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Orpheus RPG Review

Posted on September 20, 2004 by Flames


Available at Amazon.com

Written by Bryan Armor, John Chambers, Genevieve Cogman, Richard Dansky, B.D. Flory, Harry Heckel IV, Ellen Kiley, James Kiley, Matthew McFarland, Dean Shomshak and C.A. Suleiman, Developed by: Lucien Soulban, White Wolf Publishing (WW21000)

What if death wasn’t the end? What if you could die and return to your body, to live again? What if you could remain among the living long after your body crumbled to dust? What if science had rendered death a mere inconvenience? The door between this world and the next has been thrown open. The souls of the deceased haven’t passed, they’re among us, and now the living walk among the dead. Mankind has learned to look into the void of the afterlife…but does it stare back?

If death is no longer an absolute, what is?

Some laws should never be broken.

Orpheus is an innovative and aggressive step forward by White Wolf Game Studio. The entire Orpheus run is only six books long (plus one fiction collection), making it a limited series game. There won’t be multiple *splat* books, no location books, just a core book and five plot driven supplements that feature advances in the Orpheus story and new mechanics for the game.

Taking several chances with Orpheus, White Wolf not only tries out this new limited series format, they also attempt to revitalize a previous World of Darkness concept, the Restless Dead. Wraith: the Oblivion was a powerful game, full of mystery, horror and extremely dedicated fans. Unfortunately, Wraith did not last; White Wolf ended the line far earlier than other World of Darkness games. Ends of Empire introduced story elements that shook other WoD lines and boldly attempted to bring closure to the Wraith line. Orpheus brings back some of the elements of Wraith, without being Wraith Revised. This is a risky move; are Wraith fans going to enjoy something that is similar to, but not Wraith? Are non-Wraith fans going to think it’s just a Wraith clone and not pick it apart?

Orpheus, as it turns out, is a major success. Wraith fans are supremely excited by the series and are among Orpheus’ greatest supporters. New fans, who may have missed out or didn’t like Wraith, are picking up the Orpheus line and loving every chapter. Orpheus is among the greatest material to ever come out of White Wolf Game Studio. Featuring excellent writing, captivating art and an engaging story, Orpheus is a product that sets the tone for future games from White Wolf.

The core book for Orpheus, a hefty 310 page hardcover, is a stunning book. It is visually far and above most of the core books that have been released lately (from most RPG companies). It jumps right into the action with some great fiction from Richard Dansky and continues to move things along chapter by chapter. The book starts the “movie model” which continues throughout the series. This introduces the basic structure of the story and setting and explaining what the world of Orpheus is about. The major plot twists in the ongoing Orpheus story don’t start until the second book, which gives groups a chance to enjoy the Orpheus setting without any restrictions. The Storyteller can introduce the plot from the next book when they are ready to move on. With the core book alone, groups can continue games for as long as they have the creative energy to do so. It introduces the basic powers and types of characters that make up Orpheus Group, each with their own unique powers and traits. There is a ton of information on Orpheus Group and the ghosts that exist in the World of Darkness. These are very different ghosts than those featured in Wraith: the Oblivion, but the changes are done incredibly well. Some of the terminology is brought over from Wraith, but revised to fit into the Orpheus setting. Where Wraith told the story from the ghost’s side, Orpheus tells it from the mortal’s side. Even though some of the characters in Orpheus are ghosts (or “spooks” as the book calls them), the tale is still grounded in the land of the living. This allows players to tell a tale in the world they know, not some spiritual realm far away. This style of game allows the authors of Orpheus to tell a new story; they are not bound by the plot and characters of Wraith.

Orpheus Group, a company that specializes in ghostly phenomenon, is the focus of the book. A mixture of science, occult lore and marketing, Orpheus Group is the largest of the self-styled “ghostbuster” firms. The authors did include a side-bar that mentions playing the game using other companies (Nextworld and Terrel & Squib, who are competitors with Orpheus are two examples), but most of the book features information from Orpheus Group’s point-of-view. There are some great in-character “memos” and “files” that add flavor to the book and explain much of the history, agenda and secrets of Orpheus Group. These make excellent props for a group to get more into character and enhance role-playing. This visual technique makes the Orpheus book stand out from other core books, it just looks and feels more useful, more informative than the average list of attributes and powers that many books end up being.

The book wraps up with several antagonists, mysteries and non-Orpheus Group paranormal firms, followed by an appendix of “ghost stories” (story hooks for Orpheus games). There are more Orpheus Group “files” explaining the in-character view of these antagonists (which is often misinformed or decidedly pro-Orpheus Group). These “files” make a great hand-out during mission briefings, lending to the player-characters needing to figure things out in game and not knowing everything ahead of time. The “ghost stories” range in style and theme from horrifying mystery to tense action-thriller, allowing for Storytellers to run any style of Orpheus game they wish.

The Orpheus core book is a must have. This is the finest work to come out of White Wolf Game Studio, ever. The possibilities are endless, just about any kind of tale can be told with this book. The extended plot featured in the supplements is a dramatic tale of mystery that mirrors some of the great cinematic horror stories. However, the core book alone offers hours of entertainment. There are so many client-based “cases” to send a Crucible of characters on, so much about the land of the dead that Orpheus Group doesn’t know, that Storytellers and players can spend ages using this book to role-play. While the book is not set up to crossover with the rest of the World of Darkness, Storytellers can introduce Orpheus Group as antagonists to existing World of Darkness characters, adding a mysterious new foe to the mix. The twists and enhancements to ghosts in the World of Darkness will make even the dedicated rules lawyer wonder what’s going on…

Reviewer: Matt M McElroy

Look for Orpheus books at Noble Knight Games.

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