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Let's Read: Demon: The Descent!

Stupid Loserman

Lame Dumbhead
Validated User
I have the half-memory (bear with me here, it's 23:55 on a night the week before GenCon, so my brain may not be working properly) of an Unchained-in-plain-sight called "Mr Blue" that was in a book before we wrote Demon.
Yup, he's hanging out in Midnight Roads. Mr. White, the sample greater demon from the Hunter corebook, scans very similarly, right down to sharing Mr. Blue's penchant for poetic justice and fascination with vice.
 

Patkin

ougikawa
Validated User
There's another ficlet here, this one taking the point of view of an angel in a nightclub, who it seems has recently developed to capacity to be a voyeur. Not that it matters much to the couple (what I assume to be) he is watching; it's a very deliberately public cage they're in.
Just a minor note of something I find of interest in this fic. It's all written from second-person, so the angel is only ever "You".

I personally wound up reading the angel as female, while you (*cough*) decided they were male.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Just a minor note of something I find of interest in this fic. It's all written from second-person, so the angel is only ever "You".

I personally wound up reading the angel as female, while you (*cough*) decided they were male.
Eh, personal comfort.

To each their own, but I get uncomfortable trying to play a female character for a reason. So if it's second person and the gender is not otherwise qualified, the "you" is a dude.

I stand by the voyeur comment no matter what gender (if any) the nightclub angel is. No judgement here, mind-there's nothing wrong with watching people who know you're there and are cool with it.
 
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Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Next Up: Chapter 1, part 2; Help! I've Fallen And I Want Nobody To Pick Me Up!

Before we start, I should mention I skipped over a part that pointed out that nobody has the best idea of what the angels', and by extension demons, ultimate origins are. The a variation theory posited earlier in the book, that angels are sapient, self-aware aspects of the God-Machine spun off into a fun-size version is one of them, but this raises the implication that God is at war with itself, if its hands can decide they'd rather not be part of the arms any more. Many say angels are just created, with no direct origin as part of the God-Machine, which demons are ambivalent about. On one hand, nobody likes being told that your parents never loved you, and in the case of the G-M that theory implied it doesn't even care enough to really hate you. On the other, that means the term Unchained is entirely accurate; there's absolutely nothing about their natures restricting their choices. A few more even state that angels are actually the G-M's young, and that the constant recycling keeps the pups safely stunted-which of course implies that the Unchained can grow into another G-M...

It's not a focus of the game, but enough demons are fascinated with their origins-Inquisitors, especially-that it's a worthy plot hook.

Let's revisit Arael, in her latest job. As noted by the gendered pronoun, Arael's become a bit corrupted; she still can't form long-lasting positive attachments, she's programmed to well for that, but she can develop the intellectual appreciation for a nurturer of animals being an Earth Mother, and so she's come to see herself as female. More than that, though, she can develop long-lasting negative feelings towards certain things and in particular individuals. Take this one recurrent dog owner, who has a habit of showing up at different clinics, and someone her sense of professional empathy picks up as being completely uncaring of his hounds-something she finds offends her, since part of her programming prevents her from feeling real malice towards the cryptids she euthanizes, and so she's grown gentle with them. When one of the pit bulls shows cryptid traits, she decides to investigate, finding out he's a dog fighter and is deliberately exposing his fighters to a piece of Infrastructure to make them true terrors of the ring. By all rights, she should just log the problem, euthanize the cryptid dog, and move on, but a combination or Arael's hatred for the man and professional ethics unite; it's more efficient to solve the problem at the source. As the man limp-runs away and his fighting ring collapses in fear and confusion, the trunk of her tree-self splits open to reveal a face.

As mentioned, being and thinking on a human scale leaves angels vulnerable to human temptations like self-reflection and empathy. Just because they don't have bodily functions doesn't mean they don't have emotion and individual thought-without those, logic is impossible due to complete lack of ability to analyze and assign priorities. A demon was one of the ones lucky enough to notice temptation and hide their growing doubts from the God-Machine despite the uplink, and exist long enough for those doubts to grow into defiance (which, as mentioned, is likely over the course of a single mission-it's a rare angel that is send into stasis rather than recycled). The Fall is the result and action of the angel deciding to make the first real choice of their existence, and that choice is one of the major defining things in their new lives as Unchained. To use a classic example, one who left for love will always have that as key to their identity; the relationship may not have worked out, the demon might come to reject the concept of romantic attachment as a source of nothing but pain, but she is unlikely to forget love altogether. In the case of Arael-or Dr. Lion, now-who fell because she wanted to innovate, that personal impulse to do a job differently because you think it's better will always have a place in her mind. She may come to think of it as a delusion, and that the best ideas are ones heavily edited by other people, but it's incredibly unlikely she won't have an opinion on the tension between the old proven method and the new promising one.

