Chronicles of Darkness by unzealous
An IntroductionOriginal SA post
Part 1: An Introduction
Chronicles of Darkness is the newest edition of the World of Darkness setting, renamed to keep it distinct from Old and New World of Darkness. A game about horror and personal stories and about mundane people trying to do the right thing, or at least whatever it takes to survive. The book itself starts with a short story called Apt. 3B.
In it two girls have ventured into the basement of their apartment complex looking for their friend who had gone missing and run into...something. Something that resembled one of the other tenants, an aging woman named Mrs. Luz. But as she gives chase she resembles less the elderly woman they knew and more an amorphous mass of writhing flesh, the wrinkled features on her face mere facsimiles made through twisted skin and shadow. The creature captures one of them and demands that the other tell her father not to sell the complex.
The folds of Mrs. Luz’s face rearranged into something that might have been meant to be a smile. “Good girl. You will take a message from me to the man.” Dawn was shifting, very slowly, in Mrs. Luz’s grasp. She caught Ximena’s eyes again and stared; gesturing slightly to the left with her eyes. Dawn was angry, not scared, so she must need time.
Mena paused and tried to catch Mrs. Luz’s eyes. “What man?”
“To your father, stupid child. Tell him he mustn’t sell my home to the hollow men who have been creeping around here at night. I’ll kill as many of you as I must to drive them off, but it can all stop if he promises not to sign anything they give him.”
“Hollow men? The lawyer, you mean? Papi said he was a real estate investor.”
“Nonsense words. He is an empty thing that traded favors for a face and a name, and the men he speaks for don’t even have the grace to cast a shadow. They are hollow men and they must not be allowed to put their clockwork...”
Mena interrupted her, angry. “Wait, you’ll kill as many of us as you must? What did you do with Jenna?”
“The soft, pink one? She was oily but toothsome. You, I suspect,” and she shook Dawn again, who struggled harder this time, palming something, “will need to sit a few days before you are soft enough for my old teeth.”
“Do… do you think she’s the only one?”
Late that night, they were crammed head to tail into Dawn’s twin bed, reminding each other that it really happened.
“What would you do if she wasn’t?” Ximena swallowed hard.
“Well, maybe we should look for them. Maybe they’re not all mean and crazy like Mrs. Luz. Maybe there are some nice ones who could, like, use a friend or something.”
“Do you really think anything like her could actually be friends with us?”
“Well maybe we should look anyway. We’ve already fought one, right? That makes us practically qualified to find – fight – monsters.”
“I’ll think about it,” Dawn paused, “But you can’t tell anyone else. Especially not your little brother. He’s got a big mouth, and you never know who might be a… monster.”
The next week was weird. Once the court gag order was lifted they could talk, a little, about what had happened. The official word was that a homeless woman had snuck into the basement and attacked the girls while they were cleaning. They ran away, and in her pursuit she hit her head so hard on the concrete steps that it broke her nose and cheekbone, accounting for the corpse’s unusually distorted and swollen face. Unrelated, Mrs. Luz, the longest-lived tenant of their building, died of heart failure. She left no next of kin.
And that illustrates the kind of story you might run. People facing something horrible and doing what it takes to survive. They didn't get glory or riches out of it, they barely escaped with their lives, and now they know something that will likely haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The book continues with a basic introduction, and advises running sessions like episodes of TV drama like Pretty Little Liars or Breaking bad. Good advice as far as I'm concerned as these shows serve as good examples of pacing, character conflict and story structure. It also lists other books and movies that would serve as a good example of what the system was made for, like True Detective, The Terminator, Warren Ellis' Fell and of course The Crow. Before the first chapter there's also a glossary describing terms you'll find in the book, and I believe this is probably a good point to describe how the Storyteller system generally works.
The Storyteller System
The Storyteller system is the resolution mechanic for Chronicles of Darkness, World of Darkness and Exalted, though each have been changed slightly over time. It's how you determine whether or not you succeed in any given act, whether it be scaling a barbed wire fence, trying to convince the bouncer you know the owner, or recalling the meaning of a strange symbol carved into a doorframe.
When you perform an action where there's a significant chance of failure or you're performing an action under stressful circumstances you're going to have to roll for it. In this game this takes the form of dice pools of d10's. Most rolls are going to consist of an attribute, a core aspect of the character ranging in value from 1 to 5, and a skill, a learned ability or knowledge similarly ranging from 1 to 5. You'll add these two numbers together and roll that many dice. Successes are achieved on an 8, 9, or 10. On a 10 it counts as a success and you get to reroll the die potentially garnering additional successes. If you roll another 10 it's another success and you reroll again. This means that if you're rolling 3 dice you can generally hope for a single success, which is all that's needed for most tasks. The only time you'll really need to count your successes is during contested actions, where two characters are rolling against each other, like during a chase or attempting to mislead or misdirect someone. In these situations both actors roll their dice and whoever rolls more successes wins. Unfortunately for the life of me I cannot find what you do if you tie. I believe rerolling is the accepted solution to that eventuality.
If you manage to roll 5 successes, either through luck, a massive handful of dice, or a mixture of the two, you get an exceptional success. This allows the character to succeed far beyond what they had anticipated and generally make their life much easier. The Storyteller (ST) can levy a bonus or penalty on this dice pool based on how difficult the task in question is, ranging from +5 to -5. In these cases the numbers refer to how many dice you add or subtract from a given pool. The player can also gain bonuses from equipment which will be discussed later. If this penalty would reduce your die pool to less than one you can still attempt the action but you'll roll what's called a Chance Die. It's a single d10 that will only succeed if you roll a 10. 8 or 9's won't be enough for this. This is also the only time rolling a 1 is important in the game. If you roll a 1 on a chance die you suffer a Dramatic Failure. The ST get's to dictate what happens which is generally worse than simple failure, things go wrong in terrible ways and situations get awkward and complicated in a hurry. Guns jam, tires blow out or you twist your ankle running from the terrible monster of flesh and gears when you encounter a dramatic failure.
The top of the character sheet looks like this.
You have your standard information, name and age. Chronicle is the name of the campaign should it have one, and faction is the prime group you belong to in the game which could be anything from the Police, the Cult of Flesh or the Home Owners Association depending on the campaign being run. Most important is the concept. This is what you think of when you think of your character. A few words or even a short sentence that encapsulates how you see your character. While not mechanically important it helps guide what decisions the character would make and how the character is built.
So what kind of character concept do you want to see built?
Skills and AttributesOriginal SA post
Part 2: Skills and Attributes
How about...a neurotic public defender who can't get over her wrestling glory days in high school. She's convinced her client isn't human, but the prosecutor isn't either so it's a wash.
The Warriors. Running into an Eldritch abomination that has glass bottles for fingers.
So we have Jennifer Walters, a lawyer, and Michael Beck, a gang member.
Anchor is the blanket term for your character's virtue and vice. These are core ideas your character believes in or acts on. In World of Darkness you chose between the 7 sins as your vice and their counterparts as a virtue. Thankfully Chronicles is significantly more lenient and freeform and you are able to pick what you believe best fits your character. Virtue is the ideal your character follows, it's what motivates them to be a be a better person, to improve themselves, their condition or help those around them. It's not, however, about being some sort of saint. A virtue should also be a compelling part of character, and have the capacity to drive them to do terrible things in desperate times. The book lists examples like generous and just and you could also use traits like pacifist and unwavering. A vice is your easy way out. It's the little habit you have that you have to get out of dealing with emotions or responsibility. But it's also very comforting, and it reminds you of who you are, even if it's the part of you that you aren't very proud of. Arrogant, greedy, cruel, lazy, apathetic and cowardly are all vices a character could have. It should be noted that these don't really exist on a scale of objectively good and bad. People could have ambitious as a virtue or a vice in equal measure. For the person with the ambitious virtue it would mean their character is willing to advance themselves through hard work. They want to network, learn new skills, treat coworkers with respect. When they are acting on their virtue they are a model member, putting forth the extra effort to make themselves useful and act as an example to others. Ambition as a vice, however, might be more about seizing that power through any means necessary. Blackmailing a boss, undermining or sabotaging possible competition, ultimately things that avoid the time and hard work one normally associates with ambition.
Our sample characters are going to need anchors. For Jennifer Walters we have Honesty as a virtue. Ultimately she wants to know the truth, about her clients, about the crime, everything. She won't lie in court, she'll even avoid bending the truth if possible. This drives her to give her clients the best defense she can, though with her current client it's making her intensely curious as to what they might be hiding. For her vice, given her background, I'm thinking violence. She remembers how much fun she had wrestling, before becoming a lawyer. That desire never really left her. She knows how good it would feel to put the smug prosecutor through a table, or Irish whip the clerk who keeps leaving passive aggressive post it notes on her desk. She usually keeps it in check though.
For Michael, even though he may seem of a rather seedy sort, that doesn't mean he doesn't have virtues. He could be Dedicated, to his gang and those he wants to protect. He will never sell them out and will stand with them against impossible odds. He may not care much about himself but it is more important than anything else that his brothers and sisters stay safe. For his vice, we have Distrust. He grew up in a hard environment, and outside of his immediate group he doesn't trust a single person at their word. Even if he has no reason to, even if they've shown nothing but thanks he refuses to let them come too close to him.
Attributes are the core traits of your character, your basic stats. As you can see they are arranged in 3 columns of mental, physical and social, and 3 rows loosely fitting force, flexibility and resistance. Intelligence is your character's knowledge and ability to process and comprehend new information. Wits is your ability to think on your feet and improvise. More importantly, while not stated, it is also used very frequently in rolls to notice things so keep that in mind. Resolve is your mental fortitude, your patience and determination.
Strength is heavy lifting. Dexterity is speed, coordination and balance. Stamina is your physical resilience and toughness.
Presence is your ability to assert yourself, make yourself known and display your confidence. Manipulation is how good you are speaking carefully, convincing others without them realizing it, and, most importantly, lying. Composure is how well you can avoid getting stressed out or riled up and your ability to keep cool under pressure.
To pick your attributes you have pools of 5, 4, and 3 dots to place in the mental, physical or social columns. Something of note, and a big change from World of Darkness, is that the fifth dot no longer costs double. In prior editions that last dot was twice as expensive so raising an attribute from 1 to 5 used up the entire 5 dot pool. They've also drastically changed the way experience works, and while I elaborate on that in a later post you were heavily incentivized to min max your character from chargen, which has thankfully been eliminated in chronicles.
With Jennifer Walters I chose to spend 5 points in intelligence, she worked hard and learned a lot during law school and it shows. 4 points went into physical for the physique and strength she's maintained since she stepped out of the ring, and while she's not exactly a master of flexibility or agility she can still tough out matches and is stronger than your average person.. 3 points went into the social column and no specific points went into composure as she's a bit neurotic and easily flustered.
Skills represent abilities you've learned and practiced rather than something more innate to your character. Here is the skill list. As you can see it is similar to the attributes, there's just more of them.
They are similarly divided up into mental, physical and social sections. While these are largely self explanatory a few could use a bit of elaboration. Academics is arts, humanities and the soft sciences. Science is engineering, physics and all the hard sciences. Computers is more used for hacking and programming than it's used in research. Crafts is how well you can build, synthesize, or construct things. It's a very broad skill. Athletics is how well you can run, jump, swim and all of that. I mention it because as of Chronicles it also adds to your defense which is a pretty major change from World of Darkness. Drive isn't just your ability to drive a car, everyone is assumed to be capable of that unless they choose otherwise, this is for car chases and drifting and the like. Larceny is the various skills used by thieves such as lockpicking and hotwiring. Survival is all your outdoorsy skills like forest navigation and foraging. Weaponry is how well you can hurt people using anything that isn't a gun. Knives, clubs, bricks, all that largely falls under weaponry. Animal Ken...I'll be honest I've never seen animal ken come up in a game. It's used in some of the splats for abilities but it's your dog whisperer skills. Expression is how well you can turn your thoughts into reality, through art, poetry or even speeches. Socialize is fitting in, saying the right thing at the right time, and being the life of the party if you so choose. Subterfuge is how well you can misdirect and deceive (read: lie).
As before we have an array of points to put into each skill section. This time we have 11/7/4 as the array of points at our disposal. After putting points where I felt appropriate we end up with
I put the 11 in her Mental skills, primarily in academics and investigation to represent her legal education and the knowledge picked up from crimes and the commission thereof. 7 went into Physical and most of that into brawl. Some things you just never forget. 4 went into Social, she was never a social butterfly and even now she relies more on her legal knowledge than her ability to wow a jury.
She will also have 3 specialties. These are riders to skills that will give you a +1 bonus when they are applicable. For Jennifer she has a specialty in Academics(Law) so if she need to roll for legal knowledge she'll get that bonus. Similarly she has a specialty in Brawl(Grappling) and Empathy(Detecting lies). Specialties represent a specific focus in a particular area and can be applied to any skill. You might have a specialty in Weaponry(Axes), Medicing(Surgery) or Streetwise(Dealers). I'll post Michael's sheet as well at the end of character creation.
Coming up next... Merits!
Merits!Original SA post
Part 3: Merits!
Actually, before we dive into Merits there are a few things we can fill out on our sheet first.
Several of these result from simply adding a few of your attributes together. Health is just our Stamina plus our Size, the default size for an adult being 5. Defense is the lower of our Wits or Dexterity plus our Athletics score. Initiative is our Dexterity plus our Composure. Speed is how fast we can run and is our strength plus our dexterity plus 5. All of this information can also be found at the bottom of the character sheet.
Willpower deserves its own special section. It’s the primary resource you spend in Chronicles and represents just how hard you can keep pushing yourself, mentally and physically. You can spend one willpower an action to either gain a 3 dice bonus or a +2 bonus to a resistance trait, which equates to your opponent rolling 2 fewer dice to affect you. You must also spend it for certain merits as well and those will clearly state it before hand. You have a maximum of your Resolve plus your Composure.
There are a few ways of getting willpower back. The easiest is just a good night’s sleep, which will replenish a point. Then acting with your vice. If, during a scene, the ST believes you acted according to your vice then you gain a willpower point back. For our example character Jennifer Walters, she might finally get fed up with her neighbor playing nightcore at 2am and punch him when he answers his door. Of course there may or may not be consequences for this but it makes her feel damn good. A virtue is a bit harder to pull off as it requires acting in their virtue while at exposing themselves to danger or significant risk. Michael Beck, the gang member, knows that one of the gang has been captured in enemy territory. The rest write him off as a lost cause, it’s too dangerous, but to Michael those bonds of camaraderie are nigh unbreakable. If he decides to go it alone and try to rescue him he can try to fulfil his virtue. The difference is that, while fulfilling a vice replenishes a point of willpower fulfilling a virtue replenishes ALL of your willpower, to it’s maximum amount.
Merits serve as a way of giving your character abilities and resources they can use during the game to great effect. They are generally things that will let them stand out or make tasks much easier. Each character has 7 dots of merits to allocate at character creation and they can really choose anything they wish. A caveat is that you should make sure it’s going to fit the game and the character. If your ST is running a game about people in a run down, decrepit, apartment being a multimillionaire seems a bit off. Some merits, such as the Style merits, give additional effects as you put more dots into them with the more dramatic and game changing abilities available only after a considerable investment.
Something important that was added to Chronicles of Darkness that the other editions lacked is what’s referred to as the Sanctity of Merits. Let’s say you were playing World of Darkness and you spent merit points to have a retainer, someone who does things for you regularly. In a series of unfortunate events they end up dying. Not only are they dead but those points you invested in them are gone, poof, never coming back. In chronicles you keep those dots and they can be reallocated to other merits. The book lists things like putting them into safe house to show your characters fear that the same will happen to them. These changes aren’t immediate however and may take a session or two to kick in. With ST permission you can also refund them for straight XP to be used somewhere else.
There are a few terms that will be mentioned here that could use some explanation. 8 and 9 again means if you roll that number or higher you keep the success and reroll the die. This greatly increases the chances of getting an exceptional success. Meditation can help you deal with stressful situations that occur over the course of the day, especially when you think it's going to be a bad one. A rote action is a roll where you can reroll every dice that doesn't come up as a success once.
Area of Expertise - You can choose a specialty and increase the bonus from +1 to +2
Common Sense - Once per session you can roll and ask the ST a question from a list that they must answer honestly, like “What is the safest choice.”
Direction Sense - Never disoriented
Eidetic Memory - You remember everything, and if you need to remember a minute detail from something that happened in the past it’s fairly easy roll.
Encyclopedic Knowledge - You can choose a skill, at any time you can roll Intelligence + Wits to gain a bit of pertinent information concerning it and the situation at hand.
