Day #30’s question was “What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?”
There isn’t enough bleakness in RPGs. Nearly all of them are big damn heroes being heroic and saving the day, or people fighting against dark powers, or people being dark powers and plotting and planning against each other and the other big players.
There aren’t enough RPGs where you are just small fish, where failure is inevitable and your struggles are meaningless in the face of impossible, infallible powers. Some cosmic horror stuff satisfies this, but I’ve never had the chance to play Call of Cthulu of similar things.
So what even is ‘bleak’ as a genre? I guess things like Walking Dead touch on it sometimes. Lots of struggle for almost no gain, often even no pay off and things getting worse - yet they keep going even when all hope is lost. Game of Thrones sometimes touches on this - typically settings that are post-apocalyptic tend to do it well, but particularly gritty and grim cyberpunk/corporate dystopia settings also sell a bleak future where nothing you do matters and even your successes are ultimately failures.
I guess no-one plays ‘bleak-punk’ or whatever would seem a good name for it because, well, it’s bloody depressing. Never being able to achieve anything meaningful sounds like hell to a lot of people but what makes it attractive to me as a player and a GM is that it can turn even the smallest and most insignificant victory into a triumph. When just allowing someone to sleep and maybe eat during a session is a resounding victory, you don’t need giant robots or world-saving epic quests to make a story rewarding - just surviving is enough, as long as you care, as long as you have hope.
The closest game I’ve played to this is Don’t Rest Your Head. The game kind of has this death spiral in it where the more you succeed, the more likely you are to fail in other ways, and it’s a sort of mad race to try and achieve your characters story arc before they crash and burn, or turn into the very avatar of that which they are struggling against. It’s a sort of bleak dream superpowers game, and I love it dearly.
So to answer the original question, what genre-mashup would I like to see? Something bleak but with high-octane action, maybe mix in some time-travel. Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat - the game, would be awesome. The whole setting would be a puzzle of living through a terrible, bleak war you can never win, trying to find a solution to it over and over again, yet at every loop, some new problem occurs that invalidates everything. Despite that, every session in fuelled by hope that this is the one that teaches you something new, something important and that even when you reset and everything you did was for nothing, maybe that knowledge is what will get you one step further this time is what pushes you on.
Maybe I’m some kind of roleplaying game masochist, but I’d love this as an extended campaign.