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How do you make Tribes feel distinct and interesting?

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  • How do you make Tribes feel distinct and interesting?

    Hail to the friends.

    I had an interesting conversation with someone in another forum that prompted me to wonder... how do you endeavor to make Tribes feel distinct? What role do they play in your games that make them stand out and be consequential? I think second edition does a great job with favored prey but I'm curious about what divides tribes from one another, specifically Forsaken.

    Do you think tribes are important enough in your games that you can have political strife between them or do packs and protectorates provide this for you? Do you have any mechanical tricks that you add to make Tribes more interesting? I, personally, favor OP unique secret gifts, especially since I tend to prefer narrative effect of mechanics over crunchy effects.

    Please feed me your ideas, I hunger

  • #2
    You're not wrong that they aren't obviously different in a real gameplay way. As a player I can differentiate the Iron Masters from the other Forsaken, and the Forsaken from the Pure (which is a divide I find very interesting and cool), but the others definitely feel like a developer in 2004 was trying to think of 5 different groups that werewolves could be in.

    One thing you could try as an ST would be thinking of a big hook that applies to each Tribe. Like "in this game, the Kansas Blood Talons are turning inward looking for a skinchanging serial killer in their midst" or "a mighty spirit of storms has brought its court to war against the Bone Shadows in fulfillment of an unpaid debt, and every member is threatened." PCs in your game then have something where you can say "how is this affecting you and your relationship with your Tribe?"


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    • #3
      I think that's an interesting idea, showing how the tribes react to a specific threat brought against them as a group. It's very hard for me to imagine situations where wolves will cooperate as a tribe as opposed to a pack. Do you often have mixed tribe packs for your NPCs? Do you portray tribes as being sorta religious institutions? That's how I best conceive of them.

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      • #4
        I think playing up the Firstborn and their influence is a big and necessary part that gets expanded on in Tribes of the Moon but seems left out a lot.

        If you've joined a Tribe, it's because the Firstborn has acknowledged you. It's an entity of godlike power that, for some reason, has decided you can effectively be in its pack.

        Like you said on rpg.net, it is very personal, but it's not just one way. It's like how Vampire the Masquerade has their antediluvians that founded clans and, through their choices, have influenced them. Except the Firstborn are up, and about. They're doing things. You might not always have stories where they're meddling in your lives, but tribe members seeing evidence of their workings, urgings or acknowledgments, are all things that can help really emphasize tribeness for a player.

        Another thing is tribal interests and histories. If you've seen Acrozatarim's various '12 Days' Wolfidays posts, or the Malta Hunting Ground in the Pack (and for a more large-scale example, Basra in the core), you can see how tribes sort of swarm over things that were big in their past. Like the Firstborn, the tribes have been around for a long time, and they've done things and have their own legends that go beyond their creation story. Whether it's a pack of Storm Lords that have the mummified remains of an ancient bodhisattva and believe only other members of their tribe are worthy of audience with it, and potentially getting close enough to learn the true story. Or Bone Shadows or Blood Talons gathering at a place where their Firstborn totem did (or is doing) something in the past and trying to figure out what exactly it was and what it means for them now. With this kind of activity and organization you can really show the difference in tribes, especially when being a member of one allows them access and inclusion (and motivation) that members of the other tribes won't be able to get.

        Lastly, I think, but following along with that, werewolves aren't exactly the most popular kids in the Hisil. Where the Firstborn and tribes have been, they've been killing stuff, binding stuff, bringing powerful things down and locking them away or banishing them for good. This kind of thing suggests enemies. Not just 'it's a werewolf, lets run' but old spirits who have been personally wronged by Hikaon-Ur, or entities that were too powerful for a gathering of multiple Storm Lord packs to outright destroy so they stuck it in a fetish. Playing up these antagonists and rivalries can give you chances to play up aspects of the tribes. I think that's one of the reasons the Embodiment of the Firstborn Merit was put in, and it's basically a 'please use me as plot-chum' character option.
        Last edited by nofather; 02-03-2018, 03:49 AM.

