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Urrah & Ancestors

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  • Urrah & Ancestors

    So an open question to get people's opinions and takes on a certain, well, not even issue necessarily, but a question I've settled upon.

    So I've been doing research because of an interest in the concept of Ancestors. I've spent the last couple days researching Ancestor Veneration as a real world concept and while that by no means makes me an expert, it has made me think a lot about the nature of ancestors in the setting and how I should handle them as either a player or Storyteller.

    So as I've been reading about ancestor spirits, death rites, and tribal home lands; I ended up having a question that I wasn't entirely certain how to handle. I had rough ideas but I wasn't yet confident with them.

    So basically here's my question for y'all: how do you handle the relation between the urban tribes and their ancestor spirits?

    I really like the story about the Silent Striders and why they're divided from their ancestors. I also understand how the meritocratic and less traditional attitudes of the Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers would lead them to loose touch with their Pure Breeding.

    However, in an animist world, how do you justify simply abandoning or ignoring your ancestors? The Garou are familial and wouldn't it be better to keep your family close even if only in spiritual form? That's not even touching on the plentiful pragmatic benefits.

    Anyway, what do y'all think? How would you handle the relationship between the Bone Gnawers & Glass Walkers and their ancestors?

  • #2
    Form my chronicles, I state the nature of the Glass Walker and Bone Gnawer totems - they're vermin - are "spiritually polluting" enough (at least in regards to being appropriate totems for a race of predators) that they cut off those Garou ability to use the Ancestors ability.

    That doesn't mean that those totems are of the Wyrm. It's just that vermin totems are very inappropriate for a race of predators. Those totems are powerful and they obviously produce a lot of benefits to those tribes. But there is a cost to having vermin as totem if you are a Garou.

    If you want to use different language, the tribal totem chiminage aspects of those spirits means you sacrifice being able to call upon your ancestors. Either the original Glass Walkers or Bone Gnawer ancestors who won the chiminage of those spirits thought it was a good price to pay, or they didn't understand what they were getting into. If the second case, it was something that slowly happened over time, but since the origins of the Garou are thousands of years in the Stone Age, the tribes haven't had it for so long it might as well have always been the case.

    Pack totem bans don't produce the same effect since the relationship of a totem to its tribal children and pack children are quite different. We see this time and again when comparing the tribes and their totem's pack totem write ups.

    Same applies to Pure Breed. The nature of the totem prevents it. So the tribes gave up entirely.

    The reason those tribes give as to why they don't have Ancestors (they don't have anything to teach us, the past is dead) is an excuse they give to the other tribes as it sounds better.


    • #3
      That's certainly an interesting way of looking at it. The sort of idea that by pledging themselves to these vermin totems of survival at any cost, they've ultimately turned their focus to the moment rather then the past spirits.

      I can also definitely see that whatever the reason for the Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers losing contact with their ancestor spirits, they're current explanations are in a large part saving face.

      With your understanding of it, what do you think actually happens to the ancestor spirits? Are they lost somewhere in the umbra? Does their gnosis simply become material for scavenger rats and roaches to consume? Are they simply cut off from their descendants in the tribal homelands?


      • #4
        That's an interesting question I haven't given any thought to. It makes sense that such Ancestor spirits would be particularly weakened by the abandonment of ancestral rites/worship and such compared to other Garou Ancestors. It's entirely possible they linger for a while in their tribal homelands, in areas practically inaccessible to any Garou travelling there, but ultimately succumb to a Slumber that won't see them waken. Although an epic spirit quest in the umbra might just be enough for an individual or pack of Garou to make contact and waken one of them for a while until she falls into slumber again.

        I believe there are pack totems that grant pack members use of the Ancestors Ability, and usually this still applies to Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers and such. Many of these totems use the ability, but say that members are exercising some other ancestral memory, not Garou ancestors. But I think at least one does.


        • #5
          I think it's important to separate that Ancestors Background from how a Tribe approaches ancestor spirits.

          There's no simple answer to the question with the Bone Gnawers. A Tribe with as many adopted members as it does is going to have a lot of cultural baggage when it comes to venerating ancestors that had them kicked out of other Tribes and so on. As well you have a Tribe with "survival" as a major theme of their attitude, so they have less positive ideas around dying in a fashion that makes you special enough to get shrines made to you. This doesn't necessarily mean the Gnawers abandon their ancestors, they just don't perform more traditional veneration and worship practices. Any Gnawer that dies in a fashion that would make them an ancestor spirit wouldn't want to be treated that way; after all their a spirit and as a spirit embody an idea. Offering chiminage to a Gnawer ancestor spirit means you need to tailor your offering to that spirit, which mean you're probably going to be doing something to the benefit of the living Tribe, as that's what would please such a spirit in the first place rather than wasting resources on the dead.

