A War Train is one that has been adapted for use in battle. The engine and carriages have thick armour plate bolted on, and the train often has, depending on it's size, machine guns, cannons, heavy artillery and the like, as well as plenty of ammunition and platoons, or indeed companies, of armed soldiers and their food and other supplies. Their great strength is that they can quickly bring firepower where it is needed, but their great weakness is that the railway tracks are vulnerable to sabotage, either by placing explosives on them , levering them up or otherwise blocking them, either derailing the train outright or at least halting it's movement until the track is repaired.
The PCs can be traveling on one of these armored behemoths or trying to fight against one of them or wreck the railway lines that it travels on.
Royals and other leaders may have their own personal train, equipped with the latest luxury items. If the ruler is worried about his or her safety then the train may be a combined royal train and war train, such as Queen Yocasta's Royal War Train The train will have the insignia of the ruler upon it and fly his or her flag as the ruler wants it to be known that he or she is traveling in style. The PCs could be royal bodyguards, would be kidnappers/assassins, guests of the leader, be trying to speak to him or her or just be trying to stow away on the royal train.
This train is as luxurious as the royal train but is open to those members of the public that can travel upon it. The PCs could be bodyguards for a noble on it who is murdered. To rescue their damaged reputations, the PCs have to uncover the murderer's identity or none of the nobles will ever hire them again. They could have got their hands on a lot of treasure in a previous quest and this is the quickest way to get it to a nice secure bank vault where it can start earning interest, but someone else on board wants to steal it. Or they could have sneaked on board and be dodging the ticket collectors and burly bouncers that accompany them to get a free ride.
Some trains are used to deliver large amounts of money in secret, to lessen the security costs of providing guards. The PCs could either be guards trying to protect the money, or robbers who have been tipped off about the money and are trying to rob the train.
Trains can be used to deliver large numbers of prisoners, slaves and war captives. The PCs could be stuck on one of these trains and trying to escape from it, or trying to rescue somebody on it who has important information for them or something else of value to them. Or they could just be trying to get everybody out.
6-That Hell Bound Train
There is a myth that the Devil takes souls to hell in a train, a ghostly locomotive that uses beer in the boiler and human bones for fuel, it's wheels greased with blood. Such a train would be truly amazing to behold, almost impossible to escape from and almost as hard to rescue people from. The PCs could be trying to rescue somebody's soul, or having a meeting with the Devil or at least a very high ranking demon.
Not every train in a role-playing game needs to be anything special. Sometimes the players just need a quick way to get from A to B in your game and have to use public transport.
Additional Ideas (1)
8) Street Car:
Newbie: “Wait that was my stop, I thought this stopped…”
Local: “Oh no darling, between 4:47-6:59 the Green Line is an express. You wanted the Purple Line.”
If you want a snap shot of a city this is your train. Sometimes they are subways, sometime they're elevated trains, sometimes they are electric trolleys that move through automobile traffic on rails buried in the concrete. Boarding these trains is no special trick. Any mook with local coin can buy a ticket or token, some cities don’t even bother charging. So what separates this train from just any ordinary train? There are no Strangers on this Train, unless that stranger is you. The people on this train may not know each other by name, but they now each other by feel. If your whatzit is on this train then the trick to making the hand off smoothly or meeting your contact discretely will be blending in with train’s daily passengers.
9) Circus train:
That fist-fight on the over pass goes from bad to unbelievable worse when wrestle your opponent over the railing and on to this train. You could land in car full of lions, tigers, bears or elephants, and those vicious beasts are the passengers that won’t lift you wallet after they gut you.
The circus is full of desperate showman, ruthless capitalists, and discarded outcasts. It should be a community full of danger and promise. These train cars are the inner sanctums of a group that is both extremely public and deeply secretive. This is the place that they strive hard to keep private and personal. The circus won’t be happy to find people snooping or stealing, but they might be sympathetic to fellow vagabond or showman. The only thing you can be sure to find on a circus trains is something that people are willing to spend money to see.
10) Toxic Train
General: “Mrs. Secretary, I have 500,000 millions tons of the deadliest most evil compounds ever known to man sitting in an aging weapons depot in New Jersey that your president just de-funded. And the only place that can dispose of that stuff, really disappear it, is in Arizona. Here is the Map Mrs. Secretary. If we get a clear track and follow this path we put this stuff to bed in a month.”
Mrs. Secretary: “Oh no general, Ohio and Pennsylvania are swing states, if they find out we shipped this through their country side, certainly not Akron. Oh no no no, we send it through Maryland, then Virginia, but stay away from the beltway during rush hour…”
This train is a government’s dirty secret. It could be carrying radioactive material, chemical weapons, mutagens, aliens, or just death. The route of this train is irrational and political. It will be hard to track if that is what people are trying to do, but alternatively it may show up were somebody won’t expect it. It will be guarded, but not too well staffed because this train’s route and cargo is on a need to know basis only.
11) Maximum Overdrive-Train
Little Girl: “Grandpa, is it true people made the trains and use to ride in em.”
Grandpa: “Heck! Use to be they wouldn’t run without us shoveling coal down their gullets and constantly tugging at their innards with wrenches and levies.”
Little Girl: “What happened?”
Grandpa: “Trains got smart, trains got mad.”
In this hellish steam punk fantasy-scape the trains were the most powerful tools man ever made until they got smart and jumped their tracks. Now the trains are man’s worst enemy, and possibly man’s new overlord. These long steam engine driven trains have steam plumes that be seen for miles as they cross the desert. They are mile long and move in flowing s curves like snakes gliding across the sand. They come to towns demanding water for their boilers and taking goods and material for their cars. They threaten the town with ferocious and ear cutting whistle like roars, before they chug their way over to the water tower. If the town doesn’t comply, then the train crushes the town and moves on until it finds a town that will comply or it dies trying. Trains don’t die pretty either. Capturing a train like this would be worth quite a bit as her box cars are full of plunder.