This article originally appeared in Pyramid #10
The Whispering Vault
Published By Pariah Press
Designed By Mike Nystul
The Whispering Vault is the first release by Pariah Press and is an outstanding accomplishment for designer/author Mike Nystul. Nystul, a seasoned veteran of the roleplaying industry, has contributed his talents to such roleplaying standards as GURPS, TORG, Star Wars and BattleTech.
In the world of The Whispering Vault, the player assumes the persona of a Stalker -- the immortal guardians of the dream. This dream shapes not only the realm of the flesh but the minds of those who live there as well. The minds of mortals are protected by the veil, causing their perception of the supernatural to seem mundane. If it were not for the protection of the veil, the Unseen world would assault the minds of mortals and prove the existence of the supernatural. Thus, proving to mortals that their entire belief of reality is a lie. There are those, the Unbidden, who run wild and merciless in the world of men; destroying without thought and loosing their bloodthirst unchecked by compassion. This is the horrid prey that the Stalkers must hunt.
The Whispering Vault is a horror game that takes a distinctive approach to the genre in that the players do not assume the personae of frightened, helpless humans in battle with forces of the unknown. Instead, they play the otherworldly, immortal protectors of the human's reality. This is an original and inspired creation that is a breath of fresh air in the roleplaying industry. There is much more to the game than this, far more than space permits. The Whispering Vault provides a rich, detailed setting that is unique to the art of roleplaying. It is a game worthy of attention from the enlightened roleplayer.
Character creation is smooth, simple and complete, allowing players to create characters with depth and meaning. Before the player begins the actual task of character generation, he is asked a series of questions pertaining to the life of the character before he shed the mortal coil and became a Stalker, his contact with the unseen while still alive, and how he was recruited to be a Stalker. These questions, among others included in the book, go a long way in helping the player visualize the character, aiding in the understanding of the character's personality and motivations, and making the persona more than a series of numbers on a character sheet.
Character creation itself is relatively simple. The player is given 20 points to divide among the four attributes: Awareness, Insight, Presence and Willpower. The scores chosen for these attributes govern the acquisition of other powers such as Disciplines, Servitors (phantoms who serve the needs of the Stalkers), skills and the character's ability to define a physical form.
The combat system is created to be fast and brutal, and as a means to heighten the drama of storytelling, not slow it down. It is a system that is simple enough to appeal to those who enjoy a good story without too much combat, yet is detailed enough to provide the more bloodthirsty roleplayers the opportunity to sate their appetites.
The physical layout of the book makes searching for rules and information relatively simple. It is well thought out and quite user-friendly. The text itself is smooth and uncluttered by needless ramblings. It explains the rules clearly and leaves the reader with few questions. The prose included in the book is delightful and creates a rich, vibrant atmosphere for the proper play of the game. At a retail price of $20.00, the game is complete in itself and only requires dice to begin play -- an outstanding value considering the brilliant contents of the book.
One of the most appealing aspect of The Whispering Vault is the art. It is packed with page after page of incredible illustrations by such veteran artists as Jeff Laubenstein, Joel Biske, Earl Geier, and Larry MacDougal. Their stunning illustrations, coupled with Nystul's inspired, graceful prose have set the stage for a unique roleplaying experience. I want to take a moment to heap special praise on a young artist named Dave MacKay who, although relatively new to the industry, has paved the road to a bright future. His distinctive, melancholy and often sensual style of art adds to the depth of the game and is a credit to the horror genre as a whole. I believe we'll be seeing more of his talent in the future.
All in all, The Whispering Vault is a game worthy of the attention of any fan of horror roleplaying. This game is a welcome addition to any library and, out of all the roleplaying materials that I own, this is one that I will actually enjoy playing. I believe The Whispering Vault will bring Mike Nystul and Pariah Press much success, and I look forward to many supplements based on this macabre, sweeping world of the Unseen.
-- William Spencer-Hale
Article publication date: December 1, 1994
Copyright © 1994 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.