SO...having a couple martinis in me and a little spare time, I thought I might pen some of my "design notes" regarding my B/X Witch class. After all, I'm not putting any designer's notes in the book and I'm sure some folks are curious about this stuff.
[or not...but as I said, the gin HAS been flowing, ever so gently...]
Now, I've written about witches (in a "where are they?" kind of way) before on this blog, and NO, I've never owned the Dragon magazine that provided a sample witch class. But I'm sure I would have been mainly dissatisfied with it. Not just because I "respect witches" or have known the odd witch or two (I have)...no, I'm sure Dragon, or any TSR/WotC product would have treated the poor beleaguered witch far better than, say, Kevin Siembieda.
No, the reason for my dissatisfaction would center around the way witches would be written to be just another "variant magic-user" like the AD&D illusionist or something.
I hate that.
Not because "I know witches and their magic isn't Vancian." Look, I know guys (and gals) that dress up in armor and beat on each other, but I wouldn't call them the equivalents of "fighters" (really). I understand it's a game and games take liberties and do gamey things. But I hate the intellectual LAZINESS of it.
Clerics are different from magic-users. Why can't witches be different from either of those classes?
Answer: they can be. You just have to figure out a way to do it.
Enter my version of the witch. They've got a big book of spells called their Book of Shadows (a real world term, though you could call it a witch's cookbook or witch's bible if you wanted). They need material components (unlike other B/X spell-casters) which ties them to the natural world/Laws of Sympathy (standard witch stuff). They can collaborate with each other to perform greater magics than they could individually.
That last one was probably the most important. Whether you study real world Wicca or New Age druidism...or, hell, if you watch any cheesy movie/TV show about witches...you see the importance of witches working in groups (or covens). Few there are of the solitary witch...ritual is much more powerful when worked with a circle of the initiated or a couple of close friends. I needed to make a way for NUMBERS to have power...hence the "effective level" based on participating witches, as well as the ability to write/scribe/learn spells of higher level than the witch could individually cast. You may know the theory of doing a big enchantment, but you need a couple buddies to stand at different points of the pentagram to get the ju-ju right.
This has the effect of both balancing the witch (10th level spells! Holy cow!) and making it play different from any other spell-casting class. Whereas magic-users are solitary practitioners, pursuing their own spell research alone, and hoarding their spell books, WITCHES are all about the sisterhood, baby...and the occasional "brother witch" that happens to join the circle. Magic-users are taking individual roads to power...witches can accomplish great things by working in tandem with each other.
To me it's a nice parallel of the male-female difference in peer interaction.
The spell components? Well, I never thought magic-users should have spell components. For Shame! cries the AD&D grognards. "Get over it," says I...magic-users were originally based on Vancian magic...and Vance doesn't use spell components. Gygax's inclusion of spell components in AD&D is (I believe) his attempt at slowing down the too rapidly escalating power of the high level magic-user. Game balance be damned anyway.
But for the witch...when ISN'T a witch looking for "eye of newt" or "fat from an un-baptized baby" to make some potion or work some spell. Tea leaves and entrails and wands and salt and sand and crystals and "voodoo dolls"...these are just some of the many ingredients used by witches in their craftwork. Witchcraft is (traditionally speaking) "magic of the hearth;" these magical wise-women are cooks, and they're baking up hexes and love potions and all sorts of goodies with their ingredients. Tying them to spell components ties them to the natural world (witches use sympathies to cause supernatural effect on nature)...plus it puts a very real limit on just how many spells they can sling.
Not that they're slinging all that many on an adventure. Craftwork takes time: brewing a potion or working up a charm to give one back their youth takes time...and the more powerful the spell, the longer and more complicated the ritual. Aside from the expenditure of money on material components (which can be offset somewhat by harvesting magical monsters), time is the main limiting factor for witches. Why do they enchant a broom to fly? So they don't have to waste time casting the same spell over and over again.
And witches will have a lot of spells to choose from...mid- to high-level witches with a decent intelligence score will have quite a few spells in their cookbook...er, Book of Shadows. So many that it might be tough figuring out which one she wants to use at any given time. That's on purpose...I want the character to PLAY like a witch. A ditzy or indecisive witch might indeed spend a lot of time hemming and hawing and picking her way through her book looking for the right spell...this is not the wizard who simply stuffs his brain with magical formulae. The wizard is the Mentat of the D&D spell-casters. The witch is something altogether different.
And that's how I wanted it.
Other than her magic...which sets the witch apart considerably from the other spell-casting classes...she is a non-combatant, non-adventurer type and thus uses the magic-user saves and attack matrices, and only rolls D4 for hit points. Despite access to potent magic (especially when working in a group) witches are vulnerable to the sword and axe, just like any other non-fighter. She is not an "all powerful" character....and the diligent witch-hunter will do what he can to root out her coven before it can complete its ritual.
Lots of good adventure potential with the witch class...both as a PC and as an NPC. One could construct a whole campaign around a small coven of witches (if the players were so inclined to all play the same class), and the cost of spell components for high level spells would still offset the "combined might" of the player characters.
Well, unless they can somehow bring down a Bane Lord. Properly rendered, such a greater demon would yield a great deal of magical material to conjure by.