Actual Play(test): Eric’s Group

Eric Zawadzki, the genius behind the story “Prodigal” in the God-Machine Anthology, and one of the writers on Demon: The Complicated Last Names. I’m gonna be posting three playtest write-ups in quick succession. Follow along. Same caveats apply from my playtest:

THIS IS A PLAYTEST. Everything from names to powers to setting elements is subject to change. Additionally, my playtest group tends to routinely eschew “official canon” in favor of what makes our specific story more interesting, so take any setting elements I mention with a grain of salt. To quote the Moscow Rules used by Cold War operatives working in Moscow: Assume nothing.

I MIGHT NOT TELL YOU EVERYTHING. We’ve been pretty open so far about Demon, and the stuff we’ve deliberately held back is stuff we’re very likely to change or stuff I’m not sure the developers want me revealing yet.

I’M NOT EXPLAINING EVERYTHING. The developers and some of the other writers have spoiled a lot of stuff about Demon in this thread. You’re well served to read that thread if you want a lot of the background assumptions about the game.

Ready? Cool. On we go.

Dramatis Personae

Hugo (Psychopomp/Integrator): As an angel, assigned to build Infrastructure to bring forth an angel. He noticed what he felt was a flaw in the design and was forbidden from changing it, with the result being the creature the Infrastructure brought into the world was a twisted mockery of the angel he expected. He Fell when he decided to find a way to correct the flaw and bring forth the angel he believed the God-Machine actually needed. The obsessive de facto leader of the group if only because “the incident” is central to all their problems. Rich geneticist owner of First Principle Labs, which is forbidden from operating due to pending litigation in the wake of “the incident” that caused his fall.

Engelbert (Psychopomp/Inquisitor): Once escorted designated souls to what he believed to be their final reward. He Fell because he became curious about the world from which these souls came and abandoned his post. Gloomy, stealthy, and seemingly always on the verge of running like hell to save his own skin. He works as a research librarian at a university science museum that everyone seems to mistakenly assume has a section devoted to occult lore.

Alexandra (Defender/Tempter): She once protected a serial killer from being caught by the police by masquerading as the detective in charge of catching him and then deliberately sabotaging the investigation at every turn. She Fell when the killer chose her as his next target and she ended up killing him in self-defense instead of fleeing from him. She maintains her cover as homicide detective.

Fiona (Messenger/Saboteur): In the early days of the Internet she was tasked with sowing discord and misinformation in order to prevent this new technology from bringing mortals together and allowing them to easily pool their occult knowledge. She claims to be the “first troll on the Internet” with a certain amount of pride. When this ceased to be necessary (since it became a self-feeding mechanism involving ordinary people) she decided nothing the God-Machine assigned her could top that and Fell. She soon organized a cult of humans who worshiped her radiantly beautiful demon form on an isolated island far from where most angels would look for her. However, using her demonic form’s abilities she maintains a secondary existence as a supermodel in a city some distance from her cult’s camp.

Session #1

We begin on a typical day in the university library where Engelbert works. A man comes to the reference desk, flashes homicide detective credentials (Detective Gerard Andrews), and asks Engelbert for assistance with research related to an investigation. While initially interested in the library’s nonexistent occult section, the detective ultimately asks for help locating all news stories related to First Principle Labs.

Englebert knows the owner of the laboratory (Hugo) is a fellow demon, so he suspects Gerard is either an angel or a police detective being used as a cat’s paw by the God-Machine. Engelbert doesn’t want to risk attracting possibly angelic attention to himself, but he sabotages Gerard’s research in small ways until the detective ultimately leaves without learning anything of consequence.

As soon as Gerard leaves, Engelbert contacts Hugo to warn him that a homicide detective has taken an interest in his laboratory. This is clearly news to the geneticist, and he finds it disquieting that anyone would connect a murder to a company that hasn’t been open for business for months. Engelbert agrees to do a little digging on the detective and his current case.


