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Night Train Writeup

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

(And a very long writeup up my game at Savage Saturday Night during Origins 2012)

For those who don’t know, Night Train was part of Pinnacle Entertainment’s Dime Novel series made for the Classic version of Deadlands. The first half of these Dime Novels consisted of a fiction story involving the exploits of the undead gunslinger Ronan Lynch and his companions. The second half was a scenario version of the adventure that Ronan Lynch and company just went through, allowing a creative posse to go through the events their own way. (The fiction stories of the three Dime Novels were rereleased last year with new artwork of Ronan Lynch and company, but sadly they did not come with the adventure).

Night Train is probably the most famous Dime Novel because the scenario in the back of the original version had a reputation for killing off the entire posse. Perhaps the description for the product says it all:

Our undead gunslinger’s next adventure finds him in the town of Varney Flats just as the ominious Night Train rolls into town…This Dime Novel is our most famous ever, and launched the writing career of John “Total Party Kill” Goff. Survive this one and you’ve got some serious bragging rights, amigo!

Although I’d heard people talk about it, I’d never seen it run, so I decided to rectify that and run it at Origins 2012 during their Savage Saturday Night event. I created my own Classic-to-Reloaded Conversion to bring the scenario to the current Deadlands Reloaded (not knowing that an updated version of the scenario was already included in the new Deadlands: Last Sons). I submitted it to Pinnacle Entertainment, so hopefully it will join the ranks of their other Classic-to-Reloaded Conversions (downloadable here) soon.

To add to the fun, I statted out versions of characters from the fiction stories in the Deadlands Dime Novels as pregens. Players got to choose from Ronan Lynch, Hank “One Eye” Ketchum, Velvet Van Helter, “Bad Luck” Betty McGrew, and Thaddeus Washington (I also created a sixth original character, but she didn’t get used). Because these characters belong to Pinnacle, I’m not allowed to post the character sheets online, but I submitted them to Pinnacle and was told that there is a good chance that they will be made into an official download!

And what about those serious bragging rights for surviving? All players who completed the scenario with a surviving character got one of these buttons I made:

I was a bit surprised by the composition of the players who decided to play this super-deadly adventure. I anticipated having a table of six Savage Worlds veterans who were all familiar with Deadlands. Instead, I only had one player who met that criteria. Three of the other players at the table were familiar with Savage Worlds but not Deadlands and one of them had never played Savage Worlds at all! (There was a sixth player who sat in, but decided to switch games at the last minute, so we wound up with five players). I made it quite clear to them that they were all going to die, but they decided that they would happily continue on.

The Adventure

The game started with Ronan Lynch, Velvet Van Helter, and “Bad Luck” Betty McGrew arriving at Barlowe Station only to find that nobody was home. Ronan found that the station log said that a Black River train had been through just yesterday and Velvet noted that the pigs seemed to have been fed recently. Something definitely wasn’t right. That’s when Betty peeked through the window of the station master’s shack and saw a pool of blood on the floor.

Not sure if there was some rational explanation that would explain all this, Betty and Velvet cautiously knocked on the station master’ shack several times before deciding to break down the door. Inside, there was a drawer knocked over and three bullet holes in the wall near the window. And although there was certainly a large pool of blood, there was no body. What had happened here?

Meanwhile, Ronan decided to relieve himself in the Outhouse, but caught a faint whiff of something decaying down the hole. He found a hoe from the barn to fish it out and, after a few moments of searching, managed to latch onto something. With a lot of effort and strength, Ronan managed to bring up into the light…a withered body!

With the help of Betty and Velvet, Ronan was able to pull it out and examine it. There were dozens of what appeared to be human-sized rat bites on the body, and yet it was clear that the cause of death was blood loss. Nobody could recall there being any giant rats in the Weird West, but they checked to ensure that their weapons were loaded in case there were a few such creatures running around. The trio decided to bury the poor soul (with Betty saying a prayer over him), then rounding up the skittish mare and pigs to sell in the nearby town of Varney Flats.

* * *

Hank “One Eye” Ketchum arrived in Varney Flats after a long day on the trail. He had left Dodge City later than anticipated because he had to get things straightened out after the mess with the Butcher on the Union’s Independence Day; making sure that the local paper didn’t publish anything strange, ensuring that the traumatized bystander after the first murder would get the help she’d need…and wouldn’t talk about what she saw, and telegraphing Roswell to let them know that he was hand-delivering something new for them to examine. He had The Butcher’s scalpel in his pocket. After all the chases, dead ends, and corpses he’d run into in 13 years since the maniac came for him, “One Eye” sure wasn’t going to risk the cursed relic with anyone but himself.

Going into the local saloon, Hank saw that its only patron was a well-dressed colored man who was sitting at the bar. Hank never did hold the ignorant belief that blacks were inferior (and thankfully, few did in the West) and so he had no problem joining the tinhorn at the bar. The man introduced himself as Dr. Thaddeus Washington and said that he was out searching for exotic specimens to study. Monsters. Hank thought about sending a telegraph to make sure that the scientist didn’t get any papers about Mojave Rattlers published, but he decided to let it go after he came to the conclusion that any “reputable” academic journals wouldn’t publish an article about so outlandish a creature that it couldn’t be real.

