Old thoughts on Wraith

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My wife is planning on starting up a tabletop Wraith game. Wraith has a bit of a bad reputation, but it is one of my favorite games out there in some ways. Its game mechanics required PCs to care about things. Its setting was rich, and it could handle stories both intensely personal or epic in scope equally well.

Unfortunately, Wraith used a very old set of White Wolf’s rules. It never got the revision that most other old World of Darkness games received, much less an update to the new WoD. I remember writing some things about Wraith rules long ago. Here’s a post, verbatim, from an old blog of mine (from most of a decade ago). It still has an interesting point (though one that is, perhaps, not so revolutionary anymore).

Thoughts on Wraith and game mechanics
I play in a wraith LARP every Friday.

I enjoy it quite a bit. It is a relatively small game. The players and storytellers are generally good (and, more importantly, good friends). I have had a fondness for Wrath for quite awhile. It is definitely my favorite WoD game, and it is in strong contention for my favorite RPG.

My biggest problem with the game? The rules.

The rules we use are a modified version of the MET rules published by White Wolf. The original MET rules are fairly simple, but not particularly evocative. The ones we use are more complete and marginally better.

What Wraith really ought to emphasize are a character’s Passions and Fetters – the things that makes a character a wraith. The tabletop game does this to a point, the LARP version soewhat less so. Even the tabletop version of the rules, however, I find lacking. The Wraith-specific rules are shoehorned into a familiar, but ill-suited system (i.e., Storyteller).

I remember when I first read Unknown Armies. The first part of character creation contains the personality mechanics – because that is what is important to the game. I remember thinking that Wraith should have been more like that. I think that was why I got excited when someone (a while back) started a RPG.net thread about converting Wraith to UA mechanics.

Even that, though, never quite sat with me as completely appropriate. Wraiths are, essentially, supposed to be composed of memories, ties to the earth, and driving passions. Why aren’t these things the main attributes in the system? Wraiths have corpus (health levels). Why isn’t their Corpus score equal to their points in Fetters (the objects that matter to them – the things that literally tie them to the world)? Wraiths have Passions (the things that motivate them, the actions they habitually take) – which I see as metaphysical grooves in the world through which a Wraith will tend to naturally flow. Why aren’t Wraith naturally more successful at fulfilling their passions than they are at acting counter to them?

Then I thought… why limit these insights to Wraith? If they are treated more metaphorically than literally, they could apply to games with a variety of narrative structures. Why should health levels be physical? Are characters in novels more likely to survive if they are tough or are they more likely to survive if they have things to live for? Are characters in novels more or less likely to succeed in things that really matter to them.

I think that these are meaningful questions for game design. While they might, on occaision, be addressed, they haven’t – to my knowledge – been made really central before.



2 Responses

  1. I must admit that I've never played Wraith, although I have flicked through it. I found it quite a hard game to get into, as your character is already dead. I didn't get that, at the time.
    I also couldn't get round the art, which was too stylistic for me.
    I do appreciate some of the ideas within, though. The idea of the Shadow being portrayed by another player, and having to bargain with it, are cool. They do, as you point out, require the players to care beyond their own character.

    Did you ever get the chance to check out Orpheus? It provided the setting and rules update for Wraith prior to the Time of Judgement, although from a different angle. I'd definitely give it a look.

    Also, what about Geist for NWoD? Again, differently the same. Like Wraith meets Demon. Sort of.

  2. Nook – I've only looked at Orpheus briefly, and Geist even less. I've heard good things about Orpheus in particular.

    A lot of people found Wraith hard to get into – that's why it never caught on. Also, it mixed poorly with the other WoD games, except in fringe cases. The setting is pretty alien.

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