This character has one of the strangest origins of any I've come up with.
When I was 6 years - maybe 7 or 8 - I got a Tank Top shirt as a gift that I loved like no other. It was a white shirt with a character on it in a red outfit on a red motorcycle and he looked awesome. He was a mix of superhero and Evel Knievel and I needed to know who he was.
The truth of course is he was no one. It was just a 1970s graphic but as I was already a fan of comics, Star Trek, and all of that, I was certain he was someone. My older cousin, who was well known to tease me and make up stories to tell my naive younger self, told me who he was. He was called, 'The Red Rider'.
That's all I got and my imagination went wild. I envisioned a mysterious, daredevil motorcyclist who showed up from time to time, seemingly out of nowhere, to help those in need before disappearing once more.
Now, what to do with that...
Character: The Red Rider
Player: Non-Player Character
System(s): Boot Hill, 1st Edition - Seriously modified.
Later Cyberpunk 2020, Champions, and Mutants and Masterminds.
Campaign(s): The Legend of Boot Hill, Champions: The Age of Heroes, The Black Neon Memoirs, and Dynamos Unlimited.
Gamemaster(s): Adam Dickstein and William Corpening
Circa: First created and appeared around 1979. Later appearances in 1986, 1990, 2003...
Origins: I've only ever run one long term Wild West game and it was so good, such a perfect execution of what I was going for, that I've never been able to do it again. Well, more accurately I've never tried to do it again. I've run one-shots, even a string of them but never another dedicated campaign. How could I top 'The Legend of Boot Hill'?
One element that made it special was the inclusion of possibly supernatural elements that were kept vague and unquantified. No one was really sure if magic was real or if it was, what its true nature was. A big part of that was the late but powerful inclusion of The Red Rider, a seriously spooky character inspired by the fellow from my shirt.
Backstory: Shade was born Sol Sable, around the turn of the century. Here's my original bio blurb for him. Sol was a hard-boiled gumshoe from the era when talkies were coming in, vaudeville was going out, and all men wore hats. Now he’s dead, and a ghost. He doesn’t know why, but not for lack of candidates. He was murdered, and never got revenge…
He was cursed by a gypsy, but never got it lifted…He investigated Nazi experiments into psychic powers…He was a subject of government experiments into mind-altering drugs…He owes his existence to a time travel paradox…The only thing for sure is that he isn’t going away anytime soon.
Overview: During said campaign, the PCs tried to save a stagecoach being hijacked by a group of bandits. The heroes rode off after the bandits while the town Deputy and a posse chased the heroes, sure that they were the criminals trying to rob the stagecoach. If this sounds a little like the situation Frankie the Ferret found himself in it's because this chase scene inspired that one. I love a good multi-faction chase.
The PCs stalled the law, got ahead, and reached the bandits just in time. A shot out and some fisticuffs - not to mention some fancy horse ridin' - enabled the party to get to the stagecoach as it careened round a treacherous path, just short of falling off a cliff. Two of the PCs had been injured or delayed and two of the bandits had hoped atop the stagecoach. The coach driver had been thrown to his dead and one of the desperados had the horse's reins. As The Masked Cowboy and The Medicine Man tried desperately to catch up, a cloud of red dust kicked up in the distance. The sound of hooves striking the ground like thunder echoed around the land.
"You can make out a rider and his horse heading in your direction. His path is diagonal to intercept the coach it seems. His horse is the a dark cinnamon. He pants are deep maroon or brick red, caked with clay and...perhaps blood? Red blotches stain his shirt. His hat matches the horse and a bandana covers his face...not like the bandits but completely, like a mask. Two holes are cut in it for his eyes."
This mysterious man rides up to the stagecoach, leaps off his horse, and motions to The Masked Cowboy to get the passengers out of the vehicle. With some help from his Shaman friend he manages to do so, fighting one of the two coach robbers while their unknown ally tussles with the other. Finally, the criminal upfront shoots the stranger in the chest and he slumps over. The Masked Cowboy spins and shoots the crook, who falls off the stagecoach and goes over the cliff. Placing the passengers on his and The Masked Cowboys horses, the Medicine Man moves away from the edge of deadly mountain path. The Masked Cowboy turns the horses and then releases them, enabling them to run free to safety. Unfortunately, momentum is going to carry the heroic Cowboy to his death...
