Tag Archives: shadowrun

RPG Evolution – 2015 Q3

Hello, and welcome to the last installment of RPG Evolution, at least as you know it.  Things have been a bit crazy here at Games & Stuff over the last few weeks (opening a temporary holiday pop up store will do that) but today I’m here with the Q3 RPG report, albeit a few weeks later than intended. Why do I call it the “last one?” Well, early next year I’ll be launching RPGEvolution.com

You can go visit now although it’s just a placeholder. While I’ll still be doing these quarterly sales breakdowns, I also wanted a platform to discuss the business of roleplaying games in a way that allows me to a bit more freedom. So you’ll be seeing more frequent articles, and covering a wide variety of topics related to the business of RPG retail. Got ideas for me? Shoot me an email at Paul@gamesandstuffonline.com

And with that, let’s get to the numbers:

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Q2 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q2 Rank #1)
  3. Star Wars (Q2 Rank #1)
  4. Shadowrun (Q2 Rank #5)
  5. Dragon Age 
  6. End of the World (Q2 Rank #16)
  7. Feng Shui 
  8. Warhammer 40,000 (Q2 Rank #4)
  9. The One Ring (Q2 Rank #7)
  10. Dresden Files (Q2 Rank #12)
  11. Fantasy Age 
  12. Cyper System 
  13. Iron Kingdoms (Q2 Rank #13)
  14. Legend of the Five Rings (Q2 Rank #17)
  15. Dungeon Crawl Classics (Q2 Rank #6)
  16. Numenera (Q2 Rank #14)
  17. 13th Age (Q2 Rank #9)
  18. Dread (Q2 Rank #18)
  19. Fate (Q2 Rank #10)
  20. The Strange

DragonAgeRulebookBig news this time around is NEW HOTNESS. No less than four entries in the Top 20 that are brand new releases.  Dragon Age, Feng Shui, Fantasy Age and the Cypher System all ranked this time around.
I honestly don’t expect the Cyper System to have much sales longevity, the market is simply too crowded with “generic” systems at the moment. FATE seems to have developed into the go-to, plus Cypher doesn’t have the weight of a Wil Wheaton webseries behind it like Fantasy Age does.

fengshui2_coveAdditionally, most of the sales of the Cypher rulebook seem to have come from Monte Cook Games aficionados, and even Numenera and The Strange seem to be slowing quite a bit. Numenera was an eight units per release line for me, now it’s three. The Strange is even less, thought there’s a steady trickle of catalog sales from both of them. We’ll see.

 

 

ShadowrunDataTrailsShadowrun continues to be really strong for me. It’s been very close to eclipsing Star Wars numbers a few times, which is saying something considering there’s a Star Wars movie coming out that you may have heard about. In my store Shadowrun is really benefiting from in store organized play. If you carry Shadowrun, and you don’t currently have somebody running the Shadowrun Missions program in your store, make it happen.

One Ring and 13th Age are both suffering from a lack of releases.  They continue to have strong ongoing catalog sales, but without shiny new books to sell, they’re not gonna crack the Top 10. We’ve got a Gamemaster’s Screen & Resource Book coming for 13th Age, and Horse-lords of Rohan coming for The One Ring, so both lines should see spikes, that last one especially.

That’s it for now, short and sweet. Go make your stores successful this holiday, and I’ll see you in the new year with an all new all different RPGEvolution.com!

-Paul Alexander Butler is the Director of Retail Operations at Games and Stuff. 

Cyberpunk 101 by John Appel

During one of our recent Shadowrun Missions nights, I was surprised to find that a lot of the players weren’t familiar with a lot of the classic works of the genre. Now, tropes and conventions are things that should be played with and can evolve over time. But the echoing waves of the first pebbles cast into the cyberpunk pond more than 40 years ago still influence the work going on today.

