Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games

Title: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gotta tell you, this is my second favorite of all of Timothy Brannan's Witch character classes for B/X era games. The Mara Witches are some of the darker characters types available to the player. In fact, I find them so dark they are actually a special type of character that should have one heavy restriction. 

In every edition of D&D, there have been a few character types that are so special that they are limited to NPC classes. The idea of a shaman character class has always been a part of D&D and only available to the DM as an non-player character. I know a thing or two about great NPCs, my children are actually named Nathan, Paul, Catherine on purpose. 

Shamistic casters open up the possibility of playing a monster across tropes. An expert may assist the party because they have a higher calling. A sage may invigorate the party with a quest. Basically these are all people who may pick the party over their clan against some greater evil or some higher cause. Someone who may save the day in a heel-face-turn. 

This one book makes the best case for making witches a PC class only. Never should a DM be granted such power. While there is the distinct possibility of a Mara witch choosing an evil or chaotic alignment the player has to totally embrace The Three-fold Law, no matter how injurious or dangerous it may be to themselves. In the hands of a player, the Mara witch can shine and become a legend. 

In the hands of the DM, the person who dictates the story and arranges the plots and creates the scenarios, the Mara witch is too powerful. If the DM is the only person who can invoke repercussions of violating the Three-fold Law, then the role of the Mara Witch loses it main strength, the role of tradition. This could and would happen because while the DM may desire a moral story where the Mara Witch falls due to their own evilness, vanity or pettiness, this class can march all over the party. 

In the hands of a player, this type of witch is very subtle and powerful. To the player, chaos and evil don't really matter much because they have to abide the fact that their magic could backlash on them. Chaos and evil can take many different forms, but this witch class requires that guiding hand of the player to be an effective character. Someone who feels they have something to win and something to lose. 

Having created a number of character classes, including a book specifically about NPCs called "Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners", I think can say this character is so different it must be left to a player to make them come to life and should never be given into the hands of DM, except for the rarest circumstance. 

This book follows the format of the other two books I have reviewed, The Amazonian Witch and The Classical Witch traditions. Like the other two books, except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic system introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. All spells are well written and does not cause a power race with the standard character classes. While specifically written for Labyrinth Lord, it could be added to a great number of rule sets with little problems. 

Like the other two books, it has great cover art, wonderful interior art and nicely formatted tables, with blue tint for easy reading. I think this series of books captures the great cover art of second edition D&D while also maintaining the rougher aspect of the B/X era D&D books. The balancing act was well done. 

A final highlight to all of these witch themed books is the idea of Tradition. Each book paints an image of the many kinds of witches that have existed in mythology. While there may be a few changes in powers and abilities, each one is similar enough to easily grasp in a readthrough. 

Unlike the other two reviews, I spent most of my time looking over the spell lists. This book has 36 pages of spells. And every time I thought to myself, "I would tweak this spell in this way..." I found a second spell that met whatever my imagined need was. Not only are the spells well balanced for this class, they support one another to create a dark mysterious vibe. Which also reinforces the idea that witches need to handled by actual players and not thrown as NPC so the DM can run over the party. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

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