Friday, May 24, 2013

Late Review: Werewolf the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition

Werewolf the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition
By Bill Bridges, Satyros Phil Brucato, Brian Campbell, Jess Hartley, Matthew McFarland, Holden Shearer, Ethan Skemp, Eddy Webb, and Stewart Wilson
2012, 555 pages

            Werewolf the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition was the third book generated by CCP Games, Onyx Path Publishing, and White Wolf Game Studios as part of the rebirth of the Classic World of Darkness line on Kickstarter.  Along with Vampire the Masquerade’s 20th Anniversary Edition and the continuation of the Mage the Ascension Convention Books (Progenitors and N.W.O.), this volume represents the truth rebirth of the Classic World of Darkness.  While the Convention Books for Mage continue a line that went defunct when the Classic World of Darkness line ended in the early 2000’s and the publication of the Vampire 20th Anniversary book was a celebration of VtM, Werewolf’s 20th Anniversary Edition is a complete role playing book including both the lore and mechanics that old fans loved but also offers the hand holding and exposition needed to bring new fans into the Classic World of Darkness. 
The 5 forms of a werewolf
            Dark and moody settings mixed with contradictory and evocative lore were always the hallmarks of the Classic World of Darkness.  Those elements are front and center from the very first page of the introductory comic which sets the mood for the entire book.  Werewolf the Apocalypse is a game of violence and conflict.  The werewolves, or Garou as they refer to themselves, battle against the Wyrm, a spirit of pollution, violence, and corruption, that infects people and organizations.  The Garou see themselves as warriors that protect the wild places of the world from the further deprivations of greedy corporations and the CEOs possessed by the Wyrm.  With their ability to change between five separate forms, a regular human, a stronger human form, the classic werewolf, a dire wolf form, and a regular wolf, the Garou are built for combat.  However, as powerful as they are in combat, the Garou are fighting a losing battle against the Wyrm, and the final days are coming, perhaps even the end of the world.  The Garou’s battle against the Wyrm is not one that they can win with violence, and that makes them tragic heroes. 
            The legends of the Garou and their place in the World of Darkness are explained in the first chapter. This isn’t a list of the werewolves’ victories but rather a long list of the tragedies that befell them across the centuries.  Tribe fought Tribe.  Hubris led tribes into corruption.  All the while, the Garou lost ground to their real enemies.  In present day, the war continues, and in this time of conflict, the players enter the fray.  The complex nature of Werewolf the Apocalypse offers many different ways to play, whether it’s a fighting over dominance of a pack, politicking between different groups, or taking the fight to the Wyrm. 
            Players start as a member of one of the thirteen tribes.  Each tribe has its own views on the world.  The Red Talons, a tribe comprised wholly of werewolves who were born wolves, hate humans and blame them for the ills of the world.  The Glasswalker Tribe is more focused on technology and cities at the expense of their animal nature.  The Silver Fangs claim rulership over all the werewolf tribes, but their bloodlines have become weak from inbreeding with human royalty.  Furthermore, Garou are categorized by what phase of the moon they were born under, or Auspice, which determines their role in Garou society.  If a Garou was born under the new moon, he is a trickster, but if the Garou was born under the Full Moon, she is a warrior.  Lastly, a werewolf’s breed is determined by its parents.  The union of a human and a werewolf creates a Homid, the union of a wolf and a werewolf creates a Lupine, and the union of two werewolves create a deformed, sterile Metis.
            While all of this sounds complex, Werewolf the Apocalypse’s character creation is simpler than most other RPGs.  Characters can be made quickly and easily.  The hardest part of character creation is deciding on a concept and then choosing between  the large variety of tribes.  The breed, auspice, and tribe determine the character’s starting Gifts, special powers taught by spirits, that offer additional abilities, such a healing, greater damage, and commanding or summoning spirits.  There is a huge variety of Gifts available separated into six levels. 
            The mechanics of Werewolf the Apocalypse will be familiar to anyone who played it before or have experience with other White Wolf games, like Vampire or Changeling.  However, this is a system which focuses more on combat than the other White Wolf games.  A brutal and varied set of special attack maneuvers give players a huge list of options to tear their opponents apart with claws and teeth.  Low Blows, Curbstomping, and Wishboning are just some of the great examples of these ferocious attacks.  If you’re curious, Wishboning is when you grab your enemy by two of its limbs and pull.  (I wished that the Mage Kickstarter will happen soon.)
            While much of the action occurs in the physical world, the Garou also spend time in the spirit world communing with spirits of the wind or their ancestors, for example.  This spirit world, the Umbra, adds another level of depth and complexity.  With many different realms, spirit inhabitants, and rules, this is the one section of Werewolf that is overwhelming.  The spirit world offers a chance to explore all manner of possibilities from idyllic wilderness to polluted wastelands and even realms ruled by faeries.  Each offers a chance to tell a great story but requires a lot of planning on the part of the Storyteller to be used effectively. 
Actual page from the book for the Weresharks
            This book really shines in the chapters describing the allies and enemies of the Garou.  The allies section offers many more options for character creation including other changing breeds, shapeshifters based on animals besides wolves.  Werecats, weresharks, and the like populate this section, but they do not overwhelm the Garou.  Their sections give just enough information for them to be playable, but a future supplement will provide more detail.  Also provided are details on playing the three tribes that have gone extinct:  the Bunyip, Croatan, and White Howlers.  The enemies of the Garou are just as diverse.  Each enemy whether it is a corrupted spirit or a possessed human is given plenty of detail.  However, none of these are given specific stats, but rather suggested ranges and notes on creating creatures.  This allows individual Storytellers to craft appropriate encounters for their groups without being tied down by specific stats.  It also removes the need to have a huge variety of one type of enemy that each need a prewritten block of stats.  Perhaps the best part of this section is that many of these enemies are playable if the group decides they want to be the villains rather than heroes.  A troupe of corrupted werewolves called Black Spiral Dancers ravaging the sacred places of the Garou could make a great campaign. 
            Perhaps my favorite enemy of the Garou is the megacorporation Pentex who have their fingers in every evil, polluting corporation in the world, including Sunburst Computers which manufacturers shoddy mass produced PCs and the anarchist groups, Incognito (think Anonymous) which maliciously attacks and threatens their victims by hacking systems.  The conspiracy theory that an anarchist movement is really just a bigger part of a bigger, evil corporate empire speaks to the paranoia present in the World of Darkness and provides some excellent social commentary.  Also, Black Dog Games, the World of Darkness analogue of White Wolf Games, returns, but they have been bought out by a Scandinavian company and are currently working on an MMORPG that will hopefully dominate its users’ lives.  It’s good to see that the writers have a great sense of humor still.
            As good as this book is, it’s not perfect.  Perhaps the most annoying problem is a pair of typos in the Example of Play section.  Apparently, this was brought over from an earlier edition without being proofread.  In the 20th Anniversary Editions, when a player rolls a ten, it is counted as two successes, but in previous editions, that ten was rolled again for a chance at an additional success.  The Example of Play uses the older rule.  This error should have been caught and corrected before the PDFs were made available, especially because this is supposed to be an example of how to run the game. 
            A more general issue with the game is the lack of Level 6 Gifts for every Tribe.  While it’s rare that characters will reach that level of play, the clans that do have access to Level 6 Gifts are potentially much better.  Every clan should have been given at least one Gift at this level as it would improve game balance at high level play. 

