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Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Brent W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/01/2021 20:17:25

Dust Devils Revenged (DDR) had an original version published in 2002, and just called Dust Devils. This review covers the expanded Revenged version.

DDR at its core - and in my opinion - is the unofficial RPG for both The Searchers and Unforgiven. It is a western RPG about deeply troubled people finding their way through life and succeeding or failing based on the internal devils that drive them. This is not to say there is a supernatural element to this game. There is not. It's a straight historical western game. The devils here are metaphorical; the inner torment, sins, prejudices, and haunted pasts that propel the characters forward into action. More on this in a moment.

It is important to know that the primary mechanic of DDR for task resolution of any kind (social or physical or combat) is to essentially play rounds of poker with actual playing cards. There are no dice used.

Characters are defined by 4 Scores (Hand, Eye, Guts, and Heart) and each is tied to the suite of a deck of cards and are numerically rated. Next they are defined by a pair of Traits, which are short descriptive phrases to invoke wild west flavor, personality, and an implied set of talents (eg Meaner than a Rattlesnake, or Diamond Smile). Players create theses themselves. Similarly, the characters are given a Past and Present invented by the players and represent who the characters were and what they do now - and could represent actual jobs or roles in society (eg Past: Town Drunk. Present: Saw Bones) and imply a set of skills and knowledge the characters can draw upon.

Finally, we come to where the player creates a Devil for the character. The Devil is the heart of DDR. It is the darkness in everyone's souls that we justify or hide. Letting the Devil out to play or fighting to keep it under control affects everything in game. It might be as simple and barbaric as Violence is the answer to everything or philosophical and disturbing like God will forgive my sins. One is a basic darkness the character will struggle with, while the other justifies any action, no matter how evil.

Back to task resolution, all these defining elements of a character have numerical values which represent how many playing cards are dealt to the player during conflicts. It can be only 2 or 3 cards, or a dozen or more, but they must craft as best possible a winning 5 card poker hand. This includes the GM. The winner gets there way. It is of course more complicated than that, especially as regards the Devil, but you get the jist.

Beyond character creation and the rules themselves there is a nice GM advice section and an example - not exactly scenario or adventure - set-up to run players through. The author advises against linear plots, or plotting at all really, and instead present tension filled situations as a basis for springboarding action. There is also a wonderful little section discussing cinema westerns versus historical reality and how both are part of DDR.

Finally, the book rounds out with a few alternate settings (eg Samurai) and how the mechanics of DDR could be applied, but these aren't much more than suggestions and hardly informative enough.

The Nitty Gritty Total Page Count: 70 Pages Character Creation: 6 Pages Game Mechanics: 12 Pages Everything Else: 52 Pages

Judgement: Despite the page count, Dust Devils Revenged is so far the best rules-light western RPG I've played or run. It is highly evocative, simple and elegant in rule, and perfectly captures the old west that I imagine in my head. I recommend it.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/14/2011 16:02:52

I can't believe this remarkable game is nearly ten years old. It seems like only yesterday, the original version was one of my first e-book purchases. Now the Revenged version is available, and for only $10. This is one of the best deals on the site, and one of the best games on the site.

Dust Devils is a Western game, with a relatively simple poker-hand resolution. But the important thing about the game is the Devil mechanic.

Each character has a Devil that both drives them onward and torments them: it can be their past as a bandit and assassin, it can be whiskey, it can be resentment over broken promises to their tribe, it can be family trouble or money trouble, but whatever it is, the game gives it mechanical weight. And most importantly, as your character struggles in their situations, the Devil helps them - after all, in the bleak Western style that Dust Devils recreates, it's the grit and determination of the character that matters, not necessarily their talent. Then as the Devil helps your character, you are also eventually driven into the endgame, a showdown between the worst your Devil has to offer and your character's determination. You will eventually have to face your worst fears, your worst flaws, in this game, and you might very well fail to overcome them.

Dust Devils strikes a middle ground between short-form story games and interminable play-this-game-forever campaigns. There are options for picking up a new Devil after you resolve the first, and continuing the play the same character, but really, this game is about the most important conflict in your character's life, and what it means for the frontier.

Add-ons give options for Le Carre-esque espionage, another ideal area for this game, since in this bleak form of espionage novel, there are no James Bond heroics - there may be only one shot fired in the whole novel, and it's a suicide. In the end, the game puts values like loyalty and justice to the test. It really is like nothing else out there. I have played it many times with many different players - nobody has walked away from it without having a new appreciation for what can be accomplished with the role-playing game form.

