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.
 
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Michael Tresca

Comments

imredave

Explorer
The witcher fandom wiki credits the authors of the Wiedźmin: Gra Wyobraźni (The Witcher: A Game of Imagination) RPG as Michał Marszalik, Maciej Nowak-Kreyer, Michał Studniarek, and Tomasz Kreczmar . It is quite likely that Andrzej Sapkowski was not very involved in the actual writing of the game. Instead his name is on the cover as advertising. There are several links on the wiki to the polish version of the game. A little work with google translate might reveal more information.
 

Longspeak

Explorer
Why the need for two articles trying to connect The Witcher and D&D? What does it matter?
Yeah, it seems like a lot of effort to "Aha! Gotcha!" the guy.

Maybe he played once. Maybe he is the world's biggest uber-nerd with a secret collection of everything Gygax, TSR, and WotC ever produced, but is kinda embarrassed. Who cares? What is gain by dissecting his life like this?
 

ruemere

Explorer
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.
All the more shame that you do not check sources before attacking a writer. Your words:
----
The Witcher series was nothing outside of Poland before CD Projekt Red got ahold of it.
----
The stories got translated into many languages before the games. Here is a link to the list of editions in foreign languages (it's in Polish, but you can use Google Translate):

As for the second part of your original post:
----
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.
----

sigh He is not looking down on everyone, merely on those who (in his opinion) waste his time. When you engage him in a conversation, he's a funny, charming person (at least that was my impression when he was teaching me proper way of thanking in Japanese during a con, as I tried to express my thanks to the owner of manga stand).

He's written several other works of note, unfortunately, they haven't been translated into English yet. They are different.

Here're a few stories, in Polish: Opowiadania – Andrzej Sapkowski Zone by John MacKanacky
(some of the stories come with preface from Sapkowski)
Wiedźmin is the original Witcher story. The one that started it all. There are also a few other Witcher stories there.
Maladie is an Arthurian fable.
Muzykanci is a gripping tale of horror. Based on a Grimm fable, Town Musicians of Bremen.

As for the novels:
Narrenturn (book I of Hussite trilogy) is a historical fantasy.

NOTE:
Hopefully some of these shall become eventually available in other languages.
 
For me now it is clear that Sapkowski, for some reason I don't know, is not completely clear about RPGs and his relationship with the world of RPlaying... It seems to me that he is ashamed to admit something...
Isn't it?
Is it just my imagination or some translation bias from the english interview text and my mothertongue?
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
Yeah, it seems like a lot of effort to "Aha! Gotcha!" the guy.

Maybe he played once. Maybe he is the world's biggest uber-nerd with a secret collection of everything Gygax, TSR, and WotC ever produced, but is kinda embarrassed. Who cares? What is gain by dissecting his life like this?
We're discussing it because this is a gaming forum. If you are not interested in the discussion, you don't have to participate in the thread. Jeesh.

EDIT: To add . . . It's natural for fans of any artwork to wonder, speculate, and be interested in the influences of that artwork . . . in this case the Witcher series of books. And since this is a tabletop gaming forum, we've got fans of the books, the video games, and the tabletop RPG games . . . I'm certainly interested in the influences behind "The Witcher"! Thanks for the article @talien!

D&D itself draws on a lot of mythology and literature that has become commonplace in the fantasy genre, but D&D has it's own tropes somewhat distinct from what has come before . . . such as the "color-coded" genies (djinn, efreet, marid, dao). We can't know for certain what exactly Sapkowski pulled from his D&D experience or from other mythological/literary sources, but there certainly is a lot of similarity between the world of the Witcher and the world of D&D.

And no one is attacking Sapkowski or accusing him of anything . . . there's no "gotcha" stuff going on here. The article simply explores the influences of "The Witcher" and Sapkowski's contradictory statements over the years that go beyond the language barrier from Polish to English. Sapkowski wouldn't be the first author to give contradictory statements on their work, or deny influences that others see clearly . . . .

Sapkowski's influences for "The Witcher" are interesting, but don't change the work itself and your enjoyment of it (or lack of). It's a question that will never be fully answered, but is still interesting to discuss.

So . . . relax and enjoy the discussion. Or find another thread more to your liking.
 
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EthanSental

Adventurer
Has Wikipedia become ok to quote now? My college professors always warned students not to use it for anything worth noting or source since just about anyone with an opinion on a subject can edit something. The article does come across to me as the author kind of wanting to say it was something he created with little outside influence...just my opinion.

I’ve only played the games, fun games, downloaded the Witcher rpg to read but never struck a cord to me to want to run a game. Maybe in the future when I read more I might get psyched to play it.
 

ruemere

Explorer
For me now it is clear that Sapkowski, for some reason I don't know, is not completely clear about RPGs and his relationship with the world of RPlaying... It seems to me that he is ashamed to admit something...
Isn't it?
Is it just my imagination or some translation bias from the english interview text and my mothertongue?
As I have said above, he loves to play cat and mouse with his interviewers. My impression is that if you ask him a question that has been asked a thousand times before, or a question that he is not happy to answer for a personal reason, he is likely to provide an unreliable reply. So, please take all his answers with a grain of salt.

