Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thou Shalt not Suffer a Witch to Live

Witch Hunter Second Edition Review

            This was a book that I was looking forward to since I found out there were doing a second edition during the summer. Sadly I missed out on the Kickstarter for it but they released it before Christmas so I fairly amused. Made for good reading over the Thanksgiving break. It also helps that I enjoy games in which you hunt down and kill supernatural critters. It’s why Hunter the Vigil is one of my favorite games.
            Witch Hunter is a game in which you play as well … witch hunters, tracking down and eliminating the minions of the Adversary.  The book has a very Judeo-Christian overtones, making use of such stories as King Solomon. If you’re not a fan of religious overtones then you may not like the game. Though to the games credit it does leave room for interpretation on the exact nature of God and Satan (who is referred to as the Adversary).

The Setting:
            Witch Hunter takes place during the late 17th century, around the year 1689. They’ve made several changes to the setting to make it a unique take on an alternate history. In the game vampires, werewolves, witches and other assorted creatures are real. The everyday man is semi aware of this fact. There is also a little bit of magic left in the world. You play as a witch hunter, a mortal who knows the truth and takes up the challenge of protecting others from the supernatural and hunting them down.
            It all starts with the biblical king Solomon. He is aware of the dark forces in the world and he decides he’s going to protect future generations. He gathers up the most wisest and skilled magicians in the world and begins to work on a ritual called the Great Seal. However one of the magi is fooled by the Adversary and the seal is flawed. The forces of the Adversary are able to get through, though at a reduced rate than before. There is also a little bit of magic leaking through which allows for the continuation of magic (in its various forms).
Fast forward a few centuries and we arrive to the dark ages and the black plague. The disease kills more men than women. This creates an opportunity for women to step up and fill in for roles that they previously weren’t allowed in. Even after the plague women still continue in their new roles. Kinda like the 1940’s and WWII. Well the plague was devastating the effects of European diseases wasn’t as deadly as it historically was. Especially for the Aztec empire, who use their dark and evil magic’s to mitigate the damage done to their population. This leaves them in a position to fight Spain’s claims in the New World.  If this is your first time with the game then I highly recommend going back and finding at least a copy of the Aztec Empire. While the rules are first edition the setting info in it is amazing.
Now the PC’s are members of the Orders, a group of organizations that developed to fight the minions of the Adversary. The book outlines several major ones with notations about there being smaller ones and more info on those in an upcoming book. The Orders have come together and formed a loose alliance as it were, so that they can better fight the Adversary and also to offer up aide and protection from the Church.
Adventures can occur anywhere in the world, though the setting material mostly focus on Europe and the New World. The biggest changes to the New World is the Aztec Empire which stretches into parts of what is now the western southern states and down through central México.

The Rules:
            The second chapter covers most of the rules you need to play the game. It uses a d10 system, and if you’re familiar with games like Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) or the World of Darkness games  then you’re going to have a smooth transition into Witch Hunter. Even if you are not familiar with either of those games the rules are pretty straightforward and easy to pick up on.
            To resolve an action you are typically going to roll a dice pool created from an Attribute + Skill. Much like in L5R you can’t have a dice pool greater than 10 dice. So for every two dice over 10 you gain an automatic success. And much like the World of Darkness games you need to roll a 7 or higher to succeed at an action. Depending on the difficulty of the task you’ll need anywhere from 1 success to 5 or 6.
            You can garner better effects on a role by making a wager, which is similar in application to making a raise in L5R. If you roll a 10 then you get to re roll that dice until it stops coming up 10. On the flip side if you roll more 1’s than you did success then the action suffers a complication of some sort. This isn’t like a botch in other games, as you can still succeed at the action and still have more 1’s than you did actual success.       
            For combat they have a series of style talents. Think of these as being like combat special moves feats. There are three basic level for talents (both the combat fighting style and the non combat skill based type); Basic, Great and Heroic.

            These mechanics are rounded out with a True Faith state that measures your belief in a higher power and a Damnation trait that shows how far you’ve fallen from the path of the righteous. You also have Hero Points which you can use to do a variety of things from gaining access to talents your character doesn’t normally have to saving your characters life.
            Finally your character has a Virtue and a Vice. Veterans of World of Darkness games will be very accustomed to how these work. A vice is a weakness that a character has. Something that may draw him away from the path of the righteous. They can be activated by the GM if he feels it’s appropriate for that situation. So a character who has a vice in say greed may have it activated by the GM if while on a mission the character spots something that peeks his interest. On the flip side characters also have virtues, and as the name implies it’s a characters strength, a means of showing how righteous the character may be.
            There is also a system for magic. There are six types of magic with in the setting. You have your three good ones of Prayer, Animism, and Hermetic. Then you have three villainous ones of Diabolism, Necromancy and Witch Craft.

