I'm not one for looking back, so retrospectives of the year that was, or looks back at the best of the year, aren't for me. A lot of good and interesting games came out, and more than a few sad or bad things happened as well. It was a year that we will likely remember for a long time, in and out of our tabletop gaming worlds. Instead, let's take a little time and baselessly speculate about the year to come.
What trends might we expect in gaming over the next year or so?
The Rebirth Of Science Fantasy
We all know that Starfinder is coming from Paizo Publishing. I think that, along with the upcoming Mutant Crawl Classics game from Goodman Games, we will see a wave of popularity of the science fantasy genre in role-playing games. Combine what will likely be two popular games with the fact that we are now going to see a new Star Wars movie every year (along with the new material coming for Fantasy Flight Games' lines of Star Wars role-playing games), and that means that a lot of people will be thinking about wanting to play science fantasy games.
I lead with this because I think that it might end up being the biggest trend in RPGs for the coming year. We know, from past cycles, that game designers and publishers tend to think alike. They read a lot of the same books and watch a lot of the same movies, which means that they tend to get a lot of the same ideas around the same time as each other. We've seen a couple of versions of the Metamorphosis Alpha game come out over the last couple of years, which could have been the start of this trend. A new edition of Paranoia has been simmering in the cauldrons for a bit, after a Kickstarter project successfully funded, but it has been plagued with delays.
I think that 2017 is going to be the year that we see a lot of designers and publishers putting the chocolate of science fiction tropes into the peanut butter of fantasy. Whether it is star-faring science fantasy, or post-apocalyptic science fantasy, we are going to see a lot of different flavors of these two tasty genres over the next year.
I am looking forward to this trend. Goodman Games' Mutant Crawl Classics was one of the few Kickstarters that I backed this year. I enjoyed Gamma World as a kid, and when I got older works like the Max Max movies and Jack Kirby's psychedelic Kamandi comic were things that I eagerly consumed. I think that it is a psychological thing that post-apocalyptic media becomes popular when the world turns grim. We like to think that we can right the world when heroes stand up to the darkness, and that is one of the cornerstones of RPGs.
I think that I am looking forward to Starfinder more than I was looking forward to Pathfinder. I was at the Gen Con when Pathfinder debuted. It was a madhouse. People were buying books as quickly as the Paizo Publishing people could stock their booth. Will Starfinder be as dramatic at its Gen Con as Pathfinder was? I don't know, but I think that it has the capacity to do so. Even if it isn't the top seller, it will be in the top two.
But either way, we're going to see a rise in popularity for the genre among RPG publishers, and gamers. I hope that this will mean that we see a lot of new, weird gaming material over the next few years that isn't afraid to mashup two, or more, genres.
The Upswing Of Horror
It is a pretty well-documented fact that horror movies (and other forms of horror media) have an upswing during times of economic recession. Think back to the horror booms of the 70s and of the 90s. In fact it was the horror boom of the 90s that brought role-playing games the game changing Vampire: The Masquerade, as well as the Gnostic horror of Kult. Steve Jackson Games brought us the English language version of the French role-playing game In Nomine. Steve Jackson Games also brought out GURPS: Voodoo The Shadow War, by C.J. Carella (who has brought us a number of horror games and settings over the years), one of my favorite GURPS books of the Third Edition era.
This was just the tip of the iceberg for horror gaming, as well. Old favorites like Chaosium's seminal horror game Call of Cthulhu saw new life breathed into it by third party publishers Pagan Publishing with Delta Green. The Delta Green setting tapped into a millennial zeitgeist not unlike that of the television show X-Files. It isn't coincidence that while Delta Green is currently in a new edition, the X-Files has also come back on the air.
It isn't a surprise that Kult is coming back, with its blend of Clive Barker inspired body horror and a dark look at religion and the secrets of the universe. The new edition is Powered By The Apocalypse, instead of using its own system, but it still promises to be as unflinching and extreme as the game has ever been. There's a quickstart that has been released to backers of the successful Kickstarter, and I am looking forward to seeing where the new edition of the game takes us.
