Deadlands: The Flood by Libertad!
IntroductionOriginal SA post
Aaaah, good ol’ Deadlands. A Wild Western Horror RPG still going strong 20 years later. Like many games written in the 90s it suffered from a case of metaplot, but it had one of such length and scope that it would make even White Wolf blush. To this day the the writers still have an unfolding narrative playing out, and their newer releases are no exception. However, it often had much of the worst aspects of White Wolf-style “narrative stories” where the PCs are little more than audience members watching NPCs do all the cool stuff.
This was not to everyone’s taste, and around 2006 Deadlands received an upgrade to Pinnacle Entertainment’s Savage Worlds system. One of the big projects for this line was the creation of 4 massive adventures, each one centered on a major villain in the setting and their subsequent fall from power. But unlike the Classic adventures the PCs would be instrumental in these endeavors.
Known among fans as the Reckoner Series, these adventures are Point Point Campaigns or PPC for short. A Plot Point Campaign is Savage Worlds’ equivalent to a Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder adventure path but usually more sandbox than linear in style. A PPC has a single main questline whose adventures are known as Plot Points, while side quests and other optional content are known as Savage Tales and bulk up the skeleton of said Plot Points. Savage Tales are locations and adventure hooks which can either be ready from the get-go, or are unlocked upon the completion of an appropriate Plot Point or another Savage Tale. To use a video game analogy, it is sort of akin to a Bioware or Bethesda style RPG where main quest is overall short or medium in length, but the supplementary content really fills out the campaign.
Artwork for the French version of Deadlands, portraying the villains in all their glory
The Flood is the first of such sourcebooks, set in California where the blasphemous Church of Lost Angels seeks to plunge the West Coast into a blasted hellscape of Famine and cannibalism. The Flood’s theme is one of desperation: of communities driven impoverished by the cult’s stranglehold of food supplies; of miners’ and prospectors’ mad rush for the miracle fuel known as ghost rock found in pockets along California’s earthquake shattered coasts; and the fractured terrain of California being fought over by various political factions many of whom do not have the common folk’s interests at heart. This is the Plot Point Campaign we’ll be covering for our current Let’s Read.
The Last Sons centers around War and its chief villain is Raven. It centers around said villain’s Order of the Raven, a group of outcast Native Americans eager to take revenge upon the white man by making pacts with evil spirits and washing all of North America in a metaphorical tidal wave of blood. What begins with the discovery of an illegal ghost rock mining operation in the Sioux Nation’s Black Hills turns into an invasion of said nation by renegade US soldiers gathering under General Custer’s vengeance-driven battle cry. Traveling through the Disputed Territories of the US and Confederacy and even into the Hunting Grounds themselves, the heroes gradually uncover Raven’s plot and hopefully put a stop to it before the Sioux Nation and other lands become destroyed.
The Last Sons is notable for being the Plot Point largest in scope, a 337 page magnum opus in comparison to the Flood’s 192 pages, or Stone and Good Intentions’ 160 pages each. It has a rather novel approach in encouraging players to make Native American PCs, or least ones sympathetic to said groups’ autonomy and resistance against colonialism. Its execution is a bit...scattered, although I’ll cover that more in detail when I get around to it as its own Let’s Read.
Stone and a Hard Place covers Deadlands’ most iconic villain, Jasper Stone, and the trail of Death he leaves in his wake. Taking place in the American Southwest it is perhaps the most iconically Western of the Plot Points.* It starts out in the town of Tombstone, Arizona where the PCs befriend notable figures such as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, but after Stone rolls into town it turns into a classic tale of revenge and the hunter becoming the hunted (and then hunter again) as the party desperately finds a way to kill someone who is essentially an undead Anton Chigurh.
Good Intentions is the final Plot Point Campaign, set in the Pestilence-choked steampunk nightmare of Salt Lake City. Dr. Darius Hellstromme is the main antagonist, a ruthless businessman whose ingenious devices sent the Mormon state of Deseret kicking and screaming into an advanced age of New Science. Unlike the previous Plot Points it has a central city location and takes place entirely within the confines of Utah/Deseret. This adventure some heavy steampunk and spy themes, as rival mad science companies, foreign agents, and the LDS Church and their Danite enforcers all seek Hellstromme’s secrets for their own purposes.
Some Backstory on the Metaplot:
In the world of Deadlands, magic and monsters were widespread and wreaked terror on mortals. The four horsemen of the apocalypse from Biblical lore exist and are known as the Reckoners. But instead of being righteous heralds of God’s will they are wicked entities who seek to plunge the world into a literal Hell on Earth. They were sealed away by a group of Native American shamans known as the Old Ones, and along with them the supernatural in general.
But this would not last. A Susquehannock Indian known as Raven was the sole survivor of genocide whose tribe, already decimated by disease, [url= https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paxton_Boys]were slaughtered by white settlers in the mid-1700s*.[/url] Filled with rage and hearing many similar tales from various tribes, he gathered a small army known as the Last Sons. They ventured around North America, accumulating knowledge of sacred spaces and rituals while gaining power from forbidden magic to extend his own lifespan. Raven was willing to do anything to get revenge and prevent white domination of the continent, including tearing a hole into the spirit world and freeing the Reckoners.
On July 3rd, 1863, the dead rose on the Battle of Gettysburg. They indiscriminately slaughtered soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line and inadvertently turned the Civil War in the Confederacy’s favor who maintained their independence in the Deadlands timeline. This was but the first taste of stranger things to come, as the collected fears of humanity’s imagination were unleashed into the world. The Reckoner of War claimed Raven as his champion, and the other three Horsemen found their own representatives to hold dominion over certain regions of the North American continent. There’s mention that the rest of the world has been affected by the Reckoner’s release, but for their own reasons they find the American West an ideal staging ground for their plans.
The Tombstone Epitaph’s Guide to California
The first few chapters of the Flood are player-friendly facing sections [url= https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/.../TheFloodPG.pdf]which are also available as a free PDF on the Pinnacle site.[/url] The first one is an in-character newspaper handout by the [url= https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tombstone_Epitaph]Tombstone Epitaph,[/url] whose editors are in the know about many conspiracies and supernatural goings-on. The outlandish nature of their reports cause the paper to be dismissed by many as yellow journalism, while the Union and Confederate governments have yet to quash them on account of not wanting to give them a greater sense of credibility (along with the whole freedom of the press thing).
For a general overview, the City of Lost Angels is the most prominent port town on the West Coast and is home to a motherload of ghost rock deposits. This miracle fuel burns hotter and longer than coal and acts as Deadlands’ all-purpose mad science phlebotinum. There’s a huge rush among the big-time rail barons to build the first transcontinental railroad to Lost Angels since both the United States and Confederacy offered some sweet deals to the first company who can do this. Industrial sabotage, dynamiting of rail depots and train tracks, and good ol-fashioned banditry between barons christened what is known as the Great Rail Wars. The winner is uncertain, but will be determined rather early on in the Flood campaign.
It’s not just business oligarchs who are stirring up trouble. In spite of being claimed by the United States in 1850, the overall remoteness and lawlessness means that small settlements and cities alike are more or less autonomous and the Sacramento-based Union soldiers are stretched thin. The Confederacy established an outpost in Shannonsburg with cheap goods to attract travelers. Mexico, whose liberal government was successfully overthrown and replaced with a French-backed monarchy in this alt-history timeline, is still smarting from the Mexican-American War and is building up a huge fleet to annex California.
As for the City of Lost Angels, they’re not a fan of any of the above nations. A theocratic dictatorship ruled by Reverend Grimme, Lost Angels declared itself an autonomous city-state in 1877. Although it’s common knowledge that the Angels are a brutal and intolerant lot, they manage to win over more than a few converts throughout California and beyond on account of their ample access to food supplies, especially meat of dubious origin. During 1868 an earthquake of unseen proportions busted up California’s entire western sea coast, demolishing countless fertile farmland and replacing it with ghost rock-rich mesas separated by water-filled channels now known as the Great Maze. In fact, attempts at producing and shipping food anywhere in the West Coast is strangely difficult, with mysterious spoilages and wagon trains getting lost along the way. Goods in general costs five times as much here as elsewhere in the West.
The Epitaph goes into brief detail over what types of people live in California and why they come here. Overall it’s a very diverse place, although the different races don’t necessarily live side-by-side. Settlers from the East and immigrants from China flock to the Great Maze to mine for gold and ghost rock to send the proceeds back home to their families (or keep it for themselves), along with Mexicans both coming back as soldiers and those who continued living there post-1848. There are some Native American tribes here and there, although the largest tribes banded together in a political unit known as the Necessity Alliance detailed later in the book.
Finally, the Epitaph lists several Strange Locales and rumors surrounding them. It includes the City of Lost Angels which is a creepy circular settlement where red-robed police known as Guardian Angels patrol. Its huge central cathedral hosts weekly banquets, but only for those not shunned by the community, while the rival port of Shan Fan is the largest Chinese immigrant community in the Weird West. Less unified than Lost Angels, it is controlled by rival factions of Triad gangsters with a high turnover rate.
The Flood contains additional options for Player Characters beyond the Deadlands core rules. Each of the four Reckoner Plot Points is strongly themed around iconic arcane backgrounds and archetypes, and in the Flood’s case we receive a lot of material for chi-wielding martial artists.
For those unfamiliar with Deadlands’ magic system, there are a variety of supernatural powers. The Blessed are holy men and women who receive miracles from their religion’s Almighty, Hucksters are silver-tongued cardsharps who receive their powers from playing spiritual poker duels with evil spirits known as manitou, Shamans commune with the spirits of the land, and Mad Scientists receive visions from manitou to build strange ghost rock-powered gizmos. The Enlightened, or martial artists or chi masters, regulate the flow of energy known as chi from the Hunting Grounds (Deadlands’ all-purpose spirit world) to perform amazing physical feats.
We get a new hindrance called The Cup Overflows, which causes all of your chi powers to be obviously supernatural in nature. As many Enlightened powers aren’t normally noticeable by default (especially the self-buffing kind), this makes it harder to conceal your abilities from frightened townsfolk. And you’ll have to deal with rival martial artists seeking to take you down and prove their skill.
We have six new Edges, Savage Worlds’ equivalent to D&D feats, for Enlightened. Celestial Kung Fu is an enhanced version of Superior Kung Fu from the Deadlands Player’s Guide. They cover a variety of real-world martial arts styles which grant specific benefits, from Wing Chun (bonus unarmed attack) to less-obvious names such as Monkey (bonus on Agility tricks and Taunt skill rolls). Celestial Kung Fu either increases existing bonuses for Superior Kung Fu or adds a second benefit for the fighting style. Some of the interesting ones include Mantis (discard and redraw cards of 8 or lower in the initiative deck) and Tai Chi (opponents are knocked back 1d6 hexes [6 to 36 feet] per success and raise on your Fighting roll).
Chi Focus allows you to substitute your Spirit in lieu of Strength to determine damage in hand-to-hand combat. Feet of Fury can be taken more than once and each time grants you a specific special attack: a foot sweep which can knock an enemy prone and impose Shaken status on a failed Vigor roll; a flying kick which grants a free attack as you Withdraw from Combat; and a spin kick which imposes -2 to your Fighting roll but grants +4 to damage if you hit.
Lightning Strike is underwhelming, in that you do double damage against an inanimate object you attack with your bare hands. Mind of Quicksilver is a Legendary Edge which allows you to mimic a spell you do not know you see performed by another chi master on a Smarts roll. While this sounds cool, it requires a d12 Smarts, which is a dump stat for chi masters in Deadlands. Combined with it being an end-game Edge means you won’t see much use of it in the Flood or most campaigns.
Finally, Mongoose Leap makes you experienced with lunging strikes and grants +1 reach (1 bonus hex) when making unarmed attacks.
We get twelve new Edges which can be taken by anyone who meets their prerequisites. Four of them are tied into California’s particular equipment and economics: Captain lets you begin play with a free Maze Runner ship, Cannoneer lets you slightly modify the results of a critical hit in naval vehicular combat, Silver-Tongued Devil allows you to treat a settlement’s price multiplier for expensive goods as one step less (x5 becomes x4, etc), and Nose for the Rock gives you an uncanny knack for sensing the nearby presence of ghost rock and precious minerals.
The remaining eight edges are all martial arts related but can be taken by people are are merely good at fist-fighting rather than superpowered channelers of mystic energy. Blind Fighting removes any penalties for darkness when fighting enemies within 3 hexes, Counterpunch lets you make a free melee attack on a foe who missed you (Improved Counterpunch makes it more accurate), Improved Martial Arts and Martial Arts Master lets you ignore a certain level of penalties for called shots to a body part in unarmed combat, Iron Parry deals damage equal to your Strength die or weapon damage on enemies who fail to hit you in melee, Movement of the Serpent lets you Withdraw from combat without giving opponents free attacks, and Ten-Tiger Punch grants you a free melee attack on an opponent who fails a Test of Will against you (a social debuff via intimidation or taunting).
The Edges which grant free attacks or damage can be good, although most of them are not amazing enough to justify purchase. In fact, the Flood starts in Nevada proper, far away from any coastal body of water. As Captain is a Background edge it is expected to be purchased at character creation. So it’s nigh-useless in the standard campaign!
Goods and Gear
Here we cover some new equipment. All of said equipment got later reprints in the 1880 Smith & Robards Catalog supplement. We start out with one of the Plot Point Campaign’s unique rules: in the settlements of California, most goods are five times their list price. Some locations may dip as low as 2 or as high as eight, but this is a big deal. In fact, it’s rather prohibitively expensive on account that most ships and mad science devices are already in the several thousand dollar range. These rules will make purchase outright impossible for lot of said gadgets. It’s meant to simulate the grim survival of Famine’s domain, but in line with the rewards of most quests it can make even a single horse of average quality cost a whopping $750.
For an estimate, the default Deadlands PC starts play with $250 worth of gear. In 1879 one US dollar was worth 22 US dollars today (or 17 British pounds or 19 Euros). Fortunately this price modifier is only for items purchased during play and not character generation, but it is a little much. I suggest when running the Flood to either knock down the default to x2 or x3 or adjust monetary rewards for quests appropriately. Or simulate the boom-town feel by having lots and lots of ghost rock and gold which is used as a local currency for purchase.
We have a list of Chinese melee weapons, which unlike standard Savage Worlds close-combat weapons have a minimum Agility instead of minimum Strength to properly wield. They include fancy things such as the Fighting Fan which grants +1 to Parry when using the Defend action, the whip-like Flying Claw which imposes -2 to an enemy’s Parry on a Fighting roll raise in lieu of bonus damage, and the infamous Flying Guillotine which is a wire mesh bag connected to a long steel chain. It is used by making a called shot to a target’s head and deals Strength + 1d6 damage plus said bonus +4 damage gained from a headshot. The Three-Section Staff is perhaps the most versatile weapon: it can be wielded as either a staff, nunchaku, or whip, has a Reach of 1, can make Disarm and Grapple checks at said reach, and grants +1 Parry on top of all that!
The bread and butter of the equipment list is all manner of boats. The waterways of the Great Maze are home to traders, soldiers, pirates, and miners who are more likely to use watercraft over the classic horse and train of the West. Most of them are well out of the PCs’ price range, especially the larger freighters, gunboats, and ironclads which range from $30,000 to $100,000. The more affordable $1,000 barges are merely flat carriers tugged by real boats but can holds lots of crew and cargo. The $5,000 knife boats are speedy maneuverable ships which can mount one gatling gun at most, while the $15,000 Maze Runner is the standard ship of the region. It is more powerful than a knife boat but not as war-worthy as a freighter. $2,000 steam launches are economy-efficient lifeboat-sized crafts used by miners for supply runs, while the two-person $3,000 steam sled is powered by a ghost rock boiler but very fragile. Finally the $10,000 tugboat is capable of carrying multiple barges but is otherwise nothing impressive.
Our last bits of equipment include mines and clockwork torpedos designed to do heavy damage against boats, sea monsters, and similar heavy opposition (AoE bursts which do 4d6 or 4d8+2 damage for torpedos and ignore anywhere from 10 to 15 points of Armor). Our two mad science infernal devices include a $2,000 diving suit which pumps a steady stream of air via a long tube into said suit, and waterproof dynamite which can be placed and set off underwater.
Thoughts so far: The new rules are a mixed bag. A lot of the Flood takes place on land and while there are some areas cordoned off in the Great Maze, it is by no means the primary means of travel. We did have a martial artist PC in my own run of this Plot Point Campaign, but the new weapons saw limited use on account that the bonus attack from Wing Chun (Superior Kung Fu version) when unarmed was too good to pass up. The new Edges are a bit situational and range from the highly useful to ones which may never see realistic use in play.
The Tombstone Epitaph is a nice thematic touch which is present in just about every Deadlands product. It makes for a cool player handout so the PCs really do feel like they’re catching new adventure hooks by reading the news. In fact, the vast majority of Savage Tale sidequests are handouts of help wanted ads!
Join us next time in the Marshal’s Section, where we cover the Gamemaster-only information, new setting rules, and strange locales!
Marshal’s SectionOriginal SA post
Deadlands the Flood, Chapter 2: Marshal’s Section
This section of the book contains all of the GM-facing material save the adventure proper and NPC stat blocks. We get an overview of Famine’s Domain, new rules specific to the region, a host of notable locations, and a card-based means of drawing for random encounters and making your own sub-plots in the wild and woolly reaches of California.
It was touched upon in my last post, but the Reckoners are using fell magic to spread fear and suffering in the mortal world in the hopes of bringing about an apocalypse. The Deadlands setting has a mechanic known as the Fear Level, which is a numeric value for a city, region, or location on a rating from 0 to 6 representing the overall danger and hopelessness which holds sway there. At Fear Level 6, a place turns into a Deadland, a warped hellscape crawling with monsters and whose very terrain is clearly unnatural. The Reckoners hope to turn all of Earth into such a place in due time. Although the Reckoners’ influence is world-wide, they do have their own spheres of influence. In California and the Pacific Northwest, the Reckoner Famine holds dominion.
We get some backstory on the supernatural history of California. Shortly after Raven freed the Reckoners, he visited the West Coast and gathered Indians amenable to his cause. Raven set about painting glyphs along natural fault lines of an already tremor-prone region, using the blood of one of his betrayed apprentices to fuel their magic and unleash a cataclysmic earthquake across the state. This event would become known as the Great Quake of ‘68, plunging hundreds of miles of territory into the onrushing sea and creating the Great Maze. The Reckoners sewn the newly-created mesas with ghost rock deposits, more than a few of it on tribal land sacred to the region’s indigenous inhabitants to help stir up trouble and racial tensions with settlers and prospectors.
It was this Great Quake which heralded the rise of Reverend Grimme. Far from his present wickedness, the priest was a noble soul who did his best to save who he could amidst the natural disaster. But his congregation sooned turned on him as supplies ran low and starvation grew rampant. They turned on each other over an argument whether or not to eat the bodies of the fallen for sustenance, and Grimme was among the casualties. Only 13 survived the battle, who devoured the dead like savage beasts. Sensing opportunity, Famine drew upon the sins of the 13 and formed a dread copy of Reverend Grimme to lead them. They and the false Grimme would be immortal for as long as at least one of them survived, and were granted powers by Famine to mimic Christian miracles to lure in victims and converts.
The survivors would become the inner circle of his new faith, the Church of Lost Angels. Building a new town in southern California, they had no shortage of converts for their ability to seemingly summon up food in a starvation-plagued region. Rock Island Prison was built as a place where the community’s unwanted could “disappear” and later line the tables of Sunday feasts. Unfortunately the Church’s false miracles could not extend far miles beyond the boundaries of their new city without appearing as the black magic that it was, limiting their proselytism. But Grimme found that mass human sacrifice could expand their reach, so he arranged for some summoned demons to attack the congregation of his cathedral which he’d then “heroically stop.” The plan worked, and the event became known as the Day of Righteousness which spread even to otherwise respectable newspapers across the USA and its territories.
The other major political issue of the Church of Lost Angels is how to deal with the major rail companies. Lost Angels is the only major natural harbor in the Great Maze’s southern section and sits upon a gigantic ghost rock deposit to boot. A reliable intercontinental rail line will not only bring in all sorts of heretical newcomers, it risks providing a continuous food supply and thus weaken the Church’s power. Grimme’s doing his best to sabotage rail lines covertly, but once a winner of the Great Rail Wars comes in he hopes to negotiate a deal.
