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Werewolf: the Appearance

Started by Blake Hutchins, April 12, 2002, 04:42:48 PM

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Blake Hutchins

In another recent thread, Mage: the Descent, Jared asserted that Werewolf is about Humanity, same as Vampire.  If you look at the books and White Wolf's marketing of the line, much of it echoing the tone of Vampire, that's a reasonable conclusion to draw.  However, I found across a couple of years of actual play that any premise of Humanity and Monster-dom was totally eclipsed by something else, something that receives a hefty amount of verbiage in the Werewolf books: tribal culture and hierarchy.  Strange as it may sound, I submit that the true premise of Werewolf concerns tradition versus social change.  The Garou as a people are in a position analogous to the Native Americans facing an inexorable European invasion.  It's about the struggle of a (pardon the pun) hidebound culture to adapt in the face of extinction.  In this wise, I think it's very successful.  The "alas, I'm a monster" stuff pretty much turned out to be a dud.  It surely could be played up, but the game brings a tremendous thrust to ritual and hierarchy and politics and what it means to be a tribe.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say that Werewolf (a) is the only game wherein leveling really works both as a game mechanic and in terms of reinforcing the social premise, and (b) supports political machinations better than any of White Wolf's other products, including the much ballyhooed Machiavellianism of Vampire.

Putting aside my persistent quibbles about Storyteller mechanics, Werewolf may be the most coherent game White Wolf has made.

Best,

Blake

Jared A. Sorensen

Truffaut said the best way to critique a movie is to make another one.

I think the same could be said of RPGs. Check out Urge.


Oh right, that said I think you're onto something. I know when I played my first Werewolf game I was totally in the mindset of a kind of urban-primitive gang (straight out of Nomads or The Warriors) -- I played a Glasswalker. Turns out that the game is totally not like that. I was dissapointed.
jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com

Seth L. Blumberg

Blake: I agree with you 100%. Of course, the reason I soured on Werewolf and will no longer play or run it is that I cannot imagine any society of sentient lifeforms being so egregiously stupid and self-destructive, and institutionalizing those self-destructive behaviors so thoroughly and over such a long period of time, as the Garou are portrayed as having done.
the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Clinton R. Nixon

Seth: you're aware of this one sentient species that continues to destroy themselves over and over? Humanity or something like that. (Edit: Ok - I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. Let's not flame over this.)

I actually don't have a problem with Werewolf. I ran it for about a year in college, and count it as one of my best games. I did write Urge because Werewolf isn't about werewolves - it's about these mystical shape-shifter humans. These guys have all the foibles of humanity, just amplified because they have the ability to change into 9-foot badasses. (Speaking of that - I did notice that I never, ever saw a character change into a wolf. Mechanically, there was no point to it. I ended up dropping off the wolf form for human-born characters, and the human form for wolf-born characters, and had a much more interesting game.)

The game worked for me because I injected a strong premise. The characters were all young whelps in a tribe (what the fuck were those called? Septs? I dunno.) that was top-heavy with adults and parents that wouldn't let them make their own decisions. All the whelps leave to form their own tribe and get glory to show their folks that they can make it. It definitely fit into the "tradition vs. change" concept Blake brought up above - do we follow in the footsteps of our elders, or do we carve our own path?

There were a lot of interesting parallels to the relationships all my players had with their own fathers, as well. In college, it was a good game.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Valamir

Quote from: Seth L. BlumbergBlake: I agree with you 100%. Of course, the reason I soured on Werewolf and will no longer play or run it is that I cannot imagine any society of sentient lifeforms being so egregiously stupid and self-destructive, and institutionalizing those self-destructive behaviors so thoroughly and over such a long period of time, as the Garou are portrayed as having done.

You are, of course, familiar with 20th century American Corporate Culture?  Of course, that might not violate your theory as executive sentience has yet to be established conclusively.

Sorry, just had a run in with the realities of Dilbert today.  Institutionalized self-destruction is par for the course here I'm afraid.

Ron Edwards

C'mon guys, Seth made a good point about Werewolf, don't get zippin' off on some "Humanity bent on its own destruction" tangent.

I was really impressed with the outcome of Jared's Mage thread and am looking forward to this one, so keep the Werewolf in-play experiences coming.

Best,
Ron

jburneko

Actually, after the conclusion of my Deadlands game I asked my players if they wanted to put the game aside for a while and play something else.  After much ho-humming they finally decided that they'd like to try one of the White Wolf games.  I was kind of hoping for Wraith or Changling myself but the vote went to Werewolf.

Anyway, I bought the core book and have been reading through it.  I find the game very frustrating because out of all the White Wolf games, this one feels the least focus.  Is it about politics?  Is it about the environment?  Is about alienation?  Is it about finding your place in the universe?  Is it questioning humanity's place in the greater global ecology?  What the hell is this game about?  The Renoun/Rage/Gnosis mechanics don't help either.

So, I decided to turn to my players.  I sent them a primer on the setting and cosmology.  Along with my primer I sent them some thoughts on Premise and Theme, in general, just to get them thinking along those lines.  I then held a dedicated character creation session.  Taking a cue from Ron's Orkworld review regarding clan creation, I had the players create a Pack Concept and Purpose FIRST and then develope their characters in relation to it.

The results were, well, interesting.  You see 90% of my players hold neo-pagan and new age spiritual beliefs, in real life.  So, naturally they latched onto some of the higher more abstract spiritual concepts of the cosmology.  They were particularly interested in the original function of the Wyrm as maintainer of balance between the order of the Weaver and the chaos of the Wyld.

Thus they created a pack who was interested in limiting the Weaver and views the Wyrm not as something to be fought but something to be redeemed.  Thus their current pack purpose became a quest to find a spirit of the Wyrm that is still performing it's original function as maintainer of balance rather than a corrupted force of destruction.

All the characters mirror this in that they are mostly dealing with some set of opposing extremes.  One character was born to two human kinfolk who were key players in high-tech coporate politics.  She has recently discovered that she is a Theurge and has been taken in by the mystic focused Uktena.  Another player is a Lupus-born Garou who had lived in harmony among some tribal humans.  However, when he went through his First Change he was found and taken in by the human hating Red Talons.

So the Premise that the group has kind of decided the game is about is: Can true neutrality and balance be obtained?

Unfortunately, with such an abstract Premise I'm still stuck for ideas.  So far I've come to the conculsion that Werewolf is a damn difficult game to GM for.

This has been my experience thus far.

Jesse

Seth L. Blumberg

Perhaps Ron or Clinton would be kind enough to move this thread to Actual Play, if that's where it's going.
the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Ron Edwards

Oh, I dunno, Seth, it still seems on-topic regarding Premise and Coherence thus far.

My question is whether the various points-of-focus that people seem to have arrived at, in their experiences, represent necessary Drift or a well-facilitated, broadly applicable Premise, in terms of design.

I haven't played Werewolf, so I'm pretty interested in what folks think. For the record, I have heard many different people's reports that the combat/powers element in the rules tends to take over as an end in itself. Apparently the author referred to the game as "superheroes with fur," and the context indicated that he meant RPG-supers in particular, ie, highly bombastic fight scenes.

Any thoughts on that? If you didn't end up playing that way, do you think you were Drifting? If not, why not? Etc ...

Best,
Ron

Laurel

I'm probably a deviant which is why I have never spoken up on this topic before, but I refuse to believe that any big game like WtA has "a" premise, rather several,  which is why its so easy for folks to get caught up in debate on the topic.  Even if I don't like the way many people play it or ST for it, WtA is so near and dear to my heart it hurts.  Good roleplaying games try to leave themselves "open" to a lot of individual interpretation and portrayal of premise, theme, mood- and barring my disillusionment with the Storyteller System I consider WtA a very good game... that's far less about "werewolves" as it is about the human condition.  

What caught me and has held me ever since the day it was published is that at its core, Werewolf is so agonizingly real.  I really think the Garou represent the best and worst attributes of humanity itself and that its "monsters" are thinly veiled allusions of what's wrong with the world.  I can never pick up my WtA core book (esp 1st edition) and read it without looking outside, thoughtful and troubled.  The very best TT games I ever had were Werewolf, so it brings back happy memories of old friends now departed.  

