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I want make a witch (ideally white haired archetype) who's hair can attack and which appears to be made of snakes.

With the hair being unlikely to hit and any illusion being likely to be broken by interacting with it (such as contact with the hair), this is mostly for perceived rather than actual power, and partly for novelty. However, appearance of power has real consequences which she intends to put to good use scaring cowards.

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Your “three ways” are not nearly as universal as you seem to believe. None of this is really necessary, nor, in my opinion, is it desirable to require these things in a game. Description is for the cool and interesting; don’t restrict it. –  KRyan Jan 12 at 18:52
    
Just keep in mind: When it's all said and done, you're the DM. Do whatever feels best for you. Even if it can't necessarily be explained, your players will thank you for having an interesting opponent. –  Garan Jan 14 at 12:08
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3 Answers

Just because it needs to be said:

Fluffing it is the way to go here. And I think you absolutely should allow players to do this, or something like it. It may sometimes be a little scarier, but there are lots of things you can do to make yourself look scarier, most of which are freely chosen, and have neither an associated cost nor an associated mechanical benefit. A Knowledge check should tell PCs that the witch is not a real gorgon, though (per White-haired Witch) there definitely is something unusual going on with her hair; if they fail the check and then assume, well, that’s partially meta-gaming and partially it’s a consequence of failing the check, so that’s OK. It’s not like you’re giving her special Intimidate bonuses, features, or other fear effects on the basis of her hair, it’s just description.

The “how” is a matter of backstory, not feats, items, or magic. She was born with it, cursed to have it (much like the mythological origins of Medusa!), or blessed to have it by the goblin god, or sought out a ritual to get it. She’s a different subspecies of goblin that has it naturally. Whatever. These kinds of details are good and interesting, and add to the game. You don’t need the books for them. And your players can often come up with equally-cool ideas that also improve your world and game, and that should be encouraged.

In general, DMs should almost always, and players most of the time, feel free to describe things however they like. It allows for more varied characters, cooler and more unique descriptions, reduces meta-gaming when used by the DM, and improves investment in the game when used by players. It’s a very good thing.

All that said, it’s often best to have mechanics back up description and vice versa. But I think you are going about it the wrong way; you are looking for things that explicitly give snakes for hair, and that’s just not necessary. Snakes for hair make her scarier? OK, that means your snakes for hair can be a description of anything that makes her scarier. For that matter, they can also explain how she can grapple things with her hair, per White-haired Witch. The fact that she already had that archetype is already reason enough for me to allow wild and crazy hair like this.

But if you are really blanking on ideas, here are several.

  • Snakes for hair could easily be a description of the Intimidate bonus from the Persuasive feat, or from any other feat that gives Intimidate bonuses, extra options for using Intimidate, or otherwise applies Fear effects.

  • The hair could be a masterwork “tool” (the magic item guidelines suggest that innate items that cannot be removed are between 50% to 100% more expensive than their usual cost).

  • Maybe the +3 in-class bonus is more because you have scary snakes-for-hair than because of your class.

  • Maybe instead of actually training yourself to be scarier, you just have snakes-for-hair and you put some ranks in Intimidate to reflect that.

  • Maybe there’s some reason in your backstory why, if you didn’t have snakes for hair, your Intimidate bonus would be less than it is, but you don’t have that hypothetical penalty because you do have snakes for hair, so that the two descriptions cancel each other out and your Intimidate bonus is just what it is.

In other words, this character has some bonus or other on Intimidate checks. How and why that bonus is what it is should be entirely up to you (or the player, if it’s a player character): the only limit is what the group will accept. And snakes for hair? As long as they aren’t biting people, as long as they don’t mean the goblin is actually a gorgon and has a petrifying gaze, then there’s no reason they have to be anything but a creative explanation for why your Intimidate bonus is what it is.

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+1. @Julix You are absolutely overthinking it and wasting a lot of time you should be spending on making your campaign cooler. I've read all your justification, but it's in error IMO. –  mxyzplk Jan 13 at 1:33
    
Julix. Comments are not for essays. If you want to argue, make sure your answer addresses the question. If you want to discuss things, go to Role-playing Games Chat. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 13 at 10:20
    
fair enough. Is there any way to get access to what I said in the comments? I had a vague feeling I should copy it elsewhere and then when I checked back minutes later it's gone... - you're fast man –  Julix Jan 13 at 10:22
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Here's a shortcut:

Introduce a magic item of your own invention

Remember, you're the DM, and DMs can do that. That's totally within the rules. This way you can customize practically any fluff/game effect, and won't have to worry about disallowing the same for the PCs: all they have to do to acquire the same "powers" is to either get this item from the witch in question, or, if this item is not unique (a likely case, were I the DM), get one of these items.

Here's how I'd do it, for example:

Minor Ring of The White Medusa

This obscure ring is one of the thousand relics said to have been carved from the holy bones of the half-mythic White Medusa, who, having fallen in love with Prince Idunno, turned against her own kind and saved him - by blinding him - from her sisters' treachery, for which act (blinding the royal blood) the prince's unknowing guards killed her. To honour her selfless love and sacrifice, King Stone-eyes Idunno renamed the year's first month - Medsa - after her. At least that's how the legend goes.

The ring creates the illusion that its wearer has hair made of white, about one foot long, shimmering snakes. Whoever makes eye contact with the wearer of the ring (not the snakes!) is subject to an effect similar to a Fear spell, with the following exceptions: First, the effect's range is limited to that of eye contact and by visibility conditions; second, a successful Will save fully negates the effect; third, it's the wearer's level that the ring uses when calculating effects.

As mentioned earlier, this item is not unique. Some legends say there are more powerful versions of it out there. Other legends say wearing two or more magic items carved from the White Medusa's bones can grant the wearer powers beyond the sum of the items' powers. Yet another legend says wearing multiple White Medusa items at the same time turns the wearer into stone. Or, possibly, into the White Medusa herself, who could, this way, return to life.

-

Disclaimer: I know this probably isn't the answer you're exactly looking for, because it only partially relies on the RAW. However, I think it's important to remember that even the RAW encourages DM creativity, giving you a set of tools with which to build your own, coherent world... including magic items. :)

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Minions

Low level illusion spells would work, but both the 0th level ghost sound and the 1st level silent image aren't part of the witch class repertoire, which sadly means she can't even use them from a scroll or anything. With a high level white haired witch (and thus large range) the illusion could be appropriately big covering the entire area that is threatened by her hair (or more). However at that point it would be a very complex image to maintain, and on top of that the duration of silent image is based on concentration, which means even if you dipped a level somewhere and got to cast these yourself, you'd run into distraction.

You could have one or two low level minion wizards or bards cast that spell for her and hide them away just making sure the "special effects" stay in tact. Perhaps make one of the minions an umbral weaver, because snakes are even scarier in the dark. And in team work they could get the ghost sounds going too... - Imagine two dozen 15 ft long, huge snakes coming out of a small creature's head all hizzing at you. Whether she actually has 15 ft range or could attack more than one person at a time is a different question, but hopefully one that the enemy doesn't get around to asking because he's busy running away. No tactical illusions here but hopefully you don't need to actually use your hair anyways, because they stay away.

Disguise self spell (maybe)

The disguise self spell might be sufficient (waiting for results here). As before you wouldn't get tactile illusion, but if the enemy is wearing armor, the hair constricting might feel similar enough to a snake doing the grappling. You're also not yet getting any hissing sounds or such. There's the ghost sound and ventriloquism spells, but you still don't have access to them. If you can find a high level wizard they could for 2500 gold make ghost sound last forever using permanency! However, imagine how annoying it would be to constantly have your hair hissing like snakes, while you sleep and all that... Perhaps perform: ventriloquism could be a thing, and imitating sounds another, to get a skill based equivalent to the spell. With high intelligence you might have the skills for that, but it probably would take up actions as well.

Again this spell isn't a witch spell but at least she has access to this one via a hex, though that means not white-haired-witch. However the magical object Hat of disguise could be an elegant solution for getting access to that spell. -- Again this entire 2nd solution only works if disguise self basically allows your head to look like that of a medusa.

Race

If faking it is too hard, you could just have real snakes... Neither the prehensile hair nor the white haired witch description says anything about changing the nature of the hair (other than color to white and add movement and stretchability). If you take an actual Medusa and give her a few player levels in white haired witch, perhaps her snakes have white scales and can lash out at the players - beware her high Creature Rating though.

Other solutions I'm unfamiliar with higher level illusions, or more powerful magical artifacts, other dips that could accomplish this, but perhaps someone else can come up with better ideas.

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