ENWorld’s Hot Roleplaying Games – August 2015

It’s the start of a month and the start of GenCon, so this is an interesting time to check in on ENWorld’s list of hot RPGs. (It’ll be particularly interesting to see how the buzz from GenCon affects the discussion landscape in the next month or so.) Usual reminder applies: RPGs are scored on the chart based on what’s being actively discussed on as wide a pool of internet fora and blogs as ENWorld 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). What I present here are the scores assigned to each game, not the percentages (which can tend to obscure whether there’s been a recent explosion of RPG discussion – for example, as associated with the D&D 5E release – or whether things are comparatively quiet on the RPG talkosphere).

First up, let’s get the rankings and absolute scores:

1	D&D 5th Edition				1086
2	Pathfinder RPG				 357
3	Old School Revival (OSR)		 241
4	FATE					 237
5	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			 181
6	World of Darkness			 177
7	D&D 4th Edition				 126
8	Savage Worlds				  93
9	Call of Cthulhu				  83
10	Dragon Age/Fantasy AGE/AGE		  72
11	Traveller				  70
11	Shadowrun				  70
13	Dread					  63
14	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	  59
14	GURPS					  59
16	Dungeon World				  55
17	ICONS					  54
18	Stars Without Number			  47
19	Numenera				  37
19	Warhammer 40K				  37
21	Exalted					  32
22	The Strange				  29
23	Apocalypse World			  23
24	13th Age				  20
25	Deadlands				  19
25	What's OLD is NEW			  19
25	Gumshoe					  19
28	Dungeon Crawl Classics			  18
29	OD&D					  17
30	Warhammer FRP				  16
31	Firefly					  15
32	d20 Modern				  14
32	RIFTS					  14
34	Feng Shui				  13
34	All Flesh Must Be Eaten			  13
36	The One Ring				  12
37	AD&D 1st Edition			  11
37	AD&D 2nd Edition			  11
39	Iron Kingdoms				  10
40	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	   9
40	HERO System / Champions			   9
40	A Song of Ice & Fire			   9
40	CORTEX System				   9
44	Hackmaster				   8
44	Earthdawn				   8
46	Ars Magica				   7
46	Eclipse Phase				   7
48	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		   6
48	Gamma World				   6
50	Star Trek				   5
51	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			   4
51	Star Wars (FFG)				   4
51	Other Superhero RPGs			   4
54	TMNT					   3
54	BESM					   3
54	Castles & Crusades			   3
57	Smallville				   2
57	Ashen Stars				   2
57	Aberrant				   2
57	Runequest				   2
57	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	   2
57	Colonial Gothic				   2
57	Rotted Capes				   2
64	Star Wars (d6)				   1
64	Fading Suns				   1
64	Mutant Chronicles			   1
64	Paranoia				   1
64	Silver Age Sentinels			   1
64	Marvel SAGA				   1
70	True20					   0
70	Hobomancer				   0
70	d20 Future				   0
70	Alternity				   0
70	Brave New World				   0
70	DC Heroes				   0
70	Villians & Vigilantes			   0
70	Marvel Super Heroes			   0
70	Golden Heroes / Squadron UK		   0
70	Chainmail				   0
--	Dnd/Pathfinder				 DNC
--	Stage					 DNC
*DNC = Did Not Chart

Note that yet again the OSR score includes a contribution from Stars Without Number, which is also tracked separately.

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Taking On Hitler Solo

I’ve had a fancy for a while to go old-school and check out some hex-and-counter wargames, and one of the most convenient ways to get a feel for them seems to be through the auspices of Strategy & Tactics and its sister magazines World At War and Modern War. These magazines all come in two editions: a magazine-only version for those who only really care about the military history articles they pad out their page count with, and a version which comes with a free hex-and-counter wargame – a tradition that Strategy & Tactics has maintained since the 1960s.

In order to test the waters, then, I decided to pick up issues of each of these magazines to test-drive the games in question. As it happened, the 40th issue of World At War happened to include not just one but two games, both of them solitaire affairs, allowing me to jump right into it.

Before I get into reviewing the specific games, I thought I’d give some consideration to what hex-and-counter games seem to aim to accomplish compared with other varieties of wargames:

  • They are easier to modify than videogames. Not only are all the rules of a hex-and-counter tabletop game directly known to all the players (whereas in a computer wargame some of the rules aspects might be obscure), they’re also able to be changed at a moment’s notice. If you find a particular rule isn’t working or enjoyable, you can stop using it or change it immediately. Conversely, if some aspect of a computer wargame bugs you, removing it is not so straightforward (and may be effectively impossible if the game isn’t particularly modder-friendly) if the game designers didn’t think to include the option to change or remove it.
  • They lend themselves to higher-level decision-making. Let’s face it, although an individual miniature in a miniatures wargame doesn’t necessarily have to represent a single person, there’s a tremendous tendency to think of it that way anyway, particularly if it’s a more detailed miniature – and if you like miniatures at all, you probably dig the fine details of them. Sure, Epic-scale Warhammer 40,000 games have minis representing large numbers of people, but let’s face it – those tiny little things just don’t look as good as 28mm or even 15mm scale miniatures, and the 6mm scale used in Epic is about as small as miniatures can get. Conversely, a single counter in a hex-and-counter wargame can represent a whole army without a shred of cognitive dissonance whatsoever.
  • The publishing model lends itself to fine simulation of very specific scenarios. Part of this may be down to the magazine format – if you’re editing World At War and you know you need to provide a new World War II-themed game every issue, then it makes sense to greenlight more games modelling specific battles or events of the war rather than running World War II: The Game every issue. But on top of that, looking at the games advertised in the magazines and available out there on the market, the trend does seem to definitely favour games in which predrawn maps and predetermined troop setups are provided and the action is based either on a specific historical incident or a particular “what-if” scenario. Conversely, miniatures wargames seem much more open to setting up terrain on an ad hoc basis and running a wide variety of different scenarios with your minis, which kind of makes sense: nobody’s going to pay money for a bunch of miniatures they can only play one very specific scenario, and likewise nobody’s going to pay money for a hex-and-counter game where you have to draw your own map and customise your own counters. Effectively, in a minis wargame you are paying primarily for the minis and secondarily for the associated rules system, whereas in a hex-and-counter game you are often paying for the research and creativity which went into designing the scenario and then secondarily for the associated rules system.

That being in mind, let’s see how these solo scenarios panned out.

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Referee’s Bookshelf: Bushido

One of those games that was originally put out through a small press before Fantasy Games Unlimited acquired it and put out a more widespread new edition, Bushido is one of those RPGs that has a comparatively low profile but whose influence is surprisingly extensive. Bob Charrette and Paul Hume, its authors, would be commissioned to produce the Land of Ninja supplement for 3rd edition Runequest, which effectively amounts to a conversion of the Bushido setting to Basic Roleplaying, and the influence of Bushido‘s honour system and class breakdown can be seen in later products such as Gary Gygax’s Oriental Adventures. According to Designers & Dragons, the Legend of the Five Rings gameworld was first developed after AEG explored the idea of making a new edition of Bushido but decided against paying the extortionate price required to get it out of the FGU IP black hole.

Bushido is based around providing a solid system for fantastic martial arts adventures in a version of historical Japan that draws as much on martial arts cinema and other media as it does on real history. In fact, Charrette and Hume seem acutely aware of their position as outsiders trying to describe a different culture to other outsiders, and consequently they make sure to draw a clear line between their game setting, referred to in the text as Nippon, and the real Japan; when they say “Japan”, they mean the real place, and when they say “Nippon” they mean the setting. (It’s a bit like a European medieval fantasy game calling Britain “Albion”.)

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Clockwinder General

In the not-too-distant future one of my Monday night group is going to be running some of Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton’s Clockwork & Chivalry, so I thought I would check it out. The conceit is that it’s set during an alternate version of the English Civil Wars of the 1600s (exactly how many Civil Wars were fought in that period is apparently a non-trivial question). The twist is that Parliament, supported as it is by the craftsmen and merchants of the middle classes, can bring a range of amazing clockwork devices to bear on the battlefield; meanwhile, the Royalist forces bolster their chances by turning to alchemy, and whilst most of those persecuted for witchcraft in this age are innocents, there are a few genuine Satanists with true magical power lurking in the shadows.

The default starting point for the game is the aftermath of the Battle of Naseby, which deviates from the result in our world due to it being the first fight where the various clockwork and alchemical contrivances were used on the battlefield. In this version, King Charles was captured and quickly executed by Oliver Cromwell, who has declared himself Lord Protector; however, the Royalist forces under Prince Rupert of the Rhine still control significant sections of the country (King Charles II is too young to lead the war at the moment, so he is staying in Paris with his mum). An uneasy break in the fighting has occurred as both sides come to terms with the twin shocks of the apocalyptic battle of Naseby and the sudden regicide following it – but surely that cannot last.

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My Tank Purchases Have Been Justified…

So, today I enjoyed a brand new miniatures wargaming experience which rekindled my enthusiasm for the hobby.

That’s right, I’ve had my first game of Flames of War. (What do you think I was talking about? Age of Sig-who?) Enough of my friends had been getting into it that I thought it was worth a look, especially considering that 15mm scale World War II miniatures are very competitively priced – for a small outlay I was able to put together a battlefield force that allows me to field a legal army at a wide range of points values and with plenty of options at each level, using a combination of newly bought miniatures from the publishers and the Plastic Soldier Company (one advantage of historical miniatures gaming is that no one company owns the IP on the past…) and some second-hand minis bought from a friend who was rationalising their army selection.

Even setting aside the second-hand purchase, this was at a fraction of the cost that required to get a comparably large and diverse force for a Games Workshop army. Even so, it’s still wasted money in my book if you don’t actually get to play with the miniatures and enjoy yourself when you are playing with them, and today’s go at Flames of War has convinced me that the game is a bit more of a keeper than my previous brief engagements with Warhammer have been.

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ENWorld’s Hot Roleplaying Games – July 2015

Another month, another check in on ENWorld list of hot RPGs. Usual reminder applies: RPGs are scored on the chart based on what’s being actively discussed on as wide a pool of internet fora and blogs as ENWorld 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). What I present here are the scores assigned to each game, not the percentages (which can tend to obscure whether there’s been a recent explosion of RPG discussion – for example, as associated with the D&D 5E release – or whether things are comparatively quiet on the RPG talkosphere).

First up, let’s get the rankings and absolute scores:

1	D&D 5th Edition				1231
2	Pathfinder RPG				 446
3	Old School Revival (OSR)		 383
4	FATE					 310
5	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			 232
6	World of Darkness			 219
7	D&D 4th Edition				 173
8	Savage Worlds				 140
9	Call of Cthulhu				 108
10	Shadowrun				  94
11	Dread					  89
12	Traveller				  79
13	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	  72
14	Dragon Age/Fantasy AGE/AGE		  68
15	ICONS					  64
16	GURPS					  63
17	Dungeon World				  59
18	Stars Without Number			  55
19	Numenera				  44
20	Dungeon Crawl Classics			  42
21	Warhammer 40K				  41
22	The Strange				  37
23	Warhammer FRP				  35
24	Gumshoe					  30
25	OD&D					  28
26	Apocalypse World			  25
27	13th Age				  22
28	RIFTS					  21
28	d20 Modern				  21
30	Deadlands				  20
31	Exalted					  19
32	Iron Kingdoms				  16
33	All Flesh Must Be Eaten			  14
33	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	  14
33	The One Ring				  14
36	Firefly					  12
36	AD&D 1st Edition			  12
36	A Song of Ice & Fire			  12
39	HERO System / Champions			  11
40	Ars Magica				  10
41	AD&D 2nd Edition			   9
42	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		   8
42	Feng Shui				   8
42	Hackmaster				   8
42	Eclipse Phase				   8
42	CORTEX System				   8
47	BESM					   7
47	Earthdawn				   7
49	Castles & Crusades			   6
49	Gamma World				   6
51	Star Trek				   5
52	Other Superhero RPGs			   4
52	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			   4
54	Star Wars (FFG)				   3
54	TMNT					   3
54	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	   3
57	Rotted Capes				   2
57	Smallville				   2
57	Ashen Stars				   2
57	DC Heroes				   2
61	Fading Suns				   1
61	Star Wars (d6)				   1
61	Paranoia				   1
61	Runequest				   1
61	Silver Age Sentinels			   1
61	Marvel SAGA				   1
61	Alternity				   1
61	Aberrant				   1
69	Hobomancer				   0
69	Colonial Gothic				   0
69	d20 Future				   0
69	True20					   0
69	Marvel Super Heroes			   0
69	Brave New World				   0
69	Villians & Vigilantes			   0
69	Golden Heroes / Squadron UK		   0
69	Chainmail				   0
69	Mutant Chronicles			   0
--	Dnd/Pathfinder				 DNC
--	Stage					 DNC
*DNC = Did Not Chart

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). At least, that’s according to the ENWorld writeup – though since I’ve not seen a game drop off the chart since the Dnd/Pathfinder and Stage categories dropped off, I’m sceptical about that. Note also that the “OSR” entry should be taken with a pinch of salt – it’s the accumulated score of a whole bunch of OSR games, but this includes Stars Without Number which also has its own, separate entry, as well as systems not based on old school D&D like ZeFRS and, bizarrely, BRP.

In short, it’s a farce as huge as combining all the Narrativist-influenced games into a Forge category and simultaneously giving them individual listings anyway. I really don’t know why they do it.

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