Wild West

Frontier 5e – Campaign Setting Overview (Part 2)

This week we have another guest post from Dale Easterling that looks at running a Wild West campaign for D&D 5e.

Part 1 | Part 2


In the first installment of this overview of my Old West 5e campaign setting, Frontier, I summarized the 6 Classes that can be used in the magicless and historically-based world. There was also a section on the Culture system used in lieu of races in the traditional RPG sense. Due to reviewer issues, that section has been removed from the article and the Frontier book itself.


In the Frontier campaign setting, there are a number of rulings and mechanics added to help illustrate the Old West time and flair. All mechanics are optional, but should be considered in any Frontier campaign – as well as any other similar setting.


There is a romanticized image of the frontier saloon. A man pushes open the swinging doors of an ornately decorated and large clean saloon, bellies up to the bar, and orders a whiskey. As someone plays a piano in the corner, with dancing girls swirling around, the bar tender takes out a clean bottle of bourbon, and fills a shot glass which is quickly consumed. The man then throws down a gold coin, and takes his bottle to one of the many gaming tables, and gets involved in a game of poker. The poker game then ends in a shootout, with dead bodies strewn about the floor. The problem is that it’s not always an accurate or typical portrayal of the way it really is.
Most saloons are not large, not very ornate, nor are they very tidy. Floors are often covered with sawdust, which absorb everything from tobacco juice, blood, beer, and liquor, as well as holding down other displeasing odors associated with busy saloons.
Still, there is no mistaking the incredible prevalence and popularity of alcohol in the West. Drinking is a year-round sport, and a man can’t take ten steps through a boomtown without passing a saloon or tavern. Cowboys swig watered-down whiskey as they share stories around campfires, and everything from gin to wine can be ordered in gambling halls and finer establishments in town. It is both a vice of drunken miners with a short life span, and the relief of hard-working men and women across the frontier.

Alcohol Game Mechanics

Alcohol acts as an intoxicant at lower doses, but inflicts exhaustion if one overindulges. While it resembles a poison in some ways, it does not count as one for proficiency with the poisoner’s kit, nor can it be cured with a Healer’s Touch. Characters proficient in brewer’s supplies may create alcoholic beverages per the rules for crafting.
A creature may consume 2 alcoholic drinks before requiring a DC 15 Constitution poison save to avoid ill effects; one alcoholic drink is the equivalent of one pint of beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of hard liquor. Until a creature fails its saving throw, each alcoholic drink consumed bestows one of the following beneficial effects (choose or roll randomly):

  • +1d3 temporary hit points
  • Advantage on a single saving throw against a mind-affecting or effect
  • Advantage on a single Charisma check
  • Advantage on a single Dexterity (Acrobatics or Stealth) check
  • Advantage on a single Strength check
  • Advantage on a single Wisdom (Insight or Perception) check

These beneficial effects last until the creature fails a saving throw against alcohol consumption or until one hour has passed. Creatures may resume drinking after an hour has passed in order to regain these benefits, but the DC increases to 20 until they have taken a long rest.
Once a creature fails its Constitution saving throw, it is immediately subject to a level of exhaustion equal to the additional number of alcoholic drinks it has consumed (past the initial two, “safe” drinks) and all beneficial effects of alcohol consumption end. For example, a creature that fails its saving throw on its third drink immediately suffers the first level of exhaustion (disadvantage on ability checks) while one that fails on its fifth drink suffers the third level of exhaustion(disadvantage on ability checks, speed halved, and disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws). These levels of exhaustion are recovered as usual.


Going West means taking a chance and seeking your fortune, or at least a better life. Perhaps there is something in the outlook of those who head out into an empty and unsettling landscape that makes games of chance so alluring. Perhaps that’s the reason gambling in the West is more popular and pervasive than anywhere else in the country.
Gambling takes many forms, from the standard fare of poker to dice games, chess, and board games. Whatever the game, it is a combination of skill and luck that either stuffs the pockets or leads to a long and saddening walk home.

