Friday, September 1, 2017

RPG Review: Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition

WtF 2E
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Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition
Written By: Christopher Allen, David Brookshaw, N. Conte, Jim Fisher, David A Hill Jr, Matthew McFarland, John Newman, Leath Sheales, Travis Stout, Stew Wilson, Filamena Young
Published By: Onyx Path Publishing (company site)
Review By: J.L. Duncan

This is a review the portable document format (PDF) of Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition, which is available in PDF as well as in full color, hard cover print. Either product can be purchased at drivethrurpg.com and rpgnow.com. To assist with saving space, Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition will occasionally be shortened to WtF 2Ed.

Onyx Path Publishing (OPP) is the licensed publisher of White Wolf (WW) products and has been since 2012. I queried the company on a complete lark, inspired by the quality of the art: which for this book is absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t till I clicked off the first page that I realized that this product (OPP) was once that (WW) product.

Honestly, I had some trouble with this review. This is the (second, no) third draft. I usually don’t draft. When I finished reading Wtf 2Ed, I wasn’t evaluating it fairly. What happened?

Well, my first problem was that I have a habit of perceiving RPGs in a bubble. Sometimes this approach is works, other times (like for this game) it doesn’t. The second problem (upon thoughtful reflection) is that RPGs are not meant for just reading or case in point, reviewing. RPGs are meant for gaming. Read, comprehended and played. Certainly, the middle one took more time, than most games require.

The main issue with Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition is that the beginning text assumes familiarity. This fact put me a bit off my normal review talents because obviously I was unfamiliar, and neither did this situation provide a simple read. Not even my vague 90’s recollections of the White Wolf games I played back in the day could assist me. To make long story short (too late) comprehension required more than one pass.

My criticism of this RPG is it’s a bit over sophisticated. The confusion starts at the table of contents with how the chapters are titled and continues through with the introduction of vocabulary which is presumed the reader already understands the significance of. It’s not that the game doesn’t define itself, it actually does it very well-it’s about how it goes about defining itself.

While the writing itself is excellent and the art is spectacular, the organization and layout is far from intuitive. I saw this as a problem concerning new storytellers (or GMs) and players. Then again maybe I’m being unfair, as WtF 2Ed won’t be played in a bubble; it will be played with friends. This sophisticated approach is clearly beneficial to those already familiar with Onyx Path Publishing and the new World of Darkness line. To that customer base, I’m certain it appeals. Based on the jaw dropping quality of this product how could it not? Take it with a grain of salt and let’s get to it.

At its core, Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition is a story and character driven RPG. While there might be an argument that all RPGs are character driven or story driven etc. etc. few games in comparison provide the appropriate amount tools for this to be true. Though I hesitate to say WtF 2Ed is a sandbox, given the depth of detail concerning werewolf mythology, as well as in how it coincides with character play, it certainly can or perhaps should be utilized as such.
  
The mythos of Wtf 2Ed is given in fragments throughout the book, which cover what the werewolf is and how it comes to being. Concerning character, each werewolf is a member of the pack and the pack must hunt. Being a part of the pack and the hunt is the werewolf’s or Uratha’s nature and these dual drives create the story building engine for this RPG.

Auspices are in relation to the face of the moon upon the characters first change to the wolf and outline the characters personality, goals and desires. Auspices are (think character class) The Visionary, The Walker Between, The Stalker, The Spirit Master and The Warrior. Each of these is interesting as well as very distinctive. In regards to character mechanics, each Auspice starts with a specific grouping of gifts, skills, renown and benefits. The tail wags the wolf in this section (a compliment) as everything to do with the individual character builds, keeps to its own and will so in gameplay in regards to dice rolls and mechanics.

Tribes provide a comprehensive subset of culture and philosophy for the characters, the RPG provides five, with the sixth entry involving those who choose to go without a tribe association. Most likely is that the characters will all be in the same tribe and same lodge/pack though it is certainly possible for them not to be. Whichever culture is selected to presumably play is very important. So much so, that it will steer the scope of the game or chronicle. Each tribe is just as diverse as the next, allowing a great deal of variation in regards to the sort of RPG going to be played or the type of story going to be told. I’ll let the game speak for itself:

“Some werewolves turn their back on the duty of Father Wolf. Some remove the marks of Mother Luna upon their spirit, following those Firstborn who ignore their duties, calling themselves the Pure. Others try to ignore the call of the hunt entirely, turning their back not just on Mother Luna and Father Wolf but on their need to hunt. These Ghost Wolves try to ignore what they are, embracing a life that has can never be the same.” ( Pg. 33)

While Auspices cover what the character is and Tribes provide a culture, Lodges are the main setting piece for the how and why the characters interact with the game world. To put it shortly lodges are the finger on the bow, on the gift of the setting. Though the lodges sections are brief when you combine these three elements the picture of the game you want to play comes together quite nicely.

Creating a character with WtF 2Ed is involving without being too time consuming and a lot of fun.

Step one is creating a concept for the character and determining three aspirations. These are exactly what they seem. Create a concept and a list of what the werewolf character aspires to.

Steps two through four are about traits (attributes), skills (generic) and skill specialties (specifics). Nine traits are separated equally into three categories; trait categories are mental, physical and social. In regards to game mechanics the strength of each trait as well as the proficiency in skills are represented by a dot on a character sheet. Each dot represents a D10.

With character creation each of the nine traits receives one dot to start. The player allocates additional dots to each of these three categories, and then distributes the dots based on preference or character concept. In other words, what the player considers the most important trait category receives the most dots to distribute-the least important fewer dots.

Skills are grouped by the same three categories as traits and the distribution of dots follows the exact same model as the player decided for traits. The trait with most dots receives the most skills selections. Each character receives three specialties to start the game. For instance, a character has three dots in the drive skill but has selected a specialty in motorcycle, provides the player with an additional dot (or D10). When (or if) required to apply a driving check three D10s are rolled, if driving a motorcycle four D10s are rolled.

Steps five six and seven are about rounding out the character. Step five is choosing an auspice, tribe and lodge. Steps six and seven are about distributing dots for Merits and Advantages. Merits reveal the characters allies, holdings, and experiences while Advantages is a matter of looking over your character sheet and calculating.

In regards to game mechanics WtF 2Ed is all about the D10s. In all honesty I despise just about any D10 system I’ve come across except the one used here. While I’m a critical pundit concerning the level of crunch with most RPGs, WtF 2Ed does it well. Specifically, the skills section is an excellent example as each skill is listed, given a general description, and provides an actual breakdown of how it will work mechanically. Each One! Crunch wise this RPG does not outline a huge list of possible events and provide rules so I would put it on the lighter side, but with how skills are presented in the hands of an experienced storyteller this is not a problem.

To conclude, Werewolf the Forsaken 2nd Edition captures the essence of what a story building engine should be, without deteriorating into the common trap of having more sand than box. Character and Setting elements are very detailed, yet the writing allows for a lot of wriggle room in the sort of game that can be played. Not many RPGs even attempt to pull this off, let alone do it successfully. Though this RPG is a bit too sophisticated for my tastes overall I’m impressed. The old World of Darkness line is definitely in capable hands.

Disclosure: This review is property of Kenzer & Company and republished here with expressed permission.

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