Deadlands Character Options
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Deadlands is so varied that there are an infinite number of character concepts. To avoid being overwhelmed, consider this list which blends hero suggestions with an index of official options and Edges.
Page References: These are to the core Deadlands book, while page references with a "C" (e.g., p. C18) are to the Deadlands Companion.
Skills: Psychology is from SWADE General Rules and Trade is from p. 14.
Its worth a reminder that the West isn't an all-white world. Bigotry exists, and is a good reason to take Hindrances like Outsider, but the setting is definitely more egalitarian than in our own history. Common backgrounds include:
African: Slavery was outlawed in the Union 21 years ago and the Confederacy fell 13 years ago, so most black characters will be former slaves or have parents who were. Most Voodooists will be from Haitian descent (Afro-Caribbean).
Chinese: Chinese immigration boomed during the Gold Rush, up until the Chinese Exclusion Act (passed 2 years ago). California has many Chinese-owned companies and even Chinese warlords.
European: A blanket term for immigrants from Europe, the UK, or Scandinavia. Hispanics tend to get the same local reaction as Mexicans, while whites face no real prejudice unless they speak no or broken English.
"Indian": The only non-immigrant option, Native Americans still control huge swaths of western U.S. territory (see p. 9) in this setting. White reactions tend to be negative (seeing them as "savages" competing with Americans for land). The Old Ways vow is popular but not ubiquitous.
Mexican: Mexican-Americans are the majority in many areas of the Southwest U.S. The bigotry they face varies wildly, from complete acceptance to being seen as foreign invaders and active enemy combatants.
General Professions and Backgrounds
Some professions and backgrounds fit the setting perfectly. These don't require specific Edges or rules, so they offer Trait suggestions instead of page references. Mix and match freely.
Bounty Hunter: Chasing down outlaws and turning them in for a reward. Consider Survival (for tracking), the Streetwise Edge, and combat skill.
Bruiser: Even in a "gunslinger's world" there's a place for pugilists, Indian braves, and other scrappers. Look at Chi Master, below, which is not limited to Asians or to unarmed combat! Consider Fighting and combat Edges.
Cowpoke: A ranch hand, good with animals. If you own the ranch, mix with Rancher, below. Consider Fighting (for lariats), Riding, and the Beast Bond and Born in the Saddle Edges.
Deserter/Drifter: You have to keep moving, maybe because you abandoned your military post. Consider Notice, Riding, Stealth, and Survival. The deserter should also see Veteran, below.
Doc: Fixin' people up is such a handy skill. Consider Academics, Healing, Trade, and the Healer Edge.
Escort: "Saloon gals" are a common sight (and often overlap with Performer, below) — male "hustlers" much less so. Consider Persuasion, Psychology, and the Attractive/Very Attractive and all social Edges.
Explorer: You travel for a living, seeking new sights. Consider Boating, Riding, Survival, and the Scout Edge.
Gambler: In Deadlands this is usually mixed with Huckster, below. Consider Gambling, the Card Sharp Edge, and social Edges.
Grifter: Snake oil salesmen and con artists abound. Consider Performance, Persuasion, Psychology, and positive social Edges.
Gunslinger: Hired guns are always necessary, or perhaps you're retired. Consider Shooting, Intimidation or Taunt, and combat Edges.
Hunter: Living off the land requires trapping and/or hunting. Buffalo hunting is a lucrative option, but buffalo now exist only on Indian lands where it's a crime for outsiders to poach. Consider Shooting, Survival, Stealth, and the Woodsman Edge.
Muckracker: Journalists report the truth, though some do it with a spin. Consider Academics, Persuasion, Psychology, Research, and all social Edges. If you use a camera, add Repair.
Outlaw: There's a wide range of crimes. Look at a similar legal variant (e.g., Cowpoke if you rustle livestock) and consider Thievery and the Streetwise Edge.
Performer: Traveling preachers, saloon singers, and vaudevillians are all popular. Consider Performance, Persuasion, and the Attractive/Very Attractive, Fame/Famous, and all social Edges.
