Category Archives: Witch Hunter

Three Things I’ve Learned from a Year of Playing 7th Sea (and how they can make your game better too!)

This article began as something of a retrospective on our first year of playing 7th Sea.  I’ve made no bones about the fact that, when we started, the game was way out of my comfort zone.  It forced me to re-examine a lot of my GM techniques and stare down a few things that had become bad habits.  But I feel its made me a stronger GM along the way, and the lessons I’ve learned aren’t merely applicable to 7th Sea, or even more Narrative RPGs.

So let’s talk about them, shall we?

Action sequences are obstacles to keep the heroes from reaching an Objective (in time).

I put this into the category of “Third Edition DnD Ruined Me as a GM“.  For a long time, a lot of us have been conditioned to think about Encounters and Action Scenes in terms of THE FIGHT.  But that’s really faulty thinking.  If you look at action scenes, chases, and combat encounters in movies or books, more often than not the fights that occur are an obstacle, a complication preventing the heroes from achieving their goal.

That’s right.  Action scenes are an obstacle. If you look way back, OD&D had this figured out when it talked about the ENCOUNTER.  Combat was just one potential result of an Encounter.  But the Encounter has long since given way to extensive and crunchy COMBAT sections in the rulebook.  And so we GMs started framing out encounters in terms of Combat.  Can the PCs win?  Will it result in a TPK?  How big a challenge does this represent.  This mode of thinking permeates a lot of online discussion for RPGs when it comes to encounter design, including 7th Sea.  How do I make Brutes a threat in 7th Sea?  How do I balance encounters in Savage Worlds?  But what if we’re missing the point?  Maybe we should be asking, how does this encounter keep the players from getting what they want?  How can we establish stakes in the conflict to make multiple solutions viable?

But what about the “climactic battle”?  That’s a staple of the genre, right?  Well, this cuts both ways.  Usually, in the climactic battle, its the Heroes who are standing in the way of the Villain’s Goal.  The script is flipped.  But that too makes for a better more engaging scene.  Sometimes the villain shouldn’t engage the heroes head on.  Sometimes there is a better way of circumnavigating the obstacle they pose.  What do the player do when that happens?  Does the villain have Plan B?

So the next time you are planning out an encounter for your game, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do the characters want in this scene?  Is it the treasure?  Is it to rescue the hostages?  Is it to stop the evil ritual?  If your answer is only to fight the goblins and earn XP, stop and start again.
  • How do the adversaries keep the characters from getting what they want?  Are reinforcements on their way? Do some of them branch off to kill the hostages?  Do they complete the ritual? If your answer is they fight to the last man, stop and start again. Is there a time limit? A deadline? How long can the characters afford to duke it out with the villains before consequences (and not just resource drain) start setting in.
  • What happens if the Heroes fail?  Do hostages die?  Is a demon lord unleashed?  If your answer is they die or run away, stop and start again.  And really, they don’t get the treasure is a pretty low bar.  You might want to consider making the prize something more interesting and dynamic in the context of the encounter/scene.
  • What do the adversaries want in this scene?  Do they fear the wrath of the Goblin King?  Are they stalling for time while another faction executes an even bolder, more dangerous plot?  Is it to complete the ritual to bring their dark god into this world?  If your answer is to fight the heroes or to protect the treasure, stop and start again.  It’s GOT to be more complicated than that.  Or maybe it isn’t?  Consider questions 2 and 3 in the context of the adversaries.

Dramatic Sequences work best with a Deadline and a THREAT.

I touched on this in a previous blog post.  Basically, in 7th Sea, if the only thing the players have to spend raises towards is accomplishing their goal, your scene isn’t going to be very dramatic or engaging.  But introduce an adversary whose efforts (and raises) they have to counter at the expense of their own resources, and suddenly its a whole new ballgame!  Introduce a deadline and suddenly the stakes become even higher.  Dramatic Sequences should be about mounting tension.  There are two ways to accomplish this.  The first is through DM fiat, constantly moving the goal post.  “Oops, sorry!  The secret message is not in this room where you were sure it would be.  Try again.”  That may be a big kick for you, but it’s probably going to get old really quick for your players.  But having for force actively working against the players?  A villain or a lackey who also has a goal in the scene (preferably something better than stop the heroes from discovering my sinister plan) makes the whole thing more engaging and puts the players’ agenda at risk without making you, the GM, the bad guy. (And they say players can’t fail in 7th Sea. Pish!)

This is easy enough to do in 7th Sea, but what about other game systems? One of the more recent developments I’ve seen in the last decade is an effort to bring more parity between combat and other activities in RPGs: both social and dramatic: Extended Rolls in Ubiquity, Dramatic Tasks in Savage World, Skill Challenges in DnD 4e, etc.  But one area where these fall flat (to me) is that they often pit the player against himself, or rather the dice.  Generally, they work like this: you have to roll X successes before Y failures, or score X successes in Y rolls.  That’s really manufactured drama.  Because now the character’s success doesn’t hinge on a good plan or a smart course of action (challenging the player) but instead the dice and any bonuses the character brings into play (challenging the character).  Is there a real difference between this and just asking for a single dice roll?  Not really.

I’ve been wrestling with this a bit because I really like 7th Sea’s Dramatic Sequence model.  I want to find a way to model it in other games I play, without necessarily trying to shoe horn in 7th Sea’s Roll and Move mechanic.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.  Give it a shot the next time you roll out an extended test.  Before the players get started, make a roll for the villain.  The result gives them a number of “Interrupts” (for lack of a better word) – usually only 1 or 2, maybe 3 depending on the game system.  Put this many tokens out on the table for the players to see.  Now proceed with the extended test.  During the test, the villain can spend these Interrupts to make things happen in the scene.  It might increase the difficulty of subsequent rolls, introduce a new threat (like being discovered, having equipment damaged, etc.), or something else to threaten the player’s goal.  The player can make an additional roll (or spend a Hero Point/Style Point/Bennie) to counter it, but it counts against their time and/or rolls.  This forces the player to make a decision on how to adapt to the changing scene, which puts the challenge back on the player, creating a more engaging moment.

Try it, and leave us a comment on how it worked out.

Player agency, even limited, makes the game more exciting for the GM.

This is probably going to get me in trouble with the OSR crowd, so let me start with a story.

Years ago, while I was running the Savage World of Solomon Kane, I had this great concept of the PCs exploring the Himalayas and discovering a passage to Tibet.  The problem was, I wanted to be engaged in the exploration with them.  I didn’t want to make it a simple hexcrawl, or even a travelogue.  I wanted all of us to be surprised, to make discoveries, but I struggled on how to do that.  I looked at dozens of options.  (Un)fortunately, the campaign went on hold before the players really got to that point.

But the problem remains.  How can I, the GM, share in the surprise and discovery in the game.  Or, as Vince Baker puts it in Apocalypse World, how do I play to find out what happens?

Increased player agency has provided that for me.  In several instances now, in my 7th Sea game, my players have flipped the script on me: turning a patron into a villain and back again, creating villains where there weren’t before, embellishing details and filling in the blank parts of the canvas.  Not only has this forced me to improve as an improvisational GM, but in a few instances the results have honestly surprised me!  And that is exciting.

And it isn’t just me.  It has surprised my players, too.  Some have taken to it like a fish to water.  Others poke at it with a stick, suspecting a trap.  But in every case I’ve inquired, my players have responded positively and enthusiastically.

Now let me stress I am not suggesting you open up your game, Fiasco-style, to a table full of co-GMs.  That would be detrimental to a lot of games and genres (horror, for instance).  Nor am I suggesting you go full on FATE or Dungeon World, scraping world building for a handful of preliminary questions.  The fact is, player agency can be as controlled as you like.  The easiest, most conservative approach is to allow a player to spend a Hero/Style/Bennie Point to “establish an unestablished fact about the scene.”  So if you state up front that the room is 10×10 feet, a player can’t spend a bennie to change that to 30×30 feet.  But they could spend one to establish that there is a slick puddle of filth in the room that they can use to trip up the monster they are fighting.  You can make this subject to GM veto, or attach a cost (ie. you have to spend a GM Bennie to counter the player’s bennie) if you want to be generous.

In terms of control, one of the tools I’ve introduced in my game (and will probably carry on to others) is what I’m calling an Investigative Sequence.  (Totally not my idea, I got it from watching John Wick on the last season of Starter Kit – I just put a nice picket fence around it is all.)  This would pretty much apply to a Notice, Investigation, or Research roll.  The gist is the player can use her successes to either ask me a question about the subject or state a fact about it (and don’t think for a moment that I don’t know the answers – I’m just giving the player a chance to give me better, more interesting ones).  By establishing this as its own thing (like a “Dramatic Task” or “Extended Test”), I’m also putting an artificial limit to the player’s agency.  During an Investigative Sequence, they have “permission” to mess with the plot, but not outside of it.

Now some of you may dismiss this as some Johnny-Come-Lately G/N/S BS.  Fair enough!  I probably would have said the same thing a year ago.  And for the record, I’m not a big fan of Dungeon World’s collaborative world building approach.  I enjoy world building.  I like well constructed campaign settings.  I have no interest in reconciling my vision of the World of Greyhawk with those of 6 other people (certainly not without firm editorial control).  I’m not interested in recycling some big analysis of Say Yes or Roll the Dice.  But I can attest that opening my GMing approach to increased player agency has added to my enjoyment of the overall experience and, as such, other GMs – especially grognards like myself who have been doing this one way for years – might find the same.

That’s a Wrap!

So there you have it: three things that I’ve discovered over the course of the year that I think has made me a better GM and my game more fun, for myself and my players.  Some of these things may be old hat to you – I’m sure I haven’t stumbled across anything some GMs haven’t been doing for ages.  But hey, if anything I’ve posed above sounds cool and exciting to you too, great!  Test some of these approaches out on your group and see how they respond.  Share your experience in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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Whisper on a Black Wind

Back in 2001 or 2002, I honestly can’t remember which, we were in the thick of our 7th Sea (1st edition) campaign.  It was October and I proposed a Halloween themed “one-shot” for the group.  Unfortunately, this “one-shot” took all of about 4 or 5 sessions to actually complete, something I’ve become a bit notorious for since then.

This year, over on the Facebook Explorer’s of Théah group, I proposed everyone submit a scenario for Halloween as a community project.  While this wasn’t the first of my old adventures that came to mind — that one involved a murderous redcap stalking the students of a Castillain university (“Remember the tooth!”) — I settled on this one because of the 2015 film, the Witch.

After having seen that movie, I think I would run this one completely differently than I did before.  In fact, I think this would have made a great adventure for Witch Hunter: the Invisible World, All for One: Regime Diabolique, or the Savage World of Solomon Kane with only a bit of tweaking.

So if you and your group are getting together to roll some dice for Halloween fun, I offer this short adventure scenario for your consideration: Whisper on a Black Wind.  See if you can make it the horrific one night affair it was intended to be.

Addendum

A quick shout out and thank you to Dyson Logos for his amazing work and making some of it available to use.  If anyone wants a copy of the unaltered version of the map used in the adventure, you can find it here.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

“So we wake up in a barn…with Isaac Newton.”
— Heather

That’s the quote that wrapped up last Friday’s Witch Hunter game.  It marked the end of a pretty tense adventure that found our heroes on the losing side of a blossoming Hell Point in northern France and the forces of a Duke Unchained who had been summoned there.  Things probably would have been more tense had we not played in nearly two months, what with conflicting schedules.  Still, in the end, it felt like a satisfactory “season finale.”

And that’s what its going to be.  The last Witch Hunter game until at least July.

Maybe it’s the two month hiatus, the kids’ schedules, or the fact that we’ve been at this campaign for three years.  But my Witch Hunter take is feeling a bit dried up.  It’s been coming.  I felt it back in the early part of the year.  There are still plenty of stories to tell, and I really want to see how they shake out.  But I feel like, as a GM, I’m at the line between phoning it in and running an inspired game.  And my players deserve the latter.

So a month ago I proposed a finite break from Witch Hunter to try out one of a couple of new games sitting on the shelf.  By a very thin margin, we settled on the new 7th Sea.

I’m excited about the change for a whole host of reasons.  For one, as I’ve stated here and elsewhere, I really feel parts of the new 7th Sea are outside of my comfort zone as a GM: the way the core mechanic is structured, the removal of roadblocks, and just the sheer level of improvisation the game really steers towards.  And while I’m very familiar with the world of Théah, I feel like the game is going to be a real challenge to run.

It also makes a great opportunity to shake some old habits.  After all, what’s the point of taking a break from an old game if you are going to do everything the same way you did before?  I’m looking to push myself in new directions and new challenges as much as recharge my creative batteries.

The biggest change I’m making is with prep!  Since my D&D 3e days, my prep has become steadily more heavy.  If you look at my adventure notes, they can get quite elaborate sometimes.  I look back at my games pre-3e and see that most of my session plans took maybe a page or two.  Post-3e, I average about 4-5 pages of prep for 2 sessions worth of play (mostly due to over prepping).

Because of the game’s emphasis on improvisation, I’m going to try something new: the Index Card method.  I’ve shied away from this method in the past because putting 5 pages of historical detail on index cards just doesn’t seem very practical.  In fact, the Index Card approach is almost the polar opposite of how I prep.  What fun!  Let’s give it a whirl!

Another technique I’m hoping to try out is Floyd Wesel’s 3x3x3 method.  In short, rather than request a detailed character background from the players, or have them fill out a questionnaire, I’m going to ask them to provide a number of contacts, allies, and rivals for their heroes.  Nothing too taxing: a name and a sentence or two should do.  Coupled with 7th Sea’s Story mechanic, these should provide plenty of grist for the mill.

So there you have it.  The next couple of months are going to be full of experimentation.  Hopefully, I can bring some of it back to our Witch Hunter game when we resume later in the year.  Hopefully I’ll learn some tricks to improve the game experience and make myself a better GM.  And you can bet I’ll be discussing all of it here.

In other news, for those of you who haven’t wandered through the downloads section lately, advanced prep work for 7th Sea is already well underway.  You’ll find an updated version of the Ship Manifest (with a corrected “death spiral”) and a Villain character sheet (both a simple and advanced version).  I’m working on a few more cheat sheets and references for the game which I hope to have in place before we launch in January.

So hey, that’s what I’ve got.  How about you?  Have you ever done a total audit of your GMing and prep style?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you keep and what did you pitch?  Share your story in the comments section, please.

Samhain is for Witch Hunters

Tonight All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, and compared to last year there has been a complete dearth of Witch Hunter material.  Especially compared with last year!  There are a lot of excuses I could throw out there, chef among them being that my group really hasn’t played since August!  But most of it comes down to just being a bit tapped out this year.  I’ve had to focus on a lot of other things, which hasn’t meant much time scratching notes in the old notebook.

But I’m not going to let a Halloween go by without something for fellow fans of the Witch Hunter rpg.  This has been a strange year for us.  No official releases, very little ink spilled about the direction of the game.  The property has changed hands, and while there have been some promises, for the most part it’s been quiet as the grave.

j-_sprenger_and_h-_institutoris_malleus_maleficarum-_wellcome_l0000980Those of you who visit this site regularly know that since my group started play four years ago, we’ve incorporated a lot of “fixes” in our game.  Most of them I’ve posted here in various blog posts spread out over three years.  But if you are one of the two or three people who wish you could get all of our House Rules in one document, well today is your lucky day.  Now you can download the Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of Witches) for Witch Hunter: The Invisible World 2nd edition.  This is a compendium of all the house rules and tweaks we use in our game.  I’m adding a link to the Downloads page as well.  I’m understandably biased, but I feel these changes have really fine tuned the Witch Hunter experience for our group.  And until we get an official errata document, this may be the closest thing you are going to find for the game.  I claim no official position here, and obviously none of this is sanctioned by the Witch Hunter: Revelations campaign.  But I really hope this is useful for those of you who have been following this site for your home games.

(Yes, this is a not-so-clever play on the real Malleus Maleficarum, an actual 17th century account of witch hunting and the Invisible World.  Beyond the title, there is no relation between the two documents.)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Heroism and Damnation

This is the second of two articles dealing with new house rules I am introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The first can be found here.

As of October, my group will have been playing Witch Hunter: the Invisible World for four consecutive years, with the same cast of characters.  It’s been a great ride and there is still more story to tell (theirs’ and mine), assuming my players are on for the ride.

I say that to give some weight to this: while on the whole I think WH 2nd edition is superior to the previous edition, there is quite a bit of dead weight and cruft.  Some of these are artifacts from the previous edition, some were brought over from Arcanis without much thought or integration.  (Seriously, has anyone read the Creature Size rules lately?)  These are rules and elements that don’t really hold it back so much as add drag to what could otherwise be a lean, mean ruleset.  Take the following use for Hero Points:

 One Hero Point may be expended to gain the use of any one Talent the character qualifies for but does not currently have. This talent only applies for one action.

Now on paper, that sounds great!  And I’m sure plenty of groups and players have used that benefit extensively.  Mine…have not.  And if it’s not being used, then its just a drag.  Besides, talk about choice paralysis!  Do you really want your players reading through all the Talent descriptions and requirements in the thick of play?  I don’t.  So why not trim that rough edge and reshape it into something more useful?  Which is exactly what I’m doing.

Consider instead…

Uses For Hero Points (Revised)

Hero Points can be expended for the following effects: (Changes are in green.)

