This is Audio EXP for the 7th of August 2021, and the title of this episode is “What does Avatar Legends and its $3m Kickstarter Powered by the Apocalypse game mean for the RPG industry? “
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #107]
I know, that’s hardly a catch title, but it’s in my mind this week, and it’ll be good to get your thoughts on the topic. You can contact me via the blog.
But first, in the RPG Publisher Spotlight this month we have Trash Mob Minis.
There’s also the thorny issue of which musical instrument feels most appropriate for a fantasy setting.
That’s the most recent write-up and newly relaunched evergreen poll on the site.
For me, I immediately go to the Mines of Moria when the party begins to hear the goblin drums in the darkness. From there, it’s easy for me to think of all sorts of other drumming scenarios, from rituals to marching warbands.
I’m in the minority so far. Here are the top three musical instruments from the original competition poll.
- In third place and with 14.79% of the vote – the Mandolin.
- In second place and with 32.54% of the vote – the Harp.
- And the winner and with 37.28% of the vote – the Flute.
Curiously, no one has voted for Flute in the relaunched poll. Not yet. Not at the time, this highlights show was being recorded. Perhaps you will, and you can find links to this post and all others from the transcript link in the show notes.
This week’s highlights are very much around the changes coming to the tabletop industry, whatever they are.
Let’s kick off with the purchase of the world’s longest-running RPG publishing company. That’s not Wizards of the Coast, they have D&D through TSR, and TSR has closed several times.
So the title falls to Flying Buffalo, who publish Tunnels & Trolls, the world’s second-oldest traditional tabletop RPG.
This week, Webbed Sphere has confirmed they’ve bought the company.
I admit; I hadn’t heard about Webbed Sphere before, and they don’t have much of an internet footprint.
But I did some digging, and they’re at least $40m big.
They own some retail brands in the States like Toy Vault, Gambit Press and Troll and Toad.
Webbed Sphere also does behind the scenes work such as supplying commerce and cataloguing software to geeky hobby stores and providing logistics services.
I suspect they make money being a corporate landlord too.
I start here, not just because we can speculate what a company with $40m in revenue will do with Tunnels & Trolls, but to note how Webbed Sphere is interested in keeping the physical aspect of the hobby alive. They need books and shops.
Sure, they could extend their commerce software further into eCommerce. Still, success will have to be large enough to compensate for any shrinkage caused by gamers visiting stores less often, fewer retailers and fewer physical shipments.
This very firmly brings us on to the most successful RPG Kickstarter of all time; Avatar Legends from Magpie Games.
Magpie has been clear that a big reason they’re running Avatar Legends through Kickstarter is to act as a direct to customer pre-order feature.
There is a retailer pledge option, but it does not include the core book. For $120, retailers can get 4 times all the PDFs the campaign creates and 4 times all the other physical stretch goals.
I’m not saying this is wrong; I’m saying this is different and change.
Now, with plenty of time to run Avatar Legends is safely beyond the $3m mark on Kickstarter.
If you don’t know the animations The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra, it’s worth a quick recap. These are American-made anime stories set in different eras in a fantasy world.
The stories are diverse, LBGT friendly, and if you use “social justice warrior” as a pejorative, then you might not enjoy them.
The RPG is a multi-year franchise deal, and it doesn’t use 5e. It will use Powered by the Apocalypse.
Last week, I reviewed the Stargate 5e RPG. I think I said in Audio EXP that it’s very different from 5e sometimes. It’s like two systems in one.
I was talking about that because some people complained that the game shouldn’t have been 5e. I don’t think it matters, but I can imagine the lure of 5E, the D&D system, helped Wyvern Gaming secure the license.
“D&D, you say?” says some TV franchise executive, “I’ll have a slice of that pie for as little financial risk as possible. Thank you”. I imagine that might happen.
I think $3m and climbing will mean conversations like that will happen less often. Whether it’s actually a good game or not, the dollar success of this Powered by the Apocalypse RPG will show entertainment companies and other franchise holders that it doesn’t need to be the Hasbro-owned 5e.
Of course, plenty of big names already have other systems. Even if none of them are 5e size successes.
In particular, Terminator has gone to Nightfall who are using their barely known S5S system.
