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What’s Your Genre?

Back to genre basics

I’ve been juggling several campaign ideas, many of which fall into the “This Is A Cool Thing” category. But I’m seeing some possible collisions—in my mind Vikings with great bows are cool, and howdahs on war turtles are cool, but Viking archers on war turtles will be only briefly cool before turning silly and unusable.

So I decided to set these various ideas aside and take a few steps back. By concentrating on the genre itself, instead of its trappings, perhaps I might achieve some clarity.

Genre Basics

In RPG terms, a campaign’s genre typically sets basic expectations, both for things the GM can (or should) include and for the things PCs can (or should) encounter. But these are only high-level concepts, not details. For example, the Apocalypse genre has to include some man-made or natural catastrophe in its back story—that’s a high-level concept—but the catastrophe’s exact cause, form, and precise effects are all details that.

For those starting new campaigns, I suggest starting with the high-level concepts first, then puzzling out the details later. Not only does this save you time, but it gives you more flexibility when piecing together the various trappings you opt to include.

But more about that next week. For now, here are my high-level definitions of various genres:

Thundarr

Lords of Light!

Apocalypse: The world after a major man-made or natural catastrophe, typified by a severely reduced population, extensive ruins,  partially functioning technology from the “Before Times,” and a population of beings somehow altered by the catastrophe (e.g., mutants, humans forced underground, or zombies). The nature of the catastrophe dictates the campaign’s flavour. For example, a world ruined by nuclear war probably will have lots of radiation hot spots, ruined military installations, and mutants; a world ruined by a pandemic probably will have disease zones and horrible biological experiments gone wrong, but the infrastructure will probably be intact.

Fantasy: Common trappings include magic, dragons, knights, priests, fabulous treasures, gods, demons, wizards, and enchanted artefacts. High fantasy promotes magical and swashbuckling aspects of the genre, while low fantasy puts more emphasis the grit and reality of medieval life. Settings are typified by patches of civilisation separated by expanses of (dangerous) wilderness, usually in ancient or medieval periods.

Historical: Campaigns are founded on real-world places in specific times, and PCs either operate against the backdrop of major historical events or actively participate in them. Historical settings don’t have to match the historical record; so you can develop “what-if” paths leading in all sorts of directions (e.g., what if the Black Plague never happened? what if Napoleon succeeded in Russia? what if the Normandy invasion failed?). This is probably the richest genre possible, because you can throw a dart at an historical timeline and run with it, either as straight-up history (if it’s interesting enough) or as some counter-factual thread of your own devising.

Horror: Classic spookiness can be disturbing or scary, merely unnatural, or actually terrifying. Horror settings include undead, lycanthropes, supernatural beings, forbidden lore, and Things That Should Not Be. This is not a genre per se, because there is no setting wherein something real or imagined wasn’t terribly frightening to someone. But I include it here because there are horror trappings that can easily find their way into any other genre.

Modern: Any setting based on familiar contemporary society, but with focus on some over-arching goal that almost invariably takes several sessions to resolve (e.g., fleshing out spies, hunting down terrorists, vampire-hunting, chasing UFOs, revealing a government secret, collecting artefacts for the Smithsonian, or defending your city against a Cloverfield beast). Characters are usually agents hired by an overt or covert organisation, who galvanises the PCs into some manner of special-ops squad to carry out a particular mission. On the plus side, it’s easy to develop a campaign like this—there are maps, pictures, and written resources everywhere; on the downside, it’s too “real” for some to enjoy as an RPG setting.

Pulp: Not so much a genre as a theme, pulp trappings include swashbuckling adventure, thrilling chases, nick-of-time rescues, over-the-top villains, and dashing heroes. Good and evil are clearly defined, and those with a will can usually find a way. Pulp works in any setting, so long as you don’t take the campaign too seriously and your players can shrug off some realism. Most “high fantasy” settings and the so-called space opera genre are pulpy. Modern detective yarns, stories of freedom fighters in WWI and WWII, and many contemporary espionage tales also fall into this category.

Science-fiction: There are several sci-fi sub-genres (cyberpunk, steampunk, hard science, and space opera) but a common theme is the prevalence (and reliance) on technology. Trappings include energy weapons, robots and androids, spaceships, faster-than-light travel to distant stars and planets, cloning, fully developed AI, suspended animation, and alien cultures. Settings often encompass wide reaches of space, which allows for a varied range of races, technology, and danger.

