Why Fantasy?

Kimera757

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Why, I wonder, are tabletop role-playing games dominated by the fantasy genre or genres close to it (urban fantasy, dark fantasy and science fantasy)?

I don't think it is just because D&D was first. It has been 40 years and we have seen literally thousands of RPGs in all manner of genres, and still fantasy games seem to dominate. Is it that the people drawn to TTRPGs have an inherent interest in fantasy (more than, say, hard sci fi or westerns)? Is it that fantasy is somehow easier to play than other genres?

Thoughts?
Fantasy has a lot of tropes to support it. Most people are familiar with the pseudo Medieval Western Europe setting that is so common.

The modern era is familiar, but there are fewer tropes to support it. Sci-fi is unfamiliar, and also has fewer tropes to support it.

I could start a game with "you all meet in an inn" in D&D and be confident the PCs will befriend each other, work together, and go on adventures. (I always do session zero, but when I was younger, we did the meet in an inn thing.) If I try that in modern or sci-fi, it will likely crash and burn. Characters are constrained by the setting of fantasy, whereas it tends to be constrained only by the GM for other settings. Many players can handle fantasy, but not modern or sci-fi.
 

Reynard

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I could start a game with "you all meet in an inn" in D&D and be confident the PCs will befriend each other, work together, and go on adventures.
That doesn't seem right. That's not a thing that happens anywhere but in D&D style fantasy. You would already have to be familiar with the tropes for it to make sense. As opposed to, "You are all members of the crew of a Starship," or, "You are all students at a school for the gifted."
 

Heavy Arms

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I think you're overlooking the influence of JRPGs and MMORPGs on cultural context/tropes there.

Games like WoW drew a huge amount of inspiration from D&D, and thus popularized tropes like "you all meet up at the inn, and become an adventuring party."

When fantasy oriented isekai anime/manga/etc. has some sort of adventurers guild where people gather to collect quests and form parts and there's zero need to explain it, it's a trope that's beyond D&D even if D&D is most directly responsible for popularizing it.
 

DavetheLost

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We were doing "you all meet in a tavern" or even more frequently "you are standing at the top of a set of stone stairs going down into the ground" in the '70s. Long before D&D tropes really became established. We certainly didn't worry about it "making sense". You rolled up characters, bought them some gear and headed down into the dungeon because that's where the monsters and treasures were. Why were the goblins living next to the zombies? Did anybody ever leave their room? What did the monsters eat when they couldn't get adventurer? We never asked those questions. We were too busy having fun.

This was in the days when fantasy was a fairly obscure genre. Bookstores had sci fi, Tolkien, Howard and Burroughs. And the wild trip that was Urshurak!

D&D wasn't much like Tolkien at all, beyond having orcs and elves. Of all of them it was closest to Burroughs. John Carter groping his way through the pits beneath a ruined Martian city facing bizarre monsters with only his sword to depend on, that was D&D.

Why fantasy? Because we grew up with Narnia, and Prydian, and Middle Earth, Barsoom and Cimeria, Kings Arthur and Kull. Prince Valiant. Because you can pick up a stick, pretend it's a sword and hit things with it.
 

Reynard

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Games like WoW drew a huge amount of inspiration from D&D, and thus popularized tropes like "you all meet up at the inn, and become an adventuring party."
Is that a thing that happens in WoW?

The two largest fantasy properties in pop culture are Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. In the former, the characters all have a shared origin. In the latter, while there is an inn involved, it isn't quite the D&D trope.

Am I underestimating the power of inertia? Do people really only come to TTRPGs by way of D&D and therefore they associate TTRPGs with D&D? I suppose it is possible. Even now as vast numbers of new players enter the hobby, most of those are coming in by way of Critical Role and other high profile streams. I don't suppose there are any well known streams (outside of those already in the hobby I mean) that aren't either D&D or fantasy in general?

And I guess it is worth asking if non-RPG hobby games lean heavily toward fantasy. Video games seem to have a pretty good mix but I have not thought hard about or examined popular board games enough to know.
 

Soylent Green

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I think it's really all about D&D. Remove D&D and it's close relatives, and the imbalance between fantasy games and the rest isn't that pronounced. The top non D&D fantasy games Warhammer Fantasy and Runequest aren't wildly more popular than Call of Cthulhu, Star Wars or Vampire.
 

NathanS

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Board games are pretty mixed, and have a long history of using fairly mundane themes, as they have gained in popularity for a mass market more adventurous themes have been brought forward, but that still leaves it with a long tradition of games considered all-time greats being themed with stuff like "being a merchant" "running a power plant" and "making a city."
 

DavetheLost

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I think D&D really is how people come into the hobby. Even if you try to introduce them to other games, and they have never played an RPG before, they want to play "D&D". Everything else is an also ran. D&D is the giant in the room, and you have to count most, if not all OSR as "D&D" because it is essentially house rules and variants of D&D. Not totally original games, with original mechanics that play in the style of RPG gaming back in the late '70s and early '80s, but variants of D&D. Even RuneQuest and the Palladium system show strong roots in D&D.
 

Reverend Keith

I was a friend of Jamis
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I know a lot of people who prefer playing games in a world that aren't even remotely similar to our own. For many of those players, gaming brings a catharsis because you can do whatever you want, as compared to your life in the cube farm or retail space. Virtually all modern games are avoided by these type of players I've met, as well as most sci-fi games getting lumped into the same categories as modern games, as most sci-fi tend to include the tropes of modern day life ("but in the future!")! That leaves fantasy games, where they get to live a life that is fantastical and not even remotely connected to their lives in the real world.
 
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