I played a new game this past weekend. Witch Hunter, The Invisible World is a swashbuckling sort of RPG based on some real world history but with several twists. It is the late seventeenth century and you are part of world-wide network of Witch Hunters who track and eliminate those corrupted by The Adversary. Magic exists and you spend some of your effort working to keep it hidden. America is still largely unexplored. The Dark Heart of Africa is as mysterious as it is dangerous. The Spanish find themselves at odds against a surprisingly strong foe in the Aztecs and Cortez has been killed.
One of the things which influenced my decision to give the system a try is that the publisher, Paradigm Concepts, supports it through a living campaign. In my opinion, a living campaign is one of the best signs that a company takes their published RPGs seriously in a good way. It shows that the company is trying to engage itself with their fans. It shows that the publisher wants to do more than just publish; it is actively supporting its products. And it gives potential customers a quick taste of the game world to help make up their minds.
Character creation is complicated process but ultimately fulfilling. The other players and I were able to take our concepts and see them as characters without much compromise. I played a Franciscan Monk whose main abilities are to know a lot and provide buffs, um, I mean blessings. Brother Leon is part of the Lightbringers, a group of witch hunters who intend to make the world better through science. The rest of the group was made up a mercenary, a professional solider, and a poet who happens to be handy with a sword.
The adventure, an early entry in the living campaign, took our characters to New London, Connecticut where a recent fire has destroyed a family. However, in our dreams it seems the fire disguised the abduction of the two children. Our task was to investigate the fire and to find out if the children had died along with their parents or if something more sinister has happened. It played out in standard fashion, rather predictable but that is not necessarily bad. In fact it was positively a boon as it gave us a chance to get a handle on mechanics while not overburdening us with the minutia of plot.
The system is a World of Darkness clone, but more restrictive. There are 9 main attributes and a slew of skills. The Attributes are scored between 1 and 5. Skills are checked in WoD fashion: Designated Attribute is added to skill level and that many dice are thrown. Successes happen on a 7 and greater while 10s re-rolled for additional successes. The restrictions come in two areas. First, this is a point build system. All Attributes start at 2 and points are used to increase them. 3s are 10 pts., 4s are 30 pts., and 5s are 60 pts. You get 100 points to spend and these points can only be used for buying Attributes.
Those used to starting with well-rounded characters are going to be frustrated with Witch Hunter. Starting skills are assigned by occupation and these are the only ones you get. It is designed around characters having one point in all of the starting skills except for a few, rare exceptions. For my monk I was able to allocate several points in language skills and a couple in his lore and philosophy skills but was only given one point to put into his combat and defenses. While this does fit with the character’s concept, it does restrict his role in the game to a few areas.
Not that it made much practical difference. The designers did their homework. Those areas that your character is good at have five or six dice to roll and most of the skill tests our characters went through needed only one success to pass. After the first couple of tests, we were very comfortable with the statistics and plunged into the task presented in the adventure.
Combat is different from the standard skill test. Weapons in this system have a complexity rating. This represents two things. First, the rating the number of dice removed from you pool when making an attack. If you had six dice to throw for the skill check, you could easily find yourself looking at having only 2 or 3, depending on what weapon you chose. That is easily overcome by selecting the appropriate talents at character creation or by having the weapon blessed before combat. Second, and this is the fun part, the complexity rating is the amount of automatic damage done by the weapon should you pierce the opponent’s defenses.
Defense is simpler. Armor gives a small amount of automatic damage soaking, but otherwise the character’s defense is based on a roll made at the beginning of each combat round. The number of successes rolled is the number of successes subtracted from your opponents attacking roll. However, this defense pool is reduced by all of your opponent’s attacks. If you find your character swarmed by a three or four of small baddies, as I did with my monk, there is a good chance that they’re going to be badly hurt since all of those opponents are taking away from the same defense pool. Once that is depleted then all your opponent needs is a single and if they’re wielding a weapon with a complexity of 4 then things become lethal quickly.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience. The setting has some nice twists in it making it more than a surrogated trip through history. For experienced players, the skills and combat should be quickly picked up but those less experienced are going to need some watching over.