The Risen

"A tad bit overhyped, but definitely worth having in your Wraith library... adequately presents a compelling - and player-enticing - phenomenon of the World of Darkness."


Reviewed by J. Edward Tremlett

The Risen is, for many Wraith fans, a bit of a Holy Grail. Everyone talks about the walking dead, everyone's curious about the rules that govern them, and almost everyone - even those who don't play Wraith - wants a copy: so much so that, in the past, folks have been willing to pay close to $100 US on eBay to get a copy. It easily ranks up there with Dark Reflections: Spectres on the Must Have list. (And, yes, anyone who really liked The Crow probably wanted a copy for obvious reasons)

But that leaves you to wonder - is the fuss over the book just a bunch of hype, or is it really worth that much attention and/or cash?

As those of us who were into the scene from the start can tell you, the answer is no and yes/no, respectively. Yes, there's good substance to be had here, and it's well worth your time to read it. However, I wouldn't pay more than $50 US for it, as - to be honest - it isn't the absolute best RPG book in the world, nor is it something that should be wiggled under someone's nose to get them into 'proper' Wraith. But The Risen gives you just what you'd want to get Wraiths into mixed-WOD games, and is both very useful and a hell of a lot of creepy fun.

Before we start, there's something that should be covered about the Risen, themselves: are they too powerful? Some have accused this book as being a power-gamer's dream, and suspected White Wolf of trying to make a high-powered knock-off of the The Crow to boost sales. Was writing a book about them sort of the equivalent of making a whole book about Abominations for Werewolf: the Apocalypse?

In terms of the power issue, I would say no... and yes.

As a starting character a Risen has two clear advantages over other WOD denizens: no wound penalties for damage (unless, of course, that damage is Aggravated) and the ability to use Arcanoi and Disciplines. But given that a starting Risen only has 15 Freebies to play around with, which can buy either two dots in Disciplines or three dots in Arcanoi, that doesn't seem too powerful. And when you stack that up against gaining twice as much Angst, needing to hang onto the Conduit and still having to deal with the Shadow, amongst other problems, those advantages don't seem very advantageous after all.

But note that I was talking about a STARTING character. A Risen who's managed to last long enough to get some serious dots in Disciplines, not to mention levels of Fascinate and/or Serendipity, can be a real bear to deal with. In theory, most Risen would be long done before they got that far, but you never know.

So it is conceivable that a player's Risen could turn into a bad-ass killing machine who's going to make your Chronicle difficult to ST with a straight face. But I think that if you keep the downsides and problems in the forefront of the Chronicle, rather than an afterthought in the back, the ass-kicking will be kept to a minimum as the Wraith realizes how bad a deal she's made with her devil.

(And, as for the notion of the "rip-off," I should point out that - as the Recommended Reading plainly shows - the notion of the walking dead in both movies and works of literature has been around for far longer than J. O. Barr. There are a few noticeable similarities between the Risen and The Crow, obviously, but there's similarities everywhere in pop culture. Just deal with it, already.)

Now - the book itself.

The Risen gets off to a great start, artistically speaking, right from the cover. In fact, this is one of the few Wraith books where I have no real complaints about any of the art. Some of the smaller pieces have been duplicated in half-tones at the ends of the chapters, as if to make up for a lack of art in other places, but it works. And even those pieces that don't seem to have much to do with Risen are eerie and evocative enough to work with the book. The typography is also legible and easy going. Good show on both counts for presentation.

First up is Ghost Story: A New Life, which is pretty darn good. It runs a bit long - or seems to, anyway - but spells out what could be a typical case of someone Rising, complete with a Shadow's perverting the whole affair in a rather tragic, gruesome fashion. This sets the tone for the rest of the book, and does so very well: making it clear that with the new opportunity comes a great deal of danger.

The Introduction is short, sharp and very much to the point. The suggested reading list is a really good, classical one that crosses over genres; Reading what's listed there could only help come up with a Risen Chronicle, or at least put a spin on your own Risen character so it doesn't come off as a Crow knock-off.

Chapter One: A Lust for Life, provides a general overview of The Risen, peppered with occasional rules and cryptic asides. My only complaint is that the chapter's narrator is a vampire, rather than a Wraith. It would have been a heck of a lot more interesting to have this told by a Hierarch or a Renegade, or maybe even a former Risen. But other than that flaw, the chapter reads fairly well and provides a good introduction to the whole idea.

Next up is Chapter Two: The Art of Rising from the Grave. This is where the true meat and bones of the book begins. The chapter covers the requirements for rising, and what happens immediately after (getting the conduit, getting out of your coffin, modern embalming practices, etc.) This is, in some ways, a retelling from what we had in Chapter One, but this time you get the dice rolls.

The chapter also has how to make a Risen character, along with Merits and Flaws. These character creation rules follow the 1st Edition format, so you'd have to update them a little to fit in the 2nd ed. Information on which Arcanoi the Risen can use, and the details on the two "Risen Only" Arcanoi of Fascinate and Serendipity, are given at the end of it. In truth, I'm not certain that including those two Arcanoi was such a good idea, as they seem like an attempt to replicate the Vampiric Discipline of Dominate (Fascinate) and play around with the ST's schedule of events (Serendipity). However, as far as 'kewl powerz' go, they're not terrible in small doses.

Chapter Three: In the Skinlands gives you all the information about being in the Skinlands. This includes such topics as using Lifesight and Deathsight, relations with your Conduit, the ins and outs of Disciplines, combat, damage, Catharsis... and so on. It also handles their relations with other members of the WOD, the elusive mystery of Transcendence (or failure) and quite a few Story ideas - some of which were obvious, and some of which are pretty good.

This chapter, much like Chapter Two, is indispensable information, and is very jam-packed - maybe a little TOO jam-packed. I think they could have been split up into three chapters and had their information a little better organized, so you're not going from one to the other to find out what you need to know in a jam.

Chapter Four is The Shine of Dead Eyes, providing sample characters. They're all pretty decent, and I especially like the Occultist and the Navy Officer. However, I have one problem: out of the five of them, there's only two that have non-stereotypical driving passions: Protect (love) as opposed to Destroy (revenge). Earlier in Chapter Two, we're told that coming back from the dead isn't always about pulling a Crow on your killer(s), and asked to imagine some non-homicidal possibilities. So I'd have liked to see some more variation on that theme, here - maybe having one or two killers and four to three alternatives.

Likewise, the Appendix: Stories of the Risen is filled with killers. All four of the people there are either ones who came back for love and then killed everyone in their way, or else came back to kill and haven't stopped. At least Eric Draven knew when to lie down and call it a night! But then, they do make good 'boogeymen' to have show up in the Chronicle, or have prospective Risen seek out for advice, so I'm not too uppity about that. Really...

A tad bit overhyped, but definitely worth having in your Wraith library, The Risen is a book that has survived the change between Editions fairly well and adequately presents a compelling - and player-enticing - phenomenon of the World of Darkness. In terms of presentation, the writing, organization and theme continuity could have been better, but while this isn't Guildbook: Haunters, it's not Guildbook: Sandmen, either. I give The Risen three and a half skulls out of five.

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