DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY by Evil Mastermind
Get up on that train, choo choo ride it.Original SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 1: Get up on that train, choo choo ride it.
Let's talk about metaplot for a moment.
Metaplot, in RPG terms, is the overarching narrative of a game line. That there's going to be a connecting story through all the adventures and supplements of a game, usually regardless of the actions of the players in individual campaigns. You don't see them much nowadays, because they're a bit of a codependent concept to another very 90's idea (the supplement treadmill), but the main reason they've fallen out of favor is because a metaplot ends up meaning that you have to play your campaign the way the designers want you to, instead of how you want to do it.
It wasn't uncommon at the time to be presented with major villain NPCs that the players would be expected to constantly butt up against, but were unable to defeat due to that NPC being needed to trigger a major plot point down the road. Or for one book to have a major plot point hinge on a factoid from a different book you might not own or be able to get. Or having certain character types invalidated because of changes to said group that happened in one adventure, with every book released after that working off that idea.
(The most infamous version of that last one would probably be when White Wolf killed off the entire Ravnos clan in one book the oWoD, meaning that if you were playing a Ravnos you were either one of the last ones left on the planet and were pretty much on your own from then on out, or dead due to metaplot.)
When you're dealing with metaplot that goes through a game line, you (the GM) have a problem. See, a metaplot means that a publisher has a story they're going to tell, and your group is going to be going along for the ride.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for story in RPGs. Hell, stories are the point of RPGs. But what I'm talking about isn't emergent storytelling, it's about railroading. To wit, it's about having to bend your campaign around the tidbits revealed piecemeal through supplements instead of being able to pick and choose, and the story you're telling with a game not the one you, the GM, wants to tell, but the one the game writers want you to tell.
For example, let's say that you're playing a modern-day campaign set in Boston. You're setting your campaign there not because it's the default city for the game in question, but because it's where your group happens to live. But then in one published adventure, Boston gets nuked, and from that point on every supplement works off the assumption that Boston is gone, period. So now you have two general options:
1) You can play that as it lays. Now you have to rework your campaign around the fact that everything you'd established in the campaign is gone, forcing you to pretty much start over.
2) Ignore it, and keep playing the campaign as you were before this happened, meaning that any official supplements that came out after that were either useless or would require work on your part to shoehorn them into your campaign, which now deviated from the core game line assumptions.
Now, clearly I'm oversimplifying here, but you get my point: games with heavy metaplot are a real pain to deal with as a GM and as players.
And in the 90s, metaplot was all over the place.
I've often said that Torg was the poster child for 90s RPGs in terms of both design and metaplot. But if Torg takes the #1 slot in the "90s-est RPG" category, then Deadlands was a remarkably close second.
Deadlands started out okay enough (not counting the Southern apologia); you had the core book, you had supplements that expanded on the various not-classes, you had books detailing the various corners of the setting, you had adventures. But even at the beginning you could see elements of what would become the full metaplot.
There were setting secrets that were held from the GM so they could be revealed later. There were unkillable major NPCs who were unkillable because they were needed to trigger major plot points later. The truth of the Reckoners wasn't revealed, even though that secret was a major shaping factor of the setting throughout the entire game line. Secondary major NPCs would show up, exposit at the PCs for a while, then hire the PCs to tag along on "major events" and watch them do stuff. Things like that. Because Deadlands had a metaplot that was playing the long game.
See, original Deadlands was part of a sort of trilogy or stand-alone RPGs. The core "classic" Deadlands ended with the Devil's Tower megadventure, in which an NPC comes from 200 years in the future to (again) exposit at the PCs about all the setting secrets: the Reckoners are actually the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they want to spread enough fear to turn the entire world into a Deadland, Ghost Rock really is concentrated demon, and that the Reckoner's long game was to prolong conflict and accelerate human technological development to the point where we'd create Ghost Rock Nukes and use them to start World War 3. Oh, and major setting NPC and auto-killer of PCs Stone had traveled back in time from the post-apocalyptic timeframe to meet up with his current 1800's self and ensure all this happens, which is actually something I want you all to keep in the back of your heads for the end of this mess.
This adventure set up the second part of the "game line trilogy": Deadlands: Hell On Earth. This was a sort of sequel RPG to Deadlands, taking the basic horror-western idea and melding it with a post-apocalyptic world. HoE took place in 2094 in a world where the supernatural pervaded everything and the Confederacy managed to actually seceed, 13 years after Earth got demon-nuked. It presented a post-apocalyptic America through the tropes of westerns (in fact, there was only western stuff; everything east of the Mississippi River was turned into a wasteland crawling with undead). HoE had a lot of similarities to original Deadlands, but adjusted a lot of the character concepts to the new setting. Especially in terms of the supernatural types; Huckers became Sykers who could channel the energy of the Hunting Grounds without having to gamble with demons, Blessed pretty much became Templars, mad scientists became Junkers, and so on and so on.
HoE was a neat idea (really, I'm surprised there aren't more game combining westerns and post-apocalyptic concepts), but it doubled down on the metaplot. There were bad guy NPCs presented in adventures, and the GM was told flat out that the PCs were not allowed to kill them because they needed to live long enough to do something major later. And there were a lot of setting-important NPCs kicking around. Not to mention bunches of major organizations constantly fighting each other and other assorted plotlines you'd have a hard time keeping track of even if you were following all the books.
But anyway. The big megaventure that was intended to cap off HoE, wrap up all the dangling plot threads, and set up the last part of the game trilogy was called The Unity, named after a trans-galactic spaceship that plays into the metaplot backstory for HoE. The Unity was to be the bridge between Hell on Earth and the next game, Lost Colony, which was basically "Deadlands But Sci-Fi And On An Alien Planet".
The whole idea of The Unity was to wrap up all the HoE storylines and get the PCs to the planet Lost Colony takes place on for the big finale of the entire Deadlands trilogy of RPGs. Unfortunately, for this to all happen we need what may well be the most railroad-y, boxed-text-y, watch-the-NPCs-do-everything-iest adventure ever written.
So let's get to it!
And knowing is half the battle!
Fair warning: this review is going to have a lot of "I have to explain backstory so I can explain what's going on now in the adventure" moments. Sorry, but given the nature of things it's kind of unavoidable.
For instance, this is the basic idea of Deadlands/HoE's overarching plot.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
Deadlands starts when a vengeful indian shaman named Raven, angry at the white men who killed off his entire tribe, conducts a dark ritual that blasts open a portal to Hell (or, as it's refered to in-game, the Hunting Grounds) during the Battle of Little Big Horn. This unleashes all sorts of undead and evil spirits and demons into the world, which were generally known as manitous. The lords of hell were called "the Reckoners", and the event as "The Reckoning".
Part of the effects of the Reckoning was to prolong the battle between the North and the South; in Deadlands continuity the war would continue for at least another 20 years. This was due to supernatural interference, because the Reckoner's goal was to seed the world with fear. Once the world was infused with enough fear and evil energy, they'd be able to enter our world.
Most people didn't know the supernatural existed, but some of the ones who did could channel the energy of the Hunting Grounds into various forms of magic. Others could unknowingly use said energy to fuel "mad science", powered by a substance called ghost rock, that allowed for your steampunky gizmos.
The Reckoner's long-term plan was to push human technological development to the point where we'd develop supernatural-energy-infused weapons of mass destruction, and human sociologial anger to the point where we'd actually use the damn things. Unsurprisingly, that happened, because humans. About 200 years after the Reckoning, World War 3 kicked off between the USA and the Confederacy, and every major city in America was hit with demon-infused nukes.
And once all of North America was blasted into an irradiated near-literal hellscape, the Reckoners left the Hunting Grounds and revealed themselves to be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The Horsemen rode out, killing millions of suriviors, including everyone east of the Mississippi, and left America to start rampaging around the rest of the world. The default start of HoE is 13 years after the bombs dropped, and this adventure is two or three years after that.
Everybody got all that? Good.
The first chapter of the adventure is called The Harvest.
It’s been a long time coming. The grand story begun in Deadlands: the Weird West and continued here in Hell on Earth now enters its final chapter. You’re about to see the end of the beginning, and the beginning of two whole new tales—one here in the Wasted West, and another on the windswept plains of an alien planet.
Such an epic tale requires an epic finale, and we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
And right out of the gate, right on the first page, they're still holding secrets from the GM.
I like how they pretty much admit that they expect that the GM has read all the HoE books and has been keeping track of everything. At least they're nice enough to summarize the major points from previous books so everyone's on the same page in case you missed something or didn't read one particular book, so at least I have to give them that.
We typically summarize the adventure at the beginning of our books so that you, the Marshal, get a concise view of what you and your posse are expected to do during the course of the tale. We’re going to forego that this time for one simple reason—you. You, the Marshal, have read most of our books, kept up with the storyline, and made the effort to get your group together to play as often as possible.
The events that unfold in this adventure are so epic—and we hope so cool—that you deserve to read it like a novel, one in which every new chapter brings an unexpected twist. So dive right in. Don’t skip ahead. Read and savor each surprising chapter. Hell, you can even run each chapter before reading or running the next. It won’t affect your game.
Oh, and yeah that's a "NOT!" joke in 2002. For those too young to remember, Wayne's World (the origin of the joke) was the early 90's. Deadlands books were fucking covered in shitty try-hard jokes like that as section headers.
So anyway, Scene One: "Opening Moves". This part of the adventure starts with two solid pages of explanation of the metaplot events from previous books that have set this whole mega-adventure up. In the adventure in the The City O' Sin sourcebook, evil mutant cult leader Silas Rasmussen and his "Cult of Doom" managed to open a portal through the Hunting Ground (a.k.a. Hell) to a city of peaceful mutants that seceded from his cult. This was to damage relationship between peaceful mutants and normal humans who were living together in said city, and to drum up more support for his war against the humans (he claimed it was the humans who kicked off the fight). But the main reason was to get his own troops all fired up for Silas' primary plan of just wiping out everyone who isn't part of his cult.
Part of Silas' plan involves a shaky alliance with another villain group, The Combine. The Combine was a large military organization that operated out of Denver, which by this point was a super high-tech cyborg factory run by an insane "kill all the humans" AI who was controlling the human face of the army: General Throckmorton.
Throckmorton wanted to take a city/trade hub called Junkyard, which was the largest city in the Wasted West and the central hub of the nation-wide-ish trade system called the Convoy. But being such an important part of rebuilding society, it was ridiculously well-defended. So the Denver AI and Silas came to an agreement to launch a double-sided attack: Throckmorton would come over the Rockies and attack from the east, then Silas would move in his mutant army from the west. Of course, both the AI and Silas planned to betray the other, but planned to work together anyway.
Now, at this point in the game line, rumors of Throckmorton's big "Harvest" have been circulating for a while because it's been a long-term plan. So technically speaking the players should know what the Harvest is in a general sense, or at the very least that Throckmorton's been looking to make a move on Junkyard.
Which brings us to the actual start of the adventure, "shortly after dinner" on December 31, 2095. The PCs are summoned to Junkyard by the members of the Iron Alliance (the heads of the various allied Good Guy Groups) and informed that Throckmorton is on his way to Junkyard.
And when I say "informed", I mean they get to stand around with the Junkyard defense forces and listen to someone talk for a while. This adventure loooooooves its boxed text, and at rough estimation at least a third of this book is "read this to the players" chunks. For example, here's the NPC's speech to the assembled forces. From here on out, anything in italics in a quote block is supposed to be read to the players.
Ha ha gay panic jokes! That certainly sets the mood for a big serious game-line-ending event, and is not at all unfunny!
“Hi brothers. I’m Calvin Ellis, but most folks call me ‘Preacher’ on account of I used to be one. I’m sure you’re wondering why you’ve been asked here.
I’m afraid it’s bad news. The Combine’s ‘Harvest’ has begun.”
Ellis waits for that to sink in before giving them the really bad news.
“It gets worse. Throckmorton’s made some kinda deal with the Cult o’ Doom. Rasmussen and around 20,000 three-eyed weirdos are headin’ toward Junkyard right now. Near as we can tell, the doomies are comin’ up I-15 to hit Junkyard from the south while the Combine hits from the north or east. Or maybe both.
The Convoy’s job is to block the muties here in the hills outside o’ old Provo. We got a good position here that overlooks I-15, and we’re spread out enough their magic won’t kill too many of us at once.
Once this fight’s over, we’re supposed to head up to Junkyard and take Throckmorton from behind. Er, that didn’t sound quite right. We’re supposed to ram ‘em in the rear. Pardon me brothers and sisters. I mean it’s a flank attack. That’s it. We got to hit these muties as hard and as fast as we can so we can get up to Junkyard and make sure Taylor’s boys hold.
So we’re callin’ in every friendly gun with a rep. What do you say, brothers and sisters, will you join our flock?”
Okay, maybe not serious, because Deadlands was always tongue-in-cheek, but come on. There's never a need for that.
So anyway it's assumed the PCs are willing to help defend this city full of innocents from the evil cyborgs and mutants, what with them being heroes and the GM buying the adventure and all. They're allowed to set themselves up wherever they want around the perimeter of the city. Exactly where doesn't matter because events will happen as presented no matter what.
Around midnight, the mutant forces reach an ambush point a few miles outside Junkyard. No matter how well-hidden the Convoy troops and PCs are, the mutants know where they are because, well, mutants with weird psychic powers. Oh, and there's about 4,000 of them, a number I want you to remember.
("Nuke", "EMP", and "MIRV" are mutant powers. HoE mutants are powered by what boils down to magic atomic radiation, so a lot of their powers are along those lines.)
The horde approaches to within half a mile of the ridge. The elite troops exit the ragtag collection of buses and trucks that brought them here. The rest stand on foot in poorly-aligned ranks, a pathetic mockery of melee troops from ages past.
The mutant horde gathers for several minutes before everyone hears Silas deliver one last oration over a truck mounted PA system.
One of the muties is speaking in the distance. It’s a tinny sound, as if through a loudspeaker. By the sound of his voice, it can only be Silas Rasmussen.
“Brothers, sisters, and those in between! Our day has come! The norms who destroyed our errant brothers in Armana stand before us. They despise you for your scaly skin, your extraordinary vision, your massive teeth, or your monstrous strength! And they would kill you for it! They would kill you and mount your three-eyed skulls on their walls as cruel jokes!”
“But today we can strike them at their very heart. We can tear down the walls of Junkyard, where mutants are tortured and castrated or fed to wild animals! We can free our brothers and sisters and in-betweeners serving as slaves to the cruel tyrants of the ‘Iron Alliance.’ We can show the norms that it is they whom evolution has passed over. It is they who shall serve. It is they who shall be shown the true kindness of mutant-dom by ending their pathetic and antiquated existence.”
“Are you with me?”
The shouts of the mutant horde bring back odd memories. You think of a football game you attended before the war, when 100,000 fans screamed to prevent the visiting team from calling their plays. Oddly, you almost start to wave your arms in an attempt to quieten the mutants. But only death will silence these unfortunate creatures tonight.
Silas screams a few more times, then utters that word you’ve dreaded for hours now, “Charge!”
The mutants attack. A few hundred scream ahead on bikes or in cars rigged with machine guns, rockets, or other hardware. The vast majority of mutants charge forward on foot, however.
The Convoy opens fire with artillery hidden further back in Provo and a wave of junker tech. The big guns concentrate on vehicles first and then work their way over the scattering foot troops as they rush forward.
Small arms fire crackles next, ripping into the first waves of charging mutants less than 200 yards from the main line. The artillery stops when the muties reach the Convoy’s foxholes.
Now the real fighting begins. Fire erupts from both sides and green-robed Doombringers and Doomsayers among the crowd let off a string of arcane attacks. Dozens of nukes, EMPs[/i], and [/i]MIRVs explode along the ridgeline, killing scores of defenders in one Hellish barrage.
The Convoy and its other allies hold their ground, but the bursts give the foot troops time to charge the ridge itself. A few last salvos tear into the screaming mutants, but hundreds manage to hit the front lines and close into melee.
"Go, my minions! Choke their rivers with our dead!"
At this point, the PCs finally get to do something! Yay!
Well, I should say, kind of do something. Since this adventure is meant to be run over "a few sessions" and involves a lot of mass combat, the adventure has some "Quick Combat rules". Remember, this was the era before mook rules caught on, so normally every enemy would have a full-on stat block that took up a quarter to half a page. So instead of having the PCs do a normal combat where they have to deal with seemingly overwhelming odds and maybe a really tough enemy leading a troop of cannon fodder, we use Quick Combat to minimize the time between the GM reading boxed texts.
How does Quick Combat work? Simple: each round a PC rolls their shootin' or fightin' skill, and then looks the result up on a chart to see how many Wounds he suffers and how many enemies he flat-out kills. But what if it's a character that uses special abilities like mutant powers instead of guns or swords? Oh, they still roll shootin' or fightin' but get to add up to +5 (GM's call) to the roll.
Not that it matters how many bad guys they kill, because there's a whole army there. All this is doing is making the PCs look "badass" despite them not actually being badass because they're not actually doing anything that affects anything. It doesn't matter if they kill zero enemies, two enemies, or twenty enemies: the enemy forces aren't weakened, you can't demoralize them, the winners and losers of the larger battle are already determined and nothing the PCs can do will change that. All this does is give the players the illusion that they're helping. You can't even kill all the forces you're fighting with Quick Combat because there's no set number of enemies, even though we got a count earlier! You just keep killing nameless mooks for X rounds until the adventure tells you to stop.
So the PCs finally get to do something as the muties charge. Unfortunately, all they get to do is three rounds of Quick Combat at +2 to their rolls before the mutant forces reach melee range, at which point the PCs get do another three rounds of Quick Combat. At the end of the third round, they've just happened to wipe out all the muties in their immediate area; quite a coincidence, really. Meanwhile, the rest of the Convoy forces are getting wrecked. The PCs have a chance to put together a plan, but that plan doesn't matter because it's time for another metaplot story beat!
Another through-line of HoE was the war of the two different "religions" of mutants. All mutants get their power from radiation (supernatural nukes can do that), and mutant culture basically worships the "Glow", a.k.a radiation, and treat scientists like Oppenheimer or Curie like saints. From there we get into straight-up X-Men territory, because the mutants believe they're the next step of human evolution. Silas believes that since the muties are the next step, they have to clear out the evolutionary deadwood, a.k.a. normal humans. His primary enemy in this is a (literal) new-age hippy named Joan, who feels that while normal humans are doomed, that doesn't mean they should be hurried along that path. She's like the Xavier to Silas' Magneto. Kind of. Ish.