In another part of the city, Isaiah, Alexandra’s boss (who is the only person “in the know” about her) informs her of a recently opened case that might be of interest to her. At first blush, it appears to be no more the work of a particularly brutal and bizarre serial killer who cuts up his victims into small pieces and stuffs them into the nearest refrigerator. What Isaiah thinks might interest Alexandra is that both known victims have tattoos that seem to indicate they might have previously had an encounter with the God-Machine (stigmatics).

The investigation has already been assigned to Alexandra’s rival (Gerard Andrews), so pulling him off it so soon might look suspicious. However, Isaiah promises he’ll try to get Alexandra more information on the case as it comes to light, in case it turns out to be related to the God-Machine.


The next morning takes us to the island camp of the Cult of the Beautiful One, where the dawn ritual is interrupted by horrified cries coming from the kitchen. The Beautiful One (Fiona in her inhumanly beautiful and radiant demon form) takes a personal interest in the distress of her worshippers and goes to comfort the distressed morning cook, who has found something terrible. In the walk-in refrigerator of the camp’s kitchen is the rigorously dismembered body of the dinner cook (a stigmatic loyal to the Beautiful One). Although by no means a locked room mystery, none of the other cultists reported anyone leaving the camp, nor did anyone see one of their fellows covered in human blood the night before. However, one of the most beloved of the Beautiful One points out the similarity between this murder and those committed in the city by the so-called Butcher.

A murder in a place where she feels safe enough to walk among the tents and cabins in her demon form sends Fiona into a towering rage. She sends a message to her cult’s agents in the city to bring her all the information the police have about the Butcher, as well as any details the authorities might have missed. She will know the name of the perpetrator and will end him personally, if need be!

The city cultists fan out obediently, knowing that at any moment the object of their worship might be looking through their eyes or listening through their ears. A low-ranking police officer discovers that Gerard Andrews is in charge of the case. Hoping his service will be pleasing to his glorious mistress, the lowly cop sneaks into the detective’s office, steals the case file, and faxes a copy of it to the cult. Armed with the names and locations of everyone Gerard has already questioned or intends to investigate, other cultists poke their noses into those places, as well. They wish only to serve the Beautiful One, so they are less willing to accept answers that would not please her.


A trio of cultists arrive in Engelbert’s library and promptly ask for directions to the occult section and information about First Principle Labs. Engelbert, sensing a pattern and in no mood to dance the same jig twice in as many days, informs the three that the library has no occult section and that all their research into First Principle Labs has yielded nothing remotely of interest to them or whomever they serve. Their memories rewritten by Homogenous Memory to reflect this truth, the cultists leave the library and report their regrettable failure.


Forewarned again by his librarian friend, Hugo is not surprised when a pair of thugs show up at his office building (the lobby of which is still open for purposes of directing legal inquiries even if the rest of the building is closed). They approach the receptionist with all the brutal confidence of Mafia “insurance salesmen” and demand to speak to the person in charge. Hugo calmly notifies the police of the intrusion before presenting himself to them. The thugs demand he tell them who the Butcher is and what the murderer’s connection is to First Principle Labs, implying all kinds of senseless violence in the event he refuses to answer their questions. Hugo plays for time, distracting them from the fact that he isn’t giving them the answers they want even as he manipulates the thugs into revealing more they intended about who sent them and why. When the police show up, the cultists flee.


Meanwhile, Alexandra receives a phone call from Isaiah, who tells her in a whisper that the police have just learned of another murder that fits the Butcher’s pattern. Isaiah “made a mistake” when writing down the address before giving it to Gerard, so Alexandra should have at least a few minutes to an hour to investigate the scene before Gerard gets there. Alexandra hurries over to the victim’s expensive condo and convinces the officers at the scene that she’s a part of the investigation.

