Recently, someone told me that one-shots were mostly railroads. By their nature, it’s best if the basics of the story and the characters move quickly because if players wander from the storyline there’s almost no chance they’ll be able to complete it. Maybe this is why nearly every “one-off” I’ve played in ended up becoming campaign games.
In this case though, it’s literal. The End of the Line is a one-off adventure using D&D 5e framework but is primarily set on a literal train. With cowboys, outlaws, and … zombies.
Obviously, this is not a typical D&D game.
On the western fringes of a foundling nation, eager settlers strike out into an untamed expanse, each homesteader desperate to carve out a space of their own in this age of opportunity. Clustered buildings grow organically into frontier towns, with townsfolk
huddling together for protection against the elements, the wilderness, and its native inhabitants.
Behind the settlers the railroad follows, a lifeline between isolated communities that brings news, fresh faces, and trouble faster than ever before.
But life on the frontier is precarious. If the steel tether to the bustling cities back east should sever, the fledgeling communities at the frayed edges of this nation will wither to dust.
Behind both the settlers and the railroad, justice straggles a distant third, never quite catching up to the expanding frontier.
In the Lawless West, power is held by those with the gumption to take what they can get
Although The End of the Line is designed for four to six 3rd level characters I could see 3rd level adventures dying off pretty easily if they’re not careful.
The setting is an alt-history version of the American Wild West with magic and swords and, more surprising, no guns. Given that there are rules for guns in D&D 5E, it seems odd.
So, I reached out to the author, James Terry-Collins of Bring Your Own Dragons for a couple of quick questions:
What inspired this mish-mash of horror, western, magic?
To be honest, I first got the idea for a train robbery as a result of being continually warned against ‘railroading’ in adventure design. I started thinking about how I’d structure an adventure that was literally ‘on rails’, and gave myself the challenge of designing something that took place almost entirely on a train. It was fun to work out how to introduce branching paths, missable carriages, and things like that into a map which is (from a bird’s eye view) a straight line.
Once I knew I wanted to write a train robbery, the Wild West seemed like a great setting to play out those ideas. There have been quite a few fun Western genre-bending films/adventures, and I think there are still loads of interesting directions to take the setting.
I notice there are no guns in this one-shot, despite the wild west theme. Was there a reason for leaving them out?
I deliberated long and hard over adding guns to the setting but ended up deciding against it. Guns are really powerful, with a single hit being extremely serious (if not outright lethal). If I leaned on the 5e rules to account for that, players/monsters with high AC would have a massive advantage over those without. I considered adding some sort of mechanic for dodging bullets in a gunfight (rather than relying on armour to stop the bullets) but it felt like things were getting needlessly complicated. I also wanted to make it possible for DMs to pick up bits of the adventure and drop them in their own campaign settings, and if the whole thing were designed to work with the characters having access to firearms there’s a good chance it would have fallen flat when transposed back into a fantasy setting.
That said, it’s not something I’ve definitively ruled out for future adventures in the same setting. I’ve got a few ideas ticking away as to how I could get firearms to work with the 5e ruleset.
NOTE: There are already rules for guns in D&D, found on page 268 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. With renaissance era firearms a pistol does d10 piercing damage and a musket does d12 piercing. It’s better than crossbows, but not terribly. The biggest benefit of a pistol over a heavy crossbow that does the same damage is its smaller size and weight. This is partially balanced by the cost and the fact that ammunition is destroyed. You can retrieve crossbow bolts, but in D&D you can’t retrieve spent bullets.
I would probably want to homebrew guns in my setting as well. -Dave
It also seems like it would make sense to limit armor to light to stay consistent with the theme. Any other guidelines you might suggest for DM’s to give during character creation?
Yes, you’re right. I wanted to try to avoid adding restrictions where possible but plate armor would be pretty hot in the Western desert. That said, you’ll notice that most of the adventure descriptions are actually setting-agnostic. It should be possible to pick up this adventure and drop it in a frozen wasteland and have the same game experience. For that reason, I think it’s fair to expect the DM to make the call on any concessions that need to be made in order to shoehorn this adventure into their campaign world.
If you’re trying to stick with the setting I’ve presented in the adventure guide, I’d suggest that most players should be human or elf. The dwarves were the native inhabitants of the western plains before the arrival of the colonizers from the East, and there is likely to be friction between dwarvish players and the humans/elves they encounter.
Do you plan on writing more material for this setting?
Yes! I’ve just finished playtesting the next module in the setting (it’s likely to be called ‘All That Glitters’) and I’m hoping to polish it up and publish by the middle of March.
For me, there are several things that make this fun; the bounded situation, the “feel” of the setting, the odd hazards and a fun monster.
- Bounded situation – You are stuck on this train. You can move wherever you want, including to the top of the train, but you aren’t going to leave the train once you’ve boarded. This creates some tension and invites creative use of the environment for both players and DMs.
- Feel – Okay, this is a total railroad, not just literally. For this one-shot to work, you have to get on the train. However, you do have options. You can pick a side, you can betray a side, you can interact with other passengers, etc… The whole time there are flavor texts and nice bits of description that can keep you in the zone of Western/Horror.
- Odd hazards – Okay, when I said I could see third level PCs dying, it wasn’t totally because of the opponents, it’s more because of the hazards. This isn’t no smooth-riding Amtrak train, this is a bumpy, jostling, iron horse of the wild west. Your character might die from having crates fall on them while in the cargo car, they might fall off the train, etc… I think these add a fun element, especially for a one-shot.
- Fun monster – I’m not going to spoil anything here, just get a copy and see if you agree. The description is great and the creature will be a challenge, if run properly.
Edit: After feedback, the author has decided to change the font described below. It’s lovely to have a publisher actually listen to feedback. Kudos to Bring Your Own Dragon!
My one criticism would be the fancy script font in the “letters.” I love that font and I’ve used it before in my own materials, but dang it’s hard on the eyes. However, that’s a small thing and I wouldn’t necessarily change it because it’s great flavor.
All in all, I’d be happy to be a player in this game and I also think it would be fun to DM as well. I’m honestly looking forward to more material for this setting.
You can find it here on DriveThruRPG: D&D one-shot, The End of the Line.
(full disclosure, I have an affiliate link on that. I hope you don’t begrudge the fact that I get a few pennies on a sale. This site is a labor of love and I hope someday it might cover its own costs)