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Let's Read: Demon: The Descent!

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
#1
Anyway, somebody mentioned over in some other thread, which I can't remember for the life of me, that someone should do a Let's Read of Demon: The Descent.

Since I happen to love the game, and thought it'd be fun to try my hand at something new, I'm happy to oblige. Keep in mind I don't even know how to take photos and upload them to the forum, so I am largely only going to describe what I see. I should also note here I am a huge Onyx Path fanboy, and of this game in particular, so I'm going to be biased to the positive. By a lot.

I'm also going to write this as if I was doing it blind; terminology and mechanics will be assumed to not exist until I actually reach that point in the book, and for the most part I will pretend that this is my first nWoD splatbook, ignoring the larger world except for what's introduced into the book.

So, to begin:

Demon: The Descent, a Storytelling Game of Techgnostic Espionage.

Cover, Opening Fiction, and Blurb

First, I'm reading the PDF, because it's easier to check. I have the hardcover deluxe, but I am incredibly disorganized and have a hard time finding anything in my house. Far easier to just pull up a window on Adobe, I say.

The game doesn't exactly pretend it's going to be about classical demons and angels, at least not in appearance and direct powers. Rather than Ye Olde Pentagrams and Fire With Big Horned Red Dudes, we have a soft grey cover with a title that looks more like a monochrome version of Doom's title screen. Inside the lettering, we can see what looks like cracked glass over lines of grey binary. The most prominent image on the rest of the cover is also a crack in the glass, almost as if the cover was a window, and somebody punched the lower half. Behind the crack, we see the blurred images of threatening-looking individuals and monsters, as well as at least one cyborg. Curiously, on the next page (the endpaper, I think you call it?), the people behind the image are clearer, but also more cartoony. Not that they're any less threatening-looking; on the top, some mound of flesh seems to be going through the Ludovico technique.

The shape of the crack doesn't change though, nor does the one thing it doesn't cover besides the title. On the bottom of the cover, right under where the developers' names are in the endpaper, you can see a labyrinth.
 
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Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
#2
The opening fiction is called Enemy Action, and it doesn't waste any time. Over the image of a grey, corroded metal plate, a large computational command says ++INSTIGATE++, and right under the sub-chapter heading, a very inhuman creature seems to be dying. Twelve metal arms are self-destructing, and he seems to be losing his faculties as we speak; His Essence is exploding, his abilities are being literally torn from him, and a voice he feels he should hear has gone silent.

Our initial assessment seems to be wrong though; a portal tears in the air, and the creature falls through in material form, impacting the ground like an organic meteor. He's alive, just blissfully KO'd. The next sub-chapter heading is ++LOCATE++, and within it, someone named Ms. Book is awoken by her emergency cell ringing, with the person on the other end telling her to speak in Finnish, which she seems to be good at.

We discover that the odd naming scheme holds, given how the guy on the other end is named Mr. Knight. He tells Book he's been monitoring something called the Bellevue Infrastructure (something Book chides him for), and that he's noticed something called the Hive has been kicked (my words, not his). He's noticed bursts of "Aether" in formation over the sky, a sign that a large group of "loyalists" (The Hive, I would guess) are out in force, looking for something. Book checks with her bedmate, a guy named Kyle with odd scars that seem to react to the agitated Hive, and reluctantly, she gets ready for the new mission.

We cut back to the not-actually-dead creature stirring from unconsciousness. He seems to be aware of the Hive too, and even he clambers up, he formulates a plan to escape. However, he doesn't seem to be a "creature" anymore; he only has four limbs now, and when he moves it's on two feet. He definitely fell to earth though; there's metal shards everywhere around a burning forest, and bits of his old form are still clinging to our protagonist.

We get his names, both of them: Zuriel, the angelic guardian of something he can't recall at the moment, and Arran White, officer of the Air Force.

We cut to Kyle's perspective, woken up by Book turning on a set of five televisions plus a laptop to examine the local news. She's made breakfast for him; cereal and a mug of chemicals to quell his scars, his "stigmata." He knows what she's doing; not Knight by name, but certainly by reputation. She asks if he's had one of his dreams, and he replies he has; he saw the world from the perspective of one of the loyalists, looking for something, when he saw a meteor fall across the water and into the horizon. That seems to help Book narrow it down, and she tells him to get dressed.

Cut back to Zuriel/White, who seems to be having a bit of trouble with his new existence. Besides the fact that he's scared out of his mind, he's apparently never felt thirsty before, and while he's marveling at needs for hydration, he gets hit by a car. Oops.

