Back on Track
In the kitchen stood a woman with clockwork for a face, legs that ended in a point connected to a series of brass tracks that crisscrossed the kitchen’s floor and went into the rooms beyond. She held up a tray of food. “Dinner?”
The posse began grilling the poor Automaid (as I called her in my notes) right away, asking after Pig Iron. Given that this was not actually the name of her creator (duh duh duhhh!), she had no idea who they were talking about. Whoever the creator was, she now mistook Hooker for that person, and when asked about the key to the locked door downstairs, she happily pulled it out of her apron pocket and handed it over.
This was a big hint to my players for the rest of the adventure, and it’s one they took to heart: sometimes the best way through a situation is not to bash something with your axe.
Anxious to see what was behind the door the posse decided not to explore the rest of the house at that moment (which left me thinking, “You sure? There’s some neat stuff up in the—oh, never mind”), and barreled down to the root cellar, and beyond the metal door.
A single naked bulb illuminated a small ante chamber with earthen walls and a wooden door. A coat rack stood beside the door, upon which hung a stained white lab coat, a butcher’s apron, and dirty rubber boots. (Foreshadowing!)
Into the next room they plunged. Two Constructs (my word for steampunk cyborgs, basically) stood over a body on an operating table. The posse drew their weapons and told the Constructs to back away, which is not something the mechanical men particularly wanted to hear, especially after the preacher mentioned Struan’s name, and with that we entered combat.
…but not for long, as Hooker and the preacher managed to knock the two Constructs out. What the Lord taketh away the Lord can giveth right back; the preacher revived one of the Constructs to question it. The Construct rejected any notion that it was an artificial being, insisting he was as his Creator made him. When asked who that Creator was, I could see the players leaning forward in anticipation. Aw yeah, here comes the big reveal.
“My Creator is the Lord Jesus Christ, as he is yours.”
Everyone looked a little crestfallen, but then Jesse lit up. “He believes in Christ? Can I make some sort of preachin’ roll?” Not only could he, but Benny nailed it, completely winning the Construct to the posse’s side, so convinced was he of Benny’s proximity to the Lord. He told the posse of the Church further in the complex, and as much as he knew—this Construct was obviously more advanced than the Automaid, but only just—about his creator, a man named Mr. Gauge.
Gauge, he said, was an enemy of Struan’s, although they had once been partners of a kind. Struan was a supremely evil man who killed people, and it was Gauge’s penance that led him to take the corpses to this lab where they could hopefully be resurrected and returned to the bosom of the Lord. The specimen on the table was almost ready for Mr. Gauge. The Doc reopened sutures on the chest to reveal a cavity that was empty but for a crude metal rib cage, and a desiccated heart wrapped in twine. The Construct could not describe what the twine was for, repeating only, “That is Mr. Gauge’s department.”
The Construct agreed to alert the posse to anyone trying to get into the lab, even Gauge, and to stop anyone short of him. Benny revived the other Construct, and the group moved through the door opposite the one through which they’d entered. In the next small circular room they encountered two more Constructs standing guard with shotguns, and doors to the south, east and west. Figuring these two were also God-fearing, Benny preached to them, just barely convincing them. They were sure he meant to harm, and allowed him and his friends to go through.
The door to the west led to an underground river. On the ground nearby were a metal stake with a frayed rope tied to it, its end dangling in the water, and a set of railroad tracks that led from the water to a railroad stop. Two dead Constructs lay nearby.
The south room held roughly two score “barrels”, metal cylinders that resembled tall oil barrels with the fronts cut out and a mass of electronics and mechanics in the back. A series of brass tracks, identical to the one upstairs in the kitchen, ran from each barrel to a smaller half-barrel in a corner of the room, near a large control panel with buttons and dials, and an oh-so-tempting ON/OFF switch. Once again surprising me, no one flipped the switch.
Past the western door a long tunnel led to a large, open cavern. Just when the bend in the tunnel straightened out so the posse could see the candlelight coming from the open space, they heard a strange series of sounds. Ringing metal, a scream, the sound of compressed air, and then too-perfect chanting, all on a loop.
Weapons holstered (!) they walked into the room. Pews on the right, mostly full with Constructs, some with completely metallic faces, some with skin, the rest a mixture. On the right a giant mechanical crucifix, flanked by two Construct Roman soldiers. When the chanting stopped they would turn and pound nails into the hands of the Robo-Christ, who would scream and fall limp. With a psshh the nails popped out, Robo-Christ opened his eyes, and the chanting began again. In front of the crucifix on an altar lay a young woman in her Sunday best, apparently sleeping.
Benny knelt down beside the front row to speak with a parishioner, who noted Benny’s collar. After a few questions he decided he had enough and stood before the whole congregation…and through the most incredible series of rolls managed to convince everyone that a) Gauge was trapped in a cave in and could not come for a while, b) they needed to head back to the barrels to recharge, and c) the posse would take the girl back to her father.
(After the session was over I was asked what would have happened if they’d gone in and tried to take the girl by force. “You would’ve had 15 to 20 guns on you within a round.”)
