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Iron Road

An investigation in the Wild West.  3-9 players.  2-3 hours.
[Character Sheets]
[Thread where it all started]

The setup.

A railway company is having trouble in the mountains.  A group of people, each with a different stake in the situation, are gathered together to sort it out.

Hand out the character sheets.  The lower numbered sheets have an easier time getting the plot started than the higher ones, so if you're short on players then prefer the lower sheets.

Give everyone a bit of time to read their sheet and then spend some time answering questions.

The system.

The sheets are written up for a simple percentile system.  (Unknown Armies seems suitable...)  It should be easy to convert them to anything else that you like.

The suggested system is that anything they can justify coming under one of the skills (on the right) is rolled by that skill.
Anything that they don't have a skill for goes on one of the three attributes (with 'soul' covering most social interaction).

The dice system is 'price is right' - higher is better, as long as it's under your skill.  Doubles are 'special' (this can be easily omitted for simplicity):
	Example (skill of 65%)
Rolling exactly your skill (critical success) beats (65%)
Doubles under your skill beats (44%)
High numbers under your skill beats (63%)
Low numbers under your skill beats (21%)
High numbers over your skill (failure) beats (95%)
Low numbers over your skill (68%)
Doubles over your skill (critical failure) (77%)

The secret (PCs stay out!)

GM's only?  OK.

Pretty much all of the main characters are in conflict with each other.  Half of them have set up a problem in order to try and get the railway into trouble for various reasons - whilst the other half want it kept quiet.

Throw into that mix that there really IS a rampaging monster, and you should have some fun.

The play mostly splits into three parts:

  1. Everyone investigates what is going on.
  2. Everyone argues with everyone else as to whose fault it is.
  3. Everyone fights the horrible monster.

Things you may need that aren't on the character sheets:

You'll want to construct a map of the area.  There should be a river and a lake - the town situated on the edge of a thin bit of lake (given the town's name).  There should be a railway, leading towards the mountains and stopping at some point, with the main camp.
Somewhere near that point should be the reservation land and the 'indian' village.

You'll also want to tell individuals the locations of:
  1. The survey camp.  (The first group to go missing)
  2. The prospector needs to know where his hut is.
  3. The carnival guy needs to know where the bones are.

The people.

Edward Howerton:  Railway owner.  He's trying to stir up the camp - and has been encouraging (with drink) young Indian men to cause trouble at the camp.
He wants people scared so that he can buy his partner out, but doesn't want too much of a problem.

Charles Grant: Carnival promoter. He's spreading dinosaur rumours so that he can capitalise on the bones that have been found.  If he's not playing, then someone else (the hunter perhaps?) can stumble over the bone-yard in the course of their investigation.

Sike Sinopa: Shaman.  He's actually happy that the railway is claiming the cursed mountain, but wants to make sure that his village stays safe.  He also knows from the start the secret of his village.

Gregory Parsnich: Grumpy old prospector who wants the railway to stay off his land.  He's tagging along to make sure no one tries to blame him, or trespasses.  (He's another candidate for knowing about the bones from the start)

Hank Farley: Famed hunter.  He's come along to put paid to the giant bear or whatever it is that's causing trouble.  He's a good candidate for just turning up if a player arrives late.  He knows the location of the scout camp.

Aliyetti Butler: The newspaper editor. Wants to make this town famous and doesn't much care how - looking for scandal wherever he can find it.  Will likely stir up whichever trouble seems to be popular.

Michael Thompson: Cowboy.  Should blame the Indians.

Johnny Chann: Labourer.  KNOWS that something odd is going on, and also thinks there's Indian trouble.

Frank Littlefield: The other owner.  Wants everything kept very very quiet.  (Hired the hunter)

Secret Places.

The Indian village is a LOT more advanced than myth would have you believe.  There's every comfort a frontiersman could expect - as well as an iron foundry which does good business making rails (and used to do good business making cannon - a couple of three pounders should still be around.)

The scout/survey camp.
They're dead.  Torn apart by large animal(s).  There's signs of a scuffle, but not many tracks.
(If the hunter finds this EARLY then tracks should lead a short distance then vanish - as though the animal flew off.  If they find it late, lead them right to the cave.)

The bones.
You might or might not want a pair of stereotypical english scientists here.  You probably want to reveal that the carney man owns this place.
Here they can find lots of dinosaur bones.

If they find this place late, then having the dragon attack it just after they leave is a good way to get them moving.

The main camp.
If found early, they can talk to the labourers and get a lot of cofused stories as to the danger and try and calm them down.
Then the dragon burns it.  And the powder store will explode - leaving them with little forensic evidence but lots of speculation (who would do such a thing?)
If they've not gone there early, then the smoke should alert them that something is up.
The safe (with all that lovely money!) should be missing.

