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10 Biggest Tabletop RPG News Stories of 2014

The end of the year approaches! Looking back on 2014 our hobby had a really good year. We found ourselves repeatedly as the focus of news cycles and rarely did we come away in a poor light. We saw Kickstarters raise tremendous amounts of money, new games and old favorites brought back to the fore, and the impact of social media on our hobby has never been more obvious. But what stories were the dominant ones of the year? Which ones will be shaping the conversation for next year and the years after? These are the top ten news stories of 2014.

We saw the passing of one of the great artists of Dungeons and Dragons; lawsuits, lawsuits, and more lawsuits; new editions of some of our favorite games; and controversies galore! What will be the top story of 2014?

[h=4]10. The National Media Talks Positively About Role-playing Games[/h]
While the rest of this list will often feature contentious issues that have dominated the conversation this year it’s important to recognize that this year saw a huge groundswell of coverage on role-playing games – and almost all of it was positive. Unlike the coverage of the past where our hobby was either the spiritual gateway to damnation and madness or the place where nerds went to make sure they remained virgins this year saw us celebrated. With the anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons and the release of a new edition Wizards of the Coast used the large presence of the game in the cultural zeitgeist to drum up coverage across the board. We had lots of coverage coming from Forbes, i09, BoingBoing, GeekSmash, Bleeding Cool News, The Oregonian, The Escapist, CNN, and many more.

It’s a great time for role-playing games!

[h=4]9. Fifth Edition Reinvigorates the Creativity of the Hobby Community[/h]
This year began with the knowledge that Fifth Edition would be releasing this summer and the anticipation for the new edition’s release reinvigorated the hobby. Whether your primary concern is gaming blogs, as mine tends to be, or if you’re just looking for new resources for your game the spring and summer saw lots to give you encouragement for the remainder of the year. Spring saw new blogs coming to life while long dormant blogs began to once again crank out posts describing their authors’ anticipation of the coming release. Many used the opportunity to highlight other great games like Dungeon World, FATE, and GURPS. These games were shown more love in the months leading up to Fifth Edition’s launch than at any time in the previous year as new communities sprang online and forums began to sing their praises.

As summer came ever closer the anticipation became too much for some in the community and they began to release their own resources for the game before they were technically allowed to do so. Wizards of the Coast wisely choose to allow most of these to remain out in the wild as the community seemed to become even more excited with each new fan-made release. Then the Basic Game dropped and the flood gates were officially released. Since the new edition made its debut countless resources have been released from conversion documents, to new character sheets, to new classes and races. For many observers the excitement surrounding this new edition is reminiscent of the d20 boom that surrounded the release of Third Edition. What’s so surprising about this is that the boom is happening on the consumer side of things without an Open Gaming License (though it has been confirmed that one is coming for the new edition).

There are a lot of questions about the future of both fan-made resources and third party publishers that will be answered when the new OGL arrives in the coming year. Will we see larger, third-party publishers like Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games, and the like begin to release products for Fifth Edition? How will Wizards of the Coast deal with the rise of alternative storylines to their core adventure paths when anyone can sell their own? Will the OGL continue to encourage our creation of fan-made resources or will it stifle that creativity?

Without seeing the new OGL it’s impossible to know what its impact will be on the hobby. But one thing is certain, this edition has provided the community with a catalyst for people to become reenergized with the possibilities of their favorite games – whether that game is Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon World, Numenera, FATE or GURPS. If for no other reason we could claim that this edition has been a success.

[h=4]8. David A. Trampier Passes (April 22, 1954 – March 24, 2014)[/h]
On Tuesday, March 25 the Southern Illinoisan ran a few short lines in their obituaries, “David Trampier, 59, died at 10:58 a.m. Monday, March 24, 2014, in Helia Healthcare . . .” and no one seemed to take notice. Two days later Dyvers would bring up the possibility that this David Trampier and the brilliant artist who helped define the possibilities of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons through his illustrations and the fantastic Wormy strips were in fact the same person. This would be confirmed shortly by both David Trampier’s former brother-in-law, Tom Wham!, and by sthorne of Castle Perilous Games and Books.

