Deadlands

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Deadlands
Deadlands 1e cover.jpg
RPG published by
Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Rule System "Deadlands System" (original edition), D20 System (D20 edition), Savage Worlds (modern edition)
Authors Shane Lacy Hensley
First Publication 1996

Gun toting Injuns? In my /tg/?

Deadlands describes both a game system and a campaign setting. The game system is waaaay out of print, whereas the campaign setting has won a shitload of awards and ported to many other generic RPG systems, so that's what people usually mean.

Setting[edit]

The Deadlands setting is a "weird wild west" genre, set in 1876 USA in that lost generation after the American Civil War. History is the same up until an event during the war called "the Reckoning". This occurred in July of 1863 when a bunch of durty Injuns, lead by a Sioux medicine man calling himself Raven, started up some mumbo-jumbo rain-dance to get rid of all the palefaces from Europe. They appealed to otherworldly spirits that called themselves "Reckoners," who thought it was a real nice 'n purty little land you got there, y'all don't mind iffen we move in? Y'all won't mind what we make this place nicer for us and ours, 'cause we like our home a little more haunted and hellish? Shure yew won't, mighty nice of y'all to invite us.

The Reckoners are fueled by darker emotions such as hate, dread, grief, frustration and especially fear. They can use this to make the local area more like their home, twisting trees into claws, altering mesas to look like towering ogres, and even making the sunshine dimmer. This makes the people who live there creeped out, which gives them more fuel to make the area more hellish to their tastes. With enough fear/hate/dread they can animate the dead or drive madmen into violent rampages, escalating the spiral of fear. Their ultimate goal is to raise the levels of unrest and fear worldwide to allow them to bodily step over into our world and take over.

The Civil War did not end in 1865, due to the influences of the Reckoners -- most notably when the dead at the Battle of Gettysburg rose and attacked the living of both armies -- so the nation is divided into the Republic and Confederate states, with disputed territories between. Federal Marshals from the North and Texas Rangers from the South try to deal with the eldritch horrors while hoping to keep them a secret from the general public, lest widespread panic give the Reckoners an opportunity to make things even worse. The Confederacy abolished slavery in 1865 in order to relieve its manpower shortage by getting the freed slaves to fight (this is based on actual proposals made by Confederate generals).

The otherworldly influences have made it easier for other spirits, called Manitou, to be dominated or negotiated with by shamans or magicians for power. These spirits may also possess the recently dead to either resurrect them into the Harrowed, walking dead under either the dead man's will or that of the Manitou. The Reckoners have also taught some men new sciences that can work in places made more like their home, sometimes fueled by an enigmatic ore known as ghost rock that burns hotter and longer than coal, giving some mad science flavour to your wild west so you can play an Artemis Gordon character if you want.

The setting is very well known for being unique and fleshed out, but it's also infamous for the setting's metaplot and, particularly, the obnoxious Official DMPC characters who drive that metaplot, like Stone, the unbeatable uber-evil Harrowed whose job is literally "wiping out all heroes so the Reckoners ultimately succeed".

Magic an' Monsters[edit]

As the cattlepunk/screampunk game of its time, Deadlands exploited its nature to provide distinctly fantastical archetypes alongside the expected cowboys, banditos, soiled doves, and so forth. Most of these were different flavors of souls blessed with magical abilities, others, were heroes of a more monstrous nature.

In the corebook, players are presented with:

  • Huckster: A ramblin', gamblin' man with more than an ace up his sleeve. Illuminated into the arts of dealing with devils via the magical codes hidden in Hoyle's Book of Games, Hucksters are essentially the wizards of Deadlands, focused on magical offense and utility.
  • Blessed: A Christian holy man (or woman) whose sheer faith is strong enough that some divine power has answered, giving them miraculous abilities. These guys are essentially the cleric of Deadlands, but they're not alone in that title.
  • Mad Scientist: With demons secretly whispering advanced scientific formula to them as they sleep, these artificers may be somewhat lacking in the sanity department, and their gadgetry may not always work in a pinch, but their gizmos are a lot more acceptable and accessible than most forms of magic.
  • Shaman: The Injun equivalent to the Blessed, albeit perhaps with a more druidic flavor to its spells.
  • Harrowed: Dead hombres who find that death just didn't stick, these walking dead folks are essentially the Deadlands equivalent to Revenants, always struggling with a literal demon inside.

Other sourcebooks added their own additions to the list...

  • Voodooist: The Voodoun equivalent of a Blessed or a Shaman, gaining magic through offering prayers to the benevolent loa.
  • Anahuac: A mestizo religion mostly seen in California, this strange ritualistic magic is basically Aztec shamanism under an all-too-thin veneer of Catholic Christianity.
  • Hexslinger: What do you get when a huckster decides he wants to use magic to bump up his shootin' skills? You get these guys, the warlock to the Huckster's wizard.
  • Blood Mage: A member of a family with decidedly less than wholesome ancestry - the canon example is being a distant relation of the notorious Whateleys - who has the power to tap into arcane magic inherent in her own blood, for decidedly unsettling "dark gray" magic.
  • Metal Mage: This one's a bit of a cheat; it's just a guy who took both the Huckster and the Mad Scientist arcane backgrounds, striving to combine magic and technology for greater efficiency in both.
  • Enlightened: Any jerk can learn a bit of kung fu. These are the guys who take it up to levels you normally see in a wuxia movie, because hey, what's not to love about martial artists vs. cowboys?
  • Scrapper: Mostly coming from Salt Lake City, these are bruisers so determined to take it up a notch that they actually went and got crude cybernetic implants and replacement limbs.
  • Vampire: Well, what's a horror western game without the possibility of a repentant bloodsucking bandito?
  • Werewolf: Or a savage man-beast to master the wilderness for you?

For more details on things other than the Harrowed, Vampire and Werewolf, check out the Arcane Background page.

Mechanics in the Original System[edit]

Challenges were resolved using dice pools with exploding dice.

Playing cards were used often in the original game.

  • Playing cards were drawn for character generation.
  • Some spellcasters, called "hucksters", would make a skill roll to see how many playing cards they would draw, and the best poker hand they could make with these cards would be the power of the "hex" they were trying to cast; a metaphor for gambling with fate or spirits for the effect they want.
  • Rolling for initiative determined how many cards everyone at the table would draw, which is also how many actions they can take during the exchange. The GM calls the ranks of cards from Ace of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, king... down to deuces to determine what order actions are taken.

Players were also given poker chips as Fate Chips. You could spend them during a session to get a bonus to a roll or to prevent injury, and any left over at the end were used the same as experience points in other systems. GMs were encouraged to award Fate Chips during a session for achieving quest goals and good role-playing... and to give the players plenty of reason to spend them before they could be used as experience points.

What became of Deadlands[edit]

After winning the Origin Award for Best Role-playing Rules of 1996, there was a tabletop minis game called "The Great Rails Wars", then a collectable card game called "Doomtown", a Disk Wars spin-off called "Range Wars", a Mad-Max post-apocalypse sequel called "Hell On Earth", a sci-fi sequel called "Lost Colony", and then a genre-less generic set of rules called Savage Worlds. Yes, THAT Savage Worlds. The Savage Worlds ruleset eventually gave us "Deadlands Noir", an interquel that takes place after the taming of the Weird West in Deadlands but before everything was blown up into the Wasted Waste of Hell on Earth.

In 2001, Deadlands was licensed to Wizards of the Coast for a d20 System version, and to Steve Jackson Games for a GURPS version.