A Witcher 3 Diary, Day 2: Hanging’s Too Bad

YOUR MUM

Continuing a (mostly) in-character diary of my adventures in The Witcher 3. Probably contains spoilers. N.B. critical opinion & technical complaints are happening elsewhere on the site.

I got a man hanged today.

It wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t even what I expected. I was trying to help, but maybe that’s not how things work around here.

I’m a seasoned adventurer. I know how this goes. Civilians, or ‘peasants’ as this land so unkindly labels its non-military, non-monstrous populace, are completely incapable of resolving their own problems, and instead rely on the faint possibility that a musclebound man will ride into town and do it all for them. He’s gruff but kindly, he finds a fair solution, everyone sees the error of their ways and then festoons him with cash and trinkets which they really should have put towards getting whatever the issue was sorted out sooner.

I got a man hanged.

I’d parted ways with my associate/instructor as soon as I could, although despite taking a circuitous route around the countryside, including a failed attempt to break into a windmill (I have a spell specifically dedicated to knocking down wooden obstacles, but it is useless in the face of a cheap door lock), I somehow wound up back in the same village as him anyway. Fortunately, there were quests here.

One of these was pretty much all you’d ask for from a quest. A ghost was putting the frighteners on a local family, and the spook was too damned violent for them to do anything about it themselves. I duly trotted out to where it was, but stabbing seven shades of hell out of it didn’t get me too far. The trouble was it – she, in fact – was bound to this world, and I needed to find out why. I’ll spare you all the details, but it involved a grisly treasure hunt revealing this poor woman’s fate, and then a big old scrap which necessitated the use of particular spells. I returned to the village bursting with pride. I was a hero: I’d saved the family, I’d liberated a sad spirit from a wretched post-life, and I’d had a cool fight to boot.

Then I got a man hanged.

This land is not a happy one. Humans and dwarves and elves exist in a state of suppressed enmity, which too often becomes very much unsuppressed. My next quest revolves around one such instance; the local armourer, a dwarf, has had his forge burned down by an unknown arsonist, apparently due to the humans feeling he profits from selling kit to the oppressive imperial army. The dwarf tells me that he only gives provisions to the army under extreme duress, and isn’t paid for it. No-one believes him, because their latent prejudices are coming to the fore despite his long years in this community.

He’s put up with much, but the loss of his business is the final straw. He’d like me to track down the arsonist for him, because I’m the Goddamn Batman a Witcher, my weird animal senses making it easy for me to find and follow the culprit’s trail.

Using WitchervisionTM I trace the burning man’s footsteps through town – which at one point involves a scrap with angry mermen because why not? – and find him cowering in a nearby house. When challenged, he shouts some racist nonsense and is about as a remorseful as a cat which broke into a hamster cage.

Even so, he’s not keen to face the armourer, and tries to buy me off instead. No, I’m not having that. If I want short term wealth, I’ll burgle you instead. Uh, already have, in fact. That’s kind of my thing. Look, I know how this works – I take you to see the guy you wronged, play King Solomon, everyone comes to an agreement, I’m a hero and someone gives me a sword to say thank you.

I got a man hanged.

I just stood there while the dwarf refused to show even the slightest mercy in the face of the arsonist’s protests that he was drunk and didn’t mean anything by it. I just stood there as the armourer called the militia over. I just stood there as they dragged the arsonist off to the gallows, as punishment for his disruption of their supply lines.

I got a man hanged.

I didn’t say ‘stop.’ I couldn’t say ‘stop.’ I didn’t like that I couldn’t say ‘stop.’ A man hanged because of me.

Then I said something glib about ‘harsh punishment’ and did some trading with the dwarf. This means I’ve got a fruity new shirt now:

63 Comments

  1. ribby says:

    totally worth it

  2. Kreeth says:

    Yay!

    • Kreeth says:

      Given that most RPGs are generally an orgy of theft, murder and grave-robbing, is watching while someone is taken away for execution that out of the ordinary? I wasn’t particularly happy with that outcome myself, but at least it was a bit different, and somehow more true-to-pretend-life. The common alternative would be “peasant gets angry at accuser and attacks, gets slaughtered by, professional murderer/thief/chosen one”.

