Designer's Notes: GURPS Deadlands Conversion Rules

by Michael Suileabhain-Wilson

Initially, I intended to devote this article to a detailed account of how the GURPS Deadlands conversion rules came to be. In the process, however, I learned many things, not least among them that the decisions that make up a short and essentially mechanical piece have mostly to do with boring bits of statistics (I also learned that the wise author waits to have the book in his hands before writing the Designer's Notes, but that's another story). In other words, the rough draft was mortally tedious.

Upon reflection, I thought it would be more fun for all of us to write something to make the book more useful or easier to use. There were no outtakes per se from the development process, but space limitations meant that the conversion rules have only two sample characters: a cowpoke and a huckster. The rules for converting the other special character types -- the Harrowed, the blessed, mad scientists, and shamans -- leave a lot of discretion to the GM and the player, and are in some cases a bit complicated. Examples seem in order.

Therefore, a worked example for each character type follows, with GURPS and original Deadlands stats. They can also work as allies or antagonists for any Deadlands campaign.


Deadlands Version

Traits and Aptitudes

Deftness 4d4
Nimbleness 2d6
Quickness 1d6
Strength 2d4
Vigor 3d8
Cognition 3d6
     Scrutinize 3d6
Knowledge 1d8
     Professional: Politics 4d8
Mien 3d12
     Leadership 1d12
     Overawe 2d12
     Persuasion 3d12
     Tale-Tellin' 4d12
Smarts 2d12
     Bluff 3d12
     Ridicule 2d12
Spirit 3d10
     Guts 3d10
Wind 18
     Brave 2
     Keen 3
     Sand 2
     Voice: threatening 1
     The Stare 1
     Lame: crippled 5
     Stubborn 2
     Obligation: Union Congress 1
     Obligation: daughter 1
Harrowed Powers:
     Arcane Protection
     Cat Eyes 2
     Dark Vision
     Evil Eye

GURPS Version

Total Points: 383

ST 9 [-10]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 12 [20]; HT 13 [30].
Advantages: Alertness +3 [15]; Charisma +2 [10]; Fearlessness +5 [10]; Harrowed [206]; Strong Will +4 [16]; Voice [15].
Disadvantages: Duty (Lillian Stoneman, 15 or less) [-15]; Duty (Union Congress, 12 or less) [-10]; Lame [-25]; Stubbornness [-5].
Skills: Bard-14 [6]; Detect Lies-13 [6]; Fast-Talk-15 [6]; Leadership-11 [1]; Intimidation-15 [8]; Politics-14 [6].
Languages: English-12 [0]
Harrowed Powers: Awareness [15]; Infravision [15]; Knack (3-point Curse) [4]; Magic Resistance 6 [12]; Telescopic Vision 2 [6].

Before the Civil War, Ralph Stoneman was a minor Republican Congressman known mainly for uncompromising integrity and a hot temper, both of which were often inconvenient to the leaders of his party. With the coming of war, however, Stoneman became the foremost Union hawk, soon ascending to the Senate as a major architect of Union war policy. During the Battle of Washington, Senator Stoneman refused to leave the capital. On the second day of fighting, he was struck by a cannonball which robbed him of a leg and of his life. Three days later, Stoneman clawed his way out of a mass grave, changed his clothes, and returned to his office.

Unfortunately for the Union, Stoneman's body is host to a particularly smart manitou. When Stoneman loses Dominion, the manitou doesn't take him on a killing spree. Instead, it introduces legislation: appropriations for mad science, raids against Confederate food supplies, funding cuts for the Pinkertons--any law which might serve the Reckoning. When Dominion returns to Stoneman, he tries to contain the harm he's done; however, to avoid revealing his secret, he has to maintain some sort of consistency.

Besides, the manitou's bills are only a small, if evil, bit beyond what he might have proposed while alive. In the end, Stoneman finds himself advancing the Reckoners' ends whether he has Dominion or not. And as time passes, that bothers him progressively less.

Stoneman's only surviving family is his daughter, Lillian. He is devoted to her; Lillian's well-being is one of the few things which can still evoke the man of principle that Stoneman was in life.


Deadlands Version

Traits and Aptitudes

Deftness 1d4
Nimbleness 1d6
Quickness 4d6
Strength 1d8
Vigor 4d6
Cognition 2d6
     Scrutinize 4
     Search 1
     Knowledge 4d10
     Academia: occult 3
     Languages: Latin 2
     Languages: Spanish 1
     Professional: Theology 3
Mien 3d10
     Persuasion 1
Smarts 1d12
     Bluff 3
     Streetwise 1
Spirit 3d12
     Faith 5
     Guts 4
Wind 18
     Arcane background: blessed 3
     Gift of Gab 1
     Nerves O' Steel 1
     Purty 1
     Sand 1
Tough As Nails 2
     Cautious 3
     Heroic 3
     Squeamish 3
Special Abilities:
     Miracles: Exorcism, inspiration, lay on hands, protection, sacrifice, sanctify.

