Friday, April 24, 2020

A Look Inside the New Deadlands Kickstarter

This isn't a normal "Tommy's Take", because I don't have a full book in front of me, but a review copy of the new Deadlands book on Kickstarter right now. It's still incomplete - it was noted to me that it's missing a bestiary still - so rather than do a full review of the book, I'm putting it side by side with the Player's Guide and Marshal's Handbook to get an idea of just what has changed and what's staying the same in this new edition.

Disclaimer: I'm not telling you to pledge. I just didn't have a cover image for this article.

WHERE I'M COMING FROM: If you've read my blog, you know I'm a big Savage Worlds fan. I also got to write a Deadlands adventure for Savage Tales of Horror Vol. 2 a few years ago. I own the entire Classic Deadlands line and most of the Reloaded, either in digital or print. Obviously, this document was provided to me by Pinnacle. They requested a review, but did not require it for sending. I'm not planning to sell you or unsell you on the Kickstarter, but give you information about this edition so you can decide for yourself. I get no benefit from your decision. No kickbacks, no affiliate links here.

DISCLAIMER: The file I have is not final, and may change between this review and release. So if something changes between now and then, that's not in my control.

SPOILER WARNING: Aspects of the setting and other works, including the Cackler graphic novel, are spoiled below. Like, in the next section. Turn around and head out if you aren't up on things and you don't want this spoiled.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: So a while back, Shane wrote a graphic novel called The Cackler, revealing the identity of a recurring background villain that had snaked their way through the Deadlands setting since the old Classic days.

The Cackler was revealed to be Mordred - as in the son of King Arthur - and he's done something Bad that has kept the heroes of the Weird West from winning their war against The Reckoners. In the process, the machinations of him and his mother - Morgana - has sent ripples through time, causing changes to the various Deadlands settings: The Weird West, Deadlands Noir, Hell on Earth and Lost Colony...and presumably set the stage for Deadlands: Dark Ages which is supposed to be coming sometime soon.

Now, as a Deadlands fan, I wasn't over the moon about this revelation. I'm just not particularly enthused about my Arthurian myth and my wild west being mixed up, but so be it.

The *big* setting change in the Weird West is that the Civil War is no longer ongoing. In fact, it now only last until 1871 before the Confederate war machine collapsed. The Great Rail Wars (the race across the land to reach the Ghost Rock in California) now began directly in the wake of the Civil War. Longtime Deadlands fans will note that not only are Dixie Rails gone, but so is the Union Blue railroad, replaced by Texas-based Lone Star and Empire Rails coming out of the northern states.

The setting changes have proven to be controversial (Pinnacle was open about them last year), but I am in the camp of fans who are not at all bothered by this. See, in my games, the Civil War was something that pretty much only concerned people Back East, and most of the people in the West were just trying to escape that mess for one reason or another, so this affects nothing for us. And the Deadlands metaplot has a long history of time travel and events being altered (one of the early metaplot adventures reveals that the good guys plain out won the fight with The Reckoners, but they sent their man Stone back into the past as a last ditch effort to start picking off heroes who contributed to their fall and keep them alive and active).

I will say that I find it odd that the Confederates still abolished slavery in 1869 in the new timeline, before folding two years later. Seems like them stubbonly refusing to back down from slavery leading to their downfall would have not only been fitting, but also removed one of the more controversial setting elements.

The other big setting change - in light of the end of the War - is that the Agents and the Texas Rangers have joined forces in the Twilight Legion...and that the Agents have their official jurisdiction in the states, while the Rangers have theirs in the territories further west.

The default setting is 1884 and after the four Plot Point campaigns that dealt with each of the four servitors in one sense or another. Despite the looming thread of The Cackler, the mission statement for this edition of Deadlands is to dial back the metaplot and focus it on more localized horror. This is covered more by the Horror at Headstone Hill boxed set (of which I did not receive a review copy).

The setting largely looks the same, otherwise. Deseret still rose in what we know as Utah, the Sioux Nations and Coyote Confederation declared their independence, and so on. Most of those groups presumably made their footholds during the war but before the Civil War ended, but likely face uneasy encroachments from the newly reunited States.


