B2 Series • #1
The whole concept of genres has changed considerably in gaming design over the past decade or so. In the past, game systems were mostly set in a specific genre, and many of them were a specific setting, with the gaming system going hand in hand with that given setting. In some cases, the same gaming company would create an entirely different system to go with a new genre. There were a few, very few, games that used a common core system with multiple genre settings. Now, it is far more common to see gaming systems that are made to be morphed into various genres. One of the exciting results is that it becomes so much easier to blend genres together in these systems without trying to bend rule sets to make a fantasy/sci-fi combination work more smoothly.
My preferred setting to run is fantasy. The reasons are that this is the type of literature I enjoy the most and, probably, because the first gaming systems I really enjoyed when I started the hobby were in fantasy settings. Certainly, across the gaming industry there a lot of gaming systems and rules varieties within the fantasy genre to choose from. Along with that are a number of published worlds that you can use as inspiration and overlay whatever rule set you prefer on the setting. My advice to anyone taking on the mantle of the GM is to look toward what they enjoy personally as a genre in choosing what type of game to play. You’ll be far more enthusiastic about it and have a lot more background material to draw your ideas from if it is a genre you enjoy. Most any setting will have multiple systems to select from, so you can find a rule set in your genre that will fit with your style of play if you can take the time and do some research on the systems.
As I mentioned, the number of systems that are non-genre specific (like Savage Worlds, Fate, and Cypher Rules) allow for far more creativity when it comes to blending genres while having a solid rules system to support the game. GURPS (General Universal Role Playing System) by Steve Jackson Games was perhaps the earliest example of a gaming system that was purposefully designed to be non-genre-specific. The system is a bit of a labor of love to get used to, but there are some really fun settings built around it, and several adaptions of other games to the GURPS rules system that are definitely worth checking out.
The newer systems that are genre non-specific also offer established game setting for the systems, and in many cases they are blended genre settings that allow both GMs and players to experience games with blended elements to them. Camelot-Cosmos is a game setting for the Fate system that is an Arthurian tale with a space-faring setting set over a number of planets connected by gateways. Knights of the Round table battle against the android armies of Morgan le Fey in a struggle for dominance. This is just one example of a number of settings from these systems that bring together elements of different genres because the system is designed to be mutable enough to handle vastly different game elements.
I would be absolutely remiss in talking about the subject of genre-muddling without bringing up Rifts. This is both a system and an entire setting designed with the specific purpose of blending together varies game genres into one great big mixing pot, with varying degrees of success. That it is still around after a number of years probably has more to do with the concept and setting (and perhaps the prose that goes with the sourcebooks) than the rules used for the setting. In the Rifts setting you can, and to some degree are encouraged to, have a party that would be crazy to think of in any other setting. A comic book superhero can walk beside an alien spellcaster with a techno-wizard and her cyborg buddy … and all is well. If that is all hard to wrap your head around, well, you’ll be pleased to know that there is an iconic class in the game that is specifically designed as psychotic super-humans. If you want a setting and system that is all about blending genres, I would encourage you to pick up the Rifts game and check it out.
Creativity is the heart and soul of role playing. By its very nature, these games demand that your imagination is used to enjoy the game to their fullest. It is hardly any surprise then that various game systems push the genres to the limits in taking the tropes that define a genre and mixing them up to try some new recipe. Like all such experiments, some of these will suit the tastes of one person and not another. Learning about new systems and settings helps me to spark new ideas and get excited about that way a setting can come to life in a game. For me, that is what makes role playing so much fun — that it is always evolving, always different, and challenges me to think in new directions.