Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Magic Items in Deadlands - I Handed Out a Few


Now magic items in RPGs are fairly common but not all games use them the same way. In D&D and similar games they are built into the game's assumptions - and the players' as well. If your character has few levels under their belt and you don't have a magic item of some kind ... well that's an unusual game in my experience. 

Yes, Deadlands does have magic items. In general though they are not run-of-the-mill things one finds and then replaces as one "levels up". They tend to be fairly powerful for a character and retained regardless. Nor are they 100% beneficial as most of them have a "taint" which inflicts some negative effect on the character while they retain the item. There are roughly 3 tiers of unusual items in Deadlands:

  • The Steampunk level stuff that is somewhat mass-produced. These are things that can be found in the Smith & Robards catalog. These are not overtly magical but they are a bit more than conventional physics or engineering would allow which is typically explained by "ghost rock" - powered by, shavings of, steel forged using ... etc.  Many of the more complex devices have a malfunction effect to remind players of the risks of pushing the envelope.
  • Mad Science Devices can be created by a mad scientist is you have one in your party or know a really benevolent NPC. These can often do more - basically replicating a power - but tend to be limited to a fixed number of charges or a hard time limit. They are unique and cannot generally be sold or traded. They operate similarly to supervillain gadgets in a superhero campaign in that respect. 
  • Relics are the permanent big time magic items in the Deadlands setting. They generally are not "crafted" but are instead created in the heat of a catastrophic or tragic event. They are not really something one can buy or sell and there is no known list of common relics because they are not common!
So now that we have that breakdown I can explain that although I have been playing around with Deadlands in various forms since the 90's when it came out I have never placed a relic in my games. There have been mad scientists whipping up flamethrowers and the like, and Smith & Robards has done some business, but I haven't dropped a single relic ever. It's a little strange for me and once I started thinking about it I wondered if I had developed a blind spot for them in this setting.

The reason for this realization is that after 20 sessions of The Flood campaign we were finishing up the Shan Fan arc (if you've played it you'll know what that means) and there comes a point where the party helps to defend a secret society's vault of artifacts. The suggestion is to reward your players with some unusual items or a bunch of money for doing this. As I contemplated how this could go I realized my lack of prior relic drops. As I dug into them with the aim of making it like a traditional D&D treasure horde where you conveniently find a range of items tailored to the party or at least generally useful for a D&D party I realized this might not be the best approach. 

No, there is no "random relic table" in Deadlands. Sure, I could make one, and as much fun as that might be it didn't really feel right either. 

So I went full 4th edition D&D: I let my players tell me what they found in the vaults. 

Each one got to pick one item from the relics list or from the S&R catalog, subject to GM veto if they got way too ridiculous. I told them to think about their character, both how they've played them up until now and also where they want to take them in the future, both mechanically and conceptually, as this could be a turning point in their life. They have insight into the big picture of Deadlands now and they just survived a war between triads - things might go in a different direction for them after this and finding some relic or infernal device could be a part of that change. 

I trust my players and they did not disappoint. No one tried to break the game.
  • The very practically-minded bounty hunter took Owl-Eye Goggles - steampunk night vision goggles - they're not even a relic but they fit the character perfectly.
  • The mad scientist chose an Epitaph Camera, which is an in-universe thing that is used by the Tombstone Epitaph to publish pictures of unusual events and this totally fits with his interest in making moving pictures for education and entertainment purposes. This is also not a relic.
  • The huckster/hexslinger finally got a decent Book of Hoyle. She's been searching for one the entire game and finally got what I believe is about the third best type in the game, the 1801 version. This is a major way for this type of magic-tosser to learn new powers and her capabilities will expand quite a bit now. 
  • The martial artist had a really hard time deciding but ended up taking a lucky jackalope's foot. This basically just gives him 2 extra bennies per session (which can be super useful) a the risk of making critical failures a whole lot worse if (when) one happens. It is a relic but is pretty generally useful. Considering he is the stealth guy, the melee guy, and their liaison to the Chinese community I am sure he will find them useful. 
  • The gunslinger of course had to pick a gun - in this case the Guns of Jericho ... which are bad ... but also kind of awesome. It's a cursed Gatling rifle that stains the wielders hands black, make the user Greedy and Mean (these are Hindrances in-game), and on a critical failure the guns disappear and reappear somewhere else. Oh, and the evil hombre that created them is still out there looking for him and might show up if word gets out that someone is using his guns somewhere - what GM doesn't see the potential in THAT kind of setup!
So I am very happy with this set of choices and for now I think my decision to let them pick instead of picking for them or going random was a good call. We are already into the next adventure which involves a haunted island that may have one of the marks they need to find so I will update as the game progresses. 

Monday, April 24, 2023