Once inside, she finds the corpse has been cut into tiny pieces and practically poured into a mini fridge. Even though the victim clearly wasn’t a large man, the refrigerator was too small to accommodate the entire body, and so the smell of rot fills the condo. Alexandra uses Synthesis  to see how the murder was committed.

The first time she sees nothing unexpected. The building manager let the police into the condo to investigate the scent of decay, and they discovered the corpse.

Alexandra looks deeper. This time she sees the murder. A woman with a tattoo of a mechanical unicorn on the back of her neck (which moves as though running) brutally murders a slim, well-dressed young man. The murder weapon appears to be a meat cleaver, but something about the scene feels wrong, somehow (Alexandra’s player rolled an Exceptional Success and realizes that some supernatural ability has modified the way she sees the event). Thinking about her vision, Alexandra realizes that no human could render a body into such tiny pieces with nothing but a mere meat cleaver – certainly not in the amount of time the murder and dismemberment appears to have taken.

One last time Alexandra peers into the past, farther still, this time. The victim isn’t in the room, but she can hear him on the telephone in the background. He appears to be having a conversation about some secret work he is doing as a corporate spy for an organization devoted to “the Beautiful One.” He abruptly sweeps into the bar area to retrieve a beer from the mini fridge. Completely naked, Alexandra gets a good look at his body and finds no tattoos or other markings that would indicate that he is a stigmatic like the other victims.

As this third vision of the past fades away, a massive surge of aetheric magnetism centered on the mini fridge seizes Alexandra’s attention. She doesn’t see any source of the emanation, but as it’s big enough to have been felt from quite some distance away, she doesn’t want to get caught on the scene if an agent of the God-Machine decides to investigate. She slips out of the condo and heads toward the elevator, which is some distance down the hall and around the corner. As she nears the bend, she hears the elevator doors open, and a bright light shines against the wall as whatever was on the elevator gets out.

The pressure of aetheric magnetism coming from the light is unmistakably strong. Whatever is coming toward her is either a fully manifested angel or a demon that has gone loud. Either way, Alexandra wants nothing to do with it. She flees the way she came, looking for a stairwell. She finds one and ducks through the door. As she does so, she catches a glimpse of a glowing, vaguely humanoid figure with wings of light. She wastes no time putting as much space between her and it as possible.

As Alexandra emerges from the condominium, she notices someone in a black sedan taking pictures of anyone who leaves the building. She has little time to mull over this, however, so she gets in her unmarked police car and leaves the scene.


Meanwhile, armed with the existence and location of the Cult of the Beautiful One, Hugo and Engelbert rent a small boat and sail to the island where Fiona’s camp is hidden. Engelbert takes on his demonic form, a nearly invisible hovering sphere of mirrors, trying to ignore his nervousness that agents of the enemy will somehow detect his aetheric magnetism (he gains the Shaken Condition). Engelbert then uses Distraction to keep the sentry’s attention elsewhere long enough for Hugo to get close and use Identity Theft, which renders the sentry unconscious and allows the geneticist to take on his appearance.

The two spend some time sneaking around the cult’s camp eavesdropping. They overhear enough to determine that one of the cultists has been murdered but not much in the way of details.


Back at the police station, Gerard has returned from his fruitless attempt to find the scene of the most recent murder. He comes to Alexandra because it appears the file folder with all his notes on the Butcher case have gone missing from his desk. Alexandra feigns the companionable sympathy of a colleague who has other things on her mind, but as soon as she sees Gerard leave his desk to ask Isaiah whether he knows about the missing file, she goes to his desk and uses Synthesis.

In a matter of a couple minutes she identifies the person who took the file – a low-ranking cop who shouldn’t even be in the detectives’ work area – and determines that he took them to the copy room. She finds the pages of the file still in the fax machine, complete with a transmission report. Alexandra folds up the transmission report and sticks it in her pocket, and then she carefully sneaks the file into Gerard’s desk, hiding it under a couple other files so he thinks he just mislaid it. By the time her rival gives a cry of victory and goes back out to check out the newest murder scene, Alexandra has traced the fax number to the island of the Beautiful One’s cult.

