Following the core games of Chronicles of Darkness, the designers were left with a question of where to go from there. The first of their limited lines was Promethean: the Created, a game about monsters who were seeking to become human.
As a game line, it was popular, but often ran into issues with actual play. With a revitalized and renewed Promethean 2.0 on an early release, I’m going to take a crack at this one.
Raid some graves and wait for lightning to strike, this is Promethean: the Created.
Deity and Demiurge
The history of the Created is…sketchy at the best of times. Part of this is explained simply by the fact that, of all the creatures in the Chronicles of Darkness, Prometheans are likely the most rare. Their manner of creation, however, is not up for debate.
A human, within the grips of madness, attempts to animate an inanimate object, granting it life. How this happens, and the reasons, vary a bit, but one thing is consistent: obsession. This obsession attracts Pyros, the Divine Flame, and allows the Demiurge (creator) to imbue non-living matter with life.
The issue with this is…it’s wrong. I don’t mean morally, but that it literally should not work. Prometheans are created, but they are in a world that rejects their very nature and existence. Humans feel it on an instinctual level and begin to obsess over them. This is usually hatred, but can manifest in a lot of other unfortunate, and always harmful, ways.
Pyros itself isn’t exactly a morally positive force. It has two sides, and the negative is called Flux. Where Pyros creates, Flux consumes. This leads to entities called Pandorans, failed attempts at Prometheans, which hunt and consume sources of Pyros.
Prometheans, then, are in a sorry state: they are aware, somewhat alive, but flawed. And so they did as most creature do: they sought a way to change it. Alchemy became their source. After all, it offered transformation: lead to gold. Prometheans modeled themselves after these ideas and began their magnum opus: find a way to become human.
So begins their Pilgrimage. Where it ends…who can tell?
The premise of Promethean is…difficult. Being an entitiy which is effectively a walking hate generator…isn’t exactly something someone does to unwind. I think that might be why it didn’t do as well as later gamelines. The second edition did a lot to help with this, though, namely hammering down more precise methods for how certain Prometheans come about as well as making a lot of things more ambiguous. However, it also hammered out how the Magnum Opus can be achieved. All Prometheans have a goal…and a good way to achieve it. Further, from the get go, you have ways to limit or reduce the hatred you get. It’s still a struggle…but this is Chronicles of Darkness we are talking about.
Making a Promethean follows the same formulas you’d expect. Most, but not all, belong to a Lineage. Each Lineage represents an original Created that later created more of its own, passing down certain traits like a family line. Each has a humour, most modeled after the traditional four humours with a couple of oddballs. The Lineages are:
- Frankensteins: Oddly, the newest of the Lineages, their yellow bile humour makes them quick to anger. The first was, of course, the archetypical Frankenstein’s monster. But you can call him Mr. Varney.
- Galateids: Tracing their lineage to Galatea, these Prometheans were made to love, but their sanguine humour makes them prone to embody its darkest aspects.
- Osirans: Cold to the extreme, they claim to be the oldest of the Lineages, tracing their ancestry to Egypt and the legend of Osiris. Their humor is Phlegm, and it makes them a calculating lot.
- Tammuz: The Named were created to be slaves, but they rebuke that concept. The Golem of Prague was, perhaps, the first of their kind. Their black bile makes the taciturn and grim.
- Ulgan: Ripped apart in sacrifice to spirits, the Ulgan are not entirely of this world. Their ectoplasm humor makes them kindred to spirits, and…somewhat odd.
- Unfleshed: Proof that Pyros is hardly discerning, these are animate machines, created not to be human, but rather to be artificial constructs. Their oil humour makes them obedient and servile, but potentially volatile.
- Extempore: Unique lineages which hail from many different possible places. They may be failed experiments, or entirely new Lineages.
Each Lineage has what’s called a Bestowment. These are traits which are related to the Lineage and can be used to one’s advantage. A Frankenstein, for example, might have the ability to use their patchwork nature to sew other parts to themselves while a Tammuz might be incredibly stalwart and unshakable.
The next step, of a fashion, is the Refinement. Refinements are, essentially, stepping stones on the path to being human. These are basically Promethean’s version of factions. The difference is that, unlike others, faction changing is required in the path to humanity. Each has an aspect of how a Promethean wants to change themselves. They are divided into common and uncommon. The common refinements are:
- Aurum, Refinement of Gold: “Monkey see, monkey do” is the name of the game for Mimics. They seek to become human by…studying humanity. Most Prometheans will go through it at one point or another.
- Cuprum, Refinement of Copper: The Pariahs seek to refine themselves in an almost monastic, hermetic manner. They seek to hone themselves mentally and physically.
- Ferrum, Refinement of Iron: Survival is the name of the game for Titans. They will use their body to endure any trial. Their notion is that they will take their stolen body and make it their own.
- Plumbum, Refinement of Lead: Originists look to the start in the hopes to see where to go. They, more than others, seek to understand the Promethean nature so as to move on from it.
- Stannum, Refinement of Tin: Unique among refinements in that it’s not so much a conscious choice as a reaction. Any Promethean can become a Fury, requiring no training or time. All they can do after is work their way out of Torment and hope to gain something from it.
That does it for the common refinements. All Prometheans travel through these, and they require no tutoring or teaching. That said, Prometheans also do some…unusual studies to refine themselves.
- Aes, Refinement of Bronze: Sentries are, on a whole, good people. They seek to become better people by acting as help to others. In a lot of ways, they seek to find humanity through sacrifice.
- Argentum, Refinement of Silver: Humans aren’t the only things alive in the world, and Mystics seek to understand them. Really designed for crossovers, they look to other supernatural creatures, seeking to understand humans through the shadowy figures around them.
- Cobalus, Refinement of Cobalt: Cathars don’t worry too much about messing up. Impurity is what they look to refine, increasing control of their flaws to understand their own shortcomings and how to improve them.
- Mercurius, Refinement of Quicksilver: Pyros, the mystic animating energy, is the focus of Savants. Something of a meta-refinement in that it seeks to teach a Promethean how alchemy works to better understand how to use it in the future.
- Phosphorum, Refinement of Phosphorus: Most Light-Bringers are daredevils to the extreme. They seek to blaze a trail forward, never turning back. Of course…twice as bright…half as long…
One other refinement bears mentioning, but I’ll get to that one later.
A lot of the rest is familiar, but a few things that bear mentioning.
Virtue and Vice are replaced by Elpis and Torment. Elpis is what drives your character toward their Great Work. Torment, by contrast, causes you to stumble when you use it. Torment bears mentioning because it is a trait as well as a state of being that one can fall into. Torment is, basically, an alchemical imbalance. The humour takes over, driving their actions.
The Promethean power stat is called Azoth, a measure of how much the Divine Fire is condensed in a Promethean. It has a lot of the same traits, but has a couple odd ones as well. Azoth, like fire, radiates and can be detected. this can be an issue as Pandorans can sense the energy and use it to track a wayward Promethean. It also increases Disquiet and Wasteland (more later). One odd bit is that a Promethean can, if they desire, lower their own Azoth for 24 hours. This lets them get by a little easier.