Superheroes: You know the drill: regular guy is blasted by atomic rays/bitten by atomic insect/gifted with ancient artefact or technical device and gains super-human powers as a result. Bad guys use this gift to control the world; good guys use this gift to stop bad guys. Supernatural abilities characterise each hero, who is often typified by one generalised power (e.g., super strong, controls metal, can hear worms burrowing through the earth, et al.). This genre is usually associated with a modern setting or may even be intertwined with the Modern genre, above.

Sword and Planet: Arguably a pulpy flavour of science-fantasy, wherein you get dashing heroes on distant planets fighting horrible monsters so they can save The World and get  in the strappy pants of some Frazetta model in the process. The genre supports a mixture of old technology and new (e.g., fighters armed with swords and radium pistols) as well as a bit of magic (disguised as psionics or super-high-tech).

Western: Heroes riding and shooting in the desert. Sometimes the fight American Indians, mostly they fight each other. Trappings include digging for gold, robbing trains and banks, investigating American Indian legends, raising the posse to hunt down the bad guys, and (of course) gun fights. Magic can exist as American Indian rituals, practiced by “medicine men” and tribal elders.

Mash-up: Campaigns of this sort mix two or more genres, like fantasy elements in an historical setting or horror in a sci-fi universe. For example, consider a campaign where the PCs are star-faring explorers who land on a planet inhabited by medieval peoples who know the secret of creating golems, or where Horatio Hornblower captains His Majesty’s ships against Cthuloid sea beasts (summoned, no doubt, by the French in advance of invading the British Isles).

Mash-ups can be fun because the combination of disparate genres can be interesting, but the real question is sustainability: how long can Hornblower battle the Deep Ones before the theme gets played out. As the Cockney Hitcher warns, a mash-up combines two elements to make something not quite as good as either.

Final Words

This is a quick and dirty overview of common genres—what I want to know is what I’m missing. What are your favourite genres? What do you like about them? More importantly, how do you breathe new life into the tried-and-true themes?

Please share in the Comments section. Next week, we’ll talk about tweaking genres to taste, hopefully with the aid of your input.

  1. November 10th, 2010 at 13:45 | #1

    You totally missed out the Modern genre, which can include anything from Action-Espionage to Political-Crime Thriller to Superhero-High School Drama.

    Although you included some of this under pulp, this is not strictly true, as classic pulp tropes actually feature pre-modern themes, such as zepplins and atomic rays and tesla cannons which mark out your classic 50′s B-Movie more than your Modern action blockbuster which features a higher focus on modern themes, including the penechant for the Anti-hero whi was prevailant during the ’80′s and early ’90′s.

    Personally, I find it best to think about the genre, trappings, and setting in one go, using any of these as a starting point. You can build an extremely enjoyable setting by choosing one or more genres and mixing them up – sword and planet (aka Science-Fantasy) and Fantasy Apocalypse are examples of this.

    Genres tend to be most useful to help you flesh out what you are missing though. What genre would you classify Viking Archers on War Turtles? This sounds like Pulp Historical Fantasy, so anything which fits that genre would work. Samurai Golems, check. Aztec Lasso Warriors on Pteradons, check. Sounds like a kickass set-up for a Saturday Morning Cartoon, and that means it’s probably a good start to get the creative juices going for at least a single campaign…

    My favorite genre though has always been the multi-genre approach. Time travelling, dimension hopping, short games with shared characters that play like all your favourite Saturday Morning Cartoons in one go.

  2. November 10th, 2010 at 17:13 | #2

    @Da’ Vane Oh yeah, totally forgot modern, and superheroes (I added updates above).

    I think there’s some latitude for what’s Modern (i.e., Modern to us, Modern in comparison to other genres, how modern is Modern?). But I hear you on pulp, which can be present in any genre–a lot of Sword and Planet, Tarzan, even James Bond to a large extent.

    Normally, I’d agree with you about mixing up genre, trappings, and setting all at the same time. But I find it too distracting these days–leave it at genre and setting to start, just to create a foundation, and let the trappings fit in as you go. Maybe I’m after more continuity as I get older…YMMV.

