27 October–2 November 2020: Critical Role Starts Publishing House

Cover art from Uk'otoa, a forthcoming board game from Critical Role's new game publishing house, Darrington Press

In this week’s biggest news, livestreamers-turned-media-company, Critical Role, launch their own game publishing studio. Hasbro releases its Q3 earnings report, showing massive growth in Dungeons & Dragons and dropping hints at something new on the way. Along with that: a federally-backed Australian D&D show; alien languages; Mörk Borg; and the next in the long (oh dear god, so long) list of Vampire: The Masquerade adaptations.

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What We’ve Been Playing

For Halloween, Jess hosted a game of Hotel Lovecraft for us over Zoom. It mixes elements of roleplaying, boardgaming and gamebooks with audio soundscapes and narration to add atmosphere.

You play a bunch of people who wake up inside a “hotel” run by a deranged nutcase who insists that you can only escape by exploring the various rooms on each floor. Like a conventional RPG, you have stats, a health level and, as with most Lovecraft-inspired games, a measure of your sanity, and these get tested throughout the journey.

It’s a low-intensity party game, with some great atmospheric artwork and soundscapes, but the experience was pretty lacking in terms of game and narrative design. It’s a bunch of unconnected encounters, which occur in a random order, so there is nothing in the way of a story arc. The scenes are clearly drawn from Lovecraft, but which have little or nothing to do with being trapped inside of a hotel.

Skill rolls don’t result in anything interesting happening (whether you pass or fail), and the choices you make are pretty much random. There’s a “twist” at the end which is entirely unearned and induced groans more than anything else.

But we had a good time, it filled an evening, and it was pretty undemanding. Right now that definitely fills a niche for a lot of groups.

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Industry News

Critical Role forms a tabletop publishing house

Critical Role announces the formation of Darrington Press, a tabletop game publishing house. The house will be led by Hunters Entertainment co-owner, Ivan Van Norman. Also announced were three board games (two based on Critical Role campaigns), as well as Syndicult, a modern fantasy RPG designed by Critical Role DM, Matthew Mercer.

Well, this is definitely interesting — and shouldn’t really have surprised anyone. But Critical Role entering the game publishing business will be an event worth watching.

Van Norman makes perfect sense as lead — he has a history with Critical Role, and experience running a game studio with a similar bent.

Will they be able to leverage the brand to compete with older (and bigger) studios? Almost certainly. Will this accelerate the trickle-down economics of Dungeons & Dragons players turning to other systems? We hope so.

Could Darrington Press be competing with Wizards of the Coast at the top of the industry, as some have argued? Emphatically not. Critical Role may be one of the biggest names in our hobby, but Dungeons & Dragons is a 50-year old brand owned by one of the biggest toy companies in the world. Sure, Critical Role is in the running to be prom king, but D&D is the Death Star.

Hasbro sees D&D growth

Hasbro’s Q3 earnings report sees Dungeons & Dragons revenue up 20% in the quarter and the year-to-date compared to the same period in 2019. The company cites “a strong release schedule and the quest for at home entertainment” as causes for the growth.

Roll20 commits to Black Lives Matter

Roll20 publishes its Q3 progress on its commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.

There was a lot of vocal support for Black Lives Matter at the height of the protests earlier this year. But there hasn’t been much word on the matter since. I admire the step towards accountability that this update (and the promise of future updates) marks. — Amy

Security Breach at Astral Tabletop

Astral Tabletop announces a security breach, with usernames and email addresses of users left open to the public.

D&D TV

Hasbro CEO, Brian Goldner, hinted that a live action TV series based on D&D is in development.

Hints dropped in Hasbro investor calls have tended to get us hyped over nothing in the past. This is a throwaway line that could mean anything.

Screen Australia, the Australian federal government’s funding body for film and television, has awarded a $1 million (AUD) grant to comedy Dungeons & Dragons streamers, Dragon Friends, to produce a live action/animation hybrid.

New & Upcoming Releases

Monte Cook Games announces Heroes of the Cypher System, a series of supplements focused on bringing heroes — both superheroes and real-world first responders — to the Cypher System.

Covid-19-related shipping delays mean that Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything will be released in the EU and Asia-Pacific two weeks after North America.

Africa and South America seem to be pretty neglected as sales demographics here. — Amy

Sharkmob announces a Vampire: The Masquerade battle royale computer game.

Sure, why not? At this point there are so many licensed World of Darkness games, I predict two match-3 mobile games before the end of Q2. — Amy

Bundles & Deals

Humble Bundle is offering a bundle of Dungeon Crawl Classics books.

Bundle of Holding is offering two bundles of gamemastering aids, a bundle of Kult: Divinity Lost books, and two bundles of Shadow of the Demon Lord books.

Crowdfunding News

Noteworthy New Projects

Urban Shadows: Second Edition: A new edition of the Powered by the Apocalypse urban fantasy game, by Magpie Games (Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game) — November 19th. So far this project has raised $110,000 from 2,000 backers. 

Urban Shadows has been given a slick overhaul, complete with John Wick-style bisexual lighting. This campaign already has almost twice as many backers as the first edition managed in 2013.

I always liked Urban Shadows more in principle than in practice, mainly because I found the moves (it is Powered by the Apocalypse) a little underwhelming in practice. So the fact that this is one of the main revisions of this new edition is a selling point. — James

The Wildsea RPG: A fantasy RPG set in a world covered in greenery after the fall of civilisation, by Ray Chou (Skies of Fire, Glow, The Love Balloon) — November 25th. So far this project has raised $56,000 from 1,000 backers. 

This is an impressive looking project; an original RPG system and an original setting backed up by a pretty comprehensive free quickstart PDF. Publishers Mythopoeia have an impressive portfolio of Kickstarter-funded comics under their belt. It’s done respectably on Kickstarter so far but it deserves to do better. — James 

Closing Soon

Blackstorm Realms is a sword & sorcery space fantasy setting. So far it has raised $76,000 from 1,100 backers. Ends November 7th.

Given the slickness of this project, its pedigree (with numerous creators having worked on Wizards’ Dungeons & Dragons projects) and the general performance of projects of this type, I’m surprised this book hasn’t done better than it has. It looks fairly generic, but the prospect of combining D&D-style fantasy with space exploration is a little more unusual. This may be what has alienated it from parts of its target audience. — James

5e

Treasure Hunts: A collection of one-shot treasure hunt-themed adventures for 5e, by Laura MCL — November 4th

Indispensable DM Reference System: A collection of reference tools for 5e Dungeon Masters, by Wild Magic Life — November 5th

OSR

Strange Citizens of the City: A collection of NPCs for the Mörk Borg roleplaying game, by Philip Reed (The Book of Collected Rumors, for use with Fantasy RPGs, Dungeon Challenge Cards, Outdoor Encounter Cards) — November 13th

The Masticator Gate: A campaign for Mörk Borg, centred around a “demon spewing gate”, by SkeletonKey Games (Arcane Scrollworks, DIAMOND d4, Adventure Tiles: Darkharrow Crypt) — November 14th

Interesting to see two new projects released under the Mörk Borg license in the same week. It certainly seems to be the OSR system generating the most excitement at the moment. — James

Other & Generic Fantasy

The Dee Sanction: An Elizabethan fantasy RPG about convicted traitors practising magic in defence of the realm, by All Rolled Up — November 22nd

Beadle & Grimm’s Complete Character Chronicles: A character sheet and journal for Pathfinder 2e, by Beadle & Grimm’s Pandemonium Warehouse — December 1st

Urban Fantasy/Horror

SHIVER: An RPG inspired by cult & pulp horror movies & tv shows, by Parable Games — December 3rd

Storygames

Xenolanguage: An Arrival-inspired sci-fi game where you decipher an alien language, by Thorny Games (Dialect: A Game about Language and How it Dies) — December 8th

Thorny Games have been quietly setting the indie scene on fire with their twin games Dialect and Sign, and this game has been hotly anticipated for months. Physical copies of the game carry a steep price tag ($85), but prestige games such as The Fall of Magic have shown that this doesn’t have to be a barrier for success. No doubt our own resident conlang obsessive will be along to say how excited they are about this project, but I am too! I’m really eager to try it. — James

Oh hell, yes I am! I’ve yet to play Dialect, but Jess ran Sign for us last year and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to try this one out. Fosho im pik fo da senyadiye mi! Definitely my pick of the week! — Amy

This update was made possible by Keenan Collett, and the rest of our Patreon supporters.

2 Comments on "27 October–2 November 2020: Critical Role Starts Publishing House"


  1. There are likely no sales metrics for South America and Africa regions because while those regions do have a few players here and there as RPG markets go at least they are practically nonexistent. Brazil’s the largest country in SA I believe and its RPG scene struggles to achieve a tiny minimum of critical mass. And in most of a decade of Kickstarting (not that we have always shipped international but we have) it’s been rare to ever see more than a single package heading anywhere on the African continent.

    Reply

    1. The last doesn’t surprise me much. A reasonably priced RPG book in the UK would be an absolutely exorbitant luxury back in South Africa. I owned a handful of book books, but I was one of very few who did: the RPG scene lived on piracy.

      I was really just whining with my comment: I know why those markets aren’t lucrative enough yet, I just wish that they were, because I remember how much I hated being overlooked.

      Incidentally, Brazil has our highest readership in South America (fifth highest overall, well behind the UK and US).

      Reply

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