Jess on Ajaba

[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.

Roles

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).

Society

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”?

  55 comments for “Jess on Ajaba

  1. The Rusty
    October 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Ananasi had a similar mechanic, where the shapeshifted states of males and females COULD be different. This was a reflection of the fact that in most spider species, the females are huge compared to the males. Hyenas show a similar (though less extreme) gender dimorphism.

    Possibly something along those lines; make the Ajaba a war-oriented changing breed, but allow an option for females to be somewhat better at hurting things in their non-human shapes.

    As for society? Easy; just write in that the breed generally recognizes females as being in charge. It doesn’t need mechanics, really, any more than the Black Furies need special mechanics among the Garou.

    I liked the Dusk / Dawn auspice system in PGttCB. If you want to preserve the idea of four auspice roles, simply add Day / Night as well. I ask, no, [i]beg[/i] one favor, though. Don’t fall back to “this auspice is just like (Garou Auspice).” I don’t know how much space is allowed for the Ajaba, but unless we’re getting an Ajaba breedbook out of the kickstarter, this is it for them, and they deserve some strong detail on what makes them unique.

  2. finaliteration
    October 25, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I think the generalization option is the smoothest one. Strict gender roles being supported in the “players eye view” is probably just a bunch of arguments waiting to happen.

    I think your question really gets answered in the “screw you hippie game design” post from a week or so ago. People who insist on the strictest interpretation are going to insist on it, and people who want flexibility are going to find space for it.

    That being said, in my opinion, don’t slurry down the unfair truth of the Hyena gender situation. Not every social structure is balanced and equitable. Most especially in WoD.

    Birth predisposition is already prevalent in the setting, so I don’t think a well handled gender role discussion for a breed is out of the question.

  3. sistercoyote
    October 25, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I like the idea of generalizing the aspects (one high-rage, low-gnosis, and one low-rage, high-gnosis, and one balanced), and saying that *in general*, historically, female Ajaba have tended to manifest the first more often, male the second more often, and a fairly even mix of genders in the third.

    That allows you to have cultural effects that mirror biological knowledge of hyenas, while still giving tons of freedom to players. Someone wants to play a high-rage male (or a high-gnosis female)? Sure; it’s an average, not a restriction. Your whole pack is full of low-rage females? Not a problem–again, statistics don’t bear out perfectly in small populations. Heck, with that spin, an individual GM could even take the tack that high rage in females and high gnosis in males is cultural (that is, the Ajaba culture emphasizes high-rage females, so they seem more obvious) but that the actual numbers are more balanced.

    In other words, it gives you a distinct cultural/animal-society flavor without really limiting players and GMs, which seems perfect to me.

  4. Conor
    October 25, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    I played in a Mind’s Eye Theater game that focused heavily on Fera. I was playing a Ratkin (Mama Rat is where it’s at!) and my character did pal around for a while with a female Ajaba warrior based entirely on the writeup in the Bastet book. This Ajaba character was very much dominant, fierce and accurate to nature/lore. She was also a huge pain in the bottom to roleplay with.

    I don’t see much of a difference between “women tend to be leaders in this society” and “Silver Fangs tend to be leaders in this society.” Any time you give semi-divine right to leadership to a certain group of PCs/Players you end up with the same set of problems.

    Still, this is part of the setting and part of what makes the game dramatic to play in. I wouldn’t take it out, but I would make an attempt to establish a role for both genders. Perhaps you could make it similar to the difference between Lupus and Homid breeds? Lupus have a higher Gnosis (read as: women have higher Rage) but their culture and upbringing restrict what sort of skills they’re likely to have learned. Perhaps the males, since they’re less physically powerful and less aggressive, are more likely to have relationships with members of other Fera species? Maybe they can learn gifts from other Fera groups because of this tendency, which could be one of the reasons the Ajaba are associated with the Bastet.

  5. Ronald Conner
    October 26, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I think rage and gnosis are maybe too heavy handed a section to make those distinctions.
    It’s a bit like saying “all women start with Arete 2,” Or “Elder vampires only embrace women.”
    We spend so much time distancing outselves from sexism in gaming it almost seems odd to make space for it now.

    I can see the sexism but i’m not seeing the resolution apparent. I also was a big fan of the dawn/dusk aspects compared to the rather sparse options in the BB.

    Where garou auspice roles are really drawn from more traditionaly rpg archetypes it seems that you would need to work within something of the same paradigm in order to classify the Ajaba without rehashing the same tropes again.

    i’ve always gotten a lot of mileage out of the “Gaia’s {blank}” explaination for the various breeds. It didn’t make a lot of sense for the ajaba to be part of Gaia’s eyes when they were part of the bastet.

    Maybe that’s one of the things that needs a new polish. What more basic function do they serve in the spiritual ecosystem? How has that changed since the wyrm’s corruption?

    Are they Gaia’s Tears? Gaia’s Limbic system?

  6. October 26, 2012 at 2:38 am

    I gotta do some reading-up on the Ajaba to give a real answer, however… there are other Breeds/Tribes that have similar unbalanced groups, or don’t have them at all.

    Then again, the idea of W20 is “Don’t make it impossible, but you can make it harder” to make character concepts that go against the norm. So maybe genders have a different group of stats, or abilities… but maybe there’s a “Merit” that allows gender to be better in some way? Or a “organization” that gives them that bonus, but hinders them in some other way? Then again, you still can’t play a male non-metis Black Fury, or a fertile Metis either. Still, with making other “requirements” from the Tribes and making them more “taboo” than mechanically necessary, I think that creating some way for characters to still be outside of the norm, but perhaps having to pay for it in some way wouldn’t be so bad.

