Aether: How does it work?

I’ve been popping over to the White Wolf forums of late, venturing out of my usual game-related online stomping grounds. Which has been nice, because I’ve been able to read – and occasionally comment on – Demon-related things.

One of the things that folks have asked about is Aether. What is it, really? Apparently, the Quickstart didn’t go into enough detail (I only had 30,000 words, folks), so maybe a little more examination is in order.

So, various World of Darkness creatures use Essence – it’s spiritual energy, basically. It differs from Mana and plasm and so on in various ways, but the energy types are apparently on something of a continuum (which is why certain creatures can steal Mana and convert it to Essence, or vice versa). Essence, then, is universal enough a power source, and plentiful enough, that the God-Machine designs angels to use it.

But, as the Demon book says:

The God-Machine is not the perfectly efficient engine it seems to be. Angels can’t see it, because their perceptions are circumscribed by the Machine itself. Only from the outside, with the perspective of a free-willed being, can the tiny flaws in its operations be seen. Human physics understands the concept as entropy: the fact that in any reaction a certain amount of energy is lost as waste heat. Demons know that the same principle applies to the occult physics of the God-Machine and its Infrastructure. They call this occult entropy “Aether,” and every time the God-Machine manipulates reality, whether it’s to create a facility, establish a Cover for one of its angels, or simply maintain the secret laws that allow the existence of Embeds and Exploits, some of its energy is wasted, left to bleed out into the universe at large.

Until a demon comes along, that is. Cut off from the God-Machine’s sustaining Essence, demons have to find a new source of energy to fuel their uncanny abilities. Much as the Fall twists a demon’s ability to use Numina and Influence into facility with Embeds and Exploits, the mechanical process of falling changes her Essence-channeling components, adapting them to harvest and utilize Aether.

Demons use Aether to fuel their Exploits, to access their Cover’s various countermeasures (such as spoofing and Legend, see p. XX), and to enhance their own physical capabilities. Certain features of a demonic form may also require the expenditure of Aether. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, once a demon has assumed her demonic form, she must spend Aether to return to the relative safety of her human Cover.

“Ah-ha,” you might say, “but just because demons are cut off from the God-Machine doesn’t mean that they can’t accrue more Essence. After all, the whole the reason the God-Machine probably uses it is because it’s easily available. So why not have demons use it, too? Surely it’s not just because you like having new terms to make your editors crazy?”

To which I respond: I’m married to the Demon editor. No, I do not wish to make her crazy. Gin is expensive.

No, really, the reason is to highlight the separation between demon and angel. Demons probably could run on Essence…but they aren’t the same kinds of machines. Demons are capable of so much more than angels because they aren’t tethered to a set of mission parameters. They burn hotter, as it were. Is Aether, then, a more efficient fuel? Maybe, if only for demonic purposes. It might be that the reason that demons are able to use Exploits is because they can pump Aether into the mystical framework of an Embed; angels can’t, because they can’t use Aether.

It might also be because the God-Machine designed demons to be unable to use Essence, post-Fall. If they can’t use Essence, the God-Machine figures, then they’ll power down and go dormant when they can’t refuel. But somewhere along the way, some demon figured out that while Essence doesn’t work, the result of “burning” Essence (Aether) is a pretty good fuel source in and of itself.

So when’s the God-Machine going to fix that glitch?

20 thoughts on “Aether: How does it work?”

  1. Is Aether only created by the God Machine doing things, or do other essence users also create waste byproduct when they use their supernatural abilities?

    Can a Demon harvest small quantities of Aether from Werewolves using gifts or Mages casting spells?

    • In the RAW, it’s only angels/God-Machine things that produce Aether. That said, Essence is Essence, and if I’m running a game involving both demons and werewolves, I’d absolutely say that the demons can absorb Aether from a werewolf’s Essence expenditure. If the ST’s Guide has a crossover section, maybe we’ll address that.

  2. I’d say Demons can’t use essence because the GM would surely notice something that isn’t suppose to be harvesting fuel the GM needs. 🙂 Demons really don’t want to blow their covers that fast.

  3. This is fantastic, thanks for that! I can’t wait for Demon to be released! Is it going to be a kickstarter, or print-on-demand from DriveThruRPG?

  4. You can’t use Essence as a Demon. That’s like tapping a wire and not expecting the electric company to notice the sudden extra draw. Far better to just cluster around running hardware and warm yourself via radiant heat. They can’t tell if you’re doing -that-.

  5. So can Demons claim a piece of Infrastructure (the way Mages claim Hallows, or Werewolves claim Loci) and draw Aether from it regularly? Or must they always on the lookout for their next fix?

    • I feel that claiming it would be too easy, going against the established themes of the game. maybe they kinda find a backdoor that allows them to draw what tehy need w/o alerting anyone.

  6. Of course its just waste heat, an accident, an inefficiency…

    But of course the God-Machine needs it to power his Demons, doesn’t he? Or maybe he just needs Demons to turn Aether into more useful resources, like confusion and information transference.

  7. For all of the ‘Don’t make no sense’ that the RULES part of the quickstart offered, I found that the STORY in there (angles trying to use aether) really helped me get a handle on this mechanic… And then THIS discussion helped even more.

    Dang it all! I’m actually really excited for this book! O.o


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