Saturday Seed~ 83 (Aces & Eights)

This week’s seed is for Aces & Eights partly because I have been watching Hell on Wheels, partly because I have been planning to do so for awhile but other ideas fell into the keypad more smoothly, partly because I miss using the Shot Clock, and partly because it’s a great game. This particular seed walks a fine line between murder mystery and revenge story…partly.

The Seed

A renowned, feared, and moderately respected judge (a hanging judge, truth be told) is found early one morning hanging by the neck from the town sign, quite dead. In his pockets, notes and clippings detailing the exploits of men fitting the general description and dispositions of the characters are found. Suspicion comes to rest on the characters with all the speed of rumour, and the surety of gossip.

Planting the Seed
This is useful either for an established group who have become known in the area, or for a new group just starting out who need a slightly stronger push to band together.

The clippings found on the judge are more than enough to implicate the characters in being of interest to the judge, and with his reputation, that is enough to turn most minds toward thoughts of criminals in their midst. The fear of frontier justice will plant this seed nicely.

If your characters are lawmen, this can still be played out mostly unaltered. If there are no NPC deputies to raise an outcry, simply have the Judge arrive with one of his loyal marshalls in tow.

The Details
The judge, a miserable old curmudgeon by the handle of Titus Everett Godfrey, could reliably be described as the sort of lawman who believed strongly in hanging first and asking questions never. Although he held his marshalls to a very, very high level of accountability, he himself seemed to sentence with abandon in a sort of shock and terrify campaign versus the criminal element he believed was infesting his beloved West. A visionary, but also a tyrant, the judge believed the only way to prevent lawlessness was to bleed it until it ran dry, then bleach the skin and bones in the desert sun and wind.

It was whispered that he could even be suspicious of babies.

Judge Godfrey, commonly known as the judge, rode into town last night on the last stage, three hours late, without his usual assortment of clerks and marshalls. He was not due to be on this part of his circuit for several more weeks, but the foul temper he displayed upon exiting the stage forestalled any thoughts of questioning the man as he demanded his usual room, a bottle of whiskey, an extra lamp, and some ‘Damn peace and quiet!’

The next morning, the first folk on the street were treated to the awful sight of the old man swinging in the soft morning breezes, several hours dead, hanging from the town sign; a wooden arch over the main street (or suitable tree or other landmark established in your game). No obvious marks of violence stand out, and his pockets contain his normal effects… papers, spectacles, money, pocket watch, rolling papers and so on. The clippings which will implicate the characters are found in an inside vest pocket. Each of these clippings is marked with a small, blue dot of ink in the bottom left corner. The few bills of paper money the judge is carrying are also marked with the same blue dot.

Within a day or two, news arrives that the judge’s marshalls had all been killed or left for dead over the last year, and that just last week, his most trusted marshall was found hanging in similar fashion from a sign just two towns away. If one of the judge’s marshalls is present, this man will have already communicated this information and will be doubly on his guard as he knows he is the last one left. Whatever clues or intelligence he has about the identity of the killer, he will keep to himself so as not to reveal what he knows to his predatory prey. The characters will need to ascertain certain things for themselves.

Things will look bleak until a bill with that telltale blue spot shows up at the bank. The banker, having been entrusted with holding the funds and personal effects of the judge until delivery to the man’s family could be arranged spotted the regular markings when he took possession of the effects, and then, expecting to receive more from the hotel when the proprietor made his usual deposit, was very surprised to receive none from that source one from the general store. If the Judge had contact with no one during his brief time in town, and did not use his bills at the hotel, why would he use one at the general store, and when would he have done so? It was closed when he arrived, and did not open until after he was found dead…

What is going on
The presence of normal items and money in the judge’s pockets clouds the issue of whether or not something was taken. It looks like nothing was, but in reality a little money, and the lion’s share of the clippings were taken by the killer – and he is still in town.

The identity of the killer is something that should help breathe life into your campaign and further unite the characters. If I were to relaunch my campaign, I would have the killer represent a powerful cattle baron who felt the judge was falling under the thumb of the rail barons. As more and more of his less than legal practices started coming under attack by the law, he would have come to feel the attention was personal and deliberate, not a reflection on his own dark heart. Rather than submit, he chooses to attack – with this ultimately as the result. It is not a unique or deep plot, but it allows the characters to cross great swathes of territory looking for men who know what is going on and trying to get them to talk and travel to talk some more to government men they may not trust. It provides layers of success and mystery to navigate as they move from catching the killer, to chasing the man who hired him, the man who hired him, and ultimately the man behind it all. It provides investigation, retribution, travel, violence, self-righteous declarations, glorious speeches, and likely a lot of gunfire.

Whatever your goals are for your campaign, try to have this mean old judge’s death serve them.

The killer can be tracked with some success by deduction and the process of elimination by working with the store owner. This can end in a showdown right away, or it can lead to a merry chase with a posse, or a solitary hunt across the wastelands… it’s up to you.

Once caught, the killer can turn coward and offer to give up someone else, who may or may not be involved at all, or you might have to plant a clue on his bullet riddled corpse… or both.

On his person, the villain will have secreted the clippings he stole, each detailing a low-level member of the gang, and speculating that outlaws such as these must have a patron somewhere looking out for them….

Ride hard~

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