Witcher Lifepath

I’m designing a lifepath for Witchers (from the Polish books/games) in preparation for a game set in the world of Andrzej Sapkowski.

My idea is to make it as a unique setting of the Mannish Lifepaths with its own Common Traits. Here’s what I’ve got so far. I’ll have to figure out how to handle those who apprentice to the Witchers later in life…

Lifepath: Witcher Born
12 Years
Resources: 7
Stat: +1 P
Leads: City-Dweller, Religious, Soldier, Village, Sea, Servitude, Outcast
Skills: 5 pts. (?)
Traits: Witcher Common Traits, plus 1 pt

Witcher Common Traits
Altered Metabolism: Witchers are immune to disease and can process alchemical potions which would be toxic to most humans. Potions are described under Witcher Resources. However, even a Witch can only consume so many potions before poisoning him or herself…

Keen Senses: Probabaly the same as Elven “Keen Sight”. +1D Perception and Observation based field maneuvers or any Perception test involving minute details. Witchers also see fine in twilight, starlight, candlelight, lamplight, or torchlight (though they’re impaired by complete darkness like anyone else).

Nerves of Steel: After completing three grueling trials - The Choice, Trial of the Grasses, and Trial of Dreams - which mutate their bodies & minds, Witchers gain +1D Steel.

Witcher’s Code: The essence of the Witcher’s Code obligates them to hunt monsters in good faith once a contract has been reached. However, depending on mentor and school, most Witchers treat the Code as personal honor.

Other Lifepaths
School of the Cat
School of the Griffin
School of the Viper
school of the Wolf
Witch Alchemist

Witcher Special Traits
Unpredicted Mutation

No one is born a witcher. I’d rather see it as a second lifepath, or quite possibly second and third. That would also let you space out the traits and get witchers actually old enough to have finished training—and not after having spend their entire lives doing something other than being a witcher.

Witcher Candidate might include the Choice and the Trial of Grasses, and probably give Keen Senses. Witcher could give Altered Metabolism and Nerves of Steel. I’d make the code an optional trait. After all, not every witcher is going to have similar codes, or even any code at all.

But actually, for a new GM I’m going to recommend something else entirely: don’t have Witcher lifepaths. I’d strongly advise against an explicitly Witcher game; either you’re going to have some people play witchers, and therefore be more important, or everyone will, and you’ve just forced a lifepath on them. If you must have witchers give them the traits for free and let them use the standard lifepaths at will, but I’d even argue against that. Suggest a game about being outcasts who fight monsters and let them decide what kinds of characters they want. Maybe one wants to try a peasant-soldier who’s turned monster hunter, another wants to be a knight of a militant order who is dedicated to fighting evil things in the night, and a third wishes to play a disgraced scholar who is really researching monsters and killing them for samples. Don’t lock your players into the game you’ve preconceived. It can work, but the game will be better if you pitch your idea and then let players pitch ideas back at you.

If you must, give everyone free witcher traits. Don’t make witcher lifepaths. A party full of the same thing is boring.

That’s true, Witchers are not born, they’re made…though the age at which children are brought to the Witchers is frequently quite young. Hmm.

I don’t see why a game with Witchers and non-Witchers needs to make Witchers more important. Especially since BITs are the main driving force of Burning Wheel, not combat prowess. I think it’s entirely plausible for a tangle of plots to involve monster-hunting as well as political intrigue and other aspects which appeal to different characters. Likewise I think it’s plausible that while Witchers are assuredly better than average soldiers, characters exist who can give a Witcher a run for their money in swordplay.

That’s all true, but I worry that making witcher lifepaths and having a game about witcher activities inevitably puts the focus on witchers. If the BITs aren’t about monster hunting, why a Witcher game? If they are, in the game about witcher business the witcher is king, right?

If you want a game about mixing witcher monster hunting with politics and pride and racism, you’re working in the tradition of the books and games. But I still think you might be better off taking the themes and moving them to your own setting without witchers. Make monster hunting a profession, sure. An ancient and honorable or infamous order, absolutely. But that’s affiliations and reputations, not lifepaths. Any hunting and soldier lifepaths will fit, and then you haven’t biased the game from the outset towards witchers.

As for your lifepath, it breaks the “Born” rules. No stats for being born. I’d avoid that. And since you get general skill points, it still seems like a bad fit. Even “Kid” is a second lifepath in the villager setting. Starting young is fine. In fact, if you’re going to keep witcher LPs, require the Candidate LP to be the second LP taken, make it short so that taking it still leaves characters young, and you’re good. I’d think something like this in the Outcast setting:

Witcher Candidate
3 Years
Resources: 5
Stat: +1 P
Leads: Peasant, Village, City, Professional Soldier, Seafaring, Outcast
Skills: 4 pts: Monster-Wise, Sword, Brawling, Herbalism
Traits: 2 pts: The Choice, Sickly, Broken

Special: May only be taken as a character’s second lifepath.

8 Years
Resources: 10
Stat: +1 P
Leads: Any
Skills: 8 pts: Haggling, Foraging, Ugly Truth, Tracking, Armor Training, Shield Training, Apothecary
Traits: 2 pts: The Trials, Mutant, Bitter, Loner, Aloof

Requires Witcher Candidate

The Choice: Immune to disease, can use witcher concoctions

The Trials: +1D Steel, Keen Senses, longevity. (But don’t actually change the stats on the age table!)

Mutant: 1D Infamous reputation as an obvious witcher.

And I’m a bit concerned that Witcher gives too many useful skills. Those are also some heavy-hitting die traits there. There’s huge incentive to make a witcher still.

I think it’s hard to run a game in the Witcher setting but taking out the Witchers - they breath life into it, they’re connected to the history and Conjunction of the Spheres, and there’s a big appeal to players.

One of the things I like about the setting is the thin line between monsters and men. Another thing I like are how monsters and ancient magics are manipulated by rulers who don’t understand what they’re dealing with. Witchers fit those theme well, but they’re not at all exclusive to Witchers.

Btw, thanks for you input, it’s really helpful :slight_smile:

Oh, I agree that having witchers around makes sense. It would work perfectly if none of the players were witchers but they were around. I just worry about having special lifepaths that some people, but not everyone, takes. BW is better at handling that sort of thing than most games, but I still think it often makes for worse experiences at the table. The appeal to players is the problem: you end up with too many witchers and little variety in characters or you end up with non-witchers who feel like second-class characters. Still, you know your group better than I, and it absolutely could work.

As long as all the players know and understand the type of game going in I’m probably being over-pessimistic. If the players are witchers, wizards, and rulers (and elves and dwarves dealing with racism) there’s plenty of fodder and no one is left out. It’s only when you have an ordinary sellsword and a merchant in the group that you have real issues—and those you hammer out by agreeing in advance about the kind of game and making sure your party isn’t dragging it in different directions.

I’m not familiar with Witcher at all, I guess I can look it up.

From the posts they remind me slightly of the Benandanti, a weird shamanic/shapechanger mystery cult from long ago.


Can you cut some of the skills? Why not use any of the traits that reduce hesitation rather than adding to Steel?

Yeah, things along this line are a good idea. In a game like D&D, this would be a “character class” unto itself. Lifepaths are ways of cutting the idea of “character class” into little slices.

I’m new to BW so didn’t know there were any. What are they called? And how does reducing Hesitation fit the concept better than increasing Steel?

Yep, I’ve got the following Lifepaths within the Witcher Setting:

Apprentice Witcher
Trial of the Mountains
Student of the Signs
School of the Cat
School of the Griffin
School of the Viper
School of the Wolf
Witcher Alchemist

So to create a full-fledged Witcher unaligned to any particular school you might take these LPs: Village Born, Apprentice Witcher, Witcher, Student of the Signs, Witcher Alchemist.

Hmm, I’m a little familiar with the Benandanti since my heritage is Italian, but the only similarity I can see is that they are both misunderstood?

They’re sorta scattered; the first that come to mind are “Fearless” (I think?) and “Thousand-Yard Stare”. They reduce Hesitation for specific types of things.

It’s good because it’s a more limited (but specialized) bonus, and because that limitation adds more color to the character. Instead of just being “tougher than normal”, a character is “less likely to be shocked” or “feels less pain from wounds”. I’d also say that such a character definitely qualifies for the +1 Steel for “being raised in a competitive environment”, and if there’s a Witcher LP, I’d say it qualifies as one of the soldier-type LPs mentioned in the Steel questions. So they’ll already have more Steel than other characters.

Also, it’d probably be just fine to list the Witcher Common Traits in the LP; anyone who takes the LP gets the first one and can purchase the others for cheap. That’s a lot of traits (that mainly power-boost) for just taking a LP. I’d maybe even make the first trait something like Outcast.

Awesome, I’ll do that.

Also, it’d probably be just fine to list the Witcher Common Traits in the LP; anyone who takes the LP gets the first one and can purchase the others for cheap. That’s a lot of traits (that mainly power-boost) for just taking a LP. I’d maybe even make the first trait something like Outcast.

I’ve since refined the idea so that Witcher Apprentice picks up Altered Metabolism, while Witcher picks up The Trials (including Keen Senses, Mutant, and Nerves of Steel which will be changed to Fearless). Since each gets 2 trait pts and you’re required to buy the first trait listed, I think this works.

So the Witcher Traits are:

Altered Metabolism (long life, immune disease, can use potions, sterile) 1 pt
The Trials (Mutant, Keen Senses, Fearless) 1 pt
Experimental/Unpredicated Mutation (?) 1 pt
Renegade (1D infamous with Witchers) 0 pts
Witcher Code (gain 4th belief?) 1 pt
Witcher Signs (five minor spells) 2 pts each

I’d rather do +1D Steel because that’s the bonus you get for being nonhuman, which is an important aspect of witchers… but then I can’t find that rule. I think I made it up, maybe by extending the Faithful or Gifted bonus to Steel to all emotional attributes. Derp.

If you gain access to a trait as part of your LP, it costs one trait point, period. None cost two. None are free—even negative traits cost points.

I wouldn’t give witchers an extra belief. If they want to be witchers, they use the beliefs they have. If other things are more important? It happens, and it’s drama gold to have other witchers disparage you for getting caught up in politics or love or whatever instead of doing your job.

No one has ten spare trait points to spend on five spells. No one even has five spare. If you want witchers using the signs, give them a “Gifted” equivalent trait that either gives access or let them spend their RP on them as spells. But now you’re risking even more too-good lifepath-itis. Strong fighters and mages of a sort? Playing with fire.

You also have too many LPs. Now if you want to be a witcher you’re really going to spend your entire life being a witcher in witcher lifepaths than no one else can take. That’s slightly against the spirit of BW (although there are other funnel paths), it’s definitely less fun than having free and open LP options, and I’d say it’s not a good way to run a first-time BW game. I can see the problem; witchers in fiction are more like a combination of stock and lifepath. Like Elves, they really should be better than ordinary humans. But Elves at least give many options of what they do and how they live; witchers are one particular thing.

I still don’t like it, but I’d rather see the power concentrated in a small number of traits and LPs, which are “too good”, than have characters funneled into the equivalent of a stock, but with only one setting and very few LPs, most of them in a linear progression. Born -> Apprentice -> Witcher -> One actual choice. Boring! Give options!

Sadly, I think witchers are easy to make with a class-based system like D&D but hard to make mechanically with BW. Not that I don’t think you can have a game about them or play them. I just think you’re better off not trying to make mechanics for it.

How old is your 5LP full Witcher?

I see your point. Well, how would you create a Witcher in Burning Wheel? Specifically?

I realize that it is a funnel, but that’s the way being a Witcher usually is in the fiction. I suppose if I compare it to the other Lifepaths, Rogue Wizard for example (which can be entered by meeting 1 of 4 requisite LPs), there could be more variations on the Apprentice Witcher regarding how one comes to be a Witcher.

30 years old. Born villager (10) + lead (1) + Apprentice witcher (5) + Witcher (8 ) + Student of the signs (3) + Witcher alchemist (3).

Specifically? I wouldn’t. Not in the kind of superhero Sapkowski way. I’d be happier with either a single Outcast LP giving some monster knowledge and a mutation trait or no LP at all, making it entirely trait, reputation and affiliation. In the latter way, a witcher is what a witcher does. Make a trait that boils witcher down to the necessities. Keen senses are cool, but they’re not essential. Potions? Neat, but not core. A witcher is someone who kills monsters for money. What else is actually necessary? I’m not sure the trait is even necessary. Choose lifepaths that lead to fighting monsters (military ones are good, as are hunter/tracker ones), take a reputation and affiliation, and you’re good to go.

If you want to stick closer, I’d make a single Outcast LP for it.

