Geist: The Sin Eaters
Every Sin-Eater has visited that gray boundary that exists between life and death. It’s in that timeless place that he was visited by a geist and his weak flesh was propped up with spiritual strength. As part of the bonding process between geist and human, the Sin-Eater is given a gift to symbolize the bond. This gift is a keystone memento — nothing less than the unbeating heart of the geist. It is a physical manifestation of the geist’s past and the key to its power. The act of offering this precious object to a Sin-Eater is a declaration of empowerment, the handshake of a partnership and, in part, a demonstration of submission. Without a body to walk and talk and provide a physical anchor for it, a geist is little more than an exceptionally powerful ghost. By offering up its keystone, the geist acknowledges the value of the human with whom it has bonded.
Each keystone is different, and the form it takes bears direct significance to the history of the geist, even if the geist can’t remember exactly why that might be. The waterlogged specter of a geist dripping with seaweed, its face a craggy mass of scars, might not remember why its keystone is a polished ivory tusk, but that in no way diminishes the power of the memento. More often than not, though, the connection between a geist and its keystone at least seems obvious. The keystone of the Burning Woman — a geist that appears only as a mass of twisting flame and the scent of burnt flesh — is an ever-burning torch that can’t be extinguished by any known means. The keystone of a geist with the sunken features of a starvation victim is a wooden plate, upon which any food placed instantly rots and decays.
Keystones have a Threshold and two Keys that relate to the geist of which they are a part. These signifiers present an opportunity to more fully flesh out how the keystone relates to the geist and to the Sin-Eater to which it now belongs. The ever-burning torch of the Burning Woman has the Threshold of Death by Violence along with the Elemental and Passion Keys. What this indicates about the Burning Woman is that she was the victim (or perhaps the perpetrator) of violence (the Torn), relating to the use of fire (Pyre-Flame) and was either possessed of, or the target of, strong emotions (Passion). It’s likely that the Sin-Eater who has bonded with the Burning Woman shares one or more of these signifiers, even if she didn’t before. The Threshold and Keys needn’t exactly match those of the geist or the Sin-Eater, but like attracts like. Sin-Eaters that enact Manifestations that share a Key with the keystone gain a +3 bonus to the roll.
- Keystones have a Threshold and two Keys that relate to the geist of which they are a part.
- Sin-Eaters that enact Manifestations that share a Key with the keystone gain a +3 bonus to the roll.
- Sin-Eaters can retrieve a keystone from the geist (or from elsewhere, if lost) as a reflexive action, and may return the keystone as an instant action.
- Any ceremony that contains elements related to the keystone’s Threshold that is performed while using that keystone as a ritual tool gains a +3 bonus.
- Each keystone has an associated Skill that can be boosted by spending plasm at a 1:1 ratio, up to normal maximums.
Every Sin-Eater is a collector, of sorts, and the items that form their collections come with a history of death. They call these items mementos, something of a reference to the phrase memento mori — literally, “Remember your death.” To Sin-Eaters, these objects function as more than a reminder of death; they serve as ceremonial tool and badge of office, and are a physical link between the dead and the living. Most mementos are created as an accidental byproduct of proximity to death, though some are more intimately involved. A spent bullet casing from the gun of a gang banger that sprays lead into a crowd, killing bystander and enemy alike can become a memento. An axe used by a madman to slaughter his family is forged by rage and pain into a memento. A wooden bar from a cradle where a baby quietly turned blue from suffocation absorbs the passing of innocent life and the sharp edge of grief from the horrified parents. Other mementos are intentionally created from the animate dead. Restless ghosts are pressed into service by Sin-Eaters that have captured their anchors and performed mystic Ceremonies binding that ghost to service.
Mementos come in different shapes and forms. Keystone mementos are a physical representation of the bond between geist and Sin-Eater. Deathmasks are the solid remains of a geist that has been destroyed, while fetters are created from the anchors of ghosts. Vanitas are memento mori that a Sin-Eater creates himself as ruminations on the very nature of his own inevitable demise. Charms are lesser mementos that contain the unformed energy of death, and memorabilia are near-legendary objects with the essence of a Charm, but with a tie to a famous (or infamous) person, place, or event.
General Rules: A memento must be actively wielded to be used or, in the case of large mementos, at least touched. Contact with the memento establishes the necessary conduit through which a Sin-Eater can benefit from the use of the object. Any single action can only benefit from the use of a single memento. A character can’t attempt to stack bonuses from multiple mementos.
