2022 was the first year that felt like it could be post-pandemic. But, some conventions remained masked, and when I traveled to the Netherlands for my first work trip since 2019 I rather assiduously kept masked myself during the transit and during the workshop. So perhaps we’re just at the new norm? Future years will tell.
In Memorium. I am thankful that this is the first year that I haven’t had to report the passing of an industry professional due to COVID. Nonetheless, there were losses this year.
- Kim Mohan. There are increasingly few people left who connect us to Gary Gygax and the origins of the industry; Kim Mohan was one of those people, and he passed in December. Mohan began work at TSR Periodicals in 1979 and continued with TSR and Wizards of the Coast through 2013, with just a brief break in the ’80s when he worked with Gygax at New Infinities. Mohan’s chief work was as an editor. He memorably created the Golden Age of Dragon magazine, from #49 (May 1981) to #114 (October 1986), but he returned for a second run, supported D&D 3e (2000), and so much more. Everyone who talks about him discusses how much their works were improved by his input.
- Edward Dalton Pugh. Pugh was the president of Reaper Miniatures, who is probably best known for their plastic “Bones” miniatures, which they’ve supported through six highly successful Kickstarter. The first, in 2012, raised $3,429,235 and was the industry’s first huge success on Kickstarter.
- Ray Rubin. Stepping back a generation, Ray Rubin was cofounder of Grenadier, one of the great minis companies of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. They held the D&D license for a few years, making the famous Gold Box minis, but had a much longer history full of innovation. Though Rubin’s partner Andy Chernak did more of the early casting at Grenadier, Rubin’s graphic design equally laid the foundation for the company.
- Leath Sheales. Onyx Path tends to have large teams of developers working together on their projects, and so it’s easy for individuals to get lost in the shuffle, but Leath Sheales was part of the successful team behind many major Onyx Path books of the last decade, from Werewolf: The Forsaken Second Edition (2016) to Deviant: The Renegades (2021). He also helped to shape the modern Trinity Continuum line.
- Ruben Smith-Zempel. Ruben Smith-Zempel was a graphic designer for Hero Games, Evil Hat, and others. He was also a member of the moderation staff on RPGnet, and the team sorely misses him.
- Darren Watts. The Defenders of Justice was Darren Watts’ Champions campaign, and he later used it as the name of the partnership that took over the Hero Games properties in 2001 (with Steven Long and others). They successfully revived the industry’s classic Hero System, with Watts himself authoring books such as Millennium City (2003) and Lucha Libre Hero (2009). After having accomplished what he wanted to with Hero, Watts went on to freelance in the wider industry, still returning to the system for major releases such as Darren Watt’s Golden Age Champions (2017). However, his impact on the industry was even greater than he work with DoJ and with other companies because he also helped to support the Double Exposure gaming conventions. Everyone who remembers Watts speaks of him fondly; he was truly a giant of the 21st century roleplaying industry.
Also, condolences to the family, friends, partners, and fans of Scott Bennie, Jerry Corrick, and many others.
The Computer is Your Friend? One of the biggest development of the year was surely the widespread advent of AI art in programs like Midjourney, DALL*E, and Stable Diffusion. It’s generated huge arguments in the industry with people lining up in intractable positions either pro- or anti-AI art. Though there are some frivolous arguments about the definition of an artist, there are also serious disagreements about whether AI art is legal and ethical, and also whether it’s ultimately going to have a good or bad effect on society. (Can it create amazing new creations? Or will it discourage people from entering creative careers?)
DTRPG deftly sidestepped the issue by requiring labeling of AI art, pushing the question of morality down to the consumer. This generated some pushback at the time, but is looking increasingly wise a few months later as the initial brushfires of disagreements have turned into raging wars. Chaosium seems to be the first major publisher to take a side, forbidding their artists from submitting AI designs. Though Chaosium discussed ethics, they also say that they believe that future laws might make current uses of AI illegal, which if it occurred would be very problematic for publishers who’d incorporated such art into their releases. Finally, Kickstarter offered a strong sounding announcement about AI art, claiming “Kickstarter must, and will always be, on the side of creative work and the humans behind that work. We’re here to help creative work thrive.” However, they didn’t actually say what their new policy was, just offered some vague guidelines. The fact that they simultaneously closed down a few AI art projects, however, spoke volumes.
The Virus is Not. Obviously, COVID continues to be a major development as well. Though we’re on our second generation of vaccines, hospitalization rates seem to be bouncing back up this winter, for the first time in a year. However, there’s been a lot of return to norm: conventions are almost entirely back, with some requiring masks and some not. Though that may not be saying much: the one convention-like event I went to in 2022 promised masking but was then woefully under-policed and as a result often under-obeyed. There was also at least one report of a post-convention death that was attributed to COVID.
Of course, COVID affected more than just our personal health: ripples impacted the entire economy, and those waves are only slowly receding. Freight costs are way down, which is good because high freight costs were an existential danger to publishers. However, the global slowdowns caused by COVID means that there are still projects in our industry running a year late. Meanwhile, paper costs remain high, which is of course a specific problem for game publishing.
We all hope that we’re on the trailing edge of the COVID crisis, buts its effects are still felt, it remains a mortal threat to some people, and we’re pushing ahead not knowing its long-term dangers (which seem increasingly bad from every new study).
Wizards Goes Corporate. Obviously, Wizards of the Coast has been corporate for many years, since their yearly Merry-Christmas layoffs began in the wake of their sale to Hasbro. But Wizards of the Coast is growing increasingly important to Hasbro as a whole, with Wizards surpassing $1B in sales in 2021 and (together with digital gaming) comprising 72% of Hasbro’s sales. Given that, it’s no surprise that the President of WotC was lifted up to become the CEO of Hasbro this year.
The question remains: is that good or bad for the future of D&D (and the RPG industry)? D&D Lead Designer Ray Winninger leaving WotC isn’t a great sign. Nor is the increasingly corporate nature of WotC’s Magic: The Gathering sales, including their 30th Anniversary booster set which charged collectors $1,000 for 60 cards. (No, really. Fans were not pleased.) Then at years’ end word came out of an investors’ meeting where the Hasbro and Wizards CEOs were saying that D&D was “under monetised” and that they wanted to extract more money from free-riding players, primarily via the D&D Beyond platform that Wizards also purchased this year. Fans weren’t pleased about that revelation either.
Meanwhile, there was rampant (and unsourced and ultimately incorrect) speculation for a bit that Wizards was going to drop the OGL with the publication of “One D&D”, the 50th anniversary rerelease of D&D 5e. That false rumor has been put to bed, but it turns out that Wizards is going to attempt to update the OGL with a new 1.1 edition which will hold up their biggest OGL licensees for royalties. But that’s going to be a trick because Ryan Dancey locked down the OGL hard, allowing licensees to use “any authorized version” of the OGL that they like for all material released “under any version of this License”. So Wizards is either going to have to claim the new OGL isn’t really an OGL, and bristle threateningly enough that no one takes them to court (which was essentially what they did with the GSL), or else offer a really great sweetener to convince people to adopt the newest license when it’s not in their financial interest to do so.
Sadly, it’s all a sign of the times. Somewhere between Gary Gygax’s antagonism toward other roleplaying publishers (and other conventions) and Lorraine Williams’ disregard for her own customers, the original publisher of D&D, TSR, got a bad reputation in the industry. If they were discussed on the nascent internet of the late ’80s and ’90s, they were inevitably called “T$R”. Given the global success of fifth edition, D&D is more important than ever to the industry, so we can only hope that Wizards isn’t headed down the same path of putting profits ahead of players. Because Wot¢ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Roleplaying Goes Widescreen. The story of Wizards of the Coast in 2022 isn’t an island: it reflects general trends in the industry, and one of those trends was roleplaying companies and creators growing more important than ever to the mainstream. This trend also showed up with Ian Livingstone Being Knighted. Granted, he was obviously on the UK government’s list because of his work on the Next Gen. report, about the video game industry and lack of support from the UK educational system. But it was pretty cool seeing the co-founder of Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks so recognized. For more on Livingstone’s contributions, see his hefty history book out this year, Dice Men. The very recent announcement of a Warhammer 40k-licensed TV show for Amazon speaks further of Livingstone’s legacy.
Much of The Industry is Now Corporate. Meanwhile, Wizards wasn’t the only company to reveal its corporate nature. Many designers and publishers alike were impacted by how much roleplaying has become a business. So some designers were displaced: Andrew McMeel Publishing and Daniel Fox parted ways while Darrell Hayhurst left Ulisses Spiele due to a reorg. Meanwhile, license terminations marked the end of otherwise successful partnerships, because that’s how licenses work in the 21st century: Modiphius lost the Conan license, even though they still had books in the pipeline, and Chaosium had to say goodbye to the games they produced with Reiner Knizia, Khan of Khans and Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection.
Of course roleplaying companies being treated as corporations also (hopefully) means that they’re run like that. Among other advantages, that allows for continuity. So even though Lisa Stevens has stepped down from her role as President of Paizo, the company she created continues afterward. (Thank you Lisa!)
