FORAY Roleplaying Journal
A Review of
Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah
Charnel Houses of Europe is a Black Dog Game Factory label supplement for the Wraith the Oblivion game published by White Wolf.  Reviewed by Conrad Hubbard

Usually I receive something from a game company that they want me to review, a new product upon which they want to see some promotional exposure heaped.  If I like it, I say so, if I think it sucks, I am going to tell you. Of course to be fair, I always try to say something good and something bad about every new release. Charnel Houses is different. It's release was long enough ago, that I figured I would never get a copy for review purposes, and so I took a look at it in the local game store. I had trouble immediately, for I was struck with the brutality of the events with which this product was connected, with the very nature of the horrors it purported to contain. I put it down, thinking perhaps that White Wolf had stepped over the line. But I was drawn back, and a week or so later, I could only buy it, that I might explore the dark depths of the era it seemingly shamefully explored.

Reviewers often say how they could not put a book down, that it grabbed their attention so utterly that they could not surface from the artificial reality it created. I will not give you this tired line. I put Charnel Houses down many times, but only because it drove me away. I struggled to accept the morbid fascination that overcame me as I considered what is perhaps the darkest corner of human history. I was appalled at my empathy for the faceless victims that filled the ranks of the horrors perpetrated by the madness of the Nazi movement in Germany during World War II. I put Charnel Houses aside to come to grips with the despair for humanity which it invoked in my heart. But I was ever drawn back, to complete my journey, to seek the rest of the story, no matter how awful its connotations for the spirit of mankind.

From the foreword to the final cover page, Charnel Houses casts you into the horror of the atrocities  performed during the War. The foreword is written by Janet Berliner and is an inspiration to delve into the history of the events and to want to do something, yourself, to make sure nobody ever forgets. Following this is an introduction to the events of World War II as seen through the eyes of the World of Darkness and as they occurred in reality.  Then we are given four locales, each one of the death camps of the Nazi campaign of horror. Again, each camp is detailed in reality and as seen through the dark looking glass of White Wolf's mythic modern world.  The important approach taken by the writers is that the events are over, there is nothing we can do to stop them.  The chronicles are not set during the war when we could have done something; they are set now, today, when all a wraith can do is struggle with the consequences of past actions, and work to make sure it never happens again.  It bears out all of the regret and pain that makes for the pathos of a good Wraith game, and it does so in a fashion that incites the learning of a relevant and important history. 

The four sites chosen by the writers all allow a variety of character options and a wealth of information and story ideas ahd themes.  The Theresienstadt Ghetto emphasizes the deceptions wrought by the Nazi regime and the willful blindness of the rest of the world.  The Warsaw Ghetto is home to the guerilla fighters isolated from their homes by the German military when they literally turned an entire neighborhood into a prison.  Babi Yar, as one of the first mass killing sites, stands as an eerie insight into the beginnings of the terrors that are to come.  Finally, Auschwitz, the greatest slaughterhouse of the 20th century, brings it all home, engraving the worst images of all deep into your brain. Each setting is detailed with history, current conditions in the shadowlands, and sample wraiths, often historical.  The only thing I found irksome was the inevitable overpowering level of ability of some of the included figures, which seems to be a recurring attribute of published settings. 

The actual text of Charnel Houses is plagued with a number of typos, but the presentation is well done.  It is organized very well, and carefully crafted to present a lot of information in the relatively small, considering the potential of the subject material, space of 128 pages.  The artwork is very fitting and well placed.  Every picture rings of the themes of the World War and its atrocities. True to Wraith style, of course, all of the interior artwork is in eerie black and white.  The cover art is interesting in its quiet conveyance of the darkness within. 

I finished reading Charnel Houses and was very pleased with my purchase, if a little disappointed in mankind as a whole.  Here was the most powerful work White Wolf is likely to ever create.  As a final note, I wanted to bring attention to the quote by Christopher Golden found in the Wraith ad at the very end of Charnel Houses:  "Players become like some hideous improvisational theater troupe, weaving tales to terrify a captive audience: themselves."  If Charnel Houses of Europe:  The Shoah somehow fails to inspire you and your group to cry never again, then perhaps the shadow has overcome your psyche. 

All Material is © Conrad Hubbard.
References to products created by White Wolf or other 
companies are not challenges to their copyrights

Conrad Hubbard, Editor

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