Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/06/06/tabletop-review-skinner-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/
Skinner is first adventure released for Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition. Much like Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition‘s Dust to Dust, this adventure is written primarily for long time gamers who know the ins and outs of the setting and who either own, read or have played through nearly everything published for it. Unlike Dust to Dust which takes into account that new gamers and Storytellers might be using the adventure (and offers a lovely flowchart to help the latter keep things focused), Skinner is unabashedly for the diehard zealots that have stuck with over the past twenty years. The entire adventure revolves around an infamous antagonist character who primarily appeared in a few pieces of fiction and supplements that the majority of Werewolf gamers would have never read nor heard about unless, as previously mentioned, they were pretty hardcore into the game and devoured everything released for not just W:TA, but V:TM and M:TA as well! This means the average gamer, or even average White Wolf fan won’t be able to get the maximum effect out of this adventure and will be left wondering why this particular character, for whom the adventure is named after, is such a big deal. Because so much of the adventure revolves around the characters being QUITE familiar with the “Skinner,” either through direct encounter or second hand rumor mills, only a small fraction of Old World of Darkness fans will be able to truly “get” this adventure or run it with any sense of the emotion and creepiness it is meant to exude. This is a disappointment as I had high hopes for Skinner, but it’s not something I could unleash on new players, or even casual White Wolf gamers because I’d need to be sure they knew who the antagonist was in great detail. Basically, this adventure becomes the equivalent of moody goth club filled with middle aged paunchy Bauhaus fans that actively try to keep new blood from seeing what all the fuss is about, unwittingly leading their beloved pastime to become even more insular. It’s a real shame.
So to help Keepers and players alike, here’s a little background on Sam Haight, who people either love or find to be one of the biggest Marty Stus in White Wolf history. Sam was a kinfolk to the Children of Gaia, but he was unsatisfied with his role and longed to be a werewolf. His father too was disappointed his son wasn’t Garou and knocked him around regularly for it. Sam eventually became a hunter and when animals stopped interesting him, he went after vampires. He discovered he could become a Ghoul by drinking vampire blood and did that to give him a little bit of power. Then he discovered a ritual where if he killed several Garous, skinned them and performed a rare magic ritual, he could become a werewolf. So he did this and became a Ghoul Skin Dancer. He taught other Kinfolk the ritual and tried to create his own tribe. Along the way he also becomes Wyrm-tainted and through the use of a magical artifact he also gained the powers of a Mage (Verbena I think). At this point White Wolf started touted “The Skinner” as “The Ultimate Bad Ass” and “White Wolf’s Most Popular Villain,” but in truth people either really loved the character or hated the insanity of it all. There wasn’t much of a middle ground. Eventually Skinner tangled with a fourth gen Baali in Mexico City and died quickly and horribly, which became another bone of contention between fans. Those that loved Skinner Goldberg-style were upset he was punked out so easily, while those that hated him (which included a good portion of White Wolf staff at the time) were glad the character was finally gone and in a manner that demonstrated just how powerful a Methuselah should be. For myself, I personally liked Skinner when he was just a perversion of the Native American skinwalker version of the werewolf myth, but when they started giving him Disciplines and Spheres all while protecting him from Paradox, it got more than a little insane.
Well, Sam Haight might not be as dead as one though. Skinner is all about the serial killings of Garou, left skinned in an easily found manner, as sort of a taunt to Werewolves. Is it the Skinner returned from the dead, his clone that was mentioned in When Will You Rage, an anthology of short W:TA stories, a “Son of Sam” style killer or something far weirder? I won’t reveal the truth as players will have to figure that out for themselves. I will say that the concept is an interesting one, and the investigative side of the adventure is a lot of fun, but the ultimate climax is extremely well…anticlimatic as this Skinner is easily put down by a well coordinated pack. People familiar with the original saga of Sam Haight will probably be disappointed by what they eventually encounter here, but at the same time fans and detractors of the character will be happy he’s just missing V:TM and M:TA abilities.
In truth though, the side story of the adventure is far more interesting to me than the tale of whether or not The Skinner has returned from the dead. Here we have the machinations of one spirit, Tick, who wishes to supplant Minotaur as the Pack/Tribal Totem of the Skin Dancers. Although she is by no means in league with the Wyrm, her attempts to usurp Minotaur’s position involves subtly increasing his anger and driving him mad, leading the Labyrinth to start merging with the Black Labyrinth, causing Minotaur to become Wyrm-tainted. Can the players save Minotaur from succumbing to the Wyrm or is he too far gone to the point where players will have to put him down lest the Wyrm gains a powerful new ally – one who already has a loathing for a Garou tribe in the Black Furies. This is a wonderful side story and it’s written in such a way to make players think violence is the correct answer. After all, Werewolf: The Apocalypse is far more combat oriented that other World of Darkness games and you’re dealing with a spirit who is easily prone to violence in the first place. However, the “Good Ending” to use video game terms is to try and cleanse Minotaur and save him from the Wyrm. It’s a hell of a lot harder to do, and I like that the mechanics and writing both reflect this. I honestly wish this had been the core storyline and the Skinner plot the side story, but alas, it wasn’t up to me.
Overall, Skinner gets a thumbs in the middle from me. I think the adventure is well written, but it’s also extremely insular to the point where only the most devout White Wolf fans will be able to get the maximum effect out of it. Everyone else will just be kind of “meh” to the storyline or “Who is Skinner and why should I care?” It’s a very nice bit of fan service to the more zealous W:TA fans and in truth, that’s the majority of who purchased Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition, but it would have been nice for the adventure to make the effort to be somewhat inviting to newcomers. After all, new blood is the only way any RPG is going to survive and Skinner is about as uninviting to newcomers as some 4e Shadowrun releases. I like the core story concept, but felt that the final battle against the Skin Dancers was pretty anticlimatic and uninteresting, especially when there were multiple far less convoluted ways to use the return of Sam Haight, both metaphorically and for real, but I loved the Tick and Minotaur bits. In all, I can’t really recommend Skinner to anyone but White Wolf fans who probably own this already by being a Kickstarter backer. It’s an example of a product tailored made to a very niche subsect of a fanbase, but one which said sect will be utterly thrilled with.