Unknown Armies 3rd Edition by Wapole Languray
GOOriginal SA post
We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams; —
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Ode, Arthur O'Shaughnessy
Unknown Armies is an occult game about broken people conspiring to fix the world.
It’s a game about people who want things very, very badly. Social justice, a fair shake, redemption for their myriad sins, or just a bigger slice of the pie, they want it. But no one is just going to hand it to them. No one else, frankly, gives a shit. Shits only begin to be given when their pursuit of their agenda inconveniences somebody — the folks benefiting from injustice and unfair shakes, or the people who were on the receiving end of those myriad sins, or the pie-eaters who placidly argue that sharing is for bitches and poor people.
This is the 3rd Edition of Unknown Armies. Nobody remembers the first edition, and most know the 2nd because it essentially is 1st but with better rules and copy-writing. 2nd Edition Unknown Armies ran off of a slightly janky rework of the BRP system of Call of Cthulhu. It also had major tone problems that lead it to aging very very poorly. It is, for all its positive qualities, Painfully 90’s. Not only in the setting, and mechanics, but in the very construction of the game. In the 1990s it was a new and shiny thing like nothing else. Unknown Armies 2e is still like nothing else, but its archaic design, lack of guidance and unifying purpose, and failure to answer the “What is this game about?” and “What do you do in this game?” questions holds it back.
3rd Edition does not have this problem. Better to show than to simple ramble on. This is Book One: Play. This is the book meant for Players, and teaches the basic rules of the game, and player facing information. It is followed by Book Two: Run, which is the GM book. We will cover it after Play. Many things will be unexplained here, because they are not meant to be seperate. Trust and all will be revealed in time.
There are a lot of games out there which feature heroes, saviors, champions… people who right wrongs, defend the weak, and slay the monster. Those games are great. This one’s diﬀerent. Instead of stopping the cultists or killing the beast or protecting the status quo, you are the cultist, the beast, the threat to tradition.
Without you, the world ticks on as it always has. Your job is to create a character for whom that is intolerable.
THE RULESOriginal SA post
Lets get some basic Rule Stuff out of the way before diving into character creation. Unknown Armies is a percentile system: Everything is percentile, a d100 is the only roll. Resolution is 1d100 roll under or equal to the percentage in whatever you’re rolling.
Matches are better, or worse, than non matching numbers. 00 is a Fumble with extra bad stuff happening, 01 is a Crit with extra good stuff happening. Easy peasy.
Flip-Flops are when you switch the ones and tens place. There’s lots of ways to flip-flop numbers, just know it’s a thing that happens.
Hunch Rolls are special: You roll the dice and keep that result. Next time you make a test, you use whatever you rolled for the Hunch Roll. You can get multiple hunch rolls, which you can then apply in any order you want. You can’t choose not to spend one though, and have to spend all your hunches before you can roll dice again.
You’ve signed on to play a game that deals in 21st century existential mystic horror. The character you play has to fit in with that. If you pick someone who has nothing to do in the setting, it’s not the other players’ responsibility to drag you to the fun, nor the GM’s duty to handcraft a story that focuses on one character to the exclusion of the others. When you make your character, you’ll have ideas, and those are good. Pick someone about whom you can feel passionate, interested, and curious. Create a character who, if they were on TV, you’d be impatiently waiting for the next episode, if only to see her next crazy jack move.
But at the same time, don’t be selfish. You should make a character who’s your dreamboat, who enthralls you and entertains you even when they royally fail. But you also should make a character who supports the other PCs and who interests and compels the other players, including the GM.
If you’re completely selfish, consider that GMs hesitate to cavalierly slaughter characters who make their job easy and are fun to watch. The boring, safe, too-cool-to-care-about-anything character? A good GM has no compunction about letting that guy perish to show how this week’s monster works.
Actively seek reasons that your character would, if it came down to it, take a swing at a cop to protect one of the other PCs. Give her strong, compelling, non-debatable reasons to care about your group’s goals… and be willing to bend when you and your group are deciding your initial objective. The more people you can get on board with the premise of the game, the better it works for everyone.
This is the character sheet for Unknown Armies.
This chapter does not tell you how to fill this out. That is in Book 2, as in Unknown Armies character creation is a cooperative group effort between the players and GM. This chapter tells you what all of that stuff means.
WHAT YOU’VE SEEN: SHOCKS
Those familiar with 2nd Edition will remember the “Madness Meters” which measured your mental health state but did little else. For the time this was impressive! It was a significant improvement over Call of Cthulhu’s single “Sanity” gauge. But it’s not enough. It’s been accused of ableism, was sort of isolated from the rest of the BRP system, and just plain isn’t as evocative as it used to be. So welcome the New Hotness. The Shock Gauge.
