Posted by Journeyman GM
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 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.”
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!