Welcome to High Level Game’s newest feature. Storyteller’s Vault Reviews. The Storyteller’s Vault is a community content creation site developed in conjunction between White Wolf and DriveThruRPG/One Book Store. Several blog contributors are Vault creators, and are happy to help promote this community of creators. Some of these reviews may also be present on the Vault itself.
These articles will collect reviews from a club of creators on the Vault. Our major focus will be on reviewing works from creators in the club to start, and then we may expand out to other products on the vault. Our first book will be Guide to Dying, by Secrets of the Masquerade. This is a supplement for Wraith: The Oblivion, which was just released for creators on the Vault. Each reviewer has their section, rating, and then content of their review below.
So often when a Storyteller is spooling up a Wraith: the Oblivion game, they become preoccupied with the setting of the chronicle – because Wraith can have so many – and the antagonistic factions at work within the chronicle – because, again, Wraith can have so many – that simple yet critical details get lost in the shuffle of things that happen in between character generation and the first night of sitting at the table to begin the story. Arguably, one of the most important things that seem to get left at the truck stop isn’t so much “How did your character die?” but rather the investment of time, thought and, in fact, emotion, that should be attached to the answering of that question.
One of the things that makes Wraith: the Oblivion so emotional, and to be certain, one of the things that has endeared the game to those who love it the way that they do, is the emotional investment required of both the Storyteller and the characters who run and play the game, respectively. Within the overarching setting of the World of Darkness, there is no other game that demands of you to think about the most horrible thing that could possibly happen to you – a death so untimely and, in many or most cases, unfair – that it will literally define your character and everything that your character does throughout the duration of a chronicle’s lifespan. The Psyche, the Shadow, the Corpus, Memoriam, Fetters, Passions, Thorns… all these things are born from how your character met her end. People who die peacefully in their sleep do not generally leave ghosts behind. They simply “Transcend” into the next phase of existence and bypass the dark horror of the Underworld, the Shadowlands, the Dark Kingdoms of the Dead and the Labyrinth.
Shadows of the Masquerade’s Guide to Dying supplement is a kick-starter in its best-possible incarnation. Not for a story, but for characters entering a story. Not for setting a scene, but for the players on the stage, and for the director who will guide them through the gossamer of the Underworld. The supplement asks the question "How did you get here, anyway?" of the reader, and shifts the player out of a "comfort bubble" and into an area of thinking about things that most people do not want to think about on a regular basis.
Or even on rare occasions, for that matter.
While presented as a “Guide,” it is more of a toolbox of thought exercises than anything else. When I see the word “Guide” in a title, I think of mechanics and step-by-step instruction on how to do this or why you would want to do that. This is not necessarily the case with the Guide to Dying. In the most liberal sense, some of the explanations of causes of death could be viewed as a sort of mechanic… but even that is a bit of a stretch. What the Guide to Dying does do – and does well – is takes the time to clarify no only how a character’s death is reflected directly in the ghost that death creates across the Shroud, but why.
First off, the supplement is absolutely beautiful in the same way that all Wraith: the Oblivion products are. The solemn melancholy of the artwork lends to the mood of the subject matter, and the reader is stricken with a sense of wanting to curl up under a quilt to read it on a deep-gray Winter’s day.
A nice funerary bouquet of Internal and External causes of death are presented and explained – For example, “Malicious Intent,” “Freak Accident,” or “Death by Illness” – and then, in turn (which I found exceptionally cool, to be completely honest) there are three example characters proved who died in any number or, if you’d like, combinations of these causes.
Now that would be enough for a beginner coming to Wraith: the Oblivion for the first time. But Shadows of the Masquerade takes it a step further; for each cause of death that has befallen the given character, given their background and given a couple of the clarifications on their general disposition as conceptualizations, the overall effect that each cause has on their Fetters, Passions and Shadow is afforded and explained. This is an awesome tool for people who have a hard time with the concept that playing a ghost is actually about playing two distinctly different characters that are, while arch-enemies, also the most fundamentally closest of allies and, in fact, the same being. It’s a tricky concept for people new to the game and the systems, and the Guide to Dying handles this exceptionally well.
