I Ain’t Afraid of No Wraiths

World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters – yet another Kickstarter project from Onyx Path – is another entry in the extensive 20th Anniversary World of Darkness line. It’s a supplement, rather than a standalone core book, and the front cover bills it as being for Wraith: the Oblivion, which is sort of true but not quite the whole story. It’s a Wraith supplement in the sense that ghost hunters are, specifically, ordinary human beings who go looking for spooks, and in the World of Darkness setting that means that if they find what they are actually looking for, they’ll have turned up a Wraith, or at least something Wraith-related; it’s also thematically something of a reimagining of The Quick and the Dead, the old “here’s the mortals that hunt your particular splat” supplement from the original Wraith line.

On the other hand, it doesn’t absolutely require Wraith. It needs one of the 20th Anniversary core rules to explain the basic system stuff, of course – but you don’t need to use the Wraith one for it, and indeed there’s a little appendix at the end giving a simplified system for statting up spooks to use in conjunction with Ghost Hunters if you don’t have Wraith to hand. This is a little reminiscent of the 1st edition New World of Darkness core rules (before that line got renamed Chronicles of Darkness and had the God-Machine Chronicle folded into its new core rulebook), since that book included some brief rules on ghosts to provide something to investigate or be antagonised by if you were running a mortals-only campaign using only that book.

It’s also tempting to compare this book to The Hunters Hunted, in either its original version or its 20th Anniversary edition update. After all, Hunters Hunted was the original “play mortals hunting the supernatural” supplement for the World of Darkness, and a critically revered one at that, and it kicked off the trend for each of the original World of Darkness games to have an associated supplement on a similar theme, The Quick and the Dead being the one they did for Wraith; this process culminated (as far as the original World of Darkness is concerned) with Hunter: the Reckoning, a game which took the “you are playing mortals hunting the supernatural” concept and botched it by making all the PCs “Imbued” – in other words, a new flavour of supernatural individual with their own special powers.

However, both The Hunters Hunted and Hunter: the Reckoning take an explicitly adversarial take on their subject matter; whilst a Hunters Hunted might not necessarily have the inside scoop on how vampires work, the general assumption is that they either know for a fact that vampires exist and intend to kill vampires or will come to that knowledge (and associated grim mission) comparatively early in the campaign. Hunter: the Reckoning characters literally have voices in their head pointing out monsters and urging them to kill.

Conversely, for the purposes of Ghost Hunters, “hunting” does not automatically mean hunting-as-in-extermination, although it can do; it also encompasses hunting-as-in-seeking. Whilst a Ghost Hunters campaign can either focus on a ghost-busting operation or have the PCs take a more combative approach to the supernatural as matters progress, there is absolutely no reason why it has to, and as I will get into earlier the more natural approach to the book’s material is to kick off your campaign with the PCs as people who are out to uncover evidence of the paranormal, rather than belligerently going out there to punch spectres on the jaw.

In fact, the classic World of Darkness supplement I would compare Ghost Hunters to most directly is the original version of Mummy, in the sense that it is in theory a crossover supplement but is in practice more closely connected to one particular World of Darkness game line, and that it presents an entire alternate mode of play which can feed into the themes of that parent game whilst offering a different take on them.

It also presents a very different spin on the World of Darkness, and a welcome one at that. The world was introduced to the World of Darkness via the original Vampire: the Masquerade, and ever since then the subsequent games have tended to include some form of Masquerade setup (enforced either by social power or the cosmos itself), partially because they’re working in the long shadow of Vampire and that game kind of set the formula for the others, partially because the majority of the other games are still working in a setting which is trying to resemble the real world and so there needs to be some sort of explanation why the presence of these supernaturals doesn’t disrupt that. The major exception is Demon: the Fallen, in which deliberately harvesting faith from people is big and clever and, since it was meant to be the last game line before the literal apocalypse happens, a bunch of freed Demons turning society upside-down is not only not a problem but actively thematically helpful for the purposes of that timeline.

In the early days, the World of Darkness games tended to present what you might call a “quiet Masquerade”, in which deliberate obscurity prevented mortals from stumbling across the supernatural. Ghost Hunters, conversely, suggests in its setting material a world with a “noisy Masquerade” – evidence of genuinely supernatural things floats around in the public sphere all the time, but it’s not actually as much of a problem for those groups who wish to enforce a Masquerade (like the Camarilla or the Technocracy) as you might think because public discussion of the supernatural is absolutely flooded with bullshit, so a genuine video of something spooky but subtle happening is not going to stand out against the noise (and a flashy video will prompt people to assume it’s photoshopped).

This is a handy tweak to assumptions, because it means the broader assumptions of the World of Darkness setting can largely stay in place whilst having lots of loose threads for mortal ghost hunters to tug on and get in over their heads – and that’s exactly what Ghost Hunters is about. Whether your PC group is a polished, professional, academically-inclined investigative outfit, a tacky cable TV show looking for a scoop, a bunch of asshole YouTubers blundering in where they’re not wanted, or psychically gifted mediums, Ghost Hunters proposes a campaign framework where the PCs’ investigations lead them into hauntings, horror, and perhaps the deeper mysteries of the World of Darkness.

Hints are included on how other splats might interact with ghosts (and ghost hunters), but by and large the book can be used in a fairly self-contained fashion, bar for the system details which you’ll need to refer to other rulebooks for; as with The Hunters Hunted, a range of “numina” (little supernatural edges) are presented for those who want PCs with a bit of a psychic edge, but these are wholly optional. You also get some nice bits of ghost-hunting kit, profiles of organisations who work in the field, and so on. (There’s even references to the Orpheus Group, but no full lowdown on them, since that was already provided in the appendices to 20th Anniversary Wraith.)

The general concept of Ghost Hunters will immediately make sense if you’ve watched even one of the various cheap TV ghost-hunting shows out there – or, for that matter, any of the innumerable found footage horror movies and YouTube series out there which use the old “ghost-hunting show finds more than it was expecting” premise, and tonally speaking the book is perfect for this purpose. The fact that it’s attached to the 20th Anniversary World of Darkness lines means that there’s ample scope to go “Surprise! It was actually a vampire/werewolf/mage/fomori/demon/changeling all along!” if you want, which is certainly handy.

Despite a timeline of famous ghost hunters early on including thinly-veiled versions of Ghostbusters, The X-Files, and Supernatural as canon events, the tone is generally a bit more serious than you’d expect from the Ghostbusters RPG (or the much more easily available retroclone Spooktacular), as you would expect from the World of Darkness lines, so if you are comfortable with the system and want to either run a mortal-focused campaign or a one-shot about a ghost hunt that goes wrong, Ghost Hunters is a decent option.

One thought on “I Ain’t Afraid of No Wraiths

  1. Pingback: Routinely Itemised: RPGs #129

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