Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
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Swampy Criminal Haven
Caddo Lake is a murky maze of slow-moving bayous, wetlands, and backwaters in Texas. With an average depth of 8 to 10 feet, exploration requires a canoe. Spanish moss hangs in veils and curtains from towering cypress trees. It’s one of the largest cypress swamps in the country. As you approach the cypress bayou, the water depth descends to an average of 20 feet. You can enjoy fishing for over seventy different species of fish, but beware the alligators that also enjoy the water.
In the past, Caddo Lake was a haven for all types of outlaws. The region of the lake known as Old Monterey was known for hosting a racetrack, cockfights, saloons, and brothels. Folks boasted that Old Monterey had at least one violent death per day. Travelers were often ambushed, robbed, and murdered. A well-known pirate, Jean Lafitte, was said to have connections to Old Monterey, and visited there often. In response to the lawlessness, a vigilante group called the Regulators was formed in 1841 to put an end to the violence.
Though the Regulators had good intentions, they ended up becoming worse than the criminals they hunted, as they would kill anyone they suspected or had a grudge against. Their corruption inspired a new group known as the Moderators to pursue justice. War broke out between the two supposed crime-fighting groups, and neither side feared the other. Their war led to frequent lynchings of group members, and the murders of a judge, sheriff, and sitting senator for the Republic of Texas. The violence stopped for the most part when prominent citizens wrote a letter to Houston begging for aid and militiamen to arrest the feud leaders. In 1844, a truce was negotiated between the two groups and the leaders were set free when they paid their bail. Despite the truce, bad blood between individuals continued in subsequent generations. According to some accounts, there have been 20th century disputes that owe their origin to the animosity between the Regulators and the Moderators.
Now Caddo Lake is a popular destination for vacationers and fishermen. There are cabins along the shore for rent, as well as canoes and gear for longer stays. Raccoons, armadillos, white-tailed deer, feral hogs, and bears can be found on the shore and in the upland forests. In the swamps, you can find alligators, turtles, frogs, and snakes lurking about. While canoe travel can be more quiet and personal, you might consider enjoying a steamboat ride instead if you don’t want to feel too close to the snapping gators.
Caddo Lake in Play
At your table, Caddo Lake might still be a haven for criminals. When the PCs aren’t fighting off pesky gators, they could brawl with outlaws or carouse with visiting pirates. If the PCs lean towards villainy, they might be the ones targeting travelers and robbing them. But there’s always a crueler criminal, so they might lock horns with the robbers who actually kill people. The PCs could be dragged into the vigilante war between the Regulators and the Moderators, or could found their own group to quell the violence. They could even be free agents riding with the militiamen sent to stop the feud. In a twist, the PCs might watch the militiamen succumb to the same corrupting pressures that produced the Regulators and the Moderators. Will the party be able to stop this descent? Alternately, you could use the feuding vigilantes, militiamen, brigands, and pirates as a political landscape the party must navigate while hunting a notorious criminal. In a more modern setting, with the criminal haven mostly a thing of the past, your party could be working to settle the differences between the descendants of the Moderators and the Regulators. Perhaps a land dispute threatens the peace, and the deed to the land is in a long-abandoned cabin deep in the swamp. Interested parties might try to deter meddling PCs by telling backwater poachers that the PCs are undercover game wardens out to end the poachers’ livelihoods.