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Tabletop Game: Deadlands
Deadlands Games and Settings
  • Deadlands: The Weird West
  • The Great Rail Wars
  • Deadlands: Reloaded
  • Deadlands: Hell on Earth
  • Hell on Earth: Reloaded
  • Deadlands: Lost Colony
  • Deadlands: Doomtown (CCG)
  • Deadlands: Noir
The year is 1879, but the history is not our own...

Originally released in the 1990s by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Deadlands: The Weird West was the first setting in what would become a trilogy. The brainchild of Shane Lacy Hensley, Deadlands was, at the time, praised as a breath of fresh air amidst the various Dungeons & Dragons and Old World of Darkness clones and derivative works. The rules were very detailed (to the point of being cumbersome, at times), and the setting was more so (to the point of being awesome, most generally). Since then, Pinnacle (and its affiliate, Great White Games) has begun re-releasing the settings with the much lighter (but less detailed) Savage Worlds rules system. This began in 2006 with Deadlands: Reloaded.

The Weird West starts out as a sort of Alternate History: long ago, around the time of the Renaissance, a group of Native Americans finally succeeded at closing the doors to the "next world", referred to almost ubiquitously in the game material as "The Hunting Grounds." Doing so sealed the mystical gates between worlds, which made all magic, good or ill, much, much harder to perform. That was actually the goal, as "ill" vastly outnumbered "good".

All that changed on July 3, 1863. By this time, monsters and dragons were nothing more than folklore, footnotes in cultural history. Then, an enterprising (and vengeful) Susquehanna shaman named Raven re-entered the Hunting Grounds and succeeded at undoing the work of those who had come before him, opening the spiritual barriers between worlds once more. This would be Raven's Reckoning against the white man.

All Hell broke loose. Things that previously belonged in nightmares became real. Mere arcanists suddenly became aware there was more to the world than they could see, and some began to barter or swindle dark spirits for power. Shamans regained powerful medicine. Demons — "manitous", in the sourcebooks — began to whisper secrets of technology yet-to-come in the ears of tinkerers, slowly driving them mad. The forces of good eventually began to lend aid to their appointed. And, rarely, the dead began to walk the Earth.

The material for Deadlands: The Weird West is extensive, covering approximately 30 or so full-length sourcebooks. GM's — "Marshals", in game parlance — were widely encouraged to research actual history and folklore to color in the details of their campaign world. Don't think the game's authors were slouches, though. July 3, 1863 was the date of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. The interference of these new malevolent forces turned that battle to the favor of the Confederacy, and perpetuated the war for about 15 years. The setting is filled with historical Shout Outs.

Three things really defined the flavor of the original game world, though. First was its historical setting: though there was enough material to run entire campaigns "Back East", most of the game's attention went to the American West. Second was the prevalence of the Masquerade, with both the United States and the Confederate States employing agents to ensure that no word of paranormal activity ever leaked into the public at large. Finally, the Deadlands universe is implicitly and explicitly stated to be Faustian: if you want power from the Hunting Grounds, expect to have to pay a price. It might be as simple as living a pious life or respecting the Nature Spirits. It might be as complex — and angsty — as time-sharing your rotting corpse with a malevolent specter.

The flavor of the game is also influenced by its stakes: whether you know it or not, you're playing for the future of the entire world. This is reinforced not merely by the incredibly lethal combat system (which utilizes dice pools, playing cards, poker chips, and even paper clips for the completist), but by the gruesome fate awaiting failure: Deadlands: Hell on Earth.

The year is 2097, but the future is not our own...

Set thirteen years after "The Reckoning", Hell on Earth posits that through the time-traveling shenanigans of the Harrowed gunslinger Stone the heroes of the Weird West failed. This led to 200 years of ghost rock exploitation, abominations mongering fear, and the eventual invention of the G-Bomb, a nuclear weapon utilizing irradiated ghost rock. During an epic world war between the collected allies of the United States and the Confederate States (which never reunited after the extended Civil War in The Weird West), the Reckoners' plans come to fruition in 2081 as the world is carpeted in G-Rays which are, in fact, the radioactive souls of the damned, heralding the Reckoners' return to Earth in the form of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Reckoners rode east, passing beyond the Mississippi, and, though decimated, the sparsely populated Western U.S. and C.S.A. allows a survivor culture to sprout up, a new beginning in the "Wasted West." Sixguns and horses are replaced by automatics and motorcycles, but the feel remains the same, as various factions arise across the Wasted West to survive in a hostile new land where you keep what you can hold on to and the very earth itself seems to want you dead.

A mixture of Mad Max, Wasteland, and Terminator's future-war setting with now-overt supernaturalism, the best of the Wasted West manages to hold on to the rugged Western feel of its predecessor while slathering on every After the End schtick you can imagine, and ramping up the horror and violence to levels more outre than the Masquerade-ridden Weird West. In 2012, Hell on Earth: Reloaded was released.

Finally, there's the third Deadlands setting, Lost Colony. Set in a star system "far, far away", where a group of sentient, but primitive, aliens may just hold the key to defeating the Big Bads once and for all. It's meant to provide a suitably expansive backdrop to the series' climactic final confrontation, but was hindered by a lack of support: only two sourcebooks and one novel were written to support the setting, a far cry from the extensive treatment of previous games in the series. Like its big brothers, however, it maintains a very "Western" feel, leading to the tagline used in all three series, "The spaghetti Western...with meat!" With the conversion of Deadlands and Hell on Earth to the Savage Worlds system, Lost Colony will eventually be converted and maybe even finished.

In 2013, an Interquel line set between Deadlands and Hell on Earth was released. Titled Deadlands: Noir, the line follows a timeline from the 1920s through the 1950s, focusing on the early events that led to Hell on Earth.

A TV series based on the game is in development.

This Tabletop RPG provides examples of:

  • Abraham Lincoln: Harrowed after his untimely death.
  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Hucksters rely on this - in Reloaded, low mana gain is offset by their ability to bet bits of their soul on poker hands for free mana. Getting a high hand gives you increasing amounts of mana, but losing and not being able to pay for the spell can have any number of unpleasant consequences. In Deadlands Classic poker is part of the spellcasting mechanic, in play as well as in-'verse, and the critical failure table for huckster magic is the harshest seen in a tabletop RPG.
    • In Classic, magic consists of challenging an evil spirit to a game; if you win, it will do the "magic", but you might just grab one that's bigger than you expected, or it might trick you into thinking you won...
  • Acme Products: Smith & Robards has everything you need, all the way to customized submarines. And for the cash-strapped, there's always El Cheapo.
  • Addiction Powered: Grifters in Noir. They can even overindulge to boost their power.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: An odd variant. Did you know poker isn't even in the original Hoyle's Book of Games? (It didn't exist in 1760.) Most hucksters see the game against the manitou as poker because, well, this is the Wild West and poker is king.
    • This extends even further with a few meta considerations; the rulebooks only really use poker, but mentions that the game can take many forms (being a mental shortcut to begin with). The book on hucksters (magicians) make explicit note of this, saying, in essence, that the game played with the manitous to power a spell can take any form (chess is mentioned by name). The game mechanics only allow poker, however, likely because how well you do matters, and the probabilities matter.
  • After the End: Hell on Earth.
  • Alternate History: Part of the basic premise.
  • America Saves the Day: It is implied that strangeness is breaking out all over the world, but the forces or darkness and all the major events are concentrated on the North American continent.
  • Anthropomorphic Personifications: Those taken from folklore, most notably the Big Bads, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
  • Anti Heroes: More than a few player characters, and one or two NPCs.
  • Anachronism Stew: The game involves characters and settings that did not co-exist in the actual Old West. For example, the Civil War has lasted until 1877. Both Bill Quantrill and Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, but are still around as undead. The events of the OK Corral occur ahead of schedule. The historical hodgepodge technology is hand-waved as the result of ghost rock advancing the pace of innovation.
  • And I Must Scream: One book points out that any Harrowed who gets his head cut off will experience a new kind of personal hell, as their head will continue to be conscious and immobile for the foreseeable future.
  • Animate Body Parts: Animated hands are a form of Critter. Some Harrowed player characters can also do this.
  • Army of the Dead: The Black Regiment is a rare evil example of this, though technically more an example of Night of the Living Mooks. They are a regiment of Walking Dead created from fallen soldiers, their uniforms stained a blackish color due to being soaked with half-dried gore (hence the name), who mysteriously appear on battlefields to turn the battle in favor of the losing side with their vicious tactics. Of course, they fight for the Union or the Confederates as they see fit, as their purpose is to basically keep the deadly stalemate between the countries going, and they're perfectly happy to turn on their "allies" of a given battle if they get in the way.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: One hindrance that a martial artist character can have is "My Kung Fu Is Superior!". Depending on its point value, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the character in question to decline a challenge from another martial artist (which can often be issued at the least convenient of times).
  • Artistic License – History: One of the few ways to guarantee someone can't rise from the dead, even as Harrowed, is fatal brain trauma. Wild Bill and Abaraham Lincoln, both killed by this method in Real Life, still rise as Harrowed in Deadlands canon.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: Piranhas, sharks, big mosquitoes, beetles, swarms of tarantulas, man-sized tarantulas, giant tarantulas, carnivorous horses, giant ticks, bigfoot, and giant octopi that wear battleship hulls as armor. An abbreviated list.
  • Back from the Dead: One of the signature elements of the setting is the fact that your player characters can return from the grave as undead gunslingers. After a character dies, they may attract an evil spirit. Following a Psychological Torment Zone nightmare, you can Rise from Your Grave and be Cursed with Awesome. It is also completely possible for a character to Come Back Wrong or discover they were Dead All Along. Almost guaranteed to have Unfinished Business.
  • Badass Longcoat: A popular Western Trope; the Texas Rangers even issue dusters to their new recruits, apparently just to keep up appearances. In Hell on Earth, longcoats are pretty much standard equipment and in abundant supply.
    • The Rangers' Union equivalent, the Agency, are even called the The Men in Black Dusters.
  • Badass Normal: The Rangers, again. Note that virtually any character could potentially become a force to be reckoned with, even if they lacked arcane power.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: One spell called "Coffin Varnish" summons coffee bad enough to earn the name.
  • Bad Vibrations: They're not called Rattlers because they look much like a rattlesnake. They're called Rattlers because your teeth start rattling when the giant tentacled worm-monster is coming to eat you.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: More like Honest Abe becomes a zombie spirit private eye. Doc Holliday's dueling skills come at least partially from the fact that he's the premiere hexslinger of the setting, and Jefferson Davis was replaced by a doppelganger after the Reckoners awoke. And that's just a sampling of the list.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family, and also It Runs in the Family: The Whateleys. "How screwed up?", you ask? You have to make a guts check to be able to look at the Whateley family tree gnarled non-euclidean shrub. They are wicked, incestuous, inbred, crazy and extremely powerful sorcerers. You can play a good Whateley, but if you do, the rulebook suggests they be fairly far removed from the main family branch (cousins at the very least). This is a very reasonable suggestion.
  • Big Boo's Haunt: The Eastern Seaboard in Hell on Earth.
  • Black Box: Mad Science.
  • Blood Magic: Blood magic is a form of dark sorcery. Shamans can also use blood sacrifice to gain favor with the spirits. Whateley hucksters can sacrifice their own blood as a means of gaining more power to cast their spells.
  • Body Horror: A lot of Abominations qualify.
    • Prairie Ticks are giant ticks that, for some reason, can't penetrate external skin. So they force their way down into a victim's stomach so they can drink blood from the softer wall. If the victim doesn't die of blood loss, they typically will when the tick tears its way out of the victim's guts.
    • Texas Tummy Twisters are parasites that can be picked up by drinking contaminated water. Picture a ghastly lump of gnarly, spiked tentacles and eyes roughly the size of a toddler living in someone's belly—and capable of reaching out through their flesh to attack others—and you've got a Tummy Twister.
    • Braincrawlers are centipede-like creatures that chew an open wound in the base of a victim's skull and the back of their neck so they can crawl inside and take over their body, leaving the victim alive but with a bloody hole that has a writhing creepy-crawly in it at the back of their neck.
    • Cankers are horrific critters with elements of spiders, crabs and octopi, which spontaneously manifest in the stomachs of people suffering depression, worry or stress. They grow bigger and bigger, eating the organs of their host until eventually they suck the eyes out from inside and replace them by extending their own eyestalks up to sit inside the hole. And the host is still alive through all this because the Canker grows appendages to replace the organs it eats.
    • Flesh Jackets are the completely removed skins of human beings (sans the skin from the neck, face and head), which are capable of both slithering around under their own power and slipping onto living people, as their name suggests, to take over their bodies.
  • Bullet Catch: Some enlightened martial artists can do this.
  • The Butcher: A Serial Killer of the same title is one of the more infamous characters in-verse. The truth is that "The Butcher" is actually any person who has been overwhelmed by the curse placed on a certain enchanted knife.
  • California Collapse: California was shattered by an earthquake, causing much of the state to collapse into the ocean. The Pacific flooded into the resultant fissure, creating the Great Maze.
  • Canadian Western: The Great Weird North expands the original setting into Canada.
  • Card Sharp: Hucksters unlock the arcane secrets of Hoyle's Book of Games, and use a good deal of gambling-themed spells: 54 Card Pickup and Ace In the Hole just to name a few.
    • Hell, there's one spell that literally lives up to this trope by name. "Card Sharp" basically turns the caster's cards into throwing knives.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Whateley hucksters can do this. The first edition even had a special form of magic, the Whateley Blood Magic, that lived and breathed this trope.
  • Cattle Punk: Wild West setting with Steam Punk (or Cyber Punk, for HoE) technology.
  • Chinese Laborer: Make up most of the workforce of the Iron Dragon railroad.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The Reckoners literally feed on fear, and so the generic purpose of all Abominations is to literally "Terrorform" the land around them by spreading fear and suffering—people can also reverse the process by making people feel hope, joy, and bravery.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Several, most noticeably Lacy O'Malley, editor of the Tombstone Epitaph. The sourcebook The Black Circle: Unholy Alliance included a Conspiracy Theorist archetype suitable for use as a player character.
  • Corpse Land: A lot of Civil War battlefields along the Mason-Dixon line are like this. Especially Gettysburg.
  • Crisis of Faith: By 1935, the combined ravages of the Great War, the Flu Pandemic, and the Great Depression have caused the vast majority of people to lose faith. As a result, Blessed are almost completely absent from Noir.
  • Critical Hit: Called an "ace." If you roll the highest number on the die (4 on a d4, 6 on a d6, etc), you can roll that die again and add the results, which can continue until you stop acing. Makes probabilities interesting, since you have a better chance of beating a difficulty of 6 on a d4 than a d6 (3/16 vs 1/6). Of course, they aren't automatic successes either, so you may still fail the task.
