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What are the different genres and styles of Tabletop RPGs?

As with all things, this started off with a random idea, a premise..

What are the different genres and styles of Tabletop RPGs?

This set me off into a little rabbit hole, as there are loads of both and they cross over between themselves a lot. With protagonists and detractors of each.

So its all about style… isn’t it?

Well no, style is just one aspect of a RPG, it gets confused with the core mechanic of the system used to play the RPG, but is different.

The System is the mechanical aspect of the RPG, the rules, dice or cards, how interactions/combats etc are mechanically done. This in a lot of respects is the minor part of the RPG, yes some systems are more complicated and intricate than others, but this is just mechanics.

Style is above the mechanics, it uses them to enact the style of play.

So what are some Styles of Play?

What is Style?

While you may not think about it all the time, there’s a lot more than storylines and content. Style is the way in which a GM tells a story. It’s what sets one GM apart from another. There are many important pieces that together make up a GM’s style; like tone, word choice, language, descriptive technique, and so on. Style is also what determines the mood, so its importance is huge across all genres. Different types of games need different styles, and different styles need different GMs!

Truthfully, style can be hard to define because it varies so much from each piece to the next. Two GMs can run a game about the exact same thing, and yet the styles of the pieces could be nothing like each other because they would reflect the way each GM runs the RPG. A GM’s style might even change with each piece they run. When it comes to style, what comes easy for one GM might not work for another; what fits one genre may not fit for others at all; what thrills one group of players may bore another. A player might love a certain genre or subject, but dislike an GM’s style, and vice versa.

Parts of Style

Here are some key parts that work together to make up a GM’s style:
  • Diction: the style of the word choice
  • Tone: the mood of the story; the feeling or attitude a work creates
  • Narrator: the person telling the story and the point-of-view it is told in
  • Creative devices like symbolism, allegory, metaphor, rhyme, and so on
Some GMs combine these factors to create a distinct style that is found in all of their games. Other GMs, however, may choose to run each of their games in a different style.

Style is what distinguishes one GM from the next. If everyone used the same style, it would impossible for anything to truly stand out.

Campaigns have been and will be retold over and over, but it’s a GMs style that can make a work truly stand out and change the way a player thinks about what game.

Core three

For me if you had to categorise they roll up into these three:
  • Action RPGs are roleplaying games with a heavy emphasis on combat.
  • Immersive RPGs are roleplaying games with a heavy emphasis on roleplaying
  • Tactical RPGs are roleplaying games with a heavy emphasis on strategy and tactics.
Style is has a central role. It gives the GM a voice, allowing works of all genres and topics to be shared and expressed in ways that are memorable, intriguing, and different. If all GMs and genres followed the same style, the world would be a dull, unchanging place!

Wait what about narrative RPGs?

Well it’s a combo of the above three, see running or playing a roleplaying game rarely means that every part of every session is always going to be one of those three. It can be a mix either in the same session or over different sessions.

Ok, so that’s Styles, What about Genres?

Again this is a kinda of polluted wormhole into different people’s ideas, but if you look at books and film, the genres map out.

Especially when you think that the GM is creating a story that the players are playing in.

Fiction vs Non-fiction

Fiction stories are based on made-up or imaginary events. There are dozens upon dozens of types of fiction stories and genres.

Non-fiction stories can cover any kind of real-life event or experience. As they are Non-fiction this is very limiting with RPGs, as you would be confined to real events, the way around this is historical fiction, ie the theme and setting is based on real life events, but the characters and plot can be fictional.

Fiction stories

Fiction stories includes but not at all limited to:

  • Fairy tales
  • Folklore
  • Mythology
  • Legends
  • Epics
  • Dramas
  • Action stories
  • Adventure stories
  • Historical fiction
    • Historical events
    • News and current events
    • Cultural history
    • Crime and justice
    • Science
    • Love
    • Family
    • Travel stories
    • Survivor stories
    • War stories
  • Fantasy
  • Science-fiction
  • Love stories
  • Horror stories
  • Mystery stories
  • Ghost stories
  • Bedtime stories

A mini dig into a few of the above

Fairy Tale

Fairy tales involve fantasy elements and characters—like gnomes, fairies, witches, etc— who use magical powers to accomplish good and/ or evil. Fairy tales and fables share many of the same elements, particularly their uses of animals with human abilities. In fact, the lines between these two types of stories are sometimes blurred. The main difference between them is that fairy tales don’t necessarily teach a lesson, while all fables do.

