When I first came into contact with the West Marches style of game I was either a sophomore or junior at USM.* At the time, I and several of my fellow students were trying to form a gaming club. This put me in contact with the largest player based I'd had before FLAILSNAILS - though it was pretty small by some people's standards. I immediately thought about running my own West Marches.
There were some problems though. First and foremost they didn't like the type of D&D I did. At the time I had just discovered this whole OSR thing (via Huge Ruined Scott's old Wilderlands OD&D blog), and they were die-hard 3.5ers or Exalted and nWoD players. Some of them also weren't big fans of the typical medieval fantasy thing I like. So I had to figure out a solution to both these problems.
I came up with a setting very loosely based on Tang Dynasty China, with the campaign region serving as an unexplored frontier of the Middle Kingdom. There was going to be only one settlement, Twisted Winding Three Rivers,** and the rest would be untamed wilderness. Much of it would be jungle covered with ruins that had a more South Asian flavor (like this) to make it more clearly appear to be different from the Chinese-ish society the characters came from.
One thing I wanted to do was make the setting a great deal more grittier than most fantasy China settings tend to be. While I was going to have quite a bit of magic, I wanted getting injured to be a real issue. I also just personally prefer low powered games about skullduggery and murder to high flying heroic actionmo.
The system I was going to use was Mongoose RuneQuest. I actually liked their physical interpretation of runes for this premise because they could be turned into treasure. Want to learn this spell? Well the rune associated in it lies in the tomb of the First Red Emperor, so you better go get it. Of course I'd change them to make them more setting appropriate - probably some sort of talisman - but the basic idea would be the same.
I never actually ran it and I don't plan to because I have way too many other projects that grab my attention nowadays, but Cole's calling for someone to make "Chinahammer," that is a game set in fantasy China with a more Warhammer level of grit, despair, and hilarity, reminded me of it.
If I were to run it, the only thing I'd change from the original set up would be to add some more settlements, making sure that they are as Spaghetti Western as possible, and maybe to switch to something more closely aligned with D&D. The reference to Hill Province in the title of this post is actually something I came up with only recently. At the time I had no name for the campaign area, or really anything other than Twisted Winding Three Rivers, but there are some similarities between the setup and the Hill Cantons, so I thought the name was appropriate.
*Southern Miss just sounds too undignified for the name of a college.
**I decided to use representative names instead of fakey-cakes Chinese.