Fantasy post-apocalypse western? Part 1

I was thinking about the themes of traditional westerns, spaghetti westerns, chanbara, and Red Dead Redemption 2, which I’m playing again, largely because I love the wildlife. I’m not an expert in any of these by any stretch, but I’m interested in the assertion that Dungeons and Dragons is a western in the Manifest Destiny sense, and how or what it might mean to revise it in the same sense as western films were revised with respect to the genre features that give rise to the assertion “Dungeons and Dragons is a western”. I’m reading wikipedia here, not literary criticism. If the idea grows, maybe I’ll look deeper. I’ll assume the the fact that D&D’s core themes drawing from early western films are problematic in similar ways to those films.

A Fistful of Dollars

I’ll start by cherry-picking the themes of the evolving revisions to the genre, so from traditional westerns, chanbara (“samurai”) films inspired by them, and spaghetti and zapata westerns that were inspired by them.


  • Honour. A personal sense of outlaw honour often conflicts with duty to an employer, patron, government or family.
  • Justice. Played out through feuds, revenge and retribution, and through duels.
  • Seminomadic. Characters are often searching for a home, but are driven on by the mistrust of locals.
  • Found family. Gangs are complex and related.
  • Survival. Characters are most often remnants of a time of violence and lawlessness with few skills to survive in a new order.
  • Anti-capitalist. One category of villain are captains of industry who steal land, livelihood and labour from hard-working folk.
  • Corruption. Another category of villain are family legacies, corrupt authorities, and fallen religious figures; those who gain riches and power through corrupt means.
  • Life is cheap. Life has no intrinsic value. Even the good kill for gold, revenge or politics.
  • Harsh landscapes affect the characters affected and their progress.
  • The Saloon. A place with music, sex, gambling, drinking and brawling is often the only outpost of civilisation.
  • The Gun. A bond with, synonymity with or identification with an iconic weapon. People may recognise them by their weapon.
  • Stories are mainly ones of bounty hunting, revenge or retribution, or liberation.

These are interesting, and could be codified in a game or a campaign setting with a little thought, but I’m going to segue and talk about Red Dead Redemption 2, because it’s informing my thoughts on Dungeons and Dragons and westerns as well. This is a list of story elements in Red Dead Redemption 2, that I think are important and genre-meaningful, but that aren’t really in the thematic lists of films.

  • Experienced characters, who remember (or misremember) a time where they weren’t misfits.
  • Characters are in the midst of unfamiliar civilisation, having fled, and lack skills or means to legally engage with civilisation.
  • Rival, less honourable and more successful gangs, usually dark reflections of the PC’s gang – more engaged with ‘civilisation’, less engaged with ‘civilisation’, more ideologically driven, less ideologically driven, etc.
  • A moveable camp, of women and children as well as “breadwinners”, who are all sorts: Doctors, lawyers, thieves, fighters, etc.
  • Your role. Contribute to the gang’s finances, and to assist the other characters in the gang with their business, be it train robberies, jailbreaks, collecting debts and bounties, but also simply helping people out if you choose. And always, you have it in for the dishonourable other gang.

I like Red Dead Redemption 2’s story elements because they are, as Vincent Baker calls it grippy. It is as if you’re generating a Dogs in the Vineyard town and taking it with you everywhere you go. Your enemies are encroaching industry and society that accompanies it, the ever-present threat of starvation and sickness, and yourselves and your rivals, relics of a time where there was no civil society or industry.

I feel like there’s potential for a fantasy world where you do the kind of things you do in D&D, but your town is your gang and its moveable camp, and you’re driven by maintaining the supply (to steal Errant’s term) of that gang in a circular fashion, with an eventual goal to escape to far away (Australia in Red Dead Redemption 2, symbolic of the uncivilised wilds).

I think this post is long enough, so I’ll throw this up for your interest and get to working on what kind of set up for a fantasy world featuring these themes might look like in another post. I’m interested in your thoughts here, though, especially on the complex topic of encroaching civilisation and industry in the context of the late west, and the role of protagonists who transitioned from being perceived as parasites against a innocent civilians to heroes against an unstoppable capitalistic empire.

Idle Cartulary,

6th December 2022


Any rainboblin

This is the first Challenge of the Week. The rest will be paid subscriber only, and this one serves as a taster for what will serve as tiny morsels of character, encounter or game design.

Challenges (1) are meant to be easy to read and to scale easily. Consider Luke Gearings tweet:

“i used to care a lot about each class and monster having mechanical differentiation now i spend like 4 hours making 6 1HD monsters with AC as Leather and Damage as Sword”

For challenges, I want even less. I don’t need or want all of threats, conditions, effects and triggers. We want the minimum to describe the challenge and to provide a launching pad for roleplay. The parts of a challenge aren’t necessary, they’re tools to cover our options.

A rainboboblin is a mook, and they should be weak and easy to defeat alone, but as a group unique interesting and varied.

any rainboblin

small and pale, ragged clothes, broad hat concealing chromatic hair, crooked wand hip-holstered

prismatic pistolet: will it be flame, concussion, lightning chain, acid contagion, frozen, or bone-jellifying?

cowardly but persistent, true believer in the Caged Dragon, follower of the great Prismot

That’s any rainboblin. Not bigger than a Ludicrous Compendium entry (and, as intended, you could easily use an LC entry as a challenge). What makes our individual rainboblin unique is how the vary.

I can change a line to do this, adding a mien to any rainboblin:

true believer in the Caged Dragon, follower of the great Prismot: cowardly but persistent, jealous evangelist, grovelling snitch, incongruously proud

Or, I can sketch out a personality for the rainboblin

Samyul, the Rainboblin

dogged evangelist, dragging handcart of idols and prayers, protect them at all costs

bitter and vengeful and full of spite, masked in grins and kindness and colourful pastries as a mask

This little personality sketch, by the way, is my the Dragon technique of sketching personalities: Everyone in a fantasy world is a dragon: They have an obsession, a horde, a weakness, a mask and a true self. There are a bunch of techniques for sketching personalities, but I find this one evocative.

There! Our first challenge, despite the fact that I’ve decided to tear Infinite Hack from the seams. Thoughts and comments?! Is this something valuable to you as a paid subscriber, or should I make all future challenges free?

1 To recap, a challenge consists some number of:

  • Threats that oppose the heroes
  • Conditions that prevent, punish, or encourage certain courses of action
  • Effects that impacts the heroes’ choices
  • Triggers for new challenges, consequences or conditions

A short description, context, history, mien, character traits, or whatever else you choose might be included as well.


In the current draft of Infinite Hack, a challenge is what any encounter is called, be it social, combat, environmental, or fluid. It has a rough framework to it, and is designed to be very flexible in the way it’s presented.

A challenge consists some number of:

  • Threats that oppose the heroes
  • Conditions that prevent, punish, or encourage certain courses of action
  • Effects that impacts the heroes’ choices
  • Triggers for new challenges, consequences or conditions

In addition, a short description and context that helps place the challenge in the narrative. If a challenge consists some people, it might have details on their characters included.

Within the game, repercussions and goals for a challenge are set during play by the players, and how to succeed is set by narrative position and so won’t be addressed in anything I write here.

I’m looking to to test out the viability of some of these anti-canon procedures I’m developing for Infinite Hack and to see if this challenge framework is able to be pushed as far in strange directions as I hope it can be.

So, I’m going to start working towards posting a challenge each weekend, if I can. I hope you enjoy them and can implement the ideas into your play as well!

15th January 2022,

Idle Cartulary