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 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.
Agree with all thoss points except the last.

The parts with the witcher in it concentrated on one short story per episode from the book The Last Wish. I suspect that the parts woth yennifer and ciri were trying to slot in their backstories around that.

I'd be really interested to see a chronological edit of the season
 

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jhingelshod

Explorer
- 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.

I actually noticed Geralt's costume changing between episodes - in one episode it was worn and dirty, in a later one new and shiny - before I realised about the timeline jumping. I only realised what was happening when I saw a link on pcgamer to an interactive timeline posted by the shows producers.

 

dave2008

Legend
To everyone who was confused about the timeline, I just want to point out they give you a clue in the very first episode (when it would otherwise be impossible to know):

  1. Ciri mentions that Queen Calanthe (her grandmother) won her first battle at Hochebuz when she was 16. Later in the same episode...
  2. Renfri tells Geralt that Calanthe just won the battle at Hochebuz
From that information it is easy to deduce that the events are happening in two different timelines. The harder one to figure out was Yennefer's timeline, but since the first episode had established two separate time lines I assumed her was separate too.
 
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jhingelshod

Explorer
To everyone was confused about the timeline I just want to point out they give you a clue in the very first episode (when it would otherwise be impossible to know):

  1. Ciri mentions that Queen Calanthe (her grandmother) won her first battle at Hochebuz when she was 16. Later in the same episode...
  2. Renfri tells Geralt that Calanthe just won the battle at Hochebuz
From that information it is easy to deduce that the events are happening in two different timelines. The harder one to figure out was Yennefer's timeline, but since the first episode had established two separate time lines I assumed her was separate too.
Totally missed that, thanks for pointing it out.

I think The Witcher is one of those shows that will benefit from repeated viewing :)
 

dave2008

Legend
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.
I disagree that there were no clues. I had never read, nor played the witcher books or games and I was able to follow from the first episode, because they give you the clue you need:
  1. Ciri mentions that Queen Calanthe (her grandmother) won her first battle at Hochebuz when she was 16. Later in the same episode...
  2. Renfri tells Geralt that Calanthe just won the battle at Hochebuz
That was all I needed to know these are different timelines. And there are more clues as the series goes on.
 

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