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Train To Hell - A One-Shot RPG

The Stryxliner is a train bound to Hell carrying the damned. The players play Desperados, ready to risk it all to recover their souls. A one-shot RPG to be played in 2 to 4 hours with minimal prep.

Train to Hell

All images are AI generated

The Game

Train To Hell is a one-shot RPG designed to be played in one session of 2-4 hours by a group of 4-6 people, with one of them taking the role of Game Master (or narrator) and the rest of the players taking on the roles of Desperados, robbing a train. Not just any train, but the Stryxliner: Satan’s personal soul-freight, bound straight to the lowest levels of Hell. On that train are the Desperados’ souls, locked up in the Vault Carriage. They have one chance, and one chance only, to get their souls back.

Resources.

Each player starts with three Health, three Humanity, and three Sin. If any of these resources reach zero, the player is eliminated. When we talk about Humanity, Health and Sin, we refer to them as “resources”. Whenever a Desperado loses a resource, the player describes what happens.

Health represents physical vitality. You lose health when you get hurt, battered, injured, assaulted and generally when your body breaks. When these run out, you can go no further, your body is spent, and you perish, your soul lost for all eternity. When you lose health, describe how your body is damaged, and how it echoes an injury you had before.

Humanity represents the things that keep you tethered to this world. The good things. The way you feel about your favorite horse, the woman you love, the scent of the sand when the wind rolls in… whatever it is that is keeping you from becoming one of the Lost on the train. When Humanity runs out, you lose your purpose, you don’t care anymore. You just stop seeking your soul and begin to do whatever the train demands of you. When you lose humanity, describe the memory that runs through your fingers and vanishes, like water in the desert.

Sin: No one on the train is blameless, after all, your soul is headed to Hell for a reason, and only sinners can ride the train. Sins are the bad things you’ve done, regardless of if you feel guilty about them or not. You have to hold on to them, because without them, the Train will exile you, immediately and without question. Sure, your shell of a body might wander the world for a few more golden years, but one day it will die, and then you will face eternal torment. When you lose a Sin, describe the horrible thing you did, and remember how you made amends.

The Stats

Each Desperado has three stats assigned a score of 1,2 or 3:

Grit represents all the physicality and athleticism of the Desperado; for the Gunslinger, this might be superhuman reaction speed, like a viper; for a Prospector, it might be more the ability to bend iron bars with his bare hands. Roll Grit whenever something physical needs to be done.

Soul represents your connection with the occult and the intangible and mysterious, both spiritual and magical. A priest chanting a prayer to exorcize a demon would use soul… but so would a Satanist drawing on dark powers to break through a ward to the next train car, or a sharpshooter instinctively “knowing” which way a target is going to move.

Brains represents how dang smart someone is, and also represents common sense and general experience. A lawyer with a lot of book learning trying to decipher a contract would use Brains, but so would a gambler using his previous experience to figure out the right play when playing cards for his soul.

When you need to use these stats, you roll a number of dice equal to your stat. If any of the dice come up** 5 or 6**, you succeed. If you have two or more successes, you succeed in some impressive and notable way. If you roll no successes, you probably still get what you wanted, but the GM may demand a cost, add a complication, or make you fail in some way that drives the plot forward. Only roll if the outcome is interesting. If the task is particularly daunting, you may be asked to subtract dice before rolling: this is called difficulty. The most difficulty a task can impose is 2. If that would bring you to 0 dice, you must roll two and succeed on both to pass. If it would bring you to a negative number, it is simply impossible for a character of your skill, and you cannot roll. Of course, some things will be flat out impossible, and for those, you cannot roll.

A basic difficulty task might be shooting a demon, opening a lock, or reading a book quickly.

A difficulty one task might be shooting a demon that is as quick as lightning, opening a lock designed by an infernal locksmith or reading a book in an ancient forgotten script.

A difficulty two task might be shooting a demon that is as quick as lightning in the dark, opening a lock designed by an infernal locksmith using only a hairpin or reading a book in an ancient forgotten script while a ghost is trying to kill you.

An impossible task might be shooting a demon that is intangible, opening a lock that is on the other side of the room while chained to the wall, reading a book that was burnt to cinders.

The carriages of the Styxliner are an interesting place. It’s up to the GM to decide if something might be possible in the fluid rules of the land between Heaven and Hell that might not work in the real world. When in doubt, the GM should let the players feel cool and then up the stakes appropriately. The GM is the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t possible

All Players are a different flavor of Desperado. Each class has three powers, and an additional Object of Power that can be used once. Other than that, the Desperados are assumed to have equipment that is appropriate to their class. E.g. the Gunslinger always has a gun, the Gambler has all the accouterments needed to get a game of luck going, etc. The nitty gritty of how much a Bible weighs is best left to other games, so unless it would be dramatically appropriate for an item to be missing, the Desperados can be assumed to have it.

When you carry one forward if the roll has difficulty, reduce that difficulty by one, otherwise you may re-roll one failed die in your die-pool. You don’t have to re-roll if you’ve succeeded, but it could give you a critical success where you only had regular success. You may only ever re-roll one die in your pool, so if you have two carry one forwards in effect, you must use them on different rolls.

Classes

Each player selects a different class, and a background for that class, then they may optionally select a Sin and be assigned an Agenda. That’s it, that’s all you need. For extra spice, you can print out the character sheets and have the players select at random, or assign each other classes.

Powers that are [Passive] apply whenever the conditions are met. [Active] powers can be used once per scene, which is usually once per train carriage, and [One Use] powers can be used exactly once. Your Object of Power is one use only, after it is used it usually vanishes, but even if it doesn’t, whatever mystical power it contained has faded. All that’s left is its empty husk.

The Gunslinger

Grit: 3 Soul : 2 Brains: 1

The Gunslinger is fast as a viper and much more deadly. He got his reputation killing men, and for that, his soul is forfeit. But he’s got one last bullet in his gun, one last chance to save his soul. He’s not much about thinkin’ but he’s got that sixth sense you develop when you’ve spilled so much blood that you can smell when someone means you harm.

Backgrounds

  • The Bandit - The bandit killed and robbed, because he had a gun, and his victims did not. Because his draw was faster, and more deadly. Because he could deal in death, and they could not. Justice, fairness, all those were alien concepts to him. There were only the quick and the dead. The quick feasted on the dead. He wore a mask, so no-one could identify him. That mask, the symbol of his slaughter, still accompanies him now, on this last job.
    • The Mask - When you activate the mask, for the rest of the scene conceal your identity in whichever way makes the most sense. It could be invisibility, or a demon thinking you’re a higher tier demon, or something else entirely. The mask hides your identity and replaces it with something fearsome or hidden. Once the scene ends, the mask becomes just a piece of cloth.
  • The Deadeye - The Deadeye was known for one thing, and one thing only: killing men in a single shot. Being the quickest gun around. A gun that spat death before his rivals could even reach for their weapons. Accuracy and an unrivaled lethality. The trail of bodies behind him attested to his fearsome prowess, but those bodies, carelessly stacked demand a blood price. His soul. Gun in hand, the Deadeye has one last shot… and he never misses.
    • The Gun - When you activate the gun, point it at someone and fire. This is your last shot, and you never miss. The target dies. No protection, no questions asked. With that final shot, your last bullet is spent, and The Gun is just a worthless toy.

Powers

  • Fastest Gun in the West [Passive]. You can always act first in any scene, and can never be wholly caught by surprise. If a bad thing happens that surprises everyone, you can react when it happens, and may take one forward when doing it.
  • Scent of Blood [Active]. In any scene you may roll Soul. Ask two questions, on success, you’ll get the truth, on failure, the GM will choose one to answer, on critical success, you may ask all three. If you have just spilled blood, you may take one forward on this roll.
    • Who here means me harm?
    • Who here is the weakest among them?
    • What here can be used for terrible violence?
    • Where was blood spilled here?
    • What is the most threatening thing here?
  • Death’s Shadow [One Use]. If something would have killed you… it doesn’t. You remain alive at whatever health you were before whatever it was would have killed you. Death is your constant companion, and did you one last solid.

The Holy Man

Grit: 1 Soul : 3 Brains: 2

The Holy Man is a spiritual leader. A counselor, a protector, a sword against the devil… and a sinner. Sins made worse by his pledges. He knows the paths of angels and understands how to speak with devils and men; he has book learning, but has never had the rough life that makes one strong of body.

Backgrounds

  • The Priest - The Priest lost his soul on behalf of one of his parishioners, he made a great sacrifice to protect others, giving up the single most precious thing he could. Now he’s a man of God on the train to Hell. And what better place for someone in his line of work?
    • Holy Talisman.- When you raise the holy talisman to protect others from evil, for the rest of the scene, the evil may do them no harm. This does not protect you. When the scene ends, the power is spent, the talisman vanishes, gone, to another soul in need.
  • The Shaman- The Shaman is not a man of God, but a man of Gods. A priest of an ancient religion ignored by others, neglected by outsiders and even those who should be its adherents, ancient traditions long forgotten by most men and most cultures. He attempted a powerful ritual, and whatever it was he wanted, he got it, but the price he paid was his soul.
    • A Remnant - An object of power, a fragment of a dead God, a shackle that once held a monster… whatever it is, exactly, it is an object of powerful binding. When you use it to bind a powerful being, it is bound. What exactly that means and the terms of the binding are between you and the GM. Once the binding is complete, the Remnant shatters.

Powers

  • Beacon of Light [Passive] - When you engage against demons, or try to protect the weak, you may carry one roll forward, but the demons will mark you as a Holy Man and know you are their enemy.
  • Divination [Active] - Once per scene, roll with Soul. Ask two yes or no questions. On success, the GM will answer them truthfully, on failure, he will tell one lie and one truth. On critical success, one of your allies may carry one forward so long as their action relates to a question you asked.
  • Sacred Knowledge [One Shot] - You have holy, divinely granted knowledge about the nature of the Train and Devils within it. You may define a rule the Train must follow, so long as it does not betray the goals of the Train. E.g. you could say “all Devils on the Train may not lie”, but you could not say “The Train will help us reach the Vault”. Negotiate it with the GM.

`The Lawman

Grit: 2 Soul : 1 Brains: 3

The Lawman was a keeper of the law: a sheriff, or judge, a person who had the power of justice by his side… but can anyone rightfully take the lives of others? Imprison them? Strip them of property and freedom and not incur the taint of sin? The law is that those who have sinned shall suffer, and the Lawman has sinned.

Backgrounds

  • Order- Maybe he believed in what he was doing. Maybe he didn’t. The fact is, order Is harsh, order is unfair, and by definition, the order imposed by men must be at the expense of others. By being privy to this, by being a leader of those who would abuse their power, or who would kill and imprison to maintain an order not backed by justice, the Lawman unwittingly lost his soul. Now, he must break the Order of God in order to save himself.
    • Badge of Office - It once represented the Order that The Lawman was meant to uphold, and it still holds a sliver of that power. When you use the Badge to Command others to obey, you can compel them to do as you say, and by your authority they will. Once the command is over, the power is spent, and those you commanded may be back to remind you of your place in the order of things.
  • Corruption - Those that have power, may come to abuse it. Which is the pit the Lawman fell into. For bribes he turned his eyes away from murder and theft. Out of fear he imprisoned good men and let evil ones walk free. He did not protect the weak and the needy, he punished them for his own sake. For that his soul is forfeit. But the Sinner knows the ways of the Devil and perhaps he might still find a way out…
    • Keys of Injustice - These keys once bound good men and freed bad ones. They still hold the power to open doors best left closed. When you use the keys, you may open any sealed object, be it a door, or vault or chest, a lockbox or a locket. When you do, the keys jingle once, and turn to rust.

