Age of Sigmar and the End of Warhammer

As you may know I’m a huge fan of Warhammer Fantasy Battles table top game. I have written about it on more than one occasion and I made a tiny web service allowing you to print custom paper movement trays / proxy sheets. I own not one, not two, but three armies for the game. That’s easily hundreds of dollars worth of miniatures. More if you consider most of my dwarfs are classic Marauder models that have been out of production for over two decades now. I have been playing the game since around 1995. I started with the 4th edition and I am no stranger to the changes in the game mechanics and balance. I endured the 5th edition Hero Hammer power escalation, and the subsequent global nerf and rule reset in the 6th. The most recent 8th edition has turned to be the last one.

RIP Warhammer Fantasy

RIP Warhammer Fantasy, 1983-2015. Never forget.

During the massive and aptly named End Times campaign, Games Workshop officially destroyed the Warhammer Fantasy universe. And no, that’s not a metaphor: the campaign literally ended in gigantic magic battle that resulted in the annihilation of the entire universe. But some gods did some magic stuff, and the universe would be reborn after the cataclysm. Only it would be new and different. This was supposed to allow Games Workshop to shake up the 23 year old setting, add new factions, create new alliances and do some clever re-branding (GW was always upset they could not trademark words like Elf, Dwarf or Empire). The 9th edition of the game was supposed to be all new and all different which was… Intriguing. As much as I bemoaned loss of two decades of lore and world building efforts, I was rather interested to see the brand new setting. Especially since I never used any special characters in my armies. My collection was not strictly bound to the Old World lore, and could be easily ported to the new setting if needed.

Dark Elves

Part of my Dark Elf Army. Still unpainted.

Unfortunately, the 9th edition never came. Instead, Games Workshop released a brand new, skirmish game called Age of Sigmar. The new game looks and plays entirely different from the venerable twenty year old Warhammer Fantasy. For one, it eschews the concept of unit block. In WFB the models used square bases (usually 25mm to the side) so that they could be arranged in ranks and columns. Square or rectangular blocks of roughly 20-60 troops would move together as one entity. You would usually place the entire unit on an appropriately sized movement tray and then slide the trays across the table. The units could perform wheel maneuvers to turn, or reform to change the number of ranks or do an about face. Age of Sigmar threw all of that out. It uses round bases and all models move individually, though units should stay in 1″ cohesion if they are able to.

Games Workshop did provide Age of Sigmar rules for all the Warhammer Fantasy models they currently sell in their online store. That said, all the game mechanics were re-tooled to focus on individual models, and low model count battles. Templates and guess range weapons are gone. All ranges were shortened to support smaller, more spread out armies. For example, Dwarf cannons in the 8th had a maximum effective range of up to about 70″. The same model under Age of Sigmar rules can only shoot 32″ and is vastly less effective.

The game replaces the 8th edition, but it does not seem to be interested in actually being a replacement of any sort. Instead it seems to be positioned to compete with with Privateer Press Warmachine (another low scale, low model count fantasy skirmish game) rather than with Mantic Games Kings of War (which focuses on unit blocks like WFB did). The new starter set has less than 20 models to the side, with powerful heroes being the main focal point of the battles and rank and file troops being just a filler. There is a dedicated Hero Phase in which powerful characters trigger their signature abilities. This is very similar to Warmachine which focuses on powerful Warcasters and their magically powered, clockwork Warjack machines – of which you only ever field a handful. Both games seem to favor small engagements with few powerful models on the table.


This is a legal Warmachine starter army. That’s all the models you need.

But Age of Sigmar can’t hope to compete with Privateer Press product (save maybe on model quality or pricing), because Warmachine is designed from ground up to be a competitive tournament game. It has balancing mechanics that ensure opponents will always play with equally powerful forces. WFB had a similar mechanic. Age of Sigmar has none. The rulebook for the game which is four pages long, and available as a free download from the GW website specifically encourages players to bring any models they want. There are no point costs, no unit size limits, no limits on optional upgrades. The only limit is how much you are willing to spend on the miniatures. The only balancing mechanic is the fact that the player who is outnumbered by 30% gets to pick a victory condition.

