Wednesday, June 01, 2011

review: Weird West

So, hey, this is pretty cool.  Weird West is a tiny little RPG with just enough rules to bootstrap a one-off game or mini-campaign filled with spookiness and cowboys.  There's no setting fluff or sample adventure here, but scenario ideas are easy to come by.  Just take your favorite Western movie or TV show and add a vampire or witch doctor or somesuch.  Or rewrite an old X-Files episode for the year 188x. Personally, I'd probably steal from one of the mid-eighties Incredible Hulk issues penned by Bill Mantlo.  As I recall many of those are Western drifter-type stories but instead of the Man With No Name in Texizona, they're the Jade Giant in some weirdo dimension.

Anyway, one dollar American will buy you the one page PDF, which you then print out and origami-ize into an eight page booklet, PocketMod style.  The result is a rulebook you can literally store in your wallet.  I think it's super-great that Stuart Robertson picked this format, especially for a non-D&D game.  The PocketMod D&D variants I've seen make it clear to me that 8 micropages are insufficient for a useful range of full blown Gygaxian building blocks like spells and magic items and monsters. But anyone with a fondness for a non-D&D genre of RPGs and a desire to write a short and sweet ruleset should check out Weird West. Stuart does a great job of working in the format.  The main text is readable, the headers are in a cool font that works when scaled down, the layout is clean and efficient.  I'd love it if 20 people read Weird West and were inspired to do their own PocketMod niche game.

I've only got two very minor nitpicks with this game.  One of the things you do during chargen is pick a "path": Adventurer, Gifted, Fighter or Magician.  Adventurer, Fighter and Magician are easy to wrap my head around.  Gifted works as a sort of half-Fighter/half-Magician hybrid, which is a-okay.  But the term "Gifted" itself just doesn't say anything useful to me.  I wish it had a better name.  The other thing is that the lists (weapons, sample dice tests, what happens when you run out of hitpoints) are ordered weirdly.  Instead of finding what I need immediately, my search is slowed and I start thinking about what the heck is wonky with this table rather than what I wanted to look up.

Still, for one page/8 tiny pages Weird West gets the job done admirably. Previously, if someone said to me "Hey, let's play a game with gunslingers and zombies" I would have reached for Savage Worlds, but now I think Weird West would do the trick.


  1. "Just take your favorite Western movie or TV show and add a vampire or witch doctor or somesuch."

    I actually bought Season 1 of The Wild Wild West on DVD for the purpose of creating some Deadlands scenarios. Now all I have to do is watch and write. Yeah, I bought the DVD like two years ago...

  2. "Weird west" settings are a pet peeve of mine.

    My theory is that most gamers don't really know anything about westerns; they just have an impression of style absorbed from ambient pop culture. But that style alone is a kind of an empty cup, so when they sit down to play a western game, they have no idea what to fill it with.

    So they reach for what they know, i.e., sci-fi, fantasy and horror, and the fill up the empty impressionistic western cup with "weird."

    On the one hand, who cares--let people play whatever they want to play and if they want to play gunslingers and zombies, let em knock themselves out.

    On the other hand it grates on me because it glosses over and ignores actual westerns entirely. Whichc is tragic because westerns are fucking awesome. And there's more than enough potential in straight "non-weird" westerns to run great adventures indefinitely.

  3. @ Kullervo - Yeah, but I like weird stuff! High Plains Drifter, S. King's Dark Tower, even Star Trek's Spectre of the Gun. The Old West is Mythic! It's a perfect setting for Fantastic adventures.

  4. Kullervo, I can't knock your assessment. Honestly I wasn't looking for a weird western game when Stuart sent me a copy to review. But if you dig the genre, his game is a solid rules-light alternative. I'm gearing up for a non-weird Boot Hill to start in a few weeks. I don't need zombies or whatever when the dramatic situation is this stark:

    1) Everyone has a gun.
    2) Any hit with a gun is potentially lethal.
    3) Law enforcement isn't the FBI and a SWAT team shutting the PCs down with overwhelming force, it's just a couple of guys with more guns.

    Everything else is ajust an excuse to tempt PCs into gunfights.

  5. Anonymous12:15 PM

  6. Thanks for the review Jeff! :)

    But the term "Gifted" itself just doesn't say anything useful to me.  I wish it had a better name.

    This is the weakest of the Path names, but the best I was able to come up with so far. It's for characters who aren't full-blown Magicians but have some sort of Magic-y gift of some sort that makes them special. I'm not sure what this will be called in Weird Fantasy, but it's already been rewritten, changed back and rewritten again a few times. :)

    @Kullervo It's called Weird West but you could definitely run a straight western game with it. I like the Weird aspect because I like horror themed games.

  7. Kullervo, I think that the existence and success of Aces & Eights as well as several other smaller straight western RPGs (Coyote Trail comes to mind) belies your theory about gamers. I just think that gamers like monsters and weirdness and will thus add it to whatever genre they also like. The western genre is just a less popular genre today in general.

  8. Oh yeah, and neat looking game which I will pick up. Thanks for the recommendation and nice review, Jeff.

  9. I love's the movie geek in me. I've run some straight-laced (if somewhat campy) Westerns using FUDGE before. When I do "weird west" (which, for me, has always been Deadlands) I try to start off with "normal" (non-supernatural/steampunk) Western stuff and work the weirdness in gradually... like when the old chest in the abandoned mine turns out not to contain stolen Confederate gold, but instead contains an withered looking old book with a leering face on the cover.

    I might give this a look-see because it's a buck, but it will be hard to replace Deadlands in my heart.

  10. weird west/deadlands/fallout is also just about the highest-concept pitch I can think of without eliciting yawns or copyright infringement, and I reckon high concept is vital for a pocketmod game, for the reasons you cite.

    Honestly I'm having a hard time coming up with another easy sell like this that's not Star Wars/Cthulhu (double-infringing!) or Dune/dwarf stronghold (infringing and yawny). Although horror/pirates is ingeniously copyright-skirting and it might be possible to do Atlantis Jones in such a way that people still get it and the serial numbers aren't too obvious.

    I'm also not convinced everything tastes better with zombies/I can bring my own weird if you provide the western.