Friday, March 31, 2006

The Rebirth of the Weird West?

During a period of time when my enthusiasm for RPGs had lapsed a bit, Pinnacle Entertainment's Deadlands was one of the very select group of new games that drew my attention. It was, to put it gently, an original concept; sort of Wild Wild West meets Dawn of the Dead, with some of the feel of an over-arching plot that the old World of Darkness achieved, but without the WOD need to take itself as seriously as cancer. Lots of games have original concepts, but Deadlands had a system to back it up that was interesting, fit the feel of the game, and was reasonably playable. The d20 Deadlands conversion never did it for me, as a result; d20 was just too generic and too rigid to fit with what had been a very thematic and flexible system.

Now I hear that after months and months of rumors and delays, Deadlands is returning to the world of the living... Great White Games, the successor to PEG Inc., is bringing Deadlands back, this time using a variation of the Deadlands-influenced Savage Worlds system. The new Deadlands will be the first real incentive I've had to take a look at the SW system. I'm normally a little wary of multi-world generic systems; to me, every d20 game feels mostly like D&D in funny outfits, and GURPS.... well, I've been working on making a GURPS character for the past several years, and I'm hopeful that sometime soon I'll have some progress to report (in all fairness, the incredible detail of GURPS is great.... for playing other games, or if you're interested in putting in the time and effort to design your own RPG. I've got a whole list of things from GURPS High Tech and GURPS Low Tech that I want to pilfer for my WFRP games...).

There are a couple of things about the resurrection of Deadlands that has me wondering. For one, Great White is saying that the core rulebook is going to be all you need to play the entire game- that there won't be a bunch of supplements with extra edges and flaws or expanded rules and spells, etc. I'm not sure if they mean that other Savage Worlds products will be the means by which expansions to Deadlands enter the market, or if they really mean to not add anything to the line other than the promised Plot Point expansions that push the settings timeline forward. But frankly, I've heard the old 'one book is all you need' line before; it usually translates to 'if you're willing to make your DM do a lot of work to build some additional background and setting for your game', or 'we're hoping you won't notice what's missing until you're too far in to do more than complain on a web forum somewhere'. WFRP1 came very close to meeting that exalted goal of 'one book only'; outside of that, most of the games that I have seen haven't lived up to that promise.

The other odd thing is that Great White is making a big push to sell through the old Deadlands material that they still have in stock. They're claiming that the old material still makes for great background reading, but that it won't be reprinted once Deadlands Reloaded hits the street. That seems a little odd to me. There was a great deal of information that was covered in the old Deadlands books- expansions to the major character types, lots of background on the organizations and settings of the Deadlands world, etc. This makes it difficult for me to assess what their promise not to reprint this material means. It seems to either mean that 1) there is going to be very anemic background material for Deadlands available outside the core book, or 2) the information is going to be reprinted, but in new books and a new form, or maybe 2) plus "we'd really like to sell through our old stock".

Great White has slipped several times on the publication date for Deadlands; it seems that its author is rather overcommited working for City of Heroes, for one thing. It just leaves me wondering how well supported the Deadlands line is going to be once it gets back into circulation.

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