Let me tell you the tale of Phil Calhoon, the greatest lumberjack the Weird West has ever seen.
When I started my most recent game of Deadlands (classic), I decided to make myself a character. Not because I wanted to make a DMPC, but because I have never been a player in the game before and one of the players was interested in doing some switching off so we could both have a chance to play the game. So, I made Phil, the lumberjack. I got some lucky draws, so I could make him as strong as I wanted. Of course, the cost was that he couldn't be as smart as... Well, anyone else. He wasn't stupid but he wasn't the brightest bulb. When it came to his skills, I made him a melee monster, but not so good with people or shooting. I also thought about what sorts of skills a lumberjack would need. So, in addition to the fighting with his ax, I gave him a lot of brawling and even a steam-powered chainsaw. I also thought that lumberjacks have to clear stumps, right? So, he knew what he was doing with a stick of dynamite. When it came to the last details, I knew I wanted him big. I mean BIG. And I didn't want him to run away if he got scared. I also made sure he was a fairly nice guy, but wasn't willing to go wandering off in the dark after hearing a strange sound. There was more I wanted to do, but I didn't have the points.
Like I said, I do like doing DMPCs. There's a lot of reasons for that. First and foremost is what happens when a bad DM does it. The DMPC ends up overshadowing the players and it sucks for them. Another reason is because the game is about the players, so they should come first. But, I wanted to have my lumberjack in the wings and I thought it might help to give these guys some back-up they could trust. While most of the posse were experienced role players, none of them had experience with the system, so I thought it would be a good idea on all fronts.
I didn't foresee what would happen. I shouldn't have been afraid.
The campaign started on a train from Denver to the City O' Gloom (better known as Salt Lake City). I mixed Phil in with a bunch of other NPCs that were on the plane, but right away, the posse started hanging out with him. As the adventure went on, I showed that Phil was a decent guy but had some skeletons in his closet. I didn't even include him in the major part of the adventure, which was about chasing after some horrible monster in the woods, because that's for the players. Once the adventure concluded, Phil had somehow become part of the posse.
The next adventure was my chance to play Phil for real. One of the other players took over and ran a brief adventure in the town of Baracho. When the posse got to the town, there was a festival going on and Phil ended up having fun. He also dislocated the shoulder of Ming, the gentle, serene, and quiet Chinese martial artist. It was an accident and it wasn't nothing some liquor and whores couldn't cure.
After they left the town, they finally arrived in Salt Lake City. Since I was running the game again, and starting the Devil's Tower trilogy, I tried to make Phil disappear. When the train pulled in, he jumped off and tried to vanish into the crowd. Which was kind of hard for a almost seven foot tall hairy man with a beer gut. But, he did it. As the posse began the adventure, I had Phil have his own little adventure. He joined a game called Skullchucker. It's bloodsport that's kind of like football. But with steampunk cyborgs and more beatings. I put Phil there because I thought it was a fun idea and fitting for him. Add it gave the posse a time to shine. Of course, when they finally tracked down the Heart of Darkness, or so they thought, they asked Phil to help out. Because the character is blessed with the best die rolls, he did a lot of heavy lifting. He almost killed a Harrowed with a single swing of his ax. Oh, and he beheaded one zombie before the party really got started. With one swing.
Once they figured out that they had to go to Lost Angels in the Great Maze (the ruined California coast), they asked Phil to tag along. While I thought it was cool that Phil had been accepted by the group, I still worried about him overshadowing the posse. The dice loved this man. I can't even explain it.
After they arrived in LA, I had Phil fade into the background again. Like the first part of the trilogy, this was also a lot of investigative work, where Phil was, let's be honest, kind of useless. Which was fine, as I didn't have to lead the posse by the nose. I let them run around but they're surprisingly good at cutting through the bullshit and ingoring red herrings. Eventually, they met a man named Old Pete who could get them into Rock Island Prison so they could rescue a man named Jasper Stone.
While the posse went through the Rock, locating the key they needed without bringing down the guards, Phil watched their way out. They then asked him to help with getting Mr. Stone. He made sure they didn't do anything stupid and get the man they were there for. On the way back into Lost Angels, the posse was told that Good Ol' Reverend Grimme was about to do something terrible. And they took Phil along for the ride.