But that rule in itself seems inconsistent and easy to abuse, since you compare forces on raw model count, even though models are not equal in power. For example a player fielding 5 of the brand new, vastly overpowered medieval Space Marines accompanied by 3 special characters, each riding a dragon will be outnumbered by someone fielding a single unit of 10 rank and file goblins with no characters. Horde armies such as Skaven or Goblins that in the past relied on superior numbers to offset relatively weak core troops are now punished for fielding large armies. On the other hand players who field few special characters and no troops at all are rewarded.

If you wanted to make a small local tournament in WFB you could put out a flyer or a poster that said something like: “1,500pts, no special characters, no magic items over 50pts” and it would force people to bring balanced, characterful armies built around core units. The players would have to figure out how to build forces of specified size that leveraged the strengths of their chosen army while at the same time minimizing its flaws. They would have to think about unit positioning, protecting their flanks, synergies between units and leaders and etc.. In Age of Sigmar this is no longer possible. Since there is no point costs and no size limits on units, it is impossible to ensure any kind of balance.

Allegedly there exist these top secret, unofficial basic balancing rules released by disgruntled GW game developers through back channels, but even those don’t help much:

To put it simply, Age of Sigmar is not a competitive tournament game. Which would be fine, if that was it’s only flaw. I’m not much of a competitive player myself, and I much prefer casual play with friends than tournament play with strangers. But I do like game balance and structure, as much as I like my ranked up unit blocks and my movement trays. And I would like an option to play a tournament from time to time if I wanted to. Age of Sigmar does not support that. But if GW wanted to make a game that is strictly casual and non-competitive and friendly then so be it. Unfortunately the game is not designed to be either friendly or inviting.

Games Workshop products and lore has always been a tad problematic. Back in the day the Warhammer lore included monsters whose reproductive cycle involved kidnaping and rape. Their sculptors always had issues creating female models without objectifying and sexualizing them. But those were minor problems compared to the new rule set.

Age of Sigmar is a game that throws away the idea of good sportsmanship out the window and encourages players to hurl insults at each other in order to receive mechanical bonuses:

Yep, making the environment hostile, uncomfortable and facilitating abuse and bullying is a codified game mechanic. Abso-fucking-lutely brilliant, GW. good luck marketing this particular warscroll to parents whose children want to get into the war gaming hobby. Especially since the streamlined, simplified, non-competitive rule set definitely skews younger.

There is another rule that encourages players to give and accept bribes in exchange for in-game effects. Because adding a gambling mechanic into a core rule set is a splendid idea that will never actually backfire:

Some rules are simply straight up sexist. Anyone who can’t or simply does not want to grow a mustache can’t use this rule:

I can see this particular rule being used by players to body shame younger boys for not having enough body hair, or young girls for having some fuzz on their upper lip. Because making someone feel like shit about their own body is awesome, and sportsman like, is it not?

Some rules are just plain goofy. Bretonian players for example can get mechanical bonuses for rising a cup into the air, and screaming out a catchphrase:

Others are genuinely mean spirited, encouraging players to straight up mock people who suffer from mental illness:

I get what they were trying to do with these rules. They were trying to encourage players to have “fun” with their games. But you can’t codify fun as a game mechanic. People scream Blood for the blood god! when charging not because they will get a buff, but because its fun, silly and spontaneous thing to do. Codifying it as a mechanic makes it forced and awkward. Doubly so if the game tells you to do something you are not comfortable with: like insulting your friend, or mocking insanity. It is one thing to have a “mad count” type character in the lore, it is a whole other thing to encourage players to “pretend to be a crazy person”. It’s uncalled for, and it ignores the fact many Warhammer players may personally know people who struggle with mental illness, or may have one themselves.

It amazes me that no editor realized that these rules might not only be upsetting, but even damaging to the Games Workshop brand. But that’s sort of my general impression of the entire rule set. It seems to be hastily put together without much oversight. Its like none of these rules were play tested, or focus tested to see how they will perform in the field.

