It’s almost impossible not to root for a company with a name like Angry Hamster Publishing. Perhaps that is why their Kickstarter Campaign to put out their RPG, WITCH met 9 stretch goals and ended up being 300% funded. Then again, it might be the elegant simplicity and sheer exuberance of the game itself.
At its core, WITCH uses what is, essentially a stripped down version of the d20 mechanics. There are attributes and skills and these are combined and added to a d20 roll and compared against a DC (difficulty, though what DC actually stands for is not defined) set by the GM. Many of the more complex portions of the d20 system are left out, giving both players and GM’s more freedom to make decisions and tell stories without getting weighed down with charts and tables and rules and exceptions to those rules.
The combat system is essentially the same as the non-combat rules with opponents having a DC that is essentially the same as an AC. Characters and creatures even have HP, though they have four sets of HP with each one that is eliminated imposing ever higher penalties to actions. This is actually a large difference from other d20 systems since it lessens the dichotomy of having 1 hit point and being as effective as having 1,000 but being completely out of the fight at -1.
These may sound like small changes but, honestly, many systems seem to want to reinvent the wheel. While the d20 system certainly has its flaws and can get overly byzantine, the ladies over at Angry Hamster have done an excellent job of keeping what’s really necessary for the system and adding a couple of things that enhance it.
Where WITCH distinguishes itself from any number of d20 games is in its magic system. This is no accident. The designers created the game specifically because they did not like the slot based spell system from D&D. There are neither slots nor power points in WITCH. Instead, each character knows a number of spells, each at one or more levels. In theory, one of the Fated (the name for the characters in this game) can use any spell an infinite number of times. In reality, each time one of the Fated successfully casts one of her spells in a day, the chance that she will botch it the next time increases. An important part of that system is that only successful castings increase this botch chance so people with bad dice rolls aren’t doubly penalized.
These botches don’t, necessarily, have to be catastrophic and can be as simple as the spell simply not going off, so, again, there is not too much danger of things going terribly wrong when spells are cast. Of course, this lets the players decide how much risk they want to take and how much they want to depend on the possibly fickle nature of their spells. It also gives them an out they can always attempt when situations are dire. Never will the character definitively run out of fireballs to fling around, though the chance of them popping out at all becomes ever more unlikely. Personally, given the probabilities involved, I would stop using any given spell unless under the worst of circumstances after the 3rd casting for the day. But, I know that is just where my comfort level with risk lies. I certainly know players who would cast a spell 2 or 3 more times without blinking an eye.
The spells available to a character are determined by their Fate. These Fates are somewhat reminiscent of Clans, Auspices and Paths from the World of Darkness system games. Each character’s abilities, oulook and, to a certain degree, personality, are influenced by this Fate. And, much like the World of Darkness setting, WITCH can be a little dark. After all, the way a person gets their Fate is by selling their soul. Of course, the reason why a person would do this is myriad but, in the end, the person is trading their soul to some sort of infernal power or dark spirit for earthly power. Then again, the entities that grant the Fates don’t necessarily seem bad. For example, one of the Fates is the Bokor and they are granted their abilities by Loa, who are often dark but not necessarily evil. Still, it’s hard to imagine anything good coming from selling one’s soul.
Nonetheless there don’t seem to be many mechanically negative repercussions for this exchange, though each Fate does have a drawback inherent in it. Then again, that was true of the World of Darkness games, too. While a vampire in that universe and a Fated in this should likely wrestle with what they have done and what they might be becoming, this is all through roleplaying without any mechanical reinforcement inherent in the system.
I received a “first look” package for WITCH (the full version isn’t set to come out until later this month) so there wasn’t much more of the mechanics provided. Sample characters and the specific spells they possess are provided but not the full list of potential abilities and spells.
Since I was only looking at a promotional copy, the actual mechanics of the game were only 5 pages worth of the text. I have to assume that these rules are expanded and explained in further depth in the actual game, but, honestly, it wouldn’t need much more to be a workable, entertaining system.
The next 35 pages in the promotional material were a good introductory adventure. Long though this may seem to be for an introductory adventure, it is a rather sweeping story that includes time travel and globe hopping (both through magic, of course.) There are several set piece scenes but the plot does not bog down in details. One of the nice touches in the adventure is that each NPC includes a short introduction and background for the game master. These go into their history and give a good grasp on their motivations. This combination makes it easy to properly play one of these NPC’s without going too in depth with each character or shackling the GM with a framework for the character that is too tight or small.
The introductory adventure throws plenty of situations at the players so that they can try out combat, skill challenges and social interactions using the rules, and, of course use their magic. It also gives them a nice feel for the world and its history.
The promotional material I received was pretty simplistic. In fact, it wasn’t even professionally bound but rather home made. Nonetheless, the ladies over at Angry Hamster put a great deal of effort into it. Several stickers as well as a poster came with the material and there were a couple of nice handouts that went along with the adventure (one of which is currently decorating my travel coffee mug.) And the art that they’re going to include in the final product looks really promising, as well. Though these touches are small, they are encouraging and the sort of attention to detail and customer enjoyment that leads to a successful business. It’s these little details that turn players into fans and fans into proselytizers. And, of course, the final product, with the money they earned from their Kickstarter campaign will no doubt being quite professional.
WITCH will probably never overshadow D&D but in the ever widening and ever more crowded field of indie roleplaying games, it certainly deserves attention. Angry Hamster Publishing promises to be one of those companies who loves their fans and whose fans love them in turn. And anyone who loves RPG’s could do a lot worse than supporting people who are so obviously excited about games and game design.