Wraith: the Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition is one of the best core books for the World of Darkness bar none. To say that it brought Wraith into the 21st Century in style would be a gross understatement, and for Onyx Path Publishing, the book is a triumph of literary accomplishment as well as updating the game and streamlining it while keeping the parts of it that absolutely needed to be held close.
Handbook for the Recently Deceased, however, affords both the player and the storyteller a succinct, capsulized glimpse at Wraith: the Oblivion that keeps the would-be storyteller who is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to throw his or her players across the Shroud from cutting deep into their printer’s ink reserves and spitting out chapters to serve as the building blocks for what they can expect from the game.
Part One: Playing the Recently Deceased covers the basic concepts-at-work for wraiths who may not have a clue on how the game works, or how to get started with character generation. The idea that you’re not only dead, but that you most probably died horrifically is something that has always been a cornerstone in Wraith: the Oblivion, regardless of Edition, and the 20th Anniversary Edition is, of course, no exception. You must come up with that story. You must figure out why you came across the Shroud from the Skinlands, and you must find a way to rationalize it so that you don’t immediately become a spectre, or an obolus in another wraith’s coin purse. Fetters are discussed. Passions are discussed. Where you are in the Underworld and definitions explaining what the basic lines of demarcation in the Underworld are, are discussed. You’ll understand the basic concepts behind the Hierarchy, Renegades, Heretic Cults and, to a degree, the Guilds.
This is a concept guide... not a how-to guide. If you’re looking for a how-to guide, you’ll need to purchase a copy of the core rules, which will provide you with instructions on how to generate a ghost character from scratch.
This book, however, is going to serve as a “taste-test,” so that you can decide if this is something that you want to invest your free time and imagination in.
Part Two: The New Shadow touches on a new concept to Wraith: the Oblivion; Shadowguiding. In past editions of the game, a character created two separate characters: their wraith PC and then the dark reflection of that PC, the Shadow. Now, with Shadowguiding and depending on how the storyteller wants to approach and handle it, once this process is complete, another player serves as the Shadowguide... which means you all trade off Shadows to each other. When the time comes for the Shadow to take action, speak, or plot against a wraith PC, the Shadowguide does the dirty work.
It is an EXCEPTIONALLY COOL idea that adds multiple new dimensions to a Wraith: the Oblivion Chronicle.
The basic concepts of what a Shadow is, Thorns – which are, effectively, Shadow-based powers above and beyond those already possessed by a wraith, Dark Passions, how and why the Shadow will talk to a wraith, when it will talk to a wraith, and what happens during a Harrowing are all explained. Again, systems for these things are in the core rulebook. Advice on how players can and should interact with one another while using each others’ Shadows against each other are discussed – and this is necessary, as too much can be given away, and there should be some secrets among players and their characters and their characters’ motivations.
Part Three: Storytelling for the Recently Deceased is for... well... storytellers looking to take up the scythe and lantern and get moving with a few games or, if you’d rather, a full-fledged Chronicle in Wraith: the Oblivion.
How to get the story started is explained, how you might move a group of ghosts together into a Circle is explained (although the ghosts becoming a functional family unit is completely up to them), ideas on how to handle PCs that want to experiment with Rising are covered, and how you may want to proceed with your first couple of Harrowings and Passion/Fetter Conflicts were, for me, the highlight here... if for no other reason than I’d never thought about Fetter or Passion conflicts among my players.
There are blurbs that give really rudimentary storyteller ideas – seeds, if you will – to help jumpstart something much, much larger for the Hierarchy, the Renegades, the Heretic Cults, advice on NPC creation, Antagonist creation, and advice on how to handle one-on-one player-to-storyteller interaction are all provided... and they’re provided by Rich “The Dead Guy” Dansky, who in a lot of ways – at least to many of us who have been with Wraith: the Oblivion since the beginning – is the consummate authority on any and all things dealing with the Shadowlands of the World of Darkness.
That’s not to say he’s always right or that his ideas are better than any you will ever come up with for the game ever, but suffice to say that if you follow his outlines and heed his suggestions and use the Handbook for the Recently Deceased as your primer for a Wraith game, you’re going to have one hell of a Chronicle cooking when it’s all said and done.
If you’ve bought Wraith: the Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition and you have not purchased this primer for yourself if you’re new to the Wraith system, or for your players, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
While Handbook for the Recently Deceased is not absolutely necessary to play Wraith: the Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition, I personally cannot recommend it highly enough.