Deadlands: The Weird West
Savage Worlds is a Fast! Furious! and Fun! rules system for any genre of roleplaying game.
Create your own setting, convert an existing one, or pick up one of our amazing settings like Deadlands, Rippers, or 50 Fathoms. The rules give players plenty of depth to create their characters and keep bookkeeping to a minimum for the Game Master. If you’re looking for a game that’s fast and easy to set up, run, and play, Savage Worlds is for you!
The Wonderful World of the "Weird West" [ edit ]
Deadlands was an RPG/setting that surprised just about everyone. Created in 1996 by Shane Hensley (who is now the CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment Group), Deadlands was originally intended to be a limited run product for a short-duration campaign ... but the world became so popular PEG had no choice but to develop it into its own product line.
Hensley got the idea for "cowboys and zombies" after seeing some artwork for a product for another RPG (Vampire: The Masquerade). He quickly developed those ideas into a "Weird West" setting with an alternate timeline, where a sort of demonic apocalypse occurred in 1863. Most of California fell into the sea, magic entered the world, zombies came to life at the battle of Gettysburg, and so on.
Players in this world can play gunslingers, shaman, mad scientists, and more as they explore the unusual world of the Weird West.
Not Your Traditional Post-Apocalyptic Setting [ edit ]
As you might expect, a game set in the 19th century with a magical apocalypse is not going to be your typical Mad Max/Fallout-esque post-nuclear wasteland. Instead, you get a setting that's one part Wild West, one part Steampunk, one part Horror ... and one part magical wackiness.
The central premise of the setting is that the apocalypse/timeline-change was caused by the introduction of otherworldly spirits known as "Reckoner." These spirits feed off dark emotions, and work secretly to cause fear and other negative emotions in humans. Their ultimate goal is to do this enough to essentially create a "hell on Earth".
Incidentally, fans of the setting who want even more post-apocalyptic setting can explore alternate Deadlands world of Hell on Earth, set after the Reckoners have taken over. However, the updated version of that product (for latest Adventure Edition) have yet to be released (as of November 2020).
Standard (Non-Random) Savage Worlds Character Creation [ edit ]
Players in this world take on the standard roll of "adventurers" exploring the dark 19th century American landscape. While the classic Deadlands used a deck of cards as a random element in character creation, characters in the Savage Worlds version instead use that systems's standard character creation system.
To create a character the player first allocates increases to their attributes, then purchases a set of skills, and finally picks one or more Edges and Hindrances. Hindrances are disadvantages that allow you to take more Edges, and Edges are the unique advantages of the character (eg. a huckster's magic or a gunslinger's expert shooting ability).
Deadlands Has *Many* Versions [ edit ]
Because of its popularity (and perhaps also because the systems's popularity caught PEG by surprise), Deadlands has tried a lot of different rule sets over the years ... and I do mean a lot! In fact, Deadlands has had an edition with almost every "big name" in the industry.
The game started out with its own system in 1996, and later released a revised edition in 1999. Then in 2001 a d20 version was released, using a rule based off the Dungeons and Dragons 3.0/3.5 edition ... but it was not very well-received. As a result, a GURPS-based version of the setting was released later that year, but again this version of the game wasn't as popular, with many fans feeling that GURPS's more realistic rules didn't fit the (less serious) Deadlands setting.
Meanwhile, way back in 1997 Deadlands released a miniature wargame supplement called The Great Rail Wars, which used a simplified version of the original Deadlands rules. That game formed the basis of a new, generic system from Pinnacle: Savage Worlds.
It should come as no surprise then that the setting's latest edition, Deadlands Reloaded, uses the Savage Worlds rules ... a rule set which at this point was fairly different from the original Deadlands rules, even though it was derived from them.
Deadlands Reloaded (Savage Worlds) vs. Classic [ edit ]
Just to muddy the waters further, in 2017 PEG re-released the original Deadlands rules in a new "Deadlands 20th Anniversary Edition", and then in 2020 they released Deadlands: The Weird West, which updated the Savage Worlds version to that system's latest edition(Adventure Edition).
All of this may leave a new Deadlands fan wondering: which system should you use to start a new Deadlands campaign?
Well, we can rule out both the D20 and GURPS editions (except for fans of those systems who don't want to learn new rules). That just leaves us to choose between the classic or Savage Worlds rules.
Both versions are extremely popular, and in fact both rank in RPG Geek's top 50 RPGs! However, the reloaded version has the clear higher score: 33 vs. classic's 42. Since the Savage Worlds version is also the only one with new content being published, it's clear that it makes the most sense for new fans.
But just in case you're still on the fence, consider the words of Shane Hensley himself, the original creator of Deadlands. Keep in mind that one of the biggest criticisms of the classic Deadlands rules were that they often resulted in very slow combats, especially when lots of combatants were involved. But with Savage Worlds rules ...
At the end of the night, when we were all kibitzing about how cool the [Savage Worlds] game was, the comment everyone kept making was how awesome it was that the game handled a huge firefight with 20 combatants with machine guns blazing and explosives flying—and at the same time handling a very detailed scuffle between two individual combatants (the fight between the medic and Doc Bronx).
We started about 7PM, made characters, had two big fights, took our time doing some awesome roleplaying with the NPCs of the villages and between our own characters, and chatted for at least an hour about the last of a few cool GM rules we’d been playing with. All by midnight.
Deadlands: The Weird West For a Non-Traditional Post-Apocalypse [ edit ]
Deadlands has been released and re-released over the course of 20 years, using not just one but several different RPG systems. In that time its products have won nine Origins Awards, including one for Best Roleplaying Game Supplement for the Savage Worlds Deadlands: Reloaded book. And there's one simple reason for the game's longevity and fandom for such an extended period: the setting itself is just a lot of fun.
It's undeniable that the post-apocalyptic genre has been heavily influenced by Westerns, and to some extent Deadlands simply takes this to the next level. But while elements of it may feel familiar to post-apocalyptic fans, Deadlands' unique juxtaposition of Western and apocalyptic elements (plus horror and magic to boot) create a world that's entirely new and different. If a post-apocalyptic setting with the spirit and timeline of a Western sounds like somewhere your group will want to explore, perhaps it's time to pay a visit to the "Weird West".
And if you're still not sure what to think of Deadlands, you may wish to check out a free one-page adventure for it available from Pinnacle: Giants in the Mist. The adventure revolves around the party stopping a fight between a town of settlers and a tribe of Native Americans (by discovering the secret horror at the root of the conflict), and offers a perfect introduction into the world for a GM considering it.