Infused with death, mementos are stronger than the materials they are composed of. Memento mori add their Merit rating to their Durability (which in turn increases Structure). A destroyed memento loses all the dark energies it once contained and becomes just another piece of broken junk. See the Memento Merit for dot rating information.
mementos can help a Sin-Eater enter the Underworld at an Avernian Gate. Each memento held grants the character a +1 on the roll to open such a gate. (In fact, a character who brings no mementos to the low places will find that his entry is particularly difficult.) A Sin-Eater’s mementos do not count toward the limit of physical items one can bring into the Underworld; a Sin-Eater can bring any memento freely into and out of the Great Below (see the “Laws of Ingress,” p. 265 in Geist: The Sin-Eaters). During the descent, a Sin-Eater may find that she comes across or is specifically seeking mementos down in the dark passages. Ghosts may actually still cling to mementos, or the Sin-Eater may find ghosts with potent Numina she might bind to a fetter memento. Similarly, some particularly powerful memorabilia may lurk down in the depths — some treasures are destroyed and end up in the Underworld. This is true for memorabilia: if an infamous object-of-death is destroyed, it may end up in the Great Below for a Sin-Eater to find and claim for herself.
Although technically given over to their Sin-Eater during the bonding process, keystones are generally kept safe in Twilight as part of the geist. Sin-Eaters can retrieve a keystone from Twilight with a thought (reflexive action); returning a keystone to the geist is nearly as easy (instant action). A Sin-Eater isn’t under any compulsion to return a keystone to her geist, and may keep it as long as she likes. While in the flesh, so to speak, keystone mementos are easily recognizable by other Sin-Eaters, geists, and even ghosts for what they are. The almost palpable aura of death that surrounds a keystone is unmistakable. In this way, keystones act as something of an identifier among Sin-Eaters. Anyone could potentially own a deathmask (see below), but only Sin-Eaters resonate with an active keystone, which signifies the presence of a geist.
As has been stated, keystones generally exist in a state of Twilight, part and parcel of their originating geists. When a Sin-Eater retrieves a keystone, he forces it to manifest in a physical form. The transformation from intangible to physical is instantaneous, but does come with some drawbacks. Most keystone mementos are small objects (Size 1 or 2) that have no difficulty making the transition. Larger keystones lack the ability to become completely solid for anyone except the Sin-Eater to which they belong. Keystones of Size 3 or larger (maximum of Size 12) are completely ephemeral to anyone other than their Sin-Eater owners. The keystone can be seen, heard, and even smelled by anyone that could normally interact with it, but remains as insubstantial as smoke. Only the owning Sin-Eater can interact with the keystone as though it were a physical object.
This obstacle can be temporarily overcome by reinforcing the structure of the keystone with plasm. A Sin-Eater can force a complete manifestation of a large keystone for one scene as an instant action, by spending a point of plasm. Keystones that are made to manifest in this way may not exist in the same place as another physical object until they are fully formed (i.e. a Sin-Eater couldn’t solidify the keystone through another person or object). Manifested keystones come to rest in a natural position that obeys the laws of physics, so while it is possible to manifest a large keystone in such a way so that it will become unbalanced and fall on an enemy, Storytellers should require an opposed Intelligence + Science versus Wits + Composure roll to do so. Fully solid keystones have the same Structure and Durability as other, similar objects, and, if they are destroyed, will return to Twilight. Keystones that are violently returned to Twilight may not be retrieved again until the end of the current scene.
It should be noted that keystones are bound to a Sin-Eater and her geist by more than just physical proximity. It is impossible to steal a keystone or for a Sin-Eater to misplace or lose a keystone as long as she retains her bond with her geist. Manifested keystones can be destroyed (as described above), but that only denies the use of the keystone to the Sin-Eater for a single scene. Keystones that are somehow misplaced by their owner can be recalled to hand as a reflexive action, similar to the manner in which a Sin-Eater retrieves a keystone from Twilight. Only the keystone mementos of geists that have been defeated and destroyed can be stolen, traded, or lost.
Ritual Tools And Shared Intelligence
The presence of a keystone memento acts as a powerful tool for ceremonies (see p. 150). The memento helps a Sin-Eater to channel and direct the energies necessary for performing a ceremony by subconsciously drawing on the knowledge of her geist. This is a much more subtle display of power by the geist than shown during Manifestations and relies more on the abilities of the Sin-Eater than those of the geist. Ceremonies are tactile experiences that draw on physical sensations to charge the ritual, and geists have, at best, a tenuous grip on physicality through their bond with their Sin-Eater. Any ceremony that contains elements related to the keystone’s Threshold performed while using that keystone as a ritual tool (similar to the manner in which a Specialty adds to a Skill roll) gains a +3 bonus.
As a direct link to the geist, keystones offer the possibility of tapping into the accumulated knowledge of the geist to benefit the activities of a Sin-Eater. Most geists have lived far, far longer than their human hosts and so have witnessed and experienced more than a Sin-Eater has. Some geists remember skills they possessed in the past, and some can recall the abilities of Sin-Eaters with whom they have previously bonded. Each keystone has an associated Skill that can be tapped into by a Sin-Eater. This allows a Sin-Eater to boost her use of that Skill by spending plasm to exploit her bond with the geist through the keystone. For each point of plasm spent, a Sin-Eater artificially increases her personal ability in that Skill by one dot (up to the usual maximum of five) for a number of rolls equal to her Psyche. If the Sin-Eater previously had no dots in the Skill, this use of the keystone temporarily negates the unskilled penalty.
