Handsome Ranch: Sidestep II: Spyin'(The players took this sidestep as the first session of Chapter Two, immediately before Episode IV: Framed.)
As the sidestep adventure starts, the player characters are discussing heading back out to the abandoned farm where they found Scrubs (who's finally recovered from the gunshot to the hindquarters Hick gave him) to look for clues about what happened there. When Benny Simples rides up they listen to his report and send word back to Mr. Handsome that they'll check on the men riding out towards Mr. Jenkins’ farm. They get a rough idea from Benny where he spotted the men and decide to head there and then track the men up toward the Jenkins farm, hoping they can pick up an idea of what they'll be dealing with along the way.
After packing their gear and saddling up, it quickly becomes apparent Scrubs is going to be a problem since he seems to assume he'll be coming along for the trip. After discussing various ideas for keeping him at the cabin they decide not to put him inside (fearing he'll tear up the place while they're gone) and tie him to a tree in the yard instead. Though it’s clear Scrubs isn’t used to being tied up and doesn’t like it one bit, they leave him there and ride hard for the trail.
Arriving at the general area within the hour the characters have a better idea of where the Jenkins farm is in relation to Handsome Ranch and their cabin. They figure the men must already have arrived there and so decide to hustle it up. Thomas looks for the trail and finds it but quickly looses it again when he attempts to search along it. Having discovered nothing interesting here and worried that whatever the men are up to on the Jenkins farm is likely already underway, the player characters abandon the trail and ride hard for the farm. They arrive in about a half hour.
At the Jenkins Ranch:
Taking up position to spy without being spied is fairly easy as the grassy hillock just off the corner of the barn makes a nice spot to sneak up unobserved. Hitching their horses in the woods nearby the team hustles off through the corn field, staying low and going prone finally on the mound. There they can see several rough looking men on horseback confronting Mr. Jenkins on his front porch. With everyone listening hard, Thomas and Lacy manage to pick up a few snippets of the heated conversation. Though they can’t be sure of all the details the overall theme seems to be warning Jenkins not to get involved in the conflict between Damien Marus and Mr. Handsome. And that Jenkins isn’t taking too kindly to being told what to do.
As the tension between Farmer Jenkins and Marus’ men heats up, a second Alertness check (which everyone fails) has the player characters suddenly confronted with Jenkins’ dog, Mulligan, who wandered right up on them without them noticing. They decide not to move a muscle until they know how much attention Mulligan’s sudden fit of barking and snarling is going to bring down on their heads. When it’s clear that Marus’ men are only glancing back and frowning a bit, clearly intent on giving Jenkins a hard time, and Mr. Jenkins likewise seems not especially concerned about the dog’s behavior, everyone stays still and puts Hick on the job.
As the group’s “animal guy” (and upon Lacy’s insistence that he needs to redeem himself a bit after shooting poor Scrubs) Hick rummages in his pocket for a bit of beef jerky, trying not to incite Mulligan to gnaw on his face in the process. Unfortunately his attempts to distract Mulligan with the treat fail and he continues barking madly about 2’ from his nose, negating any possibility of the group overhearing any more of the conversation going on across the field. Hicks then decides to leave Mulligan be for a bit, hoping he’ll calm down a little and become more manageable when he sees they aren’t going to jump up and start being a threat.
After a couple of minutes Hicks is ready to try again to convince Mulligan to go do something else besides bark loudly right in his face. Before he can do so the group spots Mr. Jenkins turn on one heel and step back into his house, emerging only a second later with a double barrel shotgun. Everyone draws weapons (rifles in Hick and Thomas’s case), setting the hysterical Mulligan off even more at all the movement. When it becomes clear Mr. Jenkins isn’t quite ready to start shooting people, even though the tension has gotten quite thick over there, Hick tries again with Mulligan. Again he fails, with Mulligan actually snapping at him a bit.
Thomas and Duncan then spot Lovelorn Louie sneaking in from the corn field off to the left, angling for the back of the house. Assuming he’s one of Marus’ men intending to take Mr. Jenkins from behind, they decide to send Lacy and Hick, their two best shooters, around the barn to intercept him. Hick and Lacy then scramble back down the hillock to make their way around, with Mulligan keeping pace with Hick the whole way and barking all the more hysterically at all the goings on. Fortunately with all the tension between Jenkins and the Marus bunch, Jenkins doesn’t give Mulligan much more attention despite the fuss he’s been making for the last few minutes.
Making their way around the barn to the corner they can spy Lovelorn Louie behind the house easily enough but Mulligan has made stealth completely impossible. Louie spots them right off. When Hicks levels his rifle at the poor fellow, he tosses his hands up quickly and seems not all that inclined to a confrontation. Hustling over to him Hick and Lacy soon have his story, corroborated by the young lady Jenkins when she suddenly stick her head and shoulders out a nearby window. Lacy gets to work convincing Ms. Jenkins and Lovelorn Louie to head for the corn field for a bit, playing up the opportunity for hanky panky while dad’s distracted and downplaying concerns there might be a gunfight here soon.
