Shootout at the D&D Corral

Dungeons & Dragons has many influences, including European and American authors. Of the American influences, one genre is sometimes overlooked but just as critical: the Western. [h=3]D&D and the Wild West[/h]One of TSR's earliest founders was co-creator of D&D Gary Gygax's good friend Don Kaye. In addition to helping fund TSR in its early days, Kaye was one of the first players of D&D, even hosting Gygax's sand table in his garage. In the second round of playtesting, Murlynd would debut, a magic-user who was fond of Westerns.

Kaye's fondness for Westerns seeped into D&D itself; Gygax allowed an exception for Murlynd to use his six-shooters in Greyhawk, a world where gunpowder doesn't work. Kaye had plans to create a Wild West RPG, aspirations that were tragically cut short, as retold by Gygax in an interview with Scott Lynch:

As D&D was "blowing out the door" at the rate of over 100 a month by summer, Don began to look forward eagerly to doing a Wild West RPG. He planned to draft rules as soon as he could quit his job to work for TSR. We projected that would be possible in about a year or so. Don was very happy. Then, in January of 1975, he had a massive and fatal heart attack. He was only 36 years old when that happened. How ironic, I thought, as I became the first paid employee of the company in June of 1976, Don's birthday month, he being exactly one month older than I. Don was then and still is sorely missed by me. Brian Blume and I went on to create the Boot Hill RPG in Don's memory. He would likely have done it better.

Gygax never forgot Kaye's contributions. There's a section in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide that provided conversion rules:

D&D’s earliest GMs were encouraged to bring guns into their fantasy worlds in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, which included a short section called “Sixguns & Sorcery.” This provided not only rules for converting between AD&D and Boot Hill (TSR’s Wild West roleplaying game, first published in 1975), but it also statted up several different guns. Derringers did 1d4 damage, while other handguns did 1d8 damage. Dynamite did a whopping 4d6 damage—or 6d6 if the DM allowed a saving throw!​
[h=3]The Weird West[/h]We know that Gygax was a fan of Westerns, but what's sometimes overlooked is how the themes of the genre carried over into D&D. Blog of Holding points out how Gygax's sources of inspiration had Wild West elements to them:

Re-reading Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars recently, I was struck with how explicitly it’s a Western. John Carter fights savages on dead sea bottoms, gropes through caverns looking for treasure, and fights weird monsters. And that’s all before he goes to Mars. The first episode of the novel is a shoot-em-up Arizona adventure which encapsulates all the rest of the book. Mars is Arizona writ large, with bigger and drier deserts, more savage natives, more accurate guns, faster horses, and more faithful dogs. In structure, the book is a lot like the Wizard of Oz movie: a reasonably plausible day, followed by a fantasy dream sequence version of the same events. The second of Gygax’s sources, Howard’s Conan, is similar. Howard was a Texan who wrote Westerns along with his fantasy stories, cowboys-in-the-Middle East stories, and boxing stories. It’s frequently argued that Conan is a Western hero. His martial skills allow him to triumph over the lawless savages and over the decadent “civilized” folk of his wild land. That’s what cowboys do.

For more parallels, a Hungarian author named Melan provides some much needed perspective:

Let us examine the world of the Western. What we see is wilderness. You can find a few settlements (mainly small towns) here and there, but the main stage for the action is the almost entirely uninhabited land. This is a rather important trope, as spotlights one of the main qualities of „adventurers”: the perform their acts not due to the social motivation or compulsion, but because of their own inner conviction. In the West – and in Hyboria or many parts of Greyhawk – the individual is alone. He cannot expect the Law to stand by or against him. The city guard (the sheriffs) are busy with the survival of their own little community and do not represent a serious obstacle for a sufficiently armed and dedicated guy. He has to create justice by himself, and his only reliable tool for that is armed violence.

This may be why recent Star Wars installments feel like RPG sessions, because they're both drawing on Western tropes:

It also follows from this logic that society cannot keep sufficiently high-level adventurers in check. In a world like this, social position is much less important than a strong arm or a sharp blade. This world is completely at oppositon to the High Middle Ages, and is much more similar to the world of tales where the youngest son of the poor farmer can become a king, he just has to defeat the giants first. This doesn’t mean that this sort of fantasy world cannot have oppressed masses, but it’s certain that it won’t be emphatic in the sphere where player characters move. A game can have adventurers be individuals located outside the normal world of bulls and feudal lords, or it can have the idealised American world hide behind the chainmail, the peasantry and the longsword. Here, the individual can pick up a sword or a gun as he wishes, and set off into the big nothing to make his desires come true. And when he retires and buys the inn in Dodge City, nobody will ask him if he got his first five levels from looting tombs and massacring orcs (bandits? indians? peaceful villagers?). What is certain is that whatever he achieved, he achieved it with his own strength.​

D&D is a mix of many influences, but its tone and style of play -- adventurers on their own making a name for themselves -- seems like it was influenced as much by high fantasy epics as it was by gritty showdowns in the Wild West.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 

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Michael Tresca

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How many cost a fireball wand? With the same money you could buy lots of guns and ammunition, or ot hire a squad of gunslingers.

