An attempt to describe a genre of game without confining it. Written by Dan Phipps and inspired by conversations with Kali Lawrie, Brandon Leon-Gambetta, and Kegan.exe.

In the month leading up to the release of High Magic Lowlives I spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to figure out it’s genre. A punchy, two or three word phrase that would encapsulate it’s general deal. You see, HMLL concerns itself with irony-poisoned, cell phone toting wizard school dropouts committing crimes against a feudal Immortal Aristocracy who get their powers from flying into space to hunt Gods. Too much aerospace for Traditional Fantasy, too medieval for Cyberpunk, too weird for Urban Fantasy, too grounded for Science Fantasy. I knew other fantasy tabletop games had touches of modern tech, but couldn’t find the words to describe it. The question remained…

What sort of Fantasy is a medieval world littered with 21st century technology, sensibilities, and concerns?

Since then we’ve had the benefit of meeting a number of big brain geniuses in the TTRPG design space, and have recently gotten to talking to Kegan about DungeonDelvers.TV and Brandon about RADCrawl. The promise of a shared Anti Canon World to set our games in gave me yet another audience for my weird genre obsession and Post-Dungeon Fantasy stuck.

With some concern about ruining a good thing by naming it, I wanted to write up a broad description on Post-Dungeon Fantasy as a pointer for folks curious about what it implies. But before we get too much further we should spent a little time on what we mean by Dungeon Fantasy.

What Is Dungeon Fantasy

For the purposes of this piece, Dungeon Fantasy should be understood as a subtype of fantasy narrative with substantial consideration given to serving as a vessel into which one may pour adventurers. The existence of the “dungeon” embodies this - an enticing treasure at the center of an ecosystem of dangers populated by worthy foes. From the dungeon we can work backwards to justify the world around it - the history of the treasure, the whys and wherefores of those who jealously guard it, the elite few who know of its existence but are unable or uninterested in seeking it out themselves.

Fantasy serves this act of world construction well. The dungeon nestles comfortably into the established tropes of bandit lords, greedy dragons, abducted princesses, and wicked advisors. A range of gameplay elements interlock naturally with a range of fantasy types and player expectations. It is a classic for a reason, and the body of work that would fall under this definition is large, growing, and not necessarily restricted to games.

The body of work is so large, in fact, that I’m confident that there are exceptions to everything that follows but nevertheless we carry on. It’s reasonable to expect that a “generic” Dungeon Fantasy varies on a theme of exploration into dangerous places, violent encounters, and the acquisition of anything sufficiently shiny. A layer of moral justification is typically applied to keep this from being mere armed robbery. If life is not made sufficiently miserable for The Forces of Evil then the world will be a worse place. Those who would ask you to take on this dangerous, profitable, and enjoyable burden are justified in their request, like the farmers begging the aid of Seven Samurai.

This Is Not a Critique of Dungeon Fantasy

Numerous writers smarter than I am have looked critically at Dungeon Fantasy (or prominent examples thereof) for upholding colonialist, imperialist, or racist views among others and those critiques are worthy considerations. This is doubly true if you’re setting out to write one. This markdown document, however, is about Post-Dungeon Fantasy so lets get to that.

What Is Post-Dungeon Fantasy

The following themes are common, and arguably defining, in Post-Dungeon Fantasy:

  • A World for Adventurers
  • The High Tech and the Pastoral
  • Complicated Relationships with Power
  • Our Own Twenty-First Century Fantasy

A World for Adventurers

Adventurers, like orchids, require specific conditions and care to thrive. The world around them must be broken in a particular way, ruled by governments strong enough to stand but weak enough to rely on roving fellowships of weirdo mercenaries. There should be maps, but they should be incomplete. A world of poorly-kept secrets, and dangers just perilous enough to keep everyone but our protagonists at bay. And, of course, temporarily contained dungeons of all stripes threatening to boil over if ignored. Whether its a world at the tipping point between good and evil or a grim era of mud and disease, there are adventurers and there is something for them to do.

Post-Dungeon Fantasies use different props and paint with a different palette, but the world is broken in the same way. The world needs adventurers to plumb its depths in the form of subway tunnels, power plants, venues for bloodsport, bank vaults, or the classic ancient ruin. We may seek to seal away an ancient evil or just have a higher subscriber count by the time we get home. The same disbeliefs need suspension whether someone filled a perfectly good tomb with horrors in pursuit of forbidden power or a particularly gruesome gameshow. If all the old dungeons are delved, we’ll just have to make our own.

The High Tech and the Pastoral

From a literary perspective, Post-Dungeon Fantasy reflects the Information Age in a way that’s unique from cyberpunk and urban fantasy by highlighting its absurdity. The ability to take a rideshare to a haunted castle makes the same lack of sense as it does to take a rideshare to the airport. Concern over subscriber counts in the midst of a battle with a skeleton wizard is as grim a satire as a crowdfunded medical procedure. The de jour solution to governmental overreach and incompetence is a digital currency which is only accessible to hyper-connected early adopters, a concept so out of touch with real-world inequality it defies belief. We live in a cyberpunk dystopia so stupid that actual cyberpunk fails to capture it’s zeitgeist simply by depicting the megacorporations at its center as competent.

From a gameplay perspective this environment empowers both the protagonists and their adversaries. Access to a cell phone grants each adventurer cursed ring by default, which promises power while inviting the gaze of those who would profit for them or do them harm. Magic is often depicted in fantasy as powerful but dangerous. Technology has the same potential to invite a similar deal with a different sort of devil.

Complicated Relationships with Power

As an extension of the nature of technology is the uncomfortable position in which our adventurers find themselves. Post-Dungeon Fantasy protagonists rely on the tools of modern life to participate meaningfully in society, and in employing these tools they must pay a thousand small costs to the rich and powerful. The premise of a Dungeon Fantasy demands that an adventurer choose not to opt out of the dungeon delve (it is, after all, why the players went through the hassle of finding a time when everyone could play). By the same token these same adventurers have limited capacity to opt-out of the ecosystems implied by modern technology. It is baked into their world in the same way as ours.

A Post-Dungeon Fantasy invites an essential tension between the desire to be a hero and adding to the tremendous wealth of a caste that built an unjust world. The opportunity for heroism among the powerless invites a dim view of those who hold meaningful power. The kings and corporations that reign over a Post-Dungeon Fantasy are often depicted as capricious, callous, and cruel. And yet, inherent in fantasy is a world not yet fully defined. Everything which empowers an adventurer empowers them to change the world. A Post-Dungeon Fantasy is a world of fruitful voids, and cannot help itself but present opportunities to change.

Our Own Twenty-First Century Fantasy

But how will our adventurers change it? The introduction of modern (or modern-adjacent) technology provides a sign of the times, and a signifier for the implied modern social mores, cultural expectations, and ethical considerations. This is the antithesis of a setting that attempts to justify witch hunts and inquisitors by making their superstitions into real threats.

To quote Aaron King’s Patchwork World Sixth Edition:

This means the game might be unyoked from the “classics” of the 20th century. Serfdom, misogyny, slavery, and other staples of Medieval fantasy are not the default here, and players shouldn’t justify anything in the game with phrases like “that’s how things were in the past.”

In a Post-Dungeon Fantasy, as in our own world, we may encounter people who believe themselves superior on justifications of race, creed, or class. There will be those who blindly follow notions of honor or glory into committing what we, the audience, rightfully consider atrocities. And in a Post-Dungeon Fantasy as in our world these behaviors are not justified. They’re the actions of assholes, or worse. Fundamentally it is a fantasy tied to our own world, and where the Post-Dungeon Fantasy empowers its adventurers, it does so to remake the world as one where the players would want to go.


There’s something in the air, or at least I hope there is, of a unique variant on Science Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Cyberpunk games that hews closer to the traditional Fantasy palette. The distinction between a modern city (or megacity) with witches versus a fantasy borderland with cell towers is a meaningful one, promising different modes of play and accomplishing different goals. It’s a variation on a classic theme, as the growing Appendix-N of touchstones and examples demonstrates, but it’s the setting signifier I wish we’d had when we were selling people on High Magic Lowlives. Hopefully it’s of some use to you too!