• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

Let's Read: Demon: The Descent!

JustinCognito

Crepuscular
Validated User
It's... questionable.

I think, just for sheer sanity of player interaction, that organic growth of Covers is supportable and even expected. That fourth skill specialty that's "out-of-character" can still be potentially explained, after all. The strict school principal can cool his jets and while he's still a school principal, now he's the prince that's your pal.
On the other hand, this would explain all those action movies where an insurance salesman/teacher/gym instructor turns out to be an ex-SEAL.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Chapter 1, part 4: Life of a Soul Salesman

We're not going back to Dr. Lion right now, since this section really isn't about things I can narrate just yet. Instead, let's talk about how Unchained biology works.

First off, Cover really is that good of a disguise, to the point of whether it's a mask or a face is an interesting metaphysical question. Again, it ages, and even provokes actual infirmity in a being that is normally ageless; while a great deal of demonic power may slow the body, those are explicitly dysfunctions in reality by a being that isn't part of the mortal realm finding reality isn't really their size, not anymore. It even comes with functioning gametes, serviceable sperm and egg; demons can and do have children with mortals, unique stigmatics that combine a human body with the demonic ability to figure out the mechanics of Embeds. There's a lot of stories about these children, that they're used as the basis for new angels, that they have a connection to a true Heaven beyond the hibernation chambers of the God-Machine...but for this book, they're only a small sidebar. No information on what happens if both sperm and egg came from Covers. Nothing but fodder for the aforementioned silly theory that demons get Spiral Power during the Fall.

As far as Unchained can tell, they don't have proper souls, however; most take that to mean once a demon dies, they're gone no matter the existence of an afterlife or not. They have their true forms instead. It's more properly called their demon forms, but even the book says that it has infinitely more claim to being their true form than a Cover, no matter how beloved it is; it's the one they've always had, even when they were still loyalists. It's also easier to go from Cover to demon than vice versa, a disguise being discarded in a single, fluid motion as opposed to all the mechanics of dressing up, even if it's the shirt and tie you wear every day (within reason, unless people are okay with the stench). A disguise that can tear at being treated like this; the reason most demons don't have their true forms on speed dial, besides the fact that the God-Machine may have ears to the ground about biomechanical monsters it doesn't remember assigning, is that the very act of going into demon form puts the Cover at risk of being damaged. The reward of a body custom-built to be more durable and flexible than that of a human is the human form becoming a little harder to assume, a little more cracked. Too many cracks, and the Cover evaporates; a demon without one is stuck as an obvious demon, and thus not only a big honking target to searching hunter angels, people generally aren't as receptive to friendly sales of souls or aspects of lives to individuals who look obviously inhuman and monstrous-all the affability in the world won't help you if your varicose veins are made of fire and whose voice is a chorus of the tortured when making an ostensibly friendly deal. Still, deliberately destroying your Cover while going into demon form-going loud-may sometimes be the only option, as that process restores much of the raw power an Unchained had as an angel, probably just enough to fight off a truly monstrous loyalist who would kill not only them, but everyone close to them if not treated with the nuclear option.

This inherent dualism, between divine mechanism and mortal flesh, has a strong effect on the demonic psyche-but not as much as one would expect, maybe. A Cover is still a human body, after all, and human bodies have physical responses to emotions; a demon feeling fear also feels hair stand on end, a growing pit in their stomach. They also aren't normally privy to inhuman perceptions of the world; Unchained may have had more or less than the five senses humans do, and those senses may have been more or less acute, but the Fall changed that. Demons see the world as mortals, they feel as mortals, and all that adds up to a creature that thinks as mortals; years of living as a human, no matter how alien a demon began as, is a good way to end up with a very human character (though there's a difference between "human" and "humane"; a demon can be a true malefactor, but they're malign in a very human way, the alien sickness of a serial killer than the cold ruthlessness of a machine programmed to kill you). What they don't do is express unconsciously; one lashing out in anger is one you will never see coming from their facial expressions alone. This disconnect is responsible for no small degree of salvation in the world of deceptions, plots, and counter plots that is the Unchained life, but also no small degree of internal angst, because a demon needs to deliberately choose to show what they are genuinely feeling. In other words; to actually express, a demon needs to be manipulative on some level, no matter their intentions; they can't show the one they genuinely love how much they care without deciding that they are going to come off as loving not unlike many a gold digger who only cares for their wallet and the inheritance. This can be rather troubling when trying to build a genuine, unselfish relationship.

