Was The Witcher Inspired by an AD&D Campaign?

We previously discussed how The Witcher may have been inspired by a role-playing game but concluded that, according to author Andrzej Sapkowski's own words, he didn't have that much familiarity with tabletop RPGs because he claimed he never played them. We now know that's untrue. Why? Because Sapkowski wrote one.

oko_yrrhedesa.jpg

He “Doesn't Play Games”

Sapkowski's Witcher franchise has grown exponentially thanks to the popularity of the books in Europe, followed up by the CD Projekt Red video game series, and most recently the Netflix series. Because of the video games' popularity, they inevitably come up in interviews with the author. The io9 interview was no different. When asked to compare the show to the video game, Sapkowski replied:
I cannot compare anything to video games, because I have never played any. 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. Anyway, in my opinion TV series and video games—any of them—cannot be compared. They are too different in approach, making—and objective. You cannot compare spaghetti carbonara with a bicycle. Even though both have advantages and disadvantages.
So there we have it—Sapkowski never played any games, video games or otherwise (with the possible exception of bridge and poker). Except there was a tabletop role-playing game based on The Witcher, which in turn came from a poorly received movie.

“There Was Only One Tabletop RPG”

In another interview, Sapkowski was asked about the several role-playing games ("a few") that were created based on the books and what he thought about them:
"A few" - this is an obvious exaggeration, there was only one game, one system. I studied the problem of games, wrote a book about role-playing games, understand them well enough, even know the interesting Russian system "The Age of Aquarius", I received a book from the authors of this system as a gift. I myself, however, do not play role playing games. I have no time.
The RPG referenced is Wiedźmin: Gra Wyobraźni (The Witcher: A Game of Imagination) that was published by MAG in 2001. Sapkowski casually references that he wrote his own book about role-playing games, which is something of an understatement.

Actually, He DID Play RPGs

When asked in a different interview if he ever played RPGs, Sapkowski responded:
A little. I played "Steve Jackson" with friends. A simple and generally available system in which conventional hexahedral bones were used. There is no need to study - it was childishly simple, you sit down and play.
We’ll come back to the question of what he meant by “Steve Jackson” in a bit. In the same interview, Sapkowski confessed he is familiar with D&D, but not the new system licensed to R. Talsorian Games:
I'm familiar only with the classic RPG: AD&D, D&D, Warhammer and all. The rest I know only by name.
There's a reason Sapkowski is familiar with D&D. In that same interview he explains:
And I knew what RPG was, because I encountered them abroad. In Lodz there was a strong band that played in AD & D. I had contact with them, and then I decided to write a textbook that was intended for people who are not able to go to America and buy it for a hundred dollars.
Sapkowski studied economics at the University of Lodz before turning to writing. He would reference AD&D again in another interview:
Sometimes it can be difficult for me to convince people that my books are not ADD (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) and that I do not have a notebook in my box that stores character characteristics, biographies from birth to death, maps, histories and religions. If something is not said about a figure in the book, then it should be so. I do not have a single sheet on which the name of a hero would be written, and then: I was born then and there, I attended a parochial school in X, from which I was forcibly expelled by the teacher ... No, I really do not take notes like that. I repeat: if there is no information about a character in the book, then the answer is very simple: this is how it's conceived. And if the reader is not satisfied with this, this is his problem, not mine. I have said on this subject all that the reader needs to know. Of course, if someone wants to rework my book for RPG games, he has the right to give each character special characteristics: the color of the hair, the eye or whatever his darling wants, but I'm not interested in that anymore.
Considering the signs of D&D-isms in The Witcher Netflix series (chromatic dragons; blue-skinned doppelgangers; characters named by their classes like “bard” and “druid”; infectious ghouls; the use of the term "halflings" and "ents"; and gnomes, dwarves, elves, half-elves, and humans all in one setting), it seems likely that Sapkowski played in an AD&D campaign at university and was inspired by that game to write The Witcher.

It's worth noting that Sapkowksi mentioned he wasn't "interested in that anymore," implying he was interested in it once. And he most certainly was interested in role-playing games, because he created one.

