Deadlands: The Last Sons by Libertad!
IntroductionOriginal SA post
Howdy pardner, and welcome back to the Weird West! Today we’ll be covering the second of the Reckoner Series mega-adventures for Deadlands. I went into more detail in the opening post of the first adventure, the Flood, but in short as part of the system upgrade to Savage Worlds the fine folks at Pinnacle Entertainment Group saw to making a series of four full campaigns centered around the downfall of the settings’ greatest villains. Known as Plot Point Campaigns, they have the progression and structure of Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder Adventure Paths via a main Plot Point. However, they’re interspersed with a host of optional locations and events known as Savage Tales. Savage World Plot Point Campaigns are closer in structure to a video game RPG such as Skyrim or Mass Effect, which has the skeleton of a main quest but a host of side quests.
For The Last Sons we cover Raven’s machinations. Whereas Reverend Grimme of the Flood exemplified Famine, Raven is the Servitor of War and the one who broke the Reckoners free in the first place. It is by far the largest of the Plot Point Campaigns in both page count and scope,* and like the Flood also has an epic feel whose resolution will dramatically change the socio-political landscape of a notable region of the Weird West. Whereas the Flood centered around the destruction of the Church of Lost Angels, the Last Sons focuses on helping the Ghost Dance Movement battle the Order of the Raven, the latter of whom seek to reignite a second war between the Sioux Nations and United States. It takes place mostly within the aforementioned region as well as the Disputed Territories of the Union and Confederate border states. As a result Last Sons feels more classically Western in comparison to the Flood’s wuxia-naval-doomsday-cult mashup, if more Native-centric than the classic cowboy feel.
*In fact, the designers felt it was a bit too big, and one of their design diaries mentions that if they could go back they’d cut it down to a more manageable size.
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, were slaughtered by white settlers in the mid-1700s. 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 the Disputed Territories
Much like the Flood, Pinnacle produced a free PDF with all the player-friendly content.
The Tombstone Epitaph is Deadland’s primary in-game newspaper, which details the major events, places, and all the wild goings-on that are the grits and gravy of a gaming session’s worth of good adventure. We first open up with an explanation of how a devastating Flood ripped through the southern portions of California’s Great Maze, with the City of Lost Angels suffering the brunt of the damage. Reverend Grimme and a significant portion of his chain of command were killed along with nearby adjoining settlements, and Mexico’s invasion was halted. California is now more or less autonomous territory.
Back in America’s heartland, the rail barons are jockeying to claim what territory they can. Although Hellstromme Industries built the first intercontinental railroad and thus is on the path of securing some sweet trade deals with the Union and Confederacy, the other Rail Barons are fighting bitterly over what land and shipping rights remain. Bleeding Kansas is at the forefront of the fighting on account of the two American nations being heavy sponsors of Jayhawkers and border ruffians. These proxy partisans are now tempted with job offers by very rich independent rail barons.
What’s going on in the Union? It’s 1880 and the Presidential elections are on everyone’s mind! The incumbent Ulysses S. Grant, whose administration is one of the most corrupt in US history, is running against the rising star James A. Garfield also of the Republican Party. Although Grant touts his ceasefire deal with the Confederacy as one of his greatest achievements while in office, the proxy wars in Bleeding Kansas and the unresolved racial tensions between white settlers and Sioux Natives in Deadwood are making Grant very unpopular among the American public.
Speaking of which, the tribes of the Sioux and their allies are faring better in this alt-history than in real life. For one, the prolonged Civil War made the Union soldiers’ presence in the Great Plains far fewer. With the aid of shamans and spirits, Sitting Bull’s forces repulsed US encroachment in the Dakotas in 1872, sparing but humiliating General Armstrong Custer in the process. The Union was forced to sign the Deadwood Creek Treaty, which ceded land rights and significantly cut down on freedom of movement and mining claims for settlers while also recognizing the borders of the Sioux Nations.
The town of Deadwood, connected by the Iron Dragon rail line, is the sole ‘safe zone’ for non-Nation citizens, but the recent spate of miners murdered under mysterious circumstances inflamed racial tensions. Deadwood townsfolk and Union citizens are both demanding protection and vengeance. Naturally, James Garfield is seizing on this, casting the Sioux as crazed savages holding American citizens hostage with President Grant too spineless to do anything about it. Add in some “Manifest Destiny” of how the Indians are sitting on a pile of rich ghost rock veins going to waste, and you have the perfect mix of greed and racial fears going on. Garfield’s stump speech was greeted with a standing ovation and a giant leap in poll numbers. During the course of the Plot Point Campaign he wins the election and becomes President.
We also talk about the Ghost Dance, a relatively new religious movement growing in popularity among Native American tribes from the Paiute of Deseret to the Sioux Nations and Coyote Confederation. Its leader is Wovoka, a man credited with all manner of miracles. The Union and Confederacy are worried about this spreading faith, fearing the strength of a pan-Indian movement.
The rest of the Epitaph section covers smaller local interest places. They include the Colorado town of new Jerusalem which seems to have literally sprung up out of nowhere; a gentleman-thief Stagecoach Robber roaming Kansas in a fancy steam wagon; sightings of Night Trains filled with the souls of the dead who kidnap townsfolk; rising tensions between the Confederacy and the Comanche Native Americans; and a lone eccentric searching for the lost village of Quivira, said to hold clues to the mythical Seven Cities of Gold.
The Epitaph ends with The Round-Up, an in-game help wanted section full of adventure hooks and jobs sorted by state or region in the case of Indian Countries. It’s an obvious call-back to the Flood’s GOOD INTENTIONS section and even acknowledges it in-universe. Unfortunately not all of the entries directly link to a Savage Tale sidequest. Some of them are just dangling hooks, and the Last Sons does not make it clear which ones are which.
Opening Text posted:
There’s no place in the Weird West untouched by Indian history, culture, and traditions. Before the first buffalo hunters and settlers invaded the Plains, before the railroads and boomtowns laid down foundations of steel and wood, before telegraph wires crisscrossed the landscape like some giant spider’s web, the Indians were here. They built great civilizations all over North America, only to see their cities fall into decline hundreds of years before the first whites set foot in the so-called “New World.”
As you can imagine by this quote, the writers of the Last Sons are gently pushing you into making Native American PCs for this Plot Point Campaign and it shows in this chapter. Many of the new roles, Edges, equipment, and other material tie into culture of various tribes, and the Plot Point’s first adventure involves helping out the Ghost Dancers. The Last Sons is trying to evoke a deconstructionist Western feel from the Native perspective, a la Dances With Wolves or Little Big Man. At least initially; it will take a while to explain here, so I’ll cover what I think works and doesn’t work in the main Plot Point Campaign chapter.
Without further ado, we get a hefty list of major Native American tribes by region in the Weird West, along with their political relationships with other tribes, the US and/or Confederacy, and in some cases their stance towards with the Ghost Dance Movement. I’ll cover some of the major bases: the Sioux Nations is comprised of the Lakota, who are further divided into seven bands: Hunkpapa, Oglala, Burnt Thigh (Brule), Minneconjous, Sihasapa (Blackfeet), Itazipacola (Sans Arcs), and Oohenupa (Two Kettles). The Northern Cheyenne are also citizens of the Nation despite not being Lakota due to their role as a diplomatic bridge with the Coyote Confederation.
The Coyote Confederation was formerly an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma before tribal uprisings during the Civil War managed to gain an autonomous territory. They are made up of the Arapaho, Cherokee, Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyenne. Each tribe’s leader convenes yearly in a meeting to discuss policy, and a mysterious figure known as Coyote acts as the nation’s leader.
The indigenous tribes of California banded together under the Necessity Alliance, who make their headquarters in the many twisting channels of the Great Maze. The Klamath are their most populous tribe, and count the Chumash, Miwoka, Coastanoan, and Cabrielino tribes as members. The Pomo and Mojave are independent of the Alliance, either being too spread out in the former’s case or isolated until recent times in the latter’s case.
The major tribes of the Disputed Territories include the Crow, Pawnee, and Shoshone people. All of them are on hostile footing with the Sioux Nations and Coyote Confederation, although all but the Crow follow the Old Ways.* The Shoshone are allied with the Paiute, a Great Basin tribe responsible for forming the Ghost Dance Movement, and their warriors often serve as bodyguards for Paiute preachers.
*In-game spiritual movement where avoiding use of modern technology grants increased power with spirits
The major tribes of the American Southwest include the Apache and Navajo, who allied with each other as a defense pact against hostile white settlers. The Yaqui are a Mexican/Arizonan tribe who have been on hostile footing with the Mexican government, and the Zuni Pueblo are an isolated and secretive group descended from the Anasazi.
We also get a host of new role-playing considerations, major language families and what tribal tongues fall under them, and new character concept ideas for Native Heroes. In this last case, this covers general ideas such as scouts as chieftains along with different types of priests and shamans: war leaders call upon spirits to fight and lead the tribe during war, medicine men negotiate with spirits to heal others and ward off misfortune, etc. In regards to spirituality and religion, Deadlands has a bit of a monolithic discussion of indigenous culture. Although the section mentions that there’s no substitute for serious research, we do get some entries which are well, this:
If a young man lacks the salt to be a warrior, has no talent for speaking with spirits, and lacks the speed and skills vital for scouts, he is no longer considered a man by his tribe. He wears women’s clothes, takes a woman’s name, and does a female’s chores. But that doesn’t mean the berdache is disrespected. Far from it. They are among the best craftspeople in a tribe, and in elder years considered as wise as priests in the ways of the world.
From what knowledge I know of gender identity among Native American tribes, this entry is inaccurate and the term “berdache” is considered outdated by most indigenous people of the United States. The more proper term is two-spirit and can cover Native Americans who do not conform to Western ideas of gender norms. Various tribes have different levels of acceptance, but two-spirit people were not necessarily banned from warrior and religious roles and can refer to different kinds of LGBT identities.
New Hindrances are for PCs of all ethnicities save for Coup Counter, which is specific to indigenous cultures. We have Allergy, where exposure to a certain element can cause Fatigue; Coup Counter, where your first attack in combat must be a “false attack” in melee; Intolerant quite simply means you’re bigoted to a certain race or culture, suffer a Charisma penalty with dealing with them, and cannot use leadership Edges in conjunction with individuals from said groups until you’ve been in contact with them for at least a week; and finally Trouble Magnet causes something to go wrong for your PC at least once per session in addition to the typical troubles PCs face.
New Edges are equally open for all PCs and include Gallows Humor, where by saying a joke in-character regarding some horrible situation allows you to substitute Taunts instead of Guts to resist Fear Effects; Two-Gun Kid, where you can apply the bonus from your Marksman edge to two separate targets; new Knacks marking your character’s birth on a certain auspicious event, such as being born under a Shooting Star which increases the distance of your leadership Edges or being contacted by a spirit while in the womb which grants you a single supernatural spell even if you don’t have an Arcane Background; Liquid Courage increases your Vigor and lets you ignore one level of wound penalties when drunk; Patron Spirit is for Blessed where spending fate chips on a power extends its duration; Seen the Elephant for Veteran experience ranked PCs allows them to subtract 4 from the result on a Fear Effects table due to being numb to trauma; and finally Totem Spirit for Shamans, where getting a raise (4 above the Target Number) on a power linked to your totem animal halves the Power Point cost.
The Last Sons gets one New Power, and it’s a pretty potent and versatile one at that. Contact Spirit World is available only to Voodooist Blessed, Mad Scientists, and Shamans. Overall it involves opening the caster up to the Hunting Grounds. Said place is the all-purpose “spirit world/afterlife” of the Deadlands setting and appears differently depending on a person’s belief system. Contact Spirit World can be taken at Novice rank, but gives a new use for the spell at every rank thereafter.
At Novice Rank a caster can call forth a lesser spirit to demand one service from it. At Seasoned Rank you can Summon Normal Spirit which are more powerful. Veteran rank allows the caster to Spirit Travel and project their soul into the Hunting Grounds while leaving their body behind in a comatose state. At Heroic rank Group Spirit Travel can let the caster take on multiple companions at once equal to their Spirit die. Finally Open Portal at Legendary rank creates a two-way portal to the Hunting Grounds or back to the mortal if in the Hunting Grounds.
Summoning spirit results are randomly determined via a die roll, or the caster can pick an individual spirit they know the spirit’s true name. The caster can learn a summon spirit’s true name by getting a raise on their relevant arcane background skill roll, or via learning it from some other person or place.
The various uses of Contact Spirit World cost a different number of Power Points, but they share a duration of 1 hour, plus an additional hour per Power Point beyond the base cost spent. In the case of a summoned spirit the entity returns back from whence it came at the end of the normal duration, or until the single task they were summoned for is finished, whichever comes first. Even at Seasoned rank the types of spirits you can summon can be pretty potent, ranging in power from the Holy People who have d12 in several traits and gain a host of powers depending on their clan, to the mighty Wakinyan thunder spirit who are gigantic stormclouds with 28 Toughness and a long-range infinite-use version of the bolt power.
Gear & Goods
We start out with some new mundane gear, such as a coup stick used to “count coup” among some the Natives of the Great Plains that can grant improved NPC attitudes among your tribal group per use in battle; peyote which grants a bonus on Tribal Medicine rolls when using Vision Quest and Contact Spirit world; shields which can grant Parry vs melee and Armor against ranged attacks;* snowshoes which negate the effects of traveling in Heavy Snow; and tipis and travois which are survival gear.
*it does not specify if bullets ignore these bonuses or not.
Infernal Devices are mad scientist inventions whose blueprints and function have been refined to the point that even those without the aforementioned Arcane Background are capable of using them. They all run on ghost rock and tend to explode or inflict other maladies when the user rolls a 1 on the relevant skill die. Our two new devices include a Steam Cart, which is a railroad handcart outfitted with a ghost rock boiler and can be mounted with Gatling guns and flamethrowers, and the Steam Velocipede which is quite literally a motorcycle.
Although I realize that steam wagons exist in the core rules of Deadlands and are effectively primitive cars in function, the Velocipede feels aesthetically out of place to my sensibilities in being too “modern” for the Western genre. It effectively renders the classic trope of the trusty horse useless.
Secret Services Revisited covers new equipment specific to the Agency and Texas Rangers. In Deadlands, the respective organizations are FBI equivalents for the Union and Confederacy who are also secretly tasked with investigation and putting a stop to supernatural threats. PCs who are members can requisition special equipment which cannot be purchased otherwise, determined based on their Persuasion roll, rank within the organization, and the overall level of rarity and power of said item requested.
Although both groups use the same system, their equipment is unique. The Agency has more espionage gadgets, while the Texas Rangers specialize in things which shoot, stab, and explode. This is a major upgrade from the base Deadland’s Player’s Guide, whose only pair of equipment for said organizations respectively include a Men in Black style “memory changer” Mnemomizer, and a Fugitives from Justice in the Confederacy which acts like an FBI’s Most Wanted List.
The Agency by contrast gets far more gadgets. They range from automatic keys which can open a lock in seconds, a black duster with hidden compartments, a code wheel used to encrypt secret messages, an Ectoplasmic Calcifier Mk II which can make ghosts and other spirits physical in form and thus vulnerable to regular attacks, an exploding pocketwatch which acts as a timed explosive, or a telegraph tap which can eavesdrop on messages carried through telegraph lines.
The Texas Rangers of high enough rank can get a copy of the Special Edition of Fugitives from Justice in the Confederacy, whose Chapter 13 details all manner of monsters and ways to kill them. This grants a +2 bonus on Knowledge (Occult) and Tracking rolls related to such creatures. Beyond this, their gear includes things such as a Bowie Survival Knife which is much like a Swiss Army Knife, a Rains Hand Grenade Mk II which are waterproof and can deal 3d6 damage in a Medium Burst Template (4 hex diameter), an Improved Whitworth Rifle which is a heavy-hitting (3d8 damage) ghost steel rifle; a LeMat Undertaker which is an improved version of the Lemat grapeshot pistol which can accept special rounds (3d6); and finally a Supernatural Phenomena Survival Kit which comes stocked with all manner of folkloric defensive charms (rock salt, wolfsbane, garlic, etc) along with special ghost steel-silver hybrid ammunition allowing for Blessed to more easily imbue powers on them.
Thoughts So Far: The player-facing section of the Last Sons has a good amount of material which can be useful for a variety of character types. Very few options are underpowered or situational enough to be useless, and I did like the overview of the various Native American groups and their position within the Deadlands setting. The Contact Spirit World is a very strong power, perhaps a bit too strong, and the Velocipede just rubs me the wrong way. The Agency got a lot of neat spy tools, which although cool feels a bit out of place given the US government aren’t exactly big fans of indigenous autonomy or the Ghost Dance Movement.
Join us next time as we visit the Marshal’s Section, covering the war-torn lands of the Disputed Territories and Indian Country!
Marshal’s SectionOriginal SA post
The first section of the Marshal’s handbook provides some detailed backstory expanding on the origins of Raven, the first of the Reckoners’ Servitors. I’m going to paraphrase things here, as a lot of it details his various plots and machinations both past and present.
Building off what was said in the first post, Raven’s secret to immortality was a literal Fountain of Youth of the long-dead Anasazi. After gathering the Last Sons and breaking open the Reckoners’ prisons guarded by the Old Ones, one of the latter by the name of Jordrava escaped at the expense of literally losing his heart. His body became a corpse in the Grand Canyon, his spirit powerless to affect the world or witness the events of time’s passing.
After their victory, Raven gathered together the Last Sons to discuss new plans. First came a restructuring of their organization and thus the birth of the Order of the Raven. The Last Sons would spread the word of Raven among Natives who suffered from colonialism and were willing to do anything to resist. A few of the most trusted Last Sons would take on the false identity of Raven for the dual purpose of turning his legacy into something larger than the self while confusing their enemies over contradictory reports of his sightings. A few of the false prophets even grew to believe they were the genuine article in due time.
The real Raven for his part ventured to California around 1865. There, he learned of the ancient pictograms of long-passed tribes and their connection to the spirits of the earth, as well as the ludicrous stories of Emperor Norton I. Quite a bit of this part is detailed in the Flood Plot Point Campaign, but long story short Raven activated the pictogram glyphs to trigger a statewide Great Quake, formed the Rattlesnake Clan of sorcerers to provide more warriors for the Order of the Raven, and manipulated the dreams of the Chinese warlord Kwan to appoint Emperor Norton I as an incompetent proxy ruler when the time came to seize power. He also went south of the border into Mexico, helping form a secret society of Aztec sorcerers who influenced Mexico’s aristocratic emperor to invade California.
When word came of the Sioux Nations’ victory against the United States in 1872, Raven ventured north and took on the identity of the Hooded One. The Order of the Raven drew the bulk of its forces from this territory by building up a rapport with Sitting Bull, who was convinced to join the Order of the Raven in secret.
Discovery of ghost rock in the Black Hills led to violent conflicts with white settlers and Sioux Nation braves. The United States sent an army division lead by George Armstrong Custer to break the Native spirit. This is where history departs: the Battle of the Little Bighorn (aka the Battle of the Greasy Grass to the Sioux and Cheyenne) results in an American loss, but Custer is not killed. Crazy Horse, Red Bear, and the Hooded One, who by now is a respected warrior among the Sioux Nations, take Custer hostage. Raven said that the man’s life is at their whims, and he “mercifully” granted him the opportunity to retreat and spread tale that the Sioux Nations will never be broken. Raven claimed that this warning would teach the USA not to mess with them, but he privately knew an arrogant man like Custer would seek vengeance.
Jordrava was reborn due to the unintentional efforts of the Explorer’s Society during an expedition to the Grand Canyon. Rutherford Ellington Dillenger* put Jordrava’s preserved heart into the cavity of the Old One’s corpse in a moment of desperation from attacking monsters. Thanking them for their revival he traveled North America, learning of how bad things have gotten since the Reckoning. He later indirectly founded the Ghost Dance Movement by appearing in a vision to the Paiute Native American Wovoka, who presumed that Jordrava in his vision was the “Creator.” Regardless, the Ghost Dance Movement spread, especially when its beneficial effects became known among its more learned shamans. Alas Jordrava made an error in returning to the Hunting Grounds to find an old medicine rock of his; he got ambushed by an evil spirit and remains captured in its terrible lair to this day.**
*he was one of the Society’s senior members during the previous Plot Point Campaign, the Flood.
**or at least until the PCs spring him free
In the current time of September 1880, Raven’s plots are coming to fruition. Emperor Norton is now the figurehead ruler of northern California, the demoted and now-rogue George Armstrong Custer is building an army of several thousand irregular hired guns and low-down varmints in order to invade the Sioux Nations. The news of slaughtered miners gives him the perfect opportunity to swoop in as a savor and “liberate Deadwood.” Sitting Bull is now insane and more than willing to plunge his people into war if it means killing every white person on the High Plains. He’s even gone so far as to allow the desecration of the Black Hills via a secret deal with the Iron Dragon rail baron Kang. The rail baron set up a secret illegal mining operation to extract its ghost rock, and in return supplies the Order of the Raven with guns, explosives, and mad science devices.
One way or another, War is coming.
What I’d Change: I’d would not make Sitting Bull a Ravenite and instead replace him with a Wicasa of my own creation. In the real world Sitting Bull was not only one of the most famous Native Americans, he was also a celebrated figurehead among many indigenous people for fighting to preserve his people’s autonomy from US aggression. Turning him into an insane villain, along with one who would compromise the Sioux Nations’ ceasefire with the United States for some equal opportunity bloodshed is a pretty big departure from how the man acted in real life. Technically speaking Raven speaking to him in dreams caused him to go insane, although this is not explained in either the Marshal’s Handbook or the Last Sons until his relevant stat block entry in the final chapter.
Each of the Deadlands Plot Point Campaigns features a set of new rules pertinent to the specific locale and the Reckoner which holds sway over the area. In the previous campaign the Flood, we had inflated prices, food spoiling quickly, and how giving into cannibalism risked turning into literal monsters in keeping with Famine. Here the Reckoner of War holds sway, and nothing generates hatred and fear like violence.
Overall, people in the Native American nations and the Disputed Territories are on edge and Bad Impressions are easy to make. Even if not in an active battle zone the memories of border ruffian depredations, Indian raids, rail war skirmishes, and more keep people distrustful of newcomers. Resentment, anger, and grief cause situations to quickly escalate and just about everyone is openly carrying a firearm or other weapon. As such, PCs suffer a -2 modifier on rolls on the NPC Reaction Table for initial impressions, which means that NPCs never start out Helpful and rarely Friendly.
