Impressions of Deadlands Classic 20th Anniversary Edition

So I just finished reading the Deadlands Classic 20th Anniversary Edition rule book, and wanted to put down my thoughts. This was the first time that I have seen any version of this game other than the Reloaded editions, so that is going to color my impressions of this a bit. The other thing is that all during the Double-shot kickstarter, I kept hearing how this version had more atmosphere and flavor than the Reloaded version1. Now that I have finished this book, I can see some of their points, but I think most of them could be solved with some simple re-skinning of terms from Savage Worlds. Anyway, on to my thoughts.

Welcome to the Weird West

This section is written in the format of a newspaper from an in setting printer and introduces us to the setting. It provides some high level information on what has been going on recently, what the various areas are like, and any other information needed to get the players a good idea of what the setting is like. This format became something of a standard for how the main books in the Deadlands series are opened. Overall, I like this introduction, and this style of introduction.

Chapter One

This chapter gives us the basic information on how to use the book, what tools you need to run the game, and how to roll and read the dice. This game seems to lack the “This is what a role-playing game is” section that is almost obligatory in these books, which from a personal stand point I am fine with, but as an introduction, I am not sure how I feel about it. One thing that I did find interesting was that a “Success” was explicitly described as barely achieved the goal, while one raise gives you a solid success and with two raises, you made it look easy. One thing that they cover is different images that are supposed to refer to where more information can be found on a subject throughout the book. This information though seems to point to information from the original two book version instead of this one with the included page numbers.

Chapter Two

This chapter covers creating characters. They give seven steps from concept to gear. Most of these steps are pretty standard, and I can definitely see some of the influences on Savage Worlds here. Also since this is mostly a reprint of a previous version with the images colored and that version was a re-print of a previous version, we get a list of books that have more specialized information on certain character types as well. This is also the first place that I tend to have an issue with the game. I don’t see the need to have ten attributes and especially three for agility/quickness type traits. As a younger gamer, this would not have been a problem for me, but now having five physical and five mental attributes just seems like over kill. I do however like the inclusion of a card draw mechanic for attribute creation. It helps increase the gambling feel of the game.

After that we get the section on secondary attributes, these are not spectacular, and are all either set to default values, or calculated in some way from otherwise static values.

We then get the section on skills. Again I like that the characters all start with a selection of skills as a base. Some of the skills or aptitudes as they call them are pretty specific (I think overly specific) but really this is no different that the Savage Worlds skill list using the Skill specializations rules.

After that we get sections on hindrances and edges. You can take a selection of hindrances and use the points accumulated from them to either add extra aptitudes, or to buy edges. These abilities are pretty much what you would expect based on Savage Worlds, and again I can see a lot of this games thought from this section carried into Savage Worlds.

The final chapter of this sections of this chapter cover filling out some background information for your character and giving out the starting money (that is modified based on edges or hindrances) for use purchasing gear from the next chapter.

Chapter Three

This chapter covers gear and horses. We start with rules on cheap gear and how that impacts the price and reliability. Then we get some rules about horses and even exceptional horses. After that we get tables of gear and weapons followed by descriptions of some of the gear and tables to roll on when weapons fail a reliability roll. After that we get a strange addition to this chapter with templates for the various character archetypes. I am not sure why this was in the Equipment chapter instead of Chapter two, but okay.

Chapter Four

This chapter covers the rules for combat. This is also the chapter that I have the most problems with in terms of playing the game. If I was in my twenties, I would have eaten all these systems up, but at this point for me there are too many fiddly rules. We start off with initiative which requires a dice roll to determine how many cards you draw to figure out when you go in the round. The more cards, the more actions you get to take. This two-step process slows things down more than I would like for no good reason that I can see. We also get that some actions (magic mostly) can take more than one action card to go off. The other thing that I am not fond of is the rolling of your combat skill dice + a reliability dice at the same time. This means that even if you roll phenomenally well, if your reliability die rolls wrong the attack is negated. The next issue I have is this version uses damage locations with separate wound totals. Why? I mean at this time, if your arm or leg is maimed, crushed, blown off, whatever you are just as likely to die as if it was the head you were hit in. We also get a secondary damage characteristic called wind that you need to keep track of. Personally I see the Savage Worlds version of this being a huge step forward especially since in the Marshall’s chapters, they spend a fair amount of time talking about how to simplify this when running the opposition. Overall this chapter reads as a set of unnecessarily complicated rules for combat. We follow this up with some more rules covering explosions, bleeding, drowning, hanging, etc. And then we finally get rules on healing (magic and natural) and death (it might only be the beginning).

Chapter Five

This chapter covers the use of Fate Chips and the accumulation of experience for character growth. There are several bits that I like in this chapter starting with the idea that the left over fate-chips can be turned into advancement (experience) points. I also like the idea that you get to keep your chips between sessions, only drawing new ones to get you back up to three. You also can give someone else one of your chips at a cost determined by the chip type. All in all, I liked the ideas in this chapter for the Fate Chips a lot.

The information on improving your abilities is pretty standard for games, spend new level times a multiplier in advancement points to get better at something. Perfectly serviceable.

Chapter Six

This chapter covers the special information needed to play a Huckster. It starts with a discussion about how their magic works, followed by the process of casting a hex. All in all I like the information in here a lot, and I think this is a more interesting version of the Huckster than the one in Reloaded. I do find it interesting that Hucksters can do healing (it turns out that most of the arcane backgrounds can), just not on themselves.

Chapter Seven

This chapter covers Mad Scientists, and is quite different from anything I have seen in the Reloaded rules. Again we start off with some more specialized knowledge about Mad Scientists, then we move into a section on how to create weird gizmos. I like the rules on creating weird gizmos, and I can see how the system can be overpowering especially since the limits on what a device can do are so vague. We then end the chapter with a selection of weird gizmos.

Chapter Eight

This chapter covers the Blessed, and again it starts with some more in-depth information on playing a Blessed, then it moves on to the various miracles that a Blessed character can invoke.

Chapter Nine

This chapter covers Shamans and also starts with some more details about them. This form of magic feels quite different from that of the Blessed because you have to do work (rituals, sacrifices, or other things) to build up points to get your effect as opposed to just pray and roll a faith check to see if you get your miracle.

Chapter Ten

This is the final chapter of the player’s section and it covers being a Harrowed. It starts off with information on what one is, then moves into some rules on how they have to struggle with the spirit that is animating them to maintain control. We then get information on how they can gain powers from certain abominations that they kill, and that just by being Harrowed, they can learn certain powers. All in all I enjoy the idea of playing an undead cowboy fighting for control of his soul. This concept definitely made a strong impact on this game as a whole.

Chapter Eleven

This is the first of the Marshal’s (Gamemaster’s) chapters. It covers what is really going on and how we got to where we are in the game. Overall this is an engaging chapter, though maybe less important if you already know the story of the setting.

Chapter Twelve

This chapter provides tips and tricks for running the game, and for the most part it is a list of shortcuts to make the Marshal’s job easier and is a large part of why I am so unimpressed by chapter four. After that we get some details on what the various fear levels do in-game, how to remove an area’s fear level, and how to resist the effects of fear. I think my favorite part of this is the discussion about awarding Fate Chips. This is something that I think is important to think about and has in previous Savage Worlds groups I have played in been lacking.

After that we get a section on scenario structure as used in this game, which is perfectly reasonable, but not necessarily the way that I would set them up. We also get some rules on the environmental dangers in the setting, who the black hats are, and crime and punishments. We finish off this chapter with a section on how to run the game and how to bring out the horror tones of it that was pretty good.

Chapter Thirteen

This is the chapter of mysterious tables that were referenced in the player’s section. We get tables for jokers drawn during character creation, those who are veteran’s of the weird west, the various arcane backlashes, device malfunctions, and sins that a blessed might have done. There is also a section of arcane knacks that a player might get to pick from depending on their mysterious past.

The last section of this chapter covers arcane relics, that’s magic items to you and me. These are fairly flavorful, and I would definitely want to be able to include some of these in games in the future2.

Chapter Fourteen

This chapter covers the various abominations that can be found in the game. One of the things that I liked about this chapter was the section that talked about limiting the use of these monsters. There is also an encouragement to create your own unique monsters which I think is a really good idea. In fact, I don’t know that I would want to use any Deadlands monster without making at least a few changes to it. After that there are descriptions of the various monster abilities and a selection of standard Deadlands monsters. One of the things that I found odd, though is only some of the monsters in this book are located in this chapter. Others, more specifically variations on these are located in the next chapter.

The last section covers Black magic which has a completely different to the rest of the arcane backgrounds and is only for the bad guys. The neat thing about it is that it can be blocked by a Blessed with their Faith roll, and anyone can do this on holy ground as long as they are a believer in whatever religion sanctified the ground.

Chapter Fifteen

This chapter covers in more detail the various regions, the participants in the Great Rail Wars, the recent presidential elections. In this chapter we also get various important people in the setting, alternate versions of some of the monsters, and even other critters that live in the various regions. All in all there is a ton of information on the setting in this chapter. We also get three cities fairly well detailed to set the posse (players) up in. So all in all this is the chapter for starting up a new campaign if you don’t already know the setting.

Adventure

This is an introductory adventure, and designed to get you started in the game. Overall it is well done. My only complaint is that it as written, it doesn’t take you to one of the three cities that where fairly well detailed in the previous chapter, but towards another important city that isn’t described in much detail (not that you will get there during the adventure). In all fairness, I did play through a conversion of this adventure for Reloaded that bothered me (the Marshal moved it to the Texas panhandle and kept talking about mountains being there which is just wrong!) The group did have fun, though this game didn’t go on too terribly long as we lost some of the players.

Overall I am very glad that I got this book. It was really nice seeing how the setting was originally envisioned, and I did like the newly colored art that is part of this release (the art is now in color, not new) even if they still don’t seem to have updated the text for the fact that what was once two books are now one.


  1. I asked here what people found gave Classic that something special, and I intend to write some ideas about how to up the flavor of Reloaded to be similar to Classic in the future. 
  2. These items seem to have taken on a significantly less important role with Reloaded than they had with Classic 
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Author: Hours without Sleep

I am a professional software tester, who has an interest in programming, computers, role-playing games, history, and reading in general. This is my third attempt at keeping a blog, and I am going to try putting all of my thoughts in one place, and see how it goes.

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