What's the best Western RPG?

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Rich H

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My problem with it is, it's so OTT that it's no longer a wild west setting. More like a theme park.

Yep, that's what I meant when I said: "... like flavouring a dish that you know - too much and its ruined or becomes a totally different thing".
 

MattyHelms

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For me the danger with adding in weird/horror/SF elements to an historical setting is it's like flavouring a dish that you know - too much and its ruined or becomes a totally different thing.
That's why my smug, smug players who think they've convinced me to run a Cthulhu game will find out the real drama centers around Wild West trains. The madness of the Necromomicon is nothing compared to balancing timetables to make it across the territory in time to stop the ritual. Worried about the shoggoth in the passenger car? Well, that doesn't matter if the cattle catcher isn't strong enough to get you through the avalanche on the tracks.
 

PolarBlues

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There are some clear challenges running a Western, or any mundane setting, straight, without any supernatural or science fictiony aspect if you aren't used to it.

Adventures tend to be about something special like unusual events that change the status quo, threats you have faced before, unique treasures and other McGuffins of that nature. The supernatural makes it really easy bring in the special. Making the mundane feel special in the same way is a little harder. It is totally feasibly, but you got to dig a little deeper and look for ways to make it personal.

I mentioned this before, but I think it's no coincidence that Wild West roleplaying scenarios frequently seem to be about gattling guns as these are basically the "magic weapon" equivalent of the Western.
 

DeadBob

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It's true; everyone loves gatling guns and TnT. :grin:

As a peculiar sort of aside, the core, generic campaign goal of both of TSR's historical games, Gangbusters (at least for criminal characters. Non-criminals substitute; Reach Maximum Level) and Boot Hill (3e), is basically Get Rich or Die Trying.

Which, in context actually seems like a more solid generic set of goals than I'd have imagined, especially in BH where they really open up the ability to choose how to accomplish that and PC are not assumed to necessarily be a team.

Of course, I'd also assume that players being players, characters would inevitably side-track on that simplistic goal, perhaps even sacrificing the core goal in favor of more flavorful personal goals as the game actually develops.
 

Imaginos

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One issue with a pure western is healing. Gunshot wounds, knife wounds, arrow wounds, being kicked by or thrown from a horse. These all take a lot longer to recover from when there isn’t advanced healing.

Gunshot to the gut? Plan on the character being out of action for a while, especially based on the level of medicine available. Amputation to prevent gangrene.

Just makes it more difficult to present a “realistic” Wild West game if you are going for a long term campaign.
 

DeadBob

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One issue with a pure western is healing. Gunshot wounds, knife wounds, arrow wounds, being kicked by or thrown from a horse. These all take a lot longer to recover from when there isn’t advanced healing.

Gunshot to the gut? Plan on the character being out of action for a while, especially based on the level of medicine available. Amputation to prevent gangrene.

Just makes it more difficult to present a “realistic” Wild West game if you are going for a long term campaign.
Howabout Hollywood Western Healing rates?

No obvious magic involved, but as fast as say Marshall Dillon heals? Or Ben Cartwright?

Of course, depending upon how a group or game structures their campaign, it's also possible to steal miniatures campaign skirmish rules for wound recovery also (essentially, roll for availability the next session, long term penalties that may or may not go away, and similar stuff), although that works best in a style of play where players have a small "stable" of characters to choose from.
 
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MattyHelms

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One issue with a pure western is healing. Gunshot wounds, knife wounds, arrow wounds, being kicked by or thrown from a horse. These all take a lot longer to recover from when there isn’t advanced healing.

Gunshot to the gut? Plan on the character being out of action for a while, especially based on the level of medicine available. Amputation to prevent gangrene.

Just makes it more difficult to present a “realistic” Wild West game if you are going for a long term campaign.
...and this is what makes a more grounded Western such a fascinating challenge. How do you not get shot in a land often ruled by force? Look, there's a fella, he's a cheat and rumored to be a killer by shooting people in the back. He wants you dead. You cannot make the first move, you cannot shoot an unarmed man, even in a fight- this is against what law there is and you'll end up dead just the same. So, can you outdraw him if he calls you out? Should you ambush him and make it look like a natural accident? You can't flee, because this town is the only place, the very last place, in the frontier in which you can make a home and redeem your family name.

What do you do to survive?
 

3rik

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That's why my smug, smug players who think they've convinced me to run a Cthulhu game will find out the real drama centers around Wild West trains. The madness of the Necromomicon is nothing compared to balancing timetables to make it across the territory in time to stop the ritual. Worried about the shoggoth in the passenger car? Well, that doesn't matter if the cattle catcher isn't strong enough to get you through the avalanche on the tracks.
Stuck in the mountains for too long and people will start eating eachother, with or without Mythos.
 

Simlasa

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Howabout Hollywood Western Healing rates?

No obvious magic involved, but as fast as say Marshall Dillon heals? Or Ben Cartwright?
That's still done at 'speed of plot'... like, an episode where Chester gets dragged behind a horse has him near death for weeks... because it's a motivation for Marshall Dillon to go out after the bad men who did it.
But Dillon gets shot and is in bed for... maybe a day? Because the story needs to move on.

Also, post U.S. Civil War, there should be plenty of fellows with missing bits and grisly scars.
 

Necrozius

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If I wanted to run a Western game that emulated Spaghetti Westerns (ie, Sergio Leone), what would you recommend?

Caveats: not d20 (level and class), PbtA or Fate.

Cheers!
 

Simlasa

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If I wanted to run a Western game that emulated Spaghetti Westerns (ie, Sergio Leone), what would you recommend?
Not so much mechanical/system stuff but set dressing.
Spaghetti westerns often, to me, feel even more post-apocalyptic than Hollywood westerns... with fewer elements suggestive of an impinging 'civilization' vs. a faded one, with lots of ruins and desperation. Pulling from a different pool of NPC archetypes than old John Wayne movies.
But some of the gunplay feels almost like superpowers...
 

PolarBlues

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If I wanted to run a Western game that emulated Spaghetti Westerns (ie, Sergio Leone), what would you recommend?

Much of what defines the Spaghetti Western, the cynicism and scruff, ragged look (not to mention bad-dubbing) aren't necessarily going to emerge from the system, though the art work may or may not help. You are probably looking for something with mook rules, because while Spaghetti Westerns are often described as gritty, that is more realted to the themes. The actually combat tends to be pretty cinematic.

Wild West Cinema (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/79964/Wild-West-Cinema-rulebook) may be of interest. It's cheap and even on sale right now.
 

Necrozius

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Thanks, I’m very familiar with the genre. I was just wondering if there was a game out there that was a good “fit”.

I ask because we’re in an age of RPGs with very narrow foci, or games made to emulate specific cinematic genres.

I heard someone once recommend Feng Shui, interestingly enough.
 

Mankcam

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If I wanted to run a Western game that emulated Spaghetti Westerns (ie, Sergio Leone), what would you recommend?
Caveats: not d20 (level and class), PbtA or Fate.
Cheers!
Well I would go with BRP because it's gritty with slow healing rates, but this requires more than one book

Either the BRP BGB + Aces West monograph, or Call of Cthulhu 7E + Down Darker Trails. Just ignore any supernatural stuff with either, and you're left with the 'historical' West era of the USA.

If you want to make it more of 'spagetti western level' of pulp action, then for BRP BGB just use the Fate Pts option. For Call of Cthulhu, use the Pulp Cthulhu supplement book. If that is not an option, then just allow liberal use of the Luck rules, and perhaps make Luck Pt recovery more easy, using milestones etc.

(As previously posted, Down Darker Trails is an excellent resource on The West, see this review)
 
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3rik

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Mankcam

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I guess if someone already has Zweihander, then this might be a worthwhile add-on if wanting to do the Wild West...
Zweihander: Six Shooter
 

Mankcam

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I just came across this one while checking out reviews of Haunted West. It's free and doesn't look bad at all. Based on the video game series of the same name.

Desperados is a great little freebie, very evocative and looks like it could do the trick just as good as any major production.
Thanks for the heads-up!
 

DeadBob

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That's still done at 'speed of plot'... like, an episode where Chester gets dragged behind a horse has him near death for weeks... because it's a motivation for Marshall Dillon to go out after the bad men who did it.
But Dillon gets shot and is in bed for... maybe a day? Because the story needs to move on.

