Original SA post
Evil Mastermind posted:
I'll put something together about the whole classic-Deadlands metaplot once I get home from work and can actually look at the books to refresh my memory.
. . . .
Maybe I'll do a writeup on the Deadlands metaplot.
So I don't want to step on your toes, but I was watching TV tonight and something reminded me of one of the most obtuse things I've ever seen referenced in a roleplaying supplement (or any published material really).
cosmology, the four horsemen of the apocalypse really exist, and they are basically the big bads that are causing everything behind the scenes to go to shit. They're not statted out, and the players are never expected to encounter them, so instead the players are frequently up against either the supernatural horrors they spawn, or the quasi-human avatars that come to worship them. Like any good game, the relative combat difficulty of their avatars increases as the players accumulate levels and abilities, but there's still four avatars (one for each horseman) that are basically demi-gods unto themselves, and aren't supposed to ever be used as a combat threat, but more as behind the scenes movers-and-shakers, and as examples of just how vile human beings can become when they throw their humanity away for temporal power.
Anyway, the baddest ass (well, the one that the designers hope that 13 year old boys will find the baddest) of these horsemen avatars is this zombie gunslinger named Stone (representing Death) who basically has every skill and ability and supernatural power and they're all at rank infinity and the designers are very specific that he should be the last thing the players ever see and that any combat attempt against him will fail no matter what (basically they want him to be evil zombie superman). He's a big player in the meta-plot but he's not actually featured in too many of the adventures (leastways the ones that I ever owned) and because of that, players who aren't reading the "Marshall only" section of the splat books probably won't have any reason to even know who this dude is, let alone what he's capable of. I guess they assumed that every DM would fall in love with Stone as much as the designers did, and would feature him heavily anyway and basically set him up as the big boss of their campaigns (which given the proclivity of most DMs to write super-railroady adventures full of monologing NPCs, this probably isn't too far off the mark).
So, the designers of DeadLands finally decide that it's time to release their next campaign setting, which they're calling Hell on Earth, and it's supposed to be the eventual future Earth that happens because of the events back in DeadLands (it's basically FallOut with a healthy dash of supernatural powers and monsters). They write this mega adventure that's three splatbooks long, and it's full of really high level threats and monsters and they mention right in the first book that you might want to have the players make multiple characters that all have a reason for knowing each other because this adventure doesn't pull any punches and players WILL DIE and etc. and so on. Stone finally gets his time in the limelight, so to speak, because he constantly harasses the players throughout the trilogy of adventures, although the adventures are designed such that he never really directly confronts the players and tends to flee immediately if they actually try to engage him in combat. Their reasoning here is that he's necessary for their big finale to play out correctly, but rather than actually write a coherent adventure that doesn't railroad the players through a buffet of Mary Sue NPCs and might actually allow them to sink their teeth into the setting, it's just easier to turn this zombie superman (who should be able to kill any hero with a glance) into a mobile plot mcguffin.
At one point in the adventure, the heroes have to sneak into this heavily fortified fortress in order to claim some kind of plot coupon, and they have reason to interact with this creepy old man-thing that calls himself Ol' Pete. Basically, Ol' Pete pulls a Sean Connery and he's the only person who ever broke out of this fortress and lived to tell the tale, so the players are supposed to team up with him so that they can sneak into the fort and retrieve whatever it was that they were looking for. In a surprising turn of events that fails to surprise anyone, Ol' Pete double-crosses the players and tries to trap them inside the dungeon. However, Ol' Pete then reveals himself to be
Stone from the future
(the same one that turns into Hell on Earth) and the designers throw in this little sidebar about how really astute players will likely have guessed this turn of events, not because they completely broadcasted the double cross as soon as the whole contrived dungeon mission was brought up, but
because the designers actually thought there would be someone who was academically educated in the critical analysis of the Bible as a literary work and would then be playing their silly game
Okay, so why would they make such an outlandish assumption, and what does it mean? Basically, there's a passage in the New Testament where Jesus is referring to his disciple Peter, and he prophesies that Peter will become the setting stone / foundation that Christianity builds its church on. See what they did there? Stone = Ol' Pete!
Why, that's as clear as day, and isn't at all something that no rational person ever, for any reason, would ever bother to contemplate while playing a silly game about cowboys that use science to shoot zombies. Even better is that they've written their mega adventure in such a way that even if someone, somewhere, did manage to somehow figure that out (or more likely just decided that they didn't want to follow some creepy old dude into an impregnable dungeon), the players basically reach a stopping block in the adventure. Either they go with the dude willingly, or the GM has to ask the players nicely to just go along with the story, or maybe he's a dick and the players suddenly get ambushed and knocked out and wake up in the dungeon anyway.
So there's my story about a really obtuse reference in DeadLands. It's been years since I've even read the relevant part of that adventure, but the absurdity of their expectation that anyone would get that has always stayed with me.
Original SA post
So, DeadLands – I absolutely love the mechanics and the general concept of the setting, but the actual execution leaves something to be desired. My enjoyment of the game probably comes from a childhood spent watching John Wayne and Clint Eastwood films (my mom was a huge western fan), and I really enjoyed the ways in which they integrated the use of a 52 card deck as a core game mechanic (character creation, spell casting, combat order). BUT, I’m not doing this to talk about what I liked about DeadLands, I’m doing this to fill in the holes in the backstory that I created when I briefly discussed some of the more obtuse design decisions made towards the end of one of their mega adventures. Also, there was some interest expressed earlier by people who had missed out on all the meta-plot behind DeadLands, so hopefully this will serve as a handy primer.
I’m jumping straight into the Marshall’s Handbook here, because it’s the best place to start. While the Player’s Guide offered a taste of what was going on in the meta-plot from the perspective of what a player’s character might conceivably know, it also has an annoying habit of tossing out just enough information on a person or place to get you interested in what might be going on, and then like an excited six year old who has just been told a secret, says “GUESS WHAT? *giggle* NOTHING! I CAN’T TELL YOU! *giggle*”. So I’m going to start with the Marshall’s Handbook, but (I think) I’ve got most of the source books that were released for the DeadLands line, so if there’s a consensus on which area of the imaginary United States in the pretend year of 1876 you’d like to see next, I should be able to provide some insight.
EPILOGUE: THE PROSPECTOR’S TALE
The book immediately begins with an in-character narrative that puts the reader in the position of being a zombie cowboy who was just recently dug up by a mysterious figure who calls himself the Prospector. Turns out that one time minor league prospector Coot Jenkins got all caught up in the machinations of the evil powers that are threatening to tear the world apart (he found a portal to hell and he’s one of the few people aware of the reason why certain cow pokes are suddenly coming back from the dead) and now that he’s seen the man behind the curtain, so to speak, he’s put his mind towards doing everything in his power to stop the forces of evil. It’s pretty indicative of the meta-plot as a whole that the book opens with a narrative by one of the super important GM NPCs. At any rate, The Prospector informs us that there’s an agent of evil running around as of late (Stone, for those of you who saw my previous post) who seems to be specifically targeting the good guy zombie cowboys, and he seems to know exactly how to put them down for good (because outside of a very specific method, pretty much any character who comes back from the dead once can do it almost indefinitely). With that explained, the book transitions into:
CHAPTER ONE: THERE WILL COME A RECKONING
This chapter breaks down the basics of the setting in a little more detail than what was provided in the Player’s Guide (but not much more, as we’ll see in a second). It opens by explaining that every legend or story that any culture ever came up with about monsters or demons or devils were all true, or at least based on real events. They get classified into two different categories:
are physical monsters like the wolf-man or a vampire, while spirits are generally referred to as
. See, there’s this spiritual plane, which the book calls the Hunting Grounds, that exists parallel to our world that basically serves as a conduit for all manner of supernatural creatures to come and go from our planet. Spirits that you encounter in the Hunting Grounds can be either benign (nature spirits) or more likely evil (manitous); abominations are generally manitou that have managed to corrupt the soul of a mortal and inhabited their body, or managed to accumulate so much spiritual power that they just manifest spontaneously.
Additionally, by traveling the Hunting Grounds in one direction long enough, a spirit can reach their eternal reward or their eternal punishment. Truly crafty people or spirits can use the Hunting Grounds as a means of crossing large temporal distances relatively quickly, but it’s incredibly dangerous to attempt because the Hunting Grounds are basically an entirely subjective environment where time and distance are arbitrary and your greatest fears will more than likely manifest and attempt to consume your soul, or trick you into gambling your soul away so that they can head back to your filthy, meaty body and wreak havoc in the real world.
Manitous, it is explained, drink negative human emotions for sustenance (fear, envy, hated, etc.) and are responsible for transmitting a portion of what they consume back to a special portion of the Hunting Grounds called the DeadLands (basically a euphemism for hell, and the source of the game’s title). See, all of these horrible spirits are actually indebted to the
bad guys of the setting, the ominous and mysterious
! Yes, these guys are so bad and evil and nasty that every other spirit / abomination tithes them a portion of the fear that they harvest, because evidently they are supremely terrifying and supremely powerful. But hey, if these Reckoner dudes are so dastardly, they must figure pretty prominently into the meta-plot right?
MOTHER FUCK PINNACLE
”DeadLands Marshall’s Handbook” posted:
You’ve heard a lot about the mysterious and powerful puppetmasters behind this whole Reckoning thing. Hopefully, you’re curious about who they really are and what they’re really up to.
We’re not going to tell you.
Well, not here anyway. You see, some secrets are so big they take a whole other game to hold them, and that’s the case with the Reckoner’s Identity.
If you really want to know who the Reckoners are, check out DeadLand’s sister game Hell on Earth. You won’t regret it.
You’re on page 8 of the god damn GM guide, and you’re already telling us that this book isn’t really the GM guide, because it’s not going to give us all the information we might need, and if we want the Real Story, you’d better be interested in forking over some more scratch for another book that we haven’t published yet! Fuck yeah man, how could this business model fail?
Anyway, the Reckoners bank most of their fear tax returns in the demonic version of Roth IRAs and government backed mortgage securities, but they always spend enough of it back on Earth to keep the supernatural levels high enough that more manitous and abominations can harass the puny humans, thus creating more torment and suffering, ultimately creating a self-reinforcing cycle. No one really knows what the Reckoners are saving all that spiritual energy for (and I’m sure that the sequel game being named
Hell on Earth
is in no way indicative of what their plans might involve), but it’s probably not anything that’s going to benefit humanity and turn the world back into the Garden of Eden. Supposedly, this process has been going on since the dawn of human history, and it attempts to give a canonical explanation as to why all of our ancient societies had stories about gods and dragons and demons and etc.
BUT THEN a group of Native American shamen, simply called the Old Ones, decide they’ve had enough of these evil spirits fucking with humanity and decide to do something about it. Why Native Americans? Well, at its most basic level DeadLands is a game of cowboys and Indians vs. zombies, and they had to give some context for why you would want to play as a native outside of the traditional wild west context of being scalping, raping, child abducting savages, so instead they go with the equally patronizing “noble savage” narrative. Why didn’t anyone else from anywhere try this before? The book doesn’t even address this issue; I guess the Europeans were too busy dying from the Black Plague (which was actually started by a mortal agent of the Reckoners, but I’m getting ahead of myself) and the Chinese were too busy being wuxia kung-fu monks (again, this is the broad brush that Deadlands paints any Asian hero with). So the Old Ones tear open a physical portal to the Hunting Grounds (no small task) and team up with the friendly Nature Spirits in order to combat the Manitous and the Reckoners. Ultimately, the Old Ones realize that they can’t actually kill the Reckoners, but they can seal them away into the depths of the Hunting Grounds where they won’t be able to treat humans like mobile juice boxes full of delicious spiritual essence. The trade-off here is that the Old Ones have to close the door they opened into the Hunting Grounds behind them, permanently imprisoning themselves along with the Reckoners. Being such noble savages, they make the sacrifice, and humanity is freed from the predatory efforts of the Reckoners for “hundreds of years”.
But the setting would be pretty boring if everything ended there.
NEXT TIME: A TALE OF VENGENCE or THERE’S GOOD GUY INDIANS AND BAD GUY INDIANS, BUT EUROPEANS DON’T GIVE ANY FUCKS ABOUT EITHER GROUP
The antagonists in this series are remarkably poor schemers
Original SA post
DEADLANDS: THE ANTAGONISTS IN THIS SERIES ARE REMARKABLY POOR SCHEMERS
So last we left off, the book was doing a pretty decent job of giving us just enough information about things that might be important enough to maybe consider developing further. Bottom line: abominations and manitous really exist and they come from a place called the Hunting Grounds and they work for some mysterious entities called the Reckoners. Some Native American shamen calling themselves the Old Ones get tired of watching their friends and family get savaged by these monsters and decide to go fight them on their home turf – this goes about as well as can be expected, until they realize they can just close the door to the Hunting Grounds behind them and keep all those horrible spirits locked out of the material plane. This plan actually works for “hundreds of years” until . . .
