Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Blood on the Snow

Happy New Year! The past year has brought lots of changes for me personally, but I'm excited to see what 2018 has in store for life. My first post of the new year is this short adventure. 


Blood on the Snow 

This short scenario is written for use with the Sixth Gun roleplaying game, based on the comics from Oni Press, using the Savage Worlds RPG from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. It is intended for a relatively new group of characters, but can easily be adjusted for use with stronger parties.  

Life on the American frontier is not easy. The basic necessities of life—shelter, food and water—can be hard to acquire. There's danger from foul weather, not to mention potentially hostile Indians or even bandits. More recently, however, an even greater threat has appeared: someone, or something, has been attacking isolated farmsteads. The popular opinion is that local Indians are responsible, and that the White settlers and their military protectors will soon be a reckoning with the natives.

Adventure Synopsis
The heroes happen to be present at a remote location—such as a frontier military fort—when one of the werewolf's victims shows up on the scene, having suffered grievous injuries. So long as they are willing to investigate the matter, the heroes can trace this unfortunate back to a farm that has been left in ruins. Taking a closer look provides a clue that things may not be quite what they seem, however. As long as cooler heads can prevail, the heroes can look deeper into the situation. That requires keeping suspicious soldiers from overreacting, negotiating with local Indians, and learning that they, too, have suffered attacks. In the end, if they are careful, the heroes can track the culprit to his lair.

For the Gun Master
For years Henri Francois LeBlanc, a skilled woodsman and trapper, has lived as an outcast. He is infected with the disease known as lycanthropy; with the coming of every full moon, he turns into a wolf and goes on a murderous rampage. At first he was able to minimize his killing sprees, claiming a few victims in a remote and isolated location before the cycle of the moon had passed. He also kept moving from place to place, always a step or two ahead of those who sought to capture and punish him. Even so, gradually Henri has started to run out of territory in which to hunt, ranging always further south. Now he's reached territory with a more sizable native population, scattered White settlements and, what is worse, a military presence. Knowing that they could eventually coordinate with each other, expose his activities and hunt him down, he's devised a plan to divide and conquer them. 

He's going to start a war on the frontier. 

To that end, Henri has begun attacking isolated Indian camps and White farmsteads, satiating his bloodlust while also planting evidence that incriminates one group or the other. Ultimately, he hopes to incite the two sides to seek vengeance against each other, thereby creating chaos in which he can continue to hunt with impunity.

Involving the Heroes
The start of this scenario assumes that the heroes are visiting some location on the American frontier. The frontier fort, presented in another supplement, is an excellent starting location, since, it is suitably remote and introduces vigilant but weary military personnel who can act as a foil to the heroes as they investigate the recent killings.

Alternately, a settlement such as Smith's Crossing, also detailed in another supplement, could serve as the launching point. In that case, it could be a bloodthirsty posse, rather than army soldiers, who seek revenge in spite of the heroes' efforts to discover the truth of the matter.

In that case, the nature of the people who run Smith's Crossing, and the means by which they do so, can provide an added level of complication to this investigation.

Scene 1—Running Wild
Note that this scenario assumes the action is starting at a frontier military fort; a GM opting to use a different location can adjust the details accordingly.
To begin, the heroes have a chance to experience life in the fort and interact with those who live there. At the GM's discretion, that could be little more than some vivid description, or might involve the heroes making checks for useful skills in order to contribute: Healing to help treat wounded soldiers; Knowledge to recall an interesting tale and entertain the troops; Repair to fix a broken stove or some other device; or Tracking to help find some wild game, providing a welcome change from salt pork, hardtack and beans. There could even be an opportunity for some Gambling, too.

The Runaway Wagon
At some point once the heroes have had time to interact with the locals, they should all make Notice checks; success means that they hear the rumble of approaching wagon wheels, and gives them five rounds in which to react as the wagon comes rumbling past the fort. Each raise achieved lets that character have an additional five rounds in which to act. The wagon is drawn by a single horse that is running at full speed but is nearly exhausted. There is someone slumped over in the driver's seat. Those who succeed at a second Notice check can also see that there are people lying motionless in the back of the wagon. 

The heroes have a number of options for dealing with the runaway wagon. One is for a character to make a Climb check at -2 in order to jump aboard the wagon. Failure on that check means the character takes a tumble but is unhurt; a botch means the character suffers 2d6 falling damage, just as for falling off of a mount (see page 74 of the core rulebook). Once aboard, the character must then make a Driving check at -2 to rein in the horse. Another option is for a character to make two Riding checks at -2 penalties, one to jump onto the horse and one to bring it to a halt. Of course, the heroes are likely to devise other means of stopping the wagon, subject to the GM's adjudication. All in all, this is meant to be an exciting scene, but not one that threatens serious harm for the heroes. 

After they've gained control of the horse (or, at least, the wagon), the heroes can learn a little more about the situation. The driver is a woman who is incapacitated by fatigue and the cold. Bundled in blankets in the back of the wagon are two children, terribly frightened but otherwise okay. The kids can explain that they are Ellie and Sam Clayton, from a farm near here; their parents are Nora, the driver, and Samuel. They don't know what has happened to him, except that their mother made them leave the farm in a hurry, without him, “because they were in danger.” Just what that danger was, however, they don't know. A Healing check can start Nora along the road to recovery, but it takes time that the heroes probably don't have. 