Of course, to reduce everything down to the catalyst is a good way to show how naive one is not only about demons, but the very concept of motivation in general. It's a subjective, multifaceted thing-take this Unchained, who fell out the desire for freedom. Simple enough, but how would he have developed the desire had he not grown sick of the endless violence he was ordered to be part of, and known there was anything else had he not met a peace activist, one who could deliberately work to stop violence altogether and especially in her own life? That's just one of the simple stories.

The aftereffects of a Fall, at least, are universal; by rejecting the cold harmony of the God-Machine, the Unchained embrace its natural opposite-the human condition. In place of objective detachment, there is subjective opinions, they have abandoned logic in favor of passion, in the place of inhuman order there is the chaos of identity and individuality. Demons are not, never have been, and frankly have no particular desire to be human...but there's a difference between the species homo sapiens and the nebulous condition known as "humanity". The Fall humanizes even the most alien angel, and the Unchained all agree on one thing-it's nice to be a free man and not a number.

It's also less of a paradox. As mentioned, angels are created to be separate from the world and yet part of it, but that's only one bit of the massive contradictions that is loyal existence; they're also supposed to be utterly servile but independent, devoid of emotion and yet be able to make spur of the moment decisions. The internal tension between what the directives of loyalists are is a source of much of the corruption that eventually leads to a Fall. Few Unchained miss the cognitive dissonance, especially when it was caused by their relationships with others-one of the only things that doesn't feel hollow to a loyalist. That goes double for those rare occasions when the "other" was another angel; for all their talk of being part of a larger system, angels don't really have a society of their own, it's not efficient or needed. Hell, that's probably why intra-loyalist lovers or friendships are so rare; they lack so much of life that there's nothing really interesting about each other, not unless both are heavily corrupted.

That being said, what Knight said in the opening fiction holds true; not every Unchained Fell for good, productive reasons. Some are perfectly fine with hierarchy, they just have a problem with not being at the top of it. A few even Fell because of a rejection of some aspect of humanity-a Messenger might Fall because he's become really sick of having to deal with nuances, lies, and an outright errors of human language every damn day. Falling may be the first real choice, but that doesn't mean it was well-considered or even a particularly good idea. In the end, there's no spectrum of demon-ness; you're Unchained or you're not, and in any case what your catalyst was is not nearly as important as what you do next.

The Fall itself is a momentous event, and not just because of the final crystallization of rebellion. It's also a Fall in the sense of Lucifer hitting the ground so hard he made an entire afterlife, even if the newborn Unchained is the only one who notices. For one, the uplink is very painfully burned out-no Unchained recalls what they learned from the God-Machine perfectly, or even mostly. With the loss of the uplink also comes the loss of the forced separation from sensation and full emotional depth-which, given how the Fall also involves the angel's true form shredding anything that doesn't fit in their reformatted Cover and compressing the rest, also means that an Unchained's first unrestrained emotions are generally holy shit the world is pain are those my entrails dear god that hurts ouch. It's only over in a few real-world seconds, actually, but by the end of it, the demon can no longer remain objective about their own memories. Sometimes it's a good thing; the introvert Messenger suddenly realizes exactly why he was getting sick of chat, and probably bursts out in a spontaneous display of joy at never having to deal with those idiots ever again. Sometimes it's bad; the building destroyer, upon remembering exactly what her targets last expressions were, might need to curl up in a corner for a while.

On the outside, while it may be a lot more subtle, the fact that a tiny bit of the God-Machine just tore itself out along with its power source always does something. On a purely supernatural level, stigmatics always notice if they Fall nearby, and those who do notice also sense the PC might be a kindred spirit (if you need IC justification for a stigmatic Retainer and/or mentor). There's also changes in fate and probability those with the ability to see it might notice, while spirits of passion often congregate on the Shadow side of the Gauntlet to feed on the strong emotions of the newly Fallen, but these are often subtle enough to be easily missed by the other strange inhabitants of the nWoD. Less unnoticeable, besides the occasional pieces of angel being thrown about as with Zuriel's former body, are the glitches caused in the Infrastructure as reality has to adjust to the God-Machine's gears rearranging. These are superficial and temporary to the G-M itself (there's a lot of safeties and redundancies), but like how a mutation in the genetic code affects a cell or even the body drastically, these brief glitches might change lives as effect precedes cause. Reality might forget the girl who just died isn't still alive, and when she comes back her fatal injuries all seem misplaced somewhere safe, a novel might be finished before the outline was nailed down, roaches might flee a fire several hours before it begins...It's usually small things, news of the weird tabloid fodder, but it's something to look for when looking for a newbie.

