Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guns of the Western Kings - What is it?

A few weeks ago I posted an account of the first play session in my new campaign setting, Guns of the Western Kings, promising that I would explain more about the setting later.  Well, later is now.  Last time, I explained that GotWK (pronounced gotwik) is not Eberron, not steampunk, and not Deadlands.  I want to expand on that a bit, just for clarity's sake:

GotWK is not Eberron.  Eberron is a campaign setting that made its debut during the age of 3rd edition D&D.  It was groundbreaking in tone, inviting players into a high-magic, high-fantasy setting heavily inspired by post-WWI pulp adventure.  Eberron took magic to great extremes, filling the world with magical robots (that you can play as), airships, and trains powered by bound elementals.  GotWK, while similarly bringing a fantasy world into a more modern setting, is not a high-magic world of airships and sentient robots.  Magic, in the world of GotWK, did not advance exponentially as technology did.  It has the same basic presence in and effect on the world as it does in an average game of D&D or Pathfinder - magic items are expensive, wizards are holed up in their towers, and magical beasts are terrifying and dangerous.  The trains in GotWK run on coal.  Speaking of coal...

GotWK is not steampunk.  The level of technology is the same as the real world American West in the 1870s-80s.  Although I wouldn't rule out coal powered automatons and airships, they certainly won't be commonplace.  Steampunk can be pretty cool when it's done right, but it is rarely done right.  Besides, if GotWK were steampunk, it wouldn't be western anymore.  There are no giant mechanical spiders in GotWK, as far as I know.

Warner Bros via Unmuseum
GotWK is not Deadlands.  Deadlands is a Western RPG set in an America where suddenly, after the Battle of Gettysburg, the dead started rising from their graves and magic was unleashed upon the world.  It has its own system of magic, its own classes, and its own rule system (although it was later adapted into d20, GURPS, and Savage Worlds).  Where Deadlands is about the real world suddenly becoming magic, GotWK is about a fantasy world that advances to the point that it has a Wild West.  It is not its own RPG, it is a campaign setting for the Pathfinder roleplaying game.

So now that we are clear on what Guns of the Western Kings is not, let's talk more about what it is.

Why the Wild West?
The Wild West, at least in the popular imagination, was a time of adventure and violence, where men and women set out into the harsh and unforgiving country to carve out lives of their own.  It's a world of change, of the expansion of railroads and industry, of gold mining, of blood feuds, of frontier justice, of Native Americans fighting for their way of life, and settlers fighting to establish a new life for themselves.  I think it lends itself quite well to the fantasy genre with very few compromises to either side.  It also fits well with the 'points of light' theory that D&D was working with for a while - that the outside world is a dark world of dangerous magic and monsters, punctuated by points of the light of civilization, and adventurers are people who brave the darkness in order to defend the light.

Only now they do it with guns.

Why use Pathfinder rules?  Why not just do your own thing?
Let me just be clear that I am not at all opposed to making up my own rules.  I do it all the time here.  Heck, one of my other ongoing projects is my own homebrewed RPG rules system.  But I wanted Gunslinger (the original name of Guns of the Western Kings) to be as accessible as possible.  Shifting the time period and technology level to the Wild West era is a big change, so I want as many other things as possible to be familiar, to help people get into it.  I am making Guns of the Western Kings something that new players and GMs can get into without having to learn a whole new rules system.

So what races and classes are there?
For the most part, all the same races and classes are available.  With very little fidgeting on my part, they all fit into basic Wild West archetypes.

   Dwarves - Dwarves are the the miners, the prospectors, the lumberjacks of GotWK.  They are, as always, a stout and stalwart race of diggers and craftsmen.  The trains can't run without coal, and you can't get coal without dwarves.
   Elves - Elves are a proud race of warriors and shamans who live in touch with nature and are fighting to maintain their way of life in the face of the ever advancing settlers.  They use every part of the dire buffalo.
   Orcs - Fierce tribes of orcs roam across the plains, killing and burning and despoiling.  If ever you hear the greenskins' war cries, it's time to circle the wagons.
   Humans - Humans, as always, are versatile and crafty; the dominant race in the world.
   Halflings - Halflings are recent immigrants to the new world, always pining for the 'old country' to which they can never return.  They are often treated disrespectfully by humans, and they tend to form tightly-knit communities of their own kind as a result.  Sound familiar?
   Gnomes - Gnomes once had the most developed civilizations in the New World, constructing cities and banding together to defend against rampaging orcs.  Now, those civilizations have largely faded, being conquered a few centuries ago by invading humans. Think Aztec, Inca, Pueblo, and Mound-Builder Native Americans.
   Other Races - There's plenty of room for all the myriad other races in this world, just as there is in any other campaign setting.

