Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tommy's Take on the Deadlands Reloaded Marshall's Handbook

With the Player's Guide covered, let's talk Marshall's Handbook.  Like the Player's Guide, it is fully featured, with removable layers for easy printing, clocking in at a hefty 162 pages of stats and setting material, fully bookmarked and indexed.  In fact, it is a COMPLETE index, of both the Player's Guide and Marshall's Handbook, with the former's pages in parenthesis.

The Marshall's Handbook is utterly not required for the players, and is Marshall specific stuff.  Available now in PDF for $19.99, it's kinda the indispensable guide to running the setting.  That said: The Player's Guide offered up the basic history and the history that those “in the know” know.  Y'know?  Now, we get the real history.  Long time Marshalls know most of this stuff, but new Marshalls need to hear about Raven and The Reckoners, precisely why Fear matters to the Reckoners, why abominations walk the earth, and how this Fear can overwhelm the world.  This section also takes the chaos of the Weird West and explains the methods behind the madness...showing the purpose of the actions of the Servitors of the Reckoners.

Marshall-specific Setting Rules are included, such as the effects of Fear Levels and how to lower them, and a slew of awesome tables for when Arcane Backgrounds go awry, or Mad Scientists become just a little more insane.  The Veteran o' the Weird West table is also here, for any player brave enough to have taken the Edge, so you can see just what kind of badness they're saddled with, which can range from owing powerful people a debt, having Night Terrors or even starting off as a Harrowed.  Harrowed also get a fairly detailed treatment here, focusing more on a Marshall taking control of a Harrowed due to the host body losing control.

Each region of the Weird West gets covered, with plot hooks and encounter table, the sole exception being Back East, which doesn't get an encounter table, but does get a few pages detailing both the North and South back in “civilized” territory.

The actual western territories get a more detailed treatment, beginning with the Disputed Territories of Colorado and Kansas, including perennial old west favorite Dodge City.  Helpful advice is provided regarding the types of horrors that are likely to be about (heavy violence is the order of the day, shockingly), with a random encounter table for grins.

 The Great Basin is Death Valley, The Mojave Desert (home to some big, big worms) and Fort 51, one of the VERY few places with a Fear Level of 0, due to how tightly it is controlled.

The Great Maze is the what's left of California, where Reverend Grimme and his City of Lost Angels awaits the winner of The Great Rail Wars, who – one presumes – will have to deal with him before they get the Ghost Rock they seek.  Since The Great Maze is such an important feature, this section has both a sea and land encounter table.

The Great Northwest is populated with Wendigos and Sasquatches, while the High Plains get you bat-winged demons and more of those big, ugly worms.

Deseret is Mormon Country, home of the Wasatch Railroad and Dr. Darius Hellstromme, and also the place you're most likely to find perversions of science roaming around.

Indian Country consumes most of Oklahoma as well as Dakota, and is heavily under the influence of Raven, directly and indirectly.  Another perennial western favorite, Deadwood, also lies in Indian Country.

Finally, there is the Wild Southwest of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, including Tombstone and the Tombstone Epitaph, the newspaper that helps get all the weird stories out to the people of the Deadlands earth.

If there are regions you need or want to see in greater detail, the Classic books are still available in PDF format, at least.

An overview of The Great Rail Wars is provided, including the plans and methods of each railroad, from Hellstromme's attempts to burrow under The Rockies to Union Blue being under the protection of Abraham Lincoln, who is still around and very much Harrowed.

From there it's off to the abominations and beasties of the setting.  Arranged alphabetically, this is just about every major creature that appeared during Deadlands' original run.  We have walking dead, animated hands, devil bats, hangin' judges, chupakabras, vampires, werewolves, night ravens, rattlers and much, much more.  Most of the monsters have a picture.  Every monster has a full description and stats, as well as a list of special abilities.  Some abominations, when killed, grant special boons to the Harrowed, and those are listed as well.  My only complaint is that, again, it takes a somewhat simplified approach in some areas.  We now just have the one set of hangin' judge stats, when Classic introduced actual named hangin' judges, with their own unique quirks and habits.  Still, it's only a minor effort to convert them if you have the classic stats.

Just as helpful is a list of human templates: Texas Rangers, Agents, Blessed, Martial Artists, Gunslingers, Indian Braves, Common Townsfolk and more.  Just about anything you'll need statted up and ready to go.  I made a band of Indian bounty hunters for one adventure, taking the Brave template and tweaking it differently, three times, getting three similar yet divergent warriors.  It's a very simple matter to do and cuts down on GM prep time even more.

Then we get named NPCs.  Reloaded ended the existence of NPCs without stats, such as the much hated Stone  Everyone is statted up and ready to use.  I'm not saying the Servitors of The Reckoners, like Stone, aren't stacked – they very much are...but it's POSSIBLE to kill them, though I wouldn't try it before reaching Legendary.  With everyone having stats, no one has plot protection anymore.  The Rail Barons get their own special section, and then the stat blocks wrap up with mundane animals.

The book concludes with the Poker Hands chart, the listing of powers by Arcane Background, a character sheet, the index and a big map of the Weird West.

Alright, like the Player's Guide, I'm going to be straightforward.  This is about as good as gaming gets for me.  I love westerns and Savage Worlds lets me get all the awesome of westerns without tediousness or bogging me down in a bunch of extra stuff.  I have run Deadlands adventures without supernatural elements, ghost stories, trips into The Hunting Grounds where the heroes fought (and barely survived) a manitou on its home turf, raging gunbattles, nightmare dream sequences, you name it...and I would STILL gladly run it every weekend indefinitely if I had the opportunity.  As for Reloaded versus Classic, I never look at a stat block and have to stop and think whether it's better for a guy to roll 4d8 or 2d10.  The stat blocks are cleaner and easier to read, the books are more gorgeous than Classic (thought more expensive, true) and the whole product line is undergoing a fresh revival under Matthew Cutter.  Metaplot isn't hanging over the head of the line like it was in the Classic days.  If you want to get the Plot Point books, feel free...if not, you have every last bit of information you need, as a Marshall, to run the setting however you like.  With Pinnacle releasing conversion notes for most of the classic adventures for free, I don't know if there's been a better time to be a Deadlands Marshall.