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The Town That Ran Like Clockwork - Demon Actual Play

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  • The Town That Ran Like Clockwork - Demon Actual Play

    Hi everyone. I found doing these write-ups for my last campaign was often as useful for me as much as anything, so I've decided to continue the tradition as my group begins our Demon campaign. This will be the first serious use of second edition rules for most of the group. Most of my campaigns lean heavily towards being sandboxes more than anything, and I don't intend this to be very different, but I wanted to give a shot at tying in a central overarching story as well. So we'll see how that goes. And without further ado...

    The Setting

    The town of Cole's Ford is a small settlement in northern Minnesota. It is isolated, far from any main roads, and even its closest neighbours would be hard pressed to give directions on how to reach it. The people of Cole's Ford have little regular contact with the outside world. The only exception is the logging industry, which dominates the town. A large saw mill operates near the town, and there is a major logging camp only a few hours' drive away. Massive trucks hauling timber regularly make their way through town and out into the world.

    Cole's Ford is more important than it appears. The town teems with Infrastructure. Facilities dominate the skyline, concealed in Twilight, and choirs of angels fill the skies. The town connects with Infrastructure hundreds of miles away, a vital hub in the God-Machine's network. Demons find themselves in the midst of the hornet's nest. Hiding among the humans is hard when they are so few in number, and the God-Machine's heavy presence creates ample opportunities for new Demons to Fall. Covers are precious things indeed, and every Demon walks a knife edge only moments from discovery.

    The Player Characters

    Aegis (Guardian/Saboteur) - Aegis once played the role of the guardian angel. They stepped in front of cars for their ward, diverted the course of falling debris, shielded him from disease, and endured a thousand other injuries and indignities to ensure his safety. But in the midst of all this they fell in love with him and Fell. For a short time they were happy, and Aegis gave birth to a child. But then the hunters came. Aegis's husband was killed, and they went Loud to evade their pursuers and escape with their child. For years Aegis and their daughter, Elise, fled across the United States looking for safety. At every turn they were dogged by Hunter-Killer Angels. At last they arrived in Cole's Ford, and the angel dogging their footsteps Fell rather than complete his mission. Aegis formed the beginnings of the Ring with their former enemy, and has stayed in town out of fear that a sudden departure would see a new angel set after them in pursuit.
    Aegis is a survivor more than a fighter, although hardly a pushover in combat. Their current Cover is a lumberjack named Salem, a man of Bolivian descent. In Demon form Aegis is a six-legged clockwork creature of spindly metalwork and rotting flesh, with wings and the ability to launch iron spikes from their limbs. Their powers include Animal Communication, the Hellhound Exploit, Just Bruised, and Like I Built It (the first key in their Cipher).

    Aegis's player is responsible for each of these pictures.

    Axis (Psychopomp/Inquisitor) - Axis has always been inquisitive, so it was only natural that a moment of curiosity was what led to his Fall. He had been ordered to make deliveries to a hospital not far from Cole's Ford. Every delivery disappeared behind a pair of doors, and he burned to know what happened to them. Then one day he followed the delivery, met the angel on the other side, and Fell. Since then he has taken on the Cover of a town librarian, Phil Collins, a carefully groomed man in his late twenties. He manages a privately funded library dedicated to the history of Cole's Ford, while using his position to maintain a collection of books on the occult. He eagerly collects every scrap of information he can on Infrastructure, holding out some hope of one day creating his own to demonstrate his mastery of the God-Machine's own technology.
    Through his powers and skills, Axis strives to be competent in many different skills as he can so as to never be without the knowledge he needs, but his focus is on being able to learn new secrets. He has Fungible Knowledge (the first key in his Cipher), Alibi, Eavesdrop, and the Living Shadow Exploit. In his Demon Form he is a being of interlocking gears and dizzyingly complex clockwork, capable of separating into a swarm of mechanical bees if necessary. A grinding maw gapes wide when he is in danger, capable of rendering down any being into their component parts.

    Mr Smith (Messenger/Inquisitor/Integrator) - Mr Smith was once tasked with obfuscating information related to the God-Machine's projects. He was deployed with the cover of an FBI agent, supplied with a human partner, and made his way across the country under the supposed guise of investigating crimes. His true purpose was to spread rumours of alien abductions and UFOs, ensuring that those who had encountered the God-Machine would remain ignorant of what they had seen. But when he came to Cole's Ford, investigating a serial kidnapper who had been operating in the area, he decided that the crime was more important than the mission and Fell. He kept his Cover, Agent John Smith, and threw himself into the investigation wholeheartedly.
    Since Falling, Mr Smith has had time to consider his situation. As a Messenger, he has always believed that the world can be changed with the right Input, and found himself naturally drawn towards the Inquisitor Agenda in the belief that the input would be a piece of knowledge. Except that he doesn't believe that knowledge is possible for a Demon to get. As an Angel, Mr Smith thinks he could have had access to the information needed to be safe from the God-Machine forever. When an Angel's mind begins to turn in that direction however, an automatic defence triggers which severs the Angel from the God-Machine server and creates a Demon. By re-Integrating with the Machine with his free will intact, Mr Smith hopes to find that final piece of knowledge he needs to be rid of it forever. He joined the Ring while staking out the local school for signs of the kidnapper, and spotted Elise wielding evidently Demonic powers in an act of spite. He traced her back to Aegis, and the pair struck a deal with Elise's safety in mind.
    In his demon form, Mr Smith is a tall, lanky humanoid of dull metal with no discernable facial features. His powers lean towards detecting danger and covering tracks, both for himself and his Ring, and he calls on his Messenger background to insinuate himself among mortals most effectively. Only a handful of people in town are aware of his Cover's position as a member of the FBI, and even among his Ring only Aegis is aware of his mission. His Embeds are Homogenous Memory, Authorised, the Look, and Ellipses.

    No picture of Mr Smith has been done yet.

    Ms Stitch (Psychopomp/Inquisitor) - Ms Stitch toiled away in a morgue, providing the human materials the God-Machine needed for other projects. She was very good at what she did, and the corpses flowed to meet demand. As the years passed, the orders increased in quantity. They built up, until the day came when she could no longer meet every request. In desperation she turned to murder, culling the living herd to ensure the Machine had its materials, but still the orders kept flowing. In the end it was too much. She Fell, unable to complete her orders.
    Much like Axis, Ms Stitch hopes to understand the physics by which the God-Machine operates. Her expertise has always been in flesh, so she seeks to analyse its servants rather than the Infrastructure directly. Angels, Cryptids, Stigmatics, she would put every one of them under the knife if she could. She had worked on the same Infrastructure as Axis, and joined the Ring through him.
    In her Demon Form, Ms Stitch resembles nothing so much as an Alien Grey. Holes in her arms can fire deadly bolts when necessary, and a variety of different implants expand her senses beyond the normal range. In her Cover she is Delilah Blake, the owner of the town's small funeral home. Her Embeds are Synthesis (the first key to her Cipher), Ellipses, Sabotage, and the Animate Exploit.

    Veritas (Destroyer/Inquisitor) - Veritas remembers centuries as a Sword wielded by the God-Machine, laying waste to anything his master decreed. He was designed to learn from each encounter, building a repertoire of skills and knowledge to allow him to remove any opposition to the Machine's great plan. His final mission was the execution of a single traitor, a Guardian who had fallen for love. He pursued the Demon across the United States, tracking the being and its daughter to the town of Cole's Ford. He travelled in the form of an army veteran, wandering from town to town, seeking out any scent of his foe. When he reached Cole's Ford, however, the sheer quantity of Infrastructure masked his efforts. His curiosity grew, desiring to learn what each installation was for, and he was lured from his mission. He entered a dark pit humming with Essence, and woke up the next day in hospital as a Demon. The field was empty save for a shattered vessel brimming with Aether, suborned Infrastructure.
    Hidden inside the body of Sam, an alcoholic veteran suffering from severe PTSD, he located his one-time prey and struck an alliance. The Ring was born, a collection of individuals he could use to watch his back as he carried out his own investigations to assuage his curiosity. He was programmed to learn, after all, and there is so much he has yet to learn.
    In his Demon Form, Veritas is a shifting creature of crystalline structures humming with lightning and fire. Living flesh and nerves bind these crystals to one another, allowing them to adapt and survive against any enemy. His Destroyer nature is intact, fully prepared for combat and the destruction of any enemy. His skills are similarly limited to battle, although since the Fall has begun to study many different disciplines. His Embeds are Shift Consequences, Victory At Any Price (the first key in his Cipher), In My Pockets, and Wave Function Collapse.

    Before the first session began, I gave each player knowledge of a single Demon NPC they were familiar with and a handful of rumours they had about possible God-Machine Infrastructure.

  • #2
    May I just say that the art of your PCs is fantastic. Aegis in particular is nightmare inducing.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Xenesis View Post
      May I just say that the art of your PCs is fantastic. Aegis in particular is nightmare inducing.
      I'll be sure to pass that on to their player I love Aegis to bits myself.


      • #4

        I'm not finding Cole's Ford on Google or Google Maps, (this post actually comes up as result #5 on a search for "Town of Cole's Ford") so I'm guessing Cole's Ford is of fictional origin?


        • #5
          That would be correct All my previous games have involved layering the supernatural over a real-world location I was at least passingly familiar with. For this campaign I decided to jump in the deep end and build somewhere from the ground up. It's been a pretty interesting experience. Lots of time spent staring at a blank page thinking "I have no idea how to begin".

          Fingers crossed that I can actually finish the first session write-up in the next 24 hours. It's been a lot harder to find the time to put it together than I had anticipated.


          • #6
            You've got a lot to work with.

            The Great Lakes have all manner of folklore and monsters, so plenty of cryptids and other G-m phenomena, doubly so because you said that Infrastructure exists in high numbers in Cole's Ford.
            plus any number of national forest, parks and the Peatland Science and Natural Area. Multiple Reservations are in the area (with Casinos), several military bases just to the south (suspicious lack of publicly listed facilities toward the north of the state, possible evidence of military black sites?) Minneapolis is three and half hours car drive to the south. An abandoned airfield in the middle of Superior National Forest.


            • #7
              Session 1

              The sun rose on Cole's Ford on a cold Sunday morning in early January. The sky was clear, but there was thick snow on the ground from the storm the night before. Around town, each member of the Ring went through their usual morning preparations. Church was an important time of the week, the designated time when the Ring could gather in one place to exchange information.

              Mr Smith had established a morning routine after living in the Road Inn North motel for the last few months. He would meet with Farris, the human who ran the motel and one of the few people in town who both knew he was FBI and who he felt he could trust in an emergency, and they would eat breakfast. Farris was a widow, barely keeping the motel afloat thanks to the long term tenancy of Mr Smith and his partner Olivia Sharp. She ate and Mr Smith drank a cup of black coffee in place of food, and Farris passed on a message from the sheriff. His wife was feeling ill, and he wouldn't be at church that day. The sheriff's wife was one of Mr Smith's most values Demon contacts, a Guardian, and he knew that this message meant she feared for her husband's life and was keeping him inside and out of danger just in case.

              Ms Stitch's morning began by checking her home security system for any sign of a break-in. There was a parcel on the front step, wrapped in butcher's paper. She took it inside and opened it, carefully. As always, there was a slip of paper between the fourth and fifth layers. It was orange. According to the prearranged code, that meant it was too dangerous to meet face to face today. The butcher would be lying low. She finished unwrapping the parcel and put the rack of lamb in the fridge.

              Sam woke up before dawn and immediately checked his phone. He had a text from 3:04am from Mr Quiet. "The Loyalists activated at midnight. Objective unknown. I'm going deep, may be out of contact for a while." Sam deleted the message and then began to blearily rummage through his fridge. He found a bottle of liquor with something still swishing around the bottom. He took a long pull, sprinkled some around his shoulders, and went back to work prying loose the floorboards in his bedroom. He activated In My Pockets to draw out a submachine gun and stored it in the gap for later use, and then went to wait for the pastor's arrival. Taking pity on the poor damaged soldier, Goodenough Jones, the local priest, always made sure to pick Sam up each Sunday so that he would make it to church.

              Getting Elise out of bed in the morning was a trying experience, particularly on Sunday. Eggs and bacon were a necessary bribe to lure her out from under the doona. After that, Aegis had to resort to bribes. This morning proved very expensive. If Elise promised to come to church today, and to come every week for a year, then Aegis would get her a new computer at the first opportunity. Ajax, the bear-sized hellhound Aegis had created to protect their daughter, watched this exchange and whined with a sound like steel tearing until the plates were dropped to the ground for him to lick clean. Before leaving the house, Aegis noticed a text had come through to their second phone. It was from Breeder, a Saboteur of Aegis's acquaintance. Three pictures, each of the same three men in dark suits, their faces blurred. They were taken in different places in the streets of Cole's Ford, with time stamps ranging from one to three am. The words "On Patrol" came to mind, although no text accopanied by the message.

              Axis rolled out of bed a little after seven and got ready for the day to come. He carefully combed his hair in the mirror after a morning shower, and turned on his computer to check the morning news. At seven-thirty, he received a phone call from Will Sacks. Wilma was a waitress at a local restaurant, and the wife of the previous mayor. She was a bit of local celebrity for getting him thrown in prison for assaulting her. She was also a Demon. She sounded worried, mentioning that her own contacts were saying it was going to be a big day, but Axis wasn't comfortable speaking on the phone. His computer screen flickered momentarily, and it was enough to have him cut the call and leave for church as quickly as he could.

              The church service passed quickly. Goodenough Jones, a Nairobian immigrant turned priest, usually kept to a short service during winter. The church had not been designed with winter in mind, with a poor central heating service and large windows to let all the warmth out, and those in attendance were very happy to make for the small community centre next door where they could mingle and chat. Aegis made Elise promise to be careful and keep her eyes open, and sent her off to join the other kids. And then the Ring gathered.

              One by one, they shared the stories they had heard from their contacts. It was clear something was going down, and it seemed that the best lead they had was from Aegis's pictures of the Angel patrol. They decided to meet for lunch at the bar, run by a friend of Salem’s named Joe Moherty.

              The group then split up to mingle with the rest of town, allowing the players to meet and learn about a host of different characters. Axis had heard some strange rumours about Gant Timbre, a maths teacher at the local school, and listened in to the conversation he was having with Hope Hall, the mayor's wife. Unfortunately, Hope was rather dominating the conversation, but Axis did see something that confirmed one of the rumours he had heard. Mr Timbre was always counting, making some small movement to measure the passing of each second. Whether it was a sign he was Stigmatic, a demon, an angel, or something entirely mundane, Axis couldn't be sure. He intruded on the conversation, and Ms Stitch wandered over to distract Hope, Mr Timbre wasn't the easiest person to speak to, but he did let slip that he was planning on visiting the school later that morning.

              Goodenough Jones excused himself from the gathering early. Veritas, on edge and instantly suspicious, decided to shadow him. The priest walked the short distance to his house, the way he held himself suggesting abdominal pain. He went inside. Veritas knocked on the door a few seconds later, but no one answered. The demon backed off from there.

              Aegis spent some time speaking to Joe. Before he took over the bar he'd worked at the saw mill, and a lot of the local workers were regular customers. She extracted a few odd stories from him, but nothing concrete, and nothing about the previous night directly.

              As for Mr Smith, he misinterpreted a signal from Axis earlier and went on guard, largely missing any chance he had to interact with the people there.

              The gathering broke up slowly around mid-morning. Elise asked her father if she could go over to her friend Jess's place. Jess's mother, Hope, was there to take responsibility, and it would keep Elise out of Aegis's hair while they investigated last night's events, so they agreed.

              With a few hours to burn until they were scheduled to meet at the bar, each demon proceeded to carry out some investigations of their own. Ms Stitch had received a warning about the Pie House, a local diner with a Sunday special. The diner was packed, and the smell of cooking wafted from the kitchen. She ordered waffles, observing the people around her. Everything appeared normal. Before leaving she asked for one of the Special Pies to go. One was happily supplied to her, and she took it back to her quarters adjacent to the funeral home. Laying the pie on the slab, she carefully dissected it with forceps and scalpel and dug out a microscope and a variety of chemicals to help her analyse the contents. The hunks of meat were full of strange amino acid chains, describing a symbol too regular to be natural.

              Axis was busy staking out the school. He sat in his car and watched as Gant drove up, got out, and went inside. A few moments later one of the bottom floor lights went on. It stayed on for about five minutes, then turned off. Moments later, a second light turned on. In this manner Gant proceeded through every room in the school, before leaving and driving off. Axis decided to leave it there, and instead drove to meet Will. She would be leaving work now, he figured he could catch her out behind the restaurant and have a private conversation to find out everything he knew.

              Sure enough, Will was right where he expected her to be. To some extent this lowered Axis's already low opinion of her. Predictability and a disregard for security measures were not good qualities in a Demon. They had a brief exchange in French until she agreed to a code phrase to indicate that she was in danger. When questioned further about the morning's phone call, Will told him that her Ring had reported human and angelic agents on the move, although they had been too busy avoiding notice to obtain any identities. Midnight last night must have had something big go down.

              After this, the group began to gather at the bar. Aegis had a brief encounter with Aaron Hart, a hunter preparing to head out to the ridge for a few days while the fine weather held. Being as his brother was her neighbour, Aegis stopped long enough to exchange a few pleasantries and wish him well, before heading inside. There, Ms Stitch shared her discovery with the pies, and Veritas identified her glyph as an ancient symbol indicating an imperative or command. He believed it to be the first component, a symbol to ensure that what followed would be treated as an order.

              Mr Smith then invited Joe Moherty, busy behind the bar, to come and join them for a hand of poker. Using Loose Lips, he was able to draw out confirmation and a few extra details that Joe had picked up from his lumberjack regulars. The road to the logging camps was becoming an object of some distaste for the odd sounds it made at night, and the fact that metal spikes kept showing up to blow tires in passing trucks wasn't helping the mood either.

              That was when they got the phone call. Hope Hall, near hysterical, rang Salem's phone and gasped out that the children were missing. Aegis took a long moment to process this. They hadn't formally introduced their child to the Ring. They got a couple of details from Hope (where? When? How? Although the latter just returned a wailed "I don't know") and then hung up.

              The Ring were very interested to help their companion. Mr Smith was just about positive that this must have something to do with the kidnapper he had been hunting. Ms Stitch, meanwhile, was privately considering what it would be worth to her studies to have the product of a Demon and a human to test. They made their way to the Hope residence, to find the police had arrived.

              Veritas stayed outside, as Sam wasn't likely to be allowed near a crime scene. The others hurried inside. Ian Moore, the town sheriff, and his wife June were inside. June was comforting Hope, which gave Mr Smith a moment of entertainment. Of course Exigence had worked out an excuse to stay close to her husband, no matter the circumstance.

