Actual Play – Werewolf: The Apocalypse (9/21/2008)

We started up an old school Werewolf games on alternating Sundays. We got together two weeks ago to define our setting (Paris 1993), flesh it out some (creating a few locations of note as well as describing the supernatural powers that be) and making characters.Our first game was this Sunday. I haven’t talked to the other players to find out if they are comfortable with me using their names, so for this post I’ll use character names and we’ll see what the players think for future endeavors.Cast:
Storyteller
Francois (me)
Iron Fur
Ulfie
Sonya
Richard
Pale Fist / Bobby
Worm

Our goal was to introduce our characters, go through our first change, form a pack and then pick a totem.

What rocked:

The first change. We had short vignettes of each character before they changed doing something traumatic. One lupus (born wolf) was challenged for primacy of his pack, one got shot by a cop, and another got into a fight with bears. Of the homids (born human) we had gang violence, nearly being taken out by a SWAT team, overdosing on heroin, and having your masterpiece defaced by peers. Each of these scenes were charged with a lot of emotional energy and made for great lead-ins to our first changes.

The storyteller had each of us play NPC characters (most of whom would die) in each other’s scenes to antagonize the PC until he thought the PC was going to loose it and then would call “RAGE” and move onto the next character. After he had described all of our changes, he went back and allowed the player to narrate the rest of their first change.

We didn’t roll any dice, we just acted out what made sense. The wolf bites you, I shoot it, etc. and had a great time playing up ridiculous French accents. The gore level was very satisfactory and each scene was very telling about what was important to the new cub.

My character had no say whatsoever in who became Alpha. I’m playing a Bone Gnawer (the absolute runts of Werewolf society), so it is totally fitting that my character’s opinion would never be consulted. See below, however for how the selection didn’t work.

What could have been improved:

Having done it again, I would have asked the storyteller to let the player call “RAGE” when they wanted to. In my case I really wanted to go further before my character has his first change. I had envisioned him getting into a fight that he couldn’t handle and the scene was less intense than I was expecting. On the other hand there was a scene for the Uri when he was fighting two bears where it seemed like he didn’t have much to do until the first change happened, so he was waiting a bit. The scenes played out fine but I think they could have found more intensity is the player was the one to call out for their first change.

The totem picking processes was long and arduous. It didn’t feel at all in keeping with the spirit of the game. We all did blind votes for totems, eliminating ones we few or no votes until there were just a few to pick from. There is nothing democratic, nor nearly that political about Werewolf, so for me this just felt inappropriate. We’re done with it now, but were it possible, I’d try to devise some kind of mini-game to choose totems. I’m thinking something along the lines of Dual of Wits to establish who can pick the totem and the concessions that winner makes limits his choices. This would fit well with the “I am the leader, I choose, but I choose on behalf of my pack” mentality that Werewolf is all about. I don’t fault the storyteller for this, it is just an awkward part of the game.

Our alpha was picked for us, in a somewhat arbitrary manner. I think the storyteller didn’t want to game to drag into one endless contest of the characters asserting dominance over each other, but frankly the very first thing werewolves would do is establish a pecking order. I know its very non-plot advancing but I think it does worlds for character development. The trick is to keep the conflicts short and bring them down to the dice. “Okay, neither of you like each other, you fight, make some rolls, winner asserts dominance, done.” The rolls could be social, physical or whatever was appropriate. I definitely understand the desire to keep it fast (i.e. not go into actual combat as it takes too long) but I think some simple rolls to determine who wins would have done it. You let the looser narrate the first part and the winner narrates the end, and you call it done. If we had a few of those conflicts I think an alpha would have emerged of the player’s election. As is the result was that at one point one of the characters had the majority of the pack paying attention to him, so he became the pack leader. The decision was made by the Storyteller based on this criteria: Most of the pack was paying attention to him and he had resources to provide a home and food for the pack. Yep, those are good things to have in a leader, but as my character said “I would have liked to see more blood on his claws”.