After our recent foray through Changeling: The Dreaming, I am going to extend our time in the 90s and the World of Darkness by looking at what is Zen’s favorite of the World of Darkness quintet – Wraith: The Oblivion
Wraith: The Oblivion was the fourth of the five World of Darkness core games put out by White Wolf Game Studio in the 90s which began with Vampire: The Masquerade. Wraith is one of the most tonally consistent and artistically cohesive of all the White Wolf lines and created a fervent fan base from its inception. Despite this devoted fanbase, Wraith: The Oblivion was the first of the five core lines to fall and it closed up shop in a truly remarkable fashion – The last book of the game Ends of Empire pulled together unfinished plot threads in the metaplot that had been unraveling from the beginning, included long sought after answers about a key part of the setting, and acted as a splat book for one of the “Guilds”. It went out with style. Like our discussion of Changeling, Onyx Path Publishing has put out a Wraith 20th Anniversary edition that you can buy, and the books that were once near impossible to get copies of are now available as Print of Demand options from Drive Thru. I expect that I will be picking that up with along with the Changeling 20th Anniversary.
Similar to Changeling, Wraith had some truly unique components at the time and also was not as wildly popular as the “Big Three” – Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage. Wraith was one of the hardest games to run and make a character for with reasons we will explore and it’s decidedly bleak and fatalistic overtones may have been too much for the general fanbase. It is a shame, because it is the best produced and most cohesive of the World of Darkness lines but it’s brevity could have something to do with it. Wraith: The Oblivion was a game that espoused desperation as opposed to hope – you began from a position of failure and in that frame of mind you are set against a complex social backdrop too often shorthanded by playing groups and running between the Skinlands, Deadlands, and deep in the Tempest like Stygia itself to find some way to keep going even though you have already lost.
If you just read our overview of Changeling: The Dreaming, you can skip ahead to the Arcanoi and Advantages section! As a refresher, if you don’t want to go reread my magnum opus of street fighter stables, the Storyteller System builds dice pools by combining a an Attribute with an Ability for a number of d10s. In the first edition of the Storyteller System games, the target numbers were variable allowing a Storyteller to set the difficulty but in the Second Edition, White Wolf streamlined the system by setting a static target number and having Storytellers adjust how many successes were needed. Wraith, however, kept with dynamic target numbers through all three of their Core Books. A ranking of 5 is considered the best a normal human could achieve in an attribute or an ability.
Before you reach your actual traits to score, the game asks you to consider your Nature & Demeanor. Like Vampire and Werewolf, your character has a nature and a demeanor – these are aspects of your roleplaying and characterization. The former is who you are inside and who you know yourself to be while the latter is how you tend to orient to the rest of the world or the face that you choose to show to the rest of us. This is also where you make some initial choices that reflect your Wraithly self – Who were you when you were alive? How did you die? And what is the regret that kept you in this nether-state? How you died is a significant choice because the main setting of Stygia, the Dark Kingdom of Iron that encompasses the North American and European Underworlds, is divided into Legions based on how you died.
There is one more question in this section, but we will take a look at it last ….
Attributes are divided into three categories, with three attributes in each. Your physical Attributes encompass Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina while your Mental Attributes included Perception, Intelligence, and Wits. The Social Attributes were Charisma, Manipulation, and Appearance. The OWOD Storyteller System games had a set of 10 Abilities in each of the three classifications of Abilities – Talents, Skills, and Knowledges. The specific Abilities would change from game to game, as the core focus of the game may have different concerns but they could all be used together or imported between games easily. Because we just looked at Changeling, this is where I am going to point out that the different games had slightly different skill lists to reflect their different games. Additionally, you have a host of optional Abilities or Secondary Abilities you could enrich your game with if you so desired, which we are not going to use for Card Catalog.
Each of the five OWOD Games differentiated the greatest in the Advantages Section. This includes the Backgrounds, special powers, and virtues that changed from game to game. Where a Vampire would have a Blood Pool and a measure of Humanity and a Changeling tracked both Glamour (imagination and inspiration) as well as Banality (the mundane day to day dreariness), Wraiths keep track of their Passions(What emotional intensities still motivate them) and their Fetters (which physical remembrances of their mortal life help tie them to the skinlands still) along with their Pathos (Emotional fuel that drives the Arcanoi and heals the Corpus of a Wraith).