When they had finished their drinks, the two men went their separate ways. Thaddeus considered going to the buffalo hunter’s camp on the edge of town to ask if there had been any reports of strange creatures out on the plains, but went to the train station instead when he figured that being dressed in a three-piece suit was probably more of a hindrance than a help with such ruffians. Hank heard from the telegraph operator that the jail house held the notorious murderer Abner Knaggs. He was supposed to be held until the district judge came by to hang him, but the town marshal had disappeared yesterday and the operator was a bit scared that citizens were going to do the hanging themselves.

While wandering around town, Thaddeus saw a strange sight: a cowboy, a cowgirl, and a well-dressed southern gentleman were driving a mare and a herd of pigs into town. As they passed by, he thought he caught the smell of death off the cowboy. Just in case trouble was brewing, Thaddeus decided to report this strange sight to the Texas Ranger he met at the saloon. He found the man finishing up a shave and a hair cut and took him to the newcomers. Much to Thaddeus’ surprise, Hank greeted the man who smelled like death warmly…or as warmly as two soldiers on the opposite side of the war could.

“Ronan! Well, if it isn’t you again, ya damn Yankee!”

“Nice to see you again too, Texas! You ain’t turned into some axe-wielding murderer yet?”

“Over your dead body!”

“Why, do you want one too?”

The cowgirl, seeming very uncomfortable about the exchange, broke them up. In an effort to change the topic as quickly as possible, she started off introductions for those who hadn’t become acquainted. Right as Betty was fishing for the next topic to keep the men from killing each other in the street, the town deputy approached them.

“H-Howdy, friends,” the deputy stuttered. “You look like the, um, adventurous sort, and I was wondering if I could interest you in a little work.” The work turned out to be making sure that there wasn’t a lynch mob tonight at the jail where the murderer Abner Knaggs was being held. As Hank had already heard, the Marshal had disappeared and the deputy, although he wouldn’t admit it, didn’t have the grit to hold off a mob by himself. Ronan considered just letting the mob tear the murderer apart, until he heard that the deputy would give them the $100 reward for Knaggs if they could protect him. Split five ways, that was $20 apiece; a good sum of money for just one night’s work. Ronan decided that his own hatred for the man could be put aside for that long.

* * *

The newly sworn in deputies decided that the best plan to prevent a mob from lynching Knaggs was to keep it from forming in the first place. Figuring that people would get some “liquid courage” first, they went to the saloon, only to find Mayor Varney meeting with some “concerned citizens.” And he was fitting the bill for the liquor too.

Betty went ahead and blurted out that she thought the mayor was trying to instigate a lynch mob. Mayor Varney didn’t take too kindly to that, but tried to use his silver tongue to say it was just a meeting of concerned citizens talking about the state of the town. Thaddeus decided to test that claim by asking if they would be willing to help prevent Knaggs from being lynched. Mayor Varney casually said that he would do what was best for the town.

Hank decided that wasn’t good enough, so he grabbed the mayor’s shirt and told him that if he didn’t stop trying to form a mob, he would arrest him right then and there for malfeasance in office. That seemed to hit a nerve. Mayor Varney spat back that the Texas Ranger wasn’t in the South and didn’t have any jurisdiction in Kansas. Hank stared unflinchingly into the eyes of the mayor. “Wherever I go, the law goes. Do you really want to test that?” Mayor Varney blinked twice, then gave a sigh, telling the other bar patrons that their “concerned citizens meeting” had been cancelled. He said a few choice words to the posse as he headed out of the saloon.

The group took turns keeping watch in the saloon and patrolling around town to make sure that no other such meetings began. As it got later into the night, the town quieted down, but the group decided to take shifts sleeping at the Marshal’s Office just in case.

* * *

As the witching hour came upon them, Thaddeus and Betty were on watch when they heard a faint scream in the distance. Hank, who seemed to always be alert even when he was sleeping, shot up from his bed at the distant noise. With a bad feeling in their guts, the three woke up the remaining members of the posse to investigate.

The streets were clear and the night was silent, but Ronan put his ear to the Black River tracks and heard that there was a train coming. But what sort of train ran that late in the night? A train full of trouble it was decided. As if giving voices to their thoughts, the train whistle blew again in the distance. A train whistle that sounded remarkably like a scream.

Thaddeus and Hank took up positions in the train station to shoot anything troublesome that came out while Betty got up on the roof of the land office that had recently turned into a saloon. Ronan and Velvet decided to stand out in the open so that if there was some reasonable explanation for why the train was making a night stop, like an accident had happened, then they could talk with them.

As the train got closer, the air seemed to get colder and the shadows seemed to grow darker. A nearby tree caught Ronan’s eye and he unconsciously reached for his neck, feeling the scars from when he was hanged. When the train was close enough to see, Velvet briefly thought that he saw some sort of demonic face on the front of the engine, but soon realized it was a trick of the light. As the train slowed down, the chugging of the train engine seemed to resemble some sort of stampede of people coming to a weary halt. When the train finally crept into the station, Ronan noticed the number on the front: 666.