Fable

A fable has a moral or teaches a lesson. Fables use humanized animals, objects, or parts of nature as main characters, and are therefore considered to be a sub-genre of fantasy.

The word fable comes from the Latin fābula meaning discourse or story.

Fables are timeless devices because of their ability to deliver moral messages in a simple way that can be understood and enjoyed by players of all ages. In fact, the fable is one of the oldest and most lasting methods of both written and oral storytelling. They can be found in the literature of almost all countries and languages, and are a fundamental part of the folklore of must cultures. Morals and lessons that would normally be difficult for children or even adults to understand are easily communicated through the fictional examples that fables provide, which makes them an extremely valuable way to of teaching through storytelling.

Parable

Like a fable, a parable is a short story that has a moral or teaches a lesson. However, parables are different from fables because they employ humans as the main characters, whereas fables feature animals, objects, etc. The most well-known parables are spoken by Jesus in the Bible.

A fable is a timeless genre that continues to be popular and relevant thousands of years after the first stories were told. They are successfully passed on and shared through both literature and oral storytelling, making them a typical and essential part of folklore across the world. Fables are appealing to people of all ages, and share lessons that are useful to any audience.

Folklore

Folktales are classic stories that have been passed down throughout a culture’s oral and written tradition; together they make up a culture’s folklore. They usually involve some elements of fantasy and explore popular questions of morality and right and wrong, oftentimes with a lesson to be learned at the end. A legend is a particular type of story found in oral and written folklore.

Mythology

A myth is a classic or legendary story that usually focuses on a particular hero or event, and explains mysteries of nature, existence, or the universe with no true basis in fact. Sometimes, myths use legends as part of the story. The primary difference between the two forms is that overall, myths are now known and believed to be false, while many legends can still be based on some level of truth. Furthermore, legends are generally about human affairs, while myths almost always involve the gods and goddesses—for instance, the story of Hercules is a myth, while the story of King Arthur is a legend.

Legends have a significant role, they are timeless stories that can be adapted for any audience in any style, making them an invaluable form of storytelling.

Legend

A legend is a story about human events or actions that has not been proved nor documented in real history. Legends are retold as if they are real events and were believed to be historical accounts. They usually tell stories about things that could be possible, so both the storyteller and the audience may believe they are true. Its meaning stems from the Medieval Latin term legenda, meaning “things to be read.” and from the Latin legendus.

The details in legends are altered and adapted over time so that they stay interesting for audiences—for instance, the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone (a magical stone that can make a person immortal and turn metals into gold) can be found in literature in the Middle Ages to the modern day Harry Potter series. Legends don’t claim to be exact retellings of events, so they are neither wholly believed nor wholly doubted by the audience or the author.

As stories, mankind has and always will love legends—they are an intriguing form of storytelling because we want to believe that they are true. They are an essential part of oral and written folklore; they are found in folktales from all cultures. It is part of our nature to share interesting and significant tales with friends and future generations so that they can be recorded and remembered. As much as people like to tell stories, they like to exaggerate even more, which is why legends are so timeless—their facts have been embellished and changed so many times that the truth becomes a mystery that still might need to be solved, and that makes them particularly intriguing. So long as we continue to pass down interesting stories, legends will continue to exist and flourish.

Drama


There are a few broad categories that many of these dramas fall into.

Romance

These stories deal with human relationships and the various conflicts and complications that emerge from them. Romance dramas can get pretty steamy, and they’re definitely not for the younger crowd.

Thriller/Action

Thrillers and action dramas are extremely popular. Players love explosions, stylized violence, and screaming car chases. These stories are not exactly “emotional” in the typical sense, but they are certainly very dramatic.

Crime drama

These stories focus on a crime and the efforts of police officers and detectives to solve it. Along the way, the characters’ personal struggles come into view and sometimes conflict with their police work.

