In my ongoing attempt to become everything I once hated (storygamer, bicyclist, etc.), I am seriously considering making my next duet campaign an urban fantasy setting – by which I mean fairies and vampires living in the modern world, not Lankhmar or Waterdeep.
I know, I know. I’m surprised, too.
The reason for this interest in urban fantasy is pretty simple: it’s 90% of the TV I watch. The price of buying a house a couple of years ago was giving up cable, so it’s pretty much all Netflix and occasional Blu-Ray boxed sets. Robin and I have spent several nights each week for the last year working our way through the first seven seasons of “Supernatural,” devouring the first season of “Once Upon a Time,” and finally catching on to “Lost Girl.” Just to space out the remaining unseen episodes of “Supernatural” and “Lost Girl,” we’ve started sampling “The Dresden Files,” the US “Being Human” (which we hope we’ll like more than the British version), and “Hemlock Grove.” Netflix is full of urban fantasy – and the most recent boxed set we bought was season five of “True Blood.”
I really shouldn’t be surprised by this. I was a teen and twentysomething through the 1990s – the decade when White Wolf dominated the gaming shelves with the original World of Darkness. Even though I personally never managed to play in or run more than a single session of Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, or Mage: The Ascension, I still bought an awful lot of those books (often second-hand) and have a couple of gaming shelves still stuffed with core rules and sourcebooks for those games, Changeling: The Dreaming, and the complete print run of Kindred of the East. Magic and monsters in the modern day is as much a part of my gaming DNA as AD&D 2nd Edition and d6 Star Wars. The surprise is realizing that genre is synonymous with urban fantasy and also realizing that after nearly a decade away from any games in the genre that I’m ready to return.
The last long-form urban fantasy game I ran for Robin was a Land of Eight Million Dreams (“changelings of the east”) campaign that transformed and rebooted several times into a Bastet (were-cats) game instead. We played that for the three years we lived in San Marcos – a college town a couple hours north of our native San Antonio, Texas – when we were cut off from friends and family. It was our first duet game – the first duet game I ever ran – and it eventually involved so much high magic and kaiju that I’m actually flabbergasted to realize it was urban fantasy. (I guess that when the setting is a foreign culture like Japan, urban fantasy feels just as fantastic as the Forgotten Realms or Nehwon.)
When we returned to San Antonio nine years ago, we had exhausted our taste for games set in modern times and started playing more fantasy settings and period pieces. We eventually recruited some players from our old college friends and began running normal group games again as the duets got more experimental. The recent unpleasantness alluded to a few posts ago has left us adrift again, so perhaps my yearning for an urban fantasy game is metaphorically looking for a safe port in a storm – or maybe it’s monkey seeing a lot of urban fantasy and monkey wanting to do it too.
Or maybe it’s waking up and realizing urban fantasy is just plain sexier than most genres. One of the reasons I find myself surprised at considering a return to the genre is that the last decade has seen an explosion in the sub-genre of paranormal romance… and I have to admit to a bit of reflexive snobbery there. Wandering through Half-Price Books and seeing shelf upon shelf of tightly-packed paperbacks about sexy lady monster hunters sexing up sexy demons, sexy vampires, sexy werewolves, etc., I have to admit that my straight white nerd guy reaction is to roll my eyes and turn instead to CLASSICS like The Lord of the Rings and Swords in the Mist.
But why?! I’m in that section of the store because I’m looking for sexy, sharp-witted Regency historicals about sexy, sharp-witted proper ladies sexing up sexy, sharp-witted proper gentlemen. I’ve read and enjoyed several paranormal Regency romances; heck, I tried to write a game about them! As an unrepentant fan of the bloodshed and wenching of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, I have no right to turn my nose up at the tortured romances and sexy sex scenes of Laurel K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. I like sexy sex scenes! Let’s face it, I like urban fantasy!
(And yes, I’m aware that urban fantasy purists would argue that paranormal romance is a separate genre. I don’t care about whether or not the romance is central to the plot; if you have magic and monsters in a modern city and it’s not a horror story, you’re writing urban fantasy.)
As I’ve mentioned before, a very important part of the duet games is helping to keep the romance alive in my marriage. We can’t have our own children and we don’t want anyone else’s so keeping our relationship vital and vibrant is very, very important. A central element of our duet games is the romantic relationships between characters. The last near-decade’s concentration on fantastic and historical settings has often led to convoluted attempts to preserve the feeling of modern courtship practices in settings without dates and premarital sex. I am suddenly asking myself why I’ve been making things so hard on myself.
If we do transition to urban fantasy for the next game, I’m going to have to put some thought into system and setting. I’ve got those shelves full of OWoD books; it may be simplest to simply return to a system we abandoned years ago. Perhaps the time has come to finally run a Kindred of the East campaign, or Werewolf, or Changeling. I’ve been having fun with the looseness of FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) but we haven’t really embraced the situational aspects yet; there’s some good world-building advice in FATE Core (and there’s the FATE Dresden game, duh!) , so perhaps I should incorporate that. Surprisingly, there’s actually an urban fantasy setting for Savage Worlds called Marchland (two if you count Deadlands Noir, which I don’t); I’ve read some of the preview materials and it sounds like a less meta-fictive twist on Changeling, so it could be fun. There’s a lot of options right at my fingertips.
I guess the real question is “What kind of sexy monsters do I want in my game?”