              The sight of Mr Smith told Sheriff Moore everything he needed to know. Assuming this was part of the kidnapping investigation, Moore ceded his jurisdiction to Smith. They went to the crime scene, Jill Hall's bedroom, and Ms Stitch's Synthesis gave them a detailed rundown of what had happened. Tranquilisers of some kind in their food and drink had knocked the girls out, and they'd been carried from there. Investigating the outside of the building showed evidence that someone had made their way from the kitchen to the bedroom by following the outside wall, and Hope mentioned that she had been leaving the food unattended as she went back and forth between the kitchen and the living room where her husband was suffering one of his migraines.

              Outside, Veritas stumbled up to a deputy on guard duty and tried to find out what was going on. A dramatic failure later and, seeing as he was reeking of alcohol, he was in the back of a patrol car on charges of being a public nuisance.

              Smith decided to canvass the neighbours and find out if they had noticed anything. When the group went outside, Veritas used Shift Consequences on Hope to get himself out of dodge. Hope had been hysterical and eventually the sheriff had no choice but to put her in custody until she calmed down. June went with her, a little reluctantly, but it seemed like she was the only one suited to the babysitting duty.

              Olivia Sharp, Smith's partner, showed up at this point. Between themselves and the sheriff deputies they were able to get a description of a white sedan seen in the area around the time the children had disappeared. It had been seen heading down main street. Mr Smith and Olivia both knew that the usual modus operandi of the kidnapper was to leave town, and fast, so they asked the sheriff to set up a road block and have his other deputies come with them in pursuit. Overhead, storm clouds began to build.

              Aegis wasn't about to be left behind. As the authorities left, she ordered the others into Ms Stitch's van and had her follow. The icy roads made it difficult to keep up, so the rest of the ring was lagging behind. A few miles beyond the town limits, the Agents Smith and Sharp encountered a sheriff's department patrol car maintaining a road block. They pulled over and went to speak to the deputies, Officers Brook and Paylen, who were very insistent that they not go any further. The two deputies were blonde, tall, broad-shouldered men who looked similar enough to be brothers. Smith was almost instantly suspicious, and activated Aura Sight to confirm. Sure enough, the pair registered as angels to his senses. Smith had a brief vision of manifold wings and long cables connecting the two. He passed the compromise check with an exceptional success, and the pair appeared oblivious to his observation. They were even happy to help, as Olivia asked them whether they had seen the white sedan. Taking their covers as deputies seriously, Brook and Paylen gave a detailed description of a car they had turned back not long ago, as well as every detail they could muster on the driver. This included a name, Norman Merriner.

              The sheriff drew a map from his car and, pulling together what they had learned, Smith was able to determine that an old fishing shed up near the lake was the most likely destination. It had started snowing and the wind was beginning to pick up. And then the van containing the other characters arrived. Brook and Paylen closed ranks, but before they could act the sheriff confronted the demons. He ordered them back to town immediately, telling them that this was a job for the authorities. Aegis made a plea that they be allowed to help find their daughter, making a convincing case that it would help in any negotiation. Sheriff Moore seemed torn, but allowed them to come. The others, however, were told to head back to town immediately. Seeing no real alternative, Ms Stitch, Axis, and Veritas headed back to their homes.

              Leaving Brook and Paylen behind, the sheriff seemed to completely ignore them once he made the decision to turn back, the authorities headed down the country road. The deputies were sent to search a few of smaller trails, while Moore and the FBI pushed on to the fishing shed. By the time they reached it the snow was turning into a blizzard and the sheriff ordered his subordinates to head back to town. In the lee of the building they could make out the shadow of a car. Slipping from their vehicles and out into the howling wind, Aegis and Smith crept up on the shed.

              The sheriff took Aegis, who Smith had ordered be armed, around the back of the building in case Norman made a break for it. Smith waited until they had enough time to be in position, and then he and Agent Sharp burst through the front door. The shed was freezing cold, but a small patch of light in the centre showed a thin, terrified man and two shivering girls. Before Norman could react, Smith activated the Look and froze him in place. The sheriff and Aegis came in from behind. Moore and Sharp were yelling at Norman, telling him to drop the knife he was holding, but frozen still Norman could do nothing to react. Then the sheriff slammed into him from behind, breaking Smith's connection. The knife went skittering away into the shadows, and Moore had Norman in handcuffs before anyone else could even reach him. Aegis rushed to Elise, who was pale and dazed with a small trickle of blood running from a blow to her head. Smith checked on Jill Hall, and found her to be cold and scared but otherwise ok.

              There was only one complication. The storm was getting worse. Sheriff Moore, face grim, fought his way back from the car after trying to radio town. They didn't have a choice, he said. They would have to stay the night and wait it out.


              • #8
                Wonderful, another let's play to consume like the God-Machine consumes Essence.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Korogra View Post
                  Wonderful, another let's play to consume like the God-Machine consumes Essence.

                  Consumes or generates?

                  Either way, Subscribed.

                  Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
                  Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."


                  • #10
                    Thanks guys! If you do have any comments or criticisms, please do tell me. I'm never entirely sure how clear this stuff comes out.

                    Originally posted by Agentwestmer View Post
                    You've got a lot to work with.

                    The Great Lakes have all manner of folklore and monsters, so plenty of cryptids and other G-m phenomena, doubly so because you said that Infrastructure exists in high numbers in Cole's Ford.
                    plus any number of national forest, parks and the Peatland Science and Natural Area. Multiple Reservations are in the area (with Casinos), several military bases just to the south (suspicious lack of publicly listed facilities toward the north of the state, possible evidence of military black sites?) Minneapolis is three and half hours car drive to the south. An abandoned airfield in the middle of Superior National Forest.
                    There was inspiration galore, to be certain. It just took me a lot longer than anticipated to actually find a way to start building the setting.

                    Some of that stuff is awesome though. I personally tried to steer clear of the military base thing though. I've been watching too much of the X-Files for that not to feel like a total cliche.

                    And in exciting news, we have a picture of Mr Smith! The forum's picture limit won't let me edit it into the original post, so see below:


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Vent0 View Post

                      Consumes or generates?

                      Either way, Subscribed.
                      Well considering that I am not the one generating the Actual Play, it would be the former lol.


