Pinnacle Entertainment is re-releasing the original version of the classic tabletop roleplaying game Deadlands. The game combines horror, science fiction and heroic fantasy in a Western setting (information on two kickstarter campaigns related to the game can be found here).
We chatted with Matthew Cutter, a branch manager for the company, about the game.
Q: What is the essential premise of the game?
The year is 1882 (as of our latest release, Deadlands: Good Intentions) but the history is not our own. During the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, the dead began to rise and attack their former compatriots. In 1868, a catastrophic earthquake split California into a maze of sea channels from top to bottom, and in those channels prospectors discovered a new superfuel called "ghost rock," which burned five times hotter and 10 times longer than coal. The Civil War, extended and exacerbated by supernatural powers and mad science war machines fueled by ghost rock, ground on until 1878. The "Great Rail Wars" have torn a path of blood and fire across the West. All these events are manipulated by otherworldly entities called the Reckoners, who spread fear and horror in an attempt to "terrorform" earth into a blasted and debased landscape in which they can dwell and rule. The game concerns itself with the Old West ... except with a decidedly weird twist. The dead walk, and extraordinary evil dwells in the shadows. It's up to the game's heroes to fight back the fear and foil the Reckoners' plans.
Q: The game has won several awards. Could you tell me more about that?
Thanks to Shane Lacy Hensley's original vision and the team he's assembled over the years, that's a long list! Deadlands won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game (1996) and the Nigel Findley Memorial Award for Best RPG (1996). An Origins Award for Best Miniatures Game followed for Great Rail Wars in 1997, as well as an Origins Awards for best fantasy figure ("Hangin' Judge," 1998) and best vehicular miniature ("Velocipede," 1999). Deadlands' current core system, Savage Worlds, won an Origins Fan's Choice Award for Best Roleplaying Game of 2003 as well as a coveted ENnie for Best Roleplaying Game of 2003. Deadlands: The Last Sons was nominated for an ENnie for Best Adventure in 2013, and Deadlands Noir, our Great-Depression setting of undead gumshoes and gangsters, pulled multiple ENnies nominations in 2014. Most recently, Deadlands: Stone and a Hard Place was nominated for an ENnie for Best Adventure in 2016. We're proud of all these achievements, but happier that the fans are enjoying the Weird West's ongoing story.
Q: What in your estimation is this game's appeal?
I can't speak for everyone, but for me it's the mix of history, horror, and tongue-in-cheek humor. When all three of those elements are present in equal degree, you know a Deadlands game is firing on all its ghost-rock-powered cylinders.
Q: What prompted the idea of bringing back the classic version of the game?
We wanted to do something fun to commemorate the game's 20th anniversary. And with the amazing team of artists and designers we've gathered over the years, coupled with advancements in desktop publishing, it's allowed us to create the full-color version of Deadlands Classic the team only dreamed of back in 1996.
Q: Will classic-era supplements be re-released?
We don't have any plans for that beyond the revised rules and John "Night Train" Goff's new adventure, "Paradise Lost," which will appear in print and be dual-statted for Classic Deadlands and the current, Savage Worlds-powered version of the game. That said, we'll be releasing a Conversion Guide that will allow Marshals (what we call Game Masters) to convert those few critters and characters in the current Deadlands that don't have a Classic analog. In short, all the material we've published will be available for both versions of the game.
Q: How big a role do zombies play in the overall game? I always loved the idea of a Dawn of the Dead variant in the Old West.
They're everywhere! Heroes who die might come back "Harrowed," essentially undead but with a malevolent spirit riding along in their mind and trying to subvert them to the Reckoners' will. More generally, it's the rare Deadlands adventure that doesn't feature some variety of walkin' dead. Last year's Stone and a Hard Place features an adventure where hundreds of walkin' dead escape their pens to lay siege to a small California town. I'm a huge fan of Romero's films and all the others that followed and were inspired by them, so I try to infuse the living dead into nearly every Deadlands scenario I write.