Well, look. I mean, is he gonna be able to chase us? Cause if I woke
up lookin' like that, I would just run towards the nearest living thing and
-Master Shake, Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Wraeththu is possibly one of the most
disturbing games that you will ever play, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
Actually, let me rephrase that: Wraeththu is the most disturbing game that you
will ever read, as there’s little to no chance that you’re ever going to be
able to find people who want to play it.
It originally started life as a
fanfiction guide, or so I’m to understand, and slowly morphed into a
role-playing game as Gabriel Strange decided that he could graft an old system
of his onto it. Eventually, it ballooned into a 430-page game, complete with
its own system and a bloated price tag to match ($41). (Although I am really
not in a good position to critique others for their word count
bloating.) Gabriel Strange showed up a little later on in the rpg.net
forums, and wound up making just about every mistake known to man when it comes
to promoting your product. He didn’t take a picture of his own poop, then post
it as a page from the book, but I’m sure that it was next on the agenda.
So, anyhow, Wraeththu was widely
regarded as the next World of Synnibarr. Me, I was curious. I wanted to give it
a shot. So, with the aid of:
– who all kindly donated money for a
copy of the game – I got my copy from Amazon. (You see? Sponsorship hath its
But the next time I’m curious,
I’m going to slam a car door on my hand a few dozen times and let that
sort out my fucking curiousity. It’s the only way that I’m going to learn.
See, I have no idea what the novels
themselves are about. I tried to get them from my local library, but they
didn’t have the original trilogy, and I figured that jumping in on the second
trilogy would just leave me totally lost. (This changed later, as mentioned
later in the review.) As a result, I’m jumping into the game knowing only what
I’ve been told by the kindly members of rpg.net.
Let me start with the one thing that
the book does right: On the upper-right corner of every page, there’s a picture
of six dice, each with a different number on them, each with a different range
– so you’ve got a d4, a d6, a d10 and so forth. The way that it works is that
if you don’t happen to have dice on you, you can use the book to generate a
dice roll just by fanning the pages and stopping it on a particular page. It’s
not a perfect solution, but it sure isn’t a bad stopgap, and it’s also
considerate to those who can’t get dice. Kudos on that.
But I should also note that on the
front cover, underneath the copied-without-attribution picture of an Egyptian
dagger, there's a greyed-out picture of what's supposed to be a Wraeththu
penis. I wrote TURN BACK NOW in Black Sharpie pen on the cover when I sent it
to Sartin, but thanks to the Amazon review, I now cannot unsee it.
So Besides the Penis, What Else is Going On?
By canon, the Wraeththu are a mutant
strain of humanity. They’re hermaphroditic, able to have sex only with each
other, but can transform human males into Wraeththu by transfusing blood into
their systems. They’re all tall, slender, pretty yaoi types, with long hair and
pretty, pretty faces – as a matter of fact, they all look like a cross between
David Bowie and Cher, minus the tits. (Have you seen the music video for Duran
Duran's Wild Boys? Like that.)
By what I can derive from the
setting description, the Wraeththu are parasitic, body-hating Mary Sues who can
spread their Mary-Sueness through blood transfusions. I mean, the book fucking
writhes with body issues. Every single time that the Wraeththu are described,
no matter what the area is, the Wraeththu are much better at it. They’re
taller, thinner, prettier, more agile, less hairy, have better senses, are more
spiritually togther, more psychologically stable, able to process food better,
less sexually jealous, never get fat and can’t be poisoned. Worse yet, in the descriptions
of the Wraeththu, it’s always mentioned that humans are worse at whatever than
You’ve probably seen the type in a
lot of fanfic, where there’s a superior species that’s just better than humans,
and spends most of its time crapping on the heads of the stupid humans –
whalers, lumberjacks, jocks – who are just jerks, and unable to appreciate just
how stupid and dumb they really are. Maybe the Wraeththu novels aren’t like
that. I have no earthly idea. However, I can tell you that the description of
the Wraeththu makes them sound exactly like the kind of story.
They’re even worse if you look at
them from the perspective of a gay male. Most gay males are attracted to –
surprise – other males. The Wraeththu are basically flat-chested Barbie dolls
with titanic mall hair. For a game that’s supposed to be
lesbian-gay-transgender friendly, the Wraeththu themselves simply seem sexless.
I imagine that they would be fairly attractive to a thirteen year old girl,
because they seem to be drawn to that sort of type. Think of Leonardo DiCaprio,
Orlando Bloom, Lestat and the entirety of the yaoii genre. The Wraeththu aren’t
gay-friendly; they’re gay-friendly to the extent that they appeal to
thirteen-year old girls. God help the homely gay kid who stumbles into this
stuff; not only are you different from everybody else, you’re different from
everybody else and apparently missed out on all of the magic powers that go
with it and you should be all alone because you're not as pretty as them.
Not the world's best message.
They Sound Familiar,
In a Jerk Kind of Way...
You know what else they strongly
remind me of? They remind me very much of the vampires from Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost
Souls, which is basically Brite exercising an adolescent fascination with
homosexual men through vampirism. I thought that it was okay, other
people think that it’s awful, but it has that same vein of thought running
through it. The vampires are beautiful, homosexual men who are also vampires,
who, in one scene, pick up a teenaged runaway and seduce him – or maybe he
seduces them, I forget – and turn him into a vampire, then kill one of the
runaway’s friends, with the runaway joining in on it. They're vampires, though,
so it makes sense in the context, ‘cause, you know, they're vampires.
In fact, that book is very much like
the original criticisms levied at Vampire: The Masquerade - Goths
running around killing people without conscience because they’re cooler than
thou. Vampire’s long since evolved out of that mindset; Wraeththu is
just stepping into it. There’s little sense of understanding what the Wraeththu
are supposed to be – there’s no sense of their place in the mythic sense of
things, none of the sharp self-awareness that Vampire’s radiated with
since Revised came out. (Or, now, Requiem. The original review was written a
long time ago.)
Worse yet, there’s very little help
offered in terms of how to get into the mindset of playing Wraeththu, or even
why you’d want to do so in the first place. Just try selling the idea of
playing the game to your gaming group. I dare you. Here, let me give you a
“Okay, so it’s the near future,
right? And the humans have totally screwed up the world, so there’s these new
Wray-thoo things that are slowly taking over. And these Wray-thoo all look like
boys, see, ‘cause they used to be guys, but now they’re hermaphrodites, and
they’re all willowy, but they can do magic and they spend all their time
hunting down humans and forcibly turning them into Wray-thoo when they’re not
drinking beer or getting stoned. Oh, and it uses a new system, so you’ll have
to learn it. Plus, everybody in the group has to have sex with each other or
they’ll die. In the game, I mean. Also, everybody’s character doesn’t have a
Go ahead and try it, because you
will never, ever get to role-play again. You will have to find an
entirely new group, then find a new group after that group gets warned by the
first group. The third group will be composed of people who can find their way
up to your isolated shack in the mountains, where the first two groups will
ensure that you stay until your natural death.
