Demon: the Descent

[Review] Demon: the Descent


Among the recent releases for the new World of Darkness, Demon is perhaps unique in the sense that you play a supernatural creature that was never human at any point of their history. The Unchained were formerly Angels, agents of the God-Machine, an ancient and unknowable entity whose true scope, nature and motivations are alien to everyone, even the Angels that serve it.

At a crucial point in their time as Angels, the player characters chose to disobey the God-Machine. Whether from pride, anger, love or pity, these Angels fell from the God-Machine, severing their connection in their first act of true independence. This act of free will is what defines the Unchained, and their new fallen state is something that they bear with pride or shame, and how they react to their new existence forms the basis of their Agenda.

The resulting game is an intriguing game of espionage, as the Demons find ways to subvert or destroy the Infrastructure of the God Machine in order to keep their hard-earned independence, while investigating what makes the God-Machine tick in order to keep one step ahead… or to gain an advantage. The player characters have a host of interesting abilities, from being perfect liars to being able to Spoof detection as being anything but a normal person in the presence of supernatural scrutiny. Demons also have access to a remarkable number of Embeds and Exploits, powers that take advantage of loopholes in reality, allowing them to perform specific tricks that can upstage even Mages, but lack the same kind of flexibility.

Interestingly enough, my experience with Demon has been less about horror and more about supernatural espionage. The Demons excel at being able to get into where they’re not allowed, and their ability to shift Cover makes for intriguing roleplaying opportunities, but I can’t help but feel that the players themselves are somewhat divorced from the horror of their actions. Don’t get me wrong, my players were well aware that their characters were involved in some very monstrous activities, but maybe it was the idea that their characters were never human that dulled the sense of shock at the atrocities that they were committing.

Overall, Demon: the Descent is a great game, featuring a protagonist that is truly capable of being an outright monster while fighting opponents that are far more alien and malevolent than they. The powers and abilities of the game are imaginative and interesting, and there’s a whole slew of antagonists that the Demons can contend with. There’s plenty of opportunities to play up espionage tropes, including stories of trying to maintain dual lives, making deals with the enemy and the possibility of double-agents and betrayal within the team. Demon: the Descent is a worthy addition to the new World of Darkness.

Demon: the Descent is available in PDF format from DriveThruRPG for $24.99 or roughly Php 1,125.00

[Actual Play] Demon: the Descent – Devil in the details, Part 1

It’s late at night in an abandoned warehouse in Detroit, where Johnnie (played by Miguel) and his men step out of a car to meet up with Franco, his Puerto Rican supplier for drugs. Few people suspect that Johnnie is one of the Unchained, a Guardian who was once sent to protect this mob family for generations since the early days of the Prohibition until their intended extermination three decades ago. He’s taken on many names and many faces, always staying with the family, until the fateful time came for him to drive this family to extinction, the Angel realized that he’d grown far too attached. Rather than submit to his orders, he fought back, destroying the rival mob in the process of his Fall.

Now he was Johnnie, a capo in the ranks, always a follower. It wasn’t his nature to lead, that was someone else’s task.

Today was a routine transaction, one where he was just to purchase a shipment of drugs from Franco. The deal went without a hitch, though Johnnie had realized early on that Franco wanted something. Upon questioning, Franco revealed that he was hoping to get Johnnie to try out something new as part of his inventory. The Puerto Rican took out a syringe of a new drug, saying that it was brand new to the market, so much that it didn’t even have a name yet, but it was a guaranteed hit. Franco offered Johnnie a free case of the stuff to try and sell. It seemed like nothing was amiss so he took it.

It wasn’t until later that evening that Johnnie decided to give the drug a shot and see what it was about that he realized that something was wrong.

What began as the expected high escalated quickly, triggering a powerful flood of images and emotions as he found himself “plugged in” again to the God-Machine, subject once again to a fleeting glimpse of eternity.

It was several hours later that he came to, and he reached for his cellphone. The rest of the Ring would have to know about this.

