B1 Series • #2
A role playing game is a story told through cooperative narration within a framework of rules and set in a dynamic fictional world. That make-believe land is defined by certain elements and tropes that combined are known as a “genre.” Regardless of the stylistic label, any thematically-toned setting will offer a wide range of story possibilities. But those possibilities multiply when more than one genre is used at the same time.
In my time as a game master, I have come to value the depth offered by various genres and their combinations. Fantasy and science fiction often are at the core of my campaigns but it is becoming very rare for either of them to stand alone in the tales that I tell at my table. Mixing things up has given me the good fortune of having a number of well-received and long-running campaigns with exciting action and deep storylines.
One of those campaigns is Napoleonic Space which mixes retro sci-fi, a sprinkling of steampunk and a strong but flexible historical core. The main thrust of the setting and its stories is the socio-political dynamics of the Napoleonic Era although things from other time periods pop into the picture. The real world countries are transposed to outer space and given new names that are culturally relevant. (For example: England is called Kingdom of Avalon; the Ottoman Empire is called the Sultanate of Anatolia; and the separate realms of Spain and Portugal are combined as the Queenship of Iberia.) The technology allows for such traditional sci-fi tools as space travel and advanced weaponry but the steampunk flavor gives them a characterful explanation and portrayal. And the lengthy span of years held by this historical period provides an extensive stage upon which to run a wide range of adventure scenarios.
Another campaign that uses genre mixing is my Pulp World War Two Campaign. Obviously, historical elements play a role but only as a starting point as this game series is based in the alternate history genre. A Fourth Reich has risen from a hidden base deep in Antarctica one year after the European Armistice and invaded America. The pulp genre also plays a major role in this setting with high action, swashbuckling heroes and dastardly villains. The pulpiness is amplified with weird science, occultism and even aliens all making periodic appearances in the scenarios. A few historical personages have moved through the game sessions, too, although in suitably exaggerated interpretations.
Even my long-running Star Wars Infinities Rebellion Era Campaign is served by mixing genres. Certainly, the core is the classic space opera setting created by George Lucas but alternate history and grimdark are near-equal portions in the series. Change points in the established setting created the plot direction of my series but the real drive of the narrative comes from that grimdark approach. It is rare for good choices to be available to the characters in lieu of varying degrees of bad ones. And the overall tone of the galaxy is several points more grey than the hopeful air of the original story. It is this slow-rolling sense of dread that keeps bringing players back to the table.
These are just a few examples of how I have combined genres in my gameplay. Even with these very brief presentations, hopefully you will see the possibilities available to you in your own adventure and campaign design.