Punch This Kid. Punch Him Good.
Actually, the crawling awkwardness
starts with the introductory fiction. It’s about an overweight computer nerd
with glasses, bad skin, and bad hair – and everybody picks on him! There’s even
a pair of pictures with him looking all sad. Aww.
Gandhi would have kicked this kid’s ass. It would be a sudden,
spontaneous outbreak of violence, like a prairie wildfire. I finally managed to
find this picture on an archived version of niberu.org, then blew it up a
little with GIMP - which cost it some clarity - but you see the look on his face? He
looks like a gamer version of a Keene painting.
Anyways, his friends are all running
away or committing suicide because they can’t take how harsh this world is! But
wait – those awful, awful jocks just kidnapped him, and they’ve taken him to a
Wraeththu conversion facility to be turned into a Wraeththu, along with a whole
bunch of other people. Yay! Now he’s a Wraeththu, and his friend turns out to
be a Wraeththu too! And now this:
“Then what am I?”
“As I said, you are har, no longer man, but one of us. Don’t be
afraid of the changes. From now on, Mikey is dead and gone. As of this morning,
you shall be known as Boline, the light to my darkness and the darkness to my
I swear to God, I am not making this
He leans over me and exhales. The steam of his breath conjures
pictures in my mind: new possibilities unfolding, of dark days filled with
riots, rage and flames; of a glorious, glowing city filled with others like
ourselves; of a new world rising from the the ashes unlike anything anyone
could have ever imagined. Something within me blossoms in the darkness of my
soul as those images fill my mind, a glowing bloom of light that fills me with
a new sense of purpose, a new reason for being. I am no longer Mikey, the
frightened and ugly kid from the suburbs of Carmine. I am Boline, the blade who
will help usher in a new world.
A quick note: The last time I saw a
story like this, it was David Gonterman’s Scarlet P.I, where a
self-insertion character – a cartoonist – pulls on a living female fursuit and
proceeds to molest himself. It’s the same kind of thing – an attempt to pull
away from yourself because you can’t stand yourself, so you go into fantasy
rather than deal with the real world. (What it also reminds me of is a Jhonen
Vasquez comic where a vampire embraces a Goth who’s always wanted to be a
vampire, and winds up with a hydrocephalic head and fangs the size of traffic
Anyways, Mikey becomes Boline -
which is actually bad news. Instead of growing up and out, like just about
every gamer ever, “Boline” has joined a mutant race whose primary power seems
to be the ability to express yourself as the biggest asshole on the face of the
earth. You are who you are. Nobody is going to change you but yourself.
Speciating the Unforgivable
That’s the other thing that will
immediately strike you about Wraeththu – the nominal heroes of the setting are,
to put it lightly, a bunch of arrogant pricks. To illustrate this, we have a
bunch of quotes which are supposed to represent various Wraeththu perspectives.
Unfortunately, the perspectives basically paint the Wraeththu as wall to wall
assholes. You can actually speciate them, just like birds in an aviary – or
better yet, name them like the Smurfs. Consider:
Fuck….Fuck…Fuck, fuck and fuck…The monkey-banging crack
whore…the beer has just run out…
Wraeththu, our very name, is alluring. It sings of deep passion
within the soul and embodies the power of the divine.
Too Much Into It Wraeththu.
Only two types of hara wander in darkness: those who are foolish
and lost, and those who have no need of light to see. I am of the latter kind.
Which are you to be?
Condescending Twat Wraeththu.
Fool to come here, now pay the toll. I shall drink your blood
and rend your flesh. I shall sunder your bones feast of your life! For I am
Uigenna, and you are both my prey and my plaything this night.
Deathmetal Shithead Wraeththu.
Your breath is like drinking a heady squall. I’m already drunk,
intoxicated by your bewitching soul. Let me refill the cup.
Come, dance with an angelic devil tonight?
Life, death and the eternal drama are all nothing compared to
the taste of a warm cream pie.
A Metaphor For a Kind
of Sex Which Can Not And Must Not Be Described Wraeththu.
Do any of these character types seem
even remotely like they’d be fun to play? Especially when one of them, Zip
Hamstring (!) – you know that quote above, about the beer? Imagine the kind of
obnoxious asshole who thinks that he’s fun to be around because he spends all
of his time slamming intoxicants and making gross jokes, then give him quote
after quote after QUOTE AFTER QUOTE of his stupid bullshit, and you’ll have an
idea of what listening to this moron is like.
And then there’s the quotes that
make the Wraeththu seem very much in the mold of savage villains:
The thrill of the hunt, the heart pounding chase as the humans
stumble and fall, this is truly the sport of Archons.
“It’s over. Deal with it.” – Restin, Varr soldier, to a defeated
“What manner of creature mates like a human? There is no love,
no passion, and no soul – I would rather be celibate than bear the touch of
these vile creatures.”
Writing stuff from this perspective
makes me wonder about the author's own sex life, but perhaps that's a step too
Death, it is said, comes to all things. To you perhaps sooner
than expected. – Laice, to a prisoner of war.
“Evolution is just another name for mass genocide. If you ask
me. What happened to the Dinosaurs should happen to men.”
“Weep away your world, pretty human, for it is yours no more.
Weep it all away in that pretty red spray.”
You know what
that reminds me of? That reminds me very much of the Draka, from S.M Stirling’s
Draka novels. They were, for the uninitiated, basically the dark mirror
of American society, genetically augmented overlords whose society is based on
conquering people and enslaving them. They had the same “We are superior, they
are the old breed, and we will crush them” thing going, along with the wanton
cruelty and complete lack of scruples. (And an author who basically handed them
an I Win button.) So do the Wraeththu. And yet, the Wraeththu are
supposed to be the heroes of the setting. What the fuck was the author of this
book trying to do, exactly?
And that’s just the quotes. Insofar as
I can tell, the Wraeththu are like Exalted's Fair Folk minus the grounding in myth.
They maraud around a dying world, abduct males and forcibly convert them into Wraeththu,
then war with themselves and the humans from which they draw their ranks. Like somebody
pointed out on the rpg.net forums, the Wraeththu make good villains - but
even in that, they’ve already been upstaged by better-developed Fair Folk.
Cocaine's a Hell of a Drug
On top of that, some of the quotes also
suffer from a pretty dramatic lack of grammar, frequently feeling like Gabriel Strange
exercised the usual “Ah, why bother to copyedit?” style that he uses in his posting
on the forum. For instance:
“I am Thiede…No not him, I suffer from the ill fate of lack of
Why would you claim to be somebody, then
sort of backtrack and say that you're not because you're not imaginative enough?
Would you become Thiede if you were imaginative enough? Is it a title? Is the quoted
person stoned? Probably. (Plus, it's not explained in the book who Thiede is.
He's pretty much the mystical high muckety-muck of the Wraeththu setting, the Wraeththu's
"I'm Merlin. No, wait, I'm not imaginative
enough." I think that I understand the drug references in the book more
“This is ridiculous, how do they expect to work with these new
inceptees when most of them can barely string a sentence together?”