Vampire: The Masquerade is on an upswing too. When video game developer Paradox Interactive announced in 2015 that they had acquired White Wolf Games, most of the talk of the acquisition revolved around bringing back the Vampire game. When Martin Ericsson was named the Lead Storyteller for White Wolf, there was plenty of Vampire talk. In fact he has shown some pictures of groups playing early playtests of the new edition on his Facebook. Will the new Vampire: The Masquerade come out this year? Maybe not, but it will definitely lead gaming news as more information comes out over the course of the new year. Let's hope that a new year brings us a new Vampire, but we'll see what happens.
Fantasy And The DIY Groundswell
Between retroclones like Swords & Wizardry having a very successful Kickstarter for a new printing, and the fantasy RPG DIY movement seeing the achievements of adventures and settings like Mike Evan's visceral Hubris for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game or Zak Smith's Maze of The Blue Medusa, there has been a groundswell of creativity in the fantasy gaming small press over the last year. Admittedly, this is the culmination of years of work before this year, however I think that not only was this the year that the DIY movement really broke but also when it showed that there could be more to what was once known just as an old school revival than rehashing the games that we all played as children. The old games could be used as the basis for new forms of creativity, and doing more than just what was being done 30 or 40 years ago.
I think that this will be a trend that we will see more of in the new year as well, with creators like Jason Sholtis and Chris Kutalik lead small press publishing houses like The Hydra Collective in bold new directions for fantasy role-playing.
What about D&D, the father of role-playing games? I think that it will keep on keeping on. Wizards of the Coast plays things pretty close to the vest when it comes to what is on the horizon for the game, but I think that we will see some interesting new adventures for Dungeons & Dragons, and maybe we'll get to see some published character options, outside of the material that they put out on their website. Much like comic book sales have been on an upswing because of industry starter DC Comics seeing sales increases, so does the RPG industry get better when D&D does better.
Fantasy is always one of the most active segments of tabletop role-playing games, so with games like D&D and Pathfinder doing well in the market, that means that we will see a rise in fantasy games from other publishers as well. John Wick's 7th Sea, which had the most successful tabletop RPG Kickstarter ever, will roll out more material funded by the project in the new year. We will likely see the newest take on Runequest coming this year from the revitalized Chaosium this year, as well, or at least more information about its launch (most possibly through a Kickstarter).
A popular saying in business is that "a rising tide lifts all ships." As fantasy is the leader in tabletop RPGs, as we see more fantasy games, and supplements, coming out, that will lead to us seeing even more fantasy games and supplements coming out.
The Rise And Fall Of Kickstarter
Pundits and prognosticators like to show that they know what they are talking about, that they are the foremost experts. Each year we see more people say that each year will be when the bubble bursts for RPG Kickstarters. I admit it, I have said it as well. Everything is cyclic, and sooner or later the wheel has to turn back around to the bottom of the cycle again. Will this year be the year for RPG Kickstarters to burst?
I don't think that is going to be the case. I think that we still have the space for a role-playing game to outperform even the records set by 7th Sea. I think that it will be a perfect storm of timing and property that will make a staggering amount of money for someone on Kickstarter. If I was a gambling man, I would put my money on the RPG property that could do this to be Vampire: The Masquerade's new edition. I don't know that the game is going to be launched via a Kickstarter project, after all Paradox Interactive has pretty deep pockets by tabletop gaming standards, but if there would be any game that could be capable of making millions on Kickstarter, I would say that it would be Vampire. Will it happen? Time will tell.
Regardless, I think that it is going to be a busy year in tabletop RPGs, regardless of what happens in the world outside of gaming. I think that the highs are going to be high, and the lows are going to be pretty low. 2017 probably won't always be a pretty year, but it will be another one to remember when we get to this point in another year.