Last time we talked about genre mashups, Fighter was driving around in a tank. Now he’s piloting a British accent, something he is equally unqualified to do. My opinion, however, remains the same: genre mashups are fun, but you need buy-in from the the whole group. As I recently found to my chagrin (“OK guys, this campaign is going to be musketeers but with dragons. Except now there are ancient technological artifacts! And now you’re fighting the giant floating head from Baron Munchausen!”), even the GM needs to stick to the spirit of the setting.

Rather than rehashing that conversation, however, I’d like to take a moment to ponder that peculiar beast known as suspension of disbelief. When a guy like Wizard—an elf who, I hasten to remind you, is able to cast magic freakin’ spells—can talk about the implausibility of steampunk with a straight face, you know that something peculiar is afoot.

In my travels to strange and distant lands I’ve met all kinds of interesting folks, including professional furries, practicing demonologists, and Whovians. But amidst the sea of 501st members and burlesque babes and (on one memorable occasion) Lloyd Kaufman, I think that the strangest conversation I’ve ever had was with a steampunk. The guy’s cosplay was spectacular, but the story behind his gears and gadgets is what stuck with me. “My whole character is based on actual debunked science!” he proclaimed. He went on to recount the biographies of forgotten Victorian scientists and their failed theories, pointing to the galvanic oscillators and receiving antennae poking out from all parts of his costume. I can’t remember the particulars of his story, but the unbridled enthusiasm that this steampunk had for it stuck with me. Here was a type of science fiction based off of factually inaccurate science. It was known to be wrong but—and here’s the important thing—that didn’t matter. What mattered is that it felt real. It made story sense. And when we’re talking about the suspension of disbelief, that’s the only thing that matters.

For my money, clockwork gadgets and magical powers are both genre markers. They are elements that denote steampunk and fantasy in the same way that bugged cell phones mean “political thriller” and creepy mansions mean “horror.” Both elements are implausible, but they only interfere with the suspension of disbelief when they violate genre expectations. That’s the moment when they “take you out of the setting.”

Shall we test this little theory of mine with a question of the day? Let’s shall: Have you ever been in a game that broke your suspension of disbelief? What did it?


ARE YOU AN IMPATIENT GAMER? If so, you should check out the “Henchman” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. For just one buck a month, you can get each and every Handbook of Heroes comic a day earlier than the rest of your party members. That’s bragging rights right there!