    • October 26, 2012 at 2:50 am

      Though, I do have another question: If the Changing Breeds are going to be listed in W20 on their own separate splash pages, with the Ajaba be listed as its own Breed, or with the Bastet? If they’re going to be presented as their own Breed, what sort of decisions have already been made about them for W20? Maybe we should/can see that before we make these decisions? *peeks over at Rich*

      • Ronald Conner
        October 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

        I think this is for W20: Changing breeds and not for pages in the actual W20 mainbook.

        • October 27, 2012 at 10:24 am

          Correct. But the W20 book will also have pages for the Changing Breeds (W20 KickStarter Update #9 shows the spread for the Rokea, for instance.)
          So if the Ajaba are treated as their own unique Breed (as they were for PGttCB, as opposed to BB), then they’ll likely already have an apx. 2-page spread of information about the Breed. And unless we’re going to have another issue where one book contradicts another (this IS, after all, a “celebration of all things W:tA”, and what’s more nostalgic than wondering why White Wolf books so massively contradict one another), then they should at least match up in fundamentals… and right now, it sounds like many of those fundamentals that should be presented on those pages (if they’re supposed to match up with W20 Changing Breeds) are still up in the air.

          So, yes, while Jess’ comments are aimed at W20CB, I wonder if some of those decisions are already made, or if it’s written so ambiguously (maybe the whole Changing Breed section in W20 is written FROM the perspective of the Garou and not truthful/factual to the Breed itself?) that it can be quite pliable enough to mold into whatever Jess wants.

          • Asmodai
            October 27, 2012 at 9:48 pm

            Actually the Ajaba were always supposed to be a breed of their own. They were just presented in Bastet as antagonists for the cats and due to the fact that they were on their way to extinction.

            So it’s not like anything is changed by giving them a writeup, as Hyenas were never supposed to be a part of the Bastet “tribes”.

  7. Austin Clark
    October 26, 2012 at 2:50 am

    It’s difficult because our first instinct is to gender-reverse roles, but the truth of the matter is, in the wild make Hyenas don’t do anything special.

    However, they do tend to break away from the clan more often. This is a good thing; it prevents inbreeding. My suggestion is to play it straight up the middle. Males can be warriors, mystics, and what-have-you, but in the end female Ajaba rule. That’s the way Gaia made them.

    BUT, if you want to give male Ajaba a unique role, make them the tribe’s messengers and emissaries. After all, females are bigger and stronger, and thus the clan needs them more. Males can be spared to carry messages and keep the tribe united, which it needs now more than ever.

    • Tyler
      May 30, 2014 at 12:34 am

      This is how I’d like to see it done!

  8. Scathach
    October 26, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Like pretty much all shifters, Ajaba are a blend of human and animal, so while the animal’s society can and should have a strong influence on Shifter society, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be the only influence. Human gender roles have shifted over the millennia; it’s possible that the same could happen in Shifter society.

  9. Fox Blackhorn-Delph
    October 26, 2012 at 3:44 am

    I think that maintaining a female heirarchy is important and support having female Ajaba having stronger physicals in their non human forms, it’s what they are. It helps distinguish them from the other Fera and helps to reinforce the animalistic side of their Changing Breed.

    That said, as the Changing Breeds are as mentioned a mixture of animal and human, there is no reason why there can’t be a conflict between the patriarchal values of human society clashing internally with the matriarchal structure of the changing breed. I think that by keeping the females in a role that seeks to dominate Ajaba society through their strength creates not only a reinforcement of the nature of being a werehyena, but offers wonderful roleplay opportunity for males that desire a stronger role in their society to find it elsewhere.

    Just because the females of the breed can squash you like a bug, doesn’t mean that you’re any less of an Ajaba. Just requires a male character to be even more vicious and cunning to get the upper hand and attempt to rise to prominence, or perhaps even work to promote a sense of equity between the sexes. By creating that dimorphism, I feel it encourages people to think of the other routes to renown, but in the end a couple traits difference is not prohibitive either way.

    Just my two cents.

    • Fox Blackhorn-Delph
      October 26, 2012 at 3:49 am

      I think that actual difference in form is a better way to distinguish than using rage v. gnosis personally. That makes it more of a natural advantage toward roles in those forms, without rage or gnosis which I’ve always felt more deeply inform the spiritual direction.

    • Patrick
      November 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      “I think that maintaining a female heirarchy is important and support having female Ajaba having stronger physicals in their non human forms, it’s what they are.”

      Then I think it’s important for male humans in the world of darkness to have stronger physicals than female humans.

      Do you see how silly that is?

  10. Nathan Henderson
    October 26, 2012 at 3:46 am

    I don’t have a problem with gender differences in mechanics with non-humans. If you have a problem with gender making a difference in your character’s role/makeup, then there are plenty of other Changing Breeds where that isn’t the case. For Ajaba, it’s part of their nature, and something that makes them distinctly interesting.

    That said, if others feel it’s a problem, you could always have it be the inbuilt mechanic for Hyena-born Ajaba, and then have the Homid Ajaba defy those principles, with more equalized rage and gnosis regardless of gender.

  11. That Seth Guy
    October 26, 2012 at 4:45 am

    I would say that gender-based form bonuses make some sense if you want to enforce the gender roles of hyenas. Have female Ajabas be stronger in their forms, males weaker. Let Rage and Gnosis be based on their equivalent of auspice, if there is one.

