System for Old West?

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BlindAudelay

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I stumbled on a complete set of the Old West Time-Life books in my local goodwill the other day. My white whale dream game has been to create an Old West campaign, and now I have all the Appendix N material I could possibly need for historical inspiration.

I'm trying to figure out what system to use.

  • Aces & Eights Reloaded, I've already determined, is far too crunchy for my tastes, time, and energy I can devote to learning another game in my lifetime. It looks like the best Old West RPG on the market, so if this entire thread is full of people saying to get it anyway, well maybe I'll reconsider my stance.
  • There's always GURPS with the Old West supplement that I could use as a starting point. My main concern is finding a group of online players who would be willing to play. (I know nobody IRL who would be down for this).
  • Then, there's Boot Hill 3e, which I already own. I've read it and can grok it well enough.
  • I also own The Great Sierra Verde Campaign with In the Light of a Setting Sun from itch.io, but it seems too light for what I have in mind if I'm being honest.

I'd appreciate any guidance anyone here has to offer, or experiences to share playing Old West games! :smile:
 
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I believe if you search on here for Boot Hill in posts by dumarest, you’ll find the version he likes. He’s the biggest old west fan I know.

I made Mythras Wanted Dead or Alive to do an old west game. It could probably just use Mythras imperative and the firearms supplement. Not sure what your level of crunch is. Mythras isn’t especially light, probably around GURPS, if not a touch lighter in points. Trad game for sure.
 
Welcome to the Pub, B BlindAudelay !
Thank you!
I hear good things about Frontier Scum, though that that maybe more quirky and gritty than you are looking for.
I've heard good things about it, too; especially the physical copy. The layout of the train adventure in the back is genius. But yes, it's a bit more "quirky and gritty" than I'm going for, if I'm being honest. Thanks for the rec, though.
I believe if you search on here for Boot Hill in posts by dumarest, you’ll find the version he likes. He’s the biggest old west fan I know.

I made Mythras Wanted Dead or Alive to do an old west game. It could probably just use Mythras imperative and the firearms supplement. Not sure what your level of crunch is. Mythras isn’t especially light, probably around GURPS, if not a touch lighter in points. Trad game for sure.
I confess that I'm unfamiliar with Mythras. I love the font + color choice of the document that you linked.

I think that I found the thread I think you're referring to. It has pushed me towards using Boot Hill 3e, but I would love to hear other opinions, too!
 
Nobody uses GURPS for the system. :tongue: Or so I hear.

Deadlands as a setting is very much fantastic (and horrific) Weird West, but maybe the rules would work for plain Old West if you leave out all the Weird stuff?
 
The most fun I had in an Old West game was with Boot Hill 3E. OG Deadlands, SW Deadlands, Aces and Eights - none of those really captured the same fun time that BH3E did.
 
Nobody uses GURPS for the system. :tongue: Or so I hear.

Deadlands as a setting is very much fantastic (and horrific) Weird West, but maybe the rules would work for plain Old West if you leave out all the Weird stuff?

I was coming in to suggest Deadlands and also lament on how GURPS seems to be the whipping boy of the RPG community.

As a general rule I'm not a fan of Savage Worlds, but if you were to invest in a new system investing in one that is popular and is supported as a generic system is, for me, a general win-win.

FWIW, GURPS can totally be run "lite". All it requires is a general sense of how difficult things are. That's not going to get someone to play it, though. O.o
 
Aces & Eights is great but requires a level of system mastery on the part of the GM and players due to the way combat works, the count up mechanism is very different than most games (as is the shot clock but that isn’t as big a deal to adapt to). If everyone buys in its worth considering.

I would actually recommend Boot Hill 2E without the skills. Easy to learn, decent module support, inexpensive in PDF and PoD, lots of fun. I have run one shots and short adventures with it but never a long campaign but it can work. Here is a write up on a long campaign using it:

Edit to add no reason Boot Hill 3E wouldn’t work and you already gave it. I tend to see skill systems as hindering players as opposed to enabling them but it is a solid game that sadly never got the support it should have from TSR. Run with it, no reason to waste time looking for other rulesets instead use that time to develop your campaign.
 
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For Wild West games I use Lawmen v Outlaws becasue... I wrote it so it kind of does the things a like and doesn't do the things I don't like; funny coincidence that. It's a very streamline, Fudge-based game. It's strength is in how it plays very fast and reduces the load on the GM while still giving the players enough options to make their characters distinctive. Even if you don't use the system, you might find the adventure generation tables handy. Note it is a vanilla western, with no supernatural or steampunk elements. It is also not particularly gritty or realistic, based more how I remember Westerns were when I was a kid than more modern or accurate depictions.

You can grab a copy here; it's totally free, no strings attached. https://ukrpdc.wordpress.com/2018/12/30/lawmen-v-outlaws/

The other Western game I had success running in Owl Hoot Trail. This a western-fantasy pastiche with OSR derived rules. The OSR to fantasy western conversion actually clever and rather charming.

In my library I also have Wild West Cinema which I haven't played yet but it does a lot of things I like. The rules are quite similar in tone to Lawmen v Outlaws I feel, but worth looking into.
 
If you like Cepheus/Traveller there's "Rider" from Independence Games

Also there's "Western Hero" from Hero games - the recent one is a self contained game.

And of course there's always:

wild west.jpg
 
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There are a lot of options out there, and many of them are good.

If you need help narrowing down the field, maybe post some games that you like, as well as which western media you're specifically looking to for inspiration, if any.
 
Welcome. I've actually been reading up a lot on this and I am planning to run a Wild West themed Call of Cthulhu campaign when my current SLA industries game wraps.

I would like to throw Basic Roleplaying into this mix. There are several supplements for CoC 7th edition and BRP that would work well for a Wild West campaign.

First off, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition has a supplement called Down Darker Trails. It's pretty clearly written to be used with the Pulp Cthulhu rules. Pulp Cthulhu is an amazing product. It features redesigned would and injury rules which are more forgiving as well as the chance to gain advantages from Sanity Loss. Overall it encourages a more Two Fisted Tales, action feel than traditional CoC. There's a setting/campaign for Down Darker Trails Shadows over Stillwater which I have heard is a mixed bag.

If Lovecraft isn't really your bag, you should check out the Basic Roleplaying supplement Devil's Gulch. This is more of a toolkit but it's designed as a setting with a strong weird western feel that can be placed down anywhere. While BRP does tend to feature Lovecraft heavily, you can just as easily base your campaign on an Americana-themed Cryptid game.

Down Darker Trails

Devil's Gulch
 
I stumbled on a complete set of the Old West Time-Life books in my local goodwill the other day. My white whale dream game has been to create an Old West campaign, and now I have all the Appendix N material I could possibly need for historical inspiration.

I'm trying to figure out what system to use.

  • Aces & Eights Reloaded, I've already determined, is far too crunchy for my tastes, time, and energy I can devote to learning another game in my lifetime. It looks like the best Old West RPG on the market, so if this entire thread is full of people saying to get it anyway, well maybe I'll reconsider my stance.
  • There's always GURPS with the Old West supplement that I could use as a starting point. My main concern is finding a group of online players who would be willing to play. (I know nobody IRL who would be down for this).
  • Then, there's Boot Hill 3e, which I already own. I've read it and can grok it well enough.
  • I also own The Great Sierra Verde Campaign with In the Light of a Setting Sun from itch.io, but it seems too light for what I have in mind if I'm being honest.

I'd appreciate any guidance anyone here has to offer, or experiences to share playing Old West games! :smile:
No Far West love:grin:?


...I'll get my coat:thumbsup:!


Also, welcome to the Pub, B BlindAudelay !
 
Thank you all for the helpful replies and collective welcome to the board!

To clarify on my initial post, I am hoping to write a campaign and hex crawl world for players to explore that is more on the realistic side of the spectrum than the weird. However, I will be including cryptids and snippets from American folklore in bite-sized pieces to add the tiniest slice of the fantastical to the world.

I need to expand my reading on indigenous peoples in order to ensure that my game will be sensitive to the fact that many horrors of the Old West that still linger with us today in real, tangible, sad ways will be treated with respect and understanding.

The jury’s out on whether I will use real locations or just make them up but make it obvious where something is taking place. Ultimately, I will likely end up creating a pastiche, but wasn’t the Old West always one, in a way?
 
Thank you all for the helpful replies and collective welcome to the board!

To clarify on my initial post, I am hoping to write a campaign and hex crawl world for players to explore that is more on the realistic side of the spectrum than the weird. However, I will be including cryptids and snippets from American folklore in bite-sized pieces to add the tiniest slice of the fantastical to the world.

I need to expand my reading on indigenous peoples in order to ensure that my game will be sensitive to the fact that many horrors of the Old West that still linger with us today in real, tangible, sad ways will be treated with respect and understanding.

