What's the best Western RPG?

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Gabriel

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Like the title says, what's the best Western genre RPG? (either straight Western or Weird West style)

I'm aware of the following:
Boot Hill
Western Hero
Tall Tales BX
Shooting Iron
West d20
Coyote Trail
Deadlands

What else is out there?
 

Sosthenes

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Aces & Eights (rules for everything)
Horizon:Spellslinger (underrated d20 game)
BRP Aces High
Sidewinder:Recoiled
Dogs in the Vineyard
Castle Falkenstein, arguably
Owl Hoot Trail
Western HERO
GURPS Old West
Werewolf

I quite liked Tiny Gunslingers, but also had good experiences with GURPS 4E and Horizon.
 

Stan

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Dust Devils is card based - best poker hand wins contests and your abilities determine the number of cards you get. Your abilities - Hand, Eye, Guts, and Heart - are each tied to a suit. Every character has a dark aspect inside them. It's on the light end of games with some story telling aspects as I recall.
 

TristramEvans

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Earlier this year I ordered Tales of the West by The Pub's own Jamfke Jamfke from Lulu

tumblr_m3q1zw8aom1qbndfn.jpg

Featuring an adaption of the FASERIP system, and featuring some beautiful classic illustrations from the early 20th century, it's a slim volume that packs a lot of punch, including a populated town to use as a setting described in characterful NPC profiles and ready to use floorplans. It was also really refreshing to have a game treat the Old West as interesting in and of itself because of the history and social dynamics, without feeling the need to genre blend or add in steampunk, fantasy, zombies, or alt history.

Reading it does feel like stepping into the world of Western short stories published in pulp magazines or classic Western comics of the previous century.

246931658_4857168680983252_3923871726723469393_n.jpg
 

Archangel

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Gunslingers and Gamblers is another option. It uses poker dice, but there's a variant edition that sticks to traditional dice.

Also the Swedish rpg Western, which had a kickstarter a couple of years ago. Idk if the English version is available yet.
 

PolarBlues

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And The Pub's own... me... wrote this little Western gem. If nothing else, it's great value for money (free here).

Cover-page-small.jpg
 

Fenris-77

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Best Western RPG? WEG Star Wars. :grin: Setting that aside, I'd say either Boot Hill or Dogs in the Vineyard, for very different reasons. I'll admit, I haven't played a ton of specifically Western RPGs though.
 

Agemegos

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I have usually (tried to) run Westerns using a familiar and capable general-purpose RPG solution, such as ForeSight. But I have never really had much success in attracting players or sustaining a campaign. Perhaps it's because everyone knows that my favourite Western movie is The Big Country; perhaps it is because I have been doing something wrongly.

So my question to Western GMs is this: is there something that a Western RPG needs to do that a good general-purpose RPG commonly doesn't? Or is there something that a flexible GP RPG commonly does that a Western RPG needs to balk at? Is there also or alternatively something that a successful GM of mysteries, thrillers, and tales of wonder has to do extra, or shy from, to get Westerns to go off?

What is the special sauce for Western RPGs?
 

T. Foster

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We always had a lot of fun with Boot Hill, but its rules (at least in the first couple editions) are so minimal as to barely exist for anything except gunfighting, so pretty much everything you do will be handled via freeform negotiation and GM fiat.

We also had some fun with a western rpg called True West, designed by the infamous James Shipman. I’m not sure this was ever actually published - he gave one of my friends a comb-bound home-produced copy. I remember literally nothing about the system, just that it was a little more detailed and robust than Boot Hill.

The Aces & Eights book was awfully pretty on the game store shelf with its faux-leather cover and period art, but I never bought it so I don’t know how well it actually played (and I also didn’t like its baked-in alternate history timeline).
 

PolarBlues

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I have usually (tried to) run Westerns using a familiar and capable general-purpose RPG solution, such as ForeSight. But I have never really had much success in attracting players or sustaining a campaign. Perhaps it's because everyone knows that my favourite Western movie is The Big Country; perhaps it is because I have been doing something wrongly.

So my question to Western GMs is this: is there something that a Western RPG needs to do that a good general-purpose RPG commonly doesn't? Or is there something that a flexible GP RPG commonly does that a Western RPG needs to balk at? Is there also or alternatively something that a successful GM of mysteries, thrillers, and tales of wonder has to do extra, or shy from, to get Westerns to go off?

What is the special sauce for Western RPGs?

In a sense, you are correct, and sensible generic set of rules can handle the western. And you get plenty of setting information on the wild west from pletny of sources without needed any roleplaying specific reference.

There is a risk that different characters in a Western games can end up looking a bit the same. You're all basically humans riding horses, shooting guns. Players may need to dig a little deeper to differentiate themselves than just saying "I am an elf, I am wizard". And that is where having some sort of class or character template or other inspirational material can be helpful. Not all player want to need it, but if the designer can draw out the more iconic Western types of characters and provide clear, useful roles for each, that can be helpful.

Another useful thing a Western roleplaying game can help with is creating adventures. Given how much wild west fiction there is out there, you'd think running a Western adventure would be the easiest think in the world. That is until you realise how often in your GM career you've relied on something magical, supernatural or that is out of spectacular sci-fi movie either as a trigger, reward or just jazz up an adventure. Again, this doesn't apply to everyone but it is interesting to note how often sample roleplaying Western adventure end up being about gattling guns.
 

Toadmaster

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"Best" is always subjective, Gurps Old West and Western HERO were well done, but do you like those systems? Western HERO did a very good job of adapting the system to the old west, in fact I think it is one of the best books from the 4th ed era. Of course the best HERO book doesn't mean much if you don't like HERO in the first place.

As a stand alone game 3rd ed Boot Hill is worth looking at, one of the few to use fairly traditional conventions and it is cheap at DTRPG pdf or hardcopy. For whatever reason Western RPGs have strongly gravitated to the Weird West and unusual "die rolling methods" (to include things such as playing cards, poker chips etc) many of which don't appeal to me. I know the gambler is a thing in the genre but it is not the only thing.

Earlier this year I ordered Tales of the West by The Pub's own Jamfke Jamfke from Lulu

View attachment 37010

Featuring an adaption of the FASERIP system, and featuring some beautiful classic illustrations from the early 20th century, it's a slim volume that packs a lot of punch, including a populated town to use as a setting described in characterful NPC profiles and ready to use floorplans. It was also really refreshing to have a game treat the Old West as interesting in and of itself because of the history and social dynamics, without feeling the need to genre blend or add in steampunk, fantasy, zombies, or alt history.

Reading it does feel like stepping into the world of Western short stories published in pulp magazines or classic Western comics of the previous century.

View attachment 37011

Not familiar with this one, or FASERIP, but if HERO is any indication a system developed for supers can work surprisingly well for a Western which can range from mundane to wildly cinematic.

I have usually (tried to) run Westerns using a familiar and capable general-purpose RPG solution, such as ForeSight. But I have never really had much success in attracting players or sustaining a campaign. Perhaps it's because everyone knows that my favourite Western movie is The Big Country; perhaps it is because I have been doing something wrongly.

So my question to Western GMs is this: is there something that a Western RPG needs to do that a good general-purpose RPG commonly doesn't? Or is there something that a flexible GP RPG commonly does that a Western RPG needs to balk at? Is there also or alternatively something that a successful GM of mysteries, thrillers, and tales of wonder has to do extra, or shy from, to get Westerns to go off?

What is the special sauce for Western RPGs?

I think westerns really require buy in from all involved more than special rules. It is a bit like horror in that regard, because players who won't go along with the common themes can really short circuit things. The players and GM also need to be on the same page, because "western" is a broad genre, going in with the wrong expectations can go really badly. If the players or GM are expecting a shoot em up Spaghetti Western style and the other side is thinking something more like Unforgiven somebody will probably be unhappy. Of course for the more cinematic style having rules for fast draw, rope tricks etc will be helpful, but both Gurps and HERO can work well for Western so no I wouldn't say that a general purpose RPG is unsuitable. RQ / Mythras wouldn't be my first choice for a cinematic western but either could work well for a more realistic or dark and gritty one.

I also think Westerns suffer from the same issue as other historic genres. I think this is why so many gravitate to alternate history, steam punk or other fantasy variants.

We always had a lot of fun with Boot Hill, but its rules (at least in the first couple editions) are so minimal as to barely exist for anything except gunfighting, so pretty much everything you do will be handled via freeform negotiation and GM fiat.

We also had some fun with a western rpg called True West, designed by the infamous James Shipman. I’m not sure this was ever actually published - he gave one of my friends a comb-bound home-produced copy. I remember literally nothing about the system, just that it was a little more detailed and robust than Boot Hill.

The Aces & Eights book was awfully pretty on the game store shelf with its faux-leather cover and period art, but I never bought it so I don’t know how well it actually played (and I also didn’t like its baked-in alternate history timeline).

3rd ed Boothill is a much more substantial game with skills and such. 1st and 2nd ed were more of a free form RPG combined with combat rules.
 

