Game Mastering
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ID: 1748


January 19, 2006, 1:17 pm

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Wild West - A Genre Untapped


Of all the published roleplaying games, we have a huge number of fantasy games, a good number of sci-fi games, a smattering of modern and modern variation games, but very few of anything else. The Western is an Epic Genre in the bookstore. There are shelves and shelves of them, nearly as many as the science fiction section (minus Star Trek and Star Wars books). You would think it would be popular. There are only a piddling number of western games, and none are very successful.

Of all the published roleplaying games, we have a huge number of fantasy games, a good number of sci-fi games, a smattering of modern and modern variation games, but very few of anything else. The Western is an Epic Genre in the bookstore. There are shelves and shelves of them, nearly as many as the science fiction section (minus Star Trek and Star Wars books). You would think it would be popular. There are only a piddling number of western games, and none are very successful.

This thread is to collect things that might be useful to those who are running western games or games in a western setting.

Additional Ideas (6)

Deadlands is a Wild West game put out by Pinnacle Entertainment Group
It uses cards rather than dice. I've only played it three times and thoroughly enjoyed it. The rules system seemed simple enough, the highest card got to go first, you used up your cards to perform actions. They've also made a parallel game that is set in the near future diverged from thier altered past.

The storylines were cool. California fell into the ocean and the indians had enough magic to push back the settlers, lincoln was still shot, but came back as an undead and fought off whatever was possesing him, there's this super coal that might hold the spirits of the dead... Neat stuff.

2005-11-22 11:59 PM » Link: [1748#8228|text]
There are a dozen or so of Western Games out there. Most of them don't have a huge fanbase so they tend to fade away.

Ones of Note:

Western Hero. There is a western sourcebook for the hero system. It was for 4th edition, but everything in the book is applicable for 5th edition hero rules.

Desperado: A very cool little game. The rules were written in that broken western drawl.

Boot Hill by TSR. The first and nearly the best western game ever created. Very old game, as it was made in the late 70s, but there are still people playing it.

Werewolf: The Wild West Werewolves in the old west. It has a lot of great tropes that play out well here. Certainly the best WoD set in the past books.

Wild West (FGU): This is a great old time game from FGU. The mechanics can get a little strange, but it works pretty well.

Dogs in the Vineyard: While it never says it, it truly is The Morman RPG. Set in the early colony in The Land (UTAH. Add a bit of supernatural.

Tyranosaur Tex: A sci-fi western game with dinoryders.

Yes there is a GURP - WILD WEST, but it is not their best effort.

Other Games
Sidewinder d20
Sidewinder Recoiled
OGL Wild West
Coyote Trail
Gunslingers: Wild West Action!
Dust Devils: A fun little indie game

2005-11-23 12:00 AM » Link: [1748#8229|text]
There is one problem with Western Games. It is not the genre, it keeps reoccuring and is always popular to a point in the public eye. It is not the mechanics, they run the same gamut as regular game mechanics. It is not the game companies, because big and small game companies have made these games. It is the campaign aspect.

Anyone can design and run a western adventure or scenario. We have all see the shows and movies, we know about what to expect, and what to do, and so we can put together a western scenario. The trick has always been... running a western campaign.

Western stories center around the character changing (hopefully growing and learning). There is only so much change a character can endure before it stops having the option to adventure.

It is keeping the game fresh, the characters intersting, and the game still a western. The tropes for a pure western game are limited and with only so many possible variations, they can only be repeated so many times before it gets old.

An aside: this is why Deadlands and X-West are great western backgrounds. They have all the western tropes and add the horror and superhero tropes respectively. They multiply the options you have and make for a longer sustainable campaign.

The most success traditional western game will not be successful because of the mechanics or somesuch, it will be successful because it will provide all the information and techniques for the GM to sustain a western campaign.

2005-11-23 12:01 AM » Link: [1748#8230|text]
A series of Western Oneshots does not normally fly with the several gaming troupes I have tried this with. A single oneshot or scenario, everyone is happy with. But most gamers jump from that to a campaign, not wanting what is inbetween. And to honest, I am one of them.

2005-11-23 12:01 AM » Link: [1748#8231|text]
Just for the record: I am all for mixed genre games. In fact, I was doing horror investigation/ espionage in 1980.

