Wherefore the witch-watcher


Advice


The witch-watcher is a witch archetype from _Heroes of the High Court_, and I think it's worth a second look not because it's good -- it really, really isn't -- but because it's kind of a a perfect storm of bad design decisions. That's an extreme opinion, but let's walk through it and see if you agree. (You can find the complete archetype here.)

First there's the concept: a witch who acts as a guardian and protector. That's a cool idea! It doesn't even have to be for nobles, particularly -- one could imagine a witch protecting a particular family, or a temple, or whatever. So far, so good; it's probably going to be an NPC archetype, but that's fine.

Next there's the name, and here's where things start to go awry. "Witch-watcher" is... umm... not such a great name? Generously, it sounds like "dishwasher". Less generously, note that it's a witch archetype, so strictly speaking it's a witch-watcher witch. And then we look at the witch-watcher itself, and... oh dear. Let's start with the bad news: this archetype gives up one spell slot per level. That's pretty huge, especially since witches don't get bonus slots for specializing.

So, what do you get in return for this? Well, every day you get to pick one person as your "covenant ally". You have a short list of specialized buffs that you can throw on that person. A couple of these buffs are actually okay-ish in principle; for instance, you can choose to give your ally spell resistance, or an AC bonus of up to half your level, or a bonus on all saves of up to half your level. That doesn't sound so bad! Except... (1) Granting the buff burns a standard, and (2) your ally must be within 30 feet, and (3) the duration of the buff is your Int bonus... in minutes.

This is, mechanically, crap. Most of the covenant ally effects can be duplicated by low-level buffs. For instance, a 5th level witch-watcher can grant a +2 buff to AC for 3-4 minutes. A wizard of the same level can simply cast Cat's Grace, which gives the same buff plus bonuses to CMD and Reflex saves, lasts longer, and still leaves the wizard with more spell slots to play with. If you only want AC, okay, a cleric can give you +2 with a simple casting of Shield of Faith. Similarly, the "give more hp" buff is basically Aid, a first level spell. Giving up one spell slot / level to gain a handful of weakish buffs is just bad design. -- And before you ask, the buffs don't interact with witch hexes in any useful way. This is a witch archetype, but it could just as easily be a wizard, sorceror, or cleric archetype. It's a cool idea that is weirdly flavorless in the execution.

It's particularly annoying given that this is obviously an NPC archetype. The point of a witch-watcher is to hang around the King or whoever, protecting him. But I can, without breaking a sweat, think of at least three different ways of doing this that would be mechanically and thematically better than "cast some feeble, short-lived buffs on the King" -- and I bet you can too. (And can I just note how silly that 30' range is? The witch has to hang around within 30' of the King, 24/7, or she's completely useless.)

I will note one odd feature: reading the RAW, the ally can be chosen from anywhere -- it's just "a single creature" -- and consent is not required. So, I could choose Great Cthulhu and give him a minor AC buff or a few extra hp. Alternately, I could use this to rig gladiatorial bouts -- the combatant may not even realize he's being buffed, and the covenant ally ability is (Su), which means it won't show up to most magic-detecting spells. IOW, the witch-watcher works better as a match-fixer.

If I'm going off on this, it's because it represents a pattern I think is really common in Paizo's design of archetypes (and PrCs too, but that's another story): Come up with a thematically cool idea! -- and then nerf it so badly that nobody in their right mind would want to play it. Here's hoping they adjust this philosophy for PF2.

Thoughts?

Doug M.


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Douglas Muir 406 wrote:


Next there's the name, and here's where things start to go awry. "Witch-watcher" is... umm... not such a great name? Generously, it sounds like "dishwasher". Less generously, note that it's a witch archetype, so strictly speaking it's a witch-watcher witch.

Surely a witch-watcher would watch witches, a witch that watches would be a watcher-witch.


Wouldn't a witch watcher be called a witcher? Oh, maybe not.

The ability the watcher gains matches spell progression, as in they gain 1 use per day every 2 levels. While the abilities to scale with level, its a bit underwhelming compared to spell progression.

