The Dead Belong Below [Geist: The Sin-Eaters]

Here’s the latest blog post from Geist developer Travis:

(First of all, I’d like to apologize for the lack of blog posts the last couple of weeks — the whole family was down with a nasty flu. Get your flu shots, people!)

Last time, I asked you to vote between hearing about Reapers or ghosts. Here’s where I confess that that wasn’t entirely a fair question: Reapers, you see, are ghosts. Not chthonic monsters, not inhuman enforcers of the Underworld’s will. Just ghosts.

Just people.

Taking Up the Scythe

So if Reapers are just ghosts, what makes a Reaper? They’d tell you it’s the favor of the Chthonic Gods. They’d tell you they were chosen, marked for greatness, given a holy mission by the never-born lords and ladies of the Underworld. Others would say it’s a craven desire to come out on top no matter the cost, “fuck you, got mine” on a cosmic scale.

Wherever you fall on that spectrum, the fact remains that some ghosts (usually those with plenty of Essence to keep dissolution at bay) don’t see a problem with the state of the afterlife. Would they prefer to be alive? Sure, but if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. Some remember the pain of being so close to the living world but never able to touch it, and think a clean break is the only way to heal. Others were hounded by the unquiet dead in life, and want to enforce the separation of the world of the living and the world of the dead. Still others are simply convinced that there must be a reason for the way things are, and tampering with it is an act of monumental hubris.

A lot of those ghosts become cult leaders, preaching the doctrine of the Chthonic Gods in the River Cities, the Dominions, and itinerant camps throughout the Underworld. Sometimes that’s as far as it goes. But other times, one of these preacher shades finds a mask — buried in the loose soil of a forgotten tunnel, caught up on the banks of a River, or resting on an altar of bone and chalcedony in a temple that wasn’t there yesterday and won’t be there again tomorrow. Those who take up the masks, who wear them in veneration of the Gods Below, are the Reapers.

Beware of Ghosts Bearing Masks

It’s a curious phrase, isn’t it? Ghosts bearing masks. Not wearing them. That’s because, by the time a Reaper has donned her Deathmask, it’s probably too late. The mask provides power, yes, and the freedom to hunt beyond the gates of the Underworld, but more than that, it provides clarity of purpose. A Reaper wearing a Deathmask is stripped to the core of herself, complexity and humanity sandblasted down to a single tenet: the dead belong below. Her Corpus warps into a terrible, inhuman form as it swells to contain the power of the mask. Even without having drunk from one of the Rivers, she becomes the equal of even the most powerful geist. She bursts forth from the Underworld, unhindered by Avernian Gates or the need to stay near Anchors, and stalks her prey, swallowing them whole only to vomit them back up once safely returned to the Underworld. She is the stuff of ghosts’ nightmares, the bogeyman whispered of over Twilight campfires and after krewe religious services.

More dangerous are the Reapers who hunt smarter, not harder. Why hunt down individual ghosts at all when you can slip into a graveyard community looking like any other shade, identify the most susceptible among them, and convince them that the dead belong below? Charismatic Reapers can harvest several ghosts at once, all without ever needing to don their masks.

Strength in Numbers

Threats to the Underworld can become too large for a single Reaper to handle. An unbound geist escapes in search of a body to hide in. A ghost has too many Sin-Eater allies to take alone. When situations like these arise, it’s time to round up a posse and put the problem down for good. Reapers acting in concert aren’t limited to dragging individual ghosts back to the Great Below: they can tear entire chunks out of the world, hurling them down into the Underworld along with all the ghosts (and anyone else, for that matter) in them.

With enough Reapers working together, city blocks, neighborhoods, or even entire districts can be pulled beneath the earth, never to be seen again. Houses and buildings vanish in the blink of an eye. That the living can be caught in this process isn’t a problem: those who don’t die in the initial collapse waste away in the Great Below. Other loose ends tie up on their own. The living rationalize the incident as a sinkhole or a freak accident. People with direct ties to the land quickly sicken and die. A large enough number of Reapers could destroy an entire civilization this way, Descending cities and letting the aftereffect do its work. Whether this has ever actually happened is hotly debated among Sin-Eater historians.

The Chthonic Gods

They don’t exist. You could map every tunnel, plumb every River, comb every book in every Dominion in the Lower Mysteries, and never find the way to Eljudnir or the palaces of the Lords of Xibalba. And what is the measure of a god’s existence if not an actual, physical presence you can go and visit?

They do exist. The dead venerate them, pray to them and sacrifice to them and commit atrocities in their names. Even the living sometimes find their way to the Church of the Gods Below. And what is the measure of a god’s existence if not the impact of its worshippers upon the world?

Next Time

We’ve met the disciples of the Chthonic Gods. Shall we delve deeper into the Underworld they claim to serve, or return to the sunlit lands and learn about the living who are a threat to the Underworld?

38 thoughts on “The Dead Belong Below [Geist: The Sin-Eaters]”

  1. This sounds incredibly exciting! These are definitely an interesting group of antagonists for a chronicle. They also sound like they have a kind of synchronicity with Geists, what with them being empowered ghosts.

    As for the next post, I want to learn about the living who are a threat to the underworld-I smell a minor splat.

  2. Deeper into the Underworld. I feel like we’re still missing a piece of the puzzle that makes the work of the Reapers so dreadful, and I’d rather finish one puzzle before beginning another.

  3. It’s a tough pick, but I vote for the Underworld. I love ‘living’ (or, in this case, unliving) places, and the hints re: the Underworld so far have been tantalising to say the lest.

  4. well, that’s a difficult choice- it feels natural to go down the Underworld, but living antagonists could be interesting. In that case, I vote for the living simply because I assume that the Underworld would win 😛

    Also- it is funny how Reapers has started with a sympathetic view, and ended with “oh my god they are going to kill us all”. Well played, well played.

  5. Underworld, please!

    Also, at first I have to admit I was kind of meh on the ‘Reapers are Ghosts’ concept, but damn if it wasn’t pulled of nicely.

  6. Ooh, cults! I love cults as storytelling elements, they’re a ton of fun. Gangs of Reapers and (potentially?) ghosts who believe in their cause sound like they could make for some imposing antagonists for a krewe.

    Both options are interesting as usual but I’ll put my vote in for living threats. Especially if they’re humans, since I think humans are underutilized in supernatural-focused games as foes.

  7. Well, it looks like Underworld is winning. 🙂

    I can’t choose.

    A large enough number of Reapers could destroy an entire civilization this way, Descending cities and letting the aftereffect do its work. Whether this has ever actually happened is hotly debated among Sin-Eater historians.

    Does anyone else get the feeling that you could start a few fights by yelling “Irem” into one of these debates?

  8. Very interesting. I hope you can maybe get some crossover notes into a supplement or something.

    Anyway, Let us continue further down. Underworld please.

  9. Great post! Tough Choice! Both are things I want to hear about…but as we are on the antagonist train, I’d like to hear more about the living antagonists, now that we’ve heard about the unliving ones.

  10. This part – “temple that wasn’t there yesterday and won’t be there again tomorrow” – interests me, as one aspect of the Underworld in the first edition was that it was static. Is that changing, or are these temples a special case?


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