Why are the biggest games Fantasy games?
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  1. #1
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    Why are the biggest games Fantasy games?

    Some idle wondering here. While there are plenty of excellent and successful RPGs in the sci-fi, contemporary, horror, western, cyberpunk, military, superheroes, and other genres, the big daddy of RPG gaming genres tends to be fantasy.

    Why do swords and spells tend to be more popular than spaceships and lasers? Is D&D (and Pathifinder) so popular because it's fantasy? Or is fantasy so popular because D&D did that first? Or some other reason?

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    Hard to say. I've run other genres (military, sci fi, western), but I always come back to D&D.

    I think a lot of it is first mover advantage -- almost everyone cut their teeth in RPG's on D&D, and in days of yore you had to like fantasy to get into D&D.

    It definitely helped D&D that Tolkien had created millions of fans tuned into fantasy. But Star Wars had probably more fans at the time D&D was becoming popular (1978-1984 era), so perhaps space opera could have worked.

    I'd say fantasy RPG allows you to have any world you want, but that's more true of sci fi.

    Maybe the limiting factor is more important. By referencing familiar tropes -- knights, witches, dragons, giants, skeletons, ghosts, dark forests, scary caves -- it sticks in your soul. Yup, I think that's it.

    Fee fie, fo fum, I smell the referencing of Jungian archetypes buried deep in our souls.
    Last edited by haakon1; Monday, 15th October, 2012 at 07:22 AM.

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    Familiar archetypes combine with the freedom to play lots of different genres using the same fantasy game. I've run 1e AD&D as a Western, as a Game of Thrones potboiler, as a dungeon crawl, as military-political, as sword & planet, etc.

    I think with other genres it's harder to just 'stick in anything'.

    Also there's the lack of support. I really like the idea of a soft-sf space opera game but there isn't the kind of support I have for D&D.

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    If we include the whole tabletop gaming hobby, I'm quite certain that Warhammer 40K is as big as D&D/Pathfinder and as dominant in the wargame category as D&D has been in the RPG category. A dominant position tha reinforces the ability to keep getting new material out, which in turn increases the brand's dominance over games that can't produce material as fast.

    I do wonder sometimes, if FFG produced more small "adventure/scenario" books for their WH 40K RPG lines, whether they'd sell much more material. Compared to Paizo, who sell lots of small products that might be impulse buys, FFG go for bigger glossier books all the time.

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    One thing about fantasy is it has a kitchen sink appeal. You can throw all sorts of elements from different subgenres and make it work. You can throw in a S&S barbarian alongside a Wuxia monk and a high fantasy elf and they can go off killing dragons together. On the other hand try throwing a starship captain alongside a netrunner and a wasteland mutant. Most other genres just don't kitchen sink as well as fantasy.

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    I really think it has to do both with D&D being first and having the most game support. White Wolf, I believe, came very close to toppling D&D with its modern-day setting.

    I think if you took the editions of D&D out of the picture, I think you would see that modern, fantasy, superheroes and sci-fi would be pretty close in fan base size.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by haakon1 View Post
    Hard to say. I've run other genres (military, sci fi, western), but I always come back to D&D.
    The secret is that D&D is all three of those genres at the same time.

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    Because no one has really tried to do a Science Fiction setting without having some sort of weird mechanical baggage that they deem necessary for the game, or they are too specific, tying their game to a setting with flavors that don't appeal to everyone.

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    Because swords & sorcery beat space opera to the punch, mostly. If Star Wars had come out in 1970, we'd all be playing Starships & Aliens.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
    I think with other genres it's harder to just 'stick in anything'.
    I'm happy to play other games, but this is one of the reasons I prefer GMing fantasy games. I tend to overthink the things in the modern and non-post-apocolyptic future games and it drives me crazy figuring out how things manage to be ungoogleable, avoid being caught on any surveillance cameras anywhere, not be caught by someone on a cell-phone, stay hidden from satellites, etc...

    A related problem I have with GMing modern games is that its too easy for me to worry about how closely the things simulate reality... and its kind of awkward GMing things where the other players have lots of real world experience.

    And finally, I haven't found many other games that are as easy to have both "dungeon crawls" and investigative play.

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