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Hengeyokai: Shapeshifters of the East
Sourcebook for Werewolf: The Apocalypse

Brian Campbell, Harry Heckel, Deena McKinney, Ethan Skemp and Kathleen Ryan
White Wolf, 92 pages


Art: A.E. Miles
Hengeyokai: Shapeshifters of the East
Additional Information
Werewolf: The Apocalypse is an excellent example of the quality of material coming from White Wolf. It follows the Garou -- werewolves and warriors of Gaia -- as they protect the world and the wild from the physical and spitiual corruption of the Wyrm. Broken down into thirteen tribes of werewolves, they include the haughty Silver Fangs, the ruthless Red Talons, the urbane Glass Walkers, and so on. The game follows each breed form, auspice, and tribe with Gifts as Alter Scent, Trash Magnet, and Ignore Death Blow. Their rites include the Rite of Weeping for a Vision, the Rite of Lasting Glory, and the Rite of the Stolen Wolf.

White Wolf Games
SF Site Review: Werewolf Player's Guide, 2nd edition

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Don Bassingthwaite

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Oh... my... God. This book kicks so much ass that you should strap a pillow to your butt before opening the cover.

And just in case you didn't get the point, Hengeyokai is a damn fine book. It's part of White Wolf's Year of the Lotus series, sourcebooks for the various World of Darkness games that highlight that world's Orient -- or as the books themselves so nicely phrase it, the Middle Kingdom. All of the books are steeped in wonderful mysterious and exotic flavours, with twists and surprises and incredible settings galore. But having read over all of the Year of the Lotus products, I have to say that Hengeyokai is head and furry shoulders above all of the rest. Why? Well, for one thing, it looks good. For another, it's imaginative, very playable, and complete. Most of all though, I really, really like the way that it meshes with the rest of the Werewolf game. Where the Kuei-jin and Shinma are entirely different species from the Kindred and Kithain that they are matched with, the hengeyokai are basically variations on the existing Changing Breeds. If you want to experiment with Kuei-Jin or Shinma, you need to learn what amounts to whole new games. The hengeyokai have a few new Gifts and a whole new attitude, but the systems for running them are the same. I think there's a certain elegance to that.

So what's inside this book that has me gushing praise like a commentator at the Rose Bowl Parade? Well, let's start with what's on the outside first. Hengeyokai has one of greatest cover designs I've seen in a while. There's good cover art out there, but this is great cover design. Basically the design mimics the Werewolf Tribebooks and Changing Breed books with monotone glyphs on a white background. Where the other books have the Changing Breed glyphs as decoration, however, Hengeyokai has Asian characters -- I can't say if they're Chinese or Japanese, but they look good. Do they actual mean something? I'd love to know. Gold foil is used for the title and central column of characters to very good effect. Okay, they say never judge a book by its cover, but in this case I'll make an exception!

The first thing inside the cover is one of the eight page comics that has become de rigeur for Tribe/Changing Breed books... except that this one is done manga style, complete with colour splash page. Hee-hee!! It's great! The characters, one from almost each of the hengeyokai "tribes," are represented as colourful costumed heroes. Plenty of explosions, snappy side comments, and even a little romantic mooning about. After that, the book does get down to business, with a "Legends of the Garou" story that introduces the hengeyokai (and their relations with the Western Changing Breeds they call the Sunset People) and an Introduction with a good glossary (almost unnecessary -- there is less dependence on Asian vocabulary here than in other Year of the Lotus books and a greater use of rather flowery English phrases that are easier to remember and just plain fun). The next two chapters describe the history of the hengeyokai, their philosophy, the physical world they inhabit, and the unique characteristics of the Umbra that they know.

These chapters are where the hengeyokai really begin to develop the flavour that set them apart from both the other Changing Breeds. What comes out most is the interrelatedness of the "tribes" of the hengeyokai. Notice how I keep putting tribes in quotes like that? There doesn't seem to be a convenient word that distinguishes one type of hengeyokai from another. Unlike the Changing Breeds of the West, the hengeyokai work together in the great Beast Courts of the Emerald Mother. They may have their opinions (not necessarily very high) of each other, but they all know that they have their place. All of the hengeyokai follow the same code of conduct, emphasising honour, balance, and responsibility. The hengeyokai remember the War of Rage (when Changing Breed fought Changing Breed) as the War of Shame, when the Okuma (eastern were-bear healers) were made extinct. Sentai, the hengeyokai version of packs, often comprise hengeyokai of different "tribes." An outside Garou character brought into this setting will probably be shocked.

All of this background and history comes together in the section of the book that presents the hengeyokai "tribes." In fact, it's very nicely done -- you really get the feeling that these creatures belong to the world that has just been described. Each "tribe" is described in some detail, beginning with a short "mood piece," tribal history and organization, and specific game stats including traits, Gifts, and Forms. Naturally each description is also includes some nice art so you get an idea what the hengeyokai look like. The art is almost just an extra here -- the descriptions are very evocative and going over them gives you a sense of the book as a whole.

There are nine "tribes" of hengeyokai, eight of which are variations, as mentioned, on the more familiar Changing Breeds. The Hakken are a Japanese line of Garou descended from the Shadow Lords and slowly losing touch with their lupus nature. The Khan are, of course, tigers, a powerful but fading breed. The Kumo are goblin-spiders, kin to Ananasi save that they never left the service of the Wyrm -- no, you probably won't see them in sentai, but they are still recognized as part of the hengeyokai. The Nagah, were-serpents believed extinct in by the Sunset People, live on in the Middle Kingdom as the judges and executioners of the hengeyokai, while the Nezumi are Ratkin, with the same duty as Shepherds of Man. Same-Bito are weresharks, but quite different from the Rokea, being almost civilized by their contact with the Beast Courts. The Tengu are Corax, ravens, and probably more tied to their Western cousins than any other of the hengeyokai. Finally, there are the Zhong Lung, the Middle Dragons, Mokolé tied so strongly to the Beast Courts that their Archid forms aren't dinosaurs, but Oriental dragons. The ninth tribe of the hengeyokai, however, is new. The Kitsune are foxes, highly magical creatures whose legends say that they are the chosen ones of the Emerald Mother and her youngest children, born in the wake of the War of Shame. Appropriately enough for a new breed, the entire final three chapters of the book are devoted to the Kitsune in what is billed as a "complete Changing Breed book." This means that the description of the Kitsune is separated a bit from the descriptions of the other hengeyokai -- in between is a section on adversaries -- but it's nothing that makes much difference. I barely noticed -- it's all very smooth.

Looking back over the book, I don't think there's anything negative I can say about it. It's just incredibly good and incredibly evocative of the whole Year of the Lotus series. If you buy any of the other Year of the Lotus books, you absolutely must buy this one as well. It's the key that will open up the others.

If you're playing Werewolf and you haven't bought this book yet, what are you waiting for?

Copyright © 1999 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).


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