In the midst of "gigantic new release" season I thought I would squeeze in a look at a game that is neither new nor gigantic. It originally came out in 2005, but I only discovered it earlier this year so it's new enough to me. There was a mini-wave of western d20 games back then with "OGL Wild West" from Mongoose (great name for that one), Sidewinder Recoiled based on d20 Modern, Deadlands d20, and probably some others I am forgetting.
My background: Played a fair amount of Boot Hill back in the 80's, fooled around with a little Western Hero and GURPS Old West in college, Spent some time with Deadlands in the 90's (both original recipie and d20 flavors). Own Aces & Eights but have never run/played. The only old west fun we've had in recent years is with the Savage Worlds flavor of Deadlands.
First thing: It's a free PDF! Available here. I like free, free is good.
It's 70-off pages long about half of which is all about making characters. It uses the standard d20 set of attributes, scores, and modifiers. It does use what I believe is C&C's approach of 2 primary, 2 secondary, and 2 tertiary attributes for task resolution. Instead of having a long list of skills and DC's by level the base difficulty is 12 for a check involving a primary stat, 15 for a secondary, and 18 for a tertiary. You make a check by rolling a d20, adding the relevant attribute modifier and the character's level to beat the target number described above. There are other possible modifiers - an opponent's level for example - but that's the basic system. Your class determines one primary attribute and the player allocates the others as they see fit. I like this as it does allow a simple way of defining what your character is "good at" in a completely different way from class abilities. You could have multiple characters of the same class that play very differently using this system. Heck, this has me wanting to go back and look over Castles and Crusades again. In the context of a western game I think it has a lot of potential to liven up what sometimes turn into cardboard characters.
Classes run from levels 1-20 and there are 3 different experience tables - sigh. Each class has an attack bonus that increases per level, a defense bonus that increases per level, and a hit die progression that ends after a few levels. So the Brave gets d10's for hit points but only thru level 4 - after that they get +3 hit points per level. There is also a list of fairly specific powers for each class from combat and healing abilities to defining what they can do without needing to make a check. Classes include:
- Mountain Man
- Optional: Wandering Monk, in case you want to "wander the earth like Kane from Kung-Fu"
Multi-classing (two classes at the same time) and dual-classing (switching from one to another) are options. Fairly old school options, but they are in there.
The classes are an odd mix in some cases - the doctor is almost an alchemist with the ability to whip up all kinds of things given access to the right ingredients and tools. The gunslinger is a combat monster with ranged attacks. The mountain man is a beast in melee. The preacher can hand out bonus to allies, debuff opponents, and generally looks a lot like a 4E leader type class. Most class abilities are fairly specific so it's difficult to really judge them without getting in some actual play time. The damage capacity of a level 20 Mountain Man is far beyond anything resembling "realistic" given a heavy pistol's 2d6 damage, but hey, level 20 should be legendary in some ways.
Gear: there is a short gear section mostly focusing on weapons. If you're thinking about running a sustained campaign then a GURPS or Deadlands book would be a good resource to expand this.
Combat involves a d20+ attack bonus vs the target's defense class. There are modifiers for things like darkness or shooting from the back of a moving horse. It's lighter than typical d20 and is not tied to a grid. Characters can move and attack once per round or do one other action instead.
There is a section on NPC's, critters, and opponents that is a solid starting set but will be exhausted pretty quickly in regular play.
The book wraps up with some sample adventure ideas (no maps or statblocks here) based on some pretty standard western plots,
So to me, in the end, it's a relatively rules-light western game that has a lot of potential as a con game or a system for some one-offs, but I'm not sure I could run a sustained campaign with it. It benefits from being a d20 game so there is some familiarity on the part of almost any potential player. The task resolution is fast and flexible and so should be both manageable and fun even with a bunch of players who don't know each other. The class mechanics could be fun for a session or two but probably don't come frequently enough or have enough chrome to them to keep a lot of modern players interested - in that sense it is fairly old-school. It is also less cinematic than something like Savage Worlds as low level characters are fairly vulnerable to damage and there is nothing like bennies or hero points or action points to save one's bacon or allow for scene editing.
For a sustained campaign there is the standard question with a play-it-straight western game: what do you do? Sure bank robberies are fun, but are not particularly sustainable. Much like Traveller the PC's tend to slide towards criminal activity rather than heroism and given the state of medicine in the time that leads to a steady flow of dead characters. There's a reason stuff like Deadlands is more popular than any realistic western game - because the supernatural gives you some non-mundane character options and it gives you something to fight besides the law!
I do like the game and for a "pure" western game its particular combination of mechanics hits a sweet spot for me. Heck it's free, so if you're even slightly interested in old west RPG's go download it and take a look.