One Demon’s Hell is Another Demon’s, um, Hell?

Last week was really busy as I tried to catch up from the holiday break. This week was really busy as I tried to catch my breath from last week. Why has that involved staying up past my bedtime after stating my intention to go to bed early? *sigh*

Now, however, I finally have a 3-day weekend in which to recover from my vacation. Amusingly, William seems to be in the same condition. He has been impossible to roust out of bed, vocal in his desire to go to bed early, and completely incapable of actually making that happen. It appears that he has too much of his father in him. Hopefully this means he’ll sleep in for Beth, this weekend, because she needs the sleep just as much as we do.

The Demon Storyteller’s Guide came out last week and is currently available as a PDF (with print coming soon) on DrivethruRPG. My contributions to it were the crossover sections on Mage and Mummy, as well as the exploration of the Hell the Unchained seek. This last was particularly enjoyable, as I’ve spent an almost embarrassingly large amount of time considering what it is that fallen angels on the run from their creator would actually want to achieve on Earth. Other authors have touched on several of them in previous books, but it was fun to actually lay out “how to achieve this,” as well as “now that you have everything you always wanted, what kinds of threats will you have to face down to keep it?”

Of the sixteen different Hells I describe, though, my favorite was the personal mission of the average Integrator. This was something that sort of bothered me ever since I saw the first drafts, which seemed to assume that Integrators would jump at the first opportunity to return to the God-Machine that they encountered. This would have worked if the rest of the game showed the Enemy as unwilling to accept the Unchained back into its service or if It was somehow beyond their reach, but all over the place we talked about how rare and precious angels are to their creator, and while the Machine isn’t truly omnipresent, it is world-straddling in scope. By the final draft, of course, the game clarified that Integrators may want to return to the God-Machine’s service, but they want to do so on their own terms. In particular, they want to retain the free will that demons have and angels do not.

That works, but I always felt that there could be so much more to the Integrators than that. As time has passed, we’ve seen a bit more of what you might think of as the Blue Pill Integrators – demons who are actively working against other Unchained in hopes of convincing the God-Machine to grant them concessions beyond mere freedom. Yet that still tended to make them less sympathetic than the other Agendas, and I saw a lot of folks on the Internet who literally could not see Integrators as anything but team-killers – the kinds of characters beloved by players who use “it’s just what my character would do” as a shield for being dicks at the gaming table. That made me sad – not because I think that people who play Integrators should always adhere to the PC halo but because I have so little difficulty seeing other ways to play a Loyalist that don’t involve acting like an Alpha Complex Troubleshooter gathering dirt on your teammates until you can justify executing them all as traitors.

The personal hell was my attempt to point out something nobody ever seemed to talk about but that I found glaringly obvious because, well…

Waaaaaay back in the days of 1st Edition Exalted, I created a Solar (Akilla) who Exalted during the fall of Thorns to the undead army of Mask of Winters. She was a lifelong believer in the Immaculate Order, including their condemnation of the Anathema (which now included herself), but she also knew that booting a Deathlord out of Thorns was not beyond the abilities of a Solar at the height of his power. Rather than turn herself over to the Immaculate Order immediately, she reasoned that she would do so as soon as Thorns had been liberated from the undead. She was even very above-board about this when she fell in with other Solars, and as she warmed up to the rest of her Circle, she offered them the heartfelt pledge that she would give them reasonable warning before turning herself over to the Immaculate Order and betraying them.

So when I first heard Integrators pitched, that was where my mind went immediately. I’m not gonna lie. The hero who is tortured by what he has become but nevertheless uses the power it gives him to accomplish objectives that would otherwise be far beyond his grasp is probably one of my favorite themes. It showed up in that Exalted game so long ago. It’s a key character element in Lesson of the Fire. I embraced it again in Beth’s Hunter: The Vigil chronicle (during which my character Awakened, putting a target on his cell’s back and becoming its secret weapon at the same time).

It has its place in Demon: The Descent, too. Not all Integrators are enemy Agents looking for any excuse they can get to betray their ring. Not all Integrators fear the loss of self that will come when the God-Machine casts them into one of its forges and erases their memories. Sometimes an angel just can’t let go of a mission – whether it is one given it by the God-Machine or one they discovered along the way – and she doesn’t so much reject the embrace of her creator as put it off for awhile.

I think of the fiction bits I wrote for the core book. The one about the demon who chooses to live out the life of his cover’s grandchild because her death would pain his mortal family too much. The one about the demon who clings to its freedom in hopes of preventing a catastrophe from befalling the city he once helped to guard – a disaster that he is certain will come about because of his actions at the moment of his Fall. Those were Integrator stories – ones that simultaneously give the demon reason to long for a return to the God-Machine while also ensuring that he has no desire to do so today or tomorrow or even a year from now. Stories that could end with “and having achieved the personal goal for which she hid herself from her creator’s eyes for several years, she returned to Its embrace,” but is just as likely to merely give her time to experience mission creep. “I will save this city from the disaster my hands have wrought” flows naturally into “I will protect this city from the disasters that threaten it until it is destroyed by a cataclysm I could not prevent.” “I will be their dead daughter” evolves into a never ending series of self-sacrificial acts that protect the family from grief but also keep the demon from making her return journey to the God-Machine.  Is it sincere, or is the Integrator just as terrified of the death of self-awareness that recycling promises as his Saboteur ringmate? Even if it is, will the Integrator ever admit her fear of oblivion to herself, or will she continue to proclaim her loyalty to the God-Machine in spite of the number of times she has moved the goal posts?

That’s the kind of story I would love to tell in a Demon game, and I really wanted to make sure other people had the opportunity to tell that kind of story in their own groups. It sure beats the perception of Integrators as demons who would sell out their fellow Unchained to the God-Machine for a Klondike bar.

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