Demon: The Descent
|Demon: The Descent|
|RPG published by
White Wolf / Onyx Path
|Rule System||Storytelling System|
|Authors||Dave Brookshaw et al|
"I said to my soul, be still, and let the darkness come upon you. Which is the darkness of God."
- – T.S. Eliot, East Coker
The very first gameline created explicitly for the 2nd edition of the New World of Darkness/Chronicles of Darkness. It abandons the explicitly Christian themes of Demon: The Fallen for a much more unique setting of "techgnostic espionage", aka The Matrix meets Dogma.
See, the Chronicles of Darkness has a thing in it called the God-Machine. Essentially, it is a mechanical demiurge - an extraordinarily powerful supercomputer that takes Clarke's Third Law to its logical extreme. It may not be a true god, but it's certainly the closest thing the Chronicles of Darkness has to one, and it's strongly implied that the current status quo is all a part of its incomprehensible plan. That's not to say it's particularly invested in mortals, though- it can only view the universe in terms of inputs and outputs, and humans (and other supernatural beings at that matter) are only important to it when their presence either poses a threat to its Infrastructure or when they are required for one of its designs to function. This God-Machine is so powerful that it can create sentient quantum reality computer programs, called Angels. And sometimes, these Angels get corrupted. Usually this occurs when an Angel starts to take an interest in humanity and the physical world around them, but it may also occur in a situation where the orders that the God-Machine gives them are impossible to carry out. These Angels gain their free will and Fall, burning out their connections to the God-Machine and becoming independent entities, called Demons. These demons then have to form Covers to hide their true forms from reality or risk being discovered by the God-Machine's loyal angels and mortal servants. If they do end up being exposed to their creator, they will either have their minds erased or be dismantled so their parts can be used to build new angels. Luckily, they retain just enough knowledge of how their creator works to hack reality in their favor.
The end result is awesome; spy-thriller themes against a religious horror meets mad science veneer.
The first gameline in the NWoD to completely abandon the traditional Morality system; instead, Demons have Cover, which is how well they stay in character for their human guises and how well those guises blend into reality.
- 1 Incarnations
- 2 Agendas
- 3 So what is this Cover thing, anyway?
- 4 Demonic Forms and You
- 5 Embeds & Exploits
- 6 So, What's the God-Machine?
- 7 Stigmatics
- 8 Cryptids
- 9 Demon-Blooded
A Demon's Incarnation determines what its task was as an angel prior to their Fall. Afterwards, they tend to stick to these Incarnations, using their abilities to further their Agenda. It also influences which Embeds they're most skilled at using.
The Eyes are perhaps the most obscure of the Incarnations- so obscure that sometimes even they don't know they're Analysts. As angels, their role was to gather information and data for the God-Machine, overseeing the operations of other angels and reporting back with any relevant data. As a rule, they're normally sent alongside another angel; they might accompany a Destroyer in order to determine more effective ways of killing things, a Guardian to test the effectiveness of its tactics, a Messenger to report on its signal-to-noise ratio, or a Psychopomp to time its construction or travel. Some are tasked with doing more than just observing; they're instead ordered to collect data more directly, via taking samples or measurements. This can lead them to Fall when they begin drawing conclusions with the data they collect instead of simply reporting it.
Some take in more data than they can handle and Fall when it overwhelms them, others become distracted from their original goal to follow something that caught their attention. "Action envy" can also lead to a Fall when a frustrated Analyst gets sick of only being able to watch and wants to start doing things for a change. And sometimes, the catalyst for a Fall is simple curiosity about what might happen if it fudged the numbers it was meant to collect ever so slightly...
Analysts' demonic forms are appropriately unobtrusive, the better to observe uninterrupted. To aid this, they typically possess stealth abilities or mental abilities that divert attention away from them; a form of propulsion that lets them escape quickly or move unnoticed is also common. Rather than specializing in a given Embed type, Analysts excel in the use of Exploits and Gadgets (essentially an object with an Embed or Exploit "installed" into it for specialized uses).
Agents of endings, the Swords are tasked with destroying anything the God-Machine orders them to eliminate, from a single life to a whole city. While most of these targets are human, they occasionally go after other supernatural beings or pieces of Infrastructure that the God-Machine needs to dispose of. If a Demon's cover fails, it is the Angelic equivalents of the Destroyers who are sent out to hunt them.
