Chris Allen, the mastermind behind our re-working of Gifts in the 2nd edition of Werewolf: The Forsaken, asked if I’d give him some space on the blog to talk about his design philosophy. He’s gone quite in-depth, highlighting how Gifts work in Forsaken 2e.
I’ve split what he has to say into two pieces. The first covers general Gift philosophy and Moon Gifts (along with a new Moon Gift). The second, available tomorrow, covers Shadow and Wolf Gifts. Without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Chris:
It’s mid-December and, in true Christmas fashion, it’s time to take a look at how to design and create Gifts for Werewolf: the Forsaken! I’m Chris Allen, and I’ll be your Santa Claws for this article, bringing Gifts and good cheer to Uratha everywhere.
Gifts received quite a significant overhaul in the transition to 2nd edition. We shed the structure of the previously-all-encompassing 1-5 dots system, altered how they interact with Renown and tried to bring them much closer to the core themes of Werewolf. Of course, we only had so much space for Gifts in the core book! I’m going to go over some of the design principles behind the new system that I hope will help players and Storytellers alike in creating your own Gifts (or converting over 1st edition ones) for your Chronicles. As part of this, I’ll be building three new Gifts – one for each different type – as examples of what I’m talking about.
Gifts in 2nd Edition
Gifts are groups of supernatural powers that werewolves can acquire in Werewolf: the Forsaken. There are three categories of Gift – Moon, Shadow and Wolf – each with their own characteristics. Every Gift is split into five individual Facets, each of which is a separate and unique power. Shadow and Wolf Gifts have one Facet assigned to each of the five Renown, whereas a Moon Gift is associated entirely with one Renown. Moon Facets come in ascending order, but Shadow and Wolf Gifts have no associated dot rating and no set purchase order. Moon and Wolf Gifts are inherent to the werewolf; Shadow Gifts need to be acquired through spirits.
So what is a Gift? A Gift is not a spiritual bolt-on; it is not a spell, nor a magic trick. A Gift is like a wound or scar – it tears or wrenches through the werewolf when it is marked, changing the very pattern of Essence flowing through her body. A werewolf does not ‘learn’ a Gift – it rips into her. A Gift marks itself in blood and Essence, pain and adrenaline. A Gift reflects the nature of the Uratha rather than being an alien alteration. A werewolf is a hunter and predator, and Facets reflect that.
In practice, a Facet should be designed with the themes and nature of werewolves in mind. Facets should be focused around savagery, brutality, the hunt, the prey, the chase and the kill; they should draw on shamanic power, the world of spirits, the fusion between flesh and Essence and the bonds of pack and blood. There’s plenty of room for Gifts and Facets that use cunning and trickery, wit and cleverness, or that draw upon the insight and mysticism of the shaman – but if a Facet is not useful for the hunt, doesn’t help the pack or doesn’t grant spiritual power then the question arises: what part of the werewolf does this Facet actually reflect?
There are a number of general mechanical dos and don’ts to keep in mind with Gift and Facet design.
Do create Facets that scale with the associated Renown. Renown might dictate the size of a static bonus that the Facet gives, determine size or number of targets, be part of its dice pool or other scaling effect. One of the major benefits of increasing Renown is in the broad power boost it offers across a character’s Gifts. It’s fine to have the rare Facet that has a flat, set effect but avoid doing so if you possibly can. Wolf Gift Facets are something of an exception to this.
Do not copy an existing ability from another Gift. There might be multiple Facets across Gifts that give different approaches to the same problem – like the various Facets that help with destroying objects or structures in different ways – but avoid a straight-up copy, even if it has a different thematic or SFX window-dressing. We want to avoid recreating the situation where there were several Gifts that allowed you to teleport between shadows, or summon packs of wolf minions of different kinds, or whatnot.
Do not create Facets within a Gift that are utterly dependent on each other to function or that supersede each other. Every single Facet should stand alone and be worthwhile on its own merits. When converting a 1st edition Gift over to 2nd edition, this is largely enforced by the fact that Shadow Gifts and Wolf Gifts don’t have to be bought in a specific Renown order. Synergy is fine – dependence is not. Even rare Facets like Hunt Under Iron Skies and Cataclysm offer some free-standing benefits of their own.
