It’s not easy to run an RPG. There are so many pitfalls, you’d think it was a 3D topographical map of the Moon. Every game is different, though, and I have found that different genres have their own issues. Here are some main ones:
1. Superhero –
From the Avengers to Batman, who WOULDN’T want to play a superhero? To defend the weak, or to fight the good guys, try to take over the world?? Superhero games are insanely fun. The main issue with it is balancing. Look at Marvel, to pick one publisher. You have the street level heroes, say your Daredevil. Then you have your mutants, your X-Man. And then you start to get people like the Phoenix or Franklin Richards. And then there’s Galactus. (If you don’t know any of them, think in sequence, superpowered human, REALLY superpowered, able to change reality, God-like).
Now most people would like to have a really effective power that could be really good in a fight. But what if someone chooses to say control water, and someone else just wants x-ray vision? Without making them change their choices, how do you balance out your team?
In a couple of words, with difficulty. Try and have your players see that it’s in the interest of the team to get powers that complement each other and work well together. And fine, get someone with a silly power; just make sure it doesn’t bring everyone down.
2. Fantasy –
D&D being the juggernaut that it is, the main issue about fantasy games is one of clichés. If you want to be in a dungeon for aaaaages, by all means. I’ve read narratives where people spent YEARS in the same dungeon, exploring room after room, of what turned out to be a couple of hundreds of them. Left to its own devices, a lot of fantasy games end up being very similar, the escort, the exploration, the killing. It is both the party’s and the GM’s responsibility to clean this up and come up with games that are really exciting. Traitors. Weird creatures. Things not going according to expectations. Mix it up!
3. Horror –
Horror is really difficult to transmit in a RPG game. The players can’t see your monster, so they won’t necessarily be really scared by it. So how to convey the impending sense of doom? Different people have different techniques. The Cypher system rolls a die, and if you roll a 20, something dodgy happens. Then you roll it again after a few minutes, now you only need a 19 or a 20. And next time, 18, 19 or 20…. Doom is coming.
My favorite is using a Jenga tower. There’s a whole game based around it (Dread) but you can just use the tower. Every time someone wants to do something, pull a piece. When it tumbles, something horrible happens. Doom is coming indeed.
4. Sci-Fi –
These issues are similar to those described above for Fantasy. After so many sci-fi series, it is easy enough to fall into stereotypes, the logical alien, the warrior species, the evil imperial civilization. The solutions are pretty much the same as with Fantasy as I said, shake it up, don’t fall into clichés. Maybe your warrior species loves flowers. I don’t know. Could happen.
5. Police/Detective/Clue-hunting –
A lot of games will have a search-for-clues aspect to it. Say Call of Cthulhu, there’s a big component of clue-searching. But then the problem is always the same: what if the players roll badly and they don’t figure out where the things are? How do you manage your players not finding an object that will drive the narrative forward?
Different people and different games run it differently, of course. There’s a dedicated system for clues (GUMSHOE), and most GM’s play it loosely. Like, you’ll ALWAYS need to find the relevant thing, if it’s part of the narrative; it needs to be there. This aspect needs to be handled delicately, as players might feel like they’re being cattle-driven, and that their choices don’t matter. Alternatively, make them come across the clue in a different and less informative way, if they fail all their rolls, make them pay for it.
6. Cyberpunk / Steampunk –
Sometimes hard to pin down for the totally opposite reasons of Fantasy. These genres are so open ended that it is easy to get bogged down, as in, what CAN we do next? You need to spend some time building the universe, before your characters know how little or how much they can do. Is this a Blade Runner-type cuberpunk, with androids and spinners, or is it based on a human city in an alien planet, millennia into the future, where humans can freely fly and turn into energy? This goes also for Steampunk, you need to be careful and establish what your Universe is all about before you start, otherwise your players with find themselves lost in the story.
Do you agree with these? What have been the genre-related issues you’ve found?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after a decade doing odd things in labs, became a teacher. Then, 20 months ago, RPG’ing came into his life and he is now happily juggling the two. He is currently working on a Cypher system space/superhero adventure and a Fate-based Cyberpunk one (with a dark, secret twist). He lives in England with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants and at least 3 to 4 Adventures across as many rule systems, at different levels of completion. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.