Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Dragons: White, Black, & Blue

White Dragon :

A fat, sluggish, crocodilian beast with beady red eyes that burrow into your soul. It waddles along, quicker than it seems at first, a roiling fog of liquid nitrogen spilling from its jag-toothed mouth.
Its breathe shatters metal. The water in your eyes freezes, lacerating the soft flesh. Cold burns scour your body. Appendages turn black, stiff with frostbite. You will likely survive the initial agony. That's alright. It's patient. 

It will follow you, attacking where it can, watching you stumble as it tracks the heat of your body. It waits for you to collapse or be cornered. Once it eats, your flesh will sate it for a long while. 


Black Wyrm : 

Vitriol drips from its fangs, droplets of the limpid liquid smoking as it hits the ground.  
A long, serpentine shape, ropy muscles twisted together; small almost stubby arms and legs. Its scales glisten; sometimes black, sometimes iridescent green. Its head rears up suddenly as it snakes around boulder and tree trunk. Acid drips from its fangs. It is a swift creature and strikes from ambush, a misting spray of acid. It lunges immediately after, trusting in its maw to finish what the chemical burns didn't. 

Blue Dragon :

It arrives in a thunderclap that echoes across the open desert.
A figure of animate glass and fulgurite, its veins and organs are mapped out in coursing electricity and the odd enclave of flesh in the otherwise crystalline form. The air around it is tinged with ozone. It sees the electrical impulses firing in your nerves and hones in on them. Lighting arcing down from the sky alongside it to strike you, cooking you in an instant, then its upon you, snatching you up, cutting through your flesh with glass-knife teeth. Onlookers would be able to see the flesh forced down into its stomach through its transparent body.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Not False But Rather Outdated : Rumours

Rumours are a valuable, perhaps crucial, part of any sandbox game. The ideal means for players to passively gather information and learn about a region (or the setting more broadly). And ever since the first rumour table graced a module there have also been false rumours; the classic type being "bree-yark is goblin for surrender" found in Keep on the Borderland.

The pitfalls and potential use cases of false rumours have been written about before, but I'd like to add a variation to the table: the Outdated Rumour. 

Similar to having false information come from an obviously untrustworthy source, an outdated rumour banks on players knowing that the information is potentially unreliable. The fun of it thus lies in committing to the risk. For this reason, outdated rumours are best when players either cannot obtain more information or must pay a cost to.
A good example of this can be found in The Hobbit. When staying at Rivendell the dwarves—and Bilbo—act upon old information and avoid a pass subject to goblin brigandage in favor of a less used route. Of course, the goblins have also moved to this new pass.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Play Report - Empire of Texas, Session 5 & 6 - 6/12/24 & 6/19/24

"The Emperor of Texas has heard the plight of his allies across the desert. The Plague wracks them and empties out villages. From his riches he promises to provide medicine. The price is independence."
Players :

Halloween as… the Referee.

Cosmic as… Captain Kelly Branson of his Texan Majesty’s Imperial Army, ousted as leader, the last remnant of the expedition’s soldiery.

Jack as… Leandra, a mean, heavily armed, knife fighting convict.

The morning is overcast. The much diminished party awakens and prepares to set out westward once more. Kelly wakes to find he’s been stripped of all weapons save his revolver, he spends the day riding in the wagon with alongside the children and Steinmetz, wincing at every bump and mulling over the last few days. Leandra has taken charge, more or less, though she behaves with polite derision towards Kelly.

The expedition begins it’s climb out of the desert and into the Sheer Madre mountains, entering a long canyon cut between the peaks. They spend the day climbing and make camp that night, feasting on hardtack and roast lizard. As they sit around the fire a man steps out of the darkness, hails the party, and comes to sit down. He has big muttonchops and wears a wide brimmed hat. He does not give his name. The expedition members warily engage him in conversation, he asks what they’re doing heading west into a plague ridden, warlord ruled wasteland. Kelly, in a fit of rebellion against his degraded position, loftily declares that the expedition are emissaries sent by the Emperor of Texas to deliver certain gifts to his distant allies. The man inquires after the gifts and Kelly, realizing his mistake, detours to ask about the town on the other side of the pass they were told about. It’s been cleared out, the man says.

Leandra drags Kelly aside to talk to him. She wants to kill the man least he reveal their route and precious cargo to others. Kelly objects. An argument breaks out. Kelly yells that he’s no longer in charge so Leandra might as well do whatever she likes. He walks off, fuming, and sits in his tent counting bullets and supplies. In the end, Leandra softens and lets the man go. But paranoia plagues her and so she has the expedition march through the night, leaving everyone exhausted by daybreak.

They are deep in the mountains now, the cloudy sky hemmed in by walls of rock. Ester scouts ahead as the tired party navigates the narrow trail. Around noon she returns to report some interesting man made structures clinging to the mountainside, overlooking the trail, a ways ahead. Kelly takes the opportunity to curtly inform Leandra of their supply situation (eight days left). The party decides to detour off the trail so they can use the structures for a secure campsite.
The structures turn out to be some sort of bunker buried in the mountain slope. It’s built of old world concrete but a few newer wooden towers rise up around it. It seems uninhabited. Navigating the wagons up to it is difficult but they manage. Inside the bunker is all but empty save for empty tins and cans, some bunk beds, and some sort of locked office. After kicking the door in they find a complete set of maps, detailing the local area, as well as a case of functional walkie talkies. Kelly is all but ecstatic. The last time he saw a radio was back in the Imperial Heartland, he quickly distributes them to the party and shows everyone how to work them later that night. Esteban and Steinmetz are posted outside with the wagons and horses as sentry. Everyone else picks out one of the old bunks and settles in.