Anyway, since the beginning of the game line Joan has been preaching that a "Harbinger" would arrive, a chosen one who'd end the war between Joan's Doomsayers (good mutants) and Silas' Doombringers (bad mutants).
Guess who's about to show up?
You slam another magazine into your rifle and damn your luck as more and more muties charge up the hill. There seems no end to the hideous freaks this night.
You look up and howl one last furious curse at the stars—and see a strange red light. Something—a flare, or a helicopter, or some kind of jet with Vertical Take Off and Landing is coming in. You plug a few more muties charging you and your friends then watch as the ship continues to descend—smack into the middle of the ridge line!
Most everyone stops firing for a moment, waiting to see what this thing is and whose side it’s on. As it draws level, you can see it’s definitely a ship of some kind—like a spaceship! It’s small but sleek and painted jet black. Is it possible you’re being invaded by little green men just as you’re about to be eaten by big green ones?
The craft lands on the ridge line, scattering a group of muties and norms grappling in hand-to hand combat, and then it goes still. Most everyone is dead silent now, though a few hardened vets take the opportunity to whack nearby foes.
Then from the middle of the Convoy’s cars you see a bunch of purple-robed Doomsayers running up the hill. In the lead is a brown-haired woman—could that be Joan herself? She’s literally sprinting up the hill, screaming “Stop! Stop the fighting! It’s him! It’s him! As I have foretold!”
Now a single door on the ship starts to lower like a drawbridge. It looks like a scene from some bad sci-fi movie, but here it is. You’re ready for a big steel robot to step out and say “Klaatu Barata Nikto,” when what comes out but…
…a giant robot!
Only this one’s a pale white color with a blazing red electronic eye in the center of its head. It steps out, and in a mechanically amplified British voice it says “I am the Harbinger. Mutants, lay down your weapons, for I am more than the Harbinger. Much more. I am Doctor Darius Hellstromme! And I am your master!”
Dr. Darrius Hellstrome is an NPC who's been around since original Deadlands book. He's a mad scientist, was the servitor of one of the Horsemen (but he's better now), and is the creator of the Ghost Rock Nuke (which makes him a holy figure to both Silas and Joan) which was used judiciously in World War III. So this whole current demon-irradiated setting is pretty much his fault.
Oh, and he's survived for over 200 years because he put his brain in robot body.
So Joan, her followers, and a large chunk of the attacking mutants bend knee to Hellstrome due to him being both a saint in their religion and a prophesized savior; Silas tries to get his forces to attack, and in another half-page of boxed text Hellstrome basically shouts louder than Silas and Silas just...shuts up and loses. Then we get another cutscene of, and I quote, "Uncle Hellstromme’s story-time".
So there we go. The big reveal of the Harbinger, which was set up in the HoE core book and was a major plot point for mutant characters, was actually Hellstrome. Who shows up just long enough to say "Hey, it's me, I'm the Harbinger. Stop fighting. I have to go, my planet needs me. VWHOOOP"
The vast majority of the mutant horde drops their weapons and high-tail it (literally in some cases) back into the darkness. Silas Rasmussen continues to scream for a while, then a barrage of fire in his general direction silences the madman. You can hear his vehicles gunning their motors, returning south.
Silence follows for several long seconds, then a distant cheer starts at one end of the ridge line and ripples along toward the other.
This battle is over.
The Harbinger briefly speaks to Joan and the other schismatics nearby, then looks to the rest of the cheering crowd and gives one last cryptic speech.
“I’m glad I could be of help here today, but I also know I am largely responsible for the destruction of our world. I must also tell you that there is something far worse than the mutant horde or the Combine coming your way. I’m off now to find a way to stop it, and perhaps redeem myself for the horror I have subjected you to.”
With that, Hellstromme quickly steps into his spaceship, seals the door, and blasts off into the night sky.
Again the crowd goes silent. What could be worse than the Cult of Doom and the Combine?
Goose Mattox finally breaks the silence. “Shake it off, people. I’m throwing away my booze too, but despite tonight’s unexpected show we’ve still got a job to do. Let’s get to Junkyard and kick Throckmorton’s armored ass or this was all for nothin’.”
The survivors of the ridge line pack up their heavy weapons and wounded and slowly trundle down the hill. There they load onto the Convoy’s vehicles, and start toward Junkyard for another bloody fight.
This is the end of the first scene of the first chapter of the adventure. And the PCs have done nothing.
Seriously. All they've been able to do is five rounds of Quick Combat, and those had no effect on anything. Even if the players flub every roll and don't kill a single enemy, Hellstrome shows up, stops the fighting, all the evil mutants surrender, and Silas just leaves. Hell, that would have happened even if the PCs didn't show up and decided to not deal with this whole mess.
I mean, the book says there are four thousand mutants attacking, yet when Hellstrome shows up they all just...stop. A few leave with Silas, but the rest...uh, actually I'm not sure what happens to them because this is the last time the Doombringers are mentioned in the book. Do they join up with Joan? Do they surrender? Are they just gunned down? Who knows?
And I guess you could argue that this is just the first scene of the whole adventure and doesn't need to be that involved, but that ignores the whole fact that this was supposed to be a whole army attacking as part of a multi-prong attack on a major city that's part of a whole line-ended "wrap everything up" adventure! That's a big deal! It should be treated as such!
But no, instead we get about three pages of boxed text and GM description, and five rounds of pointless combat until an NPC shows up out of nowhere and tells the bad guys to go home.
And that's just the first scene. That's how we're starting things off. And it only gets worse from here.
NEXT TIME: Do we really need to be here for this?
A wall of text crushes you for 20 damage!Original SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 2: A wall of text crushes you for 20 damage!
Okay, so Chapter One, Scene Two: The Defense of Junkyard.
When we left off before, the heroes were defending the city of Junkyard from the first wave of a combined assault from an army of insane mutants and an army of paramilitary cyborgs. Except the PCs didn't actually defend anything, they just made a few irrelevant rolls until setting NPC Dr. Hellstrome showed up and told the evil mutants and their insanely powerful leader to go away. Which they did. Oh, and the PCs had absolutely nothing to do with it one way or the other. Now all that's left is the Combine.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
As I said before, the Combine is basically a pseudo-military organization operating out of the ruins of Denver and run by the once-good-and-now-evil-AI-controlled cyborg General Throckmorton. Denver was a very high-tech city due to Hellstrome setting up shop there back in the 1800's, and in the time between Classic and HoE became a major manufacturing center for military cyborgs. Cyborgs have the whole cyberpsychosis "kill all the humans" problem despite them being human themselves, but this is because (spoiler alert) cyborgs are actually undead. Yeah, turns out that living tissue can't work well with implanted hardware, so the military got around that problem by using Harrowed. The only reason they're not controlled by their manitous is because there's an onboard AI that counteracts this. But given that the AI controlling Denver itself has gone kill-crazy, it's obvious there's still a few bugs to work out.
That said, the bulk of Throckmorton's forces consist of three major troop types. There are the automotonons, your basic war robots and vehicles controlled by zombie brains; "Red Hats", the cyborgs who are in charge of the actual troops; and the "Black Hats", who are human troops who've signed up with the Combine. They get the best gear available in the setting, but the downside is that they also get implanted with brain bombs to keep them loyal. Oh, and their gear is chipped and rigged to explode if they're used by someone without a matching implanted chip, so scavengers can't use their gear after the fact.
So anyway, we pick up with the PCs heading back to Junkyard getting a ride on a flatbed. The convoy stops about five miles outside of Junkyard because the leaders are waiting for a signal (not that the PCs would know this). The driver tells the PCs that a) the good guys will be outnumbered at least 2-1, b) that the leaders of the Iron Alliance have a plan, and c) the PCs have a specific job to do. They need to keep an eye out for mobile artillery and take it out, and to help them with this gives them exactly two incendiary grenades. Then a cutscene happens.
Why yes, that is almost a solid page of boxed text, thanks for asking.
It feels like you’ve been waiting for days, though it’s really only been an hour or so since you stopped here. Your nerves dance like hot wires waiting for this mysterious “signal.”
Finally, the battle starts, perhaps five miles north of you in the dark night. A low rumble sounds in the distance. Artillery?
Now you hear the staccato bursts of anti-air fire and the rush of turbines—the all-too familiar sound of raptors. Suddenly a salvo of surface-to-air missiles race from somewhere below the horizon and into the sky. At least two make contact and create two beautiful fireballs high in the night sky.
The Convoy starts forward—not fast, but at a slow creeping pace that makes you all the more nervous.
Ten minutes later you crest a low rise and can make out beautiful Junkyard. Her walls blaze with small arms fire, rockets, and even a few flamethrowers.
You pass around a pair of night-vision binoculars and feel your guts curl into a knot. In the binoculars’ green light you make out hundreds of cars, motorcycles, trucks, and even the dreaded hovertanks advancing on the city, drawing ever closer. Legions of Black Hats and automatons advance on the wall, firing as they go. Scores of valiant defenders tumble from the heights, but scores more take their place.
Then something begins to hum, something from within the walls of Junkyard itself. The humming grows louder, so loud you can feel it rattling your teeth!
Now the front line of the Combine’s horde impacts the wall. Dozens more lines of merciless troops follow! There’s no hope against these numbers—no way Junkyard can stand.
Then the humming surges one last time. A wave of violet energy rushes out from the wall and washes over the stunned forces of the Combine below. The sudden silence is deafening. The rattle of machine guns stops, the screech of tires halt, and even the whir of turbines from raptors and hover tanks fades.
A loudspeaker from somewhere inside Junkyard suddenly blares to life. “This is Ike Taylor. Now’s the time, survivors! The Combine’s weapons are useless and their automatons are jammed for half an hour! Charge! Charge! Charge!”
Massive floodlights from hidden sconces in the wall flood the surrounding plains. Thousands of Black Hats stand stunned, trying desperately to work guns that won’t fire! Raptors fall from the sky and crash to earth, their engines seemingly dead. Hover tanks stop and hit the ground with heavy thuds. Automatons freeze in place like grotesque mannequins. Now you understand. The rumors of Hellstromme’s secret weapons hidden under the walls has somehow stopped the Combine dead in their tracks.
For half an hour.
The walls of Junkyard open and thousands of angry survivors rush out to wreak havoc on the stunned Combine.
It’s time to let slip the dogs of war, and you are the dogs.
So what happened? The book is actually kind enough to explain: in the Iron Oasis sourcebook about Junkyard itself, they mention that Hellstrome set up some kind of force field system that the city can switch on for defense against the usual array of raiders and would-be warlords. They also hinted that the shield had another, special ability, but didn't reveal what that ability was until now: it's a sort of supernatural EMP that knocks out any ability that relies on energy from the Hunting Grounds to work by temporarily cutting off the connection to said realm. Because Throckmorton's stuff all works off "mad science", which is pseudo-science held together with demonic energy duct tape, all his troops' shit just stopped working for half an hour.
By the way: why on God's green earth would the shield's special effect need to be hidden from the GM back in the book it was first mentioned in? So it could be a "surprise"? What's the point of that? I guess they didn't want GMs using that ability in their campaigns in case it was a spoiler or something.
Oh, and here's a fun fact: the PCs weren't given anything to protect them from the effect of the shield. So if you have a cyborg PC, he's shut down too; I don't know if that means he's "dead" or if he gets to just sit around and watch for a while, though. Oh, and anyone who uses abilities that draw on supernatural energy? Yeah, those are gone for half an hour too. You know what counts as a supernatural power? All of them. Characters with mutant powers, templar stuff, spells, junker mad science, even shaman abilities and Harrowed powers all just got switched off. The book doesn't say what happens to Harrowed PCs once all the magic goes away, which is a bit of an oversight given that they're undead powered by a demon that needs that magic to keep, you know, existing, but whatever. The bottom line is that nothing supernatural works for a mile around Junkyard for half an hour.
The Junkyard troops pour out of the city while the Black Hats are distracted, and the Convoy comes in from behind catching the Black Hats in a pincer formation. The truck the PCs are on plows through the bad guys and comes up alongside a disabled mobile artillery piece. The artillery was being transported by a truck driven by a now disabled zombie brain and was escorted by two cyborgs who are now dead thanks to the shield burst, so I guess PC cyborgs and Harrowed are just fucked after all. Regardless, the PCs still need to blow up the artillery piece before the human troops figure out they can still fire the damn thing.
BOOM! KPOW! BLAM BLAM BLAM! PSHOOOM!
The PCs can use one of the thermite grenades they were given to blow up the artillery.
Yup...once again even if they fail they succeed because their actions don't matter at all. It's like someone heard of "failing forward" but didn't quite get the idea. Side note: who gives a shit if this particular artillery piece survives to be used again later? It's not like it's going to be come a recurring NPC or something, it's just a friggin' Howitzer. What's more, the end of the adventure would make it a moot point anyway.
A Fair (5) demolitions roll puts it in the right spot. The grenade lights up like a road flare and begins to burn a hole straight down through the chassis of the tank and into the automaton brain-case sealed within. Even on a demolitions failure, the tank’s internal systems are damaged enough that it cannot fire (though it might limp away to fight another day when the scrambling stops).
While they're making the why-bother-rolling demolitions skill check, they get jumped by a dozen Black Hats who haven't figured out that their brain bombs are disabled yet. They're only armed with knives since their guns don't work, so they're really not much of a threat for the types of experienced PCs this adventure is aimed at.
And since this is a 90's RPG, these mooks get full stat blocks despite the fact that they're just nameless fodder intended for one scene in the middle of a gigantic-ass war. You know, in case the GM needs to know how good they are at swimming, or gambling, or how well they know their way around Denver.
So the PCs wipe out the mooks and disable the big gun. When this is over the half-hour is apparently up because right after that fight is a scene that starts with the half-hour being up. So I guess it wasn't that big a deal that all the PC's powers got shut down. Well, I guess it was a big deal for those characters who needed that energy to live, but hey, omelets, eggs, etc.
When the half-hour is up, about 60% of the Combine's forces have been wiped out while their heavy hitters were down, and the rest retreat. Junkyard is victorious, and a bunch of the major setting NPCs and faction leaders all come out and high-five each other even though none of them really did anything either; in fact half of them weren't even mentioned as being around until this point. Then Ike Taylor, head of Junkyard, reads the next page of the script.
And with that, chapter one ends. The Combine is routed, Junkyard is saved. And the PCs had absolutely NOTHING to do with it. At all.
“Today is a great day, citizens of Junkyard and friends from afar. We’ve broken the back of the Combine. But we know better than to let them rebuild. Now we’ve got to finish the job. The Convoy and our own mobile forces are ready to pursue Throckmorton’s dogs all the way to Denver. There we’ll rally with thousands of allies from the east for the final siege on Denver itself!”
The crowd goes wild, hungry for more blood and bolts. Ike lets the mob scream a bit, then finishes his sermon.
“Survivors, leave your wounded here. They’ll be cared for as heroes. The rest of you who have pledged yourselves to our cause, fuel up your rigs here at Junkyard or hitch a ride on a bus or a truck. Goose Mattox is in charge of the expedition, and he’s ready to roll all the way to Denver! Now let’s finish this thing!”
The crowd lets out one more huge cheer and then everyone goes to work. Some start repairing their damaged rigs, others get in line for Junkyard’s spook juice, and those awaiting rides stoke up fires and warm themselves as best they can while they wait.
It seems Throckmorton’s Harvest is all but over.
Seriously. The group's actions have literally zero effect on anything that happened in this chapter. In the first half, they just get to mow down nameless mooks for five rounds of "quick combat" until Hellstrome shows up and ends the fight because metaplot, and in the second half they just fight a bunch of mooks and disable one piece of artillery that wasn't able to do any damage anyway. They couldn't even fail at diabling the gun! The difficulty was so low you probably couldn't fail it if you had the skill, and even if they botched the roll the gun was still disabled because metaplot.
So really the players got to sit around while the GM read boxed text to them, and occasionally got to make some rolls, then at the end of the chapter get some XP. Whoop de fucking do.
Oh, and if the PCs decide to shoot the two disabled cyborgs in the head just to be on the safe side, the ones who pulled the trigger get an XP bonus at the end of the chapter.
Stay classy, Deadlands: Hell on Earth/Lost Colony - The Unity.
We know that’s not politically correct, but these are bad, bad guys.
And guess what, folks. It gets worse.
NEXT TIME: Aimless railroading
I don't need to walk around in circlesOriginal SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 3: I don't need to walk around in circles
It's time for chapter two! Maybe this time the PCs will get to do somethahahaha I can't even finish that sentence.
The summary for this chapter is that the PCs are part of the force sent to wipe out the Combine once and for all now that over half their forces are dead. Then, while the main force lays seige to Denver, the PCs are instructed to infiltrate the city and hook up with the Resistance to take down Throckmorton from the inside.
Man, listservs. Remember those? I'm guessing MGKelley was the manager or something there, so if so that's a nice shout-out.
Assuming all that goes well, what happens next is such a big shocker that we’ll just let you read along. Trust us though—it’s a surprise even MGKelley and the listserv couldn’t possibly have seen coming!
The first scene ("Pusuit") starts with the Iron Alliance forces chasing down the Combine army. The pursuit takes five days, during which time the Junkyard forces manage to pick off pockets of stragglers from the retreating Combine forces. The PCs are one of the groups tasked to do this; in fact, they have to clear three pockets of Black Hats before this scene can end. But don't worry, it's just Quick Combat so it really doesn't matter! The book gives two tables to roll against to determine how many humans and automotons the PCs need to wipe out and the location the fight takes place in, which gives a modifier to Quick Combat rolls.
The heroes have to keep rolling until all of their foes in each mission are defeated. Each Black Hat counts as one casualty, but it takes three casualties to take down each automaton (and they’re always the last to go down).
They're not even "manage your resources/health so you don't run out too early" fights, or "start whittling down the PCs before a huge battle" fights. There's no real threat or point to any of these fights so why bother? I guess technically they could start running low on ammo, but given that they're currently part of a large military force I doubt they'd have a hard time getting more bullets.
Make sure to allow your heroes to heal up between fights if they have the ability. You want to beat them up here, not kill them.
Now we get to Scene Two: Battle at Vail Pass. Vail is an old ski resort town in the Rockies, and this is where the Combine force's last commander is attempting to make a last stand, stalling for time until reinforcements arrive. This is another set piece battle, only this time the PCs aren't going to be airquote-involved. Instead, they're needed to take out a nearby anti-air missile emplacement so that the Iron Alliance's air support can come in and take out the ground troops. Fortunately, they know roughly where it is because it gave its position away when it took out a friendly chopper. Unfortunately, they have only two hours to get to that position and take out the SAM before Throckmorton's reinforcements arrive.