          The Glass Walkers have a more tense relationship with the ancestors from their Tribe. They actually do perform ancestor veneration in their own way (see: the Memorial Day seasonal rite from GW rev. appropriately enough given the week), but they don't want a relationship from their ancestors. The same way Mentors are discouraged in the Tribe, they don't want to get attached to a teacher. Showing someone a way to do something is OK. Teaching them that this is the way it's been done so it's the way it should be done isn't. As ancestor spirits get trapped in the ways that were appropriate in their life time, they get less and less "useful" to the Tribe and are honored in more abstract ways. Dealing with ancestor spirits, like the Gnawers in this respect, becomes more like dealing with any other spirit rather than a spirit you have a deep connection with; but GW spirits are spirits that embody accepting the idea that the old is less important than the new.


          • #6
            I'm not overly familiar with totems which provide ancestor effects so I can't speak to that but I do think that putting these thoughts together is helping me put together a strong idea.

            I definitely think that Heavy Arms makes a good point about how the tribal attitudes lean away towards death rites and ancestor veneration while also confusing things with their extremely muddy genetic history. This alongside Black Fox's idea about how the totem broods and spirits of the tribes themselves might effect how ancestors manifest.

            Taking these ideas together I can start to see how one might represent these tribes relationships with their ancestors as somewhat starved spirits slumbering within the tribal homelands and perhaps even being scavenged by other spirits with only a rare few cultural heroes being directed with enough power to sustain themselves. Which, taken as an image all together, one begins to see why these spirits wouldn't much care to interact with their descendants or couldn't even if they wanted to.

            Thanks to both of you for posting and sharing your ideas, it's really helping me develop a more solid picture of what these tribe's ancestor cultures might look like!


            • #7
              A potentially interesting addition I've just come across which may serve as further evidence of the theory as far as the Bone Gnawers go is that Ratkin are also restricted from the Ancestors background, although they may also have additional factors at play.


              • #8
                • The Silent Striders have totally no access to their ancestors. Not just the Background, but also the concept. They cannot learn Gifts from their ancestor-spirits, cannot learn history or culture from them, because they're just not there.

                • The Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers do in fact have full access to the Ancestor spirits of their tribes; they can summon them, they can meet them in the Homelands, they can learn Gifts and lore from them, all of that. But they cannot use the Ancestors background, because the Gnawers and Walkers live in an environment where things change so fast that the guidance of an ancestor from 300 years ago might as well be useless. Imagine channeling a Dutch rum-runner from 1673, and trying to get his help in handling the economic environs of 2020. Essentially the ancestors are there, but the tribe's culture has abandoned the practice of venerating and channeling them, allowing that particular ability to wither on the vine.

                • The Ratkin also have Ancestor spirits that can be summoned, teach Gifts, etc. But the Ratkin don't really do the "channeling" thing - for one, they're often in the same spot the Urban tribes are in, where the experiences of your ancestors just aren't seen as relevant. In addition, the Ratkin do have a (very rudimentary) form of racial memory... and then there's the whole "tainted by the wyld and breeding with the spirits" thing. I imagine that when entire segments of your population were literally living in umbral realms up until they weren't, the whole concept of "Ancestors" gets muddled up.

                • Mokole and Bastet, again, DO have ancestor-spirits. However the Mokole also have Mnesis, which makes channeling Ancestor-spirits for knowledge rather silly. And the Bastet literally have an admonition in their Litany prohibiting spirits riding them - one which the Swara and Hengeyokai Khan both ignore; and they both have access to the Ancestors background. Most Bastet probably just don't want Grandpa snooping on their business. Further, both Bastet and Mokole have very limited access to the Umbra, which probably puts a pinch on their ability to really get in there with their Ancestors anyway.

                • The Ananasi do not have Ancestor-spirits. They could, perhaps - except for the fact that an Incarna is basically micro-managing the entire Changing Breed's spirituality, and she makes a specific point of barring access to the Ancestors background. I imagine it's likely that any Ananasi whose deeds are great enough to warrant the formation of an ancestor-spirit probably ends up having that spiritual echo absorbed by Ananasa upon the spider's death.

                • Rokea do not appear to get access to the Ancestors background. do they have ancestor-spirits? I doubt the Rokea care. Ancestors are a very human idea after all, and besides, if a Rokea is dead now, they did a pretty poor job of being a Rokea, didn't they? Who wants to take lessons from the idiot who was killed by three drunks and a scuba tank outside of Nantucket?


                • #9
                  I think Cat brought up some good points. Ancestor spirits can still be out there, just not accessible through the Ancestors background. Though I agree with Gryffon15's comments that the lack of actual ancestor worship by some certain tribes should affect them. Effectively, they are not receiving Chiminage and should weaken over time. But those two ideas are not incompatible. STs will just adjudicate this in a manner that makes sense to them.

