Review of Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin vol. 3
A small introduction first: this review was written back in 2006 for a gaming website now long extinct. Hundreds of gaming reviews and articles were lost, including dozens of mine. I am resubmitting it here all these years later not as a retro-review, but for RPG.net's review library to be the fullest possible. At the end of the review I will state how the product stands in time and whether it would have gotten a similar treatment today.
Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin Vol. 3 is a new d20 supplement set in the Wild West from Dog House Rules, based on their award-winning game Sidewinder: Recoiled. It is the third volume of a series that sheds light on the town of Fort Griffin set in the plains of North Central Texas. It is a 61-page product with 59 of those being gaming material. The first is the cover while the last is the open gaming licence.
From the website: ďThe best things come in threes, we reckon. Thatís why the Dog House Gang has grown Fort Griffin with a third volume of six establishments, stocked with 26 new characters, 35 new adventure hooks and custom artwork. Although this product contains statistics supporting Sidewinder: Recoiled (d20 Modern), most of the content is mechanic-free making it a suitable supplement for any western roleplaying game.Ē
As an introductory remark, and for those unaware of Sidewinder: Recoiled, it is in my opinion the best Wild West system that exists on the market. Not only it is concise and rules-clear, but it is also based on the real Wild West without any kind of fantasy trappings, alternate histories or other elements. Obviously enough, the adventures lived by the characters (or cowpokes) arenít necessarily historical events, however they feel real because they are based on real events.
Comparing vol. 3 with the previous installments of the Fort Griffin series, the size difference becomes immediately apparent. Vol. 1 weighed in at 7,326 KB and vol. 2 at 20,831 KB respectively. Vol. 3 occupies no less than 67,227 KB of your hard drive while zipped. Thankfully, the price hasn't changed and remains at USD 6.75. What adds to the size is the fact that all the maps provided for in the supplement pdf file are provided four times apart from their actual insertion in the pdf document: once in jpg format, once for the judge on a different A4 paper each, once for the 15mm miniature format and once for the 25mm miniature format. Not having purchased gaming pdfs I donít know whether this is standard practice or not nowdays, but I canít but comment on the boys at DHR for thinking of the busy judges and trying to resolve some of their administrative chores.
Content wise, what we see in this installment is the post office, the laundry, the wagon yard, the African Methodist Episcopal church, the medical office and the bakery. The buildings are provided full with inhabitants and their personal stories, as well as clever adventure hooks that can implicate the cowpokes. In a non-magical setting as this one, a simple misunderstanding or a misplaced object can lead to an adventure. Christopher Warmer's writing and ideas on the latter is refreshingly simple, original and concise, while at the same time remaining modular. I am convinced that with the adventure hooks provided for and the interaction that will ensue, a judge can run dozens of sessions. Additionally, the buildings and ideas can be used as general standards and with minimal tinkering can be incorporated in different western frontier towns.
Keeping up with the DHR tradition, the quality of the content is very high. The ideas are solid and the writing is good, providing for a smooth read with the information being easily retainable. No typos were spotted. The system's intrusion to the background information is minimal, thus vol. 3 can be used almost as is in another system like Mongooseís OGL Wild West or Kenzerco's Aces & Eights.
The presentation is of equally high quality. Art wise, the Wild West themed drawings are consistent with the previous products of DHR and give a warm feeling of familiarity. The pdf document is provided for in both coloured and black and white version for those of us that can't put a strain on our printers.
In conclusion, Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin Vol. 3 is a supplement that fully delivers on its promise to make your frontier town bustling with activity. It offers an abundance of personalities and places with near endless usability in wild west settings, as well as elaborate and intriguing adventure hooks.
For more details on Dog House Rules check them out at http://www.doghouserules.net.
The 2011 re-examination: As much as I still don't feel there is a better western d20 treatment than Sidewinder: Recoiled (and there were some back in the day), today I wouldn't probably choose d20 as a system to run a western campaign. I'd go for Kenzerco's Aces & Eights instead. However this doesn't mean that I wouldn't extensively use Fort Griffin Vol. 3 or the other two volumes to that extent, and especially because they are so system-free.