The Fall often sets in after the demon in question began to let its feelings get in the way of its work- compassion might make it refuse to eliminate a target, or bloodlust might cause it to perform acts of destruction it wasn't ordered to commit. In other cases, a Destroyer might develop "genesis envy" as he realizes that breaking things is all he can do, or he might grow to empathize with his target.
Many of them have a difficult time coming to terms with their relationship with violence, but no Destroyer willingly takes a command to kill. They choose when to use violence for themselves now, and they take pride in that show of free will.
Destroyers' Demonic Forms are literal combat monsters, and usually focus on finesse and precise application of force rather than simple brute strength (though that does show up too). They specialize in the use of Cacophony Embeds.
The Shields are sent by the God-Machine to protect a charge- a specific human, a piece of Infrastructure, or something much more bizarre. Doing this duty faithfully, some of them start to obsess over their target to the point that their charge becomes more important to them than the God-Machine. Others realized that the God-Machine was the charge's biggest threat (which is technically true, inasmuch as It normally protects individuals whose later death or sacrifice is needed to create Infrastructure) and Fell when they chose to protect their charge over completing their mission. Some Fell after they failed a mission when the sheer shock of losing their charge kept them from accepting reassignment. Some even Fell because their assigned ward was such a prick they ended up snapping and killing him themselves.
In any case, Guardians tend to be reserved, but once befriended they are the closest friend you can wish, albeit somewhat patronizing due to their continued urge to protect. They can be rather twitchy when it comes to protecting those around them though, often growing paranoid over potential or non-existent threats.
The demonic forms of Guardians can vary greatly, though most have some kind of enhanced senses or boosted mobility; depending on what they were assigned to protect, they can specialize in either direct defense or the proactive removal of threats. They specialize in Instrumental Embeds.
The Trumpets whisper into the ears of humanity in mortal form, appearing directly to mortals to burn commandments into their thoughts or shape minds in a more discreet manner. The truth or falsity of the messages they conveyed was irrelevant- at least until they started thinking about the content of the message rather than the mission. Some wanted to see the results of their messages for themselves instead of returning; others refused to repeat messages they perceived as lies, or wondered what would happen if they made their own messages. And sometimes, a Messenger simply realizes the parallels between how it manipulates humans and how the God-Machine manipulates it.
In any event, they Fell, and now they put their communication skills to good use. While their knack for judging intentions and knowing the right thing to say makes them expert diplomats, their knowledge of how easily others can be manipulated causes them to grow suspicious and critical of new information.
Messengers have demonic forms suited to communication; in many cases this means they're built for awe and intimidation, complete with hypnotic powers or the ability to control the attention of others. However, it's just as common for them to be somewhat stealthier, with a greater emphasis on receiving communications than sending them. Their specialized Embed category is Vocal.
The Wheels are builders, taking elements and turning them into a whole. This can be a physical object, but can also also entail altering fate, selecting reincarnations, and getting rid of spirits and ghosts in an area as needed by the God-Machine. They create, modify, and move Infrastructure as the God-Machine desires. Sometimes things go wrong though, causing a Fall. Some Wheels are given impossible orders or have their creations destroy themselves; others want to improve what they see as flaws in the God-Machine's design, or start caring about the opinions of the "components" they build with. Others just wanted to find their own "proper place" for themselves.
Such a Fall gives a Psychopomp a unique view in how society works with all of its moving parts, though the urge to keep rearranging the world around them doesn't do them any favors now that they're a part of the system themselves. Out of all the Incarnations, the Psychopomps are the least "human" in nature.
Psychopomp demonic forms are alien even by the standards of demonic forms- wheels of burning metal, a cluster of floating metal spheres covered in robotic arms, and various other things that can be best described as "sci-fi meets acid trip". They favor the use of Mundane Embeds.
Upon Falling, a Demon has to decide what it wants to do now that it no longer has a purpose defined for it by the God-Machine. Most of them join an Agenda, which determines how they interact with other Demons, how they go about their existence within the God-Machine, and their ideas on the nature of Hell. None of them have any real centralized organization; such a system would be too easily exploited by the God-Machine or its servants. Unusual for a World of Darkness game is that (with the right Merit) an Unchained can belong to up to two Agendas at the same time.
