I happened upon this amazing tale penned by BGG user bchee out of Australia. He decided to recount a session of playing Desolate via storytelling. This is amazing and I simply had to share it. The story begins below this image…
“Explore the universe,” they said. “Discover strange new worlds and civilizations.”
What they didn’t say was that if you scored 42 on your MilPsychoApp test, you’d end up on guard duty on W-Y Extrasolar Mining Station 04 on the back-end pimple of a rock in System X-483. It really is as tedious and boring as it sounds. If you looked outside, X-483 is a blank velvety expanse of endless, airless slate-grey wasteland, with an equally uninspired firmament of star-spangled purple.
This was my third play of Desolate
, after the first two learning attempts ended badly. As I was more fluent with the rules, the gameplay on this run went a lot more smoothly.
Looking back now, I was in the cargo bay at the far end of the station, all by my lonesome, when it happened. And, boy, did it happen all at once: alarm klaxons going off left, right and centre; screaming over the radio, lots and lots of screaming, grown men included; flickering lights and power, disco-style, as if the fusion reator was making up its mind whether to stay or run.
The unofficial story is that one of the mining teams dug too deep, and uncovered something they shouldn’t have. Something ancient, otherworldly. Cthulhuean, if you enjoy the fine storytellings of Howard Phillips Lovecraft like me. When the screaming and shaking stopped, the station comm was only putting out a senseless crackle. About half the emergency lights remained on; the other half were dead or dying.
Alarmingly, pun unintended, the life support system was offline. I grabbed the emergency rebreather and the vision helm, and counted the remaining ammo in my Weyland-Yutani NSG-23 Pulse Rifle. Ten charges. That would have to suffice until I could find more firepower. The energetic screaming over the comms strongly suggested that lots of firepower would come in handy.
For items, I drew the Chameleon Cloak, Extended Mag and Vision Helm. I chose the latter two.
I moved briskly along the corridor leading back to the main station. I didn’t encounter anyone else, although I didn’t expect to meet any. Not after that screaming. With main power down, the escape pods would not launch under their own power: I’d need to collect enough power cubes to manually initiate the launch sequence, five to be exact.
I reached the utility section, and the first few compartments I found were clear. I scrounged for useful things, and picked up a couple of power cells, a medpac and two more ammo for my rifle.
Drawing and discarding encounter cards, I picked up Engineering, Sickbay, Cryopad, another Engineering, and Laboratory cards, without meeting an enemy – and then I ran into two of them.
I smelled it first. It was like the odour of decomposing garbage, permeating the passage outside the lab. Then I heard it, the sound of wet slithering, like a badly-behaved kid slurping pasta. Whatever it was, it was headed down the passage. I hefted my rifle and edged closer to the cover of the doorway, waiting for this… creature to approach.
As the body moved into view, I saw something out of Dante’s Inferno. It was an alien. A-L-I-E-N. It was impossible for my mind to fully assimilate what I was seeing. I saw grey, scaly skin, like a reticulated python. It moved on a cascade of tentacles, which disturbingly brought to mind a certain kind of Japanese cartoon. The head was blobulous, slightly misshapen, with menacing hollows for eyes.
It sashayed along like a dancer, its tentacles undulating in waves. I’m talking ballet, if ballerinas had noodly tentacles for legs. The alien didn’t seem to fully appreciate its own implausibility. The rational part of my brain was arm-wrestling with the part that enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, for my sanity.
I appreciated the vast historic significance of this moment for a nanosecond – this was, after all, the first instance of an extraterrestrial encounter in the known history of humanity – before I raised my rifle, and shot him in the face.
Look, I’m not really some big-name ding-dong university xeno-whatchamacallit, and in my defence, it was showing a vested interest in me which appeared to be nutritional-based. Did I mention it had a beaked maw yea-big, with rows of razor sharp teeth? Well, it did, Eagle Scout’s honour.
The alien was a tough one , and I drew Conflict , for a total of . It hit me for 2 Health. I unleashed 3d6 worth of firepower, rolling 4+3+2=9, luckily just enough to take care of it. For the reward, I drew +1 Oxygen and +1 Ammo.
I squeezed a burst into its face, which should have settled it, but the body kept moving for a few slithers more. Finally, as its brain and ichor glopped onto the deck, the body lurched forward, flopping like a jellyfish on dry land, before shuddering to a halt.
