Those of you who’ve been here for some time may recall I wrote an article suggesting that you take a bash at a particular hobby of mine: anime. If the uptake of that suggestion by my LUNKHEAD colleagues is any indication of that of the wider audience, then you’re “going to get round to it”. First give yourself a slap ’round the chops from me and then stop “getting around to it” and do it. I don’t mind if you don’t like it, but give it a go, that’s all I’m saying. That rant aside, I decided to try a slightly different tactic for my second attempt at endorsing a weird, nerdy hobby of mine. That tactic was cramming it down my colleagues ungrateful throats. Well, those colleagues I could physically get my hands on at short notice. The hobby in question? Role-playing games.
No, not those RPGs Mr. Patry was kind enough to talk to you about, I’m talking pen and paper, overactive imagination RPGs. No, we did not play Dungeons and Dragons. I do not own Dungeons and Dragons. Any edition. No, I don’t mean Pathfinder either, smartarse. There’s a lot more to RPGs than sweaty, pimply, bespectacled nerdlingers eating crisps in their mother’s basement somewhere in Midwest USA being falsely accused of satanic worship and ritual. There’s a lot of games out there and this time I’m not doing your research for you. If what follows even slightly interests you, go out, find a group and play something. What follows you ask? Well, I’m glad you did as what follows is an account of the game I forced my colleagues to play.
As you might have guessed, a penchant for the horror genre runs throughout many of my colleagues, I’ve even written an article on the topic, so I put William Cross and Ben Clayton, along with Ben’s brother Matt, through The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse. The End of the World is a series of games published by Fantasy Flight Games in which players take on a caricatured version of themselves, attempt to survive the apocalypse and perhaps even thrive in the post-apocalyptic world that follows. Of the four planned flavours of the game, two have been released: Zombie Apocalypse and Wrath of the Gods, with Alien Invasion looming on the horizon and Rise of the Machines in the future after that. Given my player’s tastes, I went with the zombie flavour. The game system itself is incredibly simple and great for starting players, using only “normal” six-sided dice in positive and negative varieties. A good GM (game master for the uninitiated – the guy who writes the story and chairs proceedings, i.e. me) could do all the dice work himself and simply leave the players to decision making. The meat of each book is a suite of five scenarios (indeed, the rules section is the same whichever book you pick up) that include the apocalypse, a timeline, sample locations and foes and similar for the post-apocalypse. The particular scenario my players faced was a slight twist on the Under the Skin scenario. Right, enough prevarication. From here on, I’m going to tell you what happened roughly as the players experienced it. For the faint of stomach, go play RPGs, this may not be for you.
THE DAY THE WORLD STARTED TO END
Disclaimer: This totally happened and all the characters who appear are real people. However, any who appear other than Will, Ben and Matt are played by me and I’m a nasty man who says bad things so I’ve changed the names of the NPCs (non-player characters). The character of James Arnold will be referred to as “Arnie”, whereas the first person pronoun will refer to the GM.
The game began with the four of them sat around the table at Ben’s house about the play the game. Yes, the start’s a little meta, but that’s how End of the World rolls. All of a sudden there’s a sickening thud, smashing glass and screeching tyres from outside. There’s silence. Then the screaming starts. Will, Ben and Matt dither about what to do whilst Arnie goes and gets himself a coffee.
After coming on for ten minutes, Arnie is keeping himself busy in the kitchen whilst Will and Ben venture outside. On the main road is the aftermath of a road accident, a dented car, a broken windscreen, a whole lot of blood and a horribly mutilated corpse missing everything above the nose. I did say to get out if you’re squeamish, didn’t I? This is only going to get worse. In fact, it’s horrifying enough that Ben passes out on the spot and has to be dragged back inside by Will.
After a lot of shouting, confusion, Matt locking the front door and rousing a thoroughly concussed Ben, Arnie returns from the kitchen. Will explains the situation. Arnie unlocks the front door and goes to look himself, coffee firmly in hand. Arnie shortly returns and explains calmly that there is no corpse. Will and Ben are unwilling to accept what Arnie says, but are simultaneously unwilling to go back outside and check. Matt is unwilling to let Arnie get off unlocking his door without permission.
