Sunday, January 13, 2013

Freeway Warrior: Highway Holocaust

I always aim to be as topical as possible, chasing those latest trends with that special sort of desperation found in someone that's always one step behind. That's why today I'll be playing through a gamebook published in 1988 that was intended for that era's 12-year-olds with undiagnosed social anxiety issues. I've always had a soft spot for these books, so let's enjoy pointless nostalgia and the heavy irony of a grown-ass man making wisecracks and pretending to be cool while playing through a book aimed at children that came out during the Reagan administration. Through the miracle of the internet you can try it too and bathe in second-hand ironic coolness.

The "Freeway Warrior" series is not, as you might expect, a harrowing journey into the daily commute of some nine-to-five-nothing. Instead, it's Mad Max Americanized via England, with all the names and numbers covered over with black tape or turned inside out like the time I wore a "Metal Up Your Ass" shirt to junior high. The Brit who wrote this once won a Dungeons and Dragons contest, so you know you're in good hands. He also wrote quite a few books set in more conventional fantasy settings that I'll probably do at some point.

We get off to a hot start with some amazing background material delivered via a timeline. Remember back in 2008 when both the President of the U.S.A. and Secretary of the Supreme Soviet (both Obama, haw haw) were assassinated at an emergency summit? Or for that matter the 2009 imprisonment of HAVOK agents in "deep pens?" It's fun to imagine the sort of protests we would have had over putting people into deep pens and so on. Or for that matter the 2008 Truth Movement we'd probably get.

No More Deep Pens! HAVOK is a government false flag!

The upshot of this is that nuclear holocaust destroys the world, setting up the best sort of post-apocalypse scenario. Face facts, after the bomb is far cooler than lame zombie holocausts and don't even get me started on the "so far past lame if you were standing on lame you'd need a telescope to see it" loss of electricity apocalypse where people make complicated devices like crossbows but have forgotten how to make, say, batteries. 

Anyway, gale force winds, dust storms, and finally radiation settles to "tolerable levels" and survivors try to pick up the pieces. My character is one of those survivors, a man named Cal Phoenix (Get it? Clever.) On a Texas vacation your oilman Uncle was all "want to visit a nuclear-bomb resistant underground complex?" and through that lucky coincidence Cal survived the nuclear war to become humanity's last, best hope. With skills like "refining gasoline" and "shooting" he's a pretty major force, to say the least. His first task is to try to link up with another colony of survivors to exchange supplies and prepare to flee to California (which somehow wasn't wrecked by nukes???). Sounds easy enough.

Don't mess with post-apocalyptic Texas.

Time to roll up some stats. My Close Combat Skills is 18 with an Endurance of 24, pretty good numbers. Out of the "Survival Skills" I put points in Stealth, Driving and Perception starting with a 5,4,4 in these and 3s in Shooting and Field Craft. For items I take a Geiger Counter (there's "tolerable" levels of radiation out there), a compass, binoculars and three meals (you have to eat). Carrying all this stuff like a post-apocalyptic bag lady reduces Stealth by one to four. I start with four med-kits, which can be used to heal myself or others. You get a knife for "close combat" and a choice of one "missile weapon" or as we might call them on this continent, guns. I take a rifle. You only get four bullets, so the shots are going to have to count.

The adventure starts with some guy named "Long Jake" scouting ahead of your Road Warrior-style convoy. He hits the jackpot be finding rifles, ammunition and a teenage girl (!) but his truck breaks down. "Trust Jake to go an' maroon hi'self with a gal!" grumbles Uncle Jonas, wryly. It's my job to find him and presumably, prevent any inter-generational sex from occurring.

When you find the missing individuals the author is quick to assure us that she looks eighteen. Honest, officer. No time to dwell on it, because we're being shot at by unseen villains. Running back to my "roadster" to make a cowardly retreat leads to a fight with a "renegade" which I guess are the "orcs" of this setting. He dies in fairly short order.

Unable to drive off, I have to run for cover, getting shot in the process. I'm down to 16 Endurance. There's just enough time to learn that we're dealing with evil "yankees" before I shoot some generic mook trying to sneak up from the back. In the process Long Jake dies, but the jailbait is safe, so it's a net win. She even talks: ‘This dude you've wasted has some real mean kin. They'll soon get to wonderin' what's hap'ning in here and'll come to check us out." The U.S.A. as imagined by a European, ladies and gentlemen.What hap'ens next is we run to the car and drive off.

We learn the girl has a name (Kate) and is fleeing from a gang from Detroit called the Lions (!) led by Mad-Dog Michigan (!!!) who turns out to be a Deep Pen escapee. Man, all that seemingly unimportant back story is really coming together into a highly satisfying story of futuristic action-adventure. Anyway, the entire gang of ex-HAVOK agents and general hard cases are going to be looking for her. Complications!

On two we try to get some under-aged action. Break!

Remember that unnamed, generic and presumably completely unimportant minion I wasted with my rifle? Well, I'm informed by Kate that he's Mad Dog Michigan's Brother. Whoops.

