Friday, 15 August 2014

Demon the Fallen: Preacher Man, 01

Or, how to create completely inappropriate characters and still quite enjoy it.

This one has been quite a long time coming, but hey, it's here.

Will they find any Demon types that don’t have ridiculous names? Will there be enough room on the paper for all the freakin’ skills? Will Shim ever stop faffing and decide whether or not he is a priest? Tune in now!

This is a scenario dreamed up by Arthur, there are no spoilers here, so listen away as you please. As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, if that sort of thing bothers you. Thankfully, this one is largely free of background noise, though there is some eating.

Important: In an unprecedented move, I am offering not one, but two versions of the initial character generation session for Preacher Man. The full (edited) recording clocks in at around two hours, which is substantial, largely because of the amount of explanation I needed, and partly because it's got quite a lot of stuff to unpack even though the actual character generation isn't strictly that difficult. Even with the bits where we're literally writing out lists of skills or umming over the rulebook cut out, it's lengthy. A lot of the setting is explained, along with some assumptions of the game, a lot of mechanical points and advice on building a character.

I didn't want to just offer the short version, for several reasons. One is that I know some people - me for one - actually like listening to full-on character generation for games they're not familiar with in order to get a sense of the game. For those people, the background information and the different parts of character generation will be useful, even if long. And not everyone minds long, to be honest; sometimes I just want some ambient roleplaying.

Another reason is that stuff mentioned in the character generation may crop up later in the game, and I'm not bright (or attentive) enough to have spotted that, so there might be some confusion. I've done my best, within the limits of editing.

Thirdly, the chargen process sparks a fair bit of commentary and general chit-chat that might be mildly diverting in its own right, with our cutting-edge 1970s humour and disparagement of how things were in RPGs twenty years ago.

However! If you're coming into this with a good knowledge of the premise of Demon: The Fallen, a reasonable understanding of White Wolfian mechanics and character generation, and no particular interest in hearing us step through every part of character generation and go off on some tangents, there is a short version clocking in at a mere hour! There's only so ruthless and efficient I can make myself.

Episode 1 (comprehensive, but edited character generation)

Episode 1 (abbreviated character generation)

Both contain a DVD extra bonus feature after the closing music.

For the very impatient:

Dan plays a Cryptic Slayer in the body of a 12-year-old girl resembling Wednesday Addams. I play a Cryptic Devourer in the body of an extremist environmental campaigner who looks like Hugh Jackman. We are going to a theological conference in Gothic Oxford.

The Episode

As Dan points out in the post-game discussion (episode about sixish), Arthur told us the premise of the scenario and we immediately ignored it entirely. In our defence, it wasn't intentional... Because the game was new to me, I was concentrating on trying to pick things up, and grabbbed hold of a familiar sort of character rather than spending the time to think about what might work with the scenario. I think one aspect of the issue, although not one I consciously considered, is that it's hard to know what would work well when you're new to a system and setting - and the World of Darkness is a pretty specific beast compared to Generic Fantasy or whatever. I think it's easier to grasp the difference between playing a Fighter, Wizard or Thief than it is to work out which of the various demon flavours might fit well with a particular scenario type when you don't really know how the world works or the various power bases interact.

Making Demons

As this was my first time, I wasn't really sure how to go about making my character. I suspect actually that the other WOD games might have been easier in this respect. For one thing, those don't seem to have an internal division in your character's nature; for another, they seem to basically begin with a "before" representing your ordinary human life, and then add to it.

In contrast, a Demon character is two people rolled into one. You have a human being with a demon mashed into them, and I wasn't sure how to model that. The others made a few suggestions, and I took what seemed to be the simplest route, because I was already struggling with an unfamiliar system. This was to basically have a human body who knew academically that there was a demon inside them, but who mostly felt like a human. Essentially, the body retained such a strong impression of the human soul it once housed that this shaped the demon's personality, leaving someone who acts very much like it always did, but with the demon's goals and instincts driving from the back seat.

Next time - and I'm hoping very much that there will be one - I'd take Shannon's advice and create the demon separately, then blend the two. This is a lot trickier because making a demon fundamentally requires a reasonable amount of setting knowledge, so that you can determine things like personality, objectives and history in a way that's sensible.

As so often there's a fair bit of chopping and changing here. I initially assumed from the premise that we'd be priests, so the idea of not being threw me a bit and I had to rethink things. Then of course, juggling points around so that I would actually be able to do the kinds of things I wanted competence in - mechanics aren't always transparent about which character attributes correspond to narrative competence in which fields, and of course, you need points in the right attributes if you want to actually use your powers successfully. So whenever I changed my mind about stuff, there was checking and adjusting to do. Still, for a first time experience I thought it wasn't bad. I should evaluate the skills list sometime.

