Saturday, 8 July 2017

Demon: The Descent - Of Faith, Power And Glory

In May I grabbed a chance to run Demon: The Descent, with a mix of players familiar with the World and Chronicles Of Darkness and entirely new ones, but none of us had had a chance to try Descent before. The plan was for a shortish game over the summer, which got shorter than intended for external reasons, so the initial adventure became rather more high-stakes than it might have otherwise...

With four players, I suggested going with one each of the four demonic Incarnations, while having the same political Agenda, suggesting Inquisitor because I had a game of pursuing mysteries in mind. As such they have some concepts that would fit a longer chronicle better than a miniseries. So there may be more to come...

Each has a single human Cover identity. (The ability to maintain extra Covers is attached to the “power stat” Primum.)

Demonic powers are a mix of Embeds, which let them do things super-spies can do with gadgets (one of the characters can bug people by touching them, another can knock people out with a single strike) and Exploits, which are more mystical reality hacking. There was some delighted “whaaaaat?!” at what some of the Exploit powers could do. We left Demonic Form for the second session so that we could get started, and there was another round of delighted “whaaaaat?!” when we got there. “Do I want Long Limbs or a Plasma Drive? Hmm. Thing is, though, the mechanics are balanced!”

Argos, Psychopomp, once a many-eyed angel observer and now the owner and bartender of the Four Seasons in Chicago, someone that people can’t help sharing their secrets with. He fell when he received impossible orders, and came to believe that the God-Machine is fundamentally flawed.
Notable powers: Living Recorder (Embed, allows him to ‘bug’ someone’s senses and play them back later), Clairvoyant Sight (Demonic Form), Advanced Optics (Demonic Form)

Magnus/Opus, Messenger, a taxi driver with an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time - and the ability to manifest his cab around him and turn it into a tank. He fell after talking too long to those who rode his cab and seeing too much of their lives.
Notable powers: Soup Up (Embed, allows altering vehicle stats), Demon Car (Exploit, allows him to possess his car), Electrical Sight (Demonic Form), Electrical Resistance (Demonic Form)

The Undermining Whisper, Destroyer, a debunker of fraudulent psychic phenomena with a particular skill at having useful sources back him up by the time people go to look. He fell after discovering something he was meant to debunk was real and dangerous to the people he was lying to.
Notable powers: Eavesdrop (Embed, listening in on any conversation he can see), Left or Right? (Embed, influences binary decisions), Everybody Knows (Embed, spread rumours virally), Find The Leak (Embed, detects disloyal behaviours)

---- (Arne), Guardian, a bouncer with various frightening combat abilities including armour and fangs in demonic form, and a Knockout Punch all the time. He’s also the only one with a healing power. He fell after saw angels working at cross purposes, and stepped in to protect a target against a fellow angel.
Notable powers: Knockout Punch (Embed, does exactly what it says on the tin), Break To Heal (Exploit, symbolically destroy an object to heal an injury), Claws And Fangs (Demonic Form), Tough As Stone (Demonic Form)

All episode titles, and two character names, borrowed from VNV Nation. This tradition goes back to the tagline for Rose Bailey’s Strange As Angels, because about three quarters of their song titles sound like adventure titles for games about heroic demons and/or spies.


1.01: Sentinel

I can’t accept and won’t concede
That this is who we are

A woman named Joy, a Stigmatic - a mortal who can sense the actions and patterns of the Machine - comes into the bar, on the arm of one of her neighbours. She’s totally blind. Which she wasn’t three days ago.

Guiding her to the back room, Argos asks what happened, and she explains that she sensed an angelic working at a shuttered factory. “A canning plant, it closed down six months ago after a contamination leak, now it’s open again... making computer parts. And when I looked inside, someone noticed - and there was a flash of light.”

Arne uses Break To Heal, symbolically smashing a pair of lightbulbs to restore her sight. She thanks him and advises them to be careful.

Heading for the factory, Argos brushes against one of the night shift workers, using Living Recorder to gain the ability to retrieve an hour of the man’s senses later, bugging him with a touch.

