Review: Devil’s Gulch~
Basic Roleplaying Adventures in the Weird Wild West
Publisher: Chaosium Inc
“Devil’s Gulch” is Chaosium’s second effort to give your BRP gaming a weird west shot in the arm.
Unlike their first product, “Aces High”, this one is focused on a single location: the titular town of Devil’s Gulch.
What this product does well is present a solid framework for the town, listing the major businesses and detailing many of the important local dramatis personae. After giving us the basic background on the folks ’round town we’re then given the info on how to strange-them-up weird west style.
I think this is a good tack to take, it allows the GM to decide what story threads to work in and allows them to limit the number of odd goings-on so that they’re free to reign in the weirdness as suits the game they’re playing.
Devil’s Gulch doesn’t take an encyclopedic approach to the town, you won’t find every house and each denizen listed. Around the core of the town the GM is free to add however many residences and other businesses she needs for their story. (Though given the number of businesses provided it’s clear that Devil’s Gulch isn’t a tiny place. If that’s what the GM want’s they’ll have to do a little architectural subtraction.)
The book does start off an wild west/weird west 101 section that’s enough to get a story going but is far from detailed enough for long campaigns or to satisfied detail oriented gamers. But it’s nice that you really could get a game in gear with just this book and the BRP rules set.
Included are two adventures.
“Wealth & Privilege” is really just a chase followed by a shoot-out. If the GM removes the weird west elements there’s not a lot of meat to it, which is surprising as it involves one of the most prominent locals and it’s unlikely that they’ll walk away unscathed.
“The Medicine Show” has a lot more going on, but is weird west to the bone. I’m a sucker for anything involving circuses and the like so this tale tickled me, but there’s no way to play this story without involving the supernatural.
Kudos on Chaosium for including an index! I know they can be a pain to assemble but they really do make a product more usable and gameable.
The interior art is provided by Thomas Boatwright and I must stay I was taken with his illustrative style.
To round things out Devil’s Gulch comes with a pull-out poster map of the town which is a nice touch.
There are a couple of glitches in the Devil’s Gulch, though.
I located typo or two and there does seem to be at least one case of miscommunication with the artist (Earl and Frank Struthers are listed as “identical twins” in the text yet the picture their names caption features two men who look nothing alike).
The biggest let down for me was the poster advertising Dr. Farnam’s Astounding Medicine Show.
It feels like it was put together in 5 minutes using any text/write program and the end result looks as if a graphic designer didn’t even get close to the piece. Even more frustrating is that it’s intended to be used as a prop for the “Medicine Show” adventure, yet the adventure clearly states that the poster features a picture of Dr Farnam and the provided poster has no illustration on it.
There’s also a couple of head scratchers…
First: the back cover states that there are “special sections” that show you how to “transform Devi’s Gulch from a historically-based Western boomtown into a a Weird West or Steampunk West town, or even into a Victorian outpost on the newly-settled Mars.” It’s the last bit the whetted my appetite, yet there’s no notes inside on how to work Devil’s Gulch into a Mars based Scientific Romance game. This was disappointing to say the least.
Secondly: Devil’s Gulch makes no reference of any kind to BPR’s original weird west source book: “Aces High”. While it’s nice that “Aces High” isn’t required to play “Devil’s Gulch” it is odd that no mention of the supplement is made anywhere, not even in the advertisements at the end of the book!
One final thought:
A location setting like this seems like it would be perfect for computer program content. Something where you could open up a map of the town scroll over the buildings, get the names of the folks associated with the location in question and click to get their details.
Something like that would be especially nifty for tablet computers.