This, more than anything, is why the dominant emotion of most Unchained is suspicion. No matter how much a demon cares for humans, scrutiny into the holes of a Cover risks making those holes bigger, whether the investigator is angel, stigmatic, or a completely normal curious human. Admitting the truth helps, but it's not a perfect solution; letting someone see through the holes deliberately is just as threatening to the Cover, and while that vaccinates the Cover against that person's further scrutiny, loose lips can indeed sink ships. If a person tells another human and they investigate, there goes the safety of the Cover-and if that person is a loyalist...well, that's not going to be fun. Even beyond that, a demon's human friends and acquaintances are still relatively soft and ignorant no matter how well-informed and prepared they are, making them weak points enemies can exploit. Note I said "enemies", not "loyalists"; demons know perfectly well that perfect poker face is something they all have, and most of them have multiple Covers, making it often impossible to tell if someone is who they say they are, simply because it's entirely plausible that the blonde little girl you met earlier is the same fellow Saboteur as the old Chinese dude, but also equally plausible that's a complete stranger or a loyal angel. Even if you do know those two faces are over the same demon, though, that's no guarantee of trust; Agendas are political parties, not proper organizations with proper vetting processes to tell whether someone who's signed up actually believes in the tagline, or even if their personal interpretations mesh at all with other members of the Agenda. It's almost impossible to tell if your contact is actually a political rival, an ideological Integrator keeping tabs on their natural opposite, or simply one that values his own personal goals over the Agenda.

No wonder most of a demon's day is spent maintaining their Covers. Even beyond the demands of being in character, the mundane problems of a bad day at work is something of a relief compared to the demands of even arranging meetings with their rings. But they aren't human, and thus inhuman problems tend to sweep the Unchained up in them. Even beyond the constant stress of searching for Infrastructure as its custodians search for you, demons are hardly the only seemingly-human residents of the world; mages may poke at a bit of the God-Machine to satisfy their eternal curiosity, manipulation of the spirit world into a Hell may attract the lethal ire of werewolves, and a human a demon cares for may fall into the parasitic orbit of hungry vampires. There's also the concerns about Aether, the fuel for Embed and Exploits; demons don't need the stuff to live, but a supernaturally powerless demon is hardly in a secure spot. There is at least one thing demons do that isn't even secondarily about protecting themselves (beyond trying mundane ways to wring enjoyment out of life), however; cracking the Cipher, a techgnostic koan that each demon is granted upon the Fall. The Cipher's more than just pretty words, however; in the metaphor of a journey to Hell, it's a malfunctioning compass, and by learning the mystical underpinnings of reality that power Embeds, it is repaired.

The Descent is always more than a physical journey.

Next Up: Chapter 1, part 5: What the Part After The Colon Refers To
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Chapter 1, part 5: We're On a Noble Eightfold Path To Hell

Let's cut back to Dr. Lion now-or rather, let's cut to Bob, the Completely Normal Intern. Bob's on the run for his life; he realizes he should have believed the rumors about the building being haunted. There's a weird howling in the corridor, right around the building's server farm is where it's worst, where there are gashes in the wall, canine bite marks that smell of blood and ozone. Calls that belong to no earthly animal answer the howls; machine-gun barks and roars that sound like words. He hides in the closet, certain whatever is making the noise is going to kill him-and then, as if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, there are no more howls. He pokes his head out, and there's no more teeth marks either. He starts to wonder if he really is not sleeping enough-all the better for Dr. Lion, for he doesn't notice one of the newer servers, the one the boss installed so he could play the home computer edition of Unicorn Crossing, has had a new USB stick inserted.

This event is simply a slightly more blatant move in the Descent-both the journey to find/found Hell and the quiet war between the Unchained and their creator. It's also a demonstration of the fact that demons have the power to make their quest to create or travel to a place without God more than a hopeless dream; they literally reweave identity and time around themselves just to hide, and as we will see in the Exploits section, pulling a Lazarus isn't even that difficult if they have that power. Really, the biggest problem is that the God-Machine is the house in the great casino of existence, and it's a lot more experienced at maintaining the status quo against Unchained that even the oldest living Unchained is at upsetting the status quo. But every demon is a card sharp and a talented cheat in the extended metaphor, and the G-M isn't nearly as good as catching them as it would like-demons are blind spots in its models, agents of chaos who know (chapters of) the master of order's playbook. That's why it hunts them-the resources it lost in their manufacture when they Fell are easily accounted for, but the threat they've become, well...

