EZG reviews Into the Breach: The Witch
This installment of Flying Pincushion’s “Into the Breach”-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The first archetype herein would be the Bailiwick Hermit. These guys and gals select a favored terrain and increase their spell potency while in said terrain (gaining more at higher levels), while decreasing the potency when in other types of terrain. Generally, a cool class feature that has the obvious exploit for terrain-focused campaigns (like e.g. underdark/dungeon crawls) somewhat mitigated by the necessity to make concentration-checks when in any type of settlement. The obvious issue here being that urban environments are part of the favored terrain list…and bingo, said type cannot be taken – NICE! Kudos for noticing and taking care of this one. The key feature here, though, would be the ability of the hermit to replace a familiar with an animated object that increases in potency every two levels, may grant improved rest later and even move of its own accord. And yes, we’re talking boats, huts and the like, not paltry bonded objects. And yes, while I’m somewhat annoyed by the italicization glitches here and the fact that I would have enjoyed rules for adding equipment (like cannons…) to such objects/places, I enjoy the Baba Yaga-style hermit fluff enough to consider this archetype worthwhile and actually awesome – the designer can be considered patted on the back, though some rough edges can still be smoothed over.
Bog Builders replace their patron spell-list with a new one and creates a construct-race with 15 RP of the construct being available as per the ARG guidelines – the issue here being that the text contradicts itself. Construct-races already cost 20 RP, more than the 15 available as a suggestion. Furthermore, the text specifies the familiar to have a maximum of 20 RP and a constitution score of 10 – which is even more confusing. Also: Constructs have no con-score, so I assume the mentioned con 10 in the text is supposed to mean that this has to be bought…but its mentioning contradicts the “construct”-line… Total confusion is all I can come up with after reading this for the oomphteenth’s time. As written, this ability is nowhere near functional. At 3rd level, the witch gets the ability to craft constructs and repair the familiar. At 10th level, the witch may cast up to 2 hexes (+1 for every 2 levels thereafter) into the familiar:”Her construct familiar can hold the hex and deliver it at any time throughout the day. Casting a hex with limited daily allotment of targets into a construct familiar does not count against the number of active targets the bog builder may have at any given time.” What does “hold and deliver” entail? Is the hex stored? Akin to a touch spell/holding a charge? How does the familiar deliver hexes? Does it count towards a witch’s daily maximum, if applicable? If a target has already been hit by a hex/saved and is immune, does this extend to hexes delivered via the familiar? Is the stored hex expended upon use? If yes, as what action? Hex default? I assume so, but I’m not sure. The capstone is a construct-apotheosis. A conceptually interesting archetype with a flawed execution.
The Bulwark Theurgist is interesting – an arcane bodyguard, if you like – instead of a familiar, they designate a good-aligned creature as the source of their arcane prowess. Which is cool…but how do you explain the patron spells? What if the ward dies? If a creature, is it subject to the theurgist’s will? What rules does the ward follow, if an NPC? Bonded objects automatically regain all health upon a new day? Or does the ward get any familiar-style bonuses? Needs clarification, since creature =/= object and neither rules properly fit the bill here, both interpretations producing problems galore.
Which is a pity, for granting rerolls and AC-bonuses to allies is uncommon in this constellation for arcane casters and something I thematically enjoy.
The Disciple of the Bloody Hand makes his/her own hand grow an eye and act as the familiar. Instead of sharing spells, the detachable hand can be used as the origin of hexes projected forward and can share touch spells held at range, see through it and cause bleeding wounds. Additionally, they can make crawling hands from foes and yes, even crawling hand swarms (full stats provided). The Disciple of the Bloody Hand is awesome and showcases well the potential of FPG – it does something iconic and high-concept and manages to get the complex wording down to be functional. Kudos!
The Dweomer Weaver gets an animated piece of cloth as a familiar, with quite an array of special tricks – some hexes may be shared, basic information may be gleaned from speaking with fabric – which is cool and iconic. Spell Loom, granted at second level, is rather nasty – 3+Int-mod times per day, the witch can cast 2 spells in one as a full-round action. The target has to save against both and, failing one, is hit by full effects. As a downside, the witch is fatigued for 1d4 rounds, when casting again while fatigued, exhausted instead. The spells need to target the same creature or area, got that – but what if they have different AoEs? Different ranges? As written, the ability can shorten rituals/longer casting durations to 1 round and add another spell – the ability needs a caveat to address casting duration. Even without unresolved considerations like this, remember that this breaks ALL KINDS OF SPELLCASTING BALANCE RULES EVER. This means 3 spells per round with quicken spell. This means casting battle-magic that is saved against via will instead of ref, enchantments based on ref-saves etc. – this is INSANELY strong and needs to be nerfed down not by a notch, but by about 10. In addition to being broken as written. Which is a pity, for e.g. temporarily disabling items is a cool ability and potentially disrupting mythic, bloodline and hero point-based abilities also is rather neat. So close to being awesome, but the dual cast needs to die a fiery death -as written, it is almost hilariously broken.
