RESOURCE Roleplaying Dictionary - Fantasy

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY MECHANICS' started by Sen, May 14, 2016.

  1. What is fantasy? Fantasy is:

    • a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world.
    • including elements of magic, strange creatures, fantastic beings, and/or imaginary worlds.

    We all know what fantasy roleplays are all about. Some of us have played in them or read them. Grand quests to find something or rescue someone, or the never-ending battle between good and evil, order and chaos. Many of us associate fantasy with dragons and castles and princesses, set in a medieval world. Or, we can also associate it with the modern world as we know today with magic hidden behind the veil of your daily, ordinary life.

    This is a guide that defines a few common subgenres that sit underneath the overarching term of fantasy. Many roleplayers are unaware that some of these exists, and some do not know much of their meaning. This will serve as a 'dictionary' for the subgenres currently listed as tags on Iwaku as of the 14th of May, 2016.

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    • Comic fantasy primarily focuses on humor in both the story’s intent and tone. It is often a parody of other works of fantasy and has a heavy use of puns. This is often for the purpose of making fun of the fantasy genre in itself, as most of us associate fantasy with more serious themes. Comic fantasy tend to add more ridiculous and amusing elements into the story that most roleplays will not often incorporate. Characters tend to be more exaggerated, especially their flaws and weaknesses, to the point where instead of it being a deadly chink in their armor, it is perceived as funny. Comic fantasy also applies if the main antagonist has a serious personality, but travels through a world where the other characters both playable and non-playable follow the tropes of comic fantasy.

      More often than not, comic fantasies are based in imaginary worlds where it is easier to bend the rules in favour for humor.

      Comic fantasy can be divided into more subgenres that are more specific to the story’s plot.

      • Parody fantasies: the parody of another piece of fantasy work for the point of amusement.
      • Dry humor: humor is not the main focus, nor the ‘whole point’ of the work, but is present almost all of the time during the plot.
      • ‘Dark humor’ fantasies: focusing on a more dry and sarcastic humor that is funny but also dark in nature.

      Comic fantasies are not for roleplayers who are seeking something with more depth in action or the adventure, as the primary focus is on humor. And puns.

    • Dark fantasy is fantasy that incorporates dark and scary themes of fantasy. It usually is a unity of fantasy and horror. The term dark fantasy usually focuses on a very dark and gloomy atmosphere. Graphical gore, mature themes regarding suicide and lust mixed with supernatural and paranormal activity can also be labeled as dark fantasy.

      The main focus is ATMOSPHERE. It doesn't need to have serial killers like one would see in horror, something as simple as the unknown or something that makes the characters - and the players - uneasy can be called dark fantasy. Focus on creepy cults, evil magic and the paranormal.

      If you're not into monsters, dark and brooding atmospheres, dark fantasy is not for you. Many dark fantasy roleplays are simply just horror stories with a fantastical plot, with the whole point to scare the readers or players.

    • Fairytale fantasy borrow lore and plot from famous folklores and have heavy fairy tale motifs. The Hobbit and The Wizard of Oz is a good example that uses more modern folktales. Roleplays can be the re-telling of a folklore or fairy tale or use the same setting, so because of this world-building is not as prominent in this sort of genre. Fairytale fantasy often goes hand in hand with historical fantasy or low fantasy.

      Most fairytale fantasies are revisionists, which means the viewpoint or the morals of the character or species is reversed in the story. For example, the witch inside Hansel and Gretel would be portrayed as a kind lady in a fairytale fantasy rather than being shown as evil and wanting to cook the children.

      How is Fairytale fantasy different from High fantasy?

      • Prophecies play out just to make a point. There is no explanation needed for almost everything set out in a fairytale fantasy because it is a common occurrence / detailed somewhere like a book / expected event.
      • More dreamlike and less grounded than a high fantasy story.
      • The narrative is not absolute like high fantasy.

      Fairytale fantasy is not suited for players who are more interested in setting out their own, more original worlds, as these settings have already been laid out by its respective authors.

    • Fractured fairy tales are based on classical fairy tales, and are more or less different from today's version of a fairy tale with a happy ending. While still retaining some moral lessons and themes, classical fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen often have darker underlying themes. In a fractured fairy tale, not all is often as it seems, despite the fairy tale-like setting. It is often much more serious, with often satirical, grown-up, and dark twists. It is a fairy or folk tale that has been modified in ways often unexpected and surprise the readers. It can also take from the more famous traditional fairytales and give it the characters different characterization, or show it from a different point of view.

      A much friendlier and happier example could be, instead of Goldilocks being chased out of the home of the three bears, the story can be about friendship and forgiveness. It can instead feature the bears befriending Goldilocks, this is a fractured fairy tale.

      Fractured fairy tales can often be mistaken for fairy tale parodies, but there is a difference in their purpose. A parody will mock the tale and the genre as a whole, but a fractured fairy tale reforms the story to have a more modern social or moral message.

    • Gaslamp fantasy, also known as gaslight fantasy or gaslight romance, stems from both fantasy and historical fiction. Usually set in the Edwardian or Victorian era and sometimes containing gothic themes, it is similar but different to the genre of steampunk. The key difference is that steampunk fiction focuses on the development of technology and normally do not have a magical theme. Gaslamp fantasy is a combination of technology and magic. Gaslamp fantasy has often been called 'a mix of mad science and fairy tales'.

      The setting for these kinds of roleplays is usually during real world history, adding a twist in which magic is common practice in this alternate history. British history is the most common basis for gaslamp fantasy. Magic in gaslamp is often intertwined with 'old' technology and mechanical objects

      Gaslamp fantasy is not for players who want a more creative and original world. As gaslamp fantasy is set in real British history and culture - or an alternate history with a magical twist - those who aren't interested in a nice mix between historical fantasy and mad scientists should look for something else.

    • A subgenre of fantasy that details the adventures of heroes in a fantastical setting. The stories of sword-wielding heroes - not royal knights - fighting monsters with their fellow thief and priest, drinking ale and raking in the gold coins. Often considered the cliche of fantasy. Usually, the hero does not want to be the 'chosen one' or the 'champion' and will often have conflict trying to accept themselves as one. Sometimes they are born into a lower class family or secretly have royal blood. They are then given the responsibility of saving the princess, or killing a monster, but in the end they always win. This is the opposite of dark fantasy, where evil is the common theme. In heroic fantasy, it is your typical good verses evil, but good always win. 99% of the time.

      Heroic fantasy is also considered to be in the middle of high and low fantasy. Whereas high fantasy details the fight of absolute evil and good, and low fantasy rarely has magic, heroic fantasy details the protagonists' struggles to achieve their own personal goals where at times they may perform actions that go against your 'goody-two-shoes hero'.

      It is usually set in a medieval Europe setting, but can also be set in the far future.

      Not suitable for players who aren't going to be satisfied with simple storylines and cliches.

    • High fantasy, also known as 'Hero's Quest' or Epic fantasy, focuses on the epics of the protagonist or the highly fictional and imaginative world the story is set in. High fantasy tends not to be set in worlds that are familiar to us and are entirely fictional which is the contrast to low fantasy. Serious in tone with an epic environment looking from afar, themes such as the ultimate battles between absolute good and evil - but good always wins - are explored in high fantasy roleplays. This is the genre where you will see a myriad of fantasy creatures such as the Fair Folk, dragons, demons, wizards and magicians. Quests, coming-of-age events, and unique languages are things high fantasies develop upon. Note that all of the creatures mentioned are often known by men and live alongside them in the setting.

      The story is usually told from the viewpoint of the hero. They usually have a mysterious backstory and stay young during the course of their adventure. They may or may not have a mentor that teaches them and gives them advice on what to do next. Some high fantasies will have a tyrannical 'dark lord' that serves as the antagonist, either human or supernatural and is usually obsessed with killing off the main character. Heroes will focus on themes such as loyalty, courage, faith and friendship, positive traits that will 'overcome' conflict with antagonists. In a high fantasy roleplay, everything else serves as development and the defining of your cast.

      In high fantasies, the goals are always unambiguous. The goal is absolute, the question is how the cast will get to it. Common archetypes are a good way to start developing characters for a high fantasy, but it is also a good idea to make them into more complex characters with depth for an interesting plot.

    • Historical fantasy is the combination of real life historical location and magic or fantasy elements/creatures. This term usually applies to stories that take place before the 20th century. There is usually a reason as to why creatures such as vampires and demons do not exist in the modern era's history books, either because they were a national secret and were covered up or seen as myths or superstitions. Sometimes historical fantasies can take place in an alternate world but is clearly meant to mirror a real historical location with minor name changes. A good way to start on a historical fantasy is to think of one event and imagine what it would be like if supernatural beings were present and existed.

      Writers should use the opportunity to use historical figures as their inspiration or re-invent them. The challenge is the balance historical facts with imaginative elements yet still make it flow, focusing on cause and effect and linking people to the historical period or event itself. Themes and messages will often vary depending on what period the story is based off on.

      Historical fantasy or alternative history?

