The Witcher

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The Witcher is a series of novels written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, but is better known for the series of video games produced by CD Projekt Red (much to his chagrin; he regularly rotates between dismissal of the medium, lamenting the deal he made with them, and entering into litigation). They focus on the life and times of Geralt of Rivia, one of the titular Witchers (alchemically-augmented superhumans tasked to be monster hunters) in a rather dark fantasy setting where fantastical monsters are becoming resurgent and humans are little better than the monsters.

The Setting[edit]

An important part of the discussion of history in The Witcher universe is that the setting exists in a multiverse; every so often there is a "Conjunction", when universes meet and species cross over between them, and if taken literally then sometimes new universes are born and old ones are destroyed during these (although this could be a fancy way of saying that the species immigrating back and forth cause major changes). Another important aspect is that Fate is a tangable force in this universe and no matter what you do, you can't fight it. Doesn't mean people aren't trying.

And one more thing right off the bat. You probably heard something in tune of "The Witcher is a Slavic setting". It is not. It's fairly generic (and deliberately so) ISO Standard European Medieval Fantasy, with monsters taken from D&D manuals, gratitous amounts of Celtic and German thrown into it and generally following all the Western cliches and fantasy tropes. Pretty much all the short stories are Shrek-like parodies of Western fables and the saga reads after certain point like an AAR of your long-running RPG campaign - again, all purposefully so. The only thing that can be vaguely claimed to be "Slavic" is the fact certain characters display various stereotypical behaviours of your rural, reactionary, overly religious and ignorant Pole - which is mocked to no end in the books, especially the misplaced "hurray patriotism". Anyone claiming the setting is "Slavic" apparently never read any of the books or played the games. Add to all that the fact the writer quite vocally shat on actual Slavic fantasy in the 90s and it takes to be delusional to still insist Witcher series is "Slavic".

Due to Sapkowski's general disinterest in worldbuilding beyond what is necessary, what's known about the world is mostly just what pertains directly to the stories themselves. Continents, cosmology, far-off cultures, and large chunks of history are just blanks, to the point that the author himself refers to fan-created maps in later works. Since originally the setting was just a backdrop to bunch of short stories that were connected by characters, rather than places, geography gets wonky if you start to make a map out of what's known about it. Just like the author, you shouldn't care about it or overthink it, because the physicality of the setting is probably the least important part of it.

The area that almost all stories take place in is simply known as "The Continent" (there is also "The Western Continent" in a few stories), and was native originally only to gnomes and dwarves. After the first Conjunction both elves (called Aen Seidhe) and humans arrived from another worlds, but still not to the Continent itself. Shortly after, elves arrived from parts unknown in boats and established kingdoms, while having regular wars with dwarves (considering them pests in the promised land). Few centuries later, humans reached the Continent in their own boats. They spread out rapidly, initially living in peace with the elves and learning magic, along with other bits, from them. However the human territories aggressively pushed borders as the human breeding outpaced that of the elves, resulting in more and more wars, massacres, and forced removal of elves from their own cities. Eventually the elven youth began to fight back, but that only lead to further disaster: most of elven cities got destroyed in the process, while majority of fertile elves dying in a war they couldn't win from the start. The elven royalty reached out to magic users, who were the only humans who had benefited from their shared past and tried to establish relations, but the ignorant human masses killed an elf princess and her human husband which resulted in another elf/human war. The elves, being on their last leg already, were beaten soundly, with their last kingdoms taken over and souring most elves on humanity forever. Some run to the wild, where they are barely holding, some tried to integrate in human lands, where they are mostly persecuted.

From that point onward, the Continent was one way or another dominated by humans, who filled all corners of it, fought their own wars, rebellions and never forgetting to kick some non-humans down for nothing else than own amusement. There are still some hold-outs controlled one way or another by non-humans, like Brokilon, a forest full of dryads or Mahakam, a mountrain range with quasi-state of dwarves, but other than that, it's human kingdoms in all directions.

The events of the books happen some 400 years later, in the midst of what's called Northern Wars. While northern part of the continent is your standard collection of ISO Standard European Fantasy kingdoms, duchies, merchant republics and so, there is a slowly, but surely growing threat of Nilfgaard empire down south. So it's your just as standard evil empire vs. good federation, but with bunch of twists and cosmetic changes.

Cast[edit]

  • Geralt of Rivia - Our main protagonist and one of the last Witchers, a race of alchemically augmented mage-warriors. He's a fairly no-nonsense guy though he's very much struggling to keep the inhumanly impassive perspective in check.
  • Ciri - Geralt's sorta-adopted daughter, proclaimed his Destiny because of a tradition called the "Rule of Surprise" (A tradition in which one person does a service for another, and the recipient must repay this favor through a means that satisfies intentionally-vague criteria). After her parents died at sea and few years later her grandmother killed herself rather than surrender to Nilfgaardians knocking to the Cintran gates, Ciri still managed to wander into Geralt's life, and so he decides to raise her...as a mini-him. This is quickly stopped and she's sent to a proper school to learn. It's pretty clear that she's far more important than she seems as her unnatural height and uncontrolled bouts of magical power indicate that she might have some inhuman blood insider her. You’ll probably start to dislike her in the later books for being a huge fucking Mary Sue, with as many new skills and abilities as the moment requires. According to the games, she’s also been to the world of Cyberpunk while trying to escape pursuers (made possible by the act that CD Projekt RED works on both franchises).
  • Dandelion - Traveling bard and one of Geralt's few genuine friends. He's something of a complete idiot and a coward, but he's also the friendliest folks around and is always looking for material for his ballads. He's something of a nuisance, but he's also one of the most well-traveled people around.
  • Yennefer of Vengerberg - The closest thing Geralt has to a formal relationship and the closest thing that Ciri has to a mother, though she's totally a bitch at times. She's a sorceress who's manipulative but also very much despises her condition of infertility (a result of becoming a sorcerer) and this is one of the great points of contention between the two of them.
  • Triss Merigold - Sorceress with a teenage-like romantic obsession for Geralt that he doesn't share. She doesn't have too much presence as a character in the books, then she jumps to being a main character in the videogames when she takes advantage of Geralt's amnesia and Yennefer's absence to fulfill her fantasy of being the witcher's main lover. She may remain as such even when he recovers his memory. Aside from that dick move, she is very kind and light-hearted, and remarkably, she is one of the few sorceresses that doesn't continuously behave like a bitch.
  • Emhyr var Emhreis- the Emperor of Nilfgaard, which is essentially a superpower based mostly off of Rome, though their aesthetic is more medieval German (as far as "evil empires" go, though, it's rather morally grey). He is known for being a cold, ruthless and pragmatic son of a bitch who will stop at nothing until the continent knows only the glory of Nilfgaard and all other kingdoms and states are subjected underneath the Golden Sun. Ciri is his biological daughter, and he desires her to continue his line, as he's head of a prophecy that states that her bloodline will eventually control the world. Has a series of long-winded titles, including a ridiculous "The White Flame who dances on the graves of his foes."
  • Vilgefortz of Roggeveen - one of the most prominent sorcerers in the North and the main bad guy from the books. He is the mastermind behind grand majority of the plot happening, either by direct action or manipulating various parties to do his biddings - including emperor Emhyr, who's drive for conquest and capture of Ciri came from Vilgefortz talking non-stop about the prophecy to him. Also, he's extremely vain and sadistic motherfucker, who won't be pleased until everyone venerates him like a God, with the capital G. Once his grand scheme backfires, he's reduced to be a caricatural evil lord struck in a ruin castle, but the cards he dealt to everyone remain in play for next three books and he doesn't stop being any less dangerous for Geralt and Ciri personally.
  • Leo Bonhart - probably the most colourful Heavy from all of the books. A fabled bounty hunter and a mercenary, who despite getting in years and looking like starving to death is one of the most dangerous, yet regular people present in the books. How dangerous? He killed three witchers throughout his life. His main drive is the fun he has from killing. The running joke is that the character is your high-level murderhobo, but as seen from perspective of people in-universe.
  • Eredin- the elven King of the Wild Hunt (a group of supertall and buff elves in scary black armor), and widely considered to be THE main antagonist of the games. He lead a genocide of the human population of his home planet, poisoned his old king with a spiked aphrodisiac, and when a mystical force is known as the White Frost (either an encroaching Ice Age or the heat death of the universe) began to threaten his world, he started to hunt Ciri in order to use her to invade her world.
  • Vesemir- Geralt's mentor and the closest thing he has to a father. He is a witcher with roughly four centuries of experience under his belt and was the sole survivor of an assault on the Witcher stronghold at Kaer Morhen. (Geralt and the few other witchers were away on contracts when this happened)
  • Nenneke- the head priestess in the temple of Melitele in Ellander. If Vesemir is father figure to Geralt, she's the mother. Which makes her complete absence in the games weird, to say the least. One of the few religious figures in the entire verse that seems to be a genuinely good person, with no strings attatched.
  • Radovid- Literal nobody in the books, introduced in one of the final pages of the last one, but turned into ever increasing evil force in the games thanks to how he is introduced. At first Prince and then King of Redania, the Poland-Lithuania-style country. Stylized as Radovid V the Stern, he starts off as alright-ish and eventually becomes a real fucking prick by the point of the third game, ordering the extermination of all magic-users due to Philipa and her Lodge of Sorceresses backstabbing him and murdering his father, as well as ordering the suppression of non-humans. Despite his ruthlessness and "madness", he is also shown to be a very clever tactician and strategist.
  • Sigismund Dijkstra- Think Winston Churchill if he was a medieval Polish intelligence official. Gruff, fairly obese, and intensely patriotic to Redania, he believes in using methods other than war to achieve the state's aim, but he won't hesitate to bash in a motherfucker's skull if it means Redania remains safe. Had to flee his country when Philipa sent assassins after him and ended up becoming the head of a gang in the free city of Novigrad, while still secretly retaining his loyalty to his homeland.
  • Philipa Eilhart- the "Jewel of Tretegor", and probably the biggest reason why sorceresses and mages are seen in a negative light in the Northern Kingdoms. She is the head of the Lodge, the magical advisor to Redania's king, and a complete and utter cunt. Even Yennefer hates what a stone-cold bitch she is, noting that she is manipulative, power-hungry, cold, and ambitious. Radovid eventually tires of her bullshit and ends up exiling her, but not before putting out her eyes.
  • Crach an Craite- the Jarl of Ard Skellig, which is part of the Skellige Isles (essentially comprised of a people who are more or less Gaelic-Norse in culture). He is a steady ally of Geralt's, and noted for being an exceptionally brave and fearsome warrior, even giving witchers pause when facing him. He is a just and fair ruler to the people on his island, and a terrifying opponent to face in a raid, to the point where Nilfgaardian and Northern naval vessels steer far away from the isle, lest they suffer the wrath of the "Wild Sea Boar".

The Novels[edit]

While there are eight novels in total, they were not released in order of continuity in English. Two of them (The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny) are just a bunch of short stories using the same cast and settings while the rest of them are all focused on a particular central plot, creating the so-called saga. It is all followed by a stand-alone prequel "novel", which is a short story blatantly stretched to 400 pages.

  1. The Last Wish: The introduction to the setting, explaining who Geralt is, the world he lives in, and his work. As a collection of stories, there's not much of a greater overarching plot, except for a framing device of Geralt healing in a monastery and recollecting past adventures with various visitors he has.
  2. Sword of Destiny: Unlike the previous one, this collection lacks a clear-cut frame, but the stories are more or less in chronological order of events. Geralt meets Ciri for the first time, as a snotty princess, then again, few years later. At least the last two stories of the collection are part of the saga proper, to even know who is who and what's going on. Possibly the most fun witcher-related book.
  3. Blood of the Elves: Geralt tries rising Ciri in Kaer Morhen, with predictable results. You also get to meet Triss. Essentially a set up with nothing important or vital happening, but everyone has their moment to play parent for Ciri.
  4. A Time of Contempt: Ciri is prepared to be send for a magic training. In the background a massive pile-up of conspiracies eventually implodes, leading to infighting between mages and reassumption of war between Nilfgaard and all the northern kingdoms.
  5. Baptism of Fire: Probably the most /tg/ of all of the books. Geralt assembles a party hansa and starts his search for Ciri, who disappeared after the disastrous coup in previous book. On the other side of the world, Ciri is doing her best to survive by joining a pack of thieves. Big political game starts to unfold in the background. Depending on why you picked up the saga, this is the moment when you either drop or start to enjoy it.
  6. The Tower of the Swallow: Bad things happen to everyone: The Book. Ciri gets captured by Leo Bonhart, Geralt & co. are still struggling to find her, Nilfgaard is winning the war and whole lot of people die, while politicians and mages are plotting.
  7. The Lady of the Lake: The big culmination of the saga. Ciri eventually manages to master her ability, while Geralt finally gets a trail toward her. In the background, North finally starts a counter-offensive, culminating in an all-or-nothing battle for both sides. Skip the final chapter and you've got a servicable ending. Read it and realise you've been trolled into going through seven books.
  8. The Season of Storms: A blatant and open cash-grab, written almost 20 years after the whole saga. Would be a decent, 30-something pages long story about Geralt getting his swords back somewhere in the middle of Sword of Destiny. Instead, it's stretched, rolled and tucked into a novel format, all while openly trolling anyone who ever cared about lore.

