Witch Girls Adventures is a new "Drama Diaries" game, using the "Drama Dice" system from Malcolm Harris. It is aimed at new players predominantly and girls in particular. Now despite be WAY out of the target demographic for this I was pre-inclined to like this game. I do, but I am not cutting it any slack here. In fact I might be a little TOO critical in places because my expectations are high. How high? Well I bought the book online and while waiting for it to be shipped I got impatient and ordered the PDF as well. So I can review this book from the point of view of both the physical book and the digital file and the "Nice" and "Wicked" versions.
The book begins with 10 pages of the Witch Girls Adventures comic, which one you get depends on whether or not you have the regular edition or the "Wicked" edition. This, plus the cover art, is all the differences between the two. The PDF download on DriverThru or RPGNow is the normal "Nice" edition.
It goes on to your typical introduction into what is a roleplaying game and is written for a young or teen girl audience ("just tell the geek (trust me; they are used to being called geeks) behind counter you need... ") cute. But too much of this would ruin the presentation of the game for me. Thankfully this is the only time, but it does establish one thing right away; this game is going for a different audience. The intro stuff continues with some terms both for the game and for RPGs.
It makes an odd left turn to give us optional rules (we haven't had any rules yet for these to be optional to) about how to run a "Harry Potter" like game with this. Eh. Nice, but this should have come last, not first.
Chapter 2 gives us "Cliques" . So perfect. In another game these would be "Factions" or "Classes" or even "Traditions" or "Associations" or "Backgrounds", but given the Middle-school/High-school this is great. Cliques basically give your starting dice and what skills you are likely to have. The system is very easy. The dice system (The Drama Dice system as it is called) quickly reminds one of Cortex or Savage Worlds. Attributes are scored d2 to d12 for most types. The spread even looks the same as Cortex and Savage Worlds. Not surprisingly, afterall it is a logical progression. You have six attributes Body (which combines Strength, Agility and stamina), Mind (intelligence), Senses, Will, Social and Magic. Right away you see there is only one body type attribute but four mental ones. This is the way it should be really, WGA is not about beating people up, it is about the social aspects of the game and about magic, our last attribute. There are some secondary attributes that are derived. Rolls are made depending on the dice vs a difficulty table very similar to d20 or Unisystems' success levels. Cliques are detailed and they are your basic magical girl stereotypes (the Goth, the insider, the outsider…) . Plenty here to work with and if you are so inclined create your own (which is what the "Harry Potter" bit tries to do).
Chapter 3 moves onto skills. Each chapter has some fiction to introduce you to the Witch Girls world. It seems to be a cross between Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy and the Craft mixed in with anime magical girls. Skills. Unlike Cortex or Savage Worlds, skills are given a score like Unisystem or d20. Roll the die associated with the attribute (each skill is connected to an attribute like d20) add the bonus the skill provides, check your success, or roll greater. There are 34 mundane skills and 10 magical skills. A little too much in my book, but I am willing to see how it works out here.
Chapter 4 Traits details traits, which are like Edges or Qualities. They are broken up into Talents (which you can get later in life) and Heritages (which are inborn and never change). Heritages have both a positive and negative aspect to them. Typical ones are there like "Beautiful" and others which have to be unique to this game like "Drama Queen".
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are all well detailed and very straight forward.
Chapter 5 is Magic. Really this is what we came here for. There is a lot more here on what magic is and what it means to a witch. There are different types of magic (necromancy, mentalism, cybermancy…) which you can spend points on to improve your rank. This can provide a lot of variance between witches. Think of it as somewhere between Harry Potter's classes and Mage's spheres. As GM (a Director in WGA) I might limit some of these to NPCs (Guest Stars) and not to PCs (Stars). Spell casting is broken down into a lot of detail. More than maybe the seasoned gamer needs, but given the audience it might be about right. Effects are broken out into Magic Type Rank (MTR) and the overall feel is like a table you might see in Mage or Mutants & Masterminds with what MTR (read as Power level) you need to achieve a certain effect. Want to cast that spell across the world? Better have an MTR of 9.
There are rules for Signature Spells, which take less Zap (read: Mana, Essence), choose only one and from the "School" with your highest MTR (which makes sense really). I like the idea of the signature spell and might try it in my other games too. This is all followed by 20 pages of spells and these by no means seem to be all of them. Since your cast member (Star, remember) isn't going to be buying swords, guns or anything else that characters spend money or points on then this is a good thing.
