Western Game Inspiration


I noticed a message thread on Lead Adventures entitled “Iconic Western Films For Inspiration”.  The OP posed a common question that I often see asked on other forums from people finding sources of gaming inspirations.  In this case, it was asking what western films should one watch to become more inspired.  My response here won’t directly address this question–I figured I would provide a more inclusive list that includes ideas other than movies.  So, in no particular order, here are my recommendations to put yourself in the right mood for gun slinging, bar room brawls, fast horseback riding and bounty hunting for desperadoes (all on paper of course.  With dice….and miniatures, maybe).

1.  Western Paperback Fiction.  I’m addicted to paperback westerns with a huge preference for those written from 1940-1980.  To me, this period produced the best quality of western genre stories in the largest quantity.  Of course Louis L’Amour is available just about everywhere you look for a western paperback but there are dozens of other authors such as Luke Short, Louis B. Patten, Will Henry (Clay Fisher), Cliff Farrell, William Hopson,  Giles Lutz, and Wayne D. Overholser.  I feel that these books are better than pulp stories or the full blown western novels–they are just the right length (usually 120-160 pages) to allow an author to include good character development and atmosphere.  Pulps are often boiled down too much to just action on top of action while the older western fiction works (and I might add modern western paperbacks) are too long.  One drawback is that these paperbacks might be hard to find and with some exceptions (German) are exclusively in English.  I buy in bulk on eBay (search Vintage Western in Books) for better deals and usually wind up winning bids at an average cost of $1.00 a paperback.

2.  Public Domain Western Fiction.  If you follow this blog you will know that I enjoy discovering fiction on Google Books and other sources of free downloadable literature.  There is LOTS of good reading out there–520 western related books are available online just at Manybooks.net.  Authors include Max Brand, Zane Grey, O. Henry, Henry Herbert Knibbs, Rex Beach, James B. Hendryx, Charles Alden Seltzer, William MacLeod Raine, Andy Adams, Bret Harte and even Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote a couple of westerns.  Google and the Internet Archive have even more.  The only negative thing to say about some of these book is that many are “dated” and come across as old fashioned.  I simply press on and am usually glad that I did as the plots in these stories are usually very well crafted and they stay true to Western ideals and values.

3.  Public Domain Non-Fiction.  At the same places you will find western fiction you will also find non-fiction.  There were many accounts written about real-life adventures out west or working on ranches, or as a Texas Ranger, a lawman or a cowboy.  Type in key words such as Ranch, Cowboy, Trail, Arizona, Out-West, Outlaw, Kid, Cattle, Mesa, Texas, Rider, Santa Fe, etc.  In these books you will revel in true accounts of the western period that will help get a feel for many details you can include in your own campaigns or scenarios.

4.  Western Comics.  Hundreds of comics have been released into the public domain over the years.  I found a trove of titles to include the Lone Ranger, Buck Jones,
Range Rider, Johnny Mack Brown, Zane Gray, Max Brand, Bill Elliot, Roy Rogers
and Cisco Kid on the Internet Archives.  Sure they are a bit juvenile and cheesy but you would be surprised how well some of them are written as far a plots.  Comics are a good source of quick plot hooks and ideas for your games.  There are other archives on-line that allow you to download comics simply for registering.  There are also several Usenet groups.

5.  Pulp Fiction.  Some of the best western authors started writing for the pulps.  There were hundreds of different titles out there offering western fiction.  Some of the stories were billed as book length and were over 100 pages while most pulp stories were shorter than that.  Titles such as Western Story Magazine, Wild West Weekly, 3-Book Western, Texas Ranger, Ranch Romances,  Thrilling Western, and Ace High Western are not collectors items but there are always decent copies being sold on eBay or some of the Pulp venders on the web (Adventure House and Vintage Pulps come to mind).  Online sources of Western Pulp (for free) include Unz, and Munsey’s and PulpGen. I’ve posted a fair about of pulp on this page for inspiration too.  Again, many of these are quick reads usually with more action vs. atmosphere and compelling characters but they have nuggets of inspiration if you look hard.

6.  Television Westerns.   You can now buy older western television series by the season at places like Walmart, Barnes and Noble and Target.  Titles that I’ve seen include Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Alias Smith and Jones, Rifleman, Maverick as well as the newer series like Hell on Wheels and Deadwood.  On Hulu, you can find Bat Masterson, The Young Riders, The Big Valley, The Magnificent Seven, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger and others.  If you stream content on a Roku you can subscribe to several channels that offer old western television (and movies).  You also can catch lots of shows on AMC Westerns if you have this in your Cable TV line up.

7.  Western Movies.  We all love our western movies and have our personal favorites.  Counting the movies listed on Wikipedia there are almost 2,100 western movies listed as being made between 1930 to 1999.  Some are B-Grade blurry relics not worth the time while others are masterpieces of film script, acting and cinematography.  I love them all and it is sooooo difficult to decide what is the “best” and the topic leads to heated (yet wonderful) debates among western fans.  To be inspired by a movie does not mean you have to sit through bad cinema and hope you see it’s merits in the end.  I’ve patiently watched some real duds and simply turned it off when it got too bad, but I’ve also been rewarded for my willingness to at least start watching just about any western.   I won’t bother going whole hog on this topic but I will list what I think is the top 10 in the genre below (as of 11 March 2013)….

  • The Magnificent Seven
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  • High Noon
  • Shane
  • Unforgiven
  • Fist Full of Dollars
  • The Wild Bunch
  • The Professionals
  • Rio Bravo / El Dorado (too close to call)
  • True Grit

8. Read Rule Books.  It helps to read over and review some of your more heavily used rules for miniatures or role playing.  Simply pulling out some old gaming material such as maps and scratch paper may spark a forgotten idea or two for your next scenario.  You may have missed something the last time you used the book–have another skim through it and see if anything becomes more useful.  Or buy a new set of rules that you have been eye balling for a while.  Take the plunge–it might be well worth it.

9.  Play Red Dead Redemption.  The best X-Box game I have–bar none.  I love just roaming around simply looking at stuff in this game.  It is really well done and puts me in the right mood for watching a western or settling down with a paperback before bed.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about take yourself to YouTube and check out some of the Red Dead videos of the game there.

10.  Change Focus.  Sometimes gamers get too focused on one aspect of the gaming genre.  I once knew a player who spent loads of money building up his miniature collection (in this case fantasy figures) but never got around to painting even a fraction of them.  He loved the acquisition part of it but soon got bored with this and discouraged at gaming in general.  I think he put too much time and effort into the building of his armies and not enough time using them in gaming.  My suggestion to those who are a bit jaded with their current gaming life, and in search of inspiration, is to move towards another aspect of the hobby within the genre.  Instead of painting your 75th Mexican bandit try your hand at scratch building a bank to be robbed, or create a written scenario for the next gaming session and be the game master that night. Make a couple of maps or a collection of floor plans.  Or even break away from your usual genre and try something different–zombie apocalypse maybe.

11.  Participate.  By this I mean check out what others are doing by visiting their blogs and web sites and frequenting some of the online forums devoted to western gaming.  Take pictures of your terrain board and newly painted miniatures.  Share some after action reviews of your recent game.  Create your own blog and post your comments, pictures, tips, and whatever else is on your mind.

I really excited about the direction that gaming is going.  I often see the term “hobby gaming” to describe the merging of miniatures, war gaming and role playing games.  Even though I rarely play myself nowadays, I’m hoping get more active by inspiring myself reading some newly acquired rule books and working on some terrain and miniatures.


About westerngames99

Retired Army.
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