In the depth of the night the sleeping party is awakened by whinnying horses and the sound of wagons moving. Leandra all but leaps out of bed, grabbing her guns, and rushes for the bunker door. Kelly follows with his revolver. Leandra steps outdoors and can’t see a thing, it’s pitch black, but a bullet smacks into the doorframe and she backpedals into the bunker. Kelly drags Dolores and Ester out of their beds. Leandra, who’d retreated to one of the slit windows, sticks her assault rifle out and sprays automatic fire at the vague outline of the wagons. Kelly and Dolores rush out the door, seeing dark shapes moving as Leandra’s muzzle flash lights up the night. A wagon begins to roll away, racing down the trail, and Kelly drags Dolores after it. They both shoot. Kelly misses but Dolores thinks she hit something. A bullet flies through the slit and ricochets, grazing Leandra’s arm. Kelly, quickly assessing the situation, yells into the walkie talkie, telling Leandra to aim for the third wagon which is still crawling with rustlers. He returns to taking potshots at the fleeing wagon with Dolores. He misses again but Dolores, miraculously, hits the driver square on. The last man fails to keep control of the wagon and it overturns, rolling down the mountainside, dragging screaming horses with it.

What rustlers remain scatter. Ester, firing from the doorway, hits a retreating man. Then she and Leandra run out and convene with Kelly and Dolores. Esteban and Steinmetz are still missing. A bullet digs into the ground and Kelly shouts “Whose there?!” while Dolores dives for cover. A second shot hits Kelly and he topples. Leandra, who’d leapt to the ground by now, reloads her assault rifle. Tense silence. There is an hour to go till dawn. Horses cry out in pain. Ester goes to light a lamp but gets shouted down by Leandra. With the walkie talkie everyone checks in. Dolores drags Kelly behind cover and checks him over, he’s breathing. Leandra sprays some more bullets into the dark and then helps Dolores drag Kelly into the bunker when there is no response.

Time passes. As dawn breaks Dolores goes out to find Esteban, Ester goes with. They return with news. Eight dead rustlers lie scattered about, about the same number lie in varying states of injury. They’ve dragged in one with them and they throw him on the ground. A man with muttonchops. They tell everyone else that Esteban and Steinmetz are dead, throats cut. Leandra shoots the wounded man in the thigh and he dies there and then from shock.

They take the other seven wounded rustlers prisoner and drag them back into the bunker for interrogation. Leandra executes two of them before the rest spill. They’re from a settlement to the northwest they explain, it’d turned to banditry lately and their dead leader, Bill Halley (the muttonchops man), had decided to rob the expedition to alleviate their privations. They had no choice. Leandra tells them we understand and that we're good people too. The girls throw the prisoners, gagged and tied up, in the officers room and barricade it shut. Two of the kid’s who’d been in the bunker are gone, vanished in the night. Leaving a little boy and his sister. Dolores begins acting edgily around Leandra; scared.

The new day is overcast. Kelly regains consciousness, adding another scar to his growing collection. The party spends the morning looting the dead, collecting the horses, and recovering spilled and scattered supplies from the overturned wagon. Nearly half of the vials of amber fluid have shattered. Some food, water, and ammunition are irrecoverable. The chest of gold bars broke open and spilled over the mountainside, but most of it was found. In the end, they set out westward, leaving the prisoners to rot in the bunker.

The day passes uneventfully, save for tensions within the group. Near the day’s end they find a long crevasse and camp upon it’s edge. Dolores is tense, that night she fucks Ester in her tent while Leandra and Kelly sit up at the fire watched by the mute children. The boy staring and the little girl hiding her face in her brother's shoulder. The next day is hot, and the expedition passes out of the mountains and into the desert beyond. It’s true desert, orangish in hue and desolate save for distant peaks. Just dunes and baked earth. They pass the ruins of a burnt out town. Just outside a village’s worth of corpses have been pinned to a swathe of cacti. The carrion birds have not touched them. The expedition gives the ruins wide berth and walks out into the desert. They no longer have enough members for scouting, just plodding along. The desert embraces them like a midwife embracing a stillborn child. It is hot.

The next day is even worse, the sun scorches the earth and travel becomes arduous. The party is forced to alternate rest and riding. Around noon, while resting in the shade of their wagons, they spy a caravan crawling towards them from the west. A few guards ride out towards them and Leandra goes out to meet them while Kelly watches from afar through his field glasses. The caravan is a dozen strong, only five armed and look to be either merchants or migrants. Leandra learns that they are heading eastward in hopes of trade with the Empire of Texas. Leandra vaguely talks about the party having had to flee the region and makes the merchants rather suspicious of her but recovers by offering to trade ammunition or the maps of the Sheer Madre. Unfortunately, the caravan only has alcohol and tonics and the like. The two parts trade information and part ways.

By the day’s end the expedition has made barely any headway, the heat is brutal and their supplies diminishing. With the merchant’s information they know there is nothing near enough for them to reach with only three days of supplies left. The party decides that they can't penetrate the desert and that they’ll need to backtrack to the mountains and forage there

The following day, upon waking, the party discovers sets of footprints pacing out the edge of their camp and trailing off to the east. Ominous. The day is equally hot and going is equally slow as the last. They head eastward.

