Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Witches Three: 4e v. Pathfinder v. OSR

We are at an an interesting time in the history of D&D.  Today we have two games, but fun and great to play, that are the heir's of the legacy that is D&D.  The first is a direct descendant of the previous version with some of that version's best and brightest minds; Pathfinder.  The other bares the name, but is very different in structure and play, but no less fun and no less of an adventure: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Ed.  BUT that is not all, like buying two and getting the third for free we also have the large and chaotic mass that is called the OSR.  In it are many games that also claim rights to the throne.

I am not going to delve into the relative merits of one game or the other. Or even talk about play style or anything else.  Play the game you enjoy, the way you enjoy it.  Personally I like to play all of the above.

No today I want to drill down my attention on one thing in particular.  How the witch class is presented in the rules in these games.  For the first time we have what can amount to an "Official D&D Witch Class".

The 4e witch was just introduced in Heroes of the Feywild and the Pathfinder witch was introduced in the Advanced Players Guide.
For the moment I want to recuse myself from commenting too much on the OSR witches.  Both "The Witch" and "Eldritch Witchery" are off to editors, but still I don't think it would be the most proper thing to do.  That all being said I don't have issues commenting on these witches since a.) they have already been written and published and b.) all my ideas are already on "paper" and sent off, so I am not likely to change anything at this point.

So what do we have here?
Both the 4e and Pathfinder witches use Intelligence as their prime ability and the one tied to their spellcasting.
Both require the use of familiars to learn their spells.
Both can form covens for an added benefit or coven related benefits.  The 4e witch handles covens a bit like builds.  The Pathfinder witch can only join a coven with a hag.  I don't like that at all really.
Neither offer much right away in terms of higher level class options; ie no Paragon Paths (outside of the Legendary Witch) and no Prestige Classes.

The 4e witch, as mentioned previously, is a "type" of Wizard. This bugged me at first, but I got over it once I saw the advantages.
The Pathfinder witch is a base or core class.

The 4e powers are very much in line with charming, controlling and turning enemies into animals.  There are some "striker" like powers, but not many really.  The authors took care to make the distinction between Witch, Wizard and Warlock a lot clearer.

The Pathfinder Spells are similar, but lot are pulled from both the Arcane and Divine lists.  The Pathfinder witch with Hexes and a familiar gets an absolute ton of spells.  I'll need to go into detail on the Pathfinder witch on a later date.

I am using my checklist from Tom Moldvay as a means to identify how witchy these classes are, at least for a start.

Ability 4e Witch Pathfinder Witch Basic Witch
1. Ability to use Herbs skills skills ability check
2. The Power of Fascination powers spells spells
3. Clerical and Magic-User magic Yes Yes Yes
4. Sympathetic Magic limited to powers limited to spells new spell mechanic
5. Worshipers of forbiden religions yes yes yes
6. Powers based on natural cycles "Moon" builds no spells
7. Covens Yes only with hags Yes
8. Ritual Magic In PHB I only limited Yes

Based on that, the Pathfinder witch is a little short, but nothing that can't be fixed with role-playing and some supplements.  I do notice that Moldvay's list does not include the ability to use familiars.  I think that is rather important too.

I am getting a chance here in a bit to play some more of the 4e Witch so I'll know better how she plays out.  I am still looking for a chance to play the Pathfinder witch some more.

Here is what I don't like about the classes.

4e Witch: There is still some confusion over the roles between a Witch and a Fey Pact Warlock.  Maybe this is on purpose.  Warlocks and Witches should have animosity towards each other and this could be where it comes from.
While it is nice that the Witch has some of the same options as does the Wizard, it also means the witch can take "Fireball" or "Lighting bolt" as spells.  Two very iconic wizard powers.

Pathfinder: I hate what they have done with covens for the Pathfinder Witch. It robs the witch of one of her key elements to be honest.  The hexes are cool, but some of them are too focused on curses and less on the other aspects of witches.
Where are the Prestige classes?

Both/Either:  Intelligence as a prime stat?  I can see why, but really it should be Wisdom or maybe Charisma. They supposed to be members of the craft of the wise.

In any case it is an embarrassment of riches. I am not sure if I'll ever have enough time to play the games I have now, let alone anything released in the future.  I like both of these classes and would love to see more for both of them.

It's a good time to be me! ;)


Lee Lawrence said...

Not sure if you're interested in anyone else's OSR take on the Witch, but I did one for Redwald. Class write up is here . . .

and the spells/powers are here . . .

Anyway, good luck with Eldritch Witchery.

Timothy S. Brannan said...


I'll have to check this out.