Monday, March 22, 2021

Boot Hill 2e Notes

Following reading Chocolate Hammer's post about his Boot Hill campaign, I felt compelled to go take a look at the Boot Hill ruleset.  Thanks, Wizards, for putting it up on DriveThruRPG as a pdf.

No scale on the big hexmap?  It's a nice looking map, though there are only two settlements on it.  They've left a lot of empty for users to fill on, which was nice of them.  No scale on the map, unfortunate.

These rules are aimed at enjoyment on a plane unusual to wargaming, the individual and personal. Rather than commanding hordes of troops, players typically have but a single figure, their "character".

A rather luminary list of playtesters.

Wow there was an ad for GenCon in here.  In unrelated news, I just realized the Gen in GenCon is probably from Lake Geneva.

The discussion of campaigns emphasizes both having players "on both sides of the law" and that one advantage of having a referee is that players can make secret plans without each others' knowledge.

A single player running multiple characters in a single campaign is permissible as long as they "have little cause to cooperate or conflict with each other".

10 second rounds, 6 foot squares (on the town map).  Hexes on the hex map are 2 miles. The week is suggested as the best unit for campaign timekeeping.

In most instances. players will not find their characters involved in every tabletop action that results in a campaign. This allows non-involved players to assume one-time roles as participant characters in the action being played out, while the involved players take their own character's role - for better or worse.

Stats: speed, shooting accuracy, throwing accuracy, strength, bravery, and experience

Some weird breakpoints in stat generation in the way player characters get bonuses - if you roll a 69 (nice) you get a +10 for being in the 50-70 range and end up with a 79, but if you roll a 71 you only get +5 for being in the 71-90 range and end up with 76.

This experience system is really interesting.  Your experience stat is tracked in terms of the number of gunfights you have participated in (with some reasonable chance of death for yourself) and survived.  When you're rolling a new character, you roll a d% and index it into a table and most starting characters will have been in 0-2 fights before, which probably gives you a small penalty to hit.  But as you participate in gunfights during play, you can move up this table.  It's a very...  tied-to-the-world experience system (diegetic, as the kids would say).  You get better at shooting at people while in danger yourself by...  shooting at people who are shooting at you.

There's also a separate progression system that increases your speed and bravery percentile stats very slightly for each gunfight survived.  The lower they are, the faster they rise, but never more than 3% per combat, and this can never bring a stat above 96%, which is a separate regime for bonuses.  So you can get pretty fast by experience, but the savants are born that way.

You can never actually increase shooting accuracy or strength (toughness).  Maybe the right way to think of the shooting accuracy stat is depth perception and manual dexterity, things that you can't really improve with experience, versus experience and bravery.

Derived stats: first shot determination (sum up the various speed scores and weapon speed factors and see who gets to attack first in the attack phase of the combat round) and hit determination (what you need to roll to hit with a particular weapon, determined by a combination of skill, bravery, and experience)

Movement rules look pretty reasonable.

Facing!  But it's mostly for observation, not for arcs of fire or hit determination I think.

Shotguns and scatterguns seem to affect biiig areas.  "All possible targets in the field of fire will be individually checked to determine whether or not they are hit".  I could see this slowing things down a bit...  but they also fire pretty late in the round, so by that point it might just be mop-up.

OK wow this melee system.  Two tables (punching and grappling) that interact in weird ways.  Each melee round you choose either punch or grapple.  Generally rolling high is good, because it lets you hit, deal damage, and inflict a penalty to the other guy's next action.  Rolling high on grapple lets you put the other guy in a lock and restricts his ability to punch a lot.  Rolling low on grapple gets you kneed in the face for some damage and a bonus on your opponent's next melee roll, on either table.  But if you're in a lock, there are two ways to escape: rolling pretty high on the grappling table, or very low on the grappling table, and it's 2d10 so it's bell-curved.  So if you have a big penalty from getting hit hard last round, that can help you escape a grapple.  Meanwhile on the punching table, rolling low gives your opponent a bonus to their next action but not as big a one as a low roll to initiate a grapple (you've left yourself open, but not put your face right where they can knee you), so if you're burdened with penalties and not grappled, punching is probably a better plan than initiating grapple, because the worst possible outcome is less bad.

Attacking with a melee weapon uses the punching table, except on a hit instead of inflicting small damage and a penalty, you do a wound just like hitting with a gunshot would.  Hits from weapons get assigned randomly to body parts and are either light, serious, or mortal.  Leg injuries slow your movement, arm injuries penalize your shooting aim (but not melee I think?  RAW anyway, it would be a reasonable house rule), head injuries have a 60% chance of being immediately fatal, injuries of most any kind reduce your speed in combat and may make you shoot later in the turn which can mean getting shot again in the interim.

