Published on November 26th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Guide to the World of Darkness, Part Seven (Demon)
Both times a Demon game has emerged, it’s been at a time of transition for the World of Darkness. The Fallen was released as the second to last classic World of Darkness game, with only Orpheus being released later. Its coming spelled the doom of the rest of the World of Darkness, as it was in-fiction proof that the end was coming.
With the new Demon line, The Descent, the opposite is happening- it is a part of the New World of Darkness second edition and ties directly into the new setting material introduced as the God Machine Chronicle.
Demon: the Fallen
Main Conflict: Fallen versus the Unbound, Fallen versus themselves
The Pitch: You were once part of the Abrahamic faith’s Heavenly Host, an architect of reality, one of the ruling Thrones, Powers or Dominions of our world. You were a force of creation when existence was young, back when dozens layers of metaphorical reality existed alongside physical reality. You helped create a paradise on which to place beings of great potential, humans, and then watched impotently as they stagnated in ignorance.
You rebelled by gifting the humans with self-awareness and metaphorical thought, and for that rebellion you were cast out of the Host. In the resulting wars you lost what was left of your saintly nature until you were finally hurled into the Abyss and became a twisted reflection of your past self. For thousands of years you were tortured in that prison until you recently escaped into the mortal world, to find it corrupted and no trace of the Host or their influence left. Welcome to the Time of Judgement.
In the 90s there were more than a few angelic/demonic themed roleplaying games, but Demon was one of the best. It was equal parts conventional Miltonian themes and esoteric occult references, with a little unique World of Darkness thrown in. Despite its faults, it is a very interesting game, and great for the time.
Torment and Faith were both unique mechanics that encouraged a certain kind of story within the fairly large scope of the setting. Torment was a kind of morality gauge that measured how angsty your character is over being thrown in the Abyss for a couple thousand years, and it can increase with the amount of spite you have towards humanity and the divine.
Faith was an expendable resource that you could use to power your effects, but to get more you had to draw Faith out of others- setting up a cult, getting famous or becoming a preacher were great ways of doing this. While this is similar in some regards to vampires drinking blood, it tends to dominate the life of the Fallen much more.
Each character in Fallen has what is called an Apocalyptic Form that they can manifest- the traditional wings and robes of Gustave Dore’s angels. These forms were varied and pretty cool, and got way more customizable with the Players Guide supplement. Apocalyptic Forms also got more frightening and harder to control the more Torment your character accrues, which gives players a reason to care about their morality.
One of my favorite artists, rk post (who has done art for many magic cards), did many of the chapter illustrations for The Fallen. The art was sparse in the book, but what was there tended to be simple and flat- not unappealing, but not very deep. rk posts’ art on the other hand was ethereal, strange and sexy which had a great effect on how you look at the setting. It impressed me so much that when I saw him at a convention, I made it a special point to have him sign my copy of the core book.
For a game that was supposedly about the architects of the world coming back and exerting their proper influence, the powers you get as demons are pretty limited in scope. They either seem to be over powered displays of aggression or bizarrely limited forms of creation. Honestly, I’d just grab the Sphere system from classic Mage and find a way to work Faith points into its use.
The setting backstory included a bunch of complicated elements that really had no influence on the modern setting. A sizable chunk of the setting info concerns how the Fallen organized themselves into different armies under Barons, etc, that has nothing to do with the factions presented later in the book. Just read the first part about the Fall, then skip to getting put in the Abyss.
At times the book comes off as trying too hard to be edgy, different or cool. For a game that is ostensibly about playing Miltonian fallen angels in the modern world, there was a lot of effort to add in references to Lilith and reconcile the factual, scientific creation of the earth with a psuedo-biblio-mythical account. When the themes get too messy, just cut things out until you’re left with what you like.
The way you fuse the remains of your human host’s memories to your demonic self is awkward. During character creation you basically make two full characters, throw out about half of each and then play with whatever is left. I recommend choosing to play either demons with full knowledge of their condition in human bodies or humans with demonic powers they barely understand, as a nice compromise.
Demon Player’s Guide– Usually the classic World of Darkness Player’s Guides were a crap shoot if they were going to be good. Demon’s is one of the best White Wolf ever made. It is nearly the size of the core book and includes a bunch of info that is really useful for your game, including a Q&A section and a host of new ways to customize your already pretty awesome Apocalyptic Forms.
Demon: The Descent
Main Conflict: Ex-Agents of The Machine vs current Agents of The Machine
Default City: Seattle, WA
The Pitch: You were once an agent of the God Machine, the demiurgic computer-like entity that exists beyond the edges of reality as we know it. As one of its angels, you were a spiritual-mechanical construct kept in stasis until needed to correct an error in the system of the Fallen World. Each time your task was complete your memory was wiped and emotions reset.
Now you are free. Either enough residual memory was left over that you rebelled against your slavery, or your most recent mission gave you reason enough to abandon your duty to the gnostic monstrosity that controls your kin. Now you are fallen, a true part of the material realm and are constantly on the run from loyal systems looking to re-integrate you into the Machine.
There is a really unique Cold War spy mood in Demon that doesn’t exist in any other World of Darkness game. While Changeling the Lost shares themes of being hunted by an alien, ultra-powerful being, it focuses more on the results of abuse suffered at the hands of abusers. Descent is more about forming a resistance movement against the fascist alien spirit machine controlling the world.
Despite criticisms that Descent doesn’t have “real” angels in it, the character types you choose in the game map perfectly well to classic angels (Psychopomp, Messenger, Guardian and Destroyer) and with minimal re-skinning you could definitely run a game about demons evading the agents of The Divine in a more traditional sense.
Like The Fallen before it, Descent focuses on the interaction between demons. The “agendas” of demons in Descent are particularly interesting and give a lot of material to help you determine what to “do” in the game. The book also makes this very clear- you are never going to wonder what the game is about (usually sticking it to the God Machine).
I am totally biased by living in Seattle, but the fact that we get a World of Darkness game set here is a huge plus for me. Especially for an anarchistic, gnostic, cosmic horror setting with technology themes, Seattle is the best city in the USA to set this game. The reasons the authors use to justify using Seattle are comically true and make sense in the Demon setting.
The game premise makes a lot of people immediately think of the 2nd and 3rd Matrix films, and it’s been a hard sell to those I know. This is not so much a flaw with the game as much as it is just a statement on how it’s a hard setting to explain clearly. Descent’s angels aren’t Miltonian and a lot of people seem to have a hard time thinking of angels as anything else.
The inclusion of a lot of things like cryptids to the game makes it feel much more like a Men in Black (no, not the movie) kind of game. While that works with the modern spy setting that Descent evokes, this part of the setting I didn’t really like. I’d add more mysticism to the game, right along side the modern corporate/tech angle, personally.
The given setting of Seattle, while interesting, has a bunch of time-travel and dimension crossing action going on in it. While it is coherent, that aspect of the setting is not at all what I wanted to focus on when reading the core book. I feel like the default setting would have been stronger without the time travel stuff, which I never really want in my horror game.
God Machine Chronicle– While this isn’t required to play Demon, you should really get it. It’s the adventure/supplement that adds the God Machine to any World of Darkness game, and it doesn’t hurt to read through all of this info in addition to what is in the core Demon book. It also has one of the cooler adventure paths in the World of Darkness
Demon Seed Collection– The Seeds mentioned in the title are adventure seeds, this book gives five different cities from around the world a Demon treatment and introduces smaller cults and mysteries for players to uncover. It also includes a small adventure for each city, which can be helpful for ideas if nothing else.
Other World of Darkness Guides