Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why I Love RPGS: C. J. Carella's WitchCraft RPG

Note: This is part of the Dyvers Project on RPGs.  We are supposed to talk about RPGS we love and why we love them.  This is my second part.

RPGS I Love: C. J. Carella's WitchCraft RPG

WitchCraft is, hands down, my favorite game.  Period.  Picking up a copy of this book back in 1999 was just like picking up a copy of the Monster Manual in 1979.  Everything I ever wanted in a game was right there.

WitchCraft had such a profound effect on my gaming that I can draw a rather clean line between what came before and what came after it.  Granted a lot was going on in 1999/2000 both gamingwise and personal that may have added to the this effect, it was an effect all the same.

Back in 1999 I was really burned out on D&D.   I was working on my own Witch netbook and reading a bunch of different games when someone, I forget where, must have been the old RAVENLOFT-L that TSR/WotC used to run, told me I really need to check out WitchCraft.  At first I balked.  I had tried Vampire a couple years ago and found I didn't like it (and I was very much out of my vampire phase then), but I was coming home from work and the my FLGS was on the way, so I popped in and picked up a copy.  This must have been the early spring of 2000.

I can recall sitting in my office reading this book over and over. Everything was so new again, so different.  This was the world I had been trying, in vain, to create for D&D but never could.  The characters in this book were also all witches, something that pleased me to no end, it was more than just that.  Plus look at that fantastic cover art by George Vasilakos. That is one of my most favorite, is not my favorite, cover for a game book. I have it hanging in my game room now.

WitchCraft uses what is now called the "Classic" Unisystem system.  So there are 6 basic attributes, some secondary attributes (derived), skills and qualities and drawbacks.  Skills and attributes can be mixed and matched to suit a particular need.

WitchCraft uses a Point-Buy Metaphysics magic system, unlike Ghosts of Albion's levels of magic and spells system.  Think of each magical effect as a skill that must be learned and you have to learn easier skills  before the harder ones first.    In D&D for example it is possible to learn Fireball and never have learned Produce Flame.  In WitchCraft you could not do that.  WitchCraft though is not about throwing around "vulgar magics".  WitchCraft is a survival game where the Gifted protect humanity from all sorts of nasty things, from forgotten Pagan gods, to demons, fallen angels and the Mad Gods; Cthulhoid like horrors from beyond.  WitchCraft takes nearly everything from horror and puts all together and makes it work.

The Eden Studios version was the Second Edition, I was later to find out.  The first one was from Myrmidon Press. I manged to find a copy of that one too and it was like reading the same book, from an alternate universe.  I prefer the Eden Edition far more for a number of reasons, but I am still happy to have both editions.

The central idea behind WitchCraft is the same as most other Modern Supernatural Horror games.  The world is like ours, but there are dark secrets, magic is real, monsters are real. You know the drill.  But WitchCraft is different.  There is a Rekoning coming, everyone feels it, but no one knows what it is.  Characters then take on the roles of various magic using humans, supernatuals or even mundane humans and they fight the threats.  Another conceit of the game (and one I use a lot) is that supernatural occurances are greater now than ever before.  Something's coming.  (dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria).

It is most often compared to World of Darkness, but there are things WitchCraft does that I just like better.  Unlike (old) Mage there is no war between the (good) Mages and the (evil) Technocracy.  There is a war certainly, but nothing so cut and dry.  Unlike new Mage there are rarely clean divisions between the factions.  Yes, yes Mage players, I am being overly simple, but that is the point, on the simple levels new Mage dives everything into 5 because that is how the designers want it.  There are factions (Associations) and there are different metaphysics for each, but also overlap, and sometimes no clear and defined lines are to be found or given.  It feels very organic.

In my opinion C. J. Carella may be one of the best game designers out there.  WitchCraft is a magnum opus that few achieve.  I took that game and I ran with it.  For 2000 - 2003 it was my game of choice above and beyond anything.  The Buffy RPG, built on the Cinematic Unisystem took over till I wrote Ghosts of Albion, which also use the Cinematic Unisystem.  I mix and match the systems as I need, but WitchCraft is still my favorite.

