I turn fifty this year. Wow. Five-Oh.
This weekend, as part of my birthday celebration, I had the opportunity to run Deadlands for Shane Hensley. We were chatting over the internet a couple weeks ago and I said, “I’d really like to play Deadlands.”
Shane said, “You should run it. I’d drive up (from Chandler to Phoenix) for that. But it would have to be your own weird take on the system.”
Well, I like the idea of giving away things on my birthday, and I know game designers secretly love seeing what other people do with their own ideas (the good ones do), so I told him I’d run it on my birthday and sure enough, he showed up to play. I threw together a quick system that shared elements with Deadlands, but was certainly not Deadlands. I explained the system to the players and started the game.
As with all game systems, the players and I started making small changes during play. We changed when players could look at their cards. We changed what Jokers meant. I improvised a method of randomly picking characters. And ten minutes after we started playing, I added Flaws (you’ll see them below). After the game was over, we all talked about the game and even more changes we would make.
The system you’re about to read is the system that emerged from that session with a couple of minor tweaks thrown in afterward. It’s fast, efficient and deadly. Really deadly. I think its safe to say that my interpretation of Grit was Shane’s favorite element of the game. For most of the mechanics, he nodded, but when I explained Grit, his eyes lit up.
Special Thanks to the other players at the table: my faithful and awesome regulars Fabien Badilla, Jennifer Todd, and the always handsome Mr. and Mrs. Blessing, Ron and Veronica. And to Jessica, who was making a METRICK $#%@ TON of food for my birthday celebration, listening in, and chuckling.
1: Makin’ Characters
Get yerself a bunch of index cards. This is one of them hipster indie games, after all. Every player gets two: one for a name stand that you fold over and put in front of you, and another for your actual character sheet.
On the character sheet, write down your character’s name.
Then, write down three words or phrases that are important to who your character is. This could be Sheriff, Gunfighter, School Marm, Gambler, Coward of the County, whatever you like. Assign a “1,” “2,” and “3” to your three words or phrases. These are your Traits. The one that’s most important t’ya should be the 3, and then go in descendin’ order.
Next, write down yer character’s Flaw. This is something yer character does in spite o’ their best interests.
Then, get three coins or chips or tokens or whatever to represent yer Grit. This represents yer character’s toughness. Sorta. You’ll see.
Optional Rule: If you feel one of yer Traits, and just one of yer Traits, should earn you an additional Grit, you go ahead and give yerself another Grit token. The House (that’s the GM in this game) has’ta approve yer Trait as givin’ ya a Grit.
Now, write down three things that are true about yer character.
Finally, each of the other players tells you how they know your character. How they met, how they get along, anything like that. And you do that fer each of the other characters, too.
That’s when yer done and it’s time ta play.
2: Playin’ the Game
The standard rule is the House narrates the story. She says what happens.
Whenever a player wants to narrate something, she plays against the House.
First, the House deals a hand of five cards to the player and a number of cards to herself based on how hard the situation may be.
- If the situation is Normal, she deals 5 cards.
- If it’s Tough, she deals herself 6 cards.
- If it’s Harder Than That, she deals 7 cards.
- If Things Are Damn Grim, she deals 8 cards to herself.
Both the player and House try to make the best poker hand.
The player looks at his hand and can discard 1 card per point in one appropriate Trait. So, if a character wants to gun down a villain, and she has GUNSLINGER 2 on her character sheet, she can toss two cards and the House gives her two more. If she had GUNSLINGER 3 on her sheet, she could ditch three cards and the House deals her three more.
Once the player has her final hand, both the player and House compare hands. Whoever has the best hand gets to narrate the scene.
Because the House gets to narrate the scene (usually), the House can put all kinds o’ heinous hurtin’ down on the characters. The House can say, “You get a black eye,” or “You sprain your wrist,” or “You twist your ankle,” or any other kinda hurtin’.
When this happens, the player can spend a Grit and say, “It don’t matter none” or some other kinda phrase that indicates their character is too damn tough to be bothered by an insignificant consequence such as that.
Otherwise, the player has to write down the injury on their character sheet. If any such injury comes into play during drawin’ cards, the player has to draw one less card for each appropriate injury.
So, if you got a sprained wrist and you’re tryin’ to palm a card during a poker game, or maybe you’re tryin’ to draw your gun faster than the outlaw who’s about to gun you down, you draw one less card.
Now, there’s one exception to this and that’s guns. Whenever your character gets shot, she dies. That’s it. Dead, dead, dead. On her way up to Boot Hill. You done got yerself a wooden coat. The only way to avoid dyin’ from a gun is to spend Grit, but when you do, you have to describe how the gunshot hurt ya, but didn’t kill ya. And it should be bad. If it ain’t bad enough, the House will let ya know. Just make it bad and don’t put the House in the position o’ havin’ ta correct ya. That’s just rude.
Oh, and once per game, when ya invoke yer Flaw, you get one Grit. Once per game and that’s it.
Magic and Other Weird Stuff
If yer character wants t’have magic or steam powered flyin’ machines or somethin’ else Weird, ya gotta make it one o’yer Traits. When you use it, you do the same thing ya do for any other Trait: ya make a draw with the House. If you get the higher hand, you get ta say how it works. If you don’t, the House does. If the House wins, it don’t mean yer Weird stuff don’t work, it means the House gets ta say how it works. Weird stuff is weird and sometimes it does weird stuff.
Who Goes First?
If there’s ever a question about who goes first, have everybody play high card: just throw out a card to each player and they go in the order of the cards. Or, ya can have the highest hand go first. That includes NPCs, by the way.
When Do I Shuffle?
I shuffle after each draw. I also use two decks shuffled together. You may want to do that or you may not, dependin’ on how much fun countin’ cards is fer you and yer players.
If’n ya keep the Jokers in the deck, they’re wild cards.
And that’s it. That’s all ya really need. Everything else is just window dressin’. Now go get yer friends and play.
And consider this my birthday present to you. Yer welcome, pard’ner. Happy birthday.