Wagon Train
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Basic Information

A Wagon Train is a group of covered wagons traveling together for mutual assistance.

As the movies tell it, these are identical wagons moving in single file over the prairie, drawn by horses. They got a few things wrong.

  • For starters, pop over to the Covered Wagon page for an explanation of why a real wagon train will include many ox- and mule- drawn wagons, plus several folks riding on horseback, and the majority of people on foot.
  • Also, remember that this was before the days of factory standardization, so the shape and size of wagons will vary quite a bit, all the way up to the mighty Conestoga Wagon. Now think about all the dust that several dozen wagons and a hundred or more animals kick up - would you want to ride in single file behind that? Every chance they had, the wagon train would spread out1.
  • At night, you'd circle the wagons. This was less about safety during a rare attack, and more about providing a windblock, utilizing the heat of central fires, and keeping the animals and children from wandering off2.

As it turns out, the ideal numbers for traveling long distances are about 20 to 40 wagons, and about 5 people per wagon. This means a group large enough to have the needed skills, and provide for the common defense, but not be so numerous that you can't restock supplies at towns you pass through or supplement your diet with hunting. Also, such a size meant you could spare a few folks if they got ill, broke an axle, or decided to settle down somewhere on the trail. The number of smaller trains crossing The Wild West meant there was always another group a few days ahead or behind you, if the current batch were getting annoying, you'd just hang back or ride up ahead for a day or two.

A wagon train is likely composed people like The Pioneer or the Determined Homesteader and his family. There might be a Retired Badass hidden amongst the wagons, as well. See Western Characters for more ideas. In a way, the Wagon Train itself might be a single MetaCharacter, functioning for plot purposes not unlike a Hive Mind.

See also: Convoy and Cavalcade.



Game and Story Use

  • The Wagon train might be envisioned as a sort extended Adventuring Party. More than a hundred NPCs Walking The Earth and visiting Adventure Towns with you means there's always a Posse of Mooks available. If a PC dies, it's easy enough to promote some minor background persona up the ranks to Player Character.
    • The downside is the group ain't stealthy, and treasure might have to be split 100 ways. Still, if you can't afford a Personal Honor Guard and lack the magic for a Zombie Legion, you could do a lot worse than a Wagon Train.
    • The Wagon train might just as easily serve as a mobile Adventure Town - a moving base from which the PCs strike out on various missions ("go see where these raiders are coming from and give them something else to worry about", "what the hell is that ruin on the mountain ahead - is it dangerous? Could we settle there?", "go find us a water source for next week's travel", "go find somewhere we can settle", "we should have reached X by now, go find out where the hell we are")
    • Indeed, in some cultures (Scythian, Mongol) civilisation may mean a wagon train - your culture may not "do" towns (or at least, not in any survivable way).
    • Reversing the usual flow of memes, a GM might chose to do a medieval version of Battlestar Galactica set around a wagon train fleeing a destroyed civilisation.
  • Or a Western set in a single town might see a steady influx of Wagon Trains. Rather than players ranging over distance, instead they stay home, and deal with the new plots that arrive every couple of sessions.
  • Easily transplanted to settings beyond The Wild West and Colonial America
  • What if the Wagon Train is a literal hive mind, presented as the Monster of the Week. It could be some sort of disease, infestation, alien experiment, or contagious meme. Every person that catches it joins the Wagon Train, including the PCs friends and family. Will they continue toward the horizon forever? What happens if they reach the ocean?
  • Short term, PCs might well be hired on as scouts, outriders and guards by a wagon train. If, as in the Old West, there is an organised settlement drive, they might even be detached from the Armed Forces to do so.
  • Worth noting that oxen, whilst more resilient and stronger than most horses are also a lot slower. Rule of thumb is that they can work eight hours a day but need eight hours to eat and eight to digest and will sicken and die if not kept to this rule - they are also less able to run on concentrated foods like beans or grain than horses are. Couple this to the fact that oxen have pretty much three speeds - stationary, two miles an hour and berserk, uncontrolled gallop and the wagon train will be doing, at most, sixteen miles per day if any part of it is ox drawn.
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