Time to burn the ranch and move the colony. I drive ahead into Denton and certain danger. Or at least I sense said danger with my Phoenix Senses or whatever. Better use those binoculars...motorcycle smoke! Fearing a possible encounter with the Grandsons of Anarchy (it's the FUTURE) I advise the convoy to avoid Denton. 

Take a Drink. Yeah, the book makes you do that. Realism with a capital R, friends.

A trip over a dry lake is uneventful and we find the highway afterwards. But first: It leads to the ruins of a once prestigious building—the North Texas State University. Yes! Time to search the Texas Harvard for useful items!

It just screams "prestige."

I find some NaCl, but a failed perception roll leads me to believe that ordinary salt might be "dangerous chemicals." Civilization's last hope, right here. Back to more exciting driving and map reading. Unfortunately the bridge I picked has a "manned barricade." The solution is a half-baked plan to use a school bus as a battering ram. During this process a car is sent flying straight at me.

Great plan, really.

Incredibly some lucky rolling gets me out with nothing but "facial wounds." I apply some med-kits to the facial region. I pass on a chance to explore an Air Force Base (it's no North Texas U). Eat a meal. More driving. All the action of an endless road trip, in book format!

I'm diverted to investigate a radio signal. No, it isn't Three Dog. Instead it's the skeletal remains of "Dr. Drool."

Doctorate in Heavy Metal from North Texas, Beloved Radio Personality, R.I.P.

 The convoy is attacked at night by "bikers" and only a good roll saves me from being sucked underneath one of their murdercycles. A quick fight leaves me with 13 Endurance. I knife three bikers in rapid succession, which is both bad-ass and highly improbable. More gunfire is avoided and I use the old "scream to make him think you're dead" trick. Yeah, that old one.

I take a moment to contemplate the destruction of the small town of Thurber, but stop short of a "you blew it up, you maniacs" type emotional collapse. Then I'm distracted by a flickering light and must go check it out. This guy is all over the place. 

I don't have any light, so I fall into a gully. The savior of humanity. Nearly killed by my own idiocy and lack of planning I use all my med-kits but one. I'm able to climb out of the gully without further incident, preventing an ignominious end. "Here lies Cal Phoenix, Hero of Humanity. Slew countless evil bikers and crazed renegades. Killed by a gully because he thought walking around in total darkness was a good idea."

More dangerous than gun-wielding killers.

I follow the light to a cave and am rewarded for my curiosity by meeting a bizarre man in "evil-smelling rags." He offers a "rat steak" that is politely refused by our hero. Somehow he knows about our troubles and will get the needed part if I agree to a proposition. Oh-Kay. The words "no homo" come to mind.

Seems legit.

He wants to join the convoy. Deal. Surprisingly having an evil-smelling, half-insane shaman join doesn't win me any popularity. He points us toward a likely location, but it's currently in the hands of "renegades" who were recently whomped by some character named Mekong Mike. They call themselves "The Skulls" because of their shaved heads. They probably wear Affliction shirts and hold advanced degrees in Tap Out, too. Sigh. Is is ever easy? Suffice it to say, I'm in charge of this rather poorly conceived raid.

I sneak up through an ally and avoid a poorly drawn patrol of Skulls. Honestly, look at this shit:

The regular artist was sick that day.

I find a bottle of bourbon...could be useful...maybe? We're about to get the part from an old school bus when I get attacked by some random goof. I have to use my last Med-kit afterwards, giving me 13 Endurance. We get out with the part! Then we encounter a hole in the road. After being nearly killed by a similar danger I take every precaution. I'm attacked by rabid dogs! Rifle fire scares them off, but I'm down to one bullet. I talk to two doomed Rad-Vics (instead of getting super powers they've been poisoned by radiation) and give them a med-kit I don't actually have.

Pursued by bikers I order the convoy south, then take damage from salt loss. Good thing I knew to avoid those "dangerous chemicals" back at the Lone Star State's answer to Yale. I walk into a town and suffer the indignity of being lassoed. The Guardian of Texas does it again. I'm disarmed by individuals who resemble "red indians" I once saw in something called a "book." 

Every possible Native American stereotype is deployed and then they declare their intention to sacrifice me to "The Spirit of Thunder." Good grief. Lacking a saw or signal flare it looks like I'm boned, but I somehow get free during the sacrifice attempt. The dice have really been kind to me.

Meet interesting people from ancient cultures; kill them.

And my luck promptly runs out and he kills me in the ensuing fight. Too bad, I was starting to think I had a chance of reaching the end. This book has been described as extremely difficult, but I didn't really get that impression. I guess I did get some good rolls to avoid random deaths. With better item choices I could have avoided the situations that kicked my ass. 

...and that's how the last hope of the human race got killed by an insane, heavily stereotyped "Thunder Spirit" worshiper. Still more dignified than being killed by a gully.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

No comments:

Post a Comment