GURPS Version

Total Points: 213

ST 10 [0]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 12 [20]; HT 13 [30].
Advantages: Charisma +2 [10]; Combat Reflexes [15]; Divine Favor (+2 to reaction rolls) [35]; Fearlessness +5 [10]; Handsome [15]; Language Talent 2 [4]; Strong Will +9 [36]; True Faith [15]; Very Fit [15].
Disadvantages: Careful [-1]; Charitable [-15]; Discipline of Faith (Catholic priesthood) [-10]; Mild Phobia (Squeamishness) [-10].
Skills: Detect Lies-14 [8]; Exorcism-12 [4]; Fast-Talk-14 [4]; Occultism-13 [4]; Professional Skill (Sanctify)-12 [4]; Streetwise-11 [1]; Theology-18 [16].
Languages: English-12 [0]; Latin-12 [2]; Spanish-11 [1]

Father William Leahy was once one of the rising stars of the Boston archdiocese, a brilliant theologian and dedicated worker among the afflicted. However, his vocation was troubled by a persistent feeling that he was somehow not doing the work he was placed on this earth to do. One day, an issue of the Tombstone Epitaph came into his hands. He couldn't bring himself to credit most of its stories, but he felt that the newspaper described a land sorely in need of spiritual balm. He quickly secured permission to travel West and tend to the flock of the frontier.

The West hasn't been quite what he expected. He's discovered that the Western wilderness is populated by strange creatures, and the Western towns by stranger people. He's discovered that while the spirit is willing, the flesh (and the stomach) is often weak. And he's discovered that while faith in the Almighty is a potent thing, it isn't an iota more powerful than the fight against evil requires.

Father William may be found in towns and villages across the Weird West. He rarely stays in one place long; the vague sense of purpose which brought him out of Boston continues to propel him from place to place. He is always willing to join in the fight against the Reckoning.


Deadlands Version

Traits and Aptitudes

Deftness 3d8
Nimbleness 2d8
Quickness 3d4
Strength 1d6
Vigor 1d8
Cognition 2d6
     Scrutinize 1
Knowledge 4d12
     Demolition 1
     Language: German 2
     Mad Science 5
     Medicine: general 3
     Science: biology 2
     Science: chemistry 3
Mien 4d8
     Persuasion 2
     Tale-Tellin' 4
Smarts 3d10
     Bluff 1
     Scroungin' 3
     Streetwise 1
Spirit 2d4
Wind 12
     Arcane background: mad scientist 3
     Dinero 1
     Big 'Un 1
     Greedy 2
     Ugly As Sin 1

GURPS Version

Total Points: 132

ST 9 [-10]; DX 12 [20]; IQ 13 [30]; HT 10 [0].
Advantages: Charisma +2 [10]; Comfortable [10]; Gadgeteer (Quick) [50].
Disadvantages: Greed [-15]; Overweight [-5]; Ugly [-10]; Weak Will -4 [-32].
Skills: Bard-15 [6]; Biochemistry-13 [8]; Botany-13 [4]; Chemistry-14 [6]; Demolition-12 [1]; Detect Lies-12 [2]; Ecology-13 [4]; Fast-Talk-14 [2]; Genetics-13 [8]; Physician-14 [6]; Physiology-13 [8]; Scrounging-14 [2]; Streetwise-12 [1]; Weird Science-16 [20]; Zoology-13 [4].
Languages: English-13 [0]; German-13[2].

Matthias Kedger was an indifferent student until one day, whiling away an interminable chemistry lecture with mental solitaire, he was struck with the revelation of a hangover remedy which would change the lives of his fellow students forever. The experiments which followed demolished a dormitory and adjoining city block, but Kedger's Peerless Temperance Decoction was a success. Several years of study in Germany followed, where his professors told him his theories were dangerous, unsubstantiated, and indeed, outright insane.*

Upon Dr. Kedger's return to his native soil, he attempted to make his fortune selling various innovative medicines and cosmetics to New England high society. However, a series of regrettable incidents led him to recognize the advantages of the itinerant life. Dr. Kedger's Travelling Medicine Show was born.

Today, Dr. Kedger and his assistants move from town to town, concocting and selling the wondrous products of Dr. Kedger's fevered mind. As such, player characters could encounter Dr. Kedger virtually anywhere, and the Medicine Show can provide an endless supply of new toys for the party.

GURPS Steam-Tech has a number of appropriate medicines; alchemical elixirs from Magic or advanced drugs from Ultra-Tech might also work. The Medicine Show could also serve as a refuge for PCs in trouble; if they can persuade someone in the Show to help them out, a group of PCs could easily conceal themselves among the Show's paraphernalia until leaving town. Or a campaign could focus on the Medicine Show itself, with the PCs as Dr. Kedger's assistants and hangers-on; the Show works fairly close to the supernatural in its daily operations, and its traveling nature makes it an excellent adventuring venue.