The Descent is both the forever cold war with the God-Machine (and with Unchained whose vision does not include each other) and the journey to a personal paradise because the former directly interferes with the unpredictable latter. What the Descent is however, varies not only by individual demon, but also over time as demons gain hope or lose it, think about how valuable the grandiose is relative to the personal. Heaven, it's often not an actual physical location; some demons view Hell as a sort of enlightened state that prevents the Machine from interfering with their lives, and to Integrators, Hell is a district of Heaven. All journey on the Descent though, because whatever the Unchained are for, be it a final War on Heaven or simply having people they can trust relatively unconditionally, the God-Machine is against it, simply because they are the Unchained. Too risky to leave alone, especially when one considers truly extremist Saboteurs, those who don't even really want to smash the God-Machine so much as hurt it, no matter how superficial; those who would happily unplug Infrastructure keeping pre-human gods of evil desires safely bound and asleep simply because it is Infrastructure. Those demons are good for suicide missions, at least.

There's a few common elements, though-the absence of God as it figures in the current existence of the Unchained is a big one. Even Integrators grudgingly agree with this; nobody can really consider their life utopia until the computational overmind has stopped trying to kill or subvert you or your allies every other week, at best. A slightly less common element, but one all four Agendas have significant populations of believers in, is that Hell should be other people. Just because demons hate trusting each other doesn't mean they're happy about that-that's why Agencies exist a lot of the time, to formalize and organize demonic society into a form capable of smelling rats. Many are more humanistic about it, wanting to truly close the gap they feel between themselves and their adopted species-or transhumanistic. There's more than a few Unchained who don't want to become more human, but want humans to become more demonic, ageless and wise in the ways of occult physics (on the more selfish side of things, it's also easier for the superhuman to hide among supermen).

But the journey, as they say, is more important than the destination. Actually getting to Hell involves a long and twisty road patrolled by angry loyalists. One you don't have a real map for-actually knowing what the frack is going on is one of those tasks that all of the Agendas do all the time (for the Inquisitors, it's pretty much the purpose of their existence). It doesn't necessarily involve sneaking around being all Cyborg James Bond (or Jason Bourne), and probably shouldn't; it's simply safer and saner to use assets, preferably ones that don't know who they're feeding intelligence to, or in fact feeding intelligence at all (it really brightens the Unchained's day to get an agent of the God-Machine feeding info to both sides). Of course, the loyalists are always running their own ops too, so the demons also regularly engage in the flip side of recon, deception. The God-Machine is adaptable and even sometimes audacious, but it can make mistakes, and if those mistakes are in a way you planned for...

The more complex moves in this four-dimensional chess game generally revolve around psyops-mind games and propaganda. Generally, the targets of these operations are other demons or humans-getting demons to distrust a rival or convince them that you're harmless and/or a potential ally has obvious benefit, but humans, humans can be a much bigger prize. For one, a lot of occult matrices involve human activities, and loyalists know perfectly well they aren't bound by a mission or design parameters, making them wonderful at filling in blind spots-but the humans generally don't know their angel friend is at all inhuman, giving most Unchained a great weakness to exploit if they can trick or force the angel into revealing its true nature or hostile intentions (although there's always going to be the people who are more intrigued than terrified, they're a minority-and one that is usually open minded enough to listen to the demonic side of the story). Turning the human parts of Infrastructure against itself is even better-manufacturing a scandal by an angel-run organization makes that organization hemorrhage recruits and lost the good press that the loyalists were using to help their current assignment. However, angels aren't immune to psyops; detachment doesn't mean Zen, and by worming their way under loyal skin, demons can convince their brethren of useful lies or unnerve them into making mistakes (or simply for the catharsis of toying with the people who hate you). The most ballsy and/or stupid Unchained set their sights a bit higher, right at the point where the angelic heart is connected to the God-Machine; if they can stimulate their brethren's emotions and connections enough, these demons reason, they can break their faith in their creator, and with it not only solve a loyalist problem forever but possibly get a new buddy in the process (and the hatred is actually an asset here-the sheer passionate ire a hunter angel can work up for the Unchained is a great introduction to the wonders of deeper emotion, and more than one has disconnected because their anger outweighed the mission).

And of course, sometimes you just need to smash something. When that something is Infrastructure, it pays to be smart about the exact mechanics and goals of the smash, but smashing really isn't something most demons need to wrap their heads around.

Next Up: Chapter 1, part 6: The Opposition, Wild Cards, and Other Things That Give Unchained Migraines.
 

