Uff. Hoping to raise the conversation up a notch, there's a 2019 Time
article I've been reading from Pam Grossman (a self-proclaimed witch and author) called Are Witches Real?
I've found it to be a wonderfully insightful read. I don't know anything else about Ms. Grossman beyond this article, I haven't read her book, I'm not affiliated with her in anyway – I just thought she was giving voice to something I felt but struggled to articulate far better than I could.
I've drawn on a few quotes, hopefully not too out of context, which were touching when I read them.
In fact, I find that the more I work with the witch, the more complex she becomes. Hers is a slippery spirit: try to pin her down, and she’ll only recede further into the deep, dark wood.
I do know this for sure though: show me your witches, and I’ll show you your feelings about women.
Ms. Grossman wonderfully articulates what makes the design space around interpreting a witch for D&D so challenging and invigorating. It is a nebulous concept because the bounding box that ends up being placed around it (out of practical necessity – design "everything" and you design nothing) ends up reflecting the designer's beliefs on some level.
As much as I like the chassis of the witch from Dragon #114 by Bill Muhlhausen, maybe the lesson from Ms. Grossman is if there is a witch class introduced in D&D, the "high concept" class design needs to come from a woman who is versed in the multiplicity of feminist lenses around the witch. So, in part I'm saying we should let women speak for themselves, but further than that, I'm also saying that the right
woman for that particular design challenge is probably out there.
In other words, the fact and the fiction of the witch are inextricably linked. Each informs the other and always has. I’m fascinated by how one archetype can encompass so many different facets. The witch is a notorious shape-shifter, and she comes in many guises:
While it's tempting to start with Hollywood tropes about the witch, and that's fine, it's important we don't end there & it's important we do have some awareness of the factual witch as well. For two reasons...
First, there are damaging tropes out there that magnify "feminine = evil" that we should be wary of perpetuating. Just as an architecture firm might turn down a bid to, say, construct a border wall because it doesn't reflect the firm's values, a designer is always going to bring some of themself to the design process. And that's not a good or bad thing. It's just the nature of design. My philosophy is that the strongest design comes from sensitively injecting ourselves into the design process in a way that minimizes our presence. Maybe we are selective and say, "you know, we don't want to double down on Wicked Witch of the West as the trope for our witch class, because we think that trope does more harm than good."
Second, Hollywood is rarely nuanced, while history is full of nuance. Nuance makes for richer design, not only by giving us more to work with, but also by helping game designers realize "ok, this particular thing we don't want to model in the rules because it's too controversial – there's too little consensus – whereas this other thing has more consensus and also happily overlaps with some of the more interesting commonly held beliefs."
She [the witch] is also a vessel that contains our conflicting feelings about female power: our fear of it, our desire for it and our hope that it can — and will — grow stronger, despite the flames that are thrown at it.