Wraith: The Oblivion?

Started by masqueradeball, January 28, 2008, 05:28:37 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


So, I have been a lot time White Wolf player, I started, I think, the same year Vampire 2e came out, but it might have been later. At one time I owned all the core line's main books with at least a few of the supplements. I never bought demon, but Hunter (for me) was a fantastic game. I picked up Requiem as a Justin Achili fan boy and then immediately changed gears. This new vampire was a weak hack of the old game that some how managed to fix almost nothing that was actually broken (IMO) about the original. So there it is folks, the backstory.

So besides dabbling in Exalted right up the release of 2e I haven't really done much with WW besides running a semi-long lasted game of Masquerade (the Vampire LARP), but that I ran almost entirely from memory. So, after a very long stint of not actually looking at a White Wolf book except maybe to reference a rule I just re-read Wraith 2e in preparation for a Wraith: the Great War game I'm about to run and I find myself really shocked by how bad the whole thing is and wondering how I figured it out in the first place.

The terms are thrown around the text out of order, the history makes references to events and action that would be impossible with the modern cosmology without actually explaining how and when changes happened. How the non linear nature of the Underworld is supposed to be presented in play is never explained let alone discussed. The majority of the advice about Shadow Guiding equates to "don't be a dick," so on and so fourth.

I was wondering what sort of experiences people have had with game text in retrospect, particular with the world of darkness stuff. One of the most profound things the Forge has done for (to?) me is to really change the way I look on all of these games that I used to think were really great. I find the more I go back and the more I look into it, the more I realize how  much of what I thought was provided by the game was actually provided by me and how much actual play differed from the play I think the books would "encourage."

This has created a lot of questions as to what I'm going to do with the Wraith game itself and I also just wanted to share this sense of shock and see if anyone out there could provide some insight. I know reading the game book isn't quite actual play, but its similar...


Also, some changes I've made to the rules as written: the Shadow Guides are actual going to create their Psyche player's shadows with out revealing what they've done. I'm hoping this will create a lot of play in which the psyche struggle to better understand their dark sides. I'd also like to clean up all the rules about Transcendence, since so much of it is simply the author repeating "must be determined through role playing." If anyone out there has experience running/playing Wraith I'd love any thoughts they'd have about the changes I'm intending to make or more generally about running the game itself.


I ran Wraith several times, and these are the problems that showed up.

1. Because each player is playing a contagonist for another player, the relationship between those players becomes important.  The way the books described it, you would play the Shadow of the player on your left during character creation: making who got to the game table in what order crucially important.
    In my group, the way to play it was that Shadows were randomly reassigned at each session.  By the time of the nth session, whenever a character had a moral quandry, enough players knew the Shadow that the group advised the current Shadow player, and it made each player the victim of the group, not a victim of a specific person.  That helped with OOC feelings.

2. Because each player is playing a Shadow, I had to watch to make sure that each player spent the majority of his time playing his PC, not playing the Shadow.  The temptation was strong to keep playing a Shadow, and have your own character sit on a bench.

3. Transcendence was explained as an option for the PC, but a Transcended PC was out, and you had to GNC.  Without any sort of roll-over points.  Because my group was, um, "aggressive," there was an awareness that if you came in to the Wraith world as a new PC, you were going to be another player's pawn, probably for the rest of the game.   
     But the guideline I was going with was that if a PC wanted to Transcend, he needed to lose what held him to the mortal and ghost worlds, emotionally and physically, and be ready to move on.  That meant I needed to tailor the Quest to each PC in order to make it emotionally resonant to that PC.  It depended on what objects a player chose for his background and his attitudes during play.

With regards to the WWGS (1-2e) My summary is this: I modified the rules to support (in all WW games) a certain sort of play: a highly immersive, Narrative group, where the continual theme was "Is it worth the price you must pay?" I was aided by the fact that the core of my players were all English/Theater/Psychology Majors, all were creative writers or actors in their non-gaming hobbies/jobs.  The risk of PC death was rarely in the SIS frequently, but the risk of PC emotional trauma was there.  Most of the consequences had little or no mechanical effect by the rules, but it was all in how the PCs interacted with the world and each other.

IMHO, all of the WoD really depended on the level of story creation ability a "Person who would be Storyteller" brought to the table .  It needed an ST who was skilled at creating a story framework and weaving the player's contributions into his/her own story.  It required a gaming group who was willing to only supply contributions that their ST could weave.  All the players and the ST had to agree on trying to achieve "The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast," and the constraints that brought to play. 
  I have a million stories about Actual WWGS Play, and they usually revolve around a player adding something unexpected to the SIS, and the consequences of that action.

Callan S.

Hi Nolan,

QuoteThis has created a lot of questions as to what I'm going to do with the Wraith game itself
It's created questions? Why is it raising questions rather making you not want to play? Is it raising questions like a novel with the last page torn out would - ie, you keep thinking 'what happened' rather than 'I got sold a lemon!'



Thanks for the insight. I definitely could foresee those kinds of problems coming up for anyone with the whole shadow thing... I think I trust my group enough in that PVP won't be much of an issue, but will see. If it becomes one I think I'll try for some mechanical penalty/control, instead of simple discussion, like, you get so many shadow scenes a session or some such. I know that these kinds of solutions are sort of artificial, but hey, whatever works (if it does work) right...


