Monday, September 4, 2017

Deadlands: Legacy of the Red Fist

Saturday I ran a session in my occasional Deadlands game. It was long (we didn't have multiple sessions so we devoted basically a whole day to it), so let's get into it.

So, the game as a whole is here, but most of these characters weren't present. Sheriff Mark has given up on his quest for vengeance and settled into his life in law enforcement in Novygrad. Lillie Carmicheal, likewise, has a schoolhouse to mind, and Nikolai's adventuring days are long behind him. But Sam Kelt - also known as "Shortstop" - still wants to find out what really happened to his parents and why (his master, Chen, died of cancer a few months back) and Suzi Love, the devotee of the loa Erzulie, is going with him to keep an eye on him. Deputy George, too, goes along in case they need something shot.

They first stop in Denver and take a meeting with Mina Devlin. Since the Black River Railroad was involved in the Kelts' death and Sam knows it, they figure she's got information for them. She agrees to talk to them, but only if Suzi returns her magic whip. Suzi doesn't exactly have pleasant memories of the thing, and agrees. Mina tells them that the answers they seek can be found in Shan Fan, far to the west on the edge of the Great Maze. Sam's parents worked for Union Blue railroad, but Iron Dragon Rail was the company that really orchestrated their deaths.

And so we cut to several weeks later when the three of them arrive Shan Fan. As they're putting their horses into the livery, they see a warehouse nearby, in which there's a bit of a scuffle - a bunch of tong are beating the shit out of a guy in gambler's garb. Shortstop, not liking the 8-to-1 odds and not wanting to watch someone get murdered, intervenes, whereupon the factory foreman squares off with him. Said foreman is a martial artist, too.

Suzi throws Fear at a bunch of them, but the characters aren't alone. A frontierswoman, there to sell ghost rocks, jumps in to help protect the gambler. A young kid, too, sneaks in out of curiosity and then throws a blast of energy from a weird gauntlet, stunning a bunch of the tong.

Shortstop trades kicks and punches with the foreman, and the foreman recognizes Shortstop's style. "You are a student of Red Fist Chen!" he says. "Killing you will bring honor and glory." Whereupon, he slices open Shortstop's neck with his fingers.

Problem is, Sam has Suzi on his side, and she heals him. The frontierswoman shoots the ghost rock lantern and it falls to the floor, setting the building on fire. The tong scatter, and Suzi calls up elemental magic and sucks the whole fire into one tiny burning feather (seriously, she rolled like five raises). The characters realize that the foreman has fled, leaving more questions. They head back to the inn that George was setting up rooms in to talk this over.

The frontierswoman introduces herself as Jolee Jessup; she was just there to sell ghost rock to the tong, as she does. The little kid calls himself "Specs," after the glasses he's always adjusting, and he has something of a fixation on ghost rock, too. The gambler, it turns out, is a Pinkerton named Harold Faire, here in town looking for a fugitive named Rattlesnake James (George offers to help find him, but Faire says he's happy to help out Sam first - he's not even sure James is in Shan Fan). The characters sit down to dinner at the Strangled Serpent and start eating, trying to figure out their next move. Shortstop is disconcerted by the fact that the foreman referred to Chen as "Red Fist;" he isn't sure what that means. Specs, having lived on the streets in Shan Fan, recognizes the name as something the tongs use with fear and reverence. Red Fist was a kind of bogeyman.

And then Jolee collapses, Sam and Harold get slurred and sleepy, and Suzi and Specs start blinking. Their food has been drugged (George isn't affected, but he arrived late).

They hear people being cleared out of the dining room (they're in a private room), and George goes to investigate and gets punched in the face for his trouble. It's the foreman, Wan, again, with his muscle, come back for Shortstop. A fight seems imminent, but Harold throws down a playing card and the whole room goes black, and Specs shows them a way out into the city and a place to hide. Seems Harold is a huckster.

They meet up at Specs' hovel, and realize that they're being watched. They decide to sleep on it.

The next morning, Shortstop goes up to the roof to do his exercises and clear his head. He talks to a crow and asks about Chen (showing the crow a picture), and the crow recognizes the old man. He was a brutal warrior and killer, the crow says, called "Red Fist" because he was capable of splitting a man's head with a single punch. Shortstop is taken aback - the Chen he knew was an old, humble, quiet man, capable of fighting, sure, but not at all violent. He talks to the others and they decide to go to the Iron Dragon railroad headquarters and ask about Shortstop's parents.

The assistant they talk to shows them into a boardroom, where they find one man waiting for them: Master Kang, the owner of Iron Dragon Rail. He admits to know Sam's parents, but taunts him, saying that Chen didn't teach him enough. He then says that he's face Sam in a fight - if he knocks Kang down, Kang will tell him everything. If he knocks Sam down, Sam agrees to leave Shan Fan forever (Suzi clarifies this means "leave unharmed"). Sam agrees. Suzi tells him he's going to lose (and Specs is terrified of Kang, and shows it), but Sam says "A warrior does not run."

Kang utterly demolishes him in less than a minute. Sam is unable to so much as land a blow, and Kang remains relaxed, flowing away from Sam's attacks like a branch in a breeze. Finally Kang gets bored and strikes so fast that the others can't see it, knocking the wind out of Sam and putting him on the ground.

The characters leave town and go to Jolee's camp outside the city. Sam is despondent, and asks Suzi for a big favor - he needs to talk to Chen. Suzi hesitates; Chen is dead, and communing with the dead is dangerous. First, they decide, Suzi and Harold will go to the trainyard and see if they find anything there.

They arrive and talk with the workers, but one them points to Harold and says, "Pinkerton! Your friends are here! I told them you were here!" Harold looks nervous...and then four Pinkertons show up and arrest him. They're about reading to shoot him right there (apparently "Harold" is actually a gambler named Jonathan Hart, who killed Harold Faire and took his badge). Suzi stops them from killing him, saying that they need to follow the law, and the Pinkertons agree. Suzi realizes, though, that they're just going to take him out of town and hang him.

She races to get the others, and Specs uses his tech to see through Hart's eyes. They find that the Pinkertons are at the edge of the Maze, and about to push Hart over the edge. The characters ride up and confront the Pinkertons; the lawmen fight them and Jolee has to shoot a couple, a couple get thrown over the edge, and the last one surrenders. Suzi dresses him down for being about to murder a suspect, and sends him and his wounded compatriots on their way. Clearly, though, Hart's not out of the woods.

The others are annoyed at Hart for lying to them and putting them in this position, but they fall back to the camp, and Suzi agrees to perform the ritual for Sam.

The ritual takes days, but they eventually sink into a trance, and Sam finds Chen washing clothes. "A shirt gets bloody," says Chen, "and it can never be not-bloody. It can be clean enough, so clean you can't see the blood, but the blood remains."

Sam asks about Chen's past, and Chen admits it - he was a violent, brutal man. He worked for Iron Dragon, and he was there when Sam's parents were driven into a canyon. He was there to make sure they were dead, but not to kill them - that was someone from Black River. He isn't sure of all of the particulars because that wasn't his job. But over the trip, he became friends with the Kelts. He was unable to save them, but their son, Sam, was riding with him when they were killed, and Chen left Iron Dragon and took up residence in what became Novygrad.

Sam says that he wants revenge, and asks who will teach him now that Chen is dead. Chen says that he didn't teach Sam everything he knew because what he knew was murder - he didn't want Sam to become the next Red Fist. Sam was something else - "Shortstop." Sam needs to find a way to become a master on his own, to find his own style. He tells Sam that while a warrior never quits, a wise man knows when to walk away.

Sam, says Chen, has a choice. He can pursue this matter and try to learn the truth, or he can go back to Novygrad and find peace. Sam asks how, and Chen tells him to ask Lillie, Mark, or Nikolai - all people with fraught and violent pasts who settled into fulfilling lives. Sam asks if Chen can find peace, and Chen says he found his peace the day he made a home with Sam.

Sam returns to the waking world, and tells the others than he can find answers with Chen's old rival, Steel Gaze...also known as Wan.

Suzi and Jolee go into town and talk with Wan, who agrees to meet Sam in a neutral place - the Seven Devils Plateau. Sounds benign enough. Specs, though, notes that it's not, it's down a big stone staircase and near the water, enough that sea beasts sometimes jump out. It's a treacherous place for a fight.

The two groups meet on the Plateau - the tong and the characters - and Sam talks with Wan. Wan reveals that the Iron Dragon and the Black River were feuding with the Union Blue railroad - the railroad that employed the Kelts as surveyors. They were scouting out land for a new Union Blue line, but if they died suddenly and did not send word back, Iron Dragon could sweep in and claim the land for its own line. Black River agreed to kill them, in exchange for use of the new line for a predetermined number of years (that time had just expired, in fact).

So who really killed the Kelts? Wan didn't know. He'd arranged their deaths, but it had never been personal. Probably the men who really did it were in Mina Devil's employ, and at that time such rough characters were probably based in the town of Coffin Rock, north of Denver. "Everything is complicated," says Wan. "You want it to be simple, but it never is simple." He tenses to fight.

"A warrior never quits," says Sam, "but a wise man knows when to walk away." And he and the others start up the staircase.

They have a long ride ahead of them back to Colorado. Hart decides to ride with them because he knows his days are number alone. Jolee figures it's time to go east for a while, and Specs has nothing better to do here in Shan Fan. Maybe he can find some interesting ghost rock to play with back there?

"Besides," says Suzi, "Nikolai would love you all."