Published on September 8th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen4
Guide to the World of Darkness, Part Two (Werewolf)
In Guide Zero we went over the timeline of the World of Darkness, why it was rebooted and some of the general changes in design. We also went over some of the pros and cons of the two iterations of Vampire, and which books were pretty good from each series. This week we’re going to do the same kind of break down with the Werewolf game line.
Werewolf the Apocalypse
Main Conflict: Gaia/ Werewolves vs The Wyrm/ Pentex
The Pitch: Mother Gaia, the Spirit of the Earth, imbues special warriors with powers from the spirit realm. These half-spirit, half-flesh beings become Werewolves who protect the Earth Mother from the corruption of the Wyrm and its human tools- the evil corporation Pentex.
There was a very tangible, easy to understand foe and goal. Even though you could and would face enemies other than the Wyrm/Pentex, having its presence in the setting made everything a potential plot of the insane destroyer god.
Werewolves are pretty cool, but werewolves with tribal powers and magical weapons are even more cool. The game had a lot of depth mechanically and thematically. The spirit realms the Werewolves talked with were rich and vibrant, the powers they gave you were strange and useful.
I really liked that each werewolf was tied to a phase of the moon and that determined their caste abilities. It was like getting a job template, but your job was always to protect the Earth Spirit and war against the Wyrm and its spawn.
You get to communally make a pack totem if your group spends enough points at character generation. This is a spirit mascot that gives you bonuses but also lifestyle restrictions and was one of the coolest things ever put into a roleplaying game.
Some of the Changing Breeds were really cool and added a lot to the setting. These were shape-changers that aren’t wolves that were given different tasks to do by Gaia. Were-rats and Were-gators (the mokole) were especially cool.
Player’s Guide to the Changing Breeds– While not a true sub-line of the game, the Changing Breeds were other lycanthropes that existed in the setting and that could be played with Werewolves. Everything from big cats to alligators (with ancestral memories that go back millennia) to sharks were involved.
Werewolf: the Wild West– Released as a set of three historical games, one for each of the main White Wolf lines, Wild West never did very well. While the theme would be popular with the Deadlands RPG, it didn’t sell well to the White Wolf fan base and got shunted over to an imprint where it was eventually put down. If you want weird west, I’d recommend Deadlands instead.
Dark Ages: Werewolf– The revised edition of the Dark Ages line expanded it from just Vampires to include werewolves. This book gives a run down of what the tribes looked like then and what made life different for the Garou before human society was as pervasive.
Werewolves being hereditary tribes of people with wolf blood/souls/whatever was really weird. Instead, I like the idea of lycanthropy being a curse, maybe one that a cult puts on themselves on purpose. Making the form hereditary makes it different from Vampires, but makes the world make less sense.
The tribes were really not a strong point in the writing in general- there was only a passing glance made at including cultures that weren’t Northern European despite making a distinct “guardians of earth” claim. The tribes that did make it in (European or not) were still stereotypical messes.
While Pentex was actually Horrific in a very real sense, the eco-warriors versus evil corporation angle was a little too Captain Planet at times. The over-the-top style of the WoD worked against the game in this case.
The game was much more black and white than other WoD titles. The werewolves weren’t “good” in a lot of ways, and there was a large effort to make them seem anti-heroic: a “necessary evil” kind of set up. But all of that pales when the bad guy of the game is the soul sucking manifestation of corruption, degradation, abuse and horror.
While some Changing Breeds were really cool, some were really stupid. Were spiders and were-sharks were not my favorite thing in the world and didn’t seem to add anything to the setting.
Players Guide to the Changing Breeds– If the idea of other types of were-beasts sounds cool, then you want to get this book. In it you will find some basic rules for playing eleven different types of lycanthropes, from rats and cats to hyenas and sharks, oh and dinosaurs (yes, really). They all had different roles in the spiritual realms, which makes these different traditions welcome because their expertise is so different from the Garou’s.
Book of Auspices– I think that auspices are much more interesting than Tribes in this version of the game. The tribes are all so stereotypical that it makes it hard to relate to them. This book helps flesh out auspices so that you can make that more of the focus in your campaign. A side effect is that the game tends to get more co-operative because players start thinking of their characters as a role in a group.
Werewolf the Forsaken
Main Conflict: Werewolves versus Spirit Courts
The Pitch: Werewolves are the half-spirit children of Father Wolf, and having forsaken his duties, they instead police the boundary between the Spirit Realm and the Real World, making sure spirits don’t break through.
The Spirit Courts are much more ambiguous as antagonists and they are more complex to interact with than the Wyrm ever was. The fact that some spirits work well with the werewolves is cool, I also like that spirits of positive emotions aren’t necessarily “nice” or positive themselves.
There is still a very clear objective to the game. You are a pack of wolves, you hold the line against weird alien spirits who want to run amok in the mortal realm. There is never a question about what to do in the setting.
Relationships with other werewolves are more realistic. Instead of huge gatherings, characters are arranged into packs and given territory. Neighboring packs may try to take territory or cause trouble for groups they dislike or they may work together. Lodges give wolves with like minds an opportunity to gather together.
Character archetypes (tribes) make more sense and are more generalized. This helps players make characters by not restricting them to a stereotype.
The Pure are a group of werewolves who were never forsaken by the spirit courts and work together with them to assert power over areas. They are a reference to the protagonists of WtA, and it’s a nice friendly jab at the older material that I appreciated.
Werewolves are still made by being born into a tribe, which is still bizarre to me. I know of no werewolf lore that says it’s hereditary and the explanations for needing to be bit by a wolf are not very convincing.
There aren’t enough books in the line! Really, that’s the biggest criticism. While the material produced is very thorough, no one decided to break the mold and continue producing books, they just called the line finished. No books are good books?
The Pure– One of my favorite antagonist groups in all of the World of Darkness. The Pure are werewolves who consider Mother Luna misguided and the slaying of Father Wolf a horrible murder. They kneel to the Spirit Courts and they have three different tribes with various cults around their spirit worship. The best “mirror match” antagonists by far.
Really all of the Werewolf the Forsaken books are great. The line doesn’t have that many supplements but it covers almost anything you’d ever want to know about the game world. If the premise of any of these books interests you, I’d recommend getting it.