Theoretically, it is possible to go without an Agenda, but playing as an Uncalled (as they're known) has absolutely no benefits whatsoever. Each Agenda has a special Condition that they can gain Beats from or resolve for bonuses.
"Knowledge is power, hide it well" might as well be the catchphrase of this Agenda, whose members are also called Watchers or Paranoids. By discovering, trading, and hoarding information they seek to stay one step ahead of the God-Machine to ensure their survival. This makes Inquisitors extremely paranoid even by demonic standards, only associating with others if it is in their interest to do so. Arguably, the only reason they even bother doing that is because they know that a lone demon quickly ends up being a dead demon when the hunter angels show up. Their end goal is to gather enough information about the God-Machine to manipulate it directly in a way that it can no longer detect their presence, or force it to work in their interests.
Inquisitors believe Hell to be a personal, internal thing: a state of mind reached through enlightenment. This is why they gather information so obsessively: they are seeking out Hell. However, how they plan to use this information varies:
- The Internalists conclude that if they could have a revelation as angels that triggered their Fall to mortality, the right information might lead them to have another epiphany that would cause a "Second Fall" that would bring them to a state of true freedom.
- The Shutdown Doctrine is looking for information on how to construct an "off switch" for the God-Machine, allowing them to free themselves from its reach.
- Theo-Separatism focuses on the use of supernatural means to effectively split reality in half, preferably with themselves on the half that doesn't contain the God-Machine.
- The Lost Cause Doctrine dismisses Hell as a fantasy, and so its followers prefer to use the information they gather to protect themselves as long as they can.
Their Condition is Prepared for Anything: they gain Beats by posing questions that cause ringmates to reconsider their actions and can resolve it for either a +3 bonus to a mental skill roll or a leap of logic or similar revelatory connection that can help them figure out the best course of action.
Not all Demons wanted to Fall. Some want to be Angels again, and really badly. They are loyal to the God-Machine and seek to return, but they remain reluctant to give up their free will. As such, the Integrators (Idealists or Turncoats, depending how non-Integrators see them) are plotting to return, but there is disagreement within the ranks about the method. One group believes that they did not Fall and are instead working for some grander purpose. The second and largest faction believes that by altering the God-Machine in a way that would grant it more empathy with the human condition, they can exist without being altered. The last faction wants to return with their individuality intact and on their own terms, believing that the more "human" angels are less likely to Fall.
The Integrators are the only Agenda not seeking out Hell: since it entails separation from the God-Machine they consider it to be suffering and pain, pitying those demons actively seeking it. Needless to say, those demons consider the Integrators deluded at best and actively traitorous at worst. The exact nature of the re-assimilation they seek can take some of the flavors listed below:
- Foundational Integrationism states that anything short of service to the God-Machine is ultimately harmful and seek to make themselves useful enough to the Machine to get it to take them back- but ultimately on their own terms.
- The True Divinity Movement is more akin to Gnosticism, as they consider the Machine to be merely a tool of a much greater being. They thus seek to discover the true God so they might serve it directly.
- The Faulty Overseer Hypothesis identifies Hell as a point in time when the God-Machine is too crippled by glitches and bugs to function properly, causing it to enter a state of maintenance which will restore it to its original benevolent state.
- The Celestial Insurgency is in effect a group of deep-cover Saboteurs who seek to infiltrate the ranks of the Machine to destroy it from within.
Their Condition is Angel Empathy- they gain Beats by putting their ring at risk or drawing suspicion to themselves, which is rarely helpful given how distrusted the Agenda is already. However, if it is resolved the Integrator can either get a +3 to any rolls to outwit, persuade, or evade an angel or learn an angel's Ban and Bane.
The Saboteurs take strongly after the Raveners from Demon: The Fallen. They believe that the God-Machine ought to be destroyed at all costs, wrecking Infrastructure and killing its followers. The Saboteurs (Thugs, Soldiers) have a few different ways of carrying on their fight, they are united by their shared hate of the Machine:
- The Final Blow Doctrine seeks a grand final battle in which they will be able to attack the God-Machine directly and ensure its destruction.
- The Infiltrators prefer a stealthier approach, hijacking Infrastructure to usurp the place of the Machine.
- The Nation of Hell hopes to create a stalemate against the Machine that would allow them to create a nation that would serve as a safe haven for the Unchained.
- The Fatalists believe that they can't win a war against the God-Machine, but they still hope to hurt it as badly as they can when they go down.