    Otherwise, stress the matriarchal society but leave the mechanical aspect neutral. It’s up to the players and ST to play out the culture. For every big buff bad boy, there are multiple massive muscled mean mamas up the chain of command to keep them in line.

    • Patrick
      November 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      Why is it that we only ever see gender-based stat differences in role playing games in species where the women excel? Everyone would be up in arms with “male humans get +1 str”.

  12. Cathtice
    October 26, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Along with the male/female stat differences used as an optional rule for the Ananasi, there’s also the Merits/Flaws options offered in Dark Ages (another setting known for its cultural gender bias which we cheerfully ignore for playability). Why not offer optional ‘Second Class Citizen’-style Flaws for anyone who wants to play a male fighting to overcome the stigma of his birth in a matriarchal society? It’s a valid story to tell, if someone wants to try it.

    That way, you have the option of making the differences either physical, social, both or neither as an ST and as a player; with mechanics that support the development of a common, albeit gender-flipped, story.

  13. BluegrassGeek
    October 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I’ve always found it best to leave the mechanics alone and let gender differences be a “flavor” thing for players to role-play (or not) as they choose.

    That said, your three aspects idea sounds interesting and could give a nice option to players.

  14. duckula
    October 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Actual biology doesn’t *HAVE* to translate to shapeshifters – in Wolves the leader is the alpha male and we got the Black Furies don’t we? The Bunyip were garou, and Hyenas are closer to cats than thylacines were to wolves.

    I like the idea of female ajaba having more rage, and males more gnosis – it’s a good nod to mimorphism. I’m OK with the fact that historically the Ajaba have been led by a Queen – perhaps you can add some drama with a story of how, now that they’re desperate, they may be led by a KING, and what the elders of the tribe – that are still alive – think about that.

    I hate the idea of they becoming their own breed – we have to many of them already!!! After all this years I still can’t deal with corax being vulnerable to gold, don’t get me started about the fetish eggs – and you will never see a weredinosaur in my games (BTW dinosaurs WEREN’T reptiles – again, Hyenas are closer to cats than T-rexes were to crocodiles! I love were-oriental dragons tho ^^). Wil werehyenas be vulnerable to Tin? Copper? Plastic? Poo? aggh!!!

    I like them best as Bastet – the story of how blacktooth went and found their Yava, and used it to destroy the tribe, is very compelling – it makes blacktooth very interesting, and gives the Yava a lot of weight in a very real, very recent-news way.

    • Blue Fox
      October 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Actually the leader is usually the one that can hold the position in Wolf pack and gender has no say in it except for the fact that among canines Males are usually larger and more aggressive.

      • ceiswyn
        October 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm

        Right. So where are the special rules to address sexual dimorphism in the patriarchal society that is wolf packs? Where the alpha male has to be able to dominate the alpha female in order to breed with her?

        Where are the special rules to balance out the gender-imbalance in our male-dominated human society, come to that?

        It seems that special rules to ‘balance’ the genders only come into play when it is the male who is disadvantaged in the society. And that, I got problems with.

        • Patrick
          November 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm

          ^this

    • Adamant Siaka
      October 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      Actually, under current taxonomical classification, dinosaurs are most definitely reptiles, falling under the Class Reptilia. As are birds, strictly speaking, since they’re a form of theropod dinosaur.

  15. Laughing Hyena
    October 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    “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.”

    Innocent Killers by Jane Goodall was written in 1970. Must often ignored was the work of Hans Kruuk’s study on hyenas. It seems that most people’s views on hyenas are colored by “The Lion King” rather than what biologists have been saying since the 70′s. Also the current leading zoologist champion on hyenas right now is Kay E. Holekamp.

    One of the things she discovered was that female hyenas take care of their cubs much longer than other animals. That is because it takes a long time for the cub’s teeth to develop to the point to be able to crush bones.
    The order of how hyenas eat should be taken into effect. First to eat are the alpha females, then the secondary females, then the cubs, and lastly, the males. And yes, male cubs get to eat first before adult males.
    Thus the Ajaba should place importance on cubs and PCs that are starting out. Male cubs can gain some quick renown, but as they get older it should be harder to gain it.

    And spotted hyenas are considered to be more intelligent then gorillas. And they hunt way more than they actually scavenge. The creature that scavenges a lot and hardly hunts it’s own prey? The male African lion…

    You should also consider some mythology/folklore on hyenas too. Werehyenas “bouda” are associated with blacksmiths 100%. It has to do with the mastery of “iron” and the usage of it over other tribes. Thus the Ajaba are into fetish making and probably not well liked among the changelings. As of well, the ghosts or spirits that are weak to iron.

    “the Breed’s role for Gaia could be played anywhere in the world”
    Easy; India, Asia and Greece (rare): Striped hyenas.

    Also noted there’s a small clan of captive spotted hyenas in Berkeley, CA. They were taken away before Black Tooth’s slaughter in Africa. So there might be a Ajaba or two under the Sept of the Western Eye’s well… eye.

  16. ana mizuki
    October 26, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    The gender based mechanics have never bothered me either, it is simply taking the societal roles of the breed and changing them to mechanics that help remind the players of the spotted hyena’s gender. Like breeds, it might not have to be the auspice factor, either.

    Now, as for the role, aren’t Ratkin all ready the ‘cullers of the herd’? Maybe Ajaba could be more like the Grondir in that they eat taint?

