So, our last session was more rp-focused and chatty… nothing wrong with that, but it was time to mix it up with some good old fashioned violence.
In Attendance: John Dwyte (Darryl), Magnus Dwyte (Trev), Jebediah Underwood (Joe).
An’ naturally, I’ll be servin’ as the Lawman.
After causing havoc in Saint Pelor and being sort-of-but-not-actually-quite responsible for the death of a local rich girl (to be fair, she was plotting against her family, maybe-sort-of-possibly), the Dwytes rendezvous with Jebediah, who went off to do his own thing off-screen. Joe and I had talked out of the game to make sure he had a good backstory, and he finally came clean with the Dwytes; their family had promised to give him an ancient knife, a historical relic (though not of dwarf origin) of some significance. Jeb was under the impression that the knife was still in the family’s secret vault, in the basement of the Dwyte home back in River’s End.
With nothing keeping them in Saint Pelor, the group bought tickets for the next morning’s train (Jeb threatened the clerk with everlasting damnation if he didn’t get a discount). Trev also decided that he needed something with a bit more punch than his derringer, so bought a sawn-off shotgun from the local gunsmith (and ammunition when I reminded him). They spent the rest of the day in the saloon, drinking and playing poker. I’d actually forgotten that gambling and playing cards are covered as a tool proficiency, so after he won some more money, I let Trev gain that as a proficiency. D&D 5th is very tight about letting players gain new proficiencies if you’re not using feats; my rule is that if someone has succeeded multiple times, they’ve earned it. I did the same in Phandelver with Barry Arrers and Bluff, and Loki and History.
In the morning, they head to the station to catch their train. They’re asked to hand in their weapons – this may be my 21st century thinking, and it may not be exactly how train travel may have happened in the real Wild West, but I’d figured that there’d be reservations about letting heavily armed people onto public transport. The weapons are locked away in a secure carriage, along with other cargo. John manages to keep a hold of his knife, Magnus keeps his derringer in its concealed arm-slide a secret, and Jeb’s allowed to keep his bow, provided that he hands in the arrows.
While they’re waiting to embark, Magnus spots the Forrester butler, the one who was snooty to them. He has a suspicious looking briefcase with him. Magnus decides to keep an eye on him…
Meanwhile, there’s a disturbance at the station entrance. A group of Aurelian Army soldiers are refusing to hand in their weapons, and things look in danger of escalating as the officer argues with the station guards.
John steps in and uses his military knowledge to support the station guards, and say that, yes, the soldiers absolutely have to give up their weapons if they’re not on duty. The soldiers grumble, but the officer settles them down and tries to make nice with John, asking him about his record of service and so on. John is wary of the officer, and mentions a regiment that sounds plausible but doesn’t actually exist. The officer doesn’t comment on this. Hmmm…
The train’s ready to depart, so the group settles in. There are two large passenger carriages, a dining carriage with a bar, a first class carriage at the rear of the train, and the cargo carriage at the front of the train. The Dwytes and Jeb sit in the same carriage as the butler. Once the train’s underway, a plan is devised.
“And I don’t trust those soldiers. Somethin’ ain’t right about them.”
Thus begins a lot of back-and-forthing as each character tries to ingratiate themselves to each group. Magnus talks to the butler, who is frosty to say the least.
“I have no interest in working for a family such as the Forresters who have ties to organisations such as the Quiet Brothers. I have associates in River’s End; I am planning to obtain new employment there. Now, good day Mr. Dwyte. I have little wish to be disturbed further.”
John instead manages to get the officer away from the soldiers, apologising for causing a scene at the station and hoping there’s no hard feelings. He leads the officer away to the dining car for a drink. While he’s gone, Jeb ingratiates himself with the soldiers, blessing them and generally chatting to them; they’re grateful for the attention, and Joe hopes that he’ll be able to get some more information about them.