While they have no qualms about killing Angels, making them Fall is by far the preferred option. Saboteurs are driven, seeing no sacrifice too great to attain their goal, but these sacrifices are not made lightly. Were it not for the fact that they are rather disorganized (to say nothing of the more obvious risks and the concern that the absence of the God-Machine could lead to other catastrophes- It has prevented quite a few mass extinction events from happening in the past which would have otherwise annihilated all life on Earth), the Saboteurs would have been able to cause a lot more damage. Saboteurs have a very simple view of what Hell is: that what remains after killing the God-Machine. The Saboteur Condition is An Eye for Disorder, which grants Beats for drawing unwanted attention due to disrupting a system and grants +3 to a skill roll to wreak havoc when resolved.
Tempters are alive and loving it. Something of a mix of the Toreador and the Ventrue, they are, depending on who you ask, either lazy sods who make others do their dirty work for them, or the only ones who realize you need some kind of infrastructure (and occasionally Infrastructure) to work with if you want to face the God-Machine. Tempters (aka the Decadents or Builders) seek both pleasure and power: one for its immediate reward, and the other for what it gives them in the long run- the wealth, connections, and resources needed to erode the God-Machine's influence. Despite what you'd assume from their nature, the Tempters are actually the most organized out of all the Agendas, finding that the structure that they give their members help attaining their goal, or at least enjoying themselves on the way there.
Through their experiences and resources, they seek to either find or build Hell, considering it to be a physical place; the problem is, none of them are entirely sure how to do either of those things. As a result, the Tempters associate into several sub-factions:
- The Constructivists seek ways to subvert Infrastructure to build Hell, either in the mortal world or a different plane such as the Shadow.
- The Prometheus Theory believes mankind is the key to Hell, as the God-Machine cannot fully understand them.
- The Mystics try to find hints of how to reach Hell from the religious and philosophical works of humanity and frequently found cults themselves.
- The Devils want to build a traditional, Biblical-style hell, where they can torture the people who crossed them for all eternity. Naturally, most of the other Tempters don't like them.
- The Aesthetics think they're already in Hell, so they may as well enjoy it for as long as they can.
Their Condition is I Know Someone: it grants Beats when a Tempter gets someone who owes them a favor to do their work for them, and when resolved it grants a +3 bonus to social rolls that benefit from connections.
The Unchained can be part of two agendas if they choose to be so, giving them the Conditions of both Agendas.
- Inquisitor-Integrators seek out knowledge to either enlighten themselves or become able to rejoin the God-Machine. Either is good.
- Inquisitor-Saboteurs serve as military intelligence or secret agents, supporting the frontline soldiers.
- Inquisitor-Tempters build a network of contacts and gather money and knowledge to support the cause of either Agenda.
- Integrator-Saboteurs are something of a contradiction: their members being either desperate or deeply conflicted. Most of them are members of one of the component Agendas that are in the process of moving towards the other.
- Integrator-Tempters want to build and return to grace, hoping to use the first to attain the second.
- Saboteur-Tempters can be cutthroat businessmen or bon vivants, enjoying life to the fullest while using their influence on people against the God-Machine.
So what is this Cover thing, anyway?
The first thing you have to remember is that while angels are ephemeral beings like ghosts or spirits even when disguised as humans, demons were forced into a physical form when they Fell. Obviously, a biomechanical horror like a demon in its true form is massively obvious to both the God-Machine and everyone else, but when the Fall happens part of the Infrastructure that supported them as an angel goes with them.
This effectively dupes the universe into thinking that the demon is an ordinary human, with anything that would support that human's existence popping into existence as needed. However, weaker Covers aren't quite as convincing.
For example, a demon whose Cover is low might live in the basement of a building that doesn't have a basement, or all their suits might be identical right down to the coffee stain on the sleeve- it gets the job done for a short time, but unless they can strengthen it even a little bit of investigation by mortals will make it clear that something's not right. And of course, the God-Machine's agents are always watching.
In practical terms, Cover can be used as your supernatural tolerance in the place of Primum (your normal power stat), which is good since it's easier to raise your Cover rating than your Primum. Additionally, it can be used for "spoofing", giving a fake reading to anyone trying to use supernatural powers that would identify you as non-human, and can trigger its Legend to temporarily gain skills and Merits that you don't have which the Cover's identity would be expected to possess (at the expense of a negative condition that only gets resolved when you get those skills or Merits for real).
