Ride, Cowboy, Ride - The Forgotten Boot Hill


Mention the words "Boot Hill" to most ordinary people and they'll respond with "Dodge City," a reference to the long-forgotten Wild West town which is home to the cemetery of that name. Mention Boot Hillto a gamer and they're likely to respond with "TSR," a reference to the soon-to-be-forgotten gaming company who, aside from revolutionizing the gaming industry with Dungeons & Dragons, managed to churn out a forgotten (but certainly not forgettable) Wild West RPG a couple decades ago.

Nowadays, if you mention a "Wild West Role-Playing Game" to people they're most likely going to think of Deadlands, Pinnacle Entertainment Group's "weird west" take on Cowboys and Indians. But as recently as the early 1990s, TSR was still quietly churning out new editions of Boot Hill, a game they originally published in 1975 as their second RPG (if you need to ask which was the first, you need a kick in the head) and released in a 2nd Edition in 1979.

Created by Brian Blume and Gary Gygax, the game never achieved the fame that would be seen by Dungeons and Dragons, in part because the game's setting (the Wild West) wasn't nearly as high concept as D&D's fantasy setting. Let's face it--no matter how many spaghetti Westerns Clint Eastwood was going to pump out, you weren't going to sell a Western RPG to a mass market. Cowboys and Indians, Tired. Cops and Robbers, Wired. Or something like that.

But there are at least three other reasons why the game never climbed beyond its "third-tier" status:

1. Too Soon -Much of the reason for the game's spectacular failure was that it was so far ahead of its time. Almost from the very start, Boot Hill managed to incorporate concepts that the gaming world wouldn't see again for decades. Things like realistic combat systems where one shot can kill anyone; an emphasis on 10-sided (percentile) dice instead of 6-siders and 20-siders; the sort of ambiguous morality that comes from role-playing as a bunch of outlaws, as opposed to the polarizing "Lawful Good versus Chaotic Evil" alignment system of D&D; and the strange notion of NOT having a "Dungeon Master" run everything, instead relying on "group consent" instead. Even the 3rd Edition release in 1990 managed to be ahead of its time 15 years after the initial release, bringing to the market one of the very first true "skill-based" RPG systems around.

2. Too Unstable -The differences between each of the three editions are as disparate and varied as the differences between D&D, AD&D, AD&D2e and D&D3e. Which is to say, they may as well be entirely different galaxies in the universe of role-playing games. In fact, aside from the fact that they're all based on a Western theme, about the only thing they share in common is that they're all out of print now. And it's for that very reason that they give us a good look at the evolution of the gaming industry itself.

The 1st & 2nd Editions, for example, were almost entirely geared towards combat rules, being designed back in the day when everyone played with miniature figures left over from wargaming, and tons of dice on the table mingling with the lead figurines was standard operating procedure. But when the 3rd Edition rolled around, character stats changed, skills were added, and combat was de-emphasized, as a sort of nod to the new generation of gamer who was ready for a Vampire or a Werewolf. The first two editions used percentile dice for just about everything, from character generation to combat to tracking, but the 3rd Edition really only used the ten-siders for character generation, after which point you had to bring out the 6- and 20-siders. And so on.

3. Too Spartan - Perhaps the biggest gripe most people have with Boot Hill was its lack of setting. Of course, you'd think that with so much material on Television and at the Library you'd not need setting shoved down your throat, but that's like saying that Dungeons & Dragons could have succeeded without Dragonlance or Greyhawk or Athas or the Forgotten Realms. The truth of the matter is that the world your game is based in is at least as important as the rules themselves, if not more important. After all, who cares if you have the world's most detailed combat system if there's nothing to do but shoot one another and rob banks. It's the difference between Quake and Half-Life: both First-Person Shooters, but only one deserves to be called a Role-Playing Game by any stretch of the imagination, and that's because of the storyline.