  • Critical Failure: Carry penalties version. If you were using arcane powers or El Cheapo gear at the time, or had a certain flaw, said penalty was steeper. And they could get pretty steep indeed. Certain unlucky (or shortsighted) players could trigger multiple ones from separate sources, and some things increased the odds of these occurring. Further, carried nitroglycerin explodes automatically on critical agility failures. This game doesn't like you.
  • Cursed with Awesome: See Back from the Dead, above. In short, becoming a Harrowed means that you receive a "Get out of Boot Hill free" card and super powers... at the cost of being undead and suffering from Demonic Possession that means you can lose control of your body to the malevolent creature inside.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Oh yeah. If the players were sane, they would just stay home and tend the farm.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Steampunk cybernetics reduce the character's spiritual Traits.
  • Hollywood Cyborg: Cybernetic limbs are available in all settings, but cyborgs are only a class in Hell On Earth. The kicker here is that all cyborgs in HoE are based on Harrowed, since they don't really need their organs (except the brain) which makes stuffing them full of metal parts far easier, and there's room for much more. As an added bonus, cyborgs can run their implants on spiritual energy from their manitou, and don't need external power sources.
  • Damage Reduction: Interestingly, armor is MUCH more effective against melee attacks than against firearms. This is a realistic rule that most games omit.
  • Damage Typing: Temporary damage from fatigue, blood loss, spellcasting, etc. is called "Wind" and is tracked separately from damage caused by more permanent trauma.
  • Deal with the Devil: It is actually possible for a player character to become a non-player character if he signs away his soul for power.
    • Any huckster knowingly deals with evil spirits to do "magic". Mad scientists also deal with those same spirits, but not knowingly.
    • Grifters gain power from the Manitou by indulging in sacrificial vices, such as drinking and smoking. The resulting addiction creates a hunger that empowers Famine itself.
    • It's possible to sell a piece of your soul at the crossroads for whatever you desire... if your soul is strong enough to survive the damage.
  • Destroying The Brain: The only way to permanently kill a Harrowed.
    • Or, indeed, almost any kind of Undead in the setting. Gloms are a particular nuisance because that vital brain can be hidden under a lot of other dead flesh. Bone Fiends are worse; a possessed skull is the focus for the demon creating it, but that doesn't even have to be on its body. Vampires' weakness is the heart, and some "liches" can hide their focus somewhere else.
  • Death Dealer: The Huckster Arcane Background uses this often. Can range from throwing one card with a magical razor's edge (card sharp), to throwing them in front of projectiles to stop ranged attacks (ace in the hole).
  • Divided States of America: And how. One of the biggest splits in the Alternate History.
  • Doom Magnet: Any character with the drawback "Grim Servant o' Death". For whatever reason, innocent people die and disaster occurs wherever they are.
  • Dracula: Does show up, but notably does NOT inspire fear in the hearts of men throughout the Weird West. Deadlands takes place years before Bram Stoker's book was published, few people in the West know the vampire legends, and Dracula himself has no reason whatsoever to aid the Reckoners. Dracula is treated as an eccentric Eastern European nobleman by nearly all, and very few people have any reason to believe otherwise.
  • The Dragon: Each of the four Big Bads has one. War has Raven, Famine has Grimme, Pestilence has Hellstromme, Death has Stone.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Reckoners certainly qualify; possibly also their Manitou servants, though to a much lesser degree. Also, the Mojave rattlers, in a more traditional tentacled Lovecraftian beast sense. They also are Old Gods who lost most of their power through lack of believers, at least until they created the Wormlings to worship them.
  • Eldritch Location: The Hunting Grounds, and Lord Grimley's Manor.
  • Enemy Within: The Harrowed and their manitous.
  • Endless Winter: Canada has this problem in Classic, caused by ice manitou demons. The solution is a titanic "Fence" build along the Canadian Pacific railroad. The rulebook does not specify whether this Fence is patrolled by celibate Mounties in black uniforms or not.
  • Eye Patch Of Power: Texas Ranger Hank "One-Eye" Ketchum.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Words can't do justice to how true this is... To put it in perspective, demons can create swarms of mind-controlled animals aptly named "Murderous Hordes", one of the enemies in the corebook is a spiky, blood-sucking tumbleweed called the Tumblebleed, it has a cousin called Bloodwire (which pretends to be part of a barbed wire fence to grab its prey), and there's a very literal Saddle Burr, in the form of a spiky plant that can pierce just about anything and injects a very powerful irritating venom—it can't actually kill you, but it really leaves you sore.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: Prairie Ticks.
  • Femme Fatale: A character archetype in Noir.
  • Fetus Terrible: Blood Babies.
  • Fight Like A Card Player: The game is notable for using playing cards (a standard 54-card deck) as a randomizer instead of dice in many mechanics.
  • Fossil Revival: Walking Fossils
  • Gatling Good: Every single vehicle in the Smith & Robard's catalog has multiple gatling gun mounts. Players can also acquire rifle and pistol-size gatling guns.
  • Game System: Four of them. The original Deadlands, then GURPS, then D20, and most recently Savage Worlds. Plus the CCG and the miniatures game.
  • Genre-Busting: Horror meets Wild West by way of Cattle Punk, moving through Film Noir before going on to Post Apocalyptic.
  • GMPC: Some of the publish adventures include NPCs who are intended to act as additional party members.
