Being a Better Shadow



(Illustration by Tobie Abad)

The Shadow is one of the parts of Wraith that many people don't understand. It's often seen as just a part that the designer tacked on, or as an unneeded contrivance there to screw over the players, when it's actually one of the better parts of the game. When played right, the Shadow can be the worst, most psychological enemy that a character can't beat. Sure, they can gain some respite, but it will always be with them (unless they become Ferrymen, but that's not too likely).

So, how do you do this? How to you take what so far in your games has been an uninspiring part of the play and turn it into potentially the most scary? Simple. Get to know your Wraith, and get to know your Shadow.

Seems simple, doesn't it? But how many of you have spent even half an hour with the Psyche's player after character creation, just talking about the Shadow? From the number of posts I have read online about people 'not getting the Shadow', not that many. Hopefully, I can offer some pointers on rectifying this situation. But the best way, the best advice I can give above all other, is to treat the Shadow as another character of yours. One that isn't in the limelight, and you might not play as much, but it should be developed just as much as the Psyche, if not more.

When you're creating the Shadow, sit down with the player of the Psyche, and talk about the concept for the Wraith. Find out the Psyche's hopes, fears and dreams, their deepest regrets and greatest embarrassments. That's where you start. From there come the building blocks, the raw materials. Once you've exhausted that line of questioning, then the fun begins.

The first step is, of course, the Archetype. This will mold all of the other choices you make, so choose carefully. Sometimes, a Shadow screams out at you from the concept of a Wraith (Parent for a child Wraith), but always think. What if the Shadow was more the 'forceful father' type, never happy with the child? That's surely more of a Perfectionist Shadow. Or one that encourages the child to try new things, to break the boundaries if only he will let it help... sounds more like a Pusher to me. Base it equally from the concept of the Psyche and your own personal choice. After all, who said you couldn't have fun Shadowguiding?

Once you have chosen the Archetype, the next choice is the Dark Passions. At this point it can be just too tempting to invert the Passions of the Psyche, and be done with it. Though that's the easy path, think back to the talk earlier. Work in the little things... For instance, say one of the Wraith's Passions was "Protect my Husband (Love): 5". The simple snap judgment would be to take "Kill my husband (Hate): 5", but think forward. What if the Wraith sometimes saw her husband as some cross between a father-figure and a provider, secretly knowing that he was all she needed and all she would ever need? "Protect my Husband (Obsession): 5" would be just as valid a route to take. Also think to the embarrassments that came up in the talk. Any driving goal, any need that had a strong enough impact but was then denied makes a good start for the Shadow. Remember Haunts, which demonstrated a serial killer with a Dark Passion to change the music in the jukebox? Sure, the Psyche was a bastard, but concerned more with the big things in life. He couldn't honestly have cared about the
music that much, surely? Whatever you come up with, run with it. Feel free to come up with other Dark Passions that have no basis in fact but that could have mattered to the character in life. Just be sure of one thing if you take this route: Always Consult the Psyche's Player. If you invent Dark Passions, don't forget that the Psyche has to know at least some of the details. And it it sprung from nothing the Psyche had ever included in her concept, then she has every right to veto the Dark Passion, or at least suggest a change.

This may seem strange, but look at it this way: What's to stop an unscrupulous Shadowguide that takes this route deciding that the character was a closet paedophile or worse? There are some issues that players will feel uncomfortable with, such as homophobia or rape, so before including any of these, always make sure that the Psyche is good with it. If such situations are forced upon them, the game ceases to be fun for the player, and can easily make friends part ways. Don't let it get to this point.

Disclaimers aside, if the player is good with it, then go for it. The character might not be okay with it, but then which character likes her Shadow? Next in the creation process comes the expenditure of Freebie Points, and with them the purchase of Thorns. Again, try to tie the Thorns more to the Archetype of the Shadow and the concept of the Psyche than to personal taste. Of course, personal taste has some say in this as well, just be sure not to have a recurring theme through all of the Shadows that you create. If every Shadow that you play has the Bad Luck thorn, then the Psyche's player will work to compensate for it. Don't even give them that chance.

Once the Shadow's created, there are still a few things that you can consider for Shadowguiding in general.

Shadow Dice. These can be both a blessing and a curse to both sides. A trick that works well the first time is to always offer them. Even on rolls that the Psyche obviously doesn't need any assistance on, always hold out a clenched fist with a couple of dice in it. Every single roll should be accompanied with the offer of help (in as condescending manner as you like to whisper), and then, the big break, the life or death moment when the character has to roll three successes against a difficulty of nine they will beg for the dice. That's when you open an empty hand. Another important thing that you have to consider is the Shadow's motivation. Some of them are scared of Oblivion, but believe it's their final fate. Some want to drag as many down with them as they can. In either case, if the player is making a life or death roll to see if only she gets sucked into Oblivion, offer Shadow Dice. It can often lead to a false sense of security.

Speaking: How to differentiate between your Psyche's speech, and that of the Shadow is a good question. By far the most common way is to whisper in the Psyche's ear. But even then, think about the manner of speech. A redneck character's Shadow might speak in a hideous Southern drawl, making it almost impossible to understand any words. Or it could have the sharp, clipped tones of an English Gentleman to remind the character that she sounds like an idiot and a buffoon. Either is an effective way of implying things and unsettling a character even without saying words to that effect. Another good trick involving words is simply to spend all session saying nothing. Offer Shadow Dice when there is a chance the Psyche will need them, but don't be excessive. Other than that, say and do nothing as the Shadow. The player of your opposite number will go nuts trying to work out what you are planning.

Agree with the Psyche: Whisper words of encouragement. Back up the decisions that the Psyche makes. Offer Shadow Dice when the character might need them, but say nothing about them being turned down. Back up everything that the Psyche
does, and shout down those that oppose her. Either the Psyche will go insane wondering why you are being nice or they will be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that you really do have their best interests at heart. At that point, you have two options. Either you show what a fool the Psyche was by dumping her right into a whole heap of trouble, or you keep going. If you keep going, be subtle. Gently start to take the reins, making suggestions without telling and backing down without much of a fight at all. Do this right, and you can have the Psyche riding straight into the maw of Oblivion and thinking that it was all her idea.

Come up with your own fiendish plots, but remember not to overdo it. You have to remember that the Psyche is the star of the show. After all, if you're spending all your time Shadowguiding for another character, what fun is your Shadowguide going to have?