- "I will burn every inhabitant of the Empire if I have to!"
- —Witch Hunter General Bernhardt van Hal.[3a]
Witch Hunters are grim, cold individuals who have dedicated their life to the eradication of corruption wherever it may be. Most witch hunters are the state-issued Templars of the Cult of Sigmar. However, there are a wide variety of others, from the Colleges' Masters Vigilant to local mercenaries hired out to a nobleman's service. What they all have in common however is their dedication and zeal against all things tainted and unpure.[1a][4a]
Since the practice of any witchery outside of the auspices of the Colleges of Magic is deemed an abomination within the Empire, death by burning is the proscribed punishment for this particular crime - and the witch hunters are far from squeamish about meting it out. In recent times, woodcutters and witch hunters are kept busy as more and more people reportedly turn to the dark arts. All ordinary citizens agree witch hunters are necessary and the work they do is crucial to the safety of the Old World, but there are very few who do not feel a flush of fear when they see a figure wearing the familiar wide-brimmed hat, buckled tunic, and long black cloak.[1a]
- "If you're not a witch, you have nothing to fear."
- —Walter Keller, Witch Hunter Captain, said the night before the burning of Almshof.[4a]
Witch hunters range from the coldly dispassionate, who regard what they do as just a job, to those whose zeal for hunting down the servants of Chaos knows no end, and who would burn a village to the ground rather than risk letting one cultist go unpunished. As witch hunters get older and more grizzled and the number of horrors they have witnessed grows, many become more extreme in their views, more like the archetypal Templar of Sigmar from three centuries ago who believed that everyone is guilty, it’s just a question of how much. A few scholars have wondered if witch hunters who follow this path have perhaps fallen unwittingly in league with Chaos itself—but they do not wonder about it too loudly.[1a]
Witch hunters have no responsibility for finding traitors, seditionists, or revolutionaries, and most have no interest in them unless they are involved with Chaos. A conscientious witch hunter might mention to a friend in the Watch there is a group of secessionists fomenting revolt around a university (as an example), but most witch hunters do not have any friends.[1a]
Men of Action
Generally speaking, witch hunters are men accustomed to fighting. They are well-armed and sturdy individuals. They favour hooded cloaks and headgear to conceal their appearance from the overly curious. Some wear lead chains about their throats to remind them of fallen comrades and also, so the superstition goes, so that the lead might serve as protection against witchcraft. The followers of witch hunters, the rabble that often accompany them, are a far more dire sight indeed — crazed and self-mutilated men who have lost or surrendered all their worldly goods and, most likely, their reason as well.[1b]
Writ large in the fears of the Empire, the witch hunters have long commanded respect — indeed, the nature of their work demands it. There are hundreds of whispered tales about their deeds, some little more than legends, others terrifyingly recent. The popular image of the grim faced protector of the Empire is one that is actively fostered by the various witch hunter groups — hence the common belief in a cohesive, shadowy agency of chaos hunters, spread across the Empire and beyond.[1b]
The truth of course, is far more complex than the reality.[1b]
Witch hunters are not the infallible iron men of popular myth. Whilst most possess ‘official’ mandate to pursue the unnatural, a sizeable number are little more than rogue vigilantes or zealous fanatics. As varied as the Empire they protect, the more or less uniform appearance of witch hunters belies their differing motivations and groupings.[1b]
The most common sort of witch hunter (in multiple senses of the word) are the hired hands. Perhaps the easiest of all the hunters to understand, they are seldom more than highly specialised mercenaries. For the right amount of gold, they will patrol a noble’s estates, removing the suspicious, dangerous, and troublesome. Depending on the nature of the landlord, these men might be highly professional investigators or bloody handed killers on commission. Occasionally they will disdain the usual clothing to investigate incognito, but usually they will trade on the fear and panic provoked by the signature uniform of their trade.[1b]
Ironically, there have been many corruption scandals surrounding such mercenary hunters. Tales of bribery are common - indeed more than one magister has escaped the witch pyre with hastily conjured gold. Certain unscrupulous nobles have been known to grant mandate and unofficial agendas to their hunters, allowing land clearances, confiscation of property, and even ‘fortuitous’ burnings. Actions to this end are regarded as ‘uncouth’ by most of the gentry, and tend to attract the attentions of the Cult of Sigmar and their very real witch hunters, and thus are seldom seen, but nevertheless do go on.[1b]
Chartered and Sanctioned
Whilst they are considered a little less than incorruptible, hired witch hunters do enjoy the firmest footing in the law. As they are legally agents of their sponsor, they are empowered directly by the nobility. Barring exceptional circumstances, they all carry a charter document, detailing where and how they might perform their duties. This licence, or mandate as it is more properly known, grants the hunter rights to search, detain, try, execute, imprison and such any they deem suspicious. Technically, these hunters act as if they were their employer, thus all punishments are considered to issue directly from the noble himself. For this reason, nobles of taste are particularly careful in choosing who they should empower. After all, a foolish hunter has enormous capacity to deplete the workforce and make one look bad. Nearly all gentry refuse to mandate religious witch hunters as they tend to involve entirely the wrong sort of convictions in the business of maintaining a witch-free estate.[1b]
Wily magisters are quick to note that hired witch hunters tend to have limited areas of influence. As they are granted their powers by a noble, their jurisdiction usually ends at the boundaries of their sponsor’s estate. Occasionally, gentry on speaking terms with their neighbours will seek to extend their mandate, but this is seldom achieved (not the least because amenable nobles are rarer than a clean Bretonnian).[1b]
There are some witch hunters, often ex-soldiers, who, though unhappy about the existence of the Colleges, also realise their worth. There are even occasions when they will approach a magister of one of the Orders of Magic to request aid to catch a particularly dangerous warlock or sorcerer who cannot be brought to justice without magical aid.[1c]
- "The common folk will never understand my burdens. The sheer weight of the duties I bear. The guilty will not judge themselves and there are always so many villages to cleanse, for our enemies are legion."
