ENWorld’s Hot Roleplaying Games – November 2014

Time to check in again on ENWorld’s chart of hot RPGs – particularly since there’s some new data being tracked which I think is particularly interesting.

As usual, remember that RPGs are scored on the chart based on what’s being actively discussed on as wide a pool of internet fora and blogs as they can find RSS feeds for. It isn’t tracking sales, and it isn’t even tracking popularity (because conceivably a game could get onto the chart if there were a sufficiently virulent negative reaction to it). Note that I’m presenting here the scores assigned to each game, not the percentages (which can tend to obscure whether there’s been a recent explosion of RPG discussion – as there has been for 5E – or whether things are comparatively quiet on the RPG talkosphere).

1	D&D 5th Edition				1404
2	FATE					 276
3	Old School Revival (OSR)		 270
4	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			 242
5	Savage Worlds				 157
6	World of Darkness			 153
7	Traveller				 120
7	Call of Cthulhu				 120
9	OD&D					 111
10	Pathfinder RPG				 108
10	D&D 4th Edition				 108
12	Dread					  89
13	Dungeon World				  86
14	Shadowrun				  82
15	AD&D 2nd Edition			  79
16	GURPS					  67
17	AD&D 1st Edition			  64
18	Dungeon Crawl Classics			  63
19	Numenera				  55
20	The Strange				  54
21	RIFTS					  49
22	13th Age				  48
23	Star Wars: Edge of the Empire		  46
23	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	  46
25	Warhammer 40K				  43
26	ICONS					  38
27	Castles & Crusades			  37
28	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	  33
29	DC Heroes				  32
30	Feng Shui				  28
31	Apocalypse World			  27
31	Star Trek				  27
33	Dragon Age				  26
34	Gumshoe					  25
35	Firefly					  22
36	Warhammer FRP				  19
37	Stars Without Number			  17
37	Earthdawn				  17
37	Deadlands				  17
40	d20 Modern				  14
40	BESM					  14
42	The One Ring				  13
43	Colonial Gothic				  12
43	Eclipse Phase				  12
45	Exalted					  11
46	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			  10
47	All Flesh Must Be Eaten			   9
48	Iron Kingdoms				   8
48	Gamma World				   8
50	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		   7
50	A Song of Ice & Fire			   7
50	HERO System / Champions			   7
53	CORTEX System				   6
53	Hackmaster				   6
53	Aberrant				   6
56	Mutant Chronicles			   5
57	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	   4
58	Ars Magica				   3
58	Star Wars (d6)				   3
58	d20 Future				   3
58	Brave New World				   3
62	Paranoia				   2
62	TMNT					   2
62	Fading Suns				   2
62	Marvel SAGA				   2
66	Chainmail				   1
66	True20					   1
66	Runequest				   1
66	Smallville				   1
70	Alternity				   0
70	Golden Heroes / Squadron UK		   0
70	Ashen Stars				   0
70	Hobomancer				   0
70	Rotted Capes				   0
70	Villians & Vigilantes			   0
70	Silver Age Sentinels			   0
70	Other Superhero RPGs			   0
70	Marvel Super Heroes			   0
--	Dnd/Pathfinder				 DNC
--	Stage					 DNC
*DNC = Did Not Chart

1	Paizo					 256
2	Wizards of the Coast			 107

Note that according to the chart page a 0 score doesn’t mean nobody’s mentioned a particular game – a statistically significant sample has shown up but no more than that. For sanity’s sake I’m only tracking zero-scores which previously scored. Games which did not chart presumably either failed to even yield a statistically significant sample or have had their categories retired from the chart (as appears to be the case with the redundant Dnd/Pathfinder category).

What you will notice at the bottom of the chart is that ENWorld has started tracking the levels of traffic for Paizo and Wizards’ official discussion boards. As the chart page on ENWorld explains, typically they don’t track official fora, on the basis that it would skew the charts unless every single official forum were tracked. Weirdly, they seem to be including the fora in the main charts, but this seems to be exactly the sort of apples to oranges comparison they claim to want to avoid, so I have separated them out here.

Here’s the chart of what’s moved and how much:

1	D&D 5th Edition				  =
2	FATE					 +1
3	Old School Revival (OSR)		 +1
4	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			 -2
5	Savage Worlds				 +1
6	World of Darkness			 +1
7	Traveller				 +4
7	Call of Cthulhu				 +2
9	OD&D					 +1
10	Pathfinder RPG				 -5
10	D&D 4th Edition				 -2
12	Dread					 +4
13	Dungeon World				 -1
14	Shadowrun				  =
15	AD&D 2nd Edition			 -3
16	GURPS					 +1
17	AD&D 1st Edition			+17
18	Dungeon Crawl Classics			  =
19	Numenera				 +3
20	The Strange				 -1
21	RIFTS					 +3
22	13th Age				 -7
23	Star Wars: Edge of the Empire		 -2
23	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	 -3
25	Warhammer 40K				 -3
26	ICONS					 +1
27	Castles & Crusades			 -1
28	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	  =
29	DC Heroes				 +6
30	Feng Shui				 -6
31	Apocalypse World			 -3
31	Star Trek				 -1
33	Dragon Age				 -1
34	Gumshoe					 +6
35	Firefly					 -3
36	Warhammer FRP				 +1
37	Stars Without Number			 -7
37	Earthdawn				 +3
37	Deadlands				  =
40	d20 Modern				 -5
40	BESM					 -3
42	The One Ring				 -2
43	Colonial Gothic				 -7
43	Eclipse Phase				  =
45	Exalted					 +2
46	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			 -3
47	All Flesh Must Be Eaten			 +3
48	Iron Kingdoms				 -3
48	Gamma World				 -1
50	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		 -1
50	A Song of Ice & Fire			  =
50	HERO System / Champions			 -5
53	CORTEX System				 -3
53	Hackmaster				 -3
53	Aberrant				 +3
56	Mutant Chronicles			  =
57	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	+10
58	Ars Magica				 -8
58	Star Wars (d6)				 +3
58	d20 Future				 -2
58	Brave New World				 +3
62	Paranoia				 +5
62	TMNT					 -1
62	Fading Suns				 -6
62	Marvel SAGA				 -1
66	Chainmail				 +1
66	True20					 -5
66	Runequest				 +1
66	Smallville				 -5
70	Alternity				 -3
70	Golden Heroes / Squadron UK		 -3
70	Ashen Stars				 -3
70	Hobomancer				 -3
70	Rotted Capes				 -3
70	Villians & Vigilantes			 -3
70	Silver Age Sentinels			 -3
70	Other Superhero RPGs			-14
70	Marvel Super Heroes			 -3
--	Dnd/Pathfinder				 DNC
--	Stage					 DNC
*DNC = Did Not Chart

