Nick found himself, in a fairly literal sense, sitting zoned out in front of a computer that he didn’t recognize. It definitely wasn’t his home PC. It wasn’t the one he’d been assigned at his mom’s marketing agency. The display wasn’t even a flatscreen, just an old CRT currently showing a spreadsheet in a primitive text-based environment, light beige letters on a black background.
His second realization was that he wasn’t sure where he was. It was an office, obviously, like his mom’s, but not the place he’d been strong-armed into interning at over the summer. He was dressed for work, office casual, in a short-sleeved pale blue dress shirt, slacks, and black leather lace-ups. But none of the ensemble was anything he’d owned, or anything he’d willingly wear.
Work. I’m at work. That context was obvious… he just didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten there, what his position was, or what his duties were. He was just… sitting in front of the screen, staring at rows of numbers, and he had been for at least a few minutes.
Database entry, he guessed. But the loss of short term memory concerned him, and that concern turned to fear as he tried to remember coming to work, tried to remember his morning routine, tried to remember the exact date, or month even. How he’d gotten the job.
Relax, he thought to himself. Stay calm. This has to be a dream. It did not, in fact, feel like a dream, and nothing happened when he tried to wake up. Fuck. Okay. Maybe I was drugged. Or coming out of a fugue. The neurological possibilities are endless. No, that wasn’t a through-line he wanted to follow. Stay. Calm.
He checked his pockets, found a phone, pulled it out. It was not his iPhone 11, but a much simpler, older model that he didn’t recognize. A dumb phone, too nice to be a burner. What the fuck. Do they still make these? He opened it, staring at the date on its tiny green digital display.
April 11th, 2000. What the fuck.
Nick turned and spotted a familiar figure striding between the cubicles towards him, a broad-shouldered teen two years his elder, of East African descent, wearing a well tailored suit. “Marco?”
Marco’s usually easy-going expression was carefully neutral, his thick New York accent tinged with concern. “Hey man, what is this? What’s going on?”
Nick shook his head. “I don’t know, I was just… sitting here.”
Marco glanced back over his shoulder. “I was in that office over there. Where are we?”
Nick flipped open the phone and showed it to his friend. “Look at this.”
“Man, what-” his eyes widened. “2000, what the fuck?”
“Yeah, I don’t know.” Seeing Marco caught off-guard unsettled Nick further. While he himself was the GM of their gaming group, Marco, as the eldest and most self-assured, was certainly more the leader. He turned to the papers littering his desk, shuffling through them, looking for answers. What dates he did find confirmed the year.
“Marco?” The woman in the cubicle across from Nick’s workstation swiveled in her chair. “I’m going to need to leave early, can you tell Mr. Hudson?”
Marco exchanged a quick glance with Nick before answering. “Yeah, sure, that’s fine, go ahead.”
“Guess you’re in with the boss.” Nick stood up. “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
“I think I’m his secretary?” Marco pointed at the laptop satchel slung along Nick’s chair. “Don’t forget your bag.”
“I don’t have a… oh.”
The two set off, finding the elevator bank.
Marco thumbed the down arrow. “Man, what…”
“Time travel?” Nick suggested.
“Okay, but how? And why?”
“I don’t know.”
The door opened with a ding, and Nick and Marco found themselves staring at three more familiar faces from their weekend gaming marathons.
Ashly was dressed casually, though the jacket and shirt were more garish than she usually wore, and the jewelry was far more excessive. Her Arabic features were half-hidden under the baseball cap she wore, her long hair pulled back into a pony tail.
“Christ, Ash, what are you wearing?” Nick asked as he and Marco stepped into the elevator.
“That is what I was asking her!” Vera’s Serbian accent only came through when she was stressed, and she was very clearly stressed. In contrast to her usual casual clothing, she was wearing a navy blue skirt dress with dark tights.
“You’re one to talk,” Josh added. His outfit, at least, was in character, though the t-shirt under his leather jacket was woefully bereft of Japanese cartoon characters, and he was wearing full length jeans rather than his nearly trademark cargo shorts. Even more unusually, the outfit fit his ample frame, rather than being a size or two too large.
