Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/03/18/tabletop-review-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition-world-of-darkness/
I’ll admit, Werewolf was not my go-to game back in the 1990s. Storyteller-wise I preferred it to Wraith and Changeling, but I didn’t like it as much as either Vampire or Mage. Part of it was I found it a bit too depressing and on the nose regarding how badly humanity has screwed up the planet or allowed corporations to run wild in such a manner that Teddy Roosevelt would have had a conniption fit had he been alive to see it. It also didn’t help that I and other gamers that I knew were more interested in playing Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, V:TM, Chill, D&D and more. Werewolf: The Apocalypse became a franchise I read but rarely got to play, although I have a small collection of First Edition books still in my possession. Rage had the same problem. I knew a whopping one other person interested in trying it. At the time Mythos, Magic, Illuminati, Jyhad, and even the Monty Python and the Holy Grail card game had a bigger audience. Poor Werewolf. I wanted to do so much with it, but I ended up mainly using them as NPCs in other White Wolf games. Chief of which was The Hunter In Darkness, who was a pure breed Black Spiral Dancer metis who ended up being “saved” as a cub by our coterie of Kindred before he could be embraced by the Wyrm… which led to a lot of Garou incursions on our fair city trying to rescue what appeared to be the last of the White Howlers from minions of the Wyrm. However, twenty one years later we have the internet. You can play by email, play by post and even play Skype based games for any system under the sun. So you’re not stuck only playing the RPGs those in your local vicinity that share your interest want to play. Perhaps if the Internet had been more widespread in the early 90s, I’d have had a chance to really immerse myself in Werewolf.
So of course, when Onyx Path and White Wolf did their Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter, I was more than happy to take part. I couldn’t bring myself to spend over $100 for a book I’d probably never use though, but I was more than willing to purchase the PDF version. It would take up less room and there would be no chance of my rabbits eating the cover (like my poor Shadows of Esteren game). Now I’ll admit I did this foolishly, as I haven’t been all that happy with the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition releases. The core rulebook was gorgeous, but I hated the hanging on to 3rd Edition crap that drove so many from the game in the first place, along with the terrible new rules for Potence, Celerity, Fortitude and Necromancy. The 20th Anniversary Companion was horrible in a lot of ways, was on our short list for one of the worst releases of 2012 and it still seems to remain a sore spot with many of those that backed it. Children of the Revolution was a step up, but still mediocre, while Dust to Dust was probably the best overall release for the relaunch so far. Still, White Wolf seemed to learn from their mistakes with each passing Kickstarter and Mummy: The Curse is currently my frontrunner for the best release of 2013 so far.
Thankfully, W20 (the abbreviation for the very long name this book has) turned out to be exceptional, making White Wolf two for four on their Kickstarter campaigns (to me anyway). W20 far surpassed my expectations, and even blew away V20 in pretty much all respects, except maybe art. Now, there are some definite errors in the book in terms of spelling, grammar, formatting, rules and the like, but the PDF I have here is NOT the final draft, so I’m not going to nitpick these minor issues which have already been pointed out to White Wolf and OPP by the other 2,000+ backers that got their PDF early. Now, if they don’t get fixed, or there is some major edit that truly changes a good portion of the book, I’ll follow that up with an Addendum review, but for now, I’ll say that I’m extremely happy with what’s here, as is fellow staffer Mark B. and the few other people I knew that backed this piece of nostalgia. Now let’s talk about what you get when you inevitably return to the Classic World of Darkness.
