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[DitV] Yellow Clay

Started by Neal, December 07, 2005, 04:10:32 PM

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This session, our session was going to be shorter than usual, so I went with a town I had developed specifically for its simplicity.  We got started around one-thirty or two in the afternoon, and we wrapped up before eight.  Yeah, that's a short session for us.  Anyway, the town of Yellow Clay is posted on the lumpley forum, so here's what we figured out during play...

First of all, I opened the game with a blunder that I hope I won't ever repeat.  There were three road agents, hired by four of the town's leaders, including the steward.  Their job was to hunt down Brother Amos and his Mountain People girlfriend and turn them over to her papa, an Indian holy man.  In the interest of putting all my cards on the table as quickly as possible, I had the three road agents lounging about the town as the players rode in.  I described them -- one in a stovepipe hat with raven feathers, another in a bloodstained leather longcoat, and a third in a buffalo coat -- and mentioned that they seemed to be drinking whiskey out of a jug they passed around.  They made catcalls and sneered things like "Purty coats, ladies."  It was my way of holding up a neon sign reading "Here's someone to shoot!"

The players didn't take the bait.  Instead, they went to the steward, Brother Melchior, who gave them the cold shoulder.  He just wanted them to ride through town and get out of his hair.  One of the players decided to stick around and question this steward, while the other went back to the horses.  Here was my golden opportunity, and I dropped the ball...

"That sure is a purty coat," one of the road agents told Dave's character (Brother Jebediah) as the three agent approached him alone outside the stables.  "I allow as how that's prob'ly the warmest coat I ever seen.  What'll you take for it?"  Jeb tried to put them off, telling them it wasn't for sale, that it was a badge of his office, all that.  But the road agent leader wanted the coat.  More than that, he wanted to take it off a Dog.  It was a gorgeous opportunity for me to launch a conflict, have the road agents drag Jeb inside the stables, beat him up, take his coat, leave him lying there bleeding in the hay.

And I backed down.  I guess I just didn't want to start whooping PC ass five minutes from the start of the game.

So instead, I told Jeb, "You hear the bell on the steward's office door, and Brother Thomas (Mike's character) is coming down the board sidewalk."  The two Dogs together were a little more intimidating to the road agents, and so they left -- to be gunned down mercilessly in the streets later, when they torched the newspaper office.

So yeah, note to myself: when a conflict presents itself like that, seize it!  I even asked Mike after the game, "Do you think I was being too soft on Dave by not having those road agents jump him?"  "Oh yeah.  They should have kicked his ass."  So there it is.

Here's another observation.  In the town as written, I had four town leaders (a burnt-out steward, a covetous banker, a larcenous hotel owner, and a cranky mill owner) involved in the conspiracy to capture Brother Amos and Cha-See-Quee-Ah-Chee, the Indian girl, and return them to her father so that the Indian raids would stop.  I played each of the conspirators for all they were worth.  The first to go down (and it should not have surprised me) was the steward.  It went like this.

Mike's character, Brother Thomas, after noticing the road agents and hearing the newspaper publisher tell him what was going on in town, marched right over to the steward's office and laid it on the line: "Your authority stops here.  While I'm in town, I'm the law.  Whatever happens because of those road agents you hired, it's on your head, and I will see you punished."  Then he left.  When the road agents acted up and were gunned down in the street, Mike didn't miss a beat.  "I'm going back to the steward's office."

As he and Brother Jeb marched into the office, still bleeding from their own wounds, I described Steward Melchior frantically loading a pepperbox revolver, with another pistol lying on the desk next to his elbow.  Thomas opened the conflict.  "You were warned."  And he instantly escalated to gunfighting.  Melchior got to return a couple of shots, but he was blasted half out of his shoes by the two Dogs, who then walked calmly back out of his office.

The Dogs had attacked a steward before, during their first town.  The steward in that town had been reluctant to condemn a fellow Faithful, and the Dogs ended up beating some sense into him.  I guess I should have known they were not above shooting this steward to death, but it did take me aback.  "Wow, they blew him away like it was nothing."

They called a town meeting at the hotel to set all the townspeople straight about who was in charge.  This was where I got to play some fun games with stakes.  The hotelier was a rough customer, a lip-service Faithful from Back East who had once run whores and gambling, and was really just waiting for this town to outgrow its religious fervor and settle into a real civilization.  He decided this was his place, his town, and these fruity-coated kids weren't going to take that away.  So we launched a conflict.  The stakes were "If the Dogs win, they gain the ear of the townspeople and win their loyalties for the duration; if the Dogs lose, they'll be run out of town on a rail."

The conflict began at Just Talking, naturally, but it took little time for things to escalate all the way to Gunfighting.  The hotel owner had four thugs to supplement his own strengths, and the Dogs ended up sending those boys packing while they ordered a couple more townspeople to drag the perforated body of the hotel owner out of the hotel.  This was an enjoyable conflict because the players knew that to lose it meant losing the town; they'd be pushed out by all and sundry.  So they had a lot at stake, and that made for an intense conflict.

