" While a little rough around the edges, the game shows some solid content and promise, though future supplements will make or break the line. "
Title: Demon: the Fallen, 1st Edition Core Rulebook by White Wolf
Format: Storyteller System Core Rulebook
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: It was the game that White Wolf said they'd never make - a game about demons, taking a cosmological stance on religion in the World of Darkness. After almost a year of secrecy after the slow trickle of teasers in White Wolf ads and catalogues, "Demon: the Fallen" has finally been released… and it wasn't what anyone was expecting. Has White Wolf scored another hit in the much-lauded World of Darkness setting, or will this new title go the way of the ill-fated "Street Fighter" RPG?
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: Demon: the Fallen is
(unsurprisingly) a game about demons - fallen angels banished to Hell by God
himself for transgressions against Him. While the story is based on rather familiar
ground from Judeo-Christian angelic lore, the path White Wolf takes from that
basis is truly unique. At the dawn of time, the Maker created the universe through
his instruments, the angels, from the Seven Celestial Houses. Each House had
its own task and domain, from the ruling Namaru, bringers of light, all the
way down to the soul-reaping Halaku, who shepherd the dead. During these early
times after the creation of humankind, the angels were commanded to love these
humans, but never to reveal themselves to Adam and Eve (who existed literally
as well as figuratively as civilizations of people, evolving primates, and in
many other forms - the world existed as many things at once in those times (which
is Demon's way of explaining differing beliefs and applying to multiple religious
paradigms). Lucifer, leading a full third of the angelic host, broke this second
rule and revealed himself to the humans, teaching them of all the angels did
for them and bringing them knowledge to shed light on what was previously an
empty existence (in the eyes of the angels). For this, the Creator cursed these
rogue angels, naming them demons and cursing each House in turn with their own
individual torment. A great war waged between the loyalist angels and the rebel
demons, but in the end, the demons were defeated and imprisoned in the dark
Abyss. Only now, after the Eight Great Maelstrom rocked the underworld (an event
which kicked off the current White Wolf metaplot for all major game lines),
have the bonds holding the fallen angels began to fail, and cracks have allowed
many to slip through and journey back to the lands of mortals.
Though possessed of seething hatred and a thirst for vengeance, their attitudes change once they realize they must inhabit the bodies of mortals in order to survive, taking on their memories and perceptions of the world (and thus losing a bit of their anger and the memories of their torment). The insane, the newly deceased or brain dead, and those mortals whose souls have been ground to dust by the turmoil and decay of the world around them are the usual targets, as their souls are so weak as to hardly exist (and are thus easy to replace with the soul of a demon). Once in this position, the demon must choose what he believes, find faith in order to power his considerable abilities, and adjust to life as a human outside of the confines of Hell.
Amazingly enough, White Wolf was able to take what is primarily a bit of Judeo-Christian-Islamic belief and apply it across a broader spectrum of religion, thus maintaining their neutral stance on religion (at least, as well as they can, considering the game is about demons from Hell!). The flavor text given in the game is incredible, detailing different types of demons and their views on the history and culture of the Fallen, as well as what it is like to take over the life and memories of a mortal and become that person. Admittedly, some of the explanations are very heavy-handed and trite, but the prose is entertaining and engrossing. There is a bit of repetition between the different histories of the demons, which can make for some tedious reading at times, but overall the information presented is valuable to the theme and makes for a captivating setting. 4.5 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: The layout for the Demon core book is fairly standard for White Wolf, with eleven chapters plus an introduction and a prologue, as well as a brief index. The first four chapters and the introduction are presented as prose, and it is literally one hundred pages before actual rules information is presented - yes, this is a story-heavy book, even for White Wolf. The sections are as expected - story, Houses, character creation, powers and Lores, rules, systems, storytelling, antagonists, index - so the experienced Storyteller or White Wolf gamer will know precisely where to flip for specific types of information. The artwork is fair to good, with RK Post tossing in some of the most impressive RPG artwork this monkey has ever seen. Tom Baxa and Mark Jackson throw in passable but uninspired pieces, while Leanne Buckley continues to shine in her field with some incredible sketch work. Everyone in Jason Alexander's section (the different Houses) looks like a specific celebrity (I swear that's Vanilla Ice on 98), much to this monkey's amusement. Other artists are in the middle, with Ken Myer Jr. and Steve Ellis being highs and Marko Djurdjevic being closer to average. The border is cool and unobtrusive, typesetting is okay… but the cover. There is nothing wrong with the cover, per se, so long as you are a gamer (or a nerd… or both, which is most likely). But a scaly blue cover with the black words "Demon, the Fallen" seemingly wrought of rough iron and burning with blood red flames above a spiky pentagram… let's just say you shouldn't go flashing this book to old ladies at the bus stop. 4 out of 5.
