Posted on January 22, 2013 by Jack Kelly
Tags: gaming, readings, rpg

While poking around a second-hand shop, I found a copy of the Deadlands RPG. It pitches itself as a “Weird West” game: take the wild west, add horrible things from beyond and folks who won’t stay dead, and you’ve got a pretty interesting place to tell a story. Mad scientists build steam-powered machines that run on “ghost rock”, a strange mineral that appeared after “The Reckoning” let spirits back into the world (and blew up California). Inventing things channels said spirits, which turns the scientist insane. Hoyle’s writings on card games are secretly books of eldritch lore, and if you look closely you can see the cards appear in a huckster’s hand as he casts his hex. It’s a really cool setting, and if I had the time and players, I’d watch a few spaghetti westerns, tinker with the mechanics and play a couple of sessions.

Mechanically, the game is a mix of the cool and the clumsy. When a huckster casts a hex, he makes his roll to cast anything at all. On a success, he draws 5 or more cards from a deck, depending on how well he rolled and makes the best possible poker hand from them. That determines how well the hex works. The initiative system is also pretty clever: the result of a speed check controls how many cards you draw, and then you turn in your cards to take actions as the GM counts down from Ace to Deuce. It’s similar to the Shot Counter in Feng Shui, but with cards instead of numbers. In Feng Shui, players tend to forget their next shot number, so perhaps having cards will make it easier. I don’t like initiative systems where fast characters get more actions than slow ones, because it takes the spotlight away from the slower ones.

On the clumsy side, there’s a lot of randomness where I don’t think there should be randomness. For example, when your character dies, you rolls to see if he becomes one of the Harrowed: reanimated (and sometimes possessed) by an evil spirit. Such a major change in the character’s nature should not, IMHO, rest on a single roll of the dice. Similarly, the shaman’s spell-casting system can require a considerable amount of character sacrifice (like removing fingers), with a chance of absolutely nothing happening. A character’s starting stats depend on a hand of dealt cards, which might be fine for some old-school types, but that’s not something I like in my RPGs these days.

So for me, it’s really good idea fuel. I could see myself bolting some of its mechanics onto another game (notably the card-based spell-casting), but as a whole system its publication date really shows.

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