What Is It About the Fantasy Genre Anyway?

Why is fantasy the single most played genre out there? I love me some good scifi gaming, including space opera, post apocalyptic, near future, and various others, but fantasy owns gaming. I've met a number of people who won't even consider playing a non-fantasy RPG, and that doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy myself. My fantasy RPG books outnumber my scifi gaming books two to one. Not only that, but while I like to read a good helping of scifi, I always seem to come back to fantasy sooner or later (I recently decided to start reading Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule). Is it the fact that fantasy is so easily customized? Is it that fantasy speaks to some primal part of ourselves that still wants to believe in magic, fairies, and monsters? Or is it simply that fantasy was the first genre introduced as an RPG, and it therefore became default?

Do you prefer fantasy gaming? If so, why?
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
A good chunk of it, at least, is that it was first. (Which is why D&D is still the industry leader, IMO.) Also, it's easier to start small and keep the characters from running off where you don't want them to go. At least with regards to sci-fi with space ships anyway. (Much non-space ship sci-fi games seem to be closer to fantasy, particularily those of the Gamma World sort.)

I'll play just about any kind of RPG. And usually like it.
 

The Shaman

Visitor
Do you prefer fantasy gaming?
Not at all. The only thing I enjoy less than fantasy is superheroes.

I prefer modern and historical gaming (early modern era to present day) first and foremost, and sci fi second. Fantasy just doesn't float my boat.

Makes it tough to find other gamers.
 
Why is fantasy the single most played genre out there? I love me some good scifi gaming, including space opera, post apocalyptic, near future, and various others, but fantasy owns gaming. I've met a number of people who won't even consider playing a non-fantasy RPG, and that doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy myself. My fantasy RPG books outnumber my scifi gaming books two to one. Not only that, but while I like to read a good helping of scifi, I always seem to come back to fantasy sooner or later (I recently decided to start reading Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule). Is it the fact that fantasy is so easily customized? Is it that fantasy speaks to some primal part of ourselves that still wants to believe in magic, fairies, and monsters? Or is it simply that fantasy was the first genre introduced as an RPG, and it therefore became default?

Do you prefer fantasy gaming? If so, why?
I prefer fantasy gaming.

I usually prefer sci-fi settings, but most such settings aren't designed for gaming. It's rather difficult to twist something like Battlestar Galactica (most character are highly-competent military officers who act like a cross between marines and fighter pilots and are dependent on high technology) into something appropriate for gaming.

Honestly, the only setting I've seen that wasn't designed for gaming but could be easily made into a sci-fi RPG is Firefly/Serenity. (Of course, someone did make an RPG for it, but you could turn any good ruleset into Firefly/Serenity). The very low technology (the main characters fly in an unarmed spaceship until the movie!) makes this a lot easier to pull off.

Fantasy is just easier. I figure most of us probably know little about caring about a horse, but we all understand the concept of a horse. And armor. And swordfighting. Playing a knight-type hero is therefore quite easy.

Now try this in sci-fi, where every little thing and every big thing is quite different. Even modern-day games (and movies!) run into problems with things like cell phones, so naturally sci-fi games run into this problem too.

IME, it's extraordinarily difficult playing a skills-based character in a modern setting. Unless you know the skill in questio in real-life, any description (whether you're the player or GM) will come off as "boring" or "just a bunch of dice rolls). At least thinking about using a skill is pretty easy in a modern setting though. Also, it's rather difficult for GMs to make many skills useful in an RPG, to the point where a scientist-type player might keep asking the GM "is Craft (pharmaceutical) going to be useful at all in this adventure? Do I get to roll it more than twice?" Doing the same thing in a sci-fi setting is much harder since the same problems exist and no one really knows what the future will hold. Things that would be obvious to characters that live in the future will often simply not occur to players born in modern times.

I think for these reasons, sci-fi will always do better in fiction rather than RPGs. There, the author can take as much time as they want to explain things. (Even then, sci-fi mystery novels tend to suck, as what are the chances the author will have explained future technology enough for readers to have any chance to solve the mystery for themselves?)

Sci-fi games also tend to have scaling problems. I'll use Battlestar Galactica as an example. (Note that I'm not discussing the actual BS:G game, as I've never even seen the system.) Writing a set of rules for characters as people, and another for characters as space pilots just makes the game more complicated. And good luck if only some of the PCs are pilots.

Even in modern games, a character who wants to be a good driver will continually impose a different subsystem (that would be driving rules) on the game. And of course, probably no one else will be any good at it, either. This is before taking into account some rules systems having terrible driving rules (d20 Modern made running people over way too good!).