Just then, The Masked Cowboy is grabbed and tossed from the driver's set by a pair of hands possessing incredible strength and quick as lightning. As he awkwardly landed on his horse, he saw the mystery man sitting back up and nodding to him as the blood caked rider, the stagecoach, and the rider's horse all went over the cliff.
Later, after recounting the events with locals in the town saloon, an old prospector said, "Ah, so you seen him too. That there was The Red Rider."
The Red Rider would appear in the Boot Hill campaign once more in the next-to-last episode. He appears in a nearby canyon to aid The Masked Cowboy in tracking down the campaign's Big Bad, an evil Rail Baron responsible for numerous deaths and hardships throughout the game. Once more The Rider is shot but when The Masked Cowboy returns to the spot where the body fell sometimes later...it's gone.
Some years of real time later, during a campaign of Cyberpunk 2020, as the PCs hunt down their Corporate Exec target on the highway between two cities, they are informed of an urban legend...a motorcycle riding vigilante Nomad who takes out criminals from the city traveling on 'their stretch of road'. Sure enough the group is forced to race against time to capture the Corp before the biker gets him. As I described the cyclist, with his crimson cycle and scarlet helmet, one of the players who'd been a PC in the Boot Hill game screamed - yes, he actually screamed - "Holy S***! It's the F***ing Red Rider!". Just as in the previous campaign the Red Rider took severe damage, appeared to slump over his bike, then rise back to life seconds before he crashed and then rode away.
I told the story of the Red Rider to my friend and Gamemaster William Corpening, who run the greatest game of Champions I was ever in (see Champions: Age of Heroes and Age of Chaos on this site). He loved the idea so much he secret built a Red Rider in Champions (though he didn't tell me). Many months later when our Champions PCs toured the United States to meet different Superheroes across the country, the Red Rider appeared to team up with us somewhere between Nevada and Oregon.
I would use this version of him myself - red Harley Davidson, crimson leather outfit, and ruby metallic helmet - in sessions of Champions set in Will's universe and in my own Mutants and Masterminds games. While he is never encountered (I never got a chance to run a planned appearance), he is mentioned in a World of Darkness campaign I ran as well.
There is no surviving (pun intended) Character Sheet for the Red Rider and in point of fact, he never had one in his original appearance. He is more of a Plot Device and a tool for injecting setting color then he is a full-on character. That said, I absolutely love him.
His abilities are generally undefined but there are some interesting consistent elements. He appears to be unkillable, likely because he is already dead. Some sort of zombie, ghost, or other supernatural entity he is known to be a solid being and does bleed when shot or stabbed. It usually takes him a couple of minutes at most to recover from minor wounds but much longer for more egregious injuries.
He originally carried two copper-plated revolvers but subsequent versions of him over the ages have been equipped with a wide variety of weaponry. He is physically stronger and faster than a normal person, with limitless endurance except when damaged. Originally he did not speak, using only grunts and hand signals to communicate when it was necessary. More modern and future appearances have him speaking with an economy of words, his voice deep, low, and gravely.
His horse or motorcycle, called 'Blood', appear to be as abnormal as their rider. Both are red in color, with the beast a dark cinnamon red and the cycle a deep red. Specifics of the horse and motorcycle vary. Notable are the horse's eyes which usually appear similar to those of a shark. Sometimes they are described as glowing red in the dark. Both animal and machine can travel much faster than normal for their respective modes of transportation but never visibly go supernaturally quick. No, it seems they can only do that when not being directly observed.
Legacy: I promise you the world of Tabletop RPG gaming has not seen the last of The Red Rider. He is out there somewhere and he'll definitely be back.
Come back soon and meet another supernatural savior, though he'd never call himself that. If this private eye is on the case, you've got nothing to fear but the bad guys sure do. Meet SHADE of the Wardens - Death can't keep a good detective down..