Handsome Ranch: Episode IV: Framed
Having spent the day after the events of “Spyin” just cleaning up the mess around the cabin from Marus’ men ransacking the place, the player characters are happy to wake with no particular responsibilities that day. Left to their own devices they eventually decide to ride out to the abandoned farmhouse to conduct the thorough investigation they’d been meaning to.
Once they’ve saddled up they realize they haven’t gotten around to figuring some way of securing the cabin while they’re gone (not wanting another incident with folks coming along to set up an ambush there while they’re away). After determining that no one’s any good at such things, the team decides to simply place a thin stick inconspicuously up against the door so they can easily spot whether anyone’s entered in their absence. Having done that they start to ride off when Lacy hears two men riding in from the woods.
Act I, Scene I: Bounties
Thomas nudges Lacy and Hick off to take up position in the woods to either side while the rest wait to see who’s riding up. When the Buck and Joe Bitterman ride into the yard they all put on their best smiles and greet them warmly when they see they don’t seem especially aggressive. Lacy and Hick stay out of sight just in case.
The Bittermans lead right into the conversation with the subject of Maia Lin, showing the player characters the bounty notice and asking if they’ve any idea as to her whereabouts. The players decide to be honest, informing the two men that Maia Lin abandoned the ranch weeks back and was last seen working with Rance Maynard. When the two start digging into what the player characters know about Maia’s background, Joe slips up and questions them about Maynard’s assault on the preacher’s house. The player characters naturally don’t know anything about that and question him concerning it. When the Bittermans realize their mistake, they try to backpedal and, though the players try to follow up, none of the three player characters have the Influence to drag any more information out of them about it. Both claim not to know anything in particular, just having overheard some vague rumors about some such or other.
Act I, Scene II: The Bittermans
After a bit of chatting, revealing what they know about Maia Lin, it becomes clear to the Bittermans that the player characters are the same bunch that have been caught up in the all the trouble recently. Specifically that they’ve got bounties on their own heads as well. Since the players didn’t make any effort to conceal their identities and referred several times to incidents that identified them, the Bittermans catch on quickly.
Everyone but Winnie realizes right off what’s just happened when Buck and Joe react to the realization, stiffening up and casting telling glances one another’s way. When the players decided to take action before they can do anything more, we rolled for Initiative.
Since Hick and Lacy have stated they’re Covering the Bittermans from the moment they enter they yard, they both take the first Initiative point automatically. Both decide to wait until one of the men draws a weapon before acting (Lacy is Covering Buck and Hick is Covering Joe.)
Thomas and Joe both then take the first Initiative point and draw their weapons simultaneously. Seeing that Joe is drawing down as well, Thomas opts to open fire rather than just put the men under the gun as he’d intended.
Hick opens fire on Joe as soon as his revolver clears the holster, make all three of his shots Called shots against his shooting arm (since he’s on that side of the conflict anyway). His first and last shot both miss but the second hits in an Extraordinary Success. Joe makes his Vitality + Willpower check to avoid serious injury but his shooting arm will be rendered useless after this Initiative point.
Joe and Thomas then finish drawing and firing twice on one another, with Thomas successfully dodging both shots and landing two light hits on Joe in the process (both striking his mesh armor, resulting in stun damage). Thomas’ hits push Joe right over his Life Points in total Basic damage, forcing a Vitality check to avoid unconsciousness already. Joe barely makes it and is still in the fight for now.
Buck and Winnie likewise both land the next Initiative point and act in unison as well. Seeing the player characters drawing weapons, as well as Thomas and Joe already shooting it out, Buck draws to open fire on Duncan. Lacy immediately opens fire when he draws, firing three shots at him. (Since she’s at Medium range for her handgun, she suffers a -2 step modifier to her shots but her Newtech weapon’s skill step modifier brings her back up to only -1 step.) Her first two shots hit, with her first landing an Extraordinary Success. Buck makes his Vitality + Willpower check to avoid serious injury but the two hard hits push him completely over his total Life Points in Stun damage, though he makes his Endurance check to avoid passing out.
Buck finishes firing on Duncan, who dodges the first shot and relies on his Innate Defense for the second. It misses and impacts the cabin wall behind him. Duncan draws and fires off two shots simultaneously, landing a hit and a miss. The hit is an Extraordinary Success as well (the player characters were really cooking!), pushing Buck’s total Stun damage past twice his total Life Points.
With Hick and Lacy still leading in Initiative after Covering last turn, they both open fire on their targets first.
Hick lands yet another Extraordinary Success on Joe’s arm as well as a second hit to the body with his three shots. Joe fails his Vitality + Willpower check and suffers a serious injury this time. Joe then fails his Endurance check to avoid passing out this turn (the second shot simply dumping on another truckload of Shock points). Joe flips right off the back of his horse, landing in a heap on the ground, deep in a coma and with a badly bleeding arm.
Lacy didn’t make any Called shots on her second turn either, hoping to simply knock her target out quickly. Her first shot misses but her second and third land. Since Buck is toting a heavy load of Stun points already this just compounds the problem. When he fails his Endurance check to stay conscious, he slips off the back of his horse and is in a deep coma as well.
Once the two men are down and out, Lacy hustles over to check them out and successfully diagnoses them. With Joe’s badly injured arm threatening his life, she sets about treating it right away. Attempting a Formidable Medicine check to stabilize him completely, she drops 4 Plot Points on the attempt…then 2 more to pull a failing roll up to a success.
A bit grumpy at having to burn through almost all her Plot Points already just to keep Joe from dying, Lacy pitches a fit and has the other player characters stripping these two like they did the last men who raided their cabin. While going through the men’s gear and divvying up the loot, the team finds the bounty notices not only on Maia Lin but themselves as well.
The player characters then drag the half naked men inside the cabin and take a moment to be sure there’s nothing in there they don’t want the two men making off with once they wake. Writing a quick note warning them that they’d best get gone before they return, they leave it pinned to Buck’s long johns. They hustle Scrubs inside as well, hoping he’ll run the two off when they wake up.
After stowing all their own gear and everything they don’t want stolen onto their horses, the player characters grab the Bitterman’s horses as well, leading them off with them to go check out the abandoned farmhouse where they found Scrubs.
The Abandoned Farm:
Giving the farmhouse a good going over, Thomas manages to figure out a little of what went on here this time. He notes that there are signs of struggle (an overturned chair in the kitchen, a couple of breakables knocked over onto the floor). The front door is still wide open though and doesn’t appear to have been forced.
Not finding anything else after an hour of searching, the team tracks down Scrub’s doggie bowl and a couple of heavily gnawed objects they assume are favorite chew toys. Settling for that, they ride back to the cabin.
Arriving back at the cabin they find they two men they shot to bits earlier still unconscious but otherwise stable. Deciding they don’t really want to wait around and tend to them they go back over what they’ve learned and decide to check up on Pastor Paul. They still want to keep the Bitterman’s horses though and force them to hike it off Handsome’s land in nothing but their long johns, so they head for the ranch first to drop the horses off there and tell Handsome what’s gone on. Scrubs gets his doggie bowl and a couple of nice chew toys to keep him happy while waiting to bark at the two men when they wake.
Act II, Scene I: Pastor Paul
Back at the ranch they ferret out Mr. Handsome working the horses outside their assigned barn (and suffer a butt chewing for coming back to the ranch while they’re supposed to be hiding out). Once they’ve told their story, handed him the bounty notices and turned over the horses he focuses in on the rumor that the Bittermans let slip about an attack on Pastor Paul’s house. Informing them that Mrs. Belford rode out to visit Pastor Paul that very morning, he orders them off to intervene there and help the two in case they have indeed found some trouble.
Mr. Handsome then pulls a couple of Group One ranch hands off their duties to lead the two horses back to the men at the cabin (chiding the player characters for nearly adding horse theft to their already growing list of criminal charges) and to “invite” the wounded men back to the ranch when they’ve recovered. The player characters then ride for Pastor Paul’s house to see if he and Mrs. Belford have gotten into some trouble of their own.
As they approach, the sound of sporadic gunfire from the direction of the Pastor’s house make it clear there is indeed something going on up ahead. After taking a bit of reconnoiter the players determine the worst of the ruckus is coming from off the front of the house. They then ride around the long way to the back, finding only a couple of men among the trees there taking potshots at the rear of the house.
