Sunday, April 1, 2012

Deadlands: The Flood - Actual Play Review

Saddle up Greenhorns! This time I wanted to review the Deadlands Plot Point Campaign, The Flood. This supplement served as an excellent source for a long-standing campaign in our gaming group, so I'm glad to be able to share my experiences from actual play in the review. As I step through the review of the product, I'll also tell you a bit about our experiences during our campaign.

For those of you less familiar with Deadlands, it is essentially a Western game, mixed with equal parts horror and monster-hunting. In the alternate history of this setting the Battle of Gettysburg ended with half of the dead soldiers rising up to attack the living. The North and South are still divided by an uneasy truce. There are strange things waiting for you out in the wilderness. The people clamor West in a second gold rush, eager to harvest the mysterious ghost rock. Ghost rock burns ten times hotter than coal with a sound like the wailing of damned souls. This remarkable substance and allows for the creation of miraculous new inventions and improvements to existing ones.

Deadlands was originally released by Pinnacle Entertainment (a.k.a. Great White Games) with it's own game system. This then inspired the Great Rail Wars miniatures game, which in turn served to inspire the creation of Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds has enjoyed a notable rise in popularity over the past 5 years or so, which also in turn led to a re-launch of Deadlands as Deadlands: Reloaded. The initial book included tons of setting information, but lacked a Plot-point Campaign. The Flood supplement serves as the first in a series of Plot-point campaigns that take players through the story arc of the Deadlands universe. The next in the series, Last Sons, will be released in print soon, and there is already more than enough material in the Flood to run years of gaming.

The Flood focuses on the Maze, where the richest deposits of ghost rock are found. The Maze is the remains of California after a gigantic earthquake sloughed most of the land into the ocean, leaving a maze of islands and waterways in its wake. In the Maze, prospectors try to eke out a living, contending with Pirates and Rail Barons, as well as the mysterious food shortages that plague the region. It's up to your Posse of PCs to sort out what is going on, before its too late for the good people left in the Maze.

The Flood begins with an engaging introduction to the universe and the campaign itself through a faux newspaper, published by an in-game paper known as the Tombstone Epitaph. This is a great resource for players new to the game and for GMs to see if this is a game they want to run. This is followed by a few new edges and hindrances, basically an analogue to new feats in a d20 game. What's nice is that is not overwhelming, and does not feel like rules creep. Instead it fleshes out the Martial Arts for our characters versed in the arts of the east, which fits well into the setting. There are also a few new pieces of gear, and setting rules for travel, starvation and other goodies for the GM. The meat of the book is location information for all the major areas of the West, an adventure generator, an eight-part main plot line that could take at least 10 sessions, over thirty adventures which can be sandwiched between, and a copious bestiary of nasty things. There are 180-something pages in this book, and its packed to the brim. When we ran our campaign, it was around thirty sessions start to finish, and we more-or-less followed the main plot line closely.

The plot-point campaign concept is strongest of many excellent things to come out of Shane Hensley and Pinnacle Entertainment. It serves to give a main plot which players can sink their teeth into, but a huge amount of flexibility in terms of the order of events and how the group approaches each event. Further, they also allow the GM and players to explore the setting and make their own campaign, even if it goes on a tangent. Matthew Cutter and Shane Hensley did an excellent job creating the Flood Plot Point, enough to rival the 50 Fathoms plot-point, another excellent product. The first three adventures in the plot are the only that follow directly one after another, and it begins with a bang, quite literally. This serves to thrust the PCs right into the action and as major players in the events about to unfold. Our group enjoyed the a-ha moments and the revelations that got fed to them bit by bit as the campaign progressed. What I really like as a GM in this campaign was that there were plenty of holes and gaps when I could fill in parts relevant to each character's personal development, as well as write character-specific NPCs into important plot positions.

In closing, the Flood plot-point campaign helped create stories that our gaming group still talks about and that I'll remember as high points in my GM-ing. I can offer no higher praise than that.

Ghost Rock Motherlodes:
  • A campaign that will take all your posse can muster to complete.
  • A wealth of setting material that could last an eager group years.
  • The flexibility and customizability that only a well-written plot-point can offer.
Maze Dragon Debacles:
  • The "Why Not Travel Overland a Mile In?" question came up with great frequency in our game.
  • All the great material is double-edged, you may need to railroad a bit to come to the conclusion of the campaign.
  • The revelation needed to complete the campaign was a little nebulous, and required a little more information than the previous sessions provided for our group.

Overall I strongly recommend this product, when we ran this campaign we had a wonderful cast that helped make this game come alive. This included an Indian Shaman who grew progressively more spooky-looking as time went on, a two-gun-toting heroine with a scar, a mad scientist who had interesting theories about rocks being alive, a cowpoke who tended to use his gun as a club more than shoot it, a southern belle with a penchant for being at the heart of every trouble, a rabbi with unshakable faith and a need to avoid trafe, and a snake-oil salesman with a horse which single-handedly put more sodbusters six feet under than anyone else. Here's hoping your posse is just as colorful.


  1. I know this is super old and not likely to get a response. The reason you dont travel a mile in is be because it is famines domain. Overland travel is pretty much just a death march.

    1. Yeah, I’d agree with that completely—but getting a party to go along with that despite counter-evidence was always a struggle