Revered Tomes: Deadlands

This month I bring you a tale of another horror TTRPG, Deadlands. This wild west game is a combination of six-guns, steampunk, and shadowy, world-ending horror.

First published by Pinnacle Gaming Group in 1996, Deadlands grabbed the attention of my friends and myself with its heavy use of poker cards, poker chips, and multiple sets of math rocks. I frequently would line up five full sets of dice when I ran a game as the Marshal, place a tin of poker chips in the center of the table, and stack multiple decks of cards on the table for initiative and spell casting.

Lore-wise, the reason behind the influx of magic in this alternate history reminded me of the Ghost Dance metioned in the background of Shadowrun. A Native American shaman wanted to fight the white man but ended up screwing everyone over by releasing more than he’d bargained on. I won’t go into the true details as that falls heavily under Spoiler Territory.

Magic in the setting was both Arcane and Divine. It seems that Hoyle’s book of games was actually an encoded spell book that certain gamblers, called Hucksters, could decipher to find the formulae for spells. In casting these spells they could engage a demon in their minds in a hand of poker. The better their hand, the more powerful the spell’s effect. The results were often concealed by slight of hand as these Hucksters would frequently play with a deck of cards to mask the winning or losing hand they drew in this game of beat-the-devil. Then there were the Blessed: God-fearing souls that truly had backing from on high. Their miracles were more subtle and much more accepted by polite society than those of the Hucksters.

Weird science existed as well. A mysterious new element called Ghost Rock was found. It quickly inspired an industry of infernal devices and mechanical contraptions. These Mad Scientists with their steampunk arms and armor could be found roving the weird West testing their gear on the dusty trail.

Everything you expect from The Wild West was there as well. Gunslingers, Law dogs, Outlaws, Soiled Doves, Shaman, Braves, Texas Marshals, Pinkertons etc. All of these various character concepts were built in the beginning by drawing a random set of cards and placing their converted values where you wished. As real time progressed, the timeline of the weird west did as well. New supplements revealed world-changing events

What started at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 has now moved on 20 years or more. The civil war did not end as we know, but was prolonged as the the dead rose on that fateful day. The west coast suffered the Great Quake later on, dumping California into the ocean and creating a maze of plateaus reaching out into the Pacific. Familiar cities sprang up with names like Lost Angels, and Shan Fan. Locales like Fort 52 in Nevada became secretive government facilities. A corporate war between the five biggest railroads menaced the West, as a Mad Scientist named Helstromme, who very much resembled Vincent Price in the artwork, held dominion in the Mormon state of Deseret (Utah).

It is the task of the posse to combat the evils and horrors of the weird West and lower the overall level of fear to fight the true threat behind it all.

Now, some 25 years later, Deadlands is currently using the Savage Worlds rules and still has a strong following in many gaming circles. Recently, the publisher held a Kickstarter. I can’t wait to dive into what my new Marshal will throw at me in our online game using the Foundry virtual tabletop. Adios, amigos!


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