Blood Red Clouds in the Western Sky

Blood Red Clouds in the Western Sky is my FitD revisionist western game (Blood Meridian, Deadwood, Red Dead Redemption 2, etc).

The current release is here, which has the playbooks (crew and characters) and action-definitions: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cO2jU6ueOHv6E8ZmoNCxwxh4h1zWlJkg/view

I will post WIP stuff here as I have it - I’m currently drafting the basic rules so I can get some kind of quickstart document out there for playtesting.

New rules that I need to flesh out:

  1. Epilogues (I might drop this)
  2. Roles (I want to facilitate group-dynamics and team archetypes)
  3. Manifest Destiny (a tension-ratcheting mechanic where certain factions increase in Tier, implacably, over time - stuff like the law, commercial interests, settlers, etc. Think about Hearst coming to Deadwood, that’s a good example)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this excellent essay: Figurin’ Out All Over Again How to Fuckin’ Live: Depictions of Mental Illness in Deadwood. Diversity of experience and living in the margins and how a liminal frontier space can give a certain kind of freedom to marginalized groups even as it ultimately pits them against one another. That kind of stuff.

The big question mark, ultimately, is what the setting will be and how to do justice to the indigenous experience. Obviously that will involve getting indigenous writer(s) involved in some (paid) capacity… What I don’t want to do is just avoid that topic entirely (e.g. pretty much how Deadwood handled it).

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Love the layout! Manifest Destiny sounds like a really cool mechanic, looking forward to hearing more about that.

I’m working on a game with a western tone and tech level, but focused much more on larger than life “frontier heroes”, rather than reality.

I’ve been pondering the same issue about how to handle indigenous experiences quite a bit. I have heard that leaving them out is better than including them badly (which makes sense) so that is my approach for now, but if you find good consultation I’d appreciate a commendation!

Cheers! I’m interested to see your game too, always good to compare notes.

Definitely agree re: better to leave it out than do it badly, for sure. But I hope we can do better.

I have a deep love for western RPGs, which were my intro to the world of historical and real-world TRPGs, and am glad you are doing this and doing it well! (In an alternate timeline, I would have done an old west hack instead of a modern one.)

I’m very interested to see how / if a setting develops with the project. Obv as you’ve noted, the “wild west” period is extremely fraught, even in addition to the indigenous experience-- the post-slavery US, the fallout of the Mexican-American war, Chinese immigration, non-English European immigration, railroads and mining and labor … lots of stuff going on that can be impacted by where, and when, the game is set within that sort of 1860s-1910s timeline.

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Thanks Jason! I do have some setting ideas; I have something in mind around a fictional part of South Dakota, a sort of not-Deadwood. I thought a fictional town gives a broader sandbox than a real setting, but setting it in a real state forces the game to grapple with the messy reality of history on some level (unlike, say, Red Dead Redemption’s entirely fictional states). Given Copperhead County’s setting, I’m sure you agree! :wink:

Setting it in/near the Black Hills also makes the indigenous experience front-and-center, since it’s one of the more egregious examples of broken treaties and stolen land (which is saying something!).

As you say, there’s then a whole other set of tricky subject matter like race and class and gender and slavery and the list goes on. I have a few thoughts on those areas too…

One idea is a tick box on the character sheet called “Not a White Man”; this is a sort of consent-mechanic, where if you play a character who might be impacted by the prejudices of the time (ethnicity/gender/sexuality/etc) you gain a special rule. It demands a conversation at the table about lines and veils, and then every time you encounter an obstacle because of prejudice, the player can either accept the obstacle and restore 1 grit (stress), or reject the consequence and the story moves forward without it. In other words, the player gains full control and consent over how big an obstacle prejudice against their character is, and can either brush the prejudice aside, or accept it and gain a small mechanical advantage. This would then mean than women and people of colour and so on have more stress (grit) to burn during climactic moments than cis white men, which feels right to me.

My other line of thinking is around the “frontier” as a liminal space where marginalised communities can find a home, but are pitted against one another by the pressure cooker of Manifest Destiny. Not a utopia by any means, but a portrayal of living in the margins, a diversity of experience. I’m thinking about the large number of african american cowboys, and places like Covert, Michigan, where there were “black highway overseers, black election inspectors, black township board members, a constable, a drain commissioner and in 1875, the first black justice of the peace elected in the state of Michigan”. And then women who enlisted as men in the civil war and some who stayed as men afterwards.

Basically, a setting with diverse marginalized groups who are competing for finite resources with each other and against white supremacist big-capital & government. Definitely not the clint eastwood libertarian western dream, a time when a man could be free of paying taxes or whatever.

A goldrush, a cattle-trail to introduce diverse cowboys, a desegregated community like Covert Michigan, a faction led by a transgender civil war veteran, various native american factions representing diverse viewpoints, assholes like the pinkertons and mining magnates… that’s the broad sketch!

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Here is what I have so far. Doesn’t quite stand alone enough for others to play it, I think, but it has stood to test of several years of local playtesting. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N8yPn3Ed0dE81snPHjd1DnzcU5vZEuKgO0Yl1Em-CeA/edit
It has a big focus on combat over roleplaying (since it was originally intended to be designed like a roguelike videogame) but I’m now trying to put the roleplaying back in.

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Awesome. Only given a skim so far, but I’m liking what I see! Flame knight, so good…

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I love the idea of this! I’ll be watching for playtests. I would like to help!

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I’m glad to hear it! Will keep you informed.

@timdenee this is a very interesting idea for my hack, too. I’m trying to go in a more generic direction regarding setting but the problem how to deal with prejudice, us/them-hate won’t go away. Giving it a explicit mechanic may be a good way to solve this problem. Great stuff to think about, thanks!

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