I watched a video clip yesterday evening which asked “Why?” in connection to the disparity in numbers between those who will choose to respond to an ad looking for D&D or Pathfinder players as compared to the number who will respond to ads for other roleplaying games – mainstream or otherwise. The thoughts which followed intersected with other thoughts I had already been having in connection with Technoir and a discussion I have been gearing up to have about it with another member of the YouTube RPG community. Both sets of thoughts kept circling the idea of genre. The resulting tangents of those thoughts plus a long hot shower (where all the best thinking occurs) were this post, and a short clip posted to my YouTube channel.
What if the ultimate rule underlying all others is not ‘Do what thou wilt’ but rather, ‘Genre is as Genre does’?
With Technoir as a framework for discussion we have a game where the very structure and success of play is so dependent on the players’ comprehension of and willingness to portray the noir genre that play will break down, or at the least be rendered flat, by its absence. While an extreme case, it is often these which most quickly demonstrate a point. Moving to less extreme cases we can see the same effect in heroic pulp, swashbuckling, investigative, horror, or pretty much any strongly thematic game at which you can throw a set of polyhedrals. Is the same true of fantasy? In particular, is the same true of the style of fantasy represented in games which are made from the same mould as Dungeons&Dragons in its various editions and forms?
Has the evolution of D&D-style fantasy created a genre which is so fluid that playing it requires so few concessions to genre conventions as to seem as easy to play as one set in every day life?
Is it this which makes the appreciation and preference for games in this style so prevalent?
A character in a two-fisted pulp action tale ought to be defined at least in part by a strong moral core and some beliefs which many of us living in these Hi-Def and overly familiar times might not only not understand, but perhaps have never even experienced. The bleak heroics of the wasted heroes of noir may compel or bore modern viewers equally, but without study or connection through the voices of the time are they ever real enough for such players to internalize and incorporate them into believable and satisfying play? Is it surprising that the generic fighter in fantasy games is so ubiquitous and embellished as a vehicle for wish-fulfillment while the character quirks and class restrictions of the Paladin are so often only endured for the sake of the ‘kewl powerz’?
When genre-fidelity requires a little work, does it doom the game built around it to a meager half-life supported only by those who tend to dream in that direction already?
Twenty-some years ago Vampire rocked the RPG world as have a few other games which broke ground in one aspect or another and like D&D it had a genre that was easy to swallow and lick like sweet nectar from our fingers. Not everyone could get behind playing the monster, but the combination of adolescent drives, gothic angst, societal rebellion, and the church of immortality made it pretty easy for a huge swathe of the gaming populace to climb on board a train and head off into the World of Darkness. Games like Blue Planet, Aces & Eights, Wraith: the Oblivion, and all the others which offer great gameplay but have a higher price of admission in the form of getting the setting and adopting a role have not fared nearly so well, nor is it likely that they will ever drink so deeply of the bloodstream of gamers as those games which strip genre buy-in so completely from their adoption.
Genre is Rule 0. At the end of the day the way that we play, from the way we engage the mechanics to the way that we engage our roles, dictates and defines the genre our game presents. Even among those who play the world’s most popular games this holds true as the fantasy spawned in my game of Dragon Warriors or Dungeon Crawl Classics or Basic Dungeons & Dragons will not be the same as yours. You and your group collectively and unconsciously color the genre to the same degree that my groups and I do. Those of us who choose to play with genre know that it plays as much a part of a successful game as the characters and the rules – even when left to the pure chance of being a by-product of play unconcerned with such lofty ideas of what sort of tale our play will create.
Genre is Rule 0. It exists whether we knowingly and purposefully create it or not.
- Genre and the Modern Prometheus (runeslinger.wordpress.com)
Darken others' doors: