Mr Popular

Posted: 6 September 2013 in Reviews
Tags: ,

From time to time, I wonder: What are the cool kids playing?

That’s not as easy to find out as one might wish, but as usual on the internet, a number of people have already put a lot of effort into answering any question one might ask; and by triangulating their views one can hopefully come to a credible conclusion.

Rank ICv2: Sales GenCon: Seats GenCon: Events Obsidian Portal: Campaigns
1 Pathfinder Pathfinder (10,865) Pathfinder (476) D&D (~26,000)
2 D&D D&D (7,734) D&D (220) Pathfinder 9,388
3 Star Wars Small Press RPGs (1,920) Star Wars (104) Savage Worlds (1,270)
4 Iron Kingdoms Legend of the Five Rings (863) Call of Cthulhu (92) World of Darkness (1,135)
5 Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch Call of Cthulhu (639) Shadowrun (91) “Other” (1,037)


  • I’ve lumped editions together, so for example D&D covers all the versions from OD&D to D&D Next.
  • ICv2 looks at pop culture from the vendor’s viewpoint, and every 3-6 months they publish lists of what is selling best among the people they talk to. The latest figures are for Spring 2013; encouragingly, they report that hobby games are entering their fifth consecutive year of growth. They’re a bit coy about actual volumes, mind.
  • GenCon Seats: Several sites, including RPGGeek and RPG Blog II, look at how much opportunity there is to play various games at conventions, usually GenCon. For GenCon 2013, RPGGeek forum poster brumcg shows the top 5 as these. The number of seats is a first approximation to how easy it would be to get into a game of a specific RPG. My favourite, Savage Worlds, would be in 8th place by this listing, with 441 seats. (I picked GenCon because it’s easy to get hard numbers, and it’s the biggest.)
  • GenCon Events: RPG Blog II takes a view based on numbers of events rather than numbers of seats, and notes that the D&D and Call of Cthulhu sessions include many different editions, and that if you lump all the Savage Worlds sessions including Deadlands, Hellfrost and other settings together it would be in the top 5 rather than 6th place.
  • Obsidian Portal Campaigns: ICv2 and GenCon data are arguably skewed by what manufacturers and vendors are promoting at the moment, but Obsidian Portal – essentially an online wiki for your campaign – should avoid that bias as the numbers reflect what individual groups want to play.
  • I did consider looking at how many blogs there are for each game, but the Old School Renaissance movement and OD&D seem to punch above their weight in this area; more recent games like Pathfinder and Savage Worlds seem to appear more in forum posts than on blogs.


What are the cool kids playing? Pathfinder, by a country mile – about 40% of all events and seats at GenCon are Pathfinder, and sales have outstripped D&D for the last several years. D&D has a larger installed base, to borrow a term from IT, but it’s fragmented across 9 or so different versions, all of which individually are at best on a par with Pathfinder, and usually much smaller.

Arguably, of course, Pathfinder is a form of D&D, and if you look at it from that angle, the RPG hobby consists of D&D plus debris – it outnumbers the next nearest contender 20 or 30 to one.

  1. brassjester says:

    I’m surprised that there’s no Traveller – I would have thought that would have been popular

  2. andyslack says:

    Oh, there’s quite a bit of it about, but it’s not in the top five anywhere I’ve found.

    Sadly, throughout my gaming career, I’ve found Traveller to be what groups play when there is no D&D to be had. I have only ever met one player (apart from me, of course) who actively preferred it to everything else.

    • brassjester says:

      I agree totally. Traveller was the second RPG I owned (I got the boxed LBB set for my birthday in 1978). Sadly, my friends were expecting D & D in space and weren’t really interested. The first adventure I ran was “Shadows”, followed by “Annic Nova”, which didn’t get completed. Then a friend bought “The Kinunir” and tried to run it without any preparation whatsoever. Needless to say, it went badly wrong, he donated the book to me (one of my prize possessions now!) and they never played again.

      BTW Andy, we actually met at Games Day years ago. You were demonstrating “Azhanti High Lightning” and I joined in as one of the boarding party as I recall.

      • andyslack says:

        Outstanding! I remember the game, but hadn’t connected you to it! Small world, eh? 🙂

  3. […] mind what the cool kids are playing, what are we playing […]

  4. Charles F. Blakely says:

    Well, you can count me as a Traveller player first and foremost with Tekumel/EPT a close second. Typically, I have to run both in order to have anything going on at all. D&D abounds in Huntsville, Alabama. I see you are listed as an Admin for the new FB Traveller site. What is your role as an admin on this site? Just curious, since you seem to have an on again, off again relationship with Traveller. Regardless, I’m looking forward to new ideas from you about Traveller – whenever and however they happen!

    • andyslack says:

      Good choices! Yes, I blow hot and cold on gaming in general and individual games; I also found that most people would only play Traveller if there were no D&D games on.

      FB Traveller admin? No idea who made me an admin, why, or what I’m supposed to do… Pretty sure I’m not doing it, whatever it is!

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