Five Feet High and Rising

By the Skin of Their Teeth, Part 1

There was a one month gap between our last session and this one, so I used the time to set up multiple stories within Denver, the posse’s destination. I had a few goals this time around. First, I wanted to create enough potential storylines to keep the posse occupied, so they wouldn’t be burning through the entirety of my prepared material in one session. Second, I wanted to give every character a pretty specific goal, at least initially, and to give every character something specific to do in at least one of the storylines. Third, I wanted to use the medium of the tabletop RPG to explore lingering, real consequences to their actions. This is not a video game, and in the coming adventure that should be very clear.

To those ends I took the liberty of describing the posse’s train ride, and sent a unique email to every player. A few members had horrible dreams, and a few had troubling encounters. Each email ended with similar paragraphs. This is the end of the email I sent to Benny the Preacher:

“The train’s whistle blows. Around you are the other three members of your party. The doc wakes with a start, his hand going to his stomach, and then to the flask in his breast pocket. Red’s eyes are bloodshot and ringed with black circles. It looks like he hasn’t slept a wink. Hooker needs a mighty shake before he wakes, and even then he is groggy, shielding his eyes from the sun’s slanting early rays.

You step out of the train onto the wooden planks of the station. Single file you trudge through the station house. Out on the street the others are startled almost as much by your blasphemy as the warehouse across the street.

‘God damn it,’ you say, when you see the ten foot high letters on the building opposite.

STRUAN’S.”

I started this session by showing the posse pictures of Denver circa 1870 to give them an idea of what it looks like. It’s a prosperous, growing city, not the equal of Chicago or even San Francisco at this time, but certainly the only place for hundreds of miles that can properly claim the title “city.”

Across the street, in the shadow of the warehouse is a booth not unlike a child’s lemonade stand, only this is larger and better constructed. A large red, white, and blue banner stretches across the top that reads “SOAP.”

Like puppies to a food tray the posse wanders over to it and catches the end of a sales pitch. “One of these bars has a prize inside!” the barker bellows. “One hundred dollars!”

Fans of Deadwood will remember this pitch. Two players who’d seen the show immediately knew the game was rigged, but even the other two thought this sounded fishy. While they deliberated what to do-confront the barker? Press on?-I pushed the issue. A man from the crowd crows that he’s found the prize, and the barker brings out a fresh batch.

The posse goes for the man, trying to pressure him to admit that he’s a patsy. (To what end I honestly don’t know.) They manage to read him well enough to see he’s a fraud, but he leaves the scene as soon as possible.

It was time for the posse to move on, so the barker starts packing up his kit. They take this as a sign and approach him, trying to shake him down. When things get physical (Hooker makes a play to grab the man’s ear), goons pop up and manage to run the posse off without anyone having to touch steel.

Their first stop is a nearby saloon, The Golden Corral, to gather information from the helpful bartender. He doesn’t know Gauge or his mechanical man Jonathan, but he does know the chapter house of the Gear and Crank, a collection of scientists, that’s on the southwest side of town, And he provides directions to the Red River Hotel, where Benny’s (long-dead) brother is supposedly staying, and Hooker’s very interested to get there as well.

The clerk at the hotel is a little on the slow side (a character tic born out of my scrambling for an answer to a question that caught me off guard), but he’s been told to be on the lookout for a preacher named Benjamin, and sends him up the stairs (Hooker’s inquiry after a young woman sadly comes up fruitless). When Benny bangs on the door, a rustling sends the others racing downstairs to “cover the window” in case the man jumps out. Very ingenious of them, but it was just the man getting out of bed.

He and Benny have a heartfelt reunion, but Phil cuts straight to the chase. He is in debt beyond measure: $40,000, all of it to a local loan shark, Jeff “Soapy” Smith. Benny pledges to talk to the man and see what he can do. To his companions he says, “So, my brother’s in debt, and you’ll never guess to whom.”

“Struan?”

“Gauge?”

“A guy named Soapy.” That answer produces very satisfying groans around the table.

Next they pop over to the White Horse Hotel, where they heard a peculiar Indian man known to wear a bowler hat who is of particular interest to Red is staying, but alas, the clerk there is a little tougher and will not allow his guests disturbed. Red leaves a note for a noon meeting (“High noon?” someone else asks. “Right,” Red says, “better make it 11.”), at the Golden Corral.

In the meantime the posse accompanies Doc Puddlefeather to the Gear and Crank. It’s housed in a thin, long free-standing building. They manage to bluff their way into the front room. It’s like the most boring doctor’s office ever. Chairs, a locked door to the west, a banker’s cage against the north wall, and two more locked doors behind that. The clerk disappears down the latter, and returns a moment later with Phineas Ira Gauge. The posse cheers. Gauge groans. “What the hell are you doing here?”

They tell him, and he’s struck by a certain whim (it sounds fishy, but I can’t recall the exact circumstances at the moment…). He points at the doctor. “You, come with me. There’s something I want to show you.” They disappear through the west door.

The remainder of the posse tries to again bluff, belittle, and badger their way through the cage, but the young clerk is having none of it, and all they do is piss him off. He is intrigued, though, by Hooker’s offer to, essentially, go get drunk and laid after church.

Upstairs Gauge leads Puddlefeather into an operating theater where a man is strapped to an operating table, struggling against his bonds, and screaming for help. As Puddlefeather watches, he is gassed and put to sleep.

Aaaand that’s where we had to leave it. We got a good deal of the setup for this adventure out of the way, but there’s still more to come.

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Zombiewski

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