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Mission Mint 400

Status: Level 1, Health 90, Action Points 70, Radiation 0

The hotel felt eerily deserted, as if we were in the year 2300. The Nuclear fallout had left this structure standing in a vast wasteland. Were the few visible pedestrians actually survivors scattered by roving bandits? Would we be paying with bottle caps and dry goods? The parking lot had a few vehicles looking lost in the expanse of cracked asphalt. The valet was not a valet but a hotel guest who was waiting impatiently for his ride. Welcome to Bison Steve’s Hotel and Casino!

The roller coast encircling the building was not in motion. My fellow Desert Raider, Bee, commented that he has never witnessed it running. Abandoned amusement park vibes abounded. Inside, the casino was a shadow of its former glory. The spark of imagination that had once fueled the Old Western theme had long ago crawled into the log river ride and drowned. That must be why it was currently dry.

Status: Radiation 2, Action Points 60

Debuff added: Uncomfortable (due to your neurotic environmental trait, you become uncomfortable in places that appear unclean)

Bison Steve’s is pet friendly if you are willing to stay in one of their “pet” rooms. Previously used to house incontinent badgers, our chamber was a double queen room last updated in the early 1990s. Apparently, the ill-tempered badgers had not allowed housekeeping to do more than a cursory cleaning before chasing them out with snapping teeth. I armed myself with Clorox wipes and vowed to wear shoes at all times when touching the floor. Although Bee offered to find better accommodations, I knew they would be far into the desert and overpriced with the Mint 400 starting the next day. I was also determined to overcome the anxiety that sometimes ruined my ability to enjoy time with friends and family. The shower was large enough to avoid claustrophobia and drained water without issue. I would conquer this dungeon (1st floor) of a hotel room. Level up!

Status: Level 2, Health 80, Action Points 50, Radiation 4

Buff added: Home of the Brave (for overcoming your anxiety and finding ways to be comfortable in your environment)


Sophie is not impressed

As Thursday nights go in a casino, this one was as dead as Bonnie and Clyde. You can view the car in which they died at Whiskey Pete’s Casino across the way. That location undoubtedly held a ghostly side-quest that we didn’t have time to complete. Bee and I explored the arcade of broken glass and dreams and passed by all of the closed restaurants. We would have to battle the boss restaurant of the casino to earn dinner. Denny’s was the kind of Dungeon Troll that Bee preferred to avoid. Having lived for several years on Army rations, I didn’t mind Dungeon Trolls and could even find their fare enjoyable. When your dinner quest starts after 10 PM, you take what you can get before your stamina bar runs out.

Show and Tell Me About Your Tires

Status: Level 2, Health 90, Action Points 70, Radiation 6

Item Equipped: Dog Stroller (+2 Charisma, +5 Fascination, -3 Agility)

Sophie, having reached Level 91 in dog-years and completed all her distance-based quests years ago, rode in a unique dog stroller. Her smile was reason enough to keep her rolling in style. Although we received several odd looks, most people thought she was adorable. Who would tell a 250lb, 6’3″ Bee that he looked silly pushing his baby girl?

Our two new friends had initially invited us to roam the desert with them to view the Mint 400 Race. Their character names for this quest are Flat-bed Fred and Francine the Rodeo Queen. Franny and Fred are fantastic adventurers with experience in both racing and Las Vegas. We pointed Sophie’s stroller toward Fremont Street to check out the Mint 400 booths, exhibits, and car show.

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Sophie took a break to walk around and admire the local art. Bee ogled engines and tires while collecting free stickers and beer koozies. I was mostly interested in the snacks. We all have different ways of contributing to the group. Once we had witnessed all there was to see, and our pockets were full of freebies, we were drawn back to the casino slot’s magnetic pull. Specifically, one slot machine. The biggest slot machine in all the land. Slotzilla!

Paying up Front for Bad Decisions

Bee walked into the zip line office and asked, “How much does it cost to make a bad decision?” The reply from the lady behind the counter was, “$75 and a signed waiver.” Sold! Bee, Fred, and Franny would be climbing Slotzilla to do the Superhero Zoom from the upper level. I waited with Sophie since I have no fear of heights and would receive fewer experience points. Franny was about to receive all the experience points.

As the elevator ascended higher and higher, Bee and Fred discussed the frequent safety failures with carnival attractions. Their vast knowledge of death and dismemberment was fueled by years of OSHA and construction safety videos. Once harnessed, hooked, and standing on the edge of oblivion, all three were ready to fly. Bee looked over at Franny and then asked Fred if he thought her harness buckles looked loose. That was when the operator pulled the release and sent all three flying (Franny screaming) 1,700 ft down the line. As delayed karma for their comments, Bee and Fred had a nut-racking stop due to the speed arresting system starting only 20ft from the ride’s end. With Franny high on adrenaline and both guys walking gingerly, we headed back to Bison Steve’s.

Race Day One

Status: Level 2, Health 90, Action Points 70, Radiation 8

Debuff added: Timid Bladder (due to multiple overseas desert deployments, you cringe when forced to use a porta-potty)

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Friday morning dawned bright and clear as we drove out to Area 4. There are four spectator areas out in the desert along the course. This is the same desert in which I completed the NTC military quest years ago. Let’s say that NTC stands for Not Thrilling or Comfortable. I’d rather fall down a flight of stairs into a cactus. Needless to say, I was hesitant to step foot back on this cursed sand. Fred and Franny started unpacking a full griddle and breakfast foods to lure me out. Motivated by the desire to experience the race with Bee and our new friends (and their food), I was soon helping set up shade and chairs. Sophie adjusted to the spectator role immediately and smiled upon everything that crossed our path. Motorcycles went first, followed by ATVs, and finally, race trucks. The race track stretch at Area 4 was equipped with some rolling hills that transformed into steep jumps and tire-killing pits. As the sun set behind the mountains, the desert breeze took on a chilly bite. The porta-potties, while cleaner than expected, now required a flashlight to navigate. It was time to pack it up and let the racers continue their battle across the deteriorating course into the night.

