It’s fitting that I picked Boot Hill to be my blog’s first review of a Western Role Playing Game. It’s been a while but I’m quite familiar with this game (having spent untold days playing it when I was younger) and it’s really the latent inspiration for this blog.
Boot Hill was released in three editions but is currently out of print. The game was originally released in 1975 as a rules booklet for miniature combat. The 2nd Edition of this game was released as a TSR boxed game in mid-1979 and again in 1984 with different box cover art. The 3rd Edition, a larger, revised set of rules was released in 1990. I mainly played the 2nd Edition game and that is the copy I have in front of me today. There are various copies on Amazon selling for $50 and up and there are also some .pdf files floating around the usenet groups and file sharing sites (not that I encourage that stuff). (Pictures below show the different Boot Hill editions).
Boot Hill, unlike Dungeons and Dragons, was primarily a combat game. Your player character could just as easily get killed by an old lady with a shotgun as by Johnny Ringo. Your skills improved over time and you acquired money to buy things but there was no real “leveling up”. I somewhat agree with some other reviews that I’ve read about this game >> Link. Edition 2 did not offer much material/rules for expanding the role playing aspect of the game. It did offer some good maps (a large 3×2′ town map for Promise City and the Campaign map on the reverse side) as well as square cardboard playing pieces to represent the NPC’s and your characters. The square grid on the town map was 1/2 inch = 5 feet. Your cardboard character fit nicely in each square. It worked well. So well that I found myself mapping out my own towns on large sheets of paper (with stupid names like Rio Nachos, Stetson City, Buffalo Chips Junction, and Flapjack). Looking at the Promise City map today the buildings seem to be a bit small with some being only 10’x10′. The one page map from the rule books was a good example to follow when drawing out your own maps. The game came with percentile dice as well.
The 2nd Edition rule book is only 36 pages. It includes an Introduction, Basic Rules, Advanced Rules, Optional Rules, Campaigns and Appendices A to K. The character sheet was two pages and contain spaces to record your basic character stats, Weapon stats, items carried, other items owned, money and valuables, personal history to include friends and enemies, NPC’s known and major highlights of the character’s life. It has almost 7 pages devoted to game stats for actual historical gun fighters and a page and a half of stats for fictional NPC’s. That does not leave much left over for other stuff but then again maybe that was why it was so enjoyable to play and even more fun to create your own content to go with your campaign. In my Boot Hill game box I have kept several pages of old gaming notes and I see that one of them was a reworked version of the hand-to-hand combat system that we wrote. House rules I guess.
TSR did release more content for Boot Hill but only for the 2nd Edition (but since they made no drastic changes to the rules in Edition 3 these supplements work just as well with the revised edition). There were several articles published in Dragon Magazine. These included three articles on “The Fastest Guns that Never Lived” which provided game stats for movie and television characters. There was an article (Dragon #54) on “Cash and Carry” that gave prices for items in the western frontier. Another article (Dragon #76) covered the U.S. Cavalry. TSR also released a Gaming Screen (in 1981) and five Campaign Modules (ref):
Module BH1 Mad Mesa (1981)
Module BH2 Lost Conquistador Mine (1982)
Module BH3 Ballots & Bullets (1982)
Module BH4 Burned Bush Wells (1983)
Module BH5 Range War (1984)
The 3rd Edition rules are much longer (128 pages) and offer a revised combat system, more character skills, more historical information (a timeline and primers on horses and the Indian Wars), and a couple of adventures (including the shootout at the OK Corral). There are also some more tips on running a campaign. This set comes with the same maps and counters as the 2nd Edition. The 3rd Edition Boot Hill was released along with several other revised TSR games in early 1990’s.
The appeal of this game is it’s simple combat rules. Character’s have base speeds and accuracy which are affected by various factors such as range, movement, wounds, weapon and bravery. Once the modifiers are figured out you roll a percentage dice to determine if you hit who you are shooting at. If you do then you roll for where the bullet hits. If the chart says the bullet hits your enemy in the right leg but he is lying down behind a dead horse then you miss. I remember that this simple concept kept players scrambling for cover as often as they could. There are some advanced rules as well for shooting while riding, shooting shotguns and minor character morale. It all adds up to only 4-5 pages you need to know before you can go out and start robbing banks.
Bottom Line: A tremendously playable game if you can get your hands on a copy. With some work on building up your campaign setting and integrating some house rules you can be on to a rollicking good time. Consider Boot Hill a good introduction game for your friends who never played role playing games. They’ve probably watched some westerns one time or another.