Fate of the Deadlands

It has been a long time since I’ve posted. But I’m in a good mood. The weather is nice and I’ve got the Southern Gothic playlist going. So let’s do this.

I like Deadlands. A lot. It’s a great setting and it’s an… okay system I guess. It was marvelous for the times when it came out but there’s been two decades of innovation since then and Savage Worlds doesn’t really do it for me. It’s certainly more streamlined but it still falls short in a couple of places.

So like every other game I like I’ve thought about how to turn it into a FATE game. And honestly Deadlands needs less work than most games. It’s a fairly straightforward western game except for its magic. It’s magic made it pop. Drawing cards to cast a spell is what people remember from Deadlands. Let me back up though.

In Deadlands magic flows from a few different sources and each of those sources functions very differently. From the original game there are hucksters, mad scientists, shaman, and miracle workers. Each of those types has access to different abilities and accesses them completely differently.

The hucksters were the real star of the show in innovation and popularity. In the background of the game Edmond Hoyle wasn’t just traveling around collecting rules for different card games, he was hunting occult secrets. He disguised his attempts to learn and codify magic as learning different card games and even went so far as to publish those secrets encoded in his book of card games.


This is what wizards look like in the real world according to Wikipedia.

So hucksters are people who read Hoyle’s book and managed to decode some of the occult secrets in it and because of how they learned that magic it became tied to the idea of gambling. So when hucksters cast a spell they literally gamble with an evil spirit called a manitou. In the original game each spell had a rating of how difficult it was to cast it terms of poker hands. The huckster player would actually draw a number of cards based on how powerful they were and try to make the best poker hand they could. If they succeeded the spell went off, if they failed they lost some health to cover the bet. It was a great system. It’s an easily understood mechanic that is already balanced for odds and it has a great thematic feel for literally gambling with a demon.

Hucksters had the widest range of spells they could choose from but always had the chance that it wouldn’t work and they’d be hurt so it balanced out. Mad scientists meanwhile could make crazy steampunk inventions that acted as spells. They were also pretty diverse but required them to spend the time and money to actually make the invention. Their inventions were also pretty unstable since the ideas for them were whispered into their dreams by the manitou. It was a thing.

Miracle workers were exactly what you expected. They were people who worshiped the Abrahamic god and could use protective and curative miracles. The had the narrowest range of spells but were also had the fewest drawbacks. They just had to make a roll to cast their magic but had to be a good person to keep their powers. If they started acting poorly they took penalties to their casting check until they made up for it.

Shaman honestly got he short end of the multi-limbed stick. They had a pretty wide range of spells to select from but had to do a ritual to please spirits to make it work. They also had to abide by the ‘old ways’ in the original Deadlands which meant swearing off anything that wasn’t a part of their culture before they encountered Europeans. So no guns, no trains, no dressing in anything European. It was a giant pain and was a pain for the rest of the party too because they either couldn’t take a train or had to wait for you to catch up. It was also pretty hard to get any of the rituals off in combat. Overall I think they needed the most work and I definitely want to keep them.

Thank you E.S. Curtis for letting us know that the past has always been terrifying.

Something to note is that magic in Deadlands is pretty low-powered. It’s mostly based on things that a person could do on their own with the proper skills, tools, and time. Things that break that mold like animating zombies and teleportation are generally out of the hands of PCs. Generally.

Okay so the rest of the game can just be normal FATE. That’s no problem. Maybe I’ll mock up a system for duels but everything else should be pretty easy to manage. Translating magic over is the real challenge here. I’ll be basing most of it on the basic FATE magic idea that it is a stunt that grants you the freeform ability to replace any other skill use with your casting skill.

Each type of magic requires that it be involved with your High Concept and that you take a least one stunt for it. Hucksters and Shaman only need to take one because their magic is riskier or less convenient respectively. Mad Scientists can take one per ‘slot’ of item they want to carry around with them. Miracle Workers don’t have a free form magic system, they just have a variety of stunts.


I really want to keep the huckster subsystem tied to gambling. That’s a great theme and it really works with the setting idea of the manitou actively being against you. So huckster magic lets them replace any rolled action they could do with another skill with Deception. The justification is that you’re getting the manitou’s magic to do the thing instead of doing it the normal way. Instead of shooting, you hit your enemy with a bolt of energy. Instead of climbing the cliff, you fly up to the top. Instead of sneaking, you cloud the minds of your enemies and you walk in. Etc, etc.

This gives them a wide range of capability but doesn’t really let them do things that would otherwise be totally impossible. They can’t raise the dead but they might be able to stabilize someone who is dying. They just take a shortcut to doing something that they might not otherwise be good at. Also by using Deception that lets them be good mundane gamblers and shifty so that other people don’t like to trust them.

I want it to actually be a gamble. So you wager your health.

Huckster. You and the Marshal roll your FATE dice. Neither of you add anything to this. You just compare. This is called the Gamble. You may spend fate points to add +2 to the Gamble roll for each spent. You don’t have to tag any aspects, you are spending pure luck to do make the deal.

If you lose, you take stress equal to the difference. If you tie, you break even and lose your action for the round. If you would be taken out by the stress you black out and the manitou runs around in your body, causing chaos and mayhem. You can take consequences to lower the stress your Gamble roll generates.

If you win, you get to use your Deception in place of another skill. Describe how the magic of the manitou lets you accomplish anything that is the realm of possibility of using a mundane skill. This is called the Payoff. Your Payoff can do things that a normal person would need incredibly skill and luck to do. Levitating up a sheer cliff in a storm is much easier than climbing it. Stabilizing a dying comrade in the field is much easier than doing emergency surgery. The Marshal should consider most thresholds lower (if not simply succeeding) if doing it with magic is easier than with skill.

Mad Scientists:

Mad scientists are quite different. They are people touched with genius (loci) and driven to invent. They hear the subtle whispers of manitou inspiring them to utilize ghost rock and create. Many also cackle manically or insist that others will “pay” but I’m sure that’s all just stereotyping.

I'm rewatching 'Young Frankenstein' and laughing through the madnessIt’s about life!

So first they need to be inspired. A good general introduction stunt that lets them be versatile like a huckster but has it’s own problems. Mad! gives you an excuse to put Craft in the +5 slot of your skill pyramid. You can utilize it to use Craft for any roll but it 1) requires an action, 2) requires props, and 3) requires fate points. However it is also a great excuse to roll Craft to add a temporary aspect to basically any item as long as you have tools.

Then Patent Pending lets them invest into their weirdness and have a (somewhat) reliable use of their power.

Mad!: Spend a fate point. You craft a Jury-rig device that allows you to use Craft instead of the normal roll for a specific action, ex. you could tinker with a gun to roll Craft instead of Aim or make an elixir to roll Craft instead of Medicine. This requires appropriate tools and materials. The device functions for the scene. This stunt is also a blatant excuse to roll Craft to add an aspect to a piece of gear for the scene.

As with all magic the Marshal should be forgiving if the use of magic would easier than using a mundane skill.

Patent Pending. The mad scientist has built a device ahead of time. This device lets them use Craft in place of another skill for a specific action. A roll of [—-] results in a mishap. The device malfunctions, causes a problem, and becomes unusable until fixed. When you have downtime and a workshop you can exchange the device/skill use combo for another of you choice. This stunt may be taken multiple times.

Miracle Workers:

The weird west is a harsh place and the meek rarely prosper there. And yet those that keep their faith may walk the deepest valleys unafraid. They are not the hellfire preachers on the pulpit or the successful travelling ministers. They are the ones that clothe the poor and feed the hungry. They are meek and humble. They bring the word of God to the servants of the Reckoners. That word is “Begone.”

The powers of faith don’t require a roll to activate. Faith is unwavering. They are a series of stunts because they require more and more commitment of yourself to your faith. If you ever stray from the righteous path the Marshal may strip you of your stunts until you atone.

Lay on Hands. Spend a fate point and touch someone. You may remove a minor consequence or downgrade a more serious consequence and start it healing as long as there is a free slot for it to move into.

Banish. Spend a fate point. Roll Empathy as an attack against all opponents. Humans take it as a social attack of shame. Creatures of darkness take it as a physical attack. Any opponent taken out by the attack is forced to flee or grovel for surrender.

Bless. Spend a fate point. All friendly creatures of your choice within your zone takes +2 to rolls for the turn.

The Lord is My Shepherd. May use Empathy to defend against creatures of darkness/magic.


The wise People of the Americas have a long report with the spirits. They have learned to ask them for aid in their lives. Those requests have recently been answered and it is causing a divide in the lives of the People between modernity and the old ways.

Shamanism requires a ritual and that means it cannot be done in combat. However, it is incredibly versatile, doesn’t require fate points, and is a single stunt. By far the subtlest of the magics by allowing both tagging aspects and the use of consequences shaman can roll far, far higher than any other magic user if they are willing to spend for it. Working together many shaman can cause permanent world changing results such as creating and entire nation where technology doesn’t work.

Wise One. You have learned to petition the spirits. This requires a ritual that cannot be done in combat time. You may use this as an excuse to use Lore in place of another skill use or to roll Lore to generate very lenient aspects with free invokes such as ‘Blessed’ and ‘Cursed’. You may tag aspects and take consequences to boost the roll.

You may also create ‘terminal’ aspects. Permanent changes to other characters or the environment.


What the hell. I’m feeling inspired. Must have been that line of ghost rock.

Dueling is dangerous. Very, very dangerous. Even experienced gunslingers should pause before agreeing to a duel. The goal is to get your opponent to start reaching for their gun before you reach for yours and but still outdraw them. Then, in the mindset of the duelist, it was all in self defense. The Law may see it otherwise.

Dueling is a contested Aim roll. Before you roll you may wager as many fate points as you’d like. Those act as a multiplier on your damage if you win or tie. The loser takes damage equals the difference between the rolls. On tie, both take full damage.

People who make a habit of dueling are probably feared. And probably suicidal. A clever duelist will try to put aspects on their opponent or the environment before the meet. Staring them down before the clock gongs. Wearing armor. Convincing them to meet before noon so the sun will be in their eyes. No advantage is too small.

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