Character creation is virtually identical. The big changes are the addition of SWADE's Core Skills, the addition of a new skill (Trade) and...the removal of Grit. No more Rank-based Fear test bonus in the new Deadlands, but it does become an Edge that helps with it.

Fate Chips are gone. They are replaced with Bennies in their new incarnation from SWADE. Legend Chips are still referenced (as of this writing), but are explicitly referred to in the setting rules as being the same as Conviction. As a loooooong time Deadlands guy, this bothered me...but the new utility of bennies would have been a pain in the butt to map to the three colors of Fate Chips, so I've come around to it. Conviction replaces Legend Chips in every functional way, including not having to worry about drawing a Legend Chip - Conviction is awarded directly to a character for their deeds.

If you're not familiar with Conviction, it was introduced in SWADE and recently revised. If you have Conviction (or a Legend Chip) you can spend it to add a d6 to *all* your rolls until the beginning of your turn...and you can spend a Benny (at the start of your turn) to maintain it from round to round. It's kind of a big deal.

Duelin' gets a complete overhaul. You no longer make a poker hand, but you do still have Hole Cards. It's just two rounds of Tests to try to throw your opponent off (with the bonuses and penalties stacking), with the goal being to make them Distracted or Vulnerable. On Round 3, you draw your guns (and play a Hole card you gained during the test) and try to outplay your opponent. If you play a higher card, you can just draw and gun them down, or try to go on Hold and interrupt them (this matters if you're in the middle of town and the law's watching). That round when gunfire begins, neither gunman can soak wounds, like before. As much as I liked the *idea* of the old dueling rules, I cannot imagine how these aren't smoother and easier, while still accomplishing the same thing.

Voodoo practitioners no longer have an Edge that goes with being a Blessed, meaning a long-standing Deadlands background is basically stripped from the game. Lip service is still paid to them as a form of Blessed, but Blessed have none of the extra powers the voodoo priests gained in Reloaded, so you'll have to hack them back in if you still want them to be a thing. That said, Blessed still otherwise largely resemble Blessed as they appeared in Good Intentions (the final Deadlands Plot Point Campaign), and Arcane Background (Miracles) from the new Savage Worlds Core. Interventions are missing as well, but could be hacked back in pretty simply.

Martial Artists (now Chi Masters) get a good bump in utility, like how Arcane Background: Gifted did over the old Arcane Background: Superpowers. No longer does a Chi Master need a skill for each power they learn, just the Focus skill. Celestial Kung Fu (from The Flood) reappears here, but gives up the bonuses from The Flood, instead simply allowing for learning two Superior Kung Fu styles. I suspect that might have been a trade off for no longer having to have a unique skill for each Power they learn.

Harrowed have a larger selection of Edges than they did in Deadlands Reloaded, but a smaller selection than they did in Stone and a Hard Place. Much like Interventions, any missing Edges seem like they could hack back in with little or no work. They also have a neat little chart allowing them to "Let The Devil Out" they can roll on (potentially giving up control to their Manitou), which I think I heard was carried over from Lost Colony (which I haven't had a chance to read yet). I dig it, either way.

Hucksters are largely the same, though Hexslingers - which made their redebut in are rolled back into Hucksters, without their Dead Eye ability and no longer playable at Novice, requiring Seasoned to take the Edge. That said, their unique powers from that book carried over into this one (but a Hexslinger in your game may find his favorite Shootist effect is no longer there).

Mad Scientists are not the same as the Weird Science background from Core, but are going to be one of the most questioned Arcane Backgrounds as it stands right now, because this version no longer makes it clear just *how* the powers work (whereas older versions in Reloaded made it clear that you "stored" the spent Power Points in the devices. That said, we've never had a Mad Scientist in any of our games, so I'll let someone else sort that out. It's possible I'm missing something obvious.

Shamans still reference Ritual penalties, but no longer defines those penalties, an oversight that is hopefully cleared up before the book sees print. It was noted that a lot of this was rewritten for brevity, and that's great, so long as key details aren't missing (like how referenced rules work).

