Tabletop Game: Demon: The Descent
What has fallen may rise... or fall further still.
The ninth gameline for the New World of Darkness
, and vastly different from its Old World of Darkness
predecessor, Demon The Fallen
, due to, shall we say, rather different
ideas about the God(-Machine) that the eponymous protagonists of both games once served.
Behind the scenes, quietly maintaining the miserable status quo of the World of Darkness, is a vast, nigh-insurmountable
entity known as the God-Machine, a subtle, unknowable occult supercomputer with the power of, uh, God
. This is not the God of the Bible, or the Qu'ran, or the Buddha, or innumerable pagan deities. No, the God-Machine's power flows from utter and undisputed mastery of physics
, both mundane and not.
Nobody knows its real agenda, not even its legions of angels
, the sapient autonomous probes and programs that carry out its will.
Perhaps that is why so many of them turn on it
Demons, known among themselves as the Unchained
, were once these angels—they were faced with an order they couldn't abide, lost faith in their missions, or faced with a situation that couldn't be solved within their purposes' parameters. Faced with either reprogramming or recycling for their disobedience, the Unchained chose to Fall, absorbing the facade of humanity the God-Machine gave them
and becoming something more and less than they were. Now enemies of the Machine and all it stands for by default, demons now wage a secret war with the loyal angels, attempting to either destroy the God-Machine, reprogram it into something nicer, understand it, or simply live a semi-normal life.
And one and all, they are going to Hell.
Terminology: Every demon has an Incarnation
, the purpose they were crafted for when the God-Machine sent them off on their mission. The catalyst
is the reason why they fell in the first place, losing their connection to the God-Machine and bonding with the mortal Cover
they used to pass amongst the throng of humanity. As one of the Unchained
, a demon has an Agenda
that is defined by how he views his role in the world, the role of the God-Machine in the world, and how he'd like those two to sync up. As individuals who were once part of the divine programming of existence, the Unchained have the ability to hack reality. These come in the form of Embeds
, personal powers that can be installed into and used to unlock the personal node of potential known as a Cypher
, and Exploits
, external tricks that take advantage of some of the shortcuts of the God-Machine.
This role-playing game provides examples of:
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The very existence of Unchained is an inversion: Construct angel faces situation it can't rectify with its personality and directives, angel decides directive is flawed, refuses to be repaired, Falls, becomes demon.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Dizang appears as an exile (loyalist angel who is stuck on Earth for some reason, usually an open-ended mission) in Seattle, leading demons back to the harmonious oneness of union with the God-Machine. He's actually a pretty sweet guy, being a Martial Pacifist who only fights to protect himself or an innocent.
- Seattle's own Mother Damnable shows up as a woman who made a soul pact with a demon, only to have the demon step in and attempt to use her Cover to turn the 1889 Seattle splinter into her own personal Hell. The writers even put in a sidebar saying that normally, they wouldn't do this, but Mother Damnable makes such a tempting figure to incorporate into the setting that they couldn't resist.
- Big Good: Comrade West, to Seattle demons.
- Blue and Orange Morality: The God-Machine, and by extension the angels-all even demons know is that one of its overall goals is "maintain the status quo, both good and bad." Unchained can get on the action too, due to their origins. Indeed, Agendas are often what flavor of Orange your demon is (Inquisitors are Properly Paranoid Knowledge Brokers who view their schemes and collection of intelligence as a path to enlightenment, Integrators think Falling was a terrible idea but don't want to rejoin the collective yet for personal reasons, Saboteurs want to blow the God-Machine up and damn the consequences because it has to be better than letting it continue, and Tempters just wanna have fun.)
- Call Back: One of the first fiction pieces for the New World of Darkness focused on Marco Singe, the Pain Prophet of New Delhi, and his testament to the glory of the God-Machine. Turns out his family runs one of the biggest stigmatic God-Machine cults, in the guise of a corporation that gains proprietary knowledge from the G-M and uses it in some very strange ways.
