Exorcising the Demons Haunting the West

Darker Hue Studios, helmed by Chris Spivey, made their mark with the original version of the Harlem Unbound supplement, a meticulously researched guide to Harlem in the 1920s for Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu which was so well-received that Chaosium picked it up to give it a lavish 2nd edition. Now Darker Hue have upped their ambition and put out Haunted West, their first standalone RPG, its production funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The underlying concept of Haunted West is to provide a “weird West”-style RPG that makes a concerted attempt to tease out the stories of people who were decidedly present in the Old West, but who more traditional Westerns have glossed over. As well as providing a sympathetic and nuanced depiction of indigenous peoples (making a point of calling indigenous groups by their own names for themselves, rather than names coined by settlers for them), this entails making sure that women, LGBT+ folk, and people of a diverse range of racial backgrounds all get featured – for they were all riding those dusty trails back in the day, but the mythmaking of early Western writers and Hollywood depictions would variously whitewash them away, demonise them, or reduce them to caricature.

This is a laudable goal, supported by impressive research; Spivey and his crew both provide ample real-world historical detail and, for those who prefer to game in settings a little more distant from actual history, the Haunted West: Reconstruction setting. This is an alternate history where, as the name implies, the process of Reconstruction after the Civil War ends up working out better for the emancipated black population than it did in real life; whereas the old powers of white supremacy reasserted themselves through “Jim Crow” laws and the concerted removal of voting rights from black citizens in our own timeline, here various events mean that doesn’t happen – and makes the Old West a melting pot of peoples that is still an interesting setting for Western adventure, but is somewhat less driven by the logic of white supremacy and manifest destiny than the real one was.

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