Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hunting Witches

This is Tim Brannan's fault.

I love the concept of the witch hunter, of witch hunting, in general. Not in the "red scare" sense of the phrase, nor even the historical Inquisition-mananged mass murder of people-who-don't-think-and-worship-like-us. No, I'm talking about fantasy witch-hunting: the idea that there are dark and sinister supernatural forces out there and some heroic folks have been chosen for the gig of hunting said forces.

Nostalgia of the Nineties
As a premise for an RPG, this isn't a terribly original idea...more than a couple of Pelgrane Press's GUMSHOE games fall into this category, as does Beyond the Supernatural, InSpectres, and (to a lesser degree) Call of Cthulhu. The Mutant Chronicles certainly had a large dose of SciFi flavored witch hunting to it. Heck, there was even a game called Witch Hunters that was published a few years back, though I'd break out the old White Wolf Hunters Hunted supplement (for 1E VtM) long before I'd ever put down money for such a book/system.

[The Hunters Hunted is a truly under appreciated gem of a supplement/mini-game that I should blog about some time.  I realize it led to its own game line eventually ("Hunters Reckoning," I think?) but I got a lot of mileage off that original, slim volume. Very cool and one of the best Vampire products]

And, for more medieval-style games, there are plenty of witch hunters to be found in the Warhammer universe...I'm not sure if the latest version of WHFRP has them, but the first couple editions (through Hogshead) had witch hunters as an advanced career path, and you could play an entire warband of witch hunters in the Mordheim game.

But for old school D&D...the pre-2E editions...the idea of the witch hunter is a bit of a tough sell. After all, old school D&D isn't about hunting anything. Anything besides treasure, that is.

After reading Tim's post this morning, I (momentarily) considered an idea for a new B/X supplement...a campaign setting featuring a world where most of the "fantasy" elements were all (to some degree) aspects or side effects of supernatural evil. Evil of an inhuman, alien nature, filtered in  from other dimensions, through rifts made wide by human sorcerers who were willing to bargain away their souls...hell, their very world...for a taste of power. In such a setting, player characters would have a chance to be real heroes, not just "scurrilous rogues," as they fight against the dark forces threatening their planet. "Orcs" would simply be bestial, mutated humans. "Goblins" would be hellish imps, the lowest demons serving dark masters. All monsters in the B/X game could be re-skinned as devils and demons and twisted pawns of alien intelligences.

But it's a world closer to WHFRP's Enemy Within campaign than Palladium's Wormwood. This campaign setting hasn't yet been overrun, nor even is it on the verge of Armageddon...but without the aid of witch-hunting PCs, it could move to that DEFCON stage. This is a world that calls for hunters to root out the bad juju.

In such a setting, witch-hunters would take the place of the cleric class, as what type of divinely intervening deity would allow the world of Its worshippers to be so mistreated? Undead would certainly play a lesser role in such a campaign, and alternative forms of healing would be needed (perhaps fighters would be able to apply "field dressings" to wounded companions after combat, healing a certain number of HPs based on level). Such a game could be fun, though in a bleak way featuring corruption and cultists and whatnot; maybe something for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Maybe.

Then I took a long nap.

And when I woke up and got my brain to running again, I realized "hey, wait a sec...this has nut-all to do with finding treasure." And that's when the wheels came off the concept. Because the LAZY way of handling such a thing would be to say, hey, it's just B/X with some different house're still looking to loot the chaotic monsters and evil cultists lairs (in order to earn XP, in order to level up). Because witch hunters need phat loot, too.

Um, no. We are not going to be playing characters interested in making a buck while Rome burns down around their ears.

And since on second (post-nap) pass, I see the concept would need a lot of substantial retooling of the B/X system in order to work to my standards, this is a project that'll have to be shelved for the time being. I'm already in the midst of a retooling/writing project, and I want to get that one knocked out. Too bad, though...I've already got a couple ideas for titles to such a project. And I've got some notes stashed away (somewhere) about retooling Realms of Chaos concepts for B/X that could probably be put to good use on such a project. Yeah, it would be an interesting setting to play/run in...

Shoot, I could probably adapt part of my (reworked) Cry Dark Future advancement system to the thing...

No, no, thing at a time! Maybe if someone wants to collaborate with me on such a project so I don't have to do all the writing myself (ugh, I see why Kevin Siembieda is such a fan o the "cut-and-paste"), I could find some time for it.



  1. I created a witch hunter character for Champions back in the 90s based off of Giles Redferne from the Warlock movie. So add supers to the list. :)

  2. "This is Tim Brannan's fault."
    Yeah...I get that a lot.

    I have the Witch Hunter's game. It is fine, but I have some issues with it.

  3. As someone who has been playing the updated edition of the Witch Hunter game for awhile now, I take a bit of issue with going with WoD HH over it, but that all comes down to opinion I suppose. The new edition fixed a lot of my issues with the previous one. It's still not perfect, but what is. I've been refining it steadily for my own game and its quite easy to tweak. And Tim, I keep a close eye on your blog for ideas, too.

    I think the obvious fix here for a B/X witch hunter class is to give them the same piety requirements as the ranger and paladin in AD&D. That is, they may loot the evil critter of chaos' lair, but then they turn over the lion's share of it to the church or the order. This still lets them net XP for the loot, but makes more sense as to why they would be hanging around with a group of rogues and freebooters.

    1. @ Tom:

      No offense was meant, man. It's just that for that style of SYSTEM, I think HH offers a little more ease of use (and the modern setting is more engaging for the exploration of the premise), but I'm sure I'm biased by the past HH games I've run (I've never played or run Witch Hunter).

      As for the rest...the witch hunter is one of those odd character archetypes (like the assassin) that's totally cool for a fantasy game of any historical period, but (for me) falls a little flat in a game based on the exploration of dungeon sites.

  4. JB, no offense taken. I don't have a lot of positive experience with WoD. I don't have time to get bent out of shape about other people's tastes in RPGs anymore.

    Actually, I can see witch hunters working with a group of adventurers more than an assassin. What witch Hunter wouldn't be on board for rooting out the temple of elemental evil or the temple of death? It doesn't take much in the way of mental gymnastics. But they do shine more in a more open wilderness/urban based campaign, you're right.

  5. A fantasy witchhunters/demonhunters type thing would be pretty timely. The poindexters are all saying that the next thing in horror will be demons/possession and medieval witches fit that perfectly. But you could just play B/X with no demihumans, no MUs, and call clerics "witchhunters" and you're kind of there.
    Maybe reskin demis as they do in the various LOTFP "Flavors of fear".
    The heavy lifting is doing a monster book of demons, witches, familiars, etc. that is not just copypasta from other D&D books.