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Wake Up and Smell the Ashes is a Strategy Play-by-Post Game hosted on Spacebattles Dot Com by Imperial Salesman. It is set in the Half-Life universe.

In an alternate timeline where the Combine never invaded Earth, the portal storms generated by the Resonance Cascade have gotten out of hand, resulting in several factions getting sent into the Half Life universe. Those now stranded here, be they new arrivals or natives, must now figure out how to survive.

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Tropes in this story include:

  • Abandoned Laboratory:
    • A major focus location of the RP is an Aperture Science laboratory located in the Exclusion Zone. Due to all of the advanced technology left within, it's been raided by the Cygnus Fleet, the Phoenix Project, and Clear Skies (who all did so as a single group) and Flashpoint (who aren't really liked by the mentioned group).
    • The Expedition discover an abandoned biolab that was apparently examined by the NAC at one point. Corpses of both humans and Race X are found in the area, but its indicated that whatever ended the fight came from within the biolab...and is now free in the Zone.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The story incorporates elements of both baseline Half Life and Black Mesa, such as the blue Xen charging crystals and the Houndeye variants.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In Half-Life canon, it's established that antlion grubs can heal people and are the basis of Combine medical terminals. The RP expands this by making it so that adult antlion flesh has minor regenerative properties, and since antlions are biologically compatible with humans, they can be used as healing rations.
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  • Alien Kudzu: The massive number of Xen fungi that arrived via the Portal Storms have utterly ravaged the native ecosystem, with many having converted certain areas into Xen habitats. Additionally, they can also create all kinds of mutants, including ones who have descriptions reminescent of Jeff.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: One of the scenes with the Cygnus Fleet reveals that the Fictional Geneva Conventions in the Valkyria Chronicles universe forbid the usage of shotguns but allowed the usage of flamethrowers to continue. As is pointed out by the HECU forces that the Fleet accepted into their ranks, there were attempts by the Germans to outlaw the usage of shotguns in warfare in real life, only for them to be shot down by the other powers of the world, with flamethrowers eventually falling out of use instead. And the Cygnus fleet finds out very quickly why the Germans tried this - Shotguns Are Just Better!
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  • Alternate Timeline: It's mentioned in the opneing post for the Cygnus Fleet that the crew can now only hope that the Comet will be able to complete Operation Cygnus. By this point in canon, the Comet should have been destroyed by Crymaria. Another, completely intentional difference is that the Snow Cruiser reactors are just highly advanced ragnite reactors that can function as Fantastic Nukes, rather than Valkyria powered reactors that can force the usage of the Final Flame. This also means that Angie is not with the crew of the Centurion,
  • Always Chaotic Evil: It's explicitly stated in one of the information posts that Race X remnants, unlike the scattered Xen forces, are hostile to everyone. Negotiation is not possible.
  • Balance of Power: Part of why the various factions haven't managed to drive their opponents and the Xen creatures out of the Zone and establish dominion is that most of them do not get along at all - the Rangers and Damned Brigade are at war with one another over ideology, with both also opposing the Survivalists and NAC due to a dislike of the rogue civlians. The Shrine, meanwhile, just wants to be allowed to live in peace, but has aligned itself with the survivor factions because those two don't want to kill them for existing. The arrival of the player factions gradually starts shifting this balance in favor of the Rangers (who are aided by GDI and the Cygnus Fleet) and the NAC (who are friendly to the Grey Death Detachment), with the others either being hurt by their arrival (Mitchell gets a fair amount of the Damned killed while pursuing his vendetta, and the Phoenix Project decides to fight the Damned to gain the aid of the CIA), or remain mostly unaffected (the Survivalists only recently started working with Clear Sky, and the Shrine effectively vanished from the RP after the Conclave was retired). With the return of the United States forces imminent due to Operation Touchdown, the balance is bound to fall apart.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The two major evil factions (at least among players) are Flashpoint under Adrian Mitchell (who are extremely selfish and view others as pawns to exploit) and ADVENT under Kras "Tetrarch" Rokkos (who want to conquer the world in preparation for the arrival of the Elders).
