From Academic Kids

Deadlands is an alternate history western horror roleplaying game written by Shane Lacy Hensley and published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. It mixes setting elements of Call of Cthulhu and Wild West Steampunk genres.

The eight-times Origins Award-winning setting has been converted to many other systems over the years and is available in the original Classic Rules, the revised Classic Rules, d20 System, GURPS, as well as a Savage Worlds version to be released in 2005 called Deadlands: Reloaded.


Deadlands: The Weird West Background

The game is set western United States in the year 1877 (or 1876 if playing by first edition rules). The place is known as the Weird West because it is haunted by the forces of darkness. Prior to the beginnings of the Weird West, history is similar to our own up until about 1863, when at the Battle of Gettysburg, the dead began to rise from the grave. This event signifies the start of The Reckoning, a bizarre event that brings magic back to Earth, allowing monsters, spirits, and other supernatural forces to once again inhabit the world of mortals. The Reckoning was spawned by the activities of the "Last Sons", a group of Sioux tribesmen, led by an indian called Raven. The Last Sons were fed up with the intrusion of the white man upon their territory and decided to fight back by unleashing the spiritual energies of the "Hunting Grounds" (a.k.a. Hell) upon the land. The plan seemed to have backfired and even most of the Last Sons regreted what they had done. It was too late though.

Now, undead gunslingers, hostile Indian spirits, strange cults, and worst of all, the sinister Reckoners (a.k.a. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), terrorize the world. The American Civil War drags on, never having been resolved, while federal agents and Texas Rangers struggle to deal with the eldritch menaces while hiding the awful truth from the public Back East.

Players take on the role of Gunfighters, Hucksters, Hexslingers (magic users), Shamans, Blessed (those of faith), Mad Scientists, and even Saloon Gals in an attempt to learn about the Reckoning and the mysterious beings behind it.

Spinoff Games

The Deadlands setting also has a miniature figures wargame called The Great Rail Wars and a collectible card game game called Doomtown. The two other roleplaying games Deadlands: Hell on Earth and Deadlands: Lost Colony are set one hundred years into the settings future in a post nuclear wasteland and another planet respectively.

Making Deadlands Characters

Deadlands features a unique way of creating playing characters for the game. Instead of spending character points, or randomly rolling dice, a character's abilities are determined by drawing cards from a standard 54-card poker deck (jokers included). The cards drawn determine the character's Traits, (their basic attributes). The game also uses polyhedral dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20) which are referred to as the "Bones", and a set of red, blue and white poker chips.


Traits are the character's basic attributes that are separated in two categories. Corporeal Traits are a character's physical abilities, and Mental Traits are a character's mental abilities. The power of the Traits are assigned as the player chooses. What die types each Trait gets depends on what cards are drawn from the card deck. A player draws 12 cards and gets to toss two of them except for Deuces (2s). Deuces cannot be discarded, and the character is stuck with those.

The card's value indicates what die type a Trait has. Drawing a Deuce gives the Trait a d4; drawing 3 to 8 gives the Trait a d6; drawing 9, 10 or Jack gives the Trait a d8; drawing a King or Queen gives the Trait a d10; and drawing an Ace gives a Trait a d12. The suit of the card determines how many dice of that die type the Trait gets. This is also called the Trait's Coordination. Clubs give 1 die of Coordination, Diamonds give 2 dice, Hearts give 3 dice, and Spades give 4 dice. Jokers are a special case. If a player draws a Joker, it's worth a d12, and they draw a second card to see how many d12s the Trait gets. If another Joker is drawn, they get 5d12 for a Trait. For example: If a player drew an Ace of Spades, they get 4d12 to place in one of their character's Traits. If they drew a Six of Hearts they would get 2d6 to place in a Trait. A Two of Clubs only gives 1d4.

A character has 10 Traits as follows:

  • Corporeal Traits:
Deftness: the character's hand-eye coordination
Nimbleness: the character's physical agility
Quickness: the speed of the character's reflexes
Strength: the character's raw muscle powers
Vigor: the character's intestinal fortitude and physical constitution
  • Mental Traits:
Cognition: the character's awareness and perception
Knowledge: the character's experience and education
Mien: the character's charisma and ability to influence others
Smarts: the character's wits and deduction abilities
Spirit: the strength of the character's psyche


Aptitudes are the character's skills. Aptitudes are associated with certain Traits and use the same die type as the Trait they are listed with, (but not the same Coordination). Aptitudes get their own Coordination values. A character gets a certain number of points to buy Aptitudes that are based off the total of their Knowledge, Smarts and Cognition die types. For instance, if a character has d12 in Knowledge, d6 in Smarts and d8 in Cognition, they get 26 points to buy Aptitudes (12 + 6 + 8 = 26). Aptitudes are ranked from 1 to 5; 1's are Beginners, and 5's are Experts. Higher numbers are also possible as a character may improve them later.

