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Tabletop Game / The Whispering Vault

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"Dangerous Prey", a compendium of Big Bads and other Big Creepy-Crawlies.

The Whispering Vault is a tabletop RPG designed by Mike Nystul and published by Pariah Press and Ronin Publishing.

Player characters were once human, but no longer. They have become Stalkers, god-like beings serving the entities that rule our plane of existence. For these entities, referred to as Aesthetics, sometimes become so engrossed with the reality they have dreamed into existence, that they abandon their position and manifest into our world, causing mayhem and disaster as they do so. It is therefore the player characters' duty to neutralize such rogue demiurges (referred to as the Unbidden), and to lock them up in a transdimensional prison, from where their corrupting whispers can be heard across the planes—hence its name of Whispering Vault.

This tabletop RPG provides examples of:

  • A God Am I: Stalkers are quasi-divine beings. The problem is, their prey's even more powerful.
    • A God Is You: Natural corollary in this case, at least until you run up against the aforementioned "prey."
  • The Alcatraz: The titular Whispering Vault. While very hard to escape, it's possible with the help of foolish mortals; Unbidden who managed to escape are possibly the most dangerous foes in the game.
  • Alien Space Bats: The Aesthetics. Especially when they turn into Unbidden, since, if left unchecked, they may cause serious alterations to our reality's space-time continuum, resulting in the creation of a pocket dimension known as a Shadowland.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Subverted. Human allies of the Stalkers are those from whom new ones are recruited, but since Stalkers are Eldritch Abominations whose mission is to protect the fabric of reality, this is actually a good thing.
  • Another Man's Terror: Masters of the Delve Discipline can read the memories of those who have recently died. Given the gory nature of the Unbidden and their servants, it is not uncommon for a Stalker to witness the victim's blind terror in his or her last moments.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: This is the first step of character creation.
    • It can also be an ending for a character: Stalkers are beings standing between the divine and the mortal, but they can choose to forgo the latter and agree to become full-fledged Aesthetics.In game terms, collecting a substantial number of Karma points between Hunts allows Stalkers to separate themselves from the human fetishes that represent them and that they carry with them (the so-called Keys of Humanity), achieving full divinity. It is not a required path, however, and it is also possible to buy back one's Keys to regain humanity.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Everyone, including Player Characters. Your goal is to keep reality from unraveling, everything else is a (very) distant second. And you're the ones with the most recognisable motivations.
  • Body Horror: A side-effect of the Unbidden's manifestation, but also a deliberate choice of the Stalkers to acquire a monstrous body.
  • Body Snatcher: An Aesthetic who, lured by the creation he has dreamed of, chooses to invade the Flesh Realm becomes an Unbidden. Unlike Stalkers, whose bodies are created specifically for their missions, they do not possess one; to satiate their needs and hunger, the first thing they do, therefore, is devour the first unfortunate person in range to wear their skin. Younger Unbidden constantly consume their bodies through their spiritual energy; it is therefore possible that they may be forced to change bodies several times. The decades spent in the mortal world and the subsequent evolution by the Unbidden can slow down, or even eliminate this need.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Boy, that's some serious case of True Nineties Capitalization. Just consider the premise of the game: The Circle of Stalkers employ a wide array of Disciplines and Servitors to Hunt Creatures of Essence — such as Awakaned Shadows and Unbidden — which meddle with The Realm Of Flesh, creating an Enigma capable of destroying the Dream given enough time.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: The use of almost every firearm in the game — probably aimed at enforcing the Cosmic Horror genre conventions. While the amount of potential destruction they provide is astonishing — up to fourteen dices rolled if you're wielding a futuristic zap gun — their actual amount of damage is conditioned by the two Axioms governing the interactions between creatures of Essence: The Law Of Proximity (which states that ranged attacks are not as effective against the Unseen as hand-to-hand attacks) and the fact that human tools provide less damage against said creatures. In addition, most Stalkers will have forgotten how to fight with the tools of the Flesh and will be at a disadvantage when using them. And of course, since the Hunt can take place in any time of human history, you're not guaranteed to find any such futuristic weapons. A Stalker could still try to Conjure them out of thin air, but the difficulty required by this feat makes the trick hardly reliable.
