The Wraith clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s check out this fellow!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters and readers.
The wraith-class is proficient with simple weapons, scythes and light armor, has 4 + Intelligence modifier skills per level, d8 HD, and is a Mid-Caster using Charisma as governing spellcasting ability modifier, with a spell pool of class level + Charisma modifier spell points per day. The class has a ¾ BAB-progression, as well as good Reflex- and Will-saves. On a cosmetic note: Rows 1-7 and all save columns of the class table lack the plusses before BAB and save values, respectively. This should really have been caught. It’s evident at one glance. Magic talents are gained whenever the wraith gains a caster level increase.
1st level provides a haunt path, which acts akin to bloodlines and similar abilities with a linear progression array: At 1st level, these paths grant the listed path sphere or talent from the sphere if you already have it, and for these class level is treated as CL. 2nd level nets the path possession ability of the path, with 8th and 14th level providing the improved and greater path possession abilities, respectively; at 4th level, we add ½ class level as insight bonus to a listed skill. Unless I have miscounted, there are a total of 9 paths provided (as an aside – the excellent Sanguinist’s Handbook does have a path as well!).
In all brevity: The Path of the ancestor is aligned with the Protection sphere, and allows the character to act as a buff/beneficial entity, including (aegis) talents at higher levels. Anima is associated with Nature or Weather, and allows the character to possess natural material, creating elemental-style and use talents associated with the elements; higher levels also unlock plants. Associated with Death, the Path of the Corruptor lets you possess dead bodies (as though reanimate-d) and later undead. The Path of the Despoiler, also for the Death sphere, lets you possess vermin and attract/generate swarms to possess – nice!
Path of the Cryptid is associated with animal possession and Alteration, providing shapeshift (not properly formatted) synergy; the path of the poltergeist lets you possess unattended objects, and as such, is obviously (for veteran sphere-users) associated with Telekinesis, though it s limitations are based on Enhancement’s Animate Objects. Higher levels allow for construct possession and possessing multiple objects at once, generating a construct swarm! OUCH! The Path of the Phantasm is associated with Illusion, and becomes more potent versus targets in illusions – with higher levels providing means to bypass immunities and safeguards. The Path of the Spook is basically a terror-inducing option, with the Mind-sphere as associated path sphere, and penalties to saves versus Mind sphere effects.
At 1st level, we have wraith form, which lets you, as a move action (ending it is free) for class level + casting ability modifier rounds, gain the incorporeal subtype with some modifications, including a slowly descending, but perfectly maneuverable gliding speed – and yep, if you’re going the high-fantasy route, there are optional rules for you here. In case you need a bullet point summary of the modified incorporeal state, a handy sidebar lists it all. The capstone btw. delimits wraith form and refunds previously spent class talents (so-called “wraith haunts”; more on those below) that modified the ability.
But we’ve been talking a lot about possession in the brief list of paths, so how does it work? At 2nd level, you may possess a creature in natural reach as a standard action as a mind-affecting possession effect. The challenge rating of the creature governs the possession duration, with guidelines for companions and the like provided. The target may resist this attempt with a Will save based on DC 10 + ½ class level + casting ability modifier. There are two types of possession: Passive and active. Passive possession grants no control over the target, and an attempt to passively possess a target costs a spell point. The wraith maintains his mental ability score modifiers, BAB, alignment, mental abilities, extraordinary abilities not derived from his physical form, combat talents, supernatural abilities and magical abilities including spells, sphere abilities and SPs. If the host is dazed, stunned or unconscious, the wraith can control the body as though via active possession. Passive possession MAY go unnoticed if the wraith is sneaky!
Active possession entails the full hijacking of the target, retaining the boy’s physical ability score, natural and automatic abilities. Extra limbs don’t allow the wraith to make more attacks, and 6th level needs to be attained to trigger extraordinary abilities, 12th for supernatural ones. Active possession also imposes stringent level caps on when the respective combat talents, sphere abilities etc. may be accessed. Any time the wraith would force the actively possessed target to do something against their nature, they may make a saving throw attempt to end the possession. Self-harm or suicidal actions are not possible via wraith possession. This type of possession also btw. costs a spell point. A target that ends or resists a possession increases the spell point cost for further such attempts by 1, stacking with itself, thus discouraging wraiths from trying to spam-possess the same target. Here’s the cool thing: As a move action, the wraith may change an active possession into a passive one and vice versa – unwilling targets get a save to resist this change. Beyond the different details, there is another reason to switch possession types – time. The duration of different types of possession differs between active and passive possession, even differentiating between willing and unwilling targets! (And yes, the rules-language gets this right.) And before you ask: Yes, the rules do cover the possession of unconscious targets. Wraiths may end possessions as a free or immediate action, appearing adjacent to the possessed target, and the wraith may expend a round of wraith form to manifest in his incorporeal (and less squishy) form. Careful: Mind-affecting effects targeting the possessed body don’t just end for the wraith jumping ship, and immunities, if any, are not shared!
At 6th, 12th, 16th and 18th level, progressively more knowledge of the host body’s capabilities are unearthed to the wraith – oh, and guess what? We have Dreamscarred Press-psionics synergy. If possession seems complex, the because it system-immanently is, but a handy table does help you keep track of active possession effects. 10th level provides Greater Possession, which allows the wraith to retain control over a possessed target while jumping to another, and the wraith may divide actions between possessed targets! This is kickass and really, really cool! The wraith can “only” possess up to casting ability modifier, minimum 2, creatures at one time.
At 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, we have wraith haunts – basically the talent array of the class, which, if requiring a save, employ 10 + ½ class level + casting ability modifier to calculate DCs. As mentioned before, there are talents that enhance wraith form, allowing for e.g. immediate action concealment, for rounds per day and the like. We have Technology Guide synergy (cool!) as well as a properly gated always on flight. There is an option for willing possessions to grant Silent and Still spellcasting for serious Stealth/infiltration synergy, and options to phase through objects and walls (awesome!). Possession is something folks remember, so if you’d rather have them forget that, well, there’s a haunt for that as well! Wraith form may be shared and even, with a follow-up haunt, be forcefully applied to adversaries AoE Intimidate (with Spheres of Might synergy) and enhancement-sharing – these talents surprised me in how creative they apply a wide variety of benefits!
Favored class options are provided alongside two feats – one nets you an additional wraith haunt, while the other enhances your possession for multiclass characters. There are three casting traditions and a martial tradition included.
The pdf also includes 4 archetypes: The Draugr loses wraith form and replaces it with basically being a blended training Spheres of Might-crossover archetype with rage and the Berserker sphere, with rage sharing and a properly-themed ability array replacing the usual haunt path. The Mistshade is interesting, in that it replaces wraith form with becoming mist – this form prohibits certain actions, but allows for the creation of mist beyond the wraith’s form, better flight, squeezing through holes, etc. – it’s an interesting change of the class paradigm. The Swarmheart, you guessed it, replaces wraith form with the means to discorporate into swarms in a variation of e.g. Swarm transformation, which is btw. also accounted for regarding prerequisites. The archetype gets a couple of solid, exclusive haunts. The Unbodied, finally, is a means to let a perished character contribute – they are locked in wraith form, taking damage while not possessing a target, and no, this damage can’t be healed! If slain, the character becomes a mindless haunt; as such, the archetype also accounts for limited possession at 1st level, with higher levels allowing for the limited assumption of corporeal form, and the capstone providing the means to reassume proper form.
Ninja, (unchained) rogue and slayer may elect to become ghost steppers, losing sneak attack and3 talents/tricks in favor of wraith form, with options to gain a spell pool via talents and the ability to take wraith haunts. The pdf also contains the spirit blade armorist archetype, which is massive: A blended training archetype that “has the Fortitude and Will saving throw progression of the Incanter” (read: Bad Fortitude saving throws, good Will saving throws) and the shapechanger subtype at 1st level. Instead of summon equipment, we have the ability to assume the form of a weapon, counting always as attended, becoming a weapon that may then possess the wielder, using their actions to direct the wielder’s body! This basically allows you to play one part of a kinda-gestalt-y character, which is a truly unique experience! Particularly since higher levels allow for BAB-sharing, directed AoOs, teamwork feat sharing and the like – while very powerful and not for every campaign or group, I adore this archetype. It’s complex, deadly and utterly unique in its premise. It also spans multiple pages, coming with its own massive array of haunts. Yes, this class hack could have carried a base class of its own. Really like it. And it seems like the author agreed, for we not only get a sample NPC for the wraith class, but also for this cool archetype! (Both at CR 5, fyi.)
The book closes with an appendix containing the rules for incorporeity and swarms for your convenience.
Editing and formatting are not perfect, but can be considered to be good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the class juggles impressive high-complexity tricks I genuinely enjoyed seeing. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artwork provided is neat.
Andrew Stoeckle is a force to be reckoned with as a designer – slowly but steadily, he has garnered, at least with me, a reputation for never shying away from mechanically-creative and compelling, complex top-tier difficulty designs that few designers can pull off reliably. The wraith is another example where he flexes his design muscles in a way that, in spite of the system’s age, manages to be fresh and novel – there literally is no other class that does what the wraith does, let alone this precise. That being said, playtest has shown that the wraith *can* be pretty potent, depending on the skill of the players and overall party composition, but this is not an issue or fault of the class, and instead can be construed to be rooted in the system-immanent nature of the concepts presented. In short: Not the fault of the class. In an interesting change of pace, this power does not stem from an escalation of numbers, but from creativity – the wraith is a class that thrives in the hands of players thinking in terms of breadth and creativity, rather than just a min-maxing of numbers, and as such, presents a power level (and means to control it, if required) that I genuinely enjoy seeing. While the formal criteria of the file could be a bit tighter (CAB not bolded in one statblock and other minor snafus), this nonetheless is a genuinely cool and worthwhile addition to the roster of spheres-options, and as such, will receive a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up, with my seal of approval added for good measure. Well done indeed!
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