SunlessNick

Mildly Darkened One
Validated User
There is a good set of reasons to not look too deeply in the shadows and desperately cling to the idea that the world is a fundamentally sane place, but the insanity you would find isn't chaos ... It's a very rational insanity
Of course insanity isn't chaos either. It's an overimposition of a particular slant of order, one your mind can no longer easily think outside of of. A demon could probably relate. Even an angel might, in the moment just before it falls.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Of course insanity isn't chaos either. It's an overimposition of a particular slant of order, one your mind can no longer easily think outside of of. A demon could probably relate. Even an angel might, in the moment just before it falls.
That's what I meant, yes. The horror isn't that logic has no place, it's that it's entirely logical-it's just not a logic you know.
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Chapter 1, part 5: The Light At The Beginning of the Tunnel

Now is the summer of their discontent; let's talk about antagonists!

First up, of course, are the loyalist angels. The God-Machine is a lot like Sauron, in that while it's certainly a character and major antagonist, it's not really a person so much as a natural force with a name that people report to and swear allegiance by. Angels are the most prominent part of those people, and perhaps the most like the Unchained without being Unchained themselves (yet). We also talked a great deal about them earlier, but this section's a good summary; angels, or at least the "pure" ones, are part of the world, but not of it-they don't participate in this thing we call life at all. An angel regards undoing a genocide or immolating a person alive with the same clinical detachment and ruthless efficiency. They're subtle unless the situation requires it, but they don't mind taking the loud route if that's the best option. They have no freedom of thought, but they can think, and have access to the greatest database in the universe to base their decisions on. In the end, while demons can reason at least somewhat with an angel that has begun to harbor doubts, the best plan is to keep as far away from them as possible for as long as they can.

Exiled loyalists are a somewhat different matter. While most angels have a clearly defined stay on Earth with a clearly defined point at which they will be recalled, exiles are something else. As the name suggests, while they're still technically angels rather than Unchained, they aren't really in the service of the God-Machine anymore, and thus stuck on the mortal world for the foreseeable future. Why they're what they call the Abandoned varies; most were given impossible or nonsensical missions, some were summoned by broken occult matrixes (and these generally resemble monsters the most and are often riddled with violent psychoses), and a rare few are actually Integrators who managed to become angels again while keeping their free will-to the extent they can. All exiles, retired Integrator or not, may have difficulties in communicating with the God-Machine at all, much less actually getting coherent instructions. More than that, they don't have an inherent connection to Infrastructure, which means a persistent hunger for Essence; something more than a few demons have gotten their cooperation out of, since those same difficulties in missions mean they have a similarly hard time violating the mission and Falling (which, coincidentally, means they don't have mortal Covers-a few exiles have been so for centuries). Given how exiles are generally ignored by angels (including hunters), a few Unchained believe they're bait, since the knowledge uplink and access to Numina is still perfectly functional...but it's not like Unchained aren't playing with fire anyway.

There's a brief note on qashmallim, specifically that they seem to be the opposite of loyalists despite seeming awfully angelic-while the God-Machine craves order, a qashmal is here to provoke changes, entropy or evolution. It's even possible to get the two species of angel to fight, but getting a being that specifically has it out for you and one defined by unpredictability at each other's throats is exactly as hard as it sounds.

Don't think just because you're at least mostly a divine mechanism doesn't mean the mortals can't match you on a supernatural level, mind; stigmatics, for one, have the same ultimate power source as you, but while you were built by it, the stigmatics saw-and learned. Often at a great cost; there's no small amount of brainwashed agents with the God-Machine's mark on them, some of them Manchurian. But most didn't (especially those whose exposure was actually demons who figured out the trick), and they combine the unpredictability of the human race with the ability to see the God-Machine as well, or even better, than Unchained can-and more than a few have other abilities besides.

Also, don't think the God-Machine can't count; there's over seven billion at the time of this writing humans on Earth, and they keep making more. Not tapping such a useful commodity is a damned stupid idea, and so the God-Machine sends its angels to engender cults to its glory, and while most barely scratch the double-digits in members, a few are quite large. The Machine does not care about being worshipped, or even if the cults have any idea to what they sing hexadecimal hymns to (or if they pray at all), only in the services they provide (and it usually will kill them once they're no longer of use). Their ideals are similarly irrelevant, it only matters if any heresies or splinters actually get in the loyalists' way-and not clamping down on cults who think for themselves can let them get out of hand. Take the Deva Corporation, for instance-what began as the family religion of one Marco Singe (remember him from the 1E core?) has since blossomed into a multinational group that views the Machine less as a god and more of a potential path to eternal profit, world domination, utopia, or whatever the Hell they think they can wring out of it-point is, they want to learn to control it, even as they entertain some of its Infrastructure (and in one case possibly saving the world, in the case of the Apocalypse Clock). While Deva can be an ally to demons, and they are the custodians of one of the most accurate and largest catalogues of Infrastructure, if not the largest (one division thinks they can actually make some occult matrixes of their own now), they're also just as likely to send Unchained to the boys at Luminous Labs for vivisection; part of understanding the anatomy of the Machine means anatomy of angels, and since loyalists have both the slippery nature of ephemeral beings and something that might be rather cheesed at one of them being dissected...

