What Is It With Me and Black Spiral Dancers?

This is a long and rambling post. You have been warned.

I’ve been roleplaying for a long time: since 1987-8. My gaming career started out with Tunnels & Trolls (thank you, Ken St.Andre!) and my own home brewed games, pretty much at the same time. Within a year I was playing and/or DMing AD&D 1st edition (I pretty much skipped right past basic D&D), Gamma World and Traveler in addition to T&T. From there I jumped to the Palladium (I played almost everything that they made back between 1989-1995) and WFRP rulesets, played quite a bit of Paranoia, Ad&D 2e and more. From the time that I first adopted WFRP through about 2001, that was my primary game system, though it usually had a co-favorite.

Around 1993, I encountered Vampire: the Masquerade (and especially Vampire: The Dark Ages), which soon displaced Rifts as my second game of choice. It wasn’t long before I took a look at Werewolf: The Apocalypse but I was initially quite unimpressed because at the time I found the Garou to be wholly unsympathetic, psychotic ecoterrorists without the depth or ambiguity of the Kindred, yet whom the authors seemed to want the players to consider heroic.

My friend Peter was pretty keen on Werewolf though,  so I bought him The Book of the Wyrm as a present. One day he and I were sitting and discussing that book, and I found the Black Spiral Dancers to be a completely fascinating group.Why? For one thing, they lacked the pretension and hypocritical self-righteousness of the Garou: they knew that they were monsters, made no bones about it, and had a lot of fun with it. For another, they were grotesque radioactive mutant werewolves, had that patagia bat-thing going on, and were just plain cooler than their Gaian enemies. Hey, I was a faux-nihilistic high school student okay? One amusing thing (to me anyways) about my fondness for the Spirals is the fact that, in Vampire, I found the Sabbat much less compelling than the Camarilla (though in Dark Ages, my favorite group was unsurprisingly the freakish yet darkly noble clan Tzimisce). I’ve always had a soft spot for monstrous freaks anyhow.

At that time, I told Peter that if I were ever to play Werewolf, it would have to be as a Spiral. He told me, very reasonably, that this wasn’t going to happen. I shrugged and asked if he’d mind futzing around with me and helping me put together a Spiral character anyway just as a demo to show me how the Werewolf rules work. He indicated that would be fine, and we set to work. As we worked on the character, we observed that there was a rule in the 1st Edition Book of the Wyrm that, upon passing through the Labyrinth, Spirals had to make a high difficulty roll to resist gaining a Derangement. So we took the roll. Every single die came up a success, leaving the character quite sane.

Earlier in the same book, it states that only a mad person can really understand Spiral philosophy… and in our somewhat limited understanding we took that at face value and decided that this character, a Purebred Philodox, couldn’t truly get her head around or support the Spirals’ worldview. For a Philodox, being unable to wholeheartedly and fanatically get behind the Dark Litany is a big problem that will lead to massive cognitive dissonance. This roll, which was taken before we had done anything with Merits & Flaws, caused us to decide that we wanted to go back and rework the character quite a bit to take this into account.

Peter and I agreed that this character wouldn’t be able to stay with the Spirals, and would have to exile herself and become Ronin. There’s a technical term for Spiral Ronin that leave of their own volition rather than being officially abandoned by their tribe: dead meat. They’ve got every other Garou on the planet out to get them in one way or the other, and no allies. So we decided, since this was being made as a fun experiment that wold never see actual play anyways, that we would grab the fact that she was doomed and run with it. He and I laughed tremendously as we piled a whole assortment of “everyone’s out to get me!” type Flaws on her.

The Flaw: Hunted left her with a Delirium-immune FBI Agent and witness of her First Change on her trail (Agent Vasendik, whom Heather insisted on calling “Cooper“). Foe From the Past provided her with an ancient Ventrue elder that had a centuries-old grudge against one of her ancestresses, who had left him staked and in torpor at one point… and then she ended up dying before he ever awoke again, robbing him of any chance at revenge… but he kept an eye on her family for generations, contemplating whether or not it would be worth taking out his frustrations on them instead… until my young lady came of age and, thanks to Pure Breed, was the spitting image of the vampire’s ancient nemesis. Yay! So he decided that he wanted to capture, Dominate and possibly Ghoul her to be his paramour in revenge against her ancestress.

