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Minireview: Interface (Demon: the Descent)

Interface is a short (six stories) collection of short stories based around the new Demon: the Descent game. It was produced as a result of a Kickstarter stretch goal for that game, and like many other similar recent anthologies from Onyx Path, it’s quite good, if a bit uneven. The good stories more than make up for the mediocre ones.

Demon is a complicated game. It posits a world (universe?) invisibly ruled by a “God-Machine”, a vast inhuman power which, while not directly hostile to humanity, is not a benevolent god by any means. This god creates “angels” from time to time, powerful mechanical/supernatural beings which enact the will of their god. While their programming leaves them no room for individual thought, there are rare times when an angel doubts its mission – and “falls”. Those which aren’t recaptured and “reprocessed” immediately become “demons”, fallen angels on the run from the forces of a now hostile god. They retain a small sliver of their old capabilities, but they are also partly human. In the game, the players are demons, and the general theme is “cold war paranoia and spy stories”. It’s a great game, but a complex one – the above merely scratches the surface. Unlike most other White Wolf / Onyx Path games, the PCs here were never human in the first place, they are alien beings.

The stories here look at various facets of “demonic” life. Some focus on evading hunter-killer angels, some focus just on “getting along” quietly, while others still dream of going back to “Heaven”… ideally with their sense of self intact. Adding to the mix is the fact that demons can switch their identities (their “covers”) at will, and can build them form bits and pieces of other people’s lives (via various pacts and deals).

As an interesting tidbit, each story here also contains some game “crunch” as an add-on to the story, giving stats to some of the characters or describing some of what happened in game terms. It’s a nice addition, and since it’s only a page or two it doesn’t detract from anything.

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Minireview: Hunter: the Infernal

Hunter: the Reckoning was a conflicted game. People were expecting something like what the new Hunter is: a game about people kicking supernatural ass, in Buffy style. The artwork for the game (especially the covers) supported this view. Problem? The game was nothing like that, and featured normal people given strange supernatural powers by unknown entities, and struggling to survive in a world they suddenly see is filled with monsters. It’s easily the most “horror” game White Wolf has ever done, and also totally dark and nihilistic. It got a very mixed reaction, probably due to the above mismatch between advertising and reality. I was very sceptical in the beginning, but then bought a huge pile of the books from a sale. After reading them I was quite impressed with the game, and now consider it one of the better “old WoD” games. The books are all written in an intentionally confusing multi-viewpoint subjective style, which I loved (but which also split opinions), and are the best reads of all the White Wolf books I’ve read to date. And I’ve read quite a pile. Special mention goes to the book Fall From Grace, which is a fantastic and disturbing look at what happens when the “Imbued” (Hunters in this game) get to high power levels. It’s not superhero territory.

So, nowadays I’ve been tracking down the few books I’m still missing from the full set. I recently managed to get The Infernal, a sourcebook about demons for the game. Like most of the H:tR sourcebooks, it’s very good. It also features the trademark shades-of-grey style of the game… demons are shown to be evil, but not mindlessly so and not necessarily so; the “evil” they do is often a function of them being alien, not malevolent as such. There is even some viewpoint given to demons trying to do “good” (in a fashion). Told in typical fashion for this game, it features four separate storylines, all telling the story of one encounter between the Imbued and demons. All are very different, though none of them exactly have happy endings.

I remain impressed with this game… and the game’s split personality remains with this book: the cover shows some sort of demon summoner in what seems to be some sort of occult (summoning?) circle. All fine and good, but “summoning demons” is almost non-existent in this book – the things are quite capable of entering our world on our own. So once again, the cover has very little to do with the actual content.

By the way, this book is a link between Hunter and White Wolf’s short-lived Demon game (which I haven’t read, but have actually heard quite good things about). Might have to pick it up sometime.

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