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

Michael Tresca

Thomas Bowman

First Post
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).
Well its fantasy, remember a work written by Mark Twain?



That is almost the same, except in this book, magic wasn't real, except for the little detail of him getting there via a blow to the head.
 

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Jer

Legend
Supporter
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?

I'm a big fan of Pelgrane's Owl Hoot Trail - https://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/owl-hoot-trail/

It uses a stripped down and reskinned d20 ruleset (3 stats - Draw, Grit and Wits - and a handful of skills) to give you a fantasy/horror version of western tropes. You can cut out the elves, orcs, dwarves and halflings and have something a bit closer to historical, or just go for the "fantasy western" setting whole hog.

It's a tight little game for one shots - I've never tried to run a campaign with it.

(Deadlands is of course the gorilla on the block when it comes to fantasy/horror western games. My table prefers rolling d20s where they can, and Deadlands is more alt-history instead of pure fantasy, so on both counts my group's preferences lean towards OHT over Deadlands).
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I had similar discussions about guns in D&D with my gun nut friends. We decided that guns in d&d were breech loaders. The bullets and powder were in Cartilage form. When you closed the breech, the firing pan loaded was loaded.
As to damage and type we range them from simple, hand crossbow range, bump the die to d8. Up to the current pistol d10 but drop the loading property.
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
I'm a big fan of Pelgrane's Owl Hoot Trail - https://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/owl-hoot-trail/

It uses a stripped down and reskinned d20 ruleset (3 stats - Draw, Grit and Wits - and a handful of skills) to give you a fantasy/horror version of western tropes. You can cut out the elves, orcs, dwarves and halflings and have something a bit closer to historical, or just go for the "fantasy western" setting whole hog.

It's a tight little game for one shots - I've never tried to run a campaign with it.

(Deadlands is of course the gorilla on the block when it comes to fantasy/horror western games. My table prefers rolling d20s where they can, and Deadlands is more alt-history instead of pure fantasy, so on both counts my group's preferences lean towards OHT over Deadlands).
Billy the Kid versus Dracula, who wins?
 

Aaron L

Hero
I always pictured the Wild Coast on Oerth to be a very Wild West-style place, based on the description in the 1983 Greyhawk Boxed Set.

I've always been cool with a mix of both Western and sci-fi elements in my campaigns, and "genre purists" in D&D have always really confused me and showed a lack of appreciation of the history and roots of the game. From the beginning D&D was based not just strictly on Fantasy stories, but 1930s Pulp adventure, which was a period before the genres of fantasy and science-fiction were defined as separate things and it was all a mishmash called Weird Fiction. Just a perusal of Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading in the 1st Edition DMG will show anyone what kinds of stories D&D was based on. These were stories with cowboys on Mars fighting 4-armed aliens, sword-wielding wizards in spaceships fighting demons from other planets, as well as the entirety of HP Lovecraft's writings, with only a few of them being straight up fantasy like Lord of the Rings. Glorious stuff.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
A gun is cheaper, and it can be reloaded by a squire or there were more in the backpack, like that dwarf mercenary Long Drong slayer pirates from Warhammer Fantasy. If D&D was a real-time strategy game, a squad of musketeers would cheaper than hiring a warmage (3.5 class from the Complete Arcane).

Guns are indeed cheaper for real battle conditions compared to most muscle-powered weapons. Nevertheless in real life melee combat survived for a LONG time at the small group level. It was important in World War I and the last recorded bayonet charge of the US Army was in the Korean War (at Pork Chop Hill, assuming S. L. A. Marshall's account is accurate), which had reduced to essentially World War I like conditions that are, in many ways, strongly akin to a dungeon. The last recorded cavalry charge of the US Army was in 1942. There was lots of close-quarters fighting in the Vietnam War, too. The NVA and VC had noticed, even when fighting the French, that getting up close and personal helped negate the substantial firepower advantage that their foes had, so that's exactly the tactics they adopted: Get in very close using infiltration tactics and overrun prepared positions, thereby neutralizing the firepower advantage. It was incredibly costly but ultimately worked. That's just the US. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples in other countries' military histories. If the conditions that led to World War I-type battlefield environments arrive again, you can be sure melee will be back.


With a good shotgun, an elephant can be killed with only a shot.

Um, no. Not without getting very lucky. A rifled slug will reliably kill a deer, which is roughly the size of a human, bucks being about 100 kg. An African elephant is 6000 kg(!), pushing towards two orders of magnitude larger. The real killer of the elephant herds in Africa was the AK-47 as it turns out emptying a few magazines into an elephant and then waiting for it to bleed out works pretty well despite the weakness of the individual rounds. If you want to drop an elephant with one shot, you need something really big, and even then.

But you're mixing in the way guns work in the real world with the way they would work in a game, which won't totally line up. I mean, neither do swords or any other damage type.

Gun stats would be made to fit the rules.


What if a player who likes the martial adepts classes (3.5 Tome of Battle: Book of nine Swords) creates a homebred maneuver about resistance against ballistic damage?

Presumably the DM exercises authority over what's in his or her game?
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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?"

I totally agree: The LotR influence on Gygax has been vastly overstated. He benefitted from its popularity but his source material was clearly much broader.

Look at The Magnificent Seven, either the Akira Kurosawa version or the Yul Brenner version, that is either the "eastern" or "western" version. (The stories are essentially the same.) It's very clear that the seven are recruited for their varying abilities. I'll refer to the Yul Brenner version but if you've not seen them, watch both---they are very good! The character, Britt, played by James Coburn is clearly portrayed as the weapon master. He's a kensai. Bernardo O'Reilly (by Charles Bronson) at least by attitude is a folk hero and is clearly undergoing a redemption story. He's also half Mexican and half Irish, and is portrayed as being conflicted about it. Certainly the leader of the Magnificent Seven, Chris Adams (Yul Brenner) is a good prototype for a paladin.

World War II movies, very popular when Gygax was growing up and when he was writing, often had the "squad" portrayed that way, too, with the characters having pretty clearly identifiable roles, and, often, ethnic identification. There's even a term for it, but I can't recall it right now. You can definitely see it in movies like Hell Is For Heroes. Nowadays you'll sometimes hear people criticize movies for "United Colors of Benetton" casting designed to appeal to a very broad audience by including actors from very clearly defined roles and ethnicities, but this is not actually all that new.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
And what has that got to do with anything? Do you really believe only something with ranged weapons can follow the spirit of westerns?

Samurai movies and Shaw Brothers kung fu movies show that melee combat and the general spirit of the Western co-exist just fine.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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?
Deadlands. Also that kind of thing has been explored by White Wolf and/or The Onyx Path in various World of Darkness entries. I played in an all too brief Dark Tower campaign that used the nWoD rules. Alas I moved and the campaign ended soon after that when the GM moved. (This was just before internet gaming so if it'd happened a few years later I'm sure we'd have kept it going.)
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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.

Also, people would carry multiple weapons, such as a bandolier of loaded pistols, or have a shooter and loaders. If you have monsters that are using guns, one way to represent that is to have some servitor monsters doing the loading. For example, if the shooter is a highly trained hobgoblin, there could be some goblin loaders. Part of the tactics would be to kill off the loaders. Clockwork can also make things be much cooler and more effective than Ye Olde gunnes should be. You can also reskin and have spells like Firebolt work with a gun as the focus, potentially making this work with an Eldritch Knight.

What I do in my game is have clockwork weapons show up as cool treasure. For example:

Ysviden's Rifle (Very Rare, Attunement: Special)

The gith pirates making up the Brotherhood of the Leviathan founded by the legendary Admiral Timerish slowly mine the star leviathan corpse they use as an anchorage for the components needed to make smoke powder. As such, they have developed firearms. Weapons such as Ysviden's Rifle exhibit the pinnacle of their manufacture using a combination of magic and clockwork. This rifle is an example of the highest caliber of their gunsmithing art, made for the lover of Captain Sitirthra, the githyanki assassin Ysviden, who later became a vampire. She slew many using this weapon. It is a masterfully crafted double-barreled rifle with a complex clockwork sight. As a weapon, although it must be loaded with smoke powder and bullets as usual, it hits with such force and precision as to inflict D12 force damage. Its full potential is realized only in the hands of a wielder who has the Sharpshooter feat and attunes to the weapon. As an action, the wielder can aim at a target using the clockwork sight, gaining advantage on the first shot taken against the target and a doubled critical range.
 
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pemerton

Legend
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
Arthurian-style stories involve lone knights-errant travelling through scarcely populated forests and moors meeting strange people living in strange castles.

The western ethos (which is replicated fairly deliberately in some of REH's Conan stories - most notably Beyond the Black River - and in some samurai films) is driven by a "frontier" conception of what is at stake in your relationships with your neighbours.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Arthurian-style stories involve lone knights-errant travelling through scarcely populated forests and moors meeting strange people living in strange castles.

Absolutely, there's lots of examples of "borderlands" type stories in European tales and, indeed, there were many borderlands in Europe at different times in the history of the Middle Ages. The term "march" is a word for borderland and Europe had a lot of them, as one can see from all the place names. Even in the most civilized parts of Europe there were big regions of lawlessness and often even more at frontiers. For instance, in the Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire there were periods of time when outside of Constantinople and some other fortress cities the countryside was essentially lawless and prowled by bandits. And that was, arguably, the most organized part! The land between the Christian northern parts of Spain and the Muslim southern parts during the Reconquista was a pretty wide "no man's land" where only raiders went. This lasted nearly 750 years, from 722 to 1491!
 

Hussar

Legend
One issue, I think, is that as North Americans, because we come from countries that are so ridiculously big, we think that a campaign setting has to be just as big to encompass different territories. It doesn't really register that for so long, pretty much until the 16th century or maybe a bit later, that the notion of "nation" wasn't really a thing. You had castles and the area around that castle and once you got a day or two away from that castle (which, we're only talking 30-40 miles) there really was not a whole lot to be found.

We've grown up in massively populated nation states where it's not unusual to drive a couple of days for a holiday. Go back a century or two and the idea that you're going to travel 1500 kilometers away just to hang out on the beach was unheard of. I think a lot of people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around just how small those city states really were.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
We've grown up in massively populated nation states where it's not unusual to drive a couple of days for a holiday. Go back a century or two and the idea that you're going to travel 1500 kilometers away just to hang out on the beach was unheard of.

Tourism goes back farther than we think but even so it was really the province of the wealthy until the late 19th/early 20th Centuries, most notably the Grand Tour starting after the Peace of Westphalia. For a game set in the post-Renaissance/early Modern era this would make for a good setup for a campaign. Before that, people might take the trip of a lifetime to travel to a shrine on pilgrimage, which is another good campaign setup.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
....We've grown up in massively populated nation states where it's not unusual to drive a couple of days for a holiday. Go back a century or two and the idea that you're going to travel 1500 kilometers away just to hang out on the beach was unheard of. I think a lot of people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around just how small those city states really were.
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote 1
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, 2
And bathed every veyne in swich licour 3
Of which vertu engendred is the flour; 4
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth 5
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth 6
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hmmm The Canterbury Tales has people traveling. And all those pillgrams to the holy lands.
 

To the OP,

The influence is actually the reverse of what you would assume.

Wesely's: Braunstein was a Napoleonic era game that had guns and swords and it began around xmas of 1968. It is the first RPG ever. not to be confused with Korns: Modern Warfare in miniature which is a war game with RPG elements.

Several iterations of that game were set in the 50's/60's as a South American country called Anaban (banana). These were run by both Wesely and Arneson.

The first Fantasy game being Arneson's Blackmoor. It is first announced in his fanzine called Corner of the Table Top in 1971. That very same issue has a play report of an RPG set in the wild west called Brown Stone Texas. We do not have an exact dating on when Brown Stone began, but if you read the report, you find that it is extensive and may cover more than one play session.

Here is a image of that report: https://www.facebook.com/blackmoorsecrets/photos/a.1177543648971815/1184339771625536/?type=3&theater

Click the image and it will expand. You can use the side arrows to navigate through it as there are several pages.

The Blackmoor Bunch also had an RPG set in the future that began in the summer of 1972. It was know as stellar 7 and as Star Empire and was created by John Snider.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Before that, people might take the trip of a lifetime to travel to a shrine on pilgrimage, which is another good campaign setup.

so much so that the first Conan the Barbarian movie is centered on such a pilgrimage to a cult center :eek:

I've also wanted to do a campaign set amidst Mansa Musas pilgrimage across africa
 

Hussar

Legend
Sorry, for the overly pedantic, I should not have said no one ever travelled. You are entirely technically correct and that's the best kind of correct. :rant:

But, the point still remains. Most people would almost never travel more than about 20 or 30 miles from where they were born. Good grief, I went to high school that was about that far, every day.

Think of all that English history and myth and legend. That all happens on one island (well, maybe a couple of islands, it would be good to be exact in my language, I wouldn't want to get corrected again) that's smaller than a good chunk of US states (never minding Canadian provinces). All those Robin Hood stories take place in a tiny little area.

IMO, it's something of a mistake in FRPG's that they make their settings so freaking huge. The Sword Coast is bloody enormous. And, really, far, far larger than it needs to be.
 

Thomas Bowman

First Post
One issue, I think, is that as North Americans, because we come from countries that are so ridiculously big, we think that a campaign setting has to be just as big to encompass different territories. It doesn't really register that for so long, pretty much until the 16th century or maybe a bit later, that the notion of "nation" wasn't really a thing. You had castles and the area around that castle and once you got a day or two away from that castle (which, we're only talking 30-40 miles) there really was not a whole lot to be found.

We've grown up in massively populated nation states where it's not unusual to drive a couple of days for a holiday. Go back a century or two and the idea that you're going to travel 1500 kilometers away just to hang out on the beach was unheard of. I think a lot of people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around just how small those city states really were.
The Roman Empire at its maximum extent is about the size of the United States, the Empire of the Mongols was bigger than the Soviet Union.
 

Derren

Hero
Tourism goes back farther than we think but even so it was really the province of the wealthy until the late 19th/early 20th Centuries, most notably the Grand Tour starting after the Peace of Westphalia. For a game set in the post-Renaissance/early Modern era this would make for a good setup for a campaign. Before that, people might take the trip of a lifetime to travel to a shrine on pilgrimage, which is another good campaign setup.

Pilgrims and thus tourism were a big factor of local economies way before that.
Others also travelled long distances when required, mostly merchants or pilgrims including going to China and back.

Still, long distance travels were a once in a lifetime event, if at all. Most people didn't travel. They neither had the means, a reason or were forbidden from doing so.
 

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