Chapter 6. Your Star gets an allowance allowing her to buy things like magical computers, flying Vespas, and more brooms than found in Home Depot. There are familiars, clothes, wings and all sorts of magical equipment here as well. You could build an adventure on just shopping for these things cause I am sure getting them is not as easy as going to the mall. Lots of neat wands and I have to say the books for young witches are pretty funny ("Samantha's Guide to Merry Mortals" yeah that made me laugh). And a bunch of mundane stuff like DVD players and skateboards. The allowance system is nice, I like it better than the Modern d20 purchase DCs and easier than keeping track of cash.
Chapter 7 is some odds and ends. A character questionnaire (nice) and a filled out character sheet (also nice). Good detail on what things mean and if you are new to games a certain boon.
Chapter 8 is for Directors, so all the rules of the game. The system, some combat rules (yes this is the FIRST game I have seen where the rules for shopping are longer than the rules for combat. ;) ) Some nice background fluff and some ideas for different types of stories, basically you can do Buffy, Good vs. Evil, Charmed, and Magic School. The experience system is "interesting" (Voodollars), but it looks like it works.
Chapter 9 is the world background. Now this one is kind of neat. I details the various races (witches are a different race) and they are not alone. Some history, some magical places (Santa's Workshop, No joke and it looks cool!) The ruling council of Witches (I am yoinking this for my Unisystem games), Spelling Bees, groups and other schools. Even how the mundane world reacts to all of this.
Chapter 10 presents some creatures. But if the art is any indication most of these are not for combat purposes, but potential dates (well there is only one witch kissing a vampire…) Nearly every kind of creature is covered from fairies to Cthulhu like horrors. But no demons. Seems a bit odd, given it all. Some NPCs (Guest Stars) of note.
Chapter 11 details the Willow Mistt School. Lands, buildings, faculty, everything you would expect to find is here. Willow Mistt is not Hogwarts, but it is easy to make the comparisons. I actually found it closer to Claremont Academy from Mutants & Masterminds.
We close with a sample Episode, some plot ideas, a lexicon, and a list of Witch names (see how many you recognize!), and very important, a sample class schedule.
Harris obviously has a love for this genre and it shows. The rules are well crafted and while there is nothing earth shaking here, they are familiar mechanics done up in a very nice way. The point of view of the work is nice. This is anti-Grim-Dark. It's not all unicorns, princesses and kittens (though it does have all that), it's a fun game. The art is not D&D 4e, but it is good and more to the point very appropriate for this game.
For new players this is a great little game. More experienced players may want more, but that is not due to the game itself, but rather expectations. Do not expect this to be "WitchCraft: The Junior High Years" (though you can do that).
I know Harris is basically a one man operation so I am willing to cut him some slack here. But there are a number of typos that should be fixed and some terms that might have either been mistakes or from earlier versions (the Magic attribute is called "Zap" in one spot.) I am willing to overlook those IF they are corrected in say, 2nd Edition.
There are some issues in my printed version with some of the pages being so dark thee art is hard to see (ex: one of the teachers is so dark her face is obscured) this is not the case of the PDF.
Lastly I would have done the skills a different way myself, but I am not willing to second guess the design until I have plated it a few more times.
The Ugly? (not really)
A book like this REALLY should have full color art inside, but costs may have prevented that.
The optional rules should have come in an appendix.
So. Who is Witch Girls Adventures for?
Well , that sort of depends but here is what I see.
New players and Game Master get a lot with this book. I see them having a great time.
People that enjoy the more social aspects of a game (and of gaming) rather than a bunch of combats.
Anyone that is a fan of Magical Girl Anime, Witches or even high school based games.
Anyone that has ever wished for a Harry Potter RPG.
Anyone that looks at the setting and resists the urge to make it "darker". WGA is not about being dark. You can be evil sure, and as a witch the entire world is after you, but the setting does not need the WoD feel at all.
AND Anyone playing Cortex or Savage Worlds that craves a more granular, customizable magic system. This is a big one really. For a list price of under 20 bucks, use this book's magic system in place of the system you have now. Make "Magic" an Edge (SW) or a Trait (Cortex) and then buy spells like skills. You don't have to convert much and it will work fine. Plus it is much better than the built in magic system in the Cortex Core book (Sorry Jaime!) and an improvement over the Savage Worlds core.
This is a fun game. Take it as it is, not as you want it to be, and you will have fun too. If you are an old pro, use this game to introduce younger people to the hobby. I hope that Malcolm Harris is successful and ends up getting a lot of new people, boys and girls, to our hobby.
Style: 5/5 (this game oozes style)
Substance: 4/5 (I wanted more, but was happy still)
Witch Girls Adventures
180 pages, Comic, character sheet and a page of ads. (190 pages total)
Print and PDF reviewed.