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        • #5
          With Werewolf things, I like to start with Renown. I took each Auspice and Tribe and looked at them in terms of Renown and distilled them into concepts that felt more philosophically coherent than the book's idea of Renown. Wisdom is about how things have a cost, whether that's spirits and gathra or blood and honor. Purity is about grasping truth through lived experience (who'd win, you or me? Let's find out). Honor is about playing Tetris with the world, figuring out how to fit everyone and everything together. Glory is about being remembered, and remembering what should last. And Cunning is about doing what's necessary to win.

          So you feed that back into the Tribes, and this is what I get:

          Bone Shadows always weigh the price of everything. This might come up in terms of strategy and tactics, or more profound stuff like the burden of responsibility or the eventual consequences to the Hisil. This has a flip side, too. I can't remember the academic term off the top of my head, but essentially it's the effect where, when you attach a fine to a behavior, suddenly it's got a price and some people find it easier to accept it as the cost of doing business. "Sure, murder costs about 10 grand to keep me out of jail? My income's about a million a year, so I can afford that." That kind of thing.

          Hunters like to test things. That's why they let trespassers onto their land, rather than having invulnerable barriers at the border. It's not enough to keep your territory clean; you've got to prove that you can do it, and the only proof that's real is actually containing and evicting a meaningful threat. Sure, that's not the smartest strategy, but it's the attitude they bring. They like it when the prey run, because it means they can chase. And a real chase means that you have a real chance of escaping. Not that you will: they're better than you, and this proves it. I'd expect a lot of younger Hunters to be more daredevil than your average Uratha, who are already a bit headlong.

          Storm Lords are convinced that everything has its place. They like assembling Protectorates, because it's this big achievement of fitting everyone together and getting a kind of peace where everyone knows where they belong and who's the big dog and what they're allowed. They like coming up with and enforcing laws, because laws are these big universal truths that explain what's right and what's wrong for everyone. They're interested in deciding a correct kind of hierarchy in a pack, or where it's okay to eat, and all that sort of nitpicky micromanagement. On the other hand, they're great for cleaning up a mess, because they've got an intuitive grasp about what's missing and needs to be filled, or what's unnecessary and can be destroyed.

          Blood Talons remember the stuff that you'd rather have forgotten. They remember that Kuruth kills friends, especially the soft-skinned kin who come by too often. They remember that the leader of the local Predator Kings used to be Urdaga. They remember that you still flinch at hitting a girl, even when she's coming at you in Gauru. And if you give them a reason or opportunity to exploit that? They'll rip out a throat, fast and hard, no regrets, because they remember that time when a bit of hesitation, a bit of mercy, gave the enemy an opening. So they sing the praise-songs and howl your deeds, because it's important for morale, because it helps bolster you against the vulnerabilities you have in your psyche. But if you turn on Luna, they know how to break you, because they've been watching.

          Iron Masters have no patience for ritual or dogma. There's a job, and you use the tools you have. If that means a computer, then that's what they use, no whining about how it's not a proper hunt if you don't spend any time on four legs. You take care of your tools, of course, because that's how they stay in good condition, but lose the nonsense about doing things right and just get the job done. That kind of single-mindedness can be as arrogant as a Storm Lord, of course: it's a different flavor of asshole. An Iminir knows what's best for you, but Farsil Luhal see you as a means to an end, especially if you're not pack. (And even if you're pack, you might still be a necessary sacrifice for the good of the pack.) They can be nice, of course. Nice is just a tool: ask any two-faced Elodoth.

          ---
          I don't think that tribes really have any kind of political strife between them. There might be some local feuds, like that pack of Blood Talons killed our old alpha and now we're pissed and suspicious of all Blood Talons, but nothing that's really more than a personal grudge. Packs and Protectorates are definitely the better way to do political shenanigans in a game, since "turf war" is the epitome of Werewolf and well... tribes don't really have any turf, per se.