It didn’t take long for him to contact the others. Alexander and Reina met him in one of the restaurants that served as a front for his family’s operations. They sat around a lone table in the corner, free to discuss their business as the place was closed and most other people were asleep. Alexander showed them the drug, and explained the situation and his experience with the drug. The three Unchained considered their options, even as Reina asked to touch the drug, hoping to use her Like I Built It Embed to discern information about it. She immediately was able to discern that it was made in a high-tech facility beyond that of a regular dirty operation of most manufacturers of recreational drugs. Furthermore, she was able to figure out its purpose… to subject users to the God-Machine, and trigger Stigmata.

That was a red flag for all of them. Stigmatics had the ability to see the workings of the God-Machine… and were capable of blowing their cover. The three decided that they had to take action.

The first order of business was to find out where Franco got his supply. Johnnie could set a meeting up with Franco, but they needed a reason for it. Alexander volunteered his ability to perform the Identity Theft Embed with conjunction to one of Reina’s contacts in Detroit’s Art World to pose as a buyer.

Reina called Marcie, her long-suffering personal assistant to arrange for things. It didn’t take long for them to book a private gallery viewing of one of Reina’s least favorite people, an overly pompous individual named Michael. It was a simple operation, Reina brought Alexander, who was posing as a buyer and admirer of Michael’s art. A few drinks, some handshakes and pleasantries, and the two Demons were on their way to meet up with Johnnie again, who arranged for a meeting with Franco as well.

Reina stayed in the car while Alexander stepped out to rendezvous with Johnnie, his features shifting to that of Michael as he did so, temporarily stealing Michael’s identity for the purpose of the meeting. Franco was admittedly surprised at the nature of the meetup, and was initially suspicious at the idea of Johnnie introducing a high profile buyer to him on short notice, but the two Unchained managed to assuage his fears and asked to buy his remaining supply of the drug. Franco agreed to it, promising to get the stash from his place and to deliver it to Johnnie’s.

With the deal done, the Demons split up again, with Johnnie heading back to his restaurant to wait for Franco, while Alexander (who had now dropped Michael’s borrowed identity) joined Reina to tail the Puerto Rican. They followed him to his apartment building, tailing him (with a really good roll from Alexander’s player) to his door. They waited for him to recover the drugs and phone his supplier to let him know the good news before knocking him unconscious as he stepped out with Reina’s Knockout Punch Embed, designating his wakeup condition as “When we exit the apartment building”

With Franco unconscious, the two Unchained searched his apartment and checked his cellphone contacts, taking note of his most recent calls. With their snooping around done, they made it look like he’d tripped and fell, and hightailed it to Johnnie’s.

By the time Franco came to and made the delivery, Johnnie had the information he needed. The contact was Franco’s supplier, which he’d traced to be a cellphone registered to a local Pharmaceutical manufacturing laboratory that makes medicines for larger pharmaceutical companies to label. They bought Franco’s supply, making sure to keep it off the streets for now, and pondered their next move.

Alexander, Reina and Johnnie opted to case the company first, on a hunch that it was actually the infrastructure that was responsible for the production of the drug. They visited there under the guise of being “Safety Inspectors” from the “Regulatory Board” with the use of Johnnie’s Authorized Embed. It worked with the Secretary and the Guards, but they were called in to the CEO’s office, where they realized that the CEO was a Stigmatic, who was able to discern just what they were and was asking them to leave.

Alexander opted to negotiate here, figuring that the CEO had no interest in killing them and that they could at least pull back and reconsider their approach.

Outside, Reina noticed a car pulling over and a blonde woman who emanated Aether, and keyed her in as one of the Angels. Reina called the two, trying to warn them.

The woman entered the conference room, demanding that the two leave. “I’m not here to fight you two, but I am not afraid to defend this place.” she declared.

Johnnie weighed the option of fighting her right now, but Alexander advised caution, and the two left, leaving the Angel and the CEO.

