The last original gaming line to be set in the old World of Darkness, and the first White Wolf attempt at a "limited run" game.
While Orpheus does tie in loosely with White Wolf's previous effort at the afterlife, Wraith: The Oblivion, it is not treated as a true sequel or continuation. It tackles the world of the dead following the events of the Sixth Great Maelstrom, a ethereal storm that practically obliterated the Shadowlands.
Into this turbulence enters the Orpheus Group. Orpheus has learned and perfected the art of projection, allowing specially-trained people who have undergone Near Death Experiences to leave their bodies and enter the spirit realm. Along with allied ghosts, Orpheus' living agents are contracted out to clients; they investigate hauntings, fumigate raging spirits, and deal with other spooky spirit-related tasks. It sounds simple, but as the story progresses, things get complicated as the enemies get stronger, corruption becomes rampant, allies fall to the darkness and the line between the worlds of the living and dead begin to blur...
Orpheus player characters can be living or dead; the way they interact with the dead is known as their Lament. The four types are:
- Skimmers, living people able to kick their spirit from their body temporarily.
- Sleepers, cryogenically-frozen to the point of death, upon which they can roam free from their bodies.
- Spirits, good old-fashioned ghosts who happen to have a strong will and sense of self.
- Hues, spirits who have been tainted with darkness via pigment, a designer drug with sinister properties.
In addition, characters also have a Shade, a manifestation of their personalities that dictates the awesome and unearthly abilities, called Horrors, that they can access in death. There are five shades in the core book, though the final total is brought up to eight through the other volumes. Sample Shades include being able to possess the living, using a banshee wail, or just throwing stuff around violently. Horrors sound cool and useful, but do come at a price, as they raise a character's Spite, putting them closer to spiritual corruption, or can cause them to burn out their willpower or even their ghostly existence.
Orpheus was notable for dropping the Old World of Darkness standby of The Masquerade-- humanity was quite aware of the dead as the setting's run began. It also was perhaps the Old World of Darkness setting most devoted to excluding the others -- little, if any, crossover advice were given, and The Core book states outright that if in your game you want them to exist, the Orpheus characters would be heavily outmatched as they are essentially plain, run-of-the-mill humans.
Only six gaming books (the core book and five supplements), plus a fictional anthology, Haunting the Dead, were released. The Orpheus story is more directed than past World of Darkness games, and completely told through the six books, via role-playing scenarios, fiction, and a set of signature characters. In many ways, Orpheus was a model for how the New World of Darkness would be marketed, especially the limited run of books and each splat forwarding the story while adding new concepts. Just as Orpheus played with concepts from Wraith, ideas from both Wraith and Orpheus would resurface in Geist: The Sin Eaters for the New World of Darkness.
Orpheus still has a small but devoted fanbase, some overlapping with Wraith and many for the game in and of itself. Of course, there's also a bit of a Hatedom some from Wraith's firmer fans, and some Old World of Darkness stalwarts who dismiss it as not truly a part of their beloved setting.
The game settings and scenerios change greatly from the corebook to the final volume, so beware of spoilers for the later volumes below.
This game contains examples of:
- Alien Geometries: Escher's Corkscrew, the Crucible Horror for Haunters, allows them to cause these.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Orpheus Group tries to use this whenever possible to get rid of ghosts. The other afterlife companies...not so much.
- Blessed with Suck: A number of character types, but the Skimmer and Sleeper Laments stand out:
- As a Skimmer, you can enter and leave your body at will. However, any damage you take as a spirit reflects on your physical body. In addition, they are literally hanging by a thread to their bodies, so if that thread is somehow cut...
- Sleepers don't have to worry about damage to their physical forms, but if they need to return to the world of the living in a hurry, they're going to have to wait a few hours, whether they want to or not.
- Chained by Fashion: Lawgivers, direct servants of Grandmother.
- Closed Circle: Low-level spirits who can only re-enact their deaths.
- Cold Flames: The usual appearance of a manifesting Wisp, as well as the armor used by Skinriders activating the Juggernaut Horror.
- Cool Car: The Hell On Wheels Horror for Haunters allows them to literally transform into one of these.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Terrell & Squibb and NextWorld are two other companies in the post-life game, but with much less savory practices. And it's not like Orpheus had its hands clean either...
- The Corruption: In the form of Spite; the more a ghost accumulates, the closer they come to turning into a twisted, depraved Spectre.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Orphan-Grinders, Spectres who have been reminded of their lives and renounced Oblivion. They keep the general, mutated appearance of their Oblivion-tainted forms, and retain access to Spectre powers, but they're no better or worse than any other ghost.
- The Dark Side: Each Orpheus agent can manifest Stains -- dark, intrinsic powers. However, Stains breed Spite...