Moments after it stopped, the screaming whistle split the night air. Doors at both ends of the sleeper cars burst open with several dozen dark figures running in pairs towards the buildings of Varney Flats. Ronan and Velvet saw two of the figures pause for a second, then one of them jerked its head toward them, hissed, and led the second in a charge towards them! Ronan jumped out of the way in time, but Velvet wasn’t so lucky and the thing got a good swipe off of him with what appeared to be claws. In the dim moonlight, Velvet got a quick look at his adversary. All he could focus on was its full set of sharp teeth.

Hank lit a light in the train statin so he could more easily see who he was shooting at. Suddenly, the doors burst open and two figures charged in. They looked human enough, except for the pale skin, long claws, and sharp teeth. The intruders split up and attacked each of them. Hank tumbled out of the way while Thaddeus was only saved when the creature clawed his oversized gatling rifle rather than him. Thaddeus ripped off his Thermal Binocular Visual Enhancement System when he realized it was preventing him from seeing the obvious: that there was a creature right in front of him!

Betty heard the the doors to the building she was on burst open and figured it was only a matter of time before they got up to her vantage point on the roof. She lined herself up to shoot anyone that came through the roof access just as a pair of intruders busted down the door. Betty squeezed her trigger, and much to her surprise, her rifle bullet strung both of them straight through their hearts, slumping them to the ground. “Bad Luck” Betty decided right then and there that she did believe in that whole “karma” business that the Chinaman she met a few months back had told her about. If all the bad luck she’d had in her life balanced out with good luck right now, it would all be worth it.

Realizing that his pistols weren’t going to be as useful in close combat, Hank pulled out his bowie knife and began slashing at the creature that just tried to bite him. After a few tense moments, the creature overextended itself and Hank was able to give it a good stab in the stomach, slumping it the ground. He then turned his attention to the one attacking Thaddeus, who was still honing in on its prey, despite the fact that the prey had just unloaded a dozen bullets into it. Hank crept up behind the creature and, in well-practiced form, slit the throat of the monster. He kept the pressure on until he was able to break the creature’s spinal column and sever the head from the body.

Thaddeus took a few deep breaths while trying his best to ignore the grisly sight. “Nosferatu,” he said slowly.

Hank looked up. “What?”

“Nosferatu,” he repeated. “Although its overall morphology is somewhat different from the concept of the traditional, or Carpathian, form, I believe it is, nonetheless, a nosferatu. A vampire, if you will.”

“Well then, Perfessor, how do you kill a ‘noseferret?'”

“Nosferatu? There are many myths from different cultures about how to kill such a beast. Exposure to sunlight is shared by most such legends as fatal to vampires. Others assert that holy water, garlic, or a stake to the heart will also be fatal.” Thaddeus glanced a look at the headless body at Hank’s feet. “I believe that decapitation is also an acceptable way to kill a vampire.”

Thaddeus noticed that the first nosferatu that Hank had stabbed began to twitch on the ground. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a splinter of wood and drove it into its heart as hard as he could. It stopped moving. Hank sauntered over and in one quick motion severed its head. “Just to be safe,” he assured him.

* * *

Velvet and Ronan weren’t faring nearly as well in their fight against their nosferatu. Velvet pulled out a Soul Blast against one of them, but it barely scratched the skin of the monster. He was about to grab Ronan and teleport out of there when the thing grabbed onto Ronan and bit him in the neck. The other nosferatu drew his claws deep into Velvet and his green velvet suit started to mix with a dark blood red. Velvet was shocked that he didn’t die from that.

Suddenly, a shot rang out in the night and the nosferatu in front of Velvet hissed as it fell forward. Velvet looked down at the bullet wound in the back of the nosferatu and up towards Betty up on the roof of her post. The distraction seemed to be what Ronan needed to get free of the nosferatu wrapped around him and as soon as he got away, a second shot rang out, piercing the remaining nosferatu in the heart. Velvet pulled out a few glowing cards and touched them to himself, which seemed to stop the bleeding. He did it again but this time touched them against Ronan and his nasty neck-bite started to heal.

* * *

The ear-splitting scream of the train whistle pierced the night once again. The posse realized that the nosferatu were heading back to the train, this time with a pair each carrying a townsperson! Betty shot one of them, which caused its partner to abandon the screaming woman they were carrying. Ronan, being the heroic man that he was, charged into combat with another pair, ignoring the fact that he almost died from fighting just one of them. The rest took pot shots at the passing nosferatu, but didn’t dare to go toe to toe with any. Hank went around the train station to try to pick off those as they boarded, but couldn’t line up a good shot without risking a hit to one of the townspeople.