WitchCraft in fact is what got me into professional game design.

Back in the Spring/Summer of 2001 I started up a new game.  I had just purchased the WitchCraft RPG book about 16 months prior and I was looking for something new.  That something came to me in the guise of Willow and Tara.  I had been watching Buffy for a bit and I really enjoyed the character of Willow.  When she got together with fellow witch Tara I thought they were perfect.  I had become very involved in the online Willow/Tara fandom so I created a game, focusing on just them.

The game would focus on just these two, no one else from the show (which I would soon become an ex-fan of, but that is a different story).  Plus it gave me something to try out in a modern setting, something I have not done since my days with the Chill RPG.

The trickiest part of developing game stats of any fictional character that belongs to someone else is knowing how to strike a balance between the game's rules and the fictional pottrayal. A lot of "artisitc" license needs to be used in order to get a good fit. For example, how do you determine what some one's strength is when there is little to no on screen evidence? What spells would the girls have?

In the end I decided to play it a little loose, but I love where their stats ended up.  In many ways this is who Willow and Tara are to me, not the characters on TV or comics, but the ones that were my characters since that day back in May 2001 that I decided they needed their own chance to shine.

After this I went on to work on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG.  It should be no suprise then that the Willow and Tara stats that appear there are not that much different than my own.  I can be quite vocal in play tests.  That got me the chance to write the Ghosts of Albion RPG. This also allowed me to meet, work with and remain friends with Christopher Golden and Amber Benson.

WitchCraft paved the way for so many other games for me, not just in terms of playing but in writing.  If it were not for WitchCraft then we would not have had Buffy, Angel or Army of Darkness.  Conspiracy X would have remained in the it's original system. There would be no Terra Primate or All Flesh Must Be Eaten and certainly there would be no Ghosts of Albion.  The game means that much to me.

But you don't have to take my word for it, Eden Studios will let you have it, sans some art, for free.

Download it.  If you have never played anything else other than D&D then you OWE it yourself to try this game out.

My thing is I wish it was more popular than it is.  I love the game. If I was told I could only play one game for the rest of my life then WitchCraft would be in my top 3 or 2 choices.

Winding your way down on Baker Street

Mail Call today!

Look what I got.

+Bryce Whitacre's Victorian RPG Baker Street is out to backers of the Kickstarter.
It looks great and I can't wait to try it out.

Hope to have a review up soon!

Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: June Reviews

Here are the reviews for May for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge.

Lots of books this month!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
All things must end...I started my reread of the Harry Potter series with much enthusiasm and I was rewarded every step of the way. But I was dreading this one.  Not because of the deaths or the loss, but because this was the end, no more Harry, no more Hogwarts, no more of the world that enchanted me and millions of others.
J.K. Rolwing is a genius. Pure and simple. While I thought some of her later books could have had a deft hand at editing I find in the end I would not want one line changed.  The best thing about this book, and the last one, is you really, really get a feeling of how and why Ron and Hermione got together and why Harry and Ginny are together.  The movies, as fantastic as they are, glossed over this subtle storytelling.
Every fan of fantasy needs to read these books.
Witch Count: Hundreds

Witches with the Enemy: A Novel of the Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee
Book 3 of the Mist-Torn Witches series sees Céline and Amelie Fawe heading back into the land of their birth, Shetâna, to do a job for Prince Damek who once tried to have them killed.
Like the previous two books this one involves a mysterious murder, but the murders keep happening and it is soon obvious that no one is what they appear to be at all.  This one grabs you from the beginning.
Hendee is great at character development and it was nice to see Céline get some much needed growth and the spotlight for a while.  The previous book featured a lot of growth for Amelie.   I also like that the witches may have made a terrible new enemy by the end of the book.
The potential for this series really is unlimited. I would like to see some new powers or new nuances to their powers for the sisters, but I also see no end of their troubles.
I think what I like the most about this series is that both the two main female characters and the two main male characters are allowed to be strong when they can.  That is, one character or gender does not show strength at the expense of the others. They all have the potential to work as a greater team but finding their roles is the trick.  In any case there is plenty of more room for future character growth and that is exactly what I want in my series reading.
While these books are set in a fantasy realm of magic, witches, ghosts and even vampires these are solidly murder mysteries.  Can't wait for Book 4!
Witch Count: 3-5 (including hedge witches)