I once went through a bag d20 Future game where the GM allowed almost everything. We had aliens, mutants, people owning robots (those rules were busted, by the way), people owning mecha, people owning spaceships... guess how the mecha-operator felt when they realized spaceships were umpteen times better than mecha in every way that counted?
 
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pawsplay

Visitor
I think part of it is the societal structure. Swords-and-sorcery worlds tend to be rather stratified, yet a character can become someone else just by going down the road... or change their standing by slaying an ogre. Most people are as stable as dirt, but your characters stand out precisely because they are willing to take extreme risks in order to do things outside society. I think that is why the cunning rogue and the wandering sellsword are two of the major archetypes, along with the wizard willing to pay nearly any price for power. Religion cuts across social lines, although medieval society is mirrored in the hierarchy of friars, bishops, and so forth. But even the king is not immune to the portents and doctrines lain out by divine guidance and enshrined in tradition.

Another part is the magical, the dreamlike. Some people get this kick in other ways, whether it's alt-history or post-human sci-fi, but fantasy is an easy gateway to elsewherewhen. Spy thrillers tend to be fantasies about danger and extreme competence, but in fantasy, the fantasy encompasses not only the great but the small. Pig farmers, tiny dragonets, villages of mushroom people are themselves adventures because they are outside the ordinary, in much the same way Morocco or WWII-era Germany are outside the ordinary for most gamers.

Finally, and this is just a supposition, I get the sense that many gamers, moreso than the general public, view violence and strife as something that can be channeled, but never excised, from the human. The paladin is an embodiment of force used for good, while the thief embodies force turned toward simple survival. The enemies are the truly inimical and ignoble... petty thieves, inhuman monsters, empty-hearted tyrants. The really great villains of fantasy are often, in a sense, heroes... Saurson's betrayal is impressive and hence admirable, although we simultaneously depise his evil and pity his sickened soul. Fellow rogues and zealots, who initially seem foes, become friends as soon as they see how to turn their alliance against common foes. Thus Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, two individuals with no previous loyalty to each other, become partners in crime, and then enemies of the Thieves' Guild, side by side. Even games of courtly intrigue and romance center around the idea of less sympathetic figures who endanger the interests of the PCs. The fantasy world tends to be a stark place of literal violence, metaphorical challenge, and continuous struggle between rival powers.
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
I prefer fantasy, as to why, I believe we could scribe tomes on that question alone. I suspect that a lot of the attraction is the 'simplicity' of fantasy societies. I am sure that they are more excpetions to the sweeping statements I am about to make here in EN World than in most other places because of the nature of the people here and their interests and experience.
Most settings I have come across are pseudo medevial/renaissance/dark ages or some combination of the three with a bit of the American west (as portrayed in old movies) thrown in. Simpler times, when personal relationships and loyalty were paramount and wrongs could be righted by taking up arms against the wrong dooer.

Modern society is incredibly complex, inderdependant and all pervasive. There is no getting away from it. There is no frontier, where you can walk the endless horizon without meeting anybody, no Tortuga where only the stong survive. Now, I know that the reality of those places were more complicated than that and only the really lucky lasted long in the winderness alone. The myth is different and in fantasy we are operating as if the myth is true.
There is also the problem that modern armed conflict is largely impersonal. You hunker down in cover and fire at distant muzzle flashes, not the (perceived as more heroic and honorable) face to face conflict of sword fighting.

Then there is the world building aspect. It is easier to take away from our world or worlds of the past and create a fantasy land that it is to create the entire technological and social basis of a society that is operating on scientific principles that we do not currently understand.

If you take typical scifi scenarios, some allow the same type of stories that you can get in a typical D&D game, just with added blasters. Star Wars allows such stories. Investigative stories can take place anywhere. A lot of science fiction however, the science is a character. So unless the the players and DM are up to speed in that science the result will have little to make it Sci-Fi
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
For me, it is about randomness, technology and death. . .

That is, randomness, the level of tech and the handling of death in a fantasy setting makes it particularly appropriate for long term fun play.

My "simulationist" tendencies have something to do with this as well. . . But basically, for me my love of games where "bad stuff happens" and the particular fragility of modern (or near-modern/post-modern) life don't mix well.

Example. the whole team of PCs is on a spacecraft going from Planet A to Planet B during an interplanetary war and come under attack. If their ships gets blown up they are more than likely all dead and most of them don't even get a die roll! Assuming some of them were flying it and others were manning guns, that might mitigate it a bit - but the chance is still there.

The same goes for flying in planes - now it could be everyone could have a parachute or a rocketpack, I guess. . . But that is about accessibility of equipment. . .