Eye for the Strange - You can roll to know conclusively whether something has a mundane or supernatural explanation.
Fast Reflexes - Increases your initiative score
Good Time Management - On extended actions, those that require multiple rolls to represent a significant time expenditure, reduce the amount of time each roll represents.
Holistic Awareness - You can treat nonlethal damage with things at hand and can utilize herbs with medicinal properties in the wilderness
Indomitable - You are exceptionally resistant to supernatural behavioral control.
Interdisciplinary Specialty - You can apply one of your specialties to any skill roll provided you have at least one dot in the skill and can justify it.
Investigative Aide - You can use a skill to investigate with exceptional proficiency, getting exceptional successes with only 3 instead of 5 successes.
Investigative Prodigy - You are an astounding investigator, with good rolls you will tear through mysteries.
Language - Each time you take this merit you can speak, read and understand another language.
Library - Assigned to a mental skill this aids in research on the subject
Meditative Mind - Meditation is something you can do in Chronicles to help center yourself and calm down, this makes you extremely good at it.
Multilingual - This lets you speak 2 additional languages but unlike the languages merit you can’t read or write them.
Patient - On extended actions there tends to be a limit on the amount of times you can roll before you get frustrated and give up or just run out of time, this lets you roll additional times to get the successes you need
Professional Training - This is an important one. It first appeared in World of Darkness in the hunter supplement and was far and away one of the better merits you could pick. When you pick this you pick a profession and 2 skills most associated with it as asset skills. For our lawyer Academics and Investigation would certainly qualify. At rank one you gain free contacts related to the field and the bonuses only increase from there. At the highest level you can spend willpower, your primary resource, to turn an asset skill roll into a rote action. This means you can reroll any failed dice on the roll once.
Tolerance for Biology - You may not be a fan of blood and gore but you’re familiar enough with it that it doesn’t bother you.
Trained Observer - This gives you the 8 or 9 again quality on perception rolls, depending on how many points you put in it.
Vice Ridden - Gain an additional vice, this gives you additional opportunities to enact your vice helping you gain willpower.
Virtuous - You have another virtue making letting you choose which one you are pursuing at any given time.
Ambidextrous - You suffer no penalty to using your offhand in tasks.
Automotive Genius - You can modify cars to a ridiculous extent, to the ‘Ship of Theseus’ point.
Crack Driver - Behind the wheel you are unshakeable and completely focused on driving.
Demolisher - You can ignore one durability on objects per dot you put into this merit. This is actually much better than the ones you might see in Dungeons and Dragons for instance. In Chronicles durability tends to top off at around 3 and 4 for hard metal object so with 3 dots in this merit you can bust out of handcuffs and tear out padlocks fairly easily.
Double Jointed - You can slip out of restraints without even rolling, and they are very difficult to grab in combat.
Fleet of Foot - Increased Speed
Giant - You are a huge person, well over 6 feet tall. This changes your size from 5, the average, to 6. This also increases your maximum health pool.
Hardy - You are difficult to take down, poison, knock out, suffocate or starve.
Greyhound - You are great at chasing people down
Iron Stamina - This can mitigate the penalties you receive from being fatigued or wounded
Parkour - This style merit gives you a variety of skills which let you traverse urban environments with ease. At the highest level you can spend willpower to gain 3 automatic successes to a foot chase roll.
Quick Draw - As long as you can apply your defense, that is you aren’t surprised or tied down, you can draw your weapon without using your action for the turn.
Relentless - You are harder to chase and harder to escape from, you just won’t stop running.
Seizing the Edge - You always have start with the advantage in chases and are ready to run people down before they even realize they’re going to make a break for it.
Sleight of Hand - You can pick locks and pockets so quickly most don’t even realize what happened.
Small Framed - Your character isn’t even 5 feet tall, they are now size 4 but are better at hiding and avoiding notice.
Stunt Driving - You can push cars to their absolute limit while staying reasonably safe.
Allies - You have friends or employees who will help you to varying degrees, starting out at small favors and working your way up to them sticking their neck out for you.
Anonymity - You are hard to track down and don’t leave a trail. The more you put into this the harder it is for people to find you.
Barfly - With this merit you can show up to social gatherings and fit right in without question
Closed Book - You are particularly hard to socially manipulate, if you have dirt people can’t find it, and people only know where you stand on issues if you tell them
Contacts - This gives you an array of people you can call if you need information. Each dot gives you an additional group of people to call on
Fame - You are a celebrity of some sort, whether its from an accomplishment or because you were an internet meme, the number of dots determines how well known you are. You can leverage this in quite a few social situations.
Fast Talker - Another style merit, this gives you an array of abilities to make convincing and misleading people quicker and easier.
Fixer - You can find people to do jobs for you more easily.
Hobbyist Clique - You belong to a group of people with a shared interest, and can count on their support in their area of expertise.
Inspiring - You can make people more confident and courageous with a stirring speech.
Iron Will - You gain bonuses to avoid being manipulated in social situations
Mentor - This gives you someone looking out for your character’s best interests, though this isn’t always free.
Mystery Cult Initiation - You’re part of a strange or esoteric group of people like a secret society.
Resources - This merit represents your ability to buy things. While it’s assumed your character has enough to pay for rent and other necessities this is for when you need something unexpected and in a hurry.
Pusher - You’re great at using people’s vices against them, tempting them into going along with you.
Retainer - You have an assistant or servant, someone whose job it is to wait at your beck and call.
Safe Place - You have a secure location at your disposal, and even if attacked there you know it better than the back of your hand.
Small Unit Tactics - You can plan and give orders which equate to bonuses during combat.
Spin Doctor - You can talk circles around people, getting what you need to know before they realize how much you don’t.
Staff - You have a group of low level people to assist you. While they aren’t amazing they can perform simple tasks on their own.
Status - You have clout within an organization and they will afford you certain privileges accordingly.
Striking Looks - You stick out like a sore thumb, because you’re handsome or beautiful or because you are hard to look at.
Sympathetic - You are great at getting people to open up to you by telling them a bit about yourself.
Table Turner - You can spend a willpower to turn someone's attempt to manipulate you against them.
Takes One to Know One - You are better at investigation when the crime coincides with your vice.
Taste - You have a wide breadth of knowledge for art, fashion and architecture and can ask the ST specific questions about any piece you come across.
True Friend - You have a bff who will be there for you through thick and thin. The ST cannot even kill this character without your express permission.
Untouchable - Your methodical planning means any investigation done against you is going to be very difficult for the investigators.
These are new to to a core book. World of Darkness itself had no end to ways your average person might have strange and supernatural abilities but those were printed in one of the many splats that have come out over the years. These do require a sort of consensus about what the game is going to be about as they may not always be appropriate.
Aura Reading - With concentration you can see people’s auras to read their intentions and emotions regardless of how they appear on the outside.
Automatic Writing - You can meditate with some sort of writing implement and something will write a note giving you a clue or pertinent information.
Biokinesis - After meditating you can shift your physical attribute dots around. This only lasts about an hour.
Clairvoyance - You can project your senses to another location and experience it like you were actually there.
Cursed - Your death has been foretold in some mysterious way, which is good because from here until then you know you’ll be fine.
Lay on Hands - Through faith or devotion or some other means you can heal people with a touch.
Medium - You can contact spirits and ghosts.
Mind of a Madman - You can understand the mind of even the most insane and deviant but it comes with a cost.
Omen Sensitivity - You know there are signs and omens everywhere, and can interpret meaning from these.
Numbing Touch - You can drain willpower with your touch
Psychokinesis - You can move different forces with your mind, the force in question is chosen when you take this merit.
Psychometry - By just handling an item you can learn about its use and the people who used it.
Telekinesis - You can move stuff around with your mind
Telepathy - Reading surface thoughts of people
Thief of Fate - When you touch someone you steal their good luck. For a day all their failures are dramatic failures but they think of your name when they happen.
Unseen Sense - You get a warning when you come close to a supernatural creature of your choosing, you just know something isn’t right.
These have something of a reputation from World of Darkness. In the older edition these tended to be rather broken, vastly changing the action economy and generally turning people into murder machines. Since then they’ve been refined and while they are still definitely worth taking if they fit your character they’re less likely to break the game in the process.
Armed Defense - Makes you much harder to hit while you hold a weapon as well as giving you the ability to counterattack.
Cheap Shot - You play dirty in combat and can negate your opponent's defense
Choke Hold - You can choke someone unconscious
Close Quarters Combat - You are skilled at using the environment to your advantage and your opponent's disadvantage.
Defensive Combat - Allows you to use brawl or weaponry instead of athletics to add to your defense.
Fighting Finesse - Let’s you use dexterity instead of strength for brawl or weaponry rolls.
Firefight - This provides you with several firearm related abilities
Grappling - Makes you much better at wrestling and pinning people.
Heavy Weapons - This refers to those large weapons that rely more on mass than finesse and make you very proficient in their use.
Improvised Weaponry - You have the same ability to turn anything into an instrument of pain as Jackie Chan.
Iron Skin - This merit acts like armor against unarmed attacks.
Light Weapons - This makes you more proficient in smaller weapons that rely more on technique and finess.
Marksmanship - This merit makes you a much better sniper, capable of making difficult shots and vanishing.
Martial Arts - This merit encompasses any sort of formal training in hand to hand combat and generally makes you deadlier without needing weapons.
Police Tactics - This gives you a smattering of abilities related to handcuffing and avoiding being disarmed.
Shiv - You always have something sharp and dangerous on you. Always.
Street Fighting - The more informal method of making someone deadlier without the organized training.
Unarmed Defense - This makes you harder to hit and to hurt when you’re unarmed.
So now Ms. Walters is starting to fill in more of her character sheet. Honestly there's very little left to do before you start playing. I've chosen professional training (lawyer) with investigation and academics as her asset skills. She also has a bit of grappling, a reasonable amount of spending money and some contacts from her old days in case she needs to find out what's going on that side of town, or just wants someone to talk to for a bit.
Aspirations, Breaking Points and ExperienceOriginal SA post
Part 4: Aspirations, Breaking Points and Experience
Aspirations are goals your character wants to accomplish and broken up into Short Term and Long Term aspirations. Short Term aspirations can be reasonably completed in one game session. For our example characters they might include something like ‘Investigate Client’ for Jennifer and ‘Patrol Territory’ for Michael. Long Term aspirations for the two might be ‘Find the Truth behind the client’ and ‘Eliminate a rival gang’ respectively. These are things that would take several sessions to accomplish. All of these serve to give you a bit of character and remind you of both the plot and your character’s life outside of it. You might be dealing with a missing person but you still have to go to work, take your kids to soccer practice and attend to your other responsibilities. Aspirations are known by the ST and they should take a bit of effort to make sure they can come up if it’s reasonable. If you accomplish an aspiration you can replace it between sessions. Likewise you can replace it if it is no longer possible or relevant. It should also be noted that if you don't know what the campaign is going to be about you can wait to fill out your aspirations until you get a little bit more information about what's going on.
Breaking Points and Integrity have replaced Morality from World of Darkness. Morality had several issues. One being it a sort of rough measure of objective good and evil more than anything else. Moving down it required committing increasingly heinous crimes. To reduce your character to 0 humanity and finally lose control of them required, if I recall correctly, things on the level of genocide. There was a long list of potential sins at each level. Going down on the humanity scale also could involve getting derangements, which were largely mental illnesses. As you can imagine, while innovative at the time, it’s a bit insensitive especially when being evil results in things like bulimia, schizophrenia and ‘multiple personality disorder.’
Now we have Integrity which functions more as a representation of your current mental well being than it does how good or evil you are. Doing things that are unacceptable in society, deeply out of character or being exposed to the supernatural can all be breaking points, which represent things your character has seen or done that they just can’t handle or rationalize. These are going to vary from character to character but to help the ST get a feel for what might cause a breaking point they present several questions to ask.
What is the worst thing your character has ever done?
What is the worst thing your character can imagine himself doing?
What is the worst thing your character can imagine someone else doing?
What has your character forgotten?
What is the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to your character?
Using these you can generally get a feel for the kinds of things your character would consider breaking points. If you do or experience something something that would be a breaking point for your character you roll Resolve+Composure. Success means that your character is a bit shaken but otherwise okay, failure means you cannot deal with the event, you question yourself, your sanity or your worth and your integrity drops. Either way you’ll get a condition which we will cover later.
You also gain situational modifiers for breaking points. It’s much easier to justify defending yourself against a mugger than it is committing premeditated murder.
Experience is how you improve your character. It’s broken up into Experience Points and Beats. 5 Beats turn into a single Experience Point. Now while this may seem rather unfair there are many ways to quickly rack up beats.
Any time your character fulfills an aspiration, take a beat, and your character generally starts a session with 3 of them. This also includes a session in which you spend time working on a long term aspiration.
If you resolve a condition, the terms of which are stated with it, you gain a beat.
If you fail a roll you can opt to turn it into an automatic dramatic failure to gain a beat.
If you become filled up with lethal damage, take a beat.
If your character ever risks a breaking point, you gain a beat.
At the end of every session, no matter what happens, you get a free beat.
Realistically you can expect to get 3 to 5 beats a session, which can add up rather quickly. Of course you can play dangerously and take risks to increase that number but that’s going to be on you. Spending Experience is one of the largest and most welcome change between Chronicles and World of Darkness. World of Darkness had escalating costs depending on how high the skill is, that is a higher ranked skill costs more to raise. While this may not sound that bad it heavily incentivized min maxing at character creation and the costs at higher levels were astronomical considering how quickly you gained Experience Points. Now everything has a separate, flat, cost that doesn’t vary based on the current level.
Attribute: 4 Experiences per dot
Merit: 1 Experience per dot Skill
Skill Specialty: 1 Experience
Skill: 2 Experiences per dot
Integrity: 2 Experiences per dot
Playing and Rolling Dice!
First some advice from the book
The Storyteller is responsible for…
…bringing the Chronicles of Darkness to life through description.
…deciding where scenes start and what’s going on.
…portraying characters who don’t belong to other players.
…involving each player and her character in the ongoing story.
…putting players’ characters in tough spots, encouraging interesting decisions.
…facilitating the actions players’ characters take, while making sure there are always complications.
…making sure that poor dice rolls affect but don’t stop the story.
The players are responsible for…
…creating their own individual characters as members of the cast.
…deciding what actions their characters take.
…making decisions that create drama and help keep the story moving.
…highlighting their characters’ strengths and weaknesses.
…confronting the problems the Storyteller introduces.
…developing their characters’ personalities and abilities over time, and telling personal stories within the overall story of the game.
Everyone is responsible for…
…giving other players chances to highlight their characters’ abilities and personal stories, whether that’s by showing them at their strongest or weakest.
…making suggestions about the story and action, while keeping in mind the authority of players over their characters and the responsibility of the Storyteller to occasionally make trouble.
Alright, we’re ready to start rolling some dice. Most rolls are going to consist of an attribute and skill. Add the dots together, possibly subtract a number based on the difficulty or your opponent, and count the successes, if any. Some examples are:
Wits+Composure to notice something. This is sort of the default perception roll in Chronicles and will likely come up on a regular basis.
Strength or Manipulation+Intimidation by coercing someone through fear. Now you’ll notice you have a choice between attribute to use. This is to represent the difference between someone grabbing someone by the collar and and lifting them off the ground and just telling them new and terrible ways you’ll make their life a hellscape.
Strength+Athletics for Jumping and a wide variety of other athletic tasks. Heavy lifting, climbing, swimming and the like might all use this depending on the circumstances.
Intelligence+Investigation for investigating a crime scene and look for clues as to the perpetrator.
Intelligence+Crafts to repair something, which might be quick or might be an extended action depending on the extent of the damage.
Dexterity+Stealth to sneak around, if someone is looking for you’ll they’ll need to beat your successes on a Wits+Composure roll.
Because mystery and the unknown play such a huge role in Chronicles of Darkness they’ve actually developed a system to handle these occurrences in an interesting way. It starts off with some basic but important advice about running that kind of game. Don’t try to plan out everything beforehand because your players may not think like you do and be ready to improvise. No roll should cause the investigation to immediately fail, try instead to raise or change the stakes, like the culprit is now aware of the investigation or have time to strike again. Finally it’s important to describe what’s happening from scene to scene and how it all fits together. You shouldn’t just make an investigation a long series of consecutive rolls to keep things engaging and interesting.
