Is Deadlands (1996) a horror game? I dunno, but it certainly uses enough orange in its trade dress to get a Halloween season post.

It uses the template set out by Shadowrun and dominant for many RPGs in the ‘90s — a single core book with a bunch of interesting classes, each governed by their own unique mechanics, let loose in an unusual world, in this case an alternate version of the mid-1800s. The core mechanics make use of dice, of course (which can explode), but the game also incorporates playing cards, poker chips and a good deal of card-playing nomenclature. Hucksters, my favorite class, use the arcane secrets of Hoyle’s Book of Games to cast spells, which is accomplished at the table by putting together a good poker hand. There are undead and demons trying to drown the world in fear and the Civil War is dragging on and California fell into the sea. There weren’t a ton of Weird West games in 1996, or maybe even any, so Deadlands cornered the market for a good long while (though in typical ‘90s fashion, its handling of both Native American affairs and the Civil War could be better). It’s also one of the first RPGs, along with Castle Falkenstein, that can easily be classified as Steampunk.

It remained pretty popular until publisher Pinnacle accidentally killed it (and itself) by making a D20 version of the game. That’s OK though; that surprising turn of events led to the development of Savage Worlds and, arguably, a superior version of Deadlands using that system, Deadlands: Reloaded.

For more on Deadlands, you can read the chapter dedicated to it in my book, out yesterday! That feels so weird to say!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *