Goody White’s Book of Folk Magic
This supplement clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, ¼ page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 ¾ pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, sometimes, books just fall off my radar. I try to avoid such instances, but between priority reviews, the vast amount of books I cover and the huge number of books I receive, it simply happens. This is one such case…but well, better late than never, as they say, right?
This book is the adaptation of the work of Goodwife Elizabeth White, born 1640 and thus represents a take on classic themes of white folk magic, applied to the game. As the book notes, this does necessarily include spells that deal with serious topics – the introduction makes this clear and shows the utmost respect and restraint, kudos! The pdf explains the basics of hexes and design-aesthetic there, as well as establishing a special terminology, namely CAM, which is shorthand for casting ability modifier – undoubtedly to make the content a bit more future-proof for non-witch classes and hexes.
The pdf also introduces a new hex category, so-called perpetual hexes: They are somewhat alike to the permanent hexes that exist, yet different: They are bestowed upon targets. But thereafter require no concentration to maintain and persist until the witch dismisses the hex or until the recipient removes it. Unless otherwise noted, a witch can maintain a number of perpetual hexes equal to her Intelligence bonus and dismiss one as a move action. This dismissal does not have a maximum range and even transcends planar boundaries. Perpetual hexes have limits determined by the maximum number, with uses consuming a different number, preventing the spamming of them. Learning a spell contained herein also provides access to the reverse spell sans requiring double transcription.
The rituals contained herein require concentration as though casting a spell, unless otherwise stated, the equivalent of a 1st-level spell. Spellcasting level is taken over from the highest spellcasting class or ½ character level, if you don’t have any spellcasting levels. Rituals, as presented, are unreliable and only have a chance of success modified by CAM and whether you have a familiar. Rituals take twice as long to learn as to cast them and until you have successfully finished it, success chances are halved – in short: Unlike e.g. Incantations as a ritual-engine, they are not likely to kill you off, but they are quite likely to fail.
Okay, so that out of the way, how is the folk magic presented? Well, we begin with tame animals: We get a spell, a hex and a ritual…and beyond these three different mechanical representations of the concept, we also get basically a direct description of how to e.g. make a Taming Charm – if you’re like me and interested in occult lore and real world magic theories (nota bene: I’m an atheist and my interest is very much academic! I don’t believe in magic.), this is pretty glorious…oh, and we even get a sample chant. This very flavorful and lore-centric depiction is btw. something that can be found throughout the book. Want an example? As you wish!
“This evening we shall become one.
With the good spirits as my witness
I ask thee to bind the (man or woman) and beast
Through body and mind.
Let their bonding never part
Obedience and caring, everlasting art.”
Now, not all spells get such a neat chant, but yeah – it adds a level of plausibility to the pdf. Create Poppet is pretty amazing – it is low-level, but the poppet-benefits are pretty massive: The save-penalty of a target of the poppet is pretty significant, yet still beatable. Big kudos for this representation of sympathetic magic.
The pdf also notes ways to treat small burns (some of which work for small burns, though it should be noted, as the book states, it is not a medical advice booklet!). It also allows for a healing of heat dangers etc. and makes for a great tool in low-magic campaigns that rules that healing spells usually don’t apply to strains thus encountered. And yes, the hex is abuse-proof. Speaking of low-magic games and those that enjoy a somewhat grittier one: Remove cataracts is not only a cool little spell/hex/ritual – it also introduces the partially blinded condition, one that most assuredly will be used by yours truly. There are more medicinal hexes/spells/rituals: Dealing with warts, treating bruises and pain, staunching bleeding, curing sickness in animals, healing the lame, soothing bowels, fixing teeth, gaining/losing weight, calming vermin (like bees) and treating fits complement this section…often with the reversals, for less benevolent witches.
One of the classics associated with benign folk magic, the blessing of crops, can be found within this pdf…and we know that many a midwife, with knowledge of herbs and medicine was burned at the stake. Well, their most well-known task is also represented here: Ease birth…and, somewhat interestingly, someone who has benefited from e.g. the hex, thereafter becomes more susceptible to the witch’s influence…which makes sense. While we’re on the topic of a bit more…risqué topics: The book also covers a rather important topic (at least when considering historic beliefs regarding witchcraft): The treatment of impotence is represented by the spells restore/remove potency and the hex/ritual based on them. These options alone can carry pretty much whole campaigns and the countless stories of noble families etc. out there provide plenty of ideas there. Obstruct/Enhance Fertility can also be found – including a feasible section on human fertility. Speaking of pregnancy: Concealing/False Pregnancy breathe the spirit of what we associate with witchcraft. And yes, there is an option to cool or rekindle passions.
On the more magical side of things, we have the curse ward, spells to instill good or bad luck, an option to send warning visions…have I mentioned spirit letters as a cool low-level divination? There is a means to curse thieves and a ward to repel the living dead. Alternate options to find familiar and the option to talk with fey also are represented within these pages. Projecting your spirit is also a practice that is represented within, and yes, we do get options to expel spirits at low level – which may decrease the threat of possession, but which fits better the real world lore, where minor forms of possession can be found more often in the context of witchcraft. The identification of enemies is also interesting: Instead of blanket reveal, the magic operates with chances and suspicions you may have, which makes it much more useful from a narrative point of view. Shrouding targets from sight is another important concept covered.
