After losing a bit of clout thanks to Cyberpunk 2077's shaky launch and diminished post-release plans, CD Projekt Red is returning to the Continent and its much-beloved Witcher series. Multiple games are on the cards (opens in new tab), in fact, and the first one, which we're calling Witcher 4 (opens in new tab) but has yet to be officially named, is already in pre-production. It's still a bit of a mystery at the moment, and while we can probably expect more monster-slaying antics, I'm holding out hope for something a bit different. I want a bard RPG.
D&D gave us the framework for bardic heroes and their adventures, but outside of the tabletop game and its videogame adaptations there have been tragically few games that let you become a fantasy pop idol, and even fewer that attempt to capture what it might be like to be a travelling minstrel, following adventurers around while they beat up dragons and save miserable villages.
For me, the biggest appeal is the opportunity to play an RPG where I'm not some super-powered heroic archetype, but rather the person following them around and just trying to survive while stringing my lute. I want to use stealth, cunning and a brilliant repertoire of popular tunes rather than raw strength. Really, I want to play the kind of character who you'd expect to be an NPC—which is always my main impetus for agreeing to DM a campaign.
This is why I had such a great time with Kingdom Come: Deliverance (opens in new tab). You start off as the son of a blacksmith, completely out of your depth, and while you eventually become a knight and get involved with wars and politics, you're always a subordinate—an ordinary person who's trying not to piss off the nobles. In a genre that's all about empowerment, the chance to play one of the least important people in the room is strangely compelling.
In The Witcher 4, it's much more likely that we'll be playing Ciri, or at least another witcher. The teaser has already confirmed the existence of a new witcher school with fetish for lynxes, which one can assume the new protagonist belongs to, so my dreams are probably going to be shattered. The series does, however, have a character who'd make for a fun, if extremely unconventional, musical hero: Dandelion the bard.
Dandelion is a frequent companion of Geralt's, following him on his monster-hunting trips and looking for inspiration for his next ditty. In the game trilogy, he mostly just hangs out in bars, but in the books and Netflix adaptation, the latter of which uses his Polish name, Jaskier, we see him get a lot more involved. He's more inclined to hide from danger than run towards it, of course, but after barrelling into so many fights with my sword flailing around, this actually sounds like a compelling way to play an RPG.
When he absolutely needs to, Dandelion can probably still put up a fight. He's in good shape and has seen his fair share of bar brawls and angry spouses. But as a bard it makes more sense for him to hang back. D&D already shows us how this could work, with his rousing songs inspiring his allies. Just like Geralt's fighting style necessitated tactical thinking, using research and alchemy to take down monsters, Dandelion's repertoire could have different effects best deployed in specific situations: songs to give friends courage, terrible limericks to confuse enemies and lullabies to send monsters to sleep.
Not being in the fray would also give Dandelion a clearer picture of the fight, which could translate to a kind of commander role where he directs his companions' aggression towards the biggest threats, or a more roguish role where he sneaks around the periphery of the battlefield setting up traps. He could even serve as a healer. There are lots of ways for a bard to be useful.
There are plenty of existing RPG mechanics that would absolutely work here, but also just as many excuses to experiment with new systems. A song creation tool is right at the top of my list. The Witcher's alchemy system already gives us a foundation, where you mix ingredients together to create potent potions, but here these ingredients could be things like lyrics and tempo. And these tunes could be handy outside of battle, too. Witchers get paid for killing monsters, but bards have to sing for their supper. A recurring minigame where you have to entertain a rowdy crowd in a pub could be a hoot. Work some musical magic and you'll get a hefty pouch of gold, but belt out a Nilfgaardian drinking song in a Redanian tavern and you'll probably inspire a brawl.
Letting us play Dandelion, or any bard, would also sidestep some of the comparisons between the sequel and The Witcher 3, which is probably going to be its main hurdle. Geralt's last adventure is one of the best RPGs ever made, and blessed with a protagonist that seems to be universally loved, and I'm just not convinced a new witcher, or even Ciri, will live up to the old guy's legacy. Better to take it in a completely different direction and try something new.
I won't get my hopes up, but with more than one new Witcher game being planned, maybe I'll see my dream turn into reality one of these days.