Day twenty four is a scorcher like the last, but the expedition makes it back to the crevasse and renters the mountains, from the south side of the canyon this time. As they are riding along the edge, watching buzzards soaring on the updrafts, Kelly sees something big, sinuous, and fast bounding across the rocks towards them. Before anyone can react it’s leaping right at Kelly and lands on his horse, clawing and gouging. The horse collapses and Kelly takes a tumble but controls it and pops right back up. The not-a-cougar is still tearing into the horse as everyone pulls their guns and shoots. Dolores hits it and its weird proboscis tail twitches and rears. Another salvo of lead gets pumped into it and Leandra splatters its brains. It writhes and shrivels up like a dead spider. The horse screams as it bleeds out uncontrollably. Kelly walks over and puts it out of its misery. Then he crouches down and examines the not-a-cougars corpse. After examining the proboscis he figures it's probably safe to eat the horse since it was just some sort of anticoagulant. The not cougar is some mutant blend of fish and lizard and cat. It’s got reflective scales.

They set an early camp in order too butcher the two dead animals. Kelly packs away the not-a-cougar’s pelt and Leandra tentatively tries the meat. It tastes like somewhere between fish, chicken, and almonds. Real weird. She doesn’t finish and they toss the remainder into the canyon.
The next day is hot and sunny and they climb back up into the mountains. The bunker seems like the best place to go, a secure spot they can hole up in while foraging. They arrive about midday, noting the crashed wagon still resting on the slope. Leandra dismounts and sneaks up the slope towards the bunker, keeping in touch with a walkie talkie. She creeps past the rotting corpses from the gunfight and hears whispered conversation inside the bunker. She relays this to Kelly and Dolores who dismount and get their revolvers out and creep up after Leandra.
They flank either side of the door, peek in through one of the slits. They hear what sounds like one of their former prisoners pleading with someone else whose voices are muffled. Clinking of gear. One of the muffled voices says they're going to go stand guard. Frantic debate. Kelly jumps the guy as he comes out, elbowing them in the side. Dolores wrestles his assault rifle out of his hands. He's about to pull a Bowie knife out only for Leandra to press her rifle against his neck underneath his weird visored helmet. The man is dressed in biker leathers has a smiley face pin insignia. His helmet looks almost like a modified welding visor decorated with screws. He turns out to be a surprisingly  good sport and does not resist, even shouting the all clear. He says his name's Donovan and tries to negotiate with Kelly and Leandra and Dolores.
Bounce, bounce, bounce. SMOKE GRENADE. From inside the bunker. Donovan tries to judo throw Kelly off him, Leandra shoots at air, Kelly manages to keep ahold off him and keep him pinned just barely. While choking and coughing Kelly tries to grab Donovan's knife but gets thrown onto some rocks and Kelly goes rolling down the hill, injuring his back, and is out of the fight. Dolores is spraying suppressing fire at the bunker entrance with her captured gun. Someone tries to pop out, blurring the fog, and Leandra shoots at them, missing. They miss too and retreat.

Donovan bum rushes Leandra from behind with his knife and gets her but she manages to turn it around and bash his face in and stab him with his own knife. Both go down. Dolores keeps up the covering fire but yells for parley. One of them shouts for Donovan, asking if he’s alright.  The spokesman is weirdly apologetic and doesn’t seem like he is sued to being in charge and thinks his boss will be upset with him, but tells the party to clear off because this is their gang’s territory now.The two sides hash out a deal to collect the wounded and break off. Dolores grabs Leandra by the collar and drags her clear. Ester sees Kelly roll down the slope and fetches him.

Kelly and Leandra are in bad condition but ain't dead. Kelly now has a permanent limp. The expedition flees northward into the mountains, and sets camp later that day, eating the last of their supplies. The next day is very hot, miserably so. The party crawls northward, dehydrated and and hungry. After slowly trekking for most of the day through the dry mountains three horses give out and riders with them. Dolores and Leandra faint, Kelly is lying injured and feverish in the wagon, leaving Ester to make an ad-hoc camp. Nothing to do but wait for night…


Four riders climb the crest of ridge. They are mounted and a string of horses laden with an ungodly amount of ammunition and weaponry trails behind them. They are sunburnt, haggard, and fierce. Below them, in a sheltered vale between the mans, is a verdant paradise. Lush and green. As they pass over the ridge and began their descendant, gunfire rings out. An ambuscade. The riders die one by one, bleeding out in the dust of the trail. After a while, a band of insular villagers emerges from behind the rocks and began picking over the corpses and searching saddlebags. One produces a brick of gold from out of a bag and holds it up to the sun quizzically. High above the vultures circle and bank, gliding along the length of the mountains.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Play Report - Empire of Texas, Session 4 - 6/3/24

"The Emperor of Texas has heard the plight of his allies across the desert. The Plague wracks them and empties out villages. From his riches he promises to provide medicine. The price is independence."

Players :
Halloween as… the Referee.
Cosmic as… Captain Kelly Branson of his Texan Majesty’s Imperial Army, a bookish officer with high aspirations.
Jack as… Chuck Dalton, a convict with a heart of gold.

Kelly and Merryweather ride into the wagon fort, swinging down from their horses and gathering Father Finch and Chuck for a huddled conference. They argue in hushed tones. After nearly exhausting their allotted time they manage to hash out a plan. A gunshot rings out across the desert. Time’s up. Before they leave Kelly orders the men to build a small, smokey, fire.

Kelly, Chuck, and Merry ride out to make a counteroffer to the Jackal. The expedition will return the “stolen” goods in total and will even surrender some supplies but will not give up any of their men or ammunition. If he wants the latter the Jackal will have to fight for it. And if he does, well, Kelly gestures to the wisp of smoke rising from the wagon fort, there won’t be much left to recover. We won’t simply roll over like dogs, is the gist of it.