We also get the chance to make witch bottles, which contain a focus and can act as a help against the supernatural creatures. On the subject of bottles: Of course, magical potions are part of the subject matter covered, e.g. sleeping potions in two severity-levels. A balm for confidence and love potions can also be found within, representing classic tropes of witchcraft. There also is room devoted to making food palatable (or cursing targets so all food tastes horrible) or the power to send pleasant or disturbing dreams. Loss and growth of hair can also be found, as can be means to enhance your chances when hunting targets. Assuming the shape of a Diminutive or Tiny animal can also be found. A limited form of appearance alteration (but it’s no illusion!) makes for an interesting alternative to the classic disguise self. There is a representation of the dowsing concept and a spell to conjure a household elemental with its own resistances and SPs…but unlike e.g. unseen servant, these are free-willed beings and thus require bartering. One of my favorites within would be the representation of the sator-square palindrome ward…nice, versatile and unique. On the evil side of things, there would be the creation of living zombies, which actually takes into account whether the target thinks it has died – neat! Quite a massive and cool array of tricks to make witches feel, well, more witch-like.
Speaking of witches: We do get a couple of witches throughout the book: A level 12 hedge witch, Tavra Ironbound, Jessica of the West (CR 6,Oz-reference, obviously), Larina Nix (CR 8), Acrimor (CR 11), an alchemist (chirurgeon/vivisectionist) CR 7 and a CR 10 fellow. Now, there is one annoying thing about these nice NPCs – they are spread out throughout the pdf without much rhyme or reason; this means that players reading the book will stumble over NPC-stats that imho belong in the back, in a GM-appendix, away from prying eyes. For those of you also into the Cypher-system, these beings also get cipher-stats in the back, all collated…which makes the decision to spread the PFRPG-stats throughout the book even more puzzling from an organizational point of view.
Okay, so, as you may have noted, the options herein are more “realistic” and often, more limited than what one would assume from PFRPG-options – they are very much suitable for grittier games and those favoring a lower power-level, which is all fine by me…but what if you want to use such concepts in your regular power-level campaign? Well, the book sports a MASSIVE mythic appendix that makes sure that these options remain viable threats. We get mythic versions of pretty much all spells. Now, design-paradigm-wise, these do not offer new options, following mostly the escalation of numbers, but in the context of this book, this is strangely fitting. Mythic hexes can be gained 3 for a 1st tier universal ability or tier hexes for a single feat, and mythic versions of the hexes can be found as well…but here is a big issue: This refers to “mythic points” – whatever THAT is supposed to be. I assume, it refers to mythic power, but frankly, it could refer to mythic surges as well. All in all, this section feels rushed and falls short of the main meat of the book. Similarly, it can be considered to be rather confusing that, without a header of anything, we switch systems when talking about tier 1 abilities – it took me a bit to realize that these do not refer to mythic tier abilities.
The appendix closes the pdf with a couple of nice notes, diarrhea as an affliction and a ritual for love, spirit expulsion and weight manipulation.
Editing and formatting, for the most part, are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level; in the mythic section, the book has some serious issues, though, and the formal editing quality does diverge between the two versions of the book. Layout is gorgeous and adheres to an elegant, nice two-column full-color standard with fitting full-color artworks here and there and b/w-portraits of the sample NPCs. Now, there are two versions of the pdf as per the writing of this review: The one I am referencing here and a briefer one; the version with the mythic appendix unfortunately does not any bookmarks, which is somewhat baffling, considering that the shorter version does actually sport them.
Now, here’s the thing: The shorter version is actually the one with “final” in the title, so while the version with the problematic mythic material and Cypher-addendum can be found, I assume it to be something of a WIP version, left online due to its additional content. Strangely, though, the sample NPCs can also be found exclusively in the longer version, which makes it somewhat difficult for me to determine which version to rate. As such, even though I have covered the longer version in this review, I will take both into account.
So, here’s the thing: Sean K Reynolds is an amazing designer who knows what he’s doing and this book oozes “passion-project” from all of its pores. While I could rattle off a number of supplements that deal with household magic in the context of a high-magic society, this is literally the only PFRPG book I know that focuses on representations of magic taken from real world beliefs. The presentation that allows each of the individual options the necessary room to breathe and develop its flair. The easy to implement ritual-engine is similarly something that fits really well into a context of a more subdued, low-magic world where witchraft is unreliable.
In short: I’d consider this, flavorwise, pretty much a masterpiece, as this sports a ton of options I’d be willing to use, even beyond the confines of the PFRPG-rules-set. At the same time, the big version of the file, more so than the smaller one (which also e.g. sports remnants like “[NOTABLE WITCH BACKER XX]”), feels a bit rushed. The mythic section is uncharacteristically problematic and feels like what it undoubtedly was, an afterthought – compared to what Legendary Games has recently been doing with mythic magic, this falls woefully short of being adequate in that department. Similarly, the Cypher-components, while nice, would have made more sense properly integrated into its own version of the book.
My second gripe against this tome would pertain its organization – more so in the larger version. Having NPC stats in the middle of sections that players may read is not exactly perfect; I am also somewhat baffled by the appendix: I could name chapters for each of the rituals and materials in it where the respective information would be more convenient to find – diarrhea in the bowel-section, etc. They feel like they have been either forgotten or added at the last minute; no matter what happened, that does detract a bit from the immediate usability and handling of the book. (Particularly evident when using the big, bookmark-less version.)
In short, this book is somewhat diminished by obviously having been completed at one point…and when it was done, more was added, or removed…at a time, when it was either already mostly done and/or the designer had already moved on.
How to rate this, then? Well, were I to rate this solely on the merits of the core material presented, I’d be able to praise it rather highly…but I can’t. The rough edges do detract from the overall appeal of an otherwise inspiring read…but I hope that, rating notwithstanding, this review will make some of you fine folks check this out. This deserves being read and checked out, particularly if you’re looking for magic that feels more steeped in folklore or when looking for options that fit a more down to earth aesthetic. For the right people, this can definitely be a 5 star + seal of approval-level of awesome file, but as a reviewer, I need to rate the total package, and here, I can’t go higher than 4 stars.
You can get this unique book here on OBS!