    As for Vikings on War Turtles? I’d have to call that pulp fantasy–I can see them fitting in well as Conan adversaries–but there’d be no history about it. Well, maybe a little–like each turtle would have a rune carved on its shell. But that rune lets it “cast” shield or ward or cause fear once per day, which I don’t recall from any of the Nordic sagas…

  3. November 11th, 2010 at 05:58 | #3

    @Erin D. Smale The reason for mixing genre, trappings, and setting as a good foundation is normally because if you can summarise the concept of the campaign in a single sentance or paragraph that would sound like a kickass saturday morning cartoon, that’s normally a winner.

    The first section in “Creating a Campaign” is selecting a genre and setting, and ideally if you have core trappings in here, they should fit in here as well. It can be very hard to distinguish between the three, let alone give them a set order, so this is definately a MMV situation, but if you have core trappings you want to include, they should be bumped up and included into the heart, or premise of the campaign, as this will help give it more focus and a solid foundation.

    I can agree with the Pulp Fantasy definition, although many Alternative History scenarios are effectively Pulp depending on the scale of the change, and saying Vikings riding War Turtles is pretty big on that score. I put the Historical tag in there, because it may be fun to limit cultures to Historical themes with such slight changes. It makes for a slight Civilization-esque game – what if the Egyptians domesticated the War Elephant and used them for their War Chariots – they would be slower, but they would be the ultimate shock unit, effectively tanks before there were tanks. If the Vikings had found giant turtles and dommesticated them, it would be pretty historical then…

    Like I said, my favourite genre is multi-genre/multi-dimensional games, although these can be hard to pull off, since there is always the danger of going to the advanced technology worlds, looting it, and then conquering the lower-tech worlds for lols. It’s always fun to use laser weapons against dragons for a change, but becomes a bit moot when your first instinct after running out of laser ammo is to go back and get some more…

  4. November 11th, 2010 at 10:07 | #4

    @Da’ Vane : Well, if you’re going to quote Chimera Basic, then I want to clarify that trappings falls under step #2 of Campaign Creation, “Consider Technology Level and Powers” (CB/24) ;)

    But I’ll allow that “trappings” has a broad definition. The reason I’m on about genre here (and, as it turns out, next week as well–look for it) is because it’s the foundation of the campaign. Consider this an expansion of the “Select Genre & Setting” advice in Chimera Basic.

    Unless the GM starts with a precise idea of everything the campaign contains, and how it all fits together, the alternative is to create (or tweak) a genre that’s flexible enough to accommodate the ideas that come up after play starts. Genre is the foundation–neither setting nor trappings can exist without it. In my experience, if one creates the genre out of those ideas (instead of the other way round), one risks the inability to add a new idea later without compromising cohesion or having to ret-con other parts of the campaign.

  5. deimos3428
    November 11th, 2010 at 10:49 | #5

    The term “genre” is quite a bit nebulous., but I admit it. I want to play a Documentary RPG. Or maybe Satire.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_genres

  6. November 11th, 2010 at 11:30 | #6

    @deimos3428 : Admittedly, I am assuming a shared acknowledgment of RPG connotations.

    Though having read through the Wiki, I’ve now decided that every RPG is essentially Speculative, because, really, pretending to be a real person at a real time and place kinda missing the whole point of roleplaying, yeah?

    Snarkiness aside, I think this article will become the foundation for my Genrematic Random Setting Generator. Y’all want to keep an eye out for that…

  7. November 11th, 2010 at 12:24 | #7

    @Erin D. Smale Definately a MMV situation with that attitude, Erin. If you hold to the idea that the genre is the foundation of the campaign, you will just have a generic campaign.

    This really should be looked at the other way around – the first step of campaign creation is, and will always be, to build a solid foundation which you can build from. Genre is only one aspect of such foundations, useful for rounding out the campaign and adding in generic elements.

    No matter what form of media, the core concept will always be the premise. Whether it’s a roleplaying adventure, a computer game, a cartoon, or a novel, it is this premise that will grab and hook those experiencing it.

    Before you start on about me being all argumentative here, I’ll share the fact that I am video games designer amongst my many other talents, and the idea of building a campaign and/or adventure is extremely similar to high-level concept for video games design. You need the idea or pitch, of which genre isn’t the first part, but merely a useful way of seeing what other titles it is like. When you pitch a Fantasy MMO, you are naturally comparing it to World of Warcraft, Everquest, Guildwars, and the like – but it needs a hook to differentiate it from them, otherwise it’s simily a generic clone.