Powers

  • I AM THE LAW [Passive] - When acting against lawbreakers, if you can identify them as such, you may carry one roll forward, and the forces of Order will be compelled to help you. If you use this power, lawbreakers will remember who you are, and act with the requisite deference and distrust.
  • Hell’s Contract [Active] - Hell runs on laws, and to some degree, so does the Train. You may twist and corrupt these to your own purposes, all under the guise of “maintaining order”. Roll Brains: on success, pick two; on failure, pick one.
    • You compel one of the minor demons or lost on this carriage into helping you, someone useful but relatively powerless, GM’s choice.
    • You hinder whatever the strongest threat in the carriage is, the first Desperado to act against it carries one roll forward.
    • You ascertain a glimpse of what must be done to access the next carriage, the GM gives you a vague hint that is technically correct.
    • Your transgression remains unnoticed.
  • The Guilty Shall Not Go Unpunished [One Shot] - Declare the heinous crime an NPC has committed. Everyone on the train now knows this crime has been committed, and who the perpetrator is…whether or not the crime happened at all. While not everyone may be in a position to act against him right now, that NPC will suddenly find his allies thin on the ground, and if the tables are turned, may even find former allies turned into enemies.

The Vagabond

Grit: 2 Soul : 3 Brains: 1

The Vagabond has no home, no people, no place. He’s a wanderer, surviving because he can feel the flow of the world and the pulse of the universe, has a strong back and strong legs to carry him where he needs to go, with hunger and fear his constant companions. All to preserve his freedom from the laws and expectations of society. Now he must hop one final train, to reclaim the only thing that ever mattered.

Backgrounds

  • The Drifter - He never had a place to call home, and the road is a harsh mistress. The drifter went from town to town, avoiding being drafted into chain gangs, stealing what he needed, and doing worse when the circumstances called for it. Until necessity forced his hand, and the last thing he lost was his Soul.
    • The Knapsack - A drifter is never without something for an emergency. One time only, you can reach into your knapsack and pull out exactly what you need. When you use this item to solve the current problem it works flawlessly, and you can carry one forward any time you use it for the rest of the scene. The item breaks at the end of the scene, it was always a second-hand cast-off version of the original and it’s a miracle it worked at all. The Knapsack is gone like it never existed.
  • The Lost - Lost his memory, lost his way. The Lost doesn’t even know why his soul is on the train to hell… but he knows he’s going to get it back.
    • Mystery Talisman - It could do anything, be anything. When you hold it, you feel like you’re close to a breakthrough. Like you might be able to remember something. When in crisis, you may call upon its powers, and bring a Desperado back from the brink of death. When a player is about to lose his last Health, Soul or Humanity (resource), you can expend the Talisman. The player instead keeps that resource at 1. You may use this on yourself. Regardless, the talisman grows brittle and shatters.

Powers

  • Faceless Vagabond [Passive] - Any scene, you may choose to be unnoticed until you choose to reveal yourself or act in the light. If you do so, when you reveal yourself or are discovered, the forces of Order will consider you a lawbreaker and a threat, and act accordingly.
  • Wisdom of the Roads [Active] - Once per scene, roll with Soul. On success, pick two. On failure, pick one. On critical success, restore 1 of a resource of your choice and pick two.
    • You and another player swap a resource of your choice.
    • You find a useful piece of junk, tell the GM what it is, and carry one roll forward the first time you use it.
    • You fix something broken, it can be used one more time before it breaks again, and this time breaks permanently.
    • You do not draw the ire of the conductor.
  • The Hidden Paths [One Shot] - You know the hidden ways no one else does. You may choose to guide your party out of the current carriage via one such passage, immediately exiting the current scene and into the next one, regardless of what’s going on. In the Vault, you may use this to bypass one threat.

The Gambler

Grit: 1 Soul : 2 Brains: 3

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em / Know when to fold ‘em / Know when to walk away / And know when to run / You never count your money/ When you’re sittin’ at the table / There’ll be time enough for countin’ / When the dealin’s done (The Gambler, Kenny Rogers)

Backgrounds

  • The Player: There is no greater thrill than to roll the dice with fate, to put it all on the line and win. The player made his living on games on fate, until he played a too-dangerous game with the Devil himself, and no one beats the Prince of Lies. Now he must risk it all on one last turn of pitch-and-toss and meet with Triumph - or Disaster.
    • The Lucky Dice - Only the Gambler can make the bizarrely unlikely happen. When the GM describes something as one in a million chance, or vanishingly unlikely, or it’s something that should not be possible to get without incredible luck (like guessing a vault combination on the first try, or exactly winning a roulette roll, or figuring out a devils true name without any hints), you may declare that the Gambler uses his lucky dice, and simply makes the one in a million shot. The dice then lose their power and turn to ash in the gambler’s hands. ** **
  • The Conman: Luck is for losers. The Conman knows that you make your own luck, at the expense of others. Only fools and knaves allow dice to determine their fortune. The Conman has spent his life fleecing others, until he paid the price for his deception. Now the con needs to pull the greatest scam of his life if he’s to recover his soul…
    • The Cup and Shell Game - The Conman has made a ‘living’ taking from others by sleight of hand and trickery. When an NPC has something you want, you may declare that actually, theirs is a fake, and you have stolen the original. It was beneath the cup all along. If the NPC thinks to look, the item has vanished. This is not limited to the physical: you could even steal a fact or a concept. Whatever it is you’ve stolen, the cup and shell are now gone.

Powers

  • Flim-flam [Passive] - When you speak with conviction and absolutely no backing of fact and logic, carry one roll forward, and those who listen are compelled to believe your words. When they realize you are lying, expect consequences.
  • Gamble [Active] - Once per scene, instead of rolling an ability check, you may choose to GAMBLE. Roll 1d6, on a 4+ you succeed critically. Otherwise you fail horrifically, in some way that is detrimental to everyone. Add one to this roll if what you’re doing relies on luck or chance in some way.
  • The Ultimate Bet [One Shot] - When another player fails a roll, you may turn that failure into a critical success, and they carry one forward for the rest of the scene.

The Prospector

Grit: 3
Brain: 2 Soul: 1

The mountains are full of gold, and fools who seek the gold. It takes a man with determination and grit to wander into those mountains, far from the hand of God to find the gold hidden deep in the earth, guarded by mudslides, bandits and the cold bite of winter. Why, in a place like that, a man might even lose his soul.

Backgrounds

  • The Honest Prospector- With a family to feed, sometimes one has to do things that strain one’s morals, that push one’s boundaries. In these hills, there is no law but the law men make. A man only answers to himself and God, and God has found him wanting. He must now chase something more precious than gold… his very soul.
    • TNT - Just a good ol bundle of American made dynamite: the furious fire of technology wrapped up in a convenient package. In any scene you may choose to BLOW IT UP. Whatever happens, destruction and mayhem are sure to follow. The GM will narrate, but it will probably be loud, fiery and lethal.
  • Goldmad - The gold in these hills has driven many a man mad with the promise of wealth, glittering beneath the earth. Driven by this furious greed, the Goldmad Prospector divested himself of any humanity, doing what needed to be done to secure the bounty of the mountain. But for that kind of wealth, a price must always be paid. Recovering from his madness, he found that the price he’d paid had been too high.
    • Gold Nugget - When you choose to trade the gold nugget, whoever you offer it to will think it is the most valuable and precious thing in the world, and will be willing to part with anything to get it. Once it is traded, this nugget loses its luster, and the victim of your trade may wish to renegotiate the bargain.

Powers

  • Rugged Like The Mountains [Passive] - When you roll to stand against something much stronger than yourself, you carry one forward. You cannot be moved if you do not desire it. Guileful enemies will know this, and try to shake your desire.
    • …qui posuit animam meam ad vitam, et non dedit commoveri pedes meos…
  • There’s gold in them there hills [Active] - Once per scene roll with Brain, carrying one forward if you obtained something of value in the last scene. On success, you may ask two, on failure one, on critical success, you may carry one forward to obtain something valuable and ask two.
    • What is the most valuable thing here?
    • What is the most dangerous thing here?
    • What is the safest path through here?
    • Who stands to profit?
    • Where is the hidden treasure in this room?
  • Strike the Earth [One Shot] - With one powerful blow, you bring a pickaxe swinging down. There is nothing on this train that can resist the power of your blow. No door you won’t shatter, no vault that won’t crumble, no demon that won’t break or flee. You could even shatter a law or precept, such is the strength of your power.

Capital Sins

Capital Sins are an optional system, not one you have to use. The GM ultimately decides. Each player picks or rolls a Capital Sin. Multiple Desperados may share a single Capital Sin. When a Desperado acts in a way that embodies their chosen Capital Sin, to their detriment, they may recover one point of the Sin resource, or carry one forward on their next roll, whatever they prefer. Each of these may only happen once per game, though they may keep indulging their vice if they so desire.

Sins

  • Pride is not only the reckless confidence of the Gunslinger thinking he’s invincible, but also the scorn of the Priest, who thinks himself better than the rabble he tends to, or the brutality of the chain-ganger, who thinks he’s above the other sinners he’s brutalizing.
  • Envy is the jealousy of a settler who covets the thriving ranch of his neighbor, the bitterness of a saloon girl watching her rival dance with the wealthiest patron, or the resentment of a deputy eyeing the sheriff’s star.
  • Wrath is the fiery temper of a cowboy seeking vengeance for a wrong, real or imagined, the rage of a wife taking up arms against her cheating husband, or the reckless destruction of land and property to “punish” wrongdoers.
  • Sloth is the laziness of a prospector who refuses to work his claim, the indolence of a sheriff neglecting his duties while criminals run rampant, or the apathy of a doctor who turns a blind eye to the suffering of the town’s poor.
  • Greed is the insatiable hunger of a gold miner or banker, willing to cheat, steal, or kill to amass wealth, the shopkeeper who inflates prices to exploit desperate customers, or the land baron who drives families off their homesteads for more land.
  • Gluttony is the reckless indulgence of a saloon owner, who consumes his own supply, even at the cost of his business, the drunkenness of a gambler who wastes his winnings on liquor and vice, or the selfishness of a rancher hoarding supplies during a drought.
  • Lust is the uncontrollable desire of a drifter, leading to the seduction and betrayal of innocents in every town he passes through, the infidelity of a married man sneaking off to the brothel, or the obsessive passion of a lover willing to destroy lives to possess her beloved.

Agendas

Agendas are an optional system, acting as a secondary objective for the Desperados . These are meant to create competing goals and sow a little bit of discord. Ideally they are handed out in secret. If the GM wishes, it can be fun to assign the goals to the players who are most likely to enjoy and indulge in the chaos, but handing them out at random works. As a reminder, if the players don’t get to their souls and free them, completing an Agenda is meaningless. There are three categories of Agenda, from Innocuous to Disruptive, if you want to randomize, roll 1d3 and then 1d6, though having more than one or maybe two disruptive Agendas can lead to more chaos than you might desire.

There is no mechanical incentive to complete an Agenda. It is purely a character motivation. If the GM feels like a mechanical motivation is needed, allow a player to restore one Humanity or carry one forward into the next scene on achieving the Agenda. Remember, it only counts if it’s somehow to the detriment of themselves or their team.

There’s a final optional list of Traitor Agendas, recommended if you’ve played a couple times and want to have one or more of the characters be adversarial in nature. Use at your own peril, as Traitor Agendas are generally pretty harmful to the party and may impart a slightly different tone on the game.

