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The SciFi Roleplaying Game





If you come back with swag — it’s a miracle

If you come back alive — it’s a success

If the patrol bullets miss you — it’s luck.

And as for anything else — that’s fate.




The SciFi Roleplaying Game


Concept & text..VILLE VUORELA




Proofreader...AKI SAARIAHO

Post-production.GREG KRYWUSHA





Publisher...BURGER GAMES


Based on the novel “ROADSIDE PICNIC”

by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

Released under a license from

Boris Strugatsky.


Mikko Matvejeff, Sami Nikander, Vera Izrailit, Marko Saaresto, Jari Juslin, Riitta Peltonen, Mikko Parviainen, Tuomo Sipola, Laura Uusitalo, Esko Arajärvi, Sami Järvi, Mikko Vohlonen, Arto Koistinen, Alfred Erman, Jukka Karvonen, Tuomas Luttinen, Olli Kantola, Petteri Hannila, Erkka Leppänen, Lynoure Braakman, Niko Mikkanen, Lars Wirzenius, Joanna Mrozinski, Kalle Kivimaa, Petri Hiltunen, Joni Virolainen, Jyrki Tudeer, Jukka Sorsa, Eero Tuovinen, Miska Fredman, Mike Pohjola, Juhana Pettersson, Niilo Paasivirta, Greg Staf-ford, Nadia Markalova, Vladimir Borisov, Andrei Tarkovski, Kotiteollisuus, Motörhead, Type O Negative, Fear Factory, WASP, Angra, Turmion Kätilöt, AC/DC, Eduard Artemiev, Yoko Kanno, Nine Inch Nails, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Wendy O. Williams, Wolfstone, Thyrane, Celldweller, Indigo Girls, Massive Attack, WSOY, GSC Game World

Very special thanks to Kristel Nyberg. Without her help and encourage-ment this game would have never been gotten started.

Super special thanks to Leena Romppainen for keeping me alive and sane through all these years.

Greg, I would not trade you even for a Golden Orb!




[email protected]




Welcome to the Zone


Foreword... 6

The Strugatskys...8

Sources... 9



Visitation... 14

The Prevailing Theory 15 Other Theories 15 Refugees...17 The Changed 18 The Cursed 19 Zones... 22 The Borderlands 24 Another World 26 Xenology...32 Artefacts 33 Monuments 36 Quasichemicals 38 Institute...40 Stalkers... 43 Players’ Rules...47 Overcoming Challenges 48 Presentation 49 The Hand of Fate 49 Creating a Stalker... 50

Individual vs. Team 51 Life and Abilities 52 Attributes 55 Wealth 56 Details 57 Fitness Abilities...58 Alertness Abilities... 59 Intellect Abilities... 60 Willpower Abilities...61 Charisma Abilities...62 Education Abilities... 63 Technical Abilities... 64 Zone Abilities... 65 On a Roadside Picnic...66 Equipment... 74 Character Sheet... 80



Success or Failure? 86 The Hand of Fate 87 Challenges... 88

The Mathematics of the Rules 88 Creating Challenges 89 Evaluating Ideas 91 Evaluating Roleplay 93 Interpreting the Results 96 Violence 98 Going Down 104 Experience...107

Gamemaster’s Role...112

Gamemaster’s Responsibilities 113 Planning the Campaign 114 Creating Adventures 116 Reshaping Scenes On The Fly 120 Descriptive & Narrative Tricks121 The Last Few Tips 125 Adventure Ideas 126 Stalker Genre Guide... 128

Themes and Styles 129 Our World 130 Their Borderlands 131 In The Zone... 142 Anomalous Areas 145 Inorganisms 153 Oases 160 Mutants 165 Zone Tribes 176 Changed Stalkers 180 The Zone Treasures...182

Finding Artefacts 183 Monuments 191


Zenography... 199

The Borderlands 199 The Edge of the Zone 200 The Zone Itself 202 Toulouse... 210

The Present Day 211 The Institute in Toulouse 216 People of Toulouse 218 Stalkers in Toulouse 221





The SciFi Roleplaying Game



“Sure, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve already given permission for two other games in the past, but go ahead!”

–Boris Strugatsky

With these words, translated from Russian to English, Boris Strugatsky gave me permission to make an official Stalker Roleplaying Game. Sure, it took a little more detailed agreement five years later when the game was released but both the author and his book agent were very supportive of this project. Buying this game supports one of the greatest minds in classic science fic-tion and frankly, even though people were ripping off Strugatskys’ ideas left and right I thought it would be more polite to at least ask before doing the same. I remain overjoyed that he agreed.

The Finnish version, Stalker - Tieteisroolipeli was released in April 2008 and it has been quite a ride since then. It was an instant critical and com-mercial success even though the genre was about as niche as you can get. Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland chose its release to be one of the Culture Events of 2008. More importantly, when your chief nemesis and detractor declares your game to be “Fucking Brilliant”, you know you are onto something.

There was some talk of having the game translated into English already when it was released but having just spent 5 years balancing between writing a very demanding roleplaying game and keeping my day job in the game indus-try, I was not going to do it alone. After a few false starts Jukka “NiTessine” Särkijärvi took up the job. After so much editing, tweaking and plain-old proofreading I am not sure how much of his original translation survives but he should forever be remembered as the man who got the ball rolling. Having poured my heart and soul into this roleplaying game I have been more than happy with the way it turned out. For me, it is the best roleplaying game ever. Not perfect but good enough to surpass everything else I’ve written, read or tried myself. I doubt if anyone else feels this strongly about it but the consensus among those who have dared to try it is that it is a damn good game. I am especially glad to see how easily people have picked up the Flow system and even developed it further to suit their specific needs. Having a diceless system on an adventure-focused roleplaying game is considered to be something of a barrier to entry but Stalker RPG seems to attract just the right kind of players. And there are surprisingly many of them.

Roadside Picnic and the movie Stalker were written and directed in the Soviet Union. The novel is set in an undefined near future and contains the typical Soviet science fiction concept of a global society. Though the Strugatskys have avoided describing global politics, the novel’s declining society is clearly socialistic even though its events are set in Canada. Today,

we know that there was no world revolution during 20th century. I have set

the game in an undefined now and just like in the novel, carefully avoided specifying years or dates. The game happens in the now, whenever that may be. However, it presents the world of today as a dystopia, from a very grim perspective.

Although a novel and a roleplaying game may share the setting to some ex-tent, the novel looks at the setting through a keyhole. The reader cannot depart from the vision opening up on the pages of a novel and sees only what the author intended him to see. In a roleplaying game, the door is wide open. A player can go anywhere and do anything and the setting is constantly subjected to the creative genius of the participants. I have tried to create an alternate world of today that reacts to the Zones and their side effects the way I imagine the modern world would. Take the Cursed Ones – the novel’s description of a man whose customers will invariably die being al-lowed to operate a barber shop is absurd. Likewise, the society’s reaction to any group of people whose mere presence causes natural disasters is likely to be extreme.