    Ultimately, I think the conclusion is that the first step to building the foundation of the campaign is to build the foundation of the campaign.

    Besides, don’t you already have a random campaign generator in Chimera RPG 3.0 Basic? Add a few more columns and bingo! Just don’t go putting DVOID Systems out of business before we get started okay? I don’t want to have to try and live off AdSense revenue all my life…

  8. November 11th, 2010 at 13:19 | #8

    @Da’ Vane :
    Besides, don’t you already have a random campaign generator in Chimera RPG 3.0 Basic?

    Actually, no, I don’t. You’re referring to the random hook generator (CB/25), which is useless outside the context of genre and setting.

    This is rapidly becoming a religious debate. You’re saying that the first step of campaign creation is to build a solid foundation. I submit that such a foundation must needs be a defined genre. Whether you start thinking of trappings one day or one millisecond later, genre has to come first. Setting and trappings–or adventure hooks–have no usable meaning outside of the genre context.

    Yes, if you want to pitch the campaign, you need to include genre, setting, and trappings. I’m not disputing that. What I’m saying is that before you can start creating that pitch, you need to pick a genre and pick it carefully. If your campaign lacks that solid foundation, you won’t have a suitable default context into which you can conceptualise and present new ideas as the campaign matures.

  9. deimos3428
    November 11th, 2010 at 13:27 | #9

    “Genre” is just one of those words my brain doesn’t like and tries to avoid at all costs. I know what a genre is, at least sort of, but I couldn’t tell you which one I like best.

    To me it sounds like an absurd question. It’s like asking “do you prefer newspapers, magazines or books?”. And I’d answer that by saying it depends on what’s written in them . I’d have much less trouble telling you my favorite setting — though choosing just one would be difficult.

    One interesting tidbit I found while trying to get a grasp on genre was the concept of “reciprocity of genre”. In short, it poses the question: “does genre define setting/trappings, or is it the other way ’round?”

    Also, what is the distinction between settings and trappings? I think of trappings as inherently part of a setting’s definition, ie. a setting is a set, arrangement or configuration of trappings. Maybe you can clear that up in a future article, because I’m not entirely sure I’m getting it.

  10. November 11th, 2010 at 14:06 | #10

    @deimos3428 : I really think we’re starting to complexify™ the concept here (my word, which oddly enough, few people in business meetings realise is made up).

    I think we all have an idea of what genre is and how it applies to RPGs. What I’m suggesting is that you apply some nuance to it–take genre down to its core element: what is the category of the campaign? What one word would you use to describe it if you were allowed only one word?

    I’ll go on record as detracting the concept of “reciprocity of genre.” The question is nothing more than an thought exercise. It’s like describing something as “new and improved,” which is mutually exclusive. Something is either “new” (because it’s the first of its kind) or “improved” (because it’s an altered version of an existing thing). New and Improved Windex is either a new form of glass cleaner or an improved version of what we know as Windex. It’s one or the other. Never both. Ever.

    Genre as a category is devoid of trappings: sci-fi is a story category based on science. Defining a genre by its trappings is the same as taking an existing genre and tweaking it with window dressing–making a “sub-genre” if you will. Space opera is pulpy sci-fi. I submit that you can (and should) separate the two: sci-fi is a genre devoid of trappings, while space opera is a form of sci-fi defined by a particular set of trappings. All space opera is sci-fi, but not all sci-fi is space opera.

    So, just for the sake of argument, let’s agree for a moment that genre is category. You begin a campaign by defining its category. Then you decide on setting, meaning–in approved literary tradition–the time and place where the story (or, in this case, the campaign) occurs. This is step #1 of the Campaign Creation bit in Chimera Basic. If you stopped here, you’d end up with results like: “Sci-fi in a near-future Solar System,” or “Fantasy in 10th century England,” or even “Fantasy in the quasi-medieval World of Midoes.”

    It’s this last example that causes problems, I think, because we know nothing about the quasi-medieval World of Midoes. As a GM, your natural inclination is to start assigning trappings, or the characteristic signs and adornments of something. Is there magic? Are there knights? What kinds of monsters exist? All these are trappings.

    So back to my original point, if you start thinking of trappings outside of a genre, you end up with a very open-ended campaign. Which is fine for some–my argument is that the lack of consistent foundation (such as that established via genre and setting) makes it hard sometimes to add new stuff with consistency.

  11. deimos3428
    November 11th, 2010 at 14:10 | #11

    @Erin : This is very much off the cuff, but with natural selection and random mutation in the back of my mind for some reason.

    I see what you’re saying about defining genre first. It’s a sound argument, but…what if you didn’t? Consider what would happen if you built a setting “backwards”, starting with the trappings and seeing where it ends up fitting.

    As far as random determination goes, you’ve definitely got it the right way around. It is trivial to select random trappings if the genre is known; you already know which trappings belong to the genre by definition. That works almost all the time.

    The other way round, random determination runs into a big problem. Many combinations of trappings will be outright absurd, and fall well outside any reasonable definition of genre. My guess is that’s why you’re fervently against this approach — it’s prone to failure. Agreed.

    But suppose instead of randomness, the trappings are very carefully *selected*. Use the same list you’d use for the random generation, but no dice. The elements can now be combined intelligently and define a setting as belonging to a particular genre, or…potentially create a viable new genre as yet unconsidered. That to me is the beauty and the danger of this reverse approach. There is a possibility for innovation…and admittedly the possibility for the completely absurd.

    So, I think you can do both methods so long as you are considerably more diligent in selecting the trappings of the latter, rather than rolling them.

  12. November 11th, 2010 at 14:33 | #12

    @deimos3428 :
    Many combinations of trappings will be outright absurd, and fall well outside any reasonable definition of genre.

    Yes, that’s essentially where I’m coming from.

    I take your point, but actually wouldn’t advocate random determination of trappings, mostly because they’re infinitely nuanced. They can be general (the sun is blue) or specific (the Lictors of Parsimus bear a tattoo in the shape of a hook).

    What I’m saying is that these trappings can be very cool ideas, but unless you have a backdrop through which to filter them, they lack cohesion. For example, a blue sun might have different significance in a sci-fi campaign than in fantasy; likewise with hook-shaped tattoos.

    I think I could get a clearer picture if you supplied some examples of the trappings one might select.

  13. November 11th, 2010 at 15:31 | #13

    I think randomly selecting any part of the campaign should be forgotten when it comes to the foundation of the campaign. We’ve already agreed on the three different aspects of the foundation – the genre, the setting, and the trappings. This combination makes the pitch or premise. But each of these three aspects can be used in any order – if you’ve got something cool, run with it, because when you have one, it only takes a moment to flesh out the other two, and bingo – you’ve got one solid foundation.

    If we take a genre, such as fantasy, we are already thinking about the potential for dragons, magic, knights, and so forth, which are trappings, maybe in a medieval kingdom which is the setting. But you could take the setting of the medieval kingdom, expand that to something like historical fantasy, and then you’ve got the Robin Hood saga, King Arthur, celtic mythology, peasants, and so forth, coming up with genre and trapping. Likewise with the Vikings on War Turtles concept, it is a matter of mere moments to turn that into an appropriate genre and setting if the trappings are cool enough.

    Plus, there’s the fun aspect of having a fun set of absurd trappings that are just cool and working from that. This is basically the epitome of pulp – if you have a campaign where you have knights riding motor bikes firing lasers, what else can you have? Tesla-armed Samurai Velociraptors? Space-faring Magical Balloonships?

    Some people find these sorts of ideas absurd, calling them clutter, but the basic fact is that if it is cool enough people will enjoy it, and the more people that enjoy it and the more general it becomes, the more of a genre it will become.

    Technically though, the blue sun and the hooked-shapped tattoos aren’t really trappings, they are details, fluff, which like you say have no real relevence. Everyone can spot an Elf or an Elf-like race a mile off, because it’s a standard roleplaying trope, and this is a trapping. The existance of Bushido, Magic, and Gun-Fu are trappings. If you’d find it listed on the TV Tropes website, it’s a trapping.

  14. November 11th, 2010 at 16:02 | #14

    @Da’ Vane : Listen, I’m not saying you can’t start with trappings. I saying you ought not to if you want a sustainable, coherent campaign you can build upon. Your fantasy examples underscore my point. If you start with “I want dragons,” then you’re probably leaning toward fantasy in general, high fantasy in particular. But if you later decide that you want to add a some historical grit–like a papal ban on crossbows, for example–then you risk eroding your high fantasy vibe.