Since it was running late and I was tired (as were we all), I just narrated the scene of Grimme and the demons in the church. The posse asked what Phil was doing and how he was holding up. He was fine. Actually, he was really in his element, using his ax to cut down demons left and right and helping innocent folks. Once the demons were defeated, the posse made their way to a warehouse, where they found Old Pete waiting for them. And then Stone turned up and tried to take the Heart of Darkness from him... Only to find out that Old Pete was ALSO Stone! Again, I narrated as Stone and Stone left with the stone and they had to fight off some walkin' dead. They were 'saved' by some of Grimme's Avenging Angels and were hailed as heroes. But, they had lost.
Then, they ran into a woman named Jackie Wells who claimed to be from the future. And they didn't even blink at that. She told them that Stone had gone back in time and was looking to cause some trouble with the Heart of Darkness. Together, the posse, Phil, and Jackie got the Heart from Stone and made their way to the Devil's Tower deep in Souix territory. To get there, they had to take what amounted to one of the world's first passenger helicopter.
Because I thought it was funny, and it made sense to me, I said that Phil was afraid of heights and tied himself to the helicopter. I thought it was just going to be for comedy, but it solidified the term we have begun to use: Phil Ex Machina.
When they got close to the Tower, I unleashed two Devil Bats on them. It was suppose to be five, but I went easy on them because the Tower, the inside, wasn't going to be easy. And I got mixed up with the numbers. There were two young Bats and five full grown ones. I found that out later, but after what happened, I decided to fudge it. You see, these two Bats almost killed our newbie's character. And would have. If it hadn't been for Phil Calhoon.
During the fight, the posse managed to kill one of the Bats without too much trouble. The other one, however, damn near killed Ming, the master of the Chinese fighting arts. Ming got snatched by one of the Bats and carried away. But, Ming was a fighter and managed to turn the winged bastard back towards the helicopter. And then he failed. And started to fall. I didn't want to kill Ming. The player was still new and I didn't want the first character to die to be his. Anyone else, I would have been okay, as they were more experienced role players. Anyone but Ming. How could I save Ming? I didn't want to fudge things too much, but did debate about having the helicopter pilot make a move to save him. But that could have made things worse. I thought for a second, and remembered that Phil was tied down to the helicopter. And he was Loyal. So, I had him make a Guts check to overcome his fear to try. He made the roll. I then had him make a Nimbleness check to grab Ming. He passed. I had Ming make the same. He passed. Then, I had Ming make a second check, this time for Strength because he had to hang on to Phil and he could slip because of sudden change in direction. And Ming failed. I was scrambling at this point. We'd come so close. And there were exclamations when Ming had failed. So, I gave him one more chance. If Phil could make the Strength check, He could keep ahold of Ming. And he made it. I didn't fudge it. Phil saved Ming, just barely.
Then, the posse made their way into the Tower. Phil did okay, but failed another roll to hold up a big grate. And then stuck with the posse while they hid from the denizens of the Tower, who they started calling “Goblins”. In fact, they were Crossbreeds. Alien/Human Crossbreeds that had once ruled the world. This was their last stronghold. I had Phil and Jackie stay mum while they hid and then when they got ready for a gun fight. Against monsters with legitimate ray guns. I told them that if they wanted to fight, they would die. I flat out told them that because I let them make their poor choices, but didn't want to kill them all. So, they surrendered.
While they waited to be executed (after suffering terrible things), they made a deal with one of the Goblins. In exchange for wrecking another Goblin's shit, they could get their gear back and go free. So, they blew some shit up and started running. Well, really Phil blew shit up because he actually had the Demolitions skill and had the foresight to bring dynamite. Before they continued, he handed out some sticks and a few bundles of that dynamite, just in case. Because, I knew what was coming, but no one in the posse did.
They made their way to a room in the Tower that had a portal to the Hunting Grounds, which is where Jackie had wanted to go with the Heart. The portal was how she had gone back in time and she needed to go back to the future. And, by god, the posse was going to help her get there. They'd come this far and they weren't going to fail. Phil was with them, but he had his own plan.
