Battleshed Diaries

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Armpit Heights



For the first time on Monday, the Livery and Mountain boards from my Old West town left their dusty Battleshed residence to make the trip up to my club in Falkirk. Encouraged by the two town sections successfully making the trip without any issues I gingerly loaded boards 3 and 4 into the back of the car and set about drivin’ like an elderly vicar.

________________________________________________________________________


After collecting Misbehaving Jamie on the way we were so absorbed in the usual chatter that I forgot all about driving like an elderly vicar and instead lapsed into my usual, ahem, ‘brisk’ driving. There were no worrying rattles or thumps of things shifting around in the back of the car anyway. Those ‘sticky’ mats for car boots (trunk for any genuine Old West readers) are really useful.

With practised ease, we soon had the two boards making their public debut at the club having survived the journey intact. They quickly attracted the attention from other members, some asking how I’d made the Mountain section in particular. Which I’ve named Armpit Heights. It’s a hard one to answer as I used all sorts of odds n’ sods lying around the Battleshed at the time. From foam core, papier mache and cut wood blocks to Hydrocal, filler and Plaster of Paris. I pretty much used up all the leftovers from other projects. But it worked out well in the end I think.

It was also the first time that I’d used these two boards for a standalone game of Dead Man’s Hand. I was keen to see how they worked as they’re usually only in play back at the Battleshed along with the two town sections. Club member JP was scheduled to have a go and with it being his birthday I suggested he and Jamie try a kind of King of the Hill scenario whilst I stepped out to adjudicate. Which everyone knew was just my excuse to chin-wag with the other club members.

Jamie embellished the scenario with the story of a small number of miscreant types spotted hauling a heavy lockbox up onto Armpit Heights a few days earlier. The Law were tipped off and having assembled a posse near the Livery were just about to set off when a large gang of Banditos arrived on the scene intent on recovering their loot.

How it played.

With the Lawmen and Banditos restricted to entering via opposite ends of the dirt road near the Livery and its corral it was pretty clear a bloodbath would quickly ensue if they were all to appear at the same time. Anyone who knows my playing style would no doubt guess I would’ve gone with that just for the laugh. However, I wanted to bring Armpit Heights into play so instead I suggested for the first turn the Lawmen and Banditos were brought on singularly, in initiative order, and activated immediately. Rather than having two gangs blasting at each other across the street from the outset!

It was immediately apparent that Jamie had the scenario objective in mind by sending some of his Banditos to leg it away as fast as they could, using natural cover and old wooden fences to head to the far flank of the Heights. Where a winding canyon would hide them from the Lawmen’s sights as they climbed. The rest of the Banditos stayed in town to stall JP’s Lawmen who were hell bent on just shooting up the whole place!

Which was what they did. Bullets and shot were soon rattling and ricocheting off buildings, fences, startled horses and just about everything in between. Except the Banditos. Who, given JP’s notorious dice rolling, seem to have managed to concentrate tequila and whiskey fumes into some sort of bullet shields! Much to JPs frustration. With some of the Banditos clearly escaping up Armpit Heights, his Lawmen seemed to have given up all hopes of recovering the stolen lockbox and instead decided gunning down the bandits and ask questions later was the name of justice in the town of Obsession. The Lawmen’s wild shooting was so bad, even at close quarters, that some resorted to fists and knives. The few town residents witnessing the shootout from the safety of nearby buildings had trouble distinguishing who actually represented the law enforcement!

Given it was JP’s birthday I handed him one of my D20s. I thought my dice rolling was bad, but JP is in a league of his own. Jamie even tipped JP about rolling with his left hand. You know what? Weirdly, that actually seems to work! JP’s rolls markedly improved and the balance of Under Fire markers scattered around the table shifted back into equilibrium between the two gangs. The Banditos started to fall and with it the glimmer of hope that maybe the Lawmen’s gun frenzy might actually lead to a Bandito Big Nerve Test. Or maybe that was JP’s cunning plan from the start?

Meanwhile, away from the shootout, Deputy Archie Roach had slipped away and climbed the trail up to the bridge over Rattlesnake Ravine. Just as he stepped onto the creaking old bridge a carronade of bullets splintered the bone dry woodwork. The Caballero, Cornelio Aviles, was lurking in the shadowy ravine below. Roach was wounded and fell back, just managing to avoid a fatal fall from the bridge.

Roach and Aviles were soon exchanging fire, shots echoing around the Heights. Roach, with more luck than skill, somehow managed to put Aviles Out of Action. He wisely decided he’d be better off going for the glory of recovering the lockbox than head back down to aid his colleagues. Just as he started to cross the bridge again another Bandito appeared at the other side. The notorious Reynardo Mula, with his Plethora of Pistols and one big FO knife, had made it through the twisting canyon and no one was going to get between him and the lockbox. His burly colleague, Teo De Herrera, was still way back panting up the gorge.

Roach and Mula stared at each other across the bridge, hands hovering over their holstered pistols. It was going to be a quick draw. Their hearts pounded and sweat dripped as the sounds of gunfire and crickets receded in their concentration. Then, in a sudden blur of movement, they both drew and fired simultaneously. Roach, already injured, somehow managed to get off three shots putting two on target. Mula returned in kind, placing two fatal rounds into him. The Lawman was gunned down, one shot went right between Roach’s eyes. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Mula, after bandaging his wounds as best his could with strips from his grimy, whiskey-sodden bandanna, started the final climb up the summit of Armpit Heights. There was still no sign of Teo. The sound of gunfire from the town below had quietened down. Just as he was turning a bend in the steep, rough-cut steps up the side of the canyon there was a sudden buzz in the air and he went taught as a round hit him in the back. He fell back, his body thudding against sharp rocks as he tumbled back down the way he’d climbed only seconds before. From a rise beyond the old bridge, Deputy Clifford ‘Long Shot’ Collins had taken careful Aim with his rifle and expertly taken down one of the escaping Banditos trying to climb the Heights.

Just as Teo De Herrera, gulping for breath, finally reached the bridge over Rattlesnake Ravine he was knocked aside as a body crashed from above. When the dust cleared, he saw the lifeless eyes of Reynardo Mula starring back at him. Teo scrambled back in panic, not knowing which way to point his pistol. There was silence all around. Eventually, he cautiously sidestepped his erstwhile colleague and headed to the bridge. Beyond it he could see the Livery and the town of Obsession in the valley below. Figures were moving, checking many bodies and some looking up towards Armpit Heights and pointing. He realised they were Lawmen. He was alone and most definitely outgunned. The lockbox quickly forgot, he swiftly headed back down the gorge to make his escape.

This proved to be one of those games where the anticipated outcome was turned completely on its head! I thought Jamie had the game in the bag early on. His plan to quickly send some of his men up Armpit Heights whilst the majority pinned down JP’s Lawmen, who for some reason didn’t even consider the Heights for a good part of the scenario, was pretty sound – if obvious. I was surprised JP’s Lawmen appeared totally preoccupied with simply taking out the Banditos near the Livery. Judges impartiality abandoned, I even suggested he sent at least some of his Lawmen up the hill! If JP’s plan was simply to decimate so many of the Banditos that they’d eventually fail a Big Nerve Test before any reached the lockbox, then it was a brave one. But it worked! I’m still convinced it was by luck and recharged dice than anything else.

I’m pretty pleased that the Livery and Armpit Heights boards worked well together even when separated from the two town sections and offer some distinctive scenario potential for future games of Dead Man’s Hand. And they survived the trip back to the Battleshed!