Tag Archives: western

In previous, articles, you have stressed figuring out a character’s background before picking out a fighting style. With that in mind, I have a character who used to be a sailor before entering the Wild West. I read up on Savate and liked how it was primarily developed as a martial art for fighting on ships. My question for you is a) would Savate be appropriate for a Wild West-era story and b) where should I look for the best demonstrations of the style. Any additional thoughts would be great.

Regarding Savate, I’m not sure. The martial art dates back to the 19th century, so it did exist, and if your character was enlisted in the French military, it’s entirely possible they would have been exposed to it, and learned it there.

That said, I’m not sure where you got the idea that it was developed for shipboard combat. From what I’ve read, it originated in Parisian slums for streetfighting, and eventually evolved into it’s own sport.

This wasn’t some kind of specialized naval combat style, but for the kind of person that enlisted in the French military in the 19th century, it would make sense that they had learned Savate before joining, or from fellow soldiers, as a form of recreation, while serving.

I’m not extremely familiar with 19th century military training, so I’m not sure what their training would have entailed. Though, for what it’s worth, I do remember reading that marines were still frequently trained in saber combat, for use in boarding actions up until about 1900. That said, if you know which navy he served in, and roughly when, that should give you all the information you need to start researching the training he would have received.

Is it appropriate? Yeah. I mean, westerns frequently include characters who are trying to build a new life, or running from their old one. Especially military veterans. Usually, (with westerns set in the 1870s and ‘80s) we’re talking about civil war veterans, but, there’s nothing that precludes a sailor. This is especially true if you’re looking at coastal settlements in places like California. He could be a deserter or have mustered out on his own. Really, the options are open. Ex-sailors are a little unusual, but depending on what you’re wanting to do with the genre, they fit perfectly with the themes.


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Hello, love your work. Am writing a character for a “Fantasy Western” and I want him to have a distinct fighting style and was wondering if you could recommend a good style to reference. The character I have in mind is a hired gun who would prefer to just shoot a person or butt-stroke them if had to. When unarmed, though, he would use a quick, simple style that causes maximum damage in the shortest time. Any suggestions as to style I could reference?

None. Given the time frame you’re talking about, a character like that would be lucky to have some informal training on how to throw a punch without dislocating their thumb.

About the only thing he could have access to would be bare knuckled boxing. But, it’s still unlikely.

Some of the traditional Chinese martial arts were practiced, but there is literally no way your character could have had access to them. More than that, it would be incredibly unlikely that they’d see any value in them, or seek them out. Eastern styles were viewed as ineffective, poncy, effeminate, or just not real fighting. This is a view that actually persists in some parts of the Western US today. In that environment, your character isn’t likely to see any merit in those styles, much less try to train in them, and even if he wanted to, he’d be still be prevented from doing so.

Most Asian martial arts maintained a very strict prohibition against training students from other ethnicities (including other Asians). This didn’t change until the 1940s and 50s, so well past the timeframe of a conventional western. This also means it would be completely anachronistic to give a character Japanese and Chinese styles.

If your character is Chinese (or another Asian ethnicity), it’s possible they’d have been trained in a traditional style, but they’d also face severe racism, to the point that they would have a hard time finding work as a mercenary.

Okay, one more thing, that I’ve skipped so far because I might be reading too much into this, the whole “distinctive fighting style” phrase sets off all kinds of warning bells for me.

If you’re trying to make your character more unique, stop. You don’t need to make your character special, for them to be compelling. You distinguish a character in your writing, not by stapling “cool” things to them. Your character needs to belong in the world you’ve created, creating one that doesn’t is a recipe for disaster.

Your character is a hired gun, like hundreds or thousands of others. You make him unique by what he says, thinks, and does, not by giving him neat toys or an easy way out of trouble.

So, some recomendations:

If you’ve never read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, You need to. It’s more of a horror Western (actually, most of these suggestions will be, but… still.)

Deadlands was an alternate history RPG set in a world where the Civil War rages on, and supernatural forces have been unleashed on the world. As with The Dark Tower this is more horror than straight up fantasy.

Ravenous is a vampire movie that’s not, quite, about vampires. Set in the early 19th century Sierra Nevadas, it focuses on a single, isolated, fort. Again, more horror than fantasy, but it should give you some ideas to play with.

