Posted on March 22, 2006 by Flames
The Mountain Witch
A Tale of Trust, Betrayal, and Confronting One’s Fate
Written by Timothy Kleinert
This review is based on reading the game. I haven’t played it yet. It also includes no numbering system as I suffer from grade inflation.
The Mountain Witch is a roleplaying game that seems to me to be more like a module that changes each time you run it. I feel it could be a very good resource for people who can only meet a few times, want a break from a regular game, or perhaps for a pick-up game. I’m not as sure about the last, as there can be a good deal of competition in the game.
The Mountain Witch uses the classic Gamemaster with multiple players set up. The players each play a Ronin who has for whatever reasons decided to attempt to assault the Mountain Witches fortress at the top of mount Fuji, and ultimately to challenge the Mountain Witch. The Gamemaster plays the Mountain Witch, and the witches minions, and even Mount Fuji itself.
The game throws the characters together at the foot of Mount Fuji, and lets them take it from there. I like this as one of the most difficult and possibly derailing things in a game can be trying to get the players together. It would be like starting The Temple of Elemental Evil and saying you’re all fourth level and you’re standing in front of some big freaking doors. No muss, no fuss.
The rules are fairly solid in my mind, they reward co-operation while at the same time push the players towards competition. That lets the players push towards the type of game they want to play, and the gamemaster can then respond. It also does a good job of describing some Forgite type concepts that should be useful for the gamemaster in running a more freeform game. I think it falls short on discussing bangs though, and would have done good to include more than two examples, especially for someone who hasn’t encountered the idea before. It is doubly bad as the book references Timfire’s website for more info on bangs and the webpage is not there. I couldn’t find it anywhere either.
Another problem is that the game doesn’t adequately explain in my mind how some of it’s concepts are supposed to work. Characters each have Fates and they are supposed to be allowed to introduce elements based on these fates into the game. Somehow they are supposed to do this in some way that hints towards their fates, until the time they actually reveal their fates. This feels like one of those things that an author understands but doesn’t explain to the audience leaving the whole thing feeling very ambiguous and WTF. To top it off the Gamemaster is supposed to make some changes based on when the players reveal their fates.
The Mountain Witch is a Narrative game, which means that the dice are rolled to decide who is successful and describes what happens. I have a few worries that if the competiton angle is pressed the narrating for other players could be deprotagonizing. Ignoring that, the game really shines here. The dice mechanism is very easy yet has an interesting twist, and all the steps of conflict be it social, mental, or physical is very well laid out in wording that makes it easy to understand the first time through. The Trust mechanic is also very easy to grasp and understand the first time through. Another mechanic I liked alot is that the Gamemaster sets a scene and the players dictate a conflict. What this means is the players decide how to proceed whether through stealth, trickery, conversation, or combat. This is how I like to run games, but have found that sometimes players don’t know what to do when your hand is not on their nose. Mountain Witch puts this in the rules so players will expect this freedom. Very cool.
The game has some good reference sections, and the website has some additional good information. Unfortanately the website needs to be read as there are some things that are left out of the book that seem in my mind to be fairly important. You can see that the book was a bit rushed so it would be done by last years Gen Con.
The book is very nice looking, it’s art is occasional, but what is there is good quality. I found the text layout a bit disconcerting sometimes as there are occasionally sidebars that are near the size of the main text, sometimes the sidebars dip down lower than the main text. This causes the text layout to look goofy occasionally.
Tim’s website was a good resource to add to the game and in some cases as I already wrote, it’s necessary. The site is sometimes frustrating as it has broken links or text that makes you think there should be a link somewhere in it, but their isn’t. On the plus side he’s got some great resources, like Miyamoto Mushasi’s Book of Five Rings, the Hagakure, and some other great things about Japanese culture and Samurai.