Guardians of the Caerns

WW 3212 $15.95 Mar-00
Written by Deena McKinney and Forrest B. Marchinton with additions by Ethan Skemp

Review by Malcus Dorroga

Summary: A mixed bag of excellent and mediocre material, the book is very useful nonetheless.

Everyone needs a home. Everyone needs a place where they can lay their hat and be reminded of all the things that they are living for. For the Garou, this is embodied in Gaia's most sacred piece of real estate: the caern, the sacred grove where spirits abound and ritual is the center of existence. Attacked by the Wyrm, pushed aside by modern life, these places of sacred communion are the Garou's final refuge and fortress.

Guardians of the Caerns, written by Deena McKinney and Forrest B. Marchinton with additions by Ethan Skemp, is the book on caern life, from structure to position. Everything important to daily life in a caern is covered, from important places and positions to the ever-present metis, deformed Garou who must life their whole lives in the bounds of this home. While full of information, the book's quality fluctuates from mediocre to great mostly due to occasionally bland writing. There's a lot to be gotten out of the book, however, and Storytellers are advised to get this book as a truly necessary resource on what is possibly a chronicle's central setting.

The book opens with a short Legends of the Garou story entitled "The Giving of a Klaive." The story actually has little to do with the book other than being set in a caern, but it's a decent enough piece of fiction that it doesn't grate on you for being there. A short Introduction follows, explaining the purpose of a caern and stressing that, despite stereotypes presented, each caern is unique in some way. A few new types of caerns are given as examples, my personal favorite being the caern of Unity.

Chapter One: Lines of Defense covers caern logistics and structure. Areas within a caern are explained, such as the difference between the assembly area and the caern's heart, as are the methods of upkeep. Placement of Kinfolk, and their role as supporters and defenders of the caern, is also addressed. Methods of caern defense, from barriers to guards, are discussed at length. This is a meaty chapter, information-wise. However, the reading gets dry in places and seems uninspired, almost like a lecture.

Chapter Two: Tribal Lines describes how different tribes use and structure their caerns. While most of the same basic areas exist within each caern, each tribe will obviously use them differently. For example, the Get of Fenris will place a stress on having a large enough assembly area to accommodate the constant challenges that occur there, while the same area in a Shadow Lord caern stresses rank and dominance through preferential seating. The caerns, or lack thereof, of other shapeshifters are also covered, as well as a short section on the caerns of the hengeyokai. Again, a meaty chapter with lots of information, but there are two main flaws here. The first is that, in my opinion, the authors did little to actually differentiate the caerns. There are differences, to be sure, but those differences don't reflect the larger differences between the tribes as a whole. The second flaw is simply that reading the chapter gets monotonous really quick. For simplicity, the author has set up each tribe's section in exactly the same way, describing the areas of the caerns in the exact same order. This makes for a good reference work, but for lousy reading.

Chapter Three: Digging In gives a few story seeds using the caern as a centerpiece. The role of the Guardians is discussed as a potential short-term story device, though the author stresses that making the players work guard duty all the time will get quickly boring and suggests a short story arc leading to better things. The various offices within the caern are discussed here, as are their ramifications for in-game use. The chapter also features an extended explanation of how to run a chronicle based around discovering and building a new caern. A full six pages are devoted to this epic story possibility, and the treatment is wonderful. This chapter is a definite upswing from the previous chapters, fun to read and full of ideas.

Chapter Four: Not of Garou and Kin Born is the long-awaited metis chapter, and covers their birth, life, and death in fairly decent detail. This chapter stands out as the only one in the book written in character, told from the point of view of a Fianna –turned-Child of Gaia metis, and it adds wonderful flavor to the narration. The perils of giving birth, the truth behind the metis First Change, and an unabashed look at the way metis are REALLY treated are all covered. A section on tribal perspectives corrects all those apologetic views offered up in the tribebooks. The chapter then leaps out of character to offer a compiled list of metis deformities, including some new ones such as palsy and conjoined twin syndrome, as well as a few metis specific merits and flaws and a handful of new gifts. Overall a pretty good chapter.

While Guardians of the Caerns may be a mixed bag of excellent and mediocre material, the book is very useful nonetheless. The book did its job pretty well despite some occasionally bland writing, and will no doubt prove a useful resource for Storytellers.