On that note, the default Deadlands Reloaded tends to avoid the issue of real-world systemic racism. Via this sidebar in the Player’s Guide the designers wanted more of a “post-racial” alternative history:
Well minus the Neo-Confederate stuff, the Last Sons subverts this HARD. Real-world, widespread racial fears are a recurring element in this Plot Point Campaign, primarily between white settlers and soldiers and Native Americans. You probably guessed earlier based on the fact that Intolerant can be taken as a Hindrance by PCs, but it’s not just the province of individuals, either. I counted two NPCs who the PCs have to work with as part of a Plot Point or Savage Tale express either distrust or contempt for the other side of the divide in some way, and a quest where Ghost Dancers are initially reluctant to rescue a nun from a group of Ravenite raiders on account that she’s an unknown white woman deep in Sioux territory.
There’s also the factor of the situation in Deadwood where the local white settlers and Sioux/Cheyenne Natives are deathly afraid of starting another war due to the very real chance either side’s society will not survive the second round. And the in-game text doesn’t shame or condemn them for this: both sides have normal people who quite rightly view any instance of inter-racial violence in or around Deadwood as the match that strikes the dynamite that kills everybody.
Moving on with the review, we cover Battlefield Horrors. The mass graves of battlefields scattered throughout the Midwest are teeming with undead monstrosities and the atmosphere is perpetually dark and gloomy. The Fear Level in these areas is 1 higher than usual, and those who die here draw 3 additional cards to determine whether or not they come back Harrowed.*
*sapient PC-friendly undead option who share their body with an evil spirit in addition to their own soul.
Following are rules for the Ghost Dance. Basically the Ghost Dance Movement is a pan-Indian religious and political organization. It foretells Native Americans regaining autonomy of their traditional lands, an end to colonialism, reuniting the living with the dead, and more good stuff if sacred dances and moral living of its participants are followed. Basically the rituals of the Ghost Dance can be learned from one who knows it, provided you have the Arcane Background (Shaman) and invest d6 into Knowledge (Ghost Dance). The dance itself is a group-focused activity where everyone in a war party or village must participate for hours on end. The one leading the Ghost Dance makes a Knowledge roll to cause at least one event to happen per success and raise: they can reduce an area’s ambient Fear Level by 1 in a 20 mile radius, improve the chances of a dead character coming back Harrowed or even alive and fit as a fiddle, or forcefully cast out the manitou spirit sharing a Harrowed’s body albeit at the expense of causing said Harrowed to perish and go on to the afterlife.
Ghost Rock is covered, that miracle fuel which just so happens to be an artificial creation of the Reckoners. We have some basic information repeated here, particularly what happens when a ghost rock boiler overheats or is damaged in combat.* We also get game stats for Ghostfire Powder, a refined version of the substance whose creation is known only to the highest echelons of Hellstromme Industries. The stuff is responsible for the creation of the Ghostfire Bombs used during the Battle of Lost Angels in the Flood Plot Point Campaign. A small barrel can cover a Large Burst Template and is treated as a Heavy Weapon, igniting all flammable substances, dealing 2d10 damage per round, and can cause instant incapacitation on a failed Vigor (-3 penalty) roll. A Ghostfire Bomb does the same but covers two square acres.**
**87,120 square feet, or 26,554.176 square meters for our non-US readers.
As you can imagine, Ghostfire Power is incredibly strong, and being hit with a Ghostfire Bomb almost assuredly means certain death for PCs caught anywhere but the outskirts of the blast radius.
The Hunting Grounds gets some rules for traveling about it it, which will be useful as one of the Plot Point adventures takes place entirely within its confines. It is basically Deadlands’ all-purpose spirit world/afterlife, and while the name intones a naturalist/shamanistic connotation it appears differently to people depending on their religious views of the afterlife. Native Americans see the spirit realm as a giant tree.* The faint outline of a hardwood tree takes up half the sky, and the various realms appear on different portions of the tree. The actual Sky is the dominion of the gods and the most virtuous of people; the Boughs are where visiting mortals commonly visit traveling ancestors; the Trunk is home to most spirits and is a dark place of tunnel-like passages, vines, and pits; the Roots are the gateway to the Deadlands and thus most of it is controlled by the Reckoners; finally the Deadlands are the land of the Reckoners, a dark wasteland built upon the foundations of an eternity of fallen leaves and branches. The Deadlands are home to legions of manitous and kidnapped souls serving as slaves.
*once more that indigenous monolith writing strikes again.
This perception of the Hunting Grounds changes to whatever closest religious equivalent exists for travelers, and in the case of an interfaith party the one who gets the highest Spirit roll imposes their interpretation of the Hunting Grounds upon their companions.
We cover various rules specific to the place: for one, the entirety of the Hunting Grounds is Fear Level 0 save for the Deadlands which are Level 6, although this does not mean the former is happy and safe. Characters who travel here without using a physical portal do not carry their equipment with them, not even their clothes, although any totem spirits they have manifest as allies with stats to the closest animal equivalent. For Harrowed their possessing manitou is much stronger here and local spirits hate the dead guy. Spellcasters recover Power Points at twice the normal rate, but mad scientists and those with technological trappings have a more difficult time casting their powers at a -2 penalty. Hucksters get a good deal, as their Deal with the Devil power cuts out the manitou middleman and they can “draw” the power from their surroundings with no chance of backlash. However this power is not infinite, for excessive use summons manitous angry at the huckster for “cheating.”
We get new Relics which are Deadlands’ equivalent of magic items. They are unique items filled with potent emotional weight, usually formed from the hopes, dreams, and failures of some particularly heroic or villainous soul. They grant potent powers to their wielders, but many have a Taint which colors the user’s personality in some manner.
The relics detailed here include Crazy’s Horses’ Coup Stick which allows the wielder to draw a Fate Chip whenever they first count coup on a dangerous opponent; Ghost Guns of unknown origin but evil disposition which never run out of ammunition and give bonuses on Intimidation, but at the expense of adding the Bloodthirsty, Mean, and Vengeful (Major) hindrances; Harrowed Boots which give those who die wearing them a greater chance to come back Harrowed but cannot benefit from helpful spells cast by a Blessed; Tom “Bear River” Smith’s Spurs which increase one’s Intimidation die but grant the wear the Mean hindrance*; an Unholy Symbol of an evil cult which comes imbued with a single Black Magic spell but has a wicked soul which tries to possess a user much like a Harrowed’s manitou; and finally Wild Bill Hickock’s Six-Shooters, a pair of Colt Navy revolvers which reroll 1s on Shooting rolls (barring snake eyes) but make it so that anyone who shoots you in the back deals a bonus 2d6 damage.
*a bit unimaginative when you look at Ghost Guns
We top off this section with rules for Stampedes, Telegraphs, and Wild Weather. All three are rather situational: stampedes are an opposed Agility or Riding roll to either get out of the way or round up a panicked herd, with failure imposing quite a bit of damage as you’re run over. Telegraphs are a semi-reliable long-distance communication device which can be tampered with by mischievous spirits known as gremlins. A table of various negative effects is provided: doesn’t get through, delayed message, scrambled/misinterpreted message, etc. Finally Wild Weather covers the historic Long Winter of 1880-1881. On the High Plains a record-breaking 132 inches* of snow covered the ground, resulting in impassible railroad tracks, mass flooding when it eventually melted, starvation from ruined crops, etc. Blizzards can last 2d20+2 hours and freeze up even mad science vehicles, while heavy snow and storms can impose penalties on movement and physical-based actions.
By far the longest part of the Marshal’s Section, Strange Locales details all the towns, landmarks, and other points of interest in War’s domain. Like the Flood we get each location’s listed Fear Level along with relevant Savage Tales in the area to complete.
Before diving into locations proper we get an outline over each of the six major rail companies and where they stand in the seemingly never-ending Great Rail Wars.
Union Blue is the state-funded rail company of the United States, and they’re not looking too good lately. Their last saving grace is running a line through cattle country in Kansas to increase shipping revenues, perhaps as far south as the Santa Fe Trail.
Black River is notable for being managed by women known as the Wichita Witches and is a heavy player in Bleeding Kansas’ wars. Its owner Mina Devlin is a ruthless woman who trains the most promising rail warriors in black magic. Although she had a secret alliance with Union Blue, that deal soured and now she’s their primary competitor in seizing rail lines for cattle country.
Iron Dragon managed to do the unthinkable and cut a deal with Sitting Bull to build rail lines through the Sioux Nations. In fact it is the only legal port of entry for foreigners to enter, with a rail line connecting to the haven town of Deadwood. The rail baron Kang is playing a tricky game, having set up an illegal mining operation in the Black Hills to trade guns for ghost rock. The Sioux Ravenites doing business with him care more for crushing the white settlers than maintaining the sanctity of their land.*
*The Black Hills are a place of great cultural and spiritual significance to the Lakota tribes.
Dixie Rails is the closest thing the Confederacy has to an official rail line, being owned by one of the dearly departed Robert E. Lee’s nephews. It is in dire financial straits, with the lion’s share of resources and rail warriors stationed in western Missouri and unable to contribute heavily to securing Kansas’ rail lines.
Wasatch is sitting pretty after building the first transcontinental railroad. Its owner Darius Hellstromme accomplished this in the prior Plot Point Campaign, the Flood by using the powers of Mad Science to dig a literal underground railroad from the Rocky Mountains all the way to southern California. As of now he’s taking a bit of a background role, trying to secure alliances and deals rather than outright warfare. Hellstromme’s current pet projects have him holed up in Deseret’s City o’ Gloom, aka Salt Lake City.
Bayou Vermillion cuts through the Confederacy’s Deep South and American Southwest, placing it far from the Disputed Lands. However rail baron Simone LaCroix has a secret project to cause harm to his northern competitors. Beyond regular spies and saboteurs he secretly built a special train with an adjustable carriage to ride on the gauges of other rail companies. These “Night Trains” became legendary scourges of towns and depots throughout the American heartland as its undead hordes poured out and laid waste to all they could get their hands on.
Fun Fact: One of Deadlands Classic’s most infamous adventures is the eponymous Night Train, where the PCs get caught up in the middle of one of these “night of the walking dead” raids. The adventure was intentionally designed in a Tomb of Horrors like fashion where Total Party Kills are almost guaranteed.
Now come the Strange Locales proper!
Abilene: The oldest cow town in Kansas, this rough and tumble place connects to a Union Blue rail line but there’s more than a few Confederate sympathizers in town to lead to spirited political debate in the form of fist-fights. Tom “Bear River” Smith is a former US marshal, but more of a lawman than the actual sitting sheriff whose predecessor was gunned down by a supernatural cowboy known as the Revenant. The town’s also home to a mansion the locals believe is cursed on account of various mysterious accidents befalling the builders.
Amarillo: In time this will become a populous city, but as of 1880 it’s a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Panhandle. Cowboys, ranch hands, and anyone involved in the cattle industry comprise the majority of its transient citizens.
Bear Butte: This mountain in the Sioux Nations is considered holy ground to the tribes living within its borders. Sioux and Cheyenne pilgrims leave offerings on its cliffs for the Creator, and the land is regularly guarded by braves ensuring that outsiders do not desecrate this place. Bear Butte’s sacred reputation isn’t just for show: spellcasters receive a +2 bonus on casting magic related to exorcism, healing, and costs half the usual Power Points.
Bismarck: Situated at the northeast border of the Sioux Nations and Dakota Territory, Bismarck was so named by Iron Dragon officials hoping that the name’s resemblance to a contemporary German chancellor would encourage immigrants from that nation to set up shop. The place is a diverse frontier town home to Native American traders, white locals and laborers, and a large Chinatown.
Black Hills: To say that the Black Hills are important to the Sioux tribes would be an understatement. It is their ancestral lands and where all manner of holidays, ceremonies, and religious rites take place. In addition to existing gold deposits the Reckoners seeded the place with extensive veins of ghost rock to act as a shining jewel to settlers and spawned more than a few violent conflicts. As part of the Deadwood Treaty of 1875 the tribal elder Wicasas allow very limited mining rights to the towns’ inhabitants. The $100 fee and regulations merely spurred miners on to set up covert illegal operations, and those caught by Sioux patrols without a legal claim end up roughed up or killed if they resist arrest. The trail to the Black Hills is lined with poles displaying corpses of the latter as a warning. When Custer invades, the number of “pole men” increases exponentially.
Black Mesa: This tall mountain stands in the middle of Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Beyond its obvious namesake the place is famous for being a magnet for the supernatural. The Order of the Raven set up one of their strongholds here and mercilessly hunt down and slay anyone without a membership tattoo caught snooping around. At Fear Level 5 it’s one of the most scary locales in the Last Sons.
Cauldron: The second of the Fear Level 5 locations, this place was so named for the caldera present. One of the bloodiest battles of the Great Rail Wars took place here, and after a month of fighting the fallen began to walk as undead. The rail barons in question presumed their opposition was harboring some secret weapon and thus poured even more fighters and resources into the area which only made the problem worse. The fighting’s died down but the small town here hasn’t been the same; horrific wailing emits from the caldera at night, and people hear voices in the wind whispering past sins in their ears. The entire place is still riddled with mass graves, shelled-out automatons, and burned steam wagons.
Cheyenne: This place gots its beginnings as a boomtown, and it has the theaters, hotels, and saloons to show for it. Its location on the Denver-Pacific* line means that it’s a popular location for upper class ladies and gents for its preponderance of fancy shops. There’s even a Freemason Lodge here which has been corrupted by members delving into the dark arts.
*a minor rail company owned by Smith & Robards, the major mad science competitors of Hellstromme Industries
Coffeyville: Built at an Indian trading post next to what is now the Coyote Confederation, Coffeyville sits by a Black River rail line which gave the place quite a bit of financial prosperity. The fertile soil does well for the farms and milling, and entire warehouses and freight cars full of crops ship their goods across the West.
Deadwood: Perhaps the most iconic town in this entire sourcebook, Deadwood is a little slice of Union surrounded by Sioux Country. Native Americans are allowed inside the town but are given a wide berth by the populace given that the racial tension is thick enough to be cut with a knife. Union soldiers are a heavy presence, and during Custer’s invasion their numbers become supplemented by irregular troops. This causes the Sioux Nations to violently retaliate, with both Old Ways* and Ravenite braves making temporary alliances of convenience to strike at the invaders.
*Religious pledge to the spirits not to use modern industrial technology.
We get a sidebar detailing the Deadwood Creek Treaty and its major provisions: the US government recognizes the Sioux Nations’ as a sovereign territory, none of their soldiers are allowed within the Nation’s borders,* non-Native Americans require special permission by a tribal council to live within said borders, those who are found outside Deadwood or off the sole trail and rail line leading there will be escorted by a party of braves to the border, mining rights require expensive fees, mines can only be owned by individuals and not companies, no mine may be worked by more than five people at once, and any miners found violating these rules have their mines collapsed and are thereby ejected from the Sioux Nations.
*It doesn’t mention if the ones currently in Deadwood before Custer’s invasion are an exception in regards to the treaty.
Denver: The biggest city in Colorado, Denver is the other big rail hub besides Dodge City. Wasatch, Union Blue, Black River, and Denver-Pacific all have rail lines here and due to the ceasefire treaty between the Union and Confederacy both countries left the state unclaimed. As a result, Denver gets representatives from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line and even rail companies without track who need to keep an eye on the competition. In spite of housing a major covert Agency office and anti-firearm ordinance within city limits, Denver’s still a violent place and half of its City Council is riddled with bribery and corruption. The Agency operates a Supernatural Research Facility here for the study and use of all items and monstrous remains of an abnormal nature. They even have a special Star Chamber which is capable of binding a Harrowed’s possessing manitou to the ritualist’s service.
Derry’s Ford: This small Colorado town is unusually low-key and quiet. It used to be home to a cult by the name of the Church of Holy Flame, but it burned down in 1876.
Devil’s Tower: Known as Bear Lodge Butte to the local Natives, this gigantic column of rock can be seen for a good long way on the horizon. Recently the Sioux began speaking of sighting strange monsters lurking in the shadows around the area at night, possessing strange artifacts which can melt the flesh off one’s bones or freeze the blood in their veins. The Rail Baron Kang made an offer to destroy the monsters in exchange for building a rail line to Deadwood. Ever the crowd-pleaser, Kang made a deal with said monsters to stop their attacks and stay in Devil’s Tower in exchange for providing them with the human flesh of captives Iron Dragon wanted disappeared. Kang got his rail line, and today his company maintains guard around the area. The guards also secretly trade with Ravenites here to provide them with firearms and ammunition.
Dodge City: Lost Angels has been claimed by Wasatch, so now all the other rail barons want a piece of the pie in Kansas’ most violent city. As of now Black River and Union Blue rail lines run through town. In addition to rail wars sabotage, passionate Northern and Southern partisans are eager to look for any excuse for a fight, and masked riders at night kill civilians in the name of patriotism. Buffalo hunters have gotten more well-armed on account of the nearby Sioux sabotaging efforts at depopulating their primary food source. Blood runs thick in Dodge City, but so does the stream of money for these many industries.
Dusky Jewel: Kang’s secret mining operation in the Black Hills is a small town built into the back of a canyon guarded by a wall of ghost steel armor. With barbed wire and gatlings lining the top, the Dusky Jewel is far too well-armed for the Sioux to put a stop to it. There are also other factors at play: Kang has leverage over the Wicasas on account that he can release his hold on the monsters in Devil’s Tower, and he can reveal Sitting Bull’s allegiance to the Order of the Raven to the other elders.
Fargo: Although known for its harsh winters, its wheat fields are the primary food supplier for Deadwood. The Wells-Fargo & Co. shipping company used to have headquarters here before Iron Dragon bought them out. During the Plot Point Campaign the Long Winter of 1880 will snow the town in and desperate times will cause people to resort to cannibalism.
Jayhawk Flats: This is one of the most pro-Union towns in Kansas, if one couldn’t already tell by its name. Its citizenry is known for their decades-long vanguard against Southern border ruffians, and its stranger claim to fame is the town’s complete lack of mirrors. Three years ago on All Hallow’s Eve every single mirror in town turned black and shattered, and others brought into town today turn the same ebony shade. This bad luck manifests as a -1 penalty to all rolls for situations regarding luck and random chance such as gambling.
Laramie: This Union town became located within Sioux lands unintentionally, although currently no action has been taken against the settlement due to the problems in Deadwood and Dusky Jewel. An alliance of cattle barons were the effective rulers of Laramie, but after the recognition of the Sioux Nations their wealth and influence have faded.
Lawrence: This Kansas town wears its scars like so many others of the recent decades, but as of 1879 it has the epic Battle of Broken Rails to show for it. This massive clash between four different rail companies destroyed half the town. The victorious Union Blue is doing its best to win the people's’ trust back by shipping in supplies for rebuilding. The town is more racially diverse than usual due to being a former Underground Railroad nexus as well as sporting a lot of Chinese immigrants.
Medicine Wheel: Cheyenne Natives tend to a pattern of stones laid in the earth known as a Medicine Wheel. This configuration is important to the local nature spirits, and its remote location from any trails or rail lines means few people visit. Powers related to healing or spiritual insight gain a +2 bonus on rolls when cast here along with half the normal amount of Power Points required.
New Jerusalem: This would be yet another no-name burg in the Weird West where it not for a terrible event four years ago. New Jerusalem and its inhabitants were transported to another dimension and enslaved by alien beings before mysteriously returning to its original location in 1880. Beyond the obvious psychological scars, sounds are strangely muted and nothing echoes.
New Varney Flats: This town had the unfortunate honor of falling victim to a Night Train attack in 1876. The survivors long moved elsewhere, with those unconnected to the events moving into the new ghost town only to encounter another set of troubles. The large population of buffalo hunters means more clashes with Native tribes, and the hunters use the town as a base of operations for raids into the Coyote Confederation.
Perry: Known as Hell’s Half-Acre even to residents, Perry is famed for having over 100 saloons and a multitude of other entertainment-based businesses. The place is also home to a huge number of Union agents keeping tabs on the Deep South. Confederate counterspies sent more than a few of them into numerous shallow graves outside of town.
Quivira: This ruined town is one of the last sites of the now-vanished Wichita tribe. It is located deep within the Coyote Confederation and well known to its citizens. The Confederation’s leaders gather here during the winter to meet, greet, negotiate, and make policy for the year to come.
Salina: This town is the first spot in Union Blue’s construction project to build a spur south to New Varney Flats. This will link the line with Black River, and Mina Devlin is none too fond of this idea. Her efforts to sabotage this process are at the hands of Baron LaCroix, who relishes the thought of another convenient access point for his Night Trains to wreak havoc in Kansas.
Tallulah: Although nominally neutral in the Civil War, the townsfolks’ desire to “avoid politics” has been taken advantage of by the Confederacy to set up Texas Rangers in town. When some unknown monster began kidnapping miners the Rangers went to work hunting it down and thus earned Tallulah’s trust. Captain Jim Pinto operates an import company to secretly arm a Confederate army with the eventual plan to strike at supernatural threats in the state.
Topeka: Even though the man himself was given a dirt nap, undead Bloody Bill Quantrill’s still fighting like it’s 1865 and Topeka, Kansas is his favorite target for raids. The town is extensively fortified by Union Blue rail warriors, and the local Lincoln College hosts an extensive library second to none. The all-women College of the Sisters of Bethany is an Episcopal center of learning whose students sport a high amount of mad scientists among their number. This has given more than a few rumors of witchcraft in the college, and the Sisters merely play along by staging phenomena created by sufficiently enhanced technology.
Wichita: The local sheriff is known throughout the region for his relentless pursuits of criminals even into the Coyote Confederation, but he’s not who troublemakers should worry about. Headquarters of Black River’s Wichita Witches, these dangerously smart and ruthless women are fast on the draw with both pistol and whip. In the event of truly deadly opposition they can call in their trademark black magic.
Worm Canyon: The third Fear Level 5 location in this chapter, this is the most remote and dangerous place in the Sioux Nations. Even the local braves do not venture here save in very big war parties, and even then only when they absolutely must. The place is home to subterranean serpent-like monsters known as rattlers, 40-foot tentacled monstrosities who burrow through the earth like a fish swims through water. A strange cult lead by the self-appointed Queen Ursula worships the rattlers as gods. She and the rest of the cult do their part to honor the worms by dying their skin purple, living in filth, literally singing their praises, and offering them human sacrifices. With the places’ bad reputation making the last part harder to come by, Ursula’s taken to posing as a prospector looking for gold in the area and offering what few travelers she can find safe passage to help spread the word.
The sacrifices take place on an altar overlooking the forlorn badlands, and at Fear Level 6 the surrounding area is a certified Deadland. Victims are slain by being pushed off a cliff to a squirming clutch of young rattlers below to have their souls consumed.
Adventures in the Disputed Lands
The final part of the Marshal’s Section provides an adventure generator for Game Masters who want something more novel rather than the existing Plot Point and Savage Tale quests provided in the book. Basically it is divided as such: first the generator details one of six likely adventuring motivations to act as the backdrop. They range from monster-hunting and freelance troubleshooters to simply traveling from Point A to Point B. Second is a d10 table to determine the Affiliations of involved NPCs, such as Union/Confederate soldiers and outlaws. Third is the Trouble in the case of PCs acting as troubleshooters, which can range from gathering a posse to hunt down kidnappers or a villainous/hostile faction setting up a secret base in the region to cause trouble. Fourth are Complications, possible twists on existing encounters such as freak weather swooping in to a ghostly visitor haunting a PC with cryptic hints and troubling proclamations.
This section also provides random encounter tables for both the Hunting Grounds and general travel if the Game Master doesn’t wish to use the sample regional tables from the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook. The Hunting Ground encounters can be quite deadly if a lone PC rather than a group is adventuring there, which is quite possible if they have Contact Spirit World and don’t have the ability to take others along for the ride. The encounters in the real world are nothing special, most of which are meant more as springboards for future adventures than complete encounters in and of themselves.
Thoughts So Far: This chapter has a little bit of everything. The new relics are thematic, the locations varied over a large portion of land, and the detailing of the Hunting Grounds is a valued addition considering the place has been hardly detailed in prior Deadlands works. The Strange Locales strike a good mix of supernatural evil and mortal folly, and the Balkanization of fighting rail barons provides plenty of adventure opportunities and intrigue.
Join us next time as we cover the first half of the Last Sons Plot Point Campaign!
The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign, Part 1Original SA post
The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign, Part 1
Now we come to the main 9 adventures of the Last Sons. It covers the PC’s attempts to put a stop to Raven’s machinations by traveling through the heart of the West, from the Sioux Nations in the north down to Oklahoma and back north again for one last great big battle. Much like the Flood before it and various “open world” RPGs, it has a lot of side stories the PCs can accomplish at their relative leisure between major chapters or whenever the Game Master fancies. Many of these Savage Tales are location-centric, but a few are meant to trigger after a certain progression in the timeline. We get a summary of the nine Plot Point adventures, along with a timeline for the Last Sons. It spans from late Late July 1880 to July 4th 1881 and most of its events are independent of PC actions save near the end which explicitly cover the events of the last two adventures. The timeline covers political dealings and rising tensions which act as a backdrop to War’s ambitions, notably Custer’s invasion of the Sioux Nations, the Union’s Presidential election results, and Hellstromme’s double-dealings between the USA and Sioux Nations.
One thing I forgot to mention in my write-up of the Flood is that each of the 4 Plot Point Campaigns start out with two quotes meant to reflect on the adventures’ major themes. They tend to be a mixture of historical quotes, Bible verses, or even lines from Spaghetti Westerns. The Flood quoted Genesis 6:17 and a children’s song about Noah’s Ark. The Last Sons borrows quotes from two historical figures contemporary to this time period:
Our land is everything to us. I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it with their lives.
William Tecumseh Sherman posted:
There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all Hell. You can bear this warning voice to generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror.
These quotes, along with the build-up of the setting in the last two sections, gives the impression that this Plot Point Campaign’s going to be participating in a lot of large-scale battles using the Mass Combat Rules, where building a PC with leadership Edges would be useful.
The Last Sons...does not deliver on this save in a few adventures. Much like the Flood a good portion of the major plot involves traveling around the Weird West as local troubleshooters. The major difference is that instead of joining a secret society of monster-hunters and do-gooders, you’re helping out Jordrava and the Ghost Dance Movement stymie the Order of the Raven’s plans.
A Friend to the Indians posted:
The Last Sons depends on the heroes—or at least one of them—being sympathetic to the Indians’ cause. If one or more heroes are Indian shamans or warriors, all the better! We’ve given players all sorts of new incentives to make Indian characters in the Makin’ Heroes chapter (see page 15). If those don’t work, you’ll have to have a chat with your group.
Most players are pretty reasonable about working some small details into their characters’ backgrounds. Just ask them if they see any way their characters might have had previous, positive dealings with Indians. Maybe a gunfighter’s life was saved by an old Indian shaman, or a Louisiana voodooist has some Indian blood in his family a few generations back. A blessed who ran a congregation at some point might have done so with the help of local, Christianized Indians. Perhaps that huckster was once a High Plains settler, and she was saved by Indians when the rest of her family was slaughtered by abominations. The possibilities are endless.
Keep an eye out for characters with the Intolerant Hindrance (see page 19) applied to Indians. This isn’t a deal breaker by any stretch, but a good question to ask is whether the character might eventually learn to see past his Intolerance—that’s a great personal story arc. On the other hand, the player might just be looking to throw a wrench in the works—and you can’t have that, Marshal. Best to have the chat before the game starts.
The very first Plot Point gives the posse a heaping helping of Ravenite hospitality, which sets the stage for everything that comes after. Most heroes worth their salt are going to have a healthy dislike of Raven’s crew after that fateful meeting in the Sioux Nations. Your job is to give them a good reason to answer the call to adventure!
It’s not often you see games of the Western genre, tabletop or otherwise, give a heavy emphasis on experiencing things from the indigenous perspective. This is not just fluff: the first few Plot Points in particular will be much harder to run if none of the PCs are citizens of the Sioux Nations. Their freedom of movement outside Deadwood and the Iron Dragon rail line will be severely curtailed otherwise, which can make it hard to justify running some of the Savage Tales in the area unless the party goes out of their way to hide, run from, or fight every Sioux patrol they come across in order to get to the adventure locale in the first place. I’ve read about some gaming groups online whose GMs did not specify this sidebar, and tended to either end up with the party getting out of the Sioux Nations as soon as possible due to this or just not having enough incentive to ask “why would my PC get involved in all this?”
The whole unnamed stranger drifting through town and fixing trouble which happens to come their way is a classic trope, but in starting the Last Sons you need a much stronger hook than this.
1. The White Calf
The Plot Point Campaign proper begins with the PCs taking the Deadwood Stage stagecoach service out of Bismarck along the Sioux Nations’ sole legal trail for foreign travelers. The driver is Jeb McKeever, an otherwise ordinary fellow but handy when something needs fixing. He’s accompanied by his brother Big Danny McKeever, a tough guy armed with a Gatling shotgun. The vehicle’s brought to a sudden stop for our first encounter with a group of stagecoach robbers seeing green. The robbers are nothing special, but the ditch they dug in the center of the road is not. It damaged the stagecoach’s two front wheels and caused the horses to detach and go running off into the wilds. Retrieving the horses is left to skill checks while the McKeever’s stay put to repair their ride.
While repairs are being completed the PCs hear the whistle of a train followed by the shrieking of brakes. This is the Iron Dragon line and is common enough knowledge that PCs will recognize its Chinese logo, but the plot will interfere to have a wounded NPC in distress stumble up to them on horseback. Said NPC is a Shoshone man by the name of Sky Hawk who is not fluent in English or any of the Sioux Nations tribal languages. PCs who can speak with him by a related language family or speak language spell learn his name, that he was the bodyguard of Wovoka, and that his charge is in danger and asks them for help. Sky Hawk will gesture to the trouble spot otherwise. The adventure presumes that the PCs will be eager to help him out, but...
Fun Fact: In both real life and the world of Deadlands the Shoshone people were on hostile footing with the Sioux tribes on account that the former group fought alongside the United States and Crow tribe during the Black Hills War of 1876. Although the Shoshone also subscribe to the Ghost Dance Movement, if PCs belong to tribes of the Sioux Nations they may very well be suspicious of a lone Shoshone man who can’t even speak with them.
The adventure also really doesn’t want the PCs to investigate the train further or even view it as a faster route to Deadwood on account of their broken stagecoach. You see, there’s no rail depot anywhere close by. It is in fact dropping off a secret detachment of rail warriors delivering weapons shipments to the Ravenites via wagon. Nine guards stand vigilant and will try to kill any witnesses they spot. The adventure for its part acknowledges the possibility of a PC victory, and this will cause Kang to send out hired guns to track down those responsible.
Otherwise Sky Hawk accidentally leads the PCs into a filler encounter with devil bat monsters before arriving at Wovoka and the Ravenite’s location. Wovoka and his surviving encourage of Ghost Dancers are trapped on the cliffs of a narrow valley with a river far below, and a much larger force of Ravenites are overlooking the place and preparing bundles of dynamite to literally blow them off the cliff face. Due to darkness they do not have sure shots with their guns (thus the dynamite), but loud fighting with the devil bats may have alerted them to oncoming trouble. Otherwise the PCs can ambush the Ravenites, using cover between trees and rocks or even crawling prone in tall grass. I like this last idea; it’s a good way of introducing a group to the powers of stealth in Savage Worlds* and figure out ways to save Wovoka.
*you get hefty attack and damage bonuses
After saving the Ghost Dancers, Wovoka calls the PCs around a campfire to introduce himself and dump some mucho exposition on them. He was traveling to the Sioux Nations to spread word of the birth of a white buffalo calf. This auspicious event foretells a prophecy in line with the Ghost Dance, where white settlers are driven off indigenous land as part of the culmination of a bunch of other events. He also talks about how the ones who attacked them belong to the Order of the Raven, and that the monsters the PCs saw earlier are evidence of a phenomenon known as the Reckoning which the Ghost Dance Movement also seeks to end.
Wovoka can answer more questions for the PCs, which actually reveal some pretty big plot secrets in the overall setting: he explains a bit of Raven’s origins, how he unleashed slumbering evils, and how the Order of his name seeks to destroy both indigenous ways of life as well as the white man’s society. He cannot teach any PCs the Ghost Dance yet, but offers to do so after they meet again and help him out.
This adventure ends with Wovoka saying that if the PCs wish to help him out to head to Deadwood and ask for a man named Bull All the Time, aka Charley Bull to non-Natives. He will then give them a task as a means of ascertaining their dedication to the cause. Otherwise Wovoka can provide them with shelter and lodging in town. By this point the McKeever brothers repaired the stagecoach and are ready to take the PCs the rest of the way to Deadwood.
What I’d Change: I have not GMed or played in the Last Sons, so the entries of campaign alterations are in the theoretical rather than actual play. First off, I would have the campaign begin differently depending on several factors. The Ghost Dance was a huge pan-Indian movement which saw representatives from tribes as far south as the American Southwest attending, so PCs who are not members of the Sioux Nations can be diplomatic emissaries arriving from elsewhere in addition to the suggested “A Friend to the Indians” sidebar origins.
The starting PCs could just as easily be braves on patrol as stagecoach travelers, or as two groups combined into one due to shared trouble.
Furthermore, I would make Sky Hawk a Paiute rather than Shoshone and fluent in one of the PCs’ tongues. I would also not have Wovoka infodump so much; I’d have him tell the PCs about the white calf and the Ghost Dance Movement, but not about the Reckoning, Raven’s motivation, or the Order of the Raven. I’d lead into the Ravenites’ plots slowly, by having Sky Hawk mistake the Ravenites for members of the Crow tribe due to seeing a Raven tattoo he mistook for a Crow symbol. A raven’s tail appears wedge-shaped, a crow’s is shaped like a fan.
Later on I’d insert a friendly Sioux NPC who will help the party in Savage Tales around the Nations, only to have him appear in Kang’s illegal mining camp to uphold the “guns for ghost rock” deal. The party has a chance to notice that very same tattoo on him, or survivors of the initial fight with the Ravenites among him. Not only would this feel personal, it would put the Order of the Raven firmly in the bad guy camp for willfully participating in large-scale desecration of the Black Hills. It will also demonstration said Order’s initially understandable motivation. The United States has superior numbers and steampunk technology, and if they’re coming for the ghost rock they figure they may as well use it to fight for their lands.
2. Dark Doings in Dusky Jewel
Technically speaking this Plot Point begins as the stagecoach driver approaches Deadwood, but the plot does not kick off until the PCs go searching for Charley Bull. We get some boxed text complete with some period-appropriate expletives (“Well I’ll be a suck-egg mule!”) when Jeb McKeever spots a marching column of blue-suited Union soldiers moving towards Deadwood. The stagecoach starts to rush in hopes to beat them before they could set up a blockade, but PCs who approach one of the smaller bands of soldiers will find them surprisingly non-hostile. They’re headed up by Colonel Brook Manning who originally headed to apprehend Armstrong Custer before his private army could start an international incident. They failed in part because the sight of US troops on Sioux soil was quite rightly interpreted as a violation of the Deadwood Treaty. Manning’s forces suffered losses and now they’ve decided to join Custer’s rag-tag band rather than arrest them.
Regardless, the joint Union Army-irregular soldiers number 4,000 and more or less take over the town of Deadwood. They bunker down for the long haul, building fortifications and trenches around the place.
Charley Bull is not hard to find: he’s quite fond of European plays and is a frequent attender of the Langrishe Theater. The play in question is King Lear, one of Shakespeare's tragedies. Charley Bull is less than impressed at the yokels’ performance: “Foolish white men, no respect for the source material” he mutters in the Siouan language. Sitting next to Charley will cause him to pull out a knife, thinking that the PCs are there to rough him up for paying the entry fee with a wooden nickel. Mentioning Wovoka will only provide a +2 on the Persuasion rather than an auto-success, and failure can cause him to refuse to speak with the party any further or try to escape.
Advancement of the main plot hinging on a single skill check. Never a good sign.
As for the job the Ghost Dancers have in mind, Charley talks about how Wovoka’s message hasn’t been met with universal agreement among the Wicasas, and that the “ravens” are roosting in bigger numbers in Deadwood. Four days ago one of his miner contacts went missing after witnessing a secret deal between a group of Sioux and Chinese Iron Dragon employees. Said miner went missing, and he wants the PCs to help track him down.
The PCs have three leads to find the miner, whose name is Wallace Blount. The first involves checking in at the Office of Indian Affairs, whose operator is secretly a Ravenite and will try to get more information out of the PCs while passing said information to Sitting Bull. Second is Blount’s favorite saloon, who believes that Blount was kidnapped by spirits of dead miners along with serving as a general information provider for various Savage Tales in the general vicinity of town. Third is following Charley Bull’s map to Blount’s claimed mine, whose trail has decomposing corpses on poles put up as warning by the Sioux. Two of which animate to attack the party.
The mine itself bears bloody signs of a fight, but there are no bullet holes or gunpowder residue. The blood was scattered there by a pair of miners who figured to use the ghost miner tales to scare off others and use it for their own purposes. They can be encountered and interrogated and are loathe to put up a fight. They mention that Wallace was poking around for a hidden mining town by the name of Dusky Jewel shortly before he disappeared.
Finally there’s a group of Hunkpapa Sioux warriors who will attempt to secretly track the PCs’ movements, and if spotted will be hard to win over their trust even if the party includes a Sioux PC. They know of the existence of Kang’s mining camp, but due to Sitting Bull’s deal with Kang, along with the rail baron’s small army, they can do little but keep tabs on the situation.
Dusky Jewel itself is a stealth-based segment of the Plot Point. The large amount of rail warriors combined with the party’s Novice rank means that a straight fight is ill-advised. Kang also has a group of Japanese samurai known as the Seven working for him, who due to some anti-feudal attitudes in their homeland made them seek new forms of employment abroad. Failing a stealth roll will cause a group of them to attack the party. Although they’re Extras, the Seven are quite strong: they have Fighting d12+1 which is a Legendary level of skill, their Parry is 10 which will be very hard to hit in melee, and their Toughness is 10 which is high as well. They deal 2d10 damage with their katanas*, can attack everyone within melee range with the Improved Sweep Edge, and they each have a steam velocipede vehicle to ride around in!
*for comparison, the average revolver deals 2d6, a shotgun close-range 3d6, and most rifles and carbines 2d8.
Fortunately Dusky Jewel is rather large and has lots of mining tunnels to evade patrols, and Wallace Blount’s location is plain as day: hanging from the gallows in front of the general store. Although the man is dead, he has an obvious journal poking out of one of his shirt pockets which will give the PCs the skinny of his most recent investigations. It discusses how Blount saw the Sioux and Chinese deal go down at night at the foot of Devil’s Tower, along with its estimated location near the particular mountain trail in question.
The adventures notes that it is possible for lucky PCs to sneak in and out without raising an alarm, but for those who need to make a hasty escape a Smarts rolls will reveal a nearby steam-powered mining cart which can also be learned about from the Hunkpapa warriors. There’s discussion for how to handle a mine cart pursuit, using the Chase rules from Savage Worlds with rail warriors in their own steam carts and velocipede-riding samurai hot on their trail!
Once the PCs return to Charley Bull, he’ll be saddened about Blount’s death but also surprised about Duskey Jewel’s existence. He’ll encourage the PCs to check out the meeting place at Devil’s Tower to find out more information.
What I’d Change: First off I’d remove the Persuasion check necessary for earning Charley Bull’s trust if the PCs mention Wovoka’s name. Additionally, there’s a rather ingenious way to bypass the Dusky Jewel encounter: I recall reading on one group’s online campaign journal that the party Shaman shapeshifted into a hawk who scanned the mining camp from overhead. Upon spotting Blount’s journal, he dived for it and flew off with the thing in his clutches. I’d suggest having Blount’s corpse in a coffin or harder-to-reach place, or maybe have the journal in one of the rail warrior’s office quarters but grant the PCs opportunity to overhear conversation about its location.
Additionally, the arrival of Custer’s joint army in Deadwood feels off. It seems strange that the PCs will be able to come and go as they please given that the adventure does not mention any complications or difficulty in entering and leaving the town. McKeever’s mad rush seems to suggest that a blockade would happen, although it’s possible in-character for an NPC to be wrong, so...
Personally speaking I’d have it so that the army shows up sometime after the PCs escape Dusky Jewel and reunite with Charley Bull, ideally after they had several opportunities to pursue some local Savage Tales. In combination with my idea of the Ravenite-traitor present this will show the PCs that there’s a conspiracy going on to plunge the Sioux Nations into war. Once the Union and irregular soldiers start marching on Deadwood, it’s not out of the question for someone to assume that the weapons shipments in exchange for desecrating the Black Hills cannot be a coincidence.
There’s also the fact that if the PCs are committed to the cause of Native autonomy like the adventure suggests, there’s a very real chance that the party will prioritize Custer’s invasion over some shifty trade deals and look for ways to stymie and sabotage the army. Disappointingly the adventure provides no room for this, either in the Plot Point or in Savage Tales.
3. In the Fortress o’ Fright
Fun Fact: This entire Plot Point is a callback to Fortress o’ Fear, the third adventure of the Devil’s Tower trilogy of Deadlands Classic. Said adventure was notable for being the book to introduce readers to the Reckoners as the masterminds behind all the supernatural badness, as well as the first in-game appearance of Stone. In that adventure the PCs dungeon-delved in the eponymous monument to prevent Stone from using a magical gem to create a Deadland and thus help jumpstart the Reckoners’ return.
Going by page-length this is by far the longest Plot Point of the Last Sons. Most of them run 5 pages on average, but this one’s a whopping 24! The major reason for this is that this is a multi-level open-ended dungeon crawl. Devil’s Tower is a rather static location and not time-sensitive, and the adventure recommends that at least one in-game month passes while the PCs do Savage Tales around Deadwood and reach at least Seasoned rank.
Devil’s Tower is inhabited by an alien race whose names are unknown to humanity but are a Crossbred species of humans and aliens whose otherworldly masters arrived to colonize Earth thousands of years ago. The overlords departed, leaving the Crossbreeds behind who were overthrown by human uprisings. The colony in Devil’s Tower is one of their few remaining enclaves. For a while the Crossbreeds managed to maintain a high standard of living via use of a portal to the Hunting Grounds powering their technological devices, and their deal with Kang kept their food supply intact. But 4 years ago things changed for the worse when a futuristic version of Stone came through the portal and cleaved a path of destruction through their colony. He returned with the Heart of Darkness with a group of heroes on his tale, which in turn caused even more devastation as the generator was destroyed. The Crossbreeds fell into infighting among their number and now their civilization is a primitive remnant amid a war-torn backdrop.
When investigating the location in Blount’s journal, one of the PCs will experience a vision from Jordrava talking of how they need to free him from the “mirror realm.” Further visions will follow, providing clues for them to find ways into the Devil’s Tower and maybe even helpful warnings if they’re at risk of wandering into a deadly area so as to build trust.
There are three main ways into the Devil’s Tower: through an underground lake with air pockets and vicious genetically-modified barracudas; the “front gate” guarded by a Prairie Dog Town full of Crossbreed-created flesh-eating prairie dogs* and 8 of Kang’s hired guns and martial artists; and finally the top which can be climbed with rope and lots of endurance and patience or landed on by autogyro.** The eyrie is home to a dozen devil bats, and contains a shaft going into the Devil’s Tower itself home to manta ray-bat creatures. These last monsters were bred as a swarm of aerial guards for the Crossbreeds.
*Iron Dragon guards use a steam wagon going at full speed to cross this section of land
**which can be hired in Deadwood for $200
The portal to the Hunting Grounds is the goal of this Plot Point, where the PCs can enter the spirit world and find Jordrava. As it is located in the Crossbreed’s laboratory which is nearer the top of Devil’s Tower, the higher entrances may result in a faster dungeon delve. The river enters into the underground lake, Kang’s guard entrance the Middle Caverns, and the Eyrie leads down into the Garden Level.
For the sake of brevity I’m only going to cover each level in short detail. The Garden Level on down to the Training Grounds are the Crossbreed’s living quarters connected by ramps of stone. Lack of acoustics means that loud noises do not carry between levels well, so barring fleeing Crossbreeds the PCs do not have to worry about alerting the entire complex if a fight breaks out. The rooms contain pieces of malfunctioning technology, from water pumps which now contain stagnant liquid to light sconces which are burnt out. The cavern levels below are natural passages full of all manner of savage, animalistic monsters.
Garden Level: This is a single large chamber strewn with plant life of both alien and terrestrial flora, although the latter are super-sized crops such as apple trees and corn stalks. The specially bred wasps and worms will attack intruders in swarms.
Home o’ the Folk: The living quarters of the civilian Crossbreeds, about 150 of their kind live here due to infighting and a low birthrate. They live in pitch darkness and most are not very tough to fight in combat. The one unique enemy here is an imprisoned hovering metallic orb which will try to “clean” all organic life with burning cones of energy beams.
The Barracks: The soldier caste of Crossbreeds live here in tiny Spartan chambers. Their numbers are 30 but they’re much tougher physically than the ones above. A few of their rooms contain functioning alien technology, randomly determined and detailed at the end of this adventure section.
The Laboratories: The only inhabitants of this level are an elderly miner by the name of Mortimer Johns who is mortally wounded from vivisection, and a Crossbreed scientist known as General Nor who has welded armor plates, additional arms, steam-powered mechanical legs, and networks of rubber tubes entering and exiting his flesh. Nor is the boss battle of the Devil’s Tower, as he has a deadly raygun along with armor providing him a total 13 Toughness. He also has Improved Frenzy to make two Fighting attacks per round in case he’s forced into melee, and he’s not too shabby with 1d10+1d8 claw damage. The adventure ends in a final scene when the PCs approach the shattered power generator in the portal room.
Training Grounds: This maze-like level is full of pit traps, tripwires connected to explosive charges, pendulum blades, and crushing wall traps along with 10 mutant Crossbreed soldiers who know the level like the back of their hand along with all of the unpsrung trap locations. There’s a locked metal gate which blocks access to the Caverns below.
Upper Caverns: Packs of dog-like scaly creatures known as stingers live here. Once a Crossbreed’s best friend, they now view anyone else as an enemy and attack with sharp teeth and paralytic stinging tails.
Middle Caverns: The sole living creature here is referred to as the Darkblob by Kang’s soldiers for its tar-like appearance. It is in fact a sapient colony of slime mold which can communicate in a psychic hivemind. The darkblob is outright immune to most attacks save fire, electricity, explosives, and magic. Even then it can regenerate from even a single cell over time which renders it effectively immortal. It can also split itself into up to 3 smaller forms.
Lower Caverns: This level is home to a giant rattler whose corpse constitutes a fair bit of this level’s western portion. Around 100 of its still-living spawn are scattered throughout the level, but will only attack in groups of up to 2 rattler young’uns per PC.
Underground Lake: A water pump used to provide the Crossbreed with a steady stream of clean water, but now it is broken down. It can be repaired, which the Crossbreeds will be grateful for and try to find the responsible party.* There is an unconnected section of sewage home to a leviathan living within the sludge, which will attack anyone who goes to close to the muck.
*the adventure does not expand or discuss what happens if the PCs manage to open communications and earn the Crossbreed’s trust.
At the Portal: The room is home to what appears to be a tear in reality, and Jordrava will show the whole party a vision of himself walking through it before vanishing. In the center of the room’s shattered machine is the corpse of a Pony Express rider with his head blown to pieces. The rider’s corpse is wearing Harrowed Boots and has $250 worth of Confederate coins in his satchel. The last danger in this Plot Point is a masau’u Kachina, an evil spirit which will try to possess the body of one of the PCs. It does this in hopes of following the party into the Hunting Grounds and betray them later if possible (or until its 1d6 hour duration possession runs out).
The book advises taking a possessed PC’s player aside for a moment to explain what happens, but oddly expects them to control the possessed PC when the time comes to turn on the rest of the party. This seems like it can end poorly for most groups. I’d suggest the GM takes control instead at the moment of betrayal.
We also have a full page worth of seven Crossbreed technological devices. Three of them have combat uses, such as a concealable tunic of armor, a raygun which can deal a varying level of damage based on charges expended, and a stunstick which can cause a target to be Shaken on a failed Vigor roll with penalty based on charges expended. I found the stunstick boring on account that you can already cause the Shaken condition by default by hitting an enemy’s Toughness with damage from just about any source. The other four are utility devices: a medikit which can heal wounds with a d10 healing die and a Wild Die; a handtorch which can generate 1d6 years’ worth of light but is fragile and can shatter if dropped; a powercell which can provide chargers for other gadgets listed here; and finally a translator necklace which when worn around the neck can generate a canned translation of the user’s native language to those in the vicinity. General Nor and Kang’s soldiers guarding the entrance have copies of the last device on their person, which can allow for communication with the Crossbreeds.
What I’d Change: I’d first change the rationale for why the PCs are heading to Devil’s Tower. The existence of Dusky Jewel will soon be found out, and when push comes to shove the Sioux Nations will accept the aid of Kang’s forces in Plot Point 8 to fight the invading US thanks to the new Garfield Administration. I’d make it so that a Ghost Dance member sometime after Deadwood’s occupation approaches the party, and have Jordrava appear in visions before Plot Point 3 here and there.* The Ghost Dance member would speak of how one of their number knows of a way to repel the invading forces, but said person is within the world of spirits. Jordrava’s description would match his account, and thus the PCs would have a strong incentive to check out Devil’s Tower. I’d also have it so that a scouting legion of Custer’s forces are camping near the Tower based on word of the Indians gaining supplies from outside aid, who may or may not have dealt with Kang’s forces at the entrance already.
*the book mentions doing this already, but only at one point during Plot Point 1 when the PCs are fighting the Ravenites, and only see his face and nothing else.
As for the Devil’s Tower interior, it all depends on the makeup of my potential party. This Plot Point can become combat-heavy, and the number of Crossbreed fought can vary wildly due to encounter die rolls. I would change the Kachina encounter to either not happen, have them attack the party immediately upon possession, or provide some “out” for other party members to figure out the PCs’ status.
4. Vision Quest
This Plot Point immediately kicks off at the last one’s end. The boxed text opens up with the PCs adjusting to being in a cool, dim place with an otherworldly sensation of “being aware of your own soul.” Beyond them stretches the massive tree as described in the Marshal’s Section for the Hunting Grounds. They do not have much time before a swarm of manitous disguised as leaves attack, proclaiming that the “medicine man is ours!”
The Hunting Grounds are separated by a series of suggested scenes supplemented by the Spirit Encounters table from the Marshal’s Section. There’s encouragement to play upon the PCs’ Worst Nightmares and elements from their past in the form of visions and eerily familiar spirits. The scenes are rather thematic, from a bound procession of ancestor spirit slaves captured by manitous taking them to the Deadlands, a repeating loop of the Battle of the Cauldron where spirits of rail warriors fight each other with the PCs in the crossfire, or a stand of massive pine trees forming a pseudo-roof tended by Little People which serves as a peaceful resting place.
There are only two fixed, mandatory encounters, and the first one is a bridge made of vines spanning a canyon. The canyon stretches out to infinity on the wide ends and a yawning black void reaches across the bottom. The bridge is a spirit named Wakanda, and when the PCs step on it will scold them for their rudeness. He will forgive them if they can entertain him, otherwise he will refuse to let the party cross. The entertainment necessary is open-ended and to be decided on by the players with an appropriate roll at a -2 penalty; Wakanda has high standards. Failure causes him to jeer the performer, but the PCs can try an infinite number of times unless they get a snake eyes, which means they will not be allowed to cross. Crossing by force will cause the spirit to do his best in throwing them into the darkness below, which will cause the PC and their soul to fall into the Deadlands and never be seen again...unless the GM’s feeling merciful and lets the entire party go there to rescue them.
The adventure notes that Wakanda means “possesses magical powers” in Sioux. I tried to ascertain the veracity of this, and found that there is a similarly-spelled name called “Waconda” by the Kaw tribe of modern-day Kansas and Oklahoma. It means “Great Spirit” in their language.
The second mandatory encounter is beyond the chasm within a barren rocky land full of tangled vines and thorns. It leads to a 50 foot tall hill resembling a tortured man’s face, and Jordrava is at the top suspended on a huge dead oak tree. Said “oak tree” is actually a greater manitou by the name of Hex. It is accompanied by a lesser manitou swarm and will attack the PCs on sight. Statwise the lesser manitous are more a minor foe or nuisance who deal automatic damage within their sphere of influence, while greater manitous are big bruisers with 14 Toughness whose claws can ignore all forms of armor. Along with a 1d12 Strength and 2d6 claw attacks, Hex can hit pretty hard.
Jordrava is heavily wounded, but once tended to he will be thankful to his rescuers. Introducing himself, he will infodump on the party about Raven being responsible for the widespread blight of evil spirits, and that their actions so far have made them enemies of him and his Order whether they like it or not. He will ask the party if they wish to run or to fight.
Jordrava will let the party leave back to the mortal world and even talk with them further, but he’ll be visibly disappointed if the choose “run.” He can further tell the party of an abridged version of how he and the other Old Ones sealed the supernatural powers of the world to prevent a great evil from gaining sway. He will also tell them of their battle against the Last Sons, his recent awakening, and eventual capture at the hands of the manitou Hex. He also goes into more detail on the prophecy of the white calf, how it heralds the exile of white settlers, reclaiming of ancestral lands, along with an era of peace and prosperity. He will also explain how Wodziwob, Wovoka’s father, saw a dark future which is basically the Deadlands Hell on Earth setting and how Raven will be responsible in bringing it about.
Finally, Jordrava says that he cannot aid the PCs directly as his famous face will cause the Ravenites to descend on him and cause trouble for everyone involved. But he mentions how two tools of his are somewhere back in the mortal realm: a medicine rock in the shape of a buffalo, and a supernaturally-sharp tomahawk. He knows that the rock was put in his peoples’ burial ground in what is now “a town the white man call Dodge,” but he does not know of the tomahawk’s location. He trusts the PCs will be able to find the second one if they managed to find him in the Hunting Grounds. He’ll then create a portal back to the physical world, which can drop the PCs off at any of the locations in this book the GM desires. The writers suggest it being far enough away from Dodge City to allow the PCs an eventful journey and opportunity to complete some Savage Tales.
What I’d Change: Not much honestly. The infinite-rolling save snake eyes is almost guaranteed to let the PCs pass and seems more of a pure role-play thing, which I like.
Thoughts So Far: The adventure’s fine so far. It’s not as railroady as the Flood’s first plot points, but it does have the same sins of a big event happening while the PCs are off doing other things. It also has the possibility of misdirecting the party to the “wrong enemy” in the process: Custer’s forces won’t be dealt with until much later at Plot Point 8, and even then it’ll be an offscreen affair.
The Ghost Dancers are this campaign’s Explorer’s Society equivalent, although they’re weaker in the sense that the PCs don’t have opportunities to take Savage Tales on their behalf or a Tombstone Epitaph equivalent of an “adventuring list.” Despite being a prominent pan-Indian movement they feel much more in the background.
Join us next time as we cover the second half of the Last Sons, starting in Bleeding Kansas and ending up once again in the Hunting Grounds for one final showdown!
The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign, Part 2Original SA post
The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign, Part 2
5. Prime Cuts
This Plot Point begins whenever the party starts looking around for Jordrava’s burial ground. As one of the largest cities in the Disputed Territories, the PCs have several means of investigatory leads with their own skill checks. The Assayer’s Office and Town Hall can be accessed via Persuasion or by a lawman with jurisdiction in the area, while the Dodge City Times’ back catalogs are publically accessible but in disarray requiring some Investigation. Local Native Americans can point the party in the right direction, but require a Persuasion on top of a Streetwise roll if nobody in the party is of indigenous ancestry. All successful leads point to the Boot Hill graveyard in town being built atop an Indian Burial Ground.
Boot Hill itself is an overpopulated cemetery, with some caskets buried right on top of others. Few remnants of the original inhabitants remain. While looking around a group of Buffalo Hunters armed with Sharps Big 50 rifles will attempt to ambush the party; they’ve been eyeing the PCs since they arrived in town and seek to murder them and loot their corpses for beer money.
What I’d Change: One can surmise that being in a graveyard you’ll have lots of cover, but Sharps rifles only hold one shot. Unless the party has long-range attacks themselves, they’d have to take cover as they get closer to the hunters. Only half of the enemies will fire, alternating between one group reloading while the others provide support.
If the PCs are having a tough time in the fight an Agent and a Texas Ranger, Mr. Pederson and Major “Bigfoot” Wallace respectively, will come in to help them. If not then the odd pair will be encountered after combat. Although their organizations are enemies, they’re allied out of convenience in the Disputed Territories. They’ll mention how they’re not the only group poking around Boot Hill and offer to take their conversation somewhere private. If the PCs follow up they’ll learn that the other searchers were Native Americans with raven tattoos, one of whom was captured but resisted interrogation before seemingly disappearing out of his jail cell. Wallace and Pederson know little about the Order of the Raven, but found a likely hideout of theirs on one of their confiscated sheepskin maps.
Naturally said NPCs cannot come with the party on this raid, citing not wanting to blow their cover and worry that the Ravenites are “waiting for them to tip their hand.”
You know, having a shootout with buffalo hunters in a cemetery isn’t exactly subtle, either.
The Ravenites are holed up in the cellar of a slaughterhouse, whose employees are unaware of their subterranean occupants. The Ravenites outnumber the PCs 2 to 1 and are led by a shaman called Wicked Bear. Their number will attempt to flee if the fight turns against them to report to their False Raven superior. The shaman has a map marked with an X on a particular place in Boot Hill.
What I’d Change: The cellar is a small, enclosed place with little in the way of environment. As it is guarded by one Inactive* sentry confident in their hideout, it is very possible that a party may take out the lone guard and lob some dynamite or a Blast/Burst spell into the place. To make things a bit tougher and more exciting I’d have the Ravenites spread out in other out of the way locations in the slaughterhouse.
*This is terminology for stealth rules in Savage Worlds, which back in the first Ravenite fight and with Dusky Jewel I see cited quite a bit more often than in the Flood.
Said map leads to a huge stone which can be pushed away by a group or one really strong PC. It leads into subterranean warrens full of ghouls, ravenous undead who can see in the dark and will make Disarm attempts against anyone carrying a light source. Fighting in the dark is pretty debilitating in Savage Worlds, imposing a -4 penalty on any rolls which require sight. The tunnels have no maps and require either physical marks or relevant skill rolls at -2 to not get lost and thus ambushed more. The “boss” of this area is the Ghoul King, a very large and fat specimen of his species whose lair contains Jordrava’s medicine rock amidst the pile of bones.
Jordrava’s Medicine Rock is a very powerful Relic. It provides the Arcane Resistance Edge (+2 Toughness vs magic attacks) to anyone who carries it. If said carrier is a Shaman, it can provide 10 Power Points which recharge at a rate of 1 point per hour in urban population centers or half that time in the wilderness. Having the Totem Spirit (Buffalo) Edge doubles the recovery rate for both, and additional Power Points can be recovered by pleading to the spirits with Tribal Medicine in exchange for a Fatigue level.
A party Shaman in the Last Sons can become a veritable spellslinger with this, and is rather thematic for the adventure to boot.
The two government agents will not only let the PCs take the medicine rock with them, Agent Pederson will be more open from now on. He’ll reveal that “he works for the Union” and mention that the captured Ravenite was in possession of a very old but razor sharp tomahawk which could slice through metal. His organization shipped it off to a research facility in Denver, Colorado. He doubts the Agency will hand it over, “but you’re welcome to give it a try.”
What I’d Change: In my Flood campaign I used RPGnet’s Dead South alternate-alternate-history model, meaning that the state of Bleeding Kansas would be purely due to the Great Rail Wars and not Confederate-Union proxy fighting. Instead of Agency and Texas Ranger NPCs I’d probably use a Ghost Dancer contact of my own creation.
Even though Pederson’s tight-lipped the Agency is an extension of the US government, which Native and Native Sympathizer PCs would not be very trusting of thanks to the joint occupation of Deadwood between Col. Manning’s soldiers and Custer’s irregulars. Motivation-wise I could see the Agency not wanting their country and the Sioux Nations to plunge into war: especially given the higher-ups know about the Reckoning, and Manning’s defiance of orders is definitely illegal in a military court. But given that James A Garfield will win the election in a landslide very soon and declare war on the Sioux Nations with widespread public support, I cannot see the Agency openly defying the very administration which is writing their paychecks.
Finally, the clandestine meeting location the PCs talk with the Agent and Ranger is a dime novel publishing house. I’d put fictionalized accounts of parties from prior campaigns for sale there.
6. The Ghost Returns
Like Plot Point 5, this one does not trigger until the PCs follow Agent Pederson’s directions and go snooping around the Nevada Land Basin Office that is a front for the Supernatural Research Facility. The entire neighborhood around the area has businesses which are fronts run by Agents so as to have “hiding in plain sight” security. The PCs will have an opportunity to look around the place, and possibly sneak into the back rooms via lockpicking or absconding with an employee’s key. They won’t get very far before a dozen Agents disguised as ordinary townsfolk will confront the party and ask why they’re so interested in the land office.
Mentioning the Agency in any way will cause one of them to “check upstairs” and leave the other eleven to keep watch on the party. After a tense few moments he’ll return and...grant them entry! It turns out that the Agency’s in a bit of a pickle: their Administrator for this region, Hattie Lawton, has her hands full with her forces helping Union Blue fend off Black River rail warriors. The Ghost, the highest-ranking member of the Agency, was to arrive in Denver by train to help the beleaguered Administrator...before said train was hijacked by some outlaws.
Hattie not only has Jordrava’s tomahawk in her possession, she’s willing to give it to the PCs if they help her out with this little problem. She will not say what the problem is until they agree, and will only say that the train has valuable cargo the Agency needs and not who or what. She’ll even grant them an autogyro and pilot to catch up to the train before it reaches the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The following encounter is an action-combat scene where the PCs must either riskily land the autogyro or leap off of it. The train is moving uphill so it’s slower than usual, but at a bit of an incline. The hijackers in question are a mixture of outlaws and former rail warriors hired by Mordecai Whateley. Said practitioner of the Lovecraftian arts rightly figured that the well-guarded yet small train had valuable cargo. Mordecai’s outlaws use various generic stats from the Marshal’s Handbook (rail warriors, outlaws, superior gunman and martial artist), but the head honcho is a huckster with Improved Hip Shooting, Marksman, and a single action revolver to make him deadly with a side-arm when fanning the hammer. Half of his powers center around buffing: Aim and Boost/lower Trait, while Fear and Teleport can help put distance between him and the PCs.
Fun Fact: The Whateley clan of Lovecraftian origin exists as a family of vile sorcerers in the world of Deadlands. They have members all across the American continent and their bloodline has a knack for being adept with black magic.
As for any hostages...the only one here is Coot Jenkins, one of the metaplot NPCs who is a grizzled old prospector that knows quite a bit about the Reckoning. His specialty is in helping Harrowed regain self-control from their possessing manitous, and he’s insistent on opening up a nearby wooden box.
Said box holds the “precious cargo,” which is a bound, gagged, and handcuffed corpse bearing an eerie resemblance to a certain US President:
Coot will remove the gag and force-feed the now-awake and angry Harrowed some of his patented elixir to subdue the dominant manitou, causing the original spirit to regain his sense of self. The now-grateful man will introduce himself as Andrew Lane, the owner of Union Blue. Any mention of resemblance to the Great Emancipator will earn a chuckle: “I get that a lot. But I don’t believe I bear that much resemblance to the man.”
Good ol’ Abe is willing to repay the PCs’ rescuing of him, willing to make use of the Agency’s resources in the process. Asking him about Raven and/or his Order will explain how one of their strongholds is in Adobe Walls within the Texas Panhandle.
Fun Fact: I take it some explanation is in order. In the world of Deadlands, John Wilkes Booth’s assassination attempt was half-successful. He certainly ensured that President Lincoln was dead, but he didn’t stay that way for long when the man came back Harrowed with a manitou spirit riding co-pilot. Naturally such a famous face could not maintain a low profile by himself for long, so he ended up back in the US government’s employ. His “civilian” identity was Andrew Lane, the owner of Union Blue railroad company, while he also acted as the Agency’s leader codenamed the Ghost. Unfortunately his manitou finds bureaucracy boring and every so often does its best to wrest control. One of Lincoln’s possessed episodes caused the Agency to bind him down and ship him out to Denver, both to use the Star Chamber to “put the right pilot in charge” and to help the beleaguered Colorado branch with some direct administration.
Hattie Lawton is a woman of her word and hands over the tomahawk once the train ends back up in Denver. Jordrava’s Tomahawk is a relic, specifically a two-handed melee weapon which deals the user’s Strength die + 2d8 damage. It is virtually unbreakable, and when carried on the owner’s person grants a +2 on Fighting rolls against anybody directly empowered by the Reckoners. Siad category is rather vague and broad, but includes all Black Magicians and the four Servitors. Most monsters and manitous gain their powers from the Hunting Grounds and do not count unless they know of and made a conscious decision to serve the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
What I’d Change: So a thing I noticed with this campaign is that while the PCs fight the Order of the Raven heavily, the adventure goes out its way to avoid encounters with US or Confederate soldiers or their spy agencies. President Garfield’s election is only ever an indirect background element at most and not referenced directly in the adventure. Although I do not if the historical Garfield was notable for any anti-indigenous sentiments in comparison to the already prejudiced time period, I figured that if I ran this adventure I’d alter things quite a bit.
First off, I’d have Presidential Candidate James Garfield visiting Denver on the last weeks of the campaign trail, wanting to show that he’s not afraid of going into the frontier settlements “on the frontlines of Indian Country.” He’d also have Jordrava’s tomahawk on his person, obtained from the Agency and used as a rhetorical rallying symbol of him “claiming the savages’ most precious artifact.” He’d have Agency bodyguards and Denver’s streets will be more crowded than usual. The PCs’ job will be to find a way to retrieve the tomahawk.
I’d also make Garfield a Harrowed. He is aware of the supernatural, and even has an inkling of a raven-themed Order stirring up the fires of war. But he has no reservations against ordering the US to battle if he wins because 1.) the loss against the Sioux Nations is a pretty big symbolic loss in the American Indian Wars; 2.) he can still act the part of a hero swooping in to defend the good settlers of Deadwood “besieged by Indian tyranny;” 3.) the ghost rock veins in the Black Hills are a mother lode of treasure, and figures that they can pay for losses from the war; 4.) he believes that President Grant’s corruption contributed to the US Army losing against the “primitive savages” from misappropriated funds, and fears a domino effect of similar losses if Grant wins another term.
7. Lodges o’ the Last Sons
The Agency may be the best intelligence gatherers in the Union, but the Order of the Raven is a worthy contender west of the Mississippi. At this point Raven is now directly aware of the PCs’ exploits, suspects that they’re tied to Jordrava, and knows they’re headed to Adobe Walls. Thus he arranges a special squad of assassins to take out both of his foes in one fell swoop.
