Wednesday 25 July 2018

Deadlands - Professor Vandergriff

This is a chapter in our Deadlands game, told from the perspective of my character, Solomon Blackbird. For the story so far, check out the index.
~~~
We walk away from the Chamber, dejected. Carson takes the telescope - he's spotted something that turns out to be a pillar of black smoke, thick and oily. It looks to be a couple of miles away, and with no better plan we head that way.

"It looks like smoke from a ghost rock boiler." None of us are going to argue with Tesla's expertise in that area.

It's pretty close now, so we creep cautiously up a hill to see  a man sat by the device belching out the smoke, with coffee brewing over a campfire, a rifle over his knee, and more guns on his belt... Chin, Carson and I huddle down to discuss what we're going to, only to look up to see Tesla walking up to him, bold as you like. The guy leaps up and points his rifle at Tesla before sidling over to a large hole beside th device, the boiler, and shouting into it before returning to the fire, still wary, still pointing the gun at Tesla, but at least not firing.

Chin heads to the other side of the hole, which we now notice has cables or pipes or something running from the machine into it. Tesla seems completely oblivious to any danger. I turn to Carson.

"I could go down, pretend to be looking after him?"

"That's not a bad idea. I'll stay here - signal me, and I'll be right there."

I run down the hill, calling for Tesla who ignores me - unlike the guard, who shouts "Wait!" in a worried Texan accent, then heads back to the hole and yells "BOSS!" I stay still, waiting. Despite his clear anxiety, I don't think he's about to start shooting wildly, but I'd still like to not look like a threat.

A head pops out of the hole. Dirty face, unbrushed and unwashed hair, and wild eyes, but a friendly voice. A weird scientist, who quickly recognises Tesla as the same and the two start chattering away. I signal Carson down as the scientist climbs out the hole; he saunters over, and Chin appears soon after. Professor Vandergriff introduces himself, then his guard as Fred - the guard goes to correct him, but Vandergriff, oblivious, continues talking and he shuts up. We introduce ourselves (though Carson uses the name "Elijah Cross"). The professor's got the same accent as Carson, Boston. I spot his signet ring and interrupt the others:

"What's over the mantle of the London Lodge?"

He responds by asking us the same question, which makes me a little uneasy, but Carson answers and he relaxes immediately. We tell him, then, about the glyphs, and he knows about them! There's one right here, in fact. 
We follow him into his hole. It's well-lit and littered with chicken carcasses. He'd learnt about the glyphs from the natives, knows they trigger earthquakes and has been experimenting. Before we can stop him, he grabs a chicken and smears its blood over the glyph, triggering a violent, terrifying quake. He wipes the glyph dow afterwards and tells us where he's found others - there's a lot more than we ever thought.

I'm finding it harder and harder to concentrate. It might be bright down here, but it's enclosed and stinks of chicken blood. I could feel my stomach tightening even before the tremors. I try to focus as we try to explain about using the glyphs to stop Grimme because a pawn of the Devil, the Reckoners, whatever, but creep my way back towards the entrance, waiting where I can breathe the fresh air but still see the others in case they need me.

Carson wants to bleed on this glyph while we're here, which Vandergriff finds exciting (I'd think callously, morbidly, if I wasn't used to how absorbed Tesla gets. I recognise this intense, focussed excitement). He pulls out a notebook and scribbles notes as Carson's blood makes the glyph glow, thickening the surrounding shadow - which reaches out and grabs Carson, pulling him in! Other shadows form and attack. Hearing the commotion, Fred pokes his head down then disappears. Chin's punches travel straight through the shadows, so he draws the Bless├Ęd Blade we used on the Sin Eater and slashes with that. The shadows around Tesla take him to the ground - I clamp down on my fears and get to him. As I search for his healing prod, Fred jumps down the hole and throws some kind of grenade canister, but the lid isn't secure and comes off before reaching the shadows, covering us in some kind of goo. Chin reaches Tesla and, cupping his palms over various heathen pressure points, gets upright at least - just in time for Fred to try throwing another grenade, which lands at his feet and ensnares all of us but Carson, still by the glyph, and Tesla, hobbling away. Fortunately, Carson's dealt with all the shadows around him and the ones by us are no match for his spells. The professor explains to Tesla where to find the reagent that will free the rest of us; although it feels like it, it doesn't take him long to find it.

Being back on the surface is a huge relief. Coffee's brewed; we rest and heal. The experience has left Vandergriff very animated. We talk more about our quest and our progress - he warns us that if someone (Grimme, Raven...) finds out what we're up to, they may try to undo our work, and offers to destroy his tunnel to protect this one. The glyph on the Isle of Ghost Tears seems pretty safe, but the Cave of the Wailing Horror is known to Tam and his men, and the one on Whateley Isle may already have been destroyed. We should probably spread out where we activate glyphs, to try to protect them.

We spend the night in their camp, and return to Shannonsberg in the morning. There's a Good Intentions message waiting for us in the copy of the Tombstone Epitaph we pick up:
Our Fellowship of Travellers will meet at the Fallen Angels Saloon in Perdition next Friday at precisely midnight. Your presence is requested by SQH.
It's Friday, 16th January 1880, so that gives us a week to get there. We leave at once.

~~~
After the frustration of the 37th Chamber and some general grumpiness in the group as we couldn't agree what we wanted to do, this was a very enjoyable interlude for me. We got some good roleplay going, with Tesla walking oblivious to potential danger and the heroic-flawed Carson and loyal-flawed Solomon trying to save him from himself. I think Chin's player was frustrated by the fight: I took control of 'Fred' and Husbit said to pick a couple of mad science powers I thought might help and I could use them as grenades - only I messed up both rolls and would have got the party killed if Carson were a less powerful huxter. I didn't mind so much: Solomon's useless in most combat, which I don't mind playing as/with when the rest of the party are on board and work to protect the useless character, but I've realised it doesn't suit this group so well and would have more regrets if I wasn't so fond of the character in other ways (turns out she's not particularly good at anything useful to the party, except storytelling, which is very valuable in the game, but she has a great backstory I like to explore, and she cares about the rest of the party, and I think that's important too). Fortunately, to combat (ha!) my uselessness in a fight, Husbit as GM will ensure there's at least occasionally an NPC for me to control who can help out. Then it just comes down to something I've found with Svetlana: my remarkable ability to roll botches in combat situations!

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