                      • #12
                        Session 1.5

                        (Aegis and Mr Smith being snowbound was likely to dominate much of our next session, so I decided to sit down with the players instead and wrap up events in the fishing shed before the game tomorrow.)

                        Norman hadn't moved since they put him in handcuffs. He sat, still and silent and looking at his lap. The impulse of the humans was to keep him as far from the children as possible, but neither Norman nor the children had heavy winter gear and the only source of heat in the room was the portable stove. Aegis shrugged off their jacket and wrapped the girls in it, while Agent Sharp and Sheriff Moore flanked the children to make sure Norman had no easy way to get to them.

                        Sharp muttered to Smith that she wasn't yet sure if they should try to talk to Norman or not. Smith mulled it over. He told Sharp to watch the children, and seated himself next to Norman. He didn't launch straight into trying to get a confession, but instead just tried to get Norman talking. He pulled out a set of playing cards and gently coaxed Norman into drawing a hand. They started to play a game, Smith not even paying attention to what game they were playing, Norman not making eye contact and staring at his feet the entire time.

                        Aegis, the only one of the party to have any serious experience as a survivalist, went to work making the shed warmer and alleviating the plummeting temperatures. They used canvas sheets from a damaged sailing skiff to create a rough kind of shelter from the wind, which every so often screamed through cracks in the building's walls and brought a taste of the storm outside with it. With a shelter set up, Aegis built a fire to supplement the warmth from the stove, and sat down next to Elise. She was conscious enough at this point to grip them tightly, but she didn't speak. Everyone watched the game of cards between Smith and Norman, surrounded by the dark and the cold.

                        Eventually, Smith's Loose Lips Embed began to draw words from Norman's lips. He spoke about his childhood, of growing up with his mother. She was a recluse, had home schooled him and kept him away from other children his age. He never had a friend, was never good at talking to people. As he got older, it started to become harder to keep his loneliness in check. He would stalk anyone who showed the slightest kindness towards him, growing more and more alienated as his affections were rebuffed time and again. And then his mother died, and he had no one left in his life at all. That was when it grew too much. The kidnapping started, eventually settling on children as Norman identified them as the quickest to trust and befriend. But each and every time the child would demand to be taken home and Norman would need to discipline them. When that did nothing to help build a friendship between them, he would eventually become frustrated at the constant rejection and leave the child somewhere it would be found.

                        Aegis listened to this from across the fire, murmuring comforting words to Elise from time to time. She became increasingly responsive, and mentioned that they didn't remember much more than being drugged and then Norman striking her when she woke in his car and screamed. Eventually Elise fell asleep in their arms, while Aegis resolved to exact some kind of punishment upon the human who had dared harm their child.

                        Smith had noticed Norman darting occasional looks towards the exits as the conversation wound on. Sharp, Moore, and the two Demons had a quick discussion about sleeping arrangements, namely that someone had to be awake and watching Norman at all times. Smith suggested he be handcuffed to Norman to curtail any escape attempts. Aegis, with no intention of showing their hand too early, volunteered for the second watch. Olivia took the first.

                        After an hour, the children, Ian, and Smith were all asleep. Aegis was lying with their eyes open, watching and waiting. The shadows masked Norman's movement though, as he slowly worked Smith's pistol out from its holster. Smith work to the muzzle pressing into his back, and Norman's hissed words.

                        "They are whispering again. Can you hear them?"

                        Smith smiled into the darkness and, in a low voice dripping with honey, soothed the agitated kidnapper. Without waking the others he talked until Norman realised that the whispers were in his head. Worried but convinced to put his trust in his captor, Norman handed the gun back.

                        In order to help Norman, Smith promised to investigate the sounds. The two of them got to their feet. Aegis pretended to be asleep, and Smith gave an easy bullshit excuse to Olivia. The two of them did a circuit of the shed, checking the rafters. One end of the shed went out over the ice in a short jetty, and Smith noticed deep cracks in the ice sheet. At one point they froze, hearing a scratching sound against one wall of the shed, but Smith convinced Norman that it must have been a tree.

                        Aegis watched as they settled down again. Another hour or so passed, and it was their turn to go on watch. They waited until Olivia was fast asleep, and picked up their rifle. They went for a walk to stretch her legs, and then lined themselves up to rush Norman. And then they charged.

                        Mr Smith had not been sleeping, unconvinced by his own platitudes and worried that there was something in the darkness with them. When Aegis made their move, Smith was up in an eyeblink and crouching over Norman. Aegis swung the rifle to knock Smith out of the way, but Smith kicked out and sent Aegis tumbling to the ground instead. Then he sank his knee into downed Demon's gut, winding Aegis badly. The others started to wake from the scuffle, Norman giving a yelp and hiding behind Smith, and Aegis forced themselves to relax and yield.

                        Sheriff Moore walked over and placed a hand on Smith's shoulder. "I hate to say 'I told you so'," he said, looking sternly at Aegis. The three law enforcement officers decided between them that Smith would have to go on watch until midnight, then the Sheriff would take over. Aegis was asked to place themselves as far from Norman as they could get and still stay warm, and to give the Sheriff their gun. And, once again, everyone tried to settle down and sleep. Before they drifted off though, Aegis was able to exact one tiny, petty revenge, as they called out to Norman and described exactly how low his odds were of ever making a friend.

                        Smith spent the next few hours staring into the shadows, alone and silent. Norman was awake, but shaking quietly and sobbing in no fit state to speak. Midnight approached. As the second hand of his watch crept towards the apex, the howling wind went quiet. The storm stopped. Everything fell into silence. Smith got to his feet and walked to the window, Norman stumbling silently behind him. He went to look out into the silent night.

                        Midnight. Everything went black.


                        • #13
                          Session 2

                          Axis, Veritas, and Ms Stitch retreated to Axis's library to wait out the storm. They took the opportunity to do a little digging. Veritas investigated the strange dark men from the photos Aegis had provided last session, trying to determine if they were Angels recorded in the files. What he found was that the classic "Men in Black" Covers dated back to the 1968 Mothman campaign, and were frequently used by Destroyer Angels with little need to engage directly with humans. It didn't offer any actual information on who the angels wearing the Covers might be.

                          Meanwhile, Axis found that the symbol Ms Stitch had found baked into the meat pie on a molecular level was ancient, drawing on occult symbols used in Mesoamerica more than 2000 years previously. It didn't offer any further clues as to its purpose beyond Veritas's earlier discovery that it was the first part of a command, but the three of them agreed that they would need to see to the Pie House when the others returned.

