The Whispering Vault is a special game for me, as, along with Over the Edge, it significantly influenced me to shift into role-playing design at all and, more so than OtE, provided crucial play-experience during the creation of Sorcerer. I like to describe it as the 1990s’ best unknown horror game, and better than most picks for the known ones. It is arguably one of the single best games of that decade, with immense long-term play potential despite its apparent one-shot focus. Its author had previously written the Mayfair Games (almost-)D&D supplements Demons and Demons II, if you remember those.
I have, however, not played it in almost twenty years and often keenly felt the lack throughout the heady days of new playtests and new publications during the early 2000s. The lack was not only for myself but has become evident to me, more and more, among the people I knew who “never heard of it” or had just enough recognition to dismiss it casually.
I made a little handout for players to refer to during play, which is my best shot at quickie orientation for the game (attached). I also jump-started character creation by making several numbers-only Stalkers; the idea being that they would choose pictures for the characters, grab a sheet and its associated rules, and add crucial characterization through the further specifications of character creation for a cohesive whole, thematically their own rather than mine. Here are the pictures.
Let’s see, Nataneal chose the “classy” pic with the umbrella, Lennart chose the jannissary-looking one, Tintin chose the angel/robot thing, and Willy chose the vampire-ish looking one, if I remember correctly. They went on to specify historical backgrounds, the Focus Skill, and their Keys of Humanity. I’ve attached the sheets too.
This is also the first session of play I’ve recorded at my new local role-playing home, Spelens Hus here in Norrköping. I underestimated the background noise so our voices may be a bit murky compared to my screen play sessions, but I’ll be fixing gains and feeds and stuff as I go along, eventually to optimize. Anyway, Spelens Hus is the physical property for an umbrella organization, SIN, which contains a variety of local gaming groups. I’m now in N.Ö.R.D., the role-playing group, and thus part of SIN, and thus authorized (or whatever, it’s not that formal) to use Spelens Hus as a play location.
Remember two years ago as I hunted all over to find role-players and couldn’t? That’s because none of this was in place at that point. Now, it’s like a convention all week long, every week.
As for this play session, I’d like to draw your attention to the way the players moved into both the system and their characters, piece by piece. By the final scenes in the hospital, each Stalker had taken on specific mannerisms and priorities, and each player was always playing them extremely faithfully to the Keys they’d created. They also quickly oriented toward the dice and, eventually, their specific Disciplines and Servitors. I did forget to explain Karma, which might have saved them a failed roll or two, but they weren’t really up against dire stuff yet, so they might as well save it.
The game goes against certain expected tropes, so you can see the players adjust to the relationship between the Stalkers and the world, in that each Stalker is from a specific point in history but isn’t thrown off or stereotypically out of place in the particular place and time for a Hunt, and that they can rely on the Veil to help them fit in, and even use it to their advantage. Apparently they assumed they’d be fish out of water, but were surprised at how easy it was simply to stride into the hospital room and “be” administrative medical officials.
I know the game is supposed to be a romp through as many historical and semi-historical places and times as it can stand, but I also could not help but set it right where we were playing, albeit a generation or two prior to the present, when the city was rather different. It seemed to pay off well.
I’d love to discuss this game further. Please comment & question!