Game: Sidewinder: Recoiled
Publisher: Dog House Rules
Series: d20 Modern
Review Dated: 1st, May 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 4.00
If I had been faster on the draw then I’d be able to tell you how good Sidewinder: Recoiled really was. Instead, buried under reviews, I’ve left it too late and Green Ronin, bless their hides, have gone and announced Sidewinder: Recoiled will be a Mythic Vista and now everyone knows how good Sidewinder is. This is a review of the PDF game.
What we have here is a sensible and historic Western d20 game. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fun game but it’s also remotely historically accurate. As a Scot I often read people’s attempts to write a Celtic themed roleplaying game and quiver in horror. If you’re passionate about your Western history then, I suspect, you’ll have a lot of time for Sidewinder. You won’t be left to quiver in horror. I have to say “suspect” because I just don’t know for sure; we don’t study American history here in Scottish schools – but the game feels a damn sight more real than the vast majority of westerns I’ve seen.
Sidewinder: Recoiled oozes atmosphere. It’s laden with quotes and atmosphere text; none of it seems like filler and all of it seems entirely worthwhile. Sidewinder: Recoiled took me ages to read (despite the to-review list of doom to wade through) because I just couldn’t speed read through the shaded boxes. I wanted to read it all – and I did. And, as is my reviewing custom, I did it twice.
Sidewinder: Recoiled is a complete game. Bloody nearly a complete RPG anyway. Fair enough; as a d20 Modern game it can’t re-print absolutely everything but it has all the introductory text, explanations and basic game mechanics it is allowed to have. The point is that you, as a GM, could let your newbie players read Sidewinder and not have to worry about anything else. Okay; so they don’t know how many experience points they need to go up to the next level (isn’t that a bonus, anyway?) but they do know how the skills work and how to, for example, multi-class. This is a d20 Modern game and it works well as such. We have advanced characters here, not prestige classes but that option is left open. D20 modern might not be hugely supported in the bloated d20 market yet but notice how many quality producers, many of them new, have seized on d20 Modern’s natural strengths and have done wonders with it. In very many ways d20 Modern is better than d20 core.
There’s much of d20 Modern’s SRD re-printed in Sidewinder: Recoiled. It works. It’s a success. There are changes then there needs to be changes. We don’t have the fantasy trapping of hit points and instead we have grit. Effectively, it’s just a change name but it does wonders for the game. It’s not about whether your hero really could survive being shot like that; it’s about your cowpoke being a hero because he’s a down right gritty bastard. Cowpoke works better than “cowboy” as a phrase, there are ample opportunities in the game for female characters to get some shoot out action. There’s a good historical present for it too.
The Wealth System, as introduced by d20 Modern, is up for grabs too. Now, I happen to like the Wealth System, I don’t like bean counting as I feel it gets in the way of bigger and better plots and scenes. However, I admit that panning your next dish of gold was a big thing in the Wild West and stealing just a few bucks was not just a serious crime but a notable success. The generic Wealth System doesn’t really do this justice. If you want you can use Sidewinder’s “Cold Hard Cash” system. I gave it a few quick but challenging tests and it works. You’d expect it to work though; you just have to count the beans. More importantly, and what I was looking for in my “first wave of tests”, as I read through the supplement, was some support and return for all that bean counting. Sidewinder does more than just say, “Hey, you could count the money if you want!” it supports the statement, it makes it worthwhile. We’ve rules for selling stuff for cash. We even have detailed black market rules too.
The character classes, so important to d20 Modern, are subtly changed. They’re changed where you’d expect them to be. The class skills are different because there is a slightly different skill set. Just as importantly the basic feats which each hero type can access have been changed too.
There’s plenty of support for the alterations on the skills. It is here we really begin to fully appreciate the advantages in a product like Sidewinder deciding to be as a full roleplaying game as it can be. We’ve meanings and methods for every skill. We’ve help where help is likely to be needed; Morse Code, for example comes under Decipher Script when it’s written down in dots and dashes but if you want to listen and understand it live off the wire then you need to know it as a fully qualified language in its own right. That’s an example of Sidewinder: Recoiled sticking to its guns and being historically accurate – Morse Code is important, it is tricky and it needs a suitable amount of attention. Then again there’s always the fact that some of your favourite Western memories come from Cowboy shows and movies. Let’s look at the training animal rules as standard in the d20 system. They’re changed here; if the animal is wiser than normal then it can learn more tricks than normal. Okay, it’s tricky teaching the horse new tricks but if you want you might end up with a companion as smart as Trigger or Silver. Hi ho!