No Sin-Eater is complete without her collection of mementos. They are handy ritual tools, status symbols, and darkly magical artifacts, all rolled in to one neat package. Included below are some guidelines on the creation of memento mori to broaden Sin-Eater collections.
At the heart of each memento is a story. It can be a story about the geist the memento came from, a story about the ghost bound inside or a tale about the death that created the memento. The mechanical aspects of a memento are then pulled from the story to create an in-game item by assigning a Threshold, one or more Keys, and possibly a Skill or a Numen, depending on the type of memento being fleshed out. Start with the story and see where it leads. The tale of a lonely ghost — slowly driven mad by despair, which stalks a stretch of highway, intentionally causing accidents to bring it visitors — could be forged into a fetter with the Forgotten Threshold (describing both the manner of death and the loneliness of the shade) and the Phantasmal Key (use of illusions to cause automobile accidents).
Most mementos have a ghostly power that is an evocative representation of the memento as a whole. The Ever-Burning Torch of the Burning Woman is impossible to quench by any known means. It continues to burn under water, covered with mud, and even in the absence of oxygen. These unique properties are more in the nature of special effects than potent magics and, just like everything else to do with mementos, should be derived from the story of the object in question. A general rule of thumb when assigning an effect to a memento is the effect should, at best, provide a minor perk of some kind. More often than not though, the effect should add to the flavor of the memento by drawing on its story and theme. The Dead Man’s Wallet (see p. 196, Geist: The Sin-Eaters) is a good example of this. Money placed in the wallet picks up bloodstains, and the memento gives the contented sigh of a newly rich man whenever it’s opened.
Keystones: The creation of keystones requires a Skill be tied to the memento; the Skill chosen should reflect some aspect of the geist of which the keystone is a part. A geist with ties to sailing might result in a memento with the Drive (Pilot Ship) Skill attached or the Athletics Skill for swimming. A geist with a history of violence might attach the Brawl or Weaponry Skill to the keystone. The story of a memento is particularly important when it comes to keystones, even if a Sin-Eater doesn’t know the whole story of her geist. The nature and history of the geist should come to life in Threshold, Keys, and associated Skill of the keystone. A Sin-Eater should be able to look at a keystone and infer something about the geist of which it is a part.
Deathmasks: The most important element of a deathmask is the keystone from which it was created. Rather than setting out to create a deathmask, first create a keystone complete with associated Skill, Keys, and Threshold, along with all the relevant back story of the geist of which it was a part. Then attempt to visualize what would happen to the keystone after the geist was destroyed. The visage of the geist is imprinted in the very material of the mask. How would this affect the overall appearance of the deathmask? The transition from keystone to deathmask also drops a Key from the memento. What effect would the loss of such an integral part of the keystone have on the memento as a whole? Using the Perfect Fifth as an example (see p. 208, Geist: The Sin-Eaters), as a keystone, the memento might have included the Pyre-Flame Key and might have literally smoked when played. The destruction of the geist finally extinguished the flickering flames that still played around the form of the Violinist-In-Ash, which led to the loss of the Pyre-Flame Key and the end of the smoke it called forth.
Fetters: In the case of fetters, the Numen assigned to the memento should play up some aspect of the ghost bound within. Going back to the example of the highway ghost, the Phantasm Numen seems appropriate, as it creates illusions. Determining what Skill + Attribute should be used to channel the Numen requires a tad more thought, but should still be based on common sense. Remember that ghostly traits are representative of a group of Attributes. The Power trait translates to Intelligence, Strength, or Presence; Finesse to Wits, Dexterity, or Manipulation; and Resistance to Resolve, Stamina, or Composure. With this in mind, the attribute half of the equation should be fairly easy to determine. As an example, Phantasm asks for a Power + Finesse roll. This quickly rules out Resolve, Stamina, or Composure as Attributes, since they fall in the Resistance group. Creating a successful illusion requires quick thinking to react to potential changes in the environment that might reveal the illusion for what it is. This suggests Wits would be an appropriate Attribute. Different ghosts and Sin-Eaters might approach the problem in different ways. Another valid interpretation of Phantasm is that a successful illusion requires attention to detail, which would suggest Intelligence as the Attribute. The Skill half of the equation is more a reflection of taste than hard rules. Expression would be a fair choice, since the creation of an illusion is a kind of performance. Subterfuge would also be a reasonable selection, since an illusion is a lie. Players and Storytellers should work together to decide on the exact Attribute + Skill roll required to channel a fetter’s Numen
Vanitas: The genesis of a character’s vanitas is a personal affair; her krewe cannot help her in its creation. No roll is necessary to create a vanitas, though the Storyteller may choose to ask for an appropriate roll (Dexterity + Crafts for a sculpture, Wits + Expression for a poem, or even an Intelligence + Computer roll if it’s a programming or Photoshop-based affair) to determine its artistic or functional quality. Even a failure on that roll doesn’t obviate the memento’s actual metaphysical effect, however (though a dramatic failure might). As long as the player spends the character’s experience points on the Merit, the vanitas works as created.
