GM: Keith Stetson
Players: James Stewart, Sean Nittner, Jason Morningstar, Stras Acimovic, Zak Deardoff
System: Seco Creek Vigilance Committee (Playtest)
Keith has, from what I’ve heard, run one sort of Western drama or another for ages. He is honing his art. Seco Creek, which shows strong mechanical inspiration from The Shadow of Yesterday and Lady Blackbird, is his current iteration of that Western.
The situation is that three men have been locked up for the crime of theft and murder. A sheriff and his posse stand guard over the men as they wait for the 3:10 train to come into town to deliver them to Bright City, where they will be given a trial. Outside the small town grieves the loss of their own, a school teacher murdered during the robbery, and want their own personal justice inflicted right here. Further afield, Duke Cahill, leader of the Cahill gang, plots to free his men by means of either manipulation of the judges or outright overpowering the posse to take them back before they can be put on that train.
3:10 to Yuma and the first episode of Deadwood were both playing in the back of my head the whole time. Some pretty awesome sources of inspiration!
Internally, there was plenty of friction as well. In fact the internal debate was what drove all of the action in our game.
- The sheriff was going to see those men on the train, come hell or high water. He was not backing down.
- The businessman wanted what was good for the small town. Growth and prosperity came from following by societies rules. He cares about the town both generally in terms of it’s future and specifically in terms of individuals that he wanted to see prosper (notably the town drunk)
- The reformed outlaw was going to see justice rather than the law be done. Of the three men locked up two of them he knew to be innocent of the crime directly. The were accomplices at most. One of those two was his brother. The third was a brutal killer. Of the three, he wanted to ensure that the innocent(-ish) men walked free, and the guilty was hung. He feared that if they went to trial, the opposite would happen.
- The deputy knew they had all stepped in a pile of horse shit. Extricating themselves was going to be messy but he had the experience and the acumen to know a losing battle when he saw one.
- The rancher looked out for himself and his own. He had dealings with the Cahill gang, buying stolen cattle off them, and little stakes in seeing any of these men live or die. He did however want to ensure his own relevance in the town, one which sought to move on without him.
Highlights of play
Trying to stand on the post to calm the people and constantly being torn down, then watching the businessman do it far better than I could (as the sheriff). Part of this was because of his station in the town, but part of it is because James is a very intelligent and eloquent speaker.
Recruiting members of the would-be mob to stand watch over the jail and protect it from Duke Cahill or from others that would see personal justice done. Then having that all go horribly awry when Richard, skittish and uncertain, stabbed our town drunk as he approached. Yes, the drunk had a shotgun, but no, he probably wasn’t going to use it. This created a really tense situation where the “right” thing to do would be to arrest a man for defending the jail and turning the entire town against us. I did not do the right thing.
Jason and his knowledge of early 20th century “heath” tonics! Oh my god.
- Freeman’s Chlorodine – Mix chloroform 75, tincture of capsicum 25, tincture of Indian hemp 100, oil of peppermint 2 and glycerin 250 with alcohol (20 per cent) 450. Dissolve morphine hydrochloride 10 in the mixture. Add to it diluted hydrocyanic acid 50 and enough alcohol (90 per cent) to make 1000.
- Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Tonic – Even worse!
Through the deputies ministrations, we stayed up all night (quite buzzed) and put a dying man out of his misery by drowning him in a bottle of tonic!
Our outlaw’s internal debate. He wanted to save his brother. He wanted to give up a life of crime. Those two things just weren’t both going to happen. So fuck it, he’d be a criminal again (scratching off the Key of Redemption) if that’s what it took. Unfortunately, it still ended with a bullet in his head…but the road getting there was amazing.
Our rancher being singularly able to talk down just about everyone. The sheriff, Duke Cahill, even our zealot guman. It was one park “I’ve seen it all” and one part “that makes good sense”, but he was always able to find a topic of conversation to calm the restless and trigger happy.
