This article contains spoilers for the Family Matters quest in The Witcher 3. The story was originally published in PC Gamer issue 283. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.
When Geralt of Rivia arrives in Velen, searching for his adopted daughter Ciri, he finds a war-ravaged no man’s land. Dead soldiers litter the fields—the aftermath of a bloody war between Temeria and the invading Nilfgaardians—and deserters hang from trees, bags over their heads, swaying gently in the breeze. Yet despite this horror and devastation, Velen is also a place of startling natural beauty, of lush forests and rolling hills. This contrast is mirrored in The Witcher 3’s most emotional and disturbing quest, Family Matters, and in the complex, conflicted character at the centre of it: the Bloody Baron.
“We needed a character that personified Velen, with all of its beauty and troubles,” Paweł Sasko, designer of the quest, tells me. “The Baron is a soldier, much like we have today, who comes back from war with PTSD and alcohol issues. He’s unstable and unpleasant, but he also has positive traits. He loves his family and would do anything for them.”
The roots of Family Matters can be traced back to Sasko’s childhood, growing up in a poor village in the Polish mountains. “I saw families destroyed by alcoholism and violence,” he says. “I saw parents fighting with each other and beating their kids, but they were also in love and loyal to their family.” Fascinated by this complexity, Sasko went to university and took a PhD in psychology to help him understand people better.
The Baron knows where to find Ciri, but won’t tell Geralt until he helps him find his missing wife and daughter. “The Baron was created as a parallel to Geralt,” says Sasko. “They’re two fathers who have lost their loved ones; two men with blood on their hands; they both have personality issues; they’d do anything for their families.”
It’s clear they don’t entirely trust each other, and their relationship is uneasy, but these similarities mean Geralt connects with the Baron on a personal level—whether he likes to admit it or not. On the surface the Baron is charismatic, likeable, and quick to make a joke, but there’s a dark side to him that slowly unravels. You find yourself sympathising with him one moment, and cursing him the next.
“That was one of my goals when I designed him,” Sasko says. “There are very few people in our lives, even if we love them, that we’ve never felt conflicted about. That’s what makes a character real.” By making you feel torn between loving and loathing the Baron, Sasko says, he was able to give extra weight to your decision-making in the quest. “You hesitate when presented with a choice. Family Matters was intentionally designed to show both sides of the Baron, to highlight how tragic his story is.”
Geralt explores the Baron’s fort, Crow’s Perch, using his witcher senses to trace the missing family. But in doing so, he finds signs of domestic violence and spilled wine that suggest there’s more to the story. They didn’t go missing: they left after the Baron got drunk and assaulted his wife, causing her to miscarry their unborn child.
It’s a dark revelation, and one of the first times your opinion of the Baron is soured. But you also know that, prior to Geralt’s arrival, he helped Ciri. “The Baron took care of her, almost like a replacement for his daughter,” says Sasko. “This was a narrative trick to make you sympathise with him. To doubt that he’s really a bad person.”