Innocuous

1Drunkard: Be inebriated in as many scenes as possible. Make reckless decisions in pursuit of drink. Use alcohol to numb the pain and justify poor decisions.
2Superstitious: Don’t engage in acts that can bring bad luck. Avoid the number 13, don’t walk under ladders, take the long way if that’s what it takes. Make sure you highlight how anything that goes wrong is because the party broke some “obvious” taboo. Bonus points for making up your own superstitions.
3Curious: Let your curiosity get the better of you. Poke your head where it doesn’t belong. Open that tome of forbidden knowledge. Ask the gunslinger about that haunted past they don’t want to talk about, find out all the things, even if there is no gain besides pure knowledge.
4Souvenir Collector: You love shinies. Collect as many varied and interesting souvenirs as you can. They do not have to be valuable, and it’s ideal if they’re clunky, on fire, or somehow inconvenient. Maybe you can convince the rest of the party to help you carry them?
5Best Friend: Secretly pick a party member. Someone dark, brooding and unlikable preferred. You want them to be your best friend. Make sure you do everything you can to get in their good graces, and make sure no other player can claim that coveted title.
6Something to prove: You’re here to show you’re brave as much as anything else. Don’t back down in the face of danger. Double down if something questions your courage. Take that dare, do the questionable thing no one else is bold enough to do. Whatever happens, show them all that you’ve got twice as much chutzpah as they do, even if it means you get a little singed in the process.

Moderate

1Nemesis: One of the lost on this train is someone you knew when they were alive. They hate your guts and you hate theirs. Name them. The GM will make sure they show up in several of the Carriages. You cannot kill each other, but you should make each other’s lives as miserable as possible.
2Demon Hater: You don’t like demons. Not one bit. You understand that cutting a bloody swathe through the train isn’t an option, not if you want to get your soul back, but don’t miss any opportunity to be petty. To rub their face in it, to cut deals that harm them. If you get a chance to kill demons, great, but if not, make their lives as hard as you can.
3Obsessed: See omens and signals in everything. That cryptic scrawl on the wall? It's a potent of what is to come. The whisper of the wind when you enter the carriage? A message from a cherubim! Make sure you act on these omens, lest disaster fall upon you! THEY TELL THE FUTURE.
4Pet Collector: You just can’t get enough of various little critters, even if they bite, sting, set things on fire or feed on the souls of the innocent. Try to bring as many critters with you as you can.
5Liar: You lie. A lot. For no reason. If there is a situation where you can pick between a plausible lie and the truth… err on the side of lying. Don’t tell obvious lies, you want to be believed. Double down if confronted.
6Indulgent: You’re on the Stryxliner! Bound to hell! Give in a little. Try some of the temptations. See what all the fuss is about. After all, you only live once. What’s the harm in one little deal with a demon, or eating some of the delicious feast, or drinking the wine marked “Conductor Only”? Kill that guy that annoyed you! You only live once!

Disruptive

1Looking for Someone: The soul of someone you love is aboard this train, not in the Vault, but as one of the lost, someone who fully lost their humanity. Ask the GM what their name is, and that’s all you have to go off of. Find this person, find a way to restore them. Whatever the cost.
2Vengeance: A demon on this train has wronged you personally. Maybe it was a rival who died and became a demon, maybe it’s responsible for stealing your soul. Either way, find it, and kill it. This won’t be easy, and the Conductor won’t take kindly to you killing a powerful Lieutenant. You can name it. Tell the GM.
3Secret Alliance: You've made a covert pact with a powerful demon on the train. It has promised you something beyond your soul—maybe power, knowledge, or the resurrection of a loved one. In return, you must undermine the power of the Conductor. Do this without letting the party know, and without harming any of the allies of this demon; its allies will all bear a sign so you can recognize them, ask the GM what that is.
4The Greatest Treasure: There is a great object of power on this train. Something almost as valuable as your soul, something that will let you change everything. You must have it. If you leave without it, then things will go back to the way they were. Ask the GM what the object looks like.
5Savior of the Innocent: In your life you have seen much suffering, especially of innocents tormented by those with power. No more. You cannot bear to see the suffering of others, and cannot compromise with it. You will free the shackled, overthrow the oppressors, and protect justice, even if it puts your mission in peril.
6Anarchist: You seek to unleash chaos and anarchy upon the train, viewing it as the ultimate expression of freedom in a world of eternal damnation. Incite rebellion, pit demons against each other, and generally try to destroy the agenda of “order” as best you can, even if it makes things much more difficult for you.

Traitorous

1 Deal With the Devil: You have made a deal with Satan: your soul isn’t even on this train. You’ve been in Hell for what feels like an eternity - though it hasn’t been one, yet. Your soul will be freed if, and only if, you cause the party to fail at the last possible second. The Prince of Lies wants to see the hope in their eyes before it’s snatched away…
2 Unreasonable Vengeance: You’re not here for your soul. That was forfeit the moment you set foot on the train. You’re here for one thing and one thing only: to kill the Conductor, and end the Styxliner, once and for all. To do that, you need these Desperados to lure him out. One surefire way is to trip the security alarm on the Vault, which is connected to the Conductor's Carriage.
3 Cultist of the Dark Gods: You worship something strange, something ancient and beyond the ken of mortal minds. It demands of you three precepts:
  • Never lie.
  • Consume objects of power.
  • Sacrifice Souls to the Dark One.
If you can perform the right ritual in the Vault, then He That Crawls will bless you with unearthly power. You need the others to get there, but once you do, all bets are off.
4 Angel of God: You are here, sent by God himself to free the Archangel Gabriel, who is trapped somewhere on this train, disguised as a devil. Question all the devils you find, and unless you’re completely sure none of them are Gabriel in disguise, ensure they are not harmed. As an Angel you:
  • May not reveal your identity (If questioned, claim an innocuous Agenda like Curious).
  • May not engage in violence against a human.
  • Help the suffering, however you can.
Your soul is not in peril, so getting to the Vault is probably less of a priority for you, though the Desperados might count as “the suffering”?
5 Bringer of Fire: A reasonable person might seek vengeance against a specific demon or person, and might rationally focus goals and balance priorities. Not you. You are here to burn it all down. You can’t do that if you die, so stay alive, and try to keep the help alive as best you can, but destroy this train, carriage by carriage. No retreat, only a path of ruin to the Vault, and then on to the Engine itself.
6 Thrillseeker: You do not have a normal response to danger. You always want to up the stakes, for your own thrills. If a situation is dangerous, find a way to make it more so. Provoke that demon. Set off the trap. See why the priest is so scared of the black box. Make sure you survive, but if others get hurt, who cares?

Running the Game

If you’re a player, I advise not reading any further. Trust me, you’ll have more fun that way. But, if you do read on, not all is lost; the joy of most RPGs is playing them out, even if you think you know what’s going to happen.

Running one-shots is a bit of an art, and the pacing can be wonky. As GM, your primary duty is to make sure everyone has fun. If everyone leaves the session talking about the cool things they got to do and the funny moments that happened, then you have done your job.

Prep

Your job will be made significantly easy with a little prep. If you can make players pick their Desperados in advance (or assign them) and distribute their Agendas and Sins as well. One fun way to do it is to make players pick Agendas and Classes for each other. Printing out character sheets in advance is also very helpful.

My recommendation is to have a sheet with the following notes:

  1. Each player’s Class, Sin and Agenda (if using)
    1. Some Agendas require you to name things, or keep descriptions in mind; do this in advance and have it near the top of your notes for easy access.
    2. Knowing what one-shot powers the Desperados have and passives will give you a good idea of what to highlight in each scene.
      1. A Gunslinger is going to want to shoot things and be first on the draw.
      2. A Gambler needs things that are unlikely or dangerous.
      3. The Priest needs some overt demons to fight.
      4. The Prospector needs valuables to find and obtain, and opportunities to be immovable.
      5. The Vagabond really wants a chance to be sneaky or find a useful piece of junk.
      6. The Lawman needs some forces of chaos to fight and order to subvert.
  2. The “main” carriages you want to make sure you get to. Pick what carriage the Desperados will start on here.
    1. If you have anything you want to highlight in these (and the descriptions I give are pretty superficial, so you can tone things to your taste, also skip over any bits you don’t care for), this is a good place to write a note.
      1. If you’re struggling with where to start the Saloon Car has plenty to do, hits the wild west themes pretty well, and will let the players get a feel for what they can do.
  3. Some optional carriages in case things are going too fast.
    1. A great place to mix in some class-targeted carriages, especially as you see who’s getting time in the spotlight and who needs more opportunities to shine.
  4. A list of potential demon/NPC names is always helpful. I provide some in the appendix, but source some more if you’d like
  5. If there are any named NPCs you want to include (From an agenda, or just “Nicon, who is a jerk who follows the Desperados around trying to trick them into bad bargains”), a quick description and a name is all you need. A voice if you like doing those can be helpful.
  6. A reminder to prompt the players to describe their Sin, Humanity and Health losses. Remember, when they lose a Sin, they should narrate what the sin was and how they made amends, when they lose Humanity they need to narrate the thing that was tethering them to themselves and why, and when they lose Health they should narrate a wound that parallels one they had in their past.
  7. A section to jot down any notable NPCs that emerge during play that you want to use in another carriage.

This is not strictly necessary, you can show up only having read the rules and pull from the Carriages section almost at whim. There is a real joy in improving a whole carriage, but prep almost always pays off. At the very least, make sure to take notes during play.

Goals

Completely cribbed from Powered by the Apocalypse, I renamed Agendas to Goals because there’s a player mechanic called Agendas in this game. Your goals are, to me, the ironclad things that you need to remember when running the game, the “just do this, and things will be fine” rules.

  • Keep things interesting and exciting- This is why everyone is here, playing, right now, because they want an interesting game where fun things happen. Don’t do yourself or your players a disservice by making things too easy, but also don’t kill off the Desperados in the first Carriage. Living Desperados tend to make for a more fun game than dead ones. Though if someone dies early having them be a ghost is an interesting take.
  • Offer chances at redemption - This is a game about lost souls finding redemption at the last possible moment. Fill the game with tough choices, opportunities to sacrifice, NPCs who are desperate and need the PCs, highlight that helping others comes at a cost. Nothing is free, everything is a bargain of some sort, and there are Devils waiting to make your life easier if you’ll just pay a small price…
  • Play to see what happens - The game takes place on a train, but don’t rail-road the players. Let them make poor decisions, blow things up, fight the Conductor, make bad deals, make great deals, steal everything not nailed down, and generally make a mess of things. If you knew how things were going to turn out… Why play at all? Let the players surprise you, let the NPCs surprise you. Roll those dice, and have the Desperados live or die by them.

Principles

These are the things you should be doing in service of your goals. Consider these like flavor tips. The ingredients for a good session.

  • Be the player’s #1 fan. You want them to have a romp, to succeed, you want this grab bag of bad people with haunted pasts to come together and find redemption, to see the depths they were at and the heights they can reach.
  • Ham it up. Do the scary monster voices. Have the demons offer bargains. Highlight how cartoonishly evil they are, and how everyone seems fine with it. Have the recurring villain laugh maniacally as he tries to cut the tether leading to the next carriage. Have the pitiful lost soul be an orphan who’s adoptive parents got killed by bandits and who then starved to death. The players will key off your energy, so have fun with it.
  • Address the Desperados, not the Players - Let the players slip into the masks of the Desperados they’re playing. Address the question to Joe “Four-fingers”, and ask what he wants to do. The more you do this, the more tangible the fantasy becomes. Add a sprinkling of character voices, and for the next however-long, the players will feel like they’re the Desperados on their way to Hell.
  • Tempt the Sinner. One of the driving motifs is that the Desperados are sinners, they’ve done wrong, they’ve done bad things. They might have to do other questionable things to save their souls… but they can define themselves now, they can choose to do good, they can be selfless and generous. Give them the opportunities to do that. Tempt them and see them rise to the challenge.
  • Everyone has an agenda. Everyone on the train, from the most powerless lost, to the human who somehow wound up lost in the Casino Carriage, to the most powerful demon on the train, the Conductor, has something they want, something they’re fighting for, and something they’re afraid of. That should be reflected in the carriage, and it gives the Desperados the leverage they need.
  • Keep it weird. This is a dreamlike train from hell, where in one room you have fountains of blood and weeping eyeless angels, in another you have a feast prepared by a tiny angry chef, and in another you have a tree that shows you your deepest fears. Highlight that surreal dream-like atmosphere any time you can. Roll the inconsistencies that will happen into that
  • The Train is the Enemy- It too has an agenda, and the weirdness of the train should get more intense, more malicious the closer the Desperados are to their goal. It should tempt them. It should weird them out. It should play on their fears and insecurities, and it should make it as hard for the Desperados as it can.
  • Drain their Resources, Give out Treasure - Natively, there is only one way for players to recover resources, and it only happens on a critical success. If you use capital sins, Sin can be recovered slightly more easily, but Health, Sin and Humanity are meant to be drained, a point at the time. Offer very limited ways to recover these resources, and instead err on the side of giving out weird artifacts, cool devices, hell bound spells, large guns, and odd things they’ll need to find an use for.
  • Haunt the Desperados - The Desperados have done bad things, and those things should come back to haunt them. Have the people the Gambler conned show up, haunted spirits, to relate how that was the turning point where their life went off the rails. Have the ghostly voice that’s been following the Desperados be the wrath of all the unfairly jailed convicts the Lawman incarcerated. Let the Desperados remember why they’re on this train in the first place.
  • Treat the train like a stolen car.- You haven’t put a deposit down on the train, or the NPCs in it. Have them make stupid but characterful decisions that get them killed, or maimed. Have them make bad deals they think are good, have them activate the trap, blow up the wagon, destroy the priceless cask of wine, if it makes sense. Wreck it all.
  • Throw out anything that doesn’t work. - It’s what it says on the tin. This is your game. You know your players much better than I, some anonymous dude on the internet. Is your party all satanists who think the devil is rad as hell and improperly portrayed by the media? Have the train run by an Archangel and change all the motifs. Do your players not give a hoot about redemption, but are super keen on the Weird West? Throw out the purgatory metaphor and just focus on the weird train they’re running a heist on. There’s no wrong way to run this game, so long as you all have fun.

