Thursday, April 18, 2013

Campaign Settings: The Fantasy Western

Recently, a good friend of mine pointed out one of the musical pieces from the recent Quentin Tarantino movie, Django Unchained. Like he usually does, Tarantino used musical pieces from a variety of older films. He was pointing out how the track "I Giorni Dell'ira," composed by Riziero Ortolani for the Italian western I Giorni Dell'ira, sounded suspiciously familiar to a musical piece we both knew from our teenage years. This started me thinking about the Western genre and how, despite being exceptionally well represented in film, it rarely finds it way to the gaming table. With the exception of Deadlands (and its progeny), the only real Western role-playing out there came out of generic systems like GURPS. Having been a big fan of the few Western themed fantasy console role-playing games coming out of Japan, I thought it was appropriate to try and build a campaign setting for people who wanted to try something a little bit different.

Not the most common RPG setting...
Most followers of the blog know that I have been heavily steeped in Dungeons & Dragons in the past few years, running a multi-party campaign set in the Forgotten Realms and participating in several other games set in other iconic fantasy settings. Part of my desire to try something different has been my growing interest in playing 13th Age. I really like a lot of what 13th Age does and the setting is actually pretty interesting to me as a player, but I have been hankering for something that is very different than the typical swords & sorcery fantasy. For some reason, the notion of an "old west" themed fantasy setting sounds especially compelling to me. Therefore, I hope to present a Western themed, fantasy inspired setting that could be adapted for any game system but will focus on game mechanics of 13th Age.

This, but add some fantastic elements.
I want to start by specifying a few things about this project. This is meant to be a western themed, tabletop RPG setting. It is meant to be the kind of setting that stands alongside settings such as Eberron, Faerûn, Golarion, and even the various Earths of Deadlands. As a fan of collaborative story telling, I intend to create a basic framework for a campaign setting that gives players enough to work with but does not specify too much as to take away from a player's ability to adapt it to fit her own character. One of the frustrations I find with heavily fleshed out settings like the Forgotten Realms or Deadlands is that it is too easy to get blocked up by existing canon.

That's why, to a certain extent, I'm using 13th Age as a framework. 13th Age is a game system that really promotes collaborative narrative control of a role-playing game. Mechanics like One Unique Thing and Icon Relationship dice give players an opportunity to influence the overarching story in ways that more standard role-playing games do not. Despite the preference for 13th Age, these articles will focus more on non-mechanical aspects wherever possible, so a crafty game master could utilize what I do here for any system.


  1. A buddy of mine and I were also interested in a Western-themed fantasy campaign. Probably something similar to Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker. I've never played 13th Age before, but will probably be checking it out based on your recommendations above.

  2. Might I ask why not just leave the fantasy aspect behind entirely and just run a Western game or Western campaign?

  3. Although I am ready to give up on generic medieval fantasy for a while, I still like a heavy dose of fantasy in my setting. Even the sci-fi setting becomes a more interesting role-play setting with a heavy dose of fantasy, even if you call the magical elements "psionics," "biotics," or whatever.

    I would use a setting like Deadlands but I don't want to use a historical system nor do I particularly want to do horror. I'm looking for a setting where magic is a thing alongside shootin' irons and everybody is okay with that.

    There are a few other reasons but I'll have to take some time to get to those.

  4. I've always wanted to do be part of a Wild Arms game. I played lots of 3 and I'm currently working my way through XF. I'm in Judkins Park and will be keeping a close eye on this project.