Tag Archives: Opinion

The Witcher RPG Review

Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series was thrust into the spotlight through the work of CD Projekt Red, a Polish game development studio now best known for its games based on the fantasy series. The Witcher RPG, new this year, was the result of an intriguing IP flowchart that connects it to some of the biggest hype in both the video gaming and tabletop gaming space. R. Talsorian Games, publisher of The Witcher RPG, is the company founded by Mike Pondsmith, designer of Cyberpunk 2020. When CD Projekt Red optioned Cyberpunk 2020 for a video game (Cyberpunk 2077), another Talsorian developer, Mike’s son Cody, built out a proposal for a tabletop version of The Witcher and presented it to CD Projekt Red leadership. They accepted, and the resulting game is the one I read and review for you here.

The Witcher RPG is exciting not only because it brings a popular fantasy property onto the gaming table, but also because it is the first original publication out of R. Talsorian in 13 years. As a result, The Witcher RPG is important both because it tells us if the design chops in R. Talsorian are as vital as they were in the 80s and 90s, and it tells us what future games are going to look like. While The Witcher RPG is using the venerable Fuzion ruleset which traces its lineage all the way back to Cyberpunk 2020 itself, a number of updates and design considerations make it clear that even if R. Talsorian and the Pondsmiths like their old-school, they know how to make a game flow and play well.

Overview

The Witcher RPG is a lore-heavy, setting-heavy book on gaming in the world of The Witcher. Fortunately for everyone involved, this doesn’t make it a game about Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher from the books and games, nor does this make it a game where everyone plays Witchers. A number of classes are provided which give a fair breadth of different play styles, including mages and men-at-arms as well as merchants and craftsmen. Witchers are a playable option, but as the NPC stat cards toward the beginning of the book show, not all Witchers are as potent as Geralt. Every race represented in the games and novels are present here, and as befits the culture implied therein, there is a nice expansion of Cyberpunk’s reputation mechanic to include the generally racist attitudes towards elves, dwarves, and witchers.

After race and class there is a lifepath system which at a high level is similar to the one in Cyberpunk. The options have been beefed up quite a bit, though, and also include a lot of neat upbringing detail appropriate to The Continent. If you can’t decide whether your merchant is from Novigrad or Velen, that is baked into the lifepath quite nicely.

Mechanically, the system will be familiar to anyone who’s played Cyberpunk or Mekton: all rolls are a d10 plus stat plus skill. There are still nine stats like in Cyberpunk, though they’ve been changed a bit (Movement Allowance, Attractiveness, Cool, and Tech are gone, replaced by Dexterity, Speed, Will, and Craft). The skill list, in contrast, has contracted dramatically from the Cyberpunk days, which is a good thing. The most significant way that skills have changed is a revision to special abilities. In Cyberpunk 2020, special abilities were skills that only certain classes could get, and generally conferred the equivalent of unique class features. That is still true in The Witcher, but special abilities are no longer mere skills. Now, each class has a special ability which, when advanced, opens up additional abilities which either enhance the core special ability or are new abilities unto themselves. This ends up making the classes feel more like D&D classes in terms of how they’re written, but because of how much disparity there is compared to D&D, I think it works nicely here.

Magic is a broadly spell-based system, with a number of differing types of magical abilities. Mages can cast spells, Witchers can use the relatively simple Signs, and craftsmen can create magical potions. The alchemy system is interesting, using a number of Essences which can be extracted from different items. The crafting system broadly is built up the same way, using a number of ingredients which can be purchased or looted.

Combat is once again lifted from Cyberpunk, with a couple key differences. First, the wound track is gone, replaced with a more basic HP system (though with both wounds and stun damage). Second, a critical wound system akin to that from Warhammer has been added; when you exceed your target’s defense roll by more than 7, you deal a critical wound which confers an extra effect and is more difficult to heal. Beyond those two details, the mechanics will be familiar: opposed rolls for melee, target numbers for ranged, roll a d10. Even SP for armor is still there, and the infamous armor layering rules are still in effect.

The Witcher RPG is clearly an update of an existing system, though the update does many things well. There are also admittedly some missteps where either something really needed to be changed and wasn’t, or one of the new changes didn’t land quite right.

What I liked

To start, mechanically this game kept all the elements of the old system that I really liked. The combat is simple but wicked, lifepath is neat and evocative, and the classes are broad and not all combat-based. Certain design flaws in the Interlock/Fuzion system were addressed directly: advancement is significantly improved from Cyberpunk, both in terms of pace and options. Giving out improvement points isn’t particularly interesting, but that’s true for most games which aren’t called Burning Wheel. Additionally, the change in special abilities not only works better for making classes feel distinct but also moves away from some of the more broken special abilities in Cyberpunk. The addition of a social combat mechanic was needed and deserved. As one final mechanic worth recognition, the two-tiered difficulty system in the bestiary and complementary encounter building advice are excellent. The system is significantly less granular than challenge rating in D&D (nine categories rather than over twenty) but provides much more information thanks to the supporting material.

