I was going to run a Deadlands Classic game, which I've never done before but the system intrigued me. However, I also picked up a pdf of Savage Worlds, and reading through it, it sounds a lot like the Deadlands Classic. Googling tells me there's a Deadlands setting for Savage Worlds as well. What's the difference? How should I decide which edition to run?


1 Answer 1


There is some pedigree between Deadlands (commonly called Deadlands Classic) and Savage Worlds. Deadlands Classic was a standalone roleplaying game with its own setting. A simplified, stripped down version of of Classic was created as a minis game called The Great Rail Wars. The simplified rules were then expanded into a genreless roleplaying game called Savage Worlds and Deadlands Reloaded was created as a supplementary setting for that system. Pinnacle has talked a great deal about this process and the reasons behind it in The Making of Savage Worlds.

It's worth noting that there were two versions of Deadlands Classic. First was an all-in-one version released in 1997 simply called "Deadlands: The Weird West" that contained stuff for both players and for Marshals. There was also a book called The Quick and the Dead that expanded some character options for players and had a whole ton of expanded setting information for Marshals. In 1999, these two books were replaced by the "Revised & Expanded" versions, which were released as Deadlands: Player's Guide and Deadlands: Marshal's Handbook, which combined the material from the core and The Quick and the Dead and changed a few rules, but were largely the same. The all-in-one book and The Quick and the Dead were not sold in any form since they were replaced.

Reloaded has had different versions as well, with an all-in-one book, a hardbound Player's Guide and Marshal's Handbook, and a softcover Explorer's Edition Player's Guide and Marshal's Handbook. Aside from some errata and changes to the Shaman mechanics between the all-in-one and the split books, there really aren't any changes to them.

All that said, here are the big differences between Deadlands Classic and Savage Worlds with the Deadlands Reloaded supplement:

Character Generation

In Classic, characters are generated randomly using playing cards to determine a character's abilities. In Savage Worlds, characters are built using a point buy system. That said, Pinnacle has released a one sheet addon allowing you to use cards to randomly generate Savage Worlds characters like in Classic. I've never seen anybody actually use it, but it's there for curiosity sake.

Basic Roll Mechanics

In Classic you roll dice pools and take the highest result of a single die (dice can explode). Sort of like the original Shadowrun, but with multiple die types. In Savage Worlds, player characters roll a single die (that can explode). Main characters called "Wild Cards" roll a d6 along with it (that can explode) and takes the best result of the two. Similar to Cortex (i.e. the Serenity and Buffy RPGs), but with more consistent die types.

Target Numbers

As described above, Classic players wanting to make a skill check roll a die pool and the result is the highest die in the pool. The Marshal (i.e. the gamemaster) picks a target number with 5 being normal difficulty, which can be increased or decreased by a value of 2 due to modifiers (e.g. a difficult task might be a 7 TN). Every 5 above counts as a "Raise", providing extra bonuses.

In Savage Worlds the target number is almost always 4 and instead the Marshal assigns penalties to the player's roll, generally in steps of 2 (e.g. a difficult task might be a roll at –2). It's a subtle change, but it basically means the player keeps track of the difficulty modifier, rather than the GM. Every 4 above counts as a "Raise" and as before provides extra bonuses.


There are a number of comparable characteristics for a character.

Deadlands Classic                       |  Savage Worlds
Traits (10 overarching characteristics  |  Attributes (5 overarching characteristics
    e.g. Strength, Deftness, Cognition) |      e.g. Strength, Smarts, Agility)
Aptitudes (~40 sub-characteristics)     |  Skills (~20 sub-characteristics)
Concentrations (required Sub-Aptitudes) |  Skill Specializations (optional sub-Skills)

There is a definite difference in the number of characteristics between Classic and Reloaded, which either makes Classic more detailed or Reloaded more streamlined, depending on how you look at it.

Note that in Savage Worlds, the term "Trait" is used to refer collectively to an Attribute or Skill. Fortunately, this is the only real overlap in terminology.

Hindrances & Edges

In both systems, characters have drawbacks (called Hindrances) and talents (called Edges). They function more or less the same. However, Classic Hindrances had a point value from 1 to 5 whereas Savage Worlds Hindrances have two levels: Major or Minor. Classic Edges also have a point value from 1 to 5 while Savage Worlds Edges do not have point values (they are all the same "value"), but require the character to have certain trait levels or have other restrictions before a character can take them.


The first printing of Deadlands Classic said that the Marshal should award "Bounty" to the PCs (essentially, XP) based on how well they accomplished the objectives. The Revised & Expanded version rolled Bounty into Fate Chips (which allow players to improve their roll or soak wounds), where a player can cash in unspent Fate Chips for XP.

