I’ve had the idea for a Weird West/Western Horror rpg bouncing around in my head for several years. Recently that idea bounced up against a whole passel of ideas brought up by the excellent Swords Without Master. The result is what I am currently calling Six Guns Without Master (clever, right? Well, cleverish). I got a chance to run it last week and was amazed at the story we created. Check it out for yourself below.
Six Guns Without Master
Actual Play 10-16-14
Sheriff Keith Stetson
Our tale begins with the necks of our two main characters already in the noose. Though they find themselves blameless, the Judge found enough fault with the Sears Roebuck man and the railroad foreman to fit them for hemp neckties. Demon Carlson, know as the Hanging Judge, was making his stop in town and every time he did so the gallows were bound to see use. Someone was always guilty enough to hang; the Judge demanded – or perhaps even required – it.
Judge Carlson strode the gallows before our two protagonists as if it were a stage or perhaps a pulpit. He cracked opened his large, ornate tome and began to read what sounded like scripture, but his finger traced a line across nothing but blank pages.
The Sears Roebuck man called out for solace and found the ear of the town’s madam, Red Lucy. She always knew that the Judge was a fraud and harkened to his victim’s protests. She echoes the Sears Roebuck man’s words and starts to rally those loyal to her. The Judge realizes he needs to still the tongue of the instigating man and he reaches for the gallows’ lever.
But before he can pull it, a bolt of lightning splits the clear blue sky and strikes a tree growing beside the gallows, bursting it into flame. Both the railroad foreman and the Sears Roebuck man see faces in the flames calling out “Join us… join us…” in a chorus of those who’d been damned by the Judge.
The railroad foreman hefted himself up and planted a powerful kick on the disoriented Judge’s chest, sending him sprawling from the gallows. There on the red dirt ground he was surrounded by Red Lucy’s mob.
Before they could act, the Sears Roebuck man wriggled his harmonica from his pocket and began to play mournfully. Out from the dry lands of the high desert slithered a dozen diamondbacks, all heading for the Demon Carlson and the mob huddled around him.
A shot rang out, and the harmonica and several fingers flew away from the Sears Roebuck man. The bullet’s path traced back to the other man fitted for a hemp necktie, the railroad foreman. He knew that the Judge must be saved, for the Demon Carlson was a force of ruin and his preservation meant the town’s destruction. Because, you see, this town occupied land that should have iron rails instead of buildings. The railroad must go through and no travelling salesman – no one at all – was going to stand in the way of Progress.
The clock rolls backward and we see the Sears Roebuck man. He is still whole. He is hauling his cart on the road between town and he meets… someone… walking on the crossroad. His mind tells him this unknowable figure may be the angel Gabriel… but minds are faulty. Still, he is offered the angel’s own horn in trade and that’s a deal that can’t be turned down. But the Sears Roebuck man was never much good at bartering, and he finds himself bartering away the love of a good woman for that flattened out horn. So it was that Red Lucy would never remember him, though he would remember her. She would still be filled with love, but would have no object to attach it to and thus spend her days trying to attach it to anyone who she could entice. And that’s how Red Lucy became the madam of the town and how the Sears Roebuck man ended up with a hexed harmonica.
In the present day Red Lucy and her gang faced serious peril, though they knew it not. The Sears Roebuck man lifted his mangled hand to his mouth and began to again play his dirge, this time by whistling. Gobs of blood stuck to his beard and flecks of the red fluid flew through the air, but some of the harmonica’s magic had transferred to its player and one of the snakes began again to move. This time, however, it moved right for Lucy, entwining her leg in its embrace. A unbearably loud boom shook the scene and the rest of the mob fell away from Judge Carlson. The Hanging Judge lay on his back in the space vacated by the mob, his tome lying on his chest, blown open and empty pages swirling like a sandstorm above. The railroad man rose from the gallows and played his gun over Lucy, the Judge and the Sears Roebuck man himself.
“The railroad IS going through,” he said. “And this gun’s got but one bullet. Who would you have me shoot?”
“Yourself,” the Sears Roebuck man replied without hesitation.
And so the railroad man did.
But the tale of the Sears Roebuck man does not end here. For his most famous trading partner was also present at the gallows that day and no angel was he. As it happened he was a force much more ancient than any angel, and much more local than anything Christian, and he was not pleased at how his gift had been treated. The Sears Roebuck man realized in the horror that the face the Judge was wearing was the same face that the not-angel had worn. The spirit man snatched the harmonica from the air as it flew, wiped it clean of blood, and placed it snugly into his pocket. As the man watched, the snake continue to climb his erstwhile love while unhinging its jaw. All too quickly her body was as gone from this earth as her love for him was gone from her mind. She had been damned, but it was not by the Judge and so it was not in the flames of perdition that her face appeared, but on the body of her former lover. They had been reunited at last.
The not-angel turned on his heel and walked briskly away. This was how things were supposed to be. The railroad would not come through; the town would not tip out of balance. For trickster spirits do not like the scales to be tipped unless they are the ones tipping them.