What follows is a list of my Top 20 favorite RPG companies of all time. I looked at each candidate on the basis of customer service/public relations and product quality, but ultimately, my final decisions came down to how much enjoyment their products or efforts brought me. There are some companies on here that have fallen short now and again in one area or another, but each entry on this list has enhanced my enjoyment of the gaming hobby.
There were also some tough decisions; companies like Adventure Games Publishing, Fight On! Magazine, and Rogue Games have been nothing short of fantastic for me, but all of them are more recent in nature. I have no doubt one or more will appear on this list soon, but that’s for a later date—like some other companies, there are some longer-term question marks for now.
Here are my favorite RPG companies, in only the vaguest sort of ascending order:
20) Pinnacle: In the short time since I got into Savage Worlds, I have discovered a company that has one of the best publisher-supported gamer communities on the web. Savage Worlds is a blast, but the sheer amount of support for the game also nabs Pinnacle a spot on the list.
19) Atomic Sock Monkey: Besides having one of the best names on this list, they also produced Truth & Justice (my favorite supers RPG since FASERIP), and more recently, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. Great ideas, great publishing effort.
18) HinterWelt Enterprises: Aside from their strange fascination with squirrels, HinterWelt produced the excellent Roma Imperious (also available as the best setting for True20, hands-down). Very good, professional customer service seals the deal.
17) Flying Mice: Whenever I think of an interesting niche game idea, I first check to see if Flying Mice has tried it. More often than not, they have, it seems. In Harm’s Way, In Harm’s Way: Dragons!, Starcluster 2, On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service? We can forgive the plain formatting, because the material rocks that hard.
16) Precis Intermedia Games: Let’s see, Precis Intermedia has given me Two-Fisted Tales (my favorite pulp RPG), Disposable Heroes (a customizable, affordable way to do paper minis), and such games as Coyote Trail and Iron Gauntlers. It’s amazing to me that one little company could have this much diversity.
15) Noble Knight Games: Surprised to see an online RPG store on the list? If you know anything about Noble Knight Games, you shouldn’t be. They combine a massive catalog of titles with dependable, excellent customer service. Whether it’s trading in old games or looking for lost classics, NKG sets the bar for all other online RPG sellers.
14) Dark Matter Studios: Perhaps the best testament to Dark Matter and their phenomenal Epic Role Playing Game is that I use their random background charts in every fantasy game I run, regardless of system. With unique magic and a polished, sensible, rules-medium system, Dark Matter hit it out of the park on the first try with their game.
13) Reaper Miniatures: Visiting the Reaper booth at Gen Con Indy is one of the highlights of that show for me, as is getting their catalog. Pewter minis are just such a fun part of the hobby, and Reaper defines selection and excellence.
12) Troll Lord Games: TLG seems to lag on their release schedule at times, and it isn’t always smooth sailing. That said, their game of Castles & Crusades has re-ignited the spark of classical-style gaming for me, when one day it just “clicked”.
11) Palladium Books: Like Troll Lord Games, Palladium has had some bad moments and some misfires. It doesn’t change the fact that I have had as much or more fun with Rifts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Palladium Fantasy as I have with any game out there.
10) Paizo Publishing: Paizo has given my extended gaming circle more to talk about and to anticipate over the past two years than any other company on this list. They conducted an Open Beta of Pathfinder, kept pumping out awesome OGL modules, and have some of the best support and production values in the business.
9) Cumberland Games & Diversions: Risus. Encounter Critical. If S. John Ross never does another thing in his life, those two games would ensure Cumberland’s continual presence on this list.
8) Wizards of the Coast: Forget all the present difficulties and furor. I’m thinking of WotC not in 2008-2009, but how they revitalized a flagging D&D property in 2000-2001, and how for a little while, we seemed to be largely on the same page.
7) Iron Crown Enterprises: Aside from the incredibly varied, maddening, and enjoyable Rolemaster critical hit charts, I.C.E. also gave us the joys of MERP, and Pete Fenlon’s peerless, evocative maps.
6) Kenzer & Co.: I’ve spent countless hours enjoying Knights of the Dinner Table, and Hackmaster remains a favorite. Whatever the product, Kenzer seems to “get it”, with a fun, mock-serious attitude and crazy attention to detail.
5) Gamescience Dice: Louis Zocchi is a national treasure, and Gamescience dice are a clear line to the legacy of the hobby. If for Col. Lou’s hypnotic Gamescience video alone, Gamescience deserves to be on this list. This spot also represents the severe dice fetish so many of us sport.
4) West End Games: A company that has faced an uncertain future in its present incarnation, but gave me Star Wars d6 and Ghostbusters once upon a time. The d6 system still appeals, even as we are unsure what will happen with Open d6.
3) Tactical Studies Rules (TSR): For all the crap that happened later on, some of my happiest gaming memories are from Greyhawk, the Rules Cyclopedia, and a ton of unforgettable and influential adventure modules.
2) Game Designers’ Workshop/Far Future Enterprises: The kindly folks who brought me the joys of Traveller. Traveller’s one of those games that seems to be eternal and ageless. “Age cannot wither her, or custom stale her infinite variety”.
1) You, The Gaming Community: Sounds a little saccharine, I know, but I have gleaned and garnered as much from blog posts, homebrew pdfs, messageboard comments, and just talking with gamers as I have from any gaming company. Companies can publish all they want, but without community, we don’t have much.
Do you have a Top 5, 10, 20, or even 50? If so, I'd be thrilled to hear your thoughts as well. Recognizing the enjoyment and excellent folks have brought us in gaming never gets old.