  17. HOD
    October 26, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    This is the way I see it:

    If gender based mechanics are OK for the Hyena (with females being stronger/dominant), why is it not OK for all the other Changing breeds, most of which are of species where males tend to be larger/dominant.

    Since neither Garou nor Gurahl (both species where males are generally larger than females) have any difference mechanically between genders, my conclusion must therefore be that there should likewise be no such difference for the Ajaba.

    Consistency is the key.

    That said, I see no problem with Ajaba society being portrayed as strictly female-dominated, just like a certain Garou Tribe.

  18. HOD
    October 26, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Also, I really liked the role of the Ajaba in the Bastet book. The PGttCB writeup was just meh compared.

    The way I see it, it’s not like the Ratkin. They are there to cull the other animals (in this age, that would be humans), to keep them from spreading too fast. The Ajaba were there to prune the other changers by taking out the weak ones, quite a different matter.

    Giving them the role of Grondr would just be odd, and go against the whole “this is one of the reasons why the Wyrm’s corruption is spreading”. If the cleanup crew was still around, one would think the problem wasn’t as bad.

  19. Laughing Hyena
    October 27, 2012 at 1:06 am

    @HOD
    “The Ajaba were there to prune the other changers by taking out the weak ones, quite a different matter.”

    Hey…Isn’t that the Nagah’s role already?
    What about making the dead, stay dead? In addition to getting rid of a body by even crushing and eating the bones till nothing is left; what about being able to get rid of the spirit completely as well?
    This could also play into the Iron blacksmiths are werehyenas folklore bit too. As iron is used to ward away evil spirits.

    • Yiodan
      October 27, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      Gotta say that one is very nice! Would indeed let the Ajaba have their own truly unique flavor.

    • HOD
      November 3, 2012 at 5:25 am

      No, the Nagah’s role is to take out those who betray Gaia.

      Being weak isn’t betraying Gaia per se, it’s just not doing the best job of it.

      That said, I find your idea intriguing as well. What if they instead of stepping sideways into the penumbra, just went straight to the dark Umbra ? Alternatively had rites that did that. It would make them quite unique, and make them very attractive allies for the Striders, what with all their spirit problems.

    • Erinys
      May 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      Ooh, alright that is one awesome and unique idea. The ghost and vampire hunters of the Changing-Breeds. Enforcing Gaia’s cycle of life.

  20. Yiodan
    October 27, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Okay, i’ll chime in. Here’s my view. I’ll break it into easy to digest bits.

    1. Physical, not meta-physical.
    It’s a gender thing that is not mystical. So, I don’t think Rage and Gnosis should be gender dependant. I think it would be okay to just leave the stats unaffected by gender and suggest females characters to be a little more focused on either physical or leadership oriented statistic, while males should suggested to be more focused on surviving on the edge, à la Bone Gnawer. Living off the scraps on the females, so, stealth, larceny, dexterity and such being a general focus.
    –> This is similar to how certain tribes, breeds and auxpices are clearly more oriented towards certains stats, (like ahrouns and battle stats) while still allowing the individual player, ST and troupe to easily enforce or ignore it however they see fit. It also makes it entirely possible to create a concept that doesn’t fit without breaking anything. A lost cub that was brought up with a strong father figure amongst humans could very well be dominant and buff and it would still work.

    2. Back it up with a feel and setting.
    Almost every breed and tribes all homid centric except the red talons. So, why not use that for a unique feel and have the animal born Ajaba be historically important? Say that the population of the Ajaba was always rather low in general due to being hounded by the Bastet. It would be entirely possible that animal-born Ajaba could have been more numerous than the human or metis population. This could easily explain why in the past, culturaly, females had been mostly dominant in most packs and septes. I’d go so far as to name several Ajaba “queens” dominating the breed for a while before another female took her down. Then, I’d mention a few homid males that managed to stand out and tried to create a change in the breed, without receiving any help from their animal born male counter-part who were always raised dominated.
    Okay, but how do we keep that playable and fun for all genders? With Black Tooth. Recent history has changed that state of affairs. The war with BT has changed the face of the Ajaba breed forever. By eliminating be best and brightest generals he’s also culling off the most dominant and powerfull females of a breed with an already low population; restoring a balance in numbers and strength between both genders. Male Homids, born in male dominant societies, stand up and start taking leadership roles and the females can’t manage that situation at the same time as dealing with BT and so the mouvement gained ground.
    –> This makes it entirely possible for both gender be physical or dominant characters while the setting still supports the female dominant feel as much as the troupe wants. It just depends on how much the situation has changed at the exact location they decide to play. Of course, 90% of the animal born males would remain submissive to females, due to how they were born and raised unless born in captivity or something.

    3. Embed it in the book:
    By putting it in several locations in the book without showing it down the reader’s throat, that aspect can be reminded a few times to make sure it’s at least considered by players and it can feel as a very real part of the breed. My personal suggestion would be make it a “feature” of the species translated into some merits and flaws. See it like “Bird Like Manerism” for corax or the one that makes Rokeas fall asleep when flipped on their backs. Those would be entirely optional “quicks” which related to the animal that may affect your character. Quick exemple:

    “Lazy – 3 Pts Flaw
    Amongst natural hyana populations, males tends to be fairly inactive members of society. Males do mostly nothing while leaving females to do most of the work. This traits has been passed over to your male character who would be perfectly happy if he could be left alone for his naps and just live off the scraps of what the others left behind. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well amongst shapeshifters in war and and driven by a Gaïa given cause, your packmates often have to stir you into motion and this can make them angry at you. If only they weren’t so loud when they got mad, you might manage to they some shut eye.
    For females characters this is a 4 pts flaw. Because the whole of Ajaba society expects you to be strong, active and determined, no one leaves you alone. Ever. Not only your packmates, but almost every Ajaba you known judges you and are frequently angry at you for being so lazy.”

  21. Asmodai
    October 27, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    If we are getting to readdress the Ajaba, i would love to see the sexual dimorphism and a better idea about how the actual animals work with the W20 Ajaba. They have always been a breed whose fate in biology, fluff and rules was rather lackluster. Making them a matriarchal group of Fera would give them a lot of character and flavour that couldn’t be replicated by the other breeds. I would love to see this going beyond Revised’s Rage/Gnosis thing.

    Giving them a proper reason to exist will also make them into a better group of shifters and give us a richer setting for the African games. I sincerely hope we’re not losing the Ajaba population upswing and the Ahadi to the return of Black Tooth in W20 Changing Breeds.

    Besides i’ve always found it kinda funny that people seem to think that the Garou are very egalitarian. Just count the number of leaders that are male compared to the female leaders and you’ll see just how equal they are :P. And that’s even without counting the fact that most human males and wolf males are patriarchal by their upbringing.

  22. Asmodai
    October 28, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Also, a little request. Can we actually have Ajaba outside sub-saharan Africa this time around? There are Hyenas in North Africa, in the Middle East, western Asia and most of India. It would be nice if something was at least said about these quite likely different subsets of the Ajaba.

    The North African Ajaba are probably closely tied to the nomadic peoples and likely clash with some of the Striders. The Middle East is ripe with stories and a shifter faction outside the insane Ananasi, House Wiseheart and the Striders would be nice to see. Of course, it might be quite intriguing to see how they work out in India and if they interact with the Hengeyokai or keep to themselves.

    For the purposes of my games i adapted that stuff and played with the local myths to give them their own cultural identity, but it would be quite nice if this was addressed this time around.

  23. bloodycelt
    October 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Life isn’t fair, I actually think that the Ajaba as a rule should be mostly female similar to the Black Furies, there may be a few odd male Ajaba, but most men are kinfolk.

    Since like the Furies, there is nothing mechanical preventing a male Ajaba, its just not the norm, however any ST or player can change that without needing to change mechanics.

    Vampire has the Daughters of Cacophony, and nobody has a problem with their gender restriction.

    • bloodycelt
      October 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm

      And furthermore, if there is an update to kinfolk:unsung heroes, you have inspiration in the form of the sad lot of male ajaba kinfolk.

  24. SoulDetective
    October 28, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    In my opinion, we are all adults here. Well, most of us. The idea that nature and the mystical might itself be a little sexually biased somtimes isn’t inherently bad, the chips just fall where they may. In wolves, you have a predominantly gender-neutral society. In Garou, most tribes that come from Euro stock have quite a large patriarchal structure. Enough so that the rare matriarchal structures, such as the Black Furies, floated to the top as a niche for their people embodying the struggles and emphasis on women. Some might write that off as sexist, from the game mechanic mindset used in World of Warcraft, where there are no differences in stats between males and females and everything must be equal in order to keep people from feeling oppressed, suppressed, marginalized or excluded.

    The Ananasi take is that the females often have greater strength and size, due to their role in the reproductive act. But this rule is handwaved as only suggested, and you can ignore it if you please. No different from the Optional Tribe Weaknesses for the Garou. But the Ananasi are a reasonable people, to a fault, and they don’t consider themselves matriarchal. They consider themselves independent of eachother, save Queen Anansa, who is in fact unknowable and spirity, but handwaved as female. They’re otherwise gender neutral in their animal lives save for mating habits, but equalists in their changing breed lives and culture.

    The Black Furies are the opposite of this. While wolves are rather gender equal, form alpha packs of males and females, humans tend to factor sex into society. For better or worse. Patriarchy has dominated Europe, and as most Garou hail from ethno-regional mythologies and gene pools of Europe or just caucasians, the Garou are a people that on paper are gender neutral in their animal shapes, but their human lives are anything but gender equal. Men being the de facto rulers and benefactors of human culture. It really does show in their cultures. And the Black Furies highlight this imbalance the way a gangrenous foot shows on a diabetic, as the niche they fulfill seems to have collected all the misplaced equality for women and turned into a raging, angry, woman-centric tribe with a niche for dealing with all the horrible shit that nobody else seems to give a crap about. They’re a gender-equal changing breed animal with a gender-biased human half.

    Why not REALLY mix it up? Were-creatures in WoD are a mixture of mythology shaped by human beliefs, traditions and just-so stories. Their cultures are a combination of the immutable biologies of nature and the rationalizations of social humans. With the fantasticness of a people that change forms from man to beast and back, would it REALLY be such an unbelievable trait for a changing breed to be able to change not just their form, but their sex? Perhaps borrowing from the Gurahl, the Kitsune and the Nuwisha. The Gurahl Auspices start them in a cycling wheel. The Nuwisha choose their Totem, which is kind of like an auspice. Sort of. The Kitsune choose their Auspice from a circle representing the classical asian elements. I would kind of like to see something like the Gurahl Rank based Auspice for the Ajaba, only the Auspices are sex based, and as they ‘rank up,’ it changes their sex. Maybe a Rank 3 Ajaba can change back to and from male or female, now more rounded and better able to assume duties of either sex. And access a few more Auspices that are not specifically sexually biased, such as leadership and storytelling.