Welcome to the Zone

Ville “Burger” Vuorela

I saw Humanity reacting to the Zones and everything associated with them as a collective threat to its own existence. The response matches the threat and in the absence of a clear and present enemy it is the Refugees and the Changed that bear the brunt of it. There are many real-world examples of systematic persecution of minorities but since this was to be done under the pretext of science, I sought inspiration from Sweden’s national eugenics program in the 1930s and the Jewish ghettoes in Nazi-occupied Europe. While there are no death camps as such in the game, the Institute experiments on living and dead “subjects” mirror the notorious experiments of Dr. Joseph Mengele and other Nazi scientists.

When I was working as a technical writer in the pharmaceutical industry, I was fascinated at how much medical data the horrific human experiments actually yielded and how the medical community is still split over its use. I would imagine the same thing happening with xenological research and not just over xenomedicine.

As for the Stalkers themselves, the concept of professional adventurers going into dangerous locations in search of treasure is nothing new: in fact, it is in the very heart of fantasy roleplaying. In many respects, Roadside Picnic and its derivatives have distilled the concept to its very roots. How-ever, a professional adventurer of any kind is an anathema to the modern world and attitudes. I had to make a social niche for the Stalkers to fill, as well as an economic and even political need that justified their existence. Demand creates supply and for all the Institute’s lobbying, the general pub-lic sees stalkers as the one force that is truly capable of “fighting back” at the Zone invasion. Sure, it is dangerous and even criminal, but in the end isn’t it a victimless crime? And you don’t see the Institute striking back the Zone invaders, do you?

Since my previous roleplaying game Praedor won such high acclaim for its system, the diceless FLOW used in Stalker RPG came as a surprise to many gamers. However, I wanted the game to emphasize atmosphere, the feeling of “being there” and the importance of character perceptions, much like both the novel and Tarkovsky’s movie did. Instead of presenting threats and challenges as series of dice rolls, FLOW presents the actual problems and resolves the actual solutions, augmented by bonuses from expertise and roleplaying. It had to be simple enough for Gamemasters to wing it without breaching the system and yet based on numerical variables to be acceptable to old-school roleplayers more accustomed to dice-based systems. Such as myself. While this may have cost me some sales as traditional gamers are inherently suspicious of dicelessness, the FLOW system has gained many fans and at least one other game using the same mechanic is in the works. Going diceless was always a big gamble and I am happy say that it paid off.



The SciFi Roleplaying Game


The brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are possibly the best-known of all Russian science fiction authors. Their first story came out in 1957 but after being caught in the Soviet cen-sorship machinery in the 60’s an entire under-ground movement developed around their work, distributing the books as photocopies.

The most famous of their forbidden books, Roadside Picnic, came out in 1971. After a fo-reign release in 1978 the officials finally al-lowed its publication in the Soviet Union. It was a great success and went on to win several awards. A year later (1979), Andrei Tarkovsky released his acclaimed motion picture Stalker. After the film, Stalker was cemented as the name of the novel in several countries, including Finland. In Russia, however, “Stalker” refers to the printed movie script, also written by Strugatskys. The novel and the film are very different, like two completely different ways to approach the same theme. Sometimes you feel they complement one another and sometimes that they are entirely contradictory. Either way, the movie is made for those who like intellectual, minimalist and very well acted science fiction. After the action-scifi flicks of today its peace and calm are like a drug.

Arkady Strugatsky died on October 12th 1991 but after the fall of

commu-nism Boris has been a guest at many science fiction conventions in the West. He also has a website: Burger Games would like to thank Vladimir Borisov, Nadia Markalova and the science fiction club Solaris from the city of Perm for their help in reaching Boris Strugatsky and in translating our conversation.

The Stalker RPG is released with a license from Boris Strugatsky.

Boris told me that he has given similar permissions twice before but despite an arduous search I was unable to find any trace of earlier Stalker roleplaying games. However, I did find a Ukrainian computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, made by GSC. It has nothing to do with the roleplaying game and they did not ask for a permission to use the name, hence the acronym with dots. At the time of writing, this roleplaying game remains as the only “official” Stalker-themed game out there.

Of course, using Roadside Picnic as an inspiration for games and books is nothing new under the sun. Even without the Ukrainians, themes originating from Stalker have been seen in video games as long as they’ve existed. It was one of the major influences on the Praedor fantasy comics by Petri Hiltunen and consequently the Praedor roleplaying game I wrote with him. So you could say that this is my second Stalker-themed roleplaying game.




Welcome to the Zone


The most important inspiration for this game is, of course, the novel Road-side Picnic but it is by no means the only one. The novel was not written to meet the needs of the roleplaying game and in the name of playability, new elements, structures and themes have been sought out and invented. To para-phrase Greg Stafford (Ropecon 2005):

Your Stalker may vary.

I must confess that many of these works affect and influence everything that I do or write. Sourcebooks do not need to be on topic or even any good. It is sufficient that they have scenes, elements and themes that I can use. Similarly, Players and Game Masters may get something out of them.


Arkady & Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic Stanis³aw Lem: Solaris

Alfred Bester: Stars My Destination Harry Harrison: Deathworld

Arthur C. Clarke: 2001: A Space Odyssey William Craig: Ghost Dancers

Frank Herbert: Dune K.W. Jeter: Noir

H.G. Wells: The Time Machine Petri Hiltunen: Asfalttitasanko Petri Hiltunen: Praedor

Petri Hiltunen & Ville Vuorela: Vanha koira

Cinema and Video Games

28 Weeks Later Stalker

The Ugly Swans Soylent Green Last Border Stakeland Ukkonen Resident Evil Dark City Split Second Downfall Il Ultimo Silenzio I Am Legend Avalon Ergo Proxy Antikiller Renaissance Condemned Banlieu 13 Half-Life F.E.A.R. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.



The SciFi Roleplaying Game


Looking for your first roleplaying game? Something easy to understand, where the ruleset does all the work for you? We thank you for your interest but Stalker is for you. In terms of genre and rules as well as the expectations placed on the Game Master and the Players this game is a leap into the unknown. It will not take you into the Zone. It is the Zone. You have been warned.

The argument on what is or isn’t a roleplaying game has gone on for three decades now. Some think it is interactive storytelling, others emphasize im-mersion into the character, or competition, or achieving the objectives placed on your character or whatever. From the perspective of this rulebook it doesn’t really matter but play sessions usually work better when everybody is on the same page on what they expect to experience.

In a roleplaying game, the player assumes the role of an imaginary person in an imaginary world and directs his actions. Imagine you’re reading a book. A big part of the enjoyment comes from being able to identify with the pro-tagonist. The reader celebrates his victories and grieves his losses, laughing and crying with him. A book also offers a window into the imaginary world inside the author’s head. However, a book’s events are set and the reader can only see what the author has decided to show him. In a roleplaying game these limitations do not exist: you decide what the character does and where he goes. Even though you can make some assumptions on the characters’ ac-tions in a roleplaying game, the entire world is open to them.

Stalker - The SciFi Roleplaying Game is a so-called tabletop roleplaying game (or RPG), which means that events and situations are described to the players verbally and they respond by verbally describing their characters’ actions and reactions to those events. One of the players is the Game Master (or GM), who controls the game world around the Player Characters (or PCs) and tells the players what their characters observe. The Game Master can also tell about the characters’ thoughts or insights, because the characters may have knowledge and abilities that the players lack (of course, the re-verse also applies). Because of this, the characters’ abilities have values assigned to them and from these values you can see the odds of succeeding in different actions and tasks. These values may change during the game as characters learn from experience or when age and injury take their toll. A roleplaying game has no more a final goal than real life does. The charac-ters have their own objectives and the players will measure their progress or the entertainment value of the game in their own ways but there is no final victory or defeat. The Game Master’s purpose is not to defeat the players or their characters but to help them create an entertaining and interesting ex-perience together. And although the Game Master has the final say in all disputes, a slighted player can always vote with his feet.

This book is meant as a guide to the life of the stalkers and the fictitious reality in which they operate. Additionally, it gives you rules and instruc-tions for the use of the values depicting the characters’ abilities. It is di-vided into The Players’ Book, The Game Master’s Book and Zone France. If the characters are experienced stalkers or have ever been to the Zone when the game begins, the players should read The Players’ Book. If, on the other hand, the characters are still novices to the trade and preparing for their first expedition, the Game Master should tell them only what he con-siders utterly necessary. The rest they will have to learn on their own, just like all other stalkers. This is not as hard as it sounds: it is all happening in a world just like ours, after all.

Only the Game Master should read The Game Master’s Book and The Zone France, unless players are certain that they can keep their knowl-edge and the knowlknowl-edge of their characters separate.




Welcome to the Zone

To play the game, you need 2-10 players, this book, someone who has read it, paper, pencils (and erasers), a peaceful place with sufficient light, table space and comfortable seats. A window that you can open is a plus.

Salty snacks, cola, beer or cider, suitable back-ground music, moody lighting, a telephone and the menu of the local pizza place can also come handy. Smokers will appreciate a balcony.

Glasu (GM): The yard is empty. There aren’t even any weeds. The school

itself, a two-storey brick building, looks to be in pretty good shape but the windows are quivering, as if shaken by a storm wind.

Niksu (Gecko): Let me guess. There is no wind? Glasu: Well, now that you mention it, it is quite calm.

Ärppä (Spark): I pull out my binoculars and try to get a better look at

the windows.

Glasu: Through the binoculars, it looks like the whole brick wall is

shim-mering, as if glassy waves were travelling through it.

Niksu: Spark, it’s not safe there. Are you sure the map points here? Ärppä: Huh, Glasu, am I sure? I take out the map and try to compare it

with our surroundings.

Glasu considers what sort of chances Spark has to figure out their loca-tion. Spark is an outdoorsman and not easily lost. Also, comparing land-marks to the map is a good idea. It works.

Glasu: The map isn’t the clearest you’ve seen but the radio mast, forest’s

edge and level crossing are where they’re supposed to be. This is it.

Ärppä: (or Spark, talking to Gecko) Just be thankful we’re not at an oasis. Now we just have to find another way inside the building. Hmm, maybe the sewers.

Glasu knows that Gecko has sharper eyes.

Glasu: Gecko, you think you spot someone moving in the windows on the

upper floor.

Niksu: Spark, there’s someone in there. I wouldn’t be this worried at an

oasis. Glasu, I take out a nut or a bolt and throw it at the school, from as far as I can.

Glasu: You approach the building carefully and throw the nut from about

40 metres. A target that big can’t be missed. The nut hits the school’s shimmering surface and breaks up into silvery strands, like thick paint poured into water.

And so on. Glasu has a plan about what could happen but in the end it all hangs on what the players decide and their characters do. Only the sky is the limit and every adventure is unique.









The SciFi Roleplaying Game



“The fact of the Visitation itself is the most important discovery of not only the past thirty years but of the entire history of Mankind.”


It has been thirteen years. All of a sudden, strange lights were seen all around the globe. Communications were disrupted. The northern lights went wild and numerous light and vapour trails were observed in the upper atmos-phere, as if a huge meteor shower had hit Earth. The phenomenon was the strongest on the northern hemisphere but it could be observed everywhere.

According to seismic data, several objects hit Earth striking along the 43rd

parallel. All communications with the assumed impact areas broke down. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the phenomenon ended.

What happened next remains unclear. The impact sites could not be reached. The authorities received snippets of information from different sources telling about fires, monsters, thousands of refugees and hundreds of dead. Rescue units vanished without a trace. The refugees who made it out were often badly injured or suffered from strange poisonings and diseases. It took days before the situation could be brought under control and the bor-ders of the areas determined. The refugees’ stories about strange figures in the sky or striding through burning streets sparked off rumours about an invasion by a foreign power or even aliens. While rescue workers were establishing refugee camps and field hospitals, governments sent thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles into the impact zones to repel the pos-sible invasion and to search for the missing. Behind them came criminals and looters, targeting the homes of the rich and the vaults of abandoned banks. Few made it deeper than a few hundred metres. Even fewer made it back. Behind the invisible line the laws of nature had gone mad. Gravity con-centrations crushed even the strongest of tanks, people boiled alive in bub-bles of vacuum and corrosive clouds ate through everything organic in their way. The governments were powerless, the scientists stunned. The tragedy of the Visitation touched the entire Humanity and the hundreds of thou-sands of dead and missing were overshadowed by the fact that Humanity had lost its grip on its own world. The scientific worldview was shaken to its very foundations but the changed areas did not fit any religion’s teachings any better. Beyond the border lay a field of death, filled with corpses and debris. Sometimes unknown powers raged there like a storm but often only strange lights, distorted colours, silent movements and unexplained sounds revealed that death was still lurking. Some of the bodies have never rotted and some of the vehicles still have their engines running.




The Prevailing Theory

The Refugees’ accounts are uncertain, contradict one another and many of them tell of observations that are impossible to human senses. Common to the stories, however, are huge shapes floating in the sky and strange beings moving amidst the fires and chaos. These have been thought to have been spaceships and aliens. According to the prevailing theory, the event was not a meteor shower but the arrival of alien life forms on Earth, either from another star system or an entire universe, bringing the elements and phenom-ena of their own universe with them. People talk about “a visit” or “a visita-tion”. Back in the day “attack” was also suggested but this never caught on. The purpose of the Visitation can only be guessed at. There is no indication that the visitors ever attempted to communicate with us. Some still believe it was an attack, some that the Humanity is being prepared for a later contact or that the Visitation is not over and the Visitors are still within the Zones. It has even been put forth that the Visitation happened by chance, just be-cause Earth happened to be an attractive rest stop on some cosmic journey and it was a Roadside Picnic with no higher purpose. There is no evidence to conclusively prove or disprove any of these claims and the debate continues.

Other Theories

The Visitation Theory is widely accepted but there are dissenting voices. For example, there are no recordings of the claimed Visitors or their space-ships. A lot of what is known about the interior of the Zones is based on the contradictory accounts of Refugees and the stories of criminals known as Stalkers. They have sometimes been used as explorers and also most of the publicly availabe photographs from the Zones have criminal origins. The changed areas with all their strangeness have been suspected to be either a badly-understood natural phenomenon or the visible effects of some un-known event of quantum physics. Paranormal and religious explanations are rife and of course some people claim that the whole thing is just a cunning plot by the government, the terrorists or some weird global conspiracy. The general public knows very little about artefacts or monuments and mostly hears about them in the context of the accidents they cause. People involved in xenological research mostly consider artefacts to be remnants and refuse of a foreign culture and technology. That would make them proof of the Visitation theory but some think they are a gift from the aliens, an attempt to raise human science and technology closer to their own level. Their oppo-nents point out that despite their strange powers, many artefacts appear to be more like precipitates or crystals from the un-nature of the Zones rather than pieces of machinery. This would also explain how more artefacts can sometimes appear even without reliable observations of Visitors.

The most common of the alternative theories is the idea of a momentary brush with another dimension where the laws of nature were different. In the resulting exchange of matter and energy, both dimensions would have left shards of itself in the other. Perhaps somewhere beyond the cosmos, an unknown species is now wondering at the strange areas formed on their world, with substances and technology that are just as foreign to them.



The SciFi Roleplaying Game


It is raining. Small rivulets of water run down the walls of an

abandoned house. The air smells of mildew and rotten wood. Broken

windows show only the dark street. A flash of lightning reveals the

empty windows on the opposite block. Like the eye sockets of a skull.

The thunderstorm raging in the south occasionally strikes the border.

A beam of light sweeps the streets and you draw away from the window.

The screeching of steel tracks and the rumble of a diesel engine

overcome the noise of the storm. But the patrol does not stop. It

continues along the empty street, looking for someone unfortunate

enough to break the curfew.

Butterfly has her torch on the floor. It illuminates the gear spread

out on a tarp and the faces of those around it. Spark is loading the

magazine of a submachine gun. You’ve heard the Americans caught him

once and he then escaped from a special prison in Oregon. He doesn’t

intend to be taken alive for a second time.

Although you’re going to an oasis those bullets are meant for people.

You wonder where the European Institute holds the stalkers they’ve

caught. Maybe they don’t take anyone alive.

Czar is the opposite of Butterfly. A grim, lean man whose eyes are

dead. He’s also the most experienced member of the group and there are

wild tales about how he took on a group of Chinese agents in Mongolia.

Rumours say he has powerful friends in Russia. Maybe their arm is long

enough to reach here.

He tears up strips of bandage and ties them to heavy steel nuts. On the

tarp a heavy rifle is waiting for its turn but the nuts are more

important. He always says that guns are dead weight to a stalker but

now you’re going to an oasis, a strip of pristine wildlife in the

middle of the wildest Zone.

Butterfly says she knows a route underneath the border. Some forgotten

or reopened sewer, undoubtedly. Then you will wait for the morning and

start a 20-kilometre trip, most likely on foot and in pouring rain.

Even the thought frightens you. Researchers and sample-gathering drones

consider 200 metres a good accomplishment in good weather. But for an

experienced stalker the Zone is a net and in the holes are more stable

areas bordered by anomalies. You do not need to check your every step

with a nut when you reach one of those.

Viewed from the outside, Zone France is a perfect circle. You wonder

for a moment if the anomalous areas are spread out according to some

pattern. If you could figure that out you could calculate the

loca-tions of anomalous and stable regions.

On the other hand, viewed from within the Zone, its shape and surface

area do not match with outside observations. And it takes you a moment

to remember that you’re no longer an Institute researcher. You are

Professor. A feared criminal. Otshkarik. Stalker.




“The doctors told them that that was impossible and they should try to remember. But they insisted that it was a powerful thunderclap that blinded them. By the way, no one else heard the thunder at all.”


In contemporary language, “refugee” refers to those hundreds of thousands who managed to escape the Zones during the Visitation. At first they were the orphans of the whole world and governments did their best to relocate them back into the population. Meanwhile, the Zones were going to be sealed off from the world, removed from the map and the public mind. The process had not yet ended when the inexplicable diseases spreading among the refu-gee populations started drawing the attention of the press and the public. When diseases turned out to be the early stages of progressive mutations and the refugees began having mutant children, pity and compassion turned into terror and loathing.

Refugees have been sealed in their own suburbs and imprisoned with flimsy legal pretences into various facilities. Security forces raid refugee habi-tats looking for mutations. Children are taken into custody. Forced abor-tions and sterilizaabor-tions are everyday affairs while the few public protests are ignored. The public opinion considers them a threat, a cancerous growth in the healthy body of Humanity. They are a physical manifestation of the threat posed by the Zones. Harsh measures have popular support and the police often look the other way in hate crimes against the refugees. Dis-crimination and racist attacks are commonplace. There are even rumours of euthanasia programs and lynchings committed by extremist movements. The refugees have reacted to this modern-day witch hunt by escaping the habitats they were assigned to. Some live among ordinary people under false names, killing their own children should their mutations become too appar-ent. Others have fled back to the borderlands around the Zones and live in their own communities there, outside the law and society. Some became bums and vagabonds who beg and steal to provide a livelihood for themselves and



The SciFi Roleplaying Game


their families in hiding. In one way or the other, over the past decade the refugees have vanished from the public eye and the general society. People have begun to forget them and the terrible things that happened to them, let alone realize that such things are still going on.

The treatment of the refugees will always be an ugly footnote in world history. Extremist groups concerned with the “Purity of Man” still carry out attacks on the borderland communities. Ruthless kidnappers and corrupt officials hunt them and their children like animals to sell them as human guinea pigs into state, military and corporate research centres. Children disappear from schools, the elderly from their retirement homes and doc-tors are bribed to reveal the records of any suspicious patients.

The Changed

Human mutants are a taboo subject (as are the refugees in general) but if one must talk about them, they are usually referred to as the “Changed”. Any refugees or their children whose mutations are too overt and obvious to be concealed or surgically repaired are considered to be Changed. Most people have never seen one outside television and liken them to disabled people or the deformed children born after toxic spills or other environmental disas-ters. The reality is something quite different.

The mutations of the first generation – those who ran out of the Zones on their own two feet – progress slowly. Not everyone even has them. Many of them are also in early enough stages to be explained away as scars and the diseases they were first taken for. Not all refugee children have changed either and some second-generation refugees will only begin to change as they approach puberty. It is not known if there are any third-generation Changed yet. These would be children had by the Changed amongst them-selves but perhaps not enough time has yet passed.

