This article originally appeared in Pyramid #13
An Adventure for GURPS Atomic Horror
by James L. Cambias
"I Was a Teen-Age Dinosaur!" is a GURPS Atomic Horror adventure, set in the 1950s. It is suitable for characters of any point value. The GURPS basic rules and the Atomic Horror worldbook are necessary to run this scenario; game masters may also find Supers useful.
An Unusual DiscoveryThe eminent geologist Professor Jerome Winston has made a remarkable discovery in the mountains of Wyoming. While conducting a mineralogical survey near the small town of Ortonville, Winston found a complete fossil skeleton of a new species of dinosaur. What makes the discovery so unusual is that the dinosaur bones were deposited near a vein of thorium ore. Over millions of years, the minerals in the bones were replaced with thorium and uranium compounds. The fossil is highly radioactive!
Involving the CharactersThere are several ways to involve the characters in this adventure. Scientist characters will be invited by Professor Winston to help study the fossils. Physicists, biologists, or geologists are the most likely specialists to be invited. Winston is not familiar with handling radioactive material, and needs experienced help.
Reporters can be sent to cover the story by their editors. Other characters may simply be vacationing in Ortonville, or know Professor Winston socially. The Theoretical Science Foundation (from the Atomic Horror rulebook) may ask the characters to investigate the odd fossil. Alternatively, the game master may simply wish to replace Winston with a scientist PC.
OrtonvilleOrtonville, Wyoming, is a typical American small town of the 1950s. There are 3,000 people in Ortonville itself, with another couple of thousand living on ranches and farms in the surrounding countryside. The town's chief industry is mining, and it serves as a market and rail center for the surrounding area. Fossil hunters can reach Ortonville by train or by car. There are no airports in the area, and the mountainous terrain makes landing a plane perilous.
Visitors to Ortonville can stay at one of four places. The Pow-Wow Motel on Route 187 is a new 20-room motor court with a kidney-shaped swimming pool and air conditioning in every room ($6 per night). The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch is a working ranch with rooms for 12 guests ($60 per week). Mrs. Bailey's Boarding House has six rooms ($3.50 per night, no smoking, no visitors in the rooms). The Ortonville Hotel, across from the railroad station, has 16 rooms, all with hot water ($5 per night, $8 with bath).
The DigProfessor Winston found the dinosaur skeleton embedded in the bank of a small canyon west of Ortonville. The land belongs to Jake Benson, a prosperous local rancher. Winston paid Benson $1,000 for the right to excavate the fossil, and Benson has been very helpful about protecting the site. Only Benson and Winston's assistants know the actual location of the find; everyone else knows only that it is "someplace out on Jake Benson's spread."
The canyon is dry most of the time, but during a rainstorm it can quickly fill up with water, often with no warning. A rainstorm in the mountains can cause flash floods further downstream. Summertime is dry season in the Rockies, so there is little risk of a storm, but the game master may wish to throw one in to liven things up.
If the player characters study the site with Geiger counters or other devices to detect radioactivity, they will learn that the entire area is very rich in heavy metals. The radiation levels are safe enough for characters to camp in the area.
The CampProfessor Winston has set up camp above the canyon. He is sleeping in an Airstream trailer, while his assistants are in tents. Winston has three assistants Calvin Barnard, Susan Parker and his nephew Claude Winston. Calvin and Susan are local high-school students interested in science.
Winston can provide tents for anyone joining his dig, but anyone wanting a little more comfort will have to buy or rent their own camping gear. Susan Parker handles most of the cooking for the team. Female characters can help her if they wish, but she would feel insulted if one of the men tries to lend a hand.
The Professor and his assistants get up before dawn, so they can start work on the fossil at first light. They usually take a two-hour break in the middle of the day when the canyon heats up, then work until sunset. Once or twice a week somebody will go into town for supplies.
The DinosaurHeavy rains during the spring exposed the dinosaur fossil. The skeleton is in a standing position in the canyon wall, thirty feet tall, and looks terrifying and impressive when first seen. The skeleton is quite radioactive: anyone within 1 meter gets a dose of 20 rads per minute; at 2 meters it drops to 5; at 3 meters it goes down to 2; and beyond 5 meters the radiation level is less than 1 rad. At night it can be seen to glow faintly, giving it an eerie appearance.