Finally, there are cryptids, and their fellows not members of Kingdom Animalia, cryptoflora. See, something about exposure to the God-Machine when you're not sapient results in, shall we say, rather more drastic forms of stigmata. Assuming the mutations don't kill the beast, the result is a strange, Aether-smelling organism that is usually at least smarter and braver than normal members of its species. That is, assuming it doesn't become a kaiju-sans-size, because there's no limit to how extreme the mutations can be. The God-Machine mostly exterminates examples as an annoying, secrecy-destroying byproduct of waste disposal, but it's been known to create the mutants deliberately, rarely. And it's a good thing the Machine doesn't like to make them-cryptid mutations are heritable, so if a feathered gargoyle with shrapnel breath and a normal pigeon have eggs, those eggs will be gargoyles. This can be a bit of a problem.

There's some notes on ghosts (the God-Machine occasionally does science to them to create non-angelic workforces), spirits (too unpredictable to be that useful, but can be transplanted to a useful place if the God-Machine's strapped for time), and other supernaturals (which I am going to skip, because I'm looking at Demon as stand-alone with the new core and GMC-and because it's way too late).

Chapter 1, part 6: Society, Agencies, and Other Necessary Evils
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Chapter 1, part 7: Me and My Identifies-As-Brother Against Strangers

Make no mistake, Demons are fugitives. A fundamental part of their anatomy is a human disguise, for crying out loud. While their recycling and elimination isn't the apparent first priority of the God-Machine, it's certainly in the top 5 overall goals of its operations; Unchained damage its schemes simply by Falling, and as beings born with an intimate knowledge of its workings, and the power to evade and resist attempts to remove them as threats. It's simply not intelligent to avoid dedication of a task force to their neutralization. And demons are weaker than they were as angels, it's true. They actually require food, water, and sleep now, while on a mental level freedom brings with it doubt and existential dread. They wouldn't give this up for the world (the brainscrub that rids a recaptured demon considered to be more useful intact than recycled of all of their self-awareness might as well be death, if not worse), but demons need others.

Clever pyramids of custom stigmatics aside, the majority of those are going to be other demons-and probably better for their sanity. A newly Fallen demon is born of an infinitely more knowledgeable species than comparatively ignorant humans, they see the God-Machine hijacking religious institutions and other social constructs when it's convenient for its projects all the time, and even art has a hard time speaking to a being that was built rather than born, and actually lacked a great deal of what humans take for granted (a childhood, to begin with). Thus, the humble ring, small and tightly knit groups of Unchained, is a social inevitability. Besides being composed of people the Unchained don't have to speak...very...slowly too, it's simply saner to have other people with supernatural mojo on your level watching your back and looking for angels. Those same angels actually prevent rings from betraying each other; loyalists have no particular sense of gratitude to any Unchained that sells out their ring that would lead into the two-time traitor being allowed to retain their freedom, and any demon with half a brain cell knows that. Besides that, rings have the ability to pool resources and knowledge amongst each other, which in and of itself is an advantage over their loyal opposition; the God-Machine only authorizes its angels to know exactly what they need to accomplish their tasks, and no more.

A much more risky, but much more rewarding, step up are Agencies, entire political blocs of demons and their resources organized around a common goal. In the case of the most common variety, Temporal Agencies, that goal is a business, usually that of the purchase and sale of Covers. Said Cover-dealing involves truly massive amounts of Pacting; problems solved for the low, low cost of relationships and bits of your identity you didn't want ("Say, it looks like you robbed a friend. Since it's already going to dissolve once they find out.."). Indeed, much of a Temporal Agency's operations as a group is to quietly manipulate the powerful and desperate into being more and more willing to sell bigger parts of their identities in exchange for running away from their problems. There's also a tidy market in investing when it comes to soul pacts; a temporal Agent finds a poor sod that is so utterly desperate they'll give up ownership of their soul, and then the demon gives them anything they want while ensuring that their life turns around utterly. This isn't altruism, mind-it's like a realtor ensuring a house they own is all nice and pretty for when they sell it off as a profit, or given how these are Unchained, moves in. As one might expect, the founding rings are rolling in Covers as well as having no small number of employees willing to take the hits to their own in return for payment, the middle managers have a nice nest egg but can't really risk their Covers frivolously, and the bottom rung receives nothing but the guarantee of fairness when truly desperate, ie Burned.

Insurgent Agencies are essentially armies meant deliberately to launch operations against the God-Machine. Saboteurs aren't stupid, though-it's a war of attrition at best, and their creator is understandably eager to rip them apart at the roots, so an Insurgent group generally has several fronts and doesn't actually tell its members they're troops in its founders' war until they're safely indoctrinated and/or blackmailed. They're also very tight-lipped on who Command for any individual demon is, to the point where many Agents have never met their direct superior in person, much less their name, even as the natural tendency toward strict hierarchy and discipline in a full military means that whatever said officer says, goes. Which is another reason why the commanders are kept secret, because once the God-Machine has replaced the brain, the great dream of the Saboteurs is easily turned into their nightmare. Compromised Agencies generally don't last long, they being explicitly meant as a way to blackmail and trick their Agents into selling out as many Unchained as they can before other Unchained inevitably find out and run, at which point all the remaining Unchained are assimilated and the angels disperse (and yes, Integrators do create Compromised Agencies with the express purpose of being the underhand of God, but it's not common at all). Finally Free Agencies are facilitators of open communication, and I am being completely sincerer when I say I perfectly understand why entire Agencies are required to found and maintain glorified messageboards; it's probably not an easy job for a race of born spies who spend their entire existences on the run to chat openly at all, much less form a community around open chat.

There's a bunch of locations where notable Agencies have formed, and unsurprisingly, it's generally around centers of economic and/or political power, as well as places where mortal intelligences agencies like to hover. Washington DC is all three of these, which is probably why it's six-or-so Agencies are more like feuding street gangs than actual reservoirs of Unchained power; it's even common knowledge one is Compromised, but rather than bother finding out which they just use that as another slogan to shout when wrestling over territory. Willson, North Dakota, is more out of the way, being the platonic idea of "small-town America", but for a while it had an oil boom, and the Temporal Agency that effectively runs the shadows in the town remains, and quietly watches for the project the God-Machine started back during the oil rush to wind towards its completion and actually materialize into something they can exploit. Hong Kong may be a Hell for its resident century-old Agency, but it's a threatened one; on the mortal side new regulations have made their ample resources a little harder to access, and on the semi-mortal side the Deva Corporation has recently set up shop in the city and bullied the Agency out of its own headquarters. Worse are the invaders-a young and unsubtle Agency, full of piss and vinegar and assured their link to one of China's political prisons gives them effectively unlimited Cover to burn by torturing it out of the state's wards. And they want the old guard's Hell for themselves.

Berlin used to be the gateway between the Western World and the USSR, and with no small amount of human spies came no small amount of Unchained-on different sides of the Iron Curtain, with East and West Berlin getting one Temporal Agency each. When the Curtain came down and the Agencies got a good look at each other, it was loathing at first sight; the West accepted Integrators with open arms, and the East had an open iron maiden for any Turncoat unlucky enough to be found by them. They got sick of fighting, though-these days the two tolerate, even almost accept each other, with a few demons even openly having dual membership. If only Moscow had a happier story; the paranoia, secrecy, and vicious authority of Stalinism made Russia's capital sacred ground to the God-Machine, with the largest angel population in the entire world for the duration of the Cold War. When it thawed, the only demons left were the strongest and the meanest; mobsters at their worst. The Moscow Agency is more-or-less a chapter of the Russian Mafia, with an infamous reputation for getting Covers from human trafficking.

Finally, there is the librarians of Tel Aviv, capital and economic heart of Israel. They're a Free Agency, the largest in the world that doesn't focus on cyberspace in fact. They focus on the real world because much of their information is on paper, usually across multiple copies and encoded for security. The Agency is also a perfect example of why you should take Free Agents seriously; they are quite possibly the largest Unchained storehouse of information on occult physics, the Fall, and Infrastructure in the world, even having a copy of one of the volumes of The God-Machine Manual, Deva's personal research logs on the God-Machine. Unfortunately, someone who isn't a patron noticed; what triggered them to start hiding their books in libraries as well was that someone stole a few of the key texts on occult matrices. Most suspect sticky-fingered Inquisitors, but it could also be someone making sure the demons remain ignorant of Infrastructure...

Next Up: Chapter 1, part 8: The Works of God
 

Leliel

SJ Road Warrior
Validated User
Next Up: Chapter 1, part 8: The Temple is a Body

In more mundane terms, Infrastructure is the support for other things in a technological system. The book uses the analogy of power plants and wires to a city's ability to be illuminated as an example of mortal infrastructure, and I can't think of a better metaphor. Further, the the electrical wiring requires a factory and technical knowledge to manufacture, someone has to learn how to make electrical wiring, and so on until one reaches copper, tin, and raw human ingenuity.

