Unlike Werewolves of modern media and Holywood, the Garou are not infected by lycanthropy or anything of that sort, or transfer their 'curse' through a bite or swipe of claw, more on that in the Breed section. Nor are they forced to change into inhuman half-man half-wolves on the Full Moon, they can change forms whenever they desire and they have five distinct forms to which they may change. But...the moon does play an important part in a Garou's life. The phase in which a Garou is born under is called his or her Auspice.
What is an Auspice?Edit
It's a lot more than just a career choice or clique, to start with. Auspice affects every aspect of a Garou's life; it has a deep and subtle impact on who he is and why. Auspices determine not only the way a Garou will be viewed in the Nation, but also how he will interact with the world around him. As with the vampires' clans and mages' Traditions, the standard disclaimer should be put in place that a Garou is not defined by his auspice, and players should not expect every Galliard to be a merry minstrel or every Ahroun a blood-soaked berserker. Garou are individuals, and their personal nature transcends the rote combination of breed, tribe and auspice that is listed on the character sheet.
In this case, however, we should balance this with a disclaimer in the other direction: Auspice matters. A lot. An auspice is not just a stereotype, or a social grouping the werewolves devised among themselves. Auspices have mystical, spiritual and psychological dimension that impact a Garou's character, and the difference in perspective, the uniqueness of each Auspice's perspective and the common traits they share. Players should thus be encouraged to explore the archetype rather than either shredding or slavishly following the stereotype -- there's more perversity than creativity in a wholly pacifist Ahroun or a Galliard who could care less about stories and history.
Since auspices aren't just social groups, what exactly are they? They can be compared to certain real-life social systems (such as India's caste system), but such comparisons almost always fall short. Castes try to force individuals into specific roles, whereas auspices involve individuals being born with mystically dictated suitability for a given task or social position. Because of the mystical component and spirit ties an auspice represents, there is literally nothing quite like it in our real world, and auspices cannot be properly judged in the same fashion as we would judge any real life institution. Certainly, they might seem harshly restrictive to modern sensibilities -- and many young Garou from urban tribes like the Glass Walkers voice just that sentiment: that the system is outdated and needs to be liberalized. But while some Garou may feel that auspices are restrictive in the abstract, very few indeed truly feel that they personally are unsuited to the role Luna has appointed them. It resonates with their being in a way they are unable to articulate rationally, and most Garou feel thankful to have a niche where they can find genuin fulfillment rather than angry at being forced into a role they don't belong in. Indeed, the very point of an auspice is that by mystical decree it is the one role in life that is the most natural and fulfilling to the being that posesses it. The stars and birth cycles never make mistakes.
An important side effect of this is that unless there is some deeply unnatural factor present in the situation (such as mental ilness, Wyrm taint or catastrophic suffering) a Garou can eventually find true fulfillment by carrying out the duties of her auspice. It is literally the purpose she was created for, and nothing in the universe will bring her as deep satisfaction and justified pride as being exemplary of her moon sign.
An auspice is a profession. It certainly isn't "only" a profession, but this is as good a mundane starting point as any. If a tribe is comparable to real-life ethnicity, then auspice matches closely with career choice. Like engineers, teachers or policemen, members of an auspice share a trade and a common body of skills, and this gives them a certain camaraderie and understanding with others of their ilk. A Garou needs training in her early years to fulfill the role that her auspice sets before her; while some particularly nationalistic tribes break this mold, in general cubs recieve most of their training grouped by auspice, not tribe. A Galliard must learn legends, an Ahroun must master every aspect of war-craft and a Theurge must learn the etiquette of the spirit worlds.An auspice is a mindset. Because the duty it entails is so all consuming, a Garou's moon sign colors how she looks at the world. To an Ahroun, the world is made of things that pose a threat to Gaia, the caern, her pack and herself; the Theurge instead sees the world as a series of mysteries to be explored, contemplated, understood and ultimately exploited. Galliards, with their study of legendary tales, begin to see the world itself as a living, changing story while Philodox see what is set before them in terms of duty, justice and reverence. This is not to say that auspices by necessity impose solipistic tunnel vision on the Garou -- just the opposite, in fact. By having a defined perspective on the world and a fixed understanding of one's place in it, the Garou gain a greater facility for balanced judgment and effective action than they would have with a more individualistic culture of self-definition. Admittedly, sometimes this judgement basically amounts to turning a problem over to the experts -- a Galliard will usually find a Theurge when confronted with a spirit mystery -- but the fact still remains that auspices are one of the things that have allowed them to survive as tenaciously as they have.
An auspice is an obligation. Garou have deeply personal ties to their pack or sept totem, but their ties to Luna, while more communal, are every bit as strong. The moon itself is a deeply evocative image for Garou -- it not only replenishes their Rage; it reaffirms their place in the universe, gives them the strength to continue fighting in a wasteland world and symbolizes their own mercurial, changing nature. If Gaia is a raised-up idol, the immaculate virgin whose banner the Garou fight under, then Luna is like a noble liege, nurturing godparent and passionate lover all rolled into one. Werewolves feel an incredible kinship with and devotion to her, and the simple, objective truth is that while totems give a few usefull Gifts along with a minor ban, Luna has given the Garou the very essence of their nature: shapeshifting, Rage and all the powers of auspice
The cost of these awesome Gifts is a terrible burden, a duty that will never end but is none the less taken on with willing joy by most Garou. A Galliard will never let the legacy or wisdom of his ancestors be forgotten. A Philodox will preserve justice and tradition with her dying breath, if need be. An Ahroun will literally give his life to defend Gaia should the need arise. After all, they are repaying a debt every bit as strong as that felt by humans towards the most loving selfless parents. Like medieval knights, the ideal Garou's devotion to her assigned duty is absolute. Of course, the World of Darkness is far from ideal, and there are an increasing number of Garou who have betrayed their duty in some way or another. Also like medieval knights, the adherence to the duties of auspice is very stylized and formal in Garou culture. The Renown system demonstrates the huge impact that auspice has on prestige in Garou society, and a Storyteller wishing to emphasize the chivalric aspect of auspices should strictly enforce the Renown penalties for acting out of one's auspice role.
Failing Your AuspiceEdit
Much in this section is devoted to outlining the duties a werewolf of a given auspice has, and how they approach them. The normal assumption will be that a player will play a character who tries to live up to the demands of his auspice, learning from his mistakes, maturing into his role and eventually becoming a credit to the Garou Nation. Werewolf is in many ways a game about finding your niche and learning to be an asset to your society, and this journey is integral to the portayal of auspice in the game. But not every Garou lives up to the (admittedly very harsh and rigorous) demands of auspice -- so what of playing the Garou that fail?
Among the Bone Gnawers, Margaret "Mags" Alley-Walker has learned no lesson more deeply than that justice is a joke; how can she be expected to enforce it as a Philodox, when she cannot even bring herself to believe it exists? Bloodfur is an Ahroun who has long ago given up fighting for Gaia, though he does not realize this. Now, he fights only for his own personal glory, using his superior strength to dominate everyone around him. Samantha Two-Trees is a witch in the classical sense -- to her, spirits are a resource to be used and abused, and she keeps everyone around her in ignorant fear of their mysteries, just as she feels a good Theurge shoul. Piotr Voice-of-Lions sees the truth only as a means to an end: the promotion of the Silver Fangs, and the slander of any tribes who would seek to take their power. Woe be to a Bone Gnawer seeking Renown in this Galliard's caern; he's slicker than an ancient Leech.
All of these are valid and interesting concepts for a player character, even though they are hardly ideal members of their auspices. Is it appropriate to play a character like this? Sure -- but there's a few things you should keep in mind. Werewolf is a setting where karma is a very real force, at least as far as debts to the spirits are concerned - and those who break their promises (which is essentially what an auspice is) will eventually get what's coming to them. Even without this, dramatic necessity demands that betrayers and oathbreakers eventually end up hoisted on their own petards. Playing out a meteoric descent into corruption and madness can be fascinating stuff, as can dancing towards the edge of the precipice before being slapped in the face with your sins and tearing toward redemption in the hopes that its not too late.
What's realy not thematically appropriate to Werewolf, on the other hand, is to expect your character to be able to shit on his spiritual obligations and be "clever enough" to come out on top, story after story. After all, what kind of a story would Macbeth be if the bloody-handed couple ended the tale as the unchallenged rulers of all Scotland, with no consequences in sight? Basically, then, if you want to play a character that betrays his auspice, be ready to accept the consequences of being a tragic figure, and don't fight the fall (as a player) when it comes. Instead, embrace it, and wring all the drama from your character's fiery downfall (or humbling redemption) that you can. Just don't expect the Storyteller to reward you for self-serving treachery -- that's not what Werewolf is about.
And of course, the typical admonition that goes with any kind of strongly emotionally charged roleplaying applies here as well: Make sure you don't ham it up so much you hog the limelight and interfere with other players' roleplaying. Werewolf isn't just a game about a non-human but still very social culture that believes in the obligation of the individual to the greater good -- it's a game played by groups, who are having fun as a group.
The mechanical aspect of changing one's auspice are discussed under the Rite of Renunciation, but the social implications of doing so should be examined in a little more depth. Predestination is an objective reality for the Garou, and rejecting the aupice that astrology grants to a Garou is essentially second-guessing Gaia and Luna's intent. Of course, there are many reason why a werewolf might want to do this -- astrology aside, the Garou are still free-willed beings who develop over time and change in accord with their experiences. An auspice can become a burden, a dead weight around the Garou's neck dragging him into suffering, bitterness and ultimately corruption -- this is especially true of the grimmer auspices like the Full Moon. Further, in this debased age there's no real proof that Luna, always a capricious spirit, realy does know best in assigning life paths to her shifting children. even if she does, well, the grass always looks greener on the other side.
The politics of this play out pretty much as one might expect -- the conservative tribes view is as a blasphemous abandonment of duty, while more modern tribes take a "personal choice" view of things -- and the Bone Gnawers, as usual, realy don't give a damn as long as the Garou is doing something practical to stand for Gaia against the Wyrm. The character's social dynamic is forever changed around those who know about her decision, however. The werewolf viewpoint on morality is not so much a dichotomy of good and evil as natural and unnatural -- and what could be more unnatural than rejecting a role that Luna herself has set down for you? This cosmological arrogance reeks to many traditionalists of the weak ways of the modern homids -- and this idea is supported by the fact that very, very few lupus elect to change auspice, even in comparison to the miniscule number of homid Garou that do so.
A good analogy for an auspice change in werewolf society is a sex change in human society -- it's every bit as drastic, misunderstood and socially stigmatized. No matter whether a Garou's peers are dogmatic or tolerant, there is something deeply disquieting to them about a being that decides to assume he knows better than the Celestines and reject their decision on his destiny. The need to change one's auspice isn't necessarily morally or ethically wrong -- but that doesn't mean that the Garou don't feel that way.
The five Auspices are as follows:
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