This is Audio EXP for the 24th of July 2021, and the title of this episode is “The pressure on D&D, Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro”
Update – 25 July 2021: In this podcast, I share the inference that Magnetic Press Play’s licensed D6 System conversions and supplements will include Call of Cthulhu. While MPP is believed to be working on CoC, Geek Native now understands that that project is not one of the D6 System conversions.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #106]
In the RPG Publisher Spotlight this month we have Grognardia Games.
You might have known that already because I’ve said it in previous podcasts, and maybe you read the Geek Native blog. I’m toying with the idea of making mention of the RPG Publisher Spotlight every week to turn up the spotlight beam and give the monthly winner even more attention.
Since there are no sponsors and won’t be, it feels like a potential thing to do without a clash. Happy to hear your thoughts, and you can get in touch with me via email or the contact form on Geek Native.
It’s Geek Native’s patrons who get to vote on the monthly spotlight. This week I announced another gift for patrons at any tier. A digital copy of Good Strong Hands, The Neverending Story inspired RPG from NerdBurger. If you’re not yet a patron but sign-up before the 29th, you’ll get a copy too.
My headline news this week is about Magnetic Press Play. The news got coverage around the web, but not much buzz. I think it’s pretty exciting.
An international company called Polarity makes games and films; they’re getting into tabletop publishing via their own companies. That company is Magnetic Press, and the new imprint is Magnetic Press Play. They’ll make tabletop RPGs, card games and board games.
Their first game is an adaptation of Carbon Grey. That’s already a comic book series that mixes dieselpunk warfare with the paranormal, and maybe it’s not well enough known to create buzz. The fact that Andrew Gaska of the Aliens RPG, also of The Terminator RPG, might have made gamers take note.
Here’s where it absolutely should start to create buzz.
Carbon Grey will use a version of the D6 System under license from West End Games. I didn’t think we’d hear West End Games’ name ever again; it’s a classic publisher from years gone by. They did Star Wars, yes, Star Wars and even had a Ghostbusters game.
It gets even more dramatic. Another game that Magnetic Press Play will do is Call of Cthulhu and import that to their modified D6 System. I’ve not had Chaosium tap on my door about the article, so I conclude it’s all licensed. [Update: They got in touch. A project is happening, but it is not a system conversion.]
Those are the tabletop RPGs announced. Since they’re working on card games, board games and clearly know people, I hope you see why I thought this was buzzworthy news.
A story that did get buzz came from Critical Role. No surprise. Critical Role’s own games imprint Darlington Press has announced its first tabletop RPG too; it’s a supplement for D&D 5e, it’s a world setting, but it’s not a new one. They’ll be doing the second edition of the Tal’Dorei campaign setting in a book called Tal’Dorei Reborn.
Green Ronin did the first one, and I notice those books are now on eBay for hundreds of dollars, probably as a result of this new news.
Matthew Mercer will lead the book with James Haeck and Hannah Rose on board.
There’s already a Beadle & Grimm deluxe edition announced. I think deluxe editions are here to stay, an excellent way to support the tabletop community and a good thing all around. We’ll be talking a bit more about collectors editions and the economics of the tabletop a bit more on this podcast and not just about the pressure of expectations that D&D and Wizards of the Coast must be under.
Bob Watts will know something of life at Wizards of the Coast. He was Vice President there for a while. Among other high profile roles, he was also CEO of Privateer Press for a time.
This week Watts announced the creation of Trans Atlantis Games. It’s a new games company, but it’ll lean heavily towards partnerships and use its logistics experience and design skills to help partners get into the 3d space. Minis, terrains and stuff like that, in other words; not words on books.
Trans Atlantis Games may be one to watch, but that might be most true if you’re an RPG or games professional.
Partnerships are interesting in their own rights. We’ve got that one between West End Games and Magnetic Press Play, the Trans Atlantis Games offer, and there’s also now a collaboration between Handiwork Games and Nightfall Games. Handiwork is about to launch the a|state Kickstarter, and Nightfall Games are working on The Terminator RPG. All partnerships.
They’ve announced Harrowvale. Harrowvale will be a 5e setting but it feels bleak. The art is all gloomy and what we know of the book so far is that it’ll be all about trying to scrape together the coins to escape the place.
I’m sure Nightfall and Handiwork will make it work, but sometimes it doesn’t.
It looks like partnerships with new printers, and those not quite working, are part of the problems at Modiphius, and The Elder Scrolls game Call to Arms.
I don’t have the game, so I can’t comment first-hand on how bad the problems are, but it sounds terrible. It sounds like the rules contradict themselves and that the physical quality of the problem isn’t even fit for purpose.
