Thanks to Mr. Rients and his Boot Hill campaign I've had a mini-obsession with westerns recently. I did some cogitating about how to DM a western game before, but never came to any conclusions.
After recently re-watching a bunch of films I think I better understand the genre.
Westerns are about Law and how we as individuals fit within that framework. Often they are about communities on the frontier that are just outside the oncoming tide of Law (Tombstone, Deadwood). You can gamble there, carry weapons, and pay for sex. You can drink all night and shoot your revolver into the air.
Westerns are even more often about the individual seeking justice outside the Law. You might call this revenge, but "revenge" has connotations of patience and guile. Westerns are about dogged pursuit of the flown outlaw. I think a better word would be Reckoning, a biblical style of answering for crimes.
So, how does this help with DMing within the genre? Well, I think know this will help line up conflicts that feel right. But for certain types of campaign I think it might even be clearer.
Parties playing rustlers, train robbers, or shootists will eventually face two options: fade into obscurity or violent conflict with the Law. I think a time limit will help foster this. Say you give you players 5-10 sessions to do what the will, and you crank up the tension each session. The Fuse.
Success will bring notoriety which will bring the inevitable Reckoning. More posses. Posses form quicker. Homesteads and townships are forewarned and armed.
The time limit can also work for the person looking to bring the Reckoning (think the Searchers, True Grit). It is "ugly" in the sense of being brutal and outside the civilizing Law. Give players the same 5-10 sessions to track down leads and enact personal justice. How much of a lead did the Comancheros get? Can you catch the gunslinger before he crosses the border into Mexico?
Generally there is one person on this mission, but it actually makes for good roleplaying with sidekicks that question the vendetta and will need to sacrifice themselves for the hero or be sacrificed by them.
This one is more complicated and might require more artistry on the part of the DM. With "good," I'm thinking of the westerns where there is a law abiding element, doing their best to accommodate those that chafe at the Law, and, eventually, things go to shit (think Tombstone).
Here the time limit isn't important so much as the tension the DM builds. The opposition will push the players and push them and push them, until that invisible line has been crossed and violence ensues.
The DM will have to do that pushing. In a D&D game this might feel like the DM is an adversary, but hopefully players will know that if they roll up a shopkeep character who lives in Tombstone, they won't just be running a trading simulation, bad things will force themselves into their lives, tough choices will need to be made.
I think that a Pirate game would be just like the Bad above, the Queen's navy is on your trail and evetually your crew will be dispersed or hanged. A more tangible monetary threshold might be more fun in that case though-- raise 20,000 doubloons and you "win."
American gangsters are so similar that they almost seem like modern westerns to me. Pretty Boy Floyd and Curly Bill Brocious serve the same function in relation to folklore and the Law, well except with perhaps a tad more hero worship in the grueling economy of the 30's. It seems to me you could put a 5-10 session limit on a Gangbusters campaign and have it work well.
One subset of the gangster genre is different though, this is the mob boss that falls from power. What eventually becomes the Scarface movie. Law wins even against those who have built up entire power structures outside of it. But this is more modern, the gangster never had long even if they were the only ones who didn't realize it. I realize now though, that the same pressure cooker approach for the "good" above might work with these. Small troubles snowball until the boss' empire slips through their hands all at once
And how about Cthulhu games, are they similar in that there is a Fuse, just that it leads, not to violent confrontation, but insanity? I've never played CoC so I can't say much about it.
In conclusion, if any of this has merit it goes a long way to explain why I've never heard of a long Western campaign- it's actually contrary to the genre. It explains why Westerns, Pirate games, and Gangster games will always dwell in the realm of the one-off. It also explains why D&D's long, ongoing progress building makes for the most popular genre, it takes more time and its goals rarely satisfied; we can have a shoot out in a night and feel like we scratched the genre itch, but if your fighter never got their own keep, your wizard never made their own spell, there will always be that unfulfilled goal.
So many games so little time! Great breakdown, esp. with regard to the end-game in those genres. Most of my friends wanted to be bad guys in those games, and they didn’t last. Maybe they would have if we'd been ok with playing ranchers and lawmen. I mean, Bonanza ran for more than ten years.ReplyDelete
Thanks. You're right, the Good might work well as episodic, I hadn't thought of that. A kind of interstitial campaign that you pop back in on every now and then between your main campaign.ReplyDelete
I also thought since I posted that parties of Indians and Zapatistas would work well as the Good.
