So You've Decided to Run a "Western" Game. What Kind?

Which genre(s) of Western RPG would you consider running as a campaign?

  • Classical Western

    Votes: 21 34.4%
  • Acid Western

    Votes: 1 1.6%
  • Comedy Western

    Votes: 4 6.6%
  • Contemporary/Neo-Western

    Votes: 4 6.6%
  • Electric Western

    Votes: 1 1.6%
  • Epic Western

    Votes: 13 21.3%
  • Fantasy Western

    Votes: 26 42.6%
  • Horror Western

    Votes: 31 50.8%
  • Revisionist Western

    Votes: 12 19.7%
  • Science Western

    Votes: 7 11.5%
  • Space Western

    Votes: 21 34.4%
  • Weird Western

    Votes: 28 45.9%
  • Wuxia Western

    Votes: 10 16.4%
  • Other

    Votes: 9 14.8%
  • None of the Above

    Votes: 4 6.6%

MGibster

Legend
Brown people are either villainous, stupid, or we get the "magic brown person" or "noble savage" trope. Some of that is 19th century colonial propaganda, but it was also adopted wholeheartedly and uncritically into the modern western genre. I like hero stories as much as the next nerd, but I have a lot of trouble enjoying a genre like the "classic" western when everyone in it who looks like me is a racist caricature and target practice.
I'm not going to try to convince you give Westerns a chance because it's cool if you've decided they're not for you. Even in the 40s, 50s, and 60s you could find westerns where not everyone who looks like you is a racist caricature or target practice.

While modern writers and artists can and have begun to reclaim that diversity of storytelling in the western genre, most of my favorite examples have been done by way of the fantastical western, or the weird western, rather than a "classic" western.

Modern writers? There were people examining these tropes more than seventy years ago. In The Searchers (1956), Ethan Edwards, as played by John Wayne, is not the good guy and the further into the movie we get the more brutish he becomes. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Pompey, as played by African American actor Woody Strode, was one of the few characters who could look Doniphon (Wayne) right in the eyes and not only tell him "no" but to get his naughty word together because they had work to do tomorrow. And in Fort Apache (1948), the Apache are depicted in a sympathetic manner as they go to war because of a corrupt Indian agent and an army commander who refuses to treat them with any respect.

have some thoughts on why the western genre becomes more popular in the US during times when movements for social justice are also big in the public consciousness, and I think it boils down to the western as a form of myth-making for white people in the States.
I had never heard of the Western becoming more popular in the US during times when movements for social justice were big. Westerns were big in the United States for almost a century starting with books in 1860s and continuing into motion pictures though the 1960s where they started to wane in popularity. Have they gained any popularity in recent years? The last big budget Western was The Lone Ranger and that one flopped hard.

But all of that is part of why I feel so uncomfortable with using the western right out of the box. The entire foundation of the genre is based on some deeply racist and sexist ideology, and I just don't feel like replicating that in my free time without significant revision.
Nothing wrong with that. Life is too short and you've got better ways to spend your precious time.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Ixal

Adventurer
Western being racist and sexist is not an invention but a more or less accurate portrayal of those times. Everyone was to some degree sexist and racist according to modern standards, the whites, the browns, the natives, the Asians, etc.
Sure there were exception (a few issues back the mythological character series on Enworld featured one of them) but in general woman did not have much to say basically everywhere in the world and it was quite widespread to treat outsiders as lesser.

And this has been the state of things over most of human history. Classical area, middle ages, renaissance, Europa, Asia, Africa, Americas, etc. Everywhere genders were not equal (with men usually being considered better) and there was some degree of racism based on religion, skin colour, etc.

So when you do not play in settings inspired by history which includes racism your options are rather limited.
 

A Western campaign is one of those types of campaigns that I have yet to try, but am open to running or playing.

When my father died earlier this year, I made sure to keep his books on the wild west, just in case I want to run a Western campaign at some point.

It would have to be fantasy or horror though. Just classic western may not hold the attention of my players for long.
 

payn

Legend
Thinking about the Western genre and rubber foreheads threads has been a bit revealing to me about where my gaming has been going the last 10 years or more. I tend to focus on civilizations, or lack thereof, and factions with large political implications for my settings. I dont really feed into the nuances of cultures such as having green scaly skin or having unique languages. Sometimes I want to explore those things as a player, or my players want to explore them and I will try and indulge. Though, most of the time I ignore those nuances and just focus on conflicts over resources or philosophy and let everyone just be people.

With the Western genre for example, I tend to focus on the frontier as the setting. Being an arms length away from civilization were there is opportunity for prospectors, immigrants, and thieves. The conflicts arise from folks trying to establish a foothold against all odds of the roaming lawless and the encroaching empires. Its a place rife for adventure of all kinds, and all types. These types, in their groups, are pretty much multicultural and conflict doesn't arise from their differences specifically. That's how I run the western genre.

