Posted on September 25, 2004 by Flames
“This isn’t Heaven. This isn’t Hell. This isn’t anything you could have imagined. Death wasn’t the end. Death wasn’t the answer. Death was just the beginning.” – Wraith: The Oblivion, 2nd Edition
Odds are that if you’re into role-playing, you’ve heard of White Wolf. They are the company behind games such as Werewolf, Changeling, Mage, and of course, the infamous Vampire: The Masquerade. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people seem to be aware of White Wolf’s fifth original World of Darkness, that of Wraith.
In Wraith, characters take on someone who has already passed beyond that mortal veil, and find themselves in a world both strange and familiar. Ancient historical figures, items, and architecture are juxtaposed with current reality, and the only thing separating this world and theirs is a metaphysical barrier called “the Shroud.” Players can choose to play a character from its first birth into the Shadowlands (the lands of the dead) or a wraith already familiar with its surroundings of course, but it all boils down to a classic White Wolf scheme: which side of your humanity will win? Ever present is your darker half – separated and given its own voice in the form of your Shadow – and it wants nothing more than to send you screaming into Oblivion.
Wraith offered a greater subtlety of play than most of the White Wolf games, and required greater control on the parts of its players than some of its brother Worlds of Darkness, which may have led to its early demise. While perhaps too challenging for a new group, the mechanics of the game allowed for some thoroughly entertaining play, and it is those mechanics and their incumbent merits and confusions that ultimately led to the game’s cancellation.
Primarily, Wraith: The Oblivion uses the standard d10 system favored by White Wolf, and players familiar with Vampire, Mage, Changeling, etc. will find it an easy crossover to make. The usual “five-dot” system applies, and concepts such as Passions and Willpower should be common enough to present no problems. Where the difficulties typically come in is the depth of creation required for a wraith. Whereas most RPGs will allow a character to be “neutrally evil, blond hair, blue eyes, level one scout raised by humans who were killed by…”, Wraith demanded that players flesh out the motivations behind their characters lives, the manner in which those lives were ended, and what has held them back from Transcendence. Characters in Wraith, by definition, almost couldn’t exist as anything less than fully formed ideas, and trying to play a character that was overly simplistic resulted in boring, repetitive game play or the Storyteller working constantly to help establish a character with enough history to be playable.
On top of the challenge of creating a character, players inexperienced in RPGs often have trouble with the concept of separate identities, and thus separate pools of knowledge. In most Wraith campaigns, players would act out not only their own character, but also the Shadow of one of their counterparts. Necessarily, this often involved the player knowing details about another player’s character that would come out in game play when only the Shadow actually knew that information. This “assisted metagaming”, as I have come to call it, is the most problematic issue when introducing new RPGers to Wraith.
On the other hand, Wraith also offered the ability to bridge the games easily. Vampire (Mage, etc.) characters who should have died fighting off their enemies now COULD die without losing the character completely. Once the death occurred they could be crossed over to Wraith and continue their plotlines and intrigues, albeit from the other side of the Shroud. This multiple crossover method has been used many times, and to great effect, by this author.
As for background information, the source book for Wraith: The Oblivion 2nd Edition sets the ground wonderfully for the beginning ST/GM. Basic character types and attributes are covered quite adequately, with page design, layout, and supporting artwork artfully setting the mood of the story. Plot hooks are interspersed throughout the entire work, and poor is the ST who can’t come up with at least five or six full campaigns solely from the contents of this book alone.
Where the content does fall short, however, is in demonstrating the transition from written story to game play. While many of the excellent bits written for this book exemplify the mood and setting of the dramatic horror genre, new STs/GMs may have a hard time conceptualizing how to run a game of Wraith. Without better examples of game play (the d20 Modern series does well with this) many new STs/GMs may find themselves on shaky ground to begin with.
So should you invest the time in this game? The answer to this question really depends on several factors. Primarily, you need a strong fundamental grasp on the mechanics of role-playing. Without this, your odds of failure of high. Secondly, you need a ST/GM who is very familiar with his target material, and understands the usefulness of settings and moods over mechanized battles. Finally, you need imagination, and lots of it. All the right STing/GMing in the world can’t save you from a lack of that.
In short, take the time and give Wraith a try. It’s a moody, undertoned game that offers many stylistic options while focusing more on character development and progression than most games natively allow for, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re willing to invest the time and energy to create a character here, you won’t go unrewarded.
Reviewer: Brian Mork
Look for Wraith: the Oblivion eBooks at RPGNow.