Deadlands: Stone and a Hard Place by Libertad!
IntroductionOriginal SA post
Jasper Stone. The one-man TPK Machine. The undead mug plastered on countless Deadlands core books. The prime competitor with Dr. Darius Hellstromme as the biggest Marty Stu of the Weird West. Back in the 90s he was a Lady of Pain-esque figure who was less a complex character and more a force of nature responsible for shaping the setting into what it is. For the Pinnacle writers he was a “hero killer” plugging holes in those who could make a difference against the Reckoners, the cosmic horror entities unleashing all the bad magic and monsters into the world. For Deadlands Game Masters he’s meant to reign in out of line party members: he didn’t even have stats in the original, as it was presumed that he could kill without the need for die rolls.
Twenty years and one KickStarter later we have the third Plot Point Campaign for Deadlands, pitting the PCs in a campaign-length epic with the Deathly Drifter as the primary antagonist!
The Tombstone Epitaph
The Tombstone Epitaph operates out of the Arizona town of the same name, and serves as an in-universe newspaper whose reporters are caught upon on a lot of the stranger happenings around the Old West. This time they’re reporting close to home, covering the American Southwest’s territories. As of 1881, it is a lawless region where the Confederate army is too few in number to enforce the law. Outlaws and bandit gangs run rampant, and the Bayou Vermilion rail company is the most powerful organization in the area. The fact that they hired on a gang known as the Cowboys to act as hired guns does little for the safety and security of the common folk. Wyatt Earp and his circle of friends are the closest Cochise County has to a proper lawman, and his recent bouts with the Cowboys and Bayou Vermilion show no signs of coming to a peaceful resolution.
The other articles in the Epitaph cover stories hinting at plot hooks and strange goings-on later in the campaign, along with a rundown of the three most prominent outlaw organizations in the area. Strangely there is no covering of the events of the Great Summoning from the prior Last Sons Plot Point Campaign. I find this odd as the Epitaph did the same for the results of the Flood, and this one pointed to the Last Son’s epilogue battle in Dodge City, but nothing about an anti-technology field covering the entirety of the Sioux Nations resulting in a Union rout.
Here we get new options for Player Characters appropriate to the region. We have a handful of new Hindrances and Edges*: notably, Pistolero replaces the Two-Gun Kid from the Last Sons, where you can apply the benefits of aiming for both weapons or fire two to four rounds per attack when wielding one or two double-action pistols. But perhaps the biggest amount of content is for two iconic Deadlands archetypes: the Harrowed and the Hexslinger.
*Savage Worlds’ equivalent to Dungeons & Dragons feats
The Harrowed is an undead brought back to unlife when an evil spirit known as a manitou inhabits the body. The original human soul’s still present, so the two are locked in an endless battle of will for control. Although present in the Deadlands Player’s Guide, the section for Stone and a Hard Place is a comprehensive rules revamp.
Mechanics-wise a PC becomes a Harrowed in one of two ways: the first is that upon true death the player draws a number of playing cards equal to the PC’s Grit score. If a Joker is drawn, the PC regains consciousness as a Harrowed, going through visions of their Worst Nightmare as they come back from the grave. Alternatively one can take the new Harrowed edge from this book to automatically start play as one.
In short, a Harrowed’s base abilities include bonuses on Toughness, Grit, and on rolling Fear checks along with the typical undead stuff (no need to breath, can’t get sick, etc). They also only “die” if they become incapacitated from severe head trauma, and have a Final Fantasy Blue Mage style ability known as “Coup” where they can learn special abilities from certain monsters if said beast dies within their vicinity. They also get access to exclusive “Harrowed Edges,” which they begin with one for free.
A Harrowed’s major weakness is their Dominion score. Ranging from -4 to +4, it represents how “in control” their occupying manitou is, and the GM can call for an opposed Spirit test modified by said score by anteing up a Fate Chip. Success on the Harrowed’s part grants them more Dominion, but failure can cause the manitou to take short-term control and get up to various wicked deeds. The only thing in favor for the poor hombre is that manitous relish having a physical shell and will not needlessly endanger the Harrowed. That doesn’t mean they won’t think twice about mugging old ladies or getting into fights if they think the odds are in their favor.
A significant part of the Harrowed entry covers the 25 new Edges of the archetype. Generally speaking they are either infinite-use or always-active abilities which typically require a Spirit roll to activate in the former case, and a few mimic existing spells but have added hindrances to balance things out. They run a mixture between utility and offensive powers, all themed around macabre themes of death and the resilience of the unliving.
Some of the more interesting Edges are as follows: Burrowing lets you slowly move through raw earth at the expense of looking like a corpse covered with with creepy-crawlies and soil upon exiting; Dead Man’s Hand which lets you detach and remotely move body parts for a short duration; Ghost, which effectively allows you to become incorporeal for one round and is now steeper in Rank* to take at Heroic rather than Seasoned; Possession which allows you to take control of another’s body and actions but imposes a -2 on all actions on your part due to concentration; Spiritual Barbwire which conjures an invisible barrier to keep away ghosts, spirits, and similar entities; and Trackin’ Teeth, which allows you to turn a plucked tooth or other tiny bony body part into a tracking device effective out to a 10 or 1,000 mile radius (normal and Improved versions of the Edge, respectively).
*Savage World’s equivalent to Experience Levels
The Hexslinger is our other archetype covered here. Originally a subgroup of Hucksters in Deadlands Classic, they are an Arcane Background of their own now! Their tradition stems from runecarvers of Northern Europe who imbued physical objects with magical power. The modern-day Hexslingers derive their talents from a Swedish immigrant who passed on his talents to the famed Doc Holliday, who in turn decided to cast a spell while holding a gun in his hand rather than the traditional deck of cards used by Hucksters. From there Holliday passed on what he learned to a small circle of gunslingers in the Southwest.
Hexslingers as a “casting class” channel their powers through a single personalized firearm gussied up with runes and other intricate designs that audibly crackle with power when used to cast spells. They have most of the powers available to Hucksters, plus two new ones detailed later. As part of their “gunmage” background they can cast 3 buffing spells (Aim, Boost Trait for Shooting, and Smite) as free actions in regards to their signature weapon. Naturally many of their offensive powers manifest as them shooting a weapon or confidently spinning their gun around in their hands or finger.
Like Hucksters they run the risk of being viewed as “practitioners of the dark arts” if their powers are found out for what they are, so it’s common for them to explain away their spells and fancy shootin’ iron as New Science devices. They also suffer a penalty on casting spells if they do not use said item, but can craft a new one in several days if lost.
The two new Hexslinger powers are Numb, which temporarily removes penalties to Pace and die rolls from wounds, and Shootist, which allows the Hexslinger to imbue runic symbols on individual bullets.
Shootist bears special mention as it is technically 13 powers in one, with varying degrees of prerequisite Ranks to automatically learn once you reach said rank. A hexslinger can imbue a bullet, which indefinitely stores the effect until used, but at the cost of having the required Power Points “tied up” in the bullet until fired. The ammunition can even be given to other people to use and doesn’t need to be fired from their signature weapon, which makes them quite versatile. The various runes either enhance a bullet’s existing effects such as ignoring a certain level of range/cover penalties or increasing/modifying the damage type, or grant new features such as exploding in an AoE shrapnel burst or affecting a supernatural monster as though it were of its weakness. Provided the hexslinger knows of said weakness and the monster is not one of the four Servitors, of course.
Thoughts So Far: The American Southwest is a highly iconic setting for the Western genre, with outlaw gangs and crooked rail barons as classic foes. The Harrowed’s revision and expansion empowers the archetype with a +2 Toughness and some new Edges, which make it a good choice for PCs who want to be a fighter who just won’t go down or a more macabre investigator/scout with the various utility powers. The hexslinger is a mechanically strong and thematically cool gunmage, and I can see it as a popular choice at many gaming tables. Allowing PCs to start the game Harrowed with an Edge will let many more players have the benefit of using this archetype in play, something I approve of.
Join us next time as we cover the GM-facing Marshal Territory chapter!
Marshal TerritoryOriginal SA post
Like the prior Plot Point Campaigns, this details the GM-facing side of things which aren’t the adventures or NPC/monster bestiaries. Here we cover the backstory of Jasper Stone as well as the overall setting of the Wild Southwest.
In the world of Deadlands there are four ancient evils known as the Reckoners, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse who seek to unleash a literal Hell on Earth by spreading Fear and misery through earthly agents. The Horsemen are Famine, War, Plague, and Death, and each one has a chosen minion known as a Servitor. Jasper Stone serves Death, and of the four Stone would be the hardest to ordinarily base a campaign around, for the other three are politically powerful villains with good publicity in their respective areas of influence. Reverend Grimme (Famine) is a cult leader who has control over a lot of California’s food production and can apparently work miracles, Raven (War) leads a group of indigenous insurgents willing to do anything to halt the spread of white colonialism, and Dr. Hellstromme (Plague) is a mad scientist industrialist who owns the first transcontinental railroad and employs a huge portion of workers in the Mormon nation of Deseret.
Stone by contrast is a wandering lone killer who’s more known by his title the Deathly Drifter, and thus a bit harder to come up with mook hordes to throw at PCs. This Plot Point solves that by making him the recent leader of an outlaw gang known as the Laughing Men and buddies with the Cowboys for the first few adventures. This sourcebook also has him play a much more direct role in adventures than the other three Servitors did in their own sourcebooks. As to how well this is pulled off, we’ll save that for the next chapter.
First off, Stone’s backstory. Unlike the other Servitors he’s not a tragic soul who chose wickedness in his darkest moments like Raven and Hellstromme, nor a hellish abomination wearing the mask of a preacher and tied to the sins of the former allies in Grimme’s case. Stone was literally born born, a creepy Alabaman kid who since age two had a knack for picking at the thin skin of other children and adults. Others on the farm treated him as a demon child, and er, has a rather cringey explanation of an abusive childhood:
Having thoroughly spooked all his relations, little Jasper got the worst abuse from everyone on the farm. When Old Man Stone’s fortunes dried up and he turned to drink, he was vicious as a mad dog to all his sons, who in turn redirected the aggression onto Jasper, the runt o’ the litter. Which is not to imply the lad was undeserving of their brutality.
On the contrary—Jasper was always a cruel turd of a boy. He took considerable glee from animals’ suffering. Once he mail-ordered a magnifying lens with money he’d stolen from his father’s overalls during one of his two-day drunks, because he heard he could incinerate ants with it. Having had his fiery way with all sorts of insect life, he moved on to larger animals like raccoons and cats.
Pardon my French, but fuck this. There’s no justifiable reason for why a grown man should torture a toddler unable to fight back, especially when they’re a parent who should be a trusted foundation in a child’s life. What’s worse is that instead of being used as an in-world explanation for how abused can often become abusers which is often the case for villains like Stone, the text is indirectly going back to victim-blaming by implying that he was just naturally evil and thus partially excuses the culpability of the abuser. This also goes against the Reckoner Series’ themes of the Servitors willfully choosing evil, for Stone is basically the Deadlands equivalent of an Always Chaotic Evil monstrous race; he never had a moral event horizon to jump off from, for he was already at the bottom of the pit.