For a pretty good impression of him live, do as follows:
Turn subtitles on.
Turn automatic translation on.
 

ruemere

Explorer
Has Wikipedia become ok to quote now? My college professors always warned students not to use it for anything worth noting or source since just about anyone with an opinion on a subject can edit something. The article does come across to me as the author kind of wanting to say it was something he created with little outside influence...just my opinion.

I’ve only played the games, fun games, downloaded the Witcher rpg to read but never struck a cord to me to want to run a game. Maybe in the future when I read more I might get psyched to play it.
sigh

The answer is a conditional YES. The reasons why students (or why it is sometimes a risky thing) should not be doing it, are covered by this article: Wikipedia:Academic use - Wikipedia

The reason I linked PL Wiki page is simpler: The English version does not contain updated section on translations of Sapkowski's works.

In my personal and humble opinion, it does not really matter whether some of Sapkowski's works were inspired by RPGs. If yes, more power to combined inventiveness of game developers.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
"He doth protest too much!"

In all seriousness, although it seems pretty likely the author dabbled in RPG systems when he was younger, he probably was not an avid player of them. I would find it extremely weird if he had played a lot and then turn around and be this negative on them. It's possible, I just don't find it that likely.

And to be clear, although there are some parallels between D&D staples and the Witcher, I think that has more to do with D&D itself being inspired by several other sources, that the Witcher is also independently drawing from.

I'll also add, that it's quite possible he played a little bit of D&D (or another RPG) and when writing later in life is subconsciously drawing from those experiences, without truly remembering them. So thinking, "Oh, this Gold Dragon would be very cool, I'll write this in here," without actually remembering a game he played when he was 16 where they met a gold dragon NPC.
 
In all seriousness, although it seems pretty likely the author dabbled in RPG systems when he was younger, he probably was not an avid player of them. I would find it extremely weird if he had played a lot and then turn around and be this negative on them. It's possible, I just don't find it that likely.
My best impression is that Sapkowski is trying not to be confused or aligned with the RPG world because he consider it a subculture that might interfere with his desire to belong to High Literacy. He doesn't want to be a niche Writer and maybe also Fantasy Writer is too narrow for his self consideration, so he try to escape from the Fantasy Writer RPG related niche (like i.e. Salvatore) that would be narrower. That said without offence or sarcasm for him, of course. It is not a judgement of valour, it is only an impression that came from his own contradictory statements.
 

EthanSental

Adventurer
What’s the reminder for....that English isn’t his primary language like someone already mentioned in the thread?
 
I was thinking more in terms of cuture and attitudes.
This is in my line. Remember that in Poland Sapkowski is some sort of mass phenomena. Something like Tolkien was in terms of revamping a national corpus of mythology. To refuse influences from something non polish and recent like RPGs is understandable. And also consider that european culture establishment is very sensible about high and low brow collocation and this is even more true for eastern europe countries were the approach is more conservative in general.
 

MGibster

Adventurer
Has Wikipedia become ok to quote now? My college professors always warned students not to use it for anything worth noting or source since just about anyone with an opinion on a subject can edit something. The article does come across to me as the author kind of wanting to say it was something he created with little outside influence...just my opinion.
As much as I like ENWorld, this is not an academic institution and as such is not beholden to the same standards as a university. Wikipedia actually has a lot of great articles serving as introductions to a myriad of topics and even includes cites for those who wish to dig deeper. Wikipedia is an excellent source of information so long as it's properly used.
 

Mournblade94

Adventurer
As much as I like ENWorld, this is not an academic institution and as such is not beholden to the same standards as a university. Wikipedia actually has a lot of great articles serving as introductions to a myriad of topics and even includes cites for those who wish to dig deeper. Wikipedia is an excellent source of information so long as it's properly used.
I had a college professeur use wikipedia to teach a class on RNA complexes. Granted he WROTE the page, but still.
 

TheSword

Explorer
This argument is a little bit reductive. Gold dragons and blue Dopplers? Can we make a difference between influenced by and significantly influenced by.

We all know that different people share different parts of their lives with different people at different times.

I think you have demonstrated that he has heard of RPGs and specifically D&D and Warhammer at some point in his life. (Love that Warhammer is his alternative 👍). But there’s a big leap from that to saying the game was significantly influenced by.

Also remember fondly the fighting fantasy series taken out from the library!!!
 

JeffB

Hero
Also remember fondly the fighting fantasy series taken out from the library!!!
I'd imagine these, as well as Sorcery! had a large impact upon people of a certain age and likely more-so in Europe than D&D did.

I seem to remember different colored dragons in the FF books and/or Sorcery!
 

tetrasodium

Adventurer
Having read the first couple books(practically loosely connected short story collections)... I wouldn't say that blue skin was the take away on the doppel he encountered (I think it was an unhealthy grey or brown but again not the main thing, it wasn't described like a d&d doppelganger). The dragon(s) he met were not very much like traditional d&d dragons but you could say they beat some resemblance to ebberon's dragons if only because they didn't her a very deep exploration and because dragons of eberron is so packed with stuff about dragons of other settings
 

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