Character Death

Ideally, try to avoid killing any Desperado before the vault, unless they are really asking for it (or really unlucky). There are several powers to keep Desperados in the game, and if need be, you can have a demon offer a last minute deal (or an Angel, if they’re deserving). Worst case scenario, have a backup character ready to rumble. Don’t kill off a Desperado in a meaningless way if there’s any way to avoid it though, and a player should know death is on the line if they’re pursuing a specific course of action where it is. For the Desperados, it might be hard to tell, for the players it should not.

On Demon Pacts

It is extremely likely the desperados will form a pact with a demon, out of necessity or otherwise. It is very tempting to just screw the desperados, and if they were too foolish, it’s fine to do so, but just removing a player from the game is no fun. Try to make their life hard without killing them, and try to ensure what they get is interesting or a challenge in some way. Sure if a desperado trades his left hand for wealth, you should just give them a massive pile of gold and ask them how they plan to transport it, but otherwise, try to expand their options. In general whatever they trade should be inconvenient but not crippling. It’s better to say “Your Desperado can only talk in three word sentences now, and if he breaks this rule the last word he says becomes a loud shriek everyone in the car can hear’’ than it is to say “Your Desperado can no longer talk.” make it something fun to work around. Some thoughts on things the players might trade:

  • Favors. The demon will give you something now for a favor later. Put it in your back pocket and wait for the most inconvenient moment to spring it on the players
  • Information: if the players know something juicy it becomes suddenly valuable. Of course it should have unintended consequences, especially if it seems innocuous.
  • Limitations: Limit their ability to speak, their ability to act (like, say promising not to hurt any blue demons), or where they can go (We won’t interfere with the engineers)
  • Time: Years of their life, spending time in this car instead of advancing, whatever makes the Desperados worry, even if you know it won’t really matter.
  • Innocents: people they’ve saved, souls they’ve rescued, demons they’ve befriended, or critters they’ve brought along especially if they’re not actually useful
  • Treasure/Artifacts/Tools: Anything they have that is useful, or that they’ve grown attached to, be it Jerry the Talking Skull or The Grimoire of Wishes.

Of course they should get things in return:

  • Supernatural luck: re-rolling dice pools, guaranteed successes, whatever makes sense. Twist the dagger and make it supernatural luck with consequences.
  • Additional ways to fight: a massive tentacle, fire breath, a shotgun that fires crosses, whatever they’ll find tempting. At worst, let them carry one forward in a fight, at best let it be intimidating, or just one-shot a baddy. Of course, maybe that weapon really belongs to someone else and they’re not happy about it. Or the tentacle needs to be fed blood. Or the firebreath is indiscriminate
  • Knowledge: about what’s ahead, about players Agendas, about demons or the past. Of course sometimes incomplete knowledge can lead to bad outcomes.
  • Artifacts: make them interesting, cursed and with odd side effects, rings of invisibility that only works while submerged in blood. A wand of repair that can only mend flesh. A flask of endless pus. Things that they’ll have to find creative uses for.
  • Innocents: the ability to save those that are in danger, right now. Always at a price, and they won’t always be grateful.
  • Pets and mascots: they might be useful, they might be dangerous and hard to control, and they might get attached.
  • Powers: Like artifacts, and additional ways to fight, make them limited, interesting and not entirely useless. The ability to detect gold. Being able to smell curses. Transmuting rock to wood. The ability to eat an item to learn about its history. Make them come up with an application,
  • Ask the Players: Ask them what they want, and then twist and pervert and limit it so that it doesn’t break the game but it’s still technically what they wanted.

The Lost, Demons, Humans and Others

Demons are the denizens of hell, at the service of the Devil, the Conductor or whatever greater demon is in charge at the time. They have their own goals, agendas, ambitions and desires. Some of them are very human, scarily so, others are more strange, alien and incomprehensible. They always want something and should be willing to betray and destroy each other for profit. The Desperados should always be able to pit them against each other, try to trick them and make deals with them.

The Lost are human passengers of the train who have lost their humanity and can no longer resist the influence of the Conductor and the Train and obey its wishes unflinchingly. They’re not telepathically bound to the train or anything, and they can be tricked and deceived. They tend to defer to greater authority out of a fear of being punished, don’t possess a ton of curiosity and are generally considered by demons to be infinite disposable assets. You should treat them the same way, though let the Desperados manipulate them if they’re clever. Groups of Lost should have poor morale, and be generally easy to manipulate or cow into behaving.

Humans are humans. The only humans that can be on the train are those that have some amount of Sin upon them, and generally come in three varieties: prisoners, who should be pitiful, need help and who are generally liabilities and might turn against the players (though they may have hidden treasure, or knowledge), the oblivious which are humans who are aware they are on a train, but refuse to acknowledge that this is a train bound to hell or that anything at all strange might be happening here. They cannot be forced to see reason, and the best way for the Desperados to ally with them is to agree that everything is normal and manipulate them from there. The third are the willing cooperators. Humans who have made pacts with Demons and are on here as a consequence, working with the demons and masquerading as potential allies, just waiting to betray the Desperados for their own ends. They can also be demons in disguise.

Ghosts are the restless spirits of the dead. They are usually hyper fixated on something (scorpions. Revenge. Eating their last meal), and they have limited ability to act upon the world, but in turn cannot be acted against. Ghosts can possess things, manipulate objects, make noise and generally be a nuisance. A really powerful ghost might be able to take a physical shape in pursuit of a specific goal for a short time. In general ghosts should be a complication for the Desperados to make a scene more challenging. Ghosts often have secret knowledge that they’ll share with those who help them move on, or know the locations of valuable objects, or can grant minor pact powers.

Angels are weird, alien beings, automata at the service of God that do not belong on this train. They are extremely powerful and bound to very specific rules. In general Angels may subtly aid the Desperados when they’re in extreme duress, if they can, and should otherwise act as ways of seriously complicating things.

Others: The Old Ones, Sentient Items, Animal Spirits, shapeshifters, skinwalkers, all these can show up if you think they’d be interesting. Do with these ideas what you will.

The Endgame

When there’s about thirty minutes left in the session is a good time to make the Desperados reach the Vault, which is described in more depth in the relevant section. Here’s the rub, the Desperados are dead (or they aren’t, but their souls should matter more than their lives). The Vault is their final opportunity to make heroic sacrifices for each other, to earn that redemption. (This goes out the window if you used traitor agendas, which is why those are not recommended for your first time running this, it really shifts the tone and usually makes a player the big-bad). Insert whatever you need to help the Desperados get their moments to shine. If the gunslinger hasn’t yet brought down something with his one shot or avoided death, you need to have a massive demon here for him to coldly gun down, etc. Let them feel cool and powerful and pushed to the absolute limit.

In a perfect world, the end is one Desperado cracking open the vault with their last dying gasp, their allies having done everything they could to get them there… only to have the souls pour out an ascending vortex ripping through the train as they escape the clutches of evil.

That’s probably the note to end on.

The Carriages

The carriages are broken into three broad categories, class carriages, designed to really appeal to a specific class, these are fun to throw in if you have a player who is a wallflower or hasn’t had much of a chance to shine. The “big” carriages, which are larger set pieces that you can slot in wherever you want and which have a lot to do and the “small” carriages which help set the mood and you can move through relatively quickly, or linger in depending on player interest. Finally at the end there’s the really only mandatory carriage, The Vault itself. As you start playing, you’ll quickly see how fast or slow your players are, and can adjust accordingly. You can always prod them along with announcements that the train will be arriving soon, and various other reminders that time is short.

You should also expect approximately one one shot power to be expended per carriage, since in a session you’re very unlikely to run more than 6-10 carriages.

The Desperados may try to turn back. There is no turning back. The door behind them is locked, and if they look out the tiny window… it seems to show that there is just outside behind them? Or have an announcement play telling them just how close to their final destination they’re getting. Or let them go back but put a different car there than the one they came through. The Train is not interested in letting them leisurely go back for things they left behind. Once all the Desperados are out of a cart, it’s gone unless the train decides to send them there, in which case, that’s where they’re going.

Class Carriages

Hunting-ground [Gunslinger]

This narrow carriage looks like a slaughter took place here. Severed limbs are scattered around, blood is dripping from the ceiling, the seats have been torn asunder. A partially severed head, still attached to a woman seemingly makes eye contact with one of the Desperados, her face locked in a grimace of horror, eyes still wide open in horror. Whoever slaughtered these people took great gusto in doing it, hand and claw. More disconcerting, there are side passages, also narrow hallways. The lights flicker and sometimes go out. An eerie growl sometimes echoes through the carriage, and the sound of clanking footsteps.

This is the hunting ground of a powerful demon, one that revels in slaughter, Jakkob, who looks like a scrawny 5’’6 man with a holstered gun and an easy smile, along with his band of “hunters” minor lost who play the parts of his cadre. They are stalking a massive beast that they released here for that purpose, but with the Desperados joining the fray, Jakkob now has two sets of prey to hunt. He’ll probably appear friendly at first, warning the Desperados about the beast, and not revealing they were responsible for the slaughter. Of course he’ll try to pick off the Desperados one at the time, remaining undetected, a game of cat and mouse. The beast, which is actually an Empathic Large Sabertooth tiger, will actually try to protect the Desperados , while seeming threatening. Can they see through the ruse, and defeat Jakkob? He has the only map that shows the way out of the twisting, interconnected train cars… or perhaps the Tiger could help them?