    All I’m suggesting is that you choose high or historical fantasy first. Then, if you decide later that you want dragons, it’s easier to integrate them logically. If you chose high fantasy, boom, add your dragons. Whoot! If you chose historical fantasy, then maybe your dragons are just the stuff of legends, or maybe they’re actually really big reptiles whose powers people have exaggerated. This is the approach I’m advocating for long-term campaign consistency.

    And, as characteristics of the environment, the blue sun and hook-shaped tattoos are most definitely trappings. Detail is analogous, as is–for RPG purposes–adornment, descriptor, or feature. I’d consider a trope as more of a theme or archetype, but I’m not up for splitting hairs.

  15. deimos3428
    November 11th, 2010 at 16:14 | #15

    @Da’ Vane: Thanks, I was getting mighty confused about trappings. I like the definition. Given that, I think a case for random determination *can* be made, assuming genre has already been selected.. You just make genre-applicable lists.

    High Fantasy Genre Dominant Race List:
    1. Dwarves
    2. Orcs
    3. Elves
    4. Dark elves
    5-6. Humans
    7. Trolls
    8. Roll twice on this table.
    etc, etc, etc.

    Obviously you can’t roll every little detail, but you can do enough broad strokes to get a campaign setting idea started. And if it’s keyed to genre, there’s not a lot of room for error. Your dominant race certainly won’t be Robots, and the races will work with the other trappings as they are likewise derived from genre-specific lists.

    When I said absurd, I didn’t mean “fun to combine together”. That’s fun to combine together. I meant…they conflict horribly. Like the dominant culture is giant sentient tendrils of slimy mud defending themselves from hordes of marine cowboy troll cyborgs. And they’re riding stag beetles and wielding hand crossbows for no reason at all. “Y’all come back now, Cthul’hu, y’hear? crick-crick-crick-chht!”

    That’s ummmm….a bit extreme, but you can see there is a point where it breaks down. I agree that genres are subjective and ever-changing…but there are limits.

  16. November 11th, 2010 at 17:20 | #16

    @Erin D. Smale But there’s no real need to integrate your trappings logically when your trappings are the genre. The high fantasy genre is the one that has dragons and elves in it, so if you are choosing elves and dragons, you are choosing high fantasy. But what happens when you step beyond the genre conventions – dragons and robots, for example? This might be leaning more towards the sword and planet genre (aka science-fantasy), but this is actually a less established genre than most would think. Throw in some pirates and cowboys, with a bit of a survivalist horror motif, and what genre is that? It’s the genre you’ve defined by selecting the campaign trappings, elements, and principles.

    The important thing with detail, is to make it meaningful, and an important part of the aesthetic. The sun is blue is mostly pointless detail, because the sun is still the sun, and would still be used like the sun. It’s just a different colour. Likewise you can call your Elves anything you want, but if it’s just a name change and they still act like Elves, then they are Elves.

    Of course, if there is a reason why the Sun is blue which is meaningful for the campaign, then it is more than just pointless detail. For example, if the Sun is blue because it is cold, it’s more than just detail, and provides justification for the semi-permanent winter that your Vikings and their War Turtles have to live in.

    Hook-shaped tattoos – Boring! Hooked-shaped tattoos which hide actual fist hooks they can use as hidden weapons… Now the Lictors of Parsimus are memorable! Think about it – swarthy sailor types with hook tattoos on their upper arms look like just another gang of street thugs hanging by the docks, but when they stand up and cross their arms, they are actually activating/drawing their fist hooks for a fight. The fact that they actually rip these hooks out of their own arms and fight in a bloody frenzy of unholy fervour that is more demon than man… Hooks in more ways than one, me thinks!

  17. November 11th, 2010 at 17:30 | #17

    @deimos3428 There are limits? I don’t think I’ve ever come across them, and I’ve watched a lot of cartoons…

    Although one of the best parts of random generation is trying to explain logical reasons for the illogical or random. You could even get the players in on the act – don’t let them know it’s all random, and simply see what sort of answers they come up with to provide the logic behind the randomness.

