Analysis: Dungeons and Dragons may soon be dethroned as top tabletop RPG

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Pathfinder rulebookBack on October 7, 2010, an industry report was released, “based on interviews with retailers, distributors, and manufacturers” that Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the #1 selling role playing game (RPG) ever since it was the only RPG, was now tied in sales with another RPG called Pathfinder, by Paizo.

This stunning news simply defied imagination, since never before had a RPG been anything better than a very distant second to D&D. Seeing as the report didn’t come with actual (and impossible to get) sales figures, it wasn’t taken seriously by the fans who cared about such things, including me, but I have to admit that Pathfinder is in a perfect storm situation to become more than just another #2 game.

First, Dungeons and Dragons lost quite a few players when Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) released the 4th edition (4e) of Dungeons and Dragons. This sort of thing happens in every edition, with die-hard fans bitterly clinging to the old rules rather than by the new books. Usually, the gamers attracted to the shiny new game outnumber those attached to the dusty old game, but this time around WotC lost more than usual, as the latest edition abandoned almost every rule and concept from the previous editions.

However, now follow this up with Pathfinder using basically the 3.5 edition rules of D&D, with a few tweaks here and there, along with (arguable) rules fixes. This gave Pathfinder many of the players that felt abandoned by the edition change as well as players looking for something new.

Finally, WotC released Dungeons and Dragons Essentials in the last quarter of 2010, a new edition in everything but name, barely two years after 4e. This further subdivided the D&D market, as many fans of 4e decided not to buy a whole new set of books so soon after investing in 4e.

Even if Pathfinder is mostly old D&D rules played mostly by former D&D players, I still found it hard to believe Pathfinder could possibly catch up to D&D. But, after reading Ryan Dancey’s recent column where he says that, indeed, Pathfinder is outselling D&D, I have to believe it now, even if he offers no proof. Ryan Dancey has an extensive resume in the gaming industry and had much to do with the success of the 3.0 edition of D&D, as well as the Open Gaming License (OGL) that allowed for Pathfinder to exist in the first place.

Calling this the “death of D&D” is a bit of an exaggeration, as Pathfinder is easily recognizable as D&D as it was played a decade or more ago. Even if Pathfinder manages to permanently knock D&D out of the #1 sales spot, it’s still just a case of “old” D&D being more popular than the new. I think Coke had the same thing happen, too, and it all turned out OK in the end.

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