Examples of some useful Aptitudes are:

  • Deftness Aptitudes: Shootin', Lockpickin', Flichin', Throwin'
  • Nimbleness Aptitudes: Climbin', Dodge, Horse Ridin'
  • Cognition Aptitudes: Arts, Scrutinize, Trackin'
  • Knowledge Aptitudes: Academia, Science, Medicine
  • Mien Aptitudes: Animal Handlin', Performin', Overawe, Tale-Tellin'
  • Smarts Aptitudes: Gamblin', Ridicule, Scroungin', Survival

Edges and Hindrances

These are options a player can pick to modify their characters. A character can pick a maximum of 10 points of Edges, which are certain advantages that cost points to purchase. Their values depend on how much of a benefit they give the character and cost from 1 to 5 points. Hindrances are disadvantages, and picking them gives points back to the character. How many points are returned depends on how severe the Hindrance affects the character.

Some Edges are: "Dinero" (the character has some extra cash in his possession), "Gift of Gab" (the character knows a lot of languages), "Friends in High Places" (the character has some useful contacts), "The Stare" (the character can instill fear with that Clint Eastwood stare), "Tough as Nails" (the character has some extra Wind in him).

Some Hindrances are: Alin' (the character suffers from some condition, or illness), Hankerin' (the character is addicted to something), "Loco" (the character has a mental problem), "Mean as a Rattler" (the character is angered easily), "Outlaw" (the character is wanted by the law), "Ugly as Sin" (the character ain't real purdy to look at).


Wind is a measure of a character's fatigue. Wind is expended by doing physically grueling Actions, like carrying heavy safe on your back, or running for your life from a group of bandits. A character gets a number of Wind points based on the total of the die types in their Vigor and Spirit Traits. For example: If a character has d10 in Vigor and d6 in Spirit, they have a Wind of 16 (10 + 6 = 16). If a character loses all their Wind they may become unconscious or collapse from fatigue.

Overview of Game Mechanics

In a Deadlands game, the Game Master is called The Marshall, and the players are called The Posse. Deadlands uses a system of die roll resolution that is somewhat similar to Shadowrun and The Storyteller System. A character rolls for successes with a handful or dice and hopes that at least one of the dice rolls the Target Number or higher.

Rolling the Bones

Making Trait and Aptitude checks in Deadlands is referred to as a Test of Wills. Test of Wills have Target Numbers (TN) that range from 3 "Foolproof" to 11 "Incredible". A character has to beat the TN that is set by The Marshall by rolling a success on at least one die that is equal to, or greater than the TN. The larger the die type, and the more of that die type the character gets to roll, the greater the chance of succeeding the task. For example: Say, against a TN of 7, a character gets to roll a Trait with 3d10. The dice come up 2, 5, and 9. The 9 is higher than the TN of 7, so the character beat the challenge.

Anytime a die rolls it's highest possible number, the character has rolled an Ace, and is allowed to reroll that die again and add the result of the second roll to their total. For example, if a character has 4d8 and rolled 3, 5, 6, and 8, the 8 rolled is an Ace (since an 8 is the largest number a d8 can roll) and the character can reroll it again.

Anytime a die roll beats the TN by 5, the character gets a Raise which means they have done something exceptionally well during the challenge. This is similar to rolling Critical Success in some other RPG game systems. If a majority of a dice roll come up as 1's, it means the character has Gone Bust and something bad can happen to them per the Marshall's whim. This is like a Critical Failure in some other RPG game systems. For example: If a die roll of 3d6 results in a 1, 1, and a 4 being rolled, it means the roll is a Bust and the character is in for trouble.

Action Decks

Actions in Deadlands are timed in Rounds, which represent 5 seconds of real time. Whenever combat situations occur, (like a gunfight), players make a Quickness roll against a Fair Target Number (TN) of 5. For every success rolled, a character draws a card from the Action Deck. Each Raise (5 above the TN) gets an additional card as well. Both the Posse and the Marshall have their own deck.

Instead of rolling for Initiative as in most other RPGs, the Marshall calls out card values, starting from Aces all the way down to Deuces. The card's suit indicates who goes first if the same value of card is drawn. Spades go first, Hearts second, Diamonds third, and Clubs last. When a character's card comes up he can take an Action. Some Actions are simple or complex. Simple Actions take so little time they can be performed anytime, Complex Actions take a turn or longer to perform.

