Saturday 24 September 2011

R is also for…Rocketships and Rayguns!

One of the things that I am doing with RCFG is ensuring that the game can be played with modern characters, as a planetary romance (or sword-and-planet saga), and even in a post-apocalyptic  framework.  Many modern players like to sharply divide fantasy from interplanetary stories containing rocketships and rayguns.  But this sharp division is not necessarily the best way to go.

Going back to many of the greats, the authors that made myself (and others) love fantasy, I see a lot of crossover between genres.  Robert E. Howard wrote Amulric, a sword-and-planet novel with a modern protagonist.  He writes of Conan encountering an alien in The Tower of the Elephant – an alien which is reminiscent of the sort that appears in so many H. P. Lovecraft stories.  Before either writer, anyone who thrilled to the adventures of John Carter on Mars or Carson on Venus knows well what a good writer (in this case Edgar Rice Burroughs) can do when he crosses genres.  Burrough’s Caspak novels, Pellucidar novels, and Moon Maid cycle offer further examples.

C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories revolve around the intersection of our world with a fantastic one, from the dawn of that world’s creation to it’s final battle.  Likewise, in Lewis’ Silent Planet cycle, humans encounter the fantastic first on Mars, then on Venus, and finally at home on Earth.  In order to tell these kind of stories in a game, it is necessary to have the means to travel to other worlds, be they other spheres orbiting the same sun, or fantasy lands like Narnia.

In terms of blending magic and fantasy in far future, post-apocalyptic worlds, who can forget to mention the works of Jack Vance?  For those of my generation, Thundarr the Barbarian is another major influence for this kind of world. 

Nor is this concept new to gaming.  The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide contains guidelines for crossovers with TSR’s Boot Hill and Gamma World games.  Gary Gygax’s module, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, had adventurers investigate a crashed starship – some of the alien creatures on board have since become standard Dungeons & Dragons monsters!  The 2nd Edition Spelljammer setting was a (mostly) clever take on mixing fantasy and interplanetary fun.  Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms once had much traffic with our own world – hence they are “forgotten” not by their inhabitants, but by ourselves.

Following the adoption of the Open Gaming License with 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, crossover material became even more prolific. 

Even if you never have a group of adventurers travel to the moon, or have an infantry squad discover themselves on a strange parallel earth, having rules on psionics, mutations, and classes that capitalize on the same, can be very useful when advancing the odd aboleth or other Lovecraftian horror.

Blending fantasy and science fiction and adventure tales continues to be popular.  It may have started with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, but it has a wide range of later application, from the Jeds and Jeddaks of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom to the Jedi of Star Wars.  Every steampunk story containing the fantastic, every urban fantasy tale, every horror story set within the context of the modern or a future world, is part of the same long tradition. 

Even J.R.R. Tolkien suggests, in The Hobbit, that the goblins (or orcs, as they are called in The Lord of the Rings) are part of our world, and may be responsible for some of our worst modern weapons, while Gandalf’s flash-and-bang that kills several goblins in the cave in the Misty Mountains is at least suggestive of gunpowder.  Gandalf is, after all, a master of fireworks, and that is mentioned in the very first chapter!  Why?  Because the fantastic must be grounded in – and in contrast to – our everyday “world” of assumptions in order to ring true.

So, if you are wondering why a fantasy game – any fantasy game! – should bother with rules on creating mutants, aliens, or alien technology, that is my answer.  Likewise for rules on allowing interaction between the fantastic and the mundane worlds.

These things are part of the fantasy genre.  They always have been.  They always will be.


  1. Good post. There's a lot of cool stuff mentioned within it. Thundarr is my favorite cartoon show from that era. It was like my vision of what a Gamma World game should be.

  2. Thanks. Of course, as kids we never wondered why a guy touting himself as a "barbarian", and possessing a big sword, never rid himself of his enemies by using it properly..... :D


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