- Dark World: The Shadowlands, the true realms of the dead, which are blocked by the impassible Stormwall.
- Dead to Begin With: Several of the Laments and Shades -- Spirits, Hues, Orphan-Grinders...
- Disintegrator Ray: The Consume Horror for Wisps allows them to weaken or destroy things with a single touch.
- Dream Weaver: The Sandman Horror for Phantasms.
- Don't Look Back: Unsurprisingly, the main back-cover slogan.
- Eldritch Abomination: Grandmother. Doesn't sound so threatening, does it? Yeah. This thing created the Neverborn. And the reason it's called Grandmother is because the people who heard the Spectres talk about it mispronounced the name -- it's not Grandma, it's Grand Maw.
- Empathic Environment: Banshees can cause the Stormwall to tear open and release its power as their Crucible Horror.
- Familiar: Marrows can summon these using their second-tier Horror of the same name.
- Fantastic Drug: Pigment, heroin infused with the strange qualities of the Shadowlands. Anyone who overdoses on it becomes a "Hue," a ghost that has an easier time accessing Stains.
- Functional Magic: Horrors, ghostly abilities that rely on life energy.
- Ghost City: The Necropolis of New York City is doubly this after the last Maelstrom fuses almost all of the ghosts inhabiting it into the infrastructure of the city itself. That's right...you basically have a dead city in a world of ghosts.
- Ghost Lights: Wisps gain access to a particularly hypnotic variety.
- Ghostly Goals: Most average ghosts in Orpheus seem to fall into the Type A category, but there are several notable Type B's, such as Uriah Bishop and his followers.
- Hammerspace: The Beckon Relic Horror appears to allow Wisps to do this. The catch is they don't get to choose what comes out...
- Haunted Technology: The Inhabit Horror for Haunters allows them to possess and control inanimate objects.
- The Heartless: Spectres. Of course, it might not be too late for them...
- Heel Face Turn: Late into the line, it's revealed that some Spectres are able to regain control over themselves and remember who they were in life, abandoning Oblivion and becoming Orphan-Grinders.
- Hell Gate: Banshees can open holes in the Stormwall if they are powerful enough. Naturally occurring holes can also be found in Spectre hives.
- Hellish Horse: The Hellion Horror for Orphan-Grinders.
- Human Popsicle: The Sleeper lament. Not to mention that Orpheus was originally a company that specialized in freezing the terminally ill, which is how they discovered projection in the first place.
- Induced Hypochondria: The Contaminate Horror for Skinriders allows them to fake both illnesses and cures.
- I See Dead People: Living agents can eventually see the world of the dead overlapping the world of the living in their normal vision.
- Jacob Marley Apparel: Ghosts, especially low-level ones, usually appear as they did when or just before they died.
- Living Bodysuit: The Doppelganger Horror for Skinriders allows them to create these.
- Make Me Wanna Shout: The Wail Horror for Banshees.
- Master of Illusion: The Bedlam Horror for Phantasms, which can affect all five senses if enough Vitality is spent.
- Mind Over Matter: The Helter Skelter Horror for Poltergeists.
- Near-Death Experience: The Sleeper and Skimmer laments are living people who can temporarily kick their spirits out of their bodies at will.
- In addition, all Orpheus agents have undergone at least one of these in their normal lives before working for Orpheus.
- Night of the Living Mooks: The Clay Jars Crucible Horror for Marrows allows them to temporarily raise the dead as zombie minions.
- Playing with Fire: The Witch's Nimbus Horror for Haunters. Also has an electrical variant.
- Ride the Lightning: The Broadband Ghost Horror for Haunters.
- Screw Destiny: The Pandemonium Horror for Banshees allows them to tweak the present to change the future.
- Seers: The Forebode Horror for Banshees.
- Splat: Orpheus operators are defined by their Shade (what kind of ghostly powers they manifest) and their Lament (their current vital status).
- The Swarm: The Legion-Born Horror for Marrows allows them to become one of these.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Replace "food and drink" with "pigment"; adding strychnine to it leads to the horrific results of "The Pale Horse" scenario in Shades of Gray.
- Teleporters and Transporters: The Storm-Wending Horror for Wisps allows them to teleport at will.
- Undead Child: Lost Boys.
- Unfinished Business: All ghosts in Orpheus have this, even the high-level, proactive ones.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Flesh-Flux Horror for Marrows allows them to change their shape or use Stains with no penalty.
- Wham! Episode: The second book has NextWorld lead an army of Spectres into Orpheus during the office Christmas party, killing most of the other agents and leaving the player characters as the only survivors... and murder suspects.
- Who You Gonna Call?: Orpheus offers discreet services as councilors and "fumigators" for restless spirits.