I Want to be a Real Boy
The story of Promethean is one of transformation. Alchemy, that odd interim between spiritualism and science, became the method the Created used to attain this. The game’s theme, then, is a bit of a taoist idea: it’s the journey, not the destination.
Playing a Promethean is unique. See, when I said that the world hates Prometheans, I mean that in a very literal sense: the universe thinks they are wrong. Humans known on an intuitive level. The longer a Created stays around people, the more this causes an issue called Disquiet. Humans become unhealthily obsessed with the Promethean, manifesting in various ways, but almost always ending in violence and rejection.
However, this is somewhat smaller compared to another issue: the Wasteland. Effectively, the Wasteland is the cosmic equivalent of Disquiet: the world is rejecting the Promethean. This manifests a lot of ways, but none of them are good. Prometheans can only really offset this in a few ways. One is by ritually bleeding their Azoth out into a prepared area. Working with other Prometheans and creating bound Throngs is another way, with different Legacies helping to balance things out.
If Azoth gets too bad, it can lead to a Firestorm. These manifest as destructive outpouring of pyros…and it’s always bad. Weather, earthquakes, flesh and mind warping energies…all can happen. There are a couple of good aspects. One is that it can clear a wasteland completely, though this is a bit of a desperate act. The other is that it can aid prometheans or harm their foes. It’s not a great method, but it can be useful.
The Promethean condition is a somewhat unique one. As alchemical furnaces, they can do things others can’t. Powers are called Transmutations as a result. Each Transmutation is granted by a Refinement. This is a mechanical difference in that a Promethean might shift between many, but the understanding of each is unique. A bit of an odd thing is that, as a result, a Promethean might learn a full tree in one Refinement and need to relearn it under another. It’s somewhat offset by the fact that you get some powers simply by joining. Transmutations range a bit, from using Pyros to enhancing one’s own strength.
One other is Vitriol, which is represented as a unique form of experience. Basically, it’s gained slowly over time, but let’s Prometheans raise their power or bind Transmutations to themselves permanently. Both of these are highly valuable, and Vitriol experience is vanishingly rare. It’s somewhat odd, however, because it’s not an abstraction: it’s a literal substance and, as such, can be stolen. Pandorans are the most likely culprits, but anyone with the proper knowledge can do so…even Prometheans.
However, all of this is really summed up in Pilgrimage, which is the morality stat of the game, and it’s unique. Basically, a Pilgrimage is a set of markers, called Milestones, that a Promethean must attain before he can achieve humanity. Some of these are set in the path as he winds through his Refinements. In each, he takes on a Role which defines how he approaches that Refinement as an aspect of study. This is probably my favorite aspect of 2.0. In a lot of ways, it makes the game more personal, but also defines the journey along the way. A promethean must travel through his Pilgrimage, but it leads to the Magnum Opus: the New Dawn, a chance to be human again. Second edition lays it out nicely, even detailing what happens after. It’s rare, but this offers a chance at a good ending, which, for the Chronicles of Darkness, is a rare thing indeed.
Of course, getting there is difficult…
Disquiet is…well, a bitch. It twists and warps people against you. Other supernaturals aren’t really immune, either. In fact, everyone except Beasts and Demons has it affect them in some way. Demons can even still feel it, it just doesn’t affect how they behave.
It might seem, then, that everything is antagonistic toward you. And that’s…kinda true, actually…
Still, even Prometheans have a few special enemies…oh joy…
The first on the list are the most obvious: pandorans. Pandorans are, basically, what happens when a Promethean tries and fails to make a new one of himself. They are creatures of Flux, and as such, seek to consume and destroy. They’re feral things, twisted and distorted, and are endlessly hungry for pyros…the easiest way to find that being a Promethean. Worse still are sublimati. These are pandorans that assume a twisted kind of intelligence. Unlike normal pandorans…sublimati are fully sapient and very, very cruel. At first glance, they might be mistaken for a fallen Promethean, but they are still creatures of flux.
Speaking of creatures of Flux, remember how I mentioned there was one final refinement? Well, that would be the centimani, the refinement of flux. Rightly called freaks, centimani are those prometheans who abandon their Pilgrimage to embrace being monsters. There are a couple of things to note. First is that it’s a refinement. Unlike a lot of the evil factions, there’s nothing stopping a Hundred Handed from using a quick burst to Stennum to escape and begin the process of returning to the path. The second is that…honestly, Centimani are probably among the more sympathetic villains. While most evil factions are just that, a Centimanus usually has given up out of despair, desperation, or even simple curiosity. They will do terrible things, but…well, there’s nothing that prevents them from coming back, though it may be difficult.
Mortal foes are even more strange, particularly alchemists. Alchemists are capable of using pyros, but to do so warps them. Simple alchemists are those who use their lesser abilities to help themselves. However, some alchemists discovered that Prometheans can be…harvested for their pyros and vitriol. Using it gives alchemists great power…at the cost of their sanity. Alchemists are sort of a mirror for Prometheans. A promethean wants to be human, and is willing to give up the benefits of his state to do so. An alchemist abandons humanity for the sake of being transhuman like a Promethean.
One last set of players worth mentioning are the Qashmallim. No, I don’t know how you say that, but these are basically entities of the Divine Fire. They often appear as fiery apperations, not unlike the burning angels of the Bible. They serve as…well, somewhat odd entities. Most seek to motivate Prometheans along their Pilgrimage…though this can happen in odd or even contradictory ways. Some are warriors, some are judges, some are simply messengers. They are creatures of the Principle…whatever that is…and usually will act in equal parts protagonist and antagonist during a story. They come in a few flavors. First, there is a division between Elpidos, or the Elpis Qashmallim, and Lilithim, or Flux Qashmallim. While it might seem like a split between protagonist and antagonist, this isn’t always the case. An Elpidos might cause a Promethean to stumble in some impossible task while a Lilithim might act as a whip, hounding a Promethean to continue his journey through discomfort. There are also lesser, greater and arch-qashmallim. The former two are easier to understand, while the arch-versions are…sublimely powerful and difficult to understand, not easily divided as their lesser brethren.
Raising the Dead
Promethean, as a game line, fared rather poorly. Much like Wraith before it, it had a high and difficult concept to execute. I initially wasn’t overly fond of it either: why would I want to play a character that everyone literally hated? As I looked more at it, I actually became rather fond of it. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I appreciated that it was trying something new. I will say that this is not a game for everyone. Unlike a lot of games, this one really takes an adult mindset to understand and wrestle with. It also takes trying to grapple with a lot of existential concepts and high weirdness.
If this appeals to you, give it a shot. Frankenstein would be happy.
Next on the list, we’ll take a look at a very dark Faerie Tale with Changeling: the Lost.
Ok, here we go.
Mage: The Awakening was the spiritual successor to the much loved if oft maligned Mage: the Ascension. Aside from making the abbreviation conventions of the internet a nightmare (MtA hits both…), the game itself became…somewhat controversial for a number of reasons.
I’m going to be looking at Mage 2.0 as found through the newly christened Chronicles of Darkness. It’s gonna be a bit of a walk, but here we go.
Pierce the veil, see through the Lie, and reach to the Supernal. This is Mage: The Awakening.
In the Cave
Plato’s Republic is an interesting political discourse in early thought on the idea of society, the role of leadership, and the concept of what reality is. It’s been inspiration for such work as The Matrix, is still used in political discourse today, and, as it happens, is one of the influences of the influences of Mage: the Awakening. Gnosticism is a kind of blending of Aristatilian thinking derived from Plato mixed with Judeo-Christian theology and, yes, I know that is a gross oversimplification and may ruffle some feathers, but I have another blog for theological questions.
The Cave analogy is perhaps the most famous discourse from this work. In it, the idea is that there are people, chained, and forced to look only at shadows of objects as they pass on a wall. They have no knowledge of the outside world, no context to place these shadows in, and so accept the shadows as reality. And why not? They have known nothing else.
Now imagine freeing one. Letting him loose and letting him escape this cave. Now he sees the world as it is, bright, full of color. He sees the shapes that make the shadows, full and vibrant. He sees the light for what it is, and many things besides…and then he goes back.
Mage is built on a similar premise. Long ago, it is agreed, some humans learned to tap the true world, the Supernal realms, these pure, untainted notions of reality, not muddled in the muck and ire of reality. These were the first mages, and they collected their wisdom and knowledge to try to create something more…but there was a problem.
At some point, however, the Lie perpetuated. Reality was made mundane…and deliberately so. Some force guides the Lie, the Exarchs. Dividing the mundane world from the Supernal realms, those realms of pure thought and understanding, is the Abyss.
And so Mages find themselves trapped. They see the Lie for what it is…but they cannot act fully while trapped in the mundane world.
The Mage reboot stripped a bit of the certainty from things. Originally, mages derived from Atlantis, and the Exarchs were those god-kings who ascended to the supernal realms then burned bridges behind them. The current game allows for some more flexibility in narrative, which becomes apparent as we go into the next segment. Atlantis is still included in the Pentacle’s background, but what it is is more a call to a time before the Lie.
Do You Believe in Magic?Mages operate around the same kind of character creation as most. That said, a few interesting things are worth noting.
Mages each have a Path. This is what supernal realm beckoned them to the Watchtower located at its heart. It shapes a lot of what a mage is at a raw state. Each also has two ruling arcana, those magics they will excel at.
- Acanthus: The Acanthus wield the arcana of Time and Fate, known as Enchanters when benevolent, and Witches when…perhaps less so. The Acanthus tend to be subtle, but it’s amazing what a few coincidences can do…
- Mastigos: The Mastigos are Warlocks and Psychonauts, using the power of Mind and Space. Forged in the fires of the hellish Pandemonium, they seek to master themselves…and others…
- Moros: Necromancers and Alchemists, masters of Death and Matter. The Moros tend to be somber individuals, but never underestimate a mage that can call up ghosts and rip out the ground under you.
- Obrimos: The Obrimos use the very raw power of Forces and Prime. Known as Thaumuturges and Theurgists, an angry Obrimos could well be considered to call the wrath of God upon his foes.
- Thrysus: Shamans and Ecstatics, the Thrysus use the powers of Life and Spirit to bond with the natural world in all ways. In touch with their primal forces, they can command both spirits and life around them.
Each also comes with inferior arcana, but I prefer to look at strengths. Each can fill a variety of roles, magic being
While a Path dictates what a mage does in a raw manner, Orders dictate what they believe. Orders are divided into…really 5, but more like 4+1 with the new set up…let’s explain.
There are four orders called the Diamond, sharing similar origins and have division of roles one might expect from a small government. They are:
- The Adamantine Arrow: Battle mages, who see life as a test, and that the world itself is a crucible. They are the combat mages, and they have similar structure to a military. Their particular Hubris is the tendency to overestimate their own abilities.
- Guardians of the Veil: How far would you go to save the world? The Guardians are spies, saboteurs, and, yes, assassins. They believe that they sin so that others won’t need to, taking on the tasks other mages won’t. They also have, unsurprisingly, a lot of secrets.
- The Mysterium: Knowledge is power, and the Mysterium are the ones that gather knowledge. The lorekeepers of the Diamond, each one uncovers knowledge. A bit of Indiana Jones meets Harry Potter…or Harry Dresden…
- The Silver Ladder: Well, someone has to be the bureaucrats. I kid. The Silver Ladder are the leaders, negotiators, and occasional peacekeepers of the Diamond. While not necessarily always in charge, they tend to know what needs to be done. They also seek to bring all into enlightenment.
So, who’s the +1? Well, the Diamond is all well and good…but they are hardly the only magical groups. Eventually, a bunch of the groups of more modern thinkers decided to band together, forming the Council of Free Assemblies, or Free Council.
- The Free Council: These guys round out the Diamond to become the Pentacle. They are libertines, pushing boundaries and seeking to push humanity into Awakening.
A Mage, however, is only as good as his magic. This is where things get interesting. There are several arcana, and each Path gets two. Arcana themselves are highly flexible, able to achieve a variety of effects. As such, choosing them is what makes your mage…well, you.
One fun bit is that Mages retain a virtue and vice, but rather than integrity, have Wisdom, a measure of how well in check a mage is. One aspect that’s important is Obsessions, which are long term goals, and grant unique arcane experience.
Let’s Make Some Magic
So a mage is basically a human. Of course, most humans can’t call down the wrath of heaven in the form of a lightning bolt. A mage’s magic is highly flexible, and gives them an edge.
The various Arcana give mages their powers. In fact, there’s an entire system behind it. Second edition makes this…well, not easy, but certainly does the process pretty well. There are a total of nine steps…yeah.
I won’t get into details, but one thing that’s nice is the Reach mechanic. Basically, Reach is a determination of how tricky your spell is. It can lead to some nasty backlash from Paradox, but it lets you quickly quantify how difficult a spell is.
Other inclusions are Yantras, which are objects which help you, and a new system for how Reach interacts with Paradox.One new magic system worth mentioning is Attainments. These are tricks your mage picks up, ranging from mage armor to the ability to use magic on a target you just have a sample of hair from. These are useful tricks, but not necessarily things your mage will pick up.
So, you might be wondering, what exactly are the Mages…well, doing? They have an antagonist, right?
It’s a bit complicated, but yes. Most mages end up struggling far more against their own kind than anything. A mage might run afoul of spirits, for example, but nothing will make a mage think like another Mage…well, almost nothing.
