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Monday, June 24, 2024

Werewolf: The Apocalypse – 5th Edition

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Werewolf: The Apocalypse – 5th Edition (W5) is the latest edition of the World of Darkness games about werewolves.  Unlike the previous editions of Werewolf, which continued the metaplot and expanded the world, W5 is a reboot of the series, returning to the core of the game and redefining how it is played.

W5 is focused on the Garou; warlike shapeshifters torn between wolf and man, and the champions of Gaia, the spiritual representation of the Earth and nature.  However, Gaia is dying, and the apocalypse has begun.  Each player takes on the role of a Garou, calling upon their rage to confront the forces of destruction and wrest Gaia from the brink of death if they can, or follow her enemies to the grave.

W5 is very much a game about the horror of an environmental apocalypse and what impact this might have on those fighting it.  Rage is a core theme within the game, as that is what powers the Garou’s ability to change shape, as well as fuelling their strength and capacity to withstand injury.  However, it can also lead to harano (despair) and hauglosk (fanaticism).

These themes are embedded within the mechanics of the game.  Skill checks are made by combining the skill and attribute (such as wits and alertness).  A number of 10-sided dice from the pool are replaced with rage dice equal to the amount of rage a character has.  In many ways this is akin to the Hunger mechanics in the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade (V5 – reviewed here).

These results of a skill check are interpreted by the number of successes on a dice (6 or over).  Two successes are needed to pass a standard skill check, but some checks may be more difficult than others and require a greater number of successes.  More successes on rage dice than normal dice can lead to a bestial success, where the rage-filled nature of the character comes to the fore.  Likewise, critical failures (rolling a 1) not only fail a skill check but cause something detrimental to happen, such as an item breaking.  Furthermore, when performing a violent task, such as fighting, the rage dice is added to the skill check, rather than substituting existing dice.

One of the things that stands out most is how W5 removes the previous cultural associations of each tribe.  The concept of tribes, in that each Garou is a member of particular group, remains, but they are no longer tied to a particular region or ethnicity.  Some tribes have been renamed to reconcile with the culturally agnostic approach.  As a consequence of these changes, W5 feels truly global for the first time.

This is a Werewolf game for a new generation.

Some existing fans may be disappointed with certain changes, such as the Cult of Fenris and the Stargazers leaving the Garou nation.  However, their expulsion is used to exemplify the extreme fallouts of rage.  In the case of the Cult of Fenris, their departure is used to explore the extremes of absolute fanaticism.

Another of the major change is that some Garou believe that Gaia is dead, rather than dying.  There was always a fatalistic element to Werewolf: The Apocalypse, conveying how this was the end times of the Garou.  Now, with Gaia believed to be dead by some, this fatalism is brought to the fore and adds much needed gritty element to the game.

The umbra, the realm of spirit that overlays the physical realm, has also evolved, and it is no longer safe for the Garou.  Although Garou may be able to crossover into the umbra, they are only partly creatures of spirit and this is not their natural habitat.  As such, Garou are no longer able to pass between the umbra and the physical world with impunity.  This provides a new element of risk and reinforces that nowhere is truly safe for the Garou.

All of these new elements combine to make the power levels of the Garou lower than what they once were in previous editions.  Garou are still a (literal) force of nature and more powerful than a vampire, but they are no longer unstoppable killing machines.  This decrease in power feels in keeping with the overall themes of the game and the grounded approach to this new World of Darkness.

There are also much more varied enemies in the core rulebook.  The wyrm, the spiritual representation of decay and entropy, remains a core protagonist, as well as the wyrm-tainted corporation Pentex (imagine Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil but without H&S and an ethics committee).

However, we are presented a far more nuanced portrayal of the antagonists. The wyrm has become evil not because of what it is, but because of the imbalance within the triat; the celestial trinity of wyrm, weaver (stasis) and wyld (creation).

It is interesting to note that vampires are not now considered wyrm-tainted, and thus natural enemies of the Garou.  However, a vampire remains worthy of a Garou’s loathing, as both consider themselves apex predators.  As such, do not expect any team-ups any time soon.

We are also introduced to more enemies.  These include the fomori, humans and animals possessed by banes (wyrm spirits), and skin-stealers, humans that performed foul rituals to gain the power of shape-shifters.

The core rulebook concludes with an excellent scenario, which introduces the main concepts of the game to new players.  It should only take a session or two to run, and each of the scenes are explained with how they should be run.  The core rulebook also offers guidance on how to run Werewolf: The Apocalypse.  There are a rich collection of antagonists and allies to inspire many new storylines.

W5 uses the same system as the fifth editions of Vampire: The Masquerade and Hunter: The Reckoning.  Making the rules system compatible with the other World of Darkness game offers intriguing crossover potential and presents a far more cohesive setting.

W5 contains everything needed to run a game of environmental apocalypse.  It is easy to understand, with key rules highlighted in standouts.  The fantastic artwork throughout the book, along with the evocative quotes and atmospheric stories, makes this a joy to read.

W5 is a long-awaited reboot of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, which introduces the game of environmental horror to a new generation and asks them; “When will you rage?”

Peter Ray Allison
Peter Ray Allisonhttp://www.peterallison.net
Science Fiction: the final frontier. These are the articles of the freelance journalist Peter Ray Allison. His continuing mission: to explore strange new realms of fiction, to seek out new genres and new visions of the future, to boldly geek where no one has geeked before.

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W5 uses the same system as the fifth editions of other World of Darkness games and presents a far more cohesive setting. W5 contains everything needed to run a game of environmental apocalypse.  It is easy to understand, with key rules highlighted in standouts.Werewolf: The Apocalypse – 5th Edition