It's much the same for the God-Machine, although nobody knows exactly what its equivalent to the raw materials are. Infrastructure serves as the foundation for other Infrastructure, with the occult matrixes the Infrastructure performs having an output of creating the components for new facilities to make other occult matrixes in, all part of an overall project. However, the God-Machine is very much a self-made demiurge; its Infrastructure is also its organs in the great anatomical metaphor. In fact, one can describe each of the five major Infrastructure types as different organs.

First up is Concealment; the skin. Cut and penetrated easily enough, but it does the job of preventing the infection that is scrutiny pretty well otherwise. Often times it's mundane (front businesses with actual purposes beyond their real one, for one), but other times it's supernatural or angelic; Messengers and Psychopomps laying false trails, whatever devices that prevent all but stigmatics and demons from noticing the sprockets. When the skin fails, the lymph nodes take over, in the form of Defense Infrastructure. The facilities and posts of hunter-angels are obvious, but the God-Machine will use trained cultists, spirit lures, manipulated authorities, and anything else that is vaguely subtle under the sun to eradicate all who threaten its schemes. Both are ultimately guardians of Logistical Infrastructure, the veins. Something of a catch-all category, Logistical is the tools by which occult matrixes are formed, precise movements of precise items that have been precisely built for precise needs at precise times (being precise is something of a necessity for physics to begin with, let alone occult physics). Once the matrix is executed and the output materializes, Elimination Infrastructure is activated; the liver, pancreas, and kidneys that mop up parts that have no use anymore and annihilate evidence of the God-Machine's existence (and rarely, are turned towards actual aggression when destruction is necessary to the matrix). All of this is directed and analyzed by the brain, Command and Control Infrastructure-but unlike the brain, Command and Control is often redundant. It's certainly the most heavily defended parts of the Machine, though, because a lobe that can have its job taken over by other lobes is still a lobe.

Sidebar on Mortal Infrastructure Being Modified said:
The God-Machine piggybacks on mortal infrastructure when it can. Sure, the God-Machine could create some occult method of delivering orders to its mortal agents, but the postal system is often just as effective and does not require additional Infrastructure. This also makes it harder for meddling mortals to rip up that communication system because by doing so they would be destroying something upon which they themselves depend.

The same goes for most of its mortal pawns. Why summon beings from beyond this world to guard delicate Infrastructure when it can be hidden in a top-secret military facility where soldiers shoot intruders on sight? This adds an additional element of horror. These are ordinary people who are just going about their business. Interrogating them is futile because they have no idea that they’re pawns of the God-Machine, much less what role they play in its current project. Killing these unwitting servants of the God-Machine has legal consequences and could damage a demon’s Cover.
All's well and good for deflecting human and quasi-human investigators and dangers, but demons were born on the other side of that curtain. Not only can the Unchained see the gears, they know how they work and how to break them, although the God-Machine redacts the knowledge required to actually make things that harness occult physics to even its loyalists. Very few outputs actually surprise Unchained, though they're usually a bit foggy on the context. They know perfectly well about how their creator needs Infrastructure to support and build other Infrastructure, although it builds as many redundancies and backups as it can, and about the necessary design flaw all Infrastructure has, a linchpin; a section of the whole installation that is simultaneously utterly necessary for the whole thing to work properly and the most vulnerable and/or unguarded part of the whole thing.

The God-Machine knows its flaws very well, however. Contingencies are the order of the day for any large project or critical Infrastructure. Angels are also conserved when the God-Machine can manage it; in a bit of a conflicting element of the text, it's said the God-Machine finds actually creating new angels from scratch, instead of recycling and repurposing them, is something that is so time- and resource-intensive it generally happens only a couple times a millennium (which raises the question of why it's so willing to kill demons instead of capture and recycle them, and why that part about it cheerfully throwing angels at a problem until it goes away exists. I reconcile that by saying that the God-Machine is very good at building new angels cheaply so long as it has the part of a previously existing angel as a core to build off of-the angels it has a hard time building are sort of templates for new genuses of loyalist). And it doesn't create mindlessly, even if it actually lacks a complete goal.

