Welcome to the Wyrd West!
Most of us are used to the concept of a science fiction western by now. However, as a writer who works in the blended genre, I find that fantasy western is a harder sell. But I think it’s a natural fit. The truth is that the Wild West, as visualized in the North American consciousness, is a myth. And like all myths, it has a certain universal human appeal; at least, if it’s done well. Fantasy also deals primarily in myth. Many of the themes common to both milieus are older than remembered time.The Wyrd West is a post-apocalyptic Western Canada setting in which myth shapes reality. It's perhaps best described as a blend of Weird Western and Fantasy Americana, with dashes of steampunk technology. Gunslingers, a form of Paladin, uphold the Law and protect the common people from regular and supernatural threats, while nefarious Desperadoes, necromancers, and monsters of ancient and modern myth and legend wreck havoc on the frontier countryside. Sentient horses and giant bugs live side-by-side with humans, elves, trolls, and gnomes. And you might find everything from Mad Max style post-apocalyptic baddies, to zombies, to ancient faeries in forgotten streams. The concept was born in a soup of Western, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic tropes. I think it started when I said to myself, "What if Gilead in the Dark Tower still existed? What if it was Lord of the Rings after the Industrial Revolution? And what if it was after the fall of civilization, like in The Change novels?" It has been described as "Fallout meets Firefly meets Supernatural meets Shannara," and I think that's a pretty good description. It's important to note that while the technology that is readily available is centered in a sort of 19th century steampunkish era, these are not 19th century people in the Wyrd West. Our present is their past, and there will often be references to things one would recognize from our own era -- though, like in many post-apocalyptic tales, they might be misunderstood or out of place. I grew up on spaghetti westerns, and I love fantasy. Blending the grittiness of westerns with the whimsy of fantasy, without the problematic elements that often plague western settings, seems like the perfect combination to me. Add in the post-apocalyptic and steampunk elements, and it's a heady, intoxicating brew! I write in this world because I love it. It's fun.
Wyrd West Chronicles
Westerns focus on the myths of settling the wild frontier, although they share much with the Knight Errant tales of Europe, the ronin stories of Japan, and sometimes, trickster-heroes of a variety of cultural myths from around the world. Stories focus on survival in a hostile and alien environment, whether they tell of pioneering, running away from something, bringing elements of the civilization left behind to the wilderness, or fighting for the land’s possession. Outlaws flee justice, and sheriffs or vigilantes dispense it. Settlers and native folk compete, often violently, for space or resources. Above all, codes of honour are personal, because the only law is the law of the gun. In these stories, the landscape itself becomes a character, lending its favour to the protagonist, or dispensing its wrath; or often, both.The Wyrd West Chronicles are a serial; that is, a sequential story told in parts. They center around the Walshes, a family of Gunslingers. Graeme and Piper are a pair of would-be Gunslingers learning the trade. Their companions include a Courtesan, a somewhat-roguish bartender, a gladiator, an inventor, and a Mantis-folk warrior. The story follows their adventures as they come of age, face moral and ethical dilemmas, and explore their world.
Author and screenwriter Frank Gruber identified seven main plots of westerns:The Wyrd West is intended for play with any number of TTRPG platforms. You can play a variety of archetypes. Would it fit in a western, and can you find a way to give it a fantastical twist? Then you can probably play it. Want to play a band of outlaws? A spiritualist researcher? A travelling snake oil salesman? A hooker with a heart of gold? A fiercely independent mountain man or wilderness witch? There are many concepts that fit within this framework. The feel of a campaign should be epic, where big consequences can result from even the smallest of decisions -- especially moral ones. Even characters like the Gunslinger are morally ambiguous. They have religious powers that they use to face the forces of darkness, but there's a Nietzschean element involved. Gunslingers commit horrific acts of violence, and they knowthat their acts are horrific. This is why they have a theology that casts them as atoning sinners, and why they have cleansing rituals and codes of honour. Gunslingers are keenly aware that it's a thin line that separates them from their adversaries. There's a constant gothic horror factor in that a character is always at risk of descending into darkness, and this should be an ever-present threat.
In all of these plots, clear divisions of good and evil are frequently subjective or non-existent. For example, it might be the Outlaw who is the moral character and the Marshal who is immoral; or the one who dispenses justice now may have been a cold-blooded killer in their youth.
- the Union Pacific story – establishing modern technology or forms of transportation, such as a telegraph, railroad or wagon train;
- the Ranch story – a ranch defends itself against rustlers, rich landowners, or the environment;
- the Empire story – a rags-to-riches story about establishing a financial empire (or trying to
- the Revenge story;
- the Cavalry and Indian story – “taming” the wilderness for settlers, or fighting back against them;
- the Outlaw story;
- the Marshal story.
Points of Conflict
The Union Pacific Story
Civilization vs. Anarchy, Civilization vs. WildernessThe Wyrd West struggles to regain the level of civilization the world had prior to The Cataclysm. Not everyone is on board with that goal, however. Some prefer the world the way it is, because they are doing better in this new world than they ever would have done in the old world. Others are not necessarily opposed to re-establishing a more civilized society, but they want to avoid some of the pitfalls of the old world. Others simply view civilization as a corrupting force that they are not on board with. And then of course, the question becomes: whose vision of "civilization" are they trying to re-establish?
The Ranch Story
Seeking Home & SecurityWhat is the meaning of "home" and "family?" And what do people do when those things are under threat? The Wyrd West is a hostile environment -- magical creatures, monsters, radiation, biohazards, and all the usual hazards of wilderness are a constant threat. In addition, hostile or miscreant sentient beings -- outlaws, greedy landowners, sorcerers, would-be warlords, and hostile, clashing cultures also create problems that make it difficult for true security to exist. The struggle to create a peaceful home can be a central conflict in the Wyrd West.
The Empire Story
The Balance of PowerWhile this isn't a central goal of the protagonists of the Wyrd West Chronicles, the idea of the "self-made man" is an old western trope. This might be a goal of RPG characters: to build their own empire in the Wyrd West. Such characters might be foes or allies in the Wyrd West Chronicles.
The Revenge Story
Moral ConflictIn a place where the only law is the Law of the Gun, a person might be driven to bring about their own form of justice. But how do you keep a clear moral compass when the only one you can account to is yourself? The line between good, evil, and grey morality is explored in detail in the Wyrd West.
The Cavalry and Indian Story
Clash of CulturesWesterns in the past often used to tell this story as the "civilized" settlers dealing with "savage natives." While racism does exist in the Wyrd West, it's more likely to exist between different sentient species, such as humans and elves, or gnomes and Mantis-folk. However, the clash of differing cultures, and their varying cultural values, is a central theme in the Wyrd West -- and with multiple species and the addition of magic into the mix, these clashes can be particularly complicated.
The Outlaw Story & the Marshal Story
Individuality vs. Societal Standards, Rule of LawHow important is the Rule of Law? Does it serve the needs of the people, or the needs of the powerful? In the Wyrd West, either could be true, or possibly even both, especially because large, secure governments are rare. The clash of the needs of society with the needs of the individual is a keystone of the Wyrd West.
Themes & Recurring Elements
- He who fights with monsters might take care, lest he thereby become a monster
- Good is not nice
- The Magnificent Seven Samurai
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Who Are We?
I'm Diane Morrison, also known as Sable Aradia. I'm a traditionally and independently published author. I've had some moderate successes and some great reviews! I've also started a small press and we've successfully produced an anthology with an international cast. My husband is Erin Righ. He has been working on game systems and beta testing for a long time. He was on the staff of Fantaseum, which was the official D&D Core Rules website. Since then he ran a successful web magazine until decided that it wasn't what he wanted to do, and moved on to other things. Both of us are old school tabletop gamers who played D&D back when that was all there was. We've played (and Game Mastered) a variety of other games, too. We've been developing this universe through gaming and writing for a long time. We're just getting started on World Anvil, but there's so much we have to share, and we're looking forward to sharing it with you!
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The Wyrd West Chronicles
Check out all the published books in the Wyrd West Chronicles so far!
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