Is the current explosion in the RPG market sustainable?

Is the current explosion in the RPG market heading toward a saturation point? There is a post on EN World regarding the explosion of $1 million+ kickstarters and Erik Tenkar also discussed it recently. D&D and RPGs are flying high right now. But beneath it I know a lot of people – like myself – are weary of all the products and promotions. Here are some of my musings on the current situation and ponderings on the future.

RPGs are flying high right now.
RPGs are everywhere. Last year D&D appeared to have its best year by a noticeable margin. Through platforms like DriveThruRPG, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter, we are seeing an explosion of material from virtually anyone who has a sliver of an RPG idea. 5E-inspired indie products released on any given week on DriveThruRPG are drowned out the following week as new products replace them by a fresh number of aspiring designers trying to show off their newly acquired InDesign skills. Can the current heavy release by independent designers continue?

The previous d20 boom and bust.
We saw something similar to this once before during the d20 boom and bust. Third parties saturated the market after the release of 3E in 2000. By 2005 there were so many products of varying quality that people were burned out and quit buying. I wonder if we are going to see something like this in the near future?

I wrote a post last week about why I was going to leave Kickstarter next year (I shutdown Indiegogo over the weekend). The feedback I received from that post was surprising in that a significant number of people – the majority – had all either cut back on their crowdfunding support, were planning to cut back, or had ended crowdfunding support all together. The reasons included:
– There were too many things being published that they didn’t need (i.e. the market is flooded with product and many people already have more than they need).
– Too many crowdfunded products don’t live up to what was pitched to them (i.e. product quality was lacking).
– Poor business practices (i.e. products routinely delivered late, lack of proper editing, etc.).

I wonder if we are once again headed for RPG fatigue? The market is overflowing with products with varying quality and standards. But, what about all the “collector editions” and “leather-bound editions” that appear in virtually every Kickstarter nowadays? Surely that is a sign of an increase in quality and perhaps even demand?

It is true that high-quality products are being produced. But most people I have spoken to (and like the responses to my blog post about crowd funding, this is obviously anecdotal, so please keep that in mind) in the last few months are tired of the leather collector editions. When everything is a “collector’s edition” is it actually a collector’s item anymore? At some point it is going to register with people who pledge that high on Kickstarter that routinely spending $100 for a book that is just going to rest on a bookshelf and look nice is not sustainable. I wonder how many of these books are going to end up at Half-Price Books or eBay in 5-10 years time (albeit at an inflated price so the person can attempt to recoup their money).

We are just three years away from the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons (and the 10th anniversary of D&D 5E). A new D&D movie will be coming out in 2023 (a year before the anniversaries). WotC will undoubtedly be capitalizing on the new high-budget film and the two anniversaries with new product releases. The third-party market will try and do so as well. It is looking like the D&D frenzy will only be increasing.

We are also attempting to come out of a pandemic. I suspect that a contributing factor for why 9 of the 13 $1 million+ RPG Kickstarters have occurred this year is due to some people’s feelings and desires to try and “leave the pandemic behind,” and as a result have increased their “fun” spending to make up for the holidays they weren’t able to take over the last 18 months. But will this continue? Is this just a temporary blip? Some people are clearly spending more on RPGs based on those 9, $1 million+ Kickstarters), but most people I know – including myself – are stepping back from RPG spending.

My speculative thought.
So here is what I am thinking. D&D will be everywhere over the next three years with Hollywood films, merchandise, and promotions for upcoming anniversaries. DriveThruRPG, Kickstarter, and other crowdfunding organizations are going to continue full-speed ahead as more people try to jump on the D&D and RPG bandwagon, adding to the available products. But at some point it will dawn on people that the glut of “collector editions” are unnecessary and too expensive to continue supporting, and the continuation of delayed and poorly executed Kickstarters will take its toll on people. I think RPG product fatigue is going to set in. People will look at all the things they bought and realize they will never use most of it. They will be exhausted and drained financially and emotionally.

In a few years time we will also have to reflect on our jobs and life post-pandemic. Many people are already making big changes to their life and job based on the situation they find themselves in, and in just a few years they will see the results of the decisions they are now making and will have to re-evaluate them to see if those choices were the correct ones and if they need to make a new career pivot or change in personal/family choices. The attitude of “let’s leave this all behind and get back to normal” is something we’ve seen before and it has a limited life span. With the RPG saturation point I think we are headed toward at the moment, along with the larger issues tied-to the pandemic and post-pandemic world, what will the results be?

So, those are my thoughts. Do you think there is any truth in my musings, or am I talking utter bollocks!? What do you think?

What is the future of the current RPG market?

