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  • need help with a totem

    I'm creating a npc werewolf pack to use in my New Orleans Vampire Chronicle. Before Katrina they were just a loose group of individuals who all did their own thing. After Katrina they came together as a proper pack to help each other deal with the sharp rise in harmful spirits created in the aftermath of the hurricane. One of the first things they did upon forming a proper pack was to recruit a Totem. Problem is, I don't really know much about WtF or what kinds of spirits make good Totems. Should it be something big like the spirit of the entire city? Or do Totems just tend to be random spirits, like the pack's Totem could be a crocodile spirit? What kind of Totem would you give to a pack who's job is to help an entire city recover from a major natural disaster.

  • #2
    I'm going to advise you based on how I approach these issues- if you don't find it helpful, well, you get what you pay for. : ) I think you might consider thinking of this project as a way to give yourself more storytelling tools, rather than a completist approach of making sure that your NPC pack is "canonical".

    The way you've phrased your question seems to be premised on an issue of "realism", or rather, "compatibility with established norms as laid out in WtF". If this is a Vampire game, and the werewolf pack is there purely for the purpose of interacting with your vampire PCs, I see no reason to worry about whether the pack's totem is "right" for that pack.

    First off, do you even need to define the totem? Is it going to play a meaningful role in the game as something your players are going to interact with? If it only ever does anything off-stage, you can handwave the whole thing. Given that vampires don't have much truck with the spirit world, I'm unsure why it would matter to them exactly how you design the pack's totem, or whether they have one at all.

    Assuming this is not the case, then the question becomes "how are the PCs going to interact with it". While those interactions don't need to be direct- they can "interact" through the advantages the totem gives to its pack- they should probably be defined before you start building the totem. For example, if the narrative purpose of the totem is as a spy which the PCs have relatively little opportunity to discover, then it doesn't particularly matter what its exact nature is- a cat-spirit is as good as an owl-spirit is as good as a sewage-spirit.
    If the purpose is to give greater definition and vividness to the pack, you still need to think about how that is actually going to enter the PCs field of vision. The most likely possibility, I think, would be through the Ban it imposes on the pack. One useful option would be to work backwards- come up with a Ban that you think is cool and useful storywise, and then develop the totem off of that.

    There's no reason that the totem has to be a perfect 1-to-1 expression of the pack's "purpose". The totem might easily be something counter to the pack's nature, as they might have chosen it in order to fill in some of their weaker spots- a bloody-minded, violent pack might have a thoughtful, diplomatic totem to help them when killing doesn't solve the problem. Something incongruous or unexpected could add a nice dash of spice and depth to the pack.

    "Typical" totem spirits are certainly not on the level of a city-spirit (and mind you, not all cities are going to have a unitary spirit- I imagine the French Quarter having its own spiritual manifestation). They're generally going to be something more general than a spirit of one particular thing (the spirit of this crocodile), but less general than a domain-wide phenomenon (the spirit of all crocodiles in the bayou).


    If this were my game, I would be tempted to use a totem that drew upon NO's long history of slavery, resilience, and cultural roots- perhaps a spirit of sugarcane, which has historical connections to slavery and Africa.
    Another possibility is for the spirit to be one of the levees which broke during Katrina. The loss of their physical reflection is one reason why spirits might be willing to adopt a pack of werewolves, and the symbolism seems right.

    Tell us more about what these NPCs are for, and I'll have more to say about it. Cheers!

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Shadowdragon View Post
      Problem is, I don't really know much about WtF or what kinds of spirits make good Totems. Should it be something big like the spirit of the entire city? Or do Totems just tend to be random spirits, like the pack's Totem could be a crocodile spirit?
      A pack totem, particularly for the Forsaken, tends to be a spirit that is of low to middling Rank and symbolically compatible with its areas of expertise, its high-priority assets, and/or (as here) its mission statement. Packs who pick their totem arbitrarily and without knowing what they're about are generally going to be a little less well-prepared than ones who draw their totem into alignment by being a good fit for it. The spirit of the city itself is an unlikely candidate, but the way spirits work means that a spirit one or two degrees of politics removed from the city itself is an advantageous pick for a pack that needs a totem with influence on the spiritual direction of New Orleans at large.

      What's the composition of the pack like?


      Resident Sanguinary Analyst
      Currently Consuming: Changeling: the Lost 1e

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Shadowdragon View Post
        Should it be something big like the spirit of the entire city? Or do Totems just tend to be random spirits, like the pack's Totem could be a crocodile spirit? What kind of Totem would you give to a pack who's job is to help an entire city recover from a major natural disaster.
        I'm hoping you are using second edition but for some reason something's pinging that you might not. If you're using first edition, disregard the mechanics aspect of my post.

        Not quite random, they tend to be something the pack represents or appreciates. In some ways it is the spiritual reflection or mascot of the pack. Unless the pack is very powerful, and widespread (or they've broken the spirit somehow), you wouldn't normally have something like an entire city spirit as a totem. Even if the storm hurt it, it would likely be beyond a pack.

        Power is going to be easy to determine, as each dot of the Totem merit works to build the spirits strength. Then you can see what Rank it is.

        As for what spirit it should be. Based on what you've said the pack is about 'helping an entire city recover from a natural disaster.' You might focus this more. As is, are they trying to make the city exactly like it was before (spirits of memory or history or the past)? Or are they aiming for some growth (plants, construction spirits)? If they are aiming for growth, in what direction, is survival all that matters (turtle, strength), or are there other interests? Economics (greed, money)? Do they want to turn it into a cultural or entertainment center (a theatre, tourism, a story or beauty spirit)?

        We have at least one thread with sample totems. They're also in more than a few books. The Pack, Hunting Ground: the Rockies, Chicago and so forth.
        Last edited by nofather; 12-04-2017, 12:54 AM.

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        • #5
          I'm still working on some details but here is what I have regarding the New Orleans werewolves:

          Before Katrina, New Orleans wasn't known for having a problem with spirits. Occasionally one got unruly, and the city has always had a bit of a rat problem (beshilu), but nothing serious enough to warrant more than a few lone werewolves. After Katrina, both the spirit problem and the shartha problem exploded. Unable to cope, the werewolves formed a proper pack to better deal with the situation.

          The leader of the pack is an Ithaeur Bone Shadow who also acts as the spiritual leader of the pack. He also happens to be the brother of one of the characters (she was embraced before her first Change). His wife and bodyguard is a Rahu Iron Master who doesn't particularly like vampires (she sees them as making the situation in New Orleans worse). There is also an Elodoth Iron Master who acts as diplomat for the pack, dealing with both the vampires and humans of the city on the pack's behalf. Finally is an Irraka Hunter in Darkness who is the pack's shartha hunter. There are other no-name members of the pack, but those are the main four (at least for now). The main goal of the pack is to clean up the spiritual mess Katrina left behind and bring the city back to how it was before the hurricane (only the occasional unruly spirit/shartha to deal with). Since they don't have much pull in the politics of the city (that's firmly in the grip of the vampires), the pack focuses on dealing with the spirits. Repairing the city is left to the humans and vampires (with some gentle nudges from the Elodoth diplomat).

          I'm also making a second pack, made up almost entirely of Hunters in Darkness who came to New Orleans within the last couple years in order to help deal with the shartha issue, which is getting out of hand.

          Most of the time the characters will be dealing with the first pack (mainly dealing with the brother/sister relationship and how it might spill over into the tenuous situation between the werewolves and vampires of New Orleans). The second pack I only really plan to use once for a huge shartha/beshilu story arc I have planned. The second pack definitely wont have a Totem. I was thinking of giving one to the first pack because I wasn't sure how much it would effect the pack members both mechanically and for role playing. At the moment I don't know how much the Totem will actually come into play during the Chronicle. I guess I could always leave it now and worry about it later if it does become important. I just don't want to add a Totem later and have it completely change how the pack works.


          Originally posted by nofather View Post

          I'm hoping you are using second edition but for some reason something's pinging that you might not. If you're using first edition, disregard the mechanics aspect of my post.
          I'm using 2nd edition. I've never even read the first edition of WtF, so if there is a 1st edition feel to what I'm talking about it's purely coincidental, or it's because I've misunderstood something from the book (which is entirely possible).
          Last edited by Shadowdragon; 12-04-2017, 04:04 AM.

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