You stayed late at school one night and took a path through the woods to get home. Something chased you; something bit you. Now your heart beats faster as the moon gets fuller; your emotions and senses all seem stronger, bigger than you. Or maybe you were born to the moon’s pull, a spiritual and literal bloodline of the beast within you. These bonds and lineages make you a part of something bigger, something greater for you now you are never alone but that too comes with challenges. The Pack is always there.
Pack is family. Pack is home. Pack is where you are accepted, no questions.
Hear that wolf howl? Oh if there’s one, there’s many. A whole pack even and it is a thrilling ride. I got a chance to play Bite Marks from Black Armada created by Becky Annison recently, actually using two sessions to build our town and characters and another to play the game. The very kind Nick did this for a collection of we Gehenna Gaming patrons. We all quickly realized we 1) need more of this game and 2) it is so much fun designing a town and characters!
I read up on Bite Mark after it was mentioned, seeing the similar mechanics to MonsterHearts but the focus on the werewolf was appealing as I’ve always wanted to play an all werewolf game, especially Werewolf the Forsaken in the World/Chronicles of Darkness. I liked the idea of exploring the balance of the mundane and the bestial, but especially that pack dynamic. And Bite Marks gave us plenty of ways to do so!
Bite Marks is built on the Powered by the Apocalypse ruleset. For this game in particular you make characters, make a pack, make relationships, and then make your world. To build your character you choose a skin, which in this game is a type of werewolf. That entails a name, your pronouns, your look/style, choosing stats and abilities, as well as heartbeats. Heartbeats are the defining emotions or adjectives of your character. You may charming, selfish, responsible, romantic, etc. Playing to these heartbeats helps you get experience. Finally, like MonsterHearts ruleset there are ties, like strings that define your relationships and complications with others as well as a Sex Move that results from the actions you might take with other characters. As always, remember your lines and veils when playing a game. Session 0 is important!
The listing of skins starts with the Alpha who is the leader, the heart of the pack. Are they fearsome or beloved, let alone are they good at being the Alpha? The Alpha has moves to control the pack but also help them. The Cub is the newest member of the pack, learning and making mistakes while trying to prove themselves. They get moves to make mistakes, breaking traditions and disobeying the alpha while also utilizing their emotions to influence others. The Enforcer is dedicated to protecting their family, their pack. Noticing that family and emotional theme yet? It’s so well woven into the system. The Enforcer gets to take action on their own for the good of the pack as well as redirecting trouble to them.
The Fixer deals with the mortal world, solving problems for the pack, partially because of your fascination with mortals, which can get you in trouble too. Fixers get special resources in the mortal world to get information or access as well as the ability to smooth over problems and make them go away. The Greypelt is old, wise: an elder of the pack and a former Alpha. Their moves include knowing the lore of the pack and other packs as well as the ability to heal and give counsel to bolster others. The Howl is a spiritual advisor, somewhat of a Beta to the Alpha. They might be a friend or they might be competition. Sometimes you’re both! Their abilities include influencing other members of the pack with secrets, or prophesying through consumption of flesh. One guess what Skin I chose… Finally, the Prodigal is someone who left the pack but has returned, perhaps willingly but perhaps not. You’re looking to find your place again but that’s not always so easy. They influence others in the pack through the relationship they’ve established, being a voice of outside reason due to your experiences when you weren’t with a pack, and also using that knowledge or cool head to be a talented healer.
Of course, there’s also a way to track harm. Unlike MonsterHearts four hitpoints, you have nine. Werewolves dish out and can take quite a bit of punishment. However, I truly felt it was the emotional impact you felt more than the violence and the juxtaposition of the two is another reason why I love a werewolf game.
As I said for Bite Marks you also have to establish relationships, your pack, and the world around you. I figured I’d describe that through the game we set up during that first of two sessions. Those relationships are through establishing NPCs and the ties with the other PCs. Each skin has a Packmates section which defines a situation for this. For example, my Howl (Shaddyx) had predicted someone would die and then they did. We had to define an NPC, how they died, and which of the PCs couldn’t forgive me for saving them. Which PC did I choose? The Alpha (Red) of course. It was the last Cub and someone they were with romantically. We also had a Prodigal (Emery), aFixer (Finn), and an Enforce (Clay).
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Our MC Nick wanted to tell a story in a classic werewolf lore, in this case similar to Native American lore of skinwalkers. We would be on a reservation in Heart Butte, Montana and members of a Blackfeet tribe. The council knew a bit about the protectors of the tribe, and we learned a bit more about the difficulties faced on reservation, including the influence of the world off reservation, the drug problems often faced on a reservation, and the fierce need and right of the people to keep their culture alive. I really appreciate Nick’s interest in telling diverse tales and look forward to seeing the shows he leads with a dedicated concern to a BIPOC cast.
While I was loving the opportunity to have a bit of horror with my werewolf considering the flesh eating (did I mention he could eat the dead’s flesh to learn secrets from them), it was really the pack and family dynamic we had to establish. Bite Marks helps you do so by creating a Pack Playbook! We established some Slang for us to use, which you’re always rewarded for using by the experience mechanic. Blackpaw would be a werewolf, tailing was making a werewolf, kitten would be an insult, walking the dog would be transforming, and the humans? They’re tenderfeet. Worst still was being a tailtucker: a deserter.
The Slang is fun but we also needed Culture and Traditions. Becky provides suggestions for you to use or build upon. I already noted how the tribal council knew about the pack, but there was more. If you were banished from the pack, a ritual would be performed so you’d forget about them. You were truly alone then. Every member of the pack would get a wolf’s paw on their body somewhere, and good luck finding it. We noted how little personal space there might be, almost none, as the Pack lives together. The pack was always cuddling, touching, sharing spaces, which can chafe some more secretive members… And a great one pulled right out of wolf behaviors: the Alpha eats first! Knowing these behaviors were useful, but we also had to know what was taboo or what might get you in trouble with the Alpha or pack as a whole.
First and foremost: the Pack is family, and always comes first. Relationships with humans were secondary, even tertiary to all else; disposable and humans should in general never know about the pack (the tribal council excused from that). And why did the council know? Because the pack always protects the tribe. Finally, you could never lose control of the wolf. And that sounds easy in a roleplaying game except for the fact there’s a basic move where you embrace the wolf and its capabilities but can lose yourself to it too. Oops.
We noted a couple more NPC details like about Ursula the former Alpha who was banished, Nadie our old Auntie wolf, and of course the feisty Sinopa the newest cub with an intent to prove herself. We also realized Finn had a human relationship that might prove a problem… and well it started immediately. The game began at a watering hole and general kickaround spot, only for that human to show up overdosing but not by choice. Seemed some off reservation people were trying to push their agenda with force and using drugs to teach those who spoke up a lesson. Well needless to say, our pack didn’t much like that and while we didn’t quite get the detail out that Finn was involved with this gentleman, we did realize they were a bit more emotionally invested than might be comfortable.
Really what I loved was being a bit of the contrary and challenging voice as the Howl. Of course Shaddyx was interested in exposing flaws and resolving them as a pack, not in front of humans or others, but it also allowed Shaddyx to push on his agenda of greater influence within the pack. Problem is I failed a few Disobey rolls so I quickly got a little shut down. Even the Enforcer Clay was yelling at Shaddyx. But then again, who was playing the grunt submissive when we had to lie our way into the rec center where this gang was? That’s right, Clay. Turns out Shaddy’s dirty dealings and manipulative ways can come in handy! Emery also got very upset when Shaddyx ate from one of the dead dealers and exposed that the banished Ursula was running things. Oh what a fight, and Shaddyx went down. Immediately the pack was chastising the returned Emery, but ultimately the pack resolved their quarreling to take out the drug pushers.
It really is amazing how a game about monstrous transformation, teeth and claws and blood, and all that violence has moments that are stronger, and more vivid, because of the emotional and relationship-based scenes. Nick said: I liked the idea of playing a group who are sort of forced to be close on an emotional level. It feels like a interpersonal family drama. And it was! If you’ve interest in werewolves or an interpersonal family drama punctuated with spiritual power and combat, I highly suggest you invest in Bite Marks!
I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!
I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!