  • Giant Spider: Yep. There are fifty-foot giant spiders, but the man-sized ones that hide under the ground and pull you into their burrows are actually scarier.
  • God Is Good: True, believe it or not in this setting, but only for Weird West. He's actively involved trying to pull our bacon out of the fire. He gets ripshit pissed in Hell on Earth, since humans were the ones who screwed up, and so goes hardcore Lawful Neutral with only a side of Good, trying to enforce harsh justice as the only thing that'll work in the wasteland humanity has created for itself.
  • The Gm Is A Cheating Bastard: In fact, the Marshal sections often explicitly state that certain antagonist powers (like Black Magic) are not balanced in any way. Since the game is supposed to be one of gritty horror and close-shave survivalism, this can be forgiven.
    • Also explicitly invoked with Harrowed. The Manitou animating a Harrowed will always have a higher Spirit than the Harrowed itself.
    • One of the books flat out points out that Stone is for a lack of a better word, invulnerable.
  • Gold Fever: Ghost Rock Fever!
  • The Great Depression: The setting of Noir.
  • Great White Hunter: The Explorer's Society.
  • Green Rocks: Ghost rock, the miracle fuel will one day destroy mankind!
  • Virtually every Gun Trope known to man is used by a canon character or written into the rules.
  • Hanging Judge: Both the normal kind, and the "implacable monster of doom that repeats your every sin as it hunts you down" kind.
  • Hardboiled Detective: It wouldn't be Noir without them.
  • Haunted Technology: You bet. Mad gadgets are easily infested by "gremlins" that deliberately cause malfunctions.
    • With the rise of technology in Noir, everything is even more haunted. Radios whisper cryptic messages, Telephone conversations tend to drop or change key words, automobiles lock you in and try to asphyxiate you with carbon dioxide... Isn't progress wonderful?
  • Headless Horseman
  • Heel-Face Turn: Hellstromme as of Hell on Earth and Hell on Earth Reloaded. Witches have also switched sides in Hell on Earth and HoE Reloaded.
  • The Hermit: Fire & Brimstone included a Hermit archetype for Blessed characters.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Raven.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Almost every memorable western character makes an appearance. Wild Bill, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Abraham Lincoln, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysess S. Grant, Curly Bill Brocious, Santa Anna... the list goes on and on.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Baron LaCroix has turned basically all of Louisiana into a pit of stereotypical voodoo madness.
    • Zig-zagged in the case of player-character and good NPC voodooists. Some of the Hollywood imagery is still used for the rituals and the spells include the venerable "voodoo doll", but a decent background on the actual religion and its rituals (and not just the magical ones) is given in the rules.
    • In Noir, Voodoo is now the most common form of "good" magic around, supplanting Blessed and Shaman. As long as you're willing to spend an hour each day at a shrine, the loa are genuinely good guys.
  • Horrifying the Horror: Stone's manitou is afraid of him rather than the other way around.
  • Hope Bringer: The player's ultimate goal and responsibility. The fate of the world hinges on the player's ability to spread hope and inspiration.
  • Hunter Trapper: A couple of hunter/trapper archetypes appear in The Great Weird North.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Because it's actually the Hunting Grounds. And the technology needed to travel through it is equally scary. The grand finale adventure for Hell on Earth culminates with the player characters hitching a ride on the totally-not-Event Horizon with the trapped Reckoners in tow. It's not pretty.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Cannibalism is a recurring theme. Any cannibal runs the risk of turning into a wendigo, and a tribe of sasquatches kills humans in time of famine just to prevent this from happening. Also the Cult of Los Angeles is built on this.
  • Invaded States of America: In 1877, the British invade from Canada and capture Detroit in retaliation for American military adventurism along the Canadian border.
  • Klatchian Coffee: The Huckster spell "Coffin Varnish" will turn any drinkable liquid into this, essentially becoming a minor healing potion. As a side-effect, it makes whatever the spell was cast on taste horrible.
  • Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge: Averted. The books explicitly state that even the more powerful Abominations don't really know who the Reckoners are or what they do. People often make Faustian bargains with manitous and spirits for mystical power, but even these spirits are not familiar with the greater scheme of things.
  • Killer Rabbit: Jackalopes and Dusters; the former are antlered rabbits who cause bad luck in an effort to get people killed so they can eat their souls, while Dusters look like any small, harmless creature but cause water to evaporate by their very presence and can suck every last drop of water from a person they touch.
  • Killer Robot: Automatons. Designed by Hellstromme during the Great Rail wars, they've been the guards and shock troopers of his company ever since.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Before the formation of 'the Agency', the US government used the Pinkerton Detective Agency to enforce The Masquerade. See also Who You Gonna Call?.
  • Life or Limb Decision: "Hogleg" Dunstan, the sheriff of Lost Angels, was handcuffed to the bed inside his own jail cell and the office set on fire around him. He escaped by cutting off his right hand.
  • Lord British Postulate: Why Stone has no listed stats in Classic. With the release of Reloaded, he does have stats, but is practically invincible and has two weaknesses that are essentially impossible to exploit.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: The players receive chips that can serve a variety of effects.
