Posted on July 24, 2012 by mazecontroller
Available at RPGNow.com
Gaming has several kitchen sink style settings that mix and match strange elements for unique tastes. Shadowrun mixes dark future heists with high fantasy magic. RIFTS sets as many genres as possible at each other in a war over earth. Deadlands brings creaky steampunk machinery, gory 80’s horror movies, wire-fu, action horror and more to a Wild West time and setting. The West is a great setting for a game and Deadlands brings a lot of excellent flavor to the table. Deadlands Reloaded was recently re-released in a budget conscious Explorer’s Edition for Savage Worlds.
Deadlands Reloaded merges the classic setting with the mechanics of Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds started as The Great Rail Wars, a miniatures skirmish game for the setting. Since then, Savage Worlds has been hammered into one of the most prolific rules sets outside of d20. Coming back to Deadlands brings the setting full circle. The setting has spanned novels, a few attempts at a video game and a CCG that is very well regarded. The game even spawned spin-off games set in a post-apocalyptic future and exotic space frontier. The company even recently held a Kickstarter to fund and all new chunk of the settings set in 1930’s New Orleans.
Deadlands tells the tale of a world of a shattered North America in the year 1880. The Civil War dragged on for over a decade. California fell into the ocean. The discovery of ghost rock, a strange new fuel source, allowed for infernal devices to change the way the world worked. Monsters roam the shadows of the West. It’s up to small bands of heroes to put those monsters down with spells slung like cards and bullets fired from rifles. This is the best steampunk horror western setting on the market, taking cues from Army of Darkness, Wild, Wild West, and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
This edition splits the core into two books. The Player’s Guide contains the main changes to the rules from the core Savage Worlds Deluxe rules. It also contains a big chunk of setting, primarily what the general public knows about the Weird West. The middle chapters show off unique elements of the five arcane background available in the main rulebook. There is a discussion of equipment as well as a fun and fast rule for heroes looking to buy equipment on the cheap. The final chapter discussed the Harrowed, one of Deadlands most unique features that allows players to have a shot at playing their character after they’ve long gone to Boot Hill.
The blessed, hucksters, mad scientists, shaman, and kung-fu masters are all playable right out of the book. There are even a few variations snuck in under those broad headings, like voodoo priests and Whateley blood mages. The book includes all of the abilities available in the game, limiting some to certain arcane backgrounds while explaining the trapping of each ability. The game also makes use of the cards Savage Worlds uses for initiative for other systems. Spell-slinging hucksters can play poker for their soul and more power points. The game borrows from the recent Texas Hold ‘Em poker craze to make classic gunfighter duels more tense and exciting that just rolling dice against each other.
Making boring characters in Deadlands is very difficult. The character types ooze flavor. A game full of one of each arcane background is a distinct possibility, but even ordinary characters can hold their own with the proper mix of skills and backstory. the characters are built for action horror. They can be killed, zombies are frightening, but after a moment of fright, they rack their shotguns and kick open the door to save the day or die trying.. Normal folks aren’t overshadowed. But the arcane background all have their interesting quirks and challenges. Deadlands has a very distinct tone that players resistant to westerns might dislike at first. Soon enough everyone at the table speaks with a drawl coming up with one liners that sound like they slipped from between Eastwood’s lips.
Still, not every option is presented. The game has a decade of sourcebooks in the classic version. There are a lot of character types to play but it is not all inclusive. One of the strengths of the Savage Worlds line is the brevity of its lines. Usually the core and the setting book are that’s needed to play. Deadlands Reloaded has quite a few books out for it beyond the cores which is where more information on additional characters can be found. Fans used to buying one book and being done with the setting might fret at the thought of having to continue to buy books for new character types and ideas.
Characters facing the horrors of the Weird West need guts to prevent themselves from freaking out and running away from the monsters. The Guts skill has always been a controversial element since the original game. It returns in Deadlands Reloaded even though the most recent Savage Worlds rules does away with it. Guts was one of the first skills every players maxed out no matter what in the original. Spending points on it with the much smaller amount of skill points available seems like an unfair advancement tax. A quick fix to the current Savage World rules, rolling Spirit to avoid running away involuntarily, is a decent house rule, but beware edges that require guts skill as a prerequisite.
One of the things that set the original Deadlands apart was its flavor. The cards, chips and aesthetic combined in a system that seemed built by one of the setting’s mad scientists. It was clunky as hell but once it got rolling it was a thing of beauty. Deadlands Reloaded retains much of the same flavor while cutting away the elements of the original rules that dragged the game down. There’s still the drama of flipping a higher card than the players or watching a tense showdown between gunslingers. Deadlands hooks many players after they begrudgingly give it a try. Deadlands Reloaded keeps many of the elements that hook players in while ditching many of the elements that turn GMs off.
Bottom line: Fans familiar with the old game will have a blast bringing in new players with this version of Deadlands.
Review by Rob Wieland