Defining the Genre

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and is usually a “near-future” form of SF. Cyberpunk worlds are generally dystopias featuring high-tech low-lives, cybernetic human enhancement, and the ascendency of corporate power. The protagonists ofcyberpunk stories are usually the underdogs, and usually work in opposition to the established power structure – that’s where the punk comes in. Cyberpunk stories often have a lot of elements from noir fiction. Many of the characters have dubious or hidden motives, and they often have secrets which are revealed over the course of the story.
One could argue that certain aspects of cyberpunk have done a much better job of predicting the times we live in now (30-40 years after first publication) than SF of the 50s and 60s did. I think there’s a lot of merit to that argument.

From the Days Before “-punk”

If you ask most science fiction fans for the name of the first book in the cyberpunk genre, they’ll probably point to William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”. Pfui. The core features of what became cyberpunk were around long before Gibson came on the scene. (He’s arguably one of the people who made it cool, though.) For example, Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (1968) – better known by it’s cinematic adaptation, “Blade Runner” (1982) – packs many of the classic features of cyberpunk almost two decades before Gibson. (And so does the Alan E. Nourse novel “The Bladerunner” (1974), about a man who deals in black market medical supplies.)
While it lacks some of the darkness, noir atmosphere and stylistic features of classic cyberpunk, John Brunner’s “The Shockwave Rider” (1975) gets a lot of things right in a truly scary fashion. Brunner coined the term “worm” for self-replicating computer viruses, for one thing. “The Shockwave Rider” includes e-mail (and spam), ubiquitous surveillance society, and a ton of other things not seen in SF at that time. It’s a relatively short book (by today’s standards) that makes wonder if a time traveller from 2014 popped into Brunner’s place for tea one day, and this book is the result of their conversation.

The Classic Core

I mentioned it before, but “Neuromancer” (1984) is one of the defining works of the genre, despite not being first. What many people don’t realize is that while he was creating a vision of a high tech-low life hacker future, William Gibson knew nothing about computers. Diddly. He didn’t even own a personal computer of any kind at the time (not all that unusual for the early 80s). But here we get in one package a lot of the things we recognize today as cyberpunk. Throw in the anthologies “Burning Chrome” (Gibson, 1986) and “Mirrorshades” (edited by Bruce Sterling, 1986) for maximum immersion into these particular thematic currents.
Less well known but still one of the core works of the genre is Walter Jon Williams’ “Hardwired” (1986), and you can have my battered early-printing paperback when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. Williams wasn’t the first to introduce the concept of hardwiring human brains to control vehicles, but in Cowboy he really explores this idea in a way rarely seen before or since. We also get to see a sundered United States, enhancements that would become skill wires in Shadowrun, and everybody’s favorite mode of transport, the ground effect armored vehicle known as a “panzer”.
Bruce Sterling, along with Gibson, is one of the founding members of the cyberpunk movement in science ficiton. Sterling produced some great though under-rated work. The one I’ll usually point folks to is “Islands in the Net” (1988) which features corporate citizenship, data havens, drones, and asymmetric warfare during a globe-trotting ride through a near-future world.
The last of the big core works is Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (1992), the book that made him a star of the writing world. Stephenson takes the sundering of the United States (and other countries) a lot further than Williams does. He also creates something called “The Metaverse” which heavily influenced the development of MMOs, and does it all with almost adolescent irreverence.

