Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tommy's Take on the Deadlands Reloaded Player's Guide

Okay, look...this is going to be a fanboyish thing.  I apologize for that in advance, but here's the deal: Deadlands is my favorite setting of all time.  Savage Worlds is my favorite in print game system.  Deadlands Reloaded kind of rocks my face off.  There is a REASON I became a fanboy for both of them.

Deadlands Reloaded was released in 2006 for Savage Worlds, updating the classic system to fit Pinnacle's current in-house rules system (and making the fourth official rules system it has appeared in).  Being Shane Hensley's baby, it was released in full color hardcover for about $40, and – combined with the Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition – was everything you needed for adventuring in the Weird West.

Four years later and instead of a standard second printing, new Deadlands Brand Manager Matthew Cutter decided to cut the tome in two, giving us once again a Player's Guide and a Marshall's Handbook.  Now, disclaimer: If you already own Deadlands Reloaded, you can get both the errata and the rules updates for free from Pinnacle's website.  If not, then let's take a look at the Deadlands Reloaded books, see if it's what you want, starting with the Player's Guide, now available in PDF format for $14.99.

Deadlands is an awesomely creepy campy western horror mix.  During the Battle of Gettysburg, all the dead got up and started attacking both sides, digging the Civil War into more of a cold war as things just went increasingly south (no pun intended) from there.  Ghost Rock, a powerful fuel with a disturbing secret, was discovered in California after an earthquake shattered the coast, and Rail Barons have been waging a bloody war to beat each other to the coast and be the ones to funnel the Ghost Rock back East for mass production.  Crazy folk tales and legends have come to life and strange scientific gadgets have begun circulating.

Does that sound like your cup of tea?  Yeah?  Then jump aboard.  No?  Well, I'm not misleading you about the contents.  Not sure?  Keep reading.

The Deadlands Reloaded Player's Guide is everything you need if you want to be a player.  The PDF weighs in at 129 pages, full color, searchable, bookmarked and layered so you can remove the gorgeous backdrops for easier printing.

The first 22 pages or so is all background material that the players should know, up through 1879, where the Civil War has hit on a cease fire after nearly two decades of war, once it was revealed (in a Classic Deadlands module) that the CSA President was not who he claimed he was.  Under President Grant, the US has fractured into much smaller “country-states”, as the Union lacks the power and ability to enforce its sovereignty, or challenge the sovereign claims of other nations, such as the Confederate States and the Mormon nation Deseret.  Also included here are some mechanical bits, like penalties for riding in a saddle long distances, as well as some “life in the west” type stuff like communications in 1879.  A handy chart of crimes and their punishments are included, as well as a discussion of the law enforcement structure.  The Union fields The Men in Black Dusters -for the supernatural types - and the US Marshalls (for more mundane threats), while the CSA has the Texas Rangers, who kind of do both jobs.

Makin' Heroes provides a list of common character types for a Deadlands game, like Muckrakers, Grifters, Law Dogs and Hucksters to use as inspiration.  Then we get to Deadlands specific character rules.  The only race is Human, which means everyone gets a Free Edge.  Grit is a new secondary attribute added, which helps out with things like being scared, and it goes up as you get more experienced.

New Edges and Hindrances follow, pretty much all of which are conversions from Deadlands Classic.  Now, that's not to say that every Edge and Hindrance from Classic made it into Reloaded, which they didn't...but perennial favorites like Grim Servant o' Death and Veteran of the Weird West are present and accounted for.  Also included are Legendary Edges such as Behold A Pale Horse..., which makes your mount a Wild Card, complete with chips and the Danger Sense Edge or Fast As Lightning, which lets you treat any initiative card lower than a 10 as being a 10.

Gear & Goods covers all the weapons and equipment you'll likely need, from the basic versions on down to the El Cheapo versions for when funds are running low.  As has always been the case, there are more firearms here than I've ever used while GMing the game, but that's how it goes sometimes.  Also included are Infernal Devices, inventions of mad scientists powered by Ghost Rock, such as flamethrowers and air gyros.  They are usually very powerful, but expensive to own and operate, and can have some dangerous malfunctions.

The Setting Rules chapter talks about Grit – gaining it and how it affects gameplay, as well as Fate Chips.  Deadlands Reloaded eschews the bennies of Savage Worlds for the Fate Chips of Deadlands Classic, which are red, white and blue poker chips, drawn at random at the beginning of the session.  White chips grant you rerolls, allow you to soak wounds and remove Shaken results.  Red chips can add a d6 to your result, but doing so allows the Marshall a free draw from the pot himself.  Red chips can also be used as whites.  Blue chips can do anything red or white chips can do, and never grant the Marshall a chip draw.  If you have earned an elusive Legend chip, they can grant you that d6, but you get an additional +2 on top of it.  They can also allow you to reroll ANY one roll, including damage rolls.  Finally, if you choose, you can trade it in for a bonus experience point at the end of a session.  This is one of the updates to Reloaded, as it brings the experience rules in line with Savage Worlds, removing the ability to cash in (non-Legend) chips for experience points.

Deadlands adds its own specific firearm rules, such as fanning the hammer on single action guns (firing a lot of shots at once, basically) and a dueling system that takes its cue from Texas Hold 'em Poker.  We've used the dueling rules once in play, and it ended very badly for the PC (luckily for him it was a dream sequence), but it ratcheted up the tension nicely.  The key in the duel is to a) make it at least appear as though the opponent broke and pulled their gun first, and b) kill them.  It requires a mix of speed, accuracy and willpower to pull it off, and with the right hand of cards, it is entirely possible to kill a foe with one shot during a duel.

The Gamblin' rules get an updated in the new printing, using the non gunfiring steps of the duel, which I haven't had a chance to try out.  You can still use the standard gambling rules for most games, but with a plot-intensive card game, but these out.

Finally, we get Hangin' rules, which pretty much tells you how quickly you die if you're hanged.  This may seem excessive, but watch enough westerns and you can see how it can matter, especially if you're neck's in the noose and your rifleman buddy is drawing a bead on the rope, hoping to save you.

No Man's Land is for when you want to venture into the arcane side of it as a Blessed agent of God, a superpowered martial artist, a magic wielding Huckster, an Indian shaman blessed by the spirits, a Mad Scientist or a member of the Texas Rangers or Agency.  This chapter provides not only the rules for each Arcane Background, but relevant Edges such as Dealer's Choice which can allow a Huckster to spend a Fate chip to redraw any card for any reason, or Flock, which grants a Blessed followers.

Many of the Arcane Backgrounds got overhauled fairly dramatically in Deadlands Reloaded, to fit the Savage Worlds powers scheme.  Blessed have access to every power on their list so long as they make their Faith roll.  Hucksters no longer HAVE to deal with manitou for their power, so long as they have Power Points to fuel their abilities with.  One big addition to the new printing is that Mad Scientists, once they are Legendary, can take the Eureka! Edge, which grants them the ability to make Infernal Devices.  Similarly, Shamans are now no longer required to take The Old Ways Oath, meaning that you can have a gun-wielding Shaman if you choose.  A lot of the Arcane Backgrounds use the same powers reskinned, which is common in Savage Worlds, but they do cover a lot of ground.

Harrowed are also discussed at the end of the Player's Guide, for those who need it.  Harrowed are the dead who don't stay dead, digging themselves back out of the ground with a demon floating around in their head, fighting for control.  This also includes a listing of common Harrowed powers...enough for the basic Harrowed, but not nearly the breadth of abilities found in the Classic system's Book o' the Dead.

As a long time Deadlands player, I got used to a LOT of things that aren't in the Player's Guide (or Reloaded) anymore.  Classic had rules for werewolf and vampire PCs.  Those have been left behind in Classic...this matters to me, though, because one of my players had a PC who became a werewolf, so that was problematic.  The various Arcane Backgrounds had a ton of powers and tricks that have also been left on the cutting room floor, like Huckster's cantrip-like Tricks and Shaman's Totems.  However, I still have all of my old Deadlands books, and I'm not afraid to add a little more crunch for my own games.

The book concludes with a listing of the Poker Hands and their effects on a Huckster's Dealings with the Devil, a list of what backgrounds access what powers, a character sheet and an index.

Now, like I said, it's not a perfect conversion, at least not for me.  There was some detail removed that I really, really enjoyed, but I understand why it was excised.  Luckily, I'm not afraid to tinker with the old stuff I have to make it new, whether it fits the Savage Worlds design philosophy or not.  Also, we haven't played with the most recent rules additions yet, but we have played a fair amount of Deadlands, both classic and Reloaded.  Our Huckster player wasn't pumped about the addition of Power Points, but the overall agreement is that what little (and it's really just a little) flavor that was lost has been more than made up for with the ease and speed of play.  We had gotten pretty darn fast with the Classic rules, but we can do full Reloaded sessions in four hours or less, and that's without skimping on combat or role-playing.  Deadlands has had such a huge impact on me that I can't watch a Western without wanting to crack out the cards, dice, chips and books and have a go at it.  We've had characters maimed, killed, stalked by the ghosts of the people they've killed, lost in The Deadlands, tormented by the demonic memories of wicked old schoolmarms, turned into werewolves, hunted by werewolf hunters, fought giant automatons, and been utterly creeped out by disembodied crawling hands.

Deadlands is the most fun I've ever had as a player, and is easily some of the most fun I've ever had as a GM.  It has provided laughs, chills and “Hot damn!” moments galore, so it's hard for me not to give it excessively high praise.  The Player's Guide cleans up the editing issues present in the original Deadlands Reloaded release, and maintains the same gorgeous production values. 


  1. Good review of a great game. I am just getting into Deadlands and regret not picking it up 15 years ago when it first started to appear on the shelves. Thanks for this review! I linked from the posted review in RPG Now's newsletter.

  2. Glad to be of service! I started off as a of my friends had bought several Deadlands books and never used them, and I literally badgered the rest of my friends into playing...and we all got hooked. I cannot speak highly enough of the setting!