Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/21/tabletop-review-book-of-the-wyrm-werewolf-the-apocalypse-20th-anniversary-edition/
Onyx Path Publishing has come a long way with their Kickstarter efforts. Book of the Wyrm is actually their 11th Kickstarter campaign (The 12th, Deluxe Vampire: The Dark Ages 20th Anniversary Edition is going on now!) and the third for Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition. What makes Book of the Wyrm so interesting is not that the entire book is about the Wyrm, its troops and what it looks to accomplish in bringing about the Apocalypse, but the fact that it came out in October of 2014, three months before the original listed delivery date. This make Book of the Wyrm one of the rare Kickstarter projects to not only come out on time, but beat the delivery date. That’s pretty impressive, and it shows that OPP really has mastered crowdfunding better than any other publisher out there.
Before we get into the Introduction, four chapters and the Appendices, I do want to take a moment to applaud the amazing artwork in this book. Unlike a lot of art we have seen in the 20AE line, the art in Book of the Wyrm is extremely horrific. It’s really well done. I can’t say beautiful, since much of the new art has gore, tentacles and tumours, but it’s really impressive and high quality. At times the art reminds me of something you’d see in Lamentations of the Flame Princess or the old Black Dog label White Wolf used to have for releases like HoL and Clanbook: Tzimisce. This is rather appropriate, as Black Dog Game Factory is actually IN Book of the Wyrm as one of the corporate subsidiaries of Pentex, the main corporate empire of the Wyrm. So the art is not for the faint of heart or young children, but anyone even THINKING of buying Book of the Wyrm is a longtime fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse and will know that going in to this. Still, just a warning for those of you reading this review who are unfamiliar with the brand. Fantastic art, but very creepy and/or squick-y.
“The Wyrm’s Call” is the Introduction for Book of the Wyrm and right off the bat, you should realize this is not going to be newcomer friendly. It references previous W:tA and W20 releases and makes no attempt to explain mechanics or specific game terminology/jargon. Of course, it shouldn’t have to. It’s clearly a sourcebook, not a core rulebook. You will need W20 in order to make sense of Book of the Wyrm if you’re not already familiar with Werewolf: the Apocalypse, so go read (or preferably purchase) the 20AE already. It’s exceptionally well done, and Book of the Wyrm will make a lot more sense after you flip through the hundreds of pages that will explain the Garou, gifts, and mechanics.
“The Wyrm’s Call” makes it clear that this book is all about the evil, chaotic, psychotic and monstrous nature of the Wyrm. This is not a happy book to read. It’s a book about what how the bad guys of Werewolf: the Apoclaypse think, plan, breed and plot. There are a lot of potential triggers in here, from cannibalism to necrophilia. Child abuse? Rape? Extreme violence and gore? Expect that and more from Book of the Wyrm. That’s why the Introduction pretty much is the equivalent of someone jumping up and down with their arms waving saying, “Hey! Don’t come over here unless you have a cast iron stomach.” The OPP team is perhaps the most PC group of writers and developers in the tabletop industry right now, which means as much as they enjoy tackling the sadistic and horrific nature of the Wyrm in extreme detail, they also don’t want their customers to have traumatic flashbacks to something that might have happened to them, or even feel uncomfortable reading their book. Hence the warnings. So now you’re warned by me too. If you are easily offended, grossed out or have things that can really make you feel uncomfortable, know you’re probably not the target audience for Book of the Wyrm. Also, if you are able to enjoy Book of the Wyrm for what it is and want to use it in your Werewolf: The Apocalypse game, don’t be a dick and throw in bits you know your players will be uncomfortable with by using, “Well it’s canon in this book” as an excuse. Don’t drive people away from our hobby. Anyway, kudos to OPP for include some warnings about the book’s material and for using the Introduction to highlight what each chapter of the book will be about.
