D&D General Why TSR-era D&D Will Always Be D&D


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Aldarc

Legend
J. Finally, this history has to be measured in terms of what is a "flagship" product; when D&D sneezes, every other product in the TTRPG field gets a cold. It's not enough for a D&D product to be "good" or "better" than other editions, it's not sufficient that it has great design. It has to be broadly and widely popular. That is the raison d'être for D&D. People can, and do, argue endlessly about what makes D&D better or worse or good or not, but in terms of a product, D&D must always be #1. Starbucks coffee might not taste the best, but they have to careful changing it ... if you know what I mean.
I'm not entirely sure if I entirely agree with this assessment. Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when VtM was possibly doing better than 2e D&D? Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when PF1 was competing with 4e? The future of D&D may have seen uncertain, but the rest of the TTRPG scene seemed to get along just fine from what I have read.

During and shortly after the time of D&D 4e, there was an enormous proliferation of new TTRPG systems (e.g., AGE, Cypher, SotDL, Apocalypse World, Fate Core, Fria Ligan's Mutant: Year Zero, etc.) plus the OSR movement was in full swing. I've even seen a fair number of TTRPG designers say that 4e D&D was the biggest boon to the TTRPG indie scene, even more so than 5e. I'm highly skeptical that the TTRPG field was experiencing a cold just because D&D 4e fragmented the D&D market primarily between WotC's 4e D&D and Paizo's Pathfinder (aka D&D 3.75E).
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm not entirely sure if I entirely agree with this assessment. Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when VtM was possibly doing better than 2e D&D? Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when PF1 was competing with 4e? The future of D&D may have seen uncertain, but the rest of the TTRPG scene seemed to get along just fine from what I have read.

During and shortly after the time of D&D 4e, there was an enormous proliferation of new TTRPG systems (e.g., AGE, Cypher, SotDL, Apocalypse World, Fate Core, Fria Ligan's Mutant: Year Zero, etc.) plus the OSR movement was in full swing. I've even seen a fair number of TTRPG designers say that 4e D&D was the biggest boon to the TTRPG indie scene, even more so than 5e. I'm highly skeptical that the TTRPG field was experiencing a cold just because D&D 4e fragmented the D&D market primarily between WotC's 4e D&D and Paizo's Pathfinder (aka D&D 3.75E).

I don't agree with almost any of that in terms of market volume. The very largest indie TTRPG systems are a rounding error* to WoTC.

Just think- as of 2016, the total market share of all TTRPGs was around $45 million. And that was after a lot of growth (due to 5e).

For all of the talk of VtM, the overall TTRPG market cratered in the nineties, and it took 3e to bring it back ... to not much.

There's nothing wrong with enjoying many products, but the biggest driver in the overall health** of the TTRPG market has always been D&D. Both massive booms in the market (70s-80s and today) were driven by D&D.

*The most recent report from Roll20 not only shows that 5e is, by far, in a commanding lead (with all versions of Cthulhu a distant second, but that the various D&D clones and other editions also are more popular than most TTRPGs .... Pathfinder 1e is the third-most popular, D&D 3.5e is right there with all of the WoD products combined and in front of any of the indie games... and so on).

**Measured in terms of revenue.


ETA- also, it's an allusion. Not a fact. I don't think D&D actually spreads little germ particles.

Well, reasonably sure of that.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I don't agree with almost any of that in terms of market volume. The very largest indie TTRPG systems are a rounding error* to WoTC.
I wasn't aware that I was debating this idea. However, I would prefer not to equate the health of the TTRPG field in crudely capitalistic senses of wealth and money: this is to say, I'm resistant against the idea that we should measure the health of the hobby based on the fact that the corporate lion is raking in bigger profits, even if I understand that people like to see money as a measure of success or health, even if it disproportionately is in the hands of a few.

For all of the talk of VtM, the overall TTRPG market cratered in the nineties, and it took 3e to bring it back ... to not much.
Correlation is not causation. This is to say that I don't think that we can attribute any ill health of the TTRPG field to TSR's woes or D&D "sneezing." If the TTRPG marketed "cratered" in the '90s, which I'm somewhat skeptical of, it probably had more to do with larger concurrent market factors, namely the meteoric rise of other hobby games. The '90s, for example, saw the birth and explosion of MtG and collectible card games into the market, which was a huge money-maker. This was where WotC big money to even buy TSR came from. Concurrently, there was a massive rise in PC gaming on a scale that absolutely dwarfs D&D and the entire TTRPG hobby scene. Conversely, during the time 3e D&D, no one would really argue that D&D sneezed - many considered it healthy and hale - but it saw the rise of the d20 System, which experienced what felt a lot like the Dot Com Bubble. There is a lot of survivor bias surrounding the TTRPG companies that rose and fell during this time. By a number of accounts, it wasn't a good time for brick and mortar stores despite the relative health and good standing of D&D. None of these market shifts require creating narratives of D&D sneezing and the TTRPG field catching a cold.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I wasn't aware that I was debating this idea.

