So what has game design looked like in the ’10s? I don’t plan to write a “Lost Histories” for the decade, but instead the much-requested Designers & Dragons: The ’10s. I expect that I’ll need to have at least twenty histories to fill such a tome. (There were 26 in Designers & Dragons: The ’00s.) So here’s my first cut at companies that I’m likely to cover. Are there some that I’ve missed, who are at least as important as several of the companies included herein? Let me know!

One of the fascinating things about RPG publishers in the ’10s is how much the industry has segregated. I’ve written elsewhere that OSR and indie publishers are both strong publishing segments, alongside traditional mainstream books. The number of international publishers who have been successful in the ’10s is also notable (and largely a result of how crowdfunding tears down international barriers).

Designer Presses

One of the interesting trends of the ’10s was the rise of the designer presses. Despite being focused on a single designer (who usually achieved acclaim working on D&D), these presses aren’t exactly indies, because they’re creating more mainstream games and working with larger design teams.

Monte Cook Games (2013). Cook created the modern Designer Press a decade earlier with Malhavoc Press. In the ’10s he returned with a company focused more on his unique vision and less on supporting D&D.

Why They’re Important. Monte Cook is a major designer who has worked on multiple editions of D&D, and Monte Cook Games is a major publisher of the ’10s who has released a number of evocative and distinct RPGs.

Sasquatch Game Studio (2014). Richard Baker, David Noonan, and Stephen Schubert’s company has published just a few books, but that includes the impressive Primal Thule (2014) setting, WotC’s Princes of the Apocalypse (2015), and the new Alternity (2018).

Why They’re Important. It’s always good to be able to focus on designers, especially one with as long of a history as Baker, and the Alternity resurrection is intriguing. Finally, Sasquatch gives another way to talk about how WotC has subcontracted their D&D 5e (2014) design.

Schwalb Entertainment (2015). Publisher of Shadow of the Demon Lord (2015).

Why They’re Important. Shadow of the Demon Lord itself requires some attention, both as an evocative and well-received game, and as a contrast to the wider OSR movement. Schwalb’s company also offers a fine example of how to make a small company work in the modern day.

Indie Publishers

The indie movement continued strong in the ’10s, with several new companies making a notable impact.

Magpie Games (2012). An indie publisher who’s released a wide variety of titles such as Urban Shadows (2016), Masks: The Next Generation (2015), Our Last Best Hope (2012), and Bluebeard’s Bride (2017).

Why They’re Important. As a game company, Magpie grew up out of Game Chef. They’ve also been a relatively prolific indie company, even supplementing some of their products. Finally, founder Mark Diaz Truman has been both outspoken in his role as a Latino designer and controversial in some of his decisions.

Sage Kobold Productions (2012). Publisher of Dungeon World (2012).

Why They’re Important. Dungeon World was the first big Powered by the Apocalypse success, showing the potential scope of the game system. However, they also seem to have largely fizzled out after that debut release.

Aaaron A. Reed (2018). Reed burst onto the scene pretty suddenly with Archives of the Sky (2018), a modern GMless games. It looks like there will be more to come.

Why They’re Important. Before getting into the business, Reed wrote a dissertation on “Changeful Tales: Design-Driven Approaches toward more Expressive Storygames” (2017). Now he’s in the industry he wrote about.

OSR Publishers

The OSR kicked off as an actual publishing category in the late ’00s with OSRIC (2006), Labyrinth Lord (2007), and Swords & Wizardry (2009). In the ’10s, some companies built on that foundation and others went in their own directions.

Frog God Games (2010). At first, Frog God looked like a natural continuation of Necromancer Games, but their work with Swords & Wizardry made it obvious that they were actually mixing their professional publishing experience with the new, ready-to-publish OSR products.

Why They’re Important. Frog God offers a continuation of the story of both Necromancer and Mythmere, but also a look at how the OSR has changed in the ’10s, particularly following the release of D&D 5e (2014). Unfortunately, Frog God also offers a window on the #MeToo issues of the ’10s.

