Why Fantasy?


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Is that a thing that happens in WoW?
You rarely go wait into inns for that, as WoW have chats for that.
Most efficient is your guild's chat.

Historically, if you couldn't find 5 people in your guild (or were not in a guild), you could rely on a major city's chat.
Nowadays, you just open the group matching tool, enter the role you want to play, and wait for it to create the group for yourself.

Anyway, you'd better be ready to be the tank or the healer if you don't want to wait for hours...


Baroque Space Orc Mage
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Because D&D was f-
Seriously, though, "fantasy" has become so synonymous with Tolkien and his inheritors in the western mindset that it's easy to get everyone the same page, while if you say "sci-fi" or "horror" there's no similarly unifying premise. That's really a lot of it.
This is definitely an important thing. People who aren't immersed in the genres aren't going to know about the technicalities inherent in most science fiction settings or properties because the science usually occupies a decent space within science fiction, and part of that means there's a different take on 'science' in order to differentiate. You can't generalize about science fiction as easily. People who don't know either genre are probably more likely to know about fantastic stuff, I think, since I would classify even some edge cases like Star Wars as being more fantasy than science fiction despite it having a fair bit of science fiction trappings.

People have always told stories of the fantastic. Even the earliest Literature (Epic of Gilgamesh for example) is a fantasy story. Most myths and legends feature monsters, treasure, strange peoples and magic. I think that humans are just naturally interested in Fantasy, and that spills over into gaming.
This is also important. Myths are an important part of our cultural heritage, to the point that even those who aren't as well-educated still absorb some through osmosis. Whether you buy into the concept of archetypes and what role they play in our psychology on a biological level, they certainly play an important part culturally. The fantastic occupies a lot more of our heritage than the scientific does, despite popular theories that fantastic explanations are merely "primitive" science and superstition.

Fantasy more directly plugs into the the collective unconscious, Campbell's monomyth, etc. Star Wars is fantasy. Star Trek sci-fi. One makes a lot more money.
This kind of re-iterates the previous point but does it in a way that I think is more resonant with my own view on such. The archetypes that we use for storymaking are rooted more in stories that embody the fantastic. You can do that with science fiction, sure, but as we see in a lot of discussions about science fiction, unless you are doing SCIENCE as fiction (the kind of "hard" science fiction which I personally think glorifies technology and science at the expense of narrative in most cases I've personally attempted reading), it feels like what passes for science fiction has strong elements in it that are also in fantasy and would be more recognizable as fantasy sans the science fiction context.

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:
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.
This touches on what I alluded to upstairs. Not that I think some science fiction properties like mentioned here are about glorifying the tech/science, per se, but there are definitely some out there that do that. And when they do that, my experience is that the narrative loses something. If I wanted to read something like that, I'd be reading non-fiction. I'm reading fiction for a story. If you can actually weave those details in non-obtrusively then I am more likely to accept them. I may not feel the same level of passion about them as the creator of the universe - and that's fine - but I won't find them stifling my enjoyment of the property. I suspect the RPG corollary to this is people who must have detailed levels of gear because the finer details are important and if you aren't representing them then you are totally missing out. For me, gear is most interesting when it tells me what I can and can't do or makes my numbers bigger.

Fantasy, for all the hate it gets from people who don't like "a wizard did it" or "magic did it" is much easier to grasp with in terms of how something came about. It doesn't answer the why, which is I think what those who critique the excess of this position (because it can be abused) are going on about, but the why in this case is about the narrative from where I'm sitting. It's a bit like Chekhov's Gun. Why is something in the story? Because it matters to the story. If it doesn't, why bother dwelling on it? If you give emphasis to something, there better be some payoff or it feels like you're just performing verbal self-stimulation. You can disagree with the creator's rationale about the why, sure, but there usually feels like there's a why involved.

I don't feel like there's a why involved with it in the kind of science fiction I'm critiquing beyond "because science" if it isn't an element that could just as easily make sense in any other story: it's here because it's cool to some aesthetic, or because it creates drama, or because it develops character, or whatever else makes narrative sense. If the why that I'm missing here with the science fiction is precisely an appeal to the aesthetic, then chances are that's why a lot of science fiction doesn't do it for me. I don't mesh with the aesthetic.