This wasn’t the kind of confrontation that the Ring wanted. Not yet, anyway.

Alexander spent the next few weeks casing the CEO, figuring his life, his children and any other details that could serve to be compelling. The Ring had come up with a quick-and-dirty solution for now. Johnnie would lead his people to destroy the place with explosives. Reina and Alexander on the other hand, would be waiting in case any Angelic intervention would happen. The operation went without a hitch, until Johnnie located the infrastructure. The moment he tried to shoot at it, his bullets went awry, and the Angel materialized in her true form, ready to defend her charge in combat. Her fingers were tipped with syringes, and her wings resembled microscope slides layered in a prismatic array behind her.

Johnnie’s men fled from the sight of her, even as Johnnie opened fire at her form, knowing that he had to hold her off long enough for his backup to arrive. Alexander and Reina charged in the moment they realized that something big had happened. The fight was short, but involved a lot of gunfire to take the Angel down to unconsciousness. Reina wanted to behead the Angel, but the other Unchained insisted that the explosives would do the job. The three left the scene, and Johnnie pressed the detonator, demolishing the structure in a fiery conflagration.

Alexander was last seen visiting the CEO of the now factory-less company and offering him a pact, his position as a secret partner to some other companies, in exchange for a reversal of fortunes and his own branded company in his name.

The Angel’s body was not found, and the team wasn’t certain if she was dealt with permanently, or if she is still around. If she is, then Johnnie will have one more problem to worry about.

Reina received a phone call from her cover’s father, saying that her over-protective older brother was coming to Detroit to visit…

I had a great deal of fun running the game, and the players did a stellar job adapting to their characters. Everyone was learning the ropes, but given how inventive the players were with their Embeds, you would never have known that this was their first game.

Also, we started the game without having finished their Demonic Forms as of yet, so they didn’t get an opportunity to manifest their other powers, but the players were still okay. I expect that next week’s session will involve a bit of more high-powered antics as the players start manifesting the more incredible aspects of their Unchained Characters.

[D:tD Devil in the Details Campaign] NPCs: Virgil Security

Hey there,

I’m currently working on populating the setting for my upcoming campaign, so I’ll be posting some NPC dossiers for the various Unchained in Detroit. Today we’re starting with Virgil Security, a surprisingly capable Corporate Security Consultation firm that has been making a lot of business in Detroit’s corporate scene.

Dante [Psychopomp]

Dante is the Alpha-Male CEO of Virgil Security, and is the very definition of a old corporate pack leader. His chosen Cover is a 60-something causasian man, constantly well dressed in a suit and with a fascination for expensive designer wristwatches. His appearance is crafted to exude unassailable self-confidence that can cow even the most jaded working person into submission.

Dante runs a tight Ring of fellow Unchained, having gathered them for specific tasks, offering access to Cover contracts and the relative “safety” of numbers for their services. In time, he’d managed to assemble others that he deemed “trustworthy” enough to employ on a regular basis.

Dante’s company serves as his means to investigate shady individuals which might have connections with the God-Machine’s plans, and his agency has at one time or another been able to infiltrate Infrastructure to destroy or subvert it to their ends.

Mist [Messenger]

Mist serves as Dante’s right hand and is responsible for Virgil Security’s day-to-day operations. Her appearance is that of a thirty-something african-american woman with a body of a track athlete. She prefers to dress in corporate power outfits, but plays the good cop to Dante’s Alpha-Male role.

She was the first of his recruits, having proved herself as a very capable infiltrator. While he has the occasional issues with her penchant for going beyond mission parameters when executing missions involving the God-Machine, her usefulness has so far outweighed her occasional lapses in consistency.

Mike [Destroyer]

At first glance, Mike doesn’t belong in Virgil Security, but that’s exactly why he’s there. You’ll never see this 6-foot 8-inch blonde anywhere near the boardroom, you’ll certainly feel it when he’s sent to do a job for Dante.

Mike is the ring’s action-man, and revels in the chance to make mischief. His specialty lies in extracting information by getting his hands dirty with intimidation, investigation, dumpster diving and blackmail.

It [Psychopomp]

It is Dante’s hidden Ace. A professional to the core It understands the nature of the game. It has no preferred Gender nor does It have a consistent Cover. Dante pays for It’s services with Covers when he needs something done that neither Mist nor Mike should know about.

Soft spoken and dangerous, It is a very model of efficiency, and seems to have little in the way of qualms in doing work that would give Mike pause. So far, It has managed to do long-term infiltrations of organizations by hijacking identities wholesale just to get to an objective.

[Demon: the Descent] Campaign Planning: Detroit

I will admit that I’ve always been partial to using Detroit in games. I’ve used the city before as a launchpad for a Supers game, and I’m using it for my upcoming Demon campaign as well.

The use of the Motor City as a hotbed of God-Machine activity just seems right in my head. The Urban sprawl and abandoned locations make for good places to tuck away Infrastructure that will generally be overlooked.

Given the state of Detroit’s economic crunch as of late, there’s also a lot of the World of Darkness vibe going on, and giving a lot of leeway for Demons to get their jollies from the desperate and the foolish.

Of course, having never been to Detroit in person, I have to rely on research material and watching movies to get the vibe down.

The Supernatural Population

For this campaign I’m limiting things to the mythology of Demon: the Descent. Meaning I’m not going to be putting in Mages, Werewolves, Vampires or Changelings.

That said I MIGHT put in Hunters as part of the opposition.

The usual suspects are all here, from Exiles, Angels and Stigmatics, though I will probably have to think about the use of Cryptids as they seem a little out of place.

Other Demons

The player characters are definitely not alone in Detroit. The rumors that The Source can be found in the city have brought in an influx of other Demons who are all looking to get The Source for their own goals.

The Source

Perhaps the biggest macguffin in the entire setting for this campaign. Rumor has it being different things. A back door to admin-level access to the God-Machine, a get out of hell free card, a means to free yourself of the God-Machine’s plans forever, a way to gain control of the God-Machine and take it’s unlimited power for yourself. It can make miracles happen, and everyone wants it for themselves.


The Player Characters

Right now my players are going through the book to put together their characters. I’ll most likely run through their preludes to get a better handle of their characters.

So far Silver Countess has already come up with a character concept, and Mappy and Hikkikomori are already working on their characters as well. We’ll be getting new players on board as well so I’m looking forward to how the group dynamics shape up.

[Demon: the Descent] Devil in the Details Character Questionnaire

Today we’re looking at the character questionnaire for the Demon: the Descent game that I’ll be starting around February this year. Since this will be the first time I’ll be running Demon, I’m going to be paying closer attention to the characters that my players will be making.

Why did you Fall?

The Fall is a very significant moment in the life of a Demon as it was their very first act of free will. In a game centered on the search for true self-determination I’m going to be stressing the Fall a lot in character concepts as a source of triggers that will motivate a character forward.

What is your Cover?

A Cover identity is one that is bestowed to the Demon by the God-Machine to perform their mission. It is also vital for a Demon’s ability to avoid detection by the God-Machine. As Demons have the ability to change and modify their Covers like people change outfits, their choice of Cover can tell a lot about a given Demon.

Another wrinkle here is that Demons are expected to take care of their Cover identities. A good amount of time is spent “being” your cover, so that will put a limit on just how much time they can spend going all out in the hunt for The Source.

What is your first Key Embed?

Central to a Demon’s quest for freedom is the Cipher, a central truth that can only be learned once the Demon in question manages to acquire and activate 4 Key Embeds in a specific sequence to unlock. Player characters begin with their first Key Embed, the one that gave their Demon a clue that there was a path to follow, one that is there for them to discover.

Since it’s up to the GM to figure out and assign the remaining 3 Embeds of the Cipher, it’s important for me to understand why the Demon has the Key to begin with.

