Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Demon Playtest: How An Angel Dies, part 2

Part one is here. All rules and conditions (not Conditions) still apply.

Before we started, I told the players something that their characters would have noticed last time, but that I hadn't mentioned: the George Washington Bridge is Infrastructure. All of it. That must have been a recent thing (existing structures can become Infrastructure, and in some ways the God-Machine prefers to do that because it's more efficient), but unless you're walking on the bridge, not driving across it, you wouldn't notice. But it is, and the smashed phone is a linchpin. Curious.

So, last time, you'll recall, Luke, Amy and Saskia were down by the Fremont Troll with Saskia's new addict. They decided to open a gate to the Underworld, because they'd heard that Regina (the woman who broke the phone up on the bridge, and whom they'd bailed out of jail) had a family member jump off that bridge to his death, so maybe his ghost is around?

Whew.

Anyway, Luke uses Rip the Gates to open up a gate to the Underworld, but could only keep it open for a turn (low Primum), so they all had to rush in. Saskia leaves her addict outside a lookout. In the caverns, they find a young man with a guitar over his shoulder. He introduces himself as Isaac Donahue, Regina's brother.

In talking to him, it becomes clear that he killed himself after losing a lifelong battle with depression. He's been hanging around the bridge ever since, but just recently he just appeared in the Underworld and can't get back to the surface. The characters talk with him a little about what he's seen, and he talks about a guy named Simon (who's "like you, whatever 'you' is", he's informs the demons) who comes down here sometimes at night, crawls through the window of the VW Beetle that the  Troll is holding, and disappears. He returns up to a few days later, but when he does his clothes are different - outdated.

At this point, the addict that Saskia brought with them appears next to them, looking mighty confused. He's got an exit wound in the back of his head; clearly he's been shot. This unnerves the demons to no end (but they are nice enough to inform him to keep walking into the Underworld and pass on). A guardian angel for the bridge, maybe? Isaac writes them a note to give to Regina, and Luke rips another gate, and out they jolly well go.

The addict's body is lying nearby. Saskia, investigating, realizes that someone lean over the bridge and shot him in the forehead, killing him instantly. They decide to call the police and claim to have found the body, rather than risk someone seeing them leave.

Meanwhile, back in the bar, Jamie, Will and Edgar talk with Regina. She's keen to accept whatever the characters want to do for her, including buying her dinner and beer, and she talks about Isaac and the phones (after a little social greasing from Jamie). She says that she was just pissed - the phones are an afterthought. There's no real help for people with mental health issues when they need it, which in Isaac's case would have been in his teens or earlier. She confirms that although Isaac has been dead for a couple of years, she only started smashing the phone a few months ago. She also says that she's seen Isaac on and under the bridge (and is in general not horribly upset by the notion of supernatural stuff), but not recently.

The other characters get back, and Luke uses Idle Conversation so they can talk without freaking Regina or anyone else out. A few of the characters notice that Regina's hair, done up in dreadlocks, has a few strands of what seems at first to be grey, but is actually shiny silver wire. So Regina is stigmatic, but is she in the same group as the cultists from before?

The demons talk with her a bit more, and learn that she's never heard of Gordon Reardon (who, remember, was the demon that the cultists killed, and who indirectly sent the characters to Regina). So why would Gordon care about her? The demons realize that they left that apartment pretty quickly and didn't really give it a good going-over, so they decide to go back. First, though, they give Regina the note from her brother. She breaks down crying, distraught but not terribly confused or disbelieving. Figuring that they'd better keep her here for her own protection, Edgar uses Ellipses on her to keep her rereading the note and drinking a beer until they get back.

They walk down to the apartment building and claim to be residents to the cops watching the place. They get out at Gordon's floor, and there's a cop on the floor as well. Will claims to be dating the guy across the hall, and sells it with some good Manipulation rolls (it helps that demons lie like nobody's business). They walk down to that apartment, Will knocks, and then uses Authorized to gain entry to the guy's flat. Edgar uses Ellipses on the original cop, and they walk across the hall to Gordon's place.

The demons investigate, with Will (and his Trained Observer Merit) taking lead. Jamie, as she has no Investigation, watches the door. Saskia finds a DVD in the player - It Happened at the World's Fair, starring Elvis Presley. Interesting.

Amy finds a police scanner on the floor next to the couch; Will probably knocked it over in the fight.

Edgar finds a copy of the Lesser Key of Solomon on his shelf. They know Gordon had an interest in demonology and cults, so that's maybe not so surprising, but he grabs it to look through it.

(An aside: Demons don't have any particular need to keep notes, since they don't forget. This makes investigation stories a little harder to write. Moving on.)

Luke finds a set of photographs in the bedroom, all of the Troll. Some are day shots; they have an X drawn over them. Three are night shots, one with a street person in the background (that one has an X), and the other two with the window of the Beetle circled. This would seem to tie in to what Luke and the others learned earlier.

Will finds an envelope stuck to the wall, and then painted over. In it is a name: "Priscilla Benedict", along with an address off Aurora Avenue. A contact? A safe house? Only one way to find out.

Jamie manifests her Sense the Angelic power (no need to go full demonic form, here). She senses that, yes, angelic Numina were used her recently, probably from the icy guy that melted her during the fight. But if he's an angel, did the God-Machine want Gordon dead? Where's that angel now? And why didn't Gordon change to demonic form and defend himself?

