Today I’m here to highlight an awesome product through the Storyteller’s Vault and World of Darkness. Savage Age is a fan setting for Werewolf: The Apocalypse (specifically the 20th Anniversary rules) which features prehistoric action adventure. If you’re familiar with the mythology of Werewolf you know that means some pretty epic stuff, but the term “fan setting” doesn’t quite capture the amazing work that has gone into this very professionally produced book. Read on to find out more!
Mephit James: Let’s start with basics: what’s your story and how did you get involved writing Savage Age?
Chris: As a freelancer I have more than 20 years of experience under my belt, including working on Vampire: The Masquerade back in its heyday. I figured that I have the background to do something on my own, and Storyteller’s Vault provided the platform. I started writing. Then I contacted my friend, Paul Way to see if he would be up to helping me with the art. He was down for it — and that was the beginning. I started writing, gave him parameters for the images, and the rest fell into place.
Brandon: My first tabletop writing gig came just last year when author Joe Nassise put out a call for his Darkened Streets anthology over on the Storyteller’s Vault, and that’s led to a number of other projects since then, not least of which being working on the Savage Age line. My first work for the team was on Vol 3: Tools of Extinction, and I had the opportunity to write The Broken-Brother what we’re calling an “epic jumpstart.” This 40-page story of a heroic Gurahl traumatized by the War of Rage and now fallen to the Wyrm will help folks get their own chronicles rolling. Far too often I think folks read these really cool tabletop books and go, “Well this is all fun to read, but what sorts of stories can I tell? What do we *do*?” And I wanted to help answer that question, whether you’re a longtime W:tA fan or not. It will likely be out around the same time as this interview.
MJ: What is the motivation to write Savage Age? There have been many historical settings for the World of Darkness (and the Chronicles of Darkness) but this one is a bit different since there’s no history (by definition) to riff on. So what’s the draw for you?
Chris: Because I really did not like Shattered Dreams. Shattered Dreams was a book I wanted to see built for years and years, and the final product is just not what I was looking for. Not only is it a bit of a mess from an editing and layout perspective, it is filed with paleobio errors that made me grind my teeth.
So, I decided to write an addendum. That addendum became Tribebook: Khara. Were-Smilodons got a particular short-shrift in Shattered Dreams. The peleobiology and paleoecology regarding sabre- and dagger-toothed cats was not good. I wanted to correct those errors, and in such a way that it did not invalidate the setting.
Brandon: In terms of the draw, the War of Rage is this legendary-but-terrible period that shaped the entire landscape of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, which we’ve only been given glimpses into. I think exploring that era and those early building blocks is a great opportunity to lean into some of Werewolf‘s best aspects while still offering something decidedly different than a modern or Dark Ages game.
The Paleolithic era as a whole is something that doesn’t get a lot of attention in terms of tabletop settings, so having a chance to highlight a fairly unique and harsh setting, even before one considers the Werewolf side of things, is a lot of fun for me.
MJ: For those readers who aren’t familiar with the setting you’ve created, how does Savage Age differ from standard Werewolf: The Apocalypse?
Chris: In a lot of ways. We want to have Savage Age embrace the best parts of what makes Werewolf: The Apocalypse so much fun. Rather than trying to survive and maybe eke out a victory here and there, this is a time when the Garou and Fera are unto gods. That makes the challenges the Storyteller brings to the table different.
The Savage Age embraces playable Fera [non-werewolf shapeshifters] in a way W:tA always seemed a bit reluctant to do. Lifting the Fera up was a design goal from the beginning. The Fera are cool, and players should have a game that celebrates their use. Savage Age does that.
We really focused on giving the Fera (including the Garou) ‘Gaian missions.’ They have all been tasked by Gaia with a specific job to help keep her healthy and safe. Some of the Fera are better than others at following those mandates – but every faction has a built in “thing to do” not unlike “fight the wyrm” in W:tA. The “mission” is one of W:tA‘s greatest strengths. Right from the outset, there is guidance on what to do (“fight they wyrm”).
Brandon: To add on to what Chris has said, I think the shift in the Wyld/Weaver/Wyrm dynamic is one of the big things. By the time of modern W:tA, the Wyrm is the go-to antagonist, and it has all but won. At the same time, there’s an argument frequently put forth that the Weaver is the true villain, particularly when one takes a certain look at a lot of industrialization, modernism, and what drove the Wyrm mad in the first place. But what happens when the Wyld is on top and its servants are waging one of the first wars the world has ever seen? Can an out of control Wyld be an antagonist? Is the Weaver a sympathetic underdog in this era? Are those last vestiges of the uncorrupted Wyrm something worth serving, or does it inevitably lead to something awful?