Adobe Walls was once a trading post which saw pitched battles between white settlers and a joint war party of Comanche and Cheyenne braves. In 1874 it became a deserted ruin and Battlefield Site* many believe is haunted. Tales of evil spirits roaming its land mean that only Raven’s followers spend any time around there. The PCs will encounter the latter here outnumbered 3 to 1, along with possible random encounters with walking dead and manitou or kachina spirits. The Ravenites’ have a note in Spanish written by the Esteemed Son to return to the Serpent Mound when the moon is full. This note was intentionally planted to lure the party, and indirectly Jordrava, to the Mound in the first place.
*as detailed in Marshal’s Section.
The PCs can also encounter a group of Comanche braves lead by Quanah Parker, a warleader who can tell the party that he spotted Raven’s forces around said Mound and that the place’s binding rituals hold a great beast in slumber known as the Thing That Devours Tribes. His 16-strong forces are willing to escort the PCs within sight of the Serpent Mound, but will not accompany them.
Wasted opportunity for a medium-size battle. Come on, this Plot Point Campaign’s themed around War!
Fun Fact: Quanah Parker was a famed leader of the Comanche nation who resisted United States’ efforts to push his people onto reservations. The hunting of buffalo was also a deliberate attempt to starve out the Comanche and other tribes, which resulted in an attack on Adobe Walls where buffalo hide merchants congregated. The Comanche would eventually surrender and settle onto reservations, although Parker continued to lead them and became rich through various financial investments. He also helped found the Native American Church Movement, one of the largest indigenous religions in the United States.
The Ravenites at Serpent Mound consist of 8 shamans with the “Esteemed” Last Son as their leader. They are conducting a ritual to free the sleeping beast, which is an ancient carcajou (supernatural wolverine-like monster) the size of an African bull elephant. When the PCs engage the Ravenites in combat, Jordrava decides that the time has come to take the fight directly to the Order of the Raven:
Boxed Text posted:
A piercing screech rings from the night sky, and everyone looks up to see a large, powerful eagle flapping its wings and descending out of the darkness. The bird settles onto the mound and in the blink of an eye assumes its true form—Jordrava. With a single movement of the Old One’s hand, one of the Ravenites clutches his chest, struggles to breathe, and falls dead. “Your work is finished here,” says Jordrava.
The hooded figure twitches and hisses laughter, “That’s right, Old One. It was finished long ago. The only thing missing…was you.”
Jordrava’s eyes widen. “Oh. No…”
Before the Old One can react the earth cracks open at his feet and swallows him to the waist. A thunderous rumble rolls through the earth—the groan of some primordial creature awakening. An angry hissing rises from beneath the Old One, who struggles to free himself.
This entire ritual was centered around not only weakening the Serpent Mound’s bonds, it also involved summoning spirits specifically chosen for their ability to weaken Jordrava’s Eagle totem. This is a fine way of saying that there’s nothing the PCs can do to save the Old One from his monumentally stupid decision.
The mega-carcajou will join the battle, and it’s a pretty tough customer. It has a Strength and Fighting both at 1d12+2, the highest one can ordinarily get a skill or trait in Savage Worlds. Its Toughness is also the highest we’ve seen so far in this Plot Point Campaign, ranked at 18. Furthermore its bite deals its Strength plus 1d10, and its claws do a lesser 1d8 but penetrate up to 2 points of Armor. Furthermore, it is so horrifying that it can make an Intimidation check as a free action at the beginning of combat as well as being immune to fear effects itself. Magic attacks deal half damage which combined with its 18 Toughness would render it immune to most such abilities barring lucky exploding dice. Its major weakness is against snake bites and powers with snake motifs, which deal double damage to it.
Although the monster is known as the Thing That Devours Tribes to the Comanche, it is known to the grizzled mountain men settlers as Hungry Annie and that’s the name the adventure uses for its stat block. I personally think the first name sounds cooler and more appropriate, if a bit longer.
Due to the Power of Plot, Jordrava will be able to live long enough to talk to the PCs. He tells the party that they must head back to the Sioux Nations and warn them of Sitting Bull’s treachery by speaking to Crazy Horse, and afterwards join the Ghost Dance shamans at Medicine Wheel during the summer solstice. He will then die with a smile on his face, confident that the PCs will succeed where he failed.
Speaking of which, the Last Son has a note written in Sioux on his person, signed by Sitting Bull. It is basically instructions to perform a ritual at the Serpent Mound to kill Jordrava from orders of the Hooded One. He will mention that an attack on Deadwood is imminent and for the Ravenites to head back north once their job here is done:
We have received word from the Hooded One. Draw them to Serpent Mound and Jordrava will follow. Then the Thing That Devours Tribes will see to it that no one stands in our way.
The attack on Deadwood is imminent. We will cause bloodshed such as neither the whites nor the tribes have ever seen. If we must, we will expend a million arrows to get our revenge. Raven wills it. Return to us when your business in the Confederation is finished. —Sitting Bull
The note is listed first, but chances are most parties will go to Jordrava first, so him talking about Sitting Bull’s treachery will come out of left field.
What I’d Change: First off I’d not have Jordrava act so stupidly. I’d instead have him covertly appear to the party in Adobe Walls in a clever disguise, and offer to lend them his aid directly now that they got his relics back. He’d be controlled as a Wild Card Ally and give the players a chance to demonstrate his great powers so as not let his stat block go to waste. I’d also have Quanah Parker’s warband join the PCs in the assault on the Serpent Mound, and buff up the Ravenite’s numbers to compensate.
And depending on the overall strength of my party, I’d have Raven himself be there. Jordrava would recognize the real man when he sees him from a fake, and figures that the stakes are high enough to strike. The reason I’d consider doing this is that ordinarily the PCs never meet the real Raven in this Plot Point Campaign, instead being part of an optional post-game Savage Tale. Additionally Raven must be killed twice, the second time in a specific way using a specific weapon, in order to end his reign. I’ll get into more detail in the Savage Tales entry, but this “first encounter” will serve as a way to make the rematch feel not a waste. With a fellow mega-shaman Jordrava on their side, the PCs’ odds should be better.
I’d also have the Thing That Devours Tribes be on the cusp of awakening, and for Jordrava to mention that he must seal the great evil back into the mound. The mega-carcajou’s form would be an extension of its manifested spirit so as to give off the impression that a far worse version lurks just beneath the surface. I’d turn the Old One’s tactical error into a desperate sacrifice to run up to the “maw” of the mound and seal the creature in, giving it his all just like when he sealed the Reckoners all those years ago. At this point the real Raven will do everything in his power to kill the Old One. If this happens, then the PCs have a more personal reason for revenge now. If not then the last of Jordrava’s power has been expended, making him lose his spells permanently.
8. Last Stand on Bear Butte
No image for this one, sorry.
This Plot Point happens when the PCs make the long trail back to the Sioux Nations and likely complete more than a few Savage Tales along the way. Due to the Law of Metaplot this adventure is expected to take place between May and June of 1881, around half a year since James A Garfield won the Union Presidential election and three months since he officially took up office.
Things are not looking well for the Sioux Nations. Just about every big nation and faction are gearing up to get involved. Dr. Darius Hellstromme, ever the kindly Mormon with a shared interest against US expansionism, offers to sign a treaty in secret with Sitting Bull to lend his forces to fight alongside the Sioux without setting a single rail upon their lands. Hellstromme twists the wording to use his Hellebore digging machine to create an underground railroad supply line under said lands in order to reach the Black Hills. Meanwhile President Garfield’s first executive action is to order the Army to march upon the Sioux Nations to help defend Deadwood, using Iron Dragon rail lines to ship in troops as part of a last-minute deal with Kang. The Confederacy, for their part, notices the Union’s northern concentration of forces and uses the opportunity to annex parts of Kansas. Many indigenous tribes across the West, concerned about the loss of the Sioux Nations as both a buffer state and a potential domino effect, begin to deploy their own braves to help the Sioux.
The town of Deadwood shot up to Fear Level 4, just about every citizen is fully-armed and locked in their own homes, and the soldiers manning the cannons and earthworks surrounding the town are in fear for their lives. They will not let the party inside unless mollified with Persuasion or good role-playing, and is the only time in this Plot Point Campaign where fighting Union soldiers is a distinct possibility.
Crazy Horse’s location is nowhere to be found, but Charley Bull can help them out. He’s hiding in his favorite residence, the Langrishe Theater:
Charley Bull posted:
Listen to me and try to understand. Custer’s men are mustering in the streets. Thousands of my people are gathering. When they are finished there won’t be a single white man left alive in Deadwood. The clanking, screaming machines of Wasatch march across the Black Hills, eager to fight for the Sioux and help themselves to a share of ghost rock. My friends…even the spirits are in hiding. It is too late to turn back this tide.
You want Crazy Horse? You are crazy to try to find him now. But if your minds are made up, ride northeast toward Bear Butte. And pray to the Great Spirit Crazy Horse is the first of my people you meet.
I can’t help but notice that Charley seems to express more fear for the “foolish white men” than casualties among his own people, or the affects of a second war causing his homeland to be annexed by the United States. Maybe he’s wording his fears so as to give a greater impact on the PCs.
When going to Bear Butte the PCs have some boxed text to see the thousands of troops convening on Deadwood, reminding us of yet another wasted opportunity for the PCs to break out the Mass Combat Rules. Crazy Horse will find the PCs before they can do the same, giving them one chance to explain themselves. This is resolved via Persuasion, and even showing Sitting Bull’s note merely gives a +2 bonus rather than an auto-success, which can possibly turn into a shootout on a failure. If they win him over, Crazy Horse will realize that Sitting Bull has sold out his people and accompanies the PCs to take justice into their own hands.
After some more boxed text of the Deadwood battle below, the PCs and Crazy Horse ride up to where the Sioux Wicasas are supposedly gathering. But said leaders disbanded when Sitting Bull told them of his plans,* causing them fragment in disgust. Now alone, Sitting Bull is accompanied by a bunch of Ravenite warriors, the Order of the Raven’s Thunder Guard, and the Hooded One whose face will be recognized automatically by Native PCs as Raven himself and on a Common Knowledge roll by other PCs.** This is not the real Raven, but one of the false ones taking on his identity, which contradicts the earlier text in the Marshal’s section of how very few people from Raven’s era are still alive and would thus recognize the man himself. Or how this “false Raven” is more famous than others.
*but not the secret deal with Kang granting Iron Dragon exclusive mining rights in the Black Hills
Statwise the False Raven is a physically powerful Shaman with a healthy heaping of all manner of combat and leadership Edges, along with several melee weapons, a bow, and various buffing spells from armor to healing to shape change. The sole Thunder Guard who fights the PCs (the others are occupied by Crazy Horse’s braves) is a Harrowed with a double-barreled shotgun. Finally, Sitting Bull a Shaman who has more of a leadership focus with more powers than the “warcaster” False Raven, some of which are debilitating like entangle and fear.
After defeating Raven’s forces, the PCs are treated to a third bit of boxed text describing the carnage and explosions in the Battle of Deadwood, and finally gives them an opportunity to ride back down and take part...in the form of encounters with various warring factions rather than Mass Combat. Said factions include summoned Earth Warriors, Ravenite and Sioux Warbands, Iron Dragon and Wasatch Rail Warriors...but none of Custer’s forces or Union soldiers, because reasons.
Wovoka and the Ghost Dancers will arrive at Bear Butte, happy to hear that the PCs are alive. They have one last great task to stop the war once and for all: accompany them to Medicine Wheel with Jordrava’s relics, and participate in the Great Medicine Dance.
What I’d Change: Errrr...a lot, that’s for sure. One, neither in this nor the next Plot Point adventure do you have the opportunity to fight General Armstrong Custer. This is a huge wasted potential in an adventure path ostensibly about securing the autonomy of the Sioux Nations. Secondly, I’d avoid the unfortunate implications of civilians in Deadwood by having most of them already fled along the Iron Dragon Rail lines to be replaced with active-duty soldiers. Thirdly, Sitting Bull would be replaced by a corrupt Wicasa of my own creation. The tribal council will not have been disbanded by the time the PCs find them. In fact, they’ll have an opportunity to present their case of the Ravenites’ corruption, their part in the desecration of the Black Hills, and call upon witnesses of activities in prior adventures such as a Comanche brave present at the Serpent Mound. If the PCs present a good enough case then the legacy of Raven will be tarnished among the Sioux and other tribal leaders present, effectively robbing the Order of much of its support as a pan-Indian movement.
I’d probably also include a Mass Combat where the PCs and allied Sioux fight to reclaim the Black Hills from the US and various rail baron factions warring over its ghost rock deposits.
9. The Great Summoning
The final encounter in challenging War’s dominion is underway, and takes place several weeks after of the Battle of Deadwood but no later than June 21st for unexplained Laws of Metaplot. The Ghost Dance Movement is gathering its best members across the West at Medicine Wheel, including any shamans, Native leaders, and other figures the PCs may have come across in the campaign.
Now that Kang has openly sided with the Ravenites, Hellstromme pulls a doublecross and aids Custer’s troops in the hope that President Garfield will grant Wasatch exclusive rights to the Black Hills ghost rock. Nobody is able to gain a clear advantage as warbands roam the Sioux Nations, pillaging villages for food or torching them out of spite. The Native citizens of the nations are suffering the most, and the death toll rises to Fear Level to 5 in the worst-affected places.
The Wicasas loyal to the Ghost Dance and Old Ways congregate north of the Grand River in hopes of holding onto what land they have. But Wovoka spoke to them of his plan at Medicine Wheel, and when the PCs arrive they find a great gathering of Ghost Dancers and their allies. But Custer’s army and Wasatch X-Squad soldiers are in hot pursuit and gathering around the area. The Ghost Dancers begin a ritual lasting for a week, of fasting, praying, dancing, and leaving burnt offerings. The adventure does not explain why the Union and Hellstromme forces don’t bum rush the place. Perhaps there are implied skirmishes being beaten back? But that goes against the rules where an entire war party must participate for the Ghost Dance.
This takes a powerful toll on many participants, who all hope to contact the greatest spirits of the land. Wovoka has other plans for the PCs, and near the Dance’s end he rounds up a force of 100 braves and opens up a portal into the Hunting Grounds, mentioning that the legions of manitou and other spirits loyal to Raven amass to fight a war of their own in the spirit world.
But before the PCs leave, he gives them one final piece of cryptic advice:
One last thing—every army needs a general. I have called to one of your most illustrious ancestor spirits... and he has answered. He awaits you now. Good luck.
The PCs and army of braves find themselves in a mirror-world version of Medicine Wheel,, where a giant spoked wheel made of arranged quartz stones glows in the moonlight beneath their feet. To the east the spiritual army of the Reckoner of War approaches, bearing all sorts of monstrous shapes. War himself towers over the infernal army, appearing as a massive ideal warrior riding astride a horse. Every PC knows who this is due to War’s sheer supernatural presence which forces a Guts checks at -6. But as all seems lost, that “illustrious ancestor spirit” Wovoka spoke of appears!
The translucent, bloodied ghost of a white man approaches from among the nearby nature spirits, wearing the scorched remains of a Confederate uniform. The apparition salutes you... and strangely, you feel no fright.
In a proud Southern accent the ghost intones, “Ah say, you all must be the illustrious soldiers we’ve been waiting for. General Robert E. Lee, at your service.
“For a while ah thought my entire brigade would consist of—” he gestures toward the bizarre congeries of spirits “—these odd things, and the loyal boys who accompanied me. With a little flesh and blood on our side my optimism has returned, Sirs and Madams. It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.
“Now, as you see, our time is short. We must ready ourselves! The enemy is on the march.”
This is not the first time the Deadlands Plot Point writers preemptively assumed the PC’s race, although this time it’s rather jarring on account that the Last Sons’ beginnings was pushing you towards a Native American party. Also as far as illustrious white ancestors go, Robert E. Lee is hardly an ideal choice for reasons I hope are obvious.
But on the plus side, this is the only time in the main Plot Point Campaign we actually see the Mass Combat Rules from Savage Worlds used. Naturally, War’s Legions have the advantage in numbers, while the PCs’ forces include the aforementioned braves, 100 ghostly Confederate soldiers, 100 nature spirits, and General Robert E. Lee acting as Commander with a Knowledge: Battle d12. The PCs’ army has nowhere to retreat, and this is a fight to the death. On the other hand our party has the defensive ground, and any clever plans they come up with to fortify their position grants +2 on their Battle Plan roll.
But just like the Battle of Heavenly Park in the Flood, the Mass Combat results have no bearing whatsoever on the plot. After five rounds of said battle the Last Son known as Kills Alone will take a party of Ravenite Braves, manitous, and a greater snake cloud to dash to the top of Medicine Wheel. The PCs need to either kill the Last Son or hold him off for 10 rounds, after which the Ghost Dance ritual (and the Plot Point Campaign proper) is complete:
Suddenly the drums go silent. A bright flash illuminates the entire battlefield, followed almost instantly by a great peal of thunder. All the raven spirits fall smoking from the sky, leaving black feathers in their wake. The ground beneath your feet begins to buckle and shake.
A wheel of fire turns in the sky, and from it fly four massive thunderbirds that circle about. A hot, driving wind funnels down from the heavens and scours the sides of the mountain. The manitous and snake spirits are dispelled like smoke. Everyone else is driven to their knees. The searing wind raises blisters on your exposed skin.
As you watch in awe, the giant thunderbirds soar off into the sky—one in each
direction. The wind seems to follow them, sweeping over all the land the Indians call home, burning it clean with ribbons of flame. The light grows brighter and brighter, until it’s all around you, it’s all you can see. The scorching heat is the very last thing you feel.
...for a little while at least. When your vision clears you’re still on your knees, but you’re back in the world you know best, on top of ol’ Medicine Wheel. The wind picks up, and the enemies of the Sioux tremble in fear. Where the wind blows, machines die. Steam tanks at the base of the mountain clank to a halt as the ghost rock fires in their bellies go out. Clockwork spiders skitter around in a manic frenzy and then explode in a hail of gears and springs. Automatons sputter and fall over, and X-Squads find that their Gatling guns no longer fire.
And everyone—from Custer, to the lowliest soldier, to you cowpokes on top of the
mountain—discovers that his shootin’ irons …just won’t. The rounds are all duds. Silence falls over Medicine Wheel.
A second later, war whoops of Indian braves ring out as they charge down into the midst of the enemy, break Custer’s ranks, and chase fleeing Union soldiers across the Plains. Something tells you Ol’ Yellow-Hair won’t be escaping this time.
You’re all tuckered out, so you gaze over the wreckage left in War’s wake. This was the sacrifice it took to break Raven’s hold on these people, but somehow that sentiment rings hollow. War might be banished from this wasted, blood-soaked land, but it will rise up somewhere else—meaner and more ornery than ever before.
Best get your guns reloaded before then, pards. But sharpen your knives first. The road out of the Sioux Nations is bound to be a bloody one.
This is a rather odd downer ending, especially given the effects of the Great Summoning.
Basically, what’s happened is that the Ghost Dancers enacted a ritual to cover the entire borders of the Sioux Nations with an anti-technology field. This field is of infinite duration and cannot be dispelled. It does not just affect ghost rock devices, but any form of technology the indigenous people within the Nations did not develop or come into contact with before contact with white settlers. Gunpowder, steam power, and can even wagons and riding saddles cease to function and/or fall apart. This is due to meddling spirits which prevent the items from working and can discriminate on what counts rather than say, all saltpeter magically evaporating from the Sioux Nations.
This has some massive geopolitical implications for the Deadland setting. Not only did the United States lose twice against the Sioux, this hampering of their technological advantage causes a new and more reserved attitude towards American colonialism. There is a not unreasonable fear that if the Ghost Dancers can do this, then surely they can do so again in other regions. The Sioux Nations are thus more or less left alone for the entirety of the Deadlands plot line, and the Sioux and Cheyenne within live nomadic lives with bountiful buffalo herds.
With Kansas’ annexation, Wasatch and Iron Dragon are the only transcontinental lines which go into the West through Union territory, and both of those rail companies are headquartered in the autonomous lands of California and Deseret. With Union Blue rail lines cutting through a now-Confederate Kansas, it’s safe to say that the North is gonna face some hard times.
Furthermore, Hellstromme for once miscalculates and loses big as his underground railway under the Sioux Nations longer works. Compounding this are the loss of his countless soldiers and devices in the war. Oddly the Ravenites are able to erect special totems around Deadwood and along Kang’s rail line to ward off the anti-technology effect. Kang’s business continues running as normal, but his Dusky Jewel mining camp is no longer profitable.
Furthermore, President James A. Garfield is assassinated one month after the Great Summoning, and VP Chester A. Arthur is pressured to recognize the Confederate States of America as a free and independent nation.
You might have noticed that throughout this Plot Point that the PCs never interact with the real Raven or get a chance to fight him. Well they can in a post-game Savage Tale, but the metaplot assumes that he survives.
As for how War’s loss affects the rest of the rail barons, well...
Epilogue: Busted Arrow
There is one post-Plot Point adventure that is completely optional, but is inserted as a chance for Legendary rank PCs to strut their stuff. It’s completely disconnected to the overarching war against the Order of the Raven or the Ghost Dance Movement, instead determining the fate of the rail lines in the Disputed Territories. It takes place when the PCs revisit Dodge City. The Rail Baron heads of Black River, Union Blue, Dixie Rails, and Wasatch sent representatives to a neutral meeting ground in the Alamo Saloon to negotiate land rights. But a pair of skinwalker monster assassins employed by Bayou Vermillion are covertly planting bundles of dynamite throughout the place. Whether they’re successful or caught, the various representatives blame the other side of treachery, which spirals into an all-out clash.
The battle is overall open-ended, but we get a full-page description of a Steam Tank which can make for a rather deadly vehicle to fight, as well as the Gal With No Name, a harrowed who has a personal vendetta against all rail barons for unknown reasons. She is a wild card* who may aid or hinder the PCs depending on who they’re fighting for.
*Both the Savage Worlds mechanic and the thematic kind
During the battle there’s some boxed text as several of Hellstromme’s airships get ready to drop ghostfire bombs, but several planes are shot to pieces and land harmlessly. The one plane with an intact Ghostfire Bomb will be the main focus as the rail warriors maneuver to either retrieve or steal it unless the PCs get there first. Whether the bomb’s detonated or taken away safely, this major battle marks the end of what the papers dub Rail War Two. The six companies then settle long-term into their respective areas of influence.
But some companies are doomed regardless of the outcome. Union Blue goes bankrupt and is bought out by a New York company by the name of Empire Rails owned by the Freemasons. The official end of the Civil War causes wartime leaders to demand Dixie Rails repay debts the company cannot afford. A group of Texan cattle barons buy up the stock and rename it Lone Star Rail Company.
