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Combining Genres

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Jaberwookie, the exciting new epic poem of Star Wars meets Lewis Carroll, where Jedi Knights wield vorpal swords.

It could happen. Lucas is a whore. And Alice is out of copyright.

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different,” T. S. Eliot. I bring this up because, as a GM, I steal from anything and everything around me to make adventures. Books, graphic novels, movies, tv, the news. Most of you probably do it. The second part of the quote is the key to a great campaign though, make it different. I find one of the best ways to do that is to combine stories. Or combine genres.


One of my favorite modules, in the distant past, was The Expedition to Barrier Peaks. Swords and blasters worked well in the module. For those who never encountered it, wikipedia says: “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks takes place on a spaceship in the Barrier Peaks mountain range of the World of Greyhawk campaign setting. In the adventure's introduction, it is explained that the Grand Duchy of Geoff is under constant attack by a succession of monsters that have been emerging from a cave in the mountains. The Grand Duke of Geoff has hired the characters to discover the origin of the creatures, and stop their incursions.” Spaceship being the key word. And really, why wouldn't a spaceship crash in a fantasy setting?

I have also played great campaigns with magic in Boot Hill (a la Jonah Hex), something supernatural in an espionage game (X – Filesesque) and a multitude of other combinations. But you don't have to change the trappings of the games to integrate (steal) plots from other genres. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy turns into wolf and eats girl is a timeless tale that can fit into any campaign setting.

Don't want lycanthropes in the old west? Look at the tales of the Beast of Gévaudan and the movie Brotherhood of the Wolf for a way to terrorize people with something natural but out of the ordinary. The Tsavo lions, shown in The Ghost and The Darkness represent fearless, stealthy predators. Or watch Primeval for one ton of reptilian fury, Gustave the Nile crocodile, who is alleged to have killed 300 humans. The orangutan in Murders at the Rue Morgue is a terrifying killer, no magic needed.

Besides the fierce in their native habitat, you can spice up your campaign simply by taking something and moving it to where it is unexpected. It's like piranha appearing in your bathtub. Or clowns, anywhere outside a circus. They're just scary. At the circus too, really, when I think about it. I try not to. Clowns. Shudder.

Speaking of clowns and cross genre plots, in a way, It, by Stephen King, and the 5th Element share a common theme: love overcomes great evil. Love banishes the evil presence in both works, shown through the giving of one's self in the sexual act. The path and trappings are different, but run with the idea. Start at the end and decide what the characters have to do and with whom and work your way back to the beginning.

Or take the idea of a mistaken identity. Look at North By Northwest (if you're going to look at a movie for inspiration it might as well be a Hitchcock film.) One of the characters in your campaign is mistaken for someone else, people try to kill him, he has to find out who and why by turning the tables on them. It can work in any milieu. So too Moby Dick. In the upcoming movie Age of Dragons, Danny Glover plays Captain Ahab, hunting a dragon. A fire-breathing giant reptile. It's a simple change that gives one or more characters backgrounds and fertile starting points for many an adventure. Here is the trailer:

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For an example that makes me...queasy, I present Barbarella. This is not, by any measure, a good movie. But it is a post apocalyptic remake of Casablanca. Writing the two titles in the same paragraph fills me with something bordering on shame, but the plot is easily adaptable to your fantasy, science fiction, espionage or super hero game.


For a triple film whammy, Seven Samurai begat The Magnificent Seven begat Battle Beyond the Stars. The story of a rag tag group of professional warriors who fight to protect villagers, is an ancient Japanese tale, then a western then a science fiction story. The same could be said of Yojimbo (A Samurai tale inspired by Westerns), A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing (a Prohibition era, border Western of sorts) all involve a man playing off two gangs against each other. Perfect for solo play or small groups.

Remember an alternate version of the Eliot saying above: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Borrow, steal, change it just enough to make it your own, give it a twist or two and suddenly you have an adventure they'll be talking about years from now, in a good way. Plunder the classics. Plunder foreign films. Whatever you do, get stealing now.

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I own the Barrier Peaks module (I even still have the pull out pictures), and I have run it a couple of times. My favorite thing to do with it is have the characters meet some NPCs a few days before. One of them is a human wearing a yellow tunic, another is a dark elf wearing a blue tunic and continually fiddling with a steel tablet. The third is a human, also wearing a blue tunic and grumpy as a dwarf. The fourth is a human who wears a red tunic and almost certainly dies early on.

These characters are, of course, the cast of Star Trek on an away mission. Once the players realize this, they have so much fun with the adventure, and are primed for some Sci-Fi crossover action. Typically, I have them responding to a faint transmission of unknown, possibly hostile, origin, but are unable to transport directly to the site due to a fluctuating ion field. They must, therefore, cooperate with the natives (PCs) to reach the downed ship. Granted, this is 'illogical', and Spock and Bones generally protest that helping the natives violates the 'Prime Directive'. Kirk, however, decides that NOT shutting down the alien craft is the violation.

I try pretty hard to run it as a typical 'Star Trek' episode, as seen from the native perspective. Both times, it has gone swimmingly, and everyone had a blast. I imagine that it could also be a decent transition into a 'Spelljammers' campaign, but I haven't done that.

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