When you describe a potential game to your players, the elevator pitch is the most important thing. In the past, I’ve said ‘It’s D&D in ancient Egypt’, ‘It’s Firefly with aliens’, ‘It’s Shadowrun with psychic powers’, ‘It’s Call of Cthulhu in the 2070s’, amongst others. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having, say, a D&D fantasy game. Old school. Dungeon, kill. Town, persuade. Forest, persuade and/or kill. That said, I feel that hybrid genres open up a lot more possibilities; the whole being more than the sum of its parts. And here are my personal favourite hybrid genres.
1) Sci-fi + Fantasy
I feel that Shadowrun is the greatest expression of this one, which helps, because it’s been around forever, so most players have at least come across it. More recently, we’ve seen new ones, like Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, that combines an alien feel with the orcs and elves vibe. Loads of potential here, and easy for players to visualise the environment.
2) Steampunk + Fantasy
Steampunk is always tough. I love it, heck, I’ve cosplayed it, but it needs much more effort to explain the background to players. The easiest way is to bind it to fantasy. Just take your classic fantasy troupes and give them gunpowder, airships, steam engines and a McGuffin mineral as a stand-in for nuclear power. And now your dwarves have rifles.
3) Steampunk + Sci-fi
Again, not the easiest to explain or interact with, but with lots of potential. Think Victorian tech, but with access to the stars. Space: 1889 is one of the best ones for this. Take off your science hats, though, you’ll be playing in the deserts of Mars and in the swamps of Venus. I’ve never played it myself, but just the illustrations of explorers with ray-guns, fighting huge monsters in The Mines of Mercury (or thereabouts) have always made me file it on the ‘One day’ folder.
4) Sci-fi + Gothic
Grimdark. That’s it. I mean, that’s it for those people that play Warhammer 40.000. The idea is (and I’m simplifying it to a ridiculous degree) a stagnant, corrupt, decaying society, with a lot of sci-fi tropes, but overwhelmingly depressing and bleak. The universe reinforces your insignificance on a daily basis, the architecture is monumental (you have cathedrals the size of continents), religion is omnipresent, inflexible and repressing. You’re but a mote of dust in the greater scheme of things but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun amongst the shadows.
5) Gothic + Fantasy
Ravenloft. Think vampires, misty moors, ghosts and ghouls and NPC’s with eastern European accents saying things like ‘Ve never approach ze castle…. Especially at night….’ (*bolt of lightning lights up everything in sharp monochrome*). Again, grim, dark, depressing, I’ve known groups that have spent years going around Barovia (one of the locations). If you like the 1950s Universal Monster movie series, boy oh boy, is this type of setting for you.
6) Sci-fi + Detective
Simple, but effective. The film-noir setting, but with hover-cars and Megacorps. If you want a whodunnit with some flavour, this would be one of my favourites. And there is so much space to bring lots of stuff from the Bogart private eye era, sleazy gin joints, shady characters, stolen artefacts. Just update it, give it a bit more flavour and put in some cyber-enhanced baddies. Job done.
7) Outcasts + Pretty Much Anything
This one is a classic. Characters are (insert special class of characters that are outcasts from normal society for some reason, having most likely abilities or appearance that is different from all others) and need to interact with the ‘normal’ society. I mean, even in D&D, the players are supposed to be amazing adventurers.
8) Superpowers + Anything
In any genre you can mention, give your players a super power. And now you have a game. I doubt the other people in that society are happy with someone amongst them that has that superpower, even if it is a simple one. Or maybe the players need to keep it a secret? In any case, the X-Men have been ‘protecting the world that hates and fears them’ for 50 years. They must be doing something right.
9) Contemporary + Anything
Possibly a good gateway approach. New players don’t need to imagine they’re in distant Farawayland, filled with pink and purple dragons. Instead, it’s now. It’s today. And you have the ability to read the minds of blond people. And the Superhuman Containment Task Force is after you. You basically woke up, and you’re living in the X-Files. Run!
What other hybrid genres have you come across? Let us know your favorites!
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, three years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a couple of years, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
Picture Reference: https://www.nola.com/movies/index.ssf/2011/07/cowboys_and_aliens_review.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.