Friday, March 24, 2017

The Challenge of an Old West Campaign

It's always been a problem with the western game - what do you do? Kind of like Traveller* it inevitably descends into one of two main types: it seems to be either bank robberies and mayhem or something "weird" like when our old Boot Hill campaigns used that section in the DM's Guide and started going into D&D modules. They may start as a Roy Rogers movie but they end up a Tarantino film.

It's a strange problem considering how much old west media is out there, until you consider a whole bunch of that deals with lawmen vs. criminals and that the criminals are usually having more fun. You'd think that the TV series would provide a decent model for a western campaign but nobody seems to want to play a location based campaign like "Bonanza" or "Gunsmoke" or even "Deadwood"- they want to play Butch and Sundance roaming about the country having adventures.

I had thought Aces and Eights would solve this by putting in actual game systems for things like running a ranch or managing a cattle drive but it has not taken off here. Maybe if I presented it more as a "Cowboy Kingmaker" campaign it would strike more of a chord with players. That's actually an idea worth some additional thought.

For now Deadlands is the best western option for us - fight monsters  and have adventures with magic and steamtech seems to be the ticket. I pondered one type of campaign years ago but never got to run it. I am going to try to keep each session as one episode though, with a clear ending, to avoid player attendance issues. The way the campaign is structured in the book makes this fairly easy to do as most of the individual "plot points" look like a session's worth of action. There are roughly 15 episodes directly related to the big story, add in some interesting side trips in the Maze and the rest of 1880's California and I easily have 20-24 sessions. If we stick to the once-a-month plan I should have 10 sessions the rest of this year so I'm looking at wrapping this up end of next year. I'm kind of hoping though that we find chances here and there to work in an extra session. Not because I want to rush through it but because we're already having a ton of fun and I'd like to get deeper into it quicker.

*in my experience Traveller games almost always go merchants, mercs, or mayhem, and even if they start as something respectable, it almost always goes criminal at some point. The published adventures almost universally promote this so it's not just a reflection on the players. 


Kelvin Green said...

Almost every game my group plays ends up as some sort of mercantile endeavour; I remember running The One Ring and the players decided to reclaim the Old Dwarf Road through Mirkwood... by setting up a franchise of coaching inns.

Blacksteel said...

That's cool! At least they're looking to build something and not just tear stuff down. Plus that has to lead into a ton of adventure hooks.