5 RPG Genres That Aren’t Medieval Fantasy

There are other genres I love and adore more than fantasy. I’m going to do a quick rundown on some of the pros and why I like them so much.

I have shelves upon shelves of D&D and other fantasy games.

But, believe it or not, there are other genres I love and adore more than fantasy. I’m going to do a quick rundown on some of the pros and why I like them so much.

  1. Mecha.
  2. Supers.
  3. Cyberpunk.
  4. Space/Sci Fi/Space Opera.
  5. Horror.
  6. (Steampunk.)

1. Mecha!

Okay, who doesn’t love giant robots? This is a sort of subgenre of Anime roleplaying. I didn’t include anime on this list because as I’ve said previously, you can anime-up just about any campaign. Mecha is it’s own animal because um, giant robots, transformable cars, and cool starships. Stories in mecha games usually focus more on the pilots than the magnificent tech.

I think mecha get stereotyped as giant robots, but it really applies to multiple vehicles, powered armor suits, and other mechanized items including robots. There are some very well-known titles in this genre such as Robotech/Macross from Palladium Games, Mekton/Roadstriker by R Talsorian (IF you can still find it,) and Mechwarrior (Battletech) by FASA. Honorable mention goes to Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles by Dream Pod 9.

Some titles that may not have made everyone’s list, but I love dearly include Mecha Hack by Absolute Tabletop, Chris Perrin’s Mecha, and Lancer from Massif Press. I would also mention mecha tales work excellently with many anime games such as Big Eyes, Small Mouth and OVA the RPG. There are also a couple of really awesome FATE campaigns tooled for mecha usage.

2. Supers:

If you look on DriveThruRPG.com, there are dozens of superhero RPGs, making it one of the most prevalent genres in gaming. I think the essence of supers is to step outside of ourselves to put on the cape and be the hero we’ve always wanted to be. I’ve personally played and GM’d more superhero RPGs than I’d care to admit. Everything from Marvel and DC all the way down to Tiny D6 Supers.

My current and possibly all time favorite supers RPG is ICONS by RPG luminary Steve Kenson. Ironically, Steve is also one of the brilliant minds behind the original Mutants & Masterminds. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t at least mention good old Heroes Unlimited from Palladium.

If you want a few other names to look into for supers gaming, I suggest Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul by Spectrum Games. It’s got a lot of the same zing as Cartoon Action hour. There’s also the HERO System/ Champions line of games that practically defined the industry and the genre. Last but not least, there’s (my other favorite) Power Rangers RPG by Renegade Games. Sentai games such as Power Rangers cross the borders between mecha and supers.

3. Cyberpunk:

In recent years, I’ve backed way, way off of running Cyberpunk. I’ve had tons of hours running CP2020, which let’s face it, has become somewhat anachronistic. I also fell out of love with the RPG when it became a mainstream video game. Not because I play the video game, but because running the TTRPG feels a bit redundant and outdated.

Noteables in this genre include Shadowrun (FASA or whomever has the license these days,) OGL Cyberpunk from the D&D 3.0 days, and any number of anime games. Much like mecha, cyberpunk and anime go hand-in-hand. Cyberpunk games are easily adapted from generic systems such as FATE, D20, and Cypher systems. Cortex would also be one of my first choices for a newer cyberpunk game.

4. Space/Sci-Fi/Space Opera:

This is another fantastically huge category. Options range from hard science, such as Traveler to space opera such as Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. I could write entire articles about RPGs and RPG subgenres within this category and talk about it all day.

I’ve been missing and reminiscing about Star Wars as of late. I miss the space opera/space fantasy vibe. I miss cutting down armies of battle droids, awesome lightsaber fights, intense starfighter battles, comedy involving “Gonk” Power Droids, and all kinds of different species throughout the galaxy. Sometimes the conversations between sessions were as much fun as running this genre.

I also love Star Trek as an RPG, but it’s had more licensees than I can easily count. I have FASA, Last Unicorn, and a couple of other renditions of the Star Trek Universe. It’s also easily adapted to FATE or D20. Some people refer to Star Trek as “science fantasy” because of the <poof> it’s there technology and freakishly powerful extraterrestrial beings.

Aside from my fondness of all things Galactica, I have a real love of Starship Troopers and Aliens. What’s Old Is N.E.W. by EN Publishing actually encompasses both and was lots of fun to run. I still love Mongoose Publishing’s old Starship Troopers and it remains on my shelves to this day.

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5. Horror:

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Not gonna lie, I love this genre. I struggle the most with this genre. It’s been a gnawing bone of contention in my mind for over 30 years.

How do you scare your players without psychologically damaging them for life? At what point does the campaign devolve into horror comedy? Would it just be easier to watch a movie? My mind can go to some pretty dark and creepy places if I’m really trying. Many of us have had worse real life trauma.

True story- we nearly got kicked out of our weekly Werewolf venue once because I was chanting as one of the NPCs. A passing custodian heard me and got spooked. We were allowed to stay as long as I didn’t summon anything. Eesh.

World of Darkness games are probably the forefront of horror RPGs, followed closely by Call of Cthulhu in all of its many forms. After that, much like anime, you can insert horror themes and thematic elements into any RPG out there for the most part. (Magical Girl Anime Horror? See also creepy Hentai.) Likewise, FATE and several other generic systems are adaptable to various horror settings.

I’d like to give a shout out to Spectrum Games’ Slasher Flick. It’s a game where you get to be on the losing end of a Friday the 13th type scenario and still make the best of it. Spectrum makes a lot of really cool horror games.

I’ve recently become enamored with Monster of the Week by Michael Sands and published by Evil Hat. This game has not only inspired a campaign, but has encouraged me back into the genre. I love the idea of putting the smackdown on all kinds of baddies.

6. Steampunk:

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Sorta. Ish. Like, this could be an extended subgenre of fantasy, mecha, or even anime with a little work. I feel this is an underappreciated subgenre of roleplaying that deserves special attention. I have several steampunk RPGs and setting guides that I will review and/or discuss later. Steampunk’s smoky cousin, Dieselpunk is also a subgenre worthy of more exploration.

Thanks for hanging out today. I love RPGs. I love exploring different systems, worlds, settings, tropes and characters of various RPGs. I appreciate you being here. Have a good one!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

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

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