I was not aware I was debating any idea.

However, I would prefer not to equate the health of the TTRPG field in crudely capitalistic senses of wealth and money:

I don't have any opinion as to your opinion on capitalism, other than to note that you are trying to make an argument out of an allusion. Said allusion having a very SPECIFIC purpose, and constituting one part of one sentence of a long prior post.


None of these market shifts require creating narratives of D&D sneezing and the TTRPG field catching a cold.

When Paris sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold.
-Klemens von Mettenrich

Sure, if you want to credit me with the creation of this narrative, I'll take it. But it would require a time machine.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I don't have any opinion as to your opinion on capitalism, other than to note that you are trying to make an argument out of an allusion. Said allusion having a very SPECIFIC purpose, and constituting one part of one sentence of a long prior post.

When Paris sneezes, the whole of Europe catches a cold.
-Klemens von Mettenrich

Sure, if you want to credit me with the creation of this narrative, I'll take it. But it would require a time machine.
I am fully aware of the origins of the quote that you repurposed. Likewise I am aware that you wrote other points in your long post. However, I am pushing back against the single paragraph from that post that I quoted, including (but not limited to) the idea behind the metaphor that the TTRPG field catches a cold when D&D sneezes. But this discussion is moving away from the content and ideas of the post and venturing dangerously close to the personal, so I will put a halt now before it gets to that point.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I am fully aware of the origins of the quote that you repurposed.

I completely believe you.

Likewise I am aware that you wrote other points in your long post. However, I am pushing back against the single paragraph from that post that I quoted, including (but not limited to) the idea behind the metaphor that the TTRPG field catches a cold when D&D sneezes.

You sure? You were disagreeing with the ideas in that paragraph you quoted?

Finally, this history has to be measured in terms of what is a "flagship" product; when D&D sneezes, every other product in the TTRPG field gets a cold. It's not enough for a D&D product to be "good" or "better" than other editions, it's not sufficient that it has great design. It has to be broadly and widely popular. That is the raison d'être for D&D. People can, and do, argue endlessly about what makes D&D better or worse or good or not, but in terms of a product, D&D must always be #1. Starbucks coffee might not taste the best, but they have to careful changing it ... if you know what I mean.

So ... you disagree that D&D is a flagship product in the TTRPG space?
That D&D's goal is not simply to be a good product or design, but to be broadly and widely popular?
That to be the market leader in the TTRPG space is, in fact, the driving force behind D&D?
(Well, assuming we continue to have a capitalist system, regardless of personal opinions on that capitalist system)
Do you disagree that the goal for every edition of D&D since Gygax first dominated the market was to be #1? And that this constrains the product in certain ways?

Any of that? Or did you just want to make some other point? And use my comment as a jumping off post to argue?

But this discussion is moving away from the content and ideas of the post and venturing dangerously close to the personal, so I will put a halt now before it gets to that point.

If you wanted to halt, you just do it. You don't announce it.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
But that's how everyone stops debating on forums, isn't it? "I'm taking my ball and going home!"

But as I leave you, I want you to know: just think how much you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore. Because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.

Richard M. Nixon, 1962.
 

Aldarc

Legend
But that's how everyone stops debating on forums, isn't it? "I'm taking my ball and going home!"
Declaring an intent to disengage before things get too heated on the forums is not the same as storming off with the ball when things don't go their way and preventing others from playing.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Declaring an intent to disengage before things get too heated on the forums is not the same as storming off with the ball when things don't go their way and preventing others from playing.
That depends entirely on the person making the declaration. While I have no reason to assume your intent is less than honest, I have seen many other posters declare "I'm done here", but then quickly jump back in when they realize that didn't end the debate, or their opponent counts this as a victory (to a given definition of victory).
 

Aldarc

Legend
That depends entirely on the person making the declaration. While I have no reason to assume your intent is less than honest, I have seen many other posters declare "I'm done here", but then quickly jump back in when they realize that didn't end the debate, or their opponent counts this as a victory (to a given definition of victory).
Fair enough point.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'm not entirely sure if I entirely agree with this assessment. Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when VtM was possibly doing better than 2e D&D? Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when PF1 was competing with 4e? The future of D&D may have seen uncertain, but the rest of the TTRPG scene seemed to get along just fine from what I have read.
Well, in the years after VtM was doing better than 2e D&D, pretty much every mid sized RPG company went bankrupt or basically vanished - FASA being a prime example. And, of course, TSR as well.