      • Tacroy says:

        The thing is, the punishment for an arsonist who burned a house down would have probably been on the order of a hanging, invading army or no. Fire is incredibly serious business when you’re talking about an area where everything is made out of wood, thatch and tar.

        I mean really, best case this guy would have been kicked out of town and left to fend for himself, which given how useless he is would have just been a slower and more painful death sentence.

  3. Wowbagger says:

    I do find it odd that you don’t get an option to intervene when they take him off to be hanged. Is this an RPG or isn’t it?

    • Skeletor68 says:

      A third option where you threaten the guards, get in a fight and kill them and create an even bigger mess for this village sounds appropriate!

    • Zenicetus says:

      It wouldn’t fit the context. The starting zone for the game is occupied territory, controlled by an invading army. They’re standing in for a local police force, but they also have logistical priorities like having a handy blacksmith in the town they’re occupying. The culprit was dumb enough to mess with that asset, and is paying the price. It was totally in context, for the situation described in the notes about the occupation on the bulletin board in that town.

      Geralt doesn’t usually get involved in politics or direct confrontation with authority. He’ll comment (“harsh punishment”) and I’ve seen other places where he’ll make disapproving comments about how the occupiers are handling things. But he’s not going to take on an entire army. And he needs that blacksmith too, for his monster-hunting gig.

      So, yeah… it’s an RPG up to a point. But you’re still constrained by how the Geralt personality responds to local authority (as defined in the books and previous games), even if he doesn’t like them very much.

    • Nevard says:

      Since when has “RPG” meant that you write the story yourself anyway? That seems like a fairly bizarre way to word your question to be honest. RPGs often have some of the most rigid, linear storylines in gaming.

      • fish99 says:

        If you go back to pen and paper roll playing, that’s obviously a somewhat free form experience where the DM would have prepared content (characters, story, dungeons etc) but the players could take the experience wherever they wanted (within reason).

        • Nevard says:

          Ok, but… why would I do that? We’re talking about RPG video games.
          If this was a pen and paper roleplay, yeah he totally could have stopped the guard. He also almost certainly wouldn’t be Geralt, and there’d probably be a couple of other clowns trying to pick the blacksmith’s pockets while he had the guards distracted.

          • ffordesoon says:

            While I agree that PnP RPGs and cRPGs are different forms with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, it is worth pointing out that many players don’t feel that way at all. From their perspective, the relative “RPGness” of a game is measured according to how closely it replicates the tabletop experience.

            I think that’s a reductive and silly way to look at it, not least because PnP RPGs have DMs who tailor the experience to one specific group of players on the fly. Seems smarter to take advantage of the medium’s unique properties. But many people disagree.

    • Assirra says:

      It is a RPG but you are still Geralt of Rivia.
      You are no magical hero from lala land.
      You can not hand him in and then he doesn’t get hanged, that is where you make the choice.
      This series goes against the good for all nonsense other rpg’s try to throw at you with “perfect playthroughs” and other nonsense.

  4. Shiloh says:

    “I got a man hanged”

    Chin up Alec, you look bloody marvellous in that new shirt.

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      Harlander says:

      I dunno. I’d say that if Alec’s feeling guilt about not stopping that hanging, having to wear that shirt is punishment enough and then some.

  5. Sui42 says:

    I disagree that there should be a ‘STOP’ option.

    I did the same quest the exact same way, but I was very pleased with the result – precisely BECAUSE I was not in total control of the outcome.

    Game stories become boring when you give the player exactly what they want – just like films become very boring when you give the audience what they want. There has to be an element of surprise – of unforeseen consequences. Otherwise, what the hell is the point in a story in the first place?

