A PEN AND PAPER ROLEPLAYING GAME
From the world of video games comes an adaptation of DESPERADOS III to tabletop roleplaying called DESPERADOS. Free from its screen and game controller, players can now explore the wild west depicted in DESPERADOS III with stories of their own making. Using western cliches and stereotypes imagined in dime-store novels and later in Hollywood films brings a unique play experience and gaming mechanics to the tabletop.
The PDF for DESPERADO begins with an overview of the Wild West. It highlights the most common of western tropes:
, cowboys, the gold rush, stagecoaches, the pony express, railroads, law enforcement, first peoples, etc. It’s the same content you’d receive by watching a TV special on the subject, skimming only the surface but nothing too deep or immersive. Yet it does give you a decent feel for the era, though. One subject I’ve never seen associated with westerns is Voodoo; as strange as it sounds, DESPERADO includes characters that are practitioners of it. Its description and background information are just as brief and shallow as the rest. The authors do confront past depictions of first peoples and reiterate their diversity and culture, ensuring they are treated with respect within the game.
When it comes to character creation, it’s short and easy. It only requires five steps: create a background, define attributes, select a character template, find derived values, and choose skills. Players have 20 points to distribute among the five attributes, Brawn, Agility, Mettle, Insight, and Wits. They then choose from one of the five character templates: Gunslinger, Trapper, Gambler, Mountebank, or Voodoo Priest. These templates provide the character with attribute modifiers, skills, and special skills. The skills list is small but broad enough to cover most situations. Each skill is linked to one or more attributes that can be incorporated to increase the skill when appropriate.
The game’s mechanics are simple—roll 3d6 against a difficult number or higher. There are three results, failure, success, Grand Success. A Grand Success occurs when doubles appear, and the total result is over the target number. Characters also gain a special advantage, which is rolled on a chart in combat or up to the GM’s discretion in other situations.
The three results are straight forward when testing skills or attributes but differ in combat. Combat in DESPERADO is unique to any roleplaying combat rules I’ve ever read. It’s tactical in its approach and simulates a video game. Tokens and other terrain/structures which come with the PDF are to be laid on a table to mark each character’s position. The same is done with any NPCs and adversaries.
There are two types of adversaries in DESPERADO—Henchmen
, and Bosses. Henchmen are plentiful and easy to kill. They only have one hit point and don’t take action in combat. They only act and damage characters when players roll failures and successes in combat. They are human shields for the Bosses. Bosses have three hit points and can only be targeted once all henchmen are dead. Unlike Henchmen, Bosses can act and injure the characters.
Characters are the only ones to initiate combat, so no initiative rolls are used. Similar to video games, if a character falls within the line of sight of an enemy without taking a combat action, it’s considered an automatic failure, and the adversary damages the character unless a special skill is used that negates it. Rules for movement and line of sight are loose and at the GM’s discretion.
Combat resolutions look like this. A failed roll damages the character, a shot from a foe with a line of sight. A successful roll damages the adversary, and the character also receives damage simultaneously from their target. The only result which doesn’t damage the character is a Grand Success. After all the player characters have taken their turns in combat, any adversaries left standing that did not already damage a character may do so with automatic success. All damage dealt and received is only one hit point. Henchmen have one hit point, Bosses have three, and player characters have as many as their Mettle Attribute, giving them, hopefully, an advantage in combat. A character who reaches 0 hit points is unconscious. Anything below and the character is dead.
To further aid player characters in combat or in their skill use, they may use Strength of Nerve. Strength of Nerve is a commodity a character may spend to roll their dice again. For each point spent, allow the player to roll one die again. There is no limit to the number of points allowed to be spent. The player is only limited by the amount they have, which is based on their Resolve attribute. Spent points are refreshed at the gamemaster desecration but usually after combat or similar situations.
DESPERADO provides an optional rule for players during combat. Instead of acting individually, player characters can act as one unit and negate any damage on failed or successful rolls as long as there is no enemy still alive after the round to fire back at them. If adversaries remain at the end of the combat round, all characters take damage at their level of success like in a normal round. The trick here is to not leave anyone standing.
A western wouldn’t be a western without a shoot out at high noon in the middle of the street. DESPERADO’s current combat system isn’t set up for this kind of one-on-one situation, so there are Dueling rules. For these special rules, each side chooses how many rounds they are going to wait before drawing their guns. A D6 is used to show how many rounds they chose to wait and is hidden from view. Each round a duelist waits, their target number decreases by one point. Combat resolution only has two options failure or success. Failure is miss, and success is one point of damage to the opponent.
Near the end of the PDF is a grimoire for players who chose the Voodoo character template. The grimoire features six spells that are used in and out of combat. There is an equipment list with cash values. Though there is nothing in the character generation regarding starting cash or anything about the setting’s economy. Character improvement is done through a milestone system at the GM’s discretion. One point is given that can go toward increasing an Attribute by one and never to exceed six or gain a new skill.
The last section of the PDF is for gamemasters. This section has useful advice for running a game and getting the players involved. There is a section to aid in creating your own adversaries based on stereotypes like Railroad Tycoons, Cattle Barons, Outlaws, Gunfighter, Hustler, and Crooks. To start gamemasters off, there are 14 fully stated out NPCs for them to use. Advice for setting up adventures, gunfights, setting the level of difficulty, choose your foes, using terrain, and an introductory adventure with five scenes.
The authors of DESPERADO obviously did their best to bring the video game experience to the tabletop. The combat mechanics are clear evidence of this. It’s a unique approach, one I’ve haven’t encountered before. The PDF’s layout is professionally done and easy to read. The artwork is great and in full color. Character generation is quick and easy, as is most of this game. The game has some drawbacks from my point of view. Character progression is limited. Combat feels like playing a video game and not traditional to RPGs, which could discourage players. But to each their own, some might find the simplicity of the game a boon instead of a bane. Those familiar with DESPERADO III will get the most out of the game with their knowledge of the setting and storyline. DESPERADO is a good western-themed game that’s quick to pick up and run and companion piece to the DESPERADO III video game.
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