The two nosferatu engaged with Ronan decided to abandon their prey and booked it towards the train. As soon as they arrived, the night train’s whistle screamed one more time and the train started moving. Hank bolted towards the engine. As the train went by, Betty took a breath and fired a shot at the conductor. Despite the range and cover, she managed to get a shot straight to its legs. Hank jumped onto the locomotive and kicked the conductor out. For good measure, he decided to fulfill his pledge to “shoot it or recruit it” as it tumbled to the ground.

As the train sped away, Hank realized that whatever he would have to do he’d have to do alone. Apparently the nose-ferrets didn’t think anything strange about the train leaving the station, since the conductor apparently followed protocol when he got the train moving. Hank’s first idea was to blow up the boiler, but he didn’t have anything to cause an explosion. So he pulled the throttle to full and stuck his bowie knife behind it, jamming it open. With any luck, it would be derailed. Then he took a leap of faith and tumbled off the train.

* * *

Back in Varney Flats, the remaining townspeople gathered in the street. Although the people were looking to Deputy Parrish and Mayor Varney for direction, the two men had more faith in Ronan and company.

“Knaggs has been captured,” Deputy Parrish stammered. “The whole reward, $100 in gold eagles, is yours if you bring him back alive.”

Varney cut in: “And I’ll offer $20 of my own cash for everyone one of my citizens you bring back alive.”

Just then, there was a tremendous din from several miles to the north. A large fireball brightened the horizon, which Ronan swore looked like a skull. Seems that the Texas Ranger managed to get the night train to go fast enough to derail on some turn a few miles out.

After what seemed like an eternity, Ronan calmly said, “I’m sorry Mayor. They’re gone.” He turned his back and took a few steps before adding, “For what it’s worth, this won’t happen to any town ever again.”

GM’s Notes

Wow! What a ride! Unfortunately, the session didn’t turn into all that happy of an ending because they didn’t rescue the captured townspeople, but they did manage to destroy the Night Train without any player character casualties (although there were several very close calls)! So I was pleased to hand each one of the players an “I survived the Deadlands Night Train” button!

Does that mean I didn’t run it right since I didn’t have a TPK? Some might say that, but I think I still ran it just fine.

I decided to allow for “accidental heart shots” much like the “accidental head shots” from Daring Entertainment’s War of the Dead. If they got two raises on the Fighting or Shooting roll, then they hit the heart of a Nosferatu (without any extra damage associated with it). Little did I know that “Bad Luck” Betty would be rolling those two raises regularly! Since the player for her had never played a single session of Savage Worlds, I figure that this was beginner’s luck.

Also, I decided that instead of having it so nosferatu were only allowed to be Shaken, but not wounded, a nosferatu that took a wound would be on the ground for one round before they got right back up. I did this to allow for a situation where they could “hold them back.” If  Thaddeus hadn’t staked the one Hank stabbed in the stomach, it would have come back up.

Perhaps these two changes made the scenario a bit easier than it should have been, but ultimately, I’m proud of how the scenario turned out. Everyone had fun and it was became a very memorable Night Train experience!

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Origins 2012 Recap

Several days ago, I posted about my first day at Origins. Things were going very well and I was enjoying both the roleplaying games I was playing and the board games I was running. Now that the convention is over, I’m pleased to say that the great experience I had that first day carried over through the rest of the convention as well. And contrary to the previous years at Origins, I didn’t have a single bad game!

I don’t know how interesting a full recap of my events is to others, but I’m going to go ahead and post one anyway! 😀

Thursday

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd EditionI got up bright and early once again for an 8 AM game of The Avengers using Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition. I’ve always liked the Mutants & Masterminds system for doing a good job of emulating the superhero genre while still allowing it to be somewhat tactical and crunchy if desired. And after being blown away by this year’s summer film The Avengers, I decided that it would be a lot of fun to play in it.

I grabbed Captain America (my favorite superhero) as soon as the sheets came out. It turns out that this group of Avengers was from the comics, rather than the summer film, so we had Iron Fist and Black Panther available rather than Hulk and Thor (the GM did note that Thor would likely be too powerful given that he tended to be the Avengers’ magic bullet rather than an equal member of the team). I had to get a recap on who Kang the Conqueror was, but ultimately, I was able to enjoy the session despite not being nearly as well-read in the comics as the other people at the table. And in the end, Cap was able to help his fellow Avengers save America from yet another supervillain threat. The GM could have been a bit more enthusiastic, but all in all, it was a great session.

The rest of the day consisted of me running not one but two roleplaying games. First up was A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was an intro to the Traveller roleplaying game (Mongoose Publishing version) consisting of both character creation and a quick scenario (feel free to see part 1 and part 2 of my review of Traveller). I had a pretty eclectic mix of experience levels with two players who had never played Traveller, one who just started GMing a campaign but had never played, one who played about ten years ago, one who played when the first version came out in 1977, and one who not only played since 1977, but works for Terra/Sol Games which sells nothing but Traveller supplements!

Players old and new enjoyed creating characters. To my surprise, every character had average or above average stats with multiple 12s being rolled at the table. Almost all of the chosen careers wound up being military occupations, so it was definitely a battle-hardened group. To my surprise, the players were deathly afraid of the Aging Table, so our characters mostly ranged from 34-46 years old with only one character adventuring at the ripe old age of 54. As a result, group character creation only took 1 1/2 hours, which was the shortest that I have ever had it take.

