I've only ever run one ongoing campaign in the Western genre, The Legend of Boot Hill. Strangely, while I've mentioned it on this blog a few times, I've never dedicated an entire post to it. I'll need to remedy that sometime this year.
I ran The Legend of Boot Hill campaign way back in 1979 or 1980 and it was so perfect, such a great campaign, that I can't imagine I'll ever match or surpass the pure awesomeness of that game. If I can't see running a game that good again, why bother?
Additionally, while I don't dislike Westerns, my interest in them doesn't come close to my interest in many other genres. The end result is that the pull to run a Western just isn't strong enough to overcome the fact that I don't feel I could do it justice anyway.
All that being true, there is the case of Dane 'Dusty' Dibbs and his tales of the Odd West...
Character: Virgil Dibbs
Player: David Cotton
System: Odd West - A Homebrew system of my own creation.
Campaign: The Adventures of 'Dusty' Dibbs
Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein
Origins: Sometime around late 2009 or early 2010 I was discussing RPGs with my good friend David Cotton (who passed away in 2020) and the conversation turned toward games we'd always wanted to play or run but hadn't for whatever reason. There were very few I could think of honestly since, as I've mentioned before, if I want to run a game I do. I find a way.
The closest thing was a Western game, one like my old Boot Hill-But-Not game from nearly 30 years prior. I told him all the reasons I conveyed to you in the opening of this post. Funny enough, David said he'd love to try a Wild West game, especially if it were crossed over with other genres as I have described my Legend of Boot Hill game being.
The next time a free game day came up, one where we weren't scheduled to run or play any of our regular campaigns, Dave and I sat down to play a homebrew I'd put together for that very occasion. I dubbed it 'Odd West'. Just me as GM and him as the sole player and PC. It went really well and over the next two years whenever there was a glitch in the usual schedule, turned to Odd West.
The character himself is largely inspired by real life African American US Marshal Bass Reeves, thought by many to be the basis for the Lone Ranger. His name was originally Dane Dibbs but his first name was changed to Virgil when we realized Dave already had a character with the name Dane. Funny enough, years later he would name his Mobile Suit Gundam RPG character Dane Bradley. Dave liked the name Dane I guess.
There were really only half a dozen sessions of this 'series' but they were really cool, memorable, and yet another reason I miss Dave.
Backstory: Virgil Dibbs was born the son of two former slaves who escaped the South sometime around 1840, eventually making their way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dibbs would join the Union Army in the fight against the Confederates at the young age of 17 and impress both his White Commanding Officers and fellow Black Soldiers with his marksmanship, resourcefulness, and uncanny luck.
Whispers and rumors of Dibbs' luck spread as only such stories can and before long many who saw the young man thought him to either be favored by angels or having made a deal with the devil himself. He would leap into a ravine without looking only to land in a convenient pile of soft leaves. He made shots too keen for the Human eye at too far a distance. Riding last among his unit, his horse would clear terrain that threw the riders of horses but a moment behind him. How had they not seen that ditch? How had it not felled Dibbs?
Following the Civil War, one of his former commanders, now a US Marshal, introduced Dibbs to a man named Wilfred Wesley, a law enforcement officer of the US government in charge of a rather secretive branch that dealt with the paranormal. Wesley had collected numerous accounts of Dibbs and his lucky escapes, impossible aim, and nick-of-time saves. Believing Dibbs to be among 'The Gifted', Wesley offered him a job as a special sort of lawman. Dibbs agreed on two conditions: A portion of his pay went to help his family and their community back in Philadelphia and Virgil had some say in which assignments he undertook. Wesley agreed and rest in history. Well...legend...
Overview: The adventures of Dusty Dibbs all began the same way...I would open with Dibbs walking or riding into a town as I spoke a narration in the form of a letter to Dusty from Mr. Wesley. The narration would detail the place Dibbs was heading to and the reason why. Something along the lines of, "Mr. Dibbs, I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing because the owners and lumber workers at the Pine Bay Logging Company have reported a most unusual and hazardous animal in the vicinity of their camps, one that seems consciously determined to upset the White and Red Pine industry vital to our nations' development..."
Dibbs would then investigate, often befriending at least one person directly connected to the situation and with their aid, get to the source of the problem and attempt to solve it. On one occasion that involved fighting a 'Timber Baron' and his thugs as well as the 'Fearsome Critter' (a class of North American folklore creature) whose home territory they'd disturbed. In another instance he had to appease the Rain Spirit of the local Indigenous People who had become so upset it was flooding a section of the Great Lakes Region with an unending downpour.
I remember that the first session - the aforementioned scenario with a logging camp under attack by a Hugag - was reminiscent of an outdoor 'Die Hard'. Dibbs started by avoiding the owner of the camp and his heavies, periodically hunting them down and picking them off one by one as the Hugag wrecked the logging operation all around them.
I remembering doing a ton of research for the second (maybe third?) session we ran, which involved a 'Thunder Spirit' of the Kickapoo tribe. A week of torrential rain that was flooding Lake Eerie and a town along its coast was attributed to the anger of this otherwise benevolent entity. Dibbs apparently had some positive dealings with Native Americans in his Civil War days and was considered a friend to the local Kickapoo. It turns out a misguided young man had complained to birds in the area about the lakeside town. The birds conveyed his message to the sky and the Thunder Spirit enacted revenge of the young man's behalf. In the end, Dibbs had to protect the man from the townsfolk while also getting him to apologize to the birds and spirit for blowing things out of proportion. A lesson was learned by all.
Legacy: As I've already said, doing a Western the way I want to isn't easy but is extremely rewarding when it works. It's hard to convey the balance between the real and the supernatural I am envisioning when I set up to do a Wild West campaign.
Dibbs hasn't been seen since 2012 and my other Western campaign concepts in triple that time (except the Red Rider - more on him later this month). Perhaps that should be reconsidered. Maybe there is a future for this peculiar vision of the past.
Game Info: Odd West, the game I used to run this, was a homebrew, a strange mixture of D6 dice pools and Poker. I looked for my notes but couldn't find anything showing the system. As best as I can recall, the key element of the character mechanics-wise would be coming up with a way to invoke his 'luck power', either by giving him 'Luck Points' that could be spend to alternate/manipulate the outcome of a situation or a limited number of rerolls per session. I prefer the former of course.
Next up, set coordinates for Amaro Highport at Aequine and initiate the Jump Drive! Look who survived character creation! It's none other than Doctor EMIL FUJIKAWA! See you soon Traveller.