Okay, so a while back I read a bunch of Warhammer 40,000 fiction. I do love a lot of things about the WH40K universe as a sci-fi setting, but in many ways it's not very conducive to roleplay gaming--well, not very conducive to the sort of games I like to run. Anyway, about that time I also started watching the reality TV show "Ice Road Truckers". For those of you who have not watched this show, it's about commercial big-rig truck drivers driving up in Alaska (and Canada, too, I think) during the winter. The name refers to the fact that during the winter up in Alaska they plough roads which go right across frozen lakes. Apparently there are crews out ploughing the snow from the lakes and regular highways and putting out markers. As one might expect driving across a frozen lake in a huge, heavily laden truck entails a not insignificant level of risk. A third thing floating about in my brain at the time was news items about hazardous supply truck runs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trucks are sometimes in escorted convoys and sometimes not. They run the risk of ambush, roadside bombs, mines, etc.
Then, suddenly my brain put the three together: what about an RPG set in the WH40K universe (or a facsimile thereof) where the PCs are truck drivers in a frozen wilderness in a far off war zone? And, to make it a bit more interesting, the characters are members of a penal battalion. As members of such a unit they are quite expendable and the conditions in the unit will be brutal. Each character will have a back story, some guilty as charged, some framed, and some innocents swept up in the Imperial net.
Inspired, I then did up some fiction to serve as an introduction which I could hand to the players to get them into the campaign, since this it a fairly unique setting:
ICE ROAD CONVOY, Chapter 1
The icy wind cut through the thin jungle fatigue pants like razor. The bastards were doing roll call twice a day now out here on the main parade ground, once at dawn and once at nightfall, no matter how damned cold it was. The Adeptus Arbites lieutenant and his men didn't care, since they were dressed for the cold. The inmates of Penal Battalion 3749 lined up in front of the Arbites leader wore only thin work coats and gloves over the jungle uniform of the planet where the battalion had been formed. The 3749th, the "Dead Enders", had gone through a lot of inmates in the last couple years before arriving here two weeks ago. The march from the spaceport through the mountains to get to this frozen armpit had killed off at least ten percent of the unit. Too bad the commissar hadn't been one of them. Of course, it would take more than an a little chilly weather and a stroll in the mountains to kill a commissar. Especially a tough bitch like this one. Everyone was sure she was part ogryn--even steroids couldn't bulk a normal woman up like that. The livid facial scars just heightened the effect.
They were told on arrival that they would be on convoy duty, but nothing else. The 'victs were immediately suspicious. The Imperium never puts penal units on easy duty like that. The job of a convict battalion is to die like bastards for the Emperor to atone for their transgressions. There had to be something else going on here. Still, there didn't seem to be much else here but supply warehouses and heavy trucks, most with armor plates and gun mounts. At the beginning of the week the half-orks in the unit rioted and broke into the warehouses looking for something serious to drink. The Adeptus Arbites had rolled up in APCs and wiped them out with heavy flamers. The remains of the one prefab barracks were still a charred ruin and the whole place smelled like roast ork. Several "ringleaders" were grabbed at random and hung naked above the main gate to die. Then the twice-daily roll calls had begun.
Commissar Arletta Nourissel smiled to herself as she strolled in front of the shivering 'vict rankers as the roll was called. The cold would give them something to complain about and help squelch any ideas about trying to escape. The minimal cold-weather gear they'd been issued would be enough for garrison and convoy duty but not enough for deserting into the wilderness. Besides, falling unconscious in the cold would be too easy a death for this scum. Heretics, traitors, minor mutants, half-orks, demi-humans, dissidents, insubordinates, and common criminals were the stock in trade of a penal battalion. And this battalion was no different. She flexed her considerable arm muscles and thought of the many enjoyable sessions of corporal punishment which would undoubtedly be required in the coming months.
The supply base was surrounded by a standard imperial three-meter high ferrocrete wall with watch towers and two gates. Not a serious military fortification but enough to keep lightly armed raiders out and, more importantly, any mutineers in. The Adeptus Arbites troops and the commissar lived in the small fortified headquarters blockhouse by the main gate and garrisoned the watch towers. There were several large well-built warehouses, rows of cheap prefab barracks, and the motor pool parking lots and workshops. A power plant, chow hall, and a couple other buildings rounded out the facility.
They'd seen the previous garrison unit drive past them during the march up from the spaceport. A line of Basilisk APCs loaded with troops inside and piled on top rolled by during a light snow shower. The vehicles were battered and looked heavily used. The troops on them, Imperial Guard regular infantry, looked battered and heavily used as well. They slumped on the roofs of the vehicles, sunken eyes staring out of gaunt faces. There weren't many with bandages or signs of wounds in evidence amongst them, but imperial battlefield medicine was crude and a lack of recovering patients wouldn't be unusual. Still, they'd seen some sort of rough duty up here for sure.
"All right you scum!" The roll call was over and the Arbites lieutenant was shouting something else at them. The commissar was going to address them--maybe this was the bad news they'd been waiting for about the mission here. Commissar Nourissel strolled arrogantly up onto the packing case which served as a makeshift platform to address the formation. "Ten-hut!" commanded one of the battalion's lieutenants. The formation snapped to attention, standing as stiff as their shivering bodies would allow. A beastman near the front, suffering severe chills since the issue coats wouldn't fit his huge frame, let a bleat of misery escape his lips and got a truncheon up the side of his face. "Silence you swine!" barked another lieutenant; sounded like Lieutenant Promethos. The battalion's number one brown-noser had started getting on the commissar's good side early...