Here’s what I did in 2013: I finished work on four volumes of Designers & Dragons, one for each decade of the industry: the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. Together they total about 535,000 words, which makes them about 170,000 words longer than the previous edition of Designers & Dragons from Mongoose Publishing.

Evil Hat Productions will be launching a Kickstarter in Spring 2014 with the goal of making it possible to print the entire four-volume series at once for a Summer release. So watch for that in the next 3-6 months. —SA, 12/31/13

This article was originally published as Designers & Dragons: The Column #27 on RPGnet. Its publication followed the publication of the original Designers & Dragons (2011) and preceded the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014). A more up to date version of this history can be found in Designers & Dragons: The Platinum Appendix.

With that said, how’s the industry been doing for the last year?

D&D Continues to Coast. The cataclysmic collapse of D&D in 2011 and 2012 has been halted a bit by some careful work at Wizards of the Coast. Much of this was due to AD&D 2e (2013) and OD&D (2013) reprints getting D&D back on the shelves. I also think the D&D brand was helped a lot by Wizards reversing their weird withdrawal from PDFs by creating with the folks at DriveThruRPG.

However, I think that D&D Next did even more to get the game back into the public eye. The D&D Next playtest matured and alongside articles from Wizards about the upcoming game, it gave fans something to talk about all year. The special Gen Con release of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (2013) probably helped even more. However, I think that Wizards’ best D&D-related decision was to begin selling the Encounters adventures. Though Encounters GMs were angry at having to purchase their adventures, and predicted the collapse of the program, the publication of Murder in Baldur’s Gate (2013) and Legacy of the Crystal Shard (2013) put new D&D products back on store shelves for the first time in a year.

With that said, all’s not roses and puppies for D&D. We know that Pathfinder has been outselling D&D for years, while the latest reports from ICv2 say that FFG’s Star Wars has now passed D&D too. Meanwhile, interest in D&D Next seems extremely mixed. Some people are certainly interested, but a surprising number of fans are very ambivalent about the playtest information and claim they probably won’t be buying the new game.

I’m still fairly certain that D&D will soon be top-dog again — even by mid-2015, after the new-car smell of D&D Next wears off. Of course, I also still think there’s a possibility that Wizards will get out of the tabletop RPG business by 2016 or so if D&D Next doesn’t do well enough by Hasbro’s weird yardstick.

The Industry Did … Surprisingly Well. I feel like the RPG industry has had about a decade of badness. The d20 bust caused by 3.5e (2003) and the over-saturation of d20 products ran right into the Great Recession. Meanwhile, D&D 4e (2008) utterly failed to prop up the market and probably even damaged it when Wizards slowed its production, then shut it down entirely in 2011-2012.

However in 2013, things have looked … brighter. Specifically, a lot of different publishers seem to be succeeding with a lot of different sorts of games. Pathfinder and Mutants & Masterminds show that post-d20 games can still do well; Dungeon World and Fate Core demonstrate how mass-market the indie community has gotten; FFG’s Star Wars reveals the continued power of licensed games; Shadowrun and Exalted demonstrate the power of older games; and Eclipse Phase shows that new companies can be successful too.

I think a lot of the other trends of 2013 are contributing to this new success, including great Kickstarters, new sales methods, new publication methods, new sources of RPGs, and (maybe) even new licensing.

Kickstarter Kicks It! (Mostly.) Top Kickstarters for the year included Onyx Path’s Deluxe Exalted 3e ($684,755; 4,368 backers), Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu 7e ($561,836; 3,668 backers), Evil Hat’s Fate Core ($433,365; 10,103 backers), Monte Cook Games’ The Strange ($418,478; 2,883 backers); Modiphius’ Achtung! Cthulhu (£177,557; 1,972 backers), Onyx Path’s Demon: The Descent ($150,235; 2,076 backers), Cubicle 7’s Cthulhu Britannica: London (£90,412, 753 backers), Agate Editions’ Shadows of Esteren: Travels ($137,024; 951 backers); Kobold Press’ Deep Magic ($126,031; 1,927 backers); Flying Buffalo’s Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls ($125,440; 1,638 backers); Frog God Games’ Razor Coast ($123,366; 709 backers); Posthuman’s Transhuman ($117,965; 1,898 backers); Onyx Path’s Changing Breeds ($114,155; 1,405 backers); Chronicle City’s Space: 1889 (£72,379; 1,025 backers); Onyx Path’s Mummy: The Curse ($104,831; 1,767 backers); and Frog God Games’ The Lost Lands ($104,116; 526 backers).

Comparatively, there were 8 tabletop RPG books in 2012 that topped $100,000; in 2013, there were twice as many. And then there’s the 10,000 people who signed up for Evil Hat’s Fate Core Kickstarter. It’s a phenomenal number that I don’t think any one else has come near. Sure, much of that was due to a cheap $10 buy-in that let backers get electronic copies of … everything, but companies like Posthuman and Paizo have similarly suggested that cheap PDFs are a great way to regrow the industry.