The Feybound Crone gets a fey creature familiar and access to limited spell-like abilities of the familiar -per se neat. At 10th level, the crone may turn into a fey “Starting at 10th level, a feybound crone may choose to become a fey creature with a CR equal to her level or lower for a number of minutes per day equal to her level.” -as per the polymorph spell? Ability scores /Spellcasting etc. retained? As per what rules? Full access to fey creature’s abilities? Or does the crone just modify her base abilities by instead applying those of the fey type? The feybound template? If yes, why not reproduce it here? I don’t know and neither does the ability. Another conceptually neat one ruined by flawed execution. (And yes, the capstone is to turn into two fey creatures…don’t start me there…are abilities shared? Spells? Urgh.)
The Foul Temptress is a nice one, cha-based, simple, kiss of death at high levels – nothing to complain here. The Gluttonous Crone has an addiction to consuming intelligent creatures (what is considered intelligent? Usually, a caveat Int>3 is provided in abilities like this…) for bonuses. When deprived of her meal, the crone suffers penalties to saves and mental faculties (even turning insane) and deals +3d6 damage on ALL SUCCESSFUL ATTACKS. Remember, these include touch attack spells, all attacks etc. Dipping for one level into this archetype is a ridiculously broken way to add damage. Controlled starving will result for all those brb 19/witch 1 builds – hey, it’s +3d6 untyped damage to everything! Melee, arrows, spells. How the F*** could this go past playtesting/development? Consuming small body parts for temporary hit points may be nice…but do they stack? What do they weigh? Where’s the limit? Bag of kittens, anyone? Bite attacks and swallow whole complement the conceptually awesome archetype that fails hardcore in its execution.
Marjara Bound witches get black cat familiars with increased combat capacities for the potential issue of hit familiars resulting in concentration checks and also receive a quasi-lycanthrope hybrid form and the ability to conjure forth a surprisingly deadly swarm of black cats – which I *assume* counts as a hex. While at 14th level, summonming a CR 4 swarm isn’t too deadly, some kind of limit of swarms active at a given time would be in order – otherwise, you can just swarm all dungeons and lands with a tide of black cats. Which would be the cutest apocalypse ever. Kidding aside, generally, a nice archetype – not perfect, but functional and has some cool imagery to back it up.
Speaking of cool – the Scorned Heart rocks. These witches pay with diminished spellcasting for an eidolon-evolution pool with which they can enhance themselves while in their alternate form. Furthermore, they may, as immediate action, reflexively hex (and later even bestow curse) targets attacking her (provided they’re in range of her hex!) 3+Int-mod times per day. Proper eidolon-biped-form scaling, proper reflexive hexes – great archetype! Seriously flavorful and cool! Two thumbs up!
The final archetype would be the Voodoo Crafter, who replaces the familiar with the ability to create gris-gris – items that can carry spells and hexes, which can be activated as a swift action and do count as daily uses of the respective abilities – I assume this meaning that one target could not benefit from e.g. a gris-gris luck + the witch’s luck hex in a day, but I’m not 100% sure. Still, that’s relatively close to working well – increased flexibility, if played right. Faster preparation of these better sneaking these on foes and autonomously planting gris-gris make for a solid progression and an okay capstone. However – how does she prepare spells? Usually, a witch communes with her patron via the familiar and the archetype fails to address how spell preparation works for the voodoo crafter, rendering the archetype rather impossible to properly use as written.
Next would be the alternate Sèvitè-class, who upgrades to d8, prepares spells and casts them via wis. Alas, the class fails to specify how the Sèvitè learns spells – the base witch does specify that in the “Witch’s Familiar”-ability, whereas the Sèvitè’s communion with Papa Legba fails to mention this particular, crucial piece of information. Sèvitè also receive a vulnerability to attacks from incorporeal targets and possession, but instead learn at 1st level and 2nd level (and every 4 after that) to let themselves be ridden by a loa. This process eliminates spells, skills etc. while ridden, but offers spell-like abilities and similar weird abilities. Entering this state requires a standard action, ending it a move action. Each loa also offers regular spell-like abilities available for the Loa chosen, even when not being ridden. A total of 10 such Loa are provided and the Sèvitè also may use of their tendency for syncretism to blend in with specific other religions. All in all…I didn’t expect to like this class. While the spellcasting needs clarification, the spell-like ability take on Loa, somewhat akin to the glorious Pact Magic-series, works surprisingly well. Indeed, balancing, unlike the ill-fated warlock, proved this class works neatly in playtest. So overall – mostly great work (also thankfully respectful to real world practitioners) and kudos to Jason Linker!