Way 1: Witcher
4 Years
Resources: 10
Stat: +1 P
Leads: Peasant, Villager, City, Soldier
Skills: 5 pts: Monster-Wise, Sword, Alchemy, Herbalism, Enchanting
Traits: 2 pts: The Trials, Hideous Mutant, Bitter, Loner, Aloof

Requires any soldier or bandit lifepath. But I’m not even sure you need that. No requirements could work just fine; you’d want the other LPs to learn how to use armor and a shield.

The Trials (Dt):
You have undergone the terrible rituals that create a witcher. You are considered Gifted for the purposes of Enchanting, but may only create potions that witchers can use. To others they are deadly poisons. Take a 1D infamous reputation as a misunderstood witcher.

And that’s it. Now you’re not raised to do it, you’re not incredibly powerful, and you’re not spending your life in training. You get only one really special ability from it: enchanting. Long life, immunity to disease, that’s all fine in the stories but I don’t think it’s core and I wouldn’t overload the character with specialness. You could make another trait for that; I don’t think it’s necessary. You are he who fights monsters and has, in some eyes, become one. That’s all you need to have a witcher.

Different schools? Affiliations. Signs? Take the right LP and get Gifted. You’ve got all you need.

Some easy ways to do it:
Born -> Soldier/Bandit -> Witcher: Simple, in 3 LPs.
Born -> Soldier -> Arcane Devotee -> Witcher: You can add Gifted to the mix.
Born -> Page/Bannerman -> Man-At-Arms/Squire -> Witcher: Hey, you can learn to use armor, too!

That’s certainly an essential characteristic of Witchers, but it misses out on the mutant aspect. You hinted at it as character trait, but I think it’s more than that. Witchers struggle with feeling alienated from humanity, the fear of looking into the well and seeing a monster gazing back, never being accepted, doubting whether they can love or feel anything at all. All stuff which can be handled by Beliefs. But a Witcher isn’t just a human with funny beliefs, they straddle the fence of being human and nonhuman, they’re the next stage of evolution, or a horrible genetic experiment. The unique traits help serve that theme. And, yes, they power up the character’s stats, but hopefully not anymore so than an Elf or a mage.

What drove me to do it as a LP setting is that characters go into Witcher stronghold like Kaer Morhen as children and come out as adults. So I suppose a really long lifepath (12 years maybe) could work, but it would be pretty tweaked out with traits.

About Gifted: it opens up all kinds of spellcasting. By comparison, Witcher “magic” is very limited, and I want to retain that in the rules.

Also, as a pragmatic concern, I don’t have Magic Burner which has the rules for enchanting in it.

Enchanting is a free PDF!.

I’m not trying to recreate Sapkowski witchers. I said that upfront. I’m trying to keep the essence of them, and I think that’s in fighting monsters. Being inhuman seems less important to me, especially in the books, than the perception of being something unsavory or evil, but a Char trait of Mutant with the reputation to go with it serves just fine.

What I am saying, poorly but repeatedly, is that I believe recreating the witchers of the books and games will give you a worse game of BW. You will have a better game if you adapt witchers to the game. Give up the silver and steel, the signs, the powers. Keep the monsters and the alienation. You can ditch the trappings; you just need the drama, and I think a first game of BW will be better off for being inspired by rather than explicitly set in Witcherland.

Let me back off a bit. You know your players. Do they all want to play witchers? Do any? Do some want to and some not?

Hey thanks for pointing out the PDF!

Yeah, you make a really good point about adapting the setting to the system. I am always searching for the perfect balance where setting and system exist in a positive feedback loop with each other. BW seems closer to what I have in mind for Witcher than, say, D&D does for example.

My group, if we end up playing Witcher BW, will want to be a mix of Witchers and other characters.

Don’t give witchers a double helping of cool stuff, then. If they want it they can take the LPs for it like everyone else. It’s fine to rename Arcane Devotee into Sign Training and stick it in Outcast. It’s not fine to make some new LPs packed with all the cool new tricks. Think about what you’re saying. “Guys, I homebrewed a bunch of stuff for witchers. But don’t worry, this game isn’t all about witchers.” Well… maybe. But it’s not a great starting message. “Witchers are part of this setting, so I made a trait/LP for it.” Sounds better, doesn’t it?

Really, playing with the LPs in character burning—and finding yourself forced to take odd things, or not being able to get exactly what you want—is one of the joys of BW. Don’t take it away from people who want to play witchers. Give them the choices and make them make the choices.