The time is right for Blizzard to get back into pen and paper gaming
This post was inspired by two things: seeing that Riot Games are getting back into making tabletop games, and the recent announcement of the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, a sanctioned Wizards of the Coast product featuring the campaign setting seen every week on Critical Role. It’s fair to say that Dungeons and Dragons is kind of in a renaissance right now, as the advent of play streams has done for D&D what big time streamers like Ninja have done in video games — brought in a whole new strata of players who start out watching others play before deciding if they want to take the leap and play themselves. Blizzard was ahead of the curve on the idea of taking an established, known quantity with a big fanbase — like League of Legends or Critical Role — and guiding them towards the tabletop.
The more I think about it, the more I think it’s a big disservice for Blizzard to have backed away from this kind of product. It’s understandable why they did. The World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, for example, was phased out so that Blizzard could bring Hearthstone to life but it brought us the Timewalkers before it went, and the original Warcraft and World of Warcraft RPG books ended up creating characters and threads that would be picked up later in the MMO, like Tandred Proudmoore. Yes, he’s canon now.
We’ve seen play streams become a huge part of the surge in popularity for Dungeons and Dragons. We’ve seen people with celebrity status like Stephen Colbert get on board. We’ve seen a whole generation discover or rediscover this kind of gaming on Twitch, on YouTube, and through media like Penny Arcade and Rick and Morty… both of which have D&D sourcebooks out. We even have a monthly streamed Blizzard Watch D&D game featuring the writers and podcasters for this site. Blizzard is sitting on a potential gold mine here.
The lines between tabletop and other media have blurred
I’m not saying that Blizzard should open a tabletop department, as Riot seems to have done. Nor am I saying they should be licensing out to others — that may be the right path for them but it’s a path they trod a few times before, with Diablo II: Diablerie and other Diablo themed products having been released by Wizards of the Coast for 3rd Edition D&D and the various Warcraft RPG products being put out by White Wolf’s various lines using the OGL. But the fact of it is, Blizzard currently has something like four IP’s that would be huge for tabletop development.
First up there’s Warcraft itself, which could easily anchor an entire line of fantasy RPG sourcebooks. Then, if you want the darker, grittier, blood spattered aesthetic, there’s Diablo‘s Sanctuary. Indeed, although it’s fairly true that Warhammer inspired Warcraft, it’s Diablo that would be a closer match to that venerable property and especially the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay style of game, at least in terms of its darker tone. I’d almost rather see Blizzard make a Diablo campaign setting than an Azerothian one, really. Then there’s StarCraft, which fills both the tabletop RPG sci-fi side of things and which could definitely make a great painted miniaturs battle game along the lines of Warmachine. It’s a setting Blizzard really isn’t doing much with currently, and one that could absolutely work as space fantasy, science fiction, cosmic horror or what have you. Finally, with the rise in popularity of modern/near future cyberpunk and superhero games, there’s Overwatch which could absolutely fill those roles.
That is a hell of a stable for Blizzard to… just kind of sit on, really. At a time when other companies are reaching out for ideas like these — when we’re seeing tabletop companies license properties or even bring in the creators to do products themselves, or actual video game companies start their own tabletop wing, the idea of Blizzard having once been so prevalent in this sphere and now having practically no presence in it kind of blows my mind. It’s time for Blizzard to get back in there and put out some games that don’t require a computer or console to play.
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