    Also, don’t forget that this is not elder scrolls. You are not playing a complete blank-slate of a character. You are playing as Geralt, and you have *some* leeway in changing the way he acts moment to moment – but you cannot change the core of his character. The way I we both played this quest, we picked the ‘professional’ Geralt options. He accepted a quest, he completed it by the book, he got payed, end of story. As Skeletor68 mentioned, what’s Geralt gonna do? Fight all the soldiers? Make an enemy of the guards? No, this would be reckless and out of character. It would be bad writing.

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      Harlander says:

      It’d be great if you could yell “stop!” and the soldiers just give you a brief, surprised look before carrying on with the hanging, though

    • Wowbagger says:

      Or of course he could just mind fuck the leader of the guards. :)

      I don’t accept your premise entirely, I do see your point in that Geralt is an agent with his own agenda, but I think the outcome is a little too set in stone. He could of stopped the dwarf from calling over the militia in the first place for instance.

      • Sui42 says:

        true – but then you’re basically allowing the player to be really nitpicky with minor actions so that they can micromanage their own story and get the ending they want. This might give the player a warm fuzzy feeling inside, but it amounts to a pretty boring story.

        That’s generally how most game stories work. You’re not choosing your characters actions so much as picking an ending. You select ‘do the right thing’, and lo and behold, the right thing happens. I think the Witcher 3 is actively trying to counter this lazy form of storytelling by throwing in some actual suprises.

        Despite Alec’s complaining about not being able to stop a man getting hanged, the incident actually gave him the crux of this article. This whole piece is about the surprise of accidentally getting a man hanged. Guess what? That’s because it’s an interesting story! If Alec had got his wishes, he would have had a boring piece.

        • Nevard says:

          I interpreted “I didn’t like that I couldn’t say stop.” as “Suddenly realising the consequences of my actions made me sad.” not as a criticism of the developer, but I could be wrong.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Yeah, same.

          • colossalstrikepackage says:

            After reading this thread, it doesn’t matter so much what Alex thought. I’ve picked up a different perspective on the game and can appreciate what the devs might be trying to do. This is why I come to RPS.

        • egg-zoo-bear-ant will e 91 says:

          I think you’re also not considering some other elements in why it is this way… That is resources, time, money and also something more unquantifiable. The cohesive braininess of the writers. If you look at twelve minutes you begin to see what I mean. There is a game where the intent is you can do everything you imagine you should be able to do and the world reacts causally, but one play through will last about five minutes, and that’s restricted to one 2D room, and unvoiced dialogue. Its then about replaying every eventuality, and the character comes with you there with that experience, as in Groundhog Day. In order to have an authored experience, that is, one where you feel what the game’s designer’s intended you to feel, with those caveats… Its a big ask. Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture seems like it’ll take this idea to an open world, with little time bubbles around key animated, unfolding events from the moments the place was deserted. As I understand it you you wander into these bubbles and intervene with some of that trial & error until you solve the problem. I agree with your sentiment that it is not always better to try to simulate all this. Its nice when the character you have to play is not a blank slate. Then if you like to method act the hell out of it, the lack of freedoms you might expect is something you have to wrangle with and accept, but can be easier than projecting the vaguer parts of yourself. And the dramatic challenge of fighting their well simulated battes, that present some semblance of the action and cerebral challenge they face is the immersive thing. The thing that can be almost an act of tribute to the story told, even as other things run strict as an adventure game, you must accept these as still the choices that made ‘you’. We’re pretty good at this by now, on the whole.

    • Anti-Skub says:

      Not having total control of the outcome because it’s beyond your control is awesome…not having total control of the outcome because the game just doesn’t give you the option to say “Hey, wait a minute” not so much.

      • Zenicetus says:

        That’s the difference between an “open” RPG where your character is a blank slate, and an RPG like this one where you’re supposed to inhabit an existing, defined personality.

        You get to drive Geralt around, but you don’t get to change how he’s always handled things, as defined in the books and previous games. He seldom confronts authority directly, but if there is a way to solve things without that, he’ll find it. In this case, there just weren’t any options for a better result. It also establishes the impact of the occupation on the locals, to help set the overall scene.

        There is another side quest in that area, directly related to the occupation and war. In that case, Geralt has an option of choosing whether a man lives or dies. And he can do that because there are no soldiers from either side standing around, watching what he does.

