B3 Series • #1
Genre-mixing (or bashing) is not a new concept in role playing games. My knowledge is not all-encompassing, but I do recall seeing conversions for Gamma World and Boot Hill in the 1st Dungeon Master’s Guide, which were some of the earliest attempts to genre bash in tabletop RPGs. Some games today, such as Shadowrun, Numenera, Cthulhutech, or the Deadlands setting for Savage Worlds offer prepackaged and ready-to-play genre combinations for the discerning palette to consume. For those who would rather build their own genre mash-up, systems such as the aforementioned Savage Worlds, GURPS, or FATE have proven they can successfully handle multiple genres without difficulty.
Genre-mixing can breathe new life into a genre and take your game into directions you never thought possible. While fantasy is my preferred genre, I have been known to throw in some sci-fi elements to shake things up. The first time I did this in a game was while running the classic TSR module, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. This module was from the early days of D&D, and apparently this wasn’t a big deal back then (see my above point about the 1st Ed. AD&D DMG). I’ll spare the details of my adventures, but I found it refreshing to introduce sci-fi elements into my fantasy game. Finding a sword or a suit of armor is one thing and is something that the PCs come across with some regularity. Throw in something they’ve never seen before, however, and the adventure takes a strange and interesting turn.
Take this example: “You find a bracelet-like device, with two projections about six inches long. One projection ends in a grip while the other ends in a smooth, cone-shaped red stone.” This had my players’ minds wondering. What was this strange device? They knew they were in something not of this world (a spaceship) but this item had them stumped. Of course, it was a laser pistol, but it was designed (I believe, intentionally) to throw off the PCs from immediately knowing it as such.
Another bizarre element in the strange adventure was investigating the presence of monsters never seen before in the region. They faced androids and robots, investigated metallic chambers, and marveled at flashing lights and instrument panels unlike anything their characters had ever seen. Ultimately, we went back to traditional fantasy, though the impression that the Expedition left on them was significant. It was a different experience … and they enjoy it!
I believe the science fiction and fantasy genres work well together. It’s a safe bet, in my opinion, to mash these two together. Arthur C. Clarke once said something to the effect of “magic is just science that we don’t understand.” And I believe this to be true, at least in the realm of role-playing games. That laser pistol bracelet I described above acted not unlike a magic wand (a very powerful one, too) and the language translator functioned like a comprehend languages spell. Robots act like golems and power armor isn’t too terribly different than magic armor (with some special effects). My point here is this: if you want to dip your toe in the genre-bashing pool, mixing sci-fi and fantasy together is a relatively easy move. Many sci-fi effects (rays that disintegrate, disks that float, etc.) are paralleled in fantasy magic, so the transition is fairly straightforward.
If you need inspiration on how fantasy and science fiction can work together, I found a lot of animation got my creative juices flowing. Shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundarr the Barbarian, Blackstar, Visionaries (if anyone can remember that one!), and Avatar: The Last Airbender are great examples that blend magic and science fiction in a coherent, workable fashion. If movies are more your thing, check out John Carter, Krull, or Outlander as these fit the bill quite nicely. There are probably many more but these were ones that have inspired me over the years when I’ve considered sprinkling in a bit of sci-fi in my fantasy games.
I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical when I first thought about adding elements of a different genre into my existing fantasy game. I had the classic, “chocolate in the peanut butter” response that at first sounded a little terrible, to be honest, but it ended up being an enjoyable experience. Ultimately, the goal is to have fun but don’t be afraid to experiment a little. You might be just as surprised as the rest of your gaming group when they’re the ones trying to get that weird wrist thingamajig to do something!