Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review - Deadlands Reloaded Marshal’s Handbook Explorer's Edition

Deadlands Reloaded Marshal’s Handbook Explorer's Edition
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Author: Shane Lacy Hensley
Price: $19.99

The only thing to fear is fear itself, unless you’re a character in Deadlands. In that case it isn’t Fear but the thing generating it you have to worry about.

In Deadlands, Fear feeds evil in a very real way. It generates energy to feed the Reckoners. The Manitous bring that energy to the Reckoners who use it to spawn even greater terrors.The Manitou’s job is to Terrorform the Earth for their masters.  It’s a vicious cycle that ends when Earth has turned into a mirror image of the Reckoner's home, called The Deadlands so the they may walk the Earth and feast on humanity's fear first hand.

It’s the job of the heroes - called a posse - to fight the plots, persons, and panics that infest the Weird West. Sadly, humanity generates a great deal of fear on its own. The two American nations may have a truce but their spies and provocateurs cause all sorts of mayhem, especially in the disputed territories of Kansas, Colorado, and what’s left of Oklahoma.

On top of that, the Weird West has bandits, murderers, mad men, outlaws, and toughs who make their way in life by scaring, intimidating, or killing others outright. Indian war parties threaten settlers, terrorizing them in order to stem the flood of the white man into their ancestral grounds. National pride runs high on both the Union and Confederacy causing folks to get harassed, or worse killed, just for being from the wrong part of the country. Worse still are the Great Rail Wars that know no boundary or allegiance outside the all mighty dollar. Woe to those that get between a rail baron and the West coast with all the Ghost Rock it contains.

Manitous love this. They do no work and get to reap the fear for free. Still, to get the absolute best terror, the Manitous seed abominations or raise the dead. They divide up the West into areas and give one or more creatures control. This being or beings are called the Fearmonger and it’s responsible for causing terror in the area. In most scenarios, this is the entity your Posse tries to defeat. Still, Manitou abominations aren't the worst thing your posse will face.

The Servitors

Early on, The Reckoners hitched their wagon to the Christian Faith as it spread through the Middle East and Europe. They adopted the guise of the Four Horsemen taking on the personas of Death, Famine, Pestilence, and War.  The fear they generated grew as the faith spread but even back then they were small fries compared to the current Deadlands timeline.

Once unleashed back in '63, they adopted Servitors to act as their personal servants. The Reckoners have work to do before they can walk the Earth. Since they can't do the work themselves, they each picked a (mostly) human host to see their plans to fruition. Each of these servants are evil to the core.

Much of the Marshal's Handbook is dedicated to the Servitors plots, power bases, and personalities. Don't think your posse will simply walk up and kill these folks. Each has but a single weakness and that vulnerability will take an epic quest to exploit.

You didn't think the Reckoners would make it easy, did you?

Two of the four Servitors have plot point books out about them. The Flood concerns itself with Famine while The Last Sons takes on War. Given the quality of these books I can't wait for the plot point campaigns for Death and Pestilence.

Fear Levels

The Fear Level of an area affects any Guts check your players make. As the Fear Level rises, the terrain become twisted and horrific. Below is a list of Fear Levels for your quick perusal.

  • Level 0 - No noticeable scary stuff in the area. Life is pretty normal.
  • Level 1 - Most people believe in monsters but have never seen one.
  • Level 2 - The shadows are a little longer and deeper than normal. People are scared and don’t go out much at night. This is the prevailing Fear Level throughout most of the Weird West.
  • Level 3 - People occasionally disappear and there are probably weird creatures in the area. Shutters are closed tight each night and folks who do go out at night go armed with company. 
  • Level 4 - Mysterious disappearances are common. Sometimes the bodies, or parts of the bodies,  are found. Shadows start to appears as horrific faces, the corn rows always rustle when you walk by, and the wind might whisper your name.
  • Level 5 - Folks have seen monsters and almost everyone is terrified. Flowers wilt upon entering the area. Trees seem to have twisted faces with eyes the follow you through the forest.
  • Level 6 - Deadlands: the landscape turns nightmarish and monsters run wild. The wind whispers your name but it's the voice of your dead friend who blames you for an untimely end.

An Area at Fear Level 6 - Deadlands

The Weird West and Regions Thereabouts

The Marshal’s handbook describes each region in the former United States. Indeed, the greatest thing about this venerable setting is its depth and color. Add to that both the real and fictional heroes of the Wild West and you have a very enjoyable setting.

Each area has important places, personalities, and plots along with the prevailing Fear Level and encounter tables. We’ll list the highlights below but no short list will ever do this setting justice. Although even the short list is pretty long, it's worth the read to get a feel for where your posse is heading.

Back East

A 'civilized' area with folks who present a more genteel demeanour. This section details the governments of both North and South along with who’s been infiltrated by the minions of darkness. With Santa Anna pressing the Confederacy from the South and the British pressing their advantage from occupied Detroit, both governments have their work cut out for them. While each would love to return to the Civil War, they realize a new conflict would end their nations. The truce continues but a shadow war remains. The Manitous love this.