In a fit of silliness as we bounced ideas off one another, Peter and I decided that a Malkavian associate of this Vampire elder had taken the years of this centuries-ago rivalry, derailed the relationship as a married one rather than enmity with certain romantic overtones and used it as one facet of the backstory for a screenplay very loosely inspired by his Ventrue pal’s life, all as a colossal inside joke… and using both the Ventrue’s and the Garou ancestress’s actual names. The Ventrue’s name? Connor MacLeod, which left the ancestress (and her descendant) to be named Heather. The ghost-writer being a Malkavian also conveniently explained where Highlander II came from.

Running with the “Highlander” theme, we decided that even though she was sane, she was a little “off” anyhow, and one of the symptoms of that was her obsessive Scottishness. The lass was born in Edinburgh, but was raised almost entirely in Brooklyn and was pretty much American until getting chucked in the Shattered Labyrinth… one of the things that she used to cope with the trauma was putting on an exaggerated hyper-“Scottish” persona and affecting a much thicker accent than what she had before. The spirals had actually encouraged it, nudging the Philodox towards a hyper-quasi-traditional camp called the Cluithi.

Also, her Attributes were SocialPrimary… for a character with a walking kill-on-sight rule from pretty much everybody and everything that doesn’t want to put her in irons then do unsavory things to her. So yeah. We decided to give her a few tricks (like the Merit: Metamorph) and toys (a Wyrm Fang Dagger and a Warshirt of the Wyrm) to make surviving more than five seconds more likely, and called it a day.

Time passed, and no werewolf was being played in our group. I created a drawing of a rather nasty mechanically-operated sluice-like gate to Malfeas, because the Wyrm is cool like that. Peter got a look at that sketch and decided that it needed to exist in an actual game. His fetid imagination got percolating, and he dreamed up a story where closing and sealing that gate would be the endgame objective of a heroic pack of Garou. He decided that he wanted me to play, and he felt that the joke Spiral Ronin character I had made would be a good catalyst for getting the ball rolling in that particular story. So not only did I get to play young miss Heather MacLeod, but I did so at the explicit request of the game’s ST at that.

She was introduced while being chased by a pack of Black Spiral Dancers across New Orleans. during said chase she caught the attention of a Gaian pack (the PCs, of course!), who started chasing her as well. Both the spirals and the Gaians caught up with her at the same time, and a fight broke out between the two groups of pursuers. In the end the Spirals retreated and the Gaians took her captive so they could interrogate her and find out what all the fuss was about. One crazy Garou seer NPC later, they were being told that she was not (yet) to be killed because she was destined to help them find and stop that gate thing I mentioned before from bringing about The End Of Tha Werld. They offered her two choices: either immediate death or helping the intrepid PC pack on a quest, after which they promised they would review her status and whether to put her down or release her to continue living as Ronin. Generous chaps, the Garou: “Either we kill you now, or you help us and we probably kill you later anyways… but at least you die with a good feeling inside.”

The Werewolf Chronicle that followed was fairly lengthy and pretty epic, but unfortunately Peter burned out on running it (I was our group’s ST/GM for most of our games). Rather than just letting it peter out (arrrgh.. dodgy accidental pun) without an ending, our ST decided to go for the Rocks Fall Everyone Dies approach, had us reach the gate and then stopped allowing us to roll dice and forced us to fail to stop it from opening fully, leading to a TPK and the End of the World. Though we understood  and were sympathetic to Peter’s reasons for doing this, it left all of the players deeply unsatisfied. So a couple of us carried our characters into the then-new world of online roleplaying (the ancient WW HTML chats, specifically), going with an alternate timeline where the pack succeeded and picking up while the sept was deliberating over a captive Heather’s fate. After much debate and interaction, they let her loose for services rendered and sent her away under orders never to return to that sept’s territory on pain of death. Heather’s banishment was the point where Ricky (the other original player) stopped, figuring that his dude quite wisely wouldn’t go into exile over her.

When WW introduced its unmoderated Java chats, I carried Heather there too and continued her adventures as a solo spiral Ronin. After a while, she had a vision that inspired her to seek out other Ronin and forge them into a pack (called The Steppenwolves) that would help its members find forgiveness and acceptance in the Garou Nation, plus be an example of unity and healing. It didn’t take long for this group to decide that they needed to find the hidden purgatory-like Umbral Realm called Erebus, and eventually Heather was able to reach the place and burn her Taint away in the Silver Lake. Now indisputably pure and whole, she was able to undergo a Rite of Passage and join the Children of Gaia.

Not too long after that, I retired her since it felt like her story was pretty much done. Note that this is the only time I’ve ever run a Child of Gaia as a PC – I normally dislike that tribe, though they were the best match for that character to transition to after being cleansed in Erebus. She was also the only true Gaian Garou PC that I ever played before my stint as an assistant (later full) Storyteller in New Bremen.

In total and throughout my Werewolf career, I have played more Black Spiral Dancers (counting Spiral Ronin) than all other Garou tribes combined. Below, I will list and give a brief history of each of them, along with one or more TekTek avatars each. Gaia alone knows why I’m so obsessed with those silly avatars. Cases where there have been multiple iterations of the same character will be noted… I guess separately. I could make a whole lengthy post on the history of each character, and I may do that at some point.

Heather MacLeod

Spiral Name: Urgaathli (Original character, tabletop chronicle “The Gate”). Homid Philodox Black Spiral Dancer. Runaway, theoretical Ronin. Urge Wyrm: Mahsstrac, the Urge of Power. Active 1994~7

Heather in her introduction Heather in mid-ChronicleHeather upon introductions and then in mid chronicle (without the Warshirt, and replacing the Wyrm Fang Dagger with a fetish trench knife called Leech Render)

Heather MacLeod (Ver. 2)

Spiral Name: Urgaathli. Deed Name: Finds-the-Path (HTML then Java Unmoderated WW chats). Homid Philodox Dancer Ronin, later alpha of the Steppenwolves and Child of Gaia. Active ~1996-1997, then mid 1999-early 2000 (the gap being my mission).

This version of Heather started out as a direct carry-over of the prior version, and was regarded as a simple continuation of the character. She gradually moved on from her Scotland fixation, among assorted other bits of character development.

Heather after The GateHeather as a Child of GaiaHeather as pack AlphaHere we have Heather just after The Gate chronicle, then her as a Child of Gaia, wielding the Klaive “Fang of the Winter Wolves” and accompanied by her pack beta the Ronin Fubuki (a former Stargazer, but with some Get of Fenris extraction… and the maker of her Klaive), and finally heather in her purified white Lupus form, leading her pack.

Linda Lee

Black Spiral Dancer Kinfolk. Eventual Fomor. (Unmod WW Java chats, transitioned the same character with the same history over to New Bremen without missing a beat on 4/20/2000, the first day that chat was open). Active 2000.

Linda eventually made the mistake of falling in love with a mage, and her family (and a Kumo) had her transformed into a Fomor. She allowed herself to be killed by a Garou named Eric Bronco on her first day as a Fomor. All later versions of her assume that all of these events happened, but that she escaped rather than being killed.

Linda as Kinfolk

Gorm Lee

Deed name: “Shut-Your-Hole”. Homid Black Spiral Dancer Ahroun. Bastard of Bat. Urge Wyrm: Angu, the Urge of Cruelty. (New Bremen Moderated WW chat) Active 2000.

Gorm first appeared as one of Linda’s Spiral relatives in a scene where I was playing Linda (and where the other player wholly approved his use and his violent reaction to her character) – a Nosferatu had trailed her through a set of tunnels, and Gorm ended up beating said Nosferatu down and even eating her arm before Linda convinced him to let the vampire go in exchange for a boon from the vampire. He was designed to be a thuggish big enforcer to be used and abused by assorted would-be Big Bads, and he did perform his share of leg-breakings and brutal, blatant assassinations (perhaps most notably when he killed, dismembered and ate a Giovanni wannabe don, all in a matter of seconds). This beast had an 8 Rage to start with and spent almost every waking moment on the edge of a frenzy, though he played it off fairly well a lot of the time, just coming off as extremely dangerous and a bit unhinged. A couple of his distinctive character traits were his nearly-perpetual slasher smile, his tendency to go “heh” a lot (a tic that I’ve carried over into my own online chatting habits ever since), and a chuckle like an asthmatic hyena.

After several would-be bosses ended up dead, Gorm decided to  start doing some of his own thinking and proved himself to be possessed of a considerable low cunning. It turned out that he was reasonably bright, so he wasn’t actually an idiot – he followed others’ orders initially because it was easier than thinking for himself. One of his strengths as a plotter and general scumbag was keeping down the number of moving parts – he liked to keep things simple enough to keep track of everything, because he understood some of his own intellectual limitations.