More discourse and plans occur. Ultimately, it is decided that Arnie will drive Will back to his house before disappearing off his own way. I remind the children that splitting the party is bad. They ignore me. So, whilst Matt and Ben make preparations, including a fairly sturdy cupboard door rigged to perform as a shield, Will takes a kitchen knife, gets in Arnie’s car and starts making phone calls. Most people seem fine if confused – after all, the town is eerily quiet.
Ben sees the first “Stay inside and stay calm” message on the news. Will and Arnie reach a police roadblock where they are informed that the centre of town is closed and to return to their homes. Arnie takes Will home the back way whilst he continues to make phone calls.
Arnie drops Will off at his home and sticks around at Will’s insistence. Will’s mother tells him to wait for his stepfather to get back from the shops and then they’re skipping town. Will continues to make calls and discovers he can’t get through to anyone in London.
Ben and Matt hear a knock at the door. After some well-warranted suspicion, Ben discovers that it’s his friends Gerald and Ingrid. If you think I’m going to change names and not have some fun, you’re sorely mistaken. Ben lets Gerald and Ingrid in. Ingrid sits quietly in a corner whilst Ben grills her boyfriend, who is evasive at best and refuses to answer at worst.
Will’s stepfather returns home. Without any shopping. He immediately goes to the back garden for a cigarette. He insists everything is “fine”. Arnie, having seen the latest news that London is under quarantine loses his patience and goes to leave. Will asks him to talk to his stepfather first.
With a sense of déjà vu, Arnie returns from the back garden to report that there is no stepfather there. He leaves for real. Will and his mother begin to frantically search the house.
Will’s mother gives up the search and swiftly makes a move on the liquor cabinet.
Ben notices that Ingrid hasn’t said anything and barely moved in the hour since she arrived. Questioning Gerald, he’s stonewalled and recruits Matt to help make Ingrid comfortable.
With blankets and pillows galore Matt and Ben move Ingrid to the sofa. As Ben leans in to settle her down, Ingrid grabs Ben by the collar. Ben tries to pull away. Matt tries to pull Ben away. Both fail. Ingrid’s face meets Ben’s. Ben can see the ghostly pallor of her skin. Her irises a deep, sickly, twisting grey. There’s a sickening crunch. Ingrid falls back. Ben’s face is bloody. Ingrid’s face is bloody. Ingrid’s temple has caved in. Gerald swings a punch at Ben. Ben and Matt try to pull away again. Ingrid’s grip is still firm. Ingrid launches herself upwards again. There is the sound of ripping flesh and cracking cartilage. Ben screams. Ingrid falls back, Ben’s nose betwixt her teeth. Spurred by pain, Ben pulls free of Ingrid’s grip. Gerald slumps to the floor.
Will’s house. Will smells smoke. His stepfather has returned. His stepfather greets his mother. His stepfather takes a bite out of his mother’s neck. Will leaps across the room and plunges his knife into his stepfather. Overwhelmed, Will passes out.
Ben and Matt’s house. Ingrid begins to rise from the sofa. Ben grabs a crowbar and begins to swing wildly at Ingrid. His swings, poorly aimed, break only air. Gerald remains sat on the floor, blocking Ben’s retreat. Matt charges upstairs. Ben and Ingrid continue to flail fruitlessly at each other. Matt retrieves his shield. Ingrid lands a scratch from Ben’s neck to appendix scar. Matt throws his shield down the stairs. Ingrid lunges at Ben. Ingrid and Ben collide. Ingrid’s rapidly deteriorating body fails. Ingrid falls to pieces upon impacting with Ben. Literally. Ben falls. Ben and the remains of Ingrid collapse on Gerald in a pile of bodies, blood and rotting flesh. Ben, once more, passes out cold.