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          • #6
            Errol216, your post is GOLDEN! I totally send it to all my players to better grasp Tribes in our play.


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            • #7
              Errol216's post is excellent, but how can we use these insights to create an overarching tribal culture? It was easier with W:tA, as each of its tribes was already intimately tied to a subculture/philosophy. It's one thing to play up the culture of 'Irish Bone Shadows' or 'Thai Blood Talons', but how do you build a culture that is truly world-wide?

              Edit- A thought came to me just after I posted: What does being in a Tribe mean? Being a Rahu means being a Warrior, being an Ithaeur means being a Shaman, but what meaning does being a Hunter-in-Darkness or Storm-Lord bring to a character and what they do? How does it color other parts of their existence?
              Last edited by shkspr1048; 02-05-2018, 05:10 PM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by shkspr1048 View Post
                Errol216's post is excellent, but how can we use these insights to create an overarching tribal culture? It was easier with W:tA, as each of its tribes was already intimately tied to a subculture/philosophy. It's one thing to play up the culture of 'Irish Bone Shadows' or 'Thai Blood Talons', but how do you build a culture that is truly world-wide?

                Edit- A thought came to me just after I posted: What does being in a Tribe mean? Being a Rahu means being a Warrior, being an Ithaeur means being a Shaman, but what meaning does being a Hunter-in-Darkness or Storm-Lord bring to a character and what they do? How does it color other parts of their existence?
                I feel that this is the place where tribal bans and common behaviors stemming from focusing on tribal sacred prey comes into play, though I’m currenty at a loss of creative juice to articulate it.


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by shkspr1048 View Post
                  Errol216's post is excellent, but how can we use these insights to create an overarching tribal culture? It was easier with W:tA, as each of its tribes was already intimately tied to a subculture/philosophy. It's one thing to play up the culture of 'Irish Bone Shadows' or 'Thai Blood Talons', but how do you build a culture that is truly world-wide?
                  I'm not really sure what you're looking for, here. What exactly is a "world-wide culture"? No culture is universal; by nature a cutlure is defined in contrast with some other group or culture. You can say there's an American culture, but you'd find major cultural difference between Florida and Massachusetts. Dig in and you'll find major differences between, say, Houston and Austin. That's the nature of culture: for all that it propagates, it also mutates pretty much every step of the way. Every individual is different; the stuff I wrote is essentially a set of stereotypes usable as default personalities if you don't have anything particular in mind.

                  I'm also mystified at what an Irish Bone Shadow would be like. They'd do Irish things and Bone Shadow things and Uratha things... is there something specifically Irish-Bone-Shadow you're thinking?

                  Originally posted by shkspr1048 View Post
                  Edit- A thought came to me just after I posted: What does being in a Tribe mean?
                  It means a lot of things. Being chosen by a Firstborn, as nofather mentioned. Recognizing the specific dangers of the sacred prey. Having certain priorities in life. Caring about certain things. All of which are in the book. How does it color your life when you're an RPG player? Or as someone who works your particular job? Actually, a career is a decent analogy for y-splats in general. Plumbers know more about plumbing. Iron Masters know more about humans. Why is that the case? Because they spend a lot of time around humans, thinking about humans, observing humans, poking at humans and seeing how they react, etc. They're the most likely to be familiar with the municipal code, for instance, because they actually bothered reading the damn thing.

                  Originally posted by shkspr1048 View Post
                  Being a Rahu means being a Warrior, being an Ithaeur means being a Shaman, but what meaning does being a Hunter-in-Darkness or Storm-Lord bring to a character and what they do? How does it color other parts of their existence?
                  I'd expect a Hunter to be particularly detailed about their patrols. Every Uratha walks the border of their territory, but a Hunter actively seeks out known kinds of shartha. They look for likely places for a rat nest, where there are old, cobwebbed houses. They regularly refresh their knowledge of the local sewers. They also spend time finding ways to leverage territory against an intruder. Where's a good place for a trap? What are the most likely approaches to a locus? What's the fastest way to navigate between two points? If there's a shortcut in their territory, they know about it. If there's a good vantage point to observe a spot, they've been there.