The Passions and Fetters of a Wraith are in many ways the most definitive parts of the role playing character. The Passions are the only things that can provide a way for the Wraith to continue in this balancing act of existence between remembrance and Oblivion. Something fuels the wraith and the emotional draw and power of these passions are what helps stave off falling into Oblivion and hastening it’s all consuming power.
The Fetters are the ties that bind – literally they are what allows Wraiths to have a connection to their skinland life and represent a person, place, or thing of great importance to them. Losing your Fetters makes it harder if not eventually impossible to visit the Skinlands, or even the near shores of the underworld. The great old wraiths of Stygia, the Deathlords themselves, have had all of their fetters destroyed over the passage of time, and some underhanded plot reasons and are therefore unable to leave the deeper Shadowlands and must remain in Stygia which is constantly surrounded by the Tempest which is the tangible representation of the emotions and passions that cordon off the .
Similar to Vampiric Disciplines, Wraiths have Acanoi (S. Arcanos) to reflect their preternatural powers. Each of the different Arcanoi could provided a different suite of powers that reflected the Wraith’s unnatural state such as Moliate’s ability to warp and form the Corpus of a Wraith into different shapes for good or ill or Keening which channels the banshee’s legendary powers. From a design standpoint, the Arcanoi were well balanced against each other and had some really good power curves. It was advantageous to have them at each level, and it wasn’t always only the highest level that mattered. Wraith was a game that never showed what sort of abilities would come from going beyond the 5 Rank system, as opposed to Vampire’s extensive tracking of the powers of the elders. Arcanoi were also each tied to a historical Guild of Wraiths, that were supposedly banished and destroyed but still existed some more openly than others in Stygia. And so, the Arcanoi also provide marks and possible allegiance with certain Guilds, though that is not nearly as certain as other OWOD game affiliations.
We’ve mentioned the Freebie Points before, and like Changeling, Wraith provided the Advantages at a different cost – Arcanoi were only 5 Freebie pointers per rank and also allowed characters to get the basic powers, a 0 rank rating effectively, in an Arcanos creating great flexibility. You have 15 Freebie points, but can increase that by taking up to 7 points worth of Flaws.
Finally we come to the most innovative part of the Wraith: The Oblivion Character – The Shadow. You were just trying to put this off, weren’t you? Scared about what would happen when you let me loose? What we have been describing is the Wraith’s Psyche – their main character and the part of them that is avoiding Oblivion and taking part in the continued existence. Their is a flip side to this coin which is the Shadow embodying every petty, hurtful, and dangerous part of the character coaxing them towards Oblivion. That’s not … okay, maybe that’s mostly true but the thing is that I am as much a part of you as this face you put out. You don’t really want to teach these readers anything – you just want to show off and have them praise them. And now we need to make that Shadow to bedevil, harangue, and seduce your character from their path. Traditionally, you would make this Shadow with the help and input of another player at the table who is the Shadowguide – they will play your darker side so that some actual conflict can happen. Admittedly, this is where some groups can go off the rails and a lot of trust and mature players are required to not abuse this relationship. Pshaw. If you can’t handle the idea, why’d you even pick up a game called Oblivion?
First things first – you need to choose an Archetype for the Shadow. Just like the Nature and Demeanor of the Psyche have single word descriptors that encapsulate the ideas, so to are there Archetypes for a Shadow. These range from the examples in the Core Rule Book like the Director’s quiet and organized whittling down of your power keeping track and cataloguing every mistake for later use to The Monster’s immediacy of vulgar outrage and even The Pusher’s friendly offers to help you through this time with just a little boost .. and she’s glad to help until you haven’t been appreciating her enough. It’s not that bad. There is a part of you that you hide from the world and yourself – I am just here to remind you that the Underworld and Oblivion could always see it. And I’ll always be here with you, a part of you, as you.
A shadow then gets it’s own Angst rating. The Same way that Pathos fuels a Wraith, or more properly a Psyche with it’s emotional energy that drives that Psyche forward, the Angst of a Shadow weighs them down and holds the “fear, pain, and alienation” of a Wraith. Angst is rated on a permanent and temporary scale, like other Virtues, but can have a Temporary Rating to exceed the permanent rating. Importantly, when the Temporary Angst score hits 10, the Shadow can turn that into a new Permanent Angst point and when the Permanent rating becomes 10, they are no longer playable as a Spectre of Oblivion. More importantly, if the Temporary Angst of the Shadow exceeds the Psyche’s Willpower, the Shadow can roll to take over the Wraith. It’s a chance for me to show you that even your ‘friends’ don’t see a difference between the two of us. They won’t even notice I’m the one in charge. They don’t really know you at all … only I do. That’s right. The game was built to make you hand your character sheet over to your own worst aspects of the character.