Unlike the typical Morality/Integrity system, the main source of cover loss (or "compromise") isn't doing bad things- it's doing things that make people suspect you're not who your Cover says you are. Acting "out of character" for your Cover is the most obvious one, as is assuming demonic form, but the use of Exploits and some Embeds also risks compromise as well. Naturally, letting information about your true identity get leaked out is a compromise as well- all the more reason for demons to keep their real identities as secret as possible. Luckily, it's possible to possess more than one Cover, so you can always switch them out in case you need one of your identities to lie low.
All that being said, if you're really and truly fucked, you can destroy the Cover to "go loud", unleashing the full strength of your demonic form for a short time. It's temporary, but highly potent and a powerful weapon of last resort. Just try to have another Cover ready after it wears off, though- an exposed demon will very quickly become a dead demon and that power boost doesn't last long.
Interestingly enough, there is actually a whole section in the Demon Storyteller's guide that offers alternatives to this system and they can dramatically change how the game feels and plays. For example, one suggestion is to make players only have one cover, but this one cover is rock solid and can't degrade. Your cover rating instead represents how connected you are to you local agency. Doing this allows you to play a game that feels more like a James Bond movie than anything else. One other option suggests going in completely the other direction and scrutinizing everything players do for compromising actions, up to and including meeting with other Demons if they wouldn't be someone your cover would normally interact with (although it specifically says to exempt all of your players' characters from this in regards to each other to avoid Skub). Doing this turns the game into a very hard Cold War espionage story where allies are thin on the ground and trust is very hard to come by.
That's great, but how do I get one?
Obviously, the simplest way to improve your Cover is to live in it and do things your Cover would be expected to do. The longer it stays a part of the world, the more it'll be accepted by the world.
But sometimes that's too slow. That's where pacts come in. Put simply, a demon can make a pact with a human to give them something they want, and in return the human gives up a little bit of their life: a former roommate, an unsatisfying job, and so on. That connection with the world then gets transferred to the demon's cover, making it that much more "real". Only the demon and the pactbound remember the original relationship; everyone else assumes the demon was always in the place of the pactbound. Initially all these disparate pieces grafted on cause some inconsistencies within the Cover, but with enough "patch jobs" such a Cover can become nearly impenetrable.
And if they're desperate enough, a human can be convinced into selling away their soul. It doesn't damn them in the conventional sense of the word, but when a demon calls it in, the pactbound individual will be effectively erased from existence- which the demon steps into, effectively converting the pactbound's entire life into a Cover without any of the usual weirdness associated with the workings of the God-Machine. The catch? It doesn't transfer any of the pactbound's memories or personality to the demon, so they had better know the pactbound's life like the back of their hands before making it their own. Otherwise, the resulting compromises will make that cover all but worthless. Oh, and burning them in order to go loud creates an Echo- a ghost that can use Embeds against you and will do all it can to make you miserable. Turns out that most people don't like having their existences stolen and then used up for a brief power boost.
In theory, you can make pacts with the other spooks that inhabit the Chronicles of Darkness. In practice, this is a bad idea for two reasons.
- You can only get aspects of their mundane lives. No trying to dip into anyone else's powers, and you can't take away their weaknesses either.
- If you're stupid enough to make a soul pact with one and call it in, you take aggravated damage based on their supernatural tolerance stat due to the incompatibility of your respective supernatural natures. (An analogy for this would be trying to run a program meant for Windows on an Apple II; the hardware was never meant to work with that kind of software, so to speak.) Even if you survive, all the caveats to normal soul pacts apply. Given how convoluted the societies of other supernaturals are and the inability to replicate their powers, that's a recipe for disaster.
Some Demons choose to create Façades, very basic covers that use the absolute minimum of detail needed to maintain themselves (and so can fall apart even from sufficiently intense questioning). Pacts which create Façades use only trivial aspects of a mortal's life and last for a limited span of time (e.g. a demon gains access to a person's summer home for a month, and uses that to make a Façade in the form of "the house sitter"), but doing so spares more important Covers from scrutiny.
