[Witch Hunter] Witch Hunter: Surreptitious Story Gaming in a Traditional RPG Package

Witch Hunter

Originally posted at Story Games.

So I’d been very intrigued by Paradigm ConceptsWitch Hunter: The Invisible World ever since it was announced, and a couple months ago I got a copy, which made me very happy. One of the things that called my attention was that in the descriptions of the game, the concept of “story” were greatly highlighted, and in conversations with members of PCI (mostly Eric), it had been made very clear that WH had been designed from the start to be a game of cinematic action where story was given primary importance. Neat!

So I got the book and I skimmed over it, especially over the background section and the core rules, just to get an idea of what the game was about and how the rules worked. I went over the chargen section as well, but only lightly. When I was done, I remember I felt a bit dissapointed: for a game that touted story as its most important aspect, I did not find any rules mechanic that supported it. I’d been tainted by the story games concept and community, so I wanted to see some of that mentality and design in there. But alas, I didn’t. I put the book aside to read later and moved on.

Lately I’d been having the urge to run this game, so as part of my 2008 gamer resolutions, I decided to run a play-by-email game of WH. I immediately started reading the book cover-to-cover in preparation, and would you guess what I come to find within its pages?

WH actually does have quite a few elements of story gaming in its rules and I had totally missed them because they are perfectly enmeshed in the rules of the game. For example:

  1. WH comes with a built-in bang/kicker: you had this Catalyst, some sort of event (usually traumatic) by which you became aware of the Invisible (Spirit) World and the machinations of the Adversary, and it is because of this that you now are a Witch Hunter. The game offers Orders that function kinda like Clans in Vampire in the sense that they give you a place to belong and a way to further define your character, giving you also some more kickers in the process as you define how your character matches the tenets of that Order.
  2. Virtue and Vice/Sin – more kicker goodness, and these can be “compelled” kind of like in FATE in that the GM can call a player out to live up to her Virtue and/or Sin, even (and especially) to the detriment of the character, but always to the betterment of the story. This can earn you Hero Points (see below). And get this, giving in to your Sin actually brings mechanical benefits, tempting you all the time.
  3. Some Talents (think Feats) give players the ability to define the world as they play (the biggest example is the Contacts talent, with which you can define who your contact is during play). There is room for growth here, but it is a good step.
  4. Hero Points – a kind of Fate Point, HP allow you to do a few story gamey things like gaining one by playing a Virtue to the character’s detriment, by doing things that “drastically enhances the enjoyment of the Scene” (Fan Mail), or by adding a welcome complication to the plot by making a declaration; or you can spend one to negate a Vice/Sin compel, as well as to enjoy more mechanical benefits like an extra die or automatic stabilization when having suffered lots of damage.

So what do you know, there is stuff in there in the realm of story gaming!

The game sits squarely in the void between traditional and hippie games because, simplified as it is, there are still a number of rules to keep track of if you so choose, and task resolution is still king of the field. I would have liked to see more simplification of some of the crunchier parts of the book, ideally, though I like what I got.

I know I will be introducing a couple more story gamey elements to my game, such as Beliefs from Burning Wheel (IMO, a must for a game where the character’s religion is as important, if not more, as her name) and Conflict Resolution/Bringing Down the Pain from TSoY (especially because we’re playing by email and I don’t want to get into too many silly combats).

So check Witch Hunter out: it hides its story gaminess within its pages.