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Gurahl: Changing Breed Sourcebook
Sourcebook for Werewolf: The Apocalypse

Jackie Cassada and Nicky Rea
White Wolf, 136 pages

Art: Steve Prescott
Gurahl: Changing Breed Sourcebook
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 spiritual corruption of the Wyrm. Broken down into 13 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
SF Site Review: Tribebook Wendigo
SF Site Review: Hengeyokai: Shapeshifters of the East

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Don Bassingthwaite

An interesting thing happened to me as I sat down to write this review: I realized that this is the first game book I have read and been aware of as written by women. That's not to say that there aren't others (Jackie and Nicky have written several other game books for White Wolf and there are certainly sections in many books written by designers who happen to be women), just that this is the first I've read and then known it was written by women. I've never really thought about the gender of authors before, but I'm sure it must make a difference. I can imagine Gurahl having been a substantially different -- and not in a good way -- book if men had written it.

The Gurahl are the werebears of the World of Darkness. In the mythology of the Changing Breeds, they are Gaia's Healers, just as the Garou are Gaia's Warriors and the Mokolé Gaia's Memory. I remember when they and the other Breeds were introduced (so long ago) in the first edition of the Player's Guide for Werewolf: the Apocalypse (and possibly earlier -- I recall a Gurahl appearing as a supporting character in an early Werewolf supplement, though the name of the book eludes me).

They struck me as an intriguing idea, though that initial short description felt a little bare (no pun intended) on the bones. Gurahl certainly takes care of that! It gives the werebears the full Changing Breed treatment: history, place in the world, and full game stats.

So what's this about the difference in women writing the book? Like I said, the Gurahl are healers. Yes, they have vicious combat abilities -- their half-bear, half-human Crinos form is 10-16 feet tall with a proportional gain in mass, translating into game stats as +5 Strength and +5 Stamina, possibly bumped up further by the ability to spend Rage into those stats -- and the potential to be total brawl monsters. But that's not what they were meant to be.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if men had written this book, it might have steered into an exploration of combat and healing by radical amputation.

Instead, Jackie and Nicky have focussed on the many other aspects of the Gurahl. Their history is punctuated by war and violence rather than being consumed by it. Normally solitary creatures, great significance is given to gatherings and meetings of all sizes, from only two werebears to great intertribal councils. More mention is made in Gurahl of favoured pastimes -- storytelling, the creation of works of art, and dancing -- than I have seen in a lot of similar books (and that's extending beyond White Wolf's clan/tribe/breed books to class and race sourcebooks by other companies). The snippets of first person narration that are introduced are wonderful for this and tie in to the traditional mentoring of young Gurahl by old, itself an interesting twist on the traditions of other World of Darkness species where elders are more often puppeteers or rivals. Perhaps the piece from the book that best sums up the whole approach is the information that of all the Changing Breeds, the Gurahl are one of the few that genuinely like humans.

This isn't to say that Gurahl presents a rosy picture of werebears with tea-cosies. There is darkness and there is violence. Gurahl have a combat-powerful form for a reason and they aren't afraid to use it when necessary (although they tend to think twice and explore other options before they do). The Gurahl were decimated by other Changing Breeds in the War of Rage and one of their greatest traditions, dancing, made shameful by the dancing bear acts created by humans. Violence, however, is clearly a secondary attribute to both the Gurahl and this work. Hats off to Jackie and Nicky for penning a gamebook that goes beyond the combat turn!

My only beef with the book is that it is very heavy on the aboriginal North American flavour in Gurahl culture (don't be fooled by the presence of the Gurahl in Soviet gear on the back cover). Jackie and Nicky have a good explanation for this: the "Pure Lands" were the place where Gurahl were most accepted in the wake of the War of Rage, where their human Kinfolk were most numerous, and where wild bears are most commonly found today. Granted the myths of the Gurahl say that the prototypical King Arthur was a Gurahl, but that's not a lot of depth. Personally I would have liked to see a bit more of a nod to the bear culture of northern Europe -- I think it would have added a little extra to the stew of the book. This book is already so complete, though, that it's not a tremendous loss.

On the other hand, I really appreciated the way that Gurahl tied in to a number of other Werewolf products. The other Changing Breeds make appearances here and there throughout the book, from jokes cracked about the werebears by Nuwisha tricksters to a nifty fairy tale called "Silverhair and the Three Bears" about the jealousy of the Silver Fangs and the origins of the War of Rage. The extinction of the eastern Gurahl tribe called the Okuma, mentioned in Hengeyokai, is covered again, though with little detail about what the lost tribe was like.

My favourite crossover, though, is the linking of the Gurahl's waking from their centuries of hibernation into the American frontier setting of Werewolf: The Wild West to deal with the Storm Eater, an interesting bit of detail that makes me want to pick up Wild West more than ever.

Unfortunately, the somewhat non-traditional (as game products go) focus of Gurahl may mean that a lot of gamers will have a little trouble fitting the information from the book into their games. New forms of mayhem can be dropped in easily, but a sense of healing and peaceful tradition are more difficult. It's a different feel that will take effort getting into. More mature gamers, though, won't have a problem and I think they'll be the ones to really get a lot out of Gurahl.

See? Black Dog label books aren't the only products that can take a mature audience label!

Bonus Fun Fact of the Day: The Latin for 'bear', ursus, is probably the closest to the Indo-European root word for the animal. In northern Europe, where bears were more common and respected, naming them directly was probably taboo -- most words for 'bear' in northern European are actually descriptive. 'Bear' and 'bruin' both refer to the animal's colour -- brown -- while the Russian word literally means 'honey-eater'!

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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