Beyond the rules, the lore in this book is excellent. Lots of information about the world, characters that people will likely know, and great adventure hooks which are much broader than what is brought to the table by Geralt and his friends. The GM’s section is very good, directly addressing topics like in-game romance and adversarial GMing in a blunt but helpful way. There’s also a section which has an overview of every important decision point in the Witcher video games, something which is invaluable if you or your group have played the games and have their own ‘headcanon’ to account for.

What I didn’t like

The book is not without its hiccups, both in design and formatting. The biggest issue, present throughout the book, is clarity. Every once in a while, this is from the writing…the new special ability tracks, which I greatly enjoy rules-wise, don’t have clear framing mechanics. I had to read the section four different times to figure out what it costs to advance these abilities, and I’m still unsure. More frequently, clarity issues are from implied omissions…things that the writer thought were obvious that the reader will not find obvious. An example of this is the bestiary. Each flavor section of the bestiary has a knowledge check DC in the title. This is a really neat flourish, but…two sentences at the beginning just saying why those DCs are there would have really helped. I did get it from context, but not immediately…and I’ve been gaming for nearly two decades. This also happened with item tables…many column headings needed more explanation as to what they were. The worst offenders, clarity-wise, are the sidebars. Do not put rules in the sidebars which aren’t mentioned elsewhere…just don’t do it. Finding that a rule I needed to know was stuck in a sidebar was profoundly annoying, because if I hadn’t been reading more carefully I would have missed it. And this occurred frequently throughout the book…after reading a section and feeling like I had missed something, I would find it in a sidebar. Leave the sidebars for flavor, suggestions, and tips and tricks…not core rules.

I generally had fewer problems with the actual rules of the game than with the layout, but there were a couple issues I saw. The crafting rules, which by and large are excellent, contain two issues. First, the price of items in the crafting rules and the price of the same item in the earlier inventory section were different. I don’t know if this was an error or if there’s a reason for it, but either way, clarity is needed. Second, and this is more philosophical, the crafting ingredients are lifted from the game very closely. Tracking half a dozen ingredients in a video game is trivial. In a tabletop game…less so. When you consider that every monster is supposed to drop something, it looks like engaging with the crafting system is going to require a lot of bookkeeping. It’s likely that having an ingredient-based treasure system solves more problems than it creates when it comes to power creep, so I will reserve judgment on how playable the crafting system is until I play it. As a final note, while I understand why The Witcher (and Fuzion in general, I believe) abandoned Cyberpunk’s wound track mechanic, I wish they didn’t. Characters are still pretty squishy with their static HP pools, but the stun/shock saves added to the danger of combat in a palpable way. If there was a way to keep that granularity without requiring five or six dice rolls to resolve each hit, I’m sure they would have done it.


The Witcher RPG is both a solid dark fantasy title and a return to form for R. Talsorian after a long hiatus. Grimmer than D&D but likely a bit more magical and fanciful than WFRP, The Witcher should attract fans of the genre, fans of the video games, and fans of R. Talsorian’s earlier work. If you’re looking to run from the Nilfgaardian army or just want to play fantasy Cyberpunk, The Witcher RPG should be where you look.

The Witcher RPG is available from DriveThruRPG. This review was written based on the print version of the game, and doesn’t take into account any errata from more recent PDF iterations.

Kickstarter Wonk: October, 2018

Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for October! This month, as the leaves turn and the days grow shorter, many designers, from the US and Italy and Sweden and other far-off places, are all ready to bring you autumn light in the form of new RPGs! Like most months, there were far too many games to cover all sufficiently, so here is my top ten; nine games and one collection of indie gaming material that (in my opinion) is too good to pass up. Whether you’re looking for Autumn leaves in The Forest Hymn and Picnic or something spooky in Things from the Flood, this crop is a perfect harvest for October.

Continue reading Kickstarter Wonk: October, 2018

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition Review

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise- grim and gritty is fun. Since 1986, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has built off of the setting of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle miniatures game to offer adventures and untimely deaths in the Old World, a “Europe with the serial numbers filed off” beset by both feudal politicking and chaos beasts from beyond. Now, in 2018, the Fourth Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) has recently hit stores, ready to introduce a new generation of gamers to “A Grim World of Perilous Adventure”. But like so many grim and perilous things, WFRP has had a difficult quest to get to this point. Before we dive into the game, let’s talk about WFRP’s 32 year history and why Fourth Edition is so pivotal.