The Professor has limited equipment to handle the fossils safely. He has borrowed some lead-lined storage boxes, and has one protective suit. Winston and the students are busy digging out the fossils and making plaster casts of them so they can be studied safely.
Examination of the bones will reveal that they are from an unknown species of large carnivorous dinosaur. By studying the bones, a successful Physiology, Zoology or Science! skill roll will indicate that the creature stood about 30 feet tall. It had large claws on its feet, and small forearms. The head has enormous jagged teeth. It was obviously a fast, powerful meat-eater. Winston has tentatively named it "Ortonosaurus."
A Geology skill roll will allow characters to date the fossil by the strata in which it is buried. Ortonosaurus existed near the end of the Cretaceous Era, when the rule of the dinosaurs was drawing to a close.
After the PCs get involved, the excavation proceeds at a good pace. Winston and the kids have freed one leg and part of the tail from the canyon wall. With the help of the player characters, he can get the creature's pelvis, spine and ribs. The head will need a crane to remove intact.
JealousyBut something is very wrong at the dig site. Professor Winston's young nephew Claude is infatuated with pretty Susan Parker. But lately she has been showing interest in Calvin Barnard. If one of the PCs is a young man and fairly attractive (which for the purposes of this adventure means no disads causing negative reaction modifiers), then use him instead of Calvin as the object of Susan's affection and Claude's jealousy.
Claude has decided to use the dangerous fossils to rid himself of his rival. One day while Calvin is making a cast of the tibia with the radiation suit on, Claude will slip a fragment of radioactive dinosaur bone into the lining of Calvin's Ortonville High baseball letter jacket. (The game master should substitute an appropriate item for a PC victim.)
RadiationOver the next few days, Calvin starts to fall sick. At first it seems like nothing more than a cold, brought on by sleeping in the chilly mountain air. He feels weak and has dizzy spells. Then more alarming symptoms start to develop. Calvin's hair starts falling out and his skin becomes rough and scaly. His appetite is unaffected, though if anything he seems hungrier than ever.
It requires a Physician, Nuclear Physics or Science! roll to recognize Calvin's symptoms as radiation poisoning. He should be hospitalized at once. If none of the characters makes the diagnosis, the town doctor, Dr. Richard Jansen, will spot the problem after Calvin has been sick for four days.
Susan is deeply concerned when Calvin falls ill. She visits him at the hospital often, and even takes him his letter jacket to make him feel more at home. Professor Winston remains at the dig, working his team extra hard to make up for the missing person.
The player characters may want to help find out how Calvin got radiation poisoning. He swears he followed all the precautions for handling the bones. The radiation suit is intact. But a sweep of the camp with a Geiger counter reveals some contamination of Calvin's tent. Only if the characters think to test Calvin's letter jacket will they find the bone fragment. The Game Master should try to time events so that the PCs will discover this only after the radiation has affected Calvin. (If the player characters are exceptionally observant and quick-thinking, they may be able to outmaneuver the game master and prevent Calvin from being poisoned. In that case, simply have Claude swallow a bone fragment in a suicide attempt, so that he is the one who becomes a dinosaur.)
The Horror BeginsCalvin's condition does not improve after he is hospitalized. He slips into delirium and becomes irrational. His skin condition worsens, and all his hair falls out. Yet strangely he continues to gain weight. After he tries to bite one of the nurses, Dr. Jansen orders Calvin restrained.
That night, Calvin escapes. He breaks the restraints and smashes through the window, loping off into the darkness. Sheriff Trent Johnson orders a sweep of the county to find the boy. The characters may wish to join one of the search parties. Dr. Jansen insists that Calvin must be found soon, or else he may die. He is amazed at the hysterical strength Calvin displayed in his escape.
Professor Winston, while upset about the terrible turn of events, wants to continue with the excavation. Susan Parker is inconsolable. Claude Winston tries to comfort her, but she wants nothing to do with him. Characters with the Empathy or Intuition advantages may get a funny feeling that Claude is hiding something (this should only happen to characters who spend a lot of time in the camp with Claude).
