Deadlands

Tagged: Game

Role Playing Game series (from 1996). Pinnacle Entertainment Group (PEG). Designed by Shane Lacy Hensley.

Deadlands is a series of Role Playing Games and associated works which fuse horror, weird fantasy and Steampunk-tinged sf with the motifs of the classic Western. The tone is grotesque and deliberately over the top, suggestive of a Pulp genre that never was (or, at least, was only invented long after its natural home had disappeared, in such works as Joe R Lansdale's occult Western Dead in the West [1986] and Stephen King's stories of the Dark Tower) (see Horror in SF). The first game in the sequence is Deadlands: The Weird West (1996 PEG) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley, set in an Alternate History whose Jonbar Point occurs in 1863, when a group of Native American shamans perform a mass demon-summoning ritual to rid themselves of the European invaders. This works too well, leaving not only the Union and the Confederacy – by this time already at war – but also the Indian tribes afflicted by spirits, monsters, revenants and demons from a place very like Hell. California is left partially flooded in the aftermath of a supernatural earthquake which exposes seams of an unnatural coal known as "ghost rock", a fuel which spurs the development of a paranaturally advanced technology. In the game's present of 1876, a variety of exotic new characters roam the American West, including "hucksters" (who have learned to summon spirits and bind them to their will using the occult secrets hidden in Edmond Hoyle's eighteenth-century book of card games), marginally sane tinkerers with ghost rock, newly empowered tribal shamans and devil-hunting lawmen. These archetypes, of course, serve as professions which can be adopted by player characters within the game. Considered as an abstract design, The Weird West is notable chiefly for its use of not only dice but also playing cards and poker chips to represent the randomness of its simulated universe. As this suggests, the mechanics – which are generally well crafted, despite a slightly awkward combat system – are ingeniously matched to the setting. The game is most memorable, however, for its milieu, with its devil cattle and giant subterranean worms, its literally infernal devices and undead gunslingers.

In the sequel, Deadlands: Hell on Earth (1998 PEG) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley, the date is 2094. A devastating final war ended in 2081 with an exchange of ghost rock bombs enhanced by nuclear technology which transformed the world into a supernaturally irradiated wasteland. The demons of the first game feed on terror; here, the dread and despair have risen to a level which allows those entities' ultimate masters to manifest, revealing themselves as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (see Gods and Demons). In the two centuries that pass between the settings of the first and second games, Earth has founded an interstellar colony through a Wormhole created by parascientific means and discovered a workable form of Psionics (which functions by drawing upon energies from the demons' home reality). Ultimately, however, alliances led by the still unreconciled Union and Confederacy go to war over the ghost rock deposits of California, and the last war begins. The player characters are survivors with new loyalties, to their own ideas of justice, to a militant God, to the possible future for humanity embodied in the Mutants created by the war or to the crazed technologies which some wanderers invent with demonic assistance and fuel with unnatural energies. While the mechanics of Hell on Earth are almost identical to those of its predecessor, its tone is more science-fictional, a rich stew of radiation priests and road warriors, ghost rock rays and automata controlled by undead human brains (see Robots). It is at this point, perhaps, that the series first departs from the path laid down by Lansdale and King, moving into the territory of an unfamiliar genre.

The final part of the original trilogy is Deadlands: Lost Colony (2002 PEG), designed by John R Hopler and set on the extrasolar planet of Banshee – the world beyond the wormhole, cut off from Earth during the final war. In the game's history Banshee became another, wilder, West after the discovery of ghost rock ore triggered a mining boom, one in which the intelligent natives played the roles of more dangerous – and more psychically gifted – American Indians. After a brutal war between colonists and indigenes little remains of either side, leaving the survivors more at less at peace. The fictional technologies and available character types of Lost Colony are generally similar to those of Hell on Earth, to which the third game is effectively an expansion. There may, however, be a problem with Lost Colony which is not present in its predecessors; in this iteration it is less clear why members of the milieu's many disparate groups would want to band together as a group of player characters must do, if the game is to be played. Lost Colony is also by far the most traditionally science-fictional of the trilogy, and perhaps too much so for the tone of the series to be maintained. It is set in a solar system where various human factions occupy competing Space Habitats, keeping fleets of spacecraft in the asteroid belt and in orbit around various exoplanets. All of this sophisticated hardware is, however, powered by the supernatural ghost rock, while the Faster Than Light drive that one group secretly possesses runs on human sacrifice. Ultimately, many things can be revealed in a game of Lost Colony. Banshee is alive, a conscious planet with a supernatural soul which fuels the magic of the native shamans. The system's asteroid belt was created when Banshee destroyed another, evil, living world, shattering it into fragments by the power of her will. Remnants of its inhabitants survive, however, and plot against colonists and Banshee indigenes alike. A complex tangle of human factions struggle for dominance, covertly deploying such arcane technologies as demonically possessed nanomachines (see Nanotechnology) and zombie Cyborgs. Meanwhile, the Horsemen have become trapped on Banshee, where they seem vulnerable to mortal actions.

