Paradigm Concepts’ Witch Hunter
is a historical fantasy/horror RPG set in an alternate year 1689. Players assume the roles of those chosen by God to be Witch Hunters, those who do battle against the Forces of Darkness – which include not only the requisite witches but also werewolves, vampires, headless horsemen, and other sorts of legendary menaces.
The idea of playing witch hunters as good guys – especially in a time period so close to the infamous Salem Witch Trials – is one that may well raise eyebrows, and already has here on the RPGnet forums. There’s little in the rulebook that directly addresses that concern, though a disclaimer on the website assures readers that no offense is intended. It should be noted that the witches in the game are those that were believed in at the time – sworn followers of Satan who wield malevolent magic against their neighbors. Non-Christian religions, though less common in the setting than the various flavors of Christianity, are not painted as tools of evil; indeed, they produce Witch Hunters of their own who oppose evil alongside their Christian brethren. Conversely, the Inquisition in the game is depicted as a rival and threat to the Witch Hunters, as it draws little distinction between independent self-proclaimed agents of God and the minions of the Adversary.
Art and Layout
The cover of Witch Hunter has a faux-book appearance, though not to the extent of the D&D Third Edition corebooks. The title is superimposed over a crumbling piece of parchment (apparently a map) that seems to have recently been set afire. The central cover illustration shows a Witch Hunter locked in battle with a bat-winged terror, with the corpses of two similar creatures visible. The look of the Witch Hunter very much evokes that of Solomon Kane, though judging from the large rosary on his belt this fellow is a Catholic rather than a Puritan. The rest of the front cover is decorated with Hermetic magical circles, and a pair of bloody fingerprints is visible to the lower right. All in all, an eye-catching display. The spine, by contrast, disappoints with a fairly bland rendering of the game’s title.
The interior of the book is black-and-white. Art is a bit sparse, but is just as evocative as the cover painting. Page borders (each decorated with a couple of dangling skulls) call out chapter titles and page numbers. Greyscale text boxes throughout the book offer supplementary information related to the main text. Section and subsection headings are easy to recognize without being overly fancy.
A simple two-page affair, the Introduction serves to lay out the basics of the game from both in-character and out-of-character perspectives. The first of the two pages purports to be a letter from a now-fallen Witch Hunter, presenting the rest of the book as a guide to those who come after him. We learn that what separates Witch Hunters from the common mass of humanity is that they once came face to face with the evils abroad in the world and did not turn away or seek to forget; instead, they stood their ground and fought. After that, the letter warns, no Witch Hunter can simply return to normal life, for the Adversary has become aware of the person, and anyone who does not continue the hunt will be hunted instead.
The second page of the introduction is an out-of-character breakdown of the central elements of the game: horror, swashbuckling action, history, folklore, and faith. Each receives a short paragraph explaining its importance to the overall feel of the game. I very much appreciate this brief description, and hope to see the approach used in more games in the future.
Chapter One: The Orders of Solomon
This chapter explores the “hidden history” of the world of Witch Hunter, and in particular the history of the various Orders to which Witch Hunters belong. These are, of course, the different “splats” that an RPG will often provide to promote distinction and sometimes rivalry between characters who might otherwise seem too similar.
As the name indicates, the Orders trace their history back to King Solomon of Israel, whose Great Seal separated the Visible World of mortals from the Invisible World of demons and other supernatural menaces – but only imperfectly, leaving most of humanity defenseless against threats they could not perceive. To fill the gap, Solomon sent magi into the world to train others, creating the original Orders. Influenced by the minions of the Adversary, those who wielded political or religious power rarely trusted the Witch Hunters, forcing them to operate in secret through groups such as the Knights Templar. Over time, Witch Hunters of different cultures and faiths grew ignorant of each other, even regarding other Orders as servants of the Adversary. Only in recent years, ever since a clash between two Orders allowed their common enemy to start the Great Fire of London, have the Orders recognized each other via an agreement known as the Accord, which forbids Witch Hunters to allow their differences to stand in the way of their common mission.
Along the way, the chapter points up a few of the differences between Witch Hunter’s history and that of the real world. For one, Hermetic magi are an accepted part of many European royal courts, though the Church requires each magus to submit to a harrowing Ordeal in order to weed out demonic influence. (Some Protestant countries, distrustful of Catholic ideas and eager to gain a magical advantage over their rivals, have flirted with abolishing the Ordeal, though none has yet gone so far.) The Black Death killed off far more men than women, leading to a higher social status and a wider range of life choices for women that have persisted into the 17th century. The Knights Templar were wiped out not merely because of their wealth and alleged pagan practices, but because Witch Hunters among them once crucified the Pope (in a desperate attempt to stop a plague of the undead by mystically re-enacting the sacrifice of Christ). That same incident is the reason why the Catholic Church and its Inquisition oppose Witch Hunters to this day, leaving Catholic Witch Hunters in something of a spiritual quandary between their duty and the Church they hold dear. Finally, the makeup of the colonial New World is rather different than it was at that point in our own history. New York is still New Netherland; there are no English colonies between “Carolina” and Spanish Florida; and perhaps most momentously, New Spain consists solely of Florida and a few islands in the Caribbean. The expeditions that conquered the Aztecs and Inca in our history were repelled or destroyed by dark magic, and Central and South America remain in native hands. (An illustration of Aztecs engaging in vampiric blood rites shows that that’s not a good thing, whatever one might think of the conquistadores in our own history.)
The chapter concludes with descriptions of the major Orders of Solomon in the modern day, including each Order’s cultural and religious origins; the sorts of members it seeks out; its attitudes toward the other Orders; any special missions or goals its members might have; and the game-mechanical benefit for belonging to each one. Here’s a brief rundown of the Orders:
The Apostles of the New Dawn are explorers and missionaries from Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. They are primarily concerned with protecting expeditions and settlements in new territories. They easily master new languages and often know something of the mystical practices of other cultures.
The Ascetics of the Ten Persecutions draw their members from the dregs of society, lifting up the downtrodden. They live under a strict set of vows derived from preserved records of the original Roman persecutions of Christianity, which they consider more trustworthy than the Bible. Each vow gives them special powers.
The Crusaders Inviolate claim to be the true heirs to the Templars. They believe that murder and torture in God’s name are no sins, and are known for striking swiftly and disappearing without trace. This Order is a vast and secretive web, with contacts and resources seemingly everywhere.
The Fellowship of the Ashen Cross is an Order made up entirely of devout Catholics who seek to return to the Church’s good graces. Their namesake relic, wood from the cross on which Pope Sergius died, grants them special powers. For obvious reasons, they are particularly opposed to the excesses of the Crusaders Inviolate.
The Ghost People are those Witch Hunters chosen from among the Indian nations. They are so called because most often, their own people regard them as contaminated by their experiences, as good as dead. Because of the Accord, European Witch Hunters treat them better, though often not by much.
The Lightbringers are scientists and artists who battle the forces of darkness with the worldview of the Enlightenment. Though frequently Christian, theirs is a humanistic creed, opposed to any sect that preaches the inherent wickedness of human nature. Their special foes are those who have traded their humanity for dark power.
The Stalkers of the Unseen Hunt are a dour Eastern European Order of woodsmen and hunters, said to be originally of pagan origins. A Stalker tends to travel alone or with a single apprentice, fully expecting to die one day as the prey of those he hunts. Those who travel to the New World often ally with Ghost People.
The Stalwarts of St. Christopher are an Order of English origin. Like their patron saint, the Stalwarts especially protect roads and travelers, keeping those who journey far from home safe from the dangers that lurk in the darkness. They firmly place protection of the innocent above the destruction of their enemies.
The Sunwise Circle is a Russian Orthodox Order known for its members’ inner strength and devout faith. They’ve been coming to Western Europe and the New World in increasing numbers, seeking to supplement the efforts of the “jaded” western Orders. Evil committed in the name of religion especially draws their wrath.
In addition to these major Orders, text boxes mention a few minor Orders, though their natures make them more suitable for NPC allies or rivals than for player characters. A group known as the Devoted, for example, concentrates solely on hunting a single entity – a perpetually reincarnating murder-spirit known to them as “Ivan Korsky,” though they believe him also to have been the Emperor Caligula, Gilles de Rais, and Countess Bathory. The Twelve Penitents have a membership of exactly twelve, who wander the world carrying crosses on their shoulders and dispensing wisdom to those in need. The Brotherhood of the Broken Spear is an exclusively English and Anglican group that scorns the Accord, having vowed to protect King and Country against “Catholics, foreigners, and the Adversary.”