Maybe the giants and dragons would investigate to find a way to stop ballistic damage, because then the little humanoids, even kobolds and goblins, may become too dangerous or powerful, for example a massive invisibility spell where only can be seen in short distances, to avoid ranged attacks.
 

Aldarc

Legend
The basic ideas of this article had already come up previously in the discussion of the article on the American influence on D&D, so there are not really any big surprises here.

I think the more important point is this:
This is actually something I've often experienced in MMOs that have a mix of melee and ranged classes: Unless you either grossly exaggerate the effectiveness of melee weapons (e.g. light sabres in Star Wars) or play down the effectiveness of ranged weapons (e.g. in D&D), ranged weapons are always preferable because they allow you to potentially kill your opponents before they even get into melee range, i.e. without any danger to yourself.
Most weapons in D&D (e.g., daggers, slings, shields, spears, bows, etc.) fail to represent their actual effectiveness in historical use. Longbows were not exactly something you used when fighting an ogre in a dungeon.

There's a reason knights fell out of fashion in Earth's history!
That probably has more to do with the rise of professional armies and artillery. Knights were expensive to equip and train. But nations could eventually churn out a larger, if not more effective, army with less time, money, and effort. Mobile Swiss pike formations were able to neutralize a lot of knights and heavy cavalry, and likewise Swiss pikemen became increasingly vulnerable to the ascendancy of firearms. Cannons were able to neutralize a lot of knights and fortifications.

How many cost a fireball wand? With the same money you could buy lots of guns and ammunition, or ot hire a squad of gunslingers.

Maybe the giants and dragons would investigate to find a way to stop ballistic damage, because then the little humanoids, even kobolds and goblins, may become too dangerous or powerful, for example a massive invisibility spell where only can be seen in short distances, to avoid ranged attacks.
Eberron presents a world where gunpowder and firearms never developed because it was largely redundant with the setting's wide magic and the subsequent industrialization of magic. The industrialization of magic, dedicated arcane crafters, and the Dragonmarked houses made a lot of magic items relatively cheaper and more readily available.

The Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron suggests that Cantrips and 1st level spells are common, and that items based around these spells are roughly 50-100 gp. 3rd level spell items, such as wands of fireball, are more uncommon, but would still only be ~200 gp. But keep in mind, that you are not buying a "gun" with a wand of fireball, you are essentially buying "grenades" or "light cannon." Though here staves would likely be more common as artillery than wands. And not only are you buying a cannon, you are buying pocket-sized ones that do not require the same amount of resources (e.g., cannoneer teams, wagons, gunpowder kegs, supply lines, horses/mules, etc.) to utilize in battle or mobilize to new battlefields. This cannot be understated how revolutionary this would be.

Even at 1st level, a typical wandslinger in army just casting their cantrips can potentially provide as much damage, if not moreso, than the equivalent firearms. Low level magewrights, wandslingers, and the like are incredibly common in Eberron. The biggest downside is that you would need someone with magic to use it, but we were told that House Cannith was supposedly developing wands that could be utilized by non-mages!

So what makes gunslingers anywhere near as cost effective?
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
I'm currently running a pirate campaign that features flintlock weapons heavily. Some how it hasn't devalued the use of spells or other default D&D weapons. Flintlock weapons deal a lot of damage in my campaign, but they do have their drawbacks. They can misfire, and they can stop working if the weapons are exposed to water. But any spells that focus on projectiles/missiles (which would usually mean sling bullets, arrows and crossbow bolts) now also work on pistol/rifle bullets. This means that a spell like "protection from missiles" now also stops a bullet, and any spells that can enchant ammunition, also can be used to enchant a bullet. This allows my players to combine magic with flintlock weapons.

Some of the action takes place underwater however, and this is where flintlock weapons do not function. Also, because reloading a flintlock weapon costs a fullround action, the players are encouraged to fall back on their normal melee weapons when their guns are empty. This is very much in line with how historical pirates fought. The players can carry a bandolier of preloaded weapons, and fire them all until everything is empty (with the aid of the quickdraw feat, this is 3.5 mind you). Lastly when all guns are empty, they can draw their cutlass.
Flintlocks make a poor substitute for a six shooter!
 