Charms and Memorabilia: Charms and memorabilia are their stories. Without an explanation for how an otherwise-mundane object became associated with death, these mementos are nothing more than ordinary objects. A Sin-Eater takes pride in being able to relate the exact details surrounding the creation of a Charm or piece of memorabilia. The Threshold of these mementos should be determined by the history of the object. The teeth of a serial killer that breathed his last on Old Sparky? The Torn. A ticket from a passenger on the Titanic? The Prey, and so on. Potential Keys should also relate to the background of the object. The aforementioned teeth could be tuned to the Industrial, Passion, or Stigmata Keys, while the ticket could be tuned to the Tear-Stained, Passion or the Silent Keys.
Death has a presence and energy all its own that even the most mundane of humans can feel. It lingers in the oppressive silence of a graveyard, it speaks in the shriek of a flatline, and it leaves a chilling stain at the places it touches, raising goose bumps and the hairs on the back of your neck. This energy is formless and shapeless, but Sin-Eaters recognize it immediately. Ordinary objects can become impregnated with death, giving them a sort of morbid solidity. For Sin-Eaters, visiting a museum can often be like a visit to a tomb. The collected energy of death in one place overlays the otherwise normal setting with a patina of gloom and decay. The sword of a conquistador still carries the memories of the blood it shed. A painting on the wall bears the spectral energy of past owners that have died while gazing upon it. Modern devices absorb the potency of death in the same way. The cell phone of an executive that died suddenly of a heart attack still carries an unearthly pulse, even if its battery is dead. The digital camera of a war correspondent retains more than just pictures of innocent victims. Sin-Eaters refer to these everyday objects that contain the unfocused essence of death as Charms.
Not every object that is a witness to death becomes a Charm. Generally, only particularly emotional, abrupt, or significant deaths create the amount of energy required to imbue an object with death, and even then not every object present is affected. Only objects that were intimately connected with the dead or with the cause of death are likely to become Charms. A street sign that witnesses a fatal accident is unlikely to become a Charm, though the gearshift that came loose and rocketed through a passenger’s brain is. The favored pair of shoes of a model that ODed on meth is more likely to become a Charm than the chair on which she thrashed out her last moments of life. Charms can be any size, but larger Charms aren’t as easy to work with or carry. Most Charms carried by Sin-Eaters are Size 1 or 2, though larger mementos that are easily carried or worn (like the helmet of a World War I infantryman that still sports a bullet hole) are also common.
Unlike other mementos, Charms have a Threshold, but no specific Key. Charms contain the unformed energies of death, a factor that makes them useful. A Sin-Eater with the Dedicate Charm Ceremony can mold these energies into any Key that fits within the Threshold of the Charm. In the case of Charms, the Threshold of the object should be seen as the background story of the object, which will indicate what Keys are able to be formed. A teddy bear that belonged to a child that died of cancer would have the Stricken Threshold (death by disease) and the energy it contains could be shaped into the Phantasmal Key (expressing the child’s unfulfilled dreams of health and happiness), the Passion Key (expressing the anger of the child or his parents over his untimely death), or even the Silent Key (expressing the silent despair of both parents and child), depending on the circumstances of life and death that went into the creation of the Charm. Once a Key is set, it cannot be changed. By giving the latent energies present in the Charm a direction, a Sin-Eater has defined its new purpose. Sin-Eaters gain a +1 bonus to Manifestation rolls with a Key that coincides with that of a Charm.
Even more than fetters, Charms are freely traded among Sin-Eaters. Charms impose no limits on their owners and come with no drawbacks, which prompt many Sin-Eaters to collect and display especially interesting Charms as a kind of status symbol. A common nickname among urban krewes for Charms is “death bling.” Displaying particularly impressive or numerous Charms can give a Sin-Eater a bonus to Social rolls when dealing with other Sin-Eaters (maximum of +3).
