I love ghost stories. Always have. Even as a kid, ghosts fascinated me. Invisible, unseen, potentially everywhere. Spooks, spectres, poltergeists, and wraiths. Couldn’t get enough. This is why Wraith: the Oblivion was so special for me.
In most RPG games I played growing up, things like ghosts were just bad guys. Annoying bad guys. Couldn’t hit ’em with regular weapons. You had to use magic, you had to have some kind of charmed weapon to hurt them. You had to bury a body or desecrate a corpse to make them stop. Ghosts were almost always wicked creatures that were to be fought against. There was very little sympathy for the devil in the early days when it came to the restless dead, but Vampire turned that on its ear and started putting out games where you played the monsters instead of hunted them. It took ’em a good long while to get to Wraith, but once they did I was hooked.
Wraith has a reputation of being the redheaded stepchild of the original World of Darkness franchise, right next to Mummy and (I shit you not) Street Fighter. Wraith didn’t have the oozing sex appeal and power of Vampire. It didn’t have the savage brutality or mysticism of Werewolf. It didn’t have the raw power and hubris of Mage.
What it did have was one of the most over-the-top dramatic settings I’ve ever seen and a true grasp of what personal horror was all about.
In Wraith, you were playing the ghost. You were born, you lived, you made connections, you had drives and needs, and then, you died with those drives and needs unfulfilled. Your passions and fetters kept you tied to the land of the living, but death made you a part of the Underworld and subject to its empire and its Deathlords. The Underworld was a place filled with the spirits of those too defiant, too willful, too driven to just let go when their bodies expired. These are desperate souls with everything to lose – so it’s fertile ground for storytelling… provided you could wrap your head around it.
The game was maligned on several fronts. The biggest was that it was depressing. Games are supposed to be fun! Foremost, people labeled Wraith as an event where everyone sat around and got sad which really kind of missed the point for a game about passions so strong you defy death.
The second was that it was antagonistic as hell. The Powers That Be of the Underworld were very, very nasty. Every single group with any kind of power was either trying to smelt you down into raw materials or were trying to indoctrinate you into their cults. And that was if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, the inhospitable denizens of the Tempest were trying to literally eat you undead.
Third, every character in the game had in essence an insubstantial evil twin, The Shadow. It was the part of the Wraith that has one hundred percent accepted its death and just wants the Wraith to let go and sink into Oblivion – and that entity was portrayed by someone else around the table who wasn’t your GM. When another player in the group is playing your nemesis, it’s easy for you to start hating that person.
The big stumbling block though was the depth of the Underworld as a setting. It was complex and nuanced, and it was hard to wrap your brain around it. You had to break down locations into the Skinlands, where the living yet move; the Shadowlands, the dark mirror of the land of the living just beneath the Skinlands from which Wraiths could watch and sometimes even interact with the living; The Tempest, the roiling storm beneath both Skinlands and Shadowlands in which one can find the varied Empires and Far Shores of the Dead; and then there was the Labyrinth, the home of Spectres and their dark lords the Malfeans. At the bottom of the Labyrinth was Oblivion – the growing core of darkness that will eventually destroy all that has ever been. It was too much for a lot of people to keep track of, and the non-Euclidean nature of the Tempest didn’t help when trying to explain things.
Finding the kinds of players who’d sign up for this experience was hard. I ran Wraith for a grand total of three groups between maybe ten sessions. None were successful, but man did I love that game. And so did a lot of other people – just not nearly as many as there were fans of their other bigger, better-selling titles.
And now, Onyx Path is gonna revive the game’s corpse and make it better, faster, stronger… deader. That’s right, it’s getting the 20th Anniversary Kickstarter treatment a la V20 and W20. I didn’t Kickstart either of those products – but you can be guaranteed I have Kicked The Living Shit Starter out of this at a Reaper level.
The folks at Onyx Path had made some noises about this previously, but other than a couple low-key announcements they were very quiet about it. Wraith was a difficult horse to back, so I understand why. I remember the Curse that seemingly followed this entire product line. Until I saw that 300% Kickstarted funding reached didn’t want to dare to hope. Shit, they even acknowledge the curse on their own Kickstarter site:
Click and read, they dare you!
But, we can keep funneling blood an Oboli into the production of the book. There’s still stretch goals to reach and about twenty-seven days left to hit ’em at the time of writing.
So go out there and make it happen. Or something may come for your soul.