Monday, 27 July 2015

Demon: the Descent is bad at character generation

So I'm in a bad mood today, and also playing with Demon: the Descent, and as a natural outcome of these activities I just want to take a few minutes to lay out in detail how the character generation instructions for Demon: the Descent are approaching a platonic ideal of wrongness. I have touched on this matter before.

Character generation rules always have problems, it's true. There's very rarely a way to make a character in one single pass - revisiting and revision are almost always needed, except in games with very light character mechanisation. But White Wolf seem to be singularly bad at chargen, and in their rules for both Demon games I feel they have reached a real nadir. This seems to stem, ultimately, from their abject refusal to acknowledge how their own game works, but some parts seem impossible to explain except by sheer incompetence.

Let us begin.

Character Creation, as outlined by White Wolf, has nine steps:

  1. Character Concept
  2. Select Attributes
  3. Select Skills
  4. Select Skill Specialties
  5. Apply Demon Template
  6. Select Merits
  7. Determine Advantages
  8. Age and Experience
  9. The Fall

And here's a quick precis of the game, just in case. In Demon: the Descent you play a sort of Agent Smith. The God-Machine (SkyNet) is real and secretly rules the universe, or most of it, in a reality that's a conspiracy theorist's wet nightmare. You were an agent of the God-Machine, or "angel", a kind of biomechanical-metaphysical entity doing certain tasks. You used artifical human identities as necessary, creating, donning and doffing them whenever required. Then something went wrong in your programming, and you went rogue, a state called "demon". Now you're on the loose with your own motivations, and at least some of your old reality-warping power, in whatever human identity you were last assigned.

Character Concept

a character has three major aspects, three different individuals rolled into one, all of which must be tended to for the character to be complete. There’s the demon, a member of the Unchained, hiding from detection and waging war in her own way. There’s the angel, the previous existence as a soulless instrument of the God-Machine’s will. And there’s the human, the Cover identity that the demon hides behind, a person different from herself who must yet remain convincing and alive in the eyes of the world. A strong Demon character needs to integrate all three.

None of the Unchained were ever truly human, and as you go into the process of forging your very own demon, it’s a good idea to keep in mind what purpose the God-Machine created him for. Just like your character has already transcended his original purpose, however, don’t be afraid of going beyond the concept in the process. It’s the core of your character, not the whole.

Your concept should be reasonably short — if you end up with more than a sentence or two, distill it down to its essence. Most concepts only consist of a few words: “Passionate street-punk warrior,” “Hardboiled information broker,” or “Creepy librarian.” Demon concepts can also often be a little incongruous. Demons do not truly fit into society, so concepts like “Wealthy journalist,” “Ascetic businessman,” or “Fire-and-brimstone Buddhist preacher” can occur — a concept that shows that the creature behind it doesn’t truly understand the people it mimics, and perhaps doesn’t care to. Take care that your concept doesn’t breach Cover on its own, though.

So... what's wrong with that?

As I've mentioned before, these character concepts are in no sense core character concepts for this game. The whole point of Demon is that your human Cover is fungible and replaceable; the levelling mechanisms are designed to give you multiple Covers as you gain experience. Every single one of the character concepts presented above are great ideas for a single, human Cover identity and completely irrelevant to being a demon.

Not only are these ideas irrelevant, they're actively harmful. They undermine the very premise of the game. Designing a game of powerful metaphysical entities who warp reality and plot against God and then telling players to envision their character around a single temporary human identity is like writing D&D and telling players to envision their character around their one 1st-level spell. Sure, they might stick with it throughout the game, and maybe they'll riff off that spell as a prompt that informs the kind of character they're playing a dozen levels later. But as a rule of thumb, it's a terrible idea.

Switching, changing and discarding Covers is an inherent part of the game. An individual Cover says nothing about the demon behind it. It is exactly one-third of the three factors emphasised by White Wolf in their spiel. Using this as your core concept discards the other two-thirds - the two-thirds that are actually intrinsic to your character.

Making this worse is that that spiel is wrongheaded in the first place, for exactly those reasons. It's not just that White Wolf presents a three-part theory for designing characters and promptly discards it for no reason. That three part-theory is flat-out wrong. A strong Demon character doesn't need to integrate their human identity. They can, absolutely, if you want them to, but there's no reason why they should. Playing a demon for whom their human guise is a Don't Notice label of zero emotional value is a perfectly valid approach.

Those four Agendas that define your philosophy? Those are about your relationship to the God-Machine and reality, not about your relationship with your sister. This is a game of techgnostic espionage, allegedly: playing a demon who spends their whole time on demon politics planning the war against the God-Machine* is entirely in keeping with the premise, and relies on the demon part plus a bit of the angel part, with no fundamental interest in the human part; playing a demon who spends all their time working as a creepy librarian is so far removed from the premise that you shouldn't be at this table.

* or the reconciliation with the God-Machine, or the renegotiation with the God-Machine, or setting up their own personal little reality free of the God-Machine, or discovering the true nature of reality, man. Although I maintain my earlier standpoint that the only agenda where I have a clear sense of what you actually do is the Saboteur.

I retain my original stance that the obvious way to create a Demon character concept is to consider a) your relationship to the God-Machine, and b) your feelings about adopting human identity, with a quick glance at what kind of angel you used to be.


Well, first and foremost, this one does actually cover all three of White Wolf's bases. Note, though, that I don't care about your specific current Cover identity. The important thing is how you feel about Cover in general. How do you feel about pretending to be human? How do you relate to your human identity - are you emotionally immersed in it, or is it a hated mask, or a useful tool? How do you relate to the humans around you?

Secondly, these are actually relevant for gameplay. I know, it's a highly controversial idea, but consider it. This game is about demons and their relationship to the God-Machine, so spending some time thinking about how your character relates to the God-Machine may help ensure your character has a way to approach the setting and the plots that ensure. While your angelic identity is less important, it helps with the fluffy part of your backstory, and can also help guide you in choosing a subset of the Embeds and Exploits to take - there's a lot to choose from, after all.

Attributes and Skills

I can do these two at once.

When creating an Unchained character, it’s worth considering what skills the God-Machine would have endowed him with for the purpose of fulfilling his selected role. A Guardian does not necessarily need combat Skills, for instance, but if that’s the case, then what was the Guardian’s assignment that the God-Machine felt that no violence was likely to be necessary? Likewise, it’s also prudent to consider what Skills a demon would use to evade the God-Machine. How he stays alive on a daily basis shapes his Descent. Consider, too, the Cover he was endowed with as an angel. The God-Machine gave him the tools necessary to act out that role — what are they?

Note that given the things angels need to do and the things humans need to do are wildly different, it's extremely difficult to find enough skill dots to do both even competently. You need at least three dice in Attribute + Skill to reasonably expect a single success, i.e. a task that is slightly challenging. All skills impose a penalty if you have no dots at all, with Mental skills particularly punishing for some arbitrary reason.

If you want to be able to fight at all - and stress is laid on this by the fluff above, the types of angels that exist, and a lot of the game text - you'll need to spend a fair number of points on that alone, since it's an opposed roll, which means you're going to want multiple successes whenever possible.

Broken by design

The first problem with Attributes and Skills is a conceptual one. A demon is, as I've pointed out ad nauseum, a supernatural entity wearing whichever human face they currently feel like. The game's example of chargen emphasises how fictitious player Luke carefully allocates Attribute and Skill dots based on his wacko concept of a skater-girl courier "who uses terror tactics" (I mean seriously WTF, let alone everything I just said above).

Allocating A&S dots based on your human cover makes, yet again, no sense whatsoever, because when Luke gets a new cover as a smarmy professor and dissolves little Gabrielle into nonexistence, his dots will make no freaking sense.

Imagine you run your character through the following set of Covers, which doesn't seem unreasonable: plucky street kid, elderly history professor, hairy biker, sweet-talking journalist, grizzled army veteran. There is simply no way to have your dots make sense, or even have the appropriate skills to carry out a fraction of those roles with baseline competence. Unless you choose new covers specifically to match the skills you're forced to carry over, you're very likely to end up with game-mechanical problems (being unable to do things that would be simple for your Cover identity, causing trouble) or with breaches of Cover or both.

Like Demon: the Fallen, DtD is crying out for a two-tier A&S spending system where one tier represents your innate demonic nature and the other represents the abilities of your current cover.

Road to Nowhere

The second problem is a perpetual White Wolf one, apparently. They are determined to pretend that their game is about creating deep, meaningful characters and that concept and narrative verisimilitude should take precedence over nasty crude mechanics. This means they insist on telling everyone to allocate their Attributes and Skills before they even glance at the supernatural abilities that are absolutely 100% fundamental parts of their character as a demon, even though those abilities depend on the allocation of A&S dots.