Stone would later leave the farm, joining up with the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Although he ratcheted up a bunch of kills with glee, his fellow officers and underranking soldiers hated and feared him for his reckless disregard for the Greys he sent to their graves in campaign after campaign. When the Reckoning hit the Battle of Gettysburg and undead soldiers rose from the ground, Stone was fragged by his own soldiers who shot him 13 times in the back. He would later return to life mid-surgery in a battlefield tent, becoming the first post-Reckoning Harrowed, and managed to wrestle his own manitou into frightened subservience by his raw presence.
In fact, he was so fearsome that when Death himself came to recruit him, Stone put a rain check on the order as he hunted down the Confederate soldiers who betrayed him. Once that was done he returned to his farm and killed the older siblings who tormented him, but saved the brunt of his wrath for his father. He tortured him until dawn before tying the man’s bruised body to a bed and lighting the room on fire. Death was so impressed that when Stone came back to hear him out, the ghastly eldritch abomination told him that he already passed the test.
Ever since Stone served as the Reckoner’s professional Hero Killer, specializing in putting down folks who presented the greatest threat to his superior’s machinations. But by 1876 things take a strange turn in the form of Metaplot and Time Travel Shenanigans.
First off, a magical ghost rock stone by the name of the Heart of Darkness is imported from the South American jungles and ends up in Reverend Grimme’s hands. He uses it as a ritual to expand a supernatural aura around the City of Lost Angels which disguises the black magic of his flock as Biblical miracles. Alas Stone cannot go up and ask for it, as the Servitors are not necessarily aware of each other’s respective roles. Stone tries to steal the Heart, but ends up captured in Rock Island Prison’s maximum security ward in no small part to Grimme’s magical powers. There he languished for 23 years, bound and warded in a cell. When he finally busted out in the turn of the century, much of the Old West had become federalized, industrialized, and cleaned up of many horrors of the Reckoning. Although supernatural horrors were still active and he carried on his duty, it was a losing battle for the forces of evil.
In a last-ditch effort the Reckoners gave Stone one last chance in 2094 to be sent back in time via a portal in Devil’s Tower which could only work once; after that no do-overs! He went back to 1876, and eventually reunited with his young 19th century self. With their powers combined, they managed to steal the Heart of Darkness after Grimme’s ritual and make up for the lost 23 years by killing a greater number of heroes than in the original timeline. They even planned to use the Heart of Darkness’ greatest power, to rapidly create Deadlands, to usher in a Hell on Earth even faster before a band of not-PCs stole the gem and used it to destroy the portal in Devil’s Tower, stranding Old Stone in an at-once familiar yet alien Weird West. The two Stones departed to do their own things, but Old Stone became paranoid over time: not only did the Flood of Lost Angels and the Great Summoning in the Sioux Nations herald obvious losses for the Reckoners, he also realized that his only means of true death (being killed by his own hand) was no longer metaphorical when his younger self was out and about.
That’s when Death spoke to him again of a new plan, a plan to create a new Heart of Darkness and double-cross his Younger self: the Heart’s ambient magics would fuse the two together as one to set the world afire. To do this Old Stone found Young Stone again, convincing him to take control of some outlaw gangs in the American Southwest while Old Stone stole a huge ghost rock nugget from a Californian bank vault. The rise of outlaws would surely attract heroes, who he could then manipulate in going after Young Stone and...well, that part’s in the Plot Point Campaign proper.
Fun Fact: The consequences of Grimme’s ritual, the two Stones, and the Reckoner portal are all part of the Devil’s Tower Trilogy of adventures written during the Classic era of Deadlands. Also in the original timeline a secret military base was built around the Reckoner’s open portal...which is a bit of a plot hole, considering that said region is sovereign territory of the Sioux Nations, and the ambient anti-technology field surrounding Devil’s Tower would prevent conventional machinery from mining into it. Much less an army holding onto it from what I presume will be legions of angry braves viewing this as an act of war.
The section after Stone’s backstory includes a list of various factions prominent in the Southwest, from rail companies and outlaw gangs to allied individuals and organizations likely to help out the PCs. The major rail baron is Bayou Vermillion, a New Orleans-based company run by a voodooist who uses an undead labor force to lay down track. The company’s is currently at war with the Apaches who make regular raids on their trains and depots. The former Union and Confederate sponsored rail companies of Union Blue and Dixie Rails were bought out by private investors and renamed Empire Rails and Lone Star respectively.
The major outlaw gangs are the Cowboys who menace Arizona and wear distinctive red sashes; the Devil’s Stepsons are a band of criminals and rapists whose leader believes that he’s the child of Lucifer himself; the Laughing Men who hole up in the Grand Canyon and are secretly led by Stone; and finally the Red Lantern Gang who disguise themselves as zombies to scare people and take advantage of the ambient weird rumors swirling about the West. We even have a nifty “Wanted List” reward sidebar, giving a dollar amount and alive/dead indications for both named outlaws and generic gang members.
The PC-friendly allies include the Order of St. George, a secret paramilitary arm of the Roman Catholic Church tasked with investigating and subduing supernatural horrors. Due to being on the Mexican border they are quite active in the Southwest, and have a rocky relationship with the Agency on account of having the same ends but differing means.
For individuals we have Coot Jenkins the Prospector, a long-time named NPC who often served as an in-character explanation of the Weird West’s history in several Deadlands sourcebooks. Although alive and kicking himself, he knows a lot about the Reckoning from various encounters and the final words of a dying Last Son.* He works with various do-gooders on an individual basis, but is assembling a secret army of Harrowed thanks to a personal souped-up drink capable of rendering their manitous dormant. Besides Coot there are the Earps and Doc Holliday who feature prominently in the first two Plot Point adventures, a hexslinging bounty hunter by the name of Alexander Graves, and a Texas Ranger by the name of Sergeant Elijah Clay.
*One of Raven’s original circle, responsible for breaking the Reckoners out of their spiritual prison in hopes that their power would kill the white invaders.
Said NPCs may join the party for a time, although with the exception of Coot they are all extremely powerful characters who will most likely upstage party members with similar roles. Even though Graves and Clay are optional, one of Stone and a Hard Place’s major weaknesses is the DMPC problem.
This much shorter section details new thematic and environmental mechanics to simulate the nasty, brutish, and short lives of the American Southwest. First up are Battlefield Horrors, which are originally from the Last Sons but manifest as increased Fear Levels in places where a lot of people died in a short amount of time. Next up is Deadly Weather, from conditions of biting cold in the mountains, sandstorms in the desert, and more conventional storms and flash floods which can impact a party’s movement rates and possibly damage and fatigue them. Fame & Notoriety covers what happens when a PC of at least Veteran rank starts to make a name for themselves, where cards are drawn once per game session to see if some upstart gunslinger seeks out said PC to duel or kill to make a name for themselves. Killin’ Heat enforces thirst when away from civilization by forcing Survival and Vigor rolls to avoid debilitating dehydration and sunstroke debuffs. Harrowed Revisited copies information from the Deadlands corebooks regarding Manitou Dominion, along with a 1d20 table of mischief the spirit may get up to if they take control of the Harrowed. Finally we cover a pair of Natural Disasters in the forms of cave-ins and rockslides, which are exactly as they sound.
There’s a sidebar for 3 optional Setting Rules, too. The first is that any PC with the Death Wish hindrance suffers a chance of Fatigue for every day they are not in some way pursuing their sacrificial goal. The second makes it so that those with the Grim Servant o’ Death hindrance (greater chances of friendly fire) draw three extra cards to determine whether they come back Harrowed, for Death is not one to let such a killing machine easily slip away into the ether. Finally is the adoption of the Gritty Damage rules from the Savage Worlds corebook, which imposes sustained injury-related debuffs to body parts whenever a character suffers a wound, rather than it being a potential consequence of being Incapacitated. The book mentions that the last option’s the most problematic to put into play depending on a gaming group’s playstyle, considering it discourages straightforward shoot-outs and can lead to a higher turnover rate of PCs.
This details the broad regions of the American Southwest. Although most of the locations are heavily centered around Arizona, we also cover New Mexico, southern Nevada, and southern California which as of 1881 is an autonomous Commonwealth presided over by Emperor Norton. Although the entries are alphabetical, they are further subgrouped by state which makes for a bit of an odd read. Every entry has a corresponding Fear Level measuring the overall aura of grim hopelessness and desperation hanging over the area.
Dead End: This is the farthest point in the tracks of Dixie Rails, now Lone Star. The place is cursed from the ambient violence of the Great Rail Wars, where inhabitants inevitably lose money and personal possessions of value in oddly coincidental ways. Individually this would be cases of bad luck, but when every person and newcomer is afflicted this leads to rumors and speculations of an unseen evil at work. In game terms a PC who arrives immediately loses half their funds, and attempts at securing loans/favors/etc fail as telegraph wires break, couriers lose their trail, etc. Those who continue to stay lose half their funds every week, or three-quarters if they already have the Poverty hindrance.
Despair: This oddly-named town is a vital source of water for travelers, its springs originally wrested from giant worm-like monsters known as rattlers.
Grand Canyon Known as the House of Stone and Light by the Navajo, this natural Wonder of the World is a huge depression stretching for 277 miles (approx. 446 km). Many caves holding relics of the Anasazi civilization can be found here, along with hideouts of the Laughing Men gang and various dangerous animals both supernatural and mundane.
Petrified Forest: Made up of fossilized tree fragments, this area is jointly owned and patrolled by the Navajo and Apache tribes who guard the area vigorously. Intruders are escorted from the area after having their belongings taken as tribute (provided they come peacefully), and quite a bit of the trees have petroglyphs etched into their surfaces. The forest has gotten a lot spookier in recent times, and the Navajo speak of an ancient meteor holding a dangerous entity by the name of Yei Tso.
Phoenix: This large city is the center of commerce for travelers and traders in the Southwest as the Lone Star rail spur connecting to other towns along the way. Amenities ranging from ice cream to whirligigs at the Smith & Robards specialty store can be purchased here.
Potential: This town’s founding was bathed in blood and war when a conglomeration of locals and businesses rallied against Bayou Vermilion laying track there due to fears of turning the place into a company town. Now they have right of way with Lone Star rails, Hellstromme Industries’ fancy gadgets imported into town, and a Potential Miners’ Coalition swaying local government. It’s got all the small town amenities of an Old West settlement, plus a walled Hellstromme compound and a Mitsubishi Japanese import/export company.
Prescott: This boomtown is punching far above its size thanks to the high amount of gold and ghost rock mines claimed in the area. It’s one of the most well-defended towns too, with a nearby fort of CSA soldiers who steadfastly guard the townsfolk from Apache raids and outlaws.
Tombstone: Like the City o’ Gloom for Good Intentions, Tombstone serves as a “hub town” of sorts in that quite a few Plot Points and Savage Tales take place in its environs. It is a boomtown close to the Mexican border in the southeast Cochise County, and the Earps and Doc Holliday are the best line of defense against the Cowboy gang and other miscreants. After Hellstromme Industries won the Great Rail Wars back in 1879, Bayou Vermilion started recouping its losses by laying track all over the San Pedro River Valley. Their use of Cowboys as hired muscle caused no end of grief with Tombstone and other towns. Tombstone is at once economically reliant upon the rail company’s track for trade, but at the expense of safety and security for its citizens.