Gambling Game Mechanics

There are two forms of gambling, Player vs House and Player vs Player. When playing against the House, the gambler rolls against a static number in the hopes of winning a prize. When playing against other players, both gamblers try to roll higher than each other.
First, start by wagering an amount of money in gold pieces. This can be as little or as much as you like, though some establishments may have a minimum bet. Next, depending on the game played, roll 1d20 and add your proficiency in any of the following skills.

  • Game Set: Board Games (Intelligence)
  • Game Set: Dice (Intelligence)
  • Game Set: Playing Cards (Intelligence)

Playing Against the House:
When playing against the house or gambling establishment, your target is to meet or exceed 15 with your check. Some loftier gambling halls or competitions may have a difficulty of 20 or possibly as high as 25.

  • Matching the DC: If you exactly match the DC, you break even, and neither gain nor lose money.
  • Success by ≤ 5: If you succeed by 5 or less, you double your wager.
  • Success by 6+: If you succeed by more than 6, you triple your wager.
  • Failure by ≤ 5: If you fail by 5 or less, you lose your wager.
  • Failure by 6+: If you fail by 6 or more, you lose double your wager. If you do not have the excess funds, you may owe the house – or the house could demand payment, arrest, or other punishment.

Playing Against Another Player:
When playing against another PC or an NPC character, you follow the same rules as playing against the house. Your target difficulty, however, is the roll(s) of the other player(s) involved. If you fail, you pay the opposing player with the highest roll. In a tie, roll again.

Literacy & Languages

Being a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, the West hosts many languages. Far more of these languages are spoken than written. Some languages simply do not have a written form. Others are spoken by people who either never learned to read or haven’t done so in many years.

Literacy Game Mechanics

  • Every culture begins with at least one starting languages. If you have an Intelligence score of 8 or lower, you are considered illiterate – and cannot read or write any of your known languages.
  • For every score of +2 above 8, you can read and write one of the languages that you know. Later, if your Intelligence score increases, you can learn to read and write additional languages.

Language Groups

  • Many cultures have their own specific languages. Some have language groups that are understood among similar peoples, even if the words and phrases aren’t exactly the same.
  • Other cultural languages, such as French, Gaelic, German, Italian, or Japanese, are also plausible for character definition. Odds are, however, that they will rarely come into play or be commonly encountered in terms of NPC interaction.
Language Typical Speakers
Algonquin Cheyenne, Cree, Blackfoot, Ojibwe
Athabaskan Apache, Navajo, Tonkawa
Chinese Chinese
English Americans, British, Europeans
Iroquoian Cherokee, Huron, Mohawk, Seneca
Siouan Crow, Lakota, Omaha
Spanish Mexicans, Spanish
Uto-Aztecan Comanche, Shoshone, Ute

Mass Combat

With a land full of rival nations and loyal warriors, combat on a large scale is not only common but an integral part of martial stability. Players may have opportunities to lead armies into battle against opposing forces. Success or failure can affect not only social standing, but ultimately the survival of a group or the nation as a whole.

Mass Combat Game Mechanics

  • When opposing forces engage in mass combat, designate one commander for each army involved. Roll for Initiative. The commander with the highest Initiative chooses where to put their units on a battle map and the direction from when the enemies may approach. Battle maps have squares like standard game maps, though the size and distance of these squares is flexible and reflective of the situation.
  • Each round on your turn, you can choose a number of Units to use equal to your character level + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. These units are considered to move and act simultaneously or in the order you choose. Each unit has a movement speed and range it can attack, measured in squares. All units move as your Move action, and attack as your Action. There are no Bonus Actions in Mass Combat unless specified.
  • When attacking, make an Intelligence (Battle) check opposed by your opponent’s Battle check. If you succeed, your attacking unit damages the enemy unit – effectively destroying or scattering it. Some attacking units had disadvantage on this check for making attacks under certain conditions, such as heavy rain. All attacking units have advantage on this check if they are flanking the enemy unit. This includes ranged units, though they must be adjacent to the enemy unit to have advantage.
  • The player’s character token or miniature remains on the map as a Commander. As a Commander, you can move 1 square at a time but cannot attack by yourself. A Commander can be attacked by units, and you are considered to have a number of Health Points equal to your character level. At any point in combat you can announce your intent to withdraw from battle. In doing so, all your attacking units have disadvantage on Battle checks (including defensive checks) until your next round. On your next round, if you are still alive, you and your army successfully leave the field of battle and the encounter is ended.