Since Charms serve as ornamentation amongst Sin-Eaters, many choose to modify these mementos in an effort to make them more “front-and-center” on the character’s person. A spent bullet casing isn’t much to look at, and isn’t something meant for display. But drill a hole through the primer pocket and run a gold chain through it, and suddenly it becomes a necklace. A white lab coat once worn by a doctor who died in quarantine from the diseases he was trying to treat isn’t that exceptional in its appearance. Different Sin-Eaters might adorn the coat in different ways: one Sin-Eater would choose to splash it with blood or bile, even drawing whorls and symbols into the fabric in streaks of red. Another might go purely ornamental, pinning silver skulls to the lapels, stitching an hourglass or scythe across the back, and attaching a bleached reaper’s cowl to cover the face. Not every Sin-Eater adorns her Charms in such a way, but if nobody can see the Charms, where’s the fun in them?
- Charms have a Threshold and contain the unformed energy of death.
- By using the Dedicate Charm ceremony, the energy can be shaped into a single Key. Once a Charm has been given a Key, it may not be changed.
- Once the Charm’s Key has been set, Sin-Eaters gain a +1 bonus to Manifestation rolls with that Key.
- Sin-Eaters that display a large number of Charms or a singularly impressive Charm can gain up to a +3 bonus on Social rolls when dealing with other Sin-Eaters.
Throughout the ages, the term memento mori has often indicated something one creates by hand — a lamentation for a string quartet to perform, a poem written in elegiac couplets, or an ornate tomb sculpture. Sin-Eaters have their own spin on such funerary creations, known as vanitas. The term once indicated the still-life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries. Those paintings — featuring the common death symbolism of skulls, bones, rotting fruit, and hourglasses — were meant to portray the idea that earthly life was fleeting and that all the petty vanities associated with our mundane existences were wholly transient.
Sin-Eaters have stolen the name, but don’t necessarily adhere to the idea behind them. Yes, some Sin-Eaters create funerary art for the purposes of focusing on some kind of afterlife or post-earthly reward, but just as many create vanitas to remind them that now is the time to partake in worldly pleasures: eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you might get shot in the face or hit by a car. Again.
This particular type of memento created by a Sin-Eater is intensely personal. Bound to her Threshold but to no Key, its creation is meant to inspire thought and meditation on death. The Sin-Eater ruminates on life, death, and all the stuff in between, focusing in some way on how she actually died — or how others might die under the same conditions (so, if the character nearly kicked the bucket from a deeply invasive cancer, she might think of her time in the hospital, or she might actually mentally visit all of those who are dying alone in sterile hospital rooms).
The genesis of a character’s vanitas is a personal affair; her krewe cannot help her in its creation. No roll is necessary to create a vanitas, though the Storyteller may ask for a proper roll (Dexterity + Crafts for a sculpture, Wits + Expression for a poem, or even an Intelligence + Computer roll for a programming or Photoshop-based affair) to determine its artistic or functional quality. Even a failure on that roll doesn’t obviate the memento’s actual metaphysical effect, however (though a dramatic failure might). As long as the player spends the character’s experience points on the Merit, the vanitas works as created.
The nature of the vanitas is determined by the character — whether it’s a photo spread of cadavers, a home-crafted stained glass window depicting a person dying, or a memoir of the character’s near-death experience written on an old typewriter, anything works, as long as it’s crafted by the character alone. The memento must have elements of death in general (skulls, carrion birds, ofrendas, a reaper’s scythe, an hourglass) but also have elements that specifically represent the character’s own Threshold (a Sin-Eater whose Threshold is the Prey might paint in a pack of hungry dogs or wolves tearing at a body, while a Stricken Sin-Eater might compose a symphony whose sheet music is inked in diseased blood).
A character can ruminate on his vanitas to gain back spent Willpower points. Many Sin-Eaters choose to keep their vanitas mementos hidden from others of their kind. The reason for this is that another Sin-Eater can destroy the character’s vanitas — doing so allows that Sin-Eater to reclaim all lost Willpower, filling up her pool.
- A Sin-Eater can, once per game session, ruminate on the nature of her Threshold and her own near-death experience. Doing so requires her to be in the presence of her vanitas. Roll the character’s Wits + Resolve. For every success on this roll, the character regains one lost Willpower point. She must spend a full scene on this meditation; she cannot simply do it on the fly.
- Each vanitas must have the character’s own Threshold and depict that Threshold in some manner. Vanitas mementos do not have Keys associated with them.
- A character may not have more than one vanitas memento. She is certainly able to create other art pieces or items that reflect her Threshold, but only one actually counts as the memento for the purposes of regaining Willpower.
- Another Sin-Eater can destroy a vanitas. Doing so allows that Sin-Eater to fill up his Willpower pool to its maximum with no roll (beyond any rolls necessary to destroy the memento).
Is it cruel for a Sin-Eater to shackle a ghost to its own anchor? Or is consigning the specter to the Underworld or leaving it to roam restless in the living world a greater act of cruelty? Whatever the case, the result of binding an unquiet shade to its own anchor results in a very special sort of memento: A “fetter.”