Many people are really excited for this new game. Folks in my Twitter feed and on reddit are already posting pictures of their models on round bases, and writing up first battle reports. Sadly, I don’t share their enthusiasm. Age of Sigmar is not for me. I like the WFB focus on unit blocks and core troops, I like my movement trays, I don’t like powerful hero characters that dominate the battlefield. I like balance and structure, and building armies using a spreadsheet and a calculator. The new rules do nothing for me. They are overly simplistic, and too goofy to be taken seriously. I also don’t feel comfortable playing or endorsing a game which encourages players to insult each other or mock mental illness.

Most of people in my gaming group share these opinions, so we will be sticking to the good old 8th edition. While it isn’t perfect, it is pretty damn good and we enjoy it. It’s sad that it won’t be supported by Games Workshop anymore. This means that it will be more difficult for use to replace damaged rulebooks, and near impossible to convince new players to join the hobby. But the bittersweet takeaway from all of this is that Age of Sigmar means Games Workshop won’t be able to ruin the mostly well balanced and sound 8th edition rule set. We can continue playing the game as it exists right now, without worrying about rule changes, power creep, getting our favorite units nerfed and etc..

Posted in rpg and tabletop | Tagged | 23 Comments

What does it mean to be a gamer in 2015?

Do you consider yourself a gamer? What does it mean to be a gamer? I submit it means absolutely, fucking, nothing.

There was a brief period in history when this term kinda made sense, as it described those who played video games, as opposed to majority of the population who did not. It also made sense to pretend we actually have something in common due to the fact we enjoy video games back when there was a legitimate threat that government might actually ban this form of entertainment. We felt kinship to each other, because we felt we had a common enemy: a gray haired, conservative lawyer who later got himself disbarred. But that was then.


This may represent you… Unless you are a PC gamer. Or use a different console.

Today the term gamer is useless because everyone plays video games and the game industry has gotten so huge and profitable that there is no threat of it ever going away. Take five random gamers and put them in a room, and chances are they won’t have much to talk about other than recent releases or upcoming games. Let’s do a quick thought experiment: imagine the following 6 people who can all be classified as “gamers”.

  • Person A: likes Call of Duty, Battlefield and MADDEN.
  • Person B: likes Civilization, Total War series and obscure turn based strategy games.
  • Person C: likes Dreamfall, Gone Home and Life is Strange.
  • Person D: plays League of Legends almost exclusively.
  • Person E: runs a big corporation in Eve Online
  • Person F: buys all those weird train simulator games on Steam

I made these examples up, but you know that folks like that exist. Think about what all these different people get out of the gaming hobby? Notice how completely different their favorite games are. How broad the spectrum of experiences gaming offers for all kinds of different folks from different paths of life? What do these six individuals have in common? The fact that they consume interactive media using a computer or a dedicated gaming console. That’s about it.

Some Gamers

Just some gamer type folk at this years E3 (via E3 photo coverage)

How do we even define who is a gamer? If we say gamer is someone who plays and enjoys video games then this covers almost everyone alive today. This includes your grandma who loves her some Candy Crush on the iPad she got for her 90th birthday. If this is the case, then the term is pretty much meaningless. Why do we even need it? It would actually be more useful to have a term for people who still don’t play video games since they would be a minority.

Elderly Gamer

Pictured here: a gamer. (via Debra Husz)

There is this notion, that the definition of the term gamer should be more narrow and constrained. Younger generations for example don’t consider “grown-ups” like parents, teachers or the elderly to be “real” gamers. So is gaming a youth culture thing then? Not necessarily. Teenage Jocks who exclusively play sports games with their bros are as likely to get declared to be non-gamers as teenage girls who spend most of their time typing in descriptive emotes into WoW chat on a slow role playing server.

Some argue that to be a gamer you have to play a certain kind of games. So someone who likes “walking simulators” and adventure games is excluded. Except, perhaps if they like the right kind of adventure games, like Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle or the right Sierra games. Someone may tell you that a person who only owns a WiiU console and uses it as a primary gaming machine is not a true gamer. Except maybe if they are a huge fan of the correct Zelda and Mario games which are the right kinds of classic games to like. Wherever you draw the line, there are always special exclusions.

