Clayton Christensen, the celebrated author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, talks often about how marketers long ago became convinced that we make decisions about which products and services to buy on the basis of who we are and how we self-identify. He posits that much of this line of thinking is inaccurate, and that what we’re really doing when we make purchasing decisions (which can be extended to choosing political leaders, for example) is hiring. We are selecting something (a product, a service, a candidate, a way to spend our time) to do a job for us.
Tabletop roleplaying is almost always fun. Looking back on the years I’ve spent at the table, I can only think of a few instances when I would have rather been doing something else. And most of those incidents were in my teens, when I didn’t realize that the rules and the whim of the gamemaster are less important than everyone enjoying themselves.
What is the best tabletop RPG? What is the best fantasy roleplaying game? Or sci-fi roleplaying game? Horror? Superhero Historical?
Late one November night in 2007, a tall man in his early 40s hunched over his laptop, hesitantly tapping at the keyboard. He filled in a profile that described himself and his interests. Twice he grabbed the screen as if to close the laptop. He typed several sentences, then erased them, then started anew. Finally he sat back, sighed, and hit the enter button.
As I devoured Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks last weekend, I wondered what had kept me from reading the book much earlier. It had been well reviewed by geeks and non-geeks of all stripes. The author, Ethan Gilsdorf, was born a year before me. Like me, he had spent the bulk of his teenage years playing Dungeons & Dragons. The stars, as they say, were aligned. So why had I waited so long to read the book?
At the end of each year, I run a fairly comprehensive set of analytics to see how people get to Learn Tabletop RPGs, what they do when they’re visiting, and what they are purchasing via affiliate links to DriveThru RPG and Amazon. The 2015 analytics reveal some interesting information that is helping me plan for 2016 updates.
A while ago I asked people on Google +, Reddit, and Tumblr when they were introduced to tabletop roleplaying, who introduced them, and which game they first played. The results of my thoroughly unscientific poll showed that while D&D is the single biggest onramp to tabletop RPGs, its dominance in that regard has declined over time. Now let’s take a look at some of those other games, and the people who bring newcomers into our hobby.
An Unscientific Poll
Since the beginnings of tabletop roleplaying, it’s been a pretty safe assumption that most roleplayers got their start with Dungeons & Dragons. But there have been a lot of games over the years, and some of them have been explicitly focused on attracting newcomers. Is D&D still the point of entry for most of us?
Dungeons & Dragons occupies a special place in my heart. It gave my imagination a means of expression, and it taught me a great deal about everything from teamwork and negotiation to goal-setting and preparation. In junior high and high school it helped me forge strong friendships and shaped a sense of belonging.
Glorantha first sprang from the fertile mind of Greg Stafford in 1966. As he discovered the details of this imaginary world, he kept adjusting its cosmology, magic, history, politics, and cultures. Other contributors got involved, and Glorantha became arguably the most thoroughly developed of all fantasy roleplaying settings.