Pros: Rich in legendry and folklore
Cons: A bit too Apocalypse-focused
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 1/17/2001
Gurahl is a supplement to the Werewolf: the Apocalypse gaming line from White Wolf Game Studio. It details the history, culture, and abilities of the were-bears. The Gurahl are Gaia’s patience, healing, and wisdom, the first of Gaia’s children (according to their own legends, anyway). Their job description was to protect “the land and all that dwelt upon it.” Tall order, that!
Overview, History, Culture
The beginning overview, told from the point of view of a newly-changed Gurahl, is good although a little slow. Most of the other sections are told in the voices of various teachers the new Gurahl encounters. The voices are very strong and well-crafted; they manage to convey not just raw exposition, but also, in the word-choices of the speakers, much more about the Gurahl than they’d be willing to say themselves. It is in the history section that the writing really takes off and begins to captivate. I love the fact that the Gurahl value their patience and their love of all creatures, and yet take such pride in being the first and “best loved” of Gaia’s children.
As Gurahl is a supplement to the Werewolf line, it makes a certain amount of sense that most information covers the Gurahl in relationship to the Garou and to the upcoming Apocalypse. Personally I would have preferred more Gurahl-centric information in case a Storyteller wanted to play with the Gurahl on their own. The theme of the upcoming Apocalypse is very strong in this book; most of the background information either directly or indirectly sets it up. This makes the book less useful to those who don’t want to bring Apocalypse-plots into their game.
There’s still a lot of information to give you a handle on how the Gurahl think and feel, however – plenty of inspiration to help you come up with more material of your own. So this book is hardly useless, no matter what plots you want to play with. The information may be aspected toward Apocalypse-plots, but it doesn’t railroad you into one course of action or resolution to your plots.
The authors clearly did a great deal of research into various bear-legends and myths, making for a richly-woven tapestry of tradition and personality.
The “Code of Ursa” (the Gurahl equivalent to the Litany) is perfectly designed to encourage participation in interesting plots. It includes such strictures as, “Protect the Land,” “Heal the Sick,” “Teach the Supplicant,” “Cleanse the Tainted,” “Punish the Guilty,” and “Avenge Wrongful Slaying.” This shows a (lamentably somewhat rare in the RPG world) awareness on the part of the authors that the material they provide should directly encourage useful game-play.
Oddly enough, Gurahl cycle through their “auspices,” allowing for more flexible character growth. I like this.
This book also very clearly (and in good detail) describes those things that make Gurahl different from the other shifting breeds: their strong will, their intractability, their keen sense of smell and poor eyesight, their seasonal lethargy, and more. The authors do a very good job of avoiding the rampant tendency to make each tribe, breed, or clan more powerful than the last, balancing the fun abilities with unusual weaknesses.
There are a few new and interesting Abilities and Backgrounds to deal with, again without going overboard. The Merits and Flaws are solid and useful. In fact, I’d dare say that these authors carry out almost the ideal sort of rules-crunchies: intriguing enough to catch people’s imaginations, without being unbalancing, and without falling into the all-too-common “but this group has to be even more interesting than the last, so let’s give them huge nasty powers!” trap.
There are some gorgeous Gifts in here; I particularly appreciate seeing interesting and fun low-level Gifts. I think low-level Gifts sometimes get short shrift. There are a few of the standard “as the Garou Gift…” entries, but many of them are given a uniquely Gurahl flavor to help make up for that. There are quite a few Gifts provided.
The rites are interesting, with plenty of plot hooks. Again, there are useful low-level rites. One small niggly inconsistency, however. The wording of the Rite of Fighting the Death Bear implies strongly that a single Gurahl must perform it, while an earlier piece of flavor text speaks of four Gurahl performing it together. In this particular case the distinction is important, as the rite involves battling a powerful spirit – much easier for a group of Gurahl to accomplish than one! It would be nice if the wording were clear. Also, I wish there’d been more rites. For a book that was so good about providing lots of Gifts, I was surprised at the lack of rites. This seems like a real oversight when detailing a changing breed that’s supposed to be incredibly ritualistic in habit and nature.
The descriptions of the sorts of actions that garner Renown are thorough and useful. There are few Talens and Fetishes, but those provided are interesting and certainly provide plot ideas.
A Few Details
The artwork ranged from gorgeous and richly evocative, to… well… blotchy and pointless. I guess you can’t have everything. Also, some of the gray art behind the text made the text fairly difficult to read; it needed to be a few shades lighter.
The template characters avoid some of the obvious stereotypes; the Kindergarten Teacher is my favorite. The “Bears of Note” are unique and absolutely gorgeous in places. Again, plot hooks abound.
This book is very worthwhile if you wish to make use of the Gurahl in any capacity within your game. There’s a great deal of personality here, rich legendry and folklore, and interesting plot hooks. If you’re playing with Apocalypse-plots, you’ll find this book particularly inspirational! If you have no wish to deal with the Apocalypse at all, however, this book may seem a little expensive for its usefulness.