Actual Play(test): Demon: The Eric’s Group, part 2

Demon: The Descent, Open Development

Session #2

Alexandra and Fiona have other things they need to do to protect their interests, so they bow out of the team refrigerator raid. Engelbert agrees to help Hugo’s search and goes back to the city with him. Alexandra, meanwhile, returns to the police station to see if there is any news on that front.

Fiona decides that in light of the security breach on her island it has become too dangerous for her to remain in her demon form whenever she is with her followers. She also recognizes that it might be a good idea to suspend active recruitment of new cult members until this possibly angelic scrutiny passes. It’s really quite amazing that she’s been able to go this long spending so much time in demon form.

Her cultists don’t recognize her Cover identity, however, because she has been teleporting back and forth between the camp and her cover’s home in the city to keep the two as separate as possible. Fiona appears to her cultists and tells them not to bring new members to the island for a while with the exception of one agent she has chosen to guide them through this troubled time (i.e. her Cover identity). She then bids them goodbye for now and teleports home to take her cover for the foreseeable future.

*****

When Alexandra gets to the station she finds that Gerard is no longer working on the Butcher case by himself. Three people in black suits (a middle-aged man, a much younger man, and a woman) are with him in a conference room. Alexandra recognizes the middle-aged man as the person in the black sedan who took her picture when she left the condominium the previous day.

She asks Isaiah about these new arrivals. He tells her they are from a division within the FBI called VASCU that specializes in catching serial killers similar to the Butcher. They’re technically only here in an advisory capacity (for now), but they have clearly impressed Gerard and are essentially calling the shots for him, now.

Alexandra isn’t sure whether these VASCU agents are more pawns of the God-Machine or whether they represent some third party’s interest in the Butcher, but she means to find out. When Gerard takes a brief break from his meeting, Alexandra uses it as an excuse to make inane small talk before giving him an encouraging pat on the shoulder and using Living Recorder.

When the meeting ends an hour or so later and the VASCU agents leave, Alexandra finds yet another convenient excuse to make brief physical contact with her colleague, collecting the events of the second half of Gerard’s conversation with the FBI agents. She quickly determines that although Agent Brian Jackson (the middle-aged man) is officially in charge and Agent Nate Hamm (the younger man) is clearly his assistant or protégé, Agent Grace Smith (the woman) directs the course of the conversation by means of minute verbal cues.

The VASCU agents suspect that the Butcher is some kind of creature they describe as a Slasher – a supernatural serial killer often created by arcane energies under mysterious circumstances. Their particular division at the FBI apparently hunts Slashers almost exclusively. Their investigations have also led them to believe that the Butcher may have originated from a local laboratory accident, and First Principle Labs is high on their list of potential genesis sites.

The other interesting tidbit of information that comes out in the conversation is the order of the murders. The thoroughness of the dismemberment and the use of refrigeration (which retards decomposition) initially made it difficult to estimate a time of death. Special examination methods (whatever those are, but the agents seem confident in them) indicate that the woman with the unicorn tattoo died after the city cultist in the condominium, which runs contrary to what Alexandra saw with Synthesis.

*****

Hugo and Engelbert spend several hours checking every refrigerator in the building floor-by-floor. The tedious work bears no fruit until after dark. When they get to the 14th floor, they discover an employee kitchen that shows signs of recent occupancy. The refrigerator has no butchered human remains crammed into it, but it contains a fair amount of food. A half-empty bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, and a sponge sit next to the sink. The couch in the adjacent lounge also shows signs of recent use – stray dirt and bits of fallen dirt that clear fell on it some time after the lab was closed.

While they are engrossed in examining the scene, they hear the elevator doors open in the hallway. The building is vacant, and no one except Hugo and his receptionist should be able to get inside. Hugo waves for Engelbert to place himself in view so the person in the elevator will see him when he comes into the room, while he removes a syringe full of tranquilizers from a pocket and hides behind the door.

The man who walks into the employee kitchen has just enough time to be surprised to see Engelbert waiting for him before Hugo’s needle sinks into his neck (a modified version of Knockout Punch that uses Weaponry instead of Brawl but requires the use of a syringe as a weapon). The mysterious intruder collapses into an unconscious heap, and the two demons quickly tie him up in the nearby laboratory to question him.

