Friday, August 30, 2013

RPG Genres I Wish I Liked

Do you think publishers have done some games to death? Do you have a kind of game you’d avoid even if you trusted the GM? I’ve done a number of game surveys to pick a next campaign and I’m always surprised at what people avoid. Until I stop and consider some of my hang-ups about games. To be clear, I don’t think any of these are bad games to play- they just don’t appeal to me. Some used to, but these days they don’t work for me. Some of these I wish I liked since smart people I respect have talked about their love for them.

1. Pirates
I like the era and the whole swashbuckling milieu, but for some reason pirates don’t really work for me. I’m a fan of Musketeer bits and the whole Elizabethan pageantry. I even love the idea of sea battles- with wooden ships wheeling for a desperate shot. I loved that from GW’s Man O’ War and many naval miniatures games. But pirates…meh. It makes me more ambivalent than I ought to be towards 7th Sea. There’s a ton of interesting material in that setting, but I hit the pirate stuff and I turn off completely. That sub-genre’s what made me do this list. I watch yet another Pirate-themed board game pop up on The Dice Tower- with Tom Vasal praising the genre. Yet other, more interesting themes get commented on as overdone…

2. Zombie Protagonists
We had a conversation about post-apocalyptic games the other day. I like the idea of them- but usually tied to unusual or more interesting disasters. I’m also fond of building games- where the players have to find a way to build and survive. That can be tough in that kind of game- on the one hand you want to have a threat, but on the other you don’t want the group to feel like they’re on quicksand. Ideally there’s some kind of turning point after which they manage to find some kind of semi-permanent shelter and have to protect it. So I’m not opposed to zombies in that context. I think they might be a little overdone in board games of late.

In rpgs, I’m not really interested in the zombie as PC sub-genre. We see this in a few games which offer a switch up. Even in something like Monsterhearts, I don’t dig it. Some of the various AFMBE Deadworlds also take this approach. Of course, as I write this out I realize that I spent a chunk of time working on a campaign premise that did exactly this: Tokyo Indenture.

3. Wild West 
I’m not exactly sure what I think of Westerns. I mean I love many classic western films, but the wider genre doesn’t do that much for me. So in the plus column we have True Grit, TGTBTU, Unforgiven, Have Gun Will Travel, Wild Wild West (TV), The Cisco Kid/Lone Ranger, and Once Upon a Time in the West; in the minus column we have Deadwood (I know), various John Ford classics, Sliverado, and most other TV Western shows. Yet I pick up Western books from time to time- Deadlands, Owl Hoot Trail, and This Favored Land. I put together the basic list of a History of Western RPGs and their sheer number struck me. But I haven’t gotten the inertia to move beyond that basic outline. I think that best describes my feelings about this. I’m curious about weird takes on the genre- but more straight-forward ones I have a hard time picturing.

4. The 1920’s
This seems weird to me, even as I think about it. I love the concept of Call of Cthulhu- the battle against a corrupting, confusing, and ultimately unknowable foe. A desperate struggle against the dark where we know they ultimately cannot win. But the 1920’s don’t do anything for me- the period doesn’t excite ideas or possibilities, even with the interesting chaos of the Great Depression at the end. I’m much more interested in modern versions of CoC or even Trail of Cthulhu’s 1930’s. Both create more ideas and inspiration for me. The only drawback to a modern game comes from the access to technology, but even that can be controlled.

5. Cyberpunk
Speaking of technology…why doesn’t cyberpunk grab me more than it does? We played multiple campaigns the classic CP 2020 game and I’ve enjoyed some of the early foundational stuff from Gibson and company. Part of the problem may come from the dominant flavors I’ve seen of it. On the one hand, there’s a kind of style fetishistic approach, focused on stuff and guns. I like the social implications of technology- that’s always a fertile source for stories and interesting bits. But cyberpunk often seems focused on the chrome: the weapons, the bikes, the heavy metal modifications. I think that ends up obscuring things which actually interest me. Some of that’s about style and presentation- it doesn’t have to be that way at the table.

But the other strain I’ve seen over the years that hasn’t grabbed me is the nihilism. This differs from the darkness of other games: there’s often a sense that pretty much you’re screwed from the beginning. You’re bits in a machine, waiting to get smashed down. CP as I often saw it played- put you on that quick-sand I mentioned before. Anything you built would always be fair game for the GM: devices, networks, friends. It echoes the darkness of the setting, but ultimately seems just too much. Another irony given that I like CoC which has that as a basis. But there the inevitable loss comes in the end game. We can now fight back against the foe and gain a moment’s peace, save our friends, and restore stability. Cyberpunk makes breakdown a low-level constant feature.

6. Hard Sci-Fi
I picked up Traveller when I was a kid. But except for Snapshot mini battles and sessions spent playing push your luck with character creation, I don’t think we ever really played it. That’s despite being a fan of Clarke, Asimov, and Niven at that age. Something about hard sci-fi felt closed off- I preferred super, fantasy, and spy games instead. I did try to run Ringworld when it came out, but ultimately couldn’t find a hook I liked. Since then I’ve steered away from most games of this genre, with exceptions for those doing interesting or new things I could steal (like Diaspora).