The scenario I ran was a pretty basic one where someone hires the crew to do a field survey on a recently colonized world, but it quickly becomes apparent that their patron is motivated by something else. This time, it was a search for psionic artifact that the government had placed there as an experiment to diminish aggression, but with prolonged exposure, it wound up making beings far more aggressive. The team recovered it and decided that the best way to deal with their treacherous patron was to space him. Not all that heroic, but it was an interesting turn of events.

In the evening was Stargate Universe: Rescue using the Savage Worlds system. Stargate Universe was the third (and currently last) show in the Stargate series. Although admittedly the first episodes were very poor, the show got quite a bit better about halfway through the first season and had a (in my opinion) stellar second season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save it from a premature cancellation from Syfy Channel’s chopping block (or from Syfy’s vendetta against all sci-fi shows if you’re bitter about Sanctuary and Eureka also getting prematurely cancelled and being replaced by yet another paranormal show). The final episode was left pretty open-ended with everyone in stasis pods and Eli alone on the ship, looking out at the stars.

So I created a scenario that provided at least some closure to that. One and a half years later, the Lucian Alliance had managed to recapture Destiny by leading a covert strike on Langara and using their Stargate to dial the ninth chevron and gate to Destiny (and I decided that a successful ninth chevron dial to Destiny immediately drops the ship out of FTL). So what does Stargate Command do? They send their A-Team to get it back! So we had Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Carson Beckett, and Col. Telford leading a rescue operation on Destiny.

The whole explanation of how that turned out is too long for this blog post, so I hope at some point to write up how that went and how our group decided to provide a partial conclusion to Stargate Universe. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, some time ago, I did write up a conversion for using the Stargate setting in Savage Worlds, but it’s undergoing a complete overhaul to bring it up to the same level of quality as my Elder Scrolls conversion. So if you’re a Stargate fan and you want this, stay tuned!

Friday

Friday began with the new board game Oh My God! There’s an Axe in My Head! by Game Company 3. After hearing about it from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild Patriarch since I joined the Guild, I decided to try it out (apparently the company they originally hired to print it didn’t pull through, but they broke away from them and it’s finally coming out).

In this game, you are all delegates meeting in Switzerland to negotiate treaties following World War I. The Swiss have hired axe jugglers as entertainment, but they have suddenly gone crazy and are chucking axes into the crowd! So now you’re left to negotiate treaties while dodging axes flying past you. Oh, and you can pick them up and throw them at other delegates too! It was a fun game and I decided to splurge for it.

In the afternoon was our Battle of Endor LARP. This was intended to be the Wings of War LARP (without full cardboard planes) adapted to the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. On paper it sounded great and we prepped it for 21-42 people (which happened to give us a whopping 21 credit hours for the purpose of getting free rooms).

Unfortunately, only one person (who was from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild) showed up, so we obviously couldn’t run it. I think there were two main factors that kept people from signing up. First, it was classified as a LARP, but wasn’t a typical LARP and so it probably didn’t appeal to the right crowd. Had we advertised it as “GIANT Battle of Endor” much like the popular “GIANT Settlers of Catan,” and advertised it as a miniatures game (kind of a macro-miniature game I guess) we might have drawn the right audience. Second, they placed us in the farthest room of the farthest hotel adjoining the Convention Center, meaning there was no potential for walk-ups. It’s unlikely that we’ll try this again in the future, but it was a valiant attempt.

Then in the evening was The Price of Success, a Firefly game using the Savage Worlds system. In this game, we got to play the remaining crew members of the Serenity after the Miranda incident (minus Kaylee who was back on the ship). I got to play Malcolm Reynolds!

The game used the increasingly recycled scenario of the characters waking up without any memories of the last day and having to retrace their steps to figure out what happened. In the process, we found out that, among other things, Jayne got caught up in an underground fighting ring (and became the hero Clobberin’ Cobb!), River had helped Simon cheat at cards in a casino, and the rest of the crew crashed a party Mr. Niska hosted for his (very ugly) daughter. The author said that at some point he would post the characters and scenario online and I’ll be sure to link to them when he does.

EDIT: Less than twelve hours after I post, it’s up online! Check it out at Dragonlaird Gaming!

Saturday

Saturday I started off with the D&D Next playtest. Yes, I am allowed to talk about it, but I would like to save that for a later post about what I think about D&D Next as a whole.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceIn the afternoon, I ran A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court, a scenario for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Although the tickets sold out in 20 minutes, I was surprised to find that only four people showed up. I felt bad for the people who told me during the convention that they wanted to get in the game, but couldn’t because it was sold out.

The players decided to try something I’ve never seen done before: they wound up choosing both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same group. Fortunately, the players who played them were able to have a lot of great banter off of each other. Accompanying them were Donna Noble and Rory Williams (without Amy apparently).

In this adventure, the characters found themselves in the time of King Arthur. (When is that time exactly? Forget that you asked, it gets in the way of the story!). After being sent to look after the missing Knights of the Round Table, they ran into a suit of armor with a Vashta Nerada inside (who fortunately was prevented from leaving to wreck havoc among Earth), a downed spaceship, and a cage that housed a creature that looks remarkably like what Earth people would call a dragon. Oh and they discovered that Merlin was The Master!

There was a very epic ending to the scenario in which The Master was using Blood Control (from the Sycorax) to control the dragon to destroy Camelot. The companions decided that King Arthur needed Excalibur to slay the dragon. But where do they find Excalibur? They came up with a very creative solution: they remembered that Excalibur was sometimes called “The Singing Sword,” and so they decided to rig up a Sonic Screwdriver with a standard sword to create a Sonic Sword! Then they gave it to Donna, who was dressed in blue, to be the Lady of the Lake (she at least called herself Lady since she was a Noble) who badgered King Arthur until he took it. During this time, Rory taught Lancelot CPR, which likely evolved into the legends about him being able to lay on hands.

And then the epic showdown came when the Tenth Doctor confronted The Master and told him that what he was doing was wrong. Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor snuck behind the unsuspecting Master and knocked the Blood Control device out of his hands. Rory smashed it to bits and Donna yelled for King Arthur to attack as the dragon plunged toward him and his army. With everyone chipping in story points for extra dice, King Arthur rolled a whopping 73 to slay the dragon (mind you 30 is “Nearly Impossible”). And so we decided that the tale of King Arthur slaying the dragon would be a legend forever.

The group let the Master get away and we decided that the final scene of the episode was The Master getting into the downed ship and the Vashta Nerada’s ominous shadows closing in.

Finally, I ran Night Train for the Deadlands setting of Savage Worlds. Did they survive the scenario that is known for resulting in many TPKs? That’s a story that will have to be saved for another post!

Deadlands Developments

Today I’m dutifully doing a discourse describing Deadlands developments. Yep.

Independence Day Dime Novel Cover

They didn’t stop The Butcher, but at least the scenario finally felt right.

First, I would like to say that I have finally run a successful session of Independence Day, one of the Deadlands Dime Novel adventures. I ran it almost a year ago but the scenario really suffered because of issues with the The Butcher’s invulnerability. When I ran it last month, it fell flat because I kept trying to bail the players out of failure. But the third time’s a charm and I finally got the scenario right.

With my brother and his friend having to cancel their D&D game, they asked me if I had an adventure to run. We wound up deciding on doing Deadlands and I had Independence Day already prepped since I ran it last month. The duo wound up excelling in the investigation and were able to figure out The Butcher’s identity even before the last few clues came out. Unfortunately, they were not able to discover The Butcher’s weakness and died trying to fight him. This time, I didn’t bail the characters out of their failure. Ultimately, the game wound up being better because of that and, although they were a bit disappointed to have not stopped The Butcher, the players were happy with the scenario in the end.

Turns out that while I’ve been running some Classic adventures, Pinnacle has been hard at work with all sorts of new Deadlands stuff. The fan-maintained Big List of Pinnacle Products shows that there are a whopping 14 supplements/adventures in the pipeline! And that’s not counting Deadlands: Hell on Earth Reloaded coming out this summer.

But the big news this week was Pinnacle’s new setting: Deadlands Noir. Instead of being set in the Weird West, Deadlands:Noir is set in 1930s New Orleans. The description says that typical player concepts include “steely-eyed private dicks, fast-talking grifters, wild-eyed inventors, and shadowy houngans” and you can bet there’ll be mafia too. Oh, and lots and lots of obligatory New Orleans Hucksters (and I thought they were surprisingly many of them floating around the Weird West as it is!). As a fan of the general Deadlands metaplot, I have to say that I’m wondering how this will all fit in (and why Stone is going to be around, as has been hinted at). At this point though, it’s all speculation, so we’ll find out.

Unlike most Pinnacle products, this one is an experiment in crowd-funding using Kickstarter with individuals pledging money ahead of time so that the product can be created. Each project has incentives that backers receive for pledging more, like signed copies of the books. Turns out that their $8,000 goal was raised in less than 24 hours! As of this writing, they are 345% funded and are planning on releasing their “stretch goals” to give extra benefits to backers if they raise enough money. Pinnacle hasn’t announced them yet, but my guess is that it will be more adventures and cut-out “figure flats” like they have with their other products.

Now that the description is out of the way, it’s time for my take on the whole thing. Kickstarter seems to be an increasingly popular means of generating funds, especially from game companies, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before Pinnacle gave it a shot. And it’s clearly worked for them with support shattering their expectations with hundreds of backers willing to invest in their product, sight unseen (certainly the Deadlands reputation helped, but they don’t know what the product will actually be like yet). It was a pretty good business move I think. Overall, I think that Kickstarter is starting to become a bit too saturated and that eventually there is going to be some backer fatigue, but for the time being, Pinnacle took advantage of the situation.

