Monday, July 15, 2019

100 Kinfolk: A Werewolf The Apocalypse Project

If you've ever played Werewolf the Apocalypse, then you know there is a lot to take in when it comes to that game and its setting. There's the centuries-spanning lore of the world, hundreds of monsters of flesh and spirit alike, factions, camps, allies, threats, and all of the dark nooks and crannies of the World of Darkness that always seem to hide another rabbit hole for you to fall down.

One of the more interesting elements of the game that often gets overlooked, though, are kinfolk. The little brothers and sisters of the garou, these humans and wolves help pass on the potential to become a shapeshifter to their children, but they also act as the support staff (and in many cases the backbone) of the nation. They're the ones that run the guns, stamp the papers, move the supplies, and clean up the messes left behind by werewolf packs, and it's a largely thankless job.

Garou are the rock stars, but kinfolk are roadies, stage hands, mixers... you get the idea.
Something I noticed, as well, was that a lot of storytellers (and players if I'm honest) sort of forget that kinfolk are even there, except as a nebulous force that can sometimes help out. Like shoemaker elves. And even when people do try to include kinfolk, they can often feel at a loss as to where to begin with them. Who are they supposed to be, what are they supposed to do, and how is it supposed to help the nation?

Well, hopefully I've got some answers for you.

The 100 Kinfolk Project

I've been writing storyteller supplements for a few years now, and of all the disparate project I've put out, I noticed that the most popular ones were always lists of background characters. Characters the storyteller doesn't really plan for, because they aren't an important part of the current campaign, nor do they function as a set piece. Collections like 100 NPCs You Might Meet at The Tavern, along with 100 Merchants to Encounter, for example, are the ones that have some of the biggest consistent sales.

You see a man sitting at a table. What's he look like? Ugh... he's... smoking...
Since I wanted to stretch my wings a bit, I thought I'd put together something that took that basic premise, but extended it into Werewolf. The idea was to create 100 unique kinfolk for every werewolf tribe, thereby ensuring that no matter who was at your table, or where your campaign was taking place, that there would be a list you could draw some background characters from. I reached out to High Level Games, pitched this project, and we got cracking on making some kinfolk!

So far the completed tribe lists includes:

At time of writing I'm elbow-deep in the Silver Fangs, and already making notes on the Shadow Lords. Additionally, if you don't see your favorite tribe up right now, check back later, as I'll be updating this list whenever a new collection comes out!

What Makes These Collections Useful?

When I first started writing NPC collections, I wanted to make sure they were more than just a general collection of names and descriptions; I required them to be useful in some way to the people who were bringing them to the table.

In my fantasy gaming collections that meant including characters with knowledge about the local area, who could lay out rumors, identify magic items, sell the party sundries, or who might be hired to tail a notable NPC. Some of them were meant to act as security, and a few of them were just for local color, but the majority had some purpose they fulfilled, and some use they could be turned to in order to help you keep the story moving forward.

I wanted to do the same thing with my kinfolk collections.

Sometimes you just need the right cog to keep your machine ticking away.
The kinfolk in these lists aren't here just for set dressing. From private detectives and tech gurus, to police officers, snipers, soldiers, and nurses, they're here to help make sure that any pack has support in its endeavors to fight the Wyrm. You'll find investigative journalists, stock brokers with insider information on enemy organizations like Pentex, and even models, entertainers, and diplomats who can all ease the red tape associated with getting into places that could otherwise prove to be quite a chore. Some of them can wield gnosis, and some of them are expert crafters, capable of furnishing garou with items they wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.

And since many werewolves started their lives as just kinfolk before their first changes, these lists can also act as inspiration for people who aren't sure who their character should be.

What You Won't Find In These Collections

The World of Darkness is a horror setting. Full stop, no questions asked. It is a crumbling world where the shadows are deeper, the mean grow cruel, and where suffering has teeth. It's a world of blood and guts, where even a moment's distraction could send you howling into a blood frenzy, corrupting your soul in ways that will haunt you for the rest of your days.

However, those who read through these kinfolk collections will notice a decided lack of those kinds of themes. Instead you're more likely to find characters with tight communal relationships, who have living spouses, children they care about, and a decided lack of self-destructive coping mechanisms (for the most part, there are a few stand outs). You'll also find that, contrary to a lot of World of Darkness supplements out there, that characters in these collections are not shunned for their ethnicity, or punished for their identity. Nor will you find problematic allies of the sort who support atrocious causes or espouse hateful ideologies, expecting you to tacitly put up with them if you expect their help.

And you lost me...
Why do that, you might ask? Doesn't that seem like it would be the opposite of a supplement that would fit a horror game?

Well, there are two reasons.

The first, and most important, is that kinfolk still have the blood of the garou running through their veins. They are communal people (and animals), and what makes them different from normal people brings them together. They are part of a great secret, and that can be binding. They are tribal, and that means you defend your own. Especially when you're a rare resource that's precious for the continued existence of the garou nation as a whole. There are mechanisms in place to help kinfolk resolve their differences that aren't available to normal people, as well, ranging from mediation by garou, to bringing their troubles before their community elders. So while there are certainly resentments, frustrations, differences of opinion, and the occasional grudge, the kinfolk presented here are much more like average people who are banded together in a common cause.

The second is that kinfolk need to have something that's actually at risk to make it matter when they're in danger. If a character's entire life has been one long tragedy after another, and they've been kicked down the stairs at every turn, then it just isn't going to have any real impact when yet another terrible thing happens to them. That's true with PCs who try (often unsuccessfully) to walk that grimdark edge, and it's especially true for the supporting characters along the way. You want players to care about these NPCs, to want to protect them, and to feel responsible for them. Which is why a majority of them tend to be likable, willing to help (if not always eager), and why most of them are busy living lives filled with goals, drives, and plans.

Because cutting all of that short is a much bigger fall, and your players will feel a much heavier impact if the hammer comes down.

Also, while we're on the topic of World of Darkness stuff in general, and Werewolf in particular, you might find the following posts quite useful for your upcoming games:

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That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday. Hopefully you enjoyed, and if you do check out any of my guides, please leave a review once you've had a look!

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