Independence Day

The Player's Guide of Deadlands Reloaded

Deadlands Reloaded!

Yesterday I GMed something that I wanted to run for a long time: the Deadlands Dime Novel scenario “Independence Day“. Deadlands is a Western setting in which the Civil War never ended, magic returned to the earth, and people started finding that some of the ghost stories told around the campfire just happened to be true. The turning point was on July 3rd, 1863 when the first signs of weirdness started appearing. The Battle of Gettysburg turned out quite differently as the dead of both sides rose up and started slaughtering their fellow soldiers, decimating both sides.

When Deadlands first came out with its “Classic” rules, Pinnacle tried an experiment by publishing “Dime Novels“, which consisted of a short story of the cowboy Ronan Lynch and some event he faced in the Weird West, then a 4-6 hour scenario in which the players can take the place of Ronan Lynch and run through the scenario in their own way. About six months ago, Pinnacle created notes on how to convert a number of Classic scenarios, including some Dime Novels, to Deadlands Reloaded (the current Savage Worlds version of the rules rules) and put them freely available on their downloads page. Recently, Pinnacle has started rereleasing these stories with new color artwork in a number of digital formats, but sadly they do not contain the original adventure in any form (fortunately, all Classic material is still available for purchase in PDF form so the original adventure can still be obtained).

Independence Day Dime Novel Cover

“Independence Day” was the second of these Dime Novels and takes place over July 2nd to July 4th, 1876 in Dodge City, Kansas. Supporters of the Union who live in Dodge are getting ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their Independence. The Confederate supporters are happy for any excuse to break out into a fight. Kansas is a disputed territory and doesn’t really care either way, but Dodge has figured that if enough people want to celebrate, they’ll bring money  and that’s good all around. Still, the town is going to need to hire some extra security for the festivities and the scenario starts with the players getting deputized by Wyatt Earp himself.

The players are given a small section of town to patrol and in the first part of the scenario they get to freely roam around and meet the people. The scenario has detailed information about people who are supposed to come up in the story and has brief details on others in the town. For instance, there’s a small section about the First Bank of Dodge City and it briefly describes the name and personality of the woman who runs it, despite the fact that she really has nothing to do with the story. I think this is a bit of a double-edge sword. On the plus side, it provides a feeling that this is an actual town with all kinds of interesting people, unlike the stereotypical scenario where there are about three named people in the town. The scenario did a good job of making it clear who was important and who wasn’t, but I think there were a few too many that were deemed important and I think I’d cut a few or merge them with others if I ran this again.

All in all, I was pleased with the scenario and the way that the posse handled it. The scenario didn’t have much combat, but there was a great deal of investigation, tracking down a series of mysterious killings by “The Butcher”. If I were to run the scenario again, say at a convention, I think I would add a fight early on in the scenario (maybe before they get deputized) to mix things up a bit. Also, I used the Savage Worlds Adventure Deck which was fun, but it threw in a few monkey wrenches that I wasn’t prepared for and I’m not sure I’d use it again for a one-shot like this.

One of the big issues I’ve always had with Savage Worlds was the way that invulnerabilities are handled. In Deadlands especially, there are some creatures or people who are invulnerable to all attacks except for a certain weakness, usually with the story of their past giving clues (thus knowledge is power). The Butcher had one of those invulnerabilities, which was supposed to mean that he could not take any wounds. Bullets and such wouldn’t even slow him down. I tried changing it instead so that he got a free soak roll and regenerated one wound level each round (so a Terminator sort of situation could happen where he could be wounded for a time then recover). This also prevented the ridiculous situation of an extremely damaging attack (let’s say a nuke gets dropped right where he’s standing) and then he stands up next round, completely unharmed.

Bullets Bounce off Superman

Believable for the Man of Steel, not so much for The Butcher

But nothing ever works according to plan. One of the characters (James William Boyd) got a lucky shot off that did 25 damage and an Adventure card was played to make the attack do double damage. The Butcher failed his soak roll and took an epic 10 wounds! I declared him incapacitated planning for him to rise up again shortly. Unfortunately, that led to an awkward point in the scenario. The players weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do and once The Butcher rose up again, they tried riddling him with more bullets, which would have incapacitated him again had I not decided to just make them ineffectual. Eventually, they did figure out the weakness and exploit it, but I felt something was lost because of that situation. I’ll have to figure out some way to deal with this should a similar situation occur again.

All in all though the scenario ended on a good note (with the characters watching the fireworks and the British game hunter telling the Brooklyn Huckster “Happy Independence Day, ya damn yankee!”). There were a lot of fun moments and all in all, I think it’s a great scenario which would work well as an introduction to Deadlands. The PlatinumWarlock was one of my players and spoke pretty positively about the game in his blog, and noted that it was refreshing to play in a setting that he had only ever GMed. I found out what worked and what didn’t for me and learned a bit about how I would improve as a GM, which I guess is my main goal of being a Journeyman GM.

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Posted on June 13, 2011, in Gameplay and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What would have happened if you’d let the Butcher actually die? Was there any way you could have further complicated the scenario? His ghost, maybe, arises, who is logically immune to bullets, and even harder to kill? Something else even worse takes his place?

    Something Graham Walmsley does mention in his book Play Unsafe is to let the adventurers do as they will, even if that includes killing the bad guy or finding the treasure “too early” in the GM’s view. Improvise from there with a further complication. “We locate the treasure–but discover it was stolen! We defeat the rebel–and find ourselves on the throne!” And so on and so forth.

    Granted, I wasn’t at the game and I don’t know the adventure, but you yourself said you weren’t pleased with how it seemed to break the “fourth wall,” resume the state of disbelief. Looking back, was there a better way to deal with the situation?

  2. Generally I’m pretty good at improvising during unexpected situations, but I have to admit that I didn’t quite know what to do at this point. Actually, what I’d hoped would happen was (highlight below to read a pretty big spoiler):

    ==============
    When they knocked out The Butcher, I had hoped that they would try to take the scalpel from him, which was actually a tainted relic that had a mind of its own. Every night it possessed its owner and transformed the poor man into The Butcher. According to the scenario, if any of the party members picks up the scalpel, he or she must make a Spirit roll or actually become The Butcher himself!
    ==============

    Unfortunately, the players didn’t do that and no other sinister ideas came to me at the time. In retrospect, I think that it would have been really cool if

    ==============
    I had everybody make a Spirit roll and the person who scored the lowest found himself walking over to pick up the scalpel, not really sure why. There’d be a quick moment before he actually picked it up for others to do something to stop them.
    ==============

    I imagine that no matter how anybody GMs, there’s always going to be some point where they’re lost for what to do. But at least I was able to work things out in the end and it was a learning experience for me.

    I haven’t heard of Play Unsafe but I’ll put it on my (currently very long) list of things to read!

  3. Don’t stress yourself about “Play Unsafe” too much. Kat sent me the PDF after she wrote her review, and she was pretty much right on the money. While Graham Walmsley did a pretty nice job with “The Laundry–Dossiers”, this wasn’t one of his better works.

    I almost feel like the scenario could have ended just as easily with JWB shooting The Butcher off of the roof, and the scalpel falling from his hand as he went. The thing that most broke “realism” for me is that this guy could take a point blank pistol shot to the back of the head, fall 2 stories down to the flaming rubble below, and still hang onto his weapon…

    Or, worse, had we failed to put together 2+2 (as we did, for a while), have someone else pick up the scalpel…becoming the next Butcher, in the next city west.

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