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The Witcher 3: The Bloody Baron

By Bob Case
on Wednesday May 16, 2018
Filed under:
Video Games

 
 

Last week, I had intended for this post to cover some of the game’s side content. I’ve since changed my mind – some of topics I wanted to discuss about that I’ve decided to put on hold until after I covered the main Velen quests.

The “Bloody Baron” sequence of events includes the multi-step quests “Family Matters” and “Ladies of the Wood,” which together see Geralt piece together the story of how exactly local warlord Phillip Strenger’s family was torn to pieces and came to various kinds of tragedy. It got oodles of acclaim – it won a Golden Joystick award for “Best Gaming Moment,” and both PC Gamer and Kotaku did write-ups on how it was made.

I’m of several different minds about this whole sequence. I’ve praised the Witcher games in the past for being “realistic” (in the literary sense of the word, not the literal sense), and this video covers the core of that argument if you want to know it in more detail. The Bloody Baron story meets many of my own informal criteria for realism: a believable messiness, an emphasis on the personal, events that are relatively small in scale in comparison to their surroundings, and characters who at least occasionally confound our dramatic expectations. And, broadly speaking, I like literary realism.

So I was surprised to find myself uneasy with this quest. It’s my personal – though relatively casual – belief that every good story has a moral. In some cases the moral is up-front and obvious, like with an Aesop’s fable, and in some cases the moral is complex and squirrelly enough that it defies conventional methods of explanation and can only be glimpsed through fiction. Put another way, even in literary realism, which tends to resist pat value judgments, stories are trying to say something about the world. And my personal reading of what the Bloody Baron sequence is trying to say is that the behavior of the titular character is at least partially excusable, and that perhaps the Baron shouldn’t be considered a villain at all.

Let’s look at that behavior. Our first direct contact with the Baron’s existence is at the inn we’re sent to to locate the Emperor’s spy. The village surrounding the inn is being terrorized by the Baron’s men, to the point where parents are disguising their daughters as boys in hopes of sparing them from being raped. Geralt has an encounter with them in the inn itself, and you can either fight them or talk them down.In a bit of reactivity I didn’t know the game had until recently, fighting them gets you banned from the Baron’s fort at Crow’s Perch, and you have to sneak in through a cave that leads to the bottom of the fort’s well.

No idea what this lot are on about, but I want some of whatever they're drinking.

No idea what this lot are on about, but I want some of whatever they're drinking.

Now I don’t necessarily mean to say that a commander bears full culpability far all the actions of his men in a situation like this, but surely he bears some. It’s not as though the Baron thinks the soldiers under his command are angels. In his first conversation with Geralt he says that they’re “good at pulling up the floorboards to find a peasant’s last sack of grain,”Or something like that, those may not be his exact words. so he’s apparently aware that at the very least his men are taking food from desperate people by force.

If I had to guess the intentions of the writers, I would guess that they deliberately built up a fearsome and brutal reputation in the mind of the player, only to subvert it once Geralt meets its owner. Phillip Strenger, aka the “Bloody Baron,” is in fact an affable and friendly person, even endearing, in a sort of sweaty, booze-soaked way. He knows that we’re looking for Ciri, and we learn that Ciri was a guest at Crow’s Perch for a time, and was treated with genuine hospitality.

He tells the story of how exactly she came to be there, leading to another one of the game’s vignettes where she becomes the player character. Ciri finds herself in a forest (for reasons unknown to the player at this point) where she rescues a child from wolves before using Witcher techniques to dispatch a werewolf, at which point a man she rescued brings her to the Baron.

Ciri's gimmick, gameplay-wise, is that she can teleport short distances in place of dodging and quickstepping. I wish we'd gotten more chances to play as her.

Ciri's gimmick, gameplay-wise, is that she can teleport short distances in place of dodging and quickstepping. I wish we'd gotten more chances to play as her.

Strenger, however, is not willing to share the entire story until Geralt helps him with a problem: his wife and daughter have been kidnapped. By this point the player has probably already seen the “have you seen this person” posters for them around various villages in the region, including the town at the base of Crow’s Perch. Geralt uses his Witcher senses to investigate the rooms they disappeared from, and finds a clue in the shape of a protective medallion, leading him to investigate the local Pellar.

(I like it when I learn things from games. A “pellar” is the name of a certain brand of fortune teller and practitioner of folk magic, broadly in the pagan tradition. If you’re not afraid of the wikipedia rabbit hole, here’s the article on “Cunning Folk in Britain.” I assume there must have been a comparable tradition in Poland. At some point during this series I’m going to comment/speculate on the game’s translation and how strong – in my opinion, at least – it is.)

From the Pellar’s information the player can gradually, over many steps in the questline, reconstruct what happened. First, you learn what you probably already suspected by this point: the Baron’s wife (Anna) and daughter (Tamara), weren’t “kidnapped” at all, but fled from the physically abusive Strenger. Before they fled, Anna learned she was pregnant. Not wanting to have another of the Baron’s children, she went to the local hideous, unsettling coven of witches, the Crones of Crookback Bog (we’ll cover them in more detail in future entries).

The Crones offered Anna a deal: they’ll induce a miscarriage in return for her service. I thought this plot point was a bit forced – was “pledge service to supernatural beings” really the best abortion option available to her? The western tradition records abortofacient herbs and other techniques going all the way back to ancient Greece. Anna is a noblewoman, and not without resources, in a setting with both alchemy and magic. But whatever, I guess I’ll go with it.

Then Anna went to the Pellar to get a medallion to protect her from the Crones. During the struggle with the drunken Strenger on the night of their escape, she lost the medallion, and a Fiend (a beast controlled by the Crones) abducted her and carried her into the bog to fulfill the terms of her agreement. At some point, her mind snaps (the game is a little vague on this), and Geralt meets her at the orphanage there, where he knows her only as “Gran,” caretaker of the orphans.

(Oh yeah, and at one point during all of this you have to retrieve the Pellar’s goat, which has wandered off to eat strawberries.)

Of COURSE you have to chase down his goat, Geralt. Did you forget what genre of game you were in?

Of COURSE you have to chase down his goat, Geralt. Did you forget what genre of game you were in?

You might have noticed that this story is a little convoluted. It doesn’t help that, much like the Dandelion/Ciri backstory in Novigrad, the player only learns bits of it at a time, and out of order to boot. In fact, you never even get to hear Anna’s side of the story, since by the time you meet her she’s taken on her “Gran” persona.

After Anna and Tamara fled, the Baron buried the miscarried fetus without naming it, causing it to turn into a super creepy monster called a “botchling.” At this point Geralt has the option of killing it, but the better option is to perform a ritual where Strenger gives it a name and accepts it as his own, perhaps earning a scrap of redemption along the way.

So Anna, the victim of abuseAnd possibly the perpetrator, if you believe the Baron, which I’m not entirely sure I do., gets a fragmented, confusing story relayed through hearsay. The Baron, by contrast, gets a dramatic story, a distinct and unique personality, and several scenes where he gets to demonstrate regret for his actions.

To the game’s credit, said story, personality, and scenes are well executed. The English voice actorA man by the name of James Clyde, just another of the UK’s bottomless reserve of talented actors you’ve never heard of. does an excellent job, his dialogue is well written, and the cutscenes are well directed (to the extent that word applies to a game). But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that the developers went out of their way to humanize the Bloody Baron, who by merits is an abuser and a brutal warlord, a monster of a person, but only gives us the barest glimpse of his primary victim.

I didn't get a good screenshot, but throughout this scene Strenger is staring at his own hands, a simple but effective staging that - for me personally at least - added pathos.

I didn't get a good screenshot, but throughout this scene Strenger is staring at his own hands, a simple but effective staging that - for me personally at least - added pathos.

This brings us back to the idea of stories having morals. In a simple fable, the moral is determined by the author. But in more complex works of fiction, and even more so in interactive fiction (like games), ownership of the moral belongs partly to the audience. The Kotaku article on this quest (which I also linked above) had a section which illuminated this concept in action:

My version of the quest ended basically in tragedy. The wife, seeking independence, appeared cursed to work for the ladies of the wood, the hideous Crones. The daughter, thoroughly disgusted, rejects the Baron’s desire for a relationship. Having lost everything, the Baron hung himself outside of his home. But Geralt had the information he needed, so he went on his way.

Though shocked at the sight of the Baron—I spent all this time on this quest, only to have everything turn to shit?!—I wasn’t particularly upset, either. In my mind, the Baron wasn’t deserving of his family’s forgiveness.

“This is your interpretation of what happened,” said Sasko. “Another person may have described this situation in the following way: ‘I saved the Baron’s wife from death and the Baron couldn’t take it. He’s not going to harm anyone any more. This family was broken and destroyed long before this quest even happened and there was nothing that could be done to undo such destruction.’”

Based on what CD Projekt RED has seen, player reactions ran the gamut.

“For me this story is very personal,” said Sasko. “I was born in a poor village in the Polish mountains and in my childhood I saw families broken by alcohol and violence. Being a child, I saw parents hitting kids and fighting with each other, while at the same time being in love and doing everything for their families. After the game was released, I watched the playthroughs, read forums and e-mails and observed what I expected to see: players reacted very differently, depending on their background. People who forgave the Baron were not the minority, which proved for me that giving this choice to the players was the right thing to do.

In some stories, the authors know the moral before they start, and in some, the creative act is an attempt to find it. Stories of the second type are the ones that really stick with me.

There’s no real good outcome to the quest as far as the Strengers are concerned. The Baron either hangs himself, or takes his mentally broken wife to a “healer” in the mountains, which we no have particular reason to think will work. Either way, Crow’s Perch is taken over by the Baron’s second-in-command (a nameless Sergeant), who seems inclined to let his men indulge in all their worst impulses, so if anything the life of the average Velenite just gets worse.

I couldn’t personally bring myself to think well of Phillip Strenger. I believe the character’s remorse was genuine, but for abusers “genuine” doesn’t necessarily mean “permanent,” and neither is it necessarily useful for their victims. I wish we could’ve seen more of Anna’s side of the story. We do see more of Tamara’s side of the story (there’s an optional side objective where you can learn where her life has gone she left), which is good, but still (in my opinion) not enough.

So that’s the Bloody Baron. Despite all the accolades it received, I don’t think it was the best quest in the game. However, the things it did well, it did very well, and I think much of its quality probably grew out of the personal connection its creator had for the subject. I hope at least some other developers have taken a lesson from its success: don’t be afraid to make things messy and personal, and don’t feel like you have to know exactly what you’re trying to say with every story you write. Drawing the moral out of a complex story is at least partly the prerogative of the audience.

Next week, we stay in Velen and cover the crones and Keira Metz’s quests. See you then!

Footnotes:

[1] In a bit of reactivity I didn’t know the game had until recently, fighting them gets you banned from the Baron’s fort at Crow’s Perch, and you have to sneak in through a cave that leads to the bottom of the fort’s well.

[2] Or something like that, those may not be his exact words.

[3] And possibly the perpetrator, if you believe the Baron, which I’m not entirely sure I do.

[4] A man by the name of James Clyde, just another of the UK’s bottomless reserve of talented actors you’ve never heard of.


 
 
Comments (73)

  1. Jennifer Snow says:

    I think calling it a “moral” is a good way to get people to confuse the abstract meaning of a work of fiction with the trite, “be good and work hard” moralizing of old-fashioned “improving” stories for children.

    The meaning–or theme–is what ties a story together, integrates the components. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a *moral* theme. You can write a story that is about deep sea diving or violin tuning if you like, and, from what I’ve seen, it takes a lot more skill to make such “prosaic” subjects interesting than it does to invent yet another lolevul Bad Guy to smite or world to Save. Of course, there’s always the Japanese method whereby different styles of violin tuning take on deep moral significance and battle for the future of mankind, but, let’s be honest, that is surreal.

    • Jennifer Snow says:

      I haven’t played The Witcher 3, but I find that I generally find quests like this the most unsatisfactory when the quest writer doesn’t give you (or your avatar) the opportunity to challenge the “quest layout”. You may not be able to bring about your desired “ending”, but when they don’t even let you *challenge* the unfolding of events, that’s when it gets really hairy. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire has a LOT of problems with this–there are a fair number of cases where you pretty much have to pick a side, they all suck, and you can’t even say “all these options suck” other than to just not finish the quest. I try hard to aim for non-violent solutions whenever possible (even if those are not “optimal” from a nice-o-meter perspective), but WAY too many quest chains ended up in “Go murder the other side for me”.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The witcher 3 is good about this because even when he picks a side,geralt does not care that much.So it really is easy to go through the game in a selfish “i dont care,just give me what I asked for” way.Plus,many of the resolutions to the main characters stories are happening in side quests.The main quests end when you find info about ciri,and you can just leave the rest unresolved.Or resolve them in a myriad of different ways.And the best thing is that not one of those resolutions is the obvious good resolution that ties everything in a neat bow.

      • djw says:

        The issue with the bloody baron is that all of the important events have already happened. The baron drank heavily and beat his wife long before Geralt showed up to find Cirri. Geralt can’t fix it because its already history.

        As the player you do have some agency in determining how it all plays out, but you do not have the option of “fixing” the baron, because only the baron and his wife can do that.

      • Redrock says:

        I try hard to aim for non-violent solutions whenever possible (even if those are not “optimal” from a nice-o-meter perspective), but WAY too many quest chains ended up in “Go murder the other side for me”.

        That’s the problem with Obsidian’s newer games for me. Seems to me they feel the need to pander to the part of the audience that really enjoys Infinity Engine – style combat, so both Tyranny and PoE have way more combat than I would like. Icewind Dale vs Planescape: Torment type of thing. And because I hate-hate-HATE Infinity Engine combat, it’s always annoying to me when the game forces me into combat. I mean, the lack of a peaceful options always irks me in RPGs like that, but I can kinda overlook it if the combat is fun, like in, say, Divinity: Original Sin.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          I think it’s more that combat is just cheaper content to produce. Plop some non-unique entities down, and you’ve got a fight. Conversations and alternate solutions require writing and recording dialog, scripting, more unique assets, etc.

          • Jennifer Snow says:

            Pillars 2 is their first 100% voiced game, also.

          • Redrock says:

            I dunno. It’s not like Obsidian is stingy when it comes to writing, quite the opposite. No, I think it’s very much a conscious design choice. Form what I see on forums, a lot of people really invest in the combat and min-maxing aspect of those games. Nothing wrong with that, either. It’s just that this particular type of combat doesn’t really do it for me. Give me true real time or turn-based, but this “real-time with pause that is actually just camouflaged turns” bullshit makes my teeth ache.

            • Jennifer Snow says:

              I play it 100% real-time, never pause.

              There is a HUGE and blindingly complicated scripted tactics menu, but if you’re willing to dick around with it you can basically set your party up to run off auto-tactics. It’s kind of amusing.

              However, this game is MUCH lighter on the text than the previous one.

              • TheJungerLudendorff says:

                Which might actually be an improvement (haven’t played 2 yet), as the first one was known to be quite verbose. The sheer volume of words wore down a lot of people until they just started clicking through them to get on with things.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              I’m not sure how that tracks. If they’re not being stingy with their writing for the conversations that they do have, then that just means that adding more is all the more expensive. They put in all of the writing that they could afford to and filled out the world a bit with combat encounters.

              • Kavonde says:

                Having just finished my first playthrough last night, I’d say that there doesn’t seem to be a lack of writing or text so much as that the text was highly edited and condensed to convey the same information with fewer words. I’m sure all the voice acting also contributed to this choice.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        I have a similar problem, where my Watcher is constantly being assumed to have an outsized desire to get involved in everything, and where the quests often don’t work very hard to make the case that I should be sticking my nose in them. That, and being asked to make decisions that maybe aren’t mine to make.

      • Jeff says:

        I’m just wondering how informed your criticism of Deadfire is. There’s numerous situations where violence is the only solution if you cause events to unfold in a certain way.

        For example, are you aware that the two feuding families in the main town has a peaceful resolution? If you mess with the delicate balance between them by advancing one family’s interest past a certain point, the peaceful resolution becomes impossible.

        • Jennifer Snow says:

          Due to the way the skills system works, it’s highly likely that this depends on specific skill checks, not just picking certain options.

          I’m not at all pleased with the way they did the skills system, because most of the time you get “party assist” so it’s okay for other party members to be the ones to have certain skills. But then you get random “watcher-only” checks. Juggling the skill checks is annoying.

          • BlueHorus says:

            I hate this. Isn’t the point of a party-based game is that different people can do different things and work together? Why the hell are the other people in the party forced to stay silent or just stand there if they have something useful to add?

            Divinity OS:2 had this particularly badly, where key plot conversations would start without warning as you approached an area – and the nearest member of your party was the one roped in.
            The number of times my thick-as-shit tank was forced to argue with a plot NPC while the party leader (who had all the persuasion skill) stood behind him, unable to say anything…

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              At least you can reload in those situations and go in with a different character.

              Some of the skills are nearly useless for the other party members. The only times those skills come up are in conversations, and on those the Watcher’s skills matter in those.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Tides of numenara has the best system so far.When doing a thing,whether its conversation,puzzle,whatever,you pick who to use from your party.But thats not all,because there are three pools you have for each character that you get to upgrade as you level,and those pools can be spent to improve your chances for any skill check,whether its combat or not*,and you refill them on rest.So you dont have to focus on having just one person for conversation,or just one for combat,or whatever,since the pools are shared between encounters.

              It may not be as good as torment in writing(though it has its moments),but it sure is a great improvement for this genre in gameplay.I wish the rest replicated this.

              *Appropriate pools though.One for damage and intimidate,one for magic and smarts,etc.

    • Steve C says:

      You maybe correct in that “moral” can be a confusing word. It is still the correct word in this context.

      • Jennifer Snow says:

        Not really–a “moral” is meant to be *prescriptive*, to serve a didactic purpose instead of an artistic one.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I might be speaking out of turn, but I read MrBtongue’s article here to be using “moral” to mean “prescriptive.” His issue with the Bloody Baron is that it seems to hold the Baron up as a someone who is a flawed protagonist, and he doesn’t like where that prescription leads.

        • Steve C says:

          In the original Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, the moral was to stay with your race. It does not matter if an individual agrees with or disagrees with the moral. Either case it is still the moral of the story. That’s what the word means.

          Of course it matters it a great deal to the audience if they buy into that moral or not. MrBtongue has made a case that he believes he understood the moral presented. He also made a case that he did not agree with that moral and not agreeing it affected his enjoyment of quest. The same as I don’t enjoy Hans Christian Andersen or Orson Scott Card– the morals of their stories fall flat. It still is the moral of the story regardless of my opinion.

          There is both a noun definition of “moral” and an adjective definition and another definition more specific to literary use. (The same way “realistic” has literary meaning.) MrBtongue is using the word “moral” correctly.

          • Jennifer Snow says:

            I didn’t say he wasn’t using the word “moral” correctly. I said there’s another term for the central meaning of the story that doesn’t imply that it is a parable or has some sort of didactic behavioral prescription–and there is.

            Not every story has (or should have) a “moral”, but all stories have a theme (even ones that explicitly try not to).

            • Steve C says:

              You did say he wasn’t using the word correctly when you said “Not really” in response to “It is still the correct word in this context.”
              I agree there are other terms. Your preference to use those is just that– a preference. Stating your displeasure with a valid and correctly used term and advocating your own language preferences is not cool. It is word policing.

          • Iunnrais says:

            Your reading of the Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid is… a bit different than mine. I thought he was leaning pretty hard on the idea that your immortal soul is all that matters, so you should go ahead and suffer lovelessly in this life in order to earn an eternal reward, and it’s all worth it in the end.

            I mean look at it. He hammers in that merpeople live a little more than three times as long as humans, but have no afterlife. And immediately after explaining this, you get the little mermaids “I want” statement: “Why have not we an immortal soul?” asked the little mermaid mournfully; “I would give gladly all the hundreds of years that I have to live, to be a human being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars.”

            And then as the story goes on, you see that she does everything, not for love, but to gain an afterlife. Her temptation near the end is NOT about love, it’s that if she just commits a mortal sin, she can have her 300 years of life on earth back, but she emphatically rejects that idea because she wants an afterlife.

            And what is the ending? She dies, and gets an afterlife. She thought she’d failed to get a soul because the human guy didn’t love her, and yet refusing to commit the mortal sin of murder gains her the soul after all.

            So the moral is, “Love is meaningless, pleasure on earth is meaningless, heck, life itself is meaningless, so just be pious and suffer and you can have paradise later.”

            I’m not a FAN of the moral, but there’s definitely nothing about sticking with your race in there. He’s not a subtle writer.

            • Viktor says:

              …What. The little mermaid was basically a published love letter. It was “I’m gay as hell, I want to be with you, but since you will almost assuredly reject me, know that I would rather die than ever hurt you.” When you look at the rest of HCA’s correspondence from that time frame, the subtext is pretty clearly just text.

    • Jennifer Snow says:

      Another thing that may contribute to the problem of how scenes like these in games may have a confusing meaning may just be how very badly a lot of games are integrated–the writer may have done a nuanced scene thinking that “the player will see multiple possibilities here”, and then the voice actor hams up the pathos, the animator makes it all dramatic, and the music crew adds in a bunch of “feel bad here!” effects and the total scene can void any nuance and leave the player scratching their head.

      Not saying that happened here, but I’ve seen it happen.

  2. Daath says:

    I personally didn’t get the idea that Baron’s acts were even partially excusable. Understandable certainly, but that’s not the same thing. This wasn’t a story in which there was a villain like Eredin, but Baron was the closest one to that it got (unless you count Crones), even if he grew less so as it proceeded. Much of his vileness towards his family grew out of genuine love, though one twisted by possessiveness, fragile honor and alcoholic rage, and that gave him a potential for redemption. There certainly weren’t any guarantees that Anna would recover even partially, or Baron stay off the hooch. But at least there was a chance, which is a lot more than many people get, especially in Witcher’s world.

    I also don’t think that focusing on Anna would have been better. Either she’d have been a saintly victim, which is kinda trite and wouldn’t fit the world, or a morally ambiguous victim of spousal abuse whose flaws were at the forefront of the story. I suspect that plenty would be bothered by that and others like it as much as some Christians liked Piss Christ. Or, the writers could have kept the story about as it is, but inserted a conversation with Anna once Geralt realized who she was. Except that having her still be sane at that point would reduce the horror of Crones and Baron’s sins. Sure, the story arc isn’t perfect, but arguably no story can be, at least when dealing with subjects like this.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The baron was named bloody for a reason.Even though he is charming and likable when you converse with him,he is still not a good man.And not just by modern standards,but even by the standards of the harsh world presented in the game where there arent really that many(any?) actually good people.

    • King Marth says:

      My favourite phrase for these plots in general is “That explains it, but doesn’t excuse it.” There are a lot of people who do terrible things in large part because of the terrible things that happened to them, and it may be unreasonable to put all the blame on the most recent person in the cycle of hatred who didn’t have the strength to break out… but that doesn’t make the things they do any less terrible.

  3. Hector says:

    I’m not sure that a “moral” is really necessary or even that it makes sense, especially in Geralt’s world where good and evil are not quite as simple as most. I defintiely wouldn’t agree that every good story has a moral, althought it’s very common for them to do so.