Tucson: A long-dead civilization of indigenous people known as the Hohokam lived near what is today Tucson, and their old buildings and canals were refurbished by modern pioneers. The farms make use of the latter for irrigation, and Bayou Vermilion holds great sway over the local economy thanks to having a base of operations centered here in regards to the rest of the Southwest. Tucson also includes a barely-populated Confederate Barracks whose officer is a tinhorn new to the West, a sleazy gambling hall known as the Five Aces, a yellow journalism Tucson Citizen trying to go straight, and a surprisingly shabby bank whose owner refuses to renovate the place.
Yuma: This town’s close proximity to the Territorial Prison means that a fair amount of it dwellings consist of and serve the needs of prison guards and soldiers. Being by the Colorado river makes it the primary means of water travel in the territory, especially for military steamboats.
Death Valley: One of the hottest places on Earth, Death Valley gets its name for its downright inhospitable environs. The Timbisha Shoshone are the only indigenous inhabitants of note, and they retreat into the mountains during the summer months. Bayou Vermilion is laying some serious track here, but the baking heat does a number on even its undead labor force. Water carried on one’s person here evaporates at four times the normal rate.
Railhead: This Bayou Vermilion company town is literally built around the ruined shell of an enormous train which once contained several cars’ full of hotels, stores, and even a casino. Skrimishes with the Wichita Witches of the Black River rail company resulted in the train exploding in a massive display of ghost rock fire, and the workers built a new town from and within the scrapped remains.
Cedar City: Nothing much to say than this is a local watering hole for Fort 51 soldiers. Mojave rattlers are very common in the area, making travel hazardous without a fast steam wagon or train.
Elko: Even the in-game text acknowledges that there’s nothing interesting in this flyspeck of a 42-person burg. Sprawling rail yards and warehouses give the place an empty, forgotten feeling even if companies use it to store lots of ghost rock and mining supplies. Said items remain precariously unguarded.
Fort 51: This Union military base is not as secret thanks to Tombstone Epitaph reports, so the US government merely acknowledges its existence but not what’s inside. It is in fact the testing ground for a unit of soldiers known as the Flying Buffaloes, who use jetpacks in aerial combat. They regularly train by making flying raids on Apache villages, indiscriminately gunning down braves and noncombatants alike. The famous inventor Thomas Edison is responsible for the device as well as directing the slaughters, which not only has him clashing heads with the local captain but is also laying the ground for a massive retaliation from the Apaches.
Virginia City: The only other major settlement of note in Nevada, this big city of 30,000 people was built overnight thanks to the funds generated from gold, silver, and ghost rock veins. The promise of wealth alone for once brought out the best, not worst, in the greedy prospectors as they erected a proper settlement in the middle of the desert. The new money millionaires of some lucky miners played into the American Dream atmosphere, and although still a boomtown it has many of the establishments and foundations for a more urban city. It is also home to a restaurant and social Old Washoe Club where the richest of the rich gather; said club is a Freemason front, and members in the know use it as a base to conduct dark magic.
Speaking of which, the Freemasons in the world of Deadlands are capable of using true magic. Unfortunately some bad dudes and ladies getting their power from the Reckoners violently took over the organization and now run it like the evil secret society many conspiracy theorists paint it as.
New Mexico Territory
Albuquerque: In 1848 the United States claimed this town from Mexico, only to turn ownership over to the Confederate States of America in 1862. The well-to-do live on the town’s outskirts, while the central hub is populated by all manner of cowboys, mountain men, miners, and soldiers. The place is home to more than a few supernatural goings-on, such as Isaac Alvord the Swedish hexslinger who taught Doc Holliday the craft, and a ghostly weeping widow who wanders the old drainage ditch looking for the very children she drowned in life.
El Paso: This town is actually in Texas (and the book even acknowledges this) but the reason for this intentional mangling of geography is due to it being an important fixture in the Reckoner Death’s territory. The place is even more violent than Dodge City, and the establishment of a Mexico Free Trade Zone has attracted all manner of grifters, rail warriors, and other ne’er-do-wells who inevitably pass through to the rest of the Southwest. It is a bustling cosmopolitan burg with people from various nations and walks of life. The intersection of El Paso & San Antonio Streets have seen numerous duels and killings to the point that those who die here have a better chance of coming back Harrowed.
Roswell: Taking inspiration 70 years in the future, flying discs were spotted in the night skies over town in 1876. The Confederate government maintains that they were flying weather balloons, but conspiracy theories abound regarding life among the stars. Roswell is predictably a center for Confederate engineers and scientists, developing all manner of New Science devices for war purposes.
Santa Fe: The New Mexican capital is the hub of Confederate army activities, housing three full companies along with the San Miguel Mission which holds a secret vault containing Aztec mummies.
Adventures in the Wild Southwest
The last section of the Marshal Territory is also the shortest: a quick-and-simple card-based adventure/encounter generator for when the GM cannot rely upon a major Plot Point adventure or Savage Tale sidequest to get things going. Basically a card is drawn once per day when the PCs are traveling around, and on a face or Joker an encounter occurs based on the card’s suite. A die is rolled to determine the specifics of the encounter on a corresponding table.
Clubs represent an Obstacle such as an epidemic, tainted water, or a flood or broken bridge forcing a detour. Hearts represent Non-Player Characters who range from US/CSA undercover spies to Indian braves, rail warriors, and more. Diamonds provide a Fortune, a physical reward such as a mineral vein, lost treasure, or the crashed cargo of a Smith & Robards whirligig containing one or more Mad Science devices. Spades provide Varmints, mundane and supernatural critters to hassle the party and can vary widely in overall level of power and danger. Finally, Red Jokers are a Special unique encounter which serves as the basis for a minor adventure, such as a ghost town haunted by spectres, a job offer for the PCs to provide guard duty for someone or something, and so on. Black Jokers spell Trouble, a debilitating result such as a monster nest or fortified headquarters multiplying the number of monsters/hostile NPCs in future encounters, or shortages from drought and outlaw raids ratcheting up the prices on common goods.
Thoughts So Far: Stone’s backstory feels odd in comparison to the other Servitors. It bounced between paraphrasing events and quotation-style speech between Stone and other characters, making me feel that the section was cribbed from some unpublished Deadlands novel. He lacks comparative depth with Raven, Hellstromme, and even Grimme. Stone feels less like a character and more an unchanging force of nature.
The new rules borrow from previous content, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the table for Harrowed mischief is a great way to generate conflict that later comes to bite an undead PC in the ass. The adventure generator is a good way to come up with encounters, although nothing we haven’t seen before in the other Plot Point Campaigns’ adventure generator sections.
In comparison to the rest of the Reckoner Series, the Strange Locales are very heavy on settlements and cities but light on spooky locations, caverns, abandoned buildings, and stretches of dangerous monster-haunted wilderness. It also felt too uniform; besides many of the settlements being generic frontier outposts, the writing didn’t really make the various places feel different from one another. In comparison the other Plot Point settings did a good job at evoking unique local flair: the Chinatowns in the Flood and their interactions with white settlers shown how differently their communities approached life in California along with the indigenous Necessity Alliance choosing a life of solitude from the rest. Good Intentions had many details on the Mormon/Gentile cultural divides, while the Last Sons played heavily on the mutual fears and resentments between white settlers and the Sioux Nations along with the proxy wars of Kansas.
For Stone and a Hard Place, we get hardly any talk on the Apache, Navajo, and Hopi tribes in the region, and we don’t get a good look into the Latino population besides some Catholic missions and acknowledging a high population in El Paso. The Union/Confederate divide is nonexistent, nor is there much mention on interactions with Mexico with the various factions.
Join us next time as we cover the first half of Stone and a Hard Place Plot Point Campaign!
Stone and a Hard Place Pt 1Original SA post
Stone and a Hard Place Pt 1
And so we begin the main story of Stone and a Hard Place. Split into 9 adventures known as Plot Points, what begins as a quest for revenge against an undead outlaw turns into a greater struggle to prevent the Deathly Drifter from ushering in a Hell On Earth. This Plot Point Campaign starts the party out at Seasoned rank, and much like the Last Sons it expects a few prerequisite details for PCs. Namely that they’ll be friendly to the Earp family and Holliday, and even more so eager to help them clean up Tombstone. The separately-sold pregenerated characters even include two family members of Wyatt’s as if that isn’t obvious enough. And in Deadlands Plot Point Campaign tradition, we open up with a pair of quotes
Revelation 6:7-8 posted:
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly posted:
In this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.
1. Shot Down at the OK Corral
The campaign begins in Tombstone, Arizona in October 1881. This is a town divided in more ways than one: growing numbers of city folks from Back East are distrusted by the local ranchers and miners, and Bayou Vermilion’s becoming more powerful to the point that they can act above the law. The Tombstone Nugget newspaper is a propaganda arm for them and the Cowboy Gang, while the Tombstone Epitaph favors the Earp’s attempts at bringing order. While in the Oriental Saloon a group of drunken ranch hands start a fight with the PCs and an all-out brawl soon breaks out.
Regardless of the outcome the PCs’ willingness to take on who are later revealed to be members of the Cowboy Gang earns them the notice of Wyatt Earp, who wants to meet with them tomorrow morning. When that day comes and the PCs show up, they’ll be deputized and earn their first job: Ike Clanton, a drunk Cowboy, is wandering around town drunk with a rifle in his hands. They’re tasked with bringing him in alive before he hurts himself or someone else. Clanton’s arrest (and it’s presumed that he’s taken in alive) causes the rest of the gang later that day to gather in a large group at the OK Corral, refusing to turn in their guns for Tombstone’s anti-firearms ordinance.
Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp along with Doc Holliday and the PCs, all gear up to confront the gang. Technically speaking the Cowboys are skirting the law by keeping their rifles and shotguns holstered up on their horses but within arm’s reach, and they have pistols hidden in larger pockets. Wyatt will demand them to throw down their guns, which they’re not going to do, and now the PCs get to be part of an historical event in the West!
Fun Fact: Tombstone, Dodge City, and many other towns in the Old West had some pretty strict gun control laws. The expectation for travelers were that they’d visit the local sheriff’s office and turn in their guns while within town and come to retrieve them when it came time to leave. In some towns they could go about as they pleased, but certain businesses had the right to ask customers to turn them over in a similar manner while within the establishment.
The fight is one big shootout, with the PCs and their allies outnumbered by a now-free Ike Clanton* and 5 Cowboy outlaws per PC. One thing I should note is that in Savage Worlds, the players control all allied NPCs during combat, and this is no different.
Morgan and Virgil Earp are above-average gunslingers, but Wyatt and Doc Holliday are pretty much endgame-tier characters. If they were designed as PCs they’d be around Heroic to Legendary Ranks, the two highest in Savage Worlds. Wyatt Earp’s own badge is a special Relic which makes attacks against him suffer a -4 penalty. Combined with Improved Dodge that’s a total -6 against ranged attacks, which means that none of the enemies are going to touch him barring some lucky exploding dice. Doc Holliday is a hexslinger who has some AoE powers and can dual-wield pistols.