In 1763 a wild
approaches! This dude began his life as a Susquehanna shaman, and supposedly he was quite the prodigy – he could hear the voices of the spirits loud and clearly, despite the fact that (I assume hundreds of years ago) the Old Ones had permanently sealed all of the spirits in the Hunting Grounds. He’s finishing his training on a secluded mountain top, chillin’ with his spirit bros, and just when they’re all good and toasted and the spirits have loosened up enough to fill his ears about the sacrifices of the Old Ones, the bro-down gets interrupted by the sounds of musket fire. Turns out some white settlers butchered his entire tribe, and since he’s late to the party he decides to just skulk around the perimeter rather than engage the white men. Raven is understandably bitter about this whole encounter, and decides that he’s going to get his revenge by scouring the other native tribes for braves who feel just as angry he does, and ultimately lead his war party (called the “Last Sons” because he is the last son of his tribe) against the whites. As he’s doing this, he’s supposedly wandering to every holy place and speaking with every medicine man and accumulating as much arcane power as he can. At some point, he learns how to live forever without having to go through the process that your average zombie does, although the actual process isn’t explained here.
Although most of the tribes he visits aren’t too keen with what he’s preaching and kick him out more or less immediately, there’s usually one or two disaffected youths who like the cut of his jib and they sneak away in the night to join his Last Sons. After literally a century (we’re in 1863 now according to the book) Raven decides his ranks have swelled enough to enact his master plan – he’s going to tear open the door to the Hunting Grounds that the Old Ones sealed, hunt them down one by one, and after slaying them, hopefully turn the manitous and abominations on the white men. Although the book mentions that Raven figured out the secret to eternal life (and although it’s never spelled out, one can eventually make an educated guess as to how this happened, after reading enough of the meta-plot) it never says anything about how the other braves who joined him managed to last over a century without dying from old age, if nothing else. It doesn’t mention that there’s ever any women in the group (as they’re a war band) and at this point in the setting the ambient supernatural energy levels on Earth are at an all-time low, so it’s not like he’s been able to just kill all these dudes and raise them as zombies or anything. Whatever, he’s mad, he’s got a poorly thought out plan for revenge, let’s roll with it.
D-Day happens, Raven rips a hole in the time-space continuum, leads his Last Sons into the Hunting Grounds, and hunts down each and every one of the Old Ones and murders them. Despite the fact that all of the Old Ones were Native Americans (if not members of Raven’s tribe) and willingly sacrificed themselves to seal all the monsters away from the earth, and that he has
literally no reason to assume that the manitous will repay his act of liberation with cooperation
Raven and the Last Sons murder death kill all of the Old Ones and set the manitous loose across the Earth. Basically, Raven justifies this to the Last Sons by explaining that the Old Ones are race traitors for sealing away all of the spirits, thus limiting the amount of potential spiritual power they could have used to fight against the Europeans. This just so happens so occur on July 3, 1863, at the culmination of the Battle of Gettysburg during the U.S. Civil War. The combination of countless manitous with centuries of pent up rage being released while one of the bloodiest battles in the nation’s history is waged resurrects the Reckoners from their torpor and shoves the world off the deep end. The Reckoners are understandably pissed that some puny humans managed to seal them away for such a long time, and decide that this time they’re not going to play the long con and slowly whittle the fear and horror out of humans, instead they’re going to drown the planet with so much terror that the whole place turns into one giant DeadLand and they can physically manifest and usher in an unending age of really bad things.
Only then the next paragraph explains that the Reckoners aren’t going to go guns blazing and allow manitous free reign over humanity, spawning as many abominations as possible, they’re going to keep the horror at the periphery of human perception and slowly whittle the fear and horror out of humans. On top of that, the Reckoners decide that they don’t even want the abominations and manitous that they do allow to harass humans to know that they’re doing it for the benefit of the Reckoners, so only a select few bad guys actually know why they’re so gosh darn evil (I guess all of the other skinless zombie who subsist on the flesh of the living are just misunderstood).
Anywho, this brings the first chapter of the Marshall’s Guide to a close. We’re sort of maybe kinda given something that approaches a reason for the actions of the antagonists in the series, but nothing really makes sense and it probably would have been easier to just say “the bad guys are literally the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and they hate people because they’re evil” but I guess that wouldn’t have had the added benefit of unnecessarily trying to tie the pretend motivations of the villains in a make believe game to tangentially related real world events.
The best part? Allowing abominations and manitous to wreak havoc on the human race
isn’t even the Reckoner’s actual master plan.
NEXT TIME: REALLY BAD GUYS SHORT THE FUTURES MARKET AND TRICK UNSUSPECTING PEOPLE INTO MAKING UNSUSTAINABLE INVESTMENTS
Man is always the real monster
Original SA post
DEADLANDS: MAN IS ALWAYS THE REAL MONSTER
I know I ended last time talking about how the Reckoners have this ultra-elaborate scheme to slowly corrupt the will of human beings and turn their greatest fears into reality, with the ultimate plan of making the Earth a mirror of Hell so that they can physically manifest and rule the planet or something (again, their motivations aren’t well explained), but a couple people have been talking about how incongruous the mechanics and the fluff get in this setting, and I figure now’s a fine time to go over them, especially because they’re included in the second chapter of the Marshall’s Guide!
I’ve always interpreted DeadLands to be a game of cowboys and Indians vs. zombies, and when the designers talk about how terrible all of these monsters are supposed to be, how they are literally the physical embodiment of people’s nightmares, I imagine that their tongue is planted firmly in cheek. Or maybe it’s more like a suggestion on how the game could be run, but it’s not mandated as
way to run the game. Well, it turns out that if you’re going to play with the rules as written, I’m completely off the mark. Chapter 2 is all about how to run the game (mundane stuff like how long it takes to travel by foot over a given distance, how long it takes for someone to send and receive a telegram, the fiddly bits of the setting IMO) and it’s got pretty explicit rules for how the Reckoners and their minions should be treated, and how the players should react to these situations.
The chapter offers a little more detail into the Reckoners, and explains that they’re more powerful than the players in the same way that a player character is more powerful than an ant. They can warp the physical landscape of an area, grant arcane powers to mortals who are foolish enough to sell their souls, and even create abominations out of thin air. It even gives you explicit instructions that the monsters don’t have to have any kind of ecology or even make sense relative to the events in a given area, because the Reckoners are crazy like that. One of the points that the designers immediately contradict themselves on is regarding the power level of their make believe antagonists; after being told that they can pretty much do whatever needs to happen for you to tell an interesting story, they insist that the Reckoners aren’t omnipotent and that they can’t directly kill anyone or force anyone to do their bidding. Clearly, those two concepts are a little incongruous, so the designers immediately explain that the whole point of what makes the Reckoners scary is supposed to be that human beings are willing to throw away their souls and suffer eternal damnation if only they can have a little temporal power over other mortals in the meantime. Even this point gets one significant exception (another god-NPC called Reverend Grimme that we’ll get to eventually, but the long and short of it is that he’s 100% a monster the Reckoners created in order to spread more terror) and the whole section just seems like they really couldn’t decide what role they really wanted horror to play. It seems like they want the whole game to have this Faustian vibe of man being the true monster, but the supernatural elements eventually get so outlandish that there’s no way they can inflict the kind of intimate, personal horror that kind of approach necessitates.
Take Stone, for example (and not just because the next page in the book does). Here, the book explains that he’s the undead enforcer for the Reckoners and it’s his job to assassinate any character that gets to be too big a thorn in the sides of the Reckoners (basically any good hero that gains too many levels). They explain how he’s got every supernatural power and every skill at rank 1000000 and no one can hope to survive combat with him and you should use him to keep your players in line, because nothing validates the heroic epic they have created like being gunned down by some god-NPC. But even putting all that aside for a second, there’s still the problem that Stone really has no character motivation besides “kill good guys”. For a game that wants to be all about regular people trying their best to stand up against the unrelenting forces of chaos, and wants to highlight the fact that the “heroes” and the “villains” are just two sides of the same coin, it really doesn’t make any sense to have one of your two main antagonists completely lacking some kind of human side that players can empathize with (maybe even seeing a twisted reflection of their own gunslinger who isn’t afraid to take the law into his own hands and stops at nothing to pursue his quarry). Hell, even Raven, whom the designers promptly forgot existed after introducing in Chapter 1, is given some kind of (admittedly flimsy) in-character motivation for his actions. Instead, Stone gets to be zombie superman terminator, and you just better hope you never cross his path.
So anyway, the designers are feeling pretty pumped about their Call of Cthulhu style cowboy shoot ‘em up, and they decide to go whole hog and throw in mechanics for fear and insanity related effects because why not? There’s a ton of shit in this chapter about how to use ambiance and lighting and music and mood to run a scary game, and some of it is actually pretty decent, especially if you weren’t terribly familiar with the whole process of being a GM. That’s all well and good, but how does the game mechanically handle fear? As previously mentioned, abominations and manitous and the Reckoners thrive on fear, and so they all work together to try and make the Earth as spooky as possible. Essentially the earth itself begins to warp and twist as the local fear levels rise, and the game provides six levels of fear (well technically seven because the scale starts at zero but hey who’s counting) which range from “nothing, no ambient fear” at level 0, to “the earth has literally been replaced by a sentient chunk of Hell” at level 6; accordingly monsters get more powerful and heroes experience bigger penalties to their actions as the local fear level rises. Heroes can lower the fear level in an area when they kill a big bad, and the big bad can raise the local fear level by being evil and frightening children from under their beds (an actual monster in the game does precisely this) or whatever they do.
In addition to all that, both abominations, and otherwise frightening encounters, can have their own terror level, which is how the game tries to quantify just how scary something should be. Encountering a monster or other grisly scene requires that each hero makes a
check against a target number relative to the difficulty of the encounter, and these range from a TN of 3 (having a strange event described to you; seeing someone with a nasty wound) to a TN of 13 (seeing a creature that defies imagination; grisly carnage that serves some kind of purpose that man was not meant to know). My issue with the mechanics of this is that
is a skill, that must be purchased just like the ability to ride a horse or shoot a gun or understand architecture, but since failing a Terror check can have serious negative effects on a character (heart attacks which might kill you, developing mental disorders, etc.), it doesn’t seem quite fair to force characters to either spend skill points on their own longevity, or else disadvantage those who don’t in favor of those who do (especially when you consider that having fun powers like spell casting or being a super zombie costs skill points to purchase at character creation). It’d be like if you had to spend skill points in order to “buy” your character’s hit points (and after reading Ettin’s walkthrough of the CT book, I’m beginning to see a lot of the same lame design flaws). But I digress.
My other big problem here is that the style of game that actually supports some kind of mechanical horror system needs to be all about pacing and subtlety, and has to put the characters at a very real disadvantage relative to the monsters they face. Sure, you can drive around in a pickup full of dynamite in CoC and hope to blow that shoggoth back to hell, but you’re probably going to die in the process, and dynamite is utterly ineffective against the fact that the universe is utterly inimical to human beings and our mere existence is little more than a cosmic fluke in the grand scheme of things. By contrast, in DeadLands it’s entirely likely that at least one character is going to start off as a zombie cowboy, if not guaranteed that over the course of gameplay someone else is going to turn into one, and once your game crosses that threshold you basically become an undead superhero (based on the way that DeadLands treats the powers you inherit from dying). There’s no compelling reason that some dude who has literally dug himself out of his own grave would ever be concerned with the way some monster looks when he catches a glimpse of it in the moonlight; instead the super zombie is just going to use his steampunk minigun flamethrower tank to blow the thing to kingdom come. Well, I’m not being entirely fair here, as they do make a nominal attempt to justify why all these good guy zombies might still be worried about whether they're going to gain night vision or Wolverine-style claws from slaying a pack of werewolves, but in my defense the designers didn’t put a whole lot of thought into what their mechanics implied about the setting in pretty much every case. As a matter of opinion, I’m starting to think that all the rules about horror and terror were tacked on after the fact to try and balance out the lopsided power levels that an undead hero gets, but now I’m going on a tangent.
At any rate, DeadLands works better for me when it’s more like a John Wayne movie with zombies, and not trying to ape some kind of CoC level the-devil’s-in-the-details horror. More Evil Dead or Shaun of the Dead than Se7en or Naked Lunch.
NEXT TIME: WE GET BACK TO THE ‘HISTORY’ OF THE WORLD I SWEAR
The Spookiest Investment Scheme Ever!
Original SA post
Sorry for the lull in updating, but I was inexplicably occupied this weekend with my ceremonial duties.
DEADLANDS: THE SPOOKIEST INVESTMENT SCHEME EVER!
So the update before last, I mentioned that the Reckoners, those inscrutable paragons of evil, were not exactly the most consistently well thought out villains (well, RAW anyway, an enterprising GM can make anything work). Sure, the setting wants to present them as this mysterious force of evil that is thoroughly insurmountable, and presents several justifications for their activities following their multi-century imprisonment, but a lot of it seemed contradictory and it ultimately felt like the designers couldn’t decide what role they wanted “horror” to play in their setting – they seem to swing from Dead Rising style “zombies exist but big deal everyone just pops off a headshot and moves along” to CoC levels of “the devil’s in the details” Faustian story design. I guess it’s probably fair to conclude that they wanted to leave the door open for whatever kind of adventure your Marshall wanted to tell.
Well anyway, the accumulated backstory thus far ends right about the time that the game begins. Raven and his Last Sons murder all of the Old Ones that were keeping all the abominations and manitous and the Reckoners concealed, and now they just assume that these evil spirits and physical manifestations of human suffering are just going to cooperate with whatever cockamamie scheme Raven has cooked up. Big surprise, they decide not to do that, and instead decide to take the necessary steps to allow the spiritual realm of Hell (or the DeadLands, if you’re not of a particularly Judeo-Christian bent) to physically manifest and envelope the Earth. As previously mentioned, the Reckoners already use abominations and manitous as their foot soldiers, sending them to Earth to either consort with and tempt mortals into betraying their fellow man for their own selfish gain, or to scare those who won’t be corrupted into generating some kind of fear tax that the Reckoners can then use as a down payment on the portions of Earth that Hell forecloses on. The designers explain that the manitous and abominations have to be a little bit subtle about this or else people won’t be afraid anymore and then they won’t be able to consume their delicious delicious fear and I guess the Reckoners would be pretty bummed about all that.
But that’s not their only plan for world domination (it’s basically the “a wizard did it” explanation for why there’s zombies and vampires in my cowboy game), they’re also really big on insider trading and market manipulation. See, the Reckoners figured out, years before anyone else, that the real money is in shorting futures markets and screwing the small time investors with unsustainable market fluctuations. So how do they accomplish this goal? Well, around the time that Raven and his Last Sons bust the Reckoners out of their interdimensional prison in the Hunting Grounds, the remaining Nature Spirits (the ones that are more or less neutral towards humanity, and are only the “good ones” in an enemy of my enemy sort of way) get pretty pissed about the whole affair and decide to bust a major earthquake across the coast of what would become California. This effectively shatters the coast (from the Mexico border all the way to nearly the top of Cali, and as far inland as Lost Angeles [not-Los Angeles]) into a series of winding canyons and crevasses, and the whole area gets dubbed The Great Maze. The Reckoners decide that they’re going to spawn a ton of a very unique mineral all throughout the Great Maze, and just litter the place with what the setting calls Ghost Rock (think the generic “mineral” resource from StarCraft but colored an opaque white rather than neon blue).
Here's a neat-o picture of the kinds of trouble you can find in the Great Maze!
Yes, that's a Maze Dragon and it's basically one of the Reckoner's failed experiments. It became so common that people just assume it's some kind of Jurassic relic that got released after the Great Quake, and not some physical manifestation of evil.
It’s called Ghost Rock for a variety of reasons (and not just because it fits with the theme of the Reckoners and their minions inhabiting Hell). As far as humans are concerned, it’s a super mineral that burns one hundred times hotter and longer than coal, and when heat is introduced it gives off a ghostly white vapor, and the escaping gasses “howl like the Devil hisself”. This new mineral basically supplants the demand for what would have been coal in the real world expansion of the west, and serves a double purpose in DeadLands because where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and obviously the designers wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to detail just how spooky this Ghost Rock stuff is unless it was clearly related to the Reckoners in some way. You see, the Reckoners gave Ghost Rock properties that would be useful to humans because they’re basically glorified drug pushers – by making human development dependent on a magical mineral that only they can produce, they can force booms and busts to occur in specific areas and induce both the greed and violence that comes from someone finding a fresh strike, and the desperation and depression that occurs when a strike runs dry. First they get you hooked on their smack, then the own your ass. Additionally, it turns out that Ghost Rock is literally made of the solidified souls of the damned (which explains why it howls like a demon when burned) and there’s even rules that state that a character who dies near a significant supply of Ghost Rock may very well get his or her soul sucked straight into the stuff, forgoing whatever afterlife they should have experienced, and ultimately facing oblivion once the chunk that contained their soul gets burned in some furnace somewhere.
So as you can see, the Reckoners are trying to approach this “turn Earth into a DeadLand” pretty seriously, and they’re approaching the problem from several different angles. They want to get humans hooked on Ghost Rock so that they can manipulate our addiction in whatever ways will produce the most pain and suffering, and on top of that they’re going to send their thugs to your door for some protection money on the first of every month. Personally, I find the whole manipulation of our resources angle a whole lot more interesting (and better implemented in the setting) than their explanation for why there’s monsters wandering around, but that’s more a matter of personal taste than any kind of objective badness on their part. Basically, the Reckoners are going after your wallet, going after your ass, and going after your literal soul. Up against all that, what chances do the forces of good stand?
NEXT TIME: SOME OF THE RECKONER’S OTHER MAJOR PLAYERS
ARCANE BACKGROUNDS PROVE THAT ALL MEN WEREN’T CREATED EQUAL
Pick which direction you’d like me to cover first! I’m leaning towards the Reckoner’s other big hitters, but a couple folks expressed interest in dissecting just how imbalanced the Arcane Background system can get.
Ode to Bible Fanfiction
Original SA post
DEADLANDS: PINNACLE’S ODE TO BIBLE FAN FICTION
NICE PETE WOULD BE PROUD
THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS NOT ACTUALLY REVEALED UNTIL THE CULMINATION OF THE DEADLANDS STORYLINE AND IS ULTIMATELY REVEALED DURING THE EVENTS OF HELL ON EARTH! IF FOR SOME REASON YOU WANT TO CONTINUE THROUGH THE REST OF MY UPDATES WITH THE KNOWLEDGE AS IT WOULD BE PRESENTED, FEEL FREE TO SKIP THIS AND RE-READ THE CREEPY CTHULHU TECH SHIT THAT ETTIN HAS BEEN GRACIOUSLY POSTING OR SOMETHING
Because Mystic Mongol requested it, I’m going to jump ahead quite a bit here and break out one of the biggest revelations in the DeadLands metaplot. Who are the Reckoners? Everything in the main DeadLands line keeps them dark and mysterious, allowing them to serve as the big bads behind the scenes that put all of this terrible shit into motion, but aren’t ever actually confronted by the players, unless your Marshal is *gasp*
ignoring the intricately laid machinations of the designers!
One thing that I always found actually interesting is that the books try their hardest to make sure that no one mythology or spiritual interpretation of the supernatural is the “correct” one. The spirits and the plane they inhabit are named
the Hunting Grounds
because the Native Americans were the solution to, and cause of, all of the Earth’s problems with the Reckoners, but when you actually read the setting information on the Hunting Grounds, the book (
if you’re interested, because god knows no Marshal would want the rules for something so important in the Marshal’s Guide) makes it pretty clear that the place is a subjective reality, where every visitor sees a representation of what their faith (or lack thereof) supports – thus you’ve got the Native American motif if a Shaman or Brave wanders through, some wacky book of Revelation shit for your Blessed or your average gunslinger, and some kind of hysterical, inverse nightmare if a Huckster were to pass on by.
At any rate, I always felt like the designers tried their best to keep the spiritual playing field level, which was a pretty necessary decision considering that they tried to have all of these “opposing” spiritual narratives co-exist in universe in their setting. One of the major conceits of the setting is that in order for all of these different faiths to all be correct, the evil has to be monolithic, and the good has to interact with the players very indirectly. As a matter of fact, that’s the literal reason the designers came up with to explain why the existence of a bunch of evil spirits that directly meddle in the affairs of humans either wasn’t immediately stopped by the forces of good, sparking a protracted spiritual war with Earth as the battlefield. Sometime shortly after the creation of human beings, good and evil decide that they’re both going to be pretty hands off with these new little creatures and let them decide for themselves how they’re going to develop. Only the forces of evil immediately renege on this deal because, duh, they’re evil, and harass humanity with ghosts and goblins and all sorts of evil shit. Good decides that evil should always win, because good is dumb, and they keep their end of the bargain, only ever helping out humanity indirectly, and rarely, if ever, manifesting on the material plane in order to kick some righteous butt. For some reason, a good deed doesn’t count as a good deed if someone is forced into doing it (and I think the logic here is that if an Angel or Buddha himself or whomever physically manifested and told you what to do, you’d obviously do it no questions asked, which is a form of coercion I guess?) but people who willingly trade their souls for arcane power and consort with demons because they offer the lowest spiritual interest rates are evil with a capital E (as opposed to, say, intensely pragmatic and willing to shop around for the best deal on their limited spiritual income).
So anyway, just who, or what, are the Reckoners? Well, if you’re well versed in your Judeo-Christian mythology (and clearly the game expects you to be, as indicated by the bullshit Stone = Ol’ Pete shenanigans, and the fact that the Blessed even exist)
the answer still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense!
First, enough blue balling,
the Reckoners are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
. There’s War, Famine, Plague, and Death, and they each have vaguely defined powers that roughly equate to their motif, as well as possessing some kind of spectral steed that also suits their domain, as well as having the ability to spawn avatars of themselves that are also thematically linked to the particular method of ruining humanity they represent.
is the burly drummer of the band. He comes decked in ominous looking, solid black, full plate mail forged from the souls of the dead and is a master of, you guessed it, every form of warfare that has ever existed or will ever exist. He has a red, skeletal visage underneath his dread armor, and he rides a spiked warhorse with flaming hooves when he needs to get around. WAR’s average minions are these bizarre bone golem looking things with bladed arms, and his avatar in the DeadLands setting is none other than
is the wispy, emo bassist. She looks like a corpse that died via starvation (with the bloated belly and everything) and comes wrapped in a sarong that was woven from the souls of the dead! Her domains are starvation and gluttony, because one can directly lead to the other I guess, and she rides a pale blue horse that looks like it’s rotting from the inside out (HoE SPOILER COMING IN HOT
When she finally manifests in the City of Lost Angels, the long redeemed members of Reverend Grimme’s Flock of Lost Angels manage to summon a ball of holy fire from the sky and completely incinerate her mount. Unfortunately for everyone else, she survives unscathed. This is pretty much the only time that the forces of good ever seem to get directly involved in the proceedings of mortals
). Anyway, her minions are called Faminites (they are basically zombies in the Raccoon City vein, in as much as once they bite you, you’re going to need to either smoke a Smith & Weston or turn into a Faminite yourself; this is actually not the way that basic zombies work in DeadLands) and her avatar in the DeadLands setting is the fearsome
(or Pestilence, he’s easy like a Sunday morning) is the lead guitarist that shreds out the tasty jams. He resembles a corpse that is so covered with boils and tumors and pustules that it’s difficult to whether or not it was originally human, and I’m not able to immediately recall what he’s adorned with (I figure cancerous growths that sprout eyes and teeth or something). He’s the father of all disease, and his horse’s flesh is red and covered in toxic boils. His minions are pretty cool, in that they can be any damn thing that gets infected with this special disease that only he can create, which basically acts like those creepy sentient fungi that symbiotically replace the nervous system of ants, and place their host under the permanent, direct control of Plague. He is responsible for such memorable events in human history as the Black Plague, and his DeadLands Avatar is the illustrious
PROF. DARIUS HELLSTROME
is the leader of the band, the guy that all the zombie chicks swoon over. He’s the pale, skeletal rider, garbed in a simple robe and wielding a massive scythe. He rides a pale horse, and hell follows with him. His domain is anything that has ever died, and any method that could possibly be conceived of to kill someone, so understandably he’s the big boss here. His rank-and-file minions are actually the lamest of the bunch (just boring old zombies) but he has domain over every other Reckoner’s minions as well (because everything that dies ultimately serves Death) and it’s mentioned that his more powerful minions are the stuff of nightmares. Death’s avatar is everyone’s favorite zombie superman terminator,
Here’s where Pinnacle decides to write some Bible fan-fiction. In the Book of Revelation, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are angels sent by God to signal the end times, such that the Earth will become as Hell and the true believers can ascend to their eternal reward while the sinners rot in misery. They’re important because they’re among a select few angels to actually be given names and specific roles, but they’re ultimately servants of God’s will. They aren’t bad guy monsters that take some kind of perverse joy in tearing mankind a new asshole, they’re just divine constructs that were created to fulfill a very specific function, and are largely inimical to the role of humans in this process.
Well, instead of that, DeadLands decides that
spills the beans to these angels about their larger role in the grand scheme of creation (well before the Apocalypse was ever scheduled to happen) and for some reason the Four Horsemen decide that now they don’t want to be a part of God’s plan, and instead defect to the side of evil and decide to torment humanity for their own gain or something. This is awesomely ironic because although maybe they weren’t intended to take pleasure in their purpose, they were basically created to usher in all of the suffering on Earth anyway, so it’s not like they’re exactly giving God’s plan a big middle finger here. Sure, they’re working at it in a very indirect way, and they’re performing their duties slowly over the centuries instead of all at once in an orgy of destruction, but it’s not like they canceled the Apocalypse and fucked off to sunny Barbados for eternity. Also, their motivation for deserting the Heavenly Host is equally flimsy; it’s something like “well once you’ve done your job ushering in the apocalypse, God won’t have any use for you any longer and then He will do something you won’t enjoy, like completely unmake you”. Plus, their plan doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, even within the context of this wacky setting, it’s basically:
“Screw working for God!”
STEP 1: Let’s turn Earth into Hell and consume the souls of all the humans!
STEP 2: ?????
STEP 3: PROFIT
For me, the most disappointing part about all of this is that the designers spent a good portion of the setting trying to be evenly balanced with the game’s spiritual hullabaloo, not cementing any particular belief or creed as the “correct” one (although if you look at the power levels of say, the Blessed, and compare them to, say, a Shaman, you might infer something else), and then at the end of the DeadLands line they just say “fuck it, it was Jesus all along suckers!” and make the Christian mythology the default one. There’s not even any kind of flimsy rationalization like “well in the year 2081 the majority of the world’s population had converted to Christianity and so via the rules of a subjective, shared reality, the Reckoners are recognized as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Plus, it’s like they’re not even totally committed to their Bible fan-fiction, because they never address who, or what, convinced the Four Horsemen to defect in the first place, and they definitely never bother to explain what greater purpose or plan this served; these last two omissions are the most bizarre to me because with as much metaplot as the designers of DeadLands loved coming up with, I have to image the absence here was due to monetary reasons and not for lack of wanting to come up with even more contrived bullshit. Even more outlandish is the fact that
there’s at least two different, entirely alien species aside from humanity
that get introduced in the setting (one at the end of DeadLands and one that is pretty damn central to Lost Colony) and there’s never any explanation as to how this could possibly mesh with a deterministic, Judeo-Christian inspired universe.
So anyway, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the Reckoners and they’ve got some vaguely defined reasons for working against Heaven (because Christianity is the only true interpretation of the cosmos) and if you don’t like it then the major narrative arc of the game isn’t going to make any sense whatsoever! It’s either some poorly thought out bullshit, or a masterful troll (in the same vein as ICP) to teach role players the importance of Christ’s message, and maybe save some of their eternal souls in the process.
NEXT TIME: THE POWER LEVELS ARE SO IMBALANCED IT'S A LOT LIKE WATCHING DRAGON BALL Z
A Journey of 1000 Miles
Original SA post
DeadLands Devil's Tower Trilogy - Adventure 1: Road to Hell
Click here for the full 518x675 image
Well, here it is. This is the first part of a mega-adventure trilogy that Pinnacle released in order to tie together their original campaign setting (DeadLands) with their second campaign setting (Hell on Earth). It is a pretty solid example of what was wrong with gaming (and specifically published adventure materials) in the late 90’s – it’s almost entirely driven by the machinations of NPCs that hopelessly outmatch the players, there are massive info-dumps that the players have to sit through (or else a lot of what’s going on isn’t going to make much sense), and the content of the adventure jumps the plot coherency shark on a rocket cycle to the moon by the time the players have reached the final part of the trilogy. It is also a ton of fun to play as long as everyone is willing to roll with the punches and just have a great time trying to save the future from the past.
Before I get into everything, I do want to clarify that I genuinely like DeadLands (and even Hell on Earth and Lost Colony). Although some of the mechanics are wonky and certain classes are totally imbalanced and most of the metaplot doesn’t hold up to even casual scrutiny, the mechanics are a hoot and the setting is pretty entertaining as long as you don’t take everything too seriously. I know I come across as the cynical asshole compared to Mystic Mongol’s wide-eyed enthusiasm, but DeadLands is bad in a good way (like EvilDead or Drive Angry) which is where a lot of its charm comes from. While it’s easy to nit-pick the plot inconsistencies and character balance issues, it’s nowhere near the level of utter filth like Cthulhu Tech or most supplements released for oWoD or FATAL. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s still damn fun to play.
Also, I’ve included some annotations for important people, places, and things that get mentioned throughout the adventure, and at the end of each update I’ll do my best to explain why these things are important. The book actually does something similar in order to make the adventure more accessible to people who didn’t bother to buy every single splatbook that got published, and I felt like it was quite a pleasant departure from their usual M.O. of blatantly leaving important information out of one book just so that they could put it in another and charge you an extra thirty bucks.
Part the First - A Journey of 1000 Miles
Click here for the full 506x658 image
This image makes about as much sense as everything else that’s about to unfold. It’s quite fitting that it’s the first image they include to kick this party off.
The chapter starts off with the story so far, which recaps for the Marshal what’s been going on in the DeadLands metaplot, and attempts to explain why their players should care by offering some hooks that might get their party interested.
A legendary gem known only as the Heart of Darkness (a 150 karat jet-black diamond) was recently discovered in the deepest jungles of South America, and the nefarious
Dr. Darius Hellstromme
decides that it he could really whip up some mad science related gizmos with the diamond, so he pays the dude who found it a ridiculous sum to deliver it directly to his lab. Dr. Hellstromme then dedicates the diamond to himself during a charity event at Deseret
University, even inviting the
to participate in the commemoration ceremonies. This obviously causes quite a stir throughout Salt Lake City, most notably with the Danites
who aren’t comfortable with allowing Dr. Hellstromme to have a mystical artifact of (supposedly) unlimited power. They break into his mansion, manage to recover the gem, and begin to make their escape, when they are caught by the doctor’s security robots and summarily interrogated and then executed.
Of course everyone and their mother want a cut of this diamond, so the Danites aren’t the only dudes who attempt to steal the gem.
also decides that he’d rather have the gem because the
told him that they have big plans involving this particular plot McGuffin. Being the proactive superman zombie terminator that he is, he decides that finding some measly gem is small potatoes, and hires out group of local thugs – the Tremendae Gang – to find it for him so that he can fuck off to the City of Lost Angels and do some other, more important chores for the Reckoners. Rex Tremendae and his gang learn the same thing that the Danites found out only too late, the gem on display in Dr. Helstromme’s mansion is a skillfully made forgery, and the real deal is hidden deep underground in a lightless vault beneath Hellstromme Industries Plant #13. They decide to commit the most sloppy breaking and entering job ever and just kidnap a scientist who works at the plant, force him at gunpoint to let them into the vault, and then proceed to kill the kidnapped scientist, and everyone else who works at that plant on their way back out. They steal a bunch of prototype mad science gizmos while leaving in order to make the crime scene look like a robbery gone wrong (or whatever, the gang isn’t composed of the most competent bandits in town). The job a “success”, Rex Tremendae hands the Heart of Darkness off to his trusted lieutenant – Doc Snead – so that he can fly out to Lost Angels and hand the gem off to Stone. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang fences their stolen loot and begin whoring it up in every saloon in the Junkyard
. Supposedly the gang’s M.O. is never to leave any witnesses behind, but clearly if that were the case, this adventure would be over before it began. The next section highlights how the party get embroiled into this mess, and highlights each of the members of the Tremendae Gang, along with several important locations that the party might need to visit as they follow the clumsy trail of destruction.
Dr. Hellstromme doesn’t want to get the local Mormon police involved in the case because he doesn’t want them being any more involved in his business than necessary (plus he’s a little sore that they sent their Danites to steal the diamond in the first place). He also doesn’t want to use his private security forces because he believes that the break in at the lab implies that he has a rat or two in his employ. He sends out a few of his most trusted lieutenants to put the word on the street that Helstromme Industries is looking to discretely hire a few professional problem solvers, and this is where the players come into the picture.
There’s nearly a full page of info offered that attempts to give the Marshal a hook that will allow their party to become involved, without resorting to railroading them straight into the adventure. It's pretty basic stuff, like "Dr. Helstromme is ridiculously wealthy and can afford to offer you a lucrative cash contract" or "You'll be helping the downtrodden citizens of the Junkyard by removing a gang of roving murderers from the streets" but it's better than nothing. I was completely amazed to read this section because for the life of me I didn’t recall that it existed; when I last ran these adventures several years ago, I remember walking away with the distinct impression that they were super linear and didn’t offer the party a lot of opportunities to think outside the box or approach problems from a different angle. On the other hand, the prior paragraph explicitly mentions that nothing that the party does at this stage of the mega-adventure really matters because clearly everything has to progress towards the predetermined finale, but I guess you’ve got to be gracious for any leniency that you’re given.
The chapter switches direction at this point to outline the major NPCs that are going to be harassing the players and the major locations that they're going to be visiting, so I'm going to break the first chapter into two sections.
NEXT TIME ON THE ROAD TO HELL:
FRIENDLY PEOPLE IN FRIENDLY PLACES
1 - He's the genius inventor with the dark secret that currently resides in Salt Lake City (also called the City O' Gloom because of pollution from all of his factories). Dr. Hellstrome basically has free run of the place because his genius inventions have allowed the citizens to defeat the Rattlers (giant evil sentient worms) that infest the area, but it's an uneasy alliance because everyone knows there's something seriously wrong with the good doctor. He also owns and operates the Wasatch Rail Line, which is perfectly placed to fuck with everyone else who is trying to complete the transcontinental railroad because he owns all of the lines that can safely pass through the rattler territory. If you read my rant about the Reckoners (check Syrg Sapphire's index in the OP if you missed it) then you know that Dr. Darius Helstromme is an avatar of Pestilence, and this is where his inexplicably long life, along with his legendary genius, comes from.
2 - In the DeadLands version of U.S. history, the Civil War lasts seven years longer than it did in the real world, and as a side effect of that, the Mormons were able to declare the state of Utah as the Independent Nation of Deseret. They're kind of a benevolent theocracy, in the sense that if you're rich and white it kicks ass to live in Deseret, and if you're poor or ethnic then you're probably dying of the black lung from working in the Junkyard, or you're about to have your limbs involuntarily amputated by some deranged doctor because he's got an awesome idea for a new style of zombie robot.
3 - Considered to be a trashy rag by polite society (like The Enquirer in contemporary times), this nationally circulated newspaper is renowned for publishing everything and anything having to do with the supernatural. Much like the movie "Men In Black", people in the know read the articles religiously because they're usually 100% correct about whatever weirdness is going on.
4 - Basically the Mormon Temple’s version of The Agency (which itself is modeled after the real life Pinkerton Detective Agency, but specializing in mad science gizmos and everything supernatural)
5 & 6 - As before, check out my previous rants about both Stone and the Reckoners if you want a detailed explanation (check Syrg Sapphire's index in the OP if you missed it). Basically, the Reckoners are the embodiment of everything that is evil and wrong in the world, and Stone is their number one (im)mortal ass kicker. If something bad is happening, either the Reckoners or Stone are to blame for it.
7 - The slums of Salt Lake City. Only Mormons in good standing with the Elders of the Temple are actually allowed to live in Salt Lake City proper, so everyone else who immigrates to the city in order to find work winds up living in the industrial hell created by the tangle of pollution and steel from Dr. Helstromme's factories. Of course, it's full of seedy characters and unsavory locations, but it's also a great place to buy illegal substances, or break into the lucrative human trafficking business, so you get to take the good with the bad.
Friendly People in Friendly Places
Original SA post
DeadLands Devil's Tower Trilogy - Adventure 1: Road to Hell
Click here for the full 518x675 image
Part the First Point Five – Friendly People In Friendly Places
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This is what our rogue’s gallery looks like. They look more like a rejected group of X-Men villains than the baddest gang of rustlers and murders to be found in the Junkyard.
The second half of the first chapter gives a basic rundown of all of the different NPCs and locations that the players might encounter. Once more (to my utter shock and amazement) there’s actually a section titled “Fine Tuning” that I’ll let it speak for itself:
”Fine Tuning” posted:
One of the hardest parts of running an adventure like
The Road to Hell
is making the threats appropriate for every posse. Don’t hesitate for a moment to increase or decrease the power of the Tremendae gang to match the posse’s firepower. It’s no fun if the entire posse gets massacred, even if it is their own fault.
If you need to give your heroes a break, let the bad guys run out of ammo, or become distracted by something else in the scene. It’s easier to maintain continuity through the adventure and keep the players happy if new characters aren’t constantly reappearing to replace old ones. On the other hand, don’t let them off too easy.
Finally, don’t let every encounter devolve into combat. Not every disagreement can or should be resolved with gunfire or hexes. While Junkyard is a wild and wooly place, there are still Law Dogs on the streets. This is Mormon territory, and a theocracy to boot, and the cops don’t hesitate for a moment to lock up anyone endangering law abiding citizens.