It then describes a new resource available to characters in the form of Clues. These are resources which can be expended to gain bonuses to the investigation or, if enough are gathered, can be used to straight up solve the mystery. While it’s still definitely possible to figure out the mystery without expending clues this provides a resource to use if they’re not fans of detective work or just can’t figure out where to go next. They can also be used in social situations as leverage, with the book example being someone investigating a rival for evidence to use as blackmail. It also encourages a wide array of skills that might contribute to an investigation outside of the investigation skill. An investigation is likely going to require lab work (medicine or science), grilling witnesses (persuasion or intimidation) or maybe chasing down people through dark alleys (athletics) so try and stay open minded as to how you can help out. In fact you suffer progressively greater dice penalties for using the same skill repeatedly over the course of an investigation.
The ST should figure out how many clues they need related to how complex of large in scope the investigation is, ranging from 1 to 5. Unfortunately there are a few things that might get in the way. Failing a roll in the investigation gives you an Incomplete clue. This can only be used to give you a bonus on another roll. A Tainted clue comes from a dramatic failure and makes all further rolls more difficult. If they get enough clues they can just solve the case, the ST tells them what happened framed by what they know. If they come up short on clues every one missing it adds a potential complication to the conclusion of the investigation like the culprit having an alibi or pursuing him could damage them politically or professionally.
Overall this seems like something World of Darkness has always needed and seems fairly simple to implement in game.
Another new edition to Chronicles of Darkness is the Social Maneuvering system, designed to make manipulating someone more transparent and understandable, as well as moving away from just one roll completely changing someone’s mind. This isn’t for just convincing a bouncer that you know the owner or having a pleasant blind date but for something of a greater scope like convincing the mayor to bulldoze the haunted rec center.
Doors represent how hard someone is to convince, and start at the lower of their resolve or composure. It can increase depending on how opposed they are to it, how dangerous it is and complications that may arise. First Impressions are also important and determine the length of time between rolls. By default you start at average which leaves a week between rolls to influence them. Thankfully there are many ways to raise this, referred to generally as Soft Leverage. Appealing to their vice, bribes in the form of money or favors, and other forms of leverage can raise their opinion of you. At the highest level you can roll every turn to get what you want from them.
Like investigation you can use a variety of skills to open doors, doing things that coincide with their goals, making them happy, making sound arguments or just making yourself a part of their life and trust you more. Once you’ve opened the required doors they’re going to either do what you say or offer a viable alternative. You might be in a desperate situation, or running out of time in which case there’s Hard Leverage. This is escalating the situation and driving home that you need them to act NOW. It can be threats, kidnapping, torture and other things which are almost guaranteed to be breaking points. These will likely open up at least one door but will poison any further dealings you have with them. People tend to take those things personally.
Given this is a game of noir and horror (when it isn’t about driving trucks full of explosives into monsters of flesh and iron) so you’ll occasionally find yourself chasing after or running from something important. Basically it becomes a race to come up with 5 successes before the other person does. There’s a rather large list of things that impact that number and make it easier or harder respectively. Being faster, quicker to react and the like all reduce the amount of successes you need with the reverse also being true. From their you determine who has The Edge in the chase. If one person has a clear advantage they start with it, otherwise it’s a roll off. The example they use is someone on foot being chased by people in a car in a crowded street filled with foot traffic. The individual with the edge can essentially dictate which rolls will be used over the course of the chase, likely choosing ones that favor them. For example if Ms. Walters, our lawyer was chasing someone she might choose Presence+Expression to tell people to get out of her way, forcing the person she's chasing to roll the same. If the player does not have the edge it advises to give the player the opportunity to Seize the Edge to turn the tables and make it more exciting. After the dice roll has been determined the player can guess how many successes they will roll. If they guess correctly events change so that they are the one with the advantage in the chase, which seems like a good rule. Whoever gets the requisite successes determines how it ends. If the runner gets theirs first they get away, if the pursuer does it drops to initiative and combat and goes on from there.
We also have Doresh's young gang leader, Michael Beck.
He's tough, good in a fight, and more importantly a good leader. He has allies in the form of his gang and, when acting alongside them, inspire them to perform better. He has specialties in weaponry(switchblades), Expression(Motivating), and Larceny (Breaking into Cars). His aspirations include what you'd normally expect a gang leader to do as well as the goal of figuring out what that glass fingered creature was.
Next up: COMBAT
Conditions and Combat. Also ChartsOriginal SA post
Part 5: Conditions and Combat. Also Charts
Conditions are what has replaced derangements as a consequence of breaking points. They are also ways to reflect any sort of temporary or long term circumstances or modifiers. The most common ones you’ll likely come across are Guilty, Spooked and Shaken, which result from Breaking Points. These serve as a way to tell, at a glance, how your character is feeling beyond just their physical health. It should be noted that not all conditions are negative. Some conditions come as the result of an exceptional success on behalf of the Players. There are also Persistent conditions. These are conditions which are expected to last a very long time and require significant time and/or effort to resolve, if it's even possible. You can see from a few of these sample conditions from the book that they can have a wide variety of effects. Conditions also have a resolution, a way to remove the condition. While this involves some sort of handicap for negative conditions resolving these is a good source of beats. For Persistent conditions the resolution is simply a way of measuring beats obtained and may or may not actually eliminate the condition.
The book also encourages STs to come up with their own conditions if they can’t find one that matches the fiction. Generally a condition will alter dice pools +2 to -2 or some other effect everyone can agree on. They also need a method of resolution, and these are best kept somewhat general to allow the player some flexibility in resolving them.
(Well he's trying at least)
Combat is probably going to happen at some point in time, whether it’s running away from a gang’s enforcers or trying to beat a terrifying monstrosity to death with a pipe wrench, bad things happen and someone is probably going to get hurt. It recommends that before combat starts you determine your Intent, which should inform you how far you’re willing to go during combat. Often you might be fighting just to protect yourself, or because they have something you want, and occasionally all you want is for them to die.
Down and Dirty Combat
When you are vastly more proficient at harm than your opponent, or the combat would slow things down too much without adding anything you can use Down and Dirty Combat. This resolves the entire combat in a single roll. Both parties roll their combat pool and the winner follows through with their intent, whether it be roughing someone up or fleeing down an alley. The winner also deals damage equal to the difference in their rolls plus whatever weapon they were using, if any.
A normal combat counter is going to start with everyone rolling initiative which is a single d10+Their Initiative modifier. Everyone then has a chance to act in descending order. If you’d like you can delay your action but doing so permanently changes your spot in the initiative order. During an Ambush only those who are aware of the impending attack are able to roll initiative and act, the other forfeit both their turn and their defense until the next round begins at which point they roll as normal.
Your attacks are largely going to consist of:
• Unarmed Combat: Strength + Brawl - opponent’s Defense
• Melee Combat: Strength + Weaponry - opponent’s Defense
• Ranged Combat: Dexterity + Firearms
• Thrown Weapons: Dexterity + Athletics - opponent’s Defense
People familiar with world of darkness are going to notice there’s something missing from these values. Namely the weapon rating. In World of Darkness your weapon damage, expressed as a rating between 0 and 3, added to your dice pool. Now these are only added to rolled successes. What this means is that hits happen less frequently, but hurt significantly more. This also makes guns very, very dangerous as at range the defender doesn’t get their defense. This is also where another big difference makes itself apparent.
In World of Darkness weapons were broken up into a few categories. Chief of which was weapons which did Bashing damage, which were largely blunt weapons, and weapons that did Lethal, which were sharp, pointed, or a gun. If you feel up with bashing you're on the verge of being knocked out in one way or another. If you fill up with lethal you're going to start knocking on deaths door. You also heal 1 point of bashing every 15 minutes and 1 point of lethal every 2 days. What this meant was that in World of Darkness it was better to get hit by a sledgehammer than stabbed by a pocket knife because you could just walk the former off while the latter would take a week to heal. In Chronicles every weapon does lethal damage. The only thing that does bashing damage is your fists. Chronicles really does try to drive home the significance of lethal damage in play. If you inflict lethal damage on someone, or something, you are putting their life in danger. Likewise when you start taking lethal damage you are on a fast track to the hospital, if not the morgue.
In combat you have a laundry list of possible actions and modifiers which are largely self explanatory. You can aim for a limb, dive for cover, dodge, perform touch attacks, the whole nine yards. Thankfully they are all rather simple to interpret and adjudicate. While this page may look intimidating a lot of these are edge cases, and being organized like this makes them much easier to reference in play. Something mentioned only briefly but is rather important is that defense drops by one every time someone is attacked a round, so if 4 people are ganging up on one person that last person is going to be swinging while they have -3 to their defense. Definitely an important consideration if you're in a one vs. many situation, either as a player or as the ST.
Combat can very easily result in Tilts. Tilts act like conditions in combat but often end at the conclusion of the fight. That isn’t to say that they can’t become conditions. For instance if your arm is broken you’ll have the arm wrack tilt which prevents you from using that arm during the fight. Afterwards you’ll need a condition to represent to more long term effects of the damage. Tilts can also represent an environmental condition, like a blinding blizzard or wading through a swamp where everyone’s movement is impaired.
Thankfully with all this in mind you can obtain means of protecting yourself. Armor has a few variables we're concerned about right now, which is it's Ballistic Armor value and it's General Armor value. Ballistic armor is going to apply on attacks with guns, and will turn a point of lethal from the attack to bashing damage, up to it's value. So if your armor has a Ballistic value of 3 and you take 4 points of lethal from a gunshot the armor reduces it 1 point of lethal and 3 points of bashing. Armor also has a General Armor value. The General Armor value applies to any attack and reduces the damage by one, starting with the most severe. If the attacker is doing lethal damage you're always going to take at least one bashing damage, even if the armor would have reduced the damage to 0. Armor also might only cover certain parts of the body, and while all attacks default to the torso this means if the attacker specifically aims at a portion not protected it will not get the benefit of the armor.
Weapons serve as the main way of making someone less alive than they were before, or as punctuating threats to the same effect. They do lethal damage and add to the number of successes rolled against an attacker. Some weapons have a Damage value of zero, and while this means they do not add successes they still do lethal damage on an attack. Weapons also have an initiative modifier, with larger, bulkier or more unwieldy weapons reducing your initiative accordingly. The justification being that a as you get more difficult to wield it takes longer to get into a position where you can be effective. They have a strength score, which is the minimum strength required by the character to be used effectively, as well as a size. Size 1 can be hidden in your hand, size 2 on your person and sizes 3 and 4 can't be hidden at all, though I guess you could try to pass yourself off as a friendly sword salesman. In the description of the weapons themselves you'll also note that these are more broad categories than specifics. The machete weapon covers any large single handed blade while the chainsaw could be anything large and nasty enough, like a massive executioner's ax.
Firearms are broken up similarly, with the edition of a column for their clip or magazine size, which is the number of times it can be fired before it must be reloaded. As you can see guns have the potential to do a lot of damage. A good roll with a rifle could potentially take a human down in a single shot. They were vaguely threatening in World of Darkness but Chronicles has made them exceptionally dangerous.
So, we have our lawyer Jennifer Walters. She's gone downtown to try and find out more about her client, and before she knows it she's found herself in a seedy bar where her professional clothing sticks out like a sore thumb. But she recognizes the person she was looking for.She asks to speak with him privately and they go outside to a nearby alley. She wants to do this the easy way and tries to convince him with a Manipulation+Persuasion roll, but with only a single die it is unsuccessful. Unfortunately for him she has had a long, long day and her patience ran out hours ago and she decides to sucker punch him. She rolls her Strength+Brawl, a hefty 7 dice and scores 3 successes, doing 3 points of bashing damage. Because she is taking him by surprise this is considered an Ambush and, failing his Wits+Composure roll to see it coming, he is denied his normal defenses this turn. He reels and now they both roll Initiative. With only 2 in initiative and a low roll he gets a chance to act before she can act again. Now they are both able to use their defenses, and he rolls his Strength+Brawl but has to subtract her defense turning his 6 dice pool into only 2 dice. On her turn she decides to throw him to the ground and rolls her 7 dice pool again, this time subtracting the man's defenses, leaving her with only 3 dice. She decides to spend a willpower to add 3 dice to this roll. She gets another 3 successes inflicting 3 points of bashing damage and forcing him to the ground because of her Grappling Merit. He decides to call it quits. This woman is clearly better at fighting, even if he won't admit it, and he tells her what she wants to know if she promises to leave him alone.
Next: Healing! Equipment! ST advice!
Health, Cars and EquipmentOriginal SA post
Part 6: Health, Cars and Equipment
Damage comes in 3 main flavors. Unarmed attacks and non-severe impacts deal Bashing damage. Weapons and more severe forms of trauma all deal Lethal damage. More rarely, and often from supernatural sources you get Aggravated damage. At this level your bones are snapping, your flesh is being ripped apart like pulled pork, it’s the kind of thing that will leave you in a hospital for days. If you notice the health track it’s a series of boxes which helps in marking damage. Bashing damage is marked by a simple slash, lethal adds another slash giving you an X, and aggravated adds a vertical line. The more severe type will always be on the left hand side of the health bar and it’s actually very easy to add additional damage this way while keeping it understandable. If you fill up your health with bashing damage all further bashing damage gets upgraded to lethal. Likewise with lethal and aggravated damage. If the last box is filled with bashing damage you have to roll stamina each turn to stay conscious, and if it’s filled with lethal they start bleeding out. They’ll take one point of damage every minute until they get help.
When you start reaching the end of your health you start accruing penalties to your actions. The start at the third to last box, which gives you a -1 penalty, to the last box which will give you a -3 penalty. This penalty applies to pretty much every roll aside from stamina rolls to stay conscious.
Thankfully humans are pretty resilient and will generally bounce back if they aren’t killed. As long as you weren’t completely filled up with lethal you can recover on your own, though it can be a rather long process. You recover a point of bashing every 15 minutes, a point of lethal every 2 days, and a point of aggravated every 2 weeks. Long term medical treatment can shorten this significantly when it’s both available and a viable option. Long term treatment works on your worst damage first so if you want to be that person who leaps out of the hospital window when they’re aggravated damage is gone it’s not the worst idea.
Apropos of nothing they put the rules for objects here. Not sure why. To damage an object you need to have more successes than it has durability, which can be quite difficult without proper tools or certain merits. To destroy it you must do damage equal to its structure which is the sum of its size and durability.
It then jumps right back into damage and there are definitely other ways you can be hurt. It lists diseases, which it gives vague but mostly understandable rules. It will do damage unless they make a resistance roll of some sort, likely Stamina+Resolve. There are Drugs which you can also resist, if you so choose, and act like a poison when you overdose. Electrocution does bashing damage and in some cases requires you to make a strength roll to pull yourself away from the source as your muscles are involuntarily contracting. It’s based on the sources which are in 4 general categories ranging from minor, like a wall socket, to fatal, like a subway rail. The Environment can also be a source of damage, based on it’s severity. It’s also rated on a scale from 0 to 4, 0 being a safe space, or at least one where the environment isn’t a concern. 4 is the level of hurricanes and the kind of sandstorms that take your skin off. Characters can roll stamina every few hours or take the severity in bashing damage, or lethal in the case of categories 3 or 4. Falling deals a point of bashing damage per meter which can be mitigated with a Dexterity+Athletics roll. If you fall 30 meters or more you just take 10 points of lethal damage, which is going to kill you unless you land in the back of an ambulance. Fire does damage every round and is based on both the size and the heat/intensity of the fire. Poison has a few values attached to it. How much damage it does which is rated by its toxicity, how many times it does this damage and how often the character must roll to resist this damage.
(It's a metaphor...though we didn't really talk about gambling?)
You’re not going to walk everywhere, and for some dramatic chase things cars are just what you need. Each has a dice modifier to rolls using it. Nimble, more maneuverable vehicles, have a much smaller penalty than the larger, slower vehicles. The also have a maximum speed, a size, durability and their structure. Some also have the high or low acceleration abilities. Most vehicles accelerate at 5 move per turn, high acceleration vehicles accelerate at 10, and low acceleration vehicles cannot be forced to accelerate faster through rolls. You can add modifications up to twice your craft dots, or more with merits. These can add numerous bonuses to the vehicle making it more resilient, faster and basically make it a better vehicle. Included here are rules for hitting things with your vehicle and are broken up based on how large what you’re hitting is. Anything half the size of the vehicle or smaller is considered a light object, anything larger is a heavy object. Going faster inflicts more damage and successful drive rolls can help mitigate this damage. It should be noted that a first time player to this game might look at the table and be deeply, deeply confused because they mixed up the column headers pretty badly.
