Monday 11 July 2016

Deadlands - Heading West

A few weeks ago, we took a break from Pathfinder to return to Deadlands. The game started on 7th September 1879 with us heading west by train to the City of Lost Angels in California. Sitting in a carriage together, the guard recognised Carson and asked after his brother. Before Carson had time to respond, an alarm sounded, shutters closed over the windows, and the guard retrieved a gatling rifle from under a seat...

'Tesla' - a young English lad travelled over to the States after becoming rather obsessed with a promising young scientist he's heard of... a bit on the chubby side and very pale skinned with dark hair and moustache styled like his hero. (played by Bells aka Aaron/Tanna/Adam/Kito)
Carson - acting as his tour guide, but usually a bounty hunter. Handy with a gun. Seems to know the world a bit better than the rest of us. Early 20's, Boston accent, sun-bleached brown hair and sunburnt skin. (played by Rich aka GM for Pathfinder/PathfinderInterlude/Aberrant/Exalted)
Steve - also a gunslinging type, but more of a PI than a bounty hunter. Wants to be a lawman. (played by Paul aka Kieran/Sam)
Solomon - young woman, maybe 18 but looks younger. Plays guitar. Doesn't like to fight. Darker skinned than the others, with black hair. Missing her left eye. Always looks like she's standing in shadows. (played by me aka Svetlana/Jvala/Chrissie/Taji).

Steve and Carson drew their guns. We peeked through the blinds and saw a load of Native Americans running at the train, whooping and hollering and brandishing fierce weapons. Looked like Apaches to me - not that it matters, they clearly weren't happy with us being there. Huge explosion rocked us to the core and the carriage wrenched, twisting and tipping and screaming. So much screaming! Inhuman: ghost rock screaming. We recovered from the shock to find the train guard was in literal pieces: we grabbed our stuff and started to make our way back, away from the engine. I scooped up the gatling and handed it to Carson; I have no idea how to use something like that!

When we got to the luggage carriage at the back, Steve forced open the door. Sunlight poured in, blinding us from the shutter-darkened train. As our eyes adjusted, we saw another group of Apaches tearing towards us. Steve started firing as I tried to hide. Carson joined him, then as the Apaches arrived, Tesla pushed through the others to fire lightning into the attackers! Seems he has more in common with his namesake than we realised. The burst took out most of the attackers, leaving just the Chief. He was powerful enough, slashes at Tesla in a spray of blood. As the others failed to hit him, I realised I was going to have to help. Look, it's not that I'm a coward; I just don't want to fight unless there's really no other option. I drew my rifle, held it in front of me as I burst from my hidey hole and charged, screaming, at him, plan being not to hit him, but to surprise and scare him enough that he'd hopefully run away (often works on beasts, but not always - hence that missing eye), or at least be distracted enough the others could hit him. It worked for a moment, but then he was on me, smashing me with that axe of his. I didn't realise until then that he'd also hit Carson.

They killed him, and Carson beheaded all the bodies. Didn't say why, just that it was important. Tesla drew out what looked like a cattle prod, only when he pressed it against his wound we could see the skin knitting under the blood. Tried to charge Carson and I a dollar each to treat our injuries the same way - Carson pointed out the other Apaches he'd spotted on the hill who'd be heading our way soon and Tesla zapped us. It hurt, like a sustained static shock and this tingling all through where I'd been cut. Efficient, though.

The only way we could think to go was deeper into the hole where the train had fallen. Tesla's mule walked with Carson and I through the train, being surer-footed than Steve's horse, which he had to ride in the trains shadow. Fortunately both beasts were well enough trained to go into the hole's darkness. 