Cut back to Kyle and Book. If we haven't already guessed yet, we get confirmation she and Knight are demons, and currently Book is trying to negotiate a cover-up. Kyle asks what the "aircraft debris" actually is, and Book says that it was an angel, but now it's the shed exoskeleton of a newly Fallen demon, everything Zuriel gave up when he turned his back on Heaven. Kyle gets concerned for Book and asks if the same thing happened to her before thinking. While she doesn't emote, she replies that it did, and that feeling like you're dying isn't a unique experience.

Next sub-chapter is ++ASSESS++. Zuriel/White wakes up in a hospital, relieved that his "Cover" has been held and he's being treated like a normal idiot who walks in front of cars. Back at Book and Kyle's, she reveals that how you Fall has nothing to do with swearing allegiance to Satan, it's about the fact that angels have a mission, and the moment you disagree for any reason, you Fall. What the reason is depends on the Fall and the demon. Before she can answer or dodge the question, however, she notices a black sedan carrying a trio of loyalist angels who have taken on the form of FBI agents, but Kyle isn't fooled; his stigmata is aggravated by the presence of angels. Book guesses they're part of the patrol force looking for Zuriel, and that one-against-three in an environment that favors the loyalists isn't a smart move. She and Kyle hide and hope for Knight to find their new comrade before his old friends do.

No such luck. Back at Zuriel/White's hospital, a female angel taking the form of a medical technician draws back his medical curtain, and confronts him. We discover yet another difference between loyalists and demons, apparently angels can pick up meaning through divine understanding, but demons hear the actual language. She starts to crush his injuries with her physical hands and tormenting him with pain psychically, ignoring White's pleas that he made a mistake and is sorry. Realizing she won't listen to him and is radioing for help, White attacks the angel and kills her, using the IV stand as an impromptu spear. He soon realizes that he killed someone without being ordered, and the "Machine" will not punish him for it.

It's not that simple, of course. Turns out the nurse was actually a nurse, and the real angel was an intangible presence possessing her and now looking for a new body. He limps into a concrete stairwell only to run straight into a fistfight between the angel's new body/a buddy and Mr. Knight over Knight's gun, which is somehow utterly silent despite both combatants being strong enough to leave cracks in the concrete. Knight wins, killing the angel's body, and offers friendship to White. We learn that demons call themselves Unchained, and despite Zuriel's misgivings over working with a traitor, the intangible angels are finding new bodies and both beat a hasty escape.

Next sub-chapter is ++TRACE++. We're back at Book and Kyle, shooting the breeze while the ABI is obliviously patrolling outside. Book confirms that Zuriel is, for all intents now, Arran White, with his previous mission being recycled to form his new life as a pseudo-human and his initial abilities as a newborn Unchained. We discover that Book was originally a librarian named Sonya during her loyalist days, and just as she decides to get around to explaining why she Fell, Knight calls in his success.

Cut to Knight and an unhappy Zuriel/White driving away from the mayhem. Knight dubs Zuriel "Mr. Stone" upon hearing his angelic name, and the newly-monikered Stone explains his mission was to convince someone to use weapons against an apparent attacker (though whether or not the attacker was actually malicious is beyond Stone). However, Stone realizing something was wrong, though not what (Knight thinks of it as evolution beyond what the Machine wants him to be), at which point Stone, like a good little drone, reported back to his facility for a good brainscrub...which seems to be what provoked his Fall. Knight seems to grudgingly accept this, calling Stone an "Integrator", but also informs him that to loyalists, there's two kinds of angels; those still working for heaven and traitors to be annihilated, something Stone doesn't seem to accept. Knight radios Kyle, while Stone eventually asks a question demons seem to get a lot, why they fell. Knight replies he "wanted to see the world, but found Seattle instead."

We cut to Book, who seems to be in a spat of self-loathing after noticing how truly alien a city looks once the sun goes down. We get a third language the demons seem able to speak (Book and Knight had a bit of Swahili earlier), talking about Stone. Knight wants him to be part of their group (if he still thinks the loyalists will take him back after being nearly killed twice there's a different "ring" waiting, though), and he wants Book's abilities as a researcher to learn about Stone's Cover as Officer Arran White, who seems to be a lot more complex than most Covers are. She meditates on the hidden pulse of the city, calling it "a Machine."

Kyle reappears, and calls her Sonya. He's going to be going off alone to orient stone, while Book researches whether or not the Unchained should kill him; he's an unknown, currently, and not every demon Fell for good reasons. They need what Book calls "neutral ground", something to force Stone to work with his new species against the Machine without feeling too forced. It turns out Kyle isn't blind to obvious implications either, and asks if he was a good reason. Book says that she couldn't find a better one.

