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Friday, 17 July 2020

Which Witch IV

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, which was written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes, and which focused on not so much as ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, but upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria. Again, Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, the next entry in the line presents a different take upon the Witch, but instead this series of reviews leaps over that entry to review which presents a very different, even slightly silly take upon the Witch. This is The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition.

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is written for use with Labyrinth Lord and like other titles in the series 
starts by presenting the same version of the Witch Class as in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games and The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games. 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).

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition focuses on the one Tradition of the Witch Class, that is, a Witch of the ‘Pumpkin Spice Tradition’. Which straight off sparks images of the ‘fall’—or autumn, Halloween, and coffee houses serving a limited time flavour of coffee, and so a certain commercialism in its treatment of Witches and the Witch drawn from an American idea of what the Witch is. This is essentially all present in The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition and the danger is that this supplement could have so easily tipped over into a crass mix of the commercial and the kitsch. Thankfully, it presents a modern, urban version of the Witch, one which would really work in an Urban Fantasy or horror roleplaying game or campaign setting. That means though, that tThe Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is not really suitable for a traditional fantasy roleplaying campaign.

The first difference between the Pumpkin Spice Witch tradition and other traditions is that Pumpkin Spice Witches are limited in their choice of Familiars—bat, cat, ferret, rat, raven, owl, and so on. The only addition to this is a special Familiar, the Meowl, a combination of cat and owl, which also appears in the supplement’s bestiary. In terms of powers, the Pumpkin Spice Witch gains a Familiar, and knows ‘Things Man Was Not Meant to Know are Fire for Women’ and ‘Resting Witch Face’. The former grants a bonus to Intelligence and Wisdom checks related to magic and monsters for Witch who is making the check after a male Magic-User has failed to do so, whilst the latter in effect lets a Witch enforce a negative Morale on anyone attempting to talk to or approach her. This includes in combat! There is a certain modern, tongue-in-cheek sensibility to these powers, and whilst they do empower the Pumpkin Spice Witch, depending upon your point of view, may or may not stray into stereotyping.

Witches of the Pumpkin Spice Witch tradition are restricted in the choice of spells they can use, in general, not being allowed to use spells which inflict direct harm. They tend to favour a goddess as a patron and join small covens, often Sisterhood Covens, which sometimes may include Witches of other tradition, and also tend to be of Good or Neutral Alignments. Many also set up apothecaries, which are fronts for ‘Home, Hearth, & Heart’, a circle of black-market magic item shops!

Miranda Took
Second Level Pumpkin Spice Witch
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Coven: The Sisterhood

STR 07 (-1 to hit, damage, and force doors)
DEX 14 (-1 AC, +1 Missile Attack, +1 Initiative)
CON 12 (-0 HP)
INT 15 (+1 Languages, Literate)
WIS 14  (+1 to Save versus Magic)
CHR 14 (-1 Reaction Adj., 6 Retainers, Morale 9)

Armour Class: 7 (Padded)
Hit Points: 7
Weapons: Dagger, Bow, Staff
THAC0 20

Languages: French

Occult Powers
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day)

Spells: (First Level) – Bad Luck, Bewitch, Control Face, Forget Me Knot

Familiar: Meowl (+1 Wisdom checks, Nightvision)

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition includes some one hundred or so spells, a short bestiary of less than twenty monsters, some new magic items, and a trio of unique witches. Now although there are spells included which do inflict direct damage, like Prismatic Lightning, but most harmful spells for the tradition inflict harm in other ways. Thus, Agony inflicts pain, not harm; Babble confuses all verbal communication; and Eerie Forest makes an area of a forest unnerving, perhaps frightening those who walk through it. In general, the spells lend themselves to supporting effects, such as Calm Weather, Change Appearance, Create Wine, Find Child, Grandmother’s Shawl, and more, but at the same time, they give scope for a player to be inventive in how these spells can be used—not just mechanically, but also in terms of roleplaying. The other effect of the spells is to pull the Witch character away from traditional dungeoneering style play, and this is carried over into the monsters given in the bestiary. Most of those entries, such as the Autumnal Rider, Beheaded, Jack O’Lantern, Scarecrow Guardian, and more, all lend themselves to situations away from the dungeon and a ‘Monster of the Week’ style of play.

The range of the magical items given in The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is inventive and fun. There are brooms, cauldrons, masks, and teas—for example, a Broom of Threshold Protection, Cauldron of Plenty, a Green Man Mask, and a Fortune Telling Tea. The miscellaneous items include the Bad Hair Day Hat, which always makes a witch’s hair appear to be perfect, a Luck Charm Bracelet providing a +1 to any roll several times a die, and Witch Bells, which ring loudly when an evil spirit enters a witch’s home. Lastly, the unique witches make up a coven, and range in Level from third to seventeenth, and may or may not be the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.

Physically, The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is slimmer than the other books in the line and shows an improvement in the style and layout over the books before it. The artwork is much better handled, and many of the new magical items are illustrated. One minor issue is that the spells are listed in alphabetical order rather than Level by Level. It makes spell selection just a little more awkward and slower.

The problem with The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is twofold. First, there is the title. ‘Pumpkin Spice’ suggests silliness and superficiality, but the witch presented in its pages lends itself to urban and modern settings a la television series such as Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and the like. Played in that context, and the Pumpkin Spice Witch would work really well. The other issue is the potential problem of stereotyping. The Pumpkin Spice Witch could be interpreted as such, though this is not necessarily the author’s intention. Put these issues aside and it is clear that there is a lot of invention and fun that has gone into the writing of The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition, which should come out in play using the spells and magical items.

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