Deadlands: The Weird West
Deadlands: the Weird West is a roleplaying game I played cold without ever having read the book.Instructions on playing came from the game master and from other players. I created a Texas Ranger and armed him with lots of guns and dynamite. I forgot to take any sort of horse riding skill, and this made things even more interesting. I had a blast playing him several times.
I stopped playing because the group disintegrated, and after about a year of not playing, I decided it was time to go out and buy the thing myself. My plan was to run if for a new group.
Buying it was the biggest mistake I could ever have made. After reading it from cover to cover I found that suddenly I liked it a whole lot less.
It wasn't game world I disliked. I think it's one of the most creative that I've ever seen. It's set in the American Wild West during the 1870's. What makes it especially unique is that it isn't your standard Old West. This particular one is plagued by nasty monsters, magic, and an alternative history that includes the sinking of California (at least most of it) and a prolonged U.S. Civil War.
It wasn't the writing style or art that disturbed me, either. The writing style is actually interesting to read and it's written from the perspective of prospector--that gives just the right feel for things. Another nice touch was that standard game terms are replaced with those that would be used by someone in the Old West ("Shootin' Irons & Such" instead of "Weapons" or "Firearms" is a good example).
And, no, it wasn't the art. That was quite good, although I'll say once again (as I have in other reviews) the art's really irrelevant anyway. I don't care if there are stick figures everywhere so long as the game is well written and just plain good.
Nope, what ruined it for me was a greater understanding of the game's rules. They're so cumbersome, so bloated that by the time I finished reading them, I suddenly discovered I knew less about playing the game than when I did without ever having seen them! There are charts for this, tables for that, complicated formulas for still other things, and bloody cards and poker chips everywhere!
When I play a roleplaying game I want to roleplay, not spend time trying to remember rules and keep track of things. Keeping track of wounds, for example, involves sliding paper clips up and down two sliding tables. In addition to wounds, you have to keep track of a character's wind (which involves being too worn out to do anything), and this involves another sliding table paperclip deal. That's a total of three. It's unnecessarily awkward.
And don't even get me started on the poker chips. The concept that they represent is fine ("fate" that helps you in times of trouble), but dice could just as easily replicate their function. Dice could replace the stupid playing cards, too. They get annoying and messy real quick, and you have to reshuffle them every so often; dice you don't. A lot of gamers complain that they want their games to use a single, universal die type. Me, I want a single, universal determination device. I neither need nor want lots of gimmicky additions to a game system just so it can be considered unique.
Finally, the magic and inventions system…well, I'd best not go there. I don't want to be here all day writing this review.
Roleplaying game systems should be simple, something Deadlands is not. In Call of Cthulhu a major combat sequence is twice as fast as Deadlands. And I don't give a flying leap about the realism of Cthulhu's combat system, either. I want it over and done with quickly so I can get to the main point of the game: roleplaying. (All right, in Cthulhu everyone's usually dead after combat, but that's not the point!)
Despite its flawed system of rules, however, Deadlands is still playable. Once the bulk of the rules are outright ignored, simplified, and modified, it can be played at a reasonable pace. There are games out there on the market that no amount of rule fidgeting can correct. They just can't be played at all.
Ultimately while my opinion of Deadlands dropped considerably after reading its rules, I still like the game. I'll continue to play it, but never run it. I know that Pinnacle is going to be damned if they change the key components of their system anyway, so my complaining about it isn't really going to get me very far. Still, my wish list of possible revisions includes the removal of poker chips and playing cards. Of course after Pinnacle reads this review, their wish list probably includes removing me...
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)