Corrupt Cathedral [Holy Man]

A massive, arched stone ceiling, vast stained glass windows, massive wooden pews, and, where the altar should be, a giant, black tree, covered in thorns, all of which weep blood. Clinging to the tree, like parasites, drinking from the blood, a horde of incoherent lost, babbling half-remembered prayers. Running the cathedral is “Father Peter” , a mountain of a demon, who is perfectly polite, and invites the Desperados to drink from the sacred tree and experience liberation. He’s happy to engage in discussions of theology, and offers freedom and salvation for a small price. Behind him, in too-small cages, a dozen real humans, sobbing and weeping and begging for someone, anyone to rescue them. Occasionally a small demon who “Father Peter” calls “the deacon” goes through and splashes them with something that causes their flesh to sizzle and burn. If the Desperados want to leave, Father Peter is happy to lend them the key to get out, all they have to do is crawl through the brambles in the back of the church to get to the door. Are the Desperados sure they don’t want to stay for the ceremony? The magical blood of the tree can heal their wounds, give them strength, teach them secrets, and it offers it all for free! All the Desperados need to do is drink. Father Peter knows things about them too, things he shouldn’t know, he asks them about sins they’ve committed, and offers absolution. If the Desperados get curious about the tree, they might notice that sometimes it looks like a horrible agonized face appears on its surface, made from all the rippling shapes of the Lost clinging to the impaling thorns. Among its roots, hidden past razor sharp thorns, a small stone coffin, child sized. Inside it, a writhing, shrieking human head with wings, its wings broken with deliberate cruelty, and a silver denarius that burns nailed to its tongue. The silver coin is an object of power, but good luck getting it.

Court Car [Lawman]

The carriage is decadently appointed, and set up as a courtroom. The Desperados are heralded as “the defense” and chastised for being late by Antonie, a female demon dressed as a judge. Her goal is to keep the case going as long as possible, and begins to dredge up the Desperados past sins as she tries to build a case. Antonie was actually the original accused, sentenced to death, she murdered the judge and intimidated the jury of Lost into silence. If they ever provide a verdict, then her case will be finished and the train itself will visit justice on her, slaying her. To avoid this, she has to keep the court going. The previous judge’s body is stuffed into the podium Antonie is standing at, and she will make up rules and regulations to keep the court going, insisting on protocol. The Desperados may be able to call out her contradictions, argue her down, find the body or do any number of things to figure out that the door will not open until a judgment is passed. Any judgment, on anyone, at which point Antonie’s sentence will be carried out, and the Desperados are free to go. Assuming there isn’t some judgment upon them that also needs to be carried out. There’s also an evidence locker stuffed with interesting stuff for the Desperados to loot if they can manage it, and half a dozen armed guards, Lost and Lesser demons, who’s only interest is in enforcing whatever the “judge” orders. If the Desperados have a rival on the train,have them be the lawyer for the accusers,and be confused and miserable because they’ve been in this courtroom _forever. _At least one jury member is someone from the Desperado’s past. Pick a Desperado and ask them who and how they know them.

Carriage of the Faceless [Vagabond]

A mass of faceless people sits patiently in a very normal transport car. Luggage is stored above them, and when the Desperados enter, they all turn to “face” them. A skittering spider demon walks around the ceiling, and if the Desperados don’t quickly and cleverly hide, then it will try to startle one of the Desperados. Give them a chance to react, and ask them what expression they make… at that moment the Facestealer will try to claim their face, they can avoid it if they’re clever or fast, and the Facestealer should fail its first attempt. The Desperados must convince the Facestealer to let them continue, or if one of them is especially sneaky (say a Vagabond), they may be able to get around the Facestealer to its nest, which is located through a gap in the luggage that leads to a hidden compartment above the carriage. It contains all the Facestealer’s most valued possessions, including the key out of there. Touching anything but the key, like the faintly glowing chalice in which faces seem to swim, including one the Desperados recognize, or the massive red emerald, or the sloppy child’s painting of a bleeding black tree with a crying face on it, will alert the Facestealer, who will return almost instantly. Destroying the chalice would free all the Faceless, returning them to their human/demonic forms, their angry, traumatized, confused, human and demonic forms who don’t trust the Desperados. Killing the Facestealer causes all the Faceless to scream at once, and melt into a pile of flesh and organs. The Facestealer is no slouch either. In conversation, it switches faces frequently, and it cannot hurt anyone who maintains a neutral expression. The Faceless covets faces, and as a spider, it wishes to toy with its prey, like a cat with a mouse. It’s also not totally adverse to striking a deal if a tempting enough offer is presented.

Casino Car [Gambler]

The Casino car is what it says on the tin, a much too large carriage, too wide to fit on any reasonable train. Full of Lost souls gambling their days away, or fetching drinks, or sweeping up the vomit from other lost souls. There’s also some ordinary humans here, mingling, seemingly unaware of how odd it all is. There are games for money, yes, but also for other more esoteric things, one table they’re playing dice for “their progeny”, another a small sharp looking demon is gambling with a pile of severed fingers, and as the Desperados watch, someone lets out a wail of despair as they lose and the demon reaches over to collect his winnings. The Casino Car is run by a no-nonsense mafioso-like Demon. The agenda of the casino is to keep the Desperados here for as long as possible, and to prove to the Desperados that in the end, the House always wins. The way out is difficult to navigate, and they can never seem to make it there, though its always in sight, being forced to detour by large roulette tables or groups of Lost carrying trays or something else. They’ll need a map, or a key, or a guide, or something. Let them get creative with it. The drinks here are excellent, and the bar-tenders are all friendly demons who are happy to flirt and encourage the Desperados to just play a “quick game”, even offering complimentary chips to get them started. There are no windows in this car, and the walls are almost inaccessible due to the vast amount of tables with card players. Have the games get weird. Knife juggling, duels, one that involves drinking from a hollowed out skull, one where everyone flips coins and someone seems to randomly age, another where there is a demon, its chest carved open, smiling as the gamblers take turns squeezing its heart with an unclear win condition.

The Dragon’s Personal Quarters [Prospector]

A poshly appointed sleeper carriage, clearly set up for one. The walls are covered with expensive detailed oil paintings of a smiling, hideous toad of a man. Behind most of them are wads of cash. Every drawer and closet is overflowing with exceedingly valuable relics, from the gilded hand of a saint, to a pure glass chandelier made by the souls of the damned. Any of which would be enough to make any of the Desperados rich. In the corner is a gorgeous bird of paradise in a gilded cage. Some white marmots in another crystal box, fat and happy. All the treasure is cursed, in one way or another, and the Desperados cannot leave the room while holding anything stolen. The animals are all would-be thieves, and hidden under the couch is the toad of a man, a demon of greed, Mr Todd. Mr Todd has a powerful dragon form and can also polymorph others. He’s watching the would-be thieves and delighting in the various curses that befall them when they try to steal something. If discovered, he’s thrilled to be found (and around his neck is the most valuable object in the room, a priceless crucifix that provides magical protection, made with satan-silver, and purified with blood of saints), and will try to offer the Desperados treasures from his horde in exchange for intangible things like their voice, or one-use powers they possess. He will also trade valuables for favors, knowledge of what’s ahead, or generally being helpful. All the deals he cuts are cunning, and unwary players will get ripped off. Fighting him is not a good idea, and as long as they don’t try to steal anything cursed, the Desperados can just leave. Mr Todd lives and breathes making a profit and seeing thieves suffer.

Big Carriages

Saloon

A long, standard car, at its center a bar, full of all kinds of patrons drinking. Half a dozen humans, several lost, one or two powerful demons, clearly guards or ticket inspectors, but off duty. The bar maids are pretty, flirty and trying for tips. The booze ranges from watered down beer, to potent Aguafuego only fit for the strongest of demons. Money is accepted, of course, but so are favors and pacts. The Desperados should tread carefully, as an active ticket inspector is checking passenger’s tickets on the way out of the carriage, though he won’t bother anyone drinking… unless they look too suspicious. A talking skull chatters amicably on the table with anyone who will talk with it. A slim looking man is charmingly trying to get anyone, anyone at all, to accept his bargain. He even has a parchment with all the details and a blood quill to sign it with. He just needs two minutes, that’s all, he’ll trade power, wealth, anything, in exchange for controlling your body for two minutes. Of his choosing. He promises he won’t hurt you. (If any player signs, two minutes in the vault is more than enough time to do some serious damage… and no one says the two minutes need to be concurrent,it sure would be bad to lose control for 15 seconds when your friendly Desperado is hanging from a rope). An invisible ghost plays the piano poorly, and in one corner several Lost play cards, not gambling just money. Someone has started up a drinking game of cursed brews and at least one Lost is already writhing in agony. Oh and someone’s pet rat has gotten loose and is trying to eat the parchment contract from the slim man. A ghoul, his face patchy and falling apart will try to get the Desperados to participate in a drinking game to the death.

Crypt Car

A narrow carriage, dozens of bodies pressed against the walls, in glass coffins, their expressions all oddly serene, eyes closed. In the center of the carriage, a massive stone sarcophagus blocks the way, and sitting upon it a burly female demon. She’s in charge of watching the dead and making sure the vampire in the coffin doesn’t escape. Think cowboy hat, smoking like a trucker, colt 45 on her belt. She’s very bored and is bound to not mention the vampire, or that all the bodies are actually living people, stored to feed the vampire. She will try to pawn her assignment off on the Desperados . One or more of the “bodies” might open its eyes and wake up too. Inside the coffin is a powerful vampire, and a magical grimoire, which is a secret treasure, and relatively powerful if used in a binding ritual or to cast a spell. The demon has the key needed to leave the carriage and also to open the sarcophagus. There’s a hidden mechanism under the sarcophagus to open select coffins, and the door out of the carriage. The demon knows about it and won’t interfere if the Desperados discover it, but figuring it out might be complicated, and she won’t help for free.

Infernal Engine Car

A blast of heat greets the Desperados as they enter this room that smells of sulfur and smoke, laden to the brim with machinery with exposed parts, pits that spit fire, and urgent looking groups of Lost wandering around, carrying glass bottles full of imps. The imps shriek and beg, and are tossed into various machines one at the time. A large central hopper contains a pile of shiny rocks that look like diamonds, and on closer inspection seem to hold tiny, wailing ghosts, their faces twisted in agony. Occasionally a demon will grab a shovel full of gems and throw it into a different machine and it will chug and belch. A tough looking demon lady carrying a shovel and wearing overalls is clearly in charge and will occasionally yell at the various lost and demons hustling around, while manning the control panel, a device full of levers and buttons that controls chains, grapples, hooks and a small pulley, as well as opening the door out of the engine room. Two demonic security guards are constantly scrambling to find a place out of the way of machinery and demons. At one point a machine belches fire and a Lost walking by is entirely consumed.

Judgment of Souls

As the Desperados enter this car, they feel a chill crawl up their spine. The room has the cold stillness of the crypt, and indeed the walls are made of stone, though the carriage is laid out like any normal passenger train. Anubis sits in judgment, the traditional dog-headed Egyptian god, wearing a bandana and a bandolier. In one hand, the scales, balanced with a feather, in the other a colt 45, ready to spit death. With a cold and impassive voice he informs the Desperados that their sins will be weighed, and they will be judged. Another human is ahead of them in line, and it doesn’t look good for him. When he tries to run, Anubis coldly shoots him down, and proclaims “Next”. Hidden off to the side is a demon that has been stuck in this car for a long time. He’s convinced Anubis he’s not ready to be judged, but he can’t leave until he is. He will try to trick the players. The Desperados can try to sneak by, bargain, or submit to judgment. If they are judged, Anubis gently plucks their heart from their chest, and weighs it against the feather. Canny Desperados will find a way to cheat the scales, or switch out the heart. Anubis can also be swayed with a good story, distracted, or made to pontificate at length, he’s a demon after all. Make a demon or human show up behind the Desperados in line to give them extra things to play with if needed.

Arsenal

A massive armory, crawling with guards. Posted on the walls are Wanted posters, portraying the Desperados, with a massive bounty of two thousand us dollars posted for them, dead or alive. Long guns are neatly racked on the walls, and a team of Lost is busy polishing them to a shine. Barrels of powder are locked behind metal grates, and bullets and bandoliers are ready to be accessed. A box marked “special ammunition” is locked and tucked against a corner. A group of nasty looking demons in uniform, with sheriff stars, holsters and menacing looking six-shooters, is currently arming up, cursing and spitting. A small, hairy demon woman with crooked horns is yelling at a miserable looking group of Lost who are apparently “incapable of wearing a uniform properly”. In the center of the room, an impressive set of demonic armor, much too large for anyone to wear, emblazoned with terrible runes and with a helmet that looks like a large monstrous skull seems to almost stare at the Desperados. Further down is a massive gatling gun, it’s box open, clearly most of the way assembled, the ammo belt already secured in place. A few belts of grenades are here and there. Crossing is going to be a challenge, and stealing anything even worse. The hairy demon has a conspicuous set of keys on her belt. Her primary concern is discipling the rabble she’s been put in charge of, more than anything else.

