Wraiths are sort of the generic incorporeal undead. Spectres are the spirits of the murdered and hateful; ghosts have unfinished work and seek justice; allips are suicides; shadows seek to have others join them in their ruined domains… But wraiths’ complaints against the living world are less specific, their forms are the most insubstantial of all—barely more than a misty shape with pinpoints for eyes—and they exhibit little memory of what came before.
And they hunger for the life force of the living—let’s not forget that.
A wraith might not even be the spirit of one specific deceased person; it might be the amalgamated collective of tattered wisps of souls, a foggy memory of a past event given sentience, or a spirit ripped from the underworld by a foul spell. If a wraith is someone specific’s soul, there is no redeeming or solving a mystery for it like one might for a ghost; the wraith is simply too far gone.
And then there are the dread wraiths: kings of their kind grown huge with stolen life force. Who needs living memories when you can reign in undeath…?
A fetchling cleric wields a magical flail that calls to wraiths. The Shadow Plane-touched creature has enough negative energy in his soul that the wraiths will not sup on his life force, but he is dangerous to both friend and foe when they are hungry.
Unable to exorcise the wraiths of Sorrow’s Heap, the church of St. Michael’s on the Hill did the next best thing: they surrounded them. The clerics expanded the holy edifice until it formed a consecrated stone ring encircling the entire burial mound. The wraiths have raged impotently inside the doughnut hole of the sacred building ever since…until a freak tornado accompanied by a lightning storm shatters the south wall.
Halflings and catfolk of Terrus worship Small Gods—not a reference to the halflings’ size but to the scope of the deities’ domains. These are animist gods of small places: certain grottos, rivers, old trees, graveyards, and hillocks. After they cease to be worshipped, sometimes these spirits grow bitter. If disturbed, they send the spirits of their worshippers to attack, flocks of whom gather together into wispy wraiths to maul the disrespectful. In dire circumstances, the Small Gods themselves will manifest as dread wraiths.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 281
More on wraiths is in Brandon Hodge’s “Spectral Dead” chapter of Undead Revisited, including the white wraith variant.
If you like wraiths, the master of shrouds is the prestige class for you, courtesy of 3.5’s Libris Mortis.
My “Small Gods” reference above is less a reference to Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods (though admittedly that book did have some lonely, hungry spirits) and more a reference to Geoffrey McVey’s “Small Gods” from Dragon #293, the gray philosopher’s pet malices (from D&D), and the creepy face-spirits from Troy Denning’s The Obsidian Oracle. (Also holy crap I referenced a Dragon issue from later than 1995! I’m current!)
No radio show this week—another memorial service.
But friends J. and A. were on the cover of another thing this week, so let’s all look at that, shall we?
Also, an old co-worker of mine, TK, is up in Boston these days on WMFO. He’s got a thing he does called Music You Might Otherwise Miss and this week’s track by Alvays is worth the listen.
Finally, since it’s Poetry Month, a lot of my grad school friends are getting published/press. See what you think!