Written by Greg Stolze, © 2013
A sinister story seed lays the groundwork—genesis, exodus, and a shocking revelation—for an evening of fun and corruption in Better Angels. The GM should draw up stats for one or two crucial NPCs as needed based on the abilities and attitudes of the player characters. Put the Hellbinders and their Screwtapes into the mix and watch what happens.
Fall Comes ’Round Again
Topher Goldfarb is hosting an angel called the Arresting Light of Divine Contemplation, and it wants to switch sides.
Communicating the Arresting Light’s goal to the PCs is not easy with Toph (as his friends call him) as its vessel, since Toph doesn’t want to get involved with superhero and supervillain clashes. But the angel is willing to let him to use Master Dice for his biochem tests and radiate its unearthly beauty through him when he hits the dance floor, then withdraw them once he’s gotten used to leaning on them. In other words, it’s already kind of manipulative and sneaky.
When the Arresting Light finally gets a chance to speak with the demons, it can’t come out and say “Hey, this Hell thing sounds great, want to set up a meeting for me or something?” because Toph would freak and the Arresting Light still needs his help. But neither can it lie (because it can’t), so it has to speak in generalities and code phrases. “Peace be upon you, we need not contend this day, for I come to speak of a small, but significant, reunification between our forces.” That sounds really weird to demons, who’ve spent thousands of years on the receiving end of inexorable punishment. “I find myself in a more complicated position in regards to Heaven and Hell” and “I’m considering my options” are about as blunt as he can get, but oblique references to common acquaintances on both sides of the War On Heaven can (with some Devious Honesty successes on his part and/or Insightful Honesty from the Hellbinders) get the message from angels to demons without Toph cluing in. He’s going to be confused, maybe a little suspicious, but he doesn’t get it unless the PCs come right out and ask. If that’s the case, he sends the Arresting Light away and tries to flee. (Without his angel helping him. Yeah, that’s a well-thought-out plan.)
There are three fairly obvious ways the Hellbinders can acquiesce to the Arresting Light’s request.
1) Let’s Make a Deal. Does a PC have the Cloven Hooves Aspect? Then the Arresting Light can, with Toph’s acquiescence, sign away its essence to the demon. (Toph doesn’t want to do this. He needs to be corrupted, persuaded, or tortured until he’s broken.) The Arresting Light has to manifest its Halo and burn a signature into the contract instead of signing in blood, but once that’s done, the clarity of his halo immediately turns blood red and Toph starts wailing as his manifested angel’s Aspects change to Darkness Shrouded and Flame Wreathed. (Usually, angel hosts are immune to Cloven Hooves, but usually angels aren’t trying to stab the Lord in the back.) Its name changes to the Welcoming Shadow of Wisdom Refused—the letters on the contract writhe and change to reflect the new name and new nature.
This is a hell of a ‘get,’ pardon the pun. The demon who makes the deal immediately gains a point in Devious but loses one in Nurture. Good deal though, right?
2) If You Build It, He Will Fall. Any demon can use Devilish Creativity to paint a mandala (or construct an “Ethos Reversal Helmet”) for three Generosity, with two flaws. If used on a willing angel (and no, trickery and coercion can’t make someone ‘willing’) it turns it into a demon. Used on a human, it swaps their Nurture and Corruption scores. More entertainingly, it inverts their personalities. A sociopathic man-slut turns into a sensitive and compassionate social-worker type. A peaceful yoga instructor turns into a racist rioter. A responsible police officer turns into a drunken, bitter shell.
It won’t work on unwilling angels, but can function on resisting humans with a successful Devious Corruption roll. But against the resisting, its effects only last a number of hours equal to the total of Width+Height. (Used on a human volunteer? Oh, then the effects are permanent.)
3) Job It Out. Demons who aren’t goat-legged and who don’t want to build the machine just need to find a demon who can make Faustian pacts. Of course, that’s who gets all the benefit from the contract, but if the Screwtapes are team players, it’s all good. Devils make good team-mates, right? (If you decide they don’t, then finding an appropriate demon and securing his compliance can be an adventure in its own right.)
4) Something Else. Players are crafty and might come up with something only slightly less ridiculous than the first three options. Go with it. Just look for ways to make it interesting or a pain in the ass.
“So, Um… Why Do You Want to Betray God?”
That’s a reasonable question and one you can expect from your players. Turn it back on them. Ask each in time to answer, in character as a Screwtape, why they turned their back on Heaven and rebelled. Their answers may inspire something an answer that sounds good for the Arresting Light.
Alternately, you may have your own issues to work out, for your particular tweak of the setting, and that can lead to an answer that pushes the PCs forward. However you do it, you want a response that provokes strong emotions, if possible. Positive or negative, either’s going to spur better play than something bland.
If you can’t think of something that really knocks your players for a loop, just have the Arresting Light sniffily reply “My reasons are my own” and keep it mysterious. A mystery without clues that doesn’t need to be solved for the plot to kick ass can be a lot more compelling than a half-assed rationale.
If the PCs are a little uneasy with stripping one of the immortal defenders of reality in order to swell the ranks of evil chaos, they may well try to sabotage their own project. Does the angel smite them, or reconsider and thank them for saving it from a terrible decision?
Alternately, if they go through with it, is the Welcoming Shadow a better supervillain then they are, or is it incompetent? (“I have literally no experience lying!”) Does it betray and try to enslave them, because that’s what evil dudes do? Or is it just possible that they’ve invited a double agent into the halls of Hell?