      Historical fantasy is usually set in a real historical location that includes fantastical elements.

      Alternative history is set in a historical period where a certain event changes the course of the period, re-imagined by the author. Alternative history does not have any fantasy elements, but if it does then it is considered a historical fantasy.

    • Low fantasy, unlike High fantasy, does not focus on magic and monsters. In fact, magic is usually not present in low fantasies. While high fantasy stories are set in an entirely fictional world that cannot be compared to Earth, low fantasy settings are usually fictional places that are very similar and can be compared to places on Earth and a certain time period. Sometimes magic may have a logical explanation behind it instead of it 'just happening because it's there'. Common themes include politics, wars, relationships or a magical threat that the characters are not aware of, or are clearly not prepared for. In low fantasy, supernatural conflicts occur out of the blue and are usually an out of place event.

      Another way to see low fantasy is that it sounds more 'realistic' rather than a myth or legend.

      In low fantasy, themes of good verses evil are explored. They may or may not be absolute like high fantasy. Characters tend to have a gray morality, meaning that each side of the conflict has their own justifiable reason for fighting, neither is completely good or evil. This is unlike high fantasy where this is clearly distinguishable.

      Is my low fantasy actually a high fantasy?

      1. Does this fantasy take place in an alternative world that has no real world connections whatsoever? If yes, then it is probably a high fantasy.
      2. Is your primary setting accessible through the real world? For example, portals are the entrance to a fantasy world? If yes, then it is probably a high fantasy. (Narnia.)
      3. World within a world: Is the setting of your fantasy set in a location that exists on Earth, but is physically separated from the real world? If yes, then it is probably a high fantasy. (Harry Potter.)

      Please note that this may not apply to everything. Harry Potter is one of the more debatable series regarding whether or not it is low or a high fantasy. Keep in mind that it is often cited as a low fantasy, but in some cases is listed as a high.

    • Magical girl, also known as mahou shoujo or majokko, is a subgenre stemming from Japanese media that feature girls who have magical abilities. The girls are empowered by magic, usually given to them by a supernatural being, that both assist and complicate their lives. This typically leads to character development and growth. Because magical girl fantasy have a wide demographic appeal, there are may elements or tropes that players can incorporate into a magical girl roleplay.

      The most common themes in any magical girl fiction is friendship, love and the coming of age. In most magical girl fiction, it depicts the main character mentally growing from a child to an adult and come to accept responsibilities as well as see the wider scope of the world. Lessons such as knowing when to rely on others and working together are explored, and more often than not their magical powers are fueled by friendship and love. Although this element can be subverted, it is high discouraged to completely scrap it out of your roleplay, as it is and has always been a fundamental element in the subgenre. It is important in a magical girl roleplay to develop more on the character personality instead of their powers. It doesn't matter if they happen to be weak or very strong, it is the interactions with their friends and villains that are the highlights of the genre.

      Although it has the potential to have very dark themes, the majority of a magical roleplay centers around a bubbly, lovely, and girly atmosphere. If you are more interested in a more complex and grim roleplay, this is not for you.

    • Magipunk is the cousin of cyberpunk with a magical element. In cyberpunk, stories are set in the future and feature advanced technology and scientific discoveries such as cybernetics and is juxtaposed with changes in society and social classes / order. Magipunk follows the same structure, but focuses on the use of magic with technology. Technology is powered by magic, and magical research and magical items are common in stories.

      Magical augmentation is the result of cybernetics and magic. Characters will often use magic to enhance their own bodies or even replace entire body parts with machinery. There may be certain items that one can use to enhance performance, tattoos, charms and more.

      Social structure in magipunk is usually very dystopian-like. The aristocrats and those who can afford it often live in safety away from the dangers of magic abusers, usually inside anti-magic barriers while the lower class live in slums that surround the aristocrats and never allowed in.

    • Modern fantasy, also known as contemporary fantasy, is a subgenre that is set in the present day but with fantasy elements such as magic or the supernatural. It is often paired with urban fantasy. The overall tone of modern fantasy is usually joy and wonder, rarely using fear and horror as its main theme. It may be about the protagonist discovering a secret world of the supernatural living among humans or discovering a secret history.

      Stories in which characters will enter into an alternate world do not count as modern fantasy. Low fantasy and modern fantasy can overlap, but the key difference is that although low fantasy can be set in the real world, it may not be set in modern times.

      Modern fantasy that are set in the real world but also include a more fantastical world can be considered a high or low fantasy.

    • Otherworld fantasy is a broad term for fantasy where characters travel to another world or has access to a world parellel to our own. Otherworld fantasy is almost always paired with other subgenres. The story may detail the explorations of the new world and solving its conflicts, sometimes between the other world and the world the character lives in. Like modern fantasy, the main emotion is joy and wonder, but there is more room for fear and dread to occur. The element of the unknown is a common theme and may be used as a driving force for both good and evil.

      Not for players who aren't interested in world-building.

    • Science fantasy is fantasy that blends both science and technology with traditional fantasy elements. In science fiction there may be more hypothetical technology like faster than light travel or intellectual AI, but science fantasy adds on elements such as warriors with swords, dragons, castles and wizards to create a story that has a feel of both genres. Science fantasy tends to focus more on the subgenre of 'dying worlds', where the world is slowly becoming more and more inhabitable due to humans and/or the supernatural / wars.

      Magic in the world co-exists with 'real' science and technology. It may be beneficial or cause chaos, depending on the storyline.

      Another difference between science fiction and science fantasy is that in 'hard' science fiction, everything has an explanation on how it works according to the laws of physics. This may not apply to 'soft' science fiction, which revolves around less realistic elements. In science fantasy, realism doesn't always have to apply.

      If the word 'fantasy' does not connect well with 'technology' and 'science' for the player, then science fantasy is not suitable.

    • Shenmo, also known as ‘gods and demons fiction’ is a subgenre that centers around the many deities, immortals and monsters of Chinese mythology. It originated in the early 20th century by a literary historian named Lu Xun. If you have heard of ‘Journey to the West’, featuring the Monkey King, then you already know a good shenmo story. All shenmo stories have deep roots and links to Chinese folktales and legends.

      It can often be compared to what we associate with ‘fantasy’ in general with a Chinese twist. Monsters, demons, immortals and magicians are present in all shenmo stories. Wars and battles and adventures between demons, priests and gods, shenmo has been a popular genre in Ancient China for thousands of years.

      As it draws on real life historical stories, shenmo requires decent research and attentiveness to detail.

    • Swords and planets (S&P) feature adventures on other planets and alien worlds, where people from Earth are usually the protagonists. The name derives from the theme of men using swords even in a setting where there is complex and advanced alien technology. Protagonists will have a preference of swords and melee combat instead of technology.

      A typical storyline would be a protagonist that has magically been transported onto an alien planet and must navigate through the complex cities and adapt into alien culture to avoid being spotted. Save a damsel in distress - either someone from Earth who also got captured or an alien woman - and fight creatures not of this world. Fighting is never something the character actively seeks out but due to his background aliens will always bring the fights to him. The Star Wars is a popular example for S&P.

      Swords and planets is not suitable for players who do not want to play non-human characters or do not want to world-build. Alien culture and history are very rich and must be well developed for a good story as the plot will mostly be centered around this one location.

    • Swords and sorcery (S&S) is often lumped in with heroic fantasy, but has a few key differences that make it its own subgenre. Sword and sorcery roleplays focus less on the environment and the world and more on the action and character itself. There is still good and evil, but there are more moral ambiguities and fewer absolutes. Everything is fast paced during the journey to achieve the end goal. Swords and sorcery antagonists are usually supernatural horrors, or men being possessed by a far bigger and nastier power.

      What is the difference between Heroic fantasy and S&S?

      • Personal battles are more focused upon instead of matters that have more dire consequences, such as the world being destroyed.
      • The protagonists are action heroes that will do whatever they want, even if it is morally wrong, to achieve the end goal.
      • Sometimes the protagonist is a lone wolf, an outsider even in their own community and do not have a real place in the society of the world.
      • Instead of fighting for the world, they only fight for themselves. Whether it be for money, for power or for fun, they only fight because it benefits them and them only.

      So if the heroes of the story are actually 'heroic', and their morals are good and are not ambiguous, then it is HEROIC FANTASY.

      Swords and sorcery is not suited for players who want a deeper story and want a focus on world-building.

    • Urban fantasy, sometimes known as Modern fantasy is a roleplay with a fantastical narrative in an urban setting. Urban fantasy is the opposite of high fantasy since high fantasy is set in an entirely fictitious world rather than a real world setting. Most urban fantasies are set in contemporary time with elements of the supernatural. Although urban fantasy can be set in a historical, modern or futuristic period, a common theme is that the setting is usually in a big city where the supernatural can easily hide.

      The setting is always almost on Earth, or a world that is close to Earth as possible. The supernatural may or may not be known to the common man, but is usually written to live alongside humans in the urban setting.

      Urban fantasy tends to have a gritty atmosphere but also have a mix of many other genres in the narrative, having elements of romance and mystery, horror and fantasy to create stories. Because urban fantasy is so flexible and contains many elements, urban fantasy is good for authors to explore and experiment.

      However, it is not for roleplayers who are seeking a more fictitious world.

    • The term 'weird west' refers to stories where fantasy and the supernatural meets the wild west. Skeletal cowboys, ghosts that are out for revenge because of the sheriff are all common themes. Native American folklore is also common in weird west stories. Many Western cryptids are focused upon in these roleplays, such as the chupacabra or the wendigo. It's a combination of mystery, western, horror and sometimes gaslamp or steampunk.

      Weird west fantasy focuses on the battle between order and chaos, the natural verses the supernatural and true good and evil. It may rotate around a typical Western town haunted by ghosts or demonic villains in gunfights while exploring the theme of betrayal and tragedy. Because of this setting, it is perfect for exploration and world expansion, but it is very restricted in historical themes. Certain cultural and social aspects need to be researched upon.

      Not for roleplayers who don't have much interest in cowboys and the like and if you are more interested in a more diverse setting.

    • Wuxia, meaning ‘martial hero’, is a subgenre that focuses on the adventure of martial artists in ancient China. The term wuxia is comprised of the words ‘wu’, meaning martial or armed, and ‘xia’ meaning honourable or chivalrous. The code of ‘xia’ can often be compared to the Japanese bushido tradition. In original Chinese fiction, heroes do not normally serve a lord or are born into royalty or into an aristocratic family. They tend to be born in villages and lower social classes but still have a code of chivalry, which is a fundamental point in wuxia fiction. Wuxia heroes fight and correct wrongs, fight for righteousness, remove tyrants and oppressors and bring justice.

      Protagonists are very highly trained in martial arts and are often portrayed of doing acts humans would normally not be able to, such as flight. Friendship is an important aspect in protagonists and is very important, but followers of the code of xia are not afraid to use violence when necessary and are normally not pacifists. Unlike conventional good verses evil, wuxia instead explores philosophy and the idea of 'personal freedom'.

      Usually, wuxia fiction is set in a fantastical Imperial China-esque setting. The atmosphere is always mysterious or mythical, set in something like the world underneath gods. There is often romance, and elements of the supernatural and magic. Demons, betrayal, and secret societies are very common occurrences and ideas to explore in wuxia fiction.

    If you're confused about how roleplaying works on Iwaku, click on this!
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    28/5/2016: Minor corrections. Added Fractured fairy tales and magical girls.
    #1 Sen, May 14, 2016
    Last edited: May 28, 2016
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  2. A nifty little dictionary to help people understand the fantasy tags we have on Iwaku. 10/10 bb.
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  3. Well this was something useful. Now I want to play like half of these. 10/10 another wonderful guide/piece of information by Sen, would read again.
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  4. My heroines. :heart:
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  5. Awesome job, @Sen. This guide is excellent! I have just a few nitpicks that I hope don't ruffle any feathers, because really, this is great.

    1. Harry Potter is actually often cited as an example of low fantasy, because the Wizarding World and the Muggle World impact each other quite a lot and that is a strong theme of the series. Much of it takes place in and around Muggle London. It's definitely on the higher end of low fantasy, though.

    2. Fairy tales and mythic fantasy are slightly different. Mythic fantasy draws from real-world folklore, myth, and legend for the basis of the setting and usually operates in a macrocosm with more complex moral themes, while fairy tales tend to have more simplistic morality and deal with microcosmic folklore especially involving local creatures or enchantments.

    3. Under science fantasy, you mention that regular science fiction requires all tech to have physics-abiding explanations. This isn't strictly true, and is the difference between hard and soft sci-fi. Just thought you might want to note that!

    4. I'd probably place weird west under a horror heading, but you could also place it under fantasy. Maybe put it on both?

    As Iwaku's King of Tags, it makes me really happy to see someone doing this! In case you missed them, there are actually a few other fantasy subgenre tags: Arthurian fantasy, fractured fairy tale, magical girl, magical realism, mythic fantasy, and swords and sandals. Just in case you want to add them. :]
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  6. Yeah, I was reading a lot of articles that had a lot of different things to say about the subgenres. And I did read that the Harry Potter series is part of a debate on whether or not it's low or high ^^". But I just included it as part of the 'checklist' I found for convenience. I think I'll edit in a note.

    I included weird west because it has fantasy elements, but I'm working on a horror dictionary with some friends, so I'll be sure to include it i that one too :oo

    //starts gathering information on missing tags
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  7. Let me know if you need any help with this series! I'm fairly genre-savvy and I made all the tags so.