It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.
Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is the first book in the series and is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord. It presents the Witch dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lillith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. Although for use for Labyrinth Lord, it presents several options for the Class, depending upon the Dungeons & Dragons ‘tradition’ that a gaming group follows. So that is Levels One to Thirty and with Race limits or not, so Daughters of Darkness can be run with Labyrinth Lord, Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Labyrinth Lord, or another retroclone. In addition to the Class, the supplement includes some one-hundred-and-seventy-five spells and rituals for the Witch character Class, almost forty monsters as allies or enemies, and a trio of unique witches for the Player Characters to encounter.
As a Class, the Witch has much in common with the Cleric and the Wizard. Primarily, the Witch is an arcane spellcaster who studies her spells and records them in her spell book or Book of Shadows. However, she may also gain some divine or ritual spells. She is religious in that she honours, follows and worships a patron, a single Goddess, and where for the Cleric, this worship is for good of the community, for the Witch, it is very much personal in nature. Where a Wizard prepares his spells and a Cleric prays for his spells, a Witch prepares them via ritual to her goddess or patron. Whatever her god, goddess, or patron, the Witch does not believe in the afterlife, but sees life as a cycle of life, death, and rebirth—and so cannot be raised from the dead or use the spells Raise Dead or Resurrect. Most Witches are Lawful and are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, but can be of any Alignment. Like the Warlock, the Witch’s primary attribute is Charisma and gains more spells and an Experience Point bonus the higher her Charisma is. They see their magic as being older than that of either the Cleric or the Wizard. The Witch also has Occult Powers, the most basic of which is an understanding of healing herbs at Second Level and beyond.
Each Witch, after answering ‘the Call’ to her goddess or patron, follows a Tradition. This can be a Family Tradition, the Witch following her family into or joining a Coven; she can follow a mix of Traditions—an ‘Eclectic’ Tradition; or even be a Solitary Practitioner. The Tradition explored in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is the Mara Tradition. This Tradition serves deities dedicated to Death, Transition, Change, and even Destruction. In terms of Alignment, it can be either Lawful or Chaotic, never Neutral, but a Daughters of Darkness—or Mara—Coven is typically Chaotic and Evil in nature, their primary patron being Lilith, the Queen of the Night. They may revel in, and benefit from, death and destruction, and consort with vampires and demons.
The Mara Tradition adds a number of elements to the base Witch Class. It grants the Witch a Familiar, such as a Crow, Hyena, or Wolf, more as the Witch grows in power. At higher Levels, a Witch can invade the dreams of others and drain their Constitution, polymorph into nightmares, and places curses on others. The Mara Tradition grants access to Necromancy spells, though not the Raise Dead or Resurrect spells.
Second Level Witch
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
STR 10 (+0)
DEX 13 (-1 AC, +1 Missile Attack/Imitative)
CON 15 (+1 HP)
INT 15 (+1 Languages, Literate)
WIS 13 (+1 Saving Throw Modifier)
CHR 17 (-1 Reaction Adjustment, six Retainers, Morale 9)
Armour Class: 7 (Padded)
Hit Points: 3
Weapons: Dagger, Sling, Whip
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day)
Spells: (First Level) – Allure, Blood Augury, Consecration Ritual, Minor Curse
Familiar: Jackal (+1 Intelligence, +1 Constitution checks)
In terms of spells, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games offers a wide selection. So, at Level One, Bewitch I is a variant of the Charm spell, Blood Augury allows the caster to ask a single question of her own blood, Minor Curse temporarily inflicts a -3 penalty on a target, and Sickly reduces both the victim’s health and constitution. At Level Two, a Witch gets familiar spells such Augury and Cause Light Wounds, but also spells particular to her Class like Ghoulish Hands which the victim’s hands clawed like those of a ghoul, complete with paralysing effect, and Raven Spy for sending a corvid to keep watch on a victim. The spells go all the way up to Eighth Level and really include some meaty spells that are more interesting to roleplay than the simple flashbang of a Wizard’s repertoire. In addition, the Witch also has access to Ritual spells, which gains at every even Level. These are cast as a group, so require more than the one Witch. So, Curse of Lycanthropy lets a coven turn the victim of the spell into a wererat or wereboar or werewolf.
Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games describes nearly forty monsters. Many are drawn from folklore and lore to do with witches—Barghests, Black Cats, Demons, Imps of the Perverse, and more. Others are less obvious in their sources, such as the Demonic Ghūl, a worse type of the Ghoul or Ghast, or the Olitiau, a monstress riding bat. The Lilim are included as another group who claim Lilith as their mother and may be seen as the sisters to the Daughters of Darkness, some of whom claim to be part-demon as a consequence. The bestiary section is rounded out with a selection of vampires. The last section of the supplement describes three unique witches—‘Bloody’ Mary Worth, who haunts mirrors scaring away girls who come looking for their fates; Darlessa is a Queen of Vampires and former witch; and lastly Lilith herself.
Physically, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is generally tidily presented. It needs an edit in places and some of the illustrations—which do vary in quality and style—are poorly handled. In general, the supplement feels slightly rough around the edges.
There is a great to like in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games. There are some good monsters and lots and lots of spells which should be fun to game when roleplaying a Witch. Yet there is an issue at the heart of the supplement and that is that as much as the Witch Class clicks together easily with the Mara Tradition, there are dissonant differences between the Class and the Tradition. What it boils down to is that the Witch Class as written is not inherently evil, and in fact, the Class states that Witches avoid casting ‘black’ evil magic, yet to get the fullest out of Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games, a Player Character Witch will have to be evil—or at least Chaotic. Some players may have an issue with this, as will some playing groups, and that is understandable. However, for a player wanting to roleplay that type of character, there is a fair amount of detail in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games for him to dig into and bring into his portrayal of his character, whereas a player not wanting to play a Witch from the Mara Tradition, or not wanting to play a Witch of the Mara Tradition who is neither evil or Chaotic, will have a harder time. Similarly, the Labyrinth Lord can easily take the information in this supplement and make an interesting NPC and more.
Overall, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is a good supplement for a player wanting to play a darker, perhaps even evil character in a Dungeons & Dragons-style campaign which allows such characters or for the Game Master wanting to create Witch NPCs for her campaign.