Tim Brannan Talks 4e & Pathfinder Witches

Christina Stiles Commentary, Uncategorized

Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch and Warlock cover picture

Peter Bradley cover image for Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock

Tim Brannan is the author of Misfit Studios’s upcoming Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock, which Misfit’s Christina Stiles will be kickstarting on February 1, 2014. Tim is entirely too interested in witches, and he loves to post about them on his blog

Join the conversation about the book over on the Paizo Messageboards. Let Tim know what you want in this book.

Witches in Reigning FRPGs

As long as there have been fantasy RPGS, there have been witch classes. While some have been official classes, I’m fairly sure most have been home-brew affairs. The archetype of the witch pervades fantasy literature and myth, and most of us have wanted to emulate that powerful magic-wielder in our own campaigns—whether we were supplied with rules or not. This essay compares two versions from two popular FRPGS.

When we talk about FRPGs, we are, of course, talking about the granddaddy of the genre, D&D—which is now celebrating its 40th anniversary! Today, numerous games derive from this forefather, but only two games—both fun and great to play—reign as heirs of D&D’s legacy. The first is a direct descendant of the previous 3.X version, and it has been molded by some of that game’s best and brightest minds: Pathfinder. The other bears the D&D brand name, but is very different in structure and play (but no less fun and no less of an adventure) than its predecessors: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Ed. And, of course, D&D 5e (aka D&D Next) is just around the corner—and it, incidentally, is rumored to offer a witch class, as well.

I am not going to delve into the relative merits of one game or the other, or even talk about play style or anything of the like. I’m a gamer who loves games, and that includes many variants of the original fantasy rules. I will not tell you what to play. Play the game you enjoy, the way you enjoy it. As I said, I like to play them all.

Instead, I want to focus on one thing in particular: How the witch class is presented in the rules in these two games. The 4e witch was introduced in Heroes of the Feywild; the Pathfinder witch was introduced in the Advanced Players Guide. With 4e, we have our first “official D&D witch class.”

So What Kind of Witch Do We Have Here?

  • Both the 4e and Pathfinder witches use Intelligence as their prime ability, the one tied to their spellcasting.
  • Both require the use of familiars to learn their spells.
  • Both can form covens for an added benefit or for coven-related benefits. The 4e witch handles covens a bit like builds. The Pathfinder witch can only join a coven with a hag. I don’t like that at all really. Neither offer much right away in terms of high-level class options; i.e., no Paragon Paths (outside of the Legendary Witch) and no Prestige Classes.
  • The 4e witch is a “type” of wizard. This bugged me at first, but I got over it once I saw the advantages.
  • The Pathfinder witch is a base or core class and is very much its own thing. I like that.
  • The 4e powers are very much in line with charming, controlling, and morphing enemies (usally into animals). Some of its abilities are like “striker” powers, but not many really. The authors took great care in distinguishing the witch, wizard, and warlock from one another in this system.
  • The witch’s Pathfinder spells are similar, but lot are pulled from both the arcane and divine lists. The Pathfinder witch with Hexes and a familiar gets an absolute ton of spells. I’ll need to go into detail on the Pathfinder witch on a later date.
  • How Do They Compare With Moldvay’s List?

    In a previous post, I talked about what Tom Moldvay suggested a witch class needed. I am using the Moldvay checklist as a means to identify how witchy these classes are, at least for a start.

    Ability4e WitchPathfinder Witch
    1. Ability to use Herbsskillsskills
    2. The Power of Fascinationpowersspells
    3. Clerical and Magic-User magicYesYes
    4. Sympathetic Magiclimited to powerslimited to spells
    5. Worshipers of forbidden religionsYesyes
    6. Powers based on natural cycles“Moon” buildsno
    7. CovensYesonly with hags
    8. Ritual MagicIn PHB I onlyVery limited
    9. Familiars (Tim’s insert)Yes/requiredYes/required

    Based on that, the Pathfinder witch comes up a little short, but not in any way that can’t be fixed with roleplaying and additional gaming supplements. Notice that Moldvay’s list does not include the ability to use familiars. I think that ability is rather important for a witch.

    As an aside, I’ll be playing more of the 4e witch very soon, so I’ll know better how she plays out. I am still looking for more opportunities to play the Pathfinder witch.

    What Are the Positives of Each Class?

    Here is what I like about both classes.

    4e Witch: This witch comes with a lot of great fluff. I don’t want to make this sound like too small of a point. A lot of what makes the witch feel like a witch isn’t just her spell selection or skills and feats, but how we choose to play the class. I will be honest, there are some really, really fun things in this version. I liked the connection to the “Feywild” and the 4e “Land of Faerie.” It gave them more of a fairy-tale connection. You could see these witches living in Gingerbread houses, and it makes perfectly good sense. Also, the 4e witches embrace the idea of covens as part of the witch. They do this in the Pathfinder witch too, but there is room here for good covens and good witches and no need for hags.
    I also think the ritual magic in this version is very nice.

    Additionally, keep in mind that this is the first officially published version of the witch ever published for the D&D game—the 3.X “witch” in the DMG is only a re-skinned sorcerer.

    Pathfinder Witch: I am all about these hexes. Sure, I have some issues with some of their utility, but they are nice to have in a game. Slumber Hex for the win! I love that she has a number of great powers, the patrons, and a nice selection of spells.

    What Are the Negatives?

    Here is what I don’t like about the classes.

    4e Witch: There is still some confusion over the roles between a witch and a fey-pact warlock. Maybe this is on purpose. Warlocks and witches should have animosity towards each other, and it could very well stem from their magic’s similarity.

    While it is nice that the witch has some of the same options as does the wizard, it also means the witch can take fireball or lightning bolt as spells. In my mind, these are two very iconic wizard powers. I can see a witch with lightning bolt, but not fireball.

    Pathfinder: I hate what they have done with covens for the Pathfinder witch. It robs the witch of one of her key elements, to be honest. Additionally, some of the Hexes are too focused on curses and less on the other witch aspects. And where are the Prestige classes?

    Both/Either: Intelligence as a prime stat? I can see why, but really it should be Wisdom or even Charisma. They are supposed to be members of the craft of the wise.

    Still, if the classes were perfect, then there would not be any need for me to tweak them. Plus, it occurs to me that the Pathfinder witch is only just slightly different from what we had in the early D20 days, and what is lacking from those days really needs to be brought back to the class.

    As I mentioned above, I am playing both system’s witches now in two different games. Actually, I am playing the exact same character: a human witch. The stats are the same, and I have made similar choices in skills, feats, and powers/hexes where I can. I am enjoying the differences in play style and learning how the character “works” in each system; the experiences have been very enlightening. This also happens to be a character that I spent nearly 12 years playing intermittently using my 3.0 version of the witch rules, so I am getting a lot really interesting feedback and a lot of great ideas.

    And now I’m working on a new book of witches to add more to the Pathfinder witch. I can’t wait to see how this all comes together. I’m hoping you can’t either. Keep an eye out for posts about the kickstarter opening of Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock on February 1st!