Slots, Naps, and Craps

Status: Level 2, Health 70, Action Points 50, Radiation 8

Item equipped: Alcohol (+1 constitution, +3 humor, -2 dexterity, -2 agility)

I required a hot shower to wash the cursed sands from my skin and hair. It was Bee’s turn to nap with Sophie and recharge. Dressed in our finest post-apocalyptic casino apparel, we ventured into the Old West to get lucky and avoid snakebites. Or snake eyes? I think both are bad.

While Bee learned to play craps and get free drinks, I wandered the floor searching for the perfect slot machine. Drink in hand, I finally found a game worthy of my time. After roaming through Bison, Wolves, and even Cleopatra, I found the slot machine that spoke to my inner cat-lady.

Miss Kitty wasn’t just Marshall Dylan’s unrequited love or the business on Sprague Avenue that my parents refused to acknowledge when we drove past. Miss Kitty was pink and purple blinking lights promising catnip and winning. I offered Miss Kitty my twenty-dollars, and she entertained me with her version of a laser pointer for thirty-minutes. Near the end of my money, I started to wonder if these machines listened as well as my phone or Alexa. “If I don’t win soon, I’m going to stop gambling at this casino,” I said to Miss Kitty in an overacted stage whisper. My words had fallen on deaf, fluff-filled ears. However, I had no desire to continue feeding money to any slot machine. Level Up!

Status: Level 3, Health 60, Action Points 40, Radiation 10

Buff added: Feeling Lucky (for enjoying the casino without spending more money than planned)

Bee and Fred were enjoying Craps while everyone tried to flag down the elusive waitress. You could get a drink on the house while playing, but only if you could catch the waitress. She was more challenging than trying to catch a loot leprechaun. Even if you succeeded, the chances of getting the correct drink order were 50/50. The casino was starting to fill up with racers and their crews ready to enjoy an evening out of the course’s dust and axle-breaking heartache. The tables were getting crowded, so Bee and I foraged at one of the few open restaurants that weren’t the Dungeon Troll. Cuca’s Mexican Food was a cross between a cafeteria and a taco truck. The chips were warm, and the burrito was delicious. The atmosphere was lacking, but casinos can’t have you lingering over dessert when there is gambling to be done.

Franny had long since gone to bed, but Fred was on a winning streak at the craps table. Bee played a few more rounds and decided to quit while he was ahead. He had secretly leveled up by a whole year but didn’t want anything said about it. He hates all the notification windows involved. Fred was enjoying himself, but his luck was bound to run out soon. The casino always has higher stats no matter how well your character is built. Sophie had kept any badgers from returning to our room while we were away, so we all settled down to recharge for another day of race watching.

Naps in the afternoon

Sophie needed a nap after her long day of race watching

Holding it Together Until the Finish Line

 Status: Level 3, Health 80, Action Points 70, Radiation 12

Out at Area 4, we opted to set our chairs atop the truck beds to gain a better view. Some of the racing trucks were accompanied by helicopters acting as spotters and transporting camera crews. Each time a race truck passed by, it looked like a police chase from the movies. Sophie would open her sleepy eyes and perk up her ears to watch the impressive spectacle. There was no clear leader in the race as everyone kept getting shredded tires from the dreaded desert rock. Multiple tire changes on the course would allow tailing trucks to leap ahead until the rocks also attacked them. The Mint 400 is such a grueling race that many vehicles cannot finish due to vehicle damages. It takes four laps to complete the 428-mile race, with only two pit areas along the course. Area 4 was close enough to one of the pit areas that several ATV racers turned into our spectator area looking for their crews. It was fun to see the vehicles up close but hard on their lap times for the detour.

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As the sun set on the final day of racing, the trucks continued with only spotlights to guide them through the race’s final-boss lap. Shadows jumped, and the wind began to howl with cruel indifference. It was time to relocate to the finish line and wait for the winner to emerge from the darkness. The finish line was behind Bison Steve’s Casino, with more tents and vendors selling their wares to race fans. Franny had been looking forward to a corndog, and I found a fresh lemonade vendor and hot pretzel. Sustaining ourselves with snacks and liquor, we watched the monitors to see who the winner of the 2020 Mint 400 would be. Just as we were contemplating heading back into the casino, word of an incoming truck flashed over the speakers. Several more tires had been blown, delaying the 1st and 2nd place trucks. When #83, Luke McMillian, crossed the finish line, he was greeted by his father, who had won the event in 1986. Luke said it was the toughest race of his career. Next year, the race will take place in December instead of March, with colder temperatures adding another layer of difficulty.

Battling Debuffs

Status: Level 3, Health 70, Action Points 50, Radiation 14

The weekend had been a success with new friends added, and experience points gained. Sophie enjoyed her desert adventure and new wheels. I had found the strength to overcome some of the discomfort and anxiety of my special brand of PTSD. While the built-up casino radiation was starting to take its toll, I felt that plenty of scrubbing with hot water would bring my stats back to comfortable levels. My fellow desert adventurers and I look forward to the next Mint 400, but this time with a higher-level hotel.

Safe travels, my friends!


If you enjoyed this style of writing, known as litRPG, check out some of my favorite series in the genre:

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