Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Is "Gonzo"?

When folks discuss the post-apocalyptic genre of RPG play, one word occasionally pops up to somehow describe the "feel" of the game's environment:

Both Mutant Future and Gamma World have been described as "gonzo post-apocalyptic" RPGs. You yourself may have even used the term. But what does it MEAN? Gonzo seems to be one of those words where everyone knows what is implied, but no one has ever specifically defined the term, like "pornography," for example.

First a bit of a discussion about the post-apocalyptic genre. "The End of The World As We Know It" isn't exactly a "fun" place to game in. The blasted earth, humanity in shambles, radiation and poisons everywhere. Some apocalyptic RPGs play this straight. Aftermath!, Twilight 2000, and The Morrow Project all present a serious take on man's survival after all Hell breaks loose. Exposure to radiation won't cause you to grow a prehensile tail; rather you may have to roll on the "Radiation Exposure Table" to see what body part turns black and falls off.

But if we look up the word "gonzo," we find this handy thumbnail definition: "Crazy, madcap, anarchistic." (We also get about 1,000 hits for a certain crook-nosed blue Muppet with a chicken fetish.) So taking that to heart, anything classified as "gonzo" is not based in reality, is somewhat chaotic, and can be -- and often is -- played for laughs.

** Batman is not gonzo. The Joker is gonzo.
** Superman is not gonzo. Bizarro is certainly gonzo.
** Kermit? Not very gonzo. Gonzo? Absolute gonzo.

So "Gonzo Post-apocalyptic" takes place after the End Wars where reality and the laws of nature take a backseat to imagination and wacky hijinks. Radiation doesn't give you leukemia; it causes you to shoot lasers from your eyes. Mutations aren't crippling physical deformities; they are beneficial abilities that are borderline superheroic. The end of the world may be at hand, but that's when the fun begins!

I don't think any other RPG genre has a "gonzo" subcategory -- at least not officially. I suppose HackMaster 4th Edition could be described as "gonzo fantasy"; Stuperpowers could be "gonzo superheroic"; and Ghostbusters would be "gonzo horror." But "gonzo" seems to be strongly rooted in the post-apocalyptic genre, and that's what makes it great. After all, a man riding a giant chicken-wolf in AD&D is bizarre. In Mutant Future, it's typical.


  1. Curious ideas indeed. You may want to check out my blog as all of March is Muppets Madness Month over at Barking Alien.

    Later next week expect to see Post-Apocalypse RPGs get the Muppets treatment.

  2. Swords & Planets gets its gonzo on as well. But yeah, I think that and Post-Apocalyptic are the only genres where gonzo gets a fair shake.

  3. Not to mention the chicken-wolf has six legs!

    Capcha: Bringima. Who is Ima, why must he be brought, and to who?

  4. If RPGs had a "gonzo" genre, then Paranoia would be the poster boy! Encounter Critical would be thee "gonzo mixed/multi genre" game.

    And yes, that picture was designed to be as gonzo and campy as possible. Its a mix of old west, retro sci-fi, and Looney Tunes.

    By the way, its not a chicken-wolf - its just a goofy-faced bird with six-legs. Just keep them away from Gonzo, as he has a thing for chicks with nice legs and breasts. ;P

  5. Ugh. Can't believe Paranoia slipped my mind...