Finally, Hellstromme Industries secures contracts with both the Union and Confederacy for having the first transcontinental railroad, with Iron Dragon the only competitor that has reached the West Coat. In spite of the losses from the Great Summoning he has two streams of cash to fund his own projects back in Deseret.
What I’d Change: For the Great Summoning, I’d probably not use thunderbirds. This is a sample size of one, but I once spoke with an Ojibwe man and learned that for his tribe the portrayal of the Thunderbird in fiction is frowned upon. Basically it boils down to concerns of outsiders writing sacred figures inaccurately or without appropriate knowledge and respect for the source material. I realize that a lot of things in Deadlands in general and likely this book may also qualify, but I’d operate based on what I know.
Instead I’d have the Great Summoning manifest as a spontaneous eruption of all the ghost rock veins in the Black Hills, clear as day for the various fighting forces to see. This will thus rob the white settlers and US Army’s economic incentive, and be a means of securing longer-term peace for the Sioux and Cheyenne.
I’d also replace Robert E. Lee with some other famed warleader based on the PC’s ancestry. I’d also make it so that Kang’s Iron Dragon operations no longer function and that the Ravenites cannot build said totems. This will not only further cement Hellstromme’s supremacy as a rail baron, it would also be a long-term resolution of Kang’s downfall from a previous Plot Point Campaign I ran, the Flood.
Thoughts So Far: The Last Son’s second half could be summed up as missed opportunities and strange narrative choices. The investigation for the Medicine Rock in Dodge City was fun, although the Agency mission felt little more than an excuse for metaplot NPC cameos. Jordrava’s sacrifice comes out of nowhere and feels wildly out of character for the normally cautious survivor. The major war in the Sioux Nations is like the Flood’s Battle of Lost Angels, but longer-lasting and worse on account that the Last Sons is literally themed around War!
As I read Wovoka’s “surprise ally” I began to think that the Last Sons was rewritten sometime during the creative process. I get a sense that one vision wanted a Native American Braveheart, an all-Indian party fighting against colonialism and the Ravenite traitors who just want to watch the world burn. This is more apparent during the first half, what with the restricted travel outside Deadwood, the gaining of Native American allies from the Ghost Dance Movement, and travel in the spirit world.
But then there’s the other vision which takes root during Dodge City, wanting a broader “war is hell for everyone” in its unwillingness to cast any human faction besides the Ravenites as bad guys. The pro-Union Agency as recurring allies, and the overall reluctance to have PCs fight Union soldiers or Custer’s forces feels way too jarring. You know that something’s wrong where a campaign sourcebook tells you to make characters who are “Friends to the Indians” but you end up killing more Indians than invading Union forces.
The heavy amount of Savage Tales in Kansas, the Ghost Dance Movement’s relative inactivity save at the beginning and end, along with the rail wars epilogue, make it seem that the second authorial vision won out.
Join us next time as we cover the Last Sons’ many, many Savage Tales!
Savage Tales, Part 1Original SA post
Savage Tales, Part 1
Savage Tales are the butter to this Plot Point Campaign’s bread, a collection of 30 side quests for the Last Sons. For those who read the prior Reckoner Series adventure the Flood, the ones in the Last Sons are more location than event-based and are for the most part disconnected from the main quest’s power players. While they in theory can be completed in any order, the sheer size of War’s domain combined with unreliable rail lines during the Long Winter of 1880 most likely means that parties will complete Savage Tails in blocks based on three primary locations: the Sioux Nations, Kansas, and Colorado. A rare few Savage Tales are tied to the passage of time or after specific Plot Points, and some recommend a minimum Rank* before doing. So I grouped them as such below.
*Savage Worlds’ experience level equivalent.
Time-based Savage Tales: Battle of Mentor (Spring 1881), Frozen Nightmares (Long Winter of 1880-1881), Holy Warpath (during Deadwood’s Occupation), Somethin’ About Some Files (during Deadwood’s Occupation), Trail of the Hooded One (after finishing the Plot Point Campaign),
“Level-Locked” Savage Tales: Cult o’ the Worm (Heroic/Legendary), One of Our Own (Heroic), The Spook Juice Massacre (Heroic min, Legendary rec.), Trail of the Hooded One (Legendary)
Savage Tales in the Sioux Nations: Cult of Worms, Hickok’s Revenge, Holy Warpath, Night o’ the Hellscorchers, Somethin’ About Some Files
Savage Tales in Kansas: The Ancient One, The Battle of Mentor, By the Skin o’ the Teeth, Don’t I Know You?, Head of Evil Hand of Fate, The Hersey Curse, Little Brother, The Stagecoach Robber Rides Again!, Thorn o’ the Rose, The Union Pride
Savage Tales in Colorado: Pickman’s Book, Pit Dwellers, Slaughterhouse Special, The Soulflame, The Spook Juice Massacre, They Call Me the Kid, This Hotel Ain’t Big Enough, Thompson’s Plates
Savage Tales Located Elsewhere: All-Seein’ Eyes (Wyoming), Frozen Nightmares (Dakota Territory), Hell Drive! (Texas), Meet the Achesons (Dakota Territory), One of Our Own (Coyote Confederation), Trail of the Hooded One (Black Mesa), X.O.X. (Wyoming)
All’Seein’ Eyes: The steers of a cattle ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming are being found dead and their blood drained. The mayor’s offering a $100 bounty for whoever captures the ones responsible. A local cowboy will discretely contact the PCs if they look into it, claiming to know who’s responsible only to end up dead with his throat slashed and tongue removed at the planned meeting point. The assassin responsible is watching the party from afar, and the party can trail the culprit to the finest private club in town, Cheyenne House. Unfortunately it’s an exclusive club that doesn’t like dirty cowpokes off the trail, and its turning back of “Indians” and “chi masters” gives the implication it’s a White’s Only establishment to boot.
Further investigation reveals subtle symbols of a triangle with an eye on the outside of Cheyenne House, town records show that one of the settlement’s founders helped build the club, and talking to the older generation of townsfolk reveals that they just admitted a new member. The sheriff is in on the crimes, for Cheyenne House is a Freemason Lodge with deep local contacts. In the world of Deadlands, the newly-found magical powers of the Reckoning caused an internal civil war within this group. A faction decided that the Reckoners qualified as “belief in a Supreme Being” for the membership prerequisites and took over the North American branch. The ones in Cheyenne House plan to open a permanent portal to the Hunting Grounds and let wicked spirits through. Said spirits will possess the Lodge members and motivate them to slowly murder townsfolk nearly every day.
The cultists are mostly magicless Extras save for the Mayor (who posted the bounty in the first place), and one of their members is a Harrowed with a Gatling Shotgun.
The Ancient One: We talked quite a bit about Bayou Vermillion’s Night Trains in the Marshal’s Section, but now we take on one of the dread locomotives in a Savage Tale! The nosferatu conductor who menaced New Varney Flats with the first Night Train attack is still close to town and has begun poaching residents for their blood. The quest starts out as an open-ended investigation, but things can escalate quickly for we get a full-page description of a Night Train and its occupants. The vehicle is effectively a mobile fortress, and its dread whistle increases the Fear Level of the town it’s raiding by 2 (max. 5). A single zombie engineer drives it, and 30 nosteratu occupy pair of giant coffin-like sleeper cars. Kidnapped victims are stored in a meat locker freight car, with dead and injured hung up by hooks trailing from the ceiling.
The Battle of Mentor: This is primarily a Mass Combat between the forces of Union Blue and Black River fighting over the right of way in Salina, Kansas. The PCs can be either watching from the sidelines or join forces with one of the companies. Unfortunately this Savage Tale has no stakes or rewards for participation.
By the Skin o’ the Teeth: A young boy by the name of Bertram Rawlings approaches the party in a panic during a downpour in Abilene, Kansas. His family members were escorting cattle and he couldn’t see well in the rain before one of them told him to run and get help. Riding out to the scene of the crime near the river finds evidence of a stampede, and the Rawlings retreated to an island surrounded by rising floodwaters. They’re hiding from swarms of Texas Skeeters, mosquito-like abominations the size of housecats, who are feeding on trapped and drowned cows. The surviving cattle were stolen by a gang of rustlers who are not far off, and the Rawlings if rescued can lead the PCs to them. The quest is complete if the party can safely escort the cattle back to town while fending off swarms of leech-like monsters known as mudsuckers. One of the Rawlings will comment they made it “by the skin o’ the teeth.”
Cult of Worms: Although this tale can be run anytime in Deadwood, it is far likelier to be done when the PCs return to the Sioux Nations at Plot Point 8 for it is full of dangerous enemies. The adventure begins when a rash of kidnappings strike Deadwood’s Chinatown. The responsible parties are of Ursula’s Worm Cult, although a few did not make the trek back to their hideout and instead conduct their murderous rituals in a storeroom whose trapdoor is filled with 8 Rattler Young’ Uns. A captured and interrogated cultist can reveal the location of Worm Canyon, and other important information such as guard posts and number of cultists on a raise.
The cult’s HQ is a pseudo-dungeon crawl in a steep-walled box canyon. The PCs can encounter cultists on a long staircase, fight hordes of young Rattlers if they go across or fall to the canyon floor, while the caves have three major rooms with Ursula at the top level.
We also get a full page sidebar detailing possible “get out of death free” cards in the event of a TPK for Heroic or Legendary rank PCs elsewhere in the campaign. The Ravenites, Reckoner abominations, or some other enemy group responsible for the party’s defeat will deliver them as prisoners to the Worm Cult. Details on how they can escape and where their equipment is stored are also provided.
Don’t I Know You? The new town council in Coffeyville, Kansas, has recently begun passing a series of bizarre laws, from mandating how many drinks a person can have in one sitting to banning of certain curse words in public. The town marshal is enforcing the letter of the law, leading to a very paranoid and high-strung populace. The PCs will be accused of violating one of these new rules, and those who comply will find their charges trumped up to keep them in jail long-term.
The reality is that monsters known as replicants are using pods to spawn copies of people and replacing them by draining their memories and life force with it. Said arrests are a perfect means of bolstering their numbers. The pods are grown in a cell next to prisoners while they’re asleep, and the marshal has a sheet of paper listing the names of town council members; all but one of them are crossed out.
Frozen Nightmares: This Savage Tale is far away from the main action. So far in fact it’s off the map proper in the book! Located in the town of Fargo, Dakota Territory, this place is well east of the Sioux Nations but on a major trade trail. It only occurs during the Long Winter of 1880-1881, so chances of PCs actually going here are slim. I’d recommend relocating this Savage Tale to Bismarck or some other snowed-in town.
The set-up for this adventure is that 15 years ago, during a similarly brutal winter, a man discovered his brother committing cannibalism on his wife and children from the madness of starvation. The brother transformed into a wendigo and escaped into the wilderness. After some gunfire and a triggered avalanche, the fiend was found frozen in a block of ice in the river, and the non-monstrous brother dragged into an ice cellar to be kept perpetually cool by a ghost rock powered device. The device worked for a decade and a half, but it malfunctions when the PCs end up snowed in with the town and the creature goes on a rampage.
This Hoary Ol’ Wendigo is a stronger version of its kind, with a d10 to d12 in its skills, and peerless melee attacks and night vision. The creature can be instantly killed if someone manages to pour hot tallow down its throat, but this is easier said than done with the creature’s d12+4 strength.
Head of Evil, Hand of Fate Black River’s witches ain’t the only supernatural thing in Wichita. A traveling sideshow’s latest attraction is displaying the preserved head of the infamous outlaw Joaquin Murieta and the hand of her sidekick Three-Finger Jack. The carnival barker dies later that night when Murieta’s gun mysteriously discharges and shoots him through the heart. The carnies saved up $200 to hire the PCs or other troubleshooters to see if there’s foul play involved, and the proceeding four nights other members will begin to die under similarly bizarre circumstances.
The answer’s rather obvious to you horror movie aficionados: these are not accidents, but in fact the spirits of the two outlaws are animating their own remains to carry out the murders, supported by a pseudo-body made of shadows. The monster’s an expert sneaker and shooter with d12 in the relevant skills, and they’re immune to nonmagical attacks due to their immaterial nature. A called shot to either the head or hand can harm them, however.
Hell Drive! This tale is made for when the PCs are in the southern reaches of War’s domain, Amarillo Texas specifically, and are preparing to head back north. In other words, after the completion of Plot Point 7. A cattle baron’s posting up flyers for hired guns to keep his cows and cowboys safe for a cattle drive north. Taking three in-game weeks, this is a series of encounters with a set of recurring NPCs. In addition to random encounters, the first week contains some of the cattle becoming infected with monstrous parasites known as Texas Tummy Twisters, a rogue noise causing the cattle to stampede, and a war party of Ravenite braves. The second week has the party stalked by a dangerous dual-wielding-pistol spirit known as a Hangin’ Judge who attacks the crew in hit and run kidnappings. It will eventually appear for a final duel at the Kansas border if not dealt with earlier. The third week experiences unexpected betrayal when a group of cowboys herd the cows away to sell to a different drover than the one the PCs’ employer had in mind.
Successfully completing this quest by reaching Dodge City earns the party $200 and a Union Blue or Black River train ticket for each of them.
The Hersey Curse: The Lebold Mansion is considered the most luxurious house in Kansas, but it’s more of an empty beauty when rumors of a curse prevent the owner from finding workers to attend to it. Mr. Lebold is looking for an exorcist, and if the PCs are willing (if not able) to step up to the task he’ll tell them that the two haunting spirits in question are the founders of Abilene: Timothy and Eliza Hersey.
What Mr. Lebold doesn’t know is that the spirits in question were initially the not-so-normal, non-malicious kind of ghosts. But when word spread of the haunting the Reckoners couldn’t let a good Fear-raising go to waste and sent a manitou to “remind the ghosts of what they lost.” Now Tim and Eliza flit about the mansion’s halls, their hauntings growing ever more dangerous and malicious, and it’s only a matter of time before they kill Mr. Lebold himself.
The Savage Tale grants one more means of “exorcising” the spirits beyond the typical spells. Breaking apart the stones of the original foundation will cause the ghosts to follow their anchor. They’ll still be spirits, but at least they’ll be far away.
Hickok’s Revenge: The famous gunslinger/actor/drover/lawman/soldier extraordinaire Wild Bill Hickok took a dirt nap in 1876 when a local drunkard named Jack McCall shot him in in the back of the head during a poker game. Not one to take things lying down, Hickok rose from the dead as a Harrowed and went on a trail of vengeance. He caught McCall and got him to spill the beans, that the local crooked businessman Al Swearengen arranged for his assassination on the belief that the gunslinger had plans to drive the opium trade out of Deadwood. Then Hickok’s possessing manitou took over, spared McCall for fun, and spread word that “hell was a-comin” when the spirit-in-gunslinger’s clothing got into town.
The adventure opens up when the PCs overhear a drunk Calamity Jane that her friend is back in town and back from the dead. Once sobered up she’ll worriedly explain how Hickok isn’t acting like the man she knew, and is worried that something very bad is about to happen.
The PCs may be able to find Hickok near his old cemetery on Mount Moriah, although he won’t immediately resort to violence unless the party does. In fact, he’ll lie through his teeth and try to recruit the PCs into dispensing justice against McCall and Swearengen. What he’s holding back is that he intends to kill as many others in the line of fire during the attempt and afterwards. As Hickok can only be permanently killed by the very revolver Jack McCall used to shoot him in the back of the head, Hickok will head for Swearengen’s Gem Theater at midnight and set fire to the place. He’ll then bust in through the back door and start unloading on the guards and civilians inside.
Jack McCall is also here, and canny PCs may figure out Hickok’s weakness via the detect arcana spell (unlikely in combat) or see Hickok directly wounded on a successful Notice roll.
Wild Bill is a pretty tough customer. He has a legendary d12+2 Shooting and can only be Shaken, not wounded by any form of damage save by a shot to the head with McCall’s pistol. He also has the Improved Hip-Shooting and Speed Load edges, meaning he can dish out hell with his revolvers and reload them to full in no time flat. He has a pretty low Toughness of 6 for a Harrowed, so if a PC can get in that headshot it’s likely they can do some heavy damage.
Holy Warpath: A group of Christian priests on the trail near Deadwood are in a bit of a worry, for one of their own, Sister Belinda, is a Blessed that suffered a crisis of faith. During Custer’s invasion she saw a group of Union soldiers about to fire upon an elderly Sioux. She tried to call down a miracle in order to stop the violence, but it failed and she ran screaming into the wilderness.
PCs who track Belinda’s trail to Bear Butte discover that she’s been taken captive by Ravenites who were in an earlier battle with Ghost Dancers. The latter group’s scouts are aware of the new prisoner, but they do not know who “this white woman is” and so do not know what to do or if risking her death is worth hitting the Ravenites while they’re hurt. The Ravenites plan on keeping her alive to find out if she knows anything, is a spy, etc.
Fun Fact: In Savage Worlds, just about every Arcane Background has a unique negative effect on what happens when you roll a 1 on the die for the relevant spellcasting skill roll. In the case of the Blessed, they suffer a Crisis of Faith. Their Faith (spellcasting) die is reduced by one die type, and can no longer perform miracles until they find some way to ease their doubts.
What I’d Change: This is also the only Savage Tale which involves the Ghost Dance Movement, so I figured that this Tale can take place sometime before Custer’s invasion. If a party member is connected to the Wicasas or as troubleshooters for the tribes, it can also create a bit of a moral dilemma. The laws of the Treaty mandate any non-citizen to be escorted to the borders, which will separate Belinda from her fellows who are closer in Deadwood.
Little Brother: This tale also takes place in Coffeyville, but a different kind of “pod person” is involved. The husband of the farmer Edwina Zane went crazy and ran off his farm and into the Coyote Confederation. Unfortunately Ned Zane has a bad reputation around town and nobody’s sad to see him go. The PCs are the only ones able and possibly willing to help her.
Ned can be found with a Tracking roll, possibly causing random encounters along the way. The source of Ned’s insanity is his brother, whose dearly departed soul inhabited Ned’s body as a growing, whispering tumor. Said tumor has its own ugly face, can cast spells, and can take control of Ned’s body on an opposed Spirit roll. Like any possessing entity, it can be driven out permanently by an exorcism spell.
Meet the Achesons: The only other quest in the non-Sioux Dakota Territory, this takes place at the border town of Bismarck and centers around a very dangerous, very dead, and very creepy family who’s causing no small manner of trouble. The mayor and town council members will introduce themselves to the PCs while they’re staying in a saloon or restaurant, explaining how the local mailman has been absent. Said deliverer of news is a Mr. Milford Acheson who isn’t a people person and stays with his family most of the time. To sweeten the deal the politicians explain how a deed to a gold mine was part of this mail, and can pay the PCs in gold dust of $65 per head to retrieve their mail.
Of course, not all is right. The Acheson family shack can be gotten only by crossing a rickety bridge, up an overgrown footpath, and past a hunting blind all occupied by the now very undead Achesons who take trespassing on private property very seriously. PCs who reach the shack will find the Milford they’re looking for, sitting at a rocking chair, smoking tobacco while nursing his double-barrel shotgun, and more than happy to invite them inside. The only thing wrong with this picture is that Milford’s skull has been caved in with a blunt object and he’s bleeding profusely. This is of no concern to him, for undead do not feel pain.
Several Acheson family members lurk in the shack, eager to add the PCs body fat to their cooking pot, and the mail in question is in the root cellar full of a small arsenal’s worth of firearms and explosives the family will retreat to in case of heavy resistance. The weapons cache is the years’ worth of accumulated gear from travelers they killed.
Mechanicswise the Achesons share a single statblock, but individual family members get their own unique abilities or higher skills. For example, the burly Maxwell Acheson has Strength d10 and swings around a d6 ball-peen hammer, while Simeon’s body is so rotted and skeletal that he provokes a Guts check for Fear.
What I’d Change: Given that the stagecoach at the beginning of the Plot Point Campaign departed from Bismarck, I wonder if having this as the “opening quest” for the Last Sons is doable as otherwise the town is very far off from the campaign’s major locations. But on the other hand, the Resident Evil-style “creepy undead house” is a bit at odds with the first few adventures tone-wise. One idea is incorporating Bismarck’s use as an Indian trading post if PCs are Sioux Nations citizens. They may arrive there one day, only to find that the goods they’re looking for were bought out or kept up at the Acheson’s place.
Night o’ the Hellscorchers: Whether by terrified miners or Sioux tales, the PCs hear about sightings of fire-breathing lizards possessed of a malign cunning near the Black Hills in Satan’s Garden. The tales are true, and the monsters are a new creation of the Reckoners “testing out” a new kind of monster. The hellscorchers roam in packs around the area, and if some of their numbers are slain the rest will begin hunting and tracking the party in turn.
Hellscorchers are fast-moving monsters who are not very tough (Toughness 5) but their fiery bite can ignite an enemy and those adjacent to the monster take 2d6 fire damage per round. Predictably the hellscorchers are harmed by water.
If the PCs are successful in ending the threat, then this will be the last of the monsters. But if the party gets killed or run off, the monsters start popping up in greater numbers throughout the Black Hills and eventually the rest of the Weird West.
Thoughts So Far: The first half of the Savage Tales have a nice bit of diversity in adventure content. You have your combat-heavy shoot-em-ups with The Ancient One and Meet the Achesons, and some thinking man’s quests such as the Hersey Curse and Head of Evil, Hand of Fate. Don’t I Know You? And Frozen Nightmares are great for playing up the claustrophobia and paranoia of being trapped in a seemingly-normal town, but where some hidden monsters are lurking just around the corner. Little Brother is less a tale and more of an encounter with a twist, and the Night o’ the Hellscorchers felt a bit ‘blah’ in comparison to the earlier “hunt the monster” quests.
Join us next time as we cover the second half of the Last Sons’ Savage Tales!
Savage Tales, Part 2Original SA post
Savage Tales, Part 2
One of our Own: This Heroic Rank quest takes place within the Coyote Confederation. The backstory is that the Tonkawa tribe of Indians were a useful ally to the Confederate States of America in fighting the Comanche. Serving as scouts, a Tonkawa group and their Texas Ranger allies attacked and slaughtered an entire village of Comanche, including the young and noncombatants. Bizarrely, the Tonkawa scouts began consuming the corpses of the fallen, claiming that they gained strength from this practice, and the Texas Rangers joined in and became corrupted as well.
