Original SA post
Part 1: Better Angels!
Better Angels is a game where you’re a human possessed by a demon, and the best way to keep the demon in check is to essentially become a super villain. In an interesting choice the demon isn’t played by the GM but instead the role is given to one of the other players. They’ll be the ones egging you on, asking you to be that tiny little bit more evil. Ultimately one of it's greatest strengths and weaknesses. Playing two roles let's you be active in scenes even when your character isn't present and the demons tend to be pretty ridiculous and fun to play as. The downside is if someone misses a session it throws the whole thing out of whack as you're essentially missing two characters from the group. It's a mixed bag but can be very fun.
The book itself begins with a bit of fiction.
A social worker was driving home one evening when all of a sudden she was wrenched from her car by DESECRATOR DREAD, a member of THE VILLAINOUS NINE. She was taken to one of their hideouts where they no doubt hatched their villainous schemes! They revealed to her their dark origin stories! One used to be a beat cop, drummed out of the force after they brought the corruption to the attention of the public. Another used to teach in an inner city high school. Others were civic reformers or zen priests. “How could this be?” she wondered, “What kind of strange trick was this, and why did they need her?” Well it turns out that all of their powers, their super strength, amazing intellect and energy blasts all had a single source.
With the fire and brimstone and hell and everything, demons. It turns out that demons are real, and they’ll possess people and in the process give them superhuman abilities. The downside is they really, really want you to do evil acts with them. Murder, arson, grand theft, the more people that are hurt, the happier the demon becomes. Do enough evil and they can drag you to hell to torture you for all eternity, which is a feather in their cap to be sure. But there’s something of a flaw in their plan. They also love spectacle and drama. A few people have found that, as long as your plans are sufficiently evil sounding, they can generally keep the demon in check. This is without concern for any inherent flaws or effectiveness a plan might have. Angels exist too, often fulfilling the role of superheroes, but what you didn’t hear in the media is how much they cared about punishing the wicked and how little they cared about keeping bystanders safe.
So then, what use did these people have with her, a lowly social worker? Well it turns out Doomslaughter, a former member of the VILLAINOUS NINE had gone off the deep end. He’d given in to his demon wholesale and done terrible, terrible things before finally being brought down. Not just by heroes mind you, but by his own team as well. And now he was locked up, in the most secure prison in earth, and the remaining members of the gang had a plan. They offered the social worker an option, she could wear an amulet which would draw Doomslaughter’s demon to her when he died, and then they were going to destroy the prison with Doomslaughter in it. Of course, if she refused...well...they’d let her go without question. They’re not murderers after all. Of course if she wasn’t wearing the amulet that demon would really just pick someone at random to possess. And it turns out that Doomslaughter was quite the nice person until the demon finally got the better of them. They were a philanthropist surgeon who would take days off to deliver medicine to kids in need. So imagine what would happen if that demon found someone with a far less stringent moral code? Spoiler:
Supervillains are Dumb
Check out my sweet ass drill submarine
Supervillains are Dumb
Play your human well enough and you might even force your demon back to the bowels of the Hell that spawned it. Play your demon well enough and you could drag a mortal down to Hell for eternity.
Walking that balance, between good and evil and power and fear, is the heart of Better Angels.
So, a core concept is that villains in comic books, and the ones you’re going to be playing as, are kind of dumb.
Remember the Tinker from Spider-Man comics in the 1980s? A guy who can turn a waffle-iron into a ray gun is working out of a radio repair shop building weapons for supervillains? Why wouldn’t he file some patents, get a few defense contracts and quietly reap the profits of Reagan’s peace-time military buildup?
Ultimately they use their ridiculous laser guns and hovercrafts to rob banks to fund...more of those laser guns and hovercrafts. They do not make sensible, long term decisions. There’s no shortage of people volunteering for extremely questionable experiments ready to turn to crime at a moment's notice. When they inevitably get out of prison in one way or another their first reaction is usually to go right back to crime with a side dish of vengeance. And there’s a reason for this. Mainly that the writers don’t have the time or money to introduce more villains. As well the villains goals should be something that can be pretty clearly explained in a few issues. This ties into a major theme of the game, which is EEEEEEEVIL vs evil.
is what you see in comics, where the villain’s plan is simple, if a bit ridiculous. The villains have stolen all the cheese in the city because they’ve developed a ray which turns money and gold into mice, which will all flock to their warehouse where they’ll be returned to more barterable form. The villains have taken a panda hostage and are threatening to dye it completely black if their demands aren’t met. Pies are stolen, weird gadgets are unveiled, you get the gist. Ultimately this makes for better reading than the kind of evil you see in real life. A comic about a lobbyist ultimately forcing a bill through congress through bribery and blackmail might be more realistic but isn’t as entertaining to most people. It’s also kind of depressing. It also tends to be disseminated amongst large groups of people, many of whom may not even know what they’re doing.
Hitler and Stalin didn’t do their own heavy lifting. They passed orders downward, and their massacres were invisible at the top levels until after the fact. The tasks required to murder millions get divided and sub-categorized and assigned to hundreds of bureaucrats so that the chemicals are requisitioned by one clerk, received by another, coordinated with train stations by a third and only deployed by soldiers after events have so much momentum and official approval behind them that disobeying becomes incredibly difficult. Even if one soldier refuses, what happens? He might get a bullet in the skull as his reward, but just as likely his commander shrugs and finds another. The conscientious objector can get transferred to the motor pool. He doesn’t need to be made an example because people who can stand up to the institutional evil of a Third Reich are so vanishingly rare that a government can afford to ignore them.
This kind of evil is slow, it develops momentum quietly and out of sight until it’s too big to stop and by the time people notice they’re already a part of it. EEEEEEVIL on the other hand is fast, spectacular and just riddled with flaws, but that’s okay.
Up Next: Let's Start Making a Villain!
Original SA post
Part 2: Character Creation!
So the game uses a variation of the One Roll Engine (ORE) Stolze developed. You assemble a pool of d10s and then look for matches. It’s pretty simple. The stats as presented are very similar to those used in his earlier game A Dirty World. You don’t have traditional stats like strength and dexterity, instead the methods you use and the situation will often dictate how you roll. You have
, which are the broad methods by which you attempt a given task, and you also have
which are a refinement of your method. This seems a bit confusing but the gist is when you want to do something you roll a
Strategy plus a Tactic
. Strategies and Tactics are also split into
categories, depending on whether the method is sinful, lazy, reflective of some flaw, or whether it’s noble, compassionate or self sacrificing.
- For things accomplished methodically and with discipline
- For things physically straightforward and largely uncomplicated
- Done using the truth of a situation or dealing with things as they really are
- Taking the easiest way possible
- Doing things without being noticed as well as acts of agility
- For when you’re changing the way other people do things, for controlling and manipulating
You also have your
which are more specific than the strategies:
- To help others in need
- Education, researching and technical problem solving
- Facing opponents who are at least as strong as you are
- Doing something for a long period of time or a task that’s exhausting
- Appealing to and bringing out the better qualities in someone else
- Using and making others see the truth of a situation
- Taking something from someone
- Finding out and using information people don’t want to divulge
- Attacking people weaker or unaware
- Avoiding or overcoming physical obstacles
- Drawing out and appealing to the worst nature of others
- Misleading, lying and standing by dishonesty
Each of these will have a dot value assigned and you add these together to form the pool for your actions. You can roll a virtuous tactic with a sinister strategy and vice versa, and all of these values will change over the course of the game. So, let’s have some examples of how these things would work out in game. Let’s say you decide to steal someone’s car. Maybe you’re making a giant car robot to smash the nearby vehicle plant and need the raw material. To hotwire a car without being noticed you’re probably going to roll
Sly and Greed
. Sly because you’re trying to avoid notice and greed because you’re trying to steal someone’s car. Unfortunately you don’t roll well and a traffic cop notices you and approaches. Well, you could try to convince her that you’re just locked out but she might not buy it and you’re not a great liar so you take a rather novel approach of telling her you’re secretly THE EXOCULATOR! and if she values her eyes she’ll leave and tell no one! So for this you’d probably roll
Devious and Honesty
. Devious because you are attempting to manipulate their actions and honesty because you’re convincing them of the truth, weird as the truth may be. So she leaves screaming, giving you a bit of time to finish hotwiring the car. But now you’re on a time crunch. The hotwiring roll becomes a
Cunning and Greed
as you smash open the window with a rock and tear out the wiring behind the ignition. It switched to Cunning because you’re no longer trying to just avoid notice, that option disappeared when the screaming started, you’re just trying to get this done as fast as possible. The owner soon checks out what’s going on and the next thing you know he’s trying to wrench you out of the car, so you decide to sock him in the nose. You don’t really want to hurt him but you definitely don’t want him to hurt you either. He’s about as strong as you are (not very) so you roll
Open and Courage
. There’s nothing subtle about what you’re doing and the owner honestly has a pretty good chance of kicking your ass given the opportunity. Still you roll well enough he backs off and you peel out, hopefully with enough time to be gone before the cops arrive.
