Devil Ex Machina

This is an actual play of a Sorcerer campaign called Devil Ex Machina. It is set in San Francisco in 2023 and I wanted the demons to have the vibes of malevolent, conscious artificial intelligence. Sorcery in our game is characterized by an obsession with programming, extensive use of IT, and getting lost in the depths of the web. Humanity is defined as treating other people as an end and not a means. I defined Humanity in that way because I wanted to explore the blurred lines between treating machines as people and people as machines.

The two characters are Adam, a 60-year-old man with a disability pension because of a bad accident that made him lame. His life is quite miserable. He is obsessed with success and has opened a channel on Twitch where he is a streamer. He summoned his first demon, Synthethix, to become rich. The demon has the ability to perceive and change people’s bank accounts. Its Desire is knowledge and its need is to cover the walls of a room with hand-drawn arcane glyphs. Adam once tried to repaint over the glyphs and Synthethix took great offense. So, Adam rented several storage units which he promptly covers with the arcane glyphs to satisfy Syntethix’s need. The first thing he did was to ask Synthethix to make him incredibly rich, and so it did. He now has a nice house in Russian Hill and a yacht in Sausalito. His Kicker is falling in love with Bailey, his yacht neighbor. The first love after 20 years. Synthethix also cured him of lameness through Vitality. I defined in my preparation that Bailey is a bored woman. She is married to Dimitry, a wealthy businessman who inherited a large sum from his father. Bailey is attracted to Adam because she thinks he is a self-made man and so far she has not told him that she is already married.

The other character is Noah. A 35-year-old man who, with his father’s money, founded DataSight a startup that collects big data and develops artificial intelligence, along with his partner and college buddy Michael. However, The financial market is putting a lot of pressure on DataSight and the revenues are not as high as expected. One night Noah’s father showed up demanding his money back. Noah refused and in the argument that broke out, Noah inadvertently killed his father. Feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do, he locked himself in his office and summoned a demon to help him out of the situation: Mindwave AI is a demon that can sense when someone is thinking about a person, and make them forget. It can also erase a person’s digital traces from the Internet. So, Noah used it to completely erase his father from everyone’s memories. He got rid of the corpse by throwing it into the bay where it was fished out and labeled as John Doe. Mindwave AI’s Desire is Death and his need is witness its master wash their hands in a basin filled with blood. Noah, to fulfill the need, takes prostitutes to a run-down apartment he owns in the Tenderloin, knocks them out with chloroform, and kills them to extract their blood. He then stores the body in a fridge to extract more blood when Mindwave is in need again. Then, using Mindwave, he causes everyone to forget the existence of the missing person. Noah’s Kicker is that one night Michael, his partner, shows up at his office asking what happened to his father; Michael is actually a sorcerer and his demon protects him from Mindwave’s powers.

Noah has a +1 bond with Mindwave to his advantage, while Adam has a +2 bond with Synthethix to the demon’s advantage. By binding the demons, Noah loses a point of Humanity, while Adam does not.

Using the diagrams I clearly see that Adam’s first scene will be on his yacht in Sausalito while talking amiably with Bailey. Noah’s first scene, on the other hand, is in the office of his start-up in Downtown San Francisco, where Michael has just made that revelation to him.


Adam starts talking to Bailey and is overjoyed to be in her company. However, when Bailey asks about the source of his good fortune, Adam hesitates and lies, claiming he made smart investments in the financial market. This lie is clearly meant to impress Bailey, but it costs Adam a Humanity roll, which he fails. 