Under the bright lights in the lab, Hugo realizes he recognizes the man as Dr. Mike Stout, who was in charge of the genetics project at the center of the mysterious incident that forced the company’s closure. Dr. Stout’s name was among those reported missing and presumed dead after the events of that day. How he was able to get into the building tonight (or on seemingly many previous nights) remains a mystery, since Hugo deactivated all key cards for the building when the company closed its doors.

Hugo wakes the scientist and demands to know what he has been up to since the incident. Dr. Stout spins a fairly transparent line of bull in which he claims to have been out of the office that wasn’t missed. He claims he has been living in the building – on the same floor as the events of the incident – ever since because the local job market for geneticists is tough and he has been having difficulty finding work.

Hugo confronts Dr. Stout with a stack of documentation to show he has plenty of reason not to believe a word the scientist is telling him. Other witnesses saw Dr. Stout on the day of the incident. He was in charge of the experiment that “came out of the refrigerator.” Dr. Stout doesn’t answer. Instead he stands up, having somehow slipped free of the ropes binding him, and takes off running.

Hugo and Engelbert give chase, but Dr. Stout uses the moment of surprise to get well ahead of them. He runs toward one of the windows and hurls himself at it. It being the kind of heavy glass used in skyscrapers, however, he bounces off it and nearly topples over. He turns around as Hugo and Engelbert approach, moving slowly to make sure the scientist can’t run past them.

Suddenly a shot rings out, seeming to come from the building on the opposite side of the street. The window behind Dr. Stout shatters. Engelbert uses Just Bruised to minimize any damage the bullet might cause, so it merely grazes Dr. Stout’s shoulder. Hugo rushes forward to pull the scientist to the safety of the floor, but Dr. Stout sees his chance and throws himself through the window.

Engelbert races to the ledge, pulling a looped length of rope out of his pocket using In My Pocket in hopes of snaring the scientist’s ankle before he drops 14 stories to his death. The falling bodies law wins, though, and this particular body drops out of sight in the shadow between the buildings. Hugo, who has taken cover against further bullets, urges Engelbert to do the same, but Engelbert is able to tell that the shooter has already left – either out of fear of discovery or because he had already achieved his objective in being there.

*****

Fiona and Alexandra are not thrilled to get a late night call asking them to come to First Principle Labs right away, but they both show up to help look for clues. Alexandra uses Synthesis and determines that Dr. Stout spent a considerable portion of his time in the laboratory examining samples of some kind. She again gets the uncanny sense (due to another Exceptional Success) that some supernatural force is altering the events of the past she is witnessing. Hugo suggests looking at the video from the security cameras to see if they are different from what Alexandra describes, but the footage supports her vision.

Once Hugo returns from the security room, Alexandra and Fiona question him about Dr. Stout. Hugo explains that the Infrastructure the God-Machine instructed him to build had a flaw. He could tell it was supposed to summon a powerful Destroyer angel, but the time and the configuration the Infrastructure were not right. When Dr. Stout accidentally completed the occult matrix, instead of bringing forth the angel as it clearly was intended to do, it created a monster in the refrigerated room. This abomination of science and occult physics breached containment and killed several scientists before escaping the laboratory building.

Alexandra uses Synthesis to look back at the unfortunate incident that appears to have caused all their current troubles. She sees a twisted monster directly out of traditional paintings of demons break free of the refrigerator door. It has eight tentacles, each of which ends in a wicked meat cleaver. It approaches one of the scientists (Dr. Maryanna Span), takes her shape, and then touches her. The scientist instantly vanishes as if the monster had completely replaced her. It then walks out of the area casually, as if it has every right to move about the building in spite of the current crisis.

Fiona asks to see a picture of Dr. Stout, whom she immediately recognizes as one of her cult’s most recent recruits. She risks her demon form long enough to reach out to with clairvoyance to confirm the scientist’s location but finds him fast asleep in the cult’s camp. She concludes that Dr. Stout is either capable of instantaneous travel over considerable distances or the man Engelbert and Hugo confronted wasn’t really Dr. Stout.

Fiona wants to know how the monster (which is almost certainly the Butcher they’re currently investigating) fits into the God-Machine’s plans. If it was a mistake, the demons might not have to take any action. Eventually the angels or other agents of their old master will find and destroy it. She uses Voice of the Machine and receives a very clear message about the Butcher, “And it was good.”