  • Bug War: Antlions are here, and continue to be a problem to everyone. Additionally, one of the few layer factions is the Insectoid Aliens known as the Kir'Ko. However, due to their own nature, they’d rather avoid fighting, meaning anyone who wants to fight them will need to go out of their way to start the fight.
  • Can't Catch Up: Potentially - the return of the US Military in Operation Touchdown means that civilians are less likely to join up with the player factions, meaning its possible that factions that haven't gotten significant amounts of manpower might fall apart if they get particularly unlucky.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Out of all the player factions that the Expedition could meet, the first one they are likely to encounter is the Grey Death Detachment - the one faction who has no backstory reasons to fear the Expedition.
  • Crapsack World: The Xen invasion has not been kind on Earth. In the United States alone, most of the Southwest has been abandoned to the various alien invaders, with civilians who missed the evacuation struggling to survive. Even the Xen forces haven't come out of this unscathed, being reduced to scattered tribes that are now trapped on Earth with no way of returning home. Alien wildlife has overtaken multiple areas, resulting in a collapse of the native ecosystem. Even the plants (well, fungi) from Xen are causing problems, since most are toxic to humans are propogate at ferocious rates.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Generally speaking, if ADVENT gets involved in a fight with one of the native factions, it will end decisively in ADVENT's favor, due to Tetrach's forces being a Technologically Advanced Foe. Not in effect when ADVENT fights Race X, though, resulting in ADVENT losing many hybrids.
  • Cutting the Knot: While exploring an Aperture Science facility, the Cygnus Fleet and their allies from Black Mesa end up at an impasse where they can only advance further if they either acquire security clearance or sufficient brute force to blow the doors open. The need to obtain either is rendered moot when Adam sneaks into the Destroyer Cygnus was defending during the Mêlée à Trois and blasts the facility with one of the Tomahawks on the ship.
  • Dangerous Deserter: Flashpoint as a whole is this, being a group of US Military deserters who are following their boss in pursuit of revenge. Of the human player factions, they are by far the most evil (only Tetrarch and ADVENT are worse, but they aren't human).
  • Death World: Earth has slowly turned into this with rampaging hordes of Xen wildlife now attacking unchecked.
  • Didn't See That Coming: An pair of ADVENT trading parties attempt to trade with a New America Coalition outpost in an effort to learn more about the Coalition and figure out how best to invade the outpost. Due to the outpost having an FBI interrogator among their ranks, they eventually figure out that ADVENT was the ones who attacked the Lambda Cache, and promptly execute the ADVENT teams for their duplicity.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Oh boy. Everyone has issues.
    • The Cygnus Fleet are probably the most unambiguously heroic player faction in the RP, but their leader, Claude, is naive and instigated a massive battle by accident because he Didn't Think This Through regarding his broadcast about acquiring the Fitzgerald.
    • GDI is a close second for most heroic, but they have bad memories from dealing with Nod and almost attacked Claude when he made his announcement about the destroyer (almost because Flashpoint and the Conclave diverted their attention).
    • Clear Skies want to study the area in peace and are likely to become opposed to the return of the US Government to the Zone, which is further exacerbated by them allying with the Survivalists.
    • The Grey Death Detachment are mercenaries who mostly just want to get paid, but still lean toward heroic.
    • The Phoenix Project is somewhat listless because they haven't got any idea what to do now that they are in a universe with no Pandoravirus.
    • Flashpoint is essentially an extension of Mitchell's desire for revenge against Gordon Freeman.
    • ADVENT wants to conquer everyone, with their leader seeing everyone else as beneath him.
    • The Expedition, at least according to their player, are burned out and just want to get a break.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • Flashpoint to the Cygnus fleet - both are organizations based out of a ship and are commanded by a charismatic leader, but while the Cygnus fleet is still loyal to the Federation and are one of the more moral factions in the area, Flashpoint is lead by HECU deserter Adrian Mitchell and are a rogue force pursuing a personal agenda. This is cemented when the Cygnus fleet finds a bunch of nukes, with the Cygnus fleet wanting to avoid using the missiles and even giving them back to the United States forces in the area for disposal, while Flashpoint wants the nukes to destroy the Shrine and launches an attack on the Centurion and its allies just for that purpose.
    • ADVENT for The Conclave - while both are members of invading alien groups that wished to conquer their respective instances of Earth and answer to psychic overlords, The Conclave are Xen remnants who now have to survive without the Nihilanth and are slowly becoming more heroic due to their interactions with the outside world, while the ADVENT forces on Half Life!Earth successfully conquered their "native" Earth and plan to take control of this Earth once they get in contact with the Elders. Tellingly, the Conclave's primary NPC faction for interaction is the Shrinenote , whose interactions with the Conclave set them on a more diplomatic and mutually beneficial path for all, while ADVENT's interactions with other factions tend to involve ADVENT wiping out civilians. After The Conclave's player left the RP, the role of Good Counterpart to ADVENT was passed to The Expedition, who are a human-alien federation from the far future who tend to try and resolve problems peacefully.
  • Evil Will Fail: Ultimately, much of the hardships that the "evil" player factions suffer are entirely their a result of their own tactics.
    • Mitchell ends up costing Flashpoint numerous men and resources trying to pursue personal vendettas even when doing so is counterproductive. Furthermore, his callous treatment of his followers eventually leads to several deserting in the middle of a battle because they are tired of his abuse.
    • ADVENT's efforts to subjugate and manipulate others tend to fail because Kras never attempts to win hearts and minds while also attacking enemies even when he isn't in a position to do so effectively.
  • Faction Calculus:
    • GDI is Powerhouse, focusing on using various extremely powerful units, including quite possibly the largest amount of armor in the game, but with the tradeoff that they can't really replace most of these units and have to focus on conserving them where possbile.
    • Flashpoint started out as Powerhouse, but due to attrition has moved toward Subversive, with most of their forces being functionally analogous to conscripts and militia, with later efforts to buff them via ADVENT clones.
    • The Phoenix Project is Balanced leaning toward Powerhouse, as while their forces are very well rounded, they tend to focus on quality over quantity.
    • The Grey Death Detachment is Powerhouse, having the strongest armored cavalry in the RP (their mechs are functionally invincible) but also having more limited numbers and inability to replace most of their losses.
    • Clear Skies is Powerhouse leaning toward Balanced, because while their Stalkers are all versatile fighters, all but one of their forces is elite.
    • ADVENT leans toward Subversive, as while they have a large amount of troops clad in Power Armor, most of them are clones, and they are finishing up a project to make more of said clones.
    • The Expedition doesn't really fit into any of these categories on account of not being around long enough yet to determine what their strategy is. The same can be applied to Atlas and the Decepticons.
  • Fantastic Racism: In general, military forces (or rather, solely military forces) in the Zone (namely the Rangers and the Damned Brigade) have this toward aliens, who they understandably want removed from their homeland and will use force to do so. While there are obvious reasons for this, both organizations are also hostile to The Shrine, even though the Survivalists and NAC have proven that coexistence is possible.
  • Foreshadowing: Teresa Leach's research notes mention that one of the headcrabs she autopsied is a sterile female. Generally speaking, animals that have sterile females usually have a Hive Queen...
  • Gaia's Lament: More pronounced here than it was in the games - while only one year has passed since the Resonance Cascade has occurred, most of the wildlife in Southern California has been hunted to extinction by the newly arrived Xen wildlife, leaving the ecosystem devoid of non-Xen creatures. Even the plants aren't safe, as Xen fungi has slowly been assimilating them and turn large areas into Xen-esque landscapes.
  • Game Changer:
    • ADVENT finishing their cloning facilities, as this would allow ADVENT to create a new army of soldiers without relying upon searching and rescuing humans in the wastes.
    • Operation Touchdown sees the United States move to retake Southern California, meaning everyone now has to deal with increased military activaty (which also makes the 75th Ranger Battalion more active). It also results in several civilian groups refusing to join up with the player factions, now that they might be able to apply for Search and Rescue.