It’s noted in the text that writers want the players to control the NPCs as a taste of what ‘high-level’ characters can do, but given that Wyatt and Holliday have a lot of edges to keep track of it’s not the kind of thing you’d spring on players right then and there. It’s also part of a running element in this Plot Point where the PCs who should normally be the “stars of the show” end up playing second fiddle, saddled with similarly-powerful DMPCs, or have their agency taken away somehow which knocks the adventure down a few pegs.
After the shootout ends, the remaining Cowboys will come to gather up their dead; they lost the will to fight today, but there will be Hell to pay in the next adventure!
What I’d Change: Honestly it’s kind of hard to write these entries for this Plot Point in that such an undertaking would effectively rewrite huge portions of the adventures to the point that I’d be better served doing my own homebrew sessions. But if I had to change anything about the first adventure, I’d probably knock Holliday and the Earps’ stats down a peg and alter the number of Cowboys so as not to overwhelm the PCs.
2. Vengeance Ride!
Unlike other Plot Point Campaigns, the next adventure is meant to take place a number of in-game months after the first. During this time the PCs are expected to continue working as deputies and perhaps do a number of sidequests and encounters over time to better bond with their new employers.
Fun Fact: Of what few online gaming groups I know of that ran this campaign, some of them really took it far. Like 40 to 50 sessions far. Which given the session-based Experience progression of Savage Worlds and the fact that most of the “Savage Tale” sidequests are effectively singular encounters, they’re basically taking a year’s worth of homebrew adventures before carrying on with a campaign which presumably will last around as long. I find this rather strange, but as long as they’re having fun I can’t really knock ‘em for this.
Our adventure begins once again at the Oriental Saloon, when a panicked messenger comes in to announce that Morgan Earp was murdered by someone who tried to rob their stagecoach. The Wells Fargo wagon carries Morgan’s body into town, shot through the heart and with his deputy badge missing. The messenger’s insistent on the PCs finding Virgil and Wyatt Earp, but if pressed he can explain how he saw the apparent murderer not only take a shotgun blast without harm. Then he drew his pistols at lightning speed and seemingly disappeared once the smoke cleared.
The Earps are saddened and furious at this. Wyatt, convinced that the Cowboys are responsible, notices some of them in the crowd via their sashes and opens fire unprovoked at them which causes another shootout. At this point he plans to go on a vengeance ride around Tombstone’s environs with Virgil, Holliday, and the PCs, arresting or killing every Cowboy they can find. Their first major stop will be the Clanton Ranch, where a lot of the gang’s holed up.
But word of Morgan’s murder reached the gang and Bayou Vermilion. Knowing how vindictive Wyatt can be, they already barricaded down their hideouts along the way and will unleash zombie minions during one encounter. The Clanton Ranch itself has the aforementioned Ike Clanton if still alive, along with a host of other Cowboys and higher-ranking members such as Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo.
But the Cowboys also have a specialist at hand, one mean and tough enough to take on both Doc and Wyatt: Jasper Stone! Stone himself will sit back on a porch sipping whisky, waiting until both sides reduced each other’s numbers enough before going right up to the party:
From out of the ranch house a pale, lanky figure saunters—more apparition than man. His ancient brown coat whips in the desert wind. His hatbrim is pulled low to shade his eyes.
A crimson feather pokes from his hatband. A tasseled red sash sits on his hips, which also hold a pair of vintage Colt Dragoons in well-oiled holsters. The figure’s waistcoat is studded with a collection of lawman’s badges...each pierced by a single bullet hole.
“You like ’em?” he asks. His voice sounds like gravel and burning brimstone. He touches a badge that reads DEPUTY MARSHAL. It’s still blood-spattered. “I reckon this newest one might be my favorite.”
So it’s inevitable that Stone’s going to win this battle and he’ll do Called Shots at each DMPC’s heart. But fortunately for the PCs he’s not here for them: he’s going to off Holliday and the Earps and any other NPC allies as his top and only priority. When it comes time for him to turn his guns on the PCs, he spins his Dragoons back into their holsters with a dismissive “You ain’t even worth the lead” before collecting the badges of the fallen and walking away. If a PC attacks him, he’ll growl, look to his twitching hand, and use his Ghost power to disappear.
I figure now’s a good time to discuss Stone’s stat block. Well imagine one of those middle school Dungeon Masters who wanted to make a Mary Sue uber-character by cranking up the numbers in every conceivable statistic. Stone is more or less this: he has d12+2 in every attribute and most skills in the Savage Worlds corebook, with an above-average d8 Piloting as the absolute lowest skill. He has 44 edges, both normal and Harrowed, and thankfully the adventure has a sidebar consolidating the effects and tactics of his most-common edges. Not only that, any wounds dealt by his guns are impossible to heal by any means, nobody can use Fate Chips* within his line of sight including himself, and he is immune to fear and all forms of mundane and magical attacks. His only two weaknesses are being slain with the original bullets that put him down at Gettysburg, or killed by a gun fired by his own hands.
*Deadlands’ metagame currency
After this adventure Stone goes back to his Hero Hunting business, and newspapers regularly churn out murder after murder by the Deadly Drifter. What’s odd is that the spacing of said murders are physically impossible by location and date; this is due to Old Stone’s individual doings, and the two are physically indistinguishable.
What I’d Change: Marty Stu issues aside, I do feel that Stone’s appearance, attitude, and dismissal of the PCs is a good means of generating revenge. But the onus on getting the party to prioritize this feels at odds with the later individuals and groups they meet. There’s also the possibility that they’ll presume that Stone’s a patsy for Bayou Vermilion: “creepy invincible undead dude? Gotta be them rail tycoons!” As Bayou Vermilion is a bit of a red herring for the rest of this Plot Point, I’d tie them more intricately into the later main quests. They’d be an ally of Stone’s, but more an arm’s length one.
3. These Hills Run Red
After an indeterminate amount of time has passed since the last adventure, a middle-aged Catholic priest will find the PCs the next time they’re in Tombstone. Introducing himself as Padre Ernesto de Díaz, he heard through the grapevine that they’re the sole survivors of one of the Deathly Drifter’s rampages. If curious PCs follow up on his offer, he’ll spill the beans that Stone is not a mere mortal but Death personified. He does not know how to stop such a powerful entity, but he does know of a specialist by the name of Coot Jenkins in the town of Dead End. He cannot accompany the PCs due to needing to keep a low profile (he’s been a stick in the craw of the Reckoner’s minions), but will do a holy cross gesture over the party before taking his leave.
Padre (the adventure refers to this as his nickname) is in fact a Blessed, a nondenominational holy man who can call upon miracles from the Big Fella Upstairs. He’s also a high-ranking member of the Order of St. George as well, and oversees the organization’s operations in northern Mexico and the American Southwest.
As for this Coot Jenkins, he is in fact one of the other big metaplot NPCs. Once an ordinary prospector, he came to learn a lot about the Reckoning on account of hearing about it from the dying words of one of Raven’s Last Sons. Nowadays Coot brews a special elixir that can help Harrowed regain control over their manitous. But his stats aren’t Legendary-tier like Wyatt Earp’s, so a group of Laughing Men on the orders of Old Stone captured and tied him up to a tree in a gulch near the town.
Once freed from his tormentors he’ll be extremely hospitable to the party that saved his bacon, offering them the best whisky (bottom-of-the-barrel rotgut) in his shack. If they can put him at ease with a Persuasion roll he’ll trust them enough to tell them what he knows about Stone and the Reckoning. In a case of the adventure telling and not showing, Coot’ll mention that any weird occurrences they’ve experienced have a common origin point at the Battle of Gettysburg, where the dead started to walk and other monsters began popping up afterwards. This event is a “Reckonin’” and one of the supernatural conspiracy’s chosen agents, Stone, is going to help said entities of darkness turn the world into a Hell on Earth.
“You sure you got the sand to face down the Reckoners’ chosen assassin...again?”
What I’d Change: Good Intentions excepted, the Reckoner Series is fond of having some important NPC go “by the way all this magical weirdness is due to the Reckoners” right off the bat rather than leading up to it and letting the PCs find out on their own. I’d have Coot mention that he can tell that the PCs have “seen the dead walk” and that he specializes in the types of beings that Stone is. The Reckoning stuff I’d gradually reveal over time, perhaps from notes in Bayou Vermilion’s underground sanctum in one of the Savage Tales, or when the PCs find one of Stone’s hideouts later on in the Plot Point.
If the PCs say yes, he’ll mention that Stone has a weakness, but first he needs help in taking care of an insane marshal by the name of Tom Riley in the town of Rock Lizard Gulch, and has a special elixir to help cure him. The town marshal in question is a Harrowed who came back with his manitou in full control, and joined up with the Laughing Men outlaws who shot him down in the first place. The Gulch is now their playground, and they’re busy gambling in the sole saloon with all the free liquor they could want.
The quest’s outcome can vary: Coot’s plan is to force-feed Tom the elixir, and he cares not what happens to the Laughing Men outlaws. Local miners and townsfolk will join in the fight against the outlaws if it doesn’t look like a lost cause. If Coot’s elixir plan fails, then he’ll resort to killing Tom with a Gatling shotgun blast to the head.
Once this business is taken care of, Coot will tell the PCs that Stone was a captain in the Confederate army who got shot 13 times by his own officers. Said bullets were pulled out by a surgeon before Stone revived and got up; if recovered and recast into proper cartridges, they will be able to kill him.* If the PCs are intent on revenge, they’ll have to go Back East to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
*This is not true, but Coot doesn’t know about Stone’s other weakness. It also doesn’t describe how Coot learned all this valuable information about Stone in the first place.
4. Somethin’ About Some Bullets
Gettysburg?! That’s over 2,000 miles from Tombstone, and we’re going to visit an ill-explored part of the Deadlands setting! The last time we had sourcebooks going into detail on places Back East was back in Classic. Y’all excited for a grand months-long epic journey? This sourcebook sure is!
Now your heroes know they have to go to Gettysburg—scene of the Reckoning’s commencement—to find the only ammunition with the power to kill Death’s right-hand man. They don’t have to leave right away, nor do they have to follow any particular path. The journey’s intended to take months in-game, with as many tangents, distractions, and fiendish scenarios as it takes to complete the trek—an epic journey Back East. Once the group reaches Gettysburg, this Plot Point truly starts to gallop.
In fact, this epic journey, which is sure to have lots of Savage Tales and pit-stops at historical towns and cities...is not in this book. Stone and a Hard Place expects the GM to write it up themselves or just skip it all to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
What we most get is that the Mason-Dixon line is one big Korean-style DMZ, with miles of barbed-wire covered walls, cannons, Gatling guns, and nearby towns on both sides are home to legions of soldiers on the lookout for spies and troublemakers. As for Gettysburg itself, the entire town and five miles around it are blocked off with high fences overseen by the US Army and Agency. There’s a good reason for this: the entire place is a Fear Level 6 Deadland, a blighted hellscape crawling with undead hordes and hallucinatory specters of visitors’ worst nightmares drawn from the depths of their conscience.
The barn which served as an army hospital for Stone is filled with 8 zombies per PC and a water-logged assembly of corpses known as a ‘glom the size of a blue whale. Said ‘glom serves as the “boss” for this fight and has an ungodly Strength, Vigor, and Toughness to match.
