Friday, February 6, 2015

Deadlands: "The Devil's Own" Post Mortem (Part 1)

I like doing actual plays, but I don't actually have the time to do them, so he's a long overdue post mortem recap of my Deadlands: The Devil's Own campaign, the one in which we playtested the Hexslinger and new Harrowed rules from Stone and a Hard Place.

I've been a Deadlands guy for years, first as a player and then a Marshal, but I'd never ran what felt like a real campaign before, instead feeling more like we would get started, get an adventure or two in, then something would interrupt and we were done. Well, I had decided I wanted to focus more on playing campaigns with an ending, especially with how Necessary Evil turned out for us, I had been running Deadlands for the group, using mostly canned modules (Night Train, Murder on the Hellstromme Express, etc), when I got the offer to playtest some of the material from Stone and a Hard Place (namely the Harrowed rules and Hexslinger rules). The problem with this? No Harrowed, no Hucksters acting like Hexslingers and no desire to start all over with new PCs. The solution? Flip the whole game on its ear.

Our posse:

Texas Ranger James "Jim" Bowie Travis - Grandson of Lt. Colonel William B. Travis, who died in the Alamo alongside Jim Bowie, James Bowie Travis is big, loud and proud Texan who backs down from pretty much nothing. He has been assigned to keep an eye on an Indian carrying a US Marshal's badge...

Lana - Seemingly a hooker, she's actually a Pinkerton Agent, ordered to spy on this Texas Ranger seen in the company of an Indian said to be carrying the badge of a missing US Marshal. She carries a sword with her, the best thing her Daddy ever gave her.

Tontchay - Former Cherokee Shaman and former Deputy of missing US Marshal "Ugly" Joe Kidd. Convinced The Marshal was still alive, Tontchay was dead set on freeing him from Hell.

Professor Mathias - An NPC Snake Oil Salesman that the group (Travis) had pressed into service. He had been developing something of a rapport with Lana.

I started the new campaign with a seemingly innocent adventure after the end of Murder on the Hellstromme Express, with the group finding a young Texas Ranger staked up in the wild and left to die. They later encountered a small Indian village which had been sacked and brutalized. Professor Mathias was stunningly assassinated and the posse exchanged fire, hitting the assailant. Their only clue as to what had happened was a stationary Steam Wagon. Looking to pin down this path of brutality,they made their way into a small town called Saint's Hollow, where they met a man named Elias Nash Nash runs Saint's Hollow, and they had captured a young woman....a witch named Cleora Whately. They had claimed she had brought a plague of famine on the town, and she was to be executed within the day. When the well meaning posse intervened, they came face to face with Nash's friend, US Marshal Jeremiah Lowry. They released Whatley to the posse's custody and the group departed, looking for the bad men, led by the criminal known as "El Propio Diablo", or "The Devil's Own". The group had to split, because of how rough the terrain was being on the Steam Wagon, and Lana and Travis took one road, with Whately in tow, while Tontchay and Lowry took another.

The Steam Wagon ground to a halt, with weeds and plants locking the wheels in place. Travis and Lana got bushwhacked by a motley crew, including a scary Indian Shaman, and the Steam Wagon even exploded, sending Travis down. Lana was killed by a blindfolded swordsman, while Travis was stalked by a Mexican carrying a Bowie Knife...that he claimed was Jim Bowie's knife, which he himself used at the Alamo when he killed Bowie! Then he stabbed Travis in the chest.

Tonchay and Lowry came to a bridge and Tontchay tried to cross it when he spotted a large albino. The wagon started rushing towards him and he managed to leap on it, but then the bridge came loose and he went crashing to his death.

Yes, I set  out to kill my party. I did it knowing they were all coming back...but I had to work hard to screw Tontchay. Lana and Travis came back Harrowed and I ran them through their Nightmare Scenario (like it was recommended in Deadlands Classics), essentially giving them a series of choices that determined what the balance was between their soul and the manitou. Tontchay wandered through the Hunting Grounds, led by his totem spirit (a wolf) into a spirit manifestation that blended elements from various Indian Tribes, and convened with a towering well as Doc Holliday. The Chief explained they had managed to save Tontchay by "cheating", because the bad guys had "cheated" first (this is a reference to Deadlands canon that folks who played through the Heart of Darkness adventure will get). The Chief explained that Tontchay was a pretty poor Shaman, but he was a great killer, who was becoming outgunned in this war...and Holliday taught him secrets of Hexslinging. Oh, Tontchay also found a skull at the site where Marshal Kidd made his last stand in The Hunting Grounds.

Like I said, ham fisted, but I needed a Hexslinger and some Harrowed to test these rules, and my group didn't mind.

Upon emerging in the land of the living, they were informed by The Prospector that their killers were led by El Propio Diablo - The Devil's Own. No one knew much about the guy, except that the SOB had been active at least since the Alamo and had been killing ever since. And he's apparently unkillable. Turns out, my guys wanted to kill the guy(s) that killed them.

As they started seeking out the bastards that killed them, the skull went missing. Along the way, they found the aftermath of an attack by a Hangin' Judge. They tracked the skull to a group of outlaws led by a Harrowed (I got to use the Burrow power on them here), but found it had been sold to an "interested party". They wound up attacked by the Hangin' Judge but prevailed, with Travis counting coup and getting his guns (which became his signature for the rest of the campaign, I swear). At the end of the adventure, their camp was invaded by the flesh and blood Marshal Kidd, holding the skull and claiming to have a fractured memory.

