One Foot in the Grave [Geist 2e]

Here’s a peek at some text from the upcoming Geist: The Sin-Eaters!

One Foot in the Grave

After a close race, Sin-Eaters themselves pulled out in front of the Underworld by a narrow margin, so let’s talk about the Bound.

First and foremost: Sin-Eaters are dead. The fact that they’re still wearing their bodies and walking around with a pulse is immaterial — they died, they made their Bargain with a terrifying specter, and they got back up with a roiling ball of Plasm and fury where their soul should be. As far as the Underworld (and the Reapers) are concerned, they’re dead. As far as (most) ghosts are concerned, they’re dead. As far as other mystical forces are concerned, they’re dead. And yet, the Bound are still wearing their bodies and walking around with a pulse. They’re in a position of privilege denied the average ghost, who can scarcely do more than make herself briefly glimpsed or whisper a few brief words to the living — and that’s a bitter pill for some ghosts to swallow.

The reason the Bound occupy such a liminal space in the community of the dead is, of course, because they made the Bargain. At the moment of death, or shortly thereafter, before the nascent Bound’s ghost has fully shucked off her dead flesh, she meets the geist. Some Bound describe this meeting as happening in a place of featureless black between the worlds of the living and the dead, others describe it as happening on the banks of one of the Rivers of the Underworld, and still others describe it as though time stopped at the instant of their death and they heard a disembodied voice speak one terrible word.


Though they call it the Bargain, it’s a mistake to think of this process as any kind of negotiation or compromise. It’s a primal choice, a yes or no — geists aren’t exactly talkative at the best of times, and the newly-dead Bound is in no fit state to haggle. Agree, and it’s done. Refuse, and you’re all-the-way dead (with the distinct possibility that the geist eats your ghost then and there). The recently-Bound often don’t fully understand what they’ve agreed to until later — usually the first time their geist encounters a crisis point and goes on an unchecked rampage.

Don’t expect your geist to be much help in figuring this new situation out either. Though geists tend to choose people whose death resonates with them in some way, few Bargains start from a place of comradely good fellowship. It’s a mutually coercive, self-interested relationship, at least at first — like two inmates on a chain gang, escaping together because the alternative is to stay imprisoned. Improving that relationship, building that Synergy, takes time and work. It’s hard enough building that kind of relationship between two people who can communicate freely, but a geist’s humanity is buried deep under the poison of the Underworld, like pure water under an oil slick. They’re elemental things, acting and reacting on pure, primal instinct. It’s a rare sort who can look past that, to see the wounded person beneath the horrow show mask, and draw that poison from the wound.

(This, incidentally, is the origin of the term “Sin-Eater:” a Bound who tries to heal their own geist. It has since expanded in scope to refer to any Bound who actively stands against the Underworld and those who exploit the dead in general, but that’s where it started.)

There’s one other catch to the Bargain, though it’s one many Bound never consciously realize. The Bargain requires death. Not just the literal death of the Bound-to-be as we’ve already discussed, but death in aggregate. The power to form such an insoluble bond between geist and Bound can only come from the metaphysical resonance of death, and lots of it.
To put it more plainly: the Bound only exist in times and places of tremendous death and suffering. The Black Death. The Taiping Rebellion. Belgian rule in the Congo, or British in India.

This means that the Bound don’t have a continuous, centuries-long history like some of the other game lines do. They appear and disappear throughout history like stormcrows, when plague stalks the land and atrocity runs rampant. It also means that a disproportionate number of Sin-Eaters themselves were victims: of war, or of plague, or of systemic violence.
The Bound are not immortal (even a geist can’t hold old age at bay). That means a lot of Bound throughout history haven’t had elder statesmen or mentors to learn from. Cultural archaeology and reinventing the wheel are commonplace, as successive generations try to build a foundation of understanding. The one-two-three punch of World War I, the global influenza pandemic of the 1920s, and World War II (not to mention 20th century improvements in communication and transportation technology) created the first long-lasting, global Bound culture in living memory, a culture that’s still going strong today.

While the Bound are still more common in places where disproportionate numbers of people are dying before their time, it now seems the Bargain can happen anywhere, at any time. The most popular (read: least pants-shittingly terrifying) theory is that the overall population has skyrocketed to the point that the sheer number of people across the globe dying every day (about 156,000, or a little less than one Battle of the Bulge per day) is enough to tip the scales. As for the other theories… well, let’s just say there are certain Mourner krewes researching correlations between periods of high Bound activity and Reaper incursions with great interest.

Next Time: There are two sides to the Bargain. Shall we talk about the hard work of Synergy, or the reward of Haunts and Keys?

57 thoughts on “One Foot in the Grave [Geist 2e]”

  1. Ooooo… I really like this new explanation for why the Bound don’t have a lot of history and continuous culture. The history nut in me will really like games where you have to research the Sin-Eaters of the past.

