The tale of Robin McMurphey, a study #Deadlands #RPG

I have been invited to join a Deadlands game. And I thought that since this is a new campaign with new characters it might be interesting to break down all the choices I make when creating the character.

When I get the invite or the urge to play a role playing game the first thing to do is create a character. When I create a character the first thing I do is come up with a concept. Who the character is, what do they do, why do they do it? Where did they come from? I always try to start with this because it will effect pretty much everything else that I do. In an ideal world, a lot of this gets answered as part of a Session Zero. Because in that session, everyone in the party comes up with their characters together. This takes care of any issues with redundancy, or incompatibility.

Once the party considerations are taken care of it is time to get to those questions. Who, what, why, where. When I was asked to join the Deadlands game a while back I wrote up a number of these concepts. It took a while to get the game rolling (pun intended.) And now it turns out that for life reasons I will not be able to attend the Session Zero. The GM will reveal these concepts to the group and ask them which ones they want me to play when I join them. This is their choice.

The party came out with a Circus Strongman, Scientist, and Blessed. So they lacked someone good with a gun and a talker. I decided that the best fit would be one of the concepts I had written up before. Meet Robin McMurphey, Pinkerton Investigator.

Deadlands is  a game that takes place in what is called the Weird West. Picture the old American west of spaghetti westerns, mixed with the Wild Wild West, and then throw in magic and the occult. There is a real presence of the occult and weird things happening in this world. There are Ghost Dancers, Hucksters casting hexes, zombies walking the earth and other weird monsters like actual jackalopes.

In the world of Deadlands, the governments have special organizations that are focused on the dealing with the Occult. The Union has the Pinkertons, a cross between the Secret Service and FBI, without the enforcement powers. They are the ones who show up when something odd happens and fulfill the function of the Men in Black, finding out what happened, then covering up and obscuring the truth.

I came up with a character who would be the Pinkerton equivalent of Fox Mulder from the X-Files. He is the believer, the investigator for whom no story is too outlandish to investigate. He is curious to a fault, and a Law Man, but a tinhorn from the East who will believe anything.

He is very good with his Gatling pistol, and nothing much fazes him. And he would be here to find out if all the stories in the penny dreadfuls are real. And compiling a long dossier of files on his investigations, one that possibly implicates a shadowy conspiracy.


One of the cool things in Deadlands is the character creation process. Some games roll dice to make their characters. And others use point buying systems. But Deadlands uses the drawing of a hand of cards to determine your attributes. You draw 12 cards for 10 attributes and drop the worst 2 cards. The attributes are dice types ranging from 12 to 4 sides, with the number of dice per attribute being based on the Suit. The  favorability of the suits being Spade, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs. Here was my draw:


That was a good draw. Not great, not bad or even average, just good. That picture shows them grouped by Dice type. One side note is that when you draw a Joker it is treated as an Ace of the next card drawn and that could be something good or bad depending on that draw. That works out to:

Red Joker – 3 Clubs – 1D12
Ace of Hearts – 3D12
Jack, 9 of hearts – 3D8
9 Clubs – 1D8
6, 3 Spades – 4D6
8 Hearts – 3D6
To be Spread amongst the following attributes:
Cognition: This is a measure of awareness, senses
Knowledge: Book learning and training
Mien: The social skills and abilities
Smarts: Native wits, common sense
Spirit: Your internal faith and guts
Deftness: Hand-eye coordination
Nimbleness: Speed and agility
Strength: enough said
Quickness: Reaction time
Vigor: Your wind and conditioning
Looking at what my character is I prioritized Deftness and Cognition, to reflect his training as an agent of the Pinkertons. Then Knowledge, Quickness, and Nimbleness came next. Everything else got D6 in various amounts. As this is a Skill based system I also made sure that at least 2 of the abilities that contribute to Skill points got a good dice type. Leading to this:
Cognition 1D12
Deftness 3D12
Knowledge 3D8
Mien 4D6
Nimbleness 1D8
Quickness 3D8
Smarts 2D6
Spirit 2D6
Strength 4D6
Vigor 3D6
The way the Skills work in this system is that you have a number of dice to roll using the ability the skill is under. You get a number of points to spread out amongst the skills equal to the sum of the dice types for Cognition, Knowledge, and Smarts. And our GM gave us an additional 6 points. In addition, I get another 2 points from my net of Advantages and Disadvantages. Which ends up with a total of 34 points.
The next step was to look at the skills and figure out which ones I might need or fit my character. I sat down and made a list of the following:
Scrutinize 3
Search 3
Tracking 3
Academia: occult 2
Academia: History 2
Language: Spanish 2
Professional: law 2
Shootin’ Pistol 3
Shootin’ Rifle 2
Horse Ridin’ 2
Speed Load 1
Sneak 2
Persuasion 3
Faith 2
Guts 2
Fightin’ Boxing 2
I started with 14 Skills. And I evenly split my points among the skills I get 2 points for each skill, with 6 left over to add to a few of the chosen skills. This is a good mix. Very few clues will ever escape his eyes. He is well read with a diverse knowledge. He is fast and very accurate with his pistol. He is trained in the arts of persuasion but is not a smooth talker. And then I altered them around a little based on some of his Edges and Hindrances.
Edges and Hindrances
I mentioned that you can have Edges and Hindrances in this system. Edges are helpful abilities or social attributes. Hindrances cause problems and give the GM tools for stories, but they can give points back for Skills. As you can tell, the choices you make here are a big part of the character building process because these really tell you a lot about your character.
Law Man:
As a Pinkerton Agent, Robin has authority to investigate certain matters, specifically odd things like the occult. But no real authority.
Level Headed:
This means I can effectively get a re-roll on my slowest action in order to move faster when I choose to. I chose this to reflect his training as a Pinkerton.
Like I said earlier, think of this character as a Fox Mulder. He cannot help himself when it comes to trying to solve a mystery. It also can get him into trouble.
Law O’ the West:
My character has a code. Unlike Han Solo, he will never draw first. He never shoots a man in the back. Basically, he’s a ‘good guy’.
Robin ain’t from around here. He is from back east, having grown up reading about the West in penny dreadfuls. He has his training from the Pinkertons, but everything he runs into out here is new to him.
Equipment and others
This is where I might spend a lot of time on equipment and special stuff. But in Deadlands, as a Pinkerton, Robin will not be a player that is centered around his stuff. With a different character type, I might have to worry about spell choice or what kind of science experiment I would be focused on. In a D&D game. I would be thinking about what weapons, armor, other such things.
Because you can get a lot of character expression from what stuff you carry around. Are you dressed in fancy clothes or rags? Is your equipment the best available or the equivalent of dollar store issue? If you are artistically inclined you might even draw a picture of your character (sadly I am not.) But I do like to use figures when possible to illustrate what my character looks like or is dressed up as.
Your Deadlands character starts with $250 (thankfully this game uses US dollars, instead of something odd or the D&D gold pieces so the values make sense.) As a Pinkerton I get my Gatling repeater pistol issued to me, so I only have to buy ammo. And of course I will need a horse and tack, and then clothes.
Horse: $150
Tack: $30
Clothes (fancy): $44.50 (5 sets, watch, new stetson, boots, chaps)
Notebooks: $2
Remaining cash $23.50
Robin would come riding into whatever town the group starts in, with saddle bags with neatly folded clothes, in a new suit, and shiny new hat. Fresh from his Pinkerton training which followed his time at University.
The last part of any character creation process is to create a basic back story.
Robin McMurphey of the Boston McMurpheys was the first in his family to attend college. A Southie through and through, who escaped his poor upbringing to get a superior education. Orphaned when his father was killed in the war, he grew up with a second family that valued his education and made sure he went to school. He is determined to exceed his family roots.
While attending college he came to the notice of some recruiters from the Pinkerton Agency. His family background and his father’s honorable death would help him as he would work very hard to prove himself. Right after graduation he was taken to Pinkerton headquarters where he received rudimentary training. He proved himself very capable and his instructors recommended him for advanced duty.
However, he soon gained a reputation for never stopping when he discovered any mystery. And when working with a secretive organization this caused problems with his superiors. His incessant digging forced his instructors to recommend that he not be assigned to important field work. Instead, he was given instructions to just go out and investigate stories from the penny dreadfuls he loves so much and report back. So Robin finds himself out in the West, with his issued equipment, a set of expensive notebooks and pencils, and a handful of the latest stories, in search of mystery and adventure.
Because of the horror aspects of the Deadlands setting, I also have to write out his worst nightmare.
I am given the job to go investigate reports of odd happenings in the Union Army in Virginia. Where I report to the local commander.
‘The troops have been reporting that a haunted creature has been wandering the forests around here. We need you to find out what it is.’
I dutifully go out into the woods at night. I spend some time wandering until I find a set of tracks. Some creature has found someone and taken it into the woods, dragging it along the ground. I follow the now easy to follow tracks. I track deeper into the woods, until I find a clearing. Lit by pale moonlight there are two figures.
One is laying on the ground, with the other crouched over it. The prone figure struggles briefly and then stops. I pull my pistol, step into the clearing and say,
‘Leave that person be and raise your hands!’
The creature slowly releases the creature on the ground. Rises from the ground, and turns revealing a pale face that I realize is my father, thought dead for many years, but is now an undead creature of evil.
Here is the finished character sheet:
Robin Picture
This has been a lot of fun. Showing how to come up with a character. All the thinking that I put into the process. And it gives me a better sense of how I will play this character.

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