Chapter One: Lore of the Wyrm gives you an overview of how the conflict between the Wyrm, Weaver and Wyld began. You see how the Wyrm went insane and became the source of corruption, pollution and chaos in our world. Once there was balance between the Triat. Now there is only war. Like Warhammer 40K, if all the Space Marines were Space Wolves. Anyway, Chapter One not only gives you a look at the history of the conflict, but how the Wyrm itself has broken apart and created a twisted hierarchy within its remnants as well as dark mirror version of the Triat. Yes, the book continually uses Triat instead of Triad. It’s a specific W:TA term, not a repeated misspelling, for those new to the game. You’ll learn about the three core pieces of the Wyrm in its new Triat: Beast-of-War, Eater-of-Souls and the Defiler. There’s also a long list of Urge Wyrms (Negative Emotions) and their Avatars, the four Elemental Wyrms (Smog, Toxin, Sludge and Balefire) and how the Wyrm interacts with the Spirit Realm of the Umbra. The chapter ends with an extremely long in-depth look at the pemi-plane of Malfeas, which is the realm which the Wyrm calls home. It’s eleven pages of pure description, showcasing different duchies the land is divided into, along with showcasing how extremely messed up Malfeas is. Definitely worth reading, and it will really give you a great idea of how the Wyrm is actually quite orderly in its chaos and corruption. Well done.
“Chapter Two: Pawns & Puppets” is exactly what you expect it to be. Here you get a look at the corporations, factions, allies, servants and unwitting dupes of the Wyrm. This chapter primarily focuses on Pentex, which is perhaps the most common way that PCs encounter the Wyrm in a game of W:TA. You get a look at Pentex’s structure, how it weathered the recent economic downturn, a whole list of subsidiaries and crazy products they put out and, of course, the people that run the corporation. It’s a fascinating and fun look, because Pentex has always been where OPP (and White Wolf before them) have let their imaginations run wild with dark satiric material. There are looks at the Occupy effort and how the Wyrm corrupted that, how Pentex influences video games, movies, fast food, and even the World of Darkness’ version of Anonymous. Perhaps the most entertaining part is the entry for Black Dog, where OPP mocks its own product line as well as the entire tabletop industry as a whole. World of Darkness products aren’t usually known for being laugh out loud funny, but you’ll definitely do so here. However, once the mirth has died down, you realize what a source of horror and pure eeeeevil (Indeed!) these bits of comedy relief can be when taken seriously in the actual game world. Still, it’s nice to see that the OGL of the 3.0 era is given a wonderful send-up as pure malevolence here.
Besides Black Dog, you’ll also see companies like Endron Oil, Magadon Pharmaceuticals and Sunburst Computers. Really though, a lot of readers, especially Kickstarter backers, will be reading this chapter for a look at the Board of Directors. Part of the crowd funding effort involves nominating and voting for new board members, and here you get to see the result. You’ll learn about the core board members and the specific machinations and goals they have in place. Each one is a work of art, if you consider art a toxic waste dump where your soul once used to reside. Truly, it is a lot of fun to see the Board of Directors given names, backgrounds and history. It helps a Storyteller make better use of them, as well as let them come to life in his or her Chronicle. The look at the new board members and the entire election process is a lot of fun too. More than any other book in the 20AE line for the Classic World of Darkness, you can really see and feel how much fun the authors had putting the Book of the Wyrm together.
Of course, the chapter isn’t ALL Pentex. You also get a list of cults devoted to the Wyrm, along with who is in them and what their particular goals are. These cults range from a twisted take on P.E.T.A. to a small town’s city council. Everything in this chapter highlights how diverse and cutting edge the Wyrm is compared to the Garou, which are small in number and are often more anachronistic than some ancient Kindred. By the time you are done chapter two, you really do see how the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the Garou losing. It might fill you with a bit of sadness and hopelessness… which is exactly what the Wyrm wants you to feel.