Let’s start start with the left side of the character sheet here.
You can see that the sinister and virtuous strategies and tactics overlap. Turns out there’s actually a reason for this which we’ll get into in a moment.
You can’t start with a strategy above 4 dots, and the dots can’t overlap on the character sheet. This means that the maximum number of dots you can have between two opposing strategies or tactics is 7.
A specialty is something your character can do that represents something you can do that most people wouldn’t even attempt. Your character is assumed to be able to drive, they took shop and home ec, they can probably play Mary had a little lamb on the piano. A specialty is something like knowing how to fly planes, being a world class musician or advanced engineering skills. You can have a max of 3 specialties.
You also get an additional 20 points to spend on the person you’re the demon for. As the demon you’ll probably want to spend these on their sinister strategies and tactics, though you have the same limitations. You can't increase a strategy above 4 dots. Likewise the person acting as your demon will be spending 20 points on your character.
This is because if your open hits zero you’re dead. You start with 20 points to disperse as you see fit.
dots cost 1 point.
dots cost 2 points.
cost 2 points
Next you pick one of your Sinister Strategies which serves as your demon’s
. There’s a box for it on the sheet. This is what your demon is focused on you becoming, and once that hits 5 it can drag your ass to hell, which is bad. It also determines how active the demon is in your life. You see, for your drive, if your virtuous strategy is greater than the sinister strategy your demon is asleep until you invoke them. If it’s higher then your demon is always aware of what you’re doing, though it’s silent until invoked. You generally want your demon to have less information, not more. After this you pick one of the
your demon grants you.
are your fun super powers you can use to commit your various evil doings. They are somewhat vaguely worded giving you flexibility as to how they operate.
lets you turn things into into gold (or probably any other precious substance). You can even use it as a weapon though it can’t instantly kill someone. Also it only lasts 24 hours.
For people who are running and kicking and otherwise resisting your decorative ambitions, attacks with this take the form of randomly making chunks of them golden. This wears off after a while (like adolescence) but is painful and confusing while it lasts (also like adolescence).
lets you change into any natural, non extinct creature, though you’ll probably look a bit evil and creepy regardless of the animal unless it’s a bunny or guinea pig.
makes you harder to hurt.
makes you much harder to socially manipulate.
You can teleport something, or a part of something, away from you. You can even use it as an attack to send chunks of people away which is kind of gross.
lets you become the puppet master, moving someone as you see fit. Unfortunately they’re usually fully conscious of what’s going on which makes for an unpleasant experience.
You can remote view, no sound unfortunately.
lets you mimic someone in both appearance and mannerism.
is your basic laser blast, demonic knife throwing, toenail shooting, demonic attack. However you want to flavor it you use this to hurt other people. It also comes with quite a selection of add ons for added potency.
No I don't know why she doesn't have clothes
makes you attractive, mesmerizing, absolutely breathtaking. It makes you much better at talking to people.
You are very, very hard to surprise.
You can summon items from nothing and they’ll disappear when you no longer need them.
is the opposite of banish. If you see something you can teleport it to you, though it’s not as effective at attacking people as banish.
is pretty well known, move things without touching them.
Self let’s you disappear from where you are and appear somewhere else. Unfortunately you can only take your clothing and personal effects.
inflicts terrible, mind breaking fear on some poor person.
The spookiest nerd
That Hideous Strength
is straight up comic book strength. You get some guidelines about how much you can lift and throw and physics be damned.
shrivels limbs, rusts metal and otherwise destroys things.
function similarly except these actually belong to the demon (you still get to pick them but the demon is the one who controls them). They’re also unmistakably evil looking.
If you want people to help you out willingly, sprouting horns and flames may not be the best way. But if you want people to help you out fast, it can work wonders. Your mileage may vary.
covers your body and adds protection, it can work alongside armor and also makes you harder to kill.
doesn’t sound great at first glance. You get weird feet. But what you also get is the ability to barter with other people’s souls. You can make someone MUCH better at something and all it costs is a teeny tiny bit of their everlasting soul. Doesn’t work on other possessed
covers you and the nearby area in a cloud of blackness. While you, and others you designate, can see relatively well, to everyone else it is absolute pitch black.
covers you in fire. Touching other people hurts them, other people touching you also hurts them.
wins you the Kitty Pryde cosplay contest every year. You become a bit transparent but can phase through solid objects.
He's way too smug for having that dumb a costume
makes you huge with all the upsides and downsides of suddenly becoming a colossus.
gives you a natural attack of some sort. Well natural in that it’s attached to you, not that it appears in nature.
makes you...invisible. You can’t be seen but you can still be heard and will still disturb things you pass.
let you fly, whee!
After picking a power and aspect for yourself you also pick a power and aspect for the person you’re demoning for. So at the end of character generation 40 points will have been spent. 20 by you and 20 by the player playing your demon. You’ll also have 2 Aspects and 2 Powers, one pair chosen by you, the other by your demon. As you can probably guess even character generation is best done as a group activity. After this though you're ready to start playing!
ORE and doing things
Original SA post
Part 3: ORE and doing things
So, we already know how to create pools for going about a given action. You take the relevant
and form a pool of
. Next, you roll that pool and you’re looking for Sets. A
is any single number that shows up more than once. Sets have a few different qualities you’ll be looking for, which are
. Width is how many times the number shows up in a set, and represents the speed and intensity of the action. Height is the number itself and represents how hard it is to stop. So let’s say you roll 8 dice and get 1,3,3,3,5,8,8,10. You have two sets to choose from there. One with a width of 3 and a height of 3 (The three 3’s) and one with a width of 2 but a height of 8. The 3’s are definitely stronger but easier to oppose. The 8’s are weaker in comparison but significantly harder to oppose. Which you pick in a situation is up to you. If an action is uncontested you’re really just looking for a single set to succeed.
Now there are also contested actions. You’re trying to sneak into a warehouse and the guard is trying to find you, the superhero is giving you a big speech about the importance of decency and you’re trying to resist through rationalization and justifications. In these cases both parties roll their appropriate die pools and look for sets. The person on the receiving end, that is the person dodging, resisting, or searching, is looking for a set to use as
. Gobble dice cancel out dice from someone else’s set on a 1 to 1 basis. If they reduce a set to a single number or less that action fails. For instance if the attacker had a three 5’s and the defender had a pair of 8’s as their gobble dice it would reduce the attacker’s set to a single 5, which is functionally worthless. There are a few caveats to Gobble Dice though. They have to have the height to affect the set, that is they need to have a number as high or higher than the attacker’s. If the attacker rolled two 8’s it doesn’t matter you rolled four 5’s to defend they aren’t good enough to stop the attack. There are also times when timing matters. Not during something like an argument, but if you’re diving to cover you need to move faster than the person shooting you. In this case your width also has to be greater than your attackers. So not only would you need to roll a set with a higher number than theirs but you’d need to roll more of it than they did.
There are also rules like
, which are a way of aiming for a specific number in your set. Maybe you want a 10 so that it’s hard to defend against, or a 1 so that you can say you did it even if it’s doomed to failure. When you want to do this gather your dice pool, subtract one die and set another to the number you want. Then roll the rest of the pool and look for matches as normal.
If you want to do
in one turn there’s rules for that as well. Say you want to attack with a flurry of punches, you gather your pool and subtract a die from it. From there you roll the rest of the pool and you can look for and utilize two different sets from it. If you want to do three or more actions during a turn keep removing a die for each extra set you’d like to look for. If you’re trying to do two different things at the same time, like climbing a wall while firing a gun at people behind you, you perform the same process but choose the smaller of the two pools to start with. So if you have 8 dice for shooting but only 5 dots for climbing you’d take the 5 die pool and remove one from it before rolling and looking for two sets. As you can see doing two things at once can be very difficult unless you’re very good at doing both.
Honestly, I'm not 100% on what's going on here. Is it a freeze ray? Is the goggle dude sneaking up on iceman?
