Saturday Seed 124 (Aces & Eights)

With October upon us, and dreams of Halloween One-Shots in the air, the Seeds for the next four Saturdays will focus on horror, but perhaps not in the usual places. This week’s seed is for Aces & Eights and pits the characters against terrors in the darkness.

The Casting Shadows blog offers Saturday Seeds and campaign starters every Saturday (go figure…). Seeds from the blog also appear on Ancient Scroll.

The seed

This seed is intended to serve as a single scenario of play. It might be introduced into an ongoing campaign, or run on its own. The characters have been travelling far overland and have encountered many setbacks, not the least of which are the loss of equipment and supplies, the wounding of a group member, and the discovery of a pair of orphans. At this low point, things really start to turn bad.

Planting the seed

Planting this seed will require the characters to be on the bad end of a long journey. Food supplies are low, powder is wet, cartridges in short supply or lost, gear lost or broken, and men are hurt. A fording gone wrong can supply all of this, or some other regionally appropriate accident. Once the group is without reliable weaponry, supplies, and transportation, and are saddled with injured friends and fellow travellers, they are ready for the tale to begin.

The Details

The details are straightforward. In their battered state, the characters and those NPCs who follow them from the accident, need a place to take shelter from a coming storm, and fast. A major storm is rolling in, and they cannot weather it out in the open.

Opportunity presents itself in the form of a sod house (or other shelter appropriate to the region you select) in poor condition. Inside may be additional means of survival. Instead, the group will find too starving and terrified children, covered in blood which is not their own.

There are tracks commonly found around a homestead, and no real sign of struggle close to the home, but a concerted effort to track down the missing parents of this set of children will reveal two things. The steps of a woman lead to the far side of a ruined corral. There signs of a struggle suggest she was thrown to the ground and dragged off through the grass toward an expanse of trees. The tracks of a man follow the trail, crossing over it as though following it like the characters are doing. The trail becomes obscured not far into the grass going nowhere. Either they were taken up to heaven, or someone… or something, erased the trail somehow.

Is its destination the trees? It is a long way to go to find out, and the storm will hit soon.

The children are in shock and will require hours of attention and care before they can start to offer snippets of semi-useful information. The storm will hit long before then.

During the night, the ferocity of the storm sounds like the screams of the dying. A few tired souls who cannot sleep tell ghost stories (and the players should be invited to do so as well), one being of a hungry wind spirit that snatches people up off the land and carries them off to be consumed or transformed into howling winds themselves.

The children react very poorly to this tale, and cease any communication the characters have been able to coax from them.

During the night, some members of the group will disappear. No one who stays within the dwelling will be harmed, but trips to relieve oneself have a chance of ending in screams. The first two to go will be fine, but the third will be heard screaming bloody murder, leaving few traces in the muck and grass as to what happened to him.

What’s going on

As the GM, you will need to decide if this is a real brush with the unexplained and supernatural, or not. This seed, rooted as it is in Aces&Eights, will continue based on an explanation from the mundane world. It is not necessary for the characters to ever discover the truth. The goal of the seed is simply to survive without the normal trappings of survival in the old west, and to leave the site with a gripping tale to tell, of screams and disappearances in the night.

Is it a band of scalpers? Is there a pack of wolves or other predators out there in the tall grass, just waiting for more meat to offer itself up? Is it a hungry ghost riding the wind?

If I were to run this seed, I would keep it closer to home, and make it a tale of frontier madness and cannibalism. A man, reduced to animal cunning and appetites slowly reverting to a creature of the wild, finally loses his already tenuous grip on reality and kills his neighbors for ‘encroaching’ on his territory. He has taken and eaten the wife. He has killed and salted the husband away. He intends to move in on the kids next, but the characters arrive…

He hides and then under cover of the storm he begins to pick off the unwary, one by one. He has nothing but a hatchet and his madness induced ferocity, enhanced by the powerful weapon of stealthy surprise.

Will the characters, without reliable weapons, battered and off-kilter be his next victims? Will they depart when the storm breaks never knowing what happened in this place? Will they exact a form of prairie justice on the killer? Will all the bodies be attributable to just that one, mad, man?

Who can rightly say?


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