Bailey mysteriously loses some interest and decides to leave, saying she’ll be in touch soon. Adam is confused, wondering what he said wrong. Fueled by his Desire for Knowledge, Synthethix wants to know everything about Bailey and invites Adam to ask questions. Adam tries to ask Synthethix if Bailey realized he was lying. Synthethix answers with a forceful “No” (Hint), causing Adam to convulse with a severe headache and risking a brain aneurysm. After being rescued by his yacht crew, taking a painkiller, he wonders what could have upset the woman. He decides to summon another demon to spy on Bailey’s conversations. Adam spends the entire night on his yacht, fiddling with his laptop, and eventually contacts and binds Devilgram, a demon who can read any private conversation. His Desire is Falsehood and his need is to witness its master chatting with someone while pretending to be someone else. Adam loses several points of Humanity to contact, summon, and bind Devilgram, but quickly tests its powers by asking it to read Bailey’s chats. He finds a chat between Bailey and a friend of hers, in which she talks about Adam! Reading into Bailey’s private conversations costs Adam another Humanity roll, which he fails. In the chat with her friend, Bailey mentions being somewhat attracted to Adam believing he is a self-made man, unlike her husband Dimitry who inherited everything from his father. Adam struggles to believe what he is reading. Bailey is married! After some investigation on the Internet he discovers that it is all true. In anger, Adam asks Synthethix to drain Dimitry’s bank accounts to zero dollars. Synthethix instantly obeys. Now Bailey’s husband is a completely ruined man! This action leads to another Humanity roll for Adam, which he fails, causing him to reach Humanity 0 and lose control of the character. I decide to give control back to Adam at Humanity 1 after using the character for a bit. Adam now finds himself married to Bailey, who has divorced Dimitry, and they are on their honeymoon in the Caribbean. However, Adam continues to regularly chat with a girl from San Francisco while pretending to be a girl himself to fulfill Devilgram’s need.


Noah’s first scene takes place in his office at his start-up headquarters located in downtown San Francisco. Michael has just told him that he knows what he did to his father and also knows that he is a sorcerer. Noah tries to justify himself by saying that his father was going to take away all his funding. Michael won’t listen to him; he’s disgusted by what Noah has done. He will let him go as long as Noah makes him a 100% shareholder in the startup. This is something Noah is not willing to do, so Michael says he has left him with no choice and leaves. Mindwave, Noah’s demon, asks him why he didn’t think of killing Michael – also because he would need his Need fulfilled, it would have been a good opportunity to obtain some fresh blood. Noah tries to explain that he cannot do that, Michael is his friend and he is not a monster. But Mindwave does not understand why he then so easily kills prostitutes to wash his hands in their blood. Noah tries not to think about all this, trying to compartmentalize the atrocities he has committed. He also decides he wants to take Michael’s demon away from him – the only way to make him forget about his father. Mindwave seems to approve of the initiative. He hopes that in the direct confrontation someone might die, and even if Michael’s demon were banished it would be like witnessing a sort of death. He even decides to delay the fulfillment of his Need (resulting in a loss of 1 Power) in order to observe the outcome between Noah and Michael. Noah drives to Michael’s house, but once there he receives a phone call from Andre, one of his employees at the start-up. Andre is desperate. The Internet is full of fake news stories about him raping a girl. He’s afraid that if Noah found out he would fire him, but he claims he is innocent and doesn’t even know that girl. It’s a bang I have prepared: Michael’s demon can spread false news on the internet, and Michael wants to blackmail Noah by destroying the lives of all his employees until Noah agrees and makes Michael a 100% shareholder. Noah suspects that Michael is behind what is happening to Andre (Noah’s price is Paranoid). Mindwave tells him that Andre will most likely commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Noah asks Mindwave to erase all traces of Andre from the network, so as to clean up the fake news – but Mindwave rebels. Doing so would prevent Andre from committing suicide, and the demon wants to see his death instead (Death is its Desire after all). Noah and Mindwave clash their will but Noah loses. So he decides to postpone the confrontation with Michael for the moment and drive to the Golden Gate Bridge to talk some sense into Andre. This gets Noah a roll to regain Humanity and Noah is successful! At the Golden Gate Bridge, after a few hours, he is actually joined by Andre. Noah manages to reason with him; after all, he is his boss and assures him that he will not fire him. He takes him to a hotel in Downtown to rest and calm him down. He promises him to issue a press release stating that one of his employees was the victim of a hacker attack that has spread some disgusting fake news. Andre finally seems calm and thanks him for believing him. Noah locks himself in the bathroom to have a conversation with Mindwave. His demon demands fulfillment of his Need and indeed wants Noah to kill a new prostitute and take their blood (not from the body he keeps in his run-down apartment in the Tenderloin). After all, Noah has already saved a life, and now Mindwave is frustrated and wants to see someone die (since it aligns with his Desire). Noah agrees, at least apparently. He comes out of the bathroom, sees Andre fallen asleep from too much stress on the hotel room bed, so he leaves and heads for the Tenderloin.