Equipment represents a rather broad array of potential resources. They can be physical objects like hand cuffs, maps, and bandages. But they can also be organizations or groups, repositories of information like libraries or databases, plans to be executed, and the strange and supernatural objects they may encounter. Each piece of equipment has an availability rating to it representing how rare and/or costly it might be to obtain. The easiest way of getting it is just through resources. Go to the store, spend money, get equipment. The availability also represents it’s ability to be procured through other means. For example someone with 3 dots in larceny could presumably steal an object of that availability or below. Similarly you could use social skills to talk your way into one. The back of the book has a rather large section of possible equipment to use and serves as examples in creating your own as there's no practical way to cover every single thing they might need.
You can also build or modify equipment using a variety of different roles. Wits+Crafts is most appropriate for mechanics or electronics. Wits+Expression for more creative works like painting and poetry. Presence or Manipulation+Socialize or Streetwise for creating or directing groups of people. Intelligence+Academics for using repositories or databases. If there’s no threat or no time table you can generally just let them succeed at their work, otherwise they’re just rolling dice for no reason. Otherwise you’ll likely use the extended rolling rules to determine whether they make it in time. If unsuccessful they may still make the item but it’s fragile, or volatile, making it much riskier to use. There’s also the jury rigging option which is when you need to make something fairly simple immediately. Things are breathing down your neck, the bad guy is getting away, you need this ASAP. This is similar to the build rules but only takes a single action and any failure results in a dramatic failure.
The average equipment entry looks something like this:
Dice Bonus +2, Durability 3, Size 2, Structure 4,
Effect: A crowbar is a curved piece of steel used to pry
open shipping pallets, jammed doors, and other things a
normal person would be incapable of doing by hand. It adds
to any dice rolls used to establish leverage. When prying
things open, it allows your character to ignore two points of
Durability on the lock or barricade. A crowbar can also be
used as a weapon (see p. 268).
Dice Bonus +1 to +3, Durability 1, Size 2, Structure 1,
Availability • to •••••
Effect: Never underestimate the value of high fashion.
Like a disguise, fashionable clothing allows a character to fit
in. However, the point of fashion is to draw attention, not
to fade into the crowd. As opposed to anonymity, fashion
means being noticed. Note that the clothing chosen must
be appropriate to the setting. Punk chic will not work at a
Senator’s fundraiser, for example. When improperly dressed,
the dice bonus applies as a penalty to all Social Skill rolls.
The dice bonus for Fashion is equal to half the Availability,
Dice Bonus +1 to +4, Durability 2, Size 3, Structure 2,
Availability • to ••••
Effect: In the developed world, almost every household
has access to a personal computer. They can vary in size,
functionality, and price, from decade-old models that barely
surf the web to high-end machines that process gigabytes of
data per second. In today’s world, many lives revolve around
computers. For some people, their entire careers and personal lives exist within digital space. The Availability of the
computer determines its dice bonus.
StorytellingOriginal SA post
Part 7: Storytelling
This section of the book begins with some basic advice for running a game. It places importance on making sure everyone know what kind of game it will be beforehand, that characters should be interesting but not detract from the game or make other players uncomfortable (which I guess they completely abandoned for beast).
Within the group, it’s everyone’s in the group responsibility to bring interesting characters to the game that will also suit the settings and creative themes of the game. Sometimes that means a player has to back off on a character concept that will be too difficult for the other characters to deal with. Other times, it will mean backing off on a concept that makes the other players uncomfortable.
It’s important as a Storyteller to be fans of the player’s characters, and this doesn’t mean giving them what they want, but instead giving them moments to shine and challenges to overcome. Even if they don’t succeed it can still be an interesting and compelling moment and should be played as such. You’re job as ST is to nurture these characters, not destroy them. Ultimately while NPCs have their own goals and agendas their purpose is to further the story. It’s fine to let a player character to take control of them for a scene to make the world feel more alive, at which point let the player know the character’s aspirations and motivations so they can act appropriately. As Storyteller you’ll often be asked what they’re supposed to do next in one way or another but this should be an open dialogue. While you may have a story prepared ahead of time talk to your players about what they want to accomplish with their characters to give them an opportunity to be in the spotlight.
Spines(They decided to give every section here an anatomical title based on it’s function)
The story is going to play out as a series of scenes so it’s important that these are interesting and compelling. Ask what they want to do next, what npcs they want to encounter, and which Characters are present. Don’t be afraid to utilize ideas from the players, especially if you’re coming up short on ideas on your own. You can improve, or at least guide, a story by playing to certain themes or core conflicts in your descriptions. Using music, phrasing, and specific word choice when describing scenes can all add to this. Details are important to immersing players in a scene. This doesn’t mean overwhelming them with minutiae but adding little things that add to the atmosphere. These can be things like a dirty ashtray with a single trail of smoke still rising from it, a liquor cabinet full of empty bottles, and dumpsters overflowing with refuse making it spill into the streets. It can also be implied with this that you should be flexible in the scenery. You aren’t going to describe everything and if the player fills in a blank spot with something interesting more power to them. Also don’t be afraid to start a scene in media res. You can start a scene in the middle of a climactic moment and come back to the events leading up to it later. While the characters may know what’s going to happen it can add an air of excitement to the game. When a scene concludes check in with the characters who weren’t present, learn what the characters present will do next, and ultimately take steps to make sure the game flows. It may rise and fall in intensity but you shouldn’t have long periods of time where nothing happens.
Also, never fear using phrases like ”meanwhile, across town in the central banking tower...” or ”unbeknownst to the characters, trouble was coming in the form of...” A good scene, framed well on the front and back end, makes every scene strong and helps your chronicle feel complete and constantly in motion.
The metaphor is that while a pulled hurts the muscle will be stronger afterwards which doesn’t sound totally accurate.
Failure is going to happen, statistically and thematically speaking it must to make a for a compelling game and to gain beats to advance the character. It’s important to remember though that, whether you’re a player or the ST, failure is just a single part of the larger story. I do like this quote however.
To some players, “a sloppy series of endless tragedies which compound on each other until, ultimately, everyone dies alone” is an ideal Chronicles of Darkness game. However, that’s not for everyone. Of course, on the other end, competence porn where characters are always awesome and never suffer real setbacks is not in keeping with any Chronicles of Darkness game. A good story will appeal to a majority of players; let the players who naturally want to run their characters into the ground do so.
If a character is afraid of failure just talk to them. Point out that every movie they’ve watched has had the main character fail, likely multiple times, before succeeding. Explain that that’s how you want the story to go, that even if they fail the story will move forward and will be more dramatic for it. If a failure would be too big a setback you can simply let them succeed but at a cost. They succeed but...and then consider long term consequences that might bite them later. Likewise it’s always okay to give them choices, even if they aren’t the happiest array of choices. A failed roll feels like that’s the end of your options but don’t be afraid to give them the option of failing forward. The example they give is, instead of missing the clue while they’re investigating, they find a clue but must choose whether it also indicts one of them or they don’t find the clue but instead found evidence of another, possibly related crime. This turns the failure into a springboard for the story to progress in a new and interesting direction while at the same time maintaining a strong player agency in the story.
No Meat Wasted
This section is primarily for staying flexible with how a game is run, and ultimately advising against trying to completely write out a story beforehand that you can’t deviate from. If your players aren’t taking the direct route, or spending a lot of time chewing the scenery or interacting with npcs that’s okay. The important thing is that people are enjoying them.
The story follows the characters, not the other way around
It’s okay to be direct. It’s always okay to be direct.
An Exquisite Corpse
This section details a method of creating a plot and setting with everyone participating. Start with a primary conflict, address why the characters care about the results in one way or another. They can then add 3 ST characters who will be involved in some capacity Finally add 3 ancillary characters who may not be directly related to the conflict but still can provide something to the story, whether it’s muscle, information, or just pathos. Give everyone a copy of this document as knowledge both they and their character know so that they are more cognizant of the setting without having to think of a lot of things on the fly or consult the ST as to whether someone exists or not.
Prick the Skin
This definitely is an important piece of advice for running a game. Don’t try to frighten, disgust or gross out your players. You probably want to aim for something disquieting. An atmosphere where things are off and unpredictable and let the players go as deep as they feel comfortable. This lets them better engage with the themes and atmosphere rather than turning it into what amounts to a grindhouse flick. Don’t use gore because honestly it isn’t frightening.
It can gross a person out, when applied judiciously, and that can be a valuable tool in the Storyteller’s (or player’s) toolbox, but it’s not a replacement for real dread, and if you pile it on too thick, filling your scenes with vomit and pus and arterial spray, it loses its punch. You’ll feel a need to escalate the grossout factor higher and higher, and before too long you’ve lost the dread, become immune to then grotesque, and made the subversive mundane. No one wants that.
Don’t slash the story’s throat open to bleed out in gushes; prick it, then ask, “Why does it sting? What is that creepy feeling just under the skin? Probably nothing, right?”
AntagonistsOriginal SA post
Part 8: Antagonists
This section details quite a few sample antagonists, or at least persons of interest, for your game. It starts with what are arguably more mundane, but no less threatening, sources of conflict in the form of other people and dangerous animals. The characters here are given attributes, a few dice pools of things they’re skilled in and for everything else it assumes they’re untrained. For random NPCs the players might encounter it recommends that they have no willpower score to speak of, at least in game terms. More notable NPCs might have a willpower point they can spend at their discretion and major NPCs might have their own pool of points to use either for or against the players. The descriptions are brief and succinct and the stats and skills are easy to lookup and reference. Their general dice pools don’t even list the specific skills but instead actions that the NPC will likely need to use regularly which makes it very easy to see at a glance instead of having to reference which combination of attribute and skill they’ll be using for a given action. For example the Hitman antagonist has dice pools for Taunting the Mark, Creepy Stalker and Breaking and Entering. Creepy Stalker might be used to identify the player’s in a crowd, shadow them, and perform things you’d expect from a stalker. Likewise taunting the victim is going to be used for their social rolls as well as giving you an indication of their personality. It also lists several other archetypes this stat block could be used for. The guard dog, for instance, could be used for any number of dangerous animals. This type of NPC generation means you can fit everything you need about a character into a small, easily referenced, paragraph.
The world is filled with creatures that live a largely invisible and intangible existence to our own. They exist in in planes that overlap our own and when the conditions are right they can manifest, affecting objects, becoming visible and even possessing animals and people. Fortunately this can only happen under specific conditions and the more powerful the entity, the more difficult these conditions are to create. Similarly an easy method for getting rid of such entities is removing or eliminating whatever is giving them power or binding them to an area.
When someone dies, especially in a traumatic or surprising way, they may leave something of themselves behind in the form of a Ghost. These creatures are pale reflections of the people they once were. The vast majority of them are very single minded, acting out their death over and over, lashing out in anger or despair, or relentlessly acting on the goals they had in life. The ghost that is self aware, and independent is incredibly rare. Think more Poltergeist than Ghost (The Patrick Swayze Movie). Ghosts need Anchors to exist, which are things that tie them to the world and can be really anything or anyone. A murder weapon, the scene of of their death or a close family member could all serve as anchors. These anchors also serve to sustain them, as memories and emotions tied to them feed them essence which flows to them from their anchor. So, if there’s a house that all the children think is haunted and is, in fact, the anchor to a ghost, their continued thoughts and fears of the house would provide ample sustenance to the ghost. If an anchor is destroyed, or it’s qualities changed so that it can no longer serve as an anchor, the ghost must find a new one or it will simply fade away. If it goes without essence for too long it will shift to the Underworld, the final resting place of such creatures, where they are kept sated, given independence but ultimately imprisoned. In the Underworld they can grow in strength and, if freed through either chance or ritual, return to earth as a terrible and powerful force of destruction and hate.
Spirits exist in the Shadow, a realm that overlays our own and is separated from ours by The Gauntlet, the term given to the barrier separating our two planes of existence. Spirits are, and can be created from, just about anything. Objects, emotions, places, animals all can create a spirit. These spirits act out a bizarre reflection of a natural environment. The smallest spirits, those created by singular acts, objects or creatures will feed on essence which is created by the actions and emotions of people. Once they’ve fed enough they’ll grow and begin feeding on other spirits as well and take on aspects of them in the process.
For example, the spirit of a single owl grows by consuming other owl spirits. As it consumes spirits of night, hunting, the prey its owl eats, and other owl spirits, the spirit subtly changes. By the time it is an independent, thinking being that no longer follows the physical creature that created it around, it has warped into an exaggerated spirit of silent nocturnal hunting.
Thankfully the Gauntlet keeps us largely protected, but as a spirit grows in power and ability it becomes more intelligent, self aware, and able to reach across the Gauntlet to affect our world and the people in it. It should be mentioned that spirits are defined only by their aspects, and while they may seem intelligent they have no sense of morality. They’re like animals, and only seek that which sustains them, or sometimes entertains them, which might be one and the same. Even spirits that seem beneficial like a ,Spirit of Joy or Compassion, care nothing for the people it uses for sustenance, like a lion will likely not care if you’re the nicest person on earth, it only cares that you’re made of meat. A spirit of joy will have no qualms with helping an addict get his fix and convincing people to do things they’ll enjoy now but regret later. If a spirit does manage to cross the Gauntlet for whatever reason it behaves similarly to a ghost. It needs essence to survive and will tie itself to an object or person as a source of fuel. Once across it’s also far more able to influence the world around it which can cause no end of troubles.
The Gauntlet itself varies in strength, being strongest in dense, urban areas and weaker out in the wilderness or in more rural settings. There are also places called loci (sing. locus) which are areas where the Shadow is especially close or the Gauntlet is especially weak. In these places it is much easier for the spirit to cross and manifest itself, likely giving these places haunted or mysterious reputations.
Angels are agents of the God Machine, manifested when enough infrastructure has been created and acting out singular commands. I’ll cover these more in the god machine section which is it’s own rather large portion of the book.
Twilight refers to the default state of ephemeral beings, which is to say they are not manifest but instead exist invisible and intangible to the world as we know it. There they cannot touch anything not also within the twilight, so while they can contact other ghosts they’ll just phase through a steel door. The only exception is objects, which leave behind a sort of ghostly reflection once destroyed. They last based on how well people remember and think about them, so a famous or popular bar that gets burnt down will last longer than the cigarette you put out on the street and forgot about.
Ghosts, Spirits and Angels are created and classified by Rank which determines their general strength and statistics. Ghosts you encounter will generally only be Rank 1 or 2, while spirits or angels can be any. While the chart only shows up to rank 5 they can technically go up to 10, though at that point their stats and abilities are going to essentially be ‘plot device’ in terms of power.
Essence gets expounded upon here. To simply sustain themselves an ephemeral being must spend 1 essence a day. They can also use it to power any ability they may have. They are also able to sense acts or motivations which they can draw essence from. They can also gain essence by draining or tearing it from other ephemeral beings.
Ephemeral beings are statted up a bit differently than your normal person. Aside from having an essence score they also only have 3 attributes. Power for when they’re using brute force, Finesse for fine control or subtle influence and Resistance to avoid damage and resist others. Instead of health they use Corpus, which functions similarly except they do not gain wound penalties as people do. Many of them also have Bans which are things that are anathema to their existence. They are things they either must do without fail or cannot do under any circumstances.
They can be as simplistic as “the angel cannot cross railway lines,” moderately complex like “the ghost must come if you call her name into a mirror three times within her anchor,” or as difficult as, “the angel must receive a tribute of a printing press that has used blood as ink once a month or lose a Rank.”
As the entity increases in rank the Ban tends to become more complex, and the compulsion becomes more dangerous to the being.
Rank 1 entities have mild bans that are easily triggered, but don’t endanger the entity. A spirit of bliss can’t resist an offering of opiates. The ghost of a nun has to immediately use an offered rosary. A weak angel must stand still and parrot hexadecimal numbers when they’re spoken to it.
Rank 2 and 3 entities have moderate bans that curtail the creature’s activities in a more serious way than mere distraction. A ghost must immediately dematerialize when it hears the sound of a cat. The murderous spirit of a car that has run down multiple people loses all Willpower if it doesn’t kill one person a month. The angel of the records answers any question about the family, background, or true identity of a subject if the questioner accurately tells the angel her time (to the minute) and place of birth.
Rank 4 and 5 entities have complicated bans that put an end to whatever the creature is trying to do — often in an explosive fashion. They have consequences in game traits or long-term actions, but esoteric requirements. The Smiling Corpse, a ghost summoned back from the Underworld by a mystery cult, is immediately banished back to the Great Below if anyone should sing a particular nursery rhyme in his presence. The spirit of Mount Iliamna, a volcano in Alaska, will use its Numina to kill a victim named by anyone who makes it an offering of platinum that was mined from its foothills. The angel Uriminel, four-faced enforcer of destiny, has Defense 0 against individuals who have fulfilled their Fate within the last lunar month.