Their unique insights and abilities make Sin-Eaters exceptionally adept in their dealings with ghosts. The near-death episode every Sin-Eater has experienced gives them a close connection to death and their bonding with a geist gives them an intimate feel for Twilight apparitions. This rapport between a Sin-Eater and a ghost builds a certain amount of empathy on the part of the Sin-Eater for the unfortunate dead that still wander the Earth. Given the amount of information floating along on the Twilight Network, most Sin-Eaters realize that by destroying a ghost’s anchor they are basically consigning that ghost to a hellish existence in the Underworld. Still, some ghosts are too big a problem to be allowed to run free in the material realm. Poltergeists, possessing specters, and avenging wraiths represent dangers that can’t be overlooked. This is a philosophical quandary with no good answers and few potential solutions. The creation of a fetter memento is just one such solution.
Sin-Eaters that don’t want to send a ghost on a one-way ticket to the Underworld can instead bind them to their anchors with the appropriate ceremony. This solution has two distinct advantages over simply banishing a ghost and moving on. The first is that the Sin-Eater isn’t relegating another poor, benighted soul to the Underworld and the tender mercies of the Kerberoi. Second, the ghost is compelled to help the Sin-Eater by making itself useful in the form of a memento. Ordinarily, Sin-Eaters reserve the binding of a ghost to a memento for ghosts that are just too dangerous to be allowed to exist unchecked. Ghosts that harm no one are left alone.
Even though the Sin-Eaters might feel they are doing ghosts a favor by binding them to a memento, rather than booting them to the Underworld, not all ghosts agree. Some are instinctively angered by this practice (even if they aren’t cognizant enough to recognize exactly what’s going on) and react unfavorably toward Sin-Eaters that carry fetters. Storytellers should feel free to impose a penalty on Social rolls for Sin-Eaters that are carrying a fetter when dealing with a ghost. Multiple fetters should increase the severity of the penalty. This shouldn’t be an automatic penalty, but should take into account the character and nature of a ghost the Sin-Eater is dealing with. Ghosts that are the ephemeral remains of people who were trapped or imprisoned before their deaths, for example, are more likely to be instinctively angered by a fetter than other apparitions. The same goes for ghosts who feel trapped in their current incarnation. Some Sin-Eaters have even had success in dealing with unruly shades by casually pointing out the possible consequences of continued misbehavior.
Fetters have a Threshold and a Key that each relates to the character of the ghost bound within. The ghost of a man who died after being sucked into industrial machinery might produce a memento with the Forgotten Threshold (accidental death) and the Industrial Key (death by machine). The ghost of a woman who committed suicide by slashing her wrists after the death of her husband might produce a memento with the Torn or Silent Threshold (suicide) and the Stigmata Key (blood). Sin-Eaters gain a +2 bonus to Manifestation rolls with a Key that coincides with that of the fetter.
Although a ghost bound within its anchor loses the ability to affect the material realm in any manner, it doesn’t lose its knowledge or capabilities. Ghosts retain the Numina they developed after death; they are simply barred from using them. With effort, however, the Sin-Eater owner of the fetter can still benefit from the ghost’s supernatural abilities. By spending a point of Willpower, a Sin-Eater can compel the ghost inside the fetter to channel that Numen through his body, borrowing its power. This task is extraordinarily difficult for the ghost. Even with permission, reaching beyond the confines of its prison is taxing. For this reason, the ghost may only ever channel its most powerful Numen, with the result that every fetter only has a single Numen associated with it. The strain of producing the Numen on command — and remotely, as it were — also means the ghost requires some time to recuperate before producing the Numen again. This means a Sin-Eater can only use the Numen power of a fetter once per scene.
Channeling a Numen effect relies on the senses and abilities of the Sin-Eater more than those of the ghost. Characters should use the standard Attribute + Skill dice pool to create and control the Numen, in place of ghostly traits. Exactly what Attribute and Skill is required should be determined when the fetter is created, based on the Numen in question. A channeled Compulsion could call for a Manipulation + Persuasion roll in place of Power + Finesse. Only successful rolls to channel Numen count against the once-per-scene limit. Regardless of the description, a channeled Numen may only ever affect one target, unless the created effect is entirely area based.
Fetters are in no way tied to the Sin-Eater that created them. They can be stolen, sold or traded to other Sin-Eaters — and some Sin-Eaters do just that. It’d be a stretch to say fetters act as a form of currency between krewes, but these ghostly memento mori have been used to repay debts or sweeten the pot in potential deals.
The effects of most Numina are self-explanatory, even when channeled through a Sin-Eater using a fetter. The character simply uses the Numen in the same way a ghost would, substituting Attribute + Skill for ghostly traits. Some Numina, however, produce effects that don’t readily translate without a bit of extemporization. This section provides explanations for how Numina from the World of Darkness Rulebook work when channeled through a Sin-Eater.
In general, any Numen that results in taking control of a person, animal, or object requires complete concentration from the Sin-Eater. In effect, a Sin-Eater controller spends her action guiding the action of her target. The Essence cost of a Numen is paid by the ghost bound within the fetter, but it isn’t necessary to keep track of the ghost’s pool. Channeled Numina are considered to have spent the minimum amount of Essence needed to produce an effect.
Channeling any Numen through a fetter memento means that all that Numen’s rules are firmly in place. The Animal Control Numen, for instance, demands that the animal’s Resolve score be subtracted from the ghost’s Power + Finesse dice pool before rolling, and that’s true for the Sin-Eater, too .
- Clairvoyance: A Sin-Eater that channels this Numen can force her target to speak a single sentence. This can be useful for forcing false confessions or for sowing discord among enemies.
- Ghost Sign: The Sin-Eater can create ghostly disturbances in her immediate area that bear the signature of ghostly activity. This could be used to communicate short messages to allies or just to freak people out.
- Ghost Speech: Use of this Numen changes the voice of the Sin-Eater, giving it the sepulcher tones and tenor of the fettered ghost. This could be used to disguise the actual voice of the Sin-Eater or to intimidate and frighten others.
- Possession: Rather than an actual possession, when channeled, this Numen creates an effect identical to the Compulsion Numen.
- Fetters have a Threshold and one Key that relate to the character of the ghost bound within.
- Sin-Eaters gain a +2 bonus to Manifestation rolls with a Key that coincides with that of the fetter, or if their Threshold coincides with the fetter’s. This bonus does not stack.
- The presence of a fetter may instinctively anger ghosts imposing a penalty to Social rolls.
- Each fetter has a single Numen associated with it that may be channeled by a Sin-Eater.
Geists are no more immortal than the Sin-Eaters with which they bond. While it’s true they don’t age, geists can still be killed or even fade away over time. Unlike their human counterparts, however, geists always leave behind enduring physical evidence of their existence, in the form of a keystone. Much like the cold flesh remains of a human that has passed beyond the veil, a keystone is the corpse of a geist. When a geist is destroyed, its keystone becomes permanently material, leaving Twilight forever. The keystone retains the memory of the geist it was part of, as well as the remnants of the geist’s ephemeral corpus.
Upon destruction of a geist, its keystone is imprinted with the geist’s visage. The rest of the keystone fades away, leaving nothing more than a mask constructed from the materials of the keystone. Sin-Eaters refer to these leftovers as deathmasks and wear them both to honor the dead and to access the lingering powers of the transformed keystone. (Some call these “visages,” or “vestiges,” as that’s exactly what they are — a vestige of the geist, a mask with its visage roughly or abstractly imprinted upon it.) As an example, if the Burning Woman was destroyed, the ever-burning torch would finally be snuffed, and the torch itself would bend and stretch, becoming flatter and taking on the face of the Burning Woman. Deathmasks are no larger than Size 3 objects and must be worn to be used. Most deathmasks duplicate the face of the geist, or whatever passed for such — a geist that was forever bound with a burlap hood might leave a deathmask in the form of said hood. However, deathmasks can take a variety of forms, such as gloves or greaves or even scarves.
A deathmask lacks the dark luster associated with an active keystone. The difference is readily apparent to Sin-Eaters, geists, and ghosts. In a way, deathmasks look and feel more like dead objects than deathly objects, like active keystones do. An observer that has previously encountered an active keystone or a character that has researched or collects knowledge about keystones may roll Intelligence + Occult to identify the geist the deathmask used to be part of. Depending on the circumstances in which the keystone was acquired and the feelings the observer has about the destroyed geist, this could either lead to awkward social situations or possibly increase goodwill. Storytellers should feel free to impose penalties or grant bonuses to Social rolls for characters that openly display or use a deathmask, depending on the situation. As an example, if a Sin-Eater witnessed the use of a deathmask that he recognized as originating from a geist that was once his ally, unless a very compelling argument was made for that geist’s destruction, the owner would suffer a penalty to all Social rolls in future dealings with him.
Deathmasks are both more and less useful than active keystones. A deathmask loses one of its Keys upon the destruction of the geist (reducing it to one), grants only a static +1 bonus to associated Skill rolls or when used as a ritual tool for ceremony rolls, and reduces the bonus to +2 for corresponding Manifestations. What makes a deathmask truly valuable is the remnant of the geist’s corpus that remains in the memento. A Sin-Eater can draw on that remnant to supply her with plasm. Each deathmask holds five plasm points, from which a Sin-Eater can draw as though she were drawing upon her internal stores. A Sin-Eater can draw as much plasm per turn from the memento as allowed by her Psyche, but may only either draw plasm from the deathmask or her personal stores, not both in the same turn. Deathmasks naturally replenish spent plasm at the rate of one plasm per day, at dusk.
