The following scenarios from American history can help generate ideas for your own scenarios:
1. The Mountain Meadows Massacre: One of the greatest atrocities in the American West was the Mountain Meadows Massacre. And yes, it had everything to do with Religion. The story is somewhat different every time it is told. But the Massacre happened all the same: a group of Mormons and Ute Amerindians slew a party of pioneers and migrants to California. Everyone was slain except the children under the age of 12.
Using the Mountain Meadows Massacre: The Massacre turns up already in the Deadlands RPG. In the City of Gloom expansion set, the ones who died in the Mountain Meadows Massacre return from the dead as Revenants or Wraiths, slaying everyone who had something to do with the Massacre (Revenge from beyond the grave). In a typical fantasy scenario, the men, women, and children who were slain could have been slain by a combination of Men and Orcs; and they too have returned from the grave to hunt down those who have slain them.
The PCs are hired by the town mayor (who was involved with the Massacre) to protect him from the evil "ghosts" who are trying to slay him. The initial encounter should strike fear in your players' hearts. Seeing someone from beyond the grave should instill fear or apprehension.
Books required for reading:
- The Mountain Meadows Massacre by Juanita Brooks (1950)
- Brigham Young: American Moses, by Leonard J. Arrington, University of Illinois Press, (1986)
- Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Will Bagley (2002)
- September Dawn a film by Christopher Cain (2006)
- Massacre at Mountain Meadows a book by historians Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard. (2008)
2. The Headless Horseman: the legend of the Headless Horseman begins in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The Horseman was a Hessian of unknown rank; one of many such hired to suppress the American Revolutionary War. During the war, the Horseman was one of 548 Hessians killed in a battle for Chatterton Hill, wherein his head was severed by a cannonball. He was buried in a graveyard outside a church. Thereafter he appears as a ghost, who presents to nightly travelers an actual danger (rather than the largely harmless fright produced by the majority of ghosts), presumably of decapitation.
Using the Headless Horseman: Classic for a fantasy scenario. The Headless Horseman is a ghost that waylays travelers looking for a suitable head to replace his missing head. Any number of undead can be used: Ghost, Revenant, Ghoul, Ghast, even a Death Knight. The power of the Headless Horseman ends typically when you cross a border marked by water (i.e. the river Styx should come to mind here). The adventure should be one where you are building the horror and dread right up until the last when the players encounter him. Don't forget to include at least one true believer in ghosts to help build suspense and to challenge the players' skepticism (if any).
3. The Donner Party: Like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Donner Party was a real part of history. The Donner Party left Missouri rather late to follow the Oregon Trail. The Party stopped to resupply at Fort Bridger and was about to go into Idaho and Oregon and then settle downwards in the new promised land of California. Using the Hastings Cutoff instead of going over the Oregon Trail, the party had traveled over the Great Salt Lake Desert and into Nevada.
Attacked by the blistering heat, suffering Indian attacks, and a Death by Manslaughter (Donner himself killed a man to protect his wife), the party made it to the Sierra Nevada mountains only to be stopped by the winter. A California winter is not as hard as a Utah Winter, but it is hard enough. Especially with the shape the Donner party was in. During the Winter, the Donner party suffered hypothermia, frostbite, and the dwindling of supplies. Eventually, the party turned to cannibalism in order to survive.
Donner did survive to make it to San Francisco. When he heard that they were stuck in the mountains, Donner did all he could to get his party out of the Mountains and down in the San Fernando Valley. However, many of the Donner party did not survive that harsh winter.
Using the Donner Party: The Donner Party makes a good scenario for the Savage West (Werewolf: the Wild West) or the Weird West (Deadlands). In either case, the Wendigo should be involved. The Wendigo is a cannibalistic spirit that a man turns into when he eats human flesh (according to American Legend). In the Savage West, part of the Donner Party turns into Mockeries and the pack must go to investigate.
Savage West Donner Party Wendigo (no relation to the Wendigo tribe of Werewolves):
The Wendigo is blue furred with yellow teeth. He wears all the clothing of a settler and is armed with tooth and claw.
Physical: Strength 4, Dexterity 2, Stamina 2
Social: Charisma 1, Manipulation 1, Appearance 2
Mental: Perception 3, Intelligence 1, Wits 2
Abilities: Alertness 3, Athletics 4, Brawl 3, Dodge 1, Intimidation 3, Larceny 1, Firearms 1, Melee 4, Stealth 1, Survival 2, Occult 1
Powers: Claws and Fangs, Immunity to the Delirium, Monstrous Strength.
In a typical fantasy scenario, you don't have settlers who are trapped in the Mountains everyday. But what if its a caravan? Using the ideas from an old solo adventure, you can turn a caravan trapped in a snowed in mountain pass into a nightmare! Monsters and animals can be most disconcerting. Snow orcs, ice mummies, mountain lions, and the threat of hypothermia and starvation can turn what was a normal caravan to another town or city into a living nightmare! All it takes is a little skill and imagination.