Ashly, at sixteen, was the youngest member of the group, though Nick only had six months on her. “Jesus, I don’t know. I was just… wandering through the halls upstairs like this.”
“And I was in the elevator.” Vera jerked a thumb at Josh. “With him.”
“And I have this.” Josh unzipped his duffel bag.
Nick leaned forward, saw a shotgun and revolver, and leaned back. “What the hell.”
“I don’t know.” Josh’s voice was urgent in its sincerity. “You know how I feel about guns.”
“Show them your phone.” Marco ushered Nick into the elevator, thumbing the lobby button as soon as he’d entered.
Nick pulled out the flip phone.
“2000?” Ashly asked. “What?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “Let’s just… head down to the lobby and try to figure out what’s going on.” He was beginning to doubt this was a dream, his gamer’s mind spinning elaborate scenarios to explain the scope it’d take to kidnap a group of people and convince them they’d gone almost twenty years back in time. But why? To what end? Actual factual time travel made more sense, and that wasn’t something he admitted lightly.
His train of thought was interrupted as the elevator ground to a halt with a sudden lurch, nearly throwing him into Marco’s back. The power went out seconds later, leaving the group bathed in the dim green glow of the brick phone’s display.
This brings us into our first scenario, “Coffee Break of the Living Dead”. As the title implies, it’s a scenario for All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and drops our protagonist group into the deep end. Nick is the viewpoint character for this adventure, but I’ll be giving that honor to the others in future scenarios.
All Flesh Must Be Eaten is a zombie horror role-playing game produced by Eden Studios.
“Shit,” Josh said, banging a meaty fist against the elevator wall.
“Now what?” Marco asked.
“Try the doors?” Ashly suggested.
Nick turned in the darkness and tried to find the doors’ seam with his hands. It was too thin to slip his fingers into. “Gimmie a hand Marco.” He handed his phone to Vera, flipped open to provide light to see by.
Both men pressed their palms against the doors, trying in vain to pry them apart.
“No good,” Marco said.
“There’s a built in phone,” Vera opened a small panel near the buttons, picking up a black plastic receiver. “It’s ringing.” She frowned, listening for half a minute, then hung it up.
“Nobody picked up?” Josh asked.
“Someone picked up,” Vera said. “But they didn’t say anything-”
The sudden sound of a gunshot somewhere outside cut her off.
“Shit!” Nick instinctively ducked back against the elevator wall, covering his head with his hands.
“Is that-” Ashly asked, only to be answered by the sounds of more screams and gunshots, the last particularly close. She stared, slack jawed, at the doors.
Silence followed, broken only by Vera’s low, “What the fuck.” She looked down at Nick’s phone, still in her hand. “We’re not getting a signal in here. We should save the battery.” She snapped it closed, returning them to darkness.
“Nothing we can do but wait for help.” Marco said.
“You okay, Vera?” Nick asked. He knew that she’d seen some rough things before coming to the US, and was worried that she might be carrying some PTSD. It wasn’t anything she’d ever talked about in anything but the most general terms.
“Yeah.” Vera’s voice was quiet in the darkness. “Let’s just… wait it out.”
And we’re off. As with a group game’s first session, most of our time was spent establishing our party, the situation, and leading up to the action.
Each character has a very general “gamer profile” for emulating their choices (somewhat) unrelated to their stats, but informed by their disadvantages and quirks. What “type” of player they are. Power Gamer, storyteller, etc. For major choices there will be a roll to see how much they deviate from the obvious choice; minor decisions and arbitrary choices will be fiat.
In this session the only such choice made was a minor one: Does Josh reveal his guns to the others (group action) or keep it secret (individual action)? The dice ruled that he did. More on how that works next time.
Click Here if you’d like to see their GURPS character sheets, though be warned that spoilers for elements of their backstories that have yet to be revealed abound.