They left the girl there for now and went straight for the train (finally), a good two hour ride north of town.
Just as Ol’ Ron described, a cherry red caboose sticking out amongst a pile of rubble, its door dangling off its hinges. Three more dead Constructs on the ground. Skin-types, though the skin was bleached where it hadn’t rotted off the skull. To the left of the tunnel entrance was a mound of human feces in an alluvial fan, headed away from the mouth of the cave. Doc Puddlefeather was inordinately interested in the feces, blanching behind his handkerchief.
Despite being eerie, there was nothing remarkable about the caboose. The next car, though, was crawling with zombies, which the posse dismissed handily. This put a bit of a kink in my plans. I had designed a series of escalating zombie fights, but they proved to be no match for the posse, and frankly it was already pretty late and I wanted to get a move on. So I truncated the number of cars, but I didn’t want them to get off too easy.
Beyond the passenger car was nothing but wreckage in the tunnel. And yet, a light shone up ahead, from a train car that was still upright, on the tracks. Shadows crossed the windows. “Pig Iron!” the posse told themselves…a bit too loudly. Pretty much everyone failed their sneak rolls, and the men from car had them almost surrounded. Could it be? Blood on the tracks and dead PCs already?
No. The posse wanted to parlay. Red stepped to the front and threw down some amazing persuasion rolls. Not enough to get the strangers to drop their weapons, but enough to get them to reveal that they, too, had been sent by Struan after Pig Iron. But they were magnanimous folk: they let our heroes live in exchange if they’d go ahead and “soften up” Pig Iron.
This whole section was unscripted, and as the Marshall I was really excited and anxious about it. It was the type of on-the-fly storytelling that’s just not possible with a boardgame-based RPG. And it seemed like the posse was buying it. (Did no one wonder how the new guys got through the zombies unscathed?)
The whole reason I’d put the strangers in was to give the posse opponents who would duck and dive and do things zombies wouldn’t do (four of us had gotten together to do the Dime Novel, The Forbidden God, which had been chock full of wussy zombies), and then they go and talk to the bastards.
So, back on track (heh). A train car had been lifted completely off the tracks and set down to the side, against the wall of the tunnel. Just beyond was the engine. Hooker and Red scaled the car against the side, but Hooker fails his sneak roll. There’s a mechanical whirring, and the sound of a cocking shotgun. They can see over the edge, though, and see what looks like a walking Franklin stove with a Gatling gun for one hand and a steel pincer for the other. A man crouched down in the doorway to the engine and called out, “Stay close, Jonathon!”
Jonathon was another spur of the moment decision. I’d always intended Gauge to have a large automaton body guard, but it was always called P.I.G. Iron in my notes, but I had to change his name as several times I had slipped and said that Pig Iron was human. Still, no one ever called me on the fact that I’d had Struan say Pig Iron was a “mountain of a man.” I had some good excuses ready, honest.
The two left on the ground start inching forward, trying to distract Jonathon. Combat started, but it was over quickly, as the two on top of the car dropped down, ran to the engine, managed to avoid a shotgun blast, and disarmed Gauge. Holding the mad scientist at gun point they had him call off his bodyguard, which he did. After a brief exchange both sides realized they were really on the same side, Gauge being chased by Struan, and the posse having been manipulated into the chase. The posse even struck a bargain that allowed Gauge to keep the plans he had “stolen,” but he told them where they could get some blueprint paper in his house to draw up false ones to deliver to Struan.
On the way outside they prepped for an ambush from the strangers that was not to be; the only sign of the strangers’ existence were piles of bloody goop by the track. Luckily for me it was really late by this point, and they didn’t investigate. (Lucky because I had nothing planned for this and had been frantically looking up monster stats in case they decided to go off into the woods.)
Struan was in his office and accepted the plans; the fake plans had worked. He turned over the money promised and plans for an invention of his own to Doc Puddlefeather. I was all ready to pass out the reward Fate Chips and roll up the maps when the posse decided they wanted answers. They marched back into Struan’s office where he sat hunched over the map, fingering a locket.
Words were had, but once someone’s hand touched steel Struan whistled, summoning some goons.
The combat was intentionally stacked against the posse. The goons were armed to the teeth, and a sniper was positioned outside with a sweeping command of the room. What I didn’t count on was yet another ridiculous series of rolls wherein the preacher dropped half the goons by himself in a single round, Red dashed for a curious statue on Struan’s desk, and Hooker punched in a dude’s head.
The sheriff showed up, just in time to see Red standing over Struan’s bullet-riddled corpse, and one guy whose head looks like chum. Benny manages to wriggle them out of it with a mixture of tale-tellin’ and the honest-to-God truth. The sheriff lets ‘em go, with a warning to never set foot in Patience again.
Odds and Ends
-I was constantly surprised by the course the players took. Preaching to the Constructs in the Church was great, killing my recurring villain was not. I could have fudged the rolls, but I decided this was going to bite them in the ass. Recurring villain or not, they’d just killed a man in cold blood. A rich man.
-The Focus Bell. We’d played Pit earlier and repurposed the bell as a way to pause the game and shut people up.