Chris: Writing about a time period before there was proper history allows us to eject some of W:tA‘s warts that have not aged well. We also turn a lot of the tropes on their heads. By using a time before the Tribes were the Tribes, we can remove some of the uncomfortable (and restrictive) racial and social stereotypes. People can still play their favorite types of Garou, but now those Garou define themselves a bit differently (a bit more meta).
Brandon: And while the walls are thin and gnosis is high –meaning you have all the tools to tell a mythic, almost Scion-like story and have it be right at home – I also think the human angle, kinfolk or otherwise, presents something unlike what we’ve seen until now. How do they understand what’s happening around them, and how do they cope? Bear in mind, there’s no “Ooga Booga caveman” to our approach. These are very much people, primitive but not stupid, doing their best to survive a horrible, terrifying situation as much as anyone else would. For me, the chance to get inside the heads of these prehistoric homo sapiens and neanderthals and make them feel real is one of the most exciting possibilities of the setting.
MJ: It’s a truly mythic setting to be sure. There’s a lot that people have to wrap their heads around, not least all the Fera that you feature. Your setting includes the Khara (were-smilodons), Apis (were-aurochs), Grondr (were-boars), and Anupu-Ba-El (were-jackals), not to mention all the other Changing Breeds found in modern times. So is this a game for Changing Breeds or a game for Garou?
Chris: It is is a game for both Garou and Fera. Savage Age was designed to expand options, and allow players to pick their favorite Fera and go to town.
The Savage Age is built to promote both Fera and Garou characters (and mixed groups!). In fact, in Savage Age “Fera” usually includes “Garou.” The distinction between dominant wolf-shifters and everyone else that dominates W:tA is not present in Savage Age. This is the time period where the Garou are not really yet the Garou – they are an amalgamation of like-minded canid-shifters trying to get their act together so they aren’t driven into extinction.
Brandon: Chris pretty much nailed this. Savage Age absolutely invites you to play any combination of Garou or Changing Breeds, and there’s a wealth of stories to tell for the different combinations. It may be wartime, but the sides aren’t always clear-cut and simple. Our upcoming Broken-Brother actually provides a pre-made mixed pack to offer up an idea of what that might look like.
Chris: A core event in the Savage Age is the War of Rage. The War of Rage presents an opportunity to bring a lot of the Fera together as enemies, allies, and friends-of-convenance. It is also a dynamic time, that opens character and group options. This was intentional.
MJ: Not to mention Neanderthal characters! How does this character type differ from playing one of the Fera, or even just a human Kinfolk?
Chris: A lot of work went into the Neanderthals. The idea behind them is that the definition of what it is to be ‘human’ is fluid 10,000 years ago. We wanted players to have the option to explore a Neanderthal character — but one firmly based on the best science we have. I did not want to hear of players picking Neanderthals to play pastiches of Captain Caveman, I want them to read Savage Age and have their eyes opened a bit. Neanderthals were smart, tough, and a lot more resourceful than the media often makes them out to be.
Brandon: Neanderthals offer their own unique breed gifts to reflect their physical hardiness, but a lot of it is going to come down to getting to explore the differences between them and their Homid cousins. Neanderthals by this time would be fairly rare, so it’s entirely possible that, depending on the location of your chronicle, that they might be regarded as odd or strange by the other pack members, and the Neanderthal may share the same attitude.
Neanderthals tend to be even more clan oriented and isolationist, and while they have their own tradition of technological, artistic, and spiritual innovation, they prefer more simple speech and direct action, so a lot of what they encounter in Homid company might be outside of their comfort zone. Add this differing approach to possible language or expression hurdles, and there’s a lot of potential for chronicles exploring outsider status or finding common ground in the name of survival.
MJ: I don’t think anyone can argue you don’t have plenty of character choice in this setting. One thing that struck me was the complexity introduced for werewolves as well. These groups might predate the Garou Nation but you have a number of different werewolf and werewolf-adjacent folk, including dire wolves, Beringian wolf, and others. What are these wolves and why split up werewolf-ism along species lines this way?
Chris: Because it is fun.
Okay, more to the point – I have long held this personal belief that the Garou probably came from a lot of different canid stock, and only relatively recently converged into canis lupus.
The Bastet and Gurahl are each “meta” groupings, where each animal species has a different entry and game personality. I always felt it was a bit boring that the Garou did not have a similar diffusion of beast types.