“Chapter Three: The Never-Ending Dance” is all about the Black Spiral Dancers. You might want to read this chapter in conjunction with Clanbook: White Howlers just so you can see the complete history of the Wyrm’s werewolves and how they turned into the servants of corruption that they once fought so valiantly against. You see firsthand why the White Howlers went down into the Black Spiral, how they changed and why they now serve the Wyrm willingly. You see the war from the Black Spiral Dancers’ perspective and how they’ve already won. They’re just trying to prove to the Garou (which they really hate) that the war has been over for a long time and that they just refuse to accept their crushing defeat. It’s an interesting read, and it really lets you see the perverse mindset of a tribe that lies to themselves constantly in order to keep the tiniest bit of sanity that still remains within them.
You’ll get a look at the BSD’s twisted version of the Garou litany, see how the tribe treats and raises its Kinfolk and even how packs are organized. There are lists of dens and specific BSD’s of note that you can throw into your Chronicle if you are an enterprising sort of Storyteller. Perhaps most interesting is the section that shows what the Black Spiral Dancers think of each specific tribe – who is the most dangerous, the most easy to corrupt, their greatest enemies and what they feel to be each group’s weaknesses. Even better, there is a piece showcasing how the BSD and Wyrm corrupt Garou from each tribe to get them to fall and dance the Spiral themselves. Great stuff. The chapter concludes with lists of Gifts, Rites and Totems specific to the Black Spiral Dancers.
“Chapter Four: Feeling the Touch” covers everything else. As it takes up a fourth of the book with fifty-plus pages of content and art, you might find this is where you will spend most of your time when using Book of the Wyrm in an actual game. Within this chapter you’ll get a good long look at various breed of Fomori, and even what happens when they try to possess supernatural creatures like vampires, Garou, mages and Changelings. There is also a section on Banes and another on truly bizarre Wyrm spawnings. Perhaps the most interesting section in this chapter are what happens when other Changing Breeds such as Wererats, Werespiders, Weresharks and the like fall to the Wyrm and become its servants. Each Changing Breed gets several pages devoted to their Wyrm counterpart, and each one is extremely twisted. There are also several “Mockery Breeds” which are Pentex’s scientific experiment attempts to create its own wereanimals. There are the War Wolves, Anurana (toads), Samsa (Cockroaches that are all but impossible to kill but also terrified of everything and extremely paranoid) Kersai (Rhinos) and Yeren (great white apes). Each tribe is as screwed up as you can imagine, but the Samsa and Anurana seem like they can be potential converts to Gaia. Perhaps in your campaign they will!
Besides all these potential antagonists and cannon fodder, the chapter ends with a small section on Taints. How one becomes Tainted, the difference between physical and mental Taints, along with information on the Path of Corruption. It’s worth noting that this chapter ends with “Redemption for the Corrupted,” which means the book itself ends with a light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness. It’s this same little gasp of hope that will lead the reader to believe the Wyrm is not as all-powerful and unstoppable as it (and this book) would like to believe, as well as mirrors that bit of hope that keeps the Garou fighting for Gaia, even in the face of certain defeat. Perhaps this wasn’t intentional, but the critic in me likes the analogous poetry in it.
The last few pages of the book are the Appendix. Entitled, “Rotten Baubles,” this is a potpourri of various odds and ends. Fetishes and Equipment? It’s here. Some example Tainted products, like Lycanthrope: The Rapture 17th Anniversary Edition? It’s in here. Some Tainted alcohol or especially evil vehicles? Here you go. After that, it’s THIRTEEN PAGES of Kickstarter backer thank yous and the book is done. Huzzah!
So there you go. Book of the Wyrm is easily the best release for W20 besides the core rulebook so far, and it’s also the best release by Onyx Path Publishing this year. I loved nearly every page of the book and was thoroughly impressed by the time I was done with it. If you’re a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse or the Classic World of Darkness in general, this is a definite must-buy when it becomes available to the general public. It’s fantastic.