After two years on the Geek, this is my first session report. I’ve been working on a variant for this game for about a year now. The variant is now much more detailed and even more fun, but I enjoyed this playtest from a couple months ago and so decided to share it here:
An eight-passenger King Air 200 prop jet soared over the majestic natural beauty of the Stackpole Nature Preserve. Over 13,000 square miles of unspoiled nature containing rugged mountains, vast forests, arid deserts, and wetlands, the Preserve was home to many different species of wildlife including deer, mountain lions, grizzly bears, alligators, and scorpions. It was a favorite getaway for those who loved to immerse themselves in the outdoors away from the cell phones, the computers, and the crowds of people which can so easily overwhelm a person in the big city.
The pilot, 52 year-old John Harmon, had been flying wealthy nature enthusiasts to the Stackpole Lodge for several years now, and his current passengers were typical of the type of individual which the Preserve attracted.
Alex Banks was a young, fresh-faced kid not long out of college who enjoyed hiking; Mark Cooper was a renowned survivalist expert who taught self-sufficiency courses; outdoorsman Jim Morgan’s lined and weathered features were rugged testaments to a long life of hunting and fishing in the great outdoors; thirty-something Bill Colter was known as the Texas Spiderman for his ability to free climb great pinnacles of rock; and Faith Adamson was a noted Animal Behavior Scientist whose specialty was grizzly bears. Doctor Ben Jacobs and his nurse Wendy Williams were flying in to head up the Stackpole Lodge Clinic which attended to the various cuts and bruises of the clientele.
A popping sound just outside the cockpit drew the pilot’s eyes toward the left engine, which was suddenly sputtering to a stop amidst a cloud of blue smoke. Without an evenly distributed source of power, the plane lurched to the left and a cry arose from the passengers before Harmon shut down the left side engine and compensated by applying additional power to the right engine.
“No need to worry, folks,” Harmon assured his passengers. “We’ve still got another engine, and it’s…”
Another series of popping noises like Fourth of July firecrackers erupted from underneath the right wing, and trailers of more smoke streamed across the cockpit window as the second engine caught fire and died.
An icy finger of fear traced itself down John Harmon’s spine and he swallowed a lump in his throat as his heart began to beat a rapid, insistent tattoo against the inside of his chest. Quickly he shut off power to the flaming engine and scanned the vista of desert and rock below for a suitable place to land.
“Make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened,” he yelled. “We’re going down a little sooner than we planned!”
Shrieking over a nearby mountain top, a powerful gust of wind hurled the small plane over sideways and down into a steep spiraling dive as the pilot valiantly fought a losing battle to reestablish control.
As the small jet crashed into the forest below, the cabin shuddered and crumpled like a soda can, the incredibly violent force propelling the rear of the plane toward the cockpit. The walls of the fuselage collapsed as though crushed by a falling building and the wings were sheared off, hurtling end over end through the trees. The tail section snapped off as if made of matchsticks, and flames instantly shot through the wreckage.
As the plane burrowed through the trees, several passengers flew across the center aisle, banging into the cabin walls from the left side and then back to the right. A great momentum hurled them forward to crash into the cockpit door, and then picked them up again and sent them spinning sideways, turning somersaults as they collided with the disintegrating interior. Mercifully, the passengers momentarily blacked out.
Small explosions rang out like gunshots and a thick black smoke choked off the light. The air grew bitter with the stench of burning metal, burning leather, burning rubber, burning wires, burning oil, burning clothes, burning hair, and burning flesh.
The only blessing was that Harmon had managed to keep the nose of the plane up, so the King Air 200 hit the mountain at an upward angle instead of head-on. As a result, although fire rushed through the cabin, the aircraft didn't explode on impact, and anyone not immediately killed or mortally wounded might stand a chance.
The roaring noise of the disaster abated in moments and the forest became deathly silent, without even the sound of birds chirping in the distance. With flames hungrily licking at the aluminum shell, a shadow of sooty smoke settled across the gruesome scene. The hiker, outdoorsman, and rock climber had breathed their last of nature’s fresh air, and the body of a young nurse also lay unmoving in the debris.