There are also Banes which is a physical substance which causes a strong, negative reaction with the being. The ephemeral being can come into contact with the Bane even in the Twilight and any sort of contact is going to cause damage to it’s corpus. Like Bans they start simple and become increasingly esoteric or rare as the entity increases in rank, starting from simple salt against rank 1 ghosts to a silver bullet made from an original silver dollar for a rank 5 creature.
Ephemeral creatures can be fought like anything else when they are manifested though they only take bashing damage from attacks unless the attacker is using their Bane. If they are dealt enough damage that their corpus is filled with lethal or aggravated damage they burst in a nature related to their being. A nature spirit might become a shower of vanishing pine needles while the ghost of a gangster might disappear in a hail of phantom gunfire, reduced to nothing. This isn’t to say that they’re now gone forever. If they still have even a single point of essence they’ll reform in a hibernative state until they’ve regained enough essence to reawaken. The only way to make sure they stay down is to either starve them out or get rid of all their essence before you put them down.
Ephemeral beings all have the ability to influence things. Ghosts can influence their anchor, as well as the possibility of things relating to their demise or their life. Spirits tend to have influence over the things that compose their nature. They have as many dots of influence as their rank and can divide them into different areas as they so choose. For example the aforementioned spirit of nocturnal hunting might have Influence: Predators at 3 dots or Predators at 2 and Influence: Darkness at a single dot. Using these abilities does require essence but that can be regained if it creates conditions conducive to the being.
Not going to lie, this is where things get unnecessarily complicated and confusing. It starts with a page long listing of conditions which seem quite complicated and dense and follows up with a large flowchart which does not help things along at all. So far, not a fan. I’m going to try to move through this slowly based on the flowchart and in a way that hopefully makes sense.
When I think of horror I also think of flowcharts
If a place or object matches an ephemeral beings influence in some way shape or form it is considered Resonant for spirits or Anchor for ghosts. This can happen naturally or can be artificially created through ritual or careful planning. From there, should an entity approach, it can use it’s influence to fine tune the area to it’s needs and wants, changing the condition to Open which allows the entity far greater freedom and let’s it use more of it’s abilities.
From here it can Fetter itself to the place or thing, tying it to it and preventing it from losing a point of essence each day in exchange for no longer being free to move about as they wish. If fettered to an animal or human it can Urge it, subtly influencing it’s actions and desires but unable to exert complete control over it. In an open area the being may also Materialize giving itself physical form and allowing it to interact with the physical world. Finally it can Possess an animal or person, taking complete control over their body. Doing so only lasts a scene and the victim does not remember anything that happened during the possession. Once controlled the entity can attempt to them Claim them. Doing so is a slow process taking several days during which the person may be aware. Their physique also changes in ways that reflect the nature of the possessing entity. Someone possessed by a nature spirit might grow antlers, or someone possessed by the ghost of a murderer might change subtly to look more like them. Once claimed it is then a permanent fusion of the two entities unless the ephemeral being chooses to leave, and even then the victim is permanently scarred, both physically and emotionally. Even if the area does not have a condition and they are in the Twilight an entity can spend a point of essence to form an Image of themselves that people can see. There are also Gateways and Breaches which can drastically affect how easy it is for an entity to become manifest in an area.
Numina is the word given to describe the abilities an ephemeral being might have. The things that let them go bump in the night and scare people beyond reason. The higher the rank, the more numina they can have. Some are only usable if the entity is Reaching, which means that while they are existing on the twilight they have opened a conduit allowing them to affect the material world in a variety of ways. They can leave signs, start fires, and all manner of strange and unearthly abilities.
Some Sample Numina
Interacting with Them
Once you’ve found your ghost or spirit or what have you, you’re going to probably have to do some research to learn more about it. Who they were, what kind of spirit it is, what’s it’s haunt are all reasonable avenues of research. This might also get you their Bans or Banes in the process. You might also use a Medium as a contact, ally or even other player, to learn more about the entity though this also puts them at risk for possession, becoming an anchor, etc. You might Summon or Exorcise them through creating or destroying the conditions necessary for them to manifest. A person might also attempt to Abjure the being, forcing it away through the power of their own will though this is temporary and will only last a day. Armed with the beings' Bane someone can also Ward an area to keep them out or Bind them to a specific area, essentially imprisoning them.
Up Next: Horrors i.e. Non-ephemeral things that want to kill you.
MonstermenOriginal SA post
This is section serves as a toolkit to make the big, terrible nasty monsters that likely serve as the cornerstone of a story. These are the terrible monsters of flesh and bone that have caused a rash of disappearances or the slick lawyer that covers the gaping holes of darkness in their ribcage with a suit you could never afford. They are the salesman with an offer too good to refuse, or the well in the forest that holds stagnant water and a dark history. Originally this section was in the World of Darkness Hunter book but it was incorporated into the core book when they realized how useful it was for any given campaign. It gives guidelines for monster creation as well as a list of Dread Powers which serve to give your creatures that unnatural edge that makes them so terrifying and unnatural.
“The obvious first step when creating a Horror is to decide what sort of beast you’re creating. Chances are you already have a starting point for this by the time you sit down to create a Horror. If you know your next story is going to be a tale of Faustian bargains and unholy sacrifices, for example, you probably know your Horror is going to be some sort of demon or warlock. Will it be a wrathful brute, hungry to share its rage with anyone it lures into its lair? Or will it be a subtle, deceitful thing, seducing the unwary into selling their souls? Folklore, mythology, and popular culture can all provide useful inspiration here.”
It continues with some additional advice specifically for a game of horror. Even if the horror in question is a killing machine it shouldn’t just be waiting around in the street for the player’s to come close enough to start an encounter. Instead try to focus more on the player’s figuring out what it is, or if that fails, at least a method of dealing with it. They are made similar to characters with the same attributes and skills and even merits afforded to them, though it recommends using a different theory for their design. Monsters should have strengths and weaknesses, they shouldn’t be average across the board because that’s not particularly engaging. What they’re good at they should be VERY good at and this is something that can only be really overcome by exploiting their weaknesses in one way or another. What makes them frightening is, even with this system, it’s very easy to make something strong and terrible simply because they have no need for things that would make a well rounded person. A beast who lurks in the shadows and preys on the weak or slow doesn’t need any social skills. Likewise a creature that relies on cunning and manipulation probably won’t need many combat skills, especially if they can simply disappear at a whim. Also they shouldn’t be something where the best, easiest solution is to simply charge it and beat it into submission because if they’re not used to Chronicles of Darkness that’s probably going to be their first move.
These terrible horrors will have Anchors like a normal person might, which is to say it will have a virtue and vice it can act upon to regain willpower. The difference is that these creatures aren’t human, they don’t have human values so their anchors can be vastly different from a human norm. A creature might have Silent as a Vice or Stalking as a Virtue. These things wouldn’t work for a person but they can be absolutely true for the creature and will also act as clues for the players as they learn more about it.
Potency is a rough descriptor of how tough you want the monster the be. It determines how many dots you have for their attributes and skills as well as the maximum amount you can put in an individual trait and roughly correlates to the ephemeral entity ranking system in terms of potential danger. Higher potency also increases the dread powers they have available as well as how many merit dots they have. It also contributes to their willpower pool which they can use to fuel their abilities. At rank one they might only be a threat if they can catch a character alone, but at higher ranks they can be threats to entire cities.
Dread Powers are where it gets fun, at least for the Storyteller. These are the abilities that can help define your creature and the threat it poses to the players or the community they live in. How it performs these and any limitations they have are largely defined by the ST based on the kind of game they’re running.
Beast Master - Can control lesser beasts and spend willpower to summon swarms of them
Chameleon Horror - They can blend into their surroundings like the predator or a cuttlefish
Discorporate - If the creature would be killed it simply dissolves into a swarm of smaller creatures, if one escapes it can completely reform given time
Eye Spy - The creature can surveil an area from a distance using some predetermined method like being able to hijack security cameras
Fire Elemental - The creature is made of fire, fire can’t hurt it and touching it is a bad, bad idea
Influence - They gain the ability to influence as an ephemeral being giving them control of a particular object or occurrence
Gremlin - Electric objects don’t function well around the creature and if they spend a willpower they can cause it to cease functioning entirely or take complete control over it
Home Ground - In a specific area related to the monster it is much, much tougher and more dangerous
Hunter’s Senses - Against a specific type of prey like campers, horny teens or people related to the person who killed it last, it gains a huge bonuses to track them down
Hypnotic Gaze - If they succeed in a roll against their prey they are considered to have made a perfect impression on them. This means it might take only a few minutes to make them completely change their mind on any given subject.
Immortal - They won’t die. If you kill them without their bane they’ll just come back shortly. Even if killed with their bane it’s only a matter of time before they come back. It might be years, or even centuries, but they always come back
Jump Scare - This lets the creature surprise the players. In game terms they can spend a willpower to resolve the shaken condition the player has and choose which action they fail because of it. The player still gains a beat for resolving the condition
Prodigious Leap - (Which I assume was Jump at some point in time given that this section is alphabetical) They can spend a willpower to leap massive distances, around 40 feet vertically and 60 feet in distance, if not further
Madness and Terror - Their touch or voice can inflict conditions on people, if they spend 3 willpower they can inflict the Broken, Fugue and Madness conditions which are very bad
Maze - By spending willpower they can completely change and rearrange the internal space of a building, even if these changes would violate physical laws. Corridors lead back where they came, stairwells with dead ends and the like
Miracle - The creature, or part of it, can perform acts that completely defy any sort of rational explanation. It can only perform these if asked to by a living human being, and doing so comes at a great, great cost
Mist Form - They can voluntarily turn into a gaseous form, like a thick miasma or a flock of crows
Natural Weapons - They have naturally dangerous aspects to them which have a damage rating and armor piercing rating equal to the dots put into the power. It tops out at 3 dots which is the same damage category as a semiautomatic rifle but has armor piercing on top
Numen - They have a Numen ability as an ephemeral being but spend willpower instead of essence
Know Soul - The creature can spend willpower to immediately know someone’s virtue, vice aspirations and integrity. If they spend more they can also learn about the subjects most recent failed breaking point
Reality Stutter - The creature can rapidly blink through reality letting them teleport short distances and giving them a bonus to defense
Regenerate - The creature can spend willpower to immediately heal from lethal damage based on how many points they invest in this
Snare - The creature can trap prey using sticking webs, skeletal hands bursting from the ground or any other method that seems fitting. They can grapple anyone in this area with a significant bonus
Skin Taker - The creature can assume the appearance of a person by taking the skin from their corpse
Soul Thief - The creature has a method by which they can steal the soul from someone. While losing your soul isn’t immediately fatal it will result in death over the period of a few, very unpleasant, weeks
Surprise Entrance - The creature can simply appear in any given scene, rising from a reflective surface or just bursting from a wall. Even if the players try to prevent this it only gets them a turn to act before the horror enters
Toxic - They exude some sort of poisonous or pestilential subject threatening to infect those it comes into contact with
Unbreakable - They are almost unstoppable. If the roll used to damage them isn’t a critical success it does only a single point of bashing damage.
Wall Climb - They can traverse walls and ceilings with ease at their full speed
When you just need something quick you can just use these guidelines to create a monster quickly. It has guidelines dice pools that mainly involve just figuring out what it’s good at, what it’s bad at, and having a middling number for everything else. It’s a really quick and easy way of making something on the fly to keep the game moving. An example from the book is a zombie horde, representing a mass of flesh eating monsters that, at best, you can beat back for a time until you find a place to hole up. It has a few things it's good at, like overwhelming and finding people, and a few things it's AWFUL at, like chasing down people or acting as a single zombie. It's only really a threat when it's a mass of undead flesh that can simply overpower people.
The last part of this section lists a few examples, not just singular monsters but ways you can use the system to emulate an unending horde, or a sinister locale. It should also be noted that not all these creatures are out to kill people. Some are just unsettling, or devious, mysterious. It has a version of the mothman, whose primary purpose is to sow chaos with cryptic advice. An old swimming hole that will give you what you want but never in the way you wanted. There’s the vengeance driven ghost of a woman, bound to her own dead body on a quest for vengeance, and the ghost of a hitchhiker who asks people to drive them around to places in their life before disappearing, usually. When it talks about the haunted home it even brings up the obvious solution (move out) and why it wouldn’t work, for a variety of reasons.
A lot of these monsters use the quick generation format for their stats and honestly it makes them much, much easier to read. You have a few things they’re good at, a few things they’re terrible at. Everything else will likely be between the two.
The only monster with an illustration, the spooky kid
Next Up: THE GOD MACHINE
The God MachineOriginal SA post
Part 10: The God Machine
11th August 2012
Listen, it’s important I do this by hand. It’s weird, isn’t it, that at some point we found that the only way we could really be certain of the privacy of our written word is to make it just that: written, by hand, with pen, on paper. Sure, things can be copied
and scanned but you have to find them first, you have to find the artefact. When you type something on a machine, or phone, or whatever, it becomes so easy to find, so easy to copy.I want to keep what I’m thinking away from machines.
That sounds so weird. Just reading it on the page like that, in my own handwriting. I expect it’ll turn out that I’ve gone mental or something, in the end. I think that even if all this has some sort of explanation, I’ve probably lost some of my marbles. Listen, though, while you’re away I want you to be careful, and I want you to know that I love you. I love you, Gina. You’re the woman I want to marry. I never said that, and I didn’t intend to say it like that, but there it is. Sometimes I don’t think that I will get a chance to say to you face to face. I promise I’ll ask you properly when I see you again, bended knee and an engagement ring in a box and everything.
But until then, I want you to do something for me, Gina. I just want you to be careful. It’s important.
Gina, I’m scared. I’m scared of using the phone, and I’m scared of the Internet, and
most of all I’m scared for you. I’m scared someone might hurt you.
I really hope that I am going mental, because the alternative is almost too horrible
Gina, I love you. I know this is going to worry you, but it’s important, Gina. It’s important. I keep telling myself that it will be all right in the end. It’s the best I can do.
Stay safe, Gina.
A spooky picture
At Box's suggestion I checked the God Machine Chronicles book and looks like almost all of this was cut from the Chronicles book, which is a shame. So this section details the first part of the God Machine Chronicles book.
Here we introduce what could be explained as the primary antagonist within the plot of Chronicles of Darkness, though that description is still incomplete or inadequate. Even though it’s not omniscient, nor is it omnipotent, it’s knowledge and power make all human achievement look like infants fumbling in the dark. There’s the old adage that if a butterfly flaps it’s wings at the right place at the right time it can cause a hurricane. Well the God Machine knows, it knows the butterfly, it knows the location and it knows the time and will manipulate events to make sure that all those happen how it wants. The God Machine’s ability to predict the cause and effect of events is far, far beyond human understanding. At times it may seem like a machine of absolute precision, engineering events with such accuracy that numerous deaths might be written off as simple coincidence. Other times it looks like the gears grind against one another and it seems as though it’s agents are working at cross purposes. Trying to comprehend it’s plans is a surefire way to waste time, health, sanity and possibly a life. But sometimes you don’t have a choice. There are a few things we can speculate about it though.
It cannot, or does not, directly act upon the world, instead using intermediaries or Agents to act on it’s behalf.
It wants certain situations to take place and will manipulate events with sometimes maddening subtlety and foresight to make sure they happen.
It is fallible. It’s agents can fail, it’s plans might be flawed in ways even it did not foresee, there are any number of ways it might be thwarted, at least temporarily.
It seems to want to keep a low profile. It keeps it’s operations hidden, it’s agents ignorant and will cover its tracks whenever possible.
It doesn’t care, as far as we can tell. It doesn’t feel sympathy or hate or love or sadness. To it everyone and everything is a tool to be used and discarded as it sees fit.
When it needs an agent that will act without question or hesitation, and subtlety is either guaranteed or a secondary concern, it will send an Angel. These are creatures of metal, cables and gears only vaguely resembling their cherubic namesake, and they do not fuck around.