    I will say that in Witcher 3 there often is a moral in the story – but the world is not guarranteed to be fair in the results. Good people can make good choices and still lose. Bad people can make bad choices and still win. One of the big questions that comes up quite often is “How do you deal with that? Do you get involved, or let things go? Do you try to try to force the world into a better shape or look away?” there’s a moral, but it’s more about how you try to move on, rather than brading some moral point into the setting or environment. And it’s not always obvious what the results will be.

    One issue (which occurs in several ways throughout the game) is that your choices often do matter, but in critical ways you can’t reasonably predict. The game sometimes hides the information you need – it may not be available to the player period, forcing you to guess about things, although it’s sometimes reasonable to guess where human emotions are involved. Or maybe *somebody* will ignore your advice and go off and die unless you do some annoyingly specific action. Maybe that *somebody* will show up next column.

  4. Redrock says:

    Can’t say I ever liked the Baron personally. But I don’t think the game does, either. It’s a tricky thing, really. In real life, most abusers aren’t monsters. Most commanders of looting and raping soldiers aren’t really monsters. No fangs or claws or even rambling diatribes about racial superiority. Maybe that’s enough for a moral? That an affable man with obviously some decency left can still be an abuser and a warlord? That’s good lesson for a lot of people to learn. That you good neighbor Jim, who is all smiles when you greet him in the morning, might not be necessarily all that kind to his wife and child, despite appearances?

    Also, I kinda don’t consider Anna to be the Baron’s primary victim. She is, for the most part, a spoiled cheating wife of a murderous warlord. That doesn’t make any amount of abuse justified, not for a moment. But I still would consider the common folk harassed by the Baron’s soldiers to be the “primary victims”, not her. I do agree that she should have been given a chance to voice her perspective on the while thing.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Agreed. Horrible things often aren’t done by some baby eating obvious edge lord as most fiction likes to show you, but people often REALLY similar to us, who at some point were driven or for some reason found it reasonable/excusable to do what they did.

      And war, war makes that, as it does all both good and the bad, just a whole lot EXTREME. It will turn your neighbor Jim who wouldn’t harm an ant into someone willing to go along with torching villages. Because “that’s how things are”….

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        And war, war makes that, as it does all both good and the bad, just a whole lot EXTREME. It will turn your neighbor Jim who wouldn’t harm an ant into someone willing to go along with torching villages. Because “that’s how things are”….

        You mean,just how in olden days war turned men into monsters,so does it happen today?Like nothing has changed about war,nothing ever changes the war.

        Im sorry,Im week.I cant resist that quote.

      • Tizzy says:

        Also, your neighbor will take arms against you because he expects you to take arms against him. It’s nothing personal, he doesn’t actively wish you harm, but when the chips are down he wants to protect his family first and foremost, and so he’d rather strike first before even knowing if you’re a threat or not.

        Also, most abusers have charm and redeeming qualities, because it’s very hard to convince someone to stay out of fear alone (and obviously you’re not an observable abuser if no one will stick around, you’re just a would-be prick).

        So yeah. I read Witcher 3 as pulling those off: showing characters with some sympathetic traits but that I could still dislike and whose actions I could regret. I never forgave the baron. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  5. Nessus says:

    I haven’t played the game myself (yet), but based on what’s described here, I don’t think I would have “forgiven” the baron or returned his wife and child to him either.

    The thing of it is, this sort of behavioral flip-flopping is a really common thing in IRL abusers. Dude gets mad, beats up his wife/girlfriend/child, then immediately flips and acts super contrite. These people are so damaged that it’s actually sometimes coin-toss plausible that they are sincerely sorry in those moments, but that doesn’t mean they’ve learned, or that this won’t happen again tomorrow or next week or whatever. Either it’s an act to manipulate their victim, or it’s honest and they’re just so unstable that they can’t help betraying themselves as much as their victim. The fact that he hangs himself if you don’t return his wife and child to him isn’t an indicator that he’s in any way reformed either, since possessiveness-motivated abuse can be a symptom of histrionic dependency.

    Either way, and personal judgments aside, it’s morally impractical to trust them under such circumstances. The only way they can prove their trustworthiness is by stopping the abuse, and the only way to test that is by knowingly placing their victims back into the lion’s jaws. There’s no safe way to give them a chance, so you have to go with the lesser risk.

    It’s not a question of forgiveness. His victims are not devices for him to redeem himself with: they’re people. People you are every bit as morally responsible to, and who, unlike the abuser, cannot be said to have earned the consequences irrespective of your responsibility. It’s irresponsible, a betrayal, and a moral net loss to sacrifice them on the alter of his (only potential) redemption.

    And at the end of the day, I don’t believe that understanding or sympathizing with the human reasons for an evil behavior invalidates the concept of evil. It just makes you acknowledge that “evil” isn’t something external to “human”. Even if someone is doing shitty things for understandable reasons, they’re still doing shitty things, and that’s an equally real problem whether you objectify them for it or not. Evil is as evil does, and nothing more.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      To be fair,the situation is far more complicated than just an abuser and his wife.The wife has also endured something far worse from the crones,and you dont have that many options to help her after that.

      You dont give the child back to the baron,you give him a monster to bury,if you wish him to try and redeem himself at least for that one instance.His other kid is a grown woman and she makes her own choices,though you can try and mediate between the two to get them on speaking terms again.That doesnt make her immediately forgive him however,you just give them a small start.

      So yeah,not an ideal resolution.But then,nothing is resolved ideally(or permanently) in this game.Except maybe the ending where ciri becomes a witcher.

    • djw says:

      The crones are really bad. So if you leave her with them you are not necessarily doing her a favor.

      I pretty much agree that the Baron’s actions are inexcusable, but *Anna* who involved the Crones. Not sure who wins in terms of body-count between the Crones and the Baron’s soldiers, but the Crones are absolutely not “good guys”, and they do not give a rats ass about Anna’s welfare one way or the other.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    was “pledge service to supernatural beings” really the best abortion option available to her?

    Well,she did not only want to lose the baby,she also wanted the baron to not know about it.So yes,going to the hags was her best option.

