Monday, August 24, 2015

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Lowell Francis, star of stage, screen, and five time winner of the...

Wait...sorry...Barkley was holding up the wrong cue cards. That should read:

Lowell Francis, blogger extraordinaire, and proprietor of Age of Ravens, made this interesting statement in his response to the RPGaDay Challenge question #17, 'Favorite Fantasy RPG':

"I’m always struck by the number of rpgers I’ve met who don’t like fantasy"

I am struck as well, but by the assertion that a considerable number of our fellow gamers dislike the genre of Fantasy, or at least Fantasy gaming.

I've met far too many who love fantasy, and a solid bunch who have trouble wrapping their heads around anything but.  Far too often I come across people who lament that they can't get a game going with their group of anything other than fantasy. That [although they, the GMs are up for it] their players just won't give other games, and genres the time of day.

I only know a very small number of gamers who don't like Fantasy, myself included among those people. However, I should be clear in saying that I don't like Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy. I totally go in for folkloric, and 'fairy tale' fantasy.

Back to Lowell's statement though, he continues on to note:

"I’m never sure where that comes from: oversaturation, bad experiences, personal taste. Fantasy’s been such an important default for me as a gamer. I enjoy the room it offers and still dig trying to figure out new things with it."

Where it comes from? Fair enough. I will try to explain...

For me, and me alone as I can not speak for anyone else (although if anyone would like to speak up on the subject please do - comments are always welcome, and appreciated), there are a number of factors that have contributed to my disinterest, and even dislike to some extent, of traditional Fantasy RPGs.

What do I mean by traditional? Well for now let's say I am referring to classic games like Dungeons & Dragons' various editions, Palladium Fantasy, Rolemaster, Tunnels & Trolls, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, and modern ones such as Burning Wheel, Metal, Magic, and Lore, and Pathfinder, just to name a few.

Basically these are games in that particular sub-genre of Fantasy that D&D occupies, and indeed typifies. It isn't quite Medieval Fantasy, but it is, while also being Sword and Sorcery, which it's not exactly. I see it as a Fantasy mish-mash, a Frankenstein hodge-podge of Tolkien, Vance, Leiber, Moorcock, Howard, and others.

More about that later.

For now...


Yes. This is definitely a factor for me. It comes across in several forms.

Note how many games I listed above, and that's not nearly all of them by half. Dungeons and Dragons was popular, so people made more games like it, or their version of it. In the earliest days of the hobby, as new RPGs started to spawn here, and there, it surely felt like every third one was a Fantasy game, and often, one not all that different from Dungeons and Dragons.

Even nowadays, as my friend Luke noted over the weekend, "Look at your computer games, your video games, and your MMOs. Most of the big ones are Fantasy based. World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy Online/14, Dragon Age, Witcher, Elder Scrolls, and on, and on. Sure there are Sci-Fi ones, but not as many, and certainly not as many with as much backing in the field of MMOs. Superheroes? There was City of Heroes, and City of Villains, but the rest are all also rans. None have the kind of popularity WoW, Everquest, and their ilk."

I perceive Fantasy genre oversaturation in the form of tabletop games to be far greater than any other genre by leaps and bounds. There are just too damn many Fantasy games, making the whole of them blur, and intermingle. None of them really stand out, none seem special, or all that different from each other with a few exceptions. To me, it's one massive sea of the Dungeons & Dragons.

Now, let's look at it from a personal viewpoint.

I began playing RPGs in 1977, at the age of 8. By the time Villains & Vigilantes 2nd Edition, and Star Trek (FASA version) came out in 1982 (the first two games I personally owned other than D&D), I'd already been playing D&D for 5 years. I'd been gamemastering for 4 of those years. I was charged up with excitement seeing a Superhero game, and a game based on my favorite Sci-Fi TV program. By 1987, I was 18 years old, and had been gaming for 10 years. I was long since tired of D&D, and other Fantasy games. That was 28 years ago.

Bad Experiences

I have never had a bad experience playing Champions, Ghostbusters, Mekton, Star Trek, Star Wars, Teenagers from Outer Space, Toon, or Villains and Vigilantes.

I have only ever bad experiences playing D&D. That is to say, D&D is the only game I've played where I as a player have personally had a bad experience. This doesn't mean I've never been in sessions of other games that didn't go so great, but I don't consider those less than perfect outings to be bad experiences. That has only happened with D&D.

These experiences range from being made fun of by older, more experienced players, to being on the receiving end of Player vs. Player combat that made no sense in the adventure, to just being bored to tears. Scratch that, I also experienced that last one in Pathfinder. Ah yes, and failing to be effective in the game because my character wasn't 'optimized'. That was another Pathfinder experience that only occurred in that game.

Largely, Fantasy for me equals boring games, with hostile players, unnecessary crunch, and down right silly rules, in a setting I've seen a hundred times too many.

Personal Taste

I grew up on Science Fiction, and Comedy television. My fondest film memories are Star Wars, The Muppet Movie, Blazing Saddles, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman I and II. I lived for comic books, and read them religiously, from the Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, and Iron Man, to lesser knowns like E-Man, Nexus, the heroes of Charlton Comics. I even read Captain Canuck. I had a high reading level at an early age, and read Ringworld, Dune, The Forever War, Voyage of the Space Beagle, The Stars My Destination, 1984 and many others all before I was in 8th Grade.

See any Fantasy in there? No. Neither did I. I had no real access to Fantasy, at least not the type of High Fantasy D&D portrays.

When I did read Fantasy it was folklore, Greek, Norse, and Egyptian myths. I devoured the books Faeries, Gnomes, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Through The Looking Glass, and of course the various Oz books.

I did inherit some Fantasy novels from my Dad's cousin-in-law. From his collection I read the Elric series, Hawkmoon, and several Lankhmar novels. I also received, and read several of R. E. Howard's books, and found I did not like them.

D&D Fantasy just isn't to my tastes at all. It drums up little to no interest in me. It feels like a mess of ideas, tropes, and styles with nothing significantly tying it together. It has no atmosphere, no feel. You can give it one, but I just don't often feel inspired to make the effort to do so.

With most Fantasy RPGs, the magic doesn't feel magical, the combat (the heart and soul of most Fantasy RPGs) doesn't feel any more exciting then button mashing on a home video game, and the environments are, wait, is it yet another vaguely European town near a forest? Really? What are the odds?!

Wake me when it's over.

In conclusion

Yeah, for me, and again I can only really speak for myself, Fantasy is an endless array of the same old thing; a thing I don't have enough interest in to make the effort to make something different out of it..

I mean I could, and I have, but why bother when I could make something out of any game one of a hundred other games, in genres I like so much better?

If Fantasy was going to impress me in any way, it probably needed to do it 20+ years ago. It didn't, and now I'm on to other things.

Barking Alien


  1. I'm very much in agreement with all of this. While it has been pointed out to me that D&D can serve as a lingua franca of RPGs, that shared common experience that nearly all gamers can refer back to, in a lot of ways, it can feel like the lowest common denominator of gaming.

  2. Dungeons and Dragons is the Monday Night Football of RPGs, and I am a Soccer fan.