This monster manipulated a whole slew of other characters in his time, including other Black Spiral Dancers, Gaian Garou, at least two vampires and even some Mages in his various schemes, all while maintaining an outwardly foolish, simpleminded persona. Gorm fairly quickly engineered Linda’s death and then continued in his own storylines.  Gorm’s crashpad was one of the main gathering places of the Spirals outside their Pit, and a wide assortment of unsavory types made their way through it at one time or another.

One amusing aspect of his life was his casual friendship and deadly rivalry with the Glasswalker Ahroun Eric Bronco. Eric had a hate on for Gorm ever since Gorm manipulated him into killing Linda, and so Gorm and he spent a considerable amount of time hunting one another. Amusingly, they had a common hangout in the Razor Alley Ghetto and would often chill and shoot the breeze with one another, becoming casual buddies. All while never catching or bothering to ask the other’s name. After a while, he got himself killed in a random werewolf attack, and that was that. With his death, I walked away from the Wyrm game in New Bremen for a short while.

GormGorm in Crinos

Linda Lee (ver. 2)

Black Spiral Dancer Kinfolk, Fomor. Eventual Mummy. (Unmoderated Java Chats). Active 2000-2001.

Since Linda had only gotten to be a Fomor for one day, I decided to play her in the unmoderated chats as if she had escaped rather than deliberately allowing herself to be killed. She lurked and did her thing, and it was pretty fun. Eventually a Calibrus that fell in love with her came up with a rather ingenious cure for her condition: The Rite of Rebirth. Since a core part of that rite is killing its subject, and since Banes leave their host upon death, the Bane was ejected. Completion of the Rite caused her to remain dead for three days, as memory serves, and then to be resurrected as a Mummy. On the plus side, Ren-Hekau is cool.

Unmod LindaMummy LindaI have posted several avatars of this version previously, but I made two new ones here: One of her covered up by her coat with her extra arms hidden and one of Mummy!Linda.

Gorm Lee (ver. 2)

Deed name: “Shut-Your-Hole”. Homid Black Spiral Dancer Ahroun. Bastard of Bale Bat. Urge Wyrm: Angu, the Urge of Cruelty. (Unmoderated WW Java Chats) Briefly active 2001.

No special avatars for this one – he wasn’t around long enough to develop a distinct new look. On a lark, I fairly briefly ran an unmoderated version of Gorm. He was operating solo on personal business, and was engaged in a bit of soul-searching while making a living as an itinerant “mechanic.” Dude was still a bastard, but was a little bit more sympathetic than his earlier characterization.

Robert Anderson

Former Deed Name: “Sings-New-Songs”. Eventual Spiral Name: P’Ya’Ray, new Deed Name: “Face”. Homid Ronin Galliard (former Fianna), eventually a Black Spiral Dancer. Bastard of Relshab the Faceless Eater. Urge Wyrm: Pseulak, the Urge of Lies.  (New Bremen Moderated WW Chat) Active early 2001-2002. Retired as a PC at that time. Returned as an NPC 2003, active until mid 2004 (when The Apocalypse came. In the aftermath of Apocalypse, he became the Incarna P’Ya’Ray the Singer of Impossible Truths).

Hooo boy. I’ll tell this guy’s story in a whole separate post or two. There’s just no way to do it justice as a small segment of this post.

Rob as a RoninRob just after dancing the SpiralRob's scarsRob the  rock starRob in his natural environmentRob with Uhurat's TuskRob in Crinos, out at the MP bawn.Rob in his Avatar of the Wyrm form, carrying Uhurat's Tusk and accompanied by the Elder Wyrm.
Rob as a Ronin, Rob while recovering from being massively mangled when he Danced the Spiral, Rob’s “Freddy Krueger”-esque scars, Rob the rock star, Rob in his natural environment, NPC!Rob with Uhurat’s Tusk, NPC!Rob in Crinos out near the Mended Past Caern, and NPC!Rob in Malfeas, wearing his Avatar of the Wyrm form and backed by the Elder Wyrm… this is as Rob appeared at the very end of the Malfean Quest.

Kristen Annabelle “Krissy” Lee

Eventual Deed names: “Walks-in-Shadows”, later “Hidden Sacrifice” (Posthumously). Homid Theurge, Pre-Change Black Spiral Dancer cub. Eventual Fianna. Eventual alpha of the Reservoir Wolves, daughter of Owl. (New Bremen Moderated Chat) Active 2001- mid 2003.

Like Rob’s, An explanation of Krissy’s convoluted and controversial (in character and out) story simply won’t fit here. I’ll post that later.

