The World of Fantasy is Changing . . . And Big Money is On the Table

For those in the know about Tabletop Roleplaying Games, a renaissance has been taking place for the past decade. With the surge in popularity that has come from the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, popular Twitch streams like Critical Role, and video game releases like Baldur’s Gate 3, an entire industry has opened up for enterprising individuals and companies. Billions of dollars are changing hands, and we’re just scratching the surface.

An ancient black dragon emerges from its swampy lair, eager to make a meal of foolhardy adventurers
An ancient black dragon emerges from its swampy lair, eager to make a meal of foolhardy adventurers.

Commercial enterprises that have been largely taboo among TTRPG players since the advent of the genre in the late 70s are now breaking loose as viable business ideas as well. The market is shifting in a big way, and those who are riding the wave stand to make a boatload of money.

For example, nearly anyone who claims to be familiar with the TTRPG hobby has likely heard about the tremendous commercial success of Critical Role. What started out as a group of friends gathering weekly to explore a homebrew world created by their Dungeon Master, Matt Mercer, has now become a must-see weekly broadcast with millions of fans around the world. As an extension, the CR crew recently Kickstarted an animated series that shattered the record for film and television projects on the crowdfunding site by raising over $11 million. Hundreds of other streams and podcasts have been seeking similar levels of success, and the production values of these shows continue to rise as roleplayers clamor for more content.

An indirect result of the success of these live-play shows is that players are actively looking for higher levels of competency at their own tables. “Professional game master” has now become a legitimate job title. Whether or not professional game mastering should be embraced or boycotted is no longer a philosophical question for die-hard fans to debate in obscure chat rooms in the deep, dark corners of the Internet. It’s happening . . . all over the world, . . . both in-person and online, . . . because the community of players has demanded it.

An enormous swamp adder lures adventurers to their deaths in the Sallow Swamp of Khashan.
Perils that arise from freedom of choice draw many players to the worlds of TTRPGs.

Game mastering is an art form that requires years of experience and a very specific skill set. Players who are realizing what it takes to find a consistently good GM are fast-tracking the process by paying for one instead. A number of new platforms and companies have risen up to serve this need, including but not limited to Roll20, Demiplane, and StartPlaying.Games. Professional game masters are routinely earning full-time pay for their artistic presentations of fantasy worlds and conflicts, and a large community of players seem genuinely happy to spend their entertainment budgets on these high-quality interactive experiences.

Another industry has risen up in support of amateur GMs who are still honing their skills. D&D publisher, Wizards of the Coast, can only commit so many pages per year to their major adventure modules and sourcebooks, and the community swallows up this content much more quickly that Wizards can churn it out. Thus, the market for third-party content is absolutely exploding. In addition to the grassroots efforts of GM community sites like DM’sGuild and DriveThruRPG, crowdfunding projects that offer supplementary content for game masters are also seeing seven-figure success. As of the writing of this article, The Seeker’s Guide to Twisted Taverns has just eclipsed $1.6 million in funding with over 17,000 backers. For a little book about imaginary local watering holes, that’s not too shabby.

Seeker’s Guide to Twisted Taverns Kickstarter
Game Master supplements now routinely earn hundreds of thousands on Kickstarter.

Of course the video game, film, and television industries are doing what they can to capitalize on this roleplaying renaissance as well. Big projects like Baldur’s Gate 3 and a new D&D film franchise are legitimizing an idea that most of us have understood for a very long time: nerds = major market share.

As one of those nerds, I’m glad to be a part of it, and I’m glad to see the support that these amazingly creative individuals are receiving for their artistic efforts.

Follow along as I continue to explore this exciting creative outlet. I’ll be posting articles about the TTRPG hobby and the economic trends that seem to be propelling it to new heights.

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Drew Merritt

Drew Merritt is a Professional Game Master and Co-Founder of the company Next-Level Gaming.