Friday, December 24, 2010

When Genres Collide!!!

Of all the suggestions I received for the Reader's Choice Challenge I think this is one of the best.  I wish I had thought of it, but it came from Trey, author of the From the Sorcerer's Skull blog.  I really could take this topic in any direction!  However, I think I will once again start with.... *DRUM ROLL*... flavor fiction!

Captain Scarvo, dread pirate captain of the Hideous Wench,  the most dreaded pirate ship with the most dreaded pirate crew in all of the Dreaded Sea, was looking through his spyglass as the merchant vessel tried to out-maneuver the pursuing Hideous Wench.

"Arrrrrrrrrr... ye won't be getting away today!"  Captain Scarvo turned to give some orders to his dreaded first mate when there was a flash of light in front of the ship.

Most of the crew gasped, and Captain Scarvo moved forward to get a better look.  He could hardly believe his eye.  Rubbing it, he then lifted his patch and rubbed his "going below deck" eye.  "What in the name of Neptune's nephew is that?"

Redfinger, his first mate, shrugged.  "Captain, it looks like a... a... giant floating silver clam shell!"

The crew, surprised to point of inaction, watched as the giant clam shell drew closer.  The sun glinting off it shell blinded some of the crew who then shaded their eyes.

Pointing at the clam shell, Redfinger drew his cutlass. "Captain something..."  A flash of light interrupted Redfinger, and he disappeared. A few ashes dropping to the deck of the ship where he had been standing.

Captain Scarvo screamed.  "Turn this ship about!  All hands on deck!"

When I was first thinking about this topic, I thought most genres can work together well, if a little thought is put into the campaign, whether it's for a short period of time, a story arc if you will, or a permanent campaign feature. 

You could have horror be the primary thrust of your science fiction game.  Aliens anyone?  I always considered it to be a horror movie.  The later ones seemed to have more of a sci-fi flair to them.  There should be plenty of source material for horror in your science fiction campaign.

Horror also works well in a superhero campaign.  Actually, most genres mix well with superheros.  Of course I don't think it works to well in reverse.  A Call of Cthulhu campaign might not work so well if all the players are superheros?  That would be a bad collision I think...

Horror seems to work well with most other genres.  Unless of course you're running a My Little Pony RPG for your daughters.  You don't want them finding a Puzzle Box and summoning a Cenobite!

Now it's harder to mesh science fiction with fantasy.  Especially if you're running a "hard" science fiction campaign.  Most dread pirates don't stand a chance against an alien starcraft with it's advance technology.  Perhaps you could have some fantasy characters abducted by aliens and taken to their home world.

I really don't think sci-fi works too well in the western genre.  However, in the superb comic Texarcana, there were two aliens, or were those demons? Oh well...  So maybe if it's limited it might work.  If you  want tech in your weird western, then you need steampunk.  Not too much of a collision there...

When word of caution. If you're running a particular kind of campaign, and decide to, say for example, have an invasion of giant metal alien robots in your Medieval Fantasy campaign you might want to clear it with your players first. If they're expecting fantasy, don't change horses  midstream, and surprise them.

Of course if the players want to "jump genres", then a high fantasy or post apocalyptic campaign would be best.  A Gamma World or Mutant Futures, with the planar travel mutation makes this easy.  A spell, or magical gate would work in a fantasy campaign.  Then again, it would probably work well  in a science fiction campaign, if there is a technology that allows travel between dimensions, but that's probably a whole 'nother blog post.

Mixing, mashing, or whatever you want to call it, campaigns can be fun, if it's what the players want, and you are prepared to run such a campaign.

Captain Scarvo watched as the ship flew into the night sky.  The little grey men had requested a parlay, and Captain Scarvo meet with their leader.  He had no choice.  Half his men were killed in a mostly one-sided battle.  All he had to do was turn over his gold to the creatures, and he and his men were free to go.

Shaking his fist at the sky, Captain Scarvo vowed one day to have a ship like theirs.  Then he would have his revenge.

"Arrr... I'll be the dreaded Pirate Captain Scarvo of the skies!"


