Summary: The village has a bizarre custom wherein one night a year all laws are suspended and the people can go kill each other. Allegedly, this lets people get out their violent impulses and allows society to live free of crime and war the rest of the year. This doesn’t really work, because it turns out that career criminals still need to make money the other 364 days of the year, but the tradition lives on – it helps that a town this small and this far from the Grey River has only fleeting contact with organized crime to begin with, which lends credence to the beneficial effects of the tradition even though it’s not actually related. By happenstance, the day the characters come to town is Murder Night.
Discovery: If the characters have any interaction with the people of the town the day they arrive, they’ll be told that they should probably leave before Murder Night begins. If they don’t speak to anyone (not even to check into a hotel), then unless they’re specifically avoiding the most densely populated parts of town, they’ll still see how heavily defended the shops on Market Street are and all the construction materials set aside in them, waiting to be assembled into barricades the second the sirens sound. If they succeed on a Challenging(+0) Awareness test, they’ll also notice that the people here have a lot of autoguns lying around. Almost everyone is at minimum carrying a stub revolver and an awful lot of people have full-on assault rifles, especially at home. Many houses have sandbags piled up around certain windows in a way which, to the experienced eyes of the characters, are clearly intended to be used as MG nests (granted, almost none of the townspeople have heavy stubbers or multilasers and will instead just be using autoguns in full-auto mode). The town is perfectly peaceful and even fairly friendly (albeit with the strong undercurrent of “you should definitely not be here tonight, come back tomorrow instead”).
Exploration: Townspeople use Murder Night primarily to settle grudges against one another and sometimes to try to enrich themselves by going on a robbery spree through Market Street (which has been heavily militarized to the limits of their private property and is ready to start barricading the entire street as soon as Murder Night begins and it’s no longer illegal to obstruct traffic).
Drifters from outside of town are bad for both of those things, because they have no reason to care about personal grudges and no reason not to shoot other robbers in the back and leave town the next day with all the ill-gotten gains from Market Street. Unlike regular townspeople, the characters are outsiders who won’t suffer any consequences if they’re treacherous on Murder Night. They can’t be targeted for revenge on the following year’s Murder Night unless they’re sporting enough to return to town that day, nor can they be shunned or otherwise retaliated against in legal ways after Murder Night because they don’t have any personal or financial attachments to this town anyway, so what do they care if the townspeople refuse to speak with or do business with them over a Murder Night betrayal?
Because drifters are so untrustworthy on Murder Night, everyone in town they speak to recommends they leave before sundown. Most of them cloak that request in concern for the characters’ safety, but some are more openly hostile, threatening that the whole town will be against them when Murder Night comes.
Before Murder Night begins, the characters can see battle lines being drawn up. The coalition of the store owners on Market Street is immediately obvious, but if characters investigate further, a Challenging(+0) Inquiry or Awareness test will reveal one of the following other groups, with an extra group discerned for each degree of success:
-The Party Girls are a group of middlingly wealthy women from the ages of about 16 to 25 who are stocked up on autoguns and flamers. Many of them are very straight-laced and proper before Murder Night begins, but after the siren sounds, they take off a large outer dress to reveal something more provocative underneath, put on a mask, and go raiding throughout the town together. Many of them are related to or work closely with the store owners, so they do not attack Market Street.
-The Swinefolk are an impromptu gang and Murder Night tradition. They have no consistent membership and their identities are unknown even to one another. They all wear pig masks and anyone who shows up in such a mask is admitted to the group, provided that they bloody themselves on someone not wearing a mask. Since killing people is dangerous on the one night of the year when everyone knows the world’s gone nuts, unblooded Swinefolk tend to group up into packs of a dozen or more, break into houses, kill anyone armed, then apprehend the unarmed to slaughter them with machetes and hatchets. Disarmed or unarmed victims are tied up (traditionally hogtied, although it’s not required) so that a large group of three or four Swinefolk can bloody themselves on them. Swinefolk tend to be poorly armed, as a huge draw for their numbers is from people who aren’t confident they can defend themselves from the Swinefolk if they don’t join them. A lot of people can’t afford an autogun, but it’s pretty easy to get a kitchen knife and a pig mask, then hope to pick up a stub automatic from a home defender during the bloodying ritual.
In the final hours of the night, the Swinefolk traditionally assess whether they have the numbers to make a go at Market Street. The answer is usually no, unless Market Street has already been roughed up by another group. Market Street often sends Swinefolk infiltrators to try and join up with the smaller groups of Swinefolk and shoot them in the back while they’re still focusing on bloodying themselves, so as to thin out their numbers and prevent an attack on Market Street at the end. Swinefolk are on edge for such an attack all night, but tend to relax once they’re massed. Any infiltrators would face certain death if they tried to betray the fully massed army of Swinefolk at the witching hour gathering (often several dozen strong, sometimes over a hundred), so once the witching hour comes and they have gathered, they can be confident that any infiltrators who haven’t revealed themselves will either ride out the rest of the night as a Swinefolk or try to slip away at some point – but probably won’t try to shoot anyone.
-The Hunters are a group of motorbikers, most of them couriers to nearby towns for most of the year, a few of them just hobbyists, and several actually keep their motorbike hidden in a shed for most of the year so that they can’t be identified as Hunters during most of the night. The Hunters roam the town looking for stragglers to pick off and weak houses to loot. Because they’re highly mobile, they can escape retribution relatively easily if it looks like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Hunters will sometimes hunt down groups of Swinefolk during the bloodying ritual and sell the decapitated heads (with masks still on) to the Market Street merchants, but there’s an informally acknowledged truce between them from their witching hour gathering onwards. If the Swinefolk make a bid for Market Street, the Hunters will usually join them, especially if the Swinefolk bring one of the barricades down so that the Hunters can get in on Market Street itself and ride around fast enough to be hard for shopkeeps and accountants to shoot at accurately.
-The Macreadies and the Fitzpatricks are two extended family who all live close to one another on the outskirts of town, so that they can take advantage of strength in numbers. The two are in a feud with one another, which waxes and wanes with the years. Sometimes they just look at one another through gun sights all nights, other years one of them will mount an all-out attack on the other. Each hopes to completely destroy the other.
Both families fortify their respective blocks of town much like Market Street does, but on a much lower budget. Every single Macready or Fitzpatrick of the age of twelve on up has at minimum a stub revolver, and they traditionally arm all adult males with shotguns and adult females with stub automatics. Some of the poorer adults are forced to rely on stub revolvers still, but anyone who is completely without armament will be armed with at least a revolver by the generosity of their family. On the other end, the relatively well-to-do of each family, often the patriarchs and their direct line, will be armed with autoguns. The Macreadies’ pride is their heavy stubber, which they stole from the Fitzpatricks decades ago.
The Fitzpatricks and the Macreadies do not have a direct border, but are instead separated by several blocks of sparse housing. The inhabitants of these blocks sometimes bunker down and hope for the best, and other times vacate entirely to stay with friends or family in a part of town that’s not between the two feuding clans (friends or family who are always happy to have a few extra guns on hand to protect their own home) and just hope that their house isn’t looted or shot to Hell in the night.
-The PDF, the Lord Mayor, and the clergy all fortify themselves in the Lord Mayor’s estate, which includes the local preacher’s chapel. They’re recent transplants and find the whole tradition distasteful, but when the Arbites tried to crack down on it, it turned out that they weren’t really equipped to take on hundreds of well-armed peasants who expected to do some murders that night, and really, neither is the one PDF squad, even with their chimera. The Lord Mayor has sent requests for reinforcements to deal with the problem, but Grey Harbor isn’t interested in dedicating large amounts of troops to a crackdown on a peasant population that pays their taxes and is generally law-abiding for the other 364 days of the year. From the bigwigs’ perspective, this tradition can be cracked down on after the more directly anti-Imperial Chaos and Renegade elements have been contained.