The Doctor Who RPG, from Cubicle 7, uses the Vortex System.
Star Trek uses Modiphius’ 2d20.
It just so happens that I’ve Star Trek Adventures RPG news.
Not only will Modphius publish a Players Guide for the RPG, a Gamesmaster’s Guide and a Shackleton Expanse book, but they’re also doing a The Original Series themed Tricorder edition which fits into a Tricorder cosplaying bag.
Weirdly, those are all European publishers. Cortex will be another example, with the Fandom owned system doing Masters of the Universe and Dragon Prince.
And Cortex, back when it was a Margaret Weis Productions property, might also be the cautionary note here. There’s a trap to avoid around franchise fever.
Fandom is a very different company from Margaret Weis Productions. I’ve had Google Alerts about them reveal data-led digital marketing jobs in the company. They work with companies that have created hype, and their wiki sites use ads to turn that hype into money. The move into marketplaces is new, with one coming for Cortex and Fanatical already secured.
What Fandom doesn’t currently have is a virtual tabletop. It’s not as if Roll20’s role as market leader is unchallengeable, Fantasy Grounds has been stalwart, Astral has OneBookShelf’s backing, Demiplane is whatever it is, but most significantly, there’s the indie darling in FoundryVTT.
FoundryVTT is popular because it takes a step back away from the marketplace model and isn’t tied to any one of them. Just this week, fans created a FoundryVTT module for Wildjammer, and that’s a 5e port of Spelljammer. Meanwhile, FASA benefitted from loyalists creating an Earthdawn 4e module for FoundryVTT as well. That’s now official.
I’ve talked about the links between virtual tabletops and marketplaces before. A problem for gamers is that the investment required to get going in tabletop RPGs becomes higher and contains more risk.
No one is going to take your old AD&D books away from you, even if society changes. But someone could pull the plug on Demiplane, for example, if it came to it. Fandom might lose their D&D Beyond license with Wizards of the Coast. Heck, Wizards of the Coast have already gone through the cycle of creating, releasing and then discontinuing D&D software.
The more alternatives to 5e there are, the more expensive it gets; you might need more sets of different core rules to play what your friends are playing. I like to think it’ll be worth it.
But, franchise fever, if Avatar Legends starts an outbreak, won’t help.
We’re talking about two things at the same time. I didn’t expect them to become so tangled.
We’re talking about discovery – if there’s a lot of content out there, how do you find what’s good, especially if it costs money to find out.
We’re also talking about ownership – whether it’s of your games, of licenses and so forth.
I’ve three timely examples from this week’s RPG news that touch on both. Three Kickstarters.
The first is Ex Libris. This is already a Mork Borg site and has now raised thousands on Kickstarter to pay for its own maintenance and expansion into other RPG lines.
You use Ex Libris for discovery. The site helps you find Mork Borg content, or, if you have it, to put it under the eyes of people who might be looking for it.
Ex Libris links to other sites for these downloads. It’s not a hosting platform.
The second is Arkhanne, spelt with ‘kh’ and two ‘ns’, which talks about being the Netflix of D&D homebrew.
As I wrote in my write-up of that Kickstarter, I can’t give you legal advice, and you’ll find none here; but commercial platforms have to be careful how they use brands like D&D.
However, the pitch is straightforward and mainly to content creators; put your homebrew material here and earn money.
You pay a Netflix or Spotify-style subscription fee as customers, and you can try all these new games for free. It solves the barrier to discovery problem, and Arkhaane will very much want you to try as many different diverse games as possible because that it’s business model.
The challenge both sites face is that they solve problems that people might not know they have and not looking to solve. You don’t know what you’re missing.
I wonder if the third example might be more powerful then, even if it’s less direct. The platform is the Never Ending Dungeon and it generates never-ending dungeon designs for you, including monsters and encounters, which means it can then become a solo RPG for you.
The Kickstarter includes physical map tiles, which leads me to speculate whether they’re planning a marketplace with the tile generator. You could unlock other tile designs or order quality physical copies.
Map design is a problem gamers are aware of and are looking to solve, leading them to the Never Ending Dungeon and its accompanying marketplace.