For two days, the search parties comb the county without success. Sheriff Johnson devotes all his time to the hunt. He complains about wasting time on minor problems some local ranchers are complaining about missing livestock, and the town drunk was raving about big purple monsters. But despite all the efforts of the search teams, Calvin's whereabouts remain a mystery.
The Monster AttacksCalvin has been changing. The radioactive dinosaur bone has affected his body, causing him to become a dinosaur himself! As his mind becomes that of a savage meat-eating monster, Calvin goes on the attack.
The first attack will come at the campsite. The Calvin-monster strikes at Professor Winston's dig. Perhaps he somehow understands that the dinosaur fossils are the cause of his awful transformation. At this stage, Calvin is in an intermediate form between human and dinosaur. The monster will tear open Winston's trailer and menace the party.
"Don't shoot!" cries Professor Winston. "Maybe we can communicate with it!" As he approaches the Calvin-monster, the creature savagely strikes him down before disappearing into the night. The monster runs faster than any human can follow on foot, and the terrain is too rough for vehicles. Horses will not follow the creature.
Dinosaur on Main StreetSeriously hurt but still alive after the attack, Professor Winston will close down the dig and move to safety in town. If the characters try to convince Sheriff Johnson that there is a monster on the loose, he will be skeptical. But the very next night the Calvin-monster arrives to dispel all doubts. The streets of Ortonville fill with terrified citizens as the gigantic beast rampages through town!
The dinosaur's behavior should be determined by what is most dramatically appropriate. It may go after Claude Winston, somehow sensing that he is responsible. Calvin may abduct Susan Parker or an attractive female player character. It will almost certainly destroy the high school (wouldn't you?). If one of the PCs is the radiation victim, allow him to run the dinosaur attack.
As the creature attacks Ortonville, the characters must decide what course of action to follow. They can either try to fight the beast, perhaps by calling in help from the National Guard and the Army, or else try to save it and restore poor Calvin to normalcy.
Fearless Monster-FightersThe people of Ortonville are terrified and scattered by the monster's attack. Only a few brave souls will gather to fight the dinosaur. In addition to Sheriff Johnson and the party, a dozen men are available. All are armed with M1 rifles, and have Guns (rifle)-10 skill. The men are willing to shoot at the dinosaur until someone gets killed; after that they will flee unless a character can make a successful Leadership or Bard skill roll. Once half the group has been killed or wounded, the rest of the men will flee.
Calling in the ArmySheriff Johnson will only call for outside help if he has seen the monster himself. Since he is only a small-town sheriff, the best help he can summon is the State Police. Twelve Wyoming State Police officers will arrive three hours later. Once they have seen the monster, they can call in the National Guard. The Governor will send two companies of the Wyoming National Guard, which will arrive by dawn. The Guard commander in turn can call in helicopters, air support and help from the military.
If the player characters have had experience dealing with atomic horrors in the past, they may have connections in Washington which can speed up the process. The rules on page 86 of the Atomic Horror sourcebook list some of the reaction modifiers to use in summoning military aid.
Capturing the MonsterIf the PCs hope to save poor Calvin, they must capture him alive. This will be difficult, to put it mildly. Characters with the Gadgeteer advantage may be able to devise some form of tranquilizer bullet (a successful Physiology roll is needed to determine the proper dose for a dinosaur). A more brute-force approach might involve snaring the beast with strong cables. The Game Master should let the players devise their own plan, keeping in mind the limited supplies available in a remote small town like Ortonville.
Once Calvin is captured, he must be kept somehow. The party may want to keep the monster drugged; this runs the risk of killing it through overdose. Possibly the characters could improvise some sort of cage strong enough to contain an enraged dinosaur. There is also the problem of feeding the creature.
ComplicationsThere are many ways for the Game Master to make the scenario more challenging. Perhaps a spring flood has cut off Ortonville from the outside world. In that case, the Army cannot be called in, and the player characters must work with whatever resources can be found in the town.
There may be more than one dinosaur perhaps souvenir hunters have taken bone fragments. Or possibly a greedy local businessman has stolen some fragments to sell to collectors.
Saving CalvinFinding a cure for Calvin is simple remove the source of radiation from his body. The shredded remnants of his letter jacket are still clinging to the dinosaur's forelegs, with the radioactive dinosaur bone fragment in the lining. To discover this, the player characters must somehow get the truth from Claude Winston, or else get close enough to the monster with a Geiger counter to detect the radiation.
They must then come up with a way to get the jacket off of the dinosaur. A sharpshooter might be able to shoot it away, at a penalty of -7 on the shot. If the beast is in captivity, the jacket could be hooked off with a pole or grappling hook.
If Game Master may decide that with the radioactive bone removed, Calvin will slowly return to normal on his own. This is best if the player characters are not scientists and know little about reversing weird radiation effects.
Scientist characters can create a serum to cure Calvin, but it will require some research. At least one researcher must have Chemistry or Biochemistry-18 skill, and one must have Nuclear Physics-15. (Science! skill can substitute for any missing one.) Developing the serum requires a successful Chemistry or Biochemistry roll. Normally it would take 2 months to perfect the serum in a fully-equipped lab, but the scientists may be working desperately while a dinosaur tears up Ortonville. Creating the serum without a university-quality lab means a -3 penalty to the researcher's skill. The time required may be halved, for a -2 penalty. This modifier may be applied cumulatively: -2 for 1 month of research; -4 for 2 weeks; -6 for 1 week, -8 for three days, and so on. Characters may further cut the time needed by working double shifts; this halves the time but requires a HT roll to avoid fatigue penalties.
ConclusionIf Calvin lives through the adventure, all will end happily (despite the carnage in Ortonville). Calvin's death will mean that the adventure should end on a somber note, warning that there are Some Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Claude Winston should be punished somehow for his crime, or else should redeem himself by a heroic death.
When things finally return to normal, Professor Winston will resume work on the fossil, and in a few months he will invite the player characters to the unveiling of the complete Ortonosaurus skeleton at the Smithsonian (naturally the skeleton is a plaster cast; the real bones are in a lead vault).
Crossovers"I Was A Teen-Age Dinosaur!" can be updated to the 1990s fairly easily just replace all the doubletalk involving radiation with technobabble about DNA. So Professor Winston is not excavating a radioactive fossil, but instead is trying to extract dinosaur DNA from ordinary bones. Claude poisons Calvin with a sample of dinosaur DNA. Curing Calvin becomes a purely scientific problem. There may be a risk that others can be infected by the dinosaur DNA (a nice echo of the current fear of AIDS, to replace the earlier fear of the Bomb).
The monster's attack on Ortonville can be run as a Car Wars scenario (this is especially appropriate if one of the PCs is a teen-ager with a hot-rod). Using the Car Wars rules, the dinosaur moves at a top speed of 30 MPH; like a pedestrian it can make any maneuver without penalty. It has an armor value of 5 and 20 hit points. It occupies a counter as large as a normal automobile. All of its attacks are usable only against adjacent targets. Kick or tail attacks hit on a 9 or less and do 2 dice of damage. Vehicles hit by the dinosaur are automatically moved 1/4" away. Bite attacks hit on a 10 or less and do 1 die of damage. The citizens or Ortonville are only armed with hand weapons. They have a good supply of unarmed and unarmored cars.
Alternatively, the whole thing could take place in the 1880s, with a scientist like O.C. Marsh or E.D. Cope replacing Professor Winston. The player characters could be Western gunfighters called in to deal with the strange monster. With little understanding of radiation, the PCs won't be able to cure Calvin, but may be able to remove the bone and hope that restores him to normal.
For GURPS Supers, the game master may wish to toughen up the dinosaur a little, perhaps by giving it a breath weapon (a la Godzilla) or else preternatural toughness. One or more supervillains might be in the area trying to steal Professor Winston's fossil, and could be responsible for Calvin's transformation.
Sheriff Trent Johnson
Age 35; 6'3"; 175 lbs.; dark brown hair and brown eyes. ST: 12  IQ: 12  Speed: 6 DX: 12  HT: 12  Move: 6 Damage: Thrust 1d-1; Swing 1d+2 Dodge: 6 Parry: 8 (Brawling) No armor; no encumbrance.