The Heathen is a d8, 3/$ BAB-progression, medium will-save, 1/2 spellcasting progression for both magi and witch-classes combo-class between magus and witch. Heathens also get a pool of Dark points. Each day, they start with class level x 1/4 DP and may never have more than twice their class level. The lack of a “minimum 1”-clause makes me believe the class does not necessarily start the day with a reserve of DP. Heathen may also conduct Dark Rites – burn things of a certain value, engage in debauchery, riot or sacrifice items or animals. Additionally, even male heathen may be impregnated by fiends – for each half-fiend child alive, they increase DP by +4. At later levels, sacrificing innocents nets DP as well. Scarification can trade off two max hp for a fleeting 1 DP. Dumb choice. Dark points can be gained via inflicting 5 points of damage to themselves, but only 1 per day this way – nice catch regarding regeneration. Dark Points can be expended to retain spells (1 as a flat-out payment – too easy.) as they’re cast or some other benefits like to gain +1 on a single atk, save or skill as an immediate action for 3 DP – the strength of DPs and their benefits have not even a semblance of balance. Cast 3 high level spells sans expending them vs. +1 to atk/skills/saves? Seriously? The half-fiend child-ability is also easily broken and more a plot-device than a proper class ability. Wordings tend to be rather imprecise in here. I’ve danced around it long enough – the mechanics of this combo-class are wonky, the wordings imprecise. I am not squeamish. I guarantee that more than a couple of people will be offended by this class.
I love proper demonology/diabolism-themed crunch. I’m not offended by violence (I am a huge fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and consider prudery something rather baffling. It is NOT the concepts. It is their implementation. To the author: I’m sorry for the following statement, but I know no other way to proper enunciate the effect this class had on me: The flawed balance, the needlessly explicit abilities – they feel like a 13-year old in his rebellious phase had drafted an “I am SOOOO EVUHHHL”-class that is a caricature of itself. Then add to that the grossly insensitive decision to name this class “heathen.” Not diabolist, not scion of darkness or some other epithet, no, “heathen.” You know that a lot of people IRL identify their beliefs as “heathen,” do you? Followers of traditional Gaelic religions, Ásatrú? And yes, “pagan” may be a more common moniker, but still. Seriously, I’m an atheist/agnostic and while I don’t subscribe to any religion, I *RESPECT* them and what they mean for people. This is like calling a lawful evil, invading, genocidal knight-PrC “Christian Crusader.” So yeah, beyond the bad crunch, that adds insult to injury – especially jarring after the Sèvitè, who is positively free of negative stereotyping.
Scarred Shamans get 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort+ will-saves progression, d10, 4+Int skills per level, 9 levels of spellcasting progression and stack levels with barbarian for determining effects of rage powers. As a barbarian/witch combo-PrC, they don’t require moment of clarity to cast while in rage and generally neatly expands the scarred shaman archetype’s scar-based options. This one’s also jarring -in the good way. The PrC makes for a solid combination of the two classes and worthwhile, if not perfectly optimized character builds.
We also get new hexes, with one being a pet-peeve for foes of save-or-suck -Babble. While only having a reach of 30 feet, 50% failure chance for verbally activated items and spells/etc. for 1 hour per level is hardcore; Plus: even 1 round on a made save feels excessive. The latter effect goes a bit too far. The same goes for the boils hex, but generally, the array here is solid, with e.g. a hex to for blindsight versus incorporeal undead at 60 feet that can also be used to determine means of laying haunts to rest (!!!AWESOME!!!) being my personal favorite. Also part of the offering for major hexes would be the ability to gain proper scent or sprit-walk and grand hexes include removing, phylactery-style, one’s heart or changing the very land and its seasons. While they aren’t all perfect, generally, this chapter is glorious.
The pdf also provides 4 well-balanced patron spell-lists and 7 new feats, one allowing you to further enhance cackling at the cost of your voice for a time. Another nets the targets of your hexes a non-lowerable spell resistance. Delivering hexes via weapons can be considered problematic, since the feat fails to specify whether the save, if applicable, still applies. Also…I’m remembering all those hexes balanced by requiring the witch to be subtle…delivering them this way can lead to abuse. The same goes for the option to deliver one chosen hex at range via ranged weapons at up to 120 feet. Comparably, +10 feet range for one hex does seem like a more balanced, valid choice, though personally, I’d increase range further or make the feat apply to multiple hexes. As written, kind of weak.
Editing and formatting are inconsistent -from great to bad, especially the mechanical qualities of the writing skitter up and down wildly on the scale. Typos and the like are rare, though I’ve been exceedingly annoyed by the utter lack of spell-italicization, which makes reading the text often so much more confusing. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and artwork is thematically-fitting stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
The team of authors Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, Jason Linker, Taylor Hubler, Scott Bingham, Dylan Brooks, Kiel Howell, Matt Medeirous and Jacob W. Michaels have learned since the installment on the oracle. Into the Breach: The Witch is not perfect, but it’s a huge step up. While the amount of content that is severely flawed is still high, too high for a good rating, the amount of rules that work, the amount of abilities that are not broken or flawed in some way – these have increased in a rather impressive manner. That being said, there still is a lot of work to be done here – I did mention quite a bunch of the issues in the book and they are not exhaustive, but the book also has more than I mentioned that works – there are more gems in here than in every other Flying Pincushion Games-product I’ve reviewed so far and concept-wise, this book is interesting indeed, offering some truly awesome options. High concepts have to be backed by the respective crunch-though, and this one simply not up to the task in all instances, being the quintessential mixed bag with some gems and a lot of rough patches left to iron out. Hence my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform.