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The Grand Tournament
Games of chance, especially poker, are an integral part of frontier folklore. They epitomize people's willingness to wager their fortunes, reputations and even lives on the luck of the draw—just like many travelers and settlers do when they come to the American frontier in the first place. This scenario presents a poker tournament that draws players from all throughout the surrounding area, for which a grand prize of $10,000 is at stake.
For the most part, the events of and surrounding the tournament follow a general scheme. At first the heroes and other characters come aboard and have some time in which to mix and mingle with one another. After that the host, Englebert Meier, calls everyone together to receive players' stakes, explain the rules and start the first round of play. Once that is completed, there is an interlude in which competitors can rest and others can continue their interactions and plotting. Then comes the final round, a single game that decides the winner of the grand prize. How things develop from that point onward is left up to the decisions of the heroes and the non-player characters.
For the Gun Master
Rather than having a single, fairly linear plot, this scenario is intended to let the Gun Master introduce numerous different sub-plots and storylines, in addition to the overall tournament. Some options for these are incorporated with the character hooks under Getting Started, while others are suggested as part of Event 1—All Aboard! and Event 2—An Interlude. In this way, the events of the scenario can be tailored based on the desires of the players and the needs of the campaign.
The heroes can become involved in these events in many different ways; a few possibilities are listed here.
- The most likely option, of course, is that one or more of the heroes wants to compete in the tournament. Each character who does so must, of course, pony up the $400 entry fee.
- Alternately, the heroes might be hired as bodyguards for one of the competitors, or as deputies for the sheriff who is overseeing the competition.
- The heroes could learn of a plot against the competition and thus be investigating it by posing as competitors or spectators.
- They might just be members of the ship's crew who happen to be in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the right time, as it were).
- For a real twist, they could even be the hombres who are planning to raid the festivities and steal the prize purse.
Finally, it should be mentioned that building up a suitable stake can provide an impetus for all manner of adventures leading up to this scenario, as the heroes in question undertake different jobs and schemes in order to raise the necessary funds, and rivals or enemies perhaps try to prevent them from doing so.
Scene 1—All Aboard!
The action begins when the heroes first go aboard the steamboat, the River Maiden. Because it is mobile, this allows it to meet the heroes wherever the Gun Master deems necessary. They can board the steamer, meet Englebert Meier and Sheriff Ezekiel Wainwright, and then be shown to their rooms. Depending on their influence and affluence, they might be put into normal cabins of elite cabins, or just find a place to sack out on the main deck. This is also a chance to interact with any of the competition and other non-player characters, and feel out the lay of the land. Should the heroes be part of the ship's crew, on the other hand, then they can watch as these arrivals take place and have a similar opportunity to size up the newcomers.
Englebert Meier, Owner of the River Maiden
An import to America from Germany, Englebert Meier is a businessman who's fallen in love with the idea of the American West. To that end, he has invested a large portion of his life's savings in a steamboat, the River Maiden (named after the legendary Rhine maidens of his home country). While he owns the boat, Meier leaves operating it to his engineer and pilot along with their crew. Instead, he prefers to spend his time hobnobbing with guests, hearing their stories and basking in the glory that is life on the frontier. Even so, he is really rather soft when it comes to hardship, and tends to panic when real trouble arises.
(Use the stats for a Riverboat Owner from the Steamboat supplement for Herr Meier.)
Sheriff Ezekiel Wainwright
Old Zeke, as he is known to his friends, is a veteran lawman. What he may have lost as far as youthful endurance is concerned he more than compensates for with cunning and determination. While he can be cool bordering on cold when dealing with criminals and other ne'er-do-wells, he warms up to those who have earned his respect.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d4
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d6, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Shooting d8, Swimming d4
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 4
Hindrances: Code of Honor
Gear: Clothing, badge, Colt Navy pistol, pocketwatch
These are tough but good-hearted hombres, ones who just want to make sure that folks can go about their lives and business in peace.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d6, Guts d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Riding d4, Shooting d6
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Edges: Alertness, Command
Hindrances: Code of Honor
Gear: Clothing, badge, Colt Navy pistol
In addition to the non-player characters who are an integral part of these events, this scenario also provides a good chance to work in old friends and foes from a campaign. This could include past enemies who managed to survive a run-in with the heroes, allies with whom the heroes had memorable interactions, potential love interests, and others who could have new business for during or after the tournament.