It was an alien. The word kept racing through my head like an Formula One race car, over and over. For insurance, I placed the muzzle against what was left of its head, and squeezed one more time. And then I gagged and vomited and shook like a Japanese earthquake.
Reforming my tactical plan, I knew what I had to do next. Collect enough power cubes, and get the hell out, literally. Leaving the two carcasses behind, I started walking: fast, then faster, then I was running, in a fog of rage and fear and everything in between. Now I’ve been in combat situations; I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I mean, I was at the gawddamned Fiasco of Tannhäuser Gate, but this here made that look like a Sunday School picnic. In a dark grey corridor beneath the jagged surface of X-483 at this intersection of space and time, it was all I could do to keep it together.
I could feel my breathing slow down, as I regained situational awareness. It was just the stupid, noisy clanging of my footsteps, my rifle slapping against its harness, my heavy breathing… and the shuffling noise from behind me.
I whirled around. One of the damned things was trying to sneak up on me. It was smaller than the first one, but its tentacles rippled in the same way. I felt a sudden rage explode up from inside, my blood turning to lava. Shaking with primordial hate, I raised my weapon and strafed the Michael-Foxtrot, sidestepping its lashing tentacles. It roared, I fired again, it did the headless chicken dance, and finally flopped to the ground. Again the stench was overwhelming, and then I realized where it had struck me.
Drew another Alien  + Conflict for . I took 1 Health damage, then rolled 2d6 for 1+2=3, leaving it with . The second attack was 0 damage, luckily, and I fired another 2d6 for 4+5=9. I picked up a +2 Health and +1 Ammo.
My left thigh felt like a hot iron was pressing on it. The alien tentacle had left some sort of prickly rash where it lashed me. I clenched my teeth, held my bladder, and moaned like a porn stud. Keeping one hand on my rifle, I reached for the medpac with my other hand, and pressed the medical gel over the wound. Immediately the piercing pain subsided, and it was another minute before I could get moving again. The indicator on the rebreather plinked a friendly, twee reminder: 50% oxygen remaining.
The alien was the last card in the deck, so I reshuffled the Encounter deck, adjusted -2 Oxygen, and reset the level. As it turned out, I’d completely forgotten to use the Vision Mask on this level. Chalk it up to inexperience, and a mistake to not be repeated.
Moving up the ramp to the next level, it was shrouded in darkness. I passed one of the abandoned cryopod chambers – nothing useful there – and edged into a shadowy alcove, hoping that none of these creatures could see in the dark. That train of thought was quickly derailed as an otherworldly yodel echoed down the passage.
I tapped my vison mask once. Thank goodness I did. One of them
was further along the passage, and it was hunched over the deck with its back to me, eating something
with hard, crunching noises. I thought I saw a glimpse of raw and wet as it masticated. I realized that these aliens did not have eyes on the back of their heads.
I wasn’t here to bird-watch. I dropped to my knee, and raised my weapon. I triggered a three-round burst, center-mass, which should have put it out of my misery, but instead it roared defiance, spun around, and came at me for interrupting its Happy Meal. It landed a stinging blow to my left elbow, but I gave it another blast of plasma energy down the throat for dessert, and that was that.
I drew a Cryopod, and then using Vision Helm, Alien  and Alien  cards. Went with the smaller one, obviously. Also drew a Conflict  for a total of . Alien attacked for 4 Health damage, I retaliated with 3d6 getting 2+2+2=6, leaving it with . Another alien hit for 3 Health damage. I fired 1d6 for 3, killing it. Reward was +2 Ammo.
I swallowed bile, cradling my tender forearm, as I moved around the alien and its lunch, and picked up two more ammo. In the next passageway, a dim row of emergency LEDs twinkled overhead like Christmas lights. Ahead was the hatch into Sickbay, the door left ajar. A hellish crimson glow limned the hatchway, coming from no human source that I could imagine. There was the odour of bin juice. The little hairs on my neck started doing jumping jacks.
I prodded my way in. The radioactive tanks were broken, and pools of congealed ruby red liquid had bubbled onto the deck, effulgent and noxious. For kicks, I picked up a scapel and tossed it into the muck. It made a sad hissing sound as it dissolved like wet tissue. No sooner had I saw this than a runaway train slammed into me from behind, knocking me against the bulkhead.
My vision doubled momentarily, and my head spun like a carousel at Disneyplanet. It was one of the tentacled horrors from beyond, snarling with delight at making my acquaintance. I pointed to a space slightly behind its head.