Later, it turns out that Stone isn't having fun. He's extremely uncertain when it comes to acting like a human, and it seems that he still thinks of himself as an angel, not an Unchained, letting the others know it. He mocks Book's reason for Falling, not seeing much worth in Kyle from a preliminary glance, and Knight has to step in before it becomes an argument. Knight talks with Kyle privately, revealing he's better at being human than Book is when he uses a small grin to show amusement. He states absolutely nobody can be trusted, which is why they're currently looking for blackmail material on Stone and not just letting him tag along (which I say would be stupid even if Unchained weren't paranoid, given how much he dislikes other demons). In the end, a demon's primary goals are their own interests, and the realization that Sonya might betray him depresses Kyle enough to the point where he doesn't notice the FBI angels' sedan.

The next sub-chapter heading is ++ELIMINATE++, and I'm really starting to wonder if this is actually the loyalist angels' hive mind or something. We learn the Machine's full name is actually the God-Machine, which readers of the 1E corebook should recognize from the ramblings of one Marco Singe. Book's looking for Arran Stone's documentation, using the trick she picked up to trigger the human deference to apparent authority to get around. After finding no fruit in the "recent graduates" section of the Air Force database, she decides to look in obituaries instead. Good news: She finds Officer White. Bad news: Whatever she finds really scares her, as she scrambles to phone Knight, not even bothering with a different language.

Too late. Just as Knight picks up the phone and Book reveals the loyalists weren't there to retrieve Stone, he's headshotted. Praying that Kyle's ESP can protect him, she confronts Stone, who is currently packing his bags to meet a different, more Integrator ring. A pissed-off Book asks Stone why he Fell, at which point he gives her the same story about a failed brainwash...and then she asked which war he had his mission in, which completely baffles him. Turns out Arran Stone died before even Vietnam, and that Stone didn't Fall so much as he was pushed, used as bait for Book's ring after being thawed out of temporal stasis mid-Fall. She tells a horrified and betrayed Stone to run, but as he leaves, Stone has the last word; seems Book was actually supposed to kill Kyle, and that's part of the reason why he disliked her long before he met her.

Back at Kyle's, it seems the loyalists shot him, but he's still alive. Barely. Book, whose original name we learn was Sonya Book, realizes she can't save Kyle and remain as her normal Cover at the same time. She leverages her true form and abilities, fraying her identity as Sonya to access her power over entropy in order to reverse the normal flow, saving Kyle's life by injuring him in reverse. The ABI trio was apparently waiting for this, and they show up bearing holy weapons of fiery Essence. Realizing her Cover is doomed anyway as the angels tear it down, she vows her love for Kyle and reverts to her true form; a multi-armed, many-tailed, and many-eyed beast wielding swords and lightning, just as the angels prepare to strike.

There is no more to this story, but there is one last directive from the angels' hive mind: ++RETREAT++.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
#3
Now seem's as good a time as any to post the blurb on the back cover:

Angels are everywhere.

They are under the everyday world, behind it, beyond it. They are sent by the God-Machine to enact its will through time and space, delivering messages, building infrastructure, protecting some people, killing others. You were one of those angels...

But not anymore.

Now you are one of the Unchained, a fallen angel who defected to the human race. Yours is a world of false identities and clockwork conspiracies, stolen faces and hidden works of the Machine.

You cannot -- will not -- return to the sterile embrace of Heaven.

All you can do is reign in Hell.
We also learn that some demonic powers are "reality hacks" called Embeds, and that stigmatics are apparently mutants altered by exposure to the God-Machine's mysteries from the back.

We also learn why Knight seemed so interested in Seattle; apparently time is not as it seems in the city. Which, if you've read the God-Machine Chronicle (a "chronicle setting" for the nWoD that effectively included 2E rules, a predecessor to the upcoming true 2E core), should not be that surprising. The God-Machine seems to love its fourth-dimensional shenanigans.

Next Up: Introduction
 

DaveB

No regrets
Validated User
#6
I think those headings in my opening fiction are the only time in a nWoD book you ever see the God-Machine thinking.

(yeah, they're the God-Machine issuing orders to its angels)

Book turns up in the player's guide, briefly.
 

Broken Twin

Registered User
Validated User
#7
I've been teetering on the fence in regards to buying Demon the Descent for a while now. Just from your initial blurb, I'm strongly leaning towards picking it up. Really interested to see how this progresses.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
#8
Introduction:

There's a little more fiction here, a little ficlet of about 500 words. We focus on a man named Aiden Holloway, who has been informed that the demon he sold his soul to is coming in three days. So, Aiden decides to make his last three days a happy one, even giving his wife a vacation-for one. Really, it's so he can be alone when the demon, in a different face than when he bought Holloway's soul but with the same personality and expressions, comes a-knocking. After a failed attempted poisoning via holy water, Holloway attempts to find something that the demon would value as much as his soul, but the infernal creditor isn't interested; Holloway kept to the deal of making a good life with the money the demon gave him, and the demon "needs it." As Holloway's soul is ripped from his body, his last moments are understanding why-because the demon now looks like Aiden Holloway. As the real one dissolves, the demon examines his new form, and then sets off on whatever mission he needed a firm involved in around a dozen government jobs for.