This is not meant to be a fight the PCs can win. Even if they take out the monsters, hundreds more will be attracted to the barn in waves and keep coming until the party runs out of bullets, Power Points, and/or are otherwise at the end of their ropes. The cavalry will come in, literally, to save their hides as 50 mounted soldiers will rush in to fight the hordes. But they’re not on the PCs’ sides; they’ll assume that they’re spies, and even if a character is an Agency member they committed the crime of trespassing on federal property without going through the proper channels.
The PCs will be railroaded into an arrest and escorted to the Agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC, whose machines and buildings are straight out of a Jules Verne novel. Did you think that playing second-fiddle to Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday was a disempowering moment? Or having the party lose half their funds upon immediately setting foot in Dead End? Or being brushed off by Stone, which at least makes sense thematically? Ladies and gentlemen, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
The PCs will be individually interrogated in a “20 questions” format, and the GM is expected to role-play each of these out in 1 on 1 sessions barring time constraints. Any mismatches to their respective stories will be used as evidence of seditious/suspect behavior. But on the meta-level this does not work unless the GM goes into a private chat with every player as gaming groups by necessity are not isolated.
Over the next three days the PCs will be interrogated, tortured offscreen in ways that leave no marks, and have their memories erased of most of the incidents save on a Smarts roll with a -8 penalty. This is even if they’re compliant or Agency members themselves. An elderly Agent With No Name oversees their interrogation, and if the PCs tell them their beef with Stone he’ll explain that they share a common enemy and know where the bullets really are. The doctor which plied the bullets out of the Deathly Drifter is all the way back in Louisiana in a muddy village somewhere outside New Orleans. The PCs will then be hit with a Men-in-Black style memory eraser and wake up in a fugue state on a stagecoach bound for the bayous. They have vague recollections of being in a trance-like state on a Confederate train for the past few days.
Doctor Ingoldsby can be found, and he knows where the bullets are; he kept them in a jar for years, but the things gave him nightmares so he threw them into a nearby marsh. This didn’t stop the bad dreams, for they’re still too close in proximity. The marsh with the jar is home to a giant undead alligator known as Dead Al. Possessing the bullets gives the owners the Bad Dreams hindrance which makes the players draw one less Fate Chip per session until they’re far enough away or all bullets are expended.
What I’d Change: First of all, I’d ditch the whole Gettysburg trip; Coot will say that the Doctor’s last known location was the Bayou Vermilion headquarters in New Orleans. This is conceivably closer in travel and is in an area already well-described in many Deadlands sourcebooks. The rail company in my games would be a collection of vampiric plantation owners fallen far from their antebellum prime, and sold their souls to evil to avoid divine punishment in the afterlife for their slave-holding legacy.* They view Stone and the outlaws as a useful tool in expanding their railroads, but found and safeguarded the 13 bullets as an “insurance policy.” That way, I tie in the conflict with Bayou Vermilion in the first adventures back into the later narrative!
*This ties in to how voodoo folklore surrounding zombies was a metaphor for slavery, and how quite a few members of the Southern aristocracy feared they’d go to Hell but were unwilling to dismantle the power structure their families were built upon.
5. Showdown at Diablo Crater
While on a train ride back to Arizona, Old Stone intuitively knows that the PCs got their hands on his 13 bullets and thus hatched a plan. He told his Younger self that he will use a special ritual to protect him from harm and thus collect the ammunition after the do-gooders are killed. To ensure a high body count of enemies, Old Stone used his contacts to send the highest level of warnings to all Agency members to convene in White Sands, New Mexico.
The Agent with No Name and a disguised kill squad will meet the PCs in a train car, informing that they’ve been keeping tabs on them and that a Triple-AAA warning was sent to every Agent in the nearby area. In addition to their help, Padre and five religious gunmen will find the party to lend their aid, even if they aren’t too fond of the Agency. Thanks to Twilight Protocol they’re allowed to operate in Confederate territory and thus the Texas Ranger Elijah Clay may possibly join them.
And that’s not all! The Agency procured a steam-powered wagon and a bonafide steam tank to use against Stone! In addition to the PCs and these 2 vehicles, they’ll have a total of 13 NPC allies along for the ride.
What I’d Change: Barring a few exceptions the allies against Stone feel a bit at odds with the themes of a “personal revenge ride.” The Agency and Order of St. George are large, impersonal secret organizations. I personally feel that it’d be more thematic if the PCs gathered a motley crew of people from all walks of life who suffered from Stone’s Hero Killing. When you go around slaying those who were forces of good in the world, you’re not just affecting the people they saved and inspired, you’re affecting their friends, family, neighbors, anyone who had some kind of attachment to these do-gooders. By all means I wouldn’t mind having a government agency be gunning for him, but a guy like Stone would make a lot of enemies over time.
Young Stone’s waiting for them at Diablo Canyon Crater, a huge landmark in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. He’s standing on top of a rocky outcropping with his own assortment of Laughing Men outlaws, risen dead (stronger versions of zombies as fast and smart as humans and can use guns), and hidden bundles of dynamite to trigger on the main road the PCs and their allies come in on.
Old Stone himself ghosted into a sealed cavern beneath the battlefield-to-be. The part about the ritual was true, but it’s not to counteract Young Stone’s weakness. In fact, he’s planning for Young Stone to die, which is necessary to create a new Heart of Darkness and turn all of Diablo Crater into a Deadland.
This Plot Point is basically one big epic battle. There’s a sidebar of things which Stone may likely do tactics-wise (such as ghosting through the steam tank to slaughter the crew) as well as his minions (take cover behind crags, detonate dynamite when enough people get close, etc). Every person who dies in this battle has their soul physically manifest and pulled underground due to Old Stone’s ritual. The fact that nobody can use Fate Chips due to Stone’s unique ability means that unlucky rolls cannot be rerolled or boosted, nor can damage be soaked in order to lessen the number of wounds. This applies for all participants.
Young Stone will be confident initially, presuming that Old Stone’s ritual protects him from the special bullets, but once that’s proven to not be the case he’ll try running away. The adventure presumes that the PCs will kill him and carries on, narratively speaking, as such. No explanation of where a surviving Young Stone will go to hide, how this will change the next Plot Point, or even what happens if unlucky PCs use up all their ammunition and Stone’s still alive. While Young Stone’s Toughness of 11 is very high for a human, it’s not insurmountable for something like a well-placed rifle or shotgun blast.
After Young Stone dies, he weakly staggers before dropping as his body crumbles to dust. His Colt Dragoon relics also disappear along with him. Then a thunderbolt the likes nobody has seen stretches across the sky! The very landscape violently shudders and morphs into a scene out of a fire-and-brimstone sermon: rocks turn into vague mockeries of skulls and bones, the stormy winds sound like a chorus of screaming souls, and abominations rise from the ground to menace all present. Random encounters are drawn for every 30 minutes until the survivors leave the area.
The death of Old Stone’s younger self may seem like a time paradox in the making, but the adventure has an explanation for that during the final Plot Point.
What I’d Change: I’m not a fan of the whole two Stones thing, even if it’s meant to tie up the loose ends of the metaplot. The fact that there’s a bigger, badder version of the person they seemingly killed still roaming about takes away a bit of the original’s dread and mystique. Not to mention it feels like a robbed victory. I’d change it so that there’s only one Stone, and the 13 bullets weakness was a false rumor deliberately planted by him.
I’d also change it so that he already has a Heart of Darkness; instead of a deserted wasteland over a hundred miles from civilization. the showdown will take place in a populated location. Likely in Tucson or El Paso, and probably holed up in a hotel pretending to be hiding but in fact is performing a ritual to turn the town into a Deadland. The Laughing Men’s dynamite charges will inevitably cause large casualties, and used as a means of distraction against the PCs and their allies.
Finally, the creation of a Deadland in a populated area will noticeably up the stakes than a place nobody ordinarily goes to, for it establishes Stone as a far greater threat than just an undead outlaw who killed your best friends. Historically speaking the body counts of many infamous criminals of the Old West were rather low, a few dozen at most. The destruction of a town of several thousand souls will bring down a nationwide manhunt as the US military* deploys troops into the Southwest to hunt him down along with his outlaw allies.
*In my alt-Deadlands the Confederacy will have fallen.
Thoughts So Far:This is not a strong Plot Point, and I feel that the flaws outweigh the positives. The presence of a much-more skilled NPC presents the Elminster problem: when Wyatt Earp got his reputation as a “roll up your sleeves and do the job yourself” Sheriff, the only way to avoid him showing up the PCs all the time would be to have him mysteriously absent during the many presumed Savage Tales between the first and second main adventures.
The trip to Gettysburg is flawed on many levels. Beyond the whole railroading and interrogation parts, this was nothing more than one big detour to get the PCs to meet the Agency when the bullets were far closer all along. There’s also the fact that Coot fed them bad information, which may shake their trust in the prospector from here on out. Stone’s use of the Heart of Darkness in this Plot Point is more or less confined to desolate wastelands which, while may be practical to avoid bringing down the heat, doesn’t have much bite to it.
Join us next time as we cover the second half of the Plot Point Campaign against Old Stone!
Stone and a Hard Place Plot Point Campaign, Pt 2Original SA post
Stone and a Hard Place Plot Point Campaign, Pt 2
Just when you think that Deadlands did something novel in killing off the BBEG halfway through the main quest, they pull a fast one and get Death’s servant to cheat death* via an alter ego from the future! This second half of the Plot Point centers around preventing Old Stone from using the new Heart of Darkness to create Deadlands all over the place. Oh, and to try stopping his murder spree, but that’ll be doomed to fail.
*I suppose it’s not really cheating when it’s your boss doing you a solid.
6. If Stone Finds You, Pray for Death
Whether a real victory or a Pyrrhic one, the death of Young Stone causes survivors and witnesses to believe that the Deathly Drifter’s down for the count. And Old Stone isn’t exactly keen on tipping his hand so soon, so how will the PCs track him down? Well, if you spent 266 years as the spiritual slave of an undead serial killer, then mutiny would be on your mind too! Old Stone’s manitou was a vicious mortal pirate from the late 1700s by the name of Edmund James Harkness, and is actually the ancestor of one of the PCs. Edmund will use his supernatural powers to send a mixture of telegram messages as well as nearby solid surfaces and dirt spelling out words to said descendent:
STONE HEADED FOR PETRIFIED FOREST STOP HE HAS HEART OF DARKNESS STOP HELL BENT ON RELEASING YEI TSO STOP SAME AS METEOR CRATER STOP DO NOT LET HIM FINISH RITUAL STOP
Always back your family’s play. That’s why you have to help me, amigo.
I was Edmund James Harkness.
Researching this name at a penalty reveals the PCs’ unknown addition to the family tree. Regardless of their revelation, the party now has a new source to feed them information.
Yei Tso is an alien creature that came to Earth via meteor a long time ago. It was a vast protoplasmic monster that could infect and control people like puppets, but the Navajo managed to seal it inside the unearthly rock. It still exerts a subtle influence in the nearby area, and Stone wants to break it out with the Heart of Darkness.
