Far West: Inspirado

“Be Brief…”

-E.B Farnham and Calamity Jane, Deadwood

The inspirations for Far West were, like many things, seemingly separate events which suddenly coalesced. This first journal entry is an attempt to quantify them, so you know a bit where I’m coming from. If you can see my tracks, then it’s easier to follow me, neh?

In the new introduction added to recent printings of his Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote something which really resonated for me:

“….I saw a film directed by Sergio Leone. It was called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and before the film was even half over, I realized that what I wanted to write was a novel that contained Tolkien’s sense of quest and magic, but set against Leone’s almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”

That planted the seed. Fantasy, but instead of elves and dwarves in a mythic amalgam of Western European culture and history, one which was based upon the American myth — the West.

I’ve been an afficianado of the wuxia genre for quite some time, and I’ve always been struck by the similarities between it and the American western. Both are heroic genres, set in an mythologized idealization of a culture’s past. At the core of both genres, in fact, lies a similar theme – -a theme once spelled out for me in a delightful drunken evening at the Origins Gaming Convention’s Big Bar on Two. , Master of Esoteric Knowledge, said that all of the best westerns can be summed up as follows:

Civilization must be protected from the Barbarians, and to do that, somebody has to pick up The Gun. However, if you pick up The Gun, you become a Barbarian.

The same theme is echoed in the tales of the wuxia. The wandering heroes were outsiders, who do not follow the rules of conventional Chinese society because of their focus on individuality and the use of force to resolve conflict. Their wandering lifestyle, and rootless existence was seen as a rejection of family and traditional values, and yet the virtues that the wandering heroes espoused (traditionally these eight: altruism, justice, individuality, loyalty, courage, truth, disregard for wealth and desire for glory) contained most of the values considered by the Chinese to be the signs of a superior person. So the heroes in wuxia are heroic, protecting civilization, but outside of it.

From there it was a short leap to combining the two. Not only where the themes similar, but the trappings were also often repeated in both genres: the wandering hero, the frontier location, the evil landowner, the downtrodden peasants, etc. I had my genre: The Wuxia Western Fantasy.

I decided to add elements of steampunk for one reason only: It’s fucking COOL.

OK, OK — there’s more to it than that. I wanted some element of the fantastic — the wuxia tales feature high-flying kung fu, but seldom do the tales involve “magic”, as fantasy fans would define it. The majority of ‘magical’ elements in wuxia stories are secret knowledge — alchemy, hidden techniques, etc. Far-fetched, to be sure, but within the realm of “science”, as it was understood. Given the 19th-century vibe of the western, the best analog to that would be steampunk. Far-fetched, but within the realm of “science”, rather than the truly magical.

So I had my basic elements — the ingredients for my genre mash-up. Now to the rules.

As I said earlier, I’ve decided to use the Spirit of the Century Open Source system as the basis for my core rules — mostly because it does exactly what I need it to do, without the need for me to re-invent the wheel. This allows me to concentrate on what call “nifties” (a term that I first used in another design column, almost 8 years ago now…). Nifties are the innovative systems, the clever gimmicks, the cool shit. The stuff that I find the most fun to design, and which I think of as the “hooks” in a musical composition.

So, I’ve started to make a list of “nifties” for this game — things that are genre features that I’ll want interesting and fun rules to cover. For example:

  • Clans — kung fu sects, secret societies, orders, schools. A big part of the wuxia genre. “All of the *splat* with none of the fat.” (meaning, the best in character-identification and membership of the 90s “splatbook” trend, without the crap that went along with it)
  • Duels — combat is a big part of both genres, and may require something more than the core SOTC mechanics — without venturing into wargameyness.
  • The Xia Virtues — the eight that I mentioned above. These should be part of the heroic make-up, but how to make them different from Aspects?
  • Random Generators — encounter lists, adventure plots, even a frontier-west version of classic Traveller sector and planetary generation. I loved these, they were almost a game unto themselves.

There’s more, of course, but I’m interested in turning this over to comments now, and seeing what comes out of discussion. Feel free to question, comment, cajole, etc.

So there you have it. The first official Far West design journal entry. Expect another soon — possibly as early as tomorrow. Friday at the latest.

Glad to have you aboard.

15 Replies to “Far West: Inspirado”

  1. Dangit! My wallet’s leaping into my hand wanting to buy this, and it’s not even written yet!

    Put me down for a preorder?

  2. “Do you know what your sin is, Mal?”…”Hell, I’m a fan of all seven.”

    I was thinking about ‘s observation you listed above about the civilized man becoming a barbarian to protect civilzation, in particular in the trappings of the Western, and I couldn’t help but think of The Operative from “Serenity”:

    Operative: I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer or did you think none of this was your fault?
    Mal: I don’t murder children.
    Operative: I do. If I have to.
    Mal: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?
    Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
    Mal: So me and mine gotta lay down and die so you can live in your better world?
    Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there…any more than there is for you, Malcolm…I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

    Mix in the Eight Xia virtues and you’ve got some damned interesting stuff.

    You’ve got your hands on something intrinsicly cool here, and I look forward to seeing the places you explore.

  3. “….I saw a film directed by Sergio Leone. It was called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and before the film was even half over, I realized that what I wanted to write was a novel that contained Tolkien’s sense of quest and magic, but set against Leone’s almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”

    What’s interesting is that The Good… was a “sequel” of sorts to Fistful of Dollars, which was inspired by Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was inspired by Dashiell Hammett novels…

    So we have this inspiration jumping all over several different continents and several different cultures.


  4. this sounds fun!

    By the way…I will not be able to play on the 26th (super game):(. due to bad planing.
    I am available on the 19th tho. and the second.

  5. I’m very much looking forward to your design journals for this project. I’ve been falling in love with FATE for a while now, but I’ve not really sat down to figure out how to tinker with it (too used to d20 nifties at the moment).

    Good luck with this; I’ll be following the development closely.

  6. Glad to be aboard

    I absolutely love random generation tables. Your description of them being a “game unto themselves” is hits the mark quite nicely. ‘
    I wait to see what your spaghetti flavored, steam driven, Wuxia fantasy has in store for us.

  7. In the time of chimpanzees, i was a monkey.

    Oh man. This has captured my imagination in a way that i find difficult to articulate. And i second the love of random tables in the Traveller style.

    This makes me want to go out and order the Brisco county junior series and a couple of seasons of Kung Fu. I must admit i’m looking forward to this.

    BTW: You and the Prince planning to attend Origins this year?

  8. Re: In the time of chimpanzees, i was a monkey.

    I cannot speak for Mr. Hite, but alas, I will not be there. I am going to GenCon, however.

  9. One thought on the Xia virtues — you don’t necessarily *have* to make them different from aspects; you could ascribe them as types of aspects, granting one additional effect of some sort for that aspect based on which virtue it is. I did something like that with my Dictionary of Mu to Fate adaptation: http://oghmascurse.wikidot.com/

    Chock full of awesome, regardless, man. :)

  10. What I’m currently considering is something along those lines: Make the 8 xia virtues phases of character creation, with the PC gaining one related aspect for each virtue (even aspects that indicate that the character is *lacking* in that virtue).

  11. This sounds like a great project. I look forward to seeing what develops.

    However, this comment…

    “combat is a big part of both genres, and may require something more than the core SOTC mechanics — without venturing into wargameyness.”

    …disturbs me fundamentally. This could go so wrong, so easily. I think the relative looseness of the Fate3/SotC combat system would be a major plus, and the main reason to use it over some other system. What the genre-mix you describe really doesn’t need is crunchier combat. Now if you go somewhere in the direction of just making the combat “stuntier” with more options for over-the-top coolness that doesn’t slow combat or penalize character’s actions for trying complex moves… maybe that would work.

    I’ll try to keep faith in your capability to deliver the cool, I just always grit my teeth a little whenever someone talks about “adding more” to a combat system.

  12. SOTC combat can actually be plenty crunchy; you just need to get explicit about setting up your zones, your borders, and aspects on those borders. And if you’re looking for it to be a bit more “bloody”, there are several very easy tweaks that can be made to the damage system that I would be happy to share.

  13. Gareth, this is truly inspired! Excellent concept, and thanks for sharing your design ideas with us because it’s extremely helpful to see how you’re massaging Fate to work with your setting.

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