Showing posts with label Timothy S. Brannan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Timothy S. Brannan. Show all posts

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review - The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition

Title: The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 65 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is designed for Labyrinth Lord as part of the Back to Basic series. Originally, it started as a joke on everything Pumpkin Spice themed. It roughly follows the other books in the series, with the exception of some level limits for non-human characters. 

This is my favorite of the series. While not entirely tongue in cheek, it's a fun read. In my mind, it comes across like the film A Knight's Tale. Popular culture is mixed up and presented in a timeless way. The idea of harvest, fall and Halloween is in this products DNA, but in a way which would detract from a series Dungeons and Dragons experience. Yes, there are jokey bits, but they are well thought out so they don't break the theme of D&D. If you like Angel or Buffy, these details will be right up your alley. 

This particular set calls out Labyrinth Lord but readers will find that it is a nice addition to any basic era game such as BlueHolme or the Red box set. With a little adaption, this book could be plugged into a great many rule sets like AD&D. The author specifically mentions a desire for this title to be cross-compatible, but noted they didn't make that the focus of this work. I suspect that Mr. Brannan wanted this book to cover a far wider range of game systems than I am familiar with using. Even if it doesn't go there, it's still a rock solid offering. 

Usually when I do a review, I mention the artwork. This product is loaded with artwork. I didn't count, but it seems like every other page or every third has something. In this book, most of the artwork is quarter page and inline with the text, rather that being placed in the centerline like 3.5 books. Again, like the subject matter the book, the artwork has a gothic summer turned autumn feel. 

Somehow, this version of the witch character class feels old, but not too old. It invokes a pleasant feeling of Deja Vu of my college days, when game night also featured a movie or TV before or after. That feeling of people just out to get together and have fun. 

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. 

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. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Review - Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition

Title: Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 84 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Of all the books Mr. Brannan has written on witches, this one is my second favorite. Were I to have it to do over again, I would have made my Coven of Ash witches in The Classical Witch Tradition instead of magic users. The power difference between a witch and a magic user is striking, the witch having the more subtle powers which I was aiming for with the Coven of Ash. 

This book largely follows the same format of The Amazon Witch Tradition, with a few twists. First, Part 1 runs down the basic description of witches of this tradition while Part 2 introduces the possibility of multiclassing. These are pairs of class, witch and one other class. They would gain experience far faster than the dreaded triple class characters. Additionally, the first part addresses what would be considered demi-human and monsters of this class, which is a great benefit to DM's desiring something completely different. In reading this work, I immediately thought to replace the Hermit from B2 Keep on the Borderland to this kind of witch. 

One small addition to this series is the use of color. The book is written for Blueholme and the blue tint on the tables is not only a nice touch, it makes everything easier to read. The artwork is also very nice. 

Part 3 describes the tradition itself and discusses how to add covens to your campaign. It gives 6 examples before giving suggestions for more coven types for your campaign. It's nice to have examples that are ready to go and the 6 provided could be plugging into many campaigns with no modification and all campaigns with a some modification. 

Part 5 explains the witches role in magic and provides 32 pages of spells. These spells are tooled specifically to this tradition of witches and includes ritual magic, a more powerful form of spells cast by several coven members. 

The book also includes 20 pages of new monsters or old friends reworked for Blueholme. Part 6 introduces some magical items and few artifacts. And the final chapter gives three examples of unique and powerful witches. This final part really reads like Deities and Demigods, but the powers are cranked back to almost-mortal levels. These are characters that you could adapt or use right of the book in your campaign for high level NPCs. 

And and not least, this book includes useful appendix of spells by level, useable by witches, clerics, magic users plus a complete alphabetical listing of spells. Those are perfect. 

This is a rock solid resources for any DM who desires a little mysterious magic at the table, something to knock the PC's clerics and magic users back a bit. Nothing is overpowered and is specifically meant to work with those classes without changing their core concepts. 

Spoiler Alert: I have four of these books and I am reviewing them in star order. This one is a solid 4.5 for the text alone and a 5 of 5 when the artwork is considered. 