The tracking of the Paizo and Wizards official fora are particularly interesting. We can’t necessarily assume that 100% of the scores for those fora apply to those two companies’ flagship games – even assuming that ENWorld’s tracking is clever enough to ignore the “Off-topic” subfora in the relevant places and only track the game-related subfora (which would require both Paizo and Wizards to have implemented RSS feeds for individual subfora, it seems likely that at least some discussion of other games will happen there, and in particular I’d expect the Wizards forum to include discussion of past D&D editions (particularly since Wizards officially sells those through DNDClassics.com, and consequently has no particular reason to discourage conversations about past editions provided they don’t turn into toxic flamewars).

Equally, precisely because the official forums for other games, you can’t just add the Paizo score to the Pathfinder score to demonstrate that Pathfinder should be ranked above FATE, because we don’t know how busy the official FATE forum is.

At the same time, it seems to me that we can infer some interesting things by comparing the scores for the fora in question to the scores for the relevant publisher’s flagship games. The Wizards forum score, whilst at a level which compares favourably to that of the top 10 games, is absolutely miniscule compared to the score for D&D 5th Edition, which demonstrates that by far the bulk of discussion about 5E happens out in the wild: whilst Wizards have built a community which is nothing to sneeze at, D&D is such a big deal that it’s spoken of well outside of the bounds of the official community, which is a decent measure of widespread influence as any.

Conversely, if we assume that the majority of the score for the Paizo forums does correspond to discussion about Pathfinder – and if it doesn’t, I question ENWorld’s decision to track this score in the first place – then that means that the amount of Pathfinder discussion on the official forums actually outweighs the amount of Pathfinder discussion that takes place on the wider Internet. I suspect that this may turn out to be a mixed blessing for Pathfinder‘s long-term prospects. On the one hand, having a fairly centralised player community is obviously commercially useful for Paizo – not only can they easily market to the bulk of the Pathfinder audience through their website, but it’s also presumably useful for pushing the organised play angle as well as hyping the fun of everyone playing along in the same adventure paths together, which I understand to be part of the appeal of Paizo’s business model (and something which Wizards seem to be trying to imitate to a limited extent with stuff like Tyranny of Dragons).

On the other hand, if most Pathfinder discourse is based around the official forum and the community is quite centralised, then that can lead to the Pathfinder community becoming a walled-off niche of the hobby rather than enjoying the more widespread appreciation D&D 5E is currently getting. Although it’s dangerous to assume that the preferences of people who post on message boards necessarily represent the preferences of the bulk of your audience, at the same time the extent to which Pathfinder discussion is concentrated on the official forum means that whatever the groupthink happens to be there is likely to be a very loud voice when it comes to assessing what the community wants.

When making choices about the future direction of the game, Paizo – like anyone else – is going to have to make a call between pandering to what the enthusiastic core fanbase wants and trying to do something which might grow the game amongst audiences who hadn’t previously given it much time, at the risk of turning off their core base. If most of the discussion happens on the official forums, that suggests to me that Pathfinder may be much more reliant on its core base than on more peripheral fans than other games may be, which means that the potential bad consequences of pissing off the hardcore base are much larger.

This may go double for a game like Pathfinder. Whilst any D&D-alike by Paizo might have drawn attention from the 3E fanbase, due to Paizo’s much-praised custodianship of Dragon and Dungeon magazines (and Wizards’ downright bizarre decision to let Paizo keep the subscriber lists for both magazines, giving them an instant head start on marketing), I think it is hard to deny that Pathfinder wouldn’t be as big as it presently is were it not for a substantial revolt against D&D 4E by an angry fanbase. Given that Pathfinder has largely built its house on such a reactionary foundation, any outrage amongst the Pathfinder fanbase over a perceived “betrayal” or dilution of the game seems to me to be likely to be even more volatile than it would be for other games. After all, many of those Pathfinder fans already rebelled against one game line which went in a direction they didn’t like – even those who previously had no interest in or knowledge of RPGs beyond D&D – and presumably have few qualms about doing it again.

Of course, it’s hard to make any firm conclusions based on just one set of data, so we’ll see how this holds up over time.

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