July 8, 2012

The Posse, they be Comin' Round the Mountain (Part 2)

Well, for this blog entry, I'll be discussing both the events of the adventure Comin' Round the Mountain as well my thoughts on the Savage Worlds system, including what changes I made.

We actually started with only four players in the posse, these being the Buffalo Gal (Jessie Reynolds), the Gunslinger (Roy Walker), the Huckster (Thomas Kimball), and the Mad Scientist (Professor Wilson Washington).  We had a fifth player join just in time for the first real combat encounter, and he chose the Indian Brave (Laughing Wolf).  So a pretty good mix of characters, though with a bit of bias towards combat.  I also encouraged them to choose a famous person to "portray" their character as well as come up with names, and wound up with the following:

Buffalo Gal - Jessie McCoy, portrayed by Jennifer Garner
Gunslinger - Roy Walker, portrayed by Russell Crowe
Huckster - Thomas Kimball, portrayed by Johnny Depp
Mad Scientist - Professor Wilson Worthington, portrayed by Denzel Washington*
Indian Brave - Laughing Wolf, portrayed by Eddie Spears
*Yes, there were Blazing Saddles references aplenty

The adventure started with the heroes grabbing a Union Blue train in St. Louis, Illinois and heading for Dodge City, Kansas.  I left it to each of the would-be heroes to decide why they were heading for Dodge City, as well as to decide if they knew any of the other posse members.  Roy agreed to have been hired as "personal security" for Professor Worthington while the later is en route to a symposium of his fellow "advocates of the New Science" taking place in Denver.  Jessie was looking to hire on as an enforcer for one of the Rail Barons, with either Black River or Union Blue being her preferred choices.  And Mr. Kimball was actually just trying to leave town ahead of some "misunderstandings" between himself and several persons who gambled more money than they could afford to lose.  For the sake of this adventure, I gave the train what amounted to a "cattle car" to allow Jessie and Roy to keep the horses that came as part of their starting equipment if they so chose.  Roy opted to pass, figuring a "horse is a horse," but Jessie kept hers, even giving the steed (a feisty mustang she called Charger).

Things got off to a slow start as the posse got the chance to interact and get to know some of their fellow passengers, including such folks as Gregory Dawson, a "professional gambler" that was eventually revealed to not be adverse to cheating at cards, though Thomas proved to be much more adept at cards and won a "treasure map" of Mr. Dawson, as well as Denise Meritt, an aspiring journalist from somewhere Back East that constantly quizzed folks (namely the heroes) about what they've done, a very pretty red-headed mail-order bride named Penelope Brown who's not thrilled about the arrangement but it does get her out of Pittsburgh, and a very secretive chap going by the name of Richard Chasen.  There's also a "museum liaison" from Boston by the name of Allan Seyberth, and a charming yet somewhat spoiled daughter of a cattle baron named Laura Giles.  I let the posse interact with these folks for about half and hour, simply basking in the attempted western/southern accents of varying quality.

Things pick-up (in a matter of speaking) just as the train is starting up a slope to cross a trestle over a wide ravine (not especially deep, but lengthy).  There's some commotion as it suddenly becomes known that the baggage car, cattle car, and caboose have been disconnected from the rest of the train.  Yeah, Jessie got a mite ticked that her beloved steed is now bound for a bad end, with Roy not helping by remarking she can just buy another horse down the line.  First blow was struck when Jessie belted the rather semi-chauvinistic gunslinger for his crass attitude.  Roy's response to the fact that she didn't really do much of anything for damage. "You hit like a girl."  Thankfully, Thomas interceded to keep things from getting really violent.  And then things got worst.  The afore-mentioned trestle got blown up, and even though the train was already in the midst of slowing down due to the detached cars, there's still no way the engine is going to be able to stop in time to avoid a sudden drop.  Working quickly the posse see about trying to as many of the other passengers off the passenger cars before they wind up going up and over.  The professor is naturally upset that his precious "scientific properties" were on the baggage cart and are likely to be damaged by this "excessively rough handling."  As it turns out, a group of outlaws had planned to wreck the train and scavenge the wreck, but the fact it was slowing down means that only the locomotive itself will be demolished.

Now combat in Savage Worlds is a tad on the deadly side, but it does move very quickly.  To those that don't know, Savage Worlds uses a poker deck to determine initiative, starting with Aces and working on down.  The default difficulty on a roll is a 4, with every increment of 4 that you exceed that default earning you a "raise," which typically means you get a better result.  The Marshal/GM can impose a penalty to the roll for difficult tasks, or a bonus for easier tasks.  Now typically, players choose one die, either an Attribute or a Skill that is most appropriate to the task they are trying, plus a d6 called a "Wild Die" for being a "Wild Card," keeping the highest result; if you roll the max result on a die (such as getting a 6 on a d6), you roll that die again and add it to the prior result.

