give the Fuel table a single roll and gets 6 jerry cans of Diesel. So close, but so far! The next die comes up with 1 jerry can of precious Gasoline, the next 1 jerry can of methanol. With 3 dice left, Bob calls it quits. He's not in a typical campaign operating out of a fixed base. The Diesel is enough useless/trade weight for now.

1 Hybrid SUV (Wear 2)
6 Jerry Cans Diesel (20L/16.8kg fuel + 2kg can ea; 120L/112.8kg
1 Jerry Can Methanol (20L/same as Ethanol; 20L/17.8kg)
1 Jerry Can Gasoline (20L/14.4kg+2kg; 20L/16.6kg)

As a note, some Googling told me these weights for fuels:
Deisel, 0.84kg/l
Gas, 0.72kg/l
Methanol and Ethanol, 0.79kg/l

Tools/Fixed Base Equipment
Willing to risk some of his ~100kg of cargo space left, Bob takes 2 dice to roll here... but takes them separately, since the lighter stuff is on the lower end. Both come up as 1's, so he chooses a 3-man civilian tent and a barbecue grill with 4 medium bottled gas canisters.

3-man Civilian Tent (6.9kg)
BBQ Grill (3.5kg, each meal takes 0.7kg Propane Gas)
4 Med (17.6L/9kg, 8kg of fuel ea, 25 meals ea; 100 meals total; 36kg) Bottled Gas Canisters


With one die left, Bob rolls on the ammo table and comes up with 100 rounds of 20-gauge ammo.

100 rds 20-gauge Ammo (4kg)

This tells me Bob's Personal Equipment will include a 20-gauge shotgun, probably a Saiga-20 since it's me... And my clock tells me I've been pedantic up till 2AM, so time to post and sleep!

T2k Exemplary Campaign: Character, Step 5: Contacts! (and some boring derived values)

Here's how much time we're going to waste on derived values: I'm just going to do them. Height is random, the rest is selectable. Height and Build have an effect on weight, weight (and the Athletic build) affect carrying capacity and nutritional requirements. Age affects starvation time and survival points (more on them later).

This isn't just pedantic bookkeeping for its own sake. First of all, vehicles are plentiful but fuel is not, so carrying capacity and travel rates are important. Secondly, even if survival does not feature heavily in the campaign it is always a threat looming on the horizon like the not-so-random rust monster encounter in D&D.

I've hidden the sheet behind an LJ-cut, don't forget to skip below for the Contacts. It's a cool system, really made me rethink some things in other games--even when I was uber-anal-retentive.

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Survival Points are the system's equivalent to Fate/Luck points: They can be used to grant bonuses or mitigate penalties. The older you start, the fewer you start off with, so it encourages you not to make that 97 year old Mechanic Army Ranger Retired Neurosurgeon Turned Farming Prodigy. Also every year over 30 there is a chance to lose a point from one (or more) of your attributes at the end of each phase.

Now we get to the part that's as cool as the Life Paths: Contacts. Contacts are people the person knows whom they can call upon for help. Friends and lovers, co-workers, colleagues, family, and mentors--those are contacts. Shadowrun players will be familiar with the concept, but T2k puts a unique spin on them. Instead of being NPCs as such, Contacts in T2k have only 2 details: Category (Information, Reinforcement, Service, or Trade--in other words, what they can do), and Quality (Green, Regular, Experienced, Veteran, or Elite). For each contact you roll 1d20 and refer to a chart, which tells their Quality.

You get 1 contact for every point of PER, plus one for every ten full years of age. Bob has PER of 10 and is 27, so that's 12. As a note, every phase spent in a combat arms career subtracts one contact: Soldiers know soldiers, a lot of whom are now part of the atmosphere. Bob was never in the military, but his Entertainment phase provides +1 contact. That's 13 contacts! Bob is well-equipped and well-connected! He also is now glad he doesn't have to flesh them out very far. ;)

The first step is to pick which type each contact is. You can only have CUF-3 Reinforcement contacts, and since Bob has a CUF of 3... no Reinforcement contacts. Well, that simplifies things a little. Deciding to play it safe, Bob chooses 4 Information, 5 Service, and 4 Trade contacts. Rolling a d20 for each--not assigned, just one at a time, to keep munchkins from piling all their Elite contacts into Reinforcements--he gets 8, 3, 4, and 19 for his Information contacts: a Regular, 2 Green, and one Veteran. 14 16 12 and a pair of 15s come up for his Service contacts, which makes them all Experienced, while his Trade contacts roll a 6 a 9 a 1 and a 12 making them 2 Regular, 1 Green, and 1 Experienced.

Information2 Green, 1 Regular, 1 Veteran
Service5 Experienced
Trade1 Green, 2 Regular, 1 Experienced

Right now that's all he has. Bob could expand on some or all of them, but he doesn't have to--and isn't encouraged to. They could be anything: Old friends, people who know of him even if he doesn't know them, maybe even people from the ranch community he's leaving behind to rescue. The GM warns him that his mentor, the old actor in ill health, is not one of them. One theme of this campaign is that of the hero needing to be rescued. In fact, his survival is not assured! Bob (well, his player) is warned that if Bob does not find help, if Bob just focuses on his own survival, this near-father-figure will die. This works for Bob's player, as it gives his character a strong motivator which may double as an internal conflict.

Bob is also advised that to his contacts, Bob is a Contact. While Bob doesn't need to do this much, he tells the GM that he is most likely a Trade contact for them by way of his status in his ranch-community. He could facilitate or authorize the trade of the community's food, gear or shelter.

So here's the cool part about Contacts (at last!): Activating contacts. During a scene you can decide to call upon a contact. At this point the contact is "activated" and fleshed out. The player tells the GM which contact they're activating, describes their relationship and what sort of aid the contact will be able to provide. The Contact is now defined, the player makes a certain roll to determine if he can find them and how long it takes. If the roll fails, the player just couldn't find them... but the Contact remains defined. That's the risk you take, but hey--you can try to play them another time.

So let's say at some point in the campaign Bob has found a locked building with the words "forgive me" painted on the door and a corpse nearby clutching a revolver with 6 expended shells and a key ring--none of which fits the locks on the shelter. While Bob has information telling him the shelter was stocked with food, a radio, batteries, ammunition, and even a generator, he can't quite stomach eviscerating the corpse on the off-chance that the man swallowed the key. A day spent searching the area turns up a half-dozen keys, apparently discarded by frustrated looters as none of them fits the lock.

Bob decides to activate one of his Service contacts and tells the GM that this is Mannie Martinez, a crackhead Bob had befriended in Hollywood. Mannie had a reputation for being able to break into any building, especially if it was locked. In fact, Bob decides, he met Mannie when he and his mentor had locked themselves out of their SUV back in the day. It just so happens that Mannie said his mom lived in this part of the state, so it's possible Mannie's nearby.

The GM likes the story, decides it's plausible enough that he can't say no, and tells Bob to make a note of Mannie Martinez and cross out 1 of his 5 Experienced Service contacts. Bob then makes his rolls. If Bob fails? Maybe Mannie came here after the bombs and riots but his mom had fled elsewhere. Another time, Bob can try to activate Mannie--maybe he finds where Mannie and his mum fled to.

Let's say Bob succeeds. Based on his rolls, Bob finds Mannie in six hours. The GM, being a devious bastard, has some bandits ambush Bob--but Mannie is among them, and convinces them not to attack Bob. They talk later, and Bob quietly offers to split the loot in the shelter fifty-fifty with Mannie, which suits the former crackhead just fine... except... he didn't exactly remember to bring his lockpicking tools. There is a town about a day's ride from here though, and they had a locksmith until Mannie's crew raided them for supplies a few months back. Maybe Bob could convince them to give up the man's gear. Mannie's willing to give Bob 5 gallons of ethanol to help sweeten the pot. Of course, Mannie's also willing to raid the place if Bob will be their man on the inside...

Contacts are so cool!!