Deadlands Reloaded: Lost in the Maze
California and the Great Maze
As you know, what we call the Maze was created when the Great Quake of ’68 cracked the California coast from top to bottom. Thanks to a vote in which the state’s residents opted to follow neither the USA nor the CSA, today much of it is lawless—except for the law that resides in the barrel of a gun, and with the man who holds the rope.
Geographically speaking, the Maze consists of miles and miles of broken outcroppings and mesas of all shapes and sizes, surrounded by water-filled canyons. In these canyons are nestled thousands of veins of ghost rock—new ones discovered every day—and atop the mesas sit the boomtowns looking to exploit them. From certain vantage points, one can see literally dozens of small towns.
The Great Melting-Pot
Nowhere is California’s diversity more in evidence than in the Great Maze. In my travels I met countless settlers and prospectors from Back East, as well as members of such diverse Indian tribes as the Cuahilla, Chumash, Costanoan, Gabrielino, Mojave, Southern Paiute, Serrano, and Tipal, among others. Add to that mix a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, Union and Confederate soldiers, the Mexican forces of Santa Anna, thousands of scientists seeking the region’s ghost rock, the pirate fleet of the Warlord Kang…I could go on, but you get the picture.
With so many different folks trying to eke out a living, and no central government keeping everyone in line, only one group stands between the Maze and economic chaos—the Greater Maze Rock Miners’ Association.
The R.M.A.—or “Rockies”—is a cartel of shipping magnates that considers itself the authority on ghost rock. It purports to be the only official validating body for new claims and the only legal means of exporting fundaments in the entirety of the Maze.
In reality that’s a tall order for any one organization to maintain, especially when faced with such rivals as the rail barons, the Union and Confederate armies, the Shan Fan Triad, Grimme’s Church of Lost Angels, and scheming scientists galore. An extensive salvage industry has grown on the smoking wreckage created by this conflict, sometimes referred to as the Maze Wars.
There are two big problems with the Rockies’ authority, both of them causing no end of friction with the mining population. The fact that they vested the authority in themselves is first and foremost, but their refusal to buy ghost rock from anyone who won’t play their game is a close second.
In past years the Rockies have used the Rail Wars as a pretense to raise the price of ghost rock (despite record levels of production), and subsequently issued a warning that any miners caught selling directly to rail companies would have their claims revoked immediately. They have serious power, resources, and influence—a true monopoly for the time being—but whether they can defeat all comers is another thing entirely.
A few years ago ships flying the colors of the railroads appeared in the Maze, steaming up and down the major channels and snapping up any ghost rock they could find. Armed clashes between railroad ships and Rockies forces were only the next logical step. There have been some attempts at negotiation in the past year, but with so many players it’s impossible to get them all around the same table, much less agree to the same truce.
Needless to say, the Maze Wars continue to simmer, with recent developments threatening to blow off the lid.
The Mining Life
While the Big Bosses, wealthy industrialists, and heads of state wrangle and make war, the multitudes of the Maze go about their daily lives. They struggle for their next meal, chipping their livelihood out of the rocky channels that surround them. In this land the true measure of success is mere survival.
Some call the Maze the “Fast Country,” because living a year there is like living five anywhere else. It’s a harsh and unforgiving land, where the strong prey on the weak. But it’s also a place where a man can strike it rich just by staking a claim to some land. There are enough rags-to-riches stories out here to motivate many a man and woman.
Staking a Claim
The actual practice of ghost rock mining is nothing spectacular. Mostly it involves spending long days hanging from a scaffold on the sheer side of a mesa, chipping nuggets of ghost rock into a special leather harness worn over the shoulders. When the entire band is depleted, one chips down to the next layer and starts over.
Some impatient prospectors opt for a different tactic—they find a promising cliff and detonate the entire thing with dynamite from the safety of their vessel. Tons of earth and ghost rock fall into the channel, the miner cherry-picks what he wishes, and then he putters off in search of another vein. These “Boat Rats,” as honest miners call them, are universally despised for their sheer wastefulness.
Where there are large ghost rock deposits, entire towns spring up atop the mesa, with steam-powered lifts that connect the town to the docks in the channel below. Most of the time, though, the entire population of a mesa consists of one miner, and maybe his nearest and dearest.
Spirits of the Earth
All manner of weird tales circulate in mining communities, but none hits so close to home as those of rocks that come to life and kill miners. These spirits—or “hoodoo,” as the miners call them—are thought to be angry about ghost rock. Some witnesses claim they’re angry about ghost rock being taken from them, while others maintain they’re fuming because it’s here in the first place. All agree that the hoodoos express their rage by smashing miners to bloody pulp and then vanishing back into the rocks.
Here Be Pirates
The Maze is full of folk even more hated than Boat Rats, cruel opportunists who make their living jumping other people’s claims—Maze Rats. Every miner is constantly on the lookout for pirate ships, for their arrival can mean the loss of everything he holds dear—his livelihood, his family, and even his life.
Kang maintains an entire fleet of ships dedicated to seizing ghost rock from those too weak or poor to keep it. These ships typically make port and resupply at one of Kang’s pirate cities—Dragon’s Breath, Lion’s Roar, or Bear’s Claw. Needless to say, these mesa towns are off-limits to non-Chinese, but it’s possible for anybody to sneak in if they have a good reason and are determined as all get out.
Countless independent pirates roam the Maze’s channels, as well as Mexican raiders under the command of the dreaded Capitan Sangre (that’s Captain Blood, for all you gringos). Even the Union and the CSA have been known to raid each other’s towns, a problem that’s been growing worse of late. With the rampant banditry inland, it all adds up to a place where you’re well-served to keep a shooting iron handy.