First of all, Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is massive, and clocks in at 555 pages (including covers). That is one big core rulebook, and over two dozen pages bigger than V20, although those extra pages are pretty much a comic book, which I happened to love, but I can see some people wishing they had been allocated to stats and mechanics instead. So expect to spend a lot of time just reading this thing. The good news is that W20 covers just about everything you could possibly want, from in-depth information on each of the thirteen tribes, all of the other wereraces Werewolf has ever introduced, including the three lost tribes of Garou, a ton of background information on the setting, numerous enemies, and a lot of extremely gory art, both new and going back to the very first edition of the game. While the Old World of Darkness was synonymous with putting out tons of books at a rapid rate, W20 is really the only book you’re ever going to need to run a game of Werewolf unless you really don’t like some of the story retcons or rules changes. Still, carrying around one massive tome (or in my case my Kindle Fire) is far better than a backpack full of books, some of which only have a single rule or section you may need at some point in the game. Now, the downside to having everything you need in a single large book is that it can be hard to find a specific rule or piece of content. Thankfully, the physical copy of W20 will have bookmarks to mark things you need to find quickly. As well, the back of the book contains an extremely helpful index and three different lists (one for Gifts, one for Fetishes and one for Rites) all listed alphabetically and with the corresponding page number next to it. Sure, using W20 to run a game might seem daunting at first because of how large this core rule book is, but OPP has gone out of its way to make searching far easier than it has been in the past. Now, trying to remember what page Body Slam mechanics were on might be a little trickier…
W20 is divided into three books (four if you count the comic). Book One is “The Wyld” and it goes into great detail about the setting, an introduction on how to play/run the game and more. A lot of the opening bits are stuff you see in every RPG, while others are things diehard Werewolf players will know by heart and not need to read because they’ve been doing so for roughly two decades. For those that are brand new to Werewolf, you’ll learn about setting specific concepts that aren’t part of the core folkloric loup-garou, like the Umbra, the Wyrm, the Weaver, and so on. Much of the Hollywood, European and Native American legends about lycanthropes are treated as little more than folktales in this game, with the White Wolf Garou having very little in common with any of them. These werewolves are ecological warriors on a holy quest to save the world from humanity and the many evils it has spawned due to the corruptive influence of an otherworldly force known as the Wyrm. Think of these werewolves as a mix of Greenpeace with the Crusades and you have a rough idea of the core concept. In Chapter One you’ll find the history of the world according to the Garou, the rise of the Wyrm, the madness of the Weaver, a look at what it means to be a Werewolf in the World of Darkness and an overview of the ways one is born a werewolf: Homid (human baby), Lupus (wolf cub) and Metis (the spawn of two werewolves, which makes it born in the dreaded Crinos form, the Hollywood version of the werewolf appearance-wise). You get a quick overview of the thirteen tribes and an in-depth look at the social structure of the Garou in terms of race, tribes, packs and so on. Chapter Two is the beginning of character creation, giving a full look at your possible breeds, auspice (moon that you were born under) and tribe. The Thirteen tribe pages boast some gorgeous new artwork, and as always, my three favorite tribes remain the Shadow Fangs (Hakken variant), Silent Striders and Stargazers. Chapter Two is where you are going to spend a good portion of your time in terms of character creation, as you whittle down the aspects of what you want your character to possess.
Book Two is “The Weaver,” and no, it’s not actually about the Weaver and its part in the Garou spiritual triumvirate. Instead, it’s about weaving together a game with characters and mechanics. Chapters Three and Four give the rules for character creation, along with all the gifts one can choose from at each of the five Ranks a character can progress through. More than likely this isn’t your first introduction to Werewolf or the original Storyteller System, so I don’t think I need to go much further with this concept. It’s just the chapter with all the nuts and bolts for making a werewolf PC. Now, if you wanted to play a Corax or Simba… those come much later in the book, but yes they are here, which is a huge reason I picked this up. I will say that it’s odd how the book sometimes segregates things. You have the Garou in one area, the powers in another area, the mechanics in still another area, and then the other were-races in yet another, and the Appendix is where Merits and Flaws can be found, instead of with the other character creation bits. This was my big problem with V20 as well, because I hated looking through the book for, say, something on the Salubri, which was towards the tail end of the book instead of being lumped together with all the Camarilla clans, and Disciplines were all over the place. Organization does seem to be a problem for OPP, which is why I’m thankful for the high quality index in the back of the book, but W20 seems to be a massive improvement in this regard from V20, with only Merits/Flaws and other were-races being ostracized from the rest of the mechanics.
Chapters Five and Six are the big chapters on rules, mechanics and how/when to roll those dice. You also get a plethora of attack options for each form a Garou can take. These chapters are where a Storyteller will spend most of his or her time when the game is actually playing. It is worth noting that the “get a 10, roll again” rule is gone from this version of the game, which is likely to be a point of debate for some gamers. Chapter Seven is all about the Umbra, or Spirit World, which the Garou can step into. It’s similar to the Faewyld for your Fourth Edition D&D players, except, you know, done right. The Umbra gives Werewolf a whole other realm to play in, similar to how Call of Cthulhu offers you the Dreamlands in addition to the real world. From people I’ve talked to with far more experience with W:TA than I have, it seems that games tend to either really heavily invest in the Umbra, or barely touch it. Because I’ve used Garou mainly as NPCs, my games fall into the latter, save for a great way to save the antagonist for another adventure instead of letting them get taken down. Now in the few Werewolf games I’ve actually played in, I’ve primarily played Stargazers, so I’ve gotten to make great use of the Umbra there. There’s a ton of great content in this chapter, ranging from how the Weaver and Wyrm act here, to notes on the Abyss. This is perhaps my favorite chapter in terms of content quality; possibly because I didn’t get to read or learn much about all the Umbra had to offer back in the First Edition era.
