Deadlands: How the West Was Weird
It’s 1876. 100 years ago, the United States of America was born. In 1861, it was split in two. Today that split remains. The United States is still at war with the Confederate States of America. Why has the war dragged on for 15 years? Let’s review.
July 3rd, 1863: Major General Gordon Meade defeats General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but is unable to pursue the retreating confederates. Some say that the reason is that when he tried, the dead still laying on the field of battle rose, picked up their muskets, and fired at the victorious Union soldiers.
After that day, no decisive victories come for either side. Antietam is followed by Antietam II, and Antietam III. Some say the blood of brother killing brother has poisoned the very ground and the dead cannot rest in it.
1868: The largest earthquake in history hits the west coast, from Mexico to Oregon. The earth is shattered into jagged mesas of rock towering of the flooded channels between them. This region is now called “The Great Maze.” Soon after, giant serpents known as “maze dragons” are reported swimming the channels of the Maze.
Also discovered in the Great Maze is a new sort of coal, quickly dubbed “ghost rock” for the strange wailing noise it makes as it burns. Ghost rock is discovered to burn hotter and longer than coal, making amazing machines such as steam wagons and ornithopters possible. And when used as a catalyst or reagent in chemical reactions can greatly enhance the effects of tonics, salves, and unguents.
Once discovered in the Maze, ghost rock is also found in other parts of the country, such as the Black Hills of Dakota Territory around Deadwood. But the largest concentrations are still in the Maze. Both the North and the South immediately start construction of transcontinental railroads to bring the ghost rock east.
February, 1871: Of course, with the war on, some of the first things powered by ghost rock are weapons. General Lee marches across Union lines backed by flamethrowers, steam tanks, and other stranger weapons. So devastating is the attack that he holds Washington DC for a time, forcing President Grant to retreat to Philadelphia.
1876: The nation stands sundered into seven distinct territories.
The USA: The north and part of the west.
The CSA: The south and parts west.
The Disputed Territories: Kansas, Colorado and part of Oklahoma are both claimed by the USA and CSA. Kansas sees the most fighting and guerilla warfare. The farther west you go, the less people seem to care about the war.
The Sioux Nations: Unable to muster troops to fight on two fronts, the Union cannot continue the Indian Wars against the Sioux after Custer is defeated at the Little Big Horn. He survived, but later was court-martialed and discharged in disgrace. Needless to say, he holds a grudge.
The Nations have turned back to the Old Ways, leaving behind the guns and technology of the whites. Since they have done this, the Sioux say the spirits have blessed them, giving them powers they have not had since before the coming of the whites.
The Coyote Confederation: What used to be “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma is now a coalition of several tribes including the Cherokee, Comanche, Creek, Seminole, Kiowa, Chickasaw and Choctaw. These disparate tribes are united under their mysterious leader, an enigmatic figure known only as “Coyote.” The Confederation does not follow the Old Ways, embracing white mans’ weapons.
The Republic of Deseret: In 1866, president Bringham Young declared independence for the Mormons, establishing Salt Lake City as their capital. Salt Lake is known as the “City o’ Gloom” for it’s giant ghost rock powered factories that churn out fantastic machinery designed by world famous scientist, Darius Hellstromme.
The Commonwealth of California: As the main source of ghost rock, California is home to several very loosely connected city states. Most prominent is the City of Lost Angels, led by the Reverend Grimme. To the north is Shan Fan, controlled by Chinese warlords lured east by ghost rock. Also vying for control of California are Santa Anna and his Mexican expeditionary force and the Rail Barons of the six main railroad companies, all looking for control of the ghost rock supply.
The Great Rail Wars
Not only are the USA and CSA at war, but the six companies looking to control the ghost rock supply come close to waging a private war in the west, hiring gangs of “railroad detectives” and troubleshooters to defend their lines and sabotage their rivals.
Bayou Vermillion: A southern railway led by wealthy New Orleans merchant, Simon LeCroix.
Black River: Another southern railway, this one headed by Mina Devlin. She employs more women than any other railroad.
Dixie Rails: Owned by Robert E. Lee, Dixie Rails originally transported troops across the south, but now seeks to secure ghost rock lines for the CSA.
Iron Dragon: Led by the Shan Fan warlord Kang, Iron Dragon’s line extends from California all the way to Deadwood. No one knows what deal Kang made with the Sioux that allowed him to cross their territory.
Union Blue: Led by former Union General Joshua Chamberlain, Union Blue is the north’s answer to Dixie Rails.
Wasatch: Smaller, but in some ways more powerful than the other rail companies, Wasatch is owned by Darius Hellstromme and is headquartered in Salt Lake City. Wasatch trains are faster, more technologically advanced, and better armed with outrageous weaponry than any other rail line.
Slavery is a thing of the past in all parts of America. The CSA abolished slavery in 1866 to secure the support of European governments which would not help them while still maintaining the “peculiar institution.”
The war has taken it’s toll on the male population of the Americas. Because of this, women can be found employed in any position a man might be. Women have also got the vote in both the USA and CSA.
All throughout the nations of what was once only the United States, one thing is constant. Fear. Fear of war, certainly, but also fear of the unknown. Since Gettysburg, something has changed. The “Big ’Un” earthquake and discovery of ghost rock crystallized this feeling. Things are different now. In the past, someone might laugh to themselves as they toss the salt they spilled over their shoulder to prevent bad luck. No longer. The power of a horseshoe above the door to ward off evil doesn’t seem silly. People disappear. Graves turn up empty. Animals and creatures never before seen, or only heard about in folk tales are now talked about as if they were real.
And in places where the fear is so thick you can almost cut it with a Bowie knife, things are stranger still. The shadows seem longer. The shape of trees and the very land itself seems menacing. Days seem shorter and nights come on too fast. The moon is an oppressive presence, full of dire portent. People bar their doors to keep the monsters out. They’ve never seen them, but their neighbors disappeared last week. Did they move back east, unable to take it any longer? Or did something take them? In the Deadlands, you can’t be sure.
As we all know, it can get pretty cold in Canada. But in 1866 this was taken to extremes. When springtime rolled around, the snow stayed. The winter didn’t end. Scientists said that a new ice age was beginning, and maybe they were right. Glaciers started to creep down from the mountains. Something needed to be done and the Canadian Parliament found just the man tackle the problem: Darius Hellstromme.
It took Hellstromme two years, but by 1868 he’d come up with a solution. It’s called the Winterline, a kind of fence that stretches from major city to major city, coast-to-coast. The problem is that all those cities are near the southern border anyway, so 90% of Canada is still north of the Winterline and rapidly being covered in deepening snow and ice. On the southern side of the Winterline you can wear shirtsleeves and 10 feet away on the other side you’d have frostbite. It’s about two feet high, metal, and crackles like a fire. At night you can seen a faint glow along the wires at the top.