    This way they really stick out as more than just Bastet-Lite. They get their own unique and quirky flavor, the status quo of equal opportunism is upheld, it offers interesting storytelling possibilities, and the question of how to reconcile a sexually dimorphic animal culture to human is packaged nicely.

    Just a thought.

    • Yiodan
      October 29, 2012 at 2:09 am

      That’s interesting but from that perspective I don’t think the Ajaba are the breed for it thematically. As I recall, some rare animals actually can change sex. I know of frogs, but surely there are others out there. Of course, there are no breed with a relevant animal, but a fan-made breed could use this.

      (Actually, I am curious now, there’s got to be a ton of fan-made breeds out there.)

      • Erinys
        May 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm

        I think that there is a myth, however, that hyenas are all hermaphrodites. I don’t know if that’s a Greek myth or from somewhere in Africa, but my impression was that the hermaphroditic Metis are based on that.

        So having werehyenas all actually be hermaphrodites or whatever is an interesting idea.

    • Adamant Siaka
      October 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      Kitsune auspices aren’t based on the Daoist set, but intersections of the Japanese set, minus Void, rather like Beast Court sentai roles. You can tell by the inclusion of air and exclusion of both wood and metal.

  25. Mechanical Hyena
    October 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    I’ve been re-reading the write-ups for the Ajaba and have been letting the thoughts settle in my head for a few days before I tried to write a response for this.
    Ajaba are my favorite shifter, so my point of view obviously comes with that bias. I’ll address each section individually with my likes and dislikes comparing the two interpretations of the Breed.

    Nature of the Breed:

    I love the Ajaba being considered their own unique breed with their own focus. I also very much like that the Bastet consider them unwanted cousins. I appreciated that they were included in the Bastet book, but I felt they deserved so much more than the brief bastet book writeup could give them.

    Roles:

    Hate the “Garou of Africa” interpretation. There’s Garou already in Africa, Gaia wouldn’t seem to be the type to double stack a Breed Role. The Bringers of the Rain, Cull the Herd, “Recyclers of Gaia” aspect has always been close to my heart, as I felt it much better fit with the nature of hyenas themselves, who perform this vital role in real life.

    Society:

    Personally, I don’t mind the gender-based mechanics, as it was an attempt to match the female-dominated aspects of Hyenas, and I actually liked the reversed option. However, I can certainly see the issues of gender equality that would make it awkward for the players. I felt, however, that hyenas should be one of the few that got to choose one of their three roles. Sort of like the Bastet’s Pryio but with a little more mechanical teeth. Obviously, more hyena-breed females would choose the warrior/high-rage option, metis (whom are all hermaphrodites – I loved that tie-in with real hyena myths) would be more likely to choose the ‘balanced’ option, and homids would choose whatever aspect their personal biases, prejudices, and culture geared them towards. This would allow the sex-based politics of the hyena to intermingle with the opposite sex based politics of the human, but without making it the SOLE determiner of a hyena’s role in society.

    In other words, I think I agree with you, Jess, that your ideas would fit well with with both the hyena animal aspect of the Breed, as well as the theme of Bringers of the Rain. :)

  26. October 29, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    If you want to keep some of the gender roles without making them quite so rigid, focus on the dynamics within society. Usually females will stay with their birth group. Males will leave and join a different one or start a new one. So have that reflected in backgrounds.

    The ladies are always in charge and will rarely leave their clan (and clan totem) unless something unusual happens.

    Males usually leave and get a jamak while they’re wandering between clans… and then keep it when they join up with a new one. If they start a new clan with some other ladies, they usually will take the males jamak as a new clan totem. (or have a group of allied jamaks that serve as a totem)

    So you’d have the males basically can buy BOTH Jamak and Totem as backgrounds and have both at same time. Males MUST buy a point of Jamak. (females won’t let them join clan until they have a jamak to offer) Females may only buy totem and MUST buy a point of totem. (they may be in charge, but they must contribute to making clan totem happy!) Jamak’s are usually just smaller, weaker versions of clan totem that leave with the male when he does (gaffling size) which will help find allies for clan totem and spread its renown but might be something different if specifically goes questing for something totally different than the totem of his birth clan.

    Jamaks put up with this as they MIGHT get upgraded to clan totems later if a large successful clan splits because the territory can’t support that many. But meantime they get some extra protection from affiliation with the clan totem. Clan totem puts up with it as the jamak adds to its spirit brood and power and may ally another clan with them. (and id something happened to the other clan, they might join up and give that totem a big boost)

    So males are valued as bringing extra spiritual aid to existing clans and having important role for forming new ones if clans become too large and need to split. So a large clan might have males with jamaks that are allied with other nearby clans, which gives them access to more spirit aid and possibly some political aid. And likely implies some allegiance to the neighboring clan. They might help in times of need. OR the neighboring clan’s totem might demand that any descendants of that male really belong to the neighbor clan! drama ensues and explains much of the squabbling between clans. its not just family squabbles, its the totems adding fuel to fire.

    As inverse, they’ll probably bar males from joining that have jamaks that their clan totem (or the other males jamaks!) can’t get along with. No, your jamak is Eagle Owl, you cannot join the clan because our totem Spiny Mouse forbids it! go find another clan!

    and new clans that were trying to form would always need at least ONE male to carry the new totem and the females would need to treat him at least semi-well to make sure he (and the totem!) abandon them. (effectively the male and his jamak are ALMOST like a caern or shrine within a caern that needs defending)

    It balances off as the males could have access to two useful things from two totems (one small, one large) BUT they do have two bans to deal with. That would stay consistent with the older material that males are more spiritual but isn’t quite as firm a line mechanically. afterall he could have a very aggressive warlike jamak that urges him to join an aggressive warlike clan totem! AND it still is consistent with the older material pushing males towards being the diplomats since he likely has jamak compatible with a neighboring clan. Your jamak is Hattii the Thunderer go speak to Elephant Clan! their totem will be well disposed to you.