Scene 2—The Opening Round
Once they've had a chance to settle in and, perhaps, do some exploring, the heroes hear the call for all competitors to come to the dining hall for start of the tournament. Englebert Meier greets them once again, with Sheriff Wainwright by his side. The sheriff handles the carpetbag into which each player's money is deposited, while his deputies linger in the vicinity. Then players are shown to their tables, with betting chips for their stakes and dealers in position with brand new decks of cards. Meanwhile, spectators find convenient places from which to watch their favored players, and servants circulate with trays of drinks. When everything is ready, Herr Meier gives a short speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the first annual Great River Poker Tournament.
I hope this is an occasion for fair competition and daring play. Our prize, as you know, is $10,000. Now, let the best man—or woman—win!”
On that note, the dealers crack open the new decks, shuffle the cards, and start their games.
To represent the action of a poker game, consider each hand to have a $50 stake. All of the players—five per table—make Gamble checks; they may use bennies to alter their results, if they wish, but should do so before the other competitors' results are revealed. In order to involve players whose characters are not involved in the game, the Gun Master may want to have them roll dice for the other competitors. At that point, the results should be adjudicated per the Gambling rules from the Savage Worlds core rulebook. This continues until players start to be eliminated. Once that happens, the initial stake can be doubled and even redoubled to keep the action moving at a brisk pace. The winner at each table, naturally, is the last player remaining, who now has a total stake of $2000.
Results and Hands
To add a descriptive element to this, the GM can use characters' Gambling results as an indicator of their hands. For example:
Success—Two pair or three of a kind
One raise—Straight or flush
Two raises—Full house
More than that—Straight flush or four of a kind
The players in the poker tournament come in all shapes and sizes, representing various ages and ethnicities and embodying various temperaments. They could include an old Confederate colonel who misses his glory days; a cunning and gregarious Mexican trader; a refined but rather arrogant Englishman who's visiting from across the pond; or even a wily Native American who's joining in the festivities. Whatever the case, all of them are willing to do whatever it takes to win.
The following stats can be used as a template, with any variations desired in order to differentiate specific competitors.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Gambling d8, Knowledge (Any) d8, Negotiation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 2, Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Greedy (Minor)
Gear: Clothing, distinguishing items at the GM's discretion; $400 stake
In addition to the poker games themselves, one or more of the following events might occur. The Gun Master can use them to keep non-card-playing heroes involved in the activities, as well as to create some drama between scenes.
- One of the guests is a sorcerer. Her strategy is twofold. First, she use the Boost Trait power to aid an allied player; second, if necessary, she uses the Lower Trait power to hinder a player who is having luck against her ally. It takes a Notice check at a -2 penalty to recognize that she's casting a spell, but the victim of the Lower Trait power knows that something has happened right away. At that point, the way the situation develops depends on how the PCs react to this discovery.
- A player in one of the games is cheating. He is working with a woman in the crowd, who sends him signals about the quality of his opponents' hands via what seems like an idly contemplative gesture while she watches the game. Standing behind the opponent in question, she holds one hand up to her mouth and covers one finger with her thumb. The order of signals is as follows: (right hand) little—pair, ring—two pair; middle—three of a kind; index—straight; (left) index—flush; middle—full house; ring—four of a kind; little—straight flush. Characters who succeed at a Notice check see that she seems to be paying very close attention to the game, and a second such effort reveals her ruse. Heroes who spot this may deal with her as they wish, but she's likely to try cutting a deal before attempting to escape.
- There's also a pickpocket among the assembled guests. This individual looks for a suitable mark—perhaps one of the heroes, or a non-player character—and then makes his move. Given the crowded nature of the dining hall, this requires little more than a Stealth check opposed to the Notice check of the target. At the GM's discretion other characters who are nearby could also make Notice checks, albeit at a -2 penalty. Success allows one to spot the attempted theft, and thus to deal with the pickpocket as desired. For his part, the thief tries to separate himself from his victim and flee (including jumping overboard and swimming for shore) if caught in the act.