Well, I wound up ditching that from the start and taking a step back towards Classic Deadlands, being a bit more open in what I allowed the skills to cover (which admittedly are already pretty broad), and letting characters roll an Attribute and a Skill die, but still only keeping the best die.  Also, if the hero is trying a skill they're not trained in, they use their default Attribute at a -2 penalty to their end result rather than the "official" rule of using a d4 at a -2 penalty.  Personally, I think it makes the heroes seem a good deal more badass.  Certainly seemed to work for Roy and Jessie, given they both had a d10 in Agility and a d8 in Shooting.

As for damage, non-important characters (called "Extras") are pretty much dropped if your damage total beats their Toughness value (average value of 5, 6 for tougher hombres), and firearms do anywhere from 2d6 (pistols) to 2d10 (big rifles).  Well, the fight with the outlaws largely went in the heroes' favor, thanks to Jessie's expert marksmanship and the 2d8 damage of her rifle enabling to drop any outlaw she hit.  Just when things are looking good, the leader of the outlaws hurls a small bundle of dynamite (3 sticks) at them, and nearly does Roy in (who mainly survived thanks to a Fate Chip and a good vigor roll.  It is at this point that Laughing Wolf, out on a personal quest, enters the fray, whooping and hollering and pretty as he rides into battle on his horse, making good use of his rifle to snipe at outlaws while darting in and out of range of their pistols.  Seeing that things have gotten far more dangerous, Thomas decides that he needs to "pitch in" and reveals his particular talent for magic, dealing some hefty damage to the outlaw leader with a single spell.

Now for those of you familiar with the old version of Deadlands, you'll know that in the Classic version, hucksters (aka the spellcasters of this setting) worked their mojo by drawing poker hands to determine how powerful of an effect they can generate.  While Deadlands Reloaded has removed that as the default, putting hucksters under the Arcane Background (Magic), but with a couple tweaks.  Instead of having to draw for every spell, the huckster has an option of using a (limited) store of Power Points to cast their spells, or they can go to the cards in the hopes of getting a good enough poker hand to cover the Power Point cost of their spell.  However, if they fall to get the minimum hand needed to cover the spell's cost, the manitou (aka demonic spirit) that the huckster tried to engage in a mental battle of wits gets to take a free swipe at the huckster (known as backlash), which can be quite bad.  Oh, and Jokers are included in the deck, but if you use a Joker to build your hand, you suffer backlash.

Well, Thomas' player was an old-school Deadlands player, and he opted to "gamble for power" with just about every hex (spell) he cast, in spite of the considerable risks.  Well, he was good (or simply lucky) enough to get the required hand each time while avoiding Jokers (with one exception to be mentioned later).

So, with the outlaws dead and the revelation of a "sorcerer" in their midst (man did Thomas have to do a lot of smooth-talking to avoid getting shot by some of the other passengers), there's now the issue of needing to get back to civilization.  The nearest town is 50 miles away and the train's cook mentions that his larder isn't well-stocked (they expected this to be a safe, uneventful trip).  So the heroes are convinced, mostly by Miss Giles, to go check up on the detached cars, with the young cattle baron's daughter coming along, presumably to ensure that some heirloom (belonged to her mother, is quite dear to her) is alright.  It is at this time they notice that Mr. Seyberth and the stern-faced conductor are missing from the remaining crew and passengers.  Jessie is eager to find out the fate of her horse, dearly hoping her trusty steed was mostly unharmed, while Professor Worthington was eager to reclaim his prized property.  So after a short yet tense walk (the posse kept expecting more outlaws to show up and try and bushwhack them), they get to what's left of the detached train cars.  Yeah, they're pretty much totaled, though amazingly, Charger is alive (how exactly he got free and managed to avoid the crash is not entirely known, but he's showing signs of having tussled with something with some scars on his forelegs and neck.  The posse does a little searching around, and find a set of drag marks akin to a person in boots being dragged off, while the baggage car showed signs of a fight, with a large wooden crate marked "Property of the Boston Museum of Arts & Sciences" looking like it had been broken apart from the inside.  Professor Worthington however is more interested in his trunks, and is relieved to find that the goods within are in working order, aside from a few dents and dings.  Well, night has pretty much fallen, and the posse gets ready to head back to the survivors with what goods they can salvage (not a whole lot beyond Worthington's trunks), with Miss Giles being content with finding a silver-chained necklace with a decent-sized pearl pendant, again saying how important it was due to having been her mother's, though Thomas is sharp-eyed enough to catch that the young lady was quick to palm something else from the wreckage; what exactly he's not sure, but he's got a feeling this young woman knows more than she's letting on.