Do use ‘the pack’ as a unit of measurement when figuring out how widely a beneficial or warding effect can spread across friendly targets. The pack is central to the Forsaken concept and is both limitation and strength; many Facets can trivially tag several beneficiaries within a pack, but targeting outside the pack should be much harder.
Do create Facets that turn the scene into something out of a horror movie to empower the hunter or weaken the prey. Whether turning the environment against the prey, taking the tools that she relies on from her, separating prey from allies or even flat-out ‘jump-scare’ powers, it’s all good fodder for werewolf powers.
Do create Facets that empower or enhance Brawl or Melee attacks. Uratha are red in tooth and claw, with a strong inclination towards brutal and savage close combat. Anything that enhances ranged attacks should be much rarer and ideally needs to absolutely nail the themes and symbolism of a Gift to justify its existence.
Do not create ‘killing you’ Facets – powers that are basically a magic spell that is thrown at a victim to kill them at range with precision. These tend to veer wildly from the themes of Werewolf and push too far towards making Facets feel like wizardry rather than spiritualism or primeval predation. Hexes, curses and malisons are fine, as are methods of ruining inanimate objects or otherwise stripping the prey of their resources and strengths.
Do create ‘killing your city’ Facets – powers that are much more widespread, indiscriminate and primal. A werewolf doesn’t hurl a bolt of lethal cold, she howls down a freezing blizzard that blankets the whole area with icy doom. Environment or scene-wide changes and threats are encouraged.
Do not create Facets that use Willpower to activate. In 2nd edition, Essence is the sole currency to use in Gift and Facet design. Nothing should ever cost Willpower.
Obviously, there are always going to be exceptions to some of these rules, especially where a Facet really hits the themes of Werewolf dead-on. However, you need to know the rules to be able to tell when to break them, and there needs to be a compelling reason when you do so or else you’ll find that the themes and feel of Gifts are being diluted for no real gain.
So what about power level? The existing Facets underwent a fair amount of designing, redesigning and play-testing to end up as they have, with a good dollop of ‘this feels about right’ rather than rigid application to some mechanical framework of how much a Facet can do. The rough guideline we initially ran with was ‘equivalent to a 3-dot Gift under the old system’ but with the focus on scaling (and with 3-dot Gifts also having been wildly variable) I mostly ended up using the following measurement: Does this Facet feel like there will be characters who will want to take it? Not every Facet has to be desirable to every character, or even most characters, as long as it has a niche in which it feels like it has significant heft and impact. A Facet should never feel irrelevant.
When attempting to pin down the precise numbers or scale of an effect, look over the existing Facets and compare. For example, something that adds to an attribute should probably increase it by the relevant Renown, like Primal Strength, and probably be temporary or have specific conditions for use. For powers that don’t match up to anything similar in the core book, you’re going to have to do a certain amount of eyeballing; but if you get the feeling that every werewolf will always want this Facet regardless, it’s probably too good. Facets should provide new choices, not new obligations.
I have created several new example Gifts in this article. They are not official and may well be superseded, rewritten or just ignored in actual Forsaken products. Also note that, unlike the core book Gifts, these have not had extensive play-testing and probably need further tweaking and adjustment. One of the most important parts of Gift design is iteration – writing and rewriting, amending and changing to bring the Gift ever-closer to its ideal as part of the spectrum of Werewolf powers.
Designing Moon Gifts
A Gift of the Moon comes from Luna’s personal mark upon the werewolf. The Pure gouge and hack and flay until they’ve ripped all trace of the Warden Moon’s ownership from themselves, leaving a greater wound in its place. The Forsaken, though, embrace this power.
A werewolf can possess more than one Moon Gift – except we didn’t have the space to include more than one per Auspice in the book! Moon Gifts take a part of the Auspice’s symbolism writ large, bringing it to the forefront – and remember, the Auspice defines the werewolf’s role as a hunter above all else. A Moon Gift needs to empower the werewolf to do her ‘job’ in a way that is distinct from another Auspice. It needs to feel significant and defining. It needs to have impact.
The five existing Moon Gifts hammer home the core concepts of the Auspices, so a new Moon Gift needs to be designed carefully. We want to avoid a situation where a new Moon Gift is simply better than an existing one, or where it retreads the same ground with only slight differences. A Gift of the Blood Moon, for example, might focus on the Rahu’s role as tactician and war-master on the hunt – but it shouldn’t make a straight-up stronger warrior than the existing Full Moon’s Gift.
