5 out of 5 rating for Deadlands Reloaded: the Flood
Wild West tabletop games have a long history dating back to the hobby's origins, although the first major one with supernatural elements came out in the 90s. Deadlands soon became a popular franchise, eclipsing older and contemporary Western RPGs in the marketplace. In spite of this popularity the line had its share of hiccups, one of them being rather railroady adventures and an NPC-centric metaplot.
When the line revived in 2006 to make use of the new Savage Worlds rules, the writers at Pinnacle Entertainment sought a new way to distinguish Deadlands Reloaded from its Classic predecessor. The Flood was the first in what would become known as the Servitor/Reckoner series of Plot Point Campaigns, independent full "zero to hero" tales pitting the PCs against one of the setting's four major antagonists. Each villain served one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and for the Flood our major villain is Reverend Grimme, leader of the cannibalistic Lost Angels cult in a Famine-ravaged California.
The sourcebook itself is split into several parts. The first is a PC-friendly section of new equipment, Edges, and other material to help make characters iconic to the region. Due to California's high amount of Chinese immigrants, we have many options for practitioners of martial arts. We have a few options touching on other aspects, such as starting play owning a ship specialized in sailing a West Coast shattered apart by the Great Quake of '68. Most of the material is balanced, with only a few options being too weak or situational that they can't serve some common build or purpose.
The second section of the book is an overview of California, showing off locations as well as new setting-specific rules. The latter includes such gems as the risk of turning into a monster for indulging in cannibalism and inflated prices on all goods due to unreliable trade routes and supernaturally accelerated rot in foodstuffs. Said inflation can be downright debilitating, increasing the price on all goods by five to eight times the amount. While meant to keep PCs on the edge of sheer survival, it kind of clashes with the fast action, larger-than-life pulp feel of Savage Worlds.
The locations themselves are diverse. We get an overview of the creepy, authoritarian city of Lost Angels, the port of Shan Fan dominated by warring gangs of Triad, strange locations to explore such as the Sunken City of San Diego swarming with monstrous hybrid fish-people, or the strange mining town of Dragonhold where an eccentric showman charges tickets to people to feed a captured Maze Dragon. There's a blend of Western and Wuxia tropes: we have the classic "honest settlers in need of help" such as the Big M Ranch being menaced by Lost Angels for being competition for their food supply. But we also have a monastery of Shao Lin monks making (non-lethal) raids on ghost rock quarries for said resource's rumored propensity for feeding off of souls. Even if you don't run the Flood campaign itself, the rest of the book has enough material for many sessions of fun.
My only major criticism for this section is that the most prosperous Chinese communities in the Maze are run by the New Tomorrow Triad, whose main goal is the giving up of their culture for wholesale assimilation into white society. When you contrast this with them being the only 'good guy' Chinese faction in the adventure, and going against Deadlands' standard assumption of a colorblind West, it gives the impression that the New Tomorrow communities succeeded and broke off from the more criminal Triads because they started "acting white."
Afterwards we have the Flood Plot Point Campaign proper and the accompanying Savage Tales chapter, the latter of which provides a list of side quests to be run between portions of the main story and both chapters tie into each other quite nicely. The first few adventures in the Plot Point detail the PCs ending up on an underground railroad managed by Dr. Hellstromme as his "secret project" into winning the Great Rail Wars. After some close calls with subterranean monsters, the crew ends up at the City of Lost Angels and thus starts an all-out-war with the other rail companies to gain exclusive right-of-way. After the bad doctor brings a decisive end to the conflict with a literal ghost rock nuke and the PCs earn the enmity of the Cult of Lost Angels, the party finds a new employer in the Twilight Legion. The Legion is a secret society of monster hunters and do-gooders tasked with putting a stop to the supernatural corruption that has befouled the world as of late. Said group runs covert messages via a Help Wanted section in the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper to tip off members to people and places in need of aid.
In fact, there's a nifty in-game handout detailing newspaper-style advertisements for just about every Savage Tale in this book. This is a great way to both provide player autonomy while also tying in a good explanation for how and why PCs would pursue leads all over California.
The rest of the Plot Point involves the PCs helping out Explorer's Society members and their allies in uncovering more plots of the Church of Lost Angels, along with discovering a means of permanently putting the immortal Reverend Grimme to rest. Such adventures include a cool investigation in Shan Fan and tangling with the local Triad, a break-in of Lost Angels' infamous island prison which is sadly underwhelming, saving an Indian shaman from a wicked rival cult in a creepy trap-filled cave, and an open-ended infiltration into a literal graveyard of undead to find the skull (and thus spirit) of said shaman's mentor.
What follows after may be the most controversial part of the Flood: after experiencing a vision of Grimme's origin, the party learns that the Reverend and his inner circle meet once per year at their city's cathedral to renew their unholy pact. Their reign of terror can be put to an end if a flood of epic proportions is triggered to kill them all at once and destroy said cathedral. In order to bring about this Biblical deluge, the PCs must find and mark with human blood seven ancient petroglyphs bonded to earth spirits scattered throughout California. Sample locations are provided for the glyphs, along with with Savage Tales that can point the PCs in the right direction or even award them a glyph upon completion.
On the one hand, the Glyph Hunt arc of the Flood is a great customizable toolbox of side adventures to give the party an excuse to go all over California and perhaps run into other adventures along the way. On the other hand, the adventure is very insistent that the Flood must be what kills Grimme and his inner circle, in spite of the massive civilian casualties this would cause. As the book set up Dr. Hellstromme as a villain for doing the same thing but with Mad Science, this feels thematically inconsistent and railroady with the rest of the book.
The plot point's final adventure is an epic showdown between Reverend Grimme and his minions, with them and the party in front of the Lost Angels cathedral. Although I have yet to run this part, it reads as both difficult and high-stakes, and in fact is the only Servitor Series adventure where the PCs have a direct hand in the destruction of said aforementioned villain.
Afterwards we get an entire chapter of over 20 Savage Tales. They run a diverse assortment from short encounters to entire mini-plots with their own adventures spanning the gap, and include straightforward fights as well as role-play and investigation. They are spread out around California and showcase the state's many factions, which keeps things interesting and varied. One Tale may have the PCs go hunting for an undersea monster menacing ships, another may have them appointed deputies to oversee a contentious local election, and a third may have them put a stop to a diabolical Russian nobleman feeding off the blood of his serfs!
Our final section of the Flood details new monsters and NPCs, with a bit of a bias for the latter. The monsters are a bit situational, being suited to certain plots or environs such as Chinese Ogres and ceramic Tomb Guardians. The NPCs include useful generic and specific stats for the Lost Angels hierarchy, and various famous faces PCs may fight alongside or against during the campaign's course.
Overall, the Flood ranks highly. Its strong points include a thematic setting, healthy diversity of locations and quests, and a strong lead in the Twilight Legion for do-gooding and replacement PCs in spite of a weak and railroady beginning. I did some work changing the adventure for my home campaign, but most of the material was just fine to be used as-is.
If you had to buy and/or run one of Deadlands' Plot Point Campaigns, the Flood should be your first choice.