Solace is the most exciting ability of the bunch, followed by SR. Solace introduces a dispell SU ability at 1st level, which is impressive. Unfortunately what it actually does is just suppress what ails your ally but it is useable.

The SR ability is a 1 in 4 chance of working when you're below 10 level. It goes up to 50/50 at 10th. And that is only if the enemy caster is equal CL to you and doesn't have some ability to improve their chance to bypass SR. Still, you'll get a lot of uses so it isn't bad.

The temporary HP isn't good, but it could be worse. While it isn't much, they temps stack with themselves so you could burn a lot of uses before combat to make somebody surprisingly hardy.

The worst ability sounds like the most useful, which is splitting 1/2 your level in AC and save bonuses. At low levels this is a good ability even with the short duration. But the problem is the bonuses are typed and conflict with basic items. If your target has a Ring of Protection or a Cloak of Resistance your bonus only counts if the total is better. The stacking issue makes this ability worse the higher level your party becomes.

And the default for this archetype would be to use its protection abilities on one of the party members. It really depends on how much you worry about someone not having enough protection. But I honestly think the base witch would be a better bodyguard than what this archetype provides for you.


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Solace is the most exciting ability of the bunch, followed by SR. Solace introduces a dispell SU ability at 1st level, which is impressive. Unfortunately what it actually does is just suppress what ails your ally but it is useable.

It's usable but note that (1) it only affects spells and SLAs, not (Su), (Ex), poisons or conditions, and (2) it's useless against things you're not aware of, like an ally being zapped with an enchantment, and (3) like all the other abilities, it burns a standard and has a 30' range. (And let's note here that you have to use a standard for EACH of these buffs. If you could drop them all on your ally at once with a single standard, you'd be getting somewhere interesting. But you can't.) Generously, it's not quite as good as a plain vanilla Dispel Magic. So, it's roughly equivalent to a 3rd level spell.

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The SR ability is a 1 in 4 chance of working when you're below 10 level. It goes up to 50/50 at 10th. And that is only if the enemy caster is equal CL to you and doesn't have some ability to improve their chance to bypass SR. Still, you'll get a lot of uses so it isn't bad.

It's not horrible but, again, burns a standard. The question always has to be, is there something better you could be doing with that standard? I think the answer will usually be "yes". I would say that up until 10th level it's about equivalent to a second level spell, and after that it's roughly equivalent to Ward Shield which is a 4th level spell. (Ward Shield has some limitations but OTOH it lasts longer and can be cast on anyone, so I'd say it's about equal.)

Like all of these abilities, this works best as a pre-combat buff -- it's hard to imagine burning a standard in combat in order to give Bob a 25% chance of being unaffected by spells or SLAs.

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The temporary HP isn't good, but it could be worse. While it isn't much, they temps stack with themselves so you could burn a lot of uses before combat to make somebody surprisingly hardy.

Alas, it specifically says they don't stack with themselves. Rebuffing just resets to max and restarts the duration. As noted, this is almost exactly equivalent to Aid, a first level spell.

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The worst ability sounds like the most useful, which is splitting 1/2 your level in AC and save bonuses. At low levels this is a good ability even with the short duration. But the problem is the bonuses are typed and conflict with basic items. If your target has a Ring of Protection or a Cloak of Resistance your bonus only counts if the total is better. The stacking issue makes this ability worse the higher level your party becomes.

Good point -- deflection to AC and resistance to saves are about the two most common types of bonus there are. If it granted an untyped bonus, or a rare sort like a luck bonus, I could see this as being mediocre to okay. As is, it's very meh. This is more or less equivalent to a second level spell -- Shield of Faith, say, or Barkskin. Barkskin gives 2 + 1/3 level instead of level/2, so it's better up to 12th level; it also lasts 10-20 times longer and gives a natural AC bonus that stacks with pretty much everything.

To summarize, you're giving up one spell slot/level for the ability to throw these buffs:

Health -- gives more hp, basically a 1st level spell
Safeguard -- 2nd level spell equivalent, or maybe 3rd at the higher levels
Solace -- 3rd level spell equivalent
Resistance -- 2nd level up to 10th, then 4th level

So at (for instance) 7th level you're giving up slots 4/3/2/1 and gaining spell-like buffs worth, generously, 3/2/2. At 10th level you're trading 5/4/3/2/1 for 4x2/3/2/1, which is about as good as it gets -- but you'd always rather have spell slots than spells. And then after 10th the witch-watcher falls far behind and never catches up.

