Frontier Scum Is A Rules Lite Western RPG With A Heart Of Lead

Like most OSRs, character creation is also a breeze. “Frontier Scum” offers a combination of D6, D20, and D66 roles for character creation, allowing people to randomize (or select) their backstory and skills. Each outlaw has four main characteristics — Grit, Slick, Wits, and Luck — and each attribute maps to a corresponding skill check that is easy to intuit. Players roll a D6 to determine their maximum hit points and then randomly select (or choose) skills that are more narrative-based than mechanical. These skills are intended to give outlaws advantages in specific scenarios, but how each player interprets these outcomes (such as a skill that resulted from having the best day of your life) leaves a lot to the imagination.

It also means there are no wrong answers. For one character — a cowgirl wanted for hired arson — her skills manifested around fire-starting, a handy skill to have in a campaign set in the snow. Another player wanted to start the game with a piece of shrapnel in his chest that could stop a bullet. Since that suggestion felt wonderfully in line with the spirit of the game, we negotiated a compromise: he would roll a die when hit, and if the number matched the number on a predetermined roll, his damage would be ignored for a single round. This mechanic created a bit of zero-session horse-trading between the GM and the players and, in doing so, solidified the boundaries of each character.

As befitting a Western-style roleplaying game, “Frontier Scum” has a lot of fun with combat and gunslinger tropes. For one, you do not need to roll for basic gun combat. Instead, characters start the game with a pistol or rifle, and the game assumes a level of proficiency with that weapon — each standard ranged attack is an automatic hit. This approach means every gunfight is inherently deadly, and players who elect to stand in the open and draw down on their opponents will soon find themselves in a wooden box. Even better, “Frontier Scum” tweaks the deadliness of combat with a thematic hat mechanic: at any time, you can elect to have an attack knock your hat off your head, a potential one-time buffer that will absorb all damage from a single source.

Each outlaw also starts the game with a random horse, donkey, or mule with unique likes and characteristics. In my group, a character named Calamity Pain owns a horse named after her real-life partner, a running joke between them that will no doubt come back to bite me in the mule during our first deadly gunfight. And thanks to that player’s D66 roll, her donkey also loves to watch duels between other gunfighters. These little bits of flavor reinforce the “acid” nature of the acid Western, allowing both players and GM to build out a world that is as realistic or fantastical as we see fit.

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