Chapter Two: Making a Witch Hunter
As is likely obvious, this is the character creation chapter. It opens with “The Twelve Steps of Character Creation” overlaid on a character sheet for visual reference; each section of the sheet is numbered to correspond with one of the twelve steps.
Step one of character creation is Concept, including culture and religion. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, and involves nothing in the way of game mechanics.
Step two is Background – the occupation or lifestyle one followed before being called as a Witch Hunter. Each Background gives free skill levels, some pre-determined and others free to spend as the player wishes on a certain category of skills. Also provided by Background are Social Standing (which influences wealth) and a special ability unique to each Background. Some Backgrounds require certain minimum Ability scores, which are purchased in a later step.
Step three is Catalyst – the event that propelled the character into the life of a Witch Hunter. As with Concept, this is up to the player and has no mechanical ramifications. Several options are provided as examples, from “Sole Survivor” to “Chosen One” to a near-death experience.
Step four is Order, the choice of which of the Orders of Solomon the character joined after the Catalyst event.
Step five is Abilities, the usual traits that every character possesses. Witch Hunter has nine, three each in the categories of Physical (Strength, Agility, Toughness), Mental (Education, Reason, Will), and Spiritual (Courage, Intuition, and Personality). Each is rated from 1-5. If you see similarities to White Wolf’s Storyteller and Storytelling systems, you’re not far off the mark, though the actual purchase of starting Ability scores works rather differently. Each ability starts at a score of 2 (average), and the player has a pool of 100 points to spend on increasing them. Naturally, the points aren’t spent one-to-one; rather, a score of 3 costs 10 points, a score of 4 costs an additional 20, and so forth. Oddly, in the tables that tell what a given score in each ability means, the allegedly average score of 2 is almost always given a slightly unpleasant description, as though no self-respecting hero would settle for a merely average score!
Step six is Skills. In Witch Hunter, skills come in five categories – Fighting skills, Interaction skills, Movement skills, Professional skills, and Reaction skills. The “elective” skill levels granted by a given Background are likewise divided into these five categories – a Soldier gets most of his elective skill levels in Fighting and Reaction skills, while a Scout gets most of his in Movement and Professional skills. The skill levels gained from one’s Background are all a character gets at the start of the game; there are no additional points to spend in this step of character creation. Like ability scores, skill levels can range from 1-5, and each skill is associated with a particular ability.
Step seven is Talents – special abilities not covered by skills, like D&D feats or Storytelling merits. Talents come in Basic, Greater, and Heroic flavors, and at the start of the game each character chooses either four Basic talents or two Basic talents and one Greater talent. A given talent will frequently have a minimum ability score, minimum skill level, or another talent as a prerequisite. For the most part, the talents cover the usual bases. Of special note are the Magical Tradition and Fighting Tradition talents, which open up a lot of the heroic oomph available to Witch Hunter characters. In those cases, a character first has to take a talent in order to “unlock” abilities of a certain level (Basic, Greater, or Heroic again), and then another talent for each specific magical rite or fighting talent. Clearly, most such abilities are going to be picked up gradually as the game goes on, though a dedicated practitioner could spend all his starting talents to open up the Basic level of a Tradition and then acquire three Basic rites or fighting talents.
Step eight covers Hero Points, True Faith, and Damnation. Hero Points are your basic “special pool of points you can spend to enhance your efforts or get out of a jam.” Hero Points are earned when a player adds coolness to a scene or deliberately complicates his character’s life. They can be spent to add dice to a roll, to negate wounds or ignore wound penalties, to delay unconsciousness or death, to resist the temptations of a character’s Sin (see step 9), or to make use of a talent the character does not possess.
True Faith represents a character’s faith in whatever form of God he acknowledges. Every Witch Hunter begins with one point of True Faith (two if a particular talent is chosen) and can later accumulate more. True Faith is primarily a defensive ability, aiding against certain evil powers and helping a character resist the corrupting effects of dark rites if he is forced to employ them.