  • Good Versus Good:
    • Due to circumstances, the majority of the battle for the Fitzgerald boils down to this trope - while Flashpoint and the Damned Brigade are undeniably evil, the Cygnus Fleet doesn't want to use the nukes but also wants to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands, GDI has similar motives but is willing to claim the nukes by force from the Cygnus Fleet due to believing Claude's claims of peace to be insincere, the Conclave wants to avoid being the target of the nukes on the ship (Flashpoint wants the nukes to destroy the Shrine, who are allied with the Conclave) and the Grey Death Detachment don't want to use the nukes either, but aid the Cygnus Fleet becuase they know that less well intentioned people will want to use them.
    • The events of Touchdown which involve the military returning to the region are setting up a much larger and more protracted conflict along these lines, with the sides being the military and the survivors, with GDI, the Phoenix Project, and the Cygnus Fleet in the military's corner, and Clear Skies, the Grey Death Detachment, and the Expedition in the survivors' corner.
      • The Cygnus Fleet has already been working with HECU teams and has become a military aligned NGO.
      • GDI was already helping the military and feels it is their duty to assist the military in reclaiming the Zone.
      • The Phoenix Project has similar motivations to GDI and has been assisting a CIA Black Ops team to help fight off aliens in the Zone.
      • Clear Skies has been getting friendly with the Survivalists, while Lebedev is disillusioned with all governments after the poor Sovient hanlding of Chernobyl.
      • The Grey Death Detachment is mostly neutral, but have made a partnership with the NAC Outpost Libertalia, and the NAC is opposed to the government reclaiming the Zone.
      • The Expedition is so far unaligned, but their player is making moves to try and find the Shrine (who, being made of Vortigaunts, will likely be targeted by the military), and confirmation OOC that GDI will attempt to wipe out the Expedition if encountered because of GDI's own poor experiences with aliens means that they will likely be forced to side with the survivalists and NAC (both of whom trade with the Shrine and thus are at least somewhat open to coexistence) out of necessity.
      • As for the military and the Survivors, the military wants to reclaim the Zone so that they can use it as a springboard to reclaim the rest of the United States. The problem is that the Survivors of the Zone have not forgiven the military for abandoning them in the first place, and will fight to remain independent.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
    • The first post in the OOC thread indicates that the G-Man's employers are responsible for the arrival of the various factions into the California area, or at least are doing nothing to send them back. However, given the scale these beings operate, it's doubtful they'd ever get involved personally.
    • Though long dead, the Nihilanth is responsible for invading Earth in the first place, and the creatures and soldiers it sent through are the main enemy in the zone.
    • The US Government's disastrous evacuation of California is responsible for the creation of three of the minor factions in the area - the 75th Rangers Battalion is still trying to follow orders, the Damned Brigade went rogue and now treats the area as their fief, while the New America Coalition became disillusioned and is now starting their own nation. They step out of this role once Operation Touchdown commences and begin making an active attempt to reclaim the Zone.
  • Humble Pie: The battle for the Fitzgerald serves as this to both Flashpoint and GDI - both parties, who attacked out of an arrogant desire to use the ships missiles (for Flashpoint) and a very aggressive attempt to retrieve the missiles for disposal (for GDI) end up taking massive losses, with GDI in particular loosing multiple vehicles it cannot replace (at least right now). Given the respective natures of those factions, though, neither really learns anything from it. And it should be noted that GDI did have noble intentions, just a questionable execution of said intentions.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Race X is treated as this on a factional level — unlike other factions, they are viciously aggressive, impossible to reason with/tame, and are extremely heavily armed. Encounters with them always end in casualties, and are a big part of why ADVENT starts undergoing lean times just before the beginning of Touchdown.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • The Flashpoint organization under Adrian Mitchell end up attacking the Cygnus Fleet to seize and use the missiles the fleet discovered. Flashpoint ends up suffering the worst losses in the battle and, although they win a strategic victory, also have to deal with their only real allies being absolutely pissed for being used as Cannon Fodder, making bartering with them more difficult. Notably, everyone else who participated in the fight got easier bargain prices from their allies due to their actions in the battle for the destroyer.
    • GDI, who were also involved in the battle, suffer similarly high casualties, including the loss of several vehicles. While they are far more well intentioned than Flashpoint, the fact that they were planning to wipe out the Cygnus Fleet if said fleet did not relinquish their missiles (and were going to demand an unconditional surrender to do so, with absolutely no intent to negotiate otherwise) does make it come off as slightly deserved.
  • Later Installment Weirdness: Some of the factions that showed up later in the RP's lifetime had traits that made them overpowered compared to the original cast.
    • The Grey Death Detachment has access to four battlemechs, which are functionally invincible compared to the other factions in the setting. For balance reasons, they have massively increased fuel consumption to avoid them being sued to steamroll over everyone else.
    • The Star Union Expedition has access to laser guns, psychic powers, and Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything, as well as giant bug men. Their player has quite literally begged to allow them to be Nerfed so that he doesn't have to make a new sheet.
  • Magnetic Weapons:
    • ADVENT, as in their home franchise, use these for their human forces.
    • GDI also employs magnetic weapons, even having tanks equipped with rail guns.
    • After a bit of research, Phoenix Point acquires magnetic weapons.
    • Clear Skies has gauss rifles.
  • Massively Multiplayer Crossover: Characters from Command & Conquer, Valkyria Chronicles 4, XCOM 2, STALKER, BattleTech, Phoenix Point, Age of Wonders: Planetfall, Rwby, and Transformers all show up in the roleplay, which is set in the Half-Life universe.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": All of the neutral factions in the zone (excluding the Rangers) have this reaction when Touchdown commenced, for good reason: the US Military has returned, and they're going to be hostile to everyone that isn't the Rangers or innocent civilians, because the Damned Brigade are Deserters, the Survivalists and NAC don't want to be part of the IS anymore (thus making them illegal secessionists), and the Shrine is composed of Vortigaunts, who are effectively kill on sight targets.
  • Mêlée à Trois:
    • The fight for the destroyer ends up involving the Grey Death Detachment, GDI, and the Cygnus Fleet (who are all working together to defend the ship), Flashpoint (who want to use its wreck to nuke a neutral third party) and the Conclave (who want to stop the missiles from being used on them). The fight ended up involving all but three of the players in the game at the time!
    • Following Touchdown, The Cygnus Fleet, GDI, and the Phoenix Project all appear to be in the military's corner, while the GDD, Clear Skies, and the Kir'Ko seem to be siding with the Survivalists, NAC, and Shrine (all three of whom have a somewhat shaky alliance). Flashpoint and ADVENT are nominally aiding the Damned Brigade, while Atlas and the Decepticons are still undecided.
  • Missed the Call: The only reason the Phoenix Project missed the battle for the Fitzgerald was because their communications were shot for the duration of the operation. The other powers that weren't involved (ADVENT and Clear Skies) willingly chose not to intervene to avoid excessive casualties.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: Hear we go:
    • The whitest faction overall is the Shrine, who are made up of freed Vortigaunts who just want to be left alone but help out those who accept them.
    • The whitest of the player factions would be Clear Skies, as while they are responsible for the creation of the Zone of Alienation, they take responsibility for their actions and seek to fix them.
    • Next is the Cygnus Fleet, as while they were tasked with nuking their main enemy's capital, for the most part (ignoring Minerva) they favor the most idealistic approach.
    • Next is the Phoenix Project, who are willing to cross some lines to save mankind, but are very aware of when to do so and when to toe the line.
    • Fourth might be the Expedition, since while the Expedition is the most benevolent faction in theory, they have a lot of really, really nasty weapons that they aren't afraid to use.
    • GDI takes fifth most morale, mostly due to the strain they have from fighting Nod and the Scrin leading them to take some morally questionable actions (including making plans to utterly destroy the Cygnus Fleet to acquire the Fitzgerald, due to cynically believing that the fleet would've used the missiles and that their broadcast to the contrary was a veiled ultimatum).
    • The Grey Death Detachment come next, as while they aren't really evil, they are mercenaries.
    • Flashpoint occupies a darker spot on the sink, being functionally an extension of Mitchell's need for vengeance against Gordon Freeman.
    • ADVENT is still an alien conquering force that wants to take over Earth, making them black.
    • The Decepticons and Atlas have only had one turn each, and don't have enough characterization from their posts to be judged either way - while the Decepticons usually tend to lean toward evil and Atlas is at least nominally on the side of the Angels, the Decepticons from the Shattered Glass timeline are heroic and Atlas can go to questionable places if Ironwood lets his emotions get the better of him.
  • Nerf: All factions have had their technological levels "equalized" so that they are still vulnerable to US Military, Xen, and Race X forces.
  • Not Always Evil: The various unaffiliated Xen sentients are not entirely evil, and can be negotiated with. Additionally, the Conclave is a group of Xen creatures that just want to be left alone, and gradually become more heroic as time goes on. They even willingly free all of their Vortigaunts from slavery!
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: Whenever ADVENT is shown interacting with the neutral factions of the RP, it involves said neutral factions being slaughtered in the name of subjugating Earth.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: The various player factions range from the Cygnus Fleet, who genuinely want to do the right thing, to ADVENT, who regularly execute civilians. This trope is certainly in effect.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: The Cygnus Fleet finds shotguns to be very nice weapons when they get their hands on them in California.note 
  • Starfish Aliens: A post by the author reveals that, at least in this universe, all the Race X creatures players can encounter are actually modified version of the same base species.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The annoucement of Operation Touchdown does not result in universal praise from the civilians of the Zone — while many of the unaffiliated humans are happy that the military is coming back, as are the Rangers, the Survivalists, NAC and Damned Brigade all react with varying degrees of dread, because all three feel abandoned when the military first pulled out and do not want to return to the US now.
    • Since the US Government starts hosting Search And Rescue missions after Touchdown commences, some civilians refuse to join the player factions - they want to join up with the military and leave the zone behind.
  • Villain Protagonist: Flashpoint (they're the organization led by Adrian Mitchell and are helping him (unknown to most of them) pursue his vendetta against Gordon Freeman), and have absolutely no respect for civilian casualties or collateral damage. They also have shown full willingness to attempt to play other factions against each other for their own benefit. Tetrarch and his ADVENT remnants also count, since they are members of an organization that enacted Vichy Earth and have an interest in expanding said Vichy Earth into the Half-Life universe. Tetrarch's forces are also shown explicitly massacring civilians at several points in the roleplay.
  • We ARE Struggling Together:
    • It's made bluntly clear that although GDI and the Cygnus Fleet were willing to stand together to defend the Fitzgerald, they are by no means friends, as GDI really wants access to the missiles that the fleet acquired from the ship. In fact, prior to the Conclave and Flashpoint getting involved, GDI planned to outright wipe out the fleet to acquire the missiles.
    • Following Touchdown, it becomes apparent that while most of the player factions want to help the inhabitants of the Zone, their motives are wildly divergent - GDI and the Phoenix Project want to remove the alien presence and have shown no indication on if they would spare the Shrine, Clear Skies and the Grey Death Detachment are more aligned toward the Survivalists and NAC, respectively, niether of whom want to rejoin the United States, the Cygnus Fleet want to figure out a way home, the Expedition just wants to be left alone, ADVENT and Flashpoint are hostile toward almost everyone, and the Decepticons and Atlas have only just showed up. So teamwork might disintegrate soon.
  • We Have Reserves: The major reason that Touchdown is a hazard to players not aligned with the US Military is that it results in periodic waves of US Soldiers and Marines being deployed to reclaim the Zone. Said forces are not only more numerous than any of the players, but they are also well armed and equipped.
  • Wham Episode: Operation Touchdown - Under the orders of the new POTUS (James McNamara), the United States declares the reformation of Southern California and begins deploying troops to reclaim the state. This also puts all of the neutral factions in the Zone on edge, with the implication that they will start coming to blows once things pick up.
  • You Bastard!: The turn results for the turn just prior to Touchdown mentions how long it will take to train Mitchell's new Child Soldiers... before adding "you monster" to the end.
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