Posts tagged Deadlands Noir

Are Arbitrary Mechanics Part of a Setting’s Feel?

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First off, I’d like to say that the Wild Card Creator Kickstarter has just reached its funding goal! Thanks to everyone who backed! The Kickstarter is open until September 9th, so there’s plenty of time to pledge if you haven’t already!

Recently, Pinnacle Entertainment Group released Hell on Earth Reloaded, the Savage Worlds version of the post-apocalyptic western setting and sequel to Deadlands. It’s a pretty neat book, but to the surprise of many fans neither the Guts skill nor Fate Chips are used.

For those of you not familiar with them, both of these mechanics have been important mechanics of Deadlands since it was first released in 1996 and they have been part of every iteration of it and its sequel settings until now. The Guts skill is used to resist fear and keep yourself together in terrifying situations (of which there are many in the Weird West). Although some see the Guts skill as a point-sink, it thematically makes sense to use that rather than just plain Spirit because the average person should be terrified by the horrors on the high plains whereas the heroes need to steel themselves up to deal against them.

Ever since Savage Worlds Deluxe was released, the Guts skill has been reserved only for horror settings. Given that Hell on Earth has many horror elements and that previous iterations included a Guts skill, it was expected that Hell on Earth Reloaded would use one too. But to everyone’s surprise, it didn’t. The reason that was given was that unlike in the Weird West, everybody is exposed to the horrors of the Wasted West and people are generally jaded to all but the worst of it. Thus resisting Fear with a Spirit check was deemed adequate. Makes sense, but it was a strange transition and some people weren’t as happy with it.

Fate Chips are a special variation of bennies drawn at random during the start of the session and come in three types: the common white ones that work like regular bennies, the uncommon red ones that can optionally be used to add a d6 to the result of a roll (but the GM gets to draw a Fate Chip), and the rare blue ones that behave like a red one (but the GM does not get to draw a Fate Chip). Fate Chips make bennies slightly more powerful and also provide a bit of the “poker” feel of the Weird West.

But to the surprise of many, Fate Chips didn’t make it into Hell on Earth Reloaded. The reason given was that the powers that be weren’t there to help the heroes, as represented by the more powerful Fate Chips. Nonetheless, many fans disagreed with the reasoning and decided they would houserule in the Deadlands Fate Chips because to them it was an integral part of Deadlands. For comparison, an informal forum poll (started by yours truly) found that a supermajority of responders wanted to see the upcoming Deadlands Noir, another sequel setting to Deadlands, include Fate Chips. Ultimately though, the author revealed that they would not be used.

The strong feelings that came from this debate made me think: are there game mechanics that are actually “part” of a setting? Hell on Earth Reloaded and Deadlands Noir took away some of the integral game mechanics and there was some fan backlash, with many people wanting to houserule it back in to make it “feel” like a Deadlands game.

I imagine you would have a similar response if a new version of Shadowrun came out that didn’t use a dice pool of d6s or Savage Worlds dropped card-based initiative. Especially with the former, it’s a pretty arbitrary mechanic that has since become an integral part of the “feel” of the setting. You could argue that this is why why some fans felt that Dungeons & Dragons 4e didn’t “feel” like Dungeons & Dragons: because many of them viewed certain mechanics as being linked to the feel of the setting.

When I run Urban Arcana, I wouldn’t think of doing it for any system besides Dungeons & Dragons for this very reason. Of course, you could certainly try and come up with interesting situations like the Savage Worlds version of Greyhawk.

So, at the end of the day, I would say that yes, arbitrary mechanics are part of a setting’s feel. It probably has to do with how unique that mechanic is, how loved the mechanic is, and how long the mechanic has been around.

Deadlands Developments

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Today I’m dutifully doing a discourse describing Deadlands developments. Yep.

Independence Day Dime Novel Cover

They didn’t stop The Butcher, but at least the scenario finally felt right.

