First up, credit where it's due. I came across this yesterday, it's an upcoming rpg that the author intends to release free in pdf. I just really like the concept, so I'm tossing it up here as a freeform game (possibly with an eye to running the system version seperately down the line). The following is background info taken from the designers livejournal, and a forum thread about the game.
The world of Far West is a fantasy world -- one that has no relation to our own. This isn't historical fantasy, it's just fantasy. The explanation that I gave my playtesters was this: Middle-Earth was J.R.R. Tolkien creating a fantasy world inspired by the cultures and myths of the Anglo-Saxon, Finnish and Celtic peoples. The world of Far West is what would have resulted if his inspirations were instead Spaghetti Westerns, Wuxia, and steampunk.
They say that the Empire has stood for a thousand years, and that might even be true. Who can say? Regardless, it sits, powerful and majestic, spread along the coast of the Eastern Ocean -- port cities, filling with thronging multitudes, the seats of the great mercantile houses, the centers of culture and art and industry and Imperial power.
Over the years, the Empire grew. The push West. More and more territory under the Imperial flag. Each of these territories had their own rulers, of course, to handle day-to-day affairs. A hundred Princes, Barons, Presidents, Mandarins and Ministers, all with their own petty thrones, yet all bending their knee to the Emperor -- each designated as the Governor of an Imperial territory. Collectively, these outer territories, nearly but not quite independent, were referred to as the Periphery.
On occasion, an Imperial Governor would decide that his own title (King, Price, Baron, what have you) was his true calling, and the territory would rise up and declare itself truly independent of the Empire -- a sovereign nation. Inevitably, the Empire would crush these rebellions underfoot, and install a new Governor -- because no territory was ever lacking in an opposition group hungry for power.
And so it went, until The Secession Wars. It was then that one of the larger territories rebelled and broke away, and, as had happened so many times before, was brought under the focus of Imperial attention. Yet this time, several other territories saw this as their opportunity -- while the Empire was busy putting down the rebellion in the first territory, it was reasoned that forces would be unable to respond quickly enough to others. A cascade of rebellions began, as more and more of the Periphery followed the lead of these first acts. Before long, the Empire was faced with nearly the entire Periphery in rebellion, with alliances forming between various break-away states for mutual defense and aid.
The Imperial forces had the power -- industrial might; training; technology, etc. The Periphery had the numbers, however. There was simply too wide a front to effectively fight. Too many territories to occupy and pacify. Too much ground to cover.
Yes, it might have worked.
Might have, of course, if not for human nature, and specifically the nature of power to corrupt. For as easily as alliances are made, they are also broken. Treachery has its own rewards, after all. The Periphery was unable to maintain a unified defense against the Empire. Issues of self-interest trampled reason. Alliances crumbled as individual territories made opportunistic decisions, and old bad blood boiled over -- arguments over resources and spoils of war.
The Empire moved methodically, taking its time. Concentrating its efforts on territories that had been isolated from others through their own actions, from the actions of their neighbors, or (in many cases) through the actions of Imperial spies who sowed mistrust throughout the Periphery. One by one, they crushed the rebelling territories, before turning their attentions to the next.
It was a long war, and hard-fought. The August Throne was in no hurry, however. The Secession Wars ended with the inevitability of a coming winter.
The new world was created. Peace and prosperity for all. For those who had lost everything in the war, there was no place for them. They headed West, to start new lives. For warriors, even those who had fought on the winning side, there was no place for them, either. Steeped in too much blood, and possessed of a skill and trade that was no longer desired, they also headed West.
Beyond the Periphery lie the Frontier. Settlements began to blossom. Yet even here the flower of civilization asked too much tending, and so men and women pushed further West.
Beyond the Frontier. Into the Far West.
Steampunk is the seasoning that we've put into our Spaghetti Western and Wuxia stew.
It's at the level of "secret science" -- similar to the idea of alchemy or gunpowder in wuxia stories: a discipline that is known to an elite few, not commonplace technology.
You'll have individual Edison-esque inventors (perfect for PCs), the Empire of course will have access, as will the wealthy Steam Barons (the great mercantile houses).
The average citizen will have seen airships (which are slightly more rare than steam trains, but still somewhat 'mundane'), perhaps the occasional clockwork automaton (if they'd spent any time 'back east' in the big cities, or served in the wars).
It's not at the mass-production level -- every bit of steampunk tech is the work of an individual craftsman, and are regarded as "masterwork artifacts" essentially.
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The power level will be along the lines of what you see in films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, etc. -- traditional representations of both quinggong ("lightness kung fu" -- the flying stuff) and neigong ("internal power").
We won't go as far as the "chucking bolts of energy" level of comic books and films like Storm Riders and Shaolin vs Evil Dead, but pretty much right up to that line.
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This installment, a look at a few of the Clans that we're presenting in Far West, as well as "behind the scenes" commentary about the inspirations.
Rival schools, sects and clans are a huge part of the wuxia genre, and therefore will be something that will feature in our western-wuxia mash-up as well. These organizations will be available to Player Characters to take as Bonds. The write-ups will feature an overview of the Clan, giving it's general focus, goals, and its signature weapons and kung fu style.
The Rangers: Sometimes called 'The Knights of the Far West' -- a nearly monastic order of gunslinger/knights, dedicated to serving Justice, rather than any particular government. The inspiration for this clan can be found in a combination of The Lone Ranger, Stephen King's Gunslingers, and the Knights Templar. Their kung-fu is based entirely around the use of firearms -- they can actually defend as well as attack using the Gun skill (shooting an opponent's bullet out of the air!).