Basically, I find other genres of RPing focus more on narrative approaches - which is all well and fine, but not my preferred style - we know that the Millennium Falcon is not going to take a hit from a tie-fighter killing Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio. . . They are not going to get eaten by a space worm. .. But in D&D, the "main" characters, just might get killed by a giant worm and at least they all have a chance to fight against it - or don't have to necessarily rely on one piece of equipment (the spaceship) and a couple of characters (pilots) to escape.

Also, modern technology can be as bad as buff-scry-teleport - that is why when I ran an M&M game I set in the late 70s - close enough to our time period to allow easy immersion, but no internet, cellphones, etc. . . You want instantaneous communication? Use a power. Pay for it.

I am not saying I won't play in other genres, but in my experience - no game I have ever run or played in that wasn't D&D (or some FRPG) lasted longer than a few sessions - it just didn't feel the same.

EDIT: I forgot the "Death" part - in fantasy (even in gritty settings like I like to run) death can be overcome - you can't really do that in spycraft, for example - I guess a sci-fi setting could have something similar (clones and the like), but the further you go in that direction the more the setting becomes fantasy with the word "science" as fill-in for "magic".
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Sci-fi games also tend to have scaling problems. I'll use Battlestar Galactica as an example. (Note that I'm not discussing the actual BS:G game, as I've never even seen the system.) Writing a set of rules for characters as people, and another for characters as space pilots just makes the game more complicated. And good luck if only some of the PCs are pilots.
I am not convinced that military characters really work in any rpg where the characters are part of the mainstream military and in the chain of command.

Undercover and special ops work ok, (or at least do not stretch incredulidty too far) but regular grunts are too confined by the chain of command for most groups.

The subsystems issue is more a world building issue than anything else.
 
I am not convinced that military characters really work in any rpg where the characters are part of the mainstream military and in the chain of command.

Undercover and special ops work ok, (or at least do not stretch incredulidty too far) but regular grunts are too confined by the chain of command for most groups.

The subsystems issue is more a world building issue than anything else.
I disagree. I've seen some SG-1 games run fairly well. You just use a non-standard unit ... like SG-random number :)

As for subsystems, that issue comes up in any sci-fi game that has armed spaceships. Players seem to expect that, and often demand that, not surprising because so many sci-fi settings do have these armed spaceships.
 

GSHamster

Visitor
My theory is that the central conceit of RPGs is that "as you do more stuff, you become harder to kill."

Fantasy is the genre that directly correlates to this in a way that none of the other genres do. Technology is designed to make the less skilled more deadly.

"God made all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."

Second, I think fantasy is one of the few genres that's willing to be explicit about Good vs Evil. Pretty much every other genre likes to get bogged down in murky shades of grey, and I think that's a big turn-off for a lot of people.
 
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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Part of what drew me to fantasy and RPGs is the mostly incorrect idea that history is shaped by Great Men, persons of transcendent ability that shaked the foundations of the world with every step. Fantasy evokes notions of a simpler, more volatile time where these Great Men moved beyond their stations in life, and carved a path to greatness with swords ,tongues, skill, and a primal understanding of the world in which they live. It's all about a yearning to be a master of one's own destiny.
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
I disagree. I've seen some SG-1 games run fairly well. You just use a non-standard unit ... like SG-random number :)
How is that disagreeing with me. Is it not the point I made. You need uncoventional units operating outside the normal chain of command. There is no way to describe the SGC command chain as convertional. I did not mean that there is no chain of command, just that the pc are not in the second squad, platoon 1 of A Company.
 
How is that disagreeing with me. Is it not the point I made. You need uncoventional units operating outside the normal chain of command. There is no way to describe the SGC command chain as convertional. I did not mean that there is no chain of command, just that the pc are not in the second squad, platoon 1 of A Company.
Let me put it another way then. There's no reason to use standard military units in a BS:G setting.

I don't see why you made your first reply to my post. I wasn't saying I was bothered by the characters being military, but by them being very competent and being very tech-reliant.
 

pawsplay

Visitor
Then there is the world building aspect. It is easier to take away from our world or worlds of the past and create a fantasy land that it is to create the entire technological and social basis of a society that is operating on scientific principles that we do not currently understand.
Honestly, trying to run a hard SF campaign is about as much fun as trying to run a game in which you play daring lawyers and trying to work out all the realistic legal angles of the cases.
 

Jhaelen

Visitor
I love reading sci-fi novels and enjoy sci-fi movies and the rare good sci-fi tv shows.

Comparably, there's very few truly good fantasy novels and even fewer good fantasy movies/tv shows, imho.

But I still have a strong dislike for modern or sci-fi rpgs. They're just too close to reality for my taste. I vastly prefer low-tech scenarios which are a lot easier to play/DM because of the limited options to 'break' a game. You've only got to look out for spell effects.
 

Greatwyrm

Been here a while...
I've played and run plenty of fantasy and sci-fi games. Generally, I prefer fantasy. There are a few reasons, the validity of which I won't defend past the end of my keyboard.