Point Total: 100
Combat Reflexes 
Law Enforcement Powers 
Status +1 (Local Official) 
Duty (as Sheriff) [-15]
Intolerance of foreigners [-5]
Chews Tobacco [-1]
Dislikes Outside Interference [-1]
Doesn't Believe Weird Stories [-1]
Suspicious of Teenagers [-1]
Area Knowledge (Ortonville Area)-15 ; Brawling-12 ; Criminology-11 ; Detect Lies-10 ; Driving (Stock Cars)-11 ; First Aid-12 ; Forensics-10 ; Guns (Pistol)-14 ; Interrogation-12 ; Law-11 ; Leadership-11 ; Mechanic (Gas Engines)-10 ; Parachuting-11 ; Politics-10 ; Riding-11 ; Shortsword (Billyclub)-11 ; Telegraphy-11 ; Throwing-11 ; Tracking-13 .
Smith & Wesson M10, 2d-1 crushing.
Order and justice in Ortonville are the responsibility of Sheriff Trent Johnson. Johnson is a tough, no-nonsense man, a veteran of D-Day and Bastogne. The sheriff is good at his job, and seldom if ever has to use violence to keep the peace. Johnson dislikes being told his job by outsiders, and his wartime experiences have left him deeply suspicious of all foreigners. He won't believe any nonsense about dinosaurs until he sees one. He will.
Professor Jerome Winston
Age 48; 5'11"; 160 lbs.; gray hair and green eyes. ST: 10  IQ: 16  Speed: 4.25 DX: 7 [-20] HT: 10  Move: 4 Damage: Thrust 1d-2; Swing 1d Dodge: 4 No armor; no encumbrance.
Point Total: 100
Reputation (well-respected geologist, +2 among scientists) 
Status (Respected Professor, +1) 
Wealth (Comfortable) 
Bad sight (corrected) [-10]
Pacifism (self-defense) [-15]
Never Admits He Is Wrong [-1]
Tends to Lecture [-1]
Smokes Foul-Smelling Pipe [-1]
Snappy Dresser [-1]
Area Knowledge (Rocky Mountains)-16 ; Astronomy-15 ; Chemistry-17 ; Climbing-9 ; Engineer (Mining)-14 ; Geology-21 ; Mathematics-15 ; Metallurgy-15 ; Photography-15 ; Physics-15 ; Research-16 ; Riding-9 ; Science!-15 ; Survival (Mountains)-15  Teaching-16 ; Zoology-15 .
German-17 ; Latin-16 ; Spanish-15 .
Professor Jerome Winston is one of the nation's best-respected geologists. He is an expert on fossils and their formation. He has made a good living consulting with mining companies, and has an unmatched familiarity with the Rocky Mountains. Professor Winston is a pleasant, if vague man, who enjoys the outdoors. He is a peaceful person who has never struck a blow in anger.
Age 16; 5'7"; 135 lbs.; blonde hair and blue eyes. ST: 9 [-10] IQ: 12  Speed: 6.5 DX: 14  HT: 9 [-10] Move: 6 Damage: Thrust 1d-2; Swing 1d-1 Dodge: 6 No armor; no encumbrance.
Point Total: 50
Animal Empathy 
Beautiful Appearance (+2/+4) 
Pacifism (self-defense) [-15]
Youth (age 16) [-4]
Constantly Adopts Animals [-1]
Prefers Wearing Pants [-1]
Area Knowledge (Ortonville and environs)-14 ; Climbing-13 ; Cooking-12 ; Dancing-13 ; First Aid-12 ; Naturalist-12 ; Riding-17 ; Zoology-11 .
Susan Parker is the daughter of Ortonville's pharmacist. She is a healthy, tomboyish girl who loves animals of every type. Susan is one of the best students at Ortonville High School, with particularly good marks in biology. When Professor Winston asked for volunteers to help excavate the fossil, she jumped at the chance to work with a real scientist. Susan loves to ride in the mountains around Ortonville, and knows the area very well. She also has the normal interests for a girl her age: movies, music, boys and parties.
Age 16; 5'6"; 150 lbs.; brown hair and green eyes. ST: 11  IQ: 13  Speed: 5 DX: 10  HT: 10  Move: 5 Damage: Thrust 1d-1; Swing 1d+1 Dodge: 5 No armor; no encumbrance.
