A Deadlands: Hell on Earth Adventure by T. Jordan "Greywolf" Peacock
This was originally written as a mini-adventure meant to take up one evening (which it did) between larger, longer-running adventures, for a group that had acquired themselves a large arsenal and some wheels of their own. I borrowed the back-story for the town of New Jerome from the source information contained in the "Road Warriors" supplement (p. 98), and expanded upon it to create a short adventure, adding in some elements that weren't originally there. Although I've tried to make this a self-contained article, I highly recommend obtaining the "Road Warriors" supplement, as the vehicle rules greatly improve upon those found in the basic book, and the source information is of use to more than just truckers and Mad Max wannabes. Statistics given for vehicles here assume that you are using the vehicle rules contained in that supplement.
The heroes are traveling along Interstate 84 through Idaho, when they overhear some CB chatter:
If the heroes try to get involved, they can hail "Zilla" for some information on his "10-20" (that is, his location). He's not far away. They can try to rush to his rescue if they care to. If they don't have a CB, they can just observe the events unfolding. Basically, a black semi cab has just run "Buddy" off the road, and a second truck, coming to lend assistance, is the mysterious black cab's new target. Both trucks are hauling loads of produce, and the first one already has a good deal of its produce spilled over the road. Buddy called the pursuing black cab a "bear", which has become the catch-all term for road gangers and other wheeled terrors on the highways -- not patrol cars.
If the heroes get involved, they can catch up with the semi trucks. (The lead semi is loaded down, and the cab is closing in on it.) For all intents and purposes, they have the statistics of standard semi tractor cabs, and the most effective way to deal with the pursuing cab would be for someone in the Posse to line up for shots at its wheels.
As soon as the black cab fails a drivin' roll, it loses control and pitches off the side of the highway, rolling down a conveniently placed steep embankment and crashing. By the time anyone comes back to investigate, however, the cab has mysteriously vanished, though the impact area is easy enough to find.
If the Posse lends assistance, Buddy is badly injured but not dead, and Zilla has enough space in the back of his trailer to load up what little can be salvaged of Buddy's cargo, before it falls prey to local scavengers. (If the Posse lends a hand, nobody's likely to complain if they claim a little for themselves as compensation for helping out.) A lot of the produce consists of potatoes, though there are other vegetables as well.
If, however, the Posse decides not to get involved in this whole ordeal, then Zilla gets run off the road and his truck explodes in the resultant crash, and the black cab drives off and vanishes, while Buddy dies of his injuries if he's left that way. The Posse can then pick up as much produce as they like ... but it happens to include a special batch of potatoes from New Jerome (described below), and the Posse can have a bit of "fun" with the results of their cowardly-gained goods.
If the Posse helps out Zilla and Buddy, they direct them to a nearby "choke and puke" (truck stop) located at the intersection of I-84 (heading roughly west-northwest to east-southeast) and Highway 93 (running north/south). The truck stop has been turned into a fortified camp and a refueling station for truckers associated with the Convoy. The truck stop is walled in by makeshift barriers built up around trailers and wrecked vehicles. During the daytime, the "gates" (a couple of buses) roll open for trucks to go out or come in, and at night, everything closes down and the gates are opened for no one. (The local country has all sorts of nasty mutated creatures running about at night.)
In addition to serving as a refueling and repair station for the Convoy, this truck stop is also home to a base of operations for a locally based road repair crew that tries to keep the highways nice in this area so that the Convoy won't have to expend its resources doing maintenance when it passes through. A great deal of effort goes into making things comfortable for the truckers when they pass through, and the truck stop actually has working facilities (including showers) and a diner -- though availability of menu items changes from day to day depending on what comes in with the latest truck. The Posse can find an opportunity to trade for general goods here, and to get produce at very low prices (i.e., 10 bullets for a serving of vegetables, rather than 55). They won't find much in the way of combat-oriented supplies, except that most calibers of bullets can be traded for, and basic handguns are plentiful.
Rooms are expensive here, but luxurious by the terms of the Wasted West, at 100 bullets a night. The Posse, if they helped out Buddy and Zilla, may get a break and get a chance to stay a few nights "on the house". Otherwise, they'll be given a discount, or some other incentive to stay a while. (It depends on whether the Marshal thinks the Posse has too much money on hand or not.)
