Why Fantasy?


Active member
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Idk. Makes no sense to me.

In most other entertainment media fantasy doesn't really register in the same way. In movies its super heroes, sci-fi, cars and thrillers. The only fantasy movies that made any kind of real money was Lord of the Rings.

In video games its pretty spread over a lot of genres.

In books... We know romance smashes all other categories in sales and genre fiction tends to come in last.

Why fantasy and D&D is so dominant in trpgs is confusing to me. I think it's partly because it gets pushed so much. Anytime a new person gets introduced into rpgs the first game they get introduced to is D&D and it's always been this way. I bet well over 90% of rpg gamers got started with D&D.


RPGnet Member
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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.
I think that's right. And I think that D&D has held on to its first-mover's advantage because it has a clear template adventure. Someone offers to run D&D and the next question is "can I play the Rogue?", not "who we gonna be, what we gonna do?"

Endless Rain

Validated User
Also, magic. Magic can do so much! :) I love magic. ^_^
This. Spellcasting fits really, really well into RPGs. To quote Sanderson's First Law, "An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic." RPGs, by their very nature, allow players to understand magic better than Fantasy stuff in any other media format.

Magic systems in RPGs almost always have details and constraints on what the magic system can do. While this is not always necessary in other formats like movies, it is absolutely essential to understand what PC spellcasters can do in RPGs, and this leads to more interesting magic systems. (Video games are similar in needing players to understand magic systems, but the lack of a GM means spells can't have as much interaction with the world.)


Registered User
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D&D does cast a long shadow. But fantasy's also very user-friendly. It's incredibly easy to make up your own fairy tale and have it sound like other fairy tales. It's not necessarily going to be good fantasy, but it's easy to do plausible fantasy without actually doing all that much research. You can use mythic logic like "because you were kind to the stranger, he turned out to be a powerful dude in disguise and gave you something cool" or you can use realpolitik. Because it borrows from myth, concepts like "My elf's homeland was burned down by a dragon and he was sold to the gladiator pits" are public domain in a way that "My Wookiee was part of Starfleet before he became a rogue trader" isn't. And your players will understand the premise of a fantasy just fine if they aren't paying much attention, which... they often aren't.

The overall popularity of genres in non-RPGs could, theoretically, influence what genres are popular in RPGs. But as noted, superheroes completely fail to dominate the RPG market even though they're all over multiplexes. Something about the superhero genre isn't as user-friendly in the RPG format, and anyone who's run a superhero game can probably list off a whole bunch of tricky things you have to account for, or possible reasons that players have shown disinterest in the game.

I'm going with a mix of "D&D is the face of roleplaying games" and "other genres aren't quite as user-friendly as they look at first glance."


Registered User
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I have to fall in line with D&D being the explanation. That said, fantasy is also really the only setting-defined genre where "generic fantasy" is a thing. "Generic sci-fi" means nothing, and while the concept of "generic X" is both a pox on and an indictment of a literary genre it does seem to work well in games.


Arduin Survivor
Validated User
I don't have a good answer. The idea that we are "more familiar with fantasy" today is pretty, well, silly. I mean, even if just talking cultural saturation we've had Star Trek, Star Wars, Terminator, Aliens, and on and on for pretty much just as long or longer as D&D has existed. The Star Wars juggernaut was only a few years behind D&D and I'd be hard pressed to believe D&D really had any sort of foothold on the general public at that time whereas Star Wars was everywhere. There's no real big difference between a lot of sci fi and fantasy other than the paint job. I'd wager most of the most popular sci fi didn't really bother to explain or detail how the technology works, and instead just threw out a different word than "magic" (and for the record, I dislike magic, itself, almost as much as I hate the "magic can do anything" and "magic is always better than technology" stuff).

We more easily recognize fantasy? Then why is it more popular than a modern setting? I'd guess because we are escaping the modern setting (and note the upswing of a variety of nostalgic 80's games and media). To be honest, I think in the 80's and 90's we weren't exposed to fantasy as much as sci fi based on all the cartoons, tv shows, and movies out there. TV was full of talking super cars, alien visitor sitcoms, gimmick cop with a unique power from a science accident, and so on. Cartoons were dominated by sci fi special forces military, transforming robots, and holographic pop stars (who thwarted more dangerous terrorist rivals than the military guys).

Superheroes aren't any more technical either. This magic amulet lets you survive in space by covering you in a protective bubble (the spacesuit in Guardians of the Galaxy). This magic armor lets you fly and project special destructive beams (Iron Man - no tech is really explained. What is an "Arc reactor?" It's magic) - an has a helpful spirit inside to give advice. This soldier took a magic potion to become swole and uses a magic shield. This guy has a magic hammer. They all team up to fight demons coming from the sky.

I don't know. It doesn't seem right to me to say "because gamers are too dumb to 'get' anything else." Admittedly an impolite way to paraphrase some of the responses but there does seem to be that vibe. Maybe it really is simply "they are lazy."