Yes, how do you work with somebody
or something written by somebody whose familiarity with the English langauge is
less than superb? Reading Wraeththu, I can't help but to comment on the irony, which
is so thick that I'm having to hawk and spit it out every minute or so.
“It was on a priest’s body I ate my daily sustenance. The
trappings of the old religions cast out, people running and screaming, it could
have been a scene from any old sci-fi book. These were the events of seven
years ago. It’s strange what memories an old building can hold.”
So, in a nutshell: You -
- a seven-foot tall hermaphrodite with a hairstyle straight
out of the malls of the Eighties:
- break into a church full of people who haven't done you
any harm - probably by crashing through a stained-glass window depicting a
- coldcock the priest;
- eat a ham sandwich using him as a plate, for some baffling
- while the rest of the congregation runs around screaming
instead of collectively bludgeoning you to death with the business end of a
pew, once for killing the priest and scaring them, and again for trying to
bring the Eighties back.
- ("It's too THUD fucking soon THUD for
that style THUD to be fucking retro!" SQUELCH
- This somehow reminds you of an old science-fiction book,
despite the fact that no living science fiction author in the history of time
would ever come up with this kind of scenario except maybe L. Ron Hubbard.
Does this make any sense to anybody? It sounds like the concept for an early 80's music video, except
with more pointless Christian-baiting and hilariously ludicrous imagery. Maybe some
doves flapping around would fix it?
One last one, since I want you to understand
exactly what it is that I had to deal with when I was writing this book. This is
an Uigenna war chant; this is meant to be deadly serious. Try to read it all the
way through without giggling. For extra points: Comedy accent.
I want to be your torment, enemy.
I want to be your pain
I want to be your shriek of agony.
As your soul goes down the drain!
I want to be your ruin, enemy.
I want to be your rot.
I want to be your cry of agony.
As your soul is going to pot!
I want to be your hell, enemy.
I want to be your doom
I want to be your scream of agony
As your damned soul goes foom!
See, I thought that it was a Wraeththu
term, maybe a word for something like “utter annhilation”. Not that I can tell,
at least from the minimalist lexicon that the book provides. The last time I read
the word “foom” was in an old children’s book, where a monster chasing a knight
accidentally runs out into sunlight and blows up into a cloud of green dust, complete
with the “foom!” sound effect. (Or Kerflooey! I forget which.) I do not expect to
see the word “foom” show up in a war chant. Better yet, imagine the above war chant
being belted out while a bunch of glammed-up storks dance around a fire and try
to avoid laughing. It’s unintentional self-parody. (Also, going to pot? That's
a reference to when somebody who's physically fit gets a pot belly, which I don't
imagine most dead enemies get. Well, maybe some from posthumous bloating, but...)
Maybe it sounds better when you’re eating a ham and priest sandwich.
Finally, I should make it clear that
the reason that the quotes get so much attention devoted to them is that they pretty
much ruin the book. On a standard 8 1/2 x 11 page, the right margin is two and a
half inches deep, on almost every single page in the book – and that’s where there’s
maybe two quotes are positioned. If you buy the book, you’re basically buying a
book that’s – let’s see…
8. 5 x 11 =
93.5 square inches of space on a standard page.
6.5 x 11 =
71.5 square inches with Wraeththu’s titanic quote margin.
71.5 x 432
(the number of pages in the book) = 30,888
93.5 x 432
(the total space in the physical pages) = 40, 392
40, 392 – 30, 888
9504 / 93.5
= 101, give or take.
they had decided to go with the smaller margins, or at least margins that weren’t
a country mile wide, they could have saved approximately 101 pages. That takes it
from a 432-page monster down to a somewhat more slender 331 pages. I have no idea
why they didn’t, other than to pad it out so that the book looks bigger than it
actually is. Plus, by making it that large, you're paying more money for
a product that no-one bought. (Legend of the Five Rings keeps getting dinged for
its gigantic margins, but they usually throw some remarkably interesting stuff into
those margins in all of the books that I’ve seen.)
I should also mention that somebody managed
to write their own RPG using only the margins on a few pages - Trait Ziggurat Barley,
I think it's called - but I’m sure that somebody will provide a more thorough
summary in the comments forum, or at least a useful link.
When Boredom Is Your Foe,
Playing Bored People Will Not Help
On top of that, by the time that the
novels hit – the game is set before the novels take place – the Wraeththu have already
won and pretty much converted everybody into Wraeththu. The book comes out front
and says this. What’s the point in playing a human when you know that the Wraeththu
will win? The book itself says:
The game can be enjoyed just as much
if you play a group of humans battling against the Wraeththu. Although such characters
are essentially doomed either to die or one day be incepted, you can at least explore
the world as a character perceived as the enemy.
The really funny thing about this is
that it assumes that everybody’s going to automatically want to play a flat-chested,
hermaphroditic David Bowie clone – and then the real rebels will want to
try being a human, just so that everybody else can go “Holy shit, what a rebel,
playing somebody who doesn't look like they stepped out of Radio 1990 circa
Another thing: There’s no glossary in
the front of the book. The book makes references to tons of Wraeththu-specific terminology,
but the terms are defined only in the loosest sense. For example, each quote – like
the kind above – has the speaker identified by both name and tribe, but it took
me about fifty pages before I realized the “Uineeda” is a tribe, rather than a social
position, race type or occupation. And the reliance on in-game/in-world terminology
is pretty thick. You can understand what’s going on, but it’s a lot more difficult
than it would be if they’d bothered to include a glossary up front, like White Wolf
always does. Like, it constantly amazes me how people keep making the same basic
mistakes over and over again. Role-playing is an industry where everybody borrows
from everybody else, and yet the stuff that’s genuinely useful never seems to be
the stuff that gets copied.
(Even worse: There’s still some slang
that winds up not being defined, like roon – does it mean sex? Love? Companionship?
I have no idea, and probably never will.)
Let’s move to the sweep-through, where
I analyze the book a piece at a time. The book opens up with a description of how
to role-play, but it’s really not very good, dealing mostly in generalities and
vague description. For instance:
A skilled Storyteller will add lots of in-depth plot, and ensure
many possibilities for characters to do well – or fail badly. As a Storyteller,
you should be fair, and always make sure that the characters come out on top;
otherwise there would be no point in playing the game. Conversely, if you are
too easy-going, the illusion of reality can shatter. When this happens, the
game can literally collapse around your ears, much to the dismay of the
players. If you are too mean, it will also destroy the game. There is a fine
balance between “too easy” and “too mean”.
Now, it goes on to say that the players
are your friends, and that you should listen to their input, and that you can throw
them a hint or an NPC in the event that they’re stuck – but really, you can go through
the entire paragraph and pick out problems all night. You should always make sure
that your players come out on top, but you can also be too easy-going – so which
is it? Are you playing hardcore, death-is-permanent or a game in which you always
survive, but don't necessarily prosper? Will the game literally collapse around
your ears, or does he mean figuratively and doesn’t understand what literally means?
It’s a good try for a free role-playing game in .pdf format, sure, but this is a
book that you actually have to pay for.
Shoot Your Friends. Shoot Them Good
And then there’s some advice on LARPing
that may be some of the worst advice ever issued: Specifically, the author mentions
that you can buy BB pistols from various hobby stores in order to use them within
a LARP. Here, I’ll quote directly:
From modelling shops, you can acquire BB guns, but before
playing with them, it’s advisable to check out your local laws to see what is
permissible for you to carry legally in a public place. If you do use this kind
of weapon, make sure at all times that it is not loaded with pellets . Although
they are designed not to cause injury, being caught in the eye with a pellet
can still harm your sight.
Just because your character would carry a weapon around with
them, it doesn’t mean that you can. We advise that if you wish to transport
such props you should do so in carryalls and bags. You should be aware that in
many countries you can be arrested for carrying such toys on the street, so
it’s best to use them indoors and around friends who know what you’re doing.
If you should wish to play outdoors, you should contact the
local authorities and inform them of what you plan to do, then follow their
advice. Most will be understanding, as long as no one gets hurt and no laws are
broken. It’s best to let the police know of your plans, as other people may
call them if they see you running around wielding weapons!
Make sure that all prop weapons are not loaded with any kind of
ammunition, even if it is a soft sponge dart, as you could still hurt someone
with it. Also, make sure all model swords are well padded and there are no
sharp edges (DO NOT USE METAL REPLICA SWORDS). We advise that for any live
action element, someone should be in charge of inspecting all props and prevent
the use of those which are potentially hazardous.
The authors are not responsible for any physical damage due to
the use of these props, whether the use is correct or not, as these are only
suggestions and not a necessity. We advise only experienced players to use such
props. However, they do so at their own risk.
Uh – this is extraordinarily bad advice, and the subsequent legal ass-covering makes
it sound like the author can’t decide whether or not you should use BB guns in a
LARP or not. For that matter, the local police will almost assuredly forbid you
from using the kind of BB guns that I’m thinking of – the ones which resemble Glock-17s
and Magnum revolvers. I’ve never seen a game say something so irresponsible. To
quote Justin Bacon, “Buy a potentially lethal weapon and point it at your friends...
but make sure it's unloaded first!”
Actually, wait – at the next con that
you’ll go to, you’ll be able to tell who the Wraeththu fans are, because they’ll
all have at least one eye missing. Future editions of Wraeththu will come with an
eyepatch taped into the back cover for when the inevitable occurs.
From there, we go into a discussion of
Wraeththu biology, which is where we find out that the Wraeththu are better than
humans in just about every possible way. The only drawbacks are that the Wraeththu
can’t reproduce – which gets fixed later in the series anyhow – and that they can’t
“incept” women, which also gets fixed later in the series. In short, they’re a race
of Mary Sues. Sure, I’ve said that before, but I think that it bears repeating.
Oh, one more drawback: If they don’t get sex, then they start deteriorating over
the next couple of weeks. That’s the big drawback. Since they have very little trouble
in getting sexual partners, that’s not really as much of a drawback as you might
We move into how Wraeththu are created.
They don’t actually put their flower penis into your human butt and turn
you into a Wraeththu, although if they do, they exude an acidic poison that eats
you away from the inside. Instead, they forcibly swap blood with you, which in turns
transforms humans into a Wraeththu after a seven-day period. There’s a lengthy scholarly
article about all of this within the book, written in-character, but – well, let’s
be honest: the idea is motherfucking creepy on a number of levels.
For instance: For your entire life, you’ve
had a particular sexual identity. You’re a man. Suddenly, somebody kidnaps you,
starves you for three days, and then cuts you open and pumps new blood into you.
When you wake up, your old sexual identity is gone, flat-out. The body that you
spent your entire life with, with all of its attendant flaws and quirks, is gone,
replaced with a prettified version of Iggy Pop’s body. Also, your johnson is gone,
replaced with a sea anenome. And your captors, who are just like you now, want to
fuck all the time.
This isn’t just going to cause a psychic
crisis; it’s going to tear your mind right the fuck in half.
And the funny thing is that Gabriel Strange
mentions that he doesn’t like the way in which people go from human to vampire as
if a switch has been flipped in an interview on his website. (I don’t like it either,
but Vampire still has time to fix this. Greg Stolze did some absolutely amazing
work on what the conversion’s like in his novel A Hunger Like Fire, by the
way.) There’s no description here of how people make the psychic switch from being
a normal human to being a Wraeththu. None. None whatsoever. Maybe in the next books,
he says, but I don’t think that there’s going to be next books. (And there weren't!)
And, for that matter, think of it this
way: Imagine a game in which women were abducted by a mysterious race, get starved
for a few days, then wind up with their sexual characteristics blown up to Barbie-doll
proportions. Then they’re unleashed on the world again with an compulsion to have
lesbian sex with each other, and to kill any woman who isn’t like them.
Yeah, that’s kind of creepy, isn’t it?
Sexist as hell, too, if you think about?
That’s what being a Wraeththu is like.
You’re basically an androgynous soul-rapist. Yay!
I’m getting tired of this game. Very,
See, one critical mistake that the game
makes is to set the game in the period when the Wraeththu are essentially barbarians,
with the various tribes fighting against each other and humanity dying off in the
background. I have no idea what the books are like, but if they’re anything like
the book, I can readily picture them as being immensely dull pieces of work – nothing
but immature brutes spending time screwing and beating each other up while hunting
down humans to forcibly convert.
And I’m sure that they’re not like that.
(Having read the books...kinda.) I’m sure that they’re actually much better
than that, because I don't think that Gabriel Strange really knew what he was doing.
But given the game’s content, I can’t imagine how they’d be anything else. You can
read Call of Cthulhu and understand, for the most part, what Lovecraft’s work is
like; ditto Dungeons and Dragons for Tolkien. As far as I can tell, the Wraeththu
books don’t even begin to explain what the books are like.
As a matter of fact, as a fan fiction
guide, they’re bloody awful. Guardians of Order put out books that acted
both as a sort of fan resource and a gaming supplement at the same time, lavishly
illustrated, complete with episode guides, character summaries, descriptions of
the weapons and equipment – I mean, they were nice. By contrast, Wraeththu leaves
you in the dark, describes minutiae that only dedicated fans would care about, and
doesn’t even seem to touch the novels themselves.
The System, Kind Of
The magic section is briefly described,
and manages to repeatedly step on its own dick while trying to explain how it works.
It’s very similar to Mage in that it’s easier to do a coincidental effect than it
is to do a regular effect – easier to make somebody trip and fall onto something
rather than to destroy it with a magical firebolt, right? So the more sutble the
effect, the easier it is to do. Again, however, I have absolutely no idea as to
how magic in the novels works, and the book doesn’t say.
The history is maddeningly vague, mostly
because it’s told from an in-character perspective rather than from the outside.