Moon Gifts work differently to the other two types, as they focus on a single Renown and the Facets are acquired in specific order. The Renown should always be the associated Renown of the Auspice in question. The structure of a Moon Gift should generally run in the following pattern: the first two dots hit the key thematic points of the Auspice in its hunting role; the third dot augments the Siskur-Dah Condition; the fourth and fifth dots get to go a bit crazier with the Gift’s theme, usually with more overt supernatural and extreme effects.
While a Moon Gift goes from 1 to 5 dots, this doesn’t mean that the low-dot powers have to be weak. The first two Facets of the Gift are in many ways its most defining powers; they need to set the scene and shape the hunt. A Moon Gift makes its mark right out of the gate – you don’t have to wait until the higher ranks to really feel its effects.
As an example, I chose to create a new Cahalith Gift for this article. The original Gibbous Moon’s Gift had a lot of ground to cover as it needed to touch on everything that makes up the 2nd edition Cahalith – the inspiration and storyteller, the inevitable and fearsome hunter, the dreamer and the war-howler. Of all the Auspices, the Cahalith has perhaps the most different elements making up its themes, which in turn means that there’s lots of ground for new Moon Gifts to cover.
At first, I wanted to create a Gift focused around the idea of the Gibbous Moon werewolf as the monster on the hunt, wielding terror and fear above all else. I quickly ran into the problem that fear is already heavily represented across the existing Gifts and powers so, despite a few different iterations, I couldn’t settle on a set of Facets that gelled together into a coherent and flavorsome whole. Most of what I thought would fit had already been done somewhere else in the system – the Cahalith’s Monstrous Hunter’s Aspect, Lunacy, etc. – so I altered my approach a bit. The moon has always had strong themes of madness and insanity (hence ‘lunacy’, after all) and the Gibbous Auspice is strongly associated with that. I changed my themes to fear and madness, and tinkered for a while with mechanics focusing more on the insanity-related Conditions and with Breaking Points. I also had Leath Sheales and Jim Fisher sanity-check the Facets for me. It’s really important to get someone else’s eyes on your ideas because you won’t always see the errors or gaps that you’ve made; after all, you know what you intend and it’s easy to assume everyone else will as well.
For the first two Facets, I decided to echo the structure of the Gibbous Moon’s Gift, so we start with a ‘howl’ power and a ‘voice’ power. Terrifying Shriek, however, is designed to literally enable the jump-scare and to set the enemy reeling. Voice of Madness, meanwhile, underpins the synergy that runs into Nightmare Spiral through the exploitation of the Fugue and Madness Conditions.
The third Facet was perhaps the most re-written of the lot before I settled on this final form. A reasonable query that arose from my sanity-checkers was ‘should the boosted Lunacy affect the Pure as well?’, but I don’t want it to do that because of the metaphysical issues with causing Lunacy on werewolves (even the Pure) and I’m happy that the breaking point penalty is enough to make the Facet vicious enough even for a Blood Talon Cahalith.
Finally, we hit the fourth and fifth dots. With the first three dots, we’re already at the stage where the Cahalith with this Gift can wield and inflict fear and madness on the hunt to terrifying effect. Nightmare Spiral delves into the more spiritual and manipulative side of the theme and also synergizes heavily with the prior three Facets without being dependent on them – even against prey without Fugue or Madness, it is a nasty tool for exploiting existing mental fracture lines. Finally Soul Shriek gives a powerful capstone. You’ll note that the Facet doesn’t spend time explaining that, yes, all the usual methods that can be used to restore/manipulate/etc souls will work just fine. I could spend a long time writing a proscriptive summary of exactly how Soul Shriek interacts with other soul-affecting powers but I’d rather leave that firmly in the Storyteller’s hands.
Gift of the Screaming Moon
This Gift is only available to Cahalith.
Terrorizing Shriek (•)
Faced with the sudden and nightmarish presence of the Cahalith, the prey falters and hesitates.
The Cahalith howls upon launching an ambush or entering combat. If she uses this Facet when launching a surprise attack or ambush, she inflicts her Glory as a penalty on the prey’s Wits + Composure roll to respond during the first round. She also inflicts her Glory as a penalty on the Initiative rolls of all prey, whether as part of an ambush or not, and this effect lasts for the duration of the combat. Any prey whose Initiative score is below that of the Cahalith gains the Shaken Condition.