I am very satisfied with this first session. Many interesting things have happened, various situations have triggered Humanity Rolls, and the demons are really tempting their sorcerers. I actually think Adam’s kicker has been solved. After all, his kicker was to have fallen in love with Bailey, and now he has just married her. There are various other conflicts in his story that can be explored (considering that he still has 2 demons bound to him and their nasty needs to fulfill). If I understand correctly, I should not ask the player to think of a new kicker but wait until the other character’s kicker is also resolved, to finish the first story arc, advance the characters, and eventually continue with a new kickers for both of the character.

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10 responses to “Devil Ex Machina”

    • Yes, I’d love to hear more about what you have to say on the matter, so please feel free to go on.

    • Thought #1 is that Kicker resolution isn’t contractually limited to a narrow outcome, and doesn’t include a specific goal. Therefore it’s more about the playing out of events, and those fall roughly into three types: some were in place as backstory for the Kicker, some arose during the interactions and confrontations of play, and some persist after the primary content of the Kicker has been through some resolution.

      Continuing to play through those persisting events is part of resolving a Kicker, which is best understood as the whole circumstances, not just a single thing to do. In his case, fine, he is married to this person, but what remains in terms of why it was an issue? Saying it that way is perhaps too abstact and story-theory-ish, so try this …

      The most practical way to think about this is to consider every character you play as GM: demons, people, or whatever. Check in mentally with every single one of them: do any of them say to you, “Wait, they’re married? Well, this is what I have to say (and do) about that!” Remember that demons are monomaniacal about their Desires and quite insanely devoted to the dysfunctional relationship called Binding. Remember that your NPCs are, like many people, convinced that they are the protagonists of this story, thank you.

      Thought #2 is that Kicker resolutions do not have to be synchronized. One character may undergo the resolution, possible improvement, re-writing of descriptors, and making a new Kicker all by themselves, with no necessary simultaneity of those things for another character. Specifically, you don’t have to delay them for character A to wait for character B.

      The trouble is that if I had said that first, there’s danger that you would ignore the first point and rush to conclude the Kicker mechanically with perfectly playable events still on the table. So I’m hoping you don’t do that.

      With that whole concept in place, and only then, here’s one more thought: that if character A does indeed fully conclude everything, and if there is any reason or preference to fade that character out of play for a while, while character B finishes out their Kicker, that’s fine too.

      Let me know if that helps or makes sense.

  1. It makes perfect sense. Thank you for your opinion and clarification. Then again, I think Adam’s kicker (falling in love with a woman for the first time after 20 years) is still unresolved. Currently, he has just gotten married and is on a honeymoon, but Bailey, the woman he loves, married him after a divorce due to financial ruin. It remains to be seen if this is a marriage of love or one of convenience and how Adam’s love for Bailey evolves after marriage and cohabitation, considering also that he is still bound to two demons obsessed with invasion of privacy and lies, which could lead to an explosive marriage. I will keep you updated as the campaign progresses.

    As a best practice, do you think it would be better for me to continue writing comments under this post with the other actual play sessions or to start a new topic and highlight the new issues that may arise?

    • Two best practices actually: first, to continue a sequence of replies by using the same “Reply” under its first comment, not the big comment box at the end like you did here. That starts a new sequence, which is what we don’t want. New sequences of comment+replies should be for new topics.

      Second, I suggest continuing to post about a given game in the comments of a single post, i.e., here, at least for a while. I usually use the infrastructure of the site as a guide, so that if the original post has moved off the first page of Actual Play, I should start a new post.

  2. – Quick question about the mechanics:

    During the last session, two Sorcerers were attempting to banish a Demon resisting with Power and Will. The demon has a Power of 7, which has been reduced to 4 due to punishment, and a Will of 7. The binding strength is +1.

    The first Sorcerer has a Will of 3, which has been reduced to 2 due to a lasting penalty, and a humanity of 1. The second Sorcerer has a Will of 3 and a humanity of 3.

