Orpheus: Into the Maw

Orpheus was the first time I felt confident as a tabletop GM. It’s nine years old now, I still don’t own all the books, and it laid the foundation for me sticking with the hobby. In White Wolf’s game Orpheus, you are racing a clock. There are six books in the line, including the mainbook. The plotline for those books doesn’t just have a timer, it has a detonator. In that respect, Orpheus laid the groundwork that would let me come to story games later on in my gaming experience. Story games, more than anything I’ve ever played, have a sense of story, pacing and end.

Your Crucible Is Your Only Friend

What if your Near Death Experience(s) could get you a job?

The Orpheus Group has perfected “projection,” and its employees can leave their bodies through careful training and the use of an Orpheus developed drug. People with NDEs are head hunted by corporations like the Orpheus Group, including their rivals Terrel and Squib.  As an employee, you’re put together with a group of equally gifted colleagues. Some of them might be ghosts. Player characters fall into one of multiple Shades, classifications of their powers outside their bodies that are coloured by their NDEs, life experiences and personal philosophy. Their Horrors are their preternatural abilities. Employees who fall into the Banshees shade have Horrors that control and change emotions, and Poltergeists are as absolutely terrifying as you can imagine as they advance in their study of their Horrors. The Orpheus Group is an equal opportunity employer, and employs ghosts alongside living employees. The payroll for ghosts tend to be far more unusual.

In the well-paid and entirely too lethal world of Orpheus, your team—your Crucible—are your chance to survive the regularly scheduled mayhem of field work. And when things get ugly for Orpheus, they’re the only chance you have to survive the coming cataclysms.

Into The Fire

I ran Orpheus for three friends, and I threw myself hard at learning to run a complex, tight-knit game of mystery and survival horror literally session by session. I’d spent more time running LARPs than I ever had on any other form of RPG, and I was nervous as humanly possible when I started running Orpheus. When we started, we used two copies of the main book. One for players, and one for me. I was on shaky feet at first, and my players relationship to the rules was helping me find them. I was responsible for story, for arbitration, and doing my part to make game fun. Their job was to play, and they made it their job to help me figure out what the Hell I was doing as quickly as possible. At first, they negotiated with me for things they wanted to do, as we all learned the system. As we all became more confident, that thoughtful negotiation became more of a back and forth tug, one that came with the careful recollections of my players of ground I’d given. I don’t suggest learning a system as a group like that, but the social/mechanical evolution going on is something I can find wildly fascinating years later.

Why I Fell In Love With The Dead

Orpheus has a sense of incredible urgency, a living, breathing engine under your feet. That heart-pounding, cinematic narrative made me fall in love with the game. Maybe more than any other game I’ve ever played. It felt like it had room for everything I wanted to see in a story, and it didn’t make anything feel shoehorned. We could dump mystery, romance, comedy, tragedy, anything and everything we each wanted into the game. And it would change colours and boil over and we still wanted to keep going. Even when things become desperate for player characters, as new secrets are revealed and the whole world turns upside down. It didn’t matter that a Crucible member was bleeding to death in a bath tub and the team leader woke up screaming from nightmares about the future. The characters you play in the game have to be ready for anything, and in our out of their bodies, every game could be their last.

It’s one of the only games where mortality was precious and terrifying to such an amped degree consistently because of how the game was written, not just because of how it was run. Mage: The Ascension is a game that I love deeply, but it has to share my affections with the ghostly denizens of Orpheus. This is an imperfect, flawed way to tell you about a game, when I can’t wave my hands and show my animation, respond to questions. But I love Orpheus so deeply, I finally felt confident enough to master a system. Just as much as I wanted to master the setting. When I’m intimidated by running a game, I try to remember what being so in love with running a game is like. That being confident makes it better for me and for my players. That mechanics are not a pain in the ass, they’re a tool. That looming apocalyptic nightmares can be fought.

And that sometimes, late at night, it isn’t just the wind. Luckily, the Orpheus Group has a number of talented employees standing by.


Have fond memories of Orpheus and its plot? Want to share the game that made you fall in love with tabletop GMing? Leave a note in the comments.



About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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