"... a ghostly grab-bag. It's worth picking up for some inspiration and a measure of information, but ... it's a bit of a disappointment."


Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

Is there anything more quintessential about ghost stories than a haunting? We've all had experiences with rooms, houses or whole areas of the landscape that just didn't feel right, and we've all probably wondered what was really going on there. So, given that Wraith: the Oblivion is all about ghosts, you'd think a book about haunted locations - owned by the Hierarchy, Renegades, Heretics and no one faction - would be a sure-fire ticket to a damn good read - right?

Unfortunately for Haunts, the answer is no. While there are some good ideas here, they're more than offset by some stuff that, while it isn't mind-shatteringly horrible, isn't all that inspiring, ether. Most of them lacked the "oomph" needed to make me want to go run a Chronicle based on it. And, since the book's sole purpose was to inspire Storytellers, that's just not good. (On a more nitpicky note, their writeups weren't uniformly organized, and some of them were a bit too interbred with other WW games for my liking. But some STs have no problems with that, so I didn't hold it against the score)

The art's as much of a mixed bag as the text. Some of the illustrations are highly effective and evocative, or at least work. However, some of the others are muddled, unclear or bad, and while the really muddled and unclear stuff can work with Wraith - since the Shadowlands are so run down - I can't tell whether the art was supposed to look like that, or if the artist was just sloppy. I also have to say that the cover wasn't a good choice. Surely someone could have come up with a really good picture of a Haunt, rather than... whatever that is (a Ferryman playing 'Toss the Enfant?' You tell me...) On the other hand, I really liked the character illustrations for the "Uprising in Dublin" chapter (who did these?) and Brian Dugan's pieces for "Hermitage Castle."

So, piece by piece:

The Introduction is fairly good: atmospheric, informative and mercifully short. It makes a promise the book can't keep - that I'd be inspired - but that's as much to do with me as anything, so who knows.

The first Haunt presented is The Tillinghast Mansion, a Hierarchy Haunt written by Richard "Deadguy" Dansky. Now, I love Deadguy as much as any other good Wraith fan, but if I'd been the developer (this was during Jennifer Hartshorn's reign) I'd have made him rewrite it. It's not that the idea of a Lovecraftian family's ancestral home in Providence, RI (home of the master!) was a bad idea. It's just that he name-dropped family names from Lovecraft's stories, and made a few too many "Lovecraft meets the WOD" plot points. As a result the Haunt comes across as a Lovecraft pastiche rather than anything else. And that's a shame, because I loved the actual Haunt and its relationship with the Hierarchy, and found that the characters presented could be used as a good framework for multigenerational Wraiths in the same organization. But the History - which also made made inroads into other WW games - had me shaking my head way too much. And a Haunt with a history you don't like is a hard Haunt to use. The story hooks also seemed a little flat.

Moving right along, we have another Hierarchy Haunt - Hermitage Castle, by James A. Moore. In this case, I liked the History - even if there was some inroading into other games - but I found the setup improbable (could that bastard still be in charge after all this time?), and really wanted more information on the Haunt itself. The story hooks were also a little less-than-inspiring. Oh well.

The Richmond Capitol - also Hierarchy, by Judith McLaughlin and Ehrik Winters - was a bit different. I got a lot of good, useful information about the Haunt, and good early history, but once the main wraithly characters stepped in I started wincing. Something about their buddy-buddy setup really bothered me, and I'm having a hard time matching their actions up to them. The rest of the characters are alright, and the plot points are okay (I did like the one about the 'lost' Overlord coming back) but, again, the setup kind of threw me off.

Deadguy more than redeems himself in the first Heretic Haunt: The Hanging Gardens, which introduces us to the The Riders of the Wheel. The Haunt's description is evocative and creepy, the history of both the Cult and the Haunt are top-notch, and the characters are well-done (and very appropriate for the setting). I think this chapter should be required reading by all Wraith Storytellers, whether they want to run a Heretic Chronicle or not - it's that good. And even if you don't want to use the Riders, the history is very inspiring. As with the other Haunts, the plot hooks are kind of hit or miss, but if you use the characters as presented some hooks should appear in no time flat.

Then we have The Sepulcra of Tenebrus, by Harry Heckel. Like the Hanging Gardens, this is also a Heretic Haunt, and, also like the Hanging Gardens, the description of the Haunt itself is superb: I suspect a number of STs will want to steal the setting for their own WW games, as it could be used well for almost anything. The history leaves a bit to be desired, but I like the idea of the Cult of Bones, even if the execution is a bit off. The characters are a so-so: I have a real problem with the mortal priest and his helper, but some of the Wraiths are pretty effective. And the plot hooks are fairly common-sense ones.

Bill Bridges (the old Werewolf developer, and the current Mage developer) provides a real good example of a sea haunt in Blackbeard's Cove, a Renegade Haunt on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. For me, this is a perfect idea: taking advantage of one of the most notable buccaneers to sail the high seas with pirate culture and a shipwreck magnet. And though I'm a bit loath to have other games intrude on Wraith unduly, I like the way he mixed in the Wyld. The characters are excellent (I like how he did Blackbeard, complete with a psychosomatic corpus disorder and a dark secret), and he even threw in a Hierarchy adversary and notes on ship combat. I'm not sure if I like all the plot hooks, but the idea of trying to find Relic treasure that's guarded by dead pirates Fettered to its remains is a real good one. All in all a fun and inspiring read.

The Uprising in Dublin - a Renegade Haunt owned by The Flying Column, courtesy of Jackie Cassada - seems like an excuse to showcase one's favorite Gang. The Shadowlands description of Dublin and the infamous General Post Office (GPO) is fairly good, but I have a real hard time believing that the Hierarchy would just tolerate the Gang taking the Haunt over. The characters seem a little "tossed in" for my style, and the plot points are nothing spectacular.

Finally, we have a Haunt that I really wanted to like: The Khatyn Mir, written by Harry Heckel. The idea of a Haunt - independent, no less - in a real-life graveyard for Russian villages annihilated by the Nazis in WWII was a great thing, Unfortunately, it got preachy at me, and it went downhill from there. I also didn't like the goody-goody nature of a lot of the characters, and it seemed to put way too much emphasis on Baba Yaga, which entailed your having to pick up W:tA's Rage Across Russia to get the whole story. Bleah.

The Appendix, unlike its namesake, was perhaps the most useful part of the book. It told what a Haunt was, what it takes to make one and how much Pathos one tends to have. It even gives a system by which enterprising Wraiths can create a Haunt, which should be of interest to any Boo Job freaks out there. It also gives a warning about how Nihils tend to form in them... moo hoo ha ha.

So - did I get what I was promised from most of the book's Haunts? No, I didn't. Some of them were worth my time to read because they had information or background that I could use, but some of them were just kind of... there. The only Haunts that really inspired me, as presented, were the Hanging Gardens and Blackbeard's Cove, and the only universally useful information was in the Appendix. And given the rich tradition of Haunt stories to be found out there, that's kind of sad.

In essence, Haunts is a ghostly grab-bag. It's worth picking up for some inspiration and a measure of information (and, yes, the Hanging Gardens), but I'm afraid that the chief source of the former will be the burning desire to come up with something a lot better than what you just read (and when you do, send them in to the Wraith Project).

It's a bit of a disappointment, all in all. Given some of the talent involved in the book, I'm sorry to have to give it 2 1/2 skulls out of 5.

Reviews on the Wraith Project are the opinions of those reviewers, and are not necessarily those of the Wraith Project themselves. If you disagree with this review, send in another one. If you still feel like strangling the reviewer, see an analyst.