Your supermarket may still make the option available but for a few years now that oft-repeated question has no longer been uttered at my local market. Instead, the prevalent decision was made for us in that, unless you specifically wanted paper, you’re getting plastic. Move on with the times! (Besides, you should be bringing your own reusable canvas bags, just sayin’…) In our RPGs there are a few anachronistic trappings that have been left back in the annals of time—although a few make their occasional return in boutique products. You have to specifically state that you want your paper.

So what trends did we see in 2013 and what might 2014 hold out for us?

PDFs

Becoming more and more prevalent, PDFs are a boon for a variety of reasons, rarely due to cost, however. They provide ready access to a back catalog for a number of publishers, a way to push out product quickly prior to their printed counterparts, serve as a testbed to spot errors, provide an easy way to update with errata, and a host of more benefits. Factor in “microRPGs” (I may have just made that up), and anyone with a word processor and a semblance of time can be their own publisher. Providing you’re willing to sort the wheat from the chaff undoubtedly there are gems to be found.

All is not wonderful, as the quality is wildly across the board, some PDFs are merely digital versions of print products, making no strategic advantage of the medium and killing your ink cartridges with reckless glee, and pricing tends to be a topic of some consternation. Personally, if you’re asking $30 for a PDF I’m just going to get the book.

Print on demand (POD) is a nice middle ground here as well.

Thankfully, the age of onerous DRM is behind us; even watermarking has become less of an issue.

Random Chargen

Back when cassette tapes roamed the earth so did random chargen. Hell, it felt like everything was random. You rolled the dice and you liked it, because the dice knew better! The concept of player choice wouldn’t really take hold until the next generation of RPGs when it was thrust squarely into our hands. But it’s making a comeback, this time with less of a mandate and more of a subtle “if you’d like to use it” framing. That’s wise, because after so many decades of firm player control, taking it away again isn’t likely to go over well.

Besides, it’s time for a few people to die in chargen again! Just sayin’!

(I’m torn between FASA Star Trek, Traveller, and the Aliens RPG for best/worst random chargens. They all receive honorable mentions.)

Odd Sized/Custom Dice

These have really taken off the past several years and just need to die in a fire. Well, at least the stupid d5s and d24s and such that are partly fueled by OSR. Hell, I barely have an excuse to use my d4s and d12s as it is!

It used to be you could show up to your game with a dice bag and pencil and you could play. Not so much, anymore. Now you need special sized dice, your game-specific custom dice, or the dice that take several minutes to understand what the hell you just rolled and how/why it dramatically affects the story.

It’s interesting that we’ve slowly migrated from binary pass/fail mechanics to degrees of success to the dice narrating the game. At some point I expect a game where the dice make the people obsolete.

Some of these I feel are really about “doing something different” (Fudge, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying), others feel more like anti-piracy/revenue-generating ploys (Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Dungeon Crawl Classics). (I’m also tossing Edge of the Empire in here because of their pointless Specialization Decks.)

OSR

I half expected this one to die last year but it keeps plodding along, like a zombie too stubborn to collapse. I can’t begrudge the “old school renaissance,” hell, I gamed through it, but that’s partly why I can’t see what the fuss is about. The thought of playing Basic D&D again makes my skin crawl; I mean I played it once—and all the crap that followed—why would I want to play it again? Sure, those are great times but the funny thing about fond memories is that they rarely stand up to scrutiny. What was cool as a nerd in the 5th grade…notsomuch anymore. (Jill Childress, call me!)

That said, I know I’m in the minority here and I’d never begrudge someone from having their fun. Presumably 2014 will see OSR continue to go on. I expect it’ll take D&D Next to stall this juggernaut.

Plus the artwork sucks. There, I said it. Get off my lawn, you pesky kids! :p

Licensed Games

The trend seems to be heading down. There are still a few out there but the economics of the RPG landscape make sustaining a triple-A license tricky at best. The guarantees are large and approvals can clog your workflow. Plus, the GM- and player-base is more creative than ever and willing to skunk work their own licensed RPG at zero cost.

As a writer and designer who’s worked on his fair share of licensed RPGs—and enjoy running them—that’s a bit of a shame. It’s a good vehicle for bringing in new players and often serves as a launching-point for many GMs.

I think the Marvel Heroic collapse may be partly to blame here.

“Savaged”

I’m quite fond of Savage Worlds—so are many of the Gnomes—but the flurry of activity where every game and its uncle seemed to be getting—or rumored to be receiving—the “savaged” treatment has been pretty amazing. I think the game will continue along just fine but many of those products won’t see the light of day (offhand I can think of three that have already been cancelled).

This was less fueled by demand and more as a perceived opportunity by publishers.

Online Gaming

There have been a few Kickstarters out there and existing, free-to-use mechanisms like Google Hangouts, where people can game online, unfeathered by geography. Sadly, I haven’t had an opportunity to try any myself, but this can only be a trend that will continue to grow in size and popularity as 2014 (and beyond) rolls on. The pervasiveness of broadband and video cameras continues to make this easier and easier.

The focus now seems to be on replicating that tabletop experience of moving miniatures and having access to monster stats. Important for a few games, granted, but focused on that one key demographic: D&D. The vast majority of games don’t need that functionality or that “experience.”

As soon as someone has replicated Martin passing gas over the computer then I’ll consider the “experience” complete. Fortunately, my whining about die rolls remains unfettered online. 🙂

Trendsetter

What other trends—good or bad—do you see prevailing in 2014? Anything that you don’t want to see make a return? Sound off below with your thoughts!