Friday, May 24
Thursday, May 23
Wednesday, May 22
Evolution of the WitchI enjoyed playing a witch in 3.5 and when 4e came out I tried to build a new one. For the moment, though, let us pause to consider what it means to be a Witch. The Witch meme is perhaps too broad to reduce to a true archetype, but if one stirs the cauldron for common elements, a tricky, grim debuff caster might bubble up to the surface, a Controller not only in battle but in social contexts. Great fun as a villain, neutral NPC, or player character. Many witches are depicted as linked to nature, having control over weather and wild beasts, possessing knowledge of the medicinal or magical properties of plants, and in some cases having their powers bound by cycles of day and night, the moon, or the seasons. That's a lot of overlap with Druid, conceptually at least, so let's begin there.
One problem. When I started on this character, the PHB2 had not yet come out, leaving Cleric, Warlock, and Wizard as the three classes halfway appropriate to the task, and after further consideration, I reduced that set to two, finding Cleric too much into goodness and light and too little into affliction to fit the theme. I struggled with build after build, but in the end, neither Warlock nor Wizard did what I wanted on their own and composites were too MAD to live. Then came the PHB2 and the Bard. Don't I mean the Druid? Well, no. Frankly, I was tired of waiting for content and with Arcane Power ready to drop shortly after the PHB2 and Primal Power showing up who knows when, I decided to see if Bard would do for Warlock what Wizard could not. I have dipped into many rules sources since then, but Warlock-Bard worked well enough at the time, at least mechanically, that no significant investigation of Druid ever occurred, though I would like to see a stylish Witch built around that class someday, too.
I said that Warlock-Bard works mechanically, but the default fluff of those classes does not meet my image of the Witch. But this is the beauty of 4e -- the rules are simple enough that a player can reflavor powers, features, etc. with much greater success than was possible in the tangle of 3.5. Out go the pacts and patrons, out goes the walking jukebox, sprinkle in an emphasis on nature and grim druidic truths, and suddenly a Warlock-Bard makes a convincing Witch, at least of the bloody-handed, fate-twisting variety. Rituals, in particular, add a lot: brewing potions, scrying and general divination, some limited polymorph, weather and beasty manipulation, causing and curing of afflictions, tons of one-with-nature survival utilities, and item enchantment for all the little fetishes and baubles that witches are always slaving away at to create. With high Charisma, decent Intelligence and Wisdom, and skill bonuses to the sky, this character can live up to the theme requirement of also being a social Controller, serving as party face and defacto leader.
But how should one mix Warlock and Bard? While both classes have good control, the damage spike, concealment, and boons of the Warlock are more in line with the Witch I envision than are the extra healing and "let's be friends" offerings of the Bard. But the latter does possess some juicy powers, so a Warlock paragon multiclassed to Bard seems the right course. Some people would argue that maybe a hybrid build would work better, but the limitations it would impose on class features feel very artificial to me and I have gotten use to the sting of paragon multiclassing. It can be worth it and in this case I think it is. Now we need a Charisma race that does not overshadow the Witch theme: Human, Half-elf, or maybe Changeling. A Changeling might work rather well, especially if treated as a human that could polymorph due to magic rather than physiology, but the Eberron books were not quite out yet and I felt that the Doppelganger, the Changeling's forerunner, lacked "authority". In the end, Dilettante pushed Half-elf out in front because it allowed the character to grab a burst/blast At-Will from Sorcerer, a defining characteristic for many Controllers.
So which pacts? Fey, Dark, and half of Star are Charisma-based, with plenty of good powers between them, but only two boons can be claimed. I found too much emphasis on necrotic and poison in Dark, which might be okay by theme but not by mechanics, and the boon seemed unreliable, so that left Fey and Star. But which one first? I decided on Fey as a carry over from the character's elven/eladrin/whatelseisinthere heritage, a sort of variant Fey Step. Also, by delaying Star until 11th level, I could get rid of its Constitution-based At-Will instantly via paragon multiclassing, using Versatile Master to replace it with a second Sorcerer At-Will, this one a ranged basic attack to compensate for the choice of Eldritch Strike over Eldritch Blast at 1st level (more on that later). There is a nice time-space synergy between Star's prediction-based bonuses and Fey's teleport. And thus, the Fateweaver is born.
Having established that the character does not suffer overly from MADness, that they will have Controller appropriate powers, and that the mechanics of their pacts can be presented in a manner consistent with theme, we can move on to actual character development. A good place to start is the ability score spread -- I chose these numbers based on mechanical requirements, while keeping the character well-rounded.
Not surprisingly, Charisma starts high and is bumped whenever possible. Intelligence goes up similarly, with one point stolen to even out Constitution, but it starts out only above average. As I would attribute Intelligence as a product of the absorption of formal knowledge and Wisdom mostly as a measure of intuition, this character is basically someone that began with a decent education, an above average supply of common sense, a forceful personality, and with a Charisma that high, probably an attractive physical form, as well. They would also be pretty tough with a Constitution that high, displaying good health even under suboptimal conditions. The mediocre Strength and Dexterity suggest an individual that, while not deficient in their physical activities, has devoted their time to mental pursuits instead, an argument that goes along with their decent Intelligence, Wisdom, etc. The large increase in Intelligence over the character's career suggests a lot of study and formal mental activity, while the rise in Charisma could almost be viewed as a side effect of the social and magical conflicts that said career involves. All in all, a tough character that is never quite as smart or in control as they would like to be. Sounds like the beginnings of an explanation for why they would be an adventurer. Is this ambition, though? Curiosity, perhaps? Maybe a means to an end? Why do they need so much prowess?
