5MWD Review: Witcher RPG

Jester David

At a quick, casual glance the Witcher RPG looks good. Gorgeous art and a clean layout. But once you look closer or hit the rules the game begins to seem clunky and dated, potentially slow and fiddly with a surprising amount of imbalance and almost retro design. The more you look past the art and actually at the book, the uglier the product seems. The layout is clunky and boxy, simply lacking the extra detail and care one expects of a professional roleplaying game product from the late 2010s.

Frankly, I’ve seen better looking products on the DMsGuild or given away on /r/unearthedarcana done by literal amateurs; there are unofficial products done by fans for fun that simply have more care put into their design.

Prior to writing this review I was unfamiliar with R. Talsorian Games, and assumed they were a newcomer to the industry, building a catalogue of products by updating older games—I was familiar with the names Cyberpunk 2020, Teenagers from Outerspace, and others but had never played them or looked at who published them. But having paused to do some extra research/ fact-checking at the end of my review, I was a little surprised to find out R. Talsorian Games has been publishing games since 1985.

Which, honestly, explains the Witcher RPG. It’s not a retro roleplaying game designed like it was being published in the early 1990s. It’s a game designed by a publisher as if the RPG industry hasn’t changed or evolved since the 1990s. It’s an old school RPG that just happens to have been published in modern times with an art budget borrowed from a AAA video game studio.

I’m not sure how to evaluate the game with that new information. Should I praise R. Talsorian Games for sticking to their tried and tested design? Or should I condemn them for not keeping with the times and modern standards?

At the end of the day: does the layout affect the quality of the gameplay at the table? No, that is a merely cosmetic issue. And is this a usable game that will provide a framework for entertaining game sessions? Probably. That’s much harder to evaluate. The game system is still quite fiddly, but a few cheat sheets or a GM screen can mitigate that, and if you want that level of detail it’s a big plus. Furthermore, with only a single combat encounter likely in each session, you almost want that to be detailed and complex. And while you can end up penalized with bad life events during character creation, that’s a theoretical problem.

A skilled GM should be able to design adventures that engage a party of mixed roles. Especially if you have a small number of players. The game might work best if you have two or three players and one gamemaster rather than the expected table for four to six players. It would work very nicely as a game about a Witcher and their Criminal sidekick or a Mage and their Man-at-Arms bodyguard. This game might work very well as an “alternate game” played when you’re missing half a regular gaming group but still want to get together with friends and roll dice.

That said… with the Witcher TV series have caused a surge of Witcher-related attention and print copies of this game becoming harder and harder to find, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for R. Talsorian Games to do a revised edition instead of a straight reprint, tightening the rules and overhauling the layout. Perhaps even expanding the content in a few places, such as additional skill trees or monsters.

Read full review here.