Hypothetical Fun: What If A Different Genre Was The RPG Foundation?


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Reynard

Legend
Supporter
It's not an accident you end up with fantasy grounded in a past that never happened.

Running a game in a future or even modern setting is much more difficult.

The first problem is the scale of information. Setting the story before media, before even the printing press, keeps the scale of the information in the setting manageable. You want books to be rare. Books are problematic in an RPG because each one contains more content than your game. What is in the library or even what is on the bookshelf is an unmanageable question. Things get worse when you are always answering, "What is in the computer?" and "What is on the internet?" Closely related to this is the speed of travel. How far can a PC conceivably go? In a fantasy setting you are generally confined to about 20 miles until teleport comes on line and starts to create problems. In even a modern setting, anyone could conceivably be anywhere in the world in 24 hours. In a setting like Star Wars, expand that to hundreds of inhabited worlds in 24 hours. The scale of information needed by the GM to cope with this is just so much greater than in a fantasy setting.

The other problem is that RPGs really need to be set in heroic ages, whereby heroic ages I mean times in which defensive technology tends to out weight offensive technology and narrative intervention to protect a hero is rare. You want to set a game in a setting where a trained warrior with good equipment can believably defeat a dozen foes in battle - early bronze age or the Middle Ages are good. Not only can you plausibly tell that story but the literature of the period will be infused with that idea. Telling the same story in an age with 155mm artillery landing with ear shattering whoomps is a good deal harder both narratively and to game. Artillery means random death, just like the muskets do in Karasawa's Seven Samurai. If you are in any way trying to model weaponry, it's easier to imagine dodging the swing of an axe or blocking the thrust of a sword or armor turning aside an arrow other doing anything about being in range of a machine gun. Plot protection is less baked into the system and more easily overlooked (in the form of hit points) than in a system with guns - which is the reason guns have always felt awkward in D&D.

Of course, you can deal with this. Star Wars deals with this by being a fantasy with blasters working more like crossbows, military technology being both advanced and yet less effective than WWII weaponry, and wizard-warriors using magic to defy all attacks. It works fine in a don't think about it too hard manner. Even then, it creates irritation as shown by the trope that the Storm Troopers can't hit their targets. We see the plot protection and it bugs us.

But the point is that it's all easier to deal with in a vaguely medieval fantasy.
I don't buy any of this, having run games in pretty much every genre. The only problem I have ever encountered even close to this is the Horror Movie with Cell Phones problem.
 



DragonLancer

Adventurer
I'd be more inclined to say that science fiction would have been the RPG market leader if fantasy had not been so dominate. Something like classic Buck Rogers or even Star Trek (only a decade or so before D&D) could have been what launched role-playing games.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'd be more inclined to say that science fiction would have been the RPG market leader if fantasy had not been so dominate. Something like classic Buck Rogers or even Star Trek (only a decade or so before D&D) could have been what launched role-playing games.

I think there was plenty of opportunity for the fan base to embrace something else if they'd wanted to. Fantasy did not have to be the default unless there was something about it that just made it more enjoyable than the alternatives to most participants. Even by 1980 there were a lot of strong potential rivals to D&D. Traveller was on the scene already and it's a solid system even by modern standards of design. People were exposed to both, and there was already intense attempts to game properties like Star Trek by that point. Star Fleet Battles had already come out. I'm pretty sure there was an early Star Trek RPG on the market not long after. TSR would be coming out with its own Sci Themed games as well.

The trouble is, and I don't think you can underestimate how important this is, I think inherently fewer players exist out there that can enjoy the aesthetics of something like Traveller than something like D&D and I don't think that's a momentary social or cultural thing. I think that's inherent somehow to the limitations of the sort of games we play and human psychology itself.
 

Meech17

WotC President Runner-Up.
The 70's were also rife with martial arts flicks, some imported from the Hong Kong movie industry and others crossing over with the Blaxploitation films of the early 70s. Factor both of those elements into the basis of an alternate TTRPG hobby and you might wind up with something slightly more inclusive than what we got, even if the added representation would have been pretty cringe-inducing by 2024 standards.
This would have been my guess. There was already enough interest in the genre that TSR felt the need to include monks into D&D because they wanted to roundhouse kick the heck out of some monsters like fantasy Bruce Lee.

I'm imagining an alternate universe where everyone is playing Samurai and Shinigami, and there's a special supplement for the guy who really wants to play a Medieval knight
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm imagining an alternate universe where everyone is playing Samurai and Shinigami, and there's a special supplement for the guy who really wants to play a Medieval knight

That's plausible, though it's probably a universe where Japan remains allied with the UK and USA after WW1 and instead of being insulted by the Treaty of Washington feels honored by its position as #3 Naval power and pursues a different strategy for increasing its prestige than direct conflict with the European colonial powers. In that universe, wargaming in Japan remains a passionate hobby and in the University of Kanagawa "Goushi Eito" (pardon my poor Japanese, please) in very Japanese fashion does what they did with musketry, aircraft carriers, animation and a half-other things and leaps ahead of the West, inventing the first fantasy RPG and publishing a "Western Adventures" supplement with knights, wizards and clerics. The concept becomes a sensation in Japan and American wargamers learn about S&S through Japanese copies, painstakingly translated into English - similar perhaps to getting a copy of Siedlers Von Cataan back before there was an English language printing.

And I'd believe that universe is more plausible than one were we are all playing hard science fiction RPGs.
 

I'm imagining an alternate universe where everyone is playing Samurai and Shinigami, and there's a special supplement for the guy who really wants to play a Medieval knight
I had Oriental Adventures games like that back in the day. For all its many problems from a 2024 POV, OA remains one of my favorite 1st ed AD&D books.
I'm pretty sure there was an early Star Trek RPG on the market not long after.
FASA Trek dropped in 1982, and was quite successful for the next seven years, at which point Paramount yanked the license because they didn't like the direction FASA had taken with the three TNG books. The system was rather crunchy by modern standards, but there were a fair number of solid adventures published for it and the starship combat rules (which got an expanded, separate wargame-specific boxed set) remain reasonably popular in wargaming circles. Far more so than any subsequent Trek RPG's starship rules, which were never written to do more than support the RP side of things.
 

MGibster

Legend
I had Oriental Adventures games like that back in the day. For all its many problems from a 2024 POV, OA remains one of my favorite 1st ed AD&D books.
OA was a pretty good product that received a lot of accolades back in the day. It's dated of course, I was surprised when they kept the title for the d20 version, and there are valid criticism of it, but overall those involved in bringing it to publication should be proud.
 

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