Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday Night Gunfight

Welp, Heron (the Iron Goat) was back last night for our Thursday night Baranof game, but Randy and Matt were both gone (along with Luke and Dave...still) so we only had four players at the table. This time, I gave 'em a choice between FOUR games:

D&D (Goblin War or one-off)
Top Secret
Star Frontiers (my own space opera game not being ready for play-testing)
Boot Hill

They opted (unanimously, I might add) for Boot Hill.

Vince actually showed up late to the party, so the other three had already decided on Boot Hill before he got there. His reaction? "Awesome! That game rocks!"

Having put together an adventure idea over dinner with my wife that evening (well, really, I had her design the scenario), I was actually more-or-less prepared for the session, using the NPC stats from "Promise City" in the basic game. Fortunately it wasn't long before lead was flying (knives, too), and while Vince's crazy Mexican, Machete, was killed everyone else made out like (figurative) bandits...including Vince's 2nd character (and you thought B/X D&D was quick to roll up a character...chargen in Boot Hill takes half the time or less!).

At the end of the session, we decided that the characters would be kept and saved for future sessions when we were "light" on players. Love it.

Asking AB (who was much more sober this evening than last Thursday) what he found appealing about BH: "Well, besides being fun, it is very simple and yet realistic...if you get shot with a bullet you're hurting and if you get shot twice, you're probably dead." This latter was seen as a feature of the game, though the quick and simple character generation is necessary to achieve that feeling (who would find it fun to be blown away in a game when chargen takes an hour plus? Sorry, Deadlands...).

Heron pointed out that as kids, his friend had used the Boot Hill "system" (!!) to run a variety of different genre games, including post-apocalyptic Road Warrior scenarios. When you consider what it is, you can see that BH is actually an excellent vehicle (pardon the pun) for such settings, provided you don't mind modeling car chases with stagecoach rules. A stream-lined, deadly combat game it is decidedly "old school" in the amount of extra richness that needs to be negotiated between GM and players...but that's part of the fun.

AND the "challenge;" Boot Hill is decidedly a "challenge the player, not the stat-line" game. Last week Matthew's "Deadeye" character (with the maximum possible accuracy) was gunned down in a fight with guys well below his stature. This week his much-less-than-optimal character managed to survive (and line his pockets) against a group of much better shoot-fighters. How'd they manage that? By setting up an ambush/turkey shoot and blowing the bad hombres all to hell...and then later negotiating with the last bandito to surrender without a single shot being fired. Afterwards, Matthew remarked that he felt a real sense of accomplishment from having survived a session where practically the whole point can appear to be "how fast will my character get wasted?"

Pretty good for a "one-off" game.

It's fairly obvious I haven't seen the last of Boot Hill...I sure am glad I've kept it all these years. Maybe we'll run the Ballots and Bullets campaign (from module BH4) when the rest of the guys get back...I know they're itching to plug each other, too...and what better reason does one need than political differences? I can already see some players are going to gravitate towards different factions in the election...that will be a hoot!

All right...back to bed.
: )


  1. JB, you are costing me a fortune! Just bought a copy of Boot Hill 2nd edition from UK eBay for £50. I have no idea if this is a bargain or I have been ripped off. Not to mention Revised Recon, which I bought months ago on your recommendation. Nor can I forget B/X Companion, which at least this time you managed to pocket some of my money.

    Keep it up, just don't tell my wife.

  2. huh..I guess somehow by using the term "system", I've stepped in the middle of some long-running RPG debate? interesting. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. ;)

  3. @ Jovial: Sorry, man...50E is a lot more than I paid for it back in the day...I hope you're at least getting the screen or a module or two. If so? Completely worth it (IMO).

    @ IG: By system, I just mean "rules." Still, I think it's a big coup that your buddy could model the Road Warrior with something as simple as Boot Hill (instead of say, GURPS or the Hero system or some Margaret Weiss licensed monstrosity). A coup for an old school game, that is.
    : )

  4. I am thrilled to be dusting off Boot Hill again not to mention Top Secret which is in the same storage box! I can't find a descent scan or pdf of the 2e Boot Hill character sheet, any help?

  5. Aside from reminding me how much fun Boot Hill was, this post got me thinking about how game design influences player creativity.

    Since Old School games have high potential rates of character mortality, smart players find ways to maximize their characters' survival chances, by planning ambushes, engaging in diplomacy, and avoiding unnecessary risks. In short, their characters start acting like real people who balance their goals with a healthy fear of death, and that's a lot more interesting than the suspenseless exploits of unbeatable superheroes.

    Players who have only known D&D 3-4 act like their characters are invincible. They believe that game balance prohibits the DM from pitting them against a superior force, so they don't really do strategy. They seek out battles as risk-free opportunities to rack up experience points. In the rare cases where they decide to employ diplomacy, they hope to get away with a simple die roll and bristle when challenged to role-play the diplomatic initiative.