Review: Deadlands: Reloaded
M. Gabriel Colbaugh reviews Deadlands: Reloaded, the second edtion of the classic weird west RPG.
Deadlands: Reloaded is a RPG setting released by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Primarily designed and written by Shane Lacy Hensley and BD Flory it is an updated version of the original Deadlands released in 1996. The current book uses the Savage Worlds system also written by Hensely. Deadlands books are largely sold in PDF form on the PEG website now. The Player’s Guide retails for $14.99 and the Marshal’s Guide for $19.99. The latest version of the Savage Worlds rulebook currently retails for $29.99 on Amazon or $9.99 in PDF form on the PEG website. It’s recommended you also have a deck of cards and three colors of poker chips for the game as well.
Pinnacle has always taken pains to ensure well formatted books with lush art and easy to find information. There is a great deal of reused art and images that hail from the original version of Deadlands. Rather than detract from Reloaded, this helps to bridge the gap between the two and present new readers with a look at what was. The editors did an excellent job of keeping the art direction of the illustrations consistent while still showing some variety from the macabre to the stately.
Deadlands: Reloaded also offers a smooth read. Chapters are divided off into easy to peruse sections and aren’t overly bloated. Information is consistent and doesn’t feel all over the place. The book also goes right to the point as far as updating all information from the first edition so there is no confusion on how things have changed.
The game has always been built around a horrific version of the romantic ideals of the Old West as created by a group of demons known as The Reckoners.
The Reckoners are collection of demons that hope to bring Hell to Earth through their agents. The primary villain for this is a Sioux Medicine Man named Raven and his associates working together to curse the ancestors of European invaders and help bring about the destruction of the world as it’s currently known. The result is the dead walking among the living, California being radically changed due to a series of devastating earthquakes, and the introduction of magic and a mysterious substance called Ghost Rock to the world. Ghost Rock would lead to the creation of hundreds of advanced and incredible inventions, though burning the substance also causes a horrific and disconcerting screaming sound.
This extended the Civil War beyond its historic boundaries as soldiers continued to return from the dead and kept fighting. Eventually the war would end in an uneasy cease-fire as the country was split between the Confederacy, the Union, and a number of other groups carving out their own kingdoms in the harsh west.
As an interesting note the writers went out of their way to eliminate most discrimination from the setting. While it’s not a completely blind utopia, people of color and even women are more likely to be able to exist in society and hold important positions and jobs without many of the barriers that were common at the time.
There are two things that could throw someone off of enjoying the Deadlands setting. The first is that it’s unabashedly Western. While there are still cities that can be used for the purpose of a more urban game, such as Shan Fran or Chicago, it’s a game that pulls heavily on the romantic ideals of the old west. If this isn’t your bag, then it could cause some consternation.
The other is the heavy fantastical elements found in the game. Science in the game has a capital S, driven by the Ghost Rock mentioned earlier. Hucksters use the magic of the demons against them in order to manipulate the environment around them. Miracles are not only quantifiable but far more common, able to heal horrific wounds and drive off the nasty monsters found throughout the world. If you prefer only hard science fiction with your Steampunk, then you may not care for the setting either.
The game uses Savage Worlds rules, a quick paced system designed to keep things going so as not to detract from storytelling. Dice involved are the full spectrum as attributes and skills range from a d4 up to a d12, with d20s also used. The game includes the standard mix of derived stats such as initiative and speed. Characters are able to take Edges and Hindrances that allow for boons such as better dice pools and magic, or impediments such as lost dice to make things more interesting.
Character creation is fast and combat is designed to be equally quick and brutal. Unimportant enemies largely fall at a single attack while heroes and major villains are allowed to last longer.
One interesting mechanic is the use of bennies, or Fate Chips. Fate Chips are poker chips that allow a person to alter the game in some small way in exchange for allowing the Marshal to the same. In Deadlands, this can range from being allowed to re-roll a skill to being allowed to add an addition d6 to results. This can change the direction and fate of the game considerably.
Deadlands also uses poker hands in order to determine how successful magic is. Rather than simply roll for results, the player gets a hand dealt to them. Based on how good of a hand you are able to put together, you get a number of Power Points. These Power Points are then used for determining the strength and range of the magical effect.
Whether or not someone enjoys how Deadlands plays is dependent on how well a person gets into the Savage Worlds system. If you like rules designed for speed but that can be a bit limiting at the beginning, then you’ll like the nuances of the system. The addition of bennies and cards can make it all the more interesting. If you prefer the chance to really toy with points from the get go and stick mostly to dice, then it may not be as much for you. This is a system that is capable of going very deep or very shallow depending on the needs of the game master.
Deadlands is a Weird Western game first and foremost. While there are a considerable number of Steampunk elements in the game, in no small part due to the Mad Scientists and their incredible creations, you can tell the setting was designed with the romantic ideals of the Old West at the forefront. Gunslingers dot the landscape and local law enforcement is considered to be one of the few lines of defense against the Reckoners and their horrors. Huge monsters straight out of western legend and local myth create terror for the small communities they surround and prey on. One could argue that it’s these mysterious and mystical creatures that are more important to the setting than any jet pack or flame thrower.
Is the game fun though? In my opinion, this is a resounding yes. The setting is imaginative and offers a variety of game potentials from more political and subterfuge all the way up to a full on spaghetti western style adventure. The monsters and villains of the world are varied, both in style as well as difficulty. Your players will be hard pressed to run out of challenges when one considers that the only way to save the world from the Reckoners involves a trip to South America that they may never come back from.
This is easily one of my favorite game settings and systems out their currently. To anyone looking for an excellent western game or a solid Steampunk setting, buy this game and play it. If nothing else the, Savage Worlds system will give you a good starting point for your own Steampunk settings with rules that are as deep as you need it to be. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Deadlands: Reloaded and Savage Worlds
Correspondent M. Gabriel Colbaugh spends most of his time serving as a technical writer for a waste-water treatment firm, but otherwise spends time writing about steampunk and enjoying fine haberdashery.He lives in Las Vegas with his wife and two furry children, River and Isabela. He also works to maintain the Las Vegas Steampunk Tea Society with a host of others.