Deadlands Homebrew Playtest Reflection

I thoroughly enjoyed playing Deadlands again and I’m looking forward to continuing the adventures of Mars, Callie, Bartimus and Lewis out on the frontier. There are enough loose ends and dangling plot hooks  that it should be easy to pick up the story again.

So of the rules I adapted or made up before we started, what worked and what didn’t? What about the Homebrew needs fixing?

What worked:

Character Creation: The Cypher system made it pretty easy to give people an expansive array of options and let the players build some instantly relatable characters. It seemed like everyone had a strong idea and got to follow through – or if they didn’t, that idea ended up fleshed out enough by the end of the first session. The character relations are a small part of character creation, but I really like them.

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Deadlands Homebrew Playtest 3, 4, 5.

Having survived their night at the Sheep Station, they were keen to get going and as soon as they could get everything together, they did. It meant leading the coach and horses and was slow going, but they weren’t far from dawn, so their slow pace didn’t last long. Traveling at a decent pace they put the Sheep Station and its lifeless hill behind them and came to the turn off to get to Big Dan’s camp. Sitting in the back of the coach, nursing his injured foot, Rubber Dan recognized the area and leaned forward and casually pistol-whipped Mr Gaslin unconscious.

Curly and Rubber Dan had never taken a coach across the little ford that led to the trail they intended to take into the hills, so they were carefully navigate it now. As they did so, two riders appeared on the road from Laramie, saw the coach crossing the little river and passed on. The posse decided to do nothing against these looky-Lou’s.

The river forded, they continued on and before long the hill levelled out and they found themselves overlooking a wooded meadow, in which lay a dilapidated ranch. They spotted men among the near trees, keeping sentry on the comings and going. The ranch had obviously lain untended for a while, but now the cluster of buildings had an air of being inhabited and fixed up a little. They were met, before they got too close to the buildings and Curly debriefed the rough looking men who greeted them.

A few things were evident from this first conversation: Chicago, Sy, Bob and whoever else was supposed to meet up with Curly and Rubber Dan still were missing. Which meant the posse’s gear and horses were still missing. And the men Curly talked to were decidedly less excited to see these newcomers once they heard about their “amnesia” with regards to their bank robbery money.

Callie, Bartimus, Mars and Lewis were led in to see Big Dan, who was just getting some breakfast. Having eaten nothing in the past 24 hours and only stale bread for a week prior to their attempted execution, they were famished and slurped down all the sourdough biscuits, bacon, eggs and coffee on offer. Big Dan was a short, square-shaped old black guy, with big snow-white Wilford Brimley mustaches. He explained that he and his crew had previously had a ranch in what was now the Sioux Territories and after getting booted out they’d run afoul of the law. He seemed to regard this as a temporary set-back, as – he explained – law and outlaw tended to be differentiated rather subjectively this far west.  It was often a matter of how much money you had at hand.

Wait did I say mustaches? No he has big… whatever these are. Damn, Texas Cowboy, that’s a look.

SPEAKING OF WHICH… Big Dan was led to believe that they did NOT in fact have the money he thought they would. He showed them the note he had received: a bribed deputy had brought the note to Maria while she was in town buying supplies. She had brought it to Big Dan and Big Dan had sprung into action. The note was in Lewis’s handwriting and written on a piece of paper torn from the back of a book – Bartimus’s copy of Hoyle’s Book of Games. It requested a jailbreak and promised $500, which Big Dan assumed they could pay because they presumably had the stolen bank loot stashed somewhere… right?

Dan wasn’t expecting them to arrive in camp laden with bonds and bullion, but he didn’t expect them to deny any part in the robbery. It turns out he’d spent a bunch of money on bribing Deputies, and he would find out later that day that he’s lost three men – Jeff, shot as they fled in the cart; Bob and Sy killed as they caused distractions and retrieved the horses and gear. Dan had an idea of how they could pay up though – a job had come up in Laramie that he and his folk weren’t able to take on account of their temporary outlaw status. But it paid well and would go some way to paying off their debt.

The new arrivals to Big Dan’s camp were fed and baths were drawn for them, temporary clothes laid out while their filthy laundry was washed. Theodore Gaslin was sequestered in an unused shed. Chicago eventually arrived, horses well run and tired. He’d had to circle way wide to avoid the Marshalls who came back to town. He let them know that Sy and Bob hadn’t made it. But all their meager possessions were returned to them (Bartimus’s copy of Hoyles did indeed have a page torn out of the back). Our amnesiac-outlaws interviewed Maria and her husband Angel who were in town during the 4th and tried to get a picture of what happened.

In short, they were enjoying the festivities in Cheyenne and the small amount of fireworks when there was an almighty boom. They discovered that the corners of two neighboring banks had been blasted open and their vaults raided. The Marshalls who were gathered in town (for some reason) were hot on the trail and by morning, they’d hauled four out-of-towers out of the boarding house they’d been staying in and dragged them of to the hoosegow. There was a quick trial and within a week they were climbing the scaffolding. The money (various different amounts have been floated, but they are all astronomical) has never been found. They were known as the Centennial Bandits.

The posse agreed that they should take the job (Big Dan has given them a small line of credit at the general store that Angel uses in Laramie) but were pretty suspicious of Big Dan, beyond him being an outlaw. They seemed to think he may have a hand in their bank-robbing-blackout. Bartimus, no stranger to messing with people’s memories had a creepy feeling about their amnesia – that they should all recover their wits just before their hanging suggested a very powerful and precise cruelty.

Chicago suggested not working the horses overly hard over the next few days – they’d recover from their tough two days. So they rode into Laramie at a sedate pace. Theodore Gaslin had been set free, bewildered, a little concussed and with no story to tell of the high level presidential summit that is supposed to have taken place.

In Laramie they rode directly to the place Big Dan had told them needed help – the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. They were shown into the small exclusive clubhouse/hotel that served as the headquarters of the Association by a smartly dressed butler named Carberry. He took their hats (Bowler for Bartimus, fetish-bedecked Western hat for Callie, Topper for Mars and a nice wide brimmed Montana Peak Stetson for  Lewis) and fixed them refreshments while he alerted the members as to their arrival. They met with Carter Johns, president of the association, Stephen O’Neill, member and Dirk Van Houten, a cattle detective on the Association’s payroll.

Oh! Oh that’s a real thing? I… er… I did not know that and I’m very sorry about all the slander that I’m about to turn into libel.

Johns, a tall, powerful and elegant man, gave them the job’s brief: someone was attempting to ruin the Association’s reputation and he wanted to know who and why, he wanted an end to it and he wanted it done quickly and with discretion. He explained that one of the Association’s members Mrs Brill, had approached him over a week ago, livid. She claimed he had sold her some heifers that had literally fallen apart within 24 hours of their purchase. He, he said, had done no such thing; but Mrs Brill could not be persuaded. She left in a fury. Within a few days Mr O’Neill came to him, furious that a fellow member Edward Bailey had sold him cattle that had also fallen apart within a day. Both Mr O’Neill and Mrs Brill had been adamant that they had met with their co-member, formalized what seemed to be a good deal and taken the cattle back to their ranch, only for the cattle to dissolve into heaping piles of garbage.

The WSGA is one of  the town’s greatest assets while almost all the rest of the West is afflicted by the twin blights of Prairie Tick infestation and Texas Fever, the WSGA’s carefully exclusive stock management has kept their little part of the world free from both plagues. This allows the WSGA to supply the railroad from Laramie (the current railhead) all the way down to Denver (its home) and they are making a FORTUNE doing it. But this has a cost – the eternal defense of their stock lines, and vigilance against disease as well as co-operation between ranches that would typically be rivals. It takes a lot of organization and this attack against WSGA members seems designed to split the WSGA asunder – Mrs Brill has already intimated that she will withdraw from the eight ranch axis. If it wasn’t for Mr O’Neill coming to Johns first, chances are he’d have done the same. Other than jealousy, Johns claims there is no reason why anyone would have it in for the WSGA; the town’s wealth relies on it.

The party left the meeting and walked in to a surly bunch of ranch hands massed outside the WSGA – disgruntled Brill hands flaunting the WSGA quarantine that had been placed on the Brill and O’Neill ranches since the unpleasantness. The cowpunchers looked like they were spoiling for a fight, but Mars reached out with his winning personality and persuaded them that what they really wanted was to mosey on along to the saloon and baptize their tonsils with the smooth taste of Grandad Turkey, whisky of choice in these parts. They did, to the silent and unacknowledged surprise of Carberry.

“Folks around here… etc. etc, you know the drill.”

Their first port of call was to go see Dr Lester Callings, large animal veterinarian. It became evident that he had never been called out to investigate the dead/dissolved cattle, even though the WSGA believed he had.

They rode with Dr Callings to the O’Neill ranch, a professional, small ranch an hour’s ride out of town. There they were met by ranch hands who were maintaining the quarantine, but let them through when they saw they were on WSGA business. They were led to the barn that the O’Neills had cordoned off – and shown a disgusting heap of trash. Oh, sure, it had rotting cow hides and bones, but they weren’t looking at the skeletal remains of the heifers they had heard of. Nope, this was a pile of garbage; they dug out cloth fragments, wooden, fragments, disintegrating paper and even a rusting can lid from tinned peaches. The O’Neill cowboys reiterated the story that they’d heard from O’Neill: a good looking group of heifers was brought in, and by morning they’d dissolved into this pile of detritus.

Next, they headed over to the Brill Ranch. As they approached the ramshackle and disorganized shanty at the heart of the ranch, they saw men pouring lamp oil over a low pile in the middle of a cobbled together corral. Despite their attempts to get there faster, none of them could coax their horses into action – with Mars being catapulted over his horses head when she balked at the fence. Callie attempted to get their attention by firing into the air, which caused a general hubbub amongst the ornery and tetchy Brill clan.

Eventually they were able to speak to the furious Ma Brill, who told much the same story as the O’Neill crew – heifers brought back from town, dissolved within 24 hours. By suggesting to Ma Brill that their testimony would be able to bring the quarantine to an end and restore the goodwill of the WSGA, they were able to get her cooperation.

Riding back to town, someone sniped at them – putting a hole in Lewis’s nice hat and grazing his scalp, but no more damage than that. They gave chase, with Lewis attempting to shoot the man’s horse, LIKE A MONSTER. Their horse karma was not with them, perhaps deservedly so and they could not catch the black-clad villain as he fled in the direction of town.

It was getting late when they returned and they went back and forward with Dr Callings as to his safety (he thought he was safe) and what he should do (he thought he should wait at the WSGA). They stopped in at the livery to speak with the hostler, Gustaf. His livery shared space with the WSGA’s corrals in town and he was generally present during daylight hours. He recalled the cattle deals, occurring precisely as described by Mr O’Neill and Johns’ recollection of Mrs Brill’s accusations. He also let them know that the horse he had stabled, which they recognized from the brief chase on the way back from Brill’s belonged to a relative newcomer called Berkshire, who worked for someone Gustaf didn’t know. He and his employer had one of the new houses, but he couldn’t help them with which one.

