WitchCraft Capsule Review by Lisa Padol on 28/01/03
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
This was the unofficial Buffy: The Vampire Slayer rpg in my book before Eden got the rights to Buffy. Less narrowly focused, it still holds up as a game about characters with supernaturally powers in a refreshingly angst-free battle against evil forces.
Author: C J Carella
Company/Publisher: Eden Studios, Inc.
Page count: 316 pages, digest size, perfect bound
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Lisa Padol on 28/01/03
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Horror Conspiracy
C J Carella's WitchCraft, 2nd edition
by C J Carella
Eden Studios, Inc. 6 Dogwood Lane Loundonville, NY 12211
316 pages, digest size, perfect bound
Before there was the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer roleplaying game, there was WitchCraft, and it struck me as the closest thing there was at the time to a Buffy rpg. WitchCraft has a modern setting with PCs who are ordinary people gifted with great power, fighting all manner of evil, in an occult rather than a superhero context. The fact that WitchCraft was not designed with Buffy in mind was a plus in my book because it made the game more flexible. I bought the first edition of this game when it came out, and opened the second with mingled anticipation and apprehension. Had it aged well?
Yes, absolutely. Now, as then, it provides a much needed counterweight to Dark Roleplaying. Don't get me wrong: Moral ambiguity is fine, and I find much to like about the dark, spiraling down to its doom, World of Darkness. But it becomes a bit much after a while, and it is good to know that WitchCraft takes a more upbeat approach.
In WitchCraft, there are no long passages about alienation, fighting a hopeless battle, or having one's humanity and joyfulness seep away. Those with magical, spiritual, or psychic powers may be alienated, true. They may have to keep a sharp eye on their humanity. They are certainly fighting a high-stakes battle for the planet. Yet, for all that, the overall tone is one of optimism. This is a battle that can be won, and no one is going down without a fight.
I also like what I've seen so far of a timeline, or, more precisely, a lack of one. WitchCraft is set in the present, more or less. But there is a storm on the horizon, referred to as "the Reckoning". More and more supernatural events occur; more and more people discover they have supernatural power. The Reckoning provides a tidy enough psuedo-justification for the inevitable escalation of weirdness that happens in most campaigns, as well as for why the majority of people did not notice anything strange happening before.
GMs can, of course, ignore all of this, and they can make up their own minds about What it All Means. But there is an explanation for those who want to know what the author has in mind. Outside of our cosmos live the Mad Gods, beings who want to come in. GMs can take or leave this explanation, but it is there. For those who want to use it, look for the sequel game, Armageddon. It is set about five to ten years later, when the Mad Gods have achieved some success. But whether you have this game or not, the picture the author paints is broad. This means that individual GMs know enough to stay within the parameters of the setting, if they choose, without having to buy a supplement every two weeks to be told what the latest plot twist will be.
The mechanics, like the background, are solid. WitchCraft uses the Unisystem, which can work with dice, playing cards, or neither. It does not try to be highly innovative and clever, something for which I am grateful. Just add skill to attribute -- or, more rarely, use the attribute by itself, possibly double -- then roll a d10 or draw a card, and add the result to the total. For unopposed rolls, a total of 9 or more succeeds. If you are not using a randomizer, you can use a chart that assigns target numbers based on the difficulty of the task.
Other rules elaborate on this basic system, and many of these can be transported to other systems. I had a vague recollection that the mechanics were decent, but nothing to write home about. How quickly we forget: On reading second edition WitchCraft, I found several rules that I imported into my homebrew rules system that definitely improved it. These include the rules for critical successes and fumbles, as well as with the idea of doubling an attribute for those times when one does not use a skill.
Character creation is points based. The total number of points stays the same, but the exact breakdown varies depending on whether you are playing a Mundane PC, who does not have special powers, but who has more points to spend on skills and attributes; a Lesser Gifted, who has some magical, psychic, or spiritual powers, and somewhat fewer points to spend on skills and attributes; or a Gifted, who has more of those powers, but even fewer points for skill and attributes. A fourth possibility is to play a Bast, a sentient cat who falls somewhere between Lesser Gifted and Gifted in the breakdown of points.
These characters, then, can belong to one of a number of organizations that are aware of how strange the world is. They are organized enough to expedite play, yet disorganized enough not to threaten my suspension of disbelief. They may face anything from minor poltergeists to corporations in league with demons. (Angel Investigations, anyone?) The basic system is sound, although I would likely streamline it in practice, and the available powers are nicely heroic. There are useful nuggets of GM advice, much of the type that I have been following without realizing exactly what I was doing or why, such as the caution against making minor villains too interesting if one does not want the players to have their PCs spend too much time investigating them.
Where some companies do their best to make sure gamers must buy every edition of a product, Eden has gone out of its way to make sure that this is not necessary, and that if one does it anyway, that confusion is minimized. All new and changed material in second edition WitchCraft is clearly identified. If one already has first edition and does not with to purchase the second edition, the supplement Mystery Codex reprints the new material.
I am not sure I like the digest format of the book. Witchcraft does not lay flat or fit neatly with my other games. Then again, the digest format does make the book easier to carry around, and easier to read if I don't need it to lie flat. I detest fully justified text, however; it looks really bad.
The layout is clean and not overly fancy. The artwork features both men and women, human and otherwise, clothed appropriately to their situation.
WitchCraft is a solid game, capturing the imagination without being so clever and elaborate that it becomes a chore to play. I am delighted that Eden published the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer rpg; the Unisystem is practically designed for it. But, it is the more adaptable WitchCraft that first captured my heart and that still has a special place in it.