25 May 2017

In the Long Run

The 'conventional wisdom' of some gamers is old school features like randomly generated characters and high lethality encourage 'disposable' characters and a 'lack of investment' in the campaign. Though I can't dismiss that this isn't a real thing with some players, it's not for me - if anything, I have the opposite problem, looking far ahead toward a distinctly uncertain future. I'm all about goals for my character, and while I usually start relatively small, it doesn't take long, as my character becomes enmeshed in the setting, for those goals to blow up to the realm of the dynastic.

My initial Boot Hill character set out to become a cowhand with the objective of saving up enough to buy a ranch of his own, an ambitious goal given his station but modest in terms of the setting. Bounties, rewards, and, most significantly, success at the card table allowed Eladio Luna to think big much, much sooner, giving him the capital to buy a herd and drive them to Dodge City. Along the way he won the deed to a general store in a card game and bought a saloon. Now, with over ninety thousand dollars in the bank and a couple of businesses to his name, Eladio finds himself standing astride a wholly different landscape.

Bear in mind, we're still playing 2e Boot Hill, which is about as unforgiving as a roleplaying game can be to player characters - yeah, you get an edge on attribute scores in chargen, but any greenhorn with a beat-to-crap Webley No. 5 can send your character to the last roundup with a single shot - so the best laid schemes gang aft agley, courtesy of a mortal wound. Troupe play offers some refuge from the itchy trigger-finger of Fate, a chance to build on a legacy - Eladio's brother, Pancho, is part of my troupe and could be expected to take over in the event of Eladio's death, and he has a non-player character sister who could also step up, aided by the third character in my troupe, a family friend of the Lunas. More intriguing, though, is that Eladio is about to become a father, giving him an honest-to-goodness heir to succeed him, and the beginnings of a dynasty.

So, the goals explode. Why settle for a ranch when Eladio can buy an old Spanish land grant? In what other businesses should a cattle baron invest? GW McClintock and Ben Cartwright have timber mills, mines, banks. Opportunities abound for a man with ready capital.

One of the ideas that's been in the back of my mind - and moved right up front after the cattle drive - was buying land in Mexico. The porous nature of la frontera is a feature of many Western movies - consider that the end of Stagecoach is Ringo and Dallas striking out across the border to his ranch in Mexico to escape the law. Americans in Mexico is a staple of the Western genre, during the French intervantion (Two Mules for Sister Sara), the porfiriato (The Magnificent Seven), and the RevoluciĆ³n (100 Rifles). My tejano character and his hispana wife establishing a cross-border cattle empire sounds like a lot of fun, and a chance to create all kinds of mayhem - frex, one of the ideas to cross my mind is hiring American rustlers to steal Mexican cattle for his New Mexico ranch and Mexican rustlers to steal American cattle for the Chihuahuan range!

Some months ago, with this kicking around in the back of my mind as our campaign unfolds, I picked up Sierra Madre Games' Burros & Bandidos, and its lone supplement, Frontier, a strategy game-cum-roleplaying game - note to self, one of these days I need to spend time writing about these interesting paths-not-taken by mainstream roleplaying games - set along the Mexico-United States frontier from 1850-1920. It's trivially simple to integrate Burros & Bandidos' strategic turn rules into our campaign

Enter The Son.

The Son is a novel set in Texas along la frontera notable for its shifts in time-frame and character perspective from the early life of Colonel Eli McCullough, the "first son of Texas," in the 1850s, his son Pete McCullough in 1915, and his great-granddaughter Jeannie today. The novel was then turned into an AMC series - the series keeps the changes in timeframe between 1849 and Eli's captivity among the Comanches and 1915 and the McCullough ranch during the Mexican Revolution, but then diverges significantly from the book, which is actually not a bad thing - I enjoyed the book, but I don't need to see the same story, and I like the directions the teleplay is going. It's also feeding my imagination for what our Boot Hill campaign could become, particularly with the integration of Burros & Bandidos, a multi-generational epic sprawling across two countries.

But why stop there? The end of la RevoluciĆ³n mexicana takes us through the beginnings of Prohibition in the United States - why not segue into GangBusters? Could a Luna heir become a Treasury agent? Or a bootlegger running Mexican booze for the Mob? What about a Luna flying a Great War Dawn Patrol along the Western Front? How about a big-game hunting Luna bringin' 'em back alive, or a G-man hunting Nazi saboteurs, using Daredevils or Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes?

Now, the chances of any of this coming to pass are somewhere between slim and none - at best, I could simply find players interested in a Dawn Patrol game, or a GangBusters campaign, and name my character Luna, with an unspecified ancestry connecting him or her to Eladio and our Boot Hill campaign. But what an epic campaign that could be, and no matter how ephemeral my characters may prove to be - Eladio may not survive the next week, let alone the next sixty years - I never treat them as 'disposable' or 'expendable,' not with the potential for such a lifetime - such lifetimes - to be lived.

Who is gonna make it? We'll find out, in the long run