RPG Reviews – World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters (Onyx Path Publishing)

A friend once asked me what I thought the hardest game to play was. It only took the time required to type “Wraith: The Oblivion” to provide an answer. I didn’t mean that it’s unplayable – I’ve played it and loved it – I just meant that the core concept and setting, supported by the mechanics, makes it not something everyone is going to want to dive into, especially as my friends and colleagues progress in years and the shadow of the beyond looks ever closer and takes those close to us.

That aside, Wraith is a brilliant game and the World of Darkness game I never expected to love as much as I did. I have the 20th Anniversary edition, which I will aim to review in the future, but my 2E copy has seen plenty of use, and my Wraith books were the only classic WoD books to survive every bookshelf purge.

Since it’s unclear when I’ll ever delve into the Shadowlands again, will they just collect dust and become relics as they cross the Shroud? Hardly! Not with World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters having been released for the 20th anniversary line.

The overall aim of Ghost Hunters is to produce an atmosphere of mystery and fear of the unknown and to focus on characters for whom the supernatural is not a guarantee. Kindred, Garou, Mages, etc. can’t deny their supernatural existence, but humans still can – whether it’s through rationalization or the various effects the supers have to hide their existence. The protagonists of Ghost Hunters aren’t default skeptics, but they could be if the group wanted.

Using the framework of the podcast “The Paranoid Paranormist”, the origins and history of ghosts and spiritualism are revealed. I’m not personally an expert, but the authors did a nice job mixing in real world people and incidents in with the fiction of the World of Darkness (I know some are made up because the Orpheus Group appears in the history.) Podcast transcripts and articles help with the in-character narrative, while the rest brings us to our modern day, complete with modern technology.

“Nightcrawler Paranormal” and its members are the focus of the second chapter, which covers, in a way, sample investigators and the diversity of backgrounds they can come from as well as the “how-to” of hunting. In the narrative there’s a lot of good advice on how to structure a hunt story and procedures for the hunters to follow, including the excellent reminder to do your research. Just because everyone says there’s a ghost in that attic doesn’t mean the house has an attic… In the sense that it helps build structure it’s a great resource for Storytellers to use to make sure they’ve covered all the bases in designing their ghost story. Nothing’s worse than a mystery that falls flat due to an unexpected factor or having to improv an avenue of inquiry that ends up not meshing with previous revelations.

Following that there’s a section covering a teleconference of paranormal investigators which covers the five major supernaturals in the World of Darkness and their involvement with ghosts. This was a section that could have run into problems with the “mystery and fear of the unknown” themes, except that the authors did a very excellent job of just scratching the surface of each of those worlds and neither revealing anything completely substantial or much beyond the surface. The Mage section may get a little closer to that – actually explaining as much about the world of Wraith as the Wraith section does, but it’s just too delightful a narrative and presents an incredible Chronicle concept for either Mages or Ghost Hunters – it’s one of those that makes me want to sweep my desk clean, read M20, and start planning. In the grand tradition of World of Darkness sourcebook fiction, the teleconference has more than a couple delightful hidden secrets, which I won’t spoil.

Ghost Hunters don’t have to be small cells of investigators and we get a section focused on various organizations that investigate and are involved in the supernatural, here specific to ghosts. Some old standbys reappear – The Arcanum, Terrel & Squib, and the FBI’s Special Affairs Department among them. Some I’m either unfamiliar with or they’re completely new, my favorites being the NWO gaslighters of the Sympathizer Spin Agents and the archaeologists and Mummy-connected Ashukhi Corporation. No mention of poor Bob Schnoblen and his Goblins but I feel their fate may have been covered back in the day in another book. Mediums, those who develop (or are born with) the ability to see beyond the Shroud are given a thorough treatment, including how they work with other ghost hunters, their methodology, and abilities. Mechanics-wise there are a few cool Relics and Artifacts, as well as Rituals – which cover how to summon, command, exorcise, and ward off ghosts. They’re brief rules but I like them, as they’re simple and straightforward (and available to more than just mediums, though they’re easier for them.) This ties into the view on ghosts and exorcism in a variety of belief systems, covering Christianity, Shamanistic practices, Western Hermeticism, the Syncretic religions of Central and South America like Vodoun and Santeria, and modern Spiritualism. Medium Lineages are covered, including the Benandanti (a “family” rooted in Italy, made up of those born with a Caul over their face, able to view the other side); the Hidalgo (Giovanni descendants and legacies of colonial times); the Zukal (a family from the medieval Balkans who have since spread around the world and help their communities handle hauntings and possessions.) Each family has their own take on being a medium and how to interact with ghosts, making for very interesting protagonists or antagonists.

Character creation follows standard Classic World of Darkness mortal generation, though options are provided to boost their power by giving the supernatural point spread for Attributes and Abilities. You’ll need to reference a 20th Anniversary core rulebook to fully generate a character, though there are new Backgrounds like “Paranormal Tools” to make use of. Ghost hunters operate off Humanity, so don’t go forgetting that when you’re crossing lines busting ghosts. New Merits & Flaws are available to ghost hunters and mediums, covering their societal interactions, belief systems, even being possessed. There are some fun Numina available, my favorite being Starlight, which allows travel to and around the Shadowlands, bringing the fight to the wraiths’ doorstep. There’s a great section on equipment and what’s necessary to enhance gear for ghost hunting purposes, including the noteworthy Tobin’s Spirit Guide, an incredibly useful tool to capture and destroy supernatural entities, and the Orpheus App, one of the Orpheus Group’s means of researching the spirit world and communicating with ghosts.

World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters doesn’t contain any sample stories, but it has a wealth of creepy as shit story hooks presented as “Case Files.” I love reading brief ghost stories – people’s accounts of supernatural experiences and urban legends, for example, as they’re always great to use to build a horror scenario. My favorites are “The Letter Writer”, about a haunted murder hotel, and the chilling “OK”, wherein we meet the worst spectral roommate one could ask for.

The storytelling section is great. Since Ghost Hunters is a supplement for a core rulebook, all it needs to focus on is explicitly ghost hunting material. I especially like the “Elements of a Case” section, which helps players and storytellers by breaking down an investigation into its core components, like Permissions (to operate on-site, interview witnesses), Access to historic data (or even health care), and all the other things to consider when going on the hunt. The Chronicle structure also presents some really helpful concepts and notes to assist in building stories. Beyond the conflict between ghosts and hunters, or resolving the ghost’s unfinished business, etc. there’s a lot of other conflict that can be present in a Ghost Hunter Chronicle, and it also gets a good treatment. It could be vs. Self (belief in the supernatural), other teammates (a variety of reasons, resources or unexpected threats), other ghost hunter teams/organizations, law enforcement, and so on.

World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters is a strong book that showcases the options for playing Wraith-focused Chronicles without actually playing Wraiths themselves. Whether you’re a YouTube channel trying to expose the truth behind the afterlife, a member of an ancient lineage who combats hostile ghosts, or one of the other supernatural denizens of the World of Darkness looking to cross paths or swords with the Underworld, this is an entertaining and highly useful sourcebook!

To pick up a copy of World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters, visit the below Affiliate link and help support this site! This title was provided for purpose of review.

DriveThruRPG (PDF and Print-On-Demand)


One thought on “RPG Reviews – World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters (Onyx Path Publishing)

  1. Pingback: Routinely Itemised: RPGs #125

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