I had one, single heartache with the example characters as provided and written; each one of them, based on a given cause of death, is assigned to a Guild. Now, while this is somewhat helpful to an extent, I think what would have been even more useful would have been assignment within a Legion given the nature and causation of the deaths of the example characters. Sure, the Haunters might Reap a ghost who was accidentally killed by a Good Samaritan, and I roger that as being completely logical. However, The Reapers of the Lady of Fate would probably also have dibs on such a poor soul, and would have, additionally, Hierarchy “sanctioned” Haunters within their ranks. This doesn’t take away from what is presented in the Guide to Dying, but I do think that it bears mention that there are a lot of other factions and forces-at-large in the Underworld than just the Guilds Reaping Cauls on the regular.
With Wraith: the Oblivion being opened up to the Storytellers Vault in just the last week, Guide to Dying is a top-notch debut supplement that does a lot to set the standard for what Wraith: the Oblivion Storytellers and players will look for to enhance and enrich their trans-Shroud Chronicles.
I love toolkit books like this. Short, sweet, to the point, without need for tons of flowery exposition.
I found this short book to be quite helpful. Too often, I personally get a little bogged down by all of the metaphysical elements of Wraith. Granted, these elements are what makes the game more interesting, but in the end, it is about our characters.
This book is a refreshing gathering of examples and inspiration. Ideas that might be used to inspire my next character, the next antagonist, or even a full blown storyline. After all...the passions behind why anyone becomes a wraith is what drives the whole game.
I particularly like the introduction. Sure, we can all sit and brainstorm how a character died and how it affects them. But...having a bit of a "cheatsheet" of origins as they relate to the game can save a few minutes when preparing the next game session or story arc.
How did I die? Really, this is the central question in Wraith character creation, but often it is a quick sketch on the side of the character background and ignored. The elements of death help direct enfants toward a specific Legion, but these situations are large scale buckets and don’t take into account the small intricate details of how and why someone ended up crossing over with unfinished business like they did.
One of my favorite things about the Vault is the ability to find books and booklets that allow for creators to dive into the minutiae of the World of Darkness in a way no official work would ever be able to go.
Guide to Dying provides 2-3 options for how three different characters could die. It also precedes the pre-generated character details with some reasons why a character died, including external and potential internal factors to consider. These are all good factors and are well presented.
The layout is top-notch, and the art is very well suited to the material and SotM utilizes a mix of art packs provided by White Wolf, other artist works for sale on the Vault, and privately acquired art that really helps put the visual quality of the book nearly on par with a professional RPG product.
The only drawback here is that some of the sentence structure is awkward. It’s readable, but as an editor who helps other non-Native English speaking authors, I noticed quite a few sentences that were oddly structured. For me this does mar the product a little, but only a little. I do think the quality of the product is still top-notch and something that I would recommend to storytellers or players looking to get a better feel for this element of Wraith: The Oblivion.
To begin this review I would like to start by saying I found this products organization, both in layout and presenting information, was Stellar. It is quickly apparent that this product was well thought out and had a clear focus. That focus was to help determine the the effect of one's type of death has on the wraith character and help to guide the the character creation choices.
The book is divided into 2 parts. The first touches on the different types of death a character may experience. The second is a few sample characters. I want to point out I really enjoyed the approach taken with the way these sample characters were written. Each is presented with a background from before their death with some possible life highlighted life choices. Then it presents a few possible the deaths that lead to their rebirth as a wraith, and how each of these deaths would impact the direction of their supernatural existence. This part drew me right into this product, and I want to make this stand out as an excellent way to help both players and storytellers. Especially if the task at hand focuses on a young wraith. This book will be a great tool.
If I had to hunt of a drawback for this product, I would say it is very line focused. This book would have little use outside of use in the Wraith line. But this a minor flaw and one that many product is expect to have. As well, it may have little impact in helping design a elder wraith, it is a product that focuses on the moment of death and not the centuries past.
All and all I enjoyed examining the pdf and find my insight to the Wraith line enriched by reading. I would give this product 7.5 out of 10.
Resonance granted for by this review is Death Born.
Come back next time for our reviews of Progenitors: Crash Cart, Volume 2
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