The Gauntlett
Wraith: The Oblivion is One Game You Have to Play to Believe

Adam Gauntlett | 4 Dec 2014 12:00
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Richard Dansky is one of Wraith's founding fathers. He first started writing for White Wolf back in 1994 as a freelancer, eventually joining the company and becoming one of its most prolific writers and developers. He has developer and writer credits for The Shoah; without him, it would never have been written. These days he's better known for his work with Ubisoft, particularly its Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell franchise, but one of the projects he's working on is the 20th Anniversary edition of Wraith: the Oblivion. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with him about being dead, and all the baggage that comes with it.

Adam Gauntlett: I'm going to start with a quote from Wraith first edition, which I don't think you had a hand in ...

Rich Dansky: The extent of my involvement in first edition was that I knew Jennifer Hartshorn [writer, developer and design credits, 1st edition Wraith: the Oblivion] in college. She asked me a couple questions about horror, because I'd done my thesis on H.P. Lovecraft.

Gauntlett: The quote seems appropriate, and I wanted to ask your opinion. It's from Mark Rein-Hagen's Afterword, and it's as follows: 'Wraith is cursed. There's no other way to say it. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I've never seen anything like it. Contracts got screwed up, schedules got mangled, writers and artists disagreed and everyone involved argued and fought endlessly. Everything good about this project came about only with agonizing effort ...'

Dansky: I think the Wraith curse is a wonderful story, that self-perpetuates. Every project like this that has so many moving parts and so many people involved, in so many different places, is going to have things go wrong. You build a legend like the Wraith curse, and you start looking for confirmation bias. It's like the Bermuda Triangle; no more ships are lost there any given year than anywhere else, but because the legend exists, every ship that's lost there, becomes a part of that legend.

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Gauntlett: I did notice one mention in your biography about your office desk catching fire ...

Dansky: Oh God, that! That was while I was writing Kithbook: Sluagh [Changeling: The Dreaming]. I would stay late at the office and work, and I am one of those pretentious writer types who needs a certain ambience while I'm writing which occasionally includes having candles at the desk to get the mood right. I had a rather large pillar candle on my desk, and I got called away to talk to somebody at the other side of the building. While I was there, apparently the side of the candle sort of collapsed, and all the molten wax streamed out onto the desk, leaving several inches of the wick exposed, which blazed up. There was a lovely call over the P.A.: 'Richard Dansky, please return to your office. Your desk is on fire. Repeat, your desk is on fire.' Why they went to the P.A., rather than getting some water ... that would have been my first reaction!

Gauntlett: I'm sure they were doing the best they could, under the circumstances.

Dansky: The carpet was non-flammable, so I think they felt they were safe!

Gauntlett: That's all right really, as long as the carpet survives! Going back to Wraith, I was re-reading the main book, and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen anything like it in a long time. No mention of any game mechanics whatsoever until Chapter 4, p 96; no mention of Combat until p 218. The Storyteller System games were like that, as I recall, but Wraith spent an awful lot of time world-building.

Dansky: You're going to see more of that in the 20th Anniversary Edition actually. There will be some basic rules material up front, but Wraith is thoroughly character-driven as a game. The player character and its Shadow are the most important aspects to develop; the rules for how to have a firefight, drive a car, the things you'll do moment to moment, yes, those are important, but to a certain extent those are almost endemic to roleplaying. The stuff that's really important to Wraith is who the characters are, and who that voice in the back of their head is, so it makes a lot more sense developing the world and the Restless Dead who are wandering around in it.

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