#51 - Tabletop RPG Fans


This week, we’re (rolls d20) talking about fans of miniatures, monsters, magic and mayhem (and much much more); we’re talking about fans of Tabletop RPGs! What is it, exactly, about these fictional worlds that draw people in, and why are they becoming so popular?

Next week, we’ll have special guest, Amin, of a Podcast of Ice and Fire joining us to talk about fans of the Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire series!

Episode outline

Fandom Facts

Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) have a long and storied history starting with wargaming… which itself has its roots in even older strategy games like Chess (which originated from Chaturanga, an ancient Indian game). Chess gave way to variants of Chess, which gave way to more modern wargames like Kriegsspiel (literally “war game” in German; used for training German and Prussian armies)… which eventually gave way to games like Chainmail, the precursor to Dungeons and Dragons — the archetypical tabletop RPG.

Depending on how you want to measure history, that puts the origin of Tabletop RPGs somewhere between 1974 (the first published edition of Dungeons and Dragons) and the 6th century AD. For our purposes, we’ll use Dungeons and Dragons as the origin of Tabletop RPGs.

Most Tabletop RPGs use some set of rules (that vary in complexity) where participants describe their character’s actions (different from wargaming where each participant takes the role of military). Sometimes there are dice. Sometimes there are lots of tables. Sometimes pen and paper are necessary. There is a lot of variation.

And is no shortage of gaming systems, like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulu, GURPS, BESM, Vampire: The Masquerade, or Shadowrun, to name a few.

Most Active:
Given that Tabletop RPGs are a class of games that have existed since the 70s, it is a bit harder to get an idea of the popularity and activity of them over time. Using Google Trends data for Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Warhammer 40k, and War gaming gives us some approximation though. Dungeons and Dragons was probably most popular around the time of its ‘moral panic’, but using the data we have, it has been on the decline since 2004 (most popular period)… but is back on the upswing since approximately 2012.

Around the world:
The top 10 countries searching for Dungeons and Dragons, but the same Google Trends data, are: Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Sweeden, and the United Kingdom.

Size of Fandom:
It is extremely hard to estimate the size of the fandom given how loosely we’ve defined it. That being said, it can still be estimated:

  • In What happened to Dungeons and Dragons? it is estimated that 20 million people have played the game
  • Obsidian Portal, a site where you can create your own campaign online, has over 100 000 campaigns
  • Roll20, a popular tabletop gaming tool, had a sample size of over 73 000 players for its Q1 2017 industry report
  • Attendance at Gen Con (the largest Tabletop Game convention in North America) had over 60 000 attendees in 2016

Fan Demographics:
We came across several fan surveys, all of which seemed limited. The most recent one, which we stumbled upon via the RPG subreddit, had some demographic information in its 307 responses (you can find the survey here).

  • Age: Most gamers were between 18-25 (42.3%); the second largest group was folks ages 26-35 (39.7%)
  • Gender: The majority of respondents (88.3%) identified as male, with 9.8% identifying as female
  • Tenure: The largest group of respondents have been playing for 11-20 years (23.5%) but folks with 6-10 years experience (22.1%) and with 3-5 years (22.8%) were not far behind
  • Surprisingly, the majority of respondents identified as Role players (79.6%), with characters who are motivated by social causes (49.8%) and focussed on their character’s backstory (64.5%)

A different survey (itself compiled from other sources, like a 1999 Wizards of the Coast survey) on Darkshire.net puts 19% of tabletop-rpg respondents as female. This data can also be found in more detail on Sean K Reynold’s website.

If you have a better source for demographics data, or any quantifiable data in general, let us know! We love it!

“A whole new kind of game. No board - just dice, just probabilities. It allowed me to enter the world of the books I was reading.” — Stephen Colbert
Unpossible Journeys - Why People Play

Last Episode’s Famous Last Words

Has stranger things given a resurgence to tabletop gaming?

Is there much (if any) crossover between fans of things like Warhammer and Pathfinder? Do people tend to play one or the other?

Has anyone adapted Dragon Ball as tabletop game? (Not a Big Eyes Small Mouth)

The Verdict

T is in. So in.
G is in. Love it.
Z is in.

This week’s spotlight

Gaming as Other
Gaming as Other is a minority advocacy group headed by Whitney Beltrán (AKA Strix) whose goal is to make the gaming community more inclusive and welcoming towards minority members. There is a related video series of the same name on YouTube which discusses some of the different issues in gaming, like erasure, and discussions of fantasy races and race conflation.

Famous Last Words

This week’s famous last words around next week’s fandom, Game of Thrones!

Have fans tried to make up supplemental material and pass it off as “real” Game of Thrones work?

Why is the popular baby name that came out of Game of Thrones fandom “Khaleesi” and not “Daenerys”?

As rated by fans, what is the most delicious recipe in a Feast of Ice and Fire?

Where can you find us online?

We are everywhere! Most notably though, we like to hang out in a few places on social media:

  • If you want to help us to create more amazing fannish content, become a patron on Patreon; even as little as a dollar a month pledge really helps us out!
  • If you want to be part of our podcast (or just want to check us out), we record our podcast LIVE on twitch.tv every monday at 20:00 Eastern Time!
  • For all the latest updates, check us out on Facebook or Twitter
  • To see the latest hijinx from our conventions or even our daily lives and adventures, check us out on Instagram
  • For our latest convention updates, Let’s Plays, and other in-real-life video, check out our YouTube channel
  • We’re also on iTunes, and Google Play, and would love it if you could leave a review and rating!
  • if you want to reach us, and for some reason none of those work for you, try nick@thenickscast.com
  • You can check out our website; that will mostly bring you back to this stuff.
  • Everything is thenickscast, so if you can’t find us, go on your social network and search for that!
  • … You’re still looking for ways to reach out? You can also use the hashtag #fanthro on Twitter!

What is “Fanthropological”?

How did you read this far without asking this question?!

Fanthropological is an anthropological (ish) podcast where we bring the fan’s-eye view to you! Each week, we take a look at a different fandom, dig up interesting background, trivia, and history, and try to get to why it is that people are a fan. We also try to highlight good causes related to that fandom, and find interesting things that fans have created to share those to the world. Each episode is about an hour. Ish.

Who is “The Nickscast”?

We are the Nickscast! Three products of late-80s / early-90s pop culture who love exploring fandom and everything geek … who also happen to have been best buddies since high school, and all happen to be named Nick. Yes, we are super creative. Dare we say, the most creative.


We are Nick Green, Nick Terwoord, and Nick Zacharewicz: We started the Nickscast as a labour of love, and as a place to entertain and to discuss our love of fans and fandom, and all that is shiny and interesting in that realm. It’s what lead us to start our first podcast, our satellite podcasts, Fanthropological, and so much more.

We want to help others learn more about different fandoms, and to create empathy with other fans: We dream of a world where other fans aren’t “those Weird-o’s”, but just folks with different tastes. A world where fandom is full of discourse and analysis, and there are plenty of tools and resources to help. Fans building communities to do good in the world. Because everyone’s a fan.



Music / Sound

  • All music and sound for this week’s episode were provided by Nick Green!


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