This is the cover of Stuart Robertson’s rules-lite Weird West game. Let’s talk about it!
It is a neat game, and I have seen a lot of people post positive things about it. Still, as I looked at the game, I don’t think I’d be able to run it with my range of play styles.
The first big hurdle I hit was the disassociation built in to “Skill” and “Magic” as attributes. “Skill” is a broad category including dodging/defending, handling animals, hiding in the wilderness, gambling, and physical movement. “Magic” includes objects you may have (medicine bag), supernatural powers (electromancy, magnetic shield), training (scientific mind, Shaolin monk), and inborn characteristics (innocence). That’s… really broad. And strangely titled.
The second big hurdle I hit was the complexity, compounded with dice. There are four kinds of adventurers, with different advancement rates for various abilities by level. Hit points are rerolled each adventure (trying to top current high, don’t go down.) There are 5 kinds of dice possible for weapon damage (and some weapon damage is affected by what kind of adventurer you are), then there are fight and defense actions to modify the combat. The back page is a matrix showing the defense and fighting scores, to show what you need to roll on a d20 to hit.
Compare that complexity to the skill system, which compares the difference of your skill and the difficulty of the task, and that modifies a d6 roll. Tidy!
This system would be MUCH stronger if the combat system were replaced with the skill system; do you hit or not? (As it is, you look at defense and fighting scores, to set the difficulty on d20; not hard to repurpose that to the d6 system.) And if you do, how much damage? I think something simpler (like the Grit attribute x2) for wounds would allow a more streamlined, less dice-heavy modifier-heavy combat system in a 1 page rule document.
I am unsure of the different types of adventurers; I am not sure the combination of imposed schedule of attribute gain as you level and the freeform of the advantages picked up in the system is a good match. Looking at weird abilities that can be gained upon leveling, it’s difficult to see how my stage illusionist could escape bandits, then BAM! He’s a Shaolin monk too!
Maybe you pick up a new power each level, maybe not; you can choose to start with one or more powers, and then “your character can learn different spells and find special items during their Weird West adventures.” Hm. If you don’t pick up new abilities, why would you ever raise Magic again?
The difficult part of the balance for me was feeling caught between a “just for fun” game and a “this is our campaign” game. It has a lot of different dice types and modifiers to keep track of to be rules-lite (or so it seemed to the newcomer who looked at it with an eye to “do I want to run this?”). On the other hand, it has a lot of disassociation, and hand-wavium, to be a campaign game.
I bet I would feel differently if someone ran it for me and I played, getting into their groove. That’s not likely in my circumstance, so I viewed it as something I might run. I felt the complexity would not reward my effort with depth. Also, the system has hard questions reasonable players might ask to try to make sense of some parts of it that I could not answer (based on rules; I can always make stuff up.)
Take Magic again, the most unclear part of it as I looked the system over. Learning a spell is a difficult task, referring to the spell level; is that the Magic prerequisite to take the spell? What about the “spell” that includes a skill prerequisite? Do they stack to make the spell level? Can you learn more spells than your Magic level if you have access to them? How difficult is it to teach a spell? How long must the student study?
That’s all up to me as the Judge. If I want Billy to be able to look a gunslinger in the eye and spontaneously learn Fastest Gun in the West if he makes his Magic roll, then I can do that. I can say it takes a year of training to become a monk. So I’m not saying this lack of rules and clarity is crippling to the system, it is just distasteful to how I like to run things.
Part of the requirement for players to have meaningful choices is an understanding that the Judge is not wildly inconsistent and driven by whim. Otherwise, choices are far less important than the Judge’s mood, and that’s not how I like to play, on either side of the screen.
If you don’t mind coming up with your own setting (from scratch or taken from elsewhere) and ruling on the fly on all kinds of issues, this game can help you run a Western style from a single sheet of paper. That’s a huge plus, and reason enough to check the game out.
(Also check out Citadel of Evil, a great pocket mod 1 page dungeon by Stuart.)