                          One by one, they bedded down for the night in the library. The storm continued to rage outside. Axis was the last to sleep, curled up among a pile of books.

                          He woke to find himself in his bed, in his apartment, at home. He stared at the roof. On the outside, everything looked normal. On the inside, Axis was panicking. After he stopped screaming inside, he checked his phone. The date was January 10, Sunday morning. The same as yesterday. He called Ms Stitch. She answered the phone with a, "Happened to you as well, eh?" The two spoke briefly, when they heard a distinct click on the line. Ms Stitch disconnected immediately.

                          Across town, Aegis leapt out of bed and rushed to check on Elise. She woke up as they burst into the room, and promptly burst into tears. When she calmed down, it was quite clear that she remembered the previous day. Aegis summoned Ajax to their side and ordered the enormous Hellhound to stay with Elise, and ordered Elise to stay inside. As they were leaving the house to head to Church, they received a text from Breeder. "That explains yesterday."

                          Mr Smith noted that Farris's conversation with him was identical to the previous day, passing on the same message from the sheriff. He figured that Exigence must be worried that acting differently from the previous day might garner attention. He asked Olivia to drop him at the church just as he had the day before.

                          Meanwhile, Veritas discovered that the submachine gun he had secreted beneath his floorboards the day before had disappeared. He waited for the pastor to arrive to drive him to church. When Goodenough Jones arrived, Veritas panicked. He was so focussed on recalling and replicating every word he had spoken the day before that his attempts to speak were stilted and unnatural.

                          Axis left his apartment and was heading down the stairs when a voice called out his Cover's last name. "Collins?" The speaker was Jack, a neighbour of his, peering around the corner of his door on the first floor. Axis stopped politely to listen to his neighbour, and Jack asked, without ever leaving his doorway or giving Axis a glimpse of the room beyond it, if he was going to church. When Axis said he was, Jack asked if he could buy some chalk on his way back and leave it outside his door. Axis replied smoothly that of course, he would be happy to run such an errand for a neighbour. Internally, he was running through his memory of yesterday. Yesterday, Jack had come to church. What had changed?

                          The group sat through the morning sermon as Goodenough Jones delivered the exact same speech as he had the day before. Aegis tried to use Like I Built It to analyse the church's structure, but instead ended up overloading her own senses with the flood of information. Disorientated, she remained seated as everyone else filed out of the church and went next door to the community centre.

                          The rest of the ring met to work out what had happened. It was clear that the previous day was repeating itself. Demons appeared able to recall the previous day's events, most humans seemed unable to do so. Which immediately placed a very large question mark over Axis's neighbour, Jack.

                          Veritas remembered that Goodenough Jones was going to leave early, if today played out the same as yesterday. Still suspicious of the priest, he excused himself from the ring and slipped out of the gathering first. He made his way to Goodenough's home on foot.

                          As Mr Smith surveyed the room he noted Norman standing among the crowd and watching Jill Hall. Without her friend Elise around, Jill was standing next to her mother as Hope chatted with Gant Timbre. Smith chose to keep his distance for the moment, having no conclusive evidence of the man's intentions. And besides, there was something else that caught his attention. Fletcher Lynch had arrived. Fletcher was the only other guest at the local motel. He had arrived late last week, and had hardly been seen since. Without his daily conversations with Farris, Smith would have been hard pressed to know that Fletcher was in town at all. The man wore a black suit jacket and white shirt. He was pale, with blonde hair and eyebrows, light blue eyes, and no hint of beard. The effect was of someone drained, washed out, colourless. He was making his way through the crowd asking a question to each and every person he spoke to, moving on when they shook his head. Curious, Smith asked the group to move into Fletcher's path.

                          "Excuse me, do any of you know a man named Jack Berwick?"

                          Most of the ring exchanged blank looks, but Axis had been thinking about Jack all morning. "He's my neighbour."

                          Fletcher appeared suddenly interested, asking where Axis lived. This immediately put the Demon on guard, but he offered to lead the way on his drive home if Fletcher didn't mind waiting while he ran an errand on the way back. Fletcher agreed, and the ring separated. Axis agreed to collect Veritas and meet the others at the Pie House, where they intended to look into the Infrastructure in place there.

                          Veritas was having little luck scouting out Goodenough Jones's home, and managed to get himself caught in the act. When the perplexed priest asked what on earth Veritas was doing in his backyard, the Demon promptly launched into a rambling confession of his alcoholism and need for help. Jones ultimately called the sheriff's department to have them take Veritas somewhere safe and secure until he calmed down and sobered up, but when the deputy arrived Veritas used Shift Consequences to have Goodenough Jones escorted away instead. Unfortunately, the Embed failed, and Veritas had to use Victory At Any Price to force a success. The barrage of ensuing Compromise Checks (given that Veritas had already used Victory At Any Price earlier that morning in his first conversation with Jones) left Veritas with a temporary Glitch that prevented him from entering a structure without express permission from the owner.

                          Axis picked up some chalk on his way home, and then let Fletcher into the building. They walked up the stairs together, and Axis asked Fletcher why he was looking for Jack. Fletcher answered that he had a letter to deliver. It was vitally important that he give it to Jack in person. They reached Jack's door, and Axis knocked. There was no reply from inside, so Fletcher gave it a try. Still no response. Fletcher apparently resigned himself that he would not be able to deliver the letter personally, so he slipped the note under the door. Axis left the chalk outside and continued upstairs to his apartment, bidding goodbye to Fletcher. Axis paused as he reached the first landing, and listened. A few moments later he heard Jack's voice call out, "I already knew that, arsehole!"

                          ​Axis decided to take a risk. He backtracked until he was standing outside of Jack's apartment and called out, "Jack? You too?"

                          There was a pause, and the door opened a crack. Jack peered out. "What are you talking about?"

                          Axis tried to feign knowledge of Jack's predicament, but when Jack appeared on the verge of slamming the door he fell back on the one thing he absolutely knew was happening. Time repeating itself. Jack's eyes went wide and he realised Axis was, as he put it, one of the Fallen. Axis's Cover held, and Jack opened the door and ushered him inside.