So, yeah, you could pretty strongly make the argument that a weak D&D is VERY BAD for the RPG industry.
 

Well, in the years after VtM was doing better than 2e D&D, pretty much every mid sized RPG company went bankrupt or basically vanished - FASA being a prime example. And, of course, TSR as well.

So, yeah, you could pretty strongly make the argument that a weak D&D is VERY BAD for the RPG industry.

Correlation does not equal causality. There were some pretty decent-sized RPG companies that went under well before that for various causes. The truth is, its hard for an RPG company to make a go of it long term; margins are always thin and there are many opportunities to go on the rocks.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm not entirely sure if I entirely agree with this assessment. Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when VtM was possibly doing better than 2e D&D?
My take is that yes it did; as IMO TTRPG-ing as a hobby in general was pretty much on life support in the few years before WotC took over TSR. LARPing, on the other hand, was doing just fine.
Did the TTRPG field catch a cold when PF1 was competing with 4e?
No; the TTRPG hobby as a whole was generally much more robust at that point than it was during the late-2e/VtM era.
 

Staffan

Legend
Well, in the years after VtM was doing better than 2e D&D, pretty much every mid sized RPG company went bankrupt or basically vanished - FASA being a prime example. And, of course, TSR as well.

So, yeah, you could pretty strongly make the argument that a weak D&D is VERY BAD for the RPG industry.
More correlation than causality. You know what also happened in the early 90s? Magic the Gathering. That certainly didn't help the RPG business.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
More correlation than causality. You know what also happened in the early 90s? Magic the Gathering. That certainly didn't help the RPG business.

So, this is getting very far afield of the actual topic.

Just as a reminder, the actual topic is that D&D is a flagship brand, and as a dominant flagship brand, the Powers that Be have concerns when designing it other than just "good design." To quote myself, it "has to be broadly and widely popular."

That said, the whole thing about correlation does not imply causation is always trivially true (assuming you're not doing some really fancy regression analysis). I'm sure we all know the old point about "sexual assault goes up during the warmer months, ice cream sales go up during the warmer months, therefore ice cream causes sexual assault." (Confounding Variable)

That said, and remembering that overall market data is still sketchy, I think the following can be noted-
1. The first big explosion of TTRPGs occurred in the early and mid-80s. This corresponded with the cresting wave of D&D (1e).
2. The second big explosion of TTRPGs occurred in the early 2000s. This corresponded with the second wave of D&D (3e, d20).
3. The third big explosion of TTRPGs has been occurring over the last few years (see also, kickstarter). This corresponds with the third wave of D&D (5e).

Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't other games that did well at other times (e.g, WoD in the 90s). It doesn't mean that other games aren't as good, or better, than D&D (for various personal values of "good" or "better"). It's not making any forward prognostication that this is the way that the market will always be*, either (even the famous sneezing statement was later changed from France to America).

I think that there are things you can observe from this-

1. D&D is close to being a generic term for TTRPGs for laypeople.
ex. If you are going to play some other TTPRG, and you're explaining to someone who is not familiar with it, you can probably just say, "It's like D&D."

2. D&D tends to draw a LOT of new players to the overall market, and many of those new players will later play other games and/or some of them will even design other games.
-This one is kind of a big thing. D&D is, by far, the largest driver of new players into the TTRPG market. No, I don't have data, but ... do I really need it?

3. When D&D is doing well, you tend to have a much larger player base, and this player base often is more willing to experiment with other games.
-This is purely a guess, but it feels right? Eh, more research needed.

Anyway, getting back to the main point- the primacy of D&D is neither good nor bad, and it's certainly not inevitable. But that primacy is also something that will continue to drive the design decisions when it comes to D&D.


*As a quick aside, I don't count the PF/4e as a deviation from this because I count PF 1e as D&D. YMMV.
 

Orius

Hero
3. When D&D is doing well, you tend to have a much larger player base, and this player base often is more willing to experiment with other games.
-This is purely a guess, but it feels right? Eh, more research needed.

I think when D&D is popular and drawing in more new players, its role as the gateway RPG gets bigger. That is it draws in more people who are new to RPGs, and there's a larger subset of new D&D players who go on to try new games.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think when D&D is popular and drawing in more new players, its role as the gateway RPG gets bigger. That is it draws in more people who are new to RPGs, and there's a larger subset of new D&D players who go on to try new games.

Oh absolutely. The number of gamers who come into the hobby by way of DnD dwarfs any other way in.
 

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