By Thilo Graf
This pdf is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 36 pages of content, so let’s check it out!
After an IC-introduction to the topic at hand along a nice little foreword, we’ll delve into the “witchy” themes of this pdf, starting, surprisingly, not with additional material for the APG-witch, but rather a new 20-level racial base class for the Green Hag. The class has 4+Int skills, 9/10 BAB as well as HD-progression, a ¾ natural AC progression and good Ref- and Will-saves as well as a selection of spell-like abilities, coven-feats (on which I’ll elaborate later), at 12th level an animal companion-sized familiar and e.g. the ability to reproduce voices. With regards to additional information, we also get sections on her role in the world, age & height tables and even a lore section and some advice for players and DMs alike. All right, I’ll come out and say it: I’m not impressed by the mechanical execution of this class. At all.
Several of the abilities of this class feature spell-like abilities that can be used at will, among others invisibility, at 8th level. Not gonna happen in my game. EVER.
While I have a personal dislike for player classes with any kind of unlimited magical prowess, I especially abhor the tendency to soften rules that are supposed to give monsters an edge against the PCs and give the latter access to the former’s toolkit. Hags also work with Str-damage. The potential added work for the DM (which is btw. In my opinion rather meager) is explained away in the discussion by stating that monsters and NPCs “tend not to survive the end of their first fight”. Well…that depends. I don’t think that a bit Str-damage calculation with regards to stats is hard, but that’s just a piece of advice that doesn’t really help.
What weighs heavier against the class, though, is that in contrast to all but the Jotunnar-race-classes by RiP, the Green Hag cannot freely multiclass until she has reached 11th level. While I can see the reasoning behind this, I nevertheless think it limits the appeal of the class. Another gripe I have with the hag is, that in contrast to e.g. NNW’s take on the werewolf and several other great base-classes by 3pps, the Green Hag does not feature much choices: The modularity and plethora of choices many recent additions to the class-roster feature is unfortunately quite absent from the Green Hag’s class, limiting an already limited appeal even further. While some of the Hag’s abilities are very cool and I especially love the Hag Familiar, I’m not convinced anyone really needs this class.
Next up are 20 new feats for the Hag and witch, several of which expand upon the concept of coven magic and cooperative spellcasting and shared power. You’ll also find feats to give witches an additional familiar at 10th level and some that enhance potions. I liked all of the feats, although I’m once again missing modularity – while the concept of coven casting is cool and while there are some feats to enhance it and expand the spell-list, I would have loved to see more feats to expand the concept. I also liked the Black Sabbath-feat (Surprise), in which the members of a coven can meet as incorporeal beings and act in concert once a month. Cool idea that can spark of great tactics and adventures.
The section on Hexes offers 4 new hexes, 3 new major hexes and 2 new grand hexes. From iconic broomstick-riding to inciting hatred among allies, they offer some nice roleplaying abilities. Form of Three, for example, summons and two different age-category-versions of the caster to use in e.g. coven casting. Familiars can choose from 12 alternate familiar traits that work pretty much like alternate racial trait and e.g. let you exchange your familiar’s spell resistance for DR, lets it speak with all kinds of humanoids etc. pp..
The final section of this pdf is taken up by 30 new spells, some of which have the [ritual]-descriptor, making them more powerful when cast by a coven. What struck me as kind of wasted potential was the lack of implementation of segmented spells from Advanced Arcana Vol I here – the excellent book and its cool innovation sorely need expansion and covens casting complex spells (perhaps faster?) would have made for a supreme addition to this chapter, but I digress – on to the spells per se. All in all, I was positively surprised by the spells – while I felt a significant lack of segmented spells, the spells per se are ingenious, cool and most importantly either feature iconic imagery or benefits beyond immediate combat: In fact, due to long casting times, benefits etc., long-term planning and intelligent strategies on part of the PCs and their antagonists are encouraged by the new spells. From the curses (which have to contend with RiP’s excellent curses and thus don’t come out on top in every instance) to spells that make one day in a certain area become night to a deadly spell that halts the flow of time for the caster for 24 hours and thus leaves spells intact to a spell that uses the moon’s power to hurt someone below its shine (and in range, of course) to a rather disturbing reincarnation from a cauldron (Baba Yaga, anyone?), I liked most of the spells and don’t have mechanic gripes with any of them – well done.
Editing is very good, I only noticed a typo in one of the bookmarks. It should be noted that Secrets of the Witch comes in both a screen and a printer-friendly version, the former having a used-parchment look. Both are full-color and feature some CGI-artworks, which, while rather nice, are not exactly up my alley, but I won’t hold that against this pdf. The screen-version is extensively bookmarked, the printer-friendly version unfortunately isn’t. I’m not sure whether it’s a fault of the layout or the formatting, but several pieces of the text of the pdf, due to some quirk, feel half-blurred/lower resolution than the rest of the text, being a bit hard on the eyes when you’re tired. Something seems to have gone haywire there. Mechanically, I have already elaborated on my take on the Green Hag and why I consider the class rather bland/problematic.
I’d like to mention some additional points: Why don’t hags get some hexes? Seriously, the racial class practically screams: Give me HEXES and the poor hags don’t even get spellcasting (but those damn unlimited spell-like abilities PCs never should have), so why not grant them access to hexes? The ones from UM, after all, would make for fine ones for Green Hags… The new familiar traits are cool, though none really blew me away and we don’t get a lot of hexes, which I would have loved to see more of – after all, they are a defining feature of the Witch-class.
Mechanically, I liked most feats, hexes and spells, especially due to enhancing the aspect of the game that goes beyond kicking the door in and offering some great fodder for adventure plots. Coven Casting is a cool concept that is touched upon, but quite frankly, we don’t get enough spells and feats centered on the idea – it’s central, yeah, and duly so, being the one defining and awesome central concept and ALL the spells have information for coven casting, but this being a new concept, I think more would have been nice, both in cool feats like Black Sabbath and possibly even hexes – coven hexes would have been appreciated by yours truly.
In the end, I felt rather disappointed by this book, probably due to a lack of focus – I honestly believe that this pdf would have benefitted from being broken up into two, with the respective parts expanded. That way, coven casting would have received the spotlight it deserves and the as written, sub-par racial class could have been improved. As written, it’s too linear and just not up to the standard set by other 3pps. If you’re in this for the Hag-support, I’d advise you to tread carefully, if you’re in for the coven magic, you might enjoy it. HOWEVER: Ritual magic per se is still, at least in my opinion, much better represented by Incantations and some would have improved a hypothetical pdf that spawned from the separation of this pdf. For the hag-material, I’d settle for 1.5 stars, for the coven-material (Including spells and feats), I’d settle for 3.5 stars. Familiar traits and hexes are ok and in the end, my final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to the low price.
Secrets of the Witch is available from: