Monday, January 31, 2011

Mythic Monday: The Witch

O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!'
-HP Lovecraft, "The Horror at Red Hook"

Recently in Gothic Greyhawk the player characters had the opportunity to travel to Witch Mountain and parley with the mistress of said mountain.  It was exciting to prepare for the session - I knew there was an article or two in Dragon magazine that featured the Witch.  I started looking at one, it began "Witches do not have a pact with Satan, or follow dark gods, that’s bad press they’ve been receiving since the Middle Ages…"  I stopped there because my head exploded.  What?  In fact, all the articles I scanned took the revisionist history,  'witches were just persecuted pagans' approach - I could imagine the copies of Marion Zimmer Bradley's works on the desk while they were writing.

Whatever happened to the horrible figure that inspired witch hunts, that eats children like Hansel and Gretel, worships the Devil, and zooms around cackling on a broom?  How about embracing the stereotype?

Luckily, there is an amazing Renaissance book (Malleus Maleficarum) that explains all about how to identify the *real* kind of witches and what they do.  It seems a bit misogynistic , hysterical and delusional  - just the kind of thing that could get a lot of innocent people killed if someone took it seriously.  Fortunately, we're only talking about fictional antagonists in a role-playing game, here.

Here's a short list of what makes (fake) witches happy:

  • Pacts with the Devil big supernatural adversary in your game
  • Devotion to Evil
  • Tromping on the Cross holy symbol of the big church in your game
  • Flying by night on a broom
  • Secret meetings - the Black Mass, the Witches Sabbat
  • Infanticide
  • Cannibalism
  • Sex with the Devil big supernatural adversary in your game
  • Orgies
See what I'm talking about?  Neo-pagan wiccans rediscovering their ancient roots… kinda boring.  Not for killing.  Satanic witches of folklore - totally for killing.  Or rocking out to 70's metal with them.  Of course, if you're a player in my game, the witch is also for hopping in to bed with and signing your soul away in a lust-filled haze of regret.  I imagine that's not as rare an occurrence as you think.

The Witch in Gothic Greyhawk
Real witches have picnics.. with big goats
Witches are female clerics devoted to the worship of evil and the Adversary.  The depiction in myth and folklore involves worship, ceremony, ritual, and pacts - all elements that take the witch out of the realm of arcane magic and towards clerical magic.  Hell is orderly and hierarchical, and belongs to the realm of Law; witches are Lawful.  (I suppose that would be Lawful Evil if you did the AD&D thing.)

In general, I'm not a fan of re-writing classes and sticking on new class abilities when an existing class already suffices; I would treat the witch as a regular evil cleric, except to note that certain spells off the Magic User list would be available to an individual witch as clerical spells to fit the theme - Charm Person, Change Self, and Suggestion were the ones that sprung to mind.  Plenty of (reversed) clerical spells already have the right feel, such as Curse, Blindness, Cause Wounds, and Blight.

With the help of their diabolical muses, the witch is able to make and use various magic items that would otherwise be the province of the Magic User; these include crystal balls and flying brooms.  Potions are popular items for the witch to make, including love potions (potions of charm person), flying ointment, and poisons.