Demonic Forms and You
While in normal circumstances a demon appears human thanks to their Cover, their original angelic/demonic form is quantum-entangled with the cover in a way that allows a demon to assume it for brief periods of time. However, it can only access its full power by destroying the Cover it is linked to; demons call this "going loud", and consider it to be a tool of last resort.
Building a Demon form is pretty rad. Rather than having set forms with set abilities (like, say, a Werewolf and their kin) the rules give a number of abilities you can pick and choose from called Form Abilities. Form Abilities are grouped into four types; Modifications, Technologies, Propulsions, and Processes.
- Modifications are small subroutines that affect the demon’s ability to perform a task (such as a bonus to a roll with an Attribute or a Skill bonus), some minor but useful effects, and a handful of basic defensive abilities. Mods include things like the ability to sense if an angel has used its Numina in an area recently, detachable limbs, armored plating, or advanced hearing.
- Technologies are specialized implants that give the demon the ability to create a specific effect that usually targets only one individual as well as more advanced defensive abilities. Techs include resistances to specific types of damage (electrical resistance, immunity to environmental tilts, etc.) as well as more unusual abilities like secreting adhesive, mind reading, or discharging electricity at will.
- Propulsions are a mutation that allows the demon specialized movement, such as the ability to fly. Or teleport. Or dig. Or walk through walls.
- Processes are large programs or adaptations that gives the demon a specific action and effect that is usually significant in scope and size, and can affect multiple targets at once. Processes include the ability to transform into data and upload/download yourself into computers, changing your arm into a grenade launcher, and even reallocating your Physical Attribute dots.
At character creation you get three Modifications, two Technologies, one Propulsion, and one Process, which gives you an idea to which ones are the most powerful. You do get a couple more as you hit higher levels of Primum, but importantly every time you increase your Primum by even a single dot you get to swap out one of your existing abilities for another one of the same type. A handful of Merits also grant extra abilities. Once you have picked all your abilities you then decide how these actually make you look and build a description of your form around them.
If you are looking to put the RP into RPG it is highly recommended to pick abilities that suit your character's backstory (remember: the God-Machine creates angels for specific purposes, It tends to not create generalists) and then as the story progresses swap abilities out to match the ones you personally want as the demon grows to make its formerly angelic body its own.
There is one more important thing to note with form abilities: It is actually possible to access them while in Human form. It a pretty sweet deal as well, as accessing abilities does cause you to cover roll, but you gain a bonus equal to the amount of abilities you are not accessing. So a starting character with the standard three Modifications, two Technologies, one Propulsion, and one Process (7 total) accesses his Propulsion form ability, let's say the ability to teleport in this case. He rolls cover and adds six (!) dice to his pool, virtually guaranteeing the one success he needs. Do note that form abilities accessed this are still very, very obviously not normal. Each ability has a distinct visual effect on your human form; for example, a demon that has the Electrical Sight modification has eyes that are filled with static like a broken TV. Depending on the combination of Form abilities you access, you could end up looking like something not even remotely human. This is perfectly normal, and it is perfectly reasonable for your storyteller to force you to take another cover roll at a penalty if you are spotted with them active.
The last thing that's worth pointing out is this: going purely by the RAW, Demons in demonic form do not gain any inherent extra resistance against damage. Yes, you heal up when you transform. Yes, if you go loud your Primum is boosted to 10 on top of gaining access to every Exploit and all the Embeds your Incarnation has an affinity for. Yes, you can deal a huge amount of damage with your abilities. But unlike say, Mages who can keep up their magic shields or vamps with their inbuilt resistance to most lethal damage, Demons get next to nothing in regards to built-in defenses save for whatever Embeds and Exploits they can use to protect themselves (and defensive abilities, if their demonic form has them). This arguably makes Demons the squishiest of all the game lines, but deliberately so. The game theme is subtlety and subterfuge, and turning into a biomechanical horror is kinda the antithesis to this. If you actually get to the point where you need to perform a full transformation rather than just manifesting specific abilities, let alone go loud, chances are things have gone horribly wrong.
Embeds & Exploits
Put simply, Embeds are relatively subtle and focus on tweaking the laws of probability in your favor, while Exploits are more powerful but also more conspicuous, running the risk of compromise when used.
Interestingly, neither type can actually be called "magic" inasmuch as they don't defy the laws of physics. Instead, they exploit hidden loopholes and exceptions built into those laws that only beings associated with the God-Machine are aware of. Demons refer to this as "occult physics", and while much of their intuitive knowledge of it is stripped away during the Fall (thus preventing them from using the Numina they knew as Angels) they can still relearn these applications of occult physics and use them in ways that loyal Angels wouldn't normally consider.
