Friday, November 03, 2006

The Sci-Fi Western

I only own two TV series on DVD: Kung Fu and Firefly. They are very different, but both fit the genre "Westerns".

The science-fiction setting I am planning for my role-playing game is also largely of the Western genre. So as I think about these two TV series I ponder what makes a Western a Western, but is still transferrable to a science-fiction setting.

Here is my list so far, presented somewhat in a cascading order of consequences:
  • The land around where people live is a "frontier" without governed settlements inhabited dangerous animals and people. Nevertheless, most settled locations have a few loners living on the outskirts due to temperment or profession.
  • Most adults (or perhaps only adults of one gender/class) carry portable weapons, because of the frontier's dangers.
  • Weapons technology is, at least temporarily, at a place where damage trumps armor (as opposed to knights clad in plate armor). Wounds from weapons are often fatal; a doctor near a conflict can only somtimes help the wounded.
  • Society focuses on honor as much or more than law, because so many adults are armed with dangerous weapons.
  • Big government exists, but does little, because it is annoying to big government to deal with an honor-focused, armed society. Most adults pay little in taxation and receive little in services. When big government is present it is often an interruption (installing a trade route, chasing a criminal, claiming a resource, etc.).
  • Local government exists, mainly doing law enforcement. Without the power of big government to bring wealth redistributed from a non-frontier location there is not funding for local government to do much more that the basics. (Managing utilities, travel routes, and education may or may not be consider governmental basics.)
  • Most adults belong to multi-family social groups to provide support in crisis situations (births and deaths, loss of home or livelihood, natural disasters, etc.). These social groups may be secular or religious; the various local groups may be peaceably cooperative or antagonistically competitive. Without government social services, people team up in other ways for protection from life's troubles.
  • Corruption can control a settled location, because government is small and people are reliant upon social groups. If a social group grows into a dominating organization, it can often reign unchallenged.
  • Heroes are often anti-heroes in that they remain personally troubled and/or unvirtuous but nonetheless able to save a settled location from local corruption or dangers invading from the frontier.
What am I missing?

This also sounds a lot like adventures in Edo-period Japan.