*****

While Hugo wrestles with the implications of this, his faith in the God-Machine deeply shaken by this apparent willingness to employ such imperfect tools as the Butcher, Engelbert and Alexandra decide to see what they can learn about the person who shot Dr. Stout, and hey, I wonder if there is a body on the street down there. They quickly establish that Dr. Stout is not a bloody smear on the pavement; in fact, Alexandra’s use of Synthesis reveals that Dr. Stout transformed into a winged monster with cleaver tentacles that exactly matches the one from the laboratory incident.

Once the pair reaches the building across the street, Engelbert uses In My Pocket to produce a keycard to open the front door, and they head upstairs to the 14th floor. The shooter has cleaned up after himself fairly well, but Synthesis quickly discovers his identity – VASCU agent Brian Jackson. The two remark on Agent Jackson’s apparent propensity for being used to do the dirty work of his team and then return to Hugo and Fiona.

*****

Meanwhile, by examining the security footage Hugo has discovered at least one of the ways Dr. Stout spent his time each night. Somehow the scientist found a way to access the 13th floor, which is the location of the biomechanical Infrastructure that made the incident possible. Dr. Stout has taken samples of the organic material on the floor, seemingly in an effort to learn more about the origin of the Butcher. Hugo explains this to Fiona, who decides the best way to solve this particular mystery is to confront Dr. Stout directly. She teleports back to the cult camp to handle that line of inquiry.

Engelbert and Alexandra return to the 14th floor of First Principle Labs to report their findings to Hugo. The conversation cuts off suddenly as Engelbert and Alexandra notice blinding white light and a burst of aetheric magnetism emanating from outside the building and moving quickly upward from below. Without providing their companion any explanation, they haul him out of the lab and onto the elevator. They’re already halfway down the building before the other two explain the situation to Hugo. The geneticist tells them that the first floor is too obvious and that they should instead escape through the basement garage.

However, the 1st floor button has already been pressed, and with a cheerful ding the elevator doors open. The three catch a glimpse of the winged humanoid figure made of light standing at the front door of the building, looking directly at them – the same one Alexandra saw at the condominium high rise. As they stab the elevator’s Close Doors button violently and the doors slide shut, they see it turn away from them as if not interested.

*****

As Fiona packs to go to her cult’s island in her mortal guise, she casually checks on her cultists clairvoyantly. Most of them are still sleeping or have just woken up, it being shortly before dawn. One of the leaders of the cult is on the phone, her voice choked with tears. She has apparently just heard from the police that one of her friends (Ricky Stroud, the city cultist in the condominium) was brutally murdered by the Butcher. She is in the process of breaking the news to his colleagues in the city.

Fiona hastily decides to risk her cover one last time in hopes of getting to the bottom of these murders. She teleports into Dr. Stout’s tent in her radiant demon form and imperiously demands to know the truth about the Butcher and his connection to it. Bathed in the light of the being he has been repeatedly told is some kind of goddess, the scientist prostrates himself and immediately accedes to her request:

He was the head of Project Proposition, reporting directly to the company’s owner (Hugo). They were trying to create artificial, multicellular life from scratch, without employing any kind of cloning process. The body they had built for this purpose was a vaguely humanoid animal, nothing intelligent or anything. They didn’t seem to be making any progress until the day of the incident at First Principle Labs, and even then there was no indication of what might have changed overnight. Every battery of tests that day and the previous day were entirely routine – the same ones they had run on the subject every day for months. Dr. Stout had entered the refrigeration chamber  with a daily injection, but instead of the inert pile of flesh he found a monstrous creature with enormous wings and many tentacles, each of which ended in a wicked cleaver.

The monster was impossible, in no way resembling the body they had created from lab-grown flesh. It greeted Dr. Stout with a wicked smile and told him to stand aside (“Oh God, it was never meant to be sapient!”). For the scientist’s role in its creation the monster calmly told him it intended to spare him from its wrath. Dr. Stout fled from the refrigeration chamber, and he and Dr. Maryanna Span forced the door closed.

This proved no impediment to the monster, however. It tore open the heavy door and then changed shape before their eyes. In moments it looked exactly like Dr. Span, down to her lab coat and glasses. She pulled the alarm to summon security, but the creature seemed unconcerned. It touched Dr. Span with one of its tentacles, and she just vanished. In its new guise the monster told Dr. Stout that he would be blamed by his employer for what it was about to do, so if he valued his life he would run away and never come back.

In a moment of weakness he did exactly that. First Principle Labs suppressed the details of the incident but Dr. Stout believes the creature killed many of his colleagues, as well as several members of the company’s security team. He had hoped that meant it was dead, “but I was wrong, so very wrong.”