The setting itself is interesting, but I can’t say the hardboiled genre it seeks to emulate is entirely my cup of tea. Maybe it’s the fact that’s it’s more gritty and less optimistic than I like my settings to be. Or the meandering monologues become a bit too much after a while. I went ahead and backed the project because it’s Deadlands, but I don’t think it will wind up on my must-play list (although for what it’s worth, it took me a long time to warm up to the idea of a post-apocalyptic Deadlands (that would be Deadlands: Hell on Earth), so maybe I will warm up to this as well).

I’m also a little concerned because the hardboiled genre involves a lot of investigation, which is often a difficult thing for GMs to run properly in a role-playing game. My guess is that there will be some new mechanics to keep things fast, furious, and fun (probably spend a Fate Chip to automatically get a clue or something). I also anticipate a modified version of the Social Conflict rules in Savage Worlds Deluxe to better handle interrogations.

At the end of the day though, I have to admit that playing a private eye huckster does sound really sweet!

I Hate to See the Players Lose…

I’ve discovered something about how I GM: I hate to see the players lose. I love throwing enormous challenges in front of them, having characters make a noble sacrifice for the greater good, and beating the odds to pull out a tremendous victory (the Death Star trench run is one of my all time favorite movie sequences, largely for this reason). When all goes the way I’d like it to, it creates the sort of story I love to see: a story where a small group of individuals defy the odds and come out heroes.

Unfortunately, role-playing games don’t always go that way.

My long-running Necessary Evil campaign finally came to a close the weekend before last with the villains earning a hard-fought victory agains their greatest enemies with the odds stacked against them. And then in a final showdown with the Overmind, they had several very lucky rolls and pulled out a surprise victory, saving the world and saving the galaxy from the evil threat of the V’Sori. I loved it!

Since we had one more good weekend of gaming, I decided to run a Deadlands one-shot for the group. Originally they wanted me to run Night Train, which is so deadly that rumor has it the author gets royalties for every character killed in it (not really, but it definitely is a character killer). I had my misgivings about this scenario and with a few players saying they couldn’t make it, I ultimately decided to run Independence Day, in which they investigate several mysterious murders in Dodge City by The Butcher.

Independence Day Dime Novel CoverLast time I ran that scenario, it went well overall, but I had some issues with it that I planned to resolve the next time I ran it. I didn’t use the Adventure Deck and attempted to have a fight earlier in the scenario. (But the characters just wound up talking themselves out of it, which was good I guess. Note to self: next time start the game in media res with a small fight that gets them noticed by Earp and then starts the scenario.)

The biggest problem I had with the scenario last time was with the way The Butcher had invulnerability. I wound up just changing it this time to “he regenerates one wound each round” unless his weakness is exploited. I decided not to have him have a free soak roll because I had so few players. So far so good.

But this time when I ran it, the players were having a lot of trouble. After they had gathered all of the clues (knowingly or not), I told them that they needed to piece together the mystery and figure out who the culprit was. After about a minute of thinking, one of the players proudly declared “it must be the undertaker!” I nearly face-palmed myself right there. I had just offhand mentioned the undertaker picking up one of the bodies and apparently they thought that made him a suspect.

Had I been an evil GM, I might have let them arrest the undertaker and have them enjoy the night, only to have The Butcher strike again and get the heck out of Dodge (literally). Instead, I had the undertaker help them make some connections between clues, thanks to his love of mystery novels. It got them back on track at least.

They split up in search of The Butcher and unfortunately, one of the characters got a critical failure while trying to make a Notice check to find him. The Butcher got the drop on her and sliced off her arm to add to his collection (yup, really). With one arm severed, she tried to shoot with her off hand, but missed. The Butcher sliced her other arm and let her bleed out on the dirt. The other Huckster made it to the scene then, but in the first round suffered an ignoble death when The Butcher made a called shot to the head, and dealt 5 wounds, none of which got soaked. The Butcher had murdered two more people and could have walked away into the night, ready to continue his reign of terror in the next town.

The players were about to pack up, having failed to stop The Butcher, but I hated to leave them on such a tragic note. At first, I contemplated making both of their characters Harrowed until I decided having a Harrowed Huckster with only a head was just a bad idea. So I offered them my other pregenerated characters to come in as reinforcements. The Blessed was just lucky enough to stay alive, but the Mad Scientist wasn’t. Yet another replacement character came who I said had some ideas about The Butcher’s weakness. With a lucky shot, they exploited it and defeated The Butcher once and for all.

Unfortunately, this victory seemed hollow to me. They didn’t identify the culprit without help and went through three replacement characters before I more or less told them what The Butcher’s weakness was. I did it because I really hated to see the players lose. But in making sure that they didn’t lose, I made it so that they didn’t really win. Or at least it wasn’t the same.

It’s a lesson I had to learn: that even if you really want to see the players succeed, sometimes the stars aren’t right and they will fail. It makes the true victories more meaningful, I think, even if we hate to see the failures when they happen. And it’s almost just as bad to blatantly tilt the odds to prevent the players from losing.

What about you all? Have you had similar thoughts or do you have a different mindset when it comes to players failing?