Book Three is “The Wyrm” and, as you might expect, this is where you get a lot of info on antagonists and enemies for your players to disembowel. However, it’s much more than that. This section is the equivalent to a Storyteller’s handbook. Chapter Eight is actually entitled “Storytelling” and gives a lot of information on how to run a game smoothly and without drama. There are lots of hints, ideas and suggestions on what to do with a chronicle, as well as things NOT to do. Sure, most of what’s in this chapter is pretty generic and stuff most GM/DM/Keeper/Storytellers/etc already know, but it’s still a good read and offers some nice W:TA-centric bits. My favorite part of this chapter is the Example of Play. One page is the mechanics and dry “Bob declares action X and rolls Y number of dice trying to get a Z or higher” description that shows how a game is played. Next to it, however is a full colour comic page that shows what the gameplay “looks” like. It’s pretty cool, and I wish more games did this. The only other time I can think of this occurring was with TSR’s original Marvel Super Heroes RPG. I really wish this had been done for V20, and I am SO looking forward to the Mage version of these pages.
Chapter Nine is Allies, and again, it was the big draw for me to purchase this. I’ll be honest – the Garou are my absolute least favorite of the wereraces in the World of Darkness. It’s mainly their own fault that the world is in the shape it is, and yet they continue to blame humanity instead of taking responsibility for their horrible actions, like wiping out the Bunyip tribe or deciding to try and kill off all the other races Gaia created because they thought they were the superior Master Race. The Garou are the definitely the Westboro Baptist Church or SS of the Wereraces, so I’m really happy to see the saner, more insightful and intelligent races given their own section in the book, in case a Storyteller would rather run with those. It’s not just the other weres that get their day in the sun (or moon) here, but ancestor spirits, totem guides, and other mystical beings that interact with the servants of Gaia who are covered here. There’s even a large section of Kinfolk and how to make/play one if someone would rather. Still, the other weres are the core feature, so let’s talk about them. You get stats, gifts and the like for the three lost tribes of the Garou: The Bunyip, The Croatan and the White Howlers. You also get completely different species. Here’s a quick list:
•Ajaba – Werehyenas (ew)
•Anansi – Werespiders (creeeeepy!)
•Bastest – Werecats (Nine different kinds ranging from tigers to cheetahs)
•Corax – Wereraven (A personal favorite due to Ravenloft)
•Gurahl – Werebear (Altered Beast flashbacks)
•Kitsune – Werefox (Insert your favorite anime reference here. Mine would be Ninetails from Pokémon)
•Mokole – WEREDINOSAURS (Okay, usually alligators or crocodiles, but still!)
•Nagah – Weresnakes (More like Yuan-Ti, but still very cool and creepy)
•Nuwisha –Werecoyote (Native American Tricksters)
•Ratkin – Wererats (Very D&D)
•Rokea –Wereshark (Oh man are they freaky)
I have to admit, I was surprised there weren’t any Werebats or something truly odd like a Weresloth or Werepanda. Still, this is a nice large selection of other races to choose from, and it’s great to see all of these in one book along with the core Garou tribes.
Chapter Ten is “The Enemy” and this is the aforementioned area where you’ll find tons of opponents for your Garou, ranging from the Nexus Crawler all the way to Pentex and its many subsidiaries, out to despoil the earth and destroy Captain Planet the creations of Gaia. The chapter starts off with a detailed look at the Black Spiral Dancers and all of their unique and terrifying Gifts. Even longer is the section on Fomori, and from there, it’s such a hodgepodge of hideous Wyrm creatures. The book lightly touches on the other core WoD player races, like Kindreds, Mages, Wraiths and Fae, but obviously the goal here is to get you to go for those core rulebooks as well, even if some are long out of print. Hey, that’s what DriveThruRPG.com is for, right?
The final chapter in the book is the Appendix, and this is oddly where all the Merits and Flaws are instead of being with the rest of the character creation bits. It also is where you’ll find all the choices for Nature and Demeanor… which is more character creation stuff. Again, I’ve touched on this, but I don’t get the organization of this book sometimes. At least it’s a lot better than V20 though. The Appendix then delves into some internal tribe factions and societies, and some offshoots of a few core Garou tribes, like the Japanese Hakken branch of the Shadow Lords, and concludes with pieces on Ronin Garou and the very creepy Skin Walkers, which are werewolves that are self-made rather than born. After that, you get a long “Afterwords” section, where people wax nostalgically about the game and a list of all the Kickstarter backers (I’m on page 524!). That, my friends and readers, is WereWolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition.
When all is said and done, W20 is an amazing book from beginning to end. Sure it has a few hiccups here and there, but this isn’t the final version that will go on sale to the general public. What I can say though, is that this book is a love letter to all the W:TA fans that have amassed over the past twenty-one years. It’s an incredible book that packs in just about everything you could possibly want from all pieces of the canon and puts them into one place. Sure, the sticker price for either the physical or digital version of the book is going to scare off some newcomers and casual gamers, but for fans of the Old World of Darkness, Werewolf: The Apocalypse or White Wolf in general, this is one nostalgia trip that will give you your money’s worth and then some. So sit back, queue up some Warren Zevon (or Ozzy or Metallica, depending on what your favorite Garou themed tune is) and get ready to take down the Wyrm one more time.