Other things that affect your to-hit target number for shooting: whether you moved (and how fast), whether your target moved (and how fast), multiple shots this turn, shooting from the hip (but this gives you a speed bonus), shooting with a pistol in each hand or with your off-hand, ...  It's a lot of potential modifiers.  They're almost all multiples of 5% though, which...  makes converting this to d20s kind of tempting.

There are also a bunch of modifiers to shooting speed, for things like "you already drew and are aiming at them", "fired at them last round", surprise, drawing multiple weapons, and giving your opponent the first move.  Some of these aren't multiples of 5%, but most of them are.

One thing I'm less clear on is how picking up weapons and other sorts of non-attacking non-movement actions work.  The melee example has a character pick up a chair to use as a weapon and I guess he just...  did it for free?

At this point we've cleared all the Basic Rules and are now on page 12 of 44, Advanced Rules.  Secret and simultaneous movement (I love this), firing in the middle of a move, firing from a moving stagecoach, shooting at targets who are on horseback and maybe hitting the horse, arcing arrows over cover, and morale. 

Optional rules begin on page 13, things like called shots, interleaving shots rather than "first person to shoot shoots three times before anyone else can", stunning, drunkenness, gambling, dynamite (can self-detonate, very exciting), gatling guns, grapeshot cannons, stray bullets hitting bystanders, more campaign rules.  Tracking, how long does it take to assemble a posse, overland speed as a function of horse quality (why wouldn't horses have quality ratings?), aging, healing, cost of living and salaries for doing various jobs.  

Ah, the good old days when you could live on $25 a month, and whiskey was $2 a bottle. 

The tracking table is interesting, it seems like your two options for effectively escaping pursuit are to get into hard / rocky terrain or to get into a large town and blend in.  Makes sense.

The table of NPC stats by job type that Chocolate Hammer programmed a generator for.  Five pages of stats for various historical outlaws, including their bounties and whether they were ambidextrous.

Two tactical scenarios, one a straightforward 4v4 at the OK Corral, the other a double bank robbery pitting prepared robbers against some randomly-generated townsfolk using whatever armament they happen to have on them at the time.

Two campaign scenarios, one more concrete (with a big list of NPCs) and the second more "here are some suggestions for where to set the hex map within the Territories, some ideas for other stuff to put on the hex map, some ideas for stuff to happen, good luck have fun", including this great piece of structure:

The players should be divided into two basic groups - lawmen and out-
laws. There can also be an assortment of prominent citizens - ranchers,
businessmen, and so on...

Players opting to be outlaws start their own gangs by hiring non-player characters and/ or by joining with other player characters of similar bent. None of the player outlaws are wanted by the law at the start of the game. so they are free to travel and act as they please until such time as they break the law...

The objective of outlaw players is to be the first to accumulate $I00,000
and safely escape from the area. The objective of the lawmen players is to be the one who garners the most reward money for capturing outlaws without being killed (all player outlaws must be captured for any lawman to win).

It's a little unclear to me how player outlaws are supposed to afford hiring NPC gang members, given that "Hired Gunfighter" salary is $5/day.  I wonder if you can offer shares instead.

Finally at the very end we have some rules for "how much money is in the safe you just blew up with dynamite" (or was in that stagecoach you robbed, or that train, or that guy's pockets, or so forth) and some terrible looking rules for interoperating with other TSR games including AD&D.

A couple of maps of building interiors and then a reference section of tables and character sheets.

I suppose one other thing that puzzles me here is that they mention even bigger-scale games: "A typical campaign of the designers has each player starting as a property owner and ends with each player trying to gain complete economic and political control of the county."  But I don't see a good way to adjudicate that.  Maybe it's in the supplements?  Or maybe they just had some reference works they liked on the period at their local library and went with numbers from those?


  1. I’ve been reading the rules with interest since your last post. I especially like your take on depth perception. I think I’d just call it “perception” and leave it open. It really opens up that particular stat to other mechanics.

    1. On further reflection I'm not sure depth perception was the best example, since it shouldn't matter if you're aiming over sights. There is definitely a "reading your opponent" element of the quickdraw revolver shootout missing from the rules though; I guess from the intro text maybe enemy stats are supposed to be open knowledge? ("The outlaw doesn't look fast enough to match your draw...")

  2. I’ve always loved this set of rules even though it was obscure even when I was a kid. I have never met anyone who ever played it, although it seems to me a perfect “here you go and have fun” sandbox. I based a very-brief DCC game on the territory described in the core rules and one of the solo modules! Like in Gangbusters, my first impulse is to add eldritch horrors and sanity-destroying cults

    1. Ha, my first thought was to bring in Chainmail-style magic, where sorcerers could roll to fire as a minigun or cannon instead of as a catapult or ballista.

    2. Urgh, gatling gun, not minigun.