The other day, I was able to finally acquire my own copy of a venerable 1993 Werewolf: The Apocalypse book by the name of Valkenburg Foundation. This self-contained, ready-to-run Chronicle was the seventh release in the 1st edition Werewolf: the Apocalypse line, and is best known today for introducing the world to that most reviled of all Old World of Darkness villains, Samuel “The Skinner” Haight, Grand High Twinkmaster and Lord Ashtray himself. I suppose there are a couple of items in this post that might theoretically qualify as spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
Of course, at the point of his initial introduction (the third out of five stories revolving around the titular Foundation), Sammy wasn’t nearly the juggernaut of hybrid power that he would later become. He was, however, already under the explicit protection of the ST for the adventure in which he appears because the book says that it would like you to keep him around to be a recurring
GMPC protagonist villain. In his appearance in this book, Sam does actually at least manage to be interesting and gives the players a chance to learn a bit of what makes the bastard tick. This is where he is introduced to the oWoD, where he (SPOILER ALERT!!) undergoes the Rite of Sacred Rebirth and becomes a Garou (/SPOILER!!). Interestingly, this story is also where he realizes that he is in fact a wyrm-tainted psychopathic douchebag, though of course he simply uses this as further excuse for his revenge against all Garou for the crime of having been given a gift that he himself was denied. Most of the ire that he earned from the player base came through his next couple of appearances… this one just set a precedent that was later unfortunately built upon and expanded.
My obligatory starting bit about good old Sammy aside, the book provides an interesting setting and the promising premise of finding and helping Lunatics, which are Garou that just couldn’t cope when the time came for their Change. The Garou nation often puts these pitiful creatures down, but the Foundation sends out the Questing Pack (your player characters, yay!) to find, capture and bring them back for their own protection and so that they can be given proper psychiatric help, hopefully becoming productive members of the Garou community or, failing that, treated to the point that they can be released back into the world to try to live out lives as regular wolves or humans after being subjected to a procedure that locks them permanently in their breed form (human or wolf). The Foundation has a number of dark secrets, of course, which will gradually be revealed over the course of events.
The interior art is highly varied in quality, with the best pieces coming from oWoD mainstays Joshua Gabriel Timbrook, Jeff Rebner and Lawence Allen Williams, and a highly creepy piece of cover art by John Cobb, another prominent (and highly polarizing) oWoD artist usually most closely associated with Wraith, a system to which his disturbing style was particularly suited. My favorite art piece in this one is the dynamic full-page Timbrook illo on page 2, showing a Garou Step sideways just in time to witness a towering shadowy humanoid figure erupting from the head of a howling Crinos Garou who is seated in a broken upholstered armchair. The seated figure is Orson Gravely, one of the Lunatics in residence at the Foundation and a prominent character in two of the stories in this chronicle.
The first story is an introduction to the Foundation and to its principal actors, as the pack is recruited and put to work, and where they deal with the madness of the fallen Garou hero Orson Gravely and seek to apprehend him so that he can receive treatment. The second story takes the pack to New York to capture an escaped Lunatic who is causing trouble for the Sept of the Green. The third story details the pack’s doomed efforts to protect a pack of Lupus Lunatics that have been living peacefully as wolves in the forests of Wyoming from Samuel Haight, and details his machinations against the Foundation. His transformation into a Garou happens at the climax of this one. Story four sends the pack against
government researchers mad scientists. The fifth and final story is where the corruption under the surface at Valkenburg finally comes to light and heads to a confrontation between the Questing Pack and the Puppeteer Banes that have been operating behind the scenes there, andagainst which a pack of Black Spiral Dancers provide much-needed backup.
One particularly strange but fascinating little tidbit (spoiler, I guess) in Story Five: Dark Union is the means by which the pack can be brought into temporary alliance with the Black Spiral Dancers against the Puppeteers. During the Spirals’ initial skirmish with the pack at the Foundation, the female Galliard among the attackers falls in love at first sight with one of the male PCs. That’s right, a Spiral (who at least the book does point out is crazy and whose madness partially plays out through an obsessive lifelong search for True Love) becomes hopelessly smitten with one of the PCs, and she prevails upon her pack to fall back and investigate things further (she leaves her would-be paramour a special wedding dagger though, which is kind of sweet in a psychotic sort of way). At that point, they figure out what the Puppeteers are up to and decide that they have bigger problems than a couple of Gaian Garou and come looking for an alliance. The book makes it pretty clear that it’s best to at least be nice to the smitten Spiral, and actually leaves room for the PC to reciprocate her affections. What it doesn’t do, however, is really give the PC much time or opportunity to develop a meaningful relationship with her (not that the Garou Nation would look too kindly on such a thing) or even enough time to break the Litany with her. Just as well. If the PC does show some sympathy or goodwill to the poor lovestruck girl, then she ultimately saves the day by sacrificing herself during the conflict with the Nexus Crawler at the end. The book takes pains to point out that on some level her genuine love allowed some of Gaia’s light to penetrate the darkness in her soul. and give her the resolve to sacrifice herself. I thought that this subplot could have been better handled in the text, but a skilled storyteller could readily improve on what’s there to make something surprisingly touching. In less skilled hands, it’s sure to be maudlin and narmtastic.
All in all, it’s a very interesting book that can provide a lot of insight into the early World of Darkness, and has some cool story elements that were never really explored later like the travails of the Lunatics. Also, it has plenty of room for the Questing Pack to get caught in the middle of conflicts within the Garou Nation between an assortment of factions, and to make a wide variety of allies and enemies among their own kind. I think the burning hate that pretty much everybody has for Sam Haight has tarnished this book’s reputation and caused a lot of the good material that is in it to be overlooked. Orson Gravely, in particular, is an interesting and bizarre antagonist, and the Puppeteers are really nasty Banes that can be used to move a lot of very sneaky, subversive plots.