      • Cinek says:

        You’re role-playing a Witcher. Not a Jedi, or yourself for that matter. Witchers don’t intervene in every event around them and got slightly different view on morale than you or me does.

        • kament says:

          Except Geralt’s very much like a Jedi, actually. In the book series he even risks his finding Ciri just to save some criminal scum from very well deserved gallows.

          He does interfere more often than he doesn’t (for all the good it does him; usually it ends with him getting a sinister moniker). All his talk about neutrality is just that – talk, and as far as I remember he made the whole thing up anyway.

  6. VCepesh says:

    “I got a man hanged and all I’ve got is this lousy shirt.”

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      phuzz says:

      “I got a man hanged and all I’ve got is this lousy stylin’ shirt.”

      FTFY

  7. Nevard says:

    To be fair, given that the road to town is festooned with the recently hanged I don’t think it’s meant to be a mystery what happens to criminals in these parts, and it’s not like you were returning the criminal to his victim so that they could have tea together.

  8. Brosecutor says:

    I caught a man in Rivia, just to watch him hang.

  9. IOM says:

    If you get so hung up (har har) about getting some peasant hanged, then the rest of the game is gonna destroy you.

  10. montorsi says:

    I meant to continue my tedious playthrough yesterday but decided that if I found myself having to swim for another quest I’d probably have to find myself a new mouse. Perhaps today is the day I continue my slog through this shitshow.

  11. OmNomNom says:

    Was he well hung?

  12. ffordesoon says:

    I saw Jim Sterling play through this quest, and the ending was a pleasant (or pleasantly unpleasant) surprise. It feels like a pretty standard quest while you’re in it, and then you hit the ending twist, which isn’t even a twist, really. The shock comes from the fictional world working as it’s supposed to rather than according to the player’s desires. The game gives you all the clues you need to understand that hanging might be the outcome of lawbreaking before you recieve the quest, and indeed, hanging is the outcome. But because the player is used to the way other RPGs handle these sorts of quests, the natural consequence of your actions is startling.

    And yet, when you think back on the sequence of events, there’s really no way it could have played out differently. Oh, sure, you arguably should be able to intervene, but that’s wishful thinking. You delivered the guy into the hands of the guards knowing they’re reputed to be merciless bastards and having seen the tree of hanged men and women outside the town. What would killing the guards accomplish? It might buy the man some time, but you could easily get him killed even more quickly. At best*, you’d have to kill or beat the crap out of a bunch of hapless conscripts for the sake of soothing your guilty conscience, at which point you’d piss off the guards and everyone else in town. And for what? To save the life of a guy who endangered a bunch of soldiers’ lives, turned the local nonhuman blacksmith into more of a pariah than he already was, and acted completely unrepentant until his own life was threatened?

    The developers put this quest right at the beginning as a statement of intent, and it works beautifully. They scatter clues to the outcome of the quest all over the town as you explore – clues you probably don’t pay attention to if you’re Johnny PlaysmanyRPGs, because they usually don’t matter in the face of your Jedi Mind Tricks Charm skill or ability to select the right line of dialogue. When you take the quest, they borrow the structure of a simple Bioware-style “a peasant has been wronged!” sidequest, give you a choice that would in any other RPG be a binary good/evil choice, and show you through the outcome how their RPG is different. Result: you start paying attention to what’s going on around you, because it might be important.

    * – Yes, yes, I know you have a charm spell in your repertoire, but that’s only going to delay the inevitable. Not to mention that Geralt wouldn’t intervene, because he’s aware of the sort of “justice” that takes place in this world, even if the player isn’t.

    • kament says:

      Like I said, an option to intervene would be very much in line with how Gwynnbleid usually operates. It’s what he does – meddling in affairs of others and damn the consequences. In other words, they could very well give the player an option to interfere, clues or no clues. Given the scope of tne game it’s not an issue, but still.

    • Nevard says:

      You have to think: “At this point, why would Geralt stop the guards?”
      He had no illusions about what he was doing, the decision about whether you wanted the man to be hanged or not was the one you made when you decided whether or not you turned him in to face justice. The decision was already made.
      If they’d have changed anything I’d say maybe a line from the man saying that he did not want to be hanged before you start dragging him through town, but I don’t think even that’s necessary.

  13. colossalstrikepackage says:

    Loving this diary series – the most entertaining and informative form of gaming journalism.

    Getting a man hanged is a case in point.

    Not only do I learn about the game’s harsh unintended consequences, I also learnt about its desire to make the player live with these. I remember the Witcher 2 mocking me for trying to play both sides and forcing me to choose.

    I’m not sure I would have enjoyed not being able to stop a hanging either. But I’m loving this diary series. More please!

    P.S. How satisfying was the ghost quest? I know you don’t want to spoil anything, but was it well executed?

    • Zenicetus says:

      Do you mean the Devil by the Well? You know you’re asking for spoilers here, but I’ll offer an opinion anyway while trying not to give too much away.

      In terms of the game mechanics, it played out fine, although this early in the game it’s basically a tutorial on how to use the Yrden sign, how to make Spectre Oil for your blade, and deal with day/night vulnerabilities of different spirit types. There were hints that the story here might have been deeper, so I felt a little disappointed at the end, but it was a satisfying early quest. Basic clue gathering and monster killing. Nothing with moral consequences.

      • colossalstrikepackage says:

        Thanks for not venturing into spoilers – I wasn’t really looking for those – more a sense of how satisfying the monster quests are.

        Sounds like this was promising, but this early on in the game, hopefully not their best one. Although Alec seems to suggest above that he enjoyed it (if indeed it’s the one you talked about).

      • Jaykera says:

        A tutorial quest much needed. It really teaches you the “rythme” of those investigation quests. The first time I played it, I felt like I was finding answers before questions were asked.

      • Lanessar says:

        Actually, the story after Devil in the Well goes pretty deep. Ask about Clara when finishing the quest, and there’s a whole new conversation with the herbalist after. This ties in with the hunter guy, which ties in with… something else.

  14. suntzu_warrior says:

    I just wanted to say that you ARE given a chance to not hang the guy in your initial dialogue with him – he pleads to forget that you found him or something – and you have the choice the complete the contract (of course, you choose to complete it because fuck this racist guy, right?) or not. Personally, I didn’t even consider the punishment aspect of the quest when I began it and found him. I don’t know why I didn’t think about what would end up happening but arson is a really serious crime and I don’t think being hung is out of the question for it given the social climate in the game. I loved it because it was surprising and really captured the mood of the region and of the game.

  15. Themadcow says:

    Yeah, sounds good to me. I suppose you do get in a rut playing RPG’s where all you care about is the exp gain rather than the consequences of your actions. I’m trying to play a complete bastard in Pillars of Eternity at the moment but find myself occassionally clicking the ‘good guy’ text because I’m worried I might be missing out on a side quest and therefore exp if I just go around dispensing my own ‘justice’.

  16. EhexT says:

    And this is exactly why I can’t stand the Witcher games despite the decent gameplay and cool monster hunting. The developers force me to play a moron. He’s got superpowers yet I can’t use them to murderize assholes because the plot demands it? Piss off, that’s not “grey and grim and adult worldbuilding” that’s just lazy.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Sometimes the choices you make in the game are unambiguously “good” for all concerned, but many others have no good options, just the lesser of two evils, or two equally bad results but you have to choose anyway. Superpowers aren’t going to help, when it’s set up like that.

      It may not be to your taste, but personally I like it because it makes me THINK for a minute before I click on the reply, instead of just mindlessly clicking on the answer that obviously aligns with my character’s chosen good or evil orientation, as in most CRPG’s. Not every quest is set up like this, but there are enough (so far) that it makes for some interesting beats in the pacing of the game. It helps establish the tone of the world and the culture Geralt is having to deal with.

    • ohminus says:

      Quite the contrary, YOU would evidently prefer to play a moron, whereas Geralt has a pretty good idea of his place in the general scheme of things. You are confusing the Witcher with other games where the protagonist is the earth-shattering world-savior to whom kings defer. The Witcher, on the other hand, shows you that even having superhuman powers doesn’t mean that the world revolves around you and that you’re a rather small cog in the general scheme of things.
      Starting a one man feud against Nilfgaard would be pretty idiotic and end with your death sooner rather than later. Attacking either the blacksmith or the soldiers would mean you have the whole garrison on your tail in no time, and within short order an entire army.

    • Dux Ducis Hodiernus says:

      Good. There are many other alternative RPGs that arent like the witcher and allow you do do your justice dispensing yourself. See dragon age inqusition for a prime example. There are not many, if any, witcher like RPGs however, so please. Let us have it. Go play your own preference of RPG, but many others prefer a more realistic and less complacent “do whatever the player wants to” type story/gameplay.

  17. bill says:

    I think this pretty much encapsulates what I’m finding good AND bad about The Witcher 1.

    It’s good that it breaks a lot of the genre tropes, and your actions sometimes lead to unexpected results. But it’s also bad and annoying, particularly when you have no option to intervene or change the outcome, and particularly rubbed in when your character then says something that you totally disagree with.

    To be fair, the last part isn’t unique to The Witcher. Mass Effect 1 annoyed me with that to no end, I’d choose a dialogue option for one reason, and then the character would spout off with exactly the opposite reason and make me look like an asshole.
    I stopped playing Mass Effect 1.

    But in The Witcher 1 it’s more noticeable/annoying at times due to events sometimes going very rapidly in very dark unexpected ways.
    Character: Do you think magic is evil?
    Me (not wanting to cause trouble): Well, I guess it can be at times.
    Character: Yeah! Burn the witch!!!
    Me (thinking) Wait? What? That’s not what I said!. Me (speaking): Yeah, sometimes you have to be harsh about such things. Me (thinking) What?? No you don’t!

    • Zenicetus says:

      That annoyed me about the Mass Effect series too — the way Shepard’s verbal response often didn’t match what I expected from my dialog wheel choice. I think that just comes down to bad writing. Or maybe budget limitations on call-backs for voice actors, when the actual game choices change… I dunno.

      If it helps, I haven’t felt that kind of disconnect between my response choices and the way Geralt responds in Wicther 3. It’s not always exactly what I expect, but it’s much more tightly connected to the dialog choices I’ve made than it was in the ME series, or what I remember of the first Witcher game. So far, this is a much more polished game.

  18. dray67 says:

    This article made me listen to Gallows Pole by Led Zepplin, then wonder if Robert Plant in his pomp ever wore anything so hideous, even Stevie Wonder would have a problem with that shirt…. :D

  19. Jaykera says:

    Anyone else going through the painful transition from Bloodborne to this ? It hurts… I get absolutely zero pleasure from the combat gameplay. :/

    • ohminus says:

      You are switching from a Kawasaki to a Mercedes and complain that it’s not as in-your-face? Could have known that beforehand: That windshield thing is pretty obvious. The fact that it has four wheels instead of just two as well.

      If you switch from an action-focused game to a story- and setting- focused one, it should come as no surprise that the combat feels very different – it was designed with an entirely different purpose.

    • Dux Ducis Hodiernus says:

      what is a bloodborne?

  20. Biggus_Dikkus says:

    i hope for journal entry on trolls at some point

  21. Snowyflaker says:

    I didn’t have any problem with how this quest turns out if you turn the arsonist in. If you’ve played any of the earlier Witcher games you’d know that “justice” in this world tend to be harsh and final. Besides this I had no problem in seeing the damn fool swing considering how easily fire spreads in a town like that.

    It’s not Bioware land where your Jesus/Buddha/godly avatar self insert can solve everything, which is quite refreshing as far as I’m concerned.

  22. K_Sezegedin says:

    Wow, never noticed the noonwraith’s lower jaw is hanging there in two pieces like a bone necklace. There is so much to look at on these character models its a bit bewildering.