And believe it or not, the PCs can solve this problem however they want! The two most immediate solutions involve sweet-talking a friendly pilot to fly them to the site or draw enemy fire, or going on foot and making five difficult search rolls (at 10 minutes per check) to find the site, because the SAM has moved and the troops manning it have dug in and hidden themselves. On top of all that, it's pretty cold up in the mountains, so unless they had some foresight to get cold weather gear they have to worry about that too.
Stay classy, Deadlands: Hell on Earth/Lost Colony - The Unity.
Every hour spent in the cold forces the hero to make a Hard (9) Vigor roll and lose the difference in Wind. This can only be recovered when the hero warms up. Add +2 for really good winter gear, no modifier for standard coats, and -1 to -4 for ill-prepared chicks in chainmail (but God bless ‘em).
Once the PCs find the site, they have to fight the Black Hats guarding the launcher. Sadly, the book forgot to mention how many of these guys there are.
And holy shit, we now get two sections about what happens if the PCs succeed or fail! Finally, the PC's actions make a difference in the overall narrative!
If the PCs take out the SAM within two hours, then the air support comes in and starts bombing Vail. Throckmorton's air support comes in, but it's too little too late. The ground forces are routed, with the Iron Alliance forces now numbering 7,000 and the Combine's standing at 2,000 left. The remnants of the Combine retreat back to Denver, the PCs get hearty handshakes all around, and we move on to the next scene.
If the PCs fail to take out the SAM in the allotted time, then Throckmorton's forces have time to dig in, and the reinforcements show up. The PCs have to join an assault team in taking out a heavy machine gun emplacement manned by 24 entrenched Black Hats and an automaton. And sadly, this is just another Quick Combat, but at -4 to all rolls. The PCs need to chew through all 24 bad guys and the automaton, at which point the rest of the Junkyard forces rout the Combine forces. The remnants of the Combine retreat back to Denver, the PCs get hearty handshakes all around, and we move on to the next scene.
...Oh, wait. Those aren't really that different at all. And since it's another day before the next scene outside Denver, they'll have plenty of time to heal if they didn't do a great job in the Quick Combat. So once again, the PC's actions have no effect on anything, apart from having to do a few more rounds of Quick Combat if they fail, and once again that won't even be a drain on their resources.
Regardless, we now move to Scene Three: The Teller Brigade. Teller is another major NPC, but does not appear in this adventure, let alone this scene, so I don't know why it's called that. I went through the Denver sourcebook and Teller does come up in the books's backstory, but there's no "Teller Brigade" that I could find, so I guess they confused their internal campaign with the actual published stuff?
The PC finally arrive at the walled city of Denver to find that the rest of the army is already dug in and laying seige to the place. The seige lasts for three days with the good guys unable to really make a dent in Denver's defenses.
On the first night, around 2am, the Combine sends out a wave of Black hats to raid and create confusion. One of the groups come close to your posse—have everyone make a Quick Combat roll at +1. This is the only excitement tonight.
The next morning, the PCs are assigned to sneak into the city and hook up with a group of the Denver Resistance who want to blow up the Combine's ammo factory. And yes, it's presented as "the" ammo factory, not "an" ammo factory. I guess they only have the one. (Yeah, I know, nitpicking.)
The PCs are escorted to some ruins near the city walls, and the army lays down some distracting cover fire long enough for the PCs to sneak in and get into the city. The PCs have to get to the Rock Bottom Brewery to meet the rebels to hand off some heavy weapons and explosives, and are given a rough map to guide them. Not they have to actually explore or anything; they get there after one random encounter from the Denver sourcebook if the GM happens to have that. Otherwise...
When the group reaches the Brewery, they meet Resistance member Sarah Olsen. I don't know if she's an established character from the Denver sourcebook and at this point I can't be bothered to check. The PCs hand off the gear, and...hold on, but this is going to blow your mind...she ends up asking the PCs for some help on something. Shocking, I know.
If you don’t have that book, you can simply make up some details of the city and have them avoid several Black Hat patrols. Once, as they duck down a back alley to avoid Black Hats, the heroes discover a lurker (see the Hell on Earth rule book). Fight this thing out with Quick Combat, but it goes on until at least one hero gets an 18 or better on his attack roll. On any roll of 4 or less, 10 Black Hats show up to investigate the noise and join in the fight (this can only happen once per round). Keep it going until the lurker and any reinforcing Black Hats are waxed.
Stay classy, Deadlands: Hell on Earth/Lost Colony - The Unity.
Sarah is blonde with big brown eyes and fairly cute (which is why she was chosen for this), and doesn’t hesitate to use her feminine wiles if it helps her get her way.
Yes, the boxed text narration has gotten so bad it's actually telling the PCs what they say. That's gotta be a record.
“Thanks for the stuff—we’ll put it to good use. Here are the kids.”
Sarah knocks on an old beer vat—a metal tank nearly eight feet tall and four feet wide. You look inside the torn wall to see a concealed hatch open in the bottom. Staring up at you are five sets of big round eyes set in very small heads. Kids.
“What kids?” you ask. “We weren’t told about any kids.”
“Hmm. Not my problem. I was told to make sure these kids got out with you. We rescued ‘em recently and with the attack on, this is no place for children.”
The blonde turns to the children as they climb out of the vat. “Okay, guys. You’re getting out with these nice folks. Be careful, and show them the sneaky way out, okay?”
But never mind that, it's time for an escort mission! The thing is, though, is that the kids (ages 5 to 15) are the ones who know their way around Denver, so they know how not to wander off and get killed. This means that the PCs just have to lead the kids out, but don't have to make any rolls or anything, there's no fights, and they don't actually have to wrangle the kids. They just leave with the kids and start the next scene the next day. So what the fuck was the point of this?
The other thing is that the 11-year-old girl is actually an infiltrator cyborg.
So this might wind up as a fight. Or it might not. Either way it (surprise!) doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, so again I have no idea why this was included.
Jessie doesn’t actually do anything “on camera.” Her objective is to relay exact troop positions back to the Combine so that they can properly target the Junkyarders with indirect fire. Your group might have some way of detecting Jessie’s true identity, however. If so, she tries to run for it, and only fights if cornered. Her first action is to try and grab a weapon off someone (an opposed Strength roll with a raise).
Wait, weren't they supposed to be blowing up
After this completely pointless sidetrack and reveal we come to Scene Four: The Siege of Denver, which takes place the morning after the previous scene. The bombing of the city went on until 4 am that morning, at which point the Iron Alliance gave the Combine the opportunity to surrender, admittedly more in the interest of saving ammo than anything else.
No word's come through from Denver yet one way or the other, and after a while one of the NPC leaders comes to the group to tell them that the aid the Iron Alliance was expecting from the east hasn't arrived yet and people are starting to get worried. The group is going to be flown over I-70 towards St. Louis to find out why the force from there has vanished. The group's provided with a chopper and a pilot named Hal.
So away the PCs go.
Assuming the PCs head down to help, they can easily save the two stragglers. If they do, they're told that the bikers were fleeing from "thousands of zombies!" If they don't, well, they're going to find out about a mile further along. Either way, this isn't really a decision point because regardless of whether or not the PCs go to help the exact same thing happens.
On the way to St. Louis (a few hours after leaving), a storm breaks. Dark clouds cover the plains and heavy rain pours, but Hal and the heroes can just make out a handful of cars and motorcycles screaming up a broken highway. As Hal moves in for a closer look, one of the lead cars hits a pothole at high speed and flips end over end. Most of the others continue on, but two bikers double back to check for survivors.
The action is in the players’ hands now. Everyone in the flipped car is alive, though wounded and dazed. The bikers can only pick up two of the four occupants. They yell for the others to come back, but their friends can’t hear them and move on. It’s very clear the two bikers don’t know what else to do and aren’t keen on leaving two of their wounded behind (a sure sign that they’re “good guys”). If left on their own, the bikers eventually argue a bit more, then hand the two worst wounded a single pistol. The other two wounded grimly mount the bikes and continue on their way.
Oh man, the PCs should probably head back and report th
There are dead men as far as your eyes can see. Thousands—maybe tens of thousands—are on foot. But these are no lumbering zombies from an ancient vid-slug. These things sprint along the busted highway, never tiring. Alongside them are hundred of trucks—mostly flatbeds—carrying even more undead. A few of them are armed and fire in your direction. Most are unarmed however, and simply snarl at the whine of your engines and the delicious blood still coursing in your veins.
Here and there among the grotesque throng are worse things—gloms, undead animals, and odd creatures with
mechanical bits jammed into their unfeeling flesh. But as unsettling as these horrors are, the true terror is the simple staggering number of the dead running your way.
...oh. Never mind then. These super-zombies are a new type of monster called "deaders", and are referred to as such in boxed text despite the PCs never being told what they're called in-game, but really at this point that's just me being over nit-picky.
You’re still staring at the unbelievable host before you when something even more amazing happens. You can just make out a single figure screeching and pointing at you—a zombie—but an unusually tall and lanky one. It waves its arms and a bizarre, almost comical thing happens. Sickly green energy races from its hand and surrounds five of the nearest zombies. The tall thing then throws its hand toward you and the pack comes streaking through the air toward your chopper!
Hal jinks with unbelievable speed, but three of the things catch hold of the rails and start climbing in. A fourth smashes into the propeller and is shredded, but the chopper takes a serious nosedive and heads toward the earth!
“Hang on!” Hal screams. You deal with the crawling deaders while Hal proves his mettle. Hal flips off the engines and lets what left of the shattered propellers auto-rotate, slowing your descent as much as possible. The chopper angles in, far too fast you think, and heads straight for the top of a nearby building. It smashes into the rooftop and every bone in your body feels like it’s in a trash compactor. You black out for just a moment from the concussion, but the spastic dead things still crawling after you snap you back to reality. There’s no doubt that with any other pilot, you’d be joining this grisly horde.
On the plus side, the pilot managed to land them on a roof instead of in the direct path of the horde. The PCs have to deal with the two zombies that survived being hadoken'd at the chopper, at which point they see a few hundred "deaders" peel off from the main group and start towards the building they're on.
There's no way to fight off that many zombies, so really the only option is to run. The streets are chock full of undead, so the only way the PCs can go is to jump to a builing 10 feet away. Failing the roll is bad, because it's 130 feet down, and assuming you survive the fall you'll be overwhelmed by zombies in 2d6 rounds.
Assuming at least one person makes it across without falling to their doom, the group has a few minutes before the deaders crawl up to the first building and realize that the heroes aren't there. But don't worry, instead of a running battle across rooftops that would eventually lead to a dead end, there's a conveniently open manhole in the street, conveniently below the PCs and, even more conveniently, there aren't any zombies around it! How convenient!
Oh, and Hal's still alive. If the PCs don't notice the manhole, or don't think it's viable, he's the one who says "it's safer than the streets, and maybe we can find a vehicle."
So everyone jumps into the sewer, and find themselves in a four-way junction with no real idea on where to go, and are shortly followed by a bunch of groups of deaders. Instead of giving a map the PCs have to wander around aimlessly, we get a more cinematic-toned but potentially infinite-looping skill challenge. Each character has to make a Smarts roll, and then the GM takes the lowest result and looks that up on a provided table to see what happens. On a botch, this happens:
Results between 1 and 9 result in Quick Combat against more zombies, at which point the group makes another Smarts roll. Getting a 10+ lets the party find the gated exit, but a hard Brawn roll (difficulty 9) is needed to bust through the gate.
One of the heroes (the one with the lowest Smarts roll) finds a ladder leading up about 20’. He climbs it and tells everyone the coast is clear. Just as he finishes the “clear” part, a pair of long, dead arms yanks him out of sight. The hero is grappled by a zombie and must fight a Quick Combat round at -6 by himself. Another 9 wait at the top of the ladder, and the posse may join in after the first round.
But here's the thing.
The old Deadlands system had stats rated in XdY die values. You know, 1d4, 2d6, etc. To do stuff, you rolled your relevant stat with exploding dice, took the single highest die, sometimes added a modifier, and had to beat a difficulty number. A difficulty of 9 is considered a "Hard" check. In order to get out of the damn sewers, everyone in the group has to roll Smarts, and the lowest roll is what determines the result on the table. It's possible for someone to have a Smarts stat of Xd4 or 1d6, meaning that they can't get a 10 or better without some lucky die exploding. In fact, one of the results on the table is that the next Smarts roll is at -2! So if the dumbest character's Smarts uses d4s, in this case they'd need to roll a 4, then another 4, then a 3. I'm no anydice expert, but I'm guessing that's not very likely to happen.
(In fact, I did look up an anydice thing to calculate the odds on exploding d4's. Assuming I'm reading this right, you have a 1.56% chance of getting a 10 or better.)
And yes, Deadlands did use standard colored poker chips as metagame currency to let players boost rolls. BUT. White chips (the most common) just let you add one die to your pool (you still have to take the highest die), reds let you roll an extra die and add it to your total but lets the GM get a chip, and blues (the rarest and hardest to get) do the same as reds but don't give the GM a chip. So if your Smarts is too low to roll a 9+ by itself, you're probably going to need to spend at least a red chip to be able to reach it. Hope you have some red chips or don't spend it and fail anyway!
It also begs the question of why the dumbest character is the one making the rolls. Wouldn't it make sense for the smartest person to make these rolls? Not just from a mechanical standpoint, but from a narrative one as well. I doubt groups would go "okay, we're in an unkown maze; Lowest IQ Guy, which way do you think we should go?" But since that's how the rules are laid out, that's what the PCs apparently did.
Well, for the sake of discussion let's say that the PCs find their way out because otherwise they're just going to run out of ammo and get worn down by the infinite pursuing superzombies while running in circles because one person isn't smart enough to navigate a sewer system they've never been in before.
The exit of the sewers opens to a ten foot drop down into tunnel with an old creek. The only way forward is to keep going down the tunnel, and the text says that the PCs have to keep going down the tunnel for the next bit to happen so the GM isn't allowed to let the PCs try to dig upwards or something.
This is because there's about to be an unavoidable wave of sewer water coming down the tunnel.
The point of this is to knock the entire group (and presumably Hal since I think he's still supposed to be there but the book seems to have forgotten all about him) for a while so metaplot things can happen back at Denver. Oh, and what if it's a character that can't technically be knocked out? Just bury them in mud. Don't want player abilities to short-circuit the railroad!
A wall of rushing, brown water unleashed from some forgotten cistern of this old sewer system rushes down the tunnel and slams into you. You grab one last breath and tumble head over heels in the dark, swirling stream. Finally, you succumb.
(Point to one of the heroes.) You can hold your breath no longer and feel disgusting sludge rush into your lungs.
(Point to another.) You bang your head on something hard yet squishy and see a bright flash of light before all goes dark.
(Point to a third.) You simply tumble head over heels until the stench overwhelms you.
Believe it or not, we're still not done with this chapter! The reason for the TPKO is to set up the second half of this chapter.
And believe me, it gets dumber. You might not think it can, but it does.
NEXT TIME: Please keep your heads and arms inside the vehicle at all times.
An analogy for the whole adventureOriginal SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 4: An analogy for the whole adventure
Okay, let's get back to it. We're still only about halfway through Chapter 2.
The party awakens to some boxed text.
Each character has to make a hard roll with their Spirit stat to see if they managed to hold on to whatever they had in their hands when the sewage wave hit, and failing (which is likely) means you probably just lost your preferred weapons. Oops! Hope it wasn't anything irreplaceable, difficult to make, or that you were specialized in!
You’ve been unconscious for a long time. You can tell because your limbs have fallen asleep and your muscles are cramped. You’re in the dark, stuck in thick mud that isn’t quite wet enough to let go. It’s pitch dark so you close your eyes and feel with your other senses. You hear a low rumbling all around you. You feel no one and nothing else around you. There’s a rotten, earthy smell that almost overpowers you.
The sewer must have burst somewhere and washed you down into another section of the tunnel—an older, long unexplored section.
Assuming the PCs have a way of making light (and that whatever light source they were holding on to before didn't get washed away), they discover that they're in a wet, squishy tunnel end about 10' high. There's only one way out, and if someone has a way of telling, it's westward. There's (once again) no way out even with supernatural abilities that can nuke walls or let you walk through things.
Why? Because...and I am not making this up...they're inside a giant worm.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
In the original Deadlands, the Mojave Desert was occupied by giant Tremors-style creatures called "Mojave Rattlers", which were basically purple worms. They've survived to Hell on Earth and gotten even bigger, alongside a new critter: humanoid-worm hybrids. The larger worms actually breed and store worms and worm hybrids inside themselves, barfing them up onto enemies. The reason for this next sequence is going to be yet another Big Metaplot Reveal that I don't think ever even had a hint that it existed.
Yeah, god forbid the players ruin the GM's fun of watching the players not have any choices in anything they do. And it's nothing to do with "cajones"; the group's only two options are a) crawl through the hole, or b) stay there forever.
Sit back and relax now, Marshal. Don’t push your posse through the hole. Let them argue about what to do or try some of their fancy tricks. Any attempt to magic oneself out of the worm doesn’t work—elder worms are near Gods, after all, and get away with a few perks when we need them to. Fudge this one as you see fit—no nukes, no shadow walking or otherwise ruining your fun. Got it?
Eventually, someone will crawl through the hole. It’s just wide enough for one character to go at once so you’ll soon find out which of your wasters has the largest cajones.
So someone crawls through the hole.
Yeah, these are veteran characters that have been fighting and surviving in a supernaturally-created Hell-energy-infused post-apocalyptic wasteland, but finding a leg bone in the mud is "creepy". Sure.
You’re crawling along when your hand sinks through the mud and catches on something sharp. You withdraw and see your own dark blood dripping into the dank muck.
If the hero cares to dig, he finds a jagged leg bone. This belonged to one of the worm’s “passengers.” It’s harmless, but creepy!
Moving to the next "pocket" reveals...nothing. Okay. I guess they're trying to build tension?
The next "pocket" doesn't continue the tunnel, but has a 2' wide sphincter in the "floor". The only way out is to squeeze your way through it into a large nasty chamber.
When the group examines the weeds, another boxed text is triggered:
You’re standing in what looks like a large, oblong cavern. It’s only about 5’ wide where you stand, but further on it’s obviously much wider—maybe three times as wide and tall.