And when he comes back out, Argos sees that he had his eyes shut for most of the shift. He was sleepwalking. From the few times he had his eyes open, it’s obvious that everyone else was too. Except the floor overseer, who Argos recognises as the Sentinel, a fellow watcher angel who he last saw taking notes at the Battle of Stalingrad.

--

1.02 In Defiance

Unto the end and back again
Defiant to the last man

Whisper expertly appears innocuous at a bar nearby, and makes a report on what he learns, using Eavesdrop. “Seems like they just moved in one day. Kept the shell, put in a lot of security measures.” He points to cameras on the outside, and doors past the ones outside.

He also has an Embed called Left or Right? which he can use to make people – and cameras – look the wrong way when he needs them to.

The factory is only lit in the areas in use, so the group enter through the skylight and stay above the hanging fluorescent lights. They watch a shift come in, go to their posts... and fall asleep, sleepwalking through their work, some of them going into a portable clean room.

“Electronics? Drugs?” Argos considers.
“Electronic drugs?” Opus shrugs.

They head closer, unnoticed by the sleeping workers. They’re putting together and boxing up tablet computers, ruggedized for rough use, with boxes mentioning their powerful cameras in particular. Opus picks one up and they withdraw.

He examines it with his Demonic Form power Electrical Sight, his eyes momentarily lighting up from within.

“This is what blinded Joy.” He grimaces.
“We need to test it,” Argos says, then avoids Opus’s gaze.

Opus starts to grip the tablet tighter.

“We might not be able to test it after we take it apart.”

Opus nods and goes. He returns a few minutes later, grim faced.

“The camera flash is set to a frequency that prevents people seeing Infrastructure. Use this and you can’t become Stigmatic. And if you’re already marked...”
Argos considers this. “That’s... quite clever.” He wrinkles his nose in disgust.
“The only way the Machine can ever be defeated is if enough people question it.” Opus cracks the tablet in two.

The Undermining Whisper starts to spread rumours online with his Embed Everybody Knows. “The flash triggers epileptic fits. Even temporary blindness. It’s even true, to an extent. How’s that?”
“That should cover civilian sales, but...” Opus looks at the ruggedized design.

A delivery truck pulls up. One of the workers wakes at an alarm beep from his phone, blinks, and goes over to greet the driver.

“Can I say ‘follow that truck’?” Argos asks.
“Yes.” Opus smiles slightly.

Whisper goes over to the clean room. He considers various ways of bypassing the electronic lock, before he shrugs, assumes a partial demonic form and phases through the door. And inside, he finds himself looking at an explosion.

--

1.03 Ghost

I walk out to meet my fate
In the receding of the day

The Undermining Whisper is still stumbling back when he realises that the explosion isn’t moving, or producing any heat.

He steps around it, seeing that it’s frozen in time. Above him, he sees the roof has collapsed and there are missiles hanging over the city, frozen like the explosion.

A nuclear war, about to happen, or perhaps already happening in a splinter timeline.

Whisper hurries back to the group. Argos is busy tracking the truck using Living Recorder.

“Shipping details?” Argos asks as he casually hacks in to the dock’s system and finds a back door for unmarked deliveries. (An Exceptional Success!)
“It’s amazing the things which are public online.” Opus smiles faintly.

The ring find that this shipment of ruggedized tablets is marked for an army base. Not enough for a regular division, more the kind of numbers you’d need for a special ops team.

“What does the Machine not want a force recon team to see?” Argos asks.
“You said you knew the angel overseeing this from a warzone?” Arne asks him. He nods.

The demons have no trouble getting into the container, and soon enough they’re delivered to a military cargo plane, heading for the South China Sea.

“We’ll need new covers...” Opus points out, looking out at the military support personnel.
“I have an idea about that.” Argos signals for him to wait, and closes his eyes, looking over the plane with Clairvoyant Sight. “The Machine will send someone to consult on this mission.”

Reaching a base in South Korea, Opus confirms that Argos guessed right. A number of angels are about to manifest as covert intelligence agents. Argos and Arne manage to put themselves in the way, allowing Opus and Whisper to take over the new Cover identities. They’re pretty weak, temporary things – they have to make up first names so they aren’t just called Agent. Arne and Argos will need to come up with small-c covers to explain their presence. But they now have a pass to ride along with a mission to a weapons manufacturing facility in western China, hundreds of miles from any major population centres.