At night, when the gates are rolled closed, the guards man the towers, and the truckers gather, the diner is the main get-together place, even for those who aren't eating anything. The Posse is likely to be asked about any tales of adventures they've been through, and also asked about various places they might have been through, how the roads were, and other "mundane" things. They'll also, of course, be interested in the incident with the black cab, and Zilla and Buddy will gladly sing their praises.
One of the truckers, an old fellow by the moniker of Hoot Owl, claims to know the story of the trucker. The way he tells it, it goes like this:
'Course, he didn't survive that, and we thought that was the last of him ... but then, this mysterious black cab -- just like his, only meaner -- started showing up and running trucks off the road. You see, it was Casper, downright mad about losing his truck, and now he's come back to run everyone else off the road in revenge. And the only thing that will put him to rest is if someone faces him down in a game of Chicken and doesn't turn this way or that ... and forces him to swerve off by losing his nerve! Then and only then, will he go on to his final rest.
If anyone questions Hoot Owl about just how he knows about this "Chicken" part, he'll be evasive. Truth is, he made it up. He hasn't a clue as to the whys and wherefores, but he fancied that would be a neat way to deal with the ghost truck, so he added it to his story and states it as fact. The rest of the story can be verified by various persons who either work at the truck stop, or regularly pass through there.
If anyone tries to find out more about Jeremy and what his truck was carrying, they'll be able to find out that he was carrying a load of potatoes. And if they ask what his last stop was, it was the town of New Jerome. The truckers aren't too forthright with giving directions to New Jerome, since the inhabitants of the town want to keep their location secret, and the Convoy's willing to oblige in exchange for all these potatoes, but if the Posse has won a few points by being heroes, the truckers will figure they can be trusted.
Back when the bombs dropped, the little community of Jerome was for the most part spared from the destruction. It just wasn't big enough to drop a bomb on it. However, when refugees poured in from other areas that weren't so lucky, the town was soon overwhelmed. Disease spread, and the town was decimated by cholera and disentary. The overwhelmed survivors left the bodies rather than burying them and this, of course, led to another wave of disease. This time, everybody died.
However, due to the tragic nature of so many deaths, this settlement drew special attention from Pestilence. Some of the townspeople "got better" ... that is, they came back as a special sort of Walkin' Dead. They started doing some very unusual activities for Walkin' Dead -- namely, they gathered up all the bodies and buried them in a mass grave, and worked on restoring part of the town, which became the settlement of New Jerome. Then, they went even further ... and started planting potatoes. Those potatoes that sprouted over the mass grave were tainted -- they each contained a supernatural infection: anyone who eats one of these potatoes runs a high chance of getting sick, and no amount of cooking, boiling, etc. will reduce this risk.
The "townspeople" came into contact with scouts of the Convoy. They provided the Convoy with large amounts of potatoes, and cheaply. In exchange, the Convoy promised to grant the town's wishes of keeping its location secret. To the Convoy, it looked as if this was just because they were afraid of getting raided. But the real reason is that they didn't want anyone having too clear of an idea where these potatoes came from -- These specially tainted potatoes were mixed in with batches of normal potatoes, in hopes of spreading the disease.
Jeremy Craven was one of those truckers, and he made the mistake of staying in the town a little too long, asking a few too many questions, and eating dinner as a guest there. (The meal, of course, consisted of potatoes.) He came down sick later on, to the point of losing control of his vehicle.
Craven's ghost doesn't seek vengeance against other truckers. Rather, his cab is running trucks off the road that carry potatoes from New Jerome. His one truck, ghost or not, is incapable of presenting a serious threat to the Convoy, but it has pestered numerous smaller groups of trucks. Due to the twisted nature of the Reckoning, he can't simply come out and warn people of the threat. His tormented ghost is unable to act in a purely rational manner, and in the end, the Reckoners figure that he serves their purpose just fine by running people off the road and generally contributing to the Fear Level in the area.
The cab appears during the daytime now and then to harass trucks carrying loads of potatoes that have been tainted by New Jerome. If the Posse tries to find a connection between the attacks, they should be able to first of all find that only trucks carrying produce have been attacked -- never any passenger cars, construction vehicles, or tankers. Further investigation should be able to point out the New Jerome connection.
Every night, at midnight, the black cab rematerializes near where Craven ran off the road, headlights on. It then drives all the way back from where it crashed, past the truck stop, and on to New Jerome, where it vanishes. If, for some reason, members of the Posse might be watching at midnight (perhaps volunteering for guard duty), they should be able to observe this phenomenon from afar -- even better if they have binoculars. This is Craven's ghost trying (however vainly) to point out New Jerome to the truckers.
