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.
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 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.