The Old West - Same as It Never Was!

Clint Staples

For our recent d-Infinity Live Challenge, I asked the players each to design a mash-up setting for an RPG based on some of their favorite, most inspiring music. We had a great show, with terrific entries, all of which turned out to be extremely different, yet very playable, games. I thought I would post my entry here.

Here are the Core Musical Choices which I worked from. Below I will talk about each as particularly inspirational for one or more portions of the setting, but that will make more sense after you get a look at the setting overall. Each title below is linked to the full lyrics vi a site called azlyrics.com, which also has a link to a recording of the song, if you want to listen as you read on.

Clutch – Book, Saddle and Go

Disturbed – Album: Immortalized: Legion of Monsters

King Crimson – Court of the Crimson King

 

OK. So here is where these three songs took my brain.

The Old West

West of the Mississippi, Magic prevails: The Old Ones Stalk the Land, Gods walk, Monsters lurk in the shadows and hollows, eager for any misstep by man.

The Distant Past: With the rise of civilization in the Old World, the old ways and the gods and monsters who knew them, retreated into the deep places, the mountains, the seas, and eventually – across them. As Mankind claimed more and more territory from the elder races, as science rewrote Man’s fundamental understanding of the existence to suit an emerging reality, as Reason began to balance, then topple Belief, the canniest of the Old Ones – gods, dragons, faery, monsters and peoples of legend – fled into the West.

Some among them attempted to raise ancient Mu from the depths of what would become the Caribbean, but this great ritual was disrupted by the Feathered Serpent and his brood, backed by the Nine Lords of the Xibalba. Weakened and scattered, the Old Ones ventured north, to spread across a vast new continent. There they warred, or intermingled with those they found there, each according to their nature.

It is 1855: The United States of America is a young and embattled nation, in great need of new territory for the immigrants pouring in from Europe. But exploration is not fast, nor is it easy. Least of all is it safe: With dragons roosting in caverns and mountaintops, griffons soaring over the endless plains, home to vast herds of bison that they consider their exclusive prey, and feylords and godlings reinforcing the natives, welding tribes into confederations.

Yet exploration must continue, land must be claimed, or taken. Famine is a constant threat in the Original Thirteen. So too is war with the French in Louisiana. Texican settlers are desperate, and their leaders have offered to lead their nation into statehood and renewed settlement in return for aid against the Immortal Emperor Maximillian of Maxica and his Feathered Serpents.

Will you answer the call of adventure? Will you tread the path of lost Lewis and Clarke, forging a route to the sea? Will you stake a claim in the new Texas Territory? Or will you set off into the Mountains after gold, fur and wyrmscale, heedless of vampires, savage tribes and dragons? Or maybe, just maybe, you have less to fear than most from the monsters that dog the wagon trains – maybe you are such a creature – a traitor to your kind, or one that can move among men without raising their suspicions.

 

Now that you have read the "back of the book" blurb, on to how the three tunes above directly influenced my design process:

Clutch: Book, Saddle, and Go:

  • Inspired: The Order of the Black Hand. An offshoot of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), devoted to safeguarding the colonists of the New World and finding ways to co-exist with the creatures and men who currently call the West home. Some among the Black, called Crusaders, are zealots: eager to excise the West of any taint of the Old Gods. Others are scholars, even adepts themselves, who enter the West to teach the Word, but also to understand the ways of others, to comprehend the gods and monsters of the Old World before they pass away.
  • Inspired: The Pinkertons, a private security and enforcement firm. Begun only a handful of years previous as security guards for rich businessmen in the frontier town of Chicago, the Pinkertons have quickly grown to include adepts, ancients, even vampires, among their personnel. They are tough, well equipped, and generally unscrupulous.

Disturbed: Legion of Monsters:

  • Inspired: The Monstrous Diaspora, in which the gods and monsters of the old world flee into the west, where magic lingers. In the Old West, they are desperate, there is no where else on earth to run to if they are driven from here.
  • Some monsters have begun to capitulate, hoping to gain acceptance in the world of men. Though they have increasing difficulty living the further east they venture, they can still exist in the world of me along the Mississippi. They are often hated and reviled by their cousins who still cling to the Wild.
  • I admit that It was the title of the song that was most literally influential for me. The song is actually about modern terrorism, radicalization, and the media machine that simultaneously glorifies and vilifies. But I tried to incorporate the notion of something being "made" into a monster, of monsters living among us, as well as our historic and current love affair with violence. I also tried to give some reasons for players to want to explore "being" one of the "monsters" in the setting. The rest of the album, Immortalized, was also relevant for my thinking on all of this.

King Crimson: Court of the Crimson King:

  • Inspired: The Court of the Crimson King inspired the mountain-top lair of the Great Dragon Ydraighor. For cventuries in the old world, his form rode the national flag of Wales as the Red Dragon. But with the defeat of Owain Glendower, Ydraighor left Albion, following the flow of magic westward. He eventually settled in a region that has come to be called The Devil’s Nest, a massive flat topped peak in the newly named but entirely unexplored region that America calls the Colorado Territory. Amid the rugged terrain, atop Devil’s Nest, Ydraighor holds court, “entertaining” embassies from the many powers of the Old West and beyond.  Ydraighor's court is filled with the luminaries of monsterdom and of men, such as the Black Queen and the  Fire Witch. It is even said that there is a diplomat of the Imperial Lung Ying dynasty of Eastern dragondom patiently awaiting his notice.

The final bit of the Challenge was, for bonus points in our informal and incredibly subjective free-form scoring system, to come up with a system based on one of the songs you are using as inspiration. Here is the barest kernel of mine.

The Legionspawn System: uses d8, d10, d12

  • The Target Number for success is 6. Dice are compared to the target number individually, creating a pool of successes that determine the Quality of the success or failure.
  • For every actual 6 you roll, you Spawn more dice, rolling another die of the same size or two dice one step lower, or 3 dice two steps lower, if you had rolled a d12. These bonus dice can also Spawn. So a d10 that spawns could be used to roll another d10, or two d8. If any of these Spawn, they can also be rerolled, and so on until no 6 results.
  • Characters and their abilities are rated in dice. Stats are d8s, Skills and Abilities are d10s, specialties are d12. Your Focus Stat and Focus Ability, chosen in character creation, are also d12s. So a character might have an Agility of 3d8. In melee with a bowie knife, he would roll this, plus his Blade skill of 2d10, but his specialty with a bowie knife adds another d12. So he is rolling 3d8 + 2d10 +1d12, each 6 or higher is a success, and each rolled 6 Spawns more dice.

If you like The Old West, or aspects of it, and would like to discuss it, or post your own inspirational songs and setting, feel free to do so in the comments.