The Seven Witchy Wonders – Examining the Witches of the d20 Era

Christina Stiles Uncategorized

By Tim Brannan

Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch and Warlock cover picture

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

Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock Pathfinder Kickstarter is now up and ready for funding.

Today, I want to spend some time talking about the seven (yes, seven!) witch classes that have appeared for the d20 game in various shape and forms. I want to discuss their pros and cons, and why Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock will be all the better for it.

Seven D20 Witches

Witch #1: The DMG Witch – Wizards of the Coast
Let’s not forget that the very first witch was a “sample” character in the 3.0 edition DMG. She was basically a sorcerer with a different spell list. She dropped some of the iconic damage spells of the wizard in favor of some minor cleric spells. I always considered this the baseline witch. Though since it was not in the SRD, I avoided reading about it. When working on Liber Mysterium back in the day, I was very, very strict about what I would read. In fact, I have a spreadsheet full of spells, and I would have discussions on what was and was not a witch spell. In the end, I ended up with a list that was not too unlike the witch spell list in the DMG, but I have tons of documentation of how I got to that point—becahse we were very concerned back then that WotC was going to stomp out any d20 infraction they found. Still glad I did all the work, though. I was able to go back to it for all my other witch books.

I still use that very same sheet. Maybe I could share it someday, if people are curious about how I go about doing this sort thing.

Witch #2: Liber Mysterium – Timothy S. Brannan
Back when d20 and OGL was still new (2001), I began updating all my notes on witches for a publication-quality book. This book became known as Liber Mysterium, and was released in 2003. There are a lot of things I REALLY liked about the book I wrote. There were a few things I really wanted to do with witches that became a lot easier with the d20 rules. In particular, I had a bunch of “kiss” spells that had more effectiveness because they were delivered with a kiss. With d20, that became a metamagic feat. Coven spells were covered well, as were occult powers. Though 10 years later, I can admit it was not perfect. There was my own overriding opinion that most witches were going to be good. My bias. While there are tons of spells, some were redundant or a little over- or under-powered, 10 years of playing witches in my ongoing 3.x game has helped me work out a lot of the bugs.

Witch #3: The Witch’s Handbook – Green Ronin; Author Steven Kenson
This one is certainly a great effort. There is a lot I really like about this book. The gems of this book are the ideas for skills, and, of course, the fantastic cover art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. Like my own Liber Mysterium, this witch uses Wisdom to cast arcane spells. I still kinda like that, to be honest. There are a lot of nice prestige classes here. In particular were the witch priestess and the witch’s champion—the latter was similar to something I was calling the cowan in my games. The diabolic witch and the witch hag were also nice and gave some balance to the “mostly good” witch priestess. There are new spells, and like Way of the Witch below, it uses the Ritual Casting rules from Sword & Sorcery’s Relics & Rituals, which were very much in vogue at the time. Covens in this book were covered, but not as much as in Liber or Way of the Witch.

What this book lacks in page count, it makes up for in utility; there is something useful on every page. More to the point, there is something I wanted to use on every page.

Way of the Witch
Witch #4: Way of the Witch – Citizen Games; Authors Janet Pack, Jean Rabe, Megan Robertson, Christina Stiles
Style-wise this is the best of the lot of the early witch books for d20. It’s a hardcover, with some of the most beautiful art I have seen in a book. I mean, check out the Thomas Denmark cover.

The witch is basic and has a lot of really nice features. The prestige classes are simple, but functional, dividing the witch into white, black, grey, and brown witches. There are some other nice ideas, as well, including how witches lived in this world and their much greater affinity to the magical rhythms of the world. The authors really took their time and care with this one, and it really shows.

There is so much I love about this book that it made want to make my own books better. The nice flow between the art and the text made this feel much more like a single creative endeavor. Even if the material wasn’t good (and the material was good) it was a joy to look at. I bought this one before I was done with Liber Mysterium, but I put it up until Liber was out the door. I remember sitting in my car one afternoon to pick up my kids from daycare and wishing I had done some of the things in this book.

Alas, Citizen games did not make it out of the d20 boon alive. They were going to come out with a second witch book, Seasons of the Witch, and I had heard a little about it. I had high expectations really.

Witch #5: The Quintessential Witch – Mongoose Publishing; Author Robert Schwalb
I am not a huge fan of the older Mongoose books. There are number of issues with the classes being all over the place, odd editing, and art that runs the gambit. This book is not any different. The witch class is pretty typical of the time (early days of the d20 boom). There are a wide variety of prestige classes, such as the caller to the veil, diabolist, gypsy matron, witch doctor, and even a witch hunter, which is nice, but not all of them are usable. For example, I am not sure why the medium has a Charisma loss, or why the occultist spells are the way they are. The book also tends to be full of a lot clichés. The art for the vamp prestige class comes to mind, actually the entire vamp prestige class is pretty much a huge cliché. An evil woman scorned by a member of the opposite sex using her “feminine whiles” to corrupt others. Oh and lets show her in bed with an innocent-looking girl. Not really forward thinking there. Though the material that was good (Patron of the Five Sprits, Puppet Mistress), was very good. There is a good section on new uses for skills, including telling fortunes and a good section of feats. There are new spells and new magic items, as expected, but the coolest thing might be the Places of Power. I also liked the Times of Power and the very detailed Herbal section. What made the Herbal so nice was not all of the herbs used, but that the ones they did included art. It looked like an old-school herbal.

Witch #6: Pantheon and Pagan Faiths – Mystic Eye Games
This was part of Mystic Eye Games’s Hunt the Rise of Evil product line. It was also a great effort, and it captured my attention early on. I liked this one because it was the other end of the spectrum from the Green Ronin one, but still not quite Way of the Witch—the book had an implied world setting with witches as a part of it, but not quite as integrated into the fabric of the world as we see in Way of the Witch. The witch still existed in a rich world, and a lot was expected of her. She had the spells and the powers to meet these expectations, too.

This witch was a divine spellcaster, not an arcane one. This was also a nice change of point of view. I also liked the prestige classes. They were a nice selection of orders with divine backgrounds and really what I wanted to see in a prestige class. The furies of destruction were similar to my own war witch, but far more deadly. The beast friend looked like a fun class to try out for a druid, but its alignment restrictions (Lawful Good only) didn’t quite make sense to me. Slaughter priests should be in every game.

Witch #7: The Pathfinder Witch (Advanced Player’s Guide)This is the current witch. I have spoken about the pros and cons of this witch many times. But I have to admit what I really like are the Hexes. These are such a nice addition to the witch class. The Patrons here are very, very similar to the Patrons I used. Also, if I made the error of assuming that all witches are mostly good, I think this book has the bias that witches are mostly evil. I also can’t get past how weak the covens are in this book.

All seven witches (and some others here and there) all offer me something fun and unique to game play. What I want now, though, is something that allows me to play all these experiences.

Or, to put it another way, I want Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock, so I wrote it. I’m hoping you want it for your Pathfinder game, too. Come join us for witchy wonder!