Blood Brothers 2
9 Glimpses of Horror
The EVIL Gun
Scenario by Kevin Ross
Anecdotally, Chaosium’s Down Darker Trails setting book seems to have been quite a hit. Unfortunately, the book itself contains only two scenarios, and its follow-up, Shadows Over Stillwater, is primarily a mini-campaign, with only one additional, albeit grand, scenario. This popularity, coupled with the lack of new material, means that Keepers are hoping there may be older scenarios they can use to continue their adventures in the wild west. As it turns out, there is only one. Published back in 1992, Blood Brothers 2 continued the premise of the first, paying homage to various film genres with one-shot scenarios, playable in a single night. One of these scenarios just so happens to be an homage to “spaghetti westerns”. It also just so happens to be written by Kevin Ross, the author of Down Darker Trails. As I take another deep-dive, I’ll once again give the warning that there will be spoilers.
To begin, I need to point out that this is a very short scenario. The scenario text itself is just 5 pages, plus 9 pages of support information that include: a “movie poster”, a town map with location descriptions, sidebars, and NPC/PC stat blocks. What text there is, is also quite bare-bones, leaving a lot up to the Keeper to fill in. I’m not sure if this a fault of the scenario, or just how scenarios were written 25 years ago. It’s possible I’ve just been spoiled by Chaosium’s recent new-Keeper-friendly outlook.
As the scenario begins, there is literally no backstory given. Nothing for the players, nothing for the Keeper. There is a brief introduction, and a summary of the scenario, but that’s it. Immediately following is the map of Yellow Flats, the scenario’s setting, supplemented with brief location descriptions. Almost every location is a riff on known names from western films, such as “Morricone’s Funeral Parlor”, which takes its name from Ennio Morricone, the composer of many well-known spaghetti westerns, the most famous of which is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. There are also some game mechanics for gambling presented here, but it is otherwise pretty run-of-the-mill.
Players choose from Yellow Flats NPCs to play, which would make replacement characters easy, should they be needed. One problem with a sandbox like this is that the investigators might start the scenario nowhere near the action. The scenario says they should see a mysterious drifter arrive, but if they happen to be in the corners of the map, it makes no sense that they would, when the saloon he heads to is in the middle of town.
The drifter makes for an interesting villain, and the way he’s described sounds cool, but aside from saying he’s supernatural, the scenario leaves it up to the Keeper to decide his true form—”Ghost? Demon? Sorcerer?” This ties in with the lack of backstory, and while some Keepers may appreciate this ambiguity, I prefer my villains to be fully fleshed-out and defined.
The scenario proper opens on a weird movie-like intro. Despite the players choosing townsfolk to play, this scene suggests that two players can temporarily play as ranch-hands as they confront the drifter, who is drinking from their well. This means they would need to be told to be antagonistic towards him and are even given things to say, which kind of defeats the point of roleplaying the scene. It’s little more than a gimmick, as the players will learn of what transpired shortly after the drifter arrives at Yellow Flats anyway. At first, I thought this gimmick might just be part of the Blood Brothers style, but after skimming a few other scenarios in the book, it isn’t. My advice would be to just leave it out.
There is a half-page text box included with rules for playing in a western—such as pistol fanning and dual-wielding—which would have been helpful and fun in a pre-Down Darker Trails era. As an aside, I can’t believe it took a whole 25 years before a western setting book was made.
When the drifter arrives at Yellow Flats, he heads straight for Leone’s saloon in the middle of town, and after only a short time, is approached by the sheriff. Again, the scenario suggests that a player plays the sheriff, which I still can’t get my head around. He is there to question the drifter with regards to the dead ranch-hands, so they would need to be told what to say, including the player-hint that the bodies have been taken to the Doctor’s place. On top of this, an Idea roll also gives other investigators present a prompt to say that the ranchers were “hot-heads and bullies”, so are yet again being told to say. It’s like the whole scenario up to this point is running from a script, which seems to be intentional, but doesn’t work at all for a roleplaying game.
Later that night, the sheriff is murdered by the resurrected ranch hands. Only those nearby have a chance of hearing the drifter resurrect them with a strange whistling, but everyone in town will hear the gunshots as they kill the sheriff. The scenario says the same player can control the sheriff as before, but this seems particularly pointless as he is simply fated to die.