Continue reading Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition Review

Bargain Bin Gaming: The Aether Sea and Hocus Focus

We’re trying something a little bit different this week. Previous installments for The Independents have covered a couple of free to play or “pay what you will” games, such as The Agency and the Ennie nominees for Best Free Game, and I’ve found these to be really insightful. A lot of time and effort goes into making these games, and it is really a wonder that it’s possible that they can be distributed free of charge. It was to my surprise to find that there really is so much out there available to prospective gamers. They are sometimes expansions, or skins of a preexisting system, but with a preponderance of SRDs available on the internet it’s quite possible to get a game going, and free games have a way of just kicking off an idea that helps get people around the table. It is in this vein that I would like to check out free (or very cheap) games that can be easily acquired for a quick game night! And it just so happens that our good friends at Evil Hat have some really nice Pay What You Will and Free games!

Continue reading Bargain Bin Gaming: The Aether Sea and Hocus Focus

The Independents: Suited

Pick a card, any card, any card at all . . . and that card might help you build your character, overcome challenges, and even tell you something about the world you’re playing in! All you’ll need is a deck of cards and a copy of Suited from Escape Box Games! After this little book and its first expansion landed in the Independents in-box, I took a look and found a game that can adapt to any genre, get started right quick, and provide a session that doesn’t get bogged down in minutiae while providing exciting stories with some unique mechanics. Want to know more? Read on!  Continue reading The Independents: Suited

The Independents: Something Is Wrong Here

Kickstarter is a wild frontier of new games and new gaming ideas; the wide range of what’s out there is one reason I try to write about it every month. Every once in a while, though, an idea emerges that keys into something and gets people excited. While the Kickstarter for Something Is Wrong Here showed up too late for Kickstarter Wonk this month, I backed the game after seeing friends recommend it. As soon as I shared the campaign to my Facebook page, more of my friends lit up. “Twin Peaks RPG” and “David Lynch RPG” were pushing all the right buttons for many people I knew.

Continue reading The Independents: Something Is Wrong Here

Kickstarter Wonk: September: 2018

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! We’re apparently in the midst of a GenCon hangover, as it’s once again tough to come up with a full top ten games. There are tons of campaigns, but mostly for settings, supplements, and accessories. And while I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Main Gauche supplement for Zweihander, we’re looking for new games here, people! Fear not; I’ve come up with nine interesting ones, and rounded the list out with a second edition so intriguing I backed it as I was writing this article. How’s that for an endorsement?

Continue reading Kickstarter Wonk: September: 2018

Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Game Review

The time has come for four youths to travel to the village of Tsuma, there to participate in the Topaz Championship as part of their gempukku to earn their status as adults and samurai of the Emerald Empire. Not everything in Tsuma is as it seems, however, and not all intentions are honorable ones. Proving your worth may be more complicated than you expected . . . in the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Beginner Game from Fantasy Flight Games! I’ve got a copy of this impressive-looking kit and I’ve gone through the whole thing, so let’s see how your gateway to the land of Rokugan shapes up!

Continue reading Legend of the Five Rings Beginner Game Review

The Independents: Operators

Welcome back to The Independents! It’s time for a gear-up montage as we check out a new offering from the sibling-run outfit Samjoko Publishing! Action movies and RPGs both grew up around the same time, and during the 80s when both forms were fresh, there was some crossover. The James Bond RPG, Ninjas and Superspies, and later Feng Shui and Spycraft all approached movie tropes when developing their playstyles. Now, though, the feel and, dare I say it, choreography of modern action movies has come to RPGs in the form of Operators. Kyle Simons has taken a very different approach from other games in developing Operators, focusing on the fast pace and tight camera work of movies like The Bourne Identity and Mission: Impossible instead of the technical details of their cars, gadgets, and guns. While the game hasn’t been fully released on retail sites like DriveThruRPG, physical rewards have been sent out to Kickstarter backers, meaning the game is pretty close to final form.

Continue reading The Independents: Operators

The Independents: Seven Wonders

How did the children from Narnia cope with adulthood?  How does a dystopian society rise, and how does it fall? What happens in your village when the heroes are away? What would you sacrifice to save your family? Who protects your home when you’re not looking? What’s it like to voyage into a black hole? What do heroes talk about on the eve of a decisive battle? Seven questions need seven answers, and seven story games provide them. This time out The Independents are going to be exploring a wide range of themes, settings, characters, and framing devices as we check out the story roleplaying game anthology Seven Wonders from Pelgrane Press!

Continue reading The Independents: Seven Wonders