Carson and I made several torches from the wreckage. The hole led to a tunnel laid with traintracks. None of us knew of any tunnels here; there was nothing in Tesla's guidebook. Still, with Apaches behind us we needed to keep moving, and with where our train was we could only really head one way, so off we walked. And walked. And walked. We'd spent over half our torches when we heard, of all things, a train behind us! Stood to the side as it raced past, and we kept going, trying to ration the torches more carefully. All the same, the last one was starting to gutter when we finally found something. Ahead, the sounds of people working, picks against stone. In front of us, some strange device, about 10ft high, two legged but not human-like at all: made of metal. A mounted turret with a claw one side and a gatling the other. We froze as it swung towards us, but it swung away again a few heart-pounding minutes later. 

"Automaton" whispered Carson. Tesla seemed excited; guess the word means something to him! Carson threw a rock: it tracked it, but made no aggressive move. Tesla crept closer and it still didn't react so we all crept past. A sudden nosie made us look back: Tesla, instead of following us, had gone even closer until it had raised the claw. He scuttled to join us.

Round the next corner was the train that passed us. A group of men unloaded boxes labelled 'Wasatch' and seemed quite friendly: they were surprised to see us and explained they'd simply barged our train out of their path, assuming no survivors.The foreman, Charlie, explained what we were seeing was very secret so we couldn't leave until they'd finished laying the line to Lost Angels.

Hellstromme hadn't withdrawn from the railway race, merely taken it underground!

Charlie reckoned the line would take another week or 10 days to break through and led us to a particularly richly decorated carriage, where Dr Darius Hellstromme himself was engaged in conversation with Epitaph reporter Lacy O'Malley. Dr Hellstromme reiterated what Charlie had said - that we couldn't leave until Lost Angels - and asked that we help out in return for bed and board.

O'Malley showed us round the site. The 'Hellbore' digging machine was particularly impressive, though very noisy. As we headed back to the main camp, we saw Charlie and the guards heading to the machine - "Trouble's coming" - and shortly after the workers ran by from the other direction. Although we all turned to follow the guards, seems I was the only one who'd heard the shout of "Hegerty's trapped in the machine" as the others joined the guards. Was surprised to see O'Malley heading the same way, camera out. 

I ran to the Hellbore, thinking to free Hegerty. Carson wasn't far behind and gave covering fire: a hole had opened in the ceiling and from it poured creatures the size of a large dog, but looking more like giant centipedes. They were swarming over the machine so I redoubled my efforts to get there, vaguely aware of O'Malley taking photos, of Carson's gunfire, of the guards shouts and shots. Steve and Tesla were frozen in terror, though I found that out later. Now, I was focused on my target. A small group of the creatures ran at me as I ran at them, and I could see some disgusting ichor drip from their mandibles. As I dodged my way past, I heard a bullet from Carson take one out, and shortly after Steve and Tesla joined him.

I reached the machine. The sides were slick with coal dust and unexpectedly warm to the touch, and I had to struggle my way past more of these creatures who didn't seem affected by the slippery surface: I saw the tail of one skittering inside as I arrived, which at least helped me pinpoint the way to Hegerty. He was held to seat by restraints that had stuck: he struggled against them and lashed out at the 3... no, 4 creatures in the cabin. I realised why he was the one driving this thing: he was the shortest person I've ever seen, and the only one who could fit in the cramped seat. I shoved a giantipede out of the way so I could reach a harness-strap, and started sawing with my knife but it was tougher than I expected. Hegerty, seeing me, shifted his attention to smashing the creatures to protect me as I worked, but I felt one bite against my arm. Fortunately, it wasn't strong enough to break through my leather coat. It exploded in a spray of stinking gore as Hegerty smashed it in the same instant I finally worked him free - I swung my knife wildly to try and clear a path and landed a lucky blow to take out another. The remaining creatures ran.

Hegerty and I helped each other down and headed to the others, who'd cleared most of the creatures. As we returned to camp to clean up, Charlie explained a bit more about what we'd faced. They're known as 'tunnel critters' and are very common in these parts, but only underground. From time to time, the crew will disturb a nest like this, and we were lucky here: the parents weren't home. Adult tunnel critters are far more dangerous, though the babies aren't without risks: he warned us that if we'd been bitten they'd have laid eggs inside. I checked myself very carefully in the shower, just to be sure, but there was only a slight bloom of bruising where they'd tried to bite my arm.

Round the campfire, Hegerty was grateful enough to share some of what seemed rather expensive fire water he'd been saving. I plucked my guitar as people sang. O'Malley was very impressed with the way we'd charged in on hearing there was danger, and particularly with me in getting to Hegerty. The glow of the fire, the fire water and the praise made for a very pleasant evening. I've never been called a hero before.

Time passes differently underground without the sun to guide you, but Dr Hellstromme's crew were disciplined and stuck to a daily pattern that helped. 

Dr Hellstromme invited us to eat with him on occasion. To begin with, he'd been a bit cautious around Tesla, whose behaviour was verging on idol-worship. After that attack, though, when Tesla's gadgets proved themselves, his attitutude changed; he seemed more relaxed and even explained why he'd chosen to take his rail-race underground: on the surface, there was sabotage and warfare, but no one knew he was underground so he was safe from that. The distractions of the surface railroad wars were so significant, in fact, that even with the extra time required to carve the passage, he was confident to finish faster this way.

The violence of the railroad wars clearly distressed him: he was eager to reach the City of Lost Angels to put an end to the suffering and death that had arisen. The sooner someone - anyone - won, the sooner the violence would be over, and by going underground he was confident he would win sooner.

We got a taste of that violence a few days later. 

When we finally broke through, the sun was blinding bright and Dr Hellstromme congratulated each person individually. We'd arrived somewhere in the Californian desert, and Dr Helstromme asked that we join him to seek out his locally-based team: not knowing exactly when or where we'd arrive, they hadn't met us. So he set us up in the second carriage of his rail-less train - "The Good Intentions" - while he, Charlie and O'Malley took the front. After finding his team, it would take a few days to lay the last of the track, then he'd need to fight his way in to actually win: Rev Grimme, leader of the City of Lost Angels, seemed to be backing other Railroad Barons and hadn't exactly given consent.

As we travelled, an explosion rocked our carriage. We looked out to see some kind of gliding device dropping bombs beside us. Two steam cars flanked us and a load of Chinese fighters leapt to board, whilst gatling guns fired from their cars and a blue-skinned giant of a man jumped onto our roof to cut his way in with a broadsword. He grabbed my hair, tried to pull me up by it. I managed to break free, but the shock of it (and his yellow-fire eyes) left me shaken. Through our damaged roof, I could see a gatling gun fire from atop Dr Hellstromme's carriage, until the giant threw some kind of glowing ball he created from nowhere at it. The gun was destroyed.

It was tight, fighting in that carriage. The giant accidentally beheaded one of his own guys and in the confusion I saw - thought I saw - a figure made of glitter. It seemed to be on our side, or at least the Chinese fighters viewed it as a threat. Tesla's electric bolt device took out a guy beside me and the smell of singed hair brought me back to the fight. I grabbed a curtain to throw over another, giving Steve a clearer shot (and felt my stomach churn to know I'd helped kill once more). The giant swung at me and somehow didn't cleave me in two - a miracle sent to remind me it's ok to kill in defense, perhaps? A round of bullets landed in its crotch, and the huge man fell. As the last few fighters died or fled, it disintegrated until not even dust remained. No trace. No sword. No clothes. Nothing. No one from the other carriage had seen it, but the roots of my hair still stung and my side was still bruised so I knew it had been there.

Dr Hellstromme warned us the attack was likely from Warlord Kang, owner of the Iron Dragon railroad and I understood why he was so keen to get this war ended before more died.


  1. When is the next installment going to be written? I like to see what it was like from your (a player) perspective, and we've done quite a lot since that intro.

    1. I will try to get to it - I've just been a bit burnt out!