ENWorld’s Hot RPGs – January 2016

Right, New Year, new month, new look at at ENWorld’s 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).

Incidentally, the ENWorld site claims that they’re tracking posts on the Wizards and Paizo forums and giving separate scores for them, but this is utter bullshit – they did that briefly as an experiment and then stopped. All the figures on the chart do not include official publisher forums – and I think some of the changes this time around may have something to do with that, as you’ll see.

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

RANK	GAME					SCORE
1	D&D 5th Edition				1233
2	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			 198
3	Exalted					 123
4	D&D 4th Edition				 108
5	Pathfinder RPG				 102
6	World of Darkness			  83
7	Old School Revival (OSR)		  56
8	Savage Worlds				  44
9	Shadowrun				  26
10	Call of Cthulhu				  20
10	GURPS					  20
12	Warhammer 40K				  19
13	What's OLD is NEW			  18
14	Dungeon World				  17
15	Gumshoe					  16
15	Dragon Age/Fantasy AGE/AGE		  16
17	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	  15
18	AD&D 2nd Edition			  13
18	Traveller				  13
20	The One Ring				  12
21	The Strange				  11
22	Cypher System				   9
23	ICONS					   8
23	Stars Without Number			   8
25	OD&D					   7
25	Firefly					   7
25	Dread					   7
25	Feng Shui				   7
29	13th Age				   6
29	CORTEX System				   6
29	Ars Magica				   6
29	RIFTS					   6
29	Eclipse Phase				   6
34	d20 Modern				   5
34	AD&D 1st Edition			   5
34	Star Wars (FFG)				   5
34	HERO System / Champions			   5
34	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	   5
34	Castles & Crusades			   5
40	Deadlands				   4
41	Apocalypse World			   3
41	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			   3
41	Star Wars (d6)				   3
41	Mutant Chronicles			   3
41	Warhammer FRP				   3
41	Dungeon Crawl Classics			   3
47	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		   2
47	Smallville				   2
47	Hackmaster				   2
47	True20					   2
47	Gamma World				   2
47	DC Heroes				   2
47	Colonial Gothic				   2
54	Other Superhero RPGs			   1
54	All Flesh Must Be Eaten			   1
54	Runequest				   1
54	Earthdawn				   1
54	Alternity				   1
54	Aberrant				   1
54	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	   1
54	Ashen Stars				   1
54	Chainmail				   1
54	BESM					   1
54	Iron Kingdoms				   1
65	Fading Suns				   0
65	d20 Future				   0
65	A Song of Ice & Fire			   0
65	Star Trek				   0
65	FATE					   0
65	Paranoia				   0
65	Brave New World				   0
65	Marvel Super Heroes			   0
65	Marvel SAGA				   0
65	Rotted Capes				   0
65	Silver Age Sentinels			   0
65	Golden Heroes / Squadron UK		   0
65	Villains & Vigilantes			   0
65	TMNT					   0
65	Hobomancer				   0
--	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, and so the OSR score should not be trusted.

Note also that there has been a bit of a tweak to the chart this time – the Numenera category has been renamed the Cypher System category. This is a bit of a misnomer: whilst the system used in Numenera is known as the Cypher System, and is intended to be used by Monte Cook Games for a range of different game and has a setting-neutral rules set out for it, not all the Cypher System games are included under this category: The Strange, which had its own separate category, really ought to be folded into this one and it hasn’t been. I do wonder how long it will take ENWorld to notice this gooftastic botch on their part and sort it out; given that they still claim to be tracking the official Wizards of the Coast and Paizo forums on the charts, even though they stopped that experiment months ago and the Wizards forums were disbanded a little while back, I suspect we might be watching this particular screwup perpetuate itself for a while.

For the purpose of the charts, I am treating the Cypher System category as a new entry to the chart, since it will mix up discussion of the generic Cypher System rulebook with discussion of Numenera itself.

Here’s the chart of the shifts in rank (probably more significant for higher-scoring games):

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

And here’s the chart of shifts in absolute score (which I believe to be more significant for lower-scoring games):

RANK	GAME					CHANGE
1	D&D 5th Edition				-193
2	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			 -24
3	Exalted					  +9
4	D&D 4th Edition				 -57
5	Pathfinder RPG				 -22
6	World of Darkness			  -8
7	Old School Revival (OSR)		 -11
8	Savage Worlds				 +10
9	Shadowrun				  -4
10	Call of Cthulhu				  -8
10	GURPS					  -2
12	Warhammer 40K				  -4
13	What's OLD is NEW			  +4
14	Dungeon World				  -1
15	Gumshoe					  +2
15	Dragon Age/Fantasy AGE/AGE		  -2
17	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	  -6
18	AD&D 2nd Edition			  -6
18	Traveller				  -9
20	The One Ring				  -4
21	The Strange				  -2
22	Cypher System				 NEW
23	ICONS					  +2
23	Stars Without Number			  -2
25	OD&D					  -4
25	Firefly					  +2
25	Dread					  -1
25	Feng Shui				  -6
29	13th Age				  -2
29	CORTEX System				  +1
29	Ars Magica				  +3
29	RIFTS					  -1
29	Eclipse Phase				  -4
34	d20 Modern				  +2
34	AD&D 1st Edition			  -1
34	Star Wars (FFG)				  -1
34	HERO System / Champions			  -1
34	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	   =
34	Castles & Crusades			  +1
40	Deadlands				  -3
41	Apocalypse World			  +1
41	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			   =
41	Star Wars (d6)				  -1
41	Mutant Chronicles			  -4
41	Warhammer FRP				  -5
41	Dungeon Crawl Classics			   =
47	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		   =
47	Smallville				  +1
47	Hackmaster				   =
47	True20					  -3
47	Gamma World				  -2
47	DC Heroes				  +2
47	Colonial Gothic				   =
54	Other Superhero RPGs			  -1
54	All Flesh Must Be Eaten			   =
54	Runequest				  +1
54	Earthdawn				   =
54	Alternity				   =
54	Aberrant				   =
54	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	   =
54	Ashen Stars				   =
54	Chainmail				  +1
54	BESM					  -2
54	Iron Kingdoms				  -1
65	Fading Suns				  -2
65	d20 Future				   =
65	A Song of Ice & Fire			   =
65	Star Trek				   =
65	FATE					   =
65	Paranoia				   =
65	Brave New World				   =
65	Marvel Super Heroes			   =
65	Marvel SAGA				   =
65	Rotted Capes				   =
65	Silver Age Sentinels			   =
65	Golden Heroes / Squadron UK		   =
65	Villains & Vigilantes			  -1
65	TMNT					   =
65	Hobomancer				   =
--	Stage					 DNC
*DNC = Did Not Chart

The chart seems to show a general dip in scores across the board, with some exceptions, probably due to online conversation dying down as a result of the holidays. Still, some things seem to have had a boost. Savage Worlds saw its score go up, though I’m not aware of any reason why this should be, and RuneQuest started scoring again on the back of the Kickstarter for the RuneQuest Classic reprint series and Design Mechanism losing their licence to produce the current version of RuneQuest. I’m slightly surprised that the various Star Wars RPGs don’t seem to have had a significant boost to their scores, since I’d have thought with the new movie coming out that would stimulate discussion of those games. I’m inclined to see this as a particular failure on Fantasy Flight Games’ part, since they are the current licensees; if you can’t develop buzz around your Star Wars tie-in product off the back of the nuclear mushroom cloud of hype surrounding The Force Awakens, you’ve got to be doing something wrong.

The big thing which jumps out at me is Pathfinder continuing to slip, with Exalted now scoring markedly higher than it. (If ENWorld don’t split the World of Darkness category into separate categories for World of Darkness and Chronicles of Darkness, then that’s in sniping distance of Pathfinder too.) This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Pathfinder slip behind the number 2 spot – it fell back in October-December 2014 – but I’m particularly interested in the fact that this time around it’s actually doing worse than D&D 4E, which has never been the case for as long as I’ve been tracking these charts.