With those men apparently not taking any special effort to keep an eye out and perhaps enjoying terrorizing the inhabitants of the house a bit too much, they decide to take them out individually. Then once the backside of the house is open, move in and get Pastor Paul and Mrs. Belford out safely.
Splitting up into two teams (Hick, Thomas and Winnie on one and Lacy and Duncan on the other) they manage to get both men under the gun and force them to surrender without any violence. After stripping the two men down (rather becoming their modus operandi, it seems) they send them off packing on foot, unarmed and barely dressed.
Once the way is clear and the group of troublemakers out front is still raising hell, they slip in through the back door of Pastor Paul’s house unopposed and unnoticed. Finding the two hunkered down in the living room behind an overturned table, they hustle them both out the back to the safety of the tree line there.
After spending a minute trying unsuccessfully to get the two to make for the safety of Handsome Ranch, Mrs. Belford eventually shuts them down to take charge and order the team to drive off the attackers. After they balk a bit at the tall order, she makes it clear that it’s not a request, even grabbing Hick’s rifle and swearing she’ll do it herself it they’re “too yeller“.
After having their machismo called into question Hick and Duncan are both ready to go shoot at someone and they drag the rest of the group back into the house to take up position. At which point they find Paul and Mrs. Belford tagging along, apparently to supervise, pretty much skunking their brave attempt at rescuing them.
[We’ll summarize the following exchange of fire, as it went on for over a dozen turns]
In the end, having taken as much cover as they possibly could within the house and facing armed men likewise crouched behind trees and brush, the exchange of fire went on for some time. Only Duncan took a bullet during all that, barely a scratch and absorbed by his mesh armor. Hick and Thomas had even scrambled out the upstairs window out back to fire from a prone position on the roof. (Also worth mentioning: Thomas had a bit of trouble getting up there when his Unlucky complication left him dangling from the gutter. Luckily, Duncan was willing to spend a turn saving from a nasty fall).
After dropping a couple of men they were surprised to see a bit of commotion among the large group assaulting the place, with more than half giving up and riding off. Once they’d thus whittled the group down to just those few left they were able to spot Maynard among them right away, mocking the men riding off.
Thomas, Hick, Winnie and Duncan all dropped a couple of Plot Points on a Called shot to the head and all of them landed their shots(!). The resulting bloody mess took Rance Maynard out of the campaign real permanent like as well as causing the men with him to flee, yelling at one another to regroup back at “the Shire“.
Act II, Scene II: Counterattack
Taking the panicked calls to regroup at face value, Mrs. Belford instructed the team to head on out after the fleeing men and keep an eye on them from a safe distance in order to make sure they don’t come back. She and Pastor Paul then gather a few things, lock up the house and fetch their horses to ride off for someplace safe. The team is instructed not to engage unless necessary, their main goal being to be sure the men don’t come back and ransack the Pastor’s house while he’s gone.
Galled a little at this point having to take orders for the first time in weeks, the players are ready to be rid of Mrs. Belford now that she’s safe. They saddle up and head out after the few remaining gunmen. With “the Shire” relatively nearby, it’s only an hour’s ride out there and they arrive without catching up to the men or finding any trouble on the way.
Act III, Scene I: The Shire
Arriving near the abandoned farmhouse, the player characters hitch their horses up in the trees and make their way forward on foot, hoping to spy out the camp unawares. They find no sign of the men they were pursuing and there seems instead to be several civilians milling around in a group in the front yard, talking and gesturing toward the old sod house.
When they approach to find out what’s going on, Sheriff Daily appears around the corner of the sod house and spots them. The player characters lay hands to their weapons but decide to let the Sheriff make the first move. Rather than draw down on the five of them, he calls back over his shoulder for his “boys” to come around, warning them that “them murderin’ hands from Handsome’s ranch” have just arrived and the team prepares for what they assume will be a shootout.
Buford “Hoss” Wrangler ambles in from around the house first and shuts the Sheriff down, completely ignoring his objections. Identifying himself as one of the Governor’s investigators and appearing non-threatening, the player characters ease up a bit and engage with him. In short order they’ve had the opportunity to finally appeal to someone in authority concerning their innocence in the murders at the local jail, though they admit to the shootout with the Sheriff and his men.
