The last ten years have seen tabletop RPGs blossom into another golden age. So much has happened–here are a few memorable moments.
Looking back from where we are in 2019 over the last decade, the amount of change in the tabletop scene is remarkable. From the rise of Indie RPGs, thanks to the life (however brief) of Google+, among other things, to new games that gave rise to their own genres, two different editions of D&D, to the sudden appearance of streaming media, and the unkillable idea of a D&D movie, there’s a lot that’s happened. Let’s take a look back at a few of the memorable moments that have happened in the past ten years.
4th Edition and Pathfinder Vie For Power
4th Edition and Pathfinder are a tale of the evolution of Dungeons and Dragons. At the tail end of the 00’s 4th Edition D&D and Pathfinder both sprung up out of a desire to fix 3.5 D&D. Where WotC published 4th Edition, their friends at Paizo, many of whom worked for Dungeon and Dragon magazine, published a reworked version of 3.5–informally called 3.75E, back in 2009.
Over the next few years, 4th Edition and Pathfinder would vie for the top spot in the RPG industry, though with slumping sales in the first few years of its life, 4th Edition lost ground to D&D, dropping to 3rd place for most sales. Pathfinder continued to evolve, growing beyond the 3.x clone it began life as. Both games continued to evolve, and in the midst of all this innovation and redesign, more games started to spring up.
The Apocalypse Powers Everything
One of the biggest indicators of the 2010s is an indie game explosion. Mirroring the video game industry, which also saw a massive bloom of indie games cropping up as the tools to both make and share their games became much more accessible–the tabletop RPG industry saw a massive amount of growth in the last decade. To the point that the “indie” games start to look a lot less Indie and can be found powering whole other versions of their games. Apocalypse World, by D. Vincent Baker, is one of the prime examples of this.
It started as a post-apocalyptic game with a heavy emphasis on archetypes and narratives and playing into the themes of the genre (in this case post-apocalyptic fiction). The story-driven system proved to be great at emulating genres that it was quickly picked up by everyone. Now you can find no end of games Powered by the Apocalypse. Here’s just a small sample:
- Dungeon World – High Fantasy hijinx
- Legacy: Life Among the Ruins – A game of survival and rebuilding after the apocalypse
- Masks – Teenage superheroes
- Monsterhearts – Teenage monsters… in high school
- Monster of the Week – Supernatural and Buffy and the X-Files all got together for this one
- The Warren – Watership Down
There were of course other games that spawned whole genres.
FATEd to Play RPGs
Fate is another game that has seen the release of many a setting and become a genre all its own. Though the first edition of FATE was originally from 2003, eventually becoming its own, pulp adventure that would go on to become Spirit of the Century, it boomed in popularity in the 2010s, starting with the Dresden Files Roleplaying Game.
In fact following its popularity a 4th Edition of the game was published, which also brought out Fate Accelerated and the Fate Core System, which has left a big mark on the RPG industry. You can, to this day, find many games that run off of Fate Core–and to think that it wouldn’t be possible without one of the biggest single moments for the RPG industry… the rise of crowdfunding.
Kickstarter Changed Literally Everything
In April 2009, no one could have guessed the impact Kickstarter was about to have on the industry. From its inception, the platform quickly blew up, providing funding to all sorts of projects–projects that a traditional publishing model might never have guessed.
Kickstarter helped connect RPGs of all shapes and sizes, from fan-favorites like the World of Darkness to indie games that only needed a few hundred dollars to get off the ground and get released as a .pdf. Kickstarter enabled fans and players and creators to back their own projects when no one else would–which is how we ended up with a two-season Critical Role animated special. Speaking of which:
Enroll in AP-Streaming
The last few years it seems like literally everyone is streaming an RPG, or if not broadcasting it live on something like Twitch or Youtube, it’s a Podcast–growing out of a rather storied history, games suddenly came to people to watch. Streamed games provided a huge boon for newer players, giving them something to reference before playing, while also giving gamers everywhere a sense of community (and a chance to see what the game is like before picking it up).
And as we turn the corner into the future, this whole genre of storytelling seems to be blooming. We’ll see what the next decade brings.
Turns Out Someone Actually Used Google+
The other big leg of the Indie RPG explosion was Google+. No, seriously. Though it was around only briefly (though not as briefly as Google Wave) Google+ was a bright star in the RPG community. Its circles of interest connected RPG designers and players all over the place. And the nature of it allowed for a broad range of games that were both designed and played across the platform.
And if you enjoy streamed games, or play online through Roll20, you’re enjoying the work of Google+ which used a simple plugin called Tabletop Forge to allow people playing using Google Hangouts to roll dice and add map overlays to their chats. Tabletop Forge eventually was incorporated into Roll20.
While Google+ has been closed down, following a coverup of a massive security flaw, the games it helped spawn: Blades in the Dark, Godbound, Stars Without Number, carry on.
5th Edition Reigns Supreme
Of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention 5th Edition. This is the version of the game that has brought more and more people into the fold. And there is no question that in 2014 the most popular version of D&D was released–it came at a perfect time, with Stranger Things just around the corner, and a set of streamlined, accessible rules that are as friendly to newbie players while still rewarding to veterans, 5th Edition has been a smash hit that’s helped shape the last five years of the industry.
With the DM’s Guild allowing fan creators to publish their own works using official D&D content, there’s been a boom of 5th Edition everywhere.
And that’s just a taste of the last decade. What games did you play? What moments helped define your decade of gaming? Let us know in the comments!