It’s entirely possible your character has brushed up against the Machine, it’s Agents or the Infrastructure beneath and not realized it. For most, when they hear a strange and unsettling noise in the night it’s much easier and safer to ignore it and walk faster, hoping for the best. If you see something absolutely inexplicable it’s much easier to try and forget about it than to let it haunt you. If you opened the wrong door at an office building and saw a stairway extending hundreds of feet into darkness it’s much easier to just close the door and convince yourself it was just a trick of the light, or maybe they have a bomb shelter, or any number of explanations. There’s also laziness, not as a vice, but as a method of maintaining the control you have in your life. A person working at a clothing store might find it strange that someone came in and bought every single size 8 shoe they had, even the stock in the back, but they won’t follow them home to see what they’re doing with them. And who would believe you if you saw something strange? If a terrible creature of flesh and fur attacked you in the night people would blame a coyote or mountain lion, even if you saw it running on two legs, something animals generally don’t do.
A group of spelunking hobbyists take a wrong turn in a well-mapped cave system. They discover a cavern the size of a football stadium. Inexplicably, it is filled with millions upon millions of identical 2 inch carpentry nails. A smaller chamber adjacent to it overflows with ¾ “ steel nuts. None show signs of corrosion or wear. They eventually find their way back to familiar caves, but no one has any idea what they’re talking about. Thousands of spelunkers visit that cave every year, and no one has ever reported such a thing.
An occupant of a motel at the edge of town orders a pizza from a specific pizza shop every Thursday at exactly 10:37 p.m. with instructions to deliver it to the front office of the motel. One night, no one is in the front office, so the driver tries the motel room. A man with the head of a fly answers the door; the smell of rotten food emanates from the room. The driver sees piles of uneaten pizza crawling with maggots the size of cats. The fly man shoves money into her hand, pulls the pizza from her numb fingers, and slams the door in her face
Maybe it tips well?
The Machine itself doesn’t act directly on the world, instead relying on Agents to act upon its orders. By and large these are humans, your average Jane or Joe going about their lives. It’s entirely possible they don’t even realize they’re part of a much larger scheme. Those that do might serve it for a variety of reasons, after all the God Machine can give you what you want. It can change elections, it can make sure you get that raise you want, it can give you insights into the world other scientists would only dream of. It knows the what it can use for leverage and utilizes this to get people to act on it’s instructions. It doesn’t have to follow through on it’s promises of course, but seems to prefer it’s agents are loyal. After all it’s understanding of human nature almost total and it would prefer any unplanned actions worked in it’s favor, not to it’s detriment. Even if an agent fails it it’s probably not going to kill them, it isn’t vengeful. Unless of course they know too much, or their death would further it’s plans. If the Agent is valuable enough it might even get a second chance but. as far as people know, no one has gotten a third.
There’s an ATM in a lonely part of town — one of the older sort with deposit envelopes. It will accept anyone’s ATM or credit card, as long as the PIN is valid, but only the Deposit button works. If you put a lock of someone’s hair into the ATM, it will spit out a single $20 bill, but it has to be someone whose hair it doesn’t already have. Maybe it will accept other forms of deposit, but all the homeless in the city know about the hair trick.
Some junk mail is worth opening. If you get a letter from “Uncle Gerald’s Sweepstakes “ and do exactly what it says, no matter how strange, you’ll win the next game of chance you play. That compulsive gambler who sold everything he owned and bet it all on a spin of red or black? He knew what he was doing.
Of course with all this power it has worshippers. Sometimes they’re a cult that springs up overnight and disappears just as quickly. Other times it might be a family that has been faithfully serving it for generations. When presented with a being as vast, knowledgeable and powerful as the God Machine it’s easy to see why someone might follow it with religious devotion. Some see it as an extension of God’s will, others see it as divine in of itself. Of course some also believe it to be some sort of Divine adversary like Satan, or a manmade god created from the collective consciousness present on the internet. Just because a cult believes in and follows the God Machine doesn’t mean it finds them useful. No matter how zealous their devotion, how many acts of contrition they perform, or how many people they sacrifice, if they aren’t useful to it they are beneath the God Machine’s notice.
I come from a family of stubborn cusses, but I love them, and I don’t want them to go to Hell because they refuse to accept Christ into their lives. I was praying for them when an angel of God appeared to me and told me I could atone for their sins by doing little favors for Him in this world. I’ve saved Mom and Dad, already, but my kid brother has always been a troublemaker, and the angel tells me I’m going to have to do something big to spare him from Hell.
The followers of the God Machine often need some motivation for their work. If you aren’t a fanatical follower you’ll likely want something in exchange for your effort, and the God Machine is more than capable of providing.
Material Wealth: Briefcases of cash, sacks of gold bullion or a very generous gift are all easy to wrap your head around and for many that’s all they need. Of course this money has to come from somewhere, and if the Agent fails they might quickly realize their reward was taken from a Drug Lord, or that the Gold was stolen in a bank heist.
Health: It has the power to cure any human ailment. ANY. Rumor has it that it can even raise the dead. Of course on the other hand it can also inflict these diseases and then some, not only on the Agents but also their loved ones.
Good Fortune: Being a follower means things work out well for you. The lights are almost always green. The lotto tickets might not be jackpots but are almost always good for a few hundred.
Powers: It or it’s angels can grant supernatural abilities to it’s followers if needed or desired. Likewise it can take these, and other abilities they may have, away. A thought which has some rather unsettling implications.
Sanctuary: People can’t find you, bounty hunters hit dead end after dead end, the money trail suddenly dries up without a trace, it can keep you safe.
Altruism: Sometimes it merely has to convince people that what they do is what’s best for everyone. If an angel appeared and told you that you could save the lives of thousands of people you might find it hard to say no.
And then there are those who fight the God Machine. They saw it, or part of it, and realized they did not want it interfering with their lives. Maybe it’s the idea that this thing might be taking away their free will. Maybe it’s the way it will casually dispense death and suffering to innocent people to further it’s goals. Sometimes it’s personal. They may have lost someone or something important to them and know that this thing is responsible. They also have an uphill battle ahead of them. Because of the way it operates the God Machine's actions and agendas are difficult to identify. It’s possible to focus on the wrong aspect of them and miss important clues. It’s entirely possible it simply won’t have any other operations in the area leaving the slighted party with anger and little else. And of course even if you figure out what the plan is, stopping it is another matter entirely.
Each of the God-Machine’s projects is like a ten-pound weight dropped from a great height. If you catch it early, it’s easy to prevent it from reaching its destination. But if you catch it at the end, after it’s fallen 10,000 feet, there’s really nothing you can do to stop it. The God-Machine’s projects are most vulnerable to disruption at the beginning, but this is also the time when they are least obvious.
Stopping it is something of a misnomer. If you decide to fight this thing your goal is generally stopping a single project, one that’s likely going to affect you or the people you love. You do this not to stop it, but instead to buy some time, or hope it chooses another, less detrimental, means of achieving it’s plans. Unless your potential actions have already been taken into account. It’s hard to say just how much it can predict and plan for events and behavior. In fact, there are times where it seems to be actively opposing it’s own plans. There’s a rather well known account involving two angels who raised cults against each other and waged war till one finally killed the other. Why? Who knows.
Mark my words: something is deeply wrong with that opera house. For one, this town is way too small to support opera. We don’t even have a community theater, for God’s sake! And have you seen the performers? Shifty eyes, practically grey skin, and they all talk in funny accents. The murders, the disappearing pets, the huge bats, the strange noises in the basement — it all adds up, and everything points to that opera house. Dress rehearsal is Tuesday night — and I really mean at like two in the morning. I’ve got forty empty beer bottles, ten gallons of gasoline, and a bunch of old t-shirts. I say we end this once and for all. Are you in?
And finally there are those who want to study it. They see this new thing, unexplained by science, and they desperately want to know more about it. They realize there is this intelligence operating on earth that mankind didn’t create and wish to communicate with it, or understand it. Unfortunately this information is sporadic and unreliable at best. Those researching it, either intentionally or accidentally, aren’t likely to talk to each other. They probably don’t even realize they’re researching the same thing. And of course there’s the endgame in all this. The more you understand about the God Machine and it’s capabilities the more you might see it’s actions everywhere you look. Every coincidence, every action, every meeting, might have been carefully engineered to achieve a specific purpose. It’s enough to drive someone mad.
What is the God Machine?
About a century ago an alien spacecraft crashed on Earth. What we know as the God-Machine is that ship’s self-repair system. You see, the Earth lacks certain critical materials necessary to make these repairs. Using alien technology, the system is opening gateways to other worlds to exploit them for these absent materials. This is all easily proven by my colleagues, but my interest is in the fate of the alien crew, as well as what interest drew these extraterrestrials to our planet in the first place.
This relic predates even the dinosaurs, although I disagree with those who think its origin is local and not extraterrestrial. It appears to have something to do with regulating Earth’s climate — possibly to allow life to evolve on our planet or perhaps to make it habitable by the alien race that created the God-Machine. A direct hit from a meteor damaged it, so it hasn’t able to consistently regulate planetary temperature for thousands, if not millions, of years. The God-Machine is using us to restore the planet’s intended climate. Climate change deniers aren’t idiots who don’t understand science. They are simply the servants of the God-Machine making sure no one touches the thermostat.
What does it want with people?
Humans are test subjects and the God-Machine is the proctor, administering the tests on behalf of…something else more powerful and alien than itself. That’s why it tries to keep its presence hidden from mortals. If we all knew we were being tested, it would skew the results. Why we’re being tested is anybody’s guess. Could be we’re on the cusp of being invited to join some sort of space federation, and if we pass the aliens will come down with unlimited energy and help us establish a perfect society. Might be the God-Machine is testing our viability as an object for conquest, though. It’s even possible that it’s just testing us out of scientific curiosity.
Humans used to have an interstellar empire. They built the God-Machine to handle the logistics of their civilization. Of course, something happened that caused that civilization to collapse. Maybe it was a civil war, or maybe they ran into something bigger and meaner than they were. One way or another, they died off, mostly, and any people left off-world can’t get back to Earth. It will be an interesting day if we ever make contact with them again. It must be said that the God-Machine probably hasn’t seen much maintenance in the last several millennia, so maybe that’s why it’s breaking apart the layers of the world and the gaps in between are filling like blisters.
What role do supernatural creatures play?
The God-Machine’s calculations can’t predict the behavior of supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves. Not that it doesn’t try, but the margin for error is so huge that it might as well be consulting a Magic 8-Ball. They can all see the, you know, the gears, and those so-called monsters thwart it at every turn to protect their turf. If it weren’t for them, the GodMachine would have completely taken over the planet by now. So it has started rounding them up, dissecting them, and shipping the parts God-knows-where
The God-Machine was created by ancient wizards to unlock the secret rules of the Universe. Once it completed its analysis there would be no limit to the feats the wizards could perform using that information. That’s why it’s called the God-Machine — not because it is a god that is also a machine but that it is a machine that makes people gods. Fortunately for the rest of the world, the wizards died out millennia before they accomplished this ultimate act of hubris, but their creation hasn’t stopped collecting data. The God-Machine might have figured it all out by now, and if someone could access what it knows, they might achieve what those wizards did not. So tell me: have you seen any gears in places they don’t belong?
Infrastructure!Original SA post
Part 11: Infrastructure!
So, like we discussed in the last post there are some things we know about the God Machine. Most importantly, as far as we’re concerned, are it’s limitations.
It isn’t everywhere, it relies on middlemen, agents and intermediaries to disperse and gather information and act on it’s behalf.
It isn’t all powerful, though it turns out that there’s a lot between our current understanding of the world and omnipotence. It can do things with the laws of physics that are far, far beyond our understanding but it still has rules it must abide by.
It doesn’t know everything but it’s very, very intelligent.
The popular chaos theory illustration describes a world in which the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can mean the difference between sunshine and rain on the other side of the planet. The God-Machine doesn’t control the weather per se. It simply knows which butterfly must flap its wings to bring the rain and ensures that those wings are flapping in the right time and place.
It is a machine. It does not care for the well being of humans. Even if it understood things like ethics or morality they don’t factor into it’s decision making. It seems to prefer projects that can be executed without people noticing, but not because it doesn’t want people to find out, or because it’s afraid of what will happen. It acts this way simply because that is it’s nature. To it people are tools or resources, useful only inasmuch as they can provide some function it can utilize. It may hurt and kill people but it doesn’t gain anything resembling an emotional response from this. There’s no empathy for their plight, or even sadistic joy at their suffering. Their pain or death is only a means to an end, nothing more, nothing less.
It is incredibly patient and methodical. A project might take decades of logistical movement before all the pieces are in their proper place. It doesn’t act without apparent careful consideration for it’s every action. If a project is thwarted it doesn’t desperately try to pick up the pieces or immediately try it again. It seems to simply withdraw to reevaluate the situation.
Finally it acts relatively slowly. Because of how massive it is and it’s reliance on agents and often mundane methods of communication it’s actions take time to implement. This isn’t to say it can’t move quickly. If a cult member gets an email with a photo and a message saying this person must die immediately, they won’t waste a lot of time.
Infrastructure in relation to the God Machine are the bits and pieces that together will execute it’s plans. They can start simple but will build on one another to form vast networks of buildings, people, companies and everything else it uses to further it’s goals.
Concealment Infrastructure: This is what it uses to keep people from prying too deep into it’s plans or to waylay any suspicion that something might be wrong. They can be entirely ordinary, a shell corporation, a franchised restaurant, a security guard paid to keep people out of an old warehouse. They can also be supernatural, after all it’s aware the supernatural exists, it’s only reasonable to take advantage of that fact. A security guard might get bored, or curious about the hatch leading underground. A spirit of fear has no such compulsions as long as it’s fed.
Defense Infrastructure: Sometimes concealment isn’t enough, and sometimes a project is important enough that countermeasures against interference are prepared. These are the cultists, the spirits, the supernatural creatures and anything else that follows it’s commands. They protect an area, and dissuade anyone from getting too close. And if they don’t get the message murder is generally a reliable option.
Logistical Infrastructure: This is the God Machine’s moving company. They make sure that what’s needed is where it’s supposed to be, when it’s supposed to be, in the condition it’s supposed to be. They move people, artifacts, spirits, anything that factors into the God Machine’s plan and isn’t where it should be.
Elimination Infrastructure: When a project is completed or thwarted there might be loose ends. This cleans them all up, doing it’s best to ensure that nothing remains that indicate the infrastructure existed. From arson to magic their job is to make sure there’s nothing that will make people ask the wrong kind of questions.
Command and Control Infrastructure: The messages, the angels, the power, all have to come from somewhere. There has to be something making the decisions, and while this is largely theoretical, if this were undermined or compromised it could severely alter the God Machine’s plans.
The Occult Matrix
All this work, this effort, this careful moving of people and things to the right place at the right time forms The Occult Matrix. It takes advantage of tiny exceptions to the known laws of physics and reality to perform a specific function. Of course if this were easy humanity would be doing the same. This requires a frankly unimaginable degree of precision and accuracy. If any factor is off even slightly the whole endeavor will be for naught. And given how much work goes into any given bit these projects can’t just be repeated if they fail. The proper conditions might not exist for a thousand years, if they ever do.
If everything goes as planned you get Output with a capital O. For the most part this involves summoning an Angel, one of those big, terrifying, supernaturally powerful beings made of metal and gears. Angels follow it’s commands with unquestioning obedience and are kind of terrifying. It might also involve opening a gate to another dimension, summoning some sort of immensely powerful being or any number of things which make other supernaturals seem impotent in comparison. This isn’t to say that these are the end of the project. All this might just allow it to perform another, more powerful project, which is why they refer to this as it’s Infrastructure. The more Infrastructure it can create the larger and more powerful an Output it can create. This means more powerful Angels, larger areas covered, even more Infrastructure created.
Now, for all this planning and preparation there are still points of vulnerability referred to as Linchpins. These come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are vulnerable for a variety of reasons.
Suspicious Front: The front the God-Machine uses to conceal its project is particularly flimsy. For example, a gas station near a lonely highway hasn’t updated its prices in many years, such that it has the cheapest gasoline this side of 1990, all the newspapers and magazines in the convenience store are twenty years old, and the snack food has long since expired. The average passerby may take advantage of the cheap fill-up without noticing the low rumble in the ground below, but chances are he won’t come that way again. Someone looking for signs of God-Machine Infrastructure, however, is more likely to investigate further.
Mortal Politics: The God-Machine has subverted a politician’s pork project in order to construct a massive stone edifice. Officially, this is a war monument, but it’s actually the focal point of an occult matrix that is the goal of the God-Machine’s project. If funding for the construction were to be suddenly cut off, however, the God-Machine would either have to find some other way to finish the project or give it up for lost.
Communications Disruption: The God-Machine has set up a communications hub in a post office in Oregon. Its gears type thousands of letters per week and mail them to most of the God-Machine’s mortal pawns on the West Coast. These letters contain instructions to coordinate activity on dozens of the God-Machine’s projects. None of the postal employees know the gears are there, but someone who intercepts enough of these communiques could notice that all the envelopes are coming from the same origin city. Stop those letters, and many of the God-Machine’s projects could collapse
The Occupation: A large group of seemingly invulnerable monsters occupies a small town and imprisons its entire population. Even an investigator ten miles away can tell that something is definitely going on down there just by looking through a pair of binoculars — circles of standing stones, daily human sacrifices, and more chilling sights. Rescue attempts seem hopeless. The creatures are too tough to fight and not quite stupid enough to trick. However, they are incredibly vulnerable to a commonly available substance. Can enough of it be brought into play to defeat these monsters before the God-Machine brings in reinforcements?
If You Can’t Beat Them: The God-Machine is used to having human worshipers, and it can always find some use for these cultists. The cultists themselves are not always very good at screening new members for signs that, say, a postulant intends to infiltrate the cult in order to investigate the God-Machine or thwart its designs. Part of this is the natural human desire to win others over to one’s ideals. Part of it is the knowledge that the God-Machine quite often devours cultists in the course of its projects, and those who bring in fresh meat to fuel its designs are significantly less likely to end up being put through the grinder themselves. The God-Machine doesn’t reward the loyalty of its tools, per se, but it recognizes the difference between a hammer and a nail.
Up Next: Running A God Machine Game!
Tiers for FearsOriginal SA post
Part 12: Tiers for Fears
actually kind of spooky
When you plan out your game you should probably determine just how big, in scope, the plot is going to be. This will help determine the stakes of the conflict as well as the people who will likely become involved. This also originally appeared in Hunter: The Vigil and was ported over as a tool for Storytellers. And there’s nothing against moving up or down tiers as the story warrants. Not every campaign has to be a constant series of escalations culminating in constant fights for the future of human existence. The players or characters might even want a break if they’ve been overwhelmed with the stress of trying to save the world all the time.
These are the campaigns that are only going to affect a few people, and really only a small area. An example they give is a ghost story, or a haunting, where investigators try to figure out what’s going on and maybe try to stop the spectre causing the phenomena. This section adds that, just because it’s local in scope, doesn't mean it can’t be part of a larger problem. The book references the movie Attack the Block which involves an alien invasion. While the fate of the earth is at stake the story and characters are only focused about their immediate area.
For the God Machine specifically there are a few ways of implementing this in play. The first is simply starting with the effects of one of the God Machine’s projects. If it’s a mysterious bestial predator stalking a nearby park, regardless of whether or not they stop it, it won’t really threaten anything more than the immediate area. If they take it down they may gain some insight into the God Machine’s nature. Maybe they find an abandoned utility tunnel the creature was using for shelter and in it they find odd bits of rusted machinery that seems to only serve a strange and obfuscated purpose.
Another method is limiting the number of agents that are operating in the area. If there’s only a single agent acting. If there’s one cult or one angel it’s going to keep the focus on the local effects of it. It references the book Needful Things by Stephen King as an example of how a single individual might tear apart a community. Armed with a supernatural understanding of people’s desires he sells people what they think they want if they’ll play a prank on someone else in town. Little do they know these pranks prey on the victim’s secrets, fears and insecurities. In a short time he turns the community against itself resulting in violence, chaos and death. It also uses the story The Colour out of Space as an example on how a supernatural event can only affect a relatively small amount of people. The story involves a meteorite crashing by a farm and disappearing into a strange colour. Shortly after the produce becomes huge and inedible, the livestock begin dying and the family living there is driven insane.
The final method is putting them in a situation clearly controlled by the God Machine. It uses the example of being trapped in a mansion where all the doors lead to another room with no discernable way out. I could also imagine being trapped in a small town where the only road out leads right back into town somehow. Ultimately they are at the mercy of the God Machine to some extent. This is best for either one shots or to open up to a larger story once it’s been resolved.
They give an example group that might have a local effect in the form of The Cult of the Wheel. They’re a loosely organized group of people who believe the God Machine exists and can even be influenced through the use of divinely inspired mathematical sorcery. Most importantly they believe in imposing order on the world though each member will likely have a different idea on the best way to go about this. My read is that they’re basically sinister Freemasons.
This is a level that might encompass several states or cities in terms of scope. At this level they should expect to see a God Machine’s project in it’s entirety. The example in this scenario is a local politician in a senatorial race. Except they know for a fact that beneath his bright white smile and strong, confident words there is no heart but instead synthetic flesh and smoothly running gears. Their policies could have a huge impact on the operations of the state and it’s not something that can be easily stopped without becoming a rather infamous assassin in the process. That and judges are probably not going to be swayed by the “They’re actually a robot” defense. A cinematic example they use is from the movie 28 Days Later. In this scenario the entire English Isle has been drastically changed through the introduction of a zombifying monkey anger virus...thing. It not only affects the players but also everyone around them in the area. And these situations also have the potential to spiral out of control if not stopped or at least contained.
As an example, MIT creates a new generation of nanobots that get out of the laboratory and begin to reproduce. In their search for energy, they latch onto anything that produces electricity, bringing down the grid before shorting out. Why? It’s all because the God-Machine requires an hour of total darkness during a solar eclipse. The background threat is what happens if a couple nanobots make it to new sources of power and begin spreading across the planet.
At this level they’re also more likely to encounter organizations who serve or oppose the God Machine even if they don’t realize it. Shadowy or esoteric government groups, whose members dutifully follow orders and file reports without anyone really knowing anything about their management. Even with smartphones there might be a hacker network who have been given the illusion of righteous authority by an Angel or some other authority figure. They dutifully scour the internet, leaving malware in their wake and making sure that any evidence of the supernatural never becomes popular enough for the public to notice. If someone is keeping a hard copy agents are dispatched to make sure the individual either agrees it was some perfectly reasonable phenomenon or that person disappears in one way or another. At this level they’re also more likely to encounter the gears of the God Machine
The U.S. contains thousands of ghost towns. These include places that were big during a mining boom or company towns that were abandoned when the jobs went overseas. What if these towns were really constructed to hide the mechanical guts of the God-Machine? Every basement is filled with crackling conduits, clanging pipes or whirring belts. When enough towns have been completed, the long dormant fault lines in the Midwest will begin to move, dumping out the Great Lakes and creating a water shortage beyond the worst dreams of environmentalists.
The example organization at this level is called The Black Tide. Formed in the 1800s by Sava Vaselko, a trader and occasional pirate or privateer, who had a rather strange incident during the American Civil War. While passing through the Bermuda Triangle he became lost in a fog. Only after he’d spent days drifting about did he finally come across a source of light. When the fog lifted he could see massive buildings, taller than anything he’d ever seen. They were covered in lights and sigils of every size and color and it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Then his boat blew up. He woke up later in a sanitarium, feeling much healthier but now with a driving obsession to learn more about what he’d seen and the Bermuda Triangle as well. After research he came to the conclusion that what he’d seen was the lost city of Atlantis, and that during times of global death and misery whatever was protecting it became weaker. Of course he never succeeded at finding the city during his lifetime, but that hasn’t stopped his organization from carrying on in his name. In fact, if anything, they’ve accelerated their plans. If death and pain will reveal this island of untold treasure all they need to do is manufacture it, as waiting has shown to be less than effective. While they can’t control the weather they have found methods of influencing it, making storms more or less severe (usually more). Unfortunately their ideology was validated when the island reappeared for exactly one minute during Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately this will likely embolden them in the future.
At this level the fate of the world might be at stake. The apocalypse, or something close enough as to make no difference, is underway. Nuclear weapons are being armed and pointed at population centers. They use the movie 2012 as an example, as the entire world is falling apart and it’s not about saving it so much as trying to cut your losses where you can. It also references Call of Cthulhu and James Bond as examples of small or singular groups of people trying to save the world. It might entail vampires being unified in a decision to abandon their secrecy and instead rule in the open as superior creatures. Even at this level, and with these stakes, the God Machine will always prefer to be subtle. It will disorganize logistics and power grids before it drops nukes on something.
This section also makes a very good point when running games of this scale. When a lot of people think of world changing events in relation to Chronicles of Darkness it’s usually easy to imagine a zombie apocalypse, a giant tentacled beast destroying cities, or a virus wiping out most of humanity. The unfortunate truth is simple, mundane events can have an enormous impact on the world. An event like 9/11, the Stock Market Crash, a drought or a year without a summer might all have a massive impact on the world without needing to be overtly supernatural.
To keep the players interested they should still have personal stakes in the events unfolding. If World War III their friends and family might be drafted, rationing will begin, attitudes will change overnight. The characters should experience these on some level so they know how they fit into the world. At the same time it’s okay to focus on something on a smaller scale during the course of a global campaign. Not every problem should be the end of the world. The scenario the book mentions outlines a plan to reduce the incoming solar radiation fails spectacularly plunging the planet into darkness. While the main focus of the campaign might be to investigate and ultimately correct this issue they might have a more personal aside if their home town is suddenly threatened by violence and looting.
The example group here is the Gnomes of Zurich. Descendants from the first mortals who stole fire from the gods, these people rose in power until they threatened the God Machine itself. They planned to construct a mighty building that would let them ascend to the source of the Divine Fire to warm themselves for all eternity. Thinking themselves all powerful they were surprised when the Machine’s plans turned their tower to rubble and in retaliation they struck the knowledge of the Machine from the minds and writings of humanity believing that this would drain the God Machine of it’s power. Over time they too forgot about the God Machine and began to fight and bicker with each other. Centuries passed and now these people continue their constant fighting with one another, having amassed enormous power over the long period of time. Now their battles are fought on the stock market and in the financial sector as much as they are fought with more conventional weapons. They assassinate and rig elections, all while trying the drain the money from the other’s coffers.
At this tier they are beyond anything they are likely prepared to deal with, and it seems like a daunting thing to run as the ST. At this level they are beyond the global conspiracies and have the opportunity or desire to change the God Machine’s plans, or even it’s basic programming. It references transcending humanity like in 2001: A Space Odyssey or something pulpier like Stargate SG-1 where they travel to different planets and dimensions. Things involving time travel would likely fall into this category given their potential to have drastic changes on how the past and future will unfold. At this level the consequences of the player’s actions should be world changing. At this level they aren’t just learning about the God Machine’s plans and operations but learning important information about the entity itself.
Though it isn’t mandatory, picking a “truth” behind the GodMachine can be part of the cosmic tier experience. This is what is commonly referred to as “Learning That Which Mankind What Not Meant To Know.” Maybe religion is the key and prayers are what keep the God-Machine turning. All religions were created by the God-Machine to ensure a steady supply of fuel. Miracles and angels are basically just a show put on by the God-Machine to ensure compliance. Whatever your troupe’s “truth” happens to be, simply having an inkling as to what’s really going on can be sanity-destroying (depending on the character).
The example organization here are the Mechanists. These are the people who have found and tinkered with the God Machine’s gears and avoided the usual fate of being killed or erased. While evidence of these people date back millennia it wasn’t until the advent of electricity that they were able to actually start interfacing with the machinery they’d taken. Now that technology has continued to progress some have even started tinkering with the God Machine’s programming itself. Unfortunately they don’t really seem to be considering the consequences their actions might have, as some are entirely focused on the power these bits of technology can grant them.
Home StretchOriginal SA post
The last part of this chapter covers some similar ground concerning running and playing in a game. Some important parts are the emphasis on communication for determining how ‘mature’ you expect and plan the game to be. It also mentions making a well rounded group where the character’s complement each other. It’s important to remember that your character can have friends and family outside the immediate group in the game, they have hobbies and potentially day jobs. The last part of this section talks about running a campaign as a series of interconnected set pieces, which is self explanatory.
An Angel? Let me take a lo-OH MY GOD
This next section gets back into the meat of things. It has several different set pieces which can used as the core of a campaign or inserted into an existing campaign. They’re all organized by plot, the God Machine’s plans, it’s Linchpins, the methods the characters might use to help explore the plot and the possible consequences of whether the player’s succeed or not.
The 300 Block
This is a city block whose residents are largely independent and self sufficient. There’s a coffee shop, a bodega and even a small bookstore. The residents are largely medical students attending the teaching hospital, the rest are retirees or lower class people. Despite this it’s considered a safe place and people are generally happy. Unfortunately people have been going missing. About once every 6 months someone goes missing there. It’s not even a resident every time. People go missing and the last place they were seen or heard from was the 300 Block. Something seems to be going on. The landlord can sometimes be seen weeping in the park at night, and a security guard hung themselves a few years ago. It also has almost no crime and despite its low average income looks almost immaculate all the time.
There’s a 24 hour restaurant, unremarkable in almost every respect. The service is okay, the food is mediocre, it’s entirely forgettable. At least it is for most people. Those who regret, who have said or done something they desperately wish they could take back, might have a different experience. They might notice the door next to restrooms that they’ve never noticed before. They might enter it and see the homely furnished room on the other side. They might take a nap on the sofa and dream about their regret, and find that they can change the past in this strange state. This isn’t without cost, in fact it’s incredibly addictive. How many things have you done in your past that you regret? How many times have you asked “what if..?” And how much can you change before the universe gets fed up with your chicanery?
In the late 19th century Seattle burned. The damage was almost total, it was on the brink of being wiped from the map. Still, the people yet persevered and the buildings were replaced and built over. But the God Machine wasn’t quite done with the city as it was, so it kept a copy of it around. They occupy the same space, at different times so to speak, and were never meant to really cross into one another. Unfortunately accidents happen. You might be a person living in the old Seattle, wondering what someone’s doing with a cellphone. You might be someone living in modern day Seattle when you see an odd and archaic ship coming into port. Unfortunately for those involved the God Machine did not intend for these crossings to occur, and will dispatch agents to make sure that these problems are dealt with in one way or another. Do you separate the cities so there’s no reason for you to be a target any more? Do you locate the source of the link and use it for leverage? Or will you become a victim of the Polis Men.
Despite potential confusion, in the mundane world these agents do not appear as cops. Cops draw too much attention. Rather, they appear most often as street art, sidewalk chalk drawings, or statuary and other artistic installations. They’re made up of the city itself, of concrete and wrought iron. When the lie between the cities thins and they cross over into each other, the Polis Men rise from their watchful positions with the sound of rending stone and move with surprising speed and brutality. They burned a city to the ground once for the God-Machine. They’ll do it again if the population gets too contaminated with the truth.
The Squares of the City
It’s late at night, you’re out on an errand, or coming home from work, and the need to get home is gnawing at you more than it ever has before. You desperately try to get home before midnight, you can’t really explain why, but you can’t seem to make it. As you come to the realization that you just won’t make it at time you see something you find almost impossible to believe. At night the buildings move. You look around hoping there’s someone to confirm you’re just hallucinating but you’re alone. It begins shortly after midnight. They seem to move like puzzle pieces, sliding one at a time, the streets and sidewalks warping to accommodate them. The last building vanishes. The businesses, people, everything inside of it, disappears. You can’t find any records of it, people don’t remember it, you can’t even find references to it in the phone book or internet. What is going on?
Wellington School for Gifted Children
The public school system in the city has “failed” and as a result many of the schools have been bought out by private corporations. The Wellington school is one of many and the player’s have been brought in as instructors. Of course this doesn’t mean that they necessarily have teaching degrees. The company has been emphasizing “fiscal responsibility” (cutting corners) and hiring people with “a focus on real world experience” (maybe not the best at teaching). Things seem okay though, aside from the rumors that some of the old teachers had to be removed by force and were chanting...something...nonstop. The students themselves seem a mixed bunch. A combination of brilliance and defiance that makes the player’s lives quite busy. On top of that they have to make regular reports to someone who’s taking a rather unsettling interest in the school and it’s students.
Small, rural towns and villages are finding their appliances and machines behaving strangely. They seem to be performing erratically and in many cases outright maliciously. There seems to be hauntings taking place at an unprecedented scale, but only in these small, out of the way towns away from the larger population centers. The only thing connecting them is their relative size and the only objects affected being electronics or things with moving parts.
Three identical murders took place at the same time in 3 different locations. The same method, the same ritual, and the evidence gathered all points to a single culprit, but that’s not possible. He’s sent letters to the police and the media, often times containing cryptic remarks like
“Space is only an issue for you. I can be anywhere I want, and I will be. How many of you have wives at home? Can you be in two places at once, like I can?”
“[I will be] the greatest cog the machine has ever known, the greatest killer the world has ever seen.”
