The 90’s were a great time for “kitchen sink” tabletop RPG settings. Games like Shadowrun and Rifts smashed together genre elements to create popular mash-ups where players could shoot dragons with machine guns on a weekly basis. One of the games that stood out as part of this trend was Shane Hensley’s Deadlands, which had an elevator pitch of Army of Darkness meets The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This weird Western RPG recently launched not one, but two Kickstarters to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Pinnacle Entertainment Group seeks to release a 20th Anniversary Edition of the original Deadlands Classic rules as well as Good Intentions, the fourth Plot Points campaign for Deadlands Reloaded. What makes Deadlands worthy of rising from the grave? Gather round the fire, pardner, and we’ll spin you quite the yarn about this here game.
A History That’s Not Our Own
The Weird West of Deadlands diverges from real history at the Battle of Gettysburg, where the dead got up and continued to fight. The West is full of monsters, demons, and other nasty creatures, but the folks back east think it’s all tall tales created by western newspapers trying to scare up business. The Civil War drags on for years and the nation remains fragmented between North, South, Native American, and other small nations. Literally fragmented in the case of California, which suffers a great earthquake that turns it into a lattice of water-filled canyons called The Great Maze. It’s not all bad for the Golden State; the quake allowed for the discovery of ghost rock, a coal-like substance that gets its name for the eerie wail it emits when it burns. The discover not only triggered a new gold rush but also allowed scientists to build all sorts of strange and wonderful steam powered devices.
The characters that players can make in a game of Deadlands are just as strange and wonderful. Mad scientists, kung fu masters walking the deserts, preachers with the power of faith, and even hucksters that game with their souls are all available character types in the world of The Weird West. There’s plenty of room for classic Western characters too, like gunslingers, outlaws, schoolmarms, and cattle barons, all of which are made flavorful by the Edges and Hindrances used to customized characters at the beginning of play. Don’t play a character that’s overweight, play one that’s a Big ‘Un!
Deadlands began in the Weird West, but the story that it tells centers on the Hunting Grounds, a strange dimension that connects heroes to other places… and other times. The story behind Deadlands is explored even further in three other settings by the same publisher. Hell of Earth is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape brought on by ghost-rock powered nuclear missiles. Lost Colony takes the game out to the final frontier and an alien landscape. Noir spruces up the earth 20th century with some zombies, voodoo, and mad science too.
Classic and Savage Versions
Deadlands Classic, featured in the 20th Anniversary Kickstarter, was the precursor to Pinnacle’s wildly successful Savage Worlds rules, which offer a balance of fast mechanics and miniature friendly tactics. The Good Intentions Kickstarter is for Deadlands Reloaded, which adapted Deadlands to the faster mechanics of its offspring. A lot of material for the classic game can easily be adapted for Savage Worlds (and often has by fans), but a conversion guide is one of the benefits of backing these Kickstarters.
Whether you’re a shiny tinhorn coming into Deadlands through these Kickstarters, or a long time fan that’s dug out of the grave, it’s a great time to celebrate 20 years of Deadlands!
What’s your favorite Weird Western media? Tell us in the comments!
Image credit Pinnacle Entertainment Group