-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.
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.