“History is a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man.”
~Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Time before time…
The worlds of the living and the dead were one. Perhaps not harmoniously…but they were together. The dead walked among the living, and the living the dead. Then, as if the world did not like this interchange a great rift shook the world and split the living and dead in two. The Sundering may have done little to the living save pull the dead from them…but it changed the dead in ways that none will ever fully understand.
Oblivion, that passive force of destruction that sat silently in the deepest bowels of the underworld “awoke”. And it awoke with a desire to destroy all things. Like a tempter, it whispered to each and every soul now trapped behind the Sundering’s creation – The Shroud – and taunted them, teased them and promised them everything if they would only just cease being. These whispers conjured The Shadow, that tempestuous monster that lingers inside all of us and has been driving Wraiths either mad or into Oblivion’s embrace, ever since.
None knew what was going on of course. How could they? One moment they walked with their lived ones, the next they were locked in a world that seemed like theirs but wasn’t with Oblivion reaching out to ensure everything. That is when The Lady of Fate came, the closest thing to godhead many had seen since the Sundering and told them of a great leader who would come to guide them all and stand against Oblivion. … … Well who you think it was??
Charon, The Ferrymen and the Shining Ones
Ya can’t understand our world without understanding Charon. Thankfully, we have time on our side now. Charon, they say, was a Mycenean see? So somewhere between oh…1750–1000 BCE, is when Charon showed his face. The Lady of Fate took him under her wing and fashioned him a boat and oar and told him to seek out the helpless dead. So Charon was the first Ferryman, charged by the Lady herself, to tend to the flock of the dead. And he did.
Charon sailed the byways and rivers and found the Isle of Sorrows, a place where no boat could land for it was too treacherous. The Lady of Fate of course showed where he could, and told him that a time would come when he would shepherd the mass of the dead, and for his service they would pay him a tithe for his efforts. Accepting, Charon took others under his wing and at the bank of the Isle of Sorrows came the first Ferrymen, the boatmen, who would expand Charon’s teachings and guidance and be where he was not.
Some took the task to heart, but others sought to forge the path for Charon and the others. To cross the Sunless Sea, where the Isle of Sorrows rested near, and find the Far Shores, paradise given substance, these Ferryman left Charon and sailed into that massive darkness to illuminate the path for them. They became known as The Shining Ones. Don’t worry, they will be back later.
Charon descended into the Veinous Stair then, because the Lady of Fate told him to. There he saw that Oblivion, his sworn foe, was growing and a great battle took place. When he returned he returned with Nhudri, a mysterious wraith he saved while descending the Veinous Stair who held the secret of Soulforging. He summoned the Ferryman to him and even a few of the Shining Ones came across the Sunless Sea to treat with Charon. He told the Ferryman of his disappoint as Oblivion was growing too strong! And the Ferryman were not performing their duties. The Shining Ones offered their charts of the Sunless Sea to Charon and Charon left for the Far Shores, a feat that took many years.
The Founding of Stygia and the Dark Kingdom of Iron
Fast forward to around the time of the Roman Empire. Charon returned from the Far Shores bearing gifts from the Shining Ones who remained in the Far Shores as proof of Charon’s leadership known as The Seven Signs; proof of Charon’s right to rule over the dead. Charon took these seven signs and put them on a stone table, and around that stone table he built a fortress using the remnant stones of old empires – Memphis, Athens, Babylon and others. At the center of his fortress he built a towering lighthouse that pierced the Tempest, the searing winds of the underworld, to guide souls to that place. Thus, atop the seven hills of the Isle of Sorrows was Stygia, Charon’s capital.
Charon soon learned of other realms, realms far from his ancient Myceneae and Stygia. The other Kingdoms of the dead came to treat with Charon, and it was from them the term ‘Dark Kingdom of Iron’ stems. But leadership was not a one-man gig for Charon, so Charon looked to Rome to provide an example. He created a Senate and charged Nhudri to forge the Byways, roads that pierced the Tempest that would give the dead passage to Stygia and to the Sunless Sea. Here in Stygia the dead would be tended, helped prepare for their journey, and then be taken to the Far Shores where the Shining Ones would welcome them.