Thankfully, Shadows have Thorns that they spend Angst on and don’t just sit around accumulating Angst to take over your sheet. Angst is a fluid system, and only the Shadowguide should know exactly where that rating is. As certain Arcanoi provide Angst, the Shadow is always going to be fed. It’s the way of the world, even the Underworld – humanity is a dark and wounded creature full of hatred and loathing. I’ll never go hungry no matter how much you want to starve me. Dark Passions need to be created that act contrary to the Psyche’s Passions. These are not always the opposite of the Passions, but they can also represent a desire to fail or push the Wraith closer to Oblivion. These are the darker emotions and the destructive side of everyone given form.
A Shadow’s Freebie points are spent on Angst, Dark Passions (though never more Dark Passions than the Psyche has Passions), and the Thorns mentioned before. Thorns are special powers and tricks the Shadow can do like Calling nearby Spectres to attack the Wraith, creating an Aura of Corruption around the Wraith, or even having a separate face when he Psyche is in a Harrowing.Hearing me in your head like this isn’t a thorn, though, that’s just how I show up from time to time because you need to be reminded – I’m your Shadow, or maybe that i am YOUR shadow.
Sitting underneath the world you and I know has been an Underworld, for as long as humans have died, some became Wraiths and failed to cross over or Transcend. You have now become one such human, one such failed being, who holds too much left to leave it behind. You had your caul torn from you, the thinnest of membranes of Corpus that shielded you from the what you now call the Shadowlands and awoke as Enfant, dead but not gone. You found your real voice at the same time — Me!
In the Shadowlands, you can see the living – The Quick if you will – and their world but with the eyes of decay and Oblivion because as a Wraith you are a step closer to Not Being, to Oblivion, and ever will it lap at your heels or send it’s spectres to trap you completely. In the Shadowlands, you see the world of the living but with it’s emotional impact – burned down buildings still stand tall and are as real to you as other Wraiths. It is a hard thing to realize that the only things you can touch have either been emotionally invested or are a wraith, soul forged by an Artificer into something else. Even in Stygia, deeper in the Underworld safely set apart from the Skinland’s reflection of the Quick, there is little left to drive you forward. The Dark Kingdom of Iron, Stygia, was what bought you from that Reaper who pulled your Caul off. You are lucky that you had a generally helpful Reaper, and not one that was in a Harrowing or ready to melt you into soulforged goods. You’ll see what a Harrowing is, soon enough. Don’t worry, every wraith faces down Oblivion and every Wraith’s Shadow takes over … eventually. You saw your first Necropolis – the dark twisted shadow of the Skinland’s buildings with the echoes of construction long gone. A city for the dead befitting the title “Necropolis” – but you wouldn’t stay here. An Anacreon in the Legions of Stygia decided you should be processed in Great Stygia itself and you again were not allowed to rest.
On that journey, you saw the Tempest, the neverending tumult of memory and emotion that separates the Skinlands from the deeper Underworld, and the different Dark Kingdoms that populate the Underworld. You felt what Stygia was intended to repel and stave off – the pain and terror of the darkest sides of humanity and the yawning emptiness of Oblivion. It called you at the same time. Your very existence here is part of Oblivion and you carry a piece in your soul. Hi, that’s me. We don’t have to make this too hard. We can just put things where they were meant to go. You saw too the reason the Heretics draw so many to them – the promise of Transcendence and the escape from this view. If there is Oblivion, there must be something balancing it, right? Why would there be? Nothing in your life was fair, why would it be any different in your Death?
In Stygia, you saw why the Renegades persist, opposing Stygia and the Deathlords – For all that Stygia began nobly and Charon guided it as best he could, the Stygia of today has fallen to backbiting and competition between the Deathlords as they claim their souls and jockey for position. Stygia isn’t any safer than from Oblivion. No matter what they tell you, those walls will only last so long when the next Great Maelstrom comes. The ability for power to corrupt becomes even stronger when Oblivion is at the door. Stygia may never have been perfect, but before Charon was sucked into a Nihil in the Maelstrom with the Malfean monster Gorool, it at least hewed to his best side to create order and safety for Wraiths in the face of Oblivion and the Maelstrom.
Yes, Wraiths not strong enough or with enough Passions were soulforged into oboli for currency and the raw stuff of the Dark Kingdom – Corpus was all there was. Yes, these Thralls were put in a state of near slavery. But this stopped Oblivion from claiming them and prevented their being from adding to the Dark. Yes, the Heretics were outlawed and banished after cheating Stygian wraiths – in two ways according to Charon – by withholding the tax on relics they had acquired but more damningly by peddling hope of Far Shores that was a lie; by promising Transcendence and delivering only a trap for Oblivion. Who can say how true that was? Who can say hope should be sent out of the walls of the Dark Kingdom of Iron?
Yes, the GUilds that provided Wraiths training in Arcanoi are long since broken and outlawed. The Legions can provide training and fulfil those duties. The Guilds sought to usurp power for themselves, or did they? Pardoners and their use of Castigate still have that Guild symbol of the Lantern and the forges are worked by Wraiths marked like the history says Artificers should… maybe things have not changed. A series of secret societies under the nose of and with the tacit approval of the powers that be?! Why would Stygia lie to you, a loyal member of the Hierarchy?
You were claimed by a Legion, according to the method of your death, and officially entered onto the rolls of the Hierarchy. You returned to the Necropolis where you were first reaped … and felt the tug of your Fetters across the Shroud. They survived and you didn’t but you could even the score. Stygia forbids interfering with The Quick and has outlawed travelling to the Skinlands … what would it hurt to see your husband one more time and pay him back but what would it hurt to see your husband one more time?
It has never been easy in the Shadowlands after the Veil cut off the Skinlands. It was even worse when Stygia and the deeper Shadowlands were isolated by the Maelstrom. Sure, the new world was great! It opened up new places for a Necropolis and a new base for Stygia to find souls to forge … to ward of Oblivion required the sacrifice of the soulstuff after all. But the Anacreons of the Legions left in charge were more and more left to their own devices – Charon’s absence and the infighting of the Deathlords has left Stygia caring little for its colonies … so long as the corpus needed to forging is sent; so long as the tithe is met.
Recently, the local Springfield Anacreons needed to find a way to strike back. Renegade bands were becoming more and more brazen in their predations. All in the name of Freedom from Stygia, Freedom for Oblivion if you ask the Hierarchy. This danger, these upstarts, necessitated looking the other way just a bit and paying more attention to the Skinlands than perhaps Stygia would prefer. The Springfield Anacreons took part in an experiment and found themselves creating a Circle of Wraiths where normally they would be formed naturally from Wraiths in the Shadowlands.
Each member was culled from the Legions rolls, some appearing exceptional and some appearing ordinary as far as a Wraith may go. The Fates had smiled on these Wraiths, or at least a reading from a Delphic Oracle deemed that these five were bound to be together in one way or another. Fatalism does work it’s way strangely it seems, though none of the Anacreons would admit to more than a cursory consultation with the Lady of Fate’s chosen representative.
From the Gaunt Legion, Anacreon Hercule d’Avignon had to release Zebediah from his daily duties. A Wraith that had survived over a Century and a half, Zebediah had weathered The Great War and the Fourth Maelstrom leaving him with more notoriety than he may like while chasing every experience he missed in life. Linda Mary Johnson was no surprise, for she seems to have been touched by Fate all along – unfulfilled in her life as a mother and PTA Parent, Linda Mary has been given new purpose in her death as a Pardoner carrying others burdens for them. Declyn has been touched a bit by radical political philosophy of the 21st Century, like Democracy. The Emerald Legion had been excited to see his deep connection to Inhabit but his inclusion in this Circle leaves many questions for other Wraiths. Patricia hadn’t amounted to much. A victim of Despair having taken her own life in the wake of the Savings & Loan Scandals of the 1980s, her quiet role in the hierarchy of the Hierarchy belied her inability to leave the Skinlands behind. Finally, Mark was dispatched under the theoretical purview of the Iron Legion having died in his old age. Seemingly like Patricia, he was a quiet clerk in the Ministry of Planning for the Iron Legion … all the while hiding his true position in the Ministry of Intelligence and his ongoing quest for Transcendence.