Damnation is the opposite of True Faith, representing a character’s corruption by the forces of the Adversary. Characters don’t start with any, but can earn it through wicked acts or the employment of dark magic. Damnation can be spent as a more powerful version of Hero Points (though doing so earns one additional Damnation) and thus offers a tempting source of power.
Step nine is the choice of a Sin and a Virtue. Every character has a particular moral strength and a particular moral weakness. Virtues have no associated mechanics, though living up to them even when it causes problems is a way to earn Hero Points. Each Vice does have a mechanical effect – a bonus, in fact, that can be called upon in return for accepting a point of Damnation.
That’s really the end of character creation as such. Step ten involves figuring starting wealth and purchasing equipment; step eleven is figuring up one’s Health Track (a number of boxes in each wound level based on Toughness); and step twelve is figuring one’s combat dice pools from abilities and skills.
Overall, I like this character creation system. The one thing I’d probably change, were it up to me, would be to give just a few points to spend completely freely on skill levels, in addition to the pre-set and elective skill levels acquired from one’s Background. I think it would make for more well-rounded starting characters.
Chapter Three: Wealth and Equipment
I’m not going to spend a great deal of space on this chapter, since most of it’s your pretty standard list of equipment and prices, but I’ll make a few comments. The chapter opens with a look at currency, which is simplified for game purposes into a universal European and New World currency based on the English model (crowns and farthings and whatnot). The only exchange rates given are for the “wampum” or “seawant” currency of those Indian nations that do a lot of trading with the colonists. I’d have liked to see at least a vague approximation of exchange rates between different European currencies, even if one is adopted as the standard for use in the equipment lists.
Much to my surprise, starting wealth is a random 1d10 pounds for every character, making no use of the “social standing” mentioned in each background. (It is explained that wealthier characters spend more on their lavish lifestyles.) Social standing only seems to come into play in those rare situations in which characters seek to earn money by following their pre-Witch Hunter professions, in which case an average yearly income is given based on social standing.
The equipment lists cover the usual range of period gear, from clothing and travel gear to food and drink, from animals and vehicles to weapons and armor. In an unusual twist on ammunition rules that fits the era, firearms are rated in “shots per pound of powder” (powder and shot being purchased separately by the pound). Of course, most firearms of the period can be fired only once or twice before reloading, so there’s a definite “take that pistol shot, then drop your gun and draw your sword” feel.
One oddity in the weapons rules: Every weapon has a Complexity stat, representing the difficulty involved in wielding it. Complexity is subtracted from a character’s dice pools when attacking with the weapon. I can see what they’re going for here, but what I consider odd is that the vast majority of attacks are going to be made at a penalty (only clubs, daggers, javelins, and unarmed attacks have Complexity 0). I would be tempted to lower Complexity numbers across the board so that the majority of weapons operate at no penalty, with only the most complex inflicting a slight minus.
Chapter Four: Playing the Game
This is where we get a look at Witch Hunter’s game system. As with the character stats, the system strongly resembles the various incarnations of White Wolf’s system, with a few little tweaks here and there.
The basic mechanic is a d10 dice pool roll. Roll a number of dice equal to Ability + Skill (plus or minus any modifiers) and count every die that comes up 7 or higher as a success. Harder tasks require more successes. A roll of 10 counts as a success and is re-rolled, possibly achieving another success or even another re-roll.
Combat, covered next, follows the usual RPG paradigm with a few changes. Initiative is an Agility + Reflexes roll, with more successes meaning an earlier action. A Defense Pool (the average of Agility and Toughness) is rolled each round to determine how many successes of opposing attacks one can negate. This is a pleasing alternative to splitting dice pools or having to give up an action in order to defend, though it does mean that there’s a recognizable pattern when multiple attackers gang up on a single target (as will often occur when a group of Witch Hunters battles a single, superior foe). The first one or two guys will strike to no effect, whittling down the target’s Defense, while later attackers will strike for full effect, the target’s entire ability to negate successes having been expended earlier. Attack successes not negated by Defense are applied to the target’s wound boxes.
As usual, a couple pages of special combat maneuvers follow the basic combat procedure. Witch Hunter provides rules for aiming, charging, breaking objects, disarming an opponent, performing multiple attacks, opting for full defense – all the usual suspects. That’s followed by a section on situational modifiers to combat, such as cover or severe weather. The combat section of the chapter wraps up with a discussion of damage effects and healing.
Next up are rules for mounts and vehicles, including a chase (or “pursuit”) system that’s pretty well put together. After that come rules for terrain and climate; then lifting and throwing; then non-combat hazards such as fire and poison. All these are pretty standard.
Fear rules are next – important in most games that include a horror element. In Witch Hunter, scenes, events, and creatures that might cause fear are given a Fear Difficulty, which must be overcome with successes on a Courage + Resolve roll. Failing the roll has increasingly dire effects depending on the magnitude of the failure. Most failure results only affect the next round or the remainder of the encounter, but failing by 5 successes or more inflicts appropriate mental disorders. Happily for our heroes, such disorders are always temporary, though they may last several game sessions or even require the acquisition and expenditure of multiple Hero Points before they fade. Because a character is never altered permanently by such experiences, the authors encourage playing one’s disorders to the hilt, and even suggest the awarding of Hero Points if role-playing a disorder complicates the character’s or group’s existence.
The final section of Chapter Four covers rewards. Experience points in Witch Hunter are termed Survival Points. As usual, they are earned at the end of each session and may be saved up to purchase increased abilities, skills, or new talents.
Chapter Five: The Three Circles of Sorcery
This chapter covers the Magical Traditions available to Witch Hunter characters and the various rites that may be learned within each one. As previously noted, Traditions are unlocked and rites acquired via talents. As with talents, the rites within each Tradition are divided into Basic, Greater, and Heroic levels of power.
The magic available to foes of evil is divided into three broad Traditions; a text box notes that each appears in a number of different forms in various cultures, and may be tailored by the player to fit a character’s specific background. The Traditions are these:
Animism is a Tradition focused on the powers of nature and the spirits that inhabit all things. In the Witch Hunter setting, Native American shamans are the most commonly found Animist practitioners. Animist rites convey such powers as perception of the spirit world; healing of wounds; communion with the land or with animals; command of the natural elements; and of course the summoning of spirit allies. Will is the most important ability score for Animist magic.
Hermeticism is the Tradition of highly ritualized and intellectualized occultism, commonly practiced by European magi. Education is the most important ability score for enacting its rites. The powers of the Hermetic magi include various warding and summoning circles; seeing through another’s eyes or even taking control of his body from afar; entering bodily into the Invisible World; and the risky practice of shaping eldritch energy into offensive blasts or defensive shields.
Prayer is a Tradition whose practitioners trust and call upon the powers of the Divine. Courage is the essential ability score for Prayer rites, though each rite also requires a minimum True Faith score. Faithful Prayer can grant such boons as blessing, healing, protection, exorcism, and judgment upon the wicked.
Each rite description includes a Difficulty (to be achieved by a roll of the appropriate ability score and the appropriate Sorcerous Tradition skill); a Time for preparation and enactment of the rite (which is often lengthy); a Duration; and a Strain number (which is either the number of rounds one must wait to safely enact another rite, or the number of wound boxes of damage one takes if one does not wait).
Chapter Six: Fighting Traditions
Witch Hunters who prefer to rely on doughty sword-arms rather than magic need not fear; they, too, have a range of cool abilities to choose from, as detailed in this chapter.
As with Magical Traditions, each Fighting Tradition offers Basic, Greater, and Heroic talents, which must first be unlocked and then purchased separately. Each of the Fighting Traditions detailed in the corebook offers three Basic talents, two Greater talents, and one Heroic talent. The Fighting Traditions are as follows:
Acciaio Mantello (Steel Cloak) is an Italian style in which the fighter’s cape or cloak is employed for distraction and misdirection. Used with a rapier or dagger in the main hand, the style focuses on defense, feints, and concealed strikes.
Fe en Acero (Faith in Steel) is a rapier-and-dagger or dual-rapier style that teaches the user to rely as much on his faith in God as on his blade. The talents available include dual-weapon techniques and various bonuses based on the fighter’s True Faith score.