In retrospect, and after some of Shannon's comments, I realise that I got quite confused because, well, the setup of the game was actually a bit complicated for someone entirely new to the whole thing (system, setting and scenario premise). I was playing a demon occupying the body of a human attending a conference of ex-Catholic priests. This involves multiple levels of "who am I?":

  1. Actual identity as a demon
  2. Original identity as a human
  3. Current actual identity as a demon-human combination within society
  4. Identity in which I am attending the conference

Basically, I hadn't thought of number four (and I essentially cheated on number one) and so when the possibility came up, I got a bit confused. It's perhaps a slightly complex premise for the first scenario, but most people probably wouldn't have had a problem with it and no blame attaches to Arthur for my mild bewilderment.

Rotschreck

Around the 1:38 mark, we briefly delve into the term rotschreck, which is apparently an instinctive frenzied fear of fire and sunlight in Vampire. As I suspected, it doesn't seem to mean anything at all in German. Incidentally, this problem could have been easily overcome by using a Gaelic term instead, since Gaelic jiarg, dearg (red) as a prefix has various negative implications related to passion, frenzy and so on. Jiarg-aggle (or deargsc√°tha if you want to be posh) would be a fine and meaningful term.


Copyright and suchlike

Demon: The Fallen is copyright and/or trademark White Wolf Publishing, who I think now belong to some other corporation but I can't be bothered to check right now; Arthur will be cross with me already for my vagueness. The podcast theme music is Vltava from Smetana's M√° Vlast as taken from Wikimedia Commons under the CC0 licence. The episode intro and outro are, respectively, an extract from Black Vortex and all of The Descent, both by Kevin MacLeod (Incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.

The hilariously portentous opening passage is read directly from the blurb from Demon: the Fallen, and any mockery should be directed to White Wolf.

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, it's not really a good pick up and play game. It's quite a tricky beast but very satisfying if you're into character complexity and once you've wrapped your head around it.

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    1. Some of this will come up in later posts, but... I think it's probably the most difficult character creation I've ever seen.

      In most games, the PC starts with a concept of who you want to be in the setting. You often have some backstory, but the details aren’t usually important: most often, if backstory matters, you’re an X who was Y until Z. Ex-cop and so forth. While supernatural PCs are also a classic, the other White Wolf games start with you being a mortal who develops supernatural powers through some important change, but is still themselves facing changes in their life. Still X who was Y until Z.

      In a few games you work from what you'd like the character to become, but generally you can begin with what you want them to be now.

      Demon is pretty much the opposite. Your past is what defines you. You don’t have a present, because you’re just incarnating now, and your future is uncertain because everything is being redefined by your experience. Essentially, you’re a Y who got locked away for eternity and has suddenly just now become X, and isn’t quite sure what X is. The emphasis is very different.

      In Demon, it seems like you need to start by picturing the War of Wrath in some detail, having first absorbed all the setting details given in the rulebook. You then work out a character that it would be interesting to have been in your past , decide how they might have reacted to defeat and imprisonment, and work out what faction they would have joined.

      All the host stuff is very much secondary, from what I can see. It defines the kind of life you have, but it’s not who you are. For practical purposes you're a human who suddenly developed supernatural abilities, but unlike the other WW games, you're essentially a character who was replaced by an entirely different supernatural character in the same body with some shared memories.

      So you're supposed to build a character around a concept of stuff in the past that's no longer especially relevant, most of whose cool past-life abilities are not available to the PC (and probably never will be).

      I kind of want to hijack Dan’s terminology here and call this Background Acting On Background. You seem to have to conjure up a character based almost entirely on backstory fluff that is essentially a completely different setting. Meanwhile, your host provides a set of links to the gameworld but essentially no longer exists. If you reskinned things as having been ported from another reality, instead of the whole Fall, War, Imprisonment, Freedom thing, it wouldn’t be much different. Any consequences of your demonic past come from relationships with other demons, but it’s not connected to the world you actually play in. You had awesome adventures that happened offscreen, and amazing powers that you no longer have (and mechanically, probably can’t), and at least one complete change of perspective that revolutionised your existence but only happened on paper.

      Unlike, say, a Former Soldier Turned Teacher, they haven't grown from their past self into the present - they got locked away for millennia, and then suddenly dropped into a new life entirely. It’s a sudden and comprehensive change.

      So you’re approaching the process of making a demon-possessed mortal in the modern world by starting with an angel in a completely different setting and then gradually working towards becoming a demon and possessing a mortal, making substantial changes to the character along the way, rather than by roughing out Demon Now and then filling in backstory like you usually would.

      I can see that if you grok it, and play in a group that also groks it and wants to do compatible stuff, it could be very satisfying. But I’m not very bright and it mostly makes my head hurt!

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    2. You should see my character generation pages for my two Demonic Masks of Nyarlathotep characters! I've only done one from the information I've gleaned and it's 2.5 pages on Gipontel. I'll also be running extensive demonic preludes so that they don't have to digest ALL of the books as they make their choices as they go. It'll be interesting running powerful and primordial creatures completely narratively pre-possession, but we'll see how it goes.

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  2. I worked it out you guys!

    "Later in this chapter, the lore available to demons are presented by the Houses to which they are assigned, and the Houses are addressed from highest to lowest in the demonic order." - p.171

    Because that is a really intuitive and helpful way to organise your sodding reference materials, you bunch of posey gits.

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