Sine Nomine Publishing (2010). The publishers of Stars without Number (2011), a science-fiction take on D&D.

Why They’re Important. The pure-retroclone era of OSR publication was relatively brief. Soon, publishers moved on to reimagining systems for new settings. Stars Without Number may be the most successful reimagination of this sort.

Necrotic Gnome (2012). The creators of B/X Essentials and now Old-school Essentials.

Why They’re Important. The birth of the OSR saw the creation of three classic games: OSRICLabyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry. If there’s a new game in the ’10s that’s competed with those classics, it’s Necrotic Gnomes’ Basic D&D-focused work.

Grim & Perilous Studios (2016). Daniel D. Fox’s publishing house for the Zweihänder RPG (2017).

Why They’re Important. The OSR opened up the doors for many sorts of publications, not just classic D&D. Grim & Perilous proved that with their reinvention of classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1986).

White Wolf Spin-offs

White Wolf proper fizzled out in the early ’10s as it was hollowed out and sold to a series of corporations intent on hustling its intellectual properties for the video game market, but a few spin-offs have continued on.

Nocturnal Media (2010). Stewart Wieck’s company got its start by bringing Pendragon (1985) over from White Wolf. Afterward, Wieck turned the company into a home for many orphaned, but well respected RPG properties of the ’80s, such as the d6 System, Talislanta (1987), Whimsy Cards (1987), and Prince Valiant (1989). Though Wieck passed away in 2017, his company has continued publishing to the current day.

Why They’re Important. Nocturnal Media is the natural continuation not of White Wolf, but of the ’80s RPG industry, including some of the early games that foreshadowed the indie movement. Wieck’s close ties to DTRPG also demonstrated how a modern company could focus its work on PDF and POD technologies.

Onyx Path (2013). When White Wolf fizzled out, Onyx Path stepped up to support their “Chronicles of Darkness” world and to continue the story of the Classic World of Darkness in 20th Anniversary updates. More recently, Onyx Path is focusing more on its own properties, some purchased from White Wolf, such as the Trinity Continuum, some created in-house, such as They Came from Beneath the Sea! (2020), and others licensed from other entities such as Pugmire (2017), from Pugsteady, and Cavaliers of Mars (2018), from Rose Bailey.

Why They’re Important. Onyx Path is the company that’s the natural continuation of White Wolf (and in fact originally appears as part of the White Wolf history in Designers & Dragons: The ’00s). However, their focus on more products of their own suggests that their path might diverge in the ’20s. Like Nocturnal Media, they also demonstrate how a PDF/POD model can be successful, even if it doesn’t top the sales charts in brick & mortar stores.

British Publishers

There’s always been a strong contingent of British roleplaying publishers, from GW in the ’70s to Mongoose Publishing and Cubicle 7 in the ’00s. That’s continued in the ’10s, with a number of new British companies.

Modiphius (2012). Chris Birch’s publishing house may be the biggest surprise of the ’10s, as they went from a small Call of Cthulhu licensee, with their Achtung Cthulhu! releases (2012+), to being a massive publisher of licensed games.

Why They’re Important. Modiphius was one of the first companies on the ’10s publishers list. They not only are publishing games for everything from Conan to Star Trek but they also have tight connections with most of the Swedish publishers who went international in the ’10s.

River Horse Ltd. (2017). Known in the roleplaying industry as the publishers of My Little Pony: Tales of Equestria (2016), River Horse is even more active in the world of board games, holding licenses for The Dark CrystalLabyrinthTerminator, and many more — and they’re also planning a Dark Crystal RPG for 2021.

Why They’re Important. Clearly, an RPG publisher focusing on the often-neglected demographic of kids is well worth discussing.

Osprey Publishing (2019). Osprey has long been roleplaying adjacent, with its publication of beautifully illustrated military books covering the entire span of history. They’ve also been releasing board games, card games, and war games for a while, some of which are even more RPG-adjacent, such as Frostgrave (2015), a fantasy wargame. On December 24, 2019, Osprey published the first of its roleplaying books, Romance of the Perilous Lands (2019) and Paleomythic (2019).

>Why They’re Important. Osprey is a legendary publisher; making the jump into roleplaying is clearly of note (and they’re pretty much the last new RPG company of the ’10s, making the leap into the industry less than a week before the end of the decade).

Other Foreign Publishers

It’s traditionally been hard for foreign RPG publishers to get into the English-language market. Traditional solutions like finding US licensees and creating US subsidiaries were hit or miss.

Ulisses North America (2018). The German Ulisses Spiele dates back to the early ’90s. When they came to America, they did it the old-fashioned way with a subsidiary. They announced their presence with Free RPG day releases, but only went big in 2018, when they released Torg: Eternity (2018) and their short-lived take on WH40k: Wrath & Glory (2018).

Why They’re Important. Ulisses is reviving classic lines like Fading Suns and Torg. They also provide a great way to look at the German gaming scene, while staying within the scope of Designers & Dragons.

In the ’10s, Swedish roleplaying companies have come up with a new solution for breaking out: using Kickstarter to publish internationally from home. It’s been wildly successful, causing a number of Swedish companies to break out in the English-language world.

Fria Ligan (2014). Probably the most successful of the Swedish companies, Fria Ligan is best-known for Mutant: Year Zero (2014), but they’ve since published another half-dozen games using variants of the same house system.

Järnringen (2015). The publisher of Symbaroum (2015), since folded into the Fria Ligan megagoliath.

RiotMinds (2017). The holders of the classic Swedish RPG Drakar och Demoner (1982), which they’ve since released in English, using their updated system and their own setting, as Trudvang Chronicles (2017).

Helmgast (2018). The newest Swedish crossover is just testing the grounds of international release with its KULT: Divinity Lost (2018).

Why They’re Important. Together, these four companies represent an important story of the ’10s: how Kickstarter has enabled international publication. But, their importance is greater than that. Together the four companies are the modern producers of Sweden’s top three classic RPGs: Drakar och Demoner (1982), Mutant (1984), and Kult (1991). Finally, many of their Kickstarters have been among the top for their years, overshadowing many notable original English releases.

And that’s it. Unlike many of my other “Lost History” listings, it’s likely that I’ll include most or all of these in a book, since I have a full Designers & Dragons: The ’10s to produce.

But there are probably more, so again if there’s anything from the ’10s that you think I missed, let me know. The criteria is that they began English-language roleplaying production in the ’10s.

Appendix: More Lost Histories

Two companies that I’d thought I’d include in the ’10s turn out to have had their publishing origins in the ’00s, making them true Lost Histories, so I’ve added them to the list here.

These are both indie publishers:

One Seven Design (2006). John Harper got his start with Agon (2006), but his big success came in the ’10s when Blades in the Dark (2017) became a phenomenon.

Why They’re Important. Blades in the Dark is an excellent example of a modern-day indie that doesn’t give up any of its independent design, but nonetheless has done great in the mass-market. There’s also a tale to be told about the multi-faceted dangers of Kickstarter. Finally, Harper now has links to Evil Hat.

Why They Were Missed. Because Blades in the Dark came out in the ’10s.

Buried without Ceremony (2009). Avery Alder’s indie press, publisher of Monsterhearts (2012), The Quiet Year (2013), and Dream Askew (2019).

Why They’re Important. Some of Alder’s games map the growth of Apocalypse World (2012), while also showing the vast innovation of the subcategory, including the whole “Belonging Outside Belonging” system of play. Meanwhile, The Quiet Year is the best example of mapping story-game play. Finally, Alder has also produced some queer game designs of note.

Why They Were Missed. It was easy to miss Buried without Design in the ’00s, when at the time they’d only published Ribbon Drive (2009), just over the decade divide. All of Alder’s most notable games (thus far) have been in the ’10s.

This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #42 on RPGnet. It followed the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014) from Evil Hat, and was meant to complement those books.

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