Finally if you can take a long time to do something you can take a point of advantage to either add to your pool or as a width boost. If you take three times as long you can increase this advantage to +2, which of course begs the question what the hell is advantage?
is a bonus you can get to rolls that can come from a variety of sources and generally ranges in value from +1 to +3. In combat these generally come in the form of weapons, with larger and deadlier weapons giving a larger bonus. In a mental conflict they come from surprises, unknown or unsuspected information which throws them off their game. In social combat secrets are the name of the game, information which embarasses or even incriminates people. Determining the value is usually pretty simple. For something like a secret a +1 would be something small. Maybe they got into a fender bender and drove off, maybe they hate puppies, something small. At +2 you’re looking at something they’ve taken effort to hide. Something that might jeopardize their career or marriage. A +3 secret is something that might cause them to kill, themselves or someone else. Knowledge that they’re secretly the supervillain that eats corpses for fuel, or that they’re just a plain old serial killer. Weapons work similarly. Small weapons like bricks, pipes or knives give +1, larger weapons you can’t really conceal and show you mean business like assault rifles or battle axes give +2. Finally weapons that show you’re going to war are at +3 like grenade launchers, machine guns
or a sword impregnated with demonic blood cells that provoke cancerous melanomas with every hit.
Now that you have some advantage there are two ways of using it. The first is simply adding it to your dice pool. So a +3 advantage would add three dice to your dice pool. You can also use it in a riskier but more rewarding way, which is to add it to any set you might get as added width. So let’s say you don’t add it to your pool and you roll getting a set of two 4’s. Not spectacular, but when you add the advantage you’ve effectively rolled five 4’s which is enough to do some serious damage.
The last thing that can come up is
. These are very, very good, and equally hard to get. You don’t roll Master Dice, instead you roll every other die and set them to what you want. This means that as long as you’re rolling at least one other die you’ll always have a set, no matter what. As you can tell these are extremely potent and so are quite hard to obtain.
I like this picture a lot, I don't know why
So, this section goes into more detail as to what the specific combinations of strategies and tactics generally entail. It also has a brief overview of how the conflict system works between people. When you’re attacking or attacked the target is a Tactic. You can literally beat the lies out of someone if you’d like. Or make them so paranoid about their finances they lose any sense of generosity. This section goes into example tasks for the more common strategy and tactic combinations. It can be a bit monotonous but helps in understanding how the system functions.
: Long term investments like building a library, helping someone in AA and funding a political party.
: Long cons, identity theft, phishing and manipulating systems to get unearned rewards.
: Bribes, black markets and paying people to look the other way. With this you’re throwing around money to get results quickly.
: Any sort of petty larceny, shoplifting, lock picking and pick pocketing.
: Finding an occult ritual in a library, rewiring a house, basically anything that require academic knowledge falls under this category. It’s a very broad category.
: Tapping a phone, checking for booby traps, staking out a place, finding something others want hidden. Use this when you’re methodically finding information someone doesn’t want you to know.
: Calling up information you need immediately, defusing a bomb, playing a pub quiz or guessing the answer on jeopardy or fixing a car on the side of the road with only what you have on hand. This is thinking on your feet or ad libbing a plan.
: Spotting ambushes, identifying an undercover cop or quickly searching an area. This is your ability to stay observant/paranoid under pressure, whether it be from time or a looming threat.
: Fighting someone on even terms, attacking a stronger opponent, a possessed person fighting the supernatural without their demon invoked.
: This is the basic combination for attacking someone weaker than you, or any normal person if your demon is invoked.
: Fighting at range using any sort of weapon against a foe of equal or greater strength.
: This is when you’re trying to essentially assassinate someone. You want them dead before they even know you’re there.
: Chasing a culprit, running a marathon, rowing a boat or bracing a door against trespassers. These are tasks that require strength or endurance over a long period of time.
: Blocking a blow, outrunning a pursuer and breaking down a door. This is used when you’re using direct physical force to change a situation.
: Tailing someone in a car, tightrope walking and maintaining control of a vehicle on a slick road. This is for tasks that require a long period of subtlety or agility.
: Climbing over obstructions, escaping from bonds, and other physical tasks that require quickly using agility. Also includes avoiding blows in combat.
: Understanding the best in people, rationalizing actions to one’s self, any time you’re trying to find the best in people.
: Learning people’s desires and vices, discovering someone’s weakness, this combination covers whenever you’re trying to find the bad in someone, whether its a personality trait or a past deed.
: This is used to convince someone else that what they’re doing is the right thing.
: Temptation, seduction and bewilderment all fall under this category.
: You use this to protect yourself whenever someone is making you doubt the truth as you know it or tell if someone else is lying.
: You use this to convince yourself that what someone else said is true, even if you know it to be otherwise, or for convincing others you’re worse than you appear. It can’t detect the truth in someone’s statement but can tell you their motivation for making it.
: This is getting people to do what you want through a hard truth. You use this to make people do good even if they don’t want to. Like those sad ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLaughlin or convincing someone that they do, in fact, have a drinking problem.
: Lying, pure and simple.
It seems a bit complicated at first, but once you wrap your mind around motivation and method being the sole factors in determining dice pools it becomes intuitive rather quickly. There are a few APs of the game you can listen to to hear what it sounds like being played. When you want to do something you'll automatically know whether it's physical, mental or social, then you check if it's arguably virtuous or sinister, and then you find the tactic that fits.
Combat and Conflict and Demonic Devices
Original SA post
Part 4: Combat and Conflict and Demonic Devices
So, at some point, a fight is going to break out. Whether it is a heated debate, two scientists trying to outwit one another in a game of strategy, or just some people fighting to the death (the usual villain stuff) eventually the dice or going to come out and things are going to escalate. For physical combat there are a few steps to follow
Step 1: Declare
. Everyone acting in the combat, NPCs included, say what they’re going to do. I use my eye lasers, I distract them, I run away, if you’re a threat or threatened by the conflict you’re probably going to declare. If you’d like you can let people change what they do based on other input. For example if player A says they’re going to charge the superhero and player B says they’re going to throw their portable black hole at the hero, player A may want to reconsider their choice of action. If you’d like something more concrete you can also let people declare in order of their cunning with the lowest declaring first. This means the person with the higher cunning will have a much greater understanding of the fight than the others.
Step 2: Roll
. Everyone rolls their dice and picks out which set(s) they want to use.
Step 3: Resolve
. At this stage you start implementing the sets. Highest width is resolved first. If there’s a tie for width use the height as a tiebreaker. If the height also matches whoever rolled the most dice wins, or just roll off to see who goes first. Going first can be very important, especially when your action is to block or dodge which must go off before the attack otherwise it’s wasted. If you hit someone before they act they lose a die from one of their sets, though this can be from a set they aren’t currently using but rolled nonetheless. What you do is determined by the width of the set.
As you can see your stats can shift a lot during combat, with Courage being shifted over to Cruelty or Open being shifted to Sly. For mortals, if their Open hits zero they’re dying. If someone says they’re going to kill them they die unless someone else tries to stop them. Lucky for you, the Hellbound (people possessed by demons) have to empty out their Open AND Sly before they can kick the bucket. And given that on a width of 2-3 that dot simply slides between the two it means the attacker will need a set of at least 4 width to put down one of the Hellbound.
It also has rules for mobs of people here. This can apply to any grouping of mortals working together whether it be a mob with torches and pitchforks, a specops team or your grouping of brightly costumed henchmen. They roll a number of dice based on how many there are on a one to one basis and up to 10 dice total. They also gain a combat advantage based on how many of them are armed and how angry or scared they are. Any time you hit them you take out a number of people equal to the width of the set, and the mob flees after a certain portion of them are taken out of the fight.
functions almost identically with a few minor differences. Speed no longer matters for defense, so you can still use a set to defend with even if it has a lower width than your opponents. You also can’t take off someone’s last dot of Open with just mental conflict. You can’t think someone to death, though you can think someone to NEAR death. You also can’t FORCE someone to listen to you, though you can coerce them through social attacks until they’re more receptive. For instance you can't just yell at conspiracy theorist until suddenly they just give up all their beliefs.
is played like intellectual conflict. The only difference here is that with social conflict everyone has an out. You see, when you’re manipulating or being manipulated it’s all to get someone to do something they wouldn’t do otherwise. This means that the defender can avoid the damage from an attack if they comply, which might not be a bad idea. Let’s say you’ve taken a puppy hostage and threaten the police to leave the area or you’ll turn it into a far less adorable animal, like a possum (American, not Australian). You attack the police’s courage and roll great, getting a width of 5. Now if they can decide to leave, and avoid that attack, or they can stay but will lose a dot of Open, which is a big deal.
You can also suffer simple misfortunes which might cause your Tactics or even Strategies to slide, if it’s a relatively minor inconvenience, or disappear, if it’s pretty major or life threatening. This is up to the GM but it recommends only doing so sparingly, after all they’ll probably much things up by themselves given enough time.
The last part of this chapter details an optional rule for
. While it may seem like a lot of fun it does add the potential for the players to commit a LOT of sins they might not ordinarily if given the option. Basically at the end of each combat round you assemble a collateral damage die pool. Using the big flashy powers, lots of people with guns, or a whole lot of people in a cramped space all add to this pool. If you get a set the width determines the severity of the threat, up to deadly at width 5, while height determines how many people are affected. The villains have the opportunity to save those threatened but that also means turning their back on the threat contributing to the collateral damage in the first place.
The upside of being possessed: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Demon
If being possessed was only having something whisper terrible things into your mind it would be annoying, but probably not enough to get someone to commit terrible sins. Luckily demons can also do some things that provide more concrete temptations, like
I have no idea what to do with this crap
A demon can guide you through a process which will result in an item with extraordinary powers far beyond what science can accomplish. This is because while science has to obey certain laws like physics, your devices are powered by Hell and anger and spite.
Some just make their cursed amulets look like cursed amulets and have done with it, but many take the modern approach because (1) they’re mortified of looking like they’re behind the times and (2) it’s hilarious to watch real scientists try to replicate impossible devices. (Until they succeed, like Alexander Graham Bell and his stupid telephone. Arish-Kanneret the Honeyed Voice of Betrayal is still pissed about that.)
So, let’s build something terrible.
Step 1: What does it do
First you figure out what you want it to do, then find out where it fits into the following options.
Environmental Change, Minor:
Knocking over walls, uprooting trees, and drilling through steel are all under this category. The rule of thumb is, if it could be done by something that could fit in a 2 door garage it fits here.
Environmental Change, Major:
Here is where things would either require a LOT of effort for science to accomplish or science just isn’t there yet. Airships, invisibility cloaks, lightsabers and the like are all in this category.
Environmental Change, Cataclysmic:
Nukes, devices that would turn all the gold into lead or a beam which creates volcanoes all fit here. This is the category for things which could cause immediate political and economic upheaval if activated.
Attacks a Tactic:
This device can attack a tactic without question. It might be a blamethrower which chews up their Nurture tactic or a poverty beam which damages their Generosity.
Attack with Nastiness:
Using this gives you an advantage bonus for attacking a particular tactic in a specific way, the most obvious being using Open Courage(Or Cruelty) to attack Courage for some sort of melee weapon.
Now each of these options will cost you points of Knowledge and/or Generosity. If you’re spending more than 2 points you’re going to need to pick up some flaws in the process.
Step 2: Flaws.
When you use the device EVERYONE around notices it. It might have strobe light effects, air horns, sirens, whatever it has it is not subtle.
This isn’t something you can just carry in a backpack. You can buy this multiple times, each time making it progressively larger and more awkward to use.
This effects how often it can be used, with the first rank limiting you to using it every other round at the fastest.
There’s a huge red OFF switch, a giant lever that says DO NOT PULL or the controller is the ipad you carry around with you which could be yanked out of your grasp. Whatever the method there is a relatively easy way for someone to turn it off without your consent.
The machine runs on faberge eggs and fresh saffron. If your Generosity drops too low for too long it stops working.
Sometimes the machine doesn’t work when you want it to.
Well a laser made of glass sounded cool, and it looks really cool, but now it also has a vulnerability to bricks or other hard objects.
This is similar to expensive upkeep but the machine requires something you can’t just buy. Maybe it runs on the tears of children or the blood of the innocent but regardless of what the fuel is it won’t be something you can grab at the gas station.
Normal people can tell it’s bad news just by looking at it. They get goosebumps and feel their skin crawl. Particularly sinful people, on the other hand, desperately desire the object.
To build this you’re probably going to have to go on an ADVENTURE or HEIST because to complete this thing you’re going to need something special. The hair from an angel, the skull of deceased royalty, unobtainium, whatever it is it’s special and going to be hard to get to get.
Step 3: Pay the Piper
Now you can start paying the demon the dots of Knowledge and Generosity required by the effects you desire from the device. You can do it all in one go or spread it out over a series of payments. Once this is done your device is good to go and you can go and hold the county hostage or sail the skies or what have you.
Being the Demon
So, you’re also playing the demon to someone else at the table, there are a few things of note. First is that, under normal circumstances you are stuffed in a tiny jail cell inside of them. You can’t hear or see what’s going on outside, you don’t know what they’re thinking or what they’re doing, you’re out of the loop. There are several situations in which this can change however. If their primary Sinful Strategy is greater than their Virtuous Strategy the demon can hear and see whatever is going on around them. Unfortunately this does not allow you to speak but being able to look around can be a huge benefit. If he uses a power or asks for you then you’re allowed to start talking to them for the remainder of the scene.
I'M INSIDE YOU
You can also improve your hosts Sinister Tactics and Strategies but doing so requires two things to happen. First, they must have committed a sin of sufficient evil and you must have witnessed it happening. Second they must also commit this act while you’re able to perceive your surroundings. This means if they kill someone with their bare hands without using powers and their Virtuous Strategy is higher than the Sinister Counterpart you’re out of luck. You didn’t see it so all they have to deal with is the murder charge.
As you can see certain sins correspond to the different Sinister Tactics and levels of improvement for them. If they commit major sins you can even improve their Sinister Strategies.
An Eye for the Divine
When invoked a demon can also identify those around them that are hosting a demon or an angel. Though this can be blocked or obfuscated by the various demonic aspects and powers. For example if they're surrounded by darkness you'll know there's a demon in there but you won't get any more information.
Dragging them to Hell
If you get their Primary Sinister Strategy up to 5 dots that’s when the magic happens. At that point you can take control of their body and prepare to open a portal to hell where they will presumably be tortured for eternity and the demon gains a significant chunk of power in the process. That’s their job after all. The demon might be distracted or infatuated with some of the pleasures afforded to them on earth but their ultimate goal with every host is to drag them kicking and screaming into the inferno.
You’re also the only one who activate your Demonic Aspects, the remnants of your form that you can manifest around your host. If they simply ask for it you can give it and they slide a point from the Virtuous Strategy over to their Sinister Strategy. For the demon this is great. It’s an easy way to rack up the Strategy necessary to drag them to hell. As the demon you can also activate these without their consent by rolling their relevant Sinister Strategy. If you get a set it activates for the rest of the scene. If you fail it still goes off but you slide a point over to their Virtuous Strategy, which is a pretty significant setback. Why would you do this? Well, there are a few reasons. Maybe your demon is a bit of a mischief maker and wants to inject some excitement into their hosts life. There’s also the possibility that the host has been ignoring them or performing too many good deeds so now they have to explain to everyone at the soup kitchen why they’re suddenly sporting a pair of giant bat wings. It can also be used as a threat, that if they don’t do SOMETHING sinful, even if it’s something small, they’ll turn it on during a very inopportune time and let the host deal with the consequences. While suddenly being covered in armor is more awkward than anything, bursting into flames in a highly flammable environment could have catastrophic consequences.
“I Think, Perhaps, I’ll Be A Jerk”
The ability to activate Aspects blindly runs, head-first and hard, into issues of separating player knowledge from character knowledge. If a demon’s uninvoked and running on a Sinister Tactic deficit, he doesn’t know what’s happening with his mortal. You, the player controlling that demon, may know that the mortal is right in the middle of a tender reconciliation scene with his ex-wife. That would be the worst possible time for a demonic Aspect to kick in, wouldn’t it?
And maybe that’s great fun for all the group. Maybe your mortal’s player loves the opportunity to chew scenery and emote and be livid at his demon. But what do you do if he’s annoyed that you upstaged his scene and turned his high drama into low farce?
If you’re a nice guy and you’ve got a friendly, cooperative group, call a time out and ask player-to-player. “I totally want the demon who’s bored and cooped up to ruin the hell out of this. Please?”
If you’re a more competitive group, just go for it. But understand that the price for putting things on an adversarial footing is that you wind up on an adversarial footing. It’s perfectly in character for a mortal who’s been demonically cock-blocked to decide that demonic help just isn’t worth it. It could be your ticket to more time silenced, not less.
Then again, the conflict is the core of the game. Play it by ear and don’t be a dick.
Demons also have an ace up their sleeve but they are
to use it. They can grant their host a Master die on a roll, which is great for the host, but doing so ALWAYS slides a dot from the Sinister Tactic over to the Virtuous. Even if the roll is using Greed or Cowardice it always slides from bad to good. Doing something perfect is something only the divine are capable of, and while demons used to be angels remembering it is a painful and shameful experience.
Being the Human
There are a few things the human can do that can help prevent them from just sprinting into the mouth of hell as soon as the game starts. First off is their use of justification. At the end of a scene during which they did something noble or selfless they can slide a point from a Sinister Tactic. At the end of each session they can also slide a point on one of their Strategies to represent long term growth and trying to improve themselves. They can also improve a Strategy by sacrificing a dot from both the Sinister and Virtuous Tactic beneath it.
More good news is the human is entirely in control of the Demonic Powers. You control when and where they’re used. The downside is using a power also wakes up the demon, who can now talk to you and see through you for the rest of the scene.
Finally, if the host gets their Primary Virtuous Strategy up to 5 dots they can attempt to
the demon. Of course this isn’t something done lightly because, even if they are successful, they’re now a normal dude hanging around a bunch of costumed villains which might not end well.
A more detailed looks at Demons, Dragging people to Hell, and Example characters.
Original SA post
Part 5: A more detailed looks at Demons, Dragging people to Hell, and Example characters.
So, you can probably tell that there is what amounts to PvP conflict going on in the game, and this can definitely be a huge red flag. PvP in most games, and even in this game, can quickly turn into two people trying to spite each other at every opportunity. The demons could be under control of their player but that would probably lead to very agreeable demons more than happy to throw out fiendish powers at their hosts request. The GM could handle the demons but they honestly have enough going on at any given moment without having to worry about keeping everyone’s demons straight all the time. One of the benefits of having the other player’s have roles as demons is even if the party splits up there’s an incentive to stay interested in what’s going on. Even if the player is alone the second they use a power they’ve drug another player into their scene, for better or worse.
How To Screwtape a Human
, or screw, is the term the book uses to refer to the demon being hosted in someone’s body, taken from the title The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis. Now as the Screw, it’s your job to get your host to sin, but as a player in a game you should know that you have your limits. If all you do when you can speak is demand they bathe in blood of babies or you’ll do nothing for them the player is going to quickly realize you’re useless and will just avoid doing anything that let’s the screw speak. Even if they do use their powers they’ll completely ignore the screw because they have nothing to say. Also that makes the person playing the screw an asshole, don’t do that. What you can do is tempt them. Offer the host realistic options for sinning, help them compromise themselves, and if they say no leave it at that. If the situation becomes more desperate that little bit of sin in exchange for power starts to look like a better and better option.
The real key to Screwtaping is the great unspoken law of successful gaming: Don’t be a jerk. You do not win by making his character miserable, and you’re actively a loser if you deliberately set out to make the player miserable. You win by helping him make an awesome story about someone walking a moral tightrope, trying to do good from a position waist-deep in evil.
And if the player asks the Screw for help, help them. Give them advice they might follow even if it’s immoral (you still have a job to do after all), and if you want to occasionally throw in a “Burn down the orphanage” suggestion for a chuckle that’s fine, just don’t make a habit of it. The book adds that you should really be searching for the kind of discourse you’d expect from The Odd Couple. Two wildly different personalities regularly bumping up against one another that makes for an entertaining experience for everyone. And something to remember about the demons is they are capable of being manipulated. While they are ancient and possess knowledge far outside the human realm they are suckers for grandiose plans that sound sinister regardless of how inefficient or error prone they might be. As a final bit of advice the player’s should remember the people are the ones getting top billing, if you’re in a scene with both your character and the screw you’re playing focus on the character. Maybe the screw makes a comment here or there but they’re still playing second fiddle to the human characters.
How to Human a Screwtape
So, you’ve got a mild demon infestation, and while they grant you some sweet powers they also tend to whisper suggestions to you that you’d rather not have to deal with. And while the relationship is a bit one sided, after all there’s not much you can do to torment your demon while they can make you grow wings in the middle of the mall, it should be felt that all of this is between the characters, not the players. The demon shouldn’t be trying to get the host killed and the human shouldn’t just try to negate the premise of the game by never engaging with their demon. The screw’s job is to trick you and tempt you, and even if they succeed at causing your character hardships it adds to the drama of the game. Just make sure they don’t take it too far. Don’t be afraid to talk to them, the player, if you feel like things are getting out of hand. The in game method of accomplishing this is doing your best to never invoke your demon, and explaining to the other characters that your screw is frankly too volatile to be reliable. After all this is still supposed to be a game, even if it is about damnation and corruption.
Okay, so there’s two main ways the union between human and demon ends. Let’s start with
. You’ve been good, you’ve been donating to charity, adopting orphans, doing volunteer work, all that jazz, and you’ve finally got your
Primary Virtuous Strategy
up to 5. From there you commit to being exorcised and the fun begins. Bring friends. It starts with them trying to reduce your cruelty to zero. Whether it be through talking, enhanced exorcism techniques, or a stiff beating. Next, assuming they haven’t died, the demon offers incontrovertible proof of how they’ve saved the human’s life, without them they’d be dead. This takes place in the character's mind and is acted out by the other players at the table. If they succeed at this stage the the demon is physically ejected from their body via an orifice (ew) and now it’s a straight fight to the death. And it should be mentioned the host is now a completely normal human so I hope those friends from earlier brought some guns with them. If the host dies the demon is now free to find someone else at their leisure. If the demon dies it’s forcibly returned to it’s amulet where it can do less harm. If the amulet is being worn by the person, or has been destroyed prior the screw is screwed and is forced back to hell. The human is now a normal, average, unpossessed and probably far better off, person.
On the other and if your
Primary Sinister Strategy
hits 5 you’re in danger of being
Dragged to Hell
. This is bad (for the person, for the demon this is great news). When it hits 5 the demon grabs the steering wheel and now is in total control of the person. For the next 24 hours they will attempt to destroy everything the human holds dear. The hard part is the demon no longer has their demonic powers while in the driver seat so they’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way. It’s going to be very unpleasant. The purpose of this is while the demon is in control of the body the host still has to sit back and watch this all unfold. Doing this terrible things winnows down what remaining virtue they have left which will be important later. After 24 hours the demon assumes their full demonic form and has a mere hour to kill people and arrange their organs in a pentagram. This part is hard because it’s certainly not invincible and it’s very, very obvious. People tend to run away, call the cops, call out for superheroes and generally things that interfere with the whole ritual killing thing. The people they grab also have to be mostly innocent as well, so if they accidentally snag a serial killer when collecting their 5 people they’re out of luck, game over. If it fails here the Strategy drops to 4 and things return to normal, aside from all the irreparable damage and destruction. If the demon succeeds in everything there’s one final struggle between the human and the screw, and honestly the odds aren’t good on the human. The demon gets pretty much any ability it wants and all it has to do is drag a weak, powerless mortal through a portal into hell.
So, like demons angels are real and quite powerful. They’ve never fallen from grace and they still have that whole divine purity thing going for them. As long as the host is acting in accordance to the angel’s wishes they can add a master die to ALL of their actions. If you don’t remember master die can keep you from failing ANY mundane skill challenge. One on one an angel can pretty easily take apart one of the hellbound. It requires strategy, teamwork, and a bit of luck to overcome an angelic opponent. Of course this isn’t helped by the fact that angels get powers too. As a side note the GM can kludge any demonic power into an angelic version with a bit of tweaking and refluffing.
Circle of Abjuration
- The angel chooses a sinister tactic and activates an aura. For the auras duration people inside can either slide a dot in that tactic or run away.
- Any attack made on a virtuous tactic has it’s height reduced.
- Any attack has its pool reduced by the angels endurance. This can make a tough angel VERY hard to take down.
- The angel’s attacks gain a bonus equal to their target’s Sly or Cruelty, whichever is higher. This means against an evil opponent they are going to hit like the biggest gun you could find.
- You don’t get bonus dice from secrets, weapons or surprises against someone with this power. Their purity is overwhelming and absolute.
Word of Blessing
- The angel can speak the right words at the right time, those passionate locker room speeches before the big game, those quiet words to give someone the encouragement they need, all of them. They can use this power to shift dots in their virtuous tactics around, or give them to someone else.
- These angels have the sort of teamwork that would make a drill sergeant weep with envy. They gain a bonus on all virtuous tactics rolls equal to the number of angels with chorus in the vicinity, up to +3.
- This angel is channeling pure divinity, enough that it manifests as a glowing ring of light around them. They heal a dot of a virtuous tactic every round.
- This holy light isn’t the searing luminescence of a halo but a more subdued sort of divinity. The angel chooses a demonic aspect and power and prevents them from being used by anyone they can see.
- They can fly. I don't know what more you want.
All of this comes with a cost of course. Angels have a code of conduct they must abide by.
Thou shalt be Honest
- Angels cannot lie, and that sweet master dice goes away if their human host tries to lie. This can’t even be circumvented through omission or answering a different question. The best they can do and still keep their angel’s approval is saying “I won’t answer that”
Aid ye the Needful
- The angel always has to help those in need. Even if it’s horrifically dangerous and the chances of success are almost nonexistent
Harm not the Harmless
- They can only reciprocate the level of harm that could be done to them. If you spit in a demon’s face all they can really do is walk away or verbally chastise you (which still might hurt). Even if the person a gun, if bullets can’t really harm the angel they can’t go all old testament on them. None of this applies to demons, they can do what they want there.
- Once someone gives up the angel has to stop fighting them. No hitting after the bell, at all.
If they violate any of these while their angel is invoked their powers start to weaken, to the point of disappearing entirely.