“Hey, look, it’s Natalie Dormer!”
I didn’t think it would work, but it instinctively turned to follow where my hand pointed. I performed brain surgery with my NSG-23, using one shot to give it an extra ear, and then a second shot into its skull cavity, creating a work of post-modern art on the opposite bulkhead that would have made Jackson Pollock proud. If he used alien brains to paint with, I suppose.
I drew Sickbay, and then an Alien  and a Conflict  for . I took 1 Health damage, and fired back 2d6 for 3+6=9, destroying it. Reward was +2 Health and +1 Ammo.
I found two more blessed power packs in the next compartment, and four more rounds of ammo. I didn’t need a Mixom Glaevenscope scan to know that I was in bad shape. The oxygen meter beeped again, a bit more frantically. 15% remaining. I had to get a move on, because in a couple more minutes, the aliens needn’t have bothered. I would turn purple and asphyxiate, in no particular order.
I drew two consecutive Engineering cards, a Storage, and an Alien card which I traded in for an Armoury, before drawing a final Alien for this level.
As I moved upward along the ramp, a soft, wet noise, like water dripping on a wet towel, emanated downward, accompanied by the characteristic stench of vehicle air freshener, except from the opposite end. Another alien came slithering along. I squeezed off a double-tap, hitting it squarely, but it charged forward anyway, and it needed another two rounds before it got the message.
Drew Alien  + Conflict for . I took 2 Health damage, then rolled 2d6 for 5+1=6, leaving it quite killed. +2 Ammo reward. The alien was the last encounter card, so I reshuffled the deck again. Oxygen now down to 1.
At the top of the ramp was yet another broken console. A hand rested on a lever, although it was not attached to a body. I shuddered to think where the rest of the body was. On a morbid hunch, I pushed up the rest of the lever, to be rewarded by a heavy, protesting rumble which, in my infinite stupidity, would have attracted every mother-loving alien within earshot. The hatch grinded along with agonizing slowness, revealing a short but dark passage beyond.
Passing another escape pod, a howl echoed down the corridor behind me. I glanced back long enough to see Yog-Sothoth’s hot younger cousin making a bead for lunch: me. I ran like the wind, if the wind was clumsy and half-lame and crippled with pain. The pounding in my ears told me it was gaining, but I wasn’t about to turn around and take roll call. I felt the lash of its tentacles across my back, sharp and piercing, but I was going too fast to stop.
I dashed through the closest open hatch and palmed the switch. The door swoooshed downward, and I was rewarded by the very satisfying percussion clang of alien head meeting metal door, leaving an impressive-sized dent. I aimed my little friend at the door and ventilated it, eliciting screams from the critter on the other side. Eventually the squealing stopped.
I drew an Alien , discarded it for an Alien . Plus Conflict  made it attack factor . It hit me for 3 Health, and I fired back with 2d6, getting 3+2=5, leaving it with . I was hit again for 3 Health, leaving me with 1 Health. I expended 1d6 rolling 3, and killed it, gaining +2 Ammo.
Looking around, I’d ended up in hardware storage. The oxygen alarm was beeping really urgently now, and I didn’t even want to look at it. But blessed mighty Thor, there was another power cube, still shiny and in the factory wrap. That really took the cake, and it wasn’t even my birthday. For the first time since stepping onto this deep space potato, I felt quite bucked-up, which was admittedly a few letters of the alphabet away from how I’d been feeling so far.
Carefully, I opened the hatch which I’d turned into Swiss cheese, stepping around some minced alien, and went back to the escape pod, feeling bold and unstoppable. I installed the power cubes, and watched the pod light up like the Rockefeller Centre. And discovering that the entry hatch needed an authorisation key card before it would oblige and unlock.
I placed the muzzle against the card slot, and squeezed the trigger once. Sparks flew. And whaddya know, open sesame, the ingress hatch hissed open like Aladdin’s cave of wonders, except that this was my lovely, wonderful, fantasmagorical magic carpet ride out of hell.
After dealing with the last alien, I drew an Engineering card and obtained the last power cube I needed, with 1 Health and 1 Oxygen remaining. It was that
close. Well, I had a blast dramatizing my gameplay of Desolate
, and I hope you’ve enjoyed as much reading it. I’m also trying a new format to alternate between narrative and commentary, and hopefully it makes sense and is easy to read.