First, I would like to say that I have finally run a successful session of Independence Day, one of the Deadlands Dime Novel adventures. I ran it almost a year ago but the scenario really suffered because of issues with the The Butcher’s invulnerability. When I ran it last month, it fell flat because I kept trying to bail the players out of failure. But the third time’s a charm and I finally got the scenario right.

With my brother and his friend having to cancel their D&D game, they asked me if I had an adventure to run. We wound up deciding on doing Deadlands and I had Independence Day already prepped since I ran it last month. The duo wound up excelling in the investigation and were able to figure out The Butcher’s identity even before the last few clues came out. Unfortunately, they were not able to discover The Butcher’s weakness and died trying to fight him. This time, I didn’t bail the characters out of their failure. Ultimately, the game wound up being better because of that and, although they were a bit disappointed to have not stopped The Butcher, the players were happy with the scenario in the end.

Turns out that while I’ve been running some Classic adventures, Pinnacle has been hard at work with all sorts of new Deadlands stuff. The fan-maintained Big List of Pinnacle Products shows that there are a whopping 14 supplements/adventures in the pipeline! And that’s not counting Deadlands: Hell on Earth Reloaded coming out this summer.

But the big news this week was Pinnacle’s new setting: Deadlands Noir. Instead of being set in the Weird West, Deadlands:Noir is set in 1930s New Orleans. The description says that typical player concepts include “steely-eyed private dicks, fast-talking grifters, wild-eyed inventors, and shadowy houngans” and you can bet there’ll be mafia too. Oh, and lots and lots of obligatory New Orleans Hucksters (and I thought they were surprisingly many of them floating around the Weird West as it is!). As a fan of the general Deadlands metaplot, I have to say that I’m wondering how this will all fit in (and why Stone is going to be around, as has been hinted at). At this point though, it’s all speculation, so we’ll find out.

Unlike most Pinnacle products, this one is an experiment in crowd-funding using Kickstarter with individuals pledging money ahead of time so that the product can be created. Each project has incentives that backers receive for pledging more, like signed copies of the books. Turns out that their $8,000 goal was raised in less than 24 hours! As of this writing, they are 345% funded and are planning on releasing their “stretch goals” to give extra benefits to backers if they raise enough money. Pinnacle hasn’t announced them yet, but my guess is that it will be more adventures and cut-out “figure flats” like they have with their other products.

Now that the description is out of the way, it’s time for my take on the whole thing. Kickstarter seems to be an increasingly popular means of generating funds, especially from game companies, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before Pinnacle gave it a shot. And it’s clearly worked for them with support shattering their expectations with hundreds of backers willing to invest in their product, sight unseen (certainly the Deadlands reputation helped, but they don’t know what the product will actually be like yet). It was a pretty good business move I think. Overall, I think that Kickstarter is starting to become a bit too saturated and that eventually there is going to be some backer fatigue, but for the time being, Pinnacle took advantage of the situation.

The setting itself is interesting, but I can’t say the hardboiled genre it seeks to emulate is entirely my cup of tea. Maybe it’s the fact that’s it’s more gritty and less optimistic than I like my settings to be. Or the meandering monologues become a bit too much after a while. I went ahead and backed the project because it’s Deadlands, but I don’t think it will wind up on my must-play list (although for what it’s worth, it took me a long time to warm up to the idea of a post-apocalyptic Deadlands (that would be Deadlands: Hell on Earth), so maybe I will warm up to this as well).

I’m also a little concerned because the hardboiled genre involves a lot of investigation, which is often a difficult thing for GMs to run properly in a role-playing game. My guess is that there will be some new mechanics to keep things fast, furious, and fun (probably spend a Fate Chip to automatically get a clue or something). I also anticipate a modified version of the Social Conflict rules in Savage Worlds Deluxe to better handle interrogations.

At the end of the day though, I have to admit that playing a private eye huckster does sound really sweet!

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