Saturday, September 14, 2013

Owl Hoot Trail: Deadwood, Lead, & The Black Hills

Jollification. Deadwood People celebrating
the building of D.O.R.R. road to Lead City

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to engage our gaming group in a test drive of character generation and play for the new d20 Western fantasy game from Pelgrane Press, Owl Hoot Trail. Today I am sharing just a bit about the setting I created for my game, with a particular focus on the standard fantasy races and how I fit them into the setting.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Owl Hoot Trail offers a recognizably Western setting, with the addition of standard fantasy races (tweaked for Western flavor), magical and magitech powers, and D&D monsters reskinned for a Western fantasy game. The book provides some guidance on how to adjust your game for specific levels of realness, from gritty low magic to supernatural Weird Western. But basically GMs are left to their own devices to create the specific Western setting and the history they will use.

This is a feature rather than a bug as far as I am concerned. We'll see people doing all sorts of interesting things as they build their own settings with this game.

Having been to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota for the first time just a few months before doing my test run with the game, it seemed natural and fun to set my game in the Black Hills. Since the game provides no explanation for the existence of standard fantasy races, I made a few decisions:
  • Shee (i.e., elves), orcs, and humans have all been in the New World for thousands of years - and some are more recent arrivals from Europe as well. The ones who have been here for a long time migrated using the same routes as other native peoples, OR came with the Vikings and other early visitors from the north and western fringes of Europe.
  • Half'ins arrived in this century. Most fled contested regions of Europe such as Alsace-Lorraine, and the rapidly unifying German polity. But more than a few are booze and weed-addled slackers fleeing rapidly industrializing pockets of Europe.
  • The Hill Folk (dwarves) are also recent arrivals, drawn to the emerging industrial opportunities in North America. They live communally in fortified cantons that specialize in mining/metallurgy. The fortified town of Lead, just a bit to the southwest of Deadwood is a Hill Folk canton. The Lead Canton operates a Land Office which sells people the rights to pan for gold in specific locations, or to prospect for gold or other precious metals. Of course, almost all of the land rights they are selling are fraudulent claims. In fact, from the Dakota peoples' perspective, the Black Hills are the sacred lands that belong to no one - especially not to interlopers from Europe.
Deadwood is of course the freewheeling home base for new arrivals intent on making their fortunes in the West, and in particular in the Black Hills. It is on the northern edge of the Black Hills region. Trails along this northern edge lead into Wyoming (Devils Tower would be 2-3 day's ride to the west), but Deadwood itself is tucked a bit into the Black Hills and ideal for heading further into the hills. Not that everyone does. In fact, more than a few inhabitants of Deadwood arrived with great ambitions and have settled into a life of gambling, spending (wasting) money, drinking, gunfights, and other dissipation. A town of flophouses, gambling houses, brothels, and saloons. A typical place for adventures to begin, and (often enough) for careless lives to end.

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