This really stands out to me because of the otherwise static nature of the adventure trilogy. Certainly, the adventure has to proceed along in a certain direction, and specific events might have to happen in a certain order for the narrative to make sense, but I had completely forgotten that they actually made an effort to encourage enterprising Marshals to adapt what worked and cut the rest if it suit them.
Alright, with that being said, let’s figure out who the players are up against and where they’re hiding. The next section starts with a sidebar called “Shameless Plugs” and it basically lists all of the content from all of the other books that’s going to be mentioned over the course of this adventure. Of course they recommend that you buy those books if you want to know all of the juicy secrets they hold, but the writers actually included an itemized list that shows which particular person/place/thing comes from which book. They don’t actually give you enough information that you can make use of this stuff without having to buy the splatbooks (because you really should *hint* *hint*) and they recommend that if you don’t want to buy the splatbooks, you should either make up the rules for whatever is missing on the fly or entirely disregard it. Gee, thanks Pinnacle, for giving me permission to do what I’d have done anyway.
The Tremendae Gang:
The adventure tells us that this is the meanest group of hombres this side of the Mississippi. They’re wanted for breaking every law on the books, twice on Sundays. They’re hiding in the Junkyard because it’s smack in the middle of Mormon country, meaning that the overextended militaries of both the Union and the Confederacy can’t marshal enough men to go root them out without causing an international incident (remember that the Nation of Desert is an independent nation along with the U.S. and the Confederacy). Additionally, several members of the gang utilize mad science gizmos, and there’s no better place to acquire or repair them than straight from the factories in which they’re made. It also doesn’t hurt that the citizens of Salt Lake City proper already assume that everyone in the Junkyard is a drug addled reprobate, so another gang of mean sons-of-bitches doesn’t get as much attention here as it might somewhere else. The adventure also reiterates that the Tremendae gang is supposed to be more than a match for most parties, and recommends that you track their combat damage the same as you would for a player, rather than using the typical shorthand method for most NPCs (typically, if an NPC takes 5 total wounds they’re counted as dead, where as players can take 5 wounds to any given body part before it is completely maimed).
Marshal Rex Tremendae:
A bad ass Harrowed gunslinger who was buddies with the one and only Stone before either of them died. After Stone became a Harrowed, he murdered Rex and used his pull with the Reckoners to see that Rex was also brought back as a Harrowed. Although Rex was initially unhappy about this turn of events, he quickly realized the advantages that being a zombie superman could confer upon a life of crime, and he and Stone became better allies than before. Case in point, the Tremendae gang was hired by Stone to steal the Heart of Darkness in the first place because of their long standing alliance. If the above group photo is any indication, Rex is also either a dwarf, or his legs have been amputated at some point, because he’s significantly shorter than everyone else.
His stats are pretty impressive for a gunslinger – he has supernatural skill with a pistol (
Shootin – Pistol
are both 6d12), and he has the Harrowed powers of
at rank four, and
at rank three. Keep in mind that in the DeadLands setting, five ranks in a skill is the standard human maximum (and in the cases of many hexes / abilities, the highest attainable rank), and a base die of d12 is the highest the system will go (aside from appending +X after the d12, the system never progresses to d20s).
lets him heal wounds super quickly and
lets him summon a legion of undead appropriate to the surrounding that will obey his commands, while
just explains how the hell he’s so fast with guns. His disadvantage is that he’s specialized in pistols, which means he’s going to have to get fairly close to the party to engage them in combat; if they had statted him for rifles, he’d be a pretty deadly fucking sniper.
Elvira Santa Dominuga:
She’s a ninja assassin that used to work for Shan Fan’s (not-San Francisco) Emperor Kang and his Iron Dragon railroad company until she was captured by a voodoo houngan that she was assigned to kill. She’s covered in scars and she never speaks to anyone ever, but Rex saved her from the houngan so she pledged her unwavering loyalty to him and his cause. Her gimmick is that she has hidden knives all over her body and uses every knife to stab her opponents, except when she’s using the sawed off shotgun slung over her shoulder.
Mechanically she’s not too exciting, she’s proficient with her knives and can climb very well, and she’s got a handful of Ch’i powers that (as Mystic Mongol explained) aren’t terribly interesting or threatening compared to what a competent gunman (or Blessed) can do. She also has a grappling hook gun that she can use to ascend into the steel network of wires and cables that encases the Junkyard and then drop down on her foes a la Batman, and of course she has a garrote so that she can decapitate you once she’s got the drop on you, but other than that one gimmick she’s just your average melee combatant. BONUS: Her grappling hook gun might malfunction, which could cause several inconvenient things, up to and including injuring herself! I nominate her as the least dangerous member of the gang, which is great because the book explains that she is the second in command after Rex (I guess in spite of the fact that she never ever speaks to anyone for any reason).
The child of Polish immigrants, Zik was brought to the Junkyard by his parents when he was young and graduated from the school of hard knocks in lieu of attending a formal education. In his case, Zik became a pit fighter (which is a pretty common sporting event in the Junkyard) and he was too stupid to say no when his manager tried to persuade him into having invasive medical experiments performed upon his person. Zik has been given the steam punk equivalent of a cyber-arm, one cyber-eye that grants night vision and sub-dermal plating. Of course Zik is a functional retard, and he joined the Tremendae gang when Rex persuaded him to kill his manager and join the gang. The adventure also explains that Zik is the easiest member of the gang to persuade or reason with, but on the other hand he’s an imbecile so it’s not like he’s going to have information worth extorting for the party.
Mechanically, this dude is a beast. His base
is 4d12+4 and his
Fighting – Brawlin
skill is 7d10. His mechanical claw arm deals STR+d6 damage (in other words 4d12+d6+4 damage) which, based on the combat and damage rules that DeadLands operates under, means that he is going to deal a minimum of two wounds to some unlucky character (as long as he does not roll five 1s, which is pretty unlikely)
every time he takes a swing
. Keep in mind that five wounds to any hit location (head/torso/left & right arm & leg) means that the affected limb has been completely mutilated or violently severed from the character’s body, and in the special case of your torso or head, means you’re insta-gibbed. An average roll based on his damage (6+6+6+6+3+4) means that he’s going to be tearing the players’ limbs off like tissue paper with frightening regularity. On top of this, his claw can also put a character into a choke grip that effectively takes them out of combat and deals minor damage to them each round that they don’t make an opposed
test against a TN 11 (meaning that characters of average strength are basically captured until he puts them down). His sub-dermal armor, along with the
trait mean that he’s damn near impossible to kill in a straight up fight – he’s got Armor 3 on his head, torso, and claw arm, and the way that DeadLands handles armor, that means that the base die of your weapon is degraded three die types before damage is even rolled (i.e. a gun that does 4d12 against Armor 3 is reduced from d12->d10->d8->d6). Thus, if your weapon or attack base damage die is below a d10, the attack is completely ineffective. This dude has the potential to be the biggest badass in the Tremendae gang if the players don’t quickly figure out that he is not to be engaged in combat for any reason whatsoever. His mental attributes are all a bit shit, so it’s easy enough to charm him or put him to sleep or turn him against his allies, but it’s probably going to cost one of the heroes a limb or two to figure this out. BONUS: His arm can also go haywire, and best case scenario for the players, he rolls a catastrophic failure and the arm completely wrenches itself from his body, dealing 4 wounds to his torso that can’t be resisted. I think there was a Huckster spell that forced mad science machines to make an immediate reliability roll; that hex is probably one of the best ways to combat this dude if the Huckster thinks to try it. Interestingly, this dude is described as being a 500 pound horse of a man, but his Size is not listed as being different from the human norm – this is significant because a creature’s Size determines how well it can shrug off damage, and you’d think that a 500 pound man crammed full of wires and steel and dead people parts might be a little larger than your average cowpoke, but what do I know. I guess it's not like they needed to make him any harder to kill.
This dude is the requisite magic man of the group. He’s a Huckster from London who has ebony skin and ghost white hair because of a particularly nasty backlash he experienced when he was a novice. He’s smooth and debonair and serves as the face of the group, but he’s also an exceptional coward and is just as likely to run away from a fight as back up his gang. Despite the fact that this dude would stand out even among the unfortunate inhabitants of the Junkyard, most people think he’s some kind of demon werewolf and thus avoid him at all costs; he does his best to keep this rumor alive.
His skills are pretty meh for a Huckster, although he is definitely built to be a “battle mage” type of Huckster – all of his hexes deal damage or light things on fire or drain your life or summon farty gasses. Apparently this adventure was written before the revised rule book which made
a skill unto itself and removed the need for every hex to be bought and tracked as separate skills, because his whole hex list is presented as individual skills. He has
and [/i]Incognito[/i] at rank 6 and the rest of his hexes hover between rank 4 and rank 5, but if I were to remake him for the revised edition I’d probably just give him
at rank 6 to keep him in line with the supposed danger level presented by everyone else in the gang. If played by a crafty Marshal who can get a few lucky hands, he can cause quite a bit of trouble for the party. If he’s allowed to be a glass cannon on the battlefield, he’s probably not going to last very long before the party’s rifleman drills a bullet through his skull.
Walter Hot Iron:
He’s an Apache scout whose entire village was wiped out by the Union army in retaliation for raids that the Apache conducted on Union caravans. He has since wandered north to the Junkyard to try an exact revenge against the Union, but he’s a raging alcoholic and spent all of his wampum on booze. The Tremendae gang found him and for some reason convinced Rex to let him join them; supposedly Rex’s motivation was that he was tired of being called a racist and hoped the gang would lay off if he let an Indian tag along.
Mechanically he’s like a watered down version of Rex. He’s got Owl for a Guardian Spirit and the
blessings, along with unimpressive attributes and a
Shootin – Rifle
skill that’s not anything to get excited about. Interestingly, he also comes with the
Shootin – Rocket Launcher
skill, along with a rocket launcher and two rockets, so if he gets the chance to set up on the party with a
boost before hand, he could conceivably wipe everyone out before the fight begins. Other than that one trick, not too much to worry about here.
I guess he was absent the day the gang took their class picture, because not only is he not in it, he's not anywhere in this adventure. This is the dude that Rex trusted enough to deliver the Heart of Darkness to Stone, apparently despite the fact that he spends all of his share of the gang's loot on booze and Rex secretly doesn't trust his mad science inventions because he's destroying them when Doc Snead is black out drunk. Anyway, there's no stats listed for him because for the duration of the adventure, he's already piloting his flying machine towards Lost Angels. Knowing this ahead of time makes the party's forthcoming efforts hilariously futile, but we'll get to that in due time.
I know I said I would combine this section with the section on important places in the Junkyard, but this update is getting a little long for my tastes, so I'll crank out another chapter 1.75 update clearing everything else up a little later.
NEXT TIME ON THE ROAD TO HELL:
IT'S A WONDERFUL PLACE TO VISIT, BUT I'D NEVER WANT TO DIE THERE
It's a Wonderful Place to Visit, But I'd Never Want to Die There
Original SA post
I hope everyone had a huge hangover yesterday!
DeadLands Devil's Tower Trilogy - Adventure 1: Road to Hell
Click here for the full 518x675 image
Part the First Point Seven Five – It’s a Wonderful Place to Visit, but I’d Never Want to Die There
Supposedly all three of the above images are representative of the Junkyard. Based on that, it’s apparently more concerned with keeping foreigners out that Joe Arpaio, got more WE BUY USED GOLD strip mall hovels than your average inner city, and home of the best damn BBQ you’ll ever eat.
Alright, last part of Chapter 1. It’s pretty quick, giving more of an overview of most of the areas in and around Junkyard rather than going into excruciating detail. Once more, the designers plug
City O’ Gloom
(the proper splatbook they wrote to cover Salt Lake City and the Junkyard and the rest of Deseret) and strongly hint that you should buy that fine product too if you really want to know what the hell is supposed to be going on while this adventure is happening. It’s not a terrible idea, in the sense that these adventures are supposed to be the climax to a long running campaign and so you might want to introduce elements of the city and the NPCs before your players actually get there (as Mystic Mongol insinuated in his previous statements), but it still strikes me as a lame way to write what is arguably the most important adventure in the entire product line (other than the one where the players go back in time and learn that the Reckoners were interdimensional crickets that rode to earth on a rocket made of pure hatred and the landing impact was the reason that dinosaurs went extinct, but I digress).
The FEEL of Junkyard:
The Junkyard was originally just a tangle of pipes and wires and steel girders that delivered power and clean water to the residents of Salt Lake City proper, but soon enough all of the heathens that the Mormons didn’t want ruining their shining city on a hill wound up pitching an impromptu tent city along the steel mazes and viola the Junkyard was born. The sky isn’t visible most of the time because the city literally exists within all of the water pipes and sewage lines and power transistors that supply SLC with its amenities, so the common rabble have taken to calling the ceiling the “Steel Sky”. The passages weren’t built with the expectation of acting as a livable space for human beings, so a place that was super cramped before supposedly looks like New Delhi (on a good day) now, and only gets worse every time a new scientist opens a lab, or a new strike of ghost rock is found out in the hills. Finding ones way around is next to impossible if one isn’t a native, and even if you know where you’re supposed to be going, the ever present crowds and congestion can make getting across town an all-day affair. The adventure suggests having the party make a TN 7
Area Knowledge – Junkyard
roll if the players need to be somewhere they haven’t been before and don’t have decent directions or a map, with a failure resulting in the party wandering aimless for a few hours before ultimately realizing they’re no closer to their destination than when they began.
So why is the Junkyard often referred to as the City O’ Gloom? Dr. Hellstromme’s factories (and the factories of every other mad scientist who have set up shop in his shadow) belch out metric fuck-tons of ghost rock fumes and pollution, and the chemical detritus of a mineral that is calcified from the souls of the damned produces an especially toxic effect. Case in point – everyone in town has to wear some kind of mask or air filter in order to avoid catching diseases from all of the pollution circulating through the air. The exception to this rule is Mormons who are in good standing with the Temple (because they’re special that’s why) and gives everyone wandering the Junkyard a degree of anonymity because your face is always covered (or should be if you’re not a retard). Characters have to make a TN 3
check (or TN 5 if the character decides not to wear a mask) for every month that he or she spends in the Junkyard breathing the toxic fumes – if you fail the character loses one point of
because that’s just how deadly this place is. No rule is given for restoring this loss of life, although a decent Marshal could certainly cook something up that was appropriate to their campaign. Interestingly, there’s no rule presented for what happens once your character has lost all of their wind, or what happens to creatures that don’t take wind damage, but I’m sure it’s pretty obvious in the minds of the developers (you start taking wounds to you guts, and they don’t suffer from pollution would be my two guesses).
As you might expect, Dr. Hellstromme and his competitors run the city. Every job that pays enough to keep food in your stomach and a roof over your head has something to do with the plethora of mad scientist factories all crammed into the Junkyard – either legitimate work as a scientist or as lab security, or equally dangerous but less legal activities like breaking into labs to raid them for their goods and fencing said stolen merchandise on the black market. No one here really cares about politics or the war between the states because there’s just a shit-ton of money changing hands due to all of the scientific advances that mad science provides. There’s a token delegation of Law Dogs from SLC proper, but the local jail can only hold 50 people at capacity, and as the Junkyard’s estimated population is roughly 20,000, minor offenses are completely ignored and major offences are only investigated if affect a legal citizen of SLC (either someone harming them while they conducted business in the Junkyard, or someone trying to rob from them in SLC and seeking to hide in the Junkyard). Dr. Helstromme and many of his competitors prefer this situation because it allows them to utilize their own private security forces that don’t have to follow the legal due process that one might otherwise expect. There’s also a supposed contingent of Danites (the ultra-secretive Men In Black branch of the Mormon Temple) that only answer to Brigham Young himself that keep an eye on the goings on within the Junkyard, but Dr. Hellstromme is the only person to have encountered them and lived, so most people just assume that the Danites are a ghost story told to keep the gullible in line.
Finally, we get to the actual locations that might be important at some point if you’re planning on running your posse through this adventure.
One of the most popular bars in the Junkyard because the air is relatively clean thanks to the leaky pipes that intersect the building – the ambient moisture somehow counteracts many of the toxic qualities of the local air. It’s a popular hangout for anyone who wears a black hat (so of course the Tremendae gang and a few Danites frequent the joint) but the owner Edgar Maybrick is a bear of a man who doesn’t tolerate any bullshit in his gentlemen’s club. He worked hard to make the place the success it is today, and doesn’t tolerate people having brawls or shooting up the place (he keeps a loaded double barrel just under the bar and doesn’t hesitate to shoot at the first sign of trouble). He’s willing to sell alcohol or information, but his preferred method of currency is trading in other rumors – he offers a much better rate of exchange for information, and has enough contacts in the Junkyard to make sure that anyone who feeds him a tall tale in exchange for a beer gets made an example of.
A privately run, German-owned science lab that is located inside a small hacienda just outside of the Junkyard (for as much sense as that makes). Everyone who works here is a dirty socialist and splits the cost of rent and utilities with the other scientists. They also collaborate on projects and use their group’s clout to get important audiences with Dr. Hellstromme or Smith & Robards so that they can sell their latest gizmos for a profit that is later split.
Cat’s Used Goods:
Katherine “Cat” Washington owns this glorified pawn shop, which has a reputation for having the lowest prices around. Currently, several of the gadgets that the Tremendae gang stole from Hellstromme’s Lab No. 13 are here, although Cat doesn’t know that the men who fenced the items were members of the gang. Cat has a huge soft spot for hard luck stories, and the players can exploit this to their advantage if they need to find some information, but she also has gathered a following of “well intentioned louts” that keep an eye on her store and don’t take kindly to the players poking their noses around. Depending on how direct the players get with Cat, the louts may try to ambush them outside.
Nothing plot critical here. The doc is the best sawbones in town, and there’s a fair chance that one of the players will wind up needing his services. Creative Marshals can add hooks here or use him as kind a plot dump if the players get stumped while trying to solve the mystery.
Granny Smith’s Arms Factory:
Owned by one of Joseph Smith’s last living wives. Granny Smith was the creator of the original Mormon Rifle, and although more improved models have since been developed, she has sweet defense contracts with the Mormons that entitle her to manufacture a large portion of the weapons that the Navoo Legion uses. Nothing plot critical happens here either, but Marshals could use her warehouses as the location for planting a clue if the players get stumped elsewhere and decide to wander by.
Hellstromme Industries Factories:
The players will definitely spend quite a bit of time here (Factory 13 was the location of the robbery after all). Among other things, his factories are known as the most dangerous places to work, even compared to other mad science facilities.
The owner of this bar built it on top of a four story apartment building after retiring from a lucrative career in professional sports. No plot critical events occur here.
Madam Marie’s Dance Hall:
The cleanest damn whorehouse in the Junkyard. Madam Marie takes special care to make sure that her girls practice good hygiene and safe sex, and as a result her girls are able to charge the highest prices in town and get away with it. Supposedly this place is so popular that the citizens of the Junkyard actually police the place themselves (however likely that might be) and so she doesn’t have to pay out protection money to any of the local gangs. The Danites know how much your average gentile loves a good romp with a whore, so they use this location as a secret base of operations and often spy on the clients just in case they need the leverage later (because the Danites are nothing if not creepy voyeurs).
A bar that caters to scientists and their nerdy hangers-on. The place is filled with blackboards and chalk so that all of the eggheads who meet here for drinks can argue over design schematics as well. Nothing plot critical happens here either.
This is an abandoned smelting refinery that the Tremendae gang is using as their current hideout. The book warns not to let players investigate here too early in the adventure, or to make sure that the place just happens to be emptied out and anything important is well hidden, because who on earth would want to reward players for utilizing their own agency to solve a mystery before the adventure decides that enough arbitrary steps have been taken and it’s officially mystery solving time. Nothing plot critical happens here.
Smith & Robards Showroom:
These dudes are the only serious competition that Dr. Hellstromme faces, and they’ve done an excellent job at marketing their products to the common consumer (whereas Hellstromme almost exclusively favors military contracts or other corporate subsidies). The adventure notes that the prices for their goods are actually cheaper to buy straight from the factory (versus ordering from the catalogue) because they don’t have to worry about shipping it off to god knows where. Other than that, nothing plot critical happens here.
This is hospital that all of the down and out miners and lab workers hit up when they don’t have the money to go somewhere else. The players might be able to fish some info regarding the Tremendae gang out of the staff, but they ideally should not be utilizing the facility’s medical services unless they want their operations horrifically botched.
The first chapter concludes with a few non-essential random encounters that the Marshal can throw at the players if he or she wants to spice up the adventure or thinks things might be going too easy on the posse. Personally, I’d use these as adventure hooks in the Junkyard on a visit the posse makes before this adventure to kind of flesh out what kind of place the Junkyard is, without having to convolute what’s already supposed to be a good old fashioned whodunit, but maybe the party needs a red herring or two to liven things up.
NEXT TIME ON THE ROAD TO HELL:
SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE
1 Mechanics Time! DeadLands uses a resolution mechanic similar to Shadowrun or WoD where skills and attributes associated with dice, and acting requires rolling your relevant skill or attribute dice against a target number (TN) that supposedly reflects how difficult the task is. Characters can have a base attribute die of d4 / d6 / d8 / d10 / d12, and their ranks in a given skill determine how many of each die they roll during a test (related to the attribute that the skill is derived from). In the above example, if a hero had a base
of 2d10 and had three ranks in
Area Knowledge – Junkyard
, he or she would roll 3d10 and hope that at least one of the die came up as a 7 or greater. Exploding die rules are in effect, and you usually only need one successful die out of however many you roll (although certain situations like combat can benefit from rolling multiple successes).
2 DeadLands tracks character damage in terms of both
damage. As I explained before, wound damage actually hurts your character, assessing penalties related to the wounded limb in question, and too many wounds will ultimately kill your character. Wind damage is treated as stun, or non-lethal damage, and it also accounts for your character’s endurance and consciousness (as you can be knocked out if you lose all your wind). Wind damage regenerates after a short rest, while wound damage really needs medical attention to heal properly (you get to roll natural healing attempts, but anything above a light wound and you’re better off visiting the doctor or chugging a healing potion).
Sign on the Dotted Line
Original SA post
DeadLands Devil's Tower Trilogy - Adventure 1: Road to Hell
Chapter 2: Sign on the Dotted Line
After laying the groundwork for the adventure and establishing who might be important and where they might be hanging out, Chapter 2 finally gets us into the adventure proper. It starts by explaining that you (the Marshal) need to have some reason for the party to visit the Junkyard, and then launches into a completely dick move.
For youR Consideration? Hanuman is deathly afraid of SARS.
The posse is approached by a mysterious man named Hanuman, who is one of Dr. Hellstromme’s most trusted lieutenants, and the party’s liaison with Helstromme Industries for the duration of the adventure. He’s described as an immaculately dressed Indian (which the book makes sure to mention means East India Company and not smallpox blankets) who always carries a black attaché case with him everywhere he goes. The adventure explains that he will approach the party during any random downtime, so he might just plunk down at the table they happen to be using at a saloon, or he might magically appear on their doorstep if they have a frequently used residence in the Junkyard, or he might concoct an elaborate ruse where he poses as an exotic whore from the far east who specializes in group sessions at Madam Marie’s Dance Hall, only to reveal hir’s true intent once the posse has paid hir’s fee and gotten good and oiled up. This is supposed to demonstrate Hellstromme’s level of power and influence in the city, except that Hanuman never specifically mentions that he works for Dr. Hellstromme, unless the players really press the issue, in which case he openly admits that Dr. Hellstromme is his secret boss. He is characterized as using very flowery language, and explains to the posse that Dr. Hellstromme needs some
professional problem solvers with a proven track record of success to recover an item or items that may or may not have been lawfully or unlawfully removed from the premises of a factory that Hellstromme Industries may or may not own. He refuses to give the posse any more information than that, and then attempts to convince them to take this menacingly vague employment opportunity by either offering them a ludicrous sum of cash money, or threatening them with personal injury or extortion (cementing his role as the most manic quest-hub of an NPC ever conceived). The adventure actually says for the Marshal to play Hanuman as this suave, debonair motherfucker, and then continues to explain that he either offers the posse an unreasonably large sum of money if they seem greedy or lazy, or that he attempts to threaten them and their loved ones if they seem competent and well-meaning.
Assuming that the Marshal decides to use the carrot rather than the stick, Hanuman is prepared to offer the posse $10,000 in gold bullion or $2,000 per posse member, whichever is greater. Remember that DeadLands attempted to do a fairly decent job of modeling the economic trends and inflation rates of the 1870’s, so either of those sums of money are fucking insane for someone during that time period to just casually toss about. Of course, there’s a few strings attached to this offer:
*The sum can be paid out in cash (any denomination / currency), gold bullion, or Hellstromme Industries company stock (which, if your posse had any foreknowledge of what’s about to befall them during the course of this adventure, makes this option 100% worthless).
*Hanuman won’t pay more than $100 up front, but he won’t even offer that unless the players really put the screws to him on the bargaining table. The adventure encourages the Marshal to remind players who think about taking the retainer money and running that Hanuman and Dr. Hellstromme are both GOD NPCs and that they’ll just find them where ever they run and kill them anyway.
*The posse has to sign an NDA (because what makes a make believe cowboy game more fun that corporate intellectual property rights) before Hanuman gives them any money, and if they break it at any point they forfeit the rest of their income (which is meaningless anyway, see below). If they break the NDA after the adventure is over and Hellstromme or Hanuman find out about it, they’re GOD NPCs and they’re going to lovingly insert their cocks into the posse’s frigid asshole.
