Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Werewolf: The Misanthrope and Princess Mononoke

About six months ago I made the observation that Werewolf: the Apocalypse was basically a game about terrorism:

Werewolf's rules are terrible, but I've always thought that under its surface it has (interestingly but in a somewhat cowardly implicit fashion) suggested something that very few RPGs ever have: the PCs are terrorists. They have an aim in mind and that is to actively and aggressively defend the natural world from exploitation. And if that involves violence, so be it. This creates a sandbox game with a difference. Rather than seeking fame and fortune, the PCs are acting to preserve - searching out threats to a certain natural habitat and eliminating them with extreme prejudice. They are the white blood cells of gaia.

This appeals deeply to the one-time Green Party activist and wannabe zoologist in me. Last night, for instance, I watched a documentary about the slow loris and its disappearance from Java because human beings are desperate to keep them as pets and can't just leave the poor things along in their forests. As if that wasn't enough, the creatures' teeth are almost invariably tugged out with pliers to prevent them biting once they've been brought into captivity. Watching that whole sorry spectacle - an entire species being removed from the wild and made subject to all kinds of awful indignities for the sin of being cute - it struck me that the slow loris could do with having a werewolf or two around to even things up a bit.

But real life is complicated and I think one of the interesting things to explore in that sort of campaign is the fact that progress doesn't and won't stop. That was another theme in W:tA which I think perhaps came through a little better - the idea that however much the garou might kick up a fuss, industry and technology (what I think - my memory gets hazy - was referred to as the Weaver?) will not go away but will inexorably proliferate and advance. This was mirrored in the obsession which White Wolf seemed to have in those days with the motif of Native Americans trying Canute-like to resist an unstoppable tide of cultural and actual colonialism.

(Thinking about it, there is a kind of weird genealogy that can be traced from Tolkien's anti-industrialism, through the environmentalist movement via Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, to W:tA's heady mix of Native American-worship, environmentalism, suspicion of modernity, fantasy literature, and impending doom. But maybe that's another blog post.)

In other words, the pressure to make one's peace with industrial advancement and attempt to reach some sort of settlement with it was just as strong a theme in Werewolf as that of the nobility of futile resistance. In its own small way, I think that made Werewolf: the Apocalypse quite thought-provoking as RPGs go. While White Wolf games are all so terribly teenage, they ought to be lauded for at least having a stab at being "about something".

These themes are also present in Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki's best work. What is so brilliant about that film is the way it refuses to take sides - everybody in it is acting for understandable reasons. It would have been very easy for Miyazaki to take the route of going for a happy ending in which the natural wilderness is returned to its pristine state, but that wouldn't be realistic or fair to the human beings who are impoverished and need to use natural resources to survive and prosper. Instead, the film dwells on the fact that humans and the natural world need give and take. I think that is a very mature message to bring across in what is ostensibly a children's film.

So there is a lot to Werewolf: the Apocalypse. All it needs is better rules.

10 comments:

  1. Do you think you could look at Star Wars through the lens of terrorism?

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    1. That's really easy. One man's terrorists are another man's freedom fighters.

      Star Wars is all about asymmetric warfare between a small ragtag network of ideological extremists against a massively superior state military and security apparatus. Of course,the Rebells are always attacking only "legitimate targets".

      This aspect of Star Wars is most highlighted in the X-Wing novels, which I think are one of the top tier works of the Expanded Universe. The series deals with special forces units infiltrating imperial worlds to conduct sabotage in preparation for invasion. And the villains in the first four books are the imperial counterintelligence who are making even more use of the book of terrorist tactics.

      I have read them back in the 90s. Could be very interesting how the content in them might look now.

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    2. The thing I like about thinking about Werewolves as terrorists is that it's actually about terror. The way some of the garou are described in the book, it hints that they basically just go around hunting and killing humans in a sort of race war. It is actually really dark, but not made quite explicit.

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  2. What rules system would you propose it be converted to? Perhaps something along the lines of CoC (maybe not 7th ed, I haven't played any of that)?

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    1. I like the idea of doing it with One Roll Engine actually. The way fighting works in that system I think would suit it nicely. I would want something that was reasonably crunchy because fights between werewolves should be tactically interesting - not just roll a couple of dice and lose a few hit points.

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    2. I've been reading about this Ten Candles game: somewhat hung like that, with a countdown to player defeat, might be successfully adapted to the Werewolf-terrorist premise.

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  3. Yeah! Wyld create chaos, Weaver turn chaos into order and Wyrm destroys everything.
    And I agreed with you, storyteller games have nice concepts but are poorly implemented.

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  4. There was a lot to love about the core WtA concepts (the idea of being something primal and horrifying that just doesn't belong in modern human society; the Umbra; the Fomori body-horror), tons of cheesiness (the ethnic stereotypes, the Captain Planet vibe, the teenage-Rage-Against-The-Machine aesthetic), and much that was implausible (how the hell could these werewolves exist in modern society?) but I'll always look on it fondly.

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