He Wrote His Own RPG System

Sapkowski wrote a 300-page role-playing game titled Oko Yrrhedesa (The Eye of Yrrhedes), published in 1995:
‘The Eye of Yrrhedes’ is a fictional game designed for those who so far have had no contact with this type of entertainment. Role-playing game is a combination of theater, happenings and literature. The players act as great characters and take part in adventures in imaginary lands. Leader of the game (called the Game Master) is constantly creating reality, and the participants decide on their actions. This is a game of imagination.
The Eye of Yrrhedes is not just a scholarly work about role-playing games. It's also a self-contained game system (which is why the interviewer above mentioned "several" role-playing games). In another interview, Sapkowski explained why he wrote it:
This is a book, or rather a collection of articles that should explain what RPG is, since at that time nobody knew anything about RPG. I remember times when on fantastic conventions, three people played some games (not the same as at the present time, occupying entire gyms). They sat quietly in the corner and played. All the others looked at them in surprise, not knowing what was happening ... People were forced to create their own systems and adventures for themselves. "Oko Yrrhedesa" was written for these people. Unfortunately, the book was published too late, by that time everyone had already played RPGs.
There are hints that Sapkowski's motivation to write The Eye of Yrrhedes was in reaction to solo gamebooks. His mention of Steve Jackson could be a reference to GURPS authored by the American author Steve Jackson Games, or to the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks produced by European author Steve Jackson. Given that complexity of GURPS and Spakowski was in Europe, it seems more likely he encountered the European game--and possibly the game designer himself:
This year, in England, I met a kind who makes roleplaying games in books. Something along the lines: "Do that and go to page 12". He told me that, for him, it was like writing a lot of books at the same time. I told him that, for me, that was like writing no book at all. You can't say that is writing a book because when you write a book you have to know how to start and how to finish it. Writing something like "If you kill this orc then go to page 340" is not the correct way to do it. It is not writing, it isn't literature in any way.
When an interviewer asked about how magic worked in the world of the Witcher, Sapkowski had this to say:
I do not have the slightest idea, because I write books, not RPG textbooks. The story never required such a feat from Yennefer, so I did not have to worry about it.
The Eye of Yrrhedes contains several nuggets of information about what would become The Witcher universe, including stats for Yennefer.

Why Disavow RPGs?

It’s clear that Sapkowski’s position on gaming and how it influenced his books has soured over time, and it might have something to do with the video game series.

Back in the early 2000s, Sapkowski sold the rights to The Witcher to CD Project Red. Sapkowski had the option of obtaining a percentage of the profits, but, believing there was no future in video games, he opted instead to sell the rights for just 35,000 Polish złoty (roughly £7,250 or over $9,000). Realizing his mistake, Sapkowski sued the video game company for £12.4m ($16.1m / €14m). CD Projekt Red refused to pay. The two parties later settled for an undisclosed amount that was certainly lower than what Sapkowski asked for.

In addition to the loss of revenue, Sapkowski came to see the video game franchise as infringing on his fiction line’s success:
I wrote the first Witcher story 30 years ago. When I come to my author meetings, there's no one in the audience close to my age. I am 69. There's no one. Kids everywhere. How are some of them supposed to know—especially in Germany, Spain or the US—that my books are not game related? That I'm not writing books based on games? They may not know that, and CDPR bravely conceals the game's origins. It's written in fine print, you need a microscope to see it, that the game is 'based on' [my books].
In light of Sapkowski’s experience with AD&D, the many D&Disms scattered throughout the series, and the fact the he wrote his own RPG ... it seems The Witcher was definitely influenced by a game. It just happened to be a tabletop game instead.
 
Last edited:
Michael Tresca

Comments

jasper

Rotten DM
Very Skeptical. Its easy for us to think this from our perspective, but D&D Was based on stories from authors that conceived of tales like the Witcher before RPG's were invented. Not sure why someone would grasp at straws to try to prove this.
BECAUSE D&D IS THE GAME! Everything that has come before help create the game. And everything that has came after is because of the game.
D&D is the life. D&D is the holy. One must pray to the Sainted E.G.G. for giving us the game. One must not practice badwrongfun.
 

RogueJK

It's not "Rouge"... That's makeup.
Considering the signs of D&D-isms in The Witcher Netflix series (chromatic dragons; blue-skinned doppelgangers; characters named by their classes like “bard” and “druid”; infectious ghouls; the use of the term "halflings" and "ents"; and gnomes, dwarves, elves, half-elves, and humans all in one setting), it seems likely that Sapkowski played in an AD&D campaign at university and was inspired by that game to write The Witcher.
That itself isn't especially compelling. Many of those concepts exist independent of D&D, and many of them predate D&D.
 

Greybird

Explorer
I didn't find that particularly convincing, either. I don't see a contradiction between his answers. "Do you play RPGs" and "Did you ever play RPGs" are two different questions, and many people can say, respectively, "no" and "yes" without it being a contradiction.

I think it is also important to note that there is a language barrier in play. Sapkowski is fairly fluent in English, but he's still not a native speaker, which shows in the interviews. Some nuance and implication in the questions is likely lost on him, and some of the implication we glean from his answers probably isn't intended to be there.
 

darius0

Explorer
All the things mentioned in the article don’t really seem to prove to me that the author of the Witcher was familiar with D&D. Most of those things are from LOTR or are not actually in the books.

2 things prove to me that Sapkowski was pretty familiar with D&D. First is the shapechanging Gold dragon in “The Bounds of Reason”, and second and more directly is the description of the different types of genies in “The Last Wish”. He clearly lists the 4 types of genies as they are in D&D and links them with elements. That really comes from D&D as far as I can tell. Those names are in folklore but except for ifrit are not really linked to elements before D&D linked them.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
I just started rereading "world of tiers" by phillip jose farmer. It is from 1965. I am 100% sure planescape took some if not very much inspiration from this trilogy. Portals requiring keys of different sorts, (the first one is a silver horn which needs to be played with a certain tone combination). All sorts of pretty weird mobs.

Everybody knows Jack Vance (Vecna) :p

Cordwainer Smith had humanoids with beast heads.

Alan Burt Akers had his own fantasy universe with magic airships and 4 armed mobs


Sapkowski came later than all these authors, but genies tied to an element, or the 4 elements or dragons being golden (Chinese mythology) do not originate in D&D. For the golden dragon, check its depiction in 2e MM. It absolutely clearly is much more similar to some oriental dragon than to all the other dragons within D&D.

In most cases it is rather D&D is inspired by author than vice versa. I think I read soem of the original witcher stories but its decades ago. I though it to be quite different to other fantasy around then, but I cannot tell you why I had that feeling.
 

darius0

Explorer
I just started rereading "world of tiers" by phillip jose farmer. It is from 1965. I am 100% sure planescape took some if not very much inspiration from this trilogy. Portals requiring keys of different sorts, (the first one is a silver horn which needs to be played with a certain tone combination). All sorts of pretty weird mobs.

Everybody knows Jack Vance (Vecna) :p

Cordwainer Smith had humanoids with beast heads.

Alan Burt Akers had his own fantasy universe with magic airships and 4 armed mobs


Sapkowski came later than all these authors, but genies tied to an element, or the 4 elements or dragons being golden (Chinese mythology) do not originate in D&D. For the golden dragon, check its depiction in 2e MM. It absolutely clearly is much more similar to some oriental dragon than to all the other dragons within D&D.

In most cases it is rather D&D is inspired by author than vice versa. I think I read soem of the original witcher stories but its decades ago. I though it to be quite different to other fantasy around then, but I cannot tell you why I had that feeling.
Where are the 4 types of genies liked to elements before D&D? I am curious because only ifrit are described as “smoke & fire” in folklore. Marid is almost interchangeable with ifrit and djinn is just another spelling for jinn or genie as it is Anglicized. Dao are very hard to find non-D&D inspired info on.
 

JeffB

Hero
I suppose it's seeking the vain, fleeting feeling of validating one's participation in the hobby.
That's the feeling I'm getting here. It seems a bit much to have two articles in such a short period of time about it, unless I am missing something.
 

ruemere

Explorer
The Witcher series was nothing outside of Poland before CD Projekt Red got ahold of it. Sapkowski is the classic "too big for his britches" writer, looking down on gamers and the fans who made him what he is today. His writing is derivative, his world a generic pastiche.
Trolling takes skill apparently. Quoting Wikipedia:

Translations of his books and other derivative works[edit]
Sapkowski's books have been translated into Czech, Georgian, Hungarian, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Finnish, Slovak, Bulgarian, Serbian, English, Italian, Dutch, Turkish, Estonian, Romanian, Korean, Swedish and Croatian. An English translation of The Last Wish short story collection was published by Gollancz in 2007.[5] From 2008, the Witcher saga is published by Gollancz.[6] The English translation of Sapkowski's novel Blood of Elves won the David Gemmell Legend Award in 2009.[7][8]

Try harder.
 
Trolling takes skill apparently. Quoting Wikipedia:
I've read the books, and a hell of a lot of other sci-fi/fantasy. I've been a librarian for 24 years, with much of my focus in sci-fi/fantasy scholarship. I can tell you that compared to what I've read, it's a derivative pastiche. I'm not saying it doesn't have fans. I'm not saying it's not entertaining. I am saying that it's not particularly original (but neither is The Song of Ice and Fire/GoT series).

When something isn't original, it's easy to look at it and find a lot of commonality between it and other works.
 

Hurin88

Explorer
The Witcher series was nothing outside of Poland before CD Projekt Red got ahold of it. Sapkowski is the classic "too big for his britches" writer, looking down on gamers and the fans who made him what he is today. His writing is derivative, his world a generic pastiche.
I feel this way as well.

I've played all the Witcher games and enjoyed them. I like the character of Geralt, and plan to build a Witcher class for my Rolemaster games, just so we can have some fun with the idea, which is cool.

But Sapkowski himself comes across as quite difficult and unlikable. He seems to be trying to mislead people into thinking he had no connections with or knowledge of RPGs, and I think the author of this article shows just how disingenuine Sapkowski is being when he does this.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
The books aren’t particularly good. Maybe it’s something lost in translation but I’m of the opinion that they are average at best.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I've read the books, and a hell of a lot of other sci-fi/fantasy. I've been a librarian for 24 years...
Mod Note:

Your authority as a librarian does not make it okay to insult the person of the author - with that "too big for his britches" comment, you went beyond literary critique, and into try to get people to dismiss the work due to purported personality flaws of the author. Ad hominem is not a good look.

Nor does it do much for the tenor of the conversation as a whole.

Everyone, take it down two notches, please and thank you.
 

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