Friday, December 7, 2018

Initial Inspiration - The Reaches

By Christopher Robin Negelein
For many GMs, tabletop RPGs are a gourmet meal. For many players, RPGs are comfort food.  
Over the years, I see lots of GMs hunger for a bit of variety in what they do. They want to try new game systems or even new genres. 
The challenge, though, comes from their players being quite happy with the status quo. They may say they want something different, but what they really mean is “different, but the same.” 
I actually had a love/hate relationship with AD&D for a long time because it was always an uphill battle to fight the inertia at the game table to try something else. That changed a little when White Wolf hit the scene, but the new thing quickly became the next old habit. 
Esper Genesis tackles this issue by putting a familiar game engine into a different genre with new classes, races and star ship rules. And it’s paid off with me constantly hearing things like “now I can finally get my Traveller/Gamma Word campaign going,” or “Now my players will let me run a much wider gamut of things at the table.” Though it’s not a secret that D&D has had science fiction in its veins since the early days.
What’s less obvious is that it has quite a bit of the Wild West/Weird Western as well. The core set up (a group of traveling misfits who braved the lawless wilds and are forced to save town from a local terror as a matter of survival) is right out of Spaghetti Westerns and Joe R. Lansdale. 
So there have been a few attempts to make D&D Westerns, and they followed the same philosophy of new classes. But when it came to races, Dwarves where often prospectors and Orcs wore sombreros. That last bit is a tad tone deaf in 2018. Regardless none of them caught on despite letting wizards cast spells with their six shooters. (How cool is that!)
Then I read Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country and my head exploded.
The story is set in his First Law grimdark fantasy setting, which would feel familiar to any Game of Thrones (Song of Fire and Ice) fan. A secondary world where blood, sweat and ambition put subtle and low-key magic in the backseat. Red Country took us a place called the Far Lands that was almost a pure Western in a fantasy world -- and the result was an interesting weird spin on Fantasy.
On the surface it seemed to be an easy formula:
  • Pistols = throwing knives and hand crossbows
  • Shotguns = heavy crossbows
But there was much more going on as I dug in. 
 As you can see
I really appreciated how he did the trick and there was some buzz at the time about how he was going to reinvent the fantasy genre, but since then he hasn’t revisited the Far Lands since.
The great thing about being a writer, though, is that if you can’t find something you want to read then you have a another reason to write.
So putting ten-gallon hats on elves and having wizards do some spell-slinging didn’t catch on. Maybe it’s time for another approach, give players something that's “same, but different.”  They can have their elves and rangers but discover a new fantasy landscape that intrigues them because it has some oddball features and challenges. Something the OSR crowd has been enjoying for years. 
Those features will be the likely result of tweaking the setting to allow GMs to bring their Wild West adventures into the game and keep their creative juices flowing. 
So that’s my goal. A setting that on the surface can be played with as a fantasy game with a truly strange new land for players to explore but also inspires GMs by letting play around with a genre and a campaign they ordinarily wouldn't be able to pull off. 
I’m aiming for the sun, let’s see how much I get burned.
Even the grid can not save myself from the horrors of my own artist skill!
P.S. Yeah, I've been working on this idea for a while now.
Love what you’re reading? Not only can you get the Cypher goods early, but also discover exclusive early 5e content, world building and related fiction on my Patreon! You can also check me out at


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