    The ladies tend to be more aggressive since they tend to stay home and defend the clan turf. OR are carving out a new territory while starting new clan. You can have more spiritually inclined ones, especially in large clans that don’t need all their females just to maintain territory. sure, you can spend time focusing on learning spirit lore or writing songs that preserve the clan totem’s history. But they function much like the caern guardians and warder, just focused around totem.

    So much of the Garou dynamics with pack, caern, and tribal totems, just amped up for greater drama since the spirit involved are smaller and they have a more personal relationship with them.

    • Laughing Hyena
      October 30, 2012 at 1:58 am

      Hey, Fenris!

      I think I would rather have Aspects of Hyena than Ajaba using the Bastet Jamaks. All clans get to have Hyena as a basic big totem, while those breaking off get much lesser aspects of Hyena in some form.
      The biggest and most influential clan shapes what the main Hyena totem is like. As the clan gets smaller, another clan gets a chance of their view of Hyena to take hold for a while. If the previous clan gets more members again, then they can take back their hold on how the Hyena totem should be like. And so on.

      An example aspect totem would be Bouki, a trickster/dupe. Or Krokottai, mythical creature that is a cross between a lion and hyena.

  27. The Rusty
    October 31, 2012 at 7:38 am

    So, been giving it more thought…

    1) gender stuff… Just make it social trends that can lead to conflict between the breeds; hyenas are matriarchal, most of the humans they breed with are patriarchal, make hyaena and homid Ajaba have a rough time with this, and a few “patch fixes” (perhaps clans are led by council, rather than a “clear leader”)

    2) Purpose.

    No breed of Changer is single-purpose. Even the Corax, the most narrow-focused of the breeds, are capable of walking and chewing gum. Maybe they were “created” to do a particular thing, but after twelve thousand years, you can get a bit of drift, right? The changing breeds are shaped by the world they live in, probably moreso than by the will of Gaia at their creation.

    The Ajaba were originally “choosers of the slain,” as they call it. They culled the herds, including humanity’s herd. In fact there’s historical backing for this; the ice age “cave hyenas” of Eurasia have left us some nice, well-preserved droppings (since hyena feces are mostly calcium, they apparently keep really well). Included in a lot of these is plenty of human hair. I’ve heard a theory that hyena predation might have been what slowed human expansion in the upper latitudes, even.

    This does mean they would have shared duty with the Ratkin, but there’s precedent; the Corax and Camazotz. Just give them different scopes. The Ratkin are the sabateurs on the inside controlling human population, the Ajaba are the predators on the outside controlling human expansion.

    With that as our “core” we expand; Do the Ajaba fight the Wyrm? Sure, but they aren’t the “spirit warriors” that the Garou are; the Ajaba will likely never launch an assault on Malfeas or anything like that. They’ll hunt down fomori and other tainted beings, not out of a “war on the Wyrm” but because the Wyrm is doing stuff that makes the Ajaba get involved. Does “human expansion” include the harm done in the name of “progress”? Probably. So you can make the Ajaba “wyrm-fighting Warriors” while still having a very different flavor from the Garou; the Garou fight the Wyrm because that’s what they are. The Ajaba fight the Wyrm because it keeps getting in their way. The Garou put of duty, the Ajaba out of practicality.

    And expand from there, even; the dead. Rightly or wrongly, hyenas have long, long associations with death in the human cultures that live near them. And the places Ajaba live tend to have lots of vampires and some really freaky ghost-stuff going on. The Changing breeds, as a whole, have a pretty large gap, where it comes to wraiths and the like. Nobody among the changing breeds covers this territory as anything more than the occasional dabble (Striders and Corax, rarely Mokole, everyone else just skirts around it). Controlling the dead could easily be a secondary function for the Ajaba, and it meshes well with the primary function as well; they are the choosers of the slain, and their decision is FINAL.

    Their core function also leads to plenty of conflict; just as nobody liked the Ratkin spreading plagues, or the Nagah killing their buddies, no one is going to like the Ajaba eating their kinfolk. This could be the core of the Bastet animosity towards the Ajaba. After all, hyenas are fairly brutal to cheetahs and leopards (they and lions are the main reason leopards tree their kills) and the lion / hyena conflict is well-known (though in reality, it’s just two apex predators in direct competition in the same niche). And of course the Garou aren’t going to be happy with them, either; that could be why there aren’t any more gigantic hyenas in Eurasia.

    it spurs internal conflict as well, beyond the male / human, female / hyena divide in how their society is organized. Of course you want your kinfolk to be successful… but you’re obligated to keep them from becoming TOO successful, as well (hyenas have some pretty nasty wars over territory, though not to the degree of, say, chimpanzees, so even the hyena kinfolk might fall under the Ajaba’s duties – another point of conflict with other changers, “they kill their own kin!”) How much acceptance of human ways is too much? even if it aids your duties? The mentions upthread of hyenas’ association with blacksmiths could play into this; the Ajaba might have developed a fair bit of materialism from ther human kin, and it causes problems in the group.