  1. Add one bonus success to any roll. The Hero Point may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Additional Hero Points will need to be spent to gain a bonus success on any other actions.  (We’ve been using this tweak for months and it really has a huge affect on gameplay.  Heroes feel a lot more heroic and it offers some protection against the whiff factor.)
  2. One Hero Point may be expended to negate damage suffered from a single exchange (damage roll) up to the character’s True Faith score.
  3. One Hero Point may be expended to resist the triggering of a character’s Sin.
  4. When a character is injured, she begins to suffer penalties to her action rolls. One Hero Point may be expended to ignore all injury penalties for one round.
  5. If a character fails her roll to remain conscious, a Hero Point may be expended to remain conscious.
  6. If a Witch Hunter is killed, one Hero Point may be expended to avoid death. The character is instead unconscious and at the threshold of death. Remember, barring an exception from the GM, only one Hero Point may be spend per instance, so another Hero Point could not then be spent to remain active.
  7. One Hero Point may be spent to gain an additional Quick Action in a round.  Unlike normal conditions, this quick action may repeat a previously performed action (ie. an attack, parry, dodge, etc.)
  8. One Hero Point may be spent to increase any one Defense by 1 until your next turn (or approximation thereof).
  9. You may spend a Hero Point to grant another hero a +3d bonus to any single action.  This represents you helping the receiving hero in some way, even if its only moral support.  A hero may only receive help from one other hero for any single action. (Hat Tip: 7th Sea 2nd edition)

1, 7, and 8 pretty much cover, in the broadest terms, almost every available Talent.  Not all of them, but enough to make me happy.

With that out of the way, and after my last article on the Damnation Pool, I felt like I should turn to Damnation.  For me, damnation just never felt tempting enough.  There’s no real reason not to buy it off unless you just regularly find yourself in desperate situations with no Hero Points (which may not be uncommon if the con events I’ve played in are any indication).  Gaining Damnation shouldn’t be the goal of any witch hunter character.  But I want that slippery slope to be a bit more slippery.  These changes are meant to go hand in hand with the incorporation of the Damnation Pool.

Using Damnation (Revised)

  1. A damnation point may be spent to gain a 2 bonus successes to any roll. Damnation may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Unlike Hero Points, you may expend as many Damnation dice as you wish on a single action.  Each additional point spent on an action only grants 1 additional success.  (Example: Spending 3 damnation on a single action would grant you 4 bonuses successes to your roll.)
  2. A Damnation Point may be expended to negate ALL damage inflicted from a single exchange (damage roll)!
  3.  As a character becomes injured, he begins to suffer dice penalties to his action rolls. A Damnation Point may be expended to ignore injury penalties for one scene (typically one combat, or the remainder thereof).

Uses 4 and 5 remain unchanged.

Making Sense of Damnation

This is the first of two articles dealing with some new House Rules I’m going to be introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The second can be found here.

One of the parts of the Witch Hunter rules that feels a bit threadbare are the rules for Damnation.  Oh, the basics make sense.  Characters earn Damnation points for giving into their sins.  Sins grant a special benefit (like a Talent, Edge, or Advantage) when activated and damnation points can be spent just like Hero Points in play. That part is crystal clear.  The rest is sort of…vague and handwavy.

Unlike 1st edition, the GM no longer has to worry about tracking individual Damnation scores for adversaries. Instead, many Powers can be enhanced by using the PCs’ own damnation against them. But the rules are unclear how this is supposed to work. Does it eliminate the PC’s damnation point? Can a player tap into a damnation point that has been used by an adversary? When does a PC’s damnation recharge for other encounters?

After reading over the Conan Quickstart and the new edition of 7th Sea, I’m going to test out a new feature in my witch hunter game: the Damnation Pool.  I want to see how they affect the ebb and flow of the game. With the Damnation Pool, damnation becomes a limited resource for the GM to heighten the tension of an encounter or a scene. It clarifies all the above questions and gives the GM some new tools for screwing with the players. About the only big change to the rules is how the GM activates character sins (which probably needed some guidance anyway).  There’s probably some cool way to tie the damnation pool into Story Themes, but I’m not there yet.

I wanted to throw this out there for anyone interested to review and play around with. I’d really like to get some feedback on this. So dig in and don’t hold back.

The Damnation Pool

Where heroes have Hero Points, the GM has the Damnation Pool. This resource allows you to add drama to a scene, reinforce your adversaries, and boosting certain diabolical powers of the Adversary.

At the beginning of each game, the Damnation Pool has a number of points equal to the number of players, plus one point for each point of damnation possessed by the Witch Hunters.