The end of the session presented a nice moral quandary.  After everyone who could be shot had pretty much been shot (or punished in some other way), the players finally got to the nut of the matter: what to do about Amos and Elfene (his wife) and his new Indian girlfriend.  They hadn't even asked Elfene her opinion before they formed their decision; in fact, they hadn't bothered even to look the woman up.  They had simply decided that Amos and Cha-See-Quee-Ah-Chee should be married, and her sachem father should be presented with his asking price for such a high-status bride.  It was while they were going back to Amos's home to gather up belongings to trade for the bride that they met Elfene.

Elfene couldn't believe the Dogs would gather up her mother's silver to pay for a girl who was going to replace her in her husband's affections.  The Dogs compromised slightly -- ever so slightly -- by offering her the silver and a divorce.  Dave was groaning, "This is sooo wrong.  Damn it, I thought we had this all figured out.  Why didn't I think of the wife?"

The final outcome was that Elfene got a divorce she didn't really want; she got to keep the house and land; Amos got his Indian bride; Amos and his bride were summarily exiled from any and all Faithful communities; and the Dogs rode on, sending a letter off to Bridal Falls to recommend Brother August (the newspaper publisher) for the position of Steward.

In the after-game bull sessions, I asked the players what they thought their characters felt when exiling Amos and Cha-See-Quee-Ah-Chee.  Dave didn't like the idea, but he knew there was no reconciling Amos and Elfene without getting rid of the Indian girl, who was clearly in love with Amos.  Mike said it was not as tough for him.  He pointed out that four people had died in the Indian raids, and others had been placed in harm's way, and all because Amos had developed a crush on some exotic beauty; it was a childish, selfish love with no sense of sacrifice about it, and he felt it deserved a harsher punishment than it got.  He didn't even really feel bad for Elfene, who could simply have accepted her husband's divided affections rather than stamping her feet and insisting upon her rights at all costs.

So for Dave, this town was morally chewy, while Mike found it pretty easy to pare away.  I thought that was interesting because of the way the two play their characters.  Dave's character comes from a joyful reigious family, always filled with relatives and singing and smiles; his stint as a Dog is wearing him down, and he can't see himself surviving more than a year of this.  "Man, when that year comes around, I'm gone so fast it's gonna leave my coat hanging in the air with nobody in it."  Mike's character, on the other hand, was raised in a bleak, joyless religious family, practically Calvinist in its hellfire severity; for him, beng a Dog is a natural extension of the dark duties of the Faithful.  "You mentioned there are Dogs out there who don't even know who they serve anymore, they just keep going on sheer momentum; yeah, I think Thomas is on his way to being one of those guys -- a Hound."

In other notes, I had more fun with NPC Traits this time, getting a little more creative than I've done in the past towns.  Some that I found particularly fun to play in conflict included the mill owner's "Doesn't handle pressure well: 2d4" and the hotel owner's "Everybody around here owes me: 2d4."  Both resulted in Fallout, but they merged smoothly into their respective conflicts.  But perhaps the one the player's liked best was the mill owner's "He knows he's going to Hell: 2d6."  I'd portrayed the mill owner as the only one of the four conspirators who knew the moral import of what he was doing, and who felt that the King of Life had pulled a fast one on him, leaving him only with a choice between bad and worse.  The foreknowledge that he was damned made him interesting enough to the players that they spared his life in the end and put him to work cleaning up the town.

Well, that was Yellow Clay.  I didn't run the Indian sachem or his warbands as NPCs because by the time we got to them, the moral core of the town had been exposed, and it was occupying our attention.  Ravening Indians would have been gilding the lily, I felt, and my player's agreed.  For all its simplicity, this was the bloodiest, grittiest, and most morally upsetting town we've run so far.


Sounds solid-- you seem to have really hit your stride.  Other than your hesitation to jump the PCs five minutes in to the session, was there anything else that you had hoped would go a different way?

Hey, I'm Scott Martin. I sometimes scribble over on my blog, llamafodder. Some good threads are here: RPG styles.



So Neal, what was the most fun aspect of this session for you?




Scott -- I didn't really hold out any specific hopes, except that I hoped the players would experience a little more angst over the lose-lose decision posed for them.  I think it's to their credit that they turned it into something that would showcase their particular characters and how they were developing.  Thomas's fatalistic acceptance that love can't hope to conquer grim reality was interesting and well-played.  And Jeb's reaction was typical of him as well, taking someone else's misfortune as a sign that he (Jeb) was sliding into darkness (kind of a "Gimme that spotlight!" reaction, and perfectly in keeping with the way Jeb is).

Troy -- The most fun aspect of the session for me, to be honest, was getting a chance to play a few fully-fleshed NPCs to the hilt.  I robbed Deadwood of its newspaperman and its foul-mouthed hotelier, for one thing.  The banker, Brother Seth, was a wheedling lickspittle (always a fun type to play) who knew his goose was cooked.  But the most satisfying was Cha-See-Quee-Ah-Chee, the Indian girl.  She was fun because I couldn't use any language to define her; it had to be actions and reactions, all narrative.  That was a blast.

Yeah, looking back on this town, I think I learned that a leaner, trimmed-down town can provide me with just as much grit and gristle as a more populous, convoluted work-up.  I guess I'll run a few more like this in the future.