Also, post U.S. Civil War, there should be plenty of fellows with missing bits and grisly scars.
Do you think there is some easy way to have both? Reasonably fast healing most of the time (nothing about realism, just about adventure functionality of getting characters back in play) with at least a nod towards (vaguely in the direction of) realism?

I don't remember how BH healing rates work, but I know Gangbusters had both fast healing compared to the Real World, but still fairly slow healing for an adventure game.

I get the impression that both games were designed by people who really did think campaign play was going to involve a main character per player plus about 3 relatively loyal hangers-on (and possibly some hired help later), as well as some pre-planned activities, plotted ahead for any given week.

Those plotted activities would then either presumably be done quickly in the abstract if nothing terribly exciting was happening or be zoomed in on if there was a clash with other characters (PC or NPC) and their plotted actions. And, of course, your loyal minions could be sent out to get up to all sorts of activities on their own (part of the point of having minions!).
 

PolarBlues

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I guess there is no reason to play the campaign in real time. By that I mean, if it takes a character three weeks to heal from a wound, why shouldn't the next session start with "Three weeks have passed since.."? Pendragon has a more formal Winter Phase of course, but the principle that consecutive game sessions don't have to map to consecutive in game days remains.

Come to think of it, how did healing work in Pendragon?
 

Simlasa

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I guess there is no reason to play the campaign in real time. By that I mean, if it takes a character three weeks to heal from a wound, why shouldn't the next session start with "Three weeks have passed since.."?
Maybe with the added caveat that the situation might have proceeded/grown complications... so the bad guys got further away, another train was robbed, or the woman you were fighting over married the man who shot you.
Unless your minions/other PCs went out and dealt with it.

It could be like 'troupe' play, where if your primary PC is healing then your second string (the town doctor with a shady past) steps up.
I've prefer something like that, rather than the 'It's only a flesh wound!' option. Less about 'realism' than wanting combat/violence to feel dangerous and have consequences.

Also, longer downtime might discourage casual gunplay... unless that's what you're after.
One of the things I didn't like about Deadlands is that Players seemed to have no aversion to engaging in combat, because they could just 'chip it away'... which undermines the tension of situations like the one Matty Helms posed about how to deal with the violent gunman.
 
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Dyrnwyn

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Much of what defines the Spaghetti Western, the cynicism and scruff, ragged look (not to mention bad-dubbing) aren't necessarily going to emerge from the system, though the art work may or may not help. You are probably looking for something with mook rules, because while Spaghetti Westerns are often described as gritty, that is more realted to the themes. The actually combat tends to be pretty cinematic.

I watched the original Django last week, and yeah, you would need definitely need mook rules to reenact that one.
And rules for autofire, of course.

If anything, I think a lot of classic Hollywood westerns have grittier, more lethal combat than many spaghetti westerns.
 

Dyrnwyn

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I dunno about grittier or more lethal... seems like plenty of grizzled dirtbags get killed in Spaghetti flics... but more plausible? Yeah.

That's probably a better way of putting it.
Like, if High Noon was a spaghetti western, Kane would just shoot the four guys and be done with it, but realistically, four on one are bad odds.
 

David Johansen

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We could always list good plots and tropes and stuff.

I always find a rotten, obnoxious sheriff and his deputies to be a good starting point.
Disproving false accusations against natives works as a plot. I'd avoid "Indians" as villains these days.
Miners and claim jumping.
Horse theft rings.
Cattle theft rings.
Corruption in the railroad construction.
Range wars between shepherds and cowboys.
Pretty schoolmarms and saloon girls with hearts of gold are tropes that can and have been subverted in a thousand ways.
 

Simlasa

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Going off of some of my favorite Gunsmoke radio episodes:
Investigating a series of murders/thefts/missing persons
Tracking down suspects/escaped prisoners.
Interfering ranchers/businessmen/government officials
Belligerant ruffians/ranch hands/assholes
Diseases like cholera
Man against the elements
Domestic disputes/feuds
Competitions like horse races/marksmanship/drinking
Various drunkards/oddballs/crazies who wonder in causing trouble
Femme fatales looking to lure lawmen away into ambush
Frontier medicine when the doctor is out of town (mostly involving whisky and saws)
Defending the honor of Miss Kitty
 

MattyHelms

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Way back in the first post, Shooting Iron is mentioned. It keeps coming up in my Amazon browsing. The reviews there look solid enough, but I've never seen any other coverage of the game. Does anyone have any experience with it?
 

sharps54

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I’ll don’t and I own most of the western RPGs so I bit the bullet and just ordered it, I’ll let you know what I think after reading it next week.
 

sharps54

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I'm here to add this one to the list:
The Sixth Gun Role-Playing Game.

Based on a comicbook.
It uses Savage Worlds (it can be updated to SWADE).
Great comic and to be honest I think if you want to do a generic western with a touch of the supernatural using Savage Worlds The Sixth Gun RPG is a better base than Deadlands.
 

MattyHelms

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I’ll don’t and I own most of the western RPGs so I bit the bullet and just ordered it, I’ll let you know what I think after reading it next week.
Awesome, thanks!

I'll fight the temptation to start asking about other games I'm interested in - these forums shouldn't be my passive-aggressive shopping list. :smile:
 

sharps54

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Awesome, thanks!

I'll fight the temptation to start asking about other games I'm interested in - these forums shouldn't be my passive-aggressive shopping list. :smile:
Shooting Iron arrived today and I have thumbed through it. It is based on the OGL, it is class and level based, ascending AC, lots of special abilities for each class, and a skill system that you roll against a GM set DC. If that is what you want it looks like a decent version of that. I personally don't like class and level for more modern games so I probably won't get it to the table. There is a ton of background material in the book if you don't already have that covered. If someone was used to D20 games and only had a passing knowledge of westerns this looks like it would be a good game to go with.

Here is a review from Amazon that goes into more depth, it was posted by a reviewer named Brent Wolke

"Shooting Iron is the dark horse of Western RPGs. It's very likely you never heard of it, or seen it. I've only ever found it for sale on Amazon. What it lacks in fancy layout or overproduced art it makes up for it by packing in a walloping solid 244 pages of tight, lean, gaming material with a veritable treasure trove of extras to cover darn near anything you'd need to know or have a rule to cover. By the author's own admission, there are still elements missing - such as greater depth on Indians - and hoped to cover those elements in future books (though 3 years on, that looks like it isn't happening).

All that being said, it's not a rule's heavy system at all. In fact, chances are, you already know it quite well. Shooting Iron is built on the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons OGL, with abundant streamlining and revised focus' on a straight, non-weird, old west. There are many Old West games built on the d20 system. This is the superior product.

There are the usual 6 attributes, and 8 tailored-to-the-old-west classess such as Cowboy and Gambler - must haves - but also less obvious classes like Pioneer and Townie. There is also an elegant skill system that has a light touch on the rules, but with vast implications to a character's knowledge and abilities.

The equipment section leaves you wanting nothing else to name. It's chock full of weapons and gear and everyday items, and I appreciate the rarity codes which handles whether Item A is likely to be found at an isolated fort (for example) for sale.

The combat section is less convoluted than the 3rd edition game it's based on, and takes nought but 2 dozen or so pages to cover and that includes optional rules.

There is a section on critters (and their stats) but an amazing thing is the section on horses with loads of random tables to determine an individual horse almost as if it was a separate character - complete with levels and abilities! A really nice touch!

The next 100 or so pages is all random tables for everything from the kind of encounters you might stumble across in the Alaskan wilderness, to the kinds of rolling stock attached to a train, to the chances a judge might be corrupt, to the make up of a cavalry unit. None of it is required for game play, but it stands ready to fill in blanks the moment a GM needs details he or she hadn't planned on. My absolute favorite part is - what is essentially - a hex crawling system to wander the wilds and see what you might encounter.

I will put this part in bold if I could: Even if you have no interest in the game itself, the last 100 pages are worth the price to get access to all the research the author has condensed into useful bits that can be used in any game.

The Nitty Gritty
Total Page Count: 244 Pages
Character Creation: 35 Pages
Game Mechanics: 21 Pages
Everything Else: 188 Pages

Judgement: I cannot recommend this one enough. It sits atop all other Western RPGs I own as my go-to game.

BONUS!: The fine people over at BoxToad Creations, using the OGL, created a beautifully produced adventure called The Quicksilver Express for Shooting Iron. It is a work of art. It clocks in between 32 to 62 pages depending on how you print it. It's free, and therefore a must have to go with Shooting Iron."
 
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