                          Jack's apartment was covered from wall to wall with symbols and chalk lines. There were a dozen concentric rings of warding, Axis recognising them on sight as measures to defend against an Angel or Ghost. Axis stepped carefully as he asked Jack what was going on.

                          Jack wasn't concentrating on his guest overly much, still scratching at the floor of his apartment with the chalk. He babbled something about being in service to It, but that It had turned on him. He was defending himself. Axis asked about the letter, and Jack waved him to where the envelop was lying torn open on the floor. Axis picked it up carefully.There were just two things written on it. "11:59:59" and the words "Stay inside".

                          It was at this point that the penny dropped for Axis. Jack was a sacrifice, or a target for assassination. A Destroyer Angel was coming. He checked his watch. It was 11:59 already. There was no way he intended to be here when the Angel arrived. He rushed to the door and threw it open.

                          Veritas had made his way to the apartment on foot, but the landlord wasn't present to allow him to enter. He had sent a message to Axis when he was a few blocks away, and was waiting for him to emerge from the building. He was standing there when the hand struck midday.

                          Axis stood on the threshold when his aetheric resonance detected an immense energy source suddenly on top of him. A being appeared in front of him, a nightmare vision of glass and steel glimpsed through the maddening fractal reflections of a shattered maze of mirrors. It was there, charging at him, and gone as suddenly as it had appeared. Behind him, he heard a sound like something hard hitting something soft and wet. He turned slowly. What was left of Jack Berwick was splattered against the far wall, a thousand shards of glass embedded in his body. The chalk lines across the apartment looked as if they had been blasted apart. Axis stepped out, shut the door behind him, and left as quickly as he could manage.

                          He encountered Veritas outside. In a hurried whisper, Axis conveyed everything he had just seen. The two entertained the idea of using Shift Consequences to redirect the creature's attack into a physical object like the apartment wall instead, but Veritas couldn't enter the building and all of the ways they could think of allowing him to see into Jack's apartment would not be overly discrete for the middle of the day. It would be better to meet the rest of the ring as agreed, and decide how to proceed from there.

                          Meanwhile, Mr Smith was enjoying a lovely chat with the proprietor of the Pie House, Maeve. She was talking about how she used only the freshest of local ingredients in her meat pies, and how she woke up before the crack of dawn every day to prepare them. Ms Stitch had used the distraction to sneak into the kitchen and explore. There wasn't anything overtly supernatural there, until they checked the freezer. Large slabs of red meat lay on metal trays in pools of congealing blood, slowly freezing over. Ms Stitch identified this as the Infrastructure's Aether vent, and quietly connected herself to fill up on the excess energy. Aegis had met with their friend Lala, a fellow lumberjack enjoying an early lunch with his oldest daughter Chloe. Lala was just finishing off a large special pie, to Aegis's dismay. While gently trying to warn Lala off the pies, Aegis was overheard by Maeve and the two got into a flaming row over the edibility of the pies that ended in Aegis being banned from the store. Ms Stitch used the distraction to emerge again from the kitchen, and one by one the ring slipped outside.

                          At this point Mr Smith received a phone call from the sheriff alerting him to the fact that Jill Hall had been kidnapped. Smith immediately called Olivia with a description of Norman's vehicle, concocting a story about it having been seen at the scene by the neighbours and matching a vehicle he himself had observed that morning in connection to a suspicious figure. He told Olivia that Norman would be trying to flee town, and urged her to intercept him.

                          Veritas and Axis joined the others and shared their story about the attack on Jack Berwick. Smith pointed out that if Jack had been trying to ward his apartment he must have known the Angel being sent to kill him, and more importantly, known and incorporated its Bane into the warding. Of course, the failure of the wards made it entirely possible that he had been wrong, but it still seemed vitally important that they investigate the apartment. From the information provided, Smith worked out that the Angel was operating under a Ban that ensured it could only manifest twice a day for a single second at 11:59:59.

                          Even the Broken Clock is right twice a day.


                          • #14
                            Session 3

                            Picking right up where we left off, the Ring marched straight to Jack Berwick's apartment and began to poke around. Stitch and Smith picked over the scene. They found a shattered pile of crystal in the midst of the wards, Jack's old service revolver, and, hidden in a locked drawer of his desk, a large pile of documents relating to Jack's service to the God-Machine. They started in the Vietnam War, where Jack had killed an officer in a different division and found that the man wore his own face, and continued into 90s and Jack's decision to settle in Cole's Ford, where he had been responsible for orchestrating the deaths of three separate Demons over the past twenty years.

                            Stitch chose to focus on the crystal after Smith alerted her to the fact that it could be the angel's bane. Jack would have needed a bane, or at least something he thought was a bane, in order to even attempt to the warding. Stitch used Synthesis to determine that it had originally been a bizarre crystal sundial, broken at the moment of Jack's death. She reported this fact to the others.

                            The investigation was wrapping up, and Veritas and Aegis had already made their way outside, when Smith placed a call to the sheriff's department and alerted Sheriff Moore to the murder. Moore was shocked and sounded overwhelmed. Between the kidnapping, the encroaching storm, and now a bizarre death, it must have felt like the world was turning on him. He said he'd make his way over immediately.

                            Axis was furious, not wanting mortal investigators tramping all over his home ground, but Smith responded calmly that to do otherwise would be suspicious. Besides, there was always a chance the day would repeat a third time. If it did, Axis would only have to put up with police for a few hours.

                            The group didn't wait for the sheriff to arrive. They locked up the room and made their way to the car. There was still one other lead they needed to investigate. Fletcher Lynch, the man who had given Jack a letter with the time of his imminent death.

                            Smith knew that Lynch was staying at the town's motel with him, just a few doors down. The Ring approached the door and Smith knocked. Unfortunately, as the door opened, it became apparent that different members of the Ring had formed their own separate opinions on what was going on and what the plan should be. Aegis and Axis had each come to the conclusion that Fletcher was a God-Machine agent, and when he opened the door Aegis launched itself at him. Fletcher reacted faster than any of the Demons, slamming the door shut again immediately. Axis made his way around the side of the building, while Smith tried to talk Fletcher down. Unfortunately, his sharp and threatening words only made the situation worse. Axis peered through the window on the opposite side of the building, watching Fletcher wedge a chair in position to block the door.

                            Smith chose to back away after his failure, and used Homogenous Memory to erase himself from the scene. Veritas and Aegis made an attempt to force the door, but were chased off when Farris DuPour emerged from the office and chased them off. During the commotion, Axis opened the window, manifested a vice-like hand and horrific clockwork jaw, slipped into the room and bowled into Fletcher from behind. In the space of a few moments he had Fletcher pinned to the ground and gagged, warning him in a broken, grinding voice that screaming would mean death. When Farris knocked on the door to ask Fletcher if he was alright, Axis scared Fletcher into sending her off with a vague reassurance that he was ok.

                            Alone, Axis tried to get his head around the situation. Fletcher was clearly terrified. More strangely, the impromptu interrogation quickly yielded the fact that he didn't seem to know anything about the God-Machine, Angels, or Demons, let alone the fact that the day was repeating itself or why he hadn't been affected. When asked about the letter, where it came from, Fletcher stammered out that they were from him. He'd had compulsions to write them ever since he was a teenager. He didn't know how he knew when people were about to die, he just knew that sometimes he would lose a few minutes of time and when he came to he'd have a letter, written in his own handwriting, and a burning drive to deliver it.

                            Axis gradually relaxed as the conversation wore on. Fletcher didn't come off as a threat, and he was reasonably confident that the man was neither an Angel nor a Demon, or even a cultist of some variety. He reverted to his proper human form as Phil Collins, and took a Compromise Check as he explained the nature of the hidden forces at work in Cole's Ford and his own place in it. Axis felt certain that Fletcher would be of use to him, and persuaded the human to agree to help him. Fletcher couldn't leave town, so his best chance was to work with the Demons to survive his time here. Fletcher was eventually convinced. Since he had no memory of the previous Sunday, Axis asked if there was a way he could quickly gain Fletcher's trust if the day repeated again and Fletcher forgot this conversation. Fletcher offered up the name Carlie Sinclair, the first person he ever had a letter about. He'd kept the letter to himself, she'd died in a car crash a few hours later, and he had never told anyone about it.

                            By this point snow had started falling outside, and each of the Demons had plans to return to their respective places of residence. Veritas and Stitch, however, had their own plans for the night based on the expectation that the time loop had not been a one-off occurrence. Veritas intended to stockpile a point of Aether into his phone, to see if it would reset physically if he did so. He placed the Aether in the phone and placed the phone beneath his bed. If it was there when he woke up, then clearly the Aether would have had an effect. Stitch was even more ambitious. Wanting to find out where the meat for the pies at the Pie House was coming from, she intended to find a way to stay awake past the point of midnight. She had a small bolthole secreted in the morgue, and retreated there for the night. Aegis was curled up asleep with Elise long before midnight, but the others were all awake to experience the strange sensation of being rendered instantly unconscious as the clocks struck midnight.

                            All, that is, except Stitch. Just as she had hoped, the Bolthole seemed to prevent her body from reverting to its previous state. She emerged in the morgue a few minutes after midnight. The storm that had battered the town had disappeared again. She called the others, waking them one by one, to join her in staking out the Pie House. Axis refused to come, feeling on edge and at risk after his close calls with compromise earlier that day. The others assembled for the stakeout. Veritas discovered, to his delight, that stockpiling his phone had caused it to be unaffected by the day resetting. It lay under his bed where he had left it.

                            There was no movement in town as the Demons drove, or in Smith's case walked, through the streets. When they reached the Pie House they split up, with Smith and Stitch going out back and lurking in the shadows around the dumpsters while Aegis and Veritas sat in the comfort of Stitch's van and watched the front. They maintained their vigil for hours until, around four in the morning, there was finally movement. An unmarked white truck rolled up main street and turned into the parking space behind the Pie House. Stitch and Smith disappeared into the shadows as a man wearing a white shirt and blue overalls got out of the truck and started unpacking boxes from the back. Neither of them recognised the man. Maeve came out of the Pie House a few minutes later, once the boxes were stacked on a trolley for her to cart inside. She went to take the cart when the delivery man intercepted her. Stitch leaned in close to listen while Smith sat where he was, not wanting to risk exposure. Stitch heard a sound like hissing static, white noise flowing from the delivery man's mouth instead of words while Maeve stood there as if in trance. After a few minutes the delivery man was done, closed up his truck, and drove away. Maeve wheeled her delivery inside.

                            As agreed, Veritas and Aegis began tailing the driver with Aegis at the wheel. They followed him out of town as he took a road that Aegis recognised as leading up to the logging camps, although it did split into dirt and gravel roads leading to different farms and properties around the area. The white truck disappeared around the first bend in the road, and by the time they had caught up their target had disappeared. Aegis put on a bit of speed, looking to catch up. And that was when things got strange.

                            The dark twilight of pre-dawn grew darker. The trees on either side blurred together, casting longer and longer shadows until the van's headlights lit only thin tracks across the road ahead. The sound of their engine changed, echoing back at them as if they were driving through a great cavern. And the smell. The cool scent of the forest at night had disappeared. Instead the air was warm, and reeking of motor fumes. Aegis slowed the van, and stopped. They had no idea where they were.


                            • #15
                              Oh, forgot to mention. Mr Smith also revealed, purchased, and activated the second Key in his Cipher this session, unveiling his first Interlock. The Key was Remote Link-Up, and the Interlock (bridging Remote Link-Up and Authorised) was the following:

                              Kaleidoscopic Brainwash
                              Cost: 2 Aether
                              Dice Pool: Manipulation + Persuasion + Primum vs Resolve + Composure
                              Action: Instant

                              Light shines forth from Mr Smith’s body, overwhelming the senses of the target mortal with a cavalcade of images and a high-pitched, buzzing sound. This sears an instruction into the target’s mind, compelling them to obey.

                              Dramatic Failure: The effect backfires, overwhelming Mr Smith’s senses and inflicting the Insensate Tilt. This also causes a Compromise check (+1 bonus).
                              Failure: Nothing happens.
                              Success: The target gains the Fugue Persistent Condition. Mr Smith dictates the circumstances that will trigger the condition. When these circumstances occur, the target automatically fails the Resolve + Composure roll to resist the Fugue state. While in the Fugue state, they will follow a single command no longer than a short sentence to the best of their ability. At the end of the scene, the Fugue Condition is resolved.
                              Exceptional Success: The Fugue state can trigger a number of times equal to Mr Smith’s Primum before it is resolved.

                              As Mr Smith was the only character to start the game at Primum 2, this takes him to Primum 3.