    The vote is hard. I do want to know about Synergy, but Haunts and Keys are one of my favourite parts of Geist, so I’m going to vote for H&K.

  2. Interesting post. I was skeptical about the new change that Sin-Eaters only rise in times of great death, but saying that now they’re prone to rise anywhere st any time in the modern day saved it for me. It’s really impressive what we’re seeing so far, and the information about the relationship of Geist and Bound is promising. As for what next, I’m gonna vote Synergy.

  3. I’d like to know more about how Synergy works. Specifically I’d like to know more about the consequences of both high and low Synergy. Are there any interesting effects similar to high and low Harmony?

  4. Huh, interesting, this part about the (historical) presence of the Bound in the grand scheme of things necessitating a lot of… deathly resonance, not merely one (or two, as it were) auspicious deaths. It makes a few things, like their strongly unclear continous history, pretty sensible, as well as how they’ve defined themselves and strongly changed as a group only recently. The theory in the last paragraph to explain their appearances becoming more frequent is an curious and subtly frightening one. Pretty par and parcel for that grain of uncertainty that is always there in explaining things in the CofD.

    This is a good blog, it gives me a strong image for the vision of Geist 2e. The first part discussing the Bound themselves and the nature of the Bargain make me want to read more as well.

    Synergy sounds like it’s going to be a pretty complex (and meaningful to the Geist) balancing act this time, so I want to read more, but I’m very curious to see how Haunts and Keys are, so voting to see the latter.

  5. Can’t lose either way with Synergy or Haunts and Keys, but I’m gonna vote Haunts and Keys. Interested to see how their powers have been updated, what their three new haunts do and if they are still keeping Stygian keys and Pit haunts.

  6. As a long time fan of Geist, while I’m glad that the idea that they don’t really have a ‘culture’ like the other supernaturals do, I’m not sure how I feel about some of this new lore, like them still being dead, or however they are trying to term it. I liked how it was more of a second chance, how the old one was about dealing with the knowledge that they WILL die again somehow. I guess the fact that it was the “Game of Second Chances’ that really drew me in.

    Also not sure how to feel about the Underworld being an antagonist here. I guess I’d need to read more about the ‘new’ Underworld and Reapers before I can really judge though.

    • They died, but they used a Geist’s help to not actually go in the ground. They’re ghosts, but they’re living. It’s still a game of second chances-it’s even more so now, because a high Synergy helps the Geist find redemption too.

      It’s also what makes the Underworld an antagonist, because frankly, once you accept ghosts are people too, wow that place desperately needs a revolution or five.

  7. Love the new concepts, but every time one of these covers out, I just want more! In this instance I guess I have to go for Haunts and Keys, because Synergy I’ll have to understand eventually, and I’d rather have dessert (the less required one) first!

  8. Speaking of hard choices…

    Synergy, because that’s the one I loved conceptually but nothinged mechanically in first edition.

  9. Keys and haunts are what I wanna know about first~ Then we can resolve how synergy is. Mostly because, in my opinion, I wanna see changes in the power system then see what’s happening with changes to synergy.

  10. Haunts and Keys. Also, I really do like the new direction for Geist. The new, in game origin for the term “Sin Eater” is just so in place it hurts, in a good way.

  11. Both options are tempting but I’m going to have to vote Synergy. Mainly because if I like the changes I might monkeypatch the new system into my existing game of Geist.

  12. great post!! and tough choice: haunts/keys or synergy…..I want to hear about both, but my vote for what to see in the next post is: HAUNTS AND KEYS PLEASE!

  13. I’m really curious about Synergy as well. The process by which someone learns who their Geist was and the storytelling mechanisms and techniques to explore that past is intriguing.

  14. I loved the explanation for why the Sin-Eaters don’t really have an organized society or culture, and the overarching mystery on why they are popping up anywhere now!

    I’m intrigued about the fact that they’re actually dead now, it was really surprising when I first read it, and though I think it might be a good ideia, I just really hope we don’t miss the whole “second chances” and “carnival of life and death” themes. It was one of my favorite aspects of Geist in general, and though I would like to revisit those themes under different approaches, I really hope they’re not gone from the game.

    Anyways, really excited abou the second edition, and I vote for learning more about the new Haunts and Keys system!!

  15. Ahhh, this is so exciting! I’m really digging the updated setting and elaboration on Sin-Eater culture. I’m already thinking of story seeds for a chronicle utilizing some of the new stuff.

    It’s such a close race between Synergy and Haunts/Keys for me. I’ve enjoyed the updated Integrity analogues for the games, and it’s interesting seeing how they often reflect and enhance the themes of the gameline? They’re mechanically appealing to me as well.

    But on a more superficial note, I love cool powers. :p Honestly I’ll be very happy either way but I’m going to vote for Haunts and Keys! I’ll be looking forward to the new info either way.