Krissy as a childKrissy newly returned from the Tribal HomelandKrissy as alphaKrissy's Aetherial Journey Here we have Krissy as an orphaned homeless child, then fresh from her stint in the Fianna tribal homeland with Bright-Watcher, as the alpha of the Reservoir Wolves and on her final quest: to Eshtarra in the Aetherial Realm. Note the Umbral wings, a gift of her Owl totem.

Kristen Annabelle “Krissy” Lee (ver. 2)

Homid Dancer Ronin Theurge, Genetic Irregular. (Atra Nox Moderated Chat) Briefly active 2005. After NB died, I didn’t play in any chats at all for quite a long time, and  resisted the efforts of numerous others to persuade me to do so. After quite a while, my old NB-era friends Christina and Mike finally prevailed upon me to join them in Atra Nox. A couple of them were running retooled and re-imagined versions of old NB characters of theirs, and I decided to follow suit by retooling little Miss Krissy into a less convoluted and wonky form.

The premise of this version was pretty much “what if that whole Fianna thing never happened?” Instead of being dragged into the Umbra as a child and sent to a realm where 10 years of subjective time (and aging) took place in a month or so worth of outside time then coming back as a grown Fianna, this character just lived her life among her incredibly dysfunctional relatives (her momma still died when she was a small child, though).

Rather than just white-trash Wyrm cultists, those relatives were actually Genetic Irregulars. For the uninitiated, the Genetic Irregulars are inbred redneck Garou and Kin that are essentially the unwanted leavings of their tribes (primarily Black Spiral Dancer and Bone Gnawer) dwelling in squalor and largely ignored by everybody, given a lax hand because nobody really wants to think about or deal with them. When one Changes, the Spirals sometimes take an interest and test their worthiness to Dance the Spiral. Many of these applicants fail and are allowed to just go loose as Dancer Ronin to keep breeding more of their fetid kind or called up as cheap shock troops later.

Ronin!Krissy was one of those – her tribe noticed her Change and came to check things out since she was predicted to be a capable Theurge, but when they came for her she had been traumatized into catatonia and didn’t react to anything they tried to do to get her attention, no matter how cruel or perverted. Deciding that she wasn’t even worth killing, they just left her where they’d found her on the assumption that natural selection would take care of her on its own. When she snapped out of her breakdown and found out that she’d been passed over and was expected to just rot in the trailer park, she despaired for a while but eventaully packed up her things and left in shame to find her own way in the world, eventually ending up in Amsterdam (where the game was set).

Little Ronin!Krissy spent her time trying to make a living as a street musician and petty thief, exploring the city’s Penumbra alongside her Numen spirit (still Mr. Man, but Numen was Revised edition’s severely nerfed version of the 2nd Edition-era Familiar background so he was a fairly weak sort of Bane Kin-Fetch rather than a Psychomachiae this time around) and trying to learn from spirits and fleeing from any other supernatural beings that she encountered.  She took her rejection by her tribe very hard but she also interpreted it as license to go her own way: the Apocalypse War was no longer her concern. She suffered from two derangements: Desolation (basically, severe depression) and Catatonia (which is… well yeah).

I enjoyed playing her and found her experiences much more plausible than the preceding version’s, but Atra Nox regrettably didn’t last very long, and I haven’t hauled her out since… that was the last oWoD chat I played in. If I were to play in an oWoD chat game again, I’d likely want to use something like this version of Krissy, but there’s a problem along the line of Groucho Marx’s infamous quip that he’d never join a club that would accept him as a member. Any chat that’s likely to accept a dysfunctional Dancer Ronin is probably one that’s so full of absurdity that I wouldn’t want to actually play there…

Dancer Ronin Krissy

Linda Lee (ver. 3)

Black Spiral Dancer Kinfolk, Fomor. (Project: Overwatch Chronicle). Active 2010 – present. You’ve seen a whole slew of avatars of this version lately, so I won’t put any of them here, and I won’t belabor the point of what she’s like. There’s a “Linda Lee” tag on this post that will take you to some stuff related to her.

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One Response to “What Is It With Me and Black Spiral Dancers?”

  1. M20 and a Syndicate Character Concept | Casewerk: More Internet Ravings Says:

    […] line was, of all things, The Syndicate (though I disagreed with cutting off the SPD, but hey… I just might be biased) for its very interesting exploration of an easily demonized and oft-caricatured […]

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