Remember that dick move that I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph? Here it is – the adventure explicitly mentions that even if the party plays nice and agrees to everything and doesn’t hassle Hanuman, Marshals don’t need to worry about the reward from this adventure ruining their in-game player economy because
the players are never actually going to be given the sum of money that they were promised
. Pretty decent adventure design Pinnacle, nothing makes players want to plow through all three parts of your mega-adventure like screwing them hard and screwing them often!
Hanuman presents this to posse because it is "the only picture of the diamond we have left". So if the posse were to lose it, or misplace it, or whatever, they could return in a few days with a giant hunk of coal and try to pass it off as the diamond because Hanuman would have no way to disprove them.
Assuming the posse hasn’t guessed that something is amiss with this dude (although considering that he’s a DeadLands NPC, it’d be weirder if he wasn’t trying to screw the posse over) by this point, Hanuman gives the players all of the background information regarding the break-in at Hellstromme Industries Plant #13 that we as the Marshal already know. He then offers to give the posse the necessary clearance passes and keys so that they can investigate Plant #13, and instructs them to contact him via secure telegraph line once the posse has solved the Caper of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Rejects and their Onyx McGuffin. Hanuman offers a parting quip insinuating that those dastardly Mormons are probably the real culprits, and then instructs the posse to get their butts to the crime scene pronto so that they can start investigating.
The adventure then changes gears and presents us with a “WHAT REALLY HAPPENED MARSHALS ONLY NO PEEKING GUYS COME ON” sections which reiterates (for a third time) the events that took place at Plant #13. It’s mentioned that this recap is just in case the posse has hexes or rituals that they could use to metagame the adventure (mind reading or spirit divining or dream walking or etc.) so that you as the Marshal can be prepared to give them cryptic half responses that don’t quite answer their questions in a way that isn’t totally obvious (because nothing is worse than the posse jumping this railroad train off its tracks and solving the mystery ahead of time). The section lists a bunch of information that’s pertinent to the break-in and provides answers to clues that the posse might want to follow up on (things like the name of the scientist that Rex and Zik blackmailed into granting them access to Plant #13, where the Tremendae gang stashed some of the evidence used to break into Plant #13, and the fact that you can “knock out” robots using rocket launchers).
The next section actually switches gears again and moves into an example encounter that the posse can have while exploring Plant #13, along with rules for finding clues and determining what the party can learn from them. I’ll cover that in the following update!
NEXT TIME ON THE ROAD TO HELL:
DICK TRACY YOU AIN’T
DICK TRACY YOU AIN'T
Original SA post
Sorry for the lapse in updating, my fiancé had her wisdom teeth removed and I got to play nurse for a while.
DeadLands Devil's Tower Trilogy - Adventure 1: Road to Hell
Chapter 2: DICK TRACY YOU AIN’T
So last we left off, Chapter 2 was reiterating a bunch of stuff that we as the Marshal already knew and explaining how to best make some dick moves against the players. To refresh everyone, the nefarious Dr. Darius Hellstromme recently inherited a mystical gem of great significance (the Heart of Darkness) and planned to use it to engage in some dubious schemes. Stone (zombie terminator and the Reckoners #1 gofer) decided that Dr. Hellstromme was just going to waste the potential of the Heart of Darkness, and hired the Tremendae gang (natives to the Junkyard, Dr. Hellstromme’s home base) to steal it from him. The Tremendae gang was successful, and now Dr. Hellstromme is interested in contracting out to the posse (as a group of professional problem solvers) so that the gem can be recovered. Rather than meet with the posse himself, Dr. Hellstromme contacts them via one of his yes-men, in this case the mysterious Hanuman. After agreeing to the conditions proposed by Hanuman, the posse is encouraged to investigate Hellstromme Plant #13 so that they can recover the missing gem post haste.
Plant #13 is the scene of the crime and the most likely place for the posse to begin their investigation. Of course in DeadLands, Plant #13 is the most unlucky and spooky plant that could ever exist, and prior to the break-in, it was already a site of supernatural weirdness and unsolved murders. In addition to thievery and murder, the Tremendae gang also started a fire at the on-site ghost rock refinery in an attempt to obfuscate what actually happened during the night of the break-in. Hanuman accompanies the posse to Plant #13 in order to answer their questions, but also to keep them from discovering anything that the Marshal doesn’t want them to discover before he’s ready to dish it up. Nothing makes an investigation more fun than being arbitrarily prevented from solving something through no fault of the players!
Next up is a recommendation for how to run the search effort. The game recommends having all of the players make a TN 5
test and then taking the best roll and divulging all of the clues produced by that level of success along with all of the lower difficulty clues as well. Here’s the table they provide:
It appears that a flamethrower was taken to the place, given that everything in the lab got torched. The other flamethrower manufacture in the City O’ Gloom? Smith & Robards!
It’s fairly improbable that the best roll is going to be a BUST (because that’d require that EVERYONE in the posse roll simultaneous busts) but I suppose you could use this entry if the players aren’t searching in a way that would allow them to communicate their information with each other and one player winds up coming to erroneous conclusions.
The place is certainly a mess. Maybe there was a fight?
This result also seems fairly unlikely given that the entire posse would have to fail to achieve even one success, but oh well! As a bonus, the entry for this outcome is even more insulting for the posse than if they had gone bust, because it pretty much implies that the entire party is staffed with spectacular retards.
All of the paper in the lab looks gently burned. The only flammable material would have been fuel for the ghost rock furnace, but inspecting the furnace reveals that it’s in mint condition. A bomb could have also gently burned everything in the entire lab
and there’s a very large footprint smeared in a blood trail across the floor.
Three spent rifle casings are found among the debris on the floor.
A TN 7 Shootin’ or Knowledge: Firearms test will reveal that the shells are a .44 Evans caliber which is fairly uncommon.
A faint odor, much like what one would smell coming from an outhouse, seems to linger about the lab.
Nothing in the lab uses methane as a fuel source, but maybe the robbers had just eaten an entire bag of burros from Chino Bandito and had monster farts. Also, the culprit could be a fart monster.
FOUR OR MORE SUCCESSES:
There’s no flashpoint for the fire, which makes it dubious that the fire had anything to do with the on-site ghost rock refinery.
This is apparently going to be a ground breaking clue for anyone who rolled four successes, because they would have already been informed that the ghost rock furnace was completely unharmed
when they generated their first success
Then, the adventure just starts spewing out other information regarding the crime scene in no particular order and with no associated skill check necessary to uncover this information. I’m assuming that the Marshal is supposed to give this info up freely as the posse thinks to look for it, but at the same time some of this stuff seems like it would be blatantly obvious to anyone standing in the same room and it makes even less sense to withhold the information than it does to just read it off verbatim. Whatever, no one ever accused Pinnacle of having incredible scenario designers.
There’s four of them and they haven’t been disturbed since they were originally discovered by the morning shift guards. The most obvious body had been fitted with a hood and a noose and is dangling from the duct work above the factory floor. The body is riddled with hundreds of tiny cuts and the lab coat is soaked with blood and it drip drip drips onto the factory floor as the players explore. Two more bodies are lying by the rear entrance to the plant; a female scientist with three stab wounds and a male scientist that has been shot three times with a large bore rifle. A TN 7
roll reveals a throwing knife with the Iron Dragon Rail Road Company branding under a desk near the stabbed woman, but I guess the person that shot the dude was clever enough to recover their spent casings. The last body is lying in a pool of gore near a drafting table within the factory and the corpse’s head has been smashed as flat as a pancake. The drafting table also looks like it was bludgeoned by something very heavy.
If the posse thinks to interrogate Hanuman about the list of items that were taken from the lab, he is reluctant to offer up the information unless the posse finds a way to persuade him. This makes complete sense, because he’s already hired them to solve the murders and theft at this point, but he doesn’t want to have to do everything himself. There’s no target numbers or skill checks listed for persuading Hanuman, so I guess the adventure is just assuming the players will repeat their request three times and force him to tell them the truth. Providing this occurs, here’s a list of what’s missing:
The MAXIS (or Man Activated X-o-skeleton Infantry Suit)
– Aside from the fact that the scientists were evidently hard pressed for an awesome sounding acronym to use for this prototype, the suit itself is like a steam-punk version of Tony Stark’s personal hardware. It comes armed with a Gatling Gun on the left hand and a manipulating claw on the right. The Heart of Darkness was intended to power the suit, and having both of those items go missing couldn’t be a coincidence.
– Imagine if you could bring a knife to a gunfight and not get laughed at! These are basically the GunBlade of Final Fantasy VIII fame, in that they contain a load of gunpowder in the handle and shoot their blade at your opponent when a button on the guard is pressed. About as useless as it sounds, unless your Marshal loves anime, in which case expect to see these things all over the fucking place after he or she has read this adventure.
The Clockwork De-Moler
– This is a luxury gardening item that looks like an old-timey lawn mower only it’s covered in 18” serrated blades and the idea is that while you push it across your yard the blades are stabbing so deep into the ground that they will slay errant moles or gophers or rabbits. I’m not sure how ghost rock would be necessary for this device to work but maybe the scientists came up with this device after huffing ghost rock fumes for weeks on end during their 12 hour shifts.
– This is a steam powered jackhammer and is as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s like the automatic Hammer that Homer Simpson conceived of except it’s likely to kill the person trying to weild it.
The Quad Pistol
– I guess the scientists had such a hell of a time coming up with the acronym for the MAXIS that the rest of this junk was given the most obvious description possible. This is a gun that shoots four bullets at once!
Nope, I read that wrong, this is actually the
. It’s supposed to be an ATV for Dr. Hellstromme’s railroad crews who need to navigate the treacherous terrain of the Rockies as they attempt to carve a path through them. It comes preloaded with a Gatling Gun on a hard mount and a steam powered winch. This is also the vehicle that the Tremendae gang used to escape from Plant #13 and subsequently pushed into a swamp so that they could dispose of the evidence.
THE BACK ROOM:
This is the room where the Heart of Darkness was kept. The special case designed to contain its awesome power has been smashed in but otherwise the room has been completely undisturbed. Welp, this was worth mentioning!
As much as Dr. Hellstromme wants this case solved, he
doesn’t want anyone that he hasn’t already brainwashed to discover that the automations that he has become famous for creating are actually made by cannibalizing the central nervous system of a recently deceased human and reanimating it inside of a robot body. The remains of the automations have been removed before the posse arrives, and no matter how hard the posse begs or pleads, Hanuman won’t let the posse inspect them. If the posse makes a TN 9
roll, they find a few bolts or scraps that the cleanup crew missed, but these aren’t enough to provide any information. Hey posse, fuck you for making a difficult roll while engaging in an activity that makes sense in the context of the investigation; we’re not ready for you to solve this puzzle yet!
Everyone in the lab at the time of the break-in is dead, and Hanuman insists that Hellstromme Industries has already interviewed all of the other personnel at Plant #13 following the attack. Still, if the posse is persuasive enough, Hanuman will relent and allow them to continue to interrogate the suspects once more. If they should do this, one of the lower level factory workers recalls that he saw a shooting star just before the fire broke out. If the posse makes the connection (and why wouldn’t they based upon the NOTHING that they know about the Tremendae gang at this point) to Doc Snead and ask the factory worker if he saw any flying machines, the worker recounts that he did hear the sounds of an autogyro and just assumed that it was a Smith & Robards delivery guy. This makes even less sense, because there’s literally no reason that a Smith & Robards delivery man would be anywhere near a Hellstromme Industries manufacturing plant.
The adventure then explains that the posse should follow up the nonsensical leads that were just provided by exploring the important locations that were provided back in Chapter 1.
So what does the posse get for all their effort? Well, aside from a bunch of leads that are largely meaningless, they can also earn a few experience points (Bounty Points in DeadLands parlance) for their efforts. If the posse thinks to ask Hanuman for the list of missing inventory and/or persuades Hanuman to let them re-interview all of the witnesses, they get two Bounty points. If the players actually write down in real life all of the relevant clues and keep track of what they found, they also should be given two more bounty points.
That’s all she wrote for Chapter 2. Next up are more red herrings and false positives that you can use to harass and bore your posse without having to actually offer them anything that progresses the story.
NEXT TIME ON THE ROAD TO HELL:
Original SA post
DeadLands Devil's Tower Trilogy - Adventure 1: Road to Hell
Chapter 3: THE HUNT
You’d be running too if your girlfriend just found out that you accidentally knocked up her twin sister.
Chapter 3 is THE HUNT because it details all of the possible encounters that the posse can have while attempting to crack this caper. The chapter starts with a recommendation that the Marshal doesn’t let the players solve the case too soon because Pinnacle is diametrically opposed to allowing the players to have anything resembling fun. The adventure recommends that the Marshal manipulate all of the potential leads such that ones that seem promising turn out to be red herrings if the posse starts to put things together too soon. To be honest, this seems like more work than just letting your posse piece things together on their own and solve the mystery as they go, but then again I’m not a published adventure designer.