That's my personal take, though I think there's probably a bit of it in the views of at least some other folks who jive on fantasy contexts more than science fiction. The kind of science fiction I see that does seem to be popular more in a general sense is usually the dystopian stuff that, to my mind, draws upon the Gothic history of science fiction. Namely that the most interesting stories science fiction has to tell are about the species overreaching itself because science is still a highly recent phenomenon in our history. At least as we understand it today.

While natural philosophers a few thousand years back were doing stuff that would give rise to what we now consider science, it's still more philosophy than science. Science as a topic, especially one for narrative purposes, really feels like something that has only coalesced into the form that we are considering over the course of a few centuries at best. That's a pretty small part of our biological and cultural history, so it makes sense to me that while it might have a "shiny" appeal, it also isn't as deeply rooted.

Does that directly translate into an explanation for fantasy're pre-eminence, even if I'm not talking out of my butt? I don't know.

Dr. Rudolf von Richten

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Because Fantasy reaches backwards into our mythologies and downwards into our collective unconsciousness. It reflects who we are.

Science Fiction reaches forward into our futures and upwards into our potential. It reflects who we could be.

Fantasy is more conservative, more familiar, and therefore more comforting. Sci-fi is more progressive, but therefore also a 'step into the unknown' and thus more discomforting.


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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).
Modern settings are trickier than they look because (a) the average GM's knowledge of a random given geographical area is probably not as encyclopedic as they would like to think, and (b) players can frequently call you on your errors. Off the top of my head, I can ad-lib a game set in a fantasy stilt city on a swamp a lot easier than I can ad-lib a game set in Melbourne (and god help me if I have any Australians in my gaming group). You will make mistakes in a modern setting, and more of them when you go farther from your hometown -- and how many people's favorite genre as a player is "your hometown, modern setting"? I mean, even in the '80s, as a young kid, I wondered just how the Autobots drove in car form to the Ruby Crystal Mines of Burma from the American Southwest.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a lot easier to get away with portraying a stereotypical elf than a stereotypical Mexican. You're fighting against shitty, inaccurate depictions of our own world that media will stick in your group's head. Modern games require more thought and care. It's a lot easier to recognize Paris when G.I. Joe is fighting near the Eiffel Tower than it is to depict Paris when your players ask "So where do I go to get drunk around here?" Again, that swamp city on stilts, you can just say off the top of your head, "There's a place called the Silt Bucket. It ain't pretty but it gets the job done," and your players' familiarity with dive bars -- fantasy, Western, and modern -- can fill in the blanks. For Paris, your players won't necessarily be filling in those blanks as easily (unless they're French or have spent time there); will they even know what the most popular beer in France is without pulling out their cell phones? Will they buy it when you say "um, Stella Artois?"

It's tricky to make the modern setting feel real, because players can notice the differences more readily. Fantasy's way easier, because as other people mentioned, if the players ask how come the stilt city has hundred-year-old buildings when you'd think the region would have hurricanes, you can always say something like "Druids."


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To try and come up with something that isn't D&D first (because we've been banned from doing so for the purposes of this thread! ;) ), I'd argue comparative advantage of particularly action oriented heroic secondary world fantasy is pretty strong in tabletops.

In visual media (movies and TV), people might want lots of heroic fantasy, but it's expensive to make and shoot all those sets and costumes and effects, while action and even modern day superheroes are both cheaper in sets, costumes, props, SFX, etc. Note, this is less pronounced in videogames, despite being a visual medium, as pretty much all the visuals have to go through a fairly similar degree of cost to generate so there's less cost disincentive to invest in fantasy.

In written media, there's an advantage to detailed and internal psychological description over action, which has become more pronounced through the 20th-21st century as literature's USP that cinema and TV and radio can't do. That's a slight disadvantage to action oriented genres and towards bigger sellers being more concerned with internally generated emotion and psychology.

So tabletops then are a comparatively great venue for exploring secondary world heroic fantasy; the genre's assumptions are suited to action oriented play, and it provides a great venue on the writer side for all those people who want to detail rich secondary fantasy worlds without being too bothered about a particular plot or telling a particular story, and the genres visuals don't impose any more cost.