Take, for example, one of the few adventure modules released for Boot Hill 2nd Edition, Mad Mesa. No background, no motivation, no true storyline. Just a bunch of cowboys wander into a town and have some random encounters throughout the night. Either you die or you leave town.

Compare this to something like, say, The Village of Hommlet and The Temple of Elemental Evil from D&D, modules jam-packed with motivations, betrayals, interesting situations and characters and, most importantly, tied into the larger campaign setting of Greyhawk, which means that it's easier to work into an ongoing storyline for your characters.

That said, why would you possibly want to check out this game for yourself? Well, there are lots of reasons. Since it's the most recent, I'll focus on the 3rd Edition rules (if you can find 1st or 2nd Edition material, more power to you!).

1. Simple and Sensible - You've got five attributes (Strength, Coordination, Observation, Stature and Luck), all based on things you can't personally provide your character in the game. What do I mean by this? Well, note the absence of Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma--these are things that you, as a player, inevitably and necessarily bring to your character. Thus, rather than forcing you to play a stupid, nasty person, the game allows you to role-play to your heart's content using your own intelligence, only providing the necessary attributes to play the game.

2. Detailed Combat Rules - There's more about gunfighting here than in any other three gaming systems you want to choose, combined. Shootouts, gun battles, fistfights, combat on horseback, explosives... you name it, it's here, along with information on all the weapons you'll need to win the day, from revolvers to shotguns and rifles.

3. The Details - While the system as a whole leaves out quite a lot (the 3rd Edition is the worst, since the entire RPG consists of one single 128-page rulebook, and no more), the little details make a big difference if you're into that sort of thing--things like rolling attributes and skills for your horse, to samples of historical gun battles like the Shootout at the OK Corral.

In retrospect, Boot Hill will probably go down in history much like an extra in a Cowboy film, that guy in the white hat who gets shot about 10 minutes into the film without ever uttering a line. Which is to say, it's easily forgotten, and will have little impact on others around it. But for those who were lucky enough to experience Boot Hill during its heyday, there's something special about the game that just can't be described; that same something special that keeps Hollywood cranking out Western movies every few years, despite the fact that nobody seems interested in them any more.

There'll always be a place for the Wild West. It's not an expansive ranch out on the Great Plains; it's a lot closer to home, and to the heart.

Coming up next time, I'll review another classic TSR game which fared almost as badly as Boot Hill did, although it managed to climb a few steps higher on the ladder off success than its forgotten cousin. Get ready to roll for mutations with Gamma World.

Funny thing - checking through my bookshelf of "I Keep Everything" + 20, I can see that I don't have the Boot Hill ruleset - just a lonely module called "Ballots and Bullets" by David James Ritchie. From the back cover:

"They're stealing the ballot box...

And vote theft is only one of the perils stalking the town when the folks of Promise City must choose between BALLOTS ... and BULLETS.

It's 1882 and Cochise Country, Arizona is the wildest part of the wild west. Rustlers are everywhere. Indians and badmen lurk in the hills. Robberies are common. Against this setting, two hostile political factions struggle for control of tiny Promise City. And YOU are there... as a gunman or lawman, a hired hand or campaign worker... OR as a candidate for office.

Inside this module, you'll find: Complete material for a 12 week political campaign, 213 detailed building descriptions and a map of Promise City, 300 Individual character descriptions of the town's residents, seven fast playing scenarios.

You'll also discover: how to scare off opposition votes, how to handle loud-mouthed hecklers, how to hold political rallies, how to stuff the ballot box, and much much more..."

Sheesh, change a few details above, and you've got a campaign modeled after our election! TSR's - purveyors of the future, indeed...

So where's the Gamma World article? I also remember the early D&D Boxed set games "Alpha Dawn" and "Star Frontiers." Great space games: characters and ship combat, respectively.

Each came with a map, little cardboard pieces with characters, monsters, ships, space stations, and asteroids printed on them, 2 game books, an adventure module, and 2 10-sided dice that you got to color in the numbers with crayon.

