- Jan 6, 2020
- Reaction score
I've always been a fan of DEADLANDS but I've also felt it was one of those games that cobbled together everything the writer thought was cool and shoved it in a blender before hitting frape. That's actually my jam as well but led to somewhat ill conceived setting-building. Deadlands as it was, was kind of a post-apocalyptic 19th century United States (before they made an EVEN MORE post-apocalyptic United States with "Hell on Earth"). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are roaming the Earth, monsters are everywhere, and the Civil War ended in a stalemate.
Deadlands at its best was the Wild West equivalent of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It has all the trappings of the Western genre but turned up to the 11 with goofy heroes and anti-heroes as well as copious amounts of supernatural weirdness. At its worst, the game got caught up in its love affair with its own NPCs and metaplot to the point that it was questionable whether the PCs could impact the setting at all. There was also the fact that its understanding of the Civil War was informed by The Outlaw Josey Wales and Gone with the Wind over, you know, actual history of the South.
A short notation that I grew up in rural Kentucky and the area I grew up in is steeped in Confederate apologia. So much so that it wasn't until 2018 that it was illegal to sell Neo Confederate and Neo-Nazi paraphernalia at the state fair. Everything from history books to memorials were spent trying to make the conflict much more nuanced than it was. "States rights" and "defending a way of life" versus slavery. You know, despite that it was the states rights to own people and the way of life that was made possible by slavery.
It wasn't until the internet that I could just read the Declaration of Independence for the South that said the Confederacy existed to preserve white supremacy and the institution of slavery as its only defining principles. The Confederates were assholes and attempts to portray them as misunderstood heroes from John Carter to Jonah Hex have always been like lionizing the villains in an Indiana Jones movie to me. I say this as someone who had an uncomfortable realization when he visited his great Aunt's enormous "mansion farm."
Yeah. You're not fooling anyone with that euphemism, mom.
Indeed, I don't think I would have enjoyed Deadlands as much as I have over the years if not for the fact I always portrayed its version of the Confederacy as Pulp villains. The Confederates in my game were irredeemable nasties and while you might meet a sexy Southern Belle spy played by Alison Doody, she'd always fall to her death trying to steal the Holy Grail for the Reckoners. However, the continued existence of the Confederacy (even without slavery, especially without slavery), stuck in many a fan's craw.
So the Confederacy has been wiped out in this updated version of the setting. Time travel was involved and I kind of wish more had been presented in the book about it since if the players are ever going to do an epic campaign then going back in time to defeat the Stars and Bars is a great one. Sadly, it seems to have been done by the villain, the Cackler, and Morgana Le Fey versus the heroes. I really don't know why Deadlands has such issues with the PCs winning the day. Still, they've gotten better about this.
The revised timeline has a reunited Union with the exception of larger Native American territories as well as a Mormon Republic. It kind of says how unnecessary the Confederacy surviving was that the setting's history is largely changed. It's a lot more believable now, ghost rock and monsters aside, since the nature of Wild West expansion in real life was driven by the Civil War's fallout. Cinema has always shown Southerners fleeing West but it forgets that a huge chunk of those Southerners were black Americans getting the hell out of Atlanta.
The new setting focuses more on small scale, "vampires are in Tombstone" and "undead outlaws are menacing the locals" than the big epic conflicts of before. I think this is a great idea personally and what Deadlands always should have been about. I don't think they went quite far enough in updating its material even with sidebars explaining why they're still "Indians", Wendigo is still a monster despite many attempts by Native Americans to get Americans to stop using it, and Manitou is still used to refer to demons but the effort is there.
Ironically, one of my biggest complaints is the fact there aren't many Confederate holdouts. If there's a setting where zombie Bedford Forrest should be building a giant mechanical spider so your PCs can blow it up along with his Knights of the Burning Cross terrorists then it should be this one. One of my favorite activities in Red Dead Redemption 2 is sending the Klan and Lemoyne Raiders to Hell. Yet there's no sign of these easy to use supervillains. Perhaps they're overcompensating for fear of screwing up matters of race again.
Gameplay-wise, it's pretty much identical and very fun. Very concise with good rules and only a few changes that streamline an already cinematic action-orientated system. The art is beautiful and I found this to be well-worth getting a hardback copy.