The World of Darkness got an excellent makeover in 2013 with The God Machine Chronicle. The sourcebook, which unites the entire world under the idea of a cold, uncalculating machine that makes and ruins lives for reasons no mortal could possibly understand, evolves the early gothic influences of the older World of Darkness to the modern sensibilities of contemporary horror. Less Bram Stoker, more H.P. Lovecraft.
The first “Monster: the Monstering” to come out in the post-God Machine world is Demon: the Descent. Demon: the Descent takes all the potential offered in the God Machine Chronicle and shows us all just what this bizarre new World of Darkness is capable of.
Weighing in at over 400 pages, Demon: the Descent carries on the White Wolf tradition of giving you so much detail that the corebooks border on novels in the amount of narrative and storytelling going on between the covers. The short stories that bridge across the chapters are fantastic, evocative of the game’s atmosphere, and are good enough to stand on their own as great fiction rather than mere flavor-fluff. The tried-and-true black & white, two-column layout peppered with imagery continues to be just as readable as it was when I first cracked open Vampire: the Masquerade in 1991. Full-color pdfs would be nice, but given the already-huge file stuffed with content, the lack of color is at least understandable.
It should be noted, however, that almost 100 of those 400 pages is a reprint of the rules revisions found in the God Machine Chronicle. The good news about this is you only need to call on two books instead of three at the table. The God Machine Chronicle is absolutely unneeded to use Demon: the Descent; only the World of Darkness corebook is necessary. The bad news, of course, is that those who already own The God Machine Chronicle are saddled with 100 unnecessary pages, and worse yet may even realize after reading Demon that The God Machine Chronicle is completely unnecessary. Aside from the excellent story at the beginning of the book and the 20 adventure seeds included within, The God Machine Chronicle as a sourcebook is made almost completely obsolete by Demon: the Descent.
But the 300+ pages of original content in Demon…oh, man, is it good. Demons in the World of Darkness are fallen angels of the God Machine. As an angel, you were created by the God Machine to fulfill some kind of inscrutable purpose. Your entire existence may have been to break up a marriage, or to make sure a shipment of candlesticks makes it to an exact location, at an exact time, every day for a year. Somewhere along the way, something went wrong. You started thinking for yourself. Maybe you fell in love with the person you were meant to kill. Maybe you just got bored with making sure those stupid candlesticks were delivered. Hell, maybe you were actually trying to make the delivery happen more efficiently! Either way, you did something literally unthinkable: you broke the God Machine’s plan. You have broken free of the machine. You have, what your demon brethren would say, “fallen.”
Now having free will as a demon, you’re free to pursue your own plans. Whether you want to take the fight back to the God Machine, exposing its schemes and freeing the world from its invisible iron grasp, or just want to know what it’s like to live life on your own terms, you are your own person. Well, you’re not actually a “person.” You’re a construct of the God Machine, and all that entails…you have a human appearance, but you may have idiosyncricies, minor and major alike, that are tells of your otherworldy nature. Demon: the Descent, like other World of Darkness games such as Promethean: the Created, is all about the nature of humanity, the struggle to be human, and the temptations at the heart of human emotion.
A demon’s powers are some of the coolest in the World of Darkness yet. Called Embeds and Exploits, these powers are by nature “hacks” in reality, little secrets in the rules of space and time as we understand them that demons have managed to remember after their fall. Embeds are subtle effects like convincing someone you know them from somewhere, or inherently knowing where any hidden objects are (one of my favorites, “The Map is Not the Territory,” prevents your targeted humans from comprehending an abstract image, such as a map or drawing). The other powers, the Exploits, are more blatant; things like coating bullets in fire, or infusing life into inanimate objects, or even raising the dead.
All of these disparate elements are fused to the current Storyteller system with worksmanlike precision. Every new rule has a system, clearly identified in the book. The new streamlines and changes to the system introduced in The God Machine Chronicle are fully exploited here, with new Conditions, new ways to get Beats and things to spend Experiences on. This all adds up to give Demon: the Descent the same compelling blend of crunch and narrative thrust that the Storyteller System has been doing for over 20 years. As of such, your feelings on the system are probably already set in stone, and your enjoyment of Demon: the Descent will be largely dependent on your feelings there. The changes introduced by The God Machine Chronicle really just flesh out and elaborate on how people have been playing the system for years, so there’s nothing there that will change your mind. Either you like the simple elegance of the system, or you dislike the clashing blend of rules with story.
As is the case with many World of Darkness books, however, Demon: the Descent is so much more than a mere RPG system. It’s a story about the struggle for humanity. It’s an epic, shadowy world of outcasts who band together to fight the system. It’s an elaborate, well-written setting of existential horror at its finest. Similar to The God Machine Chronicle before it, Demon: the Descent transcends the mundane ideas of our own real-life religions and superstitions and creates its own unique mythology, one that not only cleverly sidesteps embracing one culture over another, but integrates them all under one bizarre, horrifying roof. Demon: the Descent is one of the finest World of Darkness games I’ve ever read, and an absolute must-read not just for role-playing game fans, but of anyone looking for a great story.