They retired to MacDaniel’s Saloon as it grew dark and were briefly taken aback by the selection of animatronic taxidermied animals, including a bear that seemed to menace newcomers. They were allowed in with their irons, despite a close look by the mountainous woman who served as the bouncer.

They’d pretty much just got settled when in walked Berkshire and another man who locked eyes with them and advanced as Lewis stepped towards them…

…if time didn’t exactly stand still, it did a real good job of seeming that way… everything was stuck – including the posse. The only movement was out of the corner of their eyes, over by the poker table: the jerky movement of the dealer slowly, dramatically slapping down cards in front of the players. There was an air of menace about the sound. Bartimus tried to tear his head around to see the dealer and was certain that whoever it was in his peripheral vision, it wasn’t that man who had been there a split second before. It was a turbaned figure in bright clothing, with stilted, mechanical movements. As they waited, dozen in time but horribly aware, they heard skirling wild music far off, a steam organ that seemed slightly out of tune or discordant.

When the eighth card had been dealt, time snapped back to its normal flow; Lewis and Berkshire strode towards each other, and Bartimus’ head whipped around painfully. The dealer – a completely regular guy, not wearing a turban or bright clothing – looked confused and lost for a moment before his players began an outcry.

Meanwhile, Lewis confronted Berkshire about his ruined hat. Berkshire attempted to sneer it off (warning Lewis to stay out of matters than don’t concern him), but Lewis, while showing him the holey hat sucker punched him, real hard. Berkshire fell back, the bouncer amazon left her stool and looked ready to pounce. Bartimus riffled his cards and cast some penny ante magic, displacing a greasy wad of tobacco juice from one corner of the floor to right under Berkshire’s boot heel as he tried to rise. He slipped and fell again to a scatter of sniggers from the onlookers.

Stormy-expression on his face, Berkshire left, forthwith. The other man who had come in with him with the cheaply flamboyant clothing was buttonholed and Lewis made him sit at the closest table while he ordered up some whisky. A tiny – TINY – saloon gal brought a bottle and a pair of glasses for the two.

Meanwhile, over at the poker table the players were loudly remonstrating with the confused dealer. They had been dealt two tarot cards, Mars and Callie saw, each receiving the Hanged Man and the Fool. The backs of the cards were identical to the regular cards they were playing with but the dealer swore he hadn’t dealt them in and accused someone of playing a trick on him. MacDaniel arrived with free drinks to calm everyone down and the dealer shakily dealt everyone new cards to start a new round of play. They managed to secure one pair of the cards – either Bartimus or Mars , I can’t remember, probably Bartimus decided the others were of no consequence and scrunched them up and threw them away. But the Hanged Man they secured sure seemed to have a familiar face…

That was the end of their interest in the tarot cards… although to be fair, they had other stuff going on. Their chat with Amos, the fancy clothed feller didn’t go anywhere unusual: he wasn’t sure why they were digging around at the behest of the WSGA, but he sure wished they’d quit it, move on to greener, maybe more profitable and certainly less dangerous pastures. There was a definite hint of “You Are Meddling In Things That You Do Not Understand”. He did mention that he worked for Alphonse  Ogone before proving himself to be a bad pickpocket – unless that was a distraction and he was actually a great pickpocket.

Asking around, Alphonse Ogone was a bit of a mystery, except that he attended a weekly poker game at MacDaniels, the high stakes one that most folks couldn’t get in. Players tended to be the town’s great and good. In particular Philpott and O’Neill of the WSGA, but also Dr Callings. Callie went off to follow Berkshire to see if she could track him back to his house, but he took a deliberately circuitous route, probably out of habit and she lost him. She found Amos though… or rather he appeared behind her and creeped her out some. They turned in for the night, Bartimus getting a room at MacDaniels saloon and Lewis getting accommodation at the railroad camp.

The following morning they checked at the railroad camp, enquiring whether or not they had Berkshire or Amos. This led them to discover that Berkshire and Amos had raided their midden heap – which no-one stopped them from doing, obviously. And yes, they had taken on a batch of tinned peaches recently. This was pretty much enough for the posse to put together what they thought had happened: For whatever reason, Alphonse Ogone had directed his henchmen to bring him a bunch of mostly organic trash. He had turned that trash (through means unknown to them as yet) into illusory cattle, passed himself off as WSGA members and swindled the real WSGA members.

The posse was satisfied with taking this story (weird bits excised) to the sheriff Samuel Meyers. They stopped in at Verdad Photography, a place everyone mentioned as being a locus of weird and supernatural stuff. They got their photos taken and left Consuela to develop them later. They went to get the Sheriff, they just wanted to talk to Ogone and Meyers was deferential to anyone doing the bidding of the WSGA. Oh boy, would he regret that. Walking from the Sheriff’s office to Ogone’s house (the Sheriff knew where it was), they walked up the hill to the newly built houses, and Sheriff Meyers confidently walked up and knocked on the door… and someone inside blew his kneecaps off through the door.

police squad GIF

A gunfight ensued, Lewis scrambling to haul the Sheriff to safety, Mars fleeing to the WSGA to raise the hue and cry and Bartimus and Callie circling the house as Berkshire and Amos fired out of the windows. Bartimus ran into Li Po, the as-yet-unmet henchman, who brought two of his closest hatchet friends and set upon the huckster. Bartimus’ cards flew into his hands as he was hacked, and he reached out and scrambled the Chinese henchman’s memories… this bought him enough time to get away. After killing off Amos as he shot at them from the top floor windows, they entered the house, Callie and Berkshire battering each other with rifle butts before Callie eventually came out on top. Li Po surrendered eventually, only just before Callie and Bartimus fell over.

Mars arrived, having secured the townsfolk’s assistance and Carberry and his shotguns. The shooting of the sheriff more or less sealed the deal as far as the righteousness of the posse’s cause went in most people’s eyes. The posse was slow in racing upstairs, but eventually made it up there just as a vibration that made the upper floor shudder ended. It seemed to come from a closet space, but when they investigated, there was nothing in there at all. Amos’s body and the top of his head (no longer attached) lay in a shared bedroom, they searched that before moving on to the next room; that was a much more fancy and well appointed room, evidently Mr Ogone’s room.

The evidence they collected (along with a stash of cash, ghost rock and a few useful objects) suggested that Ogone and WSGA Hector Philpott had collaborated to ruin the WSGA’s reputation. They had the deal in writing and could take this to Mr Johns.

But that wasn’t all they found. On Ogone’s dressing table they found a picture, relatively new, of a sturdily built small man with a look of real… solidity.. to him. He had short dark hair and dark eyes and a slight smirk. He held his hands out, palms up, with what looked like hemped rope strands draped over them, drooping down out of frame.

They found what seemed to be a big wad of paper money, but when they unfolded it, they faint strains of the whirling steam organ music could be heard in the far distance and instead of bank notes, it unfolded into a thick paper poster. It read, in flamboyant eye catching text “Roll up! Roll up! We are coming!”. And under the house, they found a lockbox full of photographs and new-fangled ‘post-cards’. Each showed a small town, or a Main Street labeled with the name of a town.

They presented the evidence against Philpott to Johns and O’Neill who considered their task complete and paid them the agreed price. In terms of discreet… well discretion was a little lacking as the affair ended in a gunfight in town, but at least the townsfolk did not know of the WSGA’s involvement. Johns intimated to them that Philpott had been on the losing end of the recent election for WSGA president, so his actions made sense, although obviously Johns was aghast at the depths of Philpott’s bitterness.

Job done, all they had to do now was to decide how much of their hard earned cash to give Big Dan Garrad, collect their photographs and try to figure out the significance of a lockbox full of postcards and photos of small towns. That last mystery wasn’t solved, but they did discover that each of the towns pictured in the collection had suffered some sort of catastrophe within the past decade – devastating floods, mass deaths from smallpox, conflagration, tornado – turning them into ghost towns.

Despite her best efforts, Consuela can’t get ghosts to stop showing up in her photographs.

Well, that’s creepy, but picking up their photographs turned out to be worse. Consuela warned them that the outcome wasn’t pretty. While each of them had given a characteristic pose for their session the result was different. Each of them was pictured suspended by a thick rope around their neck, face blackened, eyes and swollen tongues bulging from their faces. With horrible certainty, they took out Ogone’s photograph, and found that the ropes he held in his hands lined up with the ropes that strangled each of them. Furthermore, the smirk on Ogone’s face had widened into a broad, rictus grin. And for a moment they heard the wild discordance of the distant steam organ again.


Deadlands Homebrew Playtest 2

There are a few homebrew rules I made that deviate from the Cypher System rulebook: they’re setting specific stuff like the various magic systems, doin’ stuff on horseback, which is a big part of the genre and reloadin’ guns which we tested in session 2. While they fit the feel of the ol’ Deadlands game, they’re a bit granular for Cypher – Cypher System is more of a broad strokes and low rules kind of a game.

But Shootouts are central to a Western game and in a prolonged gun battle there should be a sense of urgency, which I hope the Reloadin’ rules add to. Players have unlimited ammo, functionally, bookkeeping is for other games. So ammo tension has to come from the limited magazines and not your total fund.

Recap: you declare how many rounds you want to load, that’s your target number (I.e multiply it by three and try to roll under that on a d20). Pass, you succeed, fail you only get one in. It’s a simple mechanic, so it isn’t injecting a whole bunch to remember. The gamble and the all-or-just-about-nothing aspect favours tension over realism, but this ain’t Twilight 2000 compadres.

Rolland tested this out last night as he was working an over-under shotgun during a zombie attack. Unfortunately his rolling was on brand and he fucked up two reloads… OF A DOUBLE BARREL SHOTGUN. This meant he got one shell in and had to decide whether to forgo shooting next turn to load another or just blast away. As it turned out he alternated between pistol shots and shotgun blasts in a way that was thematically EXACTLY WHAT I WAS GOING FOR. I think the idea will get a bit more of a test when someone is trying to stuff their six-shooter in the heat of the moment so we’ll see how it goes then.

There wasn’t much chance to see Hexes or Horse-ridin’ at work last night as they don’t have their horses yet and Bartimus’ Hexes aren’t combat oriented.

Part 2: Hot Coach to the Sheep Station.

The posse found themselves trying to make a fast getaway with a slow cart, with a US Marshall-led posse presumably forming up behind them and their relief horses nowhere in sight. As Curly and Rubber Dan discussed their desperate options, a fast moving four-horse stage came into view.