Dust Devils ought to be required reading for the hobby. Get started.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2011 14:10:25

The Good

  • Very focused concept brings the feel of certain westerns alive.
  • Some great reference material on westerns, both cinematically and historically.

The Bad

  • $10 for the main game, which only takes up 50 pages of a book that's only 70.
  • None of the alternate settings feel anywhere near as good, or as appropriate, as the primary setting.
  • For those who hate such things, it's full of "fiddly bits" like poker chips and playing cards.

For my full review, please read:

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Michael H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2010 16:29:49

Dust Devils is a rules-light storytelling game that focuses on tales of redemption in the Old West. It takes role-playing in several unusual directions, but it is sufficiently clever that everyone should at least give it a read!

Characters have a mix of quantitative and descriptive characteristics. The most important is amongst the latter: the Devil, which is the ugly side of their personality or past that they are trying to fight: appropriate examples include any of the seven mortal sins.

The game is essentially storytelling until a conflict arises. During conflicts, the object is to build the best poker hand; the interesting twist is that a character’s statistics, past, and (especially) Devil determine the resources available for constructing that hand. In essence, this works like a dice pool mechanic, because “stronger” characters receive more opportunities for success but have no guarantees of victory.

A second twist is that the conflict’s Narrator is the player with the single highest card in their poker hand, who need be neither the GM or the victor. The narration is fairly free, although the winner must achieve their goals, and the “Harm” to each character is fixed by the cards. Once one of a player character’s attributes reaches zero, their end is near. The player automatically becomes Narrator of their final conflict and gets some bonuses to help ensure a memorable end, including harming other characters and also redeeming them.

The book contains a fair amount of advice (as well as a sample scenario), which is quite useful given the game’s unique goals. Every character will die, and players need to buy in to this to enjoy it. It’s also a collaborative game – although there is a “Dealer,” who sets up some of the story, every player can become Narrator during conflicts. And finally, it is an antagonistic game – player characters can easily face off against each other, and some groups won’t enjoy that.

The book also contains a handy guide to Western history and good movies, novels, and characters that can inspire a Dust Devils game. Finally, this updated edition also includes three variant rules and settings, which port the game to new genres. These include Deathwish, about conflicted spies in the Cold War, RONIN, about warriors in feudal Japan, and Concrete Jungles, about unsavory urban characters. The first and last work well; RONIN is a good idea (especially given the connections between samurai films and Westerns), but the idea of resolving samurai duels with poker hands just doesn’t work for me.

In summary, Dust Devils is a unique, well-constructed rules-light game tailored to a very specific – but compelling – kind of story. Provided your group will buy into this type of story, you can tell some truly memorable stories of devils and redemption.

Note: I received a free review copy (in pdf form) of this title through

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Shotgun G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/31/2010 04:45:32

This is the new updated version of Dust Devils, entitled Revenged. Matt Snyder, the creator of Dust Devils; has updated the rules added some interesting features and generally made the game a lot more enjoyable.

If you like Westerns, Cowboys and Indian's, this game will appeal to you a lot. With a very narrative/cinematic flavour, players get to literally write the stroy of their character as game progresses. So it will also appeal to those who enjoy descriptive roleplaying, building up a character through the collective story told.

One of the new features, is the ability to adapt the game to other settings. Included in the book, are guides to create spy/espionage (Deathwish), japanese samurai (Ronin) or a neo noir (Concrete Angels) style of settings. So now your not limited to the wild west, there are options to create a variety of settings for your players.

At $10, it is a great buy to add a little change of pace to a gaming group.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dust Devils
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Erathoniel W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2010 22:20:29

Now, I've never seen a tabletop game based on poker before. I've tried my hand at writing a homebrew one based upon blackjack when I didn't anticipate having dice on a trip (which was really, really, really bad). I've also seen a couple based upon blackjack (they turned out better), and I've seen some with entirely unrelated systems made up just for them (again, better than my blackjack one).

The interesting thing about Dust Devils, though, is that it has heavy cinematic elements. It's not the most cinematic system I've ever seen, but it probably ranks up near the top. Character roleplaying is encouraged, and the rules are loose enough to permit anything and tight enough to feel comfortable.

Ultimately, for $10, you could do a lot with this book. However, if you want a full-tables-and-lists game, look elsewhere, since the simplicity here does not lend itself to giant tables filled with ten-foot-poles and rope. Instead, it works based on conflict, plain and simple, and character development.

Characters in Dust Devils are not intended to be permanent, either, so even the best character in the world will get a bum hand then be sent to his "end", be it a gunfight or retirement of less violent means.

I give Dust Devils a 5 just for its unique nature and originality, and the fact that it should be able to get any group thinking about characters, not guns or swords or artifacts.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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