Playability: I know what all of you monkeys
are wondering - where is Genghis Kong hiding his secret stash of bananas? Well,
I'm not going to tell you. But if you were wondering whether or not it is possible
to play a demon without it devolving into a massive power game, then the answer
is… yes. So just forget about the bananas.
Demon is surprisingly playable (considering it is about fallen angels who have existed since the dawn of time) and entertaining, meshing easily with the Storyteller system and not particularly overpowered for beings who control the essential forces of the cosmos (you know, like some games about reality-altering 'magic users' tend to be sometimes).Newly-escaped demons, upon joining a host body and taking on a new identity, come to the startling conclusion that most people don't really believe in them anymore, or at least don't believe enough that the powers they used to wield actually answer when they hold forth their halos and say "So let it be done." Aside from having to re-learn how to use these abilities now that they're trapped in a monkey suit, the Fallen have to find people to believe in them. They can do this temporarily (inspiring a moment of belief and harvesting it, or "Reaping") or over long stretches of time by forming Pacts with mortal Thralls (i.e., "selling your soul") who believe in them and thus feed their abilities in a slow trickle (because every Storyteller game needs the equivalent of a Ghoul/Kinfolk/whatever). The Lores (powers) at a demon's disposal are impressive (and yes, in some cases, slightly unbalanced and not nearly detailed enough), but no more so than most Vampiric Disciplines, Werewolf Gifts, Mage Rotes, or whatever game you want to go running to. Demons are characters who engender a great amount of pathos and resonance, somehow not generating the same general level of angst as so many other World of Darkness groups and actually inspiring a bit of hope. The game should most definitely be approached with an eye to character building and roleplay, as that is the primary strength of the setting. The book is, unfortunately, a little light on the side of "what demons do with their freedom," opening the doors to grand possibilities for chronicles but unfortunately leaving a lot of players without a sense of direction - it's a Vampire chronicle without the luxury of a pre-existing system of politics. 4 out of 5.
Desired Content: The core rulebook is packed full of story information and background, adapting itself to various cosmologies and worldviews with the simple use of point of view. The Fallen understand the world on different levels than humans; where a human knows that something is either a person or a city full of people at any given time, a demon existed during a time when it could be both simultaneously, and thus there are varied myths and stories about how the world came to be which mankind considers conflicting and which demons consider to be equally accurate. This makes for a rich and complex back-story for the Fallen, and likewise interlinks at points with the histories of other supernatural groups in the World of Darkness (most especially the Vampires). Unfortunately, the book doesn't intermix the demons with the others as many expected, and thus their perceptions and opinions of the other World of Darkness groups are not given. The standard rules and powers are presented, and everything necessary to make the game playable is present, but the book lacks a little bit when it comes to figuring out where your characters go next. While that sort of information is easily presented in future supplements, a bit more of it should have been shared in the core book itself. We are likewise not given much information about the Earthbound (demons who were summoned from Hell before others were able to escape), Hell itself (all descriptions of what it was like and how demon society works there are vague), and of how many Lores work (the effects are not listed as permanent or temporary in some cases, nor does it say how well they work on other supernaturals). In toto, the book is a great wealth of playable information, but it lacks a little on whistles and bells to make the setting easier to play in. 4 out of 5.
|They said it would never happen, but lo and behold - White Wolf has released a game which detailed demons (and which may, in the future, include angels). While a little rough around the edges, the game shows some solid content and promise, though future supplements will make or break the line. Whatever happens, the book itself is a pleasure to read, and will inspire an attempt to play in most Storyteller fans. This monkey's gone to Heaven… or possibly to Hell. Either or.|
The Good: Story & background, adaptability to the existing setting, and RK Post's incredible artwork!
The Bad: Not enough information on interest areas, lacking some in direction
The Overall Ugly: Definitely worth a look for the story information alone, but likely to catch your interest.
What it's Worth: Market