This week we are reviewing Deadlands Reloaded .
The Deadlands RPG series is an alternate history setting from Pinnacle Entertainment which mixes horror and pulp fiction with the western. The setting and game line won eight Origin Awards over the years and sets a high benchmark for successfully marrying game mechanics and setting design. Deadlands Reloaded is the newest version of the work and currently employs a variation of the Savage Worlds game engine.
The editors and layout people, Simon Lucas, Aaron Acevedo and Travis Anderson – among others – organized the Reloaded book well; the work flows logically and includes a solid table of contents and a comprehensive index so that finding what you are looking for is relatively easy. Further, the PDF sports a thorough set of bookmark and it is replete with… hyperlinks.
Reloaded nicely balances text, illustrations and white space thorough the work, making the pages easy on the eyes. Many of the illustrations appear to have been scooped from earlier versions of Deadlands and the many Deadlands supplements, however they are well executed and serve their purpose, although few illustrations really standout none are bad. Contributing artists include Brom, Ron Spencer and Cheyenne Wright, among others.
The quality of the writing, by Shane Hensley and BD Flory, is debatable as the text possesses an extremely jocular tone which is consistently breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to game masters and players – or as they are called here, Marshall’s and members of the posse. This tone, speaking to the reader as though they were a part of the setting, occurs even when conveying out of character information. As with everything, your mileage may vary, but it can be off putting, undermining the works ability to reach an audience and it is too campy.
The format of this show notwithstanding, I do not actually like camp – it is an irritatingly poor attempt at humor that undercuts any attempt at a real emotion, be it fear, joy or anything in between. The campy quality to the setting of Deadlands is distracting… but that quality is also probably inevitable. Namely, the setting includes Confederate soldiers as big damn heroes, steam-powered robots and various agents of evil trying to ruin the world – so camp is probably inevitable. Nothing says I have to like it – and I do not. However, I also acknowledge this is a matter of personal taste and your mileage may vary.
In terms of the setting itself, imagine watching the Wild Wild West . No, do not imagine watching the Will Smith movie, but imagine watching the original television series . Now imagine watching the original television series after dropping some acid.
Yeah, the setting of Reloaded is kind of like that.
Putting it in a less snide manner, Deadlands is an alternate history setting. Halfway through the American Civil War , or 15 years before the official time of the setting, a group Native Americans successfully enacted a ritual that returned dangerous magic and malevolent spirits to the world. This in turn caused the dead to rise, made the casting of all manner of spells possible and permitted the creation of mad science fiction steam punk devices. It also meant the American Civil War would drag on for almost 20 years, that much of California shattered in an earthquake that reduced it to a set of islands and sea-filled canyons, while straight up monsters now stalk the landscape .
Many people and places from history still exist, such as Doc Holiday, Calamity Jane and Tombstone, Arizona . They are part of the mad mix of setting and well integrated.
Reloaded presents a well-executed setting, with adventuring across the campaign world and the chance for participants to play with everything from gunslingers to shamans to mad scientists and more. With Reloaded Pinnacle Entertainment does a good job of integrating the genres of Western, horror and steam punk if you like that and enjoy, or can at least tolerate camp… then this setting will probably match your aesthetic tastes.
Speaking of mad scientists, can someone please tell me what is the worst business and technology can bring us?
Reloaded is not a standalone game – it requires the use of the Savage Worlds game book to run.
It is rare to find a setting so well wedded to the mechanics. Usually game mechanics are aesthetically neutral, serving to adjudicate disputes but neither aiding nor hindering the mood of a game, at least by themselves. However, the variation on the Savage Worlds rules employed in Reloaded serve the setting well.
Savage Worlds employs a feature called exploding dice - when you rolled the highest number any particular dice allows you may roll that dice again and add the cumulative result. In Reloaded, this die roll result is getting an ace. Every five points achieved over the target is a “raise” indicating the character is particularly effective.
Savage World also employs features called Edges and Hindrances , which is the Savage World version of GURPS Advantages and Drawbacks or the Merits and Flaws is the White Wolf Storyteller system. In other words, they are a set of additions that allow players to tailor a character to something very specific, to suit themselves and the game. All the edges and hindrances here are perfectly suited to the setting.
In addition to gunslingers and other straight up fighters are shamans, holy men and the mad scientists who may create effects. They all draw their effects from the same basic list – they can each create a blast, for example. It is how they create the blast that sets them apart, be it magic, prayer or mechanized flobotnyms. The career path to create such effects is among the setting appropriate edges presented in Reloaded.
As with standard Savage Worlds, dice rolls determine initiative while playing cards dealt to the players indicate the play order.
Reloaded dismisses Savage World’s bennies system for Fate Chips, employing multi colored poker chips, the color indicting different things, some good and some bad. Players draw a set number of chips from a hat and do not know the color of their fate chips until it is potentially too late. However, as with real poker, savvy players do the best they can with their hand.
This game mechanic employs dice, player cards and poker chips and it all works great with the Weird Western setting.
It is worth noting, the Savage Worlds game engine grew out of the Great Rail Wars miniatures game, which grew out of the mechanics of the original Deadlands game. In Reloaded, the system came full circle so to speak.
In the end, I give Deadlands Reloaded a 20 on a d20 roll. The setting is fun, the book well organized and a great example of exactly what it says on the tin, adventure games in the weird west. The jocular tone and campy quality undercut the elements of horror and drama; however, few RPGs that do as good a job of marrying the mechanics with the aesthetics.
Check out this game is you like the Savage Worlds engine, western games and weird fiction.
[5 of 5 Stars!]