Ah, the good old days.

mightycow said he\she rembered the box set of D&D I still have said box set.I also have the roulbook for Boothill as well as the above module ballets&bullets.I have been running both since early 70's.as well as others still enjoy runnimg Boothill every so often.

I remember, and still have, the first edition box set, with that cool foldout map of Promise City? I remember staging an Indian raid on the town... we laid it waste that day! yessireee

I really don't see the "lack of setting" as a weakness. If you need an adventure idea, go to a used book store and buy a cheap Western novel for $1. If you need a map, photocopy a map of Colorado.

The simple fact is that Boot Hill didn't NEED a background written into the rules because the background really existed!

Boot Hill was a large part of my youth; back in the early 1980's we played that as much or more than AD&D. We had a definite comedic bent to our games, but they were still fun. I'm trying to reaccquire the game; I need that Promise City map :)


I just picked up the 3rd Ed. of this game. It looks wonderful. I was hoping it was more compatible with D20 dules, but its a great book even by its lonesome.

While you're writing about games that lead nowhere, why not write about macho women with guns or Cyborg Commandos while you're at it.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

I myself can't find anything interesting in playing in the old west, especially if it is the "Cowboys and Indians" genre of game. But as they say: "Les gouts ne se discuttent pas"

Nice review man, and I agree with you, Boothill was and is a cool game...I think i'm gona fire up the old characters. I DMed a few games, the Players were a Mashall and an Indian...They compensated for the two characters to 50 bad guy odds by splendid use of excesive use of DYNOMITE!!! We had alota fun...

I agree that Boot Hill was a fun game. I still have all three editions, with maps. ;-)

If you are looking for a current western game, Citizen Games has produced Sidewinder: Wild West Adventures, which uses the d20 rules.


They have done a pretty nice job with it.


Hey there. Great site. I just had to comment on that Boothill article. I have Boothill 3rd Ed. and I still love it after 12 years of playing. I agree to the problem about lack of material. Does anyone here know where one can find some settings/scenarios for this game? I've been trying online but have, so far, been unsuccessful. It is too bad that the game does not enjoy a wider audience...on the other hand...
Feel free to e-mail me with comments and/or feedback.

Looking for a good Boot Hill scenario to play for three adults.
Any suggestions?


hey all, i am new to the this so please bear with me. Where could i get a copy of this, i know it is out of print and have been unable to find anything online. Any help would be very helpful.

I also cannot find a copy. If you want any scenarios. Read a louis lamour or matt brahn and then rearrange the story form there.

Although they don't have a copy in stock right now, www.nobleknight.com is a great place to look for out of print games.

I'm currently running a Boothill 3e game ,using what I could copy of my brother's copy of the rules (can't seem to find my own copy, though I hear rumors you can download it somewhere on line). At any rate, I run the game in a play by post fashion, on a role playing site called rpol.net

I would also be willing to consider running or playing in a game by web chat if I could find enough interested parties.

we modified the game by assigning attributes to screen cowboys based upon our perception of their skils in their big screen and litle screen careers. So we have Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, Alan Ladd and all of the Cartwrights (special "family" bonus if all of them are on your team) Steve McQueen has a bonus if he's equip[ped with a Mare's Leg, Chuck Connors always has a rifle and Dvid Carradine must be equipped with stars. good fun
I'm now a high school teacher and have just passed on this version of the game to some seniors... doing my part for america's youth.

My brother and I LOVED Boot Hill, but it was mainly because we grew up in Arizona (and had been to Tombstone and all those places), so we knew the milieu. Our gaming buddies in Maryland (where we spent our teen/adult years) couldn't get into it, because they hadn't had the same experiences. In a way, Boot Hill was more like a wargame, because you appreciated it better if you knew the history. This knowledge would also help you come up with scenarios more easily.

