08 February 2017

Send in the Troupes

Inside the back cover of the 2e Boot Hill rule book, underneath an advertisement for Grenadier Models "Western Gunfighter" miniatures, is a list of credits which includes the playtesters - "The Players" - and the characters they ran: Jim "Gatling Gun" Ward and Julio Diego Garcia, Rob "Shoot 'Em Up" Kuntz and The Moonwaltz Kid, Tim "Elect Me!" Kask and Tim McCall, &c. The most intriguing to me is Mike "Hellfire & Brimstone" Carr's characters, Dwayne De Truthe and the Douglas Gang.

All of the playtesters' characters are included in the Promise City campaign description in the rule book, with their stats and nominal occupations ("Fictional Non-Player Characters Chart, pp 27-8) - and how cool is it that the playtesters' characters are non-player characters? Pretty damn cool, particularly since the playtesters are among the biggest names from the early history of roleplaying games. "Silver Dollar" Tim McCall is a saloon keeper and gambler in Promise City, and if "Elect Me!" is meant to be taken at face-value, then it would appear McCall was interested in holding public office. Julio Diego Garcia is a horse rancher; Montgomery Pickens, "The Moonwaltz Kid," is a gambler and gunfighter, ambidextrous and with a wicked good Gambler Rating.

In a campaign in which tongues were pressed firmly in cheeks - Dave Arneson's character is Ben Cartwheel of the Ponderous Ranch - Mike Carr's Douglas Gang stands out. I love whimsical names, silly names less so, and Mr Carr managed to hit my personal sweet spot like a motherlovin' gong with the Douglas brothers, their nicknames inspired by their Gun and Throwing Accuracy scores: "Deadeye" Douglas, "Bullseye Douglas, "Eagle Eye" Douglas - a 'half-breed' with maximum Throwing Accuracy - and "Pig's Eye" Douglas - the worst shot of the bunch, but also the fastest and steadiest of the siblings. Carr's boys were an inspiration to us in setting up our present campaign.

The rules for 2e Boot Hill are a snapshot in time of the ways roleplaying games were played in the earliest days among the hobbyists of Lake Geneva. The rules talk about campaigns involving twenty or more players, campaign turns of weeks or months, and the domain game of player characters in positions of power - in many ways BH is a mirror image of OD&D and its assumptions and presentation.

Boot Hill also opens the door to players running multiple characters, right in the opening crawl, though not as presented in the example of the playtest characters: ". . . [I]n a large game, a player could conceivably take on the role of two different characters if carefully arranged and monitored by the referee. In such an instance, the two roles would have to be completely independent and not subject to conflict or possible cooperation. For instaance, a player could have one role as a major rancher who is seeking to expand his holdings and another character who is an outlaw specializing in stagecoach robberies" ("HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED," p. 3).

This conception of multiple characters is very different from what is implied by the existence of the Douglas gang among the playtest characters. so when we sat down to plan our campaign, we discussed how to handle this. Since we were opening with BH1 Mad Mesa, and the town would be set outside our campaign sandbox of El Dorado County, it felt awkward to create multiple characters for each player at that point in the game as neither Mad Mesa nor BH2 Lost Conquistador Mine lend themselves to the kind of campaign which would feature distinct characters in the way the rules suggested right out of the gate - Mad Mesa is a Choose Your Own Adventure-style solo adventure which can adapted to a more traditional 'party' approach, and Los Conquistador Mine is an excellent tournament adventure which, again, presumes a cohesive 'party of adventurers.' BH4 Ballots & Bullets, on the other hand, is perfect for "completely independent" multiple characters, in line with the approach offered in the rule book, but playing truly "independent" characters would likely mean either playing characters on different sides of the political conflict in Promise City - not a deal-breaker by any means - or playing one character as disinterested in the political conflict - again, not a deal-breaker, but not ideal, either.

And there was the Douglas gang, staring out of the back cover of the book, suggesting a third way.

We decided we would each run three characters, with the second and third characters introduced after our characters left Dead Mule following Lost Conquistador Mine and moved on to Promise City, as we ramped up to Ballots & Bullets. How to treat these characters was discussed at some length - would they be independent from one another? would they be 'henchmen?' could they be close allies? - and in the end, as with pretty much everything else with the campaign, we left it to one another's good judgement.

So we set about making our troupes. My first character - and the only one of the three original characters still in the game - Eladio Rogelio Luna de la Cruz was joined by his brother and a family friend in the spring of 1874, to join Eladio's cattle drive. Francisco Teodosio Luna de la Cruz - Pancho - is five years older than his brother Eladio, and straight from the git-go the brothers couldn't be more different.