The four survivors began to regain consciousness, finding themselves on hands and knees halfway up the cabin toward the cockpit, and surrounded by flames. A flash of white light where the tail had been signaled the escape route and they began to crawl toward the light.
Mark Cooper, the survivalist, was battered and bruised but still retained the presence of mind to think logically. He halted and turned toward the others behind him who were scrambling to escape. “Hey everyone, listen up, this is important. We’ve crashed in the middle of nowhere and there’s no telling how long it will take them to find us. We need to hurry and get out of here, but if you see any gear lying about on your way - suitcase, duffel bag, stray items, whatever – grab it and bring it along. There’s no telling what may be useful in a survival situation like this. It may be awhile before a rescue party arrives.”
Turning back toward the light coming from where the tail of the aircraft had been, Cooper bumped an object with his knee and grabbed it as he scuttled down the aisle on all fours. One by one, each reached the jagged edge of the torn fuselage and tumbled out, falling to the scorched earth of the forest disoriented but with barely a scratch.
There were four of them – Cooper, Doctor Jacobs, the lady scientist, and unbelievably, the pilot. They hobbled a safe distance away from the burning plane and then collapsed to the earth.
“Ok, let’s see what we’ve got,” Cooper breathed after a moment. He sat up and began to take inventory.
“I managed to get the first aid kit out of the cockpit,” wheezed Harmon, as he tossed it toward the survivalist.
“I’m afraid all I have are the binoculars I had around my neck when we crashed,” Faith apologized, weakly undoing the strap from around her neck and allowing the magnifying lenses to fall gently to the ground. “I hope they’re not broken.”
Dr. Jacobs pulled a small plastic bag from his shirt pocket. “I don’t know what these are,” he murmured. “Let’s see,” he fumbled with the plastic, turning it over to the side with the label and squinted. “Water purification tablets,” he grunted. “Wish I’d been able to get some of my equipment out of there, instead.” He tossed it on the small pile and looked back toward the smoking plane.
“Well, I wish I’d been able to get something of more value,” Cooper sighed. He tossed the object he had brought with him onto the pile. “My own survival manual,” he shook his head. “Like I needed that.” Dr. Jacobs stood up unsteadily and brushed past him, moving on shaky legs toward the plane.
“Doc?’ Cooper called out. “Hey, Doc! What are you doing?”
Moving quickly now, the doctor clambered over some twisted pieces of metal near the missing tail section and found a place where he could climb up into the gaping aperture. “I’ve got to find my bag!” he yelled as he disappeared into the darkness.
“Doc!” hollered Harmon. “Get out of there! It could blow any moment!” He lurched to his feet to go after him but Cooper pulled him back.
“No, don’t get near it,” he warned, and then bellowed, “Doctor, for the love of God, get out of there!”
Suddenly the doctor’s face appeared in the opening and he held up a package. “I’ve got it!” he exclaimed.
Suddenly the plane erupted in a massive explosion, and the doctor was instantly obscured by flames and roiling billows of black smoke.
The three survivors threw up their arms to guard their eyes from airborne bits of debris and felt a wave of heat slam into them like a blast furnace, the gust tearing at their hair and clothing.
After a few moments which seemed interminably longer, the gust died down and the flames began to smolder. They looked over at the now twisted and blackened shell of the plane and then uneasily back at each other. The doctor was gone.
Deep in a forest thirty-six miles southeast of Ranger Station 2, three survivors took stock of their situation. While the survivalist and scientist were well physically, the pilot was weak and unable to move far enough to make it out of the forest.
Faith Adamson, the Animal Behavior Scientist, knelt down by the weakened pilot who was lying on his back with sweat streaming down his pale face. “Mr. Harmon, sir, do you know this area well? Is there anywhere we can go for help? A visitor’s center, a first aid station, maybe a geological survey office, people who live in a cabin somewhere, anything?”
The pilot coughed heavily and licked his dry lips. “There are ranger stations all about the interior of the preserve. I couldn’t tell you exactly where, though.”
“We’ll find one,” Cooper declared with a determined look on his face. He studied his cell phone with a grim expression. “There’s no cell service out here, so we’ll need to call for help from one of the stations.”
