Several years ago my friends and I sat down to play a Wild West one-shot with high mortality homebrew firearms, a “death & dismemberment” table in place of death saves, and three character sheets per man for when the inevitable happened. Our heroic gang would intercept a train to the tune of the William Tell Overture Finale in an attempt to steal an invaluable gatling gun. They were not successful, but we still had some of the best TTRPG fun we’ve ever had along the way.
The desert sands burned like fire under the day’s sun. Mesas and mountains towered in every direction, occasionally blanketing the train and its passengers in shadow as it moved. Inside, a man was sat beside a female stranger, adjusting his coat of rich red and flashing her a charismatic grin. Some degrees beyond her dismissive ignorance, he caught a flash of movement. Outside the window were two horses, carrying their riders to the train’s front.
Linen masks blocked the sand kicked up in the train’s wake. The horses were charging with everything they had, exhaustion growing as a pressing risk. But they were not far out of Goldsprings and the train was yet to reach its maximum speed. They could make it.
A look of acknowledgment was shared as the riders came up alongside the coal carriage. They pushed forward, forcing their horses to bring them closer to the drivers. The rider furthest from the train pulled in until his black leather coat was almost touching his partner’s. He reached across, taking the opposite horse’s reigns. Once more, they glanced to each other. The rider closest to the train had a fire in his eyes and the edge of his mask curled up, raised by his smile.
The horses finally reached the side of the driver’s compartment. Time slowed in the focus of those involved. One of the men in the carriage had looked to the side, seeing the shapes appearing next to them. His gasp, progressing to a scream, was lost in the roaring of the train’s engine.
In no more than an instant, the closest man rose from his saddle, perching atop it like a gargoyle. He launched from the horse with an explosive leap, his hands catching the roof of the driver’s compartment. The momentum of the jump brought his thick leather boots into the operator’s chest, throwing him backward and out the other side. He vanished almost immediately as the scorching sands violently robbed him of the train’s inertia.
The second operator spun around from the train’s controls to see the back of the man rising onto the coal cart. The hijacker, hoisting himself onto a hill of black, heard the sound of his partner’s boots arriving in the operator carriage.
As he crested onto the coal, the brigand looked forward. Standing opposite him was a man, some would-be law enforcer, in dirty blues and whites. His face still struggled to make sense of the situation but was accented with a determination to prevent the apparent hijacking. A pity for him.
While the bandit would have loved to entertain a dramatic standoff with his opponent, he had neither the time nor patience today. One smooth motion brushed his coat back, lifted a small hand crossbow into his grip, and released a bolt into the officer’s shoulder. Rather than fall, the lawman charged.
The bolt had slowed him, and his struggle to draw a weapon secured the bandit’s flurry of strikes. The first punch swung low, connecting with his side and cracking a rib on impact. His second secured his victory. A leather glove struck precisely where the bolt previous hit, driving it deeper into its mark. A blast of pain sent the lawman reeling and opened his guard against the decisive blow. The bandit spun, his heel meeting his opponent’s jaw and sending him to join the operator in a sandy grave.
With a series of heavy impacts, a brigand in dark leathers and a masked face kicked open the doors to the first passenger carriage. He lowered the mask to reveal a dirty, scarred jawline.
“Boys… let’s get to work.”
In reaction to his words, several other men rose from their seats and drew crossbows. One man, in a fine red jacket, turned to the woman he had been seated beside.
“Let’s start with that necklace and any rings you might have.”
– by Troy McConnell
More content by Troy
Ever since I sat down to prep that game, I had wished for a decent steam train map. Well, I’ve finally got around to making it, years later! With it, I hope that you might be able to experience some version of the Wild West fun we had, or use it as a centrepiece for your Eberron campaign.
Alternatively, steam trains make for an interesting dwarven invention, or ancient-precursor artefact. Because, why not slot in all the fun of train heists with a little genre bending?
The rest of the train will be coming soon, by the way. I have a pack of passenger cars and another of cargo lined up. In the meantime, please share your encounter ideas, stories, or genre-bending lore in the comments, I would love to hear it. 🙂
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