The mud remains thick, and you can see strange pink weeds growing out of the muck everywhere—on the walls, ceiling, and floors.
Yeah, I don't think that's what's going to happen.
The “weeds” aren’t plants at all. They’re some sort of long, pink earthworms lying—or perhaps even growing—in masses. You turn in disgust and see something that freezes you in horror. One of the worm “masses” lies more exposed than the others. Beneath it is the grotesque face of a wormling!
The “weeds” are the things’ tentacles! A quick look around tells you there must be hundreds of these things encased in the floors, ceiling, and walls of the chamber!
As the horror grows in your stunned mind, you feel the floor beneath you start to buckle. Or undulate. The walls shudder and constrict as well, then shake and shiver. A deep groan comes from somewhere much deeper in the cavern. The cavern slowly turns and rolls, throwing you to the wall.
Now you get it. This is no cavern. You’re inside the body of a giant worm!
Taste the dramatic pause, Marshal. If you’ve played it right, the gals at your game table are sneering in revulsion while the guys are saying “EEEEWWWW!”
At this point, the wormlings start waking up. There's about 50 of them in this chamber along, so the PCs are seriously outnumbered (and probably down a few weapons from the sewer tsunami). Especially since there's a hell of a lot more of these birthing chambers inside the worm.
Yes, they're flat-out admitting that the players aren't going to be able to change things.
Short of a nuke, there’s not much any party can do to kill them all. (If the party can wipe out the wormlings, more power to them! It won’t affect the plot at all, so don’t thwart them if they have some clever plan to wipe out this colony.)
Not that the PCs will have much of a chance to do anything, because the worm just arrived at Denver and is going to deploy the troops by barfing all the wormlings it's gestating (not to mention the PCs) onto the battlefield. Everyone takes (1d6)d6 damage from this, as in "roll 1d6, that's how many d6's of damage that character takes", so it's possible someone could take a ton of damage and get killed by this cutscene. Heroic!
Me IRL reviewing this book.
So now the PCs are in a huge 200 yard wide mud barf field with a few thousand assorted wormlings, baby worms and deaders while other great worms surface and also spew monsters all over the place. Fortunately for the PCs, the assorted gribblies are more interested in the battle around Denver and will ignore the group to shuffle off in that direction. The invading worm forces go after both sides indiscriminately and start slaughtering everyone.
At this point, the PCs are "allowed" to do whatever they want. Regardless of if they try to aid the Iron Alliance forces, try to sneak back into Denver to get behind the walls, or just say "fuck this noise" and try to run away, they have to spend three rounds Quick Combatting in order to wind down their ammo stores. When that's done, the original zombie horde shows up with a bunch of semis and buses full of undead, and at the center of it is a giant open flatbed truck, covered in writhing corpses. On top of this carpet of zombies is a throne made of deaders, upon which sits a gaunt figure, burned black all over its body.
What happens next is almost four solid pages of boxed text, broken up by a paragraph or two of GM info or more pointless rounds of Quick Combat.
Yeah, the worms burrowed underground and pop back up under the tanks, destroying them. Then it's a round of Quick Combat before the GM starts reading again.
Air support finally screams in overhead—it’s the fighter jets of the Sky Pirates! The jets streak in and launch a salvo of guided missiles. At least two plow into the bellies of the great worms and detonate, showering the massive creature’s guts all over the plains.
Then something incredible happens, something you and your friends have seen once before. One of the sorcerous undead gathers a handful of deaders in some sort of arcane grip and hurls them into the air at the jets! One fighter goes up in flames instantly as it impacts a wall of writhing dead. Another—almost laughably—pops off a dozen flares before being covered in corpses and plummeting toward earth. The pilot ejects and is quickly covered in another swath of dead, fighting with the blasphemous things as they fall faster and faster to ground. Another wing of jets makes another pass—one of them dropping a thousand pound bomb between two worms and tearing great swaths of greasy flesh from their sides. Then one of the worms reaches down to the ground and swallows up dozens of deaders running below. It spins its ten-story tall neck about, rears back, and then spits out dead men like a machine gun! The trail of flailing bodies slams into the bomber from behind and sends it tumbling towards the Rockies where it explodes in a massive flash of light and sound.
Now it’s time for the ground troops. Hover tanks and other heavy vehicles appear on the distant horizon. They open up on the worms just like in an old Godzilla movie and turn three of the monsters into giant bags of blood.
A dozen of the closest worms respond by arching their backs and plunging their heads into the ground, disappearing. You can see several of the tankers cheering, believing they’ve driven the worms off—but you know better.
One round of Quick Combat.
Bunching together like this would be suicide fighting the Combine’s automatic weapons and heavy artillery, but it seems to be working against the massed hordes of the dead.
You fight with new vigor, determined to break through to Mattox—surely your last hope of survival.
Well, that sucks. The PCs only have time to do yet another round of Quick Combat before the next chunk of metaplot happens.
You’re fighting your way west when you hear heavy weapons firing from behind you. You turn and your heart fills with dread.
On the highways from the east come hundreds of vehicles, each loaded with more deaders. A short way behind them march their tireless foot soldiers, thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands more walking corpses bear down upon the surrounded Iron Alliance.
You turn and fight even harder, determined to make your last stand with Goose Mattox and the rest of the alliance. To go down fighting. But Goose now sees the truth too—the worms were only the vanguard of this unknown army. There is no hope of resistance—not here, not now. Within minutes the survivors on the hill have loaded onto their remaining transports and are racing away to the west. You can see Goose is one of the last to go. He salutes you and all the other trapped and surrounded survivors still fighting on the plains, but he has no choice. He’s leaving you behind.
Cole Ballard is the shirtless dude on the cover of the Hell on Earth core book, and the Law Dogs were basically a group of wandering lawmen. He buys the group enough time to do yet another round of Quick Combat before he starts winning the day.
You can see five or six other groups like yours fighting for their lives, surrounded by deaders, but it’s hopeless. You give the members of your posse one last look of respect and steel yourselves for the inevitable.
Suddenly a barrage of small explosions rip through the dead around you. You spin and see a wave of hoverbikes and an old Stuart APC racing through the grotesque horde. At the head of the group, riding a hoverbike with a shining gold eagle on the front, is the massive unmistakable form of Cole Ballad. It’s Cole Ballad’s Law Dogs!
At first you think they’ve come to rescue you, but they only fire a few bursts of 20mm cannon into the deaders around you before racing on by. Ten hover bikes and the APC race by, but only half make it to the line of vehicles that just approached from the east.
The hoverbikes race on to the center of the undead army—toward a flatbed with a mysterious throne of corpses. Another hover bike is the first to go down, wrecked by yet another flying ball of flailing deaders hurled by the magical “liches.” Then the APC—a Confederate Stuart by the look—gets bogged down in a horde of undead. A handful of troopers abandon the Stuart to fight, but it’s obvious they’re doomed.
Cole Ballard in all his bare-chested glory.
And now it's time for another False Choice For The Party!
Ahead, Cole Ballad and four others leap from their hoverbikes and fight their way toward the macabre flatbed truck. The burnt master of this gruesome army sweeps his hand and kills one of the Law Dogs with a blast of green fire. The hero’s death is tragic, but it allows Cole to get closer. Suddenly, the deaders around you turn and race to protect their master.
Cole climbs the cab of the flatbed and rips off a burst of automatic fire. The bullets rip through the deader on the throne to no effect. Cole’s remaining companions surround him, fending off the surrounding undead with an amazing amount of firepower.
Cole moves forward, fires off another clip and draws two massive knives. He dives toward the back of the flatbed then steps over the writhing carpet of undead. He screams something and the deader steps forward to meet him.
The two grapple, yelling and screaming as they fight.
The APC is abandonded, and the PCs are allowed to choose what they want to do, even though the APC is presented as the only way they can see of getting out of here alive. However, the book flat-out states that there are only three real options:
- Everyone goes for the APC.
- Have some people go for the APC and some go to help Cole.
- Run the fuck away on foot.
Raven. The guy responsible for setting off the entire setting, the chosen servant of the horseman War, has been spending the last 13+ years assembling a gigantic undead army. And as the boxed text reminds us, as a servitor of one of the Horsemen, Raven cannot be killed without knowing what his personal weak point is; this was universal for all the Servitors in that they could only be killed by using an item relating to their backstories. Not that he could be killed before this point anyway, because he'd had metaplot immunity since day one.
Cole Ballad jams two large knives deep into the heart of the burned deader on the flatbed. The thing shivers but then reaches forward and grabs Cole by the head and neck. He forces the Law Dog down onto the flatbed where he is held down by the carpet of dead men beneath them.
The deader screams: “I AM RAVEN! THE RECKONERS BETRAYED ME! BUT I WILL HAVE MY VENGEANCE WHEN I AM THE LAST LIVING MAN ON EARTH!”
Cole’s jaw drops in shock—he knows Raven is a servitor and can’t be killed without knowing his specific weakness.
Being a servitor, Raven is ridiculously powerful and can pop PCs like balloons if they're stupid enough draw his attention. The details of what he's been up to for the bast 200 years will come later, but the short form is that he finally figured out that the Horsemen have been playing him since day one, and he wants to kill them in revenge. Thing is, the Horsemen are powered by the fear and belief of humans. The solution? Kill every human in the world, at which point the Horsemen will be weak enough for him to kill. To accomplish this, he's thrown in with the worms.
Why? Because apparently the worms are ancient elder god things. This fact is revealed in this book, and I don't think it was ever hinted at before in any of the other books. Not that it matters, because there were only two other books published after this and they took place on another planet.
Because God forbid we don't have another pointless revelation.
Honest question about the worms reveal: who could possibly fucking care? It has nothing to do with anything going on! I don't even think it's ever had anything to do with anything that's happened in the game line to this point, although I'm honestly too disinterested to take a look. This is just so the writers can feel all smug about revealing yet another Big Evil Masters now that the Horsemen are out of the picture...but since this is the end of the Hell on Earth game line and is supposed to lead into the third game that takes place on another planet, why bother.
We'll find out the probable reason why they bothered, but I don't think you'll believe me.
Oh, and by the way: the whole backstory of what Raven's been up to for the past few centuries is given in the back of the book. It's ridiculously long and in-depth, and what's worse is that the writers spent all this time putting it together and the only person who's ever going to read it is the GM because the players will have no way to learn it. On the other hand, it was quite thoughtful of Raven to just scream his name and motivation with no prompting so everyone knew who he was and why he was here.
Christ, whatever, let's just get back to this.
Now the PCs can run away. The APC can run down zombies and worms without slowing down, so the PCs should be getting the hell out of Dodge. It doesn't say what happens if they don't, but presumably Raven just greases them if they try anything given that he's the most powerful person in the setting short of the Reckoners themselves.
Raven screams one last time as bursts of red and green flame streak between his eyes and mouth and that of his victim. You watch as Cole Ballad arcs his back, struggling to escape, but the black smoke and flame erupting from his face mark this warrior’s final act of defiance.
Cole grabs the knives still resting in Raven’s chest and pushes them all the way through his twisted flesh though he knows his struggle is pointless. With a snarl, Cole Ballad screams “You ain’t got the balls! I #$(*&@! dare you!” Raven sneers and smashes Cole’s head into the trailer. The Law Dog twitches one last time and dies.
Raven spits on his sizzling corpse—and turns his blazing eyes to you!
So the PCs run away, the battle of Denver effectively over and not a damn thing the players did had any effect on any of it. In fact, they didn't have a single valid decision point at any part of this chapter.
And the chapter isn't over yet. Seriously. This one chapter is like 30 pages long.
And we still haven't hit the worst part of the book.
NEXT TIME: The second-worst thing in this adventure.
Don't Need No Credit Card To Ride This TrainOriginal SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 5: Don't Need No Credit Card To Ride This Train
Get ready for some rail roading.
When we last left our heroes, they were running away after being involved in the seige of Denver, infiltrating Denver itself, getting shot down in a helicopter, running around lost in zombie-infested sewers, getting swallowed and then thrown up by a giant worm troop gestater-and-transport, watching both the Iron Alliance and Combine get wrecked by a horde of undead and giant worms, getting left behind by their allies, and watching the setting's biggest bad guy NPC kill an important setting NPC. And through it all, they were not allowed to have a single effect on any of it. At all. Period.
Regardless, we left the PCs plowing through an undead horde at relatively high speed in an APC.
Yup, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse just showed up with their own armies to fight Raven after running roughshod over the rest of the world. The one standing is Famine, whose steed was killed in the backstory for the Hell on Earth core book. The PCs have just enough time to panic before a blast of green energy knocks the APC over.
You’ve finally broken free of dead men and giant worms when you a crest a small rise. There you witness a sight you never dreamed possible.
On the field before you is yet another massive army. You see bikers, zombies, monsters, wasters, and more horrors than even you’ve seen in your long adventuring career. At the rear of the army are four gigantic figures. One, gaunt and skeletal, stands. The other three sit upon massive horses.
Fleeing before the monstrous horde are the bloodied remnants of the Iron Alliance. You pause and spare a quick glance behind you. Raven’s army moves forward as well. Some move toward Denver, the rest race after you, not yet seeing the rivals that lie directly in their path! And you are caught in the middle!
This is Jenny Quaid, yet another established setting NPC. She's the head of one of the major good-guy road gangs. She is, of course, described as completely gorgeous.
Three snake-like creatures race up the hill toward you from the west—from the direction of what can only be the Reckoners and their terrible army of servitors and abominations. A group of five Junkyarders flee before them.
Three are incinerated beneath the worm’s blazing gaze, a fourth trips and is instantly entangled by another. The last, a beautiful and strong-looking young woman, turns to save her entangled friend.
Lookin' pretty good for someone living in a supernaturally infused post-apocalyptic world for 13 years.
At this point, the APC isn't going anywhere, so the PCs are expected to get out and fight the snake-things ("voracipedes") alongside Jenny. If they do save her, she tags along for the rest of the adventure assuming the PCs don't treat her like garbage or ditch her or something.
Stay classy, Deadlands: Hell on Earth/Lost Colony - The Unity.
She might even be attracted to someone in the party.
One round before the PCs finish off the voracipedes (or just before they repair the APC), they see a giant cloud of swirling dust approaching them from the Horsemen's side of the battle. This is a monster known as a "gorestorm", which is basically a tornado made of guts. Don't worry, though, even though it's a stated monster the characters aren't going to fight it. They're going to be too busy listening to boxed text!
While that's going on, Jenny can fill in the PCs on what's going on if they haven't figured it out themselves yet (and, of course, saved her): The Horsemen have returned from their world tour and slammed through the Iron Alliance forces on their way here to confront Raven.
You peer out the viewslit and see the red storm whirling up the hill toward you. A glance out the other side shows a throng of deaders already climbing atop your vehicle. Some of them bang on the roof and grunt fiercely, obviously sensing prey. You feel like tuna packed live in a dented can.
Then something bangs on the floorboards and rocks the APC! Young rattlers! Dozens of ‘em by the sound of it!
You peer back toward the storm just in time to see it wash over you. The APC rocks like it’s in a hurricane, then it’s hit by hundreds of wet, sloppy…things!
Your viewports are spattered with red gore, but you can just make out the forms of the deaders atop you being washed away by the storm’s gory fury.
Once the storm passes someone has to get out of the APC to fix it. There's a few skill rolls required, but since the forces of the Horsemen and Raven are focused on each other whoever is doing the repairs doesn't have to worry about them. Nothing is said about what happens if the PCs can't fix the APC, apart from the fact that trying to escape the battle on foot is certain death.
I don't think players will be laughing their "keisters" off, I think they're going to be fucking pissed because they haven't been able to do a God damned thing since this adventure began except listen to boxed text that actually does their roleplaying for them! Seriously, the GM could just hand the book to the players and let them read it themselves for all the interaction they get to do with the story.
You smash through a wall of angry-looking fat men! As you hit them, their stomachs burst open, spewing greenish clouds of what can only be poisonous gas. You put the pedal to the metal and move through the cloud before it can seep into the Stuart.
The next rise is fairly clear—only a few toxic zombies to run over. You scream down a short road clogged with dead men and into an old suburb—Aurora by a sign on a ruined Quickie Mart.
Even with all you’ve seen today, the sight you now witness is the most terrible yet. Standing in what was once a small intersection is a tall, gaunt figure atop a pale horse. He wears a black cloak and carries a massive scythe. Death swings the great weapon and cuts down a hundred deaders. The things continue to writhe, though Death’s gigantic, skeletal charger steps forward to stomp them into meaty black stains.
From somewhere within the Reaper’s dark cowl comes a low, rumbling whisper, yet somehow you can still hear it inside your trusty Stuart—”RAVENNNNNN!” You hit the accelerator—this is not a good place to be! But Death turns towards you and points a long bony finger…
This is a good time for a five-minute break, Marshal. Let the gang take a break from this completely over-the-top chapter. They’ve likely been laughing their collective keisters off for a good bit now, so let ‘em get a fresh soda or water the lilies. When everyone’s settled and ready to fight Death itself—proceed.
Okay, so you know how I've said we haven't hit the dumbest parts of the adventure yet? Well, it's time to see the second-worst thing in the book.
The PCs are expected to try to get to the ship before Death's servants do. The APC can run over most of the critters between them and the ship.
Death turns toward you and points a bony finger…
…when suddenly a thin beam of blood-red light streaks from the sky and envelops the Horseman.
Death turns and swings its incredible scythe in…panic? You look up and see a small, strange craft—a sleek, black VTOL of some sort by the pale light of its beam. Hellstromme? It hovers not thirty feet above the Reckoner. Death slashes madly at the thing, but can’t quite seem to reach. Legions of horrors suddenly begin to swarm to their master’s aid—but it’s too late! The Reaper and his horse turns ethereal and seems to be sucked upward into the beam—and into the strange black ship!
Just as the red light fades, a group of skeletal wasters—foot troops of Death himself—fire a massive cannon of pure Hellfire into the black ship. It sputters, spins, and heads for the mountains. The pilot—if there is one—struggles to keep the craft under control, but you can plainly see it go down in a forest not a mile from your position.
The skeletal foot troops and all the other undead servants of Death race toward it!
Nothing builds tension like knowing you can't fail to get to the next cutscene!
Describe a few bizarre fights between these terrible troops and make the driver of the Stuart make a few drivin’ rolls. Don’t worry about the results, though. Just say “Whew! Barely!” a lot and get on with the action.
When the posse arrives at the ship, it's sealed and there are two Black Riders on their tail. These are powerful servants of Death, and the ship won't open until they're killed. Once they're taken care of, the ship opens, and out walks Dr. Hellstrome to deliver what may be the stupidest plot contrivance in the history of RPGs.
Wow, that last sentence explains so much about their adventure design philosophy, doesn't it? Assuming they say "yes"...
“Those creatures around us. You know what they are? The worms and the dead are the army of Raven. The monsters are abominations of the Reckoners themselves. Raven seeks revenge for his betrayal. He believes that if he wipes out every single living human being on the face of the earth, the Reckoners will die. He is correct, but fortunately, there is another way.
I have all four of the Reckoners trapped for a bit—perhaps a day or more. But they must be taken far, far away from here. And quickly.
My ship is ruined and my body is failing. You must continue where I have failed. The odds are nearly impossible that you will succeed, and to do so you will likely face horrors even worse than those that surround us now. But it is humanity’s only hope! May I count on you?”
Well, let’s hope so, Marshal, because that’s how the heroes are going to get to the Unity.
Yeah. Dr. Hellstrome has shown up out of the blue once again, and trapped the Four Horsemen of the fucking Apocalypse in a ghost trap, three of the Horsemen apparently being caught off-screen! Problem pretty much solved, the elder lords of evil who've screwed up the entire world are out of the picture as easy as that!
Hellstromme’s massive robotic body has seen better days—he’s limping and there’s a serious crack in the dome that holds his living brain. He staggers stiffly to the rear of his ship where he pushes it over with titanic strength. A buzzsaw then extends from the tip of one crumpled arm and begins to cut into the ship’s
tail—near a strange protrusion that emitted the red light.
Hellstromme reaches inside the gash with his left “hand”—as if cutting out a tumor from a patient—and pulls forth a strange crimson box covered in bizarre black “veins.” Even a cursory look shows creepy pentagrams, skulls, and other signs of the occult.
“I do not have time to tell you everything now. Take this box and head toward the Vanessa Hellstromme Memorial Spaceport on the outskirts of Denver as fast as your vehicle will allow. I will move away from this spot and try to draw off Death’s minions. I will brief you further by radio—for as long as it lasts in these accursed wastes—or until I am overtaken.”
“Go! Now! You haven’t much time!”
That's just...I mean...
Who in the almighty fuck thought that was a good idea?
It's bad enough that throughout this entire adventure the characters haven't been able to do jack shit, especially against major setting villains. Now we have Hellstrome showing up out of nowhere again to just solve everything while the PCs just watch.
I mean, that's why we play RPGs, isn't it? To be the adoring viewers of the writers' awesome NPCs do everything?
What makes this even worse is that I don't think Hellstrome ever shows up in an adventure or anything in Hell on Earth until this book. He's always been a background character, someone who sets stuff up that'll have an effect on the setting in general. He's not Elminster, he doesn't hire PCs to go find stuff, he doesn't appear as a "boss" in anything. This was mainly because Hellstrome was actually Pestilence's servitor, and as such he couldn't be put in a position where PCs could kill him since a) he couldn't be killed without his weakness, and b) he had to stick around through all the game lines to perform his bit here. He never even had a stat block, because (as the books put it) "give it stats and your players will kill it."
God I hate this book.
So that's the second-dumbest part of this whole clusterfuck out of the way. The big one's coming up, but don't worry. We'll get there.
Oh, and yes there's a spaceport.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
Hellstrome invented trans-galactic travel via space warp tunnel (named "The Tunnel") about 20 or so years before the world got nuked, and a civilian/military colonization effort was sent through the Tunnel to a planet called Banshee in the "Faraway" system on the other side of the galaxy. They're having their own problems with the natives, and believe it or not this planet is vitally important to the metaplot. We'll get there, too.
But what you need to know right now is that due to all the badness that happened at the colony, about half the expedition force attempted to take the Unity back through the Tunnel and return to Earth. They did, finding out the hard way about the whole travelling-through-Hell thing when the ship's shielding malfunctioned. Most of the crew and passengers were killed before the ship arrived in orbit around Earth shortly after the Apocalypse, and the only reason anyone got off the ship at all is because one member of each of the 13 psychic Special Forces squads on board the ship stayed behind to hold back the demonic forces. That part is actually important backstory for psychic characters ("sykers" in HoE parlance; they're basically hucksters, only they channel energy directly from the Hunting Grounds instead of gambling with demons for it).
Right. So anyway.
Hellstrome won't stick around to answer any questions; instead he heads off to fight the Reckoner's forces and keep them occupied so the PCs can escape. If the PCs hang around, the GM is encouraged to throw heavy-duty monsters at them until they get the hint. Oh, and despite what Hellstrome said there's no time limit on getting to the spaceport; the ghost trap will work for as long as the plot needs it to.
While they're driving to the spaceport, they might get the idea to radio Hellstrome and ask him what the shit is this shit. If they don't, he calls them.
Seriously, can the PCs make any descision on their own in this book?
Anyway, Uncle Hellstrome sits everyone on his knee and starts giving a big ol' pile of exposition.
Guess where the PCs are going!
Many have wondered where I have been these last 13 years. I have been on Banshee in the Faraway System.
As you know, the Tunnel that allows travel between our two worlds no longer functions, but what few know is that the Tunnel is not the only way to Faraway. It was simply the safest.
I’m afraid I have many secrets to tell you before this makes any sense.
First, the Tunnel is a portal from our world to Faraway, but hyperspace and worm holes are just technobabble used to hide the truth. Travel through the Tunnel is facilitated through a mystical realm that has come to be called the Hunting Grounds. Some areas of it are what you might call Heaven. Other parts are most definitely Hell.
The Tunnel merely opens a portal to the Hunting Grounds and then directs ships through it to a specified area on the other side, avoiding the demons, devils, and nightmare realms in between.
There are many other portals to the Hunting Grounds, but without the Tunnel or some other method of navigation, a traveler might easily be lost in the nightmare lands for centuries. And for whatever reason, it is far easier to wander into Hell then any other region.
I left for Banshee not to flee the earth’s destruction—which I contributed to, but to attempt some minor atonement for my actions. I went because there is a secret that I have kept for many years.
Banshee is alive.
My studies had shown this conclusively in years past, but I had to discover if another of my hypotheses were true. It is, and it may mean the destruction of the Reckoners themselves. Just a moment…”
The sound of a buzzsaw ripping through bone fills the radio before Hellstromme continues.
“If the Reckoners can be transported to Banshee, they will not die, but they will lose their invulnerability. And then they may be killed.”
NEXT TIME: Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do
Save vs. Dying Horribly In The Cold Void Of SpaceOriginal SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 6: Save vs. Dying Horribly In The Cold Void Of Space
When we last left our heroes, Hellstrome was telling them that they had to take the magic Hellraiser puzzle box containing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to an alien living planet, where they (the Horsemen, not the PCs) will be weakened to the point where it'd actually be possible to kill them (again, the Horsemen, not the PCs).
He also tells the posse that, in order to get to Banshee, they have to get on a ship called The Unity, which was the first ship Hellstrome used to break into the
- Get to the spaceport.
- Contact an AI-run satellite called ComSat and persuade it to send down a shuttle (there are space stations up there, as well as the Unity).
- Travel to the Unity.
- Restore the ship's power by bringing the nuclear reactor back online.
- Go to the engine room and say the word "Apostolos". It's a (significant pause) code word that'll bring the AI back online.
- Have the AI instruct the group on how to get the ship ready to go. "Make sure at least two of you make it there. You’ll need two bodies to properly follow the computer’s instructions."
- Point the ship at the Faraway system, and AI will do the rest.
(And yes, there's an actual spaceport in this setting. There's only been one interstellar flight ever, and that was to Banshee, but there are numerous orbital platforms and stations in play. For the most part, they didn't have much of an effect on anything.)
Before they arrive at the spaceport, the PCs have the golden opportunity to ask Hellstrome pretty much whatever they want about the Deadlands setting. Hellstrome knows pretty much every secret there is (I know, shocking), and is willing to answer any questions they might have.
One of these might well be "why the hell did you serve a Horseman of the Apocalypse"; the reason is because the Reckoners needed humans who willingly chose "evil" to perform Their work on Earth, either directly or indirectly. Hellstrome never really chose to serve Pestilence in the sense that he knew who Pestilence was and made the deliberate decision to follow her, but Hellstrome's willingness to pollute the hell out of the world via heavy industry (not to mention creating and building radiation-spreading bombs) put him firmly in her camp. His backstory is given in detail in a later chapter, assuming we ever get there.
Two questions that Hellstrome won't answer are "hey, can we swing by those space stations you mentioned and get some gear? We're running low on pretty much everything," and "Why don't we just launch this cube into the sun/deep space and call it a day?". The reasons presumably being "because you don't get to choose where you go in this adventure" and "because metaplot."
It's only a half-hour drive to the spaceport, so there's no real time for the group to restock before contacting the shuttle, not that it matters because there doesn't seem to be anywhere to restock. Well, I mean, there is but they're being tricked into thinking they're on a strict timer so they might not try.
Interestingly, no consideration is given to the idea that the posse just drops the box in the middle of the road and goes somewhere to get shitfaced before the world ends for reals. I mean, technically it's in the group's best interests to destroy the Reckoners, but still. It's a surprising omission given the rest of the adventure, given that they keep finding ways to herd the players back onto the One True Path.
Double casualties? Well whoop-de-do! It doesn't matter how many casualties everyone gets because they're not whittling down forces or anything. They might as well just be playing for points on a leaderboard.
The journey itself should be fairly easy—have everyone make a Quick Combat roll and add +4 to their rolls. Whoever mans the Stuart’s guns does double casualties.
There's nothing going on at the Spaceport, so the group can just head for a comms relay to contact ComSat. ComSat is a sort-of established NPC: a lonely, now-paranoid AI that's been helplessly watching the fall of humanity from orbit and unable to do anything about it. It was presented in an early sourcebook as a potential "mysterious benefactor" NPC who could send hints and such through communications gear.
The thing about ComSat, as we'll soon see, is that it will (for some reason) only communicate via commercials, both edited by itself and unedited. Kind of like Bumblebee from the first Transformers movie, but dumber.
Oh, right, the PCs were at the Spaceport.
But what if the posse isn't warned away? Then the muties and survivors just retreat because they don't want to mess with people who look like an actual threat. Also, the group thinks they're on a deadline, so they're hopefully focused on getting to the Unity.
The spaceport sat at the edge of the Colorado blast, but it was close enough to fry its electronics and incinerate most of the folks who worked there. What’s left are a series of long runways that look just like any major airport, a number of ruined buildings, and the blackened hulks of tankers, luggage trolleys, and even a few old spaceships. A number of massive hangars survived as well, but campfires burning within should warn the posse away from the muties who have taken
up residence inside.
The posse's ultimate goal is the control tower, which has various still-functioning radar dishes and communication hardware. They can figure this out by making a very simple electronics skill check, assuming someone has it, but otherwise the GM is going to have to tell them this. Getting up the tower is a little more difficult, since it's partially collapsed. The only way up is via an old external fire escape (do control towers have those?) that's seen better days. It takes three pretty hard climbin' skill rolls to get up them...but failing the roll means you fall, taking 2d6 stabbed-by-rebar damage on top of the falling damage (it's 30 yards to the top of the fire escape). Oh, and if more than 300 pounds are put on the fire escape, the whole thing collapses. Given that that's about two adult humans worth of weight, that seems pretty likely. It also begs the question of what happens if the fire escape collapses before everyone (or anyone) gets up there, since (as stated) that's the only way into the tower.
The adventure assumes everyone gets up to the control room, so I will too. At the top of the tower is a bunch of computer hardware in a poor state of repair, as well as a clearly labelled monitor that says "ComSat Uplink". The power's out, though, so someone needs to faff around getting everything plugged back in. This requires two separate skill rolls (scavenging and either tinkerin' or science: electronics).
What happens if they fail those rolls, or don't have someone with the needed skills in the first place? Well, uh...hey, look over there! (running feet noise, car door slam, tires screeching into the distance)
So again we have to assume everyone has the right skills and makes their rolls. When everything powers up, a microphone next to the monitor turns on; it's apparently supposed to be obvious that ComSat responds to voice commands. I mean, it's an AI and there's no mention of a keyboard, so I guess it wouldn't need much of a logic leap. Speaking into the mic makes the message "ComSat Active" appear on the screen. Then nothing happens until someone says out loud they need to get to the Unity.
Believe it or not, this is a setting knowledge test.
Then a strange thing happens—a commercial plays:
The cracked screen goes from black to an old commercial. In the commercial, a well dressed man stands before the spaceport. He says “Here at Noble Corp, the sky is not a limit. Our new deep space research vessel, the Unity, has the most advanced technology on the planet. It features state of the art artificial intelligence and a drive so secret even the government doesn’t know about it. But machines are only as good as the people who use them. That’s why we’ve chosen veteran shuttle pilot Colonel Mark Hazard to command our first journey into deep space. Watch on March 26th as the Unity begins its historic mission. The world will never be the same.”
The screen freezes on the last frame, the announcer’s face caught in a permanent smile.
See, ComSat is paranoid, and thinks that "quizzing" people this way will protect it from access by bad guys because demon-powered abominations wouldn't know world history. Unfortunately, the players may not realize that this is actually a test.
The test is to see if the PCs notice the mistake in the commercial: that the Unity was built by Hellstrome Industries, not Noble Corp. If one of the characters says this out loud, then the next commercial starts.
The change here is that Romero was president of the United States, not the Confederacy. Pointing this out will start the last commercial.
The screen went black for a moment, but now it’s back. This time you see a man in a suit kissing babies and shaking hands with common folks. A banner at the bottom of the screen reads: “President Romero. What’s best for Texas and the rest of the Confederacy.”
Believe it or not, the mistake here isn't that they put their RPG inside the setting itself as a "predicter of things to come" like that's not embarassing all around. The mistake is that the nukes were launched worldwide on September 23, 2081, so this commercial couldn't have happened.
The screen goes black when Romero is revealed and another commercial begins. This one shows nothing but a ticking stopwatch followed by a spinning book of noxious green that rushes out at the viewer.
“Tonight on 60 Minutes. Was the Last War predicted by a Sean Hanson roleplaying game made in the late 1990s? And if so, is his startling vision of apocalypse unavoidable? Ingrid Honnaker and Joel Tuchman find out tonight on 60 Minutes, for September 24th, 2081.”
Now, here's the thing. These are pieces of knowledge that the characters would more than likely possess, particularly the last two. Of course, given how much backstory Deadlands has in general, the players probably won't catch the mistakes.
Deadlands setting books and "class"-specific books always led off with ~20 pages of backstory about the book's topic, told in an in-character style by someone related to the book's topic. For instance, the Templars book "grey pages" were a first-person narrative by a Templar named Jo, who was part of the events that led to the founding of the group. Which was fine, and I honestly think that's a good way to present setting backstory, but these fiction bits always went into way too much detail about things most people don't care about. I don't need to know the details of the journey the founders of the Templars took before they started the actual organization, just high-level that stuff for me so I have a foundation for my character and maybe some plot hooks for the GM.
It is possible your players don’t know the answers to some of these questions. No sweat. Hey, we wrote all those “gray pages” for them to read, but don’t mind our carpal tunnel syndrome, bleeding fingers, and bloodshot, irradiated eyes.
The questions ComSat asks are fairly easy to characters of the Wasted West. The trick is just figuring out the commercials are questions. If your players do that, you can let them make Knowledge rolls to guess the truth (or to determine what’s wrong with each advertisement).
In any event, in the future, let those poor players read the gray pages of your books! Even better, make them go buy their own and learn about this world they’re playing in! We won’t complain.
But beyond the "why aren't you reading our fluff" thing, the real problem here is that, since the characters would have the setting knowledge, they're still required to make rolls to know it. Now, I understand that most people who were alive in the setting before the bombs dropped would probably know who made the first interstellar spaceship (kind of a huge deal), who the President of the United States was when the bombs dropped (kind of public knowledge), and the date the world ended (again, kind of a huge deal), because that's common knowledge in-universe. But since that'd be common knowledge, why make the players roll in the first place?
The thing about putting a "make this skill roll to advance to the next part of the module" bit in your adventure is that you also need to answer the question "so what happens if nobody makes the roll?" Because that's possible. If the players don't realize the mistakes in the videos, and the characters fail the Knowledge rolls, then guess what? The adventure's over because there's no other way to get to the Unity.
The real problem is that the book, like many formal metaplot-leaning RPG modules of the time (*coughTORGcough*), never takes into account that the PCs might not make a required skill check, notice an important clue, or just not follow through on something the way the author expected them to. To be fair, there are one or two points where the book does take into account a failure (like the bit with the SAM), but they just boil down to "oh, have the posse fight some more monsters, I guess," with no impact on the overall narrative at all. But even then, this particular adventure is so heavily railroaded that the PCs don't even need to explore or find clues or anything; everything is presented in the boxed text.
That leads us to this insane loop of bad design. If the players don't know the setting details, the characters can roll to know it. Except that it's information that at least one of the characters should just know because it's ridiculously common knowledge, so why are they rolling to begin with? And if they fail the roll, then they're stuck, unable to proceed. But if the characters just know this stuff without a roll, then there's no real reason for this "test" because they can't fail it. And if they can't fail it, what's the point of the scene?
God this book is dumb.
So let's just assume everyone makes the rolls needed to know common, everyday knowledge. This display of basic setting facts somehow convinces ComSat that it can trust the PCs. It then uses edited-together security footage from the spaceport to show the posse how to get to a wrecked freighter named The Hesperast since it wants the PCs to go there. Once they take the hint, the screen flickers and shows another commercial.
Listen, Deadlands: Hell on Earth: The Unity, if I wanted to play Paranoia I'd just play Paranoia, okay?
As the heroes start to leave the tower, the terminal flickers on and off, hesitantly playing another commercial.
This one is unintentional, but as was stated in The Wasted West, ComSat’s a little screwy these days and can’t stop itself. Perceptive heroes might notice the heavy static and constant breaks in this commercial that show ComSat is trying to turn it off.
Those who stay to watch see a sexy lingerie model opening a can of fizzing cola, then pouring it into a tall glass. A sexy female voice then says “Bubbly Fizz. Mmmm.”
The voice was done on a computer and designed to reside subliminally in customer’s minds for days. Every time they see a bubble, something round, or even something that looks like a cola can, the voice runs through their head. Bubbly Fizz. Mmmm. Drive your group crazy by making them all say that aloud every time they see something bubbly or can-shaped.
Bouncy Bubble Beverage! It's the mandatory thing!
It's worth pointing out that the book makes a few "Bubbly Fizz. Mmmm" gags in the GM's text. Y'know, because it's "funny".
We are only halfway through this fucking book.
So the posse gets to the wreck of the Hesperas. It's very clearly not going to fly again, but the group is expected to try and get into the cargo area. Doing so reveals that the cargo bay is covered in what looks like blood, but is actually red petroleum jelly that was part of the ship's last cargo. It seems that the only reason it's like that is so characters with the "Squeamish" drawback will have to make a roll to go in. Regardless, the actual reason to come here is because there's a few crates of undamaged spacesuits in the hold.
And since the PCs haven't had anything to do for the past God-knows-how-long, the ship's crew happens to choose this particular moment to rise from the dead. There's (PCs x 2) of them, and while they're not tough the fight is complicated thanks to the slippery, flammable jelly all over the place: -4 to all physical skills that involve moving (like melee combat or firing a gun if you don't brace yourself), and firing a gun has at least 1 in 20 chance of lighting everything on fire.
I hope the PCs don't set everything on fire and burn up the spacesuits, because otherwise they can't get to the Unity!
Once that whole mess is dealt with (and assuming they didn't blow up the shuttle), a new shuttle lands at the station (remote piloted by ComSat), and when everyone gets in there's another broadcast.
A "beautiful girl of 17", eh?
A commercial suddenly flares to life on the ship’s cracked monitor. It shows a number of figures in power armor moving fast through a blasted urban scene and fighting what can only be a heavy can cyborg. Music plays, “Be all that you can be, in the Arrrrr-myyyy.”
A female voice-over says, “In the United States Special Forces, we kill more rebels before 9am than the Latin Alliance kills all year.” The picture then pans up the hulking power armor until it gets to the top. There the soldier takes off her imposing helmet to reveal a beautiful young girl of about 17.
Now a male voice cuts in. “Sign up now for the new spaceborne Marines and receive twice the usual recruiting bonus!”
Well anyway this is ComSat's way of saying that it's going to force the PCs to do it a favor before it takes them to the Unity. Attempting to override ComSat's control will result in the AI putting the shuttle into high gear, causing damage to anyone who's not strapped in.
Oh, and everyone has to make a hard stat roll or throw up because comedy.
See, ComSat currently has a bad case of cyborgs. Throckmorton had a few cyborgs set up on various orbital platforms before the Last War started, where they were waiting for Throckmorton's orders. Then the apocalypse happened and they were stuck in space, but since cyborgs are really just cybered up intelligent undead with onboard AIs, that wasn't a real big problem for them. They had orders to perform an orbital drop as part of the attack on Junkyard, but before they could launch the Junkyard shield was turned on, and since then the 'borgs have been watching the events of the past few days and (like us) have been trying to figure out what in the Wide World of Sports is going on on Earth.
Throckmorton's been trying to get these guys to come down and help defend Denver, but (and I quote) "the cyborg commander is pulling the old “bzzt—can’t read you, over” bit with his hand over his mouth" until he can get a better handle on the situation. He's sent two cyborgs to invade ComSat to get a better view of what's going on around Denver, and ComSat wants the PCs to get rid of them before it'll let them get to the Unity.
Tired of cable?
ComSat is trying to teach the posse how to put the spacesuits on. Everyone needs to make a difficulty 9 (Hard) Smarts check to put their suit on; if they fail the roll then their suits will have air leaks, so please refer to my discussion before about someone with a slow Smarts stat getting shafted. Going out into space (which they have to do) with a leaky suit isn't immediately fatal, but it causes Wind damage (i.e., stamina damage) each round. You can fix the seal, but it's a whole-round action and now requires two rolls off different stats. If someone takes too much Wind damage this way, they flat-out die. Oh, and while wearing the suits they can't use small objects (like guns) because the gloves are too bulky.
Just outside the shuttle is an old satellite about the size and shape of a grain silo. Solar panels and sensor prongs ring its perimeter. Marked clearly on its side, in big blue letters, is “ComSat.”
As you marvel at being in outer space, the shuttle’s monitor flickers on to show two children eating what appears to be soggy corn flakes soaked in blood. Audio booms into your suit’s radio:
“Tasty Flakes are yumilicious, nutritious, and made from algae harvested in the Red Sea! Children love the way it turns
milk red! Parents love Tasty Flakes because they’re wholesome, all-natural, and affordable!”
“Even Astronaut Flip Cheney loves Tasty Flakes! ‘They’re spacealicious!’”
The commercial now shows an astronaut floating in space around a United States space shuttle in a suit that looks exactly like yours. The video then pauses and zooms in to the suit’s various buckles and clasps. It continues to cycle through these close-ups, over and over.
Cyborgs, it should be pointed out, do not need spacesuits on account of being undead.
The cyborgs weren't expecting anyone to show up, so they've just pulled an access door off the side of the satellite and went inside. They're also not armed except for some wrenches and assorted tools since they weren't expecting any sort of trouble. That said, they're still really strong cyberzombies and can probably pull someone's arms off fairly easily.
ComSat stops the shuttle about 100 meters away from itself so the PCs can try and take the cyborgs by surprise. Leaping from the shuttle to the satellite is a fairly easy roll, but...
Why can't ComSat just use the shuttle to catch someone, since it's established that ComSat is driving the shuttle? Good question!
Losers who fail shoot slowly past ComSat and into the void. Those who go bust go racing past the satellite and off into the void. The suits have 16 hours of heat and oxygen left in them, so the group has a little time to figure out a way to rescue errant companions. Of course, this won’t keep most wasters from soiling their pants. ComSat is also quite sympathetic to the doomed—it pipes in the best of its commercials to keep the soon-dead character entertained during his last hours. Over. And Over. And over.
The trick of this fight is to take out the two cyborgs while doing as little damage to ComSat as possible. Since the fight is taking place on and inside a valuable piece of technology, every missed shot causes sparks to kick up or dents something that looks valuable, but really only has a 1 in 3 chance of actually doing serious damage, and ComSat won't get the PCs to the Unity until all that damage is fixed after the fight.
Oh, right, the fight. As stated, the cyborgs don't have weapons because they weren't expecting trouble. That said, they know that the best way to fight in this situation is to grab a screwdriver or something and try to tear open peoples' spacesuits. If it looks like they're certain to lose, they'll just "retreat" by leaping into space and hoping their buddies will swing by and pick them up.
Once the cyborgs are defeated and ComSat is fixed up (hope someone has the skills needed to do that!), it'll let everyone into the shuttle and pilot it on the 10 hour journey to the adventure's final act.
NEXT TIME: The moment you've all been waiting for!
The Moment You've All Been Waiting ForOriginal SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 7: The Moment You've All Been Waiting For
We've finally reached Chapter Three: The Unity. I don't know why they named the adventure after a ship the PCs will only be spending two out of three sections of the last chapter on, and even then barely do anything onboard, but whatever. Let's just get through this.
And since this is the third of three chapters, that means that we're finally going to cover the thing I've been teasing all this time: the worst thing ever put in an RPG adventure ever. Just be patient, it's coming.
Now, I'm sure some of you are asking what the big deal is with the Unity.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
The Unity, as I briefly described before, was a colony ship designed to travel to the system of Faraway via what everyone thought was basically a wormhole. But as Hellstrome tells the PCs, it was actually travelling through Hell itself. This wasn't a problem on the way to the planet Banshee because Hellstrome used holographic technology and special technomagical defenses to prevent people from knowing what was really going on.
When the colonists arrived at the Faraway system, they began colonizing the planet they called "Banshee" Due to the howling winds. The colony was a joint venture between the US military and Hellstrome Industries, and each had a say in running things.
Things went bad pretty quickly due to the planet's indigenous species (the surprisingly Native American-esque "anouks") possessing powerful magic abilities and the fact that the leader of the military forces, General Paul "Overkill" Warfield, turned out to be a homicidal whack-job of the "genocide them all, salt the earth, piss on the salt, shoot anyone who has a problem with that" variety.
After a few dozen war crimes and an attempted military coup, a large chunk of the colonists and military folks decided that the whole thing was a wash and managed to get back to the Unity and point it back at Earth. The plan was to get as many civilians back home as they could, then return with military reinforcements to help stop General Warfield from wiping out every living thing on the planet that looked at him funny.
Unfortunately, on the return trip the shields and related systems malfunctioned, and everyone onboard suddenly knew exactly where they were. Especially when Hell began leaking into the ship.
The Unity re-entered Earth orbit as things were seriously Event Horizoning onboard. In order to let the remaning passengers escape, fifteen of the onboard sykers stayed behind and held off waves of demons so everyone else could escape. They were deservedly heralded has heroes (as soldiers who sacrificed themselves to save dozens of people would be), and are now known as "The Unforgotten Fifteen".
Unfortunately again, the suriviors got down to Earth to find out that the apocalypse happened while they were gone. Meanwhile, the Unity stayed in orbit and for the most part everyone kind of forgot it existed.
(By the way, since I know you're wondering: this adventure was published in 2000. The Hell on Earth core book, where the Unity was first mentioned, was released in 1998. Event Horizon was released in 1997. Given how far in advance Deadlands' metaplot seems to have been written, it's possible that it's just parallel development. That said, if we were going to start seriously critisizing RPG books for being based on or derivitave of popular culture, we'd be in BIG trouble as a hobby so I'm just going to bypass that whole thing.)
The chapter opens with (no word of a lie) four pages of backstory about Hellstrome, how his wife died during the First Anglo-Sikh War, how he unwittingly (and unknowingly) became a servitor out of a desire for revenge for her death, went to the States to research Ghost Rock, helped found Desseret/Denver, developed the irradiated Ghost Rock bomb, found out how to break into the Hunting Grounds, made multiple excursions there, built the Unity and its engine the "Faustian Device", accidentally learned how to do long-distance travel through the Hunting Grounds, set up the Faraway colonization effort, and how the entire thing went tits-up on the final journey.
I'm not going to go into any detail on that stuff. Partially because I'm just trying to finish this book, but also because it's all pretty boring. I can do a summary post if people want, but for now we're just going to move on with the adventure itself since really, that sort of backstory is really only for the GM's bathroom-reading benefit.
(There's actually a third reason: telling you more detail right now would spoil something later this chapter, however.)
Actually, it's just the hangar bay.
The shuttle’s monitors have been quiet for nearly eight hours, but now they suddenly flicker to life. You’re obviously looking at an exterior camera zooming in on a distant ship. It’s a long, sleek vessel that looks almost like some ancient, primordial shark covered in steel. The ship looks black, though it’s likely just the shining silver hull reflecting the infinite darkness.
You don’t see any major signs of damage from here. The craft seems intact, though powerless.
You’ve all heard rumors of the Unity. How it was used to bring back the last of the Psychic Legion before the Tunnel collapsed and the Last War ended. You also heard that the sykers abandoned the ship when something got on board—something that killed most of the civilians.
The ship certainly doesn’t look like a “victim” from here. It looks more like a predator.
Your shuttle seems to be approaching from low and to the front. It shifts upwards and angles in toward a yawning slit that might be some sort of hangar bay—but it feels more like a mouth to you.
Oh, and "rumors" is a bit much, since it's possible that some of the PCs were involved in the Faraway expedition. In particular, syker PCs have to be set up as either stationed on Earth (and thus got to witness the apocalypse first-hand) or were part of the Faraway project (and thus got to participate in war crimes on another planet and deal the whole mess that happened on the way back). But wouldn't syker PCs who were on the Unity know his way around, or what actually happened during the return trip?
Sorry, you were never on this part of the ship apparently.
Syker characters who were on this ship before probably didn’t venture down into the lower decks, so this part of the ship isn’t familiar. (They were only on here a few days.) Other areas might be better known, but so many of the lifts and corridors are blocked or ruined that any familiarity is too limited to be of much use. Only when they get to the Officer’s Quarters (where they were housed) might they truly see familiar surroundings.
The first goal of this chapter is figuring out how to power up the ship and point it at Faraway. While this could have been a cool Space Hulk-esque dungeon crawl, the book shoots that idea right in the foot by explaining how there's no map of the ship, and instead of exploring the PCs are basically just going to be walking in a straight line from setpiece to setpiece. I mean, why change now, right?
It's also important to point out that until the power is turned back on, there's no gravity or oxygen. This fact isn't really mentioned until a few pages after the PCs get onboard.
Anyway, the shuttle (which is still being controlled by ComSat) lands in a fighter bay.
I know I said this before, but I hate how the boxed text constantly tells the players how their characters are reacting to things or what actions their characters are taking. It really hammers home how little input or freedom the players have in the overall adventure. If the book (via the GM) is going to just say what my character is doing, why am I even here? Just let me borrow the book and I can read it on my own time.
Your ship touches down with barely a jolt. Nervously, you turn your head to watch the shuttle door open. It bangs silently against the floor of the hangar, but no horrors rush in to kill you.
You unstrap yourselves and move out, looking at the floating wreckage all around you. This was obviously a hangar for smaller ships—maybe fighters or scouts of some sort. Only one ship remains now, and it seems to have been disassembled and under repair when disaster struck.
The rest of the bay is filled with floating tools, fuel, and debris—though quite a bit of the flotsam has already floated out of the bay and into space.
It's also important to provide maps for places where nothing happens.
Anyway, there's really nothing here. The posse can search for weapons or something, but all they're going to find are some basic gear (flashlights, tools, etc.), patch kits for spacesuits, and a few barrels of fuel they can use for maekshift (and unreliable) explosives.
There are a few ways out of the fighter bay, but they all lead to the same place because player choice is not a thing that's going on around here.
The next room is the "Long Hall", which is supposed to be a maze of hallways but really isn't.
I love how the book is now just flat-out telling the players their actions again.
The hall leads into a maze of junctions and dead ends. It seems many of the doors were locked shut—perhaps to seal the ship or block off whatever supposedly invaded. With no map, you are forced to move haphazardly down the corridors. Most are completely empty, though occasionally you see bullet holes, scorch marks, or brown smears along the walls—obviously blood stains from before the ship was exposed to the vacuum.
You spot a sign directing you to the “Lifts,” and follow the corridor for some way. As you move in that direction, you pass a blasted door on the left-hand side of the hall. Above the jagged steel are the words “Mess Area #7.”
And believe it or not, the players actually get to make a choice here! They can either continue to the lifts, or they can investigate the mess hall!
Only ha ha it's not really a choice! The mess hall is a dead end and there's nothing there! That doesn't mean the PCs can't make skill rolls to move the door, more skill rolls to see that the door and room were damaged by large slashing claws (which is not a clue to anything), and to find a single first aid kit. The whole thing could just be marks on the walls of the hallway and a first aid station on the wall of the hallway.
At the end of the hallway "maze", a term I can't airquote any harder without going to each of your homes individually and making the motion in front of you myself, the posse comes to the single elevator shaft. The car itself is in ruins at the bottom of the shaft and chock full of corpses, but the PCs can still climb up the shaft itself without having to roll or anything since there's no gravity.
Except that (BIG SHOCKING SURPRISE) the corpses come to life when the PCs are halfway up the shaft. If the PCs show the slightest amount of genre awareness and try to destroy the corpses before climbing up, then they get Fate Chips for clever thinking but the zombies animate right away. Either way there are two walkin' dead per PC.
However the PCs deal with the zombies, they then have to climb 60 feet up to the Engineering Level and get through the jammed elevator door. Attempting to pry the door open requires a Strength roll of 20 (again, see my earlier notes about how rolling works), but people can make easy Strength rolls to give the main guy +2 to his roll. Or the PCs can just use the tools back in the hangar to cut through the door without any kind of roll.
However they get through the doors, the PCs just go through "a few twists and turns" and get to the Engine Room.
You know, it's a good thing this is a completely linear "dungeon", otherwise the PCs wouldn't get here because they weren't told how to get here, or even that they had to get to the Engineering Level to get to the Engine Room. I guess it's good writing after all! :fart:
And now...this next part is, ultimately, why I'm reviewing this book. I am well aware that a large part of my shtick in my various readthroughs is "comedicly exaggerated outrage" for stuff like this, but in this case it's pretty legitimate. I realize I may have oversold this part, but I do honestly believe that, in the 30+ years I've been gaming, this is the WORST thing I've ever read in an officially published adventure. It's such an amazing "FUCK YOU" to the players some of you will think I'm making it up.
I'm not. It happened. And I'm gonna tell you all about it.
And here. We. Go.
Saying "Apostolos" won't do anything until someone presses the shiny, candy-like button. Pressing the button powers the ship back up, which also turns the gravity and life support back on. Since there's nothing between getting into the ship and this point except the zombie fight, what was the point of having the life support and gravity off in the first plaoh who cares.
Three more hallways, two breached doors, and a crawl through some wreckage later, you come to a black door labeled simply “Engine Room.”
It’s wide open.
Make the players actually tell you their characters are entering the dark room beyond. You should even ask each one “Are you entering the room?” That’ll creep ‘em out. This is a choice they have to make. It’s a Faustian thing, try to understand.
You shine your light around the dark room and find…a perfectly normal control board for a small fusion reactor. It’s obviously powered down, but a small blinking light on the main panel hints that it may be easy to reignite.
Now, technically, the PCs have access to a starship and could technically just tool around the solar system in it. However, without the ship's AI they can't open a portal to Faraway so hopefully someone remembers to say "Apostolos". Doing so causes the door behind them to seal shut, and a false bulkhead opens up to reveal a 40' square room with jet-black walls. In the middle of the room is a steel pedestal holding a crimson box with black veins...very similar to the ones the PCs have that the Reckoners are trapped in. Further hinting that this isn't a conventional AI is the pentagram on the floor around the pedestal. Energy starts to thrum around the box and...
This is it. The Moment. I'll just let the boxed text speak for itself.
The ship's AI isn't an AI, it's a demon. And to get it to open the portal, it requires a human sacrifice. Hellstrome, being a relatively immoral mad scientist, was okay with this and made sure to have sacrifices on hand when he needed to use the engine.
No sooner do you speak the word “Apostolos” than the lights dim and red auxiliary lights come on, casting the room in the shade of blood. You hear the door lock behind you and look back—the walls, floors, and ceiling are covered in some kind of black, scaly hide! The control panel is still there, but before you a false panel has opened up and exposed a large, black room beyond, also covered in the strange black “skin.” In the center is a black steel pedestal enclosed in a blood-red pentagram.
A trickle of whispers rolls into the room. You sense some dark presence among you. The whispers become louder, but still just faint enough to make you hold your breath to better hear them. You look around, but see nothing. The whispers grow slightly louder. You can just make them out now…”murder murder murder”
You feel fear crawl up your spine and slither into your skull. Gooseflesh covers your arms like pustulant boils. You continue to search about for the whisperer, but there is only the dark redness of the blood-lit room.
Somehow knowledge comes into your mind unbidden.
“murder murder murder.”
You begin to understand.
“murder murder murder”
The ship has some dark device that allows it to break through the Hunting Grounds and reach Faraway. The device is much like the box that contains the Reckoners. There is a demon inside. Apostolos.
“murder murder murder”
And Apostolos’ price to activate the drive is cold-blooded murder.
However, there's nobody on the ship except for the PCs.
I think you all see where I'm going with this.
That's right! In order to progress in the adventure, one of the PCs needs to be murdered by the rest of the group.
Why did they...how is...but...
Good lord, how could anyone think that was a good idea?
Oh, but wait...it gets worse!
No! No no no no no no no! What the fuck!
I just...I don't even know what to say about this sidebar. It's just such a knot of terrible attempts to validate their shitty "plot" "twist" it's actually ridiculously hard for me to get my critical thoughts lined up.
Let's start with how this is for "intelligent, mature groups who can handle some deep ethical decisions." There are plenty of RPGs out there, especially as I write this in 2017, that are focused on exploring ethical descisions, and I am completely 100% on board with that, even the games that cover topics I'm not personally comfortable with. That's a huge part of why I love RPGs: the ability to explore different mindspaces, to explore other ideas I wouldn't normally be able to experience, or to confront moral conflicts in a safe way.
But this. This isn't exploring deeper moral issues. This is one of those bullshit hypotheical "moral choices" that people with shitty politics like to come up with to try and derail a converstation. The players aren't being given a "moral choice", what they're being told is "either one of you stops playing or EVERYONE stops playing." What's so "moral" about that? Especially after all the other bullshit of this adventure where nobody got to do anything anyway so as it is the players are already going to be aggrivated going into this scene.
This is a GM who puts his paladin in contrived no-win moral quandries just to make them fall and thinks he's being clever, writ large. And they're proud of it.
What's more...if one of the players does agree to let his character get killed, what's he supposed to do for the rest of the adventure? It's not like there's any way to get a replacement PC into play. Okay, I'll admit there's not much left of the adventure after this, but come on!
This is a big scene, and one that must be resolved on somehow. If a fight breaks out, we recommend using the full regular combat system so that everyone has a fair shake at surviving if their friends start whipping out their heavy artillery.
Oh, and since this is the big line-ending adventure, these are probably long-term veteran PCs, and as such aren't ones that players are going to want to just throw in the trash so the rest of the group can finish this piece of shit adventure.
And what's more, there is nothing heroic about this death. At all. This isn't someone dying at the end of a narrative arc with a good sense of closure, this isn't someone standing up to and sacrificing themselves against unbeatable odds to save his friends. This is not standing alone at Gjallerbru, this is smug passive-agressive-adversarial GMing at its worst.
GOD I hate this fucking book.
(I don't know what you all think I personally look like, but pretend there's a gif of me as however you think I look slamming my head repeatedly into a pile of Deadlands books here.)
And to make matter worse, there's no other solution available because the author cuts those off right out of the gate. Want to bust down the door? You can't; the room's actually in a pocket dimension in Hell. Want to try to negotiate with Apostolos? You can't; all it does is say "murder murder murder" over and over again. Want to try to get around it by "killing" a Harrowed PC? Won't work; they'd have to be permanently killed so they'll still be dead-dead, only now the demon powering the character is running the show (and the rest of the group won't know that). A person can't even commit suicide, someone else has to pull the trigger.
The only way out of this is to have someone kill someone else. Period. If there happens to be an NPC handy, that'll work, but the odds of that are probably pretty low. Even if they do, the NPC will probably fight back even though they're ridiculously outnumbered. The book says that "(H)opefully this has almost as many moral consequences as killing a player character, but we’ll leave that to you." The fuck is that supposed to mean? That killing NPCs isn't as bad as killing PCs? That if they kill a retainer or one of the NPCs that they ran into during the adventure, they shouldn't feel as bad? What is this, Knights of the Dinner Table?
Not that I expect the players would care anyway, because I can't imagine any group giving a shit about any of this horse crap at this point.
Wait wait wait...is that why they had the PCs run into Jenny Quaid last chapter, and why she decides to tag along? So she could be a sacrifice buffer for the actual characters? God, I hope not because there's a lot of stuff wrong with that, but it's really suspicious because her scene serves no purpose whatsoever other than to give the group an NPC!
But the worst part the worst fucking part of this...is that this is, and I am not making this up at all, here on page 68 of this 77 page adventure/97 page book, this is the first fucking point where the players are able to make an actual choice in what they want to do.
I haven't said this since my first F&F review years ago, but: fuck you, Deadlands: Hell On Earth: The Unity. Fuck you, fuck you, Fuck. You.
God, there's only 9 pages left to the final chapter of the adventure let's just get through this.
"Read it again, the GM can't be serious."
So let's assume that either the GM lets someone just take some damage instead of forcing everyone to murder a long-time friend, or someone decides he has something better to do with his Friday nights and lets the group kill his character. Apostolos returns the room to reality and unlocks the door, allowing the remnants of the posse to head to the bridge and finally end this shitshow.
Ther's only one way to get to the bridge (NO, REALLY?) because all the lifts that'd get you there are broken, and since the gravity's back on climbing all the way up there is impractical. So the PCs have to go through the Officer's Quarters. Syker PCs who went to Banshee will remember this as where they housed on their way back from there.
The PCs go through a series of inconsequential hallways until they find a working elevator.
Oh fuck you.
Ding! The lift car arrives on your level. You can barely make out some soft music coming from behind the doors. It seems to be “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Anyway the doors open and the elevator car is filled with the remains of about a dozen people whose corpses have thawed now that the ship's power is back on. They don't reanimate, they're just there to (and I quote) "force your already disgruntled party to ride up through several dozen levels in ankle-high chum." Because they haven't had to put up with enough shit up to this point.
In the Officer's Quarters, it turns out that the psychic energy of all the sykers fighting the legions of Hell have left a bit of an impression in the form of a page-long cutscene.
So yeah all that was an illusion, except for the part about the lights going out because there's just dull red emergency lights on, giving a penalty to ranged attacks.
The lift doors open. A bald-headed woman stands in front of the door. She smiles, says hi, and steps into the elevator with you—her worn combat boots stepping right through the grisly corpses lying on the lift’s floor.
In front of you, down a long, brightly-lit hallway are dozens more sykers. Some stand together talking, others are playing cards, and a few are even practicing their mental tricks.
It’s almost as if you’ve stepped back into the past. Before the Unity was taken over.
You’re in some kind of barracks area. The rooms are a little more spacious than you would have thought, with only four beds per room, a computer terminal, and a desk unit. If this were an airplane, you guess this would be somewhere between coach and 1st class. Maybe this was where Hellstromme bunked his scientists or officers.
There’s junk everywhere. It’s obvious they crammed way more people in here than this level was meant to hold. Most of the stuff looks like standard UN military issue—the stuff the Psychic Legion would have carried.
Let the heroes do whatever they want. All of the sykers are an illusion—they pass right through anything they touch. Give the posse a minute or two to observe how things were before the disaster. Then beat them over the head with a little horror.
Suddenly the lights go red and alarm klaxons blare out. Most of the sykers around you freeze, but a few begin to concentrate, perhaps trying to scan other parts of the ship—or other minds—within it. One of the sykers yells out, “Something’s attacking ! Killing the civilians!” That syker then falls to her knees and screams, obviously experiencing whatever has happened to the mind she probed.
Other sykers begin to organize. You hear orders shouted in the darkness and the click of a few unconfiscated weapons being readied. Weird green energy swirls from one bald head to another,
Now it’s like watching a movie in fast-forward. Everything happens at ten times its normal speed. Many of the sykers move out, others start building barricades in the hallway. Then there are more screams. Something’s gotten into the hallway. You can just make out fast-moving shadows at the end of the corridor. Whatever they are, they’re covered in long spines, and there are dozens of them. The sykers fight back, but someone blasts a telepathic scream “Get outta here!” and the rest go running back the way you came.
The fast-forwarding suddenly stops. Everything’s at normal speed again. The red lights are coated in gore and emit little more than an ember-like glow. At the end of the hallway you hear a woman groaning. Then you hear something heavy step slowly toward her. There’s a slashing sound, a scream, then silence. No, not completely. Something stands at the far end of the hallway. You can hear its heavy breath, waiting for you to come near.
So those creatures mentioned? Those are demons called "slahers", and there's two dormant ones here waking up due to the flashback. They look like red humanoids covered in spikes, and they're immune to all types of damage except slashing damage. Other weapons can stun them, but only slashing weapons can damage them. They're clearly just here to be a pointless fight. On the plus side, syker powers are boosted here so at least that's something.
Once that's dealt with, the posse can get to the lift to the bridge in the command tower. But of course the elevator's busted, so they have to climb up four stories, which carries the risk of falling 20, 40, or 60 feet and taking a bunch of damage. Oh, and the doors at the top of the shaft have to be cut open with industrial equipment because fuck you that's why.
This is a good time to shake the box holding the Reckoners again. This time it pulses, shakes, and begins to change its faces—like a puzzle box. The Reckoners are beginning to figure out the combination to escape. They won’t, of course, just look at your watch, run your fingers over the pages of this book, pretend to add up the time it’s taken them to reach this point, and then give your friends that “Uh oh” look. They’d best hurry or the cats are out of the bag, if you catch our drift.
If you really want to scare them, you can have the puzzle box open up, slide some panels around, and then close again (come on, you’ve seen boxes like this in movies before). Whatever you do, it should be obvious that time is running out.
So now the posse has finally reached the bridge, which is Scene Two of this chapter. And it's just one big boss fight.
Remember about a thousand years ago I mentioned that fifteen sykers stayed behind on the Unity to hold off the hordes of Hell, and have been remembered as the heroes they were? (Oh, by the way, writer of Deadlands: Hell on Earth: the Unity, that's actually heroic!) Their good deed wound up being punished pretty harshly: they have (through means unknown) been transformed into an abomination called a "brain-glom".
Guess what's on the bridge?
There's a button next to the door to open it, but if the group takes too long planning for the obvious fight then the brain-glom opens the door and attacks.
You’re almost there. But there’s something moving around behind the door. Something big and wet. You can hear it stomp, then squishy sounds like feet stuck in thick mud. There’s also some kind of babbling—like a room full of patients whispering to each other in a home for the criminally insane.
What's a brain-glom?
That's a brain-glom.
All fifteen powerful sykers are stuck in there, and the glom has access to one power from each of the heads. Deadlands allowed for multiple actions each round if your initiative was high enough (kinda like Shadowrun), so each round the glom is going to be able to use its multiple heads to fire off a bunch of different powers at random (i.e., "roll on this table to see what actions it takes") because all the sykers in there are insane.
Oh, unless the PCs took time to prep, because in that case it only gets one attack but three of the heads prepped a few powers to go off before the fight: it puts a force field around itself that acts as armor, it creates a telekinetic storm in the middle of the posse, and uses an ability called Meat puppet that lets it make a roll to take control of a PC. If successful, this lasts for as long as that head can concentrate. A person under the inflence of Meat puppet will do whatever the user wants, up to and including committing suicide. So if that hits, the the posse will actually be down two characters thanks to the previous "heroic sacrifice".
The only way to defeat the brain-glom is to kill all fifteen heads. Oh, and because this is a "called shot" it's -6 to hit because fuck you. You can't attack the body, just the heads because fuck you.
So that's five wounds each x 15 heads = 75 total wounds. For reference, PCs have six hit locations (both arms, both legs, head, and guts) with five wounds each, for 30 total wounds.
One small advantage is that when you kill a head, the glom loses access to that head's attack. However, three of the heads only act if the glom had a chance to prep, and odds are people are going to waste a round or two trying to take out the head that's controlling their friend.
As for the attacks, four of the twelve heads do straightforward single-target psychic blasts. The other heads, however, can set people on fire with an explosive blast, detonate peoples' ammo, do an AoE psychic blast, negate people's supernatural abilities, blind them, and rip out their hearts or bones.
You read that correctly. Rip out their hearts, or rip out their bones. Oh, and if the head doing the Meat puppet thing loses concentration, it'll keep using the power again against whichever character is doing the most damage until it's killed.
Yeah. The PCs are expected to kill this thing. If they somehow manage to do so, every surivior gets a random psychic power as a reward.
If anyone manages to survive the fight, they can finally activate the jump drive to the Faraway system. The jump takes three days, and the PCs are advised to stay on the bridge because the rest of the ship is overrun with demons and undead. The life support systems work the entire time, but if they need food (and they probably will; they haven't been able to get supplies in ages and probably didn't know they were going to be stuck on a spaceship for three days) they're going to have to scrounge some up.
But that's okay, there are food processors! Only the food's long since gone bad and carries the chance of food poisoning! And the food processors are in the lower parts of the ship that're filled with monsters! It's entirely possible that the party can live through all the bullshit slung at them up to this point, then die or starve to death before they get to the actual end of the adventure!
This is an actual professionaly produced adventure put out by one of the larger RPG studios in the industry.
Anyway there's nothing else to do until they get to Banshee since everything is handled by the ship's autopilot. Thus begins Scene Three, which is comprised of nothing but boxed text. No, really.
And that's it. The posse is now on planet Banshee, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are on the loose, whoever's left alive has no idea where they are, where any settlements are, they have no support and they're probably completely out of any sort of resources.
A dull, yellow planet has been growing larger on the bridge’s central viewscreen for a few hours. Now the view is close enough to see a land of stark black mountains and yellow sandy plains swept by violent winds. You can see why they named this place Banshee.
The Unity continues directly on its course, straight toward the planet. You begin to wonder if the autopilot knows to stop. Just as you think about figuring out the system, a warning flashes on the viewscreen. “Collision Imminent.”
That can’t be good.
The Unity starts to shake violently as the planet on the viewscreen swells faster than you could have imagined. Your teeth chatter and suddenly you hear wind coming from somewhere—you’re in atmosphere and you’re damn sure this ship wasn’t meant for that.
You try to wrestle the controls, but the ship is in override, trying to save itself. You can feel it trying to pull up, but Banshee already has it locked in its gravity. This ship is going down!
Red lights flare, klaxons blare, and a gentle, far-too-calm voice instructs you to strap yourself down. The shaking becomes more violent. Your teeth feel like they’re going to bust. The g-forces bring dark spots to your eyes, and finally start to black out your brain. With any luck, you’ll be unconscious when you die.
Let ‘em wonder a minute. If you’re feeling really dirty, you can close the book and stare at them for a minute like they’re all dead. Maybe the joker they killed back at the Engine Room will feel better this way.
Of course, they’re not going to die. They’ve got an appointment with destiny.
Something hurts. You wake, as if from a heavy sleep and feel something sharp sticking in your leg. Or maybe your arm, or both. Pinpricks of light stab at your eyes and you smell…dust?
Now you remember. You’re on the Unity. That damned, cursed ghost ship It’s crashed. You’re on Banshee. And somehow you’re still alive.
You look around. Bits of sunlight shine through the cracked command tower. You see your companions lying about, some strapped in seats like yours, others crumpled against the bulkheads, but it seems they and the tower survived relatively intact. You can only imagine what the hull beneath looks like.
Maybe it smashed all the demons and walking corpses as well, but you know you’re not that lucky.
You pull yourself out of your chair and walk toward the front of the tower. It’s torn and jagged, forming a crude balcony over the desert floor some hundreds of feet below. The wind here really is like a banshee’s scream.
You suddenly remember Hellstromme’s box. It’s right where you left it, but its sides have popped out, like some sort of expanding puzzle. It just sits there. Inert.
The Reckoners have been released on this alien planet.
You’ve brought them here to save earth. But what have you done to Banshee?
The rest of the action takes place in the Lost Colony roleplaying game, Marshal. We’ll see you there.
NEXT TIME: What do you mean there's one more chapter?
No matter who wins, we loseOriginal SA post DEADLANDS: HELL ON EARTH/LOST COLONY - THE UNITY
Part 8: No matter who wins, we lose
All that's left now are the epilogue, and the final chapter. Let's just do them and finish this off.
Oh, before we begin, I'd just like to point out that the Reckoners escaped the Hellraiser box/ghost trap at the end of the adventure, yet didn't pause long enough to kill the unconscious PCs. Odd, that.
But just ignore that because the writers did too.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
As Loxbourne mentioned before, part of the overall Deadlands metaplot involves uber-badass PC killer Stone travelling back through time from the 2090's (the start of Hell on Earth) to the 1870's (the start of basic Deadlands). This happened at the tail end of the Deadlands line, in the "Heart O' Darkness" adventure.
Stone did this by walking through the Hunting Grounds, and even then was only able to do so because the dying Horsemen gave him the last of their power. But because walking backwards through time through Hell involves burning a lot of supernatural power, the path he carved out for himself remained after he got back to the past. This formed a permanent time tunnel between the 1890's and the 2090's inside Devil's Tower, Wyoming. This was presented as a major point in the final Deadlands adventure ("Fortess O' Fear"), where an NPC from Hell on Earth approaches the PCs during the adventure, tells them she's from the future, and literally hands them a notebook that describes the Hell on Earth setting.
And when I say "literally", I mean literally. Fortress O' Fear was a box set, and her notebook was a physical booklet the GM was to give to the players.
Anyway, this "Path of Stone" was so characters could travel between Deadlands and Hell on Earth, and was then quickly forgotten because I don't think it ever got mentioned outside the adventure it was introduced and the beginning fiction of Hell on Earth.
Why is this important right now? I'll let the book explain it.
This is complicated stuff, so bear with us for a little more explanation. Apostolos, the demon trapped inside the Faustian Device, used his magic to open a temporary path through the spirit world, avoiding all the really nasty places, twists, turns, and other areas that would destroy the ship. But the Unity had been damaged over the last 13 years and its navigation systems were a little erratic. It veered off-course a fraction of an inch and “skimmed” the sides of Apostolos’ tunnel. As it did so, it accidentally tore open doorways into other pockets of the nightmare lands. Apostolos kept the ship intact, but couldn’t repair the damage.
