Challenges and the Garou Way of Life

One thing that I totally love about the Garou is the fact that, even though they dwell in the modern Gothic-Punk World of Darkness, at heart even the most suave and urbane Glass Walker is at heart a tribesman in a primitive animistic warrior culture.

One of the clearer and more interesting expressions of that fact is their system of resolving social conflicts through challenge. YMMV of course, but I find the process fascinating. Accordingly, I’m going to post an examination of Garou challenge culture as I see it.

When two Garou that are in close proximity have got conflicting interests, desires, goals or personalities, sooner or later there’s almost certainly going to be a challenge of some sort between them unless one of them vastly outranks the other. They’re highly aggressive, tend to take things far too seriously, and they don’t like to back down from what they want. Challenges are really about establishing dominance, appeal deeply to the wolf side of the Garou soul, and provide an outlet to (hopefully) get issues worked out without general carnage erupting. Almost any conflict between individuals or groups in the Garou Nation can theoretically be resolved by a challenge.

Four out of the twelve core Litany laws in some way directly address this Garou need to engage in challenges:

#4 – Accept an Honorable Surrender: If an adversary in a challenge capitulates, an honorable Garou is expected to accept that surrender. This is essentially important because of how deadly Garou are and their fondness for duels as a means of conflict resolution. It’s all too easy to “miss” the fact that a foe has just bared his throat in the heat of the moment, but ideally Garou are not supposed to kill one another over trifles. This Litany law also encourages Garou to surrender honorably when they have lost or know that they are going to lose, knowing that their adversary is expected to give them fair treatment… and Garou who offer a dishonorable surrender will be severely censured at the very least. Once Garou have surrendered or been otherwise beaten, honor demands that they gracefully concede the matter over which the challenge was waged (assuming of course that they survived)… though of course sometimes Garou refuse to accept the results of their defeat, and have to be smacked down, shamed or otherwise punished. Once upon a time, if the loser did not immediately display submission then the winner was free to kill the loser, as the loser was violating the Litany by not honorably surrendering, but this is not so common in these days of dwindling Garou numbers.
#5 – Submission to Those of Higher Station: First of all, there are considered to be practical limits of who’s allowed to issue a challenge to whom. All Cliaths are expected to be universally submissive to the dominance of all Elders or Athros without the need for a challenge to settle the issue. If they can’t accept the word of their elders, then they had best either find an advocate who’s of high enough rank to issue a proxy challenge on their behalf or just shut up and deal. Issuing a challenge too far above or below one’s Rank will result in ridicule by one’s peers and an associated loss of Renown. The offended elder is generally considered justified in informally giving the youngster a good thrashing if he won’t let the issue drop and if some subordinate doesn’t do the job first.
#10 – The Leader May Be Challenged At Any Time During Peace: Weak leaders should not be allowed to stay on top just because they’re the leader – if they want to stay the leader, then they have to be able to handle all comers that want to take it from them. Policies can be challenged and changed. Challenges for leadership of a pack or sept frequently take the form of a duel. Pro tip: don’t mess with any sept’s top elder unless you’re one really bad mofo.
#11 – The Leader May Not Be Challenged During Wartime: The above about challenging leaders and their policies does not apply in the middle of a battle or similar emergency. “Save it for home,”  wiser Garou will counsel their more hotheaded brethren. Garou who turn on their leaders during combat tend to get smacked down with extreme prejudice.

Performing a Challenge

Garou that are having a conflict may go to their pack alpha and/or Philodox or to their sept leaders (particularly the Truthcatcher) for resolution without a formal challenge, and in some cases a gathering of the sept’s philodoxes will deliberate and hear arguments over the issue. If they are too impatient or hot blooded to either seek or accept mediation, then a challenge will result.

First, the challenger approaches the challenged Garou and states what is being disputed, and what the outcome of the challenge would be. Should he determine that he has bitten off more than he can chew once the challenge has been issued, then he is generally permitted to withdraw his challenge, but otherwise the challenged Garou is expected to accept unless some Litany law (see above) prohibits acceptance. Formal challenges, particularly those where the challenger wishes to make a public statement, often take place during moots, in front of the entire sept.

The challenged Garou is commonly granted  the right of selecting the form that the challenge will take,  e.g. a recitation of the Litany, a riddle contest, single combat, etc. but will lose Renown if they choose something overly frivolous or too blatantly one-sided. A sept Master of the Challenge may chose to stipulate additional regulations or amendments to the form  of a challenge as well or even be asked to select the form altogether, particularly in cases that take place at a moot or that otherwise affect the sept as a whole.

Generally, challenges are carried out pretty much immediately after being issued rather than having huge amounts of wrangling or preamble, though the challenged party or Master of the Challenge may specify some particular time or place for the challenge to take place (often with an eye to making sure there are plenty of witnesses). Formal challenges will usually require supervision by the sept Master of the Challenge or, if he is unavailable, one or more available Philodoxes. The challenged party will sometimes decide to keep things more private, e.g. the classic duel at dawn with the two packs as witnesses or having it out in a back alley without supervision (such as the infamous “Flip Book of Death” duel between Jonas Albrecht and Mari Cabrah)

Reasons for Challenging

Really, a challenge can spring up over any disagreement or conflict, but here are three broad causes over which they erupt.

