The Witcher series of video games is well known for its mature content. There’s plenty of violence to go around, but there’s also a heavy application of sexual themes. In order to make The Witcher Role-Playing Game, a pen-and-paper adaptation of CD Projekt Red’s video games, feel authentic, co-writer Cody Pondsmith had to grapple with the idea of having sex at the game table.
His advice to players? Don’t do it.
“I wrote a whole section called ‘Romance and How Not To Make It Weird,’” Pondsmith said during an interview with Polygon at this year’s Gen Con. “It goes over things like, How do you run a romance with somebody and not have that bleed over? [and] how not to have people get uncomfortable about it.”
There’s a fine line between letting a scene play out and lingering too long on the most graphic parts, Pondsmith said. One’s fine for most groups, while the other is definitely not. In The Witcher Role-Playing Game, he instructs potential game masters on the importance of achieving “separation” and gauging your players’ ability to do so at the table.
From the core rulebook:
A really good first step to set up romance in a roleplaying game is to establish how good all of your players — and indeed you — are at separation. Often, very deep “character roleplayers” who really enjoy playing and getting really deep into their character have a hard time separating themselves from the character, and this can make romance uncomfortable. I once found myself running a romantic scene with a friend and realized halfway through that it felt a hell of a lot like they were flirting with me. Needless to say it made things a bit awkward. Good separation also means the players won’t get as upset when things go wrong in a fictional relationship.
The rulebook goes on to explain how good separation can even enable in-game romances that might normally be well outside a given player’s real-world comfort zone. He said that paying careful attention to the concept has enabled him to run games where his own wife is a player having in-game relationships at the table.
“Most of the intimacy should happen off-screen,” Pondsmith continued, “unless every single person in your party is okay with it. If people at your table aren’t having fun, and especially if they’re feeling uncomfortable, then you’re failing to run a good game.”
Having read through most of the core rulebook since Gen Con, I’m honestly impressed with the depth of the content that I’ve found inside. Pondsmith tells me that, in addition to playing the Witcher video games all the way through multiple times, he and his co-author, Lisa Pondsmith, pored over every single one of Andrzej Sapkowski’s original novels with a highlighter. Their goal was to uncover as much of the world’s minutia as they could, and use it as fuel for the tabletop game.
The result is something of a cross between a rulebook and a history book. Rest assured that if you never plan on running a game, The Witcher Role-Playing Game is a tremendous resource in its own right.
But for game masters looking to take their campaign off in a new and exciting direction, there’s mounds of lore to build on. One section in particular allows players to customize their world state in great detail to account for the multiple diverging storylines in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. There’s also a highly flexible combat system, one that’s based loosely on publisher R. Talsorian’s other flagship product, Cyberpunk 2020.
A limited quantity of copies of The Witcher Role-Playing Game were available for sale at this year’s Gen Con. Expect to see more available online soon.