If you are into tabletop roleplaying games, and pay attention to the industry (outside of just “Dungeons & Dragons”, “Pathfinder/Starfinder”, and “Call of Cthulhu”), you will already know that there are a lot of TTRPGs available on the market. Okay, that’s perhaps putting it a bit mildly…
There is a veritable f*ckton of TTRPGs out there on the market!
The vast majority of these games sit in near-absolute obscurity, overshadowed by D&D, and a few other games, that dominate the industry. Now I, and many other folk have long held that D&D was doing the hobby a disservice, by effectively smothering out the hundreds and hundreds of games out there. How could they gain any traction in the market, if no one even knew they existed?
I believe I may have been wrong in this opinion, at least partially. Let me explain.
Now then, it is entirely true that most TTRPGs exist in the overwhelming shadows of D&D, Pathfinder, etc. This cannot be denied, it is simply a fact. That said, this in itself does not mean these juggernauts of the hobby are to blame for smaller games struggling to get noticed.
While the shadow of D&D is indeed long and dark, take a look at what is under that shadow. Is it a few dozen plucky underdog games, striving for success under the tyrannical bootheel of Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, and Chaosium? No. A more accurate description would be a massive pile, consisting of hundreds of games, all fighting among themselves for attention in what few beams of sunlight break through that massive shadow.
In short, it isn’t D&D to blame… it is the rest of the community of TTRPG games, as a whole.
Now I get it, this may seem rude to blame the “victims”, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valid. Are these smaller games truly victims at all? I don’t think so. Many of these games have attached themselves to D&D by using the 5th edition SRD as their system, and have achieved some decent success. Others have done the same with Paizo’s Pathfinder SRD, while still other games have found some level of success using the Apocalypse Engine (“Powered by the Apocalypse”), and other, less well-known game engines.
There are still other games that have become breakout hits, even if they remain in the shadow of D&D, with basically unique systems all their own. “Mörk Borg”, for example, has seen explosive growth since its launch, with many, smaller games latching onto MB’s very generous licensing to build upon. So, with that in mind…
Are there really games “struggling to be noticed” in the shadow at all?
If anything, I would venture to guess that D&D isn’t really the problem here. While D&D is indeed a huge force in the TTRPG hobby, there are plenty of success stories out there, despite that shadow. The games that struggle seem to not be able to get attention, when compared to other, smaller games in the hobby. So it would seem that it is either…
- These games failing at marketing, thus not able to get any attention when compared to other, smaller games.
- These failing TTRPGs simply not being very good.
Okay, that may sound harsh, but let’s be honest. The cream rises to the top when it comes to most things, and this applies to TTRPGs, as well. Does that mean I feel D&D is the best TTRPG ever? No, not by a long shot! But there are other factors in play here, such as how well known D&D is, how long D&D has been a part of the cultural zeitgeist, etc. The same also applies to “Call of Cthulhu”, and “Pathfinder” started out as basically D&D 3.75 (a revised version of D&D 3.5), and so forth.
But look at some of these other, smaller games, and how well they are doing? Not necessarily in terms of sales, but in terms of how well they are getting known in the hobby. “Blades in the Dark”, “Mörk Borg”, “Vaesen”, “Ironsworn”, and many more games are really making a name for themselves, despite the shadow of D&D. Why? Because they are good games, and people will find quality games.
The games that aren’t getting anywhere, though? Well, when you hear people complaining about those games, take a quick look at them and judge for yourself. I will almost guarantee that D&D won’t be the real problem.