The horses can learn more tricks – what about the players? Since Sidewinder dives straight in there with the SRD there is a wealth of feats the RPG could simply repeat. Yeah; Sidewinder does repeat a host of feats but it adds a host more too. There are summary pages for feats before the chapter really gets going. You know what a feat summary page looks like; just the quickest of descriptions as to what the feat does and what you need to master it. There are five full pages of these feat summaries!
The Wild West, I think, is as much about as its heroic actions and abilities (shooting through noose rope) as it is about the weapons. Six shooters and the latest rifles causing troubles, what can the locals do about it? Does the villain have one of those newfangled carbines or not? There are oodles of weapons stats in Sidewinder: Recoiled. If you’ve been playing d20 and Western for some time now then Sidewinder is here to let you get the most out of the genre. There’s even a photograph of some of the infamous weapons of the time. Gun bunnies will drool.
Just as Sidewinder isn’t short of feats it isn’t short of weapons. Once again I’m reminded that Sidewinder: Recoiled is a full RPG in its own right – which just happens to use the d20 system – rather than an atmosphere supplement with only suggestions in it. We’ve a full range of shooters to choose from here; be they Sharps rifles, Sharps carbines, Colt Thunderers, Remington Double-Derringers or Winchesters. It’s the real deal. More than that, in many cases, we have suitable modifications for weapon qualitative too. The Colt Thunderer, for example, is a superior weapon and does not have the typical -1 attack penalty for the double-action revolvers which is normally applied in the game. Alternatively, if you’re more interested in the exotic weapons of the time then theirs is an interesting discussion on the merits of dynamite over nitroglycerin.
And where we have new feats and equipment we can expect new classes too. We don’t have prestige classes – some might say that’s a good thing – but we have a truck of advanced classes. Running through my notes I see the Bounty Hunter, the Brave, Desperado, Grifter, Gunslinger, Maverick, Mountain Man, Pony Soldier, Preacher, Professor, Pugilist, Rifleman, Rustler, Sawbones, Scout, Showman, Soldier, Tin Star and Wrangler. Phew. Just a few then!
Combat is treated similarly. Similarly to what? Similarly to whole d20 Modern ethos in the game – it’s pretty much as you’re used to but it’s changed when it needs to be. Similarly to the advanced classes – there’s a lot of good ideas here but not so much that we begin to smell “filler”. There are initiative penalties, for example, when trying to draw a longarm weapon.
For me, the biggest challenge in running a Western adventure is the setting itself. What, no orcs? Attacked by robbers again? If you’re fussy (like me) you’ll want to know just how much of a challenge it is to go from town to town. How much of a deal is it to be forced out of town? The Trail section has all this in; including appropriate travelling times. The Critters chapter, which follows, is something of a bestiary although it is hard not to smirk a little as it details such hazards as “beavers”, “pigs” and “otters”. Run for the hills! Get out the big guns! It’s an otter! Nevertheless the Critters’ rules for poison and snakes are valuable and I expect they’ll be used game after game.
I’m not a huge fan of Westerns as a RPG environment. The Western with a twist (zombie cowboys) seem to do it just as well plus bring a host off added extra. Sidewinder: Recoiled is an exception to my general likes and dislikes. I liked this RPG. It is an RPG and not a supplement either. It could well be an official Western extension for the official d20 Modern rules (and is this probably why Green Ronin got involved). Dog House Rules are new kids on the block and they’ve made an impression here. This is a noteworthy publication. It’s certainly what I’d use for Western d20. The game owes a lot to Citizen Games’ Sidewinder: Wild West Adventures but despite lurking on their Yahoo Group for years I’ve not yet been drawn into that setting in quite the way that reading Recoiled did. Kudos, then, to Dog House.
On one level it’s a no brainer. Want d20 Western – rush to Sidewinder: Recoiled. On closer inspection there’s still little change – rush to Sidewinder: Recoiled. GameWyrd’s review scale gives a product which professionally achieves what it sets out to do a 5/10. Sidewinder gets this. Sidewinder: Recoiled gets plus one for being especially atmospheric and plus one for some nice, supportive game mechanics, (grit, for example) and comes to 7/10. That’s good going. That’s an A. I think we’re still left to an experienced GM to get as much mileage out of the Western setting without resort to more of the same adventures and its here that this Sidewinder might have reached 8/10 but doesn’t quite make it. Nevertheless, Sidewinder: Recoiled does very well and is all the more successful for not being a cheesefest of repeated clichés.