Nights of the Kindred
The psychology of the Wraith is a complex subject, considering that Wraiths themselves can seem largely delusional or schizophrenic — except, of course, that they actually do talk to unseen entities. At first, the transition from a “normal” lifestyle to a supernatural one leaves the Wraith with a weak, imperfect connection to the Underworld. With time and practice, the Wraith and the Underworld forge a harmonious bond, or at least an uneasy conjunction that provides the Wraith with a greater exposure to the Underworld’s ethereal energies. Exercising this connection allows the Wraith to manipulate greater amounts of corpus, to surpass human limits and to contain vast power. Psyche is a measure of the combined will of The Return, the force of mortal determination and deathly purpose. It is the strength of the return, as opposed to its balance (itself called Synergy). A Wraith who’s just survived The Return starts with a Psyche rating of 1. There’s no prior experience or training that can prepare a Wraith to handle corpus or Manifestations, after all. Some Wraiths have a natural knack for the business, and might have a slightly greater Psyche score; additional Psyche may be purchased as Merits, at a cost of three Merit dots for one dot of Psyche. Entering play with a higher Psyche does require some amount of exposition between the player and the Storyteller, though. Perhaps the Wraith has actually been “in the know” for a while, or maybe the character’s time in the Underworld before the return had a particularly strong influence that jump-started the Wraith’s command of corpus. Whatever the case, the character’s Psyche generally develops only through continued practice, exposure to the Underworld, and the work of resolving ghostly fetters. A Wraith with a high Psyche score should have an appropriately developed history to explain the prior experiences that led to the character’s improved command of corpus. A refined Psyche is not without its dangers, though. As a Wraith becomes more attuned to the Underworld; her connection makes her more sensitive to the necrotic energies of the dead. This means that the Wraith must regularly find ways to keep that connection strong, whether by moving ghosts on to their final rewards, devouring them, or spending significant amounts of time within the Underworld itself.
As a Wraith practices the use of corpus and studies Manifestations, her connection to the Underworld strengthens. Even if the two parties are not in accord—a case in which the Wraith might have a low Synergy — exercising the powers of death provides a Wraith with greater finesse and control. Eventually the Wraith experiences an epiphany, which leads to tangible improvement in commanding the intangible world. Some Wraiths, afraid of their new powers or religiously disposed to think of their abilities as inherently wicked, avoid further development, but most Wraiths improve their Psyche rapidly, with only a few months (or even weeks) of practice at first. A Wraith’s Psyche usually plateaus after a few years, when the whole business of laying ghosts to rest becomes second nature and the Wraith has a solid understanding of Manifestations. Those Wraiths who continue to push their limits, who make frequent forays into the dangerous Underworld, and who seek the advice of other ghosts and spiritual entities may break through the limits of their former humanity and improve their Psyches further, but the tremendous effort involved (not to mention the risks associated with such activities) means that Wraiths of such a level of skill are rare. Fully half of all Wraiths will never push their Psyche to the point of losing their ties to the physical world.
In rare cases, a Wraith’s Psyche may degrade. This can happen due to an attack, a supernatural injury to the Underworld, or even due to deliberate neglect on the part of the Wraith. In such a case, the Wraith bleeds off corpus and loses any enhanced traits that exceed the limits imposed by the character’s lowered Psyche score. If the Wraith later improves in Psyche once more, regaining the lost levels of traits requires the expenditure of additional experience points; traits lost to degeneration of Psyche are gone, not simply suppressed, and must be re-learned.