Now posing as Comanche raiders, the Tonkawa are lead by a fallen Texas Ranger who now goes by the name of Walks in Two Worlds. The PCs meet up with Captain William Hamilton, a Ranger assigned in stopping the “Comanche” attacks with no support from his superiors and will appoint the PCs as temporary deputies, telling them how he believes that the recent raids were by the Tonkawa. The adventure is a straightforward infiltration hit and run, either to kill Walks in Two Worlds or bring him back alive. He’s surrounded by 100 Tonkawa warriors, which even the adventure notes is highly inadvisable to fight head-on.
Walks in Two Worlds has a pair of Colt army pistols and a host of edges both melee and gunplayer focused. He and the other Tonkawa warriors can increase their Strength, Vigor, and Notice by 2 die types for four hours whenever they partake of human flesh.
So one thing I have to bring up. Although few in number in modern times, the Tonkawa are a real-world Native tribe who still exist today. While it is true that they were cannibals, it strikes me as a bit icky to make a real-world ethnic group flesh-eating villains in a horror adventure.
Pickman’s Book: Four years ago, during the events that transported New Jerusalem to an alien dimension, the town barber Oliver Pickman became infested with an otherworldly intelligence that forced him into performing all manner of tasks. He convinced a posse of hired guns to venture into the ghost rock mines and find a way to set things right again. They succeeded, along with returning New Jerusalem to Earth, but at the expense of said heroes being sucked into a void. Pickman has not been himself, and he finally broke down in opening up the mysterious tome known as Wyrmus Mysteriis that appeared on his bookshelf when in the other world.
Our tale begins when the PCs hear screams from the Henderson family household, and a nearby stable is under assault by flying alien fungus-things armed with guns that shoot lightning. The kidnapped Hendersons can be tracked to the old mine, which is a small dungeon crawl into a strangely organic cavern full of alien technology which seemingly grows from the foundations. The aliens are in the process of transferring the brains of human captives into silver canisters, and Pickman himself is unconscious near an open portal to the Hunting Grounds. This nightmare can be ended if the Wyrmus Mysteriis is chucked into the portal,* but the ambient energies risk drawing in the thrower on a failed Spirit roll. Said portal can lead anywhere the GM desires due to its unique nature.
*and a revived Pickman tells as such, and will try to throw the book himself if nobody volunteers.
Fun Fact: This entire adventure, and the town of New Jerusalem detailed earlier, is a reference to the Deadlands Classic adventure Adios A-Migo. IT even includes said adventure cover as full-page artwork up above. Both adventures are a crossover between Deadlands and Call of Cthulhu, but in the Last Sons the Fungi from Yuggoth are referred to as Fungus-Things.
Pit Dwellers: Not many people go to Cauldron these days, but PCs in the area soon learn why: over the course of several days seven residents went missing along with a baby girl. The first six disappeared when close to the crater-lake, and the baby was in her home only to end up missing the morning after.
The culprit was originally a night horror, a ghost-like creature who can manipulate darkness into solid forms to slash and bludgeon victims. The people it killed then turned into shadows known as night haunts which feast on souls, and the high Fear Level spawned a spider-like monster known as a dark beast which is feeding on the night haunts and growing in power.
This adventure is a minor investigation where the PCs can find said monsters around various locations in the crater-lake, and a less-than-thorough party may be tricked into thinking the job’s done if they think that only one monster (or group of monsters) is responsible for all of Cauldron’s woes.
Something’ About Some Files: Back before the Agency was incorporated into the United States government, it was more popularly known as the Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1871 the owner Allan Pinkerton staged a fire in his company’s archives, but one of his case files was misplaced and ended up in an Iron Dragon rail depot in Deadwood. Our tale begins when shots ring out in the dead of night and the PCs see a Chinese man fleeing from said depot before falling over from bullet wounds. In his hands is a folder containing Pinkerton case files on Sam Bass* and any other number of NPCs, operations, or other subjects the GM wishes to use as plot hooks.
*the head bandit who tried robbing the PC’s stagecoach in the first Plot Point
The rest of the quest is open-ended. After the murder, word spreads in town of the incident, and soon various factions begin gunning for the crate. The two major players involved are Iron Dragon and the Agency, either of which will be tracking down the PCs if they took the file or to hire them to retrieve it and the crates for them. Other involved groups can be determined via rolling on the Affiliations Table of the Adventure Generator in the Marshal’s Section. Richard Speakman is the head of the Agency’s Deadwood Ward and the person responsible for shooting, and his stat block is as in over its head as his job is: he has hardly any edges and his only useful skill at high rank is a d12 Notice.
There’s no listed reward for helping out Iron Dragon or a third party, but helping out the Agency nets the PCs $100 each and further aid from Speakman while they stay in Deadwood.
Slaughterhouse Special: A good portion of this adventure text is rather backstory heavy, detailing a cursed scalpel possessed by a malign intellect. It changed hands over the years, every time possessing its owner to go on a murder spree. The current owner is Morris Steinhouse, who cut off the hand of its last owner upon realizing that the murderer’s mind was not his own. Foolishly Steinhouse kept it as a souvenir, and opened up a bar in Denver known as the Slaughterhouse Saloon.
This tale begins when the PCs are at the establishment and notice a strange, almost charnel-like smell from below. Steinhouse converted the place’s basement into a real slaughterhouse specializing in humans, and undead made of stitched-together heads crawl about the place. Steinhouse is a regular if tough Extra if he’s not wielding the Butcher’s Scalpel, but in his hands his stat block transforms into a monstrous serial killer who is immune to non-bladed weapons, can walk on walls, wields the scalpel with a d12+2 Fighting and 1d10+1d8 damage, and the Improved Frenzy edge lets him attack twice per round with melee weapons.
The cursed relic gets its own page of stats. It can transform its wielder into an entity known as the Butcher every night, making them as fast as a horse (10 Pace) and increases their Fighting and Stealth die by 3 steps each, along with the aforementioned special abilities above. It mentally compels its owner to wield it at night, and every failed opposed Spirit test makes it harder to resist with cumulative penalties. Harrowed who wield the scalpel have a better chance at resistance, although in this case the manitou struggles to maintain control if the scalpel tries to possess the deader.
Fun Fact: The Butcher’s Scalpel made its first appearance in the Deadlands Classic novel/adventure Independence Day. It too includes a full-page artwork of said adventure cover, detailed above.
The Soulflame: Lady Cynthia Carstairs, the founder of the now-defunct Church of the Holy Flame, was a woman born before the birth of Christ and made a pact with the Devil for immortality. The catch was that she’d live as long as a fire containing her soul burned, and by 1876 she set up a religious cult with the end purpose of her drinking their souls. A group of heroic not-PCs snuffed the flame for good and with it her unholy reign of terror.
The now-demolished ruins of the Church still have bad mojo, and townsfolk report hearing screams from there at midnight. The culprits are a pack of catamounts, large monstrous wildcat-like creatures capable of verbal mimicry and camouflage who use the ambient legends of the place to spread Fear. The monsters will attempt to confuse and demoralize investigating PCs with said abilities, and they’re as smart as people to boot.
Fun Fact: This is yet another Deadlands throwback, this time referencing to the novel/adventure Perdition’s Daughter. The Church of the Holy Flame and Cynthia Carstairs were the major antagonists in it. The hook is that the PCs are hired by a man of means to rescue his son who went off to join said cult.
The Spook Juice Massacre: This adventure takes place in Tallulah, Colorado, which is rather distant from the major adventure locations. The set-up is that during 1876 the Union created a ghost rock infused liquid known as “spook juice” capable of rendering soil barren and could poison the water supply. Union General Sherman used the stuff in battle against the Confederacy, but the stuff was so toxic, as well as being a fast creator for localized Deadlands, that the stuff stopped being deployed in combat.
Unfortunately for Tallulah the local general store came into possession of three black metal drums full of the stuff during a supply shipment. Reading the big warning labels on the canisters, the owner Ulysses Tripp opted to bury the stuff...in the root cellar underneath his kitchen. Smart move.
Over 4 years the barrels corroded and leaked the stuff into the surrounding land, causing no end of woe for the Tripp family as well as the spawning of nightmarish abominations. Their house gained a haunted reputation, and now all of his family are crazed Harrowed. Ulysses Tripp is still alive but murderously insane and deformed.
The adventure involves investigating the Tripp house, which in addition to the Tripps also contains Rattler young’uns. Said monsters will attempt to attack and eat the party’s horses if they’re hitched anywhere close by, or PCs who try to leave the place. At night abominations known as Wakin’ Nightmares take the forms of entities designed to be the most frightening to the PCs, turning into small obsidian shards by day.
The Stagecoach Robber Rides Again: This is a straightforward bounty hunting mission where the PCs are on the trail of the infamous Stagecoach Robber. This self-styled gentleman thief dresses like a medieval European footman but with a fancy tricorn hat and domino mask. He rides around Kansas in a customized steam wagon which has retractable inner wheels so it can ride on train tracks. His customized wagon is faster and more durable than the standard version, double the normal speed and with better armor and Toughness but fewer crew space. It consumes three times as much ghost rock as a normal wagon does (20 miles/pound vs 60 miles/pound).
The stagecoach robber can be tracked either by following tracks in the wilderness, using street smarts to coordinate likely target locations, and so on and so forth. The man himself has a few social stats with some not too shabby d10 Shooting and Driving. Bringing the man in dead or alive nets the party $500.
They Call Me the Kid: This tale takes place in Derry’s Ford, but unlike the Soulflame mission is one of a more mundane sort of evil. Orville “the Kid” Jensen has the right amount of arrogance of someone who would borrow the nickname of an infamous outlaw, and he is looking to prove his skill in a real live duel. His four brothers bully people in town, promising vengeance on anyone who beats their sibling in a duel and will also kill anyone who refuses. The local sheriff asks the PCs for help in somehow diffusing the situation nonviolently. PCs who end up killing any of the Jensens are soon hunted down over time by their next of kin, and if they do not get involved at all the Kid ends up bringing involving half the town in a big shoot-out. Both scenarios bring up the Fear level by 1 for every three people killed, which is a rather rapid increase considering Derry’s Ford is currently Fear Level 2.
This Hotel Ain’t Big Enough: The owner of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver is looking for some ghost-busting exorcists to save his business. Unlike the Lebold Mansion it’s not just one or two ghosts, but two entire extended families worth of feuding spirits who are still dueling over the original lands’ rights decades after their deaths. Both family patriarchs believe themselves to be the rightful owners, but due to the fact that you can’t kill what’s already dead their spiritual battles are just an endless cycle of violence.
Beyond typical magic and exorcisms, offering to help one ghostly family can allow for the surviving faction to stop their nightly haunts.
This Savage Tale feels a bit too similar to the Hersey Curse, but the Hatfield-McCoy style ruckus can feel a bit more light-hearted and novel than the cliche “haunted mansion.”
Thompson’s Plates: In this Savage Tale the PCs have a chance at learning the secrets behind the Battle of Cauldron, as an Agent mad scientist posing as an “independent contractor” hires on the PCs to find the corpse of a Tombstone Epitaph reporter. Said reporter had on his person a ghost rock-powered camera which gives the newspaper their famed sequence of moving images. Searching for the body in particular requires a Smarts roll at -4, making use of the Agent’s homing device to “zoom in” on the specific ghost rock powder components amidst the battlefield. All the while hoping they don’t land on random encounters with ‘scrap gloms, walkin’ dead, slitters, and other monsters spawned by War.
Finding the plates and viewing them reveals how the Battle of Cauldron ended: one of Hellstromme’s airships dropped a ghostfire bomb prototype. And due to laws of dramatic timing, a “recovery squad” of Wasatch soldiers and an automaton swoop in to get the plates and tries to kill all witnesses, PCs included.
Thorn o’ the Rose: The Wild Irish Roses is a brothel in Dodge City noted for its all redhead, all Irish employees. What is not known is that the working girls are Baobhan Sith, a Gaelic variety of vampire who are merely inconvenienced by sunlight and thus can easier blend into human society. Their vampiric creator, Colin Cashel, is not as considerate for human niceties and is seeking to kill them and anyone getting in the way for daring to escape his strict hand. If the baobhan sith’s monstrous nature is found out, they beg for mercy, claiming that they do not steal lethal amounts of blood, give back more pleasure than any suffering they might cause,* and are in hiding from their dread master. Taking care of Colin Cashel will make the PCs folk heroes in the eyes of the Irish Roses.
*Which the adventure assumes women PCs will be more skeptical of.
I find this adventure interesting on account that it’s one of the few times in Deadlands we get supernatural monsters who are not villainous. I can’t help but notice it bears a striking similarity to a quest in the first Witcher video game also involving vampire sex workers.
Trail of the Hooded One: This is a special Savage Tale, a sort of a post-campaign special like Busted Arrow but more relevant to the main plot. Although the Laws of Metaplot state that Raven will survive into the Hell on Earth timeline, the writers understood that some gaming groups may want to track him down and end his reign of terror once and for all. This Savage Tale is all about that...sort of.
Personally the writers are against this. The purpose of the Last Sons adventure path is to stymie War’s efforts by ensuring autonomy for the Sioux Nations and discrediting the Order of the Raven. There’s also the fact that killing Raven would be ineffective, as he’d either become a martyr for his cause or have his legacy taken up by one of the many False Ravens going about. And last but not least, he can only truly permanently die if slain with the weapons of the very first white people to land on North America: the Spanish Conquistadores.*
*Actually archeological evidence shows that the Scandinavian Vikings preceded the Spaniards by several hundred years, but that’s what the Marshal’s Handbook entry says.
The PCs will get a message from one of the trusted allied individuals or groups they made along the Plot Point campaign, claiming that they believe the real-deal Raven is hiding on Black Mesa and that the dark magic surrounding the place points to this. Or something just as dangerous as Raven.
This Savage Tale is a combat-heavy assault on a well-defended fortification. Raven’s fortress is full of several waves of monsters and human minions, such as bound earth warriors and flocks of monstrous night ravens which attack in swarms. Trying to teleport in via the Hunting Grounds is not a good idea, for groups of manitous patrol the spiritual realm around Black Mesa and will fight intruders while one of them retreats to report to Raven.
Finally Raven himself lives in a humble longhouse, attended by thirteen of his most fanatical braves and shamans as well as the Last Son known as Owl Moon. After the Great Summoning Raven’s Reckoner patron is displeased, so he’s coming up with other evil plans to get back in War’s good graces. The one he’s most keen on is assassinating the mysterious leader of the Coyote Confederation and taking his place. This way, Raven can regain the political power he lost from his Order being shamed in the Sioux Nations.
Raven’s main statistics are in the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook, but to expand upon them here he has a d12 in every attribute save Agility (d10) and Spirit (d12+2), and the same goes for most of his skills. He has a near-unmatched Parry of 12 and Toughness of 11, making him a force to be reckoned with even without any active spells. His signature warclub deals his Strength plus d12 damage and penetrates 4 points of armor, meaning he is almost guaranteed to wound PCs who aren’t built for stamina. Furthermore he knows every power of every Arcane Background in the Deadlands Player’s Guide and has an infinite amount of Power Points, meaning that the amount of magical tactics he can unleash can be great if the GM has enough prep time to see what can work effectively against the PCs. Finally Raven has a huge amount of Edges, too many to go over, but safe to say he has most of the combat-related ones.
If the PCs manage to kill Raven, he will be revived 13 days later by the Reckoners themselves. At that point he must be killed again by the aforementioned weakness, and all other attacks will fail to even wound him. At this point Raven will go deeper into hiding and send his minions to hound the PCs for quite some time.
Raven’s War Club is a relic on its own. In the hands of anyone else it deals Strength + 1d8 + 2 damage, grants a +2 on Fighting and damage rolls, and penetrates up to 4 points of Armor. It inflicts the Bloodthirsty, Overconfident, and Vengeful (Major) hindrances on its owner. Said owner will never willingly part with it unless a trusted friend uses Persuasion at a hefty -6 penalty, and if successful then the owner can roll Spirit at -4 to give it up.
What I’d Change: Honestly the “secret weakness” part for Raven should come before the grand, epic assault on his Black Mesa citadel. Having him come back to life this way would rob the PCs of what is very likely a hard-fought victory. I feel it might have been better for the PCs to potentially fight the real Raven during the main Plot Point Campaign, and have the Savage Tale be the following up on taking him out for good.
I’d also make the weapons required to kill him Viking weapons instead, because Vikings are cool.
The Union Pride: This is not so much a Tale as a singular encounter when the PCs are in Topeka, Kansas at night. The Night Trains aren’t the only haunted locomotives spawned by the Great Rail Wars: once upon a time a state-of-the-art Northern train known as the Blue Pride was raided by Confederate ruffians who killed everyone onboard. The train crashed, killing the raiders as the ghost rock boiler exploded and the vehicle went off-rails.
Now, the Union Pride roams freely over the flat-as-a-pancake Kansas landscape, appearing on nights of the full moon with hellish fire streaming from its foundations. The leader of the raiders, Ornery Will Jenkins, leads twelve of his undead goons and act much the same in death as they did in life: looting, arsoning, and murdering with sadistic gusto. Jenkins’ Boys use typical walkin’ dead zombie stats, but Ornery Will is a tough Wild Card whose Colt Peacemakers fire the Bolt spell. He and his raiders can only be put to rest if they are all killed in one night.
X.O.X.: When the posse is in Cheyenne they and a bunch of townsfolk see a bright greenish light descending from the sky into the Rocky Mountain foothills. Veterans of the Great Rail Wars and those who succeed on a Common Knowledge roll recognize the flare as a Wasatch distress signal, and can gather information that said rail company maintains Camp Hades nearby. Said camp is a high-priority location for Hellstromme, as it’s the spot where the transcontinental rail line goes underground and connects all the way to Lost Angels, California!
The people who fired off the flare were under attack by subterranean giant insects known as Tunnel Critters and have already been slaughtered by them. The scene of the crime is an abandoned mine home to a colony of the things. By the time the PCs arrive, it’s not just them but a Wasatch X-Squad convening on the place along with Union Blue and Black River rail warriors eager to keep tabs on the competition. A posse of Ravenite braves are in the area. Viewing the land as their turf, they seek to make an example of interlopers.
The various factions come out in progressive waves of a free-for-all combat. To further complicate this Mexican standoff are the colony of tunnel critters awakened by the gunplay who start biting, paralyzing, and dragging unfortunate souls back into the caverns to be consumed.
The mine, if cleared of its 100 critter infestation, provides access to the underground Wasatch line and is thus of great strategic importance to whatever company gets their hands on it!
Thoughts So Far: In Part 1 the Savage Tales seemed a bit Kansas heavy, but the second half really filled out Colorado. I liked the callbacks to earlier Deadlands adventures, and found Cauldron’s desolate environs to be perfectly thematic and representative of lurking dread evils. This Hotel Ain’t Big Enough and Union Pride were too similar in feel to the earlier Hersey Curse and Ancient Ones adventures respectively.
Thorn o’ the Rose can be complicated to run, especially when 99% of the rest of the Last Son’s monstrous encounters end up with said creatures violently murderous. I can see many gaming groups decide to shoot first and ask questions later. I liked how the Stagecoach Robber could net the PCs a unique vehicle, which makes for a nice alternative to cash and relic rewards which predominate the other adventures.
Join us next time as we cover the final chapter of the Last Sons, detailing all manner of men and monsters!
EncountersOriginal SA post
This chapter of rascals, varmints, and critters is a healthy 47-page bestiary, the largest in any Deadlands Reloaded book save the main Marshal’s Handbook. Unlike the Flood it does not have any fancy Wild Card icon for the bad guys, instead sticking to the tried and true sheriff’s badge to denote said status. I’m putting the (WC) next to the names of relevant entries to denote this signifier.
I may have mentioned it before in the adventures, but a Wild Card in Savage Worlds mechanics represents an NPC or monster of note, while Extras serve as cannon fodder and mooks. A Wild Card can take four Wounds before dropping, whereas an Extra only one. Wild Cards also roll a d6 Wild Die alongside their attribute and skill rolls, applying relevant bonuses to both and using the higher result. Both of the Wild Card rules are also used by PCs.
This is the all-purpose category for supernatural monsters that aren’t spirits.
Agent Provocateurs (WC) look like well-dressed men who appear anywhere a population might be incited to violence. They have very high mental attributes and social skills, can control a single person’s will akin to the Puppet power by speaking to them, and use a more limited version on a crowd by convincing them to do a single (usually violent) act.
Baobhan Sith are vampires from Gaelic folklore who drain the blood of humans to survive. They do not need a lethal amount, so it is possible for them to get on by blended into human society. They are average fighters but have a high Toughness of 10, and are weakened rather than destroyed in sunlight. Iron and salt is deadly to the touch for them.
Barrasentries are genetically modified barracuda fish with poisonous tentacles designed to guard the waterways of Devil’s Tower. They are not very tough individually but get a free poison tentacles attack which can cause the Shaken condition on a failed Vigor roll.
The Buffalo Man (WC) is a unique guardian spirit* tasked with safeguarding the buffalo herds of North America. The widespread hunting of these animals has caused the spirit to be violently vengeful against guilty hunters, and it is a physically strong monster which can trample a foe it moves over as a free action for damage. Its stats increase for every 1,000 buffalo killed over a 300 mile radius.
*You’d think they’d be in the spirits section, but I guess not.
Dark Beasts (WC) are spider-like monsters but it would be impossible to tell on sight for they are always enmeshed in a cloud of deepest black, and their corpses turn into smoke when exposed to bright light. They can drain blood in the form of Fatigue, spit darts of ice as a short-range attack, and can be incapacitated but not permanently killed unless its removable heart is found and destroyed.
Huskers are parasitic crustaceans which can lay eggs inside human hosts. Hatchlings devour their host from the inside out and eventually take control of the body. Both hatchling and mature versions can bite and spit blinding poison, although the hatchlings can wear human corpses to absorb a wound while the mature huskers can implant eggs which can deal automatic damage each round unless cut out of a target’s body
Living House (WC) is a monster which for all intents and purposes appears as an American Gothic house. It can control heat and humidity within itself, throw its own furniture and objects as attacks, has total control of all doors, windows, and portals inside itself, and gives nightmares to people sleeping inside it. It is physically incredibly strong but its poltergeist-like attacks are its main offense due to its immobility.
Noferatu Ancient One (WC) is an older and more powerful version of its regular species. It is capable of casting black magic spells in addition to claws and has an infectious bite which can turn others into nosferatu. Its horrible smell imposes Shaken on adjacent foes on a failed Vigor roll, and cannot die unless its heart is destroyed or is exposed to sunlight for a long enough period.
