The most flavorful class to come out of the Advanced Player’s Guide is, in my opinion, the witch. With hex powers and a familiar that’s more than window dressing, along with the rather spooky theme about their patron granting them power, the witch just oozes flavor. And yet, for all the APG offers in this regard, there are other aspects of the classical witch that are largely ignored. Very little is given, for example, to the idea of the witch coven, or how hags interact with that; what is given is brief and somewhat unsatisfying.
Who better to “raise” these issues than the Necromancers of the Northwest, in their witch-themed sourcebook A Necromancer’s Grimoire: Secrets of the Witch.
Secrets of the Witch aims squarely to round out the themes of the witch class that were overlooked in the APG, and in that regard it succeeds magnificently, focusing its attention on five key areas: hags as a PC class/race, coven abilities (as feats), new hexes, new abilities for familiars, and new spells designed to take advantage of covens.
Unfortunately, I can’t be quite so complimentary on the technical side of things. Now, the book does do most things right; it has a screen version and printer-friendly version, both of which contain full nested bookmarks. The screen version is also nicely illustrated, with the pages being set on a parchment-colored background, and every so often a full-color image (usually of a macabre nature) will appear. The problem comes with the copy-and-paste. While large sections of the book copy and paste just fine, there are some areas – areas where the text has a slight but noticeable blur – where the copy and paste won’t work cleanly, with some words being replaced with odd symbols and characters. It’s a persistent problem in Necromancers of the Northwest products, though it does seem somewhat diminished here.
Having said that, let’s examine the book’s content in further detail.
The first section of the book gives us the green hag racial class. For those not familiar with the concept, this is where a race is broken down into a series of class levels, basically combining class and race and spreading the latter’s powers out among the former. What’s different here (though if you’re a fan of the NotNW website, you’ll have seen this treatment for other races) is that while you can usually become a “full” – that is, Bestiary equivalent member of the normal race – green hag at 11th level, this class is extended all the way to 20th level, with new powers enhancing those commonly associated with these monsters.
And there’s little doubt that green hags are monsters. The book helpfully provides a large fluff section on green hags in the game world and green hag PCs, and the tone holds that green hags are monsters and everyone knows it. This is true, but I was surprised that they didn’t devote more time to those rare hags that weren’t stereotypical villains, since PC green hags will likely not be evil. As it is, the green hags as PCs section talks more about the mechanical balance of this class, which is helpful too.
The feats section of the book follows, and this is where covens are spotlighted. Characters that take the basic Coven Initiate feat – open to all arcane spellcasters (with a sidebar noting that certain creatures and classes may naturally have access to this feat) – are able to, when together, able to cast a select number of spells simply by virtue of being a coven. A generous helping of feats expand on this in a variety of ways. Beyond that, several other feats don’t require coven abilities, but instead focus on witch-like powers (my favorite here was witch-specific feat called Blessing of the Three, whose bonus changes depending on your age category in the vein of the Maiden/Mother/Crone trinity).
The hexes section is fairly slim (four new standard hexes, three new major hexes, and two new grand hexes) but again, the flavor of what’s here makes up for that. A hex to fly so long as the witch is riding a broom or similar object, for example. I won’t give any more away, but beware angering the witch with the Form of the Three hex!
Alternate familiar abilities are one of those ideas that seems so obvious it’s amazing no one’s thought of it before. These are like alternate class abilities in that you have a series of powers that replace one of the normal abilities you gain for your familiar as you level up. Instead of speaking with animals of its kind, for example, you familiar can learn how to vocalize a particular language. It’s simplicity itself, and is one of the most elegant ways to diversify familiars, since it requires neither precious feat slots nor temporary spells.
Lastly are the thirty new spells mentioned in the book’s product page. Given on the witch spell list (though many can be cast by other classes), almost all of these spells can be used by a single spellcaster…but that’s not where their real value lies. These spells also have the new ritual descriptor, which means that when cast with the aid of a coven, they have an enhanced effect depending on how many others are lending their power to the spell. For example, the Dread Calling spell calls an outsider (with no restrictions on it) of up to ½ the caster’s spellcaster level. However, if your coven ritual-casts this spell with you, that limit is lifted to ½ the total caster level of all those joining you in the casting.
Some of the best sourcebooks I’ve ever seen are those that serve a specific niche, but make sure to keep a wider applicability in doing so; Secrets of the Witch is one of those sourcebooks. Its material is tightly focused on the witch class, both in theme and mechanics, but almost all of the book can be used for other characters. Your green hag PC doesn’t have to be a witch, for example, and the alternate familiar abilities can be used by any character with a familiar. This book makes your witch more quintessential, or your other arcane spellcaster a little more witchy in presentation. Pick this book up and show the rest of your group just which witch is which.
[5 of 5 Stars!]