The permanent (yet malleable) tunnel through the spirit world is called the “Hell Hole,” for obvious reasons. It leads directly from the Earth of the Wasted West to Banshee in Lost Colony. Somewhere along the way, it also happens to cross the “Path of Stone,” the trail Stone forged when he went back in time to kill heroes for the Reckoners (see the Hell on Earth rulebook and the Fortress o’ Fear trilogy for the Weird West).
What this means for the people of the various Deadlands settings is that there is now a permanent pathway through the Hunting Grounds between Lost Colony, Hell on Earth, the Weird West, and perhaps even other times or places yet to be explored.
What that means to you, the Marshal, is that all the worlds of Deadlands are now open to you. Don’t worry—it’s still not easy for heroes to travel back and forth—it’s just more possible. That lets those of you who have been keeping up with both Hell on Earth and the Weird West use all those great books you’ve bought. You can also use the new Lost Colony setting without giving up on return trips to the Wasted West.
So now people can travel from Banshee in 2096 (through the wreck of the Unity) to Earth in either the Weird West of 1879 or the Wasted West of 2096, although time travel basically follows Feng Shui rules in that time moves at the same rate in each "juncture"; if you go from the past to the future and spend a week there, then a week passes in the past as well. I mean, you have to walk through Hell to do it, but hey.
Of course there are all sorts of rules to prevent PCs from abusing things and knocking the metaplot off the tracks. If large groups of people (like, say, an army raised by the heroes) try to go through the portal, then the forces of Hell will notice and start attacking because. Likewise, only "personal gear" can travel through the portals, so no tanks or trucks full of crates of ammo. Also, the more the tunnel is used, the more the demons of the
What? Of course they're going to explore the wreck! They're probably completely out of weapons, ammo, and supplies at this point!
So how might your heroes find out about the Hell Hole in the first place? We have something fun for you there.
First, don’t let them find out about the Hell Hole right after the end of this adventure (unless they go exploring the wreck for some bizarre reason).
Can you guess how the book expects the PCs to learn about it? Can you?
That's right: have a major setting NPC explain it to them!
Run this encounter when you want your heroes to know about the Hell Hole.
From out of nowhere comes a scraggly looking old man. He’s dirty and worn-looking, but he has the air of a veteran. He comes right up to you and begins to—of all things—sniff your clothes!
“You’ve been to the Hunting Grounds,” he says. “Name’s Coot Jenkins. Folks just call me the Prospector. I can tell you’ve been around the block a bit. And been to the Hunting Grounds as well. I used to be able to smell gold buried twenty feet underground. Then this whole Reckoning thing happened and I developed a nose for corpses. Lucky me.
Now I can smell the spirit world as well. A couple dozen years lost in there’ll do that to you.
Well, I got some news you might be interested in. I been pokin’ around again, tryin’ to get back to my time, and I’ve figgered somethin’ out. There’s a new path that goes more or less straight through.
Shit you don't care about but I have to explain so I can explain the rest of this shit to you.
This is Coot Jenkins, also known as "The Prospector". He's been around since the first page of the Deadlands core book (he narrated the opening fiction), and has tried to stop the Reckoners behind the scenes for ages. During one serious attempt I'm not going to go into the details of (sorry), he went into the Hunting Grounds. There, while trying to find his way back home he found the Path of Stone and, unfortunately for him, followed it the wrong way. Now he's stuck in 2096, but thanks to the events of this adventure has a way of getting back to his time.
How did Coot get to Banshee if the portal there didn't exist until just now and he's already established as being on Earth before now? Got me! I guess he joined up with the first expedition or stowed away or something, because we're never told why he's on an alien planet.
Anyway, the rest of the chapter deals with how to deal with paradoxes :
- You can't erase someone by killing an ansector because they'll just be born to someone else
- You can't do the Bill & Ted "go back and leave stuff for yourself" trick because the stuff will just be stolen or something
- You can't warn people of future events because every attempt will be automatically sabotaged somehow
- You can't interfere with major NPCs because they'll just do what they're supposed to do because reasons
- You can't stop major metaplot adventures from happening because unless it happened in 1879 you can't get there
- If you're an effectively immortal character who's been around for over 200 years (so, a Harrowed basically), you can't go to the past and hang out with yourself because you can't be in two places at once. Only Stone can get away with this because
he's a pet NPC intended to kill PCshad the direct help of the Reckoners.
So what's the point, you ask? You're not the only one.
The reason they give is so you can get an occasional change of pace by heading back to Earth in one of the two time periods. Oh, and for another reason that'll come up later.
But we'll get to that in a moment. First I want to cover the last chapter of this book: After the Harvest
Yes, now the GM and players can take control of the setting and affect changes, now that the writers have finished with their damn metaplot and destroyed half the setting. Gee, thanks. You honor us.
Well, that was one Hell of a ride, huh?
We suppose most of you are wondering what happens next in Hell on Earth? Is the story over?
Yes and no. On the one hand, the big metaplots we’ve had in store for the game are played out. We’ve been waiting for the return of the Reckoners and the arrival of Raven for a long time.
We also think it’s time to hand the reins over to you. We’ve created a huge irradiated sandbox for you to play in, so
go tear it up.
This chapter is just about what the future holds for a post-all-this-bullshit Wasted West.
The Iron Alliance suffered the heaviest casualties during the whole mess, but since the bulk of the fighting is going on around Denver, the Junkyard is realitively safe for now. That said, Ike Turner knows that everyone's rush of victory will wear off once food starts getting scarce again, so he's prepping for that. The various road gangs that he brought in are happy enough...at least until the victory celebrations end, they sober up, and realize that Ike used them as meatshields and cannon fodder. Most of the most dangerous gangs are gone since they were on the front lines (a deliberate two-birds-one-stone move by Ike), but that means there's just a power vacuum now.
The Law Dogs are now leaderless, and weren't exactly well organized before the Battle of Denver to begin with. Most of their numbers are dead, having been whittled down to about three dozen all told with nobody in charge.
The mutants who were following Joan are surprisingly unchanged given that their holy figure actually showed up in person. They suffered relatively few losses because they were kept in the back as artillery. Joan is also accepting those mutants who used to follow Silas and have "seen the light" into her camp.
The Templars (who had nothing to do with this adventure at all) are...you know what? Who cares? Explaining this would require me to explain the Templars for people and I don't have the energy for that right now. For those who do know who the Templars are, they basically keep on keepin' on.
The Anti-Templars get a bunch of stuff but it boils down to "still around, still evil." Oh, and their new leader is some guy named "Marvin Findlestein" because that's the name of a villain.
Silas (leader of the evil mutants) suffered insane losses between just normal battle and people leaving his cult after he got pwned by Hellstrome. As a result, Silas has dropped all pretenses and is just killing everyone who turns against him. He's basically being set up to get overthrown by his enemies now that his power base is pretty much gone.
Hellstrome...Hellstrome is trying to fix all his mistakes. That is a very long list. His immediate concern is dealing with the mutants, who he sees being treated like the Native Americans were back in the 1800's. He's trying to use his position as Harbringer to broker peace between the non-violent mutants and humans. His actual long-term goal is to find his long-lost wife Vanessa's soul in Hell, free it, and then create a new body for himself so they can live happily ever after, which is unlikely given all the crimes against man and God he's responsible for.
The Combine is in bad shape. Throckmorton is running low on the inorganic materials needed to make cyborgs, and a lot of his rank-and-file were killed during the Battle of Denver. Getting more Black Hats is easy enough, but without the ability to make more cyborgs he's got a big gap in his forces. So right now he's laying low and getting into a defensive position until he's ready to make another push.
Then there's Raven.
So yeah - this guy, right?
I'm sure you're all wondering what Raven's been up to for the 400 years between his blowing open the hole to the Hunting Grounds and showing up with an army of Lovecraftian horrors.
Well, don't worry, because the book has about four pages of backstory for you. Here's part of it.
It was around this point that Raven allied with the worms; his showing up at the Battle of Denver was just unfortunate timing for everyone else.
You remember what we told you in the Wasted West book, right? That about 100 years ago, Raven was lured into a trap by a band of Old Ways shamans. They bound him with magical bracelets (made from the skin of white men) and staked him to a slab of rock in the Black Hills. Over the years, various shamans tried to kill him, but to no avail—he was a servitor and therefore could only be killed in one particular way—which none of them ever learned.
That didn’t stop them from trying however. They stabbed him, cut him, skinned him, but to no avail. One female shaman, an otherwise peaceloving Sioux named Dove, even set him on fire. That didn’t work either, but it was really painful and made Raven much uglier. It also made Raven vow to torture Dove when he got free.
Dove finally figured out how to kill Raven, but he had long ago bound a powerful manitou to resurrect him as Harrowed when the inevitable happened. Dove left the mountain with Raven’s mutilated corpse upon the “Blood Stone.” Imagine her surprise when Raven showed up at her teepee the next day.
The unfortunate girl was dragged along behind Raven for nearly a decade. She was there when Raven conquered the fortress at Minier, Illinois, and watched as he put the survivors of hundreds of holdout settlements in the East to the sword.
The horrible things Raven did to her were finally so great that even his magic could not heal her. Dove died in agony alone and in pain. Raven still drags her bones behind him on his Palanquin of War—the platform Cole Ballad attacked him on in Chapter Two.
Ten Things Raven Hates About the Reckoners
As much as Raven hated Dove, his true enemies are the Reckoners themselves, for it was they who betrayed him and left him to suffer for a century upon the Blood Stone.
So he planned to destroy them.
But how does one destroy the destroyers? Raven knew the Reckoners drew their power from the fear and terror of the living. If every last single human being on the planet were to be slain, the Reckoners would die along with them. This was Raven’s dreadful plan.
For the last thirteen years he has wiped out the last pockets of resistance in the East and added their corpses to his shambling army of the dead.
For the last few months, Raven has been involved in a siege of his own. The last great survivor settlement in the east, Minier, stubbornly refused to die. But then Raven’s demonic allies informed him of Throckmorton’s impending “Harvest.” Raven made his final assault, losing thousands of his minions in the fight but gaining half that many in the carnage that followed. To punish the humans for their tenacity, the last valiant fighters of the living in the east became Raven’s newest and most powerful shock troops, a retinue of warriors called the “Honor Guard.”
His undead army assembled, Raven marched to the river and sent his horde plunging into the depths of the “Bloody Old Muddy.” They emerged on the other side, overran the River Watch, and began destroying all life that happened in their path—one survivor settlement at a time.
When the Reckoners got vacuum-sealed, the worms tunneled underground and pulled back while Raven tries to figure out what his next move is. His top priority is to find out what happened to the Horsemen, but the book states that he'll find out within a month. After that, though, it's up to the GM but odds are he's going to try to get to Banshee.
But guess what! Now that his metaplot purpose has been fulfilled, he's finally killable! Yay!
Of course, he's still technically War's servitor, and as such is completely untouchable without having access to the item that is his specific weakness. It used to be a Susquehanan artifact, but that's long gone. Now, though, it's Dove's bones. Any weapon made from her bones does normal damage to Raven. He doesn't know this is the case yet, and the bag containing her bones is still hanging off the back of his war wagon so good luck with that.
But it's a moot point anyway, because they forgot to give you Raven's stat block so we don't know what his stats or abilities are anyway. Good job, guys.
The book ends with one more relic:
And with that, the book finally, mercifully ends.
Raven’s Coup Stick
Raven began plotting revenge immediately after the Reckoners left North America. Raven knew they could take his power away, and if they did, he would have no chance to destroy the world—and his former masters. So he performed a decade-long ritual drenched in blood and souls. The power that he gained was simple—the Reckoners could not take his powers away. This powerful magic was imbued in Raven’s coup stick, with which he has killed hundreds. If the stick were to be broken, Raven would instantly lose his powers as a servitor.
So where is Raven’s coup stick? He keeps the grisly thing stuffed up inside his undead ribs.
Come and get it. We dare you.
But wait, I hear you say! What about Lost Colony? The Reckoners are still running around there, right? What the hell are people supposed to do about that?
The answer is: kill the Reckoners.
No, really. The PCs are expected to kill the Recokers.
So you were actually mostly correct! Good job!
Honest guesses: The PCs are going to
watchdo all the work and aren't going to get to kill the Horsemen themselves, they're going to escape somehow, or somehow this is all part of their plan and the PCs sole effect on the plot is to make everything even worse.
Deadlands: Lost Colony was the third game line in the overall Deadlands trilogy, and it was a severely short one. Lost Colony came out around the same time as Third Edition D&D, which (like it or not) was a paradigm shift in how people percieved games. Deadlands in general was the last gasp of the "metaplot" as a concept, and I think because of that (admittedly I don't know all the reasons) the Lost Colony game line was only two books long.
The overall idea was that during his test runs of the Unity, Hellstrome found a planet (Banshee) that was rich in the superfuel ghost rock. Since even in the future this stuff was really valuable (it's needed for weird science gizmos), the US government wanted to colonize it and start minin'. When the Hellstrome Corporation got there, they discovered there was an intelligent humanoid species already there.
They were called the anouks, and were a pre-industrial species who lived in tribes, were in tune with the natural world, and had a very spiritual lifestyle. The colonists pretty much immediately started infringing on their lands, tearing down natural resources and killing off natives for thier land.
OH I GET IT THEY'RE AN ANALOGY FOR NATIVE AMERICANS! HOW CLEVER!
There was the core book, of course, and the second book was The Lost Colony Companion. Both books were dual statted for Deadlands and the d20 system because Pinnacle got in on the "d20 versions of our games" thing. Since they knew this was the last book in the entire Deadlands series, they had to jam all the remaining metaplot points into it.
I'm not going to summarize them here because they're all stupid, but they involve things like a demon that looks like Hellstrome's dead wife Vanessa as part of the Reckoner's control over him, the fact that there's demon-infused nanotech/3D printers, and my personal favorite: that the planet Banshee is alive and self-aware, is a universal force for good, and has an "evil brother" planet that Banshee has been locked in eternal battle with.
It's so stupid and so unnecessary! That last thing has nothing to do with nothing! Adding more levels of backstory doesn't make your setting better, it just makes you look bad!
But that's not why we're here. The whole point of the Companion was to learn how to finally kill the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
For starters, you can't just walk up to them and kill them. They've been setting up new power bases and getting followers and so on. In order to get to the point where a Reckoner is weak enough to defeat, you have to earn "Finale Points" by performing heroic deeds against the Reckoner's forces. When you confront one of the Reckoners, for every 5 Finale Points the PCs have they can buy effects like lowering its stats or turning off one of their special abilities. However, failing to stop the Reckoners' plots can cause the group to lose points.
Which, okay, I kind of like that, actually. It's an easy way to model "working your way up the ladder" and rewards players for getting involved with the setting.
In order to actually defeat a Reckoner once and for all, you need to know its specific Death Blow. Doing this involves a lot of research, hints from NPCs, and travelling back in time. If you "kill" a Reckoner but don't deliver its specific Death Blow, it'll reform in 24 hours.
On the plus side, if you do manage to kill a Reckoner, the whole party gets a benefit from the released energy. (This is called "counting coup" and is a game mechanic that's been around for the entire game line; kill a powerful enough monster and you get some of its power.)
So what're the Death Blows and coups? Glad you asked!
- Defeating Pestilence requires injecting his corpse with antibiotics...but only via a syringe that belonged to Ernst Biren, a mad scientist from back in original Deadlands who was believed to be Pestilence's servitor. He wasn't; Hellstrome was and Biren was a red herring. The reward for killing Pestilence is complete immunity to all diseases for the rest of their lives, as well as the ability to cure sickness in someone else once per day.
- To beat Famine, you need to drive a stake through her heart. However, the stake must be made of the bones of either Famine's horse or Reverend Ezekiel Grimme, one of Famine's favorite operatives. Both these skeletons are in the Wasted West at the ruins of the city of Lost Angels (L.A., just renamed in this setting) at the bottom of a gigantic radioactive sludge lake. Lost Angels was basically destroyed by a gigantic holy strike that killed Famine's horse and is now chock full of demons, so have fun with that. The reward for killing Famine is unknown, because they forgot to put it in the book.
- War can only be killed by a weapon used at the Battle of Gettysburg, where the Reckoners first entered the world. Technically all you have to do to get these are to travel back to 1879, but if you're feeling ballsy you can try to get Stone's pistols since he fought in the war. Defeating War gets everyone a +4 bonus to intimidation attempts and the "Level Headed" edge that basically lets you reroll your initiative. Note that "Level Headed" is an edge characters can buy at character creation, so if you already have that too bad I guess.
- Lastly, Death can only be killed by someone who's cheated death. Yes, that includes Harrowed, but also means anyone who's had a near-death experience, such as being revived after being clinically dead. A person who's cheated death must cause a wound with a hand-held weapon, at which point Death itself must be given the last rites by a holy man of any religion. Overcoming Death rewards everyone with a naturally long life (over 100 years assuming no violent death), five ranks in the Tough As Nails edge (basically +10 stamina), and +4 to hit, damage, and resist the abilities of undead. In what may be the d20-iest thing ever, in Death's d20 stat block defeating him (CR 20) grants the Toughness feat.
And that's it! That's all there is. There's no ending text or description about what happens when the last of the Reckoners is defeated, which is odd because you'd think there'd be something about how destroying the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would affect the world at large, but there we go. There's not even an editors' note saying something like "hey, thanks for sticking with us and supporting us all these years, we're glad so many people enjoyed the games, thank you so much!"
Instead, the final book in the entire line ends with the stats for War's horse, the OGL licence, and the teaser ad for Deadlands Reloaded.
That's it. Thanks for coming out everyone. Don't let the saloon door hit you on the way out.
Here we are.
I think you all understand now why I wanted to review this book for so long. I mean, look at all this. It's ridiculous. The railroading, the NPCs doing everything, the big fake moral choice. I mean, what else needs to be said?
This book, this whole adventure, is garbage. Hot garbage. More than anything else, the players don't need to be there for any part of it until they need to turn on the jump drive. Everything else is just the GM reading pages and pages of text out of the book.
This is the book you hold up when the younger gamers ask "so what was metaplot? Why was it bad?". The book is like a lens through which every single problem with 90's RPG metaplots got focused. It is the exemplar of everything people hated about the metaplot era and bad adventure design. And even if there weren't any metaplot elements, the adventure would still be terrible because it's clearly written for the GM to read rather than the players to, you know...play.
It's amazing how far we've come, isn't it?
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go grab my copy of Apocalypse World and play to find out what happens.