Tag Archives: house rules

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!


7th Sea: Expanding NPCs

Two weeks ago, the preview copies of the Heroes and Villains decks went out to backers of the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter.  It gave us our first real look at how the JWP is planning to handle NPCs in the game.  I’ll save my thoughts on the decks themselves until their final release.  But lets talk about NPCs.

Under the 7th Sea core rules, there are really only one class of NPCs: Villains.  Villains have two stats: Strength and Influence, which combine to form their Villainy Rank.  The Hero deck proposes that NPC heroes have only one stat: Strength.  Ok, fair enough.  But for me that seems awfully limited in scope.  After all, different NPCs serve different roles to the players.  I think it makes sense to expand things a bit without going crazy.

Here’s what I’m proposing — for my games, anyway:

There are Five CLASSES of NPCs.  Each class defines the role of the character to the Heroes (the PCs).  It isn’t about what role the NPC serves in the world, but how they relate to the player characters that matters.  Each has a different array of stats depending on the needs of the NPC Class.  But ultimately, there are only three stats:

  • Strength: The character’s personal ability, intellect, charm, skill with a sword, ability to use magic, etc.
  • Influence: The character’s money, resources, minions, political power, allies, etc.
  • Favor: the faith the character has in you and the resources you can draw from. (Yup, just like secret societies).

The Classes of NPCs are as follows:

Just as explained in the Core rules, Villains have a Strength and Influence score that forms their Villainy Rank.

Patrons are influential NPCs who can provide the heroes with means, wealth, and additional influence.  Patrons have two traits: Influence and Favor.

Allies are other noteworthy NPCs the heroes can call upon for aid or assistance from time to time.  Allies have two traits: Strength and Favor.

Extras are NPCs that have a neutral relationship with the Heroes.  In most instances, there is no need to give these characters any statistical detail.  But when you do, they have only one trait: Strength.

Brutes aren’t proper NPCs.  They are generally underlings, goons, faceless mercenaries, and other threats that they wield against the heroes.  Brutes have one trait: Strength, determined by the number of individuals in the Squad.

I expect you can already figure out how this works.

Patrons are measured in their influence, because unless they are villains the players shouldn’t expect to come to blows against them.  How much and how often a Patron will exert this Influence on behalf of the heroes is measured by their Favor trait, which is handled just as one would with a Secret Society.  Favor is a resource.  Doing things for the Patron builds it up.  Calling in favors depletes it.  Simple as that.

Allies work almost the same way.  Except rather than bringing their Influence to bear for the Heroes, they exert their strength.  How often they willingly do this is measure by Favor.  Abuse an ally too much, and they won’t be so inclined to help you out in the future.

Now, I’m sure this all seems pretty elementary, so why bother?  Because this information is worthwhile when it comes to the players and how they interact with the world.  Not all Patrons are created equal.  Earning the patronage of a cardinal of the Vaticine church should have more potential ramifications than that of the Duchess of Charsouse.  But what point does Strength serve either character?  Likewise, its helpful to know how much Captain Berek of the Sea Dogs is in debt to the heroes, favor-wise, and how much muscle he can lend on your behalf.  But beyond a few key contacts, no one expects Captain Berek to have wide reaching influence.  (Actually, Berek is a bad example.  He could potentially be an Ally OR a Patron.)

This also suggests that Patrons could have schemes.  And why not?  This gives one more story hook for GMs to dress up for the players.

Consider the following guidelines when it comes to Patrons and Favor (modeled after Secret Societies, of course):

Earning Favor

  • Selling Information that is of interest a Patron is worth 2 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Aiding or acting as an agent of the Patron in a scheme that comes to fruition is worth 4 Favor. Acting as part of an unsuccessful scheme that does not fail do to your involvement is worth 2 Favor.
  • Selling a Secret that is of interest to the Patron is worth 6 Favor. Information of this type is a closely guarded secret, such as the secret bastard son of the Count or the identity of an Inquisition assassin.