Aeon Michaels said: 'After all, who cares if you have the world's most detailed combat system if there's nothing to do but shoot one another and rob banks.'

Now I never played 'Boot Hill' but I created my own 'Western' game once because I was heavily into the genre at one point. We played it for a few sessions and it was a lot of fun, but it did suffer a bit from the 'sameness' problem that Aeon mentions above. I think that, with the benefit of more experience, I would have done better as a 'Western' Game master. After all, there are a number of possible scenarios.:

1) tension in town culminating in OK corral shootout
2) Posse chasing.
3) magnificent 7 scenario.
4) rescuing maiden from commanches
5) cleaning up a bad town.
6) high noon scenario.
7) war wagon scenario


I recently acquired a copy of GURPS Old West and for those of you who are interested in western games this is an awesome supplement. I also would reccomen the obvious Deadlands in both it's original incarnation and it's d20 version, both are equally good.

I played quite a bit of Boot Hill (2nd ed. 1979) in the early to mid-1980's. This was the only role playing game in which I enjoyed being a player as much as being a GM.

Boot Hill is one of the easiest RPG's in which to do free-form improvisation, because anyone who's seen or read a Western can wing it, and the system itself is very simple.

Probably the best part of it all was that I played with guys who had a knack of making up quirky but internally-consistent characters, who provided their own motivations and justifications for doing things.

A problem with Boot Hill, besides the possible limitations of the subject matter (more on this below), is that extended campaign play for a given character is made difficult by the lethality of the combat system. Now I'm not complaining about the combat system--bullets to the head _should_ often be fatal--it's just that a well-developed character, even one who avoids superfluous gunplay, can perish very suddenly.

Digression: things to offset sudden death, like fate points, luck checks, etc. have always slightly nauseated me, esp. in a "realistic" RPG--better as a GM to just keep your rolls hidden and your expression blank.

On the subject matter: I guess it's true that traditional western stories are limited to a narrow set of basic choices. A lot of my Boot Hill experience does consist of drink-gamble-gunfight-bullet removal $0.25 and that can be quite a bit of fun.
My first Boot Hill campaign as a GM had a simple semi-competitive premise: first player to have a net worth of $50,000 won. The rest was up to them, and they came up with so many different schemes that I was eventually sent researching everything from railroad construction to political jobbery in Emperor Maximilian's Mexico (one player had a character from France who was trying to obtain mining concessions there). I soon learned how easy it is to have intrigue and complexity in a "cowboy" setting!

One player had a set of Time-Life books on the Wild West which were useful even if he did use them to show me up every now and then, while I dug out my National Geographic "Making of America" map series to dredge tidbits of info from the captions. We lived in a small town without much of a public library, during the "ante-webbum" era, so we had to glean details wherever we could. But as with any "period" RPG, a bit of verisimilitude pays dividends.

Later on, we grew a bit more ambitious in our Boot Hill campaigns. I GM'd a one-on-one campaign with a player who devised his own religious sect and set out, on a loose analogy to the Mormons, to establish an independent promised land. Some other Boot Hill ideas I never got around to trying were alternative-history scenarios such as a politically balkanized North America in which the frontier was not being rapidly settled, or campaign settings in South America, etc. But by this time college and that old bane of role-players, the long-term relationship, were dissolving the old group.

A few other remarks on the Boot Hill system: I liked the lack of any Intelligence or Charisma abilities, so your character was as smart and well-spoken, or not, as you wanted him to be or were capable of playing him. This also made it easier, as a player, to stay in character without having to worry about living up or down to a given Wisdom score.

Last digression: I also liked the lack of formalization in Boot Hill. There wasn't a whole pile of skills or boxes or slots or points or any other stuff. Just jump on the horse, tell the ref what you're doing, and haggle over the percentage odds of surviving your latest brilliant idea. I find that the proliferation of formal training and skills rules in recent RPG's tends to cramp the style of the most creative players, while admittedly furnishing newcomers with a wealth of options and ideas. Now it seems to me that RPG rules often read more like a university calendar than anything else. Of course, one can always ignore or modify at will, but there's something aesthetically pleasing about a system that you don't have to tweak too much. Boot Hill was like that.

I saw someone mentioned Wild West Adventures from Citezen Games. If yuo're looking for something more updated, check out Sidewinder: Recoiled, the updated to d20 modern version of it published by Dog House Rules.

Boot Hill was indeed an interesting game. Back when it first came out, I and my group of gamers often would play it when we had nothing prepared for AD&D.
It must be said that perhaps to their detriment, the first two editions of the game had more realistic combat systems. I say to their detriment because the hard truth is that games are supposed to be fun. The fact is that the old west was not a fun place to be. Life during that time was often as not hard, painful, and short. Any game that even remotely duplicates that would likewise be hard painful and short.
The third addition on the other hand is far more true to the stereotypical MYTH of the old west. It fits our "gunsmoke-inspired" visions of what the old west was like and subsequently is more fun to play. It has a very "cartoon-like" feel to it
Rare was the game when we did not spend more time laughing then rolling dice. I vividly remember one "shootout" involving no less then 12 combatants and many more bystanders. This particular scenario took place within the confines of your standard saloon. After several minutes of game play all parties had managed to empty their weapons and even so nobody on either side of the ruckus had been killed! Relatively few had even been wounded! It finally got to the point where the players where forced to discard their now empty firearms and begin bludgeoning one another with tables and chairs.
This of course is very unrealistic, twelve men with guns shooting at each other inside the confines of a saloon while untold others look on and nobody is actually hit! It is however, a great deal of fun. Compare this to the more realistic first addition where the first cowboy to fire his revolver was also the last to fire his revolver.

The first two weren't any fun? Bummer. Because reading you describe them makes me want to play... =)

Submitted by Cocytus on Fri, 2005-04-01 18:58.
The first two weren't any fun? Bummer. Because reading you describe them makes me want to play... =)

Its not that they wern't ANY fun it's just that the combat systems where very deadly. Under the early rules it was very unwise to get into a "shoot-out" as we think of it. Any half sane player would just shoot the other guy in the back when he wasn't looking. Gunfire in general left half the participants dead and the other half near death. If you played the early versions of the game you had better be ready to roll up four five or six characters each every single time you sat down to play. Realistic as that may have been it just wasn't much fun. Giving personality to someone who lived less time that it takes to eat a pizza is hard. Its not that you couldn't play the game without getting killed every few minutes its just that the boot hill world has been pretty much done to death from a story telling viewpoint. Its hard to come up with something that dosen't just rehash this or that old tv western. You can of course try to draw on real events to set the stage but in the end you can either be an outlaw or a lawman, a cowboy or an indian, a good guy or a bad one. The game is about people with guns blasting eachother, people without guns knifing each other and people without knives punching eachother. If you want a game where the characters have some kind of personality They have to live more then a few minutes. I think the 3rd version of the game made it possible to have some fun with combat and still live long enough to be something other then "Generic Gunfighter #4"

Its not that they wern't ANY fun it's just that the combat systems where very deadly. Under the early rules it was very unwise to get into a "shoot-out" as we think of it. Any half sane player would just shoot the other guy in the back when he wasn't looking. Gunfire in general left half the participants dead and the other half near death.

Sure, I follow you. But that's the part that appeals to me. It must be one of those things where you have to experience it to understand. I understand what you're saying from a conceptual standpoint, but I can't internalize the problem it poses to gameplay without having seen the results myself.

If you played the early versions of the game you had better be ready to roll up four five or six characters each every single time you sat down to play. Realistic as that may have been it just wasn't much fun. Giving personality to someone who lived less time that it takes to eat a pizza is hard.

Again, there's an experiential gap here that I can't bridge by inference. I've heard the same criticism of Call of Cthulhu, that you shouldn't play the game unless you've got a slew of backup characters ready to go, and my response to that (speaking from extensive experience) is that it very strongly depends on the kind of game being played. Sure, a lazy, unimaginative, or sadistic GM can ruin CoC for players very quickly by killing off characters in droves. But that's not how the game is meant to be played - combat in (what I think of as) a good CoC investigation is something to be avoided, and when it does happen, those who run tend to survive a lot longer than those who try to "pull a Rambo." I'm not saying you and your crew were unimaginative. I just can't see, lacking your experience, how the system's combat realism hampers play.

Its not that you couldn't play the game without getting killed every few minutes its just that the boot hill world has been pretty much done to death from a story telling viewpoint. Its hard to come up with something that dosen't just rehash this or that old tv western.

Some people say the Western is dead as a genre. But I still love it; and some of the stories, particularly The Seven Samurai, which has been told in the Western milieu over and over again, never bore me no matter how many times I've seen them or heard them told.

I have to take your word for it, really. Does that make sense? I don't have the time or the resources to track down an early edition of Boot Hill and try it for myself. I'm just expressing sadness that the part that sounds so cool to me (the realism...shooting people in the back is how it really happened, as often as not!) is what made the game unplayable to you.


I have to take your word for it, really. Does that make sense? I don't have the time or the resources to track down an early edition of Boot Hill and try it for myself. I'm just expressing sadness that the part that sounds so cool to me (the realism...shooting people in the back is how it really happened, as often as not!) is what made the game unplayable to you.

Perhaps part of the problem was that the character development system in the early version of the game was as thin as the combat was deadly. Skills where pretty much limited to the use of firearms of various types. With no character classes and few secondary skills, every character looked pretty much like every other character. This I think helped encourage the disposable character. Having said that, even the early versions of the game where not without their charm. I am after all a huge fan of the game. It's just that personally, I think the third version of the game had the best of both worlds particularly games that draw as much as possible on documented or at least plausible scenarios. I also found that games with characters that are basically "idiot savants" are by far the most interesting. Characters that are fantastic knife fighters but can barely fire a gun, characters that are fast as lighting but can't hit the side of a barn, characters that can shoot the eye out of a bird at 50 paces but can't punch their way out of a paper bag. I developed an entire family tree of inbred characters (named Farnsworth) who where related to each other in embarrassing and convoluted ways. Each came with flaws that where as glaring as their skills where awesome. Most had a history of mental illness and/or physical deformities and all had a boatload of personality. When the character generation rules encourage the player to put personality into the character and the combat rules give those characters a chance to live to see more then one shootout the game can stand shoulder to shoulder with any RPG I have ever seen.

Try reading almost anything written by Louis La'mour. The Sacketts are a great family for a multigenerational game. Also, Son of a Wanted Man is AWESOME. Just a thought...

One of the points brought up above ("too spartan") is due to something I can explain. Co-designer Brian Blume was a VP of TSR; he considered Boot Hill strictly his baby. It was very difficult for staff at TSR to get him to accept any innovation with regards to settings, game features, etc. However, that started loosening up when David Ritchie wrote "Ballots and Bullets" and introduced the election rules.

One thing Blume considered an ironclad rule, though, was that the setting had to be confined to the southwest. In fact, he insisted on Arizona or New Mexico, preferably the former.

When I worked for TSR in 1982-83, I got assigned to write the successor to "Ballots and Bullets". My first task was to sit down with David and talk over how many of the Blume Commandments I could break and still keep my job. My starting move was to put Promise City in Oregon. The next was to extend the city map by cutting and pasting copies of the existing blocks outside the original boundaries. Later on, in writing a BH tournament adventure for a GenCon, I pushed the envelope a little farther by going up to the Yukon. In that one, the players dynamited their way into a glacial cave and came face to face with a frozen woolly mammoth carcass. I described it in vague terms, knowing that while mammoth bones had been found long before then, it predated the earliest discovery of an intact animal. The best quote from one of the players: "Hey, this ain't D&D! You can't have monsters!" He had points deducted for breaking character.

I always preferred the Bret Maverick approach to Westerns, and tried to write adventures with a loose story line that had something of a mystery to solve, which gave players plenty of chances to use their wits as an alternative to brute force. If I could visit the West, I'd rather be a gambling con man than a gunfighter.

I have fond memories of 1st edition Boot Hill. We played it a few times back in the day.

My favourite excursion into Boot Hill was actually a mixed-genre adventure - part of a D&D campaign. The party had to follow a trail of clues through various worlds in the quest to recover an artifact that would defeat Keraptis.

My werebear character caused a bit of a stir in the old west. Rumours of a bear sighted in the town environs started circulating and a possé assembled to hunt the creature down....

I was GMing western games when I lived in New Mexico. I found watching old Bonanza episodes to be really helpful to gain plot points. Silly, I know, but they were simple and easy to convert. Of course, I tweaked the plots, but it was a great show to get the juices flowing.

I have a copy of 1st and 2nd Edition (The Box! Yay!). There was a lot of information in the 2nd Ed. Box, that was helpful, and combine that with the modules (most can be found at a used bookstore near you), and you have hours of mindless pillaging and other activities... because very few want to play the "Good Guys".

Another source for info, is many of the early articles and even a couple modules from Dragon Magazine and Challenge Magazine... the latter being hard to come by, but there were many useful articles on RPing the genre.

My personal campaign was set in the Colorado Mountains, of the San Luis Valley... lots of history, gold strikes, religious and Spanish communities... even a frelling sand desert, a badlands, and a famous historical fort. There's even the famous "Cumbres" railroad which leads to Silverton... a popular tourist stop to this day. Suffice to say, you set it in the years prior to Colorado statehood, and with a little research and judicious use of the imagination, *BAM* you have a wonderful location for a campaign. We still brush off the "San Antonio Sabres"Campaign to this day, once a year or so.

As regards 3rd Edition, I've struggled to find a copy. I remember the best part about it was assigning skills and occupations... but one *might* be able to free-form something along the lines of Harnica or Gurps, and cobble it to 2nd Edition characters. Boot Hill was a wonderful memory of a fun, engaging campaign, though it *does* need a good GM to run for any length of time.

my brother was/is a big fan of boothill and i still have his rule book. he played it with me about a decade and a half ago and i loved it. deadly but realistic - having read a great article in wargames illustrated a few years ago how most gunfighters met their ends it's pretty much spot on (lots killed by back shots and while unarmed etc!!)

I just played in my first-ever Boot Hill game last night. It was 3rd edition, so we used d6s and d20s. We witnessed the deadliness of the system (which, personally, I enjoyed - it added a sense of danger to the conflict that I sometimes find lacking in D&D) as well as the speed of combat resolution. It was a lot of fun, and we finished the adventure in classic western style: with a massive shootout in the end. It didn't occur to me at the time, but now that I think of it, what would have taken us ages to resolve in a D20 System game went quickly enough for us all to be caught up in the excitement of the action, and to easily finish by the end of the night's session. I really feel as though I've been missing out on a great game all these years!

I played Boot Hill back in High School when I went through my “experimental” phase. I LOVE the old west and have read every book that Louis La’Mour has written. I love movies like Young Guns, Unforgiven, and Quigley Down Under. I had even read through the entire Time Life series on the old west, visited ghost towns, and attended classes where you learn how to make candles and hard candies like they did back in the 1800’s.

Unfortunately, I only got to play one session of this remarkable game.

You see, I love the old west so much that I refused to run the game. I wanted to play. But I was the expert. I knew more about the old west than the rest of my friends combined. They wanted me to run the game. No way.

So we played the one session, and then my friends decided that Boot Hill wasn’t as fun as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Robotech, or ADnD. Go figure.

That session was awesome even though it was a simple robbery scenario where bandits were holding up a saloon for the cashbox kept under a floorboard behind the bar.

I remember that my first taste of combat was in an alley. I turned the corner and saw a bandit at the far end at the same time that he saw me. We drew our guns and fired.

The bandit did a quick draw and fired first, missing me completely. I drew, aimed, and fired, killing him with a single shot.

The best part of that for me was that the game system had rules to handle a quick draw versus an aimed hit. It had rules to determine whether my character’s nerves would break once the lead started whizzing by my head. And the rules were simple. It played out very realistically and I loved it.

My character killed four men that day. He never got a scratch.

I understand how upsetting it would be to lose a character that you have a lot of time invested in. And I also know that this system is deadly. But I think that’s a good thing.

I mean honestly, this game isn’t tailored after Shanghai Noon. It’s made for games based on Unforgiven, Tombstone and Young Guns, where people die. If you don’t want to die, then try not to get shot at. Works in real life doesn’t it?

If you want good campaign ideas for this game, simply watch the movies listed or read La’Mour. Or follow a wagon train west. Explore Alaska, travel the Yukon, or mine for gold. Heck, you could even fight in the Civil War or the Alamo if you really wanted to!

This game is too good to let fall by the way side.

I need this game. Never grew up with Old West, but have fallen in love with Western movies since I've discovered them. Unforgiven was great. Silverado was loads of fun. Loved 3:10 to Yuma (the new one). And then there's the modern crime movie, which is basically the Western in a new setting.

Only problem - the game's 50 bucks on amazon...ouch

Try used books stores that sell gaming supplies. Also Ebay and Craig's List. You might have to bite the bullet a bit and shell out some money for the game. It IS out of print ya know ;-)

yeah, I might have to...

I see that too many people either cannot seem to relate, or find this RPG gem what it truly was... A turning point.
As a fellow that truly enjoyed AD&D for a while, Boot Hill is still the only RPG within my household that bears any fruit. I am still hosting games every other week, and the turnout is still exceptional. Most cons with D&D can't claim that. And further, I only use 2nd rule additions and a few other rules changes presented in scenarios or perhaps by mutual acclimation.

By and large, BH is a fine game and has been a part of my life for the past 20 years or so. Every new member to our gaming alliance has said the same, "Why isn't everyone playing Boot Hill?!"

Boot Hill. I played this at college in 1980s. A hilarious game. We had it for a fortnight before a visitor (who played it twice) pointed out that the best strategy (in our games) would be to wait (i.e. hide) for the smoke to settle and then come out & finish off the still twitching survivors. So obvious and true. Favourite weapon: scattergun.
(I love the telling comment about RPG ending with long-term relationships. Thank you whoever that was.)

Boot Hill is great because you die so suddenly. It's the Cold Shower of RPGs.

I actually have a few backup "replica" copies of 3rd Edition we used to use when playing but I have no need of anymore and would be willing to part with...man, that game was a lot of fun.

lol Seriously? I'm not sure how I'd verify that you're not scamming me or something lol but I'd love to have a good western rpg to play with...

GURPS predated 3e Boot Hill by nearly 4 years (coming out in 1986) and it was inspired by earlier skill based systems meaning 3e Boot hill was hardly "one of the very first true "skill-based" RPG systems around". Furthermore GURPS Old West came out in 1991 just a year after 3e Boot Hill did. If anything in terms of "skill-based" RPG systems 3e Boot hill comes off as an also ran.

As far as deadliness that was another thing the GURPS system had over other systems of the time (and even now): flexibility. Even within the vanilla rules there was a lot of leeway on how deadly combat could be.

Personally I prefer GURPS Old West 2nd edition printing of 2000 to the 1st edition of 1991 as I feel it handles the cinematic West better and it touches on the Steampunk West seen in the original Wild Wild West TV series