  16. I gotta vote for Synergy. That bit about gradually building it — is it going to be more like a Promethean’s Humanity? Or like Harmony, where extreme values both represent trouble?

  17. Good article!

    But for me, the fact that Sin-Eaters are dead now is somewhat unsettling. It could be good, but from my point of view it is extermely easy to make this fact ruin the fun of the game. As others already mentioned, Sin-Eaters were about the second chances, they were granted with new life and so they were much more alive than most of the living — just because they already saw the face of death. That what this game was for me too — a game of humans that want to live to the fullest. I hope this will remain in the new edition.

    I really like the new explanation of the term Sin-Eater, but can’t say anything about it — it is good. Just that.

    What really got me excited is the new explanation of their culture. The fact that Sin-Eaters arise in the times of great plagues and wars is marvellous. This alone gives a lot of opportunities and ideas for adventures, and also gives them the «zombie-apocalypse» vibe, which is great. Very cool idea.

    As for the vote, I am really interested in Synergy.

    • I don’t see a reason to be too concerned. They’re metaphysically dead, but functionally alive. They still have a pulse, bodily functions, they age, etc. Unless a Sin-eater is really hung up on philosophical issues around this stuff, the functional is what they should care about. They *are* alive by the standards of mundane humanity.

      • It’s an interesting doevetail with the theme of standing against death in general. All the metaphysics the rest of the world can bring to bear say they’re dead, but the Bound’s heart says “fuck metaphysics” and beats anyway.

  18. I think making Sin Eaters dead cuts out some of the best thematic possibilities present in Geist. It was a game about living despite death, looking what nearly happened in the face and using it as a way to give your life more meaning. Saying that it’s all too late and you are dead, whatever happened physically, takes all the rebellious optimism out. It means you don’t have a second chance to be better and make your mark. That your murder or suicide happened effectively and you can’t come back from it. I hope you can walk this back.

    • a lot of the Onyx Path team have been pretty emphatic that ghosts are still people, and that the Bound get to reclaim their bodies and their living identities for the duration of their natural lifespan is still pretty hopeful and second chance-y.

  19. I’m going to vote for Haunts and Keys, although it was a very tough choice. I’m really liking everything I’m seeing with this so far, and I can’t wait to see more.

  20. Haunts and Keys!

    This preview was awesome and has truly made me thirst for more! This was one of the first NWoD games I bought and it’s truly my favorite..cannot WAIT to see more and to see (if it happens) the kickstarter!

  21. Interesting. I was kinda wary about the Bound being linked to mass death, but since this seems to have changed, it’s less worrying.
    Geists eating uncooperative ghosts is scary as heck.

    I’d like to hear about Synergy, because the relationship between Geist and Bound seems to have changed substantially.

  22. You just make Rio de Janeiro a scenario with two major supernatural huge presences, both dead.
    Rio currently has huge amounts of violent deaths each day. There is even a discussion about calling our city a war zone. Cops, criminals and civilians everyone dies in huge numbers.
    I would love you to take that into account and expand the Cursed Necropolis Rio for the Sin-eaters too.

  23. I did forget to vote about the next spoiler. I need to see Sin-eaters synergy with their geist. With this said, I would like to see comething about baby sin-eaters. Using the ones who born without respiration and heart beat.
    Maybe they woundn’t understand the diference between their geist e their’s wants

  24. Holy Crap that was fantastic.

    I vote for Synergy.

    It’s looking like Geists and Sin-Eaters are now not *both* Bound but just the Sin-Eater themselves?

  25. I’m curious about both, but I’m thinking Synergy is more curious since it didn’t have much impact at all in the past on game play OR on role-playing.

    Although I won’t deny that having Haunts and Keys have more of a thematic impact sounds awesome too!

    *closes eyes and points* vote leans toward synergy.

  26. I am not sure how I feel about the 2nd Ed of Geist so far.

    One of the things I liked about 1st Ed was it was a game about second chances. You died and you came back. You are a living breathing human. You are not dead. You just happen to have this extra part of you you now have to deal with. If the focus is pushing a darker game of you maybe alive but you are dead, I’m not sure how it feels about a game of second chances.

    Also, I love how the Underworld was portrayed in the Book of the Dead. The Underworld and inhabitants are not malevolent because it is a bad place, but where over time, the place that has absorbed the darker impulses of humanity. Where things haunt that have lost humanity. Depending on how this goes, I may still kickstart 2nd Ed Geist for updating as many rules for 1st Ed but otherwise not use 2nd Ed at all.

  27. Synergy.
    Don’t like already dead angle. Liked force of death pushing death off on to others. Like concentrations of death heralding new Bound and reluctantly coming around to rarity of Bound society.
    Just joking here- but can we go back to 1st ed. These aspects are killing our games pace.


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