                  However, I want to challenge the notion that Ancestors is something one "practices" or "develops" or "learns" how to do. So that a particular Tribe can simply choose not to do it.

                  Ancestors is a background. And it is something that can't normally be improved in game. Attributes, Abilities, and Gifts can be purchased with XP. And Rites can be learned. Spending XP is how a character develops those traits. But Backgrounds aren't like that. Only the Totem background is an exception where you can spend XP. Other Background can't be improved unless there is some in-story justification for it and the ST allows it. Sometimes this is just due to roleplay. "Bob, you've been talking with that reporter at the bar a lot and you've become friends. Add one to your Contacts ranks." Other times, it is due to other actions such as a vampire committing diablerie and loweing their Generation. And of course, Background traits can be reduced similarly.

                  But I've never seen any ST or Player ever try to change an Ancestors rating. It's just assumed that it is permanent and can only be done at character creation. It's a "gift" of the character in the same way someone is born with a supernatural merit or Pure Breed.

                  It is always possible the ST can come up with some kind of justification to do so. And that's fine. But let's not pretend that is normal or even usually possible. It is very out of the ordinary and extremely remarkable.

                  You either have it or you don't. So the fact that the Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers don't have that Ability indicates something. It's not that they don't practice the Rite of Summoning to summon one of their ancestor spirits. Or that they haven't bothered to learn how to use the Ancestors background. Ancestors isn't something one develops or learns how to do. At least, you can't if you don't have the "gift". Though for story purposes one can imagine like shapechanging, a character who can do it must be taught some things even though it is a natural ability for Garou (like a baby learning to walk). But just like a human can't learn how to shapechange into a wolf, a Garou without that Ancestors "gift" can't learn how to do it either. That's not a result of tribal culture. Otherwise we'd be told that this Background can't be purchased with Background traits, but could with Freebies.

                  I don't think it's a case where those tribes simply choose not to learn it. That implies they can. But we don't have the mechanics that shows they could. So I think it's alright if someone requires an explanation for it. That's what caused me to come up with my own answer. I had the same question.

                  Furthermore, the idea that Ancestors isn't really useful because we're so modern, and the old guys don't know what to do doesn't make sense to me. As an ST, I have no problem with saying a PC can't use Ancestors in certain situations. I wouldn't allow its use for Computers (in most cases). But almost universally, any Garou could benefit from it when the Brawl ability is needed. Even the oldest Stone Age ancestor's knowledge will be useful for that. And even something more modern like Firearms could still be useful. An Ancestor might not be familiar with that particular gun, but if he was a trained huntsman or crackshot, he'd certainly help with knowing how to aim and factoring in what could cause the bullet to miss. What that dot in each Ability covers can be a wide range of applications.


                  • #10
                    I also agree with a lot of the points that Cat made and I also agree Black Fox that the implication that they don't have access to the background should signify something more then a simple cultural context. The books even point out that a Glass Walker developing Ancestors would be as significant a chronicle focus to change the setting on its head as a Bone Gnawers with pure breeding.

                    Also like Black Fox said, ancestors might not have talents for the modern world but some skills are universal. Even more then that though, I feel that pragmatic outlook doesn't really describe how Ancestor Veneration practices tend to behave and their outlook.

                    Connection to your departed ancestors isn't just recognizing the usefulness of their personal talents or even just a desire to maintain a familial connection across the veil, your ancestors were in many ways your spiritual body men. Your ancestors were your in-roads to the other side who had knowledge hidden from the living. Their anger brought disease, madness, and misfortune while their benevolence helped guide their living family to health, prosperity, and harmony. The connection was not simply pragmatic or emotional, it was highly spiritual.

                    We all know that the Silent Striders have been forever been radically altered by their exile from their tribal homelands and inability to access their ancestors. I think that looking at the Glass Walkers and Bone Gnawers, while they may sire pragmatism as their own explanation, I think the root cause is likely to be far more spiritually significant in nature.

                    We all know that the Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers/Warders are considered outsiders by the Garou Nation. Tainted by their ties to human civilization. Perhaps this is rooted in the creation of those tribes as well. As the first ancestors of the tribe chose civilization over the primordial wilds, their ancestors cut them off as a punishment and/or act of vengeance for the perceived betrayal of their living descendants.

                    This may or may not then connect to the nature of their totems, Rat and Cockroach. Scavengers who exacted chiminage from the ephemera of fallen garou while further cementing the living tribes distance from their primordial ancestors who had been the Warders of Tools and had the Blood of Scavengers.

                    Of course though, this is all speculation.