The jury’s out on whether I will use real locations or just make them up but make it obvious where something is taking place. Ultimately, I will likely end up creating a pastiche, but wasn’t the Old West always one, in a way?
I’ve tended to just leave the indigenous people out of my games (which isn’t great either) and use corrupt ranchers and bandits as my villains. I shoot for a Hollywood western feel.
 
If you like Cepheus/Traveller there's "Rider" from Independence Games

I'll second this, it's a bit dry but very thorough (want to know the rules of a then popular card game? It's here). Can be used as a background resource if nothing else. The system used is Cepheus so it's quite easy to run (2d6 + attribute + Skill vs difficulty). (EDIT: was crossposted with your answer, considering the hexcrawl part, RIDER comes with plenty of nice tools to do this)

Haunted West is 800 pages of Wild West goodness but its sheer size makes it a little bit unwieldy. System is percentile based and rather simple. Great book to use as a resource as well. The Weird parts are optional. (EDIT: considering the fact you want to adress the situation of the indigenous people in a sensitive way this is a good resource on that topic).

I've heard good things about Coyote Trail but haven't had the chance to read it.
 
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I found this list of old west weapons for D20, it has a notes tab and a tab with the weapons and data. Maybe create something with D20 modern SRD if nothing else...
 

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Now that I think about it, if I were running a Wild West game I would give some serious thought to using EABAv2 if for no other reason than the Initiative mechanic. (You secretly "bid" away your skill to see who goes first, so it's balancing out bidding down your skill and going first and the amount of skill that you need left to hit the target.)
 
I would actually recommend Boot Hill 2E without the skills. Easy to learn, decent module support, inexpensive in PDF and PoD, lots of fun. I have run one shots and short adventures with it but never a long campaign but it can work. Here is a write up on a long campaign using it:

I played a campaign through all five of the TSR 2e Boot Hill modules and a handful of adapted adventures from other Western games and I can tell you firsthand that pretty much everything in that blog post is the gospel truth.

The threat of immediate and final death leads to very social characters who will bargain and cajole and scheme relentlessly to avoid ruinous disadvantage when smokewagons are skinned.

As far as skills go, we found assumed competence to be our preferred alternative, and I highly recommend troupe play as a buffer against the game's legendary lethality.

If you use the reaction table from BH1 Mad Mesa and the minor character morale rules, you have a perfectly serviceable social system that offers interesting nuance, in my experience.
 
I've always wanted to try Boot Hill but it's never been on the menu.
These days I think I'd prefer my western pretty straight, rather than 'weird'... where 'weird' implies supernatural goings on. Maybe that's just a reaction to the bit of Deadlands I played, which had a heapin' helpin' of wacky in addition to being full of Lovecraft references.
I'd also want it gritty... dirty... desperate in places. Not John Wayne in his surrey with a fringe on top.

Another BRP based game I'd mention is Aces High, which has one expansion and is probably getting harder to find, since it was one of Chaosium's 'monograph' things. I've hoped a Mythras version might come around, similar to Rubble & Ruin or Classic Fantasy (other monographs that became 'real boys'). Aces High has options for folklore/native magic... but it's not the focus and would be easily ignored.
 
There are a lot of options out there, and many of them are good.

If you need help narrowing down the field, maybe post some games that you like, as well as which western media you're specifically looking to for inspiration, if any.
Some games I like are:
  • OD&D
  • Troika!
  • Mydwandr
  • Tunnels & Trolls
  • Castles & Crusades (so far)
Some Western media that is inspiring me... hmm...
  • Bonanza
  • Gunsmoke
  • The Searchers
  • 3:10 to Yuma (the original)
  • Various Louis L'Amour novels
  • My new collection of Old West Time-Life books
 
I played a campaign through all five of the TSR 2e Boot Hill modules and a handful of adapted adventures from other Western games and I can tell you firsthand that pretty much everything in that blog post is the gospel truth.

The threat of immediate and final death leads to very social characters who will bargain and cajole and scheme relentlessly to avoid ruinous disadvantage when smokewagons are skinned.

As far as skills go, we found assumed competence to be our preferred alternative, and I highly recommend troupe play as a buffer against the game's legendary lethality.

If you use the reaction table from BH1 Mad Mesa and the minor character morale rules, you have a perfectly serviceable social system that offers interesting nuance, in my experience.

That's a great endorsement of 2e Boot Hill. Has me interested enough to add it to my list of "when I have a few spare dollars, buy this" games.
 
Boot Hill 3E is a decent choice, particularly if you don't want the weight of something like GURPS or HERO system.

It seems like for some reason a lot of old west games want to use weird mechanics, and many are weird west, not historical. Boot Hill doesn't do either of these.

Aces and Eights has some cool stuff to steal with a varriety of mini games for ranching, mining etc that can help take the game in a direction other than one gun fight to the next.

Down Darker Trails for Call of Cthulhu, is horror oriented, but can easily be run straight historical. The core system for CoC does historical games well.

I'm a fan of the Hero system, and the 4th edition Western Hero was quite well done. I haven't looked at the current version for 6E.

If I ran a western game 4th ed Western Hero, Call of Cthulhu / Down Darker Trails (with or without horror) or Boot Hill 3E would be my most likely choices.

On the Native Americans, there are quite a few more recent books on the subject with much better nuance than you will find in books from the era of those Time Life books. Just understanding some of the conflict between the different native groups, and the effects of incoming European settlers can go a long way towards showing natives as actual people vs faceless antagonists or obstacles to overcome.
 
I ran a Call of Cthulhu convention game one time set in my part of Texas (10 miles away, in fact) in the 1870s, using information gleaned from local records and census data. I made up the little bit of monstrousness (original stuff, not taken from other writing), but overall it ran more as a weird mystery than anything else. The characters were based on real people (names changed) I pulled out of the census data, so there were no gunslingers or roving gamblers or things like that. Since I was trying to make it as realistic as possible outside of the occult angle, Basic Roleplaying (via Call of Cthulhu, minus the Sanity mechanic) worked very well.
 
Boot Hill would be my choice, but in general I'm a minimalist. My crew and I played 1E extensively in the 1970's and it was one of our favorite games, although many argue that it's not really a "role playing" game as it has very little background or bells-and-whistles. 2E and 3E took steps to "fix" that, but I haven't really played those editions. They all read as simple, clean, workable RPG rules sets, however, and I would go with that.

Plus, you have it. And (I assume) know it. :grin:
 
Hmm. It might be worth taking a look at Dogs in the Vineyard. How useful that game will be to you depends on the kinds of games you want to run and how well that aligns with the core design concerns of Dogs, which are mostly, but not entirely, Wild West indexed. Great game though, and closer to some of the game you say you like in terms of mechanical weight.
 
The only thing I would warn of is that BH 1/2e suffered a bit (IIRC) from a problem that also was present in other early TSR d% rollunder systems.

It tends to have PCs start with a decent to-hit %, then has a bunch of ways that gets lowered (and they are very common circumstances) and very few ways to mitigate those or improve your % chance to-hit.

This tends to allow a lot of math errors to creep in (unintentionally or otherwise), adds a fair bit of handling time and, while interesting from a sim POV, don't really add that much to the fun, IME.

It tends to be a lot of lead-flinging that takes far longer to resolve than the time used up by the events represented, and then someone randomly dies.

Which, to me, is more about the speed of resolution than the outcome.

Anyway, to follow up on Black Vulmea's troupe play suggestion, BH 3e suggested simply giving each PC 3 NPC cronies/henchies/besties of some sort. Depending upon the kind of campaign to be played, that might also help out immensely.
 
To be fair in Boot Hill (1&2 E) your bravery, speed and experience increase as you survive gunfights which will help but if you have lots of gunfights you will plateau quickly, if you survive.
 
Hmm. It might be worth taking a look at Dogs in the Vineyard. How useful that game will be to you depends on the kinds of games you want to run and how well that aligns with the core design concerns of Dogs, which are mostly, but not entirely, Wild West indexed. Great game though, and closer to some of the game you say you like in terms of mechanical weight.

Yup, I came here to mention this. It’d only take a shift in setting… and a slight one… to use Dogs for standard wild west stuff.

The only issue is getting a copy.
 
I'm quit impressed with the love <3 that Boot Hill is getting here. Most folks I talk to hate the game.
Big complaint is the insta-death possibilities, which is easily ignored if you want.
I never killed PC's out right that way. But, I'm a softie as a GM.
 
I'm quit impressed with the love <3 that Boot Hill is getting here. Most folks I talk to hate the game.
Big complaint is the insta-death possibilities, which is easily ignored if you want.
I never killed PC's out right that way. But, I'm a softie as a GM.
I tend not to kill PCs in games either, although that's as much for my (GM) benefit as for player benefit.

I think that, ages ago when BH (2e) was the only easily available Old West RPG for me, I didn't are for it much, both for that deadliness and other reasons.

In 2023, I have multiple options available with different qualities.

It makes me more willing to play games I once would have skipped, because now I'm choosing to do it voluntarily, if that makes any sense.
 
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