I'm in a really White Wolfy mood right now.* I could really play some White Wolfy game. Admittedly I might get frustrated with it within a few hours when it turns out not actually to be what's advertised, but I hold out hope.
That was... a couple of months ago, when I started writing this. Same old, same old...
Anyway, my exhaustive (ahem) researches for Visitant involved rereading Demon: the Fallen and being reminded how promising it first sounded. Isn't there some way to get a faux-Judeo-Christian game about demons that are actually vaguely tied into real-life Judeo-Christian demon tropes (including, obviously, all the pop culture stuff that it's spawned) out of this?
First thing we do, let's scrap all the demons
Seriously. Look, White Wolf, here are the demon tropes offered by DtF:
- Defilers, which are called Nereids and also Lammasu because this game is preposterous. Angels of the Ocean1 and Inspiration, who now wield powers of Emotion5, Weather2 and Shapeshifting5
- Devils, which are called Namaru. Angels of Management3 (essentially) who have become demons of Being Awesome and Fire3.
- Scourges, or Asharu. Angels of the Firmament3 and Life3, now demons of Healing-and-Stuff, kind of Possession-y-ness3, and Wind4
- Malefactors, or Annunaki. Angels of Creation3, who get powers of Earth2, Paths4 and Making Stuff4
- Fiends aka Neberu. Angels of the Heavens3 who gain demonic abilities of Fate5, Sort-of-Movementy-Stuff4 and Basically Illusions2.
- Devourers, or Rabisu, which sounds a lot like "rabbit" and always amused me. Angels of Nature2 which became demons with... actually pretty much exactly the same stuff.
- Slayers, or Halaku. Angels of change-but-basically-death,3 they gain powers of... Death, actually, including Ghosts4 and going to the Underworld1.
1 Is this a thing? I don't think this is a thing.
3 This one is in fact a thing.
4 No, actually.
5 I suppose?
There's exactly one thing on there which is a direct shout-out to Judeo-Christian tropes, the Devil (of course), while the Slayer can make a good case if we ignore the stuff about ghosts. Individual bits from the other splats seem appropriate, but they don't make any coherent whole, and often the derived powers don't make much sense.
I'm going to suggest that an alternative approach is to just take actual "angel" or "demon" tropes and link these together.
Angels of life and healing, falling, incline towards death and destruction. This isn't capital-D-Death like the Slayer, nor random destruction. Plague demons are an actual trope. Let's associate Life and Healing with Death and Decay. Demon characters can lean towards one or the other.
Angels created as messengers and inspiration simply twist that purpose, manipulating the truth and guiding humans to fulfil the demon's goals, rather than noble ones - they become tempters, conspirators, deceivers. Or, of course, they strive to use those powers for the 'greater good'. I'm honestly not sure about the fire thing here, but fire and tempter demons are pretty tightly linked, so I'll leave it: devils can be kept more or less as-is.
A third type is the guardian angel, which is an actual trope, who falls as a demon of destruction. This is more a thing of fantasy, but also occurs in some folklore. The urge to protect a place or thing is so easily twisted into an urge to destroy whatever might threaten it, and that destructive power can be so alluring, so invigorating. These angels have more warlike sets of powers. I'm not sure these actually exist, though, so let's see what I can dig up.
The fourth is the classic succubus-incubus. What would these demons have been as angels? Perhaps angels sent to guard and watch the sleeping, who succumbed to urges of their own, to thoughts of physical bodies. Perhaps angels meant to whisper in mortal ears, guiding their charges to resist temptation and value things of heaven rather than earthly pleasures, but who began to doubt. Perhaps their spiritual intimacy with their charges led them to offer physical intimacy when they thought they sensed a need.
A fifth type is less common, but I've seen it occasionally in folklorish mythology- demons associated with fortune-telling, prophecies and visions, as well as dreams and madness. There's little question over the falling here; in fact, you could argue about whether any falling is needed. Revelations of truth alone can be enough to drive mortals insane. Still, it's what you do with it that counts.
