This entry’s genesis was the Gazetteer’s prompt of “come up with something starting with the letter v,” and was almost some sort of vine monster. Vine witch, however, had a much more intriguing sound. I actually wrote a bunch of entries that linked to vine witches before I got to write this entry, so there was a whole bunch of context to draw on.
This entry is 1000% part of my “witches are clerics, actually” agenda, and I really enjoyed creating a down-to-earth, community-centered cleric that didn’t have any priestly trappings. This is the witch who lives on the edge of town, but instead of being a pariah, they are a respected member and leader in their communities.
Vine witches have a more than passing resemblance to the real-world clerics that I respect the most: the ministers, nanâtawihiwewiyiniwak, rabbis, granthi, imams, and pandits who are out there doing the work to keep their communities safe and healthy.
How’s this community-centered cleric work in an adventuring roleplaying game, you ask? Well, there’s apprentices, or former apprentices, who might strike out on an adventure. Or a vine witch might need to leave their community for some epic quest to protect it. Or you could just play in a community instead of roving around all over everywhere. Settle down for a bit, the vine witch can introduce you to some lovely locals who’d be open to courting…
Straddling multiple roles as holy figures, community leaders, and local magic experts, vine witches are a common pillar of small communities from Wildermarch to the Kelompok. While there are a handful of organized sects who ritually ordain their members, most vine witches derive their training and authority through lines of serial apprenticeship. These lines of knowledge and wisdom, passed down generation to generation, are the vines of their name.
“Vine witch” can also be applied as an insult, implying a meagre understanding of the fundamentals of wizardry and sometimes a reckless and ignorant use of power. Lorathan elves are particularly disdainful of vine witches, seeing them as rabble threats to proper stewardship. In the legendarium of Kharzan, an angry vine witch accidentally caused the colossal eruption that formed the Asfixis crater. While vine witches may not be masterful and venerable wizards, few have any actual ambition to be so.
Vine witches are deeply embedded in their communities: almost universally recruited from and trained within them, they retain family ties with the people they serve. The local vine witch always has an apprentice or two in training so that a replacement will be available in the event of the witch’s death. Not all apprentices become their community’s vine witch: some end their apprenticeship before their teacher’s death and pursue other paths through life. The roles of vine witch and vine witch apprentice can also be dangerous, and some apprentices simply don’t live longer than their teachers. Very occasionally a community will lose both its vine witch and their apprentices and send to a neighboring community for an apprentice ready to take on the mantle.
Even with their ties to the community, though, vine witches are often set apart. While vine witches are usually allowed to marry, few do. Many vines of witches also have a long history of recruiting the community’s misfits, both as a way of managing the community’s malcontents as well as offering them a way to live with, if not in, their community. In the worst case scenario, the apprentice picks up a few sorcerous tricks before they strike out into the world on their own.
While their official authority varies widely, vine witches consider themselves the caretakers of their communities and their community’s place in the natural world around them. They often keep time, employing everything from modest calendars in their homes to grand stone observatories like Zinclum. This allows them to direct the community when to sow, when to harvest, and when to fallow the soil. Vine witches oversee rituals both public and private, officiating at harvest festivals, midwinter vigils, and river blessings as well as marriages, weavebonds, naming ceremonies, and funerals. In the Kelompok, a vine witch is also a matchmaker, carefully threading together the bloodlines of their community and its neighbors.
All vine witches are trained in the magical arts, although their depth of mastery varies widely. A few vine witches are powerful wizards, while others only know the few cantrips and blessings required by their rituals. Vine witches with paltry magical talent may send their apprentices to a neighboring vine witch with a greater grasp of sorcery to patch over their own gaps of understanding. This practice, in fact, is the basis of the Rotaller Order, an organization of vine witches who cross-train their apprentices and officially ordain only those who pass trials of competency.
The lack of broader organization means that vine witches are often dismissed as having merely local influence. Conquerers and warlords regularly disregard the authority of vine witches, and many religions have been imposed on communities with longstanding vines. In most cases, the vine witches simply retreat to the fringes of the community until the power of the foreign conquerers and priests ebbs away again. The Bardic College is one of the few institutions that recognizes the deep well of knowledge that the vine witches possess, recording much of it for their archives and expanding the Kartos Ipeiros… just rarely with the witches’ approval.
Now that you’ve read up on Vine Witches, which related entry would you like to read up on next week?