Toadmaster

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I'll also add the Aces and Eights is overly complicated in my opinion (this coming from a die hard crunchy 80s RPG fan) but the quality of the material is good. It has a lot of little subgames which is kind of cool, so you can actually have a game focused on ranching or mining with rules to determine how successful these operations are. The core kind of turned me off, but I've bought them and some of the supplements anyway because of these extra rules.

It is also another of the alt history games, although not so reliant that it couldn't be run straight.
 

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I think Call of Cthulhu's Down Darker Trails deserves mention. It can be run as a completely straight, historic western, and the BRP system is already very well suited for realistic games, and DDT is an excellent sourcebook even after you cut out all the mythos stuff. Unfortunately I've yet to have a group that's really on board for a western RPG, so aside from a couple one-off scenarios (which were Mythos-flavored), I haven't gotten to run it as much as I'd like, but it's one that stays in my mind as something I ought to get to the table if the opportunity arises.
 

Picaroon Jack

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I've tried to see if my group is interested in playing a Western game and there is a little. However, they are not interested in the traditional band of bounty hunters/gunslingers. They are more interested in playing a town that deals with issues (historic or supernatural). So more similar to Deadwood. I'm looking at A fistful of Darkness and Down Darker Trails.
 

Gabriel

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Best Western RPG? WEG Star Wars. :grin:

It certainly supports fast-draw out of the box. Didn't the initiative example directly cite wild west gunslingers?

I'm going to mark this down in the column as another potential use for d6 Adventure.

We also had some fun with a western rpg called True West, designed by the infamous James Shipman. I’m not sure this was ever actually published - he gave one of my friends a comb-bound home-produced copy. I remember literally nothing about the system, just that it was a little more detailed and robust than Boot Hill.

Everything I'm familiar with of Shipmans was recyclings of Tunnels & Trolls style rules. I'm not sure if he was ever more diverse than that.

Still, using T&T style rules ala MS&PE for old west stuff makes a certain amount of sense to me. I might have to haul the hardcover of MS&PE out and give it a look again.

3rd ed Boothill is a much more substantial game with skills and such. 1st and 2nd ed were more of a free form RPG combined with combat rules.

I have a DTRPG reprint of 3e Boot Hill. I didn't realize that 1e and 2e were so different. Is it basically just strip out the skill system from 3e and you end up with the earlier editions? Or is there a more significant difference?
 

Jamfke

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I've tried to see if my group is interested in playing a Western game and there is a little. However, they are not interested in the traditional band of bounty hunters/gunslingers. They are more interested in playing a town that deals with issues (historic or supernatural). So more similar to Deadwood. I'm looking at A fistful of Darkness and Down Darker Trails.
In my game, Tales of the West, I have a fictional town similar to Deadwood with potential to run a game in that vein or like an episode of Gunsmoke if you don't want all the grittiness of the former setting. If you want to make it a weird west style of game you can also pull super powers/psionics from the base 4C Expanded rules set to create whatever strangeness you like. Personally, I like straight up historical fiction with as much grit as the players can handle (or appropriately aged content as necessary).
 

Picaroon Jack

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In my game, Tales of the West, I have a fictional town similar to Deadwood with potential to run a game in that vein or like an episode of Gunsmoke if you don't want all the grittiness of the former setting. If you want to make it a weird west style of game you can also pull super powers/psionics from the base 4C Expanded rules set to create whatever strangeness you like. Personally, I like straight up historical fiction with as much grit as the players can handle (or appropriately aged content as necessary).
Good points! I've got your game, Jamfke Jamfke and I'll add it to the list of potentials.

I'm thinking about heavy on the grit and light on the supernatural. Not over the top like Deadlands, but more like Pale Rider.
 

Jamfke

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Good points! I've got your game, Jamfke Jamfke and I'll add it to the list of potentials.

I'm thinking about heavy on the grit and light on the supernatural. Not over the top like Deadlands, but more like Pale Rider.
Pale Rider is about the level I like my westerns to run. Plenty of hard action but tells a good story at the same time.
 

Gringnr

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I've always thought James Bond 007 could be repurposed into a fine western RPG. It has "draw" rules, and you have to try to shrug off damage each combat round to keep fighting, with or without penalty. I even think the chase rules would work quite well, with a bit of tinkering. Hell, the "Fame" rules, too for that matter. It's not really mechanically heavy, either. Hardest part would be rules for period weapons, at least for someone like me who doesn't know much about them. It's fairly cinematic, without being excessively narrative, and there's no "weird" stuff to contend with in the rules. Skill lists would need to be retooled.
 