Confrontation: A standard house on Murder Night is going to be defended by two or three adults armed with stub automatics, shotguns, or autoguns, and possibly some juveniles or even children armed with machetes (use the stats of a sword, but without the Balanced trait), kitchen knives (just regular knives), or improvised weapons like chairs or house tools like a wrench or small hammer. There’s an essentially unlimited number of such houses to break into and loot in the night, but they tend to have themselves pretty well-fortified. Just using the walls of the house as cover never provides more than AP 4, but many houses have set up sandbags in front of windows that have a good view of the street, and will threaten to open fire on anyone who approaches their house, specifically – making good on that threat if the intruder doesn’t leave. These positions are defended by sandbags or heavy barricades and have AP 8. Once inside the house, defenders will use corners for cover if possible with the standard AP 4, and may be forced to resort to desks, counters, or tables instead, which have a measly AP 2. The defenses for a standard house are never oriented to fight against someone already in the house, just those who approach from the street.
If the characters go wandering the streets, they’re liable to encounter any or all of the following from dusk to the witching hour, which you can roll from off a d5 table or just select as you feel is appropriate:
1: A group of a dozen or so Swinefolk who’ve dragged a family out of their house, killed the parents, and are tying up the juveniles and children for bloodying. One or two are armed with an autogun or shotgun, another three or four armed with stub revolvers and stub automatics, and six to eight are armed with knives or hatchets (which have the same stats as knives). Swinefolk don’t like to attack groups they don’t outnumber by at least three to one, which may be an issue if there are four or fewer characters in a group. Even then, they don’t want to pick a fight with anyone who’s heavily armored when there’s plenty of houses with just a small handful of defenders to pick on. As such, if the characters are armored with flak or something heavier, or very heavily armed (i.e. with heavier weapons than the autoguns that show up all the time on Murder Night), the Swinefolk will tell the characters not to interfere, but will not attack, even if they have the characters outnumbered by more than three to one. If the characters start a fight, or if they look like easy pickings, the Swinefolk will flee after losing a third of their number, or if every one of them with a shotgun or autogun is killed.
2: A group of a half-dozen Hunters skirmishing with a group of a dozen Swinefolk. The Swinefolk are armed similarly to the above, while the Hunters are each equipped with autopistols. The Hunters focus their fire on the Swinefolk with autoguns or shotguns, and once those are dead, the remaining Swinefolk flee and the Hunters ride them down, killing as many as possible before dismounting their bikes to decapitate the Swinefolk with their machetes. They then bring the heads to Market Street.
3: The two dozen Party Girls, getting drunk and high off amasec while attacking random houses. A half-dozen have stub automatics, another half-dozen have autopistols, eight have autoguns, three have flamers, and one has a heavy stubber. Their inebriated state gives them a -10 penalty to their BS, but their massive numbers means that just about every house unlucky enough to draw their attention is going to be butchered. The Swinefolk don’t like to fight with the heavily armed Party Girls, and even the Hunters tend to only briefly skirmish with them before running away, so they’re used to being uncontested anywhere they go outside of Market Street and the Macready/Fitzpatrick war zone. Between that and the copious amounts of liquid courage they’ve imbibed, they’ll attack the characters on the street regardless of how threatening they seem unless they’re driving an armored vehicle. Once the fight starts, they won’t realize they’re actually getting fucked until about half their number are dead (regardless of which weapons they’re using), at which point they’ll flee. Because the Party Girls are attacking a house when the characters find them, the characters will have a few allies in the form of the defenders of that house to start with. Once at least four Party Girls have been killed, other nearby houses will realize that this is the only chance they’re gonna get to kill these marauders, and three more houses will join in from behind their fortifications.
4: A lone man who got caught outside when the sirens sounded, expended all six shots of his stub revolver before even getting halfway home, and is now being hunted by a trio of Swinefolk armed with machetes and hoping to bloody themselves without even having to find someone with an autogun to team up with to invade a home.
5: The defenders of one house who’ve picked up where some repelled Swinefolk left off, invading their weakened neighbors to kill them and settle a petty grievance once and for all.