The first enemy you’re likely to hear of are the Seers of the Throne. Remember the Exarchs? Well, the Seers serve them. The Seers are basically mages who decide they want the power…and don’t want to share. They have a lot of power, particularly as they are far more in tune with the world. However, they also suffer from paradox and hubris. The Pentacle fights an ongoing war with them, each order in its own way. In a lot of ways, these are the inheritors of the Technocracy: mages who have decided to perpetuate a narrative to the people to deny magic. Unlike the Technocracy…they’re unambiguously the bad guys.
The second set of mages you’re likely to deal with are Left-Handed mages. These are those mages which are deemed dangerous or morally wrong, usually whole legacies. They cover a lot of ground, but tend to fall into a few broad categories.
- The Mad: Well, some mages just…snap. If that Wisdom stat ever hits zero, you likely join this delightful category. Most mages have an obsessive focus, and, worse, leaks magic.
- Banishers: Those mages who kill their own. While one could argue many mages train to do this, Banishers do so for the sake of destroying mages entirely. Some are simply those who hate their own kind, but some suffer from twisted Awakenings, and retain Integrity rather than Wisdom…making their descent to madness rather quick…
- Liches: Immortality. Is that not a dream of humanity? Liches take this a step further, finding ways (usually highly immoral) to extend their lifespan and cheat death. The problem being, many cease being human entirely. Simply extending life isn’t enough to make one a Lich: you have to do something like stealing a body to qualify.
- Reapers: The others might seem almost sympathetic. Reapers? Not so much. Reapers are those that harvest human souls to extend their own power. These are…well, bad, bad people.
- Scelesti: And the last bit that really hammers home the “evil” bit, these are mages that make deals with the Abyss. They range a bit from curious but misguided to absolute monsters and nihilists. Nevertheless, they channel infernal energies and are, by nature, dangerous.
Antagonists can also be various other entities. Mages are slightly more likely than others to encounter supernatural beings outside of themselves, due in no small part to their thirst for knowledge and power. That said, the most dangerous antagonist is…something else.
Magic Old and New
Ok…I’ve avoided doing this to now, but I think it bears mentioning because, theoretically, Mage is supposed to be a horror game.
Ascension had it’s own elements of horror, but it took a lot to really dig in and see why. See, the real horror of the game came in when you realized that both the Traditions and the Technocracy were horrifically flawed and potentially right at the same time. The Traditions argue (correctly) that the Technocracy has been stifling human creative ability. What’s more, the Technocracy has made humans blind to the supernatural, allowing monsters of all stripes to prey on the unsuspecting masses. But the Technocracy is also correct that magic is unstable and inherently creates tyrants of those who have more power. Their methods, while restrictive, give things like medicine and technology that everyone can use.
But the real horror is that there is no third option. Both sides are willing to commit horrid atrocities in the name of their cause…but the other options, Nephandi and Marauders, are far worse. It was a great example of a world of grey morality, where you had to weigh for yourself what the best method was, dedicate yourself to it, and hope the flaws wouldn’t damn you.
In it’s first iteration, Mage the Awakening…just didn’t have a lot of horror to it. Abyssal entities were a thing, but poorly defined and usually quite simple to handle. There were entire sourcebooks dedicated to bringing horror back to the game. To it’s credit, the gameline did that well, eventually bringing cosmic horror to the setting in a way it hadn’t been seen before.
That is one reason I like the new system. See, your greatest enemy isn’t some Abyssal entity or the Seers. They are bad, yes, but the real horror…is yourself.
It’s a constant theme, even in the mechanics. Mages are all dangerously obsessed, indicated by the fact they have a mechanic called Obsession. Reach exceeding grasp? A thing which causes paradox. Even your violation of your morality is called an Act of Hubris.
All this is driving home a simple fact: your mage is a powerful entity only really held in check by other Mages and the Lie. It’s a personal horror, not unlike Vampire, really. The fact that you have to deal with a hostile universe set on trying to suppress your abilities and twist your existance just adds to it.
Mage: the Awakening was…kinda a mess. Don’t get me wrong: it was an enjoyable character building exercise, but it had a slew of mechanical issues and it never really felt like the rest of the World of Darkness. The second version has gone a long way to cleaning up the mechanics, and has done a bit of work in the horror angle. Overall, I’d say this is a much more solid system and would heartily recommend checking it out.
Next up, we get into more of the limited splats with Promethean 2.0. Now…what did I do with those electrodes?
Hi, I’m Sean, and I write a blog…
There is, perhaps, no more iconic sapient monster than the vampire. It should come as no surprise that the World of Darkness launched both of its lines with them. But there would be a change. As I mentioned, there was no more unified mythos, no more overarching organizations. This would be a personal game, one aimed at the player. Vampire: The Requiem would prove far less iconic than it’s predecessor, but it would act as the launch of the line twice over, first with Requiem, then with Blood and Smoke, which later became Requiem 2nd Edition.
Get ready to listen to the children of the night. This is Vampire: The Requiem.
The Shadows of Humanity
How did the vampire come to be? That question is not something easily answered by the Kindred. Unlike Masquerade, the origins of vampires are shrouded. Much like with humanity, there is no one definitive answer.
There are theories, of course. Echidna, an ancient god, or shadowy demons. Nothing solid, of course. This leaves room for more…recent histories. Rome was the rise of the Vampire. They saw the rise and rapid fall of various empires and kingdoms. They shaped history, always in the shadows.
Probably one of the more useful things to know is that most of the setting focuses not on the past, but the present. This is helpful for a number of reasons, including giving information for what is happening now and allowing the storyteller a chance to sort things out. One of my favorites is Montreal, where a nameless entity has set up residence and laid down a new law for vampires. Those who don’t pay attention to the law are obliterated, and what’s worse, blood sorcery has utterly failed. Makes for a unique game.
Making Your Monster
Vampires in Requiem would lay down the foundation of how supernatural creatures would be made in this World of Darkness. The formula would mutate and shift slightly, but it was usually followed to at least some small extent. Here’s the way it works.
There are two selections that will make your character, with an optional third. The X-axis would be your…subrace, for lack of a better term. Think of it as how your character naturally would develop outside of any external influence. The Y-axis, then, is that external influence. This is usually, though not always, a group or organization. It may simply be a philosophy, or some concept to reach.
In Vampire, your X-axis is represented by your Clan, general vampire characteristics boiled down to archetypes.
Daeva: Vampire as seducer. These are social vampires who mostly hunt through honeyed words and being drop dead (pun totally intended) gorgeous.
Gangrel: Vampire as beast. These guys are pretty much there to be that monster everyone talks about. They’re close to animal in instinct.
Mekhet: Vampire as menace. These guys know things and can stay hidden for ages. Shadowy and mysterious, they won’t kill you. Not right away…
Nosforatsu: Vampire as nightmare. Creepy. That’s the way you want to imagine these guys. They are, simply put, vampires as the spooky monstrosities they were classically.
Ventrue: Vampire as noble. These guys are the vampire that basically tells you what to do. Think the depiction of a vampire aristocrat, and you’ve basically got this.
Each clan has Disciplines, innate supernatural powers that they can access, and a weakness. Nosforatsu, for example, have the ability to walk unseen, be stronger, and cause people to panic. They also are really, really off-putting and take penalties when interacting socially.
After that selection, you get to choose your Covenant. These are the large organizations that span the vampire world. They are:
Carthian Movement: Vampires who are attempting to undermine the status quo. Part democratic anarchy, part socialism, and part liberation movement, their main goal is to roust control from the elders and form a more equitable vampire society. At least, that’s what they say…
Circle of the Crone: An old tradition of vampire pagan practices mixed with witchcraft. Their power, Crúac, is an ancient form of blood magic. They practice a simple ideology: vampires are monsters, and that’s OK. Rather than trying to pretend to be human, accept what you are and roll with it.
Invictus: The vampire aristocracy. These guys have wealth, power, and connections. Living for a long time helps. While most of the other Covenants resent them, it’s hard to deny they have serious influence, both over vampires and over mortals.
Lancea et Sanctum: So…these guys are fun. They are, for all intents, the church of the damned. They believe that Longinus, the soldier who pierced the side of Christ, either was a vampire who drank his blood, or drank his blood and became a vampire. They think God cursed them, and so they need to play out their roles. They have a blood magic called Theban Sorcery which grants them the ability to pull some biblical tricks.
Ordo Dracul: The Order of the Dragon…specifically Dracula. They want to take the good parts of being a vampire and eliminate the weaknesses. They’ve made some decent progress on that, represented by the Coils of the Dragon, innate practices that alter the vampire condition, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically. They also have (as of 2nd edition) the scales, similar abilities that can be done to others.
These Covenants become social circles and inform your character quite a bit. For example, Carthians are usually pretty active firebrands, while those of the Ordo are usually a bit reclusive and…unhinged.
The last, optional stage is called a bloodline. Bloodlines are essentially mutations in the Clan that leads to an offshoot sub-clan. This often, though not always, leads to a unique bloodline discipline that cannot be learned outside of it. Requiem has literally scores of these, though 2nd edition, thus far, hasn’t translated them. Some examples are a Nosforetsu offshoot that developed in the Middle East to hunt down Dracula (yes, seriously) and a type of Mekhet that was made to act as bodyguards and monster hunters.
After, we get into merits, and, I have to say, this is where Blood and Smoke got it’s hooks into me. Merits before were a bland, dry affair. In this, they’ve been recast and retooled. Some of the more interesting ones are a style merit related to be more in control during frenzy (more on that later) and a set of blood oaths one can swear to an Invictus liege. These are a huge improvement over the ones found in the original, and I’m seriously hoping the trend continues.
Life as the Damned
What does a vampire do? I mean, we all know about the feeding, the magic, etc. But day to day, what will a Kindred do in their off time?
The answer is…whatever they can to get by. Being a vampire is a curse for a reason. Sure, the Circle may insist things are just peachy, and the Ordo is trying to make lemonade, but at the end of the day, you’re a literally damned monster. You keep a veneer of humanity. Unlike before, you don’t have a virtue and vice like humans. Instead, you have what are known as Masks and Dirges. Your mask is what you present to humanity and, most of the time, to other Kindred. You might appear as a sage, an autocrat, or a scholar. Your dirge…is what you are in the dark. It’s your true self, when the lights are out and no one is looking. These concepts are fantastic for character building, and really help with understanding how vampires in the world will function.
Lets start with obvious weaknesses: sunlight and fire. These hurt. Like, a lot. The closer you are to human, the less it hurts, so there’s some incentive to keep up your humanity. Of course, the more powerful you are, the more it hurts as well…
Now for the less obvious one: the Beast. If I was pressed to name only one thing Requiem did very well, it was to emphasize this aspect. The Beast is there, always, lurking, waiting. In 2nd Edition, we get some more analysis of what the Beast really is, including the aspects of the beast (Competitive, Monsterous, and Seductive) and the idea of the Beast bubbling just under every Kindred’s mask. The Beast is the monster, and it’s why you keep you humanity going strong.
The Beast will break out. It’s not if, but when. When it does, your character begins to frenzy, aiming to kill, feed, and survive. Aside from violating the masquerade (and playing merry havoc with your humanity), it’s not good to lose control.
How do you keep your humanity? 2nd Edition included the concept of touchstones. These are parts of your former life or human persona that keep you grounded. You can use them to leverage yourself and make yourself fight off the humanity loss. This was great from a meta-perspective. It gives your character a connection with the world. Further, these help to give you some leverage to keep your humanity.
What Monsters Fear
Oh, it’s not all good, though. See, in addition to your weaknesses, you’ve got a real lineup of things that want you dead…er, deader. Requiem also set up a concept that would be followed throughout the game lines: enemy factions. While Masquerade had the Sabbat, Requiem folded them into a more mysterious enemy: VII. No, no one knows what it means, but they’re seriously spooky. They are vampires, that much is certain. Beyond that? They’re an enigma. They come by, kill vampires, and disappear. Any attempt to get information out of them fails. No amount of torture, blood bonds, or mental domination will help either. Mental scanning only reveals one thing: VII, hence their name. They’re pretty open ended villains, and effective, besides.
The other big antagonist is the Strix, added a while back, but being brought to full light with Blood and Smoke. These are…vampiric…things that resemble nothing so much as incorporeal owls. Where are they from? Why do they think of vampires as wayward kin? No one is quite sure. They do really, really hate the Kindred, though. The reason is simple: vampires try to be human. Silly, silly vampires. And many seem to exist to torment vampires. Oh, some just seem to possess corpses for kicks. Others seem to make vampires a primary target. The latter is troubling because a lot of them are possessed of a rather low form of cunning. One example: a strix that wants to end the masquerade…and is frighteningly effective at it.
Requiem For a Dream
Requiem is probably one of the more plotted out of the splats I’ll be covering, particularly 2e. I’ll say this: it’s a damn solid game. There’s a lot of open endedness to it that lets you explore facets of play without worrying that some 10,000 year old vampire will wake up and eat you. If you haven’t ever played, check out the 2nd edition book. It’s a solid game and well worth exploring.
Next up, Werewolf: The Forsaken, or, Why I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Updates
All Good Things…
It shouldn’t be suprising that, with all the various things that might have caused the end of the world, that the world…would end. All the various game lines had their own spectacular ends during the “Time of Judgment” series. Whether the vampire’s destruction through Gehenna or the long awaited and titular apocalypse in Werewolf, the various game lines would be wiped from existence.
The period was a chaotic one and reframed how the World of Darkness would be approached in the future. The answer would come in 2004.
All That is Old is New Again
With the end of the world came a different perspective.
The Old World of Darkness was gone, but there was now room for a new one. But this one would be different. The markers would be there. Vampires, werewolves and mages would make up the backbone of the world, with others filtering in as time went on. However, some things would change. Perhaps the single greatest change was that the world no longer worked on the Grand Unified Theory of Mythology. Instead, its built on the premise of good fences making good supernatural neighbors. If you don’t want to include other ghost, goblins and spooks, you don’t have to. Further, a lot of the stories conflict with one another and might (or might not) be mutually exclusive. Or maybe all of them are true. Or maybe none of them are. This is…something of a double edged sword.
On the one hand, Storytellers now have a lot of options. They can delve more into their ideas of what vampire pasts might be without worrying about the Gehenna. They can have a pack of werewolves deal with local spirits without dealing with the Wyrm and its corrupting influence. This is liberating in a lot of ways as it frees up the mythos and allows storytellers to fill in the blanks. By the same token, any mythology that is liked is similarly stripped away. I really liked the kind of distinctiveness a lot of the Classic World of Darkness offered. Everything felt very real, very fleshed out, and very mythical. I could see how werewolf tribes might have formed, understand why demons acted the way they did, and understood how a wraith might count the decades of warped time. This shifted the focus.
Now, rather than the outer struggles, a lot of the game shifted inward. Vampires were now very solitary and personal. Werewolves, knowing nothing of their history, tend to stick with their packs and work almost like beat cops. Mages would often take trips into their own minds. Further, characters had the ability to really affect the world. The other rather huge shift was how…solidified everything became mechanics wise. I don’t necessarily mean it was all good, mind, but there was a sort of unification and understanding of mechanics in games that was hard to see in the Classic versions. Power stats were flattened and accessible, mechanics were made as uniform as possible, and a lot of the sillier things were stripped away (no more ghoul werewolves, for starters!) in favor of making games that interacted best with themselves. This, again, is a double edged sword. Things were as powerful as they were, no more, no less. This isn’t bad, mind you, but it does lead to some questions as to why a demon is every bit as powerful as a vampire when they start.
A few notes before we get into the series proper. The first is that, at the time of writing, the game is undergoing a system shift to the new…New World of Darkness…called the God-Machine Chronicles. Some minor fluff updates along with some rather major mechanical revisions means that a lot of the game lines are undergoing change. At the time of writing, two of the core books, Vampire and Werewolf have been updated. I’m going to discuss what is available, so they will be the new variation while the others I will discuss in present form. Not a lot of fluff has changed, and the mechanics are similar…ish. I’m also going to delve a bit more into the limited splats than I did with their Classic variations. This is partially because things are a bit simpler to do such delving and partially…because I know the limited splats much better this time around. Also, more of them appealed to me. Yes, I am a bit prejudiced, but this is a blog: did you expect absolute objectivity? The last thing I want to touch on is comparison. Comparison in this is going to be inevitable. I will be looking to the prototype in order to see what has developed as a result. It is hard, perhaps impossible even, to discuss Geist without first knowing the context of Wraith, ditto the core splats and most of the limited.
Next up, we kick things off with Vampire: The Requiem, second edition. Let me get this accent right…Aye vant to suck your blud!
So…I am skipping ahead a bit. The reason is this: Classic World of Darkness had two other gamelines during their “Year of the Scarab” and “Year of Jade.” These were part of the main game-line…but were not necessarily heavily factored into the lore. I’ll get more to them later, Mummy before I review…the other Mummy, and Kindred of the East…some time.
Demon: The Fallen is a game that, really, I shouldn’t like. It has a lot of the markers I mentioned in Changeling: odd power levels, strange ideas, lack of recent interaction with the world, and atypical concepts for the World of Darkness. And yet, despite this, I find Demon a compelling game. There is, perhaps, no greater marker of darkness than a demon: shadowy, mysterious, and, if not outright evil, than at least certainly far from perfect. Playing a fallen angel might be one of the quintessential experiences in a world so filled with fallen creatures.
Spinning heads and vomit galore: this is Demon: The Fallen.
So…you’re a fallen angel.
Which…kinda sucks. See, back when God created the world, he worked the big stuff and let angels help with a lot of the rest. That was you, by the way. Somewhere near the start of the world, you helped form it. Maybe you helped solidify some laws of thermodynamics, or set up arithmatic, or designed the chromatic scale of music, or decided to play a joke and slipped in quantum physics.
And it was good.
Then, God made humanity, and things were better.
Here was a creature that could understand, that could appreciate your work. No simple beast, you could show them how to play music, how to use mathematics, how that little loophole you left in physics would let them fly in the air, or how using simple tools would let them make fire, which could be used as their first tool.
Only one issue: the boss said no. Tree of Knowledge stuff, you see.
So angels were split. Lucifer and a group were…well, annoyed. They decided to screw the rules and help humans. They taught them, gave them tools to work with, and showed them how they might be able to become so much more than they were.
The other camp…was less than thrilled. Michael and other loyalist angels tried to offer one chance to repent. Lucifer and the others held fast, and were damned. God named them demons, giving each fallen house a new name and a curse. And, in one final act of wrath, touched the world, setting entropy into motion.
Angels and demons warred. The defeated simply ceased and this continued…until Caine and Abel. The idea of murder, that it was possible to take the life of another, had never even entered into the minds of the angels, fallen or otherwise. That changed with the first murder.
The war changed, and, seeing no other choice, the demons were trapped in Hell. During that time, they knew only torment, and hatred leaked into their being. Sometimes, mortals would summon them, hoping to tap into their godlike powers. This resulted in the Earthbound, demons of a different stripe.
Cut to today. Following the Day of Nightmares, things shook loose, including the seal of hell. Now you’re back, tethered to the body of a dying or comatose human who’s soul has long since fled. The encounter has left its mark: torment is no longer all you know…for now…
I really want to plug the introduction chapter. There’s a really simple introduction: it’s a demon possessing a young man, talking to his father about the entire thing. It’s got a sort of odd Interview With a Vampire feel, a mere mortal looking at the perspective of a demon. It’s got some really fascinating ideas and lore to it.
All the Devils are Here
Making a demon is a bit…tricky. See, unlike most of the entities, you’re not human. Inhabiting it’s shell, maybe, but you’ve never really been human before.
First thing to mention is the powerstat: faith. The idea that faith can move mountains? Well, it’s true. You’ve just got to know how. Of particular note is that this isn’t your faith. It’s the faith of mortals. You…well, you kinda ran outta faith sometime back when you rebelled, now didn’t you?
Torment is your morality stat. Unlike most of the World of Darkness, torment doesn’t drop, it increases. Worse…it’s permanent eventually. When it gets there…well, it’s a measure of how much you fit into the classic interpretation of a demon. You’re pretty much gone at that point. Also, unlike most, your character starts with some permanent Torment, meaning you’re going to need to balance your morality stat against your choice of starting House.
Like most of World of Darkness Classic (remember that old refreshing taste), Demon has various ‘races,’ though this actually has fewer than usual (7 total) and they are divided by purpose rather than by archetype. Let me explain: each angel belongs to a house, which in turn had a purpose set them by God. They are:
- Defiler: Former Neriads, angels who laid out the oceans and mystery. They were meant to provoke humans with curiosity and longing.