Menagerie

A cacophony of sounds greats the Desperados. This is a rather long but otherwise ordinary train car that has been re-fitted to hold animal cages. A couple demons amble along, admiring the animals, half a dozen lost act as zoo-keepers, feeding animals, cleaning cages, etc. A one eyed cyclopean demon in a zoo-staff uniform keeps rule breakers from feeding the animals. One cage has a pet human, preferably someone the Desperados know, or a starving old man who begs with the Desperados to be freed. While they’re there a cage with a polar bear bursts open and the bear makes a run for it, directly at the Desperados. Besides ordinary animals, most of them small, but at least one bear and a horse, there are exotic magical beasts. A small chimera, cat sized with a cat head with a goat head and a pig head, as well as a snake tail. It rubs against the cage trying to be petted. Some kind of hell insects inside a glass case buzzing and trying to escape. A metallic hound that snaps at the players. A demon comes by to pick up some animals for the Bloodsport Arena and can be overheard by the Desperados. In a chest behind the cyclopean demon is rope that will cause animals bound in it to fall asleep and a six-shooter loaded with fragment crystals designed to bring down a bear, or would be animal poachers. One of the Lost has dropped the key to the next Car into an inconvenient cage. Stinging insects is a good choice, but the hellhound or the cursed stone rats are good cages for the key to be in as well. The cyclops demon has a backup key, but he’s not going to tell anyone about it. His primary agenda is keeping the animals safe, and as a far distant secondary priority keeping the guests safe.

Dining Car

A luxurious dining car, dozens of lost dressed as waiters move around in an unhurried dance, tending to the various tables. A well appointed and formal looking Lost asks the Desperados for their reservation, please. The dishes coming by are as varied as the diners: traditional human fare is coming to the half-dozen men and women seated at the various tables, apparently wealthy business people and their spouses. Land barons and the like. One of them is someone the Desperados recognize. Ask a Desperado who, and why they want to avoid being seen by them. (Which will be a challenge, considering this is a train car and they’ll have to walk near). Lost dine at some of the other tables, consuming seemingly arbitrary items. One is just ladling coins into his mouth, another seems to be sipping from a glass full of spiders mixed with something red and slick that doesn’t quite seem to be blood. Demons are consuming the fare of hell, screaming souls, human body parts, slurping down blood. Except for one. At the center of the car, there is a demon who is so thin as to be almost invisible. Etched upon his face is a look of perpetual disgust. Lost keep bringing him plates of food, and he merely smells them and tosses them aside. As the Desperados watch, the wisp thin demon is clearly losing his temper, which he demonstrates by literally chewing a Lost to death, his maw opening impossibly wide, the look of disgust on his face unchanged.. All he wants is something decadent and the kitchen apparently cannot provide it. The back half of the dining car is the kitchen, full of lost scrambling to prepare all the varied dishes, led by a haggard demon with a long curly mustache who is inflicting absolute terror on the kitchen staff, literally whipping them. In various places in the kitchen there are live animals, ready to be slaughtered. Chickens, goats, and a gorgeous bird that must be a phoenix crying sadly in a cage. There’s also a couple humans, also in cages, clearly on the menu at some point. The kitchen tools are varied, and include some esoteric magical or demonic items that might be useful, from perpetually burning cauldrons to knives that are perpetually sharp, so long as they only cut flesh. No one is getting out without the key held by the chief Chef, or the copy of the key held by the front of house.

Bloodsport Arena

The smell of blood hits the Desperados immediately upon entering the car. It’s a standard double train car, but the seats have been mostly removed and the car has been turned into a hell of bloodsports. Several small cages host cage-matches, where prisoners are pitted against each other, armed only with knives, or worse. In one small cage, a desperate man armed only with an axe squares off against a spider the size of a bear that barely fits in the cage. Prisoners are chained up against one wall, ready to be thrown into the fights, a small group of demonic gladiators are playing a game of cards and drinking waiting for their next bout, infernal armor soaked in blood and ichor. Crowds of demons and lost watch the games with interest, while bookies take bets on outcomes. Concessions are being sold by a group of cheery looking lost under the command of a female demon with a wicked looking scar and missing eye. The arena uses its own form of currency, and the Desperados cash won’t be accepted. A small imp seems to be in charge of the whole place. The only way out is to buy an exit pass for each Desperado (or to be disruptive enough to be ejected, or to bribe the demons at the door, or to make a deal with the imp, or to make a deal with the concession demon. “Only” is relative on the train). Of course this means trading with demons, getting chips, betting on the fights, or participating in them. It seems security isn’t allowed on the arena car, as the Desperados witness a ticket inspector being rudely booted into the next car.

Prison Car

The first thing the players hear upon entering this car is the wailing of some poor soul pleading their innocence as they’re being thrown into a cage. The prison car seems to hold all kinds of prisoners, and is a good place to have the Desperados enter “unintentionally” as a consequence of falling afoul of the forces of order. Armed security demons stand guard, under the brutal watch of the Warden, a shadow figure with no apparent face, but with a fiery aura and a temper to match his title. Armed lost apprehensively help the more organized demons move prisoners around. Everyone is armed, clubs and whips and six-shooters and the occasional rifle. The Warden has all the keys, and getting prisoners out requires him to give the keys to a demon. This is a great place to put someone the Desperados knew before, either before boarding the train or someone they bumped into in an earlier carriage. A loved one is good, but so is a rival, former friend, slight enemy, and see what the Desperados do. Chained to the ground in a cage of hellfire, with a glowing pentagram around her, is an Angel, her hands covering her face as she weeps. The carriage is also haunted by the angry ghosts of dead prisoners, unfairly left here to die. The bones of those dead prisoners are all piled in a neat pile labeled “refuse”. The only way out seems to be through the massive steel door on the other side of the car.

Shrine To The Old Ones

The carriage has been made to look like an old west church. Wooden plank walls, stained glass over the windows. An altar and train seats converted to pews. It is all subtly and terribly wrong. A dozen humans are kneeling, facing the floor, worshiping a statue of a stone figure that seems vaguely human, but on further inspection is too long, too short and has too many faces. Black ichor is dripping from its too-many eyes, and as the Desperados watch it seems to look back at them, menacingly. The hymn being sung seems church appropriate, but the words make no sense, and the more closely the Desperados listen, the more obvious it is that it’s just the buzzing of ten-thousand flies. This place is deeply, disturbingly wrong. A small, slight woman approaches the Desperados, and welcomes them to the Channel of Devotion. Something about her is off too, in her voice the Desperados hear the echo of the buzzing flies. If they look up they notice that they can’t see the ceiling, as it seems to be obscured by a pulsing, quivering living cloud of blackness. The far wall is covered in the same black ichor that the statue seems to be weeping, and while an astute player can see the shadow of a door against it, getting through requires passing through the ichor. The woman is the head priestess, and urges The Desperados to stay and take communion with them. Hidden in this carriage, somewhere that requires taking on real taint, there is a knife that can slice any illusion, and a bullet that will bind a demon. Getting them will cost the Desperados something terrible.

Jammed Cars

Pick one large carriage with a lot going on, and a small carriage. The small carriage has teleported into the larger carriage, in a chaotic, terrible, abrupt and explosive accident. At least one of the walls of the large carriages has shorn off. Demons are dead, humans are dead, the chaos is intense, and of course with everyone pointing fingers, the Desperados are going to get blamed. The specifics will depend on what carts you picked, but getting out through the fire, conflicting groups, finger pointing and general chaos should be a challenge. One of the Conductors elite troubleshooting teams has probably been dispatched to get things under control. Surviving demons are trying to dodge responsibility and profit where they can. Violence will break out.

Treasure Car

The Desperados enter through a large, iron door, which closes behind them with an ominous thump. A guard demon sits, bored in a security cage overseeing the sorted collection, all stored in glass display cases. A few lost are patrolling, armed with rifles and clubs. The Desperados are greeted with weary curiosity and asked to justify themselves. The chief guard demon assumes that they’re meant to be stored here, after all, how else would they have gotten here? The last human to be stored here is a pile of bones inside the far display case. Apparently feeding instructions were not included. Their ghost may or may not still be here. Leaving requires opening the massive iron doors, disabling the alarms, turning off the traps, and avoiding the emergency response team that will show up if the alarm is sounded. Oh and the door is cursed for good measure. The only way to open the door safely is in the sealed security cage. The displays include all kinds of gemstones, gold, lacquered skulls, ancient artifacts, and gemstones worth a fortune. There are also a couple artifacts, powerful tools, and other things the Desperados might like. A small stealthy team of imps is hidden in this carriage, led by a spider demon. They were trying to rob the car, when they got trapped here, and are still trying to figure out how they’re going to get out with their loot. The Desperados are the perfect opportunity.

Small Carriages

In all these carts, feel free to throw complications. Security. Recurring rivals. Ticket inspectors. The consequences of a pact. A lost child. A lost Lost. An angry duelist looking for a showdown. The spirit of someone the Desperados have killed. A potential pet. A giant snake that snuck in. Whatever will make a low stakes situation more interesting. It’s also ok for these to be a downbeat and a place for the Desperados to catch their breath and for the players to enjoy the atmosphere. Not every single moment needs to be thrilling.

Riddle of the Sphinx

A plain train car, other than all the seats having been removed. Looking out the window, it seems like the train is currently crossing a bridge over a lake of boiling quicksilver. In the center of the car is a wooden crate, and upon it a small cat sized sphinx wearing a cowboy hat. There is a smaller demon who inhabits the statue and also wears a cowboy hat. If you can answer the three riddles, the Sphinx will let you out. The riddles don’t have to be strictly riddles they can be deeply personal questions designed to turn the party on each other. Or they can be ordinary riddles. Alternatively just bribe the devil. Or make a deal with it. Or exorcize him. The only being that can let the Desperados out is the Sphinx and with the devil possessing her, she won’t let them out without getting an answer to her questions. There might be a cleverly hidden key somewhere. The Desperados are encouraged to take the very bored Sphinx with them, especially if they’ve de-demoned it. It is heavy and its primary interests are archeology and annoying riddles.

Some potential riddles.

I have towns without people, forests without trees, and rivers without water. What am I?A map
Who do you dislike the most in your party?Why?
The more you take, the more you leave behind. What am I?Footsteps
I am the beginning of everything and the end of time. I am in deserts and rivers, but not in mountains or the sky. I come between men but not boys. I am in weddings but not in church. Everyone has me three times, no-one has me once, and God does not. What am I?The letter e
Which of your party members would you kill, if you had to, to leave this room?Really? You’d kill one of your party members?
What’s a secret you don’t want the other desperados to hear?Well? What is it?
What number am I thinking of?Eight hundred forty one and three fourths.

Storage Car

An ordinary, boring storage car. Pick axes, shovels, wood planks, everything you’d expect… and some more esoteric items. Some things you might want to include:

  • A cage holding a worm the size of a leg, rows of sharp angry teeth and a wail that sounds like a man being crushed to death.
  • A box of neatly stacked teeth, in all shapes and sizes.
  • A barrel marked “do not open” full of blood, with a single eyeball floating in it
  • A box marked “Conductors Eyes Only”, full of eyes.
  • A cursed long-gun hidden in a crate full of horse feed
  • A pile of wanted posters of the Desperados. A 2000$ bounty or a favor from Lucifer is offered.
  • A crate of very fragile, perfectly made clay masks, every expression lovingly crafted to show a rictus of agony.
  • Some fireworks.
  • A horse
  • A saw of infernal metal, in a glass case bearing the words “Limb Removal Tool”.
  • A small barrel of glass shards.
  • A very ordinary looking cat in a very ordinary looking cat carrier.
  • A telescope.
  • A barrel of chewing tobacco, some of it already chewed
  • An orrery made of something that looks like silver, but that burns when touched
  • A human skin bound tome that appears to be a ledger of some kind.
  • A plant, which whispers when approached.
  • A small model of the train, you think you glimpse The Desperados looking out of a window?
  • A huge box, inside one single used sock.
  • An empty box that growls.
  • A cage with a perfectly ordinary wooden duck inside.
  • A box that just holds a corpse of a woman.
  • A box with a prisoner.
  • A box that is just boxes inside boxes inside boxes.