The Good
            Witch Hunter is an easy game to transition into. I games centered around hunting down the things that go bump in the night. As I mentioned earlier Hunter the Vigil is one of my all time favorite games (and is still my favorite of the nWoD). It’s alternate history is pretty good. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is its use of the Aztecs and how depraved they are. I like how the game allows for more gender equity than was truly present at that time.
            I love the way they handled fighting styles. It adds a nice variety and spin to combat. The emphasis in the book on swashbuckling makes taking a combat style even more fun. We’re talking about action from movies like Pirates of the Carrabin and the Three Musketeers. While I’m mentioning the Three Musketeers, the notation on making Cardinal Richelieu a lich is just highly amusing.
            Finally I liked the rules they created for mob combat scenes and the use of minions. It makes it fairly seamless to toss hordes of bad guys at the PC’s for them to chop down in an equally heroic fashion.

The Bad
            There were really only two things that kinda annoyed me. The first is from the magic section. There is a mention of using a Grimoire in spell casting. The notation indicates that rules will be provided for in another book, but for me I like to have all the core rules in one spot. Thus the magic section feels somewhat incomplete until they release Rites and Relics.
            Finally I am somewhat miffed at the lack of diversity in the game. Outside of being Native American there isn’t much mention of anything that isn’t European. Native Americans have one Order that is truly all their own, but there isn’t one for people of African or Asian descent. I also was not pleased with the few references to Africa describing the continent as barbaric. When you see how well they handled bringing women into the setting and creating a better environment for female PC’s to play in, the lack of any real insight into other non-European cultures just leaves one wanting.  
            Considering the games more religious bent it would have been nice at least to feature an African Christian nation. Ethiopia has strong roots in Christianity after all and an Order from there would have opened the game up a bit more in my opinion. In future books I hope they work a bit harder in painting non Europeans in a positive light.

The Wrap Up

            My feelings on the matter of race aside, I find the game to be intriguing. Overall I’d give it a 4 out of 5 Fro’s. The setting is interesting enough to want to play in and I feel that the other matters are something that future supplements could fix and address. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

You're Not Alone

There’s a conversation happening in geek/nerd culture and it’s a great one, to an extent. See there’s a lot being said about how popular geek/nerd culture is these days. A conversation about how the stigma of being a gamer or enjoying comic books has lessened over the years. And I’m not saying this isn’t true. But there is a theme that arises in a lot of these conversations about the trials and tribulations of growing up a geek when it wasn’t cool to be a geek that I can’t agree with. This theme is one of loneliness and a tough choice between having to be a nerd or dating.

Growing up a geek didn’t mean that I always had a date. Like any teenager or young adult there were times when I did and there were times when I didn’t. But the choice to date, to interact with girls, never came down to me having to choose between the hobby I loved dearly and snuggling up to someone. As a young man I had to develop a skill that has helped me go far in life, time management.

Being a functioning adult means balancing various demands on life. This idea holds true for nerds as it does for anyone else. As a young lad I had to decide when I wanted to spend my Friday night rolling dice or eating popcorn with a pretty girl. Some Fridays I’d game. Others I’d go to the movies. Or I’d schedule gaming related events in the early afternoon so that I’d have my evenings free to be sociable with other people.

Next came developing multiple interest. I was never afraid of being a nerd. These days most of my friends know that if I’m causally reading on my Nexus 7, odds are strong that I’m reading an rpg supplement. But before the implementation of pdfs and tablets I used to carry good ole fashion rpg supplements. You know how heavy those get in a back pack after awhile!!! But that wasn’t the end of my personality or the scope of my interest. Yeah I could go on and on about why THACO sucked, or why Mage was better than Vampire, or why the X-Men combined would never in one million years be as cool as Batman. But I could also hold a reasonable conversation about politics. Sure I didn’t play any sports but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be caught dead at a college football game (as an fyi they can be a lot of fun). I not only watched Star Trek The Next Generation but also The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In short I developed a varied set of interest and this variety of interest allowed me to have something to say in the company of gamers and in the company of non gamers.

I make mention of this not to understate the difficulties faced by gamers, nerds and geeks growing up. Instead I bring this up to serve as a reminder that not every nerd had a difficult time growing up. Your teenage years and into your young adult years is a very hard time for everyone. Regardless of your hobbies and interest. It’s a time of self discovery. It’s a time when you desperately want to fit in. It’s a time in your life where you start to figure the kind of person you want to be when you “grow up”. I placed quotes there mostly because we never really grow up.

It’s important to remember that everyone faces these basic challenges. And we all adapt differently. It’s important to remember that everyone faces these challenges so that we can come together as people. Focusing on that period of our lives as being some how negative because you had to make a hard choice between gaming and dating is misleading. It’s a choice we all make no matter the hobby. It also scares away people who may otherwise self identify as a geek or nerd. No one wants to be alone. And no one wants to get involved in a hobby that may make them feel alone.

Now I’m not going to claim it’s easy. It takes a lot of work balancing the various aspects of life and my personality. But it is equally rewarding.

Being in this hobby doesn’t condemn you to a life of solitude.