Things are tense for a moment, then the Jackal laughs. He agrees to an exchange of hostages and supplies, meeting halfway between the two parties; unarmed. He’d like to conclude things with a firm handshake, face to face, man to man.

The negotiators ride back to the wagon fort and collect the goods. They return, Kelly and Merry mounted with Chuck and Marcus on foot hauling the box of gold. Kelly has a saddlebag filled with the drugs and he takes with him also a lit torch and a can of gasoline, just in case.

The two parties meet midway, with the rest of their bands standing back on the edge of rifle shot. Marcus and Chuck go forward first, depositing the box of gold. They retreat and the village children are released, running towards the expeditioneers in a panicked huddle. The Jackal does not yet release Simone. 

Kelly rides up, grimaces, and gets down from his horse taking the saddlebag with him. He tosses it at the Jackals feet and puts out his hand. The bald man smiles and grasps it firmly. He pulls Kelly towards him. A gleaming knife jumps into Kelly’s belly. Kelly smashes his torch down into the Jackal’s face. The latter falls down screaming and scattering sparks. Kelly stumbles back clutching at the wound in his side, knocking over the can of gasoline as he does.

The Jackal’s men get their guns unholstered first. One shoots at Merry but his gun misfires and his horse bucks sending the box of gold tumbling along with him. Two men shoot at Kelly and both miss, the bullets whizzing past like angry wasps. Marcus, who had been herding the village children, grunts as he is hit but stays standing.

Kelly, who dropped his torch, is backpedaling towards his horse and fumbling his pistol from its holster. Merry tries to shoot the man holding onto Simone, but he uses her as a shield and he accidentally nails her right in the head. Chuck and Marcus, shooting at the same man, miss also and sink two slugs into her already dead body. Both sides fully open fire now, the children have scattered screaming, the Jackal is rolling around on fire on the ground. The saddlebag of heroin and the spilled gasoline have ignited. One of the Jackal’s men goes down, shot by Kelly, and another drops nailed by Merry.

Everyone’s still firing, including the Jackal’s men further back and the expeditioneers back at the wagon fort. Kelly manages to hop on his horse but gets nailed by a shot from the automatic rifleman and goes down hard, slumping over his horses neck. Marcus is hit and goes down. Steinmetz, one of the riflemen back at the wagon fort, gets hit by a shot and goes down. One of the Jackal’s men tried to grab the box of gold and drag it to safety but gets nailed by a shot from the wagon fort.

Merryweather spurs his horse over to Kelly’s and drags the latter’s unconscious body onto his own steed and starts riding hard for the wagon fort. Chuck runs over and hops on Kelly’s abandoned horse and rides after them. One of the Jackal’s men is hiding behind a dead horse, the men who’d been guarding Simone is playing dead. The rest of the raiders, further back, are charging after the retreating Merry and Chuck.

The automatic rifleman–who had dropped down to the ground, all but disappearing–opens up and drops Merry who slumps like Kelly in the saddle. He shifts his target and brings Chuck down. Both the horses continue running wildly northward. Back at the wagon fort a rifle shot hits F. Finch who grunts and goes pale. The wagon fort riflemen manage to down two of the raiders in retribution.

The remaining combatants were far enough away from the chaos of the center that they keep their cool and keep firing. Of the expedition members, four remain standing; all back at the wagon fort, all convicts. They are: Dolores and Eseteban, a couple, Leandra the knife fighter, and Ester. 

The raiders split in two, riding around and past the wagon fort and northward out of rifle shot where they start to circle round. The wagon fort fighters take the moment to hunker down and assess things. Dolores rolls F. Finch over and finds him not dead but dying from a nasty, oozing, wound in the abdomen. The convicts argue about escaping versus holding out to the very end. A bullet from the automatic rifleman whizzes over head.

They decide to take the expeditions remaining horses, seventeen in total, and drive them out of the wagon fort in a panic, toward the automatic rifleman in hopes that the stampede will flush him out. For insurance they have Leandra, the most vocal escape advocate besides, ride with the herd hanging off the side of the saddle to avoid being seen.

The horses are driven out and go charging down the hill.

The automatic rifleman unloads on the horses, but only downs two in a tangle of limbs. From the wagon fort, Dolores spies the muzzle flash. She takes very careful aim, pulls the trigger, and his brains spatter over the desert grit. She leaps up hollering with delight, only to be dragged down again by Esteban.

Leandra rolls herself upright and begins corralling the horses then jumps down and wrestles the automatic rifle from the dead man’s hands. She retrieves a number of magazines from his body then stalks over to examine the burning remains of the failed exchange.

Back to the north the remaining raiders have stopped and are milling about examining the situation to the south. Their paymaster is dead, the lieutenant (automatic rifleman) is dead, several of their own number are dead. The wagon fort sits strong on the boulder hill. There is a small column of smoke coming up from the burning drugs. They are exhausted from riding through the night. So they quit. They turn their horses and ride away to the north. The expeditioners breath a weary sigh of relief.

Leandra dismounts and rolls Marcus over. Dead, a bullet through the heart. At the wagon fort Steinmetz is found alive, but in urgent need of medical attention. Unfortunately the expeditions surgeon is busy dying of a gut wound. Dolores rides out to retrieve the horses with Merry, Kelly, and Chuck. Both Chuck and Merry are dead, but Kelly is hanging onto life. She brings back to the wagon fort where Ester and Esteban are frantically and inexpertly trying to attend to the dying. In the end, F. Finch expires. Steinmetz was hit in the shoulder so Esteban digs out the dead surgeon’s bonesaw and crudely amputates it. Kelly, somehow, miraculously, stabilizes despite his wounds.

