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Boot Hill (1979)

This is TSR’s Boot Hill (originally 1975, this edition 1979), the company’s second stand-alone game. If we call it a roleplaying game (debatable), then it is the first in a genre other than sword and sorcery-style fantasy.

It’s thin as hell though, basically just a deadly, tactical, gun-based combat system that draws surprisingly little on the allure of the Western. The rules focus on the intricacies of simulating gunfights using miniatures or cardboard counters. The only opponents are other guys with guns. Combat is lethal and there is no mechanism for progression or improvement, which makes characters seem both fragile, disposable and barely characters at all.

It’s weird, because another tactical dueling game, the Three Musketeers-inspired En Garde!, from Game Designers Workshop, also appeared in 1975. In comparison to Boot Hill’s focus on shoot-outs and bar brawls, this swashbuckling game has mechanics for sword fighting, sieges, social interaction and character history. There’s more of the stuff you’d expect from an RPG, but even this feels rudimentary.

Both these titles feel like parts of games. At least the basic structure of En Garde! informed the design of the science fiction RPG Traveller, one of the most successful RPGs of the 70s and 80s. Boot Hill never really evolves. The second edition was mostly shooting blanks, with marginally expanded rules, some build plans and low production values. It was at least supplemented by a handful of published scenarios. The third edition didn’t move the needle any more than the second.

The cover is by Elrohir (AKA Kenneth Rahman), which I believe is his lone credit for a TSR RPG product.

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