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Let Me Tell You About My Character

Pauline Macready Lang

by Chad Underkoffler
Dec 19,2002

 

Let Me Tell You About My Character...: Pauline Macready Lang

by Chad Underkoffler

Missus Pauline Macready Lang
(Genre: Psionic Western)

In this alternate West, something happened fifteen years ago -- maybe it was that big volcanic explosion that made the sun go out for three days, maybe it was when those girls back East claimed to be speaking to their dead momma nightly, or maybe those shooting stars falling all summer did it. Today, one out of every thousand souls has a powerful enough psychic talent to invoke at will. People call 'em "huckleberries."

Of course, what with folks being able to heal with a touch, jump off a high butte and walk away fresh as a daisy, and even able to peek into others' skulls and see what they're thinking, a powerful commotion ensued. Some folks get really heated up about it -- but honestly, what are you gonna do? Can you really stop Aunt Nelly from talking to the horses? Refuse Jim Smith's help getting the stumps out of the north forty, even if the way he helps is by squinting and making them light on fire? Forget to ask Uncle Jasper to take the whooping cough off your young'ens? Shoot. Even the religious types seem to be equally split as to whether these supernatural talents are curses or blessings.

But a lot of them city-dwellers have been getting mighty skittish -- all those people together, some of those folks are bound to be huckleberries. You get too many of them in one place and everybody's gonna get stained when the juice starts flying

So, the authorities Back East are cracking down on huckleberries: some states make 'em register, others force 'em into "militia units", while others clap 'em into the hoosegow... and a few are said to invite 'em to a little "rope dance." Nobody wants to deal with that, so the West calls loudly to huckleberries.

People like Pauline Macready Lang and her family. Pauline has the Touch.

Also known as Laying on of Hands, the Touch is a fairly common huckleberry talent. A person with the Touch can close wounds, join broken bones, grab hold and shuck off the sickness from another, perform painless and bloodless surgery with their fingers, ease fears, remove (or bestow) pain, and can physically touch ghosts and astral beings. People with the Touch are usually sought out and honored.

But they weren't in the Langs' hometown Back East, so she and her husband Tom brought their two young sons (Tom, Jr. and Nathan) west, to Hopfrog Butte. Little more than the crossing of two roads, Hopfrog Butte boasted only two things of interest: 1) Isaac Slotmeyer, a skilled Jewish blacksmith, and 2) the largest sheep-shearing station in the territory.

The Langs staked a claim up in the hollow, cleared some land, and started building a new life for themselves on the frontier. After two years, they were doing all right -- Pauline even served as the schoolmarm for a while, since educated women were hard to come by in the Territory. It was a good life -- fresher and freer than life Back East.

Then, one sunny April day, that no-account bandit Black Matthias gunned down Tom and Junior in the streets of Hopfrog Butte. Pauline heard the shots from the schoolhouse and came running, but was too late to save her husband and eldest boy. The Touch won't work on dead people.

Twelve-year-old Nathan watched his father and brother die, and was left haunted by the sight of it. Wracked with grief herself, Pauline tried to comfort him, protect him, coddle him, to no avail. Her newfound smothering, added to his memories and thirst for revenge, helped push Nathan away from her. The night he ran away to study the art of the quick-draw and make Black Matthias pay is the night that Pauline finally broke down.

For three months, she didn't leave the cabin in the hollow, except for food, water, and the jakes. She stopped going to the schoolhouse. She ignored the neighbors and let their covered dishes of food rot on the porch. She laid into the Preacher with a mule-whip when he had the temerity to try and explain God's Ineffable Plan and how it related to her tragedy. She turned away folks who came pleading for her gift, saying "My Touch didn't save Tom, or Junior -- why should it save your little girl?"

Pauline grew ever more mean and bitter, into a nasty old witch. She can count the people she's civil to on one hand; everybody else, she just glares at and keeps her distance. She knows she's the talk of the town when she comes to buy supplies at the General Store; she just doesn't care. "Most people aren't worth a damn," she says, and she seems to mean it.

But it's different with animals. True, she won't use her Touch on folks, but any dumb beast with a wounded wing or a thorn in their paw gets fixed-up lickety-split. The farm grew over; deer, elk, and even some bear prowled around unchecked. But they rarely bother Pauline anymore: one slap from her hands could cause deadly pain (or even death) , and all the ornery varmints learned that right quick.

The local Indians stay away, because their chief Ghost Hawk has had a vision -- he's told his tribe that no harm must fall upon Withered White Hand Squaw: if she dies by violence, their tribe will too.

Meanwhile, Nathan Lang (with talent of his own: Mind Over Matter) eventually gunned down Black Matthias in the street like the dog he was. Now known as the Hopfrog Kid, he's a drifter and a gun for hire -- though he finds himself ever returning back to Hopfrog Butte. Some say he comes only for the waiting arms of that soiled dove Audrey Miller, but Pauline knows that ain't the only reason -- sometimes a boy just needs a meal (especially apple pie) home-cooked by his momma.

Pseudo-Stats

Pauline is:

  • A Master at using the Touch to harm or heal.
  • Good at most physical tasks and home-repair; she does all the upkeep on the cabin, well, barn, and outhouse herself (especially impressive for an older woman).
  • Good at general homemaking (Expert at apple pies).
  • Possesses a Good education for her time.
  • Is Poor at controlling her temper, dealing with people, or accepting anyone's aid.

Goals

  • Hero: Pauline's been hurting for years over her loss, but time and solitude are beginning to heal those emotional wounds. She biggest fear is being unable to reconnect with the townspeople; not just after all the time that's past, but also because she refused to use her Touch for many of their friends and relations.
  • Star: Pauline is still living in agony, and believes the pain will never abate. Her only ray of light is when Nathan visits. Only her remaining son could possibly convince her to change her ways and rejoin society or to use her gift on a human being.
  • Villain: Left lonely and distraught for too long, Pauline has gone utterly mad. She's decided that the townspeople are right, and she is a witch. Not content any longer to merely withhold her Touch from the sick and dying, she's decided that she should start causing illness, pain, and death with her talent. She sneaks forth at night to wreak deadly mischief on the people of Hopfrog Butte.

Adventure Seeds & Plot Hooks

  • The Hopfrog Kid just got you out of a tight spot. He asks you for a little favor: since you're going through Hopfrog Butte anyway, check and see how his momma is doing, and tell her he'll be by for her birthday, the Lord willing. "She's a mite tetchy sometimes, though, so be on your best behavior."
  • You're being chased by some Indian braves who are gaining on you. Just when all seems lost, a little hollow opens up. You ride hard into it, and quickly realize the Indians have stopped dead in their tracks behind -- they won't follow you in. (You've crossed onto Missus Lang's land.) The Indians seem to be watching you intently. In the distance, you recognize their leader: the infamous medicine man, Ghost Hawk.
  • The railroad company wants to put in a spur near Hopfrog Butte, and you've been sent in to gain possession of all the property needed for the right of way, by any means necessary. One of the homesteads belongs to a little old lady named Pauline Lang. No problem, right?

Alternate Worlds

  • Horror: Crank down the proliferation and public knowledge of psionic talents, and Pauline's powers can get awful creepy. She'd work well as a "crazy cat lady" in a more modern period.
  • Science-Fiction: Dr. Pauline Lang, biochemist, developed an amazing new bionanomorph, which is rumored to allow total perfect cellular regeneration. However, when the Saturnine Syndicate killed her husband and son, she took up a hermit's existence in the frozen frontier of the Oort Cloud.
  • Superhero: Twenty years ago, Nightingale flew for justice, for truth, and for repairing the damaged fabric of American life. Unfortunately, the constant drain on her healing powers caused her empathy for mankind to dwindle. People just kept hurting one another; her efforts seemed to have no effect at all. When the Vice-President was dying in her arms, she couldn't heal him. She fled the funeral crying, and hasn't been seen since.


Inspiration(s) & Miscellany

Inspirations for Pauline:

  • Elements of my "Psi, Psi West" CiaB column, available to Pyramid subscribers.
  • Agatha Harkness (Marvel Comics).
  • Eula Goodnight (Rooster Cogburn, Katharine Hepburn).
  • A fusion of several older women I've known.

One thing that comes to mind as I write this column is that I really wish I could explain to my grandmother (and the rest of my family, for that matter) exactly what it is I do in terms of freelance writing for RPGs. See, she doesn't understand the concept - not that she couldn't (despite her claims) -- and at some level she just doesn't get what interests me about gaming (or comics, or books, or whatever).

For example, the end of a typical explanation:

"So, I write stuff, people read it, and might take it and use it in the games they run."

Blank stare.

"Like new rules for Monopoly."

Quoth Gram, "And they pay you for that?"

"Well, yes -- for my articles, stuff I do for books, and for one of my columns. But I do one of my columns for free, for more exposure."

Glazed look. "Well, whatever. Good for you."

Now I love my Gram, but the whole lack of understanding of what we're talking about kind of undercuts that "good for you." She doesn't share these interests of mine (though we share others), and in some ways that's isolating. However, I intellectually realize that's she's happy that I'm happy, but it's often tough to feel that.

But still, that's something: my Gram doesn't get gaming, and believes she can never get it, yet offers (backhanded) acceptance of what I do, and has faith enough in my joy to feel happy for me. That's a potent and real gift, and I'll always be grateful for -- if a little frustrated by -- it. See you next month.


Chad Underkoffler is a freelance RPG writer. His "Campaign in a Box" column appears bimonthly at Pyramid Online. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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