Harmon shook his head feebly and propped himself up on one shoulder. “No, the internal ranger stations are just supply cabins. There are no telephone land lines, no people, not even flush toilets.” He waved a hand dismissively. “You’ll have to get to one of the outlying ranger stations for a phone, and we’re a long way from one of those.”
Cooper’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe we should stay close to the plane, then. When we don’t show up at the lodge, someone will come looking for us, and they can use the plane’s emergency locator transmitter to home in on this location.”
Faith looked at the pilot hopefully. “Is that right? Maybe we won’t have long to wait, then.”
Harmon shook his head again and flopped onto his back, his strength exhausted. “The ELT was blown to bits along with the rest of the plane when it exploded,” he wheezed. “There are no radios, no ELT, there’s nothing left to send a signal. No one has any idea where we are, and we’re a thousand miles from anywhere.”
Faith’s eyes met those of the survivalist. “We don’t have much choice, then. We’re going to have to walk out of here ourselves.”
Cooper nodded. He looked down at the pilot. “Is there anything you can tell us abut these ranger stations that might help?”
Harmon rubbed a weary hand through his hair and shrugged. “Let me think. The stations are numbered. There are ten of them throughout the whole Preserve. Number five is located in the center and there are four more about nine miles out in each direction.”
Grabbing a stick, Cooper quickly drew a rough map in the dirt with an X in the center. He scratched four other X’s, with one to the north of the center X, one to the south, one east, and another west.
“Those are numbers one through four,” Harmon continued. “Before we crashed we were somewhere to the northeast of number five, but I don’t know how far away. You can’t see that station from the air because it’s hidden by the trees, and I’ve never been down there.”
Faith considered the crude map. “Well, it sounds like our best chance of reaching survival supplies would be to head either west or south toward one of the surrounding stations, or maybe even southwest toward station number five.”
Cooper sighed and shook his head. “It’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack. We could walk right by it in these dense woods, or miss it by a mile. What we need are some guideposts or some landmarks to go by.” He grabbed the pilot’s shoulder and shook it. “Come on, man, think! You fly through this area all the time. You must know what the terrain is like!”
“I don’t know!” Harmon yelled. “I’m doing the best I can!”
Faith jumped to her feet and tried to pull the survivalist off of the older man. “Don’t hurt him, Cooper! You’re not making any of this any better.”
“Get off me!” Harmon thrashed on the ground.
Mark Cooper suddenly let go of the pilot, his hands open wide, arms held outstretched to his side. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He turned to look up at the woman. “I’m sorry. You’re right.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know what came over me.”
Faith met his gaze with a searching one of her own, attempting over the course of several long seconds to determine the measure of the man before her, then nodding silently and returning to the older man who was now up on his feet and hobbling toward a nearby tree.
The survivalist ran a hand through his unruly hair and shook his head before meeting the others beneath the branches of an old oak.
Harmon held up a defensive hand. “Just give me a minute to think.” Glancing uncertainly at Cooper, Faith unconsciously took a protective half-step between the two men.
“Ok,” the pilot breathed. “Ranger station number five is somewhere in a forest. If it’s not in this very same forest, then it’s got to be close by. We were just over halfway to the lodge when the plane went down so we’re somewhere near the center of the Preserve.
“I don’t know where it’s located exactly because you can’t see it from the air. Now the other four stations that surround it are in open areas, if I remember correctly, and they run about nine miles directly north, south, east, and west of station five.”
“Ok,” Faith looked thoughtful. “So if we can determine which direction is north, it will help us quite a bit.” She looked at Cooper. “Any idea how we can figure that out?”
“In the middle of these woods?” Cooper threw up his hands and began to pace. “I can’t even see the sun, this forest canopy is so dense. And even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to tell without at least some primitive tools.” Sighing, he turned to look at the others. “I can rig something up with some sticks and a vine to make a sort of sundial, but it’ll take until tomorrow to get an accurate reading from it.”
The woman scientist nodded. “Well, it’s something to work on.” She turned back to the pilot. “Mr. Harmon, is there anything else you can tell us?”
