Posted on March 3, 2010 by spikexan
Available at RPGNow.com
We’ve reached the end of the road or, in this case, perhaps the river (I suppose ferrymen haunt both). Our trip within White Wolf’s underworld concludes with a look at the newest embodiments of death . . . the Geist. Before we get too involved in the newest World of Darkness line, let’s take a step back. The World of Darkness 1.0 saw five main entities–vampires, werewolves, magi, changelings, and wraiths–haunt their shadows. When the reboot happened, four came back.
This book is a return to Wraith . . . but only to a degree.
Wraith: the Oblivion is an amazing game that did some truly inspired things. White Wolf seemed to experiment more with the two bastard children of the five lines. Changeling had their dreadful cards (the art on those were beautiful though) and Wraith had the concept of the Shadow. For those of you who don’t know, you make your wraith character, a ghost trying to Sam Beckett something wrong with their life or death. One of the obstacles to accomplishing this comes from within, the shadow. Another player at the table plays your shadow, which was the PERFECT thing for the gaming group I had at that moment. Backstabbing and dirty tricks took an epic level on the Wraith game. For all its good, there were also issues. A vampire can interact with the real world all day, er, night long. For a wraith to have a place in the world, a certain degree of effort had to be maintained. There were adventures to be had in the other world as well, but that isn’t always to everyone’s taste (especially if you’re trying to let your players mix and match from the various WoD’s creatures).
Long story short is that Wraith has died its final death and something intriguing has appeared in its place. The Geist don’t come from something after it dies. No, it comes when a person is dying. It’s a final chance to have a shot at life. There are, of course, certain pieces of fine print. Of these the biggest is that the Geist is going to merge with you and such a merging is fraught with emotional luggage.
The Geist corebook is a seriously good looking book. It is a little over three hundred pages of wonderful artwork and writing. The inner cover and filler page (both front and back) possess a high quality to them. It’s a thick blue paper that is covered in swirls and feels neat too.
The layout keeps with a soft blue for its graphs and artwork. The left hand border is covered in artwork while the right hand side has chapter headings and perhaps the largest page numbers I’ve every witnessed in a book. The character sheet looks only so-so. The fonts at the top and for major headers are pretty cool; however, the majority of the fonts are really generic.
The artwork feels a great deal like the artwork from Wraith, but mixed with urban violence. The pictures depict a rawness that few games approach anymore. I personally like John Wigley and Craig Henderson’s artwork the most within this book while finding the chapter lead-ins to leave me wanting a bit more. There are some demented pieces in the book akin to something one might find in RK Post’s sketchbook.
The book holds with the workable layout of all White Wolf corebooks. A bit of opening fiction sets the flavor for the book and a quick intro explains the theme, mood, and some inspirations.
From there, we take a look at the setting material. Chapter One: At the Cemetery Gate introduces how Geists are created, why they form krewes, how they interact with the other beings in the World of Darkness, and their essential role. I found this chapter to be the most interesting because it spins a new light on this. Vampire the Requiem was mostly new, but it had direct ties to Vampire the Masquerade. There are links to older material within this book, but it’s much harder to find. Hunter, Promethean, and this book are blazing out new trails in RPGs and finding some interesting ways to do it.
Chapter Two: Character Creation deals with, you guessed it, making your character. For this, you have to put a bit of thought. You have your human character, their life, their death, the geist who intervenes, and their backstory. Archetypes take a different meaning in this book.
Examples of these are Reaper (you choose who lives and who dies) and Pilgrim (it’s all about the purification of yourself and others). Vices and Virtues can also play differently for these different archetypes. Thresholds are cool too as they explain how your character died. Each death brings with it different abilities. There aren’t any groundbreaking new bits to this book; however, character creation is fun and allows for rich characters. This chapter, which covers pages 58-170, also covers the myriad of powers that the Geist wield. In fact, the majority of this chapter directly deals with these powers. So many powers means few players will have the same arsenal of abilities. It gets a bit daunting though for quick pick-up games as it would take some extra time to rummage through the immense number of choices.
Chapter Three: Systems introduces players to the specific rules for Geist, such as Necromancy, Krewe creation, and Momentos (fetters and items touched by death). There is some discussion about ectoplasm (key to your Geist’s well-being) and just how hard it is to kill one of these bad boys (they are, after all, a little bit dead already). I’m surprised the powers of the Geist aren’t in this chapter as the various mechanics required for them would seem to be more fitting here.
Chapter Four: Storytelling is a modest-sized (214-256) chapter devoted to what, for me, sets White Wolf apart from most other games. They have always offered excellent gaming advice and Geist keeps with tradition. In fact, they try some new tricks with this book such as waterbrushed ideas for chronicles. These suggestions are:
• Letters . . . Each game begins with the paragraph of a letter. This narrative kicks off the session. Who wrote the letters? It isn’t necessary for that to be revealed right away (my personal fave).
• Seven Deaths . . . This deals with the blackbird nursery rhyme. Seven deaths (the PCs and perhaps key NPCs) are detailed as the preludes are played through prior to the true kick-off of the chronicle. Since PCs may not know each other during their living days, hand out some NPCs for communal use.
• No Escaping Fate . . . the players explain what their fates are to be at the first session. It becomes an underlying part of the game for the Storyteller and Players to ensure that this fate occurs.
Antagonists are also covered in this chapter along with more vanilla game advice. The antagonists are some of the creepier I’ve seen despite the better rouge’s gallery White Wolf’s line has created of late. This chapter is easily my second favorite of the book.
Appendix One: Descent to the Underworld should be another chapter. I’m not sure why it isn’t cool enough to get chapter status, but it’s a semantic thing . . . hardly important. What is important is that you understand how important the underworld is to the Geist. This chapter covers everything underworld related both from a setting and system perspective. We get an overview of the underworld, which is fleshed out more than enough in Book of the Dead (don’t you love how these things come together?).
Appendix Two: Modern Gomorrah takes readers to New York City, rather than Vegas which I would peg as more Gomorrah-esque. This is an overview of the city that never sleeps.
You get about two pages of history, two pages of geography, and eight pages of characters. It’s more than enough to get you cracking on the Big Apple, besides coming up with an “idea” of what New York is like shouldn’t be too terribly hard providing you have had some exposure to television (our truest learning source). The characters show strong details and remain far from being stereotypical.
I like this book despite the fact it may not be the most accessible book for quick games. I feel like players will need a little bit of time to properly get what Geist is about. It’s worth the time, but may turn off the quick-game crowd. I’d like to see Quick Start rules for this game so that I could see what the authors believe players need to know prior to a game because I think, as a Storyteller, I would overwhelm my players with information. Thanks for taking a trip into the underworld with me. Maybe some of these books can keep your players from being too risky with their character’s oh-so-fragile lives. My scores for Geist are:
Layout: Four out of Five Dice (strange to me at times, but good overall)
Artwork: Five out of Five Dice (Sweet)
Writing: Five out of Five Dice (newly imagined setting without old cornerstones)
Overall: Five out of Five Dice (Once in the midst of a campaign, this game has serious potential)
Review by Todd Cash