Weather Kills

Derek Holland

As I mentioned last time, creatures are only one kind of danger in an ecosystem. Life has to adapt to both the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem. If species can not adapt, they go extinct, something that should be common in post apocalyptic settings. Here are some ideas for non-living hazards for Gamma World and Mutant Future. Many are based on superscience that has gone amuck. And some of the mutations I mention are my creations and are either in Creatures of the Wasteland or on Skirmisher's old forum.

Weather is a good place to start as it affects the entire planet. Places where it rains 365 days a year because of a buggy weather control system isn't going to be a swamp or rain forest. It is going to be a lake or the widest river on the planet. Heat waves and then cold snaps that happen day after day or week after week are an extreme environmental stress and only very well adapted creatures are going to survive. Many will be burrowers or make their own shelter. There may be no sessile plants at all and the lack of the network of roots will mean a great deal of soil erosion. Animals may be photosynthetic, if there is enough sunlight, in addition to eating what plants exist or each other. Or just normal heat and cold for those creatures forced to survive the elements. Air conditioning and heated homes are a thing of the past for most people. When the sun blazes down some people will take to the shade or even sleep underground to avoid the heat. The winter is much scarier when there is no supermarket to get food and heat and light are burning wood.

Staying with the atmosphere, there is also the possibility of regions with different chemical compositions. A cloud of argon means death for all those with the standard biology as there will be no oxygen for respiration or nitrogen for protein creation (and the bends on land seems a horrible way to die). In Creatures of the Wastelands I provided a few hazards, including oxyclouds- clouds of oxygen that cause apparent aging in everything within them. And then there is smog, another thing from CotW. Salty air can be considered a version of smog for hazard design. Consider how many new chemicals there are in the environment and apply some of their effects to those caught in a smog cloud, rain, snow or other forms of precipitation. It is a wonder that the planet isn't depopulated of every species. But there are mutations that can be used to survive some of these hazards. GW's New Body Parts and MF's Aberrant Form (xenomorphism), Chemical Gland and Xenochemistry are all useful to those GMs who want their poisoned lands to be green and thriving.

Nanites were introduced in the 6th edition of GW and can be a hazard unlike any other. Breaking down even a single chemical required for life means death. Obvious but not something usually done with nanites. Grey goo is dead horse that writers constantly come back to. The nanites would have to be very advanced to be able to turn all elements into the raw materials for their own reproduction. Eh. I like the idea of a nanite that breaks down the cell channels used in neurons to transmit impulses. Kills by rendering the nerves non-functional. Or a nanite that interfers with aveoli allowing carbon dioxide out of the bloodstream. The victims die blue as if they were poisoned by carbon monoxide. Keeping nanites at bay is actually rather easy in GW and MF. (GW) New Body Parts, (MF) Aberrant Form, Altered Chemistry, and Xenochemistry all work from the standpoint of making changes in biology that the nanites can not work around. Electric Aura from GW and Energy-Retaining Cell Structure and Electric Charge Generation from MF allow the mutant to fry the machines before they are able to do any harm.

Quicksand and inland mudflats are the result of too much water, but not enough to cause flooding. When the ground starts attacking the PCs, attempting to consume them, it might be time for them to look into mountain dwelling or a ornithopter. Swimming species adapted to the denser medium (i.e. the sand or mud) could make life quite harrowing for the PCs as well. Dark Sun did this very well in my opinion with the Silt Sea and the many different creatures that thrived in it (and there was a bunch, much more than just silt horrors). The scary thing is when there are plants and other creatures adapted to the conditions and give no sign of what they live on. The PCs may be suffocating before they even knew what happened. Or to turn the idea on its head, crystals that grow so fast they capture and eventually entomb the PCs, their mounts and/or vehicles.

In the second issue of d Infinity I came up with a nasty bit of alchemical material called human bane. It emits a form of radiation that only harms humans (and is very popular with a great many races). This can be adapted to GW/MF with almost no effort. It doesn't have to affect humans. A place where birds drop from the sky, killed by a force field that was used by a zoo. Or a psionic form of bacteria that mentally blasts intelligent plants (intelligent being anything that has animal-like behavior) will strip them from a valley over time. Even robots are vulnerable- an advanced EMP effect versus weakened hardening means destroyed circuits in Death Machines. A place where even the Created fear to tread may be a dream for every being in the region or a place of nightmarish rumors- what could be so horrible that the machines are scared of it? This idea can also be used for faulty power plants that are shocking the area around them, either with electricity or some form of radiation the Ancients used to replace it.