Dioltach

Legend
Perhaps when discussing how the Western genre influenced the creation of fantasy roleplaying games it would be wise to acknowledge that Westerns themselves are part of a larger genre of adventure stories that includes not only Westerns, sci-fi and fantasy, but also detectives, pulp adventures and war stories, and in fact goes back at least as far as the medieval chivalric romances. A lot of the thought processes and experiences in all these stories are the same, but also the logic and internal cohesion. Only the settings change.
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
But you can't draw a crossbow as quickly as you can, draw a revolver! A cowboy is a different sort of thing in a fantasy setting. There is a fantasy setting which takes place in the American West.


These are fantasy novels.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emberverse_series


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G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Anyway...I've been wishing for a really good Western RPG, but one that isn't strictly historical. Something that combines undead/sorcery/dark powers with the Western motif.

Any suggestions?
 

Hussar

Legend
True, never seen anyone take out an elephant with a shotgun...but I wouldn't say guns were ineffective until the 20th century or that having a bow or crossbow were on par with having a rifle.

Natives of many continents would go through great lengths to get their hands on guns from the colonials that invaded their lands.

Canons could be far more effective than a catapult, and once the rifle was invented guns became far deadlier at longer distances than any bow or crossbow. Even Muskets were pretty dangerous with the right caliber. Go black powder shooting sometime with a musket fashioned after a late 18th century weapon and you'll see large holes blown into various targets (IF you hit, of course).

The Gunpowder age came about because guns WERE more effective than other missile weapons of the times. I'd say Guns became far more powerful and effective than bows and crossbows long before the 20th century.

However, when we talk about when we typically imagine D&D, the guns from those eras probably were not quite as effective as we may imagine them to be.

No, they really, really weren't. They were better because they were SO much cheaper to produce and train. You can make someone pretty effecient with a musket in a couple of weeks. It takes months and years to train pikemen or archers. Never minding that rifling the barrel of a musket or rifle wouldn't occur (in any great amounts anyway) until the 19th century. We're talking SERIOUS anachronisms here.
 

Hussar

Legend
Anyway...I've been wishing for a really good Western RPG, but one that isn't strictly historical. Something that combines undead/sorcery/dark powers with the Western motif.

Any suggestions?

Wasn't there a game called Aces and Eights? I seem to recall it got pretty rave reviews at the time. Can't recall anything else off hand though.

For a cheapie, there's Weird West - it's only one page long as well. Fun game.
 

Flintlocks make a poor substitute for a six shooter!

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Well, even back in the pirate era there were multi-shot weapons. I've included 6-shot, 8-shot and 12-shot pepperbox pistols in my campaign as rare loot.
I've also included pistols that fire 2 bullets simultaneously, which allows the players to make two attacks.
 

Gorath99

Explorer
Anyway...I've been wishing for a really good Western RPG, but one that isn't strictly historical. Something that combines undead/sorcery/dark powers with the Western motif.

Any suggestions?
Never played it myself, but I think you may find Deadlands to your liking. I think it is still in print for Savage Worlds, but there also used to be versions for a bespoke system, d20 and GURPS.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Anyway...I've been wishing for a really good Western RPG, but one that isn't strictly historical. Something that combines undead/sorcery/dark powers with the Western motif.

Any suggestions?
Isn't that Deadlands? I don't know if that would constitute "historical" since it is still set in an ahistoric North America.
 


GreyLord

Legend
No, they really, really weren't. They were better because they were SO much cheaper to produce and train. You can make someone pretty effecient with a musket in a couple of weeks. It takes months and years to train pikemen or archers. Never minding that rifling the barrel of a musket or rifle wouldn't occur (in any great amounts anyway) until the 19th century. We're talking SERIOUS anachronisms here.

Give me a Cannon and I'd blow your walls down faster than any catapult would. It was one reason the Ottomans were so deadly.

If you've EVER fired a black powder musket that was of 18th century design you'd quickly realize that NO Bow or Crossbow is going to do that much damage. You'll have a hole through you bigger than any bow or crossbow will be able to make, and it can blow a hole straight through most metal plates that arrows or bolts probably won't penetrate.

Of course if you don't put enough grain in so that someone who isn't used to firing a gun can actually hold the gun it isn't as effective, but most individuals used a LOT more powder than that. Use a Rifle (such as the Civil War era guns) and you'll take out a Bow or Crossbow user at range far before they going to probably even be able to hit you.

The only advantage the Bow may have is faster loading time, but range and power are going to defeat the archery users almost any day of the week.

Cannon is in a list on it's own. Far greater range, accuracy, and explosive power than any catapult you will find.

This is NOT anecdotal, you can get and fire replicas and these weapons today. It's actually pretty popular among some crowds.

PS: I should note that your thought was that guns were not effective until the 20th century which is flat out disproven by history. Even with your own words of rifling in the 19th century puts that prior to the 20th century.

