The Gassy Gnoll: Crossing the (Genre) Streams… (RPG Blog Carnival)

The RPG Blog Carnival topic for May 2011 is Crossing Genres, hosted over at The Dump Stat by Greg Schuster. And it’s a good topic unless you look at it from the Ghostbusters perspective…

Dr. Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Dr. Peter Venkman: What?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Dr. Peter Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Dr Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Right. That’s bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

And yet, later in the film, they change their minds and crossing the streams is their only hope…

Ghostbusters

Image via Wikipedia

Dr. Egon Spengler: I have a radical idea. The door swings both ways, we could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Dr. Peter Venkman: How?
Dr. Egon Spengler: [hesitates] We’ll cross the streams.
Dr. Peter Venkman: ‘Scuse me Egon? You said crossing the streams was bad!
Dr Ray Stantz: Cross the streams…
Dr. Peter Venkman: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client – the nice lady, who paid us in advance, before she became a dog…
Dr. Egon Spengler: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a *very slim* chance we’ll survive.
[pause while they consider this]
Dr. Peter Venkman: [slaps Ray] I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it! LET’S DO IT!

(BTW, if you ever need any good Ghostbusters quotes, be sure to check out IMDB’s quotes page. I use it all the time!)

Ok, so I may have gone a bit over the line here with movie quotes. Sue me. But I think the idea is the same. Let’s call this the Ghostbusters principle of genre mixing… It’s not good to cross genres unless it’s good to cross genres. Is that vague enough? Yeah, I think that’ll do.

Typically I’m a fan of keeping genres separated. The whole idea behind the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module way back when plopped a spaceship in the middle of a fantasy campaign and it really threw me off way back then. Sure, the idea of ray guns mixed with swords and sorcery sounds neat on the surface, but then I ran across the conundrum of technology in non-tech worlds. I honestly don’t even remember playing the module, but I remember considering it from a GM’s perspective (albeit in Junior High School) and not liking the repercussions.

I’m similarly put off by firearms in fantasy campaigns. Introducing gunpowder to me signifies the end of the sorcery period of a world and more of an imbalance between knights and rifles. You can ask the Samurai how well that turned out for them.

So on the one hand I’m more of a stickler for keeping genres separated.

And yet… the other hand goes the opposite direction. For example, I’m addicted to urban fantasy these days. I love The Dresden Files from Jim Butcher and all the great fiction that’s coming out from new authors all the time. (Anybody read Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts? Great story!)

I also like the idea
of steampunk settings, mixing the Victorian Era with steam-powered technology well beyond what was actually available at the time. Dirigibles… Computers… Robots… It’s a hodgepodge of gears and gowns.

By now you’re scratching your head. He doesn’t like firearms in a fantasy world, but he likes magic in a modern world? Technology and Victorian history? Why doesn’t he dislike mixing genres here… Doesn’t it amount to the same thing as guns in D&D? Kinda.

So what’s different? For me, it’s the baseline world that sets the stage for acceptable technology. If we’re talking about a futuristic world where time travel is possible and they send back a bunch of people to the time of dinosaurs, the technology level is high even though they’re in a primitive world. If we’re talking about a fantasy world like Conan’s Hyboria and we introduce technology from the far future like laser guns, we’ve gone off the rails. So it all boils down to what’s acceptable in that base world for me.

For example, I have a setting I’ve been working on for numerous years that combines a medieval sword and sorcery world with some superhero aspects where a group of people gain elemental magic abilities. Because I’m mixing two different styles of magic, that becomes more of the story than the fact that these individuals are more or less like members of the Fantastic Four. The characters are still heroes and villains in a fantasy world, just with a bit more magic than some and less than others…

Ultimately, like Egon, crossing the streams can be a good thing in the right circumstances. I think. :)

How have you mixed genres in your campaign worlds? Are there times that it works? And times that it doesn’t? I’d love to hear both sides of the equation!

Got a beef with the Gassy Gnoll? Drop him a line at gassy(at)gameknightreviews(dot)com.

 

 

 

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