Will rises. Will sees the bodies of his mother and stepfather. Will empties his stomach. Will calls for his brother. Will calls for his brother again. Will runs upstairs. Still calling. Will finds his brother’s empty room. Still calling. Will runs downstairs. Will sees the open front door. Will hears a noise. Like boots traipsing through deep mud. Squelch. Squelch. From the living room. Squelch. Where the bodies are. Squelch. Will runs. Squelch. Will is outside. Squelch. Will runs down the road. Will pulls out his phone. Will calls Arnie. Will hears loud music. Arnie tells him to head into town and run. Town is silent. Town is empty. A roaring engine. Rising music. Arnie’s car hurtles around a corner. Arnie shouts at Will to get in. Arnie drives off at full pelt through down. Will asks Arnie what happened. Arnie replies: “The dog ate my family.”
Town is a massacre. Blood. Flesh. Gore. Squelch. Viscera. Squelch. Horror. Squelch. Nightmare. Squelch. Loud music in the car. Squelch. Arnie is silent. Squelch. Intense. Squelch. Will is in shock. Will makes a call. Squelch. Ben is alive. Squelch. Gerald. Squelch. Ingrid. Squelch. Through town. On the road. Will makes another call. Automated message. Stay inside. Remain calm.
Arnie screeches onto Ben’s drive. Arnie retrieves a sturdy cricket bat from the back seat. Arnie runs into the house. Arnie takes in the scene. Ben is awake, standing near the pile of Ingrid in which Gerald still wallows, broken. Arnie looks. Arnie listens. Arnie swings the cricket bat. Ben’s skull caves in. Ben is dead. Will arrives at the moment of the swing. Will stops. Arnie does not. Arnie savages the heap on the floor. Swing. Crunch. Swing. Crunch. Swing. Crunch. Swing. Crunch. Swing. Crunch.
Arnie finishes. Matt stands agape. Will snaps. Will takes his knife. Will raises his knife. Will strikes. Will falls. Will is dead. Broken. Arnie leaves. Matt asks him to wait. He wants to grab some things. Arnie says no. Matt asks him where he’s going. Arnie walks out the door. Matt pulls the knife out of Will. Matt runs onto the drive. Matt runs onto the road. Arnie’s car disappears into the distance.
Matt’s legs hurt. He’s chased Arnie into a charnel house. Bodies line the street in various levels of dismemberment. All a sickly pale white. Matt takes a shortcut through an alley. Squelch. A body lies in his path. Squelch. Matt steps over the body. Squelch. The body grabs his ankle. Squelch. Matt looks down. Squelch. Squelch. Squelch, squelch squelchsquelchsquelchelchelch. It isn’t a hand. It’s grey, fleshy tentacles. Oozing up his leg. Pulsating. Beating with Matt’s own heart. The pile of flesh below him is writhing with them. Knitting together. Reforming. The monster climbs to Matt’s navel. Matt understands. His shoulders. This is his answer. His face. This monster will give him revenge on the man, the beast that killed his brother. His eyes. Matt embraces the monster, revenge and the madness. Squelch. Matt screams.
All of our heroes have perished. The world will follow.
So that was our game. If you enjoyed it and would like to see LUNKHEAD vs. The End of the World: Round 2 let the lazy sods know in the comments and I’ll marshal them for a second game. I think that’s everything. What do you mean what happened to me? I was running the game? Oh, you mean the character of me in the game? Right, I’d love to tell you, it’s a tragic tale of… What do mean you just want to know how he dies? The villain? Bah you wouldn’t know good storytelling if… Fine! I’ll tell you.
A countryside road – somewhere. Night, probably.
A car out of petrol. A car abandoned. A car dead. A man lost. A man broken. A man alone. A badger. An undead tentacle badger. Wait, a what? Oh, oh good gods. OH GOOD GODS NO! GET OFF! GET OUT! GET ARRRGGGHHH!
WORDS: JAMES ARNOLD
Has that scarred you for life? Never fear, here’s a review of a nice, fluffy love story – without any zombies (probably).