The characters head back to the bar and free Regina from her loop (she's surprised by how much time has passed). Knowing that the bridge is Infrastructure and having access to a linchpin, they decide to go look around there a bit. The other thing is, too, Luke is out of Aether, and he knows he can siphon some from active Infrastructure. That's risky, but you do what you must.

The characters head onto the bridge and Will, Jamie and Amy work on taking apart the phone. This is an extended action and it very nearly fails because they run out of rolls (by the end, it's just Will because the girls run through their dice pools). But he discovers that the phone isn't a phone, and never was. It's got weird blue wires that go straight back into the concrete - that's Infrastructure, for sure. If the phone isn't broken, it forms a circuit that builds up power until a switch flips in the receiver. Since it doesn't have power at the moment, Will flips the switch just to see what will happen. He hears a voice from the speaker say, "Connected. The Lambent has been dispatched."

Initially this is worrisome because it's obviously and angel summoning, but they realize there was no aetheric burst of energy, so this is just what will happen when the Infrastructure does what it's meant to. Luke picks up a phone and puts it to his ear, sucking up Aether, and then hangs up again, no problem. Saskia does as well. Edgar does, but stays on too long and those blue wires shoot out and lodges his head and ear. Fortunately, Luke is a surgeon, and removes them deftly.

But then poor Jamie tries it. She gets the Aether, sure, but when she tries to disengage she fails the compromise roll (the others were making them, but just taking minor glitches for successful rolls, and actually I think Luke's player got an exceptional success and got a Beat out of it). She takes the Flagged Compromise, loses a dot of Cover, and those needles are in tight. And then all the phones start ringing. Angels incoming.

Edgar uses Interference and gets something like seven successes, so any incoming angels will take a -7 to find the characters. Saskia tackles Jamie, ripping the wires out of her head and doing some lethal damage, but she's free. Luke bandages her up, and they flee back to the bar to talk this over.

They theorize that Isaac was banished to the Underworld when the bridge became Infrastructure. They also now know that the bridge is meant to summon an angel called "the Lambent," but they don't know why. And they know that the Beetle's window is a gateway to somewhere

They decide to split up, because that's the best way for exciting things to happen. Will, Edgar and Luke will go to the Troll and see if this window leads anywhere (Luke initially states it leads to the Underworld, but then realizes that he's just guessing about that). Amy, Jamie and Saskia will go to Priscilla Benedict's apartment and investigate who she is.

The boys go back down under the bridge, and one after another, they wriggle through the window. The world goes weird, and they wriggle out again...but the neighborhood is different. There's no Troll, and this car is just a burned-out husk. And on the hood, a woman is currently shooting up heroin (and so is too out of it to notice that three men just appeared from nowhere).

Based on her clothes, though, something's off - her fashions are 50 years out of date. Will finds a newspaper machine and buys one. It's August 31, 1962.

Meanwhile, back present-day Seattle, the girls take a drive up Aurora Avenue into what amounts to the red light district. They pull into the Sterling Apartments, which does appear to be something of a shithole. They walk in, and see a guy on the staircase, holding a bag with a big glass bottle, blocking their path. They say they're going up to see Priscilla. The man says she isn't here.

"These are Sterling Apartments, right?" says Jamie...and uses Play on Words.

Reality shudders a bit. Jamie's hair turns fluorescent (glitch). But now instead of being a shitty apartment building called "Sterling," these are really sterling apartments, at least for a few hours. The building gets cleaner, the doors are now freshly painted, and the man on the stairs stands up, is wearing a suit, and carrying a bottle of good vodka rather than cheap malt liquor. He still doesn't think Priscilla is home, however, but he doesn't stop them from going upstairs.

The door is locked, and none of them have especially high Larceny scores. Saskia, however, manifests her Spatial Distortion form power (we redid demonic forms, and OMG they're so much more balanced now, as unclean as I feel typing that) and slips under the door. She opens up for the others, and they get searching.

They find the same painting on the wall as they found in Gordon's place. Amy finds a dead, disemboweled dog in the fridge - apparently Priscilla had done some entrail-reading. They found an envelope on the wall, same as in Gordon's place, but this one with "Gordon Reardon" on it and his address. They found a map with routes from both apartments, routes to and from the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project...but all avoiding the bridge. And they found a book.

The book was Cults in America: The Harmless, The Hoax and the Horrors by Eric Rasoletti, PhD (anyone get that reference?). There was a section in the "Harmless" section with notes in the margins. The section was about a cult called the Fellowship of the Final Awakening, an apocalyptic cult active in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1960s. According to the book, they were largely just wealthy white guys pretending to occult significance, but the really weird thing was, according to the margin notes, this section used to be just a paragraph. Now it was five pages. Is this cult becoming retroactively more significant?

At this point, a man walks into the apartment. He asks if the girls are looking for Priscilla, and then adds "Me, too," in Serbian. Jamie follows up in Swahili, and when he responds, they know they're talking to a demon. He calls himself Comrade West, and he runs the Demon's Republic of Seattle, a kind of communistic Agency - everyone gives, everyone gets. He confirms what the characters suspected; Priscilla and Gordon are (were) the same demon, just different Covers. He's sorry to hear that she's dead (West refers to the demon as Priscilla, but pronouns are a bitch), and doesn't know who the cultists are or why. He does note, though, that stigmatics with matching marks are often created in the same incident...or by the same demon.

They tell him the rest of their story, including the bit about the Lambent. He points out something they hadn't considered.

If they know where and when an angel is going to appear (or, as in this case, they can control it)...they can jack it.