“Fit for purpose” was the phrase Modiphius used in a blog post that announced they would be pausing development on the game and giving people free physical copies of replacement rulebooks. That’s very unusual and is both a nod to the size of the problem and how seriously Modiphius is taking it.
The free replacements aren’t the only good news. Modiphius has a recovery plan, is committed to the game for at least 18 more months, and the pause is only temporary.
Any sort of skirmish or wargame is a big physical commitment, or usually. You need space.
An example of another physical commitment is the decision to hang a life-sized Wand of Orcus on your wall.
You’ll soon be able to do that and display the fierce skull mounted on the black staff to visitors, thanks to WizKids. Orcus is the Lord of the Undead in D&D, the Master of Vampires, the Ruler of Thanatos in the Abyss.
On the other hand, one of the most popular stories on Geek Native this week was a wargame story that doesn’t require lots of models, let alone life-size demon weapons, and painting on a scale that might require a partnership with Trans Atlantis Games.
That story was my review of Mat Coville’s Kingdoms & Warfare supplement for D&D.
It really can transform your D&D into a hybrid wargame and roleplaying game. I think it works, although it took me a little while to get into the rules.
It also has a system for tracking intrigue between factions, their rise and fall and, more importantly, the benefits of player characters rising within those factions.
Those two rule sets tie together so you can run D&D as a game with PCs as mercenaries in a company, starting off as petty officers perhaps and then getting promoted through bravery and commanding troops on the field. You could absorb other rival companies, squash rivals and here comes the MCDM tie-in, end up with your own Fortress or Stronghold.
I said it was a popular story this week; it did get a retweet from Matt Colville himself; which helped. I had an assist. I was the assist!
As you’d expect, there was no shortage of other D&D news this week. Upfront, in the highlights, for me was Strixhaven. WotC don’t talk to me, but those blogs that are getting press access are calling Strixhaven a supplement that reminds them of college life drama or, Hogwarts drama and Harry Potter.
That makes sense; D&D could do this. I think it should, too, with an eye to the future media properties from the franchise. You know any TV show can’t be a series of 40-minute battles or tunnel treks. There will be inter-personal drama. Embrace it now, create a thing with value, and make it yours.
The other big news from Strixhaven is that it dumps the approach to subclasses tested in Unearthed Arcana. Those subclasses were tied to specific colleges like Ravenclaw, sorry, no that’s Harry Potter; Strixhaven had colleges like Lorehold and Witherbloom. As the subclasses belonged to colleges, then more than one D&D character class could, in theory, progress into it.
In an interview, Jeremy Crawford said fans hated it, and so Wizards moved to dump it. Everyone who I’ve spoken to, though, really liked the approach and think WotC has made a mistake here. What do you think?
Now, there are some threads to start tying together here. We’ve talked about collectors editions of books, rule updates for books, partnerships and businesses models.
Perhaps a story that reflects all those is Cubicle 7’s reveal of the Collector’s version of the 2nd edition of the Doctor Who RPG.
Frankly, it looks awesome. I don’t need it; I want it. I don’t yet know if I can afford it, probably not.
The slipcase is a blue TARDIS with front opening doors to reveal the insides of a TARDIS. Collectors Editions like this are a reason to leap on the Kickstarter and go big, not wait for retail.
The cover art on the main edition is good but standard. It’s also by Will Brooks, an artist often used by other Doctor Who publishers like Titan Comics. Cubicle 7 was missing from all the Doctor Who publisher crossover events in recent years, that needs to change, and perhaps this new edition is a hint that it might.
Let’s just stick with Cubicle 7 for a bit. Cubicle 7 will be bringing Space Hulk rules to Wrath & Glory. That’s the Warhammer 40K partnership they picked up from Games Workshop.
The supplement to look out for is called Redacted Records, does contain Genestealer rules, so I’ve no idea why they didn’t just call it Space Hulks. Perhaps a decision from Games Workshop, who can be mercurial at times.
Also, in sci-fi news, Paizo Publishing announced a new Starfinder playtest for The Evolutionist path. We don’t have the details yet, but I think it hints at transhuman vibes, which is a good option for Starfinder to have.
It’ll be free to take part in the playtest.
Wizards of the Coast have been using free to help promote an internal partnership, that’s the D&D and Magic: The Gathering crossover. We’re onto the fourth freebie adventure, which are a series, with Deepest Night.
Want an example of what Wizards of the Coast could do with a D&D-verse, especially with Magic: The Gathering adding weight; these adventures are your teasers.
Before we get to the future of D&D, and I know I’ve pretty much left the headlines of the podcast to the end, let’s take a quick look backwards.
You can now buy the game that became D&D in softcover. Chainmail is now a softcover option at DriveThruRPG for print-on-demand.
If you are happy with PDFs, then good news there too, as the wargame is also part of the Christmas in July sale.
D&D continues to be, by miles, the best selling RPG in the market. ICv2’s latest report is out and D&D at the top was a forgone conclusion.
Cyberpunk, though, is now in second place. Remember when Cyberpunk RED came out? It was ages ago. The game is looking like no flash in the pan. It’s got legs.
Pathfinder is in 3rd place, Free League Publishing’s Alien RPG is in fourth place, and the weight of third-party 5e supplements are in fifth.
That Alien RPG in fourth place, the one challenging Pathfinder, that’s the RPG that Andrew Gaska contributed to, the same Andrew Gaska that Magnetic Press Play assigned to write the Carbon Grey RPG.
That’s not to say the tabletop games industry is all about clever ideas to make money. However, to make money in this hobby industry, you absolutely need a clever idea.
GAMA, the Games Manufacturers Association, is giving money and advice away. They’ve announced the Horizons Fellowship which offers mentors to start-up designers and retailers who hail from traditionally underrepresented communities. It’s worth $30,000 in total, but one talented designer and one retailer will get a $5,000 grant boost.
Could it be you? Details on the blog.
I played and reviewed a game this week that was all about communities. It’s, ah, we might need to coin a phrase for it — what about “competitive story game”?
The RPG is called Radial Commune, costs a few bucks at Itch.io, and is all about trying to help a community rebuild after the end of the world as we know it while other and more traditional communities try the same and sabotage you.
There’s no GM; you work together to improvise what happens. However, you have characters with different roles and abilities. Despite being a story game, you can lose. In fact, some of the game is about not being the loser, not while someone else wins, so you sometimes use dice to act against the other players in your collaborative story of survival.
Original, huh? I think it’s worth your cash. I really do.
Now, there was no pressure for Radial Commune to succeed. At least, that’s an assumption I’m making. Hundreds of jobs didn’t depend on this indie and perhaps helped it explore in bold new directions.
This weekend it’s been confirmed that the co-writer of the TV show Eureka and one-time Boom! Studios co-founder Andrew Cosby is writing a D&D TV show.
We don’t know if that’s the same one that John Wick-writer Derek Kolstad is shaping and helping Hasbro sell to networks, it might be, but it might also be an additional one.
With this knowledge granted to us by a digital session at SDCC, we can look back for clues on Andrew’s Twitter, and there’s a big one. The synopsis might well be about a glittering city set in the middle of a baren and deadly land, a city that beguiles your sense of time, seduces you and distracts you while you’re effectively removed from your belongings. Las Vegas is an example.
This, I think, is the pressure that Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast and D&D are under. After record years of growth, now with the lockdown beginning to ease and with dozens of big new players in the landscape – like Bloomsbury and Osprey, Rebellion, Andrews McMeel, Polarity and Magnetic Press Play – what do they do next to keep shareholders happy? That’s a legal requirement, by the way.
I argue they need to find new ways for D&D to grow, keep the game D&D, and add new branches. For example, like a Strixhaven social drama that might make for good TV. Or computer games. Or a digital subscription model. Or $750 collectors edition models, which, by the way, is a thing and on pre-order at the official WizKids & DnD partnership shop as the D&D Icons of the Realms: The Wild Beyond the Witchlight Collector’s Edition miniature box.
And is there is where all this week’s threads seem to tie together, right? Try different things, make it easy or free to get involved, make sure upsells are possible and make sure those people with the money to invest in their hobby can go big with you. I think we’re back to shows and movies about Las Vegas and conversations about whales, those high rolling customers, and designing things to keep people happy and spending their money.
I don’t mind as long as I’m happy and people aren’t being hurt, but I see the gamble and risks that Wizards of the Coast must feel have to be made. What if they pick a direction, jump, and there’s nothing there. What if the market data was wrong.
I also see why indie platforms like Itch.io are doing well. And that’s where I found Radial Commune.
But we’re not done. There are two bundles and one competition to tell you about.
First up, Evil Hat Productions has a large Fate deal on the Bundle of Holding. That’s about $335 worth of goodies if you beat the moving target of the threshold price, and some money goes to charity.
Pelgrane Press also have a 13th Age bundle at Humble. That has more tiers, but at the top, there’s $383 worth of content for the fantasy game, you need about twenty bucks to secure that, and a portion of your money goes to charity.
The competition is over at Geek Native and is for the upcoming Kickstarter project Liches: Dance Macabre. You’ll get a coupon for the final 5e and Pathfinder supplement, the beta copy right away and two other prizes.
On that note, let’s wrap there. Keep safe, keep your undead soul tucked away, and we’ll see you next week.
Your considerate thoughts are welcome. Do you have something to add to this article? Please let us know in the comments below.