Wraith: The Oblivion is a role-playing game set in the afterlife of White Wolf Game Studio's World of Darkness. In the game, players take on characters who are recently dead and are now ghosts. The difference between Wraith: The Oblivion and other games of its sort are that the society of wraiths is deeply described and explains the interaction that occurs when ancient dead souls mingle socially with the more recent dead; the society is both a dystopia and a heterotopia. Also, the significant presence of morbid and horrific content creates a tone of despair and horror with immense creativity, bringing to mind the works of Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, and Clive Barker.
Wraith: The Oblivion has been described as the most artistically consistent of the World of Darkness series line (due to its rich depiction of the afterlife and steadfast dedication to thematic integrity), but also is the least commercially popular (due to its graphically dark tone and sometimes confrontational style of play). White Wolf discontinued their production of the game line long before having published all material that was originally planned.
White Wolf revisited some of Wraith's themes in their role-playing miniseries Orpheus, and in a recently-published collection of adventures called Ghost Stories, but have no official plans to revisit Wraith as a setting. Geist: The Sin-Eaters, the new World of Darkness game line which came out in 2009, is also partly inspired by Wraith. Much of the game's mythology and terminology has found its way into White Wolf's Exalted role-playing game line.
The world of Wraith: The Oblivion takes place partly in the Underworld (this is typically called the Dark Umbra by those who know of its existence). Near the realm of mortals (sometimes called "The Quick") is a realm known as the Shadowlands that mirrors our world. Beyond this surface layer is the Tempest, a massive storm in which distance in the traditional sense has no meaning. Within the Tempest are realms and empires of wraiths, as well as the elusive Far Shores, fabled places mirroring the heavens and hells of many faiths. Very few who die go directly to Transcendence (a blissful state of being; a placated acceptance) more succumb to Oblivion (not existing), but wraiths remain tethered to reality by Fetters, which are items, places, or people of great importance to their former life with which the wraith in question has unresolved business.
The world of Wraith is overrun by a force called Oblivion, a pervasive force of distintegrating nothingness and nihilism that acts on everything in the Shadowlands and the Tempest. Every wraith has a sliver of such nihilism, known as a Shadow, embedded in their minds. This Shadow is essentially a secondary personality that, if the wraith's primary personality (or Psyche) becomes vulnerable, asserts control of the wraith's body and senses for a time. These episodes, called Catharsis, only end when the primary personality manages to reassert itself. Wraiths who succumb entirely to their Shadows are known as Spectres, and represent an omnipresent threat through the lands of the dead, especially in the Tempest where Oblivion is stronger.
Wraiths have a variety of motives. Some seek to resolve their Fetters, ending their connection to the mortal world and travelling to the Far Shores. Others hover close to the mortal world to watch over their Fetters. Still others embrace their wraithly nature and seek knowledge, power, and prestige in wraith society. All of these motivations, called Passions, are a wraith's weapon against Oblivion, and give wraiths the strength necessary to resist their Shadows. Spectres, no longer having mortal (or even wraithly) Passions, seek nothing less than the unravelling of reality, driving Oblivion forward.
Wraith: The Oblivion primarily takes place in the Deadlands of the western world, which is ruled by the Empire of Stygia (also called the Dark Kingdom of Iron), founded by the legendary Charon. Stygia's authoritarian governing body, The Hierarchy stands opposed to the disparate Renegades, who seek the freedom of an anarchic state, and to the Heretics, cults formed in search of Transcendence (officially proclaimed by the Hierarchy to be neither possible nor desirable) from the underworld to a higher state beyond the Far Shores. Unaffiliated wraiths are referred to as Freewraiths. Ferrymen also exist, lone pathfinders who exist above political concern and act as guides through the Tempest.
A tradition of Guilds, officially disbanded by Stygia (especially the Hierarchy), remains active among the dead, each specializing in one of the Arcanoi, or spiritual arts. Mastery of an Arcanos (the singular) often has visible effects on a wraith's physique and personality, making such categories a matter of generalization. The Guilds, as defined in the Hierarchy, are:
- The Artificers: Wraiths skilled in Inhabit, the art of possessing inanimate objects, and traditionally the masters of Soulforging, the practice of forcibly and permanently molding another wraith's corpus (their physical body) into hard, metallic, inanimate objects.
- The Chanteurs: Wraiths skilled in Keening, the art of inducing emotion through song.
- The Harbingers: Wraiths skilled in Argos, the art of travel, especially in the Tempest.
- The Haunters: Wraiths skilled in Pandemonium, the art of causing chaos in the traditional "ghostly" manner. Haunters are usually used to scare the living out of areas frequented by wraiths. Its arts are wildly unpredictable.
- The Masquers: Wraiths skilled in Moliate, the art of bodily transfiguration. Moliation can be made permanent and used to fabricate soft goods such as fabrics and woods in the underworld in a process similar to Soulforging.
- The Monitors: Wraiths skilled in Lifeweb, the art of manipulating Fetters and their connections to the wraiths who possess them.
- The Oracles: Wraiths skilled in Fatalism, the art of reading the mark of fate on the soul and thereby determining a wraith's past, present, and future.
- The Pardoners: Wraiths skilled in Castigate, the art of taming the Shadows of other wraiths. While not formally recognized as a guild, Pardoners are tolerated by all Underworld factions for the simple reason that they exist to help wraiths retain their identities and fight Oblivion.
- The Proctors: Wraiths skilled in Embody, the art of manifesting their corpus in the mortal world. The Code of Charon strictly prohibits use of Embody (except by high-level Hierarchs acting in the interests of Stygia, of course).
- The Puppeteers: Wraiths skilled in Puppetry, the art of possessing mortals. The Hierarchy vigorously prosecutes Puppetry, both due to the Code of Charon and out of compassion for the mortals who are abused by Puppeteers; still, the ability to "skinride" and reclaim some semblance of life and feeling is too much for many ghosts to pass up.
- The Sandmen: Wraiths skilled in Phantasm, the art of interacting with the dreams of mortals and creating illusions and stories in the underworld.
- The Spooks: Wraiths skilled in Outrage, the art of using telekinetic force, usually manifesting as traditional "poltergeist" activity. Are generally regarded as a guild in name only.
- The Usurers: Wraiths skilled in Usury, the art of manipulating and drawing on Pathos, the emotional energies upon which the dead thrive. Also allows wraiths to give or take Corpus to and from other wraiths, and even the living in conjunction with Arcanoi that can cross the Shroud.
A handful of other pseudo-guilds exist, but their ranks are few due to the rarity (or illegality) of the Arcanoi they specialize in.
- The Alchemists: Wraiths skilled in Flux, the art of controlling the state of matter of the mortal world.
- The Mnemoi: Wraiths skilled in Mnemosynis, the art of controlling memory, and formerly the judges of the underworld, disbanded for a terrible crime no one can remember.
- The Solicitors: Wraiths skilled in Intimation, the art of manipulating the wants, needs, and desires of others. Intimation is highly feared for its ability to numb Passions or implant obsessions, and can affect the living as well as the dead.
Other regions of the world are dominated by other forces. The Dark Kingdom of Ivory (called by its inhabitants the Bush of Ghosts) reigns in the African underworld, and the Dark Kingdom of Jade (called by its inhabitants the Middle Kingdom) dominates the Asian underworld. The Dark Kingdom of Jade is noteworthy for the proximity of Yomi, a series of hells with highly specific themes ruled over by the Yama Kings, demon monarchs at constant odds with one another. Other Dark Kingdoms include; the Dark Kingdom of Flint, the Native American underworld destroyed by the Stygian Empire; the Dark Kingdom of Obsidian (called by its inhabitants the Smoking Mirror), the underworld of Central and South America largely destroyed by the Stygian Empire; Khem or Duat, also referred to as the Dark Kingdom of Sand, the underworld of Egypt; The Sunless Sea, the loose conglomeration of underworlds of Polynesia; the Australian Dark Kingdom of Clay; the seemingly paradisical city of Swar which houses the Hindu dead; and the Enclaves of Wire, a loose conglomeration of protectorates held by the Dybuks, wraiths of victims of the Holocaust. New Orleans, officially a protectorate of the Ivory kingdom, is actually a largely independent state home to a faction of vodoun wraiths who call themselves "Les Invisibles"; they are also found throughout the Caribbean, and are distinguished by their open use of Puppetry on willing mortal hosts.
The Tempest also holds within its limitless depths a seemingly omnipresent region known as the Labyrinth. Always lurking beneath the Tempest's stormclouds, this region is home to the Spectres, and is ruled in sections by ultra-powerful beings known as Malfeans (nightmarish Entities that exist outside of reality). The Malfeans are divided into two castes; the Onceborn, who were once living people in their own right and who have risen to claim the title of Malfean, and the terrible Neverborn, servants of Oblivion who were, presumably, never mortal and who have always existed. The Malfeans chewed the Labyrinth out of the void when the Underworld was created, and spend eternity sleeping in vast abysmal caves. Their spectral servants derive instruction as to their Malfean masters desires by observing the Malfeans' dreams. Spectres can broadly be divided into Castes, based on their function in serving Oblivion. Spectre Castes include (from lowest to highest):
- Shades: Spectres whose personality was destroyed by Oblivion and the Tempest, and who exist as near-mindless predators in its depths. Used as shock troops by the spectres, these beasts have already partly succumbed to Oblivion.
- Mortwights: Spectres who suffered horrifying disfiguring deaths, succumbing to Oblivion at the moment of their death. Mortwights are given less respect because they never chose to serve Oblivion. The Mortwights see themselves as greater servants of Oblivion because they were always Oblivion's servants and were never deluded by a desire to avoid it.
- Haints: Spectres who died of famine, genocide, or some other atrocity, and enter the underworld as Spectres driven by insatiable hunger. Like Mortwights, the Haints are given lower status because they never chose to serve Oblivion. Mortwights and Haints are considered roughly equal.
- Doppelgangers: The most feared Spectres, they are normally indistinguishable form other wraiths, acting as Oblivion's spies and inside operators. The doppelgangers are seen as valuable servants of Oblivion despite their relatively recent conversion to Oblivion's service, mostly because it has not yet begun to mark their corpus and thus they can easily infiltrate and corrupt the wraithly societies.
- Apparitions: The evangelists of Oblivion, these Spectres seek to convert wraiths by preaching to their Shadows. Apparitions are Mortwights, Haints, or Doppelgangers whose corpus has begun to be re-wrought by the corrupting touch of Oblivion.
- Nephwracks: The templars and high priests of the Malfeans and the bureaucrats and generals of the Labyrinth. Nephwracks are distinguished by corpuses distinctly and extensively marked by Oblivion; they can no longer pass as normal wraiths due to these disfigurements.
- Hekatonkhire: The so-called "Thousand Handed Gods," long-lived shades of Onceborn-like power but no usable intelligence. Used in an almost siege-engine-like capacity by the Spectres, 3 Hekatonkhire were present at the siege of Stygia during the 3rd Great Maelstrom.
- The Malfeans themselves, God-Kings of Oblivion.
Two more castes exist outside of the traditional caste system.
- Striplings: Not so much a Caste as an additional title, these are Spectres who died before the age of ten and have corpuses resembling young children. Striplings may actually be of any spectral caste (there is at least one Malfean Stripling), but they form a society unto themselves. They are ungovernable, even by the other Malfeans. Even other spectres often find them somewhat "creepy."
- Pasiphae: The so-called Ferrymen of Oblivion. Often cloaked and bearing a scythe and lantern, the Pasiphae's link to the Ferrymen is unmistakable but enigmatic. They have been known to use their resemblance to Ferrymen to capture and destroy unwary wraiths.
The Risen, Mummies, and Kindred of the EastEdit
Some wraiths are able to force their souls to reinhabit their deceased bodies. No longer part of the setting of Wraith: The Oblivion, they nevertheless remain wraiths (including their Arcanoi and their Shadows). The Risen that result from this phenomenon are essentially intelligent zombies who can think, talk, and interact with other humans, yet they are still dead corpses. Though few in number, the ranks of the Risen have grown considerably faster in recent years than they have in the past.
The Mummies of those game editions, that were prior to Mummy: Resurrection, were essentially humans. Since they were bound to be reincarnated they were considered Wraith, after their death. In those game editions years and even centuries could pass before a mummy's body reformed and the soul could return. Therefore the mummies had plenty of time to interact with other wraiths and learn Arcanoi, though they usually didn't. Somewhere in the Shadowlands was a city-like place known as Amenti those special wraiths inhabited.
The process of reanimation is considerably more common in the Dark Kingdom of Jade, where the concept of karma makes the responsibility associated with life pervasive in its strength and Yomi makes the consequences of karmic failure especially nasty. This confluence of factors leads to a very different variety of Risen, whose physiological need to consume chi (in the form of flesh or blood) has led to their being confused with vampires. Called the Kindred of the East or Kuei-jin, the blood-drinking behaviors of these beings should not obscure their origins as souls who have crawled their way out of hell/yomi. Due to their similarities to the Risen, some confuse them for one and the same.
Wraith: The Oblivion uses White Wolf's Storyteller System, a d10-based system in which player characters are rated in various categories (general Attributes, particular Skills, and special Advantages); these ratings are used to calculate a dice pool which the player uses to roll for success or failure against a difficulty rating for the task at hand. The difficulty, and the number of dice that must be rolled above that difficulty, are set by the Storyteller according to certain broad criteria.
As in all Storyteller System games, there are several special rules and systems that support the theme of the game. The most notable are:
- Pathos and Corpus
- Characters have variable scales to represent their Pathos, the wraith's emotional energy and ability to resist his Shadow, and their Corpus, the wraith's physical integrity or "health". When Corpus falls to zero, a wraith may undergo a Harrowing; Pathos can be spent to restore Corpus or to power various Arcanoi.
- The Shadowguide
- The game includes several systems for roleplaying a wraith's Shadow. The default arrangement is for each player in the troupe to play another player's Shadow; this creates a very confrontational style of play, as each player pursues a Shadow's goals to the detriment of another character.
- Character death
- As wraiths, player characters obviously cannot die; thus there is no system to handle character death (ie., a conventional hit points system). Wraiths, however, can be destroyed in several ways: by permanent loss of Pathos, Corpus, or by removing/resolving a wraith's Passions. Most wraiths who face destructive trauma have a last chance to escape Oblivion via a nightmarish psychodrama known as a Harrowing, which takes place in the Tempest and directly pits the wraith against his/her Shadow. Shadows can also initiate lesser Harrowings to damage wraiths' Passions or Fetters, bringing them closer to Oblivion. A few weapons and hazards of the Underworld, notably Stygian steel, inflict "aggravated" damage that can destroy wraiths directly without the possibility of a Harrowing.
Chapters that PlayEdit
The following chapters are know to play, previously played, or open to playing the game: