Saturday, November 3, 2007

World D&D Day

World D&D Day is today. Our regular tables will be full with three D&D sessions and a Star Wars session. That's just session one. Session two will have a couple sessions as well, possibly with me as DM.

D&D is what got me into running a store. I would have been perfectly happy with an "adventure" game store of the 90's, before the Internet, when "game store" meant fantasy store. It was when game stores had a lock on the market and they could be as quirky and personality driven as anything you've seen. It also meant they could skimp on service, cleaning and other essentials, but you know, I never noticed.

Today fantasy games, meaning role-playing games are a small part of the game store scene. For us they were a healthy 15% of our sales (now around 10%), not including dice and miniatures. RPG's in general have been in decline of late. The rise of the last edition of D&D rose up a lot of small, creative companies and crashed them down on the rocks again when the speculative D&D "D20" bubble burst. Customers soured on anything not "official" D&D and a lot of creative people left the industry, leaving a sucking vacuum.

Anything not D&D has had an uphill battle, while anything D&D but not "official" content has had the D20 stigma hurting its sales. There have been a few exceptions, mostly new editions of old stuff. For us, Warhammer Fantasy has done moderately well. Mutants and Masterminds, World of Darkness, Shadowrun and several innovative games like Serenity and Savage Worlds have emerged from the muck. The small press scene has made a lot of smoke and a few small camp fires. Of several dozen titles, I've seen three break-out hits: Burning Wheel, Dogs in the Vineyard and my favorite, Spirit of the Century. "Break-out hit" means they sell as well as any D&D book, the baseline for RPG success.

Despite minor successes, D&D dominates RPG sales, around 60% for us and another 10% in D20 supporting material. This is true of most stores, if they have a variety of RPG products. The rest of that 30% is divided thinly between many different game systems. It always brings up the game store question, could we sell D&D only and drop the 30% of games that take up 80% of the space? I wouldn't because I love them, not necessarily a good business decision, but I've talked to new game store owners who plan on it.

In-store D&D games are a mixed bag. The dirty secret of in-store D&D games is, uh, well, they don't make any money. The DM is usually saddled with making most of the purchases while players buy a book or two and maybe some dice in the beginning of the campaign. Then the buying dries up and you hope they'll buy a Coke or a candy bar on ocassion. This is compared to miniature gamers who constantly add to their armies or card gamers who buy packs of cards to expand their decks after getting walloped.

In-store D&D is community service, while in-store miniature gaming is a profit center. That's why you'll rarely see a Saturday D&D event or Friday Night D&D. D&D gets week nights, slow times, afternoons. Still, I get excited watching them play. I giggle and laugh as the party splits up or when the young player tries to negotiate with a dragon. There's something special in a role-playing session that I don't experience by pushing little men across a terrain table. World D&D Day celebrates this.


  1. I like this format much better... the other one looked like some owner of a tabletop gaming store chose it... and you know how weird those people are

  2. Gary, we were in the midst of our own WWDDD celebration when I dreamily walked back to the counter and told the guys that no other genre of gaming, however lucrative or popular, gives me the same pleasure as listening to multiple RPG groups playing it up in the store. I agree with you entirely.