“I don’t know,” he put a hand to his head and began to sway unsteadily on his feet. Faith caught him and lowered him gently to the ground.
“Seems to me,” he said after a beat, “like the other four ranger stations were all pretty close to the mountains.” He thought for a moment. “And one was right next to a river.”
“A river?” Cooper was suddenly alert. “How many rivers run through this area? Do you have any idea where we are in reference to this river?”
“Well as a matter of fact, I do. There are really only two rivers that run through the Stackpole Nature Preserve, and they flow from a single source which runs southward and branches into a kind of upside down ‘Y.’ I’ve seen it often enough on my flights.”
He hung his head, suddenly exhausted of strength. “We crashed somewhere between those two rivers, but closer toward the left fork, I believe. We shouldn’t be too far from it, say maybe thirty miles, give or take.”
“Thirty miles!?” Faith was astounded. “That far?”
Harmon grunted. “Ma’am, when you’re out in the middle of thirteen thousand miles of wilderness, thirty miles is pretty close by comparison.”
Cooper nodded. “The average person can walk about three miles an hour. So that’s only about a day’s walk from here. With any luck, maybe we’ll have found some food and water as well as some survival gear within forty-eight hours.” He looked out at the surrounding foliage. “The only question is which direction to begin walking. Sounds to me like we should head northwest, once we figure out which direction northwest is. We’re bound to come to the river, and then we can just follow that south until we reach the ranger station.”
“Well, Mr. Harmon here isn’t going to be able to travel at all until he recovers his strength, and we have no food or water.” Faith looked at Cooper. “I don’t think he can wait a day for you to figure out which way north is. I’m going to head out while it’s still light and see if I can find one of those ranger stations. I’ll bring back help if I can find anything.”
Cooper nodded. “I’ll do the same. I’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon. I’ll keep an eye on him until then, and then I’ll be heading for the river.”
“Ok. I still think south is our best bet, so I’ll try that direction.”
Incredulous, Cooper’s eyes widened. “And which way do you think south is?”
Faith swallowed a lump in her throat and eyed the far-ranging woodland. Turning, she gave him a big smile. “What’s your best guess?”
As luck would have it, Mark Cooper’s best guess was dead-on accurate. As a result, Faith found herself standing on the southern edge of the forest just as evening was slipping away, staring at the most wonderful sight she had seen in days. The sign above the front door identified this cabin as ranger station number four, and she burst through the door with a happy grin on her face.
Rummaging through the items on the shelves there, she found a survival pack of food and water with ten rations each. She grabbed a few other necessities and headed quickly back out the door into the night, hoping she could reach the pilot before morning.
Locating a suitable area where the sun’s rays were strongest, Mark Cooper collected the branches he needed and tore off a length of vine to construct his primitive sundial device. Then he sat down to wait, grimly watching the pilot who, too weak to move, was now unconscious, his breathing shallow.
Somewhere to the southeast of the crash site, a mountain lion padded silently over the rocks, moving in the direction of the two men.
Unable to go on for more than a couple of hours, Faith had finally stopped during the night and fell asleep in a ravine. As the morning sun shone down on her, she made a terrible discovery. After running out of the cabin last night, she had turned the wrong direction in the dark and was now not near the forest, but at the foot of a mountain range!
In frustration, she grabbed the binoculars from around her neck which she had saved in the crash and took a look around. Confused, she noticed two different forests with a wide open area in between. From which one did she come? Slowly and more deliberately, she began the long trek back, stopping frequently to reconnoiter.
Unbeknownst to the men in the forest, a powerful north wind blowing through the forest uprooted dozens of large trees just north of their position, making the woodlands impassable in that direction.
Having determined the northerly direction with his improvised sundial, Cooper checked the pilot one last time before heading out. He hadn’t yet regained consciousness and his breathing was so faint that it was difficult to detect.
The survivalist shook his head, laid his hand gently on the older man’s shoulder, and headed northwest in search of the river.
Not long after his departure, a forest fire broke out about ten miles to the southeast of the crash site and began moving northward with the wind.
A second mountain lion, this one north of the crash, began heading in a southerly direction.
