Saturday Seed ~ .44 (HEX)

In discussions about pulp adventure this week, a recurring theme appropriately appeared, and it is in its honor that this week’s seed is being planted. Suitable for any pulp game, but written with HEX in mind, this seed is a non-combat action sequence starting from an innocuous event and potentially ending up in the morgue.

Planting the seed

I do not intend for this seed to be used entirely as is, but if it can be made to fit, so much the better. I really just intend it to serve as inspiration for how something simple like taking public transportation can turn into a desperate race against the forces of nature where to lose is to die!

What is going on

A clever villain, possibly a recurring and currently believed dead villain, has laid a fiendish trap which will cause incredible property damage, and hopefully bring about the deaths of our heroes. It begins with what looks like a chance encounter, but it’s all a carefully staged plot…

 

The sequence begins at a train station

While at a train station for whatever reason, the characters spot the villain aboard another train, just leaving the station. If they want to catch him they will have to run flat out! (Yes, there are other options they could take, but those are boring and so have no place here). The train is quite short, consisting of an engine, and three cars. The last car is sealed and has no windows, suggesting it is some form of storage or security car. The other two cars appear to be normal passenger cars, the second with many seats for those with economy tickets, while the first appears to be constructed with private booths. It was in one of these booths that the heroes spotted the villain.

Snap Decision: Pursue the Train or Angle to intercept it

The train yard is full of obstacles such as railroad ties, deep gravel, lines of track, etc and to race after the train is extremely challenging (Athletics, Dif 3). If they try to pursue the train, rushing after it to board it from behind, they will not be able to catch up without superhuman performance, and will soon discover the tracks are descending down into a tunnel with very narrow sides, worse a faster train is coming up behind them! Slower characters will be able to drop back and to the side to avoid being crushed and attempt to board this second train if they like. Alternately they can do what the faster characters must do: try to board the pursuing train from the front!

Slow PC snap decision: board train 2 from the side or front

Boarding the second train from the front will require nerves of steel (Roll Will). Once aboard, characters will need to contend with the driver, who will require convincing to try to close the gap with the villain’s train. The driver can reveal that that train should not be on these tracks at all and is a danger!

If they choose to angle across the yard, they can try to leap down onto the top of the train (Athletics, Dif 3) as it descends into the tunnel. The going is easier (Athletics) to cross the ground to the walls leading up to and ultimately forming the entry to the tunnel, but once they have leapt to the top of the train, they will need to drop flat instantly to avoid being smeared across the top of the tunnel (Dex, Dif 2).

Snap Decision: jump the villain’s train or the one behind it (same rolls)

If the heroes get on the pursuing train now, or at a later point, they will need to convince the driver to press in close so that they can leap to the rear of the villain’s train. He will be able to get within 3 – 5 feet so that they can jump the gap and cling to the roof of the car, but for tension the trains sometimes – just for an instant, close to 2 or 3 inches, possibly compressing the character more than they might appreciate. A failed roll at this stage will have the characters rebound from the villain’s train to wind up clinging to the front of their train, at risk of falling underneath!

Snap Decision: Jump to the Villain’s train or Just Pursue

If the heroes board the villain’s train, they will need to get inside by one of the many awe-inspiring ways players can concoct to accomplish otherwise normal things.

Snap Decision: Enter the train or Try to get to the Engine

If they try to get to the engine, make them really work for it. The roof of the tunnel will present many obstacles and if they hang on until clear of it, the train will accelerate further, and that will make progress very challenging. Through a combination of Strength rolls, Dexterity rolls, and Athletics rolls to move forward, really make them sweat.

Consequences of failure for Strength rolls are to slip and fall heavily on the roof, for Dex rolls are to slide off the side of the roof and dangle over the edge of the car by one hand, and for Athletics rolls, to fall while trying to leap from one car to the next and ending up hanging on for dear life to the hitching mechanism while their legs drag along under the train! Falling completely off the train is a last resort for terrible, terrible failure, and it should be possible for them to board the pursuing train if that should happen.

Once they get a good look inside, they will discover that there are no passengers, and that this is indeed a very private train.

If they decide to go for the villain from the rear of the train, they will have a momentary respite from the perils surrounding this train. There will be no wind, little noise, and as they saw from the outside, no passengers to panic or get in their way. Blessed relief.

Snap Decision: Try to Open the Locked Car or Go forward to Nab the Villain

If they try to get into the locked car at the end of the train, they have two access points, the doors at each end of the car. The front of the car has a small, swaying walkway to stand on, over the car hitch. The rear door just has a narrow lip about 1 inch deep all the way around the door to hang on to.

The doors are locked, and will require a larceny roll (Dif 3 for the front, 5 for the rear if unassisted, 4 if supported or held by a partner) to open. Think of this car pulp’s loose equivalent of Schrödinger’s cat box; in this case the car is either empty or it isn’t. If they get inside, it has nothing inside but a mysterious machine. If they do not or choose not to go inside, it contains goons to use later.

If they get inside they will encounter a strange contraption which is busily working and churning away. It seems to be heating and processing some kind of liquid. If they like they can turn it off, or break it. Doing either will release the gas in a concentrated cloud in this car. Leaving it alone will allow it to continue pumping the gas into the first two cars. If it is released in this car the potency is quite high requiring a Resistance roll versus a 4, +2 for each turn of exposure in this enclosed space.