Leandra finds the Jackal, who’d crawled over to a cactus and propped himself up against it. Between his fingers is a failed attempt at rolling up a joint. He is staring up at the sun with his remaining eye, his face and body are horribly burnt and his breathe is a laboured wheeze. Leandra shoots him in hand. Then the knee. Again and again as she screams profanities and the afternoon sun slips past it’s climax. Eventually she takes the automatic pistol from out of his belt and stalks over to the box of gold and begins dragging it toward the wagon fort.

The afternoon passes and fades into night as the remnants of the expedition tend to the wound, collect the animals, loot bodies, and tally up their supplies. Leandra struts about with revolvers, knives, and an automatic pistol stuck in her belt; the automatic rifle slung over one shoulder and it’s magazines shoved into a bag hanging from the other. The convicts, for the one remaining soldier is Kelly who sleeps feverishly beside the fire, discuss what to do. The four village children sob softly...

Monday, May 27, 2024

Play Report - Empire of Texas, Session 3 - 5/22/24

De Lancey Gill - Street in the Pueblo of Oraibi, Tusayan, Arizona

"The Emperor of Texas has heard the plight of his allies across the desert. The Plague wracks them and empties out villages. From his riches he promises to provide medicine. The price is independence."

For the Referee side of things, see this blogpost over on the Underground Adventurer.

Players :
Halloween as… the Referee.
Cosmic as… Captain Kelly Branson of his Texan Majesty’s Imperial Army, a bookish officer with high aspirations.
Jack as… Chuck Dalton, recently recovered from horrendous head trauma and infection.

Kelly, Ignacio, Leandra, and Karl survey the scene. A circle of bullet riddled wagons, the corpses of men and horses. They dismount and begin poking around, disquieted by the scene. Ignacio climbs up into one of the wagons and finds its contents are untouched. Most of it is plastic packets of some fine white powder (it was heroin), in another wagon they find a crate of weed, and glory of glories wagon containing a stunning three hundred bars of gold. They look on in awe at the shining metal. Unfortunate that it’s not food. Quickly the expedition is called over and the loot transferred, packed away, and hid in the party’s own wagons. The night passes hungirly but warmed by the small fortune now in their possession.

Day eleven passes uneventfully and thirstily as they trek through the desert, pursued by buzzards. The men, while heartened by the loot, are wearing thin.

Day twelve and things are looking grim. The horses are near dead from exhaustion and the men parched, reduced to eating lizards and sucking on pebbles. But around midday Leandra comes riding back from ahead of the expedition, waving her hat in air and hollering. A town! A town! At first they think it a mirage, but it solidifies into the form of a decidedly real village of earthships and dome roofed pueblos. The expedition approaches cautiously, noting the furtive nature of the inhabitants (who wear pelts and seem not to have much in way of farmland, this being the desert) but meet with a small delegation sent out from the village. The woman at its head introduces herself as Simone Cassowary, she is tall and muscular and wears jewelry adorned dreadlocks. The villagers welcome trade but forbid the expedition from coming into town, save to fill their canteens at the well. Nodding, Chuck, Kelly, and F. Finch divest themselves of weapons and indicate for the men to do the same and troop into the village one at a time.

Negotiations go well, aided in part by a gift of hash–promptly smoked–and Kelly trades the looted old world clothes, three revolvers, eighteen rounds, a horse, and half the crate of looted hash for two hundred and ten days worth of food and water. As well, they get the lay of the land, learning about an oasis at a line of cliffs straight west, and a boulder to the northwest they should keep south of if they want to hit the mountain passes. They learn also of a town to the south the villagers have been out of contact with and a crag to the north that has opened with gunfire from a great distance at passing caravans, and some other tidbits like this. The expedition passes the night on the outskirts of the village and departs the next morning.

Day thirteen was cloudy. The expedition passed over empty desert, keeping westward still. Day fourteen was much of the same, though they saw in the distance lonely bits of broken concrete jutting out of the dry earth. The horses were eating through a lot of supplies and a lot of water, worrying Kelly, but so far all was good.

Day fifteen was overcast, early that morning the party arrived at the series of cliffs about which they’d been told. It takes the better part of the day to descend but they find, at the cliff base, a waterfall burbling out of the rock and into a green fringed pool; an oasis in the dry lands. The expedition quickly sets camp and spends their time fishing and collecting forage and filling their canteens and splashing about enjoying this respite. Around dinnertime Leandra comes back to camp to tell Kelly and Chuck about a cabin she’d found to the north. The three ride out to investigate, finding the cabin atop a hill.

They all dismount and Kelly has Chuck creep up to peer in a window. He does, but as he goes to peek a rifle barrel pokes out! A man starts yelling from inside and demands Chuck identify himself. Down the hill, Kelly and Leandra throw themselves flat. Chuck identifies himself as a soldier of Imperial Texas which the man takes poorly, ranting about empire’s bringing doom to the world. Chuck complies with a demand to disarm himself and, after some shouted exchange between Kelly and the cabin dweller, they decide to fuck off and leave the man alone. Back at the camp they post extra sentries and sleep the night away.

Day sixteen the expedition rides westward, scouting northwest for the boulder they were told about as they go. The day passes mostly without event but in the evening as they began to look for a campsite one of the scouts, Esteban, comes riding up from behind to report a dust cloud due east and closing. Kelly rides back and peers at it through his field glasses. He counts around twelve riders. The party is nervous and confers. After much debate they decide to ride through the night to reach the boulder Leandra spotted to the north, which should serve as fortifiable highground. The men break out their rations early, munching dried meat as their horses ride on through the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon.