The PCs have the opportunity to learn more about the situation from a group of Navajo braves. If they manage to persuade them of their trustworthiness, they’ll tell them about Stone and help show his tracks, fighting possessed braves and horses along the way. Old Stone’s in the middle of a clearing, up on a rocky outcropping with Heart of Darkness in hand. He needs to hold it to continue the ritual for 13 rounds. The PCs’ major advantages are that Old Stone cannot use both pistols, and merely disarming or distracting him via unstabilizing the outcropping can work. He won’t fight back directly, instead making aimed shots at a rope holding a deadfall trap keeping a Mexican dragon imprisoned, which he hopes will distract the PCs if released.
If the ritual’s stopped or Stone drops the Heart, he’ll grab the gem and make a run for it by ghosting into the rock faces. If he completes the ritual then Yei Tso’s gargantuan slimy mass will burst out of the ground, most drawn into the Heart of Darkness but enough of its ambient consciousness will be around to possess a lot more people. The Petrified Forest will then become another Deadland in Arizona.
What I’d Change: By the end of this Plot Point Campaign, Stone both Old and New will have been encountered a total of 5 times in combat situations. While I’ll say that the BBEG interacts with the party much more than the more distant Servitors in the other Plot Points, having him show up too much removes a lot of the mystique and gradually gives player groups better insight into his stats and tactics and thus more ways of ensuring a pre-climax kill.* I’d consider either skipping or rewriting this adventure to move on to 7, perhaps the PCs going to the Grand Canyon where the Laughing Men’s headquarters are. Killing Stone’s remaining flunkies may not prevent a new Deadland, but it’ll put a dent on his forces.
*Stone Has Stats, He Can Be Killed: Although Old Stone does not have the 13 bullets weakness of his Young self, he can be killed by an Incapacitating head shot from a bullet fired by his own hands. Many gaming groups both Classic and Reloaded have found ways to permadeath Stone over the years, and making a martial artist who can deflect back a bullet is one of the most well-known tactics. And even if not that, finding ways to get around his Ghost power are possible, such as the Ectoplasmic Calcifier Mk II Agency gadget from the Last Sons.
7. Face to Face
Old Stone is not aware yet of how the party managed to find him, but he’s definitely wary enough that he requests the aid of two of the Reckoner’s servants. El Diablo Rojo and El Diablo Negro, an Apache sorcerer and his equally-evil horse, respectively. The pair will stalk the party for the next several encounters and Savage Tales, appearing at inconvenient moments until they’re dealt with.
Coot’s also looking for the PCs. He’s been hard at work himself, and found the location of one of Stone’s old partners-in-crime. Located beneath some Anasazi ruins at an Indian trading post, said bad guy’s a Harrowed by the name of Rex Tremendae. He’s nothing more than a severed head and not every cooperative even if his manitou’s banished. He’ll reveal the location of Stone’s hideout on the Arizona-Mexico border, and will beg for his life to be taken along and promise (false) information about the place to seal the deal. Coot will want to kill Rex to tie up loose ends; this may seem ruthless even for a wicked bastard of former accomplice, but if Rex’s spared then Old Stone will find him and hear about the PCs’ plans.
Stone’s hideout is located in a cave where a village of Navajo were marched to by Spanish forces and gunned down.* Their corpses become possessed by guardian manitous, their empty eyes following the party as they pass into the cave. Stone’s (now Old Stone’s) hideout is behind a sandstone door and chock full of priceless arcane tomes stolen from all over the world. Researching the tomes can reveal that Stone’s planning to use the Heart of Darkness to bind 13 powerful souls, but that the Heart of Light acts as a counter to its ebony counterpart. In addition to thousands of dollars worth of gold, currency, and ghost rock, the major treasure here is (woop-de-doo) the Heart of Light concealed beneath a false brick in the floor! This powerful relic is a flawless fist-sized diamond which grants a bonus on mundane and supernatural healing. It can also be used to cancel the Heart of Darkness’ rituals in progress by performing a continuous holy chant.
Fun Factoid: This sourcebook mentions that the US and Confederacy largely abandoned the American Indian Wars at the Reckoning’s advent, and while the indigenous Americans have a better outcome than IRL this is not exactly the case. The invasion of the Sioux Nations in the Last Sons, combined with the Flying Buffaloes’ terrorism against Apache tribes, indicates that said wars are still going on in places.
By the laws of drama, the huge gargoyle statue overlooking the sanctum will come to life and attack the party! It can teleport in shadows, has a strong claw attack, but due to being made of ghost rock is weak to fire. A Harrowed who counts coup on the monster can gain an hour-long Strength boost when they inhale at least a pound of burning ghost rock vapors.
Coot will part ways with the PCs now, warning them to keep the Heart of Light in a safe place while he does some more investigatin’ into Stone’s unholy plans.
8. God Forgives, Stone Kills
So a funny thing about this part in the Plot Point was that the original version released only to KickStarter backers was poorly received. So poor in fact that it triggered a massive fan backlash, and Pinnacle rewrote the offending entry.
What was it? Well there was a sidebar where Old Stone goes around the Weird West, killing many long-time characters of the setting as well as a few real-world figures to gather the souls for the Heart of Darkness. These include but are not limited to famous US spy Nevada Smith, Tombstone Epitaph reporter Lacy O’Malley, Andrew Lane/Abraham Lincoln*, and Geronimo to name a few. According to this Deadlands Design Diary it was to establish a low point in the series, both marking a clean slate for the future metaplot as well as to establish how dangerous Stone really is. Fans did not have a problem with this in and of itself; the problem was that all of them were killed off-camera, relegated to a mere sidebar with no explanation or opportunity to illustrate how they went down fighting or giving a chance for the PCs to intervene. The sidebar’s still there, but rather than being “this will happen” it offers suggestions on who Old Stone may target and serves as a future springboard for possible Savage Tales.
*Who came back Harrowed and is now the head of the Agency.
Down in Albuquerque Stone ambushes two of Ronan Lynch’s pals and frames the man for the crime. As Lynch is a former Union officer the Confederate military has little qualms in sending forces after the man to arrest him, and Ronan surrenders peacefully where he’ll be hung in Roswell. Old Stone’s manitou will send the PCs a telegraph claiming that Ronan Lynch is innocent, framed by Stone, and that they need to bust him out of prison. As to why the party should care about someone they likely just heard about for the first time in this adventure...er, out of the kindness of their hearts, I guess? That works for heroic parties, but a virtual unknown like Ronan Lynch doesn’t have the same bite as another established NPC in this adventure.
Fun Fact: Deadlands veterans will recognize Ronan Lynch as being the “original PC” of the setting. Not only has he starred as the protagonist in most of the novels, he was also used as the example of creating a character in the Classic corebook. He is a former Union Lieutenant turned Harrowed who continually sought a more peaceful life, but trouble always managed to keep up with him.
Lynch has already been tried by a military tribunal and will be sentenced to death by hanging. The prison is guarded by 53 Confederate soldiers and a captain, and oddly enough Lynch is nonplussed about his sentence on account that he’s a Harrowed and can just dig himself out of a grave later. PCs with the right social skills and connections may get an opportunity to talk to him in his jail cell or attend the hanging. But no matter their plans Old Stone will crash the party:
All the air exits your lungs as Stone moseys into view—tall, whip-thin, hat and duster silhouetted by the rising sun. His grayish fingers flick back his hat’s brim, and through squinted eyes he scans the scene.
Stone’s voice creaks as low and dangerous as an old barn door at midnight. “Lookee who it is,” he says. “You must’ve got my telegraph. Well, here’s how it’s gonna go. Give me the gemstone you stole...and I’ll consider sparin’ your lives.”
Spying movement, you glance down to see words appearing in the dirt at your feet: YOU BETTER RUN, AMIGO.
Stone shouts, “I told you to stop that, worm!”
At this point Old Stone will start shooting everyone in sight, and will run after the PCs and Lynch. His Marty Stu stats and ungodly skills means that he can follow them for days. So Ronan Lynch will make a noble sacrifice by challenging Old Stone to a duel to buy some time.
Statwise he’s an amazing Harrowed: d10 to d12 in all attributes, peerless d12 Fighting and d12+2 Shooting, the highest Grit rating of 7 in the game, and a heaping helping of combat edges to boot. But that won’t matter for long as he won’t be able to actually wound Old Stone and will have his soul sucked into the Big Bad Gem. The PCs will get to control him in combat, though.
What I’d Change: A lot, for one. Ronan Lynch’s mug is not going to be recognized by gaming groups who aren’t Classic aficionados, and the whole “break the guy out of jail only for him to die anyway” apes Plot Point 4’s feeling of useless progression while also showing off yet another super-charged NPC to swoop in and save the day, so to speak. Chances are if I got this far in running a theoretical game, I’ve have also replaced this adventure with another of its kind. As for what that replacement Plot Point would be, I don’t know yet; I’m reviewing an adventure, not writing one!
9. Between Stone and a Hard Place
At this point Death sends more of his minions after the PCs. Los Diablos, specifically. These literal bulls from Hell are a fixture in Deadlands, being much the same role as Stone in hunting down PCs of sufficient fame and experience. But they’re statted up and thus able to be fought. There is one of them per PC, and each one is keyed to a specific hero and thus only able to be harmed by them and them alone. These bovines appeared before the final adventure of Good Intentions as well, serving the same role.
But when it’s time for the cows to go home and the PCs to play with the big boys, Coot catches up to them again. He has news that Stone’s headed to Death Valley, California to conduct a ritual to absorb all the souls he’s collected and become night invulnerable.* He also found an ancient piece of parchment detailing an incantation while holding the Heart of Light. Coot promises to meet up with them later at Death Valley, and they have enough time to gather any surviving allies to ride with them to the final encounter.
*I can see a perceptive PC point out that he already is.
Death Valley itself is at Fear level 5 and already one step away from being a Deadland. In addition to deadly heat and creepy salt formations at its lowest basin, it has manifestations of the party’s collective worst nightmares...and Pogo Joe!
Pogo Man posted:
Borax miner Pogo Joe—made famous by the Epitaph years ago—hops into view on his ghost-rock–powered drill. It looks like a jackhammer, except the operator rides it like a giant, shrieking pogo stick. As Joe rides closer, his skeletal face resolves. Now it’s clear that the pogo contraption isn’t screaming—it’s Joe! The apparition pogoes past without taking notice of the group, but seeing it provokes a Fear check (at –5 for the location).
There’s no way this can be run in my gaming circles without the players bursting into laughter. But on the other hand it’s in keeping with the whole depowering theme, as the idea of PCs being scared out of their wits from this after all they’ve encountered before is rather ludicrous.
After fighting an undead squad of Black Riders who are some of the Reckoners’ handpicked cavalry, the PCs will advance across the salt flats to Old Stone’s location. And where else would be be than on a rocky outcropping? He whips out the Heart of Darkness from a gunny sack, and the refracted light creates a nauseating sensation as the very sky becomes full of thundering storm clouds from out of nowhere. The final battle begins!
Old Stone is joined by desiccated dead (manitou inhabiting parched corpses) and Risen Dead zombies who outnumber the party. In order to stop Old Stone’s ritual a PC must make a Smarts roll at -2 to perform a mystic chant, and other PCs can fill in to continue the chant in the event of their death or incapacitation. Whoever’s performing this chant is nigh-defenseless with a 2 Parry (roll a 2 or higher to hit them in melee).
But the PCs (and their allies) are not alone. After the third round of combat Coot Jenkins and a small squad of Harrowed gunslingers will dramatically appear on a nearby cliff lit up by lightning to join the fight.
Now, you might be wondering how the party’s supposed to kill Old Stone. Even if the ritual fails, he’s still effectively an undead Terminator. Well, remember that time paradox avoidance I mentioned back in Plot Point 5?
Up on Stone’s altar, ghostly forms fade into view, floating all around him—all the heroes he’s slain. Then someone familiar appears...Stone himself! The Deathly Drifter tumbles down the slope, entirely solid but seemingly lifeless.
Yeah, the writers pulled a Deus Ex Machina to not only protect their precious god-tier NPC, they also came up with a way to allow for the “death by one’s own hand” rule.
After the Heart of Light gathers enough power, it causes the energy from the Heart of Darkness to send the souls passing through to the opening dimensional rift in the sky that leads to the Hunting Grounds. The black gemstone in Old Stone’s hand explodes, and he screams in rage.
At this point Young Stone wakes up and informs the PCs on his other weakness:
“That sorry bastard can only die by his own hand,” Stone grates. “And I’m plumb tuckered out. So it’s up to you now, amigos.”
Stone turns a pistol toward his left wrist—BLAM! One Colt Dragoon falls at your feet, with Stone’s stone-cold left hand blown clean off and still gripping the handle.
Young Stone ghosts away to roam the Weird West once more. A PC can pick up the now-detached hand and use it to fire the gun clenched within. If Old Stone is shot in the head while Incapacitated or does enough damage to do the same, then he will be dead for good!
Victory causes his manitou, Captain Harkness, to depart the body and give a respectful look at his descendant as he ascends into the rift. As for Coot, well he and his Harrowed army have plans of their own:
Ending Text posted:
“You youngsters done real good. As for us, we’ve got a date with the Reckoners. And time’s a-wastin’.” Coot and his Harrowed army climb the rocks to the swirling rip in reality. One by one they step through, until only Coot remains. He raises his shotgun in salute, then steps into the rift. It closes as though it were never there, and silence falls over Death Valley.
I am not well-read on the Hell on Earth future, but I believe that Coot used the rift to go there.
Fun Fact: This final adventure also underwent a major revision by writers after fan outcry. According to this Reddit post it was anticlimactic in that the PCs get killed by Stone without any means of resistance. I do not know if it’s Old Stone and thus an unwinnable battle, or by Young Stone once they kill his older self.
Both ways suck hard, and I’m glad that at least the final showdown was a proper fight.
Thoughts So Far: I ran the Flood, and I could see myself running Good Intentions and Last Sons with some changes, but I honestly cannot see myself running Stone and a Hard Place. Of the four Reckoner Plot Points, this is my least favorite. Time and time again there are events and characters which make the PCs feel like bumbling incompetents, and there’s just not a lot of variety in the encounters. Fighting outlaws, fighting Stone, fighting undead here and there. It just feels like it’s...lacking variety in comparison to the other Plot Points. Good Intentions at least had a novel and interesting enough setting along with various factions to spice things up.
One thing I’m confused over is how this squares up with the Deadlands timeline and metaplot. On the one hand, this adventure hints and spells out in the final Plot Point that a PC loss will cause Stone to virtually ensure Hell on Earth. Given that going back in time via a Reckoner-created portal is a one-time thing, I’d presume that winning this adventure averts Deadlands’ post-apocalyptic future.
I cannot recall where, but the writers stated that this was the default metaplot timeline, and the survival of a resurrected Young Stone points to this. But in that case, that would mean that this adventure was all for naught. Not only is the very person they sought to avenge Earps’ and Holliday’s deaths on is revived and walking, the Hell on Earth that Old Stone wanted to jumpstart will still come eventually in 2081. This plot point’s resolution and time travel shenanigans leave me confused more than anything.
Join us next time as we cover this Plot Point’s Savage Tales!
Savage TalesOriginal SA post
Hoo boy, this is not going to be a fun chapter for me to write. To explain why, Savage Tales are a Plot Point Campaign’s equivalent of sidequests, things tangential to the story but pad out the core spine of the campaign. The Flood and the Last Sons were rich with a healthy variety of Tales, ranging from detailed investigations to straightforward shoot-em-ups to combat-lite social role-play to even mini-arcs and Mass Combat skirmishes. Good Intentions had the smallest amount, but the KickStarter for that campaign released 4 full side adventures to bolster the existing content.
Stone and a Hard Place has 14 Savage Tales. In spite of the quote that some “set up an interesting situation with enough complications to sustain a few hours’ play,” most cannot even be called quests. They are the tabletop equivalent of individual random encounters or MMO fetch quests: you receive word of some monster/outlaw/etc causing trouble, the PCs go to a location, fight them in the form of a single encounter, and resolve the quest. No hostage situations forcing a subtle approach, no murder mysteries or pseudo-dungeon crawls in creepy mines, no skirmishes between larger groups.
Aces Low: A big poker tournament in Tombstone has a $5,000 prize. Sponsored by the Lady Luck Society based out of Shan Fan, it is drawing in lots of eyes (and money) and the PCs have the chance to enter as contestants or merely provide security. If taking place before Plot Point 2, Doc Holliday will throw his hat into the ring as well.
This is no mere poker tournament. Behind the scenes the Lady Luck Society is an organization of hucksters formed by the famed Edmund Hoyle of Hoyle’s Book of Games. In the world of Deadlands he was the original huckster, weaving secret messages into his works detailing how one can draw power from manitous via spiritual games of chance. The Society is thus a means of acting as a network for fellow hucksters as well as finding talent to fight agents of the Reckoning. But they are opposed by the Court, an evil organization of hucksters operating out of New Orleans who derive power and influence from the Reckoners. And one of the Court’s assassins is on a mission to assassinate Lady Evangeline Boyet, an influential member of the Lady Luck Society attending the poker tournament.
The tournament itself is resolved via several skill checks over a period of two days, along with NPC Notice rolls to find hidden cards and cheating mechanisms. In order to win, a PC must accumulate 5 or more successes on Gambling rolls at -2 penalties per day. During this time characters have the opportunity to socialize with other contestants and learn about the barrels of extremely volatile condemned whiskey sitting in the storeroom. The Court’s assassins are known as Aces, living humans who made pacts with manitous to gain the benefits of being Harrowed with none of the downsides and also are practically invisible to most people. The Ace will try to assassinate Lady Boyet at night by breaking into her room and shooting her in the head. He will try again the next day if foiled, and if possible he will attempt to detonate the condemned whiskey with gunshots to cover his escape unless the PCs find a means to use it against him first.
This Savage Tale has a lot going for it. Two cool new secret societies, multiple “win” conditions in saving Lady Boyet or winning the poker tourney, clues and environmental obstacles are taken into account, and minor differences happen based on when the Savage Tale’s undertaken during the Plot Point Campaign. This makes it all the more bizarre when you compare it to the following Savage Tales which come nowhere close to this one’s quality.
A Lonely Place to Die A Lonely Place to Die starts by investigating the mysterious disappearance of famed Texas Ranger Hank Ketchum. To do this, the PCs must roll a series of Tracking rolls in a rockslide-prone canyon. His corpse has been shot through the heart, his badge is missing, and the killer’s tracks lead directly into a solid wall of rock with no evidence of climbing. These are all common calling cards of Stone. Besides natural disasters this Savage Tale is more of a premonition of things to come, given it’s expected to be done early in the Plot Point Campaign.
Fangs o’ the Range: While near Potential a rancher hires the party to investigate the mysterious attacks on their livestock along with the disappearance of two ranch hands. Investigation and some night-time tracking reveals that said former ranch hands are responsible, having become vampires and subsisting on the blood of cattle to survive. A cave contains a pair of corpses, one freshly drained of blood and the other a dry husk staked through the heart. The vampires will claim innocence, having broken free of the vampire who kidnapped and controlled them. It is up to the PCs what they do with this information and how merciful they are.
This is the second time I’ve seen non-evil vampires in these Plot Point Campaigns. The other was in Last Sons’ Thorn o’ the Rose Savage Tale.
Encounter Quests: the Savage Tales I dub as such would be me repeating myself but with minor variations on the location in quests and enemies fought. They include hair-raising adventures such as tracking down and fighting giant snakes menacing soldiers by a river, tracking down and fighting blood-sucking plants menacing now-dead prospectors, tracking down and fighting ghostly Conquistadors menacing people carrying silver, driving off zombies set loose in Railhead, drawing cards for random encounters to help Confederate soldiers find and repair downed telegraph lines, tracking down and killing feral camels abandoned by US soldiers, and tracking down and killing Bayou Vermilion soldiers starting trouble on Navajo land. Without exception they are singular fights with no elaboration beyond this, effectively being the video game equivalent of an RNG encounter. The undead Conquistadores and feral camels sound cool in and of themselves, but the structure of the Savage Tales robs them of a unique opportunity.
Graveyard Nights: This is not so much a task given by an NPC or followed up on rumors, but a location in and of itself. Graveyard is Bayou Vermilion’s fortified underground sanctum where a huge portion of its zombie laborers are stored away from prying eyes. It is presumed that parties who want to take the fight to the rail company will at some point hit them where it hurts, so we get a small page map of the complex, a small random encounter table, a list of total rail warriors (28) and undead laborers (90) along with descriptions of four major rooms.
Although not as detailed as I’d like for an “evil villain base” quest, in comparison to the rest of the Savage Tales it’s one of the better ones.
House o’ the Beast: The party comes across an abandoned sandstone saloon during their travels. A successful Streetwise roll makes a PC recall a folktale of a guy named Jack challenging the Devil to a drinking contest. The former won on account of spiking the whiskey with holy water, and as part of the winning condition Jack forbade the Devil from leaving the saloon until he won another drinking contest.
The story’s true, to a point. The hellspawn is not Ol’ Scratch but merely a powerful demon. He’ll be in a human disguise trying to trick PCs into doing a drinking contest.
There’s no special reward or treasure for taking care of the demon, and while it cannot leave it can attack characters outside the saloon with ranged magic.
The Insect People: While serving as deputies for the Earps in Tombstone, local ranchers call for help as their land’s been overrun by gigantic spiders known as terrantulas. One of the ranchers will explain that she saw “insect people” clad in metal caps and overcoats driving the monsters onto the ranch with hoses shooting liquid flame.
The “insect people” in question are Bayou Vermilion rail warriors equipped with masks and flamethrowers. They’re clearing out land around their main undead sanctum of Graveyard of dangerous creatures. They will try to kill the PCs to preserve this secret, and interrogation or tracking their footprints will reveal the location of their heavily-defended headquarters.
Wages o’ Death: This is the over Savage Tale I like besides Aces Low. A mine near Potential is burning out of control from a gas explosion, and the only way to cap the mine on such short notice is a shipment of wagons full of nitroglycerin! Due to the dangers involved a mining company’s offering drivers $1,000 each per wagon delivered. This is a two-day race across the Wild Southwest at a brisk pace, and the dangers include extreme winds, flash floods, and vengeful people denied the job who seek to kill and replace the drivers! And yes, failing a Driving roll will result in a huge explosion in a 25 hex (50 yard) radius!
