What is Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th Edition?
A Storytelling Game of Environmental and Spiritual Horror
Gaia is dying.
The ices melt, while the seas swell.
The heat rises, while the forests wither.
Extinction threatens millions, in favor of the few.
The Garou — warlike shapeshifters torn between Rage and spirit, between Wolf and Man, and champions of the earth-mother — have failed.
The Apocalypse is here.
Yet, a new generation of Garou now call upon their Rage to confront the forces of destruction, avarice, and greed ravaging the earth-mother. With tooth and claw the Garou will wrest her from the brink of death — or follow her enemies to the grave.
Will you answer their howl?
What legends will the Garou sing of you?
When will you Rage?
- As a new generation Garou, you will confront the forces of destruction, avarice, and greed ravaging the earth-mother.
- Utilize the 5th edition Storyteller system to create your chronicles within the World of Darkness.
- Includes everything you need to know to build your own character or guide a troupe as they explore their new forms.
- As a werewolf, build your legend, vie for renown, and fight to take back what has been lost.
- Join one of eleven tribes, each unique and rich with narrative depth for players to explore, and Storytellers to utilize.
- This 300+ page hardcover book also includes an introductory story to guide new Werewolf players and veteran World of Darkness enthusiasts through their first game.
At a Glance
- Full-Color Hardcover Book
- Core Rulebook for Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th Edition RPG
- Ages: 18+
Warning – This review has a LONG intro that I couldn’t cut down.
WEREWOLF: THE APOCALYPSE has always been about third or fourth in my favorite of the World of Darkness games. Which is not so much an insult or a question of its quality as the fact that I was an obsessive Vampire: The Masquerade and Mage: The Ascension player. Furthermore, I was brought into my fandom by Changeling: The Dreaming which was always the odd man out but a lot better game than most people ever did.
The premise is that you are a, unsurprisingly, a werewolf and you are a warrior for Gaia the spirit of the Earth. Captain Planet jokes were being made even in the Nineties. The Earth is dying, and you have to stab or claw some folk to save her. Unfortunately, all Garou are good at is clawing or stabbing people, so they’ve unwittingly alienated or killed off all their fellow shifters as well as each other. One of the cooler elements of the premise is the Garou are a hammer that has been treating every problem as a nail for 20,000 years.
Werewolf is a fantastic game and I’d argue that is probably the best written game after V:TM, even more so than Mage. However, like Mage, it suffered something of a problem with its own fandom. Without naming names, about 2000 or so, a developer told me the game had a white supremacy problem. A bunch of future Alt Right gamers were attracted to the game because of its themes despite the games’ dogged (no pun intended) pro-indigenous rights and environmental themes. Clumsy writing, cultural appropriation, misuse of terms, and things like “Pure Breed” as a background meant the developers had way too many people taking the exact opposite of the message intended by the writers.
If it feels like I’m digressing too much versus talking about the book, resolving a lot of those issues were major factors in the writing of Werewolf: The Apocalypse Revised and they’ve done even more overhauls to the Garou for 2023. Some of these changes have been ones that fans have been requesting for years, some of these make the game more like Werewolf: The Forsaken, and a few of these changes are just bad ideas.
As usual, there’s a bunch of behind-the-scenes drama that I won’t get into, but I think is pretty much inevitable with competing artistic visions. Werewolf, like a proper World of Darkness game, says things and because of that someone is going to be offended. Sometimes rightly, in my opinion, so caveat emptor as the 5th Edition of the game is overall a mixed bag but not terrible from a lore or mechanics POV.
Lore-wise the game takes the premise the Apocalypse is either happening or has happened with the Garou having lost the war. It takes the themes of the Garou screwing up saving Gaia to their natural conclusion and now most werewolves feel like the cause is hopeless. The Get of Fenris have become the Cult of Fenris and become fanatical zealots divorced from the rest of the Garou Nation. The fandom telephone game says the Cult have been taken over by Nazis and white supremacists but while you can read that into the text, they are only written as suffering the worst stereotypical behavior of old Garou being violent psychopaths who kill anything that they think is even vaguely Wyrm-y.
Indeed, the mechanics have weaponized being an old school “kill em all and let Gaia sort em out” attitude of previous Werewolf editions and made it a condition like Harano (supernatural depression that I’ve always felt uncomfortable with as a neuroatypical person) called Hauglosk. The Get falling to evil is a very questionable thing as they were one of the more popular tribes and it seems strange to have them go full fanatic while the Red Talons remain part of the Garou Nation. Out of game, it seems this condition basically exists to clarify the Garou’s history of violence to solve all their problems was idiotic. Which I thought was clear from 1st Edition.
Other changes include getting rid of Crinosborn (my term for Garou-Garou children versus the one they used to use) and getting rid of the genetic component of the race. Like the Force, certain families have stronger chances of being Garou but it’s not a 100% genetically inherited trait. Which admittedly does tone down the issues of Kinfolk from previous editions. Oddly, I’d say that is the much bigger retcon than anything related to the Get. Mind you, the game wants to have its cake and eat it too as some Garou clearly believe it’s still genetic but it’s now clear that they’re flat out wrong. Still, I wanted to know about how this affected Garou-Garou marriages, their relationships with mortal families, and more. Maybe next book.