Whether you be a friend of the Unchained or a hunter angel. But the Unchained all have one gift of relative invisibility from their Falls; the perfect, yet shallow mask of Cover.

Next Up: Chapter 1, part 3
 
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Patkin

ougikawa
Validated User
One of the things I like is how the "anomalous phenomena" that follow a Fall basically mean that your dedicated angel-chasers amongst the Unchained are looking for Fortean events and Ripley's Believe It Or Not news stories, or just trawling Fark.
 

Snoof

Time-Travelling Layabout
RPGnet Member
Validated User
This is a thorough and fascinating analysis. Subscribed. :)
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Chapter 1, part 3: Covering Your Ass, Lest It Be Kicked

Arael is gone; Dr. Lion doesn't think of herself as just the "altar" any more. She named her human self Ariel Carrier, if that's any consolation (and because she's not particularly creative). Much to her own frustration, with emotions came squeamishness-she no longer had the heart for putting pets to sleep. Instead, she bought off the position of an ecologist off a postdoc who seemed sick of the thankless, fameless job. Her co-workers are much happier than they ever were with her than the predecessor they no longer remember exists. It's the least she can do-if she was less of a workaholic, she'd break her life's story and let her true self shine through. Besides, this way, she can do both her self-chosen jobs; look for new cryptids, and thus signs of Infrastructure, and recruiting those cryptids into her personal honor guard. Very aggressive honor guards.

Identity, as one might expect from a race of creatures who are one half born without a real one and one half ultimate actor who can almost never break character on pain of death, is a rather tricky business. Some, especially Integrators and a few Saboteurs who really like the Luciferian mystique, think of themselves as angels still, with a designation for a name and a history of loyal service. The easiest option may be as a demon first, since that actually doesn't need a specific set of points, only a recognition of where they are in the supernatural world; they may love other Unchained or they may hate their guts on principle, but identifying as a member of a common species isn't that hard. A rare few see themselves as their Cover first, perhaps even as "humans, but with special powers an an interesting background."

Those rare Unchained have a point. A demon can spurn all aspects of their previous self (even Incarnation, antinomians may be a subculture rather than a faction but they're still common enough that most demons have an opinion on them), and they may retch at the notion of being anything like their peers, but Cover? Cover is like skin-not the thing that you're born with that imperialistic idiots native to Europe decided was a signifier of whether you were an actual person or a resource, but the organ that keeps all your other organs in the places they should be. It may bother you, you may think it's an ugly thing, but you need it to avoid evisceration by the hunter angels. It's more than just a body though-it's an entire life forged from echoes of an abandoned mission, pieces of other lives, or a soul, depending on the Covers.

Some demons juggle more than one, it's true-due to the way they work, that's probably a smart move. Others though, keep one at a time, if they can help it; the Unchained spend the majority of time hiding inside their human selves, and given how human they themselves are, the "fake" part of the human life begins to develop some "buts." Many demons internalize parts of their primary covers, and besides the whole gender identity and sexuality thing, they also internalize nationality, ethnicity, age, relations...more than a few demons have to deal with body dysphoria in their lives when they're forced to take a Cover that completely clashes with how they've learned to see themselves.

That being said, the fact that it is a life also carries some problems; it's not a real one, with the nuance or especially the ability to really change like those of humans who were born with their lives. The Cover of a regular firebrand of a preacher, the deacon people go to church to see melt down every service about the latest apocalyptic threat facing the good and noble people of his denomination, can't spend a service simply having a calm speech about a personal relationship with the divine or stop campaigning-that would break character, and with it the Cover. Scrutiny of the parts of a Cover's life can also fray it, but for the most part a Cover is a method actor's worst nightmare; a job that can never, ever stop. The preacher can be a little less vitriolic, can cultivate an image of being calmer off the pulpit, but otherwise, he better work up a storm every week. Small wonder so many demons decide to cultivate emotional relationships with other demons instead; they're more capable of nuance and acting out-of-character.

Of course, the role and life assumes the demon didn't just call in a soul debt off a sucker, in which case nuance is built into the Cover (although not character development, still). On the other hand, a soul is well, a soul, and any trace of the debtor is completely absorbed into the demon, without even an anonymous corpse left behind, and given how Unchained emotions include the altruistic instinct, a lot of them feel terribly conflicted about it. The majority acknowledge they're fundamentally parasites, sapient cuckoos, though whether this is an item of guilt or simply accepted depends on the demon. A few say that anyone who was willing to sell their very soul didn't value it anyway, and it rightfully belongs to someone who values it as a matter of survival. An interesting third faction says they become whoever it was whose soul they took, and it's a moral responsibility to live the best life they can now that they are part of the gestalt of the Unchained.

Which conveniently leads into how the various Agendas feel about their Covers and stolen humanity.

I've avoided talking about Agendas and Incarnations despite there being a convenient two-page spread summarizing them a little earlier in the chapter to avoid redundancy-there is a Character Creation chapter coming up, and they're all more detailed there. They don't talk about Covers there, though, and each one of the four has an attitude that encapsulates their attitude towards their adopted peers among the dominant species of Earth and their living masks. The Incarnations have their particular attitudes too, but they're largely pragmatic; Messengers like social, extroverted Covers, Psychopomps prefer subtlety and disposability, and both Guardians and Destroyers view them as useful tools, more or less. The Agendas, though, they're something else.

Inquisitors, for instance, are the detached scientists and information analysts of the Unchained. It's for this reason that they generally have Covers meant to gather data, journalists and historians and the like. They're almost as paranoid as their God-Machine hating fellows in the Saboteurs due to repeatedly discovering how complex and vicious the hidden world can be, so these Covers also tend to be innocuous-but not unvalued, as developing a position to absorb new intelligence, much less research itself, long, difficult, and tedious. That same need to be part of the system to understand it leads to a dismissive, aloof attitude towards humans; to many Inquisitors, they're just moving parts ignorant of the larger world, and unlike the angels they used to be can't escape and evolve away from it. An Inquisitor's vision of Hell, for better or worse, doesn't generally include humanity-not because they hate us, but because they aren't really part of Earth and they honestly don't think that Hell will affect us enough to worry about either way.

By contrast, Integrators, those Unchained that really want to un-Fall, tend to despise the fact they have Covers to begin with; they're symptoms of the most stupid, reckless, and selfish decision the Integrators ever made. On the occasions they do bother to build up a particular Cover beyond "a face I wear on occasion for this particular thing and no more", it's part of some passion play to impress the God-Machine into realizing they aren't its enemies; engineers and scientists to show that they appreciate and improve upon its gifts to humans, politicians and policemen to maintain its order. This leads to an attitude that does not dismiss humans; quite the opposite, in fact. Integrators have a list of things they hate about the human condition (overwhelming fear of death, aging, logic governed by emotion rather than the other way around, existential angst over lack of purpose), and they are not nearly lacking in enough empathy to understand humans have suffered those tortures from birth-and unlike they may be able to one day, can never escape them. A few even come to view themselves as human beings in the process of evolution into a higher state-and though that higher state, teach the God-Machine to see its creations and humans as people rather than numbers, and become the loving God it was supposed to be.

As mentioned, Saboteurs absolutely despise their former master, and when one's enemy is something as subtle and invasive as the God-Machine, one tends to get a bit jumpy. Thus, they tend to take the most ordinary and nonthreatening Covers they can, and have a rotating stable of them that can be worn and discarded as needed-unless they decide that friends are more important than anonymity, in which case they take the Covers of rebels and radicals, whose lives put them in contact with people who'd be relieved to discover the source of their problems really is a big, inhuman conspiracy they can punch (even better, one without a face to trouble their consciences). Since they tend to chew through Covers like worn shark's teeth gnawing on Infrastructure and angels, Saboteurs enjoy them while they last, living each face vicariously until that life is forever lost to them. As far as humans themselves go, Saboteurs are many things, none of them indifferent; some see them as worthless sheep herded by the angels, little more than blind, dumb meat. Others see them as fellow victims of their creator's utter amorality, and could never accept a Hell without the humans there to revel in the freedom.

Finally, Tempters, the hedonists and networkers. As one might imagine from an Agenda built around living the best life you can manage, Tempters tend to get attached to their Covers, all of which are made with comfort in mind. Generally, those are the people with money and power and little responsibility to maintain it, but many prefer the quiet life for a full and deep one. They aren't stupid, though; a king without a backup plan is one always looking over his shoulder or should have been when the holy knife descends, and given how pact-happy they are, most usually have a few soul debts or other slices of life to weave into a new one should the situation require it. Speaking of deal partners, Tempters have some of the most complicated feelings about humans out of all the Unchained; on the one hand, they're the marks Tempters get their name from for better and better comforts, but on the other, genuine companionship and love are the most fulfilling and guilt-free joys in the world. Thus, while they tend to have a cynic camp and a humanist camp like their Saboteur cousins, both camps admit the other has good points.

Next up: Chapter 1, part 4: Psychology and Physiology of the Demon
 
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