Impressions of Deadlands Noir

Since the group I play in finished up our 50 Fathoms campaign a couple of weeks ago, we started working on figuring out what we would play next. I offered to run Deadlands Noir, and there was a fair bit of interest in it. I don’t know how long we will play it, but since I was going to start running it, I thought I should re-read the book since it has been a while since I last read it, and if I am going to read it, I might as well put down some thoughts on it.Any ways here are some thoughts on Deadlands Noir.

Dark Times

This is the first chapter of the player’s section. It starts by covering some highlights of the last fifty or so years in the Deadlands world, and then moves on to talk about what types of characters are common in the setting. It then dives right into how to make a character. Things of note, Guts is no longer a skill but an edge, there are no Blessed or Shamans by default. The Hucksters have been killed off only to be replaced by Grifters, and Mad Scientist have mellowed into Patent Scientists. For the most part the setting specific edges and hindrances are the same as what you would expect from Deadlands, but there are a couple of new ones that are tailored more for the Noir setting such as Smart Mouth, Corrupt, Comfortable and Moxie. The other thing is that this setting supports starting off as Harrowed which was something that changed periodically in Deadlands Reloaded.

The first big change is the amount of money that you start with to buy gear. It makes sense because of the Depression era setting time, which probably means a heck of a lot more cheap gear being bought especially at the start. Also the Patent Science Inventions (which replaced the Infernal Devices) are much more stable and of better quality so they don’t blow up on you as often.

After that we get a high level overview of New Orleans and its surrounding environs. It is enough to give players the lay of the land, but not so detailed as to hamstring anyone.

Setting Rules

This is where the setting specific rules start coming in. First off we get the three setting rules that are in the Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer’s Edition.

  1. Blood & Guts
  2. Critical Failures
  3. Gritty Damage

After that we get some expanded rules on Detective Work both for doing research and for asking impertinent questions to various people. Then there is the setting rule Hard Times where everyone gets the Poverty hindrance for no points. Some custom rules for Knock-out Blows because in every detective story our hero gets knocked out at least once from behind. There is a rule that whenever a character gets a Joker, they automatically get unshaken. We also get some expand Social Conflict rules because it is so hard to question the dead (in most cases). We finish off these rules with information on Tailing. All in all I liked the rules and am looking forward to using them.

Magic

As stated earlier, we have lost the Blessed, Shamans, Martial Artist, and we replaced the Hucksters with Grifters. Grifters get access to their powers by indulging in some sort of vice each day. If they don’t, they regain their expended power points at a reduced rate. They have a nice selection of powers and if they critically fail their spellcasting roll, they overdose and have to roll on a table to see what happens. They get one custom spell and a custom edge that they can choose as well.

Patent Scientist are what the Mad Scientist became when they started becoming more meticulous in their research1. At this point they are trying to discover stable inventions through trial and error. They still coble together items based to activate their powers, and these items are just as unstable as always, but in theory they are working towards making stable devices to get rich. They don’t continue to get more insane as their fail their Mad Science rolls, but they all start off with either a Major or Minor Delusions and that determines how often they can purchase new powers. As usual, they seem to have the widest selection of powers, and eventually they can pick up an edge that designates that they have created a Patent Science device with one of their powers.

Voodoo is the last arcane background covered in this book. With a setting located in New Orleans, how can you not have it? This arcane background requires you to spend time each evening at a shire preparing talismans and offering the spirits gifts to be able to use their magic the next day. They have some new spells and a custom edge as well. They are the strongest practitioner in the areas of healing and gathering information, and the least effective at raw damage, though they do have some abilities that can certainly hurt their enemies.

The last section in this chapter covers the Harrowed. I didn’t see anything noticeably different from the base Deadlands Reloaded version of the Harrowed2, and since you can start off as one in this setting, we have the Harrowed edges also listed here.

Secrets & Lies

This chapter is the first of the Game Master’s or Marshal’s section. It starts off by going over what happened during the Dark Ages to end the rampant magic, then moves on to Raven’s choice to open the way. We also get a brief overview of who the Reckoners are and what Ghost Rock really is. All of this is recap for those who have followed the Deadlands setting from the other eras of play, but still is useful in hear if this is your first introduction to it. After that we start to get the new information about how the Reckoners changed their modus operandi after there servitors got defeated or otherwise had their plans not work out. With the dawn of the 20th century, each of the Reckoners took a turn putting the screws to the world. First with War during World War 1, then with Pestilence hit with a great plague and now Famine is taking a swing with the Great Depression.

We also get some extra setting rules for Fear Levels (again these are familiar from the rest of the Deadlands settings and Tale Telling, how you attempt to lower the areas fear level. We also get information for Telephones and Radios that are just starting to be popular, and how to handle these in a horror setting especially with an eye to how they worked during the time period.

The chapter finishes off with the table for Veteran of the Concrete Jungle, a side bar on Sykers, more information on Grifters and their Overdose table, more information on the Harrowed including rules their demons taking control and their Dominion trait, and finally some more information on Patent Scientist and why things have changed for them.

Game Master’s Guide to New Orleans

This chapter covers some more in-depth details of New Orleans and its immediate surroundings. We start off with the an overview of the government, police, two mafia groups, and the voodoo cult all fighting for power in the city. These sections also include some of the major power players in the different groups and how they are working at cross purposes to each other, and even what some of their goals are. After that we get the various interesting locals in and around the city written up with the mention of any special places or important characters in those locations. I like this section in many ways because it gives you some pre built set locations for the various scenes for when you either can’t find inspiration or don’t have time to work on your own. I also like the fact that the various important people to the locations all have secrets that can help or hinder the group depending on what the group is up to.

Making Mysteries

This chapter starts by giving some advice on how to make a good mystery. This advice seems pretty standard from a mystery writing point of view, but it is probably a good idea to have if you haven’t read other games that are setup as mysteries to be solved (Monster of the Week, Gumshoe, etc.).

After that it follows up with a Case Generator to provide starting inspiration for writing your own mysteries based on some random dice rolls and card draws. This case generator looks like it will be a good send of inspiration if you need to pull something together fast.

We finish the chapter with an example based on the information included in the Case Generator.

Red Harvest

This is a short plot point campaign for Deadlands Noir. It makes use of back story events from Deadlands (The Great Rail War), and items that were lost from that time that probably shouldn’t have been. There are a number of threads woven together and overall it is a nice short campaign with only seven parts plus whatever you fill it out with from the next chapter’s Savage Tales, your own items, or cases created with the Case Generator.

Savage Tales

This chapter contains the Savage Tails that were hinted at in the Game Master’s Guide to New Orleans chapter. They are a mixed bag in terms of complexity and they all seem like they will be good starting points to expand on. I did particularly like The Axeman Cometh and Who’s Laughing Now.

Rogue’s Gallery

This chapter contains an assortment of Abominations (read monsters). Some of which are returning favorites from other Deadlands books (Walking Dead), some are from other settings (such as Rippers ) like the Hyde and Patchwork Man, and some are new. I particularly liked the Crossroads Demon, False Face, Outsider, Skinwalker, and Swarm Man. These are particularly flavorful monsters that can in some cases drive multiple sessions just by themselves.

We also get some normal characters that you could be expected to encounter in the city such as Police, Mafia, Cult members, etc. Definitely useful for rounding out any case you might set up for your group.

We finish this chapter with rights ups for the major players in the city. These will definitely be useful as the characters become more well-known and especially after they interfere with the various organizations plans for the city.

The book itself then finishes off with a bunch of set piece maps for various environments that you might have encounters set in such as a shack out in the bayou, a graveyard, or a warehouse. Then we get the index at the end.

Overall I do like this setting and book. So I am looking forward to running it and seeing how it works out.


  1. Really all of the non meticulous ones probably were caught up in the destruction caused by their own infernal devices when they exploded. 
  2. Their might be differences that I just didn’t notice, and there are probably differences between the rules here and the rules for Harrowed in Stone and a Hard Place
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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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