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
The classical Russian tale of Baba Yaga and the brave young girl Vasilisa.  I actually read a couple of different versions of this tale over the month, but since they only differed by a detail here or there I am counting this as one.
Witch Count: 1

The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston
This one has all the elements I like. Welsh countryside, ancient witchcraft, new you witch coming into her power.  It just didn't grab me like I thought it would.  Now by the end of the book things had gotten better.  I liked the character Morgana and I liked how her magic worked.  The author is quite good really, I just found the pace a bit slow for my liking.  I think if I had not just come down from my Harry Potter fueled high I might have enjoyed this one a lot more.
Witch Count: 3

Books read: 18
Current Level: Crone,  Read 16 – 20 Witchy Books

Monday, June 29, 2015

New Tradition: Daughters of Baba Yaga

This tradition is based on my Family Tradition found in my Basic Era Witch book and on the Daughter of Baba Yaga Prestige class.

One such Daughter was Elena the Fair.

Section 15: Daughters of Baba Yaga, Copyright 2015, Timothy. S. Brannan.
OGC Declaration: The following content is considered Open Content for term of the OGL.

New Tradition: Daughters of Baba Yaga

There is an ancient tradition among young witches to seek out the Great Crone Baba Yaga to learn arcane secrets known to no one else.  The vast majority of witches never find her mysterious hut. Those that do are often killed and eaten for their impropriety and presumption.  But a few, a very few, find the ancient hag and she sees something of worth or value in the witch.  These witches go on become quite powerful in their own right.  They are known as the Daughters of Baba Yaga.

Daughters of Baba Yaga must join this tradition as young girls.  Baba Yaga molds their learning and provides the access to her great lore of spells and arcane knowledge.  In many ways Baba Yaga is their Patron.

Role: These witches often become some of the smartest, cleverest and dangerous witches in the land.

Joining this Tradition: Only young girls may join. Typically they are very clever (Intelligence of 14 or higher) and often have some form of family tragedy, such as mother who died while she was young.

Daughters of Baba Yaga will meet when they are together in their fosterage, but rarely afterwards.  They do recognize each other on sight regardless when they were fostered.  There is something about the aura of someone that was taught magic under the cruel Baba Yaga.

Daughters for the most part are neutral, with some gravitating towards chaotic

Leaving this Tradition: There is no leaving this Tradition. Once you have been tutored by the Crone you can not give that back.

Arcane Diversity: Starting at 2nd level, the Daughters of Baba Yaga can learn any one 1st level Wizard/Magic User spell that is not on witch spell list.  This spell is treated as if it were one of her witch ritual spells. Every other level after this the witch may learn a 2nd level spell at 4th level, a 3rd at 6th level and so on till 8th level spells are learned (16th level witch).
These spells are cast as rituals and will require ritual implements but do not require other witches.

Occult Powers
Minor: 1st Level: Familiar.  The daughter will gain a familiar that appears to be normal, if somewhat "worn" animal.  Common familiar's have been a tiny mouse, a scrawny cat, a brow beaten dog, even a thin cow in one case.

Lesser: 7th Level: Kitchen Witchery. The Daughter of Baba Yaga can brew simple potions based on any spell she can cast.  The spells can be kept fresh in potion form for a number of days equal to her level.  Spells that affect the self must be drunk or rubbed onto the skin.  Spells that affect others must be splashed, rubbed or forced to drink.

Medial: 13th Level: Detect Bloodline. At 13th level, the witch is granted the ability to detect bloodlines of all types, and able to track the target’s history one generation per level. Essentially, this ability allows the witch to practically smell if someone is related or not, by supernaturally detecting tiny familial features within people. This can include royalty, inherited (but not contagious) lycanthropy and the creature’s true race. This ability might also provide a bonus against those trying to disguise themselves (say, a half-elf posing as a human, or someone disguising themselves as royalty).
The witch must be within 10 feet of a person to detect their bloodline. The Daughter of Baba Yaga can also detect undead with this ability.
The Witch also gains an insight into the target’s personality. For each round assessing the target’s bloodline, the Daughter of Baba Yaga can determine one of the following: One aspect of the character’s alignment (chaotic, lawful, or neutral), hit dice, age or personality.
For each round studying the character’s personality, the Daughter of Baba Yaga gains a +1 bonus to sense motive checks against the target.
The Daughter of Baba Yaga cannot examine the target’s personality whose level/hit dice are greater than her witch level.

Greater: 19th Level: Curse. The Daughter of Baba Yaga can place a powerful Curse on not just a single creature, but an entire bloodline. She can only do this once per day (for a single creature) or once per month on an entire family. The curse can be of any sort, but usually the curse will bestow a -4 to all to-hit rolls and -2 to any saving throws. Other curses may be allowed, such as the Bestow Curse spell. Witch curses are quite powerful and require the use of two (2) remove curse spells to be fully removed.
A Daughter of Baba Yaga may release a person from a curse placed by another Daughter without the use of spells. The witch will know how to remove the curse intuitively.
Note: Some good witches prefer to give a Boon instead of a curse.

Major: 25th Level: Shape Change. Once per day, the witch may change her shape to any type of natural animal indigenous to her area, as per the spell Shape Change. For 1 turn per level, the witch may move freely back and forth between her animal and human forms. Once the form is chosen though, that is the only form she can use for the day. So, a witch may choose to change between the forms of human and fox, but cannot go between fox, human and bird. Once the duration has expired, the witch reverts back to human form.

Superior: 31st Level: Longevity.  The witch stops aging.  Her appearance will continue to age but her body and mind will stay the same age she was when she reached this level.  She is also no longer affected by magical aging.  She can still be killed by normal means.

Special Restrictions:  Only women may join this tradition.  Once joining the new witch must take an Oath of Fosterage.  The Oath of Fosterage must be taken when Baba Yaga first considers to take on the potential daughter.  Baba Yaga will often demand some sort task or quest from the witch.  The task will be one that is difficult and require cleverness to complete.  For example asking her to fetch water from a well but only give her a sieve to collect the water.
Once the Oath is made the Daughter cannot attack or harm in any way any other Daughter or Baba Yaga despite their alignment.  All Daughters, despite when they were fostered will know each other on sight.

Equipment:  None required.

The ritual tool of the Daughter is a mortar and pestle, to honor their "Grandmother".  It is used much like a wand or athame is.  They are also most likely to use a besom (broom) in place of a staff.

Preferred/Barred Covens: None. Daughters are typically solitaries.

Relationship to the Goddess/Patron:  For all purposes the Patron of these witch is Baba Yaga herself.

Source/Views of Magic: Magic comes from wrestling the secrets of the world from those that keep them.  These secrets often come from primordial spirits of nature, demon lords, heralds of the heavens and nearly forgotten fae.

Wealth: Daughters are all typically rather poor. They start with half the amount of gold typical for a 1st level witch.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Zatannurday: Lord Ingvard redesigns

Lord Ingvard's comic book redesigns are making their way across the net this week.
I posted the Red Sonja and Wonder Woman ones already.

Generally speaking I like the changes and can see them working. Though I will admit I am not sure he knows much about the history of the all characters he is talking about (he does have a good grip on Ms./Captain Marvel I will give him that).


Let's look at his Zatanna.


ETA: Here is the image

He gets a few things right and a few wrong.  Now mind you. This is *his* version and by default that means it is right for him.  But I also ask how much can you change a character and still have it be the same character?

Ok so the punk style hair do, I love it. Black hair with streaks of purple (or blue) would be a great look for a younger Zee.  I can totally see her looking like this while she was working on her undergrad degree.
The coat is very reminiscent of Constantine's trench coat.  So this could even be early in her relationship with him.
I like the striped pants she is wearing; a nice call back to the striped socks you will sometimes see witched wear.
The choker necklace is cool, if a bit predictable.

I really, really love the look of this character.  It is cool, hip and I want to know more about her.
I can't help but wonder though...don't we already have a Raven and a Traci 13?

There is a reason for her look.
Zee dresses the way she does because that was how her dad dressed when he was on stage.  She dresses like an old school magician because her dad was an old school magician.  So the top hat, the fishnets are all apart of what her stage persona is.  She might be the most powerful magician on Earth, but in her mind she will never be as good as her dad was.

Now, not to sound like "that guy" but I do wish he had done some research into these characters.
The part where he mentions "changing the color of the spandex" on Zee's art shows he really doesn't know much about these characters.  Zee has one of the more recognizable looks of any superhero, male or female.  The only hero she looks like is the one that in character she wants to look like; her dad.

Oh and the bit about modern magicians not dressing like this anymore?  Two words. Misty Lee.

So I like the vision of his changes, but not for the reasons he gives.

In the end though I will agree with Zee herself. Her costume is fine as it is.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Night Videos: The Sword

Welcome back to Friday Night Videos.

Tonight I want to focus on just one band, but one that I really identify with the entire OSR and nostalgia D&D movement.

The Sword hit my awareness in 2008 or so with their album "Gods of this Earth".  Right around the same time this blog got going.

Like the retro-D&D/OSR/Nostalgia movement The Sword was a new thing that sounded like an old thing from the 70s.  In this case a band that had a similar vibe to Slayer to sound like Black Sabbath.  In any case it worked.

Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians was the first single from "Gods of the Earth".  It sounds old school and the video is something right out of Ralph Bakshi.  The biggest influence is obviously Bakshi's Wizards.  Confession time. I am not a fan of Wizards.  Never saw the appeal. I also don't care for rotoscoping.

If any song captures this retro-feel of The Sword the best it's How Heavy This Axe. The video even looks like something filmed the same day Black Sabbath filmed Paranoid or Iron Man.  Plus this was also the theme song to +Zak Smith and gang's "I Hit it with My Axe".  That gives it OSR street cred right there. Or it gave them cred.  Not sure which.

What can I honestly say about Maiden Mother Crone?
Well for starters it is easily my favorite song from The Sword.  Plus there are great allusions to Pagan myths and witchcraft.  In true heavy metal cliche fashion it has a "mystical orb" at the end (3:30 mark).  I am sure that was done completely tongue in cheek.  But still it's pretty awesome.

I listened to this a lot when working on The Witch.

Tres Brujas or "Three Witches" came along later.  It mixes in elements of Westerns, sci-fi, witchcraft (again) and Kung-fu (the TV show).  So yeah...sounds a bit like the AD&D DMG.

Veil of Isis is a newer song.  The video reminds me a bit of some of the videos of the later 80s, before Grunge took over. Still it's a pretty cool song.

You can find The Sword on the web at http://theswordofficial.com/

Kickstart your Weekend: Blue Rose for the AGE System

Green Ronin has Kickstarted the newest edition of their groundbreaking game, Blue Rose for their in house AGE Adventure Gaming Engine.


I have not played much with AGE to be honest.  I have the first two Dragon Age sets and they look like fun.  I like the system, but it is one of those things I have not found an audience for.

I will pick this one up.  I really want to see what they add new to it.
I might even play the AGE system or back-convert it to True20.

In any case I am quite looking forward to this.
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