23 February–1 March 2021: Wizards of the Coast Ascendant

A new logo for a new era of Wizards of the Coast

This week, we see big news from Hasbro as a restructuring of the company throws the spotlight onto Wizards of the Coast: we predict dramatic changes in the coming months. Meanwhile a very different shake-up at Paradox Interactive sees Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2 indefinitely delayed. And an RPG anthology on Kickstarter draws public outcry.

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Wizards of the Coast Ascendant

Hasbro’s annual Investor Event Thursday brought a tremendous amount of news about subsidiary and Dungeons & Dragons owners, Wizards of the Coast. For starters, Hasbro is restructuring its reporting segments, with Wizards of the Coast becoming a separate segment, “Wizards of the Coast and Digital Gaming”. (Formerly, WotC’s products were spread between the Franchise Brands and Hasbro Gaming segments.)

This means that for the first time in many years, we can see sales figures for Wizards of the Coast itself, with the startling revelation that profit from Wizards of the Coast is significantly higher than Hasbro’s entire consumer products segment, including toys and other games. That makes the combination of D&D and Magic the Gathering more profitable than Battleship, Clue(do), My Little Pony, Monopoly, Transformers, Scrabble, Playdo, PotatoHead, and many, many others combined.

This new focus on Wizards of the Coast by Hasbro will mean, simply, two things: greater resources, and closer scrutiny by investors. Hasbro is going to expect a lot of growth from Wizards over the coming year. Whether that will ultimately be good or bad for the hobby remains to be seen. We already have a glimpse of what it will mean for D&D, with Wizards CEO, Chris Cocks promising “new formats and storytelling opportunities in our main campaigns while increasing the cadence of those releases.”

With Wizards of the Coast taking control of digital gaming (and licensing) Cocks promises a “new IP pipeline, hiring key talent from Ubisoft, BioWare, Warner Brothers, and Disney, to explore fantasy-adjacent genres like sci-fi, action, horror, and collectables.” There are new digital D&D games on the way from Hidden Path Entertainment and OtherSide Entertainment. And WotC is already setting up a new (we presume digital) gaming studio (focusing on kids, according to the Twitter bios of two co-founders).

I wonder if (with this new focus on digital products) Wizards will look to acquire D&D Beyond, or if Hasbro’s love of licenses will make them happy to leave things as they are… — Amy

It is clear from a lot of this that Hasbro is pushing further and further away from toy manufacturer, and more into licensing and media (see for instance Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner’s promises around future film and TV content from eOne).

For me, the revelation that Wizards is the most profitable arm of Hasbro puts a lot of things into perspective.

For years Hasbro has relied on gimmicks for its marketing: “Monopoly for Millennials”, which seems to exist only to insult a specific demographic, Mega Monopoly, which takes everything widely known to be awful about that game and turns it up to 11, and now this “Potato Head” debacle, which is superficially about gender inclusivity, but seems calculated to generate outrage and thus expose non-binary and genderqueer people to abuse.

I’ve always assumed this was from a company that essentially had a license to print money, lazily relying on the canard that all publicity is good publicity. But now it is hard to get over the idea that this is a company with directionless leadership that is simply floundering, with no clear idea about what to do with all these brands that they have hoovered up over the years. 

This restructure is a recognition of Wizards’ success, but it’s clear that Hasbro expects it to make more and more money by depending on licensing deals rather than innovation. The collaborations between Magic and Lord of the Rings and Warhammer 40K points to a future Wizards of the Coast lazily reskinning every half-successful game with whatever IP they can get their hands on. In other words, I expect them to do to Magic what Hasbro has done with its brands like Monopoly, with ever-diminishing returns.

In short, I remain sceptical that in the long term this is going to lead to a new golden era for the company.
— James

James is sceptical — I am sceptical and optimistic on different fronts.

On the one hand, I think we will see some interesting IPs come out of Wizards’ new digital studios. Wizards is pulling in good talent from a lot of different places, and with the promise (and expectation) that this restructuring brings, I’m guessing that they have capital to work with. I predict for at least a year or two to see some interesting games coming out of this. We may even see some innovation on the D&D front for a little while.

On the other hand, where James dreads a future of Magic being endlessly reskinned, I dread a future where Dungeons & Dragons becomes nothing but a skin. The value of D&D is as a license, not as a game. Having lived through the war between Pottermore and Potter fanfiction, I dread the canonification of the D&D universe, and I think we will see that canon becoming increasingly emphasized over the game.

Your halfling barbarian has no value to Hasbro, but Drizzt Do’urden is worth his weight in action figures. Hasbro cannot monetise the exultant creation that happens at the game table. And I think that’s going to show sooner or later. — Amy

Cancellations & Delays

Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2, the anticipated sequel to the cult video game, has been indefinitely postponed with publishers Paradox Interactive taking developers, Hardsuit Labs off the project.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, after the last troubled months of development, but — well, we were. It’s not exactly a death-knell, but completely rehousing the project with another team definitely raises a lot of doubts.

It’s also interesting to see this in the light of the Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco — perhaps the indefinite delay and pre-order cancellation is the overcaution of a publisher not wanting to go the way of CDPR.

A Kickstarter campaign for an RPG anthology, run by Luke Crane, was cancelled, after public backlash surrounding one of its authors. The anthology, The Perfect RPG, would have included an RPG from Adam Koebel, who last year drew criticism after he ran an in-game sexual assault during a stream. This inclusion raised a lot of anger, including from several other contributors who were unaware that Koebel was involved in the project.

There is a debate to be had here about so-called “cancel culture” and the question of what someone can do or should do to atone for the harm they cause a community. At what point would it be acceptable to publish Koebel’s work, and have we reached that point?

We don’t really want to get into that debate. As it is, as individuals, we don’t really have a consensus about where we draw these lines. But regardless of where those lines get drawn, this project was handled very badly.

From the statements from people like Mary Georgescu and Meguey Baker, it’s clear that at the least, several contributors were not aware that Adam Koebel was involved — something which was obviously going to draw criticism — and were not comfortable being a part of his comeback.

It’s difficult to tell whether the 3-day funding window, the reverse-alphabetical listing that made Koebel the last person listed, were calculated to cause an uproar or avoid it — we’ve seen both arguments. Either way, the whole project feels dishonest.

And it’s uncomfortable to see this from Luke Crane in particular, the designer of Burning Wheel, the publisher of Koebel and Sage Latorra’s Dungeon World, and most importantly, a VP at Kickstarter. With his position, Crane is one of the most powerful people in the hobby. Seeing this project from him is baffling, and, well… squick.

Industry News

Fantasy Grounds releases its 2020 playing stats, showing massive growth, particularly in Dungeons & Dragons.

New & Upcoming

After the title was revealed on Amazon, the next D&D book has been confirmed as Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.

WizKids announces a series of new Dungeons & Dragons accessories lines.

Across RPGSEA, a website showcasing RPGs by South-East Asian creators, launches.

Pine Box Entertainment announces 7th Sea: The City of Five Sails, a board game adaptation of the 7th Sea RPG.

Crowdfunding

Noteworthy New Projects

Roll & Play: The Fantasy Character Kit: A collection of random lists for creating PCs and NPCs, by Roll & Play. So far this project has raised $105,000 from 2,200 backers. Ends March 25th

If I’m honest, I would rather see more of this sort of project — essentially a series of prompts — than the endless, glossy 5e sourcebooks being churned out at the moment. I can see myself using this book more than I can ever see myself using someone else’s stretch-goal prompted verbal diarrhoea. — James

Closing Soon

The Seeker’s Guide to Twisted Taverns is a 5e supplement featuring premade taverns, NPCs and adventure hooks. So far this project has raised $1.2m from 12,400 backers. Ends March 6th

The One Ring Roleplaying Game, Second Edition is a new edition of the official Tolkien RPG. So far this project has raised 12.6m SEK ($1.5m) from 12,000 backers. Ends March 4th

I’ve been following the hyperbole surrounding the One Ring (admittedly because I’m excited about it myself) and keep seeing people declaring it to be set to be the biggest ever Tabletop RPG Kickstarter project, all the time blithely failing to notice that The Seeker’s Guide to Twisted Taverns, a by-the-numbers 5e sourcebook about inns, has consistently enjoyed more backers!

To be clear, The One Ring is Free League’s most successful project to date, more popular than any tabletop RPG project to come out in 2020, and larger than any other non-5e project (overtaking John Wick’s 7th Sea 2e from 2016 several days ago). But it has very little chance of overtaking the current record for the most popular TTRPG project, Matt Colville’s Strongholds and Streaming, which raised $2.1m from 29,000 backers in 2018.

None of this is to dismiss Free League’s tremendous success with this project; it’s just an important reminder that even a project based around the world’s pre-eminent fantasy IP can’t compete with 5e on Kickstarter. Of course, Free League is still planning to bring out its own version of Adventures in Middle Earth, the 5e-based Tolkien RPG which Cubicle 7 published until they licensed, essentially refitting their existing TOR materials for the 5e audience. I suspect this campaign has a strong chance of eclipsing The One Ring.

A final note with my retailer hat on though: while I fully expect to sell dozens of copies of The One Ring 2nd Edition when it comes out later this year, if Twisted Taverns performs anything like the myriad of other third-party 5e books, we’ll be lucky if we manage to shift more than a handful (assuming it is made available for retail). I have no doubt that The One Ring will make a greater impact in the RPG ecosystem. — James

Trudvang: Seed of Vanirs is a setting book for both Trudvang Chronicles and 5e, focusing on elves. So far this project has raised 1m SEK ($120,000) from 1,200 backers. Ends March 5th

While this project is only a tenth as big as The One Ring, it’s notable that this is the second major project closing this week hailing from Sweden, which is really starting to have a huge impact on the global scene.

Crystalpunk is a campaign setting for 5e, merging fantasy with cyberpunk. So far this project has raised AU$73,000 ($57,000) from 1,200 backers. Ends March 6th

5e

DM Yourselves: A system for playing 5e adventures solo or DM-less, by Tom Scutt (DM Yourself) — March 10th

Mines of Maznar: 3D Printable D&D Adventure: A 5e adventure with 3D-printable miniatures, by The Printing Goes Ever On — March 28th

Alchemy & Poisoncraft: An alchemy-focused supplement and adventure for 5e, by Cabal of Enchantment — March 29th

OSR

The Inn in the Forest: A time-travelling horror adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics, by Shyloh Wideman — March 4th

The Unclean Leporello of the Foul Wizard Baum: An accordion-book of powers for Mörk Borg, by Philip Reed (The Book of Collected Rumors, Strange Citizens of the City, Calo’s Book of Monsters) — March 5th

Tournament of Pigs: A zero-level adventure for 5e and Dungeon Crawl Classics featuring twelve weird medieval game show competition, strive to survive twelve deadly events to be declared the winner!, by Weird Works (RPG Stamps: Commemorate Deaths and Track Accomplishments, The Empress Deck — The Adventurer’s Tarot) — March 9th

This project, which I am being bombarded with adverts for on social media, is oddly fascinating to me. It looks a long way away from its $30,000 funding goal, and I’m not sure I can really see the appeal for a big box set about wrestling pigs. — James

What have you got against wrestling pigs? — Amy

Nothing! It’s just the $40 box set bit. Why are you so into wrestling pigs? — James

Dungeon Master’s Little Black Book: A pocket-sized booklet of random tables, and a blank version for recording your own ideas, by Peter Regen/SquareHex (The Black Hack RPG Second Edition) — March 21st

Crypt of the Devil Lich: A DCC and 5e adventure promising a punishingly hard dungeon-crawl, by Goodman Games (DCC RPG: Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East, DCC Annual and other forbidden tomes, DCC Lankhmar) — March 26th

Other & Generic Fantasy

The Wizard’s Grimoire: The first issue of a zine about a wizard handling magic beyond their ability, by Vincent Baker (Under Hollow Hills, The King Is Dead, Apocalypse World 2nd Edition) — March 8th

A cool concept from the OG of PbtA. — Amy

City of Winter: A story game in the form of a handmade scroll and map, by Ross Cowman (BFF! – The rpg of girlhood, friendship, and adventure!, Fall of Magic) — March 31st

Stonetop: A fantasy adventure centred on an Iron Age village community, by penny lantern (Bingo Baby, Servants of the Cinder Queen, The Perilous Wilds) — March 31st

Urban Fantasy

Victorian Mage TTRPG: A Victorian-era sourcebook for Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition, by Onyx Path — March 26th

Onyx Path is experimenting with using IndieGoGo for crowdfunding and while this project appears to have been less immediately popular than their standard Kickstarter launches, it looks like it has been a success.

Whether Onyx Path, a well-established company by this stage, should be quite so dependent on crowdfunding is another matter. In principle, the idea of crowdfunding is that it is supposed to be about funding projects for which there is no proven market, thus making the consumer take the risk rather than the publisher. — James

Storygames

Little Katy’s Tea Party: “A tea-drinking indie tabletop role-playing game about doing your best helping a girl grow up”, by Grumpy Bear Stuff — March 8th

Admittedly my blood-sugar is low but I cried while reading this campaign. — Amy

Solitaire

OurChildren: “Explore a mysterious world where time reemerges from the flow of past and discover the secret behind it”, by Howl (Epiphany — a Visual Novel in VHS style) — March 12th

2022 Quest Calendar: A quest-a-day role-playing calendar, by Sundial Games llc (2021 Quest Calendar: A Year of Adventure) — March 31st

Accessories

Hexplorer: A collection of mix-and-match dungeon tyles, by Headless Hydra Press (Hexplorer: Create Whiteboard Maps for 5e and Other TTRPGs) — March 5th

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

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