258 Genre Blending

Excellent show as always Gentlemen!

When I first played the sci-fi was baked right into my greyhawk and my fantasy novels - John Carter of Mars was high fatnasy to me flying ships, monsters, brain-spiders, sword fights and rayguns were all a part of my inspiration & the game.

In my greyhawk the players went into the Barrier Peaks, and perhaps they used small “amulets” rather than keycards - and a robot was similar to a golem.
The “tech” wasn’t always reliable, perhaps “magic” interfered with “science” - opposing forces that caused disruptions in space/time.

I don’t see horror and fantasy & sci fi as being different - they are all just set dressing around which you play the game.
Conan’s and Kane’s foes were as often aliens with super-science as they were demons with magic. So long as it makes for a good story it’s all fair game IMO.

Oh - and Brett if you are Fafhrd does that make Sean Mouser??
Rory of House Weston


I think what constitutes “genre blending” is going to vary for a lot of people. I also think what goes “too far” may vary, but it has a lot to do with how well the genre being mixed in “plays fair” with the rules of the primary genre being presented.

One thing I keep seeing brought up that is interesting to me is Spelljammer. Spelljammer never really alluded to starships with fusion drive engines or laser beams or advanced technology, and the “physics” of Wildspace intentionally don’t model the real world at all, and were jokingly called “Grubbian Physics” after Jeff Grubb.

You have a magic seat that lets a wizard make a ship fly, and anything big enough that breaks the surface of a planet “naturally” pulls along a pocket of air. Stars might be portals to the plane of fire, or giant lanterns hung by the gods, or whatever, and it varied from Crystal Sphere to Crystal Sphere. In some systems, planets orbited a sun, in others, a sun orbited a planet, and in others, planets were literally hung in the boughs of a giant tree.

While it was definitely “out there” fantasy, it was definitely fantasy, and not scientific at all.

I do agree with the point made on the show, that the worst “genre blending” comes when a product plays “gotcha” with the characters.

Using Pugmire as an example–the game on its face is D&D, but with dogs, but the setting is actually a post-apocalyptic setting where humans no longer exist, and while there are essentially clerics and wizards, what the characters don’t know, but the players should, is that the dogs were genetically advanced to be sapient bipeds, and their “magic” is actually their imprecise access to ancient human technologies that appear to be magical to the dogs, who have an incomplete knowledge of the humans that disappeared from the planet.

All of that is explained up front. It’s not a sudden gotcha moment that “oh my gosh, all magic is really just science!”

While people don’t often balk at incorporating horror into fantasy, the degree to which Shadow of the Demon Lord’s underlying conceits are more horror than fantasy isn’t 100% evident in the core rulebook, but the core rulebook does constantly warn you that reality and the truth behind the veil is horrible, so when you come across some of the truths in Exquisite Agony and The Hunger in the Void, they can be a bit of a gut punch, but the foundation for the reveals was fairly laid down in other material.

On the other hand, dropping people into Wonderland or having them fight robots when you don’t know if they have experienced pulp fantasy where such things might happen, and you haven’t established if that’s the kind of thing that “could” happen in the game setting, feels like it might cause some disconnect for some players.

And this is coming from someone who used Freddy Krueger in a Ghostbusters RPG session and thought it would be cool back when I was in high school. It was not, indeed, cool, at least judging from the reactions of the players.

Now that would be a good halloween costume. :smiley:


Hmm. I agree with @JaredR - Its not “should there be genre blending” but “how much is too much?”

If we borrow the plot, characters, and adapt the technologies from a movie, say “The Departed” or “7” - but we use them in D&D 5e - isn’t that GOOD genre blending? Perhaps I’m using the term genre to broadly.

My current multi year campaign is “The Return of the Titans” and is a mashup of D&D and Naruto: NPCs and a few PCs are living “vessels” containing the spirit of a titan, which can transform into a KAIJU (another genre? But already blended in the anime) - but they lose control of the monster until it destroys a threat or is defeated (reverting the PC with 1hp).

BTW, this was a surprise to my players and characters (the Titans had been a threat many generations earlier, then vanished), and it worked very well!

Here’s a comic recording this discovery, a link the the session summary, and a video mashup of the soundtrack I recorded for the event with the comic.

Session photoblog:

Backstory comic:

Video version of the revelation event:

I’m on the list of people that don’t like magic in my sci fi games. I’m ok with it in books or movies, but that’s part of the reason I don’t like Star Wars RPGs. I’ve tried to like Shadowrun, but first there’s that hang up, and second I’ve disliked every system to date, and that’s not helped by what is some historically poor efforts in editing and production. Again, my opinions, and props to everyone who enjoys those systems, they’re just not for me.

@sean, as a not comic guy, did you ever take a look at Queen and Country? It might be worth a flip through as it seems like it might be up your ally. Local library may even have it.

While I listened to this episode, John O’Neill (editor of Black Gate), posted this on Facebook. Perhaps this contributes to the discussion, perhaps not. Apparently Mike Mearls differentiates sci-fi from fantasy in this way: “Science fiction is about laws; fantasy is about truth.”

Good topic - I agree with your point that the genre crossing needs to be done on the sly if it’s to work. You can’t have Jason in a hockey mask hop out from behind a door in your D&D adventure!

Sean mentioned he didn’t like laser guns in his fantasy role playing games. How about a wand that shoots beams of burning light? Arthur C Clarke’s 3rd Law states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

The greatest example of cross genre is Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. It checks a lot of boxes - time travel, ghost story, period piece, drama, mirror universe, morality story, fantasy, social activism, Christmas story…all seamlessly woven together.


I have not. Is it more a graphic novel?

While a laser gun could be similar in it’s purpose as a wand of cutting light, it’s just not the same to me. Otherwise we could a LOT of things be the same. e.g. an airship in steampunk, isn’t that the same as an atmospheric space ship?


Yes, indie comics, spy stuff by Greg Rucka, NOT Marvel or DC or superheroes. So… if you can handle sequential art (and it’s only the genre-mashing of superheroes that pushes you away), you should dig it.

Greg Rucka also writes Lazarus, another indie comic that is post-apocalyptic megacorp dystopia. The science in that one is as real as he can make it. Also a good read.

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@sean made a huge and important distinction when he talked about game vs. supplement. If your core rules have robots, then everyone knows what to expect genre-wise. If supplement number 14 introduces robots into a genre where they wouldn’t be obvious, that’s another. Why does it matter? Isn’t it fun for a GM to present the unexpected? Sure (to that latter question). It is. But it matters because we are playing games of collaborative fiction. When I try to imagine and add to the game with my character and what he/she does, I am working within our shared understanding of genre. If you mix in robots out of the blue, you have shifted the target. You changed up the boundaries and now I’m a little confused about what I can contribute. Can I put in Samurai? What about spaceships? In the worst-case-scenario, “you” as the GM introduce robots and I have to live with it, but when I want to play a cat-person, you shut me down because that doesn’t fit in “your” world.


It was a standard format comic, it’s collected in tradepaper backs now. Like @Eirvit said, it’s essentially a spy book, which you likely guessed by the title takes place in England. I really enjoyed it, wish there were more of it.

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There is a book that I have recently read titled Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor out of Stanford who studies this from a historical perspective. She mentions many examples of robots in history and mythology including the robots who guarded the Buddha’s tomb. Whlie we might not really like it; there are a lot of references to technology in both western and eastern myths and history. The work is worth buying if you are into this sort of Gonzo Role Playing.

Also it should be brought up that Gamma World, from TSR, is classified as Science Fantasy, and Jim Ward still to this day reminds people of that once or twice a year on Facebook when people start to focus too much on the Science Fiction side of the game. Gamma World, Shadowrun, and Earthdawn are my favorite gaming settings, so I guess I’m going to have to say I’m a sucker for this stuff, when its baked into the Universe.

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I think that is an example of blending genre on the sly; like Star Wars is a redressed western morning serial.

Jason could simply be a troll killing people.

Apart from horror (I tend to work horror into just about any setting I run), I’ve only used a couple of settings that inherently included genre-blending. One was Dark Space by Monte Cook. It was a setting for Rolemaster that had an interplanetary fantasy civilization. Travel was done with organic living ships. It was interesting, but apart from that hook not super memorable. The other was the main Rolemaster setting, Shadow World. It was primarily a fantasy setting that resulted from the collapse of an advanced civilization thousands of years before that blended technology and magic. In the current time there’s very little tech, but the occasional item finds its way into circulation.

I’ve only done it once in my own setting. That would be when the party found a buried Bolo… it was more an interesting NPC for them since it was immobile (it projected another century before repairs would be complete.) It was able to offer them occasional limited drone air-support. (It could have provided a full ICBM barrage of high megatonnage nukes, but felt that would be inappropriate.)

Numenara is basically Science Fantasy as well - it sounds like it should be sci-fi - but the main book reads more like a D&D setting…


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I think there’s a difference between ‘Genre Blending’ which to me means your setting by default includes elements from two genres that are rarely seen together to make something ‘new’ and a ‘crossover’ where elements are introduced as a one off, such as the classic Barrier Peaks example.

I think you are right about this. In discussions wherein people identify Star Wars as “science fiction” I insist on the other swing of the pendulum that it is in fact “fantasy”–very little of the “science” in Star Wars is real, though a case can be made for pseudo-science (hyperspace/blasters) along the same lines as Star Trek (warp drive/phasers). But perhaps these are artificial distinctions.

@sean said that, for him, a laser pistol is qualitatively different than a magic wand. I have to agree with him. I think some of us are squaring everything by looking at its function rather than its flavor (hey, its kind of like mechanics vs. setting/fluff). Yes, a lightsaber essentially is a magic sword, but it’s a lightsaber and ostensibly the product of science rather than magic (or perhaps more accurately the product of magic-science, a blending of the material cosmos and the Force that resides in everything).


Triple thumbs up to G Rucka’s non - superhero stuff. And i only don’t recommend his superhero stuff because I haven’t read it. But Queen & Country and Lazarus are pretty bomb.

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And Lazarus has an RPG sourcebook out for Modern AGE.

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