Flor di Battaglia (Flower of Battle) is another Italian style that teaches the mastery of all weapons, including the bare hands. In addition to the use of any and all available weapons, the style includes talents that enhance speed and courage.
The Freifechter Fencing Guild’s style, developed in Prague, teaches the use of the greatsword to hammer aside lesser weapons and penetrate armor with ease. According to the game’s creators, this one is an actual historical fighting style.
La Verdadera Destreza (The True Skill) is a Spanish style derived from the works of Camillo Agrippa. It uses circular movements to counter the linear strikes of other styles, and puts me in mind of the style Anthony Hopkins teaches Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro.
Chapter Seven: The World of 1689
This, of course, is the setting chapter. It’s presented largely in-character, with Witch Hunters of various cultural backgrounds giving their take on the different nations and colonies. Text boxes supply “the facts” that the in-setting narrator might have missed or glossed over.
The description of each nation or colony includes a number of obvious adventure hooks, in the form of reports of strange sightings or odd rumors that Witch Hunters in the area might want to investigate. These range from typical folkloric creatures (black hounds in England or loups-garous in France) to major conspiracies in the circles of power (a Rasputin-like monk with the ear of Spanish king Charles II, or suspected dealings with the Adversary among the officials of the Dutch East India Company).
The section on Europe covers the nations of England, Spain, Portugal, France, and the United Provinces (the free-market republic of the Netherlands), with briefer coverage of “lands East” as well as a separate section on the Roman Catholic Church. “The New World” is divided into sections on New England; New Netherland (with a separate, lengthy section on New Amsterdam); Pennsylvania; the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee (“Iroquois” being a derogatory nickname applied by other tribes); the “southerly English colonies”; New France (Canada and Louisiana); New Spain; the Aztec Empire; and Brasil. Africa and Asia get a tiny section of their own under the heading “The Rest of the World.”
The chapter wraps up with a look at the Invisible World itself, which is divided into the Outer Kingdom (overlapping the normal world) and the Inner Kingdom (worlds beyond our own, including Heaven and Hell). The occasional “Hell Point” allows demons from Hell direct access into the mortal world; vigilant Witch Hunters will be especially eager to shut these down.
Chapter Eight: Grimoires and Relics
This chapter covers books of sorcerous knowledge and items invested with mystical power. It opens with rules for learning and casting rites directly from written sources. The bulk of the chapter is taken up with descriptions of the nature, history, and unique rites of four grimoires: the Wicker Book passed down among Celtic witches; Von Grimmel’s Diary, the journal and prayer-book of a devout Witch Hunter; the Lost Book of Isis, a rare and twisted work out of ancient Egypt; and the Greek Chimericon, a fabled book of Hermetic lore.
Following the grimoire descriptions is a much briefer (page-and-a-bit) section on relics, holy items most often associated with the Order of the Crusaders Inviolate. These come in five levels of power with increasing True Faith requirements. Only 1-2 examples are given per level, and there are no guidelines for creating and balancing relics aside from “use these as examples.” I suspect a supplement is on the wind, but I rather wish there had been a bit more here, especially given the wonderful creature-creation system we’ll see in Chapter 10.
Chapter Nine: Advice to the Grand Master
This is of course the GMing section. Aside from the usual basic advice on “What the GM does,” there’s quite a bit of Witch Hunter-specific advice here.
The “Core Themes” section defines Witch Hunter as a game of “swashbuckling colonial horror.” In turn, each of those three words receives several paragraphs covering its meaning and possible use by the GM.
Under “Sources of Inspiration,” we learn that Witch Hunter combines the genre elements of action-adventure, psychological horror, the slasher film, and the police procedural; GMs are advised that reading or watching sources from all these genres can profitably inform their Witch Hunter sessions.
“Elements of a Mission” is the last and longest section. It lays out the structure of a typical Witch Hunter mission (adventure). GMs are advised to start by defining the mission objective, then work out the introduction that will set the stage for the mission. Various types of scene elements (Location, Environment, Characters, Knowledge, and Obstacles) are then discussed, and the whole thing wraps up with a sample scenario outline, built up according to the elements previously discussed.
