Something that really has been driven home by the recent Book of Boba Fett show (and the Mandalorian before it) is how much of an influence the Western genre has on SciFi/SciFantasy stories. The new live action Star Wars shows are by no means alone in this, as it is a tradition that goes back to Star Trek: The Original Series (aka Wagon Train in Space) and even further back to some of the fantastic adventure literature like Burroughs John Carter of Mars. It’s not hard to see why – themes of exploration, lawless frontiers, isolated communities, brave travelers in a harsh world, and more, all find a natural home among the stars.
Nor is Paizo unaware of this, as shown by The Great Grav Train Robbery, as well as many Starfinder Society adventures. You could easily compile a list of AP volumes and scenarios that are at least in some part homage to Westerns, not the least of which would be the Fly Free or Die AP. It is no accident that the tropes and mystique of old Westerns are baked into Starfinder.
What if you want to lean into that heritage? Here are a few tropes you can work into your game to really bring that Space Western flavor to your table:
The Train Job/Bank Job/Prison Break
Some scenes are touch stones, and these three certainly qualify. It is hard to find a Western without at least one of these, and you could make a list of the ones that manage to squeeze in all three (most recently The Harder They Fall). They make for great set piece encounters, and could easily make up several sessions in a Starfinder game. My favorite is the Train Job, just because the added element of the target being in motion makes for an even more exciting encounter. I’d break it up into a chase mechanic with skill checks for the party to get onto the train/convoy/transport ship, then a running battle on a long map of the outside of the train as they battle security forces while dealing with various environmental challenges every few turns as the train continues to move and alters the battlefield. It then becomes a dungeon crawl as they have to go car by car to find their target within the train.
The Magnificent Seven Samurai
Ah, the intersection of Western and Samurai stories. Married by the setting of a lawless frontier, not to mention a storied warrior cast that is facing the end of its era, this one is a classic. It’s also a great way to bring an ensemble of disparate characters together. Imagine some section of the Vast where a small group of settlers is going around nearby systems trying to recruit mercenaries to help defend their settlement from bandits/space pirates/alien raiders/etc. You’ve got a fantastic session 1 right there, as each character in the party gets recruited, and the defense of the town can take several sessions as the running battle takes place, bringing the party from the ever fragile level 1 to the more robust level 3 in the process. And if the bandit leader should escape or give clues to some larger threat (or both) you’ve got the foundations of a whole campaign right there.
Whether it is an escort mission, transport of goods, or just a mail run, this is another classic. The complications can run from hazardous route conditions, to dangerous alien wildlife, to one or several opposed groups trying to steal the package. A nice twist is to add the element of defense to encounters. The players will have to adjust tactics if they not only have to defeat their opponents, but also have to split their attention to defend their charge throughout the fight. Getting players to engage their creativity to meet changing combat situations always makes for a memorable session.
There is no reason to stop there. Don’t be afraid to mine old Westerns for ideas, as many feature an ensemble team of protagonists and feature stories and/or story elements that make great additions to a TTRPG game. If you are looking for a place to start, here is the Rotten Tomatoes top 100 Westerns.
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