So these characters are broken up into a few different categories. You see, ideally an angel gets into a decent person who cares for humanity. And really you want a demon in the same kind of person to hopefully mitigate the damage they’d otherwise do. Issues start to crop up when that isn’t the case. When an angel inhabits a just and generous person you get results like:
- This 9 foot tall diamond statue of an angelic woman patrols the east coast, a defender of justice and foe to the wicked and cruel. She stops kidnappings, hijackings and of course any attempts to circumvent or escape just punishment for crimes. Her real identity is that of an activist and folk singer, Chartreuse Milante. Even before becoming host to an angel she fought to protect the environment, basic human rights and unjust wars. At one point it even cost her a possible marriage. But in the process she found an angel
- Anywhere there’s a door, he can appear. Dressed like a doorman, this person was once an ordinary doorman until he tried to stop a cop from beating up their girlfriend. After that he was fired and was constantly harassed with parking tickets and speed traps. But he was sent a mysterious envelope in the mail which held an artifact containing an angel. Since then they’ve joined forces to fight crime anywhere there’s a door nearby.
And sometimes a demon gets into the heart of a good person through circumstance or coincidence. This is probably the kind of person you’ll be playing as. Not necessarily paragons of humanity, but normal decent folk who suddenly have a being of ancient evil strapped to them. Some may even try to do good with it though they have a habit of getting a body count pretty quickly. You get people like:
- A man who liked machines and order, and found a sort of peace in his job driving an asphalt paver. One day it churned up a strange statue made of wood containing a complex assemblage of gears which caused it to move, and with it came dreams of a global city that stretched across the horizon where everything was neat, orderly and safe. And power, but he didn’t really question that part. Now he is trying to realize his dream. He is the man who would pave the world. He is...The Paviour.
- He was always angry, intelligent and aggressive, but grew up with strict and pacifist parents. This made Tyson Franks a very conflicted individual growing up. He channeled his aggression into sports, but that only lasted until he started med school. His life changed when saving the life of a shot up dealer. He found on their person a blood stained statuette of a grinning demon and had an epiphany. He could channel his aggression, his upbringing and his intelligence into a single goal. All he’d have to do is dress up like a doctor and use his medical knowledge to kill criminals. Simple right? Of course his demon is having a great time, even if they don’t really talk to them. They don’t have to. Unfortunately his desire to bring together all these conflicting aspects of himself have caused some issues. Not only does he believe what he’s doing is right, he believes it’s entirely natural as well. Things like dodging bullets, throwing scalpels with pinpoint accuracy and destroying flesh at a touch are probably things he picked up in med school.
So, is it possible for an angel to become hosted in an asshole? Yup! And the results generally aren’t pretty. You see if they never invoke the angel then the angel is just kind of wasting its time in there but it can’t exactly just book a flight out. And if the person does evil while the angel is invoked not only do they start losing power but it could eventually kill them. I assume they just go back to heaven so they can try again.
- She was an explorer deep in the Amazon jungle, joining a native tribe in one of their rituals. Unfortunately a nearby had been paid and armed by narcotraffickers to kill them and begin cutting down the forest to make a road. Fortunately for her, an angel was linked to the ritual and while her hosts were being gunned down she became bathed in divine light and began to fight back. It was then that the attackers surrendered, which was sort of a problem. The angel wanted to stop then and there, but she knew from her past dealings with them that they’d go back on their word as soon as it was convenient. So she started to take them back to a city prison but as soon as the angel went quiet she started firing on them. She took down two before the rest overwhelmed her and she was forced to call upon her angel for more assistance, and they were not happy with what was happening. That was years ago. Since then she’s been fighting back against drug dealers and corrupt politicians when she can. She dresses in a gorilla outfit to stay low key, the glow is kind of conspicuous. She keeps the angel quiet when she’s doing things they’d hate, like arson, sucker punches and intimidation and only summons them when her immediate task is inarguably good. Unfortunately balancing pragmatism and power is starting to wear on her. And yes she knows gorillas aren’t native to the Amazon.
- Dominic Brown believes that manners and proper grammar are important. In fact, he believes they’re probably one of THE most important things and the lack of emphasis on them is contributing to the degradation of society. And when that antique he picked up one day had an angel within it he now had a mission, nay, a CRUSADE. Now when someone plays music too loud he goes over and talks to them about the importance of respecting your neighbors. And with the angel’s perfection now flowing through his voice his words carry the might of the almighty with them
Similarly, grammar errors on signs get you a lecture from The Elements of Style that you’ll remember on your deathbed after Alzheimer’s has claimed your mother’s face and your first lover’s name.
This isn’t necessarily evil, I mean it is dickish, but not outright evil. But it’s also a huge waste of power. He doesn’t try to stop crimes, he doesn’t prevent robberies or act as hostage negotiator. He just uses his powers to correct people’s manners and grammar.
Finally you get your worst case scenarios. These are when a demon finds their host to be as bad, if not worse, than they are. These are people who heard the dark whispering in their mind and said “Man that sounds great, let’s get started.” And worse yet they generally know to keep a low profile and also how to game the system. They’ll ride on the rim of hell leaving nothing but misery and suffering in their wake.
- He’s only alive because of modern medicine keeping his cancer in check, and the demon inside giving him the power to overcome the radiation killing both the cancer and himself. And he’s been spending his moments alive abusing people around him, physically and sexually, ruining people’s lives with glee. Not only that but but he infects some of those he violates with radiation sickness as well.
Honestly this dude is a weird tonal shift from the rest of the entire book. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and I understand wanting to point out that a demon inhabiting an evil person results in a walking disaster but this seems a bit much.
The Honorable Jane Attenborough
- A judge in Horry County, South Carolina, she takes her job seriously. Though it’s a bit strange that there’s a lawyer named Priapus Ambrosia who can seemingly predict how all of her cases will end, so he can really clear anybody of a crime as long as they sign on the dotted line. In blood, preferably. Turns out these two people are one in the same, exerting absolute control over the judicial process in the area. And in the process she’s encouraged a violent uptake in crime in the nearby counties. Not her’s of course, she makes sure the criminals are across state lines before they get back to it.
The Setting (Sorta)
Original SA post
Part 6: The Setting (Sorta)
The book is up front that it doesn’t present a pre established setting. There’s no Super City where heroes and villains regularly duke it out and page after page of NPC’s that live in there. There’s no supposition as to the true nature of angels and demons and what this would mean for humanity as a whole. There’s no metaplot to speak of. It’s just a toolbox for you to use to make your own setting and plot with. The section does give a few examples on how to alter some of the underlying premises of the setting and what effect this might have on the game itself.
For example, the core premise of the game is demons, angels who have fallen from grace, inhabiting human bodies and whispering dark things in their ear. People who have grown up around religion are probably familiar enough with this, one side has the halos, the other side has the pitchforks, one side good, the other side bad. The downside is this does have a lot of implications for both the players and the setting. It means that God with the capital G is real which might be fine but could cause friction in the group given how many denominations of Christianity there are. And while it’s not something that might be as divisive as much as some of the things in, say, Dogs in the Vineyard, it is something you should consider and be aware of.
So what if you don’t want to use the traditional angels and demons? Well the book offers a few alternative explanations. You might use angels and demons as extraterrestrial beings, playing out a struggle on earth like so many other battlefields elsewhere. Maybe they’re experimenting or testing earthlings for some purpose. It’s possible there’s something humanity has that they want and this is their best way of going about it. When you’re running something like this the goal of the screwtape changes. It’s not about sinning any more, maybe their instructions don’t even make a lot of sense. They might be entirely amoral, only looking at the quickest and most efficient way of solving any problem regardless of the consequences. Instead of being dragged to hell they risk creating a device that will allow them to be abducted, and exorcism becomes removing an alien implant from your body which will likely be rather unpleasant.
You might also choose to do something in a vein similar to Lovecraft. The familiar demons and angels we’ve come to love replaced by voices from beyond, entities that live beyond our knowledge of time and space and can reach across the void to touch your mind. The demons in this kind of scenario would likely be more callous than normal, devoid of humor and anything resembling a human emotion. Their demands might not be sinful or have some sort of grand agenda like an alien, but instead be utterly inscrutable. Each task they give you seems to do nothing but you get the sinking feeling there's some underlying plan at work you simply cannot understand. Likewise angels may ask similarly of their host, defending humanity for equally inscrutable reasons and likely being a terrible burden for their hosts as much as their opponents. A game like this would probably have a far more nihilistic and grim tone than the prior options.
There’s also the idea that the demons aren’t real, at least not in the traditional sense, but instead reflections of the collective unconscious. They act like demons are supposed to act because they believe they’re demons. I’m just going to quote the book on this one:
If you’re not hip to Jung, here’s the quick version, adjusted for RPGs: Your conscious, individual self is the one of which you are most aware. But you have an unconscious mind, gnawing at suppressed fears and desires, irrational and only truly free in dreams. That’s Freud territory, but Jung goes him one better. Freud’s unconscious was still individual, with each man an island. Jung’s collective unconscious is the ocean in which those islands sit—a stew of common beliefs, archetypal social roles, urban legends and sourceless factoids that “everyone knows.”