It was nice for a while until Rome began to decline. The Barbarous hordes that shook Rome died and found an imitation in Stygia. They refused Charon’s teachings and balked at Charon’s claim of leadership. They became the first Renegades, those who defied Charon’s rule, and because of them Stygia began to militarize with the birth of the Equitaes, the dreaded death horsemen, who protected the caravans of the dead traversing the Byways.
The first proclamation that Charon gave as Consul of his Senate was the Lux Veritatis. Because of it, Stygia came to house the greatest collection of art the world had ever seen. Statues, paintings, books, all works of art were deemed vital to help deter Oblivion’s constant temptations on the dead. Through beauty, the dead would be awed, and Oblivion would be kept at bay in their heart as much as their soul.
The First Great Malestrom — The Fall of Rome and the birth of Empire
So tied to Rome was Stygia that Rome’s fall was Stygia’s fall. Barbarians at the gates, the growth of the Christian God, all contributed to the social collapse while the corrupt Senate and it’s string of dictators pushed that ruin from on high. So too, did Stygia suffer because…well…where do you think these sods went when they died?
First came the Fishers, the followers of Christ who died under persecution by the Romans. Ignoring the Ferryman and Charon both they fashioned their own boats out of floatsam and junk, eager to sail to the Far Shore of “Paradise”, whatever that was and off they went. They’ll be back later, they’re important.
Rome’s fall dropped thousands of souls into the laps of the Ferryman. Old buildings washed ashore on the Isle of Sorrows and the chaos was too much for the Ferryman, who were too few. So Oblivion surged amidst the carnage and death and lashed out across the Underworld. The First Great Malestrom (Yes, there are more of them). Charon sounded warning gongs across Stygia and him, armed with Siklos, his rod of office, and his legionnaires stood against the onslaught of shadow-eaten. While Stygia survived, it’s Republic didn’t. The Senate was destroyed, both the place and the persons. The Byways lay cracked and broken, the River of Death dammed with souls. Stygia’s people survived, but Stygia the place had fallen. They fought Oblivion and won, and lost everything in-between.
Charon took to rebuilding Stygia, following the Lady of Fate’s guidance. He proclaimed himself Emperor of Stygia, and the last surviving Senators became The Deathlords, stewards over a particular area of Death. The Ferryman, disbelieving of Charon’s hubris as first among many, turned from Stygia to serve their original cause in their own way.
The Hierarchy, The Guilds and the Treaty of Paradise
The world continued to change, and so to did Stygia. Charon’s reforms continued during the Crusader period, which is when “The Hierarchy” first started showing it’s ugly mug. Charon reorganized the dead from the top down, establishing a social pecking order that would last for the next thousand years with him and the Deathlords on top and Thralls, enslaved wraiths, on bottom. The Deathlords came to rule their own military orders, known as The Legions, and others worked for the Hierarchy in other ways. Everyone that day was a member of the Hierarchy. You had your place. You did your thing, you contributed to Empire. If you didn’t or didn’t like it, you were a Renegade. Chased out of Stygia by Equitae’s most like.
No one ever said creating a social structure for the entire world of the dead was easy. But just like the Skinlands, the souls of the dead found common cause to muck with Charon’s pecking order. The most prominent (and consequential) of these was the formation of The Guilds, fashioned after the merchant and trade guilds of the period. These wraiths sought to monopolize on their skills and abilities, banding together like a trade Union against a monolithic social tyrant.
The Fishers came back around this time too (Told you they would come back). They approached Charon and demanded he tithe to their temple, which they built on one of the other seven hills. They had found Paradise, and built their temple to congregate their flock in preparation for travel. Charon would not tithe with them, but if they tithed to him, he would send Christians unto their charge, which they accepted. Nice huh?
The Second Great Malestrom – The Black Death
Not too much to talk about here, save for one small detail. Whereas the Republic shattered under the First Great Malestrom, Stygia stood tall against the Second. The Black Death dropped thousands of souls onto the laps of Ferryman just as the first did, and Oblivion lashed out at the Underworld stronger than it did the first time. This time the Ferryman had legion outposts filled with bureaucrats and masonry workers, Guild-sponsored tradesman and elite Equitae warriors to bolster against the storm. The horror of the Second Great Malestrom is known as the time Stygia fulfilled it’s mandate. The infrastructure stood, the legions were triumphant, and the scores of souls lost and confused were taken into the arms of Stygia.
