Released in advance of the core rulebook for Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition, this work is made up of three sections, one aimed at players, one explaining the concept of Shadows, and one for Storytellers. The whole idea is to explain what the game is all about, give prospective players and Storytellers a handle on what is going on, and expand knowledge of the Underworld for those who've prior experience of Wraith.
There's a particular emphasis on the newly dead, a likely point to start a new campaign especially with inexperienced players. It explains a lot of the novel terminology used in the game, as well as its distinctive mechanics. These are chiefly Passions and Fetters, which affect all characters, and the operation of Shadows. The Storyteller section is aimed at both new Wraith Storytellers and those who are running their game for newly-deceased characters (whether or not their players are new to the game).
The Player section opens by explaining how important it is to realise that your character is as dead as a doornail. That's fine, though, because your character has somehow managed to hang on somewhere in the fringes of life instead of moving on like most dead people do to whatever lies beyond. You have a second chance to maybe influence mortal affairs. Maybe there's something you need to set right, or something left unfinished that you really, really wanted to complete. In effect, you've shaken a fist in the face of Oblivion (or whatever afterlife you think you are going to) and insisted on hanging around a bit longer.
However, hardly anyone knows what to expect when they die. Leaving aside religious belief, most of which have various promises (and threats) for what comes next, nobody really knows. So a lot of the game is about finding out about this new place you have suddenly arrived in, lots of exploration and discovery because the afterlife as presented in Wraith doesn't match up to any existing theories or beliefs about what happens after death. Time to ask lots of questions. Some your Storyteller might answer for you, but most you will have to find out for yourself. The process of arrival is explained - Storytellers might want to not release this information until it's played out, for shock effect - and the landscape that surrounds new arrivals is explained.
We also find out about Fetters, which are those things that have held you from proceeding onwards to whatever awaits most of the dead. That unfinished business or whatever it is you are here to attend to. You may choose to get on with dealing with them, but there are others things you can get up to here as well. If your character is lucky, someone whose been here a bit longer might be good enough to explain things to you. Or you might be unlucky... We also hear about Passions, the things that drive your character so powerfully and which are centred on powerful emotions.
There's a massive amount going on, and a lot to explore. There are cross-references to the core rulebook as appropriate: this work is more about concepts and ideas than game mechanics. This could make it useful for at least Storytellers to read this book before they get down to the nuts and bolts of how the game actually works, although with players new to the game they may prefer to let them experience all this through play rather than read about it first.
Next comes the section on Shadows. This is something that can be hard to grasp, especially when you are new to the game. It is the negative part of a given Wraith's personality and it has one objective: to drag that Wraith into Oblivion as fast as it can. The mechanic is interesting - another player at the table plays your Shadow, as well as their own Wraith. It's not intended as an outright competition or tug-of-war, though. It's more insiduous than that. For a start, what does the Shadow really want? It may want the now-Wraith to admit they were wrong about something they feel strongly about, for example. The 'Shadowguide' - that's the person playing the Shadow - needs to get to know their Wraith really well, to know their weak spots and their triggers, and then use them, creatively and relentlessly. There's a balance to be struck between standing back and letting the Wraith get on with business without interference, and being a complete and utter pest, in their face all the time. Plenty of advice here about how to develop your skills as a Shadowguide. The Shadow may even be as confused and lost as the Wraith at the beginning, or it may already have an agenda mapped out. There are hints and tips for Storytellers here as well, as they need to decide how things will work in their game. At times, the Shadowguide will have to work with the Storyteller, especially when setting up set-piece events called Harrowings, which basically put the poor Wraith on the spot.
Finally, the section directly aimed at Storytellers. It can be quite an overwhelming task, especially if you and your group are new to Wraith. There is a lot to take in, the good news is that the Storyteller - like newly-deceased Wraiths - can acquire the knowledge slowly and steadily rather than all at once. You just need to be a step or two ahead of your players. There's a wealth of advice here and one of the most important bits is to be aware of your players. They are here to have fun, even if their characters are not. If anyone gets uncomfortable, stop and find out what you need to avoid for the game to continue being enjoyable for all participants. There are lots of ideas for initial adventures too, many of which are designed to help you ease your players into their characters' new existence.
This doesn't replace the core rulebook, but it does lift the lid on the underlying ideas and concepts on which the game is built. Storytellers certainly ought to read it. Players may want to wait until they have been playing for a while before diving in, as it explains concepts that might be better discovered through play. Once they have met the concepts, though, this can deepen their understanding of them. It's a good way to get a handle on a quite difficult game, one with novel concepts and processes quite unlike anything else.
Return to Handbook for the Recently Deceased page.
Reviewed: 22 August 2018