Saturday, June 6, 2015

Tommy's Take on The Sixth Gun RPG

Last year, Pinnacle announced that they were releasing an RPG based on The Sixth Gun, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. On the surface, this seems like both a brilliant, and potentially puzzling, move as Pinnacle's flagship setting, Deadlands, occupies very similar genre real estate as The Sixth Gun: Weird Western. Well, The Sixth Gun RPG is now being Kickstarted, but the big questions are "How is it different than Deadlands and do you need it if you already have Deadlands?"

DISCLAIMER: I did recently fulfill a freelance contract with Pinnacle. I was provided digital comp copies of The Sixth Gun RPG and The Winding Way for review purposes. I also sat next to Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt all weekend at Planet Comicon last year, trying not to fanboy out too hard because I was already a huge fan. They were very nice and patient, possibly because I spent a bunch of money on merchandise.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Laying it all out there: I am a huge fan of Savage Worlds, The Sixth Gun, Pinnacle Entertainment, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. Deadlands is also my favorite game setting ever. Heck, I had been pondering introducing The Six into my Deadlands game. So when I saw the announcement of this RPG, I went "Whoa". But I did have to ask myself "I have a TON of Deadlands I need a new Weird Western RPG?"

For those who don't know, The Sixth Gun is a comic book published by Oni Press, created by Bunn and Hurtt, following the adventures of Drake Sinclair, Becky Montcrief, Gord Cantrell and many more as they struggle to keep The Six Guns - mystical artifacts that have taken many forms over the years - from the hands of various evil forces, including former owner General Oliander Bedford Hume. While there are very definitely horror elements present, it does tend to take on more of a pulpy adventure feel than Deadlands lends itself to on most occasions.

This is reflected in the Setting Rules, which eschews the Guts skill (per current Savage Worlds standards), as well as allowing heroes to take any Edge regardless of Rank requirement, as well as everyone getting a bennie when a Joker is drawn (though you can't use bennies when you Snake Eyes a roll).

The Sixth Gun places a heavy emphasis on artifacts and relics, starting with The Six (the ancient, evil weapons), complete with full stat blocks so you can use them in your games (whether to arm bad guys or if heroes come into possession of them). However, other relics are detailed, like the Head of the American Minotaur (a bull mask that can turn its wearer into a berserker), The Gallows Tree (a spirit tree from which the damned hangs, and one who finds it can force them to answer questions), even the Holy Lance of Longinus, which is said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ.

Included Savage Tales feature a bell that can summon a demon and even Dracula's blood. An Adventure Generator is included, in a format that will be familiar to longtime Savage Worlds fans (though with the tables tweaked to fit the Sixth Gun), and the Winding Way adventure (included with the GM screen) is a six part adventure set before the events of the comics and featuring notable characters from the comics, as well as giving the group a crack at one of the Six Guns. A free adventure, recently released, puts another gun in play as well.

Most of the major NPCs get stats in the main book, and it seems to largely set them all at their most iconic point in the comic book series (with General Hume's men and his wife holding five of the guns, with the Sixth in the hands of heroine Becky Montcrief, though some of the above adventures take a few liberties with that), with one notable exception (Drake Sinclair isn't listed as holding any of the Six, but also has them as a Trademark Weapon). This allows for your group to easily face General Hume and his forces themselves, if you so choose. Many of the monsters of The Sixth Gun also appear, such as the Thunderbird (which you don't want to fight), Skinwalkers, three kinds of zombies and many more. Heck, The Winding Way even includes a dragon  (spoiler!).

Of course, new Edges and Hindrances appear, with one or two (I'm looking at you, Hardened) being reworkings of existing Edges (Hardened is the slightly less harsh sibling to Veteran of the Weird West).

The book  even outright mentions that Deadlands material can be ported into The Sixth Gun easily enough, and they can go the other way as well. There is no reason why General Hume and his men could not rise up as either servants of the Reckoners, or another opposing force (Hume's men fit the "Four Horsemen" motif shared by the Deadlands servitors, in a much more united unit as well, though they are also smaller scale threats, even with the Guns).

One of the greatest features - and biggest tragedies - of the book is that Brian Hurtt's art is all over it. That's a great feature because Brian is a fantastic artist, but a tragedy because his real strength is in sequential storytelling, which gets lost when his art is displayed in isolated pictures...but, you know, that's why there are comic books.

The biggest drawback is that the book never explicitly addresses the massive elephant in the room, which is that this story already has big heroes, and some suggestion of how to handle Drake, Becky, Billjohn and gang in the context of a game featuring a group of existing PCs would have been nice. Also, the cover matching my oversize hardcover volume was a bit jarring, but that's kind of nitpicking at this point.

If you like the Weird West but want it a bit more heroic and a bit less "Oh God, oh God, we're all going to die!", then get The Sixth Gun. If you're a Deadlands Marshal and you just want more material, then I would still recommend it, because the Six Guns alone are going to be a great addition to your game, to say nothing of all the other relics you can toss in, as well as villains like Hume and his men, Eli Barlow, Griselda or Marinette of the Dry Arms...and you won't look at The Agency in Deadlands the same way after seeing what the Pinkertons have been up to in The Sixth Gun universe.

Oh, and if there's a western that's not improved by a visit from Asher Cobb, then I don't want to see it.

Now, if you just do not like Savage Worlds, or just hate westerns (or hate your westerns weird), then I would recommend you pass on it.

For myself, I am seriously pondering going in deep enough to get the Sixth Gun minis (because General Hume and Asher Cobb alone are practically worth it), but I have already pledged to get the main book plus the GM Screen (have you seen that screen? Wowza) and Winding Way adventure. I'm too big a fan of all the elements involved to not do it. Being a fan of Deadlands, I don't know that I will ever run The Sixth Gun "on its own"...but my own Deadlands game deviates more than a bit from canon, and there's plenty of room for the world of The Sixth Gun in my home game.