Saturday, January 12, 2013

Deadlands, Hucksters, and Hexes...oh my!

Ah wizards.
A genius of pop culture analysis recently said, "Essentially we can break magic type characters down into 3 groups: those who possess inherent power, usually because they are not human; those who gain their power through items, tomes and talsimans; and those who consort with extraplanar entities, like spirits." in an astounding article located HERE.  
Okay, it was me.

An Origins award winning RPG set in an alternate history American West, part of the Weird Western genre and including elements of Steampunk, Horror, Fantasy and a sense of humor (mostly with pop culture references) appeared on the scene in 1996 and immediately attempted to get into every conceivable gaming market with cards, miniatures, dice, and by partnering with other game systems (GURPS, d20) to stay alive, even after the RPG bubble burst in the 2000s.  In 2006 it re-launched as Deadlands Reloaded under the Savage Worlds system (which itself came from Deadlands...again not here to give a history lesson).  PEG inc, the company that publishes Deadlands, and its founder, Shane Lacy Hensely, were smart in the design of the game keeping the general fantasy classes but fitting them to an Old West setting.  To this end there are Fighters (Gunslingers, Soldiers, Braves, etc.), Wizards (Hucksters), Clerics (the Blessed) and even Druids of a sort (Shaman), but as a "classless" system the player could, more or less, be anything he or she wanted to be.  Today we are talking about Hucksters, the wizards of the Weird West.
The classic image of the Huckster.  Note the sparking cards...regardless of type all Hucksters get a hand of "magic" cards for a second when they cast spells.
Deadlands features magic almost entirely of the consorting with extraplanar entities type.  Wizards (Hucksters) do magic "according to Hoyle", as in Edmond Hoyle, the man who wrote the famous book of games.  According to the lore of a game, the background if you will, Edmond Hoyle has a wizard of some skill and he worked out how to do magic and encoded it into his book A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist and then later encoded more thoroughly his learning into a larger book of games.  Hoyle had worked out that working magic was a matter of entreating spirits he called "Jokers" into giving power to the wizard for the working of magic.  He encoded his learning because he didn't want the negative connotations of sorcery leveled on him (the most negative being execution, obviously).  Hucksters have learned, through the study of Hoyle's book(s), how to work magic.  Each edition of Hoyle printed is a little less useful than the one before it due to editing, misprints, etc. as the original wording is part of the code.  These spells or hexes were not too impressive or powerful until after the Reckoning (July 3rd, 1863) when the magic came back to Earth and the history of our world and the Deadlands universe diverge.  
In game terms a Huckster that wishes to cast a spell slips his mind into the Hunting Grounds and engages in a mental duel with a Manitou (spirit).  If the Huckster wins the Manitou is forced to give some of its power to the Huckster, briefly inhabiting the body, so to speak, and casting the spell.  If the Manitou wins bad things happen.  By default the duel of wills is seen as a hand of poker.  It doesn't have to be, however, and each Huckster can have whatever contest he wishes but for the game rules it is poker.
Gal on the left tossin' cards?  Yep, Huckster.  Huckster art is full of the wizards just throwing cards at things.  Hard to express magic in a painting I suppose.
What all of this means is that the Huckster player rolls some dice for the spell he is casting, draws some playing cards, makes the best 5 card hand he can and tries to match it against the minimum hand needed for that spell (or if the spell has variable effects to match one of the needed hands) without failing or getting backlash from one of the two Jokers.  (Hoyle's Jokers are what we call Manitou).   The spells in the game (called hexes) are learned as skills so typically Hucksters put their efforts into learning hexes and not pistols or rock climbing and such.  It's all about balance, right?
Wilder designation Type III: Entreating of Spirits.  See, it's all about the spirits.
I liked that system quite a bit.  The mechanics could get a bit complicated but it was a fresh way to do magic and unlike previous game systems I had played or read about it had a "real world" feel to it.  The player characters not being extraplanar beings, or superheroes, or mutants, or any of those things had to entreat the spirits to work their magic.  The same sort of logic applied to the Blessed (entreating of gods) and Shaman (entreating of good nature spirits vice manitou) although they had their own mechanics for it.  The "personal power" notion did not enter the game until Kung Fu was added and Chi became a factor.  Due to the nature of Deadlands there was not a surfeit of magic swords and armor lying around either (although Weird Science existed) but there were a few "magic" items, called relics, that could be found.  Magic of the Huckster type really was working with the dark forces as people feared and it made for a different but more classical type of wizard.  On top of that the Hucksters had to keep their existence secret for the most part as decent folk don't hold with consorting with evil spirits and the governments of the world tend to frown on such uncontrolled esoteric powers.

In 2006 Deadlands got reloaded for the Savage Worlds system and the Hucksters changed ever so slightly.  In general terms they still cast hexes and still play with fire in the form of Manitou, but now they have a number of personal power points (Savage Worlds is a power point system) they can use to cast hexes without recourse to endangering their souls in a contest with a demon.  The balance to the Reloaded system is that the power points return very, very slowly once spent and are not in large supply.  Sooner or later the Huckster is going to have to "deal with the Devil" as the Reloaded rules call it, and engage in that battle of wills to force a Manitou to give him the power.  
The difference is subtle, but mark it.  In the original game a Huckster has NO personal power.  All power is gained through entreating extraplanar entities.  In the Reloaded game a person has SOME personal power, but probably needs to entreat extraplanar entities.  Honestly I prefer the original version.  It is easier and more reliable in Reloaded to play a Huckster but flavor of the original kept with the most common of the traditional real world forms of magic, which is the entreating and/or controlling of spirits/demons/angels/gods/what-have-you.  
Green smoking glowing cards, dandy gambler outfit...yep, he's a Huckster.  For a group of people that don't want to be found out they sure do all wear the same outfit.  Kind of like robes and a pointy hat.  Most Hucksters "pretend" to be cardsharps.
Unlike the standard fantasy wizard, a Huckster has nothing preventing him from picking up and using a sword, or better yet, a gun.
Just like the standard fantasy wizard he is still completely unable to cast a spell by reading a book.  At least he is not limited due to some arbitrary level system...just how often he wants to risk blowing his head off due to possession or unchecked magical energy.
Not a Huckster, per se, but a Hexslinger...which is a Huckster that specializes in magically shootin' the shit outta things.
I miss the all too brief Hexslinger...perhaps another look?

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