Metal Mages and Steam Powered Augmentations are omitted completely, so if your posse is a fan of such (I'm fond of the Augmentations) you might need to refer back to Good Intentions and hack those in.

9 powers make their SWADE debut, all, I believe, having appeared in Deadlands in some capacity or another before.

Black Magic - which I don't *think* has appeared in Reloaded - makes a return here as a catch-all NPC power that gets stronger in higher Fear Levels. And Fear Levels are still a with no more Grit, you'll want to look into the Edges that give Fear bonuses if you're gonna be brave enough to tackle the scariest places in the West.

Speaking of Grit. On a metaplot level, there is no longer a "trigger" for Stone and the Diablos to come hunting for heroes. Either that's something buried in the bestiary (which, again, I haven't seen), or Stone is laying low in the wake of Stone and a Hard Place (more likely).

My favorite new addition to the book is the Adventure Generator. It's three card draws, with suit and value providing elements of the adventure, which you then flesh out. For instance - I draw a 2 of Diamonds, 2 of Clubs and Queen of Hearts.

For Objective, that gives me R&R (rest and relaxation) and Work for Hire.
For Obstacle I have underdogs with War's influence.
For Complication I have Celebrity and Emotional.

So, let's see...the posse takes a job to put a few dollars in their pockets just so they can get a bath, reload their guns and have a drink. But that job is being impeded by some hard on their luck fellow, maybe a desperate band of indians, who are just spoiling for a fight thanks to War's influence. So I'm thinking maybe it's a simple escort mission. What if the posse is riding shotgun with a group of wealthy merchants and/or an acting troupe as an escort, but the indians are trying to hit them because they're cut off from any allies, are being hunted by the local authorities/army/whoever and see a ransom opportunity (or maybe just want to steal the food off the wagons). Maybe it's even worse because one of the posse members has become smitten with one of the acting troupe - or worse - one of acting troupe has become smitten with a posse member and their newly former partner is part of the troupe as well, seeking vengeance on this roughneck cowboy who turned their woman's eye.

And there's hardly anything supernatural at all in that idea...unless maybe the jilted lover has dipped into something dark and deadly...

I love this stuff, sorry.


Karl Keesler is doing graphic design on this baby and it looks amazing. I dare say it's the best looking Deadlands book I've seen and that's saying something.

I've currently backed the Kickstarter at the Digital Marshal level. Not that I don't think this is worth going all in on, but my group has now migrated entirely to Roll20 and I'm not sure I can justify buying three boxed sets that are probably going to just collect dust here. So I'm in, money where my mouth is, and while I won't be upgrading during the Kickstarter, I haven't ruled out caving and upgrading during the Pledge Manager, because it IS Deadlands.

I was apprehensive going in, because I was holding onto those Fate Chips (call it a Deadlands Sacred Cow), and I was nervous about the Arcane Backgrounds. Instead, Pinnacle uses Deadlands as a template for how to take those SWADE rules and tweak them for a setting (hey, it's okay for make Arcane Backgrounds work differently than the core, hey sometimes you do need a new skill and not just a trapping on an old one).

As I said above, the setting changes don't faze me. The elements change barely factor into my games anyway.

As for the rules changes? I think most of them are positive. Some of the Arcane Background stuff I'm not sold on (I liked Hexslinger as its own thing, and I have one floating around in my Deadlands campaign), but it seems easy enough to meld back in if it comes to it.

The things I'm probably most excited about is the future...the refocusing of Deadlands. Fact is, you can go so big with the Reckoners and Servitors and Great Rail Wars that it can all start to feel kinda small. I'm hoping the Horror at Headstone Hill zooms it all back in enough to remind us just how *big* the Weird West really is, and how important and personal the horror can be.


  1. Good to read about the upcoming changes, thanks :)

  2. Dueling - it's been a while since I looked but wasnt the point of the poker hand to add damage dealt when the shooting begins?
    But! I like the idea of making it quicker. A duel, which takes a few seconds, should not take ages at the table.

    Voodoo - Not a big staple in the West, so I can understand why they are dropped and the room used for other things. As you say, easy to hack back in if so inclined.

    Harrowed - getting an Edge increase at the next (at time of writing) stretch goal :)

    Mad Scientists - if it's going to raise a lot of questions might a rewrite be in order?