A few weeks ago, two men in black suits arrived at Dr. Stout’s home. They had FBI credentials and introduced themselves as Brian Jackson and Nate Hamm, agents of a division of the Bureau called VASCU. They said they were investigating a string of mysterious disappearances and had reason to believe Dr. Stout knew something that would help them in their investigation. The scientist hesitated, not sure they would believe his strange story.

No doubt sensing Dr. Stout’s uncertainty Agent Jackson casually mentioned that the monster no longer looked like Dr. Span. It instead wore the body of Johnnie Arnold, now – a man with low-level underworld connections, a fondness for gold jewelry, and a remarkable scar that twists and winds like a stream of water. This was enough to convince Dr. Stout that these men were no strangers to unusual phenomena, and he told them all about the events of the day of the incident – the one that created what the media now calls the Butcher. The agents thanked him for his information and left him standing on his doorstep.

After that Dr. Stout noticed a black sedan following him around town. Occasionally a moving van or delivery truck would park on his street for hours at a time. He was reasonably certain he was under some kind of surveillance, but he had no way of knowing whether it was to protect him from the Butcher or to catch him doing something illicit.

A week later, a man matching the description of Johnnie Arnold showed up at Dr. Stout’s house. He bellowed that he knew the scientist was inside and that he was furious with him for talking to the police. “I spared you because you are my creator, and this is how you thank me? Come out here and receive your own reward!” Dr. Stout could only cower in his house. If the monster had managed to escape an office building filled with armed security guards, what chance did he have against it?

The Butcher did not break down his door and erase him as he had Dr. Span. In fact, after only a few minutes it left. Maybe the people surveilling him had spooked it or chased it away. Maybe it still couldn’t quite bring itself to kill him. Either way he didn’t intend to wait for it to come back.

Packing a few bags, he called his friend (Ricky Stroud) and begged for help. Ricky had always been a strange fellow with odd beliefs easily changed by a bit of popular paranormal hogwash, but he was a lot more likely to be open to a weird story involving mysterious agents and a monster than any of the scientist’s other friends. Ricky listened with a serious expression and almost no comment. When he had the whole story, the city cultist warned his friend that while he couldn’t guarantee his safety so long as Dr. Stout stayed in the city, the goddess he served had a camp at a nearby island. The Beautiful One would certainly protect the scientist from any threats while he was there, including this monster he described. Dr. Stout had nowhere else to go, so even though he wasn’t a true believer at the time he leapt at any hope of refuge. He joined the Cult of the Beautiful one the next day, since Ricky vouched for him.

But now the Butcher appears to have found out he is here. It has killed his original link to the cult (Ricky) and has murdered one of the Beautiful One’s servants in her own base of operations. When Fiona lets slip that the Butcher currently looks like him, Dr. Stout’s panic deepens. The VASCU agents told him that it always takes the face of its next victim just before it kills again. He begs for her protection. Fiona chides him for not bringing this to her sooner but promises she will do what she can to keep him save.

At that moment, however, she is distracted by a massive surge of aetheric magnetism coming from the direction of the camp kitchen. More than a little worried about what that might mean (she still has the Shaken Condition from the successful Cover check the player made when Fiona took demonic form), she nevertheless rushes to investigate. She finds no obvious source of the energy, although its focal point is obviously the area just outside the walk-in refrigerator where the cook was murdered.

At she stands there pondering the meaning of this, Fiona senses another source of aetheric magnetism directly behind her. The dull metallic surface of the refrigerator’s stainless steel door suddenly glows, and she can just make out the reflection of the tall, winged figure of light standing directly behind her.

END SESSION #2

  6 comments for “Actual Play(test): Demon: The Eric’s Group, part 2

  1. April 10, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Wow, this is interesting to read even aside from my desire to know more about the game. This is a well thought out and well played game. I’m excited to see that players are able to use their powers often and seem to get a fair amount of flexability out of only a few abilites.

    • April 12, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you for your kind words. I have a phenomenal tabletop group.

  2. MugaSofer
    April 12, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Didn’t the players used to risk “glitches” whenever they used their powers? Has that been removed? Or does that only happen when mortals are watching (a “Cover check” was mentioned?)

    • April 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Demons can get glitches or Conditions when risking Cover (making a Cover roll). My players and I didn’t latch onto the glitches half of the equation to the degree that Matt’s group did.

      • MugaSofer
        April 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm

        Ah, right. Thanks!

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