Unregistered user
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Not so much 'easily comprehensible' as 'the same across a lot of settings'. Your average fantasy setting has swords, bows, horses & sailing ships, and those work basically the same way in all of them.
Sci-fi also has a lot of the same things, but insists on giving everything different names. Fantasy settings have swords and elves and calls them "swords" and "elves". Sci-fi settings have energy projectile weapons and wise elder aliens but every setting has its own names for them: blasters, lasers, phasers, PPGs, photon bolters, etc.

Fantasy genericizes itself even if it has its own specific names: "The elves are divided into the High Elves and the Wood Elves (although they call themselves Alduril and Quanduril). The Dwurg, better known to the rest of the world as 'dwarves' (and never referred to as 'Dwurg' ever again outside this sentence), trade metal ores to the elves in exchange for hops and barley."

+1 for "science gotta explain shit."
More like "sci-fi won't shut up about how many buttons are on the adjustable chronograph bezel of a type 7 wristwatch comm link". A Star Trek phaser, a Star Wars blaster, a Babylon 5 PPG, or a Flash Gordon ray gun are all just "glowy death beams with a point-and-click interface". All of them could be called "guns" and the stories would be unaltered. They're all presented with specific details and no generic default name so it feels like there is a lot more to digest in order to get into a setting.

Heavy Arms

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Validated User
Is that a thing that happens in WoW?

The two largest fantasy properties in pop culture are Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
I think you're kind of overly focused on 'all media' here. You can't compare TTRPGs to a novel, or a movie. They'e completely different experiences.

Look at interactive media. I haven't crunched any numbers, but I'm pretty sure that as both audience interaction with the product, and audience interaction with each other goes up, fantasy goes up.

This is why I point to MMORPGs... it's a hugely fantasy dominated market. And like TTRPGs there are plenty of other options, including major properties like Star Wars and Star Trek out there.... but EVE is pretty much the only MMORPG that can reliably hang in the top 10 that isn't fantasy (and it's usually towards the bottom of the top ten).

If you look at all video games, sure you get more genres, but narrow it down to things closer to TTRPG and LARP.... and I think things change.

I honestly don't have a great answer here. There certainly seems to be an impact from the first 'big' property like D&D and WoW (though WoW wasn't the first of its kind like D&D was), but I think there's also merit to the idea that the genre seems to be better for getting people on the same page and thus playing together as a group.


Retired User
I'm going with a mix of "D&D is the face of roleplaying games" and "other genres aren't quite as user-friendly as they look at first glance."
This just about sums up my view.

I think 'fantasy' (if we mean basically pre-industrial, pre-modern societies plus magic, manifest divinities and bizarre monsters) is more tractable than a lot of other categories. The key elements, from my perspective are:
- common heritage of images, plots, languages, stories, ideas with diverse resonances
- plenty of variety and flexibility to introduce new and possibly contradictory elements: everything fits
- low technology tends to keep most of the action at a personal, face-to-face, visceral level
- low technology plus plot-friendly restrictions on magic tends to make certain kinds of plot lines (e.g. investigations) more tractable
- low technology cultures (as seen through our everyday assumptions) operate more at a personal level, with simple rules, unspecialised occupations, simple hierarchies, relationship-based transactions
- low technology seems easy to understand: even if the players can't light a fire by rubbing together two sticks, they have the idea of how it works
- pre-contemporary cultures are associated with lawlessness and personal violence: so it's a licence to engage in some shadow-play/ escapism

Supers? One problem here is that every costumed hero is unique. So if you're going to have rules for that hero's powers, the rules have to be unique... somehow (many games handle this with colour, I guess, but that detail has to be in some way discussed. Many fantasy RPGs settle for either a) a master spell list that wizards draw down from; or b) more-or-less freeform magic, so that a wizard's powers are not fixed from occasion to occasion.

Hard sci-fi? Tends to take a lot of technical understanding; might tend to be too technical to be fun (my guy is an engineer who does calculations; how do I role-play having this great moment of problem-solving insight?); tends to be a lot of work to set up, because there is an expectation of internal coherence; once you have seen the consequences of the underpinning scientific/technical conjecture, subsequent episodes tend to be everyday life in a different world, but the same different world as it was yesterday.

Real life? Games with a present day/ near future focus are likely to have a lot of technology which wreaks havoc with certain kinds of plots and characters, including action/combat solutions and solutions. PCs have specialised skills that their players might not understand (or might have conflicting understandings of) and work at a distance, through influence, on abstractions that don't translate easily into a visceral experience; 30% of them are some kind of accountant at least some of the time; the consequences of simple, direct, violent solutions are likely very bad for a PC.

Historical fiction? Has lots of the advantages of fantasy without the magic, monsters or divinities. So once you get used to the setting, it can become a lot like real life.

Soft sci-fi? More resembles fantasy than other genres I think. One of the main distinguishing features is that soft sci-fi wants to have its own unique menagerie of creatures, locales, cultures, weapons. So it is more work to set up, and loses out on the rich associations and commonality of 'fantasy'.
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