The next morning, amid the heat, the exhausted expedition arrives at the boulder perched atop a twisty, rocky highground. Really it’s more of a hill, but either way it serves their purposes. They climb to the top and use the steep slopes as a backstop for a U shaped wagon fort, putting the horses inside and setting up with their rifles. The dust cloud of their pursuers is upon the horizon, they too have ridden all night.

Despite Chuck’s objections Kelly decides to take Merryweather and ride out a good distance to wait for the approaching riders and parley. He ties a white flag to his lance for the purpose. While waiting a distance from the wagon fort Kelly examines the riders through his field glasses. Closer now, he counts fifteen men on horseback. They wear khakis and buckskins and tote rifles. He sucks in his breathe. Sitting before each rider in the saddle is a gagged child. Sweeping his glasses along the approaching line, Kelly spies Simone, the leader of the village through which they passed, seemingly unconscious and bloodied, tied up and draped over the back of one horse. One of the riders has a very long and very old looking rifle, light gleams of its scope.

The pursuers slow down and dismount about 300 meters away. Kelly watches as the rider with Simone throws her to the ground. He is bald and pink as a newborn baby; stuck in his belt is an ancient automatic pistol. He rests one boot on Simone’s neck and beckons Kelly closer.

The Captain complies, riding just close enough to hear the bald man’s proclamation. He, the bald man, says that the expedition has taken something that belonged to colleague’s of his, something they are anxious to get back. He says that he razed Simone’s village. He demands the taken items, as well as all of the expeditions food and ammunition in compensation for the trouble and disrespect towards the Lord of the Desert.

Kelly says he needs to discuss this with his superiors. The bald man gives him ten minutes. Slowly Kelly rides back to Merryweather, then the two ride breakneck back to the wagon fort, desperation in their hearts…

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Play Report - Empire of Texas, Session 2 - 5/17/24

"The Emperor of Texas has heard the plight of his allies across the desert. The Plague wracks them and empties out villages. From his riches he promises to provide medicine. The price is independence."

For the Referee side of things, see this blogpost over on the Underground Adventurer.

Players :
Halloween as… the Referee.
Cosmic as… Captain Kelly Branson of his Texan Majesty’s Imperial Army, a bookish officer with high aspirations.
Jack as… Ignacio Marquez, a hardhearted convict; formerly as Chuck Dalton, currently indisposed due to his injuries.

Chuck Dalton survived the night despite his injuries, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Father Finch, but his cracked skull gained a bad infection. The next morning, as the expedition quickly packed its bags and got the hell out of the now hostile village of Tula, he was packed away like so much cargo in the back of one of the wagons to rest.

The sky was overcast and as soon as the party had left town the clouds split open in a deluge like downpour, turning the track to mud. Everyone took the opportunity to fill their canteens, but the general mood was dour and glum. That evening, after a days travel westward, the expedition halted at an abandoned grain silo and camped there as the rain began to abate. That night, Ignacio, still smarting from his fight with Chuck, silently crept over to the latter's sleeping roll with a knife in hand. Before he could do the deed however, another convict awoke and he quickly feigned checking Chuck’s bandages.

The next day was overcast and Chuck’s infection had taken a turn for the worse. The expedition struck out westward across the fading plains and travelled till about midday when one of the convict scouts, Karl, brought Captain Kelly a report of a small party to the south. Kelly quickly collected Merryweather and Ignacio then rode with Karl in the lead to a small gully where a band of men where picking through a broken down wagon. Four men standing guard with rifles while otherwise hauled out crates and cracked them open. Through his field glasses Kelly spied fine looking fabrics. Some kind of argument broke out below, but Kelly felt content to leave the strangers alone. His comrades did not agree, arguing that the expedition needed trade goods and that it was well within their rights as Texan soldiery to seize what they needed. Kelly sighed, but agreed. Besides it would make for a chance to test the men in battle.

Quickly they rode back to the wagons, leaving Karl to keep watch, and collected seven men (leaving behind F. Finch, the injured Chuck, and two convicts to keep guard) then rode back to the gully.

The plan was this. The three soldiers–Kelly, Solomon, and Merryweather–would take up a position ont he high ground above the gully, where they already were, and open up with rifle fire on the wagoners below. The convicts on horseback would circle around and descend into the gully then come charging into the wagoners side with their lances while the latter were distracted. Kelly placed Ignacio in command of the charge.

The convicts saddled up and road out while the soldiers unholstered their rifles and bellycrawled up to the edge of the wide gully.

The first salvo hit two of the wagoners, injuring one who jumped behind cover and dropping another. Solomon’s shot went wide, making him curse. The wagoners respond rapidly, six rifles opening up. Most of the shots go wide, whizzing overhead like wasps or sending up gouts of dirt. However two hit their target and Solomon suddenly slumped forward with a grunt.

Before either party can reload, a fierce yell rings out and down the gully come the charging convicts, their lances leveled. The wagoners frantically turn and start taking shots but the horsemen are quickly upon them and all is chaos. Ignacio spears a man. Jessica takes a slug a falls from her horse. Dolores receives a wound but gouges a chunk out of a wagoners skull in return. Esteban likewise. Ester too. Suddenly its all over, the wagoners morale breaks for there is only one man left standing, or rather crawling, beneath the wagon. He pleads for surrender.

