Wayne Rossi posits here about the reasons for the popularity of Basic Fantasy RPG. When you read the roll20 report he links to, you see that it beats out Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord by a wide margin. Now, I’m not sure of the exact reasons for BFRPG’s success on roll20 compared to the other games, but I suspect it has to do with primarily three things:
- The open-source nature of the BFRPG rules – everything is free (as in cost and as in speech), including the source documents. Wayne mentions this and I think it is spot-on.
- The active involvement of the game creator, and, failing that, the involvement of the community members.
- Having a central source for releases, supplements, adventures and community discussion.
Point 2, above, is tied inexorably to point 1. Chris Gonnerman (the creator and maintainer of BFRPG) is technically savvy and clearly familiar with the open source software development model, and he has used it to great success. But, if he were to disappear one day, or maybe even just cut back his involvement, everything is there for the community to take over. This is not the case with most other RPGs, including Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. In my opinion, both games have suffered recently due to the lack of creator involvement in their respective gaming communities, and it is difficult or impossible for community members to step up in their absence.
Point 3, a central project and community hub, is always found in open source software projects, and it should be there for RPGs as well. I think it is key to a project’s success. It doesn’t currently exist in active form for Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry, which both suffer from the G+ walled garden, as well as lack of maintenance for the project sites and forums that do exist. Point 3 also helps when potential players are doing information gathering – what good is a dead forum that is listed in the first page of search results? What good is all that discussion on G+ if it is not indexed by Google’s public search? Note that I’m not disparaging the creators of Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry, merely making observations on the current state of affairs. I am quite grateful to both Matt Finch and Daniel Proctor for the time they invested in their respective projects, and for the many hours of fun their games have given me (the free content here, as well as the S&W forum I run, are my small contributions back).
You can see that Amazon is not on my list. The low cost of the print releases and having them available on Amazon may be a factor in BFRPG’s relative success, but I’m not sure it is as big as Wayne thinks. The electronic versions of the BFRPG rules, adventures and supplements are all free to download and distribute. My guess is that many people use PDFs on tablets now when playing, particularly on roll20 (I’m speaking from my own roll20 experience here, and others I know who play there). And the free PDFs of the rules and many free adventures are available for Labyrinth Lord and Swords and Wizardry also. So that part of this seems to be equal as far as the three games are concerned.