Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: The Witch, by Timothy Brannan

When I first heard about this, I admit, I was like "oh, yet another person hawking his RPG wares on the Internet." Given that I already have enough RPG material to last me several lifetimes, I am very cautious as to what I buy nowadays.

My interest piqued, however, when I discovered that Brannan had done his research. This means that The Witch: A New Class for Basic Era Games wasn't just churned out, like so many other products you've probably encountered in these d20 Dark Ages. No, this book stewing was in the pot for a long time until it was ready to cast its own magic at your gaming session.

So, I went to DriveThruRPG to download it (I also admit that the $5.00 price tag for 122 page watermarked pdf was also pretty convincing). And I definitely got my money's worth.

Brannan presents The Witch class as a combination between the cleric and the magic-user. A witch receives spells and rituals from a "Patron," and then writes them down in a spell book (often called "The Book of Shadows"). The Patron can be whatever the DM and the player decides, such as a god, goddess, or force of nature, or even a destructive entity such as demon if the character is evil. Also, unlike the cleric and magic-user, the Witch is "called" to be witch by outside forces. And there's more.

The Witch class actually has seven sub-classes, called traditions. These are Aquarian, Classical, Faerie, Family, Maleficia, and Eclectic. Each sub-class gets different powers and abilities as they go up in level, even starting with different familiars. For example, Faerie witches get a strange animal-like familiar, while those of the Family Tradition might have a ghost of an ancestor follow them around. Also, each sub-class fits into a certain witch archetype or trope, such as the Aquarians being star-gazers or those who belong to Maleficia follow dark powers. These sub-types are very loose. Characters can come from almost any background, including cultures based on real-world history. Those who can't (or won't) decide on a tradition become Eclectic and can choose abilities from the other sub-classes.

These traditions are just the tip of the iceberg.

The book is full of spells and rituals. Some will seem familiar, daze and arcane Mark, taken from other editions of D&D. Yet they've been adapted for your Basic/OD&D rule system. Other spells are specific to the Witch class, like bewitch which is similar to charm but the Witch's charisma modifier determines the spell's potency. The Witch also learns rituals, which often require at least three or more people to perform, hence the book also has guidelines for running a coven of witches in the game.

All of this is topped with sections on monsters and treasure, followed by appendices dealing with further options (such as demi-human witch characters). Many of the monsters, like the Baobhan Sith ("faerie woman" in Scottish Gaelic), are taken from real world folklore. Others are adaptations from other d20 sources. As for treasure, there's lots of neat magic items, both low and high. There's also
Baba Yaga's Hut! Come on, what would a retro clone book on witch be without that?

The only thing that's lacking would be a bibliography, even if it's just a short list of further reading. Yet that's a personal preference. I'm all about referring gamers to read more of the literature and history that inspired the hobby. For what's worth, I now want to re-read The Night Battles, by Carlo Ginzberg, because Brannan mentions the benandanti

Overall, great book. I'll say 4.5 out of 5, because I can see myself using this book in my own games. The rules are generic enough so they can be used in different campaign settings. And I can easily see somebody running a historical campaign using this supplement. Indeed, Brannan has done his research, translating real world folklore into playable material. He broke down the stereotypical witch, addressing both real world perceptions and providing a variety of paths, via the traditions, that DMs and players can choice from, thus making the Witch character unique, beyond being just a combination of the cleric and the magic-user.


  1. Thanks SO MUCH for your review!

    About the bibliography. I get that. I used to include those, but once it got to be a couple a pages it became unwieldy. But I will do this. I will put it up on my blog sometime next week.

    I am pleased you enjoyed the book!


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