Saturday, September 29, 2018

Hell to Pay

This adventure for Savage Worlds and The Sixth Gun is the capstone of a broad story arc that includes most of the previous supplements and scenarios presented on this blog.


For some time now, one group of adventurous souls has been doing business related to the small frontier town known as Smith's Crossing. As they've learned more and more about the town's inhabitants, they've also discovered that some wicked activities are taking place there. What they've learned is only the tip of the iceberg, however, and they'll soon discover that a grand and truly wicked plot is afoot—and one that only they can stop.

Adventure Synopsis
For some time now, evidence has slowly been accumulating regarding some kind of foul plan is in motion around Fort Arneson, a U.S. Army outpost on the western frontier. This comes to a head when the spirit of a young Indian named Little Raven, unable to find peace in the world beyond this one, goes to the PCs for help. He summons them to the town of Smith's Crossing, where an epidemic of cholera has erupted (as detailed in the scenario “A Plague Among You”). In dealing with that, they discover a number of other secrets—notably, that the local doctor and his wife are responsible for the outbreak; they have been taking fluid and tissue samples from their patients and using them to craft poppets; and that they have crafted numerous incendiary devices that have been shipped to the fort disguised as casks of whiskey and other goods. 

At the same time, the PCs can learn that a treaty council and related festivities are being held at Fort Arneson. They should also learn that many people who are in attendance there—including the fort's commander, Anders Arneson III—are controlled by Angelica Smith. This means that a direct explanation of what's transpiring isn't enough to foil the Smiths' plan. Rather, the PCs must use every bit of stealth, trickery and brute force that they can muster in order to keep the villains from fomenting a massacre, summoning and binding a crossroads demon, and then forcing it to open a door into the Winding Way.

For the Gun Master
Angelica Smith possesses a copy of the Clavicula Salmonis, a book containing spells for summoning and binding demons, purportedly written by King Solomon himself. That, along with the bombs—which have been in tunnels dug by ghouls in the shape of a pentagram beneath the fort—and the blood shed by those Indians and soldiers and others under her control, should let her complete the ritual and bring a crossroads demon under her sway. That will, in turn, grant her access to the Winding Way, and from there the possibilities will be endless.

Involving the Heroes
This scenario is intended to be the culmination of a slowly developing storyline, one that includes numerous elements with clues to the plot that the PCs have only just recognized. In particular, the scenario “A Plague Among You,” which involves the investigation of a cholera epidemic in Smith's Crossing, provides considerable evidence pointing to this plot. For that reason, this adventure should be run as a direct sequel to that one. It could be possible to run this as a standalone scenario, with a good deal of work on the part of the GM, but even so it would be wise to consult that adventure for more information.

Trouble in Smith's Crossing
For more details about the events that lead into this scenario, refer to “A Plague Among You.”

Scene 1—Preparations and Approach
After they've learned everything they can in Smith's Crossing, the PCs should be ready to take action. Before they head out for Fort Arneson, they might want to consider some or all of the following things.
  • The most important consideration is probably evidence of the plot that the Smiths have planned. This includes information about the poppets they've created for different people, the copy they've made of the Clavicula Salmonis, and the explosive surprise that they've had shipped out to the fort.
  • Next they may want to consider acquiring as many weapons as possible. While diplomacy could help win the day, the chances are good that some blood will be spilled. To that end, the PCs would do well to be better equipped than their foes. Although there isn't much available in Smith's Crossing itself, the PCs should take an inventory of what they have.
  • Along the same line, the PCs should take stock of any allies who can assist them in this business. That can include Indians and people from town. This is a good chance for dramatic roleplaying, with bonuses or penalties applied based on the arguments and evidence used. The GM should tailor just who is available based on the PCs' previous interactions with NPCs, too. For example, those to whom they've provided aid are more likely to provide assistance, while ones with whom they have not had business are likely to be more aloof.
  • The PCs may want to stockpile other supplies, too—especially medical gear, which they can take from the Smiths' house, along with gifts for potential allies and any equipment that they might want for when the shooting starts.
Once they're as ready as possible, the PCs can set out to cross the prairie for the fort.

Going into Harm's Way
At that point it becomes important to know just how they make their approach; a few of the possibilities are outline here. 

There's always the chance that the PCs approach openly, in which case they can choose between at least two different tacks. One is to play it coy, acting as if they have no knowledge about any kind of plot. This could require some Persuasion checks opposed to enemy's Notice efforts. More importantly, the GM should keep in mind how much the Smiths and their allies, along with other NPCs, have learned about the PCs' activities. For example, if lots of people saw the PCs storm the Smiths' home at the Crossing, then they likely know that their plot has been discovered. On the other hand, if the PCs have been discrete in their investigation, then they're much more likely to catch the villains off guard. 

It's always possible, too, that the PCs go in for a direct confrontation. Given the influence that Angelica Smith holds over a number of the soldiers and Indians (see below for details), this should prove to be a daunting task. As always, though, may players prefer the direct approach. 

Secrecy is another option. By approaching NPCs on the edge of the gathering first, the PCs can meet with potential allies and learn more about the situation. In that case, refer to the list of characters who are present, along with their inclinations and loyalties, to adjudicate those interactions.

Fort Arneson
To find a map of the fort, along with stats for the soldiers who are stationed at it and the Indians who are present for this business, refer to the following supplements.

Scene 2—The Rendezvous and the Ritual
Once the PCs arrive at Fort Arneson, however they do so, refer to the following chart for information about how to set the scene.

The Powers That Be
Presented here are details regarding the major NPCs at the fort.
  • Among the civilians, Dr. and Mrs. Smith are, of course, in the thick of things. They are housed in the set of officer's quarters next to the infirmary. Dr. Shaffer is confined to the infirmary, along with a few other soldiers who also have cholera.
  • Of the soldiers, Captain Arneson is under the influence of a poppet; his lieutenants are not. Jeffreys is inclined to take a hard line with the Indians if they seem to be aggressive, while Fitzpatrick hopes to keep the peace. Keep in mind, too, that the PCs may have had a run-in with Jeffreys back at the Crossing, affecting his reaction to them.
  • Terrence Taylor, the Indian agent, is just trying to do his job by delivering the annuity money in an orderly manner. Angelica has him under the influence of a poppet, too—a fact that she will use to stir up resentment at the gathering.
  • The Indians are divided into two parties, led by the warrior chief Red Hawk and the mystic chieftain Standing Bear. Red Hawk has a more warlike stance, while Standing Bear, believing that something important is on the verge of happening, urges his followers to parley. Their reactions to the PCs depend on any previous encounters with them, as may have occurred in the scenarios “Blood on the Snow” and “Buried But Not Dead.” Finally, the ghost of Little Raven, inhabiting a bird, could also be present.
As always, other characters could certainly be present, depending on previous developments from the campaign, at the GM's discretion.

Terrence Taylor, the Indian Agent
This Indian agent has read a lot about Native Americans, and is entrusted by the government to make annuity payments and arrange treaties. He has been sent out to Fort Arneson to do just that, working with representatives of Red Hawk and Standing Bear's bands.
Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Investigation d8, Knowledge d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d6
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 2, Toughness: 5
Edges: Connections, Linguist
Hindrances: Cautious
Gear: Fancy clothing, writing materials, strongbox containing $5000.

The Proceedings
When the PCs arrive, the Indians are divided into two circles of tepees, one on each side of the fort's main entrance (with Red Hawk's people to the left, and Standing Bear's people on the right). Unless it is in the middle of the night, the two chieftains, with a couple of warriors each, have gone into the fort for the deliberations. Those take place in a broad tent set up just for that purpose—and located, as it were, on top of the fiery surprise that the Smiths have planned for everyone. Agent Taylor, along with Captain Arneson and a handful of soldiers, are also present. They go about their business of negotiating a treaty until they're interrupted by the PCs. 

At that point, Angelica Smith tries to use her influence to subvert the PCs' efforts. This is easier for her if they're wanted for any kinds of crimes, and especially if they've run afoul of Lieutenant Jeffreys. If that's not the case, then Angelica uses her influence over Captain Arneson, having him call for their arrest.

Presenting the Evidence
As long as the PCs do have a chance to tell their story, one of them should make a Persuasion check. As always, the GM should apply bonuses or penalties due to good or bad roleplaying or evidence. Success means that the the PCs convince Captain Arneson that their accusations are true; failoure means they're not so convincing, while a botch results in the commanding officer calling for their immediate arrest. 

If the PCs do succeed, then that's when they see the first clear sign of Angelica's influence over the captain. Instead of giving orders to bring in the Smiths for questioning, he instead calls for the PCs to be arrested. Characters who make Notice checks can recognize that he's having some kind of mental struggle, and use of the Detect Arcana power or a relevant skill check can identify that it's something supernatural in origin.

PC Poppets?
If the GM is using this scenario as part of a campaign, then it's entirely possible that the Smiths managed to acquire a sample of bodily tissue or fluids from one of the PCs, and thus to create a poppet for that character. Such a possibility adds a special degree of drama to this confrontation, with that character struggling against her influence.

The Tunnels
On the off chance that the PCs discover the tunnels dug beneath Fort Arneson—possibly because of the evidence from Smith's Crossing, combined with the fact that the intended cargo isn't visible in the fort, or through the use of magic—refer to the map above. The tunnels are dug in the shape of a huge pentagram, as indicated, and casks of gunpowder are placed at each spot marked with an X. What is more, those are connected by lines that lead to a magneto blasting detonator (a wooden box with a plunger handle that triggers the explosives). When needed, the ghouls that dug the tunnels can trigger the explosives, starting Angelica's ritual.

All Hell Breaks Loose
Once the bombs are triggered, all of the tension that has been building up during the treaty negotiation is also ignited, creating the possibility for a horribly bloody battle. At that point, the GM should take into account the following possibilities.
  • The Indians that are camped around the fort, suspecting foul play on the part of the whites, move to enter the fort. Since the main entrance is probably open—this is, after all, a friendly gathering—they storm in that way.
  • Seeing that, Danforth Jeffreys calls for a quick and forceful response from the soldiers. The soldiers come swarming out of their barracks, with guns blazing.
  • Captain Arneson could try to take command of the situation, provided that he is not still under Angelica's influence. She wants to spill as much blood as possible in order to complete the ritual, and so directs him to order no quarter, neither asked nor given.
  • The PCs can attempt to use Persuasion in order to prevent as much bloodshed as possible. To that end, treat Captain Arneson as being neutral toward them, and Danforth Jeffreys is probably uncooperative; the attitude of the Indians depends on the interactions that they've previously had with the PCs.
  • Angelica is busy trying to complete her ritual, and her husband stays by her side, ready to defend her. Additionally, she can summon the trio of ghouls from the tunnels to attack any PCs or other characters who seek to interfere.

The Ritual
In terms of game mechanics, treat the power that Angelica is trying to use as the Summon Ally power (from page 117 of the core rulebook). Her access to the Clavicula Salmonis allows her to summon and bind a creature of legendary power, in this case a crossroads demon (see page 74 of the Sixth Gun rulebook).

Dr. and Mrs. Smith—Refer to “Bad Medicine” for stats.

Soldiers (39)—Refer to “Soldiers and Officers of the US Army” for stats.

Indians (26)—Refer to “Native People of the American Frontier” for stats.

Little Raven—Refer to “Restless Spirits” and “The Dead Man's Hand” for stats.

Ghouls (one per PC, and possibly more if the PCs have brought allies of their own to the battle)—Refer to pages 76-7 of the Sixth Gun rulebook for stats.

While this situation has the potential of developing into a big, sprawling combat, the action really should focus on the PCs and their efforts to prevent a massacre and apprehend the guilty parties. For that reason, the combat between the soldiers and the Indians can be adjudicated using the mass battles rules from pages 92-3 of the Savage Worlds core rulebook, with the following modifications.
  • The U.S. Army force consists of twenty infantry privates, two corporals, two sergeants and a lieutenant; ten cavalry privates, a corporal, a sergeant and a lieutenant; and Captain Arneson.
  • Standing Bear and Red Hawk, each a heroic chief, are each accompanied by a dozen warriors (nine novices, two seasoned and one veteran).
  • For that reason, the U.S. Army side starts with nine tokens, while the native side starts with six. The Army receives a +1 advantage for the extra token, while the Indians suffer a -1 penalty due to the slight advantage that the explosion-damaged fort provides.
  • Given the circumstances, barring a major development, morale modifiers probably don't apply.
  • One player can make the Knowledge (battle) checks for the Indians, and another for the Army, in order to spread out the involvement; the players could be picked based on their characters' own leanings toward different sides.
  • The frequency of those checks is left up to the GM; the action in that battle doesn't progress as quickly as that in the combat between the PCs and the Smiths, but checks at appropriately dramatic moments provide a background for the smaller fight, and thus add to the overall drama of the scene.
  • In this case, the PCs should not suffer damage based on the outcome of the Knowledge (battle) checks made by opposing sides; rather, the outcome of each roll paints a picture of the battle that is raging around the PCs as they take on the Smiths and their ghoulish servants.
  • Finally, keep in mind that, if the PCs can defeat the Smiths, then they can break Angelica's hold on Captain Arneson, then they can convince him to order his men to stand down.
All in all, this should make for an epic confrontation, with the clash between the Indians and the Army playing out in the background as the PCs work to defeat the true villains and spoil the ritual.

As long as the PCs can reveal the Smiths' manipulation of the situation and stop Angelica from completing the ritual, then they can score a major victory. Not only do they defeat a major enemy, but they also prevent an all-out massacre at Fort Arneson. Even so, a lot of unfinished business remains to be resolved.

Further Adventures
Here are just a few of the matters in which the PCs could become involved following the Battle of Fort Arneson.
  • If either or both of the Smiths are captured instead of killed, then they are likely placed under arrest and need to stand trial for their crimes. Given the supernatural nature of things, however, this is no ordinary legal matter.
  • To that end, Captain Arneson writes a full report for his superiors back east, one that is immediately taken for special consideration. The powers that be could decide to appoint special investigators who are familiar with the occult and the supernatural.
  • The United States government could recognize the PCs as capable and fair-minded individuals, and call on them for future business between itself, the Army and the Indians.
  • The ritual that Angelica Smith hoped to conduct is based on some of the secrets contained in the Clavicula Salmonis, but others still remain. Just what else one can find therein is left up to the GM to determine.
  • Even if Angelica is prevented from summoning and binding the crossroads demon, this location still retains a strong connection to the mystical path known as the Winding Way, and the Indians who survived the confrontation might want to explore it.
  • Given that the town of Smith's Crossing has lost two of its most important citizens, there's an opportunity for a charismatic PC to take on a leadership role in that community. This settlement becomes more and more important, too, as railroad tracks and telegraph wires continue their inexorable spread across America.
  • Finally, Little Raven still has not recovered his hand, that last piece of his body that he needs for his spirit to find eternal rest. It turns out that the Hand of Glory into which it was made is still in the possession of Alexandra Flynn, who is currently using it to pursue a Mayan relic down in Mexico...

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