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And the default for this archetype would be to use its protection abilities on one of the party members. It really depends on how much you worry about someone not having enough protection. But I honestly think the base witch would be a better bodyguard than what this archetype provides for you.

With the exception of granting SR, everything the witch-watcher does can be done about as well or better by just casting a low-level buff. So... why not just play a character that can cast buffs?

I think I see where the designer was going here: witches aren't normally very buffy, so let's fill that niche for the few people who really want to play a buffy witch. But it's only giving the witch access to one narrow and particular sort of buff; ones that require a standard and have a duration of 2-10 minutes, which is to say pre-combat buffs. And it's not a great fit to the theme, and mechanically weaker than pretty much any alternative.

Doug M.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Seems perfectly fine to me. Creates a different set of abilities and focus than normal witches have.

I don't argue that it is objectively weaker than a non-archetyped witch. It also isn't particularly suitable or useful for a PC witch.

I think that is perfectly fine though. Not every archetype needs to be a PC archetype.

The great thing though is, if you don't like this archetype, you don't have to take it.


Dave Justus wrote:

Seems perfectly fine to me. Creates a different set of abilities and focus than normal witches have.

I don't argue that it is objectively weaker than a non-archetyped witch. It also isn't particularly suitable or useful for a PC witch.

I think that is perfectly fine though. Not every archetype needs to be a PC archetype.

The great thing though is, if you don't like this archetype, you don't have to take it.

This archetype reminds me of the Polearm fighter: The character could do what the archetype says as well or better as the base class than the archetype. While I don't think an archetype needs to be more powerful than the base class, in what it specialty is it should be clearly superior.

If I was going to try and 'fix' this archetype I'd cut the duration of all the abilities down to 1 round, up the number of uses per day to 3 per level and have them activate as immediate actions. Also add an new ability to take the attack instead of the target (i.e. the target of the attack becomes the witch, who gets effected as if the witch and protection target switched places without any actual movement). Also remove the type from all bonuses.


Heroes of the High Court upheld Paizo's usual standards for editing and balancing of Player Companion options. I'm still sad that the Pageantry psychic discipline was DOA.


Douglas Muir 406 wrote:
It's particularly annoying given that this is obviously an NPC archetype.

If it's an NPC archetype, there's your answer. NPCs don't necessarily optimize; their abilities are often informed more by their background than by their effectiveness. The mysterious reasons behind being a witch watcher may simply involve manifesting the witch's power in this modified way.

It's a pretty lackluster archetype for a player character, true. And the name stinks. I'd forgive it if the weird name was based on some real-world title, but a cursory search turns up nothing.

/who watches the witch-watcher?


I have no problem with NPC archetypes. But this is still badly designed and underpowered *for an NPC*. Why would the NPC boss hire this gal to protect him, when he could get a cleric, druid, wizard or bard who'll do a better job of keeping him alive?

I could forgive that if it was long on flavor. The Blackfire Adept is a truly crap prestige class -- I've run the numbers and written the guide. But you can make a decent set of NPC villains out of Blackfire Adepts because their powers, while mechanically very weak, are cool and thematic. Here, not so much.

Doug M.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Really have they lost so much if they are NPC villains?

They have one less spell per level. Not many NPCs cast all their spells, or even all their best spells before the party takes them apart anyway.

They still have all the hexes any other witch has.

You can absolutely make a perfectly effective bad guy with this archetype.

As to flavor of why they would be chosen? Well, perhaps it is what they have. One imagines in Irrisen there are plenty of witches, but the other classes are in short supply or not trusted as much. Perhaps the witch is a personal friend of the protectee and has sacrificed personal power to better be able to defend him.

At the end of the day though, I still don't see what is worth complaining about. If you don't like the mechanics or can't figure out how it fits flavor wise then don't use it. No one is forcing you to.


Wait, Which witch would a witch watcher watch, if a witch watcher watched Which witch?

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