    A good tip for improvisation – say yes as much as possible and leave it at that. It allows for a more fun game where players get to do (or try to do) what they want, any you simply don’t have to worry about the details. If the players are really determined to find out why all the crab people have flintlock rifles and mechanical mustangs, let their PCs find out in game through adventure. Maybe a space cowboy supply ship crashed on the planet…

  18. November 11th, 2010 at 19:39 | #18

    @Da’ Vane :
    if you are choosing elves and dragons, you are choosing high fantasy

    Except when you’re choosing something else, like Shadowrun or Pendragon, neither of which are high fantasy. That’s my point. Dragons and elves by themselves are meaningless without a genre against which to view them–in this case Cyberpunk or Low Fantasy.

    A blue sun by itself is pointless, unless you have a purpose behind it, which I submit is conveyed or implied or inspired by the genre in which is exists. Trappings like a blue sun don’t justify the genre–they help support it.

    Same with hook tattoos–yes, by themselves, pretty boring. But you’re right–you could step it up in a fantasy campaign by making them magical. Or, in a sci-fi campaign, maybe they’re bits of special technology.

    one of the best parts of random generation is trying to explain logical reasons for the illogical or random

    Yes, it can be fun. But it can also ruin your campaign when you run out of logical reasons to connect or include all the trappings you’ve devised.

    Again, I’m not saying it can’t be done–I’m saying it’s easier when you spend 2 Earth minutes to consider your genre before stuffing your campaign with a bunch of cool-sounding crap.

    Certainly a lot of this comes down to game style. But in my experience, the more disconnected a campaign’s trappings–the weirder and more “gonzo” they are–the shorter the campaign’s life tends to be. If you’re not concerned with a long-lasting campaign, then by all means, pit the Herculoids against the Micronauts. But unless you can sustain it–as I note above–the campaign won’t last long. It’s really all about what you and your players are after.

  19. deimos3428
    November 11th, 2010 at 21:24 | #19

    Good points all around, I think, but I feel like we’ve morphed into an alignment spectrum.

    Erin clearly values a structured, hierarchical approach, and I’m keen to see where he’s going to take this in the next article or so. Da’ Vane is a powerful advocate of the school of Free ‘n Loose.

    Me? I’ll be playing the role of Switzerland. A futuristic Switzerland with death robots, though. :P

  20. November 12th, 2010 at 07:32 | #20

    @deimos3428 Not at all. We are both building the foundation of the campaign, and that is the important issue here I think. Definately a MMV situation – because if you choose genre first, you risk becoming generic and bland. Where as if you choose trappings without any consideration, you can risk becoming too gonzo.

    However, it is important that with both styles, less is more, and too much is too much, and that is what causes the risk to arise. Too much based on genre, and you are generic, because your players expect to see dragons, elves, orcs, and the usual tropes rolled out just because they are part of the genre. Too many trappings, and the setting becomes more chaotic and less cohesive, straining crediability.

    As a fan of multi-genre games, I generally don’t choose genres because my default answer is all of them. D-Jumpers has this concept built right in to the setting itself – with infinite worlds, there’s room for everything you want to use, however you want to use it. You get some seepage and some cross-pollination, but you can either mix everything into one, or enforce border controls.

    But the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game is suffering from the too much issue, because every time Nintendo releases a new installment of the franchise, they add more new races, cultures, lands, and so forth that just strains credibility. Each installment has enough to be a campaign in it’s own right, yet trying to combine them together because they are supposed to be the same place results in a lot of clutter. It’s a bit of a challenge rationalizing all this, and this probably the hardest, yet most satisfying part of the project.

    Please don’t mistake my passion as being argumentative or pushing for someone to be wrong. If you find me repeating the same points over and over, it’s normally a sign that there needs to be more information to chew over, which mostly hints at needing new updates. This would be why a forum is a good idea, so we aren’t just stuck discussing your update topic all week, which we can wear out pretty quickly when we’ve all go our thinking caps on…

  21. November 12th, 2010 at 09:28 | #21

    @Da’ Vane :
    Too much based on genre, and you are generic, because your players expect to see … the usual tropes rolled out just because they are part of the genre. Too many trappings, and the setting becomes more chaotic and less cohesive, straining crediability.

    Just so, and well said. I’ll send Gloop and Gleep the order to stand down.

  1. November 19th, 2010 at 19:58 | #1

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