The deathmask also, strangely, retains the memory of the Key it lost when it ceased to be an active keystone, which allows a Sin-Eater that wears it to produce an effect tied to that Key. The singed deathmask of the Burning Woman, which lost the Elemental Key when it became a deathmask, might allow a Sin-Eater to produce ghostly flames that burn without fuel or heat, but still provide light.
Keystones have a metaphysical weight, apart from and transcending their physical weight. It’s the weight of accumulated knowledge, supernatural forces, and the gross weight of death itself. As a Sin-Eater becomes more powerful, she gains the strength necessary to carry the weight that comes from multiple keystones. A Sin-Eater may only ever carry (not own) a number of deathmasks equal to half her Psyche rating (round down).
- Deathmasks have a Threshold and one Key that relate to the geist of which they were a part.
- A deathmask offers a +1 bonus to associated Skill rolls, a +1 bonus to ceremonies that contain elements related to the Deathmask’s Threshold and a +2 bonus to corresponding Manifestations.
- Deathmasks retain the memory of the Key lost during its transition from keystone to deathmask, giving it the ability to manifest a Numen related to that Key.
- Deathmasks hold five plasm points, which can be accessed by the owner in place of expending internal stores of plasm. Spent plasm regenerates at a rate of one plasm each day, at dusk.
- A Sin-Eater may only carry a number of death-masks at any one time equal to half her Psyche rating (round down).
Oswald’s rifle. Hitler’s teeth. The Archduke Ferdinand’s limousine. The globus cruciger of Mary II.
Famous — and infamous — people die. And when they do, some of the things they possess or that surround them in that fateful moment become infused with potent energies from beyond the living world. Collectors love this sort of “death memorabilia” — in a morbid way, death is the one thing that connects all of us, from the humble counter jockey at the gas station to the President of the United States. We all die, and we all leave things behind.
Sin-Eaters are among the most persistent of collectors when it comes to this memorabilia. To them, these icons and relics can offer a big bounce in status, but can also grant them a measure of power. Memorabilia are ultimately Charms, but go well beyond what those one-dot death trinkets can provide. These are iconic. These are infamous.
Memorabilia are technically Charms — just very powerful ones. They are given over to a particular set Threshold as determined by how the Charm’s owner perished. These items must be tuned to a certain Key, just like other Charms, by using the Dedicate Charm ceremony. Beyond that, memorabilia confer the following benefits:
- Like with all Charms, the character gains +1 to all Manifestation rolls utilizing the Key bound to the item.
- The character gains the usual +3 Social bonus to dealing with other Sin-Eaters, associated with all Charms. Such Social rolls using memorabilia gain the 9-again feature, as well. Note that this bonus is only considered “in-play” if she’s wearing or otherwise displaying the object at the time the Social roll is made. The Storyteller is the final arbiter of whether or not this bonus is appropriate. If the character is dealing with another Sin-Eater who is a mortal enemy, shaking a necklace made from Hitler’s teeth is unlikely to warrant a bonus to, say, Persuasion.
- If the item is a piece of equipment (such as Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle), it has a +5 equipment bonus in addition to its usual traits. So, while most rifles have 5 (Lethal) damage , Oswald’s rifle offers an additional +5 beyond that. This is only true for Sin-Eaters; a normal human character does not gain this additional bonus.
- If the item is not a piece of equipment (i.e. Hitler’s teeth or Mary’s globus cruciger), then the Sin-Eater must choose a single Skill with which the memorabilia “bonds” upon purchasing this memento. When the character uses that Skill, he can choose to spend a single turn concentrating. On the next turn, the character’s action gains a +3 bonus as he gains a measure of focus and power from the death energies resonating from the memento.
- Whenever the Sin-Eater gains any benefit from the memento (even the Social bonus), she is haunted during her next period of prolonged sleep by nightmares involving the former owner of the item. As a result, the character fails to gain a Willpower point upon waking.
- Memorabilia might excite other Sin-Eaters, but once they’re infused into Charms, the death energies they radiate can disturb “normal” people. It doesn’t matter if they can see the memento or not — as long as it’s within 50 yards, it unsettles those nearby. Any Social rolls made by the Sin-Eater to affect a normal human in such a situation suffer â€“3 dice. The Storyteller may rule that this penalty doesn’t apply to some humans — another collector of death memorabilia may remain unaffected, as might a coroner, graverobber, medium, or other individual otherwise touched by death. Similarly, those with derangements may not be affected by this penalty.
- Note that most items of memorabilia are difficult to come by. Procuring Archduke Ferdinand’s limousine, for example, is no easy trick. Those hoping to claim such items should be willing to go through a tough story to get a hold of them, and the Storyteller may impose other restrictions. (Buying Oswald’s rifle at some strange black market collector’s auction might necessitate Resources of four or five dots to purchase, for example.)