Contemporaneous Stuff

Lots of people wrote works in the cyberpunk school during the big wave of the 1980s and early 1990s. And while Sturgeon’s Law (“90% of everything is crap”) might apply, there’s some really cool and influential stuff from that period that isn’t as well-known. One I mention to my Shadowrun players all the time is Joe Clifford Faust’s “The Company Man” (1988). This book was – no nice way to say it – plundered at length by some of the Shadowrun authors (as was “Hardwired”) due to the wonderful ideas within. Chief among those is the eponymous archetype, The Company Man, a corporate employee who tackles illegal or questionable jobs for his employer. The term “dogbrain” comes from this book too. So does the “pizza run”, a type of mission designed to cause a moderate level of mayhem with an absolute minimum of violence. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Somewhat more literary, and with definitely a different spin on things, George Alec Effinger’s “Marid Audran” novels are set in a fictionalized Middle East. Effinger’s “Budayeen” neighborhood is actually a pretty thinly-veiled version of the old New Orleans French Quarter, but several Muslim writers affirm Effinger got their culture right better than most Western literature. Start with the first book, “When Gravity Fails” (1987), which introduces Audran and his friends.
My favorite lesser known-works from this period though are Daniel Keys Moran’s stories of Trent Castanaveras, aka “Trent the Uncatchable”. You could start with “Emerald Eyes” (1988) with Trent as a boy and introduce a lot of characters seen later. But for my money the best of the lot is “The Long Run” (1989), in which Trent earns his nickname. “The Long Run” can be  If you want a better idea about what life as a cybernetically enhanced combat soldier/policeman might be like, look at Moran’s PKF Elite troopers. Also, flying cars! The climactic heist at the end (on the moon, no less) is a thrilling, page-turning sequence that keeps you guessing up until the last moment.

Branching Out & Newer Works

While it straddles the line of transhumanism, Richard K. Morgan’s “Altered Carbon” is in many ways a cyberpunk book, updated smartly for the early 21st century. Morgan’s books are Very, very violent. (Trigger warnings for torture, sexual assault and violence against women.)
Elizabeth Bear’s “Worldwired” books (start with “Hammered”, 2005) open with a broken-down former Canadian warrant officer who’s living through the breakdown of her cybernetics in a broken down 21st-century Connecticut.
On it’s way to becoming a movie, Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” is both a cyberpunk book and a loving paen to 1980s pop culture all in one.

Wrapping it Up

This is, as the title says, just a level 101 introduction to cyberpunk. Hopefully it gives you some starting points to begin your own exploration of this branch of SF, and adds to the enjoyment of your games.
John Appel is a veteran RPG gamer and captain of the Shadowrun Missions here at the store. He has been GMing Shadowrun and similar games for many years and knows the genre inside and out!

RPG EVOLUTION – 2015 Q2

RPG Evolution is a semi-regular column in which I discuss the retail business side of selling role-playing games.  In addition to periodic special installments, once every three months I break down the twenty top selling RPGs by sales volume at Games and Stuff.

Happy July everyone, and welcome to the halfway point of the year.
Today we don’t have any especially big surprises about our best selling RPGs, but we do have the reappearance of a few old friends, and we get to see if my predictions from spring have proven true. So here’s the Top 20 for the period of April 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015:

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Q1 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q1 Rank #2)
  3. Star Wars (Q1 Rank #3)
  4. Warhammer 40,000 (Q1 Rank #5)
  5. Shadowrun (Q1 Rank #4)
  6. Dungeon Crawl Classics
  7. The One Ring (Q1 Rank #6)
  8. Mutant Year Zero (Q1 Rank #15)
  9. 13th Age (Q1 Rank #8)
  10. Fate (Q1 Rank #7)
  11. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  12. The Dresden Files
  13. Iron Kingdoms (Q1 Rank #17)
  14. Numenera (Q1 Rank #10)
  15. Through the Breach
  16. The End of the World (Q1 Rank #12)
  17. Legend of the Five Rings
  18. Dread
  19. Trail of Cthulhu (Q1 Rank #14)
  20. White Wolf/World of Darkness

ShadowrunRunFasterNo big shocks in the Top Five, as Shadowrun and Warhammer 40,000 continue their tussle for the number four spot.  The 40K sales are absolutely driven by the second edition of Dark Heresy and the new releases for that line, although the back catalog sales of Deathwatch and Rogue Trader are quite strong.  As I’ve stated before, six months ago I would have never thought that the 40K games would still be in the top five, but the enduring appeal of the grimdark future of the 41st Millennium has proven me wrong.
Shadowrun for its part, didn’t have a core hardback release this quarter, so the flip-flop is expected, but with both Data Trails and Chrome Flesh releasing in Q3, Shadowrun should return the punches next time around.

