Geist: The Sin Eaters
A Sin-Eater in alignment with his geist benefits from that close connection, which grants a certain peace of mind and an affinity for the little details of the Underworld. Sin-Eaters who flout the needs of their geist or who reject or abuse their relationship to the Underworld can quickly spiral into a circle of degeneration that deadens the Psyche and makes the Sin-Eater’s job as a psychopomp very difficult to complete. Of course, no Sin-Eater is perfect, so more than a few give in to temptations and find themselves dealing with the friction that grows when Sin-Eater and geist fail to harmonize.
Synergy takes the place of Morality, but is even less of a barometer of how “moral” a character may be than Morality is. It represents how well the Bound has integrated with the urges and drives of her geist — which may be a positive thing but isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Sin-Eaters rarely fall into a perfect fit with their geists. Indeed, a Sin-Eater who has just had a near-death experience and awakened to a wider supernatural world is hardly in a position to be a stable part of the new relationship. Still, most Sin-Eaters do adjust, with a little cajoling from the geist and help from a krewe. In game terms, this means that the typical Sin-Eater starts with a Synergy score of 7.
Over time, a Sin-Eater’s Synergy tends to fluctuate. Many Bound actually devolve in Synergy, because they find themselves pushed into taking actions of dubious morality. While a Sin-Eater’s moral framework changes along with his new lease on life, the sheer stress of dealing with ghosts, traveling through the Underworld, and arguing with other krewes means that something has to give. Most of the time, it’s one of the Sin-Eater’s principles. This usually isn’t so bad; it just means the Sin-Eater doesn’t necessarily live up to all of the expectations of his geist. This friction can make some of his supernatural talents harder to focus, since the geist can’t exert its influence as easily when it’s not sympathetically bound to its host.
A rare few Sin-Eaters strive to mesh their own goals to that of their geists, to the point of increasing their Synergy. This rise in correspondence causes the two beings to grow ever closer. High Synergy can aid a Sin-Eater in performing some tasks, such as opening an Avernian Gate. Of course, some of those same actions may cause internal discord on their own. Often, a Sin-Eater who chooses to pursue strong Synergy with his geist must make sacrifices, giving up options that other Sin-Eaters would take for granted.
Synergy As Morality
Synergy is not a moral code. It is a measure of how unified a Sin-Eater is with his geist. Low Synergy represents discord: The mortal and the geist warring for control and fighting against one another’s impulses. High Synergy represents unity: The human host acting in a geist-like fashion and the geist anticipating the human mind. A high-Synergy Bound may be functionally sociopathic, while a low-Synergy Sin-Eater may have become that way by adhering to a moral code in spite of his geist’s wishes. It’s not that the concerns of a human code of Morality have vanished (though they might have). Rather, the bond with the geist becomes the most immediate and affecting element of a Sin-Eater’s persona. She is more likely to suffer mental degeneration from internal struggles against the passenger in her head than from becoming increasingly callous, because the geist is more immediate.
As a Sin-Eater performs acts that violate the compact between living and dead, or that put him into conflict with his geist, he risks the decline of Synergy. These acts are called discord triggers. They represent events and actions that may cause geist and host to pull in separate directions.
A discord trigger works mechanically like the Morality “sin” it replaces. If a Bound performs an act rated at his Synergy value or less, the player rolls the number of dice indicated on the table below. If the roll succeeds, the Sin-Eater retains full accord with his geist, although both parties know the event in question tested the strength of their resolve. If the roll fails, the character suffers a loss of one point of Synergy, and may also gain a derangement, based on a roll of the character’s new Synergy rating. Failure of the follow-up Synergy roll results in the character gaining a new derangement of the Storyteller’s choosing, usually one associated with the sin, the circumstances surrounding it, or the Sin-Eater’s Threshold.
One significant event can also have a strongly deleterious impact on Synergy: Death. The geist can resurrect Sin-Eaters who “die” a second (or third, or fourthâ€¦) time, but must expend significant energy and shunt the death onto another person to do so. The Sin-Eater so resurrected garners an automatic loss of Synergy, as well as a permanent reduction in the Sin-Eater’s maximum Synergy score by two points.
A Sin-Eater who drops to a Synergy score of zero becomes one of the Wretched, a fractured shell of spirit and flesh totally out of synch with one another. Usually the geist and the mortal minds vie for dominance, with the geist frequently having the upper hand — a Wretched may spend much of his time in a fugue state, conscious for only a few moments each day when his geist retreats and relinquishes control.
The Sins Of Synergy
Synergy Level Discord Trigger
10 Opening an Avernian Gate, entering the Underworld.(roll five dice)
9 Using plasm from a deathmask, violating an Old Law (roll five dice)
8 Closing an Avernian Gate.(roll four dice)
7 Destroying a charm or fetter.(roll four dice)
6 Destroying a ghost or Avernian Gate, ectophagia.(roll three dice)
5 Destroying a vanitas, reviving a dead person.(roll three dice)
4 Destroying a memorabilia or deathmask memento, accidental murder or manslaughter.(roll three dice)
3 Destroying a keystone, destroying a geist.(roll two dice)
2 Torture, serial murder.(roll two dice)
1 Mass murder, suicide attempt, attempting to destroy one’s own geist.(roll two dice)
The Nature Of Discord
One doesn’t “sin” against Synergy — one imperils it. As a representation of the unity between mortal and geist, Synergy is put at risk by actions that cause the geist to revolt against the host’s will, or by actions that make the host repulsed by the nature of her geist. The “rightness” of an action is of little consequence; what makes it a discord trigger is how it imperils the bond.
Sin-Eaters do not test Synergy for acts that might be sins against Morality such as committing theft or assault. The objects of the material world, and even the physical health of its denizens, are as ephemeral as ectoplasm. Everyone dies. Things break down. Sin-Eaters quickly come to grips with this reality, especially after seeing the ghosts left behind after people die and things break.
The most prominent discord triggers include:
Opening An Avernian Gate And Entering The Underworld: Given the work that Sin-Eaters do, this seems a bit perverse, and Sin-Eaters themselves cannot agree on why this causes dissonance with geists. Some theorize that geists wish to distance themselves from the Underworld as much as possible, having once escaped it to become symbionts with the living. A few Sin-Eaters believe the living should never have anything to do with the lands of the dead, and that this distinction causes the Sin-Eater to suffer a disconnect of purpose that leads to dissonance with the geist.
Using Plasm From A Deathmask: A deathmask is the final remnant of a destroyed geist. Pulling the plasm from such an item is, in effect, drawing out the Underworld through the remnants of a destroyed ghost.
Violating An Old Law: While nobody can claim to know exactly why the Old Laws exist, they do carry strong metaphysical weight. Sin-Eaters who delve into the Underworld and the Lower Mysteries quickly learn that breaking any Old Laws not only risks the anger of the Kerberoi behind them, but also stirs disharmony with one’s own geist.
Closing an Avernian Gate: While Avernian Gates can be dangerous, and opening one is a very mild (trivial, even) violation of the ways of the dead, closing such a gate is a more serious offense. The Sin-Eater is, essentially, denying his deathly aspect and reinforcing the divide between living and dead.
Destroying Mementos: Every memento holds some element of death’s power within it. To destroy such an item, even to claim its plasm, is an act the geist reads as a back-handed threat. The more personally attuned a memento, and the more it symbolizes, the more dissonant its destruction is to either a geist or a Bound. A keystone in particular is a part of a geist, and therefore destroying one causes extreme discord.
Destroying a ghost or Avernian Gate: It is the business of Sin-Eaters to help resolve ghosts’ torment and to serve as psychopomps. Taking the violent and destructive solution may sometimes be the only viable one, but it is also one that is at odds with the purpose of the Sin-Eater. This sort of destruction is also distasteful to the geist itself, because it is destruction of things that operate on the geist’s level of experience. Note that laying a ghost to rest peacefully may remove it from existence in some fashion, but does not count as destruction for the purpose of Synergy loss.