Meanwhile, I’ve been waiting for the inevitable Kickstarter bust to follow the Kickstarter boom. I was pretty certain that it was going to hit when Kickstarters started to fail to deliver. However, we’ve now had some pretty big, openly-acknowledged failures like The Forking Path’s The Doom That Came to Atlantic City! and James Maliszewski’s Dwimmermount — with many more Kickstarters like e20 and Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon hanging about in limbo … and I haven’t seen the repercussions that I expected. Mind you, the individual creators have been taken out to the woodshed, but there still seems to be faith in the Kickstarter system.

This may still be a bomb waiting to explode, as Kickstarter’s requirement for creators to list “Risks & Challenges” is so toothless as to be laughable … but I have more faith in Kickstarter continuing to work than I did a year ago.

Another problem has arisen for Kickstarter in the last year: the US Postal Service’s refusal to support cheap international shipments for US customers has increasingly led Kickstarter creators to abandon international sales. This problem isn’t likely to be solved any time soon since most RPG companies (and Kickstarter) are located in the US … and the US Postal Service is being purposefully strangled to death by conservative lawmakers. Which all means that the Kickstarter RPG resurgence will continue to be a little less successful than it could be.

(This problem increasingly affects POD publishing too.)

New PDF Sales Methods Increase Sales. Some intriguing new ways to sell PDFs appeared during the year. Allen Varney’s Bundle of Holding groups together a bunch of related PDFs and lets buyers choose their price, while DriveThruRPG premiered a Pay What You Want model. Unsurprisingly, Evil Hat was one of the first companies to use the PWYWM model for Fate Core and Fate Accelerated because Fred Hicks continues to be a strong proponent of getting cheap rule books out to players. So far, companies seem quite pleased by the successful of these new payment models.

PDF & POD Continue to Mature. PDF has been around for over a decade, but it’s only in recent years that traditional print publishers have also begun to put out PDF-only products. You can now find free PDF-only adventures from Cubicle 7 and Galileo Games and PDF-only supplements like Minor Alien Module 1: Luriani (2012) from Mongoose.

Meanwhile, print-on-demand (POD) technologies are maturing too. RedBrick had a lot of troubles with POD hardcovers when they got their products started in the mid ’00s, but now they’re pretty standard. The folks at DriveThru also continued to expand the boundaries of what’s possible with their DriveThruCards — which has allowed the creation of RPG products like Evil Hat’s The Deck of Fate and Bully Pulpit Games’ Carolina Death Crawl.

Foreign Language RPGs Go Wild. Perhaps the most surprising and interesting trend of recent years has been the increased number of translated foreign RPGs that are appearing in the US.

Japanese RPGs seem particularly well supported. Maid (2008) predated the trend, which really started with Tenra Bansho Zero (2013). Double Cross (2013) followed, Golden Sky Stories (2014) is literally on its way, and Ryuutama (2014?) was just funded.

French RPGs have also gotten good attention. Cubicle 7 has long published Qin (2006, 2009), but recently added Kuro (2012) and Yggdrasill (2012) to their catalogue. Little Wizards (2013) was translated from French by Crafty Games and is an example of another trend: the increasing number of kid-friendly RPGs that are appearing. Finally, Shadows of Esteren (2012-2013) seems like it’s been getting Kickstarted constantly for the last year.

There’s word of an upcoming translation of the Spanish Aquelarre and a few more Japanese RPGs are in process, so it seems likely this trend will continue to grow. With any luck, it’ll bring some new variety and some new designs to the industry.

New Licensing Opens Up the Industry. The time of d20 is over, but it looks like Ryan Dancey permanently changed the gaming industry with his thoughts about open gaming licenses. As a result of Kickstarters, both GUMSHOE and Fate were released this year under Creative Commons and OGL licenses. The Dungeon World SRD was similarly licensed under the Creative Commons. Finally, the WaRP system from Over the Edge (1992) has been released under the OGL too.

I’m not sure that any of this will have a big impact on the industry, as Mongoose wasn’t able to make much progress with their RuneQuest license of the late ’00s, but it’s an interesting trend that offers up neat possibilities.

Author Delivers Grain of Salt. Of course, not all is great. The industry is still way down from its height of the ’80s and even from the d20 boom of the ’00s. The fate of D&D continues to be a big question mark, and the market leader usually sets the direction for the market.

In addition, there’s continued upheaval in getting games to players …

Distribution and Retail Are Unsettled. In Ye Days of Olde, RPG products got to players through distributors and through game stores … and this was a good thing because retailers didn’t just sell desired products, but also introduced players to new products that they might not have otherwise seen. Unfortunately, the internet, POD, and Kickstarter all run at cross-purposes to this classic setup. At the moment, this means that there are lots of games that you can’t see by walking into a retail store.

There’s some indication that this problem might be settling. The better Kickstarters now allow retailers to buy discounted products (though Kickstarter doesn’t allow enough products to be sold in this way). Sales of Kickstarted books through retail have also appeared to be pretty strong, proving wrong retailers’ fears that Kickstarter games wouldn’t sell. However, Kickstarted games (and POD games) still aren’t getting into the hands of distributors — which means that some Kickstarted products show up in stores once and are never seen again.

If this doesn’t get sorted out in the near future, then there’s going to be an increasing bifurcation between fans (who know all the weird places to go to get books that aren’t available through retail) and casual players (who don’t), and that can’t be good for the industry. Of course it’s already been going on for years …

What will 2014 bring? Designers & Dragons. That’s my prediction!

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