Deadlands: Reloaded is set in the Weird West, a horrific alternate history where magic and madness have led to a stalemate in the US Civil War. The frontier is short on law and heavy on spooky, and the player characters usually aren't exactly saints either.
There is more than one version of Deadlands, each using different rule sets. Reloaded uses the Savage Worlds core rulebook, one of many flexible systems that have lots of different settings that customize the rules to create new worlds. SW is not a d20 system - each skill and characteristic has a different die type, from four-sided (d4) all the way up to twelve-sided (d12). All you need to win is to beat the Marshall in an opposed check or, if unopposed, just get a 4 or better. Of course, in the Weird West, not rolling a 4 or better sucks major monkey poop. Yeah, that's an image you wanted.
So, this does mean that to play DL:R (and more importantly, create a character!) you need to have both the SW or Savage Worlds Deluxe book (cheap) AND DL:R player handbook (cheaper). Oh, and you need the Marshall's guide, for whoever is going to run the game.
But not to create characters.
The Deadlands setting is a dream come true, particularly for someone like me who has always despised American history as being particularly boring. Don't get me wrong, I love me some history - throw a Roman emperor or Latin American revolution my way and I'll be all over it. But the Civil War (even worse, the American Revolution) just doesn't do it for me. But Deadlands is great, taking history right up to the brink and then giving it a steel-tipped boot kick to the ass, right off a cliff of crazy.
Want to play a mad scientist who has sacrificed her sanity just to build a parasol that deflects bullets? Want to play a happy-go-lucky con artist who dances with the devil just to pick a pocket? What about a Chinese immigrant working hard on the railways and making a little money on the side boxing, while no one in America knows you've studied with a great martial arts master back home?
What truly addicts me to this game, though, is that you get so little out of character creation, but you have so many options. You can't possibly take points in all of the skills, and you only get ONE edge (special ability-ish) to start with.
Oh, and it's not just a lot of options at start, but also options farther down the line, with some powers requiring pretty hefty prerequisite skill and power sets. So I'm here thinking, "I know I want to be a Texas Ranger some day, but I can't as a Novice (starting character). I don't have to pick up all the skills and stuff now, but I need to plan out my next few advancements to make sure I can make it there." Not that I ever will. Three or four game sessions down the line, when I've picked up that cherished advancement, I know I'll just blow it on increasing my Fighting skill because I'm just fed up with getting punched in the kidney every ten minutes. I'll never learn.
Even worse is when I'm asked to generate a character that doesn't start at the Novice level, but who already has a few advancements under his belt. Having played Deadlands, I have to think, "Who could possibly survive long enough in this world to have learned a thing or two about not dying?" Thankfully, I don't have to play as myself, because that would really be bad. Oh look, there's a 8-foot tall robo-DEAD.
Right now, I've got a missionary's son, protected by his father's faith for many years. He's seen it all and survived some horror thanks to his father's miracles. However, having no faith of his own, he isn't going to waste his time trying to convert the natives. He's in life for the $$$, and there's plenty to be had in the Weird West. To quote Leverage, he "picks up where the law leaves off" and the law does such a poor job of tracking down some of the meaner criminals in the land. Yeah, that's right: I'm a bounty hunter, bitch. Yee haw!
But is that really what I want to play? I mean, what about a "huckster," one of those clever magicians who have unlocked the secrets of Hoyle's Book of Games. There's really nothing more unique in a game than playing a character who plays poker in a duel of wits against demons to access their powers ... and you actually play a hand of poker! C'mon, how cool is that? And it's totally not a waste of time, guys, seriously. It's fun. Okay, fine, I'll play the bounty hunter.
But how much experience should go into powers, and how much should go into skills? What's the relative benefit of increasing a skill (or two) by a die type (d4 -> d6, d6 ->d8, etc.) versus giving that same skill a +1 bonus? I'm pretty good at statistics ... okay dad, stop looking at me like that. Fine, I'm moderately average at basic statistics. I know the chances of rolling a 4 or better on a d6 is ... 4,5,6, so that's 3/6. 50%! But it's not that simple with Savage Worlds. Players always get to roll a d6 in addition to whatever their skill die is (it's a wild die). Also, if you roll the maximum result, the die "explodes", meaning you get to roll it again and add the new result. So, if you roll a 4 on a d4, you roll it again. This time you get a 3. Your total result is 7! So now the statistics get a little more complicated. What's the probability of getting a 10 when rolling a d8 and a d6? Fortunately, I don't need to do the work myself, since there's this and this and this and ... you get the picture. Or I could just ask our Marshall - he always knows, almost like he's a really smart guy or something.
But again, I'm incorrigible and, regardless of what the Marshall says, I'm just going to pick whatever I feel a whim for. And then change my mind at least three or four times before the next game session. Ahh!
Okay, fine, I'll raise Fighting another die type. Seriously, you have no idea how much getting punched hurts.