Pancho Luna
AttributeMod'd RollDescriptionAbility Score
Gun Accuracy99Deadeye+20
Throwing Accuracy00Deadeye+20

So, Fate dealt Pancho a full house: three rolls of 99 or better. He's a bull of a man, with a sharp eye and a steady hand. This immediately suggested the boys' nicknames for one another: El Gordo y El Flaco. Pancho's not slow, but he's nothing like Eladio - which also suggests another set of nicknames for the boys, El B├║falo y El Lobo - even before Eladio participated in a score of gunfights since leaving home last spring. Pancho's no coward, but he lacks Eladio's hard-won steely cool - if Pancho is spared long enough to top out his Bravery and Experience scores, he's going to be even more formidable.

Pancho's phenomenal Accuracy scores offer a real advantage in the game: sharpshooting. The Sharpshooting rules (2e BH, "SHARPSHOOTING," p. 13) allow a character with an Accuracy rating of "Crack Shot" and above to either take a bonus to their wound severity rolls, reflecting their ability to hit the target cleanly, or to choose the location they want to hit - a head shot, or a gun hand, frex. One of the more interesting options for Pancho, given his Deadeye Throwing Accuracy, is to target a limb with a lariat, giving him the option of a sort of ranged grapple attack.

Growing up in the same bunkhouse as Eladio, Pancho learned to play cards, so he gets a Gambler Rating, a pretty anemic 44. His age is 26, making him a shade too young for Civil War service, but his stats suggest something else entirely to me anyway. Both Eladio and Pancho are the sons of a ranch foreman, a vaquero tejano who helped bring a herd north for a Nebraska rancher and stayed on with his family; both boys grew up in the saddle alongside their father and the rancher's three sons - more on them in a moment - tending cattle. The Greene's ranch is located not far from Fort Kearney, which suggests that Pancho, with his sharp eye and steady hand, found additional work as a buffalo hunter bringing in meat for the fort. With that in mind, now it's time to kit him out, and of course that means a buffalo rifle.

The buffalo rifle in Boot Hill is a dangerous weapon. It's one of the slowest weapons in the game and fires only a single shot before needing to be reloaded, but it has the longest range, and with the optional stunning rule ("STUNNING," pp. 13-4), the buffalo rifle's stopping power gives it a 25% chance of incapacitating its target when it hits, rendering them unable to function the following turn and at half-ability the turn after that. It's the perfect weapon to take advantage of Pancho's greatest strength as a combatant, his sharpshooting skill, so Pancho's primary weapon is a Remington No. 1 'rolling block' rifle, for which he wears a pair of bandoleers packing .45-77 cartridges. He carries a big-ass hunting knife, of course, as well as something more exotic: a tomahawk.

Recall that in our campaign each player can choose a couple of personal items for their characters: trophies, keepsakes whatever - Eladio's, frex, are a rosary made from blue glass trade beads and a buffalo robe. For Pancho, his first item is a Pawnee tomahawk-pipe that he took off a dead Sioux in his only gunfight prior to the start of the campaign. Like the buffalo gun, the tomahawk also has a chance to stun when it strikes its target, so a pattern emerges: Pancho gives himself a chance to disable his opponents with every attack.

WeaponSpeed modifierBravery modifierWeapon Speed modifier= Base Speed

WeaponAccuracy modifierBravery modifierExperience modifier+ 50 = Base Accuracy

Pancho's other personal item is his clothing, a traditional Mexican charro outfit. The suit is his father's - Pancho is Dionisio Luna's spitting image, but the father has gotten too heavy to wear the clothing anymore and Pancho took it for himself. Eladio was an infant when his family moved to Nebraska and other than his long hair, he dresses in the style of the white families among whom he grew up. Pancho, however, is old enough to remember life in Gudalupe County, and he carries the image of the vaqueros alongside whom his father worked when Pancho was a boy. Pancho shares Dionisio's shaggy hair and bushy mustache as well as his charro dress. As far as personality, what's emerged so far is a character who is methodical, moral, and steadfast; Pancho is a simple man, without Eladio's penchant for excess or overweening ambition - the older brother is content with his place in the world and views his little brother as immature and avaricious. So far this has manifested itself as Pancho being both protective and judgmental of Eladio since the brothers were reunited.

Lincoln Greene, on the other hand, is right at home in Eladio's world. The Lunas grew up on the Greene's ranch; descended from English Catholics, the Greenes share a co-religionist bond with the Lunas which transcends the usual employer-employee relationship - all three Luna siblings were taught to read and write and figure by Mrs Greene alongside her own children, and the kids grew up like an extended family. Lincoln is the youngest of the five Greene children; he has two brothers, Hunter - who died during the Civil War - and Forrest, and two sisters, Myrtle and Olive. In terms of abilities, Lincoln Greene is very different from the Luna brothers.

