Sword Camp 2008: Zompocalypse, Day Five

The first word of the Zombie Apocalypse reached us at approximately 10:30 this morning. Sal calls those of us who had driven to the site that morning into his office and informs us that the radio news is carrying reports of heavy rioting in Flint, spreading to northern Detroit. US123 and I75 are closed, I69 has been designated as an evacuation route. A news crew has been attacked and taken down by the mob; last footage to go out shows a boot coming at the camera. In the background: The Foo Fighters’ “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and White Zombie’s “Dracula”

Meanwhile, I’m discovering that I can throw a bolas. Who knew?

A bolas is three ropes knotted together at one end, with weights at the others (on this practice weapon, just knots in the rope; on a real bolas, weights or stones). To throw it, you whirl it around above your head, and release at the right moment so the weights hurtle towards your target. If you hit, the weights do impact damage and (if it’s small enough, like an animal’s legs) the ropes wrap around it.

After breakfast I happened on Doug the Death Turtle prepping for his thrown-weapons class by throwing a bolas at one of the pells down by the knife pit. Asked him if I could try it. Hit the pell first try! Borrowed it, a few minutes later, and spent a while working the technique. At one point, Scott Kennedy volunteered to be a human target; I threw just short of him on the first try, then neatly wrapped the bolas around his legs on the second.

To throw one of these, you whirl it horizontally above your head and release at the right moment for the weights to fly towards your target. The trick is timing the release right. You want to release just before the weight is in line between the center of spin and your target — the amount of just-before angle should correspond to about one-tenth of a second’s worth of rotation, apparently because that’s the time of your reflex arc.

Yes, I know they ought to fly off on a tangent at the point of release. That model would predict an earlier release than you have to use in practice. I can’t explain the discrepancy, only describe it. It might have something to do with the fact that the overhead spin doesn’t actually trace a circular arc in uniform motion.

Then we held a conference near the knife pit to decide what to do about the riot threat. We concluded that forting up here made sense; the school facility’s previous owner was Michigan Militia and, entertainingly, fortified the perimeter against armor. And the nearest violence is 60 miles away. In the background: Drowning Pool’s “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor”.

Sal proceeds to give us a tutorial on military fortification practice, explaining how it changes according to the threat model; then he stepped out and left us to design a defense. When some of us talked about making a run to Pinckney to stock up on nonperishables, Sal taught us the fine points of looting. Some of these included: clean out the pharmacy first; you can hunt food but not medicine. Loot grocery stores through the rear entrance or loading dock, not the front; staples tend to be kept near the back, and you’re not exposed to view from the street. Don’t get in fights you have to; heavily armed but peaceful is effective.

As I write, Scott Kennedy is reporting what he’s brought back from his place (where Cathy and I are staying, 6 miles away). Lots of weapons, an electric generator, two days’ worth of canned goods for our 12 defenders, a couple CB radios, boltcutters and various other useful things. In the background: Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” and Madonna’s “Die Another Day”.

CBC World News announces that the riots appear to be associated with an infectious virus of some sort to which there are no known antidote. They reassure us that there are no such things as zombies. In the background: Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks’s “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”. (Ouch.)

Next up: After I note that we have too few effectives to defend all our building, let alone our perimeter. Sal teaches us how to make improvised mines from “Composition B”. I’m deliberately leaving out the recipe. In the background: The Cranberries, “Zombies”.

Besides Composition B, jellied gasoline also makes a good filler for antipersonnel mines. I’m leaving out the recipe for safety reasons.

I argue, however, that mines don’t really fit the zombie threat model. The problem is that they’re an expendable one-shot defense, good against a rioting mob which can be broken by prompt casualties but not likely to stop a zombie wave. Sal agrees; he describes mines as the third tier of a defense in depth, the first two tiers being riflemen on the walls and the walls themselves.

Next up: We clarify the chain of command, assign everyone a fighting partner and serve out weapons. I get a Garand rifle and mourn the fact that we don’t have spare .45CAPs. Lynda plans our supply runs, to a local pharmacy and hardware and grocery stores. We assign sentry shifts, and start other people filling water and gasoline containers.

At 1:30 we receive an announcement that the Governor has declared a state of emergency and closed the roads out of Wayne and the surrounding six counties. Mobs have been reported in Ann Arbor and Howell. One of our away teams describes an attack on the McDonalds in Pinckney; one zombie crashed a car outside it, went through the windshield, picked itself up off the ground and (apparently) lurched into the restaurant. By 2:30 the news reports are speaking openly of zombies. They have been reported in Howell, ten miles from here.

After lunch Matt took command (Lynda had to teach Rob the Basic) we designed a mission to the Rite-Aid in Pinckney to grab as much in the way of prescription drugs as we can. I proposed that we should give them a secondary mission of determining if zombies can be taken down by gunfire. After some discussion we determined that while we needed to do this it should be a separate mission so that encountering a zombie could not cause an abort on the primary mission.

The mission design then involved planning a route to and back, setting priorities (insulin to keep Cathy alive is one) and setting rules of engagement (that is, who is defined as the opposition and under what circumstances we fight). While the (simulated) mission was executing, Scott gave us a primer on radio communication, protocols, and language.

However, Doug the Death Turtle reported by radio that while on the pharmacy mission he found a target of opportunity. Apparently a headshot from a .22 magnum will stop a zombie, but limb and torso shots will not. Heather gave us a tutorial on how to construct a concise radio message. She covered the basic identifiers for a message. Who, When What, Why, Where.

At 4:08PM the power went out. I took initiative and switched on Scott’s generator. Doug reported an encounter with a rude, angry looter who shot at them, and stole his truck full of food. At 4:19 the Emergency Response Radio System interrupts all broadcasts. The President of the United States announces that there have been outbreaks in eight major metropolitan areas. Evidence is that the outbreak is related to an infectious pathogen which is containable by normal sterilization measures.

We then started looking at larger-scale considerations. Most notably, ways to prevent us from being overrun by a million refugees flooding westward from Detroit. Basically this means there are a couple of bridges across the Huron River that we need to blow. Sal teaches us how to make thermite and the mechanics of bridge demolition. Note for any twitchy HSA types; we do not have the capability to actually do this, and do not have plans to develop such a capability.

Sal also described potential improvements to the property, including a kind of firing tower called a Crossmalgen Tree that is very good for holding off rioters and human-wave attacks. Then we discussed improvising light artillery. This began with a description of how to improvise a stick grenade that can be thrown from a shotgun using a modified shotgun shell as a propellant.

The next device is a light mortar made from three coke cans sealed together with duct tape. One can bottom gets left intact at one end, except you punch a small hole in it. Your munition is a tennis ball soaked in gasoline. You put a match near the hole, it ignites gas vapor coming off the tennis ball, and you are now throwing an incendiary munition up to 400 yards downrange. When it hits, it will splash burning gasoline over a fairly large area.

Sal finished out the class day by describing how to Mad Max a car, that is armor and equip it for long-term operation in post-apocalyptic conditions.

The night’s tourney was two different modes of zombie combat. Zombies were constrained to shamble slowly (going nnnngggguuurrrgghhh in the approved zombie fashion) and scored a kill by placing both hands on the victim. Zombies could be killed only by a head shot. All fights were in the confined area of the knife pit, a roughly circular blob of ground about 12 feet wide.

In the first episode, “Master of Zombies”, each fighter first faced one zombie…then two zombies….then three, then four, then five. And the fifth zombie was permitted to move fast! Nobody killed all five; most managed four, though I failed after three because my sword got hung up on a string of lights hung around the area. In the second round all zombies were fast. The winner was Doug the Death Turtle with a total kill of seven zombies.

In the second round, the knife pit was treated as a locked room with one door out. Each round begins with about a dozen players, all with weapons except one starting zombie. To win, the non-zombie players needed to protect one of them at the door long enough to pick the lock, and then get themselves out. before the zombie side converted all players (two hand touch rule). To make things a bit more difficult, zombies respawned every three seconds, and two fighters chosen at random (and unknown to the others) were zombie virus carriers who would convert spontaneously at 30 seconds and 60 seconds in. Hilarity ensued.

Tomorrow: Live Steel Day…


  1. Will you be doing this again next year? And how far are you from Atlanta?

    Where do I sign up?

  2. Oh, damn, if I had a copy of Soul Calibur IV right now I’d totally be creating an Eric S. Raymond custom fighter.


  3. “In the second round all zombies were fast. The winner was Doug the Death Turtle with a total kill of seven zombies.”

    To be fair to the master zombie, that is 4 slow zombies in the first round, and 3 fast zombies in the second round. The zombie master was very hard to defete if there was much of a distraction at all. For almost everyone, it only took one additional fast zombie, the Death Trurle was able to last 2.

  4. “a kind of firing tower called a Crossmalgen Tree that is very good for holding off rioters and human-wave attacks. ”

    Sorry to necro an old post, but this piqued my curiosity.
    What exactly is a Crossmalgen Tree? Google (and Bing for that matter) does not recognize that term as of 2013-11-23. Searching for “Crossmaglen Tower” reveals a sort of prefabricated watch tower protected with what appears to be anit-RPG mesh:

    Is that what you were referring too?

    1. >Searching for “Crossmaglen Tower” reveals a sort of prefabricated watch tower protected with what appears to be anit-RPG mesh:

      It is. The Crossmaglen tower was, apparently, a prototype for a design that was re-used elsewhere.

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