Kickstarter was launched in 2009, but 2011 was the year it really took off in the roleplaying field. Bulldogs! (2011) raised $13,430 that year and that seemed like a big deal, but we didn’t yet know that there’d be more than a half-dozen pure RPG releases exceeding $100,000 by 2012 and a similar number breaking the million dollar barrier today.

And even in 2012, some fundings were notably exceeding that $100,000 threshold. That year the #2 game, Werewolf: The Apocalypse Twentieth Anniversary Deluxe Edition from Onyx Path, raising an eye-popping $380,015. In many ways, Onyx Path appeared at a perfect time. Following CCP’s White Wolf layoffs of October 2011, Rich Thomas founded Onyx Path in January 2012, just in time to take advantage of Kickstarter’s increasing popularity as well as DTRPG’s brand-new print-on-demand (POD) technology. The combination gave Thomas and Onyx Path a new way to produce RPGs: Kickstarters funded relatively small offset print runs, and then products remained available as PDFs and PODs.

Onyx Path went all in. From 2012-2023 they ran a total of 61 successful Kickstarters, plus three IndieGoGo and four BackerKit crowdfundings, averaging about five and a half a year. When compiled, they offer strong insight into the dollar and cents of one of the most modern of 21st century roleplaying companies.

2/15/12V20 Companion$96,3261,134V20
5/11/12Children of the Revolution$55,394589V20
10/2/12Werewolf 20th Anniversary$380,0152,108W20
12/18/12Mummy: The Curse$104,8311,767CoD
1/24/13The Hunters Hunted II$69,856950V20
5/9/13Exalted 3e$684,7554,368Exalted 3e
6/25/13Changing Breeds$114,1551,405W20
11/12/13Demon: The Descent$150,2352,076CoD
1/22/14Anarchs Unbound$56,731710V20
3/3/14Mage 20th Anniversary$672,8993,926M20
6/3/14Book of the Wyrm$103,1351,359W20
10/7/14Vampire: The Dark Ages$281,3922,141V20
12/2/14Wraith 20th Anniversary$295,6452,248Wr20
1/29/15Dark Eras$128,2902,030CoD
4/2/15Lore of the Clans$138,6741,633V20
6/2/15Beast: The Primordial$116,3831,623CoD
10/22/15Shattered Dreams$62,806831W20
12/10/15Changeling 20th Anniversary$380,0582,684C20
6/23/16Beckett’s Jyhad Diary$116,7061,118V20
9/22/16Scion 2e$334,7144,085Scion 2e
3/21/17Prince’s Gambit$46,7741,520Card Game
5/16/17Monarchies of Mau$118,5341,970Pugmire
7/6/17Dark Eras 2$60,5931,037CoD
9/19/17Cavaliers of Mars$38,388885Cavaliers
11/14/17Changeling: The Lost 2e$166,2902,500CoD
1/30/18Trinity Continuum: Aeon$184,5151,956Trinity
3/27/18Dragon-Blooded$331,3922,321Exalted 3e
5/22/18Fetch Quest$21,059488Card Game
6/2/18Geist: The Sin-Eaters 2e$116,3661,954CoD
8/22/18Dystopia Rising: Evolution$39,608736Dystopia
10/13/18Chicago by Night$119,0391,852V5e
12/18/18They Came from Beneath the Sea!$47,854908They Came
2/12/19Lunars: Fangs at the Gate$288,5262,379Exalted 3e
3/26/19The Contagion Chronicle$76,2021,530CoD
5/21/19Pirates of Pugmire$47,792819Pugmire
7/2/19Trinity Continuum: Aberrant$125,0981,808Trinity
9/12/19Scarred Lands Creature Collection$63,1301,284Scarred Lands
9/19/19Deviant: The Renegades$82,5691,658CoD
11/5/19Mummy: The Curse 2e$63,2491,269CoD
12/17/19Cults of the Blood Gods$150,3912,594V5e
2/6/20Hunter: The Vigil 2e$101,5641,997CoD
3/12/20LegendloreCancelledD&D 5e
4/28/20Technocracy Reloaded$193,7202,366M20
6/4/20Legendlore$25,092543D&D 5e
7/21/20They Came from Beyond the Grave!$56,1881,072They Came
9/3/20Scion Demigod$143,8052,355Scion 2e
10/6/20Ghost Hunters$72,8161,239WoD20
11/23/20Dead Man’s Rust$30,076494Scarred Lands
1/19/21Scion: Dragon & Masks of the Mythos$168,9022,149Scion 2e
2/23/21Victorian Mage [iGG]$104,9701,293M20
3/25/21Trinity Continuum: Adventure!$104,6601,691Trinity
5/27/21Exalted: Essence$349,2604,086Exalted 3e
7/13/21Squeaks in the Deep$50,160885Pugmire
9/21/21The Apocalyptic Record$93,3151,130W20
11/18/21Trinity Continuum: Anima$55,3291,010Trinity
1/18/22Lore of the Traditions$141,8431,729M20
3/10/22They Came from the Cyclop’s Cave / They Came from [CLASSIFIED]$49,349626They Came
5/24/22Exigents [iGG]$163,5591,726Exalted 3e
7/19/22Trinity Continuum: Aether$56,7581,100Trinity
10/18/22Scion: God [BK]$121,4382,200Scion 2e
11/22/22Sidereals$223,1422,334Exalted 3e
1/24/23Realms of Pugmire$65,5241,052Pugmire
3/28/23Trinity Continuum: Player’s Guide [BK]$43,918938Trinity
5/25/23They Came from the RPG Anthology!$31,011559They Came
7/25/23Trinity Continuum: Aegis [BK]$47,845979Trinity
8/29/23Titans Rising$62,287979Scion 2e
10/17/23The World Below [BK]$60,3401,003World Below
11/16/23Abyssals [iGG]$164,4951,841Exalted 3e

