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I peered into a candle and died, granted it was only a game but it was a very intense experience. My friends and I were in a darkened room with, the only light came from two candles and the storyteller, Clinton, held one candle to his face and I held the other to mine, the glare from the candle blinded me to everything but Clinton’s face. I watched with growing intensity as the light danced on the steel rims of his glasses as in a very calm, relaxed, almost hypnotic voice he described in every detail my untimely demise. I was hooked! Be a dead guy! Granted it’s not the most enticing subject you could choose for a role-playing game but White Wolf has done it again. Wraith in my opinion is one of the best releases from the White Wolf stable of games, the others being Vampire (more dead guys), Werewolf (hairy guys), Mage (scary guys) and Changeling (fairy guys). Wraith is a storyteller game so there is a great deal of emphasis on the story. Rather than a complicated set of rules to adhere to the players are encouraged to improvise and search the depths of the character, there are no plus ten dragon slayers in this game….. Where Wraith differs from many other games is the fact that it has expanded the role-playing experience to another level with the use if the “shadow”, I’ll explain that later. I recently read an opinion by an author named Manx, he spoke about the generations of role-playing, I’ll recap what he said, the first generation was a direct descendent from tabletop war gaming, Dungeons and Dragons being the first. Players took on the roles of knights and wizards and rolled dice to determine statistics like strength etc. The stories tended to involve rescuing princesses and defeating bad guys, usually the starting point for the adventure was a local tavern and a mysterious stranger. The trouble with style of gaming was that the characters were very rarely developed beyond their stats and so remained two-dimensional. The second generation on role-playing came with a game called Call of Cthulhu, this was based on the stories of HP Lovecraft. Lovecrafts wrote his stories in the Twenties and most of the game is set in that era. CoC stories usually involve thwarting a horror of cosmic proportions and commonly cause the death of at least one of the investigators. The emphasis in this game was shifted from the dungeon bashing of the past to a “who dunnit” style, players investigate dark goings on in the kebab shop only to find out the true horror that lies within the donna. Rooms were no longer ten foot by ten foot with a bed in the corner but dark danky cellars crawling with threatening shadows festering with age-old malice. The third generation of role-playing came with white wolfs storyteller system. The story became the main focus and it is not uncommon to find such elements as theme and setting within the story. Stories often have arcs spanning decades and the use of foreshadowing and flashbacks fills in the gaps. The “Shadow” I referred to earlier is an integral part of the Wraith character, you see when somebody dies the only thing that is left is their spirit, without the flesh to contend with the mind is everything and the shadow lurks deep within the mind. The shadow is that nagging voice at the back of your head, all the negativity within you made real. Of course the shadow doesn’t take on a form in the game but it does play a major role for the players, you see the shadow is actually played by another player. The shadows main objective is to see you dragged off to oblivion so as you can see it makes for an interesting role-playing experience. This is the reason I think White Wolf have advanced gaming onto a fourth level where multiple players assume the role of what is essentially the same character. Now after that exhaustive introduction on with the game, in Wraith y ou play a dead person, you are pulled off into the shadowlands shedding your mortal coil on the way. As a wraith the only thing that keeps you together is your passion, the things you loved in life bind you as fetters in death, for instance a wraith might like to lovingly watch over his family or he might equally jealously guard his possessions. Or he might simply hang around to harass his killer for eternity and beyond. Wraith, as with many White Wolf games keeps it focus on the character at all times, in fact Wraith of all WW’s games does it to extremes. The characters have to fight for what they love (or hate) or face losing their existence. The setting is the grim counter world of Gothic-Punk, which is usually grim at the best of times. Wraith amplifies the sheer hopelessness of it all, which clearly isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if you wanted elves gamboling through woodlands you wouldn’t be playing this game. The game play itself tends to be very mature, themes such as love, betrayal and revenge often come up in stories. There are battles with demonic creatures to contend with and battles with the demons within, not to mention the Machiavellian machinations of Wraiths older than Methuselah. That said it’s likely you would want a mature group of players for this game, for the themes involved and for the shadow players. We found when we played that it was much more fun playing somebody else’s shadow than it was playing your own character. This is hardly surprising since you get to put the other player through your own personal grinder. The trouble is that it often gets in the way of the real plot, so instead of fighting against the bad guys a lot of time is spent fighting with yourself. The book itself is as you would expect from WW very well presented, the soft back edition has a glow in the dark logo, how cool is that? The illustrations are of a consistently good quality throughout a nd of varying styles each portraying suitably ghoulish apparitions. In fact I’d probably be reluctant to let little kids look at some of them. Wraith is a very good game, the rules are extremely easy to pick up and the background is rich which is why I’m going to stop the review part here. You see WW games all have a very rich background and every time I’ve played I’ve found that the most fun is in finding out things, so if anyone hasn’t played this game yet don’t read past this paragraph. Well onto the guts of the game…….. I’ll start off with a touch of geography and a dash of history. The Shadowlands are where a wraith begins his journey into the afterlife. It resembles the real world in every manner but everything has the taint of death about it. Cars are all burnt out or crashed, buildings are moldering wrecks, furniture is little more than firewood, in fact anything that could have any kind of use appears as it would when it is useless. Not a place you’d like to go holiday then. The Shadowlands are separated from the real world by the shroud, this membrane stops mortals viewing the dead, but not the other way round. In some places the shroud is thinner, graveyards, murder scenes, accident hotspots etc. These places make it easier for Wraiths to cross over to the other side and cause mischief. In fact the shroud over the whole world thins on special nights, such as Halloween. The Shadowlands are bordered on every side by the Tempest, this is Oblivion, the non-existence that all Wraiths fear. A roiling mass of insane souls that only the bravest or most foolhardy would face. The portals which connect the Shadowlands to the Tempest are called Nihils, some very strange things come out of Nihils and it’s best all round to avoid them. Beyond the Tempest lie the Far Shores, each one of these pocket universes is a refuge from Oblivion, the tr ouble is some are almost heavenly and others hell like. Of course the rulers of each of these places claims his domain to be the one true heaven or hell. Stygia is one such domain, Charon, the first of the Wraiths, claimed this as his domain and from here Charon ruled the shadowlands. Charon disappeared in the 50’s after the destruction of Hiroshima caused a terrible demon to be unleashed from the Tempest. Stygia still rules the Shadowlands but its rule is less stable without the leadership of Charon. The cities of the real world are mirrored by their Shadow equivalents the Necropoli. Within each Necropolis a Citadel forms the hub of Stygian control and this is also a place of refuge when the Tempest storms. The factions of the Shadow realms are the Hierarchy, the Renegades and the Heretics. The Hierarchy are followers of Charon and adhere rigidly to his Dictum Mortem, Code of the Dead, put shortly it states that the dead will not interfere with the living. Unfortunately the only copy of the Dictum Mortem is said to be held in Stygia, since none but the most powerful ever get to Stygia the Dictum Mortem is open to interpretation. The Hierarchy is a rigid society loosely based on the old Roman empire, positions such as Legionnaire and Centurion dwell within it’s ordered ranks. The Renegades are a much less ordered bunch, basically they revolt against practically anything and as a result they often suffer from infighting that clearly doesn’t help their cause. The Heretics are cults worshipping the myriad dwellers of the Far Shores. The Heretics suffer from the same problems as the Renegades, but since they are universally oppressed they sometimes pool resources to fight the good fight. Life after death is pretty hard, since the main trade in the afterlife is souls they are a precious commodity, the newly dead are hunted down for their worth, Reapers can either be good guys helping the new arrivals or bad guys out to turn a quick buck. Either way it makes for a rude awakening. Wraiths, having been people once, tend to stick to a hierarchical structure, this is reflected in the guild structure. In Vampire there are clans, in Werewolf there are tribes in Wraith there are Guilds. The guilds aren’t dependant on who you are but what you can do. The specialist abilities known as Arcanos are what gives the wraith it’s power and it also determines which Guild name it will be known as, whether the wraith chooses to be a guild member or not, if she displays the Arcanos in public she is likely to be known as a member of that guild. The Arcanos Argos is the ability to navigate the tempest, those who can are known as Harbingers, skills range from the ability to fly within the seas of the tempest up to the ability to cast an enemy into the roiling mass of the tempest. Masters of this skill are feared. Castigate is the ability to cow the shadow within themselves and others, practitioners of this skill are known as Pardoners. Each pardoner has his own method of practicing some may use ritual purification, others may beat the shadow out. This allows anything from the ability to see another shadow, to the ability to stand against his own or another’s shadow. This skill is always in demand and Pardoners are welcome in many Necropoli. Embody allows the wraith to enter the real world, this skill is a forbidden knowledge and against Charon’s Dictum Mortem, still it doesn’t stop it being practiced, those who do so are called Proctors. At low levels the most a Wraith can do is to allow her voice to be heard as the faintest whisper. The more experience she has the more substance she gains until at very high levels the Wraith can assume an almost mortal form, albeit for a very short time. Fatalism is the art of divination, the Wraith can read the marks of fate upon a soul, those that do are known as Oracles. At low levels a wraith may see the marks of death upon another and determine how he died at higher levels a Master can bend fate to his own whim. The Artificers guild have the ability to enter the inanimate, a skill known as Inhabit. A beginner may be able to short a fuse, a master may create relics empower with mystical traits from the mundane. The raw material the Artificers of old worked with were the souls of others. The Chanteurs guild is renown for their use of the Arcanos Keening. This gives the wraith a banshee like skill to provoke emotions or ideas within his target, some with enough intensity to stun. Lifeweb allows a wraith to become attuned to her life and understand what binds her to it in death, practioners of this art are known as Monitors. The first few levels allow the wraith to understand the patterns of others and determine their attachment to fetter. Later levels allow the wraith to sever those bonds, an extremely fearsome skill as destroying the fetters that bind can plunge the target into oblivion. Moliate is a freaky little skill also known as soulshaping, it allows the wraith to shape a soul to his will, bearing in mind the soul is the essence of other wraiths this can be very potent. At low levels the wraith may imitate another by changing his appearance later levels the wraith can sculpt weapons from his limbs and rend the body of another wraith. Masters of this skill are called Masquers. Outrage is the domain of the Spooks, this skill lets the wraith move things with the force of her mind, a novice can lay the lightest finger upon an object, with more mastery the wraith may be able to manipulate an object and with total mastery she may even be able to lay punches which can knock things right into Oblivion, literally. Haunters practice Pandemonium this Arcanos taps raw chaos allowing the wraith to channel it, unfortunately chaos being chaotic it doesn 8217;t always go according to plan. At low levels general weirdness happens and at higher levels even time may be affected. As the chaos has a tendency to rub off Haunters tend to be viewed as strange by most other wraiths. Sandmen enter the dreams of mortals using Phantasm. She can slip the soul from the sleeping body and take it on a journey with her into the shadowlands. She may interact with the dreamer, masters may even interact physically. Puppetry allows wraiths to directly influence the bodies of mortals by inhabiting them. Novices may only hitch a ride within the skin of another, but a master may obliterate the soul of his hapless victim and take up permanent residency Usury is the ability to cream life off the living ushering in the inevitable for the mortal and directing that energy to the Wraith or another Wraith to act as the recipient. Understandably the Usurers have become very rich off the trade in life energy. Armed with these skills its easy to see a wraith can achieve much within its own realm but until it has reached mastery of the skills can do very little to affect the real world. All in all Wraith is possibly the best inclusion in the World of Darkness series, for the sheer inventiveness and opportunity for role-play, the only catch is that you must find players restrained enough to spend most of their time playing their own characters and not other players shadows.