…You know what happens now right? Right. Everything comes up millhouse.
The Heretics and the Betrayal of the Fishers and the Far Shores
The Fishers didn’t like that whole ‘Tithe to me’ gig that Charon enacted at the Treaty of Paradise. Christians swamped Stygia and were the most populous group in the city. To they with the highest Ego, the Archbishop of the Fisher temple approached Charon to demand the tithe be lowered, which Charon refused and demanded their Crusader-legions be disbanded.
They didn’t. In fact they struck at the Onyx Tower, Charon’s lighthouse, and met a seige of prepared knights and legionnaires who tore them in twain. Why? The Fishers were betrayed by one of their own, who believed the act to be against their beliefs. So Charon took control of the Fisher Temple, found tithes meant for him hoarded and grew distraught. He bid the Shining Ones in Stygia to return to the Far Shores, no longer welcome in Stygia, and a mass exodus of the Fishers followed them.
Then some of the souls came back to Stygia. Why would they go against Charon? Because the Far Shores were no paradise. The Shining Ones who remained behind all those years ago? Had become god-kings of their Far Shore. Souls were chained and toiled for the God-kings amusement. No offer of Transcendence, no peace. Violating the ancient pact they swore when Charon first brought them together on the Isle of Sorrows, and betraying the Lady of Fate besides, Charon deemed them enemies of Stygia, and their Heretics, those who professed Transcendence through the Shining Ones, would be scorched from the Underworld. The Order of the Unlidded Eye, an elite group of Inquititors, were tasked with hunting down and getting rid of the Heretics.
So here’s the lay of land around 1600 AD. You have Renegades running around outside of Stygia, harassing Ferryman who were still doing their jobs. Inside Stygia you had Heretics who were whispering their dogmatic doctrine to anyone who would listen. You have the Guilds pressing against the rails of Charon’s hierarchy all the while Charon is trying to keep Oblivion at bay. Yup. Another Malestrom is coming.
The Three Abominations
Named for their severity in the eyes of the restless dead, the three abominations came to define Stygian policy for half a millenium.
The First: The Raiding of Lux Veritatis
Renegades hate the hierarchy. Ignoring Charon, his Empire, his policies and laughing at the Hierarchy the barbarous hordes of Rome offered a new way, a different way, than Stygia. They weren’t the only Renegades, they were just the first. And they wouldn’t be the last.
Scores of Renegades raided Stygia’s vault, plundering the collective works it collected under Charon’s Lux Veritatis edict centuries ago. Priceless artifacts of beauty, creative wonder and awe were pillaged and stolen and the legions charged to protect them were sent to Oblivion’s embrace.
The Second: The Breaking of the Guilds
The most memorable of the Abominations was the breaking of the guilds. The Guilds, always heckling under the immense weight and demands of the Hierarchy, believed that Charon and his Empire were insufficient to meet the needs of the dead. The Guilds revolted, only to be rebuffed by Charon’s forces. Thousands of souls were forged, including Nhudri’s three apprentices. The Guilds were disbanded and forbidden to ever return.
The Third: The Flaying of Obsidian
It’s the age of exploration. So you know what means? The New World laid at the feet of European explorers who brought with them smallpox and every other European disease the natives couldn’t stand against. The resulting epidemic killed millions, spreading like wildfire throughout the New World. Not to mention the ones the colonizers killed by their own hands.
The Third Great Malestrom – The Columbian Exchange
This Malestrom is important not simply because it rocked Stygia like the other two, but because Stygia fed it just as much as the living did.
The emotions fed by the Three Abominations changed the landscape, more than it did Stygia. The appearance of Lightning over Stygia first occurred after the Third Great Malestrom. The River of Death was no longer a soothing, flowing river but more of a sluggish mass more made of mud than water. Dark clouds loomed over Stygia when the Malestrom struck against the walls of Stygia, led by the Nephwrack Coldheart and his horde of Spectres. But when the malestrom dissipated…these changes never did.
The River of Death became difficult to navigate. Stygia gained an atmosphere of gloom as Oblivion fed on the greed, fear and anger of the souls of the dead.
The Rise of the Necropolis
Charon realized from the Third Malestrom that the souls he was charged to protect did not merely live in Stygia. the Ferryman, long the traffickers of souls, told of the Shadowlands and how wraiths continued to live amongst the shadowed remnant of the world they once knew. To protect the souls of those not within the Underworld he ordered that the legions establish themselves on the border of the Shadowlands and the Tempest. There they would construct the first Necropoli, fortresses of the dead within the Shadowlands – the first being in London around the Industrial Revolution.
At the heart of the Necropolis was The Citadel, where the legions would man their posts and officiate Stygian business by satellite. But Charon, nor the Deathlords, nor Knights or many legionnaires could enter the Shadowlands. The Fading, when one’s fetters are destroyed, became a very real thing. It meant that the Necropoli operated with minimal oversight by the stronger, more powerful restless.
Further Charon embraced the toils of Industry. With Industrialization among the living, so to did the dead adapt. Soulforging became more commonplace as those weak in passions were forged into useful items. The rest became Thralls to serve stronger wraiths more resistant to the Shadow’s trepidations. All were allowed to wield weapons as arms and armor became commonplace across Stygia to help fight, more directly, the servants of Oblivion.
Charon Descends and the Fourth Great Malestrom – World War I
Charon descended into the Veinous Stair once more, called by the Lady of Fate to do so. He told no one and so his absence left Stygia in the hands of the Deathlords, who proved inept to the task.
Tyrannical and backbiting, the Deathlords fought with each other over control of Stygia pitting legion against legion. Thus, when the terror of World War I brought millions of souls to the Underworld, Oblivion saw fit to unleash it’s power once more with the Fourth Great Malestrom. The winds sheared the city into mirror-like brilliance, as if polishing it to a shine the towers and bridges erected by the Deathlords.
Worse were the Necropoli, who fared differently from Stygia. Spectres rode the tempest winds and hounded cities outside the Necropoli’s barricades, along with Renegade reavers eager to push against Stygia’s influence. The result of the Fourth Great Malestrom was a change in environment for the Necropoli, who without Stygian influence faced now the constant threat of Spectres and renegade bands against them.
When Charon emerged from his Second Descent, he was dismayed at the state of the empire. With Spectres freely on the loose, he called together a band of restless he deemed Doomslayers, bounty hunters who hunted Spectres and had the full recognition of the Hierarchy, though were not part of it putting them in the same category as Freewraiths, wraiths that held no real allegiance and were once filled by the traitorous Guilds.
The Fifth Malestrom and Charon’s Third Descent – World War II
World War II made the Fifth Great Malestrom look like the Fourth Great Malestrom’s big scary brother. The mass arrival of the Jews and those persecuted by the Nazis, coupled with the shearing act of destruction of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ripped the Labyrinth open – the Firth Great Malestrom is what came out.
Nothing was spared. Stygia was cut off from the rest of the Underworld by ferocious tempest winds. Necropoli were isolated pockets by their own individual Malestroms and each were bombarded by countless scores of Spectres. Yet still, like the Second onward, the Hierarchy stood. Doomslayers went into the soul-searing winds to combat the Spectral hordes while Legionnaires barricaded freewraiths behind the walls of their Necropoli.
Stygia had their own danger to face – Gorool, an ancient Malfean malice from the deepest depths of the Labyrinth, arose from the Labyrinth to assault Stygia. Charon, fearing the worst, called upon his Deathlords to join him in fighting back the Malfean but none joined him – worried that leaving their seat would open it to potential rivals. So, alone, Charon entered his reed boat, leaving his mask of office behind and taking Siklos and his Lantern to venture into the water to fight Gorool alone. The battle was calamatous, but it ended abruptly with the emergence of a giant whirlpool that Charon used to take both him and Gorool into. When the Whirlpool dissipated, neither Gorool or Charon returned. Charon’s Third Descent would be his last.
There was a lot of fanfare for Charon. The Deathlords claimed they would follow Charon’s virtuous memory, while remembering his missteps and failures. All mourned the loss of the Lady’s champion, and when the mourning ended, the Deathlords returned to conspire against each other once again just as they had the last time Charon dissappeared. As wars and revolutions, plagues and mass murders rocked the decades after the second World War, the Deathlords took in the souls they regarded as theirs, built up their Legions, and kept watchful eyes on their neighbors. For the average wraith, it was a time of relative peace and prosperity. But every so often the Maelstrom winds blow, or a Necropolis falls, and they are reminded that Oblivion does not give up its prey so easily.
The Reckoning – 1999
Everyone thought the world was going to end because computers of the period weren’t programmed to calculate the year 2000. Worse, it marked the end of the millennium. You should be careful what you wish for.
As players will know, 1999 saw several gamelines intersect with Wraith. The following events are considered canonical events to Wraith, and any not listed are deadly, misinformed apocrypha that will rot your brain.
White Monday – The Crash of the Digital Web
Wraiths did not often participate in the Digital Web, save for the intrepid and enterprising Artificer. The Internet only came to existence in the 90s, so the advent of the Internet did not have a major effect on the Restless Dead. Until White Monday.
The Crash of the Digital Web plunged hundreds of websurfers into the Underworld. Stygia was built on bureaucracy, paperwork, and a general lack of electricity (save for a soulfire crystal or two) leaving the webheads will little to show their newfound supervisors their worth.
Faced with Thralldom or worse, soulforging, the fledgling Enfants did what they did best, interconnecting Stygia with phantom networks. Hierarchy offices now had computers with pathos generators and the resemblence of an intranet, thought it mostly resembled 50k modem work. With the update to Stygia’s arsenal came the emergence of Wire-Riding, allowing Wraiths to transit along network lines, and the most knowledgable could return to the digital web – finding sectors blasted, haunted, and touched by Oblivion.
Oblivion went 4D.
The Sixth Great Malestrom – The Destruction of Stygia
While Vampires dealt with ancient monsters and big balls of fiery gas appeared in the sky the dead had their own worries to contend with – The Invasion of the Dark Kingdom of Jade. + 1. Yu Huang, the Emperor of the Dark Kingdom of Jade, had long envied the power and might of Charon’s empire. It was also fortuitous that so many of his people, those wraiths tethered to the Yellow Springs, lived in several prominent Necropoli within Stygia’s influence. Much like the War of Terror that seemed to coincide with Yu Huang’s plan, came a full invasion of Stygia. Necropoli were not spared the assault, with warriors assaulting Citadels and laying seige, taking freewraiths as captive to be delivered to Yu Huang for his appeasement.
The greatest battle of course was the battle of Stygia, the heart of Charon’s empire. But Yu Huang’s troops knew Stygia’s procedures and means of defense, and Necropoli seemed relatively unable to mount a proper defense because Yu Huang’s forces seemed to know everything they were going to do.
The Smiling Lord had been biding his time for his takeover of Stygia. Charon’s continued descents and return thwarted his plans. His attempts to make the Deathlords destroy each other during World War I was a failure due to his return, but now Charon was dead, and the Smiling Lord would do what he did best – conjure violence and come out on top. The Smiling Lord fed Yu Huang the information he needed to mount his invasion of Stygia, for the simple request of being Stygia’s Magistrate. What he did not tell Yu Huang was that the Smiling Lord held the largest stores of munitions and weapons of war. The Smiling Lord was a fan of Lux Veritatis after all, so much so he had a secret silo dedicated to mankind’s finest work of art – Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
With all of the their enemies in one place, The Smiling Lord dropped Little Boy on Stygia, destroying Charon’s dream. He destroyed the legions, he destroyed Yu Huang’s forces, he destroyed everything from the Deathlords on down. Stygia laid a smoldering ruin as the influx of death and destruction, this time caused by the dead themselves, ripped a hole straight to the Labyrinth, and vomitted out of the Sixth Great Malestrom as the firey light of the Onyx Tower finally snuffed out.
Spectres don’t care about allegiances, so the shadow-eaten killed and reaved every wraith they saw. Amidst the carnage and ruin came Coldheart, the Nephwrack General first seen in the Third Great Malestrom, commanding the armies of Oblivion to claim Stygia once and for all. But Charon returned, as if a captain joining with his sinking ship. Charon battled Coldheart and his legions with Siklos in hand and defeated the ancient menace. The Smiling Lord did not see Charon’s return, as the sole remaining Deathlord was Charon’s most fervent advocate – the Skeletal Lord, who died killing the Smiling Lord.
The Deathlords killed, Stygia in ruins, and the Necropoli left to fend for themselves, Charon did nothing. He disappeared. Some say Charon fulfilled his purpose and the Lady of Fate finally granted him succor. Some say he Transcended. But Charon was no more. The Underworld felt his passing from every Necropoli all the way to the Yellow Springs. The Emperor was dead. Long live the Emperor.
The Underworld Today…
Charon’s empire is in ruins. The Hierarchy continues to function in pockets across Necropoli but without the guidance and support of Stygia, now a blasted ruin, they must fend for themselves. They do well enough keeping the peace, but the majority of the Shadowlands is a lawless place.
The Jade Remnant
Yu Huang’s influence continues to linger. Many Asian restless give tithes and fidelity to the Yellow Emperor, fulfilling their role in death just as much as there are asian wraiths who have no tithe to Yu Huang at all. But the Dark Kingdom of Jade’s holdouts are plentiful requiring constant monitoring by the Hierarchy who already have too much to do, given the beating heart of their social order was turned sub-atomic.
The Rise of the Orpheus Group
Following Stygia’s destruction a new breed of soul has been seen in Necropoli. They keep to themselves, monitoring for activity like Ghostbusters to the restless but seem neither malicious, nor malcontented, to the restless dead. They also vanish from time to time with no hide or hair or their corpus to find. With no central intelligence, Necropoli treat these aberrant souls with caution, if not outright malice, given the state of affairs, that differs from Necropoli to Necropoli.
Oblivion’s Champion? Or Charon Descended?
The Sixth Great Malestrom did more than isolate Necropoli, threaten the fabric of the Shadowlands and destroy Stygia even further than the Smiling Lord did. From the darkest depths of the Labyrinth a Malfean stirs in their sleep. Doomslayers find the words ‘Grandmother’ on the tongues of Spectres they find, and Orpheus operatives find giggling souls talking about the love of ‘Grandmother’. Whoever this Grandmother is, they are a vaguely spoken-malignant force of the Underworld tied intimately to the Labyrinth.
The Hierarchy, The Renegades, The Heretics and the Guilds
Stygia is dead, but the Hierarchy perseveres.
It is said there are Deathlords somewhere, some even claiming Stygia as their seat of power (for all the good that does them), but the Hierarchy is not what it once was. The Legionnaire fighting the good fight is no longer there, and Necropoli are no longer manned by sentries of troops ready to lay down their corpus should Spectres come knocking. There are some, but their presence is laughable.
Instead the Hierarchy‘s main survivors are it’s civilians. The ones who kept the beast turning are the ones left behind. Masonry workers, scribes, architects, tradesman, the civilian sector of the Hierarchy survives, turning Necropoli into fortified, yet isolated, cities. Some have shrugged off their trade hand for a sword hand, and no one is there to stop them.
The Renegades are having a time of their afterlife. Charon is dead. Stygia has fallen. No one can stop them! Renegades have gone from claiming pockets of the Shadowlands to claiming large swathes of territory, contested only by the Necropoli held by the Hierarchy. Infighting is a problem for them, as each group of Renegades has a different idea on how things need to go, so cities held by Renegades is anything but boring. Though it can be lethal, pending the gang in power.
As for the Heretics? They got it pretty good. Charon hated the Heretics, but he’s dead now. So are his flunkies. Souls eager to hear the Good News are plentiful now that Charon’s Dream has ended. Like a cancer, Heretic cults linger within Hierarch Necropoli and Renegade-controlled cityscapes looking to turn their leaders and the most powerful of them to the aims of their Shining One, offering Transcendance at the cost of something…which is sometimes too much.
The Guilds? The Guilds play a slow game. Your average freewraith knows at least one Guild member, since the Guilds never really disbanded following the Breaking of the Guilds. And everyone knows the story of the Breaking. So everyone of course guesses that the first to fill the vacuum will be the Guilds, Right? Yes and no. No one would risk poking the beast of the Hierarchy by calling the Guild banners.
Instead the Guilds look to attain the glory they used to have – being an irreplaceable instrument in the afterlife. Filling the gaps the Hierarchy left behind the Guilds are slowly coming out into the open with tradesman, crafters, artists and others openly displaying, and discussing, Guild membership and approval as a sign of quality. The Guilds look to restore their ancient place in the social order – the grandiose middle man.
Then they’ll take over. Don’t fuck with the help.