If the characters decide to intervene in the Macready/Fitzpatrick conflict, they find that section of the town has devolved into total chaos as both clans have tried to go on the offensive, with the Fitzpatricks launching a raid to try and recover the heavy stubber, the raid being repulsed and pursued, and that pursuit degenerating into tons of small skirmishes between the two. The blocks between are now home to tons of small firefights, the three dozen-odd adults of each clan breaking off to attack each other in groups of three or four, with usually at least one autogun to each group. The Macreadies still have that heavy stubber and are now putting it to use in the streets, with a dozen-odd other Macreadies, mostly the poorer ones using stub revolvers and automatics and using the cover of the heavy bolter to keep relatively safe, moving about to try and hunt down smaller Fitzpatrick groups.
The fighting draws the attention of about a dozen Hunters and the Party Girls (unless the characters encountered and killed or routed them earlier), who will join the fracas to skirmish with both sides and each other. If the characters don’t specifically try to intercept either group, then they fade into the background casualties caused during the fighting.
Likewise, several of the houses in the blocks being fought over have defenders who will join in a fight from behind their fortifications against either the Macreadies or the Fitzpatricks in an effort to thin out the clans whose feuds have turned the place into a warzone every Murder Night as long as anyone can remember.
If the characters take the Macreadies’ side, after hunting down two or three Fitzpatrick groups, the remaining Fitzpatricks retreat to their block with about a dozen remaining adults as well as about two dozen juveniles armed with stub revolvers instructed to stay home and hold the fort. The Macreadies, thanks in large part to their heavy stubber support, still have a solid two dozen armed adults with which to attack, and will be eager to pursue the Fitzpatricks and finish them off completely if the characters are willing to help them. If the Fitzpatricks are finished off here, the feud is resolved, and the Macreadies will celebrate with copious amounts of gunfire in the air.
If the characters take the Fitzpatricks’ side, then the Macreadies will retreat to their estate after the group with the heavy stubber is defeated, and members of that group will flee immediately if the heavy stubber is captured (however if the gunner manning it is merely killed, then a Macready with a stub revolver will pocket the pea shooter and take up the heavy weapon). The Fitzpatricks will be happy to call that a victory on its own, but if the characters persuade the Fitzpatrick patriarch with a Challenging(+0) Charm check, he’ll instruct his clan to press on to finish off the Macreadies, who defend their home with similar numbers as the Fitzpatricks do when the characters take the Macreadies’ side (see above paragraph), however the Fitzpatricks have only about fifteen survivors to attack with, due to casualties from the heavy stubber.
Regardless of which side characters take in the conflict, the Hunters and Party Girls will clear out once it comes to a battle over the estate, as that leads to a large scale firefight in which neither of the two can reliably pick on weak targets.
Market Street is heavily defended, with the north end of the street protected by an AP 8 barricade manned by two heavy stubbers and a heavy flamer as well as four autoguns, and the south end protected by a similar barricade manned by a heavy stubber, a multilaser, and five autoguns. The rooftops on the east and west have been stacked with AP 8 sandbags on the side facing in towards Market Street as well as the side facing outwards, which the dozen autogun-toting defenders on either side will use as cover if anyone attacks from either side. There are five snipers hidden amongst the second floors of the dozen shops on the street, and each shop is defended by a single shotgun-toting last line of defense along with usually one or two juveniles with stub automatics (although some of the shops are defended only by the shotgun-toting last line, because their child(ren) is a Party Girl). The shotgun-wielding last line will also use their sandbag fortified shop windows to fire on any attackers who’ve gotten past the barricades and into Market Street itself.
