Category Archives: RPG Evolution

Well, it’s April. Let’s see what the start of 2016 has done for us, eh?

Welcome to all the new readers who may have sat in on one of my RPG Evolution seminars at the GAMA Trade show last month. I hope you took something useful away from it. Don’t forget this blog was born out of direct requests from that very seminar, so if there’s something you’d like to see discussed, don’t hesitate to ask.

So, what did the new year bring us? Let’s look at the numbers.
As my usual reminder, this list is game lines by dollar volume at Games and Stuff from the period of 1/1/16 to 3/31/16. It does not include general purpose RPG accessories, miniatures of any sort, or used RPG books.

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Q4 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q4 Rank #2)
  3. Star Wars (Q4 Rank #3)
  4. Shadowrun (Q4 Rank #4)
  5. Warhammer 40,000 (Q4 Rank #6)
  6. Iron Kingdoms 
  7. Dresden Files (Q4 Rank #17)
  8. The One Ring
  9. Mutants & Masterminds 
  10. Dungeon Crawl Classics (Q4 Rank #15)
  11. 13th Age
  12. White Wolf
  13. Shadow of the Demon Lord
  14. Ryuutama
  15. Legend of the Five Rings (Q4 Rank #9)
  16. Firefly
  17. Numenera (Q4 Rank #7)
  18. End of the World (Q4 Rank #18)
  19. Fate
  20. The Strange
  21. Fall of Magic

So, there’s no real surprises in the top five, with STAR WARS and SHADOWRUN continually fighting over the number 3 spot, and my continued incredulity of the WARHAMMER 40K games continuing to sell like mad for me.

One thing that’s not apparent by the rankings is the sheer volume of D&D sales that occurred this quarter. They outpaced PATHFINDER by almost 100%. Yes, Curse of Strahd was a huge part of that, but holy hell hounds do we keep selling Player’s Handbooks and Monster Manuals.

A couple usual suspects who took the end of the year off have returned to the list including THE ONE RING, 13th AGE, and MUTANTS & MASTERMINDS. 13th Age and One Ring have pretty aggressive release schedules this year, so they should both continue to do well in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Mutants & Masterminds and IRON KINGDOMS are both games that bubble under pretty regularly. They make the list about as often as not. M&M was bolstered by the release of their Cosmic Handbook in February, and with most of the Iron Kingdoms line costing $59.99 it only takes a single campaign to take off for us to see the game pop up in the Top 10.
Finally, WHITE WOLF rose from the dead yet again, mostly because we sold a handful of the $120 Mind’s Eye Theatre hardbacks from By Night Studios.


Truly new things to report start popping up around Rank #13. SHADOW OF THE DEMON LORD is the perfect thing to sell to fans of either classic WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY or LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS. A dark and gritty fantasy setting on the brink of apocalypse, with incredibly fun and very old school character creation, Shadow of the Demon Lord provides lots of handles for a creative GM to really craft the setting and make it his own. For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan.

RyuutamaThe other notable new entry is a curiosity. RYUUTAMA: Natural Fantasy Role Play has been selling pretty steadily since we brought it in late December. Available exclusively from Indie Press Revolution, Ryuutama is in the same genre as GOLDEN SKY STORIES if you’re familiar with that. Called either Natural Roleplaying or Heartwarming Roleplaying it’s a Japanese style of play that focuses on “regular people”, exploration and relationships over combat and experience point gain. It certainly hits a target niche that is under served. Available in a regular and deluxe leatherette hardback, both versions have been moving for us.

Finally you may have noticed that I cheated a bit and added Rank #21 this time around. FALL OF MAGIC would have definitely made the Top 20 list if there had been more stock available.
You have got to see this thing to properly appreciate it.


This game is similar to other GM-less style story games like FIASCO or MICROSCOPE but with the added benefit of an absolutely gorgeous canvas map scroll and metal player coins. Magic is dying and the Magus is dying with it, and the players must travel to the birthplace of magic. It really taps into the familiar tropes of a fantastic journey across a wondrous landscape while experiencing the ending of an age.

At 75 bucks, it’s pretty pricey, but it’s worth every penny. If you have even the smallest community that appreciates these sorts of games, bring this thing in.

The only availability through distribution at this point is from Alliance (Item #HDC HOTD 003). Though it should be noted that it’s currently out of stock. Designer Ross Cowman recently upgraded the manufacturing process so that the scrolls are not all screen printed by hand, so it should be available again by the end of the month. You can also contact them directly at

As a person who really digs these kind of games, I LOVE THIS THING. If you want a splash of “OMG What is that?!?” in your RPG department, you can’t do better than this. If you can get one out on a demo table somewhere, all the better.

Finally… what I am looking forward to in the coming months?
I’m keeping an eye on the following titles:
Horse-Lords of Rohan (The One Ring)
Assault on the Mountains of Madness (Achtung! Cthulhu)
Seven Wonders (a storytelling game anthology from Pelgrane Press)

and I’m gonna keep praying to the Elder Gods that we see that new edition of Call of Cthulhu sometime this aeon.

Until next time…

In-Store RPG play and our RPG Lab program.

It seems that every couple of weeks, there’s a conversation on some retailer forum or another discussing in-store play for RPGs and whether or not it’s even worth it.

Obviously the recent changes to what was the D&D Encounters program has a lot of people rethinking the value of such things. I know a lot of people approach this puzzle in different ways, ranging from table fees (which can sometimes later be credited towards a purchase) to creating RPG-centric Facebook groups for their store communities, and all manner of things in between.

I do think, that if you want to be a store that sells RPGs in any meaningful way, you must provide some variety of in-store play experience. Even if it’s just an open play night, something has to be there. Players for these games are seem to always be looking for new players or groups. I wish I could collect a dollar for every time I’ve heard a customer ask some variation of “Do you guys know of any local groups looking for players for Game X”? I hear it multiple times every week. We need an answer for them that involves more than just pointing them to a bulletin board.

Maybe it’s directing them to our RPG Open Play night. Maybe it’s toward our structured Shadowrun Missions games, or maybe it’s the regularly scheduled introductory D&D events. But without an easy point of entry we might as well tell these customers that we’re not interested in selling them any of our RPG books. I do think that we need to talk about RPGs in a new way, as distinct and contained experiences as opposed to the idea of some overwhelming thing that a person needs to get into. But that’s another article.

Today I want to discuss one of the ways that we’ve devised at Games and Stuff to create more play in the store, and in turn create more sales. And, in my continuing efforts to drive home the idea that it’s the “Other RPG” category that does a lot of the heavy lifting for our RPG department’s bottom line, it’s almost entirely focused on games that are not D&D, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, or Star Wars.

It’s something we call RPG Lab.
It basically works like this:

Every month we feature one game, to be run by my Assistant Manager George, who is the other half of my RPG brain trust. The game runs every Tuesday night from 6-9pm. So typically about four or five sessions, creating a short campaign. The first session is always character creation and discussion of the rules.

RPGLabSignWe advertise the game in advance, and we request emails from customers wishing to be a part of a given month. They are committing to playing for the entire month. Ultimate selection of participants is left to George’s discretion.

Now, RPG Lab is not for everyone. It is not for completely novice roleplayers, nor for people just wishing to be spoon-fed RPG entertainment. The expectation is that participants will be familiar with at least a couple RPG systems, will bring an active and engaging personality to the table, and be willing to discuss their opinions of the game after the campaign ends. Indeed, all of our marketing efforts include some version of the following text:

*This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.*

So what happens?
Well, for the length of the month, we’ve got a group of customers who are engaged with an active roleplaying experience, at an intermediate level no less. and typically with a title that doesn’t often get a lot of attention. There’s buzz about the game around the store and around our Open RPG Play night. People are talking about the current RPG Lab game. We typically do not charge a fee of any sort, but we have discovered that it’s not uncommon for 50-100% of the players to buy the core rulebook for the featured game, and often more. At the end of the session, George leads an open discussion of the campaign both in person and via a Q&A sent out via email. We then turn that conversation into web content for the store’s website, like this one for Dungeon Crawl Classics.

It’s also not completely uncommon to see some of those players then go on to start campaigns of their own (in the store no less) which results in further book sales. Hell, one time when we had one of our Alpha RPGamers running the Lab for the month, the group continued the campaign on into the following weeks. This edition of RPG Lab was directly responsible for Hollow Earth Expedition ranking at #16 for the fourth quarter of 2015 as reported earlier.

Sometimes we even break our own rules, like this past January and February when we charged $80 a head for players to be involved in an eight week long Yggdrasill campaign. The price included a copy of the core book, and I even stepped in as a player. Which reminds me: sometimes. space permitting, we’ll let employees fill one of the slots, which only serves to generate excitement on the staff about a new RPG title they might not have otherwise been a champion for.

Anyway, that’s RPG Lab. We’ve been running it for almost two years, and I don’t see us stopping anytime soon. It generates excitement about games, it contributes to the bottom line of our RPG department, and perhaps most importantly, it helps create a community that is playing and buying new games, that is in turn, spreading the love for those games to their home groups.

Retailers, feel free to steal any part of this program if it interests you.
Until next time.


An Introduction.

Hello and welcome to the new RPG Evolution website.
RPG Evolution is a blog devoted to talking about the retail business side of the Roleplaying Game industry. I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half over at the Games And Stuff website, but this is a fresh start.
So I’m probably getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start with some introductions.

My name is Paul Alexander Butler.
For over five years I’ve been managing Games and Stuff, a large game store just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Although these days, given our shift in business model and my accompanying change in duties, my official title is Director of Retail Operations. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
Prior to working at Games and Stuff, I spent a little over 18 years managing stores for regional and national specialty retail chains. I’ve done my time in shopping malls and in the Corporate Retail Mines. And along the way I also succeeded in putting in some time in restaurant management and even a stint at the U.S. Census Bureau. (You should hear my stories about getting homeless “transients” to fill out census forms. Good times.)

But never mind all that. Sure, I’ve got a lot of experience in managing people and stores, but you know what I’ve got even more experience doing? Being a Game Master. I’m a gaming nerd, down to my DNA. Hell, I was even born in 1974, the same year Dungeons & Dragons was first released.

I started roleplaying somewhere around the age of 7 or 8, playing AD&D in the early 80s with my older brother Scott. But I can go back even further than that, remembering sitting on Scott’s lap sometime in the 70s reading through the Monster Manual with him. From a very early age I knew my Displacer Beasts from my Blink Dogs, and my Owl Bears from my Bugbears. (The Blink Dog by the way, I threw up on. I don’t even remember if I was sick or what, but to this day my ancient copy of the Monster Manual still has a pale brown stain on page 10.)

What else do you want to know? I currently serve on the GAMA Retail Division board, and I’m also a member of the Roleplaying Game jury for the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design, the organization that manages the Origins Awards. My favorite RPG of all time is The One Ring, although both Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Shadowrun I hold in high regard.

(Shadowrun in particular is in my blood. I ran a 19 year campaign that had an ending and everything. It was amazing. That’s 19 years real time. That Brom picture that’s at the top of the article? I bought the original painting a few years back. I may have a problem.)

The under-appreciated Everway RPG changed the way I GM forever, and I owe much of my campaign design abilities to a seminar I took at Gen Con 1992 in Milwaukee called “Long Term Campaign Design” taught by the late Erick Wujcik.

At any rate, here we are now. Games and Stuff has a Roleplaying Game department that I’d put up against most any other store in the country, and RPGs account for about 8-9% of our sales, which is not insignificant in a store of our size.

When I took over managing the store in 2010, it wasn’t long before I made a concerted effort to improve our RPG sales, and then we moved the store to a new location in 2013, which gave us another opportunity to focus in on the department and really make it sing. Sometime a few years ago, I started teaching seminars at various trade shows, helping other retailers succeed with their own RPG sales, and after many requests, I finally decided to start a quarterly blog talking about RPG sales trends at my store. But if you read the “What is RPG Evolution?” section you know all that.


What’s the point of all this?
I’ve got a lot of ideas about the business of roleplaying games, a lot of programming ideas I’d like to share with my fellow retailers, and a lot of thoughts in general about the buying habits of roleplayers.

I’ve got a lot I want to talk about. I hope you stick around.

Some housekeeping… Q4 2015 in review

So we’ve got this new website up and running, but I still have a bit of housekeeping to deal with. My absence while getting this new home sorted left us without a fourth quarter review article. So briefly, I’d like to review the RPG sales of the final months of 2015.

Here’s the Top 10 Roleplaying Games by line from the period of October 1 through December 31. As always, these numbers represent dollar volume sold at Games and Stuff, and do not include accessories of any sort, even branded miniatures.

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Q3 Rank #1)
  2. Pathfinder (Q3 Rank #2)
  3. Star Wars (Q3 Rank #3)
  4. Shadowrun (Q3 Rank #4)
  5. Mouse Guard 
  6. Warhammer 40,000 (Q3 Rank #8)
  7. Numenera (Q3 Rank #16)
  8. Fantasy Age (Q3 Rank #11)
  9. Legend of the Five Rings (Q3 Rank #14)
  10. Lamentations of the Flame Princess 
  11. Achtung! Cthulhu 
  12. Feng Shui (Q3 Rank #7)
  13. Night’s Black Agents 
  14. Call of Cthulhu 
  15. Dungeon Crawl Classics (Q3 Rank #15)
  16. Hollow Earth Expedition 
  17. Dresden Files (Q3 Rank #10)
  18. End of the World (Q3 Rank #6)
  19. Mutant Year Zero 
  20. Through the Breach 

So what’s interesting and worth talking about?

StarWarsForceDestinyWell, Star Wars. While it’s not obvious here, Star Wars outsold Pathfinder in the month of December. I’m guessing this had a little bit to do with a little thing called “The Force Awakens.” I’m hoping that the seemingly unending slate of Star Wars films that’s lined up for the foreseeable future will only generate more excitement for this game. Frankly, I’d be more than happy to see Star Wars surpass Pathfinder to claim the #2 spot on the regular.

It’s nice to see MOUSE GUARD return to print. That game has a lot of goodwill behind it, plus brand recognition from the excellent graphic novel collections (which we carry) and the new boxed edition is gorgeous. On the complete opposite end of the cute and cuddly spectrum is LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS which, bolstered by the reprint of Vornheim The Complete City, and the accolades awarded to A Red & Pleasant Land, continues to quietly sell unit after unit.

NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS got a nice bump from the release of The Dracula Dossier and Dracula Unredacted. Dracula Unredacted by the way, might be the single coolest RPG prop/handout in the history of gaming.

HEXRevelationsOfMarsFinally, I just want to point out the appearance of HOLLOW EARTH EXPEDITION at the #16 spot. While yes, the long delayed Revelations of Mars book was finally released in this time period, the game’s appearance on this list is largely due to it being run as part of our RPG Lab program in Q4. Look for an article detailing that program in the near future.