So, I took inspiration from the Kucha Ekundu [werewolves interbreeding with African wild dogs] in Tribebook: Red Talon and the Bastet (in general) and decided to explore the idea that the “Garou” was originally a political and social term, not a biological one like it is in W:tA. I personally think that is a fascinating idea – and gives a chance for the players to take part in defining exactly what “Garou” means.
MJ: The origins of this mythology is certainly rich for interpretation and campaigns. What are some iconic stories you think of when you imagine people running chronicles in your Savage Age setting?
Chris: I hope people read Savage Age products and think big! We designed the setting to facilitate epic challenges and compelling stories.
One of the images that prompted me to write Accounting for the Dead (Volume 1) was this idea of a game where Apis and the proto-Glass Walkers coming together in a small village to keep it safe from wyld chimerae. I loved the idea that civilization literally hung in the balance. I loved the image of werewolves and minotaurs fighting alongside one another. That story stuck with me throughout the process of writing Accounting for the Dead.
When writing the Siberakh in Rise of the Garou (Volume 2) I kept in my head this scene where a pack of white-furred Garou stalking across the ice to bring down a wyrm-diseased herd of Mammoths. The idea of what that battle would look like and how titanic it would be was good inspiration for that section.
Brandon: I look at a lot of this in the upcoming Broken-Brother with its chronicle hooks and story seeds, and I’ve already shown my hand when it comes to my love of gritty kinfolk survival stories, but let’s not overlook the Epic, either. In Vol 3, we introduce our own Legendary Fetishes to Savage Age, and pretty much any one of them could shoulder their own chronicle. These are the super weapons of their day, so a fight to obtain one of these in order to turn the tide and give players a badass payoff or an undog story against one of these horrors is something I hope people explore.
At the same time, I think a wartime politics chronicle could really get a lot out of the setting. Can a mixed pack of changing breeds unite in the face of a greater Garou threat? If a long-time enemy requests help against the Wyrm (who is not yet the dominant world-ender it will become), can an alliance be made, and if so, would survival demand that you immediately turn on them once the greater threat is eliminated?
MJ: How about a little bit about yourselves? What got you into roleplaying and what has your journey been like?
Chris: I have been roleplaying since about 1985. My cousin brought a copy of the DnD red box over and I was hooked pretty much immediately. MY grandmother took me to a KB Toys store in the mall back when they still were a thing and sold Dungeons and Dragons. She bought me the DnD red set.
In college, I started freelancing with Dream Pod 9 where I helped on the Tribe 8 line. I cut my teeth on those projects and kept looking for work. Justin Achilli was the guy who gave me my first break with White Wolf and he is the editor that really helped my hone the craft.
Part of the reason I brought on Brandon and the other fans who want to write for the Savage Age is because I want to help do for them what Justin did for me. It is going to suck when one of the team comes to me and says they are too busy with other freelancing gigs to work on the Savage Age… but it will also be a very good day. I continue to write as a sideline to my full-time day job. Currently I work mostly on the Delta Green and City of Mist lines.
Best advice I can give to anyone who wants to professionally or semi-professionally?
- Do your job. Your job is to make your editor happy. If you actually finish your assignment on time, you are going to get more gigs. 90% of want-to-be writers out there cannot bring a project to close. They may have better ideas than you or might have the best prose you have ever read… but if they do not actually finish the job it is meaningless. Make your competitive advantage over better writers the fact that you get the job done.
- Edit. Do not turn in half-done work. Budget your time so that editing is half of your overall schedule. If it takes you an hour to push out 2,000 words, then it will take you another hour to properly edit it. Editors will give jobs to writers they trust and who save them time. Be that person that an editor seeks out because they know your work will not generate extra work for them.
Brandon: I first discovered roleplay online back around 97, but my first in-person tabletop game opportunity didn’t arise until over a decade later. I was strictly a player for several years until around 2015. I give no small amount of credit to Matthew Dawkins’ Gentleman Gamer videos for giving me the confidence to take the plunge, and I’ve run fairly regular games ever since. My first effort was Demon: The Fallen under the totally unassailable logic of “Well, everyone knows what a good DnD or Masquerade game looks like from experience, so if I come up short, they’ll have no basis for comparison!” It holds up if you don’t subject it to any scrutiny.
I’ve been a horror fan ever since I was probably 4 or 5. Everything from old Universal and Hammer Horror, to the Italian productions of the 70s, to the slasher boom of the 80s, not to mention pretty much everything Vincent Price ever did. Horror is right at home for me, and I love telling stories. Having my friends look forward to the next week of that first Demon chronicle like a new episode of their favorite show was one of the best compliments I could have ever gotten.
MJ: This is written for W20 but is that your preferred version of WoD?
