First Edition Deadlands: The Weird West. One of the great RPGs. It is the late 19th century in the American West. Outlaws rob banks and trains, pursueFirst Edition Deadlands: The Weird West. One of the great RPGs. It is the late 19th century in the American West. Outlaws rob banks and trains, pursued by hard-faced Lawmen who are only separated from them by a badge and a sense of honour. Sharp dressed poker players ride on riverboats or fleece the hick locals in a piano bar as a couple of high-kicking dancers flap their petticoats. Cold-eyed gunslingers face each other down a dusty street as a ball of dry weed is tumbled along by the wind. A mad scientist rides his steam-powered mech against and leads an army of zombies against some Indian shamans protecting their lands with the power of the spirit dance.
Deadlands, as do many role-playing games, takes a familiar genre and blends it with odder fare. The world of the Weird West has as much to do with horror movies as with westerns, and throws zombies and various flavours of magic into the mix. As well as shamans, some hucksters cast hexes with their decks of cards, priests can call on the power of god and the saints and mad scientists can imbue machinery with enslaved manitou spirits. And some folk just prefer to face these outlandish critters with their two fists and their six-shooters.
Deadlands gives an excellent background and storyline, as well as a system which includes specialised strengths and weaknesses for characters that are completely part of the setting (the whole book is written in the cod-western vernacular of western B-movies, critters and varmints and shootin' irons, and this carries over into edges and flaws in such descriptors as 'tinhorn' and 'big britches').
But the real jewel of Deadlands is the system, which is, for my money, not only one of the best fast-and-fun gaming systems ever created, but so in tune with the milieu that the game isn't the same without it (as was proved when the game was relaunched with a far inferior generic system). In tandem with the usual dice (everything from 4- to 12-sided), the players and gamemaster (or Marshall) each have a pack of standard playing cards, and get to draw cards to determine certain actions (combat order, magic use, etc), making poker hands to determine the level of success. In addition, it was also the first game I came across to use 'fate chips' - again poker chips - being awarded for good game play (good roleplaying, bravery, reducing the whole group to howls of laughter), and exchangable for such things as changing dice rolls or avoiding damage. Always a good thing to shoehorn into almost any system if you want to encourage heroic play....more
The RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the SecThe RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the Security Services which is tasked with protecting Her Britannic Majesties Domains and Protectorates - and, incidentally the world - from all manner of unspeakable, tentacled monstrosities from beyond space and time. HP Lovecraft called them The Old Gods, others have called them the Many-Angled Ones, but they are multitudinous and ever hungry for human souls (or quantum thought patterns, as modern terminology has it), and almost always possessed of some deranged cult that feels summoning them to our world is a good idea. Add to this the aspects of the espionage genre that Charles Stross has woven into the novels on which the game is based and the authors make full use of here, and you have a fun game that can be played as any mix of Lovecraft and le Carre that you wish.
The characters are not superheroes, or even necessarily heroes, just ordinary people who have been inducted (often forcefully after being involved in an Incident) into the dark secrets that hide behind our modern, wipe-clean world. Magic has always existed, of course, but the utterance of complex grammatical and mathematical summoning structures (or spells and incantations, if you prefer) was always hit and miss until Alan Turing developed both the computer and the algorithms that made the process a little safer. Hence there is a substantial emphasis on IT and CD (Information Technology and Computational Demonology), with gadgets like the specially adapted Apple product (nicknamed the NecronomiPhone) being a must have for any smart Laundry operative.
The system used is the classic BRPS (Basic Role-Playing System, usually pronounced 'burps'), a nice simple metric that leaves most of the emphasis on role playing rather than dice but offers a good solid backbone for the mechanical aspects of the game. It is also a natural fit for this setting; having been developed from the original Call of Cthulhu RPG system the players should feel right at home as their characters' sanity begins to ebb away when they encounter all manner of squamous, cyclopean terrors....more