As part of my horror festivities, I managed to sit down with some players to check out quickplay rules for Witch: Fated Souls 2E. For those not aware, Witch is an urban fantasy horror TTRPG where you play as the Fated. These are people that have made a deal or a contract with some kind of demon for access to magical power in exchange for their eternal soul.
The original release in 2015 earned its share of acclaim, interweaving a dark atmosphere of inevitability while making the very struggle for freedom from oppressive systems and rules palpable. But a lot happens in seven years. Tastes change. Rules and standards change. How do you thread this particular needle without losing the spirit of the original creation?
These very ideas were in the back in my mind as I corresponded with the developers of Witch: Fated Souls 2E. Elizabeth Chaipraditkul and Steffie De Vaan, the same creative voices behind the first edition, were more than open with my questions about expressing a very specific kind of shared horror storytelling, as well as how they are addressing my questions and concerns.
Witch: Fated Souls 2E – Changes To The Foundation
As mentioned before, Witch: Fated Souls 2E packs a very distinct form of dread and empowerment in its very high concept. Your character is someone who was pressured or tempted to enter into a contract with a demon. On the one hand, you gain magic as well as arcane knowledge, but that very power is tied to a force that wants you dead.
But it's not an entirely uncommon form of TTRPG drama. When Witch 1E came out, it was compared to World of Darkness because of its similar parallels. Vampires are immortal beings that are forever trapped in eternal politics amongst their own as well as the drive to feed. Werewolves are powerful warriors obsessed with destroying human industry in order to protect Mother Earth. The list goes on.
Much like its peers however, Witch 1E did have some shortcomings. There were discrepencies with rules, formatting and word choice issues, as well as a few fundamental hiccups. In that context, Chaipraditkul was delighted to have another design crack at her game.
Witch will always be my first love and I’ve grown so much as a game designer. I felt like I finally had the tools I needed to design the game I wanted when I created the first edition, so it felt like time. A lot of fans had been asking me for a new edition to address some of the mechanical issues of the first and I thought - let’s do it!
In fact, Chaipraditkul's new foundation for Witch: Fated Souls 2E actually comes from another thoughtfully macabre TTRPG she successfully crowdfunded in 2021. Afterlife: Wandering Souls is a game where you play as someone who has died but is caught in a surreal and inscrutable part of the afterlife, looking for your Requiem or spiritual closure to your mortal existence. Its inspirations include the expressive vignettes of Hayao Miyazaki as well as Alice In Wonderland. The fundamental rules and mechanics for resolving conflict in Witch: Fated Souls 2E is based on this very system. Roll a number of D6s equal to the relevant stats, and see how many are successes.
This simplified system was entirely intentional. Chaipraditkul wanted to ensure that learning to play the game was simple and easy to grasp while also being player focused and player driven. If you want to succeed in your endeavors, you will need to go out of your comfort zone and push your luck here; there is no “optimal build” you can rely on to mitigate risk.
Witch: Fated Souls 2E – Comfort and Community
In fact, risk and payment is part of how Witch: Fated Souls 2E generates some of its most dreaded moments. Naturally, each character in this game has access to magic. But unlike other TTRPG systems, there is no “magic skill roll,” to see if the spell fizzles. You're a witch – magic just works for you. The danger comes from your magic making things worse. After all, the demon your bound to has a say in how its own power is used. This sabotage can also happen in more subtle ways. For example, the only way to regain your reserves of magic is to make another contract with your demon, binding yourself even more to its will. Do you want your power back? You owe me a favor. There is also an Eternity Track, which runs the risk of a hole in reality forming if you push your power too much. In this system, everything you do has a price, and the bill will come due.
Thankfully, Witch: Fated Souls 2E does provide some sensitivity tools and thoughtful design choices to compliment these high stress scenarios. In addition to the quickplay rules encouraging a Session 0 as well as having players discuss Lines and Veils with their GM, there are thematic answers to the X, N, and O cards. Better yet, it is done nonverbally. Putting your hands in a triangle facing up means you're fine. Forming a triangle facing down means you're uncomfortable and the GM should wrap up the scene. Finally, forming two fists together in front of your chest states that you cannot continue and need a break.
According to Chaipraditkul, this was taken directly from personal experience LARPing in the Netherlands and was used consistently throughout internal playtesting, all to ensure there was a sense of community on personal comfort levels. Even the introductory adventure in the quickplay rules come with content warnings so players know what they're signing up for.
This thoughtful design persists throughout the material. Not every single Fated in this world is bound to the exact same kind of demon, a lot of them draw from many different folk tales and belief systems. These include Horned Beasts, which invoke various older Pagan and Folk Horror entities, Christian-coded Devils from Hell, Reynard which are trickster entities, and even a Lovecraftian sentient nothing called The Quiet. But whenever you draw material from different faiths or belief systems, there is always the risk of misappropriation or even misrepresentation.
This is why De Vaan emphasized the importance of sensitivity readers and consultants. One of those very voices include TK Johnson, a nonbinary POC that has had years of experience as a Narrative Designer in the TTRPG space. All of this work and effort was to ensure that Witch: Fated Souls 2E would have a dark but still respectful tone to all involved. This is important because once that respectful tone is established, everyone can get into some truly complex and dark shared material.
We’ve all been in situations where you’re trapped—in a bad relationship, a loan you can never repay, a toxic job, etc—and Witch is quite empowering in that you CAN (and hopefully will) get yourself out of your demonic bargain. So we tightened the hold between witch and demon, and brought back the Fellows (witch hunters) to actively stake out places of mortal authority to cut down that avenue of help too.
But De Vaan and Chaipraditkul also understood that such pressures cannot be relentless or constant. Characters in Witch: Fated Souls 2E can form covens and develop social structures for themselves. In fact, they even have their own social media app, WitchApp. In a world that could easily encourage isolation and dissociation, they remembered one of the strongest themes that can emerge around the gaming table: a found family that gets through the worst together.
The Kickstarter campaign for Witch: Fated Souls 2E is live right now and will conclude November 21.