The big thing this does is ask the question “Where do powers come from then?” And if all of this can be done simply because people believe in it is it something you can exploit? After all the only limit to your powers is people’s beliefs in what you can do.
Another consideration that might come up in a given game is how long has this conflict has been going on. If it’s been going on since as far back as recorded history you’re going to either change some historical events, just to reflect this sort of power being wielded. If you want history to stay the same with demons running around then people might come to the conclusion that many of history’s great atrocities happened because of demonic influence which has it’s own share of implications. Likewise that the heroes of history didn’t succeed by themselves but instead had angelic assistance. Of course there’s the possibility that while angels and demons have existed they simply did not have the power to change history. Angels and demons tend to cancel each other out and in the grand scheme of things don’t have the same effect on the world as sweeping social movements and worldwide wars.
The alternative is that people hosting angels and demons is a relatively new occurrence. It makes the whole superhero thing make sense as all these people have powers, comics are already a thing, one naturally leads to the other. But then you probably will have to ask, at some point, how are others reacting to this sudden new thing? Is the government cracking down on heroes and villains alike? Are they looking to employ them instead? Are people rolling around in radioactive waste and developing super soldier serum in their basements trying to get a similar effect? And how is this affecting international relations? There’s a lot of questions that might get asked, and you might rapidly approach a Watchmen like scenario where the country with the most heroes makes other countries very, very nervous.
Another alternative is this kind of event comes and goes. Every hundred years demons and angels get to come down to earth and do as much good and evil as they can for a decade. At the end they’re all banished from whence they came and the rest of world can go back to exploring and warring. This also means there might be treasure troves of ancient demonic artifacts left around
You ever hear of the Baghdad battery, or the Antikythera Mechanism? All that stuff could have fallen off the super-suits of a B.C. version of the Abysmal Anarchist. (”Look out, Xeno! That clock he’s carrying is accurate to within five minutes!”)
You could use this as the core of a story itself, similar to the comic
The Wicked + The Divine
(Which you should read, it’s pretty great, though more serious than better angels) with some shadowy group manipulating these sudden appearances.
Some Short Campaign Ideas
that kind of give you an idea of the kind of games you can run or something you can insert into an ongoing campaign.
#1 Raining on the Parade -
A superhero who has thwarted the PCs in the past is getting a statue of them erected, and there’ll be a parade leading up to its unveiling. Unfortunately this has caused friction between city hall and the police, who see this as being snubbed in favor of a more glamorous amateur. Even as the parade begins the police have started picketing. Cameras are everywhere. It’s a prime opportunity for some comeuppance. And maybe they put some effort into sabotaging that precious statue of theirs?
#2 Where’s my Handout -
A disaster has befallen a foreign country leading to an outpouring of donations from the people, all loaded up in a freighter and ready to head out. Now sinking the ship would be incredibly cruel. But holding it hostage would be quite villainous. Perhaps threatening to replace all the bottled water with far less healthy soda!
#3 Billiongin’s Island
- A liquor magnate has grown rather eccentric and erratic as of late. They’ve spent billions creating an artificial island in the shape of their family crest (which they designed earlier that year) and placed a massive mansion it. It’s entirely self sustaining and lately they’ve communicated less and less with the outside world. Of course this would also be the perfect base for a group of supervillains, but what kind of defenses does it have? And the billionaire has always seemed a bit sinister in their own right, what if they’re a supervillain as well?
#4 In the Autumn, it’s a Riot of Color
- (this one has a bit of a fucked up premise but one which is coming all too common nowadays, be forewarned) A white police officer guns down an unarmed minority in broad daylight, surrounded by cameras and witnesses. It takes only hours before the rioting starts and violence engulfs the city. Do the PCs take advantage of the situation, taking the opportunity to rob or even taking responsibility for the tragedy? Or do they try to quietly defuse the situation without their demon realizing what’s going on?
#5 Sticks and Stones -
A person vying for a political office has started mocking your villainous group. Making fun of their costumes and names on public television. Are you a bad enough dude to put a stop to this?
#6 Whatever Happened to Professional Courtesy
- The PCs are already pretty well established, and other villains know to keep out of the area, however someone didn’t get that memo. The Human Volcano has already used their powers to close down several highways into and out of the city, and threaten to the same to the airport and any other means of entry into the city, isolating them from the outside world. All they demand is a billion dollars, a tv channel and the weather girl’s hand in marriage. If the PCs just beat him up, they’ll look like heroes. Can they solve this problem while maintaining their villainous cred?
#7 Poaching -
Another villain is taking credit for the groups heinous acts, getting all the publicity and notoriety that demons crave. Who are they and what do they want?Is there a way to fix this situation?
#8 Poached -
A key witness under complete police protection is murdered under their noses in a very gruesome way. What were they a witness to, and why were they murdered? Should the PCs take the credit/blame or are would they be getting into something far deeper than they’re prepared to handle?
#9 Pretty Please? -
This requires catering to the PCs but the gist is that there’s a problem a hero cannot solve which would be easily fixed by one of the players demonic powers. The hero has come asking for their help, on bended knee and will do anything for assistance on this. How much will the players ask for in return?
#10 Too Good to be True (That’s a lie) -
There’s a local opportunity coming up. Maybe the museum is putting up a display which matches your style to a T, maybe an international summit you could wreck. It seems like it would be perfect, maybe even too perfect. A little research shows it’s a trap, but do they go through with it anyway? Can they get what they want while avoiding the ambush?
#11 I Know What you did Last Thursday -
A random bystander has found out one of the groups secret identities. They aren’t a criminal mastermind or anything, but they do want something in exchange for their silence? Will they be able to solve this problem without wanton murder?
#12 Cheap Imitations -
Another supervillain group is cramping on your style. Their names and costumes are all derivative of your own, cheapening the brand you’ve spent so much effort creating. And what if it’s a growing group of people, all imitating your look (badly)?
#13 I Feel we should be Interacting -
A mysterious figure known only as the White Phantom has been appearing around the city. They are shrouded in secrecy, appearing all over the place and vanishing without a trace? Are they a new hero, or a villain? Nope, they’re just a regular person who likes dressing up and being mysterious. A red herring in another plot.
#14 Shoulda Done More Pushups -
In the middle of a fight with lasers and cars flying everywhere the powers suddenly stop, both the villains and the heroes. Now they’re left awkwardly standing around figuring out what to do next, and the angels and demons are entirely silent. Will they try and get their powers back, do they even WANT them back?
#15 “Rat Fink” is such an Ugly Phrase
- A person or power approaches one of the PCs with an offer, sell out the others and escape whatever they’ve got coming, or join them in suffering. Are they a crime lord or a police captain? Can they turn this to their advantage?
#16 Kiss the Ring -
The leader of a cartel has become enamored with one of the villains. Maybe they embody the leader’s ideal qualities, maybe the leader sees their parents in the villain, the reason is up to you. If they agree they’re shaking down people for money, threatening rivals and doing other criminal, if ultimately petty, acts on behalf of the cartel. Crime, but on such a small scale it’s a waste really. The bad news is the cartel won’t take no for an answer.
#17 The Focus Groups Hated It -
A movie is being made about a hero and the villain is playing a role. Well, an actor will be playing the role of the villain but think of the publicity. That is until the script is leaked and it’s AWFUL. They’re making you look like an idiot and doing things you’d never even consider. So what are you going to do about it?
#18 The Malebolgean Candidate -
A local mom is running for a senate seat and she has a solid chance. She’s a pillar of the community and her hard work at a local level been a boon to the beleaguered people. But the PCs notice that not only does she have a screwtape, but they recognize her from a crime where she betrayed them. If they try to stop her they’ll pretty much be handing her the senate seat, the players are supervillains after all. They’ll have to come up with something...subtle.
#19 Wannabes -
One of the PCs has become popular enough that kids are starting to imitate them. Their look, their attitude, the whole deal. If the PC approaches them they’ll be more than happy to become minions but it turns out spoiled middle class kids don’t really bring a lot to the table.
#20 I Want One! -
A fantastic scientific discovery! Dinosaurs have been discovered by a very remote lake in Africa. Imagine how cool it would be to have one, robbing banks on the back of a dinosaur. Every hero, villain and billionaire is going to want one so it’s a race to see who gets what.
#21 The Fixer Upper -
An amusement park is going bankrupt, but it would make an amazing villainous lair. But a real estate firm already has their eye on it and they have pull in the community and local government. Still, it would make for a super cool lair. And there’s the rumor the park is haunted after some teens were ritually sacrificed by a satanic coven but what are the odds of that being true?
