Folklore has given us stories about witches from the beginning of recorded history. Storybook witches are a well-defined part of our childhood. It seems like they should be one of the fundamental icons of the D&D world. Yet, to my knowledge, no official D&D product has ever contained a monster entry for witches. It is time to change that!
Original D&D (Book I: Men & Magic, page 11) states: “In addition, the charisma score is usable to decide such things as whether or not a witch capturing a player will turn him into a swine or keep him enchanted as a lover”. But there is no other mention, in any of the LBBs, about witches.
Throughout all of the editions, the only other mention (that I could find) is in the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual where hags are described as “witch-like”. However, 2nd edition does not contain the corresponding witch entry for comparison.
Note that the 2nd edition description for hags would make an excellent description for witches. As it says, though, hags are “witch-like” and therefore, by definition, not actually witches. You could stop there and call it a simple matter of semantics. I want witches that are called “Witches” and could certainly rename hags and call it done. But my impression of hags is that they are creatures born with certain powers (albeit less developed), whereas I envision witches as someone who has sought out and learned witchcraft, thus becoming a witch in the process. Therefore, I want to go a little further.
What Are Witches
Witches of legend are always grotesque, female humans, who ride brooms, cavort with demons, have familiars, and cast harmful spells against those that gain their displeasure. In Conan the Barbarian (1982), a witch changed her appearance to seduce Conan, intending to devour him the following morning. In Hocus Pocus, the Sanderson sisters entranced children in order to kill them and use them to brew a potion to restore the witches’ youth and to extend their life. In the story Hansel & Gretel, by the Brothers Grimm, the witch imprisoned children in order to fatten them up and eat them. Many other stories follow this basic theme.
Witches are usually portrayed as a triad, working together around a large cauldron in order to brew their potions and cast their spells. A gathering of witches, usually three but ranging up to thirteen based on source, is referred to as a coven. Covens gather to celebrate their unholy days, with All Hallow’s Eve being the most well-known.
A witch is a person (any sentient humanoid, male or female) who makes a pact with a devil in exchange for certain dark knowledge. This knowledge gives the person the ability to brew potions, cast spells, and create (often cursed) magical items. Each recipe, spell, or set of instructions to be gained requires an additional bargain.
This dark magic, most commonly called “Witchcraft”, is also referred to as “Blood Magic” as every spell or potion requires blood, body parts, or some other form of sacrifice. Almost all of these spells are rituals requiring three (or more) witches to perform. As such, casting times are lengthy and spells are more focused on widespread damage (spreading disease, poisoning wells, causing crops to fail, etc.) with only a handful of combat spells (typically obscuring gas clouds and minor illusions). Due to this lack of combat spells, witches often have powerful bodyguards (ogres, trolls, or even giants). Additionally, witches are far more powerful than their frail guise suggests. They possess unnatural strength and speed, as well as razor-sharp claws.
In preparation for the aforementioned sacrifices, witches almost always have prisoners hidden somewhere nearby (often young children).
Each time a witch uses witchcraft, he or she undergoes a subtle physical deformation. Over time, the witch’s skin becomes discolored, blotchy, and wrinkled, the hair becomes frayed and brittle, hairy moles and cancerous sores appear, the entire body becomes crooked and contorted. Other bargains can be made with the witch’s master for spells to reverse or hide these changes, as well as spells to extend the witch’s life.
In exchange for all this knowledge, the devil gains a number of things. First, the witch is required (on occasion) to perform evil acts as directed. Typically, these duties entail spreading mischief and misfortune throughout the surrounding communities. But in addition, the act of becoming a witch, and the continued act of practicing witchcraft, does irreparable damage to the witch’s soul. The more black and twisted it becomes, the more valuable it is to the devil who will unquestionably claim it in the end. There is also the perverse pleasure of forcing the witch to forever beg for additional knowledge, unaware that each such “favor” just serves to further corrupt the witch, which is the devil’s actual goal all along.
Witches can summon a lesser devil to serve as a familiar (as well as eyes and ears for their witch’s infernal master). These familiars can take the form of a cat, owl, raven, rat, frog, or other small animal.
Witches do not possess any innate ability to fly. Instead, they must create a Flying Broomstick. It is a magic item in its own right, so anyone can use it. However, each time a non-witch uses a broomstick, upon dismounting there is a 1 in 20 chance of the broomstick crumbling into dust.
In my game, player’s do not have easy access to flight (no fly spell, no flying mounts, no flying potions, flying magic items are rare and limited to just a few charges), therefore a Flying Broomstick is a particularly desirable item.
Witches typically live in or near a small village, using spells to disguise their appearance. They will either have a lair hidden under their house, or in a nearby forest or cave.
Since a witch starts out as an ordinary person, it made sense to me for them to actually be members of a witch class. Making a pact with a devil represents the initial training in that class, with additional levels bringing a commensurate increase in power and the ability to bargain for more powerful spells.
In my game, player characters do not have specific alignments. But there is an assumption that characters are essentially good, working to defeat the forces of evil. So naturally, the Witch class is not available to player characters. To further this separation, I have created a new category which I refer to as the “Dark Classes”, of which the Witch class is just the beginning.
I have intentionally left this in a conceptual form. Being a class, it doesn’t lend itself to a monster entry or even a template. Since the class description, that I will eventually write up properly, will be intended for my specific game, it wouldn’t fit exactly for other games. Therefore, I figured that a conceptual write-up would be more appropriate.