The mixed oWoD Mage/Werewolf Chronicle I’m playing in and the travails of our intrepid ST who’s been trying to threaten our one Fomor and one Werewolf character (long story how those two haven’t… quite… come to blows yet…) without vaporizing the four Mages in the group has got me thinking back to my years of running massive Werewolf games and combats featuring a dozen or more Garou (ah, New Bremen, land of massive sprawling combats and Care Bears), and the ways that you can slow oWoD combat monsters down without blowing your entire special effects budget in a single Michael Bay-esque flurry of explosions and therefore overkilling the weaker fighters.
Several strategies immediately sprang to mind. Just off the top of my head:
Let’s start with examining what our ST sent at the cabal during the climax of our save-the-world-from-the-icky-device story: A single HIT Mark. One HIT Mark makes a credible threat for a typical Mage cabal, and will probably take a couple of them down before they geek him… but they will probably geek him. Against our group (4 mage PCs, a fomor, a Ragabash Garou and 5 “allied” NPC Technocrats that turned on us shortly after this win), he got nuked in one and a half turns, and wouldn’t have lasted that long if our one Garou had been at anything like full strength (rather than being locked in Homid form and with his Rage bled off). This is part of why HIT Marks usually come in teams of three. Three HIT Marks against the typical Mage cabal will absolutely murder the poor guys, which is what they’re designed to do. Against a typical 5-member Garou pack, the three HIT Marks will pose a reasonable threat and inflict a fair amount of damage before they are destroyed – but they will definitely be destroyed unless they’re some sort of silver-plated deluxe Garou-hunting edition – and maybe even then. Back them up with a couple of MIBs or Void Engineers to disrupt the Garou with HyperScience and now you’re talking. Note that HIT Mark teams also rare and very expensive – this is no “random encounter” you can afford to just randomly watch wiped out by Garou. Too high budget.
What about things that you can afford to throw away? For this example we’ll assume a full pack of Garou @ five members, with one of each Auspice, and place them all at Rank 1 or 2 at most. Note that none of my examples are capable of multiple actions in a turn without splitting their dice pools, that thing that everybody seems to think you need if you’re going to face werewolves on anything like an even footing.
Let’s start simple. Take a generic Pentex First Team composed of five utterly disposable vanilla Fomori that even their mommas won’t miss when they’re dead. Give each of them only the free 5 points of Powers that Fomori default with to start. We’ll say those powers are Immunity To The Delirium (a must), Armored Hide (for +3 soak dice, also unlocking a soak versus agg damage) and, oh, I guess Enhanced Stamina (for 1 more soak die). Assume 3s across the board for physical stats (before enhancements) and a 3 wits score. Put each guy in a flak jacket and give him an MP5 loaded with silver rounds since their boss knows they’ll be facing Garou. Note that First Teams usually use assault rifles rather than SMGs (and the rifles do 4 more dice damage…), but we’re working on a tight budget here. 😉 Each fomor gets a 10 die soak and can use burst fire to hit the Garou with damage that can’t be soaked. If you’re fighting on open ground or a big room without cover, even dodging won’t save the Garou since the difficulty on dodge rolls versus firearms is based on how much cover you have. In this fight, I would expect the Garou to pull out a win, but to lose a couple packmates or at least suffer some major damage doing it, and to be sweating the whole time. If we lower the budget a bit, drop two of the fomori and replace them with 4 human First Team members who’ve been treated to ignore the Delirium, for similar results… or even just make them all human and double their number. Also note that if you’ve got Mages in place of a couple of the Garou, the Mages are going to be able to fight the First Teamers probably as well as the Garou anyways since the bad guys’ dice pools aren’t that big and some simple magic or body armor can actually mean they have better soaks against the First Team’s weapons than the Garou do… and a lot of mages can use attacks that don’t directly inflict HL damage but incapacitate instead (say Mind, Entropy or clever Life effects), thus obviating their need to worry as much about the bad guys’ soak pools as the Garou.
Suppose you want to just use regular joes like SWAT cops? That’s okay too if you give them shotguns or M16s even without silver. If they’ve got a decent Willpower then even the Delirium won’t completely incapacitate them (and certain groups like DNA and Pentex do have access to drugs that counteract the Delirium). When I destroyed the Razor Alley Sept in New Bremen, I used the New Bremen Police Department with tear gas, a few silver bullets, Delirium-blocking injections and a little bit of WeaverTech backup (which ended up not actually having to deploy) to do the job, and I wiped out an entire Garou Sept including an Elder (rank 5) and several Athros (rank 4) with probably two dozen or more weaker Garou PCs in a straight fight – there were a pitifully few escapees (a fair number were captured due to either injuries or Tranq darts), but the Sept ceased to exist and their Caern was seized. I kept them from easily fleeing into the Umbra by sending waves of Weaver spirits in and having them Use the Spirit Static charm to raise the Gauntlet in the area to uncomfortable levels.
Let’s get more punishing. Let’s use spirits to fight. Spirits that do not scare Werewolf players. Silly wolfpuppies.
The humble Pattern Spider, among the lowlier of Weaver Spirits. Four of them. Against five Garou. At 4 Rage, 6 Gnosis and 6 Willpower with a 16 Essence, they are renowned for being weak and most naïve Garou players laugh at them since they only inflict 4 dice damage on attacks (their Rage score), which equals the soak dice of the weakest Crinos Garou on the planet and, like most Spirits, they only get one action a turn. There are a couple of reasons, which I will now illustrate, why Spirts are particularly dangerous to Garou even if they’ve got fairly weak stats like these Pattern Spiders. First, their initiative scores. Gnosis and Willpower function as Dexterity and Wits for spirits, leaving these weak little guys with an initiative base of 12, which is higher than any PC Garou (even an Elder!) could ever reasonably hope to have without the Gift: Spirit of the Fray. (well, to be technical, a Dex 5, Wits 5 Garou in Hispo form for the +2 dex bonus would have a 12… so really 12 is not quite beyond maximum reach, but is precisely at maximum). Therefore, the ST will usually win initative so he can strategize with them over how best to disrupt the PC strategy. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as our group has seen through its resident Initiative-monster Linda’s recent tactics, and is one of the key edges that spirits have. Another is how much damage they can take. 16 Essence = 16 Health levels before they’re battered into Slumber. With 6 Soak dice, that can take a while to rip through.
So how do you get around the rather weak attack power of the Pattern Spiders so their high initiative and high durability mean something? Simple: use the two Charms that Pattern Spiders possess: Solidify Reality and Calcify. Solidify Reality can be used to give one of their fellows, on average, another 3 Essence for the Garou to batter through. Pattern spiders will usually use this on one another in the turn just before hostilities actually begin, so they’ve actually got 19 Essence apiece. A smart ST will use Calcify as their primary means of offense. Calcify drains points of physical attributes, and once all Attributes are down to 0, the target is trapped helplessly in the Pattern Web until their pals spend a good while ripping him out. It uses a Gnosis (6) roll against a difficulty of the target’s Rage. The typical Ahroun PC has 5-6 Rage, and so he’ll lose 3 attribute points per hit. The typical Theurge, at 2 Rage, will probably lose 4-5. Have all of the Pattern spiders target the pack’s Ahroun first. On average, he’ll lose 12 Attribute points in the first turn. They will target his Dexterity first, since a point of dex is worth 2 points in any other physical stat… and Crinos Garou have higher strength and stamina than dex anyway. Assuming his Dex in Crinos is 5, he’s down to a 0 in both that and Stamina, in one turn, and probably before he even got to hit one of the spiders. Even if they couldn’t get his Strength to 0 too, he’s still out of the fight because he can’t move with a 0 dex, and can’t soak either since his Stamina is 0.
Heck, we’ll do it one better: have two of the spiders target the Ahroun and drop his dex to 0, and have the other two spiders take out the Galliard. In turn 1, the pack’s best fighters are down. Rinse and repeat for maybe two more turns and the Spiders can either kill or completely Calcify the pack at their leisure. I estimate that the Garou might take one or two of the spiders out before they get their collective butts handed to them. A decent Spirit mage, in contrast, could probably set up a ward to protect the team from the Pattern Spiders’ Charms or cause the spirits to ignore them… or a host of other things. The Spirit Sphere is very powerful against these guys.
But what if you don’t want to use Pattern Spiders? What if you want to use Banes instead of Weaver-spirits? No problem. I like Banes too. Scrags (the generic footsoldier Banes of the Wyrm) are a dime a dozen and have only two things going for them: 10 Rage, plus a fun Charm, Incite Frenzy. 😀 Send five of those guys at the pack and stand back to watch the fun – the pack will win, but the victory will hurt. Again, they’ve only got one action each so Mages can still dodge them if they have to (but will get splatted if they do take a couple hits), and Spirit magic works just as well against them as the Pattern Spiders.
The various Wyrmish elementals – H’rugglings (Sludge), Wakshaani (Toxin), Hoglings (Smog) and my personal favorite, Furmlings (Balefire) are also interesting choices, since their stats are set up in strange ways: some are offensive nightmares that can’t soak worth crap and others are quite the reverse. Also, They’ve got interesting Charms like Umbraquake, Blast, Blighted Touch and Updraft. In general, they’re a bit weaker than Scrags in a straight fight but can still tie Garou up with their Charms and general Spirit obnoxiousness.
Then, we have my favorite Banes of all: Psychomachiae. Essentially serial-killer spirits, these things are true terrors (10 Rage and 7 Willpower plus the Corruption Charm), and they’re common enough that Garou players don’t feel put upon when they show up like they would if you sprung a Nexus Crawler on them. One Pscho can occupy 2-3 Garou at once and account well for itself even though it generally only gets one action a turn. I’ve seen a trio of them hold off a pack of eight Rank 1-2 Garou before – they eventually went down, but the Garou weren’t much better off than the Banes were. So if you want a really massive rumble, take two of these guys and back them up with a few Wyrmish elementals or Scrags, then sit back and watch the show.
Bonus: Psychomachiae , Scrags and a lot of other Banes have the Charm: Materialize, allowing them to jump into the physical world to attack…
There are lots of other ways to do it as well. Pepper spray or tear gas versus sensitive Garou = a very bad day. There are a variety of maneuvers that mess with multi-attack characters (which Linda has demonstrated through her use of grappling to blunt the offensive output of the HIT Mark and the Stoneman, for example). The list goes on. Probably the biggest key is teamwork: almost no single creature short of a Great Bane, a Nexus Crawler or a Thunderwyrm can take on a full Garou pack on its own. A group of relatively minor Fomori or Walking Dead that use coordinating tactics, Powers like Eyes of the Wyrm and maneuvers to lock werewolves down? Plenty dangerous without a ST having to pull out the big guns, and they won’t vaporize Mages the moment they show up. Let’s not even start in on the fun ways to use Drones, and the way that everybody will probably mistake them for MIBs…
Of course, the best thing all round is to have a lot more going on in the chronicle than just combat, and with challenges that let each member of the group shine whether they are a Mage, a Werewolf, a Consor or an insufferable animated toaster. That way, even if the shapeshifters or other Aggravated Damage-throwing monstrosities do dominate combat, everybody gets to show off how cool their characters are and contribute to the overall fun.