This beautiful Senorita, Manuela Gonzalez, is a bruja. This means that she has access to arcane magic, and uses small fetishes and other items to work her spells. She is not really malicious, but uses her abilities to make a living in whatever way she can. For this reason, if she is treated with mercy, she might become an ally for the heroes.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Healing d4, Investigation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Spellcasting d6, Survival d4
Charisma: +2, Pace: 6”, Parry: 2, Toughness: 5
Edges: Arcane Background (Sorcery), Attractive
Powers: Boost/lower Trait, Dispel
Gear: Clothing, materials for spellcasting, $50
The Cheater–Use the stats for a Typical Gambler, above.
Of medium height and build, with dark hair and dark eyes, Gerald Lawrence—his real name; he usually operates under an alias, however—tends to blend in with the crowd on the frontier. For him that's a good thing, since it means that he can look for marks in the crowd and then almost disappear after creating some separation between himself and a victim. Although he is daring enough to make a living off of thievery, he tends to come up short on courage when faced with a truly powerful enemy or bad situation.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d4, Lockpicking d8, Notice d6, Shooting d4, Stealth d8
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 4, Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Greedy (Major)
Gear: Clothing, Derringer, knife, lockpicks
Scene 3—An Interlude
After the first round of the tournament is finished, Herr Meier calls for a two-hour break for people to rest and refresh themselves. Many of the spectators choose to linger, or to head for the main deck or a promenade for a change of scenery, while winning players head to their rooms for a little downtime.
Here, too, there are some opportunities for extracurricular activities, with a few more possibilities following.
- There is a break-in in one of the cabins. This is especially likely if one of the heroes or non-player characters possesses a good deal of money or valuable but portable goods. Pulling of the theft could require Stealth and/or Lockpicking efforts. Should this succeed, it's left up to the GM to decide just how the situation develops.
- One of the competitors tries to poison a rival. The victim might be a hero who is playing, or one of the NPCs. This can happen in one of two ways. For one, a lovely lady—or fellow, depending on the target—offers to bring the victim a drink; en route to doing so, she doses the beverage with a knockout poison (see the Savage Worlds core rulebook for details) via a Stealth check. If successful, and if nobody can treat the affected character, the powers that be assume he/she is passed out drunk and disqualify him/her from the rest of the tournament.
- In the event that even more drastic measures are required, one opponent sets up an ambush. This comes in the form of a note, written in a woman's hand (or a man's, as mentioned above), inviting the victim to a clandestine meeting in an isolated part of the ship, probably a private room or the cargo hold depending on the recipient of the note. Whatever the case, at an advantageous moment, a group of toughs set upon the target, hoping to incapacitate and throw that person overboard, thus removing him from the next round of the tournament.
Finally, if the Gun Master is using this scenario to introduce potential future business for the heroes, then there could be less insidious interactions taking place during this time as well.
Scene 4—The Final Round
After the appointed two hours have passed, the pilot rings the ship's bell thrice as the signal for competitors to return to the dining hall. Herr Meier starts the next round of the competition with another little speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the big moment. There are just five players left, and $10,000
waits to be claimed by the best player. Once again, may the best man or woman, win!”
With that, the dealer cracks open the deck of cards and play begins. The game can be handled in much the same manner as the opening round, above, except that the wager for each hand is $250. There is a lot of money, represented by betting chips, changing hands. Once there are only two players left, one may push things by going “all in” and betting everything that he or she has left. The big winner is, of course, the last player with money left.
Once the game is concluded, Herr Meier congratulates the winner and breaks open bottles of champagne to celebrate. Sheriff Wainwright and his deputies offer to keep watch over the money until the River Maiden reaches its final destination. A band strikes up some music, and the intention is for merriment to ensue. There might be others who have different intentions, however, as described in the next scene.
If a simple high-stakes poker tournament is the Judge's intention for this scenario, then one could proceed right to the Epilogue following Scene 4. For Judges and players who want more physical action, however, there's another possibility. In this case, somebody decides to steal the grand prize. This attempt can include a number of strategies.