So to have a mixed western game, we need to define the tropes of a western. For all those who have no idea what a trope is, it is the archetypes or rules for a genre or type of fiction. Horror and romance writers have some very specific rules and archetypes that define their genres. If it follows the rules, we recognize it for what it is. You can have a Romance, set in the old west, or A Western with a romance in it. See the difference?

This is not a comprehensive list of Western Tropes, but I do aspire.....

Frontier- Civilization has not yet reached her yet. A "Western" set in St. Louis in 1860, is not a western because you are part of the civilized world there. A Western set in Denver or Colorado City in the 1880s would not be a western because really, they were only barely frontier cities at that time.

The Wild: The frontier is a wild place, filled with nature... grand vistas, untouched lands, places no (white) (hu)man has ever seen.

The Tide of Civilization: The pressure of "civilization" and all its issues is present. Somewhere, someone wants to bring more civilization there.

Rugged Individualist: This is the John Wayne character. He is the "ideal" of the West: Strong, Rugged, Brave, Idealistic, and his "own man".

The Horse: A symbol of the West. Even if the Train was present, the Horse was how you got around. This symbol could be mutated in a mixed genre, as long as you had an equivalent.

The Hand Gun: The Personal Weapon. The sword of the era.

Gunfight/ Duel: The Climax of every great western, is the showdown between the white hat and the black hat. Even if there is a big shoot out, there is always a climactic moment where the protagonist white hat and the antagonist black hat go at it.

Fight for Justice: A western story is most often about a fight for justice, to right a wrong, to make it right, or some such. While Law might be a bit more than they want, they want justice for the wongs done.

Idealist: This is your settler, or farmer, or shop keeper. They moved out West for the opportunities to make a new life for themselves. They also like to bring civilization with them... but not too much... as then those great opportunities fade away.

Gunfighter/ Gambler/ etc who can not retire. These people are constantly pushed by their own reputation, people keep challenging them, so they can't settle down without their past coming back to haunt them.

Thoughts on this? Have I got it?

2005-11-23 12:02 AM » Link: [1748#8232|text]
Someone else's take on the Tropes things


Cattle Police
Little Boy/Girl
Mexican Army
Federal Agent
Indian Agent
Scout - white or indian, or maybe even black.
Indians (helpful of they are known aggressive types, but not
always, depends on the plot)
Bar Maid
Lord/Don/Owner of the local ranch
School Teacher
Snake Oil Salesman (or some other travelling sales person)
Conmen (see snake oil, but not always the same)
Carpet Bagger (more for southern style)
Bankers (can be a character or just a plot device, or? )
Slaves - Former or even depending on time and place, current.
Slaves are not always black, some asian and irish slaves/in
dentured servants, as well as some Indians (From India) was used
in late western times.
Chinese/Blacks/Irish slaves or semi-slaves (Indebtured). Many
southerners used black slaves from their plantations/stock to
mine california gold from their lands there.
Confederates (former/bandits or refugees?)
Engineers (Train normally, but possible others, like the oil or
water or projects type)
Doctor/Dentist/Snake Oil Salesmen - Kwak or for real
Adventurer/Big Game Hunter
Post Master
Carpetbagger (southern style or ?)
Foreign dignatary (not often)
President or member of current or past administration)
Member of Congress, but not often
Secret Agent (See James West for some ideas, but not always)

Side Kick
Love Interest (Even if not romantically involved)
Dog or other animal non-riding
Deputies/ Posse
Bounty Hunters
Buffalo hunters
Barber/ bathhouse
Telegraph operator
piano player
cattle rancher
sheep rancher
pony express
wells fargo
Spanish Mission monks and maybe nuns
Suttler (general store)
Sule Skinner
Chinese railroad workers
Early Union Organizer
Wainwright (making wagons and like)
(got to remember what some of the professions was doing)

Whore House
Ranch - Sheep/Cattle
Train Stop/Station
Store (General)
Court House
Feed Store/Livery Stable/Blacksmith/Corral
Hacienda/Ranch (And buildings for it)
Undertakers Office
Doctors Office
Post Office
Opium Den (sometimes the same as the Apothecary, some time
separate) Often run by a Chinese doctor.
Assayers office
Land claims office
Wainwrights or Cooper place/shop (one does wagons the other does
wheels or is it pots/pans and like?)