Financial problems experienced by Pinnacle Entertainment brought the original Deadlands series to a close shortly after the release of Lost Colony. New scenarios (and potentially new settings) are still being released, but as supplements to Savage Worlds rather than as extensions to the original Deadlands system. Regardless, the initial trilogy created a genuinely novel and atmospheric world, and one which arguably prefigured the literary movement of the New Weird.

Related works: A second edition of The Weird West was published as Deadlands: The Weird West (1999 PEG) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley. Adaptations of the original game are also available for d20 (Deadlands d20 [2001 PEG] designed by Shane Lacy Hensley, John R Hopler, John Goff), for GURPS (GURPS Deadlands: Weird West [2001 Steve Jackson Games (SJG)] designed by Stephen Dedman, Andrew Hackard), and for Savage Worlds (Deadlands: Reloaded [2006 Great White Games; rev 2010] designed by Shane Lacy Hensley, B D Flory). Deadlands: Hell on Earth d20 (2002 PEG) designed by Fred Jandt is a d20 version of Hell on Earth.

A variety of spinoff games have been created for the "Weird West" setting of the original RPG, beginning with Deadlands: The Great Rail Wars (1997 PEG; rev 2001) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley. This is a miniature figures-based tactical Wargame in which players fight over the claims of various Rail Barons to the land needed to build a transcontinental railroad, an innovation which will supply the North and South of the milieu's alternate civil war with ghost rock shipped from the mines of California. Expansions include Reinforcements (1997 PEG) designed by Rick Dakan, A Fist Full o' Ghost Rock (1998 PEG) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley, Derailed! (1998 PEG) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley, Stephen Crane, John R Hopler, Raid on Roswell (2001 PEG) designed by Barry Doyle, John Goff – which deals with mysterious events at "Fort 51" – Dogs O' War: All's Fair (2001 PEG) designed by John R Hopler, Shane Lacy Hensley and the rules compilation Cry Havoc! (1998 PEG) designed by John Goff.

Deadlands: Doomtown Range Wars (2000 Fantasy Flight Games) designed by Tom Jolly, Christian Petersen is also a tactical Wargame set in the milieu of the original game, but one in which the pieces are miniature disks similar to those used in Twilight Imperium: Armada (see Twilight Imperium). Frag Deadlands (2001 SJG) designed by Steve Jackson, Philip Reed mimics the play of a First Person Shooter as a Weird West Board Game, while Deadlands: The Battle for Slaughter Gulch (2009 Twilight Creations [TC]) designed by Todd Breitenstein, Kerry Breitenstein is another Board Game which depicts a struggle over a ghost rock mine. Deadlands: Invasion of Slaughter Gulch (2011 TC) designed by Todd Breitenstein, Kerry Breitenstein is an expansion. Deadlands: Doomtown (1998 PEG) designed by Bryon Wackwitz, Dave Williams is a Collectible Card Game, also set in the series' alternate 19th century, in which players compete to rule the town of Gomorrah. Unusually, its mechanics are partially derived from those of poker. Similarly, Deadlands: Lost Colony – Showdown (2000 PEG) designed by Shane Lacy Hensley is a Collectible Card Game set in the Lost Colony milieu.

Several works of fiction have also been created for the franchise. Three collections of short stories were set in the original Weird West milieu, by a variety of authors including Don H Debrandt, Michael A Stackpole and the designers of the game. The sequence comprises A Fistful O' Dead Guys (anth 1999), For a Few Dead Guys More (anth 1999) and The Good, the Bad, and the Dead (anth 1999), all edited by Shane Lacy Hensley. Banshee Screams (2002), by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith, is a novel set on the eponymous Lost Colony, while Deadlands: Deluge (2009 ebook) is a novelization by John Goff of an adventure for Deadlands: Reloaded called The Flood (2008 PEG), designed by Matthew Cutter, Shane Lacy Hensley. Finally, a number of associated single-issue Comics have been published by Image: Deadlands: One Shot (1999), Deadlands: The Devil's Six-Gun (2011), Deadlands: Massacre At Red Wing (2011), Deadlands: Death Was Silent (2011) and Deadlands: Black Water (2012). [NT]

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