- Once again, poison comes into play. This time it's chloral hydrate, put into the celebratory champagne. It is meant to inhibit the movement of the people primarily involved in the tournament, and possibly to render them unconscious.
- At the same time, Lemaire has one of his shamblers set off some dynamite against the ship's sternwheel. (A character who's in a position to see this could watch it happen, as what looks like a reeling-drunk man stumbles over the railing and onto the wheel before being torn apart in the ensuing explosion.) Just as characters start to feel the effects of the poison, a sizable explosion shudders the vessel. Then the steamboat begins to lurch, drifting out of control and into the nearest riverbank.
- Finally, zombies begin to climb up over the sides of the ship. These are summoned by Papa Jacques Lemaire, a Voodoo practitioner who's been biding his time.
It is left up to the Judge to determine just how many villains are needed to provide a satisfying but not insurmountable challenge for the heroes. Some of the aforementioned characters could aid the heroes as allies or take this chance for revenge against them.
Those who don't know him might think Jacques is some sort of businessman, given his fancy suit and big top hat. What they don't know is that he's steeped in the lore of Voodoo, and uses it for wicked purposes. Indeed, he is fascinated with using it to gain power over others, especially when it comes to rituals that can crate zombies and steal people's souls. He needs money to continue his researches, however, and thus has come to the tournament.
Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Boating d4, Climbing d4, Fighting d6, Healing d4, Investigation d8, Knowledge d8, Notice d6, Shooting d4, Survival d6, Swimming d6, Voodoo d8
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 6
Edges: Arcane Background (Voodoo), Luck
Hindrances: Vengeful (Major)
Powers: Beast friend, curse, detect/conceal arcana, zombie
Gear: Fancy clothing, walking stick, materials for Voodoo rituals
Zombies—Use the stats for Revenants and Shamblers from pages 82-3 of The Sixth Gun RPG.
Alligator—Use the stats from page 156 of the Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer's Edition.
This should be more of a fast-and-loose running battle as opposed to a last stand by either side; Lemaire and his zombies are trying to make a quick score, grabbing the prize money and escaping to a waiting boat. Once in the water, he can use the beast friend power to bring in an alligator for assistance, perhaps using it to cover his own escape. Indeed, should he manage to survive this adventure, Lemaire could make a good recurring villain for later in the campaign.
As long as they can prevent the robbery, the heroes can claim their well-deserved rewards. If one of them won the tournament, then this is a huge windfall indeed. On the other hand, in the event that someone else claimed the prize, the GM might have such a character give the heroes a share (say $1000 to split) as a token of gratitude. In addition, depending on how many sessions it took to play the scenario, the GM could award up to five experience points to each character.
While this brings to a close the first annual Great River Poker Tournament, there's still plenty of business left for the heroes in the future. Just a few of the possibilities include the following options.
- If one of the heroes won the tournament, then it leaves the GM with the task of handling a very wealthy character. This could lead to investments across the American frontier, ones requiring much travel and thus many encounters.
- A non-player character such as Ezekiel Wainwright who is impressed by the heroes' abilities to work capably and discreetly (as the case may be) could offer them employment as guards of deputies, possibly on a stagecoach or train, with a wagon train heading west or a cattle herd coming or going, etc.
- In a similar vein, another NPC—one of the gamblers, perhaps—could have more unusual business for the heroes, such as helping to expose a rival who cheated him or her out of an inheritance, helping follow a cryptic map to a long-lost treasure, or the like.
- If the heroes managed to capture Papa Jacques Lemaire, someone might hire them to seek out the bokor's swamp plantation. Such a location should, of course, present many dangers of its own, and would contain valuable arcane secrets.
- Lemaire could always be the student of an even more powerful—and, of course, more wicked—Voodoo practitioner.
- Somebody could recognize one of the zombies as being the reanimated corpse of a crew member from a long-lost steamboat; retracing the zombies' path might lead back to the wreck, where people could investigate how it was lost.
- Finally, in one year's time, there's always the second annual Great River Poker Tournament, and it's sure to bring a whole new batch of drama.