Our final showdown was amazing. The deputy had abandoned a hopeless fight. The rancher was still there, gun in hand, but not picking up the badge. Duke Cahill probably would have gotten what he wanted if the un-reformed outlaw hadn’t put a bullet in his head. We had a great speech by way of pontificating at the end.
“The way I see it Sheriff, only one person has to die today. Duke is dead. You had over those three men and we’ll go our separate ways, never to be seen again.”
“It sounds like a good plan, but I think your arithmetic is off. By my count it’s two.” BAM!
And with that the Cahill gang fled to the woods, sure to come back again some day, but for now without a leader, and without anyone to buy off the judges who would preside over these three men’s fate.
The play itself was fantastic. I remember this terrible tension building up in the back of my neck. This feeling that I need to keep everything together, and that probably wasn’t going to happen.
The question of what is “right” vs. what is “good” came up (at least in my head) often. Is it right to send these three men to hang when only one is guilty? Maybe. I mean, they were all guilty of something. But that’s not why we did it. We did it because it was good. But good for who? For the businessman it was good for the stability and peace of the town. For the sheriff it was good for upholding the law and maintaining authority.
What was the right thing to do when Richard killed the town drunk? Was it to console him (and eventually deputize him) or was it to arrest him? I feel like in a TV show the answer to that would be based on the mood music playing in the background. I mean seriously, it was all a matter of who you sympathized with and what you thought the likely outcome would be. For the businessman, the drunk represented the towns potential. If he could be saved, then why couldn’t any of us be saved. When he died, the businessman wanted vengeance, something to show that preying on the weak would not stand. For the sheriff, he knew that the townsfolk were just barely pacified. To take one who had stayed up all night to protect the jail and then arrest him for doing just that…the hypocrisy would not be tolerated. That would have been the end of peace in Seco Creek.
The privilege mechanic was a great one. The system is diceless. When a player character interacts with an NPC the GM weighs the fictional positioning and says what outcome is. When two PCs interact the players decide among themselves how it plays out, and they have some resources (basically anything on their character sheet) that they can barter with. For instance, if the the outlaw wants the rancher to stay out of the saloon so he can do his business, after the players have discussed it the outlaw’s player might offer favor with the towns folk, or to give the rancher a privilege for interacting with him in the future, or to remove a key, in order to get what he wants.
Privilege, however, allows a PC to circumvent this negotiation in specific areas. For instance, both the outlaw and the sheriff have a privilege that if that they can do violence to another PC without negotiation. If either of them say they shoot you, it just happens! The others had more nuanced privileges that would gain them favor or provide other benefits. This system was great, because it very clearly illustrated both how to get what you want, and in which ways you stand out. It was one of those cases where the exception to the rule was more helpful in teaching the rule than the rule itself.
What could have improved
We talked at length at the end of the game about how it played and which mechanics were engaged. Overall it seemed like the favor mechanic didn’t shine for us because it primarily had to do with PC-NPC interactions, of which we had few. In play, the were just a bit too much to keep track of. I have the same feeling with aspects in Fate sometimes. In a perfect world, nearly every complication the player face would be tied to their aspects, and each aspect would come up with some regularity. In play, the GM often focuses on one or two, because it’s too hard to keep track of them all.
I didn’t realize till the end of the game that everyone else was playing dynamic character (who was changed by the world around them) and I was playing an iconic character (who changed the world around himself). The outlaw gave up on redemption. The deputy threw down his badge. The rancher sided with the law against his old business partner. The businessman gave up on the town he was trying to save. But the sheriff, he just stuck to his guns. And while there is some attraction to that, I also felt like I never got “give” in a conflict. Part of that was pride, but part of that was also knowing that the moment the sheriff went form high status to low status in an interaction, he was never coming back from him. He could admit uncertainty to his deputy when he thought they were in agreement, but when push came to shove, he held is ground and watched the deputy walk away rather than admit he might be wrong. This is just a personal thing for me, but high status characters who never relent are uncomfortable for me to play. I dislike what they say about me as a person when they are unwilling to give.