It’s a great night for the Swinefolk, however. By the witching hour, over a hundred Swinefolk have gathered to scope out their chances of taking on Market Street. Even if the characters have been diligently hunting down Swinefolk all night, they’re unlikely to reduce that number to much below one hundred. By now, most Swinefolk are armed with stub revolvers and stub automatics, and about a third of them have autoguns and shotguns. They attack from the east side, blanketing the sandbagged rooftops with gunfire while the two dozen Swinefolk who still have only machetes or hatchets or similar are sent to hack their way through the store walls, which takes them only a few minutes and is largely unimpeded by the defenders up above, who are too busy exchanging gunfire with the Swinefolk army to expose themselves long enough to aim downwards at the attackers below. With only light casualties, the Swinefolk break into the stores and from there spill into the shop and out into Market Street. As the Swinefolk army pours through, their rampage tramples the store inside flat, and many of them haul shelves of merchandise out of the way to make it easier to get through. Soon, there’s a corridor wide enough for the Hunters to remain, which they use to ride into Market Street and join the Swinefolk in their attack. There were three dozen Hunters at the start of the night, and a half-dozen of them were killed to regular skirmishing. The characters may have inflicted more casualties.
The barricades are double-sided, such that the defenses pointed outwards can be repositioned in just two or three rounds to point inwards towards Market Street, and they are. The first wave of the Swinefolk are mostly cut down by heavy stubber fire, and the Swinefolk spend most of the rest of the night hacking their way through the walls and smashing through windows so that they can break into and subsequently loot shops on the east side of the street, where they first broke in, so they don’t have to cross the open space in the middle where heavy weapons and snipers can turn them to sausage. They also exchange gunfire with the dozen autogun-toting rooftop defenders on the west side and the last line shotgun wielders in the shops there. Gunfire between the two is mostly ineffective, inflicting light casualties on both sides, but mainly keeps the defenders busy while other Swinefolk loot the east side shops. Both rooftop and shop defenders on the east side are soon overwhelmed and killed by Swinefolk numbers, however. If the characters attack and disable the heavy weapons on both ends of the street, the Swinefolk will rush across the street (losing a few of their number to sniper fire) and into the houses on the other side, where they’ll clean out the defenders just like they did on the east.
Repelling the Swinefolk requires fighting off dozens of attackers before they realize that this year is not their year and flee back into the night, whether characters do that from the rooftops of the east shops, inside the east shops, or from the west side after the east shops are overrun (or perhaps a combination, starting on the east rooftops and fleeing to the west when the east is overrun by the Swinefolk and the characters get mobbed by huge numbers who quickly whittle their allies down to nothing).
Rewards: A house can be looted in about fifteen minutes, and the characters will walk away from such a looting with a Santa sack of valuables that counts as a Scarce(-10) item for purposes of trade. A Market Street shop can be looted in about the same amount of time for valuables totaling up to a Very Rare(-30) item if all the valuables are left to the characters, but if the Swinefolk are joining in the looting then it’s only Rare(-20) or maybe even Scarce(-10).
Despite the carnage of the night, the PDF won’t get involved and the Lord Mayor probably isn’t going to be deposed. Unless, of course, the characters convince one or more of the gangs to join them in an uprising. Sure, the Lord Mayor has technically granted himself immunity from Murder Night, but he also technically declared it illegal six or seven years ago and look how that turned out for him. Convincing the Hunters, the Party Girls, or a sizable pack of bloodied Swinefolk to attack the Lord Mayor requires a Hard(-20) Charm check, unless the characters have demonstrated enough firepower that they could plausibly tip the balance in such a fight, in which case the check is only Challenging(+0). The Macreadies and the Fitzpatricks can also be convinced to join such an attack if their rival clan has been rendered a non-threat, with a +10 bonus if the characters helped them defeat the other in the skirmishes tonight.
If the Lord Mayor is successfully defeated with the help of such a gang, then they’ll gladly sign up as fulltime goons for the characters, allowing them to capture the town immediately. If one of the characters is Highborn, Grey Harbor won’t even care, and if a non-Highborn character is installed, Grey Harbor will declare the characters responsible enemies of the Imperium but will not actually do anything about it, on account of how close to the border this town is and how unimportant it is to trade or defense. Anyone installed as ruler gains 1d10 Influence, and anyone associated with the new ruler gains 1d5 Influence. The town can provide any weapon or service rare or cheaper, and anything else at all scarce or cheaper. If the characters or one of their allies rules the town, they can levy the town for 2 Influence to automatically succeed on a requisition check.