Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Deadlands crawls into the light

The other game we played over the holiday was Deadlands, specifically the Savage Worlds version. I got interested in Original Recipie Deadlands back in the 90's and have a just-about-complete collection of it and the nuclear version as well. I got interested in Savage Worlds back when it was just a discussion on a mailing list in the early 2000's and own quite a bit of material for it. That said it was a looong time before I got to run either one. I've mainly run Neccessary Evil in Savage Worlds (a Supers campaign) so I was very pleased to have the chance to run Deadlands in it. Finally!

Apprentice Who isn't as excited about cowboys as he is about Star Wars or Superheroes so he decided to take a pregenerated character I downloaded from the Pinnacle site and scurried off to play some Xbox while Red and Blaster made their own characters - even at this stage of their gaming careers they absolutely hate running characters that they did not create. That said Who did pick a winner. He was seriously considering the Guy With the Lightning Gun but ended up going with the Guy With the Gatling Shotgun. It's hard to go wrong with a gatling shotgun.

Apprentice Blaster was flipping through one of the older books and decided a Texas Ranger looked pretty cool and so went with that as his concept. He's big, tough, strong, and not too bright, but he's good with a rifle and in a fight so he was happy. No, we don't have a name yet.

Apprentice Red was instantly hooked on the Huckster concept. He's pretty smart but not much good in a hand to hand fight. Fortunately his magical abilities mean he doesn't need to  be up close to hurt people. His card tricks allow him to attack a single target at range, cause an explosion, and protect himself. Again, no name yet.

After all this character building time was growing short so I told them they were at a small town in Missourri waiting on a train headed for Denver. They had arrived separately but realized they were headed for the same destination and so spent several hours getting acquanted in a local saloon. Now it was nearing sundown and they decided to take a shortcut through a wooded area to the train station.

As they move through the brush, wolf howls break out and soon enough six wolves move into sight. The two men stop to see what the wolves are about. The pack catches the scent and charges in. Cards are dealt out and combat begins!

Blaster's Ranger puts a rifle round into one of the lead wolves and drops it in one shot. Red's Huckster tries to blast one of them but is off just a little bit. The Ranger drops one more with a shot from his rifle. Then the card-slinger drops a perfectly placed blast on top of the main pack and blows 3 of the wolves away in a storm of burning cards. One wolf manages to run up on the huckster and gets his jaws on one arm but the Ranger blows it away at point blank range. The two then hustle on towards the train station, arriving in time to catch the ride to their next adventure.

I do like the SW initiative system - using the the cards just feels so different that it breaks the typical D&D mindset and puts us in a different place. It worked well enough with superheroes but it feels even more "right" with western heroes. Switching initiative every round was something the Apprentices were also unused too, as most of our games use a more static system.

Combat moves fast, very fast, and I was once again elated to play with the awesomeness that is No Record Keeping - Basic NPC's and monsters are either Up and Fine, Shaken,  or Dead, sort of like minions in 4E D&D. Special characters (called WIld Cards) can have up to 3 wounds but these are marked with poker chips instead of being tracked by hit points or on a chart. I use white chips for Shaken, red chips for Wounds, and blue chips for any oddball status I need to mark which is pretty rare. Unlike my usual campaign logs where pages are covered in long descending hit point tracks, my notes for a session of this game just covers actions of note and lists which opponents or NPC's were encountered.

Playing it again, even as just a brief warm-up, reminded me all over again why I like this game so much. It's a beautiful system which feels like you're getting a lot done in a short period of time but with enough detail to make it worth doing. It is very much on the "Cinematic" side of things with characters blazing away, shaking off wounds, and moving on to the next big action sequence. It is more detailed than say ICONS, but less complex than M&M. There's enough mechanical crunch to make it interesting but not enough to need rules-heavy supplements. Most of the supporting material is campaign material with a few rules tweaks or additions to flesh out that particular universe - superpowers in Neccessary Evil, expanded rules for sailing ships and ship combat in Pirates, more 1870's-specific gear in Deadlands, 1960's gear in Tour of Darkness, etc.

This session also helped me recognize bits of other games in there too. There are elements of d6 Star Wars  in Savage Worlds that really jump out at me now after having gone through that system in some detail, including changes that I would make to that system as far as movement and actions and paring the skill list down to its core. I think if I ever go for a lighter Star Wars game it will use these rules.

In addition to the official material, there is a very strong community attitude of do-it-yourself online. There are numerous conversions of other games out there and numerous home grown sets of campaign material. Check out this page - everything from Harry Potter to World of Warcraft to TORG to Eberron to Star Trek and Warhammer 40,000 - that's a pretty wide range!

So this session got things started - what's my plan? Not sure. I'm going to run them through the old Deadlands starter adventure "Comin' Round the Mountain" (which I have never gotten to run) because I think it looks like fun. Hopefully that will happen this weekend and we can include Apprentice Who in this one. After that I may run a little thing I had written up years ago set in the Great Maze and after that well we will just see where things go. It's very unusual for me to go into a potential campaign situation without some kind of outline but I don't really feel the need for that yet with this game. Since we already have ongoing D&D 4E, Star Wars, and ICONS games with occsional forays into D&D Basic and MSH I don;t thin I need to over plan this. Plus I don't have a really compelling idea for a long term campaign of this yet. I'm feeling it as more of an episodic thing, more like "this week on Deadlands - the Night Train!" rather than a zero to hero epic that spans 50 sessions and 2 years of real time. I think the more segmented approach will work here so I'm going to try it that way for now.

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