- —Lothar Metzger, Witch Hunter.[4b]
Devout witch hunters are those rare few who are motivated by the lore of their cult, personal calling from their god, or simply concern for their flock. These religious men ‘fight the good fight’ against any and all Chaos corruption, using faith, fear, and fire in equal measure. Some find employment in the service of a noble, acting much as a mercenary witch hunter does. Occasionally, hired witch hunters are driven to religion by a particularly horrible incident, thus becoming devout. Others are local priests driven into the role of a hunter by some terrible outbreak of witchery. Whatever their story, these witch hunters are united in their service to one or more of the gods of the Empire.[1c]
The most common of devout hunters are the Templars of Sigmar, beholden to the Cult of Sigmar. Once Magnus made witch hunters accountable to all of the sanctioned cults, other factions appeared. Now, there are witch hunters in service to Ulric, Myrmidia, and even Taal. Though potent, they lack the training and funding the Templars of Sigmar enjoy and are rarely regarded as authentic or even approved hunters, receiving the same treatment as other renegades.[2c] Roving witch hunters of Solkan crisscross Tilea from their base in Remas.[5a]
The cults of Morr and Ulric also still have their religious investigators, but these are run by the cults themselves and although tolerated, they are not state-sanctioned and do not have the numbers, funding, or training of the Holy Order of Templars. Indeed, on paper at least, these organisations would have to defer to a state-sanctioned witch hunter while on Imperial soil—this has led to rivalry and resentment from some quarters. The witch hunters of other religions could instead be seen as various sorts of Templars and exorcists, not witch hunters in the sense that is being used here.[1c]
Whilst mercenary hunters are motivated by gold, and devout hunters by spiritual wealth, there are those some witch hunters who do not fit into an easily defined category. These ‘renegades’ seldom have simple reasons for turning to the hunting life. Lacking any kind of support from a religious cult or noble sponsor, they walk a difficult path, motivated by guilt, revenge, honour, and other such emotions. Iron-faced lone wolves, they often spend years tracking a single foe, hunting them down with obsessional zeal and bloodlust.[1d]
These self-appointed witch hunters can be found across the Empire, operating on their own terms and without official authority. Some of them are rogues or zealots following personal crusades; others are corrupt, accusing wealthy people for the sake of confiscating their possessions. However, such is the terror that the term “witch hunter” conjures in the minds of the Empire’s peasants in rural areas they often believe anyone who claims to be a cleanser of Chaos. Community leaders, priests, and lawyers may be more sceptical but they may be hesitant to stand up against a firebrand orator, in case they are seen as siding with the forces of darkness themselves.[1d]
While they have the zeal of the cult-sponsored organisation, they lack the infrastructure and support to help them overcome their foes. As a result, many of these men find a grim end, overwhelmed by their enemies. But a few, a scant few, make their mark and earn the respect of their peers with their impossible successes.[2b]
Judge, Jury and Executioner
Some of these witch hunters prefer to work outside the law. Some suspect they would never be able to arrest some of their quarries and bring them to trial; others believe Sigmar’s justice is too good for the scum they pursue, and a few begin to see the marks of Chaos everywhere. If caught, these renegades are treated as harshly as if they were Chaos worshippers themselves. Some criminals have been known to pose as travelling witch hunters; they visit remote communities, whip up hysteria against an innocent, have them burned, confiscate their assets and flee before their crime is uncovered. If caught, their punishment is harsh. Impersonating a witch hunter is a capital offence.[1d]
Witch Hunter Tactics
- "I ain't met a witch yet that won't catch fire."
- —Father Linken Donatus, Priest of Sigmar, murdered by a rogue pyromancer.[4a]
Most see witch hunters as nothing more than state- or cult-sanctioned agitators, who control crowds by spreading fear and suspicion, and there is some truth to this. Witch hunters use the resources available in a community, appropriating local soldiers and militia to help with whatever threat they face. Failing the presence of competent guards, they’ll make use of the peasants if they must.[2c]
Usually, such open activity comes late in their investigation. Witch hunters don’t capture their prey unless they are patient and have all of their facts first. So unless the threat is immediately obvious, the hunter will snoop around the community, looking for suspicious behaviour and clues. During this time, he assembles a group of helpers, locals who know the people and the ins and outs of the community. From this assistance, he can gauge their purity by keeping them close at hand. Witch hunters will often “befriend” a suspect to keep a close eye on them. Once the corruption is exposed, the witch hunter enlists the rest of the town through fear to help bring down the offending mutants or cultists. Then, once captured, the witch hunter interrogates, using torture if necessary to tease out the information he needs and to expose any accomplices. Those captives who don’t die from interrogation are cleansed by fire, and anyone who assisted them is either tortured or killed publicly to deter anyone else from aiding the agents of Chaos.[2c]
- 1: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd ED -- Realms of Sorcery
- 2: Warhammer Fantsy RPG 2nd ED -- Tome of Corruption
- 3: White Dwarf 225 (US)
- 3a: pg. 35
- 4: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 4th ED -- Core Rulebook
- 5: Brunner the Bounty Hunter by C.L. Werner
- 5a: "Where Walks the Mardagg"