The Disputed Territories

By agreement, neither the Union nor the Confederacy may send troops into Colorado or Kansas which makes the region ripe for bandits, outlaws, and raiders that would normally be tracked down by government troops. Thus the Disputed Territories are one of the more lawless regions in the Weird West. To make matters worse, both North and South sponsor guerrilla actions in the region to make sure the other side doesn’t get too firm a foothold.

Dodge City, Kansas is a city of intrigue, murder, revenge, strict gun laws, two railroads, and contingents of both Texas Rangers and Union Agents to keep things stirred up. There’s also a pack of ghouls that inhabit Boot Hill. In short, it’s a big mess but there’s lots of money to be made so folks keep moving in.

The two railroads, Union Blue from the North and Black River from the South, keep a steady stream of immigrants pouring into the city as both railroads war against each other in their race to the West Coast. All the while Indian tribes send war parties to kill the buffalo hunters that poach their land, Cowboys end their cattle drives and seek to spend their hard earned money, Rangers and Agents go at each other trying to give their governments the advantage, and adventurers stage expeditions into the Weird West for fame and fortune.

‘Peacetown’, as its founder called it, contains a bunch of folks looking to do harm to each other for a wide variety of reasons including necessity, fun, profit, nationalism, revenge, and hunger. The violence would be worse if not for Marshal Larry Deger's strict enforcement of the no-gun policy passed by the Mayor and City Council. Even with that, seldom does a night go by where someone doesn’t disappear without a trace. Yep, Kansas City is the city that never sleeps. After all, ghouls don’t need to sleep.

The Great Basin

The region covering Southern California and the Nevada is hostile to most mortal life. The Confederates hold a tenuous grasp on the region but are hounded by Santa Anna and his undead army. Santa Anna isn’t the only undead wrangler in the area as one of the rail Baron’s cuts a line toward the City of Lost Angels through Death Valley using workers that don’t sleep. Other features of the Great Basin include Fort 51 - the Unions secret research facility, the Ghost Trail - used to bring Ghost Rock to Roswell for the Confederates experiments, and the Mojave Desert - barren wasteland with all sorts of monsters.

The Great Maze

During the Quake of 68, large portions of California sunk into the oceans leaving a mazework of canyons and mesas. The area is a mineral treasure trove with four factions vying for power. Reverend Grimme rules from the city of Lost Angels, the Union and Confederates keep numerous naval bases for their brown water navies, and Chinese Warlords, lead by the mysterious Kang, rule from Shan Fan. All seek to control the supply of Ghost Rock, silver, and gold found in the exposed walls of the canyons.

To make matters worse, Mexico claims California as well. Santa Anna has an ancient Aztec necromancer supplying him with an army of undead.  His plans are to conquer California for his emperor, Maximilian, so he can have another shot at Texas.

The Great Northwest

The region made up of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho actually has one of the lowest default Fear Levels in the game. You just have to avoid the Sasquatch, Wendigos, Wolflings, and other horrors found in the wilderness. People often starve to death during the fierce winters that have gripped the area since the Reckoning.

The High Plains

Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska make up this region of rolling hills and tall grass. While this may seem all pleasant, two areas of interest will strike fear into any mortal. The Bad Lands, South of the Sioux Nation, are twisted foothills to the Rocky Mountains and contain all manner of critters that will eat you alive. As bad as the Bad Lands are, however, they pale in comparison to  a region as its center called Worm Canyon. Here an evil sorceress rules a coven of witches who worship the giant creatures known as Rattlers. The insane witch sacrifices any intruders to the giant worms.


The former state of Utah proclaimed its independence in 1866 and allied itself with the Union. In 1870 that changed with the arrival of Dr. Darius Hellstromme. The Doctor founded Hellstromme industries bringing wealth and jobs to the Mormons. The fact his inventions help wipe out the giant rattlers of the salt flats just added to his popularity. Soon his inventions added the Nauvoo Legion, the Deseret army, making it a power in the region.

His presence had other effects however. Salt Lake City became the City o’ Gloom as huge factories belched pollution into the air day and night. Thousands of high voltage wires and natural gas pipes crisscross the city bring light, heat, and power the to residents that can afford it.

The city is a haven to those looking for work in the city’s huge factory district, known as the Junkyard. The Junkyard’s cost of living is high and workers often become trapped in wage slavery thanks to their company’s ‘help’. Blood sports are common with workers often waging a week’s salary in hopes of getting ahead.

Indian Country

In Dakota and Oklahoma, the Indians came together to form two nations. The Sioux formed the Sioux Nation to the North while numerous tribes formed the Coyote Confederation to the South. Another group, the Apache, hold power in the Southwest but they must constantly fight for control with the Confederates and Mexico.

To the North, the Sioux are ruled by a council of old wise men that hold to the old ways. Sitting Bull is a power in the region but not even he is able to keep the tribes together well enough to hold the Union at bay. Although he doesn’t see a problem with using the white man’s technology, the council decrees that the Sioux will hold to the ways of their fathers.

The Sioux are far from xenophobic, however. Smack dab in the middle of the Sioux Nation sits the city of Deadwood. It's fed steady stream of of prospectors and materials by the Iron Dragon rail line out of Shan Fan on the West coast. People are drawn to the area by the allure of a huge deposit of Ghost Rock in the Black Hills as well as the money to be made from the prospector’s pay. Wild Bill Hickok also resides here trying to kill the man who killed him. He’s a Harrowed and seeks revenge on Jack McCall.

The Coyote Confederation is ruled by a warrior named Coyote. It is a loose government of tribes living in Oklahoma. No one knows who the enigmatic Coyote is, or at least no one who’s talking. He always appears with his face covered. For whatever reason, the Confederation seems to favor the Confederacy leaving those towns alone while sending raiding parties into Union territory.

The Apache are a strong, proud people lead by Geronimo living in Southern Arizona. After the Great Quake of ‘68, the Union soldiers deserted the area leaving the Apache back in charge. Then the Confederacy showed up claiming the Apache land was part of the CSA. On top of that, the Apache must fight both Santa Anna from Mexico and other undead horrors of the Reckoning. Life ain’t good but the Apache are accustomed to hardship.

The Wild Southwest

Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona make up this region. Tombstone Arizona is a likely setting for your posse. What started as a failed silver mining community boomed when the Bayou Vermillion railway came through and the Confederacy put it on its Ghost Rock route to Roswell, New Mexico. Add to that the fact that Santa Anna regularly pushes through the area on his way to California and you have one active town.

The Confederates claim it but their control is anything but absolute. Geronimo and his Apaches control the country side while the Cowboy Gang, made up of the Clantons, run the town when there aren’t Confederate Soldiers around. Doc Holliday, alone, stand against the Clantons. He’s dieing of consumption and has no fear of the brutes. He keeps threatening to bring his friend Wyatt Earp to town for a while. Thus far it ain’t happened but it keeps the Clantons on their toes.

The Tombstone Epitaph is the most widely read paper in North America. It features stories of monsters and other strangeness. If your heroes are looking for an evil to battle, the Epitaph should be their first choice in reading material.

Creepy Critters and Characters

The Marshal’s Handbook features over 80 monsters to populate your horrid haunts. Some of my favorites include the Jackalope, Texas Skeeter, ‘Glom, Chupakabra, Rattler, and Aztec Mummy. While the monsters have a wild west feel, you should be able to use anything out of the Horror Companion in Deadlands.

Special attention is given to those creatures that you can count coup against. A Harrowed may gain additional powers and abilities when a powerful creature is slain. Sometimes they gain a curse, however, so keep your players guessing.

Creatures aren’t the only danger in Deadlands. Plain old humans are as likely to end your hero’s career as anything the Manitous control. You’ll find everything from Union Agents to Maze Pirates listed giving you plenty to work with no matter where your players end up.

Probably the funnest section of the Marshal’s Handbook is the section with Notable Folks. You get to see the stats of all the people you’ve read about in the Player’s Guide and Marshal’s Handbook. Included are many of the heroes and villains our the wild west we’ve read about since children. It’s nice to see how they appear in the Weird West.

This book gives all the stats for the Reckoner’s Servitors. Death, Famine, Pestilence, and War are all present and accounted for along with the regions of the country they control. Each of these beings is damn hard to kill so your posse will have their work cut out for them. As of this writing, Pinnacle has two separate books dedicated to plot point campaigns revolving around Famine and War. I’m sure the plot points for the remaining Reckoners isn’t far behind.

Other Resources

For more about the setting, check out our review of the Deadlands Reloaded Player's Guide. For other Deadlands Reloaded products, check out DriveThruRPG. Deadlands has a great deal of fiction written for it as well. If you're in a reading mood, check out the Deadlands Dime Novels. There are even a set of Deadlands Comics to read if you're into both art and story.


 Deadlands is a rich setting that's been around for over 15 years. The setting has a ton of background material that’s easily converted to Savage Worlds but it appears we won’t have to. Matthew Cutter, Deadlands Brand Manager, keeps pumping out new supplements at such a rate that I won’t have time to play the Savage Worlds material much less go back to Deadlands Classic or Deadlands d20 to convert. This setting, much like 50 Fathoms, is one I can’t wait to jump into.

If you’re looking for a great setting, I can’t recommend one higher than Deadlands. The Harrowed Captain Stone awaits.

* All artwork used with express permission of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.


  1. Nice, exhaustive overview! It makes me wish some of my players were into westerns.

  2. I had a fierce internal debate regarding the length of this article. Duck finally convinced me to leave it as is. Deadlands is a RICH setting that deserves a detailed review. I just hope it isn't too detailed.