One last bit of fiction.
The hero faded from sight.
He’d never let on that he could turn invisible. People knew he could fly and they knew beams of force from his eyes could punch through cinder blocks, but the invisibility… he kept that one up his sleeve. In fact, he’d designed his entire… well, he guessed the guys teaching “Heroic Semiotics” at the university would call it his “persona”… around gaining attention. The costume was a garish red and yellow number with fractal-inspired flame patterns on the forearms, ankles and waist. He was hard to miss, but when he knew he was soon going to tangle with the vicious Vicicle, he preferred to remain unseen. He wasn’t the only one whose powers could punch through cinder blocks, and the last time he’d fought the selfstyled “Cold Pimp Supreme” a flying icicle had hit his armored crotch hard enough to leave him walking funny for two days.
He took a deep breath to try and calm himself, but the moments before the fight were like a drug. Later on at home, when he was swallowing ibuprofen and trying to stretch the soreness out of his limbs, he’d see everything he did as an exercise in self-sacrifice, as a martyrdom for justice, as selfless and high-minded heroism. But at moments like this, right before gittin’ it on, he had to admit it was fun. It was blackdiamond skiing and high-stakes poker and after-hours dance clubbing all rolled into one magnificent, brightly colored thing If he had to take a couple of shots to the ‘nads now and then, it was worth it for the rush.
(He always thought of his super-clashes as “gittin’ it on” and had considered trying to make “Let’s git it on!” his tag-line. But he couldn’t; the guy with the flame-colored cape was too self-conscious to do it. He knew with a bleak certainty that snarky sexual banter would inevitably follow, not just from the villainous, but from those goddamn teens on the Internet. Villains demeaned everything. It was one more thing to hold against them.)
A couple of inches off the floor of the New City History Museum, he drifted forward, unseen, no footsteps
to hear, inching closer to the center of the crime, feeling the temperature drop from summery to cool to cold. When he started to see snow on the floor, he smiled. No footprints from him.
His breath was visible as he came around the corner into the museum’s great central chamber. It didn’t occur to him that might give him away until he heard Vicicle’s odd mix of lordly formality and coarse gutter patois.
“Kid Hell,” he drawled. “Thou art prompt wid’ a realness.”
But the hero didn’t hear the villain say “Slumber gently, y’all,” because a bolt of frosty force had already smashed his face and left him dazed on the floor.
When he awoke, Kid Hell’s teeth were chattering viciously, and he could feel cold leaking into his feet and arms. Spreadeagled in midair, his limbs were frozen into a massive snowball behind him, pushing his back into an uncomfortable arc.
“Behold the great icy fool,” intoned Vicicle. Kid Hell could hear him, but not see him. He craned his neck down and just barely caught sight of his foe sitting on a looted Theban judge’s chair. A woman was sitting on his lap, absent-mindedly stroking his hair.
“Y’all might take yo’ shot, bitch-ass,” the villain continued, “if thou trusteth thy aim to smite me an’ miss my new friend, Museum Director Bates.”
“I loooove you,” the mesmerized woman crooned.
“Shut up, baby, I know it.”
Kid Hell desperately tried to find an option. Blast the ice away from his hands and feet? No, he’d break his own bones. The ball was too heavy to fly off the floor. Desperately, he turned himself invisible, hoping that Vicicle might think he’d teleported….
No luck. Instead of a startled mistake, Vicicle responded to Kid Hell’s gambit with a deep laugh and a snowball to the chest.
“He still there, see,” he said, “And his puny games best stop immediately, lest my wrath fall upon him through a groin pummeling of awe-striking proportions, yuh huh.”
“What is it you want, you frozen deviant?”
“Want? I wanna make money and bend bitches, yo, but first I got bidness. Don’t you worry ‘bout what I want. Concern thyself with what I command!”
“Oh, so you need my help?” Kid Hell asked.
“Word unto thy sagging-teated materfamilias, I need nothing. But you need to get yo’ head straight and bend knee to thy lord and master, rightly won through battle’s trial!”
“Sure, just let me down…”
“Soon enough. We ain’t got much time. The Reaver, the Roamer and the Robot Messiah are on they way here and anon, we must attend to their depredations an’ whatnot.”
“The Three-R All-Stars? Oh, they’ll settle your hash soon enough, Vicicle! My embarrassment is a small price to pay…”
“Those dumb fools think they heroes, just like you. Ignorant, they think they’re coming for me, but they bein’ led by the nose. ‘S all about Cambodia, boy!”
Kid Hell blinked. “I knew there was an exhibition opening here, stuff from that temple on the Cambodian flag…”
“I’m confident that yo’ deep and inky ignorance makes no exception for Indochinese cultural history,” the villain spat, adding “Bee-yotch” as an afterthought. “The great city temple of Angkor was left untouched by Cambodia’s civil war, with even the Khmer Rouge respecting its integrity…”
“Keep talking,” Kid Hell said as he struggled to see if he could free a hand by stripping it out of its frozen glove. “This is fascinating.”
“Aight then, let’s try another way. Where’d superheroes come from?”
“Uh… various places. Genetic engineering, um, a tech accident for Robot Messiah… implants… nanotechnology… um…”
“An’ all that nano jive did nuthin’ before 1991, an’ it all came together that one year?”
“Hey, I read all about it in that one Wired article, it was… was… emergent complexity! Chaos math, that explained it! Chaos math… and stuff,” he mumbled.
“Thou hast dined upon this fatuous claim of ‘emergent complexity’ as if ‘twere the finest Chateaubriand steak, when verily ‘tis naught but a stankass pile of doo-doo butter.”
Kid Hell blinked. “What?”
“1991! The end of the Cambodian civil war, the beginning of the looting of Angkor Wat! Five hun’red an’ forty guardian statues displaced, stolen, chopped up an’ sent abroad after centuries undisturbed! Including the one you frozen against right now!”
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“When’d you start hearin’ the voice?”
Kid Hell felt a chill that had nothing to do with the giant ice ball at his back. “I don’t hear voices.”
“Nah, but you hear a voice, don’tcha? Or is it just a feelin’? An inchoate and partiallyformed sensation, emotions alien to yo’ former life but seeming more natural and native daily? Something in you, put into words or merely a tugging of spirit, crying for destruction, excitement, release?”
“Oh aie, don’t try an’ fool a pimp, boy.” Vicicle was on his feet now, staring arrogantly up at his prisoner. His embroidered blue coat brushed the snow with its white trim, gold sparkling from his teeth, the peacock feather in his widebrimmed hat bobbing gently as he spoke.
“You think a brother in the ‘hood with a few tricks is gonna essperiment with ‘nanites’ or have a ‘radiation accident’? I’m possessed, an’ so are you, and so are those three wroth knaves heading here right now to destroy that statue once an’ for all. Oh, my ungentle spirit was well fuddled from its agelong confinement in darkness vile, and seeing my raiment took me for a king. How it raged to learn it had gifted icy glory upon a common bawd! But so long as the statue remains, it is trapped within me, bound in part to my will. Let your fellow ‘heroes,’ your All-Stars, let them have a piece a’ me an’ I promise that guardian’s gonna get blowed up inna battle. They fierce. You help me, we might just fight ‘em off, keep the statue whole, keep a lid on this bubblin’ kettle of devil poo.”
“On my honor I speak truth.” Vicicle shrugged. “You can kill me. You can eyebeam the livin‘ crap outta me right now, f’real. I’m playin’ double or nothin’.” Outside the hall, Kid Hell could hear the thundering footsteps of the Robot Messiah. “Or you can let yourself believe what you know, deep down. Somethin’ in you ain’t good, it’s evil. You can accept truth and just maybe fight the beast. Or you can deny it, remain no more than an idiot with a flame-print jockstrap, and do far more evil in virtue’s name than ever I have in the cause of vice.”
Mind spinning, Kid Hell felt the ice around him withdraw and he dropped to the floor
with the first thunderous blow against the chamber’s sealed door.
“Hide yo’self,” Vicicle said gruffly as he moved into position. “If them three don’t mop me up right away, they might just let something slip.”
Kid Hell floated to the ceiling, unseen like heat haze on a summer day, as the door sundered.
“Vicicle, you cold-hearted fiend!” cried the Reaver. “Hand over the statue and no one gets hurt!”
So there you have it. Honestly I like Better Angels if just for being a nice change of pace. Having the players work with and against each other at the same time keeps everyone interested, and it’s a simple enough system to pick up and play. Using motivation as a means of determining dice pools rather than attributes is something a lot of games don't do, and that's not to say it would work for every game, but at the very least it's a novel idea. It has issues, especially if you have a group where people might not always make it. But I'd recommend giving it a try.