Types of Units. There are four types of units that can be procured and used in Mass Combat: Artillery, Cavalry, Foot, and Ranged. Their statistics are listed and detailed below.

Foot 1 1 3
Ranged 2 4 2
Cavalry 3 2 5
Artillery 4 3 1
  • Artillery. The devastating cannons of the artillery can often turn the tide of any battle. They are relatively rare, but potentially deadly in effect. They have three options in battle which they can use on allied or enemy units within range. They can Cover (granting advantage on Battle checks to 1 ally unit within range), Bombard (imposing disadvantage on Battle checks to 1 enemy unit within range for 1 round), or Attack (causing damage).
  • Cavalry. Cavalry and mounted horsemen are considered a luxury to lesser commanders, but an integral part of their war machine by experienced generals. Their mobility and increased range make them extremely versatile, able to flank or overrun enemy units. Calvary treat enemy units as difficult terrain, but can move through them as long as they end in unoccupied squares.
  • Foot. Foot soldiers are the staple of every army, and the easiest to conscript. Charging onto the battlefield, their bravery and skill is as much a deciding factor in battle as the commander leading them.
  • Ranged. Archers and riflemen are a vital and cost-effective unit in any army. Their great range allows them to not only attack from a safe distance, but also target enemy units beyond the range of their own soldiers. Ranged units have disadvantage on Battle checks if there are friendly units between them and the enemy units they are attacking, or if partial cover such as trees or fog obstruct the view.

Cost. Before every battle, each Commander is granted a leadership pool with which to conscript units. Unless the battle is an ambush, the Commanders are aware of the total units of the opponents as well. When you begin a battle, select units of your choice totaling no more than the leadership pool you have been assigned.

Range. This is the maximum distance a unit may attack or affect, measured in squares.

Move. This is the maximum distance a unit may move, measured in squares. A unit cannot, Dash, Disengage, or trade an attack for movement.


All of the original skills in the Player’s Handbook are compatible with this setting, and can be used by Frontier characters. In addition, there are two new skills added:

Charisma (Culture)
Your Charisma (Culture) skill illustrates your grasp of social etiquette, regional customs, and local laws. Make a Charisma (Culture) ability check when you want to arrange a cultural event such as a festival or competition, recognize a high-ranking individual, or appeal to a stranger’s sense of honor.

Intelligence (Battle)
Your Intelligence (Battle) skill measures your ability to assess a battlefield, put tactics into action, and overall coordinate troops and large groups of people. Make an Intelligence (Battle) ability check when you want to find an advantage in an enemy army’s deployment, recognize an ambush, move troops in mass combat, or find the weakness in an individual or group.


As with skills, the original feats in the Player’s Handbook are compatible with this setting, and can be used by Frontier characters.

In addition, there are three new feats added:

You may not be the smartest gambler, but your trickery can earn you the following benefits:
• Increase your Dexterity or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
• You can use either Deception or Sleight of Hand checks when gambling, instead of the appropriate gaming set proficiency.

Famous Artisan
• You gain proficiency in one set of artisan’s tools and one skill of your choice.
• If you work between adventures by crafting using your artisan’s tools, you can earn enough to support a wealthy lifestyle instead of a modest one.

Firearm Expert
Prerequisite: proficiency with firearms weapons
Thanks to extensive practice with firearms, you gain the following benefits:
• Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
• When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed firearm weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded firearm weapon with the light property that you are holding in the other hand.
• When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a fi rearm weapon that has the two-handed property, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll.

Firearm Familiarity
You have practiced extensively with and learned to use a variety of different firearms, gaining the following benefits:
• Increase your Dexterity score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
• You gain proficiency with pistols and rifles.

Master Craftsman
Prerequisite: proficiency in at least 1 tool set
• Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
• You can craft an equivalent of 10 gp per day, instead of the usual 5 gp.
• Your tool kit provides the materials needed, even if you do not otherwise have them on hand.


The West is a story of conquest, of competing promises and opposing visions of the land. Many peoples laid claim to the West, and many played a part in settling it. These personalities paint a diverse picture of the land, and every face from the Mississippi to the Pacific has a story.
Any standard background from the Player’s Handbook could be considered appropriate to the Frontier setting. Below is a summary of new and setting-specific backgrounds to use for characters.


You have spent years in the halls and vaults of the Eastern cities, working meticulously to manage other people’s money as well as gather your own. You are an accountant, clerk, or other financial organizer.
You know how to get your way from behind the scenes, putting your nose to books to pull strings, bend numbers, and make sure your pocket book always ends up on top.

Feature: Financial Trust
Your reputation precedes you, and the wealthy respect you. People are inclined to trust you with their money, whether it’s holding onto their gold stash or overseeing their accounts. As such you have a great deal of social leverage, knowing where the money flows and where you could possibly pinch it off – or even pocket a little for yourself.

City Watch

You have served the community where you grew up, standing as its first line of defense against outlaws. You aren’t a soldier, directing your gaze outward at possible enemies. Instead, your service to your hometown was to help police its populace, protecting the citizenry from lawbreakers and malefactors of every stripe.

Even if you’re not city-born or city-bred, this background can describe your early years as a member of law enforcement. Most settlements of any size have their own chiefs and police forces, and even smaller communities have sheriffs and deputies who stand ready to protect their community.

Feature: Watcher’s Eye
Your experience in enforcing the law, and dealing with lawbreakers, gives you a feel for local laws and outlaws. You can easily find the local outpost of the sheriff or a similar organization, and just as easily pick out the dens of criminal activity in a community, although you’re more likely to be welcome in the former locations rather than the latter.


You have spent the greater part of your life abroad. You could have come to the West seeking gold and glory, or fled your home land to escape punishment. You could even have been a local or native who has traveled so extensively even your peers see you as an outsider.
Whether you are a foreigner or a local voyager, you have a breadth of cultural experience many seem to lack. This often sets you apart, which probably suits you just fine.

Feature: Exotic
Your accent, mannerisms, figures of speech, and perhaps even your appearance all mark you as foreign – whether you are or not. Curious glances are directed your way wherever you go, which can be a nuisance, but you also gain the friendly interest of others intrigued by far-off lands, to say nothing of everyday folk who are eager to hear stories of your travels.


You live day to day on games of chance. From saloons to storehouses to river boats, you earn a living through fortune and the misfortune of others. Your skill and subtlety has not only lined your pockets, but earned a name for yourself.
Even when you’re away from the table, you know how to keep a good poker face. You can bluff or con your way out of most situations, and can read the tells of even the most stoic strangers.

Feature: Friends in Low Places
You have up to four informants throughout the West. From barkeeps to prostitutes to elected officials, these shady individuals are in the know – and can often impart information to you such as upcoming gambling tournaments or who the richest folks in town may be.


If there’s one thing the hordes of Westward-rushing miners and prospectors desire more than gold, it is the companionship of lovely ladies. Like them, you sought to make a living in the booming expansion. You simple did so in the comfort of your own room. You may take pride in being part of the oldest profession in history, or you may hide your past like a dirty secret.

You have seen the dark side of humanity, which either intrigues, amuses, or disgusts you. You profession also brought to your attention many secrets that your clients didn’t think to keep quiet.

Feature: Safe House
You have a former place of business that still welcomes you as if you still worked there. It may not be particularly easy to get to, but the owners and operators will always welcome you. They will hide you and your allies in the safe house if you are in trouble, even from the law – though they don’t have the firepower to defend you against excessive force.


You spent years studying a particular field of knowledge, and many consider you an expert in the field. Rather than slinging guns or swinging hammers, you come to the West with books under your arms and notes in your pocket. You live for the exploration, and keep running journals of your discoveries.

