Friday, May 27, 2011

Ooo-oo, Witchy Woman...

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), 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 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) 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, 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.
; )


  1. JB
    The spell components gathered from fallen monsters is excellent. Gives the character immediate reason to adventure apart from the usual and role playing opportunities galore at the defeat of any combat as she scrounges the dead and their body parts.
    Just to clarify. I assume the spell components gathered this way are not treasure so gain no XP. If the witch sold her spell components, would they be worth as much to other witches and alchemists?
    Can't wait to read the spells when the book comes out.

  2. @ Jovial: It's not discussed in the book, so it's probably up to the individual DM to rule.

    For me, no, spell components are NOT treasure. In addition, it may be that only witches could do the "gathering" (though wizards and alchemists can certainly send adventurers to get giant squid ink or whatever, only witches know what will be useful in their own, there may be a "freshness factor" to consider!). Generally, the only thing that would be worth XP as "treasure" would be already gathered AND rendered materials: raiding a witches lair might net a certain GPs equivalent of components, but finding the right buyer (i.e. another witches coven) might be problematic.
    ; )

  3. I voted for more info on the summoner, not the witch, but this sounds like a really fascinating class!

  4. This sounds really cool, and along the lines I've considered over the years regarding the witch class (particularly the idea of casting spells in concert with other witches). That's something that shows up time-to-time over the years in some Witch supplements (Green Ronin's Witch's Handbook for d20 springs to mind).

    Also, you get super awesome bonus points for saying that you're drinking martinis and then specifically pointing out that it's gin, not vodka. A "martini" made with vodka is not a martini. It's technically a kangaroo.

    I prefer gin myself.

  5. @ Martin:

    Um, yeah...never been much of a vodka drinker.

    I'm not familiar with Green Ronin's do they handle the collaboration bonuses?

  6. Quick one while I am out.

    JB: Look into the d20 Witch book that I wrote (and gave you a link to). It uses a similar mechanic for rituals and communal casting.

    More later.

  7. Nice. Good job to not tie yourself down to the Arcane/Divine paradigm that prevails.

  8. @ Tim: When I tried those links previously, the images didn't come in clearly on my computer, for some reason. I'll give it another shot.

    Did your AD&D one deal with communal casting? That would probably have been closer to B/X...

  9. @ Tim: Okay...after some creative fiddling with the old link, I managed to get the Liber Mysterium to come in clearly (the D20 netbook).

    However, a quick skim of the material didn't find me what I was looking for...I see a lot of stuff on building a coven, but the only mechanical benefit I see to being part of one is the addition of dominion spells (like a cleric). Is there any other benefit to working ritual magic in a group?

  10. I have a ritual magic and communal casting section. The trouble is it is tied very much to the d20 spell casting mechanic.

    I have been fiddling with one for Basic-era D&D, but it is not quite working yet.

  11. Working in groups:

    You are correct, watch Charmed or any other popular representation of witches, working in groups is very important, in fact it is the main feature of the witch and should be of the witch class.

    Working in groups is also very problematic in a game. For it to work you need have witches of the same coven (group, tradition) in the party. NPC witches of course are easier.

    Any mechanic that adds even a fraction of the levels of the witches involved get extreme when you consider the power of say a full coven. In my game world I have some covens that have 19 witches per.

    I think what works best is what we do in the "WitchCraft RPG" from Eden studios. Certain numbers of witches have certain effects, but there are diminishing returns. So numbers of witches add to the level of Essence that can be used.

    The issue with the Basic (and Advanced) era rules that there is no extra benefit of most spells when cast at higher level. Witches in groups should increase the spells in some way. OR witches in groups gain access to spells that they otherwise can't cast. Like the "Power of Three" spell from Charmed.

    Maybe what is needed is a new class of magical effect, called a Ritual, that always required multiple witches to cast.

  12. Spell components: Absolutely. Hands down. No questions about it. Wizards in Basic-era games may not use them, but witches should.

    Different: There are differences in role-playing the witch and there are differences in mechanics. Taking a wizard and re-skining it as a witch with different spells. The 3.x DMG did exactly this. It is fine, in a pinch, but it misses out some of the character that makes the witch unique.

    Granted, myth and legend blur the lines between witch and wizard quite a lot. Was Circe a witch? Most certainly. How about Morgan Le Fey? Little less clear, yes depending on some sources. How about Baba Yaga? Or Louhi?

    The trick is finding what role the witch needs to play in the game world. I never liked Illusionists for example since they seemed to be lesser Magic-users. But when 2nd ed came around they made more sense.

    Sorcerers were different from Wizards in 3e even if they used the same spell lists because their magic felt different.

    To me, the intent of the Magic-User was that it was the Wizard, the Necromancer and the Witch, you just had to pick the right spells and play them as such. Obviously I was not the only one that felt that that was not enough.

  13. @ Tim:

    My class gives a lot of POTENTIAL power to a witch but it is balanced by time, cost, and availability of fellow witches. Most groups probably won't have more than a couple witch PCs in the party, which allows for a good number of spells, but not enough power to make them "the whole show" (costs of high level spells are also prohibitive for pairs)...however, two player witches working in tandem will have enough power that the time/cost limitation won't make them "lesser members" of the party.

    With three PC witches of equal level, you start having a "witch-centric" campaign (which is where the politics of witches can come into play). This type of play may not be for everyone (probably the same folks who'd be into your netbooks!), but I imagine it would be fun. Non-witch PCs might be laymen/protectors to keep the witch hunters will come a-running at such a show of feminine power (presuming a patriarchal campaign world).

    As far as different groups/traditions go: I only see this as a problem if one wants to make it one. While covens involved in local politics may have rivalries or infringe on each other's "territory," nothing SAYS they have to be from incompatible traditions. For me, alignment and motivation is more of a dividing point than anything else...Glinda the Good and Elphaba the "Bad" are both witches and have the potential to combine their powers, but will they? Probably not, unless they can find some sort of common ground/threat.

    Personally, I think any "divisions" in modern day Wicca are more an influence of male involvement (hello, Gardner!) than any major issue of "tradition." The main difference (from the game's standpoint) is which spells each witch has developed in her Book...but the basic concepts of the craft (and basic sympathies/laws involved) should be the same. Working together is just a matter of the circle leader showing folks where to stand and when to chant!

    As far as the role of witches in the game...that's open to the players/DM to determine. I mainly wanted a class that played different from the magic-user or cleric and (dare I say it?) one that played a little more "feminine." A player that is willing to be patient and cooperative can achieve a LOT of powerful effects with the witch class, it's just not the direct/solo path of the magic-user.
    : )

  14. I think you have tapped into something important there, the working together.

    It will be interesting to see where your book takes the class.