’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and bloodThe opening lines from Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm. I have to think I heard it on the radio, back in the day, despite being a deeper cut from an artist known locally for Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. To me, it was already off on the right foot, speaking of how I viewed Deadlands anyway. The song has a Western feel to it, coming as it does, two years after the soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mountThese are incidental details that I wanted to work into the game, but they ended up being more for flavor than anything else. These would be the rogue's gallery of characters for the characters to deal with.
But nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothesHere, the setting begins to take shape in my mind. The song, in proper Dylan style, goes back to the constant storm that the character is weathering, and the only respite he can find is from the unnamed woman that offers to shelter him, as it were. Here we find a sinister village, filled with low men gambling for the possessions of a man presumed dead. The narrator came looking for something spiritual, not understanding what sort of place he had stumbled into, and the cynical inhabitants of our unnamed town took him to task for it.
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warmTaking these elements together, I came up with a small mountain village, high in the Rockies. I forget exactly where I placed it, but it seems like I put it on the Western edge of Colorado, near the Utah border. Here, the rains had been falling for weeks. (Depending on how I wanted to go about it, it could very well have been forty days... Doesn't seem like it, though.) The storm, as noted in the song, was unending, a piece of ambient detail that was everpresent and established the bleak mood. Taking another cue from the song, I named the place "Refuge," not really doing much to disguise my inspiration.
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
I had decided that there would be some sort of supernatural conspiracy that held the town together. Perhaps the aforementioned characters of the Deputy, the Preacher, and the Undertaker, amongst others. It was their doing that had caused the deluge that assailed this town. And they had filled the ranks of miners (it's in the high Rockies, of course there's going to be a mine... logically Ghost Rock in Deadlands) with their own minions and cronies, hence the people gambling for their clothes.
The Preacher would have to be an important member of this conspiracy, necessitating the lyrical bargaining for salvation. It had been done before in the character of Reverend Grimme of Lost Angels. Not wanting to do that over again, I figured I could cleave a little closer to Lovecraft and make the dark gods that this preacher worshiped a little more C'thulhoid. That could also be the inspiration of the "lethal dose" that the narrator gets instead of salvation. Something to open the doors of perception, as it were, but it ends up being far more than is wholly necessary. (I never did anything with this detail, just because the party didn't fit with the idea. Had they had a Blessed character, it might have worked better.)
What I ended up using was the idea of a South Seas temple that had been transported back to the village and reassembled, working as the focal point for dark and horrible rituals. The reality warping aspects of this weird and forsaken edifice were the cause of the unceasing rain, and the characters had arrived on the eve of a series of rituals to reawaken this dark god.
Of course, the unnamed girl in the song would be both the love interest for one of the player characters, as well as the necessary sacrifice to the dark gods.
Sadly, the game only went a couple of sessions before breaking apart for one reason or another, so some of the plot ideas were unexplored.