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.

Photo by Jacub Gomez on Pexels.com

5. Horror:

Photo by Daniel Adesina on Pexels.com

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:

Photo by Antonio Friedemann on Pexels.com

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!

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.

%d bloggers like this: