D&D General The D&D Series Has Arrived

While we wait for the official Dungeons & Dragons movie to make its debut, fans of the tabletop game have something else to tide them over: a fantasy series that hews closely to its source material. No, not Games of Throneswhich forged its own unique path – but The Witcher. Please note that this discussion involves spoilers.

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Meet The Witcher

The Witcher, created by author Andrzej Sapkowski, is one of the most popular fantasy series in Poland. It has turned into a transmedia franchise in its own right in video games, novels, movies, and the most recent series on Netflix. It follows Geralt of Rivia, a white-haired monster-hunter with powers deriving from his “mutations” which range from superhuman strength to the ability to see in the dark. The series is so popular in Poland that, when former President Barack Obama visited, the prime minister gave him a copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Watching the Netflix series makes it clear that The Witcher borrows several tropes from Dungeons & Dragons wholesale, enough that it’s less of a homage and more a part of the series’ DNA. Let’s start with the characters.

Classes & Archetypes

The Witcher Netflix series references several characters by class names that will sound familiar. Screenrant assigns a class to each, but in some cases the series itself names them outright: Jaskier is a bard (complete with lute and bawdy lyrics), Mousesack is a druid, and—although this is controversial—Geralt could originally have been a drow, complete with white hair, swordplay, darkvision, and magic. And like any good adventurer, Geralt’s constantly chugging potions to give him an edge.

Of the species that populate the world of The Witcher, there are dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. All of those species together do not appear in most fantasy works—Tolkien used “gnome” differently than D&D does—until the tabletop game. The term “halfling” was embraced by TSR after legal problems arose due to the usage of “hobbits," as explained in Art & Arcana:
Just as D&D began to cross over into the mainstream, a few fantastic creatures had to exit TSR’s menagerie. Elan Merchandising, a sublicensee of the Tolkien Estate who held certain non-literary rights to Tolkien’s creations, sent TSR a cease-and- desist order that led to the replacement of hobbits, ents, and balrogs with halflings, treants, and the balor type of demon. While this change was largely cosmetic, it did throw a speedbump in TSR’s path, which forced hasty modifications to the Basic Set and delayed the Monster Manual until the final days of December.
In the second episode, Geralt encounters elves. These elves are less Tolkien-esque and more like D&D’s elves—common enough that they are somewhat exotic but not so rare that they live separately from humanity. Yennifer, the sorceress, is herself a half-elf. There are also dwarves, who are similar to D&D dwarves—miners with a fondness for pickaxes and hammers in the third episode.

The creatures the characters encounter provide a much stronger hint about The Witcher’s D&D roots however.

The Creatures

It’s episode 6 where D&D’s influence is most apparent: dragons. The Witcher world features the full range of chromatic dragons: black, green, red, and white. In episode 6, a shapeshifting “golden dragon” is introduced and it follows the peculiar evolution of D&D’s gold dragon, which morphed from its original incarnation as an Asian-inspired serpentine beast to a more Western-style winged dragon with gold scales. The shapeshifting in particular strongly identifies this dragon as having tabletop gaming roots.

The ghouls in episode 8 that attack Geralt look very similar to D&D’s ghouls (themselves inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s portrayal) and have a bite that incapacitates the witcher; while not quite paralyzing him, it does knock him out with vivid hallucinations. And then there’s the “doppler” in that same episode, a shapeshifter that has blue skin that bears a striking resemblance to D&D’s doppelganger in later editions of the game.

There are also monsters that haven’t yet appeared in the Netflix series that are noted by The Witcher wiki to be inspired by D&D, like the treant—a species unique to D&D because the original name, “ent” was contested by the Tolkien estate. Ironically the one species that the wiki conflates with a D&D monster (vodyanoy as inspired by sahuagin) were in fact inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s deep ones. The reference to Dagon is a strong clue as to their origin.

Just How Much Influence Did D&D Have?

This is not to say that The Witcher owes its entire existence to D&D. Part of what makes The Witcher so appealing is how it combines fairy tales with traditional fantasy tropes. The series gives a modern veneer to fantasy, using “mutations” (a word that might sound modern to traditionalists) and freely weaving swear words into each episode. And what does Sapkowski have to say?
Since I was a kid I haven’t played any games—with a possible exception of bridge and poker. Video games are simply not for me, I prefer books as entertainment.
Perhaps Sapkowski never played tabletop games but read the books. Given that D&D is now so ingrained in fantasy culture, it’s started to refract back on itself in a recursive loop (yes, there’s a Witcher RPG) that muddles the origins of common tropes. But if the chromatic dragons, halflings, and treants are any indication … The Witcher may well have been inspired by D&D.
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

I liked the show, except for the dragon hunt episode. That one just felt too random with very little to do with the underlying plot. I liked it even more after I read up on the protagonist (Nilfgaard). I haven't read the novels .....yet.
One of the novels is a collection of short stories. The interwove the short stories with an arc plot from a different novel. The dragon episode, the strigia, the djinn etc where all short stories.
 

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paladinn

Explorer
If I do ever get to run it, I think I will do away with the whole "only boys can become witchers" part.

I'm not super-familiar with the books; but I understand that Ciri becomes a witcher of sorts.

There has been discussion on some forums that Geralt would have made a good ranger, or that the Witcher would be a good replacement for the Ranger class. I think Geralt had some wonky abilities that would be very unbalanced, but it's not a bad idea.
 


atanakar

Hero
Missleading title. :mad:

I didn't enjoy the Witcher series. Slow, badly written, the timeline is a nightmare to understand and follow. At cinema school you would get an F for this kind of confusing timeline.
 

This show has also been discussed over in the Media Lounge forum...


I recently finished the series and was unimpressed with the ending. Overall the show was OK. I think the word that describes it best is "complicated".
 

gyor

Legend
I disagree. The Witcher (the stories, not the TV show) have black dragons that spit acid, white dragons that breath cold and red dragons that breath fire and shape-shifting gold dragons. That is almost straight out of D&D (not AD&D)

Yeah that is too much to just point to a common source in European tales.
 

gyor

Legend
Missleading title. :mad:

I didn't enjoy the Witcher series. Slow, badly written, the timeline is a nightmare to understand and follow. At cinema school you would get an F for this kind of confusing timeline.

I agree the timeline think is a unclear mess, but thankfully I have a lot of experience in untangling such thanks to my interests in Star Trek and Philosophy and Theology.
 

"Of sorts" is accurate - as far as I know, she does not undergo the Trial of Grasses, and thus does not possess the witcher mutations. That's the other thing about the RPG, witcher is both a class and a race.

Yeah, I'd agree that he maps best to a ranger.

I'm not super-familiar with the books; but I understand that Ciri becomes a witcher of sorts.

There has been discussion on some forums that Geralt would have made a good ranger, or that the Witcher would be a good replacement for the Ranger class. I think Geralt had some wonky abilities that would be very unbalanced, but it's not a bad idea.
 

TheSword

Legend
I’m surprised by the shade thrown at this series. It’s a collection of short stories with repeating characters and a general theme - the threat of Nilfguard, the Throne of Cintra, and Geralts relationship with the sorceress Yennefer. I don’t think the timeline is any more complicated than that.

The cast is strong, the effects convincing and the style of magic pretty awesome. Maybe it’s a bit too grimdark for people, but I love it.
 

Oofta

Legend
There's no pleasing everyone, but I enjoyed the show. Considering the story they were trying to tell, I think they did an okay job. Not sure how else to do it, and I for one liked the background character development for Yennifer and Ciri. Reportedly the first season was really just a lead-up to the main story which will start next season.

I think a witcher-based ranger subclass could be pretty cool. My only question: is Roach an animal companion? :unsure:
 

TheSword

Legend
There's no pleasing everyone, but I enjoyed the show. Considering the story they were trying to tell, I think they did an okay job. Not sure how else to do it, and I for one liked the background character development for Yennifer and Ciri. Reportedly the first season was really just a lead-up to the main story which will start next season.

I think a witcher-based ranger subclass could be pretty cool. My only question: is Roach an animal companion? :unsure:

Well he can be resummoned because every horse Geralt rides is nicknamed Roach. Lol.

I tried recreating a Witcher character in 5e and it’s tough. In the end I used a ranger/sorcerer fluffing some of the spells as signs and some as decoctions and potions.

Spike stones or entangle is pretty good for refluffing as Yrden. Friends and charm person for Axii. Etc etc
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Colour coded dragons is a DnDism and I was surprised it happened in the show

nothing else in it was particularly DnD however, they were fairytale/folklore references...
 

Oofta

Legend
Well he can be resummoned because every horse Geralt rides is nicknamed Roach. Lol.

I tried recreating a Witcher character in 5e and it’s tough. In the end I used a ranger/sorcerer fluffing some of the spells as signs and some as decoctions and potions.

Spike stones or entangle is pretty good for refluffing as Yrden. Friends and charm person for Axii. Etc etc

In the games Roach would have to be a familiar because you can summon him pretty much anywhere. ;)
 



dave2008

Legend
I liked the show, except for the dragon hunt episode. That one just felt too random with very little to do with the underlying plot. I liked it even more after I read up on the protagonist (Nilfgaard). I haven't read the novels .....yet.
I also thought they did a horrible job with the dragons. Better to skip that story until you have the funds to do the dragons well.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
"Of sorts" is accurate - as far as I know, she does not undergo the Trial of Grasses, and thus does not possess the witcher mutations. That's the other thing about the RPG, witcher is both a class and a race.

Yeah, I'd agree that he maps best to a ranger.

Given that Ciri is a source, and a damned powerful one, the Trial of Grasses is kind of a wash.
 


dave2008

Legend
And the author said he never played the game. So I will believe the primary source.
But since treants are talking trees, Tolkein, D&D, and witcher stole from Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz.
Also, he could have never played the game an still have been directly influenced by it. I had the 1e Monster Manual for many years and it was quite worn before I have got a group together and played. If I had never gotten a group together I still would have been heavily influenced by D&D.
 
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