Despite an admittedly tough market, I’d argue that it’s an exciting time to be a roleplaying gamer. New games push the envelope on the roleplaying experience, new systems bring innovation to tried and true mechanics, and new supplements continue to explore new genres of adventure. Meanwhile, the return of classics gives us an opportunity to return to our roots as gamers, and reminds us why we fell in love with the game in the first place. Though tabletop continues to feel the pressure of electronic games, the internet and other computer applications are enhancing our games by making advanced tools more accessible, enabling games to be played among distant friends, and helping develop a sense of community. Still, there’s no denying some disappointing stories.

So, as another year passes into history, let’s look back over our pick for the top RPG news items of 2008…

10. Prurient Game Materials

At the bottom of our list, in more ways than one, are a series of games and related accessories that seem less about roleplaying and more about… well, perhaps the less detail on this site, the better. Solid examples of this include the Hot Chicks RPG, as well as a whole range of stock art offerings to be found online.

9.  Still Waiting

Number 9 on our list is the news that wasn’t. 2008 came and will soon be gone with several high-profile games promised but yet to be delivered. These include A Song of Ice and Fire (Green Ronin), Dr. Who (Cubicle 7), and Dresden Files (Evil Hat). The first two are apparently complete but waiting for approval by George R.R. Martin and the BBC, respectively. Dresden Files saw some concentrated work and public opportunity to participate in alpha playtesting, but remains in development.

8. Con Anti-Harassment Project

Earlier this year a childish experiment in freeform public groping eventually led to a group of guys distributing “Yes, you may ask me” and “No, you may not ask me” buttons to women at game conventions. While it may not be a surprise to you, it was to the organizer, that some women eventually complained. Finally realizing the damage the buttons caused to what should be a welcoming atmosphere, the original instigator started an effort to formalize standards of behavior at game conventions.

7. McCain Blogger Insults D&D Players

During the run up to the U.S. presidential election, a McCain campaign blogger, attempting to criticize Obama supporters for belittling military experience, compared them to Dungeons & Dragons players in “mom’s basement.” This stirred up major outrage in the RPG community, after which the blogger publicly apologized. Perhaps he should have paid attention to our next trend…

6. D&D Cultural References

Over the course of the year, Purple Pawn discovered many accounts of Dungeons & Dragons’ influence on television, literature, film, and music. These stories demonstrate not only the success of gamers in their individual fields, but also the spread of roleplaying throughout society. Kind of reminds me of a line from that old Argent song, “God gave rock and roll to you—put it in the soul of everyone.”

5. Growth and Fraction of the Indie Community

Indie RPGs continued to experience significant growth with more self-published/story-based/GM-less/conflict-resolving/whatever-you-feel-like-calling-them games grabbing greater attention in discussion forums, at award programs, and on store shelves. At the same time, however, the indie-focused communities saw some further division. Indie Press Revolution, which had become the de facto distributor for such games, lost some supporters and publishers. And Story Games, which itself grew as an alternative to The Forge, experienced some defections to Cultures of Play.

4.  Return of Classics

There’s no denying the attraction of new games, but it’s nice to see some of the old standbys getting some love. This year was generous with new versions of several classics, including Traveller, Twilight: 2013 (originally Twilight: 2000), Metamorphosis Alpha, Tunnels & Trolls, and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

3. Passing of Legends

Several founders and early pioneers of roleplaying died this year, including E. Gary Gygax, Robin Crossby, and Erick Wujcik. Gary Gygax was co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, founder of Gen Con, longtime defender of roleplaying from outside critics, and generally regarded as the open and friendly father of the hobby. Robin Crossby was the creator of the HarnMaster RPG and Harn campaign setting. Eric Wujcik was a designer and writer whose credits include Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Amber Diceless Role-Playing, and RECON.

2. Gen Con

After trying to expand a little too far beyond its core event, Gen Con ran in to trouble paying its creditors and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Fortunately, Gen Con Indy, the flagship and largest roleplaying convention, went on as planned in August—but not without some related controversy. Originally, the charity auction held at Indy was going to benefit the Christian Children’s Fund. CCF, though, refused to allow the use of its name for this event. Many roleplayers assumed this decision was based on religious bias against Dungeons & Dragons. CCF explained that while it would not refuse a donation, it could not endorse an event until it was able to determine that the event met very specific criteria. Some gamers are still suspicious.

1.  Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

And the biggest story in roleplaying this year, no doubt, has to be the release of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. As a major new version of the most popular roleplaying game, this was certain to generate some debate. Many D&D fans were happy to stick with 3.5, some complained about having to buy new books to stay current, and others were just upset that the game no longer seemed like the D&D they grew up with. On the other hand, many found the rules easy to grasp and fun to play. Prerelease sales of 4E were so strong that publisher Wizards of the Coast ordered a second print run even before the first hit the streets. And surprising though it may be, D&D 4E has been extremely well received by the indie story-games crowd.

But the story doesn’t end there. Hoping to grab some market share from disillusioned fans, White Wolf offered to “upgrade” players—replacing a used D&D book with a new Exalted one for free. Paizo began a project to produce a new Pathfinder RPG based on 3.5 material available under the Open Gaming License.

Pursuing a different strategy than it did with the release of 3rd Edition, WOTC withdrew the d20 license and replaced the OGL with the GSL. This has led to some significant restructuring among third-party publishers, many of whom have relied on D&D products for a significant portion of their business. Now since the OGL can not actually be terminated, a number of d20 publishers have chosen to simply remove the logo from their products and continue under the OGL. However, that’s really only practical with electronic products. For print, major sales continue through Thursday. The GSL has not found many fans as a fair replacement. Adamant Entertainment and Kenzer and Company even took the bold step of releasing 4E-compatible products without any license support. Other publishers, including early third party D&D supporter Green Ronin, have decided to just move on and focus on other systems.