D&D 5E Mythological Figures: Bass Reeves

Mythological Figures has featured many legends but few as badass as the Wild West’s greatest officer of the law: Bass Reeves!

Bass Reeves DnD 5E BANNER.jpg

Over 3,000 arrests. The first black deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi River worked the Arkansas and Oklahoma territories for 32 years, killing over a dozen men in self-defense before dying after 2 years of retirement as a local police officer in Muskogee.

This legend’s story begins in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas where he was born into slavery under William Steele Reeves, a state legislator (Bass’ first name came from his grandfather Bass Washington). In 1846 Bass went to Grayson County, Texas where he was likely kept in bondage there by Colonel George R. Reeves (a Texas state legislator and son of William Reeves) for at least a decade. After being taken to the fighting during the Civil War (where Colonel Reeves joined the Confederacy) he escaped, living with the Cherokee, Creeks, and Seminoles in the Indian Territory until 1865. For the next 10 years Bass lived in Van Buren, Arkansas where he worked his family’s farm.

In 1875 a US Marshal by the name of James F. Fagan was ordered by Judge Isaac Parker to find 200 deputies for the Indian Territory—with his knowledge of the land and ability to speak Native languages, Bass Reeves became a deputy US Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas for 18 years, transferring to the Eastern District of Texas for 4 years, and then served 10 more years in the Muskogee Federal Court. Despite often being made to hunt down very dangerous criminals, Bass was never wounded (though he did have his belt and hat shot off at least once each, so he was no stranger to close calls).

While Bass was an excellent shot with both pistols and long arms, he was also good at his job and truly lived as a lawman, even hunting down his own son for murdering his daughter-in-law (Benjamin “Bennie” Reeves went on to serve 11 years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas before becoming a model citizen.) Incidentally he did once kill a man by mistake (a posse cook) while cleaning his gun but he was acquitted by Judge Parker, and it should be noted that his other 10 kids (from 2 wives) did not eventually become criminals he was forced to hunt down.

Some other interesting things about Bass Reeves: he was the great-uncle of Paul L. Brady, the first black man to become a US federal administrative law judge (appointed 62 years after Bass passed away), the bridge over the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson is called the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge, and there’s a bronze statue of him in Pendergrant Park (Fort Smith, Arkansas). Most famous though is the very sensible claim that he was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger—he racked up an enormous number of arrests, avoided serious injury over the course of 30 years chasing criminals, and most of the people he arrested went to the Detroit House of Correction in the same city as WXYZ where Lone Ranger stories were first broadcast.

Design Notes: Let’s start off with some clarification—this was the pinnacle of a lawman in the rootin’ tootin’ gun shootin’ Wild West. Not only did Bass Reeves survive three decades on the job, he was never even wounded, all while certainly facing greater hostility from most of the people he was protecting (because he was black). It’s hard to imagine that the inspiration for the Lone Ranger doesn’t have at least a little bit of the class, so we’ll get a level in that but keep the focus on fighter levels with the sharpshooter archetype. Other than that we know a high Dexterity is called for (boost that AC up as high as it can go!), and while he might’ve been physically stronger (probably was) the character will get more utility out of the Athlete feat (while getting that Dexterity all the way up to the maximum). Let’s do the numbers! The DMG came in at 11.5, the Blog of Holding at 11.2, agreeing nicely on CR 11.

Bass Reeves

Medium humanoid (human), lawful good fighter (sharpshooter) 14 / ranger 1
Armor Class 18 (leather, defense fighting style)
Hit Points 112 (15d10+30)
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
13 (+1)​
20 (+5)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
14 (+2)​
10 (+0)​
Saving Throws Str +6, Con +7; Proficiency +5
Skills Athletics +6, Deception +5, Insight +7, Perception +7, Persuasion +5, Stealth +10, Survival +7
Senses passive Perception 17
Languages Cherokee, English, Maskókî
Challenge 11 (7,200 XP)

Background: Outlander. Bass never forgets the geographic arrangement of terrain, settlements, and areas of wilderness. In addition, he can forage fresh water and food each day for as many as 6 people as long as the environment nearby can support it.

Action Surge (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Bass can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

Attentive Gaze. Bass can use a bonus action to take the Search action.

Excellent Aim (3/Short Rest). Bass can spend a bonus action to aim a wielded ranged weapon at a target within its range. Until the end of his turn, ranged attacks that Bass makes against the target deal an extra 8 damage.

Favored Enemy. Bass has advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks to track humans, as well as on Intelligence checks to recall information about them.

Feat: Athletic. Bass can stand up from being prone with only 5 feet of his movement, climbing doesn’t cost him extra movement, and he only has to move 5 feet before making a running long jump or running high jump.

Feat: Skillful. Bass is proficient in Deception, Persuasion, and Survival (included above).

Feat: Superb Aim. Bass ignores half cover and three-quarters cover when making a ranged weapon attack, and he doesn’t have disadvantage when attacking at long range. When Bass makes his first ranged weapon attack in a turn, he can choose to take a –5 penalty to his ranged weapon attack rolls in exchange for a +10 bonus to ranged weapon damage.

Indomitable (2/Long Rest). Bass can reroll a saving throw that he fails but must use the new roll.

Marksman Combatant. Bass doesn’t have disadvantage from making ranged weapon attack rolls against targets within 5 feet of him. In addition, whenever he makes a ranged weapon attack against a creature on his turn, that creature is unable to take reactions until the end of his turn.

Natural Explorer: Grasslands. When Bass makes an Intelligence or Wisdom check related to grasslands, his proficiency bonus is doubled if he is using a skill that he’s proficient in. While traveling for an hour or more in his favored terrain, Bass gains the following benefits:
  • Difficult terrain doesn’t slow his group’s travel.
  • Bass’ group can’t become lost except by magical means.
  • Even when he is engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), Bass remains alert to danger.
  • If Bass is traveling alone, he can move stealthily at a normal pace.
  • When he forages, Bass finds twice as much food as he normally would.
  • While tracking other creatures, Bass also learns their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passed through the area.

Second Wind (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Bass can use a bonus action to regain 1d10+14 hit points.


ACTIONS
Extra Attack. Bass attacks three times when he takes the Attack action.

Dagger (4). Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d4+5) piercing damage.

Revolver (3). Ranged Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, range 40/120 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8+5) piercing damage.

Hunting Rifle. Ranged Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, range 80/240 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (2d10+5) piercing damage.
 
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Mike Myler

Mike Myler

J-H

Hero
Cool, someone from my area of the country and a real guy also! I don't recall if there's any actual history behind the True Grit movie (original w/ John Wayne, remake done about 8-10 years ago), but Bass Reeves covered that area of territory as well (E OK/W AR).

The Texas Rangers have produced a few interesting characters as well.

This made me go back and look at the "modern firearm" section of the DMG for possibly the first time. The damage amounts look pretty reasonable and useful.
 

dave2008

Legend
Awesome Mike - love everything about this entry. Thank you for sharing!

EDIT: OK a couple of comments.
  • Given his tenure, reputation, and accomplishments (personal and professional); I might be inclined to go with a 12 in Charisma and drop Wisdom down to 14. Heck, he even looks pretty charming in that picture!
  • I don't have any issue with it - but I didn't realize firearms did 2-dice damage.
  • I assume it is RAW, but the rile range seems a bit low (I have read they are closer to a couple hundred yards, not feet).
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The man managed to bring in 3000 criminals, but was never wounded, and only had to kill 14 of them? But you stat his as a gunslinger, and not as a master negotiator? And he has no investigation skill at all, despite that being an important part of his actual job for decades?

Not the most impressive representation.
 

