So what is the roleplaying industry doing as we draw ever nearer the end of the ’10s?
Fallen Heroes. Sadly, this year saw some more industry greats fall.
Loren Wiseman was the great unsung hero of GDW. He started out as a wargame designer, but soon created Journal of the Travellers Aid Society and became the line editor for Twilight: 2000. He later was the line editor for the GURPS Traveller line. GDW guy Marc Miller has since put together a Kickstarter to immortalize much of Loren’s work. The Grognard book containing Loren’s editorials has already been sent out to Kickstarter contributors, and I presume will be more widely available soon.
Stewart Wieck was the cofounder of White Wolf, the creator of Mage, and another force for good in the industry. I wrote about him more extensively in “Giants of the Industry: Stewart Wieck”.
The Weinstein Wave. The entire world was constantly shaken by the Weinstein Wave throughout late 2017, where the past sexual improprieties of a variety of men were revealed, usually by vast number of women, and those men often stepped down from their positions of power as a result.
This Weinstein Wave hit the RPG industry too, which isn’t surprising, as problems of sexism have cropped up in these annual histories in several recent years. Claims against an industry veteran got things started on Twitter, highlighting how standards of interactions between the sexes have changed in recent generations. That snowballed into a raucous discussion of problematic actions on the part of a number of creators, embroiling several companies. Cubicle 7, Frog God Games, Green Ronin, Onyx Path, Paizo Publishing, and RPGnet all had to deal with accusations of sexual harassment (or worse) on the part of their volunteers, contractors, or employees. Some took quick and decisive actions, some slapped hands, some fought bloody wars, and some walked behind the veil of confidentiality.
It’s a very different world where these problems are actually coming to light, when they were just whispers a few years ago, but it’s still a process. It’s also very sad to see industry heroes revealed to have feet of clay.
The Rise of Player Content. It’s been a few years now that official player content has been rising in the industry. These are sites where players can post (and perhaps sell) their own creations under the auspices of a games’ creators. The DMs Guild for D&D 5e was the leader, back in the early days of 2016, but now the concept has proliferated.
DriveThruRPG has a community content program for another half-dozen games, including 7th Sea, Contagion, Cortex+, Cypher, The Dark Eye, Traveller, Torg Eternity, Unknown Armies, and the World of Darkness. Chaosium was the newest to join in with their Miskatonic Respository — an interesting addition given that Chaosium was the first company to offer this sort of player content way back in the ’90s with their Miskatonic University Monographs, which were short-run, semi-professional print books.
Do we celebrate the democratization of roleplaying content or do we mourn the possible loss of professional publications?
Ironically, these new player contributions are expanding during a year that volunteerism became problematic due to lawsuits. Are we looking toward a future where fans can’t volunteer, but instead create content and hope someone is interested?
The Resurgence of Chaosium. Before 2015, Chaosium was largely moribund. But that was prior to a sequence of events that left a new team in charge, namely Rick Meints, Jeff Richard, Michael O’Brien, and Neil Robinson. The company started to fight its way back to relevance in 2016, but the resurgence developed more fully in 2017 — proving that this ’70s company is looking to become a roleplaying force again in the ’10s.
They have continued to fill in their ranks. Jason Durall is the line editor for Chaosium’s resurrected RuneQuest line, while Ian Cooper has taken over for HeroQuest. Susan O’Brien is editing a board-game line, returning Chaosium to its roots, while James Lowder is in command of their fiction line, one of their big successes from the ’90s. Not only has Chaosium (finally) closed out the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter that was the DOOM of the previous incarnation of the company, but they’ve also been putting out Call of Cthulhu products more reliably than the company has since the ’90s.
With Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest, Chaosium has two of the most venerable and well-respected games in the roleplaying industry, so it’s great to see them not just on game store shelves again, but also being supported with releases.
The Return of the Classics. The resurgence of Chaosium is just the most prominent example in what looks like a full-throated rebirth of classic roleplaying games. We can probably trace it back to the d20 license, which simultaneously brought classic companies like Judges Guild back into the fold and created the conditions for the OSR, but in recent years this has blossomed into the mainstream.
I feel like the superhero genre offered the best example, as three classic superhero RPGs all returned this year. Superhero: 2044 (1977), the first superhero RPG ever, got kickstarted for a third edition; Villains and Vigilantes (1979), the first superhero RPG hit, came back in a third edition as Mighty Protectors (2017); and a small southern Californian superhero RPG called Supergame (1980) returned with both a classic reprint (2017) and a third edition (2017)!
And that was just the tip of the classic iceberg. Mike Podsmith is staging a rebirth of R. Talsorian, at one time one of the most innovative companies in the field. In a year or two, it might be as big of news as Chaosium was this year. And then, just as the year came to an end, we got word that Steve Jackson (finally) gotten rights to The Fantasy Trip back.
And those are just some of the classic highlights!
A Variety of Licensing. Licensing has long been a part of the roleplaying scene, but 2017 seemed busier than usual with licenses announced, kickstarted, or fulfilled for Conan, The Expanse, Fear Agent, The Goon, John Carter, Lankhmar, Star Trek, and any number more that I’m missing.
There were even licenses of RPG lines, which is a bit meta. FFG announced a thirtieth-anniversary reprint of West End’s Star Wars (1987) while Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition ended up with Cubicle 7 and Warhammer 40k Roleplay went to Ulisses.
However D&D licensing may be the biggest story, because it’s how our core roleplaying game remains relevant with its dramatically reduced production schedule. WizKids, Gale Force 9, and UltraPro have all been putting out accessories for a while, but Goodman Games is the first to produce actual RPG products, starting with hardcover reprints of classic D&D modules.
Of course the OGL means that no one has to ask Wizards for permission. Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle-earth line of OGL books is just as likely to keep D&D center-stage as officially licensed D&D dice bags and folios.
A Variety of Languages. Translations of foreign RPGs have generally been failures — in large part because it’s at least as expensive to translate a game as to write something new. However in the last few years, there’s been a real proliferation. A lot of this is thanks to Modiphius who is working directly with Swedish companies Järnringen and Fria Ligan. That sort of partnership can come or go, but I’m hopeful that this time things are different — that changes in the internet and the ability for a foreign company to reach into the English-language world may make this sort of partnership more likely, thus giving unique and innovative foreign-language games the ability to make it into the English market.
The other foreign publisher of note is of course Ulisses Spiele, who has reached right into the English-Language market with a US subsidiary. FanPro couldn’t make this work a decade and a half ago, but again things have changed and Ulisses has a strong lineup of Fading Suns, Warhammer 40k RPGs, and Torg Eternity (plus The Dark Eye, one of the games that the aforementioned FanPro failed with, 14 years ago).
So perhaps the future is bright here.
Once More, with Kickstarters. The Kickstarter world continues to go strong. It felt like it continued straight on with the same trends as last year, with more than twenty kickstarters that topped $100,000. Kickstarters also demonstrated the other trends of the roleplaying year, like foreign productions, classic productions, and licensed productions. If there’s one change, I’d say it’s a trend toward more highly successful supplements, but overall, Kickstarter has remained a standard and expected part of our gaming landscape.
|1. Numenera 2e: Discovery & Destiny
|Monte Cook Games
|2. Torg: Eternity
|3. Forbidden Lands
|Free League Publishing
|4. The King in Yellow
|5. 7th Sea: Khitai
|6. Stars without Numbers Revised
|7. Midgard Campaign Setting
|8. Eclipse Phase 2e
|9. DCC Lankhmar
|10. Changeling: The Lost 2e
|11. Creature Codex for 5e
|12. Mini-Dungeon Tome for 5e
|13. The Strange Boxed Set
|Monte Cook Games
|14. Dusk City: Outlaws
|15. Traveller: The Great Rift
|16. Mutant: Mechatron — Rise of the Robots
|Free League Publishing
|17. Lex Occultum
|18. How to Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck
|19. Symbaroum Monster Codex
|20. Top Secret: New World Order
|21. Monster Hunter International for Savage Worlds
|Gallant Knight Games
|22. Monarchies of Mau
|23. Elite: Dangerous RPG
|24. Flash Gordon for Savage Worlds
And that’s 2017 in a nutshell ..
This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #15 on RPGnet. It followed the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014) from Evil Hat, and was meant to complement those books.