We get several sidebars detailing a glossary of the Church of Lost Angel’s religious titles and hierarchy, along with a list of Biblical verses both legitimate and altered by Grimme. In the case of the latter, Grimme’s additions are in bold. I find this very clever, and works great for showcasing to players (especially those knowledgeable in Christianity) how the Church perverted religious scripture to wicked ends:
This section ends with a brief write-up of the Twilight Legion, a secret society dedicated to putting a stop to the Reckoner’s evils. They are separate from Deadlands’ own Agency and Texas Rangers in that they are unaffiliated with either the Union or Confederacy, and whose origins actually date back to the Roman Empire. They masquerade as a gentlemen’s club of big-game hunters known as the Explorer’s Society. A group of thrill-seeking, heavily-armed men and women with ample disposable income is the perfect cover for the Twilight Legion. Although most Legion members are aware of supernatural magic and monsters, only the highest-ranking are aware of the Reckoners’ existence. They have a deal with Lacy O’Malley of the Tombstone Epitaph: as a reporter on strange goings-on, he could use his newspaper’s advertisement section to send coded messages to the Twilight Legion and others in the know of potential trouble in needing of fixing.
Each of Deadlands Reloaded’s Plot Point Campaigns contain new rules. Part of it is thematic in line with the supernatural pall of one of the Four Horsemen’s influence, while others are more mundane. In the Flood’s case, our theme is Hunger and scarcity.
The Savage Worlds ruleset is one meant to simulate pulp-action adventure, and starving to death Oregon Trail-style isn’t in line with this ethos. So the Flood strikes a balance where hunger/starvation is instead represented as a potential debuff which imposes Fatigue levels. Every settlement has a Price Modifier, usually x5 but can be higher or lower which applies to everything, food included. Given the ample supply of ghost rock the GM is encouraged to give PCs various means of earning money, a few dollars more or even a hundred, to restock supplies and stay alive.
When away from civilization, the GM can call for a Vigor or Survival roll whenever it’s dramatically appropriate. Even having a week’s worth of trail rations provides a +2 bonus at best, for Famine’s presence artificially ages and spoils food. Starvation never outright kills a PC, but imposes increasingly debilitating levels of fatigue which at its very worst can put a hero into a coma or turn them into a Faminite* on a critical failure of a Spirit roll.
*faster and tougher flesh-hungering undead
Famine eases (but never eliminates) the pangs of hunger for those who serve her, and human flesh is highly delicious and nutritious. But those who willingly partake of this risk turning into a wretched monster (ghoul, faminite, or wendigo depending on region) on a failed Spirit roll. Reverend Grimme’s weekly church feasts do not result in this, for spontaneous creation of monsters would impact his credibility as a man of God.
After covering the dangers of famine, we get rules for Rock Fever, which honestly won’t come into play unless the PCs have a mad scientist in their party or carrying around the fuel for long periods. Basically the fumes of ghost rock are potentially toxic from prolonged exposure, requiring a Vigor roll once per week at increasing penalties. The initial failure causes symptoms of lightheadedness and fevers and -2 penalty on all Trait rolls, but further failures cause a level of fatigue. Those incapacitated gain a long-lasting mental illness drawn from the Mad Scientist’s list of dementias in the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook. Rolling snake-eyes on a Vigor roll results in instant death as the afflicted spontaneously combusts and leaves behind a chunk of ghost rock the size of their heart.
We top off this section with various water-related hazards from sailing in the Great Maze, which can be triggered as part of a random encounter to spice things up or on their own. They include natural disasters such as blasts of superheated sulphur deposits, riptides which can send ships wildly off course, whirlpools, and mischievous invisible water spirits which attack the winning side of ships in naval combat (they love rooting for the underdog) by violently shaking and stirring them. We also get rules for land-based natural hazards such as earthquakes, cave-ins and rockslides, and storms of all stripes.
This covers most of the locations in the Tombstone Epitaph’s Guide to California and then some, revealing the deadly truths for the GM’s eyes. We get a sample Fear Level for each place along with price modifiers for settlements of civilization. The default for California as a whole are 2 and x5 respectively, for when the PCs are in the open wilderness or a one-horse town of no repute. Some location entries also have handy-dandy sheriff badge icons next to the names of Plot Points and Savage Tales to be found in the area along with relevant page numbers.
I particularly like this last touch. It makes for a reader-friendly resource and really plays up the sandbox nature of this campaign.
Bear’s Claw, Dragon’s Breath, & Lion’s Roar: The owner of Iron Dragon, the largest rail company in the Western Coast, is a Chinese immigrant and warlord by the name of Kang. A veteran of his home country’s turbulent battles and rebellions, he has his fingers in all manner of businesses legitimate and otherwise. Three Chinese immigrant communities serve as safe havens for his pirates, and he even ran a Triad outfit of his own in Lost Angels before the Great Rail Wars hit the city (an event which will happen during the Flood’s main Plot Point). Losing so many soldiers is the catalyst for a major power imbalance among the Chinese Mafia, and various crime lords will start moving in on the rail baron’s turf.
Overall, these three towns are home to average Chinese Janes and Joes working the mines of the Great Maze, but the criminal element is in control and indulges in oppressive businesses such as opium dealing and forced prostitution. Interestingly, Kang is knowingly tolerating a resistance movement known as the Men of the Grid who are made up of Lost Angels residents who had a different vision than a theocratic dictatorship. The Gridders as they’re known more or less declared war against Grimme’s church. And given that the Lost Angels aren’t very fond of “Eastern pagans” or vice-peddling gangsters, there’s a bit of “enemy of my enemy is my friend” even if neither side goes out of their way to aid the other.
Big M Ranch: Cattle herding is Big Business in the Weird West, and an enterprising cattleman by the name of Dwight Shelton hit upon a business opportunity upon hearing of California’s food shortages. He bought up land for purposes of grazing area and water, and even with a small herd he is making a lucrative living. Unfortunately the Church of Lost Angels are not fond of anybody challenging their dominance over the local food supply. For the past few months the Sheltons have been fending off regular night-time raids on their herd. The fact that the cattle are left mutilated and not stolen points to something other than cattle-rustlers as the culprit, and he’s willing to pay for hired help to get to the bottom of things.
Carver’s Landing: This is one of the oldest and most prosperous mesa towns in the Great Maze. The ghost rock rush grants it a heavy merchant presence and is home to all manner of shops and saloons, with the Eight Ball Billiards Hall being the newest and most popular.
Devil’s Armpit: This small mining town is run by T’ou-Chi Chow, a self-described God of Bandits. An avid scholar in Taoist philosophy and European anarchism, he styles himself very much as a gunslinging outlaw hero from Chinese folklore that robs from the rich and powerful to distribute the fruits of their bounty among the common populace. This results in his bandit gang maintaining a very large group of volunteers and much goodwill in town. Devil’s Armpit is home to outcasts of many different backgrounds, as T’ou-Chi Chow is fond of granting people a second chance at life.
Devil’s Postpiles: These huge octagonal columns stand over 60 feet tall and are surrounded by superstition and folklore. Legends claim that burying loved ones at the feet of the columns along with pleading one’s case grants a chance at local spirits returning the dead to life.
The tales are true...to an extent. Fresh corpses no more than a week old have a greater chance at returning as Harrowed, intelligent undead whose corpses are inhabited by the souls of the original owner as well as a wicked spirit wrestling for control over the body. The Devil’s Postpiles ground is cursed, so said spirit will begin with total dominion over the Harrowed that rises. And sometimes zombies of those who didn’t come back rise to attack those waiting for their beloved.
Dragonhold: Once a typical mining town, the inhabitants discovered a giant sea serpent known as a Maze dragon within a rocky cave. An enterprising showman by the name of Sutton Thacker turned the affair into a tourist attraction, charging money for people to have the privilege of viewing the beast and tossing fish into its massive jaws.
Thacker is in fact a madman who gathered a secret cult who feed the Maze dragon human sacrifices of drunk travelers and others who will not be missed.
Felicity Peak: A Russian nobleman by the name of Gregor Petrov purchased a plot of land at a tall, pointed butte not far from Lost Angels. Sufficiently isolated from the rest of the Great Maze, he rules over his serfs with an iron fist. They mine ghost rock to feed his and his family’s coffers back in the old country, and he is a willing minion of the Reckoners who gains fell powers via feeding off the blood of children.
Fort Lincoln: The Union’s presence in California extends from Sacramento to various small mining towns in the Great Maze. Fort Lincoln is the largest and most important of all, for it holds the bulk of their naval operations in the region. Their numbers are small and cannot afford to spread themselves too thin, and many sailors are drawn from those who would otherwise have been court-martialled in the Union Navy. They love to curse, drink, and fight with each other as much Mexican, Confederate, and pirate forces.
Fort Norton & Kwan Province: General Mu-T’ou Kwan is one of the well-established warlords from Back East. The Far East. His base of operations is in a verdant redwood forest of central California, and he lends out his soldiers to fight for the Confederate and Mexican armies in exchange for steam-powered vehicles and gold. The communities under his protection make their living from the lumber industry, but what is perhaps most interesting are his advisors. Two of them are a pair of shamans from the Cahuilla Indian tribe, Pig Pul and Little Pul. They were cast out for trafficking with evil spirits, acting on behalf of Raven to steer Kwan in an even more warlike direction. During a vision quest Kwan met an owl which explained his destiny to rule “the lands beyond the mountain,” but only if he ruled through a “white man destined to be Emperor.”
After hearing of a local eccentric by the name of Emperor Norton, Kwan found his man. In the real world, Emperor Norton was a San Franciscan eccentric who went insane after a disastrous attempt at importing rice from Asia to cater to the burgeoning Chinese community. But in the world of Deadlands, he snapped back to sanity once he realized the enormity of his situation when Kwan more or less pressed him into service as a political advisor. He tries to act as Kawn’s conscience, reigning in his crueler, more vengeful side.
Ghost Town: At Fear Level 6, this burning landscape is an honest-to-God Deadland. Technically speaking it is not in existence until after the third main adventure in the Flood concludes, but is detailed here due to its importance.
Ghost Town was originally a shantytown and tent city east of Lost Angels, home to the poor and destitute of the region as well as sheltering the local Chinese immigrant community. Kang’s Lion’s Roar Triad lived like kings in the region, and life was nasty, brutish, and short. But during the Battle of Lost Angels when the rail barons clashed, Dr. Darius Hellstromme dropped deadly Ghostfire Bombs from mad science airships over the area, putting a decisive end to the Great Rail Wars...but at the expense of hundreds of lives lost.
The fires of Ghost Town still burn from buried veins of ghost rock, howling like the souls of the damned and inhabited by agonized spirits. It is also home to the original Reverend Grimme’s hickory walking stick, which is one of the few weapons capable of killing him. Interestingly the main quest of the Flood does not involve visiting this forsaken locale, for the plot has another means of killing in mind for good ol’ Grimme.
Goodwill, Harmony, & New Opportunity: Although a supernaturally-oriented alternate history, Deadlands has long struggled with portrayals of period racism and the ideal way to handle it in order to not impact the enjoyment of gaming groups. The writers by default opted for making the Weird West a “post-racial society” where genuine bigotry is the province of individual villains rather than systemic institutions or widespread sentiment.
But alas this is applied in a haphazard way. Besides the unfortunate implications of whitewashing the Confederacy’s reason for war, widespread racism towards Chinese immigrants and Native Americans is still en vogue. For the former, the Chinese are still segregated from white society and more or less live in their own towns and enclaves. Where their people stand in California is a subject of debate among the immigrants: traditionalists came to America to make a living as miners and send the proceeds to family back home and thus hope to one day rejoin them. The New Tomorrow Triad sought a different way.
Instead of becoming gangsters like their counterparts, the New Tomorrow entered into legitimate businesses and formed prosperous communities in northern California. Their settlements have positive-sounding English names such as Goodwill, Harmony, and New Opportunity, and at Fear Level 1 they are among the most pleasant places in California to live. Their stated goal is to assimilate Chinese society into white society, from adopting Western names and modes of dress to even in some cases the Christian religion. This is done in the belief that they will gain greater respect and legal rights. One of its most popular members is the martial arts hero Feichei Li, or Suitcase Lee for his trademark battered suitcase which he uses as a weapon and shield in combat. It is also used for the more mundane purposes of holding his clothes and copies of the New Tomorrow Triad’s speeches.
Naturally the traditionalists look down upon them for “betraying their culture for barbaric practices,” while the penny dreadfuls in the Eastern United States are all too willing to portray the New Tomorrow as Yellow Peril-style sinister invaders seeking to infiltrate the United States. They’re at odds with the other Triads who they assert project a bad image of their race.
What I Changed: Sooooooo...where to start? Although the model minority status of East Asian Americans is a whole subject in and of itself, I rather found the New Tomorrow distasteful for multiple reasons. They’re more or less the only outright “good guy” Chinese faction in the Flood and whose communities are more or less better than Shan Fan and the other Chinese settlements which are pretty much overtaken by criminal gangs. It also has a double-standard of contradicting Deadlands’ presumed post-racial attitude, while also sending the message that the New Tomorrow’s relative prosperity is because they started “acting white.”
When I ran the Flood, I replaced the New Tomorrow Triad with the real-world Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. They were a conglomeration of six San Franciscan business associations who sought to protect their people from racist violence and provided legal protection as well (via the use of white lawyers). They also combated the negative influence of the criminal tong gangs by offering youths alternatives to a life of crime and rescuing women from sexual slavery. Unlike the New Tomorrow they did not seek giving up of cultural values as a primary goal and found them to be a better option than what the campaign gives.
Gomorra: Located between Shan Fan and the Devil’s Armpit sits the scorched ruins of Gomorra. Once known as Doomtown, it was perhaps the greatest gathering of scum and villainy in California, and with the Lost Angels and Triad as competition that’s saying something. From the inbred sorcerous clan of Whateleys to demented carnies and mad scientists unfettered by bioethics, Gomorra was no stranger to violence and crime. But its legacy went up in flames, literally, when the Collegium of mad scientists exploded and left an oversized crater in their wake. The town’s central clock chimes 12 times at midnight but does not otherwise function.
Fun Fact: Gomorra was the setting of Deadlands card game. Gomorra on a meta-level was an in-universe explanation for how said game’s otherwise far-flung factions were close enough to engage in Mexican standoff style street battles. Although it had a sourcebook of its own in Deadlands Classic, unfortunately due to metaplot reasons Dr. Hellstromme sabotaged the Collegium to take out the rival faction of mad scientists before they could grow to be a threat.
It seems that Pinnacle Entertainment realizes how much of a missed opportunity in not bringing Gomorra to Deadlands Reloaded, so they wrote several mini-sourcebooks centered on NPCs and adventures within Doomtown as their latest releases as of 2018. However they take place before the Flood metaplot, so there’s still an official timeline to obey.
Junction: This normally-sleepy town of 23 balloons over 200 every two weeks when a freighter of the Great Maze Rock Miner’s Association shows up for its collection of ghost rock and precious metals. The money thus gathered is enough to keep the saloons and brothels going until the next biweekly shipment. The town has long sat within Grimme’s 75 mile radius but has been untouched due to the Lost Angels’ lack of a navy. But after the Great Rail Wars’ end and Hellstromme’s alignment with Grimme, the cult makes plans to take over the town.
Lost Angels: The political and spiritual center of southern California, the autonomous Free and Holy City of Lost Angels casts a dark pall over the region’s geopolitical landscape. Arranged in a pattern of concentric circles rather than the square-like grids common in Western settlements, all major roads lead to Reverend Grimme’s Cathedral in the town’s center. As the largest and most ornate of structures, there is no doubt as to who rules here. At Fear Level 5, the supposedly sacred city is one where just about every citizen is looking over their shoulder. The red-robed Guardian Angels are the town’s police force and eager to find any excuse to dish out punishment for heresy, and the lack of freedom of religion means that only Grimme’s particular brand of pseudo-Christianity is openly practiced. Just about everyone has a nagging suspicion that “something’s not right” in town, and people stay locked up in their homes at night due to reports of ambushes and attacks by unknown things in the city’s darkened streets.
Rock Island Prison is the major stockade for heretics, criminals, and those who know too much. It is this place where the Reverend’s inner circle can let down their hair and openly engage in the murderous cannibalism of inmates. Located on an island, the Prison’s natural defenses include giant sharks and saltwater crocodiles along with six Maze Runners. Steam gatlings and batteries of cannons man the walls. The prison has several blocks based on prisoner types, from common rabble, those who show gumption at being recruited into the Guardian Angels, to a few well-guarded cells that hold only the most dangerous inmates. Jasper Stone, the Servitor of Death and TPK Poster Boy of the Deadlands Universe, was once held here before inevitably busting out.
Lynchburg: Lynchburg sits on a huge mesa in the middle of the Great Maze, with networks of precarious rope bridges connecting points of land together. It doesn’t have much to set it apart from many other towns of its type save for one Mariposa Lil, the closest thing to the law in Lynchburg. The owner of a brothel, she is protective of her employees and will not hesitate to resort to violence if any customers get abusive or tricky with the girls. Mariposa also manages a local militia of vigilantes and is quite fond of the kind of capital punishment which gives the town its name. Unfortunately she is not concerned about justice so much as putting down any threats to her power, making her a dictator in all but name.
Mexicali: Once a popular border town and pit stop for cowboys, Mexicali has seen better days. Santa Anna, who in the world of Deadlands is still alive and general for Emperor Maximilian’s Mexican aristocratic government, is using the town as the staging point for a larger invasion of California. He is no stranger to the many dangers and power players of the state, so the general’s secret weapon is a so-called “Army of the Night.” Tens of thousands of zombies held in secret canyon complexes are herded into night raids against the Lost Angels.
Perdition: Technically not in existence until the third Plot Point adventure of the Flood, Perdition is made up of refugees from Ghost Town. After rebuilding far away from the still-smoldering ruins, they set up a town of sorts around Ore Collection Station #37 owned by Hellstromme Industries. It is a great irony that Perdition’s residents and their income are dependent upon the very same organization which destroyed their old home. In spite of its newness, Perdition already has a proper saloon, a hybrid church-schoolhouse, a telegraph office, and a rail station for the Wasatch rail company subsidiary of Hellstromme Industries. But it does not have a proper Mayor or Marshal yet, which causes many to worry about the lawlessness this will generate.
Peterson Sanitarium: Located on a lonely mesa overlooking the City of Lost Angels, the sanitarium is far from a house of healing. In fact, Dr. Peterson’s unorthodox methods cause more harm than good, for he’s using patients as tests for a “neo-flesh” experiment which he believes to be the genesis of a new life form. The fact that said life forms are made from the amalgamation of human bodies is of no consequence to the demented doctor.
Placerville: This former boom town went bust when the gold sediments in the nearby river went from yellow to dirty brown. Now the people make their living by scouring ghost rock for the benefit of the Shan Fan Triad, whose armed goons take a hefty cut of the profit in exchange for protecting the shipments.
Progress: This small community of mad scientists was once the number one place for catching up on the latest innovations in ghost rock technology. But when cash was coming up dry they resorted to building ships for the Church of Lost Angel’s fleet in order to fund their experiments. The gadgeteers here supply cheaper gizmos than Smith & Robard’s delivery service, but they’re more likely to malfunction so you get what you pay for.
Quarrytown: The entirety of the mines in this mesa town are man-made, an oddity in the Great Maze. Most on the hunt for ghost rock often find exposed veins in the cliff faces and dynamite them off to waiting barges and tugboats below. But Quarrytown’s smooth tunnels are deep enough that many miners can go for days without seeing the sun. In reality, the tunnels are very ancient and were once home to a tribe of Indians which discovered magic to bind Maze dragons to their will. Their civilization was wiped out by a cataclysmic tidal wave long ago, but the Maze dragons were sealed in underground caverns. That is, until the Great Quake of ‘68 lodged them free to now hunt California’s waters.
Sacramento: The Union’s political center in California, Sacramento’s 650-strong all-black regiment can only enforce their country’s power so far into the rest of California. The soldiers’ commander is Captain Clement Tyson, a black Union soldier who was rapidly promoted for his actions during the Civil War. Unfortunately, his career hit a dead end when he was transferred to Sacramento’s “negro regiment.” The soldiers are underfunded and undersupplied, and although they can march to Fort Lincoln’s aid President Grant is hoping this will not happen on account of their ranks being spread thin enough as is.
This is another interesting case of the Deadlands Plot Point Campaigns subverting the setting’s “no racism” rule. Although it doesn’t out and out say it, the real-world Civil War did give its all-black regiments comparatively less funding and support, and stationing a talented African-American climbing the ranks to a backwater station is pretty clear on what kind of bureaucratic resistance is keeping him from advancing to Major.
Shan Fan: The other large city in California besides Lost Angels, Shan Fan is a majority-Chinese city made up of millions of immigrants from the old country. It is built on the legacy of San Franciscan survivors of the Great Quake, financed by the Hsieh Chia Jên (Family of Deliverance) due to a need to create a new northern port in the state. Despite the organization’s flowery name it is more popularly known as the Shan Fan Triad, and they are the effective law and government of the city.
The Triad has its hands in all manner of businesses, both legitimate and not. It has a hierarchical system where a Big Boss oversees a group of six or seven Big Brothers who all control their own sections of city. The Rascals are the foot soldiers of the Brothers, handling local-sized affairs and serving as expendable muscle when gang wars flair up.
The Shan Fan Triad is far from united; the need to present a tough demeanor means that any showing of weakness, or losing business and territory to another gang leader, means that Brothers must answer challenges with sabotage and violence. Otherwise they give the impression that they cannot protect their own, which can result in their own rascals turning on him to take their place or other Triad members moving in on their turf en masse.
One of the few taboos the Triad abide by is a city-wide ban on occult magic. This does not cover typical folkloric religious practices or chi-based martial arts. Rather it involves magical rites which involve consorting with evil spirits, necromancy, and the “dark arts.” Most Triad members abide by this save for one Big Brother: Thin Noodles Ma, who is secretly a bonafide sorcerer under the tutelage of the rail baron Kang.
The current Big Boss is Big Ears Tam, who keeps his stately position by turning lower-ranking Triad against each other. He believes that having them fight over scraps will prevent up-and-comers from creating a united front against him. The two other power players of Shan Fan are Thin Noodles Ma and Rat-Siinner Hou. Thin Noodles Ma controls most of the brothels and sex trade in town and is a bonafide gourmand of wine, women, and food. Rat-Skinner Hou is a sadistic drug lord who got his title from skinning a snitch alive and sewing his flesh into a hat which he now wears all the time.
Beyond city politics we get a run-down of the major neighborhoods, such as the Red Lantern Town which is a favorite tourist spot for out of towners and the source of the bulk of Triad gang wars; the desperate Skids, populated by homeless and destitute people who lost their fortunes in the boom and bust cycle of ghost rock and gold rushes; the financial Taeltown center; and the industrial centers such as Prawn Valley’s fisheries and Stinktown’s tanneries and slaughterhouses.
Shannonsburg: The only place in California with a x1 price multiplier, the Confederate government is hoping to win the Maze’s hearts and minds with relatively cheap goods. The entire town is effectively afloat on government subsidies, and the other political factions in the region are doing their best to disrupt Shannonsburg’s supply trains. Such attempts inevitably turn public opinion against the attackers who are already tired of being price-gouged. A port town, Shannonsburg is protected by the 120 foot long C.S.S. Leviathan.
Sunken City (San Diego): Like Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Diego was the other big city casualty of the Great Quake. But unlike the former two it never got a spiritual successor and its legacy is a patchwork affair of crumbling underwater ruins strewn about the Great Maze’s water-filled passages. Its proximity to Mexico means that quite a few ironclad ships of said nation’s navy are here, along with the base of the pirate Capitan Sangre (Captain Blood) who acts as a privateer against US and Confederate warships. In regards to non-governmental affairs, more than a few salvage companies do business here, particularly mad scientists who sell various potions, diving suits, and other devices of varying quality for the brave and foolish.
37th Chamber: The 37th Chamber is a community of Shaolin monks who live meager and unassuming lives. Many people regard them as little more than a religious commune from Asia, but naturally there’s more to them than that. For one, the monks are spectacular fighters, and since chi-based powers are more plentiful since Raven’s opening of the Hunting Grounds the Shaolin disciples are some of the greatest martial arts fighters in the region.
Overall the Shaolin monks are self-sufficient and do not interact much with society. They do not keep much of value and their abilities to deflect bullets being a provable fact means that most outlaws know better than to tussle with them. The Shan Fan Triad has made attempts to recruit them to their ranks, although the gangsters’ materialism and immoral ways are not great selling points to Zen Buddhists.
The monks do break their one rule in regards to non-interventionism: the affairs of ghost rock. The Shaolin regard the substance as an abomination to nature and the universe, which is why they came to the Great Maze in the first place. They send warriors to sabotage weird science devices, mining communities, and others which make use of the substance. They do their best to minimize casualties from their raids: their priority is to make ghost rock mining economically unviable and discourage others from setting up shop, rather than motivating aggrieved miners and scientists to revenge killings from indiscriminate murder.
Van Horn’s Light: Maarten Van Horn came to the Maze to build a great lighthouse for the benefit of seafarers. Unfortunately the geography of the Maze and its huge canyon walls made it so that a lighthouse was of limited use, but adhering to the Sunk Cost Fallacy he began building it anyway. He died penniless 4 years later, but on the plus side ghost rock deposits were discovered beneath the lighthouse and miners built a community below it. The town gets its name from the landmark, and the lighthouse still works albeit at random intervals. Van Horn’s spirit is responsible, sensing lost souls and hoping to guide them to safe shores.
This section of chapter is a way for Game Masters to generate their own encounters and minor adventures on the fly. We first get a list of travel distances in miles between the major communities of the Great Maze. Geography-wise California is big: 1,040 miles from its northernmost to southernmost point, according to NetState. In Deadlands, going from Lost Angels to Shan Fan can take 400 miles, while going all the way from the Sunken City of San Diego to New Opportunity in Northern California can be as much as 700 miles.
The distances are given based on boat or train travel, while traveling on foot can multiply the distances by as much as 3 due to the innumerable channels, mesas, and confusing scattered array of rock and arch bridges which span the mesas.
After calculating travel times, the section provides a chart for determining knowledge of the Maze’s channels to see see if the base distance is multiplied in travel time. This is rather debilitating, as it is a Smarts roll with a -4 penalty if the navigator is not native to the Maze, and +2 if a main channel is used:
If a posse wanted to travel from New Opportunity to San Diego on foot primarily within the Great Maze, the actual miles traveled may be as as high as 6,300!
This system is not used when traveling over the solid land in California’s eastern half, or for very short jaunts. I personally did not use rule for my own campaigns. Quite a few of the Savage Tales and Plot Points take place within California’s “mainland” so to speak or close to Lost Angels’ environs. My party used the Iron Dragon rail line as their primary means of travel when push came to shove, departing on horseback or hiring local Maze Runner guides in the nearest port town when they got close to their objective.
Now we get to an Adventure Generator, meant to serve as dropping a quick low-preparation encounter. It creates the basic elements in a four-part step: first the Action Deck is shuffled and three cards are drawn for the People, the Trouble, and the Complications. The card’s value modifies the d20 rolls (which can ace) for the three.
The People represent the supporting cast, and can range from existing political factions of California (Triad, Lost Angels, government soldiers, etc) to more generic ones such as small independent towns, prospectors, Indian tribes, or even supernatural investigators from a group such as the Agency or Texas Rangers. If the encounter takes place at sea or involves a ship, there’s a table for determining the ship’s type as well.
The Trouble represents the central conflict. They can include being in a fight with another faction, being besieged by supernatural critters who have their own encounter table, planning a heist, survivors of a shipwreck, or even specters of a demolished vessel or ghost town.
We get an optional table for motivations representing possible goals of the supporting cast, which include the standard stock of love, money, revenge, politics, and all the meat and fodder of good storytelling.
Finally Complications are wrenches the Game Master can throw into the works to make this different from similar random encounter results. They range from freak weather suddenly pouring in, an epidemic sweeping through the area which gives risk of disease from close contact, one of the factions holding a local election asking the PCs to provide support, or a notable NPC showing up in town.
Thoughts So Far: Overall this section is quite good. The overview of California’s weird history and the many locales provide for good adventure fodder, and the cross-referencing of pages for main Plot Points and Savage Tales relevant to specific areas is very helpful. Not only does it act as an aid for Game Masters and provides the workings of a sandbox environment, it also gives a hint of how larger events tie into otherwise small-town burgs. It sits very well with the Western trope of how there’s always something happening even in the humblest of places.
The variety of locations makes for a good diversity of adventuring environments so that things will not feel stale. I like the interplay of various political factions in California, but being relatively restricted to specific areas of influence prevents things from feeling like an indecipherable game of political chess. Granted some groups get a lot more spotlight than others.
Join us next time as we cover the Flood Plot Point Campaign proper, an eight part series of rip-roaring adventure in America’s most Western state!*
*Geographically if not thematically.
The Flood Plot Point Campaign, Part 1Original SA post
The Flood Plot Point Campaign, Part 1
Finally we’re at the main course, the glue which binds the whole thing together! This chapter covers the eight adventures of the Flood’s primary quest of overthrowing the Church of Lost Angels. But much like Skyrim and other open-world video game RPGs, you’re expected to do quite a bit of exploration and sidequests between most of them in the form of Savage Tales. In the case of Plot Point Seven a certain amount of Savage Tales are required to complete before moving onto the final adventure. Some Tales only show up after certain events in the Plot Points, but overall about half of them can be done at any time by the PCs when they’re in the area.
We get a summary of the eight Plot Point adventures, along with when and how they’re triggered. The entirety of the Flood is meant to take place within the span of 8 in-game months, from December 1879 to August 23rd, 1880. This is not set in stone but rather is is in keeping with Deadlands’ overarching metaplot.
1. The Hellbore
The first adventure of the Flood is interesting in that it doesn’t take place in California at all. Instead it’s on a Denver-Pacific train ready to cross the Sierra Nevada:
Boxed Text posted:
A few minutes ago you noticed an odd rattling. The staff of the Denver-Pacific must have noticed it as well, for the conductor in your car flipped a hidden switch and lowered armored shutters over your windows. He then flipped over a seat covering a secret compartment and pulled out a Gatling rifle. With a smile and a wink, he now takes up a position at the front of the car near a gunport you hadn’t noticed earlier.
You peek out the narrow slits in the armored windows. Mounted figures stand along a rise to your right. Indians!
As you ready yourself for trouble you hear a deafening screech, like nothing you’ve ever heard before. There’s no doubt it’s the locomotive’s wheels grinding on the tracks—the brakes thrown so hard you smash into the seat in front of you.
There’s pain, a dizzy sensation, and then the whole world tumbles around you, slamming your body up and down like beans in a maracca.
Everything goes dark for a while. Then you hear screaming. Not the screaming of your fellow passengers though—more like the howls of the damned. Ghost rock. You’d know that sound anywhere.
As you try to clear your vision you feel the heat of the burning ore nearby. You force your eyes open and find yourself lying in the shattered debris of the rail car. In fact, you can see the entire train sprawled along the tracks like some infernal iron snake.
Surrounding you are piles of burning ghost rock and the mangled corpses of your fellow passengers. Surely this is Hell.
A man runs by, screaming and blazing with flame. He stops in front of you and three arrows slam into him from the train’s right. The Indians are picking off the survivors!
What do you do?
The Indians are an Apache war party far away from home* and number ten in total, although only the war leader and 1 brave per PC directly attacks the party while the others are picking off survivors. The fight takes place among the burning wreckage of the train, with burning piles dealing fire damage to those unlucky enough to be pushed into them. Bulky items owned by the PCs are lying about and require a Notice roll to find, and the conductor’s gatling rifle can be found with 12 shots on said roll if a PC specifically declares they wish to look for it. None of the train car’s passengers survive at the end of this encounter.
*technically speaking northern Nevada is Shoshone territory, and the Apache mostly lived around the American Southwest
As for the Apache’s motivations, they follow the Old Ways and view the trains as as disturbing the earth spirits of the land. They did not cause the train to derail, but knew of a hollow point created by an underground tunnel in the earth which would cause it to collapse into a sinkhole. They used this as an opportunity to attack the train.
What I Changed: I wasn’t exactly keen to replicate the Savage Indian trope where Natives are little more than an encounter bump with no greater relevance to the plot. In line with one of my PCs’ Enemy Hindrances I replaced the Apache with members of a family of crooked cattle barons who caught word that said PC booked passage on the train. I also made Lacy O’Malley, reporter of the Tombstone Epitaph, the sole survivor of the train crash rather than having him encountered later.
The crashed train is stranded in the middle of Nevada’s Great Basin desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement. The PCs’ horses, if they have any, survived the crash. Investigating the hole reveals a literal underground railroad: a man-made tunnel going east to west, with the eastern side blocked off by a fresh cave-in. This is a secret project by Wasatch, a rail company subsidiary of Hellstromme Industries.* As said company is based in the mountainous terrain of Utah, they are secretly tunneling beneath North America’s western mountains in order to win the Great Rail Wars.
*Deadlands’ Standard Oil megacorp equivalent, specializing ghost rock and mad science.
It won’t be long before a resupply train will use digging machinery to rapidly clear the cave-in and will emit a very clear, very loud horn. This gives ample time for spelunkers to get off the tracks in time, no roll necessary. Along the way the PCs can encounter a silent bipedal automaton* guarding a side section of tracks who looks quite intimidating but won’t attack the party unless provoked: it’s been programmed to attack monsters and not humans save in self-defense. By the time they reach the now-parked train not very far away, they can encounter a Wasatch rail crew who ask the party to state their business. They want to avoid casualties because “the press is watching” and hesitantly welcome the PCs into protective custody. Even if a fight does break out they use cover and their head foreman tries to parley.
*a steampunk mecha
The train itself is very classy despite its underground confines: the rail car is luxuriously decorated with cherry wood and brass fixtures, along with a dining table set with real silver.
Partial Boxed Text posted:
But what really captures your attention are the two figures seated in plush chairs at the other end of the car. One is no doubt the famous Lacy O’Malley. He wears his trademark white suit and hat, though even from here and by the flickering candles you can tell it’s seen better days. He smiles amiably and tips his hat.
The other figure sits back in his chair with a clipboard in his hand. He wears a scarlet smoking jacket and puffs on a pipe. His face is hidden in shadows, but as he leans forward and his piercing gray eyes emerge from the darkness, there can be no doubt this is the famous Dr. Darius Hellstromme.
In an uncharacteristically open fashion for the man, Dr. Hellstromme submitted to an interview with the Tombstone Epitaph. He’s very confident that his plan will help win the Great Rail Wars and wants to get his side of the story out first to counteract the bad press his company’s been receiving. Demonstrating the power of his amazing intellect and unsurpassed technological acumen to the world is just a nice side bonus.
Hellstromme is rather talkative and explains the plans of his latest device: the Hellebore machine is in the process of digging tunnel through hundreds of miles of rock to lay the foundations for the underground tunnel and thus win the Great Rail Wars. He estimates that he’ll link an existing line into California in two days’ time and is happy to have the PCs along for this historic moment. He will not allow them to leave due to a desire to keep the project a secret, but is more than willing to hire them on as guards, laborers, etc along with food and basic supplies as a goodwill gesture.
If the party decides for whatever reason to attack Hellstromme, his two Harrowed bodyguards and six clockwork tarantulas will quickly move to defend him along with the rest of the Wasatch rail warriors. As one of the Big Bad Evil Guys of the setting,* he’s also got every Mad Science power under the sun and has a failsafe where if killed an automaton will take him back to a laboratory and transplant his brain into a robot body. That last part is not part of the adventure; it’s actually part of Hellstromme’s stat block in the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook.
*and the one featured in the last Plot Point Campaign, Good Intentions!
Lacy O’Malley will also wish to interview the PCs, and the book plays up to not be too annoying with him and try to role-play him as such that the PCs get to like the fellow.
What I Changed: This is also part of why I had him in the wreckage in the adventure’s beginning; as the sole survivor and a recognized face in the West, he’d be what causes the Wasatch rail warriors to stand down and thus give Hellstromme an opportunity to do “good press.” This way, I gave our plucky Irish reporter a shared survivor status with the PCs while also demonstrating his usefulness rather than having him show up out of nowhere.
Our last encounter for this adventure involves an attack by tunnel critters, giant insect beings which lair beneath the bowels of the earth. They are weak individually but attack in packs and gang up on lone targets to bring them down.They are in the process of doing as much to Professor Haggerty, the mad scientist operating the Hellebore machine ahead of the train. The group is ushered to move forward to help. There are two juvenile tunnel critters per PC to fight.
This is not a hard battle: tunnel critters do not have any ranged or supernatural capabilities, a mere d4 Fighting die, and only deal 1d6 damage with a bite attack which is unlikely to wound heroes with an average Toughness save on an Ace or high roll. Competently-designed novice rank heroes should have little trouble: my own gaming group included a “wandering wuxia hero” martial artist who was virtually untouchable by the monsters due to his high Parry and a Martial Arts edge which prevented ganging-up bonuses. Our Harrowed with high Toughness and a huckster with a multi-target Fear power helped make short work of them.
The Wasatch crew is unfazed by the existence of such strange monsters, for they encountered much worse elsewhere underground. Hellstromme and Haggerty work to repair the Hellbore and resume course.
2. Dr. Hellstromme’s Wild Ride
This section begins with more boxed text, indicating that a week has passed since the PCs first ventured underground. Finally the Hellbore breaks through to sunlight. The rail crew celebrates as Hellstromme passes around bottles of champagne and people emerge onto the surface in the desert foothills of a mountain range. Inviting the party onto a steam wagon (steam-powered horseless carriage), he explains how they’ll have to fight their way into Lost Angels: the ruling Reverend Grimme has not agreed to any rail barons’ right of way and other companies are sure to be lying in wait.
The steam wagon stops in a Wasatch camp where Hellstromme gives another inspiring speech, then they load up on an actual three-car train known as the Good Intentions. It turns out that Hellstromme’s prediction was right, for agents of the Iron Dragon rail company are chomping at the bit for a fight. Notable for being the only company owned and managed by Chinese people, they’re the ones with the most track in California and the Pacific Northwest and thus Hellstromme’s biggest competition in the region.
What I Changed: I put Hellstromme’s Good Intentions rail car not far from where where the Hellebore penetrated the ground. This cut down on unnecessary exposition and travel while also being well within a genius mad scientist’s calculations.
The Iron Dragon rail warriors pull no punches. Red Petals Su, Kang’s second in command, is arriving by a flying autogyro and is is trying to line herself over the train’s engine to drop a bomb. Meanwhile, 2 steam wagons bearing a total of ten martial artists, a pair of drivers and sharpshooters (one manning a gatling gun, another a flamethrower) come up on both sides of the train. One of the wagons also bears a Chinese Ogre, big and beefy monsters Kang and some among the Triad use as bloodthirsty yet effective enforcers for special missions. Hellstromme will be barricaded in a ghost-rock armored caboose barred to entry along with three guards manning gatling guns, leaving the party to move about the rest of the train.
This is a noticeable upturn in lethality from the tunnel critters. There’s an awful lot of enemy NPCs to do actions, although the major advantage PCs have is cover from the train as well as the clustered bundling of enemies due to the steam wagons’ limited size. The Chinese ogre is a beast in melee but has no way to retaliate against ranged attacks. My party caught on to this and plugged the big guy full of lead in between tossing dynamite and making called shots to the wagons’ ghost rock boilers (which if they take enough damage will explode in an AoE burst).
The PCs have aid from the soldiers’ gatling guns, but also in their favor favor are small mechanical robots which fly out of Hellstromme’s ghost rock-armored caboose to grab them if any fall off the train. They’ll take a lot of damage even if they fall out (4d6) but they won’t be out of the fight if they survive. As for Red Petals Su, her role is a bit of a railroady red herring: She’d suffer a -4 penalty to hit if it matters due to her vehicle’s speed, and the party has several rounds to shoot at her. The adventure even says that she is not meant to blow up the train in the first place! If hurt badly she’ll dive out of sight as the autogyro steams smoke. She is incapable of death due to literal plot armor: no, nothing like black magic or Hellstromme’s SCIENCE, the text just has her gyro fly out of sight.
3. Out with a BOOM!
The Good Intentions’ tracks slow down as the locomotive overlooks a hill leading down into the city of Lost Angels. Banners of the other five rail companies are everywhere, who even if they do not personally have tracks this far out spared no expense in hiring help to sabotage their competitors. Grimme’s own Guardian Angels several hundred-strong line the city’s outskirts flanked by two giant bonfires. The good Reverend stands silent among them, his long white hair in contrast with a cleric’s vestment of deepest black. Stopping at a makeshift fort, Hellstromme gives another speech to the PCs of how they are standing at the forefront of a momentous historic event and how even the Reverend Grimme cannot stop progress. With only the ‘negotiations’ with the latter as his last thing, the Weird West’s pre-eminent mad scientist instructs the PCs to...retreat to a camp in the rear and stay away from the battle. He gives them a hearty goodbye with well wishes.
The brief Battle of Lost Angels is only quickly surmised with boxed text of frantic chaos, describing each of the rail company’s unique edges from Black River’s Wichita Witches throwing spells around to Bayou Vermillion’s zombie hordes running amok. It doesn’t matter what the PCs do in these few minutes of chaos, as the battle is happening around them and they cannot personally affect its stakes.
Eventually some real action happens when Lacy O’Malley shows up. He is quick and to the point: he has a friend named Sam Hellman in mortal danger in the City, and with Grimme’s Guardian Angels occupied this may be the best chance to rescue him. He plays on the party’s conscience, having seen how they handled the tunnel critters to know that they’re competent enough to handle trouble.
When the PCs accompany him, venturing into the city is no challenge at all. In fact it’s a veritable ghost town as most civilians stay inside, with but a few packs of rabid dogs as the obvious signs of life. The PCs have a chance at encountering patrols of 5 to 10 Angels who will shoot on sight.