    Grit - no more grit? :(

    1. I hear tell that most of the concerns I raised in this review are already being addressed, for what it's worth.

    2. For some reason, I was thinking the "not soaking wounds" was part of the old rules, but it apparently wasn't. That's your trade-off: No more bonus damage, but no more soaking wounds when the guns go off in the duel.

  3. The whole 1869 thing strikes me as somewhat weird as well. I mean, these days still better than the CSA still being around (and I say this as somebody who's played Deadlands since Classic and has had a few PCs from the Confederacy), but I dunno, if it's two years from when they lose why have it in the first place?

    Eh, my two cents.

    Now, onto gameplay.

    I accept the Fate Chip thing, honestly, the writing's been on the wall for a long time, and Conviction sees like a solid substitute for it, going by the latest version of it in SWADE.

    While I'll need to read it myself to say for sure, Dueling is something I think I really like the new version of. Not being able to soak wounds is killer and actually was a house rule I was considering for the old Reloaded version myself. Though, without the extra poker hand damage, I suppose oneshot kills might be at the mercy of exploding dice.

    Have to admit, the ABs from what you said have actually made me more nervous about the new edition than I was three days ago. I did not expect Voodists to be folded back into Blessed, given that just a few years back they were folded out and Deadlands Noir (which is eventually getting an update) has them as core while Blessed are not to boot. I was honestly looking forward to potentially seeing them as a stretch goal for the Companion. Still, that alone wouldn't have been enough to really put a damper, but Hexslingers going back to being a Huckster Edge again too is a bummer. Especially because the preview earlier before the Kickstarter made it seem like it'd be in the Core as a full AB, even if it never explicitly said such.

    Still, I'm happy that Chi Masters are still a full on AB, and one that in theory sounds much more actually playable out of the gate. The martial artist in the last Reloaded Campaign I ran took Veteran of the Weird West, and even with that they were stretched thin.

    Finally, Black Magic getting stronger with Fear Level? That's freakin' brillaint.

    I'm trying not to sound too negative, because overall I'm still looking forward to this project, but I have to admit, I'm actually a bit less hyped than I was before. Still, I'm on High Roller anyway, so not like I'm the type to change, and I don't wanna sound too negative. Plus, hey, this is all secondhand and from a WiP, so who knows, things can potentially change, and if they don't maybe I'll find that the decisions were, despite my initial reaction, actually really good moves on Pinnacle's part.

    Anyhow, thank you very much for the review! It's super appreciated!

    1. Can't go into details, but some of the concerns I raised are already being looked into, or so I'm told (and Pinnacle does quality work, so I have no reason to doubt it).

  4. If you can answer, was the Whateley Blood for Hucksters in the preview of the book you go?

  5. Are you sure you’re reading Conviction in SWADE right? You can add a d6 to *a* roll, not *all* rolls for the round (unless it’s been changed for Deadlands).

    1. It was changed in a revision to the SWADE PDF at the beginning of April.

  6. Concerning Hucksters, I'm gonna assume they can still opt to form poker hands to cast without spending PP?

    If so, has this been balanced better than in Reloaded?

    There, you pull 5+Grit+Extra cards to form your hand, where Grit is equal to Rank(plus bonuses from edges) and Extra coming from specialized Huckster edges.

    You can raise Grit to like 7 I think(Legendary Rank, True Grit, Harrowed) and get another 2 cards from edges(Improved High Roller) which, combined with the 5 base hard allows for a draw of (5+7+2)=14 cards...which basically gives you a 90%+ chance to cast a 4PP hex for free with impunity.

    For Hucksters, taking Rapid Recharge, Power Points, Whately Blood or anything else to do with PP was effectively almost pointless(there's still some cases where PP are nice to have, but not many).

    With Grit(the single largest source of cards for Dealing with the Devil) being removed, do Hucksters get more extra card draw from other mechanics/edges, or is their card draw far more restricted than in Reloaded?

    The latter would be a good thing in my opinion, as DwtD wasn't much of a gamble and more of a source of easy free PP for many players in Reloaded.