Favorite RPG Publisher — #RPGaDay2015, Day 10
It’s funny, the last entry had me struggling to find some logical criterion on which to hang a specific choice, while this one just runs down to which company I like the best of my vast and unnumbered collection. Coming up with a clear best in this category is a lot easier, but I feel like I’m much more inclined to make a Top Ten list of which game publishers I’d jump to.
Favorite RPG Publisher
This is one of those topics that seems prone to changing as my tastes and groups change. Perhaps the best way to give consideration to the ideas is to follow a basic chronology. Back in the early days, I was partial to TSR (back when it was TSR, which also meant that the field was notably narrower in comparison), but that has as much to do with my own limited tastes as anything else. I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons back in late elementary school, and I became a bit of a fanatic for a number of years. (As elementary school children will tend to be. It was one of those experiences that blew open the doors of my perception, to reference William Blake and Jim Morrison.)
This was followed up with TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game, which introduced a lot of fascinating and weirdly groundbreaking ideas to the mix. It was a huge departure from the way that D&D played, which was enough to keep our young group on track to both hold its parent company in high regard and develop our nascent skills as gamers.
From there, we discovered West End Games and their D6 Star Wars RPG. This carried us for several years of determined play, during which TSR was solidly displaced as my favorite company. There was a brief return to the wiles of TSR with my discovery of Ravenloft, but that was brief and subsequently Torg surfaced on my radar of interest, keeping WEG firmly in place as my favored publisher. When the company flamed out due to shoe company finances (seriously), they lost prominence for me utterly. (Not being a viable company will do that for you.)
From there, I followed the trail of WEG alumni to their various new companies, ending up with Shane Hensley’s Pinnacle Entertainment Group when they published Deadlands in its original form. I was a particular fan of this system and worldset, despite the fact that Westerns as an RPG genre were something of a hard sell. (If you consider that the only other one, up to this point, had been Boot Hill, you can see how little impact they’ve had. Even now, there’s only really been Aces & Eights, and most of the limited popularity of that comes from the fact that it’s Kenzer putting it out.)
Pinnacle fell out of favor with me when they decided to make a full switch to the Savage Worlds system, which I have learned to loathe (even as I tried my damnedest to accept and run with).
When I was living abroad, I latched onto White Wolf, mainly for their Exalted line. I had picked up various World of Darkness games over the years, as much due to the tastes of my larger gaming group, but they had never made a great deal of impact on my tastes. This changed with Exalted, which I connected to on some visceral level and allowed me to put some of my classical lit studies to use. I followed this up with a lengthy Werewolf: The Apocalypse campaign, which simply served to cement WW as a favored company for that much longer.
In shuffling through these different games and companies, I’m struck by the understanding that my shift in loyalty has less to do with changing tastes and more to do with the way the companies themselves change over the course of their corporate decisions. TSR fell out of favor as much because the company was driven into the ground as anything else. Had they not melted down internally, they might have been able to keep my interest for longer. West End was huge for me, but similarly their failure as a company was what had them fall out of favor completely for me. Pinnacle continues to exist (mostly; there’s some sort of corporate shift with how they do business with Studio 2, but that’s nothing I’ve looked too closely at), but it was their decision to kill the Classic Deadlands line in favor of Savage Worlds that caused my eventual migration away. The destruction of White Wolf at the hands of the Icelandic MMO company, CCP, was what propelled them into their current iteration as Onyx Path. (And the less said here about that whole bit, the better.)
The destruction of the D&D 3.5 brand brought me to Paizo, which deserves mention. I like the guys at Paizo, I own a lot of Pathfinder, and I’ve played it consistently over the years. That said, Pathfinder holds a place as the faithful mainstay, rather than the flashy obsession.
There are a couple of companies that deserve credit for consistent quality and longevity, namely R. Talsorian and Alderac, but the sad truth is that they never quite became “favorite” companies for me. I own a lot of Cyberpunk and Mekton, but neither game ended up being anything that I consistently ran or played. I have every edition of Legend of the Five Rings, but the truth is, I’ve only ever been in one campaign of that, and it sort of petered out in the course of a year.
These days, my favor seems to lie with Fantasy Flight Games, as much because of their Star Wars license as any other reason. I’ve fallen deeply in love with Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny, for all their ambition and rediscovery of a well-established property. I’ve also invested rather deeply in an X-Wing Miniatures collection, which is a money sink of the worst order. Given time, I might also have put together a Warhammer Fantasy collection, but that ship seems to have sailed. We’ll see how long I can persist with this obsession, given the relatively unstable nature of my playing group at present and the questions of finance.
Given time, I might eventually shift my loyalties toward Cubicle 7, but that will remain to be seen. I’m a huge fan of the detail they’ve put into Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space and the Lone Wolf Adventure Game, as well as the translation of Kuro and One Ring (which I believe was originally in Spanish), but none of these games have yet seen play for me. They have amazing production values and dedication to their various properties, so this might just be a matter of time.
Also of note are Kotodama Heavy Industries, for their efforts in translating Tenra Bansho Zero and Ryuutama, Agate and Studio 2 for bringing Shadows of Esteren to the States, and Green Ronin for general excellence. I haven’t spent enough time with any of their products to inspire proper obsession (what I hinge my favoritism on), but they hold a particular place in my collection.