Instead, if they want to learn more, the heroes have one main option, to follow the wagon's route back to the farmstead from which it originated. Those who succeed at a general Knowledge test can recall where that place is located, and the fort's personnel can help with that, at the GM's discretion. Failing that, the heroes can make a Tracking check to retrace its route. Whatever the case, the action can continue in the next scene.

The Overzealous Cavalry Officer
A good option for adding more roleplaying to this and other scenes is for the GM to play up the part of Lieutenant Danforth Jeffreys, the fort's cavalry commander. He jumps to the conclusion that this is the result of an attack by Indians, and wants to respond in force. The lieutenant can therefore be played as a foil for the heroes, and possibly even incite combat if they don't manage to keep him in check.

Scene 2—The Scene of the Crime
Refer to the map above when the heroes arrive at the Clayton family's farm. It consists of a small house with a main room and kitchen (1A), along with bedrooms for the children and parents (B and C). These have clearly been ransacked, with items strewn about the floor and nothing of value remaining. There is also a cattle barn (2) with a fenced area for cows, along with an outhouse (3) and a horse barn (4). While the latter two are empty, the prior of these contains the slaughtered remains of several cows. What is more, the front gate to the cattle pen stands open, and several wolves have wandered in to pick meat off the of the dead cattle.

Wolves—Use the stats from page 157 of the Savage Worlds Deluxe rulebook.

In addition to the wolves, there is plenty of evidence that local Indians are responsible for this attack. Numerous native arrows stick out of the ground, and walls of buildings; additionally, a Tracking check reveals footprints that seem to have been made by people wearing moccasins, rather than boots or other more modern footware. A raise on that check, however, reveals that the tracks in and around the farm seem to have been made by the same individual, while others, leading away from the farm, were made by a group of individuals. Just what this implies—that one person committed the crime, but that a group then came along to witness the aftermath—is up to the heroes to deduce.

Scene 3—Two Sides to Every Story
Another Tracking effort can lead the heroes from the farm to the Indians' camp; refer to the map above. It consists of four tepees clustered together in an area that is out of the wind; each is home to one brave and his family. There is also a place where they've driven stakes into the ground to tether their ponies. That makes it harder for the heroes to sneak up on the camp, since the ponies can also make Notice checks opposed to their Stealth efforts.

Braves—Use the stats from page 84 of the Sixth Gun RPG.

Ponies—Use the stats for riding horses from page 160 of the Savage Worlds core rulebook.

As long as they can have a look at the camp, they can find even more evidence that seems to implicate the Indians in the attack. In one of the tepees, Samuel Clayton is bound and gagged. This is not because they took him prisoner, however, but because they found him wandering and recognized that something is not right about him. They do not know that he has been infected with lycanthropy, though.

Just how this situation plays out depends on how the heroes decide to approach it. Those who are looking for a fight can easily find one, since the Indians are wary of retribution from the Whites. Should that happen, then it could lead to an ongoing series of skirmishes, with more and more people from both sides of the conflict becoming involved in the growing conflict. 

On the other hand, if cooler heads prevail, then the heroes can learn a good deal more about the situation. Standing Bear, the Indians' leader, can explain that his people didn't attack the farmstead, but that they found Samuel Clayton left for dead. They've been keeping him bound because “There is something wrong about him.” Should anyone think to ask about any people other than farmers, soldiers and Indians in the area, Standing Bear can confirm that they were visited by a White Man, a trapper and trader from the north, named Henri. Indeed, he can even lead them to Henri's hunting camp. 

Scene 4—Hunter and Hunted
If the heroes manage to track down Henri, they find that he's a formidable foe. His campsite is surrounded by bear traps that are hidden in the snow. Those who move through one of the trapped squares must make a Notice check at -2 to avoid it, or suffer 2d6 damage and become immobilized. At that point, it takes a Lockpicking check or a Strength test to disable the trap. This also, of course, alerts the werewolf to their arrival.

Henri Francois LeBlanc—Use the stats for a Werewolf from page 78 of The Sixth Gun RPG. Note that the loup garou has kept some spoils from his previous kills, including miscellaneous money worth a total of $100.

Henri fights to the death. Keep in mind that it takes silver weapons to hurt him, so this should press the heroes into being creative about how they fight him.

As long as the heroes can expose Henri's ruse, they can prevent a war between the Indians and settlers. While there isn't much monetary gain for them, they have won some potentially valuable allies.

Further Adventures
Elements from this scenario can also lead to other adventures; a few of the possibilities are detailed below.
  • In the tent the heroes can find evidence of multiple previous “lives” for Henri Francois LeBlanc, any one of which could involve another plot. This might include an undelivered letter that holds clues to a strange plot, a map to an unfinished mining claim, or the like.
  • The Indians are grateful for the heroes' aid, and may come to them looking for help with future difficulties involving White settlers or other tribes.
  • Recognizing the heroes' abilities, the commander of the military fort, Captain Anders Arneson, might also have jobs for them in the future, such as helping to track down and bring to justice a notorious band of outlaws.
  • There's also the matter of recently widowed Nora Clayton, who could become a romantic interest for one of the heroes.

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