Deadland for FATE – Card-Based Mechanics

The order of operations always starts with Spades, then Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs in that descending order. In terms of card value, Aces, then the face cards (King, Queen, Jack), then the numerical cards in descending order. Always.


This is one thing I definitely want to keep, especially since it rolled over into Deadlands: Reloaded for Savage Worlds. Rolling for initiative gets you dealt a number of poker cards—at least one, and possibly as many as five—depending on your roll. Initiative starts with the highest card (Aces or Jokers) and moves down, according to suits and card values. (One of many reasons why you need 3+ poker decks to run this game, and why I say it has a ton of awesome but disparate mechanics). You keep these cards a secret, so nobody knows how the initiative order will break down. You might luck out and get a string of face cards, a bunch of low cards, or you could get a scatter-shot selection from across the deck.

FATE generally relies on Alertness or Empathy for initiative, depending on if it’s physical or social combat being established. It also ranges up to an effective total of 13 (+8 skill, +5 die result) for super-powered characters. Deadlands uses Quickness, as I recall; the closest FATE analogue is Athletics, and while similar, it’s not quite there. And Deadlands has a higher skill cap: rolling 4d12 enough will result in at least one of them Acing, so you have a good chance of making rolls upwards of 15.

So with that in mind, initiative could be determined something like this: rolling the relevant skill (Alertness, Empathy, maybe Quickdraw if you include it) and comparing the table below.

+d6-d6 Effort     # Action Cards
Up to 3                  1
4-6                      2
7-9                      3
10-12                    4
13+                      5

At least it makes sense to me. The idea is that you start getting more cards after you generate Spin, and for each three—as in, each additional Spin—you generate. A starting level character with Alertness at +1 will need to roll at least +3 to get a second action card. Someone with Quickdraw +3 will need to roll a zero to get stuck with one card, and needs just a +1 on the dice to get a second action.  (You might want to bump the required Effort down by one step for 4dF since its rolls are lower due to that bell curve—so you’d have Up to 2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, and 9+.)

Rolling a zero still nets one card, I should note. Also, going Bust on initiative draws? Bad mojo; you get one action, and get to go last, if the Marshal lets you go at all. Those pesky negatives.

Double-dork if you know who’s playin’ poker right here.

Now that you have your cards, how do you use them? Each one you get is an action in the round; the person with the highest card passes that card in and goes first, then the person with the next highest card, then the person with the next highest card, and so forth. When nobody’s got cards left, if there’s still action to be done, re-roll initiative and deal out those cards. Again, they follow the same order of operations at the top of the page as everything else.

The exceptions to the standard order of operations are Jokers. Black Jokers are immediately put back in the deck, leaving you with one less action this round—bad luck bones you in Deadlands. Red Jokers can be spent to go at any point during a turn—you could go first, or interrupt a bad guy’s action. Downside is, you can’t hold Red Jokers up your sleeve—more on that later. The GM can use the Black Joker as a Red Joker, just because they’re cool like that.

One more time, let’s look at a standard action draw and see the layout:

Anne gets the Nine of Hearts and the Red Joker.
Bob is dealt the Ace of Spades, the Seven of Diamonds,
and the Five of Clubs.
The GM has the Ten of Diamonds, the Nine of Clubs, the
Eight of Spades, and the Five of Diamonds. (Lot o' 
cards. Being the GM has its perks.)

The initiative order would be as follows:
Red Joker - Anne, who can go when she wants
Ace of Spades - Bob
Ten of Diamonds - GM
Nine of Hearts - Anne (Hearts trumps Clubs)
Nine of Clubs - GM
Eight of Spades - GM
Seven of Diamonds - Bob
Five of Diamonds - GM (Diamonds also trumps Clubs)
Five of Clubs - Bob

Of course, none of them will know this at first since
they're keeping their cards secret. But that's the 
order in which their initiative will end up.

One more bit, holding cards Up Your Sleeve—sideboarding them for a later event. You don’t have to spend all your action cards, and can choose to forego an action to put the card “up your sleeve;” if you do, you get to spend that action card in a later initiative challenge.  You’re short-suiting yourself now to be a little stronger next time. Pick your battles wisely.

The Starting Draw

Initially I was thinking of sticking with just the FATE skill pyramid, but I’m also wondering about how easy it is to replicate the Classic Deadlands stat draw. Basically, you draw 12 cards from a deck of poker cards, then discard any two that aren’t Deuces or Jokers. What cards you draw determines your stat values, and are assigned to your ten statistics: the card value gave you a die type, and the suit gave you a certain number of them.

