I am interested in running an American Old West RPG/campaign that doesn't rely on fantasy/mystical or sci-fi/steampunk elements. What system do you recommend, and why do you think it captures a more historical Old West appeal, especially when compared with other systems?
[RPG] What role-playing games best emulate a non-thestical Old West setting?
Here are some original old school D&D modules that should be easy to find and not cost you an arm or a leg if you buy them online:
I1 The Forbidden City (TSR, 1980): Old school AD&D sandbox setting in a "lost" jungle city inhabited by snakemen (yuan ti), frogmen (bullywugs), and lots of other weird and dangerous creatures. Lots of room for development here and no two adventures will play alike (due to multiple adventure paths and foes).
B4 The Lost City (TSR): This old school original D&D module consists of a pyramid buried in the desert sands which holds various degenerate groups battling each other for control of the underground empire.
X1 Isle of Dread (TSR): Lost island sandbox setting with lots of different adventure ideas
WG4 Lost Temple of Tharizdun (TSR): written by the master himself, EGG, this AD&D adventure takes place in a long abandoned temple to a dark god hidden in a mountain valley. Initial conflict is against monsters who now inhabit the structure, but if the party delves deep enough they will run into Things Best Left Undisturbed.....!
Axe of the Dwarvish Lords (TSR): This AD&D supermodule written in the 90s takes place in an long abandoned Dwarvish citadel now inhabited by an army of goblins.
Gates of Firestorm Peak (TSR): This 90s AD&D module takes place in a weird, otherworldly mountain that has connections to a "Far Realm" of madness and insanity. Sounds like it would fit right in with Raggi's stuff!
Not as easy to acquire are the classic Judges Guild modules Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower (however, the 3.5 reprints should be a lot easier to find and are backwards compatible). Both are great and concern ancient, underground empires with lots of evil things lurking about.
Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition
I'm playing this at the moment, and have run a session as well. It can provide a lot of fun in a well defined world which is beset on all sides by fantasy threats.
Against your list:
- The options for basic classes are generally the common mass of humanity, apprentice wizards, men-at-arms, thieves and initiates (and so on). Knights and archmages crop up later in the game. Defeating a dragon is hard, but there is a good range of adversaries at various threat levels.
- There is a stack of classes and an interesting system of multi-classing. It is unlikely you will have two players of the same class in a particular group.
- There are plenty of rules defining combat, pacing and social encounters. They aren't well organised (which is the biggest downside of the game).
- The rules motivation appears to be "How can we sell more cardboard?". Again, this is a disadvantage, but you might not find it so bad.
- The rule book is in full colour as are all the cards and tokens. There was no way it would have been produced 30 years ago.
- Any class is capable of reaching any level of ability in any skill. There are socially-focused classes which would find it more difficult in combat, and vice versa, which makes sense.
For some reason a lot of the Western RPGs out there have a lot of mystical junk mixed in, Deadlands being the coolest of the lot. You can always "file off the magic" but if you are looking to use published products without fooling around, you definitely want a Western RPG tuned for that.
I own two of those. The first is Boot Hill, the original Western RPG published by TSR back in the day. It's non-supernatural in origin, and had five adventures published, but it's crufty in that 1970s RPG kind of way and hard to find.
The second and my favorite is Aces & Eights, a currently supported game from Kenzer & Co., the guys who do Hackmaster. In 2009 it took Origins RPG of the Year and the silver Best RPG ENNie. I really like it - it's a 400-page faux leather bound book sporting an in-depth shooting system (uses a transparency "shot clock" overlay, lots of detail).
Besides having a lot of in-depth genre appropriate skills (Telegraph operation), flaws (Fourflusher), and gear (Bottle of Laudanum - 29 cents), it has chapters with rulesets for cattle drives, prospecting, and trials. This is brilliant and makes it a lot better for a Western RPG than "insert generic system here."
It has no supernatural, but it is a slight alternate history. I'm not really even sure why, it's not alternate history in the usual "add Nazis!" sense, just that the Civil War stalemated and some stuff like that.