Game: The Quintessential Witch
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 20th, September 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
The first of the Collector Series from Mongoose Publishing saw the Quintessential launch a line of class books but then it changed and we saw Quintessential race books and even though there are core classes and core races left untouched we find ourselves with The Quintessential Witch. So what on earth is going on?
The Quintessential Witch introduces a new core character class. Straight out of the gates the Witch knows what he (and he is used more often than she) has to do and sets about proving that the class really is different from a druid. The witch’s special abilities include Wildshape (as per the druid), a companion (much like the druid) and nature sense (much like the druid). That’s one side of the argument. On the other hand the witch uses a spell book, the book of shadows, needs to study their spells and uses charisma as the spell influencing stat. The companion’s actually a familiar. The witch has a spell list of arcane spells… but casts them by divine means. The other special abilities include the likes of “Timeless Body”, “Longevity”, “Alter Self” and “Fascination”. The witch cannot cast spells which (going to have to watch my spelling here) oppose his alignment either. This means paying attention to the descriptors beside spell names. The witch can’t wildshape as often as a druid either, only ever getting as far as three animal shapes per day.
The name “the book of shadows” is the first clue. The witches as presented by the Quintessential Witch are based more in traditional occult than in Harry Potter. It’s not real occult though, nor is it real Wicca, certainly no more than the d20 druid is a representation of historic druids. The witch class presented in the book is darn slight closer to something believable as a ‘witch’ than the magic classes from the core rules though. Amazingly, perhaps more so since this is a Mongoose product, the Quintessential Witch has the feeling that the class would not be out of place in a low fantasy setting (if you kept the levels down).
There are plenty of levels to the witch though – the full total of twenty in fact. The same can’t be said for the prestige classes. There isn’t a prestige class with more than 5 levels of advancement and that’s a shame. Anything less than 10 seems undercooked to me. If you’re a hard core rules fan then there will be so such thing as an epic level prestige witch. That’s not to say the prestige classes are a waste of time, some of them are particularly sly. The “Witch Hunter” as a prestige class spawned off witch makes a good degree of sense. Further prove that Mongoose might have some low fantasy grit among their writers after all. The other prestige glance that jumped out in a similar way was the Gypsy Matron. In all the prestige classes include the Avenger, Caller to the Veil, Diabolist, Gypsy Matron, Medium, Occultist, Patron of the Five Spirits, Priestess of the Divine, Puppet Mistress, Vamp, Witch Doctor and Witch Hunter. The likes of Puppet Mistress and Vamp pander to the view of a witch as a seductive troublemaker.
Before we get to the prestige classes though we have the stalwarts of the Collector Series in the form of character concepts. It’s just possible that if you’re looking for a new core class and are interesting in the witch that you’ve never encountered a Mongoose style character concept before. The concepts are small templates for your basic class. They’re not a prestige class but they do effect the mechanics of your class slightly. More importantly though they provide a focus for your roleplaying, a tie in to your character history and a game balance safe way for the GM to reflect any particular quirks there. Rather than playing a vanilla witch you might try the Envoy, the Gardener, Enigma, Pagan, Black Witch, Misanthrope, Fugitive, Peasant, Healer, Savage, Erudite Practitioner or the Counsellor. They’re all good concepts although I’d look for better names than “Peasant” or “Savage” if simply to try and retain something above normal to the class system. You really wouldn’t want to see “Average Joe” as a class or concept to suggest your PC was something other than an NPC. The character concepts in the Collector Series are a good idea and they remain a good idea.
Traditionally the Tools of the Trade chapter runs through a list of objects, from the mundane to the magical. I suppose that’s true here except rather than carefully convinced adventuring equipment there are a lot of herbs. These herbs are actually drawn – it’s a nice cosmetic touch but the practical value is under question. If you’re willing to break the law and photocopy or scan parts of the book that you don’t have permission from then you might get away with doing so on these herbs and throwing particularly strange “go fetch” quests at your players. Mind you, I can see the truth in the saying a picture tells a hundred words because half a page is given over to each collection of herbs and I don’t think you could describe more than two or so in the same space rather than depicting the dozens which are shown. Before this in the Tricks of the Trade chapter, strangely enough, we go through a basic tarot card reading – teaching you the Celtic spread (and even I know that one) and how to adapt two packs of playing cards for tarot. I sat on the fence over this for a while. Do roleplaying games really need yet more association with the occult? Is it value for money? In the end I shrugged off those doubts and reminded myself of just how much a roleplaying session can be improved with a bit of “tabletop larp”. After all, you can’t actually tell the future, you can’t really see what the players are likely to do so why not let them deal cards and try and guess for themselves.
Do you know what’s missing from this Quintessential book? The section “New uses for old skills” isn’t here at all and I don’t miss it at all. Instead there’s a chapter on the book of shadows. It explains just how the witch prepares and manages their spells and introduces a host of new magic so to complete the Witch core class’s spell list. The Book of Shadows runs straight into the Rites and Ceremonies chapter. Rites are spells (well, rites really) used by a coven of witches to create items or sometimes to achieve certain effects. A coven of witches can be sure that none of their members are ever re-animated as an undead servant. I see how covens and witches go hand in hand. I’m less convinced that covens and adventure groups go hand in hand. It’s hard enough coming up with a reason why a druid’s wandering around but to do the same for a group of witches is challenging things and explaining why one witch of a coven isn’t with the others is a long term campaign investment. If you’re using witches as a group of NPCs then the coven option is a great strength, it’s an extra ball to juggle if you’re not – it’s great until you drop it.
Predictably enough the book moves on to a small chapter of magic items. With great relief I discovered that broomsticks are not used for flying around on even though they do appear in the book.
Following on from this we find two interesting chapters. As far as I know, two ideas hitherto untouched by the d20 world. The first chapter introduces places of the power and the next one seasonal magic. The Places of Power gives birth to the idea of ley lines, cairns, standing stones and a lot more. There’s a lot of Celtic mythology tucked away in these two chapters. Ideas like lake islands, places of the dead, appear along with similar ideas with no more than a few lines of text to their name. There are even mechanics available for PCs who wish to create their own holy area. As with the coven, though, this seems to encourage the style of play where the PCs have settled in an area and are the boss of those nearby. The Season Magic section looks at special days in the year – such as Beltane – and looks at the effect different moon phases have on Witch class game mechanics. It’s rather nice actually; it reflects the sort of superstitions that you might expect to be present in any campaign world. “What ever you do! Don’t go against the witches during the full moon!”
The book, all 128 pages of it, rounds off with a return to the coven system. Here you’ll look at the sort of leadership values needed t put together covens of different sizes. The section actually provides more game friendly use of covens in their ability to create non-initiated special people known as a “cowan”. The rules appear as a template for standard races and I think they’re best described as a low fantasy prestige class. The book doesn’t finish there. The designer’s notes are an important feature of any Collector Book since they really do help you to move onto the same train of thought as the author and get the best from the book. There are several pages of indexes (thank you) and a detailed character sheet.
I think I’m just about won over to the idea of accepting the witch as a new core class. It is different enough from anything else and the rest of the book makes it worthwhile. I’m not so convinced that the witch is “mobile” enough to make a great adventurer character but is perhaps more “mobile” than others in the core rules. I think the rules in the Quintessential Witch are the best at straddling the various sub-fantasy genres that I’ve seen from Mongoose in a while and this comes as a welcome relief. The Collector Series benefits from more specific detail and less in the way of “new uses for old skills”, castles, reams of weapon stats and mechanics that only expand what’s already there.