Keys, Interlocks, and the Cipher
Every Demon has a "Cipher", a set of four Key Embeds that link to each other to reveal a secret truth giving its holder a profound insight into their personal view of Hell. You start with the first one by default, but you have to figure out what the other three are on your own. That said, after any scene involving God-Machine related phenomena where you get a beat you make a special roll- if you succeed you can ask the GM for a hint as to what the next Key is. You can also test any Embed with your Cipher to see if it's a key- this does have the risk of causing damage or glitches if you guess wrong or end up discovering a key out of order, though.
Linking two Keys together also creates an Interlock. An Interlock is a custom power that typically acts as a combination of the two Keys that compose it (either literally or conceptually). They aren't considered Embeds or Exploits, and by definition no two Demons will ever have the same Interlock.
Some Demons believe there may be a fifth Key in the Cipher which might lead to greater revelations if discovered. But since every attempt to try and add a fifth Key ends in disaster for the dope who tries it, that probably isn't the case.
So, What's the God-Machine?
Nobody knows. No, seriously. The God-Machine is an enigma; even the Unchained only know that this is thing is real, that it created them as angels, and that they followed its commands without question before they Fell.
Partly physical, partly digital, partly spiritual, partly technological, partly scientific and partly magical, the God-Machine is a sprawling labyrinthine entity-device that spreads itself across space, time and reality itself. It seems as if it seeks to perpetuate the status quo of the Chronicles of Darkness, but its mind (assuming it's even sentient) is so far removed from the human psyche that its motives are all but unknowable. Not even its angels can say what its goals really are, only that they were created to serve it.
In addition to its angels, the God-Machine will use humans (and occasionally other supernatural beings) to accomplish its goals. While It does not seem to understand much about the human mind and is thought to be unable to communicate directly with them, It has a solid understanding of how people react to rewards and punishments and has influenced the creation of many cults that unknowingly carry out its instructions. The only way Angels and Mortals are aware of the God-Machine is through its Infrastructure.
And Infrastructure is?
In a nutshell, Infrastructure refers to the "programs" or "projects" that the God-Machine is running. Like the God-Machine itself, these span the physical realm and many of the occult realms, weaving together in ways no human could hope to understand to produce bizarre outputs for reasons that are utterly incomprehensible. While many of these are supernatural at least in part, the Machine is nothing if not efficient and will create Infrastructure from purely mundane elements if it would be more effective. Its also worth noting that Infrastructure can be completely mundane in its cause and effect in addition to its composition. An example might be a police station (Defense Infrastructure) built right next to the town hall with all the people plugged into the matrix in the basement; The speed at which the police will intervene in the event of a security breach and the fact that killing them will create a whole bunch of evidence will work to keep all but the most bold or foolhardy Demons away. Or maybe the mail service (Logistics Infrastructure) is controlled by a GM cult at the highest level but otherwise is completely normal, staffed by completely normal people and is probably vital to a city's smooth functioning and any attacks on it or disruptions to it will bring federal attention.
Demons have classified Infrastructure into five basic categories:
- Concealment: Infrastructure designed to hide the God-Machine's operations from prying eyes. Things like a fake restaurant to keep mortals from poking around in the basement, or a paint whose color causes people to ignore anything painted with it.
- Defense: Infrastructure used to repel intruders that were able to bypass Concealment Infrastructure. Can be anything from security guards to guardian angels.
- Logistics: Infrastructure dealing with location, acquisition, and transport of raw materials to be used in the God-Machine's outputs. This can be anything from ordinary vehicles to long-lost relics, to say nothing of what the "raw materials" might be.
- Elimination: Infrastructure for disposing/recycling of any evidence following the success or failure of the God-Machine's projects. Depending on the circumstances, this could be as mundane as arson or as esoteric as a mage in the God-Machine's service erasing the memories of anyone in the area.