Boxed Text posted:
You hear voices coming your way. Looks like wounded returning from the battle. Moments later a wagon drawn by two mules emerges from the gloom, and you hear the whining of dogs. Fifteen Guardian Angels escort a wagon that’s completely full of a heap of something, but under the cover it’s impossible to tell what. “Whoa,” murmurs the driver, and the wagon stops uncomfortably close to your hiding spot.
Two Angels leap down, leaving a woman to observe from atop the wagon. She’s dressed in white, with her hair pulled back into a severely tight bun, and she says not a word. “Thank the Lord it’s you, Sister Andrea,” exclaims one of the walking wounded, “We thought we were goners. Can you—?”
Abruptly one of the Angels knocks the man senseless with a blow to the face. All eight of the red-robed enforcers surround the wounded like a pack of wolves, beating them with clubs. “Help!” shouts a man in terror, “Please God no! Don’t take me there! Anywhere but there!!”
His pleas go silent, and there’s only the sound of wood clubbing meat for a few seconds. Then the Guardian Angels drag the unmoving bodies over to the wagon, shooing away the dogs, and toss them onto a growing pile of humanity.
The woman looks around once, eyes hard as flint, satisfied the event wasn’t observed. The wagon clatters off into the night, as Lacy O’Malley’s mouth hangs open in stunned disbelief.
The book somehow assumes that this tells the PCs and Lacy the truth about Rock Island Prison and the Lost Angels’ cannibalistic rites, although this is a poor way of showing it. It illuminates the Angels as murderous thugs, but there’s no direct indication that the corpses are meant to be consumed. They could just as easily be taking their curfew orders fanatically, a coup among Angels given the wounded recognized Andrea and seemed comforted by her presence, or any number of other reasons bad guys turn on their own.
If the PCs try to intervene, they have to fight Andrea Baird, 15 Guardian Angels, and another 10 Angels in 1d6 rounds if gunfire or loud noises are exchanged. This is not meant to be a fight they can win, but rather to run away from if caught.
Sam Hellman is not staying at the boarding house where O’Malley expected to find him; the single clerk there has nothing to tell the party and Hellman’s room is tidy and shows no signs of disturbance. O’Malley will be freaked out and want to leave soon, and the clerk will summon more Guardian Angels to ambush the PCs unless they somehow ensured his silence or loyalty. Bribery works in this case, for he’s no fanatic. Even if they sneak out successfully they’ll have one more combat encounter with a flight of Guardian Angels. A high-ranking priest by the name of Rooster Peterson leads them, and he can summon a bloody zombie via an enchanted bone fragment, something all high-ranking Angels have on their person in case of trouble.
With little to show for their expedition, the party is about to either high-tail it out of the place entirely or return to the safety of the Wasatch fort, but this is cut short when Hellstromme plays his trump card. Bringing a decisive end to the Great Rail Wars, a fleet of airships soar through the sky. A grinning Dr. Hellstromme visible from the Good Intentions leaves no doubt as to their allegiance. Passing over the outskirts of the city, the airships drop three objects onto the masses of fighters below, emitting an audible trademark wailing-of-the-damned sound ghost rock devices are known for.
Yup, Hellstromme just dropped ghost rock powered pseudo-nukes.
Horrified at this act of barbarity, Lacy O’Malley goes charging into the still-hot fires of Ghost Town, proclaiming that there’s innocents in need of help. Those who accompany O’Malley will need to make Vigor rolls to avoid suffocation from smoke inhalation. They can save a few people, but the neighborhood as a whole burns.
Having done all they can, Lacy plops down by the heroes’ side as the town burns. He congratulates them for the heroism they’ve displayed, and explains how it’s clear that there’s evil in the world and not just the obvious kinds of mortal men’s follies. Lacy has an inkling that a lot of said evil is somehow connected, and he’s part of an organization dedicated to fighting it. Showing them a signet ring with a crossed torch and sword, he identifies it as a membership mark of the Explorer’s Society which poses as a gentleman’s club and fraternity of mutual aid. He explains how the Union and Confederacy already have their own groups for handling not-so-natural terrors, but the Explorer’s Society is unaligned from them and doesn’t discriminate. He mentions that the ring can help them with local authorities in the know in case they have to commit minor crimes when putting a stop to supernatural phenomena.
Lacy gives them directions and instructions for how to join: a British man by the name of Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe is headquartered in Shan Fan who helps induct new members, and to mention Lacy’s name when asking for him. Finally, he points out that Page 13 of the Tombstone Epitaph is used to tip off Explorer’s Society members to strange goings on and people in need of help. They take the forms of advertisements and warnings labelled with GOOD INTENTIONS headings. It’s implied that the Epitaph’s newspaper updates regularly with such ads, but we get an in-game player handout listing all of them:
Barring 3 exceptions which are mini-plot arcs in their own right, this is a list of every Savage Tale in the Flood,* an in-universe way of tipping the PCs off to the campaign’s various side-quests. I really like this, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the adventure path. Oddly enough the future 3 Plot Point Campaigns did not replicate this: the PCs do not join the Explorer’s Society in them with the possible exceptions of Good Intentions, so that may be one explanation. The Last Sons still has Help Wanted missives, but not all of them relate to the Savage Tales and they’re not in one convenient handout. The Savage Tales of Stone and a Hard Place and Good Intentions are more or less meant to be stumbled upon by the PCs.
*and one main Plot Point which is the one in the upper left corner
What I Changed: Hoo boy where to start. The default part of having this big historic climax to one of the setting’s long-running struggles deserves more PC interaction than this. Additionally, the ghost rock atom bomb if handled as is will make the PCs focus on Hellstromme even though Reverend Grimme is the main villain of the campaign. Yeah, there’s that scene with dead bodies being loaded into a wagon, but that does not carry the sheer emotional impact of their employer literally razing a city (or at least the poor section of town). The fact that the PCs had face to face interactions with him in the last 2 adventures makes him a more personal villain than the distant Grimme. There’s a very real chance a gaming group will be going after the wrong BBEG here.
I changed quite a bit in this particular Plot Point: first off I had it so Bayou Vermillion technically beat Hellstromme to the punch. Thanks to said rail company’s undead labor force they laid down tracks the fastest and set up a depot right outside Lost Angels, technically making them the winner of the Great Rail Wars. But Grimme and Hellstromme were in secret communications and the latter had a better deal to offer than the Southern necromancers.
Hellstromme asked the party to do one more favor: deliver a large sealed box into town to deliver to the Church of Lost Angels. Said box contained a mad science device which acted as a primitive radio beacon and thus give the autogyro bombers a target. The PCs had one, but Hellstromme isn’t putting his eggs all in one basket: his agents had two other boxes to deliver to areas in Lost Angels bearing Grimme’s political opposition. The boxes would target Lost Angel’s Chinatown (technically Ghost Town, but picked a name which would bear more immediate significance to the players), the headquarters of the city’s opposition party who I later made the Men of the Grid, and finally the Bayou Vermillion Rail Depot. This last one was important, as without a functional rail line said company couldn’t claim the exclusive US/Confederate contract while Wasatch can.
Through the party’s huckster’s Hunch along with feelings that things were afoot (the person who picked up their package was Sister Andrea Baird of Grimme’s inner circle), the PCs figured that some stuff was about to go down but chalked it up to an internal church power struggle. Not being fond of the Church, whose zealously violent ways were common knowledge in the setting if not their cannibalism, the PCs found out about the boxes’ location and Grimme’s deal via some sleuthing and had enough time to take care of one of them. They opted for Chinatown, figuring it had the greatest number of innocent people. Some of Hellstromme’s unwitting X-Squad troopers (mad scientist rail warriors) were standing guard, unaware they were to become sacrificial lambs. The party had no mechanically-inclined members among their ranks at the time, so they disabled it via brute force.
The bombings would thus serve a dual purpose: get rid of Grimme’s enemies right in his home and hand the Great Rail Wars over to Hellstromme, while being plausible enough to be brushed off as indiscriminate casualties wrought by the multi-sided Great Rail Wars. The ghostfire bombs would also act as a deterrent against the United States’ encroachment of Deseret, much like the atomic bomb IRL (in my campaign we used the Dead South campaign variant, meaning there was no Confederacy.
4. Big Trouble in Little Shan Fan
Savage Tales: At this point in the campaign a little over half of the Savage Tales listed in the Epitaph are able to be accessed. The other half not unlocked yet are five* involving the glyph hunt (which unlock after Plot Point 7), Treasure Hunters (unlocked after Plot Point 4), Flesh of the Mad Monk and Long Live the New Flesh (unlocked after Plot Point 5), and The Battle o’ Junction and Ballots and Bullets (which trigger after a few months of in-game time passes since the Battle of Lost Angels).
*The three arc-length Savage Tales tie into the glyph hunts, which would technically make them eight.
This is where the Flood Plot Point Campaign gets off the literal railroad tracks and really opens up. The main adventures are further spaced out between each other instead of occurring right after another, giving the PCs relative freedom to go about California on their own. There’s no timetable for them to get to Shan Fan, and the book recommends tossing them a Savage Tale and several stops at locations along the way even if they wish to make a beeline for the Explorer’s Society.
The Iron Dragon Rail Line starts out from Lion’s Roar and goes through Shannonsburg, with the 37th Chamber nearby before going up to Dragon’s Breath and then finally Shan Fan. Quarrytown and Lynchburg are in the Great Maze proper, and a huge amount of Savage Tales actually take place within a few miles of Lost Angels’ environs. And given the above selection, there’s quite a bit to choose from!
When the PCs get to Shan Fan and want to find the Explorer’s Society, they have to ask around in Chinese (any dialect) and make a Streetwise roll at a hefty -4 penalty. On a success, they learn that the Society lodge burned down under mysterious circumstances and people suspect they ran afoul of the Triad. They’re pointed to Long-Haired Tony for more information, who explains that most of their order left town but he reckons one of them is holded up in the Sunrise House hotel.
Here’s the shindig on what’s going down: there are two Explorer’s Society members in Shan Fan. The one in the hotel is Rutherford Ellington Dillenger, and his partner Roderick Pennington-Smythe is currently in the custody of Thin Noodles Ma’s goons. Said gangster entered into an alliance with Warlord Kwan, who wanted a pendant in the Society’s possession stolen and brought to him. Naturally the Explorer’s Society was unwilling to part with this item for it is actually the Amulet of Rahashimir, a talisman of fell power capable of bringing back the dead but only for truly evil souls. The gangsters reacted by burning down the lodge, causing the members to scatter. Unfortunately the talisman is indestructable to all manner of natural and supernatural means, so Pennington-Smythe tried to discard the amulet in the hills outside of town before he got kidnapped. Now Dillinger is holed up in the hotel at a loss for what to do until the PCs show up.
The adventure has no explanation for what happens if none of the PCs speak Chinese or succeed on the roll; I presume they have to keep rolling or hire a translator, which kind of defeats the purpose as otherwise the entire questline is put on hold.
Boxed Text posted:
Dillenger has taken a suite in the hotel since the lodge burned, and has hired a group of five armed guards. The guards are former gunmen of the Great Rail Wars, so they’re rough and ready for action, but they’re also mostly worried about attackers of the Oriental variety and won’t pose much of an obstacle to the posse. A simple Persuasion roll should suffice for most parties to move past these “gentlemen.”
Besides the assumption that no gaming groups will have a Chinese PC in spite of said sourcebook giving many mechanical options for martial artist characters, this is a rather eye-opening entry in that it once again breaks with Deadlands’ ethos of having racism be the dominion of individual villains and the most ignorant of people. These hired guards are in the employ of the good guys, which kind of throws a gear in that wrench even if they’re tough mercs for hire.
If the PCs manage to earn Dillenger’s trust (likely by mentioning why they were sent), he opens up and tells the party what he knows. He asks for help but is reluctant to financially compensate the heroes; he can cough up $200 if push comes to shove.
To search for Pennington-Smythe’s location. the PCs can roll Streetwise checks at a -4 penalty in a similar manner to the above. They can even approach Big Ears Tam and learn that Ma’s holding their quarry in a safehouse in the Skids. The adventure’s rather vague on how the PCs can get an audience, but also that he has no trouble giving up this information as he views this as a test to see how Ma handles troublemakers. If Ma can’t keep troublemakers from snooping around, he “has no business serving in Tam’s glorious army." Tam is unaware of the amulet or Ma’s machinations, or else the “no black magic” law of Shan Fan would certainly land the latter in hot water. Not that Tam is likely to believe a group of newcomers versus the words of an established Big Brother.
The safehouse itself is guarded by eight tong gangsters. They’re all Extras with Veteran Martial Artist stats but no supernatural chi powers, so they shouldn’t be too hard to take out. Four of them stand guard outside while the other four are keeping a close eye on Pennington-Smythe. Once freed he thanks the party in a very dapper British manner and a dusting off of the monocle. He explains that he was kidnapped by the gangsters because he knew the whereabouts of an artifact they wanted, but one of their sorcerers read his mind and dispatched a team to reclaim it. He asks the PCs’ help in retrieving it without delay. He won’t identify the artifact as the Amulet of Rahashimir unless the PCs explain that they heard about it from Dillinger.
The Wailing Hole
Captain Pennington-Smythe was not exactly thorough in ensuring the amulet wouldn’t fall into danger. The cave he dropped it into gave life to a very strong, wicked spirit known as the Wailing Doom who helped Raven trigger the Great Quake. Its ghastly wails emanate out of the subterranean reaches, which can be mistaken for escaping air or wind from underground but still sounds creepy as hell. Thin Noodles Ma sent his most trusted lieutenant, a half-ogre known as the Ox, along with a group of gangsters to retrieve it from the hole. All but Ox were pulverized by the Wailing Doom’s stony blows, and now Ox is hiding from the thing in fear of his life.
Being a sort of miniature dungeon crawl, the Fear Level here is higher at 4 than the rest of Shan Fan, which is normally at 3. The Flood does this for locations and dungeons that are spookier than normal, which is a nice touch to illustrate when party members step through the threshold of darkness.
The Wailing Doom will not attack the heroes immediately. Only after they go further into the cave will it try to ambush them. It is a full-fledged boss: it has a whopping 1d12+6 Strength, and its smash attack deal an additional 1d6 damage meaning it can very easily knock out the average PC with a solid blow. Its Toughness is 17 and it has 6 points of armor which cannot be negated by Armor Piercing attacks, making it practically immune to most firearms.
There are two sticks of dynamite among the bodies of the tongs which can be found via a raise on a Notice roll, and every round in combat Pennington-Smythe can make a free Knowledge (Occult) roll. On a success, he figures out the Wailing Doom’s weakness unless the PCs already did: the center of the spirit’s forehead holds an unpolished garnet between its two black eyes. The stone can be targeted via a -6 penalty, but if at least 10 damage is dealt to it this kills the Wailing Doom in one blow. Otherwise the most likely avenues of destruction are bundles of dynamite or heavy-hitting spells which ace on their damage.
Ox will either try to steal the amulet during the fight (it’s implied to be lying somewhere nearby) or joins the PCs in fighting the Wailing Doom as an unlikely ally. His first priority is survival and completing his mission, in that order.
After the Wailing Doom is killed and Ox is dealt with, the PCs can recover the amulet. A Notice roll identifies a series of glowing runes on a nearby wall, appearing much like a lightning bolt symbol in luminescent paint. This is the symbol for earthquake among Native American tribes of California, and can be IDed by PCs who lived among said cultures.
Victorious, a grateful Pennington-Smythe (or Dillenger in the event of the former’s death) officially inducts the party into the Explorer’s Society. He explains that said Society traces its roots back to the Twilight Legion, a fellowship of monster hunters and purgers of supernatural evil which traces its roots back to Ancient Rome. It has undergone many different names in different cultures since such as the Sons of Solomon or the Rippers. The societies are independent and often know nothing of each other, connected only by records and oral tales hinting at common origins.
Pennington-Smythe also explains that what they know of the hidden conspiracy of evil is that it is called the Reckoning, those behind it are known merely as the Reckoners, and that it happened very recently in history. An upsurge of all manner of supernatural events and monstrous creatures has been sighted since around the last decade. It’s a worldwide phenomena, but a concentration of such creatures and events is occuring around the American West. He’s also willing and able to answer unrelated questions, like what kind of monsters he’s fought (all sorts, from Chinese folkloric demons to lovecraftian beasts and demons wearing human flesh), as well as his thoughts on the Agency and Texas Rangers (agree with the need to suppress the truth to prevent panic, but too ruthless in their methods).
With this adventure complete, the PCs are now on their own. They are not given any leads immediately for the next Plot Point: it is meant to occur an indeterminate amount of time after the PCs get their fill of Savage Tales.
Fun Fact: Although it’s not part of the Deadlands universe, the Weird Wars Rome setting by Pinnacle Entertainment featured a Twilight Legion with a night-identical mission statement. They were a secret society among the Roman government which recruited Legionnaires, politicians, and other connected people who not only encountered supernatural dangers but were willing and able to fight them.
One of Pinnacle’s other game lines, the Rippers, details an organization of the same name operating out of Victorian England. In addition to scientific and magical aid, some of these monster hunters incorporated the body parts of slain beasts “ripped” from their flesh to enhance their own abilities.
Thoughts So Far: The Flood’s main adventure begins rather railroady in a very literal manner, but it opens up immeasurably after this. The first two adventures do a fine job of establishing the game’s basics and strike a good balance between action and role-play, but the third adventure takes a nose dive in quality as the PCs literally sit out the meat of the action and quite possibly get misled about the campaign’s major enemy.
What’s even weirder is that Hellstromme more or less disappears from the campaign afterward. His rail warriors and X-squad troopers do not make any further appearances in the Plot Point, and the only Savage Tale which tangentially involves them has the PCs accepting a job offer from them. Which is...odd, given how the ghostfire bombing established Hellstromme as an evil SOB.
Plot Point 4 was better in that it was different enough from the previous ones and had a more sleuthing feel with a new villainous group to fight in the Triads. But the investigation portion suffers from the common tabletop adventure curse of “make a skill check or else you’re stuck.” The fight against the Wailing Doom was challenging and high-stakes for my own group, and the whole joining a secret society along with a literal handout of sidequests was pretty cool.
Join us next time as we cover the last half of the main Plot Point Campaign!
The Flood Plot Point Campaign, Part 2Original SA post
Quite enjoying your changes from the core, Libertad, and I hope your players had a good time. You're dead on in nailing some of the glaring flaws of Deadlands metaplot adventures.
Indeed they did. The adventure spawned 3-4 months worth of great gaming sessions. Unfortunately I came over with a huge case of DM Fatigue near the end and put the campaign on break for now. But I do plan on returning to it someday.
And without further do...
The Flood Plot Point Campaign, Part 2
5. The Rock
Good Intentions! posted:
Our Fellowship of Travelers will meet at the Fallen Angel Saloon in Perdition this Saturday at high noon. Attendance is required!
The party gets an important notice whenever the GM’s ready to move the plot forward. If for some reason they’re unwilling or unable to attend, Lacy O’Malley tracks them down to help them out of whatever trouble they’re in or gives them an encouragement of reward to motivate them for this next adventure.
Lacy O’Malley hasn’t given up on trying to rescue Sam Hellman, and explains at the meeting that he knows a stonemason who is certain that the poor fellow’s being held in Rock Island Prison. A frontal assault would be suicide, so instead Lacy’s plan is to call in a favor from a Maze pirate to do a hit and run raid to distract the Rock’s sentries. The PCs would use this opportunity to sneak around to a weak section of drain the stonemason pretended to seal up while working there as a secret way into the prison.
It turns out that O’Malley’s plan goes off without a hitch. The Maze pirates draw the bulk of the prison guards to the southern walls far away from the northern drain entrance. The party has 30 minutes before the pirate fleet retreats which is more than enough time to get in and out. The text also references the metaplot in how Jasper Stone managed to escape Rock Island Prison via this very drain, which Grimme sealed up once he found out about it.
Kind of a roundabout way for an otherwise simple explanation (“stonemason left a weak spot in the prison”), but it wouldn’t be Deadlands otherwise!
The drain has a sturdy grill which will not budge against anything short of dynamite, but a hidden cord can be pulled to lift the hatch on the other side. The sewer leads into a room with a creepy but dead sea monster and eventually the basement of Rock Island Prison. Home to Cell Block C, the occupants are kept separate from the general population due to either their danger or for Grimme wanting what they know kept secret. There’s a single Lost Angels cultist acting as a guard in the area who is pretty much the only opposition. The four prisoners within are all heavily injured and include a formal town marshal part of the Men of the Grid; a covert werewolf by the name of Eddie Griff who is healthy due to regeneration but will transform and attack everyone nearby at the most dramatic moment; Charley Bill Buckner, the foreman who was part of the underground crew of Dr. Hellstromme’s train and who the PCs would have met back in the first adventure; and finally Samuel Hellman.
There are no further complications than what’s above if the PCs manage to escape. Sam Hellman, once he recovers, will tell the PCs all about the Lost Angels’ cannibalistic rites, how whatever thing Grimme actually worships is part of the Reckoning, and how Grimme was granted supernatural powers masquerading as holy miracles in exchange for helping bring about a Hell on Earth. He also explains how Grimme appears near-immortal or at least superhumanly tough, as one person stabbing him through the heart did nothing to the guy.