When “Hoss” seems willing to let the matter slide for the time being (and enjoying the sight of the Sheriff sputtering in the background) the player characters accompany him while he shows them around the scene inside the sod house.
Act III, Scene II: Buford “Hoss” Wrangler
Getting their first glimpse at the horrible fate of all those young ladies who’ve disappeared recently throws them for a bit of a loop, as well as the indications that Mr. Handsome was somehow involved. Though they’re quick to defend Mr. Handsome’s character, offering assurance that he couldn’t possibly have been involved in something so evil, none of them spot the signs of a frame up here. Eventually “Hoss” is forced to point out what seems obvious to him, chiding the player characters that they’re going to have to “start opening up their eyes a bit”, considering all the trouble they seem to have gotten themselves mixed up with recently.
Once done, “Hoss” herds them back upstairs and outside, then settles in with some direct questions about all the goings on between Handsome, the local Sheriff and Damien Marus, stopping only to shut down the Sheriff when he starts injecting his opinion. After mulling over the matter a bit, “Hoss” butts heads with the Sheriff more directly before ordering him back to town to sit and do nothing for a while. He then informs the team they’ll be escorting him to Handsome ranch for a little talk with Karl Handsome.
Act IV, Scene I: Bushwhacked
None of the player characters spot the men waiting in ambush on the road to Handsome Ranch. All of them lose control of their mounts as well when the road just ahead of them suddenly stirs up (including “Hoss”), so I allow them to enjoy the relative “dodge“ of their horses rearing and coming to a halt. I also decide to take pity on them at the last minute, allowing them immediately automatic control of their mounts again after the surprise turn (which turned out to be a good idea, considering how badly the ambush went for them).
In the initial moment of confusion and chaos Hick, Winnie and Duncan are hit for moderate damage in the first volley of the ambush.
Taking the first Initiative point, the bushwhacker targeting Duncan opens fire landing three shots on him. When Duncan Dodges twice and relies on his Innate Defense against the third shot (in order to draw his pistol as a third action) the mountain of damage dropped on him from all three still hitting pushes him past his Life Points in total Wound damage. Resolving that matter immediately he fails his Endurance check to stay conscious (dropping 2 Plot Points on the roll to pull it off) and succeeds in his first check to stay alive as well. The third shot that landed scored an Extraordinary Success however and Duncan fails his check against that, suffering a Bleeding wound on top of all his other troubles.
Thomas has the second Initiative point, so he draws and unloads on the target nearest to him, the bushwhacker targeting him. All three of his shots hit, forcing the him to make (and pass) his first Endurance check.
The second bushwhacker fires on Lacy with three shots and she likewise makes two Dodges and relies on her Innate Defense for the third. The first two miss but the third hits surprisingly hard, forcing her to make her first Endurance check against passing out (which she manages).
A little spooked at the catastrophes Duncan and Lacy have suffered, Hick elects to Dodge all three shots when the third bushwhacker opens up on him. The first two shots miss and he only takes a minor flesh wound from the third.
Winnie comes up next and she draws her firearm to fire on the bushwhacker targeting her. She’s a little anxious when both her shots miss.
“Hoss” reaches his Initiative point and wastes no time snatching out his semiautomatic shotgun. He opens up on the nearest target with a weapon, the bushwhacker that just fired on Duncan. Landing all three hits he tears the fellow up good, pushing him past his total Life Points in Basic damage. The bushwhacker makes his Endurance check to stay conscious, though.
Winnie’s bushwhacker comes to his Initiative point and fires back at Winnie. Forced to Dodge only once and rely on Innate Defense for the second shot, she ducks them both and breathes a sigh of relief this turn.
Hick has Initiative next but after Dodging three times already, he hasn’t much action left in him. Playing smart, he draws his pistol and spurs his horse around at the man firing on him. Making a Hard Willpower + Animal Handling check after all those actions (thanks to his Riding Talent), he leaves it to the horse to trample the guy a bit. Which it promptly does, knocking the third bushwhacker out of the fight with a couple of harsh trample attacks. The man is so badly mauled he fails his first Endurance check to stay alive and dies right away.
