Mixing the Genres

Some concepts mesh very well together. Others require a bit of work on the part of the designer, such as Spaghetti Western Mecha. It is possible, however.


I think we all do this to some extent.

My personal favorite is Cybernetic Kung Fu Mecha Jocks in Space. Not surprisingly, the Lords of Kung Fu actually appear in several of my RPG campaigns. I’m a big fan of martial arts movies and TV. Of course, that fits right in with anime and before you know it, everyone’s at the party.

Let’s list most of the major RPG genres:

  • Fantasy. (Low, Middle, or High magic.)
  • Horror. (We’ll come back to this one…)
  • Science Fiction. (Low, High or Fantastic Tech, Hard Science, and Space Opera.)
  • Superheroes.
  • Cyberpunk/Shadowrun.
  • Anime. (Most commonly mixed with something else such as Mecha.)
  • Modern. (Crime, Military, Spies.)
  • Post Apocalyptic.
  • Western.
  • Steampunk. (I might be stretching a bit with this one…)
  • Comedy.
  • Catch-All. (Games such as RIFTS that defy most other categories.)

I’m sure I’m missing one or two that will dawn on me mere minutes after I hit “publish” on this article. I think of all of the categories Fantasy is probably the one most people are familiar with and have the easiest time getting into. Elves, dragons, swords and sorcery are the stuff many tales were made of long before we started rolling dice to them.

Dungeons & Dragons has become synonymous with fantasy roleplaying games.

But it’s only one system of literally dozens. D&D is one of the grandparents of the industry, but there are a handful of other games worthy of mention in another article. Fantasy genre mashes up well with a lot of things, like the humble potato. Almost everything blends with fantasy in some way.

However, the company that started D&D also pioneered into other genres. Where would we be without Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Top Secret SI, and Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying?

Ravenloft was probably the first D&D module to really feature a mix with horror as a genre. We have the mighty Strahd Von Zarovich and his minions in Ravenloft. Players figure out very quickly that they can’t just hack and slash their way through, really bringing out some of that fear element. Not to mention good old Strahd is a vampire and all.

Coming back to Horror as a genre…

I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of old White Wolf games. Vampire the Masquerade being probably the biggest standout for games that churn my stomach. I liked Werewolf a lot. Mage and Hunter were sort of okay-ish. The rest could go rot in a pit for all I really care. I just wasn’t into all the twisted weirdness that came with some of it. Even games like Beyond the Supernatural, Chill, and Don’t Look Back, Terror is Never far behind kinda turned me off of the genre a little.

Vampire, actually most of the old World of Darkness stuff does one thing exceptionally well- faction politics. But, at that point is it really horror? I mean, you can change Vampire’s clans over to political parties, corporations, or even magic guilds leaving the backstabbing and scheming to be just as intense.

Horror is one of those big Session Zero red flag “No” squares for a lot of people. Most of us have had trauma in the real world and don’t necessarily want to play around in gore, fear, paranoia, or even jump scares. Horror elements in any game should definitely meet the approval of the rest of the group before they are implemented. I’ve had a couple of experiences where they weren’t, expectations didn’t mesh, and trauma followed. I highly caution the use of horror with almost anything.

Anime is a good genre to blend with almost everything.

Many anime stories inevitably fall under some other category; especially fantasy, cyberpunk, mecha, and superhero. It is very easy to take almost any campaign, add a ruleset that includes bold, flashy maneuvers, intense action scenes, complicated relationships, and put it into the Anime category. I see Anime as a sort of attitude in gaming more than a specific genre.

The other fun thing about anime is bringing some unlike concepts together in art. Cowboys in Space? Fantasy martial arts superheroes? How about Post Apocalyptic Steampunk Spies? Anime is super flexible.

Almost anything can end with “In space.”

Think about it. (*Editor’s note: I love doing this!) You can take almost any campaign setting known to RPGs and end it with “In space” and it will take on a whole new meaning and perspective. It also gives clever GMs an excuse to recycle old modules.

I sometimes think Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had it easiest. Take any plot from any TV show ever made and set it in space. Feel like a western? Well, these “aliens” over yonder have a heap a trouble with them space horse rustlers. Next week we’re fighting an imperialist socialist dictatorship over on Planet Beta Nine. We’re overcoming real Cold War tensions with starships and space stations the next week. The week after that our captain will fall in love with a beautiful elf-like maiden while battling orcs and amnesia on a fantasy world.

Science Fiction, space and time travel in particular, lend themselves exceptionally well to crossing over and amongst everything. Think about all of the things shows like Red Dwarf and Dr Who accomplished. I hear most Brits consider Dr Who to be a national superhero.

Space Opera focuses less on science and technology and more on plot and characters. Star Wars is a blend of science fiction, fantasy and martial arts. All of the subgenre stuff supports the characters and the plot.

I’m probably going to revisit the concept of blending genres again farther down the line. This article was mostly intended to get the creative juices flowing. The one amazing thing about tabletop roleplaying is that almost anything can happen and usually does.

Thank you for being here. Hope you have a great week.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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