It’s also worth noting that in April, for the first time since its release, the sales of Dungeons & Dragons were eclipsed by those of Pathfinder, but it didn’t last, and as you can see, it wasn’t enough to keep D&D from the top spot over the course of the quarter. In case you missed it, back in May I wrote a big article about my thoughts on the future of D&D and Pathfinder, which you can check out here.

DCCGhostRingMy personal favorites The One Ring and 13th Age seem to have mostly firmed up their positions in the Top 10, although the appearance of Dungeon Crawl Classics in the #6 spot shook things up a bit. DCC has been in our list before, but my full time Assistant Manager George recently took a shine to the line after hosting the game for a Free RPG Day session, and his excitement for the game (and his own not insignificant purchasing) helped push it back into the Top 10.  As always, never underestimate what your own passions will do for the sales of an RPG line in your store.

MutantYearZeroProductsThe big story this time around is Mutant Year Zero.  Yes, I did in fact predict this back in May.  This is the the post-apocalyptic game you’ve been looking for.  Not as silly as Gamma World, and not zombie-centric, once we got a decent restock (thanks Aldo!) the thing has taken off and never looked back.  It’s got some really cool “Ark” rules that detail the survivors’ enclave and how it grows and changes throughout the course of the campaign.

A lot of fresh and returning titles this month: Legend of the Five Rings makes its return to the list, thanks to a massive and long overdue line-wide reprint.  Lamentations of the Flame Princess had four simultaneous releases in April, including the $42.99 hardback A Red & Pleasant Land.  Dresden Files generated a pile of cash from the release of the game’s third hardback, The Paranet Papers, while the appearance of Dread on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop drove sales of that game.  For those of you that don’t know, instead of cards or dice Dread uses a Jenga set, and sales of that classic game have picked up as a result.

PrimevalThuleOf special note is Primeval Thule.  This setting book from Sasquatch Game Studio (the creative team behind D&D’s Princes of the Apocalypse) is available in both Pathfinder and 13th Age versions.  So while the sales of those books are included in their respective lines above, it’s worth noting that if the Primeval Thule setting was listed as its own game line, it would have ranked at #19.  Similarly the Dragon Kings book, a completely system-free setting book which is a spiritual descendant of Dark Sun (from one of the original designers of that setting) just barely missed the chart at #22.

Looking ahead, I expect the Star Wars Force and Destiny rulebook release might potentially threaten Pathfinder’s hold on the #2 spot.  I doubt it will actually break through, but it might be close.  The second End of the World  book, Wrath of the Gods will give that game a boost, although it’s unlikely it will reach the heights that Zombie Apocalypse reached, although with Cthulhu on the cover, even that’s not certain.  (Not to mention, is there room for two Cthulhu Apocalypse RPGs?  Pelgrane’s Cthlulhu Apocalyse for Trail of Cthulhu is will probably be out before the end of September as well.)  Finally, if Cubicle 7 manages to release Horse-Lords of Rohan in Q3, The One Ring might see a massive influx of new players as the fan favorite Rohirrim enter the game as a playable culture.

Until next time,

-Paul Alexander Butler is the Director of Retail Operations at Games and Stuff.  For those keeping score at home, RPG Sales at Games and Stuff are up 29.3% over this time last year. But August of 2014 was the release of the D&D Player’s Handbook, so NEXT quarter is when those year-on-year numbers will be interesting.

 

RPG EVOLUTION – 2015 Q1

Hello to all the retailers just joining us after we spoke at the GAMA Trade Show in March.  I hope you find this little ramble of mine useful.

So, what’s there to talk about? Well, let’s start with the list.  Here’s the Top 20 RPGs by sales volume at Games and Stuff for the period of January 1 through March 31.  (With last quarter’s ranking where appropriate)

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Q4 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q4 Rank #2)
  3. Star Wars (Q4 Rank #3)
  4. Shadowrun (Q4 Rank #5)
  5. Warhammer 40,000 (Q4 Rank #9)
  6. The One Ring (Q4 Rank #6)
  7. Fate (Q4 Rank #11)
  8. 13th Age (Q4 Rank #10)
  9. Mutants & Masterminds
  10. Numenera 
  11. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 
  12. The End of the World (Q4 Rank #18)
  13. The Strange (Q4 Rank #14)
  14. Trail of Cthulhu (Q4 Rank #8)
  15. Mutant Year Zero
  16. Yggdrasil
  17. Iron Kingdoms
  18. Dungeon World 
  19. Monster of the Week
  20. A Song of Ice and Fire (Q4 Rank #16)

I actually have a lot of thoughts about Pathfinder and D&D these days, but it’s enough that I’m going to write a separate article about it.  Keep your eyes open for a RPG Evolution Supplemental in a week or so.

