The Nameless Horror We Call Love

A Look at Using Romantic Love as Horror in Wraith: the Oblivion


J. Edward Tremlett


Stare deeper blank mirror
Hating a vacant heart
You're going down!
Who has a hold of you
Touching you and molding you?
Tell us why you're all to blame

"Fangs of Love" - My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult

Wraith: the Oblivion takes place within the World of Darkness: a worst-case scenario setting where danger lurks around corners, terror and horror wait in the wings and cynicism and graft bind the hearts of the masses. No one in their right mind would want to live there, and it's not always a pleasant place to visit, either.

Love can seem powerful in such a world, because it often appears to be the only thing that can conquer all obstacles, or at least keep people going long enough to do it themselves. Seen through the lens of the WOD, love can shatter mountains, rebuild bridges and ignite the fire of the heart. It's often the only thing truly worth living for, fighting for, and on occasion dying for.

In a game like Wraith, where the dead can be brought back and kept going by love alone, its perceived power is magnified. Love becomes both inner beacon and supernatural engine to a Wraith whose Passions or Fetters are based in that emotion. And if that love is tended to, and honed, it can sometimes make all the difference in an otherwise-uncaring world.

However, love is not always kind: "'s brutal - It distorts and deranges," as the Eurythmics reminded us, back in the 80's. Love makes us do stupid things, hang out with the wrong people and give everything we have - and sometimes more - just for the hope of having the other person love us back. Love can often hurt, and sometimes it maims, and kills...

As Wraith is, at its core, a horror game, it only makes sense that Storytellers and their Troupes take advantage of everything on their character sheets to keep that horror going. And there's no reason why Love, as a concept, shouldn't be on the table with the rest of the goods.

Of course, you can always put the loved one in dire peril, have her date a serial killer or gang-banger, or get hooked on hard drugs. But throughout all these perils, the strong love of the Wraith becomes the imperiled lover's salvation. The supernatural energy created by the Passion or Fetter fuels the Wraith, enabling her to interfere, and the horror is momentarily abated by the power of love.

That's not what we're talking about here. We're interested in making the love itself part of the horror: being truly shackled by love, rather than just being tied up in it. So we've cooked up some thumbnail ideas on how to do just that, listed in order from bad to worse.


Love's Warning

It should go without saying that love gone bad and wrong can be a real downer in any WOD Chronicle. A Storyteller should double - or triple - the anticipated down when running Wraith, and then decide if it's the sort of thing her players would really enjoy, before asking if they'd like to give it a try.

The Things You Said

The Wraith loved her partner, but did her partner love her? What could be worse than finding out, once you're dead and gone, that the person you shared a bed with truly loathed you towards the end of your days? That the lover was secretly preparing a suitcase run to the airport and a trip back to the parents, or a new lover's...?

A Wraith who has a Love Passion for that person is going to have to face these harsh facts - the emotional equivalent of a kick in the crotch - every time she goes by to tend that Passion. And while she can't help but feel love for the person, that love will become corrupted: tied up with various other emotions that may mirror the Shadow's own, Dark Passions.

Sooner or later the Shadow is going to make some pointed suggestions about the ungrateful bitch and her new lover. How long can the Wraith hold out...?


The Downward Spiral

People change over time, and sometimes not for the better. The Wraith's death might trigger an emotional collapse that leads the lover to a less lovable persona, or harden her to the point of becoming a cruel, uncaring individual. Or maybe the lover will grieve normally, get back to her life, and morph into a total bastard from other reasons?

Whatever sparks it, there's little worse than discovering that the person you loved is no longer that person, and no longer lovable. If the Wraith were still alive, she might instigate a breakup or get a divorce, but that is not really an option when it comes to Passions. The Wraith must slowly realize that the living change all the time, while the dead are often fossilized in their ways after a few years.


Dirty Little Secrets

Many times, when a loved one dies, the living wonder if she can see them, now, and will think less of them for all the terrible things they do. In Wraith, this is quite possible, and just as it's often a sad thing to discover what people really thought of you, it's also soul-shocking to discover what those same people are really like when no one's around to watch {they think}.

You could probably cue any number of standard indiscretions, here: the Wraith discovers her partner's long-time affair{s}, true sexual orientation, illicit addictions or terrible secrets. But what if the loved one was secretly engaged in some kind of really awful thing? The sort of thing you wouldn't want to go to jail over, for fear of being killed in disgust by other inmates?

Can the Wraith feel love while holding back ectoplasmic vomit? Will she try to change her lover's errant ways, or realize she has to accept this truth for what it is, and her lover the way she is? Worse still, what if she begins to find the aberrant behavior to be just a little more desirable, each and every time she exercises her Love passion around the freak?


Drowning Ophelia

The death of a loved one is a very traumatic experience, and some people just never get over it. Grief and melancholy are par for the course in Wraith, but one would hope the living could grieve, escape their melancholia and then begin to heal. Sadly, this is not always the case.

So imagine the Wraith's lover is distraught over the Wraith's death - so distraught that she's seriously contemplating suicide, or else so unmotivated that she's just wasting away in her apartment, and shunning all human contact. But if the Wraith tries to help her in an overt way {such as Embodying}, she might just rekindle the grieving lover's desire to be with her, and create another suicide attempt while trying to stop it.

Storytellers should be careful about this complication: it can become something of a nuisance, rather than a plot point, if the Wraith is always having to zip back to her lover's apartment to stop her from drinking draino.


Shadow of Love

In many cases, the Shadow takes the form of the Wraith's worst side - the dark, depressing and dangerous "truth" that she either shied away from in life, or embraced. However, there are times when the Shadow wears the face of another. And while the Shadow may be the Psyche's "bad" side, as same as any other Wraith's, it speaks through another's lips, and with that other's words, adding to the character's inner turmoil.

So imagine this: the Wraith's first love was tragically lost, long ago, and though she's gone on with her life she still thinks of that lost, true love. Then she dies, only to have that love re-appear in her head, and she's a real bitch sometimes...

Or... the Wraith lost someone she loved, and she herself was directly responsible. When she dies, and crosses over into the Shadowlands, her loved one is there, in her head, constantly reminding her of how she screwed up, and suggesting some interesting ways to "atone..."

This sort of thing works best with a new Wraith, who doesn't know what the Shadow really is, or else a headstrong Wraith who doesn't care to have the Pardoners telling her what's what. On the other hand, a ghost's capacity for self-delusion can be nearly endless, so it's not inconceivable that a Lemure could still be enthralled to the dark, angry lover in her head.


Love in a Void

Another option is to have the deceased lover turn up in the chronicle as a Spectre. Such a discovery is sure to play havoc with the Wraith's unlife - especially if she falls victim to the creature's wiles, or refuses to believe she's in love with a homicidal, suicidal and insane ghost.

This option works best if the Spectre is of a high caste, and still has her wits about her: she's more likely to have survived the Labyrinth, that way, and can try to tempt the Wraith into joining "the right side." Will the Wraith take her up on it? And if the Spectre gets found out, will the Wraith try to stop the inevitable Doomslaying?


Give Me My Money Back, You Bitch

Some players might want to renegotiate their Passions once they discover how bad this "love" thing is fucking their Wraiths up. After all, if the spook hears that the person she lived for is happy she's dead, couldn't the shock turn "Look after my S.O.: LOVE - 5" into something else? And if the Fetter's intent on killing herself, can't she just cut her off before the inevitable Harrowing?

The sad answer is "no." Wraiths are held back from moving on by the immense strength of their feelings and attachments, regardless of how good they are for them, or how strongly they're returned. And if the player designed the Wraith to have a Love Passion at 4 or 5 for someone that turned out to be totally unrequited... well, she's kind of stuck with that.

{And while she could pay a Monitor to cut off her Fetter... isn't that kind of suicidal in and of itself?}

The good news is that it is possible for a Wraith to develop new Passions and Fetters as the old ones wither away. Indeed, the act of sloughing away a former "lover" in favor of something - or someone - much better is ripe with roleplaying possibilities.

But for the time being, the core of the Wraith's very being is tied up with loving and/or being tied to that ungrateful bitch or bastard. And the Shadow is going to take very keen advantage of it.