Thursday, May 27, 2010

Westerns and Fantasy Roleplaying

You might have noticed that I updated my "Listening To..." box to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack. This is a nice soundtrack, and it's obviously a nice homage and modernization of the famous Ennio Morricone soundtracks of the spaghetti westerns. Which is a nice way of saying that it kind of rips them off. Still, nice, moody atmospheric music, that even my totally Philistine kids heard about ten seconds of and told me that it sounds like "cowboy music." I don't know where they heard any cowboy themesongs, because I don't tend to watch Westerns while they're around.

For a long time, I've said of my favorite fantasy homebrew setting that it's about equal parts Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, Charles Dickens, H. P. Lovecraft and Sergio Leone with gameplay that feels like warmed over Robert Ludlum plots.

Huh? Charles Dickens? Sergio Leone?

Well, Charles Dickens comes in because I had nurtured a steampunk, urban dystopian feel for parts of the setting, and frankly, as time's gone on I've de-emphasized that quite a bit. However, I still stick strongly to the Sergio Leone vibe, and in fact, I think Sergio Leone makes a great model for a fantasy campaign.

Think about it; compared to prior Westerns, the "Dollars Trilogy" had some radical departures (not least of which that they were filmed in Europe, but that's really neither here nor there.) The character was rather amoral and dark, rather like almost every D&D character I've seen. He's not in it for heroics, his motivations are either revenge, or a payday, or hopefully both. Compared to prior Westerns, the violence and nastiness of the villains was really ratcheted up, not unlike most D&D campaigns I've been in.

In particular, I like the idea that all of these little frontier towns are rather helpless and hapless islands under siege; a constant threat of bandits (not unlike orcs, or gnolls, or whatever in D&D) in need of a hero; but instead all they can really hope for is a gruff almost anti-hero who comes and saves their bacon for reasons of his own that do not include altruism.

Anyway, those correspondences don't seem like a lot and they seem also to be somewhat generic, but I think we forget that those movies are now over 40 years old, and we take the tropes and conventions of them for granted; at the time they debuted, they were a real eye-opener to American audiences, who had never seen or apparently even really imagined anything quite like them.

Plus: two of my absolute favorite brand of "boys' adventure stories" are cowboy and pirate stories. I'm a product of my age, I guess. I want my fantasy RPGs to allow me my favorites.

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