SHC GM-free session 16: Following the rails… where?

 Recap: The five Chicago Peers, Birkby Cliff Dan Hitch and Sandi, have made their way through a portal to early prohibition era Illinois. After proving their worth to the Great Spirit named Charles, they’ve been handed some general guidance, a very grotty satchel, and left to their own devices.

A rail track not far from Camp Butler Cemetery offered a direction so that leads us to…

Scene: Springfield’s eastern levee, near the rail bridge

The Peers have followed the rail through Riverton and Clear Lake to Springfield. Thanks to mend spells they look presentable, just completely wrong for the time. And there’s no guarantee that the ‘magic paper’ will work here. But that’s not the only problem.

“Just looking at this case, I’m thinking submersion damage,” Hitch decides. “Say, buried in the lakeshore for a good many years?”

“So all the cash inside is old, even for this time?”

“Well its legal currency, I dare say, but when you look at it…”

“Yeah pretty funky. And suspicious, handed over by a weird-looking… anyone.”

“No problem! Let’s find a laundromat and like, wash it!”

The Peers set out into what looks like the poorer side of a very flat city. Its capital building is a very clear landmark; another clear landmark is the rail station.

Scene ends


This is a completely new arc, so Chaos begins at 5.

PCs: all of the Peers.

NPCs: none.

Chaos check is fine.

Checking what Charles handed over, using the Location Crafter, I find it is ‘kindly/ruined’ so old money. Further is ‘attract disruption’ so can’t be used as is.

Other stuff

The web is fantastic for this stuff. I use the amazing time-stacked maps to peel back to Springfield c. 1924 and cross-check railroad ownership.

Chaos drops to 4.

Scene: “Levee town” Springfield

Dan is negotiating with a washerwoman. She seems quite taken with his ‘dude’ manners, and for a remarkably low fee takes on the chore of washing the bills and not saying anything about it to anyone.

The other Peers are planning to explore the city and get the feel of the place. Cliff mutters something about a gun shop, Hitch advises him to look for a gunsmith. Hitch himself is thinking there’s probably a library near city hall. Paul’s thinking about a gentleman’s outfitter, but knows he has to wait for some cleaned-up money first. They head along the rail to the station.

Scene ends


PCs: Dan and others in background

NPCs: washerwoman, passers-by.

Chaos check is fine.

There is no such thing as a laundromat (began in the mid-30s) so the team needs to get the bills manually washed. The Levee area, the side they entered on, is a poor African-American area so is certain to have at least one woman that takes in laundry for a living, probably dozens of them. The Location Crafter description is ‘lovingly dark’ so I tick that off. Dan makes a rather mediocre Diplomacy check (under 20) but checking action I get ‘agree representative’ so again, all proceeds smoothly.

Chaos drops to 3.

Scene: Springfield rail station

The main line advertises ‘Chicago & Alton’. Hitch does most of the work, since a ‘foreigner’ asking a lot about destinations and dressed funny is going to attract less notice than a local. Judicious enquiry reveals that the line is mainly for Chicago-Coast freight and passengers, but yes, there is a railroad west to St. Louis, from where passengers can eventually get to the West Coast.

“On the other hand,” Hitch explains, “If we went back north-east to Chicago we could take the rail almost due west, to San Fran.”

“What’s the problem with the southern route,” Cliff wants to know.

“Well, it’s less definite, changing here and there. We might even need to take a motor over the Sierras from Santa Fe.”

“The Acheson Topeka and the Santa Fe,” Sandi chants smilingly.

“It might be worth the extra trip back, taking a look at what we’re going to be up for,” Birkby muses.

“Alright, in lieu of Dan not having a say it sounds like we plan to ride back to Chicago then west. I think now I’m here, I’ll push on to the Library and speak to the reference desk. You finish spotting for shops and collect Dan. And some money…“

“All the money,” Birkby corrects firmly. “I’ll go straight there, right now.”

“…and get our research for shopping going. In which we will be discreet!”


“And we’ll meet over by the capital building by ooh, let’s say 2pm. That leaves time for a kip or some shopping.

“Oh and Cliff – don’t fall for your own Grandmother!” Hitch calls prophetically.

Scene ends


Chaos check is fine. This scene is mainly about getting a handle on where the railroad might take the Peers, and advantages either way. Then there are different purposes or mini-threads to split out. Hitch needs research in the Library, Cliff and Sandi need to plan for guns or ammo, not sure what Birkby is doing so he is heading back to get the money, and Dan.

Chaos drops to 2.

Scene: the Negress’ cottage

Dan is asleep. Deeply asleep. He slowly wakes to find Birkby looking concerned.

“You OK old fellow? I couldn’t wake you!”

“I had another dream: someone spoke to me… no, it’s fading.”

“Oh. Bother.”

“Not your fault. I pray if it was important it will come back.”

Dan rises, gives his thanks to his hostess and checks that Paul has packed the money back. The bag itself is now fairly clean-looking thanks to a mend spell.

“Where are the others?” Dan asks, not hearing any bickering or laughter.

“Scattered out and around. I’ve drawn the usher straw, we’ll head over to the capital building, divvy out some of the cash, buy some tickets and find a bunk for the night.”

Scene ends


Chaos check is 2: Interrupt. Meaning 70 PC Positive. Authority [of] dreams. Further is healthily dull. Dan has been using his 2-hour ‘power rest’ quite a lot so a chance for real sleep is taken.

Chaos rises to 3.

Scene: Springfield public library

Hitch’s quest for information such as Chicago newspapers back three years and rail timetables is easily satisfied – after all this is the State capital! His only problem is the short timeframe, and how the librarian is turning him on with all the starched cuffs and angry shushing.

“Remember, don’t fall for your grandmother” he tells himself sternly.

Scene ends


Chaos is fine.

PCs: only Hitch

NPCs: Librarian, patrons.

Hitch’s enormous Research skill assures that this is a Take10 exercise. Just to check I get a description on the librarian, ‘angrily lovely’.

(The ‘don’t fall’ reference is to a Futurama episode where Fry goes back in time, his grandmother gets the hots for him, and he kind of preserves his own genetic survival…)

Chaos drops back to 2.

Scene: a Gunsmith’s

“Funny kind of get-up, young feller,” the gunsmith comments. “And you young lady, that ain’t no decent kind of wear. And where on God’s green earth does that red-an-yaller hair come from?”

Sandi just smiles eye to eye, and his grumbling tapers off into the harm the war done, women in trousers and what’s next.

“He’s right though Cliffie, we oughta have gone shopping for clothes first,” Sandi whispers as the smith lays out a used but sturdy-looking revolver.

“The New Service. Fires the same .45s as the automatic, and won’t jam,” the smith assures Cliff, who studies the ingenious device for fitting rimless automatic cartridges.

Cliff didn’t bring a war-chest full of magnum ammo for his Python, and he’s just making sure he has a backup if and when he runs out of loads for it. He purchases the revolver and a box of 50 .45s.

Sandi peeks over, curious. She packed plenty of 9mm ammo, but not an unlimited supply – and she goes through 6 or 7 shots per round per gun. If she can match her 9mm here that would be a big bonus. But the gunsmith thinks she’s more likely to find Luger-type rounds in a big city like Chicago.

The pair set out to meet the others then shop for clothes. And hats, as Sandi points out.

Scene ends


PCs: Cliff and Sandi

NPCs: Gunsmith, possibly other patrons

Chaos check is fine. The Emulator is used to double-check the main points and the Location Crafter is used to narrow down a gun description. A search for large-calibre revolvers of the period is the other task performed.

Chaos drops to 1.

Travel montage

The Peers pass through towns like Lincoln, Normal, and Mokena, then there’s a long dull ride – without so much as spotting a cowboy or buffalo – until at last the outskirts of Chicago rise around them.

[Chaos remains placidly at 1, the Location Crafter says ‘quietly dull’.]

Scene: Chicago’s old Central Station

The Peers, now dressed in regular but new-looking duds, complete with hats, find their train has been diverted. Troopers are guarding the rail-head. Apparently there are some union troubles.

It’s a short walk into the main city, and there are clumsy-looking square-shouldered taxicabs too.

“It’s a fine day; let’s walk over to Oakland Cemetery,” Hitch suggests, and they file out. His research told him that the Confederate dead of Camp Douglas were reburied in Oakland.

Scene ends


Chaos check is 0, an interrupt. Ambiguous event, ‘take military’ so I decide it may refer to paramilitary or military tasked with putting the union down. At the time the Peers are in, there is rising tension between unions and rail management. Rail has been re-privatised and ugly things will happen later the same year.

Chaos rises to 2.

Scene: Oakland Cemetery

The Peers walk (hats on heads, and in Sandi’s case a toque) to look at Oakland Cemetery. It’s not the ornate place it becomes some generations later, and there’s no massive monument to the war dead, but there’s nothing suggestive of dark powers.

Some of the Peers suggest various things to do before catching the train west. Hitch and Birkby are risk-averse. But Sandi in particular really pushes for some alone time.

“Well, let’s meet over at Grand Central,” Hitch decides, “we should be fine in broad daylight in the main streets.”

“Don’t be crazy… and as I say that, a vast feeling of futility engulfs me,” Birkby adds.

Scene ends

I get an Interrupt – PC Positive, ‘pursue leadership’ which in the setting just reads Sandi (based on a d5 roll) wants to do her own thing.

Chaos rises to 3.

Scene: University of Chicago campus

Sandi has just ducked across the broad boulevard named Plaisance that trams rattle along both ways, and finds herself in a familiar setting. Just around the corner from the campus grounds is a familiar run of buildings.

She walks towards them, teary-eyed, and nearly knocks down an absent-minded professor type just leaving the future headquarters.

“Can I help you, young lady?”

“I was… I’d love a part-time job!”

“Hm. Do you type, at all? We have a secretary but he does have calls of urgent business on his time when someone else to take letters might be welcome.”

“I can totally type!”

“Oh, we wouldn’t want a totality, no, just the occasional…”

Recollecting herself Sandi says she’s got to catch a train, but when she comes back she’ll call again. And hurries off as the old gent looks puzzledly after her. Not an uncommon reaction.

Scene ends


PCs: Sandi. And possibly some other paranoid PC in the background.

NPCs: any number of wandering alumni, students, staff and locals.

Chaos check 2, interrupt, NPC action, ‘create wishes’. Further description  of the NPC using the NPC Emulator: ‘mindless ascetic’.

Chaos rises to 4.

Scene: Grand Central Rail Station

Whether the extra hours spent in the city are to blame or word has somehow filtered up from Springfield, there’s a group of very pale-faced, dark-eyed gangsters watching passengers boarding, and sometimes questioning them. Police and transit police presence seems to be nil. Which may be a good thing.

The Peers hold a hasty council of war and decide to try a simple combination of bluff and moving as separate single male passengers.

Sandi, with Dan carrying a number of luggage items just behind her, walks nonchalantly past the gangsters. Or tries!

“Say, whaddis this,” she drawls as one makes to hold her up. “Ain’t a girl got a right to board a train?”

“Aw miss we need ta bo-ard that there co-ach,” Dan drawls in turn.

The gangster steps back. And in the meantime Hitch Cliff and Birkby have walked past with the right amount of broad-shouldered business, as becomes Chicago travellers.

Scene ends


PCs: all the Peers.

NPCs: travellers, rail staff, others as chaos dictates.

Chaos check is 3, alteration, NPC action. Meaning ‘inquire status quo’. It could be innocuous or it could be vampire gang-members doing a check.

Unbelievably Sandi has the highest bluff, she makes 18 with a Take10.

Q: Can Dan [who also has some Bluff] help? (somewhat likely), 40 yes.

Dan helps (barely) so the combined Bluff is 20.

The vamp gets an 18 with his own take10 so Sandi and Dan ease by.

Chaos rises to 5.

Scene: Aboard a train getting steam up

There’s a roaring that despite the steam-engine noise, carries the conviction of anger and harm! Cliff sticks his head out and peers up the line. Then withdraws it.

“Not our biz. Union guys versus some kind of police. Lot of placards.”

The train, at last, conveys the Chicago Peers west.

Scene ends


PCs: all five Peers.

NPCs: any number.

I get a chaos check of 4 interrupt: NPC action, ‘struggle/legal matters’. Seeking further I get ‘roughly colorful’, and ‘failure attention’.

I read this to be protests about rail wages. This won’t stop the train (the Rail companies had locked in private deals with the ‘big four’ unions to make sure the engines kept going) so rail rolls on.

Chaos rises to 5 and we leave the session.

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