The reason guns became far more popular was that they had more power and ability than bows and Crossbows. Previously, even if they had more explosive power, they were also very unreliable. AS reliability increased they became far more effective. Crossbows arguably are FAR easier to train someone to use as well as cheaper (Especially back in the 18th and 19th centuries, if one was that suicidal as to arm their ranged warriors with crossbows).

Natives of most continents wanted the firearms for these reasons. It wasn't that the colonials had better training or that the White man was superior, in fact, in most areas the Native Inhabitants were better trained and more familiar with the areas. However, the technology was something that they could not compete with and that gave the invading colonials a distinct advantage. When the Native inhabitants were on level ground with technology you see some of the greatest massacres of the European invaders occur.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
pepper_2.jpg


24-barrel_pepperbox.jpg


Well, even back in the pirate era there were multi-shot weapons. I've included 6-shot, 8-shot and 12-shot pepperbox pistols in my campaign as rare loot.
I've also included pistols that fire 2 bullets simultaneously, which allows the players to make two attacks.

yes but those multishot pistols were never cheap and in a fantasy campaign would be comparable to wands

Theres an issue of Lone Wolf and Cub where he faces the greatest Gun Smith in Japan who has invented a multishot weapon of mass destruction. The story is about craftsmanship, art and death and makes the point that the gun smiths art is rare.

Thats what I think would happen in fantasy, gunsmiths should be artists on par with Alchemist and wizards. In that case guns are no more deadly than vials of alchemist fire or magic missile. On the otherside too why would a Barbarians damage reduction not work against bullets? and why not have manouvere that lets a fighter cut bullets out of the air?
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
What would happen if we transported an entire western town plus some surrounding territory into a fantasy campaign? Let's say we include some farmland, part of a train line with a few locomotives, and an Indian village, how do you think they will get along with their new neighbors, say a castle, a king, a bunch of knights, some orcs and local monsters, a dwarven stronghold, and a nearby forest with elves?
Fist the climate is different, the town is in prarie country with wild horses, cattle, buffalo, cowboys and Indians, surrounding the western cutout is European style forests and farmland with orcs, goblins, and monsters of various sorts in the wilder parts.
 

Derren

Hero
What would happen if we transported an entire western town plus some surrounding territory into a fantasy campaign? Let's say we include some farmland, part of a train line with a few locomotives, and an Indian village, how do you think they will get along with their new neighbors, say a castle, a king, a bunch of knights, some orcs and local monsters, a dwarven stronghold, and a nearby forest with elves?
Fist the climate is different, the town is in prarie country with wild horses, cattle, buffalo, cowboys and Indians, surrounding the western cutout is European style forests and farmland with orcs, goblins, and monsters of various sorts in the wilder parts.

Thats imo a rather silly question. What exactly is your intention behind it.

And I am a bit disappointed that this has turned into a gun discussion. The article is pretty clear that it is about how D&D adventures and westerns share a similar structure and often theme (except having to drive cows to the next market. Thats western specific).
 

yes but those multishot pistols were never cheap and in a fantasy campaign would be comparable to wands

This is why I've made guns expensive in my campaign.

Thats what I think would happen in fantasy, gunsmiths should be artists on par with Alchemist and wizards. In that case guns are no more deadly than vials of alchemist fire or magic missile. On the otherside too why would a Barbarians damage reduction not work against bullets? and why not have manouvere that lets a fighter cut bullets out of the air?

I would definitely allow the existing game mechanics to also work with bullets as much as possible. Even the snatch arrows feat could be used to snatch bullets out of mid-air. This is fantasy after all.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
And I am a bit disappointed that this has turned into a gun discussion. The article is pretty clear that it is about how D&D adventures and westerns share a similar structure and often theme (except having to drive cows to the next market. Thats western specific).

Yeah, you're right this could have been a different conversation if we hadnt fixated on gunslingers so let me get back on the right track with


I remember a discussion (it may have been on Enworld too) in which E Gary Gygax himself participated and where he got irritated with the assertion that the DnD Party structure was based on the Companions from Lord of the Rings. His reply was essentially 'No it wasn't - how else would you run a small team of PCs with different roles?"

So I wonder too if the Western influence is direct or just an example of a more archetypal traits found in adventures of the type.

Essentially the old west is a points of light setting with a lone wolf/small party coming to an isolated/lawless town and dealing with an issue before moving on. But thats not exclusive to the Gunslinger alone.

I raised Lone Wolf and Cub earlier, the Ronin Assasin hunted by a powerful nemesis while he wonders from town to town, dealing with an issue (by voilently killing it) before moving on. Someone also gave the example of Conan as a similar lone swordslinger coming to an isolated settlement and killing the bad guys, so if wonder if that would be the standard model in any society which features isolated lawless towns and wondering fighters.

That similar tales arent found in medieval Europe is a result of it being densely populated thus having less lawless isolated towns to deal with
 

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