Werewolf the Apocalypse’s 20th Anniversary Edition is nearly overwhelming in its thorough and loving resurrection of Werewolf the Apocalypse.  Every aspect of Werewolf is brought into this massive book including all the major tribes, the extinct tribes such as the Croatan, all the changing breeds, their Wyrm tainted enemies the Formori and Black Spiral Dancers, and even the Skin Dancers who murder and skin werewolves to become werewolves themselves.  While maintaining the broad scope of the 20th Anniversary Edition line (with Mage 20th coming soon), Werewolf’s 20th Anniversary Edition is more than a love letter to fans, it’s an encyclopedic volume that gathers much of 2nd Edition and Revised Edition into one book.  Not every Gift is present and not every detail is included, but the developers and writers have chosen from the multitude of previously published White Wolf products and included the best and more important aspects of the Werewolf canon.   
Whether you are new to Werewolf the Apocalypse or an old fan, you will find this book a great, if dense read.  While a physical copy of the book is expensive, starting at $49.99 (US Dollars), gamers won’t need to purchase any other books.  The PDF is only 29.99 and discounts are available if you purchase both a PDF and physical book.  Everything is included within this expansive tome including tons of potential enemies, a great section on running a chronicle, lots of options for characters, and a gloriously brutal combat section.  If you are looking for a new RPG to play, I highly recommend this system.  And personally, I cannot wait to run my first Werewolf the Apocalypse game. 
Werewolf the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is available for purchase at DrivethruRPG as either a PDF or physical book.  The physical book is offered in three versions: a black & white version, a standard color version, or a deluxe color version. 


  1. im waiting on my print copy to come in the mail. the art in this one is pretty amazing, especially the stuff for the tribe splash pages (white howlers omgomgomg). definitely up there with pathfinder for my favorite art in an RPG book. soooo dope.

  2. I just got my print copy today! It was delivered on friday but because I couldn't pick up then, it sat in the office of my apartment complex all weekend.
    It's a really great book and I'm looking forward to the White Howlers Tribe book coming out soon. I love the Pathfinder art too, but the W20 Art is all over the place as far as styles since it draws from 3 previous editions. The Pathfinder book had one style that worked really well with their system and the Pathfinder setting

  3. both white howlers tribebook and the changing breeds books are on my must buy list. agree about the art styles but they do both have one thing in common; just looking at that art makes me wanna play!

  4. I don't disagree. The art is amazing! They really picked the best stuff of the last 20 years.
    I sooooo can't wait for Changing Breeds to come out. I really want to see what they add to all the different Fera. New Gifts, Rites, etc. But the book I'm really looking forward to is the Clan Books for V20. I have always loved the clanbook series (which is why I review them for my blog) and I want to see how they're updated.

  5. Pour les Francophones : Le livre est actuellement en financement participatif pour la version francophone sur le site Ulule et ce jusqu'au 5 mai 2016. La version de base est à 60e couverture cartonnée 4mm et intérieur couleur sur papier satiné. Sera offert aux participants pour le moment : La version PDF des livres "commandés" lors du financement (ici vendue), un set de dés, et vingt feuilles de persos. N'hésitez pas non plus à faire passer le mots aux éventuels intéressés