Yojimbo is, functionally, a western set in Edo period Japan. As with a lot of Kurosawa’s work, it’s been adapted repeatedly. If you don’t see this as useful, you might want to look at Last Man Standing. It’s not nearly as good, but it might give you some ideas.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura isn’t a western… technically. There are a few minor western themes in a few locations, but that’s not the point. This was a massive RPG from Tim Cain, one of the original designers of the Fallout franchise. The setting takes a Tolkien style high fantasy world and turns the clock forward to 1885. Part steampunk, part political commentary, this game will give you a lot of stuff to chew on. If you’re talking about a high fantasy world hitting the industrial revolution, this is a must play.


My character is a vigilante in the Wild West. However, he is over 300 years old, a cursed Mayan criminal doomed to wander the Earth punishing criminals for his own misdeeds. He posses superhuman strength, agility, and speed, as well as resurrects completely healed if and only if he is killed; as well as a Ghost Rider-like ability to condemn criminals like How “realistic” would it be for him to rarely if ever miss when shooting his revolver, and have mastered several different fighting styles?

About as realistic as the rest. Most of the time when people talk about “realism” in fiction, they’re butchering the term. In a world where Mayan gods stalk the earth 1500 years after the civilization that worshiped them crumbled to dust, inflicting superpowers on the unwary, it’s not unrealistic at all for you to have a character that’s freakishly accurate with handguns after 300 years of practice, and or mastered several different martial arts. It’s internally consistent, and to an extent, that’s all “realistic” means when we’re talking about fantasy.

What might not be realistic is the idea that he’s alone. That throughout human history, the Mayan gods have never “cursed” others with similar immortality.

Remember, for the nineteenth century, a lot of the modern martial arts didn’t exist, or would have fiercely protected. Your character can’t have learned any Chinese or Japanese forms in that era.

And, while martial arts like Systema have a long history, the modern form is completely different from the historical versions of the form. So, if you really want a martial arts background, you’re going to have to do some research. Also, using the term “martial arts” to refer to unarmed forms is strictly a twentieth century invention.

Really, you’re going to have to decide how much anachronism you’re willing to accept, and then do a lot of research to keep your material appropriate.

So, some a lot of recommendations:

I’m assuming you’ve already looked at the westerns with quasi supernatural protagonists. If you haven’t, I’d start with Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter, and A Fistful of Dollars. The entire “I thought we killed him” avenging hero is almost it’s own sub-genre in westerns.

Deadlands was a Comedy/Horror/Western RPG in the 90s. The setting is an alternate 1880s American west where the supernatural has broken free and the end of the world may be nigh. It includes an entire mechanic set for playing the classic returned from the grave hero.

Brimestone isn’t a western, but it’s worth looking at (if you can find it). The central character was a cop who died and went to hell in 1983. The show picks up in 1998, there’s been an escape from Hell, and the Devil (played by John Glover) sends him back to earth to hunt down the damned.

Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the American remake Last Man Standing may seem like odd recommendations, but they’re both worth watching. Neither story is supernatural, but they both deal with a lone fighter clearing a town of two competing gangs.

Millennium is an even stranger recommendation, set in the late 90s, it’s a horror/crime series that deals with a burned out ex-FBI investigator who may, or may not, posses psychic powers. The show has an ongoing supernatural element that is kept very low key until the final season. At it’s core, it’s a story about a man being forced to stand against evil by some supernatural force. Fair warning: each season shifts tone sharply, so it’s effectively three different shows; the first two should be useful for you.

The Dark Tower by Steven King is a series I still need to finish, but what I’ve read of this post apocalyptic/horror/western is good, really good. It might be off tone, but it could be very useful for you, especially in setting up a gunfighter.

The Saint of Killers from Vertigo Comics’ Preacher might be worth looking at. I could do a full article unpacking that comic, but it could be useful if you have the time and resources.

Finally, the Highlander TV series is on point. The original show follows a 400 year old immortal wandering the earth. He doesn’t have a compulsion to get involved, but it should give you some good ideas for how to handle your character. Especially if you want to have him interacting with a cadre of normal characters who follow him.