reviews

Deadlands: Horror at Headstone Hill (Savage Worlds) by Pinnacle Entertainment

Write on: Thu, 27 May 2021 by  in Charles' Reviews Read 673

3.5/5

HORROR AT HEADSTONE HILL is a 131 page sandbox campaign for DEADLANDS: THE WEIRD WEST. It is an interesting variant on the previous plot point campaigns because while the ones for Reloaded were primarily about big epic battles with the Reckoners' Servitors, this is designed to be a much more down to Earth campaign where the focus is on protecting a small community from an insidious lurking threat.

The campaign takes place in Wyoming Territory (it won't be a state until 1890), which is symbolic in many ways since Wyoming remains the least populace state of the Union with barely over half a million residents in 2020. This is a very different sort of adventure from the typical Weird West one and seems designed to upend a lot of assumptions about what Deadlands is and is about while also providing the central "small town menaced by supernatural evils" feel.

The similarities are that Tarrytown, Wyoming, is a flyspeck of a burg in the middle of nowhere. It is a Ghost Rock mining town and it is being menaced by dastardly mining boss, Jerem Heaston, who is basically from central casting for stock Western archetypes. Heaston wants all that Ghost Rock and he's pushing people off their land to do it! It's a story that has been done in Shane and Once Upon A Time in the West with equal authority.

The differences is that Heaston Hill (the titular "Headstone Hill") is menaced by an evil forest. Yes, you heard that correctly. In what I suspect will be the most controversial element of this story, Headstone Hill's primarily villain isn't Jerem Heaston but a malevolent corrupted aspect forest that has been awakened by digging its roots into Ghost Rock. In addition to producing an evil Treebeard at the heart of things, it has also developed massive numbers of Pod People that have begun replacing the local townsfolk. I'll have more thoughts on this later.

The good part of this game is that Tarrytown, Wyoming is much like the old Chaosium publications that provided you a hundred or so residents of Innsmouth or Arkham in order to run campaigns that had more than stock characters. If you're looking for a boxed set that can provide you all the characters you need to fill out a campaign ranging from the local school ma'arm to prostitutes then this book will give you what you need.I've mentioned that I think Deadlands runs best with the idea of giving the PCs their own versions of Tombstone or Dodge City to defend from local threats. While it's easy to cross the country fighting evil, moving from town to town, I think the game is stronger if you are defending the locals against something insidious. As such, I'm all about these kind of boxed sets and think Gomorah and Tarrytown are both the best.

Unfortunately, I do have a few minor complaints that bring the score down a bit. The first is the fact is that the villains are a bit on the dry side and that is ironic given that this is one of the rare places in the Wild West that is green, wet, and humid. Heaston is just an asshole and lacks even the occasional humanizing moment that dastardly rich people tended to have in the aforementioned movies. This is even worse than the Screaming Tree that has no motivation than EVIL.

I think the Screaming Tree's lack of characterization is particularly annoying because there's the very obvious angle to pursue with the idea that lumber, mining, and other industrialization is ticking it off. The Wild West has long been associated with environmental themes and the encroach of civilization destroying natural beauty that it seems like making the forest have that as a motivation would be an obvious one. You could also give it a fairly demonic "Legion"-esque personality as it absorbs more and more people into its forest like the Borg. Maybe the player characters find the missing citizens are still alive in pods and can't just burn down the forest. This thing is begging for flavor like Native Shamans imprisoning an ancient evil under the forest or something. But no. It's just evil.

The NPCs are also lacking what I would consider to be some really strong personalities. There's a lot of decent characters here but none of them really leaping off the page like Gomoroh had. Giving the place a Bonnie McFarland or Al Swearengen to balance the setting around might have helped matters a bit. Which is to say the cast is fine but rather normal when Deadlands thrives on providing no end of weird eccentrics. Perhaps its me that the most memorable character is the brothel madame and a guy impersonating an English Lord who is her business partner.

The campaign is pretty good and, frankly, ends in an incredibly downbeat grim way. Even if the players do everything right, the town is way past the point of no return and the best the players can do is give it a mercy kill. It also has the idea of the player characters encountering MORE evil the more good they do as the Reckoners are strong enough to fight back once the heroes have shown themselves to be a threat. Twilight Events are a great addition to any chronicle and illustrates that the darkness is winning in certain places, Confederacy eradication or not. It should be noted that this book comes in both PDF format and boxed set format, which is available through the Pinnacle Entertainment website. I'm fairly sure this was meant to be done in boxed set format and there's many wonderful handouts to enrich the experience with the latter but I bought the PDF version. Judge for yourself which best suits your needs before purchasing.

In conclusion, this is a good supplement for those who want a low key Plot Point campaign base that will end on a bitter downbeat note rather than soaring triumph. Unconventional environment or not, this is a bit more Spaghetti Western than heroic Lone Ranger. I give kudos for the designers for making a setting that is wet, lush, and cold versus the typical isolated arid desert. I just feel they could have added some more twists as well as distinguishing characteristics among the NPCs. Still, the Savage Tales are great and there's a lot to use here. Overall, a solid and entertaining game that could have used a few tweaks but that's only my opinion.

Available here

Last modified on Friday, 28 May 2021 22:34
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.

Website: https://ctphipps.wordpress.com/