Early versions of Savage Worlds continued the tradition Bennies (or Fate Chips, as Deadlands Reloaded exclusively calls them) cashing in for XP. However, later versions reverted to the GM awarding XP at the end of the session based on the PCs fulfilling their objectives.


It's worth noting that the magic systems in Savage Worlds are modified pretty heavily in Deadlands Reloaded, so that's what I'm going off of. As for the differences with Classic, I could write a whole bunch on this, but here's the short summary:

  • There were a bajillion powers for magic users in Classic (after all supplements, there were nearly 200 for Hucksters alone). Also, many of them were "the Shaman version of the Huckster power called X" or whatever. In Savage Worlds, there are 50 powers that are "generic" and are defined by their trappings. For instance, a Huckster flinging a card and a Mad Scientist with a lighting gun both use the generic "Bolt" power and it's generally up to the GM to determine any situational uses for them (e.g. the card can cut through a rope, the lighting does extra damage against a target soaked in water). Not every magic user can use every power (e.g. Shamans can't use the "Zombie" power).
  • Also on powers, Classic has very specific trappings for powers that you can't deviate from. In the core rules, Hucksters can only attack in one way: with the Soul Blast power, which creates a stream of ghostly white energy. If you want to attack with flaming playing cards instead, you can't do it unless you find the power in a supplement. In Reloaded, there are some guidelines for how power should go, but basically the "Bolt" power is whatever you want it to be: a soul blast, a flaming card, arcane-powered bullets, whatever.
  • Mad scientists in Classic used a hand of cards to invent stuff and could give whatever they created to the party and there tended to not be a lot of restrictions to how it happened. While flavorful, this led to a problem of "gatling pistols for everyone!". Also, mad science weapons required ghost rock or other components as a resource that was tracked. In Reloaded, mad scientists can still create established things like Gatling Pistols for half price and a successful Weird Science roll (no cards this time). Any special weird science powers they have are for their use only. You no longer have to track ghost rock and material components are abstracted out into recharging power points.
  • Classic Hucksters were required to use a subsystem called "deal with the devil" to get a certain poker hand in order to cast powers. In Reloaded, they can still do that, but they have a limited pool of power points to safely cast spells as well. When that runs out though, they'll have to pull out the cards.
  • Reloaded Blessed work pretty much the same, although they've become a bit more powerful in that they get access to about 20 powers right off the bat and just have to pray real hard to get them to go off successfully.
  • Shamans in Reloaded use the standard power points mechanic and, although they still have to in-game devote time to rituals, they no longer have to roll to see how successful it was; they just do it.
  • The Enlightened (Kung-fu chi mastery monks), Voodooists, and Whately blood magic users, all of which were introduced in the Classic supplements, are now a core part of Reloaded (with Voodooists and Whately blood magic users being modified Blessed and Hucksters respectively).
  • Hexslingers (basically gunslinger Hucksters) were introduced in a supplement as a new Arcane Background in Classic, but in Reloaded are specifically cited as being mechanically the same as Hucksters, just with different power trappings (so "Bolt" is a mystical six-gun rather than flinging a card or a soul blast).
    • In 2015, Pinnacle released the Stone and a Hard Place plot point campaign which added Hexslingers as a unique Arcane Background distinct form Hucksters. Their big schtick is that they can cast gun-affecting powers as a free action (e.g. aim, smite) and can only use magic so long as they have their gun.
  • The Hexarcana Classic supplement introduced Metal Mages, which were a few new options open when a character took both Arcane Background: Huckster and Arcane Background: Mad Scientist. In Savage Worlds in general, characters are not permitted to take more than one Arcane Background, so the only way to make such a character would be to pick one or the other and just skin the trappings to fit.


The metaplot for Classic began in 1876 and got to 1878 by the end of its run. Reloaded begins in 1879 and has recently gone to 1881 in recent supplements. The only major difference in status quo between 1876 and 1879 is that the Civil War has officially come to a stalemate and the fighting has ceased. Also, the Pinkertons formed into The Agency in 1877.

It's also worth noting about the changing role of the metaplot. In the original version of Classic (the one that was all-in-one with player and Marshal stuff in the same book), the metaplot was front and center. The book began with "The Prospector's Tale" that explained several things about what is really going on, giving metaplot info to both players and Marshals. Pinnacle thought that Deadlands would be a relatively short run, so they intended to make the metaplot the focus of the story (and have the metaplot conclude with the sequel setting Deadlands: Hell on Earth).

As Deadlands became more popular and Pinnacle decided to continue the line, they shifted the metaplot from player and Marshal knowledge to Marshal knowledge only. In the Revised & Expanded version of Classic (which split the player's section and the marshal's section into two books, with added information from The Quick and the Dead), the previous introduction was replaced with a more generic description of what most people understood about what was going on (i.e. nothing supernatural) and the metaplot stuff was moved to be Marshal only. Still, most supplements had a Marshal's section that progressed the metaplot in some way (almost always minor and off-camera), with some books like Black Circle being almost exclusively metaplot.

Pinnacle has done more or less a 180 on this with Deadlands Reloaded. While they have not disregarded any of the metaplot that has been established, they've made it take a back seat, some of it having faded into obscurity to never be mentioned again. I think they realized that most of the metaplot had a lot of cool stuff happen off-screen, but didn't really work into a campaign with a posse of six adventurers. So they basically made it a "take it or leave it" approach.

The Reloaded Marshal's Handbook has less metaplot in it than the Classic, Revised & Expanded Marshal's Handbook and the real struggle of what's going on is far less detailed. Also, the Weird West is a bit more static than it used to be: as I understand it, only the four Plot Point Campaigns, which are mega-campaigns for a posse of 4-6, are going to affect the metaplot. Two out of four of these Plot Point Campaigns have been released and right now it seems they are releasing one every 2-3 years.

So which is better?

First off, the Revised & Expanded Deadlands Classic player's guide came out in 1999 (15 years ago as of this writing). All of the Classic books (except for the first printing all-in-one core book and The Quick and the Dead since they were replaced by the Revised & Expanded edition) are still available in PDF form on DriveThruRPG and in both print and PDF form on Pinnacle's web store. But if you want a system that will have new content coming out or you want to purchase exclusively from your FLGS, Classic won't be a good choice.

It's also worth noting that it will be much more difficult to find players who have played Classic before and learning a new system may be a barrier to some players. Since Deadlands Reloaded is just an addon to Savage Worlds, any player of Savage Worlds will be comfortable playing Deadlands Reloaded, so you'll have a much easier time finding players (and if they do need to learn the system, knowing that they can use it for other settings may interest them). Note that Deadlands Reloaded came out before Savage Worlds Deluxe, the most recent version of Savage Worlds, so print out the free Deadlands Deluxe-ified for rules updates (mostly just adding a bunch of new powers).

Assuming you have access to both, the general consensus I've heard with both is the following:

  • Classic is more flavorful and deep. Reloaded is more intuitive without all of the character options that weren't worth taking.
  • Classic has combat that is more interesting, with things like hit locations, stun damage, and more interesting ways of being injured. Reloaded has combat that is more streamlined and goes by the mantra of having characters be "up, down, or off the table"
  • Classic characters feel more powerful. Reloaded characters feel more versatile.
  • Classic has magic users each with their own subsystems that make them mechanically feel unique. Reloaded has magic users with more or less unified mechanics that make them feel more balanced and easier to learn and GM (with Hucksters retaining the unique "Deal with the Devil" subsystem).
  • Classic, being designed from the ground up as a western, better replicates the genre. Reloaded, being based off of a minis game, is much faster and has far less bookkeeping, with less work for the GM.

The Creator's Description of Which is Better

As a parting thought, here's what Shane Lacy Hensley, creator of both Deadlands and Savage Worlds, has said about the biggest difference between the two (taken from The Making of Savage Worlds):

On Deadlands

The original Deadlands was built from the beginning to simulate “The Outlaw Josey Wales” type action. A few rounds of gunfire takes big chunks out of people and ends up with someone in Boot Hill. But a big fight with 20 Black Hats, 5 player characters, and a couple of NPCs we talked into soaking up bullets for us can take a while. If you know what you’re doing you mark wounds with chips, count down the cards fast and don’t let people take too long, but you’re still looking at about two hours for a fight the size described above.

On Savage Worlds

At the end of the night [of one of the first Savage Worlds games], when we were all kibitzing about how cool the game was, the comment everyone kept making was how awesome it was that the game handled a huge firefight with 20 combatants with machine guns blazing and explosives flying—and at the same time handling a very detailed scuffle between two individual combatants (the fight between the medic and Doc Bronx).

We started about 7PM, made characters, had two big fights, took our time doing some awesome roleplaying with the NPCs of the villages and between our own characters, and chatted for at least an hour about the last of a few cool GM rules we’d been playing with. All by midnight.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for such an in-depth answer. I don't think there is anywhere else on the web that provides this much detail about the systems, not even the "Making of" article you link to. \$\endgroup\$
    – MEP
    Apr 25, 2015 at 1:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Outstanding response, thanks! I have the original classic book, but was trying to decide whether to run it or run Reloaded. I guess I'll look into Savage Worlds... \$\endgroup\$
    – user29991
    Jul 4, 2016 at 16:56

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