Friday, November 11, 2011

Werewolf: the Forsaken

Game Premise

A Storytelling Game of Savage Fury.

Long ago, there was no barrier between the Spirit World and our world. It was united as one and known as Pangaea. In order to ensure that spirits did not prey upon humanity, Father Wolf patrolled the borders between the two realms. With the spirit of the moon, Mother Luna, they gave birth to the werewolves, creatures not quite human, not quite wolf, not quite spirit. They, alongside the spirit sons of Father Wolf known as the First Pack, were the mighty hunters who kept the balance. But then Father Wolf grew old and weak and the werewolves decided that he had to be put down, for the good of the pack. When they did so, his dying howls ripped Pangaea apart, creating the Gauntlet which separates our world from the Shadow, the world of spirits.

Now the descendants of those first werewolves continue the work of their forebears. They try to stop spirits exercising malign influence on the world of humanity. They try to keep the burning rage inside them from spiralling out of control and doing something they regret. They battle against the werewolves who call themselves 'the Pure', the tribes who detest the werewolves for killing Father Wolf and see them as race traitors. Theirs is a thankless, gruesome life but someone has to do it.

Game Overview

My second favourite game in the World of Darkness line, Werewolf: The Forsaken (affectionately known to many as WTF), takes the fairly unexplored (compared to, say, vampires) idea of the werewolf and gives it a bit of guts, turning them from bloodthirsty disease victims into a complex society. Werewolf is a game about trying to be the apex predator of a Darwinian other-world while dealing with the fact that pretty much everything in this secret world hates your guts and not being able to run a normal life because you might flip out and murder everyone you love.

Unfortunately for the the purposes of this overview, WTF is packed to the brim with game specific jargon and a whole bunch of it I'm not going to be able to touch on in either this section or the character creation section. What I will explain is the Shadow.

Key to WTF is the Shadow, the realm of the spirits which acts as a bizarre reflection of our world. There are spirits of everything, from objects to ideas to animals to emotions. These spirits come into being through the material. They then use their powers to foster actions in the material world that will create more spirits for them to feed off. So, a particularly violent murder in a neighbourhood might create a spirit of murder. That same spirit is going to do things like manipulate the emotions of people into making them more prone to violence, thus creating more spirits of murder and violence for it to feed off and become stronger. It's this kind of thing werewolves are trying to stop. Even spirits of positive things like laughter, happiness or a really good spaghetti don't actually care about humanity so much as they care about their influence being present. A happiness spirit is quite OK with forcing people to be happy regardless of circumstances and a spirit of laughter really doesn't care about people laughing themselves to death.

While I love WTF in concept, there's a few snags with it mechanically. The Storyteller system (I covered this back in my Changeling: The Lost post if you want a reminder of the specifics) is a bit clunky when it comes to fighting and since a very large part of WTF is fighting that it's an issue. Spirit stats are simple, but it's very easily to accidentally make a spirit that either can't really do anything, is impossible to hurt or kill, or even both. Finally, werewolves suffer an XP tax in the form of Renown, which I'll get to when I make the character.

The Character

Note that by and large the steps for creating characters in the Storyteller system are the same, so I'm not going to go over the specifics of most of these steps unless they are ones unique to WTF if you need a refresher, once again you should check out my Changeling: The Lost post.

Step 1) Concept

So, who do I want my werewolf to be? While some werewolves grow up not knowing what they will eventually become, others are raised from birth to accept their role and I want to go for something of the latter. My guy was belongs to a family that has a long and exalted history in werewolf society for being sages and keepers of spirit lore. From an early age, he was raised to learn about spirits, how to converse with them and gain their respect and how to become a first class sage. And he hated it. He wanted to be a legendary warrior, not a quiet scholar. It wasn't until after his First Change and his initiation to the tribes that he was finally able to break away from his family and their forced lessons. However, wherever he goes he's followed by the reputation of his family and bothered for council. My concept will be Unwilling Sage.

For name, I'm going to go with Joseph Cupertino (anyone who can guess what this is a reference to gets a cookie). Werewolves also often have a Deed Name, a sort of title given in recognition of reputation or great acts. Joseph's will be Heel-Seeker. While not a fan of scholarship, he did realise that learning a spirit's Ban (a physical weakness, act they are unable to perform or services they have to provide if certain conditions are met) would be quite useful. His elders gave him the name out of their amusement for his zest in learning these.

