Monday, January 7, 2013

Deadlands Noir - A New Savage Worlds Setting by Pinnacle via Kickstarter! Part 1 of 3

Welcome to the Savage Troll's entry for January's RPG Blog Carnival. This month's carnival theme is New Beginnings so it seems only appropriate to highlight a new Savage Setting from Pinnacle Entertainment Group:  Deadlands Noir. Think "Raymond Chandler does Deadlands" and you get the idea.

DLN PreRelease and New Orleans Map
Words: John Goff, Shane Hensley, Clint Black, and Sean Preston

Pictures: Cheyenne Wright, Aaron Acevedo, Jordan Peacock, and Mercenary Art Studio

Pages: 144

Price: $19.99 ( .pdf on DTRPG )

Blurb: Deadlands Noir is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game set in the world of Pinnacle Entertainment’s award-winning Deadlands universe. It includes new Edges, Hindrances, and powers, as well as new rules for handling detective work, the state of the Union and the CSA in the Depression-era, a complete Plot Point campaign, and of course, more monsters and ghouls than you can shake a smoking .45 at.  Deadlands Noir is not a complete game. It requires the Savage Worlds core rules to play. 

A special note before we jump in to the review:  Deadlands Noir (or DLN for short) is the first project Pinnacle funded via Kickstarter. It had so many rewards at all pledge levels that I was floored at the overall value I received for my pledge $$.

This is where Kickstarter really shines. Pinnacle set a goal of $8,000 and was funded in 2 hours. As you can see, the pledges blew past their expectations so they added Rewards for each pledge level. I pledged at the $50 "Goon" level which gets me:

  1. DLN Hard cover main book when it ships (Mar 2013)
  2. Special DL Noir PreRelease edition in .pdf, 
  3. DLN Final proofed version in .pdf (that you can buy now)
  4. DLN Soundtrack in .mp3 
  5. Cheyenne's Noir Character Sheet 
  6. SW Delux Ed in .pdf (I already had it of course)
  7. DLN Map of New Orleans .pdf (huge poster I had printed out see picture at the top)
  8. DLN Map Set 1 ( 9 huge full color maps in The Big Easy based adv and Old Absinthe Blues )
  9. DLN: Old Absinthe Blues Adventure. 32 pages
  10. DLN Dime Novel: The Tenement Men, 17 page short story set in The Big Easy (picks up right after the 4 videos Hard Boiled in the Big Easy)
  11. DLN Figure Flats
The low ball valuation for all this is between $80 and $100. I'm interested in what you, dear visitor, would value this bundle. What you can't put a price on is the Kickstarter experience of seeing the process as well as early access to all the goodies. Also, I could have gone cheap and done a $20 level for the pdf but the $50 level seemed more appropriate.  The one thing I regret that I missed was the Noir Companion. More on this and all the rewards in Part 3. 

Context: If you are not familiar with Deadlands, see our reviews of the Deadlands Player's Guide and  Deadlands Marshall's Guide. This is an old setting with a history that is not our own. It has a large body of work with a dedicated following.  There are also adherents to the original Deadlands game that predates Savage Worlds. To enjoy DL Noir, you must first like Savage Worlds, then Deadlands, and then want to jump into a 1930s Candleresque hard-boiled detective noir setting. If you're thinking yes to the above then read on!

First Appearances:  Deadlands Noir made an early appearance at Gen-Con as part of the Kickstarter experience for 20 lucky souls who pledged $300 at the Don level. They received a personal play test game run by Shane Hensley, Clint Black, or John Goff.  The rest of us KS'ers had the Preview pre-release. Also, at the end of June, the "greens" for the upcoming DLN figures showed up.
"Femme Fatal"


