Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Black Train is Coming

“A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say..”

-- Manly Wade Wellman, “The Little Black Train”

Hobo-goblins, human tramps and bindlestiffs, and other Bethren of the Road, tell stories in their camps and jungles of a preternatural train that runs from this world to planes beyond. This lore is seldom shared with those outside their communities, but folklore records regular folk having chance encounters with the phantom.

The appearance of the train changes with time. It always appears old, like it has a decade or two of service behind it behind it, but otherwise stays current with locomotive technology and styles. It's not marked in any way, and has been described by observers in paradoxical ways. It’s plain and nondescript, yet powerfully commands intention. Some feel an intense unreality upon seeing it, others the cold hand of fear.

The train starts on mundane tracks, but as soon as it's "out of sight" of its observers it begins to shift into other realms. Some dreamers have seen it crossing the lunar wastes from the vantage of the parapets of the Dream Lord's castle. It is known to make stops in depots in the Hells. Planar travelers have attested to seeing rails that fade into nothingness at the mouth of the gyre at the bottom of reality.

Mostly, it seems carry certain dead to the afterlife, though why it comes for some and not others is unknown. Hell Syndicate snitches know of it, but not who operates it. Angels likewise keep a serene silence. Most who ride the train are dropped off in the waystation realm of the dead, from there to travel on to their souls' final destination.  Some, however, are taken directly to the outer planes. Others seem to ride the train for longer periods of time. They're found snoozing in couch cars, or drinking and playing cards in the dining car. Waiting, perhaps, for something. They’re sometimes inclined to conversation, though they seldom have anything useful to say.

Adventurers have sometimes used the train as a quick ride, either to the Other Side, or the Outer Planes. Hobo-goblin glyphs sometimes point the way to likely places were the train may appear. The train’s gray, nondescript, and seldom seen staff do not object to taking on new passengers, so long as they pay the fare--which varies, but is always in silver.

There's always the option, for those with fare or without, of hopping one of the train’s empty freight cars, but riding an open car through other planes is a dangerous proposition, and the boxcars are only empty of freight--not necessarily other travelers.


John Arendt said...

I love it - an interplanar ferryman across the Styx for a new mythology; I could see a touch of the Trainman from the Matrix trilogy as well.

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that a ticket from the Black Train could act as a talisman against ghosts and spirits.

Very cool as always.

Sean Robson said...

This is great; what evocative imagery. I especially love the hobo-goblins!

Chigdon said...

I'd love to see this show up as a lighting rail in the Eberron game I'm playing

Trey said...

@Beedo - I hadn't thought of the Matrix, but that's a good connection, too.

@seaofstarsrpg - As always, a great suggestion!

@Sean - Thanks. I always like a chance to slip in the hobogoblins.

@Chigdon - Good thought. I'd forgotten about the trains in Eberron.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Only vaguely connected, but years back when I worked at a Grocery store. Every night when we closed, the stock crew would walk across the parking lot to Waffle House.. it being the only place open in town to get food at midnight.. Well there was one particular cook, and every night he would play this horrible song called Long Black Train.. He must have played at least 10 or 15 times every night..

In the Song, the Train represents Temptation.

NakiaPope said...

"I hear the train a comin'. . . It's rolling round the bend. . and I ain't seen the sunshine. . . since I don't know when. . ."

Somewhere, there is an entire RPG setting crafted from Johnny Cash songs.

Trey said...

@Lagomorph - There is a song here (actually a couple)-- "Little Black Train" and "Death's Black Train is Coming"--but not that sorry country song you were forced to listen to.

@Prof Pope - I could definitely see a campaign built around Cash songs.

netherwerks said...

@Professor Pope has the right idea--no sooner did I read the headline than I started to hear Johnny Cash in the beckground. Excellent stuff. Truly evocative and there are definitely a lot of fun implications in this one...

Harald said...

Dammit, now I have to listen to Cash. Only too bad I can't for a couple of hours yet. Dammit.

And the hobo-goblins are a favourite of mine. I can picture the hobo-goblin market. That should be a good place to get fleeced, meet a contact, or make a totally unexpected (and perhaps unwanted) purchase.