How do you know each other?

The baseline assumption of my campaign is that the player characters already know of each other to an extent that they will be willing to work together. In some ways, we can look to Ocean’s Eleven or Leverage for inspiration here. This particular Ring is together because they’re looking to find The Source and take it, no matter who, or what gets in their way.

What’s your role?

During character creation, I’ll be encouraging the characters to start building according to roles in a group. Much like a Heist, this game will do best if each member has a particular specialty for the job.

That’s it so far. I’m also starting some plans on just what form the Source will take, what it really does, and just who else might be after it.

But that’s for another post.

[Demon: the Descent] Campaign Planning

So after a bout of voting to see what I’ll be running after Legend of the Five Rings, the group has decided on Demon: the Descent. The pitch I used for the campaign is as follows:

Camapaign Title: The Devil Is In the Details

The Source.

They say it’s a back door into His mind. A direct line into the very being of the God-Machine.

Everyone has heard of it, but nobody has seen it, because the rumor is that anyone who has ever had it in their possession has disappeared.

But people still try.

Now you’re in the Detroit, with a Ring of your own. “Friends” is a bit of an overstatement, but you work well together and get shit done. Imagine what you could do if you had the Source Code in your possession?

Of course, you’re not the only one with this idea. Other demons, His Angels, and other, weirder things are all after a piece of the action too.

Time to call the rest of the crew.

Demon is a new game for me so I’ve got a lot of reading, planning and thinking to do. That said I’ve already been putting together a few notes:

Agendas, Public or Private?

Agendas in Demon are representative of the philosophy of a Demon towards their current situation. There are those who fight against the God-Machine and attempt to sabotage it’s works, while others work to understand it or come to terms with it somehow. It also strikes me as a very personal choice. As such, while Character Generation will be conducted normally, I’ll probably ask the players to keep information on their Agendas to themselves.

Demon is a game of espionage, and while the Demons of this particular Ring know each other, they don’t necessarily have full visibility about everything about each other.

Berserk Buttons

One thing I’ll be very strict with in the Demon game is the emotional / logical trigger that caused each Demon to fall. The Fall isn’t easy, it involves divorcing yourself from the very thing that created you by choice. As such this emotional trigger should still be a very strong source of motivation for any Demon. If they fell out of Pride, then I expect that story hooks that would hurt that Pride would rile the Demon to action.

While I could use this as a chain I could yank, I’d rather leave it to the God-Machine Rules Update’s new experience system to serve as a carrot as opposed to a stick.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Demon is also about maintaining a Cover, so I’ll be working with the players to see what their NPCs are like. No lone wolves here, because being hidden among humanity is their best bet at avoiding the God-Machine’s eyes.

There’s a lot for me to absorb in Demon: the Descent given that I’m still pretty new to it, but I’m excited. I haven’t had a chance to actually run much of the rest of the World of Darkness, so this is a bit of a golden opportunity for me to see if I really can run something else aside from Mage: the Awakening.

12 Campaigns of Christmas #8 Indulge Me

Here’s one for Demon: the Descent. The player characters are a Ring of Demons who have come to the city on hearing rumors of the existence of a particularly powerful artifact of the God-Machine. Nobody is certain of what it looks like, or how it functions, but everyone knows what it is: A “Get Out of Hell, Free” card, a back-door into the God-Machine without being disassembled or destroyed in the process.

No strings, just an instant ticket for reunification with the God-Machine. Needless to say this has gotten Demons of all Agendas and Agencies looking into it. If they’re lucky, it’s only a rumor. However, if it’s not, it could be a very powerful weapon.

The Integrators are the most obvious Demons to be looking for it, but the Saboteurs think that if they get their hands on it, they can fashion it into a weapon. The inquisitors want to make sure that they know who has it, and the Guardians want to make sure that the status quo remains.

Is it a ploy by the Angels to draw the Demons in, or is it a real loophole that the Demons could use to change the God-Machine forever?

%d bloggers like this: