Wraith: The Forgotten
What Is a Life Worth?
What does it mean to live, or die? What does one person's life matter in the end? These are questions that have kept philosophers, artists and even average people awake at night for as long as man has understood death. Or, at least, claimed to understand death. In the end, no living person truly knows the answer, and some believe that mortal men were never meant to know. But you have been given the unique chance to try and find out. Is man just meant to make more men, living and dying without any purpose? Is there a goal, or an endpoint, or is all there is just death? And whatever the end is, what does everything before it mean? Can you be remembered past your end, or is everyone destined to be forgotten, every statue ground to sand and every person burned to ash? You've got a long way ahead, and it won't be easy. And chances are, it won't be satisfying or worth the effort. But it beats rotting.
A Storytelling Game of Bittersweet Memories
Remember the good old days? Before it all went wrong? The “glory days” of high school, the days before he divorced you, your innocent childhood? They're all gone, and nothing you can do will ever bring those days back. It lends those memories a sort of melancholy, knowing that they're gone forever. Imagine how a person on their deathbed, and the bittersweet mix of emotions they must feel, looking back on their lives. Such is the existence of the Wraith, a creature formed of a person's last dreams and fueled by memories.
This game finds you where most other games end, at the moment of your death. You have been spirited away to a strange, dreamlike world called the Shadowlands, and your only hope for continued existence is to find a niche and try to keep your memory alive. The world of the Shadowlands is strange, and alien, but it's also a reflection of our own world. The same cities and towns that you know stand in roughly the same places. But everything's different. The sky is always gray and overcast, and everything has a dreamy haze over it. The strangest thing about the Shadowlands is that often, buildings and features that no longer exist in our world still stand, warped and twisted by memory and metaphor. The Twin towers become to endless spires of glass, and the Globe Theater stands as a twenty-sided amphitheater built of drama masks and covered in the bright fabrics of stage costumes.
A Wraith: The Forgotten chronicle takes the players through this strange, dying dream, as they attempt to reconnect with their pasts, cope with their present, and try to find a future. The world of Wraith isn't as dark as that of Changeling, or Demon, or Vampire, at least at its surface. There's no slave master to run from, no foul pacts to forge, and no sick hunger to sate. However, the pull of darkness is arguably deeper for Wraiths than others. They're free, but freedom is the easiest way to evil. They're eternal, but it's an eternity of listlessness and loneliness. They need only be remembered to persist, but great evils ring out through history as reliably as great good, and is much easier for a powerful Wraith to achieve.
Theme: Alone Into the Dark
The core theme of Wraith can be likened to a person on their deathbed, looking back at their lives, and putting their affairs in order. A lot of pain comes with these last moments in a person's life. One is forced to ponder what world they've left behind. Many have survivors that they have to see to, to try and see that they're provided as well as possible. Others see parts of their family they never noticed before. Arguments with a spouse over things like patio colors or a child's name feel petty and hollow, and you feel stupid for having them. People want things from you, or want to control you in your last few hours. Even before a person dies, they can begin to fade into the third person. Doctors address your family before you. People talk about you like you're already gone. In the end, the best you can hope for is a hand to hold when the blackness comes for you, but not everyone gets that luxury. Some say that we all go into death alone, but many truly have nobody to sit up with them for their last night. A father whose executive son was too busy with his business retreat to be there when he passed. A homeless woman, whose last breath is alone in a cold alley. A teenaged kid, stabbed in a robbery, dies on arrival to the ER, no name, no family, just two total strangers in blue uniforms.
Death is lonely, and nobody understands this better than Wraiths. Wraiths wander in a dying dream, forgotten by loved ones, ignored by society, and accompanied only by a voice that tears away at their sense of self, the Wraiths in the Shadowland have tried to form a society themselves, but it rings hollow, like a sad old man trying to relive his youth, or somebody on their last leg trying to desperately deny that they're dying.
Mood: Bitter Nostalgia
Nostalgia is a complex emotion. It's most commonly described as a longing for or sentimentality toward the past. In truth, there's more to it than that. It's a sadness, but there's happiness to it, too. It's a way of coping with today, but it warps yesterday. Nostalgia is how a person remembers when they don't want to remember the actual facts of what happened. With Nostalgia, kisses were more passionate, food tasted better, and Saw totally holds up.
Nostalgia can be a source of solace, looking back at a better time, but a person who's lost in nostalgia too often finds that the here and now can't possibly relate. Even more upsetting is what happens when a person revisits the object of their nostalgia without that filter. It turns out you were a jerk in high school, your girlfriend thought you were a terrible kisser, your mom's fried chicken sucks and Saw is just a really terrible movie.
Of course, a little nostalgia is fine. Wraiths, however, exist in a state of constant nostalgia, as they need to keep their memory alive to continue surviving. They literally can not stop being nostalgic. As the months, the years, the centuries go by, it becomes harder and harder to keep memory and nostalgia separate, and even more difficult to remember the present. The longer a Wraith lasts, the less they are themselves, and the more they become a hollow shell of memory, like a rerun of their own lives, relegated to some cheap local channel in the wee hours of the night.
A Wraith: the Forgotten chronicle has the players deal with this sense of hollowness, and try to fight it as best they can. How will they maintain their identity against what they wanted their identity to be? And is what they once were really even worth protecting?
How to Use This Book
The life a Wraith leads before coming to the Gloom can be played out with the World of Darkness Second Edition core rulebook or the 1st edition rulebook plus the God-Machine Chronicle rules update. The moment the character falls to the Shadowlands, they are governed by the rules in this book.
This Introduction, and the following chapter, Chapter One: Welcome to the Shadowlands, are designed to introduce readers to the tone and setting of Wraith, including the language of the setting.
Chapter Two: Character Creation describes the rules that go into creating a Wraith, including Merits unique to Wraiths, Merits modified in function when used by Wraiths, as well as the Arcanoi, mystic powers that Wraiths use to manipulate the world around them.
Chapter Three: Systems explains the details of the Wraith condition, including their vulnerabilities, as well as how they interact with the world of the living.
Chapter Four: Storytelling is a chapter intended to help Storytellers run a Wraith chronicle, including some useful tips, tools, and a few sample NPCs and story hooks to get you started for a quick game.
Appendix One: Life in the Gloom goes into depth about the society of the Shadowlands, including expanding on the Guilds, offering smaller trade unions, and explaining the relationships between Wraiths and the other denizens of the Shadowlands.
Appendix Two: The Wider World explains the relationships between the Wraiths and the myriad other creatures of the World of Darkness, as well as a few ideas for crossing over with each given game, and how each supernatural being is regarded in the Shadowlands.
Appendix Three: Conversion offers tips for converting Wraith: the Oblivion characters to Wraith: The Forgotten, and vice-versa.
Sources and Inspiration
The works of Carl Jung inform the Shadow in Wraith, so understanding his works can help with designing and playing Shadows. Admittedly, the Shadow presented in Jung's work isn't as universally negative as the Shadow here, but it's a definite inspiration.
The Greatest Gift and A Christmas Carol, by Phillip Van Doren Stern and Charles Dickens respectively, are both stories concerned with looking back on what one has done with their lives, and the effects a person can have on others, a core theme in Wraith.
Wraith: The Oblivion, the original White Wolf game upon which this is based, can be a good inspiration, for obvious reasons. As much of a cop-out as that sounds, taking a look at it can help get a perspective on the difference between the two, and perhaps spark a few thoughts.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is a good example of the dead and the living commingling, although it has more focus on the living in the land of the dead than vice-versa. Some plot details at the end also help to illustrate how profoundly a person's actions can affect others, even in death.
Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away displays a spirit-filled world that suits the Shadowlands at its most beautiful to a tee. The dream-like quality that pervades the work fit Wraith well, and the weird customers Chihiro/Sen meets make for very good examples of Shadowlanders.
Nightmare on Elm Street shows what happens when a particularly bloodthirsty Wraith gets hungry for Pathos. The untimely death, the murdering via dreams, all of it fits a killer Wraith.
Long-Distance Call, the 58th episode of the original Twilight Zone shows how a Wraith could use its anchors to drum up a little Pathos, despite the morbid consequences.
Jennifer Slept Here, an admittedly silly sitcom from the 80s can demonstrate a less disturbing look at how a Wraith might interact with the living. In fact, there are many ghost-based sitcoms for some reason, far too numerous to expound upon fully here.
Being Human: Both versions of the show feature interactions between a group of supernatural creatures, and the ghosts on the show are all working to complete their affairs on Earth and open their semi-literal “door” to the afterlife, a process not unlike Transcendence. The concept of a ghost support group also suits the social structures a Wraith might be drawn to.
An obvious entry would be the Persona games from Atlus, with their Jungian Shadows, and the eponymous Personae, but their later game, Catherine also fits the bill, with Vincent's Shadow, representative of his repressed fears of commitment and women, and his dreams resembling a rather puzzle-oriented Harrowing.
The Silent Hill franchise is very much about repression and internal demons, and the dark atmosphere is very much like the Labyrinth, especially in the deeper levels of its cosmology.
Anchor: An item, person or place that binds ghosts and Wraiths to reality.
Angst: The level of psychological torment a Wraith suffers, and how close they are to Oblivion.
Arcanos: A mystical power that Wraiths use to manipulate the world.
Blink: The first instant of a Wraith's existence, referencing how all Wraiths enter the Shadowlands eyes-closed.
Byway: A stable portal between planes, especially between the Gloom and the Skin.
Ego: The measure of a Wraith's general mystical power and Supernatural Tolerance.
Gloom, the: The Shadowlands
Guild: A large, socio-economic group centered around a set of occupations, an ideology, or a philosophical ideal.
Harrowing: A mystery play enacted within the Labyrinth, usually as a result of emotional trauma or as an escape from a deadlier fate.
Haunt: A place in the Skin reflected clearly in the Shadowlands and inhabited by one or more Wraiths. Usually contains a Byway.
Labyrinth: The hellish, maze-like home of Specters and other evil creatures. Extremely dangerous. Do not attempt to navigate unaided.
Maelstrom: Powerful storms that precede and follow Specter attacks in the Shadowlands, usually with bizarre and disorienting effects. Sometimes spurred by massive deaths in the Skin.
Nihil: A Byway that leads directly to the Labyrinth, or any stable portal through the Tempest.
Oblivion: A state in which a Wraith's Shadow has taken complete and total control. Wraiths in this state have effectively become Specters, with almost no hope of recovery.
Passion: A drive that keeps Wraiths going at all times, and is often a source of strength in darkness.
Pathos: The emotional energy that fuels Wraiths, and is drawn from memory.
Shadow: A spectre that inhabits the mind of a Wraith, reflecting the Wraith's repressed traits and insecurities. Dangerous and constantly attempting to take control, but occasionally insightful or helpful if it serves their agenda.
Revenant: A Wraith who has possessed their own corpse.
Skin, the: The physical world of the Quick.
Specter: Dark spirits that inhabit the Labyrinth and forsaken corners of the Shadowlands, seeking to feed on and torment Wraiths.
Tempest, the: The opaque cloud wall between the Shadowlands and the Labyrinth. There exist holes in the wall from time to time, as well as stable portals through it. Maelstroms are formed of its stormy substance.
Shadowlands, the: The world of Wraiths, and dark reflection of the Skin.
Shroud, the: The figurative wall between the Gloom and the Skin, usually used to state how difficult it is to cross between them in a location. (e.g. “the Shroud is thick here.”)
Soulfire: A powerful form of concentrated Pathos that is dangerous to touch, but necessary for Soulforging.
Soulforging: The art and science of reforming ephemera into useful physical goods. Its use sparks ethical arguments about ghost's rights.
Transcendence: A mythical “endgame” for Wraiths, in which they either pass on, return to life, or simply shed the negative traits of Wraithdom.
Quick, the: The living, as well as corporeal undead that can pass for living.
Wraith: A being formed of the consciousness of a dying person, and infused with the dream-stuff of the Shadowlands.