Their loyalty to their own order caused them to run afoul of the Empire (shades of what happened to the Templars), and the Rangers were rounded up, outlawed, arrested and/or killed. Today, they are legendary. Wandering the Far West, outlawed but still serving their Code:
"No Falsehood shall pass my lips;
For my Heart is True.
No Injustice shall pass my sight;
For my Aim is True.
The Wicked shall meet my Wrath;
For I Ride--
And Justice rides with me."
The Iron Dragons: Railway agents. Inspired by a combination of the armed escorts of wuxia fiction (warriors who hired themselves out to protect caravans and such) and the Railroad "bulls" of the West. The Iron Dragons defend trains, cargos and rail travellers from bandits and other dangers. Some members of the clan own and operate small independent railway companies, who often find themselves at odds with the Steam Barons -- the rich industrialists from back east who own the largest Railways. Their signature weapon is a pair of batons.
The Preachers: Imagine a combination of the classic western preacher and the Shaolin monks (and maybe just a bit of Shepherd Book from Firefly), and you have this Clan. Religious mendicants, tending to the needs of the flock. They often serve not only as priests, but as healers as well, well-versed in Qigong (controlling and altering the flow of qi within a body through various methods), pharmacology, and more. When called upon to fight, a Preacher will go unarmed, or perhaps use a simple staff.
The Foxglove Society: A secret society of assassins, hidden within the ranks of the Far West's "sportin' ladies" -- prostitutes and courtesans. The Foxglove Society takes as its emblem the beautiful foxglove flower, source of the deadly poison digitalis. Inspiration for this clan came from Josie, Trixie and the various whores of Deadwood, the Hung Fa (Red Flower) society, Aya Ueto and her companions in Azumi, Zhang Ziyi's courtesan in House of Flying Daggers and the girls of Oldtown (from Sin City). The women of the Foxglove use weapons that can be disguised within their trade: scarves, fans, needles, etc.
The Red Right Hand: A group of zealous religious adherents who believe that they act as the vengeance of God on Earth. They strike at any target viewed by their superiors as deserving of God's wrath. The inspiration for this Clan is a combination of the Danites (the "avenging angels" of the 19th century Mormons) and the Hashshashin, the fanatical followers of Hassan-i-Sabah, the Old Man of the Mountain. They are skilled with many weapons, and their specialty is
fighting from horseback.
The Jade Family: Inspired by the Beggar Clan of kung-fu legend, the North American "Travellers", the Gypsies and the travelling Medicine Shows of the Old West. This is a loosely-affiliated organization of nomadic con-artists, fortune-tellers, entertainers and thieves, all of whom take the family name "Jade" to indicate their allegiance to the "life." Regardless of actual blood ties, members of the Jade Family refer to other members as "cousins." Like the assassins of the Foxglove Society, the Jade Family's kung-fu specializes in the use of everyday items as weapons.
The Mariachis: I was watching Robert Rodriguez' Desperado the other day....which is, despite its modern setting, an archetypal Western, through and through. I began to think that it would be fun to bring in the mariachis as a Clan, especially given the scene towards the end of the film, when Banderas' character calls in two other musicians, each of whom is also armed to the teeth...hinting at an organization of such men. I had also been looking for some group that could serve as my analog for the Wudang swordsmen. I began to wonder what "El Mariachi" would look like if he specialized in swordplay as well as guns....and, given that he was played by Banderas, the answer lept immediately to mind: ZORRO! So here we have them -- Far West's equivalent of the first-edition D&D bard (the badass one...remember? When you encountered a bard back then, you were terrified), mixing elements of the Wudang, Zorro and El Mariachi -- a brotherhood of travelling musicians, keeping stories and songs of hope and heroism alive for the common people, and, as needed, rising to defend the people with sword and gun....
The Twin Eagle Security Agency: One thing that readers have asked in relation to the clans that I had already detailed is whether or not I was going to create a version of The Pinkertons. Well, here they are. Combining the Pinkerton National Detective Agency with today's Private Military Corporations (PMCs) and the mercenary bands of the kung fu novels, we have a private security force that can be hired by anyone with enough to offer them. Like Lee Van Cleef in the Sabata films, or Robert Conrad as James West, members of the Twin Eagle Security Agency are "citified" dandies who rely on steampunk gadgets and flashy weapons as the tools of their trade.
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If you want to know more, you can sign up for notifications and stuff herehttp://intothefarwest.com/
And a couple of ideas of my own to add to the mix, airship pirates and reavers (the ones from Firefly). Airships are mentioned to exist, though they're rare. Given the steampunk elements, and the previously mentioned rebellions, I'm pretty sure a few military airships will have gone rogue.
As for the reavers, well, a good all encompassing evil threat is fun to have. Lets say one of those steampunk mad scientist, rather than tinkering with the mechanical, decided to turn his deranged attention to people instead.
Of course, whatever he was trying to do, something went wrong. Maybe his creations rose up and destroyed him. Maybe he's still out there. Whether he is or not, his creations live on, terrifying outlying settlements, haunting the empty places between civilisation, overwhelming homesteads, attacking settlements, and dragging off those that aren't killed.
Even leaving my own tweaks aside, I reckon it would play out a little like this ...Official Sukiyaki Western Django Sizzle TrailerThe Warriors Way - Official Trailer
So, does this appeal to anyone else?