Deadland for FATE – Hucksters

Hucksters are probably the coolest characters to play in Deadlands because of their mystique — they’re like the penultimate manifestation of the con-man gambler, making poker bets against the demonic manitou spirits in order to cast hexes. As such, they rule. (I am pretty biased, since I’ve mostly played Hucksters.) The Huckster calls to the spirits, then makes a poker draw to “gamble” with the manitou. Success means they can channel powerful magic through the Huckster’s body while controlling the manitou; failure means they lose a bit of their soul, or worse, the manitou channels essence into the Huckster’s body uncontrolled and the hex goes horribly awry (usually to the death and destruction of innocents or fellow posse members).

The iconic part about all this is that the player actually makes a poker draw—against a Fair (5 TN) challenge, the Huckster gets to draw 5 cards, and make the best poker hand possible, gaining more cards from Raises. Some hexes have a minimum hand to have any effect, but getting higher poker hands will net an improved result; in other cases, what you draw determines the hes’s effect (for damage or healing, for example).

Rollin’ the Bones

The poker draw is easy enough to transport over. You have a couple of options to give the Huckster enough cards to make a poker hand.

First is to try and keep the Classic style by rolling against a set difficulty—have a target number 3, or higher staggered difficulties depending on how powerful the specific hex is. Matching the difficulty nets 5 cards; each Shift gives an extra card. A Great character with her casting skill at +4 (and what Great character wouldn’t put their casting skill at +4) needs to roll a +3 on the dice to meet the most powerful hex requirements and get the minimal five cards; rolling against the Difficulty 3, getting a +3 on the dice nets them four extra cards, for a total hand of 9.

For staggered difficulties, you could set them around the following. Tricks (the equivalent of Cantrips) would need a 3, or even a 1. Decently powerful hexes could need a 5—so a Superb character would need to not botch to get any cards. Insanely powerful hexes, like rituals and sich, would need around a 7. It’s all a bit high, since most Dresden characters only end up with +5s to throw around, but nobody said starting level characters should end up with the really sick (difficulty 7) rituals. Or maybe they have to make multiple rolls, who knows.

I’m thinking of setting the minimum roll as +3 for hexes (+0 for Tricks) to get the starting five cards, with each shift getting an extra card—someone with a skill at +3 or +4 would end up with a few cards very easily, though it’s easy to end up fudging a roll and seeing a hex fizzle.

The easier way is to just give out as many cards as the character generates shifts, e.g., making the difficulty +0. There’s no guarantee that they’ll get the minimum five to make a poker hand this way unless you give them out as soon as the player reaches a set variable, but on the flipside, with a lot of points in casting it’s easier to end up with a boatload of extra cards.

How Do I Use That!

So, now that your Marshal has set the bare difficulties required to get extra cards… what do you roll to get them? Classic Deadlands only had one skill, Hexslingin’, though I’m coming at it from another direction. Since it’s a contested showdown with the manitou, the Huckster rolls his Gamblin’ (straight out of Spirit of the Century) to beat the manitou; it’s that Gamblin’ roll that determines how many cards the Huckster ends up with.

However, I’m also tempted to keep Hexslingin’ around as a secondary skill. A hex might use the Hexslingin’ value as its base damage, or as its base duration; the Huckster might roll Hexslingin’ to reduce the time it takes to cast a hex, or whatever else the Marshal comes up with. (For example, a Huckster with Hexslingin’ rated at +4 would have: Soul Blast dealing a base damage of +4, Call of the Wild having a base duration of +4, or maybe it could decrease a ritual from A Week to A Few Hours (four steps on the time chart). Something to consider to give everything a base variable to go off.

Alternately, the Hexslingin’ could determine whether the Huckster wins the contest: give it the set difficulty to find if the Huckster wins his gamble, and use Gamblin’ to determine the number of cards they draw. Or, hell, scratch it and just go off of Gamblin’, or drop all the Huckster casting from Gamblin’ and only use Hexslingin’.

Makin’ the Hand

Regardless of how many cards you draw, you then have to make the best poker hand out of them—and the poker hand is five-card stud. The cards you can’t use get pitched; if you drew thirteen cards, you can only use five of them as your draw result. The others don’t count; even if they had some secondary effect due to a Knack/Background or Artifact (Wild Bill’s Deck), if they don’t fit in the hand, their effect doesn’t trigger. Exceptions are anything treated as a Joker, because you can’t get rid of bad luck that easily.

