I’m not sure how many of you tuned in to the Darker Days Radio interviewcast-thing that we did on Saturday. If not, you might want to go give it a watch/listen. In it, I touched on something that’s got a lot of people excited about Changing Breeds—the presence of the Lost Breeds, and how they signify a change in our approach to game design.
In Werewolf, the Lost Breeds, alongside the three Lost Tribes, exist to play up the theme of extinction. If the Garou get too hubristic or act without thinking, they can lay waste to their own allies and do the Wyrm’s work for it. The Apis, Camazotz, and Grondr join the Croatan, Bunyip, and White Howlers as object lessons from the past that too many modern Garou don’t want to know about.
For a long time—hell, for longer than was strictly necessary—the World of Darkness titles had this idea where the games pretty much told you how to play them. “Here’s inspiration for the last White Howler, but if you play one you’re a powergaming loser.” Or, as the post title implies: “Here’s some game design. You want to use it? Screw you, hippie.”
We can talk a lot about why this came about—my personal theory is that the whole thing was a desire to explore a thematic area while also avoiding “special snowflake” characters who bend everyone’s play around their one character—but the reasons don’t excuse that the books gave rules for one thing and then said that using those rules was bad. Naturally, people who kept up with forums and chatrooms and websites picked up on that attitude and used it to browbeat folks who ignored that the books first described one game then explained how you should be playing a restricted subset of that game.
I’m getting to a Changing Breeds-related point. Honest.
If you’re a student of White Wolf books from the turn of the millennium, you can see that some lines started to fight back against that attitude. As the internet made it easier for fans and designers to talk to one another, the designers could see how what they’d intended wasn’t necessarily how people played. And slowly but surely that had an effect.
For Werewolf, we had slow trickles of information—the Bunyip in the Wild West Companion, then the Croatan in Croatan Song. Past Lives included a way to play in a time when the Black Spiral Dancers were just White Howlers, and included some Gifts for each Lost Tribe—and each Lost Breed. But things only ever went so far. The Onyx Path lets us go even further than that, opening up the development process so you can poke around under the hood. Communication’s a good thing.
And here we are today. Twenty years after Werewolf: The Apocalypse first released, and we’ve got a core book coming with the Lost Tribes in the back, and the first supplement has details on the Lost Breeds, not just as historical footnotes but as characters in and of themselves.
Our attitude towards game design has changed. In some ways we’re still getting our heads around just how that change works. We write books full of things that we think are cool—and here, I’m using “cool” as a shorthand for all kinds of things that can make a game more memorable.
At the same time, as game designers we shouldn’t rely on our assumption of how people will use those cool things. We’re throwing out these awesome ideas, but they become even better when people pick them up and run with it in their games. That’s fantastic, it really is.
You want to have the first Silent Strider to contact her Ancestors? Cool.
You want to be a no-Pure-Breed mutt that Falcon’s chosen as a Silver Fang? Cool.
You want to have your game feature the last White Howler? Cool.
You want to bring one of the Lost Breeds back from the dead, to somehow overcome the millennia of hate and ignorance that drove them to extinction—to show that just occasionally it’s possible to pull off a win against all the odds? Cool.
Now, those examples aren’t necessarily what White Wolf would have done with the whole epic story of the Garou- but so what? This is your story, and that’s what really matters.
Just don’t expect rules for playable Black Spiral Dancers any time in the near future. Or maybe…