I’m back today with another entry in the series of Ten Things To Know About the Chronicle of Darkness. I’ve gone through nearly all of the gamelines so far and today I’m going to be tackling one of the remaining ones: Demon: The Descent. This game came out hot on the heels of the Chronicles of Darkness changeover and incorporated a lot of material from the God-Machine Chronicle. It’s a fascinating and labyrinthine game with some fun surprises, so let’s check it out!
When Demon came out, it sort of threw people for a loop. The demon-centered game in the old World of Darkness, called Demon: The Fallen was exactly what you’d expect. It was a bunch of demons running around tempting mortals into sin and screwing with the holy beings of the universe. They were escaped from Hell and looking to keep it that way. Some of that holds for Demon: The Descent but with a lot of important twists: they don’t necessarily tempt humans, they are fighting against a strange alien deity that doesn’t really resemble the Judeo-Christian God, and the Hell they were sent to is really the mortal realm. With me so far? Right, here we go.
6. X Splat is incarnation, Y Splat is agenda.
Demons in this game are rebel agents of the God-Machine, the supreme entity that started the rules-shift and name-change for the Chronicles of Darkness. This deity is some sort of emotionless intelligence that has coded the world for an unknown purpose and has unquestioning, single-minded servants that maintain this infrastructure. When those agents get glitchy they become demons and the type of function they performed before determines their inherent aspect (X-spalt).
- Destroyers, called “The Swords,” are former warrior-angels and avenging swords. You know the type. As demons they are much the same, just with different targets.
- Guardians, called “The Shields,” were tasked with protecting the God-Machine’s infrastructure and maintaining the world of mortals. As demons they are cautious and continue to build and maintain, gathering followers to support themselves.
- Messengers, called “The Trumpets,” used to deliver messages for the God-Machine and as demons they are the charismatic manipulators of humankind.
- Psychopomps, called “The Wheels,” build infrastucture and relics for the God-Machine. They are still resourceful and powerful as demons, finding what their allies need.
- Analysts were introduced in the fiction anthology Interface and then were reprinted in the Demon Storyteller’s Guide supplement and are those demons who formerly served as intelligence-gatherers for the God-Machine. As you can guess, their role is largely unchanged.
After their Fall when they went rogue and broke from the programming that the God-Machine gave them, these demons had to now make a life for themselves. Part of that is figuring out what to do with their newfound freedom and also how to do that thing. This is where the social aspect (Y-splat) comes in.
- Inquisitors are the information-brokers of demon-kind. They have an insight into the true workings of the world, the infrastructure and tricks of the God-Machine, and they’d prefer to lie low and amass secrets to use against their former master.
- Integrators are made up of those demons that regret their Fall. They almost always broke their programming unintentionally and now are self-aware but want to return to their God-Machine jobs again. Of course, they’d like to remain self-aware and that’s where their plan often breaks down.
- Saboteurs are similar to the Inquisitors but less subtle. They want to take the fight to the God-Machine but they want it to be a fight-capital-F. They want to blow up infrastructure, kill angels, and generally make the God-Machine suffer until its plans collapse.
- Tempters are the classic image of a demon, indulging in deals and contracts to amass the sort of resources they need to bring down the God-Machine, or at the very least protect their independence and remain at large.
- Uncalled are those demons that don’t have an agenda yet. While you don’t have to pick an agenda when you start playing, leaving it up in the air will stunt your character’s growth until you choose.
8. OK, nevermind: you weren’t ever human.
Demon is different than many other Chronicles of Darkness games in that your character is a wholly alien being. Even games like Mummy and Promethean have some core of humanity to the characters that you can hold onto. Not so with Demon. Your goals, your past, your body, your thoughts: all of them are apart from humanity. On the other hand, demons live most of their days posting as humans using Covers. It’s just easier to blend in with the locals and some of that can rub off over time. You were never a child, for instance, but pretending to have a childhood can help you realize what that might be like.
Don’t get too attached, though. Your character will have a few different cover personas with mechanical ratings to go with them. Your main cover is the one you’ve invested the most time and points into, but there can easily come a day when you have to burn it and move on. Whatever, they’re just roles anyways. Underneath your human-suit is your true demonic form, which is what you have to transform into to use your “going loud” powers. This usually leads to the burning of covers that I mentioned before.
9. You’re more of a hacker.
At the core of things, the Fallen in Demon: The Descent are doing things that you expect demons to do. There’s a god out there with angel servants and the demons are actively working to thwart those forces. In theme and terminology, however, the context for this game is about hackers working to pull apart and subvert the programming of a heartless corporation and its loyal hackers. The fact that this program is, in fact, the entire freaking world is a minor detail.
I’ve mentioned the Infrastructure of the God-Machine several times and this is a pretty fantastic bit of game terms. See, “infrastructure” looks and acts a lot like urban infrastructure for the God-Machine’s plots, invisible to mortals but plain as day to angels and demons. They look like pipes that bring emotional energy to a central location for some arcane purpose, there might be gears behind a wall that grind together and psychically direct people away from a certain building, or it might be some kind of door frame that allows angels to zip around the globe like a mystical subway. Demons, however, interact with these items like computer infrastructure: those pipes can be “rewritten” to direct someplace else, the gears can be adjusted so that their grinding has some other effect, and the doorways can be blocked up or even made into limiting logic gates.
At the same time, you can think of angels as just the uncorrupted servants of the God-Machine just like Biblical angels. They also work in some ways like programming, however, since they are limited to what they’ve been designed to do. A guardian angel watching over a particular bridge literally cannot consider leaving its post anymore than a search engine can try to modify images. You can also find clues and connections in the angels’ behavior since they are linked by their programming so you can discern an angel’s purpose by its behavior.
Despite being fallen beings, demons are somewhat the same way since their incarnation (original programming) leads to their powers as demons. Angels can intuitively use the programming tricks written by the God-Machine (and that’s essential since they have zero agency) but demons have to rely on tricks and loopholes that they know how to leverage. They use Aether, the heat waste of the God-Machine’s infrastructure, to manipulate the musica universalis or reality’s operating system (as you prefer). Utilizing parts of the world’s program that they aren’t supposed to access is called an Embed and they tend to be the subtle uses of the demon’s power: staying unnoticed by mortals, changing objects, influencing people, and causing entropy. On the other hand, Exploits break, bend, or invert the laws of the universe in ways that the God-Machine didn’t intend. Not only does this threaten the cover of a demon (people tend to notice when a building shatters like glass or a gout of flame consumes someone) but it attracts the attention of the God-Machine and its angels just like disrupting core programming is a good way for a virus to get noticed by a security program (though only the angels looking for these things, since they have to have the right programming).
Perhaps the coolest part of the game encodes (ha ha) this hacking motif into the center of each character. The powers used most frequently by demons are the subtle Embeds (unless they’re idiots) and a character’s unique set of Embeds is graphically written as a personal Cipher for the character. The player and Storyteller together pick a Key Embed from the ones that the character knows and writes it in the north position of a little cross-shaped diagram. The Storyteller also picks the other three Embeds to go in the east, south, and west spots of the Cipher diagram and thinks about the Interlocks between them. There’s a big section to help with this but in essence the Interlocks are unique, personal powers that only your demon has! You might have an Embed that lets you open locks and another that gives you enhanced stealth, then an Interlock between them that lets you instantly disable security systems on a door that you touch. It’s sort of a bit of both the other two powers and only you have this, since a good hacker writes her own codes. Once you figure out all four of the Embeds in your personal Cipher, you get a Final Truth which is some story element that reveals your demon’s purpose. A fantastic melding of tech-theme and epic-feel.
10. Demon doesn’t mean immoral.
This is the last thing that I’ll touch on for this game and it’s more of Storytelling advice than anything mechanical. As outlined above, this game has a lot of themes you’d expect in a game about demons, fighting angels and undermining God. There are some important differences, though, starting with the fact that the God-Machine is very, very far from God.
Regardless of your personal feelings on religion, you probably know that God is usually cast in the role of Good GuyTM. Though exacting, God in the Bible is forgiving, caring, and protective of the innocent. Sometimes this gets complicated in fiction by a cruel and vengeful God who accepts sacrifices for a greater good that might not square with people’s expectation. He might also be aloof and removed from humanity, unable to understand the motivations of petty mortals. The God-Machine isn’t any of that. It has no interest in the “greater good,” its goals are just as mysterious as its methods. It will destroy cities with fire and brimstone if that’s what it takes but this isn’t to root out sin or punish the wicked. It’s just a programmer erasing a portion of code because it’s in the way, not needed, and anyways he doesn’t care about a bunch of stupid ones and zeros.
In the face of this, are demons evil? Well, they certainly aren’t nice. Living as a demon on the run from the God-Machine means you are probably ready to screw anyone over in order to keep out of the angels’ grasp. Demons also maintain their covers and gather their resources by forging contracts with mortals and building up ruthless networks that are ready to destroy infrastructure. Let’s also know forget that blowing up the God-Machine’s plan is the same thing as blowing up the fabric of reality so you can count on at least a little collateral damage. But demons are also escapees from an inhuman slavemaster who is using the entire world as a Turing device, protecting it with servants who will kill easily because they are incapable of feeling remorse. Who’s in the right? Probably neither side, they just want to tear each other down. And I guess that’s another way this is a spy thriller.