Ensign Expendable

I'm going to need a team of Templars ready to mobilise, street level maps of all of Denerim, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers and a fez


Mixing Genres

When you get a group together to start playing a role playing game then one of the first decisions to make (maybe even before you start inviting people to play) is what game you are going to play. A part of deciding what game you are going to play is deciding what genre you wish to play in. Do you want to play a swords and sorcery style fantasy game? A sci-fi game with cool tech? Post Apocalyptic survival? Horror? Western? There are plenty of games to satisfy all of these genres and more. So you pick one, start rolling up characters and the GM creates or obtains a world(s) for you to play in and you start adventuring. You're playing a game in the chosen genre. Or are you? Your starship lands at what should be a busy starport but there is nobody manning it or in the surrounding town. Your party finishes killing a band of orcs to find their carts are powered by steam. You track down the Cthulhu cultist to find that she's dealing with some 'Greys' to purchase alien (but not *THAT* alien) tech.

Mixing genres together isn't new. Films and TV shows have been doing it for ever and there are entire RPGs that are seemingly based on it [1]. It certainly seems like a science fiction series can't go on for too long without an attempt at a horror episode (I seem to remember a Stargate:Atlantis one going terribly). It's also not unusual to find this in RPGs. D&D has had ghosts and vampires at (or very near) it's core since the beginning of RPG time, and i remember the first Ravenloft boxed set (though not the original module). Star Wars has always had a lot of magic as well as technology. Westerns could have steampunk right around the next corner. It's not unusual to cross genres in RPGs but it's a technique that's sometimes not used enough.

Other times it's used too much, or very badly and ruins a perfectly good setting.

I'm writing this post because I've just created a dungeon crawl based on the old D&D module Tomb of Horrors for the crew in my Traveller game. It's not unusual in Traveller to have ancient ruins that can be explored and be full of dangerous creatures or traps. In this adventure however I wanted to create the feel of stepping off of the starship and into the jungle and down in to something that group may be more familiar with in their fortnightly Pathfinder game. However I didn't want to go too far and break the setting. It really wouldn't make sense to meet demons and magical traps and would distract away from the rest of the story. So I've put together something which should make them feel isolated from the rest of the galaxy for a time but they'll be glad to leave and forget about it (perhaps waking up screaming occasionally).

This however made me think about how far you can stray in general from your genre. I also started thinking about gaming style change as well and maybe that could be a discussion for another post but most of what I write here could have style substituted for genre and still make sense. It's good to play around with your players expectations of the game, especially if you've been playing the setting straight for some time. It can shake things up a bit, reignite interest in some parts of the game that are being taken for granted. If things have been getting stale then even if your out of genre game goes down like a lead balloon they may just be glad to get back to the usual game. A change is as good as a rest, or so they say.

But let's face it, if your D&D party have been adventuring around your straight high fantasy world for a while and they search a goblin corpse and find a mobile phone then you've probably just jarred them so completely out of the world that your game may very well be over.

Certainly some genres traditionally mix better with some than others. Horror can fit in almost anywhere. A detective story, likewise can fit in to most other genres. A story about space-faring races using laser guns and nuclear weapons doesn't fit in to a fantasy setting that doesn't have these things. However landing on a planet in your spaceship and being cut off from your weapons and having to cut through a band of orcs with a scavenged longsword might work. Adding magic into a setting that has never had it probably won't unless that is a deliberate development of the setting and you are confident of player buy in.

If you want to stretch the limits of disbelief then it's probably best to talk about it with your players early. It may be that they would like to experiment with steampunk in your straight western game, or even transition to a steampunk heavy western game. If you just have a mad scientist riding into town bringing his crazy inventions without scoping them out first then they might react like you've just landed a spaceship and ruined their game.

With some changes you can probably introduce a little of it in to the game. Adding some high politics in to any game can add a bit of spice, and if the players don't like it then you can just drop it and go off in some other direction. If they do then great, introduce them to court and get the intrigue going. I'm not sure if dropping a little bit of horror in to a session is going to work in the way you expect though. That needs to be a bit more immersive to work, or even be noticed by your players.

Mixing up genres in games/settings which aren't usually associated with them could add some fun to your game. But do tread carefully. It could just fall flat. As with every time a game doesn't work out though just pick yourself up, have an NPC pull a weapon and attack. Then get on with the game.

[1] Shadowrun always looks to me like it was the product of someone thinking Elves + Sci-Fi = Awesome. It just turned out to be a bad idea gone right and a good game was born.


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  1. I liked Shadowrun but it’s combat system was (is? not sure how the current games plays) daunting for new/casual players (imho). But it was also fairly realistic, i.e. bad luck and/or stupid and you could be killed by some street punk with a switch blade.

    Rifts is another cross genre game that I enjoyed, tho with a very different/simplistic combat system.

    I noticed with both these game (and Battletech too) that the original source material was a great read in itself. Unfortunately, quality did suffer in the rush to push out more product.

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