Obviously, that’s a huge dump of information. So what does it tell us about Onyx Path and their Kickstarting? First, some general observations:

Consistency is the Key.The Onyx Path is very consistent in their Kickstarting. 2016 was the only year in which they ran less than four. Since 2018, they’ve had at least six a year, with barely a bump even for the COVID-19 crisis — though the pandemic actually led to their only cancellation, for Legendlore (2021), but they returned to it just a few months later. This level of consitency is likely what’s required for a company to build their foundation upon Kickstarting: offering new projects year in and year up, to the limit of what Kickstarter allows (currently: six open projects at a time for publishers).

Line Loyalty Can Be Important for Company Growth. The Onyx Path is willing to support projects with different levels of success. A lot of companies get caught up in comparatives: letting less successful lines go so that they can offer more support for their biggest winners. The Onyx Path is instead willing to keep working with a less successful line such as the “They Came” series — though this may in part be because they don’t own some of their most successful lines (namely Exalted and the World of Darkness), and they likely want to make sure they have well-supported lines of their own if the rug ever gets pulled out from under them for their licenses.

BackerKit May be the Future. The Onyx Path has experimented with both IndieGogo and BackerKit as alternatives to Kickstarter. The latter has been increasingly popular of late, with it becoming a more general trend in 2023. Unsurprisingly, The Onyx Path was there first. Their first BackerKit crowdfunding was in October 2022, and about every other crowdfunding since has been on BackerKit. Most interestingly, you can’t really see the difference in success between Kickstarter and BackerKit, which is a big difference from Gamefound and Indiegogo, which didn’t seem to have the audience necessary for roleplaying success.

A bit more information about Onyx Path’s individual lines can be seen when you chart out some of this info. The following graphs lay out the success of each major line on a yearly basis. They depict users, not dollars raised, as that seems like a truer indication of success when dollars can be artificially raised by add-ons. (Doubtless, there are issues with counting users too!) In the relatively rare cases where multiple products for the same line were released in a single year, they were averaged. In addition, Mage: The Ascension Kickstarter is shown in its 20th anniversary year (2013) rather than the year it actually Kickstarted (early 2014) to more accurately display the 20th anniversary information.

Although these charts include Kickstarters (as the main crowdfunding mechanism) and Backerkits (because the Scion line and results from other publishers suggest they’re selling similarly to Kickstarter), they exclude the three Indiegogos (because the Exalted 3e line and results from other publishers suggest they sell at least 20% worse than Kickstarter).

The World of Darkness was The Onyx Path’s original set of releases, continuing on from the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition (2011) that CCP released just before they killed their roleplaying department. Onyx Path has crowd-funded three lines for the Classic World of Darkness and two for the New Worlds of Darkness (aka, the Chronicles of Darkness).

  • 20A. The remaining four twentieth-anniversary editions for the Classic World of Darkness.
  • 20A Sup. Supplements for the twentieth-anniversary editions.
  • V5E. Supplements for the troubled Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition (2018) line, which was produced by Paradox Interactive (and later Modiphius and now Regenade).
  • CoD Core. The main rule books for the second generation of the Chronicles of Darkness setting, beginning with Mummy: The Curse (2013) and continuing through the second-edition rereleases.
  • CoD Sup. Supplements for the Chronicles of Darkness.

Exalted was another major license from White Wolf. However starting in 2016, The Onyx Path also began Kickstarting their own properties (Scarred Lands, Scion, They Came, Trinity, and The World Below) and created-owned properties (Cavaliers of Mars, Dystopia Rising, and Pugmire).

