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Tabletop Game / Orpheus

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Don't look back.

The last original gaming line to be set in the Old World of Darkness, and the first White Wolf attempt at a "limited run" game.

While Orpheus does tie in loosely with White Wolf's previous effort at the afterlife, Wraith: The Oblivion, it is not treated as a true sequel or continuation. It tackles the world of the dead following the events of the Sixth Great Maelstrom, an ethereal storm that practically obliterated the Shadowlands.

Into this turbulence enters the Orpheus Group. Orpheus has learned and perfected the art of projection, allowing specially-trained people who have undergone Near Death Experiences to leave their bodies and enter the spirit realm. Along with allied ghosts, Orpheus' living agents are contracted out to clients; they investigate hauntings, fumigate raging ghosts, and deal with other spooky spirit-related tasks. It sounds simple, but as the story progresses, things get complicated as the enemies get stronger, corruption becomes rampant, allies fall to the darkness and the line between the worlds of the living and dead begins to blur...

Orpheus player characters are defined by two factors: The first is their Lament, or way they interact with the dead. Once they figure out how to do so, characters can then access their Shade, a manifestation of their personalities that dictates the awesome and unearthly abilities, called Horrors, that they can access in death. Horrors sound cool and useful, but do come at a price, as they can raise a character's Spite, putting them closer to spiritual corruption, or can cause them to burn out their willpower or even their ghostly existence.

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  • Skimmers, living people able to kick their spirit from their body temporarily.
  • Sleepers, cryogenically-frozen to the point of death, upon which they can roam free from their bodies.
  • Spirits, good old-fashioned ghosts who happen to have a strong will and sense of self.
  • Hues, spirits who have been tainted with darkness via pigment, a designer drug with sinister properties.

There are five shades in the core book, though the final total is brought up to eight through the other volumes, noted below.
  • Banshees are largely empathetic and compassionate people, skilled at communication. Through their voices, they can do damage, manipulate people, and look into the past or future.
  • Haunters tend to be wandering loners, giving them an affection for things over people. As a result, they can possess, control, and eventually become machinery and electricity.
  • Poltergiests often are frustrated with their place in the world, and tend to lash out or rebel. They start with the classic "throw things" abilities, but can ultimately twist around entire environments.
  • Skinriders are usually control freaks and tend to be skilled at exploiting others. This makes it easy for them to become gifted in possessing and manipulating the bodies of the living.
  • Wisps seek social connections and tends towards charm or trickery. Along with serving as hypnotic "Will-o'-the-Wisps", they also pull stunts to disappear... or make other things disappear.
  • Phantasms, introduced in the supplement Shades of Gray, show a strong passion for art and creation. This allows them to create illusions and manipulate the minds and dreams of others.
  • Marrows, introduced in the supplement End Game, are open-minded and flexible, but also close to more base natures. They can shapeshift and have powers over the ghosts of creatures.
  • Orphan-Grinders, introduced in the book of the same name, are a special category of Shade; these poor souls were humans who fell into darkness and became Spectres, but something inside them desired to return and so they fought their way back to humanity, for better or worse. Because of their past affiliation, Orphan-Grinders are skilled at negotiating around and through Spectres.

Orpheus was notable for dropping the World of Darkness standby of The Masquerade— humanity was quite aware of the dead as the setting's run began. It also was perhaps the Old World of Darkness setting most devoted to excluding the others — little, if any, crossover advice were given, and the Core book states outright that if you want them to exist in your game, the Orpheus characters would be heavily outmatched as they are essentially plain, run-of-the-mill humans.

Only six gaming books (the core book and five supplements), plus a fictional anthology, Haunting the Dead, were released. The Orpheus story is more directed than past World of Darkness games, and completely told through the six books, via role-playing scenarios, fiction, and a set of signature characters. In many ways, Orpheus was a model for how the New World of Darkness would be marketed, especially the limited run of books and each splat forwarding the story while adding new concepts. Just as Orpheus played with concepts from Wraith, ideas from both Wraith and Orpheus would resurface in Geist: The Sin-Eaters for the New World of Darkness.

