Deadlands, the very name speaks of dark tidings and sinister shenanigans. For those unfamiliar to the setting, Deadlands is an Old West role-playing game that was initially released in the mid-90′s. It met with quite a bit of success and has recently been re-released employing the Savage Worlds system. Both games were written excellently by Shane Lacy Hensley and I was quite happy to see my beloved game in print once more. With Deadlands, Shane transports us to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood where he mixes it liberally with horror. He then throws in dashes of Steampunk and science-fiction to make it one of the best genre spanning settings. It can be dark, irreverent, gritty, and surreal all in the same session without a pause.
While Deadlands was good, Deadlands: Reloaded is better. Shane took a rather fine system, trimmed it, and then sped up the play so enjoyment was exponentially increased. This isn’t a review of Deadlands though, but some knowledge of the setting does help. In the world of Deadlands all is not quite right. It is 1879, evil is lurking, and the United States is still reeling from a Civil War that didn’t quite end. Most people turn a blind eye to the ‘stories’ they hear from travelers to keep their minds safe and secure. But, the stories are true. The dead are walking the earth, it’s just not all of the walking dead are bent on foul deeds. New creatures roam the land and magic is quite real. Science, both natural and unnatural, is making leaps and bounds pushing the imagination of what is possible.
It is here, in this twisted landscape, that Perdition’s Daughter takes us through Shane’s writing. We start off following Ronan Lynch, an officer in the Union Cavalry, during his final battle of the Civil War. We witness a veteran and competent commander that only lost his nerve when faced with overwhelming odds and a terrifying new weapon. He is, of course, deemed a coward and drummed out of the service to humiliating anonymity. Several years pass and Ronan travels the west as a gun-for-hire that harbors deep resentment to all things Southern. He eventually ends up in Denver, a city entirely too Eastern for his taste, and is approached by a mine owner to do a job. Ronan knows that there is only one job anyone would want him for: someone needed someone else dead. He is then introduced to those that will be his associates, both hail from the South. Velvet Van Helter, originally from New Orleans appears to be a dandy more interested in fashion and cards than anything else, while Betty McGrew is a rifle-woman out of Texas. Ronan gets along with them as well one would hope. His surly demeanor and openly hostile attitude towards the pair of them fosters a tension that plays out with entertaining results.
The short story unfolds as the mine owner admits he has a son that has fallen pray to the wiles of a seductive woman, and has been led astray. The woman heads a strange cult and the group left Denver a while ago. The father, quite naturally, wishes for his safe return. He offers them the tidy sum of $250 each for his son to be brought back, and $500 if his son is returned and the woman denounced as a fraud. Ronan inquires about what he might have to face and then doubles his price. He wants $500 for the son and $1000 for the son and denouncement of the woman. Such gall embarrasses Velvet and Betty and the mine owner asks if he is to pay such an amount to the others. Ronan shrugs and replies that he was only negotiating for himself.
They leave in the morning to find cult and while en route they witness Ronans blinding speed as he kills two highwaymen. The group dynamics do not change when they hit the next town and Betty refuses to even sleep in the same building as Ronan after he makes another crass remark. The trio is soon embroiled in the meat of the adventure. They discover truths and secrets, fight side by side, and even ‘bond’ as friends.. ok… they’re sort of friendly. I won’t reveal too much of story other than it was almost a road map of what a Deadlands game should be.. well.. what a game session could be if the party doesn’t try to annihilate one another (as can often happen).
With Perdition’s Daughter, Shane introduces fresh minds to his game. Hucksters, harrowed, the politics of the age, and darker magics are all touched upon with hints of broader wickedness afoot. I found it to be the perfect initiation to Deadlands, and with further installment’s on the way the background information will simply become richer. It was fantastically woven story, and I look forward to the future Dime Novels. The possibilities for future use of this short story is only curtailed by the imagination of the game master.
There was little to not enjoy about Perdition’s Daughter. It was a glorious tale in which the characters were all decently built up with quirks, the story moved at a steady pace building momentum till a climatic battle, and the over-all layout helped reinforce the ‘old west’ feel. Dialogue between characters was natural and avoided being stilted or dull. If future editions of the Dime Novel’s are as good as this one then I am sure they will be a huge success, a success that will catapult the Deadlands setting into the minds and greedy hands of gamers everywhere. My only hope is that in the following Dime Novels, that we discovery the histories of Velvet and Betty as the trio continues to romp through the west.