Continuing with the Ten Things to Know About the Chronicles of Darkness, today we’re going to go over the world of Werewolf: the Forsaken. While it inherits some of its themes from the older Werewolf: the Apocalypse, it’s a very different game with some interesting quirks.
6. X Splat is auspice, Y Splat is tribe
The inherent axis (“X-splat”) for Werewolf is the character’s auspice: what phase of the moon they are connected to. This is usually the phase that saw their First Change (see below) but it can also be just one that they spiritually embody. Aside from determining the abilities and bonuses you get, auspice describes what role you play in your pack of player characters. Just like a D&D adventuring party works best when everyone has a different class, a werewolf pack that has a variety of auspice roles represented is healthiest and most effective. Mechanically, you have all the skills covered but in-game you have a strong and well-respected pack.
- Irraka (ir-rah-kah) are quiet and sneaky types who track down their prey and elude their enemies.
- Ithaeur (ih-thay-ur) are mystical shamans with a strong connection to the Spirit World.
- Cahalith (kuh-hall-ith) know lots of lore and mysticism, as well as the proper rites for the pack.
- Elodoth (ell-oh-doth) act as judges when needed but also know a lot about the nature of the Spirit World.
- Rahu (rah-hoo) are pure, ass-kicking warrior.
There are other auspices outside the core book that correspond to things like eclipses or stellar occultations, but calling those fringe cases is being generous. If you really want to personalize your characer then that’s where the social axis (“Y-splat”) comes in. Tribes are political and philosophical groups of werewolves who have similar approaches to their existence. While auspice indicates what you are naturally good at, tribe indicates what you naturally try to accomplish. In the second edition of the game, there is a strong focus on what sort of target each tribe hunts so bear that in mind as well.
- Blood Talons (Suthar Anzuth) are definitely of the “warrior spirit” mode and consider their lives as werewolves to be full of conflict. They prefer to hunt and fight other werewolves, either enemies or just rivals for territory.
- Bone Shadows (Hirfathra Hissu) concentrate on the spiritual side of being a werewolf and concern themselves a lot with the goings-on of spirits. They often hunt down those spirits who stray into the mortal realm and send them packing.
- Hunters in Darkness (Meninna) focus on being guardians of the world’s important sites (called loci) to ensure a proper balance between Shadow and mortal realm. They hunt down malicious spirits called Hosts (more below) to stop their influence spreading.
- Iron Masters (Farsil Luhal) are the closest to humans and often use human agencies as tools in their mission. They also hunt down humans a lot when the stupid monkeys mess around with things they really shouldn’t be touching.
- Storm Lords (Iminir) style themselves as the nobility of the werewolves and try to get themselves into positions of power so that they can lead (or bully) others into working together. They hunt down mortals possessed by spirits to keep things separated.
An additional splat, Lodges, allows for some hyper-focused goals and motivations but you don’t need to worry about those to start. As you can see, there are a lot of sources of internal conflict for these characters which can make things shaky but there are a lot of factors driving werewolves together…
8. You are Forsaken.
So… one thing with Werewolf: the Forsaken is that there is a lot of lore to absorb, more so than some other Chronicles of Darkness game. This was true of Werewolf: the Apocalypse as well and I’m not prepared to say which game has the greater amount of background info and mythology. It all starts with the death of Father Wolf (called Ur-Farah) who was a sort of primeval wolf-god with eight little wolf-pup godlings (there are rumors of more) at the dawn of time. Father Wolf was strong but got old and feeble and more than a little crazy. Five of his kids teamed up to put him down, thereby making themselves and their descendants Forsaken (or Uratha), while the other three stayed true and bill themselves as the Pure. The Forsaken tribes found a new patron in Luna, the embodiment of the moon, who offered them purpose and powerful magic. This is a really interesting way to start things because it sets up the player characters as part of a rebel group whose existence is based on murder. Your people might be principled and ultimately in the right but you’ve also get blood on your hands.
The Pure, on the other hand, have the moral high ground in some ways but are also huge jerks. Remember that Father Wolf was losing it at the end so these are the werewolves that stayed true to that insane purpose. They believe that humans are there for hunting and torture, that spirits are meant to be twisted, and that the world is generally there’s for the taking. They’re werewolf race-supremacists. The five Uratha Tribes and the three Pure Tribes each take one of the eight children of Father Wolf as their patron so your characters are strongly tied to this past event. It’s still in the past, though, so local politics and recent history has a lot more impact on the game than these ancient events.
Your life as a werewolf happens when you undergo your First Change and become a wolf for the first time. This happens because you’ve inherited the werewolf genes (don’t think too hard about it) of your werewolf parent and you’re ready to join your people. Sometimes your non-werewolf parent (no one can be born from two werewolves) is in the know and part of the Kinfolk. Other times they’re just some one night stand and might be just as shocked as you are. After you change you are typically sought out by other werewolves (those that aren’t often become tribeless “Ghost Wolves”) and you learn the ways of the Forsaken. You can then join a pack, claim a territory, and start defending it against whatever might come your way.
9. The spirits are gunning for you.
Back in the days of Father Wolf, the werewolves hunted down spirits in both the Shadow and the mortal realms. There were the apex predators and apparently relished making spirits rub screaming and die horribly. Shockingly, this came back to haunt them. When Father Wolf was murdered and the natural order came crashing down, spirits for the chance to stick it to their fallen tormentors. Millennia later some spirits are still holding a grudge and others simply know that werewolves constantly mess in spirits’ business.
Either way, interactions between spirits and werewolves are often contentious. None are more heated, though, than confrontations with the Hosts. Just as werewolves are hybrids of spirit and mortal, the Hosts are hybrids of spirit and animal. Let’s just say that the mixture doesn’t go well and these beings wants nothing more than to spread and destroy other creatures. They start as just malicious animals but when they find a human corpse they can start to control it. First it’s only a rudimentary story of control but pretty soon they’re a crazy mix of flesh and spirit with some nasty powers. The two most common types of Hosts are the Beshilu (rat-hosts) as the Azlu (spider-hosts) but plenty of others exist as well. Don’t underestimate creepy crawlies.
10. There’s this thing called First Tongue…
All of these alternate names, by the way, are from the First Tongue, which is a Tower-of-Babel-type language that all werewolves can instinctively speak. The game designers based the language on Ancient Sumerian and ran words backwards through the linguistic transformations of Grimm’s Law, which may or may not be interesting depending on how much you like languages (for the record, I love them). The upshot, though, is that there is a complex vocabulary to learn alongside the complex lore. There are English equivalents to nearly all of them but it’s one more hurdle that new players might stress over.
If everyone in the group is newish to Werewolf: the Forsaken (and that includes veterans of Werewolf: the Apocalypse making the switch since the First Tongue wasn’t in that earlier game) then everyone can learn together. First include the auspices (which don’t have great English equivalents) and then start using the First Tongue terms for the tribes and the Pure before graduating to specific spirit names. Of you give yourself the newbie in a group off WtF masters then take a deep breath and print out one of many online guides to follow along.