Feature: Scholar
When you attempt to learn or recall a piece of information, if you do not know that knowledge, you often know where and from whom you can obtain it. Usually, this information comes from a library, university, or another learned person. Your DM might rule that the knowledge you seek is secreted away in an almost inaccessible place, or that it simply cannot be found. Unearthing the deepest secrets of a culture or creature considered a mere myth can require an adventure or even a whole campaign.


All of the equipment from the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide could be applicable in the Frontier setting. Below is a list of the most appropriate weapons, as well as a few new ones, that could be found in the West. For item or weapon description details, please refer to the Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide.

The damages for firearms have been lowered significantly in the Frontier setting. This is due not only to the prevalence of firearms, but also the relative lack of protection and healing as defense against them.

Name Cost Damage Weight Properties
Simple Melee Weapons
Club 1 sp 1d4 bludgeoning 2 lb. Light
Dagger 2 gp 1d4 piercing 1 lb. Finesse, Light, Thrown (range 20/60)
Handaxe 5 gp 1d6 slashing 2 lb. Light, Thrown (range 20/60)
Light Hammer 2 gp 1d4 piercing 2 lb. Light, Thrown (range 20/60)
Quarterstaff 2 sp 1d6 bludgeoning 4 lb. Versatile (1d8)
Spear 1 gp 1d6 piercing 3 lb. Thrown (range 20/60), Versatile (1d8)
Unarmed Strike 1 bludgeoning
Simple Ranged Weapons
Dart 5 cp 1d4 piercing ¼ lb. Finesse, Thrown (range 20/60)
Shortbow 20 gp 1d6 piercing 2 lb. Ammunition (range 80/320), two-handed
Sling 1 sp 1d4 bludgeoning Ammunition (range 30/120)
Martial Melee Weapons
Rapier 25 gp 1d8 piercing 2 lb. Finesse
Scimitar 25 gp 1d6 slashing 3 lb. Finesse, Light
Shortsword 10 gp 1d6 piercing 2 lb. Finesse, Light
War Pick 5 gp 1d8 piercing 2 lb.
Warhammer 10 gp 1d8 bludgeoning 2 lb. Versatile (1d10)
Whip 2 gp 1d4 slashing 3 lb. Finesse, Reach
Martial Ranged Weapons
Longbow 30 gp 1d8 piercing 2 lb. Ammunition (range 150/600), heavy, two-handed
Dynamite (Stick) 10 gp 3d6 bludgeioning 1 lb. 5 foot radius (range 20/60), DC 12 Dexterity save for half damage
Gunpowder, Keg 250 gp 7d6 fire 20 lb. 10 foot radius, DC 12 Dexterity save for half damage
Gunpowder, Satchel 15 gp 3d6 fire 2 lb. 10 foot radius, DC 12 Dexterity save for half damage
Firearms (Pistols)
Revolver 100 gp 1d8 piercing 3 lb. Ammunition (range 40/120), reload (6 shots)
Firearms (Rifles)
Rifle, Bolt-Action 125 gp 1d10 piercing 8 lb. Ammunition (range 80/240), loading, two-handed
Rifle, Repeating 300 gp 1d10 piercing 8 lb. Ammunition (range 80/240), reload (12 shots), two-handed
Shotgun 150 gp 1d8 piercing 7 lb. Ammunition (range 30/90), reload (2 shots), two-handed
Arrows (20) 1 gp 1 lb.
Bullets (10) 2 gp 2 lb.
Sling Bullets (20) 4 cp


In the next – and likely final – installment, I will cover the Old West Bestiary. In addition I will highlight the upcoming debut campaign for the Frontier setting – Dead Man’s Hand.


The Frontier 5e Campaign Setting can be found exclusively on DriveThruRpg.


Dale Easterling has been writing for nearly two decades and gaming for one. In 2015 he converged the two, writing and adapting campaign settings, storylines, and other supplements. His work can be found at: http://fedorable1.wixsite.com/btdpress