“We howl, and our howl echoes Gaia’s lament. Our world, our mother, lies dying, and her murderers dance across what remains of her body, digging deeply of her wounds to forge the icons that signify to other hierophants the excess of their glee.
Do you howl with us? And against whom? Who stokes your fury?
When will you Rage?”
The opening statement from Renegade Games Studio’s “Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th Edition” was a stark call back for me to the original game that I played so many years ago (1992). Renegade is quick to point out that their edition is a “re-imaging, not a continuation” and they are right to do so. There are so many familiar elements in this edition that make it an easy game to pick up for someone who has previous experience with Werewolf and the World of Darkness, and there is so much more as well that makes this edition a game in its own right.
This review covers “Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th Edition”. Originally published by White Wolf Games, this version is from Renegade Game Studios and was released August 31st, 2023. This review will include details about what is included in, and the usability of, the rulebook, commentary on how the game’s systems work, and what Renegade have done to make this a fun tabletop experience for you and your friends. There will also be a rating of the game on a scale from one to ten, ten being a perfect score.
So, what is “Werewolf”? It is a story-telling game, set in The World of Darkness, where you take on the role of a Werewolf, a being with strong links to their animalistic side and to nature, and driven to protect and avenge Gaia. It is a game about radical solutions to environmental issues, about people exploring the efforts made to effect or endure global consequences of the environmental apocalypse, and it is a game about spirituality, the conflict between spiritual corruption and spiritual conflict. Above all, it is a game about violence, about tearing apart your opponents and dealing with the repercussions.
At this point, I must inform you that “Werewolf” comes with a Mature Content Warning which covers violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Renegade is not shy to state that some of the subjects covered are problematic and may be triggering. They are also clear in stating they are not glorifying any of these subjects, and at no point do they do so. Given the nature of the content, Renegade have included a section on running Session Zero and have provided information on safety tools and their use in the game.
So, what do you get when you purchase the game? For your $55 you will receive a 334-page, full-color, hardback book which comes with an Age 18+ rating, a PDF of fillable character sheets, and free BONUS content (as files are added to this, you will receive them automatically). For the quality of the product you are getting, this is great value for money. Additionally, for a limited time, you will also receive a free PDF copy with your purchase of the book (the PDF is available separately for the price of $38).
The rulebook is split into nine chapters, with three appendices and “Instant Werewolves” completing it. Chapters One to Three are used to set the scene, providing the players and storyteller with the basic background information about the World of Darkness, what it means to be a Garou (Werewolf), and the different Auspices and Tribes of the Garou. Chapter Four covers character creation, those with experience of previous editions of the game will find this very familiar. Chapters Five and Six provide the guts of the game, the rules for playing and interacting with the world created by the storytelling, and how Garou gifts and rites work, as well as how equipment and gear works. Chapters Seven through Nine provide the Storyteller (the games-master) with the information they need to use to create the experience for the players, advise on the Umbra (the spirit realm), and details of potential allies and adversaries that the Garou might encounter. The appendices cover lore sheets which provide further details regarding elements of the world of the Garou, a starter adventure, and safety tools for considerate play. Finally, the “Instant Werewolves” provides structured suggestions for creating quick characters, although it does not give any ready-toplay characters.
For someone new to playing a Storyteller game, I would recommend they focus on Chapters One through Six, and make sure they understand the safety tools and how their Storyteller sees them being used. A Storyteller needs to have familiarity with Chapters One through Three, and needs to focus on Chapters Seven through Nine, and understand the safety tools and how they wish them to be used in their game.
The basic mechanics of character creation will be familiar to anyone who has played any previous World of Darkness game. For someone new to the system, there are a lot of options to choose from. Your character concept is the start point, combined with selecting one of six Auspices and one of eleven Tribes. You then allocate attributes and skills, select advantages and flaws, pick three gifts, and finally select one to three Touchstones (anchors connecting the Garou to the world). Each step is clearly explained in the rulebook, although being guided through character creation would prove beneficial for someone new to the system.
Once the characters are created, understanding the rules of the game is next. Characters attributes combine with skills they possess, and possibly with gifts and renown, to generate dice pools (the game makes use of d10s for game play). The storyteller decides the difficulty of the test, tells the player the appropriate pool to use, and then the player rolls the dice. 6 or more counts as a success, and to pass the test you need to achieve more successes than the difficulty. The margin by which you pass a test may also influence the results of your success, as can compete failure. Again, anyone familiar with previous editions will recognise this system.
The key to any game of “Werewolf” is the Storyteller. The person who weaves together the threads of the tale, drawing their troupe of players into the narrative, and thus creating the story. There is an expectation in the rules that the Storyteller has some familiarity with the fundamentals of storytelling but there is sufficient guidance to allow anyone to create adventures within the world of the Garou. Within the chapter on storytelling is clear guidance on running Session Zero, alongside advise to discuss the boundaries of the chronicle (the overarching story that the Storyteller and players hope to tell over their time playing the game). The chapter also advises on the use of flowcharts to help plan individual sessions, multiple session adventures, and a multi-adventure chronicle, with good examples given throughout. One golden rule is made clear early on, the story belongs to the Storyteller and the troupe, and the game should be whatever they want it to be, even to the point of changing or ignoring the rules if that improves the enjoyment of the group.
The role of the Storyteller is to engage the troupe in the adventures. To assist with this, Renegade have provided a sample adventure in the appendices. “No Matter How Small” is an excellent example of the storytelling guidelines from Chapter Seven being put into practice. The story can be used as a one-shot to introduce both new players and veterans alike to the world of “Werewolf”. It can also serve as the beginning of a much larger chronicle. The adventure contains a summary, discussion of themes involved, and appropriate content warnings with guidance for the Storyteller of appropriate methods to sidestep these issues if they could cause problems for the troupe. The adventure is then broken down into three Acts, with Turning Points detailed within the Acts as necessary. The adventure extends over eighteen pages and provides the Storyteller with everything needed to run it successfully.
The third appendix covers the topic of Considerate Play. This is aimed at both the Storyteller and the players within the troupe. It makes it clear that the wellbeing of all involved in the game should ne the primary concern, and goes into detail regarding emotional, mental and community impact of playing the game. It then provides detailed information about the various safety tools that can be utilized to ensure everyone involved in the game can feel comfortable and be considered in an appropriate manner. Given the content that “Werewolf” can involve, I feel that Renegade has taken every precaution they can to ensure the wellbeing of everyone who may get involved in playing the game.
The content of the “Werewolf” rulebook is a well-designed and well-executed introduction to roleplaying in the World of Darkness, and specifically the world of the Garou. It provides both players and Storytellers with everything they need to jump into the game, and to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for all involved. The consideration that Renegade has shown over the mature content of the game, and by providing details over safety tools, demonstrates a forward-thinking attitude that a lot of other game designers could learn from. For anyone who has played any World of Darkness games previously, this is a worthy successor to the original edition of “Werewolf”, and I would classify it as a successful reboot of that game. Personally, I look forward to running stories in this universe, and I know my own troupe are eager to start. As for the rating, I would give “Werewolf” 10 out of 10.