Step 2) Select Attributes

For my Primary Category of attributes, I'm going to pick Physical, because ever since he knew he wanted to be a warrior, not a scholar, Joseph put a lot of effort and dedication into working out. For my five points, I'm going to put 2 in Strength, 1 in Dexterity and 2 in Stamina. He's average when it comes to agility and hand-eye co-ordination but he's become quite fit.

For my Secondary Category, I'm picking Mental. While he doesn't much care for scholarship, he's still a bright young man. I'm putting 2 points in Intelligence and 1 point each in Wits and Resolve.

That leaves Social as my Tertiary Category and I'm putting 1 dot into all of Presence, Manipulation and Composure. Joseph is not uncharismatic, per say, but he's not stand out anywhere here either.

Step 3) Select Skills

I'm going to switch around my categories here. My Primary Category is going to be Social, because the training that Joseph was forced through involved learning how to negotiate the often treacherous realms of both spirit and werewolf politics. I'm putting 2 dots in Intimidate, 2 dots in Subterfuge and 2 dots in Empathy and 2 dots in Persuasion to reflect this. I'm also going to put 2 dots in Animal ken because knowing how to deal with animal spirits and animals in general would have also been part of his training. The remaining dot will go into Sociliase, something he hasn't been able to do often, but is learning about with his new-found freedom.

Secondary is going to be Physical. While it's now his main area of focus, he's got a lot of lost time to catch up on. However, his 2 dots in Survival will be the result of his education and knowing how the navigate the Shadow is fairly important if you want to be able to deal with spirits. The 2 dots in Brawl, 2 dots in Athletics and 1 dot in Weaponry are purely the result of his dreams of becoming a warrior.

Finally, we have Mental. 3 dots are going into Occult and the final one into Medicine, both reflecting his forced tutelage.

Step 4) Select Skill Specialities

I'm going to start by having the speciality Occult (Spirit Bans) and Survival (The Shadow), the two areas of his education that he really excelled at. The final speciality is going into Brawl (Dalu). The Dalu or Near Human is a form werewolves can take which is mostly human but is heavier, hairier and stronger. Joseph has been spending a lot of time practising fighting in this form.

Step 5) Add Werewolf Template

Now for the long step. To start with, we're going to pick Heel-Seeker's Auspice. The auspice is a sort of blessing a werewolf receives on the night of the first change and depends upon which phase of the moon they change under. Werewolves find that changing form under the moon of their auspice is easier. It also determines some of the Gifts you'll have access to, gives you an extra skill speciality and gives you a point of Renown. For my auspice, I'm going to pick Rahu, the Full Moon auspice. The Rahu are often quite aggressive and determined, the embodiment of the warrior archetype which seems to fit quite nicely. For now I'm going to note it gives me the ability Warrior's Eye, which lets me roll Wits+Primal Urge to determine if a given threat is stronger or weaker than me. I'm also going to pick my skill speciality from a choice of Brawl, Intimidation or Survival. I'm going to take the speciality of Intimidation (Spirits), because sometimes cowing a spirit is as good as beating it up.

Next up is my Tribe. Tribes are the loose political affiliations of werewolf society. While werewolves of different tribes can be together in a single pack, a tribe creates a common bond. Each tribe owes allegiance to one of the First Pack, the spirit-children of Father Wolf and through that tribal totem, they gain power. Like auspices, tribes determine your access to gifts and renown, but they also have a downside, a Ban. In exchange for the power granted by their patron, each werewolf has to abide by a certain rule. For example, the proud Storm Lords have a ban Allow No One to Witness of Tend to your Weakness, meaning they can't let anyone see them fuck up or help them when they do. I'm going to pick the Bone Shadows, the tribe of shamans and ritualists, the tribe of the Cupertino family for generations. While he isn't exactly happy with it, it does mean that he starts out of the gate with some respect from his elders. The ban of the Bone Shadows is Pay Each Spirit in Kind, meaning that if a spirit does a favour you have to pay it back and also don't let spirits slight you without a response.

Now I have to determine my Primal urge. Primal Urge is sort of a rough measure of how connected you are to your ancestral roots, the spirit world and basically how much of a big,bad, wolf you are (a bit like Wyrd in Changeling: the Lost). When you get more your gifts tend to be more powerful, but you also start to bleed Essence, spirit-stuff that fuels your powers. All characters start with a primal urge of 1.

Next is Essence. As I just explained, essence fuels your spirit powers and can be used to heal wounds. It can be gained a few ways, the best of which is taking it from a Locus, a landmark with a high concentration of emotion-charged spirit energy. Joseph starts off with essence equal to his Harmony (I'll get to that later), which for all starting characters is 7.