Skeletal Legion Pioneer and Old Soul
Zebediah never planned for any of this. He had always been a little odd for his family and his time with a touch of the libertine about him. He took to the frontier to explore as best he could and get away from Society’s mores and judging. It was here, where Springfield would come to be, that he made a life and a living … but never a life he found worth living. When he crossed the shroud from a particularly virulent outbreak of the Chicken Pox, the Skeletal Legion put him to work quickly with his martial talents and physical gifts. Archery is all well and good, but Zeb’s eye with a Rifle set him apart. Zeb’s death has been marked by chasing out every sensation and emotion left to him in an attempt to make up for what he never did in life. His passion and fiery defense of Stygia against The Smiling Lord’s insurrection during The Great War have left him known to this day in Springfield.
Linda Mary Johnson
Pardoner and Nominal Grim Legionnaire
Linda Mary Johnson came from a life you know today from it’s almost stereotypical nature. Born on the cusp of World War II, she found a husband while at school, and became a stay at home Mom for their two precious children. Somewhat disaffected, her preference for Martinis distinguished her as she would always have a pitcher ready for visitors, and more so her work with the PTA. She began to find that she could do more when she began working with the Springfield High PTA. She was making a real difference and getting a new cafeteria, auditorium, and gym building built through almost nothing but the force of her bake sales. Until the car wreck. Who was to blame isn’t something settled, and several Legions laid claim over her corpus until finally the Grim Legion was successful. Since then, she has continued her turn to service in Death having found a knack for Castigate, and a full fledged Pardoner when she puts out her lantern.
Renegade Antiestablishment Artificer
What’s a political activist to do when he finds himself dead … and worse part that a machine as corrupt as the one in the Skinlands is laying claim to his soul? It isn’t really a surprise that Declyn is a Renegade, or that the Hierarchy was closing in on sufficient proof to soulforge him into Oboli – he railed against a corrupt system in life. The Pauper’s Legion had given him a great deal of leeway as a sassy and smart Wraith skilled in Inhabit could further Anacreon Lorenzi plans in the Necropolis. He seems to have missed the warning signs and now, part of this Springfield Fated Circle, he is trying to conceal his true leanings.
Homesick and forlorn Spook
Maybe the Oracle’s hands are beginning to be seen, as Patricia knew Linda’s daughter in school – she was Patricia’s favorite victim. Ever a Bully, and never an exceptional student, Pat got involved in finance in the 1980s, and it took over her life. Always fit, and with a passion for crew, she was perfectly situated to just stumble through the Savings and Loan boom … and subsequent bust. All her hairspray couldn’t keep her life together as she saw it crashing down. All she had sought, in the accolades and recognition, the money and the goods, were evaporating. She took her own life. In Death, she seemed to be even less than in life. Quietly working as a clerk for the Silent Legion. Her lack of true abilities in Finance didn’t preclude the ability to push papers, and do the basic office politicking that every Necropolis has. And it keeps people from seeing her reaching back into the Skinlands. It keeps them from knowing she still sees her own children … thirty years later, they still remember her.
Iron Spy Hunting Transcendance
It’s a stereotype because it is true. The old guy, the Iron Legion death just sitting there wishing he could feed some dead squirrels, is actually a spy for the Ministry of Intelligence. Sometimes, not being done is a blessing as much as a curse, at least that is what Mark tries to hold on to. While life saw him as a successful Environmental Activist, helping as much as he could, in his Death he hadn’t finished what he set before him. He saw World War II, and he found that he needed to change how people treated each other, and the planet. Instead, in his Death, his kind soul has maintained and he keeps pushing. The Skinlands still need fixing, as garbage keeps spewing, and The Shadowlands need fixing, as Oblivion persists. The Iron Legion seems as good a place as any to push back against Oblivion which poisons the Deadlands.
World of Darkness, Vampire: The Masquerade, Vampire: The Dark Ages, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, Changeling: The Dreaming, Hunter: The Reckoning, Demon: The Fallen, Mummy: The Resurrection, Orpheus, Exalted, Chronicles of Darkness, White Wolf, and their respective logos, icons and symbols are trademarks or registered trademarks of White Wolf Entertainment. © held by White Wolf Entertainment AB, Västgötagatan 5, SE-118 27 Stockholm, Sweden. Seize the GM is a fan work and is not affiliated with White Wolf Entertainment. This work is made as criticism and review of the published work – no claim of ownership is intended or implied. Please visit https://www.white-wolf.com/ or http://theonyxpath.com/category/worlds/classicworldofdarkness/ for more information.