Friday, December 31, 2010

On the construction of adventures... Footnote to Songs, Part Two

In the same Deadlands campaign that I was working on with Shelter from the Storm, I'd also been listening to a fair amount of Nick Cave at the time.  Our group had been heavy into X-Files, picked up the soundtrack to the show, listened to a lot of the featured bands, etc.

Of specific note was Nick Cave's Red Right Hand, which featured in a number of soundtracks of the time.  I'd picked up the "Let Love In" album, which got a lot of heavy rotation for quite a while.  (The fact that it was sort of counterbalanced with Beck's "Midnite Vultures" is mostly irrelevant, as is the perception that the two albums formed a bizarre soundtrack to our Top Secret games of the time...)
On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand
The song is filled with apocalyptic imagery of a "disappearing land," with a singular figure striding across it as devastation trails in his wake.  On initial dissection, it seems like this is some demonic figure of the end times, bringing destruction and horror.
You'll see him in your nightmares,
you'll see him in your dreams
He'll appear out of nowhere but
he ain't what he seems
What's interesting is that, in the days before Wikipedia and the "real" internet, this was all we were left with:  a supernatural man of evil, along the lines of Randall Flagg (Nyarlathotep, if you would) from The Stand.  And, to be honest, that was pretty cool.  That was, until Cave tipped his hand on his next album, revealing that the reference came from Paradise Lost.  A little research on our parts revealed that the song was talking about the hand of God's vengeance.
He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
That changed things a little bit, really.  Weirdly, though, it made them better.

The thing about Deadlands is that, if you know your way around the character creation system well enough, you can make some amazing characters.  Yes, this is true for every system, but what's interesting about Deadlands (and any post-WEG system, really) was that combat skills could be made mostly worthless by anyone who knew enough about how things were done.

In Torg (by way of example), it was a matter of pushing your social skills up far enough that you could Taunt someone into inaction for the round.  Even the most battle-hardened Cyberdemon was worthless in the face of a character that could reduce them to quivering rage in a few well-delivered japes.  (Worse than worthless, really, since this could trigger a flash of Cyberpsychosis, which was often enough to cripple the character.)

A similar system was in place in Deadlands, where a character with a high enough score in Mien (what would be called Presence or Charisma in other games), would be able to shut down most combats before they could start.  Add in a few perks, like a voice that added to your Overawe (Intimidate, really), and things became vaguely ridiculous.  (These were character tweaks that I used, years later, as a player... oddly, in a game run by one of the players who'd been in the Refuge game.)

Using the song as an inspiration, I put together an NPC, Jack (for the life of me, I cannot recall his full name or alias, but it would not surprise me if I'd made him one-eyed), who was the lyrically suggested man in the "dusty black coat."  I figured him for the unfilled slot of the Blessed for the party, even though they initially (and rightly so) assumed that he was not lurking around for their well-being.

More than anything else, Jack was a quiet, intimidating figure that shadowed most of their actions as he went about his own business of investigating the town.  He was a Blessed, ordained by God (the cosmology of Deadlands was a little loose, really, in that all aspects of God were more or less equal, but they weren't exactly as they were portrayed in the holy books...  they were more weirdly spiritual; a form of strange, otherworldly life that interacted with humanity...) to seek out and destroy the horrors that were defiling this town.

Again, the early death of the game kept me from taking the plot where it needed to go and revealing the way that these songs influenced things.  But having the lyrics running through my head allowed me to better dictate the actions of Jack and create the ambiance for the town of Refuge.

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