Jokers get their own special note. Both are wild cards, so you can use them as whatever card you want, but that power comes with a price. The manitou can decide to “tweak” the hex a little, depending on the situation. Maybe it goes off as normal. Maybe it buffs an enemy instead of killing them. Maybe the manitou decides that the hex’s best avenue of approach is through fellow posse members. It all depends on the Marshal. Make sure to keep them friendly-like.


Only thing worse than drawing a Joker is Backlash. Backlash occurs when you fail to cast a hex properly; e.g., when you Go Bust and end up with a total Dice + Skill effort zero or less. What’s goin’ down is that somewhere between channeling the manitou and getting the hex off on time, you flinched; the excess power from the manitou races through your body, wracking it in pain, but for some reason you can’t get that power to act as it should. When you get hit with Backlash, you get a free automatic Consequence—the Major Mental one Shaken. The hex also fizzles, so you basically done lost your action.

If your Marshal is feeling extra cruel, maybe you take Mental Stress damage equal to the die roll (three stress on a -3), or worse, equal to your Hexslingin’.


Tricks are a nifty little style of cantrip introduced in Hucksters & Hexes. For the most part, they generate a fixed effect: Groom cleans all the dirt and dust off you, for example. Why does it need a roll? Well, in order to make sure it doesn’t screw up… hence why the roll is so low. As long as you don’t botch on the roll, e.g. end up with total effort 0 or higher, it’s going to go off without a hitch. Failure means you take backlash. Because taking backlash is what the cool kids are doing these days.

Hex Effects

Some hexes have different requirements to cast them, and exceeding those requirements makes the hex better. For example, Soul Blast requires at least a Pair to cast. If you drew Three of a Kind, that’s three steps higher on the chart, and nets you +3 additional damage. Woo-hoo. Others don’t have numerical effects, but increase the hex’s potency regardless: Call of the Wild goes from attracting bats and coyots to summoning bears if you get a high enough hand. Something to keep in mind: the hex can only get better.

Poker Hand Chart

As before, the card hierarchy is the same. Jokers, then Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, then cards of descending numerical value. Spades is top suit, then Hearts, Diamonds, and lastly Clubs.

  1. High Card – unless otherwise noted in the hex description, holding an Ace (e.g., A♦) and nothing better. The lowest possible draw that can still successfully cast certain hexes.
  2. Pair – two of the same card (e.g., 8♣ and 8♦).
  3. Jacks – a pair, Jacks or other face cards (e.g., Q♦ and Q♥).
  4. Two Pair – two different sets of the same two cards (e.g., Queens and tens, Q♥, Q♣, 10♠, 10♥).
  5. Three of a Kind – three of the same card (e.g., three tens, 10♥, 10 ♠, 10♦).
  6. Straight – five cards in numerical order, mixed suits (e.g., 7♠, 8♣, 9♥, 10♠, J♦)
  7. Flush – five cards of the same suit, not in numerical order (e.g., spade flush, 6♠, J♠, 2♠, 5♠, 10♠)
  8. Full House – three of a kind plus a pair (e.g., Aces over fives, 5♥, 5♣, A♠, A♥, A♦)
  9. Four of a Kind – four of the same value card, from the four suits (e.g., A♣, A♦, A♥, A♠)
  10. Straight Flush – five cards in numerical order from the same suit (e.g., 6♦, 7♦, 8♦, 9♦, 10♦)
  11. Royal Flush – highest ranking poker hand, made up of the face cards and the ten, all in the same suit. (e.g., A♠, K♠, Q♠, J♠, 10♠ would be a Royal Flush of spades)

Example – These Rules In Action

So, Rupert wants to go Soul Blast some ornery Abomination on the outskirts of Dodge City. Soul Blast is an attack hex that pierces through the ether to strike the soul of a critter; it requires a Pair or Better to succeed, takes one action to cast, and can hit targets up to 50 Yards/Hexslingin’ level (which I’ll say is five zones for the purposes of FATE combat… not that it matters, the Abomination is lurking in the shadows two zones away). Rupert rolls his Gamblin’ to find how many cards he draws: the dice roll is +5-3, or +2; when added to Rupert’s Gamblin’ skill (+4) it gives a total effort of 6.

The number of cards Rupert draws depends on what the Marshal’s using to gauge difficulty. If it’s draw cards equal to the number of successes, Rupert draws 6 cards. If it’s got a difficulty 3 for five cards plus one per shift, Rupert’ll draw 8 cards. We’ll go with the latter option since that’s the one I’m leaning towards. (Yes, I made a real draw for this using the same ancient, heavily shuffled deck I used years ago for Deadlands, and yes, I pulled a sick hand.)