Prospector: Like the Hunter, above, but you hunt for gold! Consider Repair, Science, Survival, and the Rich/Filthy Rich Edges (if you're successful).
Rancher/Shopkeep/Tycoon: You own a business or property, but fortunately you have people to manage it while you travel. Consider Trade and the Aristocrat and the Rich/Filthy Rich Edges.
Veteran: Retiring from the military implies age or injury, so Hindrances matter here. Consider Battle, Shooting, and the Soldier Edge (which fits but is not mandatory). If you abandoned your post, also see Deserter, above.
These have unique rules and require unique Edges. As a general rule, these are mutually exclusive (can't be an Agent/Soldier). Each one includes monthly pay based on your rank.
Agent: The Special Services Agency (just "Agency" to most) sticks to the shadows, sending its Agents to track down and deal with specific occult threats and agents of foreign threats. You get a Gatling pistol and badge and can call in Favors. (p. 52)
Sheriff: A sheriff's legal authority doesn't extend past their own county, so a U.S. Marshal (below) is usually a better fit. (See p. 43 for more on local law.) If the campaign will be in a fixed location, a sheriff can take Law Dog (from SWADE General Rules) or a variant of the U.S. Marshal Edge.
Soldier: Actively serving in the military grants pay and command based on rank, but also a commensurate obligation. Note that you can take the Soldier Edge without being an active soldier; this is just an option for that Edge. (p. 20)
Territorial Rangers: Unlike U.S. Marshals who handle law in the states, Rangers bring law and order to the (uncontrolled) territories and deal with supernatural threats. You get a badge, arms and armor, and can call in Favors. (p. 73)
U.S. Marshal: Federal authorities, recognized as The Law in every state. There are two options here: (p. C16)
- Deputy U.S. Marshal: You get a badge, a minor obligation, and a full U.S. Marshal contact who can provide help.
- U.S. Marshal: You get a badge, a major obligation, are paid very well, and can call in Favors.
Some heroes can wield amazing powers. These are strictly mutually exclusive (a Deadlands character can have only one Arcane Background), but can be combined with any professions and concepts above.
Blessed: Praise the Lord! Or Allah, the Spirits, etc. Your higher power grants you miracles (mostly defensive ones) as long as you follow a strict moral code. (p. 55)
Chi Master: Intense focus lets you channel energy to enhance your prowess or disrupt a foe's chi by touch. While this is phrased with Asian flavor, it can apply equally to other concepts; e.g., an Indian brave channeling spiritual power. (p. 57)
Huckster: Sorcerers who use Poker metaphorically to wrangle power from the manitou. They get a very wide range of powers and can "deal with the Devil" for even more. (p. 64)
- Hexslinger: An advanced Huckster option (must be Seasoned) who can create enchanted pistols and use them to cast spells that boost their defenses and improve their gunplay. (p. 66)
Mad Scientist: Weird scientists whose "powers" are actually unique, temperamental devices and gadgets. They can also learn to make elixirs and/or gadgets that others can use. (p. 68)
- Metal Mage: This Mad Scientist option (at Novice) understands that manitou are behind their inspirations and embraces it. They can "deal with the Devil" much like Hucksters, to invoke unknown powers. (p. C13)
Shaman: Wise folk (usually Indian) granted miracles by channeling Nature spirits via chanting. Access to a broad selection of powers. Many follow the Old Ways, but that's optional. (p. 71)
Voodooist: Spirit channelers who prepare "gris-gris" bags to work their miracles. Their most unique powers let them summon loa to possess them, granting very potent abilities. (p. C17)
Witches: Straight-up black magic casters with a very broad spell list. They deal well with high Fear Levels, but risk Corruption when casting spells. Those trained by Mina Devlin often wield whips. (p. C21)
This one can be combined with any of the stuff above.
Harrowed: When you died, a manitou intercepted your soul and dragged it back. Now you share your body, fighting for dominion. Harrowed gain benefits and drawbacks from being dead. You also start with one weird ability and can acquire more. (pp. 59 and C6)
- Be sure to see Deadlands House Rules for Harrowed.
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