The mutations of children progress faster than those of adults and are of-ten so extreme that there is no hope of concealing them. Their causes are unknown and they cannot be determined genetically. They are not injuries but have been described by Doctor Pilman as “grafting the features of un-known life forms onto a human body”. Mutations are also fully functional: compound eyes will have a larger field of vision and additional limbs are completely usable – their owners will soon learn entirely new moves and physical abilities.

The flipside of this is frequently mental retardation, or more properly an alienation from the rest of Humanity. It eventually results loss of speech, the lack of self-identification as a human and the inability to recognize friends and family. The process is poorly understood and it may not actually be a decrease of the intellect but closer to some kind of autism. Fully changed patients may be capable of communicating with each other or at least react-ing to creatures from the Zone. It is unknown if this is actually conscious communication but signs of mutant communities have been found within the Zones. Communication is generally held to be one of the requirements of forming and maintaining a community.

If the Changed have become dangerous to their original communities, they have often been driven away or have fled on their own. This is a painful topic for their families. Some have tried to keep their changed children with them, even in chains. Some of the escaped and exiled changed will perish but surprisingly many survive. Their new senses and physical abilities help them survive in the wilds or to live on refuse and rats in the sewers and basements of the world’s cities. Some of them have even formed groups or communities. It is still not known if they breed amongst themselves.

Some Changed are claimed to possess controllable paranormal abilities. There are religions and cults in the borderlands that worship the Changed but their real relationship with their living gods is unclear. These supposed su-pernatural abilities are also one of the main research topics of xenology.




The Cursed

Metaphysical anomalies are not only unexplained but run contrary to the entire modern understanding of causality. They are very difficult to study. They are powers that rearrange the little chances and probabilities of eve-ryday life to produce a phenomena that might be termed “fate”. For scien-tists, an artefact that does not react to gravity or anything else unless it is touching the bioelectric field of a living being is an interesting challenge. But an artefact that cannot be transported on a motor vehicle without the gas running out every single time is a crisis of faith.

There’s always an explanation for running out of gas: a hole in the gas tank, or someone forgot to fill it up, or maybe an engine malfunction has increased the gas consumption and so on. However, when something like this happens every single time the artefact is trans-ported, regardless of precautions, the very founda-tion of our scientific world view begins to crumble. If the cause is some invisible force it always affects dif-ferent variables in difdif-ferent ways. Instead of the proc-esses occurring during the trip leading to a certain conclusion, the artefact will set the conclusion and the processes arrange themselves in ways that lead up to that conclusion. Cause and effect are transposed on the timeline. This is very difficult to study.

The concept of the Cursed is based on a theory about metaphysical mutations, the ability of an individual to change the probabilities affecting their surroundings, either wilfully or otherwise. The phenomenon is real; regions with large refugee populations also experience statistically strange events. Accidents, of course, draw the greatest attention. The phenomenon is apparently also cumulative, directly linked to the numbers of refu-gees and Changed in an area. All sorts of inexplicable things happen in the bleak refugee reservations (the term varies locally). Statistics like these are one of the most important justifications for the rules and lim-its imposed on the refugees. It is rumoured that gath-erings of stalkers or senior researchers of the Insti-tute can have similar effects.

The Cursed are individuals whose mere physical pres-ence or normal activities cause phenomena like these. For example, there are urban legends that talking to a certain refugee will make you die within a year. The causes vary: fights, falling objects, traffic accidents, medical seizures... only the final result is the same. There have been no proven sightings of the Cursed. Perhaps the stories are just modern-day fairytales about witches and trolls, arising from the fear of the unknown associated with the Zones. Officials and the Institute play down these rumours but the possibility of metaphysical mutations cannot be denied. The exis-tence of metaphysical artefacts and the Zones them-selves are concrete proof that everything is possible. Just the thought of people untouchable by the laws of nature whose mere existence puts us all at risk is suf-ficient to keep researchers and officials on their toes. The refugees have become the modern equivalent of the black cat, a bad omen that you wish to neither see nor talk about. Just in case it is true.



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Without street lights Toulouse at night is a dark pit. The

rain isn’t helping. To the north are the inhabited parts and

to the south is the border with its searchlights. Moisture

scatters light and both horizons are aglow, one in orange and

another in white. You can make out the silhouettes of

rooftops against the dim glow of the night sky. The streets

are pitch black.

How Butterfly finds the right door in this labyrinth is a

mystery but her rhythmic knocking is answered. Someone checks

the arrivals through a small hatch. Then the door opens and

you step into a three-storey building, covered in graffiti.

Windows are boarded up but you’re surprised to find the

furniture remaining.

The house smells of mildew, filth and urine. The doorman, a

middle-aged man dressed in a stretched pullover and worn

trousers is talking with Butterfly in a low voice.

Other residents are peering at you from doorways and the top

of the stairs. Children, adults, old people. Nobody says

anything but some are wracked by coughing fits. You suddenly

realize their number, one family per room.

“Changed,” Spark whispers. “Zone refugees.”

“Why do they live like this?” you ask. “Aren’t they given an


“Mutant kids. The Institute would grab them if they knew.

Grab the parents too sometimes. Those living on allowance

kill their children. The rest live like this, hiding from the


You remember your old workplace. Shelves upon shelves with

tanks and jars. A dead child, a mutant, floating in every

one. Huge freezers with frozen babies sleeping in icy cribs,

their humanity faded out by the sterility of the lab.

They were nameless beings. Soulless aberrations. Cancerous

growths cut off the sickened Humanity. But alive, it all

looks natural now. They’re hiding here because in the shadow

of the social workers skulk the Institute doctors with poison

needles and formaldehyde tanks.

Butterfly’s conversation ends and she gives the man a handful

of crumpled banknotes. You follow him to a small door and

down the cement stairs into the basement. The walls between

the cellars of different houses have been breached and the

entire space is now a huge labyrinth where you can move from

one house to another. He brings you to a hallway where the

floor has collapsed in the middle.

A figure crouches at the rim: a naked, dirty youth, gnawing

on a rat. His mouth, twisted vertically, reaches up to the

corner of his left eye. His coppery orbs have no pupils. He

hisses at you and flees into the dark with a single bound.

The rat is left behind. He had no teeth but there are bite

marks on it.



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“In the east the mountains looked black, and over them the familiar green wash of colour billowed and shone iridescently - the Zone’s green dawn.”


We know now that there are six changed areas, spread out around the globe

along the 43rd parallel. On a Mercator projection they lie on an almost straight

line which is called Pilman’s Radiant. Both astronomical and numerological explanations have been sought for the parallel. For instance, it has been noted that the degree corresponds roughly to the location of Deneb on the sky. This could have told something if the Zones had not appeared all around the globe and not just on the side Deneb was.

None of the changed areas hit the oceans, which some consider proof that the Visitation was planned. On the other hand, even on Earth there is so much land on that parallel that it may have been a coincidence. All Zones are circular in shape but according to satellite images nothing special seems to lie at their centres. However, nobody has reached that far on the ground (or under it) and all atmospheric flyovers have failed. Additionally, satellite photos and observations on the ground do not always match.