Chris: W20 is my favorite because of its comprehensiveness. That said, Revised kicked a lot of butt when it came to actually useful supplements. Just look at the lineup — Book of the Wyld, Book of Auspices, Book of the Weaver, Book of the City (oh, that cover!), Hammer and Klaive, Possessed, World of Rage… that lineup just kept hitting and hitting in terms of quality. I remember that as being a good time to be a W:tA fan.
Brandon: I think the 20th editions pretty much nailed it across the board, and they’re my go-to. I actually enjoy V5 quite a bit, but I consider it a companion piece for a different type of horror than a next gen replacement.
MJ: What about Chronicles of Darkness?
Chris: Also a big fan. Their deconstruction of the tribes is part of my inspiration for the Savage Age. I like the streamlined rules, I love the cosmology. W:tF does a much better job of embracing the horror of being a werewolf. W:tF’s approach to werewolves was part of my inspiration for The Darkness Owns: the Lupines (and it is not coincidental I use a lot of Forsaken imagery in that supplement).
Two things that really make Forsaken stick out in my mind are the areas that Aaron Dembski-Bowden worked on and the Abrar Ajmal art. That combo right there really pushed Forsaken to be something special — especially in the supplements.
That said, Forsaken loses something with the relative lack of metaplot and backstory. I find the metaplot and personalities and deep story that surrounds W:tA very compelling, especially now that the line is “complete.” I want Savage Age to add to that story and to enhance the metaplot.
Brandon: I haven’t delved much into Forsaken, but I like a lot of the mechanical aspects in 2e and absolutely love Promethean: the Created. I had the opportunity to run it this past year. I prefer the metaplot aspect of WoD, particularly as a Storyteller and writer, but I definitely see the appeal of the more open sandbox. Hoping to dive into Demon: The Descent soon.
MJ: All fantastic, and it’s clear to see your love of metaplot in the Savage World setting.So, what’s new in Savage World Vol 3?
Chris: Tools of Extinction was built differently from the other Savage Age books, and I think it shows. After release five or so books for the line, people started to come to me asking if they could help. I created Savage Age as a way to explore some creative lanes for myself, and the opportunity o allow other people to play in the setting seemed like a natural development: Savage Age as created with more than just me and one or two other writers. For a book on weapons and tools, that makes a lot of sense.
I see Tools of Extinction as an “advanced player’s guide” of sorts. The material in that book is there to explore the boundaries of the setting as well as fill in some mechanical gaps. The essay, in particular, is gold for getting the right feel of the setting. Brandon’s short fiction is awesome and punchy and very much worth a read.
More than the other two volumes, Tools of Extinction has a number of entries that can port with no effort into a Werewolf: the Apocalypse game. This was be design. We are starting to get deeper into the line, and for these books to pay themselves off, I need to keep interest up. Maximizing utility for this book, and making sure W:tA players know there is good stuff in there for them is part of why we chose the theme we did.
MJ: So when do we get to see more?
Chris: The Savage Age books are relatively expensive to make. I do not pull any punches with art, and I want to pay the contributors are fair rate for wordcount. That means as the line produces more books, we need to not only bring in new readers, but also keep existing fans excited for the next product. Savage Age is a niche of a niche product, so every sale really matters. Reviews really matter, too. The quality of stuff on Storyteller’s Vault can vary widely, and reviews tell prospective purchasers that the Savage Age books are worth their money.
That is why creating a mailing list in my next big project. I am hopeful to build that list from core Savage Age fans who can help us prioritize out next book. I want to build a community of Savage Age fans where I can feed off their energy to produce new products.
MJ: Count me in! Where can people find your stuff and what’s the best way to get in touch with you and get on that list?
Chris: weaponizedink at gmail.com. I try to check that email at least a few times a week. We also have a Facebook page and the beginnings of a Discord server. “Weaponized Ink” is my personal imprint (as opposed to my work with other publishers),
I LOVE talking to people about the Savage Age. Discord would probably the best place for it. There aren’t many of us there now… but if you head that way I promise to make myself available. I also frequent the various Werewolf: the Apocalypse groups on FB and the Onyx Path forums. If you post there, chances are Brandon, myself, or one of the team will find you.
Brandon: I’m a regular contributor to Fantasm magazine, which covers horror and classic cult cinema over at fantasmmedia.com, and I’m featured on at Storytellersvault.com in Darkened Streets and on the Savage Age line.
I can be reached at brandonmatthewsteward at gmail.com, Brandon Steward on FB, and @BrandonMSteward on Twitter.
Chris: And if your readers have made it this far? Thanks! Here, take a discount:
I appreciate your time.