So, each stat consists of a number of dice, as determined above. A Deuce of Diamonds would give you 2d4 for an attribute, while a Queen of Spades gives you 4d10. Classic Deadlands uses these dice pools to roll for skill checks; roll all the dice in a pool (e.g., Cognition rated at 4d10 sees you rolling four ten-siders for Cognition checks), re-roll any that Ace (e.g. roll their highest value, like 6 on a d6) while summing that die’s total. Then take the one highest die you rolled, compare it to the Target Number (TN), and count by how far you surpassed it. (So, for 4d10, you might roll 4, 7, 10+6, and 10+10+3. You’d want to take the last one since it Aced twice for a total of 23; against a standard tough difficulty of 9, you just made three Raises, which rocks out.)

That’s not that hard to convert to FATE; it’s a total of five different steps, so each one could represent a different +x skill modifier. If you wanted to do away with the pyramid, you could end up with a drawing chart like this:

  Draw 16, Drop 2     Draw 12, Drop 2     Draw 8, Drop 2
      Again, you can't discard Deuces or Jokers.

Card       Result    Card       Result    Card       Result
Deuce        +1      Deuce        +0      Deuce       +0
3-8          +2      3-8          +1      3-10        +1
9-Jack       +3      9-Jack       +2      Face Card   +2
Queen-King   +4      Queen-King   +3      Ace/Joker   +3
Ace/Joker    +5      Ace/Joker    +4

I’m not sure I’d do that, since you could easily end up with a stack of characters who have a bunch of +2’s but no high or low stats—on the middle chart, that’s 24 chances to draw a +1, while only 12 to draw a +2, eight for a +3 and six for a +4. Superb characters also have a higher chance of ending up with Deuces or pulling Jokers because they’re drawing so many cards. But it sure is tempting; the balance would work out to be about the same as in Deadlands, which put high value on high skills since most characters were saddled with d6s and d8s—enough to pass low difficulties, but not enough to thrive in the the horror/survivalist setting.

The number of skills aren’t too out of whack; with the standard skill pyramid, Superb characters have 15 starting skills in most FATE, while Great have 10 and Good have 6, and Dresden often starts them out with 15+ from working on pillars instead of a pyramid. If I had to go with the above systems, I’d opt for the middle one.

Why can’t you discard Deuces? Because they’re Bad Luck; when Fate frowns on you, you’re stuck with suck. What about Jokers? Those give you a Mysterious Background, which depends on both the Joker and the specific draw—I’d just use the draw system in the Deadlands Marshal’s Guide, and turn them into Disadvantages ala Bulldogs! E.g., negative Aspects that always start a compel escalated, can’t be bought off, and stick with the character until they’re dead (past even that if they end up Harrowed). (Or just plain old positive Aspects, if the PC drew one of the good ones.)

Harrowed & Hucksters

Speaking of Harrowed. Dying in Deadlands—specifically, in a Deadland, or a place with a high fear rating—gives you a high chance of coming back as a Harrowed, or walkin’ dead. You gain a bunch o’ scars, from whatever killed you, and while your heart stops, you don’t. That’s because a manitou takes over your body and reanimates it. In most cases, the Harrowed starts off barely in control of the manitou, though sometimes the manitou ends up in charge. Turning into a Harrowed comes after the Marshal draws a card at time of death and judges the results, but I’ll deal with that when I get to Harrowed.

Hucksters also have a lot of card-based mechanics; their deal with a manitou involves a poker draw, gambling bits of their soul for magical power. Winning the poker draw lets the spell go off as planned, but the neat thing is that you actually draw a poker hand to determine your spell’s effectiveness—you could end up making the best poker hand out of seven or eight cards. Again, something I’m going to get too later, but I’m looking at making Gamblin’ an active, effective part of Huckster casting. Never made sense why, when gamblin’ with the devil, Hucksters never need to roll Gamblin’.

So, bear in mind, a few more posts coming. (More if people actually comment on these what aren’t spambots.) On top of that, have a list of Aspects/Stunts which were the first things I converted over a year back, and from which this whole project originates. I’m still unsure I’d go with a Dresden Files hack for Deadlands—that’s way too much to convert, and I already know Classic Deadlands pretty well—but if I don’t use any of this, perhaps someone else can.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s