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Spring Cleaning – Change The Genre!

Posted By Patrick Benson On May 6, 2011 @ 9:24 am In GMing Advice,Tools for GMs | 9 Comments

My wife is a neat freak. Spring cleaning never truly ends for her, but when the seasons change suddenly the house is redecorated right under my nose. Winter themed knick-knacks are replaced with spring themed knick-knacks. Artwork changes, colors change, and everything seems to change ever so slightly.

My utilitarian mind cannot comprehend why she does this. Do we really need a little banner in the garden that changes with each month? It is not like the rest of the neighborhood is dependent upon us to tell them what part of the year it is. And where the hell does she keep all of this stuff? It just appears and disappears based upon her whims. Yet I do not get in my wife’s way for two reasons:

  1. I must admit that her efforts do revive our home. It is a better place to live in, because she has made it a little bit more dynamic.
  2. We are deeply in love with each other, she is absolutely gorgeous, and for some reason she wants to be with me. No way am I screwing this deal up!

Enough about my marriage, the point is that even though I am still living in the same home my wife’s spring cleaning and decoration changes make it feel like a new place to me. And you can do the same thing with your favorite game system by changing the genre.

You do not need to buy a new game system. You do not need to redesign the game. You can use the exact same rules. All you have to do is change the names and the descriptions. Your D&D 4e game can become a thrilling weird Western tale, and your Corporation game can become a battle for the magical lands following the fall of Camelot.

But why should you change the genre when you could just play another game? For one, you will have eliminated the learning curve that comes with the adoption of a new game system. Your players and you already know the rules. Another benefit is that you might recapture the excitement of when your players were first introduced to the game system, because even though they know how everything works under the hood they don’t recognize the bodywork and interior.

If your players start making statements like “Hey! These ‘Dr. Morrison’s Elixir & Tonic’ are the same thing as healing potions! We should stock up on them before we go after those mechanized train robbers!” you will know that your re-skinning of the game system has been effective.

Plus you do not have to take a permanent vacation from your current campaign. You can always run a one-shot game using the same system but under a different genre as a way to spice things up without a great deal of effort. This is a great way for your players to try out new builds and experiment with the game system. This gives them a chance to find out what works and what does not before making changes to their characters that are a part of your regular campaign.

One final benefit from changing the genre of your game system is that it gets you thinking about how the mechanics work. Do the crossbow rules work better for a revolver or a shotgun? Cowboys don’t use swords, so do these melee rules now become hand-to-hand combat? What about knives, tomahawks, and¬†cavalry¬†sabers? You will start to evaluate the materials in your current game system based upon the underlying traits (dice, bonuses, etc.) instead of the obvious descriptions. This can make you a stronger GM.

So take a moment to dust off your current game system, polish up the techniques that you use to run it, and maybe spruce it up a bit with a new genre. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results, and you can always return to the original materials later while still using the same rules.

Have you applied a different genre to your favorite game system? If so, how did it go? Share your experience with the rest of us by leaving a comment below.

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Spring Cleaning – Change The Genre!"

#1 Comment By BryanB On May 6, 2011 @ 11:56 am

I actually purchased The Savage World of Solomon Kane thinking that it might be a good source of information for a Late-Renaissance period game I was thinking about doing with Pathfinder (limited classes). This was because I needed a genre change. Bog standard fantasy was getting a little old for me.

I actually liked what I was reading about the system so I’ve decided to try the system out along with the setting. But it will be a welcome genre change for me once it is ready to roll.

Thankfully, our real Spring Cleaning was done back in January when we moved. So none of the real thing this year! :D

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 6, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

@BryanB – I’m not a huge fantasy fan to begin with. The darker and grittier stuff I like (John Boorman’s Excalibur for example), but most fantasy in RPGs turns into cheesecake IMO. I call it the “Flintstones Dilemma”. The GM wants to introduce some way for the PCs to talk with other over long distances, so here is a magic item that does it for you. Just like the Flintstones could throw a talking pterodactyl into a box and suddenly have a mobile phone as it carried there messages back and forth. Need a shower? Use a woolly mammoth. Want a robot? Cast a spell on a suit of armor.

