Deadlands is a RPG and campaign setting published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. The setting is an alternate history of the Wild West, called The Weird West. It's set in 1876, and 13 years previous (1863) a terrible supernatural evil was unleashed upon the world. This evil festers and spreads like cancer, blazing a trail for more evil to follow in it's wake. The world looked just like ours, until the dead rose up at the Battle of Gettysburg. Ever since, things have been getting nastier and creepier.
The game draws heavily upon The Western Genre, and uses Tropes and Characters common to that genre. It also spices things up with Horror Tropes, and even some elements of Steampunk. In addition to the standard character roles of Wild West film and literature, PCs can also be Mad Scientists, Miracle Workers, Martial Artists, Spies, Undead, and even a form of Wizard. This multi-genre combination of different source materials really opens up the possibilities, making it a setting that can be stretched to accommodate just about anything. At the same time, the Western motif that pervades the setting provides a grounding for the campaign, and keeps it from getting too jumbled or abstract.
Game and Story Use
- Several editions of Deadlands have been published, each utilizing a different set of Mechanics. In addition to the original game rules, there are also versions of Deadlands based on d20, GURPS, and Savage Worlds, all of which have significant bodies of source material available for other campaign settings that use those rules. If you're looking to customize your campaign world, it's easy to translate elements of Deadlands into other settings and vice-versa.
- At least two (maybe all four?) versions of the game incorporate playing cards and poker chips into the mechanics. Cards are drawn during shoot-outs, spell casting, and character creation. In the case of magic, spellcasting PCs are actually playing poker with the devil to wrest power from the supernatural realm.
- Clever GMs and game designers may figure out similar ways to make the mechanics of their own games reinforce the settings they are running.
- Deadlands serves as a good example of alternate history and the Butterfly Effect. GMs trying to work out how to tweak a historical era to their own needs could use it as a blueprint.
- See also Butterfly of Doom, because most of the changes to history in the Deadlands setting are pretty horrific. It's an even better example of how to make a nightmare version of a previously-familiar (and seemingly mundane) genre or historical era.
- It's also a robust example of multi-genre-ism, and could provide ideas to a GM who's considering "crossing the streams". The trick used in Deadlands is that they picked one Genre to be the foundation, so that new players can start out with the default assumptions of that genre. When in doubt, default to the Wild West. All the more fantastical additions can be added and learned as the campaign progresses, if need be.