Personally, I see this character as a seeker of knowledge mostly because not understanding something just drives them crazy. Beyond that, a sense of responsibility for keeping the party alive, being its unofficial leader. So traces of the Leader role might not be bad to throw into the mix, especially given all the herbal concoctions and odd remedies for which witches are sometimes known. To me, this splash of protective Leader pushes the character toward being female, a selection consistent with theme, but one I had technically left open as Witches are sometimes depicted as male. But yes, a stern, tough decision maker, perpetually put upon by her sword-waving, maniac "children". Not that the rest of the party would necessarily be that way, but despite her hard edge, I think the character is prime comic relief material and the player should capitalize on opportunities as they come. To play up the struggle angle, we can make her a little short (5'4"), perhaps slightly plump for that height (140lb), mostly in a buxom sense, and give her a compulsion to bring lots of books, supplies, and equipment when adventuring, making her overloaded pack a constant and questionably chosen burden. A hint of the shifting balances in her head.
On to tools. Most characters are pretty much forced to have some weapon or fancy bauble glued into one or both hands to function in 4e combat, and Warlocks, Bards, and Sorcerers are no exception. That class spread lacks an implement in common and given how significant this prop is to character image, we pretty much have to take Arcane Implement Proficiency. A dagger might work, playing up the whole sacrifice on the druidic altar side of things, but a more iconic prop for the Witch is, yes, the broom, aka a Staff of Ruin with bristles glued on. Eldritch Strike becomes Fell Sweep and once she acquires some Zephyr Boots, she can even fly around on the thing if the mood strikes her. Hilarity ensues.
The other main prop would be her familiar. I chose a Rakshasa Claw to meet her item switching needs (so many off hand rod properties so little time) and reflavored it to a 10" argumentative, animate voodoo doll that rides her shoulder, clings to her waist, or just scampers about doing things that have no game effect, as it is meant to be in passive mode at all times. Similarly, the broom might not always be in hand from a story telling perspective, floating next to her instead or planted handle first in the mud nearby after she is knocked prone during flight, but mechanically, if she has equipped it, it's there to grant her bonuses, etc. The aforementioned rods would not be rods in any way except mechanically, appearing as a motley collection of fetishes about her waist or fastened to her armor. The familiar would let her swap them out as a free action, so I picture her as placing a hand or perhaps just part of her attention on one to equip it, but the key is that she still just has two slots with which to work and she would have to lock both to the staff during weapon powers and one to the staff and one to a support fetish during implement powers. She does not gain her familiar until 16th level because feat pressures prior to that are overwhelming, but this works out from not only a storytelling perspective as he represents a fracture in her psyche, a symptom of the accumulated strain on her mind, but also from a mechanics standpoint, as his item support is a powerful boost, on par or better than the feature other builds would gain from a paragon path.
I wanted to play up the issue of why she does not continuously receive the mechanical benefits of her pacts, given that those benefits are not rewards from a satisfied patron. I decided that the fall of an enemy represents a severed or at least frayed fate, providing her with raw material with which to reweave her own fate in some minor capacity, altering space to put her in the right place at the right time or enabling her to mentally follow strands to the different futures to which her immediate actions could lead, helping her choose between them. I chose to reinforce this idea of the weave of existence, and the tangled fates that compose it, by reflavoring her radiant powers as directly fraying the fate of victims, the release of their essence marked by visible light. The effect would still be a sort of burning, so it does not violate the basic nature of radiant damage. And to further the grim druid theme, there are many references to blood among her reflavored powers, feats, and features, as it embodies so much of the continuity of life and thus can be tapped to reshape the weave in various ways. Her fire powers map to quasi-sacrifical burning, while the cold ones are a taste of winter's culling. And her thunder powers have been reflavored as shrieking black winds that depict a whirling composite of the faces of prior victims, vestiges of all the lives she has cut short. Beyond that, she mostly just has a bunch of mind scrambling and domination tricks, as having creatures take certain actions for you is often a very efficient way to manipulate fate. I made a point of avoiding necrotic powers, as her radiant ones represent a refined alternative to what those normally accomplish, at least from her perspective.
She sounds like a nasty piece of work from all that, and she is, but keep in mind that she is also supposed to be a stern, but ultimately likeable leader as we identify with her burdens and good intentions. And don't forget the comic relief: mediocre Strength and Dexterity offer the potential for a lot of physical humor, bad leadership decisions can prove embarrassing, endless arguments with Mojo her voodoo doll familiar can instill sympathy (at least, those arguments not ending in pins), and so forth. Calliope is an anti-hero, but an adorable one if played correctly.
-x: x lost to retrain, power swap, etc.,
x.n: x using nth level slot,
x#: x via racial feature,
x*: x via multiclass feat,
x**: x via paragon path,
x***: x via epic destiny
Friday, May 24
Thursday, May 23
Wednesday, May 22