Wound Levels

Every character and critter in the game has 5 Wound Levels. Each level can withstand a certain amount Damage depending on the character's size. The Wound Levels are Light, Heavy, Serious, Critical, and Maimed. (In Deadlands: The Weird West, Wound Levels are represented by a coffin on the character sheet). For a typical human, each Wound Level can withstand 6 points of damage. Bigger creatures will have more points per Wound Level, and smaller will have less. When all Wound Levels are taken out by a body part, that area is Maimed and rendered useless.

Resolving Damage

Whenever a character is hit by damage, either from an accident injury or by a weapon, they take Wounds. Every weapon has a certain amount of Damage Dice. A typical pistol for example, does about 3d6 in damage. This is the only time in Deadlands where the results of each die is added together. If a 3d6 roll came up 2, 4, and 5, the damage the weapon inflicted will be 11, (2 + 4 + 5 = 11).

Some melee weapons have a Damage based on the Strength Trait, like STR + 2d6 for example. This means the character gets to roll the dice of his Strength Trait, (like a normal Test of Wills), and adds the result of their highest die to the total of the weapon's damage. (Aces can be rerolled). For example: If a character has a Strength of 3d8 and uses a melee weapon with STR + 2d6 damage, they roll their Strength of 3d8, getting a 2, 4, and 7, (a 7 was the highest die), and adds the 7 to a roll of 2d6, which rolled a 2 and 4 for a total of 6. Adding 7 from Strength and 6 from the damage roll, the character has inflicted 13 points of damage upon the target with the melee weapon.

Whenever a character is hit, the attacker rolls a d20 die and consults a Hit Location table to see where the damage is applied. 1 5 hits the legs, 5 9 lower guts, 10 Gizzards, 11 14 arms, 15 19 upper guts, and 20 hits the Noggin. The Gizzards and Noggin are vital areas, and if they get hit, its usually a bad thing. Damage to Gizzards gets an extra die of damage, and the Noggin gets two extra damage dice.

Fate Chips

Along with Bones and Cards, characters get Fate Chips which are poker chips, (colored stones, or coins can also be used), drawn from a hat or some other container that the player blindly chooses at the beginning of play. Each character draws 3 Fate Chips at the beginning of the game. There are 25 Red chips, 10 Blue chips and 50 White chips in the Fate Pot.

Spending a Red Chip allow the character a bonus die to be rolled during an Action, but the drawback is the Marshal can draw a chip from the pot as well for his baddies. Blue Chips do the same thing as Red, but don't allow the Marshal to draw a chip of his own. Spending Fate Chips also allows a character to regain Wind and reduce Wound Levels they take during an attack. It doesn't heal or stop damage, but lessens its effects on the character. White Chips negate one level of Wounds, Red negates 2 levels, and Blue negates 3.


At the end of a gaming session, players can cash in unused Fate Chips for Bounty Points. These are like Experience Points in other systems and are used to improve Traits and Aptitudes. The Marshal may also award additional Bounty Points at the end of the session for completing the mission objectives and any exceptional role-playing that had been done on behalf of a player. Blue Chips are worth 3 Bounty Points, Red are worth 2, and White are worth 1.

Game Terms

  • Harrowed: a Harrowed character has risen from the grave due to his or her body being possessed by a Manitou. As an undead, a Harrowed has a variety of special powers, but these are balanced by supernatural drawbacks, such as the fact the Harrowed constantly needs to battle their Manitou 'inmate' for control of their body. Because of the presence of the Manitou within their bodies, Harrowed can absorb the life energies of certain abominations to gain mystical powers, such as "Soul Eater" and "Sicken." The process of absorbing this energy is called "Counting Coup."
  • A Martial Artist can be either someone with the Fightin': Martial Arts Aptitude or someone who also has both that and the Edge; Arcane Background: Enlightened. An Elightened Martial Artist has access to the special powers (Chi Techniques) for which this class is famed. Most Martial Artists are Chinese in nationality, but it is possible to play a Westener Martial Artist.
  • Deadland: A Deadland, in game terms, is an area where the 'Fear Level' has grown so high that, not only have all the inhabitants been scared off, nobody's got the courage to try and resettle there. Abominations and other monsters are strengthened by the energies that flow through these places, for a Deadland is literal piece of 'hell on earth'. The final goal of the Reckoners is to transform all of earth into a single Deadland.

See also

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