The original town of Jerome was located on State Road 25, which bridges off from I-84 eastward to join Highway 93 about six miles north of the intersection where the Sunshine Truck Stop is located. The shortest route to Jerome from the Sunshine Truck Stop is to take I-84 northwest for just shy of 8 miles, and then to turn east onto State Road 25 for around another mile. "New Jerome" is a settlement located on the fringes of the ruined town, hardly worth any notice ... except that the surrounding fields sport fertile ground in which are grown potatoes by the local "populace".
There are only twenty or so people from the original New Jerome that live in this settlement, plus a few visitors that decided to settle here. (Or, that is, plus a few visitors who made the mistake of eating here, getting sick, and dying, and then they joined the crowd.)
The townspeople seem to be fairly normal, to the casual observer: kids play in the street, and people go about their daily work. However, if anyone tries to engage them in conversation, they're amazingly shallow. Ask about potatoes, and you'll learn all sorts of things. They know potatoes. However, if you try to ask about just about anything else, the conversation always comes back to potatoes.
Visiting the town and snooping around solo has got to be one of the worst things that someone in the Posse could hope to do ... but, on the other hand, doing so and surviving would make it really clear just what's going on here.
Basically, if someone comes here to visit and starts asking around, the people will ideally come across as laid back "simple country folk" who may not have much to talk about besides potatoes, but there's not much harm in that, right? He'll be invited to have some dinner -- Everything on the menu will be potatoes (or a variation thereof -- they plant "sweet potatoes", too). Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, potatoes and chives, potato chips ... they'll want the character to sample them all and give them his opinion. Incidentally, it'll all be pretty good ... but they'll be serving him a more potent concentration of the virus described below. By the end of the meal, he'll need to pass a TN of 9 on a Vigor test, or take a Wound to the Guts. No Fate Chips may be spent to negate this Wound, though they can be used to negate Wind, if desired.
If the character tries to leave, they'll "insist" that he stay, and use brute force to shove him into a chair and force-feed him if they have to. If he resigns himself to his fate, then he's doomed to become the newest member of the town.
As for the situation in New Jerome, the townsfolk, with their malevolent intelligence such as it is, realize that their care to keep the location of the town secret is bound to come to an end soon. While they've taken care to try to keep the town's location a secret and to mix in bad potatoes with the good, there have been enough deaths that suspicion is bound to fall upon them. The "townsfolk" have already dealt with a few suspicious people who came to check up on things -- but who weren't prepared for a town-wide conspiracy and were caught off guard by the "wholesome" small town aura of the place and its people.
They've started upping the frequency of diseased potatoes with the good ones, and they've even developed a few more virulent strains. This may increase the likelihood that they'll be fingered, but their hope is that they'll kill as many people as possible before that happens. Toward that end, they plan on wiping out the nearby truck stop, since it poses the most immediate threat.
If the Posse visits this place en masse, the townsfolk aren't likely to act up unless it's obvious that the jig is up. They're intelligent enough to maintain their ruse, even though they aren't bright enough to hold an intelligent conversation about anything other than potatoes. (The undead can be fairly single-minded that way.)
The town has no doctor, no church, no pastor, and by all observations, everything they do revolves around potatoes (and the kids already know just as much as the "teacher" does.) If the Posse observes kids in a class, they're being taught about potatoes. If the womenfolk are talking, they're sharing potato recipes. The menfolk talk about the weather ... and how it will affect the potatoes. Kids in the street skip rope to a sing-song rhyme along the lines of, "One potato, two potato, three potato, four! Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more!"
Ideally, at first it should just look like a settlement of decent folks who don't get out much. However, if the Posse sticks around for too terribly long, they'll start to notice things amiss. (Of course, if they stick around for too long, they're all likely to get infected, too.)
If the Posse actually shows much interest in the potatoes and inspects the fields, they'll find one field just outside of the settlement, where the earth seems to be exceptionally rich -- black in color. If anyone in the Posse actually has trade: farming, or some other related knowledge area, and he actually examines the soil, he'll be able to figure out that while it looks dark the way exceptionally fertile soil might be, the texture is all wrong. It's oily, and smells rank. If the soil is tested somehow for the presence of the virus, it will be reveal that the soil in this patch is contaminated, and that the potatoes are, too. It's important to note that merely touching the soil or potatoes will not cause someone to catch the disease -- only consumption of the potato, or contact with someone who has been infected.
The other potato fields, however, are completely uncontaminated by the disease or any other taint. Those potatoes, after all, are being used as the bulk of New Jerome's output to the Convoy. If they were all diseased, the Convoy would catch on real quick.
The first night the Posse stays at the truck stop, Buddy's and Zilla's shipments of potatoes will come in. Since they've got twice the potatoes and half the trucks to carry them, there's a bit of a surplus, and potatoes are sold cheaply at the diner. For just $5 in bullets or trade, members of the Posse can have a potato-based meal, and the diner has many recipes. (This is Idaho, after all.)
The trouble is, all of these potatoes are laced with the supernatural disease from New Jerome, so anyone who eats a potato meal will have to take a Vigor test to keep from getting sick. Inevitably, people are going to get sick ... though most of the truckers passing through are just there for the night, and they'll be gone the next day, so that minimizes just how obvious the outbreak might otherwise be ... except in the case of the Posse, who will find it very obvious that something's wrong if anybody in their number gets sick.
Have everybody in the Posse make Vigor tests (even if some are just doing it as a pointless die-rolling exercise), and don't have them do it right after eating. They shouldn't initially know that the potatoes are to blame, so if you have some people in the group roll dice, and the others don't, that might make it too easy to figure out what the common factor is. It's just, of course, that the people who didn't eat the potatoes won't get sick, regardless of what they roll.
The disease caused by the infected potatoes is as follows:
A character must roll a Vigor test if he has eaten a contaminated potato. If he passes a Hard (9) Vigor test, he's fine for now. If not, he takes a Wound to the Guts, and suffers from nausea, fever and diarrhea. Each day, he will have to take another Hard (9) Vigor roll, and don't forget the wound modifiers. If he fails, he takes another Wound. If he passes, he stays at his current status. If he gets at least one Raise on the roll, he recovers from one level of Wounds to the Guts. If he heals all Wounds gained in this way, he is cured.
Mundane healing will not do any good against the disease, since it is supernatural in nature. Miraculous healing can remove Wounds and prolong the life of the sufferer, but it won't cure the disease -- Keep a running tally of all Wounds suffered from the disease, and any Wounds healed back by getting Raises. The character won't be healed until he has gotten enough Raises to offset all Wounds taken from the disease. If a miraculous means is available to cure the disease, the victim needs to first be healed of any disease-inflicted wounds (so that there's not a relapse) and then the disease can be cured at a TN of Incredible (11) by using such means as a Blessed's "Panacea", et cetera. If that succeeds, the victim is cured completely, but it doesn't guarantee against future infection.
The disease is also highly contagious. Anyone who comes into contact with a diseased person has to pass a TN of 7 or come down with the disease within a day. Anyone who is in regular contact with a sufferer (such as a doctor) must pass a TN of 9 not to become infected. Careful measures to avoid contaminaton (such as medical gloves, disinfectant, etc.) add a +2 to the roll to avoid getting contaminated this way.
Anyone who dies from this disease will become a Potato Plague Zombie within 1d6 days, unless the body is burned. This is a type of Walkin' Dead, not a Harrowed. The Manitous are firmly in control of this undead creature.
The disease is supernatural in nature, so boiling or cooking won't purify the potatoes, but if a contaminated potato is examined under a microscope, anyone with a scientific or medical background should be able to distinguish the micro-organisms infecting the potato. (Even if the character hasn't much of a background, if he's able to compare it to an uninfected potato, he'll be able to notice the difference.)
There are a number of ways for this adventure to be resolved. First of all, the Posse could just tuck tail and run. No chips should be awarded for that, but sometimes a wise Posse may figure out that it's in over its head, and moves on to greener pastures (or the next best thing in the Wasted West).
However, if people start getting sick at the truck stop, and someone in the Posse finds out that New Jerome is behind it, it won't take too much effort to persuade some of the truckers to lend a hand and to go check things out. If someone actually comes back with a tale of horror about the "potato people" being zombies, things will start to click with the truckers. One fellow might note that he thought those people in New Jerome were a bit strange, and some others might pitch in with odd observations they made ... but never bothered to mention in mixed company. Together, combined with the desperation brought on by the disease, it should be a simple matter for the Posse to get a group of truckers (perhaps five rigs) to head out to New Jerome to deal with things.