Voice of Fear (••)
The lash of the Cahalith’s tongue instills fear and madness.
Cost: 1 Essence
Duration: 1 scene
The Cahalith adds her Glory Renown to all her dice pools for Intimidate. Additionally, she may benefit from one of the following effects once per scene:
- If she achieves an exceptional success when intimidating prey, she may inflict the Shaken Condition on him.
- If she successfully intimidates prey suffering the Shaken Condition, she may replace Shaken with the Fugue or Madness Conditions instead.
- If she successfully intimidates prey suffering the Fugue or Madness Conditions, she may immediately trigger the Fugue effect or force any remaining Madness penalty for the chapter on the next Mental or Social roll he attempts.
Mad-Eyed Hunter (•••)
Neither desperate flight nor secure hiding place offers the prey any solace from the maddening echoes of the hunter’s howls.
This Facet can only be activated when the Cahalith gains the Siskur-Dah Condition.
Cost: 1 Essence
Duration: The full duration of Siskur-Dah
For the duration of the Facet’s effects, the Cahalith applies her Glory Renown as a penalty to any breaking point dice pools that any prey suffer in her presence, as long as she is taking actions to pursue the Siskur-Dah‘s prey. Prey that succeeds at resisting Lunacy always gains the Shaken Condition, and prey that fails suffers the Madness or Fugue Conditions instead of Atavism, Delusion or Reception. Additionally, non-werewolf prey whose Composure is equal to or less than the Cahalith’s Glory Renown suffer from Lunacy even if they would not normally be subject to it, including spirits, Claimed and other supernatural entities.
Nightmare Spiral (••••)
The fracture lines of fear and madness spread through the mind, letting the werewolf break or remake her prey as she sees fit.
Cost: 2 Essence
Dice Pool: Manipulation + Empathy + Glory vs. Composure + Primal Urge
The Cahalith may use Nightmare Spiral against any prey she can perceive.
Dramatic Failure: The Cahalith immediately gains the Madness Condition.
Failure: The Facet has no effect.
Success: If the prey has failed a breaking point since the last time the gibbous moon rose, he immediately fails another breaking point. For a werewolf, this breaking point is towards Spirit or Flesh as per the last breaking point he suffered. A victim can only suffer this effect of Nightmare Spiral once per month. Nightmare Spiral has two additional effects that can be used more freely, depending on the state of the prey:
- If the prey has the Madness Condition, the werewolf may immediately replace it with the Amnesia Condition.
- If the prey has the Fugue Condition, the Cahalith may immediately trigger the fugue, and furthermore may send forth her own mind to ride the victim until the sun next rises. She may immerse her senses into those of the prey and may let him take his own course, or can directly seize control. While riding the prey, she cannot perceive with her own senses and seems to be in a state of deep sleep. Ending the Facet is an instant action and returns her consciousness to her own body. Should the prey be killed while the werewolf is riding, she is ejected back to her own body and immediately fails a breaking point towards Spirit. Should the Uratha be slain while she is riding, a fragment of her spirit becomes subsumed into the prey. This may create a unique Claimed, or she may end up as an imprisoned personality only rising to the surface when the victim suffers the fugue state.
Exceptional Success: The Cahalith also gains the Inspired Condition.
Soul Shriek (•••••)
The Cahalith unleashes a banshee scream of raw, primal madness.
Cost: 3 Essence
Dice Pool: Presence + Intimidate + Glory vs. Composure + Primal Urge
Dramatic Failure: The Cahalith gains the Stunned Tilt.
Failure: The Facet fails.
Success: Any werewolf or spirit prey who hears the howl and fails to roll as many successes as the Cahalith is struck with the Essence Overload Condition. Other prey who fails to roll as many successes as the Cahalith suffers the Soulless Condition as his soul tears free from his body. Souls taken in this way are in the werewolf’s possession, appearing about her person as floating spirit-lanterns or shards of light that are visible when she flares her Renown or is in the Shadow. The Cahalith’s death or her willing agreement will restore the lost soul.
Exceptional Success: Prey suffers the Enervated Condition rather than the Soulless Condition.
[Stew’s note: we didn’t have space to include Soulless and Enervated in the new edition; they’re part of the Soul Loss mechanics in the Chronicles of Darkness rulebook, also available in the God-Machine Rules Update.]