  • General Disputes – Pretty much any time two Garou can’t get along, a challenge might take place. As already mentioned, Philodoxes or leaders will try to mediate disputes or encourage the two Garou to work things out on their own where possible, but challenges happen a lot despite the availability of mediators. The particular dispute a set of Garou are having may be over honor, who has a stronger right to a spoil of war, hunting territory, a mate, the right to represent one’s tribe/sept/pack in some matter, or whatever else Garou might come into conflict about.
  • Rank – This is an interesting case in that it’s not necessarily about antagonism between two Garou, but is a matter of one Garou requesting that a higher-Ranked Garou recognize them as worthy of an advancement in Rank. If the challenging Garou succeeds, then the challenged party is duty bound to acknowledge their advancement. The challenge must be made to a Garou outside of one’s pack, preferably another of the same auspice as the challenger. The challenged Garou can make the challenge as easy or as hard as he likes, and their opinion of the merits of the challenging Garou can be a large factor in determining this. If the challenger loses, he will have to obtain additional Renown before making another attempt. This form of challenge may simply be a test between the two Garou involved – for example, asking the Garou to recite a portion of the Litany or Silver Record, or to have a combat against either the elder or some designated opponent – it may also be a specific task that the higher-ranking Garou defines for the challenger, such as bringing a particular lost fetish back to the sept or destroying some particular enemy. In some rare cases where an elder has been particularly impressed with the advancing Garou’s progress, they may immediately recognize the Challenger rather than pressing them for further proof of worthiness. Challenging the same higher ranking Garou for two successive Rank advancements is considered inappropriate.
  • Challenge For Position – Generally, the process by which a Garou obtains some position or title in either their sept or pack is a competitive one; appointment to a post is not typical except in the case of the lesser, moot-specific offices like Caller of the Wyld or Talesinger. If a position is open, any potential claimants must undergo a series of challenges amongst themselves to determine who will get the job except in the rare circumstance that there is only one uncontested claimant. If a Garou wants a position that is already occupied, then they must defeat the incumbent in a challenge in order to obtain it. Generally, only Garou of Adren or higher Rank are considered worthy to hold Sept offices, though they might readily be alpha of a pack made up of their peers. In cases where the pecking order within a pack is unclear, a series of simple dominance tests will happen naturally in short order: Garou psychology demands that every pack have an alpha, a beta and so on down to omega, and while these relative positions are fluid and subject to rapid change there is seldom a real question as to who is where on that continuum for an extended period of time. Challenges for sept positions are most traditionally carried out publicly at a moot or other gathering.

Types of Challenges

There are a number of different forms that a challenge between two Garou can take. We’ll examine each below.

  • Facedown – this is the simplest, fastest, most straightforward and most common form of challenge, and unlike most other forms is often begun spontaneously and informally. Basically, two Garou that are having a disagreement or squabbling over who’s dominant lock eyes and have a staring contest, like wolves sometimes do. Whoever looks away loses. Challenges over being alpha of Garou packs, over particular courses of action or between theoretical equals over some bit of the spoils or a potential mate are often resolved this way. This is a rare choice for more formal challenges.
  • Duel – The two Garou fight it out until one is defeated. There are numerous variations and restrictions that may be placed upon the duel, however. The combatants may be restricted to (or from) a particular form, prohibited from using weapons or from using certain types of weapons. Duels are usually fought to first blood, submission or incapacitation. While duels to the death do happen, they are generally discouraged… yet other duels often end up ending that way anyhow. One particular form is the highly formal klaive duel, where both combatants are required to wield klaives (either their own or borrowed from a willing third party) – these duels are usually only fought over the gravest offenses, and are almost invariably fought to the death.
  • Gamecraft – this is a very broad category consisting of a variety of different contests of cleverness, wits, athletic ability or skill. Perhaps the most common and well known form of Gamecraft challenge is the riddling contest. almost any sort of skill or endeavor could potentially be used as a challenge format. Following is a sample of assorted possible sorts of Gamecraft challenges.
  1. Riddle contest
  2. Feats of strength – e.g. lifting, strength-based sports like the caber toss
  3. Feats of dexterity – e.g. walking a tightrope, archery or throwing javelins
  4. Feats of endurance – e.g. drinking games, eating contests, long races, racing a gauntlet.
  5. Chase or Race – hide & seek, tracking, tag, parkour, vehicular race (auto, canoe, motorcycle etc), scaling a tall tree, chase in the Umbra etc
  6. Recitation of the Litany
  7. Finding an object hidden either by the opponent or by the Master of the Challenge.
  8. Prank/trickery contests (for example a contest to see which can catch the other in a trap or steal a particular object such as a fetish from either an unknowing enemy or a knowing neutral party and return safely with it first, or possibly who can be the first to hoodwink a third party into performing a certain act.)
  9. Chess match, poker game, other game of skill (Glass walkers have been known to use air hockey, pinball or multi-player video games  on versus mode)
  10. Other athletic contests – e.g. one on one basketball, wrestling, high jump, rodeo (especially difficult for Garou due to their Rage).
  • Social Challenges – While the facedown technically fits this category,  the facedown is so common and specific that it is usually regarded separately.
  1. Bardic contests of storytelling, dance or musical performance
  2. Debate/oration (usually judged by a tribunal led by the Master of the Challenge or sept leader – Glass Walker or Bone Gnawer septs may judge via popular acclaim)
  3. Howl challenges, where one Garou will begin a howl and the second will attempt to drown out the first, or match their tone precisely, or outlast the duration of the other’s howl etc. These are most commonly informal, impromptu challenges between rival Galliards that tend to take place on the fly just as the sept is beginning to gather for a moot – they’re almost like a vocal form of the facedown.

Edit 5/31/2011: reorganized things a bit, split off the social challenges from gamecraft.


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