Sheep Herders
Former Slaves - Settlers
Wives Club
Grange/Farmers Groups
Crime Group
Hattfield/McCoy/etc: Any group that might have a natural grudge
against the other, often due to a land or like issues that went
to far. Racial/Religious/Romance and more (Romeo and Juliet).
Sheep Herders
Chinese: Chinese or other Asian group (most often seen in the
western US). Chinese and like can add Eastern elements, such as
the early Tong/Triads and more. But also how they was treated..
Mexicans (Spanish and Non-Spanish).
Revolutionaries (Ponco and Friends and more). Much of the
troubles of the 1840s to 1920 was over Northern Mexican issues,
and land acquisition from Mexico).
Groups, ex-Confeds, like Klan or like type people, or you mean
like the James/Younger/Dalton gangs, who had Mosby or Quamtrille
backgrounds.. True, need not be ex-confedes, can be real ones,
such as they mission in like 1863 to go to California. But they
did not get there to cut off the gold mines..
Mormons or other religious group, most often christian in
nature. Like Black settlers, off to find a land where slavery is
not around, or something like that.
Monestary or like.

Gun slinger
Cattlemen vs Sheep Herders
Sheep Herders vs Farmers
Farmers vs Cattlemen
Farmers vs Sheep Herders or Cattlemen
Miners vs someone? Claim jumpers or ?
Murder or self defense
Locked up wrongy
Defense, sheriff arrests someone and he can not do much until
judge or marshal is in town or army is.
Runaway slave
Burning down the local Chinese doctors house (why many Chinese
doctors houses/work place was strong and nearly bullet proof).
Conflict: Well, hatfields and mccoy, can also means two groups
that do not like each other, to include farmers vs cattle
headers, or sheep herders vs cattle and so on.

Looking for more ideas and such, some westerns are more 1900s,
but could be westerns, sort of.


Foreign elements such as:
- Poncho Vila
- Emperor Maximillian
- Texas/Chiuahua Rebellion
- What is now NW US was once US/British Territory
(Oregon/Washington/Idaho and ..)
As well as foreign trade. California was a nation for a short
time.. Also Russia claimed what is now Alaska, British Columbia,
Washington/Oregon/California coast to San Fransisco and Hawaii..

Corrupt Judge or like? Such as federal agent, indian agent,
sherif and more.
Hum, maybe a list of known clash types as well as scenarios for
classic weasterns?
Cattle/Sheep Rusters
Herders vs the Animals (not common, but more than people think)
Sheriff vs someone, sometimes a good thing, sometimes not, like
a corrupt sheriff in the pocket of the cattlemen, and the son of
the local sheep herder who is in love with the cheif cattlemans
daugjhter or something else, but he faces hanging cause of a
murder or self defense or ..
Like the classic Sheriff besieges in his jail until the Army
gets there?
Railroad vs ... Cattlemen or .. Sheep or Indians or ....

2006-04-25 02:00 AM » Link: [1748#14773|text]
I have never found the system to be a problem when running a western game. Anyone will do. (I would push Hero or Gurps, but that is just me).

A western "one shot" that is a blast and you will probably be able to get your players to do it.

A western campaign... that is where most people fail. It is really hard to maintain that "western feel", especially if you are raised on western movies, in a campaign. (Now if you watch too much Gunsmoke... then it is less of an issue). People want the climax and big finish, they get in the movies. Hard to do that with an ongoing campaign.

A couple of tidbits that worked for me...
1) Careful character creation. Think of it as creating all the characters in a series of novels... you need to plan long range. Character need 1-5 plot lines associated with the characters, plot lines you can pull up and apply as you need over time... not imminent things that must be done right now.

2) Each character needs to be tied to each other and/ or to the place. We have done the "family" thing a couple of times and it works for a while, but I would push the "you are the important people in the town... for now" group.

3) Make sure your players keep interested in the game... keep showing them western movies, or pushing book series on them, or doing wild west re-inactments (Old Town days, Rodeos, etc).