Back up on the gully rim, Merryweather and Kelly have rushed over to Solomon and turned him over revealing the bullet wound in his scalp and throat. Blood bubbles out as he tries to breath. Kelly hugs him close and the soldier dies in his captains arms.

Down below, the convicts are dismounting, checking themselves over, and accounting for the dead and wounded. Igancio in a fit of rage grabs the surrendering wagoner by the hair  (to scalp him?) and drags them out from his hiding space only for the man to get the better of him, the two scuffle and roll apart each with new knife wounds. Kelly is running down the gully side yelling about clemency, but it’s too late.

The wagoners are all dead or dying. They are not given medical attention. Jessica (who it turns out is dead) and Solomon’s bodies are loaded up on horses along with the looted weapons, ammunition, and miscellaneous kit from the dead wagoners. The crates are opened up, they contain expensive old world clothing: denims, sneakers, tough boots. Those too are loaded up, but as the convicts go to drag the crates out from within the broken wagon they cry out. Within is the bloated, rotting corpse of a man. A man struck by plague. Crossing themselves and making warding signs, the expedition quickly departs, taking the wagoners two horses with them and leaving the rest for buzzard food.

The expedition makes camp that night, the wounded are tended to and the dead buried. F. Finch is kept busy with surgeries while Kelly makes an account of supplies expended and gained. While examining the looted rifles he notes the makers mark, which reveal that they come from “Machine” a long standing armoury town recently annexed into the empire. Trade rifles and trade bullets, exported by imperial traders, which went on to kill imperial soldiers. He shakes his head in disgust. Later he distributes an extra revolver to each of the men and issues a rifle for each of the convicts.

The next day is dreary, still overcast, with blackbirds calling as the expedition awake and break camp. They head westward for the Dirt Snake, leaving behind two graves and a bloodied, buzzard circled killing field. Chuck’s condition worsens. The day passes uneventfully and in the evening they come upon the Dirt Snake, a sort of dried riverbed, like a great big canyon cutting its way through the shrubland. The party makes camp on the chasm edge.

The next morning is misty, the bottom of the Dirt Snake hidden under a sea of grey. The expedition spends the morning descending into the canyon, on foot, leading horse and wagon. Chuck seems to be doing better, he is sitting up and talking. At the bottom they find a chaos of mud, ruck, and rusted metal junk. There is no obvious place of ascent for the opposite side and by the time night comes the party is forced to make camp in the canyon bottom. Kelly worries over their dwindling food supplies.

The day breaks hot and bright, burning away what remained of the mists. The expedition winds its way along the canyon searching for a route up the otherside. Chuck, who seemed to be doing so much better, is bed ridden and feverish. As the party is picking their way along, maneuvering the wagons through the jumbled rock and mud, they suddenly hear low bellowing echo down the chasm. Mud and flying dust, a pack of six mangy not-exactly cows, toothy goat-bulls, charging towards the expedition. The horses began to panic. Kelly quickly whips together a firing line, taking up position behind the wagons, and nine rifles open fire. Only three shots hit, downing the same number of bulls, the rest miss or bury themselves in impenetrable flesh. Quickly the men work the levers of their rifles. The second salvo downs another two bulls, leaving one left who crashes through the wagons, gunning for one of the convicts: Leandra. With shocking calmness, she drops her rifle and pulls out her big knife and before you can blink she has grabbed the charging bull by its horns, swinging deftly up around and onto its back. She plunges her knife blade into its brain and the bull topples, coming to a skidding halt with Leandra atop it, unharmed. Everyone gapes.

F. Finch is of the opinion that the mutant bulls are probably edible if thoroughly cooked, Kelly, eyeing the nearly exhausted rations, orders them butchered along with three of the spare horses. Most of the afternoon is spent at the task and the party makes camp in the canyon bottom once more, feasting on black roasted bull and chewy horseflesh.

Day nine is overcast and the expedition is still in the damn Dirt Snake, Fortunately, they manage to climb up and out of the west side of the canyon that morning. The vegetation is sparser here, as the shrubland slowly fades into desert. Chuck is stabilized and everyone wounded in the skirmish has healed up. The day is spent in uneventful travel, though all are acutely aware of how desperately low their food supplies are. Kelly sends Leandra out to scout the southwest but she comes back with nothing to report but barren plains. That night the expedition camp in the open grasses and eats through the last of their supplies. Three horses go without feed or drink so that the men can eat.

Day ten is hot, the baking sun high overhead, and the party heads westward with empty, protesting bellies over dirt and dry grass. The day passes by. As they are setting camp in the evening and ignoring the gnawing in their bellies, Leandra returns from scouting out the north. She brings Kelly to the corpse of a deer, its rib cage torn open and viscera spread across the ground, and points out a thin wavering column of smoke further north. Kelly, Ignacio, Leandra, and Karl mount up and ride out towards the smoke in hopes of a little hunting at least.

What they find is a circle of burnt out wagons, the wagoners scattered about; dead and clutching weapons in their stiff hands...

Friday, May 17, 2024

Play Report - Empire of Texas, Session 1 - 5/12/24

Art by Me

"The Emperor of Texas has heard the plight of his allies across the desert. The Plague wracks them and empties out villages. From his riches he promises to provide medicine. The price is independence."

For the Referee side of things, see this blogpost over on the Underground Adventurer.

Players :
Halloween as… the Referee.
Cosmic as… Captain Kelly Branson of his Texan Majesty’s Imperial Army, a bookish officer with high aspirations.
Jack as… Chuck Dalton, a convict with a heart of gold and big dreams.

