I love deceiving my players. Playing with their senses – sight and sound, social prejudices…
This is a type of adventure with the intent to confuse players. It uses certain stereotypical thought and can be reduced to a simple principle in most survival scenarios in post-apocalyptic settings. Normal people are typically afraid of getting dirty.
The team travels for several days through the desert with a radio tower or satellite dish visible on the horizon. As they get closer to the structure, it turns out it was a broadcast station on a small plateau. They also see traces of humans: smoke, buildings, etc.. Clearly, someone is there.
When they get close to the station, they will be attacked by two or three ragged, dirty people exhibiting signs of disease or radiation. They move awkwardly… terribly. After a quick confrontation with the PCs, they will flee. Will the players hunt them? It doesn’t matter. If they do, they will notice that the bodies of their attackers have monstrous deformities: shorter arms, eyes overgrown by flesh or decay. One of the “hunted” wears the uniform of someone working at the broadcast station with a patch depicting a broken antenna on a hill.
If the PCs continue to get closer to the station, it appears the plateau has become a small stronghold built of containers and caravans. In the stronghold, the PCs will meet the people living here. They will be reluctant at first but get more friendly over time. They are clean and healthy, with children running around the antenna. They are the old broadcast station’s employees and their children.
The huge dish antenna casts a shadow across the plateau. Life here is quiet, even boring. The inhabitants have fixed a few old machines to pump water from deep wells and built some greenhouses in which to grow some crops. They live quite well, though cut off from the world.
Eventually the PCs learn that the only “problem” with living on the plateau are the hordes of brutal, barbaric mutants hiding in the hills. These barbarians are constantly trying to bully the people out of their stronghold. They carry with them the smell of disease. They have no trace of humanity left, making only incoherent mumbles to communicate.
Let the players feel good after a long journey on this lonely island of civilization.
However, a day or two after arriving, one of the PCs should start to feel bad, suffering from headaches and vomiting. Others may start complaining of a troublesome squealing in their ears. None of the other inhabitants of the plateau suffer from these symptoms.
After the PCs are settled, one of the barbarians’ chaotic attacks will occur. (It may resemble the barbaric attack from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.) The settlers will defend against the all-out attack with the help of the PCs. Unfortunately during the attack, some of the mutants manage to grab one of the girls living in the stronghold.
It won’t take long for the PCs to find the trail of the kidnappers. It will be a tiring, dangerous journey into the surrounding hills. In the rocky, desolate landscape every sound evokes a nervous weapon check…
Eventually the trail will lead the PCs to the mutant camp. But before the players can act, they are noticed by the guard who sounds an alarm. The mutants run away from their primitive camp.
The PCs are only able to catch the barbarian woman with the kidnapped child. She will tell them – if she gets the chance – that things aren’t as they seem. The villagers on the plateau are the mutants and the “barbarians” are the people from the old service station. She will ask the PCs if they could return to the station and turn off the transmitter, which emits harmful radiation. What will the PCs do?
[Note that if the PCs left sick (or wounded) party members in the village, the players may want to go back and *save* them.]
But do the PCs believe the woman’s story or not? The stark contrast between the children (hers and the ones from the village) would seem to indicate that *she* is the one trying to deceive the players, not those people at the station.
If the PCs trust the barbarian woman, they will get help from the other barbarians. But the PCs returning to the station will face a surprise. Something alarmed the settlers. Somehow they “sensed” an incoming attack and started the transmitter. It seriously weakens and disperses most of the PCs supporting the barbarian woman. Rather than the direct approach, the PCs might sneak back into the base, but the “saved” girl may sound an alarm and the PCs will have to fight the villagers.
If the PCs choose not to trust the barbarian woman, they can return to the station without any problems. They are greeted like heroes.
If the PCs choose to remain with the barbarians, more doubts may arise if they start wondering how such disease symptoms could be caused by the action of the transmitter. If they move fast enough, they could still return to the village and brag about saving the child from the hands of the “hideous mutants.”
[Note: The PCs might find out another way that something isn't quite right at the station, but it may not be the easiest thing to discover. The settlers are hermaphroditic!]
[Note: Each aggressive move the PCs make will trigger a "spin up" of the transmitter.]