The tribes have been divorced of their historical cultural origins, which is a more questionable action as well despite understanding the logic thereof. The Fianna have become the Hart Wardens while the indigenous tribes have become Galestalkers and Ghost Council. I won’t even use their original names because they turned out to have been highly insulting so, good call. Ditto my favorite tribe of Samuel Haight’s tribe (which, again, was a no-no in its name). They’re now called the Stolen Moons. Overall, I understand the decision-making process here and mostly think it was a good idea to re-examine the handling of indigenous culture among Garou.
Without going into another digression, basically indigenous rights were always a major background theme of Werewolf and clumsily handled. If you wonder how clumsily handled, a pair of examples is the fact there used to be tribes called the Croatoan (descended from South Carolina Native Americans) and Bunyip (Aboriginal Werewolves) before they went extinct. The problem being the Croatoan are a real-life ethnic group that some people still claim ancestry of today and, well, I’ve talked to Australian gamers of said descent who would like to point out their ethnic group is still around so why can’t they be werewolves?
Thus, these groups have been reduced to septs or “micro-tribes” with a page lamenting European colonization’s effects before moving on. Is it a good thing or a bad thing to reduce the role of native peoples in Werewolf when so much of the original game was about Western civilization encroaching on traditional peoples? I dunno. The original game took a heavy pro-First Peoples stance in a clumsy and ham-fisted way primarily written by well-meaning white dudes. I support the message even though it was badly framed. Strictly speaking, though, now you can just use the existing Garou tribes anywhere on Earth and give them local variants.
After having spent a thousand words discussing the politics of a Nineties Gothic Punk game moved into the 2020s, how is the actual game? Well, it’s fine. It’s a bit less focused. Adding an existentialist element to the setting about the fact the war against the Wyrm is probably pointless opens more storytelling opportunities. Climate change activists may think now is the most important time to be fighting Pentex but the urgency is gone if you want to run a sept just about looking after your old neighborhood. The Garou aren’t going to save the world on their own so they might as well save their whatever we’re calling kinfolk now.
Mechanically, the game is fine and will function for what the player wants it to as well as the Storytellers. I don’t have any objection to the changes that feel comparatively tame versus Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition’s. Gifts are tied to Willpower and Renown instead of Gnosis (which no longer exists). The addition of Loresheets is also welcome as I’ve always found those to be exceptionally useful. Speaking of similarities, the book also indicates the Second Inquisition knows about Garou and is hunting them as well. Just not in the numbers or with the same success as vampires (which makes sense given the Delerium). The biggest change really is Hauglosk and Harano (extremist rage versus depression really). These essentially functions as Humanity for werewolves but shouldn’t be too much of a problem for PCs as long as they don’t violate Chronicle tenets. Touchstones also indicate at least some werewolves will keep in touch with their human relations as before.
In terms of mechanics, the game remains a game about being a murder machine that can transform between five different forms (man, wolf, manwolf, mostly man, mostly wolf). The vast difference in lore means that some of these changes make a few things feel redundant. Auspices and Breed are far less important since Garou have had most of the differences leveled out between them. Being a Lupus-born werewolf (i.e. born of wolves) used to be a fun chance to be an alien mindset but has been greatly de-emphasized because I suspect people kept asking about whether you were expected to boink other wolves. No, I’m not kidding. Forums are weird.
The handling of Hauglosk and Harano alongside Touchstones is also not very well designed. In theory, I like the mechanical focus on personal horror. I feel like the struggles with being a werewolf and how it can destroy your personal life and drive you to existential depression or murderous evils was de-emphasized after First and Second Edition. However, the mechanics for both in this game are just bad. There doesn’t seem to be a way listed to remove points in either of these stats and that means Garou are doomed for very short lives before becoming NPCs. Which is not how the game portrays running Chronicles and thus is probably just bad game design.
The game also meanders about what exactly Garou are supposed to be doing with their time as furry killing machines. Previous games had the easiest to explain and most-well defined purpose of all the games: “You are a werewolf. You are to save the Mother Goddess from the Wyrm. Go kill evil spirits and the corporate bigwigs destroying the world.” The book focuses overmuch on how the Garou have screwed up this task and how their “kill everything bad” attitude has not improved things. It gives mixed messages about what you’re expected to do as a werewolf. The Renown System thus feels tacked up even though its central to acquiring Gifts.
Another major change to the game is the fact the role of the Umbra has been massively de-emphasized. The Garou no longer can step sideways into the spirit world as long as there’s a nearby reflective surface but have to use a rite called “The Rite of the Shadow Passage.” Furthermore, Garou will take a point of Aggravated Damage for every scene they are in the Umbra unless they spend a point of willpower. Previous Chronicles could spend entire adventures in the Umbra, so this feels like crippling it in a way like the Avatar Storm of Mage: The Ascension Revised.
I feel the systems are a lot faster and some of the overpowered nature of the Garou have been shed in the changes. Certainly, Werewolf: The Apocalypse Fifth Edition feels like it could be more easily ported over to other lines (in this case Vampire: The Masquerade and Hunter: The Reckoning). I’m not sure that is the best use of game designers’ time, though, as they’re still extremely different in scope as well as theme. Some of the obvious flaws of interaction are also not dealt with like the fact hunters are aid to react differently to the Delerium then it says some act exactly the same while giving no examples why they would.
So, what’s my take? Eh, my take on Fifth Edition is that it is a deeply uneven revision. It’s got some good ideas and some bad ideas. I feel like the depth of the changes are somewhat exaggerated, though, and people have read into things that aren’t there. I disgaree with some of the choices while am generally able to follow the logic of most decisions.