The posse makes it back to find the other passengers have set-up a fire and some rudimentary defenses in case more bandits show up, with Mr. Chasen giving the suggestions and instructions.  Roy pegs the man for an ex-soldier, likely Confederate given the man's accent, but soon adds that the war's done and over as far as he's concerned, and the ex-soldier's reasons are his own business.  Denise makes a bit more of a nuisance of herself, and Penelope seems quite taken with the dashing dandy Mr. Kimball (apparently she missed out on the whole "he's a spell-slingin' warlock" bit from earlier).  After a very sparse meal, the posse and passengers decide to get what sleep they can, and then decide on a proper course of action in the morning.  Some of the folks are a bit unnerved by Laughing Wolf's presence, but he doesn't seem to really care, and stays up half the night to keep watch.  During the night, he is certain that something is out there, watching them, but it never comes close enough for him to spot it, though at one point he does wake everyone up with a shot from his rifle.  He does notice however that he bodies of the fallen outlaws have gone missing...

In the morning, the posse are approached by Laura Giles, who confesses to them that she thinks they might be in greater danger than they know.  She says that she'd been able to "chat up" Mr. Seyberth prior to the crash, and he'd let slip that he was playing escort to some kind of "very dangerous" animal to be studied by Union eggheads at some "secure locale."  She manages to convince the posse that this thing needs to be taken down before it can start preying on the other passengers, who obviously aren't as capable as the posse.  Roy balks a bit at this, wondering why a cattle baron's daughter is so worried about folks she barely knows, but Jessie shuts him right down by not-so-subtly insinuating that the gunfighter isn't quite as much of a "man" as he pretends to be, even adding that she's sure they can salvage a dress that'll suit his disposition from the wrecked baggage car.  Seeing this as a perfect chance to "conduct a proper field test" of one of his latest creations, Professor Worthington goes to his trunks, and after a minute returns with a flamethrower!  Unlike the bulky contraption sold by Smith & Robards, Worthington's flame thrower uses a much more compact storage system bolstered by the usage of ghost rock vapor.  The fact the tinhorn "prefessor" that half the party had been mocking as just broken out a flamethrower does not pass without remark. The train's cook, who is pretty much the only authority figure from the train crew left at this point (the rest died either when the locomotive went over the destroyed trestle or when the baggle and caboose got detached) decides the others should begin making the trek towards civilization.  Denise however is determined to come with the posse, saying she "smells a story," even telling Laura to keep her nose out of her business when Miss Giles demurely tries to convince the would-be journalist that it'd be too risky.  The rest of the posse agrees it'd be too risky as they don't know what they'd be dealing with, and Denise is mollified when Professor Worthington promises to give her a full accounting when they get back.

Starting from the wrecked baggage car, Laughing Wolf is able to track the "thing" with a little aid from Jessie for good measure, and determine the thing is insect-like given the stilt-like tracks left as the thing dragged the bodies of Seyberth and the conductor off, likely as meals.  However, as they soon learn to their horror, the various bodies, including those of the outlaws killed in yesterday's shootout, have been dragged to just outside a small cave.  And worse yet, the bodies don't have the good sense to stay dead!  Thomas is badly scared and scrambles away from the corpse that just tried to grab his leg, while Wilson just stands there jabbering in shock.  Jessie, Roy, and Laughing Wolf are all made of sterner stuff and get to work.  Jessie and Roy shoot the walking corpses closest to Wilson while Laughing Wolf draws his tomahawk and gets to work hacking and hewing at these abominations.  But it soon becomes clear that these are not just walking dead, but the bodies are being used as shells by some kind of disgusting parastic creature.  Recovering his wits, Wilson fires up the flamethrower and roasts a whole host of the things in one go, leaving the other three to quickly take down the few surviving critters, as the corpse shells proved to make them a bit more resilient than might normally be expected (not that getting blasted with a gout of super-heated ghost rock vapor did them any favors).

