The fantasy genre is overrepresented in our hobby. Of course, there are other popular offshoots, some interpreting and reinterpreting a galaxy far, far away, others wearing tights and capes, others lost in gonzo post-apocalyptic wastelands. But it’s fantasy that’s been there since the beginning, and I suspect will always be with us.
The two games that loom over the Fantasy RPG market like skyscraper-sized gargoyles are Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. Far down below them, lost in the tents and stalls are their feisty cousins, games like Torchbearer, Dungeon World, Runequest, Warhammer, Rolemaster and a hundred others, some loved by cultists, some unjustly neglected like Tunnels & Trolls. And off in a corner all by themselves, a cabal of bell-bottomed OSR freaks rumbles with angry conservative gatekeepers over who controls the future and the past.
I love it. I love it all. Because I believe there can never be enough fantasy games. Fantasy taps into primordial tropes: heroes, myths, magic, long journeys, and dangerous descents into the underworld. Fantasy roleplaying games are a secular connection with the mythmaking at the centre of religions, spiritual practices and the epic poetry that forms the backbone of the world’s literary traditions. We can trace fantasy tropes back to Homer and Gilgamesh, the Upanishads and the Old Testament, the Eddas and Koran. Yes, that feels like hyperbole. I don’t care. I suspect that for most of us, the games we play are the only connections we have with these powerful currents in our history.
Magic and wonder. Quests with high stakes. Saving the world from evil. Even the most low-fantasy grimdark games have adventure at their heart, no matter how morally dubious. I think we need these things. Most of us will never experience them in real life. I have a mortgage and a stressful career I can’t walk away from because my financial security depends on it. And I’m lucky. Very, very lucky. I know some of you reading this have insurmountable student debts and brutal gig jobs and roommates well into your 30s and 40s because owning a home is a dream. Outside, the world is ending one wildfire, hurricane and glacier at a time. Racist populists and unfeeling oligarchs are feeding the worst impulses of desperate, alienated people around the globe. And yes, there are corners of our hobby that want to stoke those same instincts.
They can fuck off.
Because when I think of fantasy games, I think of diverse, outnumbered parties stepping into the unknown because they are brave, or because facing the darkness is the only way out. And though their lives are at stake, and they may not always agree, they will heal each other and work together, and stand back to back against the evil hordes and they will fight to the last.
We have real dragons to slay. And if fantasy RPGs give us the relief, or the inspiration, or the companionship we need to do so, then I am happy to draw my sword over and over and over again.