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.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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?

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