I agreed to playtest this game, even though it’s been out for quite a while. I understand there’s a revision in the works. Well, I love to help with playtesting games. I got a couple stalwart players to help out in an online game, and off we went!
Erasmus Bower was a moral and upright man, the sheriff of Ugly Buffalo. His son Francis went bad, becoming a murderer, just for fun. Then Francis (or Franco, as he prefers to be called) met a husky-voiced stranger who offered to graft a demon to him, to satisfy his urges in new creative ways. The young man gleefully accepted the offer, and gained the power to turn people inside out, either explosively or with the slow bloom of peeling flesh and skin.
Sheriff Bower was distressed, but could he kill his own son? And would any prison hold the witch? Still, the net of the law closed around the young man, and he was to be tried and hanged by the neck until dead. Frantic when faced with the prospect of losing his son, Bower broke his moral code and stole some evidence, hoping to stave off his son’s execution. He was caught, and imprisoned in turn. Bitter and terrified at what could happen now, Bower was distraught already before the slim stranger stepped into the gaol and offered him freedom, for the price of a couple demons riding his soul. Bower accepted, gaining the ability to supernaturally track anyone (as long as he stole something of theirs first) and also the ability to condemn anyone, so demons dragged them to Hell in front of everyone. (Of course, as a catch, an innocent soul is released from Hell the first time he uses this power.)
Too late, Moulton whispered to Bower that he made a deal with Franco, too. Betrayed and furious, Bower swore to track Moulton down and put an end to his deals and his damnation, to punish him for corrupting Francis. He heard the warlock was headed to Coyote Creek, so he gave chase.
Meanwhile, Marrion Belton Manley was a gunfighter. His father was abusive, and he went too far one night. As Marrion’s mother lay dying, she made the young man promise he would kill his father, to avenge her. He swore he would. Intimidated by his terrifying father, he labored under a sense of fair play, and his father beat him within an inch of his life. Shamed and afraid, Manley ended up burning down the whole town to conceal the cowardly attack that he launched to kill his father. He fled the ruin of Sandy Corners.
Injured and possibly dying, he made it a ways before collapsing. On the one hand, he needed to get word to his mother that he succeeded. On the other hand, now that he killed his father he knew he was going to Hell, and he did not want to do that under any circumstances! He was obsessed with survival, maybe even forever, when the crunch of John Moulton’s boots announced the warlock’s presence.
Moulton grafted a demon to Manley’s soul, allowing him to take in the life energy of others to assure his own survival.
Feeling more damned than ever, and sensing the Hellfire waiting below, Manley determined he would end the devil, John Moulton. He followed the warlock to Coyote Creek.
At Coyote Creek, both Manley and Bower tracked down the witch Mazie Hester, who was a nun that eavesdropped on confessions, and had the power to lock people in illusions in their own minds. They put paid to her mischief, and as they were considering their next move, they followed the signs to Cripple Creek.
By now they knew some of the signs that attended the movements of John Moulton. Wherever he went, there were slow and gruesome cattle mutilations (like what Franco Bower was able to do.) Also, the water would start to smell of sulfur, and a little algae would turn it red with lumps, like viscera. Still, it was difficult to sneak up on Moulton; he could smell the shadows of all the witches that made deals with him, so it was impossible to approach him with the element of surprise. Still, with the death of Hester, they discovered that Moulton marked all his witches with a tattoo of the suicide king. Now they could identify their marks.
There they met Percy, a little boy. He escaped from a child slavery ring in a coal mine in Mournful Brook. The signs lined up. Time to go. They left Percey in Cripple Creek and headed out to try and catch up to the devil John Moulton.
As they reached the point halfway between Cripple Creek and Mournful Brook, a wicked sandstorm blew up out of nowhere, savaging them and killing their horses. They hid and were buried by rocks, but the storm exhausted itself. Shortly after, an old prospector named Finder dug the dazed and overwhelmed hunters out and escorted them towards town.
He explained he had a gambling debt with the mayor/sheriff/big guy, “Shark” Nelson. If they could get him to forget the debt, Finder would consider them to be even for him saving their lives. Then he sloped off, and they headed down to main street.
There they saw a ragged old preacher mumbling to himself. He sniffed, yelled “Witches!” and came up with a rusty old gun. Bower reacted fast, whipping his gun out and firing into the old priest’s forearm, blowing the gun apart and crippling him. Only quick action on Manley’s part kept the old priest from dying on the spot. While Manley was hard at work staunching the blood, Shark Nelson approached Bower and congratulated him on his self-defense.
The wavering old barber and some of his lads took the old priest off, and everyone else convened in the public house. Shark chatted them up, making no secret of his power in town and his exploitation of the people, but hoping to attract a railroad nearby with the coal mine; railroads were the key to greater wealth. Shark seemed to think Bower was the one to talk to, and Manley was an underling.
Shark invited Bower to the poker game (which would no doubt please Finder, who wanted Bower to deal with his debt situation with Shark.) Talking about the preacher, he noted that the old man had taken to accusing everyone of witchcraft; himself, the mine foreman, everyone. The newcomers. Hah, what a joke!
The door burst open, and a Texan came in with guns blazing; Bower and Manley took cover, letting Shark handle himself. When the bullets stopped flying, Shark sent men after the Texan, who was sprinting away. Something about confusing him for a wanted man in Texas, which is obvious nonsense. The Texan was let off with a warning before; this time he’ll get warned to death.
The hunters took their leave, intensely disliking Shark. They saw the liquid in the alcohol was not corrupted by Moulton, so they wanted to check the modest water tower. Climbing it, they found it was indeed corrupt. Also, enough of the algae growing together could serve as a body for a spirit; it hauled itself up to talk to them, mistaking them for Moulton because it smelled his demonic energy on them.
Bower told it to wait, and tried to drain the tower (it plugged the hole.) The hunters withdrew, badly shaken from seeing the monster, and not sure what to do with it. Drain the tower? Knock it down? Leave it alone?
They heard cattle screaming, and jogged over to investigate. Turns out it was a cow giving birth. Linda West was managing the birth process, while a couple of her “assistants” looked on. Manley jumped in to help out, feeling far less sullied by this process than by the water tower. He chatted up the veterinarian, Linda West, who expressed her frustration with the town. With the corrupt sheriff/mayor who showed up with ill-gotten wealth years ago and turned it into local power. With the useless priest and his useless parish. She confirmed that two weeks ago, full moon, was when the coyotes and cougars acted strangely aggressive. The water went bad. There have been a number of still-births since then too (this cow was lucky.)
The afternoon was fading, so they got directions to the priest’s chapel and headed out to look the place over. It was elevated off the ground on stumpy pillars, and they heard snakes under the church. They looked the neglected place over, noting the broken windows and signs of wildlife. His room was spare and basic; Bower took his sermon notes for analysis. He also saw the bible was marked up with charcoal, emphasizing demon passages and crossing out whole pages elsewhere. He took the Good Book too.
As they were leaving, they heard a rattlesnake right under the front porch steps. Manley leaped out and confronted the snake, noting it was yellow and burgundy, with human eyes. It evaded his gunshots and bit his leg. The poison super-charged the demon inside him, and he heard Moulton whisper into his mind that he didn’t appreciate being pursued like this.
Bower tried to help, cutting at the wound and draining it; some venom spattered on his hand, burning, and sent out his pain and injury and flesh as a beacon for some monster to follow and destroy. They could feel Moulton’s smug satisfaction as Manley struggled, unsteady with demonic energy, and something began unfurling to hunt Bower.
No time for that now. They had a poker game to attend.