Zen Greenway here!

This guide is for people who want to play the PC version of Red Dead Redemption Online with Mouse and Keyboard. When I first started, I had trouble finding some of this information. Most of the “beginner” guides I read or watched on YouTube told me what to do, but not how to do it, so if you want detailed, step-by-step instructions for basic actions, this guide is for you!

I’m the kind of player who wants to explore the open world and isn’t interested in missions and combat. I just want to ride my horse, hunt, fish, pick herbs, and find cool collectibles. I do have tips about combat, because sometimes it’s unavoidable. But I won’t be covering mission progression or recommending builds. Think of me as a tradesman. I live in a dangerous place and I’m just trying to survive.

  1. Free Gear for Your Character
  2. Important Notes About PC Menus
  3. The Basics (That First Mission)
    1. Move Your Character
    2. Ride Your Horse
      1. Horse Skills You Need Now
      2. Horse Skills for Later
    3. Select Your Weapon
    4. Shoot
    5. Fight Hand to Hand
  4. Free Gear for Your New Horse
  5. The Mystery of the Selection Wheel
  6. How to Eat and Take Tonics
  7. The Lasso and Hogtying
  8. Emotes – How to Wave and Smoke
  9. Time and Temperature
  10. Light
  11. Here’s Why You Don’t Want to Spend Any Money Yet
  12. Before You Go Crazy Customizing
  13. Recommended Settings Changes
    1. Change to a Free Aim Server
    2. Weapon Hotkey Numbers
    3. Defensive Mode
  14. Do Not Fear Death
  15. Making Money without Missions
  16. Recommended First Purchases
  17. Travel by Day, Maintain by Night
  18. Switch Servers If You’re Griefed
  19. One Last Thing

Free Gear for Your Character

During that first cutscene, you’ll be offered the opportunity to outfit yourself with clothes. Take everything you can. Make sure you’ve gone through the whole menu and equipped as much as you can get. Clothes are expensive when you’re first starting out, so the freebies are essential. See below for Important Notes About PC Menus.

Important Notes About PC Menus

The scroll wheel is unreliable as a navigation tool. Sometimes unseen items at the end of a list will not appear when you use the scroll wheel. Mouse over the last visible item and hit the Down Arrow key (or the Right Arrow if the list is horizontal). This will reveal the hidden items, sometimes one by one.

See how it says 8 of 11 under Camp & Properties? Arrow down to see items 9 through 11.

Red Dead’s menus are just generally confusing. Sometimes clicking on something with Left Mouse will just select it, sometimes it will execute an action like Buy. (I bought stirrups I didn’t need because of this.) It’s better to use the keyboard until you’re more familiar with the process. Always look at Screen Bottom Right to see what various keys will do before pressing anything.

Bottom right corner shows what different keys do for each menu.

Some actions require you to hold the key or mouse button down until a meter around the selection fills. For instance, Hitch your horse (see Ride Your Horse). If the thing you thought was going to happen when you tapped a key didn’t happen, try holding it instead.

Light gray border means hold key until the meter fills

The Basics (That First Mission)

Unfortunately, to get to the open world, you have to complete a few missions at the beginning which require basic skills. You will need to Move Your Character, Ride Your Horse, Select Your Weapon, Shoot, and maybe Fight Hand to Hand.

Move Your Character

Ride Your Horse

First a caution. Traveling in Red Dead is not like other games. In Elder Scrolls Online, for instance, you can just sprint around either on foot or on a mount without injuring yourself. The only thing you need to worry about is running off a cliff or something.

In Red Dead, you can easily kill yourself and your horse if you go too fast over rough terrain. If you trample an NPC person or animal, you can become wanted for murder and the police will kill you. If you so much as bump a pedestrian or a mounted NPC, they can become hostile and try to kill you. It’s the Wild West! Tread carefully. You’re meant to go slowly and precisely whenever possible. That being said, see Do Not Fear Death.

Horse Skills You Need Now
Horse Skills for Later

Select Your Weapon

This works on foot and on horseback.

  1. Open selection wheel = Hold Tab with pinky
  2. Move mouse cursor to highlight weapon
  3. Release Tab to select

Shoot

Select weapon first.

  1. Aim = Hold Right Mouse
  2. Shoot = Tap Left Mouse
    • Tip: You can shoot without aiming by tapping Left Mouse, which can be good for close range.
    • Tip: You’ll know if you’ve hit because the reticule (dot) will briefly turn into an X. If that X is red, the target is bleeding or dead. If dead, you’ll also see a notification on Screen Right that says “Kill”.

Fight Hand to Hand

I don’t do this much, so these are very basic instructions.

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Free Gear for Your New Horse

You’ll be allowed to keep the horse you stole at the end of the first mission and outfit it at the Stable. Again, take all the free stuff offered (including Horse Insurance). You do not need to buy a stall or saddle or anything else at this point, so don’t. Remember the Important Notes About PC Menus as you navigate the Stable menus.

The Mystery of the Selection Wheel

When you hold Tab with your pinky either on foot or on a horse, you bring up the Selection Wheel. If you do this while moving, you will keep going without being able to see, so either stop somewhere safe first or keep it short.

