Now I'm not talking about real life witch hunting. I'm talking about fantasy game witch hunting.
So calm down.
I can't say what fantasy game first included a Witch Hunter character or class, but I can say where I first encountered it. It was Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition which had an advanced career option called Witch Hunter.
In the world of Warhammer these fellows don't hunt witches, per se, but rather root out Chaos, which often means vile spellcasters. In their extremes this would apply to all magic users, even the good ones, but then that is up to the individual writer or player.
|Let's have a close up, shall we?|
|Looks damned familiar...|
Solomon Kane was not a witch hunter himself, but his never-ending battles against the forces of evil, in a setting that historically frowned upon magic as a form of evil, created a template for this type of hero. It comes as no surprise that his iconic look would be applied to the witch hunter as well.
|This guy cares little for the total lack of Puritanism in the Old World of Warhammer and resents your implications.|
|He's got a pistol, he's got a sabre, he has magic amulets, he can use faith to alter the outcome of a battle and he can learn dirty tricks to kick evil right in the unholy balls.|
Within the Warhammer setting itself Witch Hunters seem to be in a nebulous position. Sometimes portrayed heroically, sometimes portrayed as craven psychopaths, and sometimes just plain badass, such as the trilogy of novels by C.L. Werner starring Witch Hunter Mathias Thulmann.
|"Overkill, you say? Look, if there were witches in there they are not a problem now. I call that efficient."|
There is nothing about this cover that is not totally badass.
|Yet I prefer this simple red silhouette on black background cover. I find it more menacing by far than the omnibus edition shown above. Less fantasy, I suppose.|
|Fortunately my own imagination did not fail where the MMO did.|
|Suck it, Chaos! Hope you like that skull, cuz it is going right up your arse.|
|Looks downright happy. Like he's saying, "It's a dirty job, but oh do I love it so."|
Well yes. Again, fantasy genre, which means magic is just an accepted part of the whole thing. Solomon Kane acquired a magical staff from the African witch doctor, N'Longa (with whom the Puritan developed a lasting friendship, I might add) which was revealed to be the Staff of Solomon. So it is not that magic of one kind or another is not employed. Indeed another favorite of mine, Giles Redferne (played by Richard E. Grant) in the film Warlock, displays several times his knowledge of folk counter-charms for the titular Warlock's magic. The use of minor beneficial (or at least not harmful) charms to counter true evil magic is well-established in folklore and literature.
What makes a Witch Hunter?
|Expand for a better view|
While any player can choose to play a character as nice or nasty, good or evil, understanding or prejudicial in judgement, the best characters are the ones that are not disruptive to the game or party and can get along with others. We are all here to have fun. That said, the Witch Hunter type is, like the Paladin, a character of great conviction. There is no room for self-doubt when fighting pure evil. Evil will seek to use any weakness or chink in the proverbial armor to gain an advantage, seducing, manipulating, and even equivocating to gain the upper hand. Do not let a vampire get chatty. They might try to convince you that they are just another organism feeding on prey in the natural world, or worse try to gain your sympathy for their plight, all the while they are really bloodsucking fiends of the night that must be destroyed. Thus only characters with strong convictions and absolute confidence should take up this monster hunting role.
Guns are a plus, but not necessary. The image of the Witch Hunter with gun and sword is so commonplace and so popular (I like it) that it would seem to be required, but really it is not. However a good Witch Hunter type character will have an arsenal about their person consisting of trinkets mostly; items that are bane to supernatural evil, such as silver, iron, herbs, holy water, minor talismans and such. The Witch Hunter trades supernatural power (such as Clerical spells) for knowledge and how to apply that knowledge in practical ways. Unless the character is also a Paladin, torture is an acceptable method of fighting evil (even Solomon Kane was tempted to use it against the vile Le Loup in "Red Shadows"), including the all too human variety for which there is simply no excuse. While you could play the character for comedy (as Frank Finlay played the Witchsmeller Pursuivant in series 1, episode 5 of The Black Adder), typically this character is played as more grim and determined, but it can still be a hell of a lot of fun. Dry sense of humor is, however, always appreciated. Think Batman.
|"My lord, you see how the duck still possesses him!"|
|"Unholy fiends to my back. Devilspawn serpent before me. The gloom of the cave oppressing but for my absolute faith in God Almighty. Must be Wednesday."|