The Upside Down Storage Car

Like the storage car, but everything is on the ceiling, nothing is tethering the objects in place, except for one box that is very obviously tied to the ceiling. Whenever the Desperados interact with a ceiling object, gravity reasserts itself. Hopefully it wasn’t anything too heavy! The tied box can have anything interesting you’d like inside it. A talking skull? A demon? A ghostly piano? Another box? Whenever it’s cut down though, gravity reasserts itself on everything which could be dangerous!

Just a Narrow Passage

A single long iron connector between cars. It’s clear at some point wooden logs or something would have been lashed here, but today it’s empty. The wind buffets the players as they try to cross. The train is currently crossing over a boiling lake of hellfire. If you want a complication half way across, a swarm of flesh eating bats with baby faces takes notice and goes after the Desperados. Feel free to throw in a large snake hiding under the connector, an angry security demon who spots them crossing and emerges to stop them, or just high speed winds to make things interesting.

Ordinary Passenger Car

A completely ordinary passenger car full of prospectors headed west, where they heard gold was struck! Ideally make sure the Desperados know one of them personally. Ask one of the Desperados how they know one of the prospectors and then ask them how that prospector died. The Prospectors are all seemingly normal people, flesh and blood, completely unaware that they are on the Stryxliner. Like good normal people, they’re unwilling to entertain such a ludicrous idea. Looking out the window, you can see a giant forest of fleshy trees, a river of crawling spiders, and a giant centipede leading a chain gang of wailing prisoners. The prospectors claim this is what the Sierra Nevada looks like, or so they’ve heard, and they are unconcerned. There are no demons among them, and the Desperados are free to just leave. If they dig a little deeper, they find the prospectors have ample booze, some explosives, are fiendishly good at cards and dice, and will be arriving in Sacramento any day now.

Cactuses and Sand

This is a perfectly ordinary carriage full of bags of sand and neatly stacked cactuses. One of the bags of sand has a gold nugget in it. Among the cactus a rattlesnake has snuck on board and it rattles at the players menacingly. If this is too tame, it’s a great idea to have a ticket inspector walk by and ask what they’re doing there, and where their tickets are, and that they need to secure their pet (pointing at the rattlesnake). Feel free to label the bags of sand something like “Infernal Desiccated Granular Silicate Sediment”. One of the cactuses bears a helpful label that says “Cactus”, and another has a set of holsters wrapped around it, just to emphasize it is in a western.

Hopper

A hopper car is basically an enormous bin, usually full of rocks, gravel, coal or something similar. In this case, it’s full of scorpions all scuttling over each other, pincers pinching, stingers stinging. At the very bottom, under the pile of scorpions is a chest containing a leather saddle of magical power. Good luck getting to it. A ghost who loves scorpions is hovering around and will be furious if the Desperados harm them. The Ghost is also not very helpful. All the Desperados have to do to leave is get to the other side.

Reprise

Put this in the last third of the game. It’s a car the Desperados have already been in. Preferably one where they made enemies, or left things in shambles. Let them see the damage they did, let the npcs there remember them, and make sure security is there dealing with the consequences. The bigger a mess they made, the better this cart is. If they told egregious lies knowing there’d be no consequences, well, they better be ready to stick to them. If it wouldn’t be fun/the Desperados have been smoothly running things, instead play an earlier car back as if they’d never been there. No one remembers them. Everything seems the same, it’s full of deja-vu. Then change something vital the Desperados are counting on. The key isn’t where it was last time. This demon is good at cards. The prisoner is actually a demon in disguise. Surprise them.

Oddly Empty Car

This car is just a storage car with nothing inside it. Emphasize how weirdly quiet and empty it is. How there is nothing, but the sound of the wind whooshing through the open windows. Ask the Desperados what they want to do. Roll some dice. Ask again. Are they sure? Oh they’re going to try the door? Are they going to take any special precautions as they walk over the totally ordinary floor? No? Are they really sure? Ok then. They’re a few steps in now. Do they really want to keep going?

If you want to do the lost child, or lost lost, this is a great car to have them in, in the middle of the car, looking totally lost and helpless.

The car is just an empty car. There is nothing supernatural or weird about it.

Key Storage Car

This is a shipping cart, full of boxes, barrels, chests and even an armoire. All of them are full of keys. Even the floor is covered in keys. Desperately searching through them is a small, pointy tailed demon, with an iron collar locked around his neck. It’s very clearly burning him, and he needs to find the key to it to get it off. All the keys are of various shapes and sizes, and some of them even cover the floor. Some key-look-alike spiders skitter around through the keys. The pointy tailed demon is the key to get out of the room, but is desperate to not be discovered. The collar has no matching key, because it, like the demons body, is an illusion around an enchanted key hovering roughly where the center of the demon would be. There’s also several locked boxes that, if their keys are found, turn out to be full of keys. Hidden in one of the piles is an Universal Key, super valuable, that can be used once to open any locked door (it only works on doors). There is a cage in one corner with a pile of human bones, and a giant gold key the size of a fire hydrant and about as heavy. Of course someone might get lucky and a key that shouldn’t work might open the exit door, but that’s a ten million to one shot.

External Storage

The door leading into this car opens into the outside. Its a large flatbed cart, and the wind howls past the Desperados as they walk outside. A large shipment of gigantic bones is strapped to this cart, on their way to be part of some hellish structure somewhere. A large snake demon has made its home between the bones, and is annoyed at the intrusion, and hungry. A very lost demon who fell prey to the snake demon before left behind some treasure the Desperados might be interested in, if they want to take a detour. As with all external facing cars, outside beasties might become suddenly interested in a new meal. Winged scorpions are a great choice.

Trash Car

This car has no obvious exit and is full to the brim with all kinds of refuse, some bagged, some not. Piles of bones that have been picked over, shattered jugs, used saddles, a gold chalice with a small scratch on it. A flawless ruby. A gun that has been twisted in half. Half of a horse. Miserable looking lost with shovels are trying to put the garbage in bags, but whenever they seem to make a dent, more garbage falls from the ceiling. How’s it getting there? It makes no sense. An imp is helping coordinate. He cheerlessly explains to the Desperados that this is where all the garbage winds up, including demons that are now “useless”, If the Desperados are here, they must be garbage too. Would they like a shovel? There is no obvious door out. The Desperados could climb up the garbage chutes, find a hidden door, or otherwise do something clever

Infirmary

This car reeks of antiseptic and the smell of blood. Unfortunately there’s not a single patient here, and the demonic nurse in charge of the infirmary is eager to add some patients. A dozen lost with “medical equipment” stand on hand, their amputation saws, huge needles and various unpleasant devices clean and sterile, ready to be used. No one is leaving without a medical evaluation, and the Nurse is going to find something. There’s a couple human corpses in the back, previous visitors, and a trapped imp in a cage who is being used for “transfusions”. There’s some potentially useful equipment here, bandages to seal any wound, hammers designed for shattering bone, decanters of endless water, but getting them from under the nurse might be a challenge.

Library Car

Full to the brim with books, the watchful Librarian, a wizened human who’s been on this train far too long hushes the players. He’s happy to help the players find anything they want, and two library imps act as assistants. The Librarian refuses to answer any questions about himself, and getting out of here is as easy as finding a passage out… which might require a map, conveniently available here. The imps both covet the librarian’s job but cannot act against him directly as long as he possesses his sacred amulet. This is a great opportunity to find some juicy secrets for later, or try to find some answers to burning questions or invasive curses. Larry, the Talking Skull is tucked away on a shelf here and begs the Desperados to take him with them to go somewhere more interesting. Anywhere at all. Large book worms live here as well.

Mechanics Car

A cluttered mess of a car, the mechanics car is full of lost with shovels, wrenches, and mechanics hats, supervised by a trio of female demons, covered in soot, grime and dust, all tinkering with some infernal contraption laid out on a table in the middle of the carriage. There are tools hung on the walls, along with a diagram of the train, various areas highlighted in red. An alarm blares through the car, and is being stubbornly ignored by everyone. A giant broken device blocks the exit, and won’t go anywhere until it’s fixed. There are many useful tools scattered here, and a single human mechanic who is apparently actively involved in helping with the repairs? One of the machines seems to be powered by a small army of rats running on a small treadmill. A fire elemental in a jar powers another. None of the machines seem to have an obvious use.

Sleeper Car

This is a standard issue sleeper car, beds with curtains, currently dimmed lights, and a demon with a headlamp is patrolling for would be shenanigans. Several ghosts with various motivations haunt this car, and many of the sleepers, demons and humans have treasure that can be stolen by opportunistic Desperados, though waking them is likely to cause conflict. As long as the Desperados are quiet they can just sneak through, not waking anyone. Should they get too nosey though, the sleepers and security will take unkindly to it. Of course a demon is trying to murder another in the night, a human the Desperados know rolls out of one of the sleeper cars, and the Ghosts take interest in the Desperados. Feel free to have a gun go off in one of the beds to really make some noise.

The Pentagram Safe

This car holds only a large safe, locked, in the center of a pentagram. At each corner of the star an imp in a cage, who will beg the Desperados for help escaping. When any imp is released, the others are obliterated, and they all know this. The safe can only be opened with the right combination which one of the imps knows, the right key, which one of the imps possesses, and by making sure all five imps are dead (the imps know this and will not share). A ghost who’s original body was sacrificed to seal the safe watches over the proceedings. Inside is something the Desperados will find useful. Or an angel, sleeping, in chains. Or a single parchment with a secret scrawled upon it. Trying to open the safe once will sound an alarm, the second failure will call an emergency security team lead by a bounty hunter, the third failure will cause the safe to be ejected from the train, explosively.

Forest of Glass

This car is almost completely empty, except for a glass tree sitting in the center of it. Its thousands of sharp leaves glint as the Desperados enter the car. At the center of the tree there seems to be a single golden orb. Tending to it is a blind demon with a watering can and a sombrero, who seems to be preoccupied with making sure the tree gets the right amount of water. Leaving is as easy as exiting out the other side, but the leaves of the tree have an unusual property, when a human bleeds on them, they show a fragment of their past or their future, a property that could be useful. The orb at the center of the tree is an object of power but damaging the tree will call a terrible curse upon whoever does it. Of course the gardener will not let the tree come to harm, and even taking a single leaf will require reaching a deal with him. The first time The Desperados use a leaf, it allows them to carry one forward on their next roll. The second time, it lets them recover one humanity or one sin. The third time it inflicts a curse upon whoever uses it and any other leaves they brought along shatter into splinters.

The Vault

The Vault is an icy prison. When the Desperados enter they feel a chill that reaches their very bones. Its a long, wide carriage, against the far wall is a massive iron door covered in chains with dozens of locks, it leads onto the Conductor’s Chambers, and certain death. It immediately begins rattling. The soul-vault is in the middle of the room, a fragile looking glass sphere glowing with unearthly light, secured tightly in place by cold iron chains that glow icy cold. Approaching at all causes the temperature to begin to drop dramatically, reaching lethal levels a few steps in. Four frozen corpses, determination and frustration clearly etched on their faces stand as testament to that. A towering demon stands guard too, cowboy hat askew, and massive two barrel shotgun slung over his shoulder. Icy barriers criss-cross the train car, razor sharp, and a handful of Lost equipped with pickaxes and six-shooters menace the Desperados . A faint laugh reaches their ears, the true guardian of this place, a powerful Ice Demon which lacks a physical body. This room is also where various valuables are stored, against one wall in a sealed, chained crate, a cursed sword. A magical tome with a knife stabbing it shut sits in a glass display case blocking a window… and everything is full of alarms, traps, and danger. Remove and add elements as needed for maximum dramatic tension

Mentioned:

  • The killing frost
  • The conductor making his way into the vault
  • A powerful physical combatant with a twin barreled shotgun
  • Armed and terrified lost
  • The ice demon
  • Treasure scattered everywhere
  • Sharp icy barriers
  • Hidden traps
  • Very obvious and dangerous traps
  • Alarms
  • The chains on the soul-vault
  • Whatever needs to happen to crack the orb

Potential additions:

  • A shackled prisoner, not allowed to die, and in the vault due to how dangerous or important they are. Bonus points if the Desperados know who they are
  • Any recurring antagonists
  • Any bizarre things you have been itching to include
  • Icy tentacles
  • A ghost or three
  • A box full of explosives
  • An alternate path through the windows.

Remember, talking is one of the Desperados best tools. Don’t be afraid to have the Ice Demon offer a bargain (demons love bargains), the lost try to negotiate, a rival or ally having a sudden heel turn, or whatever you need to squeeze out as much juicy drama as you can from this room. This is the moment for redemption, sacrifice, denouement, and death.

If you don’t like this version of the vault, feel free to re-flavor it, re-write it, and make it whatever makes sense in your game. Maybe it’s infernally hot instead of cold. Maybe the ghosts of everyone the Desperados have harmed are waiting here, guarding the ruby that holds the Desperados souls, which has the very concept of indestructibility etched upon it. It’s buried in a pile of identical looking rubies. Maybe the room is actually a branch of the God-Tree, and the Desperados can see that the entire train is suspended in Divine-Ichor, and their souls are what is powering the heart of the cosmic storm that we call life. Don’t be afraid to get weird with it.

The Vault (Alternate)

This is an alternate version of the vault, you can run it as is, or use it as a launching pad for other vaults. The same advice as above applies. Change whatever you want. Jam the vaults together. Throw them out. Make it yours. If you have a player who needs the Conductor for an Agenda, swapping Lucifer with the Conductor is totally fine, or revealing that they are one and the same.

The room appears completely empty. In fact, as the door closes behind the Desperados, that vanishes too. All they can see are the windows. The train is arriving. Any moment now, it will be at the Bronze Gates and there will be no escape. The sound of applause interrupts the Desperados’ confusion. A tall, gaunt demon, sitting backwards on a chair, duster covering her expression partially, introduces herself as Lucifer. A smile plays over her features, cruel and hard. Oh, not the Lucifer. He’s very busy, so he’s passed on a tiny fragment of his power to his most trusted lieutenants. They all call themselves Lucifer. Anyway, she’s here to congratulate the Desperados. Well done. They did it. Of course their souls were never really here, but they’ve proven themselves competent. If they’ll just sign on the dotted line, she will hire them as hellhounds, return them to the surface to chase down escaped prisoners from hell, and grant them power and wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Or they can go straight into the torture cells when the train stops. After all, trying to steal from Lucifer is a big deal.

If the Desperados refuse, or figure out that the room is under an illusion spell in a convincing way, the illusion fades away, and Lucifer is not happy, she offers the Desperados one last chance to sign, and if they refuse, launches into killing them. Lucifer is a brutal combatant, and if the Desperados fight her, it should be more about staying alive than winning (barring some of the one-shot powers). If she dies… she walks right back in through the door the Desperados came through, less than a minute later. Her deal is that death for her is only an inconvenience. Make sure to foreshadow this so the Desperados can make it count. She can even say that killing her won’t do that much. Ideally they’ll keep killing her and she’ll keep coming back.

The illusion shattered, the car is revealed to be much longer than it initially seemed, and looking out the windows reveals that they’re actually just in the middle of crossing what looks like some perfectly ordinary plains, other than the shadowy mass running along the train. The long car is full of deadly traps. Trip wires. Walls that shoot flame… and no matter how far they go, they seem to make no progress toward the chest at the far end. If the Desperados figure out a clever solution, give it to them. The last thing between them and the chest (other than Lucifer who should still be actively trying to kill them) is a mass of tangled eyeless rattlesnakes formed into a ball of fangs and fury. This thing can be reasoned with if the Desperados try, though they should do so _quickly _because it is hungry for flesh and the many lashing tongues can smell the tasty Desperado meat.

Finally, the chest, which is made of demonic metal and welded to the wall is covered in a complex set of locks, which require keys. Which Lucifer has. There’s a hidden override key somewhere inconvenient (the roof of the car, inside one of the traps are good places) If the Desperados get the chest open, they just need to find which of the dozen vials holds their souls. The rest are full of angry tormented spirits that want to possess their bodies, ungrateful demons, just the essence of death, and whatever other unpleasantness you can dream up. Again, feel free to trim elements as needed.

Appendix

Demon Names

These are mostly stolen from Wikipedia, the classification of demons page is a great resource. If you want to randomize, either roll 1d12, or 1d6 (1-3 is the first six, and 4-6 is the last six) and then another 1d6 for the half you landed on. Sometimes it just makes sense for a demon not to have a name, or to simply have the players name it.

1Mammon
2Ormenus
3Nicon
4Belphegor
5Berith
6Leviathan
7Iuvart
8Purson
9King Zagan
10The Void-Eater
11Least-Key
12Ten Thousand Buzzing Flies

Human Names

Humans really don’t need last names, and the players will more likely remember them as “that guy we shot” or “the girl with the demon pet” than as Sarah “Buckshot” Willard Queen of the Highcountry. When in doubt, make a player name the NPC. “You have a vague memory of meeting this person before… what’s their name, and why are they memorable? ‘’ will often get you a great result.

1Andrew
2Sarah
3Jebadiah
4Annie
5Wyatt
6Grace
7Cal
8Abigail
9Hank
10Rose
11Daniel
12Eleanor

What is this junk?

Sometimes you need a little inspiration, here’s some weird stuff with no special utility but that the Desperados can try to use anyway.

1The mummified hand of a murder victim.
2Pouch full of bloody brass half-dollars
3A gun, made of silver, with just one silver bullet left
4Drinking horn, made with genuine bison horn
5Vial of rattlesnake poison
6Stitching needles, clearly part of a sewing kit, made of some kind of bone.
1A leather tome, titled “Demonium Sanctum”. It is in Latin.
2A polished human skull,with “gems” inset in the eyes. The gems are cheap glass.
3A long, ugly knife, made of some kind of red metal
4A glass vial of fine sand. Sealed tightly. Says “Do not open”.
5A satchel full of gunpowder, rigged to blow
6An engraved pocket watch, broken, the time shows two minutes to midnight.

What is this treasure?

As before, sometimes you need some inspiration. No mechanical effect is described here, go with what makes sense to you.

1The Grimoire of Wishes, a leather bound tome, gilded words written inside in latin, with an ominous soundtrack playing in the Desperados head when it’s opened.
2Fellghast - A twin barreled shotgun, made of a silvered metal, with its name engraved upon it. Comes with two shells already inserted, and it feels warm and eager to the touch.
3Goetia - A small dried goat head, its eyes replaced with rubies. It fits neatly in a Desperado’s palm.
4Bonesifter - A pan used to pan for gold, seemingly made entirely of bone. It grumbles greedily when wet
5The Ghost Whistle - A train whistle, made of tin, beaten up. When someone blows on it, it makes an eerie sound.
6Death’s Saddle - A white saddle. Made of some insubstantial leather. All the craftsmanship is of the highest quality. It menaces with spikes of bone.
1The Last Drink - An ancient bottle of whiskey, with a hand drawn inked label with a skull and crossbones, the lid sealed with wax
2The Vessel - A clay orb, with ancient sigil etched into it. A hole in the top has been crudely sealed with gold.
3Seventh-Shot - A mystical bullet made of some blue metal, runes are etched upon it and it feels frozen cold to the touch. It seems dormant, as if waiting for something
4Shatters-Stones-With-Every-Blow - A pickaxe, the head is made of some red coppery metal that seems to pulse with living breath, the haft is made of living treewood that leaks sap. It feels hungry.
5Rend - A long bladed hunting knife, dirty with blood that never seems to quite wash off. Seems perfectly ordinary except for the fact that the Desperados can’t quite seem to get rid of it.
6Ambivalence - A small prayer book, written in an unrecognizable language. Black ichor stains its pages and the angel on the cover isn’t quite right, it always seems to be staring at someone.

What is this personal curse?

Sometimes the Desperados touch a cursed item, or make a pact, and you need an unpleasant effect that isn’t “you die”.

1The Desperado can only speak in three-word sentences. If a sentence is too long or too short it’ll make a loud wailing noise alerting everyone on the car
2The Desperado refuses to trust anyone wearing a hat, assuming they are plotting against them. As soon as they take off their hat, the Desperado can behave normally.
3The Desperado cannot lie
4The Desperado is haunted by the ghost of a loved one. Once per scene, when they have an important roll, the ghost interrupts them in some appropriately disturbing manner.
5The desperado is terrified of the dark
6The desperado loses the ability to understand subtlety. Innuendo, sarcasm, metaphor, they’re right out.
1The desperado desperately wants to be friends with the first person they encounter in any car
2The desperado’s legs grow to be awkwardly long. Boots don't fit, moving is uncomfortable.
3The desperado grows a large tentacle on their forehead. It is unseemly and it has a mind of its own.
4The desperado’s nails grow at an absurdly fast pace.
5The desperado has an inexplicable compulsion to put things they shouldn’t in their mouth.
6The desperado begins growing eyes in inconvenient places.

What is this item’s curse?

A cursed item that doesn’t bestow a curse instead only works in certain circumstances or does something in exchange for fulfilling its function. Some ideas:

1The item only works in the dark.
2The item can only be recharged by submerging it in whiskey
3The item is hard to hold, it keeps escaping the Desperados’ grasp at inconvenient times
4The item emits loud screams whenever it is held
5It is hard to find, when the Desperado puts it away, it will appear in a different place than where it was stored.
6The item reeks, to the point where it is offensive to others.
1The item sings encouraging songs, very loudly whenever it is out in the open
2Upon using once the item becomes floppy like jello, and will only regain its form if the Desperados tell it what a good job it did.
3It’s sticky. Very sticky. It gets everywhere on all the desperados items, everything is sticky now. Water does nothing.
4Insects love this item. They will swarm towards it, wherever it is.
5When a desperado grabs the item a demon in line of sight becomes intensely attracted to you as long as you are holding it.
6Holding the item causes the Desperado to leave behind a trail of mucus like a slug.

Inspirations

RPGs

The most direct inspiration is https://cloven-pine-games.itch.io/the-great-soul-train-robberyzine-edition. I loved the base idea of the game, but I craved more structure, slightly more defined classes, and a weirder, more bizarre version of the train. I also really wanted to play with the idea of this being a purgatory-on-earth type arrangement

The dice system is somewhat inspired by FATE. The powers are mostly inspired by Powered By The Apocalypse, including carrying one forward. Many of the other rpgs I’ve read have probably percolated here somewhere.

Music

There are innumerable songs you could listen to to capture the spirit of this game, here are some I listened to while writing this.

  • Spanish Train by Chirs De-burgh
  • Big Iron by Marty Robins
  • Tattoo of your Name by Vast
  • The River by Blues Sacareno
  • Drink With the Living Dead by Ghoultown
  • Ghost Riders in the Sky by Johnny Cash
  • The Silver Ghost by Merle Haggard
  • Highwayman by The Highwaymen
  • The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
  • White Rider - Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Soundtrack
This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.