While Lestat-loving role-playing gamers of the ‘90s were busy playing White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade, gamers who craved action were busy playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Much like vampires and their clans, these werewolves were divided into tribes, each with its own powers, goals, and issues. Here they all are, ranked from best to worst.
More than any other White Wolf game—more than almost any other RPG ever, really—Werewolf: The Apocalypse is about combat. Even the weakest werewolves are horrifying murder machines, who could tear most vampires apart like a dinner croissant in a single turn. The Get of Fenris are effectively the fighter class of this RPG, with virtually all their werewolf powers devited to killing things more efficiently and more violently. This meant not only were they most powerful at the game’s primary play mode, they were also terrifyingly strong—strong enough to take on the many, many other werewolf-hating monsters that populate the game.
This may be a controversial pick. Because while all werewolves are basically hippy, nature-loving warriors for Gaea, who hate humans for our world-polluting ways, Glass Walkers are the exception. They’ve embraced humanity, to the point where they happily live inside cities, own computers, hold down jobs, etc. Technically, they’re supposed to be working inside the human system to bring it down the evil Wyrm (the nebulous entity that is corrupting the world, a.ka. Gaia), but most Glass Walkers are really just fans of sleeping in comfortable beds, in rooms with central air. Anyway, in a role-playing game where 93% or so of the characters hate cities, technology, computers, and every other aspect of modern society, having a Glass Walker in the group, offering his/her resources—like a car, and/or access to the internet—is almost essential to accomplishing anything.
In this RPG, the Werewolves are fighting to keep the evil forces of the Wyrm from corrupting the planet and kicking off the apocalypse. Besides the whole “turning-into-a-wolf-or-a-man-or-a-wolf-man” powers, many werewolves gain other mystical powers from accessing the spirit world, called the Umbra. Almost like wizards or mages, the Silent Striders have spent their time studying the Umbra—thus learning bizarre, unique powers that no other werewolves have, but also turning them into spooky, self-absorbed drifters. The most powerful Silent Striders can do crazy stuff, like travel through mirrors, make themselves huge, and more, so they always make a unique contribution to any game of Werewolf.
The Red Talons are almost the complete opposite of Glass Walkers; not only do they loathe humanity, they’re almost always wolves, with the ability to turn human (as opposed to the other way around). In fact they dislike humans so much, they absolutely hate being in human form, and avoid it whenever possible. While some Red Talons are happy to murder any human they see (and feel they can get away with), most are a bit more reasonable, which is usually how they get worked into campaigns. If you can manage to create one of these guys, they often bring a fascinating character conflict to any group. Also, they especially hate the bejeezus out of vampires, and that’s always fun.
One of two Native American tribes of werewolves, the Wendigo have a chip on their fuzzy shoulders about Europeans colonizing their way onto the continent and bringing the taint of the Wyrm along with them (this distrust actually extends to European-based werewolf tribes, as well). However, most Wendigo agree that the Wyrm is a bigger threat than white people, and choose to focus on that… for now. The Wendigo are great fighters, but also have impressive stealth ability, which basically makes them werewolf ninjas. This is not even slightly a bad thing in this game.
The Black Furies are excellent fighters, if not quite as excellent as the Get of Fenris; on the other hand, they aren’t quite as homicidally violent as the Get of Fenris, either, which usually makes them better for the role-playing aspects of the game. The Black Furies are also an all-female tribe of werewolves, who claim to be descended from Amazons, but who—despite the beliefs of both werewolves and real-life Apocalypse players—aren’t man-haters, so much as women-supporters. They do, however, tend to murder most of the male babies born to them, so that limits their game-play value in a few ways, unfortunately.
In my ranking of Vampire: The Masquerade clans, I put the Ventrue at #1, because they’re the nobility of the vampire world. Similarly, the Silver Fangs are the nobility of the werewolf world—so why are they ranked so low? Mainly because there’s not much of a werewolf political arena. Sure, every few centuries, the heads of the clans may get together and decree a few things, but mainly werewolves hang out by themselves or in small packs. There’s not much for Silver Fangs to do. However, this may be for the best, because for some reason White Wolf decided that the Silver Fangs were also hopelessly inbred, not only weakening them physically, but often making them varying degrees of insane. Stil, if you basically want to play a chaotic neutral werewolf, the Silver Fangs have got you covered.
Children of Gaia are peace-loving pacifists, which you might think would make them completely useless in the combat-heay world of Werewolf, except even werewolf pacifists still fly into murderous rages when they see the servants of the Wyrm. It’s all about perspective! Plus, the Children of Gaia are the self-appointed peacekeepers between the various werewolf tribes, most of whom hate each another for one reason or another; this is often a very useful character to add to a Werewolf: The Apocalypse gaming group.
These Gaelic werewolves are, essentially, bards. They sing, they dance, they wander around and have a happy-go-lucky, deeply romantic attitude that, basically, doesn’t match with the tone of the other werewolves—or even, really, the game itself. About the best you can say for them is that if you don’t play your Fianna as obnoxiously extroverted, you’re basically playing a pretty normal werewolf. Please note that the Fianna are pretty terrible, but are still only ranked #9 in this list.
The other Native American werewolf tribe. The good news is that the Uktena are the very best at hunting and destroying the Wyrm and its servants. The bad news is that this has brought the Uktena in contact with the Wyrm a great deal, to the point where it seems to be infecting them. The Uktena are trying to use the Wyrm’s dark powers against it, but this freaks the other werewolf clans out. Then there’s the other unfortunate news: The Uktena are the “primitive” mysticism-obsessed Native American tribe. Imagine a bunch of lycanthropic Johnny Depps as Tonto from Disney’s terrible Lone Ranger movie (along with the upsetting racist overtones) and you basically have the Uktena.
Preserving Gaia is secondary to the Shadow Lords; their first goal is to wrest the power of the Werewolf world from the Silver Fangs. These werewolves are very political, manipulative, and conniving, which makes them extremely unlike any other Tribe. Unfortunately, as I mentioned when describing the Silver Fangs, werewolves don’t really have much of a political structure for the Shadow Lords to secretly plot to take over. In the end, unless the game master has worked up a very specific story utilizing them, Shadow Lords don’t end up being Machavellian schemers, as much as paranoid assholes.
As mentioned above, Werewolf is a game primarily about rage-fueled, fur-covered murder machines, killing all the evil things they can get their claws and fangs on. Werewolf also describes the Stargazer Tribe as “calm” and “introverted,” with a penchant for astrology—none of which makes you a better or more interesting werewolf. About the best you can say about them is that they’re not actively bad—just immensely boring.
These are werewolves that have given themselves over to the Wyrm. They are as evil as any D&D monster race, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of a player-character choosing to be one until years after the game’s debut. That’s because there’s not a lot of nuance to being a Black Spiral Dancer; you are evil as hell, and every other werewolf wants to murder you on sight. Turns out it’s hard to go on an adventure when you’re getting murdered every 10 minutes of gameplay.
Like the Glass Walkers, the Bone Gnawers have embraced humanity and their cities. Unlike the Glass Walkers, however, the Bone Gnawers are really bad at embracing humanity, and thus have all ended up as homeless people. Seriously, this is a race of werewolves who spend their time sifting through people’s trash for food and sleeping in the streets. I don’t want to blow your mind, but this is not as much fun to play as you might initially think. Basically, Bone Gnawers are Glass Walkers with none of the skills, technology or benefits, and also all the other characters think you’re bad at being a werewolf.
Art, from top to bottom: Matt Wagner, Steve Prescott, and Dan Brereton.