Apparently it doesn't occur to anyone at White Wolf that being unable to use the abilities your demon has might just slightly impact the narrative verisimilitude.

Just cast your eyes back up at the text I cited above.’s worth considering what skills the God-Machine would have endowed him with for the purpose of fulfilling his selected role" Even the people writing this assume that you've already picked an angel template for your character before picking your A&S dots! But they specifically advise you to do it a different way round! What is wrong with these people?

Skill Specialities

This is a simple step. I don't have a problem with the premise, other than the above.

What is problematic, though, is this whole bit here:

A demon’s Specialties hint at her angelic past, which may not apply to her current Cover at all. A complete pacifist could have a Specialty in Kris Naga under Weaponry, for instance, or a vegan might have Crafts: Butchery. Unchained characters start with four Skill Specialties, one of which must be something that would threaten Cover if a human discovered it. In choosing this Specialty, consider the demon’s past Covers and her existence as an angel before she Fell. This doesn’t have to be something the character can’t explain away (the vegan butcher might, if called on her ability to joint and bone a carcass despite her distaste for meat, explain that she only became a vegan recently), but the Specialty needs to be something incongruous with the character’s current Cover.

Turns out, it's actually quite difficult to find a really incongruous skill for a lot of characters, unless your thresholds are incredibly low. A lot of physical specialties, including fighting, are quite common in completely ordinary people, because sports and martial arts are really popular amongst a wide segment of the population. A lot of mystical stuff is pop culture now, and other aspects of it can easily come from a religious upbringing (which anyone may have), ex-boyfriends, that one course you did in school, or stuff you read when you were a kid and thought it was all really cool. Most kinds of social skills are so fluffy that you can't easily pin down whether someone has them or not.

Weirdly, the easiest way seems to be to build a very physical character - some kind of tough gun-toting thug, say - and then give them incongruous academic specialties. That is to say, it's easiest to meet this requirement when you play the kind of character the designers would really prefer you didn't.

The other problem, again, is that (say it with me) Cover doesn't last.

When you change Cover, one of three things will happen. Your new Cover may be suited to some of the specialisations you have, in which case not much changes - although it's likely that as you play, your Cover's natural skillset will drift considerably from the skillset you chose at character creation. Or your new Cover may match your existing specialisations perfectly, in which case you no longer have an incongruous one. Or your new Cover may be a terrible match, in which case most or all of your specialisations are incongruous.

I think the problem I have here is that it's not really clear what the point of this proviso is. It's the sort of thing that sounds vaguely trendy and thematic, and would definitely appear in the tie-in fiction ("see, the protagonist's inappropriate knowledge of carbon dating makes his girlfriend suspicious!") but doesn't seem to actually do anything. It can't be that important, because the game doesn't insist you always have an incongruous specialty and it can rapidly become irrelevant. It's just a bit baffling.

Apply Demon Template

At last! Having got fully halfway through the process of generating a character who is a demon, we are now permitted to pay attention to the part where they are a demon!

Okay, how do I do that?

The God-Machine’s angels are created to serve many tasks, and these tasks are arranged into four wider roles. Every demon was originally created to fulfill one of these roles, shaped as a tool of the God-Machine into an inescapable form. The Incarnations are:

The Destroyers (the Swords): agents of endings, tasked with clearing away elements that are no longer wanted. They favor Cacophony Embeds.


Great, thanks. I'm glad this character-defining segment of the chargen process is so well-articulated. Maybe the example chargen will be more help?

Luke quickly decides that Gabrielle is a Messenger.

Well, boo.

Gee, thanks for that helpful insight into choosing an appropriate demon type! Given that you insist that most of character creation has to happen before choosing a demon, and you just sort of overlay the whole "demon" bit over an existing human character even though that is the exact opposite of the premise of the game, maybe you could have gone just a teensy bit further into Luke's fictional thought processes?

Except we all know you didn't actually use the example chargen structure at all. No, maybe I'm unfair. Maybe it just so happened that, generating a character on pure inspiration, "Luke" just happened to generate a character who just happened to be a good match for an angel type (courier = messenger, Aah Do You See?) and also (as we will see later) just so happens to be (however tentatively) able to use all her powers without him even peeking at the later sections of the rulebook along the way! It's all pure narrative, folks.

Yeah, me neither.


Having planned your dots before you get to the whole "actually having supernatural abilities" bit, you may find that you aren't very good at what you wanted to do.

Embeds, the At-Will powers of DtD, essentially come off the three "finesse" stats of Manipulation, Wits and Dexterity. My impression is that Manipulation and then Wits are most common, but they might be more even than I thought, I'm not counting. If you went for a resilient or powerful character, you'll struggle to use these.

Exploits, in contrast, use the power attributes of Intelligence, Strength and Presence.

It depends an awful lot, though, because there's huge variation in how powers work, and this might trip you up too.

If you want to destroy objects of any size and no apparently limits on range, visibility or resilience, for example, you can take Raw Materials.* You don't need any dice whatsoever in this power, although you've got a free dot in Man anyway so you shouldn't need to worry about Dramatic Failures. The object always breaks, regardless of your result, because the power is badly designed.

More on this another time.

If you want to lock down someone's finances, and take Freeze Assets, you're looking at a penalised dice pool. The target's Resources apply as a penalty, which means you need at least a couple of points between Manipulation and Academics to avoid chance dice. If not, it's very easy to find your character can't use this ability without risking arrest from a Dramatic Failure. You might wonder why Academics is needed to use this ability, and the short answer is, "because it had to be something". It's not intuitive, though, so you won't necessarily have any.

If you want to shove heavy things around, you need Fulcrum Point. This works differently again: it scales with successes rolled, which means a bigger dicepool is always better. Obviously, you need Wits + Science to use this, rather than Athletics or Strength or anything you might expect to let you push heavy things around.

We also need to consider the urgency of a power and the importance of success. Failing a roll that will psychically mark an NPC so you can find them tomorrow isn't particularly important or urgent. There are other ways of finding them, and you can probably try again before the end of the scene. Failing a roll that will allow you to soak up the impact of that intercity train is both important and urgent. Those kinds of rolls scale up the importance of having a reliable dicepool, partly because of the scale of the consequences, and partly because it's important to know what your capabilities are.

Coming back to character generation, it's easy to reach this stage and discover your character isn't capable of using any abilities you want. Maybe you just maxed out on Strength. Maybe you spread your dots fairly evenly like the rulebook encourages, and that means you don't have a big enough dicepool to reliably use opposed powers, even though those are the ones you want.

As a power-stat character you'll most easily be able to use Exploits, but that's actually a bad idea. These are costly, and you have few Aether resources as a beginning character, which means you can't use them very often. And using them tends to damage your Cover, which is also a bad thing. A character with mostly Embeds will be able to run around using supernatural abilities all day, while you'll quickly run out of steam, even though yours are a bit more powerful. Unlike D&D, you can't simply run a short adventuring day, either, because recharging Aether is a bit more work than that.

If you focused on resilience, well... good luck, I suppose?

The sensible way to choose powers is to first decide what kind of abilities you'd like to have, then make sure you have the dots to use those powers reliably, because reliably having a particular set of supernatural abilities is a very important part of a character concept that's about being a demon. Much more important than, say, owning a skateboard.

You might well find now that it's difficult to convincingly portray a demon of the sort you prefer, because you chose the wrong set of attributes. That's particularly true for new players who don't already know their options. If you made a strong-willed agile character and now think the Psychopomp is just peachy, you may struggle to find any relevant powers you can actually use.

Dear old Luke

Hey, let's check in on Luke and Gabe!

Luke took Heart's Desire (Wits + Emp - target's Composure), Never Here (Man + Stea - Resolve, with a penalty if you did anything significant in that scene, say, like anything that would give you cause to use this power in the first place) and Raw Materials (see above). He also chooses Four Minutes Ago (Int + Stealth + Primum). He tells the Storyteller that Raw Materials "supports her DIY leanings" but we all know it's so he can infallibly demolish a jumbo jet flying overhead simply by thinking about it.

Good thing he did, too, because those other powers? Not going to work out too well for poor Gabe. With 3 Wits and 1 Emp, Gabe is going to have a hard time using Heart's Desire, with only a 50% chance at best due to that Composure penalty. Never Here is even worse - she'll be rolling only 2 dice at best, and if she hurt anyone or seemed important she might be down to a chance die. Four Minutes Ago is a bit more reliable, with 4 dice and no penalties, although there's still a decent chance of failure and it's an expensive power to use.


Time to choose merits! Here we quickly run into the disadvantage that most merits have prerequisites, which means it's very likely you won't actually be qualified to take any merits that seem fun or characterful, because you didn't plan your dots to take them because that would be minmaxing or whatever.

Some of these prereqs are kind of weird when you think about it. Why does the Fast Reflexes (boosting Initiative) merit require a high Wits or Dex when these already provide a high initiative, making it significantly less useful? And what problem would arise if someone neither nimble nor clever nevertheless has good instincts in stressful situations?

In quite a lot of cases, Merits provide a small situational bonus to something you already must be good at to qualify for the merit. This means that unless you planned for the merit, you probably can't take it - you can't be Inspiring without a good Presence, for example, so no quietly-cool characters impressing by example - whereas if you prepared by bumping up that attribute you're much less likely to need it because you're already good at that. I'm not sure whether this is a problem or not, it's just a bit odd somehow.

The other problem is that Merits don't seem to play nicely with Cover.

Dotting the Is

A lot of Merits are for fairly everyday things. Having status within an organisation, like the police or church or a criminal gang. Having friends who know things. Being small (this is a quite expensive Merit, despite the fact that it reduces your Health, which is likely to be a problem more often than a hiding bonus is an advantage). Having money.

Resources is a particular problem. Characters without any Resources "are assumed to have basic necessities". One dot is a little cash from a (unspecified, but apparently) minimum-wage job. Three dots is an upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Okay, so your Cover identity as a businesswoman requires three dots. Fine. You can manage that, although it's a big chunk of your starting dots and if you spent it on, say, Primum instead it would be far more useful in this game. Still, manageable.

What happens when you gain a new identity, though? If you take over the identity of a hotshot lawyer, do you need to spend three dots of Resources immediately? If you don't, is the lawyer inexplicably unable to keep up payments on her condo? Or do you lose the ability to spend things whenever you're living the life of a well-off lawyer with a large bank balance, but when you're in the guise of a well-off businesswoman you're fine?

Okay, maybe Resources isn't Cover-linked then, although most things along those lines seem to be, like Contacts. So what if your first identity is a homeless vagrant, but then you gain the identity of a hotshot lawyer?

It's not impossible to deal with, but it seems kind of sloppy, like they didn't really think about this.


Anyway, this was supposed to be about chargen, not general nitpicking, so let's return to the thread. Consider, if you will, the Fighting merits.

For a game which pretends not to be about fighting but which is totally all about fighting, they are really reluctant to let you be good at fighting.

There's a ton of fighting-related Merits, but most of them are extremely hard to qualify for unless you built a character to very specific parameters. The exceptions are very easy to qualify for, but offer very specific and limited benefits. For example, with only two dots in Brawl you can gain the ability to choke somone unconscious - I would have expected this to be part of the main grappling rules, to be honest, but apparently not.

There's quite a lot of dependency on other fighting Merits, too. For example, let's say you want to carry a shiv. You'd think you could just carry one. No. This requires the Shiv Merit, which requires two dots in Street Fighting (and Weaponry, but that's fair enough). Street Fighting requires a total of 10 dots spent in Stamina, Composure, Brawl and Streetwise. Simply being agile and strong doesn't help you at all, even though being agile and strong totally helps you beat people up.

In fact, it's quite noticable just how useless being superhumanly strong is for being good at fighting. It doesn't help with close-quarters fighting, martial arts or street fighting. The only thing it's good for is grappling.

This isn't particularly broken, I don't think, because again these are mostly situational bonuses. However, if you want them to add a particular flavour to your character, you need to work out ahead of time what you need, because it's not that obvious. Basically, get Dexterity.

Other Stuff

I don't think even I can nitpick the "Advantages" section, because adding numbers together probably is best done after determining those numbers.

Age and Experience is a bit arguable, but it comes down to going back and spending a few more points on stuff, so hey. No problem really.

The Fall

At this point things get weird again.

it’s time to look at your character sheet and think about what the dot ratings say about your character. How does he interact with humanity? Is he subtle? Blunt? Does he treat them as equals, try to get close to them, or keep them at arm’s length? Skills such as Socialize may indicate someone who integrates more smoothly into human society, but a demon’s natural poker face probably keeps him from any serious faux pas. Does he have dots in Subterfuge? If not, how does he understand the humans he interacts with? Does he avoid human contact to avoid threatening his Cover? What’s his empathy like?

Um... shouldn't you have done that already? In fact, shouldn't you have done that before allocating those dots? That's what you suggested in Step Three: Skills, after all, and I tended to agree with you.

Academics doesn’t simply indicate knowledge, but also a degree of skill regarding the field of academics – where did he learn them? Is his Cover tied to a university or college, whether as faculty, a student, or an alumnus? Computer, Crafts, Investigation — did he pick these up during his time as an angel? If so, what assignments did he perform that required these skills? What sort of Crafts is he best and worst at? Do his dots in Medicine indicate that he has taken part in something horrific or merciful before his Fall? If so, does he regret it?

So, you're suggesting that we should be allocating dots for purely mechanical reasons, then justifying them retrospectively? Or that we should allocate them more or less at random? If the rationale for allocating dots isn't supposed to be based on your angelic-demonic background, what the hell is it? Oh wait: it's inventing a human character, then retrospectively deciding that they're a demon.

Remember that your character’s original physical form is his demonic form. His human form is a disguise. Is that disguise the one the God-Machine created for him on his last mission, or has he changed? Did he change willingly or reluctantly? Is he happy with his current form? Are there any things he wants to change about it? Does he find his Cover pleasing or stressful? Is he maintaining it diligently, or sloppily?

Why is it that you only remember this now? Why did you not remember it when you were writing any part of the rules?

This is supposedly the step where you work out all kinds of detail about your character. This seems pretty incoherent in terms of how they've been suggesting you do the earlier steps.

A lot of this, aimed at helping the Storyteller railroad you into following their glorious campaign provide a cool and engaging campaign, comes from the Five Questions.

Five Questions

Much as the players of human characters answer five questions to determine their characters’ basic set of breaking points, Demon players answer five questions about their demons’ Cover. These questions are less about what causes compromises, however, and more about how your Cover has already been compromised. They give your character both a safe haven (in the form of characters you can talk to more or less safely) and potential dramatic hooks (in the form of characters the Storyteller can throw into danger).

  • Who did you share part of yourself with when you first Fell?
  • Who doesn’t know, but suspects you’re not human?
  • Who could give you up to the angels right now, if they really wanted to?
  • Who would you trust the truest part of yourself with if you absolutely had to?
  • Who thinks they have something on you, when all they really have is smoke and mirrors?

And first, let me just say how incredibly White Wolfy those questions are, let's take a moment to appreciate that.

These aren't actually bad sort of things to try and establish about a character in this setting*, but they seem actually quite difficult to answer for a starting player. You've only invented a character so far, after all, but these questions suddenly require you to devise a whole set of NPCs and the associated life. How much freedom do you have? How well will those NPCs integrate with the rest of the group, since apparently Luke is doing chargen on his own? I feel like you actually want quite a lot of campaign background before you can give satisfactory answers to those questions.

Are you supposed to be inventing family members? Demon NPCs? Angels who relentlessly hunt you? Random suspicious contacts of the kind you'd meet in a detective story? Neighbourhood figures? A sinister organisation, one of whose agents you encountered? People associated with your cover, or cover-breaching NPC friends?

Let me also just point out that you could render every one of these questions irrelevant within the first session by burning your original identity.

* providing, of course, you're assuming it'll be a tense intrigue game of interpersonal stuff and emotional engagement, rather than one of taking arbitrary missions for people of higher status for nebulous reasons like all the other White Wolf games.

Better Chargen

I'd just like to briefly present a recommended alternative chargen sequence, since I've been doing all this complaining.

  1. Character Concept. Consider a) your relationship to the God-Machine, and b) your feelings about adopting human identity, with a quick glance at what kind of angel you used to be. Suggested form: I used to be an X. Now I do Y. My feelings about humanity are Z.
  2. Select Demonic Abilities. Decide what kind of supernatural abilities you'd like to manifest, allowing you to choose a coherent thematic set.
  3. The Fall. Now that you have a good picture of your character's personality and powers, decide what they might have been doing that caused them to Fall.
  4. Select Attributes and Skills. Now that you know what kind of demon you are, you can choose attributes that seem appropriate, while also making sure you will actually be able to use your supernatural powers.
  5. Select Skill Specialties. Doesn't really matter whether you keep the "one incongruous" thing going or not, to be honest.
  6. Select Merits
  7. Determine Advantages
  8. Age and Experience
  9. Create Demonic Form

Now, my preferred option would still feature an actual demonic templace that overlays ordinary humans, but that would deviate too far from White Wolf's model. Since demons and humans have the same number of dots to assign, it's not as though you can simply add more stuff on top of a human. You'd have to do something like: assign half the dots as a human host, assign the other half as the demon's own fixed capabilities. The advantage here is that you could avoid ending up as a Strength 5, Stamina 5 character in the body of a frail centegenarian. You could simply rule that whenever you take over a host's body, you halve their original scores (making sure to conserve the right number of dots overall) and overlay the demon's scores. Still, I'm sure it's not perfect, and it's kind of faffy.


  1. While I'm at it, the Merits section offers potentially to hugely imbalance characters - more than anything short of power selection.

    The game strongly emphasises that some Merits should be attached to Cover identities, despite the game having a heavy focus on alternate identities. Same old, same old.

    Some players may start out with a lot of Cover-specific Merits: social merits, sure, but you can make the argument that a lot of physical merits, including fighting, should also be Cover-specific. These players will be penalised as soon as they start using alternate Covers where these Merits are unavailable. Ironically, the best way to lose out is to play a very social-focused character who networks and builds up a big stable of Covers, since you don't get any Merit dots to spend on your Covers. The more Covers you have, the thinner they'll be spread. If you're social, or rely on Resources and Allies and stuff, your best bet is to only have a small number of Covers.

    Another player who chooses mostly Mental merits, or argues that Physical ones should be Cover-agnostic, can use their merits no matter what Cover they're using, and so they suffer no penalty for having a large number of Covers.

  2. Technically you can shiv without the shiv merit, but you'd use weaponry instead of brawl. Totally agree, though, that you really need to glance over everything first and then build from there. Especially for combat since all the real choices are there (more fighting styles than any other kind of merit), more of the complex actions are there (choices each round) and with defence you're looking at an epically reduced dice pool if you're not careful so unless you have a base of 5 (minimum) you won't hit the average thug (defence of 4).

    1. Ah, I hadn't thought of that.

      That's a really good point about the complexity, and one I'm going to fail completely to articulate properly in this comment.

      Combat's one of the highest-stakes part of gameplay, because in theory, the stakes are often death. So ideally you'd really want it to be one of the most transparent so players can understand their characters' capabilities and chances. That applies in the round-by-round, but it's even more important during chargen when you're establishing what those capabilities will be, and particularly for new players who don't have exhaustive system knowledge.

      But like you say, it's got quite a high threshold of success to actually achieve anything, so you need to build carefully. And because it's complex on several different axes, that's a real challenge. You've got to understand the core rules, plus the combat-specific actions, and then understand how your dicepools will likely behave in those circumstances.*

      And then to work out whether a combat merit will suit you, you need to understand how it will interact with all of the above, including decisions like "how often will I actually get the right circumstances to use this Merit and gain a small benefit or alternative option?" and "is it really going to be worth having that very specific combat option instead of better Contacts, which I'll actually remember to use?".

      * for example, I rolled 8d to play the violin this weekend because I'm amazing at the violin, and I juuust scraped a success. That can happen. Or I could've got five successes on five dice. Bonus dice are diminishing returns. Except on opposed actions or those that count successes, where they're really useful.

      I feel like WoD is quite like D&D 3.5 in some ways. Once you know the system well, you probably(?) have a good idea how different dot distributions will act in play, and which kinds of Merits will help you play a certain kind of character who's actually capable of mechanically doing things you want to be good at. Like how I had a good idea of how stats and feats worked out, but they were mind-boggling when I tried showing them to new players...

  3. While I enjoy your rewrite of the character creation sequence, you got a part of the original wrong. Not at all your fault though, considering the half-assed attempt to make it relatable to other game lines: the initial character concept is for the Demon, not their Cover. It's the character concept, supposedly an archetype that is recognizable or at least understandable, that's supposed to inform how the demon acts when not disguising themself, or when focusing on the 'inner monologue' describing how the demon approaches things. This shows much more clearly through starting characters with more than one cover (difficult) or more experienced demons having gained more covers through gameplay.