The Truth about D&D

I’ll make this short and sweet: “Dungeons & Dragons” is the greatest roleplaying game on the market. They won. It’s over, and the competition never really had a chance.

That’s it.

As much as I love independent roleplaying games, and want to see them succeed, it should be obvious to everyone now that there really is no point: Wizards of the Coast won. Their game “Dungeons & Dragons” controls the tabletop roleplaying market by a wide margin. Sure, you have other ‘big’ games in the market, such as Paizo’s “Pathfinder“, and Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu“, but their sales numbers pale in comparison to D&D.

While D&D may not have been the first tabletop roleplaying game (that actually goes back to the Kriegsspiel military exercises, unless you want to go even further back to simple children’s game like “Cops & Robbers”), it is by far the most well-known and financially successful. The last I saw, roughly 90% of people playing TTRPGs are playing D&D.

Let that sink in: 9 out of every 10 roleplayers are playing D&D. For every two tables worth of gamers (on average), there is one person playing some other TTRPG (probably “Pathfinder”). For every 20 tables playing D&D, only two are playing something else (“Pathfinder” or “Call of Cthulhu”, most likely). With millions of people playing TTRPGs worldwide, this does account for the many groups playing other, smaller tabletop roleplaying games, but that is still only a tiny fraction of the overall market.

Ask yourself this: Do you know anyone who plays tabletop RPGs who hasn’t played “Dungeons & Dragons”? It is easy to find people who have played D&D, you can’t swing a dead cat in a Friendly Local Game Store without hitting someone who has played the game. Where it becomes difficult is in finding a roleplaying game fan who hasn’t played D&D, and in my experience over 40+ years playing and running TTRPGs, I personally have never found one such person.

Not one. Over four decades in the hobby, and every single person I know who has played, or currently plays TTRPGs have – at some point – played D&D.

Now to be honest, there have been a few such folks who hate the ol’ Ampersand, and have tried to claim they were ‘above’ playing such ‘trash’. I remember one such young lady who liked to talk about how she only played “Vampire: The Masquerade”, and that she wasn’t interested in any other TTRPGs… But eventually, she did mention that her first introduction to the hobby was with D&D.

So, what’s my point? Simple. Most everyone plays D&D, and those few who don’t have played in the past. Even if there are a very few Unicorns out there who play TTRPGs but have never played D&D, they have most certainly heard of the game, and know of its dominance of the market. But why does this matter?

Let’s say I’ve written a TTRPG, perhaps the greatest such game ever published, in fact. The rules are sublime, the premise unique and something most TTRPG fans would love to play. But in this market, in the shadow of the Ampersand, that game will never succeed, not really. Oh, sure, it could catch on with a fringe section of players, maybe sell really well for an indie TTRPG (think “Shadowdark“, for example)… but it is still an indie TTRPG, and will never, ever achieve anywhere close to the success that D&D has attained. Hell, no game will ever rival “Call of Cthulhu” or “Pathfinder”, if you get right down to it.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t create new TTRPGs, Hell, my shelves are full of them! What I’m saying is, the only way that D&D fails, is if people stop playing TTRPGs entirely. The contest is over, learn to play indie TTRPGs in the shade.


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