They burst into the portal chamber, guns blazing. Then, they threw dynamite. And then things got worse for everybody. Stone was there. He'd been hiding by the portal, using his Harrowed powers, and when someone started throwing around explosives, he got a little bit ticked off. So, it became a giant clusterfuck. The Goblins versus the posse vs Stone. After a good bit of fighting, most of the Goblins were down, which just left Stone. Now, Stone is big wheel in the Deadlands universe. He works directly and knowingly for the Reckoners. Also Known As the major villains and the source of all evil in this world. In short, Stone is a Very Bad Man. So, Phil decided to make Stone duck for cover and help Jackie make it through the portal. I figured that Phil would throw a stick of dynamite and it would make Stone jump back and away from the portal, so Jackie could get through the portal and we could start wrapping things up. It was getting late and one of the posse had to leave, so I really wanted to get this done.
Phil throws the dynamite. And gets a success. He's aiming right for Stone, so it would land at his feet. I figure Stone's going to be okay. He has 10d12+12 for any stat. Or, really heavy plot armor. And then I roll for Stone...
Almost nothing but 1s.
Stone, the big bad and nasty servant of the Reckoners had just gone Bust. I couldn't believe my eyes. In Deadlands, going a majority of 1s is Going Bust. Which means “worst possible outcome.” What's the worst possible outcome for dodging a stick of dynamite?
I told the posse that Phil tossed the stick of dynamite right at Stone. It sailed through the air, fuse hissing and burning as it spun. Stone looked at the stick and started to shout... Only to have the stick land right in his open mouth...
He spat it out and started to jump away, but the fuse burned down. It exploded and Stone vanished in a ball of fire.
Of course he wasn't dead. He really couldn't be, since there were now two of the ornery bastard.
So, the smoke starts to clear and the machine around the portal was wrecked. Phil shouted at Jackie to run for it and jumped up to follow her while she ran. The rest of the posse laid down covering fire against the few remaining Goblins while Jackie hauled ass to the portal. She reached it and jumped through it.
Standing there at the portal, Phil turned to the posse. He made eye contact with Dr. Penwood and gave him a quick salute and a smile.
And jumped through the portal after Jackie...
That's the story of Phil Calhoon, the greatest character I never really played. Ming's player was devestated, as Phil had just saved his ass. He didn't understand why I had Phil jump through the portal. So, I had to explain.
First of all, I had decided that Phil and Jackie had started sleeping together on the road to the Tower. They'd kept it quiet because they were afraid of what the others might say. I thought about the characters and I concluded that Jackie would have grown to like the lovable lug that was Phil. In a primitive past, full of assholes and idiots and greedy sons of bitches, there was a good and honest man. Second, Phil wasn't all that smart. But, he was honest about it. He never tried to be anything more that what he was; a man who enjoyed cigars, dimenovels, and had a spirit of adventure. And going to the future would be the greatest adventure. That's the third thing, Phil left for the future because it would be greatest adventure he could ever have. So, he did it. Fourth, Phil was Loyal. And Jackie was quite possibly the only person who could really like Phil. She wouldn't want to change him. She wouldn't want to settle down and crank out kids right away. He wanted to lover her with all his heart, because he had never met a woman quite like her. And he had the heart of a loyal little puppy dog. Lately, the posse was starting to rely far too much on Phil. And he was stealing the show with his roles. When I needed him to, he rolled high. Even when I didn't want him to, he rolled high. He would start to over shadow the posse even if I was just playing. I mean, come on, he had saved one player from certain death with one lucky roll and had almost killed a major player in the game world with another. The man was tempting fate and winning too much. And he was a melee guy. Well, we already had Ming, so did we really need another bruiser? I didn't think so. Plus, when you have a phrase based on a DMPC, it's time for him to go.
And that's the end. For now. I originally planned to play him in the adventure we're playing now. The guy who's running the game now and myself have discussed bringing Phil back. The adventure has an evil tree in it. And, god damn it, I wanted to have a lumberjack taking down an evil tree! I might still bring him back. Right now, I'm playing Phil's older sister, Noona “Cookie” Calhoon, a former Pinkerton. She's small and feisty. I like her a lot, but I'll be damned if I don't miss Phil...
We'll see what happens. Maybe Phil will come back. They do call it the Weird West, after all..