So with that being said, what else is interesting this time around?

dark_heresy_second_edition_frontA huge surprise to me, the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs have climbed back up to their usual perch in the Top 5, largely thanks to increased interest in the second edition Dark Heresy stuff. Though we also did a bit of remerchandising, moving the games to their own endcap display to allow FFG’s Star Wars stuff to spread out.  I was just talking about scaling back on this line in January! Funny how that works- we pulled 40K from a primo position on the FFG wall due to declining sales, and boom! sales go up in its new home.  If you haven’t learned this counter-intuitive merchandising lesson by now, take it to heart.  Move stuff around, and do it frequently.

Shadowrun continues to gain steam, now firmly ensconced in our Top 5, with new hardback releases typically selling as many as 15-20 copies in the first week of release.  We’ll see periodic dips during slow release months, but viewed over time, it’s an incredibly important line for us.  Sales of second-hand product is also great (and as a reminder, no second-hand sales are included in our sales rankings for the purposes of RPG Evolution.)

13th Age is also gaining traction. I love the crap out of this game and as I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently playing in a Dark Sun campaign using this system. (Nothing will increase your RPG sales like you talking about your home campaign at your store.) I’d like to think this game deserves a regular spot in the Top 10.

13TrueWaysCoverSpread

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay‘s appearance on this list is a complete anomaly. FFG has ceased publication of new material for this game, and I’d long ago stopped restocking it. But I have a lot of love for the game, and even wrote a memorial article about it. As stock levels on my shelves began to dip, I think fans of the game started worrying that it was going to disappear so snapped it all up. It’s all gone now, and at $49.99 and more apiece, that added up quickly.

There’s also a number of games on the list that have shown up in the Top 20 previously, but have skipped a quarter or two.  It just goes to show how cyclical some of these games are, with sales spiking with new releases or when an alpha gamer or two starts a campaign in the store.  These games include (for my store) Mutants & Masterminds, Numenera, Iron Kingdoms and Dungeon World. On a monthly or even quarterly basis, these games don’t seem that important, but given the long view, their impact on the bottom line reveals itself.  Further evidence that a broad selection of RPGs contributes to the health of the department in unexpected ways.  Think beyond your Top 5!

Finally, some games to watch:
The End of the World – this game continues to truck along and sell copy after copy. It’s a perfect pickup game, and the three additional titles forthcoming, we’re gonna see some volume out of this.

MutantYearZeroMutant Year Zero – The newest offering from Modiphius (publishers of Achtung! Cthulhu and the forthcoming Conan and Infinity RPGs) seems to have caught the eye of a lot of gamers. My first batch sold out immediately, and with a hefty restock coming in and the seal of approval from my Assistant Manager, I wouldn’t be surprised if this title threatens to break the Top 10 when we’re back here talking numbers in early July.

 

-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff.  He likes to go to trade shows and loudly pontificate about how retailers could be selling more RPGs than they are.

-RPG Evolution is Paul’s quarterly column wherein he talks about the business of selling Roleplaying Games.

RPG EVOLUTION – 2014 Q4

A little late, but here we are.  Let’s discuss what the RPG sales at Games and Stuff looked like for the last three months of 2014.

DungeonMastersGuide5ENo surprises for the top three spots, as they’ve look pretty much the same since July.  The D&D machine is plugging along a a great clip, with the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide at the end of November driving sales.  Star Wars is only growing, and with the release of Force and Destiny next year, it’s gonna narrow the gap separating it from Pathfinder.  (It certainly doesn’t hurt that we’ve got a Star Wars RPG contributor on staff.)

  1. Dungeons and Dragons (Q3 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q3 Rank #2)
  3. Star Wars (Q3 Rank #3)
  4. Through the Breach
  5. Shadowrun (Q3 Rank #4)
  6. The One Ring (Q3 Rank #5)
  7. White Wolf
  8. Trail of Cthulhu
  9. Warhammer 40,000 (Q3 Rank #6)
  10. 13th Age (Q3 Rank #12)
  11. Fate (Q3 Rank #15)
  12. Legend of the Five Rings (Q3 Rank #13)
  13. Call of Cthulhu  (Q3 Rank #19)
  14. The Strange (Q3 Rank #10)
  15. Doctor Who (Q3 Rank #9)
  16. A Song of Ice and Fire
  17. Firefly
  18. The End of the World
  19. Adventure Maximus! (Q3 Rank #8)
  20. Dread

 

throughthebreachplayersSo what else is interesting?  The big one of course is Through the Breach.  The RPG based on the world of the Malifaux miniatures game made its debut at #4 on our list, outselling Shadowrun and recent best-seller One Ring.  While I personally listed Through the Breach as my RPG of the year, I don’t really have any thoughts about longevity for this title.  Right now I think it’s in the “I’m checking this out” phase, and any actual table play that develops is going to seriously inform future sales.  I’m sure a lot of volume came from curious Malifaux miniatures players.

White Wolf (which is to say, Onyx Path) has reared its head again, once again proving that it deserves the space it gets on my shelf as part of their POD retailer program. But it’s becoming more and more apparent that the lion’s share of these numbers belong to core rulebooks, the 20th Anniversary editions in particular.   These purchases are largely motivated by nostalgia so aren’t really providing the basis for deeper catalog sales.  We won’t be stocking the supplements or newer games going forward.

Warhammer 40K continues its slide down the chart, with a much decreased release schedule and FFG clearly putting more effort into Star Wars.  It’s just about at the point where I’m considering scaling back on the line and not carrying every single title.  Space for three Star Wars lines isn’t going to come out of thin air after all.

13th age13th Age continues it’s climb to sales glory, finally cracking the top ten.  With five titles plus some third party stuff now in the line, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the game is here to stay, and it has a great deal of appeal to old school D&D players whose tastes swing more toward the narrative end of the spectrum.  And it’s a personal favorite of a few staff members  (My assistant manager and I are now three sessions deep into a 13th Age Dark Sun campaign.)

 

EndOfTheWorldZombieApocThe first game in the new End of the World RPG series (Zombie Apocalypse) from FFG has  a strong showing at #18 (it was my #9 game for December, the month it debuted.)  Maybe zombies have been beaten to death in the board gaming realm, but this game proves it’s still got some life in it.  Me? I’m waiting for the next volume – “Wrath of the Gods”.

One other thing I’d like to point out.  “The World’s Greatest GM Screen” from Hammer Dog Games.  If this were listed here as a game line, it would rank at #13.  That’s a lot of happy gamemasters out there, and a perfect poster child for how a strong RPG department can generate ancillary sales through RPG accessories.  I plan on talking at length about RPG accessory sales in a future column.

My total RPG sales were up 46% vs 2013.  We’re in a boom time for RPGs right now folks.  Take advantage of it, and use the influx of interest to build a foundation for those lean years.  We won’t always have a shiny new D&D to do all the work for us.

And I’ll leave you there.
We’ll talk again in April, when we see what 2015 has done for us in its first few months, and I’ll be fresh from the GAMA Trade Show, where I’m sure I’ll get some cool scuttlebutt on forthcoming releases.

-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff.  He’s been playing RPGs since the late 1970’s and managing specialty retail stores since the early 1990’s.  He likes to think this gives him the authority to talk about stuff like he knows what he’s doing.

-RPG Evolution is Paul’s quarterly column wherein he talks about the business of selling Roleplaying Games.