Curly wasn’t one to usher these folks into a life of crime… but he also believed that they were bank robbers… so… Rubber Dan thought robbing the stagecoach was their best bet of getting quickly away from a vigilante posse likely to come in guns blazing. But the not-actually-desperadoes, um… never actually robbed those banks. Probably. Read More

Deadlands Homebrew Playtest

Ooh, boy, it’s 2am, but I wanted to try to get this down before I hit the hay. Forgive me if I am hazy on anything, I wasn’t particularly well organised while I was saying it, and I’m not much better now. I’ll get to updatin’ the world background before we play again.

We got through Character Generation tonight and had a little time left over to get playing. Even though it’s the Numenera crew playing another Cypher system game, it takes a bit of adjustment even to go back to such low powered characters as a lowly Tier 1. Tier 1s are still, compared to other RPG starting characters, really capable, bit still, these guys are used to the abilitypalooza that is Tier 5 and 6 in Numenera, so starting over takes some doing.

I gave a bit of background from Deadlands and explained the two new rules bits – Ridin’ effect on actions (the faster, the harder), and Reloadin’ (the more you try to stuff in, the harder it gets) and managed to do it without making any double entendres.

Then pretty much just let everyone take the Type, Descriptor and Focus they wanted and let them work it out themselves. The only thing that got us stuck a bit was that you get Skills by choosing the Skill buying Ability as one of your starting Abilities. It’s strange to start a character with so few skills  – you might conceivably start the game with only one Skill and a bunch of Abilities.

And in the end, we had our four characters, correct me if I’m wrong on any of this guys:

Calpurnia ‘Callie’ Georges – A Lucky Fightin’ Sort who Never Says Die. You might be forgiven for thinkin’ Callie was a young feller at first glance, but this is one tough gal who knows who to navigate a fight better than most men, in an age of fightin’ men. She might have Hired Gun written all over her, but there’s more to her past than that.

Bartimus E. Tarnsworth… maybe Tarnsworthy – An Exiled Huckster who Operates Undercover. Formerly Professor of Mythology At Brown University, Bartimus comes West to start a new life. Maybe as a tutor or something else COMPLETELY ABOVE BOARD AS FAR AS ANYONE KNOWS.

Mars Johnston – An Empathic Spinner Who Sees Beyond. Gifted – he says – with an ability to see so much more than everyone else, he’s seen plenty already. A Veteran on the right side of the Civil War, Johnston got himself a bit o’ education, before decidin’ that wasn’t his thing. After his stint in the Army was up, he decided to head out West to really get to know people, you know?

Lewis Colman – A Sharp Eyed Drifter who Calculates the Incalculable. Lewis lost his family to Dakota raiders and so heads west to Wyoming, a land he visited before and loves, to start anew. He was a commissioned officer in the US army and after that, a railroad surveyor, putting to good use his ability to calculate outcomes. Colman and Johnston knew each other in the army, although it was purely by chance that they met on the stage out to Wyoming. Lewis could  tell you what the odds of that chance encounter was.

Part 1 – Invitation to a Necktie Party Read More

Cypher System Deadlands Homebrew Progress 4

Ugh, slow progress. Between work being nightmarish and Red Dead Redemption 2 being dreamy, I’ve had little energy to devote to getting Foci done, so it has taken a while. But it’s done! There wasn’t too much real change to be made: a little more horse, a little less computers and a few word changes to the Foci in the Cypher System Rulebook and we’re good.

Some of these might seem familiar to Numenera players, but there are some fascinating new ones thrown in there too allowing you to make characters who…

  • Awakens Dreams; pretty rad dream powers, putting people into dreams, pulling stuff out of dreams and into the real world.
  • Bears a Halo of Fire; one of the “Covered in _” foci, bursting into flames as a way of life, with a few cool burning shit up abilities.
  • Blazes with Radiance; another “Covered in _” foci, this has only a little overlap with Bears a Halo of Fire and focuses more on light manipulation.
  • Builds Robots; I kept this even though we have a Weird Science Flavour, for people who want to double down on tinkerin’ with gadgets. Doesn’t mean you couldn’t play a gadgeteer or the like, even if you don’t take Weird Science. Maybe you’re a Mormon Drifter and you just like a little company. I’m not going to judge.
  • Calculates the Incalculable; a mathematics savant who uses predictive models to make life easier for themselves.
  • Carries a Quiver; archery specialist, obviously. Can use Intellect or Speed to aim arrows, which is kinda cool.
  • Channels Divine Blessings; almost didn’t keep this because of overlap with Blessed Type, but who am I to deprive anyone of making a Holy Roller Fightin’ Sort? You get to choose your God’s portfolio, which is nice.
  • Commands Mental Powers; all sorts of telepathic shenanigans.
  • Consorts with the Dead; Necromancy by any other name would smell as – augh, good god, what is that stench? Speaking to the dead has its advantages though. Unlike Shepherds Spirits below, you get to animate corpses to do your bidding.
  • Controls Beasts; Beast buddies, beast mounts, beast allies.
  • Crafts Illusions; Illusionist, pretty simple looking. At least that’s what they want you to see.
  • Crafts Unique Objects; Craftsman who can increase the utility of his own gear and also eventually craft artifacts.
  • Defends the Weak; bonuses for being the party Tank with some crowd control.
  • Doesn’t Do Much; a boost to combat abilities and non-combat skills
  • Employs Magnetism; seems pretty overpowered, this is a powerful array of metal-manipulation abilities. And at 6, you get to treat a non-magnetic thing as though it is magnetic… so… Fortunately the Intellect cost is high.
  • Entertains; BARD.
  • Exists in Two Places at Once; Creepy mirror twin follower who will go do stuff for you.
  • Exists Partially out of Phase; Meef’s ability from our Numenera game, he isn’t entirely all there.
  • Explores Dark Places; getting into and out of places abilities.
  • Fights Dirty; an array of dastardly abilities to help you out in combat.
  • Fights with Panache; an array of swashbuckling abilities to help you out in combat.
  • Focuses Mind over Matter; Telekinetic abilities, as displayed by Giana in Numenera.
  • Howls at the Moon; Lycanthrope abilities
  • Hunts Outcasts; Primed with skills for taking on the humanoid abominations of the Weird West.
  • Hunts with Great Skill; Trackin’ and Sneakin’ with extra abilities for use against your quarry.
  • Infiltrates; a lot of overlap with the Stealth Flavour.
  • Interprets the Law; finally fulfill your dream of being a simple country lawyer! Also, you get to shout Objection! as a stunning attack on people. True.
  • Leads; as seen in Numenera exemplified by Sharad who bosses people around and what-not.
  • Lives by the Gun; firearm expertise.
  • Lives in the Wilderness; lots of wilderness survival skills
  • Looks for Trouble; a mix of fightin’ and healin’ abilities.
  • Masters the Swarm; creepy-ass swarm abilities.
  • Masters Weaponry; since archery and gunplay are covered in other Foci this one covers melee weapons (pretty much). “Throws with -” below covers throwing weapons.
  • Metes Out Justice; you get to decide who is innocent and who is guilty and then you get abilities to treat them accordingly.
  • Moves Like a Cat; knock things off shelves. But also, a big boost for Speed users.
  • Moves Like the Wind; even more goodies for Speed users, this one lets you move real fast. Like, real fast. SO fast people can’t identify you as you run past them.
  • Murder; focus on ambush and sudden, overwhelming strikes.
  • Needs No Weapon; one of a few ways of building a Kung Fu-Western character.
  • Never Says Die; an impressive array of damage mitigation abilities, to help you build a very durable tank.
  • Operates Undercover; bunch of spy abilities.
  • Performs Feats of Strength; big boosts to Might and abilities related to that.
  • Rages; another Might boosting and utilizing Foci, this focussing on temporary surges.
  • Rides the Lightning; another “Covered in _” Foci that mixes damage dealing with movement abilities.
  • Sees Beyond; A Foci that lets you see way more than other folks experience and makes visible (to you) the invisible and hidden.
  • Separates Mind from Body; give your mortal coil a rest for a bit and send your soul out wanderin’, doin’ stuff.
  • Shepherds Spirits; similiar to Consorts with the Dead in that it has communication skills, but this time you get assistance from spirits. These characters are so au fait with the spirit world that they get to choose whether or not to come back as Harrowed when they die.
  • Siphons Power; be an energy vampire! Why not?!
  • Slays Monsters; the monster equivalent Hunts Outcasts, this is primed with skills for taking on the monsters of the Weird West.
  • Solves Mysteries; lets you spend Might and Speed to Intellect tasks, so it lets you turn a non-Intellect heavy Types into a bit of a thinker. Other generally useful spread of abilities.
  • Throws with Deadly Accuracy; the last of the weapon specialization Foci.
  • Wears a Sheen of Ice; a “Covered In _” Foci with a greater emphasis on crowd control and protection.
  • Wields Two Weapons at Once; As modelled by Red Pepper, this lets you hit with two weapons, with increasing effect.
  • Works Miracles; different to the Channel Divine Blessings because it focuses almost entirely on healing.
  • Works the Back Alleys; The Urban Ranger, a spread of abilities to help out.
  • Works  the System; more con-man than thief, lots of ways of during people especially those that rely on bureaucratic systems. I edited a lot of this because it originally had a lot to do with computers.
  • Would Rather be Reading; Boosts to Intellect with some non-combat skill benefits.

Alright, Descriptors shouldn’t take too long as they’re pretty short.

Then we’re good to make characters!


Cypher System Deadlands Homebrew Progress 3

Okay! Making Decent progress. Types and Flavours are done, and they’re the most setting-reliant and take the most work. Foci and Descriptors should be easier and faster to incorporate, with probably no changes for the vast majority of stuff. So I’m already figuring out a introductory scenario and should get that written up soon. The bunch of old White Dwarf back issues from the mid-80s have been great for idea stealing.


Got yer Fightin’ Sort, Spinner, Drifter, Huckster, Blessed and Shaman types figured out. The last three are just variations of a template, with a couple of different rules.

  • Fightin’ Sort: Combat specialists. They’re real good at the hurtin’ business.
  • Spinner: Social Interaction specialists, but it goes a bit beyond that. They’re able to fiddle with memories, supernaturally intimidate, it is (potentially) more than just a silver tongue.
  • Drifter: is your Jack of All Trades, with things that don’t quite fit in other Types. But there are a few things that no one else can do. The Drifter isn’t just hedged bets between other Types, it has a lot of its own stuff going on.
  • Huckster: Magic flinging, it’s the most offensive of the three magic classes for sure. As well as the spell type abilities, there are a few added abilities relating to how they cast their spells and rules regarding their dealings with the Manitous. I put in a skill called Blood Magic that allows an advanced Huckster to spend Might rather than Intellect to cast spells – a kind of desperate ploy – but once they start that they have to keep spending Might until they are successful.
  • Blessed: Blessed spells tend not to be offensive (although there are a few) but they are all simple Intellect point buys like regular Cypher System/Numenera spells.
  • Shaman: Shaman have a mix of offensive and useful spells – the deal with Shamans is that a lot of their spells are rituals – they can do some amazing things, but it takes time. Their spell durations are a bit better though. This frees up the Shaman to bit a bit more free with his chips than other magic users – which seems suitable for a more physical role.

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Cypher System Deadlands: Homebrew progress 2

You seem unsure about where Duluth and Chicago are, map, but this is by far the least inaccurate Deadlands map I could find. The rest appear to have been drawn from memory, one putting Bismarck, Fargo and Minneapolis all in the same state…

So after hammering out Fightin’ Sort, Spinner and Drifter as Character Types, I came up with a simple equipment list, thought about bullets, and fleshed out the Stealth Flavour and the Weird Science Flavour.

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Home brew progress 1

Oof. “Keep the Huckster’s deck mechanics” I thought to myself. “It’ll be fun.” I thought. Oh boy, was I wrong. I do not have the head for that kind of mathematics.

My draft for the Warrior Type: Fightin’ Man, (which may get changed to Fightin’ Feller, I haven’t decided yet. Woman or Gal if you’re character is of that persuasion. Maybe Fightin’ Sort is the best) was easy peasy. It’s mostly how you would like to hit things and how often. Still interesting, but not complicated. The only thing that required substantial changes was the armor proficiencies, which I decided to change to riding proficiencies and got me thinking about modifiers based on how fast you’re hurtlin’ across the high chaparral.

When I got to Arcanist, which is going to be the basis of the Adept Type for Hucksters, Divines, and Shamans, I was determined to have Hucksters use card decks for their Magics. I was not ready for poker probabilities, much less probabilities that include Jokers wild and variable hand sizes.

Regular old cypher system wizards cast their spells against their victims using their victims ( level x3) as their target on a d20. 2nd level mook, roll a 6 or better. Easy. It also means that level 7 stuff is untouchable without easing the test somehow, with assets or training or whatever.

By using the old Deadlands hierarchy of poker hands, they can fit into that one to ten level range. But they don’t fit well. At the lowest end of the scale, to overcome a level 1 victim with a die, you have an 90% chance of getting 3 or higher. Casting against a Level 6 victim means you have a 15% chance base. Level 7 is out of the question without some sort of assistance or easing.

But with cards, you have a 58% chance of getting a Pair OR BETTER (enough to overcome a Level 2  Mook) when drawing 5 cards (with Jokers Wild) as far as I can tell. That’s a considerable drop off from 75% that you’d have when you roll a die.

If a Straight is used for a level 5-beater, it’s chance is 1.4% as opposed to a 30% chance with the die.

So that blows.

I have to look at what Easing means with card spells. Does it get you an extra card (not statistically as awesome as you’d imagine) or does it make the test easier?

Or, given the difficulty with Poker, do I abandon that and go with Blackjack? One card face down, one face up; player decides whether or not to spend Effort to buy more cards. Go Bust = rolling a one. Failing to make the target number, just a simple failure. You can naturally beat a Level 7 target, which is better than a die roll. But the possible results aren’t going to be a nice diagonal on a graph like die rolls.

Hmm, more to ponder.



Time to hit the ol’ dusty trail?

An entirely idle thought crossed my mind the other day: GURPS tried to be a universal RPG system by piling on the rules, just so much customization, while the Cypher system might have a better chance of being a universal system by being simple.

This is not an original thought. There are a few games systems that take a more basic approach and I’ve heard, do it better than the Cypher System; FATE, Powered By The Apocalypse, etc.

But I like the Cypher System: on top of the simple rules, I like the Cypher’s wild card-ness in Numenera. A random throwaway piece of scavenged tech can turn any scene into a fiasco/triumph/complication and that isn’t a bug, that’s a feature. While other games (AD&D.x) lend themselves to a “Christmas tree” of magic items that people rely upon, you can’t really do that in Numenera. Your various power boosts are fleeting and changeable. And it’s SUPER fun when Bryce remembers that he has a lightning storm suppository and whips it out… in… in the heat of battle and THAT is the weird thing that turns the tide.

Being able to come up with Cyphers for a setting is pivotal for me then, because that’s the thing that makes the simple system the most fun. It’s easy in Numenera, you’re scavenging tech from a junkyard a billion years old and a planet wide. For other systems, the cyphers have to change up a bit.

(I’ve ordered a setting-agnostic Subtle Cypher deck. Rather than being cyphers for the characters to use, it’s better to think of them as cyphers the players use. I’ve yet to decide how I’ll fold them in to Numenera.)

So could I think of a setting/game that I’d really want to Cypherize? Two words: Yes.


There a couple of things that make me think the Weird West would make a good CS setting for us.

A: We all liked Deadlands.

B: We’re already using Poker Chips for our stat pools. Thematic!

C: Deadlands was a great setting with some really cool elements to the rules set and also some really time-consuming elements to its rules.

D: The character archetypes in Deadlands could be fairly easily recreated with the Blanking Blank who Blanks with enough depth. You can have your Fighter/Magic User/Specialist x Native/Mormon/Holy Roller/Tinhorn/Veteran/etc x Lives in the Wilderness/Uses Ghost Rock/Died a While Ago etc. The Cypher System Rulebook has a bunch of generic entries for this and with a few reskinned to be more setting appropriate and. A few created from whole cloth… That would be one of the few things that would have to be established before play.

E: The other thing that would have to be established before play would have to be the form of the Cyphers. But Deadlands has that built into its lore with Ghost Rock. Ghost Rock is (SPOILERZ!!!) literally ghosts trapped in rocks. That people burn as fuel. So what if you had a Ghost Rock chunk with a spirit that talked to you, let you know what it was, struck a bargain with you to help you when you released it? Suddenly your character is walking around with disposable boosts and effects… i.e. Cyphers.

Thinking about what I’d keep from the rules set, it’d pretty much only be the poker hands for spellcasting/arcane skills. That isn’t too hard – the poker hands simply turn into a number, that number can be the equivalent of a die roll. It’s a slower way to resolve things, but I like it a lot.

The other stuff, the different dice for stats and skills, the card draw for initiative, I’d abandon all that. I’d definitely put poker chips to use as bullets. Anything to get pencils down.

Well, that all seems like a lot of work. Good news everybody! Lots of other, more industrious, people have had the same thinks that I just thunk. I’ve found quite a lot of partially completed thoughts re: Weird West roleplaying.

If folks are interested, I’ll try to put something together out of what other people have come up with. If you’ve played Deadlands before let me know what you liked about it and what you didn’t.



Playing the field.

I’ve been enjoying running Numenera, as long as I don’t have to go off book too often. Sometimes I’m really feeling the improv nature that the rules permit and encourage, and sometimes I’m super not in the mood. Fortunately, I have plenty of material to lean on most of the time.

I’ve also been enjoying running Paranoia, not just because I think it’s a good game once you get around the Initiative rule, which isn’t that tough, but is a bit clunky in practice (often because I can’t remember what number I just called out), but because there’s no long term commitment.

I got three connected adventures to run and three more connected adventures, but no campaigns or long running stories or fascinating character backstories to juggle. Those are all things that enjoy, but being free of them and just having a four night stand with a fun game is pretty rad too. And hey, leave your players wanting more and they’ll hopefully remember it fondly, rather than remembering only when the campaign ground to a halt.

This winter, we’ve got some changes going on. Numenera 2 is out, with all new adventures and stuff. Male Blilie 2 is out now too, so it makes sense to take a bit of a break in Numenera – or at least the current storyline. I have a small campaign that’s designed for new characters and could run that with no impact on Bryce. Or anyone else. It’s just a game, jeez.

You know what else is fire? This cover design.

I have another couple of games either coming this Winter (hopefully) or having just arrived. The Stars are Fire is a Sci-Fi RPG using the Cypher System that Numenera players are familiar with, but setting appropriate. The Legend of the Five Rings is a fantasy RPG drawing from Eastern legend and history. (Because Oriental Adventures is SO problematic guys). Star Trek Adventures is an erotic horror LARP. No, not really, its Star Trek, having adventures.

L5R and Star Trek both have Starter Kits, aside from the main rulebook. I’m a fan of these, with their custom maps, pregenerated characters and their learning curve scaling adventures. I think it’s a great way to spend $25-$40 anyway, but it’s a great way to get people dipping their toes into a game without splurging.

The L5R one is LUSH, Fantasy Flight pouring the franchise rights into their magical machine that spits out glossy new editions of card games, board games and RPGs with shared art and fluff. They are able to flood a property onto the sales floor. So if you see stuff for L5R, it could be any one of the game iterations.

Oh, some ancestors gon’ get shamed, I tell you whut.

The L5R starter kit puts you as almost-samurai of several of the great clans, attending your gempuku, coming of age ceremony. Which is also a contest. Which is also not quite what it seems. Plenty of investigation, social play, world revealing as you go and each encounter is staged to introduce a new mechanic as you go, so you don’t have to understand your character sheet before you play, but chances are you will understand it by the end of the first session.

I’m crushing really hard on this setting its deep, deep lore and the possibilities that the setting raises. The complexity of the game is really all in the situations you put yourself in and consequences your actions have. Imagine if everyone in Game of Thrones was a Paladin. Imagine how fucking complex that would make it.

Make it so… much easier to find the starter set, thanxkbye.

I haven’t seen the Star Trek one yet, but I’m interested in that too. Needless to say, that’s one that I shouldn’t run until Bryce gets his life back right-side up. The rules for that one are surprisingly simple. Roll 2d20, and try to roll under your (Attribute+Specialization): you only need one success to pass the test. And good news, player characters are hyper-competent! Far cry from Star Fleet Battles of yore. Players play Star Fleet from Ensign to Captain, (this is a game that’s fine with splitting the party and balanced so rank isn’t too important to playability) with the Ship itself a shared character that they all have a role in creating and playing. I’m excited about this game,… just gotta find the elusive Starter Set and get Bryce out and playing.

There are, of course, other RPGs I want to play (Fiasco, Dusk City Outlaws (nudge nudge, JIM) Dark Heresy, good old Call of Cthulhu) but those have a long shelf life and aren’t going anywhere. Similarly, I and probably you, have a boatload of board games. Rising Sun certainly hasn’t been extinguished in my mind yet and I haven’t started painting yet… And I have Tang Garden coming too sometime soonish, (I think). And there are still plenty Mansions of Madness to burn to the ground as we try to save them. And Doomtown. And did you know I own Blood Bowl?

I’m going to play this and my garden is going to be the most harmoniously beautiful and I’m going to rub it in your face harder than I’ve ever done before. There’s no victory like an aesthetic victory.

What I’m saying is, we’ll survive the winter. I’ll shoot out an email and try to figure out what people want to play and when, once MN United’s season is done (I don’t think we need to worry about playoffs…)If we end up playing something that isn’t your cup of tea, I wouldn’t worry too much, I’m not committing to anything for too long. Chances are your choice will come around.