Two of my favorite game publishers, BioWare and Green Ronin, announced today that they have joined forces. In conjunction with BioWare's CRPG Dragon Age, Green Ronin will be publishing a pen-and-paper version of the game.
Traditionally, pen-and-paper ports of CRPGs have not been the big crossover hits everyone thinks they ought to be. This is because of a truth that RPG designers on both sides of that fence are finally waking up to: the circle of CRPG fans has only a little overlap with the PnPRPG crowd. They are not the same. CRPGs are best when they have a fairly tight focus and get certain core activities right, and then offer fun variations on that core. PnPRPGs offer impossibly expansive play and are limited in setting, tone, and activity only by the imaginations and tastes of the participants. I have, in the past, had a lot of luck convincing folks to try PnPRPGs by describing them as CRPGs without the annoying limitations.
For those of you who don't know them, BioWare has a reputation in the CRPG market that is very similar to Paizo's in pen-and-paper gaming. BioWare's games tend to enjoy excellent production values, detailed settings and characters, and to at least brush up against more “adult” themes. One of the players from my college game loves their stuff because they not only include romances for your PC, but usually give you choices as to who your character gets into a romantic relationship with. Like Paizo's Pathfinder adventures, BioWare's games tend to be a bit on the railroady side, but do give you lots of options, including “good” and “evil” paths or other meaningful philosophically motivated options and tangents either in or from the main storyline. In the past, BioWare has worked with licensed properties, including D&D (Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights) and Star Wars (Knights of the Old Republic). Dragon Age is an original setting BioWare developed in-house.
For their part, Green Ronin appears to be doing a number of interesting things. First, they're releasing the pen-and-paper game as a boxed game. If they mimic the size and shape of the computer game boxes, they could very well end up with something that looks very much like the little white box of old D&D. I think this is a great idea. A full game in a box is something the hobby has been needing for a while now, for various reasons. The other smart idea is to release the PnPRPG ahead of the CRPG. This means Green Ronin is likely to make a number of sales to the CRPG fans who just want a sneak-peak at the computer game. I don't expect many of them to convert over to pen-and-paper gaming, of course, but the sales should be very good for Green Ronin, and getting the boxes out into the public can only be good publicity for pen-and-paper gaming in general. Still, if you want to sell a PnPRPG to the CRPG crowd, at least making it look like a game instead of a text book is a huge step in the right direction.