14 August 2016

Let Me Tell You About My Char . . . Seriously? This Again?

Yeah, this crap, again.

I won't try to deny the narcissist impulse that drives gamers to talk about their characters with strangers, but I do have at least two ulterior motives: first, to give an example of what a 2e Boot Hill character looks like for those unfamiliar with the system, and second, to mention something about the approach taken to the campaign in which I'm playing right now.

Characters in 2e Boot Hill (just BH from here on out) have six starting attributes: Speed, Gun and Throwing Accuracy, Strength, Bravery, and Experience, all of which may improve over the course of the game. Each attribute is generated by a d% roll referenced with a table which provides the actual attribute score. Rolls for BH player characters are weighted to give the adventurers higher scores, marking them as 'special' individuals - again, the number rolled is cross-referenced with another 'Initial Modifications' table, and the modifier added to the roll, so if you roll 27 for your character's Speed (Above Average), you get a +15 bonus making it 42 (Quick), but if you roll 83 (Very Fast), the bonus is +5 making it 88 (which is still Very Fast). Note that 'Average' as a rating isn't, really: the table values aren't a bell curve, so 'Average' is simply descriptive - where these descriptions come into play is creating non-player characters, which is the subject for another post.

Speed determines who shoots first, and how many shots you get off before the next guy fires. The two accuracy scores affect the character's chance to hit - 'throwing' accuracy covers knives, spears and bows. Bravery has two modifiers, one for Speed and one for Accuracy. Strength is 'hit points.' Experience represents the actual number of 'gunfights' the character survives, which in turn affects Accuracy.

Here are my rolls -

AttributeMod'd RollDescriptionAbility Score
Gun Accuracy69Good+7
Throwing Accuracy93Excellent+15

Initial modifications pumped up the character's Gun Accuracy, Strength and Bravery, but Speed and Throwing Accuracy are as-rolled - a hot hand - as is Experience, which does not get an initial modification. So he's damn fast, accurate with 'thrown' weapons but less so with firearms, reasonably tough, passably brave, and never been in a gunfight. Characters with high throwing accuracy tend to get pigeon-holed a couple of ways, as knife-throwers in the mold of Britt from The Magnificent Seven or as Native Americans with a bow and a lance. Neither of those appeal to me, however: while knives are insanely deadly in hand-to-hand combat in BH, as thrown weapons they can be a dicey proposition in a fight, not something I'd build a character concept around, and while I've run Native American and mixed-blood - 'half-breed' - characters in the past, notably a cavalry scout, playing 'guy with a bow' isn't what I'm looking for out of Boot Hill or Wild West gaming in general.

So how about a lariat?

Lariats are one of the big omissions from the 2e core rules but they're trivially simple to houserule, and Throwing Accuracy is the obvious choice for resolving a lasso 'attack.' So right now I'm looking at a cowboy character, with the speed and skill to be a damn fine roper.

The next character 'atrribute' I need to roll is Age, which is 3d10+12 - a range of fifteen to forty-two - and I roll eight, so my character is twenty years old, which fits well with his lack of gunfighting Experience. For the next few years, until he reaches twenty-five years old, my character's Speed, Accuracy, and Strength rolls will increase slightly each year.

Everything else is whatever I choose it to be. This is an important point. Boot Hill doesn't deal in backgrounds or skills or Aspects or pretty much anything else - there is minimal 'system mastery' to exploit, few 'traps' to avoid. If I decide my character is a scout or a detective, he gets a small bonus to tracking rolls, if I decide he's a gambler, I can roll for a Gambler Rating and cheat, and if I decide he was an artillerist, he can fire a cannon or a Gatling gun without penalties. If I decide my character is a former Union Army artillerist turned Pinkerton who gambles, I get 'em all. There's no attempt to 'balance' these barebones benefits past the good judgement of the players and the referees - beyond the attribute rolls , the rules are largely silent.

When I played BH in the past, we'd usually cobble something together for players who wanted a particular ability for their character; a player who wants her character to be good with her fists might trade 20% off her Gun Accuracy in exchange for a +2 on Punching and Grappling roles. For the campaign I'm playing now, even small trade-offs like this aren't a consideration - make up whatever you like, because we're grown-ups who aren't trying to dick one another and no one feels the need to play nanny over who gets what.

I decide my character played cards in the bunkhouse with the other hands, and got to be pretty good at it, so he gets a Gambler Rating. Characters with a Gambler Rating get a bonus when gambling and they can cheat - the Gambler Rating determines if they pull it off without getting caught. A Gambler Rating ranges from one to fifty - roll d%, and if the rolls is between 1-50, that's the rating, and if it's 51 or higher, subtract 50 from the roll. I roll 68, which gives my character a Gambler Rating of 18 - in general terms, he has an 18% chance of getting caught if he tries to cheat, but the chance increases if other gamblers are at the table. My character can probably fleece a couple of greenhorns without getting caught, but cheating a table full of high rollers is a risky proposition.

My mind wanders a bit, the character of Button from Open Range pops into my head and won't go away, and Eladio Rogelio Luna de la Cruz is born. Rather than the stereotypical 'Mexican' vaquero, Eladio Luna was born in Texas but raised in Nebraska Territory, when his father was hired to drive a herd north to a ranch near Fort Kearny and stayed on with his family as foreman. Eladio grew up on the ranch, educated by the rancher's wife with her own children - he's from two worlds, one Texican, one Anglo. He speaks Spanish, English and "some Pawnee," and he can read and write and figure. He has an older brother and a younger sister. He was a wrangler as a boy and a cowpuncher as a young man, and now he's gone in search of his own place in the world. It's probably the most extensive background I've written for a character in a decade or more, and none of it is 'paid for' mechanically - there are no rules for languages, nor for literacy, so I just take what fits the character.

Because the NPC reaction tables from BH1 Mad Mesa and BH2 Lost Conquistador Mine figure prominently in the campaign, the choice to play a character who's 'Mexican' means that just being who he is is more likely to create trouble; per BH2 Mexicans get a -2 and Indians and half-breeds get a -4 and per BH1 strangers get a -1 on a 2d6 reaction roll, so the social interaction hill starts off steeper than it does for Anglo characters, to be sure.

Next comes equipment, which basically means guns. As I've written elsewhere, BH doesn't attempt to stat the differences between a Colt Peacemaker and a Smith & Wesson Schofield - both are six-shot single-action revolvers, or SAR6 in BH. If you want to skin your SAR6 as an 1851 Colt Navy with the Richards-Mason conversion for centerfire cartridges, go nuts. Characters start with $150.00 - sidearms run in the $20.00 for an antiquated percussion-cap-and-ball revolver to $40.00 for a fast-draw revolver with its own gunbelt. Before you think of loading up on ironmongery, horses and saddles can swallow a big chunk of that starting cash. As much as I would like to start the game with a sweet ride, I settle for a poor quality horse - skinned as a dun mare named Conchita - and a saddle and tack, which eats up $60.00 right out of the gate. Since the campaign is starting with the adventure Mad Mesa, I want my character to start with stakes for gambling, and that means going cheap for now. An SAR6 - a Remington 1858 New Army converted to rimfire - a box of shells, and a knife round out his starting gear.

The characters in the campaign each add a couple of personal items to their kit - I created my character weeks before I stumbled across Chris' brilliant "Random Crap" table for Boot Hill, or I might've rolled on that instead. For Eladio, it's a buffalo robe and a rosary made from blue glass trade beads. Once again, there are no table rules for this beyond 'pick a couple of things your character starts with.' My favorite is the character who owns a photo of himself with Generals Sheridan and Custer in a small silver frame.

Once I know what weapons Eladio carries, I can figure out how fast and accurate he is with them. A character's Base Speed is calculated by adding together her Speed modifier, her Bravery modifier, and her weapon speed. Eladio's SAR6 is a Fast weapon, so the modifier is +8, while the knife (KN) is Average with a +5 modifier. A character's To Hit score is the sum of his Accuracy, Bravery, and Experience modifiers plus fifty, which gives the character's percent chance to hit. Foe Eladio, it looks like this.

WeaponSpeed modifierBravery modifierWeapon Speed modifier= Base Speed

WeaponAccuracy modifierBravery modifierExperience modifier+ 50 = Base Accuracy

One of my personal tests for a roleplaying game is, can I fit my character on an index card? Here's what Eladio Luna looks like if he's represented the same way as non-player characters in the BH adventures -

Eladio Luna
SAR6+25 BAC 53%
KN+22 BAC 61%
STR 15 GR 18 Age 20

That's the rules-skeleton of my character. If he tries to track someone or something, if he tries to blow something up with dynamite, if his presence affects non-player characters around him, if he gets into a fist fight, the core rules have him covered - everything else is left up to the best judgement of the players and the referee. I'll be talking much more about that in a later post.


  1. Great stuff. It's been ~33 years since I last played BH2e, so it's helpful to get a reminder of the system.

    I never had (or took) the opportunity to play BH with a gaming group - it was all solo play using Mad Mesa. But I played the hell out of MM, and I remember dying a lot.

    1. So far Eladio's been in six gun battles and wounded twice - that Speed score has saved his panceta a couple of times now. Another player is on character numero tres . . .

  2. Sounds awesome. I keep wanting to play BH. I only have the 3rd edition now. Every time I see an episode of Big Valley or Bonanza or Have Gun Will Travel I keep wanting to steal a Louis L'Amour plot and saddle up.