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RPG WTF 3: Wraith: the Oblivion

2 Jun, 2020

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Next on my hit list of what were they thinking” RPGs; White Wolf1s Wraith: the Oblivion, in which players played dead people in the afterlife. Not inherently a bad idea, although the first edition was plagued with proof-reading and play-testing issues (1st ed WW games tended to be beta versions). But that isn’t why I want to discuss Wraith. Take a close look at the cover.

Do you see a title?

For reasons that I am sure seemed compelling at 3 AM, White Wolf decided to lean into the whole spectre angle of their game. The title (which you can see if you look very closely) is in glow-in-the-dark ink. If the ink has had time to get charged up, it’s somewhat visible in the dark. A cool effect and just too bad most game stores strongly discourage customers from coming in in the middle of the night when all the lights are out. When the lights are on, the title is essentially invisible.

It happened that the cover matched the colour of the slat wall in my store. Customers who came in looking for Wraith could only find it if I helped them, and I cannot image there were many impulse buys.

1: You might expect a follow-up piece on the White Wolf Magazine/Inphobia transition. I am trying to do only one of these per company and anyway, I can understand why a general interest gaming magazine might want to find a better defined niche, even if the one WW found was failed experiment.” There have been a lot of good, general interest gaming magazines and very few of them are still around.

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My First Ten RPGs: 10

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number ten: Chaosium’s Worlds of Wonder. The Worlds of Wonder boxset contained the Basic Roleplaying rules (a streamlined Runequest), plus three settings: Super World (A superhero RPG), Future World (a SF RPG), and Magic World (a fantasy RPG). The setting books were by modern standards rather lean (16 pages), so the designers had to be judicious about how to cram enough information in so the result was playable; in Future World, for example, they used interstellar gates that could only link worlds of similar mass and spin, removing the need for ship or detailed world design.

It was a perfectly functional set of rules. Why it didn’t become the core of a GURPS-like range of world books I can’t say. It didn’t, and GURPS took that niche instead.

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My First Ten RPGs: 8

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number eight is FGU's Space Opera, an ambitious science fiction RPG. Upside: tons of support material. Downsides: convoluted game mechanics, bold organizational choices, counter-intuitive editing, and maybe a smidgen of not enough play-testing. Which is to say, it was an FGU game.

The two things I remember about it was our min/maxer getting frustrated over seeming skill prereq contraditions, and that time someone fired a fusion pistol in an enclosed space, unaware that fusion pistols set everything in the vicinity of the target on fire, or that "Fusion weapons produce hard radiation (Rad Level) at the surface of the target hit by the main bolt, but not the splatter." It was a bit like using fireball as a melee weapon in D&D. If fireballs were radioactive.

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My First Ten RPGs: 9

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number nine: SPI’s Universe, their attempt to do for the SFRPGs market what DragonQuest did for FRPGs.

Universe had some legitimately cool aspects, starting with a 3‑D map of the local stars out to 30 LY (as known in 1980). It offered a wider range of occupations than Traveller, without GDW’s military emphasis. For that matter, the Federation appeared to be democratic. It also had an innovative method of dealing with environments; what a character was acclimated to affected how they handled various climates (Cue arguments over the ship’s thermostat). A modular ship creation system was intended to make ship creation faster, and they included a game called Delta Vee in the box.

Alas. The game seemed to be poorly play tested. It was definitely unbalanced: because they were key components to both the interstellar communications network and FTL drives, psionic characters could easily end up as the pampered members of the ensemble (and we won’t even touch the fact many of them had mind-control, useful for streamlining democracy). And while it was in no way the fault of the designers, SPI’s financial situation – picture Mount Doom after the One Ring was thrown in – meant essentially no support for the game.

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My First Ten RPGs: 7

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number seven is RuneQuest, 2nd edition. This is a skill-based fantasy RPG, focused on comparatively normal characters, the sort who rather than being damage sponges, would when hit with a battle axe probably die. Essentially all characters used magic, usually a comparatively weak but utilitarian form called battle magic.

One of the elements that made RQ stand out was its connection to the setting Glorantha, a bronze-age, magic-rich world. Glorantha began as Greg Stafford’s personal project long before roleplaying games came alone (which I think is also true of M. A. R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne) and it provided an interesting backdrop for adventuring that wasn’t standard faux-Medieval Europe as imagined by Wisconsonites.

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My First Ten RPGs: 6

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number six is TSR’s espionage RPG, Top Secret. As I recall, the designers compensated for the potential lethality of their system by giving PCs luck points they could use to deflect potentially fatal wounds, and that their very detailed hand to hand combat system was a bit like a table-based version of Ace of Aces.


Opponents each picked a moved and cross referenced them on a chart to see what happened. It was possible for combatants to knock each other out simultaneously,

I didn’t play it much but I do recall one session vividly. For reasons that escape me, the group decided it would be more convenient if the other side didn’t have a yacht to which they could retreat, so a PC was dispatched to sink the boat. Unfortunately, there were a number of ships anchored near each other, and the PC got confused whether the one he wanted was the Nth from the left or the right. And that’s how a yacht belonging to Beatrix of the Netherlands got blown up and sunk.

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My First Ten RPGs: 5

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number five is SPI's foray into tabletop fantasy roleplaying, DragonQuest. It was a mix of random generation and design, offering players a range of occupations their character might have mastered. Mages got a much wider range of schools of magic than AD&D offered (and with all the free spells they got at character generation, effectively began the game a couple of thousand experience points up on mundanes), with the catch that newbie mage spells often did not work and spell failure could leave the mage a soot stain on the floor.

As one would expect from SPI, the rules had all the poetry of a legal document1. First edition combat was incredibly glacial, for which I credit my later tolerance of Champions.

1: Although they slipped in the odd joke--one of the inherent abilities all halflings had was being able to dispose of jewelry in volcanoes without suffering social consequences.

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My First Ten RPGs: 4

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number four is the rather obscure Morrow Project, in which the players are tasked with rebuilding civilization after a thermonuclear war and other complications. To this end, the PCs are provided with a stupendous stash of firearms and explosives.

As I recall, the game specified half of the North American cities designated for destruction and left the other half up to the GM. Criteria suggested for doomed communities included once got a speeding ticket there.”

Oddly, despite my fondness for nuclear destruction, this didn’t click for me. All I remember is that my character had pyrokinesis, which was about as useful as a blow torch, if said blow torch had a chance of giving the user a stroke each time it was used.

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My First Ten RPGs: 3

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number three is the game that hooked me on roleplaying games: Traveller, Little Black Book edition. 

This is a skill-based science fiction RPG heavily influenced by the likes of Norton, Tubb, and Piper. Despite some unique features (like a character generation system that often killed characters before play), it was the most popular SF rpg of its era. Having navigated many editions, it is still in print today.

This particular edition had the slight drawback that the cost per page was significantly higher than the cost per page of photocopies. This drove an evolution towards perfect bound and hard cover versions.

It established my preference for skill based systems over class. Oddly, I prefer FRPGs to SFRPGs because the world building short cuts needed to make SFRPGs playable vex me.

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My first ten rpgs: 2

1 Jun, 2020

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Stealing from Aaron de Orive, my first ten tabletop RPGs in ten days, in the order in which I encountered them. Number two is, unsurprisingly, 1st Ed AD&D. Not my thing but I did play one session.

(Original David A. Trampier cover, not the Jeff Easley they replaced it with in 1983)


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