Some say that gamers are people who are passionate about the industry, who follow the gaming news and are active in online gaming communities. But that does not seem right either. Folks such as Anita Sarkesian or Leigh Alexander for example are extremely passionate, and very active online, and yet some adamantly claim they are not and cannot be gamers. Same goes for women who spend months crafting elaborate cossplay costumes and go to gaming conventions and conferences dressed up as their favorite video game characters. There is a lot of gate-keeping that allows some people to be “gamers” just because, while at the same time requiring others to have legitimate and “ideologically pure” motives to even want to aspire to that term.


Pictured here: gamer who is passionate and opinionated about her hobby.

What it boils down to is that the term “gamer” is basically used to denote “people who are like me, and who like the same things as I do” as opposed to the others. People who like the wrong kind of games, wrong kind of consoles, or express the wrong kinds of opinions about the games you like are not gamers. Or maybe they are gamers with an asterisk: casual gamers, fake gamer girls, game-bros, posers, etc.. And whether you are in or out of this exclusive club changes from group to group. You might self-identify as a gamer, but whether or not you will be accepted as one outside of your immediate social circles may very much depend on random attributes like the type of games you enjoy, the type of console you own, how closely you follow the industry gossip, your race, your gender, your political views, and etc. In other words, it’s completely arbitrary. It’s basically synonym for “my gaming buddies” or “the folks from my favorite gaming board”.

Gamers of sorts

True gamers wear rainbow collored trilbies. All others are casuals.

So the definition of the term is either so broad it’s meaningless, or so narrow and arbitrary it is useless. There is no such thing as “gamer identity” or “gamer culture” because no one can agree on what these things could be. And any group who thinks they know what true gamer culture is, simply narrowed down the definition of the term gamer to conveniently exclude everyone who disagrees. Gaming is mainstream, and so by definition gaming culture is mainstream culture. Gamer is someone who consumes games. Gamer is a consumer of a product. What kind of identity is that?

Note how other media forms don’t have an equivalent term. There is no word for people who watch movies, read books, listen to music or enjoy art. Terms such as bibliophile, audiophile or film buff have an entirely different connotation. We use them to describe connoisseurs with refined tastes and deep knowledge of the medium. But people who are connoisseurs of gaming, and want to analyze games as works of art, dissect their themes and discuss their issues are frequently labeled as outsiders who don’t get “gaming culture” and can’t enjoy a good game. People who are the most vocal about their “gamer identity” don’t see themselves as medium’s experts. They self-identify as non-discerning, uncritical hyper-consumers.

Film Buff

Pictured here: a film buff. (via Brows Held High)

That’s not necessarily something to be proud of or something to aspire to. But it gets worse. In recent years the term gamer started to accumulate even more, derogatory connotations. Yes, I’m aware that in the past some people might have used “gamer” as a drop in replacement for “nerd” when they wanted to be insulting. You could argue that it was always somewhat derogatory. This is different though. These days people who love games, and are passionate about gaming related things are reluctant to label themselves as gamers, because the term has been tainted.

Not only does it describe indiscriminate hyper-consumer but it also stands for toxic, entitled behavior that has always been the bane of gaming communities. Gamers are the angry teenagers shouting slurs, obscenities and threats into voice chat. Gamers are entitled biggots who thing gaming should be a safe space for white males where they can be sexist, racist and homophobic without fear of getting called out on it. Gamers are the people who demand to debate feminists critics and insist on lecturing them about journalistic ethics. Gamers are people who are too busy making seven hour log Youtube vlogs about “Cultural Marxism” and spamming Twitter hashtags with anime porn to actually play any video games. Granted, not everyone thinks this way. But more and more people realize you can be passionate about video games without being a gamer. Especially if large online communities don’t consider you a gamer, and seek to exclude you.

Massive Asshole

Gamers are this fucking asshole in the background who probably thinks he is hilarious.

Here is the thing though: even if a bunch of entitled manchildren decrees you do not fit their arbitrary definition of what it means to be a gamer, it does not prevent you from playing games or talking about them online or offline with like minded people. Because, again, gaming is mainstream now. There are more and more gaming publications targeted at more discerning consumers, connoisseurs and people who want deeper analysis. AAA publishers are slowly realizing they can actually sell games to demographics other than entitled white male teenagers and college students. As reasonable people simply stop identifying as “gamers” (but rather as, say, game enthusiasts) and disassociate themselves from “gaming culture” whatever that might be, the concept of what it means to be a gamer changes for worse. In such an environment being a gamer is all about performing the right behaviors, and adhering to the right stereotypes. It is about perpetuating the toxicity, aggressively policing those who step out of the line, and extensive gate-keeping.