Jamfke

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I've always thought James Bond 007 could be repurposed into a fine western RPG. It has "draw" rules, and you have to try to shrug off damage each combat round to keep fighting, with or without penalty. I even think the chase rules would work quite well, with a bit of tinkering. Hell, the "Fame" rules, too for that matter. It's not really mechanically heavy, either. Hardest part would be rules for period weapons, at least for someone like me who doesn't know much about them. It's fairly cinematic, without being excessively narrative, and there's no "weird" stuff to contend with in the rules. Skill lists would need to be retooled.
I loved the 007 game. Still have it around here somewhere. I need to dig it out and read through it again...
 

Toadmaster

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I have a DTRPG reprint of 3e Boot Hill. I didn't realize that 1e and 2e were so different. Is it basically just strip out the skill system from 3e and you end up with the earlier editions? Or is there a more significant difference?

No other than the name and theme there is pretty much nothing in common, 3rd ed is an all new game.

I love Pale Rider. The ending is just epic.

There's nothing like a nice piece of hickory.
 

Northlandian

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Gunslingers and Gamblers is another option. It uses poker dice, but there's a variant edition that sticks to traditional dice.

Also the Swedish rpg Western, which had a kickstarter a couple of years ago. Idk if the English version is available yet.
As I understand it, the people who Kickstarted it has received a downloadable beta version of the english translation some months ago because on their KS page there are comments/feedback about typos and similar (but thats what the beta versions are for, right)
 

Gabriel

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Looking at Western RPGs, I see the idea of using cards coming up again and again. This allegedly makes the game more "atmospheric," because I guess since you can't practically have a horse in your gameroom, and gunfights at the game table tend to make the game end early, then cards at the game table can at least evoke those saloon gambling scenes.

But do they really? I've seen this idea that cards make a game more atmospheric elsewhere, probably most notably in Castle Falkenstein, which eschews dice entirely for card mechanics purely because "cultured Victorians don't play dice." And I never felt it added anything to the game.

I guess I'm interested in hearing if this is really an immersion feature for other people, or if it's just something that you sort of accept along with the game.
 

PolarBlues

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I suspect in caess the use of card is a way to try to inject flavour into a set of rules that otherwise has little need for genre-specific mechnics, as previous poster mentioned.
 

Rich H

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Looking at Western RPGs, I see the idea of using cards coming up again and again. This allegedly makes the game more "atmospheric," because I guess since you can't practically have a horse in your gameroom, and gunfights at the game table tend to make the game end early, then cards at the game table can at least evoke those saloon gambling scenes.

But do they really? I've seen this idea that cards make a game more atmospheric elsewhere, probably most notably in Castle Falkenstein, which eschews dice entirely for card mechanics purely because "cultured Victorians don't play dice." And I never felt it added anything to the game.

I guess I'm interested in hearing if this is really an immersion feature for other people, or if it's just something that you sort of accept along with the game.

Not playing cards, although the rules could easily be repurposed to a standard deck of cards, but Dragonlance SAGA and Marvel SAGA's card based system were really enjoyable and I really liked how having a hand improved play, tactics and planning. The trump element of the system has loads of potential too so I'd say, at least in my experience, they do add a lot. Maybe not 'atmosphere' in the strictest sense of the word but they are a great alternative to dice for the right kind of games.
 

Sosthenes

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But do they really? I've seen this idea that cards make a game more atmospheric elsewhere, probably most notably in Castle Falkenstein, which eschews dice entirely for card mechanics purely because "cultured Victorians don't play dice." And I never felt it added anything to the game.
I liked it, not because it's so much better, but because it was unique. So pretty much a one-time deal, after all. For a regular old west game, I probably wouldn't bother, but if I were to run something like Maverick, I might. Just drawing random cards instead of dice doesn't bring anything to the table, but being able to pick the appropriate one and making your own luck (or failing this, becaue you might need a win after that) is more interesting than a lot of other player-agency tricks, e.g. whatever that Kung Fu game with the horrible art and writing wanted to do.

Torg had something similar, but in addition to regular dice mechanics. Well, regular logarithmic dice mechanics.
 

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Aces High for me, just because I know/like BRP (and don't want to mess with taking the Cthulhu Mythos out of something). I does have some optional 'weird' elements (native mythology, mostly) but otherwise it's pretty much straight historical.

But I have never really had much success in attracting players or sustaining a campaign. Perhaps it's because everyone knows that my favourite Western movie is The Big Country; perhaps it is because I have been doing something wrongly.
What's wrong with liking 'The Big Country'? It's a great movie.

Dumarest always liked boot hill, i think the original.
Past tense? Has something happened to Dumarest? Is he still with us?
 

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What's wrong with liking 'The Big Country'? It's a great movie.

It is. But I know some people who maintain that if it is a Western at all it is a highly atypical one, and that anyone who proclaims it his favourite Western cannot be relied upon to run a Western properly.

Their argument it that a proper Western, like a rōnin story, is about a man out of time — a man of pride and violence from a past stage of society that the new civil society still needs to bump back for it, but that it no longer provides a place for. I say that that is all very well for Shane, Pale Rider, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but that Unforgiven and The Big Country have different takes on whether the rough men are needful, and are also fine Westerns. Players ask to hear about something I might run in SF or fantasy.
 

Agemegos

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I've always thought James Bond 007 could be repurposed into a fine western RPG. It has "draw" rules, and you have to try to shrug off damage each combat round to keep fighting, with or without penalty. I even think the chase rules would work quite well, with a bit of tinkering. Hell, the "Fame" rules, too for that matter. It's not really mechanically heavy, either. Hardest part would be rules for period weapons, at least for someone like me who doesn't know much about them. It's fairly cinematic, without being excessively narrative, and there's no "weird" stuff to contend with in the rules. Skill lists would need to be retooled.

I have very fond memories of James Bond 007 from the Eighties (besides several copies of the rules and the Q Manual, and one of the recent retroclone Classified). But I have to admit that every time I drag it out for a nostalgic gallop (the most recent was in March) I rediscover a strong urge to revise it. The frame is excellent, but lots of little things need repair.

JB007 is an outstanding example of an RPG that was designed to support a specific genre. It has particular rules for all the scene and activity types in James Bond movies (to the early Eighties), that work smoothly and produce the right results. Its system for encounters with NPCs in particular is a work of unequalled genius. Adding the things that Bond doesn’t do, subtracting the things that only Bond does, and re-jigging the things that Bond does very Bondishly wouldn’t be hard, but it would all have to be done. Now that you suggest doing so to create a Westerns game I see that that is a very strong idea.
 
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Toadmaster

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Not playing cards, although the rules could easily be repurposed to a standard deck of cards, but Dragonlance SAGA and Marvel SAGA's card based system were really enjoyable and I really liked how having a hand improved play, tactics and planning. The trump element of the system has loads of potential too so I'd say, at least in my experience, they do add a lot. Maybe not 'atmosphere' in the strictest sense of the word but they are a great alternative to dice for the right kind of games.

The idea of a handful of cards you can play is kind of interesting. I wouldn't like it as a replacement for dice in general, because it just seems to meta gamey for regular use and that seems to be how most use them. I could go cards as a replacement for luck points though as they are kind of meta gamey anyway. Save the best card for that roll you absolutely have to succeed on, use the low cards for those rolls where failure is more inconvenient rather than critical, or out of desperation because you already used up your good cards.

It is. But I know some people who maintain that if it is a Western at all it is a highly atypical one, and that anyone who proclaims it his favourite Western cannot be relied upon to run a Western properly.

Their argument it that a proper Western, like a rōnin story, is about a man out of time — a man of pride and violence from a past stage of society that the new civil society still needs to bump back for it, but that it no longer provides a place for. I say that that is all very well for Shane, Pale Rider, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but that Unforgiven and The Big Country have different takes on whether the rough men are needful, and are also fine Westerns. Players ask to hear about something I might run in SF or fantasy.

That is kind of silly, but you probably are right that many hold that attitude. The lone drifter is a popular theme, but hardly the one true way, and honestly those that think it is are probably not well versed in western history or media.

Your players should be made to binge watch Bonanza (all 14 seasons) before they are allowed to play in a Western game again.
 

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The western RPGs that I would recommend have already listed. I'll not retread that ground. But something missing from previous suggestions, is "Fist full of zombies". Its the western supplement for All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Strip all the zombie stuff out, and you have a great little western game. The book describes several different styles of westerns as well. Such as spaghetti, singing cowboy, and etc. It wont have a ton of setting detail, but it makes a great little core element.
 

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I wonder whether one could just reskin Millennium's End to not work with a fictional Miami merc/PI agency but with the Pinkertons or an expy thereof. Yeah, I know, Aces & Eights has target silhouettes, too, but focusing more on bastard law enforcers instead of cowpokes might be fun.
 

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There is the Sidewinder: Recoiled by Dog House Rules. I have to admit I have not read it — a 300-page rulebook as a PDF is a bit too much to digest. In search for mundane Western adventures, I have only read through the Savage Worlds versions of the short western adventures, i.e., Buckshots by the same company. (edit: Sorry, it was mentioned already)

Michael Brown has written a light-weight game Under Western Skies (2017) that is based on the 2D6 system. He has written quite a few short adventures to go with it.
 
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