The Games[edit]

CD Projekt Red is responsible for releasing the three main Witcher games (with DLC) alongside Gwent, a digital card game and competitor to Blizzard's Hearthstone, and Thronebreaker.

The RPGs[edit]

There are two: one made by Poles in 2001 and one made by R. Talsorian in 2018. The first one is a result of bunch of fans running an RPG-publishing company finally getting rights to make a Witcher game. The second is a result of contractual obligation. This has pretty obvious effects on both games.

The Polish one is based on d6. It's class-less, supports both point-build or roll-for chargen. You pick your race, then either roll stats or spend points on them, then fill-in skills and special abilities. The game was designed from a ground-up specifically for the task of supporting things from the lore. It is also in a very awkward straddle between "muh realism" and "muh epic", with some rules aiming for high lethality and emulation of detailed factors, while others over-simplify things and underscale difficulty of various tasks.

Design-wise, it's a very late 90s game - various stats and skills overlap, others are overly simplified (like having 3 different tracking skills or 7 conversation-related, but just one for all types of melee weapons). On the flip side, its combat mechanics are more than servicable. What else to ask from a game when it has grappling rules that are just two sentences, make sense and don't confuse anyone, all while the game allows in the same time use magic and fight in melee? The game covers only things that are present in the books, so stuff introduced in video games like bombs or gorillion of potions is missing. The rules are also grounded in the lore, so bards play music and write poetry, while monks copy manuscripts. Elves still are sluts, thou.

/tg/ helped to translate the rules of the game back in 2015, around the time when The Wild Hunt was released. Translation is janky and covers only the rules, but it's still fully playable, as long as you don't mind the fact you have to look up values for monster stats with Google Translator (since monster book wasn't translated).

The Talsorian one is essentially Cyberpunk 2020 with a very, very, very thin fantasy paintjob over it. The game was forced out of the studio once CDPR send their lawyers on them, reminding Pondsmith senior that when they got rights for CP, he agreed to deliver a Witcher pen-and-paper RPG in turn. Talsorian did their very best to wiggle out of their side of the deal, until it became clear CDPR will simply sue. And since they've spend over two out of three years doing nothing, this gad predictable effect on pace and quality of the game design or the lack of playtests. The result was an internet FAQ and official erratum going for almost thirty pages of explainations and corrections within first month after release.

The game is class-and-race based, with a choice between human, dwarf and elf (and witchers as race-as-class). There's a lot of background rolling, some truly nasty ways for crits to work you over, and a rather vast crafting system. It is predominately using The Wild Hunt as inspiration and source of game mechanics design.

It's not horribly designed barely playable. The class system is extremely restricting, even without comparison to the freedom of the Polish game. The skill system is schizophrenic as hell, not sure whether it wants to collapse similar skills together into super-skills or split them out into granular sub-skills, the random backstory generator tends towards grimderp and cannot be removed or replaced with something that lets a player pick, since some results offer gameplay benefits and penalties, and the crafting system is, at once, the worst kind of busywork math homework/bean-counting actuarial nonsense and absolutely necessary since everything in the game is designed to be more expensive than necessary to force you to engage with it at gunpoint. Because hey, RPGs are about crafting, right?

Combat's also not bad awful, since it takes CP2020 game mechanics, slaps swords and magic on them, but never adjust for the fact original ruleset was written for firearms and ballistic armour. It has an unique stamina mechanic where players essentially have a finite-but-replenishing currency they spend by taking all kinds of actions, but it's very random and lethal, so having a medic is also something the party needs at gunpoint.

Finally, although they are the supposed draw of the game, Witchers are generally restricted to one per party, and while they are very good at hunting and killing monsters, they are very bad at everything else, they suffer extreme social penalties, and while Geralt, by virtue of being a protagonist and a high-level character, is good at all kinds of things, most Witchers really, really need to specialize. Honestly, the average man-at-arms is just as good at fighting as the average Witcher, again, outside of monster stuff, and better at doing other things that don't involve monsters or tracking.

Aside from those two official games, there is a handful of notable homebrews and fan expansions to various games. This even includes a separate one for PF and 3e, 3.PF, 4e and 5e D&D. But probably most notable is the GURPS module, since it's on par with quality of official stuff. Pretty much all homebrews that are in English were designed with elements from video games, rather than book content.