Some of the classes need a bit of tweaking for the new setting, but in most cases not as much as you might think.

   Barbarian - Barbarians eschew guns and fight with the old ways, channeling their primal strength.  Many orcs and elves are barbarians.
   Bard - Whether strumming a guitar, blowing on that old harmonica, or just whistling or writing poetry, a bard can always help you feel home, home on the range.
   Cleric - The Wild West is a violent place, and you can always use a preacher man  - of whatever god - to help patch you up after a bad gunfight.  Sure beats the hell out of the old sawbones.
   Druid - mystical shamans who shun the way of the gun and seek to find the path that nature intends for them.  They find railroads and mines to be blights upon the landscape.
   Fighter - Equally skilled with the gun and the sword, there's nothing out there that the fighter won't be able to handle.  Even if it's just a saloon brawl.
   Paladin - The West is a dangerous, chaotic place.  The lawman's duty is to bring order to the chaos.  All the evil in the world is no match for a stout breastplate and a good heart.  A holy avenger shotgun helps, too.
   Ranger - Hearty mountain men, fur-trappers, and explorers in the style of Lewis and Clark or Daniel Boone.  Rangers are handy with a long rifle or a tomahawk, and generally keep to themselves out in the untamed wilderness.
   Rogue - Whether cheating at poker, robbing a stagecoach, or busting the old gang out of prison, there is always room for a rogue.
   Sorcerer/Wizard - Sorcerers and wizards are exactly the same as they are in normal D&D, except now they have guns.
   Alchemist - Snake-oil salesmen and concocters of dynamite, alchemists will always be needed so long as adventurers need potions and explosions (and sometimes explosive potions).
   Cavalier - Hear that bugle?  The cavalry's arrived!

There's plenty of room for most of the other classes, too.  Obviously, two of the characters in the campaign I'm running right now are an oracle and a witch, and they seem to fit in just fine.  The only two classes I'm not including are the monk and the gunslinger.  The monk because I never feel like they really fit in well with the campaign setting (although I'm open to the possibility).  The gunslinger because... well, the gunslinger doesn't work with regular fantasy settings because it is based on Wild West archetypes, not classic fantasy archetypes.  The gunslinger doesn't work with GotWK, ironically, because now that the whole world is inundated with Wild West archetypes, a class whose whole schtick was being Wild Westy is just unnecessary.  Everyone is a gunslinger in Guns of the Western kings.

What is combat like?
The most important gameplay aspect of Guns of the Western Kings is the guns themselves.  If those aren't right, the whole thing breaks down.  I spent a lot of time working on the gun system for GotWK, and I think I've got it pretty much down.  There are plenty of different guns to choose from, whether you like derringers, six-shooters, rifles, or shotguns of various calibers and gauges.  Heck, maybe you're old fashioned and like to use a pepperbox pistol, or maybe you'd like to hole-up in an armoured carriage operating a gatling gun.  Guns are one thing I did not skimp on.

But guns can only fire so many shots, and when a horde of monsters closes with you, you're better off swinging a sword.  Most of the regular weapons you are used to seeing in D&D, from longswords to halberds to warhammers, are still available and still effective.  I talked recently about how fantasy RPGs tend to overstate how much damage guns do compared to other weapons, all of which were designed specifically to kill people and remained very good at doing so even after the rise of the gun.  I have balanced my guns with this in mind, so while guns can do a lot of damage, they are relatively comparable to the damage that other weapons can do.  That said, most characters will probably still prefer to use guns when possible.

I also talked last week about how wearing metal on your body is still better than not wearing anything when people are shooting at you.

As seen here
While in the real world, armour fell out of fashion as guns got more powerful and, crucially, as professional armies looked for ways to keep costs down (encasing all your men in metal can get expensive), in the world of GotWK, adventurers kept wearing armour because monsters kept having terrible claws.  As an added bonus, armour design kept apace with the power of guns, so an epic gunfight won't turn your paladin's suit of full plate into the world's most expensive cheese grater.  Yes, most of the armour you know and love in D&D/Pathfinder is still available in Guns of the Western Kings.  And guns don't attack your touch AC, so wearing armour is still worth it, not just for protection against all the terrifying-yet-gunless monsters out there.
In the playtest, I found that a lot of combat involved ducking behind obstacles and shooting for a couple rounds before rushing in to finish the job.  This is a bit of a different dynamic than your typical D&D combat encounter, but introducing new weapons will do that.  What's important is that combat is still fun, and guns don't make it any more difficult to design an awesome dungeon crawl.

What is the world like?
The basic background to the world of Guns of the Western Kings is this:  Thousands of years ago, the elves fled into the west, leaving the old world behind them.  A few hundred years ago, a great calamity befell the old world.  Magic began to fail, and the land itself was dying.  People got the idea that maybe the elves were on to something, and they started to follow them into the west.  What followed was a period of colonization and expansion, as new kingdoms were established by the settlers.  They encountered the elves, who had shed all the trappings of civilization and begun to live as one with nature.  The settlers, with centuries of technological development, easily beat them back, and the savage orcs as well.

Now, the humans and dwarves and others of the new kingdoms are pushing ever westwards, hoping to tame the great new land they have conquered.  But their advance is checked by elven warriors, savage orcs, mighty dragons, and all sorts of fierce creatures familiar and new.  In the midst of all this, adventurers are constantly delving into the lawless west, seeking fortune, fame, or just a life of their own in this brave new world.

There are plenty of opportunities for adventure in the fantasy Wild West: bandits, evil railroad barons, rogue elvish braves looking to prove their manhood, marauding orcs, settlers that need protection, towns being harassed by dragons, riverboat casinos under the spell of voodoo necromancers, redwood treants destroying railroad bridges, colonies of cannibal settlers in the mountain passes, small towns terrorized by stealthy sasquatches, etc.  Guns of the Western Kings opens up a whole new world of adventure.

And even if Wild West adventure is not your thing, there's plenty of other exciting stuff going on.  After all, drawing from the pages of history and literature, this time period is rife with insane ship captains hunting monstrous whalesmad scientists creating abominations, vampire aristocrats, rival paleontologists discovering new dinosaurs and sabotaging each others' work with dynamite, rival magicians also sabotaging each others' work, insane scientists proving that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, expeditions to the center of the earth or dinosaur-filled secret lands or to dense, mysterious jungles or distant tropical islands and frozen continents... even submarine pirates and alien invasions can rear their ugly heads in your GotWK campaign.  Or, *sigh* if you really want to, you can fight a giant mechanical spider.  There is no end to the adventures you can have in this world.

Ok, that sounds awesome.  When can I play?
Well, it's still a work in progress.  I'm hoping to finish it as soon as possible, but there's a lot of stuff on my plate at the moment: finishing my dissertation, moving to a different country, getting married, finding a job, etc.  When it is finished, I will make it available for sale online as a PDF or series of PDFs, including a whole bunch of original artwork by my best friend (and professional concept artist) Kent Hamilton, whose work you may have seen on here before.  Hopefully, hopefully, it will be available sometime next year.

But one way you can help me turn this into reality is by supporting me on Patreon.  That extra cashflow doesn't just fund my dangerous mead addiction, it also supports me in my tireless quest to make awesome things for you.  Every little bit helps.  Oh, and when I do publish Guns of the Western Kings, it will be under the Open Game License.

Of course, my friends back in Seattle will be happy to know that the answer to 'When can I play?' for them is, 'Once I move back.'


Okay, just a little bit of site news before I sign off.

You may have noticed a few changes off to the left of the screen.  One is a table of important links for my blog, taking you to my Improved Character Sheet, all my Monster Mondays and Fixing the Weapons Tables, and many other places.

Second is a much more extensive guide to all of my homebrewed monsters.  This allows you to search for monsters by type, what environment they live in, what Challenge Rating they have, what their real-world origin is (geographical or mythological), or by various other useful keywords.  Hopefully this will be helpful to people who use my blog as a resource for their games.

-your giant mechanical d20 despot

Guns of the Western Kings is (c) Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot

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