* The events of the 1860's and 1870's have led many modern universities to appoint an assistant dean in charge of telling unruly scholars that they are mad, I tell you, mad. In more traditional institutions this function is usually delegated to a junior faculty member, like most unpleasant administrative work.


Deadlands Version

Traits and Aptitudes

Deftness 2d8
     Shootin' 1
Nimbleness 4d6
     Climbin' 2
     Horse Ridin' 3
Quickness 1d4
Strength 1d6
Vigor 4d6
Cognition 3d12
     Arts: painting 5
     Search 3
Knowledge 2d12
     Academia: occult 3
     Area Knowledge: Great Maze 4
     Language: English 3
Mien 3d4
     Leadership 1
Smarts 3d10
Spirit 1d12
     Faith 3
     Guts 3
Wind 18
     Arcane Background: shaman 3
     Level-Headed 5
     Luck O' The Irish 5
     Keen 3
     Nerves O' Steel 1
     Veteran O' The Weird West 0
     Big 'Un -2
     Bloodthirsty -2
     Oath -3: repair the rock paintings
     Stubborn -2
Special Abilities:
     Ritual 7: paint, pledge
     Favors: curse, earth speak, medicine, pact, sacred ground, spirit warrior, vision quest

GURPS Version

Total Points: 336 1/2

ST 9 [-10]; DX 11 [10]; IQ 14 [45]; HT 13 [30].
Advantages: Alertness +4 [20]; Combat Reflexes [15]; Fearlessness +4[8]; Initiation 3 [30]; Luck [15]; Spirit Advisor: Bear(all the time) [10]; Strong Will +1 [4]; Unusual Background (veteran of the Weird West) [10].
Disadvantages: Bloodlust [-10]; Fat [-10]; Reduced Move 1 [-5]; Stubbornness [-5]; Vow (repair the rock paintings) [-15]; Vow (aid the wounded) [-10].
Skills: Area Knowledge (Great Maze)-16 [4]; Artist-17 [10]; Climbing-11 [2]; Guns-12 [1/2]; Leadership-13 [2]; Occultism-15 [4]; Riding(horse)-12 [4]; Ritual Magic-20 [32]; Theology-13 [2].
Languages: English-15 [4]; Chumash-14 [0]. Ritual Paths: Path of Health-20 [31]; Path of Luck-19 [27]; Path of Preotection-18 [23]; Path of the Spirit-18 [23].
Rituals: Curse-18 [6]; Earth Speak-18 [6]; Medicine-18 [6]; Pact-18 [6]; Sanctuary-18 [8]; Spirit Warriot-18 [8]; Vision Quest-18 [6].

Most residents of the Great Maze know Seven Clouds Fall as a knowledgeable and amiable Indian guide to most of the major points of interest throughout the Maze. Fewer know her as an artist of considerable skill. Very few know her to be a powerful shaman on a mission.

Seven Clouds Fall planned to spend her life as a craftsman. One day, however, the spirits struck her with a terrible vision. They showed her that the devastation and anarchy of the Great Maze was the best fate that mankind could expect when the earth spirits turned from them. Across the continent, other shamans were bent on maintaining the Old Ways, to prevent the earth spirits of other regions from breaking with humanity. But the chaos resulting from the rage of the spirits of California was spreading across the land, and if mankind was to be saved, California's earth spirits would have to be appeased. Seven Clouds Fall would have to restore the sacred rock paintings Raven desecrated.

This was no mean task. To restore the sacred rock paintings, she would have to locate them, get access to them, interpret their meaning, and ritually restore the paintings. Seven Clouds Fall has often despaired of ever getting it done.

Still, a sacred mission is a sacred mission. Over the years, she has gathered a loose network of helpers. Working as a guide permits her to travel with relative impunity through the Maze and keep an ear to the ground. At any moment, she is gathering leads on a handful of paintings, trying to nail down the location of a few others, figuring out how to safely approach still others, and contemplating the proper ritual to repaint the next painting slated for restoration.

Player characters would be most likely to meet Seven Clouds Fall in her capacity as a guide, or possibly as an artist. She might become an unexpected and powerful ally to a group pursuing the right goal, but she would prove a fickle ally at best. Her interest in the Reckoning outside of its effect on the rock paintings of California is cursory at best; anything which might obstruct her project is an enemy, no matter how commendable that obstruction might otherwise be.

Thanks and Apologies

Dime Novel 1 went to the printer earlier than I expected, and as a result I wasn't able to get the list of playtesters to SJGames in time. Therefore, I'd like to use this opportunity to thank Frederick Brackin, Kenneth Peters, Brett Sanger, Kevin Taylor, and all the folks who contributed to the Conversion Rules playtest. I'd also like to thank Stephen Dedman and Andrew Hackard for answering my many, many questions throughout the writing process.

Article publication date: December 14, 2001

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