Thoughts So Far: I liked Aces Low and Wages o’ Death, but cannot speak well of the rest. Of all of the Reckoner Series products, Stone’s Savage Tales are by far the worst, and any changes or revisions I can apply to most of them would be better served mining other Deadlands products for short adventures to fill out the interim Plot Points.
Join us next time as we cover the final chapter of Stone and a Hard Place, detailing new monsters and NPCs!
EncountersOriginal SA post
Although a running theme in the Reckoner Series, this chapter’s title is a bit misleading in that it’s less about encounters and more a bestiary of NPCs and monsters. We have three categories, detailing monsters, generic human NPCs, and named NPCs not covered in the previous Plot Points or Savage Tales. Characters and creatures that are Wild Cards are marked in the book with a Sheriff’s star to indicate their special non-Mook status. Relevant entries will be marked with (WC).
Black Rider (WC): These skeletal cowled beings are the Reckoner’s “first wave” of monsters they sent to Earth. They are quite literally undead cavalry, with six-guns that never need reloading and are immune to all attacks besides blessed weapons. They are always attached to their spectral mount, which allows them to move quickly.
Bloodwire Man (WC): Bloodwire men are what happens when carnivorous plants known as bloodwires feed on a corpse when both are in close proximity to ghost rock veins. The resulting abomination is a shambling undead covered in thorny growths. It is a very strong monster and has an assortment of melee edges such as Block and Improved Frenzy.
Conquistador Ghost: During Spanish colonization of the Americas, a group of three conquistadors enslaved a tribe of Indians to work a silver mine. A slave uprising resulted in the oppressors being buried in their own mines, and their spirits still walk the earth due to a curse. They’re on a never-ending quest to find the “thieves” who stole their silver and thus attack all travelers carrying that precious substance on their person.
Dessicated Dead: Sometimes a manitou doesn’t have a prime corpse to possess, so dessicated dead are what happens when they take control of a withered body which died of heat exposure. They are frail, spry things by undead standards who are weak to fire and headshots.
Doom Locust Swarm: These supernatural locusts do not ravage crops and plants, instead preferring living, breathing flesh! They use the swarm profile in Savage Worlds but can fly as fast as a human can run and deals more damage than the base swarm attacks.
El Diablo Negro (WC): This unique monster takes the shape of a black horse with a hankering for horse meat and human flesh. It’s a super-fast monster whose kick is a Heavy Weapon, meaning it can damage massive creatures and heavily-armored machines. Its whinny causes mundane animals in an AoE burst to automatically panic, perfect for making horses frightfully buck riders off their backs!
El Diablo Rojo (WC): The mounted partner of El Diablo Negro is an immortal Apache sorcerer who directly serves the Reckoners and has an equally-acquired taste for human flesh. Statwise he’s a battlemage, with a specialty in melee and defensive edges along with a variety of offensive Black Magic powers.
Feral Camel: After the Mexican-American War the United States figured that camels from the Middle East would serve as useful mounts in the arid Southwestern deserts. The experiment was a success, but the ensuing Civil War forced the government to abandon the program and the humpbacked mounts were released into the wilds. The Reckoners transformed quite a few into carnivorous monsters twice as surly as the average member of its species. Statwise they have a tough bite and kick attacks, have high resistance to desert-based heat and weather, but otherwise have nothing else special.
Mexican Dragon: Minus the wings this creature meets all the qualifications of a fire-breathing giant lizard. They’re native to Mexico with a few in the Southwest. They are large hardy creatures with AoE fire breaths and sweeping tail attacks, and they ignore wound-related penalties when resisting Incapacitation or death.
Risen Dead: Stone possesses the Unholy Host ability, a Legendary rank Harrowed edge which allows one to turn corpses into undead minions. But Stone’s zombies are special: these are even tougher versions of the typical specimen, as fast, limber, and smart as humans with the Marskman edge and d10 Shooting, making them accomplished gunslingers!
Scythe Beetle: These highly dangerous insects are native to the Grand Canyon. The size of a small dog, they possess pincers which can force a person off-balance and fly five times as fast as a human can run.
Sickle Beetler Swarm: These are swarms of immature scythe beetles, who can fly faster than a horse and deal an automatic 2d6 swarm damage rather than the base swarm template’s 2d4.
This section covers one reprinted stat block (the Outlaw) and 2 new ones to represent a variety of common NPC archetypes in Stone and a Hard Place.
Harrowed (WC): This represents the average Harrowed, be they enemy gunslingers or the ones part of Coot’s private army. They are tough combatants with 8 Toughness and a d10 Shooting, but a surprisingly average d6 Fighting. Their few edges tend to a mixture of defensive (Danger Sense, Stitchin’) or offensive (Marksman).
Outlaw: These represent all manner of armed criminals who loot and plunder the Weird West. They have slightly above-average physical skills and stats, and their only edge is Quick Draw. The old gunslinger adage holds true: you’re either quick, or you’re dead.
Veteran Outlaw: These are the rare few black hats smart and mean enough to make crime a long-term occupation. They have above-average d8s in all attributes save Smarts, have a host of skills their normal counterparts don’t have (Intimidation, Notice, Riding d6 to d8), and have more combat edges than just Quick Draw.
This is not a picture from the book, but a promo art piece for a cancelled Deadlands TV series.
A few of these NPCs had stat blocks in the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook, such as Wyatt Earp. These are not repeats, but updated versions reflecting their improved skills as the metaplot timeline moves from 1879 to 1881. Without exception, all of the following characters are Wild Cards. I will not repeat the stat blocks of NPCs whose mechanics I already covered in the prior chapters, such as Wyatt Earp and Ronan Lynch.
Curly Bill Brocius: One of the Cowboy Gang’s most renowned members was reported killed in a duel with fellow member Jim Wallace. He came back Harrowed, causing the newspapers to retract their stories; only thing is, they don’t realize how right they were. Curly Bill’s a very tough Harrowed whose main weapons are a double-action pistol and claws, and he has some utility Harrowed edges such as Speak with the Dead and Trackin’ Teeth.
Elijah Clay: Clay’s the Texas Ranger assigned to oversee Cochise County. He focuses on exposing and thwarting the various crimes of Bayou Vermilion, and although he may seem outgunned due to the “one riot, one ranger” mantra his stats more than make up for it. He’s a Harrowed with several Heroic tier abilities such as Improved Hip Shooting and Ghost, and he has edges to ensure he acts first in combat such as Improved Level Headed and Quick Draw.
Padre Ernesto de Díaz: The highest-ranking member of the Order of St. George keeps a low profile on account of being a big stick in the Reckoners’ collective craws. He’s a Blessed but in spite of the Cackler metaplot update he’s built as a pre-Cackler Blessed. This means that he does not use Power Points or is limited by powers known. He is oddly not very combat-focused, with the Pacifist hindrance and a double-barreled shotgun but no skill in Shooting to back it up. His highest-ranked skills are tied up in Faith and various Knowledges, with the rest at d6 to d8.
Alexander Graves: Alexander Graves is a hexslinging bounty hunter who surpassed his teacher Doc Holliday, and with a surfeit of Legendary edges and d12+1 in Hexslinging and d12 Shooting he’s built like an end-game NPC of said arcane background. His powers focus around boosting his already great gunplay, and he has a healthy mixture of combat edges.
Coot Jenkins: Coot is perhaps the only long-time metaplot NPC in this book who is down to earth in his abilities. He has a high Smarts and Spirit at d10, and his d12 Guts and 6 Grit make him hardened to all but the worst horrors of the Weird West. But in regards to physical and combat talents he’s rather meager, with a carried Gatling shotgun and two edges specializing in rerolling damage and negating recoil. This makes him “DPS focused” for lack of a better term when it comes time to duel at high noon.
Adam LeChetelier: Baron LaCroix may be the owner of Bayou Vermilion, but in the Southwest LeChetelier is the head honcho of said company’s regional affairs. Statwise he’s a Blessed with the Voodoo edge, which is strange on account that said Arcane Background is the “paladin class” of Deadlands. LaCroix and other Bayou voodooists are Reckoner-infused Black Mages, marking them chiefly in “bad guy” territory. Besides that, LeChetelier does not have much in the way of combat skills beyond what Miracles his arcane background can call down, preferring to let rail warriors and zombies do the rough stuff.
Johnny Ringo: For a bloodthirsty outlaw Ringo is quite high-falutin’. He is fond of quoting poetry and Latin phrases even as he’s filling screaming victims with lead. Statwise he has above-average attributes and skills mostly d8, but his Shooting is great at d12+1. He can also dual-wield one-handed weapons, and does so with single-action Peacemaker pistols when he’s not fanning the hammer with Improved Hip Shooting.
“Chuckles” Ryan: He still likes to pretend to be the leader of the Laughing Man gang, but everyone knows he now takes orders from Stone. Fortunately the ruthless Harrowed’s orders have worked out for everyone so far, so he’s not complaining. Statwise Ryan is notable for fighting with a Gatling pistol rather than a traditional six-shooter, and he’s also a Harrowed to boot but doesn’t have many of said archetype’s edges. His Followers and Danger Sense edges make up for being untrained in Notice as he’s rarely alone.
Steven Satan: Steven used to be yet another run-of-the-mill outlaw, but when a robbery victim referred to him as “the Devil’s own son” he came up with a new name for himself and his gang. Over time he’s come to believe his own hype. Statwise he’s a pretty tough gunslinger, with Duelist, Quick, and Quick Draw to ensure that he shoots first often, and Combat Reflexes and Hard to Kill make it harder to stun or put him down for good.
Old Stone: Everything I said about Young Stone’s statblock is equally applicable to Old Stone, save that the 266-year-old has higher mental and social attributes and skills, including a few new ones such as Knowledge (Battle) d12+2. He’s also got a lot more Harrowed edges. In fact, he’s got every single one in this book! Also notable is that he’s no longer weak to the 13 bullets which brought him down at Gettysburg, and the sourcebook never explains why.
Concluding Thoughts: Stone and a Hard Place rates far below the other three Plot Points in the Reckoner Series; even the thematically-confused Last Sons had enough going in the sheer amount of material provided. I was hoping that this one would be special on account that the main villain is perhaps the most iconic one in the setting. The odd thing is that while I do see fellow critics here and there, I’ve seen quite a few Savage Worlds players love it, some even going so far as to rate it the best of the Reckoner Series. I cannot see what they like in it, and I wish I could. The fan backlash in regards to the offscreen killings and anti-climactic ending definitely shown that this sourcebook needed some polish, but the revisions did not go far enough.
The fact that Good Intentions was far better gives me hope, but after looking back on the four Reckoner Series I do feel that Shane Lacy Hensley and Matthew Cutter’s writing styles have some flaws in need of improvement, such as telling over showing in regards to the Reckoning.
I am debating whether to review Coffin Rock next, or take a prolonged break. Although a small 32 page adventure in comparison, it does many things right and although published in 2008 I regard it as having the best qualities that make Deadlands Deadlands.