Point Total: 50
Mathematical Ability 
Wealth (Wealthy) 
Bad Sight (Corrected) [-10]
Bad Temper [-10]
Unattractive Appearance, -1 [-5]
Youth (age 16) [-4]
Annoying Laugh [-1]
Brags About Wealth [-1]
Astronomy-11 ; Chemistry-11 ; Electronics (Radio)-12  Electronics Operation (Radios)-13  Mathematics-15 ; Nuclear Physics-11 ; Physics-15 ; Skiing-9 .
Claude Winston is the son of Professor Winston's younger brother. Claude's father is a successful electronics executive, and the family is very wealthy. Young Claude has been given anything and everything he might want except perhaps affection. He is undeniably intelligent, and has the makings of a good scientist or engineer. But his personality repels many people, and he is prone to temper tantrums. Claude has recently become infatuated with Susan Parker. She is still unaware of this, as all her attention is focussed on Calvin Barnard. Claude has decided to do something about his rival.
Age 17; 6'2"; 190 lbs; blond hair and gray eyes. ST: 11  IQ: 12  Speed: 5.5 DX: 12  HT: 11  Move: 5 Damage: Thrust 1d-1; Swing 1d+1 Dodge: 5 No armor; no encumbrance.
Point Total: 50
Attractive Appearance (+1) 
Code of Honor (High-School) [-10]
Poverty (Struggling) [-10]
Youth (age 17) [-2]
Tongue-Tied Around Attractive Girls [-1]
Wears Letter Jacket Everywhere [-1]
Anthropology-11 ; Archaeology-10 ; Area Knowledge (Ortonville and environs)-12 ; Baseball-13 ; Climbing-11 ; Driving (Stock cars)-11 ; Fishing-12 ; Geology-11 ; Guitar-9 [1/2]; Guns (Rifle)-14 ; Lasso-11 ; Mechanic (Gasoline Engines)-11 ; Riding-11 ; Singing-9 [1/2]; Survival (Mountains)-11 .
Calvin Barnard lives with his mother on the family's failing ranch outside Ortonville. His father died at Iwo Jima. Calvin is a busy young man: when he's not helping work the ranch, he is busy studying about ancient cultures and buried civilizations. Somehow he finds time to be a star of the Ortonville High baseball team, and to play in a local rock-and-roll band (Jerry and the Jukesters). When Calvin heard that Professor Winston wanted help excavating the fossil, he thought it would be a great opportunity to learn something about scientific field work. Calvin is a nice boy, though a trifle shy around girls. He sometimes has trouble balancing his own sense of responsibility against the traditional code of high-school behavior.
The Calvin-MonsterThis is the intermediate form between Calvin's normal human body and the final dinosaur stage. The creature still has some of Calvin's human intelligence, but its personality is entirely dominated by the dinosaur's thoughts. It looks more reptilian than human, and stands twelve feet tall. The creature has a long tail, claws and a terrifying set of teeth. The Calvin-monster has greyish-purple scales which act as armor. It has the Night Vision advantage.
ST: 40 Move/Dodge: 7/7 Size: 2 hexes DX: 13 PD/DR: 2/2 Weight: 1 ton IQ: 8 Damage: 2d cutting or 7d-1 crushing HT: 12/40 Reach: C, 1
The Calvin-DinosaurIn his final form, Calvin becomes a giant Ortonosaurus. The creature is not a realistic dinosaur, but an atom-spawned movie monster. It stands nearly 40 feet tall when fully erect, but usually walks bent forward from the hips. The dinosaur has enormous jagged teeth, clawed feet, and a long muscular tail. Its color shades from dark purple along the back, through gray along the sides, to green on the underbelly. It has the Night Vision and Peripheral Vision advantages. The beast has little trace of Calvin's human intellect; it is a prehistoric predator.
ST: 150 Move/Dodge: 20/10 Size: 20 hexes DX: 15 PD/DR: 4/4 Weight: 6 tons IQ: 4 Damage: 7d+2 impaling, 18d crushing HT: 15/70 Reach: C, 3
Article publication date: June 1, 1995
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