Until I began my research for Wild West Weeks, I did not realize how much had been published for the Western genre in the world of tabletop gaming. I was aware of the many wargame and skirmish rules published for the genre, but there are also numerous titles available for roleplaying. There are several different levels of Western RPG source-books. There are splat-book style supplements for established games, core rulebooks that re-purpose existing systems, and finally there are systems designed specifically for the genre. What choice is right for you (assuming you are entertaining the prospect of gaming in the Old West) depends on your level of commitment and how much (time or money) you and your groups is willing to invest on buy-in. Below I have identified different levels of buy-in as well as highlighting example RPG source material.
For gamers interested in a simple distraction from their primary campaigns, a simple skirmish ruleset may be a better alternative than using a full-blown roleplaying game. However, it might be possible to work a one-shot style mini-adventure into an existing campaign (can always apply time/dimension/planar/dream travel). A good choice for this level of buy-in is to find cheap supplements for your current roleplaying system. Use the rules your group are most comfortable with that help reinforce the genre and kick the rest to the curb.
System: Weird West RPG
Type:Rules Light Robertson Games’ Wierd West RPG can fit onto a single page and is probably the one of the easiest Weird West roleplaying games you can find. It literally only takes about 10 minutes to begin play.
Type:Skirmish A pretty simple miniature skirmish game, Gutshot may be the right choice for a group to get right into some Old West shoot-out fun. It’s quick and easy, but does unfortunately doesn’t come in full electronic form.
The side-trek is a story arc or adventure that resides within a larger campaign. A group would typically invest between two to four sessions experiencing an Old West adventure set within the context of an on-going campaign.
System: Savage Worlds + Deadlands
Concept:Time-traveling Pulp If you’re pulp or fantasy heroes happen to travel through time or dimensions and you’re using Savage Worlds, a quick dip into Deadlands might be a cool side-trek into the Weird West.
System: Werewolf: the Apocalypse + Werewolf: the Wild West
Concept: Haunting Past The pack pursues an enemy Black Spiral Dancer to Arizona where it takes refuge at an abandoned cairn in a hidden box canyon. Time has forgotten an ancient evil (perhaps related to the Ananasi… which sounds very similar to Anasazi) there and a ghost pack requires the player’s help.
An alt-campaign an alternate game run by the same group. Alt-campaigns are often run by a different GM than the primary campaign to provide breaks and breathing room for preparation. They tend to light in content and rules, so it also provides a respite for players as well. One of two approaches are recommended for alt-campaigns. Use either a very light rules system or use a setting that built on the same system as the primary campaign. This keeps the buy-in and frustration of switching between rules to a minimum.
System: Weird West RPG
Type:Rules Light Once again, I’ll suggest Robertson Games’ Weird West RPG. It’s light, but has enough substance to support a full campaign. It could be the refreshing alternative your group needs.
System: OGL Wild West
Type:d20 Variant If you’re current playing Pathfinder RPG or some other d20 variant, slipping in a campaign using Mongoose’s OGL Wild West should be rather easy to do. You’ll find all the familiar d20 mechanics and traits which should keep buy-in minimal.
For a dedicated campaign, I recommend that the group chooses a game that best fits the genre and their play style. The buy-in can be fairly steep, since this is going to be the primary game for many, if not all of, the players. The decision on which game to use is probably most important for a dedicated campaign, you’re going to be stuck with it for a long time, hopefully, or the campaign will die before it even builds up a full head of steam.
Wild West Game DB
I’ve compiled a small Google spreadsheet to use as a database of all the Old/Wild West RPGs I could find decent information on. I will be reviewing a few of these during Wild West Weeks.
Wild West Weeks
- Welcome to Wild West Weeks
- Wild West RPG Database
- Into the Far West
- Aces & Eights: Shattered Frontier
- Deadlands Reloaded
- Red Dead Redemption
- 24 Hour Old West RPG, Part 1
- 24 Hour Old West RPG, Core Mechanics
- 24 Hour Old West RPG, Traits I
- 24 Hour Old West RPG, Traits II
- 24 Hour Old West RPG, Traits III
- Wild West Minis Database
4 thoughts on “Wild West RPGs”
Westerns are one of those genres largely overlooked by the “mainstream” rpg industry. I myself never paid it much attention until Deadlands. Deadlands was a lot of fun for me and my players and I’m glad I tried it out and ran a campaign with it.
As a side note, Boot Hill 1st edition was released in 1975. The 3rd edition was released in 1990 as your database mentions. The only reason I bring it up is because Boot Hill was the first Western rpg and as such holds a special place in the Western rpg genre.
Either way, I am looking forward to your Western/RPG posts.
Yeah, I only put the release date for the most recent version of the games (Deadlands originally came out in 1996, but I’m only considering the most recent Savage Worlds version).
Hopefully, I’ll do the genre some justice by shining my (admittedly dim) spotlight on genre.
Coyote Trail? By Precis Intermedia Games.