RPGaDay 30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Mash-ups don't get me very far these days.

See, I play with my kids a lot, and they don't know the baseline genres well enough to appreciate mash-ups of those genres.

Which is to say, they just don't get the joke, yet.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to dive into this a bit more.

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the associated genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever. The premise was simple and straightforward.

Still true for 5e versions of those games, probably.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that lose a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new player, because that player doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. Now, that might still work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is… not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't get the joke.

So first, I'd need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, then we can get to the mashups. Otherwise, it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.


  1. So, so true. That dovetails into my general dislike of how genre-dependent so many games, players, and facilitators are. I don't like that for aesthetic reasons, but the missing scaffolding bit here is a very practical reason.

    When my daughter and I play No Thank You, Evil!, though, I can look like the most creative guy ever because she doesn't know about the genre stuff I steal. I'm sure someday she'll return the favor and her poor old dad will have no idea where she's coming up with her stuff.

  2. This is kind of (totally) a side-topic, but I've been trying to unpack the key qualities of both 'traditional' and 'hippy indie' games I enjoy, largely because that list forms a somewhat-overlapping Venn diagram with "games my kids both get and enjoy."

    I mean, they don't have the same design goals.

    They don't have the same play goals, really, either.

    I'm just trying to suss out those goals, in as simple summary as possible.


    The 'trad' games I enjoy, the goal of both designer and player is… probably all wrapped up in there being challenges to overcome. Tough monsters to fight. Puzzles. Traps. Puzzle-traps. Trap-monsters. Monster-puzzles. Et cetera. Maybe the challenge is a tense diplomatic meeting. Maybe it's slowly establishing a semi-profitable trade route for your crappy space trawler. Maybe it's getting past those two guards without alerting the rest of the cave complex. Whatever.

    So… that, with rules that aren't so cumbersome I want to trepan myself.

    Any 'genre experience' that comes out of the game session is sort of a secondary product of the game? And that's cool! The rules in the game are about the presentation of challenge, not other stuff.

    The 'hippie indie' games I enjoy, the point of the game design is to drive the play experience toward a specific kind of story. Challenges-to-overcome happen, but that's not the primary point, in the same way that story happens in a 'trad' game, even though there aren't rules designed to push that.

    The difference there is that a fair number of design choices in the hippy indie games are in there to keep the game on-point in terms of delivering a specific kind of story experience.

    I'm thinking of Masks right now, which pushes game play REALLY hard into a specific kind of story space: a space occupied by stuff like Young Justice, Avengers Academy, and stuff like that. The rules in there were designed to produce the elements of story that happen in that space. Period. Challenges happen (and spiral and snowball like crazy), but that's not the point, any more than punching Mr. Freeze is the point of a Young Justice episode – that's just the action surrounding the episode's story, right?

    In that 'hippy indie' space (I keep surrounding these phrases in air quotes to show that I'm not taking the labels seriously; it's just shorthand and I don't want to get into a debate about them), the equivalent to 'super-complex trad game I won't enjoy' is simply one that pushes hard toward a type of story in which I have no interest. I mean it doesn't matter if a particular game is awesome if it's whole goal is nudging me into some kind of experience I don't want. Carnival spinny rides might be well-designed, but they still make me want to throw up, you know?

    So… back to my kids?

    The trad "challenge" games are sort of an easy sell for them, if they're not super complex, because it's really just puzzles, monsters, traps, et cetera, just with different window-dressing between sci-fi, fantasy, whatever.

    With the 'hippy indie' games, I need to be more picky, because it's got to be pushing toward a genre they'd want and basically understand. Again, Masks works, because of their genre exposure and interest and desire. Legend of the Elements works, in (untested) theory. But My Life with Master or Ten Candles or Fiasco or really a loooooot of games in that design space are non-starters for them, even if I dig them.

    This loops back to the original post like so:

    When I talk about a game/genre/mashup needing you to 'get the joke' to play, I find a lot more of the 'hippy indie' games need that, because of the way the games are designed and what they're pushing for. Ignore that, and you'll find yourself sort of constantly bumping into the rules in un-fun ways.

    A 'trad' game with the same basic setting, I might be able to run with them anyway, because the bones of the game are focused on a different thing – not the specific genre/story push, but the universal challenges, wearing genre window-dressing; decoration the players can sort of ignore if they're not especially into it.

    There's not big conclusion there – I like both types of games, and so do my kids – I'm just thinking out loud.

  3. One of the reasons I really pushed (to some parental partner eye-rolling) inculcating my child with the genre TV and movies of my own youth and young adulthood is just so that I'd have that common language and reference for further discussion, jokes, quotes, and (as it turns out) gaming.

  4. I'm definitely getting there – every time my kids roll out a recognizable quote, I'm delighted – but there are many miles to go with that, despite the eldest's vast encyclopedia of Young Justice quotes she was texting me all last night while you played. 🙂

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