Before the Fall, angels wielded great spiritual power as the gift of the God-Machine. Everything that the God-Machine is able to grant, however, is due to existing laws and metaphysical subroutines of the world. If an angel can fly, it is because the God-Machine long ago built some law into reality allowing it. Over the eons, these laws have grown exponentially more complex than any living soul can hope to express. Arcane rules and precepts converge at strange nexuses, allowing mystical energies to pool and gather. Various supernatural forces make use of these laws, normally without ever understanding that the God-Machine had any part in it (or even exists).
When a demon Falls, he or she she gives up her intuitive understanding of the God-Machine’s laws. He or she can no longer call upon Numina and must find other ways of expressing supernatural ability. This is part of the reason why demons manipulate Aether instead of Essence. What the demon can do, however, is call upon the preexisting mystical pathways and laws that he or she remembers from his or her time as a servant of the God-Machine. By exploiting this knowledge, he or she is effectively using “back doors” into reality, changing it in subtle ways. An angel does this to facilitate its mission. A demon does it to follow his or her Agenda. These memories are called Embeds and Exploits.
An Embed is a rule or natural law already hard-coded into the workings of the world that a demon can tap for a specific effect. For a mundane example, consider a child who knows of a loose board in a neighbor’s fence. He can move the board, take a shortcut through the neighbor’s yard and save himself the time of running around the block. Anyone could do that, provided they have the same knowledge the child does (that is, that the board is loose) and that they can fit through the opening thus created.
Embeds work much the same way. Any demon can learn any Embed. The demon simply has to remember that the groundwork is there. As angels, all servants of the God-Machine are aware of these pathways, but they make use of them differently. Angels do not make conscious effort to use Embeds, they are able to do so simply as part of their missions. Going back to the example of the loose board in the fence, consider a dog or a cat that simply noses the board aside to get through. The animal doesn’t think of the fence as a barrier or the loose board as an anomaly; for all it knows, that loose board was put there specifically to allow it passage. When a demon Falls, he or she loses this instinctive, subconscious understanding of the world and must relearn these supernatural secrets. When he or she does, he or she is able to use Embeds in specific ways.
Embeds are not spells. They do not require ritual, sacrifice, or even specific knowledge or skill to use. A demon might justifiably liken remembering an Embed to a stroke victim re-learning how to walk or ride a bicycle. The neural pathways are already in place and the muscle memory is there, it’s just a matter of training the body to reactivate these things.
Angels have different capabilities based on their missions. An angel doesn’t normally think to question whether it can make use of mystical subroutines that it hasn’t specifically been instructed to use, both because most angels don’t question their missions and because these subroutines aren’t something that angels generally think about. An angel that does start to consider these subroutines — thinking about the framework of reality, rather than just using it — might be getting close to falling. Once an angel does Fall, he or she finds that certain types of Embeds are easier to remember than others, depending on her Incarnation.
Embeds are based upon a metaphysical understanding of the nature of reality. As that understanding grows, the demon is capable of modifying the equations, as it were, and joining those Embeds together. The Cipher — a complete series of four interlocked Embeds — enables a demon to work truly impressive, but still subtle, feats of magic.
In contrast to Embeds, Exploits are not subtle at all. While they use the same metaphysical subroutines as Embeds, they are not relearned or remembered abilities but rather gross applications of the knowledge that the character already has. If an Embed is a word, and a set of Key Embeds is a sentence, then an Exploit is a shouted expletive. As such, Exploits are effective but run the risk of drawing attention.
Consider once again the metaphor of the child using the hole in the fence to sneak through a neighbor’s yard. Applying that metaphor to Exploits, the child might kick the loose board free and use it to shatter the neighbor’s glass patio door. An Exploit takes the knowledge imparted by an Embed and uses it to better, or at least more dramatic, effect. Unlike Embeds, though, Exploits are obvious and flamboyant and therefore a risk to a demon’s Cover. An Exploit relies on a demon’s knowledge of the world’s metaphysical subroutines, just like Embeds, but instead of gently applying this knowledge, the demon forces Aether into the system, overcharging it and directing the result. While learning to use an Embed is a matter of re-acquiring knowledge that the demon had as an angel, learning to use an Exploit is more a matter of application. Angels therefore do not use Exploits — even their more grandiose powers are perfectly in line with their missions and therefore the parameters laid down by the God-Machine. An angel that decides to emulate a demon, pushing energy through the world’s mystical framework just to see what will happen, is probably on the verge of Falling.
Learning a given Exploit requires that the demon has the knowledge base to do so. For example, in order to learn the Hellfire Exploit, the demon needs to understand how the subroutines work with regards to firearms. This means that the demon needs to know an Embed such as Check Backdrop or Merciless Gunman. Each Exploit lists a few potential prerequisite Embeds, but the demon need not know all of them in order to learn the Exploit. Indeed, if the player can make a convincing case for a why a given Embed enables the character to learn a given Exploit, the Storyteller should allow it. Demons are masters of lateral thinking — they had to be in order to Fall.