The problem with all of that is that now you are no longer in a pre-historic or medieval setting anymore. So I have actually changed the genre of fantasy games into… umm, fantasy? :)

#3 Comment By recursive.faults On May 6, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

I have mixed feelings about this idea. I’d say they’re mixed because in my mind every gamer will, on some level, play to the system underneath. On the other hand, a good group of gamers will not employ their standard bag of tricks once they figure out the topical changes.

My other big concern is that if part of your genre change is going to include a different “feel” to it than what your group is accustomed to then I also think you’ll have problems.

The example would be exactly the one you gave about, “Dr. Morrison’s Elixer & Tonic.” If you intend, as a DM employing this genre change, to have your players really investigate and try to know the world I think you’ll have a pretty uphill battle. I think players will get so far as to map the new to the old and then interpret everything else as interesting footnotes.

I’m not trying to be a downer on any of this, I think it’s great and everyone should give it a try. I just think that if I were planning this I would want to have given consideration to the possibility that my lovingly detailed, “Dr. Morrison’s Elixer & Tonic,” may ever only be said once before it is called, “Cure Light,” from that point on.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 6, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

@recursive.faults – Fair enough. You bring up some strong points as to what can go wrong with this sort of thing. It is a group effort for sure.

But in regards to your last statement:

GM: The shopkeeper looks at you and says “We don’t have any of that there Kurlite you was askin’ for. Sorry, but perhaps you might wanna’ take a gander at our medicinal products on that there shelf behind ya’.”

;)

#5 Comment By ouzelum On May 7, 2011 @ 11:25 am

@recursive.faults – I agree with you on this one. And while I get where you’re coming from with your response to him, Patrick, I think it suffers on a few counts:

One, the GM would have to be constantly, constantly making efforts to reinforce it, and even GMs are going to slip up and call a cure spell a cure spell from time to time. You have years of conditioning to break in that little renaming;

and two, if my GM said something like that to me I’d probably be rolling my eyes and finding it a litle patronizing (though obviously this attitude will vary between groups based on how much time they spend in character). I appreciate the world-building flavor, but trying to cram it down my throat is another thing. In my experience, some things you say as a player and some things you say as a character. Even if your NPCs all sound confused, the players are still going to call it Cure Light Wounds between one another.

#6 Comment By recursive.faults On May 7, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

I think @ouzelum cleared up what my poor writing tried to do.

Another way to think about it is like this: If you’ve ever run a game with important NPC characters only to find your players saying later, “Oh that dude with the limp. Crap, what was his name?” You would potentially find your players doing the same, “I need cure light, crap, what was it actually called?”

That’s going to be something entirely based on the group that’s playing. I’ve played in some that are closer to my concerns and in others where it would never be one.

What I think could make a new genre for a system shine, would be the slight repurposing of the mechanics, skills, etc that give it that slight edge that will keep things fresh and new.

In the wild west example, a couple of ideas would go along with the hand to hand combat that Patrick mentioned, a more in-depth or mini-game type initiative mechanic for duels, throw in something completely crazy like a grit bonus that is based in your RP, make your horse riding skill more in-depth, and so on.

Obviously when you start tweaking rules there is a huge potential for disaster, but I think that if you are careful and involve your players it will be memorable. Even better, when you go back to playing the normal system with the normal genre, the players will always make positive comparisons to how it worked when you played in the wild west.

Personally though, I’m always excited to try a new game system out, so if you give me the slightest excuse I’ll clamor, “Forget that, lets try to use Fudge instead!”

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 7, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

@ouzelum – I disagree with the notion that the GM and the players would constantly be slipping up. I know from past experience that does not happen.