  • The Corruption: The Unbidden gradually distort reality around them, and warp the minds of humans who follow them.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Stalkers themselves, as well as certain types of Shadows. One tends to become an extremely protective Not-So-Imaginary Friend to children (kinda like an Eldritch Abomination Big Friendly Dog), another is fascinated by Stalkers and will cross over to reality to help should a Stalker be killed in combat. Lots of neutral-ish Shadows can be bargained with.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Unbidden. Stalkers and Shadows as well (in other words, anything not vanilla mortal).
  • Humanoid Abomination: Often a veteran Stalker will become one, as he cares less and less about retaining an outwardly humanoid appearance.
  • Hunter of Monsters: The Stalkers, obviously.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: Karma points are a combination of this and Experience Points: they can be used to re-roll any number of dice, or spent between Hunts to use up one's Keys of Humanity and become a full-fledged Aesthetic. They also turn out to be a measure of a Stalker's adherence to his task: bringing chaos into the mortal world is also punished, in mechanical terms, by not gaining Karma points for the current Hunt.
  • Masquerade Enforcer: For Aesthetics, the sanctity of the Dream and the mortals who inhabit it are the priority. Though mortals can never change their fate, the influence of Essence creatures risks creating incalculable damage to the structure of the Realm of Flesh. This also applies to Stalkers: there are limits to the authority they can exercise. These limitations are expressed by a set of tools collectively known as The Forbiddance. Generally speaking, lifting the Veil in front of a large numbers of people, altering the course of predetermined historical events, or arbitrarily and unnecessarily impacting mortal lives unleashes a series of increasingly intense punishments, from numbness to physical pain, until the violation stops or the Stalker is utterly destroyed.
    • Some of the more intelligent Unbidden try to exploit this mechanism to their advantage, surrounding themselves with human thralls or innocent bystanders and constituting, in their own right, a case of Safety in Muggles
  • Memory Jar: The Stalkers' Keys to Humanity. These represent five aspects of their lost humanity — be they Flaws, Virtues or particularly significant Memories — that constitute their only anchor to their past life, forged into objects they always carry with them (a bunch of five keys, five finger rings and so on). For a Stalker, these are powerful symbols of authority and ties to their human side; to give them up voluntarily is to embrace divinity and become an Aesthetic. But it is also possible that these can be stolen by particularly greedy humans or Essence creatures. The results can be devastating: The Stalker can't spend Karma, use Disciplines, summon Servitors or take any direct action against anyone holding one of his Keys and he will turn to dust and die in two days if the Key is not retrieved. In this sense, the Keys are at the same time a Power Crutch.
  • Mooks: Shadows often serve this role for the Unbidden. They range in power from cannon fodder to Boss in Mook Clothing.
  • One-Winged Angel: Unbidden are initially nearly-mindless but cunning predators called Beasts when they first invade reality, after sating their hunger and remembering why they're there they become Strangers, and when they begin to plot in the long term and learn to manipulate Enigmas they become humanoid Architects.
  • Our Time Machine Is Different: When a Circle of Stalkers receives a request for help from a mortal, the task of transporting them to the right place and time within the Dream is entrusted to a Navigator — a colossal worm-shaped creature whose mouth extends over 30 yards and whose body is seemingly infinite, traversing the Neitherspace between Realms. Said creatures are charged with transporting Stalkers by swallowing them and expelling them to the other side. An experience that the manual does not fail to describe as "unsettling."
  • Place Beyond Time: Where Stalkers dwell until called upon to intervene in mundane reality.
  • Powers That Be: The Aesthetics.
  • Ret-Gone: Under normal circumstances, the result of a successful Hunt against an Unbidden and its crimes: in this case, the Veil will rearrange the memories of humans that were present and gradually heal reality from the effects of corruption. But there is a more tragic case: if the Stalkers fail to stop the effects of the corruption of the Unbidden, it will gradually expand and warp its surroundings until it will be cancelled by The Forbiddance along with the entire place involved - erasing its existence and all those who were involved with it.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: Shadows, half-real things from the shadowy borderlands between the Realm of Aesthetics and the Dream (aka our reality). They usually want in the real world badly, to experience what it feels like to truly exist.
  • Weirdness Censor: The Veil, a force that influences the mortal world and enables, within a certain limit, the masking of supernatural activities that take part in it. The Veil's influence allows mortals' memories to be partially altered, making them more likely to rationalize unexplained events; in addition, indirect physical evidence — such as photos or videos — undergoes the same treatment, appearing as blurred ghosts to the eye of observers. Stalkers have the ability to disguise themselves by wearing the Veil as a protective garment, but they can get rid of it at any time when it comes to combat, if this does not incur a blatant violation of the Dream. The Veil has limits, however: particularly sensitive humans can peek through it, and indiscriminate use of the powers can lift it altogether, leading to the wrath of the Aesthetics.