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

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
The show is boring. I barely made it through 3 episodes. And this is from someone who has played the games and read the books.

Agreed. Was quite excited about it (until I tried reading the first book which should have been a warning, not sure if the translation is poor or the original writing but I found it to be clumsy), but I find Geralt to be a thoroughly dull protagonist. People talk screeds at him and he grunt-whispers a couple of words in response.
 

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teitan

Legend
True, however I am reliably informed, by somone who read the untranslated books, that the TV show is very much a westernised version of the stories.

So a D&D influence may be creeping into the TV adaptation.

this is probably the case. I’ve read the book the first season is based on and it is much more folklorish than D&D. I love the game but was very glad they hewed closer to the book.
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
This isn’t a D&D tv series but a series based on books and games that draw on several of the inspirations that D&D does.

If a Dragonlance tv series started that would be a D&D tv series
 

gyor

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.

The issue for most people is that it doesn't make it clear that all these stories are happening at vastly different times, it gives no dates when switching time periods as is the proper convention when shifting between time periods especially none linearily.

But as I said once I caught on that this was a none linear story that was bouncing back and forth in time I had no problem following. I have an obsession with the multiverse and time travel now (which I didn't when I was younger). Still I can see how others would would have a hard time following the time shifts.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
The issue for most people is that it doesn't make it clear that all these stories are happening at vastly different times, it gives no dates when switching time periods as is the proper convention when shifting between time periods especially none linearily.

But as I said once I caught on that this was a none linear story that was bouncing back and forth in time I had no problem following. I have an obsession with the multiverse and time travel now (which I didn't when I was younger). Still I can see how others would would have a hard time following the time shifts.

Like you, I was at first confused, but once I caught on with the non-linear storytelling I had no problem keeping up. In fact, I LIKED the non-linear storytelling, it's a plus, not a minus. IMO. What's wrong with being a little confused when watching a story unfold?
 

gyor

Legend
Like you, I was at first confused, but once I caught on with the non-linear storytelling I had no problem keeping up. In fact, I LIKED the non-linear storytelling, it's a plus, not a minus. IMO. What's wrong with being a little confused when watching a story unfold?

A lot of people get frustrated. You might not realize this but liking heavy none linear story telling isn't normal, it's an aquired taste.
 

teitan

Legend
There is a Witcher Rpg.If you wanted to play something similar in a D&D campaign. Wildemount has that kind of vibe a nd is coming out Ma rch

Also could use Zweihander or Warhammer FRP with a home brew setting. Heck I think both are even perfect for a Greyhawk based game in the FtA era.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
I really believe that the Witcher (games and books) influenced Paizo when they created their Alchemist class. They may not have the Signs, but damn are Witchers and Alchs similar.
 

The Witcher books have been quietly influential for some time.

It's also worth noting that the first Witcher CRPG was built off the Neverwinter Nights engine, so there has long been an overlap with D&D.
 




JeffB

Legend
Like you, I was at first confused, but once I caught on with the non-linear storytelling I had no problem keeping up. In fact, I LIKED the non-linear storytelling, it's a plus, not a minus. IMO. What's wrong with being a little confused when watching a story unfold?

This confusion is actually the thing that kept me interested. Sitting around saying to myself WTF is going on here?? Once I figured it out, I was so proud of myself ;) but also disappointed when everything "got up to the same speed"- no longer had as much to capture my interest.
 



atanakar

Hero
When flashbacks are done properly I really enjoy it. When it's botched, like the Witcher, I don't. Considering how many people were confused by the flashbacks, and they are all people who have watched TV and movies since their childhood, I would say the problem is the Witcher, not the «Watchers» :ROFLMAO:
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
No, no, no.

Warcraft was influenced by Warhammer which in turn was influenced by D&D. Get your story straight. ;)

True. It's also true that Azeroth had its genesis as a homebrew D&D world back in the days of 2e. It was of course heavily influenced by Warhammer, but I would say has since become thoroughly its own thing.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
When flashbacks are done properly I really enjoy it. When it's botched, like the Witcher, I don't. Considering how many people were confused by the flashbacks, and they are all people who have watched TV and movies since their childhood, I would say the problem is the Witcher, not the «Watchers» :ROFLMAO:
My stepdaughter has never played the games, read the books, and didn't know a thing about the property other than that her geeky dad was really into it. She had no trouble sorting it out and actually set me straight on a few points where I was confused!
 

A lot of people get frustrated. You might not realize this but liking heavy none linear story telling isn't normal, it's an aquired taste.
Yes but some people upthread have called the non linear timeline objectively bad rather than a stylistic choice.
 

Yes but some people upthread have called the non linear timeline objectively bad rather than a stylistic choice.

I wouldn't call non-linear storytelling objectively bad, but the Witcher has the worst execution of it that I can think of in recent history. It failed for me in the following ways:

- Really bad editing. A number of episodes cut between different plots in a way that implies they are occurring simultaneously. They rarely are. As a person who didn't know they weren't simultaneous for the first few episodes, I felt both confused and lied to when I figured out how the timeline worked.

- Lack of visual indicators. Normally, shows that cut between different times will have something visual that gives you information about it. A time/location stamp, a visual cue or filter, or different makeup/haircuts/actors for characters to show that they're a different age. The Witcher makes no attempt whatsoever to do that. What's worse, they have multiple characters that don't age and always wear the same/similar costumes.

- No scheduling reason. I can understand with shows that air once a week, you sometimes have to throw in a secondary story about a character just because you haven't seen them in awhile. But this show is only available on Netflix, where viewers can control their pace. Alternatively, due to filming schedules, shows sometimes have to delay a planned episode for later in the season. But this was released all at one time. So I can't think of any logistic reason we couldn't have an all Geralt episode followed by a Yennifer episode.

- Required external information. I can honestly say that without looking at the timeline on the internet, there are a few events that I would never had been able to put in the proper order. That's a problem for me. I expect a show to run autonomously, especially when there are multiple versions that may conflict with each other. If I want to look up supplemental information, that's my choice. But if I have to do extra reading to make sense of it, the show has screwed up.

- No obvious narrative reason. At the end of the season, I honestly don't understand what they were trying to accomplish with all the time edits. There was no reveal or twist that was enhanced by the weird timeline. It felt more like a film student's homework assignment in non-linear storytelling than a legitimate artistic choice.

Obviously YMMV on these. But I get the general impression I'm not the only viewer with these complaints.
 

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