April 7-21, 1870
Four heroes returned to the Weird West and the Confederate Territory of New Mexico to continue adventuring:
Martin, our host, with Marquis Edward Fauntleroy III, an adventurer from the United Kingdom and veteran of the original incarnation of the campaign with impressive persuasive skills
James, a veteran of the previous incarnation of the campaign, playing Felix Panzer, a Prussian Blessed by Hades (of all unusual entities).
Melanie, with her larcenous and stealthy character Beth St. Clair.
Finally, Vincent returned with Texas Ranger (and Beth's brother) Jack St. Clair.
The group had recently returned to Santa Fe with the outlaws captured in the previous adventure, most prominently including Big Joe Braswell, wanted for murder back in Texas. The group had a few days to shop and otherwise amuse themselves in Santa Fe (having returned on a Wednesday evening) before Jack was to report to the Rangers' office on Monday morning.
On Monday morning, Jack's captain, having congratulated Jack on the capture, observed that while Big Joe was wanted for murder in Texas, and had committed felony armed robbery in Colorado, he had actually been accused of no crimes at all in New Mexico Territory. As a result, he would have to be returned to Texas for trial. The Rangers would deputize Jack's companions for the duration (so there would be sufficient guards) and pay them $20 each for doing the job. In addition, the Rangers would be paying the Goodnight Stagecoach Company a fee for the use of a stagecoach and the employ of its driver. Joe would be shackled inside the coach for the bulk of the five-day trip to Big Spring, Texas.
The posse accepted the task, and after spending some time discussing the particulars of the trip (and making sure to intimidate Joe thoroughly) they set off. For the first couple of days and nights not much happened as they rode and drove across the plains of eastern New Mexico. But on the second night, while Jack was on watch, their camp was surrounded by creatures that were yipping like coyotes, but somehow more ominously. Jack awakened Beth before the wolflings could launch their attack; fortunately Felix woke up when the commotion began and was able to awaken Edward and Emma (the driver). (The group was not excessively solicitous of Joe.) While Beth leaped to the top of the stagecoach and Felix used his powers to apply smite to his ammunition, Edward pulled out his shotgun and sent both barrels into a wolfling, shredding it completely, and Jack drilled one with his rifle. The other two fell to Beth and Felix in short order.
The following day the posse encountered a small encampment of Indians, who offered to share their meal and campsite for the evening. These were Apache (from the group sometimes called the "Kiowa Apache," due to their proximity to the Kiowas) accompanied by the shaman Taza, who some previous members of the posse had encountered before. Taza told the group the story of the Hodag, a deadly creature that seems to be the hateful spirit of cattle or buffalo that avenges itself on human beings. He also told them of the scholar Ezekiel Ambrose, a Boston native last heard of in Santa Fe; Ezekiel owns a tomahawk that other adventurers have used successfully to destroy demonic creatures. Jack told a tale of obtaining really good liquor. (This was an interlude.) The Apache were tracking a herd of buffalo, which they planned to hunt in order to bring food back to the community.
The posse continued on their way to Big Spring; shortly before arriving they observed a couple of dead horses lying on the ground in front of a farmhouse. (The farmhouse was surrounded by a barbed wire fence; the horses were lying beside the gate in the fence.) As they moved to investigate they heard a woman's scream and then a gunshot. A voice shouted at them to go away or he would kill the woman. Our heroes were not about to do that, so Jack first tried to invoke his badge — which didn't impress these outlaws. In the meantime Beth began to sneak around the north side of the fence, while Jack offered to trade himself for the hostage. Thinking a lawman would be a more valuable hostage than a random civilian, the outlaw (one Diego Enriquez) accepted the deal, on the condition that Jack disarm himself first. While Jack was doing so Felix put both deflection and armor on him, and Beth continued to move around the north side of the house.
Edward was following Felix around the south side of the house at this point, when the outlaw released the hostage and accepted Jack as a replacement hostage; Jack interested Diego in a drink from the flask he normally keeps with him (Jack being an alcoholic). However, neither Felix nor Edward were quite as stealthy as Beth, and Felix was suddenly shaken by an attack that came from a window through which he didn't see anyone. Edward decided the outlaws should be driven out, and so he lit a flask of oil and threw it onto the roof. While the roof was catching fire, however, Felix used the stun power to stun three of the outlaws, including Diego. Once this happened, Diego (recovering quickly) accused Jack of treachery and took a shot which missed. Jack then attacked with a Bowie knife unsuccessfully, but Beth was able to drill him. In the meantime, Edward and Felix engaged with another outlaw who appeared at the window on the south side of the building, and once Diego was dispatched the remaining outlaws surrendered. (GM note on this: I had not anticipated Jack's plan and Felix's use of powers to improve it, but this was an effective way to deal with the outlaws.) The fire was put out and the surviving two outlaws cuffed. In addition, at the cabin had been a young (perhaps 11 or 12 years old) boy who claimed to have been brought there by the outlaws. Interestingly enough, this boy (who reported that his name was Oscar Jones) was carrying a copy of the Book of Mormon and a copy of Hoyle's Complete Book of Games. The posse decided to take him to Big Spring with them; he had reported Fort Worth as his last location.
Arriving in Big Spring, the posse immediately went to the sheriff's office to dispose of their now three prisoners. Sheriff Frank Schmitt was not particularly happy to see them, but he did take Big Joe and the other two outlaws to his own lockup and provided the required receipt for Big Joe. He also reported that Diego (the leader of the gang at the farmhouse) had been a local boy who was really too big for his britches. Frank decided to force Diego's former associates tell his mother what had happened. The posse then sallied forth to see the sights of the town of Big Spring, having spent five days on the trail.
Big Spring would be the largest town in the region if it wasn't the only one. Nevertheless, it has all the expected amenities: general stores, saloons, churches, brothels, doctors' offices, a bank, etc. In addition, somewhat unusually, it contains the Big Spring Institute for the Insane. While Felix and Edward did some additional shopping and Jack decided to visit a local provider of Negotiable Affection for professional services, Beth thought it would be a good idea to investigate the town. So putting on all her amiability and charm, she wandered around to see what she could find out. (Note: despite being completely unskilled in Streetwise (d4-2) she managed to roll 3 raises on a Streetwise check, getting pretty much all publicly available information about the town.) She discovered that it seems half the town is owned by the local bank and half the townsfolk (including law enforcement) works for the bank's CEO, one William Thornton. She also got the layout of the town and a lot of useless gossip. And no one seemed to know a great deal about the insane asylum, which led to a decision by the posse to investigate the asylum.
Beth began by casing the establishment from a safe distance, observing that it was surrounded by an adobe wall topped with barbed wire with guards at the entrances and patrolling throughout. A number of patients were visible walking (escorted by staff) through the grounds as well. Our heroes therefore — particularly since they were just trying to gather intelligence rather than instigate violence — decided to be subtle. Edward thus put on his best "English gentleman visiting the colonies, don'tcha know" outfit with Beth wearing her "I'm very attractive" dress and carrying a notebook straight from secretarial school, Felix doing his best to look like a German scholar (not difficult since he is one) and Jack just making sure his badge was visible (as their government/law enforcement liaison.) Edward then told the guards at the gate that he was on the Queen's business and needed to speak to the person in charge, whereupon the posse was escorted to meet Dr. Karl Schaden, the scientist in charge of this literal madhouse.
(Note: Edward is an extraordinarily persuasive chap and had some very nice dice rolls in this sequence.) Edward explained to Dr. Schaden that he was representing the royal family of England on a very delicate, sensitive matter involving one of their members who was going to need mental health care in a very secluded, out-of-the-way place (to avoid the press and so forth) and that he was touring facilities in the CSA to help make that determination. Dr. Schaden, for his part, was happy to take the group on a relatively full tour of the facility and show them his innovative treatments, most of which involved running trickles of electricity into various parts of the patients' brains and imparting verbal suggestions, typically to calm down violent tendencies, and also to use various colors to calm them. He engaged in some German repartee with Felix (although Felix is a Prussian from Berlin while Dr. Schaden is a Bavarian from Munich). When asked about his financing, Dr. Schaden responded that while patients' families do often pay fees, additional funding comes from voluntary contributions — the largest of which come from their great benefactor, the First Confederate Bank of Big Spring and its president, Bill Thornton. Beth almost dropped her notebook at this point, hastening to write down that information. At the end of the tour, in which no one thought anything was being hidden, Felix shared a lovely bottle of expensive wine with Dr. Schaden, but no additional information was forthcoming.
Following the tour of the asylum the posse made sure that the young Oscar Jones had a bath and his clothes cleaned, and then put him on a stagecoach to Fort Worth, hoping never to see him again. Beth did some long distance observation of Bill Thornton's actual house, which she observed is quite well guarded; she didn't attempt to force entry. The posse then mounted up for the return trip to Santa Fe.
Halfway back to Santa Fe the posse ran into a ferocious thunderstorm, such as can appear in these parts in the springtime. However, over the thunder they heard a more ominous rumbling. They identified it as a buffalo stampede, debated how to deal with the problem for a moment, and then resolved to get out of the way as quickly as possible. They were successful in doing so, although Edward was grazed by a stampeding buffalo. Then they saw the cause of the stampede in the distance. The Hodag, of which the shaman Taza had spoken, was pursuing the herd, but seeing more tasty prey it turned to charge the humans.
All four of our heroes pulled out weapons — Winchester rifles and shotguns — and unloaded with almost military precision on the creature. Despite its undead nature and its great toughness it couldn't stand up, and two volleys downed the creature before it could reach the posse to attack. (GM Note: After the first wound the Hodag tried unsuccessfully to soak, and that largely set it into a death spiral; all the heroes were rolling really well, particularly for damage. This thing was supposed to be much tougher, but in this case the rolling volley really took it down. Clearly the big bad abominations need to be bigger and badder.)
Upon returning to Santa Fe they were able to collect their pay when the Rangers received the receipt for Big Joe, and Jack was promoted to Corporal. What will be the next threat in the Weird West? What are Bill Thornton's machinations? Why is Bill subsidizing the asylum, and is there an as-yet unseen sinister side to it?