David Trampier’s disappearance from the hobby has been one of the great mysteries of the role-playing game community. The mystery surrounding him began in 1988 when he unexpectedly stopped his Wormy strip and seemingly ended all contact with the community as he cut off correspondence with longtime friends and returned uncashed payments for his work. In the wake of his mysterious vanishing act rumors circulated to fill the gulf left in his passing. Some claimed that he had left because he was unable to self-publish his Wormy strips while others whispered that he had suffered a nervous breakdown that made him unable to work any longer. Yet the most persistent rumor sprang up surrounding his uncashed payments which led to speculation that he had died.

Over the years tantalizing clues to David Trampier’s life since his disappearance would come to light. In the spring of 2002 the Daily Egyptian, a student run paper for Southern Illinois University Carbondale, published Coffee, cigarettes and speed bumps: A night with a Carbondale cabby which featured a picture of Trampier standing outside his cab and an interview with him where he talks about being a cab driver. Unfortunately the student interviewing him didn’t recognize him as one of the founding artists of the hobby so nothing of that past life surfaced.

In 2003 Wizards of the Coast was able to confirm that David Trampier was still alive and well, though they did not confirm that the man in the picture was Trampier. The following year Tom Wham! confirmed that Trampier was still alive and living in Illinois. Not surprisingly so many confirmations that the elusive artist was still alive reignited the search for him. Jolly Blackburn, of Kenzer Company, was one of the industry people who were able to make contact with him and as would happen with Pazio forum member Baj the conversations began friendly and soon found Trampier withdrawing entirely and ending all communication.

Trampier seemed to disappear from the world again and for a long time he seemed very content with that arrangement. Then on February 27 of this year a local Carbondale convention, Egypt Wars, was able to get him to tentatively agree to appear. For those of us who still hoped for his name to appear in our search engines with a new public appearance it was an exciting moment. Sadly he would be unable to make the show as he passed nearly a month later.

Like the passing of many of this hobby’s forerunners the death of David Trampier has been seen as yet another sign of the quickly disappearing history of our hobby. Thankfully there are people out there attempting to gather the recollections of our hobby’s creators into books, forums filled with Q&As, and articles designed to ensure that we won’t forget about their efforts.

[h=4]7. 40th Anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons[/h]
In a society that is built around milestones that often center around the most frivolous of achievements there is something incredibly satisfying about watching a game that has been derided and passed off as a fad reach its 40th anniversary and be recognized not only by long time enthusiasts but by the national news media. The actual date that was settled on by the internet was arrived at after Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, derived the date from many of the actual documents he has collected over the years as he researched the early history of the hobby. His research was incredibly valuable for those of us who wanted to have a specific occasion to celebrate the game’s creation, but it was also an opportunity to take Wizards of the Coast to task again for not doing what the internet wanted, when we wanted it.

Regardless of the minor kerfuffle that erupted around Wizards of the Coast not formally recognizing the anniversary on the same date as Jon Peterson and the internet community; on January 26, 2014 lots of people began posting their tributes to Dungeons and Dragons and the impact the game had created on their lives but none was more fitting than the one from Kobold Press. Throughout the four-part series (Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV) Kobold Press was able to interview many of the men and women whose names graced the covers of countless TSR / Wizards of the Coast products. In many ways it was a great reintroduction to the men and women who made this game possible and who helped shape where this hobby was going over the last forty years.

[h=4]6. Aaron Allston Passes (December 8, 1960 – February 27, 2014)[/h]
For many longtime gamers and fans of science fiction the name Aaron Allston stood as a sign of quality writing. He began his career as a circulation manager for Steve Jackson’s Space Gamer magazine. While at the magazine he advanced his position to assistant editior and then became the editor of the magazine. In that position Allston steered the magazine to become an award winning product that won the H.G. Wells Award for Best Role-Playing Magazine in 1982.

Allston began working as a freelance game designer and editor full time after winning the Award and soon found himself working for TSR where his name would be associated with some of the best books of the Lorraine Williams era. Among his credits would include the Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (considered by many to be one of the best books ever published by TSR), the Hollow World Campaign Set, Wrath of the Immortals, and Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure.

After leaving role-playing games, and a brief stint in computer games, Allston began writing full time publishing a novel each year. As a fiction writer he became a prolific author in the Star Wars expanded universe novels. He was best known for the long running X-Wing series where he wrote five of the ten novels in the series; with the final book he wrote also being the last in the series: Mercy Kill.

Unlike David Trampier, Aaron Allston never hid away from the world and actively attended conventions up until the time of his death. Having been so accessible his loss has been felt more keenly by his fans. Allston collapsed during an appearance at VisionCon and died from massive heart failure at the age of 53.

[h=4]5. Sweatpea Entertainment vs. Hasbro for the Future of D&D Movies[/h]
The current trial between Sweatpea Entertainment and Hasbro Inc. is the latest episode in the strained relationship between the property holders of the Dungeons and Dragons game and the company licensed to create movies on the property. In 1991 Courtney Solomon purchased the movie rights for a Dungeons and Dragons film for $15,000 from TSR but he wouldn’t exercise his option to create a movie based on the game until 1994. It would be three more years before production would actually begin on the project but by then Wizards of the Coast had purchased the property and would find itself dissatisfied with the slow progress Solomon had made. In 1998 Wizards sued Solomon for not starting the project quickly enough; though they would subsequently settle out of court with a new contract agreement that would soon see the release of the 2000 film. That 2000 Dungeons and Dragons film, which starred Jeremy Irons, would cost a reported $55,000,000 and only bring in $33,807,409 worldwide (a net loss of $21,192,591). This colossal flop that saw both a financial and critical backlash against it would spawn two subsequent films (Wrath of the Dragon God and The Book of Vile Darkness) with the Dungeons and Dragons name, each exercising the Sweatpea license.

Here is where things begin to become really interesting.

With the recent success of fantasy movies like the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies Warner Brothers became interested in producing a Dungeons and Dragons film. Warner Brothers pictures executive Jon Berg had David Leslie Johnson (who wrote Wraith of the Titans) create an unlicensed script called “Chainmail.” Reportedly the script was a real hit within the Warner Brothers studio and Berg had Warner Brother business executive Jun Oh enter into negotiations with Hasbro Inc. in October 2012 for the rights to produce the film. According to the Hollywood Reporter Oh would offer Hasbro $5 million and 5% of the gross on a Chainmail film only to be turned down and have Hasbro sign an even more lucrative deal with Universal.

Around the time that Hasbro entered into a deal with Universal, Sweatpea Entertainment would contact Warner Brothers about producing the Chainmail film. Since Sweatpea still believed that it held the rights that had been purchased by Solomon in 1991 Warner Brothers acted on the offer and began working to bring Chainmail to life through Sweatpea’s existing contract. This appears to be the trigger for the lawsuit by Hasbro.

In May 2013 Hasbro would launch a suit claiming that Sweatpea Entertainment had committed copyright and trademark infringement with the Chainmail script and had failed to meet its production schedule for sequels to the original Dungeons and Dragons film. Sweatpea Entertainment would file countersuit in September 2013 claiming breach of contract, copyright infringement, and false designation of origin and trademark dilution. While the lawsuit was progressing Warner Brothers continued to negotiate with Sweatpea; eventually buying their rights on June 27, 2014 for $4 million with an additional $1 million to be used for legal fees.

Beyond the immediate concern of who gets to make the next Dungeons and Dragons film this lawsuit has far reaching implications for how movies will be made in the future. Currently movie companies can have prospective scripts written for properties that they haven’t licensed to determine the viability of the film before pursuing the license. If Hasbro wins this case, though, that could change as a key lynch-pin in their suit surrounds the unlicensed Chainmail script that was produced before Sweatpea Entertainment attempted to sell their rights to Warner Brothers.

The trial ended in September with final briefs due early in October. Judge Dolly Gee urged the two sides to consider negotiating an end to the lawsuit that would find both sides happy with the results as the complicated case could leave both dissatisfied with the end results. We’re currently waiting to see the outcome of this case while Warner Brothers has gone ahead and greenlit production of Chainmail.

[h=4]4. The Rise of Social Media and Direct Access for the Consumer[/h]
One of the biggest complaints that consumers have expressed over the years is the lack of direct and meaningful communication with the people who produce the games and products we love. With the rise of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ that has dramatically changed for the better as many of your favorite game designers are now out there and openly talking to anyone who has a question about their games and design processes.

Over the past few years independent game designers have been making great use of social media to connect with the hobby. Through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ they have been able to garner support for their projects and to see games and books that would never have appeared otherwise by raising the necessary financial backing through crowdfunding sites like Indigogo and Kickstarter. Yet it wasn’t until recently that the larger companies began to make real use of social media.