Orpheus still has a devoted fanbase, some overlapping with Wraith and many for the game in and of itself. Of course, there's also a bit of a Hatedom: some from Wraith's firmer fans, and some Old World of Darkness stalwarts who dismiss it as not truly a part of their beloved setting.

Orpheus returns in an appendix to the Wraith 20th anniversary edition, which is set prior to the Sixth Great Maelstrom and the events of the Orpheus gameline. While it is largely the same rules-wise, some changes were made. Shades still exist, but Wraith Arcanoi are substituted in place of the original abilities where relevant, and most of the Shade types are already known, apart from the Orphan-Grinders, who haven't been discovered or do not exist. While it modernizes the setting to deal with things like social media and smartphones, it also moves the timeline of the game back to where Orpheus is the only company to have discovered these powers so far, and are just beginning to experiment with journeys into the Shadowlands. The Deathlords who rule over the Western afterlife are both frightened... and intrigued.

The game settings and scenarios change greatly from the corebook to the final volume, so beware of spoilers for the later volumes below.

This game contains examples of:

  • Alien Geometries: Escher's Corkscrew, the Crucible Horror for Haunters, allows them to cause these.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Orpheus Group tries to use this whenever possible to get rid of ghosts. The other afterlife companies... not so much.
  • Blessed with Suck: A number of character types, but the Skimmer and Sleeper Laments stand out:
    • As a Skimmer, you can enter and leave your body at will. However, any damage you take as a spirit reflects on your physical body. In addition, they are literally hanging by a thread to their bodies, so if that thread is somehow cut, they have a hell of a time going back.
    • Sleepers don't have to worry about damage to their physical forms, but if they need to return to the world of the living in a hurry, they're going to have to wait a few hours, whether they want to or not.
    • Hues get a particularly nasty one if using the Wraith 20th rules. As wraiths operating on Wraith rules, Hues have Shadows... only they don't know it. Their particular Shadow Archetype is called the Quiescent, and it works by shutting the hell up or just speaking at the same volume as all the Hue's other thoughts. Since Hues aren't aware they have an Enemy Within, they're more vulnerable to falling to it, especially if they like to call on their Stains.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Vitality acts as fuel for ghostly Horrors as well as the health meter for Spirits, Hues, and projected Sleepers (Skimmers get actual health levels instead). When Vitality runs out, whether expended on powers or taken away by damage, the ghost ceases to exist. Spite can be used as an emergency net, but this comes with its own set of problems.
  • Chained by Fashion: Lawgivers, direct servants of Grandmother, are wrapped by chains symbolizing their imprisonment and absolute connection to her.
  • Closed Circle: Low-level spirits who can only re-enact their deaths will do so unless acted upon by some means, such as Vitality.
  • Cool Car: The Hell On Wheels Horror for Haunters allows them to literally transform into one of these.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • Terrell & Squibb and NextWorld are two other companies in the post-life game, but with much less savory practices. And it's not like Orpheus had its hands clean either.
    • In one of the few wink-and-nods to the other Old World of Darkness games, the corebook notes that the Orpheus campus backs up to a facility owned by a company named Pentex.
  • The Corruption: In the form of Spite; the more a ghost accumulates, the closer they come to turning into a twisted, depraved Spectre.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • Orphan-Grinders, Spectres who have been reminded of their lives and renounced Oblivion. They keep the general, mutated appearance of their Oblivion-tainted forms, and retain access to Spectre powers, but they're no better or worse than any other ghost.
    • Weirdly, Grandmother herself, to an extent. See Obliviously Evil.
  • The Dark Side: Each Orpheus agent can manifest Stains — dark, intrinsic powers. However, Stains breed Spite, so they are best used lightly.
  • Dark World: The Shadowlands, the true realms of the dead, which are blocked by the impassible Stormwall.
  • Dead to Begin With: Several of the Laments and Shades, most notably Spirits, Hues, and Orphan-Grinders.
  • Disintegrator Ray: The Consume Horror for Wisps allows them to weaken or destroy things with a single touch.
  • Dream Weaver: The Sandman Horror for Phantasms.
  • Don't Look Back: Unsurprisingly, the main back-cover slogan.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Grandmother. Doesn't sound so threatening, does it? Yeah. This thing created the Neverborn, its own baby abominations. And the reason it's called Grandmother is because the people who heard the Spectres talk about it mispronounced the name — it's not Grandma, it's Grand Maw.
  • Empathic Environment: Banshees can cause the Stormwall to tear open and release its power as their Crucible Horror.
  • Evil Twin: The Spirit lament's disadvantage is a Spectre reflection of themselves that is literally made of their negative emotions. They look like the character, have all of their abilities, know exactly what to do to hurt them the most, and cannot be permanently destroyed. It should say something about how nasty this can be that this is a Spirit's only disadvantage.
  • Familiar: Marrows can summon these using their second-tier Horror of the same name.
  • Fantastic Drug: Pigment, heroin infused with the strange qualities of the Shadowlands. Anyone who overdoses on it becomes a "Hue," a ghost that has an easier time accessing Stains.
  • Faux Flame: The usual appearance of a manifesting Wisp, as well as the armor used by Skinriders activating the Juggernaut Horror.
  • Functional Magic: Horrors, ghostly abilities that rely on life energy.
  • Ghost City: The Necropolis of New York City is doubly this after the last Maelstrom fuses almost all of the ghosts inhabiting it into the infrastructure of the city itself. You basically have a dead city made of ghosts in the world of the dead.
  • Ghostly Goals:
    • Most average ghosts that Orpheus agents help seem to fall into the Type A category, simply wanting to move on after their deaths but not knowing how.
    • There are several notable Type B's, such as Uriah Bishop and his followers, who either kill because they enjoyed it while alive, or because doing so gets them in better with a certain all-consuming Eldritch Abomination.
  • Hammerspace: The Beckon Relic Horror appears to allow Wisps to reach through a dimensional rift and pull out an object. The catch is they don't get to choose what comes out.
  • Haunted Technology: The Inhabit Horror for Haunters allows them to possess and control inanimate objects.
  • The Heartless: Spectres, born of nightmares, pain, and rage. Then again, it might not be too late for some of them.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Late into the line, it's revealed that some Spectres are able to regain control over themselves and remember who they were in life, abandoning Oblivion and becoming Orphan-Grinders.
  • Hellgate: Banshees can open holes in the Stormwall if they are powerful enough. Naturally occurring holes can also be found in Spectre hives.
  • Hellish Horse: The Hellion Horror for Orphan-Grinders allows them to summon a customized ghostly equine companion to assist them. Say, for example, you need a flaming horse with fangs...
  • Hive Mind: Carried over from Wraith, all Spectres are part of one, connected to the others with various degrees of strength. This serves as their major strength, since they can coordinate massive attacks with a frightening degree of control, and any Spectre in distress can immediately alert all of the others. It also serves as a weakness down the line when the Neverborn split into factions against Grandmother; because they all share the same mind, they also can't keep secrets from each other regarding their plans of invasion and weaknesses.
  • Human Popsicle: The Sleeper lament. Orpheus was originally a company that specialized in freezing the terminally ill, accidentally discovering ghostly projection in the process.
  • Induced Hypochondria: The Contaminate Horror for Skinriders allows them to fake both illnesses and cures.
  • I See Dead People: Living agents can eventually see the world of the dead overlapping the world of the living in their normal vision.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Regular ghosts, especially low-level ones, usually appear as they did when or just before they died.
  • Living Bodysuit: The Doppelganger Horror for Skinriders allows them to create these from a fragment of DNA from a living person.
  • Master of Illusion: The Bedlam Horror for Phantasms, which can affect all five senses if enough Vitality is spent.
