The Baron’s abuse of his wife has grave consequences beyond the emotional distress caused. The miscarried child, which was hastily buried outside the fort, has become a foul creature called a botchling. These grotesque, baby-like monsters sneak into the bedrooms of pregnant women and drink their blood. It’s the most disturbing creature in The Witcher 3. And like many of the game’s monsters, it’s rooted in Slavic folklore.
“In an old book, a Slavic bestiary,” Sasko tells me, “I found a picture of a creature that was half bat, half newborn baby, called a poroniec—whose name is derived from the Polish word for miscarriage. This became the inspiration for the botchling.” The idea was passed to the concept art team, and Marek Madej, who was responsible for drawing many of the game’s monsters, dreamed up its macabre design.
Geralt can choose to force the Baron to give the botchling a proper burial, freeing it from its turmoil, or kill it. Choose the latter and it morphs into a fearsome beast, and a boss fight ensues, but it’s the burial option that’s the most interesting—especially in terms of the Baron’s character development. For the first time we see the haunted soul behind his jokes and bluster, and it’s a genuinely touching moment.
The Bloody Baron is a rich, nuanced character, which is down to good writing, but also to the wonderful performance of actor James Clyde, who voices him. “I didn’t know how popular The Witcher was until my daughter told me,” he says. “This is my first videogame.”
Clyde, a classically trained stage actor, recorded dialogue for the Baron at a studio in central London over a period of 18 months. “They were very strict about secrecy, so scenes arrived in batches. I had no idea where the story was going. I wasn’t sure at first if there was much complexity to the character, but as it went on the layers were revealed.”
“What forged the character, as well as his military history, was the troubled relationship between him and his daughter,” says Clyde. “The boozing and humour is his attempt to smother that, I think. But I only became aware of this complexity as the scenes arrived in bits. If it was a movie or a play I’d have known all this stuff beforehand.”
“In games like ours, high quality voice acting for a character is essential,” says Sasko. “In the case of the Bloody Baron, we did a live casting, and the results were presented to Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz (lead English writer), who always has final say.”
“You had to trust the directors,” says Clyde. “Sometimes I didn’t know where I was in the story or what was going on. We’d have to call Borys, who never seemed to sleep. He’d always be willing to explain. It was amazing. We’d call him up about a word we didn’t know how to pronounce and he wouldn’t mind, even if it was four in the morning for him. He even recorded a whole load of pronunciations for us. Thousands of them.”
“The personality and motivations of the Bloody Baron were discussed at length,” Sasko says. “James Clyde voiced him perfectly in the English version. In other languages he sounds equally good, but I think his performance is my favourite.”
“The night before my first session, I got a call from one of the directors, Kate Saxon,” says Clyde. “She said ‘Look, we’ve got a slight problem. We used every regional British accent in the first two games. Well, except one...’ And I was like, don’t tell me it’s Birmingham. And it was. So that’s why the Baron’s a brummie.”