An excerpt from Always On Time, by EN Publishing
The Screaming Malice
Action. Tactical. Level 12.
Train robbers strike while a towering monster distracts the guards.
The train leaves Orithea at 7:30 a.m. The complement of first-class suites stays the same, and no one of consequence boards in second class. As in Cherage, if Boone is on the run, he sneaks on board in coach.
As soon as the train’s out of Orithea, Malia invites interested parties back up onto the roof of the lounge car for another round of shooting at helpless malice beasts. The same group as before shoots—Bree, Boone, Cardiff, Damata and Tarro Griento (Cardiff again attaches his briefcase strap to his ankle instead of his wrist)—plus six of the train’s guards. The terrain changes rapidly, and creatures obediently show up and die. This goes on until 9 a.m., when a gang of brigands spring their surprise.
They have laid a huge barricade of logs and explosives atop the rails east of the edge of a swamp, which is home to a horrible psychic monster called a screaming malice. When the train emerges from the swamp’s fog, engineer Steeg sees the barricade and pulls on the brakes. Just as Malia predicted, the train manages to stop 100 feet from the barricade. The monster will spring from the swamp and attack the middle and rear of the train, giving the bandits easy access to the freight cars at the front of the train.
Great Train Robbery
As the train is passing through a fog-filled swampy region, the train lurches and its brakes begin to screech. Everyone on the roof must make an Acrobatics check (DC 14) or fall off the side of the train. Those already seated are safe. The train travels 40 squares before stopping.
Just as the train screeches to a stop, a deafening chorus of roars sounds from the fog. The screaming malice rises from the swamp north of Car 10 and attacks.
- Rodinn, Malice Bandit Captain
- Screaming Malice
- 8 Malice Bandit Riders
- 9 Malice Beast Steeds
The encounter is roughly divided into a swamp section to the west and a desert section to the east, with the train running eastward through them. At the start of the encounter, Cars 1 to 8 are in the desert, Cars 9 to 19 are in the swamp. The boulder barricade the bandits set up is 50 ft. east of the locomotive (Car 1). This barricade is just an illusion, created by the bandit leader Rodinn. Clever PCs might notice that the nearby terrain of swamp and desert would be insufficient to provide enough boulders.
The screaming malice appears north of Car 10. The assumed course of events is that the PCs make their way down the train to the screaming malice, then fight it off, save passengers from its spawn, or rush onward to the locomotive, to get the train moving. Use the timeline below to keep track of what happens up until when the PCs intervene in a particular location.
Front of Train
- round one. Bandits ride in. Chief guard Vodyarika
Lerkem leads 3 other guards to the locomotive.
- rounds two through five. Bandits jump their steeds onto the locomotive. They dismount and fire pistols while the steeds claw and bite. They kill one guard per round. Guards knock out one bandit each round. Engineer Steeg surrenders.
- round six. Bandits stabilize their wounded, who remain as rear flank.
- rounds seven through ten. Bandit captain and four bandits remount and ride to Car 6.
- rounds ten through twelve. Bandits shoot Mister Mapple, who tries to drive them off. He’s left for dead, but will regenerate.
- rounds thirteen through twenty. Bandits steal items of value from Car 6.
- rounds twenty-one through thirty. If no one from rear of train is approaching, bandits quickly grab valuables in Cars 3, 4, and 5. They ride away as soon as they see trouble approaching.
Middle of Train
- round one. If any characters are near the front of the train, they may see a lump rising in the black, swampy water below the bridge. The tumescent growth rises, brackish water cascading off of it, revealing something slick, black, and tarry reflecting the dim sunlight. Something like a tentacle shoots suddenly out of it, smashing through the windows of Car 10. Other tendrils—actually long necks capped by amorphous, reptilian heads—rise up and begin to scream.
- round two. The head in Car 10 detaches, and the neck pulls back out. A new head regrows. The original head, still screaming, splits apart into four whip-tailed drakes called malice spawn. These begin to kill the passengers.
- rounds three through fourteen. Each round, the screaming malice moves about half a car-length toward the back of the train. On odd-numbered rounds the malice reaches a new car, then smashes through windows with its head. Every even numbered round it detaches the head, creating new spawn. If not stopped, it
reaches Car 16 in round thirteen.
- round fifteen. The screaming malice withdraws into the swamp, and its spawn leave the train. They’ll merge with their original body, and thus feed the malice.
Rear of Train
- round one. People see the screaming malice rise up. The guards are dumbfounded. Tarro Griento screams, and Malia feigns terror as well. Cardiff detaches his briefcase from his ankle, considers attaching it to his wrist, but decides he needs both mobility and free hands to shoot.
- round two. Malia yells for the other guards to go help, and says she’ll make sure the first class passengers are safe. She climbs down into the lounge car. Bree and Boone meet gazes, and she nods downward, implying they need to protect Luc.
- round three. Damata drags his son down the ladder, and heads into Car 18, shouting warnings as he runs to get his family in Car 17. Bree also climbs down, and she stops outside Luc and Ottavia’s suite, banging on the door. Boone heads to the connection between Car 18 and 17, keeping an eye on the monster. Verzubak and a lot of other people flee from the second class suites toward the rear of the train. The above people stay at these locations until the end of the encounter, unless the PCs get them to move. The other six guards start to nervously approach the screaming malice along the train’s roof. Cardiff grabs four of the rifles discarded by Damata, Boone, Bree, and Tarro, and he follows the guards.
- rounds four through eight. Cardiff and the guards advance one car every two rounds, eventually stopping at Car 16.
- rounds nine through twelve. Cardiff and the guards fire at the screaming malice; combined, they deal it 24 damage per round.
- round thirteen. With the monster only one car away, Cardiff and the guards run back toward the end of the train.
See the table below to track how many spawn and casualties there are, and how much damage the guards have dealt with their rifles, when the PCs finally engage the monster. Make a note of how many casualties there are in this fight; it will affect the party in the encounter Three Milestones (page 40).
The screaming malice feeds on intense emotions, and the bandits lured it to this swamp with a ritual and a sacrifice. When it senses the unease of the passengers on the train (due to the sudden braking), it approaches to eat. Its screams acts as a psychic aura to heighten people’s emotions, and its spawn wreak havoc inside the train, causing panic and capturing actual flesh (terror is candy, flesh and blood are the veggies).
When the PCs get within its aura, or if any PCs attack it or its spawn, it is attracted by the rare taste of heroism. The malice spawn break off from killing passengers, and they rush the party—some through the train cars, others along the top. The screaming malice itself closes in and tries to bite and fling whoever is dealing the most damage to it. It does not move adjacent to the railroad, though, since the rigid metal injures it. (The attacks of the railroad guards are not substantial enough to get its attention, since the guards are as frightened as the passengers.)
The bandits try to flee before the party reaches them, but if forced into a fight the riders form a defensive group as they withdraw to their steeds, while their leader Rodinn unleashes dangerous wild magic.
There are few wounded, but likely many are dead. Malia, upon seeing the carnage, withdraws from everyone, shocked because she just expected the bandits to use a monster as a distraction, not to actually kill people. Captured bandits know they had an ally on the train, but only Rodinn knows it was her. The surviving guards inspect the barricade and realize it’s an illusion. Engineer Steeg nervously starts the train moving, and the illusion disappears when the locomotive hits it.
During the rest of the trip to Trekhom, Conductor Xorin makes his way through the train, checking on people and asking if they saw anything that might be useful for the formal investigation into the attack.
An excerpt from Always On Time, by EN Publishing