If they press forward and enter the first car, they will notice small signs of the villain’s hasty departure (spilled coffee, scattered papers, all suggesting a mad rush toward the front of the train. He must have bolted for the engine… Yes, it’s a trap. As soon as the characters entered the train, they began breathing a colorless, odorless gas which will render them unconscious when it is least convenient for them. Each turn they breathe the gas, it will increase in potency by 2 (by 1 if the windows are open). While you may find it convenient to just have it KO the characters, I tend to prefer the mechanics for every effect to be employed. If they successfully resist for more turns than you like, and if they have not chosen to break into the last car, have a group of muscle-bound and gas-mask wearing goons burst forth from there bearing odd-looking, bulbous gas guns with which to further dose the drugged, dazed, and exhausted characters. If, despite all the exertion and abuse, the characters dispatch their foes, they truly deserve to catch the villain… but it’s too soon for that to happen! (see XX)

Snap Decision: Fight! Or Surrender

Whether they fight and are subdued, or surrender, the results will be the same. If they fight and win, (see XX). When they wake, our heroes will have been bound and left aboard a hurtling train to doom! The villain will start to gloat, then suddenly leave the train in a hurry, running as fast as he can toward the rear of the train. Make sure your players hear this description, and realize how short time is.

Slipping loose from their bonds can begin once they recover their senses, and as the villain begins his monologue of victory, but he should have a chance to escape before they get free because he had them at his mercy and bound them so that he could escape if things went awry. He is evil, not stupid. If they do the impossible and escape while he is still catchable, see XX.

If they try to get to the villain by Heading for the Engine, have him appear at its rear door as they near, then see XX.

The train, driven by no one, is racing at top speed across a weakened train bridge and at a dramatic point, will hurtle off the bridge engine first, car by car. There should be many ways to get free of the train and end up clinging to the bridge, but a fun way would be to have the characters race toward the end of the train (still on the bridge) in hope of running through all three cars and out the now open back of the train and onto the trestle before the whole thing shoots into space to tumble into the hungry maw of the gorge below. Said maw, of course has a raging white-water river filled with vicious rocks in it. Did you really need to ask?

As the train plummets, characters will need to make appropriate checks depending on their method (Strength, Dex, Athletics, grapple, whatever…) of getting off the train and safely to the bridge (top or side). It would be exciting to have them clinging to rusted struts with their legs dangling as the train hurtles toward the raging water below. The consequences of failure would be to fall farther and risk injury as they slam into bridge struts further down.

Give the players a moment of false relief, then have the train take out the bridge supports at the base, causing the whole structure to slowly crumple with a horrifyingly prehistoric sound and fold in on itself as the characters are sent down into the rapids below!

XX – If they overcome everything you have thrown at them this far, or if they have eluded the gas trap by going right for the engine, let them have their incredible victory and make them feel every inch the heroes they are portraying! In this event, have the villain’s plans ensnare him as well. As the characters close in on him, have the events unfold as presented above, except as the characters confront the villain, the train hits the bridge and instantly begins to careen off the edge, tossing everyone around. The villain will have to escape just like they will and suffer the same effects. He will be right there with them until you feel he can be separated from them at a dramatically appropriate moment. The rapids, or the waterfall are good tools for this~ Certainly the second waterfall will do the trick…

As the characters are swept away they will risk being battered against the rocks, or swept under the water. As they try to swim the consequences of failure will be your choice of an impact against stone similar to falling 10’, or 1 or 2 rounds of suffocation as they struggle to find the surface in all the chaos of churning water. Due to the speed of the river, the difficulty of Athletics rolls to swim will be 3.

Snap Decision: Shoot the rapids, or try to Escape the River

If they try to shoot the rapids, turn it into an unusual chase sequence with them trying to catch the villain as the current sweeps him ahead of them down the river. (He will be ahead of them if he escaped according to his original plan, or if he did so as a result of XX). However, if he is there due to XX he will only be 3 lengths ahead instead of 6.

If they try to escape the river, they will need to resort to strength to pull themselves free of the water’s grasp across the rough surfaces of the rocks. As they are about to get out, have the top span of the bridge finally hit the water causing a massive cascade of white water to sweep everyone away again.

After a suitable number of rounds in the river, the roar of a waterfall makes itself known 1 turn before the characters are swept over it to plummet to a churning plateau of roiling white water 20 feet below. They will spend 1 turn underwater if they are successful in their Athletics roll, or 2 if they fail before they surface just in time to be swept over the second set of falls, which plummets 30 feet into another roiling pool of water. Again, characters will be driven underwater, spending 2 turns submerged if successful, or 4 turns if unsuccessful (unless helped to the surface). This pool has water shooting from it in two different directions and those who were under for just 2 turns will be shot out to the left over the third and final set of falls, while those who spent 4 turns underwater will be inexorably dragged over the smooth and featureless stone to the right of the third set of falls.

The third set of falls are like a smooth worn set of stairs which will have the characters rolling and sliding down to the final pool far below. Characters separated by the different sides of the falls will reach the bottom on opposite sides of a small, heavily wooded island, roughly 500m apart.

Let everything sit for a few rounds, until the players are certain that everything is done. If they have been separated and begin to walk toward each other, just as they characters are approaching each other: The train engine will come crashing down between them on the island with a mind-shattering roar, and exploding spray of parts causing everyone to have to run for cover!

If they do not get separated, or if they do not provide you with a tidy insertion point for this neat and highly impossible bookend to the sequence, then instead have the train’s red emergency stop pull tab and a piece of its cable float past one of the characters.

Enjoy!
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  1. […] To aid in focusing myself and the narrative aspects of play toward assertive and confident decision-making, I have to run counter to the hard-won knowledge that serves me in such good stead in horror games. Instead of facilitating the process of having my players scare themselves through suggestion and implication, I now will have to provide certainty. Details will need to be stark and not open to interpretation. Players must not have any doubt about what seems possible to do, and must know when it must be done (now!) Choices must be clear, and must be urgent. […]



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