The Items Wheel
  1. Hold Tab with your pinky and tap R with your index finger until you see the wheel you want.
    • There are three Selection Wheels. Weapons, Items, and Horse. (Just Weapons and Items if you’re on foot.)
  2. Mouse over the appropriate wheel slot and tap Q with your ring finger or E with your index finger until you see the item you want.
  3. Release Tab to select.

Some of the wheel slots will remember your last choice, some of them won’t.

The Horse Wheel

Tip: The 9:00 slot on the Horse wheel is food. If you are on your horse, you can feed them a specific food by holding Tab with your pinky, tapping R twice to get to the Horse wheel, mousing over the 9:00 slot, and using Q or E to get to the food you want. Release Tab and you will feed that food to your horse. This food choice is not remembered if you later feed your horse using the Feed option (R) on the Horse Interaction menu. You can do this while standing next to your horse too, but it’s touchy. If the 9:00 slot is grayed out, you either need to adjust your standing position or wait until your last interaction with your horse has played out.

The Weapons Wheel

Tip: Once you have more weapons, your horse carries them all, but you can only have three out at a time. One in your holster (or two once you have dual wield), one on your back, and one on your shoulder. On the Weapons wheel, the 12:00 slot is your holster, the 9:00 slot is your shoulder, and the 6:00 slot is your back. Whatever weapons are shown in those slots are the ones you will have when you get off your horse. This is called your Load Out.

How to Eat and Take Tonics

You will need to replenish your Health, Stamina, and Dead Eye regularly. Just going about your daily business will reduce those stats. Eating food and taking Tonics is the easiest way. (This works on foot and on horseback.)

  1. Hold Tab with your pinky and tap R with your index finger once for the Items Wheel
  2. Mouse over the 9:00 slot for food and drink, the 11:00 slot for Health Tonics, the 12:00 slot for Stamina Tonics, or the 1:00 slot for Dead Eye Tonics
  3. Tap Q with your ring finger or E with your index finger until you see the item you want
  4. Release Tab to consume

-OR-

You can eat food or take Tonics directly from your Satchel

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The Lasso and Hogtying

You don’t need this skill right away, but one of the first non-intro missions requires it, so I’ll cover it.

  1. Select Lasso = Hold Tab with pinky, mouse over the lasso (8:00 slot), tap Q or E if lasso is not already visible in that slot, release Tab to select
  2. Aim = Hold Right Mouse
  3. Throw = Tap Left Mouse
  4. Hogtie = On a successful throw, continue to hold Right Mouse and tap F

Emotes – How to Wave and Smoke

Occasionally, other players will wave at you and you will break out in a cold sweat trying to find a way to respond. Do this to emote instead of shooting them in the face, which is all too easy to do by mistake:

  1. Don’t have a weapon in your hand (very important)
  2. If applicable, face the person you want to interact with
  3. Hold right mouse (the whole time, like you’re aiming)
  4. Tap tab
  5. Tap number of the emote you want
    • Hold number to extend emote until release. This is how you stand around smoking a cigarette or cigar for a while.

You can customize which emotes appear in the list by doing this:

  1. L
  2. Arrow down to Online Options
  3. Emotes
  4. Select type you want to change
  5. Mouse over desired default
  6. Space

Time and Temperature

You can see what the time and temperature are by tapping the Left Alt key.

Light

You can equip a lantern to see at night. This is especially useful when you’re looking for items in dark houses.

  1. Hold Tab with your pinky for the Weapons Wheel
  2. Mouse over the 5:00 slot
  3. Tap Q with your ring finger or E with your index finger until you see the lantern
  4. Release Tab to select

Here’s Why You Don’t Want to Spend Any Money Yet

You will be charged every game day for your Camp and the Stable. ($1.75, I think.) There is nothing you can do about these fees. It’s fairly easy to make enough money hunting and herb gathering to keep up. If you like doing missions (I don’t) you will probably make enough to not worry about this.

Tip: The one thing you might want to buy is Hay from the Stable. The Feed interaction (see Horse Interactions) defaults to Hay if you have it and keeps your horse nice and strong.

Before You Go Crazy Customizing

I’m the kind of player who looks at the settings before even playing the game, but there are several things in Red Dead Redemption Online you may think you have to do when you really don’t, at least not until much later.

Do not upgrade or move your camp. You definitely do not need a bigger camp or any of the equipment upgrades (tent, etc.). Your Health, Stamina, and Deadeye meters can be replenished with food, liquor, and tobacco, so it is not necessary to ever go to your camp, especially early on.

Do not use Fast Travel for long distances unless you really want to go to an exact place. You can use the Online menu (Esc, Online) to Free Roam in any of the Territories. Useful for getting from one side of the map to the other. Just remember to sell any pelts and carcasses from your horse before using the Online options.

Do not buy other guns or horses and don’t customize either. The stuff you start out with is just fine. Some people stick with the Cattleman Revolver and the Carbine Rifle even when they’re higher level. And as long as you bond with your horse, they will be a good traveler and companion. Since you have next to no money at the beginning, save it for the Stable and Camp fees which you will be charged even though you don’t use your camp and never put your horse in the stable. Also, Stable fees will be higher if you have more than one horse.