With D&D 3.XE ahead of both of them, and 5E dominating the chart as it has since release, I do wonder whether this is a consequence of some of the heat going out of the Dungeons & Dragons edition wars, or at least Pathfinder no longer being a major presence on the front lines of that war. Let’s face it; it might have enjoyed nice production values and it might be supported by a popular range of adventures, but as a system Pathfinder is basically a houseruled D&D 3.X, a variant of a game whose core books are amply available second hand and whose SRD is available for free. It’s hard to see how it could have been the major commercial success it became simply on those merits without the perfect storm of bad business decisions on the part of Wizards of the Coast (pulling Dragon and Dungeon from Paizo whilst letting them keep the mailing list not only gave them every reason to go into competition with Wizards, but gave them the best possible weapons they could ask for to do so) and fan outrage over the 4E changes that Paizo proved expert at harnessing.

Now, however, the red-hot forum wars of the late 2000s are an increasingly distant memory, 5E is the new normal, and normality is beginning to reassert itself. 5E might have a number of important differences from 3.X, and it might even have some 4Eisms here and there, but it’s still a game which has won over a whole bunch of people who didn’t find 4E especially inspiring. If you like 3.X, then even if you don’t like 5E better than it, chances are you like 5E well enough that you’ll go along and play it anyway if that’s what your group is after, and thanks to dndclassics.com offering PDFs of much of the D&D back catalogue it’s arguably never been easier to play whichever legacy edition of D&D floats your boat, with official approval and encouragement from the publisher.

This being the case, it’s hard to see many people wanting to stick it to Wizards to the same extent they did back when Pathfinder first came out. On top of that, it’s worth remembering that there’s a substantial constituency of gamers who aren’t especially interested in edition wars and just want to play whatever the most popular currently-supported game is; Paizo were very successful in splitting this audience with 4E, whereas previously D&D could count on reliably snagging most of that audience, but 5E seems to have pulled off the trick of capturing that audience from Pathfinder and 4E alike.

The major problem Pathfinder has, though, is that it’s got a real problem when it comes to new editions. Whilst putting out a new edition of a game is not a panacea – and regularly not even an improvement – it can be an important step to take if you’re in a situation where a new game with fresh ideas has come along and stolen a lot of your momentum, particularly if variants on those fresh new ideas would benefit your game in turn. Pathfinder, however, specifically exists for reactionary reasons, and as such whilst it does offer some minor updates to D&D 3.X it does whatever it can to retain compatibility with it and to follow the basic rules principles established therein.

Back in the day, this was crucially important to the appeal of Pathfinder, but these days this constraint is a double-edged sword, with both edges cutting Paizo painfully; on the one hand, the compatibility with 3E means that you don’t actually need to buy into Pathfinder in order to use its associated setting and adventure material, since you can just run them using the 3.X SRD, whilst on the other hand the necessity of maintaining compatibility means that Pathfinder cannot innovate, cannot experiment, and most crucially cannot come up with major new improvements and developments to its rules to match the bright ideas that 5E brings to the table. Whilst the Pathfinder Unchained supplement does offer variant rules deliberately not constrained by backwards compatibility, it’s one thing to put out a supplement like that and quite another to break compatibility with a new edition of the game.

If Paizo attempt to put out a new edition of the game, they risk enraging and driving away their fanbase of 3.X loyalists. However, by not putting out a new edition and sticking as closely as they do to the precedent set by 3.X, they keep Pathfinder trapped as a variant edition of D&D 3.X, and since it doesn’t bring its own distinctive new direction to the table, in the long run it seems doomed to become a footnote in the history of that particular version of D&D, a commercial cautionary tale about the risks of splitting your fanbase when thanks to your own Open Gaming Licence you can’t actually stop anyone selling people the same product you’ve just turned your back on.

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