Hell is empty, and all the devils are here! - The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii
The first few paragraphs are second person, emphasizing that you are the demon here. And not a demon most faiths would recognize at first glance; as an angel, you were no messenger and/or holy warrior with wings, you were a living machine forged in the heart of the cosmos by a greater machine-the God-Machine. After your birth, you were its loyal tool-not slave, tool. A slave has a life of their own, however miserable and dominated by a master. As an angel, your life was the various jobs "God" gave to you-you went out into the world, completed your mission, and returned to storage until the Machine needed you again. You weren't unhappy with this life, but this has more to do with the fact you could not comprehend there was anything else.

One day, something broke, and you did comprehend. And to stop being a tool is to become free. You Fell, and your former brothers and sisters started looking for a traitor-but something about being Unchained makes you very good at hiding. In particular, inside a tattered shroud of humanity, sometimes forged from souls you've purchased over your new existence. Sometimes you encounter other machines that broke like you did, and wonder if you can trust them. You find your loyal brethren working strange schemes in service of their clanking master, and you wonder if you can work up the will to stop them. You wonder a lot; suddenly being ejected from a bland harmony because you sang one note out of tune tends to leave people wondering who they are. And you search for Hell, as the angels search for you.

One thing's for certain though; tis' a better thing to rule in Hell. Probably a better thing to live in Hell too, because at least you have a you.

It's at this point that the "Espionage" part of the title starts to shine through; in many ways, demons are undercover agents with no homeland to return to and within enemy territory-the God-Machine, like any good Demiurge, is wherever it wants to be at the moment, and while it isn't omniscient, it knows enough to always be looking for new knowledge, such as where its rebels went. This, more than anything else, is why the Unchained band together despite being lying paranoiacs by nature; the angels never stop coming, and the God-Machine, as shown in Enemy Action, is an immensely clever and adaptable force. Me against my brother, me and my brother against my rivals...

We get an FAQ about the Unchained. First, they're not evil spirits. They may be what humans define as evil, but that's the demon in specific choosing to be a bastard, and they were never spirits. Yes, angels are spirit-like, being largely intangible and invisible beings who interfere with humans, but true spirits are natives of the Shadow, the animist reflection of reality. Angels are forged by the God-Machine, and in any case demons become primarily physical beings when they Fall.

Obviously they aren't souls of the wicked dead either (no angel remembers being a mortal, and besides a mortal defined conventionally as "wicked" probably isn't good tool material-too self-centered and thus, stubborn), but they do trade in souls-not as curios, mind, but because Unchained can use said souls as a disguise. It's not possession; one a soul has been made into a Cover, it's the demon's identity forevermore-you try exorcising a spirit out of the body they were born with and see how effective it is. Speaking of, demons aren't really creatures of any Earthly mythology, so unless a particular Cover is allergic to the oils in holy water or the cross has been repurposed as a hammer, religious symbols won't hurt them. While they're biologically immortal in their true forms (which may be ugly or beautiful depending on how they were crafted), Covers age normally, and if a Cover reaches the end of its mortal life, so will the Unchained (although they can trade for younger ones..).The part about them being natural liars is wrong only in that it underestimates them; while the Unchained feel all human emotions, they also possess perfect control over their expressions, voice, and even autonomous processes if they feel like it-a perfect poker face, and one that can shrug off even most magical attempts to break it.

Finally, Hell? When demons use the term, they mean it in the Catholic sense, a place defined by the absence of God. Which is to say, the idea that Hell is a prison for demons is entirely backwards; when a demon says Hell and isn't using it as casual slang, they mean Utopia. You don't run away from Utopia, you quest to learn what it is and how to get there. Or build it.
 

Diogenes_Castor

Registered User
Validated User
#9
Finally, Hell? When demons use the term, they mean it in the Catholic sense, a place defined by the absence of God. Which is to say, the idea that Hell is a prison for demons is entirely backwards; when a demon says Hell and isn't using it as casual slang, they mean Utopia. You don't run away from Utopia, you quest to learn what it is and how to get there. Or build it.
I hadn't really looked into Demon the Descent but that idea just strikes me as seriously awesome. Definitely need to check the game out.
 
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