Do not blow your hard earned cash or gold on cold weather clothes. You do not need them for a long while. (Unless you’re starting out during the winter holidays, like I did. It was cold and snowy everywhere in the game for many real life days. Usually, it’s only cold and snowy up north.)

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Whenever you’re able (after the first mission or two, I think), check out your Settings. I recommend a few changes, but if you prefer the defaults, keep them. It’s all about what works for you.

Change to a Free Aim Server

If you’re using a mouse and keyboard, you can not use Lock-On aiming. You are at a disadvantage to players using controllers who can. If you are on a Free Aim server, no one can use Lock-On aiming, so it pays to make the switch. My personal experience is that I have been attacked randomly by players much less on Free Aim servers. Here’s how to change your settings so that whenever you log in, you’ll be on a Free Aim server.

  1. If you’re already in-game, Esc for pause menu
  2. Settings
  3. Controls
  4. Controller
  5. Lock-On Mode (On Foot) = Free Aim
  6. Lock-On Mode (Mount/Vehicle) = Free Aim
  7. Esc back to pause menu, not all the way out
  8. Select Online
  9. Free Roam will put you near where you were, but now on a Free Aim server

-OR-

Weapon Hotkey Numbers

You can avoid drawing from the Weapons Wheel by using number hotkeys. Clock positions are from the Weapons Wheel for reference. The default settings are:

  1. Left sidearm (11:00 or 12:00 if you haven’t gained dual wield yet)
  2. Dual wield sidearms (12:00)
  3. Right sidearm (1:00)
  4. Unarmed (3:00)
  5. Melee weapon (5:00)
  6. Back longarm (6:00)
  7. Thrown weapon (7:00)
  8. Shoulder longarm (9:00)

You can rearrange these numbers by doing the following:

  1. Esc for menu
  2. Settings
  3. Controls
  4. Keyboard and Mouse
  5. Key Mapping
  6. Arrow down to Combat, Lock-On, and Interact section
  7. Last 8 slots in the section are Equipment numbers
  8. Click on the number you want to change
  9. Type new number
  10. Remember to reassign whatever number you replaced

You still have to use the Weapons Wheel to select your Load Out weapons.

Defensive Mode

If you are in Defensive Mode, you are still killable, but you appear peaceful on the radar which can be a signal to other players that you’re not looking for trouble. Apparently, you also can’t be locked onto with Lock-On aiming (useless on a Free Aim server) and there is some kind of penalty for killing a Defensive player which I’m not clear on. If you start a mission that will take you out of Defensive mode, a notification pops up on screen.

Set Defensive Mode by doing the following:

Do Not Fear Death

You will probably die a lot, even when you start advancing in levels. I still haven’t gotten good at defeating the predators that attack you randomly as you travel (wolves, bears, big cats). Other players may decide to one-shot you in the head from a distance, about which you can do almost nothing. And sometimes there are ambushes meant to draw you into a mission.

The good news is, death in Red Dead is no big deal. You don’t lose any money or stuff. If your horse didn’t die, you won’t lose pelts or carcasses stored there. The only thing that happens is you’ll respawn in a slightly different location. If your horse did die, you’ll have to ride the Scrawny Nag to a stable to get it back.

When in doubt, RUN! Once you get comfortable riding, you and your horse can almost always outrun death. I’ve even outrun packs of wolves on foot.

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Making Money without Missions

I’m not really into the whole mission thing. If you’re like me and are looking for a low difficulty survival experience in the old West, you can hunt, fish, collect herbs, and find jewelry. All these activities give you things you can sell.

Unfortunately, most of the random stuff you find like food, cigarettes, and other personal items can’t be sold anywhere, so don’t feel like you have to pick up everything. Likewise the stuff you craft. You can’t sell any of it.

When you do have enough money to splurge on something, I recommend the Varmint Rifle and the Fishing Rod as your first purchases.

Travel by Day, Maintain by Night

There is a much greater chance you will be attacked by predators on the road and in the wilderness at night. I like to do most of my traveling on foot and on horseback during the day. Here are some things you can do at night to pass the time, preferably in town:

Switch Servers If You’re Griefed

Some players just want to kill you over and over for fun. You can get away from them by switching servers. If you’re just huntin’ and fishin’ like me, switching servers is no big deal. Try to make sure you’ve sold any pelts or carcasses on your horse before switching because you’ll lose them, though the griefer might not give you any choice. Here’s how to switch:

One Last Thing

Red Dead Redemption Online is incredibly detailed and well worth experiencing and exploring. But it can be hard to get started because the controls are complex and sometimes there are people shooting at you.

Be patient. I am generally bad at combat, but I have managed to survive and even take down a wolf or two. In fact, as survival games go, Red Dead Online hits the sweet spot for me.

I hope this Guide helps you jump in and enjoy!

(If you happen to notice any of my instructions are wrong, please let me know in the comments. You can also ask questions, but since I’m a very casual player, I might not know the answer.)

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My music video made with Red Dead Online gameplay. Take a trip on the S&E line…