I've mentioned Renown a few times before and here is where I explain it. Renown is a measure of recognition a werewolf gets, both from fellow werewolves and the spirit world. As the werewolf performs great deeds, their renown increases. There are five varieties of renown, Glory, Cunning, Wisdom, Honour and Purity, each reflecting different kinds of reasons a werewolf can gain respect and recognition. I get 1 renown for my auspice, in this case 1 dot of Purity, 1 from my tribe, Wisdom and one free choice. I think I'm going to put another dot in Wisdom, less from his own deeds and more to reflect Heel-Seeker's family's reputation.

The final part of this step is Gifts. These are powers that werewolves learn from spirits. I can't pick any gift with a dot rating higher than my highest primary renown, so in this case, 2. Like renown, I get to pick one gift from the list granted by my auspice, one from my tribe and finally a free pick. For my auspice gift, I'm going to pick the 1 dot Full Moon gift of Clarity, which lets me spend one essence to increase my Initiative by 5. For my tribe gift, I'm picking the 2 dot Warding gift Ward vs Humans, which lets me create an area where humans feel a strong mental compulsion to turn around and leave. For my free pick I'm grabbing the 1 dot Insight gift Sense Malice, which lets me tell if someone is secretly full of rage or hatred.

Step 6) Merits

I could sink three dots of merits to increase Joseph's Primal urge, but I don't want to. Instead, I'm going to start by putting 2 dots in Primal Tongue, which allows me to speak the language of the spirits fluently. I'm also going to be 1 dot in Contacts (Family Friends), which gives me a network of werewolves who know and respect the Cupertino family. They won't go out on a limb for him, but they're willing to lend a hand or a bit of information in a pinch. 2 dots will go into Striking Looks, which gives him a +1 on all interaction checks. Joseph works out and he's oddly handsome in a rustic sort of way. The final two dots are going to go to the Totem merit, which is a special case. When a group of werewolves join to form a pack, they can approach a spirit of minor power to act as their totem. This totem acts as an advisor, emissary, guardian and mascot for the pack. The spirit's power is determined by the number of dots the pack has collaboratively put into the merit. Obviously without a pack we can't see the results.

Step 7) Determine Advantages

Nothing particularly special here, however I should note that when Joseph shifts form into one of the four other werewolf forms his health and speed (along with stats) will change. I'll reflect these changes in the finished product section. For now, let's deal with his base stats. Defense (lowest of dexterity or wisdom) will be 2. Health (5+stamina) will be 8. Initiative (wits+composure) is 4. Finally, Speed (5+strength+dexterity) is 10. A couple of above average there thanks to the high physical stats.

The Morality stat for werewolves is called Harmony and it represents a balance between the werewolf's spirit and human side. It's lowered not by usually violation of moral codes, but by breaking the specific code that's imprinted on every werewolf's spirit nature, so things like using silver on another werewolf, eating humans or wolves, murdering other werewolves rather than facing them in direct battle, that sort of thing. Like all starting characters, Joseph's Harmony score is 7.

Joseph's Willpower is equal to the sum of his resolve and composure, thus it's going to be 4, which is average.

The last bit is to determine Virtue and Vice. For his viture, I'm going to pick Fortitude. Heel-Seeker is a determined young man eager to put in the hard work needed to succeed. Even when he was forced to learn the tools of the shaman trade, he grimly performed what was expected of him. For his Vice, I think I'll go with Pride. Joseph has let the combination of his family's reputation and his own drive to succeed go to his head a little and he does feel he's generally the most competent person in the room when it comes to werewolf matters.

Step 8) Spark of Life

Joseph is a wiry young man just approaching his 20s. He's muscular, with very little fat on a skinny frame, although he'll often take pains to conceal it under loose-fitting clothing. He keeps his blonde hair buzz cut short and has blue eyes that always seem a little bit restless. When people start talking about spirit matters he's liable to interrupt with his own strongly worded opinions and recommendations. In a fight he's eager to prove himself and tends to rush straight into fray. His wolf form is grey streaked with black and if you stare too long into its eyes, you'll see the same restless, aggressive stare.

The Finished Product

Joseph Cupertino aka Heel-Seeker

Concept: Unwilling Sage

Auspice: Rahu

Tribe: Bone Shadows

Mental Attributes: Intelligence 3 Wits 2, Resolve 2

Physical Attributes: Strength 3 (4/6/5/3), Dexterity 2 (3/4/5/5), Stamina 3 (4/5/5/4)

Social Attributes: Presence 2, Manipulation 2 (1/2/1/2), Composure 2

Mental Skills: Medicine 1, Occult (Spirit Bans) 3

Physical Skills: Athletics 2, Brawl (Dalu) 2, Survival (The Shadow) 2, Weaponry 1

Social Skills: Animal Ken 2, Empathy 2, Intimidate (Spirits) 2, Persuasion 2, Socialise 1, Subterfuge 2

Merits: Contacts (Family Friends) 1, Language (First Tongue) 2, Striking Looks 2, Totem 2

Primal Urge: 1

Willpower: 4

Harmony: 7

Essence Max/Per Turn: 10/1

Virtue: Fortitude

Vice: Pride

Health: 8 (10/12/11/8)

Initiative: 4 (4/5/6/6)

Speed: 10 (11/14/17/15)

Gifts: (1) Clarity, Sense Malice; (2) Ward vs Humans

The numbers in the brackets divided are his stats when he changes form. The first is Dalu, the Near Human form which I've already explained. The second is Garou or Wolf Man, a hulking man-wolf hybrid consumed by rage and a thirst to destroy. Werewolves sometimes find themselves turning into that form involuntarily if they flip out. The third is Urshul or Near Wolf, which a giant wolf creature that wouldn't look out of place hunting down megafauna. Finally, there's Urshul, the Wolf form which just looks like an ordinary wolf. As well as the changed stats, the first three forms inspire Lunacy, a sort of primal fear that makes ordinary humans shit their pants, run away and either forget or rationalise their memories of giant wolf-man monsters, to various degrees.

How I'd Run It

I ran a short-lived UK-based game of Werewolf for a few sessions once. The idea was a pack of werewolves being lead by prophecy to Cornwall, specifically the outskirts, and area known as 'The devil's fence'. The idea was it was where the weak, crazy or over the hill packs lived and served as a buffer between the other packs and the Bale Hounds, wolves who worship spirits of General bad Stuff ™ known as the Maeljin. We didn't really get too far but we managed to highlight on stuff like pack formation, inter and intra-pack politics and dealing with the spirit world.

One day I was sitting down and thinking about a game where werewolves weren't entirely a secret, but were known to the world's governments and acted as a sort of black ops force. They would be sent into enemy territory with the aim of messing up the spirit world and throwing the landscape into turmoil. But then I though, why stop there?

The idea, with the working title of 'Werewolf: The Home Makeover', has werewolves be a publicly known and accepted part of society. While some of them have general jobs, most of them use their connection to the spirit world to make a living, acting as a combination Pest Control/Home Renovator/Feng Shui expert. It would essentially a game that works using the absurdity of mundane work drudgery being applied to the fantastical, in the vein of Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. The werewolf family down the road occupies the same space as any other ethnic minority family business. You'd have conversations like "I'm sorry ma'am, our initial quote only covered the poison ivy spirit infestation in your backyard, the spirits of apathy infesting your son's bedroom are going to cost extra". I think it has some potential.



    Well, you already know that I loved your Cornwall game, and it was a pity that it didn't go any further than it did. Your mundane game sounds hilarious, especially fr a one-shot or short run.

    I agree that the whole Werewolf template is a bit of an alphabet soup. The complexity of the tribe, auspice, renown and gifts jumble makes it hard to sort out a balanced character without doing much to prevent minmaxing.

    Also they really let the idea of WolfMonsters fall by the wayside in preference for the spirit world aspect. Although it's a great aspect of the game it seems a little unrealized (again the spirit mechanics aren't really balanced or anything).

    Good read though, and I think you've made a clear idea of something that's not really all that clear even in the original book.


  2. In my Dystopic campaign which is set in 2052, I devised some world-shaking events which justified various countries becoming quite distinct from each other culture / society-wise. A rather insular United Kingdom developed where spirits became such a problem the government learned about and then employed werewolves as police officers, SWAT teams and paratroopers. The government makes the werewolves lives cushy and cover things up, the werewolves deal with spirit incursions.

    They weren't publicly known or accepted as that was thought to lead to more people trying to contact spirits, but it was way more known than usual. A famous werewolf pack even journeyed into the deep Hisil and managed to complete a task that convinced Luna to alter their Oath so that all werewolves in the UK only have letting select humans know become a sin at 9, while indiscriminately revealing oneself to humans remains at the Harmony Sin as it is in canon.

    The downside is that Lunacy is far less powerful so that all forms are treated as though people have +2 Willpower. Therefore people are affected by Garou as though they're on a +2, by Urshul as though they're on a +4, and Dalu as though they're on a +6.