Piranha Dog Swarms are a colony of genetically-modified prairie dogs created as a buffer zone by the Crossbreeds. They appear and act just like prairie dogs, but will attack living creatures en masse with extra-sharp teeth and can split up into smaller swarms.
The Revenant (WC) is humanity’s collective fears and contempt of Western outlaws. A unique creation of the Reckoners, it travels between towns to search for lawmen of all stripes to shoot them dead, be it by duel or by dirty tricks. The Revenant never speaks save to utter the names of those it killed, and only appointed sheriffs, marshals, and similar occupations can hear the whispers.
The Revenant is built like a gunslinger with top-notch d12+2 Shooting and can do a free Intimidation roll every time it reloads one of its Colt Army Revolvers. It also has various gunplay-related Edges such as Duelist, Marksman, and Steady Hands. Its only weakness is a called shot to the heart by an authorized lawman.
Scrap ‘Glom (WC) are only found at the battlefield sites of the Great Rail Wars. This variety of ‘glom is made from a combination of human corpses, mechanical devices, and scrap. They are large well-armored opponents which can increase their physical abilities by incorporating other corpses and wrecked equipment and vehicles into its body, and can fire a Gatling gun as its main attack.
Slitters are undead corpses of those whose throats were slit by assassins, and since dedicated their unlife to doing the same. They never suffer negative modifiers to Stealth rolls and have a knife which deals d8 damage plus its already high d10 Strength.
Two-Faces (WC) are creatures from Cheyenne folklore which have a face on the front of their heads as well as another on their back. They only eat children, drinking their blood and taking their ears. It can freeze targets by staring at them if they fail a Spirit test, and cannot be permanently slain save by a handful of salt which is deadly to them.
Wooden Indians are eight-foot-tall tourist carvings, complete with war bonnet, tomahawk, and cigar box. Said structures can become inhabited by an animating spirit which will use the statue to avenge wrongs committed against Native Americans. They have extremely high 15 Toughness befitting its construction, and its main attack is a tomahawk which deals an impressive 1d12+1d8+4 damage.
This section details creatures which are native to the Hunting Grounds. All of them save for the Kachina, manitous, and snake clouds are capable of being called via Contact Spirit World. The Ancestor and Animal Spirits are part of the Summon Lesser Spirit aspect of the Power, while the Holy People, Thunderbird, and non-animal nature spirits are part of Summon Normal Spirit.
Ancestor Spirits are the souls of dead humans on their way to their eternal reward or punishment in the Sky or the Deadlands. They have suffered the effects of the Reckoning as well, and many of their communities are under siege by manitous. They use the same stats as humans and run the gamut of trades and types.
Holy People (WC) are a race created by the oldest spirits of the earth and sky, and taught humans the many useful skills to survive in the mortal world. When their teachings were done, they went on to live in the Hunting Grounds. They are divided into various clans, from the Thunder People, the Wind People, etc. Statwise they are like paragon humans, with d12+1 in most attributes and several skills and can use themed Shaman powers based upon their tribe.
Kachina are spirits who possess the bodies of corporeal people. They can possess animals but prefer humans for their versatility. Statwise they have a main possession ability where they take over a target’s body on an opposed Spirit roll for 1d6 hours, and they can cast thematic Shaman powers based upon their type: Koyemshi are tricksters; Masa’uh are ones of death, fire, and various bad things; Pautiwa is the chief of all Kachina, knows all shaman powers, whose possession ability is infinite in duration; Soyoko are hulking bear-men who have combat powers and enforce order among their kind; finally the Wawaru are of motion, wind, and speed and know teleport and mobility-based powers.
Manitou are the favored spiritual minions of the Reckoners, pulled from the endless legion of damned souls within the Deadlands. They bring Harrowed back from the dead, grant Hucksters and Mad Scientists their powers, and in the spirit world can take whatever form they want but prefer horrifying visages and shapes They come in three varieties: lesser manitou swarms, normal manitou, and greater manitou (WC). In spite of their connection to two arcane backgrounds they do not have any powers themselves, instead focusing on bite/claw and physical attacks, as well as the ability to blend into their surroundings by camouflage.
Nature Spirits represent every form and phenomenon in the material world. They have dominion over their area of influence and provide Shamans their powers. They range from Animal Spirits who use the stats of their mundane counterparts but can use a single power related to their Totem Spirit Edge; Little People look like small delicate humans whose skin is toned based on the aspect of nature they serve, and are physically frail but can vanish by transforming into a tiny aspect of their linked element (raindrop, speck of dust, etc); Gan are mountain nature spirits who are slow and ponderous but very physically tough; Shiwana are wind spirits whose powerful gusts can create gales to throw people/objects and arid twisters to suck the moisture out of living beings via Fatigue; Uwannami are water spirits who are nurturing beings which provide cleansing and sustenance, and their powers involve creating any form of weather and can mold bodies of water into solid shapes; and finally the Wakinyan, gigantic storm cloud spirits whose powerful abilities I discussed way back in the Player’s Section: Fly at Pace 14, 28 Toughness and only damaged by Heavy Weapons, can cast Bolt within line of sight from the sky an infinite number of times, can open a portal of fire to the Hunting Grounds, has Fighting, Intimidation, Shooting, Taunt, and Tribal Medicine all at d12 and its lowest attributes are Smarts and Strength at d10. The Wakinyan I feel should be summonable by PCs at a higher rank Contact Spirit World ordinarily grants them (Seasoned). Heroic at the very least would make sense.
Snake Clouds come from the rotted roots of the Tree of Life, their touch withered by the Reckoners. They are a serpentine being with a smoky, fog-like form which emits poisonous vapors. They’re immune to non-magical attacks, can squeeze into tight spaces, can fly, can attack their enemies via Grapple, and can lower a grappled victim’s Spirit die by slowly consuming their essence. Greater Snake Clouds use the same stats but are larger and tougher in just about every way. A gust of natural or magical wind will disperse them for 24 hours.
Thunderbirds are the greatest guardians of the Hunting Grounds. The adults are godlike beings and thus do not have stats, but the ones described in the book are younger specimens and act as the primary line of defense against the Reckoners’ manitous in the spirit world. Statwise thunderbirds are very strong in attributes (d10 in Agility and Smarts, d12+1 everything else), have d12 Fighting and d12+1 Intimidation, possess a fast 14 Pace flight, and can create enormous thunderclaps with their wings in a Large Burst Template, causing those within the Area of Effect to become Shaken on a failed Vigor -2 roll.
This entry includes generic stat blocks for common character types in the Last Sons and very likely other adventures too. Named NPCs are in the Famous Folks entry, while members of the Order of the Raven are under War’s Servants.
Agency Special Threat Teams are known as Cleaners due to the fact that they’re employed only when a mission goes south or when the big guns need calling in. They have average to above-average attributes and investigation-focused skills, but their Shooting is d12 and their Edges center around being fast and nimble, either to act quicker or more easily dodge attacks. Their uniforms are armored black dusters, and they have 150 rounds for their Gatling pistols along with an exploding pocketwatch for weapons.
Agency Technicians have no combat skills or equipment besides a Gatling pistol they’re not very good at using, but they’re Weird Scientists who specialize in building all manner of gadgets to field-test or have Agents on the job do so. They have a d10 in a variety of Knowledge skills as well as Weird Science, and d12 in Repair. The Gadgeteer Edge lets them build a single Weird Science device with a single power which they may not even know, and Mr. Fix It edge grants +2 on Repair rolls and halves the time normally required to fix something on a raise.
Cowboys are the most iconic occupation of the Old West. This stat block reflects the cattleman archetype rather than the skilled gunfighter. They have a d10 Riding and d6 Throwing to use their lariats to round up cattle or hinder opponents, and their Steady Hands edge negates the penalties for ranged attacks while on horseback or a moving vehicle.
Veteran Cowboys are like the above, but have higher attributes and skills along with “seen it all” edges like Nerves of Steel and True Grit.
The Seven I discussed in the second Plot Point adventure proper.
These stats detail the variety of human evildoers of the Order of the Raven. All of them use a modified version of the Shaman Arcane Background. They receive their spells not from nature spirits or the Reckoners themselves, but by manitou which enslave nature spirits to grant power to the shamans. I already talked about the False Raven, Sitting Bull, and Thunder Guards’ respective stat blocks, so I’ll only cover the fluff for their respective entries.
False Raven (WC) is a shaman in hooded garb who either pretends or has been deluded into believing they’re the true Raven. The text contradicts itself by mentioning this works because nobody has seen the real Raven’s face for 100 years, although in Plot Point 8 Raven’s face is famous enough to be known by just about every Native American and some informed non-Natives.
What I’d Change: I’d make it so that the False Ravens are all body doubles of the original Raven to strengthen the illusion.
Last Sons (WC) are the most senior members of the Order of the Raven, having served alongside their master since before the Reckoning. Due to unleashing said horrors upon the world they all bear heavy scares: their faces are covered by a spidery network of blue veins, and their hands stained forever black by the blood of the Old Ones.
The Thunder Guard are the elite Harrowed bodyguards of Raven and his false doubles. They are unique in that they can be of any human race/ethnicity due to the fact that they’re utterly subsumed by their manitous and agree with the Order’s destructive goals. They can have a variety of stats, although the one provided for “Bloody” Marty Coltrane was the one in Plot Point 8.
Sitting Bull is the...sigh...most powerful Ravenite of the Sioux Nations. He loudly supports the Old Ways Oath to give himself better cover and plausible deniability for his role in the Order. He craves vengeance on the white man so much and is insane from Raven’s dreams to the point that the safety and security of the Sioux people are a distant second to his bloodlust. He dominates tribal politics with strong-arm intimidation tactics, using his clout and status to get things done.
Joseph Bearclaw (WC) is a Sioux man who attended a law school Back East and used the United States’ rules and regulations to better advocate for his people. He is tolerated in the Sioux Nations as a necessary evil in that he helps manage the money that comes in from limited mining in the Black Hills. He serves Sitting Bull as a font of information. He has a decidedly non-combat role, with social-based Edges and high skill ranks in Guts, Intimidation, Investigation, and the like.
Earth Warriors are transformed braves who bonded with an earth spirit. Their skin became as tough as stone and their strength great, but they’re heavy to the point that they sink in water and horses cannot support their weight.
Ravenite Braves are primarily recruited from disaffected indigenous youth who feel that their people are not doing enough against white colonialism. After swearing a loyalty oath, they become the cannon fodder of Raven’s forces. They have good physical and combat skills and use firearms instead of bows and arrows.
Veteran Ravenite Braves are those skilled enough to rise up the ranks and commonly serve in leadership positions. They have the same stat block as their regular version but with even higher skill levels and several more combat edges such as Block and Improved Frenzy.
Ravenite Shamans are those braves who have a knack for communicating with the manitous. They all have the Raven as their Totem Spirit edge, and they have not too shabby combat skills and use firearms. Their powers are a mixture of nature-based and buffing abilities, such as beast friend, boost/lower trait, and shape change.
Barring members of Jesse James’ gang and Crazy Horse’s warriors, each of these entries are Wild Cards. NPCs whose background and statistics were detailed earlier in the Plot Point Campaign or Savage Tales will not be repeated here.
Al Swearengen is is a pimp, opium dealer, and saloon owner with a ruthless reputation in Deadwood. He is an average combatant, but prefers to let hired guns do the strong-arming for him.
Andrew Lane, aka the Ghost, aka Abraham Lincoln is the sole Rank 6 member of the Agency and CEO of Union Blue. He ditched the stovepipe hat for a more normal one. He has a d12+1 Smarts along with a boatload of skills, including a surprisingly high d10 Shooting. With a Grit of 6 and d12 Guts he is very hard to scare, and most of his edges are defensive and social in nature although he does have ones which allow him to fight with a pair of pistols. He’s also Harrowed, but he does not have many of the more overtly supernatural Edges besides Ghost which can make him turn incorporeal.
Belle Starr is an outlaw woman that partnered platonically and romantically with several infamous bandits before settling on marrying Sam Starr. She is known in papers as the Bandit Queen and lives up to that name. She is rather average in attributes and skills, a d6 to d8 in most, and oddly enough she fights with a whip and has no firearm.
”Bigfoot” Wallace got his nickname from his size 12 boots and his 6’2” frame. In spite of being in his 60s he can still shoot and crack heads with the best of them. His Strength and Vigor of d12 and d10 respectively reflect his brawny demeanor, and he has above-average to high combat and investigation skills to boot.
Black Kettle is the most revered leader of the Cheyenne’s civilian Council of Forty-Four and a pacifist. He is a shaman and practitioner of the Old Ways, and he favors social and survival skills and spells over anything combat-related.
”Bloody” Bill Quantrill was a Kansas border ruffian and slave hunter who earned his bad reputation during the Civil War. He was put in the ground by Union soldiers but came back Harrowed and now leads a posse of 2d20 zombies who obey his manitou. He’s got a pair of bowie knives and Colt Dragoons and the two-weapon fighting edges to go with them. He has a host of gunplay-related edges along with some melee-focused ones such as Martial Arts and Improved Frenzy.
Charley Bull aka Bull All the Time is a covert Ghost Dancer who operates out of Deadwood to foil Ravenite plots. He is Lakota, but as a child his village was wiped out by an enemy tribe and later raised by white scouts who adopted him. He mostly specializes in Knowledge and social skills and related Edges.
Chris Madsen is a hard-nosed lawman and...well, there’s not much else to say besides his impressive d12 Fighting, Riding, and Shooting.
Coyote/Isatai was a Comanche war chief who has the notable achievement of dying from a miraculous sniper shot at the Battle of Adobe Walls, but coming back to life without any Harrowed hijinks. This miraculous feat he credits to Coyote teaching him the trick of almost dying but then coming back, and it was no challenge to form and then become leader of the Coyote Confederation. He personally follows the Old Ways but does not require it of the nation’s members. He is a Shaman with a mix of buffing and hindering spells, but specializes in leadership and social edges. He can also use Coyote’s Trick to spend a fate chip to be incapacitated rather than die and awake 1d8 days later.
Crazy Horse is is the Lakota war leader of the Oglala tribe of the Sioux Nations. He acts as a mobile troubleshooter, riding with 20 braves to look out for enemy spies, outlaws, and supernatural dangers. He is a combat-focused shaman, with many melee skills and edges, some leadership edges, and his powers focus on buffs such as aim, armor, deflection, etc.
Crazy Horse’s Warriors are like typical Indian Braves from the Marshal’s Handbook, but possess d10 in all physical attributes as well as the Fighting, Riding and Shooting skills.
The Gal With No Name is a Harrowed known by far too many aliases but whose true name is known to no living souls. She roams the Disputed Territories, striking at rail warriors and depots without discrimination, sometimes joining up with individuals who share her vengeful nature against one or more of said rail companies. She is an impressive Harrowed who focuses on gunplay and speed edges both mundane and Harrowed, and her single-action Colt Peacemaker deals a damage one die higher than normal (3d6+1) due to her legendary edge Right Hand of the Devil.
Hattie Lawton is the Agency administrator in the Ghost’s absence. She is yet another noncombatant stat block specializing in social and Knowledge skills.
Hyram Burns is a mad scientist operating out of Deadwood. He hopes to put out the ghost rock fires of Satan’s Garden and wrongfully believes that human blood is the only thing which can douse them. He and his daughter roam the Black Hills, killing Sioux and miners to harvest their blood. He does not appear in any of the Plot Points or Savage Tales, but it’s implied he may have been responsible for the slaughter of miners which touched off Custer’s invasion in the first place, and so the Reckoners exacerbate his delusions. He is a brainy egghead type armed with a flamethrower and possesses the armor and boost/lower trait powers.
Jack McCall is the bushwhacker responsible for Wild Bill Hickok’s murder. He was acquitted in court and now lives as a two-bit thug for hire, drowning his sorrows in opium and rotgut. His stats are nothing special, but his Colt Peacemaker is the only weapon which can put down Hickok for good.
Jesse James is an infamous outlaw featured in quite a few dime novels. He is wanted by the Agency, whose Pinkerton origins have not entirely left them. He and the James Gang roam Kansas, stealing and murdering as they please. Jesse James has a mixture of gunplay and social Edges, carrying a pair of Colt Army revolvers and a Sharps Big 50 rifle.
The James Gang are tougher than normal outlaws comprised of Jesse James, his friend Jim Younger, and the latter’s various family members. Statwise they are like less powerful versions of Jesse James, with fewer edges and lower stats.
Jordrava, the Last Old One is a figure you’re all well familiar with by now. He is a mega-shaman, knowing just about every power from that arcane background along with many related supernatural edges. He has some high skills but his speciality is being a “pure mage.”
Larry Deger is the sheriff of Dodge City whose deputies have a high turnover rate. He is neutral in the Confederate-Union partisan wars and made an enemy of both sides’ proxy fighters. His edges lean towards the defensive side but otherwise is an above-average lawman in the relevant skills and attributes.
Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer is perhaps the most wasted stat block in this entire book. A veteran of the Civil War on the Union side, he applied his talents in the war against the Sioux Nations and made it his life’s work to take revenge after his humiliation at the Little Bighorn. Statwise he has exemplary d12+2 Riding, d12 Fighting and Shooting, and most of the leadership edges.
Nat Love, aka Deadwood Dick is a famous black cowboy residing in Deadwood. He owns a saloon by the name of the Wooly Buffalo which the black miners in town frequent. Statwise he has d8 to d12 in various skills, notably d12 Climbing of all things but a d12 Riding suitable for his reputation.
Quanah Parker is the leader of the Comanche tribe in the Coyote Confederation. He does not have much patience for politics and prefers to patrol the border, defending it from Texans and Crow tribe raiders. Statwise he doesn’t have many edges, and he has above-average to great fighting skills.
Redbeard is an NPC who is only mentioned here, and oddly is not tied to any location, political faction, or Savage Tale. He’s basically a biracial white-Native American* man who follows a syncretic mix of Christianity and the Old Ways. He has a supernaural knack for bonding with animals in spite of not being a shaman or spellcaster of any sort. Statwise he has the Knack (Spirit Touched) Edge to let him cast the beast friend power, and as a logger he has very high physical as well as mental attributes: his d8 Spirit is his lowest.
Satanta is the Kiowa tribal leader of the Coyote Confederate, and regularly lends his warriors to white foreigners in exchange for guns and equipment. He is a bully who seeks to find a great battle. Statwise he has an odd mixture of hindrances: Bloodthirsty and Heroic, which means that he always executes prisoners but also almost always helps those in need without expecting compensation. He has speed and mobility-focused edges and has a cap and ball Colt-Paterson Model ‘36 rifle along with a Colt Army pistol.
Sam Bass is the outlaw leader who is the first encounter in the Last Sons Plot Point Campaign. He has a $500 bounty in the Union and Confederacy for a robbing spree across the West, and thus resorted to hiding in Deadwood to evade the law. He has no out-there stats, a few d10 skills but nothing out of bounds for Novice heroes.
Tavibo is the eldest Paiute chief and Wovoka’s father, who became a pacifist and member of the Ghost Dance to make up for an earlier guilt. He and several Paiutes participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where they and several Mormons ambushed and slaughtered white settlers entering Deseret.
Not-so-fun Historical Fact: The Mountain Meadows Massacre was the violent end-result of Mormon pioneers fearing that settlers of other religions were part of a larger pretext for US invasion of their fledgling nation, but the scope and cooperation of Paiute Indians’ participation is disputed. There were some Paiute auxiliaries, and the attacking Mormons disguised themselves as Native Americans during the ambush in hopes to deflect blame to the aforementioned tribe. I could find nothing about Wovoka’s father participating in this, although information about Tavibo online is hard to come by beyond his relationship with his son.
Tom “Bear River” Smith is a tough US marshal in Kansas, built like a brick shithouse and a 9 Toughness to go along with it. He has a topnotch d12+2 Intimidation and d12+1 Fighting, but the rest of his stat block is overall average.
Ursula is the leader of the Cult of Worms. She is a crazed Black Magician with d12 Spirit and d12+1 Spellcasting, and most of her powers have a mixture of utility and direct combat such as armor, burrow, bolt, and stun. She has only a knife as a weapon and her Toughness is 5, making her very much a glass cannon.
Violet Esperanza is the leader of the Wichita Witches. She has a whip and no firearm as her weapon, but she focuses heavily on a broad variety of spells to make up for it: aim bolt, boost/lower trait, dispel, healing, invisibility, mind rider, and teleport make her a versatile mage.
Wodziwob is Wovoka’s grandfather and thus Tavibo’s father. He is an ancient Anasazi who possessed the bodies of one of Coronado’s conquistadors in order to gain immortality. Although being the beginner of the Ghost Dance Movement, he has little desire to involve himself directly, and given that everyone he knew is now long dead and forgotten he has a mean streak that makes it hard to win over friends and converts. Statwise he is a pure mage much like Jordrava, but has less powers and only a few of which are combat-focused.
Wovoka is our final NPC of this chapter, the face of the Ghost Dance Movement. He has a winning personality and is well-known across many Native American lands. Statwise he has very high attributes save for Strength (d6), has a whopping +6 Charisma, and role-wise is a pure mage rather than a fighter. He has many leadership edges, and he can access the Legendary ranked abilities of the Contact Spirit World and Shape Change powers.
Concluding Thoughts: The Last Sons leaves me with mixed feelings. What I like about this Plot Point Campaign is the backdrop of the Great Rail Wars, the diversity of Savage Tales, the multiple throwbacks to Deadlands Classic adventures, the large bestiary/rogues’ gallery which can used in a wide variety of other Deadlands campaigns, the nigh-necessary equipment expansion for the Agency and Texas Rangers, and the writer’s boldness in attempting to address racial tensions in a Native-centric adventure path. Even if I felt the execution could have been done better in regards to the last point, it is a lot more self-aware than Deadlands’ default approach to the issue in their other books.
What I did not like is that overall the Plot Point Campaign did not feel very...well, warlike. The main adventure was pretty much the party finding out, either by word or note, from an NPC to go somewhere and does too much telling over showing in that regard. The Ravenites felt too generic in their presentation and motives beyond that of “Indian baddies,” the Ghost Dance Movement was far too infrequent and distant a player in comparison to the Explorer’s Society/Twilight Legion of the Flood, General Custer being a red herring villain, and the discordant change from “Native Freedom PCs” to “assumed white and Union-friendly PCs” by the Plot Point’s second half makes this Plot Point feel like a shadow of what it could have been.
Our next Let’s Read will cover the following Plot Point Campaign, Stone and a Hard Place, where we duel at high noon with the Deathly Drifter Jasper Stone!