Ectophagia: Huffing plasm from a ghost is good for a quick fix, but it also causes a welter of emotions from the ghost’s Threshold and sometimes elements of its own passions. This confuses the bond between Sin-Eater and geist.
Accidental Murder or Manslaughter: When a Sin-Eater takes more lives than intended, it causes a disconnect. Firing into a crowd and killing bystanders near the target, running down a pedestrian during a hectic car chase, or catching an innocent in an explosion : These things rattle the sense of purpose that drives every Sin-Eater.
Reviving a Dead Person: Whether it’s using a forbidden ceremony to call a corpse back to life or using a crash cart to revive a clinically dead patient, this act plays merry hell with the boundaries between life and death.
Destroying a Geist: Geists are not immune to the compulsion of self-preservation, and aiding in the destruction of another of its ilk is sure to cause some measure of discord.: hhhhhhhhhhh
Torture, Serial Murder, Mass Murder: Though a geist may indeed desire to slowly torture the object of its wrath, or to claim victim after victim in the name of an arcane purpose, these acts are essentially “unclean death.” Torture prolongs a life in pain, keeping it from the release of death but denying it the full bloom of life. Serial murder and mass murder are both particularly unclean forms of death, awakening aspects of the Underworld better left to rest.
Attempting Suicide, Attempting to Destroy One’s Own Geist: The geist chose its host for a reason. It reacts strongly against any attempts on its existence, including its bond with its host. Attempting to kill oneself or one’s geist triggers a powerful surge of self-defense on the geist’s part, and shakes the bond to its foundation.
When a player makes a Synergy roll for a moral violation, roll only the dice pool for the actual sin in question. If the sin is on the table above the character’s Synergy rating, then no roll is necessary; the violation is too minor to matter at the Sin-Eater’s current level of dissonance. Willpower is not usable to boost the Synergy roll, nor does any other trait add to the pool. In general, Manifestations and ceremonies cannot improve a Synergy dice pool, because the very act of endangering Synergy runs counter to the energies conjured by the geist’s power.
Dramatic Failure: Not possible; no chance roll is made for Synergy degeneration or derangements.
Failure: Failure after committing a sin against Synergy results in the loss of one dot of Synergy and a subsequent roll of that new Synergy rating to test for a derangement. Failure on the second Synergy roll results in a derangement, unless the character’s resulting (lower) Synergy is 7 or more.
Success: On a roll after a Synergy sin, the character manages to stave off the debilitating effects of violating the code of the Underworld. On a follow-up to a loss of Synergy, the character retains clearness of thought and does not gain a derangement.
Exceptional Success: On a roll after a Synergy sin, the character experiences a sudden burst of confidence; the character gains a point of Willpower as well as retaining his Synergy. On a Synergy roll to avoid degeneration, no special effect occurs, though the character avoids the derangement.
Few Sin-Eaters want to fall into the bleak oblivion of having their geist become little more than a distant, haunting voice. A Sin-Eater’s degeneration checks represent cases in which the Sin-Eater has violated one of the arcane principles of the Underworld and its own sense of order. Still, sometimes the law can be bent or avoided, without breaking it outright. If a Sin-Eater violates a discord trigger with significant eye to the consequences and preparation to assuage the results, the player may gain a +1 or +2 bonus to the degeneration check (subject to Storyteller approval). For instance, having a ready sacrifice of wheat for the Death-God of one of the Lower Mysteries before violating one of the laws of the River of Dead Seed may be both sincere (and inconvenient) enough to earn a bonus. If the Sin-Eater callously flouts a given law, however, or conducts repeated offenses against the laws in a short period of time, then a —1 or —2 penalty to the degeneration check may be appropriate. Certain triggers may call for an automatic loss of Synergy without a die roll. In general, if a Sin-Eater conducts a violation on a level that is at least four points below the character’s current Synergy, or flagrantly and deliberately violates the laws of the Underworld with callous disregard for the consequences, a loss of Synergy may be automatic.
A Sin-Eater’s Synergy rises only by making a deliberate effort to advance in conjunction with the geist and within the Sin-Eater’s role as an intermediary of the Underworld. This means adhering rigorously to the laws of the Underworld, acting in accord with the geist’s wishes, and performing the various duties expected of a Sin-Eater — all without treading upon the rules of the dead. Performing in this fashion requires the Sin-Eater to become so accustomed to following the rules that such things become second nature and force of habit. Gaining a closer bond to the geist may have its advantages, but it is also a harrowing process. No living being truly feels comfortable with the whispered voices of the dead offering “friendly advice.” Making a deliberate effort to improve Synergy is therefore a choice to pursue behaviors that are, essentially, unnatural to the living.
All of this means that improving Synergy is not a simple process. Experience points alone will not purchase Synergy without extreme effort on the part of a Sin-Eater. A character with a low Synergy rating has much work to do to claw back up to mediocrity; a character with high Synergy must show extreme improvement in minute areas to gain further ground. In either case, the process requires strict adherence to the laws of the dead over a lengthy period of time. The Sin-Eater’s principles and desire to uphold the rules must also be tested. If values falter when they are tested, after all, they aren’t really values. If they are never tested, then how can their true measure of conviction be revealed?
The player and Storyteller should work to craft suitable means to portray the pursuit of Synergy, if that is the character’s goal. Keep in mind that, even if the player wants to increase the character’s Synergy rating, events in the story may dictate a different outcome. The true dedication of the Sin-Eater to the path of increasing Synergy will come out in what the he is willing to sacrifice, and how hard he is willing to let his life become in an effort to become closer to his geist. This isn’t to say that every story involving improvements of Synergy should be sheer torture for the player; rather, the story should focus on the difficult moral choices and consequences of trying to strive for a stronger connection between the living and the dead. The pursuit of a single dot of Synergy is an acceptable focus for one story, though the last few dots (9 and 10) might require several stories of striving.
Benefits And Drawbacks Of Synergy
A high Synergy score carries certain benefits, though it is up to the individual to determine whether these are worth the price of upholding such rigorous standards. For one, the higher one’s Synergy, the more clearly they can communicate with their geists; at 8 or higher, they can even have conversations. A low Synergy carries significant detriments as well, so Sin-Eaters usually try to avoid falling into the depths of total disconnection from their geists. A Sin-Eater with a Synergy score of 8 or more gains certain automatic benefits:
- +1 bonus to all rolls to open an Avernian Gate. The Sin-Eater is so in touch with the ways of the dead that opening a passage into the Underworld is second nature. Of course, simply doing so may be a discord trigger (see the accompanying table).
- +1 bonus per dot above 7 on all Social dice pools when interacting with Kerberoi or other geists. The Sin-Eater’s close bond with death causes the creatures of the Underworld to intuitively regard him as one of their own.
- +1 bonus per dot above 7 to the roll made to conduct a ceremony (see p. 150). The Sin-Eater’s connection to the Underworld makes the power of the ceremony flow more easily.
- +1 bonus per dot above 7 to rolls made to navigate in the Underworld. The geist’s knowledge and the Sin-Eater’s intuition provide guidance when maneuvering through the Autochthonous Depths and the Lower Mysteries (and perhaps even stranger places).
A Sin-Eater with a Synergy score of 5 or lower gains certain drawbacks:
- —1 to —3 to open an Avernian Gate (-1 at Synergy 4-5; -3 for Synergy 3 or lower). The Sin-Eater’s dissonance makes it hard to grasp the ephemeral boundaries of the gateway.
- —1 per dot below 6 on all Social dice pools when interacting with Kerberoi and other geists. The Sin-Eater’s discord between his living soul and his dead symbiote causes dissonance in the dead things able to perceive it.
- —1 per dot below 6 to rolls made to conducting a ceremony (see p. 150). A Sin-Eater who cannot work in tandem with his geist will find that he has trouble marshaling the necromantic energies necessary to conduct lasting powers.
- —1 per dot below 6 to rolls made to navigate in the Underworld. The depths of the Underworld become a forbidding, cold place to a Sin-Eater who does not have the aid and counsel of a willing geist.