I don’t think the success of Avatar Legends will increase the need for more dungeons. Although it may increase the number of tabletop gamers, I do think it’ll boost the demand for discovery solutions and, as a result, the importance of marketplaces.
I also think Avatar Legends will increase the connection between creative franchises and tabletop games. This week’s news contains examples of this. Three, in fact.
Sadly, this second example of things happening in threes is my last one. I couldn’t find a third.
My first example of comic book tie-ins is Helm Greycastle. This Latinx comic book raised thousands on Kickstarter; issue one comes with a 5e one-shot set in the same world.
DriveThruRPG and sister site DriveThruComics are busy promoting it, and it makes sense for them to do so.
Do you know how you can get branded stickers for Snapchat, Telegram and other platforms? DriveThruComics should make it easy and desirable for their merchants to provide branded virtual map tokens of their characters for Astral Tabletop.
Taking the lo-fi approach so far is Outland Entertainment. They’ve been carefully increasing their own RPG content, usually doing comics and books. This week they’ve announced they’ve bought the license to Michael Rookard’s Galefire series.
There will be an RPG for it, but it won’t be their own Tombpunk system. It’ll be 5e.
The third example, another big one, is from a publisher in the Polarity family. Polarity own Oni-Lion Forge, the comic book publisher. They also own Magnetic Press and, yes, this is the Carbon Grey news.
That mech-mini heavy RPG is now live on Kickstarter and funded within the day.
I honestly think these news strands are all connected around the changing tabletop industry, and I believe Avatar Legends is now a lightning rod for that change. It’ll both light up these changes for more people to see and provide power for more to happen.
But, let’s get on with some other news.
The UK Games Expo happened. I appreciated the video coverage of the physical event from OnTableTop and was pleased to see so many masks worn. Unfortunately, the UK Games Expo Awards ceremony was unusual in that it was seen by plenty but didn’t have quite such a high mask count.
Osprey Games won lots of awards, with Stargrave doing very well. Kitara, Excavation Earth, Escape the Dark Sector and Village Green also did well.
In RPGs, the ALIEN RPG Destroyer of Worlds won Best Adventure, The Compendium of Equestria, the My Little Pony game from River Horse, and Land of the Rising Sun from Brittania Games took prizes from the Best Role-Playing Expansion, while Vaesen from Free League and The Dee Sanction from All Rolled Up took the prizes from Best Role-Playing Game.
Sadly, it’s not all good news this week. Highmoon Press has announced they’re leaving the business. There’s currently “everything must go” sales on DriveThruRPG and Gumroad for Daniel’s games. They’ll be deleted or given away at the end of the month.
Elsewhere in the industry, during the live part of FunKon, actor Joe Manganiello hinted at a big D&D project. We know there are two TV series in the works.
Modiphius announced yet another license, but it’s neither a skirmish game nor a roleplaying game. Instead, they’re getting a 007-themed board game called Spectre. You play as a criminal mastermind working for Spectre.
I look forward to seeing what Manganiello might be working on and to playing Spectre. I’ve already had the chance to check out the first episode of the forthcoming Sakugan.
It’s a mechs, monsters and miners show. And by miners, I mean underground workers who dig out ore.
Episode one takes us to all sorts of emotions, and I look forward to episode two.
It’s also the start of the month, week one. That means Geek Native patrons can vote in the September 2021 RPG Publisher Spotlight.
The candidates are;
- Play by Action Gaming
- Sanguine Productions
- Jay Dragon / Possum Creek Games
- Jack Harrison / Mousehole Press
- Starshine Scribbles
There are two bundles to call out. Had there been three, I’d have my trilogy of trilogies for you, but alas, only two made the cut.
The first is from Chthonstone Games, once known as Red Box Vancouver, and partners Lampblack & Brimstone. They’ve a host of Dungeon World goodies for you.
The second is on Humble and contains many hundreds of Dollars of Isekai manga from Kodansha. The top tier is barely $20s, so that’s amazing value.
That leaves news of another Geek Native thank you gift for last. Patreons will get a copy of The Gunblade, or anyone who signs up in the next few days.
On that note, let’s wrap there. Keep safe, become a legend, and we’ll see you next week.
What are your thoughts? Strike up a discussion and leave a comment below.