The meaning is slowly shifting from “person who has acceptable opinions about the games I like and is not member of a group I hate” to “insufferable jerk whom I already blocked on Twitter”.

How will gamers be remembered 20 years from now? Likely as bunch of entitled, angry internet assholes. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the inevitable Simpsons reboot will replace the annoying comic book guy with smug gamer dude whose catchphrase is going to be “actually, it’s about ethics…” Because, lets face it – being a know-it-all fan of comic books is not going to be weird for people that don’t remember a time when Marvel and DC did not dominate Hollywood. Being super smug and weird about liking ultra-popular AAA games that everyone likes on the other hand. That’s actually rather comical.

Posted in video games | 3 Comments

Witcher 3 and Diversity

Witcher 3 is a fun game. It is also a game almost exclusively about white people. There are white humans, white elves, and white dwarfs with Scottish accents, and about a hundred different types of monsters that come in all shapes, sizes and colors of the rainbow. While playing the game you will encounter many Noonwraiths, Neckers, Drowners, Luberkin, Ghouls, Fiends or Warewolfs but you will not see a single person of color. Game critics picked up on this, because it’s 2015, so of course they would. Very predictably bunch of “gamers” jumped to defend it pointing out that game is based on “Slavic mythology” and that complete lack of people of color is somehow “historically accurate” seeing how the setting is supposed to resemble pre-Christian Poland.

As an actual Slavic person, who was born and grew up in Poland, I feel that I should chime in here.

Witcher 3 does not contain any people of color not because of “mythology” or “history” or “book lore” but most likely because CD Project Red never even considered adding non white characters to their game. They literally forgot that non-white people even exist, which is something that happens when you are a white person, living in predominantly white culture, and consuming predominantly white media. You can literally spend a few years making a cool video game, designing awesome monsters, and interesting characters, and not even once consider giving one of them a darker skin color. Folks who made the game not evil racists (at least I don’t think they are), they just happened to do a thing that white people very often do, which is to ignore everyone that does not look like them. By doing so they contributed to erasure of non-white people in the industry. Witcher 3 is yet another game that features exactly zero people of color. This is a problem.

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

It may not be a problem to you, but it is one to many, many people who love and enjoy video games. If you don’t understand why it is a problem to them, or why they would like to see themselves represented in their media… Well, you are a part of the problem.

If Witcher 3 was the only game released this year which was found lacking with respect to race and representation, we would not be having this discussion. But it is not. It is a part of a cultural trend that extends beyond video games and into all popular media we consume. It’s an issue that is bigger than video games.

Because of that, criticism that calls game devs out for lacking diversity it is valid, and constructive. This is something we most definitely should be talking about in reviews, so that CD Project Red (and the industry as a whole) can improve. After all, the dev team did not fail out of menace, but out of ignorance. And the only way to combat ignorance is to make people aware of these issues. Defending the lack of diversity in the game citing “mythology” or “historical accuracy” is incredibly silly and disingenuous.

Firstly, Polish/Slavic mythology isn’t really a thing.[1] You can’t talk about it in the same way as you talk about Norse mythology or ancient Greek or even Egyptian mythology. There is no concrete body of mythological lore you can print in a book and use as a game setting.[2]

The ancient Slavic people that roamed central and eastern Europe territories that we now recognize as Poland left virtually no written records. Most of their religious beliefs, customs, rituals and stories have been very successfully erased from history by the efforts of the Catholic Church. For example, there is no such thing as a Slavic people’s version of the creation myth. Doubtlessly such a myth must have existed, but we have no knowledge of it. It was lost to history.[3] While we know of a handful of Slavic gods that were worshiped, most of what we know about them is based on conjecture based on analysis of the precious few stone and wooden idols that were not smashed or burned by the Inquisition, and church records.