1. Escapism is one of the big reasons I play. Its easier for me to escape into a very fantasy setting than a somewhat realistic one.

2. I like to think I'm a fairly bright guy, but arguing about the things that are often "hand waved" away in a sci-fi game isn't a fun night for me. I don't care that the game uses bogus physics for FTL travel. I don't care that cybernetics are terribly impractical. People are generally less likely to argue about the "realism" of magic.

3. I like a more heroic feel to a game. Fantasy tends to lend itself better to this while sci-fi seems better suited to a grittier game.
 

Nellisir

Adventurer
I think the defining element of fantasy is the fact that anything is possible, while sci fi is what -could- be possible. That automatically makes fantasy a larger field than sci-fi. I'd bet that most sci-fi games are actually science fantasy instead (ie, Star Wars, Gamma World).

Medieval fantasy also benefits by building our folklore and mythology. Our sci-fi library is only a hundred or so years old; the fantasy library is millenia-old. Our most recurrent themes and tropes come to us through fantasical stories.
 

JohnRTroy

Visitor
Gary Gygax in one of his two books on RPGs (released in the late 1980s), once commented that Fantasy had the most options for creativity, Science-Fantasy the second, Science Fiction (including Hard, Soft, and Superheroes) third, Modern-Day, Espionage or Pulp-style adventures around 4th and then more limited historical period RPGs 5th.

I don't have the book in front of me, but I think he said that Fantasy allowed for more setting options, such as different kingdoms, different environmental realms (underground, underwater, flying, the other planes of existence, even side-treks to the SF and modern). Plus, there are more player options--magic, psychic powers, different races, all allow more options.

Now, the good thing about Fantasy is that you can also get into the esoteric, but then delve back into high adventure and S&S style troupes. (Gygax settings were fantastic but also realistic, he dealt with things like social classes and economic stuff).

When you start getting into the "hard SF" territories, modern, or historical fiction, you get limited to the more mundane differences. For instance, a historical Wild West RPG has limited roles--how different can the characters be from each other--even if you have fleshed out personalities and have cinematic tropes, after say 1 dozen adventures how many times can you say fight bandits or rob trains without it becoming too similar. Even if you added non-magical cinematic moves akin to how 4e combat is handled for fighters, there is still a limit. The existence of high-tech gizmos, psychic powers, magic powers and artifacts, sci-fantasy mutations and comic book superpowers all have an undeniable appeal. At least with Science-Fiction you can have alien races, and in Fantasy games you can have whole "monster manuals" so your dealing with a wide variety of opponents.
 
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Set

Visitor
Magic is easier, IMO, to base a traditional storyline around as the 'rules' of magic are squiffy and ill-defined (and can be mangled to suit the storyteller's convenience).

Higher levels of technology are harder and harder to handwave away, and many, if not most, traditional adventure storylines, would fall apart if one of the protagonists had a cellphone or whatever, let alone supertech stuff like transporters (which end up having to oh-so-conveniently fail due to an 'ion storm' or whatever whenever they are needed...). "Oh, we're trapped in an exotic hostile location!" "Get out your cellphone and call for help." "Oh, there's a killer in the house!" "Call 911 and hide until the cops show up." "We have to figure out this puzzle, quick everyone rack your brains..." "Right, I just Googled it. It's the Voynich manuscript." "I can't get the door open, we're trapped!" "According to the online help menu, there's a manual release under the jamb, in case of power failures. Also, I called a locksmith."

Fantasy settings also have a wider range of unique characters in the 'party.' If one wants to play a wizard and another wants to play an archer and another wants to play a sneaky thief, fantasy can keep them all in the same room. In a more futuristic game, everyone ends up being specialists of the same 'class,' whether they are starship troopers or mechwarriors or viper pilots or a star trek away team. There ends up being less flexibility, and there are increased chances that one or more of the characters have abilities that mostly function when they are solo (whether a psychic in dream space, or a mechwarrior in his mech, or a rigger in his hovertank, or a cyberdecker in the virtual realm), leaving the rest of the party behind. It makes it harder to run a single story for four or five people, if half of them have abilities that work best when they are nowhere near each other, entering specialized environments (like cyberspace) or vehicles (like mecha).

Even when I play sci-fi settings (which I do love, especially Trinity), I tend to end up playing 'magical' characters like psychics or alien shapeshifters or whatever, rather than 'dude with gun #1428.' Dudes with guns bore me, and that's, unfortunately, what every single viper pilot or away team member turns into in the end, just another dude with a gun.
 
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Oni

Visitor
Take what's yours.

What but fantasy supports that notion and still lets you be the good guy. :)
 

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