First Impressions: Witch Hunters in Burrows and Badgers

I’ve now played my first couple of games using the lovely new Witch Hunter models from the most recent kick starter, and the rules in the second and third Oathsworn Journals, so I thought I’d share my first impressions.

I think Witch Hunters in fantasy settings are a really interesting faction. Historically speaking, witch hunts were simply murders of innocent and vulnerable people who either wouldn’t or couldn’t conform to society’s norms (I mean I tend to start from the position that most victims were probably not having it away with the Devil disguised as a gate post/cat/oddly shaped rock or carrot).

Of course, in the realms of fantasy magic is real – and that changes everything. Our real-world fantasists and psychopaths have a reason to exist. The enemy is real, no longer imagined. These shady operatives provide useful services, waging a secretive war against the occult and the obscured, the threat from beyond the veil. They have a story to be told that could, on occasion, see them considered heroic; dare I say even… noble?

So now my band of shady, paranoid and totally untrustworthy slayers of weird stuff have started their tabletop adventures I thought I’d share my first impressions.

Building the band

Warband wise I think the models are fantastic. They provide a great starting point of instantly recognisable beasts, guaranteed to make even the loyalist Royalist a little nervous that their name might be on the top of a suspect list.

The wider range provides some great options to build out some characterful warbands, whether it’s adding a local scout to show them the location of their current most wanted, town watch to provide a bit of extra muscle, or a baying mob of locals keen to burn something down. There are loads of great options to create warbands with a strong narrative feel.  

Faction rules

Rules wise this faction is quite different from the initial four. There is a free characteristic upgrade for Fortitude for up to three characters. Whilst this isn’t the stat that probably jumps to mind as the most useful, it does provide some characterful support against some magic spells and gives a bit more staying power when the route roll offs come around (I always see witch hunters as being very determined and dogmatic, so a little extra stoicism is always welcome). The Fortitude increase also helps activate the ‘definitely not magic’ Divine Might powers which, as previously stated, are definitely not magic. A bit more on those later.

The additional core faction rules are optional paid for upgrades. The first of these is the Malleus Maleficiarum (The Hammer of the Witches), originally a book published in 1486, which takes on a much more literal interpretation in Northymbria. It’s a weapon upgrade for the warband leader which increases the damage of a normal weapon when hitting undead and magic users. It’s a nice touch thematically and the damage increase against magic users gives the boss a buff against living warbands as well (albeit the magic users amongst them).

The warband also has the option to give two of its members Critter Boss, a new skill that allows the warband to recruit Stag Beetle grubs (a Northymbrian stand in for hounds). There are three different types of grubs that bring different skills to the warband. It’s a great differentiator and allows warband access to some relatively cheap beasts (made cheaper by not needing equipment) with useful skills. There is the added benefit that if the character with the Critter Boss skill dies the grubs become berserkers, which not surprisingly drops the priority of the character with that skill on the enemies’ ‘To Kill List’ pretty rapidly.

Finally, there is Divine Might, righteous powers that augment these warriors of god (gods?) in a mystical, but totally unmagical way. These function in a similar way to magic and target rolls use Fortitude, but there is a key difference – there is no weak or delicate offset (although armour still restricts use). Understandably this makes these powers a little more expensive than spells, but it opens up a number of different ways to build and use the faction’s ‘not spell casters’ which I’m having fun exploring. These powers are a mixture of roll off buffs and anti undead/magic user options so its worth giving a thought to what you’re likely to be facing out there, because if you’re not facing necromancers once the two spell mouse magician is dead you could have quite a few redundant tools rusting in the box.

The verdict

It’s early days, but I’m really enjoying the faction and I can see loads of potential for different types of builds. I was initially worried that the warband rules might overly focus on smashing the undead, leaving the warband with a bit less in the tank when fighting mortal beasts, particularly those warbands who don’t have the courteously to include a magic user. But I don’t think that’s the case.

Whilst its fair to say there are some Divine Might powers and the Malleus Maleficiarum that will pack more punch against certain foes than others there is plenty to explore and the fact that most (pretty sure all) anti undead magic also affects magic users means there will generally be targets for them amongst the original four warbands.

The most interesting thing for me has been considering what skills I pick for my leader and second, and who gets Divine Might and the Critter Boss options. It’s worth remembering that additional skills cost valuable pennies, so you can find characters quickly building in cost.

I’ve decided to have a go at picking skills that give me a better chance of picking my fights. Fighting the undead currently is all about taking out any character with the Invocation spell – the extra bodies it allows the necromantic faction to bring to the table is seriously disruptive so stopping these creatures early is important. To that end I’ve chosen Burst of Speed for my leader to give him loads of reach.

My second has Slippery. Not only does this allow him to move from fight to fight at will, but as I have given him some Divine Might it means he can also exit a combat and cast if this looks like the better option. In both cases these characters are tooled up to allow them to pick, or support the right fight. That being said I’m taking a bit of time working out what the ‘right’ fight is!

I’m also having a go with a mouse critter boss, and three grubs, who also has some Divine Might – the theory is that because people are less inclined to target him whilst the grubs are still on the table he is free to buff characters in a ‘not magical way’ and so far this is working.

Moving forward I see lots of scope to try out skills that I wouldn’t have previously considered, like Paladin and Critter Master. So far, I’ve only scratched the surface of these reasonably maligned critters, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what else they have to offer.

How is my warband shaping up?

Being honest, two games into the current campaign, and its not looking good! Their first game was against the first iteration of the undead list (very scary) which saw all but the leader and a grub go out of action. One grub died, my mouse picked up a niggling injury and the weasel had to miss the next game. Fortunately, I made enough pennies to replace the dead grub.

In the second game I faced off against a Wild Beast band with no magic users (no benefits from the Malleus Maleficiarum) and was one beast down! Not surprisingly that didn’t go well. Fortunately, the permanent injury table was ‘kind’. The Fox is now Fearsome, but there wasn’t enough food to feed everyone one, so I’m going into the next game on the back foot, and that’s if the mouse manages to make it! On the plus side though, if I lose the next game at least there is the promise of a sympathetic Freelance to look forward too. What can go wrong?

Published by Eddie Bar

Fantasy storyteller, reader and wargamer.

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