A close brush with death, a step across the line into the Beyond, a knowing nod to What Lies on the Other Side, an unwanted familiarity with the Underworld, a strange worldwide community of dual souls with one foot in the grave: this is White Wolf’s newest World of Darkness RPG, Geist: The Sin-Eaters.
Geist is most similar to Hunter: the Vigil in that the characters are mortals who are aware of the supernatural aspects of the World of Darkness. However, Geist’s protagonists aren’t stalking and destroying ghost and demons (or at least, not all the time) — they cohabitate with them. Each character is a Sin-Eater, a human who has either had a very close encounter with death, or has actually died and been sent back to the world of the living. They’re not undead, they’re just people who’ve had a peek behind the veil.
They don’t come back from the other side alone, however. Each Sin-Eater is accompanied by a Geist, a spirit being of murky origins (most were probably humans at one point, but some of them are so warped by their centuries supernatural existence that it can be hard to tell). The Geist gives the Sin-Eater a lot of insight into the supernatural world, and also something of a free pass in their travels between the living world and the realms of the dead. On top of all that, Geists grant their Sin-Eaters a wide range of supernatural powers.
The thing is, life isn’t really simple living in the “twilight” world between life and death. For one thing, the Sin-Eater/Geist relationship isn’t always a smooth and fair partnership. A brutal, callous Geist might inhabit a gentle, peaceful young girl, for example. Still, it isn’t a possession in the traditional sense — both halves need each other to function fully. There’s also a weird sort of obligation to deal with supernatural problems that crop up in the real world. This often takes the form of helping ghosts and other unrestful spirits move on, or defeating malevolent forces that are plaguing mortals and spirits alike. There’s a global Sin-Eater community that revolves around this “career.” They even have their own symbology and networking methods for discrete communication. If you’re familiar with the tv show Dead Like Me from a few years ago, the overall concept is quite similar.
As with most (I really could say, “all”) White Wolf RPGs, Geist is filled with tons of back story, atmospheric short stories, interesting characters and more plot hooks than anyone could possibly use in a single campaign. But since this is a core rulebook, it has a sizable amount of crunch. Sin-Eaters have access to an extensive list of manifestations, curses, rituals, and so forth, all of which are basically magic spells. They need to find (and possibly eat) ectoplasm to power these little tricks. There are also some seriously weird and creepy bad guys, hideous and alien creatures and spirits whose true origins are lost to prehistory (though the book enjoys speculating about each of them). The black and white artwork is excellent throughout, and much of the book’s style draws heavily from the Guillermo del Toro school of design, especially the creatures.
This is a game that relies heavily on the creation of a brooding, haunted atmosphere rather than a bunch of gory action scenes (though you can work those in as well). Each Sin-Eater’s “2nd chance” is deeply influenced in some way by the manner of her first death, so there is a fair amount of time spent dwelling on themes both dark and morbid. But, you know, Halloween is barely more than a month away. Even if this isn’t your group’s usual style, it could make for a fantastically gloomy couple of weeks role-playing in the shadow of summer’s end.