Duncan has his turn now and draws his weapon. After Dodging twice already, suffering Wound penalties, bleeding badly and probably going to die any minute, he follows Hick’s example. Dropping all of his only 4 remaining Plot Points on the attempt, he spurs his horse around to trample his attacker as well. He not only succeeds in the Animal Handling check but scores an Extraordinary Success. His mount then proceeds to go buck ass wild all over the bushwhacker, making three trample attacks on him (all that it can pull off in one turn after charging over). Already torn up a good bit from “Hoss’s” shotgun, the bushwhacker is hamburger now but not quite dead yet.
Thomas’ attacker fires off two shots at Thomas but with his Wound penalty and having Dodged so much already, Thomas’ Innate Dodge avoids both. Meanwhile the bushwhacker with the rope that started all the mess finally gets to drop it and scramble for his own rifle, though he doesn’t take a shot yet this turn.
Lacy brings up the rear with the final Initiative point. Aware that some on her team are going to probably be dropping out of the fight the next turn (or even dropping dead) she elects to burn through her remaining Plot Points now. She drops 2 on her first shot, a Called shot to the head of the bushwhacker targeting her, 3 on a second Called shot to the head on the bushwhacker targeting Winnie and a third unsupported shot at the guy who just dropped the rope. Neither of her Called shots land all that spectacularly but they do both land, leaving both bushwhackers bleeding. Her third shot hits its target as well.
The first bushwhacker, first torn up by “Hoss” and his semiautomatic shotgun and then trampled mercilessly by Duncan’s horse, is somehow still alive. He even makes his second Endurance check to stay conscious. Conserving his actions for Dodges this turn, he fires off one shot at the source of his greatest misfortune - Duncan’s horse. Despite all the luck he’s had so far (essentially in that he’s still alive at all) he misses the shot. Now it’s just a race to see which of the two, Duncan or the hamburgered bushwhacker, dies first.
Thomas follows up, firing three shots at his own target. All three hit, though the bushwhacker is dropped dead with the first shot.
Lacy’s bushwhacker is still in good shape, despite bleeding from the head. He’s looking for revenge when he opens up on poor Lacy this turn. He hits hard twice, forcing her to make her first Endurance check to avoid passing out (which she fails) and to avoid dying as well (which succeeds), as her total Wound damage now exceeds her Life Points. With no more Plot Points left to spend, she slumps from her horse and is out of the fight…making everyone anxious since she’s the one with all the medical skill.
Winnie’s turn comes and she decides she doesn’t want to get shot today, considering their medic just hit the trail unconscious. She starts dumping Plot Points into her attacks as well, with two on each shot. All three hit the bushwhacker after her and push both his Basic damage and Wound damage past his Life Points. He succeeds in both Endurance checks but he’s dying on his feet.
“Hoss” unloads again, firing one shot at the bloody pulp under Duncan’s horse that’s still twitching and two more at the rope-puller who just snatched up a rifle. The first shot finally pushes hamburger-man past his Life Points in Wound damage, though he makes the first Endurance check when he starts dying. His last shot hit’s the rope-puller, dropping Wound penalties on him.
The bushwhacker after Winnie is dying but fires at her anyway, being the stubborn sort. He only lands one hit but it’s enough to drop Wound penalties on her.
Hick is still in good shape so he follows everyone else’s lead and starts dropping Plot Points, two at a time, on his shots. Since his own attacker is already dead under his horse’s hooves, he targets the guy who just dropped Lacy. Firing three shots and hitting with each, he pushes the man far beyond his total Life Points in Wounds. He makes his first Endurance check (both to avoid dying and to stay conscious) but he’s saddled with Wound penalties at least.
Duncan reaches his next Initiative point and immediately fails his check to stay conscious. He slumps out of the saddle and lands in bloody heap on the trail. Fortunately he passes his second check to avoid dying and won’t have to make his third for a while, now that he’s finally “resting” after a fashion.
Duncan’s horse however decides it needs to stomp on hamburger-man some more and tramples him a bit. The poor guy finally gives up the ghost (and I gotta admit I kinda felt bad for him).
The rope-puller, now wielding a rifle, opens fire at last on “Hoss” with two shots. Though “Hoss” is forced to rely on Innate Defense against the second shot, they both miss.
Thomas unloads on the only bushwhacker that looks like he’s still in decent shape, the rope-puller. He drops 3 Plot Points on the first shot and 2 on the following two, wanting to be sure to put him down right away. His first two shots hit hard, forcing him to start making Endurance checks to avoid dying.
