[Free RPG Day 2019] The Witcher: Easy Mode

Now in its twelfth year, Saturday, June 15th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. The Witcher: Easy Mode – An Introductory Booklet to the Witcher TRPG is a quick-start for The Witcher, the pen and paper roleplaying game based on The Witcher series of novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. Published by R. Talsorian Games, Inc., it set on ‘the Continent’, a region which was long ago beset by the Conjunction of the Spheres, a collision of the realms which opened rifts which let chaos and magic and monsters into the world. Witchers were created and trained to combat these monsters and break curses, but their strangeness and powers led them to be distrusted and even hated. Along with a great many of the non-human races, such as Elves and Dwarves. This is compounded by the Nilfgaardian Wars, as the nation of Nilfgaard expanded north and captured country after country and founded the Empire. As the scenario—‘Still Waters’—in The Witcher: Easy Mode – An Introductory Booklet to the Witcher TRPG opens, the Third Nilfgaardian War has begun, the Empire’s troops are marching north, and refugees, including the player characters, are fleeing before their advance…

The Witcher: Easy Mode opens with a succinct explanation of this background, which nicely sets up the situation at the beginning of the scenario and gives enough information for both Game Master and her players to start running and playing the quick-start. Then it is straight onto the rules. The Witcher is written to use the Fuzion system, the generic mechanics that are a melding of R. Talsorian Games, Inc.’s Interlock System—as seen in the classic Cyberpunk roleplaying game—and Hero Games’ HERO system—as seen in Champions, the classic superhero roleplaying game, and the first twenty-one pages of The Witcher: Easy Mode's thirty-two pages are devoted to. This begins with a complete guide to a character sheet in The Witcher. So Race—including Witcher, since Witchers are mutants, Profession, Statistics (base and derived), Health and Stamina, Skill Bases, Armour and Armour Values, Weapons, Abilities, and Possessions and Magic are clearly marked and given a quick explanation before The Witcher: Easy Mode delves deeper into the rules.

Characters in
The Witcher and The Witcher: Easy Mode are first defined by their Race and Profession. The Races in the quick-start are Witcher, Human, Dwarf, and Elf, whilst the Professions are Witcher, Mage, Criminal, Men At Arms, and Bard. The full The Witcher roleplaying game adds Craftsmen, Doctors, Merchants, and Priests. A character also has nine statistics—Intelligence, Reflexes, Dexterity, Body, Speed, Empathy, Craft, Will, and Luck—each rated roughly between one and ten, although some of the pre-generated characters do have higher statistics. Skills, ranging from Alchemy, Archery, and Athletics to Swordsmanship, Tactics, and Wilderness Survival, are accorded a similar scale. Each character has a number of abilities, for example, the sample pre-generated Witcher has Enhanced Senses, Resilient Mutations, Dulled Emotions, and Lightning Reflexes, as well as Witcher Training. So Enhanced Senses enables the character to see in dim light, gives him an improved Awareness skill base, and enables him to track by smell alone, whilst the Witcher training lessens he suffers whilst in hostile environment or difficult terrain and substitutes as his Monster Lore skill. A character wears armour on his head, upper body, and lower body, for example, Double Woven Gambeson provides eight points of Armour Value, and carries a number of weapons, each possessing a Weapon Accuracy (typically applied to missile weapons), damage rating (measured in handfuls of six-sided dice, from one for a dagger to four for a steel two-handed sword), and an effect (such as non-lethal for a punch or armour piercing for the steel two-handed sword). All five pre-generated characters in The Witcher: Easy Mode—the Witcher, Human Mage, Dwarf Criminal, Human Man At Arms, and Elf Bard—are very clearly laid out and easy to read. Included with the sample player characters is an excerpt from the core game’s Lifepath, the means of creating a complete backstory for each and every player character, but here each player can with five rolls determine their social origins and family and parental status.

For a character to undertake an action, his player typically adds a statistic and a skill together, such as the Craft statistic and the Crafting skill or the Will statistic and Spellcasting skill, then adds the result of a ten-sided die to beat a Difficulty Check, with 14 being Average and 30 being Nearly Impossible. Rolls of ‘1’ and ‘10’ explode. Rolls of ‘1’ require further rolls which actually detract from the skill check, whilst rolls of ‘10’ require further rolls which add to the skill check. Combat is fairly complex, allowing for a range of tactical options, such as taking an extra action at the cost of a character’s Stamina (a measure of a character’s fatigue), taking a fast (or two) or a strong (single attack for double damage) attack, both melee or ranged attack, and so on. Damage can be blocked, dodged, or avoided by repositioning, but if successful, damage is modified by hit location, and if an attacking player rolls higher than the defending player by a factor of ten, then a critical strike is made. This inflicts both an extra five points of damage which ignores armour and an effect, associated with either the weapon used or the spell cast. For example, a poniard inflicts 2d6+2 damage and has the Bleeding Effect (25%), which means that is the chance it has of inflicting a bleeding wound on a successful attack, but if a critical strike is inflicted, the chance of the wound continuing to bleed is automatic.

Overall, the combat rules in
The Witcher: Easy Mode are quite straightforward and do give a handful of tactical options, though of course, the full roleplaying game has more. One issue is that whilst the means of making attack rolls is clearly labelled, the means of making defence rolls is not and any Game Master looking to what a player needs to roll does need to pay a bit more attention than is fully necessary. Where combat gets a whole six pages, magic just gets the two. Casting magic is a matter of knowing the spell, making the casting roll, and expending Stamina to fuel the spell. There is a limit to how much magic a Mage or other spellcasting character can cast, cast beyond their Vigour Threshold and they will suffer Hit Points. It is possible for spells to inflict critical wounds, and there a greater range of effects for spells, each depending on the spell of course. For example, Cadfan’s Grasp is a fire spell and so there is a chance that it will set a target alight. Rolls of ‘1’ on a spellcasting roll mean that the spell is fumbled, which can lead to the casting character suffering simple damage, suffering elemental damage, or even causing an explosion of energy which inflicts damage on everyone nearby. Most direct and area effect spells can be defended against just as attacks in combat can.

Lastly, in terms of mechanics,
The Witcher: Easy Mode includes short rules for crafting. This is an important part of the setting for The Witcher roleplaying game (and the computer game of the same name), but much like the rest of rules in this quick-start, the version of the crafting rules here are much simplified. Here it is a mix of healing powders and ammunition for missile weapons. The single page of GM Advice emphasises the toughness of the setting and the possibility of characters suffering from serious wounds, the morally grey nature of ‘the Continent’, and that the power struggles and rivalries of the region can give rise to evil as much it is home to ‘evil’ monsters.

Rounding out
The Witcher: Easy Mode is the adventure ‘Still Waters’. The player characters are refugees from the nation of Temeria, fleeing an invasion by the Empire. They have reached the swampy banks of the Pontar River, which if they can cross, then they might find sanctuary in Redania. In searching for a way across, the player characters encounter Scoia’tael archers, Elven warriors who hate humans. This may result in a fight, but the player characters can parly and either way, the Scoia’tael will lead them back to their base in a fortified village which sits on a ferry crossing. With some persuasion—and good roleplaying—or offer of some help, the Scoia’tael commander will allow the player characters to cross the river. Alternatively, the player characters could just force their way into the village, drive everyone out, and then move on…

‘Still Waters’ is not a bad adventure, but it is not really an adventure at all. At best it is half an adventure, consisting of just two encounters. The player characters face very little in the way of peril or challenge, and it is possible that the player characters could introduce themselves, encounter Scoia’tael archers and persuade them to take them back to the village where they persuade the Scoia’tael commander to let them cross the river. That could take as little as half an hour, but no more than an hour. That is just not enough of an introduction to the world of The Witcher and The Witcher roleplaying game—and as a quick-start, it is woefully inadequate.

The Witcher: Easy Mode is very nicely presented in full colour. The few pieces of art are excellent and the one map is lovely. The book is well organised and for the most part, the contents are easy to read. One oddity is that the NPCs for the adventure are given backgrounds, but the pre-generated adventurers are not.

Unsurprisingly for a quick-start entitled The Witcher: Easy Mode, and whilst they are of course, not the full rules, the rules in
The Witcher: Easy Mode are easy to grasp and understand. An experienced roleplayer will read through this and be able to choose a character ready to play very quickly. A roleplayer with less experience will find it slightly more daunting to read, but a careful readthrough will solve that issue. Unfortunately, experienced and less experienced players alike, let alone the Game Master, will find the adventure a disappointment. ‘Still Waters’ needs more pages, more content, more challenges, because as written, it leaves the The Witcher: Easy Mode – An Introductory Booklet to the Witcher TRPG simply quick and devoid of adventure.

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