7. Vampires
This probably applies to some of the other stylish monsters as well. Years ago I played in a Vampire game where I played myself and the GM made sure to show me how horrible life would be. My fellow players, also playing themselves, bought into the power fantasy which made it worse. That cured me of the desire to play as one again. I’ve done it, it was eye-opening, and I’d rather try something else. On the flip side, I ran a Vampire game several years ago that…well, I think I hit all my marks. It wasn’t perfect, but I did what I wanted to- with a full redemptive arc that force difficult choices on the players. So I’ve done that story and I don’t think I could match it again. I’d rather just leave it there.

8. Playing as Villains
Been there, done that, watched the players get furious at each other in real life (three times). 

Any genres you have less interest in- from a meh to an "I hate that"?


  1. All but one short campaign where we played villains ended in flames as well. At the table, and as you said, away from the table. The one where it worked kind of makes since though. It was a superhero game and we played the comic book villain style to the top.

    1. There's a couple of "Villains" superhero games out there Better Angels but I haven't looked at them yet.

  2. I have a particular problem with games set in a genre with a defined power structure e.g. military games, Star Trek, pirates etc as I baulk at the idea of one player being "the boss" of the others. I can just see it derailing rapidly into a Knights Of The Dinner Table-style farce very rapidly.

    I also don't like games such as Vampire where the characters are playing (effectively) mass murderers. I picked up one of the "quick start booklets" for Vampire some years ago and reading the introductory scenario the first thing the players had to do was attack some innocent humans, so they could survive on their blood. That wasn't the sort of game I was interested in. Vampires are monsters to be staked, not to be romanticised.

    1. Yeah, I can certainly see where ranking might devolve depending on the group. I haven't had that experience- but I can imagine it happening. Your point about Vampire's a good one- I've always felt that those kinds of games really work when the players have to actually confront the monstrous nature of their existence, rather than glamorizing it.

    2. I know what you mean about power structure's being a problem. I played a game of GW's Only War recently where we had our marching orders, our commanding officer and our squad leader (who was another PC) all giving us directions in most scenes. The game had it's good points but player choice really wasn't one of them.

  3. I regret to say that while I'm fond of Runequest as a ruleset, I've never had any interest in Glorantha. On a similar note, I don't much like Delta Green although I love Call of Cthulhu. Neither of those are genres as such, so they probably don't count.

    1. I don't know why I like Glorantha- maybe because for so long it seemed like a hot mess of a setting- and really difficult to get into. But I don't care for most of the Sartar stuff. I'm more interested in the Lunars, the weird caste sorcerers, and stuff in the island nations. The barbarians which seem to compose most of the published stuff make me yawn.

      I think you'd mentioned your dislike of DG before. Is it a question of the DG set up or the modern time period?

    2. I think part of it is a reaction to the accepted wisdom that if you're running a modern Call of Cthulhu game then you should always run it as Delta Green; that's not DG's fault though, so it's a bit unfair.

      The main issue I have with it is that I'm just not very interested in that mid-90's conspiracy stuff as a game setting. I loved watching The X-Files but I don't want to play it, if that makes any sense. I liked Conspiracy X too, but had no interest in playing it, for the same reasons.

      A second issue is that for me it is a bit of a -- as you say of Glorantha -- hot mess setting. There's too much going on, too many conspiracies, and it all seems a bit absurd. I could see it working as a comedy game, an absurd farce in the vein of Paranoia, but that seems to be missing the point.

      All that said, I am interested in giving Night's Dark Agents a go, and I'm not sure why I have a different opinion of that game. It's not like I'm a huge fan of vampires or anything.

  4. Side Note on 7th wife ran a 7th Sea campaign for a few years and we never once went ot sea or saw a pirate. Everything was heavily land-based.

    1. That's good to hear- and I'd certainly want to do something like that if I did 7th Sea. I always stopped looking once I hit the pirate stuff in the books, which discouraged me from going further with it.

  5. In regards to Pirates, I am of the opposite opinion.

    I would love to run or be in a pirate game but please, anything but 7th Sea. Aside from not liking the system overly much, it's too setting oriented and not genre oriented enough for me.

    Do you like Pirates, the era they were in and the history of that time? Great! None of that applies here!

    For me, 7th Sea is a classic case of an overdeveloped setting. It takes a time period and instead of portraying that period or creating a generic game that lets you develop a campaign on a related theme, it creates it's own made up world history and nations and peoples and if you don't know them you're screwed.

    For some reason I can handle that in Fantasy (to some extent) and definitely in Sci-Fi but with Pirates it bugs the crap out of me.

    1. Interesting- I've certainly seen a parallel reaction with other "analogue" historical settings like L5R.

  6. I wondered if my three genre's would show up here and they did: Pirates, Westerns and Cyberpunk. Not sure why I can't get on with the first two, possibly something about too much genre emulation in the games I've seen.

    Cyberpunk dislike is not really about the genre itself as much as the most well known games being about a group of people going on missions together, it's rarely about anything else.