GURPS has been known for its historical supplements. GURPS Old West was a relatively early one, coming out in 1991. This rewritten edition came out nine years later in 2000. Given the amount of GURPS material that came in between, I imagine the book saw a lot of changes.

In fact, I flipped through the first edition once when it came out, so I’m aware of one general difference: This one is a bit more tightly focused. The original actually covered from the creation of the Old Northwest Territory in 1787, whereas this one really doesn’t pick up until 1800. The shift is subtle, but there. I don’t know about the focus of the previous book, but this one is emphatically dedicated to the ‘classic’ period of the Old West, 1865-1885.

As usual for a GURPS historical product, it is full of fun tidbits as well as general historical and role-playing info. There is a nice run down of the general terrain and flora and fauna from the Great Plains all the way west to the Pacific coast. Some miniature floor plans of typical railroad cars, and even advice on ‘how to rob a train’ (face it, it’s going to come up).

In general, I found this to be one of the better historical books GURPS has done, and on reflection, I believe that it is because the West is a genre just as much as it is a setting, and the book pays attention to both.

Beyond the usual history, characters, campaigning, etc, chapters, there’s also one on the Indians, which can be a bit depressing (which means they do a decent job). It’s a very quick overview of the major groups of tribes, but a good one, that serves as a good basic grounding. Also, the second half of the chapter is dedicated to a magic system based on Indian beliefs. It looks pretty good, if a little sparse, and would be enough for anything short of a ‘high magic’ version where it not only works, but can be quite spectacular. As it is, it’s plenty for either representing how the Indians believed it worked, or a world where some things just can’t be explained by reason alone…. (and there are some thoughts on how to handle the various possibilities).

The vast bulk of the book is not really dedicated to system-specific material, so anyone wanting to take a game into the Old West (or something resembling it), can find some good value here. This was written for GURPS 3rd Edition, and I can’t say exactly how easily most of the system content goes to 4th Ed, but:

  • The guns (biggest problem, system re-write wise) are taken straight out of High Tech, so dropping in the stats for the current edition of HT will solve that. The rest of the equipment isn’t system-dependent enough to be a concern.
  • The characters section was written before templates became a big deal, so there’s none here, it’s all advice, and no real costs to translate.
  • I have no idea if the magic system is already redone in GURPS Thaumatology, or if it’s related to anything in there, or what.