Cross-Genre is a term used to denote a genre that blends multiple elements of two or more genres together to make a hybrid. Cross-Genre work is already pretty popular in TV and most other media right now, so much so that most people don’t even think about it anymore when they encounter it. Some of the more popular or recognizable combinations include:
- Supernatural Drama
- Space Western
- Crime Fantasy
There are a lot of RPGs that involve this sort of thing. Deadlands being one of the most obvious examples being partly horror and partly western to form the “Weird West” of the setting. The Dresden Files RPG is pretty much Crime Fantasy, and Cthulhutech is Military Horror Sci-fi. But now and then, some enterprising GM decides to try making a Cross-Genre campaign that doesn’t come in a premade setting.
And that’s where the fun starts.
Cross-Genre stuff works because it introduces a mix that isn’t already cliche. Slapping things like “Steampunk” and “Wuxia” together can create an instantly compelling setting, even when you haven’t even put down a single line down on paper yet. Still, the GM has to take care to pay attention to detail, as it’s easy to fall into the habit of relying on cliche or other shortcuts to do the work for them, instead of putting an effort in presenting a living, breathing world.
For example, if every saloon in known space were to involve a piano player and a brawl where someone gets flung out of a glass window, then I think the GM has to stop a moment and think about how else to improve his setting. Even in Firefly, the Western tropes were also made more interesting by mixing little bits of setting history, with the use of the Chinese language in common conversation.
Cross-Genre campaigns give an opportunity to re-invent various situations. Whereas a normal Crime story can have high-tension interrogation scenes, it’s an entirely different thing to try pulling that off when you’re talking to a Vampire or an Alien. Be careful not to overdo it though, while a truly Gonzo game with a ton of genres blended together might be entertaining, it takes a very, very good GM to actually manage it without it turning into a strange hazy setting where anything could be possible but nobody knows the rules anymore.
But when carefully cultivated, and kept away from being too cliche, or too experimental, a Cross-Genre campaign might just be the ticket to break out of a rut when the group is starting to feel less enthusiastic about the standard fare.