Wizards of the Coast actually entered into this process in a big way which is a substantial change from their previous policy of silence. It’s really great to be able to talk directly to Mike Mearls, Rodney Thompson, Jeremy Crawford, Chris Perkins and the rest of the staff about Dungeons and Dragons, but that comes with a caveat. In spite of how well these guys have been doing in answering our questions it’s really difficult to search through the archives and find the answers to questions that have already been answered. Hopefully in the coming weeks they’ll be creating an archive of all their answers on social media to go along with Jeremy Crawford’s recently announced column.

[h=4]3. The Rise of the Independent Game[/h]
This year saw two major events in our hobby occur for the first time on ICv2’s role-playing games sales chart. First Dungeons and Dragons fell completely off the ICv2 rankings. Since the announcement of Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons had lost its top position on the rankings to Paizo’s Pathfinder, but with the decreased production schedule of Fourth Edition the game had actually fallen completely off the charts. While it’s true that ICv2’s rankings do not take into account online sales or large retailers who do not report their sales to the magazine it was nonetheless a pivotal moment for many in the hobby as FATE, Shadowrun, and Numenera closed out the list.

Pathfinder’s ascendance to the top spot wasn’t a surprise for many online commentators as dissatisfaction with the direction of Fourth Edition seemed to be one of the primary pastimes in most forums. Whether the problem with Fourth Edition was that it didn’t feel enough like previous versions of the game, that it took too many new design options, or that it felt too much like the regimented progressions of popular MMOs the fact remains that the edition was the favorite whipping boy of many older gamers who pointed to the rise of Pazio’s game as proof that Fourth Edition was a failure.

Behind Paizo’s flagship rested Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars. This was hardly a surprise to longtime observers of ICv2’s rankings as Fantasy Flight has consistently shown well over the course of the last year (Spring 2013 had both Star Wars at the third position and Dark Heresy last, Summer 2013 saw Star Wars pass Dungeons and Dragons for the second spot, and Fall 2013 saw Star Wars remain in the second position) and its games have routinely received high praise for their quality and production standards. Fantasy Flight has steadily been making the case that they are the third most popular publisher of role-playing games for some time now and the fact that Star Wars only slipped one spot in Summer 2014 rankings, and to have Dark Heresy again take the fifth position, only seems to confirm that argument.

Then there was Shadowrun, which has managed to remain on the charts since its debut in Spring of 2014. I cannot tell you how fantastic it was to see one of the great games of yesterday again rising up the ranks and introducing a whole new generation of gamers to cyberpunk genre. Just seeing its name enter the list had me rereading Philip K. Dick novels and playing the old Super Nintendo game that first introduced me to the setting. After that there was FATE. This game has been a darling for online gamers as it possesses a sophisticated engine that is flexible enough to allow creative individuals to mold it to their needs. Along with having ready access to the game’s designers through twitter it’s a game teeming with possibilities. Unfortunately it has fallen off the Summer 2014 ranking as Dungeons and Dragons came roaring back to the number 2 position.

The last game on the Spring 2014 Top Five ranking was Monte Cook Games’ Numenera. For the small studio this was a triumph that reflected the trust Monte has generated through his decades long career in a field that often chews up independent designers. Numenera’s appearance on the list is the fulfillment of the successful Kickstarter and the amazing production values MCG put into the new book and system.

Taken as a whole the Spring 2014 rankings represented a mood that had been expressing itself across the wider hobby in forums and blogs. The way that the industry had been producing games wasn’t working any longer. We didn’t want a splat book every month filled with bloat and making our systems unwieldy. We wanted our publishers to have public playtests to stress new rules like Paizo had been doing with each new rulebook. We wanted our games to be flexible and to allow us to manipulate them to our needs and not to find ourselves bound by rules lawyers who restrained our creativity and stymied our best efforts. Paizo recognized this early and the whole industry has steadily followed their lead – including Wizards of the Coast.

[h=4]2. Big Brother and the Kickstarter[/h]
One of the most frustrating things about Kickstarter has been the way that backers can get burned by the very people they’re supporting. Over the course of the last few years we’ve seen high profile Kickstarters fail to deliver time and time again. Often these projects vanish into thin air with the creators claiming that they either have mismanaged the money, or flat out refuse to provide the products they were paid to create, and there wasn’t really anything that a consumer could do when that happened other than publicly shame them.

All that changed this May when Washington’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Ed Nash and his company, Altius Management, for failing to deliver the Asylum Playing Cards they had crowdfunded. The consumer protection lawsuit was first time that any governmental body stepped in to protect us and it marked a major change in how future Kickstarter projects will have to be assessed.

This was actually the second lawsuit brought against a failed Kickstarter, but the first to be brought by a governmental agency. The first lawsuit against a failed project was brought by Neil Singh last year. Singh had invested in the Hanfree Kickstarter only to find that the creator of the project would squander the money and leave him with nothing but air as compensation. He sued and as a result Kickstarter would change their wording to let creators know that this could happen and that if their projects were successful that they would have to deliver something.

While Singh’s lawsuit hasn’t stopped every charlatan from and unprepared entrepreneur from entering Kickstarter it was the beginning of a change in how crowdfunding works. The Washington lawsuit represents another such change and already had pundits wondering if crowdfunding will continue to thrive in a world where results must happen. Others have pointed out that normal businesses have been required to produce the products they sell for generations and that by and large they seem to be doing well with the restriction.

Indigogo has not yet been subject to any such lawsuits that I am aware of, but its funding program is significantly different from Kickstarter so before you decide to back anything on the site be sure to read the terms and conditions.

D&D Splat Transparent.png


[h=4]1. 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Finally Launches[/h]
After nearly two years of playtesting the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons launched this summer. The launch began with a slightly bothersome release of the Free Basic PDF that mostly went well. The Basic PDF has steadily been expanded throughout the year with additional content and monsters to help people play the game for free – a major change from the way that the game had been brought to the public in the past. Then came the gorgeous Player’s Handbook and a reception that can only be characterized as overwhelmingly positive.

Arguably this edition has done more to address the concerns of the majority of players than any edition in the past as Wizards of the Coast has actively sought the council of the very people who play the game. They have used numerous surveys, repeated playtest iterations, and brought in a number of outside consultants to help break the game apart and ensure that this edition feels more like Dungeons and Dragons than any other. If you can judge a game’s success by the reactions online, which is a dangerous prospect at the best of times, then this edition of the game has been wildly successful among old and new gamers alike. It has dominated blogs, online news sites, and twitter’s #rpg discussions. And since you’re reading EN World you’re clearly aware of its impact so I’ll move on.
 
Shadowrun never went anywhere; the game has been steadily released and updated since the first edition came out. The current fifth edition is having some quality issues, though; they may fall from the charts again due to Catalyst potentially reducing their products released per year to deal with quality control issues that have cropped up.
 



Chimpy

First Post
I think the 40th anniversary of D&D could have been bigged up by WotC. I don't recall them even mentioning it.
 


TrippyHippy

Adventurer
For me, the 2010s are seeing certain trends becoming fully established now:

1) The establishment of new marketing methods beyond simple retail: PDF, POD and Kickstarter are the norm now, rather than the exception.
2) The general blurring of the lines between ‘Indie’ and ‘Traditional’ RPGs - with supposedly indie games like FATE or Fiasco really hitting mainstream, and established IP licenses like Star Wars and Marvel using more experimental game system mechanics. On top of this there is also more open play testing and a general increase in quality control.
3) Increasing exposure to online media, through shows like Tabletop and others.
4) The continued development and renewal of venerable classic RPGs like D&D, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Vampire, etc….along with more new games every year….For a hobby that has been anxious about dying out since the late 80s, it does not appear to be going gently into that good night anytime soon. In fact, the evidence suggests that ‘tabletop’ gaming as a whole is rising in popularity, as more casual players become interested in it as a means of social entertainment. Good times!
 
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Dausuul

Legend
It's "Sweetpea Entertainment," not "Sweatpea." (Although considering the amount of effort the lawyers have put into it by this point, and the general stench surrounding its output, perhaps a name change is in order.)

I am surprised that the indication of a probable OGL for 5E didn't merit a point of its own, but I suppose it makes sense to wait till we have official confirmation. If we get one, I bet it tops the list for 2015.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
I think the 40th anniversary of D&D could have been bigged up by WotC. I don't recall them even mentioning it.
There were a bunch of mainstream news articles about it at the beginning of the year. I seem to remember one from Forbes in particular.
 



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