Sunday, July 9, 2017

Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

Baptism of Fire
The Witcher Book Three
Written by Andrzej Sapkowski
Translated by David French
Trade Paperback: $16.00 /$11.34 Amazon

The numbering of the Witcher series confused me at first. The first book is the Last Wish and that makes this the fourth book.

But it's only the third book of the 'series' as the Last Wish is a collection of short stories. Nothing too complicated but it does throw the numbering off on different sites.

Baptism of Fire brings us Geralt, the White Wolf, the Witcher. He is a highly trained warrior of an order of monster slayers whose origins lie in the use of mutagenic potions to augment the human body past its normal limits.

His standard companion, Dandelion continues adventuring with him. In many ways, Dandelion is a good 'companion' style character, much like Monglum of Elric fame. He's not a great fighter, but can at least thrust a sword. His background and socialite ways give him a far different, perhaps more civilized outlook, to the Witcher's monster butchery.

There are other new companions along the way that join the Witcher in his 'Baptism of Fire', including a hunter, an old enemy, and one who should be an enemy. Other characters met along the way, like Zoltan Chivay, will be familiar to anyone who's played the video games.

The translation work is fairly done. It's not obvious that this is a translated work in terms of rough passages where you ponder what the author meant. There are times, however, when a lot of telling the audience what's going on instead of showing the audience what's going on happen.

On one hand, tell not show does save a ton of space. On the other, it's not as effective.

There's also some weirdness where a storyteller is telling children about the Witcher's tale. It's not badly done, just out of place compared to the previous chapters that didn't use a wandering storyteller.

Yennifer, the sorcerer who is at times the Witcher's lover and ally, has a brief spot in the book but it's more of a set up for future novels. Much of the material involves the Witcher save for a few brief spots on other characters just to see what they are doing.

Like previous novels in the series, this one ends not quite at a cliffhanger, but close enough that the reader is left eager to pick up the next novel.

In terms of stealing for a game of Dungeons and Dragons or other Fantasy RPGs, the game is ripe with ideas.

The Witcher in and of itself is a title bestowed upon those who pass a series of tests that make them more than human. Many die in the trying due to their bodies rejecting the potions that transform them. Others are changed in ways far more horrible than pale flesh and white hair.

The Witchers are supposed to be neutral, not serving any particular king or kingdom but instead, dedicated to the cause of killing monsters for profit.

It would make an excellent PrC or Paragon Path in 4th edition. The real trick is what do you bring in? In the novels, Geralt isn't that much of a showcase for Witcher power. Oh sure there are times when the author has the White Wolf cut through soldiers, but the novel starts with Geralt incapacitated due to wounds and it takes him a long time to recover. We also don't see any fancy spellcasting from Geralt in the novel nor even herb use or lore.

False Princess

Ciri, the 'foretold one' if you will, the girl with all the bloodlines, is supposed to be a noble character and bearing.

Instead, she travels with 'the Rats', a youth bandit gang that is murderous.

Play with player's expectations of how characters will be. Have them met people and later on find out that those people have undergone changes that might not seem normal, but are part of the growth they've been forced to experience by the harsh realities of the world.

Red Herrings

The Witcher is bound to Ciri from events in previous books. This isn't just an older warrior feeling parental over a young child. Rather Geralt knows what's happening to Ciri through dreams and the dreams foretell a life less than happy.

Initially, Geralt hears that Ciri is in one country and is being prepped for marriage to seal an alliance. He spends a lot of time and effort moving across the land in order to get there.

But the information is wrong. It's false information to keep people off the real trail. The time lost in seeking out this false hope is considerable.

When you're running your own campaigns, don't be afraid to toss red herrings into the mix. If they players are seeking someone with a common name, do they have the right person? Are there multiple crypts with the same name? Is there a crypt and a tomb? Is there a lost library and a lost labyrinth? 

War As An Obstacle

Outside of the normal problems that war presents, in a war where the players are not part of any army or part of any nationality involved in the war, they are at risk for being attacked by all sides.

This can present it's own unique opportunities though as character get involved in the strangest things. For example, in Baptism of Fire, Geralt winds up saving a queen and becoming knighted. 

The other problem with being in a war zone is that humanity is terrible. There are rapes, murders, genocide and other wretched factors that happen in the real world all the time. In a fantasy setting? Who knows what strange things may happen. For example, many settings ranging from the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, to more modern Eberron, have some part of the campaign setting scarred from a 'big weapon' that ended a previous war.

War As A Resource Drain

In addition to the dangers of getting killed outright, there are dangers of a more subtle yet still potentially dangerous origin.


In their travels, the Witcher and his allies come across a logging operation. It's a vast operation and takes up a lot of space and slows their advancement as they cannot easily cross the logging operation. The trees cut down are shipped out for supplies elsewhere.

Anyone who's seen the Lord of the Rings knows that one of Treebeards biggest factors in influencing his decision to fight against Sauraman the White was the logging of the forests. "A wizard should know better."

And in many cases, it's not going to be just trees. Food, metal, and in a campaign setting with available magic resources, any of those, will be up for grabs and become crucial points of potential conflict with the enemy.

The Witcher continues to expand the setting and touches on some modern issues while at the same time remaining fundamentally a fantasy story. If you're looking for something to inspire interesting characters as a player or different monsters and monster origins as a Game Master, Baptism of Fire is a good pick.