And then there are bodies that appear as water but are acid, alkali, alcohol, other chemicals or so heavily polluted that they should not be considered water anyways. Ropes of goo, webbing of slime or floating boulders of strange materials are all signs that the "water" isn't safe. But then again, is there really that much safe water after the apocalypse?

Temporal weirdness is another result of superscience. Places where time runs faster or slower can be useful for the PCs (faster places used to heal and think, slower to capture monsters and machines), but they are one hell of a hazard. If the PCs just run through the barrier between the different speeds of time, they could suffer pain, organ failure and death if the difference is great (X damage, save for half). Gates that allow safe movement (probably constructed by machines or left overs in labs) would reduce the value of the location as the entrances will be pretty obvious to those chasing the PCs or monsters tricked into walking through them.

And then there are other forms of high strangeness, the result of superscience gone wrong. Changes in gravity, distance (a hallway longer in one direction than the other), direction (hallway seems to be straight but is actually a 90 degree angle and up three stories), physics, mutations, electromagnetic radiation, limitations on ability scores (intelligence, strength, etc. is reduced to 5 in the field), changes in the language centers of the brain (the PCs have to use sign language) and anything else the GM can think of. The Ancients did alien things with their technology yet there was no mention of it effects in the editions of Gamma World I read (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th editions). I am going to make sure that it will be in Mutant Future.

Light and sound pollution sound minor but death from sleep deprivation is still death. Add in sound that causes changes in emotion or insanity and light that transfers information into the brain and they can be used as major hazards. The PCs may never know how they were attacked, much less when if the effect is delayed.

There is one hazard that few would consider hazardous- vault dwelling. Those people and creatures forced to live in sterile conditions, provided food and water and had life with little conflict are lambs to slaughter if they are forced out into the environment. Even with advanced technology, they are still much weaker than "wild" people. For vault dwelling pure humans, I would reduce their hit dice to d6 or even d4 if they were over pampered. For mutants, I would give them specific mutations of my selection to represent their engineering and lack of exposure to mutagens.

The last hazard might be the most common abiotic hazard for the PCs, crumbling infrastructure. A bridge or dam the PCs' village has used since they settled the area is a vital route to food. What do they do when it collapses because they had no idea on how to mantain it? When the PCs enter a ruin and start blasting the mutant cockroaches within with assault rifles, the walls are going to get damaged and the building may collapse on them. Did the survivors bring shovels to dig out their dead companions and the loot they were carrying? Pickaxes and shovels may be very valuable in ruin raiding as digging is safer than entering rickety old buildings where the stairs may fall apart when they are coming back down (or up from the basement levels). GMs should come up with some idea on how many hit points and the strength of all the ruins the PCs interact with.

One way to represent the physical, rather than chemical, hazards is using traps. Unfortunately MF (or GW for that matter) doesn't have any guidelines for making traps, but there are plenty of sourcebooks out there that do. In the end there is no significant difference between a bear trap and a concrete walkway that collapes under a character's foot (at least in game terms). The weight of the concrete will trap the PC just as effectively. Pit traps should be common as water, corrosion and roots will pit or undercut infrastructure. In the most dangerous locations, the PCs may have to deal with one ever turn of movement (i.e. 10 minutes). Hope they have medicial artifacts or mutant sheep to set of the landscape.

Soil and water pollution is only a temporary impediment to life. Most places that could be considered the wastelands of the wastelands have some things living there, if nothing else bacteria and biofilm oozes. Such pollution has three possible origins- ancient or modern technology and the byproduct of strange mutations. Mutants with Toxic Weapon mutation and the byproduct modifier may leave all kinds of nasty goo behind. If there is animal life that is more complex than the ooze, then it tends to be gutless- creatures that have Light to Mass or similar mutations and feed directly off of local energy sources. This keeps them alive when there is no vegetation or prey to consume. Aggregates of gutless and other creatures can result in rather complex ecologies in places where one should not expect them. Check out this out for a real world example: a real world aggregate of bacteria and clam.