“So what do we do when we get there?” Opus asks. “The mission is to observe and report.”
“Sabotage?” Whisper suggests. 
“But that might be what the Machine was planning. We can second-guess ourselves all day.”
“Or we can gather intel once we get there and make an informed decision.” Argos adjusts a uniform cap from a driver Arne knocked out with a touch a few minutes earlier.
“Let’s hope we get a chance.”

--

1.04 Tomorrow Never Comes

Arne’s player missed the previous two-part session, and nearly choked on some gingerbread as Whisper’s player summarised our position going into the final session:

“So, we’re sneaking across the border to a nuclear weapons facility, with a group of special forces troops who have been treated to prevent them seeing angelic action, in the guise of angel secret agents, and we don’t know what their orders were. And since we have no idea what we’re doing, we have at last a fifty-fifty chance of making things worse. Which might lead to the Third World War.”

--

There’ll be no laughter, there’ll be no tears 
When tomorrow never comes

The facility is a polluted nightmare, with plant life dying around an oily lake. The ring and the soldiers don’t pause to admire the view. Reaching a door, Argos analyses the electronic lock with Advanced Optics, a Demonic Form power that has extra eyes actually pop out. The troops don’t seem to notice.

Inside, they break into a computer system and find the scientists working on the project. One of them, Dr. Sehn, is a likely target for Find The Leak, as a father with a second child on the way. Argos tries to find more and... this flags up a Cover problem as a bartender from Chicago is spotted on a security camera in a Chinese military facility.

The ring split up.

The Undermining Whisper goes to speak with Dr. Sehn, using his current Cover’s nondescript Chinese features and demons’ natural grasp of all languages to appear to be a Chinese agent, here to warn him that the programme has been subverted by a rogue element.

Argos and Opus find the project leader, Professor Chun... sleepwalking as he prepares a missile to fire.

“I’m afraid I cannot allow you to wake Professor Chun.” 

Argos finds himself facing the Sentinel.

Sehn and the Whisper work to disable the first missile.

“What are you planning?” Argos asks his former comrade.
“We became aware of a potential escalating threat. We predict that the launch will create a new splinter timeline of a nuclear war and planetary near-extinction. A burning planet can power much-needed facilities for a considerable time.”
“You’d kill billions for some battery time?”
“Not at all. Billions would die as a result of human failings. We simply seek to benefit from it.”
“So we can stop you.”

The Sentinel raises a hand, and the disabled missile housing snaps apart and flies to form armour around him, engines becoming wings, a fin forming into a spear.

“It is war, then. To our purpose, brother.”

Argos flickers, and is a tall figure with iron wings covered in hundreds of eyes. He can easily predict every attack, but the Sentinel can deflect his with similar ease.

Opus tries to find a position where he can call down an EMP strike on the missiles safely.

Whisper works with Sehn, keeping him from looking too closely at the fight on the gantry above. 

Arne drops from the roof of the silo, where he was watching, shifting into a figure like a Renaissance gargoyle, and rakes at the Sentinel’s armour with diamond-hard claws. It has little effect, so he switches to a grapple, trying to shake the hissing, sparking spear out of his hands.

“You abandoned the higher order, but you must remember that it works beyond us.”
“The ‘higher order’ has no oversight!” Argos strikes at the Sentinel, grabbing the spear. “And it has no right to treat the world like this!”

The Sentinel wrenches the spear free, blasts Opus with an electrical surge and hurls Argos down, then swoops after him.

Whisper shuts off all of his powers and pretends to sleepwalk, and the Sentinel ignores him.

Opus stands and sneaks off, having taken Electrical Resistance as one of his Demonic Form powers. 

Argos hauls himself to his feet, spreads his wings and meets the Sentinel in mid-air. “You can’t burn a world just for power!”

Whisper reaches the last of the missiles and deactivates it.

The Sentinel turns and sees him for what he is.

And then Arne hits him with his own spear.

His head comes off in a shower of sparks.

For a moment, everything is quiet.

Opus coughs. “So... how do we get back?”

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