On May 25, 1961, U.S. President John Kennedy declared before Congress an imperative for the nation to achieve a successful landing on the moon before the end of the decade. What was not announced publicly was the true reason for the project. The elite faction operating behind America’s corridors of power now had a translated version of the Toltec Map fragment, which revealed a detailed topography of the lunar surface. Most importantly, it contained an atlas of the moon’s so-called “dark side,” as well as a comprehensive description of what lay entombed there. The American Apollo missions were so named to curry favor with the various sun deities who were in fact aliases for the Second Children. Publicly, it was Apollo 11 that first put man on the moon. But in fact, American astronauts began exploring the lunar surface as early as the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. Apollo 10 confirmed the location of what the Toltecs called “the crypt of the butterfly.” By Apollo 15, the outer vault was cracked, and it was 1972’s Apollo 17 — the final manned lunar mission to date — that brought back what classified documents referred to as “Packet Theta.” The angel has warned me that the relic brought back from its receptacle on the moon has the potential to be much more devastating than any atomic weapon. What was retrieved was the skeletal form of one of the Ancient Ones. Specifically, the very being that pronounced the curse of mortality upon humanity. As the portal through which death itself entered our universe, it was changed into a thing neither dead nor alive. Those who learn to control it, as its current jailers seek to do, will exert ultimate power over the tides of life and death.
With each passing day, dark forces come closer to gaining that power. Those who seek must unify and stand against them. Our world needs warriors of light, defenders of life, seekers of truth to thwart their wishes. The god-machine waits. The angel has shown me how. I can teach you. We are fallen, but we might rise again.
The Moon Window
Something terrible has started to happen downtown. People are getting sick more often, batteries are running out of power faster and faster. Lights don’t seem to burn as bright, cigarettes barely burn, Everything is breaking down. Worse still this area of entropy seems to be growing. Centered is a large building which has recently put up a massive stained glass window as part of an art project. Could that really be what’s causing this?
People go missing. It’s a sad fact of life but it happens. What’s strange is that people claim to hear their voices crying for help, but can’t find out where it’s coming from. The most notable case involved a young man who disappeared during a ferris wheel ride. While he was nowhere to be seen people reported they could hear his cries for help when they reached the apex of the ride. Another report involved a couple who could hear a dog barking for days, but they could not find it no matter how hard they searched.
Wake the Dead
What happens when someone dies and they weren’t supposed to? Well, people in small towns are getting answers and they are more than a little confused. The dead are coming back to life, but not in the zombie apocalypse way. No, it’s just a few here or there, and sometimes it’s not even unpleasant. A man’s wife comes back from the dead, a bit confused but otherwise the same as we remember her, pulse and everything. Unfortunately it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes only the flesh comes back and it carries with it a hatred of the living. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to spread but that’s little consolation to those who have to see a loved one die twice.
A Glimpse of Mesmerizing Complexity
The roads are already dangerous. People eat, text, fiddle with the radio and any number of things which generally make driving a bit more tolerable and bit more hazardous. Unfortunately there seems to be a new source of danger for motorists. A few people involved in collisions reported seeing strange flying shapes made of machinery of incredible complexity. So much so that they simply can’t take their eyes off of them. They are machines of such intricacy that would make the most skilled watchmaker weep with envy for their creator was clearly the stuff of the divine. The question now is what are they doing? Why are they causing traffic accidents? Is this intentional or a side effect of some other plan?
The Golden Citadel
Somehow you came into possession of an old diary from decades ago. It’s from an artist who was commissioned to make a large sculpture the size of an RV. At first they’re excited, but that excitement turns to fear and dread. This sculpture seems to be drawing people to it. Already they’ve made a small village around it and all the people seem bent on completing some sort of massive building of unprecedented size. It seems to be affecting people’s minds as well. Those that leave to the citadel are simply forgotten, or believed dead. It’s already reached a population of 100,000 souls so why hasn’t anyone found it out yet? At this rate the entire population will belong to this growing city in a few decades and worse yet, the last entry talks about people being fed to the building to aid in it’s growth.
Operation Bell Jar
An oil rig has gone dark. Before this, things were fine. There was a terrible storm and it almost capsized but thankfully, by some miraculous luck, it stayed upright and has since been pumping oil at an unprecedented rate. But then there was the SOS. The nearby emergency services recorded frantic cries for help but could not get a response to their questions. Rescue teams were mobilized but came upon a horrifying scene. The crew were hanging from the various cables on the rig, each with a sign on their chest reading STAY AWAY. The countries involved now assume a terrorist group or cult has taken over and have mobilized a team to investigate, extract any survivors and eliminate any hostiles. But what will they find when they begin investigating West Nautical 26?
(A heads up on this one, it’s pretty fucked up for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, based on current events, it’s not as implausible as it really should be)
A foreign government, one which has always had a fairly even keel. Not particularly tolerant but never so bad it makes the news. A bit corrupt, but not any more than your own. They’ve just made a sudden and drastic change. The politicians and religious leaders, in a sudden act of horrific unification, have passed a bill not only making homosexuality illegal, but making it a capital offense. Already mass graves are being dug and the military is mobilizing. Human rights advocates send their best to hopefully defuse the situation and the UN has threatened sanctions if they follow through with their plan. And rumors about the leadership have been flying. Some say the new adviser is responsible, other’s say the leader themselves is to blame as their spouse left the country on a vacation and never returned. All we know for certain is that the country is a powder keg on the verge of genocide or a civil war.
The Scarlet Plague
The end is nigh. A disease is sweeping the globe, killing 60-70% of the male population by making them drown in their own blood. Not as headline grabbing but equally insidious is it seems to be making women infertile as well. If this continues that’s it, game over, humanity has lost. Is there an explanation for the way the blood taken from the lungs doesn’t coagulate, but instead crystallizes? Is there a way to save humanity?
You witness an incredible sight. You see, clearly, the statue of liberty beginning to crack. Fractures spiderweb their way around it before they slowly begin to open up. As the cracks get larger you can see hundreds of creatures pouring out of it like ants swarming out of their nest. Before you have time to run or even scream there’s a blinding light and everything around you, yourself included, is consumed by blinding fire. And then you wake up, a bit confused but alive. You remember the events clearly, it isn’t like those strange ephemeral memories you get from dreams. To your growing horror you realize that it’s the morning of the event. If left unchecked the events play out like they did before. The creatures swarm from the statue and the explosion kills them and everyone else in the city. Is there a way out of this scenario or will they spend an eternity reenacting a macabre reproduction of groundhog day.
A Journey Into Time
The characters stumble upon a video concerned with the end of the world and how to stop it. Not really cause for alarm given how many of these likely already exist, but it starts with the following.
“If anyone is seeing this, I have failed. In 1901, I invented a device that will soon end the world. The auroras are only the first sign. A version of this device can also save the world, by allowing someone to return to the first minutes that the device was turned on. You must destroy both the original version of this device and my laboratory notebook. If my employers never learn of this device, they cannot use it to end the world. They believe the mechanism we used it to create will give them the power to control time and space. In reality, it allows an inhuman force to collapse all of time into a single endless instant. I created the central component to this device by accident. If all records of how to create it are destroyed, the machine that now threatens to end time will never have been built. If time has already begun to decay, the area illuminated by the lamp remains safe.”
Not from the book unfortunately posted:
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before
This is Hell
This is it, the endgame. Everywhere lines are being drawn in the sand and people, creatures, angels and demons are all taking sides. The God Machine has concocted a gambit of epic scope, bigger than anything anyone has ever seen. It plans to beat down humanity, using humanity. Through war, genocide, terrorism, STIs, abuse, neglect, and all the evils we commit against ourselves done as much as possible until humanity finally breaks down and gives in. Then the God Machine will be able to create “pure” infrastructure. It will be able to send it’s angels anywhere, any time, in any number to act out its will. But humanity does have an edge, it has things willing to fight for free will and all the evil and terror that will inevitably come with it. There are angels who no longer serve the God Machine but instead serve themselves, and are more than willing to fight it’s machinations. So ultimately you can choose. Do you want a world without evil and free will, or a world where people can choose to wipe themselves out?
What is it Good For?
Fighting insurgents in the cradle of civilization has become an almost common experience. You and your unit are doing just that when an errant explosive unearths something. A simple flag, as old as civilization and as large as life. Above it hovers something, a humanoid figure with wings made of steel and rust and gears and cable, but you know it to be an angel of death. The next thing you know you’re covered in Roman armor and blood, your Praetor is screaming at you to keep fighting until the barbarians are dead. The battle is barely concluded when they find themselves fighting again at another place and time. Death isn’t even an out, as those that die find themselves alive again when the shift occurs. Is there anyway out of this hell?
There’s always existed the idea of city walking. Start walking in one city, end up in another, without needing to cross the space in between. You just envision your destination, you see signs of it wherever you are at the moment, and before you know it you’re there. People are even finding they can do it with videos or documentaries. Unfortunately few are prepared for when things go wrong. City walking turns out to be a skill you can learn, but if you mess up you end up in a strange, nightmarish place filled with terrifying creatures. Worse yet, these creatures are following them back into cities. Violent murders are on the rise and people are reporting seeing strange, shadowy figures between two and ten feet tall. You know the figures and rise of city walking are probably linked but how do you convince people to stop doing something that’s saving them tens of thousands of dollars?
Continuing the White Wolf tradition of putting merits nowhere near the merit section
Next Up: NPCs! Monsters! The End!(?)
The FinaleOriginal SA post
Part 14: The Finale
(also I wish I had the foresight to end in 13 updates but c’est la vie)
The last part of this section gives sample NPC’s with a bit more backstory than generic thug or car salesman. I’ll cover a few of the more notable ones, as some of them tie directly into the aforementioned set pieces and reveal quite a few plot twists in the process.
A brilliant physicist and university professor, he concocted several revolutionary hypothesis on the nature of space and time, but as of yet they are still untested and unpublished. These ideas were often ignored by his peers in the scientific community but the God Machine noticed and was quite interested. Unfortunately, one late night spent in deep study, he succeeded in his proof, and in doing so opened up his mind and enabled him to see and understand things beyond time and space. This is not healthy for your brain and sanity. This knowledge opened up a doorway to place where time was infinite but fleeting and he was now at a terrible risk of losing his mind. But a loud voice spoke to him and offered him a way out. He took it, and in doing so become one with the God Machine. Now he leads a normal existence doing what he did before, while the God Machine uses his mind to calculate entry points in time and space for Angels to enter. He’s not very talkative now, his speech is oddly stilted until you get him talking about time or physics. Do that and suddenly it’s like he’s another person, demonstrating an almost unparalleled understanding of the subject and becoming very interested in the conversation instead of wandering off.
A woman with a rather unfortunate string of bad luck which started when she was 14, smoking outside an abandoned warehouse. She saw several inhuman figures in tan jumpsuits come from a trapdoor in the floor. They were being ordered around by a professional looking woman, and under her direction assembled a strange mechanical device. Once completed they turned it on for an hour before disassembling it and leaving the same way they came. Shortly afterward their town experienced an earthquake, the first in more than a century. A few years later her curiosity got the better of her when she noticed some people going into an abandoned restaurant in a strip mall. They were performing a human sacrifice. She would have left but was terrified that if she tried they’d notice and add her to the night’s events. So she watched, and after they’d left recovered a piece of bloody cloth belonging to the victim. Since then she’s become obsessed with the strange and supernatural, and seeing the wealthy and powerful at these places has made her incredibly paranoid and fearful of the police and other authority figures. Still, she’s amassed quite a large collection of relics and curios and is willing to talk to people about them, provided she can trust them. Trust doesn’t come easy to one who can see the strange and supernatural in the world. Her home hides an advanced security system and hidden wire mesh has turned it into a Faraday cage.
Lieutenant Samuel Hacket
A man who loved the military life, he was given training, pay, vacation time, it was more than he expected to get in life. Unfortunately it wasn’t long lived. He was chosen to be part of an experimental training program and received orders to meet up with some civilian contractors. The training largely involved him being strapped into a machine that monitored his every move, every action, even his breathing and heart rate. His memories of these sessions are spotty at best but he does remember feeling exhausted afterwards, with the taste of copper in his mouth. After 6 months of this he was checked out and sent back to the division for further orders feeling not particularly well trained after the ordeal.
His first exercise was another rendezvous with his trainers who gave him a task which normally required at least a dozen people to accomplish, and no one else to do it with. He went for it anyway, after all they might just be analyzing how he deals with a seemingly hopeless situation. What he didn’t expect was that the rounds being fired at him seemed all too real. The bullets cracked as they flew past him and the explosives threw dirt and shrapnel at him. His hearing, sight and physical condition had all seemingly improved but he noticed something very worrying happening. He wasn’t really thinking of what he was doing, his body seemed to be acting on it’s own. He actually tried to stop, tried to even just close his eyes for a moment, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t in control any more, he was a puppet with something else pulling the strings. He also realized that, just like his enemies, he was using live rounds as well. He was forced to kill other soldiers, in sometimes brutal and horrific ways, and could do nothing about it. That night he escaped, not wanting to be part of this any more. But is getting away from the God Machine really that easy? (No it is not)
The Candle Maker
This angel has a very specific task. Periodically, and presumably when the God Machine needs a bit more energy to create infrastructure, someone must burn. The specifics of the person vary, based on whatever inscrutable criteria the God Machine is using. Sometimes it must be someone experiencing a particular emotion. Other times it could just be someone fitting a specific physical profile. Either way the Candle Maker takes it’s job very seriously and will do it’s best to locate a prime specimen for the fire. The fire must burn for several hours and it will attempt to stop any effort made to snuff it out beforehand. Thankfully the fire it creates is of the mundane variety and fire extinguishers and other fire suppressants can keep the person alive long enough that it’s window of opportunity passes. The Candle Maker does not have a physical form but it’s presence causes the ambient temperature to rise and any nearby fires to behave erratically, jumping and flickering for no other discernible reason.
The Lady in Red
Another angel, this one with a slightly more complex purpose. Their job is to make people meet and fall in love, which sounds great on the surface. Unfortunately it doesn’t take into account things like their current relationships. They are given the names and a location, and once they find their target they will do whatever it takes to get them together. Often this means distancing or destroying their current romantic relationship, as well as any other relationship they might have that would distract them from the new love of their life. They’ve found most success in getting the people to meet seemingly by chance, whether it’s accidentally getting next to each other in line in a coffee shop or a minor fender bender. And while the Lady in Red focuses on lust and enticement they are not above maiming and murdering to get their way. After all mourning the death of someone close can put you in a very emotionally vulnerable place.
This probably sounded better on paper
That about sums it up. The last section of the Chronicles book are appendices containing all the conditions, services and equipment in a single, easy to reference location.This is a VAST improvement over their prior layout in earlier editions.
Overall I really like the game, and I especially like the Onyx Path seems to legitimately recognize the flaws present in World of Darkness and attempted to fix them with varying degrees of success. They’ve reworked the merits, especially the fighting styles, so that they’re no longer game breaking. The addition of the material from Hunter, the professional training merit and the monster toolkit, add a lot to the game that was missing before. They also made the combat option present in Hunter the new standard which makes guns significantly more dangerous but in a fairly reasonable and evenly handled way. In World of Darkness guns were just vaguely frightening, in that two people could shoot a lot of bullets at each other and only result in a lot of grazes, near misses, and awkward moments spent reloading. Now when guns come out things have gotten very serious, as a few shots are all it takes to put someone in the ground, and that’s assuming they aren’t some sort of minmaxed John Woo pastiche. The flat xp costs make obtaining the higher end abilities possible, compared to the prior edition where getting that 5th dot in an attribute would cost several months of regular sessions. And that’s assuming you weren’t spending the xp on anything else.
It’s not a perfect system but it is simple. You could get someone new into it fairly quickly as almost every roll is going to be “Add these two numbers and look for 8’s or above.” Ironically enough though, those people probably won’t have the same issues I’ve found with players who have extensive experience in fantasy role playing. Which is ultimately forgetting that many modern conveniences exist. They’ll come up with complex plans that involve sending smoke signals to their man across town and you’ll have to remind them that phones exist and everyone has one. They’ll desperately try to think of a way to get across town without remembering that cabs or uber exists, or that they likely own a vehicle themselves. Similarly, based on the type of game and how deep these conspiracies go, law enforcement might get involved and could even be willing to help the players out, especially in a more rural setting where the sheriff is someone everyone knows personally. It can be hard, after years of charging into dungeons and pretty much murdering and stealing with reckless abandon, to go back into a game where you're suddenly a member of society and all those social contracts come back into play.
So that pretty much wraps up Chronicles of Darkness. If you ever want to run a grim and gritty game of people and/or the supernatural I'd give it a shot.
Honestly I have no idea. Probably bad