Chapter Ten: Creatures and Adversaries
Witch Hunter divides foes into Minions, Lieutenants, and Villains. Minions are your faceless hordes; they come in groups of five, and a single number (Threat Level) determines both all their dice pools and the number of wounds necessary to defeat them. “Advanced” minions can have a level or two in a couple of skills, giving them extra dice in their areas of specialty. Several types of human and animal minions (from pirates and cultists to bears and wolves) are written up.
Lieutenants are secondary villains, each about equal in power to a single Witch Hunter. While they can be created with the full rules, a “Quick” option is also provided that replaces individual abilities and skills with four general dice pools: Initiative, Melee, Ranged, and Extras. A point-buy system is provided for purchasing these pools, along with talents, Faith, and Damnation (still added separately).
Villains are the deadliest foes in the game, created with an expanded version of the full character generation rules (allowing for ability scores up to 9 and the direct purchase of Faith and Damnation). In addition, villains gain extra Defense dice based on the number of foes they face, and can return even after being killed and dispatched back to Hell (as the Adversary grants them new bodies with which to continue to work his dark will).
Supernatural foes are referred to as Threats; they are created as normal minions, lieutenants, or villains, then enhanced with supernatural Powers and Prices. A Price is a supernatural weakness, and every Power possessed by a Threat must be balanced with a Price, as God exacts His toll from creatures that should not exist in this world.
There follows a decent-sized compendium of sample Threats. The best bit here is that each entry represents not a single type of creature, but an overarching category (like “werewolf” or “vampire”) that can have numerous breeds or strains. Though each type has a fundamental Power and Price shared by all its members, additional Powers and Prices can vary considerably, allowing GMs to tailor menaces to each scenario and keeping players on their toes, since even similar threats may have new surprises in store. Additionally, each type of threat is statted up in multiple levels of power – minion, lieutenant, and/or villain, as appropriate. (Some creatures are too weak to have villain-types or too powerful to have minion-types.) A few types include a “feature villain,” a fully-statted-out individual character ready to challenge a band of Witch Hunters. Though there’s not room to include an entire “monster manual” in the core book (a Grand Tome of Adversaries is on the schedule), the customizability of the sample creatures and the ease of making up one’s own foes and threats with the generation system provided should allow any Grand Master to challenge his Witch Hunters for a good long time.
Next is a section of “threat talents,” talents not available to PC Witch Hunters but provided for use with supernatural foes. Most of these talents represent physical traits unique to nonhuman creatures (claws, fangs, large or small size, etc.).
“Villainous Sorcery” is the next section of the book. Like the Circles of Sorcery chapter for Witch Hunters, this section covers three wicked Magical Traditions used by the servants of the Adversary.
Diabolism is the Tradition practiced by those who have sold their souls piece-by-piece to the Adversary. Relying primarily on the Personality ability, its rites include summoning circles, portals to Hell, and words and gestures so blasphemous that merely to perceive them causes harm.
Necromancy is the forbidden study of the borderland between life and death, a Tradition that relies primarily on the Reason ability. Its rites include the calling up and entrapping of ghosts; the raising of corpses in various vile forms; and the projection of the necromancer’s own soul from his physical shell.
Witchcraft is a simple and seductive folk-magic Tradition. Its rites rely on the Intuition ability, and include charms and hexes, scrying, unnatural flight, and even the ability to change one’s form.
Details on the various supernatural Powers and Prices round out the chapter and conclude the book, except for the character sheet and a single-page advertisement (for the Dark Providence “living campaign” and two upcoming products, the Grand Master’s Screen and the Grand Tome of Adversaries)>
I really like Witch Hunter. The setting is rich and atmospheric, drawing on just the right mix of history and fantasy. The system seems simple to use, even if there are a few tweaks I might make here and there. The repeated reinforcement of the core themes and elements of the game – both at the beginning of the book and in the GMing chapter – is quite welcome, and helps me to understand what the designers are going for with the game. The magical and fighting traditions are flavorful, and I love that they remembered to include snazzy abilities for non-magic-wielders. The threat-creation rules are just wonderful, filling me with ideas for evil menaces with which to challenge a doughty band of Witch Hunters. I look forward to Paradigm Concepts’ future releases for the system, and wish the game a long and successful life.