I really like Wraith. I think the game's high points are definitely worth trying to fix it's low ones. Its like seeing a car you really like and finding that the air condition doesn't work and that the engine might stall out on you. At that point you can say, screw this, and ditch the car, but I'm gonna try giving it a run at the mechanics first.

As to why? Well, because of Nicky Rhea and Jackie Cassada I guess. They're a writing team that did a lot of the source books for Wraith that I remember being remarkable. I don't actual own very many of the source books now (my parents sold my original Wraith collection, which contained Ends of Empire, which is worth 75+ dollars now). Also, the Great War setting is really intriguing and ripe with potential... I like the idea of doing ghost stories and I like a lot of Wraiths core conceits, and to be honest, I'd rather play Wraith than not play a ghost game... and I know my player pool (also known as my friends) will play the game, in part on the merit of it being part of their comfort zone (i.e. the old World of Darkness' setting and systems).

Ron Edwards

Hi Nolan,

A lot of what you're saying speaks directly to me. The thread So, about that Wraith game goes over some ground that you'll find familiar, I think.

I wanted to address your more general question, which I think is pretty important. How should your prep and general group prep relate to the game book? I hope I can articulate this well enough ...

I think that you would do well to start, as you pretty much already have, with the idea that the book itself will not help anyone understand why to play this game, at the creative and social level. Like so many other RPGs, it presents a circle: you role-play in order to play this game, and you play this game in order to role-play. Once caught in that circle, the only thing to do is to obsess about some aspect of the SIS (system, character, setting, et cetera) and the functional Big Model in action can't really occur.

The good news is that you can arrive at a reason yourself. I don't necessarily mean a Creative Agenda, although what I'm talking about includes it or leads in that direction. What I mean is a little more general: take what is inspiring about the source material (and here I mean the game books as well as other media or myth), and really distill what you like and want into the core of inspiration for the group. In other words, make it your own, collectively.

This is what was meant, as I see it, by the phrase "Your Glorantha may vary" in the publication of HeroQuest, although of course it was perverted into a meaningless justification for bullshit in many discussions. The idea is that the setting and situations and other features of your game are necessarily going to be a group creation, not a slavish representation of already-printed matter from book to table. To "play Wraith" is not to act out what the book holds; it's to take and master the book as an inspiration and engine for what you all will do, whatever that may be.

Does that make sense? I may be merely repeating what you already know and do. However, as long as we're talking about World of Darkness in particular, of whatever stripe or edition, it seems to me that the culture tends to veer very strongly in the direction of saying "it" is in the books, whatever "it" may be, and we play in order to find or arrive at that "it." I think that shifting to the point of view I'm trying to describe will result in a wholly different approach to prep on everyone's part, and also in a sense of adventure.

Instead of "Gee, 'it' is so cool, I hope we can role-play well enough to be/feel 'it,'" the goal is "Here we go, making our 'it' from this fantastic inspiration, and there is nothing stopping us from discovering our own 'it' in full."

Best, Ron


I guess my solution to these problems is strange, and I feel like I can't really help other people understand it as a technique. I'm just really good at improvising. I can say, here's a world, make characters, put in what you want... and as soon as things begin I see dozens of threads and how to make them into something more. It really does work for me, and I think it creates... what, definitely not Nar, but good Sim with Nar-like qualities (um, and don't read into that last bit too much... I know that's not really how CA works, its just a short hand for, Sim where thematic exploration is part of the SIS but where the emphasis is on something else... namely character exploration). Really a lot of my play has been fun in the past, so I think its (mostly) functional. What I'm trying to do with theory is break it down into components and learn more about what I'm doing when running games so that they come out better than just good... whats an analogy?...

Anyway, with the Wraith game I'm sort of leash training my group. For a while now I've been trying to encourage everyone I play with to be more interested in the game and to feel that giving input is both their prerogative and responsibility. What I mean is feeling its OK to "break the fourth wall" so to speak, for the sake of the game. In general we want Actor stance, in character knowledge, etc... to be a focus, but I think theres a point where those things break down and become nothing short of a mere pig-headed-ness. I should definitely start some actual play posts of the last long term D&D campaign I played in to illustrate this better.

What I mean by the whole "leash training" thing, is that the focus of this game, which I think I've really stressed with the players, is collaboration on all fronts. Every player's gonna have a say in making each other players characters, making the setting, deciding outcome, and I really hope to put the emphasis on that process... the outcome past this point is less important, in as much as I think everyone will have fun with the collaboration in and of itself.

So, to more directly answer your question, I think our group has found are why with Wraith, or at least I hope so. Why #1 is the exploration of character using the Wraith source material as a support network for that exploration, why #2 is to try to exercise our collaborative muscles and get out of what I feel are bad habits. Also, if everyone plays this way and decides that it stinks and that its not for them, then, thats fine with me... I just want to try it out.

And a final word. Right now I'm working on the Beta for a game that I have to up in the next three or so months. Its really about providing everything that a game like Wraith doesn't, primarily, a structure with which to generate stories... thats what I feel Wraith lacks. They're saying: here's all this inspiration, here's all these systems, but nothing in there will make a story or lead to the making of one in and of itself, and thats the problem.

Story, I guess, might have been a bad word choice (thinking of your critique of the word in relation to RPGs from GNS and Other Matters) but its the best I could come up with at the moment. What I mean, more precisely, is game content. D&D, for instance, tells you how to generate game content, but definitely not story in the way most people would recognize the term.