Modern White Howlers, or
The White Howlers. Dead for nearly two thousand years, and still one of the more popular tribes in White Wolf's Werewolf: the Apocalypse game setting. It's also one of the most popular debates, and one of the most emotional, among W:tA players: can there be a White Howler character in a modern W:tA game?
The Party Line
The quick answer is no. The White Howlers disappeared within a couple of years of the tribe's corruption. You can make a character with some connections to the old tribe, but a true White Howler isn't possible outside of a historical chronicle.
The best summary of the fall of the Howlers is in the Player's Guide (2nd ed.), on p. 78; it's a quick, helpful, and ultra-official intro to the end of the tribe (and the beginning of the Black Spiral Dancers). To summarize this and the Book of the Wyrm's account of the fall: the Howlers defended northern Britain against Roman invasion; eventually, lone Wyrm-creatures slipped into their territory and managed to awaken a powerful Wyrm pit; the Howlers descended into the pit to slay the Wyrm there, but instead they were corrupted by the Wyrm and turned to serve it; they became the Black Spiral Dancers.
The Book of the Wyrm makes it pretty clear that the corruption occurred sometime after the construction of Hadrian's Wall in modern Scotland, completed about 128 AD. The Chronicle of the Black Labyrinth allows more precise pinpointing of the date; from the point of view of a Roman soldier, it describes the death of the last of the White Howler kings, just after 200 AD. Assuming the Dancers finished off the Howlers within a year or two of their corruption, the fall must have happened around 200 AD, just before Rome retreated from Britain for the last time.
The Three Fates
The fates of individual Howlers can be broken up into three types. It is reasonable to me to assume that these fates played out in the span of a year or two, and certainly not more than a single generation. The tribal totem, Lion, abandoned the tribe, their lore was lost, and the spirits no longer recognized the tribe members.
Fall. Most of the White Howler tribe fell, and was corrupted by the Wyrm during the attack on the pit. Forced to dance the Black Spiral, they turned fairly quickly. None of the tribe's Kinfolk would have been involved in this stage.
Join or Die. The second largest portion of the tribe, quite small compared to the first, did not join the attack on the pit, but were hunted down soon after the corruption and offered a choice: join the Black Spiral Dancers, or die. Many Kinfolk also succumbed to this fate. The references lead us to believe that the Dancers were very effective in hunting down their untainted cousins, and virtually none escaped this fate.
Vanish. Those Howlers, and mostly their Kin, who did manage to escape the hunt of their mad brethren had to disappear completely. The only way to do this was to join another tribe, most easily the neighboring Fianna and Get of Fenris. This was and is a serious matter, involving renouncing one's tribe and officially taking a rite of passage to enter the new one, so it is not possible that any Howlers simply pretended to be members of other tribes. Probably within a year or two, all surviving Howlers no longer called themselves Howlers. At the very least, the cubs born to these first-generation refugees would have taken their first rites of passage under their new tribes, and would have been full members with no memory of or attachment to the old tribe.
What Makes a Tribe?
This question -- something of a side note here -- is extremely important when considering the possibility of a modern White Howler. It is possible, however unlikely, that a cub could be born to lost Kinfolk, to the Get or Fianna, or to the Black Spiral Dancers who is genetically a White Howler. It is supposed to be extremely rare, but it happens. Is that cub a White Howler?
The best answer to this question is a sidebar entitled "If I Had a Hammer," on p. 94 of Kinfolk: Unsung Heroes. The summary is quite simple: genetics do not make a tribe. A tribe needs a totem (Lion no longer recognizes the Howlers), a body of lore that establishes an identity for the tribe, and a lot of members. The sidebar estimates that rebuilding the tribe would take one to three centuries, at least.
Genetic White Howlers
So what do you do with a genetic White Howler? If the cub is born to lost Kin, he or she will be sought out by a tribe, as usual, and initiated as one of their own. Unfortunately, the Dancers are very dedicated to capturing their white-furred brethren. If born to a tribe, the cub is often initiated into that tribe. The final choice -- especially likely for a cub who is born among the Dancers, and escapes before the rite of passage -- is proposed by PG2: the cub goes Ronin. PG2 covers some simple rules for Dancer Ronin, as it calls them, but there's not much to them. In short, the cub has no tribe.
Well, What about ... ?
Yeah, people come up with alternatives, ways to resurrect the tribe. What if some tribe members were in hiding in France when the Dancers slaughtered all the Howlers in Britain? What if they were hiding in the Umbra? What if they traveled in time? What if my Dancer Ronin has Lion as his totem and five points each in Pure Breed and Past Life?
Some of these "explanations" don't make White Howlers, they just make characters with strange stats. Many of them are plausible ways that the White Howlers could have had a slim chance of surviving ... but the fact remains that they didn't. Insofar as White Wolf has given us a glimpse behind the scenes, the White Howlers just didn't make it. Trying to say that they did is like trying to argue that the dinosaurs aren't extinct because they could survive in the modern climate, that Nazi Germany is still in power because it might have won WWII, or that Alexander the Great is still alive because his disease is curable. Yeah, there are ways they might have survived, but they didn't. If you need an in-game explanation, then you have spirits, including Incarna, who back it up. The Howlers are dead and gone, no matter what ifs, ands, or buts you can think of.
The Golden Rule
Okay, that's the party line. In White Wolf's version of the World of Darkness, the White Howlers are no more, totally turned into the Black Spiral Dancers, and the tribe is no tribe at all. But White Wolf's Golden Rule says that you, a storyteller, can and should do whatever you want with your game, as long as you and your players enjoy it. (Really this is true of all role-playing games. White Wolf just formalized the idea and tagged an important-sounding name on it.) You can change the party line as much as you want if that's what's fun for you. But I see two problems with doing so with the White Howlers.
First off, and the most offensive to me, players often bring modern last-of-the-White-Howlers characters to public gaming formats with no storyteller, and cite the Golden Rule. Well, if there's no storyteller, there's no Golden Rule. Role-playing as it is practiced requires limits -- even if these are made very loose by a particular storyteller -- and the limits of a public format game need to be enforced by the players themselves when there is no storyteller. A standard, party line White Wolf game assumes that the White Howlers are excluded by those limits, and players have a responsibility not to violate them.
Second, the White Howlers serve a very specific symbolic role within the myth and mindset of Garou culture. If you have them walking around in your game, they're going to lose that meaning. I'm not saying that having them in a modern game is bad, but it will have implications and you should be prepared to deal with them.
The White Howlers have a place. They are gone, but remembered. I hope I've answered some questions, clarified some points, or at least got you thinkin'. I'm hardly so delusional that I believe I've buried the debate forever. But I hope I've helped put it in context a bit.
|by McRey "Mac" Moyer|