                  I'd expect a Storm Lord to spend a lot of time getting to know local humans. What's a normal, baseline behavior for them all, so they can tell when something's off about it? Who's strong and who's weak? Who spends a lot of time near the local loci, or in any other Resonant area? What can they do, when someone seems to be tracking towards becoming a Ridden? How do they make someone stronger? But that's just favored prey stuff. Maintaining a good political map of the area, knowing who knows who, what the big players care about: if a major threat shows up, they know they can talk to five people and they'll rally 90% of the Uratha in the area.

                  Basically, look at their priorities. Then ask what it takes to achieve those. And then you can translate that to day-to-day activities.

                  Does that help?


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                  • #10
                    Not especially. Don't mistake me, Errol, you presented some good points to think on, but they didn't really help answer my question.

                    I guess what I'm looking for is advice on how to portray the characteristics of a Tribe. As it's currently laid out, each Tribe has presented a general set of attitudes, and I'm having trouble on integrating those attitudes into a character, I think because they were made up whole-cloth. The Tribes in W:tA were grounded by and large in real-world cultures, making them easier to emulate.

                    Let's try it this way: Cahalith are the Historian-Bard-Prophets of the Uratha. In what way is a Blood Talon Cahalith different from a Storm Lord Cahalith? And also, beyond their shared patronage and Tribal Vow, how is said Storm Lord Cahalith similar to a Storm Lord Irraka?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by shkspr1048 View Post
                      Let's try it this way: Cahalith are the Historian-Bard-Prophets of the Uratha. In what way is a Blood Talon Cahalith different from a Storm Lord Cahalith? And also, beyond their shared patronage and Tribal Vow, how is said Storm Lord Cahalith similar to a Storm Lord Irraka?
                      Each Auspice write-up in the core book describes what auspice members in different tribes are like. For instance:

                      Blood Talon Cahalith: Gibbous-moons of the Suthar Anzuth are often charged with keeping their packs from falling into Kuruth. The Blood Talons hunt other Uratha, and a battle between werewolves can quickly devolve into mindless violence from which no one escapes, unless the hunters keep their heads. The Cahalith, then, reminds her packmates of who they really are and what they are fighting for, even in the midst of carnage.

                      Storm Lord Cahalith: The Cahalith of Winter Wolf revel in tales of hardship. They relate stories of wounds, but not death; trial, but not defeat. They believe that anything can be overcome, and that a disadvantage is just the part of the story that builds tension. Many Storm Lord Cahalith prefer methods of storytelling with formulae to follow, such as Noh drama, traditional stories, or genre films.

                      Storm Lord Irraka: The crescent-moons of the Storm Lords work to find and eliminate Claimed before the spirits fully own their targets. That means they sometimes kill people who seem like they might be good candidates for Claiming, reasoning that it’s better for someone to die a mortal than undergo the agony of becoming duguthim. They also hunt down spirits who show the interest or proclivity to possess people, though how they make that determination is something of a mystery.

                      So Blood Talon Cahalith are more focused on the mission, end-goal (death) and keeping it from being derailed. Storm Lord Cahalith are more about survival in the face of adversity. Storm Lord Irraka are about using their Irraka killing tendencies to the best of their ability, which meshes well with their Storm Lord hatred of weakness, as just like being weak makes one more vulnerable to being claimed, a weakly-controlled territory is more likely to have claimed appear in the first place.

                      You can also see how ones sacred prey has a big impact on how they should be portrayed. It's a pretty big tell.
                      Last edited by nofather; 02-06-2018, 07:12 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Had a rough day, so this'll be lower quality.