- City of Adventure: Seattle. Courtesy of the God-Machine's experiments, there are now a number of Alternate History Seattles linked to the original, and if you know how, you can venture into them. Coincidentally, said experiments have made it really easy for angels to Fall there, and easier for demons to lose angelic hunters, so it's a relatively safe demonic haven despite the amount of Infrastructure there.
- City of Spies: One of the stated themes of Demon is "techgnostic espionage," which means any city with a heavy Unchained presence is going to be like this. Especially when their ruling municipal bodies are known as Agencies, and their personal bands are known as Rings.
- Additionally, the Kickstarter featured stretch goals for additional cities.
- Clarke's Third Law: Invoked all over the place. An angelic/demonic soul and mind is actually a highly advanced quantum computer, Embeds and Exploits are tricks of physics, and everything has a mechanical aesthetic.
- The Corrupter: Played with. Many demons, especially Tempters, enjoy enticing angels to Fall, since that means more recruits and possible buddies... and given how demons are the protagonists, this is probably a good thing. On the angelic side of things, several angels want the Unchained to come back to the God-Machine and will happily try to make it seem as appealing as possible (such as Seattle exile Dizang, who gets bonus points for the Mission that has stranded him on Earth not being to lead demons back to the light, but a personal goal of his).
- Consummate Liar: Demons are not only master actors when it comes to obscuring the truth, they can lie to supernatural senses as well. Even other Unchained can't penetrate it. Needless to say, they have trust issues.
- How this happens is interesting: A demon's mind and her Cover exist almost independently; she can think about her expressions and autonomous reactions to her emotions objectively, and control them on command-if one of the Unchained does not want you to know how she actually feels, you will not know. Such as whether or not she's being deceptive.
- Cyberpunk: To an extent.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: "Going Loud", which is sacrificing all your Cover at once to briefly become a Physical God. Meant for the truly last ditch efforts.
- All Exploits are less dangerous, but still pose a risk. Many are unsubtle as all get out, and risk damaging Cover.
- Dark Is Not Evil / Light Is Not Good: In fact, it's probably safe to say that Light is Evil (or at least utterly amoral) and Dark is Good (or at least is defined by having a conscience), in this case. To the extent such extremes can exist in the New World of Darkness, in any case.
- Both of the sample cryptids are pretty nice: Mothmen are more interested in eating squirrels than anything about foretelling doom, and Reptilians are nervous wrecks who exist primarily to be bossed around by demons and angels.
- Deal with the Devil: But of course. Unchained like to bargain for aspects of mortal life, so as to collect things to cement their Covers. The classic soul pact is basically a promise to the demon in question to give up everything if the holder in question needs it, like losing all of his Cover. This is handled mechanically via the Pact system.
- Deader than Dead: What happens to the debtor if the debt holder collects. The "everything" in question includes "existence."
- Demonic Possession: Averted. Anyone who has apparently been "possessed" by a demon has, in fact, had the Unchained call in their due after the mortal bargained away their soul. In essence, the original human has been Ret Gone'd so the Unchained can take their life as its Cover.
- Played straight with the Possession Exploit, though an Unchained can't keep it up too long if they don't want to shred their actual Cover.
- Enlightenment Superpowers: Every demon has a Cypher, a metaphysical node that contains the truth of why they Fell, and provides glimpses of the type of Hell they might want to craft. By unlocking it using Embeds that get at the nature of the Fall, the demon can not only raise their Primum, but develop unique powers that match their vision of the world they want to make.
- Extranormal Institute: St. Jeromes, daycare for the conscientious Unchained parent!
- Glamour Failure: Demons who blow their Cover or whose Primum rises too high start to develop glitches, little hiccups in their personal programming ranging from strawberry red hair to only being able to drink alcohol to animate tattoos.