The wind shifted direction slightly, blowing northeasterly, and the forest fire spread along with it. The pilot remained oblivious to the wildfire which had now engulfed the entire eastern section of the forest, only miles from where he lay under an old, gnarled oak tree.
Mark Cooper, his directions and his survival sense impeccable, not only reached the river, but found a river crossing, as well as the remains of a freshly-killed deer. Quenching his thirst, he tore off several pieces of the carcass to eat and chewed hungrily, thinking that the deer looked to be the work of a grizzly.
Finally, Faith spotted the ranger station with her binoculars and the woods that were beyond it. She reached the cabin, once again as night was approaching, and filled up on food and water. She will head out at first light in the morning – this time in the right direction.
What she doesn’t know is that the mountain lion to the south has just crossed the short desert area below her and has reached the mountain peaks just south of the crash site, moving ever closer in her direction.
Again the wind shifts slightly, back to a more northerly direction, and the wildfire spreads north for another ten miles. The pilot lying amongst the leaves and branches on the forest floor is now just this side of death.
Seeing the smoke ahead, Faith quickly came within sight of the blazing forest fire. Unable to move northward any longer, she stood there silently with the heat on her face and tears in her eyes for the older man that she was unable to save. “Rest in peace, Mr. Harmon. Forgive me for blundering the wrong way in the dark.” Her face wet with guilty tears, she turned abruptly and dashed off to the west, plunging into the undergrowth.
Presently, she came across a dead deer carcass with some meat the scavengers haven’t yet consumed, and she ate numbly, her remorseful thoughts preventing her from really tasting the raw flesh.
Within the fiery inferno of the forest, John Harmon coughed as his lungs began to fill with smoke.
The mountain lion from the northern ridge leaves the mountains and crosses several miles of clear terrain, arriving at ranger station two, where it eyes the strange building with suspicion.
Back at the river crossing, Mark Cooper decides to remain where he is for another day. With more food and water, he gains strength as he rests, keeping an eye out for grizzly bears.
The wind shifts to the northwest, and with the blaze threatening to engulf the entire forest, Faith exits the forest at its western edge and looking through her binoculars, catches sight of the river about fifteen miles away to the west. She heads in that direction and finds Cooper at the river crossing, who had remained there for one more day.
Within the blazing forest, the fire engulfs the body of John Harmon as he breathes his last. Mercifully, he remained unaware of the fire to the end.
Far to the south, a grizzly bear heads northward, but well out of range of the two remaining survivors.
The mountain lion to the south has caught the scent of the survivalist and moves north to within a mile of him.
More of the forest catches fire, this time to the southwest, before a torrential rain sweeps through, putting the fire out completely.
Cooper and Faith agree to travel on together. Their skills and abilities make them a good team. He can find food in the forest and can make a fire with sticks; this will help keep them warm at night so that they can wake up with extra energy and travel farther the next day. They will also be able to cook their meat over the fire, thus providing additional nutrition and energy.
She can deal with any animals they might encounter, and her binoculars will allow them to travel more deliberately, from one landmark to another.
The mountain lion to the south has now caught the scent of the scientist and moves north, just below her position.
Cooper was able to successfully start a fire last night and they move out northward into the mountains with extra energy today.
A mountain lion approaches them, but Faith is able to scare it off and they retreat a safe distance away, finding themselves on a mountain path.
Following the mountain path northward, they emerge from the mountains with a wide, clear plain in front of them. A dead deer, freshly killed by a mountain lion, lies nearby. They each grab a bite of this “fast food” and then share a ration of water from Faith’s pack.
Heading northwest into the plain, no landmarks are visible even through the binoculars except for the remains of the deer behind them and a mountain lion which has arrived to investigate the carcass.
Unsure of where to go and somewhat disoriented in the vast empty plain, they decide to head in a northeasterly direction and stumble across ranger station number eight – equipped with a telephone land line. They are rescued!
Sometimes You Are Wrong !
Coolest Promo Ever ! Stonewall Lives
Thanks, Outdoor Survival is a very underrated game which has surprisingly held up very well over the years and never really duplicated.
Nice narrative which always adds flavor to any game play and session report !
The show on solitaire boardgaming.
Well done! That's quite a story.