She soon arranges a boat to the island and makes her way into the camp using her police credentials. While no one has reported the murder, yet, not all the cultists realize that, and Alexandra is able to more or less walk in without much challenge.


The Beautiful One comes out of her cabin, where she has been directing the work of her city cultists, without any knowledge of these visitors. She quickly calls out both the police detective and the imposter, but rather than making a scene in front of her followers she invites the two of them inside for a private conversation. Engelbert sneaks in after them, still hidden in his invisible demon form.

Once no mortals can hear them, the accusations fly wildly. Everyone seems convinced that everyone else is somehow connected to the Butcher’s murders. Alexandra takes umbrage at Fiona’s spying on the police. Hugo takes her to task for sending cultists to threaten him when he has nothing to do with the murders (and gives away Engelbert’s presence by mistake during his tirade). Fiona insists that the police have not released information critical to bringing justice, and she reminds Hugo and Engelbert that the police were the ones who seemed so convinced that First Principle Labs is inextricably linked to the Butcher.

Engelbert manages to both calm and horrify everyone by pointing out that the fact that four demons would come to this out-of-the-way island without previously knowing each other is quite improbable. He believes that someone – quite possibly the God-Machine or one of its agents – brought them together for some purpose none of them could discern. It seems likely, however, that it will not end well for any of them, so he cheerfully suggests they relocate to New Mexico before whatever trap they’re being lured into snaps closed.

While the others do not agree with the librarian’s conclusion, they can’t deny that someone is investigating elements of each of their Covers in a worrying fashion. Whether it is enemy action or just coincidence, if they take no action it seems likely that such an investigation could flush some or all of them into the open where they’ll make easy targets for the God-Machine’s angels.

They decide to pool information about the Butcher and the things they have seen since his murder spree began. The demons speculate a bit about the killer’s nature and motives. He seems to kill stigmatics almost exclusively, but the city cultist wasn’t a stigmatic, so how does he fit into the profile? The demons speculate about the creature of light Alexandra saw at the condo, as well as the worrying photographer that waited for her outside.

Ultimately they go to the cult camp’s kitchen to investigate the cook’s murder. Alexandra uses Synthesis and manages to confirm that a stigmatic with gears tattooed on both hands (the first murder victim the police discovered) killed the cook. Swallowing her carefully hidden fear of discovery by the God-Machine, Fiona uses Voice of the Machine to get some hint about how the God-Machine might be connected to all of this. The God-Machine has very little Infrastructure near the island, but she very distinctly hears an instruction directed to someone: “RETURN TO LAB AND AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS.”

Hugo considers this message, the Butcher’s established pattern of putting his victims in refrigerators, and the fact that everyone seems to think his headquarters is connected to the murders. After a long pause he asks the demons if they’d be willing to come back to First Principle Labs with him. “None of it is in use, of course, but it’s a 16-story building, and that’s a lot of refrigerators….”


5 thoughts on “Actual Play(test): Eric’s Group”

  1. What a difference a change in reporters makes. I thought Matt’s playtest made this feel too much like the Matrix, but just remove the constant use of the word ‘glitches’ and it feels like a game of supernatural horror rather than a sci-fi game. (I love science fiction, but I have yet to see White Wolf/Onyx Path mix sci-fi and horror in a way that I like.) It also seemed to me that in Matt’s playtest, Cover was aimed at mortals and the demons didn’t care much whether the angels realised who they were, given their casual use of their powers. In this playtest, keeping their Covers intact and protecting them from the angels provides their motivation. The contrast provides an interesting example of how Demon can be run different ways.

    • It’s true. Our playtests focused on different things, and the next one I’m putting up, I’m sure, will have yet another spin.

      That said, “glitch” is a game term, so expect to see it some more. 🙂


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