Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fantasy Versus Science Fiction...Changes of Scenery

In all likelihood, you'll start your journey through a world of Medieval Fantasy here...

It is in this place that you will learn of great treasures and foul, unnatural beasts living just past the surrounding countryside of...

In a place like so...

If you survive to find wealth and glory, you will likely return to...

To spend your hard won booty and prepare for another adventure.

Now, not all of you, that must be said. For some it will be a frozen wasteland, while others will find themselves in an arid desert.


Now in the first adventure in your typical spacefaring Science Fiction game, you could well begin in a bar in a starport city like this one...

From there you will transverse the void and a sea of stars...

In one of these...

To an out of the way place like this...

Here's why I like Sci-Fi over Fantasy and altered the nature of my Fantasy world to accommodate...generally speaking, in most Fantasy settings, if the above places where visited in the first adventure, which lasted, shall we say, three sessions, then it's very likely that in session four or five, you are still there. While you may not be in that particular dungeon or that particular medieval town, you are surely near that forested area and in a town that's very similar or a dungeon not far way.

In a Science-Fiction game however, the planet you're on in session four or five could be a completely different one from that visited in the first adventure. Why, you could even be on one planet in session four and another planet in session five. In the span of the first adventure, which took place on a single planet for sake of argument, you could have travelled from steamy, jungle to a primitive, lake-side settlement to islands in the middle of the ocean thanks to the ease of transport (grav vehicles, spacecraft, transporters, etc.).

As I've brought up before, I have an interest (bordering on obsession) with providing not only interesting locals but significantly diverse environments and terrains for the PCs to encounter. Part of the reason for this is a reaction to my own experiences as a player and going sight seeing on everyone and their brother's Middle Earth. Good lord people! There is a whole planet full of cultures you can draw inspiration from. Why oh why are we still trouncing across Tolkien's backyard? There was more to medieval times then fog and forests. Really there was.

I love providing a serious change of scenery for my players and they usually response positively to it. And, because they are so anything-other-than-Europe deprived, they can be wowed by the simplest things. What I mean is it doesn't have to be overly fantastic. Frozen lakes surrounded by icy tundra, extremely jagged mountain peaks and even being on a ship at sea is enough to get them super jazzed about an adventure. Plus, they never know what they'll see next. Or will they?

As I said this is much easier and more likely in Science-Fiction. New terrains and bizarre locations are not but a hyperjump away.

Barking Alien


  1. Show us on the doll where the bad Fantasy RPG touched you, Adam.

  2. Where does that pic of the medieval town come from? It looks weird to me, as if it was from a computer game.

  3. @Erin - You humorously comment but don't have anything to say on Fantasy's behalf. Have you no defense for Fantasy? The prosecution rests. ;)

    @Greyhawk Knight - It's an example of what 'City Engine', an intriguing program designed to make 3D cities on her your computer, can do.

  4. Well, I don't think that's really the example for Fantasy. Early gamers tend to magically appear at different dungeons / castles / dimensions / wherever the adventure is without even venturing into the "town" that only exists between games.

    As you "mature" you get into what you described, but I think you start to shift out of it pretty soon as well. I mean, I got bored with it and did a trade caravan-based campaign...

    ... and a sandbox can be pretty big. Not everything is a forest, yeah?

  5. I don't defend Fantasy because I don't think it needs defending. I am, however, more than a little exasperated at your continuing posts which are little more than "Fantasy is boring, Sci-Fi is awesome." You know how you are tired of the new school vs. old school debate? Well, this is yours. If you hate fantasy that much, why do you devote your time talking about it? Just talk about the things you DO like and move on.

    I admit that I feel a little slighted by all this, because *you play in a Fantasy game that I run.* Yes, it is Samurai fantasy as opposed to Western European, but your complaints about lack of scenery sting all the more because the game is set in a small village you rarely leave, because that is the campaign design.

    So what I hear from you when I read posts like this is, "Adam is easily bored and needs a constant supply of fresh locations and new people and shiny things in order to keep his interest in the game." Then I get all defensive and think "If this is what he wants, then when I offer him a game of intrigue and character development he will be bored out of his mind."

    You want to talk "return to base"? One of the greatest epics of Sci-Fi was Babylon 5, a show about a space station. Sure, the characters left to go places, but they always returned to B5, just like the adventurers in your first example always returned to their walled city.

    So by your example, B5 fails the Adam Test.

    Or, hey, Star Trek. You like Trek, right? Deep Space 9, so far as I know, never left the orbit of Bajor. Sisko, Kira et alia always returned to DS9 after a trip through the wormhole. Whoops, another return to base game, Adam hates those. So DS9, a Trek series, also fails the Adam test.

    But what you haven't mentioned, and what was key to both of those series, is that those bases changed *as a result of the players' actions.* B5 got a weapons upgrade, seceded from Earth, became an independent party in galactic politics and sheltered the Rangers. DS9 did... whatever it did in later seasons when it moved from syndication to UPN and I couldn't see it any more.

    In a way, those stations were another character (both shows were NAMED for them, after all) and their development was key to the show. So who's to say that the walled medieval city you start from at level 1 won't be the place you are running at level 5 (as captain of the guard, head of the temple etc) and ruling at level 10 as baron etc.?

    So ask yourself, what REALLY bothers you about fantastic settings? Is it really the Fantasy, or is it just the assumption (which I have proven false) that nothing ever changes?

  6. LOL at Erin's 1st post and a slow clap for the 2nd!

    To carry that ball a little further, even regular Trek tends to begin on the ship (base) and tends not to dwell on the journey between planets (dungeons?)so once again the characters tend to zip/blip/magically appear (Transporters! - oh the irony!) at the adventure site, experience something or resolve a situation, then return to the ship (base) - the fact that the "town" can move doesn't really change the structure of how this works in many cases.

    If you're willing to handwave the journey to the next exotic location in space, it's just as easy to handwave the journey to the next exotic location on the fantasy planet as well. Stepping into a gate to the Happy Hunting Grounds isn't much different from stepping into a transporter and beaming down to idyllic no-tech paradise planet Z.

  7. So, to recap:

    In High Fantasy, you leave your townhouse in a small town to walk through the forest to visit some homeless people who make camp in a natural cave formation.

    In Science Fiction, you leave your industrial park to speed by a vast expanse of emptiness (suburbs?) in a tractor-trailer to eventually arrive at a tropical land filled with economically exploited natives.

  8. In reverse order...

    @huth- You win! lol

    I love your definitions of the genres. Right on the mark.

    @Blacksteel - I never said there weren't examples of the other style in each. I merely notice that in fantasy RPGs, which generally have a limited amount of easy, cheap, long distance travel, a change of scenery isn't easy to come by. More specific to this post and my feelings on the matter, it's no easy to come by because a lot of GMs I've encountered tend to follow the pattern of not making travel across different terrains or environments an element of their campaigns.

    @Erin - What is it about fantasy that bothers me? Hmmm...

    Well for starters, you proved nothing false in your comments, though I appreciate you're giving a real opinion and not just a silly 'that's nice dear joke'.

    As much as you might not get why I dislike Fantasy, I definitely have no idea why most people like Fantasy. They usually 'just do'. If the very first RPG were Traveller or some other spacefaring game and D&D came second, all indications IMHO are we'd be playing that more than D&D. Really. It seems like because it was first it's best.

    But that isn't it, is it? No. D&D and related Fantasy games are popular for the reason that they are preferred. Now D&D doesn't have the best system, it certainly isn't the best looking and it doesn't speak in plain English to a new reader is it the most popular?

    I am not expecting an answer. I am hoping my readership (such as it is) shares their opinion.

    Therefore, like Blacksteel, I too clap for your second post. I got a reaction. Which brings me to...

    Why do I talk about Fantasy RPGs if I don't like them? Good question. I mean, who ever heard of a blogger making a blog post about something they don't like or are disappointed in?


    Well know you know. I do it because I'm interested in the thoughts and opinions of others. So far this series has about double or triple the comments of my last 10 posts combined.

    Now wait...I didn't actually answer the million dollar question. Why don't I like Fantasy? Well...

    Sorry, that's all the time we have. Guess you'll just have to check me next post to find out. ;)

    Heheh. Ain't I a stinka?