In Geist: The Sin-Eaters, White Wolf’s forthcoming addition to their award-winning World of Darkness setting, you play people with near-death experiences, who return from dipping a toe into the wading pool of death, ridden by a potent and nasty spiritual entity called a Geist. Ridden is an understatement: this is no run-of-the-mill demonic possession game. You return from death in cahoots, having cut a deal called “The Bargain” or “The Event” in-game. Your dying human swapped escaping death for hosting - for becoming - an aspect of death itself. It’s an age old story: the hungriest for life do a deal with the devil at the crossroads, forge a pact to escape death. Old it may be, but in the hands of the White Wolf writers the trope turns into pure RPG genius, loaded with dark, disturbing, creepy fun.
In a hospital ward, a man hisses his last breaths through a machine that ticks and bleeps at regular intervals. The cancer has practically liquefied his organs, but he fights for every single breath. He’s not done living yet.
– Geist: The Sin-Eaters
Players ridden by a Geist – the Bound as they sometimes refer to themselves – do not merely harbor a ghost in their souls. They have entwined the Geist into their souls, inextricably. It becomes part of their souls, and a Geist is no mere ghost.
As you would expect from White Wolf, Geist is internally consistent with the WoD’s revealed cosmology. It builds on their setting's conception of ghosts as having anchors – a thing undone, a loved one to watch over – keeping them tied to the world of the living and out of the Underworld. Snap the anchors and bye-bye ghost. A Geist, on the other hand, has managed to replace its anchors to the human world – parts of its soul, really – with archetypical aspects of death. The Geist now anchors to the world of the living, not through human emotions of longing or desires for revenge against an enemy, but through universal aspects of death, aspects which may include the archetype of longing or of a thirst for revenge.
The Geist has ceased to be the ghost of Bob Smith, cruelly murdered by his own mistreated dog; instead, it has become the Geist that was once Bob Smith, but is now (mostly) the pure essence of a self-hatred so intense it brutalizes itself by torturing what it genuinely loves. While a remnant of the man Bob Smith floats inside and likely suffers, the Geist, in this example, is not a mere ghost, so plagued by self-hatred it does violence to others in order to hurt itself. The Geist is self-hatred catalyzed to violence. The very essence of it. And all the Bound have asked such things to come inside and blend with their souls, permanently, in exchange for escaping death. This is some wild metaphysical shit!
Here’s the thing: the Geist, an amalgam of human personality remnants and an archetypical facet of that human's own death, has an agenda. It has blind needs. It is a blind need. And it whispers to its host, making demands.
Here's another thing: Geists grant power to their hosts.
A vast, black shadow of a man is clad in the blood-soaked colors of the street gang he once ran with. His teeth are spent shell casings, his eyes two perfectly symmetrical bullet holes. He smells of cordite and smoke, and he speaks with a voice like cracking gunfire.
A grinning skeleton in a purple tuxedo dances a lewd jig. His cane is smooth, polished black wood, held like a phallus between his legs. He whispers in your ear that tonight is the night to party, to drink and snort and smoke and fuck until your body gives out. He whispers the same exhortation every single night.
– Geist: The Sin-Eaters
But how does such a game play? In Geist, the Bound form krewes – typically something like a secret society crossed with a biker gang, though it could be a krewe of local housewives if you like – groups of the Bound with like philosophies pursuing like goals. Want a game that feels like the TV show Supernatural? Run a krewe that hunts down and evicts ghosts. This is a mission that would make the players Sin-Eaters. Heroes, if you will.
Personally, I’m intrigued by other possibilities: what if I want to belong to a krewe that enslaves ghosts? What if my krewe is totally immoral and uses our supernatural connection to the Underworld, not as a reason for plumbing the depths of the mystery in life and death – but for the Benjamins? What if just such a self-serving krewe is stirring up dark, metaphysical trouble way above their pay grade and my krewe needs to put a stop to it?
As one would expect in a brilliant RPG, the possibilities are endless.
Now I admit, the word ‘krewe’ made me cringe when I first read it. Too much like ‘kewl’ but in a short while I lost that first impression. Particularly as White Wolf has crafted a wild, life-loving, New Orleans jazz of a Dios de los Muertos cultural mélange into which modern Sin-Eaters delve. They also create game mechanics whereby the color of your occult practices matters not -you have a Geist within, after all - freeing gamers to invent any style of Sin-Eater they desire to play.
Geists also last longer than their hosts and some Geists are famous. Other Sin-Eaters will say, “He’s carrying the Pale Man” or “She’s holding the Burning Woman” and grant respect or fear accordingly. This creates the RP opportunity for legendary figures, BBEGs and heroes, for players to gain respect or become feared in the local supernatural community.
With krewes, a culture - that reveres, for example the Horsemen of the Apocalypse as patron saints of the different facets of death, love it! – factions and societies, personal legends, mechanics that bear any flavor, and all powered by the Geists inside, White Wolf has given us a viable power group to slot into any World of Darkness campaign.
Original, creepy, disturbing and focused on the most important theme in life – death. Don’t miss this book. It’s an awesome addition or even entry point into White Wolf’s World of Darkness. I predict awards for Geist: The Sin-Eaters in the future!
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