Handsome Ranch background:
Damien Marus is our BBG (Big Bad Guy) for this campaign. He’ll be fleshed out in more detail during later adventures but for now all you need to know is that he’s out to get Mr. Handsome with a powerful will.
Why is he out to get Mr. Handsome? Well, as you find out in the first few adventures, Mr. Handsome is Marus’ half-brother. Damien being a bastard, you see. (Mr. Handsome has never even heard of him, in fact.)
But that’s not at all why he’s out to get Mr. Handsome. No, that just gives him the motivation to “get” him in a particularly villainy kinda way. The reason he’s actually after him is because he’s recently come into possession of some land deeds that he really, really wants to make us of. But that requires he put his elder brother (Mr. Handsome) out of the picture. Properties tending to pass on to the eldest heir, you see. Damien Marus could easily just have Mr. Handsome murdered and leave it at that but this opportunity gives him a reasonable (to his mind anyway) excuse for being particularly foul toward somebody.
Damien’s just mean like that.
Now Damien Marus is a true villain. He’s managed to amass considerable wealth and political influence over the years. And he’s been involved quite successfully in a number of criminal enterprises and conspiracies in the process. He has connections with all manner of unsavory sorts, Alliance officials, politicians, etc. He also has most of the law on this moon in his pocket. He’s even good huntin’ buddies with the moon’s governor. Ostensibly he owns a ranch, just like Mr. Handsome does (though quite a bit larger and much more prosperous) but most of his influence extends into all these other areas. In the end Marus is the man with his fingers in just about everyone’s pie.
When it comes to Mr. Handsome, the half-brother he’s always hated unjustly but never really had any reason to go after, Marus now has what he believes is a good excuse to completely and utterly ruin him. And no true villain would pass up such an opportunity. His overall goal is to undermine Handsome’s business, destroy him financially, ruin him socially and, in the end, when he can’t think of anything else particularly villainous to do to him, kill him. Then, with the eldest heir out of the way, establish himself (genetically) as Grampy Handsome only living heir and simply claim the deeds. At which point he can proceed with his nefarious goals for the land unopposed.
The irony here is that Mr. Handsome, unbeknownst to anyone (probably even the player characters) is already dying of an incurable illness. He hasn’t more than a year or two to live anyway. As such most of Mr. Handsome’s own concerns at the beginning of the campaign were in finding someone to pass on his own worldly goods to (namely, Handsome Ranch) when he dies. This is part of the reason he’s been hiring on orphans and outcasts for ranch hands over the last few years. The other part being the desire to do some manner of good works before he shuffles off this mortal coil. Folks tend to become concerned with their legacy with faced with their own mortality.
And, of course, if he should accomplish naming an heir before Marus gets around to bumping him off, Marus will have some contention in claiming those deeds. So we see that, in true villainy fashion, Marus has somewhat shot himself in the foot by providing Mr. Handsome plenty of time, opportunity and probably good motivation to name an heir quickly by choosing to torture him a bit before having him murdered. Whether or not Handsome does so is entirely up to the GM, as is whether he chooses one of the player characters as his heir.
Marus’ campaign against Handsome begins simply, with his most trusted honcho Rance Maynard stumbling across Greg Katzenburger (one of Handsome’s ne’er-do-well young ranch hands) in town. Rance seized upon the opportunity to get an inside man in Handsome’s ranch and, once he’d gotten approval from Marus, started a campaign of horse rustling against Handsome. Once that fell apart, as he fully expected it would, he simply took the opportunity to rid himself of the horse rustlers (who could implicate him to the local authorities) by sending them on an ill-prepared and ill-conceived assault on the ranch. Then simply murder any survivors while they sat in jail awaiting trial and finger someone else for the whole mess. Which turns out to be the player characters, naturally.
Not an especially bright plan but Rance isn’t especially bright. And Marus keeps himself well insulated from the men who serve him, so if Rance were to go down it wouldn’t trouble Marus much. Still and all, Marus has enough influence on the moon to make minor troubles like that go away easily.
Unfortunately Handsome has an opportunity to learn about the deeds as well as his connection to Marus during all this when the player characters discover Grampy Handsome’s journal. Discovering the existence of land deeds floating around somewhere that rightfully belong to him spurs Handsome to investigate Grampy’s old mistress, Mrs. Hardacre. A quick jaunt to town to interview Mrs. Hardacre reveals Grampy’s tryst with the erstwhile young woman resulted in the birth of a half-brother. It doesn’t take Handsome long to put two and two together and realize that Damien Marus is that half-brother. Naturally, he assumes Marus has discovered this and that’s is why he’s suddenly gunning for him. Marus having a reputation for being just that sort of mean-spirited hundan.
With one of the most powerful and ruthless land barons on the moon out to get him, Handsome has all the reason in the world to want to seize those deeds as quickly as he can and firm up his own power base. In the course of attempting this we discover those deeds are what the whole ruckus is really all about. This prompts Handsome to turn a more considerate eye toward the player characters, realizing he likely soon won’t have anyone else on his side and already giving thought to naming an heir before Marus decides to finish him off (even before his illness does).
But what is Marus’ preoccupation with these deeds? Why all the trouble in securing them? Well, as mentioned, Marus could easily just bump off Handsome and essentially “win” quite easily. The player characters, at that point, wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in challenging him and probably would never even be aware of him at all. He could then proceed with his intentions toward the land the deeds afford him with none to oppose him. But Marus, being your typical BBG, isn’t likely to do things the easy way when there’s an opportunity to be villainous. Which, of course, opens up the possibility of heroes rising up against him. Villains are dumb that way.
As for Marus’ intentions for the land, they’re quite ambitious. The deeds grant him rights over quite a lot of decent farmland on the moon in question, as well as rights to two prosperous mines that have since been discovered there. Grampy Handsome was completely unaware of how valuable this land had become, being rather dead during all that time, hence Mr. Handsome never had opportunity to lay claim. And while squatters may have long since claimed all that land with no opposition, that’s not something a man like Marus will have much trouble dealing with. Hiring a dozen or so gunmen to run off such folk will be easy enough, especially as he intends to put his boot to the governor’s neck right off the bat. In the end he’ll have claim to enough land, and truly valuable land at that, to move the sitting governor out and have himself appointed.
Just to make matters worse, it so happens the Miranda incident blows up just in time to insure that no one in the Alliance will even being willing or able to oppose him. Never mind that his contacts in the Parliament will already be willing to support him in this ambitious move anyway. Unfortunately even for them, the Alliance’s weakened position following the Miranda incident opens up still further opportunities for Marus, which he’s quick to exploit.
By the time the player characters are in a position to intervene they find they aren’t simply out for revenge any more, nor merely seeking justice for the harm done to Mr. Handsome. Now it seems they’re the only ones who can stop Marus from forming his own independent moon, threatening the now very shaky order imposed by the Alliance.
Roughly the first third of our campaign consists of revealing and dealing with the matter of the deeds. Marus appears nowhere in all this, being a shadowy and far-removed threat the whole while. The player characters will have plenty of opportunity to butt heads with the BBG’s minions, however.
In the later stages of the campaign Marus will have succeeded in ruining Handsome, who then disappears (for his own safety) until much later in the campaign, as well as putting the player characters out of the loop long enough for him to nearly complete his diabolical plans. By the time the players return in the last portion of our campaign they find he’s become quite the force to be reckoned with in their absence, one that even the Alliance fears to take on too directly.
So now let's move on to the Handsome Ranch overview and get a sneak peek at the framework we'll be laying this whole story upon.
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