Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hell Slime

Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker

On Monday, we posted about Andrei Tarkovsky's classic SF film Stalker, as well as about the novel upon which the film was based: Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic. Within a few minutes of our post, our friend Porky posted his own review of the film.

With this kind of synchronicity; we think something is definitely in the air. Or in the ether. Perhaps someone has come back for another roadside picnic, and new Zones are forming?

So where do we go from here? For FATE SF, I am planning a series of posts inspired  by the book and the movie, dealing with how to run a Zone-based campaign, including pertinent Aspects, encounters, and the alien junk (aka "treasures") that might be encountered in the Zone.

This is a creative exercise, though, so we'll be doing things inspired by the book and film, as well as striking out in new directions, using the source material as a jumping off point for extrapolation and divergent exploration.

We're making a Zone of our own.

Today's post deals with one of the Zone's most ubiquitous, insidious, and deadly menaces, as featured in the novel Roadside Picnic.


One of the ever-present dangers of the Zone is hell slime. It's a sometimes viscous, sometimes runny, always drippy substance that burns through organic materials. One reason that Hell slime is so insidious is because it is difficult to discriminate from other goopy agrottments in the Zone. Hell slime is usually blue or green - when it can be seen clearly (which is almost never in situ) - and it can be difficult to distinguish from other slime and muck such as oils and other industrial effluent that has leaked from machines or spilled from containers onto the floors of long-abandoned buildings, the detritus of the built environment that remains in the  Zone. Another reason that hell slime is so insidious is that it sometimes drips up, climbing up a boot and ducking under a pant leg until it finds exposed flesh.

Hell slime is commonly found in pools of water or other moist areas on the lower levels of structures such as basements, tunnels, sludge channels, and wells. But it can be found in any damp area, even on walls, so caution is always advisable. Look for accumulations of scum or dark fluids on floors made of concrete, wood, and tile.  Be wary of open containers such as paint cans, corroded steel drums, and cracked plastic drums, as well as uncapped bottles and jugs. Any of these are likely places where hell slime readily congregates.

The extremities are usually the first part of the body infected with hell slime. The stuff is invasive, able to penetrate through clothes, shoe leather, and cracks in boot heels to reach exposed skin. Once on the skin, it quickly gets into capillaries and pores, and begins to burn away subcutaneous tissues. Within a few minutes, it can dissolve connective tissue, muscle, cartilage, and bone. What's left is a gooey slurry that eventually bursts through the skin and leaves a new puddle of slime below the victim.  Immediate amputation of the infected limb is the best course of action to avoid losing the entire patient within a few hours. 

The tragedy of hell slime is that many stalkers in the Zone are victims of their own greed. Outside forces commission stalkers to go into the Zone and collect hell slime. It fetches a good price on black market.  The substance is opening up new avenues of basic research and development for chemical and biological weapons. An arms manufacturer is developing ammunition with a hollow tip reservoir for hell slime. There are reports of a government spraying "liquid prions" on remote mountain villages to cut off a rebel insurgency's base of support. And whistleblowers in yet another government have published allegations that their intelligence services are using hell slime in so-called "single drip waterboarding" sessions to extract information from captured foes and dissidents. 

What the substance is - and is for - remains entirely a mystery. Is it a lubricant? A waste product? A stardrive exudate or other-planar chemical ectoplasm? An intelligent alien life form?

Only time will tell.


Hell Slime
Otherworldly sarcophagic sludge (inimical)

  • High Concept: "I think you just touched Hell Slime"
  • Trouble:  Burns easily  
  • Aspect: Is there just a bit in here or is it the whole room?
  • Aspect: That just dripped up
  • Aspect: You can burn it but there are consequences
  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: 0
  • Sneaky: +3
  • Burns It's Way In: When hell slime Succeeds with Style on a Sneaky Attack, it gets under the skin of a surprised victim and begins to dissolve one or more of its limbs. The infection does +2 automatic Stress per turn unless some form of super science or magical healing is used to destroy the infection. The victim takes a Moderate Consequence when a limb turns to slush. A Severe Consequence means two limbs have turned to slush, or major organs are failing.
  • It Gets Around: In any given scene, hell slime is restricted to the location (i.e., zone with a small "z") where it starts the scene. But once per session, hell slime may propagate itself into another adjacent zone. For the purpose of tracking stress, the hell slime in the adjacent zone becomes a distinct creature from its parent.
  • Not So Nice To Burn:  Hell slime burns easily, but the smoke when inhaled produces extremely unpleasant effects: the victim will begin to experience fierce hallucinations of alien voices, places, memories, and worlds. Consider this a Flashy Attack which does mental stress.
  • Remote Access: Even when a victim's infected body parts have been amputated, the hell slime that infected the victim has some degree of access to the victim's thoughts. The victim's thoughts and experiences will be recorded continuously on the physical medium of the hell slime as long as victim and slime remain on the same planet and plane.
  • Spacetime Lubricant: Once per session, hell slime may shift itself (and part or all of a victim) into an spacio-temporally contiguous tidal pool. It can't be attacked physically when in this contiguous zone without the use of superscience technology or magic.



  1. "The street finds a use for things," as William Gibson would say--and that even applies to hell slime.

  2. Nasty. As gaming material, the blurred nature is what makes this so interesting.

    It sounds like being a great series too. Are you thinking of working through the Zone artefacts? If so, you're braver than me. As a cross-blog theme, Stalker could make for some interesting posts for sure, various interpretations and paths. I'll see what inspiration comes...

    1. I'd look forward and certainly cross-link to things you and others create!

      I am thinking about working through some Zone artifacts, maybe a table of them.

  3. This stuff is wonderful, for a monster/environmental encounter sort of thing. It'd fit right in some places we know...

    1. Yes, as I am reading the Strugatsky's novel, there are places that really make me say: This is how it would happen in Wermspittle!" Not just the black liquor either, although I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Strugatsky brothers had read Machen.

      One of the commonalities was that the town adjacent to the Zone is in very bad shape. The town was damaged by the Visitation, and while the military/police focus on creating and maintaining a zone of exclusion around the weirdness nobody is really rebuilding the place. A lot of people were either killed or made sick by various plagues at the time of the Visit, too. People are pretty vulnerable, and the Strugatsky's novel is NOT set in the Soviet Union. Our Stalker is a black marketeer and thug in a capitalist country in North America.

      Another similarity is the transactionality of so much social interaction. There is a strong black market economy in the town adjacent to the Zone and it is deeply imbricated with the academic research establishment that has grown up around the Zone to study it.

      Stalkers often work for the Institute by day, and at night run freelance incursions into the Zone for people who are willing to pay top dollar for certain items.

      Great minds think alike! You probably would have had some great conversations with the brothers Strugatsky if you had had the chance.

    2. This book is now at the top of my 'Must get Now' list. Thanks for introducing me to the work of these guys. What I've seen so far is amazing. Very pertinent to my interests...