Spending Favor

  • You can call upon your Patron to spend Wealth on your behalf, at a cost of 1 Favor for each point of Wealth spent. The Patron can spend up to half of his or her Influence in Wealth in this manner. Patrons will not spend beyond that unless there are special circumstances.
  • Buying Information that the Patron possesses costs 1 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Requesting an Agent of your Patron to save you from danger or help you accomplish a mission costs 3 Favor. Agents dispatched in this capacity are typically Strength 4.
  • Patrons will not typically dispense in Secrets unless the information is relevant to an assignment the Heroes are undertaking for that Patron.
  • Betraying the trust and confidence of a Patron has a cost in favor as well.  Typically the cost in Favor will be either 2 (minor breech), 4 (moderate breech), or 6 (major breech).  On minor breech of trust, the Patron may be willing to extend a second chance to the hero, depending on their relationship.  A moderate and major trust will usually result in refusal of any further involvement by the Patron.  Furthermore, if the loss in Favor results in reducing the Hero’s standing favor to 0 or less, the Patron may become an Adversary, actively working against the hero.  This could jeopardize the heroes’ relationship with other Patrons as well.

Of course, you can expand on this list.  Just as each Secret Society has two or more unique was to earn and spend favor, so should Patrons.  The Courtly Intrigue rules in the old Montaigne book would be a great place to draw inspiration.

And none of this additional definition adds weight to the game.  It simply uses the things that were already there.  So if you feel NPCs in 7th Sea are a bit on the threadbare side, try this out and see if it suits your needs better.

Getting more out of Combat

It’s funny, looking back over the last handful of RPGs I’ve played.  I really haven’t felt the need to tweak too much.  I spent a lot more time with world building or, at worst, adding a few modular rules along the edges.  I’m not really sure why Witch Hunter has been different.  It’s a good ruleset.  I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of fine tuning, tightening up things that get in the way when we are playing.  Like dropping the Attack Focus Talent requirement for specializing in a weapon.  It just felt like a superfluous requirement that did nothing more than make character creation and advancement that much more complicated.  That’s probably the biggest change we’ve made insofar as how we play the game.

These tweaks are of similar scale.

There are two nagging issues that haven’t sat well with me for a while now.  I think making these two corrections will have a real impact on play (not necessarily in a good way).  So when our campaign shifts gears in a few weeks, I think I’m going to try experimenting with these two changes and see what happens.

House Rule #1: Weapon Complexity

Rather than imposing a negative modifier to each and every attack roll, weapon complexity would be applied to the character’s initiative roll.  Thus, the player with the lighter, quicker weapon (dagger or rapier) will tend to go earlier in the combat turn than the character with the great sword.

Reason: This works out the wrinkle in the system where Complexity applies to lieutenants and villains, but not to minions.  That’s probably been more of a pain for us because we play online, but it still strikes me as a weird rule.  Also, it makes the PCs’ skills count for more.  It seems odd that the best duelist in the game will still suffer a penalty in combat.  The complexity penalty becomes a drag when you start figuring Wagers and that sort of thing.  Moving it to an initiative penalty seems to inspire the spirit of the rules (larger weapons are unwieldy) while also encouraging folks to try out weapon tricks and other stunts (which would compound the penalties).

House Rule #2: Weapon Damage

Each bonus success on an Attack roll add +1 POINT OF DAMAGE to the damage roll, instead of simply adding an extra dice to the damage pool.

Reason: I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve found there to be a very large “whiff factor” when it comes to damage rolls in Witch Hunter.  Consider, you roll a damage pool and count 7s or better.  Weapon specialization does not apply to damage rolls (that I know of anyway).  So you could roll an AMAZING Attack roll, but still flub your damage roll terribly.  This sort of thing may work in Savage Worlds, but it just falls flat for me in Witch Hunter.  Its very disheartening to watch, and even more frustrating…as a GM!  Dammit, I hate it when my critters whiff on damage!!  ARGH!!  What good are they?!  This fix would leave the damage roll intact (Ability+DM) but would dial down the double roll whiff potential.  It would also, by design, speed up combat a hair.

This is the one change I can see having the most negative impact. But since it would affect players and monsters alike, I don’t think anyone would complain about reeling it back in.  Alternatively, adding +1 or +2 to each Health Rank, based on a Talent or on Character Rank (or even Campaign Tier) could balance this out.

Nightmarish Penalties…

No one ever said balancing advantages and disadvantages in a roleplaying game was easy.  This has certainly proved true with the Haunted by Nightmares flaw in Witch Hunter.  Two of my players took it for their characters, I’m sure assuming that it would be nothing more than an occasional issue.  After all, how debilitating can bad dreams really be.

The reality of it is that the nightly D4 Resolve roll requirement is pretty tough to make consistently if your character isn’t built to do that.  Think about it, if you are rolling 6 dice (3 in Courage and 3 in Resolve), you need to roll 7 or above on 4 of these dice (or roll one or two 10s).  The practical effect of this is to leave both of these characters with a nearly perpetual -1d modifier to ALL rolls.  Which is kinda lame.  I’ve given them some wiggle room as one is a skilled healer and a specialist in herbalism, so she regularly tries to produce tonics to easy the impact of these nightmares.  Even then, with a +1 or +2d bonus, it can be tricky business to make this roll.

So after doing some thinking and a bit of research into how other games handle it, I’m going to change this flaw up to make it a bit less punishing.  Not too much, but enough to keep it from being an issue every single game session (unlike a lot of other flaws that are far more situational).

Here are two alternative “fixes.”  I prefer the first option as it seems more in keeping with the spirit of the original, and that’s what I’m going to incorporate into my game.  However, the alternative would work well too.

Haunted by Nightmares (Revised)

You are stalked in your sleep by some terrible event from your past. You have great difficulty sleeping.

Prerequisite: None

Effect: Each night, make a Routine (D3) Resolve roll.  If you fail, your character gains no rest and suffers a -1d penalty to any Natural and Exceptional Healing rolls the following day.  Also, for one scene, determined by the GM, your character suffers a -1d penalty to all action rolls as those nightmares prove eerily prescient.

You may not use Lucky to reroll this test.  An apothecary can produce a tonic (requires a D4 Heal (Herbalist) roll) that helps to induce a dreamless sleep and grants +1d to this roll.

Alternative Effect: Each night, the GM rolls a d10.  On a 1 or 2, your character suffers horrible nightmares and must make a Challenging (D4) Resolve roll. If failed, your character gains no rest and suffers a -1d penalty to all action rolls.  You may not use Lucky to reroll this test.  An apothecary can produce a tonic (requires a D4 Heal (Herbalist) roll) that helps to induce a dreamless sleep and grants +1d to this roll.

Fun with Player Agency (Optional)

If using the first option, award the player a hero point for explaining how his or her nightmare apply to the scene in question.

Dick GM Move

Rather than a blanket bonus for the herbal tonic, here is a more insidious option.

Dream Leaf Tonic

Material Cost: 0.25 RP/dose

This herbal tonic helps to reduce the impact of vivid dreams and nightmares in the subject, and can produce a “dreamless” sleep.  Brewing the tonic requires a D4 Heal (Herbalist) roll.  Imbibing before sleep grants a subject with the Haunted by Nightmares flaw a +1d bonus for every two successes to their Resolve roll to resist the effect.  Unfortunately, the tonic is known to have addictive qualities.  Each time it is taken, the subject must also make a D1 Endurance roll.  If failed, the tonic ceases to have an effect (permanently) and the subject becomes addicted to it.

Addiction: The subject must consume the substance on a daily basis.  If denied the substance for more than 1 day, the character suffers a cumulative -1 to all Defenses each day until he or she receives a fix.  If the character succeeds at a D4 Will roll, +1d for every two days denied the substance, the addiction is broken.

Note that Addiction is not a Flaw.  It is too easy to break free of the influence.