One of the more iconic themes of the Western genre is that of wagon trains bearing new settlers into the open land of the vast prairies, mountains, valleys and deserts. This would be a great idea for a different type of western adventure. Players would become part of an organized wagon train heading west composed of 15-30 various wagons (Conestoga and other types). The trip would take place over a period of 60-80 days. Each day would require a roll from a random event chart that would create hazards and events that the players would have to contend with. Hazards would include weather events, water crossings, illness, Indians, bandits, critters and their own poor leaders. Players could have hired on as scouts, escorts, or as new settlers. Cardboard counters could be used for wagons and NPC’s and a poster board map instead of a terrain board. Each wagon would have to be identified and the order rotated each day. Provisions would be tracked and care taken to replenish stocks each chance they get–or wind up like the Donner Party. Success is getting the settlers to their destination without too many fatalities and ruin. Each random hazardous event can become a role playing event if done well.
What got me thinking about wagon trains was a book I came across written by Captain Randolph Barnes Marcy that provides a veritable how-to guide for wagon trains heading westward. It’s available on Google books (The Prairie Traveler) as well as an on-line version. So I dug around and found some more reading materials and recommend another good book on the subject called The Covered Wagon by Emerson Hough published in 1922 even though it is fiction. Another good account of travelling west is Over the Santa Fe Trail. 1857. Then of course there is the old T.V. series called Wagon Train for really true inspiration.
Years ago I wrote a similar type of game about Conquistadors exploring the Amazon. We played this game over the course of a couple weeks and it was basically a war of attrition between the Spaniards and the “hazards”. When our expedition searching for gold finally made our way back to civilization we were down to about a dozen men out of over 120. The hard part writing this was getting a balance between what takes away from the group (for example you can’t have too many pack laden animals falling off a cliff and it shouldn’t be every day that a sentry is killed with a poison dart) and what sustains the group (finding food in an abandoned village). Many of the NPC’s were just numbers but the players each controlled a faction of the total group. One was a priest. (inspiration came from watching Werner Herzog’s epic movie Aguirre the Wrath of God).
So I’m going to focus on Wagon Trains for a bit this week.