                        Every Auspice and Tribe is, at its core, a set of random characteristics. You say that the Cahalith are Historian-Bard-Prophets (again, I'd point to memory as the unifying denominator), or the Rahu are Warriors (which I'll note I find reductive; I strongly dislike the notion of a fighty splat). This isn't different from how to think of Tribes. A Blood Talon is a memory-based Uratha-hunting Uratha who has particular notions about surrenders and appropriate acceptance. A Storm Lord is a law-forging strength-girding Uratha who cares about keeping spirits from riding flesh. You pick a couple of "facts" as a baseline and use it to distinguish.

                        They aren't a culture in the sense of the Irish or the Thai. They can't be. You don't have towns of Storm Lords with seasonal festivals and access to particular foods to make signature dishes with. They don't have a singular unifying history in the same sense as a nation, because they're not a nation. They're closer to motorcycle enthusiasts, or RPG players, than they are to the Bostonian fashion scene or Brazilian dance traditions. Sure, they straddle the line a bit by telling myths about their founding, but those are stories and intended to be understood as fictional stories with a kernel of truth.

                        Forsaken Tribes aren't the same thing as W:tA tribes. Trying to use WoD stuff to understand CofD stuff leads to... well.. this. It's good to remember that CofD tends towards providing you with tools rather than setting the stage. Things on your character sheet are building blocks for assembling a character more than they're contexts within which characters can exist.

                        Originally posted by shkspr1048 View Post
                        Let's try it this way: Cahalith are the Historian-Bard-Prophets of the Uratha. In what way is a Blood Talon Cahalith different from a Storm Lord Cahalith? And also, beyond their shared patronage and Tribal Vow, how is said Storm Lord Cahalith similar to a Storm Lord Irraka?
                        I gotta ask: if I were to pose the question, "What's the difference between an Irish mathematician and a Thai mathematician?" what would you say, exactly? Speaking as a melting-pot American, I kinda find it hard to grasp this distinction as useful.

                        That said, nofather gave a good answer. I'll give a simpler one:

                        Blood Talon Cahaliths remind their pack that they're dangerous. Sometimes that's a good thing; sometimes that's a bad thing. Storm Lord Cahaliths remind their pack that they're everlasting. It's the same fact, stated different ways, said for different reasons.

                        Storm Lord Cahaliths and Irraka both recognize that their pack fits together a certain way and that Eyes-of-Fire over there certainly deserves his place as primes inter pares, but they also both band together to explain that the encroaching Pure aren't as an immediate threat as the Claimed they just learned about. The Cahalith might explain it in terms of what happened the last time this spirit found a host, whereas the Irraka might threaten to run off and handle it himself. But they're both agreed on what the priority threat actually is.


                        I call the Integrity-analogue the "subjective stat".
                        An explanation how to use Social Manuevering.
                        Guanxi Explanations: 1, 2, 3.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Errol216 View Post
                          Recognizing the specific dangers of the sacred prey.
                          Can we build something on that? If the sacred prey pose specific dangers that make them the most dangerous - and every tribe thinks their prey is the most dangerous - then there's likely to be a strong correlation between the distinguishing traits of the prey and what the tribe values as strengths.

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                          • #14
                            If you don't keep your sacred places sacrosanct, the hosts would overrun them; if you display weakness, more spirits will seek out the pleasures of flesh; if you accept disgraceful surrender, the Pure will win; if you fail to honor your territory, the humans will make it theirs; if you don't repay the spirits, they'll own you.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by SunlessNick View Post
                              Can we build something on that? If the sacred prey pose specific dangers that make them the most dangerous - and every tribe thinks their prey is the most dangerous - then there's likely to be a strong correlation between the distinguishing traits of the prey and what the tribe values as strengths.
                              Ideally it's incorporated into the oath of each tribe, as flaunting those oaths are a good way to get the sacred prey of that tribe to become more dangerous.

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