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Wraith: The Oblivion was published by White Wolf Games in 1994, but cancelled in 1999. Many of the books during the run show signs of being compressed together. While White Wolf typically published one book for each clan, bloodline, creed, etc., for Wraith two guilds were often smashed into one book. Wikipedia says that more books were planned, but never published.

Why was Wraith cancelled early? Wikipedia also mentions it was nominated for some awards, and it seems like a fairly novel game in some regards. It has a unique character that really sets it apart. I haven't played it, but reading the books doesn't reveal anything telling - it seems to use the same system as other White Wolf games with some reskinning.

Things I've tried:

  • I've tried asking the proprieters of my local game stores. They either don't know anything, or remember that it sold poorly with no real explanation.
  • I've asked around my local World of Darkness tables. Many of the oldbies were playing in the 1990's, but none admit to having played the game. Their responses mostly came down to "everyone knows this game sucks", with no explanation of why.
  • White Wolf advertised some listservs in its game books, but I haven't been able to find archives of them.
  • I've read some reviews of Wraith. Most of them are rather artistic or critical in nature, rather than something that I suspect reflects the real played experience of actual tables. Additionally, none of them describe the game's failure or why it was cancelled.

So what happened? Why was Wraith cancelled?

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Wraith was challenging to run, and didn’t offer the same social rewards as Vampire, Werewolf, or Mage.

As an "oldbie" of the era, Wraith was my jam. I remember going and acquiring it the day it came out (along with R. Talsorian Games' Castle Falkenstein) and reading it straight through, cover to cover, until the sky got dark. I was connected to the White Wolf community of the day, I hung out in the online places where the creators gathered, and eventually worked at and managed game stores where World of Darkness books were sold. I was there when Ends of Empire came out. Here are my recollections:

  • Wraith 1E is aggressively anti-power-fantasy. The fiction surrounding the characters emphasizes how awful the world you're stuck in is. If the Camarilla is oppressive tyranny, the Hierarchy is even more so. In Vampire, you can become blood bound, or killed in a fight. In Wraith, not only can you be enslaved, fall into Oblivion, or end up betraying yourself via your Shadow's imprecations…you can be minted into a coin. That's a rough world to willingly involve yourself in.
  • Wraith is low powered, and doesn't lend itself to crossover well. It was common wisdom that the games weren't meant to mix, but in the early days, everyone wanted to do it, and people who saw the escalation from Vampire: the Masquerade to Werewolf: the Apocalypse to Mage: the Ascension were disappointed at how frail, how vulnerable wraiths were. (There's an entire clan dedicated to bossing you around. Good luck in those games.) One- and two-dot arcanoi are parlor tricks, and even if you're the group's dedicated spy/infiltrator, you end up frustrating the Storyteller, who can't challenge you effectively without hosing the other players. Also, the presence of fetters means that even if you want to go with the rest of the group, it was hard to make that happen.
  • Shadowguiding is amazing, but it came out before the idea of collaborative "play-to-lift" was commonplace, which means you had a lot of players Shadowguiding aggressively or in ways that were really competitive. Caused some bad feelings.
  • The initial products were weird. The oversized art book. The guide to romantic RP. The front cover of the book had the title in a weird font in invisible glow-in-the-dark ink. There were a lot of products that didn't sell because of their niche, and they didn't have an easy outlet for the books of extra powers. What's more, since most of the game's cool stuff was in an alternate fantasy world, a lot of word count went to describing all the strangeness, whereas the other WoD games could rely on "it's the real world plus."
  • It was 1994, and all the money in the world was going to Magic: the Gathering. Without the audience uptake, there wasn't a lot of books out there in the wild, so momentum didn't carry forward.

So, in the end, Wraith wasn't sexy. It was hard to integrate into mixed games. The story of "My victory condition is leaving the game" was not easy to sell people on. In an industry predicated on the periodical model, there wasn't a lot of stuff to buy. And the audience it would have needed to survive didn't really coalesce until a decade later, when it was too late.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I know VtM is Vampire the Masquerade (only because I've seen a live-play game of it on Critical Role), but what exactly are your other abbreviations, WtA and MtA? I assume Werewolf something and Mage something, but it would be nice to use their full names and maybe include links to their wikipedia so future readers can more easily find them. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jul 12 '20 at 7:50

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