Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Wandering RPG Masters

Today, Sean Reynolds launched his kickstarter for the Five Moons RPG. To my understanding, this is his first big project since leaving Paizo earlier this year. To the design-uninitiated, I could understand if this project slipped your notice; the tagline the project is using for itself is more or less 'Pathfinder with the bits I didn't like changed.' It sounds like that one GM you know who thinks his houserules are so cool he should just publish it as his own game.

Except in this case, it's frikkin' Sean Reynolds writing the houserules. A guy who worked on D&D 3rd edition for 4 years, Pathfinder for 5 years, and even more as a freelancer is doing his version of how the game should be played. Comparisons are easily made to 13th Age by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet of D&D 3rd ed and 4th ed fame (who're running their own kickstarter), and Numenera by Monte Cook (who's kickstarter was a legend on that particular fundraising site). Wolfgang Baur may be designing for Pathfinder, but he's mostly doing it as a 3rd party products these days, making his own spin on the game (he's running his own kickstarters as well.)

The way Kickstarter is changing game design is an old subject by now, and tabletop RPGs has always been an industry built on people making things in their basements, but these days it seems like all the big names are getting out of the old D&D/Pathfinder corporate world and starting their own companies and building their own games.

Technically this move has been happening for a long time; when D&D 4th ed came out, angry retro-gamers reviving their favorite 1st ed games as a better alternative. Then Pathfinder was created as a haven for fans of 3rd edition. I've heard it said (although I'm having a devil of a time remembering the link) that D&D Next's big goal isn't so much the acquisition of new players as it is inviting old players to come give D&D another chance.

Some of them will, but I'm fairly confident that many of them won't; or at least, they'll add it to the list of other games they're also playing. Not only have players learned to love other games, but many of the great RPG developers, like wandering martial arts masters of old, have set of on pilgrimages to develop their own techniques, systems, and variations on the art form.

While I'm sure Wizards of the Coast would love to monopolize the tabletop RPG world as they once did, I don't think it will ever happen again. And I honestly think that's a good thing; I believe a bigger, more competitive marketplace will grow the hobby much more than a single monopoly. With every company and great name coming out with their own games these days, I feel like we're officially a major industry; RPG is no longer synonymous with D&D, even inside the D&D, F20 tradition. Like the formation of Europe, the great D&D empire has fallen and we've all divided into our own nations, unified in history and culture but divided in government. And perhaps, as the landscape settles, the upheaval ends, and the new RPG dynasties solidify behind these great designers, we'll find ourselves a stronger hobby for the divide.

Who knows. What I do know is that its a changing world, and there's a lot more players now. And that sounds fine to me.

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