Challenges with Kickstarter and Crowdfunding

I am considering shutting down my Kickstarter account in early 2022 after I have received the current outstanding projects I supported. There are several reasons I detail below having to do with issues I think are common to crowdfunding in general and personal reasons. I wonder if others have experienced the same frustrations and challenges.

I joined Kickstart in 2018 and within months I had become a “Superbacker” (i.e. pledged at least $10 to at least 25 projects). In roughly three years I’ve now supported over 120 projects and spent more money than I’d care to admit. There are several issues I am dealing with.

Issues with the Kickstarter/crowdfunding

  1. Products not delivered on time.
    As I write this blog there are worldwide shipping delays, and the COVID pandemic has made things difficult for over a year. But Kickstarter product delivery was an issue well before the pandemic. Sometimes the delays are due to first-time creators not understanding the time commitment from the period of creating to completing a project. But this is also a problem with some veteran companies. I can sometimes be forgiving to first-time creators that don’t deliver on time, but if you are a company that has been around for decades and created hundreds of products and you still don’t know how long it takes to get a project from the idea stage to publication, I am going to have issues continuing to support your Kickstarters.
  2. By the time you finally receive the project, you may no longer be interested in it.
    It can be so easy to get excited for something on Kickstarter and think it will fit into your campaign only to discover when it arrives on your doorstep 9 months later that this was just a fleeting thought that passed through your head at the time and is now no longer relevant. During a Kickstarter it is easy to get pulled in, you get caught up in the excitement created by others in the comments. You “click” to “pledge” your monetary support for the project vision and the money doesn’t get drained from your bank account for another 2-4 weeks, so it is easy to forget about what you’ve spent due to the space and time between pledging and the end date of the funding period. Compare that to being at your FLGS or a convention and holding the product in your hand. You can take your time and examine it. It has weight. The price is displayed on the back cover of the book. You have to pull out your credit card, or cash, to pay for it. You notice the cost and you can evaluate whether you truly need this item as you page through it. Although we’ve always been able to impulse buy at a brick and mortar store, crowdfunding like Kickstarter has made it easier, since it rarely seems real – you are seeing the fantastic possibilities and someone’s vision, but not necessarily the realities.
  3. Products were not what you expected or wanted.
    This has occurred the most for me when it comes to dice Kickstarters. I have just a wee bit of a dice addiction (I have more than I will ever need). Kickstarter initially made this worse. But now, strangely enough, it might be solving the problem, but what a learning curve I had to go through! There have been a lot of dice Kickstarters where you see marvelously crafted dice sitting on moss-covered rocks with atmospheric smoke drifting over and around them. Yet, when they are finally manufactured and delivered to you up to a year later, they don’t look like what was presented under the atmospheric and filtered lighting they used in their promotional videos and pictures. This has happened so many times that I have now stopped supporting dice Kickstarters.

    When it comes to RPG books I am pretty much done with glossy pages. With or without my glasses reading glossy pages are too much of a struggle and too annoying. When you support a Kickstarter you only occasionally know what the final product will look like. I am nearly to the point where if a book is produced with glossy pages I will skip it, and you usually only know this if you can hold the book in your hands. There are also layout problems that you won’t know about until you have the actual book in your hand (Kickstarter mock-ups always exaggerate certain aspects of the book, such as its thickness, to make it look larger than it is).

    One example of this was a KS for digest-sized booklets in a boxed set. When I received it, the pages were very glossy making it difficult for me to read. In addition, the font size used in the booklets were too small for me, and the interior columns nearest the spine requires the need to open the book wider to be able to see everything and this will cause the spines of the softcover digest books to deteriorate faster. If I could’ve seen the final result of this product, I would’ve skipped the KS and stuck with previous versions of this rule system I already had (or perhaps purchased digital where the glossiness does not apply, I can zoom in to increase the font size, and ruining binding doesn’t matter).

    The Need to Collect RPG Products: What’s with all the leather-bound “collector editions” with silk bookmarks that are now offered with virtually every RPG Kickstarter?
    I was initially quite excited when RPGs I already owned had a “special edition” or “alternate” cover, or they offered leather-bound covers with silk ribbons sewn in. I could continue to use the “normal” book and keep this beautiful “special” one on the bookshelf for its appearance and as a conversation piece with gaming friends. Some companies also do this with special edition woodgrain/white box sets as a homage to Original D&D. I initially got pulled into all this and got some leather-bound books and woodgrain/white box sets.

    But why? Even with the normal RPG books, I have so many of them that some only rarely get pulled from my shelves and looked at. Do I really need to spend a $100+ on a leather-bound edition to just sit and collect dust on a shelf and so I can occasionally point to it when my gaming friends come over so and show off how much money I spent on it and how special I am?

    These special editions were initially a unique novelty, and for those of us who have been gaming for roughly four decades and remember when gaming was laughed at and some products were made in someone’s garage on a low budget we can get caught up in these new fancy productions. But things have changed. Gaming is popular now. It’s mainstream. It’s “normal.” I now struggle to think of any major RPG book Kickstarted in the last year that hasn’t had leather-bound options with ribbon bookmarks. They all seem to have them now. How special is a “collector’s edition” when every company has “collector editions” and they have become the norm? Why spend all that money on books that aren’t used? Is it a “status” statement? For whom?

My Own Struggles

Pledging on KS can be addicting.

Addictive behavior can manifest itself in a lot of ways. Years ago on Facebook I became obsessed with getting “likes” and “shares” and spent hour upon hour “doom scrolling” through it and Twitter. I deleted both of them years ago, but perhaps by coincidence as I was leaving them I opened my Kickstarter account, and soon enough I found myself scrolling through KS trying to find something interesting that I “need to get” – that I “must have” – and I would reassure myself – if I noticed I was spending too much money on something I didn’t really need – that I was “helping someone else out.”

Final Thoughts

A part of me would really love to cancel my Kickstarter account right now. But I have projects I’ve supported that won’t get delivered until March of 2022 (and, of course, many of them will be delivered months late). If I cancel KS for my own peace of mind and to free myself of its hold, I may not receive the products I supported. More and more I try to avoid visiting Kickstarter and getting pulled into supporting something I don’t need, yet, I have to somehow go at least 7 months not supporting KS until I receive my final item before closing things down. But Kickstarters and Indiegogos are discussed constantly on social media. Companies you support constantly bombard you with emails promoting their latest crowd-funding project. Even old Kickstarters that have long since been completed and you received the products are still used by companies to promote their latest KS. It is a never-ending cycle of in-your-face advertising and promotion. It wears you down sometimes (at least it wears me down). To get out of this cycle, I think, is going to be a real challenge since you can’t really quit cold turkey. For some just pulling back from supporting so any crowdfunding projects is enough, but I don’t think that will work for me.

I look forward to shifting back to buying most RPG products in the traditional way. Which is to visit my FLGS, or a vendor booth at a convention, and page through the product. Feel it in my hand. Pay attention to how it was made. Reflect on its content. Consider its cost. And think about whether I really need it or really want it. It is time to slow things down and try not to get caught up in the never-ending hype and propaganda of the latest promotion of the week (or the day, or the hour).

Has anyone else felt the same way on this? If so, what has been your solution?

Two New OSR Kickstarters Worth Looking Into.

There are currently two new OSR Kickstarters which present flexible, open, and usable ideas for those using any OSR game. Book of Lost Lore and Book of Lost Beasts presents alternate rules and expansions of OSR ideas found in 70’s-90’s D&D. Chromatic Dungeons does the same, except it also includes ideas that should successfully pull-in curious modern gamers interested in exploring the exciting possibilities of Old School gaming.

For me these are ideal since I run Castles and Crusades campaigns and C&C is a game system which uses a D20 inspired rule system (the SEIGE engine) along with AD&D 1st edition style character classes. As a result, I can create a sort of “greatest hits” from all eras of Dungeons and Dragons. Indeed, of the two C&C campaigns I run one of them is comprised mostly of players in their late teens to early 20s and the other group is comprised mostly of people in their 50s and 60s. As you can imagine, this presents me with remarkably diverse perspectives on how players approach the game and attempt to solve problems, and I find both approaches energizing and exciting.

But let us get to the Kickstarters. The first I want to look at is the Book of Lost Lore and Book of Lost Beasts by BRW Games. Joseph Bloch, the writer of these books, is the creator of Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD) which imagines what a 2nd edition AD&D game would have looked like if Gary Gygax had created it. But even if you do not use his game system these are compatible with anything from the various Basic D&D versions through 1st and 2nd edition AD&D.

What these new books will provide backers are new classes (e.g., skald, blackguard), races (e.g., centaurs, half-drow), spells, monsters (200), alternative combat systems, two alternate treasure systems, an alternative to AD&D 2nd edition non-weapon proficiencies, rules for weather, and a system for social encounters. It looks to have close to 300 pages of material spread out over two books. Assuming he keeps the same format of his previous books the font and style will be similar to the AD&D 1st edition core books as well as black and white art reminiscent of the 70s and 80s. I’ve enjoyed the ADD work he’s done in the past, and I look forward to acquiring these new enhancements which I can insert into my C&C games.

Next, we have Chromatic Dungeons. One nice thing about this Kickstarter is that the differences from older versions of D&D are clearly laid out in detail by bullet point and four multi-page samples are available for download (indeed, the books are already written and will be delivered this autumn), this allows me to see in greater detail what is being offered. Looking at these samples you will see that they also have the AD&D 1st edition font style as well as charts and art which are reminiscent of the late 70s and 80s. Just like the previous Kickstarter this is a standalone system you can use; however, it can also operate as ideas which you can insert into your OSR game of choice. Which is exactly how I plan to use this for my C&C games.

Like any OSR tool kit there are a plethora of things which you can insert – or not insert – into your game. For example, it uses three alignments similar to B/X: lawful, neutral, and chaotic. There is no fancy skill system, skill resolutions are simply based on an ability check, so it is rules-light, like many of us OSR folk are familiar with and embrace. In old school gaming we are familiar with attribute modifiers based on race. This game has chosen to switch that to the character classes. Thus, if you are a Fighter you get a +1 to Strength, if you are a Cleric you get a +1 to Wisdom, if you are a Druid you get a +1 to your Charisma (presumably because druids need that for their communication with plants and animals). Now, this isn’t completely new, for if you recall specialty priests from AD&D 2nd edition, a god of poetry, for example, would provide a worshipper with a +1 to Charisma and warrior gods might provide a bonus to Str or Con. So, this is not an alien concept for old school, nonetheless, to see it codified in the rules is quite interesting. I know for my C&C games I do use racial attribute modifiers, as well as occasionally use attribute modifiers for certain classes based on the gods that are worshipped, so I currently use a hybrid version of this idea. So, when I get this book, I can take a closer look at how I can mix and match ideas using both racial modifiers and class modifiers for attributes. As with anything in the OSR, it does not have to be either/or, it can be a mixture of options, since we are all about modifying things as we see fit to make them suitable for the campaigns we envision.

In this game the term “race” has been replaced by “ancestry.” Some will see this as an idea drawn from modern gaming. But if you wish to keep the term as “race” – keep it! However, if you wish to incorporate a modern gaming term like “ancestry” as a gateway or opening for some members of modern gaming to enter old school gaming, this can be a way of doing it. Regardless of whether you go with the term “race” or “ancestry,” the abilities available to the races/ancestry are highly creative and will enhance your game (and there are lots of options – Bugbears, Centaurs, Gnolls, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, Lizardmen, Minotaurs, Orcs, Bullyfrogs, etc.). This game doesn’t provide half races such as half-orcs or half-elves (with reasons provided, such as “why are there half-elves, but not half-dwarves”?), yet it gives you ideas for creating any type of half-race if you decide you do want them.

There is also a category called “Heritage.” This is a great way to create either new subraces/ancestries, new regional variants to differentiate subraces/ancestries, or I suppose as a way to incorporate a concept of “feats” into your game (feats not actually mentioned, it is simply my own thought from reading through the sample pages). It really is an amazing tool kit as I look at it (Heritage options are one of the download options in the Kickstarter).

The armor class system in this game is ascending, rather than descending (or using attack tables), but anybody who has played Swords and Wizardry, Old School Essentials, or Castles and Crusades, is aware that many OSR games have provided ascending AC as an option or fully left the descending AC in the past. Of course, if you wish to use descending AC it is quite easy to do so!

This rulebook organizes classes like AD&D 2nd edition (so you have Warriors and then underneath that are Fighters, Berserkers, Paladins, and Rangers). This game will introduce a crafting system (the six page preview they provide is pretty interesting), and it adds a new element to traditional treasure (such as finding rare and exotic items). All in all, I am excited to get this book (if it gets funded!) for this along with the previous Kickstarter mentioned provide an amazing set of tools and ideas to enhance in OSR game. So for anyone looking to enhance or expand their OSR game, I encourage them to check these two Kickstarters out!

Edit (18/9/2021): I review Chromatic Dungeons in this blog post.

Rackham Vale

I love classic fantasy art. February is Zinequest on Kickstarter, and Rackham Vale is inspired by the art of Arthur Rackham. My campaigns are filled with folklore from the past, and classic art like Rackham’s adds a lot to the look and feel I like to present to my players. When funded, this is offering:

  • An original map with key locations identified (can be used as a point-crawl map if so desired), 
  • factions spread with relationships charted for easy reference, 
  • Adventure hooks
  • An illustrated bestiary with twelve new creature interpretations of Rackham’s artwork, 
  • Tables for creating new settlements, random encounters, and creatures that fit the setting. 

The monsters have OSR-compatible stats (see the No-Moon Crone example listed). Once funded, I am curious what stretch goals might emerge during its last 8 days.

Edit: Since writing this post, the Rackham Vale kickstarter has been delivered and I have reviewed it in this post.