Next up, a chart for the rumors that the party might hear if they decide to put their streetwise to use. Interestingly, this chart is based off the posse making a TN 5
test, instead of using a skill which would actually apply to this sort of thing (like
Area Knowledge – the Junkyard
) because Pinnacle doesn’t want to reward players for building their characters in an effective manner. I guess you could infer that they didn’t want a posse that wasn’t based in the Junkyard to get hosed out of hearing these rumors, but in that case why not make the base TN related to the use of
and a slightly higher TN if the posse doesn’t have that skill?
WORD ON THE STREET:
Recently came into a bunch of new inventory and it’s a cut above the average junk that people try to pawn.
Still hate Dr. Hellstromme and recently attempted to blow up a section of the Wasatch Rail Road.
A Drunk Indian:
Has been spending a ton of cash and causing a ton of trouble at the Steamer.
From the Mad-Science Co-Op finally got one of his proto-type battle suits to work after making an unexpected breakthrough.
Baron Von Kraughoffer’s Incredible Flying Circus:
Is in town and whatever night the posse decides to pay them a visit is their last night in town before leaving for Boise, Idaho. The list mentions that THIS IS A RED HERRING but I’m supposing that part wasn’t intended to be printed on the rumor section because if you read this verbatim to your posse like the rest of the entries, you’d completely spoil the surprise.
The rest of the chapter is broken down by the type of encounter or lead that the posse can follow, and then details what happens and offers some after effects that may occur depending on how the posse handles each encounter. I was a little impressed that the adventure actually attempts to acknowledge that different groups might play through the encounters in different orders and gave the Marshal some suggestions for what might happen depending on the order of events.
LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT:
Yeah, these dudes look like they're completely competent and capable of handling the myriad dangers of the Junkyard.
The Sheriff’s Office and City Jail are actually in Salt Lake City proper, as the Junkyard has no formal judicial infrastructure. The Sheriff is Eli Waters, a devout Mormon who makes Sheriff Joe Arpaio look like a lenient man who is concerned with the well-being of his inmates. Sheriff Waters doesn’t really give a shit about people breaking the law in the Junkyard unless it involves murder in broad daylight, or otherwise inconveniences one of the other Mormon citizens of SLC. On the other hand, if the local law dogs catch one of the players actually engaging in a gun fight, or have enough evidence to prove that they committed a murder, the player can expect to be hauled down to the city jail and sit before one of the Temple Magistrates within a fortnight. The adventure mentions that most of the Temple Elders don’t have the time or the inclination to hear every criminal case regarding the hedonistic activities of the gentiles that inhabit the Junkyard, so as long as the law dogs can present even circumstantial evidence indicating the player’s guilt, he or she is likely to be fitted for a noose without even the illusion of due process.
If the posse thinks to bring their investigation of Plant #13 to the attention of Sheriff Waters, he’s both surprised to hear about the news and pissy that Dr. Hellstromme didn’t voluntarily bring the matter to his attention. Supposedly Dr. Hellstromme has thumbed his nose at Sheriff Waters in the past by throwing great gobs of cash at the Temple Elders whenever it seems like he’s about to wear out his welcome, and the good Sheriff is just itching for a chance to actually haul the great Doctor down to the county courthouse. Since the break-in at the plant involved the murder of four scientists the Sheriff decides to make the matter an official priority and does his best to supersede the efforts of the posse and discourage them from investigating further. Luckily for the posse, the Sheriff is the only law dog that is actually legally qualified to perform an investigation (all of the SLC deputies are peacekeepers, not detectives) and it takes him a decently long time to piece together anything on his own. If Dr. Hellstromme (or Hanuman I suppose) catches wind that the posse brought the matter of the break-in to the attention of Sheriff Waters, they’re suitably pissed as well. This can make the final portion of the adventure much more difficult, especially if Dr. Hellstromme decides that the posse has outlived their usefulness.
Otherwise, the posse is free to ask either Sheriff Waters (or any other law dog in the Junkyard) about the recent goings on without giving away that they’re working for Dr. Hellstromme. They’re not aware of any current tensions between Hellstromme Industries and the Smith & Robards Corporation, although they have been bitter rivals in the past. The posse might ask the law dogs about members of the Tremendae gang once they have some reason to suspect them, and while Sheriff Waters and his men are fully aware that the Tremendae gang have been operating out of the Junkyard, they’re currently stymied by two things – first, the gang has done a pretty decent job of covering up where they’re organizing (at least up to this point), and second, Sheriff Waters has had a run in with the Tremendae gang on a few occasions already, and understands that his current posse isn’t good enough to survive an attempt to bring them into custody. If the posse expresses that they’re interested in bringing the Tremendae gang to justice, Sheriff Waters is willing to deputize them and offer them any assistance they desire, short of offering them any more man power (the Sheriff is optimistic about the posse’s chances, but isn’t interested in throwing any more of his men into the meat grinder). If the posse ask the Sheriff or his men about the Danites, everyone does their best to avoid the subject and recommends that the posse do the same. If the posse asks about the Danites in any situation where they are more people present than just the Sheriff, it’s assumed that one of the deputies is a sleeper agent and alerts his Danite handlers to the fact that the posse is going around sticking their noses where it doesn’t belong.
THE AFTER EFFECTS
of getting the law involved always inadvertently make the adventure harder to complete for the posse. Once Sheriff Waters begins his investigation of the Plant #13 incident, getting answers out of fences and inventors in the Junkyard becomes much more difficult, as word makes it way around that the law dogs are looking for an excuse to make some gentiles swing from a noose. This adds 2 to every TN that the posse must overcome when engaging in social skill tests against members of these two groups (in other words, pretty much EVERYONE they might want to talk to in the Junkyard). The adventure acknowledges that this might make it actually impossible for the posse to follow up on any of the remaining leads, and explains that in that case the Marshal should let the posse exhaust all of their potential leads, and then after the last one has been met with failure, Sheriff Waters should show up on the posse’s doorstep and solve the case for them. This makes sense because Pinnacle hates you very much for buying their product.
Everything said and done, the posse can gain a total of four Bounty Points for engaging with the good Sheriff, if they volunteer to bring the Tremendae gang to justice and become honorary deputies in the Junkyard.
Is it just me or does all of the art in this book look like they gave the artist an hour's forewarning before immediately going to the publisher with the final copy?
The adventure kind of treats this location as a hub, and expects that the posse might visit the Steamer several times throughout the course of the adventure. The owner, Edgar Maybrick, is a savvy purveyor of information, and he’s as reliable a source as any that the posse is likely to encounter. He can serve as a source of new leads, and can act as the mouthpiece for the Marshal if the posse is close to solving something and just needs a nudge in the right direction. Maybrick is explicitly the source of both the
A DRUNK INDIAN
rumors, provided that the posse thinks to ask his advice.
Once the posse has visited the Steamer at least once, Walter Hot Iron (the Tremendae gang’s token minority and resident sniper) will be present during subsequent visits. He’s not waiting for the posse in particular (unless the players asked for and followed up on the
A DRUNK INDIAN
rumor from Maybrick, in which case he is) but he’s been drinking for a whole afternoon and is looking to start a fight. He’ll get aggressively into the faces of the posse, and if he feels like he might win the fight, or alternatively feels exceptionally threatened, he draws down and starts a gunfight. This causes a pretty big ruckus, as Maybrick immediately grabs for his scattergun as well, and everyone else in the bar has to quickly decide whether to get involved or get the fuck out of Dodge. Either way, at the resolution of the gunfight, the law dogs arrive at the Steamer, and they are none too pleased with the situation. If the players have been deputized when this occurs then they’re in considerably less hot water, but they still get admonished for starting a gunfight inside a business, putting innocent lives at risk.
If instead the party has previously asked about Walter Hot Iron or any of the other Tremendae gang members from Maybrick or anyone else who frequents the Steamer, Hot Iron is instead waiting to ambush the posse the next time they stop by. He’s still drunk and still gets into their faces, but instead attempts to single out the most macho member of the party and challenges him or her to a 1 on 1 duel in the streets outside. The adventure text gets a little wonky here, because it attempts to detail two potential outcomes to this scenario, which produces a Schrodinger’s Saloon situation because there’s supposedly another member of the gang waiting along with Hot Iron, but it’s a different member depending on whether the posse heads outside or ignores his threats and stays inside. If a posse member decides to man up and take Hot Iron down in a 1 on 1 duel outside, then Casper Zed (the Tremendae gang’s wizard) is waiting across the street from the Steamer and he attempts to cast whatever hexes he has that will end the duel ASAP. However, if the posse instead decides to try and ignore Hot Iron and stays inside, then Zik (the 500 pound steampunk cyborg) is actually hiding inside the Steamer behind a thick bank of steam and he helps Hot Iron crush the posse into a fine red paste.
To be honest, this portion of the adventure seems rather poorly planned, because Zik is a fucking monster in a small environment that favors melee combat, and he could flat out kill a posse member or two before either the law dogs show up or the rest of the posse realizes that it’s time to flee. Additionally, there’s the chance that one or two of the Tremendae gang could wind up dead following this encounter, which makes the pacing of the final confrontation at the gang’s hideout kind of anticlimactic. The adventure mentions that Hot Iron, Zik, and Zed all flee if it seems like they’re out matched or once the law dogs arrive, and in this case the adventure explains that once they either make it up into the Steel Sky above the Steamer, or get down into the throngs of people on the street below, the posse completely loses them no matter what methods of searching they employ. So, great, the bad guys completely ambush the party and have the chance to outright slay one or two of them before the posse even knows what the fuck, and unless the posse gets a lucky head or gut shot, the villains just flee to safety without fear of reprisal.
Oh, also, the Steamer is always packed with patrons and that makes it likely that Lawful Good characters won’t be able to get a safe shot off without fear of injuring someone else. Maybrick opens fire with his double barrel at whoever draws first or throws the first punch, and if that’s a posse member then the bad guys get an even more unfair advantage. Of course there’s Danite sleeper agents in the Steamer as well, and they report everything the posse does to their handlers unless the posse somehow ferrets out which of the innocent bystanders actually works for a shadowy conspiracy organization and manages to silence them. Also, the steam that gives the Steamer its namesake makes visibility low and allows anyone to make a
check to gain total concealment until their next action, and it also reduces the Range of all firearms to 3 (which I suppose is meant to reflect that the dense steam makes ranged combat more difficult, but in practice means that this building generates a field of gravity independent of the rest of Earth, one that is so strong that projectile based weapons mysteriously become wildly ineffective). I feel like just adding a flat +X to the TN of any
checks would have made more sense, but whatever.
THE AFTER EFFECTS
at the Steamer are pretty fucking schizophrenic as well. Considering that the adventure originally mentioned that the posse is supposed to swing through here several times to refill on leads and grub on some chow, the rest of the adventure (as written) runs completely contrary to this. The second time that the posse swings by, they’re ambushed by Walter Hot Iron and another member of the gang, and now the adventure tells us that this ambush is one of the only ways that the posse can learn the location of the Tremendae gang.
Well, now the adventure decides that if the posse is losing the fight, they can surrender and Walter and his friends will capture the party and take them straight to their hideout, which basically skips
everything else in the adventure
and brings the posse to the conclusion. I thought I wasn’t supposed to allow them to solve this mystery puzzle until they had done every other encounter? Also, now the adventure mentions that the posse could also follow the fleeing members of the Tremendae gang back to their hideout (I thought that they acquire plot immunity once they reached the roof or the street?) or that the posse could instead subdue one of the gang members and torture / force them to take them back to their base
again bypassing every other encounter in the adventure
. Okay? Also, if any of the Tremendae gang members escape from the ambush (and if you run the adventure as written, THEY’RE EXPLICITLY SUPPOSED TO) they immediately round up the rest of the gang and tell Rex that they need to take care of some trouble makers before anyone else catches on. Every remaining member of the Tremendae gang then ambushes the posse at some point when it would be most inconvenient, which effectively
solves the entire mystery for the posse and likewise denies them the cool showdown that they might have otherwise experienced if they managed to confront the Tremendae gang at their hideout in the abandoned steel refinery
. I THOUGHT THAT I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO LET THE POSSE SOLVE THIS SHIT BEFORE THEY HAD FOLLOWED UP EVERY LEAD, BUT NOW YOU WANT ME TO JUST JUMP THEM OUT OF NOWHERE?
The posse can get three bounty points for following the gang back to their hideout, two bounty points for subduing and interrogating a gang member, two for each gang member that they murder, one for sniffing out which patron is actually a secret member of the Danites (which the adventure otherwise makes NO MENTION of), and one for completing their combat in the Steamer without allowing even one innocent person to be injured.
DEM SNEAKY DANITES:
NEXT TIME ON THE ROAD TO HELL:
NOT BAD MEANING GOOD, BAD MEANING BAD
”Road to Hell” posted:
The heroes seek out the shadowy Danites and either walk away empty handed or earn an enduring, invisible enemy.