Hellman learned all of this from an Indian shaman cellmate by the name of Sees Far Ahead, who also knew of a way to kill Grimme but was taken out of prison to an unknown fate. The only lead they now have is the Necessity Alliance, a political organization of Native Americans. Their headquarters is unknown, but some members are known to live in Lion’s Roar. One of their leaders knew Sees Far Ahead, and so is the person who has the best chance of either finding out his location or anything the shaman told them about Grimme and the Church.
What I Changed: If you run this adventure as is, it’s going to be way too easy and anti-climactic even barring the werewolf surprise. When a gaming group hears “prison break” they’re at the very least going to expect an extensive shoot-em-up, a no-holds-barred prison riot, or both.
First off, I actually had the hook for The Rock leaked before the adventure started proper. This took the form of a tip in that the Church of Lost Angels were doing some renovation and construction on the prison due to finding a glyph of some sort beneath it. One just like in the Wailing Hole. The party was thus also tasked with finding out what research the Church was conducting on these glyphs in addition to rescuing Sam Hellman.
Furthermore, I had it so that the PCs had to recruit allies for the jailbreak itself rather than leaving it entirely to O’Malley. I presented five Savage Tales related to gaining the friendship of certain factions in California whose favors can be called in later. The more groups the party recruited, the more ground they could cover, and I put a hard minimum of 2 factions required before this Plot Point could be started.
Said Tales were:
The Rancher’s Life: In trying to gain a monopoly over food production the Church of Lost Angels made lots of enemies among cattle barons.
Off the Grid: The Men of the Grid are opposed to the Church on principle, and their ability to create dynamite which can explode underwater would be a boon for this quest.
Ballots and Bullets: Installing Luke Watson as mayor in the town of Perdition will ensure the local government is aligned against Lost Angels’ government.
The Scientific Method: Depending on how this adventure shakes out, the PCs can gain the aid of either Smith & Robards mad scientists or the Shaolin Monks of the 37th Chamber.
Ghost Rot: Helping the US Army in its time of need will give you friends in high places. And they’re no fans of Lost Angels either.
Once the time came to do the prison break, I had the Explorer’s Society along with representatives of the five factions gather in a “war room” in the Fallen Angel Saloon. Unfurling a map of the prison’s upper levels, Captain Pennington-Smythe then laid out five complicating factors:
Waylay the Warden: I made Sister Andrea Baird, one of Grimme’s inner circle, act as warden for the prison. She delegates to a second-in-command in order to go to church every Sunday. Her absence will result in a less coordinated guard if she is occupied/unable to reach the Rock in time.
The Ironclad: The Lost Angels fleet has an intimidating ironclad patrolling the waters near the city. In the event of a disruption at the Rock it can be called in to provide support with cannons and more Guardian Angels.
A Getaway Vehicle: The party cannot very well swim their way free. Use of a waterbound or even aerial vehicle is necessary for a quick and clean getaway.
Searchlights: Rock Island Prison uses big searchlights to regularly illuminate the surrounding waters at night as well as darkened spots of their own prison. Finding some way to destroy said lights will give the party more blind spots to exploit.
Hired Muscle: In a pinch one of the factions can be used to provide NPC allies to accompany the party.
The PCs would then assign one allied faction to a particular complication. This really helped give the feel of player autonomy and choice: not only were they planning out how they would infiltrate the prison, this also gave their various side missions a clear and noticeable impact on the main story rather than feeling like isolated incidents.
Certain factions had strengths in what they could do: the People of Perdition would be little more than mundane townsfolk with Hired Muscle, but they could arrange for a slowdown at the port to Waylay the Warden. The Men of the Grid may not have a Getaway Vehicle beyond a modest boat, but their underwater dynamite can easily sabotage the foundations of the Searchlights or trigger a rockslide to block off a channel for the Ironclad.
For the prison itself, I arranged 20 Guardian Angels about the place, put a vampire as the second-in-command, and had it so the sea monster’s corpse in the sewer entry was alive and whose violent gyrations could cause a flood in Cell Block C.
My party gained the aid of the People of Perdition, the US Army (who could provide an ironclad of their own), the Men of the Grid, and in a weird twist of deception and role-play both the Mad Scientists and Shaolin monks. The PCs assigned Perdition to get sharpshooters to snipe out the searchlights, the Mad Scientists for a getaway vehicle, the Men of the Grid to use underwater dynamite to disable the ironclad, and the Shaolin monks would waylay the warden. Our martial artist PC suggested disguising themselves as Guardian Angels delivering a food convoy to the prison, hiding their weapons in large cheese wheels instead of going in through the sewer.
6. Tribal Warfare
This Plot Point is triggered anytime the PCs follow up on Hellman’s lead. This is easier said than done: Native Americans are few and far between in California these days, and the bulk of the Necessity Alliance is intentionally isolated to keep their numbers secret from hostile groups. Naturally the party cannot simply walk up to their lands if they cannot find them in the first place, and need to either find a guide with a connection to the tribes* or get at least five total successes on a once-per-day collective Smarts roll to find their headquarters.
*The specific tribes of the Alliance are the Klamath as the most populous, followed by the Chumash, Miwok, Ohlone/Costanoan, and Gabrielino tribes.
The posse could try contacting the Natives living in Lion’s Roar, too. Said community is a Chinese mining town under the control of the rail baron Kang, ruled over directly by Red Petals Su who the PCs had a tussle with back in Plot Point 2. Complicating matters further is the town’s racial segregation where non-Chinese visitors are limited to the docks. Unless the PCs rely upon cloak and dagger infiltration they’ll likely run afoul of Kang’s pirates and Su.
By whatever means, the Necessity Alliance’s leaders and some five hundred Indians live up on a mesa in the Great Maze. Its high position and cliff-side trails make for a great natural defense and vantage point; unless the PCs approach in a small-enough vessel by night or some other means they will be spotted. A dozen Indian braves acting as guards will fire off some warning shots via arrows and dropped rocks but will not kill save in self-defense. In order to secure safe entry a PC must make a Persuasion roll at a near-impossible -8 penalty if they’re white. Black and Mexican/Latino PCs still have a hefty -6, and even Native Americans of any tribe have a -4. The module makes no mention of penalties for other races and ethnicities, not even Chinese. Mentioning Sees Far Ahead’s name grants a +2 bonus on the roll, but even then this is still a very hefty penalty for a “succeed on the skill or the adventure halts” roll.
The rest of the adventure presumes that the PCs managed to get into the Mesa via non-violent means. The current leader, Stalks the Night, grants them an audience in a large lodge to explain things. He doesn’t know where Sees Far Ahead is now, but the Alliance’s other leader Born in a Bowl would. Unfortunately said woman has been kidnapped by the Rattlesnake Clan, a secret order of Indian mages seeking to drive the white settlers off their land. Stalks the Night mentions that he likes the cut of their jib, but not how they go about their means on account that the spirits they summon tend to slaughter humans indiscriminately regardless of their ethnicity. Stalks the Night is willing to lend his best warrior, Eyes Like Fire, to help the PCs rescue Born in a Bowl. However he’s loathe to send more of his own braves when he can get some outsiders to risk themselves first.
Unfortunately Stalks the Night is a dirty ol’ double crosser. He and the best brave he’s sending out did not get on with Sees Far Ahead in the past. Although not a fan of the Rattlesnake Clan, he used the paranoia of Born in a Bowl’s kidnapping to execute political rivals he accused of consorting with the enemy to establish himself as the Alliance’s leader. He knows that if Born in a Bowl is rescued or Sees Far Ahead returns his little setup will fall apart, so Eyes Like Fire is tasked with killing her.
The Rattlesnake Den is a four-room Fear Level 4 dungeon full mostly of traps, located in a creepy grotto covered with jumbled splinters of trees. The entrance trap is the haphazard assembly of splintered wood which imposes a Fatigue level on a failed Agility roll, while the second room is full of rotten fruit-head dolls and thousands of buzzing insects which will impose an automatic Fatigue level if the PCs cannot find a way to either kill them all or protect their flesh from their bites and stings. The third room is a grotesque abattoir of six captured braves suspended between the world of the living and dead. They hang on the walls over a latticework of holes where sharks below swim amidst muddy water, and emit unearthly groans which impart Fatigue on a failed Vigor roll every round. Anyone who falls unconscious is at risk of falling through the lattice work to be eaten by sharks. The groaning can be stopped only by beheading them; personally I would’ve allowed for exorcism to work, too.
What I Changed: As room 3 was small enough and the PCs already found ways to dodge the first two traps, I instead had the sharks directly leap up and attack the party in room 3. Our mad scientist managed to zombify one of the sharks and grant it limited locomotion to use as a very beefy meat shield.
The final area holds Born in a Bowl, unconscious and near-death, trapped under a bundle of jagged twigs holding her in place. Papa Rattlesnake will appear to attack: he is a Shaman and does not have many powers, but he uses them all as part of his tactics. They all manifest with snake themes: he can use Beast Friend to summon venomous snakes to fight the party, his Bolt power manifests as him throwing snakes at enemies, he can use Quickness to grant him 2 actions in a round, and he liberally uses his Teleport power to keep his distance. He also has an amazing d12+2 Strength score but no weapon, making him not too shabby in melee. He’s also aided by a swarm of possessed kachina dolls which will waylay the party.
What I Changed: I kept the same stats but turned the kachina doll swarm into a swarm of rattlesnakes. Was more thematic that way.
Once the PCs save Born in a Bowl, she confirms that Sees Far Ahead is dead, and only he knows of the way to defeat Reverend Grimme. If she has his skull they can speak with him directly, but in order to find it they must chop off her pinky finger: a successful Spirit or Healing gives a clean cut while a failed one makes her scream in pain. The finger then animates on its own, hopping about before ‘pointing’ in a certain direction like a compass. She cannot accompany the party as she must take control of the Necessity Alliance, but her finger will help guide them to the shamans’ final resting place: Jehosaphat Valley, the Church of Lost Angels’ mass grave for the bones of the non-believers, poor, and homeless slaughtered for their many meals.
Not So Fun Fact: The overall lack of Native Americans so far in this adventure path actually has an historical basis. By the time of the late 1800s the amount of estimated Native Americans in California dwindled to less than 30,000. A century before US statehood the Catholic Mission system of the Spanish Empire engaged in comprehensive attempts at converting and assimilating them into Western Christian culture. Add reservations, the American Indian Wars, and colonialism to the mix and it’s no surprise there’s so few around.
7. Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!
Overall the Fear Levels of areas have hovered between 2 to 4, with a rare few areas delineating from that. Lost Angels and Rock Island Prison are both 5, but we have not seen any bonafide Fear Level 6 Deadlands yet.
This will all change when the PCs head on over to Jehosaphat Valley.
As a huge dumping ground for countless victims of the Church’s depredations, the concentrated despair and misery within Jehosaphat Valley gave life to all manner of fell horrors. The Lost Angels keep said beings contained within tall stone walls with cannons pointed inward and round-the-clock guards, for even the monsters generated have no kin with Famine’s servants. The most common monsters within are ‘gloms, literal shambles of corpses fused together and animated by a manitou spirit, and bone fiends which are massive six-legged conglomeration of bones with a pitch-black human skull as their “heart.” There are four flights of Guardian Angels of five people each on patrol. Each of them mans 6-pounder cannons to blast said creatures to smithereens. Father Ambrose, one of Reverend Grimme’s 13 Elders, oversees the patrols here and loves his job. He lost an arm to a ‘glom at the Battle of Gettysburg, so this is cathartic to him.
Beyond the above there’s also seven wraiths trapped within special sarcophagi who have been tortured into madness. The spirits were Blessed dangerous enough to put a damper in Grimme’s plans, so their corpses needed to be sealed in special coffins and will attack anyone who opens them. Sees Far Ahead’s skull is somewhere within a literal pit of bones, which is also guarded over by a bone fiend.
The PCs have a bit of freedom to come up with plans on how to get inside Jehosaphat Valley, offering a few possible ideas and how they’d be done (and go wrong), ranging from disguises to using magical intrusion or even a frontrol assault.
What I Changed: When playing with my own group, the party mad scientist used a teleportation device to get up onto a section of wall and kill the Lost Angels flight within the nearest tower. They followed the finger to the bone pit, and I described the bone fiend as a giant dinosaur skeleton which the other Lost Angels began shooting at with their cannons. While beating a high-tail retreat, the PCs climbed up to the tower they took control of and aimed the 6-pounder cannons at the other Lost Angel flights to kill them too. Nevermind that this risked unleashing the horrors within the Valley; they really did not like the Church of Lost Angels.
Once the skull’s taken back to Born in a Bowl, she channels the spirit of Sees Far Ahead by summoning a shared vision. This vision is a lengthy set of boxed text which more or less tells of the real Reverend Grimme’s final days during the Great Quake of ‘68. The difference is that the PCs collectively see things through his eyes, all the way up to his death and then through through evil not-Grimme’s eyes as he arrives to greet his sinful flock.
Boxed Text posted:
You wake with the worst hangover of your life. Born in a Bowl continues to chant…then stops. She speaks in a voice that is not her own.
“I know what you seek. I will aid you. The evil is rising and there are so few left to fight. The man you know as Grimme is a creature of great evil—the collective evil of the 13 who slew him. To kill Grimme, you must kill the 13 Elders. And they do not die easily. But if all 13 can be slain within one hour of each other—near their center of power at the great black building with colored lights[the Cathedral]—their power will end. They know this and so stay far apart, all over the West. But once every year on the anniversary of their feast—from sunrise to sunset on August 23rd by the white man’s calendar—they must gather to eat again and renew their power.
“How you accomplish this task is up to you, but the spirits whisper of a great Flood. One that will destroy the 13 and the center of their power—the cathedral—forever. If you wish to trigger this Flood, you must control the Earth Spirits who guard this land once more. Find their signs in the caves. Someone, or several people, must shed blood on at least seven signs. When next one of these people spills his own blood on raw soil, the spirits will answer and shake the earth. Stand at Grimme’s cathedral while the 13 feast and you will destroy them all.
“Trigger the Flood. Destroy the city. Kill the 13.”
So I have several problems with this. First off, although the book acknowledges the huge civilian casualties, evacuating the city of civilians will be nearly impossible for Reverend Grimme and his 13 Elders will escape if so. No matter that this will disrupt their annual pact, this is not given as a legitimate means of ending Grimme and the 13’s immortality. There’s also the very real fact that the PCs, who by now are likely quite “high level” and have all manner of cool gadgets, gear, skills, and magic. “Oh we just have to kill 13 of ‘em within the hour? Screw the Flood, let’s do it the old-fashioned way!”
Additionally not part of the boxed text, Born in a Bowl explains that the cathedral must be destroyed as well as the Elders, thus the reason for the Flood. But even with that complication I can see a party trying to use explosives in strategic locations or similar means.
Beyond the practical questions there’s also the moral conundrum which is greatly weakened on account of how the adventure setup Hellstromme as a bonafide bad guy for dropping ghostfire bombs. But when he did that, it was mostly on soldiers already fighting and the civilian casualties were in the outskirts of the city. Even though he wasn’t doing it to wipe out a great supernatural evil, the civilian casualties of the Flood ritual will be far higher. The Flood is not just going to destroy a huge section of the city and those living within, it will also do collateral damage to nearby communities which are pointed out in a sidebar in the Marshal’s Section of how the setting changes after the Flood: the Big M Ranch, Carver’s Landing, Dragonhold, Felicity Peak, Junction, Quarrytown, and Van Horn’s Light are all demolished from the rushing waters.
What I Changed: I wanted to keep the divine flood as part of the adventure, but changed things around so that the PCs will hunt for the glyphs and use a ritual taught by Sees Far Ahead to disable them. Even if Grimme and the Church fall, their continued existence represents a threat that future evildoers will use, and the Lost Angels are already searching for the glyphs on their own given their research in Rock Island Prison. I added more encounters with Lost Angel agents during the glyph hunt side quests as a result, turning the Glyph Hunt into a Glyph Race.
As for what the Church wanted with the glyphs, I tied it back to the mass sacrifice of Grimme’s Day of Righteousness. The demons which slaughtered his congregation helped expand the false holy aura for his followers’ magic to 75 miles from the Lost Angels’ cathedral. Grimme wanted to recreate a Biblical Flood using the glyphs and effectively recreating the Great Quake of ‘68. The casualties and loss of lives would extend the radius exponentially, covering the whole of California and possibly the entire continent!
I would then put the final glyph within the Lost Angels Cathedral itself for the Flood of the final adventure. Reverend Grimme will have already activated it in order to extend his 75 mile aura of false holiness by slaughtering the city’s inhabitants, and the PCs would have to disable the glyph in time while also tangling with Grimme and his force. There would still be a Flood even on a victory, but one much less powerful.
We have not one, but two full-page sidebars talking all about the glyphs. Even though technically near the end of the Plot Point, it is one of the larger and more significant parts of the Flood. The PCs cannot trigger the final mission until they discover and activate seven glyphs. In addition to the one in the Wailing Hole, the sourcebook proper details three others as part of larger Savage Tales arcs not part of the Epitaph’s Good Intentions. Two Savage Tales proper, The Scientific Method and Treasure Hunters, reveal glyphs directly as part of their quests. Cult o’ the Dragon, Head Full o’ Nothin’ and In Search of Goldnose all involve the revelation of a glyph location as their reward.
This is more than seven, which is intentional. The book wants there to be relative freedom in how the PCs go about finding the required glyphs, and to customize ones based on the PCs’ own backgrounds and ties. The seven official glyphs listed by the book are all in dungeon-like locations, such as a sea cave filled with all number of sharks and a few Maze Dragons, a tomb holding a powerful demon disguised as an angel which will lead the PCs into death traps, and an ancient Indian burial ground near Shannonsburg in which four major California factions (chosen by the GM) after currently fighting over. Only three of them are detailed fully in the Savage Tales, with the GM expected to do the work for the other four if they’re used.
8. The Flood
I will note that of the main Plot Point adventures in the Flood, this is the only one I have yet to run as of this writing. This is not an involved plan, dungeon crawl, or wild goose chase. Just a good old-fashioned shootout with the Servitor of Famine himself and his many minions in front of the Lost Angels Cathedral.
Grimme’s not one to be humble when it comes to Unholy Feasts of the Damned, and he invited 100 of his most favored servants to attend a grisly feast of human flesh. The honorary soylent-green-to-be is an NPC of importance, ideally one the party cares about or struck up a rapport with earlier in the campaign. In order to trigger the Flood, any PC who put their blood on a petroglyph can spill their own via a self-inflicted cut within a dozen yards of the cathedral. Once this is done a huge earthquake shakes the foundations of the land, causing mass panic as portions of the cathedral start to come loose.
Boxed Text posted:
You look toward the ocean. There are swells, but no great flood. No biblical deluge to wipe away the evil that plagues this city. Has something gone wrong? Or does it simply need more time?
Suddenly the doors of the cathedral fly open. Reverend Grimme and a scowling group of white-robed, blood-spattered individuals stagger out. Grimme looks directly at whoever unleashed this disaster. He opens his mouth and it feels like he channels the collective screams of Hell itself. “BOOOOOOYYYYY!!!!” (Or “GIIIIIIIRRRRRRLLL!!!!” as circumstances merit.)
Given that by default the PCs have never gotten the opportunity to personally meet Reverend Grimme in this adventure yet, it’s incredibly comical that instead of opening with a badass speech or threats of damnation he just shouts “BOOOOOOYYYYY!!!!” as the precursor to the campaign’s final battle.
Thanks to the Servitor’s own foul influence they’ll be innately aware of when the blood is spilled and where the PCs are. Like it or not this is going to be a battle for the ages. If the PC who triggered the ritual dies (not wounded or incapacitated) the ritual will end and the flood will uselessly collapse in on itself. However, said PC has four hoodoo (earth spirits) which rise to protect and aid him in battle, and furthermore are immune to the attacks of the 13 Elders and have Improved Arcane Resistance vs Grimme’s magic.
Grimme himself will come out swinging with all the unholy powers he can muster, attended by his 13 elders, a demon in the guise of an angel, 10 Guardian Angels and a pair of Avenging Angel superiors. Grimme and the demon are wild cards, meaning the rest are treated as very numerous Extras.
His stats are detailed in the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook, but Reverend Grimme is basically an anti-Blessed who has access to every power available to said arcane background. He has infinite power points to cast what he wills, and in addition to that he can summon up to two demons (one of which is already here). Furthermore he’s surrounded by invisible starvation spirits in a 24 hex radius which impose a level of Fatigue every round on a failed Vigor roll, which can be quite debilitating as the battle goes on. Finally he has a hickory stick which can strike dead anyone it hits in melee. A failed Spirit roll consumes their soul, and even on a success it deals 2d10 damage.
This battle can be won if the PCs can fend off Grimme’s forces for 13 rounds, after which the bulk of the flood rises over the city in a gargantuan wave, descending slowly yet surely. Reverend Grimme defiantly curses the descending doom while the Elders who survived cowardly rush and trip over each other in a futile bid for escape. The last thing the PCs see is a column of water crushing Grimme and his servants in a gory splattering of blood and bone…
The book then encourages the GM to pretend as though that’s the end of the adventure, close the book, and dwell for a minute on the PCs’ reactions before opening up the book again with a “Wait! Maybe…”
Boxed Text posted:
You distinctly remember a choir of angels. Lights. Clouds. Peace. And by God—you weren’t hungry any more. But that feeling passed. Now you just feel tired and wet. Soaking wet.You open your eyes. You’re somewhere in the ruins of Lost Angels, lying in a field of broken bodies and scattered debris. The city is destroyed—and flooded. The cathedral is a shattered wreck.
You manage to rise up a bit and look around. One of you is atop a crushed roof, another is half-buried in sand and dirt, another is tangled in the splintered timbers of a smashed cart—but miraculously still drawing breath.
A cow—of all things—stands dazed and bewildered, still chewing sopping wet cud as it looks at you in bewilderment. It’s comical—you can’t help but smile and laugh as your companions study the beast as well. It looks…healthier somehow. You sense the drought and diseases that ravage the herds out here have subsided. Famine and her terrible servant are defeated. For now at least.
The cow looks at you quizzically one last time—then happily returns to grazing the wet grass at its feet. Mooooo!!!
Thoughts So Far: The Flood’s second half had a good variety of action scenes and enemies to keep things fresh. I particularly liked the creepy vibes of Jehosaphat Valley and the Rattlesnake Den, although the Rock prison break as is is rather underwhelming. The final battle has the potential to be an intense and challenging fight, and although I don’t like the reason behind it I do enjoy the idea of hunting down glyphs all over California in preparation for the final battle.
Join us next time as we cover the Savage Tales of the Flood, all the sidequests fit to bear!
Savage Tales, Part 1Original SA post
Savage Tales, Part 1
The Flood’s many side plots are the second-largest portion of the book behind the Marshal’s section. We have 32 Savage Tales in total, 9 of which are part of three plot arcs which culminate or align with finding a glyph. The rest of them are part of the Tombstone Epitaph’s GOOD INTENTIONS help wanted ads: their entries even begin with their relevant newspaper section as a handout! About half of the latter are immediately available after the completion of Plot Point 3, but the rest either unlock after events as part of the main adventure or after a few in-game months.
Time-Based Savage Tales: The Battle o’ Junction, Ballots and Bullets
Plot Point 3 Completion Unlocks: Fellheimer’s Folly, The Rancher’s Life, Groaning Man Cave, the Russian Menace, Rabid Rance Strikes Again!, The Creature of Archeron Bay, Wanted: Dead or Alive!, Off the Grid, City of Omens and Zeroes, The Scientific Method, Ghost Rot, Harriman’s Legacy, Those Smug Bastards
Plot Point 4 Completion Unlocks: Treasure Hunters
Plot Point 5 Completion Unlocks: Flesh of the Mad Monk, Love Ling the New Flesh
Plot Point 7 Completion Unlocks: Night of the Caretaker mini-arc, The War of the Triads mini-arc, The Rise and Fall of Santa Anna mini-arc, Cult o’ the Dragon, Head Full o’ Nothin’, In Search of Goldnose, Famished!, Hasteli’s Children (after 2 or 3 glyphs)
Night of the Caretaker
In the world of Deadlands, the Whateley clan of Lovecraftian fame not only exist, they’re a powerful yet ruthless family of criminals and fell sorcerers who consort with Things That Should Not Be Consorted With. A branch of their family once owned a creepy mansion in San Francisco, but now it’s on a tall mesa recently rumored to be home to new veins of ghost rock as well as strange glyphs. This Tale begins with some investigation: PCs can find out that the Whateley clan also lived in the now-deserted town of Gomorra. There they can find a seemingly dull-witted yet creepy teenage boy who calls himself the Caretaker and offers to accompany the PCs due to a strange need to find his “home.” He will of course turn on the party when it comes time to defend his kin. A PC with the Whateley Blood Edge knows exactly where this place is, while consulting library archives and questioning miners turns up rumors of black magic and monsters summoned from the depths of Hell as being what scared off many would-be claim jumpers.
Whateley Isle is now a ruined, shoddy mess of its former self, and given that the place was a rickety mansion at its best that’s saying something. Sometime before the PCs arrived Kang’s pirates set up shop with a squad of martial artists, gunmen, demolitionists, and even a few ogres and a sorcerer of their own to claim the island. They knew better than to brush off the tales as superstition. A fierce battle between them and the Whateley’s grotesque minions ensued, with the latter on the verge of losing. Losing ground to Kang’s goons the Whateleys retreated into the caves where they transformed themselves into slug-like monsters. And said caves are where an earthquake glyph can be found.
This Tale is a bit of an open-ended dungeon crawl. Kang’s pirates will try to capture the heroes and interrogate them for what they know, and the cave’s studded with ghost rock which can make for a good fuel source or impromptu explosions for the truly daring. One of the more unique treasures here are pages from the Necronomicon which can grant even noncasters the ability to cast Curse, Environmental Protection, and Puppet (controlling another’s body) but at the risk of being cursed themselves. The Necronomicon’s pages count as a mortal sin if used by a Blessed or Shaman.
What I Changed: I figured that keeping the Whateleys as actual humans, if creepy and deformed, would feel more threatening than over-sized slugs. I had one be a super-strong ogre-like being and another as a one-eyed sorcerer. I did not include Kang’s pirates on account I planned on running War of the Triads after this one so didn’t want to overuse them.
The War of the Triads
This mini-arc includes four Savage Tales with the reward of a glyph at its conclusion. Unsurprisingly they center around a cold war among the Chinese criminal factions turning into a blazing hot one. Although the entry mentions that it should take place during the glyph hunt, the ending of Plot Point Four mentions it being run much earlier which seems a mistake as some of the opposition in these adventures are a bit high level.
There’s also an awful lot of behind-the-scenes politicking in these adventures. The PCs are unlikely to find out several of them unless they manage to pry the information out of various NPCs. Some of it is relevant to the adventure, but others tie into the metaplot or the Triad and warlord’s larger territorial ambitions. It does do a thorough job of explaining where everyone stands and will stand after the civil war’s resolution, but chances are the PCs may not see much of it. Examples include how Thin Noodles Ma’s inability to get the amulet put him in hot water with Kwan and thus said warlord’s spies are still looking over the Explorer’s Society lodge. Another is how the Ravenite shamans Big Pul and Little Pul are convincing Kwan to put Emperor Norton as a figurehead to ensure northern California is put in the hands of an incompetent ruler.
While searching for glyphs Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe summons the party again to meet in Shan Fan. He explains how in spite of its destruction the Explorer’s Society lodge contains a vault full of precious assets and artifacts left untouched by the Triad looters. Unfortunately the key to opening it was lost in a poker game to Big Ears Tam, and said Society member was thereby banned from the organization.
So you’d think that Pennington-Smythe is planning a daring caper to break into the mob boss’ estate, right? Or maybe win it back in an even higher-stakes poker tournament? Nope, he wants the PCs to work for Big Ears Tam and gain the skeleton key that way. This is kind of a waste, as Big Ears Tam’s stat block has d12+1 Gambling and the Card Sharp Edge which would otherwise never see play.
Sink the Abysmal! Said mob boss is more than eager to meet the PCs at his estate, and offers to give them the key in two weeks time but until then they work for him. The first thing he wants the PCs to do is sink the Abysmal, one of Kang’s warships. After Hellstromme dropped the bombs at the Battle of Lost Angels, Kang lost a lot of men and assets and thus Tam wants to strike while the iron’s hot by taking over the Maze pirate biz.
This Savage Tale is a straightforward ship hunt followed by a tough fight: in addition to steam gatlings and cannons the Abysmal has a crew of 27: Red Petals Su (who can die in this adventure but will try to escape via autogyro), 5 ogres, and the rest a mixture of pirates and martial artists.
Shan Fan Kumite: The next adventure is a classic martial arts tournament. Tam is impressed that the PCs sunk a battleship and wants to either sponsor them as fighters or keep them as bodyguards at the annual Shan Fan Kumite. This tournament is a classic one-on-one non-lethal fight of hand to hand combat. Even if by chance none of the PCs are built for melee the adventure suggests letting unqualified players run NPC martial artists. The first 3 rounds are against average fighters who use the Martial Artist stat blocks in Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook (no supernatural powers), but the 4th round is against Wang Men Wu who uses the Superior Martial Artist stat block.
A character who makes it to the fifth and final round faces Chin-Hsueh Wong of the Shaolin 37th Chamber. Not one who normally showboats at tourneys, Kwan spread rumors that Big Ears Tam is seeking to humble the monks, and then invited Wong to the tournament to let them save face.
Chin-Hseuh Wong is an extremely difficult foe to face, and even the adventure acknowledges it. He’s got a whole host of chi powers and his combat-related stats are top-tier. He can make potentially up to 4 attacks with the Quickness power and Improved Frenzy Edge, and his Parry of 10 makes it very difficult to hit him. Moreso if he uses Deflection, and his Counterattack Edge gives him a free strike at those who fail to hit him. A PC who manages to beat him will gain great fame and respect in Shan Fan.
After the tourney’s conclusion Kang’s agents posing as Kwan’s soldiers will spring an assassination attempt on Big Ears Tam. Tam will declare that if he dies the PCs will never get the key to help motivate them. This is a much less difficult fight than the Abysmal, in that there are less enemies and none have any supernatural powers to break out against the PCs. Long-Haired Tony, Shan Fan’s sheriff of sorts, will also intervene on Tam’s behalf.
Spy Games: The assassination attempt makes Big Ears Tam more paranoid than usual, and hears from his sources that Kang and Kwam are seeking to meet in secret at Dragon’s Breath. Tam wants the PCs to spy on the meeting and relay the information to him. Only then will he give them the vault key. He even gives them disguises and an ironclad of his own for them to make the journey if need be.
Dragon’s Breath is closed up tight, and Kang’s palace within even moreso. The many guests and servants here all speak in Chinese, and Kwan and Kang conduct their meeting behind a paper-thin wall the PCs can conveniently eavesdrop upon. PCs not fluent in the tongue are in luck, for Emperor Norton is present and thus the meeting’s conducted in English for his benefit. Kang denies being behind the assassination attempt at the tournament, but convinces Kwan to invade Shan Fan for the Triad will surely strike if he does not strike first. He’s even generous enough to offer Kawn his naval fleet while they march on the city; Kang’s still smarting over the Abysmal.
At this point the palace staff will realize that there are intruders about and the PCs have to escape the city, possibly encountering hordes of pirates along the way.
Emperor Norton: The conclusion to the War of the Triads involves Kwan’s forces attacking Shan Fan. Tam is horrified at the news but hands over the key all the same. He telegraphs the New Tomorrow Triad and the Shaolin Monks (who learned about Kwan baiting them) for aid. Pennington-Smythe and Dillinger are holed up at the ruins of the Explorer’s Society lodge and ask the PCs to help secure the vault against invaders.
This next part is not a typical battle per se, but in fact makes use of Savage World’s Mass Combat Rules. In fact it’s the first of two times said rules every make an appearance in this Plot Point Campaign. Basically the Shan Fan Triad is one side, and General Kwan’s Army the other. The Triad are outmatched, numbering less than half of Kwan’s forces. The Triad factions of Thin Noodles Ma and Rat-Skinner Hou betray Tam and the New Tomorrow by turning on them mid-way through the battle. Hundreds of ordinary townsfolk also gather to fight for their hometown.
The non-Mass Combat section of this adventure is a standoff at the lodge, where the PCs and said Society members face off against 24 of Kwan’s soldiers (human and a few ogres) along with the Ravenite shamans Big Pul and Little Pul.
Unfortunately, the resolution of the Mass Combat does not matter at all: whether taken as prisoner or basking in glory, Kang himself shows up well after the battle’s resolution and kills his rival-turned-betrayed-ally with a single chest-bursting punch. He makes a brief intimidating speech about what happens to traitors, how everyone who worked for Kwan works for him now, and that he is eager to help Big Ears Tam rebuild the city in exchange for some deals. The Shan Fan Triad realize that having any of their number as a single ruler will repeat the cycle of division, so the assimilationist New Tomorrow Triad convince the others to crown Emperor Norton as leader of California.
Isle of Ghost’s Tears: The contents of the lodge’s vault include a carved stone fragment detailing the location of two glyphs in California; one to be determined by the GM, the other on the Isle of Ghost’s Tears in Shan Fan Bay. The adventure suggests giving out magical relics tailored to the PCs as further rewards or simply antique gold if they’re more money-hungry.
The Isle in question is a bit of a non-standard conflict. The island has been kept off-limits by the Triad on account of rumors of dangerous spirits. They’re right, up to a point. There are definitely spirits of the dead here, mostly those who died in the Great Quake, but the real villain here is a Sin Eater known as Genjia who can take the form of any person it’s eaten. Said corpses have to be improperly buried to be of sustenance, which California has a lot of in the 11 years since.
Genjia pretends to be an insane yet harmless old hermit who will try to mislead the PCs and convince them that the spirits are in the wrong. He will also attempt to kill loners in order to consume their soul. Genjia’s monstrous ability includes rising from ‘death’ in a new grave, and the only way to truly put him to rest is to dismember each of his limbs and bury them separately in sacred ground.
As for the ghosts living upon the isle, they too can communicate with the party but are bound to the island due to the glyph’s magic. They’re not exactly friendly to intruders either, more concerned with scaring them away. The ghosts will do things like appear in their crushed, mangled forms upon death or scream vile remarks about a PCs’ dead relative.
If reasoned with the party can learn that the most powerful and terrible ghost among them is a woman by the name of Meng Chiang-nu. She was the first Chinese immigrant to have died in the Great Quake, brutally tossed aside by her selfish fiance in an attempt to save himself. Even if the PCs initiate combat the spirits are far from united and there are various other ghosts about the area who can give out more information, including Meng who appears as a crying ghost of the island’s namesake.
The resolution to this quest, obviously, is to take care of Genjia. If done she will show the PCs where to find the glyph: in a set of cliffs overlooking the sea caves.
What I Changed: Quite a bit of this adventure arc hinges on the PCs doing errands for a Triad boss, which given my group’s own party composition and backstories was simply not going to happen. Instead I changed things around to have the Chinese Six Companies working with the Explorer’s Society to overthrow the Triad itself. I cut out the whole business with Kang and made Thin Noodles Ma the main villain, whose island fortress sat atop a likely glyph location.
Instead of infiltrating Dragon’s Breath, the PCs were tasked with a covert search and rescue of Emperor Norton in Warlord Kwan’s fortress. The Six Companies would be more than happy to see the largest Triad leader crippled, but wanted to take control of Shan Fan. I had it so that Emperor Norton was one of the few white Americans trusted by the Chinese immigrant community based off an alleged real-world incident where he dispersed a racist mob from torching San Francisco’s Chinatown by sitting himself in front of the crowd and reciting Bible verses. As Chinese people could not legally own property back then and Norton wanted to feel like a protector and legitimate ruler, he bought up a host of Shan Fan businesses in his name but let community members and employees run them. With him being under the thumb of Warlord Kwan (who was allied with Thin Noodles Ma), this meant that the Triad used his assets for money laundering and a front for illegal activities. Rescuing Emperor Norton would thus give the Six Companies a legal advantage in taking control of Triad-owned property.
I also greatly expanded on the enemies and makeup of the fortress, using castle assets from Roll20 to accomplish this and noting structural weak points, autogyro pseudo-helipads, and other things for the PCs to take advantage of in their infiltration.
I put the martial arts tournament after the rescue of Emperor Norton. The PCs needed to win the martial arts tournament to get close to Ma, as the Triads headhunted goons among said contest’s winners. The PCs donned luchador masks to compete, in keeping with the unarmed combat theme while also disguising their faces: the martial artist PC had the Wanted hindrance in Shan Fan. When they were invited to wine and dine at Thin Noodles Ma’s fortress, they took the opportunity to start smacking heads and dispelling evil when it became clear that said Triad gangster sought to use the glyph’s secrets to generate earthquakes.
I also replaced the Isle of Ghost’s Tears with Thin Noodle’s Ma’s fortress, using the NPC encounters from elsewhere in this plot arc as his various guards.
The Rise and Fall of Santa Anna
Although they’ve been mostly a background element, the Mexican Army will invade southern California in full force sometime after Plot Point 7. Santa Anna himself is leading the charge, and with the Church of Lost Angels as the first stepping stone this creates an interesting situation of Baddies vs. Baddies or Lesser of Two Evils.
Or it would, if the arc didn’t focus solely on defeating one side.
Fort Doom: Our adventure begins when a strangely rich miner by the name of Eldon Strouth managed to find a seacove full of millions of dollars worth of ghost rock. He has not registered a claim for it yet on account that the attention will attract outlaws and pirates so he’s been scraping off enough of the substance to make a comfortable living but no more. He hires the PCs on as hired guns for the princely sum of $45 a day. However said cave is near the US-Mexican border, and during the third night of guard duty in the area the group spots Mexican and Confederate forces clashing. But something’s off about the latter, for their jerky movements and cannibalizing of fallen troops shows they are not among the living.
Santa Anna’s Army of Night destroys the Confederate forces and begins riding up to the City of Lost Angels. A smaller squad goes into the PCs’ path as a possible random encounter.
The only other encounter is a group of outlaws who try to take Strouth’s cave for themselves. Having had enough trouble the PCs’ employer will wish to ride up to the Rockies’ Assayer’s Office in Lost Angels by himself while the party stays on guard. Unfortunately the Mexican Army arrives shortly after he does, and the zombie army clashes against Grimme’s own Guardian Angels and Wasatch allies before being held at bay.
Smash the Machines: A Twilight Legion NPC or one from another allied faction sends an urgent message to the PCs. Although no fans of Reverend Grimme, they believe that the Emperor of Mexico is hardly a better leader for the region. Therefore, the PCs are given 32 sticks of dynamite and plungers to blow up a supply line in Mexicali and cripple the war effort.
Although I do not know much about Mexican history or Emperor Maximilian, the adventure does not explain exactly why the Mexican government would be just as bad for southern California as Grimme’s doomsday cult. On the contrary, I can see some gaming groups letting the two sides duke it out, figuring that even if Grimme wins his forces will be severely weakened. If Mexico wins, well...the Lost Angels just lost a major city and power base. It’s win-win for the PCs!
The bulk of this adventure is a dungeon crawl in a Mexicali mine, which is heavily guarded inside and out by soldiers. The goals in question are a pair of factories which can either be reached openly (bad idea) or snuck into via said mine shaft. Within its many tunnels the party can find entire rooms of captive undead kept docile with a strange plant admixture known as plantagrito. The adventure is open-ended on how and where the PCs wish to plant the dynamite: the GM asks the party how they wish to accomplish their plan and calls for appropriate rolls with modifiers based on how ingenious/foolish it is. Failed rolls do not spell failure, rather it means more Mexican soldiers (both living and dead) will fight the PCs and complicate matters.
Demolishing the factories will cut off the dragon’s head, as Santa Anna’s forces will run out of arms and supplies to further besiege the city. Forced to retreat, their own undead will turn hungry from lack of plantagrito and attack their living peers.
Getting a Leg Up: His Army of Night in tatters, his supply line destroyed, things seem about over for poor Santa Anna. But there is one thing which can turn the tide of battle. He caught wind that his famed prosthetic leg is somewhere within the vicinity; an out of the way tourist trap souvenir shop called Stanley’s Live Bait & Curios. With this good news he’s refocusing his efforts by personally leading a small squad to fetch it for the low, low price of 0 dollars and pesos!
This is not just sentimental value. In the world of Deadlands the ambient history, emotions, and energy surrounding the Leg of Santa Anna turned it into a magical item. The one in the Springfield Museum is a replica, while the real one was under lock and key by the Union’s Agency before it disappeared under mysterious circumstances. One who uses the leg as a prosthetic gains a host of leadership Edges along with a bonus on Intimidation and Persuasion rolls. Additionally any army or group merely carrying it in their possession gains immunity to becoming Wounded by the attacks of anyone under Santa Anna’s command but not the man himself. The trade-off is the person using the leg becomes obsessed with invading and conquering Texas. If Santa Anna himself regains his leg, he becomes immune to all physical attacks save the muskets of the Illinois regiment that captured the leg in the first place.
The PCs are either in the area of Stanley’s or they manage to covertly follow or interrogate a patrol of Mexican soldiers. When they go into the shop and interact with the owner (who tries to sell them all sorts of fake stuff), Santa Anna’s 50 strong forces and two gatling guns surround the shop with the good General demanding his leg back. Fortunately Stanley is aware of the immunity part of the leg’s powers and explains to the PCs his crazy idea.
The PCs are encouraged to go out in style: bullets graze them at most, Mexican guns inexplicably jam, and a host of way too many coincidences makes them obviously charmed. After several rounds of the party strutting their stuff, Santa Anna challenges them to combat, unwilling to needlessly throw his soldier’s lives away.
The famed Mexican General is Legendary in more ways than one: he has more than a few skills at d12 or even d12+1 or +2. His d8 Strength is nothing special but his 13 Parry makes him nigh-untouchable in melee combat, and a 10 Toughness is nothing to sneeze at. He has a number of leadership Edges which will be of no use on account of his soldiers’ harmlessness, and his sole firearm is a Colt Frontier pistol.
If he dies or is routed then all hopes of him conquering California and Texas are squashed. But if he gets back his leg he’ll be gearing up for a big war against Texas in the nearby years.
What I Would Have/Will Change: As of this writing I have not run this particular arc of Savage Tales. I planned to make the Mexican Army’s invasion based on two other particular adventures: Off the Grid and Wanted: Dead or Alive! In the former, the Men of the Grid were at a loss for funding and support and thus turned to the Mexican government due to their shared enmity of Reverend Grimme. For the latter quest Captain Blood’s depredations if not dealt with will weaken the US Navy to the point that they cannot pose a united front against Santa Anna’s forces.
Therefore, helping out the Gridders hastens the invasion, while Captain Blood’s death or capture would delay it. Both quests can cancel each other out; if the Men of the Grid were helped out and Captain Blood not dealt with then they’d invade early by Plot Point 6. If Blood’s days of piracy were put to an end and the Gridders were left high and dry they wouldn’t invade until the PCs found all 7 glyphs (not including this arc’s) and just about ready to take the fight to Grimme himself. In an early invasion I’d pepper sessions with more scenes and random encounters with Mexican Army personnel.
I did have plans for the Mexican forces to assault Lost Angels by the time of the final fight, making things feel desperate as only the most fanatic and poor of the city’s residents stay behind. The PCs will also have to deal with a potentially hostile third party in order to infiltrate the city and make their way to the Cathedral, dealing with Guardian Angel-Mexican crossfire along the way.
Other Savage Tales
Fellheimer’s Folly: This is a miniature dungeon crawl taking place on an island appearing like a conical spike. The top of the island has a corpse pinned to it, a German immigrant by the name of August Fellheimer who gives the macabre place its name. All attempts at climbing or flying to remove or inspect the body result with coincidentally-timed catastrophes such as rockslides or autogyro engines suddenly failing. A member of the Agency is on standby to inspect this strange occurance and shoo away onlookers. He will accept the PCs’ help if they seem like skilled people, which they most certainly are in this case!
The reality of the situation is that the corpse is the result of a black magic jinx woven by Gerhardt Von Stroessner. He killed Fellheimer to absorb his life force which he hopes will grant him immortality if he collects more of the stuff from other sacrifices.
The tunnels below the island are filled with spear and magic blasting glyph traps, with Stroessner at the bottom in a creepy laboratory. Activating traps will alert the mage to intruders and give him time to buff himself up with spells. He also has a demon who pretends to be his servant; he’ll let the upstart mortal know who’s really in charge soon enough!
Things I Changed: I excised the demon in favor of making Stroessner a load-bearing boss. When the island started sinking I called for Agility checks for the PCs to make it out in time, along with Swim checks and possible drowning if they were too slow.
The Rancher’s Life: The cattle rancher Dwight Shelton is looking for some hired help to protect his cattle from whoever is killing them. Hiring the party on for $5 a day, one night a near-dozen Lost Angels land on the mesa via a gunboat and sneak around to start killing cattle. If the PCs kill or drive them off, they return with twice the number with two gunboats and start blasting the ranch with cannonfire. If repelled again the Lost Angels will decide the ranch is a sunk cost and leave them be for now.
Things I Changed: I ran only the first encounter, but I added in an environmental obstacle of cows everywhere. Using firearms or AoE attacks risked killing cattle, something the Lost Angels have no reservations against. If enough cattle die you can kiss your payment goodbye!
Groaning Man Cave: This is less a quest and more a puzzle. This infamous cave is very close to Lost Angels, located in a seaside cove with a pair of two smaller cavities above. Lined with ghost rock, the cave’s “eyes” and “nose” give a constant stream of smoke and the sounds of its consumption make it seem like the place really is groaning.
The treasure in question is $10,000 worth of molten gold heated by ghost rock fire. The entire place is filled with poisonous vapors and radiates dangerous amounts of heat, threatening damage and fatigue just about every round.
The adventure is open-ended for just exactly how the PCs can obtain the liquid gold, and the “After the Flood” sidebar in the Marshal’s Section mentions how the waters submerge the cave but cool off the gold. However, the Environmental Protection power can render a character immune to the negative effects and thus safely retrieve the gold.
What I Changed: I made it so the molten gold puzzle was the end of the adventure rather than the majority. I ran Snatched, a mini-adventure from the Saddle Sore sourcebook, for this Savage Tale. Said adventure is a roguelike dungeoncrawl where the cave’s foundations are generated via card draws, and the goal is to kill enough tunnel critters to clear out the cave. I made it so the gold was the goal instead, but the monsters would stop coming after 30 were killed.
My party’s mad scientist quickly discovered how Environmental Protection could be used to gain the treasure, and with the Gadgeteer Edge he gained temporary access to said power.
I will admit that the $10,000 treasure is quite a bit for the Flood’s “desperate survival, taking odd jobs when you can” stated theme. My own group used the cash to buy various mad science devices from the 1880 Smith & Robards Catalog sourcebook. If you choose to run it, I’d suggest lowering the amount to what you think is reasonable for your group.
Flesh of the Mad Monk: Hao-T’e Zui used to be a good-natured exorcist helping out the Chinese community, but then the met a demon which killed him and took on his form. Now he spreads terror around the vicinity of Devil’s Armpit, gathering human sacrifices possessing remarkable traits to fuel his own power.
The adventure’s open-ended for how and when the PCs find out about Hao’s depredations and suggests making one or more kidnapping victims the children of NPCs they know. Tao-T’e Zui has 1 Chinese ogre bodyguard per hero and his own stats are nothing to sneeze at: he has the Chi Mastery Arcane Background, monstrously high Spirit (d12+2) and Strength (d12+4) scores, several buffing powers, and can roll a Vigor die every round to heal wounds. He is weak to fire and cannot regenerate from it.
Cult o’ the Dragon: Sutton Thacker is a huckster and salesman who formed a group of Maze dragon worshipers. He discovered the remnants of the old native civilization that bound the dragons to their will, and enacted the rites himself. Now the cult’s cave is home to a flock of young Maze Dragons and their parent “Jericho.” Currently Sutton runs the place as a tourist hotspot for the town of Dragonhold, but sometimes the cult kidnaps lone travelers spending the night to sacrifice to their false god.
The rock paintings within the caves tell of the glyph’s location, but otherwise the Savage Tale is open-ended how the PCs find this out and/or deal with the cult. Thacker himself is a spellcaster with a mixture of buffing and offensive powers along with sticks of dynamite and a shotgun, which are some of the deadliest weapons for purchase in Deadlands damage-wise.
What I Changed: I made it so that the Church of Lost Angels and the Cult of the Dragon were at odds, putting the PCs in an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” scenario. The dragon-cult had a glyph within their caves in addition to their famed dragon, and the PCs were tasked with holding off a small army of Lost Angels outside during a skirmish. Sutton Thacker in a fit of desperation activated the glyph to cause a tremor, plunging a significant amount of the army (and the PCs) into a watery cave containing the Maze Dragon. Realizing this was their “holy beast” the PCs escaped by the skin of their teeth via a mad science grapnel launcher.
I also had Garrett Black, the Angel of Death and Grimme’s best assassin detailed in the NPC/bestiary chapter, lead the Lost Angels forces in the battle. He retreated to become a recurring villain
The Russian Menace: A tortured, starving 12-year-old girl is found by Lacy O’Malley or the PCs, and she tells them all about the horrors of Felicity Peak. As detailed in the Marshal’s Section, Gregor Petrov is a Russian nobleman who uses a community of imported serfs to mine the mesas and work the fields. He is also a sorcerer of fell power whose own life force is re-energized by drinking the blood of slain children. With twelve outlaws and an infamous gunslinger by the name of El Jéfe under his employ, he seems unstoppable to the hopeless serfs...but perhaps a fair challenge for crusading good guys.
El Jéfe and the outlaws use Veteran Gunman and Outlaw stats from the Marshal’s Handbook, but Gregor Petrov is a unique one. He doesn’t have spellcasting powers so much as a Blood Boost which can increase all of his physical attributes by one if he has drunk the blood of a child within the last day. He also has the Filthy Rich Edge so he can be outfitted with any sort of mundane, mad science device, or relic the GM wishes to assign him.
What I Changed: I made El Jéfe a Harrowed to act as a sort of foil to our party’s own Harrowed PC.
Rabid Rance Rides Again! A classic “hunt down the outlaw” quest, Rabid Rance is a notorious bandit who has a network of contacts among the mining communities. He finds out who struck it rich and ambushes the now-unlucky prospector with six other gunmen to loot the proceeds of the miners’ hard labor.
Rabid Rance is an optimized gunslinger, with a d12 Shooting, the Quick Draw and Duelist Edges, and has Hip-Shooting to lessen the penalties of fanning the hammer with a pistol. In Western parlance fanning the hammer is when you pull down the trigger of a single-action revolver and rapidly smack the hammer to fire off shots in quick succession. In game terms this allows a character to make up to six attacks albeit at a hefty penalty, making it one of the better damage-dealing options in Deadlands.
The Creature of Archeron Bay: A giant undersea monster is sinking ships around the Maze. The creature itself is believed to be some giant octopus or squid, but the reality is far stranger. The Beast of Archeron Bay is actually a colony of individual strands of kep which feed off of the souls of the living.
The kelp strands are very tough: their Strength is d12+4 and their slaps deal d6 on top of that; they also count as Heavy Weapons meaning they can damage ships. They also can grapple individual opponents, and they have a 19 Toughness to withstand attacks.
What I Changed: I liked the idea of a pseudo-kaiju monster for the PCs to fight, so I still used the tentacle stats but had the monster’s “central body” emerge after several of those were destroyed. The party stuffed bundles of underwater dynamite onto buoys to target with guns in preparation for the battle, which was both clever and fun to use.
Wanted: Dead or Alive! General Gill of the Union Army has a very nasty thorn in his side in the form of Captain Blood. This Mexican privateer acts at the behest of said country’s government to waylay vessels of enemy nations, and his Conquistador flagship is home to 40 sailors and 12 even tougher marines. Captain Blood’s stats are more social and charisma-themed, with some Leadership Edges such as Command and Natural Leader to let his followers spend his Fate Chips if need be.
The ship as such has some pretty heavy opposition due to sheer numbers alone if it can be found, although the PCs get unlikely aid in the form of a grizzled bounty hunter by the name of Hephaestus Girty. The man assimilated into an unnamed Native American tribe and fights with a tomahawk in one hand and a Colt Peacemaker in the other.
Head Full o’ Nothin’: This adventures’ GOOD INTENTIONS is rather vague, but is meant to put the PCs in contact with Suitcase Lee of the New Tomorrow Triad in order to help find one of the glyphs. But just like everyone else in this chapter he cannot help the PCs until they take care of a not-so-small problem for him.
Lee gives the party a brief rundown of the Taiping Rebellion: a Chinese civil war which occurred when a theologian by the name of Hung Hsiu-ch’uan (Hong Xiuquan) sought to bring about a heavenly kingdom on earth. Proclaiming himself the literal brother of Jesus Christ, Hung formed a rebellion of unheard proportion against the Qing Dynasty, immersing the country in a 14 year war with 20 million dead to show for it.
As for what this has to do with things today, some guy stole the head of Hung and took it with him to California, claiming that the spirit of the man himself speaks through it. Declaring himself the King of the Horizon, this madman’s building an army for a second chance at building a Heavenly Kingdom! And Lee wants the party to destroy/steal the skull and kill the King of the Horizon.
In addition to a 500-man army, the King of the Horizon has a martial artist bodyguard pretending to be a demon by the name of White-Tipped Cap, and the man himself is a competent chi-wielding martial artist.
The King of the Horizon’s skull has no spirit. In fact, the spirit of Hung Hsiu-ch’uan possessed the man’s body and is downright insane. The adventure encourages to play up his comic villainy as an over-the-top megalomaniac, and may possibly drop hints as to the location of a glyph in the process.
In Search of Goldnose: A Russian immigrant nicknamed Goldnose Slim earned the title for his uncanny ability to literally sniff out gold, and also for replacing said nose with a 24-carat prosthetic when some jealous miners cut off the first one. His knack has been so helpful he located four out of six of the richest gold veins in California, earning him lots of money but quite a bit of enemies. He refuses to prospect for ghost rock, but he did find the location of a glyph. Reverend Grimme found out about the PCs’ plans regarding the glyph hunt and hired a bunch of outlaws known as the Hensworth Gang to kidnap Goldnose. This is pretty much the only adventure where the Church acts as a foil during the Glyph Hunt arc.
The Hensworth Gang are nothing special statwise, although their leader dual-wields a pair of Colt Peacemakers and has Steady Hands allowing him to shoot from horseback no problem.
If rescued, a grateful Goldnose is willing to find a claim for the PCs as well as a potential glyph.
The Battle o’ Junction: This is the only other adventure in the Flood where Mass Combat rules come into play. Like the one in War of the Triads it has little in the way of actual stakes. If taken, Junction will become a Lost Angels stronghold and thus a lot less friendly to the PCs, but day-to-day operations do not change much. However, the PC actions do not have a direct effect unless they act as leaders or get involved. In such a case the PCs will control the Confederate side, with the GM the Lost Angels.
Thanks to the scientists of Progress, the Church of Lost Angels is quickly building a fleet of their own to challenge the existing American powers. Several months after the Battle of Lost Angels they’ll send a host of Maze Runners, gun barges, auto-gyros, and an ironclad to annex the Confederate city of Junction. The Angels have the aid of Wasatch rail warriors as part of the deal reached with Hellstromme, and the Confederate forces are slightly under-equipped to retaliate.
Famished! Although this does not reveal or grant a glyph location to the party, it is meant to be stumbled upon while they’re hunting for glyphs. A short while after the Reckoning occurred a Chinese junk crashed on California’s beaches. It carried a very powerful Hunger Spirit in service to Famine and was the epicenter of the first faminite epidemic which swept over the region.
Personal experience from other gaming groups said this was a very dangerous encounter, and I can see why. The Hunger Spirit is outright immune to all non-magical attacks and even magical attacks halve their damage before determining Shaken and wound results. With a Toughness of 10 it will take at least 20 damage to even so much as scratch the fiend. The spirit is attended by 2 faminites for every PC, and it has an AoE ability it can activate freely on every turn to induce fatigue levels from starvation on those who fail a Test of Wills against its d12 Intimidation.
Off the Grid: The Men of the Grid were one of Lost Angels’ early political factions. They had a falling out with Grimme, as they wanted to build the city in a grid fashion typical to many Western settlements while Grimme wanted a circular one to properly channel his evil magic (he didn’t tell that last part to the Gridders). The Church violently agreed to disagree, and now the Men of the Grid are a clandestine insurgent force against the Church.
The Lost Angels Chamber of Commerce put a bounty on the organization and their leader on account that they found a way to sabotage the Churchs’ new naval ships via explosions of unknown origin. The reality is that the Men of the Grid ordered a mad science diving suit from Smith & Robards. With this device they can plant charges of waterproof dynamite created by one of their chemists to attach to and blow open ship hulls.
This adventure is more investigation and less combat. It’s unlikely that the PCs will turn in the Men of the Grid, but rather seek them out for an alliance. They can be met in Bear’s Claw, specifically at a rather tacky Big Chief Chinese Restaurant which serves Chinese food but whose furniture and walls are decorated in a hodge-podge of Native American art. The Gridder’s leader, Anscal Pascal, is cozy with the owner so he has his very own table with a shotgun attached to the underside in case those dealing with him are less than straight.
If they trust the PCs, they can provide them with charges of underwater dynamite, and the adventure mentions that the Men of the Grid can come to their aid during Plot Point Eight. However no specific examples are given either here or in that adventure of what such aid entails. Fighting on their side against Grimme, dynamiting the Church, helping evacuate the city? It’s a mystery!
What I Changed: I turned the investigation into a rescue mission by informing the PCs that members of the Grid are trapped in a mountain valley surrounded by bounty hunters and Hellstromme’s X-Squad troopers. The PCs posed as fellow hired guns before turning on the X-Squadders and rescuing the Men of the Grid. I inserted a bipedal steampunk mecha boss, using its stats from another Deadlands adventure: Shoot out at Circle-R Corral.
Ballots & Bullets: The survivors of Ghost Town formed Perdition at an incredibly fast pace. The lack of government worries many businesses at the lawlessness sure to ensue, and at Dr. Hellstromme’s insistence they plan to hold elections for Marshal and Mayor. Lacy O’Malley is concerned that the powers-that-be will resort to all manner of dirty tricks to get a puppet candidate, so he convinces the ghost rock magnates to set up interim lawmen to oversee things. And our plucky Irish reporter sees the PCs as the best candidates for this! In fact he’s already signed them up by the time they arrive as a woman at the local ore processing station hands out badges.
The two candidates running are Luke “Joker” Watson and Granville Kurtz. Watson is the owner of Perdition’s telegraph office and runs on a populist message of seeing to the laborers’ needs over rich moneyed interests. Granville Kurtz is the heir to a shipping company and presses up the need on how he can bring in wealth and trade. Granville Kurtz is financially backed by his father Masheck Kurtz who is a serial killer and a willing servant of the Reckoners. He’s more than willing to resort to all manner of dirty tricks to get the election to go his way, and if the PCs do not intervene in at least 2 of them the election will go to Kurtz.
Masheck’s schemes include hiring a bunch of dockworkers from Lost Angels to stuff the ballots in Perdition, round up some outlaws to rough up Watson’s supporters, and bribing the town newspaper The Perdition Harbinger to endorse Granville. The adventure is open-ended in how the PCs go around stopping this, as well as what can happen if the PCs poorly handle any interviews/interrogations with the Harbinger’s staff (aka if the PCs come off as hired thugs for Watson that will damage his campaign). There’s also a random encounter table of potential violent mishaps during the election, such as people dueling in daylight, political riots of clashing protestors, and even a train robbery!
What I Changed: I had it so that Kurtz was backed by the Church of Lost Angels, giving the PCs an even stronger incentive to instill a mayor not in their pocket. I also had it so that when the party came to arrest (and thus get a shootout with) Kurtz, they found notes about Famine and the Reckoning in a hidden safe with a Notice roll. This gave an inkling of what’s really going on with Reverend Grimme to the party as well as a useful piece of evidence of trafficking in black magic if they wanted to use it to damage Kurtz’s campaign.
City of Omens and Zeroes: Before its untimely demise in Gomorra, the Collegium served as the largest assembly of mad scientists in California. They ran a ghost rock processing facility near Perdition, and smelling blood in the water Wasatch/Hellstromme Industries wants to hire salvagers to visit and report back their findings for $250. A company representative will contact the PCs specifically due to their prior engagement with Dr. Hellstromme.
The ghost rock facility went quiet due to their equipment digging out the egg of a prairie tick queen, an insectlike abomination whose spawn wiped the entire complex and surrounding town of all life. The PCs will find the old Collegium station a quiet ghost town, the processing station’s sole elevator in a state of disrepair. The lift descends into a storage chamber containing $200,000 (2 to 3 tons) of pure ghost rock. Unfortunately the PCs cannot claim this bounty for a swarm of 60 ghost ticks (prairie ticks warped by ghost rock) will attack en masse at the smell of fresh meat! Besides fleeing the group can ignite the ghost rock to quickly kill all of the ghost ticks. The load-bearing treasure dramatically blows the entire station sky-high if the PCs escape in time.
The ghost ticks’ have rather pitiful toughness; they deal no damage but have d10 fighting and crawl into a target’s mouth on a raise to force them to roll Vigor against Fatigue every round. The poor soul who dies from Fatigue causes said tick to explode out of their ribcage.
What I Changed: The ghost ticks despite being high in number have rather pitiful toughness and no ranged capabilities, meaning that a party with lots of attacks and/or AoE powers can make quick work of them if lucky enough. I didn’t want to have the ghost rock as false treasure, so I had the ticks come in waves of 4 to 6 while the PCs operated a crane to scoop up ghost rock onto the elevator lift. It then became a risk/reward decision of how long the PCs wished to stay in the station in exchange for a greater payoff.
Savage Tales, Part 2Original SA post
Savage Tales, Part 2
Hasteli’s Children: A Chumash Native American by the name of Hasteli had a daughter who was raped and murdered by white settlers. Filled with anger and hatred, his story reached the ears of Raven who taught him of a way to take revenge. By using the blood of slain white people he could create a blood painting able to instill himself and other disciples with supernatural powers. Ever since he’s been a willing servant of the Reckoners and he now leads a warband known as Hasteli’s Children.
This adventure comes to our heroes rather than the other way around, as Raven becomes aware of the PCs searching for the glyphs and orders Hasteli to track down and “find the white men who seek to undo our plans.”*
Hasteli will use guerilla warfare, using hit and run tactics, bait in the form of cryptic messages and warnings, and environment where they can corner their quarry easily. Hasteli’s Children are 12 in number and fight with bladed war clubs. Their unholy rituals granted them +4 armor and 12 toughness to boot, and they can attack twice with Improved Frenzy. Haseli is not as physically adept but he has the Black Magic Arcane Background and can use the armor, bolt, puppet, and stun powers to harm the PCs or further enhance his war party’s already impressive defenses.
*the adventure has no explanation for this if the party is mostly or entirely made up of women or people of color.
Long Live the New Flesh! Taking place sometime after the PCs freed Sam Hellman, the Explorer’s Society calls for another meeting at the Fallen Angel Saloon in Perdition. The place is a lot livelier than usual with a hoedown going on. Sam tells the party of how two of his fellow Agency members were interred in Peterson Sanitarium after some horror in the Maze broke their minds. After his own time in Rock Island Prison and hearing of the sanitarium’s controversial “therapies,” he wants their help in freeing them and ensure that they’re alive and well.
Dr. Petersen is happy to see the party, although he and the place has an audible aura of creepiness. He’s even kind enough to show them to the Agents’ room... only for them not to be there. In fact the Agents are now undead patchwork men posing at orderlies who the not-so-good doctor sics on the party. Attempts at chasing after the Doctor corner him in the basement. There he unleashes an undulating mass of Neo-Flesh, his greatest experiment, against the party.
The Neo-Flesh is rather frail for a monster (Toughness 9), but it is immune to magic attacks and can dissolve grappled opponents for 4d6 damage and gain their skills, Edges, and Hindrances after incorporating their forms into its mass. It is weak to all forms of alcohol which can deal quite a bit of damage to it.
What I Changed: I sprung this Savage Tale on the party during a drunken bender after their success at Rock Island Prison. They somehow fell upon an abandoned asylum built under one of the houses they were celebrating at, which housed the Neo-Flesh beneath. During the chaos it shied away from spilt barrels of whiskey, tipping off the party to its weakness.
The Scientific Method: In this Savage Tale the PCs hear the sound of a ghost rock steam engine from a cave near the town of Progress. It is home to Professor Vandergrift, a mad scientist belonging to the Explorer’s Society who is willing to tell the PCs about his latest work if they prove their membership. He managed to discover a glyph of his own, and after much testing of various kinds of blood and consultation with native tribes believes it is home to an earth spirit. Furthermore he explains how human blood triggers it, revealing a bandaged arm and applying it to the symbol.
The glyph reacts with a tremor greater than the previous times. The earthquake summons a group of hoodoos, angered at being roused from their slumber and will begin smashing up equipment! If the PCs can save the scientist and/or his notes, they can gain some useful information (determined by the GM) about the glyphs and likely locations.
Also notable is that this adventure, along with Treasure Hunters, can be ran before the PCs discover the existence of the glyphs. It can thus be used as a precursor of things to come.
What I Changed: I made Professor Vandergrift a woman on account a huge amount of NPCs so far have been male.
Treasure Hunters: In this adventure the PCs have the opportunity to find another glyph near a now-demolished hillside California Mission buried underneath layers of rubble. Various salvagers dig through the rubble in search of gold and other fundaments, but a young boy by the name of Junior Watson (related to Luke “Joker” Watson of Ballots & Bullets) went missing. This is a skill-based obstacle adventure, where Climbing rolls are required to avoid randomly-triggered hazards ranging from avalanches to getting stuck between rocks while searching for the boy. They can also find a journal in Spanish belonging to a now-dead Catholic priest who discovered a glyph nearby, and which can be accessed in the mission’s ruins.
What I Changed: I had a Triad goon snooping around the place who was an Enemy of our Martial Artist PC. He had sets of dynamite set up to trigger landslides against them. I also had a pack of carcajou (wolverine-like abominations) ambush the party once they found Junior.
Ghost Rot: A snakeoil salesman by the name of Dr. Thaddeus Carr has been selling alcohol tinged with ghost rock to Union soldiers. This has had some terrible side effects, causing outbreaks of violent insanity and the name “ghost rot” to spread once the drink’s nature became known. The Union does not know the culprit, so the PCs are either hired on by Captain Clement Tyson for a $1,000 reward; or they stumble upon a group of drunk soldiers who flip out on the stuff after inviting the party for a drink. The PCs can investigate the bottles to see the label “Steampress Rye Whiskey” and go from there, as well as interrogating the soldiers over who gave them their shipment.
Catching up with Dr. Carr is not difficult for he is not very far from the scene of the last crime, miles-wise that is. He regularly travels about northern Californian settlements on a regular 16 day route so a few people know his name. He sells the bottles for a very steep $20 each ($440 by modern day standards), and will violently attack anyone who tries to arrest him. He also has a Chinese woman assistant and adopted daughter, Xiu Li, who knows chi powers and will defend him from danger.
Harriman’s Legacy: A salvager by the name of William Blumquist operates a small business specializing in retrieving valuable objects from the Sunken City of San Diego. The last few employees he hired disappeared in the dead of night while out at sea, and so did the hired guns that went on with him next time. He’s willing to hire the PCs on for $5 plus an equal share of salvage found.
Blumquist takes the PCs on a boat ride over the San Diego ruins, and has a diving suit one of them can wear while they explore the depths below. The party is capable of finding lots of valuables at a hefty -4 Notice every four hours, with a success giving 1d20 x 100 dollars in loot. But on the first night 1d6 channel chompers (deep one-like humanoid fishpeople) will climb onto the vessel with stealth and try to drag people into the water. If repelled they will attack the boat in greater numbers the next night at 2d12 strong, and during the third 30 of them at once will attack! Their lair is a series of catacombs on the ocean floor, but the diving suit doesn’t go that far down. Explosives can seal up the entrance, although Blumquist is against that plan given there might be more treasure beneath...treasure his equipment cannot reach.
No, the Savage Tale does not detail the environs of the channel chomper’s domain. As for why it’s named Harriman, an occultist of the same name owned a mansion in San Francisco who consorted and bred with the channel chompers. The monsters were trapped beneath its ruins and were set free due to salvagers mucking about.
Those Smug Bastards: Smith & Robards is looking for hired help to guard some mad science devices from acts of sabotage in Elsbethtown. The culprits are a pair of Shaolin monks from the 37th Chamber. Their leader Chin-Hsueh Wong and Kuai Yao the “Goblin” are the responsible parties, who find the ghost rock-powered devices unnatural creations and worry about the scientists becoming a new ruling class of California...somehow.
The monks are loathe to kill anyone and use non-lethal attacks even against those who respond with deadly force. I talked about Wong’s stats during the War of the Triads arc, and Kuai Yao is pretty tough herself. She is a chi master who has an entangle power to hinder foes, and she has a unique ability where those who see her stupendously ugly unmasked face must make a Guts roll or be shaken and suffer -1 on all trait rolls against her.
Both martial artists are very tough to take down in melee, although Kuai Yao does not have as many defensive options as Wong. The adventure suggests that the PCs can use Persuasion checks and good old-fashioned role-playing to help them see the light or divert the 37th Chamber’s anger towards a more worthy foe.
Thoughts So Far: The Savage Tales are numerous enough to provide many sessions worth of adventures. They are mostly unlinked save for the arcs, being more “small town trouble” than multiple missions for any single faction. The Triad and Mexican plot arcs are a bit weak in motivating hooks, and there’s quite a few combat-free puzzle or role-playing themed ones (Groaning Man Cave, Treasure Hunters, Off the Grid, Ballots & Bullets potentially) which I found to be interesting if needing the right group to pull off well.
The Savage Tale section is larger than the main Plot Point itself and is what I think makes the Flood. On its own the campaign would be rather average, but the many places the PCs can go to and stir up or defuse trouble really gives California’s Weird West its shine.
Join us next time on the final chapter of the Flood, where we cover the new monsters and NPCs found in this adventure!
EncountersOriginal SA post
We’re in the final home stretch of this book! Although labelled “encounters,” this section is more akin to stat blocks for monsters and NPCs than events on their own. All of the entries are for new creatures and characters in this adventure not detailed in the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook. We also have a sidebar explaining what existing “core” monsters are particularly endemic to California.
In breaking with the sheriff’s star icon for Wild Card monsters and NPCs, we instead get Reverend Grimme’s face alongside the baddies’ names to designate this status. For this section I’ll do this (WC) next to the names of relevant monsters.
Our first section’s the bestiary, along with some of who’s who among the Church of Lost Angels.
Blood Sharks are mutated varieties of their kind which feed from the tainted runoff of Rock Island Prison. They’re super-huge (around 40 feet long) and pretty much like the mundane Great White but even bigger and badder.
Burnin’ Dead are the tortured souls of Ghost Town whose screams of agony are never ending due to the fuelless fire covering their forms. They’re fond of grappling victims and smothering them in their own inferno.
Chinese Ogres are the muscle-bound foot soldiers of Chinese Hell’s bureaucracy. They have deathly white skin, unnatural hair colors such as green and blue, and an irregular number of eyes on their face ranging from one to three. Rolewise they are much like typical fantasy ogres: big, beefy, and utter brutes in melee. Chinese Ogre Sorcerers (WC) are those smart and skilled enough to learn black magic, having the same stats as their kin save with the Black Magic Arcane Background and 4 powers.
Channel Chompers are humanoid fishpeople who live in the abyssal depths of the Pacific Ocean. They kidnap humans to sacrifice to their gluttonous god, who they believe will consume and destroy them along with every living thing in the ocean if not appeased. Channel Chompers are fast swimmers and can deliver a paralytic poison via their bite and claw attacks.
Crying Ghosts (WC) are the spirits of jilted lovers (usually women) whose deadly hair can choke the life out of those they trick. In addition to their grappling hair they have typical ghostly powers: incorporeal, provokes fear, appears only at night, and cannot cross sacred ground. What’s unique to this variety of ghost is that any who die at their hands have their souls consumed and cannot come back as undead or spirit themselves.
Faminites are the ravenous zombie hordes of California. They originated from the Hunger Spirit which came to land on a crashed Chinese boat, and their numbers have been spreading from infecting others as well as those who succumb to cannibalism. They are much like typical zombies save they can use weapons (including guns!) and those so much as nicked by their teeth or claws (Shaken or wounded) risk becoming faminites on a failed Vigor roll in 24 hours.
Gyonshee (WC) are hopping vampires from Asia. These undead create more of their number by wounding others, a fate which can be averted by a Chinese folkloric cure found via Knowledge Occult roll or having contacts in Chinese immigrant communities. They can also jump really far, unsurprisingly, and attaching a paper written with Chinese prayers on their forehead can paralyze them.
Hoodoo are earth spirits who inhabit the canyons of the Great Maze. They are tough bruisers who can dish out hell in melee, but they are helpless in water and being sufficiently soaked in the stuff can weaken their Strength and even immobilize them.
Hoop snakes are beasts from Native American folklore who rapidly travel across the arid plains and desert by biting their own tails and spinning around like a hoop. When in this form of locomotion their Pace is 18, triple that of a normal human’s. Their poison is so deadly that on a failed Vigor roll at -4 it can kill within minutes and Exhaust those who succeed. Besides magic the only other cure is if the afflicted jumps through the hoop snakes’ “hoop.”
Maze Dragon Young’uns are juvenile versions of their larger parents detailed in the Marshal’s Handbook. Even then they are strong, as large as a bear and with the strength to match.
Tomb Guardians are ceramic automations created by Chinese sorcerers to guard tombs, vaults, and other areas of high importance. They appear as deer-lizard-human hybrids and are not very strong individually.
This section covers both generic and named NPCs high up in the Church of Lost Angel’s ranks. They are all Wild Cards without exception, save for the 13 Ghouls who are treated as Extras only during the final Plot Point adventure.
Avenging Angels are those Guardian Angels tough, smart, and mean enough to climb the unholy ladder of Grimme’s cult. They usually command a flight of 15 or more regular Guardian Angels and have the Arcane Background (Black Magic) Edge in addition to some other leadership and combat Edges.
Evil Ike used to be a kind soul known as “Ironman” Murray in life. After the bombing of Ghost Town he is now a a scorched undead monstrosity whose eye sockets glow an eerie orange. He’s a melee bruiser who can cause nearby targets to spontaneously combust as a free action.
Garrett Black, Angel of Death is a Harrowed whose own manitou is scared of the guy’s ruthlessness. Garrett labors under the delusion that he’s the Grim Reaper and serves Reverend Grimme with sadistic glee. The entry mentions that he’ll be sent as a professional hitman once the PCs become a real thorn in the Church’s side. Alas he does not show up officially during the adventure.
Garrett Black is built as a Harrowed, with the Arcane Background (Black Magic) Edge and a host of firearms-centric Edges such as Marksman, Improved Hip-Shooting, Quick Draw, etc along with some Harrowed abilities.
The 13 Ghouls share a universal stat-block, although their individual entries give them some new or higher skills and an Edge or two. I will not be going over all of them, but they comprise various roles in the church hierarchy. Gabriel Fannon is the gunslinging enforcer of the city, Darren Ambrose watches over Jehosaphat Valley, Mordecai Noss helps commission the building of new chapels across the Weird West, Vertiline Grindle’s a former thief who Grimme sends on covert operations, etc.
What all 13 share in common is that if killed their bodies crumble away and reappear alive and whole again in Lost Angels Cathedral 13 days later. Only the Flood ritual can kill them, and thus Reverend Grimme, for good.
Guy in the photo is Rutherford Ellington Dillenger
This is a rather strange section. It details the stat blocks of most named NPCs in the Flood who are not already present in the Marshal’s Handbook. However, this is not all-in-one: quite a few NPCs have their stat blocks provided either in the relevant Plot Points and Savage Tale adventures or this chapter. For example, Sutton Thacker block is in Cult o’ the Dragon while Santa Anna’s is detailed here. Usually most adventure sourcebooks either go for one option or the other. The Flood does both.
I’m not going to detail every single character here, particularly if I discussed them earlier in this Let’s Read. And some entries, such as the individual Men of the Grid or Mariposa Lil, aren’t particularly noteworthy in abilities. Every single Famous Folk is a Wild Card.
Big Ears Tam was a tax collector back in Shanghai, but had to flee the country after his criminal undertakings were discovered. He’s now an elderly yet influential crime lord oddly content with his lot in life. He desires little but to die peacefully at an old age with his fortune and legacy intact. He is not exactly optimized for combat nor does he have supernatural powers, but he has a lot of high skills and is an expert gambler.
Big Pul & Little Pul are identical twin Ravenite shamans who serve Warlord Kwan. They are Black Magicians whose only main offensive powers of note are bolt and fear, but if one of them dies then the other dies as well due to a shared mystical connection.
Captain Blood styles himself as a dashing ladies man even though he’s a bloodthirsty sadist who never takes prisoners or captives alive. He has some leadership and Charisma boosting Edges, the latter of which sadly go to waste on account of his Bloodthirsty hindrance: -4 Charisma along with the aforementioned personality flaws.
Captain Roderick Pennington-Smythe is a Crimean War veteran who’s been forever changed by witnessing the evils that men and monsters do. He dedicates himself to the Twilight Legion, eager to recruit new blood to replace the old. He is a skill monkey, having just about every skill of note in Savage Worlds of appreciable rank along with a host of Knowledge ones.
Emperor Joshua Norton I is surprisingly unremarkable in spite of his fame. His d10 Persuasion and Charismatic and Connection Edges are the only good things going for him.
Goldnose Slim is is a very lucky fellow who seems tailor-made for the new Nose for the Rock Edge of this book, detailed earlier in the Player’s Guide. His other Edges are themed around his charmed life such as Dodge and Luck, and he has a host of Hindrances from Pacifist to Curious which guarantees he’ll need to be rescued from danger by some traveling heroes.
H.J. Kent is more than a mere Lynchburg assayer. He’s secretly a huckster who uses his powers to get revenge on people who wronged him. He does his best to lay low, knowing that having the Agency and Texas Rangers on his back can be even worse than being run out of town.
Lacy O’Malley is one of the more well-known names of the Deadlands setting. But unlike many other 90s metaplot recurring NPCs he does not have god-like stats. He has lot of high-ranked skills but is a terrible fighter: Fighting and Shooting of d6 each and the only weapon on his person a two-shot Derringer pistol. He does have a Grit score of 6...but no Guts* skill, making him merely quite brave rather than near-unflappable.
*Guts is the skill used to resist fear and keep one’s cool in the Deadlands setting. Grit is a flat bonus to all Guts rolls and keys off of a few Edges such as Duelist.
Rat-Skinner Hou has been talked about before in the Shan Fan entry. What is notable statwise is that he’s more of the “bruiser” type of martial artist than the graceful, agile warriors we associate with Wuxia. His Superior Kung Fu (Shuai Chao) focuses around grappling, and with his d12 Strength, Boost/Lower Trait and No Mercy (Fighting) Edge to reroll damage with a fate chip he’s all about putting on the hurt. He also has the Cup Overflows flaw, meaning that all of his martial arts powers are larger than life and obviously supernatural.
Rutherford Ellington Dillenger is still a bit out of his element as a British gentleman on the American Frontier. He is not much of a fighter (fighting d6, shooting d4) but his d10 Persuasion and 3 social edges (Attractive, Noble, Tale Teller) make him very much a ‘face’ roll for the Explorer’s Society.
Sam Q. Hellman is a member of the Union’s Agency who is working with the Twilight Legion due to an alliance of convenience. He is built as an end-level Legendary character with a host of skills for his investigator-type role. As for combat, he has a d12+2 Shooting, and the Marksman and Improved Trademark Weapon Edges with his gatling pistol add another +2 bonus each on top of that. With the Rock and Roll! Edge to negate recoil penalties, this makes him a peerless sharpshooter with an automatic weapon.
Suitcase Lee is a young man and exemplar martial artist with Fighting d12+1 and the Chi Mastery Arcane Background. In spite of his optimism and talent he is incredibly nervous around the female persuasion. His own reputation and handsome smile further compounds the problem when said ladies swoon at his presence. Statwise he has a mixture of buffing, combat, and defense powers, a Colt Peacemaker pistol, and can use a battered suitcase as a unique weapon which can grant +1 Parry and +2 Armor against all ranged attacks.
Thin Noodles Ma got his nickname as a play on his obese frame. His pact with Warlord Kang granted him access to Black Magic, and he has Bolt and a pair of buffing powers in the form of Armor and Boost/Lower Trait. He is not much of a fighter in comparison to other Triad gangsters, with a d6 in fighting and shooting and social and magic-focused Edges.
Warlord Mu-T’uo Kwan has an owl as his totem spirit, which he keeps secret on account that the animal is regarded as bad luck among indigenous Californians.* His other dark secret is that he does not wish for the life of a warlord, but his own totem says he will be destroyed if he relents and does not wish to leave things in chaos from a power vacuum. Statwise he has no Arcane Background but has good Fighting and Shooting (d10). He uses a regal-looking Chinese ceremonial armor and sword to project the image of a warlord alongside a more modern Colt and Winchester. He has a healthy mixture of leadership, melee, and ranged Edges, making him a well-rounded opponent.
*I don’t know if this is true IRL or an artistic license.
Afterwards we get an Index and the full-page Tombstone Epitaph handout of Good Intentions Savage Tales.
And thus we’re done with the Flood.
Final Thoughts: Of the four Reckoner Series adventures of Deadlands Reloaded, the Flood ranks highly in my opinion. It has a weak start, does a bit more telling than showing, and its resolution is a bit too moral dilemma “shades of grey” for an RPG that expects PCs to be bonafide good guys. But the thematic setting, its many locales and groups, and variety of sidequests more than makes up for the otherwise okay core adventure. The tying of the PCs to a secret organization of do-gooders makes for a strong lead to handle trouble in far-flung spots as well as providing a built-in rationale for new PCs to come out of nowhere. I did have to do my fair share of work in changing around adventures, but most of its content could be used as is.
Overall I’d recommend the Flood for Deadlands fans, especially those who want a wide-ranging epic adventure in a lawless “ghost rock rush” frontier with a dash of wuxia and doomsday cults on the side.
Our next Let’s Read will cover the following Plot Point Campaign, the Last Sons, where we save the Sioux Nations from the Reckoner of War!
PS One other major weaknesses of the Flood is the haphazard quality of mapping assets. More than a few major fights and setpieces do not have maps, although some dedicated fans made high-quality maps for just about every major adventure and a few Savage Tales in this thread.