Friday, January 17, 2014

Tommy's Take on Deadlands Dime Novels 1, 2 & 3

Having actually ran the first three Deadlands Dime Novels, I thought I would do some Fast Takes on them for this blog post. One of them was ran in its native Classic rules, while the other two were converted to Deadlands Reloaded.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, there's two versions of this Dime Novel out there in PDF format, one that includes the adventure and one that doesn't. This review is off the print version that includes the adventure. The novel introduces Ronan Lynch (who, I'm guessing, Shane Hensley has a big fondness for), with the novel part written by Hensley and the adventure written by Hal Mangold. The whole gist of the dime novels is that it's a piece of Deadlands fiction combined with an adventure that roughly walks you through the events of the dime novel. In this case, Lynch and crew take a job rescuing a rich man's son from a cult, and the events of the story result in one of the crew becoming Harrowed - Deadlands' own undead gunslingers.

The adventure is very roleplay heavy, actually, (a lot of Deadlands adventures are, though some folks don't seem to think that's the case), setting the posse against an evil cult at Christmas time. This adventure made a huge mark on my early Deadlands campaign, when one of the PCs - ostensibly a pacifist - killed the cult leader's bodyguard with a deadly weapon in the first round of combat. This led to the gunman inhabiting the weapon and killing people on the PC's trail, framing him for murder. Spoiler warning: The Big Bad is female (look at the title).

WHAT WORKS: The fiction is fun, making for an entertaining afternoon of reading. The Christmas setting is an interesting tidbit as well, especially for launching the line. It's not a bad adventure to use as an opening adventure for a Deadlands campaign, especially if you are wanting to ease the group into weirdness.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: May not be enough action for some groups (until the end of the adventure, anyway). The cover promises a fairly awesome Santa Claus and Rudolph battle versus zombies, but that's not anything we ever get to see, unfortunately.

CONCLUSION: Useful for far more than just Deadlands completists, and official conversions for the adventure are available at the Pinnacle site for folks that want to use this in their Reloaded game. It is worth noting, for canon sticklers, that the setting is Christmas 1875, but there is very little preventing you from using it in whatever year you want (though you are going to want to leave it in winter time due to the endgame, or get very creative). Personally, I'll buy and read gaming fiction all day if it's in short bits with an adventure on the back end of it, like this, so long as there's at least a sense of fun (which this definitely has).


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Another holiday themed Dime Novel, this time set in the summer of 1876 (and the centennial of the Union), in Bloody Kansas, in which Our Heroes are drafted into helping Wyatt Earp keep the peace during the big Independence Day celebration. The novel section again features Ronan Lynch, this time teaming with Texas Ranger Hank "One Eye" Ketchum against a sadistic creature known as the Butcher, all while Yankees and Rebels are threatening war in Dodge City.

The adventure part of the novel again casts the PCs in Ronan's shoes, arriving in Dodge City and being pressed into Wyatt's service (though not without pay, for the more mercenary types). This adventure plays to an unheralded strength of Deadlands - investigation - as the PCs quickly find themselves dealing with a brutal serial killer in the middle of the Yankee-Rebel tensions and enough red herrings to drive a man insane. Earp is, at best, available in the background, as he's handed over part of Dodge City to the posse (coincidentally being the one that needs the most looking after, of course), while he and his men are trying to hold down the rest of it. This Dime Novel has opportunity for more action than Perdition's Daughter, especially in the climax, which can easily turn into a running battle in the streets of Dodge City in the middle of the Fourth of July Celebration...

The fiction was written by Matt Forbeck, and the adventure co-written by Mr. Forbeck and Chris Snyder.

WHAT WORKS: Plenty of roleplaying, investigation and action, as well as pure, visceral horror and spotlight on both western life and the continuing tensions between the North and South. A nice cameo from a western legend, with a believable excuse for keeping him from stealing the spotlight out from under the PCs...and a nice, sweet nod to another legendary figure in the final battle.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Maybe my biggest complaint about Deadlands, as a player and a GM, is that many of the enemies (and this includes The Butcher) have some fairly rough weaknesses, and it can be hard even providing the opportunity for the PCs to find out what those weaknesses are, artificially inflating the difficulty of some encounters. When I ran this adventure, this very nearly meant The Butcher cake walked over the opposition.

CONCLUSION: One of my favorite compositions of adventure elements for Deadlands. This was a very fun romp with a lot of variety in the elements, and I was running it for one PC at the time (which nearly got him massacred against The Butcher). A very, very good entry (with Deadlands Reloaded conversions) that tends to get overlooked by the next novel in the series...


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The most infamous entry in the Dime Novels series. So infamous, in fact, that the author is commonly referred to as John "Night Train" Goff. Yeah. The story sees Ronan Lynch and Hank Ketchum running into a very foul train carrying a cartload of undead bloodsuckers. It's completely horrific, bordering on over the top, and thus another good indicator of the Deadlands "feel".

In the adventure, the PCs get to do a little investigation at Barlowe Station before arriving at Varney Flats and getting the MAIN action going. (And points to you if you get the references. I did.) This one does have noticeably less plot than a lot of Deadlands adventures, ultimately coming down to the PCs versus an evil Force of Nature. Most Deadlands groups now have THEIR "Night Train story", and it's become a popular convention adventure. Warning: The body count for this adventure is HIGH.

There is a Night Train scenario for The Great Rail Wars included in the back of the book.

WHAT WORKS: Arguably the most iconic Deadlands adventure. There's a reason for that.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Might be a rough fit for an ongoing campaign, what with the chance of Total Party Kills. I used it in mine, but Adventure Cards, Fate Chips and the Wild Card/Extra divide went a long way towards giving the group a leg up.

CONCLUSION: Arguably the most iconic Deadlands adventure. There's a reason for that. Heck, my group came out of it a lot better than most did, and they're still paranoid about trains, especially ones that show up in the middle of the night.