Here’s some more observating, based on these graphs:

Exalted is Perhaps The Onyx Path’s Most Successful Single Line. Exalted has twice pushed past 4,000 patrons, with the Kickstarters for Exalted Third Edition (2016) and Exalted: Essence (2023). Even the supplements have tended to outpace the vast majority of The Onyx Path’s other supplements (the top three are currently ranking #9, #12, and #13, with a bit of a drop before the ones that ran on IndieGoGo instead). Exalted’s main limitation seems to be that it’s limited: seven releases out of sixty-eight Kickstarters is just more than 10%. You couldn’t build a major company on that.

Mage & Scion Are the Other Standouts. The combined Kickstarter for Scion: Origin (2019) and Scion: Hero (2019) is The Onyx Path’s only other Kickstarter to top 4,000 patrons, though the twentieth-anniversary edition of Mage: The Ascension (2015) came close with 3,926 (and in fact was the most successful roleplaying Kickstarter in 2014, a year that might have been The Onyx Path’s height).

Top Success for Kickstarter Has Changed, The Onyx Path Has Not. When The Onyx Path jumped into Kickstarting in 2012, projects generally needed 2,000 or more users to secure a top spot in the year’s Kickstarting rankings, with 4,000 being quite standout (Fate Core hit 10,000 that year, but only with very cheap electronic levels that brought in thousands of users). More recently, in 2023, half-a-dozen projects exceeded 10,000 users, while The Onyx Path focused on more closely held projects that topped out at approximately 1,000 users.

The Classic World of Darkness Shows a Typical Rulebook/Supplement Split, The Chronicles of Darkness Does Not. Common wisdom says that rulebooks sell much better than supplements. That was one of the major reasons that Ryan Dancey pushed for the release of D&D 3e (2000) under the OGL: he wanted Wizards of the Coast to produce core rules while other companies supported the game with supplements. The Twentieth Anniversary World of Darkness books clearly demonstrate that pattern. The same isn’t true for the Chronicles of Darkness with numbers for the core books and supplements sometimes overlapping. This could be due to the fact that the main rules for the Chronicles of Darkness were actually the World of Darkness (2004), or it could be that supplements such as Dark Eras (2016) were very popular, or it could be that there are sufficiently few Chronicles of Darkness releases nowadays that fans buy everything, and there’d be more differentiation if there were a glut. Whatever the case, the numbers clearly show a difference.

The World of Darkness & Exalted Seems Evergreen. Though The Onyx Path hasn’t trended upward over their decade of work with Kickstarter, the World of Darkness releases appear shocking stable. If anything, there’s been a slight trend up for World of Darkness & Chronicles of Darkness releases. The same is likely true for Exalted. If you separate out the two rulebooks and the three supplements into separate tracks, they appear pretty consistent, though it’s a bit hard to say for sure because of the scant releases and the move to Indiegogo

V5E Looked Like a Breath of Fresh Air. Vampire Fifth Edition was beset with controversy and problems until new White Wolf owner Paradox Interactive finally shut down their internal division and called in Modiphius to help. Despite that, the Fifth Edition supplements that Onyx Path produced clearly did well, surpassing both their 20th Anniversary and Chronicles of Darkness supplements. Again, however, this is based on just a few data points.

The Onyx Path’s Own Lines Show Diminishing Returns. The Onyx Path outright owns Scion, They Live, and Trinity Continuum, and all of these lines show a very different pattern from the White Wolf licenses: diminishing returns. Even looking at just core releases, each line has about halved in interest over time, though Scion may be doing better than the others, especially if you just focus on their set of core rulebooks. Nonetheless, given The Onyx Path’s increasing focus on their own lines over the years, this could be a dangerous sign for them. (Caveat reader: both Scion and Trinity Continuum shifted to Backerkit, and there’s the possibility that affects crowdfunding results, though stats so far suggest otherwise.)

Pugmire is a Good Dog! Eddy Webb’s creator-owned Pugmire may be a bright spot in The Onyx Path’s more tightly controlled properties. Despite a steep descent across its first three Kickstarters, it’s been holding steady since at a thousand patrons for each recent crowdfunding. Mind you, Realms of Pugmire (2024?) was a major new rulebook, so perhaps it should have done better, but it’ll really take the next Kickstarter to see for sure.

This is all based solely on crowd-funding numbers. It doesn’t reflect the prodigious PDFs and PODs published in between Onyx Path’s big releases. And some of those were quite successful, such as Trinity Continuum: Assassins (2022), which is rated as a Platinum seller on DTRPG, and thus has already achieved 1000+ sales, which is in excess of the crowdfunding for Trinity: Continuum: Aegis (2024?). But, it is a look at what’s in the public record.

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