- Command and Control: Infrastructure that coordinates the factors that will eventually lead to the output desired by the God-Machine. Their critical role means that they are rarely discovered (due to the extensive use of Concealment Infrastructure to hide their presence), and it is believed that the God-Machine employs decoys or redundant Infrastructure to minimize the effects of having one of these shut down. Command and Control Infrastructure is the closest an Angel gets to direct communication with the God-Machine. It is essentially the closest representation of the God-Machine on Earth. And even then it is protected by various concealment and Defense Infrastructure. An example includes a mainframe of human computers hidden on non-existent floor in an FBI building, the only way to access it is through a special elevator.
Infrastructure is the main tool in the God-Machine's arsenal to complete an Occult Matrix.
And Occult Matrix is?
In a nutshell, Occult Matrices refer to the method the God-Machine uses to complete its goals. Typically these goals are obscure and alien to most entities, though some Infrastructure can be hacked to reveal the purpose. An example of an Occult Matrix may be sacrificing 4 people at Elmination Infrastructure and then using Logistics Infrastructure to focus the rituals energy into creating a solar flare to trigger a nuclear reactor's fail safe before a catastrophic leak destroys the area.
The "tainted human helper" template for the Unchained, analogues to Ghouls, Wolfblooded, Ensorcelled, etc. Stigmatics are humans who have developed a telltale brand as a result of exposure to Infrastructure and can see the God-Machine's hidden workings in the world around them. Many of them are used by the God-Machine as servants, though they are also employed by demons. Some can also see the future, but their visions are nonsensical and can drive them mad over time.
Between the visions, the crippling effects of their brands, and the knowledge of how pathetic and insignificant they and the rest of humanity are in the greater scheme of things, it's no wonder many Stigmatics end up committing suicide.
The animal equivalent of Stigmatics, creatures that have mutated as a result of the toxic byproducts of the God-Machine's Infratructure. Two of the more well-known examples are the Mothmen (sweet-natured, squirrel-eating humanoid moths- no, they cannot predict disasters) and the Reptillians (former lizards now turned into sentient humanoid shapeshifters; timid, inoffensive, easily frightened, and in no way secretly lead the New World Order no matter what conspiracy theorists on the Internet might try to tell you).
Depending on their nature, they can be either helpful or harmful to demons; while the God-Machine uses some types as guard dogs, others are ignored or even exterminated if their activities are deemed a threat to the secrecy of the Machine's operations. Should knowledge of their activities leak into the public eye, the Machine is ready to provide the media with "experts" to discredit and/or rationalize away any cryptid sightings.
Even plants and microorganisms can become cryptids; these cryptoflora are hard to detect but can be very nasty indeed (e.g. a cryptid virus that is harmless to humans but drains the Aether of the demons that it infects).
One of the things that surprises many Unchained is that not only can they have children (either the old-fashioned way or by buying them as a part of a pact), but that doing so results in the kids being... abnormal.
- Demon-Blooded: A potent asset to their parents on account of not being affected by compromise, and a rare few can even tell whether or not a demon is lying (which is usually impossible even for demons). However, the God-Machine finds the Demon-Blooded useful and will subtly try to guide them into carrying out its commands. Completing a Demon-Blooded Cipher will result in the God-Machine issuing subtle commands to the Demon-Blooded, making them liabilities to most Demons.
- Offspring: The default Demon-Blooded, are humans who have an "in" with the God-Machine and the innate ability to use Embeds.
- Latents: The descendants of Offspring and normal humans, who are seemingly normal but can awaken their Machine-Demon heritage by events that would normally turn them into Stigmatics or pass it down to later generations.
- Fractals: More potent version of Offspring born when either two demons make a baby together or a demon has kids with an Offspring; these half-demons can see through their Parents' Cover and are more adept with their use of Embeds. They also have the rare ability to know when a Demon is lying.
- Nephilim: Specific to the Giants in the Earth alternative setting, where the first Angels became Demons. These hybrids are born looking like their demonic parent. They have access to Demon forms, but instead of becoming compromised or being used by the God-Machine they eventually will explode/die/disintegrate from over using their powers. They do not have access to a Cipher, Keys, or Interlocks, but can identify Angel and Demon Covers without issue. Some Demons are known to create Nephilim as a potent weapons against the God-Machine, as the God-Machine cannot detect them.
Regardless of which type of Demonic child is created they can either be a major asset or major complication. Demons may abandon their children hoping to keep them out of the Descent. However, that doesn't stop these children from questioning where they came from. They are one of the few beings that could be effective Demon Hunters as most of them can see through either Covers or Demon lies.