The group was attacked by a militia and Kidd, seemingly paralyzed with fear, did not participate. The group tracked the militia to Saint's Hollow. Elias Nash, looking emaciated, told them he had seen no militia, and the posse - being stalked by rats in Saint's Hollow - departed. They found an old fort, where Walter Barrington, leader of the militia, opened fire on them with his Steam Cannon arm. Tontchay drew a bead and shot him down while Travis moved in on the fort. Travis and Lana got into a battle with The Albino, and Travis killed him with the Hangin' Judge's guns. When they, along with Kidd, found Barrington, Kidd suddenly drew down on him and shot him to death, including a blast to the brainpan. He showed off the mark on Barrinton and The Albino, a Devil's Mark binding them to El Propio Diablo. Inside the fort, they found a painting of El Propio Diablo and eleven other beings, as well as a pair of disembodied eyes floating overhead. They recognized Barrington and The Albino in the picture, but were a bit nervous at seeing what appeared to be a ghost and a werewolf among the crowd.

The group met with Agency operative Louis Valance, who sent Lana into Sioux territory with a steam wagon to meet Sitting Bull. Along the way, the group was warned by a hostile Sioux band not to go near the territory, but were not attacked. Travis began seeing a strange hound (a Gabriel Hound) on the periphery of things, and he knew it was having an effect on him. As the group tried to gain an audience with the Indian leaders, they were put on edge when El Propio Diablo and Black Foot Death arrived. Tontchay, having clearly gone "Kemosabe", was the odd man out against Black Foot Death. They also got unnerved at seeing Black Foot Death walk along the ground..,and plant's dying. Wovoka met with Tonchay and told him that The Ghost Dance brought him back. Travis lost control of his manitou while on watch, and as he came to, Crazy Horse and a group of braves had appeared at camp. Crazy Horse and Travis brawled to a standstill, until weird demon snakes ripped through reality and the two sides had to fend them off. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull ultimately refused to commit soldiers to either side of the conflict, though. The posse left, dejected, and found themselves at Satan's Garden...where they were ambushed by Propio Diablo, Black Foot Death and Ravenites...but a Sioux War Band joined in the fight! As the posse was getting the upper hand (I ran this with Mass Combat, which the group loved, though Kidd took a nasty shot and Lana nearly got burned alive...or dead or whatever), gatling fire ripped through the battlefield, killing some Ravenites, but particularly taking out Sioux. The posse found Marshal Lowry and Louis Valance "rescuing" them, and even Travis (to my complete surprise) snapped off on them! Travis and Tontchay took Lana's body and the wounded Kidd and headed across Sioux Territory for Deadwood!

I totally hammed up the Deadwood episode, drawing on time watching the show. Lana and Kidd were recovering in Doc Cochran's tent while Al Swearengen made the acquaintance of Tontchay and Travis. He hired Tontchay and Travis to help his man Dan Dority escort an appraiser out on inspect a plot, while Lana recovered in the Doc's tent in time to kill an assassin. Lana joined Tonchay and Travis, but the group came under attack by Japanese assassins, led by a wicked one named Komodo, one of El Propio Diablo's gang! They fought to a stalemate in the wild, and it eventually spilled back into Deadwood, where Tontchay nearly blew up Komodo and killed himself as his dynamite exploded more powerfully than it should have! Travis, Kidd (who seemed non-plussed at his friend's death) and Lana departed Deadwood, leaving Tontchay in Swearengen's hands to be buried, but Tontchay's wolf refused to leave his side. Their exit was facilitated by Swearengen, who smuggles opium in and out via Iron Dragon and used his connections to get them through Sioux territory.

The next episode saw Travis, Kidd and Lana on an Iron Dragon train with a Chinaman named Jubei and a fancy gunslinger named Creighton Kennedy. Jubei is another PC played by Tontchay's player. The PCs all met up and interracted, and they met other folks on the train, namely a strange, old woman name Agatha and a European named Valentine (who had more than a little bit of Simon Belmont going on). Agatha explained to Travis that he had been cursed by a witch (who he immediately figured out was Cleora Whately), and that's why the hound was following him. Then I flipped everything on its ear with violence. The Iron Dragon crew began attacking the posse one at a time, the result of the disembodied Ethan St. Prince possessing them and hopping person to person. Soon the train was under full fledged assault by El Propio Diablo, Black Foot Death, the blind Spaniard that killed Lana named Javier Cervantes, the ghostly gunslinger Mason Garrett, the massive werewolf and even Komodo emerged from the guts of Travis, where he had been hiding in an ashen form. Jubei managed to kill the werewolf, and was shocked and saddened to discover that it was his old friend Spencer Smythe (former PC in one of our games). The posse figured out that Cervantes was being fed info by his raven familiar and killed it, effectively neutralizing him. Black Foot Death used magic to spirit him away. El Propio Diablo was rattled when Creighton Kennedy managed to shoot Black Foot Death in the head and kill him! Valentine fought Mason Garrett but couldn't stop him for good. Travis discovered the futility of fighting El Propio Diablo, who could not be harmed, but he backed off before he lost too many men...but not before Lana temporarily lost control of her manitou and nearly gutted Jubei! Travis spotted the hound and tried to chase it, while Kennedy feverishly worked to save his friend and Lana met with the wounded Agatha, who told her to kill her and take her Sight! As the dust settled, Kennedy departed with Jubei, leaving Kidd, Travis and Lana with the wreckage of the train. Kidd finally agreed to have a drink with Travis and offered up his own hooch...and as Travis and Lana drank it, they were startled to discover their manitous taking control of them, while Kidd explained that he has his own Devil's Mark!

Seems like we actually took a week or two break in there in real life, so it's a good place to cap this post off, as this thing is getting much larger than I intended.