After a brief examination of the remains of these "huskers", Wilson concludes that these are likely the larval stage of the thing (seems he's got some medical training in addition to being a mad scientist), and concludes the cave is the most likely place for the "mother husker" to be hiding.  With as much care and caution as they can muster (though not as much of either as Wilson would like), the posse sets up a means to "flush out" the beastie, using Jessie and Wilson (they drew the short straws) as "bait."  Figuring it might be best if the posse were bit less visible, Thomas uses his magic to make the other heroes "dim to the eyes of others."  Laughing Wolf thinks the dapper dandy is a foul to knowingly consort with the manitous, but Thomas just laughs it off, saying that he's canny enough to avoid playing the game when the deck is stacked too high against him and to not be too greedy.  Sure enough, there's a loud scream and the sound of something inhuman screaming in pain, leading Roy to conclude that the bait's been taken.  A few moments later, Jessie and Wilson come hightailing it out, and skittering right behind them is an even bigger and uglier version of the "huskers" they fought earlier, and sure enough, the thing is pissed, particularly as it has severe burns all over its body.  Thomas opens up with a big blast of arcane power that rips a nasty hole in the beastie but leaves him badly winded in turn.  Roy surprisingly darts forward to try and draw the monster's attention to him after spotting that Jessie's got a nasty slice across her back, discarding his rifle to fast-draw his pistol and plug the monster in one of its eyes as Laughing Wolf draws a bead with his rifle and opens a hole in the thing's guts, but it's still not enough to take the thing down.

A note regarding Savage Worlds combat and damage, when a target suffers damage that is equal to or greater than its Toughness but the damage doesn't beat that value by 4 or more, the target is "Shaken," which largely means they can't act on their next turn.  If a Shaken target is hit and would again be Shaken, it instead suffers a wound.  Wild Cards (such as the heroes and really important NPCs) can take up to three wounds before they drop on the fourth.  Well, the Mature Husker in the Conversion Notes for this adventure was not a Wild Card, and from years of playing d20 games, I knew that it would be very easy for the posse to gang up and take this thing down.  So, I made two changes, the first being to promote it to Wild Card status to make it tougher to take down (Extras drop as soon as they take a single wound) and to give it the Hardy trait from the Savage Worlds corebook, which prevents the critter from suffering wounds upon getting tagged with multiple Shaken results.  So yes, the posse had a fight on its hands, though between a flamethrower blast and a nasty arcane bolt, the fight could have been worse.  The creature does have an armored hide, but firearms in DL:R pretty much punch thru most low lend armor, so said armored hide wasn't as much of a boon as it might have otherwise been.

Still, the fight wasn't as easy as the prior two had been, but the posse was victorious at the end, with Roy putting a final bullet into the thing's brain-pan with his six-gun after saying an appropriately cold one-liner.  Jessie got pretty badly banged-up, and might have died outright had she not spent a Fate Chip to avoid getting speared through the chest by one of the mama husker's spindly legs, and Laughing Wolf nearly got blinded by the thing's acidic spit when he closed into melee after his rifle jammed up (due to his going bust on a shooting roll; i.e. rolled snake eyes).  As for Thomas, well, he gambled with the a rather nasty manitou, as he needed a lot of power (4 Power Points to pull off two bolts with increased damage), and had to use a Joker to make his poker hand, thus suffering backlash in the form of being Incapacitated, which he narrowly avoided due to a lucky roll on his Vigor check; otherwise, it would have been lights out for the huckster.  Still, you take your chances, you pay your dues.  Like I said, he kept to the "old-school" flavor of Hucksters in having to draw a poker hand for each casting, even though he could have covered the spell easily with his own stock of Power Points.

With the monster dead and the Professor taking the time to ensure the small cave was properly scoured clean with a few extra blasts from his flamethrower, the posse moves to catch back up with the train passengers.  Sure enough, the Professor gives Miss Merritt the full story, much to Miss Giles' chagrin.  And we leave the group as they make the long trek back to civilization.

And that's where I ended it, as it was getting close to 11pm and I had a decent drive back home ahead of me.  It was indeed fun to once again run a game of Deadlands.  As noted, I did tweak the Savage Worlds rules a bit, particularly in terms of skill checks.  I'm not sure I'll stick with that change if I do run Deadlands under this system again, but beyond that I have to admit that combat in this game moves a lot faster, particularly as you don't have to worry as much about hit locations.  The one part of the game I didn't get to try out were the rules for "Duel at High Noon," which is kind of a pity as Roy was designed to be a pretty effective duelist.  Maybe next time.

Well, that's the adventure, with a few thoughts and notes on the mechanics of Savage Worlds.  In all honesty, I suggest that you give the system a look.  You can download the Test Drive version of the rules from Pinnacle's own website at the link provided below.  They've also got a number of free "one sheet" adventures that fairly loose one-shots, as well as some pre-gen heroes for various genres.  Hey, you could even get a little crazy and do a genre mix-and-match if you were so inclined.

Savage World Test Drive rules (V6)

Next time, I'll post the pre-gens I cooked up for my 4th of July session, as well as few others I put together after the fact.

Until then, happy trails pardner.

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