    There’s also an element that Ajaba might very well be horrible people (though, under the Werewolf morality angle, not exactly BAD people) for instance, the Rwanda genocide? Seen through Ajaba eyes, the thought would probably be “saved us the trouble.” Or maybe the Ajaba saw it as a rallying point to get their own stuff together. Here’s a place that was so overpopulated that humans themselves exploded in a paroxysm of slaughter to reduce their own population. is this a failure of the Ajaba’s duty to manage that population, or is it “saving them the trouble”? Either way, that’s how a “cull the herd” mentality looks at it, and it’s pretty horrible.

    Which brings us to the modern era; humanity has plainly overstepped its bounds, and a few other species with htem. The Ajaba, whether through attrition or lack of cohesiveness, or what have you, haven’t been able or willing ot keep up. and now htye see this mess, as if scales fell from their eyes (there was a “wake up call” at some point?) they go into overdrive to try to make up for it, even to the point of making alliances and enemies that are going to bite them in the ass down the road.

    • Shikatsu
      May 12, 2014 at 8:55 am

      I would add that since they remove the weak and the diseased, it might be better to have them in conflict with the ratkin, making more work for them. Slaying the Diseased in mind body and soul is rough work, hence the laughter, they are more about life affirming in the down time. So having them be hedonists like the cats would be a treat.

      There could also be an element of forcing revolution and destabilization of human populations when needed too. Hell Asian hyenas could be seen in a similar light as the Devil Tigers Dharma, enforcing the mandate of heaven by temptation and destruction.

  28. Eldagusto
    November 1, 2012 at 6:45 am

    Jesse it is great seeing you write for Werewolf the Apocalypse!

    I like the notion of just saying Historically Females were more often this aspect, and males this one. It seems a good best of both worlds option were you can have it reflected in the Fluff but you don’t let it limit your character based on Gender. Kind of like the Black Fury Male Metis. And yeah I like the Ajaba being their own niche rather then Garou of Africa. I see them as being closer symbolically to Death, even more so then the Wolf Symbol. Like how Silent Striders are more aligned with death then Garou in General. Because to me Hyena is associate with Bones and Death just as much as say a Vulture.

  29. Eldagusto
    November 1, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Also I like the Idea of the Ajaba still having a Yava, even if they aren’t Bastet. It is a nice cool link that makes you wonder.

    And more stuff on their unwholesome deals to increase their Fertility and what it could mean for the future!

  30. Sakuryu
    November 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I think you found the gold here, I believe youre gonna make the Ajaba a great breed to be picked for all :3 I even hope to see their own BB some day heh

  31. Bron
    December 3, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    First I want to say I like the ideas on the Ajaba, I was fond of the “cullers of the heard” duty they had. Also I am not a big fan of gender-based game mechanics. I do have one comment though and I was not sure where to leave it, so I am posting it here. If people could please take a look a back at the Mokole, mostly the Zhong Lung. They ended up sadly being slightly overpowered when compared to their non-asian cousins. They recieved an additional stat block in their archid form, as well as access to garou auspice gifts combined with Beast Court gifts, their own stream gifts, as well as Mokole gifts. To me this made things really unfair and I always read it as White Wolf putting a big emphasis on Asian culture at the expense of First Nation, Indian, Latino, and African culture. At one point the books even call the Zhong Lung’s language as “celestial” to the others “more primal”. As a Mohawk I took this treatment rather poorly as it always reminded me of this old cartoon of “human evolution” I saw from the 1800′s. In it white people rated who was more evolved among humanity. Of course Caucasians were considered the highest. After them came the Asians, then the Indians, then “Red Indians”, African Americans, and lastly Africans who did not leave Africa. I really am going to beg you guys to please re-think how the Zhong Lung are treated. For the most part I have loved White Wolf’s products but that was a thorn that always stuck with me. (Yes, I do love the dragon breed they were my favorite of everything White Wolf did).

  32. Tetsuo
    March 25, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Well Hyenas are in between the Felines and Canines. Physically close to felines psychological close to Canines. Hyenas btw are not exclusive to Africa, they also spread out into the Middle East and India. Hyenas however are not really found in Central Africa due probably to the very heavy jungle foliage.

    I agree with your piece on the Ajaba. The old one needs work. The Ajaba should get their own breed since they are not Garou and Bastet(actually in between), I suggest to play this one up.

    As a trivia, Hyena meat btw is considerd Halal meat in certain muslim countries and the Greeks and Romans ate Hyena meat for fertility and to ward off eviil.

  33. Erinys
    May 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Ah, I am late to the party. I don’t know if the devs are still reading comments on this.

    I am very happy with what I read. I love having the Ajaba as a separate Changing-Breed instead of a Bastet tribe, but I also feel like making them “the Garou of Africa” kind of takes away a bit of their “separate Changing-Breed” feel. There are Garou in Africa, and there have been, in the Ice Age, spotted hyenas in Europe and Asia. If Garou and Ajaba do the same thing, then what was going on in the Ice Age? Did Ajaba not exist in Eurasia, although their kinfolk did? Did they just double-up on the Garou’s role? Was that before the Abaja breed existed at all?

    I like the idea of giving them their own, unique role, whether that’s “culling the herd” or something else. If Gaia’s original plan was to have Ajaba throughout Eurasia, and Simba in Eurasia and North America, and Garou in North Africa, what were these three social, warlike, predatory Breeds doing that made them unique? Why did Gaia make all three?

    • Erinys
      May 21, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      I meant, Garou in North and East Africa.

      Also, let me agree with Rusty: whatever you do with Ajaba auspices, please keep it distinct from Garou auspices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *