After the cultural phenomenon that was Game of Thrones, it’s clear there was an audience for a more grim/dark take on the fantasy genre. Enter the mysterious world of monsters and monster hunters known as Witchers. Stemming from the critically acclaimed novels of the same name, and expanding into video games, a Netflix series, and now, tabletop RPGs. As a fan off all incarnations of the Witcher, I was excited to get my hands on the tabletop RPG. Drawn in by the world created by author Andrzej Sapkowski, as well as, the unrelenting dangers faced by the characters in everyday life. If it wasn’t enough to have wondering monsters, the denizens of the northern kingdoms also face warring nations and wild mages. All of these elements are but kindling for players that wish to make a name for themselves in the world of the Witcher.
Right out of the gate this book let’s you know this is a world of danger, and not your typical D&D high fantasy. Combat has stakes, and people will die. For many of us this will be a welcome change to our everyday sword & sorcery style of play. Of course, the world of the Witcher contains magic, however, it’s not prevalent in society and few professions (Classes) can use it at all. This places more emphasis on on the physicality of swordplay, and, in turn, creates the games biggest strength. In order to accomplish this diversity in melee combat, the rule-set had to be robust enough to accommodate different actions. This makes the Witcher tabletop RPG quite heavy on the rules side, and I would even compare it to Pathfinder in this regard. Though, the complexity doesn’t come so much from class options or feats, but rather the sheer amount of actions that any player can perform on his/her turn. When you attack, you have the option of two fast strikes or one strong blow that deals additional damage. On the flip side, when being struck by an opponent, players have four different options when acting defensibly. Should they dodge, reposition, block, or parry? Some of these may seem similar, but all use different skills, modifiers, and results. For example, a successful parry means your sword doesn’t take damage, unlike blocking, and allows you the upper hand as you stagger your opponent! You only need to out roll your enemy while taking a -3 penalty as parrying is a riskier maneuver. This complexity in combat can be a double edge sword. On one hand, a majority of the system complexity is part of the base game, which allows experienced players to master combat and assist other players. However, I can see this being a difficult task for a GM attempting to teach this game to new players. Where traditionally, a GM would know the base rules and it would be up to the players to know their character’s skills/abilities, but in this case, the GM would be responsible for a wide arrange of actions and play-styles. Being so crunchy and rather math heavy, this game will most likely appeal to tabletop veterans that enjoy tactical, but deadly form of play.
Though it may not be beginner friendly, the depth is what kept my interest when reading. Armor and weapons take damage upon use, which requires the characters to tend to their equipment. While Witchers will be a popular profession for players, this makes the Craftsman an appealing support character. The same can be said for the Doctor or Priest as wounds must be treated properly. The edge provided by the games difficultly means that the party must band together to overcome obstacles and survive. Since this is a low magic setting, Mages will feel powerful when casting spells, however, the spell list isn’t as extensive as other games, but again, only 1-2 professions have access anyway, so this is not a major detractor. This does allow the game to flesh out other systems like crafting and alchemy. Honestly, alchemy was one of my favorite sections, and perhaps something I add into other games. The game provides a list of different herbs, their rarity, and regions where they are found. It then assigns them to 1 of 9 substances they can be reduced into. It’s a wonderful color coordinated chart that shows what substances can be combined to craft various elixirs and potions. As an experienced tabletop RPG player, I found a ton of useful elements contained in this book. It did require some digging, and a few pages I had to re-read as it wasn’t quite clear, but overall this is a well made rule system that plays up the dark and deadly world of the Witcher. This brings me to my main gripe about this book. The rules and new concepts introduced are not delivered in a way for easy understanding. I found myself re-reading sections and coming across abbreviations where the text did not immediately indicate what they meant. While all of the information is present in the book, I feel major sections should have been re-organized, and more examples provided to make key rules systems a bit more clear. So, just go into it knowing that you may need to read each section in it’s entirety before some rules make sense. That being said, I found many helpful reddit threads and Youtube videos that provided this clarification. These are hurdles for sure, but the Witcher RPG starts coming together for you, there is a number of innovative mechanics that bring the danger to life at the table.
If your group wants to play in the Witcher universe or simply play a more high stakes game, then I would recommend checking out the Witcher tabletop RPG. However, just like the dangers that inhabit Andrzej Sapkowski’s world, this book will not hold your hand. So, new players should dip their toes in another pool first, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. We have many quick-start style games in the genre. Expecting all of your players to be invested by learning the rules will result in a game rich in depth. Making crafting and the art of survival almost more important to a party than the Witcher’s marshal prowess. It’s this realism mixed with a bit dark fantasy that attracted us to these grim kingdoms in the first place.
Have you enjoyed the Witcher series? Would you want to play in the world with the likes of Geralt of Rivia? Let us know in the comments below!