Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Without the West?

The publication of Basic RolePlaying in 2007 by Chaosium, Inc. brought together a number of different rules variants using the Basic RolePlaying System that had long out of print. Together, they provided a set of tools for the GM to do what many had been doing for years – create their own settings using the percentile mechanics. In its trail came a number of setting sourcebooks, many of them only available direct from Chaosium as monographs. Some though, have made it onto the shelves at your local gaming store, of which the latest is Devil’s Gulch: A Basic RolePlaying Historical and Supernatural Wild Western Supplement.

This slim eighty-six page supplement describes a Wild West location typical of the period between 1870 and 1885. More specifically, it describes the main buildings and their inhabitants along the single dirt road that runs through the town. Beyond this it describes the railroad and train station that lie on one border, whilst on its outskirts can be found a mine, a ranch, and a box canyon. The inhabitants include the law, gunfighters, a preacher, the undertaker, various outlaws, the saloon owner, and its resident “soiled dove.” Each location is fully detailed and given a full map and every inhabitant is given a full write-up.

The setting is supported with a set of rules that enable Devil’s Gulch to be run with Basic RolePlaying System. These cover the type of archetypes to be used with the Old West, plus new skills that let a player do all of the type of things he has seen on screen. Primarily this the Gun Spinnin’ and Quick Draw skills, but a variety of manoeuvres are also detailed, from using Two Guns and Fannin’ Your Gun to the Road Agent Spin and the Rifle Spin. Other rules cover the effects of gun smoke, horse and wagon chases, and showdowns. The various weapon types are also discussed. That said, anyone familiar with the Basic RolePlay system via another version of the rules, such as Call of Cthulhu, could run the scenarios included in the supplement.

In addition, Devil’s Gulch is flexible enough that it can be dropped into other genres. The suggestions given include placing it in a steampunk setting on Mars, but it could easily be placed on a frontier planet and be visited by the crew of the Serenity.

At face value, Devil’s Gulch is a very atypical setting. Yet the book gives the option for the GM to move the town from the Old West to the Weird West. This allows him to add elements such as mad science and magic to the setting and thus the players to take roles such as hex masters, mad scientists, medicine men, preachers, and snake oil hustlers. Each has their set of powers, whether it is the preacher’s holy book, the mad scientist’s clockwork and steam driven devices, or the snake oil hustler’s elixirs. In addition, both scenarios have similar options that allow them to be run in the Old West or the Weird West.

The two scenarios are “Wealth & Privilege” and “The Medicine Show.” The first deals with a spoiled brat on the run, while the second exposes a dark period of Devil’s Gulch history. Both scenarios are lengthy and should provide two or three sessions’ worth of gaming. There is also a separate pull out that provides a handout for the second scenario. On the other side of the pull out is shown the map of the town as well as an accompanying illustration. The map is a little difficult to reconcile with the illustration, and it is a pity that the map is done in simple silhouette.

Physically, Devil’s Gulch is clearly written by Troy Wilhelmson. Stef Worthington’s maps are nicely done, if perhaps a little too dark. Where the look of the supplement really shines is in its artwork, Thomas Boatwright’s slightly scratchy style echoing that of the Franco-Belgian comic series, Lucky Luke.

Now whilst Devil’s Gulch contains everything needed to run its scenarios, it is perhaps a bit too concise in other areas. One might suggest that in covering just Devil’s Gulch’s one street is not giving the GM enough information, but that does leave enough room for the GM to develop its side streets. If the GM wants to do that, then I can absolutely recommend The Knuckleduster Cow Town Creator. Yet there are aspects in which the supplement is lacking – primarily historical ones as they relate to the characters. There is no information on the why of character creation, leaving the players and GM to look for the verisimilitude. If I had a recommendation as an easy source for that type of information, it would be the article “Call of Cthulhu in the Wild West: The Good, the Bad, and the Utterly Insane” from Worlds of Cthulhu #2. It is entirely compatible with the Basic RolePlay System mechanics of Devil’s Gulch and has the degree of detail missing in this supplement. Similarly, it needs more rules if the GM wants to handle such Western staples as cattle driving, handing out frontier justice, panning for gold, and so on – and that before you consider the setting’s alternate Weird West possibilities.

Devil’s Gulch: A Basic RolePlaying Historical and Supernatural Wild Western Supplement is not an unlikeable supplement, but it is not a full supplement or a full RPG in the sense that you could run a full Old West campaign with it. For that it needs not just more input from the GM, but more information from other sources. Until then, a GM and his players will get several sessions of entertaining play from the contents of Devil’s Gulch: A Basic RolePlaying Historical and Supernatural Wild Western Supplement.