Picking a favorite RPG publisher is at once very easy and very hard for me. The hard part is there are a lot of games I absolutely love, and they come from a lot of different publishers. And there are lots of publishers that deserve the accolades for various reasons. And writing something like this, I don’t want to leave any of my favorites out.
On the other hand, looking back at my favorite games, and then looking at their whole catalogs, it’s really not a contest. Very few publishers have produced more than 1 or 2 games that have blown me away. Most of my favorite games are long out of print and their publishers no longer exist. Even those companies that published some of my favorite games and which still exist have, in several cases, not produced anything to my taste for years (or decades) now. And I decided not to count any publisher that has only produced 1 or 2 games in total, since if I love those it’s hard to say that really is a reflection on the publisher.
No, considering all of this, Atlas Games stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. Back when they were Lion Rampant games, they published what might be my very favorite RPG of all time, Ars Magica, and then half a decade later re-acquired it and revitalized it, and now publish a steady stream of amazing books for it. Over the Edge is another of my very favorite games, and it and Ars Magica are the games that opened my eyes to the possibility of new playstyles. Before those two games, everything I had every played was basically the same game, just with different numbers and setting details (Top Secret, AD&D, Gamma World, and a whole bunch of other late-’70s/early-’80s games). Who knows? If not for those two games, (and their reviews in Dragon Magazine that alerted me to their existence), I might never have discovered that there was a whole world of RPGs more to my taste. And then there’s the steady stream of hits they’ve had over the years—Feng Shui, Nyambe, Unknown Armies—every one of which has been perfectly to my taste. In fact, other than their D20 System books, they haven’t published an RPG I don’t enjoy, and in most cases love. And even there, they have published a significant percentage of the few D&D-ish D20 System books I own.
On top of that, they’ve published two card games that I love—and since the total number of non-RPGs that I count as favorite games could be counted on one hand, that’s saying something. But Gloom and Once Upon a Time, by focusing on storytelling more than strategy, have sucked me in, even though they’re not RPGs. Along with Dixit, they’re just about the only non-RPGs I would ever choose in preference to an RPG for an evening of gaming. [Most of the time when I play non-RPGs, it’s because the other involved people don’t want to play an RPG.]
On top of all that, Atlas is in my neck of the woods, so I see them all the time at local conventions, so I think that makes Atlas Games’ staff the only publishers (other than 1-person indie shops) that I’ve actually gamed with. Though that’s just icing on the cake, not a deciding factor.
There is an honorable mentions, however. Fifteen years ago, Hogshead probably would have been the focus of this essay. Other than Warhammer Fantasy, which I’ve never been particularly into, I think i bought everything that they ever published: the “New Style” line was filled with wonderful experimental games (several of which are still cutting-edge in some ways), and Interactive Fantasy is one of my most treasured RPG works (and still has not been completely eclipsed by subsequent design theory). And then there’s Nobilis.