--- (tw mention of sexual assault and violence)

We set out scene within the walled confines of Fort Tonio upon the Empire’s western frontier. Captain Kelly Branson has arrived to this distant and dusty outpost in order to take charge of an expedition to aid his Majesty’s allies in the far west. He is gruffly received by a certain Captain Butler, commandant of the fort, who signs over the equipment and convicts to be used in the undertaking. Kelly promptly has the prisoners, now his men, unshackled and gives them an impromptu speech on the nobility of their mission and the grace which they have just received from the royal hand. He confers with his new officers, setting one of them, Solomon, to work seeing if he can procure but a little more ammunition for the expedition. They will set out at first light the following morning. Then Kelly repairs to the officers mess to dine with his fellow captain.

Meanwhile, Chuck Dalton stands in the yard, newly freed of his manacles, still massaging his wrists. He is overjoyed to be participating in something for the Greater Good. The other convicts are wandering about and mingling, watched by the wary eyes of the fort’s guards. Two convicts start to argue, escalating into a fight, and Chuck, seeing a chance to be the “hero”, wades in. Moments later one Ignacio Marquez lies bleeding, his face mashed to a pulp under Chuck’s fists. The other convicts eye Dalton warily. Behind a dirty window pane Kelly and Butler watch the brawl and sip wine from old world plasticware.

The next morning the expedition woke at the crack and readied the wagons and steeds in a hurried way. Solomon had managed to arrange with the quartermaster for a few extra rounds of ammunition to be packed in. Before leaving Kelly had the convicts line up and, one by one, distributed the revolvers, ammunition, and lances. With the sun cresting the horizon the party rode out and into the scrub. Midmorning, with the fort still almost in view and everyone settling in, Kelly distributed a bit of chocolate to the men, who quickly ate it before it melted in their fingers. The sun overhead was hot.

The day passed without event, moving westward at a steady pace over hilly shrubland. Come nightfall the expedition camped on the plains under the brilliant stars. It was then that the sentry spied a distant fire and two riders approaching camp.

Kelly woke the other soldiers, then Chuck–telling him to quietly wake the other convicts–and crept out towards the riders making sure to keep low in the scrub so that they were not silhouette against the fire. Kelly cried who goes there and the riders identified themselves as fellow Imperial Texan soldiers, a scouting party ambushed with a wounded member over yonder in their own camp.

Still wary of deception, Kelly took Finch, Merry, Chuck, and two other convicts along with him as he followed the rider back to their camp. There they found eight other ragged soldiers and in a tent their commanding officer suffering from a festering chest wound. Father Finch got to work but could get no further without valuable medical supplies. Kelly took aside the scouting party’s lieutenant and explained the situation to them, telling him that the expedition couldn’t part with their supplies without something to make up for it. The man nodded, understandingly, and scrounged up a jerrycan of gasoline. Finch got to work and by morning the wounded man was stabilized. The two parties parted ways, amicably, wishing each other luck.

The second day proved overcast and muggy. The expedition continued their route westward and around noon caught up with a small caravan of traders also heading west. The traders were protected by nine rifle armed guards and were hauling ammunition with plans to swap it for pelts and feel out opportunities for profit among the hunters of the south. Both expeditions were heading for Tula, and so joined up. The day passed by. While riding Chuck got to know some of his fellow convicts better.

The next morning proved overcast, but drier than the preceding day, and the joined-expeditions arrived shortly in Tula. The town proved to be little more than a collection of mudbrick homes in the shadow of a church belfry but the locales were friendly enough, if aloof and cautious. All the woman kept their hair hidden. Kelly met with the town’s leader, a certain Moonib (Muneb?) he grants them hospitality wit ha few words of warning about the town’s pacifistic ways.  After some haggling, which Kelly got the worst of, the expedition parted with three horses in exchange for a hundred days worth of supplies. Kelly promised to attend mass that evening with the townsfolk and vouched for the conduct of his men. The expedition encamped in the shade of the houses and got to work helping with various small chores and tasks.

Kelly conferred with his men, inviting Chuck into the little circle to. Father Finch expressed discomfort with interior of the church where all images of Lord Jesus Christ had been effaced. Idolators, he concluded. Opinions were mixed on the best route but eventually a southwestern route, heading straight for the nearest crossing of the Dirt Snake was decided upon. The little conference split apart.

That night, after attending a long and boring mass, the expedition members joined in a sumptuous feast of venison stew and old wines from the north. But as everyone tucked in, a murmur arose. One of the congregation, a woman named Sister Jessica, was missing. The expedition realized that one of their own number, a convict called One Eyed Donny, was gone as well. A sinking feeling settled into Kelly’s stomach. Dinner broke apart, what few of the traders had attended the feast split for their own camp.

One of the convicts told Chuck that they’d seen Donny following Sister Jessica out towards the well, quickly he whispered this to Kelly who dispatched Finch and Merry (along with Chuck) to investigate while telling Soloman to gather some of the convicts and began, quietly, getting the horses ready. He himself would follow Moonib and his mob.

The convict and the two soldiers crept out towards the well, finding an abandoned scarf. Expecting the worst, they found it, in the form of Sister Jessica’s body and crouching next to her, his pants round his ankles and a blood stained rock in hand, One Eyed Donny.

Chuck immediately draws his gun, a tense moment, then Donny goes for his gunbelt. A chaotic few moments and then Chuck is on the ground being beaten by Donny when the two soldiers (who had fallen behind) shoot, one missing and one hitting, Donny begins to stagger away and they gun him down.

Chuck, lying there with his face bashed in, looked up and saw the concerned face of F. Finch and beyond it the stars. He passes out.