  • The Mafia: The Black Hand, a branch of the Sicilian mafia that controls most of New Orleans in Noir.
  • Mad Scientist: Each setting has its own "techno-mage", but in The Weird West, Mad Scientists are a type of player character!
  • Magic A Is Magic A: If a character has an "Arcane Background", expect it to be functionally different from everyone else's. Blessed, for instance, are very different from Hucksters, who trick manitous for power.
    • This doesn't stop people from taking multiple Arcane Backgrounds, though. It's just very expensive.
  • Magical Native American: Like the Mad Scientist, this is a type of player character (the Shaman Arcane Background).
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Hucksters.
  • The Magic Comes Back: The return of magic is one of the major events that kicks off all of the weirdness.
  • Magic Knight: Hexslingers, who enchant their firearms to pull off Gun Fu tricks. They are intended to be the mix of a Huckster and The Gunslinger.
    • Because of how dangerous it is to rely solely on magic in the Classic system, a lot of "mage" type characters will need to learn how to handle themselves with guns, knives, fists or any other sort of weapon to stand a chance of surviving.
  • Man-Eating Plant: The Blood Oak
  • The Masquerade: The Texas Rangers and the Pinkerton Agency both try to enforce it, having realised that fear literally makes the Reckoners stronger. Unfortunately, especially for the Pinkertons, their efforts often end up making people just as scared, or even more so, than the original monsters did.
  • Meat Moss: The Canyon O' Doom supplement includes a form of moss with writhing tentacles that dig into your feet.
  • Mechanical Horse: In the Weird West, the Smith & Robards company sells mechanical pack mules.
  • Mega Corp.: Hellstromme Industries. The Manitou are actually actively trying to create these in Noir, focusing mad inspiration on large organizations while leaving the new Patent Scientists with only a single Muse each.
  • Mega Manning: Harrowed can absorb the magical essence of certain monstrous creatures if they're around when they're killed. It's called "Counting Coup" in game.
    • In Hell on Earth, EVERYBODY can do this. Thanks, ghost rock radiation!
  • Metaplot: Oh good Lord. The Metaplot is extensive and revealed in published adventures such as Fortress O' Fear and Dead Presidents. Later versions of the game publish summaries on the assumption that these stories played out exactly as planned. Deadlands, Hell On Earth and Lost Colony form a lengthy and related trilogy. This is part of the reason all of the major villains have Plot Armor.
  • The Men in Black: In the USA, they were called "Agents". In the CSA, it was the responsibility of the Texas Rangers. Both maintained the Masquerade.
  • Mordor: In HoE, the Eastern Seaboard. In Lost Colony, the continent of Two. And any little piece of land in any of the three settings can become Mordor if the Fear Level hits 6.
    • The City of Lost Angels probably qualifies in Deadlands.
    • In HoE, many recognizable cities or areas are essentially a large track of Mordor. The majority of the Californian coast can be easily mistaken for hell.
  • More Dakka: in the first game, it's a combination between this and Gatling Good that serves as the basis for the Mad Science equivalent of automatic weapons. All of them have multiple rotating barrels attached to a single trigger & and body. Gatling Pistols actually look like scaled down chaingun nozzles on pistol grips- and let's not get into the Gatling Rifles and Gatling Shotguns...
  • Monster Clown: Lets just say that Mardi Gras isn't the most pleasant time to be in New Orleans in Noir...
  • My Kung-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: An actual Hindrance for martial artists, which, depending on level, makes it difficult, very difficult or impossible to turn down a challenge from another martial artist.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Mina Devlin, Ronan Lynch, Hank Ketchum... and let's not forget Stone.
    • All four Servitors have such names. Raven, Grimme, Hellstromme... You see the trend?
    • The spinoff cardgame takes place in the town of Gomorra, and has a sister town of Soddum. Guess how the Reckoners feel about them.
  • New Old West
  • No Such Agency: The Agency, formerly the Pinkertons, represent a Union government agency that dislikes public scrutiny.
  • Not Using the Z Word: Walkin' Dead are almost never referred to as zombies, perhaps to distinguish them from the Hollywood Voodoo that goes on in the game.
    • Especially in Noir but also in the other books, "zombies" are definitely of the classical voodoo variety being bound to the will of their reanimator and generally unstoppable (with their few weaknesses being things like facing the sea and having their mouths stuffed with salt and sewn shut).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Many characters (PC or otherwise) can easily get involved with things that indirectly speed up the reckoning, everything from maintaining The Masquerade, to being a Grifter, period can help the manitou in small ways, though the good the PCs manage to do will still outweigh this over time.
  • Occult Detective: Both the Agency and the Rangers have squads of supernatural investigators.
    • Extremely common in Noir, even if the Detective wasn't occult to begin with...
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: A player skilled with firearms, using a six-shooter, can get more attacks per turn than a player using a mounted gatling gun. Word of God states that this was done specifically to avoid players pushing a gatling gun everywhere they go. Of course, it also means that without a high firearms skill your character is probably sunk.
  • Orifice Invasion: Multiple Critters invade human bodies this way.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The game includes multiple types of vampires to allow players to include whichever kind they prefer. These include everything from feral Nosferatu-style vampires to modern Anne Rice - style vampires.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: There are two common types of undead. Harrowed are essentially powerful, sentient zombies. The Walkin' Dead are weaker and closer to the traditional zombie tropes, but they are still smarter and faster than John Romero style zombies.
    • And that's just the basics. The two bestiaries (released for Deadlands and HoE respectively) introduce plenty more kinds of walkin' dead.
  • Path of Inspiration: Several, the largest being Reverend Grimme's "Church of Lost Angels".
  • Personality Powers: If a player character has any powers, he is encouraged to pick ones that fit the character's theme.
  • A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: Back East: The North has the Vikings of Duluth; a group of Scandanavian descendants who adopt Viking trappings to fight the British Navy on the Great Lakes.
  • Plot Armor: Behind the scenes the entire series is extremely in love with this concept, arguing that "If we stat it, you will kill it". This is all to make players buy into the Metaplot, or more likely just make up their own stats and continue with THEIR story.
    • Good luck trying to kill Stone by the way. According to Hell On Earth he has max stats possible, every weapon feat, and has a +23 to hit; with four attacks every round but no discernible health value.
  • Politically Correct History: In this version of the Old West, the South freed its slaves and the Civil War's drain on manpower allowed females to gain greater social status. The rulebook stipulates that only villains be racist. If the setting was historically accurate, players would be forced to roleplay prejudiced characters.
    • Justified with regards to slavery; the Industrial Revolution, and mass production in specific, would have made the slavery economy unfeasible for slaves used as laborers.
  • Possession Burnout: Inverted, the cyborg's are actually reanimated corpses that consume the soul of the possessing demon.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: All Arcane (non-Badass Normal) powers work this way. The soul involved is almost always inevitably your own (though sometimes you end up taking some other souls down with you).
    • Except for Blessed powers. You only need to be a really good and religious person in order to get these. Sometimes just a really good person. Sometimes even being really good deep inside qualifies.
    • Shamanistic and Voodoo powers don't involve any great risk to your soul either: you're making deals for power with the "good" spirits of the hunting grounds. They don't ask for your soul, just that you jump through a bunch of hoops to make them happy. For Conjure Doctors, these hoops are usually just extended rituals to imbue something with spiritual power (mixed with a good bit of faith in the spirits you're invoking—Voodoo is a religion after all). For shaman, the hoop can take the form of anything from extended dancing, to painting complex pictures, to lopping off your own arm. Both of them have the chance for an evil spirit to get into the mix and muddle things up, but that just makes the effect go awry, you're still not at risk of losing your soul.
    • The new Arcane Backgrounds in Noir seem to avert this, at least compared to Hucksters and Mad Scientists. Grifters only need to indulge in a vice in order to gain power, and Patent Scientists only have a single derangement compared to the insanity of Mad Scientists. Of course, this isn't true. A Grifter's addiction, no matter how innocent, will only serve to empower Famine. Patent Scientists are more sane, but only because they have less Manitou haunting their dreams. The manitou are much more interested in the new corporations than a single madman building flamethrowers in his basement.
  • Practical Currency: Although the game itself uses dollar values for convenience, Hell on Earth mentions that most places operate on a barter system and any spare 'cash' the characters have is usually in the form of easily transportable luxury items. Also, bullets are hard currency pretty much everywhere, due to consistently high demand and low or non-existent production.
  • Psycho Party Member: Any Harrowed character runs the risk of being taken over by their manitou, during which time they can work evil without knowing it.
  • Psycho Serum: Red Rum, a rare accidental example. A seemingly innocent hooch that turns you into a hulking brute.
  • Public Domain Character: Dracula, Frankenstein and his monsters, and a few other beasties.
  • Quest Giver: The Prospector. He's a strange old man who hangs out in the Dakota territories, and seems to know everything there is to know about the Reckoning. His plan is to amass an army of "good" Harrowed to attack the Reckoners directly.
  • Railroad Baron: Many of them, and most are evil. Only the owners of the state-sponsored rail companies are decent though Fitzhugh Lee is being duped by a demon. Mina Devlin and Kang are evil, but they're human kind of evil.
  • Railroading: The published adventures encourage a certain amount of railroading, because the authors want the game to be on track with the planned Metaplot.
  • Red Right Hand: The Whateley family is so inbred and magically empowered that they all have a number of tell-tale marks of abnormality: jet black hair, pale skin, a sallow complexion, abnormally long fingernails. All Whateleys have vivid green eyes. Male Whateley PCs always have an unnerving presence, which in Reloaded means that they have a -2 modifier to their Charisma. Female Whatley PCs can choose whether or not their tells are considered unnerving (-2) or exotic (+2).
  • Religion Is Magic: The Blessed, the Shamans and the Conjure Doctors are all examples of this. The Blessed are more Abrahamic-themed (specifically Christians), Shamans are Native American shamanism (obviously), and Conjure Doctors are Voodoo.
  • The Remnant: The San Patrico Battalion from South o' the Border.
  • Room 101: Lost Angels' offshore prison, where prisoners are chopped up and shipped to the city as meat product.
  • Rules Conversions: Deadlands, Deadlands D20, GURPS, and Savage Worlds. That's four game systems.
  • Rule Zero: Emphasized repeatedly.
  • Scary Scarecrows: That grow new ones after they kill folk!
  • Scary Scorpions: Vinegaroons
  • Scavenger World: Hell on Earth and, to a lesser extent, Lost Colony.
  • Schrödinger's Suggestion Box: The entire premise of the Mad Scientists.
  • Science-Related Memetic Disorder: Mad Scientists, again.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The lowest levels of the Hunting Grounds, and ghost rock...the miracle fuel that runs on the souls of the damned!
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: Grimme's church.
  • Sinister Minister: Grimme. Just Grimme.
  • Sky Pirate: Sky pirates are one of the hazards in Hell on Earth.
    • These particular sky pirates are decent folks. They enjoy a little raiding, but they help the war effort when Throckmorton attacks.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Averted. Word of God explicitly says there are no "levels" to indicate how a monster will fare against your party, specifically because they wanted to avoid this trope.
  • Space Western: Deadlands: Lost Colony
  • Special Snowflake Syndrome: There are a handful of these that can really screw up the game. Many sourcebooks have new Arcane Backgrounds, like Voodoo, Blood Magic, Aztec religious shamanism, etc. On top of this, any character can become Harrowed. Then you also have the rules for playing Werewolves and Vampires, although the sourcebook repeatedly emphasizes what a very bad idea this is.
  • Spirit World: The Hunting Grounds.
  • Split Personality Takeover: this will happen to your Harrowed character when the manitou gains total Dominion.
  • Stages of Monster Grief: Interestingly, the Book O' The Dead gives guidance on playing your Harrowed through this process.
  • Stealth Pun: Grimme's autobiography is entitled "Serving Your Fellow Man". Think about it.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: Special training that can allow a character to become an Enlightened Martial Artist, which basically lets you tap into your chi to power various techniques, allowing you to pull off Wuxia style manuevers and even Ki Attacks.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Hydes.
    • Inverted in certain cases with Harrowed. If the person is Blessed, a Shaman, or a Voodooist, they actually lose their powers when the evil side takes over. Not that Harrowed are lacking in powers of their own...
  • Super Soldier: Sykers in Hell On Earth, Lost Colony, and Noir.
  • Supporting Leader: Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Alan Pinkerton, and Ulysses S. Grant are all important figures that command the forces of good and dole out missions to the player characters.
  • Tangled Family Tree: The Whateleys, again. This particular family tree is so twisted that examining it can drive you crazy.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Hell On Earth resulted from this due to Time Travel.
  • The Board Game: Deadlands: Battle for Slaughter Gulch.
  • The Remake: Deadlands Reloaded is Deadlands Classic re-adapted for the Savage Worlds system, and with the meta-plot advanced ca. 18 months. Hell on Earth Reloaded is in the works, with Lost Colony coming after HoER is finished.
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night: Yup. Not only do they screw with little kids, but they frame children for their crimes and arrange it so that no one believes the children.
  • Total Party Kill: Some of the published adventures explicitly authorize the Marshal to go for a TPK if the players do something really, really, stupid.
  • Toxic Phlebotinum: Ghost rock.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Miles and Mina Devlin. Ruthless railroad barons, dark sorcerers, devoted spouses and loving parents.
  • Unholy Nuke: Hell on Earth has actual demonic Magitek nukes that destroy the world.
  • Updated Re-release: Deadlands: Reloaded, using the Savage Worlds system and updates the timeline to 1879.
  • U.S. Marshal
  • The Vamp: Mina Devlin.
  • Van Helsing Hate Crimes: Shoot it or recruit it.
    • The above is one of the official stances of the Agency, at least in-house, though they're much more inclined to shoot it if there's any doubt. The Texas Rangers were marginally likelier to work with someone instead of killing them.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Almost all of the human villains are this, making them notoriously hard to take down.
  • Weird Currency: Any "cash" in Hell on Earth is in fact small tradeable items of no particular use to the PC. There are places with more regular currencies (Junkyard prints paper money, backed by scavenged pre-war artifacts) but barter is far more common. Bullets are the closest thing to a universal currency due to limited supply, low production and high demand.
  • Weird Historical War: The main setting showcases an American Civil War that got weird (much to the detriment of both sides). The Noir expansion provides some information about how World War One develops (-ed) on this setting.
  • Weird Science: one of the sets of player skills. This being an explicitly Faustian setting, the knowledge to make the gadgets comes from less than heavenly sources, and every new gadget invented makes the character a little more insane.
  • Weird West
  • Wendigo: See the page.
  • Western Characters: Both in canon and as creations of the Marshal.
  • Whip It Good: Violet Esperanza, chief enforcer for Mina Devlin's Black River Rails. Violet's whip has become a Relic, capable of doing more damage than most rifles... but only when Violet wants it to.
  • White Sheep: Any PC Whateley.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: The narrator of Lost Colony is a woman named Debbi Dallas. She explains that "Dad was a marine and liked the classics".
  • The Wild West: Oh so very much.
  • Wretched Hive: Junkyard in Hell on Earth.
  • Yellow Peril: Warlord Kang
  • You All Meet in a Saloon
  • You Are Who You Eat: Oh yeah.
  • You Get What You Pay For: Reloaded has rules for inferior "el cheapo" gear.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The adventure Unity, when Raven finally crosses the Mississippi River and invades the west.

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alternative title(s): Deadlands
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