When the 5th US mechanized division was finally broken outside of Kalisz, three American soldiers and a Polish liason officer were thrown together. This is their story.
Welcome to episode 2 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its fourth edition from Free League Publishing.
Last episode, the team fled in from the advancing Soviets in a pickup truck with half a tank of fuel. For the first day, they kept out of serious trouble and picked up some information from a couple of Polish hunters.
Minor Spoiler Alert: Because I am using random elements from the core ruleset, you may encounter the same pieces of content as a player. Sometimes they aren’t what they seem, which can ruin the surprise. I am not using the big scenarios sites, however, so there are no major spoilers.
A chill, but sunny, April morning dawns in central Poland. With a concealed fire and a good camp, the team managed to stay hidden and warm in the camp a couple of kilometers from the small town of Ostrzeszow. The morning will be spent exploring the small town, which they decide to approach on foot, as a working vehicle could make them a target.
Their goal is a man named Cezary Pawlak, who has a distillery in town with his two sons. Ostrzesow was a town of more than 10,000 people, but is now probably home to less than 1/5 of that, and full of shelled buildings, burnt buildings, buildings riddled with bullet holes and roads clogged with rubble and car husks.
Going on foot, turns out to be a good decision. Advance Soviet forces must have reached the town during the night (this is another random encounter from the core rules). They have set up a roadblock at the main road into town about 300 meters (330 yards) from where the group approach the ruins. There are a dozen soldiers guarding the roadblock and they have a T-72 main battle tank positioned in the shell of a house covering the approach to the town. Going off road in the truck around the town would almost consume all of their remaining fuel, so the group agrees to circle around the town and sneak in from the northwest, but if they are discovered they will retreat to the truck and get the hell out.
Perez leads them towards the ruins, but despite giving it all he’s got, a Soviet soldier keeping watch for stragglers from atop a ruin spots them and opens fire from a long range of about 120 meters.
Rules: I made a mistake here and had the best person (Perez) roll Recon for the group, and not the one with the lowest skill. However, as I understand it, two of the team would be able to use the Help action to improve that person’s chances. With the bonus from wearing fatigues, their dice pool would still be pretty good. In any case, the team got one success, and the Soviet soldier also got a single success in the opposed roll, which means the group is discovered.
The Soviet private gets to act first, as he discovered them (I rule). He fires his Avtomat Kalashnikova at the team. He gets +1 for firing from his elevated position, but -4 from firing at long range (-2), at moving targets (-1) which are partly concealed by vegetation and other terrain (-1), for a total of -3.
At that distance, the burst of bullets are off but the gunfire is sufficient to alert the rest of the soldiers nearby.
King orders the team to retreat at a run, retreating around 40 meters across the streets and long abandoned gardens.
The Soviet soldier gives them another burst at extreme range as a parting gift.
The private has clearly not had his vodka ration this morning, or is simply born under a lucky star, and both PFC Perez and King are hit. A bullet hits Perez in the head, but luckily the helmet takes the worst of the damage. King is hit in the back, where his kevlar also absorbs the brunt of the damage.
Rules: the Soviet rolls a hit with both his single success dice and one of the “ammo dice” he spends, sending a third of the lead in the magazine in their direction. King and Perez are both hit in locations where they wear armor, which subtracts 1 damage. An AK-74 does 2 points of damage, so the result is 1 damage on both. The Soviet could have spent the additional “hit” to increase the damage on Perez, but with his helmet it wouldn’t have been enough to score a crit anyway. Still, the one point of damage reduces King’s “hit points” by 25%.
Perez and King must roll for Coolness Under Fire. Both succeed. They can use the Unit Morale because they are within line of sight of the others. Therefore they are not suppressed and can continue fleeing.
They move an additional 40 meters and have now moved out of range of the Soviet soldier’s AK-74, and are impossible for him to hit.
Bedraggled and shaken, the team hauls ass and retreat back to their vehicle, with most of the morning gone.
“Can I see where hit is,” Zielinski asks King haltingly?
The captain is leaning on the hood of the truck, his chest heaving from exertion, and inwardly he is cursing himself for not keeping in better shape when he was in the reserves. Kelly leans his back heavily on the car and takes a swig of water, while Perez scans the fields beyond the small hillocks for any pursuers.
“Sure,” King answers the lieutenant with laboured breath.
With a wince, he takes off his combat webbing and the kevlar vest, then the fatigues and shirt. He has a black and purple bruise the size of a two palms on his lower back. Zielinski gently touches it, and he almost jumps from the pain.
She examines it more closely.
“Motherf… that stings,” he says with clenched teeth.
“Very big bruise. But not serious, no,” Zielinski says and washes the area with a bit of water and soap.
“Kelly, please take over from Perez, so the lieutenant can see to his wound,” King says, when Zielinski is done. Kelly stomps up and takes over the watch from the younger private.
Perez trots down with downcast eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was sure we were out of sight. I should have spotted him.”
“Nonsense. It is my fault,” says King. “I led you there. It is my responsibility. It was far too risky, with that kind of firepower nearby and no knowledge of how many reinforcements might be nearby.”
Zielinski says something in Polish that sounds dismissive.
Then in English.
“You are both fools. We took a risk, but to get something very valuable, yes? Something we need. And, as you say in America, “shit happens”.”
King grumbles something, but says nothing.
She gently lifts Perez’s helmet. He has a bloody scratch on the back of his neck.
“Look. Just a …” She searches for the word. “…Ricochet.” She turns over the helmet, so he can see. “Hit the lower side of the helmet first, and then down, giving you this little cut. You are very lucky, I think.”
“Yes, mam,” he says, and pulls a little crucifix from inside his shirt and gives it a kiss and mumbles a prayer, while the lieutenant cleans the cut and puts a band-aid on the scratch.
“So far,” he mumbles as she patches on the band-aid.
“Should we stop chattering and get the fuck out of here,” Kelly barks nervously from the small hillock.
“Absofuckinglutely. Let’s go!” King says.
Rules: Zielinski attends to their bruises with success (which means they avoid risking an infection) and it turns out their armor is still functional (when penetrated, it risks becoming defunct – a 1 in 6 chance). Medical attention only heals 1 damage, if the character is broken (at 0 health).
On the off-road again…
They are now forced to flee around the town, off road, and the group tries to get to Sycow to the southwest. Their hope is that the Soviets don’t have enough troops or vehicles to pursue their small band.
Unfortunately, Zielinski is unable to find a road that leads west. Instead, she ends up driving south between the two towns hitting the east-west bound main road between Sycow and Kepno (because she fails her survival roll – but driving succeeds so no mishap).
They agree to head west along the road to get further away from the Soviet lead elements. If the Soviets are anywhere near as depleted as the 5th division was, they will have spent themselves in a couple of days, King is sure.
The pickup rumbles along, avoiding the odd obstacle until they reach a traffic jam, frozen in time. Almost every car holds skeletal commuters. They never made their destinations but instead died here, victims of a direct chemical attack or a wayward cloud from some battle. The most banal of ends. A few managed to crawl out of their vehicles and lay white and bony on the road. A bird’s nest crowns one boxy, European car. The road is entirely blocked, and the team needs to go back and down a side road for a while before hitting Sycow – costing precious fuel (this last part is from a list of random mood elements from the core game).
King is listening in on the radio while they drive. Suddenly, he gesticulates.
Zielinski stops, and King concentrates. The rest try to listen in.
“There’s an American soldier on this frequency. He says he is wounded. He is holed up in a ruined farmhouse. Must be nearby,” King says.
“Could be a trick – an ambush,” Perez says, still scanning the road and ditches around them.
“Could be,” King says and purses his lips.
“We should go and help him. He is comrade. No? It is what we would want from others,” Zielinski says.
“Kelly, what do you think,” King asks?
“Whatever you think, boss. We just gotta go in careful,” he says.
The captain contacts the soldier. He says his name is Donovan, and he is hurt. Hurt bad. But he can direct them to a farmhouse with a blown red roof and a burnt barn.
King spots the roof using his binoculars and they all drive there, but park at a safe distance. They sneak closer, but there is no sign of an ambush, and they locate the wounded soldier on a mattress in a bedroom. However, when they arrive he is dead. He has a civilian walkie-talkie, a Glock pistol with a full magazine, a kevlar helmet, a water and a food ration and a knife. King collects his dog tags, takes the helmet, gives the pistol to Kelly and the knife and walkie to Perez. Donovan’s insignia indicates that he was with the 2nd Armored Division, which advanced south of the 5th division. Perhaps there are more of them somewhere?
Rules: The radio message is from the game’s random radio chatter table. Here I used the “Oracle” mechanic and drew a card. It was a six of hearts – mildly helpful, according to the table. Therefore, I determined that the soldier would be dead – it would be quite useful if they were able to rescue him, and he would have a little useful equipment, but not much. Had it been a high black card, it would have been an ambush.
Having spent 2 liters of extra fuel for a walkie talkie, a pistol and helmet, they drive away towards Sycow. King is not unhappy though, as the pistol is probably good for trading.
Before they reach Sycow, however, Perez spots a derelict bus parked in a large – mostly intact barn – next to a shot up farm. It looks to be in better condition than most vehicles, and they agree to park there for the night and make camp in the barn. The area is flat farmland, but they hope the ruined buildings will conceal them and it is a defensible position. They are down to 10 liters of fuel – or 1/10 of the tank. The bus and barn looks like prime scrounging grounds, and while King makes camp Kelly looks for parts they for example could use in an improvised still. Zielinski stands watch, while Perez sleeps in the barn before he has to go on watch at night.
Kelly turns out to be a lucky scrounger. He recovers one vehicle spare part from the bus engine and an electric toothbrush inside the house (1 electrical part, worth 25).
When he enters the bus, he (almost miraculously) spots a viper lurking in its nest, and avoids an ambush. He acts first in initiative and clubs the viper with his rifle butt. He did however get quite the scare and he hammers fruitlessly at the creature. Fortunately for Kelly, the viper also miss. At this point King has joined the frantic corporal, who manages to hit and kill the snake just as he arrives.
“Holy, shit Captain. A snake. A fucking snake! I hate snakes!”
When Kelly calms down, he searches the bus and comes out beaming. He’s found an intact baseball bat – which he keeps for himself. “Keeping this handy for close encounters,” he says.
The captain has concealed the pick-up with some old, mouldy sackcloth and a couple of pallets he found and makes a very small fire inside the barn in a metal bucket he punches some holes in.
It turns out that bashing the M16 into a bus has broken it (this is in fact a camping mishap that I interpret this way, as Captain King failed his camping roll). Luckily, the Captain is good with his hands and fixes the rifle, which raises Kelly’s estimation of him as not being a totally useless officer.
At nightfall, the weather turns from fair to cloudy. Perez takes the watch for the night, and the next morning both have effectively healed their bruises and stress.
That was the end of episode 2. Episode 3 will focus on exploring Sycow and trying to get their hands on fuel or parts for a still. The story takes a bit of a turn though, and a new character joins the team…