More tidbits coming

2006-01-24 01:08 AM » Link: [1748#11370|text]
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Comments ( 14 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

November 26, 2005, 18:38
Once, I tried to run a Wild West game. Quite to my shock, my gaming group made fun of me and my idea. Yeah, they said, we'll get us a posse and go shoot us some injuns. With that most of the gamers adjurned for a cigarette while I surrended the field and returned to survey the Vampire books.
Voted KendraHeart
December 1, 2005, 1:55
Is there any kind of gaming that you don't know about?
December 1, 2005, 12:22
Ummmmmmm. Let me think. ... No. I don't think there is.
January 21, 2006, 2:27
Advise me, great advisor:
January 21, 2006, 13:05
MoonHunter unleashed (which is kind of funny for a AHWW member).

My Comments
Voted Murometz
July 8, 2006, 13:28
I will be getting all Western-Up-In-Your-Face...soon
July 8, 2006, 14:07
I love westerns, and I love the Wild West genre in general. But I just.. can't.. do it!
July 11, 2006, 22:01
CP: You could always do what I do: Create a Hybrid Campaign. The three western games I have run are not pure Horse and Colt Westerns. They included these elements in with other genres.

1)Hidden Empire: (Western + Sci-Fi Pulp)Beneath the Mesa Hills are a series of caves. In those caves live (human looking) aliens with Flash Gordon-esk technology. The caves are discovered by a good posse hunting some bad guys. The aliens discover there are people up here. Bad aliens align first with the bad guy hunted by the posse and the railroad barron boss. The Cowboys and Sheriff, plus the Alien Princess and plucky sidekick, face off against bad guys with rayguns. Does this seem like a saturday afternoon serial? That what is is.

2) Valleys of Time: I have used this campaign a couple of times now. It still works. Heroes track bad guys into "bad part of deserted area". They fall into the valleys of time. In the most of the valleys there are dinosarus and such. In others, there are slices of history. If you hunt through a valley long enough, you can find a way out to that point in history. (The heroes came in the now entrance). Now they have to play dinosaur games to get the bad guys. Eventually they will become guardians of the valley with Padre Domingo and travel through time. This is a great western game, sixguns vs dinosaurs.

3) X-West: (Westerns plus Late Pulp Era/ Early comic era supers). Xs occured after the civil war (rather than WWII as in most comics worlds). Thus we have a western world which seems fairly normal, but has low powered supers in it... and some steam punk elements because every superhero world has its hyper technology.

In each of these games the players did run "Real Western Heroes and People", in addition to some slighly strange ones. the catch is to enforce genre conventions. Remember the Roll vs Role play submission. Those that acted well in genre, got chips... those that didn't ... well ...eventually got smeared because they could not pull out the cool lucky events that chip wielders could do.
Voted dark_dragon
March 31, 2007, 13:31
I was thinking of something like this recently when I came across your article Moon!

I agree, Western games can offer a good gaming scope, even for long term campaign. For example, Firefly/serenity is basically a western game.

But as you said, the genre could also be homesteading... where the charcaters have to bulid their homes, farms, towns and everything else from what they start with in their wagons! Maybe the campaign intro could see them be trapped in a snowy mountain pass.

Will they go for help?

Will they turn on each other?

Will they become canibals?

How will they deal with their actions in the pass when they finally arrive at their destination? If some guy ate part of your wife to survive, how is it going to affect you when the sun starts shinning again. perhaps this could even turn into some kind of western horror/thriller.

Good sub, wich, with a couple of previous ideas, really got my synapses firing!
July 27, 2007, 10:29
Weird-Western sub coming up this weekend! (emphasis on weird)
Voted Silveressa
May 19, 2008, 0:12
Excellent article and gives some great advice/ideas on what it takes to make a good western campaign that'll last for a while.

So far from my experience, the games that offer something more than "generic western" settings are much more fun to play in the long term and interest fantasy players in. (Deadlands, Were wolf wasted west, Serenity etc..)
Voted valadaar
April 15, 2013, 14:17
Perhaps the best hybrid western I've seen lately is Fallout New Vegas. It has a lot of the tropes plus the post-apocalyptic universe.

This is a great sub !
Voted Kassy
May 20, 2013, 10:10

Once again, we are shown the way by daily comment.

2013, and I agree with you Moon, Western's aren't really that catered for.


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