I suspect that there is not an adventuring party in the world that does not think that if they’re hired to guard a train, there will be a robbery attempt while they’re on guard duty. For that matter, the very idea is pervasive enough that it has parallels in almost any time and genre of role playing games. Any old school gamer knows that having a character sign up to guard a caravan in a fantasy world is not only a good way to make money and get to where you’re going, but also a good way to give your DM plenty of built in adventure hooks. Your DM needs no excuse to have you attacked by bandits and monsters. And if you’re playing in a futuristic setting, the starship convoy you’re escorting is sure to get attacked by bandits or a taskforce from an enemy faction while you’re flying.
Pinnacle’s For Whom the Whistle Blows does not disappoint in this regard. I’m not giving away too much when I say that the cowpokes who sign on to guard the train in the adventure end up dealing with a robbery. But dealing with bandits is only the beginning. What starts off as a simple train robbery (with the players playing the role of the good guys) ends up like 30 Days of Night with a little of The Descent thrown in for good measure. Like all good Deadlands adventures, For Whom the Whistle Blows starts with a basic premise common from any number of western stories and slowly and progressively heaps on terror after terror until it is truly a horror story.
It is notoriously difficult to truly frighten players in a role playing game. Even the best players have a hard time getting emotionally invested enough in the story and setting that the lurking danger that threatens their characters actually frightens them. Add to that the usual joking, puns and silliness that goes on around a game table and putting a good scare into players is all but impossible. For Whom the Whistle Blows has several moments and scenes where a good GM should be able to accomplish this Herculean task. Some of the situations and scenes are simply creepy enough that they can make your skin crawl just from reading them. In the hands of a person with a good grasp of pacing and mood, players should at least get some good ick factor out of the adventure.
Beyond horror, For Whom the Whistle Blows has it all. Gunfights, double crosses, a truly disgusting red herring scenario, innocent civilians (and call girls) who have to be rescued and even a salt of the earth lawman who needs the adventurers to do what duty won’t allow him to do. There’s even an evil, undead wizard (ok, he’s actually a huckster) to be vanquished.
For Whom the Whistle Blows is, technically the second part of a series of adventures. Unlike most adventure sequels, however, this one really does stand on its own. Usually, if a GM runs the second adventure of a series without running the first, the PC’s are dropped in the middle of a situation for which they have no context. The NPC’s are largely new to the story or have motivations that are broad enough that what was done in the first adventure has little bearing on this one. It is not that the NPC’s are behaving randomly, it is simply that their goals are big enough and methods diverse enough that the party doesn’t have to already be wrapped up in the story to understand them. In fact, a GM could easily run this adventure for his group without ever mentioning what came before and the only thing the players would miss out on is the fun of playing the previous adventure.
The quality of For Whom the Whistle Blows is noteworthy also not only because of the writing. As befits a company of Pinnacle’s status, there are none of the annoying spelling, grammatical and layout errors that so often plague PDF’s and books from many of the smaller independent companies. This is a professional product put out by a professional company and it shows.
The art in the adventure is the usual quality and style of paintings that are generally featured in Pinnacle’s Deadlands books. Again, these are not the doodlings of some amateur friend of the writer but professional work done by a professional artist. But even more enjoyable for me are the lush maps that are included. I’m always looking out for new maps and, while I don’t have plans to play this adventure, or even a western adventure, the maps can easily be converted to another setting.
For Whom the Whistle Blows is an excellent product from Pinnacle and is generic enough that it could be dropped into just about any Deadlands game. Generic as it is, though, it is not plain. The adventure is exciting, interesting and creepy with just enough twists and turns to keep the players guessing and on the edges of their seats.