Although the changes in vegetation and built-up areas may be drastic, big landmarks do not disappear and can be used for navigation. Publishing maps of the Zones is forbidden but there are quite a few pre-Visitation maps of these regions on the Internet. Stalkers are also constantly making their own maps to avoid newfound dangers on future expeditions. These hand-drawn maps are valuable not only to other stalkers but also to the researchers of the Institute.

When the authorities’ attempts to penetrate into the changed regions failed, they were sealed and closed off from the rest of the world. People started calling them Forbidden Zones or just plain “Zones”. Beyond the border lies wilderness, farmland and even cities that for thirteen years have been only visible in satellite photos. People left behind in the Zones have been de-clared deceased and no new survivors have been found in a decade. Close to the border the remains of researchers, soldiers and early stalkers are also visible. Nobody has dared or been able to retrieve the bodies.

After reclamation failed, governments were more than willing to let the in-ternational community shoulder the burden of policing and observing the Zones. The Zones and their borderlands became an international no-man’s land and the highest authority in all matters concerning them is the Interna-tional Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures, a multinaInterna-tional research and security organization founded by the United Nations.

The Institute’s original purpose was the perfect isolation of the Zones, ei-ther for all eternity or until such a time that their reclamation and restora-tion was possible. Only a handful of researchers picked by the Institute would have access to the Zone and at this stage, isolation and security con-cerns took precedence. Research and xenology were seen as having only academic value. Once the knowledge of diseases, mutations and monstrous children among the refugees spread, there were even demands to completely close the Zones from everyone, as if walling them off and denying their existence would make them to disappear. Their complete sterilization with nuclear weapons was also proposed.

There was never an agreement or a common strategy. Sterilization by nu-clear weapons would not, it was generally agreed, have removed the anoma-lies or other inexplicable phenomena. Additionally, both private and national assets remained in the Zones and nobody wanted to take the responsibility for destroying them. The Zones remained as they were and the authority and responsibility for them was taken up by the Institute.


Klamath Falls, USA

Diameter 101 kilometres. The Zone is on the border of California and Oregon, just south of the town of Klamath Falls. It is mostly wilderness, rural areas and small urban pockets. The western edge climbs up the slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range. The area is swept by large and powerful dynamic anomalies. Some changed life forms have crossed the border and are believed to have come from underground caves. Volcanic activity is frequent.

Harmont, Canada

Diameter 57 kilometres. The southern parts are city prop-er, the northern parts are suburbs, farmland and wilder-ness. Unbroken anomalous area but with rumours of life in the north, including mutated survivors. Replicas some-times cross the border but there are no proven sightings of other creatures. The Zone was partially formed over the mining town of Harmont. Unlike most borderlands, the remaining part of the town was not abandoned and gets by on slim government subsidies and a little tourism.

Toulouse, France

Diameter 88 kilometres. Mostly rural, with some wooded hills the destruction of which has caused erosion effects even beyond the border. The Zone split the city of Tou-louse in half and swallowed up several small towns, suburbs and industrial areas. It also cut up the highway network of southern France. The anomalous area is reticular and in the holes of the net there are oases where all sorts of twisted life forms have survived. Artefacts are abundant and the Zone is favoured by stalkers.

Derbent, Russia

Diameter 70 kilometres. The Zone breaks up the low, for-ested coast between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. It also cuts off the important land connec-tion and oil pipeline from Russia to Azerbaijan. The area is mostly forest, woodland and marsh but on the coast lies the port of Derbent. The Russian Zone is unique: its nature has remained nearly untouched while artificial con-structs and vehicles degrade quickly. Anomalies are still lethal, appearing and disappearing daily.

Saysu, China

Diameter 122 kilometres. The Zone was formed in a deep valley between two plateaus and reaches over into Mongo-lia in the northeast. The valley floor was composed of for-ests and marshland but there is also the city of Saysu and the surrounding farmland. Slopes and highlands are arid steppe and rocky, broken terrain. The Zone is large and poorly known as it is covered by colourful corrosive clouds that often move against the wind. These clouds prevent satellite imaging and make the Zone nearly inaccessible.

Sapporo, Japan

Diameter 72 kilometres. The Zone lies between the cit-ies of Sapporo and Ashikawa. Several smaller towns were caught inside. There are also small woodlands and hills. In satellite pictures, some isolated woodlands are still vis-ible. Anomalous areas are large and sightings of inorgan-isms are abundant. Distortions of time and space, such as the mingling of night and day, are common and visible as areas of light and shadow.















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The Borderlands

The Zones were created on different continents, terrains and societies but they all have their borderlands. Although the borderland lies on this side of the border, it is so close to the Zone that there can be strange weather, lights on the sky and voices carried over from the Zone. Population centers near the border have sometimes been evacuated to ease surveillance but just as often the inhabitants left voluntarily and the abandoned strip is wider than the authorities would have required. Looters and a decade of wind and rain have finished the job. Wind howls through broken windows of the aban-doned apartment buildings while thickets grow on the fields and thistles force their way up through cracks in the asphalt.

The Fall

There is no society without people. Only the buildings used for border con-trol have water and electricity, usually from their own tanks and generators. Phones do not work and only vital roads are kept in repair. The rest have either been abandoned or closed off with concrete barriers and rusty booms. Moving through the borderlands is not forbidden but visitors must be able to prove their identity and submit to checks. This is international land with its own laws but without the police to enforce them. Soldiers guarding the bor-der obey the orbor-ders of their Institute superiors and nothing else.




The fled inhabitants are slowly being replaced by new ones: biker gangs, political and religious radicals, UFO cults, ostracized social and ethnic mi-norities and increasingly the Zone refugees. To them, the borderlands are a haven outside society and in exchange for the primitive surroundings they are relatively free from civil authorities and the prejudices and persecution by general public. Borderlands communities tend to keep to themselves but sometimes members venture “into the real world” to work as illegal laborers or to sell whatever wares their community can produce.

Wild West

In the borderland slums you can find drug trade, prostitution, illegal gam-bling and the manufacturing of pirated goods, although the refugees tend to avoid blatantly illegal activities. Strangers are regarded with suspicion and for a good reason. Racist extremists often make armed attacks on refugee communities in the borderlands and the power struggles between organized crime syndicates often result in murder and arson. There is no police, so serial killers have free rein, organ traders are free to sell mutated body parts and deranged cults can carry out whatever sick rituals they want. Beyond the borderlands lies the actual border. First there is a few hundred metres of quarantine area and then the world suddenly ends and another begins. Beyond the yellow warning signs there is nothing but the Instute and uninvited guests are observed through sniper scopes. Despite the harsh poli-cies there are few actual guards. The borders stretch for hundreds of kilometers and the Zone itself is often its own best guardian.

Border Towns

Sometimes the Zone bisects a large town such as Harmont (Canada) or Tou-louse (France). Places like these are too big to die out. Factories and the infrastructure are too expensive to be abandoned and relocating a popula-tion this large is difficult. Thus factories may still be operapopula-tional, trains are running within sight of the Zone and the Institute is arguing with the state about security responsibilities. Electricity works at least in some parts and some blocks have running water. Thousands of workers pass through the crowded Institute checkpoints every day with their permits cleared by this or that bureau or official. And the smaller roads are not even on the map. In places like these, stalkers and their fences can easily disappear into the crowds and access permits and identity cards that they can forge. Institute facilities and research groups can be spied upon just by climbing into the highest floor of some house with a pair of binoculars. Pursuing agents can be thrown off by hiding in basements and underground tunnels.



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Another world

The actual Zone border is invisible but some claim to feel it and even expe-rience pain or nausea upon crossing. It runs through wilderness, fields, cit-ies and even individual buildings. It is also very tall, reaching well into the upper strata of the atmosphere. While invisible, it affects its surroundings by screwing with weather patterns. Aberrant temperatures and winds often form in the Zone and for example some anomalies can react to thunder-storms. This is why exceptional temperatures, mists and sudden storms are common also in the borderlands.

Crossing the Border

At night, flashy and bright auroras or a hideous green glow are often visible above the border. The Zone begins right behind it. Even the first step over the border can be the last and stalkers usually throw something where they plan to cross. Zone phenomena never cross the border on their own, not even airborne gases or liquids flowing downstream. This is inexplicable but the Institute speculates that to its internal forces the Zone is a spherical sur-face. A human can cross the border easily and sometimes animals also wan-der over, although they are just as much in danger. However, creatures from the Zone, be they mutants or inorganisms sometimes make their way over the border as well. Usually they return quickly the way they came but especially “replicas” (which aren’t actually organisms) seem to have a conscious desire to leave the Zone.

The scene beyond the border depends on the season and terrain but each Zone has its unique features. In Zone America, anomalous storms sweep the mountainsides like waves and the ground is barren and scarred. Zone Canada is as dead as the Moon and dangerous anomalies and inorganic growths are thick on the ground. In Zone Russia, nature seems untouched (researchers have found many microscopic changes) but artificial materials and constructs degrade or erode within days or weeks. In Zone China, caustic clouds block visibility like a colourful mist. In Zone France there are stable areas, “oa-ses”, between the anomalous regions, although the life within them has be-gun to twist and distort into something unrecognizable. In Zone Japan, ar-eas of light and darkness slide and float through one another like clouds, while distortions of time and space are popping up everywhere.

Radios are unreliable at best in the Zones and certain anomalies can silence them for many kilometres around. Radar images tend to be completely unin-telligible, which is why the inner regions are known only from satellite pho-tographs. Of course, maps exist from 13 years ago but much has changed and the inner dimensions of a Zone can become distorted, entire regions can disappear or even be copied multiple times (this happens a lot in Zone Japan and you can basically get lost on an open field). In the early days it was rumoured that there were actually seven Zones but the location of the sev-enth one had been kept secret. If the sevsev-enth Zone really exists, it is not on the Pilman Radiant. Both journalists and conspiracy theorists agree on that.


Any unnatural phenomenon of the Zone that has no scientific or even reason-able explanation is an Anomaly. Like the artefacts, they break the laws of physics but the effects are often deadly. Countless of different anomalies exist but some are clearly more common than others. Stalkers have given the common types names like “Mosquito Mange” and “Meatgrinder”. The anoma-lies themselves are often invisible but their effects on the environment can be clearly seen.

For example, wind does not affect the vacuum inside a Void Bubble. The terrible gravity of a Mosquito Mange has flattened or crushed everything within it. A Merry Mirage looks often better lit and more colourful than its surroundings. If there are no externally visible effects, anomalies may warp or delay sound, colours may be distorted and many people also experience physiological symptoms. Sometimes it’s a matter of instinct. A traveller may feel aversion towards a completely normal-looking location. The feeling can




Silver Web is a patch of silvery or glassy web. Not everyone can even see it but touching it will

cause death or serious injury within 24 hours. The actual causes vary, making this a metaphysi-cal anomaly.

Void Bubble is an area of vacuum. There is no physical reason why the surrounding air does not

fill this area. It has no visible walls or borders.

Flashpoint is a very hot area or spot that fries everything entering it.

Magnetic Fountain is a small area that is often coated with trash. It draws matter to it, usually

weakly at range but if something or someone strays too close the force increases all of a sudden, crushing the victim against it. Some of these attract only metal, others only plastic or wood. Some may attract only liquids such as blood, or the vitreous fluid inside the eyeball.

Meatgrinder is a very dangerous anomaly and also very difficult to detect. It waits for

some-thing to enter its area of effect and then exerts powerful tugging, pushing, twisting and crush-ing forces on it, often pullcrush-ing its victim high up in the air in the process. Once triggered, it usually goes dormant for a while.

Merry Mirage is a psychic anomaly that amplifies the feelings of joy and pleasure within its

area of effect. Variants for grief and anger also exist, as well as mirages that make the victim return to some earlier memory and be unable to tell what is real and what is hallucination. Some have lost their memories altogether and had to be led out of the Zone by hand.

Mosquito Mange is a completely flat area with a gravity tens of times stronger than normal.

Walking into a static mosquito mange usually means death. While dynamic manges are weaker, they can still cause serious injury.

Painting is a space where all motion slows down to an almost complete stop. Normal movement is

frozen in place and very quick motion (such as bullets) appears to crawl. Painting also distorts sound but specific effects on light or radiation are unknown. If a hand strays within a Painting it will suddenly slow down and finally get stuck as if embedded in concrete.

Shade is the shadow of an item or a building that always points in the same direction,

regard-less of light sources. It is very difficult to detect at night. Shade terminates all organic proc-esses within the three-dimensional space it covers. Revitalizing the cellular structure has proven impossible and any contact with a Shade usually results in a difficult gangrene.

be so strong that he becomes paralyzed when even trying to throw something at it. This phenomenon cannot be explained but it is very real, especially among stalkers. They trust it more than they trust their own senses.

Anomalies can be divided into two rough categories: static and dynamic. Static anomalies are immobile, though their area of effect may change over time. They may still disappear and new ones show up but they are generally long-lived enough to be worth marking on the map. Static anomalies can be difficult to spot but once noticed, they are fairly easy to avoid. However, they can be very powerful and cover huge areas. Most of are constantly active but some gather energy that is released explosively when they are disturbed. After such a discharge the energy is spent and the whole anomaly can be safe for a while.

Dynamic anomalies are sometimes confused with inorganisms or quasichemi-cals. It may appear as an energy release similar to ball lightning, floating around at random, or a wave of high gravity that advances along the ground crushing everything in its path. The flattened area may later repair itself, as if time were reversed. Most move either in a straight line or completely at random but never cross the Zone border. They are weaker and smaller than static anomalies but just as or even more deadly because they can appear by surprise or trap the stalkers in dangerous areas.