Historical drama

History itself is littered with dramatic stories of intense emotion: Abraham Lincoln losing his 11-year-old son Willie in the middle of the Civil War; the Celtic queen Boudica taking bloody revenge on the Roman soldiers who had attacked and killed her children. These colorful stories have provided inspiration to generations of writers and filmmakers.

Melodrama

Melodrama is an exaggerated, extreme form of drama. In it, all the characters behave in slightly ridiculous ways due to the extreme emotional roller coasters that they’re experiencing. Soap operas are a great example of melodrama, with the overblown gestures and facial expressions of the actors and their incredibly over-the-top emotional twists and turns.

Tragedy

Modern dramas are somewhat similar to the ancient art form known as tragedy. Like dramas, tragedies deal with negative emotions and often cause sadness, anxiety, and pity in the audience. However, classical tragedy had a few distinguishing features. For one thing, there was no comic relief. For another, tragedies always had a sad ending – the hero had to be killed or brought down, usually through his own weakness and mistakes. In modern drama, these sad endings are quite rare, as modern audiences demand a more optimistic sort of story.

Dramedy

Dramedy is halfway in between comedy and drama. All dramas have a little comedy in them (comic relief), and most comedies have their serious moments. So there’s a sliding scale from drama to comedy, and stories right in the middle are called dramedies. 

Action

Also called “action-adventure,” Action is a genre in which the primary feature is the constant slam-bang of fights, chases, explosions, and clever one-liners. Action stories typically do not explore complex relationships between human beings or the subtleties of psychology and philosophy. Instead, they are high-octane thrillers that simply aim to give the reader an exciting ride. (The word “thriller” is synonymous with “Action” in this context.)

Action stories work because they’re fun. People enjoy playing them, even if they are not mentally stimulated by the genre. As for what makes adventure stories so popular, that’s tough to answer. On one level, the sheer simplicity of action stories may account for their popularity. Adventure stories are very easy to understand, and they work with themes that every human being can easily understand.

On another level, Action stories get a lot of their power from archetypes, mythical figures that are common to all cultures and seem to be hard-wired into the human psyche. Every culture produces stories about heroes, monster-slayers, demons, mentors, temptresses, etc., and action stories frequently draw on this deep well of cultural ideas.

Adventure

An adventure is an unusual experience, especially one that involves lots of excitement or risk. It has to involve leaving home in some way, and usually has a component of fun and a sense of freedom. Action stories often revolve around adventures – a young boy leaves home to become a wizard or a starfighter pilot, say. However, action stories do not necessarily involve adventure. An action story could be about a man trying to evade a serial killer within his own home, which would not be an adventure.

Mystery

Mystery is a genre of literature whose stories focus on a puzzling crime, situation, or circumstance that needs to be solved. The term comes from the Latin mysterium, meaning “a secret thing.” stories can be either fictional or nonfictional, and can focus on both supernatural and non-supernatural topics. Many mystery stories involve what is called a “whodunit” scenario, meaning the mystery revolves around the uncovering a culprit or criminal.

Mysteries are stories that can be realistic or fantastic in nature, but are not specifically based on true events. They overlap with other genres, such as fantasy (most commonly to create gothic fiction), thrillers, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, and even science fiction. Detective fiction, which explicitly features a detective solving a crime, is perhaps the most popular form of fictional mystery, however, it is nowadays considered a separate genre of literature.

Mysteries are important because they feature topics that are usually both fascinating and troubling to the human mind—unsolved crimes, unexplained questions and events in natural and human history, supernatural curiosities, and so on.

Detective Fiction

Detective fiction is considered its own genre, though it is technically a subgenre of mystery. These stories feature a detective investigating a situation or a crime, commonly a murder. It is popular form of crime fiction and gothic fiction, where the protagonist is most often an official detective investigating a crime, or a person who acts as an unofficial detective to solve a more personally relevant mystery, respectively.

Fiction mysteries engage players in an unexplained event or situation from its occurrence to its resolution, while nonfiction mysteries allow GMs to explore unsolved or unexplainable mysteries of the world. The genre can be successfully combined with many other styles to create engaging stories for audiences of all ages.

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