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. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review - Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch Tradition

Title: Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019 (?)
Pages: 26 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing in the vein of the occult, today's review is of the Cult of Diana. This book is a part of a series on witches by Timothy S. Brannan for the Basic era D&D game. A word of warning, I play a mashup of B/X and AD&D 1e. I may let slip some observations which reference a set of rules that is not the one intended by the author of this book. 

To start, the entire series of books has excellent cover art. These are worth printing in high quality. Personally, I like to print the covers of DriveThruRPG books on photo paper. It is totally worth the effort. 

What makes witches worth of a new class in Basic era? The ideas, mainly, but also the integration within the rule set. Cult of Diana introduces some simple but powerful ideas to the rules. Mr. Brannan made sure these are carefully balanced so as not to be game breakers. Except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. 

Like all characters, witches roll for HP, require certain modest ability scores (10 for INT, 11 for WIS and CHR), gain a bonus to experience for superior ability scores, and have limited armor and weapon selections. The author has provided 8 pages of new spells available to witches, none of which are unbalancing. 

What makes these characters different is their calling. Witches are part of a coven, granting them the ability to access new spells based on a particular tradition. This religiosity allows the witch to be of any alignment so long as they follow the tenants of their tradition. In the case of the Amazonian witch, their tradition is based on several gods such as Diana and Artemis. The author provides a brief section on what these beliefs mean. 

Circling back to the idea of covens, witches have access to ritual magic which requires many casters to participate in. Again, these ritual spells are well balanced. For both "normal magic" and "ritual magic" there are 8 levels of each described in the standard format for Basic era games. 

This particular set calls out BlueHolme but readers will find that it is a nice addition to any basic era game such as Labyrinth Lord or the Red box set. With a little adaption, this book could be plugged into a great many rule sets like AD&D. 

All and all this is a rock solid addition to your table. Text only is 4 of 5 stars. 

I tend to be colored by great artwork, usually shifting my rating upwards by one. In this review, I have ignored the excellent artwork and tables so as not to damage my rating scale too much. The art is superior for a supplemental book and completely inline with the Basic Era style. Considering the layout with the artwork, this book merits 5 of 5 stars. 

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. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

OSR OCD. Witches Brew.

Back in my campaign on the Peninsula of Plenty, I had a coven of witches. These characters were straight up magic users that operated with a pack like mentality and a specific political goal. In order to give them enough power to stand toe to toe with the party physically, they needed to be overpowered. They are 3rd, 5th and 7th level. 

Since the party was 3rd level or less, the witches operated with some serious societal restrictions. The Coven of Ash adhered to "The Old Ways", which was unrestricted authoritarian rule. Most of the Empire is not on board with this, including the Emperor. 

Their visible presence invokes terror, so they move at night or invisibly. Most of the tactics involve terrorizing people with non-attacks so as to maintain their invisibility. Say, simply surrounding a target, pinching or poking a victim is enough to scare the target into doing what they want. The Coven of Ash are not your typical witches because they're totally unbalanced. They are supporting an authoritarian regime which doesn't even exist anymore. They are basically the Sheriff of Nottingham with magic. 

It worked well enough, but now that I got my hands on Timothy S. Brannan's Witch themed books, I can see how witches can be better than mere magic users with quirks. I just have three of the books in the series: The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch TraditionDaughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games and Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games

To be super honest, I was attracted to the series by the cover art of Cult of Diana and The Mara Witch but I find the one "joke" book, The Pumpkin Spice Witch to be my favorite. It's all the same author, so I don't know if it's the tone or the generic nature of the Basic Witch which appeals to me. 

I've also made the mistake of printing all three books and storing them in one binder. I find myself flipping from one to the other. I play this weirdo mashup of B/X and AD&D, so I don't really notice minor differences in purpose, which I am sure is there. 

Anyway, I am getting ready to roll up a couple of witches and introduce them into my B2 campaign. The players hopped right past the hermit and a good witch seems to a suitable, player friendly substitute.