Savage Worlds Showdown Gameplay Review

I generally play roleplaying games, but every once in a while, I dabble with miniature games. Recently I’ve tried out Savage Worlds Showdown, a miniatures version of Pinnacle Entertainment‘s Savage Worlds. Basically, it’s a stripped down version of the roleplaying game with a few extra rules to make it fast, furious, and fun on the tabletop. And best of all, it’s freely available for download here.

There is no GM. It’s just two teams of players fighting against each other to the death. Because of this, all skills, Hindrances and Edges that don’t do anything in combat are eliminated. Figures are either Wild Cards or groups of Extras and they have a point cost based on how powerful they are. When one side is defeated or random chance declares that the game has ended, the two sides count up the point values of the units they have defeated. The ratio of the winner’s kills to the loser’s kills determines how much of a victory was achieved.

There’s a paid scenario for each of Weird Wars and Deadlands, and a whole setting called G-Men and Gangsters. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but I have tried Pinnacle’s two free scenarios: Brides of Dracula, pitting Van Helsing and his hirelings vs. Dracula and his brides, and Rumble in the Jungle, featuring Buck Savage and company caught in the middle of some poachers and a 20-foot tall gorilla!

Several weeks ago, I played Rumble in the Jungle with the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild. Beforehand, I printed out the free figure-flats that come with the scenario. There was nearly a show stopper when I found that the scenario as printed gave the poachers extra units making their total point value nearly twice as much as the Savages! Fortunately, I found a correction on the Pinnacle forums that made the sides much more even.

We had five players, myself included. We decided to divide the players up three and two. The rules say that each player receives three bennies at the start of the game, but with uneven sides, this seemed kind of unfair. So we decided to have six bennies for each team that anyone could use.

Our game in progress.

The poachers led by Baron Wellingsford decided to put those with guns prone on the cliffside while putting the native spearmen behind the rocks below. When the first round started, the Savages went in guns abalazing at whomever they had line of sight for. Everybody has unlimited ammo, so one of the quirks of Savage Worlds Showdown is that it’s always worth it to try and make a chance in a million shot.

They may appear flat, but these boulders did a great job of protecting the spearmen from boom-boom sticks.

Things started off pretty even for both teams. The poachers were taking pot shots, the Savages were duking it out with the spearmen, and no side was really dominating. But then came a ferocious cry from deep in the jungle: DONGA!

Unfortunately for the Savages, Donga randomly appeared near them and started fighting the intruders in his jungle. Fortunately, the twenty-foot tall beast wouldn’t harm the beauty and refused to attack Virginia Dare under any circumstances (which we realized meant she could shoot at him all day and Donga wouldn’t mind).

Danny Dare was the first casualty of Donga’s wrath and the rest of the Savages eagerly booked it away in the hopes that the native spearmen might get between them and the fearsome beast. In the mean time, they took a few shots at the spearmen and were able to get them to flee in terror. Unfortunately for the Savages, they made their morale roll and started coming back to avenge their fallen comrade. The Savages were caught between the bloodthirsty natives and the giant ape and several more fell. But not before killing a few more natives and even shooting some poachers up on the cliffs.

Things fell apart for us at the table when we noticed that Donga has the Gargantuan ability. The Showdown rules describe it as follows:

Gargantuan creatures have Heavy Armor, are Huge, and add their Size to their Strength roll when crushing targets via Fighting rolls.

This is certainly an appropriate ability for a King of the Jungle, but it threw in a monkey wrench to the mechanics of the game. The first problem was the fact that Gargantuan grants Donga Heavy Armor. In Savage Worlds Showdown, this means that only Heavy Weapons can deal damage to the unit (the intention is that a bazooka can destroy a tank, but not a pistol with a lucky damage roll). Unfortunately, no character on either side had a Heavy Weapon. We figured that Baron Wellingsford’s Elephant Gun might count as one even though it wasn’t listed as such, but the Savages certainly didn’t have one and so they had no possible means of getting the victory points for dealing the final wounding blow to Donga. So we just dropped the fact he had Heavy Armor and the remaining native spearmen just swarmed him and stabbed him to death. Not a fitting end for a 20-foot giant ape.

The other issue was that we discovered that Size was not explained anywhere in the Savage Worlds Showdown rules. Savage Worlds has numerical modifiers for sizes (e.g. +3) and I believe that was the intention was for Savage Worlds Showdown as well. But it is completely omitted from the rules. So the whole part about adding Donga’s Size to Strength rolls when crushing targets couldn’t actually be done.

At the end of the game, the Poachers won by a wide margin after eliminating the Savages and dealing the final killing blow to Donga. With the exception of the confusion about Donga’s Gargantuan ability, all players agreed that the game was simple and enjoyable to play. Both sides were balanced and it was largely the fact that Donga randomly appeared near the Savages that made them lose.

All in all, Savage Worlds Showdown was a good miniatures game that I would happily play again. With the rules clarified and the typos in the free scenarios fixed, it would be a perfect entry game for anyone looking to get into miniatures games.

A very happy player!

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