How Secret Should the Reckoning Be? (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

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How Secret Should the Reckoning Be? (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

#1 Postby otherdoc » Tue Sep 11, 2012 2:32 pm

Something that I always wonder when I'm running Deadlands is how much of a secret I should keep the events of the Reckoning and indeed who the Reckoners are.

Back when I started running Deadlands Classic I would start a campaign by reading the section at the front where the Prospector is talking to a newly-risen Harrowed individual and telling him everything he knows about the Reckoning. I thought it helped set the mood quite a bit. In later editions, though, that intro went away and I decided it might be better to be a bit more cagey about it.

Of course when Hell on Earth came out, anyone who read it would know immediately who the Reckoners were - but I found that the players who'd read it were in the minority.

Fast forward to today. A couple of nights ago I read Shane's introduction to the trade paperback compiling the Deadlands One-Shot comics, and in it he talks specifically about Raven and the Reckoning and lays out the identities of the Reckoners. Now, I understand that to an extent this is to help out with the ongoing Raven Kickstarter (which everyone should go and support if they haven't already!! Only 52 hours left!!), but I also wonder how aware I should be making my players and their PCs about things going on in the background of the setting. There's some really cool stuff there, but once it's out of the bag you can't unsay it.

In my last Deadlands campaign, the Deadlands themselves were mentioned only once, and the Reckoners were only mentioned near the end of the campaign when I had the posse briefly run into the Prospector. Now that I'm running two Deadlands campaigns simultaneously, I'm once again wondering how cagey to be about the whole thing. Obviously most of the NPC population should be ignorant of the goings-on, but what about significant NPCs? And indeed the PCs? And heck, even if the PCs don't know, what about the players?

So, I'm curious - in your campaigns, how widely have you opened that particular faucet? Did you let out just an occasional drip of background secrets on the Reckoning, or run it at a slow trickle? Or did you turn it on full blast like a fire hose of back-story? What did you let your players, and their PCs know, and how soon? And how did it work out?
Last edited by otherdoc on Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#2 Postby farik » Tue Sep 11, 2012 3:01 pm

Our group has talked about it and personally I gauge the flow of information on the composition of the party. Specifically how many Arcane Backgrounds are present.

It's not because I think different Arcane characters have access to more information so much as I think the party composition reflects the tone of the game. In a campaign where only one person can have an arcane background at a time (usually decided by drawing a high card) I'd keep the reckoning and overall awareness of weirdness at a minimum. But if all the characters have arcane backgrounds then I generally runs things in such a way that every NPC knows somebody personally who had something weird happen to them and most of them have experienced something strange themselves.

In other words think the answer is as much about the type of game you run as it's about the setting.

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#3 Postby Thunderforge » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:50 pm

It really comes down to personal preference. Some people like to share about it, some people tend to keep it hidden for as long as possible. Personally I start off with a brief introduction something along the lines of this:

"The year is 1879, but history is not our own. Everything is the same until July 3rd, 1863. That's when the Reckoning began. There was an Indian shaman named Raven who got his whole tribe massacred by the white men. He figured that the best way to get back at the white men was to unleash a whole horde of demons into the world. <pause to let that register and for people to grin at the campy way I'm telling it>

Well, that's when things got really bad. On July 3rd, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was happening and the dead soldiers rose up and shot their living comrades. Many more battles were disastrously similar and in the end the Civil War dragged on to a stalemate."

I then show them the Deadlands map, explain about ghost rock if it's important to the story or any ABs, and go from there. Although some might object, I like starting off with mentioning Raven, the Reckoning, and Gettysburg because it puts people in the right mindset to accept everything else that's going on in the Weird West.

Aside from that, I keep pretty hush about the whole idea of the Servitors unless needed. Raven usually fades into the background (partly because he never reappeared in anything published until Last Sons), Grimme is someone who I hint that something is wrong with, but don't say what, Hellstromme is a total upstanding citizen, and Stone is the boogieman who I always threaten players with.

Whenever I'm at a point where I want to share the metaplot, they run into Ol' Coot Jenkins and he tells them just about everything from the Prospectors Tale. I usually try to get them to figure out the identity of the Reckoners, and the Servitors identities are revealed as they discover the dirt about them.
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#4 Postby PlatinumWarlock » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:30 pm

I'm not sure what it is, but in every Deadlands game I've played or run, Darius Hellstromme always comes off as the greatest guy ever, always willing to finance an expedition, supply some new ghost rock doo-hickey, or back a new endeavor.

The players in my "The Flood" game, which just wrapped up, managed to figure out two of the Servitors--Stone and Grimme--due to events in the campaign. No one really knew much or had interaction with Raven, though they were in the Great Maze for the vast majority of the game. And, naturally, Hellstromme came off looking like a wonderful human being.
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#5 Postby RJack » Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:39 pm

I've run it several ways before. It mostly depends on how I envision the campaign progressing.

With my current campaign, I'm planning to go all meta-plotty (something I usually don't do). Early on I had a little in-character info dump discussing the Reckoning, fear, the deadlands, and how they relate. I didn't get into the identities of the Reckoners, nor what their ultimate goals were, but I thought it was important to communicate that there are bigger picture concerns going on, and that the actions of the players will affect the whole campaign.

My previous campaign was much smaller in scope. I was going for a more localized, sand box type structure, where the players had a town as a home base, and mostly adventured in the immediate area. For that campaign I just discussed that there was an alternate history, and magic was a thing now. The larger campaign players like Servitors never came up.

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#6 Postby Uthoroc » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:38 am

Generally I think that secrets are bad, if they are not at least partially revealed. What good is the cool Raven backstory, if only the Marshal knows about it? On the other hand, having everything out on the table up front may rob the players of some cool Aha! moments.

For example, in my upcoming campaign one of the players - who knows nothing about the Deadlands background - decided he wanted to play an ex-Agent who had learned a dark secret about the Agency and had to flee. So I gave him one of the big secrets before the game: Who the "Ghost" is. But I left out all the whys and hows, so there is plenty for him to find out during the game. I think it's a cool hook.

I also have one player in the group who is a previous Deadlands marshal and knows most things about the setting, while the rest of the group is almost clueless. Consequently I expect to be pretty generous with setting details and secrets, there is not much point in keeping everyone but the one player in the dark.

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#7 Postby Crumbs » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:38 pm

My PC's never know exactly what the reckoning is but they do typically know some bad stuff went down and that stuff isn't right since then.

I like the supernatural elements and the players fighting against them so I don't hide that from the players but I like to slowly reveal it to the PC's.

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#8 Postby iamfanboy » Thu Sep 13, 2012 2:59 pm

My now standard start is:

"It's 1877. Up until Gettysburg, history was the same as our own, but then the dead rose on the third day and attacked both sides. The war has gone on since then, with the rise of the New Science - scientists that create seemingly impossible things like flamethrowers, ornithopters, and Gatling pistols - keeping it going on and on. Because of the war, neither side has the manpower to do to the Indians what happened in our own time, and now there are two nations - the Sioux Nation and the Coyote Confederacy - that have used newly-found, seemingly mystic powers to help protect their lands. Right now, the most important event is the Great Rail Wars, where six companies are competing to be the first one to make it to what's left of California, and the massive deposits of a substance called ghost rock that works like coal - but burns far hotter and far longer, which is what allows the New Science to work.

"Oh, did I forget to mention? Most of California fell into the sea ten years ago, after a huge earthquake rocked it from north to south."

Kind of funny to toss that last one in to local players, because right now I live in California.

...and I've had a LOT of practice delivering that speech, because it's so damned hard to recruit local players that show up to even one game....

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