Lately, my wife and I have been be-Witchered. We’ve been playing lots of the Witcher Board Game (in the GOG computerized edition), and The Witcher 2, and we’ve come to think that both games do an excellent job in establishing the bleak, cruel world of The Witcher. There’s something about them that’s a bit off to our Western tastes. They’re based on a fantasy world written by a Polish author, and we’re assuming this makes their atmosphere, an “Eastern European feel”. This is, of course, awesome.

Here are a few things we’ve noticed:

Casual attitude toward cruelty: Computer Games, particularly of the RPG variety, are replete with cruelty. But Western RPGs, at least in the mainstream and broadly speaking, flag that cruelty as morally repugnant. If you meet a character who has ‘purged’ an entire village and massacred its inhabitants, you can be fairly certain that you’re going to have to put him down with your sword, double daggers, handy fireball, etc’. Here, this simply isn’t the case. You meet a minor character in an army camp, whose function is chiefly to supply you with some moderately helpful information, and he just casually mentions that he wiped out an entire peasant village for the king, and received some highly gratifying kingly praise for it. And that’s normal. Geralt just nods, and you continue to steer the dialogue from there. That king, incidentally, himself burned a witch at the stake for a crime she may or may not have committed, and that’s the king whose life you’re trying to save though hours-worth of a main series of quests.

No right moral choice: In a game such as Dragon Age Inquisition, or most D&D campaigns for that matter, you’re often faced with several moral choices, but you always know more or less what the decent choice is, assuming that you want to support the underdogs in a given scenario. Here, the morality is so mucked up that there genuinely doesn’t seem to be a decent choice to be made in the central moral crossroads. I’m chary of spoilers, so let me just say that at one major crossroads your moral choice is between supporting one asshole who waterboarded a guy to death, or another asshole who threatened, in all sincerity, to cover your face in honey and feed you alive to ants should you betray him.

Everyone just goes everywhere: Geralt, the main character of the series, seems to just run into the same people over and over again. Not by choice, but by coincidence. After arriving at a military camp, who’s already there? Why, it’s the mage I’ve met in Rivia a few months back. And the guy who has the magical spear I need? Why, it’s the dude that almost killed me last chapter. This is very obvious in the board game, in which people just meet sometimes, do something together (support quests), then go to their separate ways. The mere concept of followers, a-la Bioware games, is completely foreign to The Witcher – you’ll have lots of familiar characters around, sure, but not because they’re following you, but because they live their own lives, doing their own things, which just happen to be around where the Witcher is. (Probably because he’s always in the middle of the most interesting and dangerous thing around).


Another game that does some of these well is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 3rd ed. Highly recommended, for various other reasons as well. Have a fun descent into corruption!

(This post was co-written with my wife Dassi, who’s an English Lit Phd-er. Guess who wrote which paragraph)