For no defined reason, everything starts breaking down – the Internet collapses
under viruses, wars break out every day, empty cars litter dead roads, nuclear weapons
are dropped “with careless abandon”, the fertility rates are dropping, the water
and sky are poisoned. There is no explanation for why this happens, although “clumsy
writer fiat in order to clear the stage for the Wraeththu” comes to mind.
And when the Wraeththu do show up, they
basically start invading cities and killing everybody in them. There’s no real explanation
given; the Wraeththu just seem to want to kill humans for some unexplained reason.
Even when you hear from the Wraeththu themselves, they don’t explain why they feel
motivated to kill all humans. They just do. If you think that this sounds astonishingly
brief and sketchy, it’s because it is.
After that, there’s a description of
the various countries of the world, places of interest, so and so forth.. Basically,
unless you’ve read the books, all of the place names will be a mystery to you. They’re
also, without exception, really boring. I could go into detail, but – well, the
review is going to be long enough as it is.
That segues into a discussion of Wraeththu
society – homes, shopping, economy and so forth. Pretty standard stuff, and the
kind of thing that you’d expect to find in a fanfic guide.
However, there’s still the maddening
vagueness that permeates the setting throughout. Here, check this shit:
All power is provided by small generators in the towns. Some
hara claim to power power their houses using magical energy. Hara still invent
and build many new items, using new powers and unheard of technology. While
some of the harish ((spelling intentional; they’re called “har” collectively))
towns may not look that different from those in the past, the power and
industry that drives them will be unlike anything seen before.
This is incredibly lazy world building
at its very finest. First off, small generators provide power. What do they run
on? What do they provide power to? Do the Wraeththu actually power their homes with
magic, or are they just bullshitting? What kind of new powers? What kind of new
technology? Do we see examples?
Fuck no. There’s more time and attention paid to various kinds of
recreation – getting drunk and fucking, apparently – than there is to the fundemental
engine of society. For that matter, the Wraeththu have decided to completely ignore
all of the neat stuff that humanity came up with and are lapsing back into iron-age
technology, for no other reason than that’s the setting of the game. They turn into
Wraeththu, and suddenly all human technology is old hat compared to the fun of waiting
two weeks to get an iron ring from a blacksmith to saddle your horse, the same carbiner
that you could get from a 7-11 in the old world in the space of a minute. What the
And that’s another thing: Apparently
the humans are totally helpless against the onslauight of the Wraeththu, to the
point where the Wraeththu can maraud through towns and kill humans left and right.
This makes absolutely no sense. Humans can be absolutely vicious when it
comes to fighting off threats, especially when they’re as alien and disturbing as
the Wraeththu are. Imagine the awful stuff that we do when we think of our enemy
as inhuman, and then give us an enemy that’s genuinely inhuman and intent on destroying
us AND is real pretty and androgynous, so there’s that latent envy/homophobia thing
going. You’d have entire holidays based on capturing and carving up a Wraeththu.
There would be presents. Maybe even a tree. (Hell, the Wraeththu have a policy that
they should always retrieve their dead from a battlefield. Anybody who’s seen Full
Metal Jacket can tell you how a sniper can take advantage of that. In fact,
I think that there have been incidents in the real world where Rangers took additional
casualties trying to retrieve the bodies of the fallen. )
Because It Doesn't Make Sense, Dammit
Most of the worldbuilding in this book
seems to revolve around the concept of “It’s like because it’s like that.
The Wraeththu are better than humans because. They win all the time against
humans because. The humans are dying out and their technology doesn’t work
because.” If you’re at all interested in a coherent world that makes sense,
look elsewhere. Remember the Draka? One of the criticisms of the novels is that
everything seems to go right for the Draka and wrong for everybody else. The Wraeththu
have the same problem, except squared.
Famous Wraeththu: Snore. There’s not
particular reason why these people seem to have been picked. They have no plot hooks,
no personalities to speak of – for the most part, they’re chosen as famous Wraeththu
because they’re in positions of power. As NPCs, they’re mighty dull – compare to
the amazing NPCs in any of the 7th Sea books, where the plot hooks from every character
are as rich and delicious as a vanilla milkshake. These guys are just dull, which
is poison in a setting that should be doing everything within its power to make
you sit up and say “Whoa! That’s really cool!”
It should be noted that Manticker the
Seventy has his name explained no fewer than five times throughout the text,
as he appears as a recurring character for quite some time. (He killed seventy humans
in a rage.) I assume that they mention this because he didn't do it while wailing
on a guitar and driving a Harley over a flaming pile of dildoes, so that name gets
stuck onto him as a taunting banner of shame. ("Hey, Manticker! Nice DILDO
BONFIRE you don't have going there! Yeah, you gonna cry? You gonna cry?")
It’s the kind of thing where if you’re
a fan of Wraeththu, you’ll be interested; if not, then you’ll be bored out of your
skull. I’m not even sure if any of these Wraeththu appear in the novels, or if they’re
the creation of Gabriel Strange; as the book doesn’t say, I don’t know. (I'm pretty
sure that they're Gabriel's own inventions.)
After a quick run through the various
Wraeththu tribes, we get into the basics of Wraeththu society. And it’s here that
there’s a lot of useful information – the stuff that was glossed over in the section
describing Wraeththu cities. The general technology has been set back about three
hundred years, thanks to the general collapse, and the highest level of political
system that they’ve got is the basic tribal system, with a single Wraeththu telling
the others what to do. Travel’s been broken down to the level of the horse, communication
is – so far – at the level of the pony express, with a psychic network being developed
to facilitate faster communication. Industries are mostly at the Dark Ages, but
they do generate power through the use of methane and wind.
We also find out the legal system of
the Wraeththu; even though they’re better than humanity, most of the Wraeththu have
gone pretty quickly to Lord of the Flies territory, with Wraeththu being killed
for minor differences regarding religion, territory or tribe membership. (Yay! Another
selling point for the Wraeththu!) The few rules that they do have involves cleaning
up the bodies of their dead, so that humans can’t dissect them (which is extremely
difficult to do), never incepting the very young – oh, and you know how the Wraeththu
ejaculate acid if they happen to have sex with humans? There’s no particular prohibition
against that, but if you do, then you have to destroy the body afterwards. You know,
because littering is bad.
Who wants to play this game yet? Anybody?
We get a quick look at the Wraeththu
religions, which turns out to be incredibly vague and basically useless; there’s
an interesting bit where the leaders of Wraeththu tribes encourage their members
to think of them as gods. Just to ensure that they’re all as identical as they can
be, most Wraeththu speak Megalithica – except for one tribe, which speaks Megalithica
but insists on calling it “Albish.” That’s a useful thing to know, don’t you
Inception: Imagine any major transition
ritual that you might think of, and it pops up here in some form. We’re informed
that “some tribes treat the inceptee with a degree of distaste and little or no
compassion. This is done to break the will of particularly headstrong humans.” We’re
also told that the Wraeththu used to keep humans in crappy conditions, unsure of
what was going to happen until they were incepted; in the game’s present, they’re
doped to the gills instead. Each tribe gets a breakdown on how they incept people,
but it’s information that’s going to be of far more use to a fanfic writer than
to somebody who’s running a game.
We get a breakdown on how the Wraeththu
came to be – and the answer is “We don’t know, but here’s some theories”. I have
the impression that Storm Constantine is more interested in the world of the Wraeththu
than how they came about, similar to how Lieber’s more interested in Fafhrd and
the Grey Mouser than who created their world, but for creatures as startlingly unusual
as the Wraeththu, you’d want something more concreate than “Um, we dunno.” I suppose
that you’re supposed to pick the theory that you like best and run with it from
The threats to the Wraeththu are next.
Given that the game has no focus at all, this ia more of a general overview – when
one of your major threats is “nihilism”, then you’re not exactly being challenged
with a rich panoply of enemies. The humans are in their death throes, but they’ve
developed a sprayed chemical that kills Wraeththu very effectively – but it kills
humans too, limiting its efficiency to, say, DUMPING IT IN EVERY WRAETHTHU WATERING
HOLE EVER, YOU STUPID FUCKING HUMANS. JESUS. YOU’RE
GETTING YOUR ASSES BEATEN BY BISHONEN, FOR FUCK’S SAKE. MOTHERFUCKING PSYCHLOS
HAVE BETTER MILITARY STRATEGY. PSYCHLOS.
Sorry, that just kinda slipped out.
Anyways, the Wraeththu also suffer from
the dreaded gum disease “Nihilism” - they’re suffering from a sense that they
have nowhere to go. The game has the exact same problem. As a matter of fact,
I’m pretty sure that Immanion Press is going to have the same problem quite soon.
The Wraeththu suffer the problem because
they can’t have children, although that’s a problem that gets solved in the novels,
so it’s basically a non-starter from the get-go. There’s also a bunch of vague hand-waving
about the “Ancient Ones”, who are ancient Atlanteans or something, although – AGAIN
– it’s described as a bunch of theories and myth that nobody can really confirm.
If they ever put out a sourcebook for
this game, it should be called Mmmmmmmaaaaaaaaaaybe… Every single page number
should be a range, from, say, one to ten thousand. You would only be able to find
out the price of the book by buying another supplement. The paper would be specially
treated so that the letters fall off the page as soon as the book is opened up.
Nobody would be allowed to tell you if it’s in stock or not.
Even worse, the last of the threats to
the Wraeththu is “decadence” – in other words, because the Wraeththu have conquered
pretty much all of their enemies, there’s the risk that they’ll lose their focus
and sink into self-gratification.
Well, fan-fucking-tastic. Congratulations:
You’ve just written a role-playing game where the biggest threat to you is BOREDOM.
That's what people play role-playing games to avoid! It's like satiating
your hunger by not eating at all! I mean, I’d love to see the advertisements
for this game:
PLAYERS: GM, we’re BOOOOOOOORED.
GM: Hey! Let’s play Wraeththu: From
Enchantment to Fulfillment!
PLAYERS: Isn't "From Enchantment to
Fulfillment" the textbook description of the stages of sexual
arousal for Care Beears?
PLAYERS: We’re BOOOOOOOORED but
GM: I hear that they’re bringing out a
new book of locations to be bored in!
PLAYERS: Hooray! Dildo bonfire tonight!
Better Late Then Never – No, Wait…
122 pages in, by the way, we get our
first lexicon of Wraeththu terminology. Right on time, too.
Women in Wraeththu: You know how role-playing
games have become a lot more egalitarian in recent years, like how you could be
a female samurai in Legend of the Five Rings, female gunslinger in Deadlands,
female Musketeer in 7th Sea, female anything in World of Darkness?
Well, Wraeththu turns back the clock on that particular development and then some.
See, women can’t join the Fey-Man Women
Haters Club that are the Wraeththu, unless they join the Kamagrians, who are really
rare within the setting. The book itself acknowledges that women seem to get a raw
deal in this, and describes the Wraeththu as “essentially a male character coming
to terms with their new female nautre,” although, since the Wraeththu AREN’T WOMEN,
that’s kind of hard to agree with. (I swear, you couldn’t come up with a more schizophrenic
take on human sexuality if you fucking tried.)
The book either suggests that women be
allowed to become Wraeththu, or stay human. If they do stay human, of course, the
book suggests that men will basically start treating women like breeding stock –
rape gangs, “forced back into the kitchen”, breeding stock and all that, until they
run away and join up with the Wraeththu. So female characteres can essentially pick
between “rape victim” and “tagalong in a bunch of gay guys”.
I’m getting very, very tired of
The tribes of the Wraeththu are up next.
We’re given a brief overview of how the tribes came to be, with the Varr and the
Uigenna the largest tribes in Megalithica. Contrary to military history, the less
disciplined Uigenna are able to fight off the organized Varr tribes, despite the
proven superiority of discipline over bravery. Anyways, the various tribes each
get their own writeup, including their general appearance (Cher crossed with David
Bowie), background, organization and so forth. There’s really no major difference
between any of the tribes, as far as I can tell. Compared to the massive conceptual
separations between Gangrel and Ventrue, for instance, the tribes of the Wraeththu
come off as almost carbon copies of each other. The Gelaming are snotty and mysterious,
and a lot of mysterious phenomena are attributed to them. (More mystery. Yippee.)
The Kakkahar are secretive and mystic. The Sulh are also mystic. The Uigenna are
a bunch of brawlers. Matter of fact, I’m just going to skip to the end and say that
there’s no appreciable difference between them unless you’ve read the books, in
which case you’ll probably know there’s no practical difference between them.
And then we hit character generation.
I’m going to leave all of this to Jason, except to point out this little gem: You
know mana? Spell points? In this game, your basic starting mana pool is determined
by how much you weigh. Since the Wraeththu are largely androgynous and willowy,
the only way to be a good mage from the start is to be particulary tall, which means
that taller = more power. Invader ZIM, I should point out, did the exact same thing
with the Tallest.
Now, see, this is where a system block
from Jason Sartin would go, but circumstances have gotten in the way and Jason's
not going to be able to do it. Suffice to say that the rules system has a bunch
of holes in it and is not good, but since I don't have the rules on me - and since
I'm not that real good with rules anyways - we'll just leave it at that.
Let’s check out the sample adventure
in the back of the book. The characters are summoned to talk to a psychic Wraeththu
named Shade, who says that something terrible is going to happen in Lund. The characters
troop off to Shade’s manor in Glendale, Shades tells them a vision of some weird
ruins in Lund, off to Lund. Then the characters find the mysterious pyramid…
…and THEN THE ADVENTURE ENDS.
Just like every cheap fucking ripoff in the entire book, Gabriel yanks the
fucking football out of the way at the last minute and lets the GM come up with
the details of the mystery HIMSELF – and this is supposed to be for new GMs!
Why he didn’t just photocopy his asshole, put that in the place of the “suggestions
for what the pyramid might be” and then write “Behold! My meat whistle! Sucker!”
in its place is a mystery to me.
(I mean, the new World of Darkness does
this too, what with its reluctance to actually come up with a cosmology that explains
all of the weird bullshit that goes on in the game, but it's a supernatural game
with an emphasis on mystery, and it never skimps on stuff that's genuinely important.
I don't like the absence of a cosmology, but many apparently do.)
Make Love To Me With Your Words, Comic Book Guy
Aruna and the single gamer: Since the
Wraeththu have absolutely no sexual taboos, fuck at the drop of a hat, and are androgynous,
there’s some advice included as to how the GM can handle sex within the game. For
When you think about it, it does seem ludicrous that we can even
think to omit such an important aspect of our characters Most of our time in
the real world is taken up with the pursuit of love and sex, so how can our
characters be ambivalent towards such issues?
Because people have boundaries, maybe?
Because it’s motherfucking ridiculous to explore the sexuality of a character that
exists only in your head? I mean, if you start seriously considering what turns
the sexual crank of your 15th-level wizard, you’ve been in the basement so long
that your skin will probably start sloughing off as soon as sunlight even grazes
it. It’s like acknowledging the importance of food in people’s lives by preparing
a five-course meal for a Barbie doll. No matter how good it is, she can’t eat it.
(I’ve tried, she won’t.)
On top of that, most gamers tend to occupy
two niches: Morbidly obese (me) or morbidly skinny (some friends of mine who also
RP). I do not want to talk about sex while staring into what looks like a copy of
me, except with a shaved head and glasses.
I’m going to actually type most of the
section involving role-playing sex, because I do not want somebody telling me that
I got this wrong.
When you are comfortable (with just saying who you’re having sex
with in-game), you can move to the second level. They still need only explain
who and when rather than how and what they like. However, sex and relationships
are still part of the game. By picking partners for aruna, deeper relationships
may develop, and players can start to form an idea of the sort of other
characters who might be “their type”. All characters need to do at this stage
is specify which character(s) they are taking aruna with, and (perhaps more importantly)
who they do not. This develops relationships in the game, as well as sex.
The third level brings more role-play into the activities
mentioned above. Now it isn’t enough to say what is going on, now you must
describe it as well. It is essential at this point for characters to take on
aruna as an essential part of playing their characters. At this point you can
bring sex magic into the mix as well. While you can do so earlier, Grissecon
and aruna magic deserve the same emphasis as any other magic. So unless you are
comfortable going into reasonably graphic detail you can’t do them justice in
your game. By now, the players should feel comfortable with their characters
taking aruna and describing the way they like to do such things. Are they gentle
or harsh lovers? Do they prefer Soume or Ouana? Is Aruna like an itch they like
to scratch or a sacred spiritual union? Do they like it a lot, or not so
much, and how do they treat their partners afterwards?
The last level allows you to be as graphic as you like. You can
now bring in elements such as pelki (killing humans with the Wraeththu sexual
organ) and all the darker sides of sex and aruna. This need not be restricted
to the NPCs either.Players should feel free to create quite nasty or sexually predatory
characters, (Emphasis mine.) if they so desire. The storyteller is also now
able to bring in NPCs designed purely for sexual storylines and adventures.
Such NPCs can act as sexual foils for characters, forming jealousies and love
triangles in established relationships. Don’t mistake this level for an excuse
to make everything dark and paint sex as evil. The point here is that there are
no more limits to the sexual choices and descriptions you can use.
I cannot overstate the level of
uncomfortability with this that I have. There are so many things going wrong here
that I can’t even begin.
The book actually lays out how the GM
is supposed to gradually get the players verbally having sex with each other over
the table, using their characters as proxies. Like, imagine phoning your best buddy
and talking him off while pretending to be a woman, and he’s into it, too, and you
have a rough idea of what Strange is proposing here.
Imagine that as a selling point for the
“Phone up your friend and sex-talk him
into an orgasm while pretending to be a hermaphroditic bishonen! Then shoot him
in the eye with a BB gun that you thought was unloaded! Oh, and later, once you’re
all finished bleeding from your eyesockets and have fully gotten used to describing
your flower-penis fantasy to your friend, you get to role-play raping a human and
ejaculating acid into his colon!"
I think that the next interaction between
Storm Constantine and Gabriel Strange is going to involve Storm delivering a flying
spin kick to Gabriel’s windpipe. You could not make her work look worse if you actively
The art: Most of the art is provided
by Bruce Wells, who has a fairly blocky, inky style – you can see some of his work
at niberu.org. There’s also some delicate linework provided by Olga Bosserdt which
is really good – see, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with drawings of androgynous
boys macking on each other, so I’m not really sure that I’m the guy that you want
to talk to when it comes to judging this stuff. It’s good, I guess, but I’m working
from a pretty limited range of material.
How It's Going To End
So, in the end, what we have here is
a game that’s not just a misfire, but a misfire on the same level as the 1917 Halifax
explosion. It’s got the barest skeleton of a setting, picks out the least appealing
section of the novels to explore, makes its heroes out as selfish, irredeemable
assholes, has boredom as a major enemy of its featured race, completely hoses female
characterrs, describes humanity as being slightly smarter than the average dog,
relies on fiat and “just because” as a world-building tool, and offers absolutely
nothing to the average gamer. The times that it attempts to do something, it yanks
back at the last second, leaving the buyer's feet flailing wildly at thin air.
The really ironic thing that is somebody
posted about this game finally being equal time for gay people. Well, yes: If
you want your gay men portrayed as predatory, substance-abusing, vicious, vain,
arrogant sluts who steal young boys away from their parents and turn them into more
gay men, then yes, you have finally got “equal time”.
If your name is not Anita Bryant,
however, you may want to look into either Vampire: The Requiem – which does
everything that Wraeththu wants to do, but a thousand times better – or Tribe
8, which carries both gay and lesbian characters and a truly awesome postapocalyptic
setting. It also handles sexuality a thousand times better than Wraeththu does,
with the exception of the occasional little slip here and there.
And, see, there’s nothing inherently
wrong with the whole idea of transgenderism in role-playing. Unknown Armies has
the Mystic Hermaphrodite as one of its archetypes (in Statosphere, and later in
the 2nd edition rulebook), has a much better system for sex magic, and one of the
most potent characters is a character who switches gender at will. Tribe 8 had a
serf who’d been mutilated by the Z’bri until it didn’t have a sexual identity anymore,
and it was up to the players to help it out. (In Capal: Book of Days.) Werewolf
had a transgendered Bone Gnawer Metis, Banana Split. All of those are examples where
transgenderism pops up in role-playing and is actually handled quite well. Starchildren:
The Velvet Generation is a game that I don’t have, but – well, look, if you
want to play somebody who looks like David Bowie, at least use the right system
for it. (And, as a bonus, you might actually get to actually be cool like David
Bowie, instead of a twat.)
Another thing: If you want to see a character
who’s very much like a Wraeththu, but is about a hundred times cooler, then check
out Pie ‘oh Pah, from Clive Barker’s Imajica. Pie ‘oh’ Pah, a mystif, is
actually the kind of hermaphrodite that you want to hang out around, and exists
in a world of startling detail on the level of Clark Ashton Smith. (If you like
Mage, you’ll like Imajica.) Barker envisioned him as a black guy with dreadlocks,
but with delicate facial features. Since he was a shapeshifter, I always pictured
him as the colorful, symbol-covered humans on the front cover of the first edition,
after he dropped the disguise. (The purple one. Go check it out online; it's a neat
image.) He also lacks the astonishing dicketry of the Wraeththu. In fact, if I had
the chance to play a mystif in an Imajica game, I would go for it.
Finally, there’s the classic The Left
Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin, which broke no small number of molds
in SF – when it was published – and also acted as a fairly interesting exploration
of gender roles. Me, I’ve never read it, as Those Who Came to Omelas kinda
soured me on that whole LeGuin thing, but I understand that it’s quite good.
In short, Wraeththu does everything wrong,
very little right, and may actually be dangerous in the advice that it gives. I
mean, I don’t have to summarize it; you read the review, right?
What the hell: Just in case you didn’t,
Wraeththu: From Enchantment to Fulfilment, is one of the worst role-playing
games ever made.
Addendum: Having Read the First Novel…
I was at the local Half Price Books today
– and there, sitting on the shelf, was a copy of Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit,
the first book of the Wraeththu series.
I picked it up, cheap. A lot of stuff
got explained in very short order.
For instance, I understand why the world
information in the RPG is so thin; it’s because the actual book itself doesn’t go
into a lengthy description of the world in which the Wraeththu live. As a matter
of fact, the book mostly seems concerned with the burgenoing Wraeththu society,
most of which seems to be on the tribal level – Saltrock is a nice place to live,
but most of the Wraeththu are living in ruins. The only city built by the Wraeththu
is Immanion, and that’s largely a myth.
And, for the most part, the book is basically
an extended homosexual fantasy written by a woman. The central character of the
book is, in his own (probably too self-critical) words, a spoiled, effeminate child
when he decides to run off with a Wraeththu, realizing only shortly thereafter that
he’s gay. After a quick tour of a few Wraeththu towns, he’s killed by a human woman,
only to find himself resurrected by the mysterious Thiede, an immensely powerful
Wraeththu sorceror. He’s told that he’s going to be king, hooks up and knocks up
a Wraeththu rock singer named Rue, and becomes the king of Immanion.
That’s the book, in a nutshell. If you’re
wondering where the plot went, you’re not the only one. (Well, it's world-building
and setup for the next books in the series, I suppose.)
Now, understand that this isn’t quite
as bad as it seems. The book’s well-written enough, and it’s more about the atmosphere
and characters than it’s about plot. You could probably play it with, say, Blue
Rose and have a good time. However, the game itself makes a number of really
blatant errors that betrays – frankly – a fundemental inattention to the novels,
and that's only visible when you're able to compare the two.
For example: Remember that virus that
I was carping about, the one that kills Wraeththu? While the game describes it as
being something that the humans just came up with, the novel has it show up very
early, where it kills a couple of Wraeththu off screen, and is then killed by a
magical ritual. It’s more an illustration of what the humans are trying to do than
a serious threat.
Or, even more seriously, remember how
the Wraeththu suffered from the threat of nihilism, because they couldn’t reproduce?
It’s acknowledged early in the novel that the Wraeththu can reproduce, through the
black pearl method, and it’s only five years later that the central protagonist
knocks up a one-night stand and then runs off, continuning the portrayal of Wraeththu
as irresponsible jackasses. As a matter of fact, the second encounter that the characters
in the novel get into involves them rescuiing a Wraeththu who’s been captured by
a Wraeththu tribe, so that the leader can use him as a brood mare. And yet, the
game says that the Wraeththu can’t reproduce – that they’re still learning. For
a book that was supposed to be a fan-fiction guide, this is a unforgivable mistake.
And there’s information about the Wraeththu
that simply isn’t conveyed within the game. For instance, the Uigenna and the Varr
are considered savage tribes, and the central character of the first novel is going
to go to war with them at the end of the first novel – and yet most of the Wraeththu
quoted in the book are Uigenna, giving the impression that they’re supposed to be
a viable character choice instead of being the Wraeththu equivalent of the Mongols.
And the misandry within the game is present
within the novel as well. There isn’t a single postiive male character in the entire
novel, and when they do appear, they’re portrayed as being uniformly unattractive
– red-faced, sweating, overweight and so forth. There’s even a little blurb in the
book about how people weren’t acknowledging their male/female sides, which made
men cruel and women submissive. Of course, assigning various behaviors to one gender
or the other is, in itself, a reductive and foolish way to think of human psychology,
so that doesn’t work.
Speaking of which: The male characters
are more female than male. The central character has his hair brushed a hundred
times by his sister every evening, “to make it shine”, and spends a lot of his time
being prettied up before and after his inception – kohl, glitter, perfume, incense,
the whole nine yards. A big pink frilly bow isn’t mentioned, but I imagine that
we’re just supposed to assume that it’s there. Actual gay men would roll their eyes
until they get a sprain.
Some details within the game are more
forgivable having read the novel. For instance, the vagueness in the game about
the nature of the world is amplified in the novel – but while the game seems to
suggest that we’re about twenty years into the apocalypse, the novels seem to be
an indeterminate period into the future. You have the feeling that Constantine was
trying to sweep the old world away and get to the fun parts, the same way that Thundarr
the Barbarian did, or the way that Stephen King suggested a world that had simply
decayed away in the Gunslinger novels. Nothing wrong with that, sometimes
you just want to sweep the stage clean and start with a blank slate. The Wraeththu
themselves – the smart ones, in Immanion – say that they regret all of the technology
that they’ve lost, and want to get it back but aren’t sure how much is left. The
game gets this across very poorly.
The first book is worth reading if you
can get it for free – I doubt that you’ll find it to be any good, but it’s worth
it to see how the original concept got twisted out of whack. But the irony is that
the original novels make the game look worse. (Also, "From Enchantment to Fulfillment"
is actually referring to the names of the three novels; Enchantments of Flesh and
Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, and The Fulfillments of Fate and Desire.
If the intent was to note the timeframe of the game, it should be pointed out that
the timeframe of the game doesn't even get to the time of Enchantments.)
So, in the end, Wraeththu's just a
terrible game. I'm glad that Gabriel Strange was able to muster up the energy
and dedication to write the whole thing, but there's so many fundamental
mistakes in the game design, setting, and portrayal of the world that it's obvious
that he was doing it alone - and without somebody else to check your shit, it's
easy to fall into the same bad traps that kill a shit-ton of homebrew games
every year. But given the inaccessible nature of the source material, the
contemporary complete disinterest in the novels, and the horrible example that
this game laid down, it looks like this is Wraeththu's first and last gaming