Rupert draws the following: 5♣, Q♥, 3♣, 9♠, J♥, and the extra cards net him 9♥, 9♣, 10♠, 9♦. He’s damn glad he got those shifts, because those three nines make a bunch o’ junk into a damn fine hand. That’s four nines, or Four of a Kind; none of the other cards amount to a whole hill of beans, so he opts for 9♠, 9♥, 9♣, 9♦, 10♠ as his final answer.

Soul Blast’s difficulty is a Pair; Four of a Kind is seven steps above that on the chart, so the hex is dealing +7 damage. Its base damage is equal to Rupert’s Hexslingin’ skill (+3), for a grand total of +10 damage to the ornery critter out in the wilds. Since Soul Blast overcomes armor and other defenses, that critter is probably cooked—it’s shit out of luck unless it can take Consequences, like what some powerful adversaries can do. Even so, in that case it’d be taking a Extreme (-8) Consequence, and two Physical Stress on top of that. Whuf.

Going the other route, and only drawing six cards, would have rewarded Rupert with 5♣, Q♥, 3♣, 9♠, J♥, 9♥, just enough to beat Soul Blast’s minimum requirement (a Pair); the hex would go off, but only doing damage equal to Rupert’s Hexslingin’ score (+3), which is not nearly as flashy or cool. There is one way around this: the Marshal could allow Hucksters to invoke an Aspect, spend a Fate Chip, and add +2 to the roll. Adding +2 to this roll would give Rupert 9♣ and 10♠, raising the draw three steps to Three of a Kind, for a total of +3 (hand) +3 (skill) or 6 damage. Much better.

Stunts, Knacks, Relics, and Increasing Your Power

Don’t forget that these break the rules in some way, and that by having them, things get even better. Coming up with the following Stunts might not be so out of line:

Dealer’s Choice [Gamblin’]

You’re never happy without a deck of cards in your hands; poker and faro run through your blood. Any time you are dealt a card for any reason, including system mechanics such as initiative and Hexslingin’, you can spend a Fate Chip to discard that card and redraw.

Old Hand [Gamblin’]

Prerequisites: Arcane Background: Huckster

You’ve been around a while, and what you’ve seen of the Hunting Grounds has made you a little more prepared to deal with its dangerous denizens. When you draw cards to cast a Hex, you draw them one at a time, and can stop drawing at any time you like. Downside is, you still need to draw a minimum of five cards. Upside is, with a little luck, you can avoid those pesky Jokers.

There are also certain Harrowed powers that let you draw extra cards, and a Knack (Born On All-Hallow’s Eve) that lets you discard and redraw cards at the cost of a Fate Chip.

Also end up with Relics, such as:

Wild Bill’s Deck

Legend says the old boy was gunned down holding Aces and Eights—the Dead Man’s Hand, because Wild Bill Hickock ended up shot in the back and killed before he got to play it. You got possession of that deck, some of the cards still spattered with a bit o’ blood, and a bit of the magical essence from that fateful dead man.

Power: There’s a chance of triggering the deck’s power on any successful roll where those blood-spattered cards pop up. Whenever you draw a card from the Dead Man’s Hand—A♠, A♣, 8♠, 8♣, J♦, the black Aces and Eights and the Jack of Diamonds—it raises your draw by one step (so holding one of those listed cards turns Two Pair into Three of a Kind; two would turn Two Pair into a Straight). Drawing all five cards within the Dead Man’s Hand is treated as the highest possible draw—a Royal Flush.

Taint: Two downsides to the deck. First is that its owner slowly gains the Dementia: Paranoia disadvantage, thinking about how old Bill was gunned down; you start to envision yourself going in the same way. Second, and more worrying, are reports that Wild Bill has clawed his way out of the earth and is tracking down his twin sixguns—the ones taken off his body at the scene of his murder. If that’s true, it’s only a matter of time before he comes after his cards…

In the example above, if Rupert was drawing from Wild Bill’s Deck and had held the A♠ instead of the 10♠ as his final draw result, it would have raised the hex’s effect by one step—from Four of a Kind to a Straight Flush, bringing even more overkill at +11 damage the poor critter has to soak.

There’s some other artifacts and Stunts to convert, as well as some Knacks and backgrounds, but I didn’t do them yet and I’m lazy, so there you go.

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