You can see this pattern in all the game worlds I run. I tend to focus more on class warfare and political ideology. I do this because I feel most comfortable exploring those elements. I cringe to think about some of the specific historical generalizations I have experienced in gaming. I have experienced discrimination only in a specific way and not a systemic way and dont feel like I can adequately write about it. I see it done well, such as Star Trek Deep Space Nine's Cardassian/Bajoran conflict, or the episode about black sci-fi writers in the American 50's. I also see it done poorly, in my opinion, in work like that which Quentin Tarrentino has done in the last decade with African Americans and Jews. I would love to have the experience and chops to write the former, but it would likely come out like the latter which Id just rather avoid.

So this is my approach to Westerns specifically, but also genres generally.
 



Herne'sSon

Villager
Horror western, for sure. I've been reading the first novel in Death's Head Press' new series of "splatter westerns" (The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young, and it's totally got me itching to do something with All Flesh Must Be Eaten's A Fistful O' Zombies book.
 

Committed Hero

Explorer
I have some thoughts on why the western genre becomes more popular in the US during times when movements for social justice are also big in the public consciousness, and I think it boils down to the western as a form of myth-making for white people in the States. It's one of the ways in which the dominant culture asserts its right to rule, since our culture (such as it is) doesn't generally subscribe to the divine right of kings or other aristocracy. It also ties back in to a lot of other colonial claptrap about the Americas as an empty paradise for the white man, but I'm not going to go into depth on that here.

But all of that is part of why I feel so uncomfortable with using the western right out of the box. The entire foundation of the genre is based on some deeply racist and sexist ideology, and I just don't feel like replicating that in my free time without significant revision.
I think there's a noticeable undercurrent of the West as the place where the bad things of colonialism/Old World society cannot yet reach. If you focus on that, you can begin to minimize some of the genre's pernicious effects. So you have PCs in the region avoiding those who would oppress them back East, as well as those who infringe on the freedom the PCs have. There is room for a former slave, an outlaw fleeing injustice, and a native whose home is threatened. But the frontier is always moving, and it gets inexorably easier for the oppressors to get across it.
 




Herne'sSon

Villager
Deadlands: Hell on Earth
Deadlands: Lost Colony

So, yes. Not to mention that the movies Damnation Alley and A Boy and His Dog both have a good bit of western influence in them.

Let's not forget Six-String Samurai. In the years following the nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, "Buddy Holly" must trek through the wasteland to Vegas to claim the throne left by King Elvis. But he better beware, for "Slash" wishes the crown for himself and will stop at nothing to kill Buddy!

I think the movie The Book of Eli is likely a post-apoc western, too.

And if the Road Warrior isn't a western cloaked in radioactive fallout, I don't know what is....
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think there's a noticeable undercurrent of the West as the place where the bad things of colonialism/Old World society cannot yet reach. If you focus on that, you can begin to minimize some of the genre's pernicious effects. So you have PCs in the region avoiding those who would oppress them back East, as well as those who infringe on the freedom the PCs have. There is room for a former slave, an outlaw fleeing injustice, and a native whose home is threatened. But the frontier is always moving, and it gets inexorably easier for the oppressors to get across it.
Oh man I'd love to run a game wherein there are folk trying to unite the factions of the frontier into something that can hold back the colonizers, others who just want to kill as many imperialists as they can, others who think the frontier will be better off with the trains and airship docks and academies that come with the imperialist civilization, etc, and who the PCs help and support will help determine how the frontier develops around them over time.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Remember, there’s not just the “cowboys & indians” or gunslinger conflicts in Western lore, but also ranchers Vs ranchers, ranchers Vs farmers, ranchers & farmers Vs rail barons, etc.

Plus, westerns are one of the few genres where “good guy“ outlaws are a major trope.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Remember, there’s not just the “cowboys & indians” or gunslinger conflicts in Western lore, but also ranchers Vs ranchers, ranchers Vs farmers, ranchers & farmers Vs rail barons, etc.

Plus, westerns are one of the few genres where “good guy“ outlaws are a major trope.
One of the great realizations I had about the Lone Ranger serials... without Tanto, Lone Ranger is a dead man. It's a subversion of the "Evil Injuns" trope of the late 19th and early 20th C tropes. Tanto is always the one saving Lone Ranger, very seldom the reverse. And, because of the racist antipathy towards Native Americans (including the assumption of ignorance and lack of intellect) of both the setting and the audience, him being basically ignored until he shoots or punches works really well in the fiction, because it's believable that the townies would ignore him provided he doesn't try to enter a business or attack someone, and is gone by nightfall. And some businesses might even let him in.

I think someone ought to do a movie about Tanto where Lone Ranger is even more dependent upon Tanto.
(I also wonder where they chose that name from. The Spanish "Of Course!" or the Japanese dagger, or elsewhere?)
 

MGibster

Legend
Oh man I'd love to run a game wherein there are folk trying to unite the factions of the frontier into something that can hold back the colonizers, others who just want to kill as many imperialists as they can, others who think the frontier will be better off with the trains and airship docks and academies that come with the imperialist civilization, etc, and who the PCs help and support will help determine how the frontier develops around them over time.
Sounds like Blue Planet. It's set outside our solar system on the planet Poseidon which has like 97% of its surface covered in water but it's got that frontier vibe and all the elements you mention. I don't think of Blue Planet as a western but you could certainly run it that way.
 



Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top