  1. Sci-fi western doesn't work? Firefly, anyone?

  2. Apparently it didn't work. Firefly was only on one season before it was cancelled. Does anyone out there play the RPG?

  3. I think that you're allowing "genres" to restrict your thinking too much. If, when you say 'Western' you imply riding the range, Indian attacks, shoot-outs in the OK corral, then these are but story elements that can used in any other genre. A cattle drive is a cattle drive whether you're driving Texas long-horns or thoats. 'Along the Black River' - a Conan story, uses elements from the French-Indian Wars.

    To say that because Firefly the TV series was cancelled after one season and that no body plays Firefly the RPG then SF Western doesn't work is a flawed argument. I have not seen the RPG but some guys on the TML seemed keen on the ship designs - perhaps Firefly the RPG just was not a particularly good game?

    There seems to be as asumption that games systems have to be "genre" specific. Why? Never heard of GURPs? If you have a good game system, then a Games Master/Storyteller can make any sort of game/story ride on top of it because the games system is only a mechanic to resolve things - be they tasks or reactions or whatever.

    As you say, horror works well with any other genre you can think of because it works on a very basic level in our minds - even in My Little Pony you can have a creepy bit in the dark forest at night in a storm which the Little Ponies have to go through to get the Magic Cheese Slice of Happiness. Obviously, a GM worth his dice will pitch the creepiness at the level of his players - no severed heads and faceless horrors for six year olds, please. The movie "Alien" was a haunted house movie, dressed up in SF drag - it would have worked equally as well as a Western or a 1920's Gangster adventure as there were no specifically SF story structures that couldn't be analogued away in another genre.

    If you're dropping giant robots into a medieval Fantasy game, they should be there for a reason, and the players should, by dint of finishing a quest, be able to either understand them, or learn/discover the method of defeating them. Any other reason/excuse is lazy DMing.

    Traveller is my favourite game system and with Traveller I have run pure adventures, murder mysteries, horror, comedy, military, exploration, "Tales of Wonder and Imagination", zombie hordes attack, film noir, and accountants in space, all within a science fiction setting and often within the same story arc of an adventure.


  4. What I should have said is that apparently Firefly didn't work as a sci-fi western. What I wrote in my blog, and which apparently wasn't clear enough is this: "I really don't think sci-fi works too well in the western genre." Which means, that adding sci-fi elements to a western doesn't work all that well. ( Which is completely different than adding a western feel or elements to a science fiction game, show , or book. ) Yes, some people could probably make it work. I didn't mean that it would NEVER work. Where does it say that?????? Are people restricting their reading comprehension? TWO people have made this assumption.

    Everyone may call Firefly a "space western" but really Whedon had other influences as well, and I've watched episodes that seemed more sci-fi that western. It had a little westerny flavor and trappings, but really? I think that's a sound bite that they used to pitch the series to the money men. It's a space western!

    My thinking isn't resticted. Many of the things I write on this blog are just my opinion. NOT FACT. I don't think adding sci-fi to westerns works too well. An opinion. Why are people jumping on my case saying you are wrong!

  5. OK I'm a little confused here. I thought that by posting your opinions in the way you do in this blog that you are inviting a debate. I spent an hour writing up my response, not as a personal attack on you, but because I disagreed with the opinions you expoused in your piece, that I was sufficiently roused to respond when I could have been doing something else, and that I wished to present an argument that went a little beyond 'you're wrong, wrong, wrong'. I did this because I feel that I have a different, yet equally valid, opinion on genres in games, and I wished to see how our views matched up.

    If this is not the place to have this debate, then I apologise and withdraw.

  6. @Kobold; The thing is I never said that it wouldn't work. I said, and this is an opinion, that I didn't think it would work too well. HUGE DIFFERENCE. How many times do I have to make this point?

    The whole point of the post was about genre's colliding. If you're running a straight western game, then decide to suddenly add sci-fi elements; is it going to work, and do the players want it?

    Debate is fine, but make sure you know what you're debating about. If I had said, 'Science fiction and westerns can never be mixed...' then you might have a point, but I never said that. How can you debate about an opinion that I never even made? How does that work?