How I wish Rockstar had used the RDR engine to make an Indian based sequel rather than the idiotic zombie re-skin.
> The DM will have to do that pushing. In a D&D game this might feel like the DM is an adversary...ReplyDelete
Given the implicit dynamics in a Western roleplaying campaign - to which PvP fits better than PvM - the original approach still seems to have much validity IMO (combat-heavy, but that applies to OD&D, too). This entailed the GM playing any third (or fourth, etc.) force(s) while the player characters typically face off against each other on two or three sides, along with their various henchmen, etc.
The ebb-and-flow dynamics from such scenarios thus helps to create the main storyline(s) and set up motivations against which additional "one-sided" player games can be slotted in as required without the GM having to "push" things along quite so hard.
JM02c, anyhow. :)
@irbyz: You're absolutely right, Western might be the single best genre for PVP except for maybe medieval Japan.ReplyDelete
I didn't think of that because I've grown up around really poor sports and had the idea of competing against people turned sour for me.
A PVP game would have its own challenges. You might want players to have their own entourage so that one death doesn't kick them out of the game. And even so1-5 sessions seems like a long time for folks to last without everyone getting blown away, so I might set the Fuse even shorter.
I like this. There's some ideas here I might steal for my Flying Swordsmen RPG. Wuxia has some elements in common with Westerns. Just change "the Law" to "Confucian values" and Bob's your uncle.ReplyDelete
@Telecanter: Medieval Japanese RPGing with a high PvP quotient sounds like a winner to my mind even though it would be tempting to make that multi-scale, too. :)ReplyDelete
Of course it's more difficult to fudge swordfight rolls than it is gunshot wounds (to let PCs escape bloodied to fight another day).
> And even so1-5 sessions seems like a long time for folks to last without everyone getting blown away,
You might be surprised how that works out. Curtis, Colwill and Blake's Pima County Western RP campaign lasted a good number of years until Steve Curtis's untimely death in 1975 ( http://tinyurl.com/5ujn75g / http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2096/5714446740_a7f57bd692_o.jpg *g* / http://tomeoftreasures.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=438 )
> You might want players to have their own entourage so that one death doesn't kick them out of the game.
Agreed! Adding in the entourage of non-player character henchmen was key to that, having started off as raw PvP originally.
> It also explains why D&D's long, ongoing progress building makes for the most popular genre
Personally I'd put that down to "fantasy" as much as anything else; and Gary seemed to think likewise in his early interviews when he was rather more open talking about RPGs before D&D! That Curtis, Colwill and Blake had publicly stated they were planning to release fantasy rules in January 1974 is an amusing observation for those who'd hypothesized (usually without stating a reason) that OD&D's release was somewhat "rushed".
(*lol*/aside; only just spotted the review comment on http://boardgamegeek.com/collection/items/boardgame/18154?rated=1 - "Unrealistically hard to actually "kill" anyone by design, as the game designers liked to have continuing campaigns and it was inconvenient to kill off the characters": yep, got it in one! :))ReplyDelete
> I didn't think of that because I've grown up around really poor sports and had the idea of competing against people turned sour for me.ReplyDelete
One other possible problem nowadays, especially for any "new" players might be the paradigm whereby PvP *is* deadly, but their character reappears a few seconds later. Rather difficult to emulate that mindset in any "realistic" world context for a tabletop RPG with campaign intentions. ^^
> Say you give you players 5-10 sessions to do what the will, and you crank up the tension each session. The Fuse.ReplyDelete
Or Cigar? *jk* (*cues Ennio Morricone music*) - well, presuming one's thinking Clint Eastwood not Groucho Marx, that is.
> And how about Cthulhu games, are they similar in that there is a Fuse, just that it leads, not to violent confrontation, but insanity?
*nods* Presuming a horrible fate doesn't meet your investigator first. A good RPG experience doesn't necessarily have to be drawn out into a full campaign. (Same could be said for some classic D&D tourneys: different type of Fuse... :)
Thanks for the comments irbyz. I'd never heard of Western Gunfight Rules until you mentioned it. Is there a reprint or retro-clone available?ReplyDelete