  • Mind over Matter: The Helter Skelter Horror for Poltergeists essentially acts as this, via special "silver threads" that manipulate physical objects.
  • Near-Death Experience:
    • The Sleeper and Skimmer laments are living people who can temporarily kick their spirits out of their bodies. Skimmers can do so pretty much at will, while Sleepers need to be put into cryosleep.
    • All Orpheus agents, as well as those from other projection agencies, have undergone at least one of these in their normal lives before working for Orpheus.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: The Clay Jars Crucible Horror for Marrows allows them to temporarily raise the dead as zombie minions.
  • Obliviously Evil: Grandmother honestly doesn't understand that things not a part of the Hive Mind she embodies are separate sapient entities, and even devouring rogue elements of the Spectres are her just pruning cancerous growths and mental dysfunctions-and even beyond that, she's also a maternal figure who desires to create, and wishes to eat the world so that she may have enough energy to do so on cosmic levels. One of the good endings of the metaplot involves showing her that other beings exist and her eating them causes pain, at which point she happily forms a truce with existence.
  • Off the Grid: With the destruction of Orpheus in Crusade of Ashes, most refugees from Orpheus chose to do this for a while to hide from any number of earthly entities who want to ask more questions about what happened... or finish the job.
  • One to Million to One: The Legion-Born Horror for Marrows allows them to become a group of small creatures under one mind that they can split into to avoid damage or escape a tight situation.
  • Playing with Fire: The Witch's Nimbus Horror for Haunters. Also has an electrical variant.
  • Please Keep Your Hat On: When the sinister but polite Mr. Jigsaw takes his hat off, he's not being polite. He's about to split his body into a giant mouth and consume someone. Maybe you.
  • Ride the Lightning: The Broadband Ghost Horror for Haunters allows them to travel through wires and devices as currents.
  • Screw Destiny: The Pandemonium Horror for Banshees allows them to tweak the present to change the future.
  • Seers: The Forebode Horror for Banshees allows them to temporarily resonate with the past or see visions of the future.
  • Splat: Orpheus operators are defined by their Shade (what kind of ghostly powers they manifest) and their Lament (their current vital status).
  • Split Personality: Flatliner Jeffrey Rose, a serial killer with seven other personalities who are all serial killers as well. After his death, his spirit form develops yet another personality, though this one is dedicated to destroying Spectres.
  • Super-Scream: The Wail Horror for Banshees does physical damage under the right circumstances.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Replace "food and drink" with "pigment"; adding strychnine to it leads to the horrific results of "The Pale Horse" scenario in Shades of Gray.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The Storm-Wending Horror for Wisps allows them to teleport at will.
  • Undead Child: Lost Boys, the ghosts of children who have been manipulated into becoming Spectres.
  • Unfinished Business: All ghosts in Orpheus have this in some fashion, even the high-level, proactive ones.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Flesh-Flux Horror for Marrows allows them to change their shape or use Stains with no penalty.
  • Wham Episode: The beginning of each supplement has one to kick off the potential events along each part of the storyline:
    • Crusade of Ashes has NextWorld lead an army of Spectres into Orpheus during the office Christmas party, killing most of the other agents and leaving the player characters as the company's only survivors, as well as major murder suspects.
    • Shades of Gray deals with a mass poisoning via pigment that, if unstopped, allows Spectres to create their first hive.
    • Shadow Games has a large piece of debris from the world of the dead cause a massive catastrophe in both the spirit and living worlds.
    • The Orphan-Grinders begins with a huge invasion of Spectres that represents the first direct attack from the Underworld.
    • End Game deals with a massive breach in the Stormwall, a civil war between the Spectres of the Malfeans versus those of Grandmother, and the innocents who get caught in the way.
  • Who You Gonna Call?: Orpheus offers discreet services as councilors and "fumigators" for restless spirits.
  • Will-o'-the-Wisp: Wisps gain access to a particularly hypnotic variety that recalls their nickname.