If they do so, and someone in the Posse passes an Onerous (7) Cognition check, or just happens to be watching out for such things, they'll notice that they have not five rigs, but six in their convoy, the sixth being a mysterious black cab. The cab won't prove to be hostile, and if anyone attacks it, it will just up and vanish. If anyone tries to hail Craven by name or call sign, he'll answer that he's "coming along for the show", and be unconversive from that point on.
When a big group of truckers come into New Jerome, the locals will just know somehow that the jig is up, and they'll all come out of their houses, zombie-like. If the Posse stays in their vehicles, it will just be a slaughter, because the "potato people" aren't armed, and they can't really do much about big rigs. Rather than playing out the entire "battle", unless the Marshal wants to kill time or add some elements to make the final showdown more difficult, this episode can probably just be resolved through narration -- The trucks roll into town, the zombies dumbly attack the trucks and get splattered as a result. Once the opposition is taken out, truckers in gas masks and the occasional hazmat suit go around burning everything to the ground.
Unless the Posse intervenes and makes a really good case, everything is going to get torched -- no looting allowed -- including the good potato crop along with the bad. This is probably the safest route to take anyway. Craven's truck vanishes at some point during the mayhem.
Once the last of the "potato people" are taken care of, and the cursed potato patch is put to the torch (with a bit of diesel fuel for good measure), the supernaturally caused "potato plague" will miraculously disappear, though any wounds inflicted will still remain. There is still the possibility of "potato plague zombie" truckers out there somewhere, but they won't share the ability of the citizens of New Jerome to pass for living people -- It will be plainly obvious that they're undead.
Once the town is taken out, any and all Posse members who attempt to count Coup are rendered immune to the effects of the potato plague, should it ever pop up again.
Whomever actually wins Coup, however, gets an additional bonus: Craven's truck o' doom. (see below)
You can use the statistics for the Walkin' Dead out of the Hell on Earth rulesbook to represent Potato Plague Zombies (a.k.a. "Potato People"), with the added problem that anyone who suffers a wound from a Plague Zombie in hand-to-hand combat must pass an Incredible (11) Vigor test, or be infected by the Potato Plague.
Otherwise, here are some alternative "Potato People" statistics. (Just six-sided dice were used here, because when I'm running a combat with swarms of nasties, as a Marshal, I'd far rather have just one type of die to worry about, if possible.)
Terror: 5 (only when true nature revealed)
Jeremy Craven's rig is not necessarily any more scary than a regular rig ... but the prospect of getting run down by a semi truck -- possessed or not -- is not palatable to much of anyone, regardless. The rig has the following stats, without any sort of trailer:
front: 4; other: 2
64 (after ram plate)
The wheels on the rig have Durability 8. The rig has a large spiked ramming plate mounted to the front, giving it AV 4 on the front, and AV 2 at all other body locations (including the windows).
If at all possible, if the truck does any vanishing acts, it should be when nobody happens to be looking.
The truck will have the statistics listed above, including the amazing ability to run without fuel. However, it is a jealous machine -- It will not materialize if the one who won the coup already has another vehicle. If the Posse member later loses his vehicle, the truck will conveniently materialize at some other point, awaiting its new owner.
If the truck is destroyed, it will disappear entirely. It will also vanish if its owner is killed -- but if the owner should return from the dead (breathing or not), the truck will pop up again. If any attempt is made to sell, trade or give away the truck, it will vanish. The engine housing, fuel cap and other maintenance access areas are fused shut. If some nosy person is so determined to peer into the machine's inner workings that he hacks his way in to poke around, he'll find nothing there ... and the truck will vanish at the next available opportunity. (It prefers its mystery and privacy.)
The truck can suffer normal damage from attacks to specific hit locations just like a real vehicle. It can be "healed" by various supernatural means of restoring inanimate objects, and the owner can try to patch it up as well. Superficial damage, such as scratches, dents and bullet holes will just fade away within a day. More serious "wounds" will heal by making a natural healing roll each week, and treating each Durability Level as a Wound Level. (For this purpose, the truck has a Vigor rating of 2d12.)
The truck cannot drive itself, but it is still capable of doing a few things on its own. The doors won't open except to the owner, and if anyone tries to operate the truck without permission, the truck will either stubbornly refuse to work, or else -- in dire circumstances -- the brakes just might give out at an inopportune moment.
The radio picks up only country music stations, though the reception's a bit staticky. If someone listens carefully, they may pick up clues that these are broadcasts from before the Last War. Craven liked country music, and that's what he always played on the radio, so that's what his radio will always play, even if all those stations have been reduced to glowing slag long ago. The radio can be turned off.