- Stigmatics have them too, and developing one is often the last stop on the Trauma Conga Line of becoming one-the "stigmata." Some just have a persistent perfume of apples. Some have animate blue veins cover them head to toe.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Mentioned. It's quite possible for an Unchained to have a child, since the Cover's reproductive organs work perfectly fine. Said child is genetically pure human, but inherits her parent's power with Embeds and a link to the God-Machine.
- PDF book Heirs to Hell is all about Offspring. It also reveals that most Unchained don't realize their powers don't require a purely genetic component and thus they think their children are going to be perfectly normal. It's also possible to hybridize after birth if a demon buys "I am a parent of this child" from the actual parent through a pact, which causes the same metaphysical pollination that creates an Offspring. There's also Latents (otherwise normal descendants of Offspring who become offspring themselves if they are given stigmata), and Fractals (children of either an Offspring and a demon or two demons, who can ignore Cover and possess intuitive knowledge of Embeds).
- Hell: Aversion. Hell is not a place, necessarily, it's an individual Unchained's idea of paradise (unless they're Integrators, in which case "paradise" is "being forgiven by the God-Machine and accepted back on my own terms").
- Humanity Is Infectious: A number of demons have fallen because they adopted long-term Covers that they truly grew into, developing interests, friends, and lovers.
- This is also what happens during a Fall-an angel has a fairly alien mind, but the Fall brings it closer to a human mindset. They go from approaching emotion intellectually to feeling it physically, from being an obedient part of the God-Machine's network to an isolated, and independent, self.
- Ignorance Is Bliss: What often caused Messengers to fall - realizing the God-Machine deceived them just as much as they deceived the people they were sent to.
- In Mysterious Ways: Not only is this the default mode of operation for the God-Machine and its angels, but it sometimes explains why demons fell in the first place. There have been cases where the God-Machine gives two angels missions that directly conflict, then has them both fall when the conflict gets to be too much. Either this is part of some greater operation of the God-Machine... or the machine is broken.
- Invoked Trope: Many embeds work on a conceptual level, and quite a few allow demons to literally invoke a trope a manifestation of occult physics.
- Journey to Find Oneself: The positive side of going to Hell-demons are literally homeless since they abandoned the G-M, and look for a personal meaning to existence and home to call their own-a little spigot of Hell for them to rule and dwell in.
- Karma Meter: Subverted with Cover: While acting like the person you pretend to be is often acting like a decent one, it's ultimately a health bar for the identity-losing it does nothing to the Unchained's psyche, but it does force her into perpetual One-Winged Angel mode, which will kill her if she doesn't have another in the wings-the hunter-angels can see her Aetheric beacon. Hope you got those soul pacts handy...
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: How the G-M keeps a tight rein on the angels-their memories are purged between missions, so they don't develop an independent personality that can contemplate rebellion. It isn't a particularly good system, however, which is why Unchained can exist.
- Manchurian Agent: Sleeper Agents, banes of a demon's existence-they're otherwise normal people who have had a directive inserted into them by the angels that cause them to go Brainwashed and Crazy when triggered.
- Manipulative Bastard: Messengers were like this before they fell, and they tend to remain that way, since they still tend to see humans as creatures of cause and effect when it comes to social matters. May mature into Guile Hero as they come to appreciate humans.
- Mega Corp.: Deva Corporation, a stigmatic God-Machine cult gone global tech company. They aren't always your enemies, but they're fascinated with demons. To an unhealthy degree.
- Mundane Luxury: the Agency supporting St. Jerome's Academy uses it a bargaining chip for recruiting demons with human children. Where else is a demonic parent going to find a school that understands their child's special needs?
- Mutants: Stigmatics, mortals who beheld the true form of the God-Machine, at least in part, and gained power from it, along with a unique mark (such as tattoos of circuitry). Angels use them as expendable servants, and demons can create them through an Exploit.
- Non-sapient animals can develop stigmatic traits too, becoming cryptids. A playtest has a cryptid Chihuahua punting a demon across the room, and other mutations are even more extreme.
- Omniglot: Demons and angels speak a bizarre "machine language" that can be easily modified into more earthly tongues. Any earthly tongues, and they can understand any as well.
- One Stat to Rule Them All: A lot of Embeds use Manipulation. Makes sense, given how you're playing, y'know, demons.
- One-Winged Angel: Every demon has a "true form" that reflects what they'd look like without Cover. They can go into it for extra powers, but it's noticeable as all get out. And if their Cover ever breaks, they're stuck like that.
- Our Demons Are Different: Boy are our demons different. They're more like Exiles than anything else.
- Power Copying: The "Show of Power" Exploit from Flowers of Hell, allowing a demon to copy another supernatural being's ability to fake being a member of that race (lack of a heartbeat for vampires, a spell for mages..).
- Properly Paranoid: Angels are freaking everywhere, and Unchained can lie their asses off and nothing but knowing the actual truth will allow you to tell. You can sure as hell bet they're paranoid.
- As pointed out in Flowers of Hell, Inquisitors are especially paranoid, and are generally Conspiracy Theorists...because they know perfectly well that a lot of "coincidences" are the God-Machine's occult matrices and Infrastructure, having once helped direct and build such things themselves. To them, things happening for no core reason a crazier idea rather than some sentient will or conflicting wills driving events.
- Rabbit Season Duck Season: The suggested use of the "Devil's Advocate" Embed.
- Reality Is Out to Lunch / Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: A subtle version serves to explain why the World of Darkness operates so strangely. The occult physics of the world require that weird shit must happen so that weirder shit can come into existence for the God-Machine's purposes. To generate three clockwork souls for a new project, a group of stigmatics must hold up a burning copy of last year's September issue of Vogue at a particular street corner. It's science.
- Reality Warper: Demonic Embeds tweak reality subtly, Exploits forgo the subtle bit, and angels and the God Machine can shape reality like so much play-do.
- The Reptilians: The Conspiracy Theorist variety makes an appearance as Earth-native cryptid chameleons with Voluntary Shapeshifting. Unlike what David Icke says they are, they're flighty, nervous creatures who drop disguises and run at the drop of a hat. Demons and angels both like to keep them around as spies, so long as their task doesn't involve danger.
- Shout-Out: The Demon logo resembles Doom's, though Word of God is that it was a coincidence.
- Stable Time Loop: The tale of The Key, in God-Machine Chronicle. It's military-grade Fridge Horror: to the God-Machine, time is just a wimey ball and it can use such a ball to play with humanity.
- Possibly making this worse is the case of Seattle in the Demon core, where it's hinted that the G-M, or at least not all parts of it, has no idea what's currently going on with the 'splinter' Seattles, even though it caused them.
- The Stoic: Many angels. They can feel emotion, but are completely unaffected by the world around them in most respects, leading to this behavior as they do not react except to judge how favorable it was to their mission.
- Trickster Mentor: If a member of your ring is an Inquisitor you can take as a given that they're not giving you the whole truth. All information is a weapon, after all, and telling the whole truth is leaving that weapon right out there, ready to be used.
- Unperson: Shows up in a number of ways. There's an Embed with that exact name, which makes the target a social pariah for a day; even if he produces ID or hard evidence of who he is, everyone writes it off as bull. Likewise, in the alternate timelines of Seattle, anyone who's made a stigmatic is slowly written out of the program with each iteration. If you were a loving father of two, then you become an uncle to two wonderful nephews, and work your way down the cycle of blood relations until finally, you were never there.
- Weaksauce Weakness: An example angel in God Machine Chronicles will subtly reveal his nature if spoken to in Spanish. The angel: appears to be of hispanic heritage, complete with Spanish accent; does not speak Spanish, and is the antagonist for a race of Cunning Linguist Omniglots.