By Kevin Kulp
The half’in scout crawled over the rock outcropping and peered down into the gorge. “Six outlaws,” she whispered back to the posse. “Every single one of ’em wanted. Hell, they’ve got their own reward posters nailed up on their bunkhouse.”
The shee gunslinger smiled, but there wasn’t any warmth in it. He shouldered his rifle. “Let’s go earn us some bounties.”
Before I sat down to playtest Owl Hoot Trail the first time, I embarrassingly assumed the game would feel just like a classic high fantasy RPG that happened to have sixguns tossed in it. Fifteen minutes of play made me change my mind. The game felt much more like I had stumbled into a spaghetti western. Maybe it’s the flavorful races and classes, or maybe it’s the gritty combat system that ensures a showdown will leave someone laid out on the dusty street.
The first thing you do in character creation is pick your race. Half’ins are usually townsfolk, brave and friendly; the hill folk spend most of their time mining and brewing, and hardly mind at all when people call them dwarves. Shee are the one race that started out west and gradually moved east; they’re fine archers and smarter than humans, no matter how often humans deny it.
The game has five classes that fill traditional western roles. From the lawman who’s got a tin star and a license to keep order, to the dirty-fighting ruffian who’s likely to kick you when you’re down (and then smash a bottle over your head to keep you there), these classes are fully at home in any western.
“Don’t you worry.” The bald hill folk gadgeteer steepled his fingers and gave out a rising cackle that made everyone in the posse look around nervously. “I have just the thing. BEHOLD, my acid-spraying clockwork millipede!”
“Yeeaaah.” The lawman stepped forward. “Doc, I’m gonna ask you to step away from the mechanical bug.” But he was too late, and the gadget was already scuttling towards the outlaw camp.
Four additional classes are a bit more unusual. For instance, the gadgeteer can be anything between a brilliant clockwork tinkerer and a mad scientist. Gadgeteers create devices that spew remarkable powers such as energy blasts, fireballs or levitation. The game specifies possible powers; it’s up to the player to decide what their gadgets look like and how they work. A more spiritual class is the preacher. Tied to the All-Mighty, preachers are in touch with the divine and can bring a man back from the brink of death. The mentalist, a mind-controlling huckster with an emphasis on subtle illusions, and the spirit-talking shaman round out the group.
Overall, character creation takes about five to ten minutes. Pick a race, an origin, a class, and write down your abilities and skill numbers. The only thing left to do after that is select your gear. We’ve kept the rules deliberately light and easy to remember, so you’ll be spending more time playing and very little time looking things up.
We’ve aimed for cinematic combat. Classic fantasy monsters from undead to owlbears appear in the game, and humanoid foes could be unnamed extras who die cinematically when shot, or they could be serious threats to life and limb. The west is a dangerous place. You may be chasing prairie trolls who’ve rustled your herd, facing down a angry ogre with a Gatling gun, robbing a bank, or tracking down bandits for the reward money. Either way, your game’s going to be memorable.
The shee gunslinger crouched behind the boulder. “Cover me,” he said to the half’in, and dashed out into the hail of bullets. The half’in scout snapped off a shot as the shee leapt over the barricade, rolled to his feet, and emptied a bullet into the back of both sentries blocking their way. The men screamed and toppled. The shee stood in the puddle of their spreading blood and holstered his revolvers. “You coming?” he asked the rest of the posse. “We don’t have all day.”
The lawman gave him a dirty look and kicked one of the dead bodies. “You’re under arrest,” he said unnecessarily. “Don’t go anywhere.”
Owl Hoot Trail, by Clinton Nixon and Kevin Kulp, and the adventure They Rode to Perdition by Kevin Kulp, are currently available for playtesting. See here for more information.