Adventure Genre and Subgenres

In terms of literary genres, I don’t think many people would argue that a Pathfinder RPG or D&D adventures would fall under the Fantasy genre. All adventure modules (and campaigns for that matter) must contain a decent amount of action and combat to keep the players engaged, and as such, could also be considered as falling in the Action and Adventures genres as well. Given the nature of what an adventure module is however, these general types of classifications don’t really convey any useful information to a GM who might be interested in running it. More importantly, a writer who is merely trying to provide ‘action’ or ‘adventure’ in their adventure has no chance of tailoring it to create a specific and intense level of emotion in the players. For this reason, it is important to establish a new method of subcategorizing adventures – one that more clearly defines what kind of adventure it actually represents.

Since there is not already a list of agreed upon subgenres for adventures that I am aware of, let’s start by looking at the commonly identified genres in fiction. Doing a little research online proves that there is no universally accepted list of genres even when it comes fiction either. Categorizing any creative work can be done in many ways and I don’t think that there is one correct method, but for starters, let’s start with the list of genres found on the Wikipedia website and see what we have.

  • Drama– stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action
  • Classic– fiction that has become part of an accepted literary canon, widely taught in schools
  • Comic/Graphic Novel– scripted fiction told visually in artist drawn pictures, usually in panels and speech bubbles
  • Crime/Detective– fiction about a committed crime, how the criminal gets caught, and the repercussions of the crime
  • Fable– narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; legendary, supernatural tale
  • Fairy tale– story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children
  • Fanfiction– fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.
  • Fantasy– fiction with strange or otherworldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality
  • Fiction narrative– literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact
  • Fiction in verse – full-length novels with plot, subplot(s), theme(s), major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented in verse form (usually free verse)
  • Folklore– the songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or “folk” as handed down by word of mouth
  • Historical fiction– story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting
  • Horror– fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread and sometimes fear in both the characters and the reader
  • Humor– Usually a fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain and sometimes cause intended laughter; but can be contained in all genres
  • Legend– story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, that has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material
  • Magical Realism – story where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment
  • Metafiction– also known as romantic irony in the context of Romantic works of literature, uses self-reference to draw attention to itself as a work of art, while exposing the “truth” of a story
  • Mystery– this is fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets
  • Mythology– legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods
  • Mythopoeia– this is fiction where characters from religious mythology, traditional myths, folklores and history are recast into a re-imagined realm created by the author.
  • Realistic fiction– story that is true to life
  • Science fiction– story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets
  • Short story– fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots
  • Suspense/Thriller– fiction about harm about to befall a person or group and the attempts made to evade the harm
  • Tall tale– humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance
  • Western– set in the American Old West frontier and typically set in the late eighteenth to late nineteenth century


Of the genres listed, some lend themselves well as subcategories for fantasy RPG adventures, while others clearly do not. For example, Comic/Graphic Novel and Short Story genres seem more like formats to me rather than genres when viewed from the perspective of an adventure module. Also, how do you deal with cross-genres? If you have a short mystery adventure for example, would this fall under the Short Story or Mystery genre? And do not all adventures contain fantasy, drama, and suspense? Clearly a better system is required.

I propose that a much more useful method would be to think of adventure subgenres in terms of the primary story goal (not to be confused with plot). Consider the following list of proposed adventure subgenres:

  • Action – adventures in which the primary story goal involves the heroes performing some specific and risky action (such as defeating a specific creature or retrieving an item from a dangerous place). In this type of adventure, the action itself, not the setting, is the main focus.
  • Detective – adventurers in which the primary story goal requires that the heroes solve a crime (usually a murder) by interacting with a group of suspects and investigating a crime scene.
  • Drama – adventures in which the primary story goal revolves around the dynamic interactions between the heroes and their relationship with a rival person or group of people. These interactions involve a fair amount of dialogue and conflict producing high levels of emotion.
  • Exploration – adventures in which the primary story goal involves exploring an undiscovered location. In this type of adventure, exploration of the location is the main focus rather than performing a certain action once there.
  • Frontier Survival – adventures in which the primary story goal requires that the hero survive or tame a hostile environment where chaos reigns.
  • Historical Investigation – adventures in which the primary story goal involves learning forgotten or secret information central to the lore of the campaign world.
  • Horror – adventures in which the primary story goal and setting are intended to evoke feelings of dread and fear.
  • Mystery – adventures in which primary story goal requires that the heroes intentionally attempt to unravel a specific mystery in order to learn its secret (other than exposing a murderer).
  • Science Fiction – adventures in which the primary story goal deals with futuristic elements not normally present in the campaign worlds time frame.
  • Planar Exploration – adventures in which the primary story goal primarily involves exploration of another planet or plane of existence that has traits different than the normal campaign world.
  • Thriller – adventures in which pursuit of the primary story goal creates a persistent sense of approaching danger, anticipation, and suspense.

It’s not a perfect system I admit, but I think that using the adventure goal as a means of defining the subgenre is as good of a system as any.

I am not at the point in production where I am ready to share details about my adventurers plot (although I have something in mind), but I can safely say that it will fall into the Mystery subgenre using this classification system.

I would love the hear your opinion about this method of defining adventurers subgenres. Did I miss any major ones? Can you offer better names for the ones that I have come up with?