Using Damnation

  • Activate a Hero’s Sin. Spend a Damnation Point to activate a character’s Sin.
  • Bonus Success. Spend a Damnation Point to give a Villain a free success to any action (including damage). The GM may spend multiple Damnation points on a single action in this manner.
  • Seize the Initiative. Spend a Damnation to interrupt the Initiative order and allow a lieutenant or villain (but not minions?) to act early in a combat round.
  • Enhancing Villainous Powers. Many villainous powers (such as Blast Attack, Engulf, Gestalt Body, etc.) may be enhanced with Damnation. Typically any enhancement costs 1 Damnation Point unless the power indicates otherwise.
  • Ignore a Price. Spend a Damnation point to all a Villain or Mastermind (not a minion or lieutenant) to ignore a single Price for one round or appropriate approximation thereof.
  • Ignore injury penalties. Spend a Damnation point to allow a lieutenant, villain, or mastermind to ignore any injury penalties for 1 round.

Adding to the Damnation Pool

There are two ways of increasing the Damnation Pool. The first is whenever a player uses a damnation point. This adds 1 point to the damnation pool. Likewise, any time a player voluntarily activates his Sin benefit or gains a point of damnation by his or her own actions, the Damnation Pool is increased by 1.

The Damnation pool does not increase when the GM activates a character’s Sin. This will, however, mean the starting pool will be larger on the next game session if the damnation is not eliminated through Virtuous play.

The other means of increasing the Damnation Pool is called the Devil’s Bargain. (Hat Tip: Jon Harper’s Blades in the Dark)

 The Devil’s Bargain

When a player suffers Consequences in a roll (rolling more 1s than successes), he or she has the option of taking a Devil’s Bargain. They can either ignore the consequences that accompany the action or, if the roll failed, succeed with consequences. Either choice adds 1 point to the Damnation Pool. Of course, the player may always choose to accept the consequences that accompany the roll.

 

Fey Nightmares

I began prep for the Horn & Crown story arc fresh off of Mark Chadbourn’s third Swords of Albion novel, the Devil’s Looking Glass.  As four of the seven PCs in the witch hunter game are from England, I had always planned on having part of the campaign take place in the British Isles.  And to me, that meant involving the fey.  The question became how to approach faeries in the world of Witch Hunter.

I’ve loved the imagery and spectacle of Guillermo del Toro’s take on the fey in Hellboy 2 and Pan’s Labyrinth.  But most RPGs treat the fey as beautiful wish fulfillment.  So game-able details on spooky, creepy, otherworldly fey that adhere to folklore (and the Monster Manual 12) are hard to come by.

Recently, two OSR blogs have touched on the subject: Elfmaids and Octopi and They Might be Gazebos have posted articles on making elves alien again.  Of course, they are working at something of a disadvantage, from my perspective anyway. They are trying to maintain the feys’ playability as a race.  Therefore, most of the recommendations they put forward were cosmetic at best.  With Witch Hunter, I don’t have any such restrictions.  There are no elves or dwarves.  And the fey are free to be as alien and hostile to humanity as the GM pleases.

So herein are a collection of various articles to give the fey and those who serve the Summer and Winter courts a real shot in the arm.  Apply liberally.  Most Witch Hunter players are probably coming from other RPGs that present the fey in more favorable terms.  You’ll need to shock them out of that misconception quickly.  They fey of the Invisible World are not your friends.  They have an agenda, one most of us would probably find horrifying or just downright queer.  Even their best habits should be unsettling.

The Unseelie of Swords of Albion

Mark Chadbourn does a good job of injecting the fey of his novels with unsettling creepiness.  Granted, they are the villains, monsters in vaguely human guise.  Some of his stuff works, some of it doesn’t.  But it’s a great place to cull from for our purposes.  Granted, the Seelie should hedge towards more alien beauty, which when done right can be just as unsettling as the grotesqueness of the Unseelie fey.

The voice was like the wind across snow.  In the corner of the hall, a woman stood, motionless, shoulders slightly hunched like an animal on the brink of attacking.  Her hair hung lank around a bloodless face, her eyes red-rimmed, unblinking.  There was something of the grave about her.  With excruciating slowness, she stalked towards him.

— Mark Chadbourn, The Silver Skull

xxxx

“Do you hear music?” Mayhew cocked his head.  “Like pipes playing, caught on the breeze?”  As he breathed deeply of the night air, he realized the foul odour of the city had been replaced by sweet, seductive scents that took him back to his childhood.  A tear stung his eye.  “That aroma,” he noted, “like cornfields beneath the summer moon.”  He inhaled.  “Honey, from the hive my grandfather kept.”