In the dining car, John proposes a common army drinking game, “Chase the Whore” (Darryl assured me that it’s a real game, but Google has come up with some results that, while making for interesting reading, are definitely *not* drinking games). A bit of world-building chat establishes that it’s a game that nearly all enlisted men would know, but the officer doesn’t seem to know the rules. John’s well-founded suspicions grow stronger…
(I also tell Darryl that the officer has a very fancy looking revolver with a mother-of-pearl inlaid handle… his eyes lit up at the prospect of loot).
During this time, Jeb and Magnus have swapped; Jeb is now trying to get some information out of the butler (with no luck) and Magnus does some card tricks and sleight of hand to entertain the soldiers. The officer returns after a few drinks with John, and doesn’t seem to mind Magnus’s presence. Meanwhile, John and Jeb discuss what little they’ve learned.
Things were starting to drag a little, so I time-skip ahead an hour or so and have a train guard come through with a hand bell, announcing that they’d be pulling into the next station in fifteen minutes. At a nod from the officer, three of the soldiers get up and go through to the cargo car, where all the weapons are being kept.
“Where are they going?”
(putting a heavy hand on Magnus’s shoulder to keep him seated) “Oh, don’t worry about them. You just stay there.”
Well, it doesn’t take an Insight check to read how the situation is probably going to unfold. Trev rolls a really good Acrobatics check to wriggle out of the officer’s grip, and lunges for the emergency brake cord, yanking it and bringing the train to an abrupt screeching halt. Passengers are thrown out of their seats, and the soldiers collapse in a pile. Trev nails a second Acrobatics check to sashay out of the crush, and runs back to the second carriage, where his the others are.
“Jonathan! VIOLENCE IS IMMINENT!”
“You always say the nicest things Magnus.”
Yes, the “soldiers” are actually here to rob the train! Fortunately Magnus has forced them to put their plan into motion before they were ready, but even so, they have access to guns and the heroes don’t. John has his knife, Magnus his derringer, and Jeb… umm… harsh language? Things are going to be tough…
For this session, I wanted to try out “Popcorn Initiative”, a rules variant proposed by The Angry DM. I won’t go into details (but you should absolutely follow that link and read the article, because it’s great stuff), but it’s essentially a diceless, more narrative method of determining the order in which participants in the encounter act.
The train guards come through, and Magnus points them to the soldiers in the next car. He goes with them since he has, you know, a gun. Jeb decides to go and raid the first class car (Joe was desperate to get into there all night only to be denied entrance by the guard) and try and scare a gun off a passenger. Darryl instead declares “screw this” and has John jump off the train and sneak along the outside to try and get the drop on the robbers.
As the guards and Magnus burst into the first carriage, they see the officer and his cronies roughing up passengers for money and valuables. The train guards raise their guns and order them to stop. The officer grabs a young woman as a hostage, holding a knife to her throat. Magnus acts the hero and cracks off a shot with his derringer, bursting a lamp above the officer and showering him with glass and oil. The officer is startled, and the young woman is able to get away to safety. At the sound of gunfire, the other passengers start panicking. It’s at that point when the other three soldiers come back with guns…
Jeb bursts into one of the first class compartments, and encounters a grumpy old rich man; exactly the kind of person who’d probably have a holdout pistol for self-defence. This is confirmed when he aims it at Jeb.
“Sir, I’m going to have to request that you give me that weapon.”
I get Joe to roll Intimidate, and he easily succeeds; we decide that Jeb flashes his golden Stigmata eye and proclaims he’s an agent of the Lord. The old man quickly hands over the derringer. It’s better than nothing…
The three thugs who have returned open fire with paired sixshooters, wounding and dropping one of the guards and injuring a few bystanders. Magnus dives for cover, snatching up the incapacitated guard’s sixshooter. Meanwhile, John has snuck down the side of the train, and throws himself at one of the thugs who’s taking cover in the gap between carriages. Darryl rolls really well on his check to grapple the guy, and I let him spend a Destiny point to instantly kill the unaware thug with a quick knife to the face. He snatches up the two sixshooters, and takes aim…
As he runs back to the firefight, Jeb bumps into the butler in the dining car. The butler is making a dignified retreat, his grip on the briefcase still strong.
“Gunfire and I don’t tend to mix well, sir.”
He brushes past Jeb without another word. Joe is itching to use his new Small Miracle ability that lets him read minds, so he reaches out in an attempt to find out what’s going on in the butler’s mind, and what might be in that mysterious case.
The butler doesn’t have a mind to read. Instead, there’s a horrifying black gulf of screaming oblivion where a mind should be.
Jeb actually takes damage from this, and it’s only a successful Will saving throw that stops him being knocked prone and temporarily stunned. Guess that butler’s not all he seems to be… Joe wisely decided to use his Holy Weapon ability on the derringer as the butler makes his escape.
Back in the first carriage, things are getting crazy. The officer retreats back behind his men, while the others now have to divide their attention between Magnus and John. For Trev, I apply the following rule while he’s shooting in the carriage; either make a normal attack roll, but a miss will hit a passenger, or make attack rolls with disadvantage and don’t risk hitting civilians. Trev decides to go ahead without the penalty. Given his average rolls, probably the smart move.
He wings one of the thugs, who rushes him and attempts a grapple. Natural 1, against Trev’s natural 20 to avoid it. I let him get a free pistol whip and instant headshot combo for that. Never say that I don’t let my players be badass. While that’s going on, John casually murders another thug with his “borrowed” guns. The robbers are down by three now, only the officer and two others are left. This heist is not exactly going as planned…
Jeb chases after the butler, and they swap shots. The butler jumps off the train and makes a run for it, but Joe gets a critical hit. I say that the butler drops his briefcase from the pain, and decides his cut his losses and make a run for it, but not without a hate-filled glare back at the preacher. Jeb sweeps in and snatches up the briefcase…
The Dwytes kill another thug between them, and then just as the “officer” has gotten his hands on a gun, John casually puts a bullet between his eyes, finishing him. The final “soldier” surrenders, but John gives him a smack in the mouth anyway.
Some order is restored; the two train guards and the wounded passengers are all treated, and the group questions the surviving robber, who confirms their suspicions; that they stole some uniforms and were planning to use the takings of this job to try and secure employment with a certain infamous gang boss who’s currently holed up in River’s End; Morgan “the Branded” Redd, someone who Magnus is unfortunately acquainted with…
The robber – who gives his name as Cletus Jackson – promises to go straight, and with Jeb’s blessing, becomes a born-again do-gooder on the spot. They drop him off in Dusty Gulch, where he promises that he’ll keep his ear to the ground and give them what information he can. The group’s web of contacts is growing.
The train then continues to River’s End. The three of them are given first class accommodation for their part in stopping the robbery, on top of the loot they take from the dead thugs; some money and ammunition, and Darryl calls dibs on the fancy mother-of-pearl revolver the officer had, which has the name Songbird inscribed on it; it’s a master-crafted (+1 to hit/damage) sixshooter, not that Darryl’s character needs help in either of those departments.
On the subject of loot, there’s also the briefcase taken from the butler. Upon opening it, they find a small ornate box… exactly the same kind that was taken from the Forrester vault last time. This basically confirms that the butler is working for the Quiet Brothers, and you can bet that he’ll want the contents back. The box is opened to reveal a mysterious duergar relic that can do…
Something. I haven’t decided yet. But I will.
New Ally Gained! Cletus Jackson, former criminal.
New Loot Gained! Songbird (master-crafted sixshooter), duergar relic.
The Reaper’s Tally: 2 witches, 5 train robbers.
A really good fun session; everyone got to shine using their various abilities, the plot is thickening, and the Popcorn Initiative went so well that we’re going to use it going forward; I think it helped that I was using playing cards and poker chips to keep track of things, which gave it a nice thematic touch.
Next session is on Monday, when the Dwytes will be heading home, and Jeb will be searching for what was promised to him. I can’t see any potential complications with –
Oh yeah. That guy. Hm.