With the lady Jenkins and Louie hoofing it for the cornfield and Mulligan still on hand raising hell, Hicks drops 3 Plot Points on at attempt to finally get the dog interested in something else. He whips off his old hat, waggles it in Mulligan’s face to get him on board with idea of gnawing on it and flings it back toward the opposite corner of the house. Scoring an Outstanding Success he has Mulligan bounding away happily to chew on the hat while he and Lacy hoof it back around to the others. They arrive and manage to sneak in unobserved in time to witness Mr. Jenkins running the men off his land at last.
When the men slow up at the front of the barn they’re out of sight of the player characters for a bit, but it’s clear from Mr. Jenkins’ sudden storm of cursing that they’re up to no good over there. They decide to wait and see what’s what before moving in though and the men are riding off again down the road off Jenkins farm in only moments, with Mr. Jenkins firing potshots at them with his shotgun as they ride.
Once the men are out of sight and riding hard down the road, the player characters hustle back down the hillock and around the backside of the barn. Before they can reach the front corner they can hear Mr. Jenkins has already run up from the house and is busy cursing and moving things around up there, clearly in a big hurry.
The Burning Barn:
Being the curious sort they decide they just have to know what’s up, so they player characters hustle around to the front of the barn and soon have Mr. Jenkins shouldering his shotgun again. Once they’ve recognized themselves to him as Mr. Handsome’s ranch hands he’s instantly calling for them to pitch in putting out the fire in the barn. Apparently Marus’ men tossed some flares up in the hayloft on their way out.
The team works together for the next fifteen minutes trying to kick burning and smoldering hay out of the loft and into the yard, hoping to keep the barn from catching. Despite catching the fire early, they all fail and the hayloft is soon burning out of control. Without proper firefighting gear there just isn’t much they can do about it. Before the fire can spread down below the team pitch in with Mr. Jenkins to hustle out what gear they can. Luckily his horse is hitched up at the house at the moment, as he was preparing to head to town when the men rode up.
After about an hour they’ve gotten out everything they can and are watching poor Mr. Jenkins barn burn to the ground. The young lady Jenkins has finally caught on that something tragic is happening and sent her suitor off so she can rejoin her father at the porch. Once they’ve explained to Mr. Jenkins what they’re doing here in the first place he seems grateful Mr. Handsome sent them along to look into things but is still fairly irritated that they were skulking about on his land without his knowledge.
Once it’s clear Mr. Jenkins is safe, the barn is lost and the young lady Jenkins has had a chance to go sparkin’ with her bo’, the player characters fetch their horses from the woods, wish Mr. Jenkins well and ride back to the cabin.
Back at the Cabin:
Arriving back at their hideout Thomas, Lacy and Duncan all spot several horses hitched up in front and Duncan recognizes them as the same ones the men who accosted Mr. Jenkins were riding. Since they don’t seem to have been spotted they hitch up out in the woods and close in to spy out the cabin and make plans.
A little miffed about Mr. Jenkins farm and being unable to help him with the men, the player characters decide they want a little revenge. Since they’ve a lot of blood on their hands recently, they decide further to try to handle the situation with as little bloodshed as possible if they can manage it.
Scrubs meanwhile is huddled up behind the tree they’ve tied him to with his tail between his legs, apparently being not so great at watch-dogging.
With none of the men seeming to be outside and all of them in the cabin (tearing the place up by the sound of things) the team sends their most agile character Duncan ahead. Dropping all of his Plot Points in the process, Duncan sneaks up quietly and ties all the horses to the hitch in complex, very tight knots, then sneaks back to the others. The team takes up position around the cabin and settles in to wait for the men to leave.
After nearly two hours the men start ambling out of the cabin to fetch their horses (unbeknownst to the players, they intended to hitch them out in the woods and set up an ambush at the cabin). Once they’re all hard at work trying to get their horses loose and loudly complaining about the knots the horse hitches suddenly seem to have tied themselves into, the team moves in with weapons ready. As they manage to take the whole group by surprise while they’re busy with the knots, they spend that turn performing Covering actions over their individual targets and warning the men they’ve got them dead to lights.
Lacy drops 3 Plot Points to seize the first Initiative spot and then spends her turn snarling, spitting and cursing, dropping her last 4 Plot Points on an attempt to Intimidate the whole group while the rest continue Covering their targets. She succeeds over each of the men, one of them even tossing him his hands and giving up right off the bat. With Marus’ men all spending this turn thoroughly intimidated by the frightening, scarfaced girl with the fancy gun, the rest of the team move quickly to disarm them.
Once they’ve got the men hustled over against the outside wall of the cabin and disarmed it takes a bit of convincing (tossing a couple of shots into the wall over their heads) before they strip down to their long johns. Thomas and Winnie strip all their gear from the horses and gather up everything they’ve dropped as well. Then the group hustles them up on their horses and fires a few shots off to get them running away.
Marus’ men, still pretty shook up at the whole incident, decide to escape with their lives and don’t even bother cursing the player characters for sending them riding off in their undies.
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