There's an awful lot of stuff in here that I think should just be available to any demon. Not possessed by any demon, but not limited to any of the generic pseudoCatholic demons I'm offering up here. Some are obviously angelodemonic abilities, others are thematically appropriate and relatively minor abilities that I'd like to be available. This includes, as well as the standard common lores, the following:
- Light (1)
- Find the Faithful (1), Remote Viewing (2), Mouth of the Damned (3)
- Summon Wind (1), Quicken Growth (2), Manipulate Weather (3)
- Mimic (1), Alter Appearance (2), Alter Shape (3), Doppelganger (4)
- Summon (1)/Command (2)/Possess (3) Animals, Animal Form (4)
I am not yet entirely sure how these would work. Basically what I want is for demons to be able to grab flavourful, supernatural abilities that make them interesting and unique, without going too far down the "animal demon" route.
The plague demons would get the following abilities:
Lore of Healing
- Body Control (1)
- Cleanse (2)
- Heal (3)
- Restore Flesh (4)
- Restore the Dead (5)
Lore of Mortality
- Read Fate (1)
- Decay (2)
- Visions of Mortality (3) - hacked so that it causes overwhelming fear, rather than forcing the target to flee in all cases. The Storyteller should determine appropriate behaviour, while the player should be able to manipulate circumstances to produce a particular result.
- ??? (4)
- Unlife (5)
These demons have all the power needed to heal wounds, cure poisons and disease, create healing trances, regenerate appalling injuries, and even raise the dead. However, they can also see the deaths of mortals, rot and wither living matter, and raise the dead in a horrid mockery of life. The same fiend might be save a community from the ravages of disaster and disease, or stride through a city behind a tattered grave-banner at the head of an army of rotten corpses.
This demon still needs another 4th-dot ability, preferably a plaguey one. Unfortunately nothing suitable seems to exist in the rulebook.
Lore of Authority
- Voice of Heaven (1)
- Exalt (2)
- Aura of Legend (3)
- Mark of the Celestials (4)
- Revelation (5)
Lore of Fire
- Fuel (1)
- Ignite (2)
- Command the Flame (3)
- Holocaust (4)
- Ride the Flames (5)
The classic demon, the messenger-tempter has all kinds of powers to command and overawe mortals. They can bring about changes of heart or force kings to kneel at their feet. They are also able to command the fires of hell, potentially as a tool, but most likely as a weapon.
Lore of Protection
- Open/Close Portals (1)
- Create Ward (2)
- Heal (3)
- Wall of Air (4)
- ??? (5) - there don't really seem to be any big protective powers out there.
Lore of Destruction
- Manipulate Gravity (1)
- Fist of Air (2)
- Manipulate Inertia (3)
- Earth Storm (4)
- Invoke the Storm (5)
The guardian angel or ravaging demon has powers that will help them to defend their charge, including some destructive ones. The demonic side of their nature lends itself to some pretty devastating powers.
Lore of Patterns
- Sense Congruence (1)
- Trace Pattern (2)
- Foresee (3)
- Causal Influence (4)
- Twist Time (5)
Lore of Prophecy
- Voice of Heaven (1)
- Scry (2)
- Phantasm (3)
- Confess (4)
- Revelation (5)
Lore of Longing
- Read Emotion (1)
- Empathic Response (2)
- Manipulate Senses (3)
- Obsession (4)
- Inspire (5)
Lore of Insinuation
- Mimic (1)
- Insinuate (2)
- Alter Shape (3) and Alter Appearance - it's really cheeky for these to be two different abilities for two different minor cosmetic change powers. Especially given that the first dot is in fact "look exactly 100% like this individual person" so the more powerful version apparently makes you worse at changing your appearance.
- Doppelganger (4)
- Alter Memory (5)
In some cases, I've placed a power in more than one tree. This is just because it felt thematic. Given you need the same number of dots to get it, I think it works out. It makes individual powers a bit less special (because they're not restricted), but equally most of the powers in DtF aren't thematic anyway. I'd rather have a small pool of thematic powers.
You may notice also that most of the demons now don't have any combat powers. Only two demons of the five have serious in-combat stuff, while the Plague Demon has the decaying touch which can be used that way. This is just how it worked out. I think it works though. If you're envisioning a demonic oracle, you don't really picture them carving up soldiers. Succubi are (D&D aside) dangerous because they ensnare and corrupt, not because they rip people to pieces or annihilate them with elemental powers.
The demons in this hack also only have two trees apiece. Again, this is because there were not enough trees that were good to make three thematically-appropriate trees for each demon.
I suspect the sensible way to improve and expand these trees would be to strip-mine Vampire for ideas, and that will be my next move.