- Devils: Former Heralds, angels who were messengers of God to humans. Lucifer was a member of this house. Noble lightbringers, they were meant to inspire humanity toward the Divine.
- Devourer: Former Angels of the Wilds, these angels made the creatures and wilds in which they dwell. They wished to teach humans to live in harmony with nature.
- Fiends: Former Seers, angels of Fate, these creatures laid out the orbits of planets and stars. They wished to teach humanity about physics, mathematics, and the vagaries of fate.
- Malefactors: Former Artificers, angels of the Firmament. They were meant to teach humanity about the physical world, including metals, tilling the fields, and building earthenware.
- Scourge: Former Guardian Angels, they would animate living beings with the Breath of Life, then protecting them afterward. Not so cute or fluffy.
- Slayers: Former…ok, kinda current, angels of death called Reapers. They were responsible for watching over deaths of animals and plants. Later, they would also do this for humans after the fall.
The Houses are where demons come from, but now that they’re out, a lot of them have different philosophies on what to do with their new-found freedom from Hell. These coalesce into factions. They are:
- Faustians: As in bargains. These demons look at humanity and see potential, but see that as being wasted. They seek to cultivate the faith of humanity for their own use.
- Cryptids: These demons ask that most potent of all questions: why? They seek to understand the mysteries of the world.
- Luciferans: Loyalists to Lucifer’s original cause, they seek to continue their rebellion against heaven. This is…complicated, since heaven seems to have left earth behind.
- Raveners: Rather uncomplicated, though dangerous. These guys basically want to destroy everything, for various reasons.
- Reconcilers: These demons want to make up with Heaven. In the words of one demon, Christ died to reconcile humanity, maybe someone can do the same for them.
These give some unique outlooks and philosophies, but allow demons a wide enough breadth that they can develop into full characters.
The usual assortment of backgrounds are there as usual, and help flesh things out.
There is a final component, but let me delve into that in a moment.
Thrones and Powers
Demons are rather unusual. You are, after all, playing an entity which, at their least impressive, laid down the foundations of the earth. Demons, like most splats, have a few powers that make them unusual. These are called lores. Lores are…nuts. I mean, most of them imitate or come close to other powers, but there’s a base ability that is to manipulate gravity. There’s also some in there that let you do things like determine when someone will die or draw mortals into your little cult. There’s also an aspect of how torment plays in. When your torment rises, you start to see lores twist. So where before a lore might help you create light, under high torment, you snuff it out.
Each lore also has a defining tie to your character through the apocalyptic form. This is your character temporarily assuming his true form, be it angelic or monstrous. The defining lore is the thing that governs what kind of form you take. A slayer, for example, might be defined by her lore of death, becoming a shadowy figure with pale skin and raven wings. Another might be defined by his lore of spirit, looking more like a saint in repose with shifting eyes. Like lores, as torment grows, the powers and abilities of the demon shift, as does it’s appearance, becoming less angelic and more demonic.
So, simply put, demon antagonists are…bad. You’re basically looking at the worst of the worst here. After all, you’re pretty much one of the worst things to enter the world already.
Despite what you might expect, angels aren’t the main concern. In fact…they’re mysteriously absent. And that’s worrying. No, the things you have to watch out for the most…is your fellow demons.
Most other creatures, for one reason or another, will leave you alone. Vampires fear you, werewolves have their own issues, wraiths, mummies, and the rest are all too far off to care…no, the thing you most have to deal with is yourself and your fellows.
Normal demons are bad enough. Once they hit higher torment, their Lores start to take on rather sinister uses and they gain more power with their apocalyptic form. Bad news, and they risk exposing demons, or, perhaps, even feed off of demons. Faith is a finite resource, after all, so they might simply be pushing into your territory…or they might want to rip you limb from limb.
But they are nothing compared to the Earthbound. The Earthbound were summoned from hell by mortal sorcerers and came to earth. The difference between them and you? There was no mortal to help them snap back. Which means they came out at Torment 10. Which means…well, they are basically as evil as you get. The Earthbound are less Demons as we imagine them, and more Lovecraftian horror. They are the old gods, horrific and monstrous. And oh, how they hate you. You can serve them, or perish.
The Devil’s in the Details
So…why do I like Demon? Honestly, I think it is probably the best example of why the Classic World of Darkness was so good. It has such flavor to it. The lore is fantastic. The metaplot is amazing. And the writing is just top notch.
Plus…well, I mentioned this back in my Demon: the Descent review, but there’s something grimly satisfying about playing a demon. It’s fun to play the ultimate rebel, and that’s what you are in this game.
Overall, I’d say the only weakness of this game is that it came so late in the game line that there wasn’t a lot of support for it. Unlike most game lines, it doesn’t have a lot beyond a few support guides.
Give Demon a look-see. It’ll be well worth your time.
What happens next? Well, I’m skipping over a couple other games to finally press into the New World of Darkness. I’ll do a quick overview of the game before delving into the splats.
I have not been looking forward to this.
Don’t misunderstand me: Wraith is a good game. Hell, it may be one of the most finely crafted games in the entirety of the Classic World of Darkness. In a lot of ways, that’s the issue. Wraith is a dark, passionate game, crafted to ensure that there is a bleak outlook. Add this to a set of mechanics designed to drive people mildly insane, not from flaws, but deliberately, and you have a great little game for horror. Me? I mostly just throw up my ideas of a game and poke gentle fun at things. This is a bit of a different beast, and it will likely be wild ride.
Also, a fair warning: the limited series from Classic World of Darkness are going to be a bit less detailed. Aside from having less details, I’m not as familiar with most of them for one reason or another.
The End awaits. This is Wraith: The Oblivion.
History of the Dead
If you recall from Vampire: The Masquerade, the first vampire was the Biblical Caine, who killed his brother, Abel. Well, Caine wasn’t the only person to suddenly find himself in a strange new world. This isn’t so much canon as strong implication, but Abel likely became the first Wraith. Wraiths are not quite ghosts. They are the essence of a person trapped between life and the hereafter. They remain stuck, clinging to life, but also two steps from Oblivion. Oblivion is…well, not a thing. The opposite. That which will rend the world into nothing.
So, ages ago, the underworld started. It was a dark and spooky place, with all sorts about with one thing in common: everyone was dead. Wraiths tended to linger until they could resolve their outstanding issues with the world. At first, this wasn’t too bad since the world of the living and the dead were closer together.
Then, the Sundering happened. The afterlife and the meatspace got separated. This made things…complicated (I also am becoming aware of my tendency to use ellipses. I should work of that…dammit) as now Wraiths could no longer resolve their issues and move on.
Enter Charon, the first Boatsman who would train and guide the spirits of the dead to safety. He commissioned the first boatsmen of the River, and started to bring them under his banner, modeled after the living empire of note. The boatsmen guided the souls to Charon, though some left for the Far Shores, distant lands that were thought to contain the secrets to ascension. And thus Stygia was born.
Things were almost looking up. A realm of the dead, laws were enforced, and people passed on. Sure, wraiths sometimes lost their eyes or memories, specters, Wraiths who lost the fight to their Shadows, were around but not that bad, and some people were rebellious that lived outside the law, but things were overall good.
Then the first Maelstrom happened.
Specters came like the Biblical flood. The Republic that had been so carefully set up crumbled and broke. Charon, together with his Ferrymen, managed to beat them back, but not without cost.
All that was left was rubble. But it could be rebuilt. Crowning himself Emperor, Charon set up a new empire of the dead. He set up a new system, and it was…not as nice. Slaves became a new class, freedoms were reduced, and the worst part was probably the first soulsteel. Soulsteel is what happens when Wraiths are melted down with the rock of the Underworld. The Ferrymen left, refusing to serve anyone who called himself Emperor.
Things go downhill. Charon becomes more oppressive, and the Empire begins to respond in kind. The guilds, who mostly existed to help, are disbanded. Cataclysms cause more Maelstroms. Each time, Stygia survives.
Then, Charon is lost. His trusted advisers started warring over his empire. And the Underworld slowly, but surely, started to sink into Oblivion.
It’s a wonderful Afterlife. Try not to get obliterated.
That’s you, Jimbo. So, spoiler alert, you start off the game dead (shock) and are a shade of your former self, a Wraith. If you are lucky, you came into existence and found a nice Reaper (person who ‘helps’ souls in the afterlife) and were guided into the afterlife with relative ease. If less so…well, slavery is still a thing. But, if you’re a character, at least you’re not a constantly screaming piece of metal.
Generally, being a wraith isn’t that much different than being a human. ‘cept the whole dead thing. One of the big things is that wraiths all possess two traits that prevent them from passing on to the other side. The first is Fetters, physical objects that Wraiths use to remain bound to the physical world. This could be a house, a business, a school, maybe even a person. These Fetters allow a Wraith to enter the Skinlands (or meatspace). Fetters are far from permanent. Little in the physical world is, after all, and as the Fetters fade, die, or simply disappear, forgotten. This is why older wraiths tend to need to stay away from the Skinlands and Shadowlands: they can no longer visit those places.
The other side of the coin is Passions. These are driving forces of the character that are more abstract. They could be love, vengeance, or a drive to succeed at some unfinished task. These are trickier to resolve, especially if Fetters are gone.
Resolving Passions and Fetters is both a goal and a risk. If you manage to wrap things up…that’s it. You transcend and go wherever wraiths go. However, these are also the reason that you are a wraith. Resolving them may bring you closer to your goals, but it also means that you have less leeway and protection from Oblivion.
Speaking of, let’s talk about a wraith’s nature a bit. Effectively, there are two sides of a wraith: the Psyche and the Shadow. Think of it in terms of Freudian creation/destruction psychology. The Psyche is, for the most part, the character you play. It’s the remainder of the human you were. The Shadow…is not. The Shadow is your self-destructive impulse infused by Oblivion and given it’s own voice. Every wraith, great and small, has a Shadow, and it always whispers, always waits, and will try to drag you into Oblivion…or have you jump.
Wraiths have powers known as Arcanoi. They are powered by Pathos. Unlike other denizens of the WoD, Arcanoi is tied much more into a wraith’s identity. Each category describes a set of power, and each one ties into one of the abolished guilds. These powers are varied, and range from the ability to help sooth one’s Shadow to soothsaying to forging soulsteel.
What might you play? There are various possibilities. You might drift closer to the Skinlands, devote yourself to hunting specters, or carving a niche in the Hierarchy of the Afterlife.
The Dying of the Night
Part of the issue with Wraith is that…it is hopeless. I mean this in the most pristine sense of the word. Oblivion can’t be defeated. It might be quelled, calmed, or beaten back, but it still sits there. You might ascend the hierarchy, crush your foes, and challenge even the powerful Malfeans in power. You will still lose. You give into the hopelessness, despair, or realize the futility, and Oblivion claims you. The Shadow still is there, and it grows with you, wanting to turn you into a specter.
Yeah, this is one of those games.
There are a few very, very fascinating facets to the game that I want to talk about, though. The first is what’s called Shadow Play. Every wraith has a Shadow…and every Shadow has a voice. How is this handled? Other players. Now, in my group, this would turn into three guys being the horrible human beings that we are while the others looked at us with the same look Issac gave Abraham. However, the possibilities here are fascinating. With a mature group of players, it gives everyone a chance to participate, and also gives you an excuse to be interested in another character other than your own. It also gives serious potential for ideas. Collaborations is a strange and wondrous thing. Applied to a game of personal horror? It might well make for a terrifying aspect.
One other system that I think deserves mention is something called the Harrowing. Harrowings pop up when your character is almost killed. Clinging to life, your Shadow tries to drag you back into Oblivion. Your character then goes through a nightmare sequence with the goal of survival and escape. Some of this can be quite fun, and it’s a different way to deal with death…for someone who is already dead. The core book has some interesting ideas for what might happen.
What Hunts the Dead
Antagonists basically fall into three categories: the forces of Oblivion, other wraiths…and you. The first is the most obvious. Specters, those wraiths corrupted by their Shadows, are a constant threat. The Malfeans, specters of great and terrible power, are colossal, intelligent, and terrifying. The Neverborn, Avatars of Oblivion, are even more terrifying, and the Onceborn, those who were so horrifying in life that they became specters on death are some of the strange and horrific forces you might face. Oblivion, however, is scary for another reason: it’s always there. It doesn’t need to send specters after you. It doesn’t need to actively destroy you. No, it can wait. It waits for you to despair, to fail, and to give in to your own angst. And then, it will claim you.
Wraiths, in some way, are worse. Wraiths are just like you, and while monsters and Oblivion are scary, wraiths are still very human. They might try to enslave you, assassinate you, or, worse, they might just be doing what they think is right. They might be a random mercenary or the mysterious Ferrymen. The Ferrymen are freaky, and if one opposes you, chances are you screwed up somewhere down the line.
But the worst foe you will face…is yourself. I mentioned the Shadow? Well, the Shadow will always haunt you. There’s no getting around it. The Shadow is a careful foe. It does not want to destroy you. Oh, no. It wants you to destroy yourself. It will help you, give you small gifts and powers, all for ceding a little control, a little bit of yourself. It will help you go into your old body, give you a chance to survive, and grant small powers…it will only cost you parts of who you are, strengthening it so that it can take over. The Shadow will wait. It has as long as you do, after all.
A Game of Dark Passions
Wraith is interesting enough. There is no real analogue to it. It is a wonderful, unique game that nothing really matches. Sadly, I haven’t played it, but I can see where it could be a dark and thrilling take on the afterlife. It is the most limited of all of the runs in World of Darkness, so it might be a bit harder to run a game with a lot of character options. Also, finding a group with the maturity to play this with might be one of the greatest challenges to getting something like this going.
Next up, well take a look at a more fantastic realm in Changeling: The Dreaming…yay…