by Joe G. Kushner
Way of the Witch
Published by Citizen Games
Written by Janet Pack, Jean Rabe, Megan C. Robertson, Christina Stiles
104 b & w pages, hardcover
So you want to expand your core class options with a Witch but don’t know what to do? Well, Citizen Games, not satisfied with the material out there already, decided to throw their hat into the ring with Way of the Witch. The results are interesting, and quite useful.
This version of the Witch is a bit more robust that I’ve seen in other products. This divine spellcaster gains 1d8 hit dice, casts divine spells like a sorcerer and has mainly defensive and curative spells with some summoning and charm types thrown in. They have access to a wide variety of feats that enable them to craft their own types of fetishes and candles to augment their own abilities, and can form covens to increase their spell power through ritual.
Another aspect of Citizen's Witch is her ability to cast magic circles. As she gains levels, she gains circles from 1st-5th level of power, which are a lot like spells but generally with broader effects. Magic Circle of Protection From Arrows, for example, has a 10’ radius around the protected creature, lasts 20 minutes per level or until used, and provides damage resistance against ranged weapons which increases as the witch gains levels.
One thing that I thought was very different about this incarnation was the fact that cold iron has a negative effect on a witch. Normally reserved for Fey creatures, this made an interesting twist to dropping powers and spells onto a class.
Changing Color With the Season
Outside of the core Witch Class itself, there are several Prestige Classes to personalize characters with. These follow some standard patterns like Black Witches being the ones able to inflict harm and evil about the land, while Gray Witches are the guardians of balance, Brown the masters of the wild, and White the Healers. Instead of a Witch’s Champion, like in The Witch’s Handbook by Green Ronin, we have the Vitke, a protector who’s more warrior than Witch, wielding the Moonsword, a type of specially crafted bastard sword that all Vitke gain. An interesting option is that instead of continuing training for spells as a witch, the Vitke can choose to take levels as a psion. This class might be a little too powerful though, as they gain spellcasting every level, a fighter’s Base Attack Bonus, and special abilities almost every level. Still, it’d be fun to play one.
Is the book perfect? Nope. I’m one of those people who prefer new uses for old skills instead of a lot of new skills. In some cases, I felt that the skills here should’ve been done up as feats, like the Detect Familiar skill. Do we need a Harvest skill to gain herbs for potions? What’s wrong with Wilderness Lore? And Perform? What about Profession Singing or Drumming?
Most of the feats are on topic but perhaps won’t fit into every campaign. For example, Brew Poison. Is this a feat or a skill? How about Blight, where you kill plants. It’s an interesting effect, but unless the campaign is overrunning with intelligent plant life, perhaps making it a feat was a little over the top. Those who enjoyed the Charms and Fetishes from the Shaman’s Handbook will be pleased to know that they’re here as well, in addition to feats like Multiple Familiar and Second Sight, where you learn about the past or the future.
Those looking to add different types of magic to the game will enjoy the chapter on Candle Magic. There are various properties that candles hold based on their color and type and when used with the Witch’s Candle Magic feat, allow the Wtich to augment her Candle Spells.
Another twist is that Witches have familiars that are unlike those used by Sorcerers and Wizards. Those with the ability to bond multiple familiars can bond larger creatures like bears, gargoyles, and gryphons at the same higher costs. For example, a Wolf takes up three slots while an Otter takes up two.
Another difference is that as the Witch grows in levels, these familiars gain access to Familiar Feats like Invisibility, Astral Travel and Predict Weather. This is a nice chance of pace from having to dole out experience points to augment the creature as shown in Spells & Spellcraft, a Fantasy Flight Games sourcebook, for a creature that often becomes more and more vulnerable as the Witch gains levels.
For those looking to add Witches to their game right away, they’ll enjoy the "The Ways of Witches", "Witch Organizations" and "Witch Adventure Ideas" sections. These quickly kick-start a game that either involves the party meeting witches or having witches travelling with them. I found that the Witch Organizations, while a tad short on description, provided the basis of many great ideas. Those in need of pregenerated characters get several at the end of the Adventure Ideas section.
The layout is simple but easy on the eyes. White space use is good and text flows easily. The art is something that surprised me, as I'm used to seeing companies make great cover works and poor interiors. Citizen Games avoided that issue here by having Thomas Denmark do the cover and all the interior illustrations, and he does a fantastic job. Way of the Witch is a rather attractive book.
For me, there was a touch too much fiction. I don’t mind fiction as an introduction to gaming material but too much of it sets me off. A paragraph here and there to introduce some core concepts and move on. Way of the Witch presents numerous snippets of stories and background as told by a bard to the prince who hired her to discover about the witches. This material isn’t badly written, but covers too much space. Why have over ten pages of fiction in the first chapter for the game world Myrra? There isn’t a sourcebook or enough existing materials for that world to encourage gamers to use it as their setting.
Another problem is the book’s price when compared to other d20 products. If you have $24.95, are you going to buy a 104 page book, a 160+ page book or a small sourcebook and a module? Way of the Witch is perhaps the best laid out and best illustrated book by Citizen Games, but Sword & Sorcery Studios and Fantasy Flight Games have been putting out meatier hard cover books for $24.95 for a while now. It’s probably something to do with print runs and size of the company but most readers aren’t going to care about that. They’re going to see the Quintessential Witch by Mongoose at $5 less and Green Ronin Witch’s Handbook at $10 less. Neither book is hardcover though.
In the end, I feel that the Witch’s Handbook outshines this one a little bit due to the tighter focus on the Witch, as opposed to the world outlook approach that Way of the Witch employs. But Way of the Witch is clearly superior in almost every way to the Quintessential Witch, and sets the stage well for a witch-related campaign. For those who didn’t like all the directions that Green Ronin’s book took or are looking for further options for the Witch Class, Way of the Witch is a solid choice.