The prospectors hut.
He's got dynamite and gunpowder and a worked-out mine.  Not much else.

The town.
Anything that would reasonably be found in a frontier town is here.  With negotiation, the players should be able to get ahold of some blasting powder and guns.

The cave.
A traditional cave with a pile of gold and a giant dragon.  The opening should be amenable to dynamiting to seal him in perhaps.

Yes, that's right a dragon.
Welcome to the plot.  I hid it all the way down here so that players wouldn't sneak in and cheat :)

Ok - yes.  There's a dragon.  Possibly the last dragon.  It came up to the dragon's graveyard to die years ago.  Now some fools have disturbed the graveyard and re-awoken it.

Stats: Being a huge whacking great dragon (Body) 85%.

Things YOU need to decide:

  1. How intelligent is the dragon?  Can it speak?  Probably the best thing to do is to have it not initiate communication, but reply if it seems sensible to do so.
  2. Does it have wings?  It doesn't NEED to have wings - and indeed the dinosaur link is strengthened without them.  (Described as a T-Rex.)  If you give it wings, it is MUCH harder to fight directly.  (So not having wings is good if you are running out of time)
  3. Will it attack the town?  The Indian village?  (Only if the PCs are REALLY dithering, I suspect.)
  4. When should the PCs see it?  The game only really gets going then - given them about half the sessions allotted time, and if they've not been really clever by then, or found its cave - then reveal it dramatically.


What are the players expected to do?
  1. Best solution is negotiation.  Talk him down, put the bones back, seal the cave.
  2. Next best would be some kind of trap.  Sealing the cave (if they do that too early it can fight out) or filling cows with gunpowder.
  3. Worst is a direct fight.  They have guns and cannon, they have a chance.
  4. And, of course, anything else that the players can come up with on their own.


And here's the suggested running order:
  1. Hand out Characters
  2. Explain the Rules
  3. Who knows who, secrets, individual explanations.
  4. Here is the map.
  5. Very brief end of the town meeting that has the players grouped together and sent off to sort it all out.
  6. Either the Indian village, exploring the hills or the rail road camp.
    1. (optional) Heading off a lynch mob that wants to keelhaul the injuns.
  7. Either the camp is seen to be on fire or they hear/see the monster.  (Keep the players moving)
  8. More exploring.
  9. At around the halfway-mark, see the dragon.  (At the graveyard if they didn't already go there)
  10. Players plan and act however they feel, to solve the problem.
  11. If you run out of time, the dragon burns the town and flies off.

Things to have handy:

Dynamite etc. can be found at:

Some stereotypical era-appropriate first and surnames to mix and match:
Arthur Machon, James Mack, Alexander Mears, Martin Parsons, Joel Shore, Frederick Phisterer, Charles Shafter, William Hendrick, John Terrys.

And here's how it went for me:

First four characters in play.
They went straight to the labour camp, and to spark the game off it was burnt before they arrived.  The safe was gone - and the game really started there.  The owner wanted to know who'd stolen it, the prospector grumbled about evil and the carney man talked of 'fire breathing monsters'.

They decided not to go to the Indian village (shaman talked them out of it, though owner thought they'd stolen his cash) and went looking for the scout camp.
So they had to turn away the lynch mob (They actually set them onto the Chinese immigrant workers instead.  Nice people, my players.)
The carnival player knew no subtlety at all, they went for the survey team (and didn't find them yet.)
Night falls, and a fifth player (the hunter) joins.  Some comedy happens, and he tells them about the survey teams fate.
Carney takes them to the graveyard (which I populate with geologist archaeologists) and gets completely rumbled.  And, since the time for a subtle reveal is gone, have the dragon tear it up just after they leave.
(Oh yes - the prospector stole a toe bone, which I used as a trigger.)

They mostly run in fear.  Then they regroup, set a fairly puny trap (I decide that the dragon is smart enough to come from the opposite direction - and have been hinting but never actually showing that it could fly) and they fight bravely, take some bad hurt and finally shoot it with the cannon and explode a barrel of gunpowder.

I think one of them made it out alive, but the dragon was dead.


1 - "Why did we run the railway across the cursed mountain?  Because it was the most cost effect... Uh... Because it has nice scenery"

5 - "What's that?  Has Timmy fallen down a well?"
3 - "or did Lassie push him?"

3 (of 5) - "I'll prove I'm better than him.  And his little dog too."

(Don't remember who suggests:) "We summon Craig Charles!"
(Again, don't remember who:) "A dragon sized bear trap!"

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