As for feeling patronized and then rolling your eyes in response, well at that point I would say that we have an issue that is probably unrelated to the genre change other than it was a catalyst for something worse. A player feeling patronized was not the intent of what I suggested, and although I don’t know what the intent of the player rolling his or her eyes would be I find that kind of body language to be highly offensive. It is something that I think should never be done to anyone.

So at that point I would stop the game by calling a break and ask that player to speak with me in private. We have a respect issue, and that has to be dealt with immediately. Both player and GM must feel appreciated, and in the scenario that you described both the player and the GM inadvertently (or possibly intentionally) showed disrespect to each other IMO. That kind of thing can’t be left unresolved.

@recursive.faults – Again, I have not experienced the issues that you are describing when I have done what I described in the article. That is based on my limited experience with the groups that I have gamed with, so I cannot say that it is an absolute. I can say that when I have played games with the same underlying system but different settings and different genres that even though an item might be mechanically identical the players and the GM use the setting appropriate name. Battlestar Galactica and Serenity both use the Cortex system and were published my Margaret Weis Productions, and switching between those two games I and my players called things with the same mechanics by the game appropriate name. And in that case the games are in the same genre, so there is even more reason for players to stick with one term if the case that you are making were to apply. Yet for some reason that players don’t do that at all.

So I will agree to disagree at this point, because what you and ouzelum are describing is certainly possible it goes against personal firsthand knowledge and experiences that I have had to the contrary. It is as if you were to tell me that “I do not think that people would like sriracha sauce.” even though I have already had it and I know that I and others like it. Now your statement may be true for some, but it doesn’t apply to me in that case. That could be what is happening here. Maybe what you described has happened to you with a genre change for a favorite game system, but for me the experience has been quite the opposite.

#8 Comment By ouzelum On May 8, 2011 @ 1:37 am

@Patrick Benson – I just want to say, I meant no disrespect. I just think that this highlights the differences between the kinds of people we might play with and how this issue is one that might vary more from group to group than some of the others.

Let me paint a picture for you: the folks I play alongside are invested in my DM’s story and want to take part of the action, and we’ve been playing together for years, but oftentimes there’s a great deal of spillover of the players’ personality into the characters’ behavior. As a result it can be tough to divorce the two. Many players can’t even be troubled to remember the other PC names. It’s just “Hey Halfling,” “Yo Paladin,” “Jim it’s your turn.”

It’s tough to get player buy-in sometimes, and I was just trying to say that you can’t force it– with my group, if you tried to press the renaming issue by having the NPC respond a little sardonically because the GM is trying to make a point, they would feel like you’re criticizing them or giving them a little gruff over it. They would give you attitude as a player because they’d feel like you’re giving them attitude as a GM– “We get the point, it’s different, but functionally you know what I’m talking about here.” At the end of the day, it might be a Le Mat from Serenity or a Stallion from Battlestar, but for the standard, everyday use “pistol” gets the point across. The re-skinning alone is not enough.

I think it works selectively. Using the crossbow rules for guns is fine. People imagine a gun. But when you trade “potion” for “tonic,” the objects are too similar. People will just keep saying potion, unless you give them a catchy nickname. In the Greek-themed reskin my brother ran, the short sword became the gladius and it worked, but the elf became the dryad and everyone just still called them elves. I’m not saying nobody likes sriracha sauce, I’m just saying not everybody can be expected to like sriracha sauce all the time. :) I admit a little bit of it’s jealousy that you have such flexible players!

#9 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 9, 2011 @ 8:52 am

@ouzelum – No need to apologize. I wasn’t offended. I was just thinking through how I would react to that at the table.

Some settings might make it easier to switch between terms than others, but perhaps it really comes down to the group and what they want from a genre change. If your group was able to adjust to a change in the term for a weapon, but not for the change in a term for a character race that tells me that the transition is possible when the incentive is right. Maybe your group likes more realistic combat and hates elves? I don’t know the reason, but it is clear that the transition can be made.


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