On Sunday night I was scheduled to run an episode of Blue Rose, but for a variety of reasons this was not a good time emotionally-speaking. However, the whole group was available and eager to play so instead I ran a light-hearted adventure of The Warren (Bully Pulpit Games) by Marshall Miller. This game a sort of Bunnnies & Burrows powered by the Apocalypse, very easy to run with minimum preparation,
I used the “City Park” playset created by Kristin Firth and Eric Mersmann. It’s based on Central Park in New York but we decided to set it in Austin, Texas instead. This matter because of the weather, wildlife, plants, etc. Because it had been a crappy week, we agreed to make it more My Little Bunny than Watership Down.
Nutmeg the Thumper (female), a Strong rabbit; a young, energetic, go-getter, with a short-haired white coat and a black streak. She had an ongoing dispute with Oakley the squirrel, who kept getting to the best acorns first. Played by April.
- Character Move: Thumper. When you cuff, kick, or knock another rabbit about, you may roll +Strong instead of +Shrewd when you Speak Plainly.
Pip the Swift Runner (male), a Swift rabbit, young and overconfident; the best runner in the warren, he would do anything on a dare. Played by Adi.
- Character Move: Swift Runner. You have never met an animal you couldn’t outrun. When you Bolt, treat a roll of 6- as a 7-9.
Fluffy the Hutchwise (male), Shrewd rabbit despite being less than a year old: given to a child as an Easter gift, but left in the park to “run free with his rabbit friends” when the realities of caring for a house rabbit sank in. Known for his long soft coat, and floppy ears, a bit unkempt at this point. His rival for expertise on humans was an escaped laboratory rabbit called 76, with a very different perspective.
- Character Move: Hutchwise. Raised in a cage or hutch, you are familiar with humans’ routines and mysteries. When you Pay Attention to humans, add “Why do humans do that?” to the list of questions you can ask. The GM will tell you a truth and a falsehood—pick whichever is more interesting or useful.
Peanut the Pigeon-Speaker (female), a Steady and experienced rabbit, currently pregnant. Her short coat’s shades of gray and ring marking around the neck made her look uncannily like a pigeon, so she had forged a bond with them.
- Character Move: Circles of Life. The fight for survival makes for some strange bedfellows. When you first use this move, choose another type of animal with which you have history and rapport.
We went through the warren and relationship questions and determined that the main section of the warren was located under the abandoned metal stumps where the small humans used to play before they moved to the colourful plastic stumps. Nearby was a little stream that disappeared into a dark tunnel near the edge of the Grey.
The Council of Elders was the authority structure, with Ash, the oldest of all rabbits, as the leading matriarch. Peanut was a perennial malcontent, always telling of how things would be better run if she were in charge.
The pigeons sometimes told stories of smaller green places nestled among the Grey, and the younger rabbits were very interested despite Peanut’s skepticism.
We began the tale in winter, which was cold and sharp at night, though it usually warmed up to more comfortable temperatures during the day. Humans visited the Green in smaller numbers, mostly running around, gesticulating, or pounding things into the ground rather than lounging, listening to music, or bringing a leisurely meal. Food was scarcer, especially with few humans picnicking; Fluffy really missed his favourite food, kale.
The ground was even frozen solid from the cold snap of the last couple of days! This made things tricky for the warren: two nights ago, the rabbits had heard rumbling in the earth which had culminated in the collapse of the back entrance. A team of diggers, led by Jasper, was currently working on reopening the entrance. Pip said nothing but looked guilty every time the collapse was mentioned, as if he knew something more.
Fennel, a rabbit who was known to venture far and wide, had been missing for about two days. Nutmeg’s littermate Pumpkin was Fennel’s friend and was very concerned about him, but the tunnel collapse had everyone too busy to mount a search party.
Quest for Food
Given the food shortage, Nutmeg and Pip decided to raid the squirrels’ stash of acorns, located in a hole near the roots of a big tree. Nutmeg had to stretch up a bit and rummage into the cache to reach the acorns; Pip acted as lookout.
Nutmeg finally reached the base of the acorn pile… and caused the whole thing to collapse and tumble out of the tree, sending her scrambling for footing. She bumped right into Pip and the two went rolling under the acorns until they came to a stop, booping snoots. Then they heard the chitter of squirrels in the tree tops; Nutmeg and Pip filled their cheeks with as many acorns as could fit and bolted to the warren, while the angry squirrels pelted them with acorn caps.
Fluffy also went looking for food but also to satisfy his curiosity, investigating the new, strange human activity nearby. It was late enough that the busy humans with hats had left the Green for the night. Fluffy found that they had been stretching fences, digging, and pounding sticks into the ground. Little ribbons of varied colors were tied to some of these sticks as well as pinned to trees. One of those stinky vertical plastic boxes was standing inside the enclosure, as was a wooden table… and a garbage can. Just outside the enclosure, Fluffy found half a delicious granola bar in its torn wrapper. What delicious food might the garbage can hold?
Fluffy decided he needed help in order to reach and open the garbage can. He went in search of Schultzy the raccoon, a resident of the Green who could be dangerous but was dextrous with her hands. Fluffy convinced Schultzy, and the two organized a daring heist, managing to get to the garbage can and get it open. Fluffy pushed the bits of meat to Schultzy, concentrating on vegetable and grain leftovers he could share with the warren.
Schultzy left contented while Fluffy was still rummaging, looking for a good plastic bag he could use to carry his treasure back to the warren. Alas, the plucky rabbit got himself tangled in a roll of fencing material! He started crying for help…
The rabbit who ventured into the Gray
Meanwhile, Peanut decided to look for Fennel, the missing rabbit. She claimed nonchalantly that she was going out to look for cigarette butts (“She’s doing what? But she’s pregnant!” “Yeah, well, trust me: park rabbits dom’t have time to develop cancer!”) In reality, she wanted to talk to the pigeons and get their help with locating Fennel. In exchange for some food, they agreed to look for him.
After a while the pigeons returned and told Peanut that a rabbit that looked like Fennel was lying on the strip of green in the middle of the Gray that lined the long side of the Green to the south, and that he had a big bloody gash in his side. They agreed to take Peanut there.
Peanut followed the savvy pigeon to the edge of the Green where it met the Gray. It was late enough that there were fewer speeding metal boxes on the Gray, but still light enough to recognize Fennel, stranded on the little patch of green. He was as bloody as the pigeons had described, and his flanks were slowly rising and falling with his panting.
Peanut realized she needed help to rescue the wounded rabbit and bolted to the warren. She found Nutmeg and Pip feasting on acorns and dragged them back to help. Pip boasted that he knew a shortcut, and the three started running again.
Meanwhile, Fluffy’s struggles against the fencing material had gotten him completely tangled. But someone heard his cries for help: “Hello there, house rabbit!” he heard from behind him. “You look like you’re in a lot of trouble. You won’t make it long without help…” The voice sounded scornful and amused. Fluffy started thinking it might be a predator, but two city rabbits, rangy and tough, came into view. The speaker introduced himself as Squash, and his somewhat dim-witted companion as Zip.
They started gnawing at the fencing to help free Fluffy, but gave him a grandiose pitch about abandoning his current warren, which they said was about to collapse because of the humans’ activity, and joining them in the new warren they had just founded to the east. Fluffy was trying to stay noncommittal without turning them away.
Pip, Pigeon, and Nutmeg, running to the edge of the Green, spotted Fluffy and screeched to a halt. They were about to fight off Zip and Squash when they realized that the two older rabbits were actually helping Fluffy. Nonetheless, the two outsiders’ demeanor became less cocky and more defensive as the advantage of numbers changed. Squash asked how happy they were with their warren and Pigeon started a political tirade. Squash invited the four to meet again and talk about migration.
But for the moment, they had to save Fennel! As soon as Fluffy was freed and briefed, they hopped away. Fluffy was dragging the plastic bag he had earned at his peril, now planning to use it as a travois for Fennel. When they caught sight of the wounded rabbit, Peanut noticed that his flanks showed slower and shallower breathing.
They rapidly formed a plan. Running across the Gray to reach Fennel would not be nearly as difficult as returning with him. They would need Pip’s speed, Nutmeg’s strength, Fluffy’s ingenuity… and Peanut’s air support. Fluffy fiddled with his plastic bag, twisting the handles this way and that. [A roll of 7 on the special move Innovate let Christine create a new move: Travois, used to move heavy loads with Strength.]
Meanwhile, Peanut talked to the pigeons again, asking them to poop on the next metal box’s front window to force it to stop. Revealing themselves to be far smarter than Peanut had imagined, the spokespigeon negotiated for daily offerings of food in exchange for the bomber squadron’s air support.
Pip noticed that the metal boxes stopped whenever two lights were showing on a pole further down the edge of the Green, and started again when it showed only one. Pip eyed the monsters, growling in the distance, and started running across the Gray. Fluffy followed gamely, dragging his contraption, but Nutmeg suddenly realized how dangerous the plan was and froze on the edge, keening in terror [failed Panic roll.] Peanut managed to calm her down, reminding her that her strength would be crucial to the plan. Bravely, Nutmeg quashed her fears and hopped across the strip of gray.
Under Fluffy’s supervision, they pulled Fennel onto the plastic bag and shouldered the harness. As soon as the metal boxes stopped again, they started dragging Fennel back to the Green. But time soon ran out and the monsters started growling again, approaching too fast. “Save yourselves,” murmured Fennel. “I’m not worth it…”
But Peanut gave the signal to the pigeon squadron, and the birds executed their maneuver flawlessly. The lead metal box’s front pane was immediately covered in guano and slammed to a stop, fish-tailing in the middle of the gray strip. The other metal boxes stopped behind it, in disarray. The rabbits just made it to the Green!
They successfully dragged Fennel to the warren. Just before he passed out, they heard him whisper: “The other warren…”
What was that mysterious warren? What were the humans doing in their enclosures? and was the warren really about to collapse, as Squash and Zip claimed? All questions for another day…