Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Familiar Territory

Yet another post about my current Deadlands campaign.

Given my druthers, I'd have been happy to have the answer to "Where is Shallow Gulch?" be answered with no greater level of detail than "In the (Weird) Wild West". After all, when you watch a bunch of westerns, you realize one town is pretty much like another. If a western isn't in Deadwood or Tombstone, it's set in Generic Western Town #187. And that's just fine with me.

One of my players, however, appeared to need more detail than that in order to enable willing suspension of disbelief. During character creation and the first session, he kept asking questions about where Shallow Gulch was, what the nearest big city or army post was, etc. I tried to dodge such questions at first, but it would have been a mistake to ignore his repeated requests for verisimilitude, especially in a game with a chase plotline where knowing the terrain ahead can be beneficial. So, Shallow Gulch was placed in the Dakota Territory, rather West of Fargo. Cobb's trail was leading into Indian Territory.

Somewhere along the way, a card got played (by a player) that turned an old Indian burial site into some sort of spatial portal. Cobbs trail lead into it, and following in his wake meant the PCs didn't lose the time the NPCs had spent cracking open the gate. It being a magical portal, I wanted things to feel like they'd gone a good distance, which meant environmental changes. That left 3 options. We could leave the Wild West completely. We could end up at the shore, still within the Wild West, but now in California or the like. Or we could end up in the desert of the American Southwest.

So I start describing cactus and hot sun, 'cause I know that kind of terrain better than California, and because I didn't want to stop the game while I read up on what The Big One did to Cali in the official setting. I'm relying on visual cues from the area around Albuquerque, 'cause I used to live there and can improvise it well enough.

Players see Cobb from a distance, a card gets played that makes him mistake them for someone else and set up a parley. Two sessions ago, that's where we ended. The next scene was pregnant with possibility. There was a good chance a fight would happen, and a very good chance that fight would result in one or more players needing new characters. Which meant I needed to be prepared for how they'd draft new PCs. The existing ones lacked the money to hire mercenaries. They were chasing after death himself, which takes a particular breed of character to do. I didn't want to just wreck another town to make more embittered survivors. So I needed a place where fearless monster-hunters would logically congregate.

Conveniently, I'd just described visuals based off Albuquerque, and I used to run a LARP set in Albuquerque over a 60 year arc (from 20 years before to 40 years after the Deadlands era). A version of Albuquerque frequented by monsters and monster hunters. Familiarity with that Alb on the part of 4 out 5 players meant if things went badly, they'd be able to easily whip up replacement characters with established backgrounds by just referencing the old campaign. No need to pull my punches when Cobb regrows his body and round two of the showdown starts up. The benefits go beyond that...

When Sapphirra Cobb's last words were "the Clock Tower might be able to stop him" my players didn't stand around scratching their heads. They knew that old LARP had a creepy magic Clock Tower (which the real Albuquerque lacks) that was known for sucking souls, entrapping ghosts, harboring a torpored Salubri Methuselah, etc. Instant recognition, even though they'd only ridden through the tower's shadow but briefly in Deadlands.

Likewise, they knew the names Jean Luc Martell and Cristos D'Anconia. Both bore the same weight as if I'd told them "On behalf of Lord Dracula, Mayor Renfield welcomes you to Albuquerque, affectionately known as Little-Transylvania-On-The-Rio-Grande".

Things were just falling into place, and I am pretty pleased with myself. There is, of course, some danger involved, as I mentioned in the previous post. That old LARP:
  • Was set in the World Of Darkness (well, an alternate World of Darkness), not the Weird West. Deadlands Vampires are far less numerous, but also more powerful than caitiff neonates. The political system will be rather less complicated here.
  • Had two thirds of it's plot set after the 1870s. The players may make assumptions based on things that haven't happened yet, and/or which likely won't in Deadlands.
  • Lacked many details that Pinnacle's Weird West brings along. New Mexico is part of the Confederacy. House Iron Horse was a big player in the Railroads of HOD LARP, but it's not one of the major lines in Deadlands. Fear and rumors manifest, and a place like Albuquerque's gotta have a pretty hefty horror level.
So, yes, this alternate-alternate-Albuquerque has got some drawbacks. From a certain point of view, however, those drawbacks are advantages. I get to try out elements of an old campaign a second time, and do differently the things I made mistakes on in the first pass.

It also means that I have my answer to "What do I do when and if they beat Cobb, and the main plot of the campaign is resolved?" They don't have to wander the wilderness anymore, as they've stumbled across a place that has a two campaigns full of evil for them to put down.


digital_sextant said...

Have you read Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's PREACHER? Cobb reminds me a bit of The Saint of Killers, an old-western badass supernatural version of William Munny (from UNFORGIVEN).

rbbergstrom said...

I have not read it. I'll have to check it out sometime.

digital_sextant said...

You make me sad. Not sometime. Tomorrow. Better yet, go get volume 1 tonight. It's grotesque and amazing. When I started reading comics, I would rush home with that month's trade paperback, read it, then over the next few days work my way through the rest of what I bought, then I would go back and read PREACHER again.

Of course, if you don't like dismemberment, raunchy jokes and sex, grotesque violence, cranky Irish vampires, gunslingers, white trash hillbilly murderers, sadistic angels, secret societies with immense power, and John Wayne, you probably won't like it.