The next day, there is a bank robbery by a local gang, and a gun-fight breaks out. The scenario says that there are three times as many gang members as there are investigators, and ten more arrive if the investigators start winning. Once the investigators feel like they’re losing, the drifter shows up to help. He’s a bullet-proof sharp-shooter with 80% Firearms (pistol), so he will easily take care of things. As cool as a wild west shootout is, it should be noted that this scene would be very crunchy for the Keeper. Assuming a mere three investigators, that will mean nine gang members (plus ten in reserve), the drifter, the deputy sheriff, his two backups, as well as 1D4 townspeople. That’s a possible 27 NPCs that the Keeper will be rolling for. Even ignoring the gang reinforcements, that’s still 14-17 NPCs—all rolling for attacks and damage—that the Keeper will need to keep track of; and every extra investigator adds three more! My only advice here is to not roll for any of them. Every NPC involved has a Firearms skill of 50-60%, so the Keeper could just let every second one succeed. With revolvers dealing an average of 7 damage, rifles dealing an average of 8, and most of the NPCs having 13 hit-points, the Keeper could also simply say that each drops after 2 hits.
That night, the drifter whistles up a dead horse, which has bits of flesh hanging off it and some bones exposed. It’s a horrific image, but depending on where the investigators are at the time of its resurrection, it may be encountered matter-of-factly outside the saloon, which would likely make for a humorous scene rather than a horrific one.
The next section of the scenario is a daily list of events as the drifter progressively takes control of the town. A qualm here is that on the fifth day (Sunday), a sermon is being held at the church, and if a player is playing Reverend Yates, they are told to summarize their sermon. As someone who has never been to church, I have no idea what a sermon entails, even in summary, so not having any text to paraphrase is a bit of an assumption of the players.
That night, the drifter gives his own sermon from a graveyard on the hill (which does come with text to paraphrase), and while the scene itself is fine, it ends with the drifter disappearing into the grave of “a stranger beaten and killed long ago,” which implies a backstory. So why isn’t one given? This is literally the only reference to one, so if the investigators enquire about the grave, the Keeper has nothing to elaborate upon. It’s a lead with no payoff. Any Keeper running this will have to come up with the backstory on their own, as well as plant the clues around town for investigators to discover, which is something the scenario could have easily included, yet didn’t.
On the sixth night, and into the seventh day, the drifter whistles up everyone he has killed in the town thus far, which means an army of “at least twenty, maybe as much as fifty,” according to the text. The drifter’s stat block says that it costs him 5 magic-points to resurrect a corpse, and he only has 17, so this will need to be ignored for the sake of the finale. Having so many enemies called up at once is essentially game-over if the investigators haven’t figured out how to kill the drifter by this point. Which brings me to…
The final section of the scenario is regarding stopping the drifter. What’s written here baffled me. It says, “This would be simple enough for investigators to solve, and the player-characters have adequate clues.” What? There hasn’t been a single clue in the whole scenario. The only information on defeating the drifter is in the “Armor” section of his stat block. Other than that, the only information the players would have is that bullets go through him, and he can raise the dead. That’s literally it. It goes on to say that the PCs will hopefully have turned to “the more learned townsfolk for assistance,” who will—for some reason—suggest silver, magic, or fire as weapons against the drifter. I wouldn’t exactly call that “adequate clues”. The NPCs listed here are a school teacher, doctor, and the reverend. I can understand the reverend having some knowledge of the supernatural, but why would a teacher or doctor know anything? Regardless, just as in my last review, The Return of Old Reliable, it’s up to NPCs to provide the recipe for defeating the villain, rather than the investigators figuring it out themselves.
The Evil Gun’s brevity seems to be its biggest downfall, with the lack of backstory and investigation leaving a gaping hole in the story that it expects the Keeper to fill in. It features plenty of gun-toting action, which is both a plus and a minus, as it’s what’s expected in a wild west setting, yet the Keeper will end up wearing out their dice with the sheer number of rolls they would be making. Despite the Keeper-side work, I feel like this scenario would make a fun one-shot, perfect for a night of Down Darker Trails, with only a few tweaks needed…and perhaps a mock sermon on-hand, just in case.
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