Posts tagged Deadlands
Happy New Year! I hope that the holidays went over well for you and that you’re all looking forward to 2013.
This change in the new year has made me think about the passage of time in roleplaying games. In most games I’ve played, it’s generally not come up. In Dungeons & Dragons, for instance, quests may take many days to complete, but we generally don’t keep track of how many they are and don’t conceptualize larger units of time, like weeks, months, or years. Part of this of course is that in most fantasy settings, they aren’t going to be using the same names for days of the week or months and it doesn’t matter whether the year is 349 or 5192. So in order for time to be used in a roleplaying game, it must be meaninfully measured.
The simplest way to do this is to just use the Gregorian Calendar, since that’s what we use today. Some settings have used the Gregorian Calendar, but gave different names to the days of the weeks and the months. The Elder Scrolls calendar did this, as does the calendar in Low Life (although the latter changes the names out of parody). Part of the reason for this is that a different calendar with different numbers of days to the months doesn’t really add much to the game. (However, there have been a lot of efforts of calendar reform in real life to make it simpler and more logical. But aside from changing the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, none have been successful. I think the world should switch to the International Fixed Calendar, by the way).
Virtually all civilizations have, at the very least, measured the progression of time by seasons. The progression of time has to result in something changing, such as the weather. How many games have you played where your adventuring party started out in hot summer and ended in frigid winter? If you’re like most groups, not. This is partly a result of the trope that It’s Always Spring because it’s simpler to not factor in weather. But I think it’s a lot of fun to include it. Having the weather be rainy or snowy when it’s not because of Chekov’s Gun makes the world seem more alive, and the likelihood of such weather changing over time in long campaigns can add a lot of depth to the game.
Seasons of course are periodic, as are many other units of time. Historically Ancient Rome had 8 day weeks with the eighth day being a market day where everything is closed, while our modern calendar has 7 day weeks because Jews and Christians worship every seventh day. I could see a setting changing the number of days in a week for reasons such as that. And of course, we mark one year as the number of days that pass before Earth is at the same position in relation to the sun. This of course adds the possibility of annual holidays. When was the last time you celebrated a birthday or holiday in your games? You’re missing out!
In many of my games lately I’ve tried to incorporate time and it’s either been a lot of fun! For starters, I mandate that all players must have birthdays. This is done by randomly rolling a d12 for the month and a d30 for the day (if the month has 31 days and they roll a 30, then they roll odds or evens). The only time I had a birthday come up was when I ran Daring Entertainment‘s War of the Dead campaign. In the middle of the zombie outbreak, the six year old girl they rescued realized that it was her birthday and she just turned seven! There was a lot of celebration by all, even with a couple they met using up the last of their flour and eggs to bake a cake, and it really helped raise morale for the characters after all the horror they had been through with the zombies. It was a fun diversion and the players loved it.
Over the summer, I ran a roleplaying game version of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, which unlike the later games had special things happen on certain holidays. For instance during our campaign, the Warrior’s Festival came up, and as a result the player characters could purchase weaponry and training for half price for that day only. One of the players agonized over whether or not to borrow money and buy a weapon at half price or pay for it later at a greater price. I think that the feeling of having the world be more alive was fun as well.
Finally in my current The Last Sons campaign, I’m going full tilt and keeping track of each day that passes. Certain developments in the plot point campaign happen on a certain day (e.g. the national elections) as well as certain holidays. How will the posse be spending Christmas? And the weather is going to change significantly as we get closer to winter. They don’t know about it yet, but there’s also going to be a time limit to the best result of the campaign. Sure you can dawdle around on the Weird West as much as they want, but if they’re not ready on that last day, they’ll miss their shot at making things a whole lot better.
Adding time to your roleplaying games adds a lot of little moments that make the game more enjoyable. It requires a bit more tracking on the GM’s side to pull it off, but I think that it’s worth it in the end.
First off, there are some Last Sons spoilers that would come up in the first two or three sessions.
His name was Sam “Red Dog” Reese, and he was a Union deserter turned bounty hunter heading to Deadwood, figuring it was a place that he could escape from the Union Army. Moreover, his commanding officer, Col. Brannon was an Enemy (Major) out hunting him down. As a GM, I put on a huge grin and let him play it.
After being ambushed by Sam Bass (the players captured him and planned to turn him in for a reward), the stagecoach driver got a raise on his Repair roll and finished the repairs in two hours, so I put them a bit ahead of schedule of what the PPC says and they arrived at Deadwood shortly before noon. But in the distance, they spotted an entire sea of blue figures swiftly marching towards Deadwood.
Sam started panicking and decided that the best thing to do was to hide himself in the hotel. So he looked at the map of Deadwood I’d printed out and decided to book a room at the Grand Central Hotel and hid in the room. After a while, he heard a ruckus downstairs and figured he’d check it out. Not only did he see a whole bunch of blue uniforms, but General Custer himself walked into his newly chosen headquarters for his occupation Deadwood. I totally didn’t make that up, the player chose to go to the hotel that The Last Sons said that Custer decided to make his headquarters!
So Sam jumped out the window to avoid being spotted by some people who knew him. At one point though, he did make eye contact with someone in his regiment. He hoped that he wouldn’t report to Col. Brannon.
After meeting with Charlie Bull and laying down for sleep at his house, there was a knock on the door from someone claiming to be an old friend of Sam’s. Charlie Bull told them they hadn’t seen him and turned them away. The posse decided to go out and investigate and got ambushed by a bunch of men from Sam’s old regiment. Colonel Brannon himself wasn’t there. After a midnight duel and a lot of bloodshed in the streets, the posse decided they needed to leave town ASAP before any additional soldiers found Sam.
They went for a few hours into the Black Hills that night and weathered out the storm under a rock crag near some of the pole-men hung up by the Sioux Indians as warnings towards those who violated the mining rules. Sam, unable to sleep, had first watch. During the night he thought that he saw one of the polemen moved. Figuring it wasn’t anything worth waking up his companions for, he went down to investigate. When he got up next to it, the poleman came to life and lashed a rope around his neck before he could scream. He nearly was hanged to death, but with a lucky shot was able to shoot the rope.
The gunshot woke up his Huckster companion, but the third companion (with the Heavy Sleeper Hindrance) was sound asleep. After several rounds of combat against the poleman, it grabbed Sam and attempted to hang him again when one of the players played an adventure card having help from an outside source come to help. So I had a bunch of Union soldiers chasing Sam arrive on the scene.
The Huckster risked firing into melee…and got a Critical Failure, shooting Sam straight in the gut with a raise. Unable to soak his wounds, Sam took three of them and the next round was hanged to death by the pole man. The Union soldiers saw that Sam was dead and headed back to Deadwood to report to Col. Brannon.
But that’s not the end. I fanned out the remaining cards in the action deck and, with just one card to draw, he drew the Joker! So after the party buried poor Sam, he woke up buried alive and discovered that he was a dead man walkin’.
So over the course of 24 hours, Sam, who fled to Deadwood to avoid the Union Army:
- Arrived at the one city that Custer’s entire force decided to annex on the day it was happening
- Booked a hotel room at the place Custer decided to use for his headquarters
- Was spotted by members of his former regiment and had to kill them to keep them from turning him in
- Had to leave town in the middle of the night during a downpour
- Got ambushed by a poleman alone
- Had members of his regiment show up in the middle of his distress
- Got shotgunned (with a raise) by his commrade
- Got hanged to death
- Was buried alive and ultimately became a dead man
I’m sure this will be one of those stories we’ll talk about for years, but man was it a crazy experience! Never have I seen a character have such a horrendous day, all from choices that unwittingly led to trouble!
Last week I talked about Arkham Nights on this blog, but as part of our blog exchange, I had a guest post on Scrolls of the Platinum Warlock where I talked about my perspective as a player in one of Andy’s campaigns (also see his perspective as a GM in that same camapaign). This week, we’re switching it around and showing a player’s perspective on one of my campaigns!
In the Summer of 2011, I decided that I wanted to run a Deadlands mini-campaign. Deadlands is famous for having a very rich metaplot and, since Andy’s recently completed Deadlands campaign “Follow the Walkin’ Man” didn’t tap into it that much, I decided it would be a lot of fun to run a short campaign using the (second) biggest metaplot-making adventure in the entire history of Deadlands: The Devil’s Tower trilogy. (The Unity is the biggest metaplot-making adventure, but the time hasn’t come for me to run that one yet).
The Devil’s Tower Trilogy is a series of three adventures published in 1998 for Deadlands Classic, which I updated to Deadlands Reloaded: The Road to Hell, Heart o’ Darkness, and Fortress o’ Fear. You’ll note that in Andy’s recap below, he refers to the trilogy as the “Heart of Darkness” trilogy, which is probably a better name for it as Devil’s Tower isn’t even mentioned until the third scenario. The scenario begins with none other than Dr. Darius Hellstromme himself hiring the posse to track down the mysterious “Heart o’ Darkness” gem that has been stolen from him.
One thing I like about the trilogy is that it’s a good tour of the Weird West. The posse travels from the steel and ghost-rock powered City o’ Gloom (Salt Lake City) in the Mormon nation of Deseret to the Free and Holy City of Lost Angels in the famine-stricken Great Maze to the high plains featuring the eponymous Devil’s Tower in the wide open plains of Wyoming (which is a real-world location). Along the way they meet three of the four “big players” in the Deadlands universe: Dr. Darius Hellstromme, Rev. Ezekiah Grimme, and the mysterious Stone. Fun fact: despite being on the cover of the original Deadlands rulebook, the character of Stone was not introduced until this trilogy of scenarios.
This mini-campaign was one of my favorites because it was all about the heroes facing the impossible. Even though I set them up as Legendary level characters, every player had two PCs that died by the end (except Andy who miraculously kept the same character alive until the end of the campaign!) In the end, there was a hard-won victory, but there was definitely a cost to preventing Hell on Earth (and yes, there is a relationship between this trilogy and the Deadlands sequel setting).
And now without further ado, I turn you over to one of my players for his recounting of the mini-campaign:
A Player’s Perspective
As part of our ongoing cross-blog extravaganza, the Journeyman GM—Will Herrmann—and I have been taking a look atour experiences in one another’s campaigns. Last time, we palavered about his experiences in my “Shadows of the Cold War” game. This time around, I’ll let you in on what it’s like to be in one of Will’s games, particularly his Deadlands “Heart of Darkness” trilogy.
When Will pitched his game to Guild-at-large, I was already stoked. I had just finished running a Deadlands campaign—something of a crossover between standard Deadlands and the mythology created in Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga. My campaign had a few miscues and we lost a few players, which made life hectic, but overall I was incredibly pleased with how the game turned out and I was eager to play in the world that I had so recently started reading about. Will had not only introduced me to Deadlands, but to Savage Worlds as a system, so I knew I was in for a treat.
I’ll say one thing for Will as a GM—while he doesn’t have the fearsome reputation I seem to have gained in my years of tormenting players, Will challenges players with the best of them! Even with Legendary-tier heroes around the table, Will wasn’t afraid to pull out the big guns and let them strut their stuff! One of our first confrontations in the game was against Los Diablos: the Devil’s Own Herd of stampeding hell-cattle. These fiendish bovines took out no less than three of our five posse members, with only my hexslinging fencer and a huckster surviving!
This rigor carried through the full campaign, with intensely difficult fight scenes and equally difficult challenges in role-play. While the original “Heart of Darkness” trilogy brought several rough elements to the table, Will was ready to not only convert those elements, but toss in the occasional curveball to keep us on our toes. That’s not to say we didn’t respond in kind, of course! I’m sure Will didn’t expect us to reduce Rock Island Prison to a smoking crater, or to slice an enchanted cutlass through the skull of a certain cannibalistic reverend!
One of Will’s other strengths lies in his ability to efficiently and descriptively narrate a hectic action scene. Like myself, Will tends to favor the “set piece” fight scene over the standard dungeon-crawling sloughs of old-school gaming. In our climactic battle with Grimme, for example, numerous factions and monsters roamed the interior of the Cathedral of Lost Angels, each with varied stats and abilities. Will navigated this chaotic sea with ease, making for a fast-paced, thrilling encounter that absolutely made that session.
I do carry one badge of honor from Will’s “Heart of Darkness” game—my fencer was the only character who survived the entire game without dying! My wife’s “scrapper” fell to Los Diablos, as did our mad scientist. Our huckster died of tuberculosis and never realized it, coming back as a Harrowed in his sleep. Even our enigmatic Agent, wielding a hellfire-spouting carbine, died while in a duel with a certain undead gunslinger. However, Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva defied the odds, escaping certain death with the Heart of Darkness in hand!
While he’s off in Minnesota for the time being, I’m really hoping that Will manages to make it back for WittCon X. Gaming with him has always been a great privilege, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to sling dice with the Journeyman GM!
[Will’s Note: Yes, I do plan on coming back to Wittenberg for WittCon X!]
If you’re interested in seeing how this campaign went (minor spoilers within), check out some of my other blog posts about my experiences running The Devil’s Tower trilogy:
- The Price of Power — Exploring the whole theme of the trilogy
- Dealing with Player Absences — An interesting solution I used to deal with an absent player
- Facing the Impossible — How I totally stacked the deck against the posse and yet they pulled through
- Thoughts on Powerful NPCS — The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the NPCs in the trilogy (Or, “Why I killed the Deadlands version of Mary Sue”)
- Victory Requires the Threat of Defeat — Or, “You have six seconds to save the world. Go!”
- When You Give Your Posse Dynamite… — Need I say more?
You may have noticed that there was no blog post last week. That’s because the Kickstarter ended and I was swamped with stuff for Journeyman Games. Now that I am devoting more time to the company, this blog may have occasional interruptions in it. I still plan on blogging weekly, but there may be delays in posts if I am very busy with the company.
I’m pleased to say that I’m finally getting a group together! And I know what I’m running: Deadlands: The Last Sons!
The Last Sons is the most recent plot point campaign from Pinnacle Entertainment Group for their awesome Deadlands setting. You can read a full review about it here. This campaign is set in the central United States (or what we call the United States, since it crosses four nations in the Weird West) and is centered around Raven, the man who started the Reckoning and made everything terrible happen. They don’t call him the Servitor of War for nothing!
One thing I especially like about this campaign is that it’s centered around the Native Americans, who tend to get set to the side in the Deadlands universe. I can see why; they generally don’t throw playing cards, invent weird gadgets, or do kung-fu. But I think that’s what’s so appealing about them. Many westerns are Cowboys & Indians stories and so doing a story that features those two groups harkens back to the heart of what a western is. I think it’s good to be reminded that we don’t need all that fancy stuff to tell a good story about the frontier.
As I’m doing an AmeriCorps service year until August, I’m naturally going to have to limit the campaign to one year. This may be a bit of a problem and I’ll have to cut out a lot of fantastic material. But I think that overall, I’ll have it work out just fine.
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.