Monday, August 13, 2012

Witch Books, Part 1. The beginings

With Eldritch Witchery and The Witch done and off to final edits and layout I wanted to spend some time looking at some the older books on witches for the D&D game over the years.  I have all these books (no surprise really) and I have played them all.   Each brought something different to the game and some worked better than others.

Bard Games: The Compleat Spellcaster
Man I loved this supplement back in the day.  The witch in this is very typical of the time.  It is a modification of Magic User class, but with a bunch of new spells. What is lacks in actual crunch it more than makes up for in style.  What was particularly cool about this was all the new demons and other monsters.
This was later merged into the Arcanum series of books that were also quite fun.

Witches Court Marshes (print) (pdf)
An adventure and an new class. When I first got this years ago, but long after I had moved away from AD&D 2nd ed and I was not that impressed.  Now looking back at it, it has a certain charm.  The Witch class is a sub-class of Magic-User, but the experience for each level is much lower that I have seen for other witches.  There are plenty of new spells and in true old-school fashion some classes and monsters are completely immune to the witch's power/spells.
In addition to all of this there is a marsh that is the home to many evil witches.  I might need to update this one for my own uses.

Dragon #114 Witch
This one the one that grabbed my, and many other's attention back in the day.  It was presented as an NPC Class, but I don't know anyone that followed that rule. This was an update of the witch class that had appeared earlier in Issue 43.  It is also the one the most people seek to emulate.  The witch here was limited in level, but there were plenty of options.  This witch included many level based powers, plenty of new spells and an interesting new concept of High Secret Order spells.  The HSO spells were only available if the witch belonged to the High Secret Order.  This issue also featured a really great piece of Elmore art and I have always associated witches and his art ever since.
One only needs to see the top of my blog here to know how well this class has defined how D&D players see the witch.

Witches Mayfair Games
This was the book that I HAD to buy.  First off, it was all about witches and it came at  a time when I had been working on my own witch class for some time, but had not quite got everything solid yet.  It was also my first go at playtesting a class.  I used this witch in a game but every time she went up in level I also leveled up my own witch class and the Dragon #114 witch.  Just to compare powers.  As a guideline I also had the exact same character as a Magic-User/Wizard so I could compare what she could do in the game.  It was very interesting.
Plus is was from Mayfair games and they were now (then) doing Chill.
It has 9 different kinds of witches and plenty of really cool spells.  Interestingly enough it also had the Deryni in this book.  I had played a thoroughly OD&D (with honest to goodness LBBs) where the characters were all Deryni with a psionic system from Eldritch Wizardry.   To this day I still feel the Deryni are more psionic than magic, but the class here is not bad.  I also felt the book had a lot of good advise on how to add witches to a game that might not have had them before.

Complete Wizard's Handbook
This is less of a witch book, but it does feature the witch "Kit" for AD&D 2nd Ed.  It also really set the tone for what WotC would later do with their own witches in 3.x (the custom wizard in the DMG).   The additional spells are nice to have for this, but only required if you also like to play other wizard types or need to have a complete collection.

Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium #3
This guide combines the previous works of Van Richten's Guide to Fiends and Van Richten's Guide to the Vistani, plus the unreleased Guide to Witches.  Needless to say I was really looking forward to this book  Obviously the Guides to Demons (renamed from Fiends) and Vistani, were still top notch.  The Guide to Witches really should have been called the Guide to Hags and Witches, because it dealt with both.  I'll break it down here.

Guide to Hags
        I really liked this part.  Hags should be part of Ravenloft, and I think this section did a great job of presenting another monster type in a far more complex light.  It is on par with the Guide to Liches or Vampires.
I would have liked to seen more on linking hags to Night Hags.  I liked the second change idea that other hag type change into Night Hags, but does not have to be the only way they are linked.  In the Monster Manual 2 (1st Ed.) stats that the Annis is a relative to Night Hags and the Greenhag is a relative to both the Annis and the Sea Hag.
I liked the Irdra/Ogre link to hags, but I liked the "Dark Fay" theory much better.  My hag, the Makva (or Wood Hag), are more of a dark faerie type than an ogress.  Plus I don't play Dragonlance, so the Irdra are not part of my worlds.
For Hag reproduction and powers the Makva are most similar to Greenhags. Except most Makva only live about 800 years.  Makva are usually spawned from elves and half-elves rather than humans.  Makva may join coveys, but their will be only one makva per covey. In spawning rituals Makva pick elves or half-elves as victims. They can perform them only on nights of the new moon.

Guide to Witches, Warlocks and Hedge Magicians
        I was prepared to find witches that were very different than my own, but I did not expect that they would be this different! Witches have had a spotty history with D&D since the beginning and it seems that every few years a new rule book comes up that gives us a different vision on the witch.  To begin with this witch is not a class or a subclass, but a kit.  It is also not the same as the Complete Wizards Handbook witch kit.  What I did like was the information on the Church of Hala and the acknowledgement that witches could be good or evil, overall I did not like it.
        I am not saying I did not like the new kit, I just do not like them as Witches.  The author, Steve Miller, got the points right about witchcraft being based in faith and I really liked the whole idea of the Weave, I just did not feel that these were the same kinds of witches from fantasy and horror literature. For example where was any mention of the occult? Or how about familiars? I just felt that these witches lacked a few of the things that made witches special.

Which Witch is Which?
Here is a side by side comparison of the various classes and kits that have been called witches over the years.
Bard Games CWH Role-Aids VR MHC3 Dragon #114
Base Class own Wizards Wizards Any non-magical Own subclass
Races, human yes yes yes yes yes
…Half-Elf yes yes yes yes yes
…Elf no yes yes yes no
…Half-Orc no no no no no
…Gnome no rare no no no
…Vistani (and Half) NA maybe no yes no
Ability Requirements WIS 13, INT 13 INT 13, WIS 13 INT INT 10, WIS 12 INT 10, WIS 10
…Minor Requirements
CON 13 WIS CON
Proficiencies NAWizard Wizard By Class NA
…Bonuses magic yes no yes yes
Alignment, Witch Any non-good Any any lawful
…Warlock NA NA Any any chaotic NA
Weapons Restrictions yes yes yes no yes
Armor Restrictions yes yes yes when casting yes
Highest Spell level 7 9 9 9 8*
Special Powers yes yes yes yes yes
Special Hindrances yes yes no minor yes
Faith? NA not-required yes yes yes
Covens yes no yes yes yes

These products represent the earliest years of D&D on up to almost 2000.  The next 12 years we will see almost 3 new versions of the D&D game (more or less, D&D 3.x, D&D 4, Pathfinder) and more witches than ever before.

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