Lincoln Greene
AttributeMod'd RollDescriptionAbility Score
Gun Accuracy64Fair+5
Throwing Accuracy81Very Good+10
Strength46Above Average14
Bravery65Above Average+1/+3

While Eladio was gifted with exceptional Speed and Pancho with extraordinary Accuracy and Strength, Lincoln's attributes are fairly ordinary for a 2e Boot Hill character: he's fast but not blazing, accurate but not a sharpshooter, fit but not powerful, brave but not iron-willed. There's really nothing about him that stands out, until I roll his Gambler Rating . . . 03, in a game in which 01 is the best you can achieve. And the picture of Lincoln Greene emerged: he grew up on a ranch but herding cows for the rest of his life doesn't appeal, and working for his older brother, Forrest, appeals even less. Because he was born later than the other boys, at a time when the Greenes were established and successful in their ranching business, Lincoln's parents could afford to send him to secondary school and college; Saint Louis Academy and Saint Louis University, Jesuit schools in their namesake city, were selected for the ranchers' son. Life in the Gateway City appealed to Lincoln, particularly its many temptations - gambling, horse racing, whiskey and women - and he was expelled from the university after his first year by the Jesuit fathers for 'dissolute living.' Chastened, Lincoln returned home, resigned to life on the family ranch, but stories of gold in the West encouraged him to return to college, this time the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, where he obtained his degree in 1873. Lincoln returned home to Nebraska, preparing to head west to Colorado or California, but thousands of dollars sent by Eladio to his parents convinced Lincoln to follow Pancho to the territory. Lincoln joined the cattle drive as wrangler of the remuda, normally a job for a younger, inexperienced cowhand, but while Lincoln's not over-fond of cows, he's passionate about horses and the job suited his temperament. Like Eladio, Lincoln immediately fell in with the gamblers of Promise City - embarrassingly, he lost his poke the first time he sat down at the tables in the Palace and had to be staked by Eladio.

Lincoln Greene dresses the part of a cowhand but with a little money in his pocket, he's likely to assume the garb of a young gentleman or a professional rather than a saddle tramp in the very near future. He's not a gunfighter, which is reflected in his choice of weapons, a .41 Colt 2nd Model "National Deringer" and a thin but sturdy boning knife.

WeaponSpeed modifierBravery modifierWeapon Speed modifier= Base Speed

WeaponAccuracy modifierBravery modifierExperience modifier+ 50 = Base Accuracy

So, that's my troupe: a cowhand, a buffalo hunter, and a miner. I haven't entirely figured out what makes Pancho tick yet - there's still a lot of character development to be discovered there. Lincoln Greene, on the other hand, has come to the fore as a strong character in his own right, and he opens up new vistas for me as a player: prospecting and mining, horse breeding and racing, operating an assay office. One funny thing that's come up is Eladio and Lincoln refusing to play cards against one another: each has a story about why, but the story changes every time it's told, so no one knows the real reason and neither seems inclined to tell the 'true' story anytime soon.

The other players' troupes consist of a pair of Pinkertons, 'Mad Murdo' Cunningham and 'Black Jack' O'Reilly, and Cunningham's valet, Abimael - both Pinkertons served in the Army of the Potomac, while Abimael was a slave in the Cunningham's Virginia household, active in the antebellum Underground Railroad and serving as a Union spy during the war - and a pair of Southern grifters, Lemuel Cash and his 'sister,' Carolina, and Carolina's Chinese servant (and possibly her actual brother?), Sing Lo. (As noted above, whimsical names have a long and distinguished history in Boot Hill, so while 'Cash and Carrie' is a terrible pun, it's fitting.) The Pinkertons and Abimael are hard at work for the stockmen's association ridding the range of rustlers - small ranchers, actually - while the grifters seem to be ping-ponging back and forth, in the manner of A Fistful of Dollars, between the two factions in Promise City in the run-up to the elections.

The other players have also done a great job making their characters distinct - Murdo, the Virginia gentleman who fought for the Union, and Black Jack, the Irishman from the docks of Boston, are good-cop-bad-cop partners with Abimael as their 'Huggy Bear,' whereas Lemuel, Carolina, and Sing Lo are comedy gold, intentionally and unintentionally, making promises to the Bible Circle and the Boosters I think will be impossible to keep once the city council race starts in earnest.