Let's go back to Dr. Lion for a bit-or rather, Arael's purpose before she fell. Ever wonder what happened to the tagged cryptids? Well, generally, the ones she left alive were the most intelligent and domesticable of the bunch; the tagged were later rounded up by a different angel and taken to a very specific tree-a hollow one bigger on the inside, and still quite alive. Inside, the cryptids are put to work as Aether sniffers, gathering it and depositing it in a central vat. All across the world, seven other trees with different workforces (one has just the angels, another a garden of cryptoflora, a third and a fourth with organic and mechanical creations of the God-Machine that aren't angels, a fifth dependent on an enslaved demon as a reactor, and the remaining three humans of varying awareness of what they do and supernatural ability between trees) work on the same task. If all goes well despite a missing ranch and attendant supervisor, in a few years time during a particular alignment with the dwarf planet Xena, the full Aether reservoirs will all be channeled into a prepared and willing mortal, at which point the occult power of death and Essence of self-denying Order will interact with the Essence of Life and the entropic energy of Aether and catalyze, causing a Phoenix-like angel to form from the ash. The Rebirther will then be directed to resurrect the citizens of Pompeii as a heat-oblivious species of human who will worship the God-Machine as an aspect and/or creation of Vulcan and show their devotion by maintaining its geothermal-powered Infrastructure, and then said loyalist will be dissected to form a new series of angels meant to interact with the cycle of life and death.

Of course, occult physics is by definition, occult, ie not something a scientist, or indeed anyone with a lick of common sense, would recognize as something entirely sensible. One of those trees, for instance, has a compound woven into its DNA that allows it both the ability to accumulate Aether and be practically immune to fire...which is a good thing, because said compound inhibits the dark reactions of photosynthesis. To actually form carbohydrates and continue growth and life, the tree needs to be exposed to carbon smoke semi-regularly, hence why the agents of the God-Machine are directed to provoke a forest fire every few months, the larger the better. Getting around this is part of why the God-Machine is such a shameless manipulator; the fire department was told there's a new "brush control initiative" to prevent a truly devastating wildfire, which is actually true given how the God-Machine directed its angels to previously spread an extremely quick-growing species of bush around the woods to serve as food for the tree-the firefighters burn the bushes, the tree gets its soot. The Machine doesn't lie all the time of course; it just says whatever is necessary to goad an agent into an action favorable to its projects. The usual targets for this puppetry are mortals, but supernatural beings, overconfident and naive to the true breadth that is the occult sciences, are quite a catch as well. The only creatures the God-Machine doesn't routinely deceive are the angels, and even they are told only exactly what they need to be in order to pull off a mission-no more.

Sidebar on Occult Physics said:
Infrastructure doesn’t look out of place just because of the occult physics it exploits. To give a peek behind the curtain, the reason Infrastructure looks unusual is two-fold.

First, it provides some explanation of why the World of Darkness is so filled with inexplicable phenomena. That world is different from our own in part because a powerful machine entity is out there compelling its cultists to fold 15,000 copies of the 9/11/2011 issue of the New York Times into paper swans and dump them in a particular public park at a particular time in order to harnesses laws of physics beyond mortal understanding to open the gate through which an angel steps. The world is a strange place.

Second, it gives players something to trip their “what the hell was that?” instincts. A murder reported on the nightly news is ordinary. A ritual murder committed with the Bronze Age dagger that was stolen from a museum last month is a potential plot hook. The occasional red herring is good to keep players on their toes, but the feel of Infrastructure is about right if they don’t automatically assume that someone thinks it makes sense to have a shop that sells
nothing but firearms and Precious Moments figurines. It’s probably worth checking out just to be sure.
There's another section here, one in which a bunch of Unchained tell IC stories about various projects they've been a part of, and usually how they Fell. I'm going to skip it so that the readers have something to find should they buy the book, and because I really want to move on to the real meat of this book:

Next Up: Chapter 2, Character and Traits
 
Last edited:

Law Orc

Quasi-Possum
Staff member
Moderator
RPGnet Member
Validated User
This is how I look at it, too. The salient question for compromise is "is the God-Machine or an angel going to see this and think 'Unchained'?"
This is also why it's generally useful to make covers who are eccentric and socially marginal people, at least the ones used for actual working.

Having a cover who's a rich executive has its uses, but so does having one who's a squirrelly recovering drug addict who can plausibly steal things or beat people up or ditch on all responsibilities and social obligations for weeks at a time.

There are certain trade-offs there too, of course. Live like an Unknown Armies character, and you're going to get enmeshed in a new set of problems.
 

Killer300

Registered User
Validated User
So following this.:)

On another note, the God-Machine not recognizing sunk-cost seems... oddly illogical for a machine, and one that so far seems calculating.

Its one of the few issues I have with, in all honesty, one of my favorite antagonists. Of any media, not just table top RPGs.
 
Top Bottom