Interestingly, this last figure is named "Stone" which, coincidentally, was the name of a character that Keith played on and off for 30+ years, going back to our Call of Cthulhu days 1981. The figure pretty much captures the character we all knew as Stone. I guess great minds think alike.  In Keith's novels, the main character is now Tom Gunn but he is, for all the world, very much the Mike Stone we knew wielding .45s and taking down the baddies. One last digression; in the DLN intro Shane Hensley rhetorically asked: "...would anyone else like that (DLN) idea? It was a niche of a niche of a niche."  Well, interestingly enough, our MapTool gaming group has been playing a 1930s Savage Worlds pulp setting mash up of Raymond Chandler, Nazi Occultists, Cthulhian weirdness, with Indiana Jones bravado for at least 3 years now. Also, Keith (aka the Savage Troll) has just finished his 3rd Tom Gunn novel as part of NaNoWriMo, largely set in this mashed-up universe. 30's pulp is alive and well. DL Noir currently ranks 9th on Drive Thru RPG's hottest sellers.

Review Part 1, the player's section: In a sentence, DLN is 1930's Hard Boiled Detective adventures with a Deadlands twist. It is the unnatural evolution from the Weird West where old evil dies hard.  As with anything that has hundreds if not thousands of pages of supporting material, its never that simple but it'll do to start.

The book opens with DARK TIMES: The year is 1935, but the history is not our own. The Confederate States of America have been independent for over 50 years - depending on who you ask. A worldwide Depression made things even worse, and one of the most desperate areas lies right at the crossroads of the Confederacy - New Orleans. The Big Easy is the location where this setting opens.

To get some feel for the setting, Pinnacle (Cheyenne) created 4 videos to get you into the mood! Watch all 4 parts of Deadlands Noir: Hard Boiled in the Big Easy and you'll get a good sense of what you are jumping into.

Who will you be in DL Noir? Bootlegger, Clergy, Con Artist, Criminal, Dilettante, Entertainer, Escort, Grifter, Houngan/Mambo, Lawyer, Parapsychologist, Patent Scientist, Private Investigator, Reporter, Vagabond, or...Writer? Or something else.

Creating a character follows the standard Savage Worlds process. In Deadlands Noir however, the Depression affects everyone so starting characters all have the Poverty Hindrance without receiving any points so you have $75 (normally $150 / 2 = $70) to spend. They advise that if you want to be more financially stable, take the new Comfortable edge (start with the normal starting money of $150 and you don't have to halve your weekly funds).

I currently play a Federal Agent in our homebrew game - a G-man if you will so that's what I'll opt for. I wonder what the Confederate version is?  Truthfully, in our long running game, my character is from Texas so it makes sense that I'm a Texas Ranger. On page 133, in the Rogues Gallery, there I am, a Texas Ranger (while technically in Pt 2 the GM's section, I'm going to show it) :

The Texas Rangers serve as both the law enforcement arm of the Confederate government and its main weapon  against the supernatural. Their motto is "Shoot it or recruit it" -often for both aspects of their job. Despite the "Texas" part, the Rangers have authority over the entire Confederacy, and are found from Richmond to the Maze.
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Occult) d6, Notice d6, Shooting d10, Streetwise d8
Charisma: 0 ; Pace: 6 ; Toughness: 6
Hindrances: Overconfident, Vow(Destroy or contain the supernatural)
Edges: Brave, Comfortable, Connections (Rangers), Level Headed
Gear: LeMat Patrolman .38 (Range 12/24/48, Dam 2d6, RoF 1), and Shotgun (Range 5/10/20, Damage 3d6, RoF 1), trench knife (Str+d4), handcuffs, 12 spare .38 rounds, 5 spare shotgun shells.

New Skill
Perform (Spirit): is a catch-all skill that requires a focus... It could also be tied to Strength or another Attribute if the GM deemed it appropriate. I see this as valuable in gaining employment. I'll use an example suggested by Pinnacles own suggestion: Perform (Stage Magic).  There was a character created in the 1980s in our pulp games called "The Great Cosmo" by a friend, John Day. His character now inhabits Keith's Tom Gunn novels. The Great Cosmo is a stage magician that is quite the arrogant, effete snob. Imagine Mandrake the Magician combined with an attention grabbing, self important, always elegantly dressed stage magician with an effected accent used to connote a wealthy privileged background. He is always ready for an audience even if its within the mirror.  He has a knack for appearing when he is best able to take credit for others hard work. I digress, but it's a fun skill for which I see great potential.

(ed note - John would be horrified by that description but it fits the character to a tee. When I use other's characters in my novels, I try to capture more than the stats. While someone's concept is fine and good, how they're played is how they're written. But I digress - RKA)

New Hindrances
While there are many new hindrances, two stood out for me: Dark Secret (Major) and Grim Servant of Death (Major). Dark Secret has to stay secret or you get a -4 penalty to your Charisma for everyone finding out about you. You lose that Hindrance and it's replaced with Wanted or Enemy depending on the nature of the secret. Fun! Grim Servant is only for Wild Cards and isn't for the feint of heart. While it gives you a +1 to every single damage roll; it also can cause you to hit your friends on any 1 on the skill die (regardless of the wild die) including ranged or fighting. Ouch!

Many others add to the DLN experience like Corrupt(Minor), Destitute(Minor), Lech(Minor),  Lyin' Eyes(Minor), and Smart Mouth(Minor) and a few not mentioned here.

New Edges

Arcane Background:
  • Grifters: Consummate swindlers who have figured out a way to con arcane power from the manitous. (Ever since the movie Grifters in 1990, a neo-noir movie for sure, I've had a real aversion to these types of folks. Ruthless and effective.)
  • Patent Scientists: Mad inventors who tap into otherworldly inspiration for their designs.
  • Voodooists: Practitioners of strange rites that honor the loas in exchange for miraculous abilities.
Note: Other Arcane Backgrounds found in the Deadlands Reloaded would have to be discussed with the GM. The setting is in the midst of a tenuously ended Civil War, Great War, Great Depression and a gritty existence that all but precludes a true blessed.

Combat: Hard and Hard-Boiled: adds +1 and +2 respectively to your toughness.

Professional: Guts, Hitman, Sleuth, Talented, and Virtuoso all have their useful place in DLN
(Guts halves the Fear Level penalty)

Social: Moxie: +2 to Taunt - I can see this being used quite a bit.

Weird: Harrowed, only  chosen at character creation and the GM has the real details but your are reborn into unlife. -- might want to avoid this one... unless your just that sort of character.

Legendary: Grit, you ignore Fear Level penalties...cause Hell is home!

Gear and Goods
The beginning location is the Big Easy, New Orleans so your in the Confederate States of America and the currency is the Confederate Dollar. Same denominations as the US and roughly the same value just don't try to use Yankee currency here. It's also a depression era full of bootleggers and some Patent (weird) Science Inventions. Used goods are everywhere and secondary channels like Pawn Shops flourish and cost half the new list price. This adds some fun as cheap goods, including guns, malfunction on a 1 regardless of the wild die.

Patent Science Inventions: Often fueled by Ghost Rock the "infernal devices" are better quality now but malfunctions still happen when a character rolls a 1 on the trait and wild die. While rare it can't be undone by bennies. Effects are in the GM section. Armored overcoats, Hellstromme Industries Hellfire-a handgun extraordinaire, Night vision goggles infused by ghost rock, Sonic Lock picks (Doctor Who?), and Tri-barreled shotguns, oh my.  Just remember, a critical failure can be spectacular!

There are also standard favorites like the BAR, Thompson Sub machine gun, and the good ol' M1911 Colt .45 along with cars, boats, and even submarines.

Guide to the Big Easy 
This section gives you what you need to know as a character starting in New Orleans. It's is the biggest city in the CSA and the largest seaport. Geographically New Orleans is an anomaly in that both the mighty Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain sit higher than the average city elevation. If not for the levees, canals, and pumps, the Crescent City would be under water. You get background for the Geography, Government, Law, Crime, and more detail on the neighborhoods.

