“Doctor Sleep”; a novel with a shine of its own

I’ve never been an alcoholic myself, but I’ve been around them long enough to spot one. In 2012 I went through the Navy’s Substance Abuse Counselor School and attended a bunch of meetings as assigned research. That gave me a refresher in the inner workings of AA and their meetings. So when I first dove into Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”, I picked up on something right away; Mr. King didn’t just do research, he had a personal experience from which he was writing. I set the book down, right then and there, to do my own digging, which didn’t take long to turn up what I was searching for. I must be a horrible fan, because how could I have gone the last twenty-four years not knowing what one of my favorite authors had been through.
I started reading Stephen King novels when I was in middle school. The library in my hometown, small as it was, had a section of horror novels in the back among the books the adults read. My grandmother used to take me there all the time. She would leave with two grocery bags full of books and as I grew older, my own pile would grow each trip. King novels, once I discovered them, were one of my favorites. If you went back today and the old library cards were still in use, each King novel would bear my name several different times. He’s also one of the major reasons that I took to writing. He has a way of telling a story that is all his own. His books, to this day, give people the shivers, goose bumps and the feeling that someone is staring over their shoulder.
I’m not someone who gets scared by those stories, but they do move me in other ways. One of my favorite novels by King is “The Shining”. Here was a novel, which for the most part, had four characters: Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrence, and Dick Hallorann; that is, if you don’t count the ghosts. King’s books always seem to delve into a personal level of horror in a goldfish-sized bowl, but makes his reader walk away with a sense of awe, as if they’d witnessed something world shattering. The Shining was no different. I’ve always wondered what happened to that little boy after the Overlook Hotel went up in flames. Sure, he moved on… but did he grow up to be like his father.
It’s probably one of the ghosts that every little boy who has witnessed the harder side of life deals with; following in their father’s footsteps. I know I did. I grew up knowing one story about him, but when I became a man I learned that my view of him wasn’t wrong, just incomplete. Reading “Doctor Sleep” brings that back full circle. Funny, that’s one of the premises of King’s novel. How endings are really beginnings, how life has a funny way of coming around again and brings you back to where you started from.
In the novel a now adult Dan Torrence, still plagued by the past and actions of his father, finds himself in the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire. He meets a young girl with her own strength in the shining and must work to protect her from an evil that stretches out across the country from the remnants of the Overlook Hotel. Despite his own battle with alcoholism, anger and ghosts of his past, Dan finds himself filling the role that Dick Hallorann did so many years ago; teaching a young child with the shining how to defend herself.
Like many of Stephen King’s novels, he spins a well-stitched tapestry of horror, suspense, supernatural abilities and everyday regret into a novel that I was not able to put down. Perhaps it is because I am confined to a ship at sea, or perhaps it’s that “Doctor Sleep” is just that damn good, but if you, like me, have wondered over the decades what became of the little boy they called “doc” and had to deal with the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, you will absolutely love “Doctor Sleep.” Enjoy!

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Demon the Descent Demo

                While attending L.A. By Night: The Grey Ghost Masquerade, I got an opportunity to play a demo of Onyx Path’s newest game line: Demon the Descent.  It is currently in the final stages as the company prepares to release it sometime in the next few months according to Rich Thomas, creative director for the company.  Demon the Descent is based off of and tied into the concept of the God Machine.  This concept was first created in the original New World of Darkness core book with the story “Voice of the Angel”.  It describes a secret history of humanity, one where an ancient God Machine created Angels, Demons and Mortals.  Eventually, the mortals, unwilling to remain slaves, rose up and destroyed the angels, plunging the world into darkness.  Those angels that survived cursed humanity with an inability to communicate easily, removed their ability to return from the grave, split humanity into two beings always seeking their opposite and finally caused all creatures to hate and dread mortals.

                The words received from the God Machine that created the chaos were simple, “What rises must fall, what has fallen may rise again.”  It is this statement that pushes the demons ahead.  Angels, as servants of the God Machine can become demons when they leave the God Machine’s programming through choice or failure; in a sense, they have fallen from connection with it.  Their creator is not the all-loving God that humanity thinks of at the mention of the word.  Rather it sees Angels as necessary resources and tools.  What happens when a tool breaks or becomes useless?  It gets thrown away or recycled, which is what the God Machine does with Demons when it finds them.  In Demon the Descent, players get the opportunity to play one of these fallen Angels.  The objective, remain hidden, remain secret, stay under the God Machine’s radar and live.

                The developers at Onyx Path have utilized the skeleton of other major splats to create Demons.  Where Vampires in Requiem have Clans and Covenants to describe their characters, Demons have Incarnations, their Demon type, and Agendas, how they thwart the God Machine.  They also have a power stat, much like Vampires have Blood Potency and Geists have Psyche, Demons have a stat called Primum that is used to reflect the strength of their demonic ability.  The fuel used for their powers is called Aether, which is a very interesting substance.  If you’ve read the God Machine Chronicle, you might already have some knowledge of its emissaries and their use of Essence.  When an Angel uses essence the residue is called Aether.  As one player at the table jokingly remarked, “So we eat angel poop… lovely.”

                As mentioned earlier, Demons are trying to hide from the God Machine and its emissaries, the Angels.  To do that they utilize a mortality type trait called Cover.  Are you getting the cloak and dagger, spy vs. spy mentality yet?  Good, because that is what seems to be going on here.  Through Covers, Demons have the ability to hide.  The example that was given to us while finishing our characters was about an Angel named Tiffany who was a trophy wife.  When Tiffany fell from grace, she murdered her husband and took on the cover of Tiffani (with an I not a Y), which seems to show that for its vast knowledge the God Machine seems to be very narrow focused in its abilities.  These changes allowed the new Demon to erect a cover and hide.  When Tiffani uses an Exploit or does another action that alerts the God Machine to her presence the player must roll Wits + Manipulation, a failure results in a degeneration of her Cover making it more difficult for her to hide.

                How then is poor Tiffani supposed to bolster her Cover?  Through the use of Pacts.  These are a very traditional image.  Think of someone making a pact with the devil for fame, fortune and love.  Standing at a cross-roads and selling their soul to a demon with a kiss.  Through the use of Pacts, the player of a Demon can provide a benefit to someone else, much like Changeling Pledges, and entices them to sign a contract.  These Pacts help to bolster an existing cover, or create entire new ones.  A Demon, in fact, could have several covers that she might slip in and out of with ease, able to do things and stay beneath the radar of the God Machine.  That is with one caveat… should another demon steal those contracts he could take the Cover for himself.

                Demons, like other supernatural characters in the World of Darkness, have powers that make them unique.  In the Descent there are two types of these: Exploits, which are overt powers and their use, can alert the God Machine to the Demon’s presence, and Embeds, which are covert powers.  During the demo, I got a chance to play with a few of these and see some of the other ones in action.  The main Exploit that I used was called “Murder by Probability”.  As my character had once been the Angel of Death, as a demon he still enjoys performing that task, but now instead of for the God Machine, it’s for his own capricious whims.  This Exploit allowed me to setup certain conditions that would ultimately result in a mortal’s death.  Think of the Final Destination movies, the elaborate deaths that resulted from a toppling domino effect and you’ll understand this power.  It can also be used against supernaturals, but with less effect.

                The Embeds, the more covert of the Demon’s powers were such things as Strike First, the ability to act first in the initial combat round and rolling Wits + Brawl to add to initiative.  Blind Luck was another interesting ability used to get information or perform a task that would lead to a beneficial outcome.  During game play I used the power by tossing a quarter into a nearby electrical transformer which succeeded in blacking out the whole block.

                The demo started with a call to speak with a Demon contact named Owen, our Ring (the social unit of Descent) knew him as a man who ran an agency helping humans in return for pacts.  The first thing that this brought to mind was the Hulu show “The Booth at the End” if you haven’t seen it, stop everything, go watch it… I’ll wait.  Done?  Good.  Throughout the game we learned more of the interesting world of Demons.  For instance they all have eidetic memory and the ability, Matrix-esque style, to learn any language; for that matter, with the right use of covers, Kung-fu as well.  We also learned of people called Stigmatics, these are those unfortunates who have seen the cogs and wheels of the God Machine and live to tell about it, a bit like Ghouls or Sleepwalkers.

                All in all while Demon seems to be heavily dependent upon the concept of the God Machine, it has just enough of the traditional sense of Angels and Demons that it could be possible to use them in a chronicle without having to discuss the God Machine.  Perhaps much the same way that Atlantis is a huge idea within Mage the Awakening, but the Storyteller has the ability to keep it hidden from her players.  I for one am excited after playing this demo and am eagerly looking forward to its release!