    • Redrock says:

      Eh, I mean, Keira Metz lives not too far from there. In Witcher lore, most witches and healers would be able to terminate a pregnancy. Ancient Lovecraftian child-eating evil really isn’t the only choice.

    • StuHacking says:

      I think what Anna was hoping from the deal was that the crones would use their benevolent magic to make the baby disappear in the early stages of pregnancy, and in exchange Anna would pledge her service. (Remember that the crones were depicted on the tapestry as three fair maidens with a path of treats leading to their home. It make sense that to a lot of people, especially non-locals, this would be their reputation. Only some folk (The ealdorman of Downwarren) seem to be aware of the more gruesome requirements expected in exchange for help.)

      The ladies of the wood agreed to the deal: Anna would not have the Baron’s child, and a mark on her hand would let her know when it was time for payment.

      However, insidiously the crones took advantage of the vague nature of the request and manifested the bargain as Anna having to endure the pain of a miscarriage some amount of time later into the pregnancy, and then being violently hunted and brought back to the crones via a fiend.

    • Vinsomer says:

      Yeah, you’re right, most normal mages would be traceable and the Baron could find out what happened.

      And, due to the Witch hunts, most conventional mages would either be in hiding, imprisoned, or fleeing to safer regions.

      Though Anna does go to the Pellar for help anyway. It would have made more sense if the Pellar helped her from the start. In any case it’s just a small narrative convenience that most players probably won’t realise. I didn’t, and this is the first time I’ve heard it mentioned.

  7. Xander77 says:

    For some people, the whole “abortion is a literal deal with the devil, and botchlings come back from the grave to seek their mother’s love” was the bit that made them give up on the game entirely.

    http://www.dragon-quill.net/the-witcher-2-and-3/

    • Redingold says:

      I mean, the botchling is a genuine bit of Polish folklore so I think blaming the writers for the unfortunate implication is a bit of a misjudgement.

      • Redrock says:

        Also, they aren’t really about abortions. More about stillborn children, miscarriages, that sort of thing, since they were so much more common in those days. Such a weird thing for people to get upset about, really.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Pfffft.

      People always push their own agendas onto something they see. That’s just how it works. You can’t blame the writers of TW3 for all the nonsense people spout about their game.

      The linked comments remind me of an article I read about Joss Whedon’s Firefly: remember the episode where an assassin sneaks onto the ship and threatens to rape Kaylee, in order to keep her quiet about his presence?
      According to the article’s writer, this was an example of a rich white guy living out his rape fantasies using a black person as a proxy. Because something something Patriarchy.

      It’s a mixture of ‘sometimes people talk shit’ and ‘outrage gets more clicks’ – at least to me.

    • Vinsomer says:

      But, if anything, the Botchling haunts the Baron. It’s his guilt that the story emphasises.

  8. Zekiel says:

    It really does seem like this is The Quest when it comes to the Witcher 3 – if you find an article about a quest in the game, odds are high that its this quest that it’s talking about! Which is sort of a shame, since there are lots of other interesting quests in the game too.

    I have mixed feelings about this quest. I thought the Baron was a genuinely fantastic character and the story felt realistic and geuninely tragic and moving. And also had some fantastic folklore stuff. I like that you get to choose whether you offer sympathy to the Baron or not, and i like that his daughter doesn’t act like a victim.

    On the other hand… I do feel like the quest kind of encourages you to sympathise with him (though it doesn’t force you to), and it doesn’t really provide you with his wife’s side of the story in a meaningful way. And that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

    At the end of the day, I’m not criticising its inclusion or anything, I’m just not quite sure how to feel about it.

    • BlueHorus says:

      …I’m just not quite sure how to feel about it.

      And I am now officially sold on Witcher 3. I love a game that does this to people.
      From mages in Dragon Age, to the Genophage in Mass Effect,* to Animancy in Pillars of Eternity and onwards, a story that doesn’t have all the answers (and can admit it) sticks with me so much better.

      *RIP Old Bioware

      • Redrock says:

        While I love Bioware, I think neither the mages situation or the Genophage are all that morally ambiguous. The mages thing seems pretty easy – yeah, they need to be kept under watch, but the Templars don’t have to be dicks about it. And the Genophage always seemed to me like a pretty mellow response to an attempt to take over the galaxy and slaughter everyone in the Krogan’s path. Especially considering the alternative was probably, you know, actual genocide. Sure, the survival rate could have been a bit less harsh, but I think the subsequent years proved that krogan were their own worst enemies. A sentiment, I think, shared by Wrex and Drack, at the very least. The Geth-Quarian conflict is also pretty clear-cut. No, as much as I like Bioware, I think they never really got away from their beloved binary moral systems. You need Obsidian for that.

        • BlueHorus says:

          The mages thing seems pretty easy – yeah, they need to be kept under watch, but the Templars don’t have to be dicks about it.

          Sounds great. And how close should the Templars get to their charges? Remember, even the nicest, well meaning mage you know – lovely person, they’d never willingly harm anyone – could still get possessed, or have a bad day, or make a mistake, and do horrific damage to themselves and others.
          You might even be able to talk them down and save them, unless you can’t, at which point you’ll be forced to kill them.
          Or maybe they’ve been lying to you…

          Meanwhile, for the mages, try to just forget that if you a) fail the tests you are set as you grow up or b) try to run away, you’ll be killed, or ‘made tranquil’? They literally have your blood on ice so that they can track you down if you try to escape the (possibly quite nice, but not necessarily) prison you’re forced to live in.
          Then add the pressure that the Templars have a point; as a mage you are in very real danger of dying, hurting others without meaning to, getting possessed or even – gaining a great deal of power. Think what you could do if you managed to escape their control…

          ‘Watch the mages but don’t be a dick about it’ is a very easy thing to say. Less easy to do.

          …all that said, maybe Bioware didn’t do the situation justice (DA2 made a godawful hash of it) – whether out of the limits of programming/writing a story that the game can meaningfully adapt to or some other reason, who knows.

          • Redrock says:

            You’re absolutely right. The point I was making is that there isn’t much ambiguity in this situation. Yes, it’s unpleasant for everyone and yes, the world of Dragon Age is just generally awful. But it’s quite obvious that the system they have in place is pretty much the only option there is and the only thing to do is to fight the obvious abusers, like the caricature evil Templars in DA 2 and 3. Not much to keep thinking about at night, or even just agonize over when given and in-game choice.

            • BlueHorus says:

              Well, YMMV, but there was a situation in the first game (the Mage origin story, and still back in Old Bioware) that communicated the complexity pretty well.
              I’ve never lost sleep about it, but I appreciated at the time that both sides had good points and it wasn’t clear-cut at all.

            • Viktor says:

              “Life in prison, starting at birth, and we’ll kill you if you step out of line.” If every Templar was a saint that would still be an unacceptable situation. And the Templars, as you would expect from people who volunteer to be slavers and prison guards, are not saints.

              • BlueHorus says:

                It’s also not even the only solution to the problem – in the game series itself.

                Every culture has their own take on the problem of mages, and while the ‘Templar’ solution is better than the culture that collar their mages and treat them like dogs or the empire where mages rule and treat other humans like slaves, there are other solutions.

  9. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    A while back, I took part in an interesting exchange about the morality of Witcher 3, but it quickly collapsed into semantic chaos. People were trying to define words, but then would be taken to task for not properly defining the words that they used to define their original words and it just echoed outward until it was more of a debate about language than about anything happening in the game.

    All I can say is that I can appreciate the complex web of morality in this game and with the Bloody Baron story in particular. I like that when you talk to Strenger about being an abuser, you can take a sympathetic tone, or you can chide him for it. If you talk to his daughter, you can speak well of her father or not – and it’s clear that she certainly doesn’t like him. I like that each branch of the story leads to some sort of moral quagmire that we can only attempt to navigate as a player. What’s interesting about these choices (and sometimes frustrating) is that there’s more going on than the moral component: You can make what seem like the best choices morally and have everything go wrong, or you can make morally questionable choices that seem to ultimately turn out for the best. Saving a group of innocent children from being devoured by witches seems like a no-brainer morally, but then a village gets razed as a result. Who knew? And, somehow, this web all ties back together to some sort of conclusion. With the various permutations, it’s amazing what this game was able to do with its story.

    But this story does happen in a dark place and it doesn’t really allow for a “sunshine and rainbows” outcome very often and I can see how people might get hung up on that particular notion. Strenger still ends up gone, various people can end up dead, and Velen itself is no better off despite Geralt’s interference. But he gets the information he needs. I can appreciate that realism, especially when so many RPGs have the character player go into a town and fix things so thoroughly that the player is essentially carried out of town at the head of a parade in his/her honor. Which probably wouldn’t feel so silly if it wasn’t possible in every town. But that just doesn’t happen on The Continent.

    For what it’s worth, I never felt all that sympathetic toward Phillip Strenger, even as he essentially victim-blamed his abused wife. He hanged himself in my first playthrough and I was like “meh.” He survived in my second playthrough and I was like “meh.” He doesn’t get the happy ending that he wants no matter what and I generally find that I can’t muster the energy to care. But I do enjoy this vignette into how narratively complicated Witcher 3 can be.

  10. Opagla says:

    One thing that really bothers me about the Baron’s quest was the conclusion of Gretka’s story arch.

    Gretka is the girl that Ciri encountered and helped to escape the swampy forest, after she was left by her parents to follow the Crow’s candy trail, because they (suposedly) couldn’t feed her. Ciri watches over her until they meet Phillip Strenger, when he, upon learning the little girls story, decides he will take care of her on the condition she helps him on the kitchen.

    But as the Baron quest ends, with him either dead or away for the Blue Mountains, Gretka gets completely forgotten by the writers and the world itself. She stays in the kitchen forever, with no new dialogue or any kind of interaction available. She is completelly alone in Crow’s Perch, surrounded by deplorable men, known for being sexually abusive towards children, and there is nothing you can do since she fulfilled her role as disposable female character that only works for giving a troubled man some redeemable trait.

    • Henson says:

      I think you’re being rather unfair toward Gretka’s raison d’etre in the story. If anything, I think it’s more accurate to say she exists primarily to characterize Ciri, not the Bloody Baron. If Gretka didn’t exist, we’d still see Strenger’s compassion toward Ciri in feeding her and welcoming her, whereas Ciri would have no one to comfort and protect during her appearance in that gully.

    • Redrock says:

      Gretka gets completely forgotten by the writers and the world itself.

      To be fair, this seems to be a running theme when it comes to children in the world of the game. In my opinion, that’s intentional on the developer’s part. It’s a harsh world for children, and finding them a place with a meal and a roof under their little heads seems pretty much the best outcome one could hope for.

  11. Darren says:

    I’ve consistently had problems with how CD Projekt handle delicate issues–the LGBT representation in The Witcher 2, for instance, is pretty bad–and you’ve hit upon my issues with this plot. I like that the game allows you to be clear that you think the Baron is a piece of shit, but even then it feels like you’re constantly telling the game, “No, I don’t want this to be a redemptive tale of a wife-beater learning the error of his ways. Quit asking.”

    I’m also not super pleased with its relationship to the central story. Geralt is looking for Ciri, and it doesn’t make much sense to be looking for her out in the boonies when it’s established that she has friends in the region’s major city. It makes sense from a gameplay perspective to start in the wilderness and then move into the city, but the logic doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. I think the story would’ve made more sense if Geralt went out specifically to meet with Keira and then got entangled with the Baron rather than the other way round.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      It makes sense because there were recent sightings of her there, so Geralt is there to figure out what happened to her there. Nobody probably really thinks she is still there, but he would like to know what’s been happening to her recently…

    • Zekiel says:

      One of my biggest problems with the game is that at the end of prologue, the Emperor (or is it Yen?) tells you to investigate possible appearances of Ciri in Velen, Novigrad and Skellige. And you dutifully spend the next 30-60 hours doing that, and each time you discover “yes, she was here, but she’s not any more”. Crumbs. Dozens of hours of the main plot not moving anywhere!

    • slipshod says:

      “I think the story would’ve made more sense if Geralt went out specifically to meet with Keira and then got entangled with the Baron rather than the other way round.”

      ^

      The first time I played the game, that’s literally what happened to me. I found Keira first and then, because she sent me on a quest for the Crones, I got entangled with the Baron.

  12. Vinsomer says:

    What I dislike about this quest is that, because we see so much of the Baron’s viewpoint, he gets humanised. Whereas his victims are denied that opportunity until it’s too late and the Baron’s narrative is firmly established. I’m not going to say that players who like the baron or who choose one choice over another are wrong, but I’ve seen more than a few people drawn into outright victim blaming (you can see it on the wiki page for this very quest) and, in that sense I do think there is something deeply wrong with the way the devs created this narrative.

    Even so, I do like that the Baron is gregarious and warm. It shows that abusers aren’t obvious, that seemingly normal or kind people can in fact be cruel monsters underneath.

    I think a solution would have been to involve Tamara more, and earlier. Not only could she offer a better perspective on the events that transpired, but she also mirrors Ciri – a controlling father searching for her, a young girl forced to grow up before her time in order to survive in a brutal world and in need of guidance. It’s a shame that she finds it with the arguably worse Witch hunters but the game doesn’t follow that up enough. She’s also looking for her mother so it’s not as though it would have required the story to bend over backwards to make this work.

    • Dork Angel says:

      The Bloody Baron’s story as a tragedy all round (in my play-through he hung himself). I would say most stories are told from the victims side though and it was interesting to see it from his side as you gradually find out the truth. I suspect the “victim blamers” you refer too are not caused by how the story was told but are just the sort of people that will do that. No doubt they’ll be popping up on other pages and news stories making similar comments.

      Witcher 3 is full of tragic stories. One of the saddest stories that stuck in my head was the Devil in the Well. Couldn’t bring myself to keep or sell the head when I had dealt with the moon wraith, so I left it down the well near her corpse in memory of her.

  13. Jamey says:

    I also very much love when games do this sort of “interpretive” quest dance. I mean, success in this case == people talking about it, right?

    Also:

    …where her life has gone she left

    I think you may be missing a “since” in there?

  14. slipshod says:

    I will forever admire CDPR for committing to complicated misery and non-resolution in this quest.

    If you prod the Baron enough and suss out all the evidence, you start seeing the following picture: the Baron and Anna’s marriage starts with mad, all-consuming love. The first major dent is the war, during which the Baron turns to alcohol and easy women to deal with the trauma of killing, robbing, and otherwise violating people. The second dent is Anna’s infidelity. Who betrayed whom first ceases to matter at this point, because all that remains between them is hatred and resentment. They both hang on for Tamara for a while, which does not matter anyway, because kids are quick to take on their parents’ burdens (hence Tamara’s hatred). Then, they look for a restart button: the Baron wants another kid; Anna wants to leave and turns to witchcraft. All the while, the process is further tainted by abuse, taunting, regret, alcohol.

    Ultimately, none of it works. This quest does not have a happy ending or even a peaceful resolution. Why? Because all of the characters are doomed from the start. The only path to peace at this point is unconditional forgiveness, which is something none of them are willing to explore as an option, just as people in the real world often are.

    Which is why I loved CDPR for not PC’ing their ideas. As someone who was born and raised in eastern europe, I can clearly see where they got their inspiration. However, I do believe that the story told is universally applicable. Life is one huge grey area; the more participants you throw into the game, the less clarity there is in who is truly “good” and who is “bad.”

  15. Carlos García says:

    I took that quest as a warning on what happens in homes with an abusive spouse. How so many abused women still love their abusive husbands and are quick to accept their apology and defend them. When the average people would want to dismiss that problem and say “no, if it happened to me how would I be so forgiving? No way” or thinking “they must be deranged” and dismiss them in one way or another from not understanding an abused wife can still love her husband, they make him to have as much chance to feel sympathetic to you so as to say “See? SEE? It could happen to you! The notion an abused woman may love her husband is not an absurd stupidity! The next time you know of a woman who is abused and defends his husband, do not let that push you to inaction”. That was my take on this quest.

  16. Guest says:

    Personally, I like the quest. It is a shame we don’t get more of Anna’s perspective, and also, that she’s rendered essentially a winstate and an object by the ending of the quest. That’s genuinely shitty, and the fact that her character suffers for the Baron’s character exploration is uncomfortable.

    But the Baron I like. I like that he’s an affable man, that he’s likeable. He’s also a monster, who’s charisma and ambition and greed surrounded him with the scum who plague the area. It’s those traits that got him where he is. As much as you might be able to relate to him, to bro out with him, it turns out your bro beats his wife who is trapped in a loveless and abusive relationship with him, and his daughter has a fraught relationship with him because of it. You learn that he’s desperately trying to reframe everything to avoid being the bad guy, because he can’t see himself like that. His wife leaves him, ’cause he’s awful, it’s someone else’s fault, and he resolves that by being exactly the sort of guy she left. He can’t accept that she’s fled him, so he needs to mislead Geralt to suggest that he needs to rescue her.

    I think this really does demonstrate well the dichotomy of abusive people, particularly this sort of violence, it reminds me of your video on TW2 and Roche and Iorveth. Like how they are potentially likeable, understandable people, who in having understandable goals, do some awful things, which contributes to an uncomfort and realism you don’t always get, the Baron makes you complicit in his abuse and by liking him, you are tacitly accepting his treatment of those around him. It tells you why people follow him, why he can get away with it. I do think they could have done better, neither ending really resolves it, it’s framed poorly, like him taking care of Anna is redemption, and the abuses of his men could have been a better continuing thread, to maximise the uncomfort, but I like the sketch of the man, that he’s likeable, he’s sympathetic, that you might want to feel bad for him. You shouldn’t, but you want to.

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