In fact, most of what we know about the religious customs of the day has been sourced from notes of Christian monks about three or four hundred years after the last Polish pagans have died. The same monks who have been actively suppressing that very knowledge for more than a few centuries. There are scant few bits and pieces of folklore that has survived to this day via oral traditions, customs. Some are enduring part of Polish culture to these days. But even those those were scrubbed and sanitized over the ages loosing much of their original meaning and significance. So anyone telling you that Witcher 3 is based on actual Slavic mythology is full of shit. We literally know more about the religion and myths of fictional land of Westeros than those of very real, pre-Christian Poles.

Monsters not in Slavic Mythology

Things that are not authentic Slavic mythology: dwarfs, elves, witchers and whatever the fuck that horned thing is.

Yes, some of the names of the monsters in the game are indeed based on Slavic, and more specifically Polish folklore. But the rest is almost entirely made up. The Witcher novels on which the game is based are pretty standard Fantasy with some “domestic” themes and folklore thrown in. In fact, A. Sapkowski’s entire shtick for early Witcher stories was to take a classic fairy tale (more often something from Grimm Brother’s rather than from actual Slavic folklore), apply 90’s style “edgy” filter by making everyone curse like a sailor, have the Witcher blunder into the mess and then reveal the good guys are actually the bad guys at the end. The books are standard Fantasy pulp, with very standard Fantasy elves and dwarfs imported directly from Tolkien. Geralt’s story arc pivots around fairy tales and trope subversions to ultimately fall into an Arthurian heroic archetype. Sapkowski swims in anachronisms and constantly winks at the readers to the point of breaking the fourth wall.

Also, Witchers, mutated monster slayers with super powers are not, and never have been part of Slavic mythology. Or any mythology for that matter. They are entirely made up by A. Sapkowski who, could easily trademark the term “witcher”, if he has not done so already.

Coincidentally he said pretty much the same things about Polish mythology in an essay he Publihsed in 1992:

Andrzej Sapkowski, Piróg alboNie ma złota w Szarych Górach, Berlin, November 1992

Andrzej Sapkowski, Piróg alboNie ma złota w Szarych Górach, Berlin, November 1992

Witcher 3 pedigree is as much D&D, pulp fantasy and Tolkien as it is Slavic mythology. Sapkowski never intended it to be held up as a celebration of Slavic mythology. He was mainly interested in writing interesting story, with interesting setting and cool characters. You can read the rest of the essay (in Polish) on Scribid.

So please, spare me the whole “based on Slavic mythology” excuse, because it is bullshit.

The argument from “historical accuracy” is also moot and void, because the game does not take place in a historical period, but in an entirely imaginary setting. But if we wanted to be sticklers about it and say it is supposed to be “based on” Poland as it existed at some point in time (but, you know, with elves, and werewolfs and drowners) it still would not make sense. As I mentioned above, we don’t know much about Polish history prior to year 966, when pagan chieftain Mieszko I was baptized and crowned by the Roman Catholic Pope. This was a shrewd political move as it legitimized Poland as an official Christian nation, and meant our western neighbors could no longer try to annex our territories in the name of “spreading the faith”. The story of Mieszko is literally page one of our official history as a nation. We really don’t know all that much about our pagan ancestors. We do know that Slavic people did travel and traded by sea and by land, and not just with their immediate neighbors because that’s what you do when you are in Europe.

Józef Brandt

Painting by Polish artist Józef_Brandt depicting the scene from a Polish-Ottoman war.

Poland, as you may be aware is not some lonely island in the middle of a Pacific ocean where it would be isolated from other cultures . It is a country smack dab in the middle of the big cultural melting pot that is Europe. At the height of it’s power, Polish and Polish allied territories stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Poles traded with, and warred with the Ottoman Empire, Tartars, Mongols and etc.. Polish medieval fashion was full of Eastern or Southern influences. The staple of Polish nobleman attire were ornamental silk belts, and Winged Husars (elite cavalrymen) would adorn their armor with leopard pelts. Neither silk nor leopards are native to Poland, but these materials were imported from Asian and African nations. That means traders, scholars, political envoys… Not to mention that Polish territories also have always had sizable population of Roma people.

I have not noticed it at first, but others pointed out that the map of Witcher 3 universe is essentially a map of Poland rotated in such a way as to specifically erase the neighboring regions that had significant non-white population:

The world of The Witcher books and novels is most emphatically not just the world of Poland. Great swaths of the third game take place in Nilfgaard, the plain-as-day Holy Roman Empire analogue. The Northern Kingdoms are rather obvious as the fragmentary kingdom of Poland before the time of Casimir the Great in the fourteenth century, although individual kingdoms like Temeria have strong flavor from other medieval monarchies like France. There is even a group of islands to stand in for the kingdom of Denmark! The Witcher is Polish, but it is definitely peddling a vision of neo-medievalism that encompasses the greater part of Europe. And, at least for me, what is the most striking aspect of the map? Well, it’s been rotated ninety degrees counter-clockwise and cropped so that Poland’s eastern and southern neighbors functionally exist no longer. It’s just fuckin’ deserts and mountains there, move along. That means no Huns, no Avars, no Magyars, no Pechenegs, no Khazars, no Cumans, no Turks, no Mongols, and no Ottomans can have analogues here, none of the nomadic peoples of color who shaped the face of medieval and modern Europe. That’s really weird, isn’t it? A history of Poland without Hungary or the Golden Khanate is unimaginable to me, yet here it is, and people are defending it as “historically accurate,” whatever that means.

Granted, the world was not designed by CD Project Red. This particular bit can probably be entirely blamed on Sapkowski, and as an author he has the right to set up his world any way he likes. But people defending the game using “historical accuracy” should probably note how the map was manipulated to specifically exclude a number of Poland’s neighbors.

Literally Polish Knights

Winged Hussars, Polish elite heavy cavalry. Note the leopard and tiger pelts.

My point is that if you wanted to include a non-white person in a story set in Poland at any point in history, it would take a minimal amount of research to come up with a believable, and historically “accurate” back story for that character. In fact, this works for just about any region or time period in medieval Europe. Observe:

Q: How do we get Morgan Freeman into a Robin Hood story?
A: IDK, crusades or something.

Done. It makes sense (just as much as anything in Robin Hood story would), is historically plausible, and does not really require complex explanation. It’s literally that simple.

But, once again, the world of Witcher 3 is not historical Poland. You don’t really even need a plausible explanation. If CD Project Red wanted to be even a little bit diverse, they could totally do it. Perhaps by including some traders from the tropical Zerrikania that is mentioned but never described it in much detail in the books. Or maybe some people who live in Southern parts of Nilfgraad Empire happen be brown and some of them become soldiers in the army that is now occupying the Northen territories? Because, why not?

Someone could argue that this would be breaking with the so called “book lore”, but would it be though? The developers of the game already had to take many liberties with the source material when they translated and packaged it for English speaking audiences. For example, all the Dwarfs in the game have Scottish sounding accents. Why is that? Well, mainly because of Peter Jackson’s portrayal of Gimli I assume. Sapkowski never specified that his Dwarfs sound vaguely like Scots because in his books they do not. They all speak Common, a language which just happens to sound like Polish because Common languages in fantasy setting always happen to sound like whatever the fuck language the story is written in. It’s a fantasy trope.

But when the voices for the characters were recorded, the development team made an arbitrary choice to make Dwarfs sound one way and not another. There have been plenty of other arbitrary choices made to fill in the gaps, or flesh out things that were not described in much details in the book. Sapkowski never really said that all of his characters are intended to be white. Some characters are described as fair skinned or pale, but nowhere in the books does it say that everyone is. So would making a character whose ethnicity and skin color are never mentioned to be non-white a bigger departure from the source than say… Giving Geralt a plot induced amnesia and having him wander through the world, having weird non-cannon adventures in between the books. You know, like CD Project Red have been doing since their first Witcher game?

So please, stop using my culture and heritage to try to validate your own prejudices. As an actual Pole, and someone who read the Witcher novels before the games introduced them to English speaking world, I can tell you that I would not mind seeing people of color depicted in that universe. It would not somehow devalue my culture or heritage to see non-white people in the game loosely based on the beliefs and folklore of my homeland.

If you do mind, and the very idea of people of color existing in a setting based on our culture and folklore offends you for some reason, then that’s entirely on you.

Posted in video games | 50 Comments