    The demon rolls its dice and obtains the following results: 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 10.
    The second Sorcerer rolls their dice and obtains: 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10.
    The first Sorcerer rolls their dice and obtains: 4, 8.

    The question is whether the first and second Sorcerers’ rolls combine into one pool that compares to the demon’s rolls, or if the second Sorcerer’s dice should be compared with the demon’s results, with the first Sorcerer receiving a bonus based on the number of victories for a separate roll of their own. To me it seems it is always better to attempt two separate Banish rolls, so that if either Sorcerer prevails, the demon will be banished. Am I missing something about group sorcery?

    – A second question: the session ended with the resolution of one of the two Sorcerers’ kicker, resulting in the player deciding to end their character’s story due to being taken to prison for the atrocities they committed. The other player’s Sorcerer still has a kicker to resolve and wishes to continue playing.

    To address this, there are a couple of options available, I guess. One possibility is to allow the player who retired their character to take control of another Sorcerer in the story, with their character diagram filled in and a kicker deduced from the story already told or tailored brand new. Alternatively, a new Sorcerer can be created for them. How would you handle this asymmetric situation?

    • Those are two biggish questions, so I’ll reply separately for each.

      For the banishing question, I’m going to extract the information and answer somewhat differently from the ordering in your question.

      First, before the roll, we have to know whether each sorcerer is trying to banish the demon separately, vs. one of them helping the other. You can’t decide this after the roll.

      If they are acting separately, then both of them fail and the demon is not banished.

      Second, your main question seems to me to assume that the above is not the case, and one is helping the other. It is very hard to tell which is which, but I think that the first sorcerer is the primary banisher and the second one is helping.

      With these rolls, they are out of luck either way, because whoever is helping gets no victories to provide bonus dice to the other, and the other (the banisher).

      I can’t stress enough that you should not roll simultaneously when one sorcerer helps another. Roll for the demon once against the helper, and let the demon’s roll stand. Then apply whatever victories the helper achieved to the primary person’s roll.

      There are no combined-pool rolls in Sorcerer, ever. It’s true that the two sorcerers’ results, if combined, would banish the demon. But that is not applicable and does not happen.

      You are correct that the helping rules are not necessarily better than simply making separate attempts. The original text of the game over-sells helping a bit – the fact is that they represent a chance for someone to have a better chance. This may be the only good option in some circumstances of play, e.g., person X is the only person who can do this thing, but not in the abstract, all-else-equal sense. Also, the game design deliberately avoids the generosity of helping-rules found in many others.

    • Regarding the asynchronous Kickers, I replied regarding this topic above. In re-reading that comment, I think it has already provided what you’re asking about here. Is there some point or concept that I didn’t cover?

    • All clear, thanks for the answers. The only thing I would like to ask a follow up question is in the specific case where (playing with a master and two other players with one character each) one character finishes their story and fades out of the game while the other is continuing with their story. What would be, in your opinion, the best course of action in this scenario?

      I have thought of three options: promoting a NPC to a player character, making a different NPC into a sorcerer, or introducing a new sorcerer PC from scratch. Are there any potential issues or drawbacks with any of these options? Have you been in a similar situation before and found a better solution or can you suggest which option to avoid? Thank you for your help and your opinion once again.

    • Well … I will go straight to a direct recommendation.

      The player who has finished their sorcerer’s Kicker may undergo the improvement/change step, and write a new Kicker. That content is now added to play under the authorities of the GM, just as it did at the start of play. Now you have one player in the midde or toward the end of their Kicker and another player beginning a new one.

      This is the default or “basic” idea for the game. It’s not weird or innovative or a best practice; it’s what was supposed to be the case. I keep writing here that Kickers do not have to be synchronized, in fact, there is no reason even to try to do so, and that is what I mean.

      It may be the case that you (the collective group) do not want to play past one Kicker for these characters. If that is the case then I suggest that the player who has resolved their Kicker merely attend the table socially and participate in table-talk in full, until the other player has finished the Kicker and then the game as a whole comes t an end.

      In no way nor at any time do I recommend “playing a supporting character” or “pick up this NPC to play” or (especially) “play the demons” for Sorcerer. I’ve tried it and it is terrible.

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