MGibster

Legend
  • Given his tenure, reputation, and accomplishments (personal and professional); I might be inclined to go with a 12 in Charisma and drop Wisdom down to 14. Heck, he even looks pretty charming in that picture!
The man knew how to grow a mustache!
The man managed to bring in 3000 criminals, but was never wounded, and only had to kill 14 of them? But you stat his as a gunslinger, and not as a master negotiator? And he has no investigation skill at all, despite that being an important part of his actual job for decades?
Some fun facts about Reeves:

  1. He was illiterate and would have someone read the description of criminals off of wanted posters, commit them to memory, and use this information while working the territories.
  2. He often donned disguises during the course of his duties (though how he hid that magnificent mustache baffles historians to this day).
  3. Reeves preferred his trusty Winchester, but carried as many as three pistols and was said to be able to fire them equally well with both hands.
  4. He had a dog that went out with him in the territories trained to watch his prisoners. A mean dog.
 

Greg K

Hero
The man knew how to grow a mustache!

Some fun facts about Reeves:

  1. He was illiterate and would have someone read the description of criminals off of wanted posters, commit them to memory, and use this information while working the territories.
  2. He often donned disguises during the course of his duties (though how he hid that magnificent mustache baffles historians to this day).
  3. Reeves preferred his trusty Winchester, but carried as many as three pistols and was said to be able to fire them equally well with both hands.
  4. He had a dog that went out with him in the territories trained to watch his prisoners. A mean dog.
I came to mention 1,2, and being equally good firing with both hands.
Some other notes:
5. There are some accounts that he, actually, beat up his owner George Reeves before escaping.
6. One of my professors had described an account of Bass Reeves walking into a group of men lynching a man and freeing him. None of the men doing the lynching challenged Reeves out of fear of his reputation.
7. He reportedly always rode a white stallion.
 

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
  • I assume it is RAW, but the rile range seems a bit low (I have read they are closer to a couple hundred yards, not feet).
Aye I've always thought the same.
The man managed to bring in 3000 criminals, but was never wounded, and only had to kill 14 of them? But you stat his as a gunslinger, and not as a master negotiator? And he has no investigation skill at all, despite that being an important part of his actual job for decades?

Not the most impressive representation.
I had that thought, then I wondered about how many investigations—criminals on the frontier, in territory that isn't fully governed, with towns where nobody will recognize them or have word of their deeds, just open space and freedom—would be the kind that use the Investigation skill. It'd mostly be asking around "see a guy this tall, buys a lot at once, maybe had a leg wound" which hardly seemed like an ability check (assuming these criminals don't just keep stealing from people, which why wouldn't they). So for me it came down to "should be better at tracking fleeing criminals or ferreting them out" and in the calculus Survival seemed like it played a bigger role (following trails out in the wilderness, many that were probably days old or older). Feel free to swap a feat or 2 points of Wisdom for Skilled (pick up Investigation and Persuasion, then maybe Intimidation?) if you like, but I think for a marshal in a frontier territory (as opposed to a career city cop) this is hitting the target.

The man knew how to grow a mustache!

Some fun facts about Reeves:

  1. He was illiterate and would have someone read the description of criminals off of wanted posters, commit them to memory, and use this information while working the territories.
  2. He often donned disguises during the course of his duties (though how he hid that magnificent mustache baffles historians to this day).
  3. Reeves preferred his trusty Winchester, but carried as many as three pistols and was said to be able to fire them equally well with both hands.
  4. He had a dog that went out with him in the territories trained to watch his prisoners. A mean dog.
I came to mention 1,2, and being equally good firing with both hands.
Some other notes:
5. There are some accounts that he, actually, beat up his owner George Reeves before escaping.
6. One of my professors had described an account of Bass Reeves walking into a group of men lynching a man and freeing him. None of the men doing the lynching challenged Reeves out of fear of his reputation.
7. He reportedly always rode a white stallion.
😮
 



I had no idea about this man until back in 2015 when Bill O'Reilly, yes the same one formerly of Fox News, did a show about him, as part of his Legends & Lies series back in 2015. I won't link to any videos of the episode, but it was well done, and whatever else O'Reilly may be, he brought a lot of positive, new attention to Bass.
 

Greg K

Hero
I wanted to share this account from legendsofamerica.com regarding one of Bass Reeves's arrests which I have also seen elsewhere:

"The tales of his captures are legendary – filled with intrigue, imagination, and courage. Reeves was pursuing two outlaws in the Red River Valley near the Texas border on one such occasion. Gathering a posse, Reeves and the other men set up camp some 28 miles from where the two were thought to be hiding at their mother’s home. After studying the terrain and making a plan, he soon disguised himself as a tramp, hiding the tools of his trade – handcuffs, pistol, and badge, under his clothes. Setting out on foot, he arrived at the house wearing an old pair of shoes, dirty clothes, carrying a cane, and wearing a floppy hat complete with three bullet holes.

Upon arriving at the home, he told a tale to the woman who answered the door that his feet were aching after having been pursued by a posse who had put the three bullet holes in his hat. After asking for a bite to eat, she invited him in, and while he was eating, she began to tell him of her two young outlaw sons, suggesting that the three of them should join forces.

Feigning weariness, she consented to let him stay a while longer. As the sun was setting, Reeves heard a sharp whistle coming from beyond the house. Shortly afterward, the woman went outside and responded with an answering whistle. Before long, two riders rode up to the house, talking at length with her outside. The three of them then came inside, and she introduced her sons to Reeves. After discussing their various crimes, the trio agreed that joining up would be a good idea.

Bunking down in the same room, Reeves watched the pair carefully as they drifted off to sleep and, when they were snoring deeply, handcuffed the pair without waking them. When early morning approached, he kicked the boys awake and marched them out the door. Followed for the first three miles by their mother, who cursed Reeves the entire time, he marched the pair the full 28 miles to the camp where the posse men waited. Within days, the outlaws were delivered to the authorities, and Bass collected a $5,000 reward"
 

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
I wanted to share this account from legendsofamerica.com regarding one of Bass Reeves's arrests which I have also seen elsewhere:

"The tales of his captures are legendary – filled with intrigue, imagination, and courage. Reeves was pursuing two outlaws in the Red River Valley near the Texas border on one such occasion. Gathering a posse, Reeves and the other men set up camp some 28 miles from where the two were thought to be hiding at their mother’s home. After studying the terrain and making a plan, he soon disguised himself as a tramp, hiding the tools of his trade – handcuffs, pistol, and badge, under his clothes. Setting out on foot, he arrived at the house wearing an old pair of shoes, dirty clothes, carrying a cane, and wearing a floppy hat complete with three bullet holes.

Upon arriving at the home, he told a tale to the woman who answered the door that his feet were aching after having been pursued by a posse who had put the three bullet holes in his hat. After asking for a bite to eat, she invited him in, and while he was eating, she began to tell him of her two young outlaw sons, suggesting that the three of them should join forces.

Feigning weariness, she consented to let him stay a while longer. As the sun was setting, Reeves heard a sharp whistle coming from beyond the house. Shortly afterward, the woman went outside and responded with an answering whistle. Before long, two riders rode up to the house, talking at length with her outside. The three of them then came inside, and she introduced her sons to Reeves. After discussing their various crimes, the trio agreed that joining up would be a good idea.

Bunking down in the same room, Reeves watched the pair carefully as they drifted off to sleep and, when they were snoring deeply, handcuffed the pair without waking them. When early morning approached, he kicked the boys awake and marched them out the door. Followed for the first three miles by their mother, who cursed Reeves the entire time, he marched the pair the full 28 miles to the camp where the posse men waited. Within days, the outlaws were delivered to the authorities, and Bass collected a $5,000 reward"
:whistle:
Sold! Sounds like Deception, Persuasion, and Stealth are musts.
 


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