Lacy’s attacker passes out at last and slumps to the ground unconscious.
Winnie drops her last 2 Plot Points on her first of three shots at her own attacker. Rolling high all three times, pushing him past twice his Life Points in total Wound damage. He dies in a gurgling, bloody heap of nasty.
“Hoss” opens up on the last remaining bushwhacker still in the fight, with all three shots hitting. Resolving the effects of that attack immediately, I make his second Endurance check now and he fails, slumping to the ground dead.
With Duncan and Lucy both lying on the trail dying, everyone is off their horse and checking them over. “Hoss” shoulders everyone off Duncan first to make an attempt at first aid while everyone else tends to Lacy. The players suddenly remember they can take a Second Wind and both Lacy and Duncan attempt it, but neither recovers enough Stun damage to come to again. “Hoss” fails to stabilize either player character completely but manages to render simple first aid to Duncan. The other player characters manage the same for Lacy in the interim.
Once confident they’ll both stay alive for a while, “Hoss” heads over and finds the only remaining bushwhacker still alive. After roughing him up a bit for answers, the poor fellow dies once he’s coughed up (literally) Damien Marus’ name. “Hoss” then rejoins the group after they’ve patched up the worst of their own wounds and gets them saddling up to run Duncan and Lacy off to Doc Willy in town.
As it’s more than an hour to town Lacy is forced to make her second check to avoid dying along the way but manages it easily. Duncan makes his third however and fails. Though “Hoss” attempts to resuscitate him and almost manages it, he passes away nearly a half hour from town.
Once they’ve arrived and turned Lacy over to Doc Willy for treatment, “Hoss” saddles up and heads back to Handsome Ranch again with Thomas and Winnie in tow. Hick stays on with Lacy and to sit up with Duncan’s corpse in the meantime.
Act IV, Scene II: Unwarranted
Finally arriving at Handsome Ranch without getting shot up anymore, Thomas and Winnie are on hand to witness the Governor’s shuttle taking off from the ranch only moments before they ride down the gravel road to the house. Reaching it at last, they get the whole story from the members of Group One and are aware now that Mr. Handsome has been arrested for the murders he has been framed for.
Appeals to “Hoss” fall on deaf ears, however. As he’s focus on finding the real killer, the matters of their warrants, bounties and Handsome’s false charges will have to wait. Though he promises to take care of all those things in due time, he isn’t willing to offer any help until he’s laid hands to the killer running around these parts.
“Hoss” does offer a hand written and officially stamped letter of intent to rescind both the warrants and bounties once he’s returned to the Governor’s office. Still, he warns they may not be all that useful with unreasonable folk. Leaving them with that, “Hoss” rides off to see about tracking down his serial killer.
Once he’s gone Thomas and Winnie realize the Hick and Lacy are still back at Doc Willy’s, where the Sheriff could easily pick them up once he becomes aware of them. They saddle up again and head back to town, hoping to dodge the Sheriff until they can get both to safety.
Once they’ve arrived in town avoiding the Sheriff proves not all that difficult. Assuming he’s hold up at the jail sulking over his treatment by the Governor’s investigator, they hit up Doc Willy to release Lacy to their care so they can get her out of town. Once they’ve pinned him down on the point that she’s relatively stable and awake, they hustle her (as carefully as they’re able) past his loud objections to her horse and head back to the ranch. Though Lacy manages not to kill herself getting back there, she’s in rough shape when she arrives and is forced to take to bed again immediately.
Winnie spends 6 Advancement Points to purchase the Tech/Jury-Rigging speciality skill at d8.
- Leave us a note!
- Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
- Star Trek (Decipher)
- Our Atomic Highway Campaigns
- Our D&D Campaigns
- Our Cortex: BSG Campaigns
- Our Cortex: Serenity Campaigns
- Cortex: Supernatural campaigns
- Our Cortex: Homebrews
- Our D20 Modern Campaigns
- Atomic Highway resources
- D&D Resources
- Cortex: BSG Resources
- Cortex: Serenity Resources
- Cortex: Supernatural Resources
- Cortex: Homebrew Resources
- Cortex: Homebrew Campaigns and Settings
- Cortex Adventures