Continuing with my outgoing reviews and reading of western RPGs and modules here is a review of the Western City RPG by Jorg Dunne first released in Europe in 2006. (NOTE: this is an overview thee are a number of rules that the game has while simple require an in depth reading. This is not to say its complex but more then in the bounds of a review.)
Recently I was able to come into possession of the Western City RPG via very good friend. He got it in a lot off eBay and gifted it to me as in his words "I'm highly unlikely to read it." For a few days it sat there, then I read it in one shot which isn't too terribly difficult a feat to do as its 92 pages in a digest size with a manageable amount of text per page. Before that, as I always do, I'll start with the layout and design.
Western City gets a nod off the bat for the great graphic design on the cover. Where the marks fall short is in the translation: in my printing (January 2008- First Printing) there are numerous cases of quotation marks being backwards and awkwardness in the text in general or at least not reading smoothy. It's a shame as the graphic presentation and the art by Kathy Shad is quite good. I like her style and in some ways is evokes comparisons to Larry Elmore with her artwork whom I quite like and never got why the grognards disliked. Another nice touch is the utilization of period photos and playing cards with the bullet holes. It feels like a western, but in a different way from the Boot Hill series for instance.
Now before I go any further I should point out that Western City is not an RPG in the sense of a Boot Hill, Sidewinder, or Deadlands. Western City's main aim is to facilitate role-playing in a collaborative storytelling type of way in a gamemasterless setting. The gaming material list required to game in Western City as a result is quite low: a single d8, a deck of cards, poker chips and a dollar bill are the prime mechanisms in this game along with a few other items. What is more impressive that it was written for a contest in 72 hours. Damn well thought out if it was done entirely in that time frame if you ask me.
For game play the system uses three attributes Body, Mind and Charisma and each has an associated suit in a deck of cards: body uses clubs, Mind uses diamonds and charisma uses spades. Hearts are separate by are used for wounds in essence (shades of the Legend of Zelda perhaps?) Attributes are not rolled but rather you have a set amount and you split them amongst Body, Mind and Charisma, and scores range from 1-5 in each stat except Hearts in which each character gets 8.
Skills are possible and ranked 1-5 (BTW skills and most mechanics in the
game are resolved with a d6). You are awarded a certain number of points which you can arrange to taste. Doing so effects how well you test against the required check in game. And with that your character is done and
ready to go.
From there it's a quick whirl of backgrounds, especial items and extras. Extras deserve special mention because they are very important later. Hubris is a nice touch as well adding more flavor to a characters in the game. After creating his character the player creates a foe and an extra. These provide the supporting cast with the players characters as the main actors. Each person playing does the same thing. From there the players gather the extras and use the poker chips to engage in a bidding process to assign foes and extras. This is a pretty cool idea as it gives a good start point with characters having a high chance of knowing each other, at the very least through their extras. Later on the rules allow for the spontaneous creation of extras as needed.
Taking things a bit out of order from the book each day is divided into broad times of dawn, noon and dusk. Events happen at one of these times. To start out each player submits an idea for the days events or scenes as they are called they would like to be the star of. The good thing about the game is that during said scenes the other players either play foes or the extras so everyone gets to participate even if the scene is not about their character. High Noon is when the main fight will happen but could really happen at any point.
Scenes are framed by the players as each player bids in order to have his scene included. The group then decides how the scenes are ordered by mutual agreement. During the process there is the possibility of of overriding you fellow players if you REALLY want a scene in (the Not in My Town rule).
A negative for the system is no character death "unless the player wants it". Hrrrm? To me this is always with no permanent death what is the point of playing an RPG? In this case the player controls whether or not one dies. Of course, with a system that is "gamemasterless" this does make sense to a degree.
Magic is a completely optional part of the game and follows the rest of the game being easy to understand. In this regard, Western City follows my own views on magic in Westerns: I'm more of a realistic style referee/game designer when it comes to westerns, rather then Weird West.
Other parts of note is there is no equipment or monster/creature/animal lists and relies on the players as in the intro, Western City is assumed to have almost anything needed in terms of equipment.
The last part that should be highlighted that like the majority of the game, experience is awarded by a vote of the players.
Overall I give this 3.5 out of 5 stars. I like it a lot as a system; it's elegant it flows well and is simple. Where I take points off is I'm a role player, yes, but not an actor which is more where Western City treads. It also leaves a lot for the beginning role player to figure out on its own. Example it's a class based system, but there is no list of professions! To me this is good and bad, if you are experienced at role-playing this is not an issue. If you are brand new to role-playing its probably bound to be confusing. If I were more in the vein of the acting type role-playing genre I'd give this 4 out of 5 stars instead, but I like the inventive take on the game.