The Necropolises: New Orleans has real Necropolises and even fiction couldn't improve upon the reality that exists there. Keith and I took a spring break in New Orleans in our college years (mid 80's) when he had his mighty black IROC Z. Our departure from New Orleans was the early afternoon after a long previous evening at Pat O'Briens. Our notice rolls were at -4 so somehow we ended up on an odd back road attempting to get to the highway. One more wrong turn and we were literally pulling into a very real city of the dead. I had heard about these but they were much creepier in real life. With most of the city below the Lake P and the mighty Mississippi, any rain brought regularly interred bodies up and floated down the street.  A large variety of stone houses to keep the dead at rest were built.

The amount of setting information is pleasing without being overwhelming. Layers of government, law enforcement, corruption, mobs, voodoo practitioners, and varied cultures make the setting come alive. I admit that the amount of corruption, prostitution, and poverty can be a bit overwhelming. My group is used to saving the world without all the grittiness and despair. This is definitely a dark setting but as with all settings, the GM sets the ultimate tone to meet the player's expectations.

Setting Rules
The dangerous world of DLN needs some extra gritty rules.
  • Blood and Guts: Characters can spend Bennies on Damage rolls
  • Critical Failures: 1 on both trait and wild dies means your stuck. No Bennies can be used to fix.
  • Gritty Damage: When you get a wound, roll on the Injury Table and its effects are in play until the wound is healed. Double ouch!
Special rules to flesh out the Detective Work helps make the varied tasks of a detective become more important and useful to the game instead of just a die roll. While there's a whole page on interrogation the idea is to encourage the role play aspects of questioning.  The Social Conflicts section clarifies how Interrogation and Patter contribute.

Tapping into the supernatural exists but is rarely shown in the open. When it's seen the Texas Rangers in the South or the Agency in the North usually show up to dispose of the presence. Grifters in this setting have magical as well as thieving abilities. Their already amazing skills help them become supernatural swindlers. Tapping into the Hunting Grounds gives them power but at a cost. Hucksters however are the ultimate risk-takers.

The magic section puts meat on the bones of Grifters, Patent Scientists, Voodoo Practitioners, and Harrowed. All but the last seem to be understandable with their title descriptions. With 15 new edges for the Harrowed, it has plenty of "flesh" to round out this powerful chilling undead character. The Harrowed is a character that has usually recently died, or was created this way, and returned but has literally gone through hell. These folks can often be pawns of the manitou and will do it's evil deeds. These characters seem to have a lot of darkness and power. It will be interesting to see how this will playout in one of our typical group meet ups.

Deadlands Noir is as dark and chilly as it's title bluntly states. The style is 1930's gritty pulp bathed in bath-tub gin and dusted with ghost rock.  Decadence, poverty, corruption, and outright evil set in the richly detailed Big Easy should be a strong draw to those who have been waiting for Deadlands to evolve into this era.  For those of us who have dwelled in the pulpy 30's will enjoy the new Deadlands twist on our well trod ground and appreciate the challenge. The art contributes to the stylized look and feel of a 30's pulp noir movie. The additional maps and coming figure flats as well as figures will fully round out this Pinnacle offering.

Until Part 2, keep it Savage!

Up Next: Part 2 - GM's section: Secrets and Lies!

Other Links of Interest
Review: DL Hell on Earth
Review: Horror Companion
Reivew: DL Players Guide
Review: DL Marshall's Handbook
DLN-like Fiction - The New Moon Murders


  1. Grim Servant... was an edge in the original Deadlands, and only one player in three years of me running that game took it. Seems like a great idea, but when the luck turns against you, there's hell to pay.

    Wish I had had the money to jump on this kickstarter, and really looking forward to the rest of the review...

  2. I knew that and should have caught it during the editing process. I have to say this looks like an amazing setting. I can't wait to reap some rules from it for the Gunniverse.

  3. Just wanted to mention that Cheyenne Wright also ran a Don's Game at GenCon 2012.