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.
The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is written is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The next book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games and its approach to the witch—whilst starting from the same base—is broader and gives more options, is less focused on ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, as well as being written for a different roleplaying game. Specifically, it focuses upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria, and it is written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes.
The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games starts by presenting the same version of the Witch Class as in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games, but what this means is that from one book to the next, this Class is going to serve as a template for the rest of the other supplements devoted to the Witch from The Other Side. So the Witch is spellcaster capable of casting Witch spells and Witch rituals—a mixture of arcane and divine spells, has Occult Powers including herbal healing, many are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, many are of Lawful Alignment, and have answered the Call of their Goddess (or other patron).
So far, so good, but where The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games begins to get interesting is in the number of options it gives beyond this. First in the Combination Classes, so Witch/Cleric, Witch/Fighter, Witch/Magic-User, and Witch/Thief. These are not treated as dual Classes, but Classes of their own with an explanation of how they work in play and in a campaign as well as their own Experience Tables. So the Witch/Fighter often, often known as a Witch Guardian, protects other Witches against persecution and so can use any weapon a Fighter can, whilst the Witch/Thief has no title, though Jugglers often find themselves labelled as Witches and Thieves, but they are typically streetwise and useful when it comes to dealing with the dangers of exploring underground. Next, the supplement looks at the tradition of the Witch amongst non-humans, from Amazons, Bugbears, and Deep Ones to the ape-like Sagath, Troglodytes, and Trolls. Each entry gives some idea as to who or what they worship, so Trolls follow either the Faerie or Winter Witch Tradition, Deep Ones worship the demonic Dagon and his consort, and Medusa worship the daughters of primordial sea god and goddess, Phorcys and Ceto. This section does not just focus on NPC or monstrous Races, but covers how the Witch Tradition is found amongst the Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, and Halflings in lengthier descriptions. With the latter, the supplement provides solid context for Player Character Witches from those Races, especially together with the Combination Classes, whilst with the former, the Dungeon Master has some background upon which to create some interesting non-human Witch NPCs.
Both The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games and Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games offer the one Tradition. In The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games this is the Classical Tradition, a Witch who has a familiar, the ‘Gift of Prophecy’’, can refresh many of her spells with ‘Drawing Down the Moon’, and even summon the power of her patron with the ‘Charge of the Goddess’. The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is also different because it does not offer one Coven, but many. These are drawn from Classical Tradition and various ancient cultures. These include the Brotherhood of Set from Egypt, an evil cult which practices human sacrifice and which only allows male Witches to join; the Cult of Ereshkigal, which has some crossover with the Cult of Mara from Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games and whose members serve the Queen of the Night; and the Coven of Hecate, which consist of covens of three and claim to be the first witches. In general the combination of the Classic Tradition with these Covens is designed to cover Classic, Neo-Classical, and Pagan traditions, and whilst the Covens provide no mechanical benefit, they do add further flavour and detail.
Second Level Witch Guardian
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Coven: Temple of Astártē
STR 10 (+0)
DEX 15 (+1 Missile Attack)
CON 03 (-1 HP)
INT 15 (+5 Languages, Literate)
CHR 15 (5 Retainers)
Armour Class: 7 (Padded)
Hit Points: 5
Weapons: Dagger, Bow, Staff
Halfling Abilities: +1 to hit to all ranged weapons; Resilient: +2 bonus on all saves.
Languages: Halfling, Common, Elvish, Dwarvish, Gnomish, Dragonic, Faerie
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day)
Spells: (First Level) – Foretell, Obedient Beast, Protection of the Dead (Ritual)
Familiar: Owl (+2 Wisdom checks)
The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games offers some hundred spells, twenty monsters, thirty magic items, or so. The spells are more of a supportive nature—though there are a few offensive spells also—and feel markedly different from the standard spells of Dungeons & Dragons. So, Athena’s Blessing fills allies with battle insight with a +1 to hit bonus and +2 bonus to Wisdom checks; Obedient Beast makes animals lie down and take no action or makes trained animals obey verbal commands; and House Spirits calls upon the ‘Lares Familiares’ to protect a home or structure. There are familiar spells too, such as Augury and Spider Climb, but these do not feel out of place and the supplement includes plenty of new spells that help add flavour and feel to the Witch Class. As do the Rituals, each of which takes multiple Witches—or a coven—to cast, many of them again being of a supportive nature, for example, Drawing Down the Sun brings down healing upon allies and fear upon enemies, all allies receiving 2d6 points of healing, a +2 bonus to all Saves, -2 Armour Class, weapons are all +1 to hit and considered to be magical, and Undead are struck with fear and react as if Turned.
The monsters also feel less adversarial, more beasts and beings to interact with rather than simply fight. Many are drawn from classical myth and legend—just as those of Dungeons & Dragons are, but more so. Thus, they include Dryads, Fauns, Hags, Lares Familiares, Sphinxes, and more. The Classical is carried into the selection of magic items, such as the Ankh of Life, a holy symbol which adds a bonus to turning undead and healing; the Book of the Dead contains spells for the protection of and speaking with the dead; the Minoan Labrys is a brass axe which is both a +1 weapon and a holy symbol; and Hydra’s Teeth can be sown onto the ground to have skeletons appear and fight for you. Rounding out The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is a trio of stats and write-ups of Classical Witches—Circe, Medea, and Medusa. These provide major NPCs for a campaign involving the Witch Class, especially one drawing upon the ancient world.
Physically, The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is generally tidily presented. It needs an edit in places, but the artwork is better handled, and the content is better organised, meaning that neither Dungeon Master nor player will need to dig quite so hard to get the most out of the book. Overall, the book is a definite improvement over Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games.
Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games was good, but The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games is simply better. It would work really well with a campaign set in or inspired by the Ancient World, but then it would work with most other fantasy settings too. It provides more options for the type of witch a player wants to roleplay or a Dungeon Master wants to create with the combination of the Class and its Tradition with the Combination Classes and the Covens. Even more, it fulfils the author’s agenda of creating a Witch Class which is not inherently evil, and which is neither a cliché nor a stereotype. In doing so, The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games presents the Witch as a Class which is more inclusive, more diverse, more interesting, and thus more appealing to a wider group of players and Dungeons Masters.