Moody Mermaid
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Myths, fairy tales, ghost stories, legends. I think we always tell fantastic stories since the dawn of time. Of course, as we get more advanced in technology, we may start incorporating some of it into our stories (like urban fantasy or science fantasy), and telling more scifi-like or contemporary-tech stories as well. :)

I feel the superheroes are kind of like our contemporary/scifi action heroes or can be like our contemporary or futuristic Beowulfs/Hercules/whatever legendary heroes as well. Like, we always had hero stories, but now we got more tech and sci explanations and such for our heroes’ powers and stuff like that.

I also feel that there are times where some stories blend the fantasy and scifi, or that scifi almost becomes indistinguishable from magic, etc. Star Wars can feel like a (science-)fantasy or a scifi, depending on the characters and the stories the writers choose to tell.

I also consider urban/contemporary fantasy and paranormal stuff as part of the fantasy genre. Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, Twilight (back when the romantic teen vampire story was reeeally popular), and various paranormal and horror movies that have ghosts or possessed people and demons, etc.

Don’t forget animated movies and children’s films as well, which can be various genres, such as fantasy, scifi (Wreck it Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet), contemporary/urban fantasy, superheroes (Incredibles; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse; Teen Titans Go! to the Movies), etc, but many of these movies do touch on some fantastic stuff regardless of genre. Some blue the lines between the various genres as well. Frozen. Coco. Finding Dory. Isle of Dogs. How to Train Your Dragon series. Toy Story series. Inside Out. Moana. Zootopia. Hotel Transylvania 3. The thousandth remake of a Disney movie. Ghibli films, and many more, etc, etc.

While we now have many scifi stories as well, I feel that we still have some fantasy in some of them or fantasy themes and such, and that sometimes, they blend scifi with fantasy or blur the lines so that scifi is so advanced to the point of being like magic.

I play a few niche computer game categories such as Hidden Object, Point-and-Click Adventure Games, and maybe rpgs or action-adventures, and while there were plenty of scifi and contemporary/modern stuff, I also still see a lot of fantasy and paranormal, whether it’s medieval/fairy tale-like fantasy or urban fantasy or paranormal. There are lots of fantasy-esque and paranormal Hidden Object games out there, which I love, of course. :)

We got various video games like (to use some that I’ve personally played or seen): D&D/Baldur’s Gate (of course), Elder Scrolls games series from Arena to Skyrim, Elder Scrolls Online, Dragon Age game series, God of War series, various JRPGs that mixes fantasy in them like Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Phantasy Star Online series (now only in Japan), Atelier, Disgaea, Kingdom Hearts and more, Darksiders, Bayonetta series (maybe?), Shantae series, the Spyro the Dragon Trilogy, Okami, Odin Sphere, the King’s Quest series, Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, Child of Light, Legend of Zelda series, most Mario series, Devil May Cry series, and some other video games I forgot at the moment. So much fantastic stuff of all kinds! I love it!:D

I feel that we have sooo much media and sooo many niches, that we get a lot of variety in the genres or blends of genres, so there is something for everyone.

As for tabletop rpgs, I do think we need to consider D&D as the main cause. And I also feel, sometimes, there is something easier to do some types of stories with a group of adventurers in the fantasy genre, (provide problems that tech can’t be around to solve).

Edited to add:
I’m not diminishing or degrading scifi and supers. They are all great too, and I watch and play those genres, too, but I’m just saying there are plenty of fantasy stuff out there if you include niches and sub genres like urban/contemporary fantasy, science-fantasy, and paranormal fantasy, etc. :) Fantasy is a wide genre, just like scifi and supers are.


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I'd argue comparative advantage of particularly action oriented heroic secondary world fantasy is pretty strong in tabletops.
To continue this, sci-fi has some of the same comparative advantages, but it's much more of a genre to explore ideas than adventure and personalities, and that tilt suits the short story, tv and movies, and less to a knockabout tabletop adventure with friends. Even Trek which isn't the most idea driven sci-fi, is still oriented around ideas to a large extent. Without that basis in exploring ideas, you get a sci-fi that's just the sort of cheesy action oriented raygun space opera of no ideas, which pretty much everyone agrees is pretty lame these days.


Moody Mermaid
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Modern settings are trickier than they look because (a) the average GM's knowledge of a random given geographical area is probably not as encyclopedic as they would like to think, and (b) players can frequently call you on your errors. Off the top of my head, I can ad-lib a game set in a fantasy stilt city on a swamp a lot easier than I can ad-lib a game set in Melbourne (and god help me if I have any Australians in my gaming group). You will make mistakes in a modern setting, and more of them when you go farther from your hometown -- and how many people's favorite genre as a player is "your hometown, modern setting"?