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What is life? Zone creatures that behave like organisms but have none of the attributes or processes of an actual life form are called inorganisms. Little is known and even less understood about them. Some inorganisms can be just badly understood or wrongly documented anomalies while others may be just insufficiently observed (and very special) mutants.

Unlike anomalies, inorganisms appear to have some kind of free will and goals. To the horror of both officials and the inhabitants of the border-lands some have even strayed outside the Zones. They usually return fairly quickly. Their numbers and species are unknown. There are some clearly identifiable or commonly encountered species such as Replicas but even then no two Replicas are alike. Others types, such as “Burning Man” appear rarely but sightings are sufficiently similar to call them a species. But there are many inorganisms of which there are only singular sightings and in the worst cases different members in the same group have completely different ob-servations. Finally, there are extrasensory sightings when the observer has perceived the inorganism in a way that is beyond the realm of normal human senses and biology. The phenomenon has also been observed with anomalies and artefacts.

Physical inorganisms include semi-liquid creatures such as the caustic pools that flow towards heat sources, even if uphill. There are also beings that normally exist only in a gaseous form but can form solid extensions like limbs. Incorporeal inorganisms are even harder to comprehend. For example, according to study data, “Ghost Images” are incorporeal inorganisms formed out of light and shadow. Their presence will cause psychic disorders and hallucinations similar to hallucination-inducing anomalies. According to some descriptions, the creature is actually a psychic delusion with an area of effect far larger than its visible parts.




These are just examples and there is no end to the different kinds of inorganisms. Their reactions to stalkers range from ambivalence to furious hostility. Of course, it may be that the inorganism that tears its victim apart is only trying to find out how it works. “Replicas” also appear to have faint echoes of the memories and personalities of the people they are based on. This phenomenon has not yet been observed in other inorganisms and the debate about their possible intelligence rages on within the Institute. Some think that inorganisms are the aliens of the Visitation or at least their serv-ants. All attempts to communicate with them have failed.


Most Zones, with the exception of Zone Russia, are anomalous regions. How-ever, they are not entirely dead. Here and there are spots where anomalies are rare or stable enough for vegetation to survive and an ecosystem to exist. It may be just some half-dead scrub but the contrast to the barren waste of the anomalous areas is so great that the stalkers call them “oases”. These oases are usually too deep within the Zone to be reachable by the scientists operating from the borderlands and thus nearly everything that is known about them comes from stalkers.

The Zone warps everything living and the oases are no exception. Plants cannot flee so they bend away from the nearest anomalies. The trunks of trees may have a squashed shape to minimize the surface area facing an anomaly. The reason for this is unknown since most anomalies do not pro-duce any perceptible radiation. Mutations, deformities and unnatural growths can make plants nearly unrecognizable and nothing found in an oasis should be eaten even if you can identify it. Dead matter is abundant along with different kinds of fungi. Growths as wide as a finger hang from tree limbs. And where there is vegetation, there are usually animals.

The size of an oasis can range from a few hundred square metres to several square kilometres. In Zone Canada, they are merely rumoured to exist while Zone Russia is nothing but one big oasis where anomalies don’t seem to de-stroy vegetation. On the edges are hardy weeds, sickly grasses, dry shrubs or colourless horsetails sticking up from the mud. Dynamic anomalies may have cut wide swathes into the vegation but these are soon covered with scraggly mushrooms, grasses and ferns. Beyond these clearings are moss-covered trees. There may be plants that are unknown outside the Zone in the undergrowth. At times, the scenery can be as if from another planet but such vistas are as rare as they are deadly.

Although rare, animals and even humanoids have been met in and near oases. The braver ones even cross anomalous areas to get from one oasis to an-other. Practically all of them are mutants but the original species is usually recognizable. They are also often injured or ill, perhaps poisoned by their prey or the plants they have eaten. The ecology and food chains of the oases are poorly understood but it is apparent that food is scarce and most mu-tants are starving. It is also unknown whether they breed or if they are slowly becoming extinct. The scientific community generally considers the stalkers’ taproom tales about eyeless monkeys, flying snakes or skinless beasts that paralyze their victims with their howling to be nothing more but legends. There are a lot of rumours about human mutants and it is known that some of the Changed have fled into the Zone after losing their Humanity. There is talk of entire tribes and communities of their kind, travelling from one oasis to another like primitive humans or apes. Stalkers have found symmetrical piles of rocks, graffiti drawn with charcoal and totems made from the car-casses of prey animals, perhaps proving that the mutant tribes have their own cultures and rituals. Observations or recordings of the tribes them-selves are very rare and it is quite possible that most stalkers who encoun-tered them never returned.



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You are crawling along a pipe slippery with stinking slime

and try to swallow your panic. The others went ahead and the

crawl is so long you nearly fall out of the pipe mouth when

it suddenly ends.

That would have been the end of you. The mouth extends a full

metre from the wall of a pit wall and at the bottom is slime

that gleams in all the colours of the rainbow, pushing out

tongues of blue flame. You are in the Zone.

You climb on top the pipe and grab the outstretched hand of

Butterfly who’s waiting at the edge. She is strong and you

are soon out of the pit. Expecting a field of ruins, you find

most houses more or less intact. This one has collapsed only

because the bright jelly ate its way through the foundations.

Alexander calls it Witch’s Jelly.

There is the smell of chemicals and ozone in the air. No

rats, weeds, cockroaches or mildew. This is an anomalous

region. You glance towards the border through a crack in the

wall. The mist gives floodlights halos around them and even

this far out you hear the hum of electrified fences.

Somewhere beyond the lights are the motion detectors, waiting

for you to reveal yourself. Behind the half-silvered windows

of guard towers lurk the snipers.

Czar pulls a steel nut from his pocket. It has a strip of

white cloth tied to it. He throws it into the twilight and it

looks like a shooting star when it hits the bonnet of a car.

The street behind the house is full of cars.

Despite the dim light you can see figures slumped behind

steering wheels. Some of the corpses are just bones and

others are black and charred, as if burned to death. There

isn’t a scratch on any of the cars.

Another throw, now towards an alley that seems to go in the

right direction. Midflight, the nut is yanked down into the

ground with such force it shatters into sparks against the

glassy asphalt. A gravity concentration; certain death.

Spark grabs the Czar by the shoulder and points to the other

end of the street. A black mass is advancing in your

direction along the line of cars. Czar throws another steel

nut through a display window in the opposite building. In the

dark you cannot see where it lands but the sharp knock it

makes sounds natural.

Up close, the mass is a dark grass that grows out of metal.

It hisses in the damp air. The grinning skulls behind the

steering wheels explode on contact with it.

As if by mutual agreement you all leap after the steel nut.

Dusty and trash-strewn floor catches your fall while shards

of glass rain down all around you. You can feel a great force

sweep past you in the street.






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