Kickstarter Slows. Last year I moved my cut-off for listing roleplaying Kickstarters to an even million dollars. Sadly, the 11 million-dollar Kickstarters from 2021 have dropped to just 7 in 2022, and with D&D 5e continuing to represent just more than half of that total, that means there was less opportunity than ever for variety among the high fliers.
|1. Guide to the Eldritch Hunt (5e)
|2. Old Gods of Appalachia
|3. Flee, Mortals: The MCDM Monster Book (5e)
|4. Monty Python’s Cocurricular Mediaeval Reenactment Programme
|5. Blade Runner the Roleplaying Game
|6. Griffon’s Saddlebag 2 (5e)
|7. Guide to Drakkenheim (5e)
Now it could just be that there’s more variability among results from year to year when you get above a million dollars, but I suspect a one-third drop is still notable, especially with the Dungeon Dudes’ “Guide to Drakkenheim” just barely making the cut-off.
So, it’s hard not to consider whether Kickstarter’s late 2021 announcement that they were moving to blockchain technology was a factor. I mean, I equally think that Kickstarter’s announcement was a buzzword-laden fantasy and that the extreme pushback was ill-informed, responding to biased articles about energy consumption when Kickstarter never said they were using proof-of-work (which is where high energy consumption comes from, though only for the top two or so blockchains). In any case, as a result of all of that, I know that some publishers have moved to less successful crowd-funding platforms that raise less money (even though nothing is ever likely to come of the Kickstarter blockchain fantasy).
It’s also hard not to consider the fact that Kickstarter is increasingly cracking down on rules against running new projects while old ones are unfulfilled. This ultimately limits the size of the pipeline for roleplaying projects from a single publisher, and so could easily limit the number of high successes.
Whatever the cause, Kickstarter still seems perfectly strong, but their roleplaying successes were down in 2022.
The Bad Actors Act Bad. I’ve discovered that writing histories of the ’10s and ’20s can be a bummer because there are so many bad actors to talk about. A few of those stories are already in my manuscript of Designers & Dragons: The ’10s, and they certainly appear in these yearly reports.
If anything, 2022 was worse than most. Oh, the story of NuTSR was just more of the same, albeit with the revelation of how grotesquely racist their rip-off of “Star Frontiers” is. (They continue to claim the circulated draft was made up; no one believes them.)
The story that two would-be-celebrities were abusive is another tale as old as time.
But the revelation that M.A.R. Barker was a neo-Nazi? Yikes!
The thing is, there were also bad actors in the industry in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, not just the ’10s and ’20s. The difference is that we’re now seeing them for who they are, and letting them know that their racist and abusive views are not welcome in our community of friends. So though it can be exhausting to write about them, it’s terrific to stop the spread of their hatred within our community.
It’s the ’80s All Over Again. Twitter-destroyer Elon Musk may have heralded another trend of the ’20s: It’s the ’80s All Over. A nostalgic return to the past has been a major trend in roleplaying for almost as long as I’ve been writing Designers & Dragons, which is perhaps not a coincidence. But it really cranked up in 2022.
- The game that founded the Swedish roleplaying industry, Drakar och Demoner (1982) is back from Fria Ligan as Dragonbane (2023?), which raised three-quarters of a million dollars in a Kickstarter.
- The current incarnation of ICE has tried to resolve a long-standing problem of modern customers being split between Rolemaster Classic and Rolemaster Standard System by producing Rolemaster Unified (2022) after a full decade of design work and playtesting.
- Dragonlance is back with a new supplement, Shadow of the Dragon Queen (2022), and a new novel, Dragons of Deceit (2022).
- Spelljammer is similarly back, with Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (2022), though the latter ran into the problems of translating ’80s roleplaying settings into something acceptable to the modern world due to their inclusion of the racially insensitive Hadozee. Wizards issued an apology.
The OSR Marches On. I find it particularly interesting that this nostalgia applies now not just to the original products, but also to the OSR movement that recreated many of this products starting in the late ’00s. We’re now onto a third or fourth generation of the OSR and some of the original creators are coming back, hopefully to further invigorate the field.
So, Mythmere Games was relaunched in 2022, after Matt Finch was away at Frog God Games for a decade. We still have to see what that means entirely, but it’s already resulted in the successful Kickstarter of a new, revised edition of the Tome of Adventure Design (2022).
Meanwhile, Daniel Proctor announced that he was beginning to shut down Goblinoid Games, but it was actually part of a personal ultimatum where he would shut things down completely if he didn’t do substantial work on a new product and a new edition of Labyrinth Lord by the end of the year. Surprise! A second edition it coming out with more to follow!
And that seems like a great end for a year that was not untroubled but which showed the potential of roleplaying once more!