[I asked Jess Hartley to put together a post about the Ajaba, and some of the changes we're considering making to a breed close to both our hearts. Take it away, Jess!]
Sometimes writing for a project like Werewolf: the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is pretty straightforward. As a game line develops, decades of game play tend to show the “rough spots” that can be filed down, the uber-popular aspects to crank up a notch, and the sacred bits that have to be retained out of a respect for nostalgia. While views vary on what exactly qualifies as the best, worst, and sacred bits of a game, the goals are simple – keep the best of the best, fix what’s broken, and cut the stuff that hasn’t stood the test of time.
But sometimes the way forward isn’t quite so clear. Take the Ajaba—a Changing Breed that first appeared as a sub-set of werecats in the Bastet Breedbook (BB). They were given a total of three pages of write up, which presented them mostly as an antagonist—the proverbial red-haired step child of the focal Breed. But in Player’s Guide to the Changing Breeds (PGttCB), the Ajaba were not only pulled out of the Bastet and given their own Breed, their entire raison d’etre was shifted away from “cullers of the herd and bringers of the rain” to mostly “The Garou of Africa”. And, to make things even more complicated, real world biologists had a lot of misconceived notions about hyenas until fairly recently, leading to a lot of inaccurate common knowledge information about the animals behind the shapeshifters. Some of this made it into the Breed write-ups, in some ways that might well deserve a second-look.
As a writer coming to the topic years down the line, the Ajaba are a knotty challenge. I’m trying to reconcile two very different manifestations of the Breed, as well as looking at the other aspects of Ajaba presented in the two source books that cover them, and see what really is the best, worst, and sacred bits of the Breed. I’ve got my own views on what should stay, what should go, and what should be tinkered with, but I’d love input from other gamers who have opinions on the Ajaba—where’s the gold, where’s the crap, and what can be tinkered with to make the werehyenas the best they can be for Changing Breeds 20th Anniversary?
Nature of the Breed
I’m leaning heavily towards keeping the PGttCB interpretation of the Ajaba as their own Changing Breed, although I’m cool with the idea that, at some point in history, they are/were seen by some as kind of a distasteful family member of the Bastet—those scruffy, unwashed cousins that show up at family reunions and end up drinking too much and laughing to loud, while they try to either borrow money or get distant family members involved in shady business deals.
The Bastet already have enough diversity with their broad variety of tribes and their global presence—I think the werehyena deserve to be their own group, with their own focus.
I really love the Cull the Herd, Bring the Rain role presented in BB, and am leaning to that, over the PGttCB version. While the BB role was presented mostly as an antagonistic one, it’s a vital part of nature and sustenance-level society. This isn’t something that’s directly covered by another Breed (although it dovetails nicely with the Ratkin.) Plus, there are Garou in Africa – the Red Talon-esque Kucha Ekundu, and while the Silent Striders have been barred from their homeland of Egypt, there’s still the rest of the continent. And, being Cullers of the Herd means that while Ajaba’s roots are in Africa, the Breed’s role for Gaia could be played anywhere in the world (other than in the parts of their homeland spiritually barred by the Simba’s magics).
This is the area that I am most conflicted on. Natural hyena society is very strongly female-dominated, vicious, and in general, male hyenas have a bad lot in life. This is reflected in the Ajaba, with high-Rage women leading packs, tribes, and the Breed in general. And I’m all for that. There’s no sense in making Ajaba werehyenas if they don’t have any of the bone-crunching, scruffy-necked, maniacal aspects of the animals they’re linked to.
That being said, from a purely game-creator perspective, gender-based mechanics really annoy me. I don’t want to be told that the gender of my character inherently defines them, and I don’t want to do that to my players. (Yes, the PGttCB version did offer a “reversed aspect” option, but it felt clunky to me—like someone pointed out the problem with gender-based mechanics, and this was added as a “fix option”.)
To counter-balance giving females higher Rage, PGttCB gave male Ajaba higher Gnosis. While from a politically correct perspective, this is very “fair”, it neither represents the dynamic of the actual hyena society, nor does it (in my opinion) mesh well with the Cullers of the Herd, “do what’s got to be done for the survival of the pack/tribe/Breed/ecosystem” nature that I’m leaning towards.
I’ve really been mulling over how to balance these aspects. I’d like to take the gender-mechanics out entirely, and make a high-rage, low-gnosis aspect, a high-gnosis, low-rage aspect, and a third that is more balanced. That way players can choose the story they want to tell through their character, regardless of their characters gender.
However, I’d want to give a nod to actual hyena pack dynamics (and the previously written material) by saying that historically, many more females manifested the high-rage option than males, which is what skewed Ajaba cultural dynamics to a matriarchal, war-focused society.
Does that fit with the Ajaba? Or do the gender roles need to be enforced with rigid mechanics to make the Ajaba feel “right”?