It's tricky to make the modern setting feel real, because players can notice the differences more readily. Fantasy's way easier, because as other people mentioned, if the players ask how come the stilt city has hundred-year-old buildings when you'd think the region would have hurricanes, you can always say something like "Druids."
This is also important, too. I’m dealing with this right now because I have an idea of doing a urban/contemporary (or futuristic) fantasy setting with cops and such, and I want to set it in a suburban city similar to my hometown, but with some fantasy elements, and I feel the strong need to do more research on my own state and on police and detective-work to help flesh out the setting and cop elements/cop themes some more. ^_^

With just fantasy in an entirely fantasy realm/dimension, though, I can just make shit up! :cool: I can do that with scifi, of course, and scifi is still awesome, and I also enjoy scifi, but I feel there is a bit more scrutiny on the believability of the tech and even the biology/sociology/psychology of the alien-life in that genre for some reason. Same goes for anything taking place in urban/modern settings as well (minus the aliens, lol).
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Most of theses answers strike me as putting the cart before the horse, combined with a good hunk of the “self selection bias” the industry has for people into fantasy (fantasy here meaning Tolkin-ish fantasy set in the middle ages that has magic called magic and not some other term, and I have just discounted 90% of fantasy in the popular culture which is a real important point here.)

So let’s break down some of these arguments and explain why I don’t think they work and the real answers is “Yes it’s all because D&D is THE TTRPG and directs almost everything about this industry.”

“Fantasy is just more popular” I suppose if we take a very broad definition of ‘Fantasy’ one that includes Superheroes, any sci-fi that isn’t “hard” and most horror, then that would be true, but if we let Star Trek be Science Fiction and not Fantasy, discount Superheroes and horror then as been pointed that that just isn’t true. And a lot of the “why fantasy is just more popular” involves “not looking at all like the modern world” “using super generic terms” and other things that narrow fantasy to being “Middle-age-ish Tolkin-ish fantasy” that cuts out stuff like Superheores.

And again outside of TTRPGs “Middle-ages-ish Tolkin-ish fantasy” is not overwhelmingly more popular. A big part of the appeal of Superheroes is escapism and imagining having that kind of power, and the fact that office jobs exists doesn't stop most people from imagining themselves as kick ass superheroes.

And terminology being what throws people off? Terminology is the sort of thing you notice if you’re not getting into something, or its handle really poorly. Most people when they sat down to watch Star Trek for the first time heard “Warp drive” and want “Oh so that’s how they travel really fast/faster then the speed of light.” and moved on, same with when Star Wars used Hyperdrive, they didn’t go “but why don’t they just call it Warp Drive? This is too complicated and makes me not like this at all.” Yes we have times like late-TNG/Voyager/Enterprise where they laid the technobabble on too thick, but those are more exceptions. Most people don’t really expect or want science any more explained than magic.. (there's a reason hard SF is mostly a literary genre, and even then a niche one). And its not as if when you move past “Middle-ages-ish Tolkin-ish fantasy” you’re not going to start running into lots of unique terms

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?
Yes you are, a ton.

For example “Critical Role” is not bringing people into “TTRPGs as a whole” it’s bring people into D&D. For most people D&D is THE TTRPG and everything else, from traditional stuff to more indie stuff is all store brand. So people see “Critical Role” and they see an experience they want to have, and they know D&D can make that experience happen, after all they are seeing it do just that. Any other TTRPG is a gamble, much like a store brand product, maybe it will be just as good at making that experience happen, and maybe even better, but it could also be bad at making it, but again they know D&D can make that experience happen, so that’s what they want. Which means they also have to ready to sign up for Middle-ages-ish Tolkin-ish fantasy.”

Soylent Green

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I don't entirely buy "fantasy games rule because all the other genres have issues" sort of arguments.

Sure, there are always tradeoffs, but fantasy has its complications too. Even D&D isn't really generic fantasy. It is packed with its own lore and arbitrary restrictions. Does the average man on the street know the difference between a spectre and a phantasm? Even things we things we know about from about mythology like the gorgons can be confusingly different in D&D lore. And, (as I am fond of saying) who the hell is "Rod" and why do we saving from him? But it doesn't matter. If there is buy-in the people will deal with these complications.
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