The B/X Companion for sure: just checked the PDF sales report on DriveThruRPG, and it's on pace to have its best year since 2013. Just to put that in perspective: my Companion was only made available as a PDF in 2012, and the total sales for the first two years exceeds all sales combined from 2014-2019.
[which is still peanuts, of course (total sales over the life of the product is a bit north of 1000), but considering my lack of business skills and marketing savvy...not to mention the niche market to which my product belongs...I'll take pride in my home-baked slice of the pie]
If I had to guess about a reason for the recent sales spike, I'd probably give credit to the expanding popularity of the recent Old School Essentials (B/X) retro-clone. Back in "The Time Before Covid" I had a chance to take a look at Ye Local Gamestore and it was a pretty nice set of books. Didn't purchase it myself (money's a little tight for picking up products I already own in their original form), but I've heard plenty of praise for the thing, both in-person (from actual people) and on-line (from virtual people).
ANYway, that's the only reason I can think of...I don't see any reviews or internet mentions of the Companion more recently than 2012 or so. Regardless, my thanks to all the people doing the purchasing...considering the many pirate PDFs of my book floating around the internet these days, I appreciate the money some folks are actually willing to put in my pocket.
Now the stranger part: while OSE offers some explanation for my B/X Companion, I don't know what could account for the renewed interest in Five Ancient Kingdoms, which is also on pace to have its best sales since 2013 (the first year it was published).
Are people actually playing 5AK?
Allow me to be a skosh amazed at the idea. I mean, I'm not playing the game at the moment, though maybe I should be. I spent much of yesterday reading through the PDFs (for the first time in years) and, man, there is some good stuff in there. Elegant design, if I do say so myself (and I do). Yeah, yeah...patting myself on the back again. But I like how I solved a lot of particular design issues I had with D&D, adding interesting nuance while still keeping the system streamlined and abstract.
Why did I abandon this line of gaming?
Now THAT is a good question. I definitely remember feeling a bit pingeon-holed by the setting...even thought the books themselves offer ways to modify the system for other settings. But mostly, I think, that I felt the game lacked appeal...I could never get more than 2 or 3 players together that were willing to give it a go, back during the play-testing stage. Compare that with the offer of most any edition of D&D and you get half a dozen hands (or more) go up in the air, crying to join the table.
*sigh* I'm such a slave to what is trendy.
But no, it's more than that, I think. I worked hard on the probabilities and dice outcomes for 5AK, and they work well, but they're not as intuitive to grasp as a more granular, incremental system based on a D20 or percentile dice. Or perhaps it's just me...I am too used to these simpler granular systems, having been steeped in them for decades. Rolling 2d6 and tossing out "zeroes" just seems too "weird" from my perspective. I need some sort of damn chart/matrix to reference or I feel naked out there!
As I continue to work on my own world and tinker the rules to better match the parameters of my design needs I read through these books...the three volumes of 5AK...and I keep coming across things that make me wonder "is there a way to add this to D&D?" A way to somehow incorporate these ideas into the standard D&D design without upsetting the entire apple cart? Sadly, I'm not sure there is. Systems in 5AK are built to inter-lock with each other. D&D is a hodge-podge of mechanics created on a "need" or "cool idea" basis (and often as patches when "cool ideas" ended up creating other "needs"). Functional as D&D is, fun as D&D is, its very nature precludes the addition of elegant mechanics.
Mentzer's BECMI tried to file off a lot of the "rough edges" and the game suffered for it (in my opinion). Same with 3rd edition...and 3.5 and 4th and 5th. The more well-oiled the machine becomes, the less room there is for imagination. 5AK works because it is, in the main, small scale and firmly based in its fairy tale genre. But D&D's heritage is founded in a wilder and woolier period of imaginings.
What was it I was listening to the other day? Oh, yeah: Mother Love Bone. Andrew Wood is one of the greatest singer/songwriters that...unless you're really deep into musical lore...you've probably never heard or heard of. Unless you're, like, my age (mid-late 40s) and grew up in Seattle and liked rock music instead of pop and rap. Because Wood died right on the verge of becoming famous, and his bandmates ended up becoming Pearl Jam instead. And Vedder's a great singer and frontman, don't get me wrong, but Wood was a special talent. His music mixed the sacred with the profane, at time profound at times adolescent, all combined with sincerity and humor and beautiful singing ability, emphasizing love in all its expressions (for God, for children, for sex, for the world). I found my old CD in a mislabeled box and ended up listening to it 3 or 4 times through, just feeling...sad.
Because even if I played their CD for, say, my children or some 20-something year olds, there's just such a depth of meaning that would be lost on kids from a different generation. They just wouldn't grasp references because there's so much that doesn't exist anymore in this day and age of internet saturation and multi-hundred TV channels and social media bubbles. It's like: once upon a time the world was a smaller place, but so much more specific...and now its not. Once upon a time, every kid watched Bugs Bunny or Scoobie-Doo because you were a kid and you watched cartoons and there was only a couple channels and a couple times a week that you could watch them. Once upon a time there was only a handful of news outlets and rather than market themselves to a particular "fan base" they tried to report as quickly and accurately as possible. Once upon a time everyone knew the same songs because radio stations that catered to a particular taste only rotated the same handful of bands. We had shared understandings, shared touchstones.
We have so few of those these days, except for world-shattering events. Good things? Or fun things? Or nice things? Those are all over the board. You might know something about it if you're In The Group that cares about a particular thing (role-playing games, for example)...otherwise, it's outside your bubble, outside your sphere of interest. And you chance of having a shared knowledge with someone outside that thing is...slim. I can bitch about Trump or Covid with the other soccer parents while watching our kids practice or I can talk about soccer and soccer kids. Anything else? Chaff in the wind.
D&D...the D&D that I play and that I prefer...belongs to that older time. It wasn't created to be elegant or universal or easily consumed. It gained ascendance by being pretty much the only (or main) game in town at a time when the world was a much smaller place, when choices were more limited, and when people...players...had more shared understandings. Me writing 5AK was an attempt at...hell, I don't really know (or remember) exactly what I was attempting. But with regard to mechanics, I tried to make it as "elegant" as possible, while maintaining some sort of soul and imagination. I just don't know if imagination can exist alongside "elegant" design...it certainly seems more readily found in the inelegant systems of the wilder, woolier past.
Ugh. This post has gone completely off the rails. Probably need to reset (and maybe eat some breakfast). Later, gators.