Welcome back to another addition to the series on the Chronicles of Darkness. After laying out seven items for the new World of Darkness I’ve gone through many different gamelines, as listed at the bottom of that article. The last thing I wrote about were the mummies of Mummy: The Curse who were deathless sorcerers from the dawn of time. Today we’re going to be looking at another set of people from beyond death, though these ones are a little closer to home. Just simple dead people trying to make the best of their situation.
6. X Splat is threshold, Y Splat is archetype.
Like other gamelines, Geist has two different axes of character creation. In practice, though, your character’s abilities and mechanics are mostly determined by their innate aspect (X-splat) called their threshold. Simply put, a Sin-Eater’s threshold is how they died. There are five thresholds to choose from, each of which grants you one of your two starting Keys. These powers are similar to vampiric Disciplines or werewolf Gifts but they are also adaptable, somewhat like mages’ Arcana. More on those later, but here are the thresholds to choose from:
- The Torn are those who died by violence. They were gunned down in the street, knifed for their money, or strangled in a fit of passion.
- The Silent are those who died by deprivation. They collapsed in the desert without water, wasted away in a prison cell, or drank themselves to death without a scrap of love.
- The Prey are those killed by Nature. They were torn apart by a bear, swept away in a flash flood, or were struck down by a bolt of lightning.
- The Stricken are those who die from illness. They are stuck down by ebola, suffer from a congenital disease, or are slowly wasted away by cancer.
- The Forgotten are those killed by chance. Their death doesn’t seem to mean anything as they were killed by a stray bullet, by a malfunctioning car that explodes, or by a stray peanut and a wicked allergy.
The character’s “social” aspect (their Y-splat) is actually one of the least impressive parts of the game as it doesn’t really have a grounding in the rules. There are eight specific archetypes listed in the book but the only mechanical connection is that, like Virtue and Vice, you regain resources when you act in accordance to your archetype and how you see your role as one of the Sin-Eaters. Normally in the Chronicles of Darkness system you regain Willpower when you act in accordance with your Virtue or you give into your Vice. If you also act in accordance with your archetype in Geist you also get a point of something called Plasm back to power your ghost-powers (more on that below). The archetypes provided in the book are:
- Advocate: You now “speak for the dead” and help them with their unfinished business.
- Bonepicker: Whatever you had before, now you are back and you want to make the most of it. You use your ghost-powers to make yourself comfortable and make the world better.
- Celebrant: The lords of second chances, living it up now that they’ve stared death in the face and come back.
- Gatekeeper: You might have come back, but that doesn’t mean everybody should. You’re determined to hold closed the gates of death.
- Mourner: You’re back from the dead but still obsessed with it. You live to watch those who have lost someone, feeding off the emotions of the bereaved.
- Necromancer: Mourners are obsessed with funerals but necromancers live and breathe it. If they were alive they would be occult weirdos in heavy eyeliner. As Sin-Eaters they are something else.
- Pilgrim: The opposite of a Gatekeeper, you want to open the gates of death but only as an entrance. You seek to ease the passage of those who die to heal your own pain.
- Reaper: Having died, you’re now comfortable in the role of judge, jury, and executioner so that your second life means something.
These are some good archetypes for sure but when you codify something like this you expect there to be definite results. I can think of a half-dozen more archetypes that would work just as well and they’d be immediately usable since the mechanics are mostly based around roleplaying. Hopefully in the second edition they make this part of character creation a little more organic.
8. You’re dead. Not undead, just dead.
In Vampire: The Requiem you’re playing a character that was killed as part of their transformation into something more. In Promethean: The Created you’re made from a dead body but you aren’t that person anymore. In Geist, you’re someone who died and now is still walking around, just still dead. Because of this you still have a bond with death itself and can call power from beyond the grave.
Your ghost-powers consist of Keys and and Manifestations. There are ten Keys and seven Manifestations in the core Geist: The Sin-Eaters book with another of each in the cross-gameline Book of the Dead. Keys are areas of power that you can command and (as the name suggests) it’s an all-or-nothing thing. If you have the Key you have access to a range of abilities and if you don’t, then you don’t. Four of the Keys are the so-called Elemental Boneyards which are the four classic elements with a sepulchral cast to them: Cold-Wind, Grave-Dirt, Pyre-Flame, and Tear-Stained. The Industrial Key is concerned with technology (the older the better), the Passion Key is about controlling emotions, the Phantasmal Key is about hallucinations, the Primeval Key is about nature red in tooth and claw, and the Stillness Key is about silence and shutting down your enemies. The last Key in the core book is Stigmata which allows you to control and shape ghosts, and the bonus one in the Book of the Dead is called the Stygian Key and directly draws on the Underworld.
Each of these Keys interacts with the Manifestations to provide specific powers. While Keys are yes/no affairs, Manifestations have dots in them which represent how good the character is at being that sort of ghost-person. The Boneyard, for example, reshapes the area around the character into something that rings with their power. A character might be pretty good with creating Boneyards and they can make a Pyre-Flame Boneyard of burning craziness if they have that Key or a Boneyard of snarling beasts and gripping plants if they have the Primeval Key. Their single Boneyard rating determines the proficiency of both. Other Manifestations are the Caul which reshapes the Sin-Eater’s body into something terrible, the Marionette which allows them to control people and objects, the Oracle that allows them to see things beyond (depending on the Key), the Rage which turns them into killing machines, and the Shroud that offers protection and stealth. In the Book of the Dead you’ve also got the Pit which creates a binding trap similar to the Underworld itself.
The range of these powers are such that, even if two characters have the same Threshold and the same Keys, assigning dots to very different Manifestations means that their powers in the game will be very different as well. Simple math will tell you that there are seventy different powers that Sin-Eaters can have from the core book, increasing to eighty-eight with the Book of the Dead, and all of them are available from the start of the chronicle. Few other gamelines can say that.
9. You’ve got a friend!
So, here we come to the crux of things. You’re someone who died and then came back from the Underworld with incredible powers. But… how? How did you come back from the black eternity of death? Well, you got a hand.
So far we haven’t mentioned at all the namesake of this game. Your player characters are Sin-Eaters (the second half) but they aren’t geists. A geist is a strange spirit of death that offered you a deal on the other side. As you slipped further and further towards the light, this geist whispered in your ear and said they could send you back in exchange for a little ride. When you come back from death the geist sticks around and pushes you to accomplish whatever keeps it from resting easy in the afterlife. The circumstances of what makes a geist, how they bring you back from the dead, or what they want to accomplish back in the realm of the living… all of those things are mysteries that you can answer for your own campaign or leave them as they are.
Something that isn’t so vague is the Synergy your character has with their geist. This variable rating represents the camaraderie between the Sin-Eater and their geist which determines how easily they can access their ghostly abilities. In game terms Synergy takes the place of the Morality track from Sin-Eaters and it degenerates when they mess with their geist and ignore its requests. Having strong Synergy (as in, you get along with your geist) makes it easier for a Sin-Eater to open up gates to the Underworld, perform ceremonies, etc. A low Synergy (fighting with your geist) will instead penalize all of those things.
10. You need to stop the Underworld from ruining the living world.
So what do you do as a Sin-Eater? Well, that’s a bit vague but essentially you do “anything ghostly.” There are holes from the living world to the Underworld known as Avernian Gates and as a Sin-Eater you’re supposed to keep them closed to prevent ghosts from coming through from the other side. You also quiet angry ghosts, calm haunted places, and keep other supernatural creatures from screwing around with the Underworld. But there’s no huge metaplot to pull in your characters so that’s a little more work for the GM. There’s also little in the way of social hierarchy among Sin-Eaters beyond the immediate collection of individuals called a krewe. Like a pack of werewolves or a throng of Prometheans a krewe works together and pursues the same mission (probably). There’s little to formally determine how a krewe would interact with another krewe, or indeed how a krewe is even organized. There are ceremonies for krewes to use but the desires of the members determine which ones they get. They can also determine how they view death and their responsibility since there’s no Prince to tell them what’s what or great spirits to describe what’s going on in the area. Everything is open-ended which would be great for some gaming groups and frustrating for others. In the end, though, there are ghosts out there and you’re the one who needs to fix it!