Werewolf is about social horror, and societies gone amuck, and the danger of factionalizing and vice.  Of course you can skim over all of that, and some people do, but I've never enjoyed WtA without going deep into the real world parallels.  

But then, I'm a freak who considers a "good" roleplaying session one where I've so deeply immersed into my character that I cry when they do-I like passionately tragically games and game worlds where acts of heroic sacrifice are flames in the darkness.  Werewolf offers me that.

Blake Hutchins

I've got Urge, Jared.  I agree, nice work there.

Stop me if I'm wrong, but it sounded a bit like you're saying "critiques of a game are less valid unless you've tried to make your own version of the game."  If that's what you're saying, I disagree.  If not, then my bad for being thin-skinned.

Jesse, I agree that Werewolf has a ton of directions it could go.  I happen to find the tradition stuff the most focused part of the game.  On a superficial level, it's about saving the environment or interacting with the spirit world, but the meat of the game, in my opinion, concerns the social structure and culture.  Taken as a fantastic tribal setting, it's a pretty interesting deal.  Of course, White Wolf barfs in so many other elements that they obfuscate what I think is the core premise.  I haven't read Orkworld; it may well constitute the tradition/renewal core that I think lies at the heart of Werewolf.

Everyone has his/her own preferences and tastes about what's plausible for sentient beings to do.  Personally, I don't find the Werewolf culture less plausible than a lot of other fictional cultures, including, for example, Amber.  There are, as has been pointed out, a great number of real life societies that engage in self-destructive behavior.  Without disagreeing with Seth, I'll assume liking for Werewolf's cultural assumptions is a question of taste.

And yeah, this IS gravitating toward Actual Play.  Sorry.  Probably best to move it there.

Best,

Blake

P.S. in the edit:  I echo Laurel on all points.  The most emotionally wrenching moments I've had in actual play come from Werewolf, which I absolutely didn't expect when we started the game.

Jared A. Sorensen

Quote from: Blake HutchinsStop me if I'm wrong, but it sounded a bit like you're saying "critiques of a game are less valid unless you've tried to make your own version of the game."  If that's what you're saying, I disagree.  If not, then my bad for being thin-skinned.

The Truffaut quote is that the best way, not the only way or the most valid way. Because you're not just critiquing it, you're making something new.

I'm gonna ditto the "emotionally wrenching" line. I'm not sure, but I think that one strength of Werewolf is that its protagonists are a) a dying breed b) losing a battle that must be won and c) dealing with their bestial natures.

I'm curious to hear what other peoples' experiences have been as far as emotional play. What exactly caused the response? For me, it was my characters exile from his culture and subsequent redemption (one of my big three archetypes: the repentant gangster, ala Chow Yun Fat in The Killer).
jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com

Gordon C. Landis

I've played Werewolf - it was one of my most disappointing and frustrating game failures.  Short version - I fell in love my character.  I fell in love with the WW system in creating my character.  I fell in love with RPing my character in the first session.  The game system, "lack of focus" among the PCs, and some non-communication (IMO) within the play group conspired to kill the game 7 or 8 sessions later, which was probably 5 or 6 sessions too many.

From a design standpoint, it's that "lack of focus" thing that seems the most interesting to me.  If we're considering Werewolf, the first thing to be clear about (it seems to me) is what constitutes "the game" in our analysis.  Do we include the WoD as a whole in our consideration?  Only a particular core book set/edition, maybe including "Player's Guide", but not the myriad Tribebooks and other setting enhancements?  Because if you start to include all that stuff, I begin to suspect that "lack of focus" is the *inevitable* result, absent a firm hand/clear vision like Clinton's "authority issues" focus.  So if we take it as a whole, I'm definitely in the "necessary Drift" camp.  A given play group HAS to execute Drift towards *something*, and while there's certainly broadly-applicable Premise, none of my experiences reading the books or playing the game left me with a "well facilitated" impression.  Of course, some folks think that kind of "facilitation" is *supposed* to be done by the play group, not the system/company/designer, but that's a seperate issue.

Confine the game to a smaller source set . . . well, that's not what we did, so I guess I can't comment, but I can see a *chance* at well facilitated application of a broad Premise in that environment.  Seems to me that that Premise is, as others have said, NOT Humanity as in Human vs. Beast a la Vampire, but rather Humanity in an almost Sorcerer sense - i.e., I'm with Laurel in seeing the Garou as representing the best and worst attributes of humanity itself.  It's not their "bestial" nature that's an issue - that's the one thing they have a BETTER grip on than the rest of humanity.  Beast I Am because Beast I Am - deal with it (of course, not dealing with it WELL can be an element in Werewolf, but it seemed much less fundamental to me than that notion was in Vampire).  It's the *human* nature of even the most wolf(or whatever animal)-blooded that caught my interest.  The need for action, but that action may have consequences - maybe you'd be better off NOT acting?  Or even if you do, it won't matter - you, even you Mr. Badass Werewolf, are not enough to effect the change you desire in any significant degree.

Why/from whence the emotional attachment? . . . well, it was a while ago, I don't remember the system that well, but like I said above, I *loved* building my character.  I picked Nature and Demeanor (is that right?) that were in intriguing conflict (which ended up meaning very little as play evolved, but I loved thinking through the character implications of the choice).  I had Flaws/Negative Astrological Aspects or the like around combat, losing dice and difficult to Rage - violence sickened him.  But he was a Stargazer developing that Garou martial art of Kalindo - he knew he would *have* to fight, and was desperately trying to figure out how to do so.  Shortly into that opening session, something in a bar transformed into a Wyrm-beast, and he jumped to protect . . . someone/thing, and was slapped down like so much pizza dough (aggravated damage to within 1 dot of death, in one shot).  Good thing the Silver Fang with a Klaive was there . . .

I spent the rest of session (which got beyond the combat pretty quickly - the last time that happened in the game.  Once we understood the system better, things just got worse . . . ) RPing being in great pain, but still trying to do the "right thing", pushing myself, smoothing ruffled feathers between the Silver Fang and Silent Strider in the group . . .

Like I said, it went downhill from there - typical ST system hours-long combats, some WoD faux-pas (the fourth character was "something wierd" - a Mokole with a Dragon form?  A Changeling? We - the other players - never learned . . . ), no real shared focus/Premise . . . but there it is.  My Werewolf experience, and some opinions/analsis of the design aspects.  Hope it's interesting.

Gordon
www.snap-game.com (under construction)

Jared A. Sorensen

Gordon,

Good call re: character creation. Werewolf DOES present you with a lot of choices and each choice is more than just a game mechanic benefit.

Choosing your breed, auspice (um, equivalent to a zodiac sign) and tribe...as well as the ol' Nature and Demeanor...well, lots of different variables to play with.

Frex, my one werewolf (ever) was a Homid (born human) Glasswalker (urban werewolf tribe) Ragabash (trickster/questioner archetype)...his Nature changed quite a bit -- from Reluctant Garou to Predator to Pentitent to...shit, I forget what he was last. :)
jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com

Fabrice G.

Hi all,

I think that as with all the others ST games, W:tA suffer from a lack of focus in his theme...or maybe that's an hidden strengh.

One of my best experience with Werewolf was an introductionary story. The players knew nothing of the game beyond what I had explained. I decided to focus on the horror of being such a creature. I was especially focused on Rage, Primal urge (a talent) and the whole frenesy thing (an exploration of alienation from society and of self). It was very very effective...a lot different from the supers-in-furs that I was seing around me.

The other most enjoyable experience came from a strong exploration of the garou tribal and clanic society. To capture the feelings, it was very important to focus ond the extreme ritualisation of garou life, and on the conflict between tradition and change (whitch is a powerfull W:tA premise : If your traditions are not effecive, are you ready to ban yourself from your people to enact some change ?).

The key element was to choose one way (premise ?) to play the gameand exploit the system to that end. After that, the main difficulty was to stick on it and not deviate to another such-cool-other-element of the game.

As a side note, it make me think that a lot of comercial games are "broad" in their theme or premise, and that on the opposite side, most of the indie game are "tight-premised". Hum...I'll maybe start a thread in rpg theory.

Fabrice.