— Mark Chadbourn, The Silver Skull

xxxx

In the sweet places inhabited by the Unseelie Court, there is always music in the air, and beauty, and joy, and the haunting fragrance of honeysuckle.

— Mark Chadbourn, The Scar-Crow Men

xxxx

Their clothes, while of the finest material, appeared to be on the brink of rot, stained here and there with silvery mildew, the style harking back to a distant age.  A scent of loam accompanied them.  Their cheekbones were high, their hair long, their eyes pale, but there was an odd quality to their features that meant they rarely registered on the mind; once they had passed from view it was almost impossible to recall the details of their appearance.

— Mark Chadbourn, The Silver Skull

xxxx

As the doors to the State Rooms swung open, the light from the candles grew dimmer, although the flames burned as strong.  Shadows fell at strange angles, and a suffocating atmosphere descended.  Here and there across the room, blood began to drip from noses.

— Mark Chadbourn, The Silver Skull

xxxx

Fey Interests

Polemic, 10′ did an interesting article on the topic of weird fey variants.  Rather than mess with keeping dozens of variants, it was easy enough to distill them down to their base interests.  When you want to flesh out a faerie (villain, lieutenant, or hero), simply choose one from the following list or roll a d10 and assign the result.

  1. Stealing children
    These fey use their powers of persuasion to part the starving poor, or otherwise misfortunate, with their offspring.  Perhaps they steal an infant from its crib, replacing it with a grotesque (a changeling).  Either way, the fey views this as a proper exchange.
  2. Magical trinkets and relics
    These fey might collect magical devices from throughout the Invisible World (including the mortal realm), stealing them when necessary or trading and bartering for them.  Or perhaps they make mischief by circulating powerful cursed items (a monkey’s paw) among mortals.
  3. Perform “miraculous” deeds for the dispossessed and easily duped
    These fey answer the desperate cries of those in need, but at a hefty the price, whether it be a soul or firstborn son (daughter, or child).  My like a daemon, the fey will arrive to collect its prize at the appointed time without fail.
  4. The unfinished task, cut short by the bent nail or the wrong screwdriver.
    These fey become invisible to make mischief by bedeviling craftsmen with broken tools, changing measurements, and all other manners of misdeeds.  Naturally, they always fix what they have broken after the craftsman has gone to sleep.  Those whom these fey take a liking too, they sometimes aid in their craft during these times.  These fey are particularly sensitive to offers of gifts!
  5. Following after the wayward with wolfish intent.
    This fey is driven to inflict pain and mischief upon foolish women, men, or children who wander alone after dark.  The hunt, the gnawing fear of its victim, is intoxicating for the fey.  Some have learned to brew this into a tonic that is in high demand throughout both faerie courts.
  6. Visit villages on cold moonless nights, tapping thin fingers on windows as they create intricate traceries in the frost.
    This fey is an artist and graces those who please it with wondrous images born of frost traced on a window.  Of course, the subtitles and nuances of this art is sometimes too great for human perception.  Sometimes this serves as a warning of bad things to come.
  7. Yearn merely to caress the placid faces of the wayward dead. Living beings are too coarse and earthly for them.
    This fey will lead the wayward, lost, or foolish to an early death for its own romantic (or carnal) pleasures.  While usually a trait of the Unseelie fey, there are those of the Summer Court who share this trait, though not in the same malicious sense.
  8. Shambling about in the twilight seeking the unwary with groping fingers and muttering dark lullabies.
    Locks of maiden’s hair; this is a desired commodity, even a currency, for whole communities of fey.  The more pure (or more tarnished) the maid, the more valuable the hair.  This could be the Focus of the fey (Focus Bound Price).
  9. Isolation
    These fey dwell apart from their brethren, whether out of fear, grief, or animosity. Their loneliness (their tendency to drink immoderately) makes them unpredictable.  They might invite a wayward soul in out of the rain, masquerading as a simple hermit, offer him food and drink (never take food or drink offered from a faerie – it gives them power over you) and then torture the guest for their amusement.
  10. Fingers tipped with gossamer strands float down, touching skin through fabric and causing tiny itches that are all too easily scratched. Wake too soon and you might feel it crouching on your chest, trailing its subtle threads across your face and ears and throat. Hide under the covers and it will crawl in with you.
    Dreams and nightmares; this fey will steal into the home of a sleeping victim, crouch upon his chest and lay its long, delicate fingers across his sleeping face.  The victim is visited by intense and realistic dreams or nightmares.  The fey might drink from the intoxicating emotions that these dreams cause, or perhaps it is simply curious and wishes to understand humanity better.  These fey are sometimes confused with the more horrid (though not necessarily more thoroughly evil) incubus.

Weaknesses and Wards

These are culled from folklore.  They are useful as superstitions surrounding the fey.  Consider changing them up in strange, unexpected ways for the fey of your game.  Also remember, each fey is unique so no two will be exactly the same.  Still, I would settle on a few constants (like vulnerability to Cold Iron), if only to make those variations more dramatic.
Iron:
  • On entering a Fairy dwelling, a piece of steel stuck in the door, takes from the Fairies the power of closing it till the intruder comes out again.
  • A knife stuck in a deer carried home at night keeps them from laying their weight on the animal.
  • A knife or nail in one’s pocket prevents his being `lifted’ at night. Nails in the front bench of the bed keep elves from women `in the straw’, and their babes. As additional safe-guards, the smoothing iron should be put below the bed, and the reaping-hook in the window.
  • A nail in the carcass of a bull that fell over a rock was believed to preserve its flesh from them.
Bells:
  • church bells
  • the bells worn by morris dancers
  • the bells round the necks of sheeps and oxen
Water:
  • one can leap to safety across running water, particularly a southward-flowing stream.
  • descending to the shoreline below the high-tide mark. The Fairies were unable to go below that tide mark.
Fire:
  • Fire thrown into water in which the feet have been washed takes away the power of the water to admit the Fairies into the house at night
  • burning peat put in sowens to hasten their fermenting (greasadh gortachadh) kept the substance in them till ready to boil.
  • fire was carried round lying-in women, and round about children before they were christened, to keep mother and infant from the power of evil spirits.
  • When the Fairies were seen coming in at the door burning embers thrown towards them drove them away.
Oatmeal:
  • When sprinkled on one’s clothes or carried in the pocket no Fairy will venture near (it was usual with people going on journeys after nightfall to adopt the precaution of taking some with them).
  • Oatmeal, taken out of the house after dark, was sprinkled with salt, and unless this was done, the Fairies might through its instrumentality take the substance out of the farmer’s whole grain.
  • Oakmen are created when a felled oak stump sends up shoots. One should never take food offered by them since it is poisonous.
Plants:
  • Four-leafed clover: brake fairy glamour, as well as the fairy ointment, which was indeed said by Hunt to be made of four-leafed clovers.
  • St John’s Wort, the herb of Midsummer: potent against spells and the power of fairies, evil spirits and the Devil.
    • Red verbena was almost equally potent, partly because of its pure and brilliant colour.
  • Daisies, particularly the little field daisies, were protective plants, and a child wearing daisy chains was supposed to be safe from fairy kidnapping.
  • Red-berried trees were also protective, above them all rowan.
    • A staff made of rowan wood, or a rowan cross or a bunch of ripe berries were all sure protections
      • it was customary in the Highlands to plant a rowan-tree outside every house.
    • Where rowans were scarce, ash- An ashen gad was supposed to be protective of cattle.

Power & Price Descriptions and Variants

With the above guidelines, here are some Power and Price variations you can apply to fey creatures in your game.

Debilitative Aura (Veneficum/Sorcerous): Describe the suffocating aura that accompanies the fey, as if a heavy weight pressed on your chest; the instinctive urge to avert one’s eyes from their presence; the heady scent of honeysuckle or the grave; the sensation of blood dripping from your nose.

Mortal Mask (Corpus/Body): The fey know their appearance is unsettling to mortals, and will quickly shift to a less alien appearance.  A brief glimpse of their true form might be allowed to cow or intimidate the mortal(s) in their presence.  This isn’t on the official list of powers, but is simple enough to add.

Allergen (Corpus/Body): includes church bells, iron, and salt.

Atmospheric Disturbance (Veneficum/Sorcerous): The appearance of any fey is preceded by the faint sound of pipes, and a sweet, seductive aura that is as peaceful as it is unsettling.

Avoidance (Malus/Offensive): Mystical plants (oak, holly, rowan, ash, thorne, sage, sweetgrass, four-leafed clover, St. John’s Wart, daisies), oatmeal

Damage (Corpus/Body): Cold Iron

Repulsion (Malus/Offensive): Church bells, Inverted clothing

Restriction (Cursus/Movement): Hanging an iron instrument (bell, cross, fence, horse shoe, scissors, etc) above a arch or doorway will bar the passage of a fey being.  Mystical plants (see Avoidance) and salt may be used as a substitute.

Weakness (Malus/Offensive): Cold Iron