The five stress tracks measure forms of mental stress. This is a mechanization of your emotional and mental experiences and traumas. When something bad happens to your character, you roll dice to see how it affects their Shock Gauge.
Each stress track has two types of notches: Hardened and Failed. Hardened are stress checks you’ve beaten, and failed are those you’ve… well you know.
Different stresses are ranked 1-10, called ranks. The higher the rank the rarer and more stressful the event is. If you have a hardened notch at the same level or higher that the stress, you don’t roll. You’ve seen and felt worse, so it just slides off of you. Failed notches don’t affect stress checks at all.
When you pass a stress check, you tick off the lowest unmarked hardened notch on that meter, if you fail, you mark the lowest unmarked fail and choose: Panic, Paralysis, or Frenzy.
THE VIOLENCE STRESS
This is one's instinctive dislike towards violence. There’s a reason we have to train soldiers to be able to kill another human, because we don’t like violence as a rule. It’s stressful to hurt people, to see people be hurt, and to be hurt yourself. Death and pain and violence and physical agony are the triggers for this category. The more brutal, personal, and painful the stressor, the higher the rank of the check.
Failed notches make you more stressed, more edgy, more alert to violence. You jump at sudden movements, shy away from sharp objects, avoid looking at blood and wounds. Even higher levels you become hyper aware of it, looking constantly for danger, imagining every possible way someone or something can be use to commit violence upon yourself or others.
Those Hardened to Violence are more casual about it, and less emotionally affected by it. You are more willing to use violence, are less disturbed by it, and see less wrong about it. You become callous to the suffering of yourself and others. At the extreme you become totally inured to it: death of yourself and others is fundamentally meaningless, empty, a preference not a necessity.
THE UNNATURAL STRESS
This is the closest to what CoC players will recognize as Sanity. This meter is checked when you experience things that don’t fit into your concept of the world. Magick, the Unnatural, the odd and impossible, it messes with people. Seeing the very rules you took for granted, the fabric of how the world works proven wrong can mess with your head. Not being told it’s wrong, but seeing with your own eyes definite proof that the world fundamentally doesn’t work how you’ve always thought.
Failed Unnatural checks start at simple superstition and escalate quickly into obsession. At first you may just take your horoscope more seriously than most, follow a few old superstitions, be preoccupied with luck and always on the lookout for coincidences. But with enough failed notches, you start hearing voices in white noise, seeing symbols and mystical congruences everywhere you look, attaching world-altering significance to random events and tiny details. You feel followed and watched, surrounded by unseen beings, following arcane rules and rituals that only exist within your head.
One hardened to the Unnatural takes it in stride. You may start simple accepting that things can be weird, that the occult and impossible exists, but soon enough you lose the ability to separate them in your mind. The Natural and Unnatural blend and become indistinguishable, nothing is bizarre or unusual anymore.
You are no longer surprised by violations of ordinary logic. Everything is normal to you — talking foliage, spontaneous combustion, and stigmata are as ordinary and reasonable as cars, dogs, and rain.
THE HELPLESSNESS STRESS
This represents feelings of loss of control, of powerlessness, and of insignificance. When bad things happen that you can’t control or effect, that triggers this stress. Failing at things you should have succeeded at, watching someone you love die, getting sent to jail, get fired from your job, humiliate yourself in public, and so on.
Failed Helplessness notches indicate an increasing distrust of the universe. You constantly try to prevent things going wrong, using obsessive coping mechanisms to try and control the universe, constantly watching out for “betrayal”. Yourself, your friends, the universe itself are untrustworthy and will fail and hurt you.
Hardened Helplessness notches indicate an increasing fatalism and acceptance of your powerlessness in the face of a random uncaring universe. Everything is the cruel whims of fate, nobody has agency and intent and accident are one and the same. You totally accept you have no control over anything, and that’s just how the world works.
THE ISOLATION STRESS
Isolation is a more subtle long-term stress. It’s about the isolation from society, from others. It’s about being alone and outcast and unwanted. Spending time alone is a relatively minor check, but things like being forcibly institutionalized, spending time in solitary confinement, meeting someone you know who’s acting like they don’t know you, being betrayed by a loved one or a close friend are all more extreme checks on this stress.
Failed isolation notches make you less and less able to handle solitude or loneliness. Panic attacks when alone or surrounded by strangers, talking to yourself constantly, requiring constant stimulation to keep calm, over eager to meet new people, excessive gratitude towards social interaction and so on.
Hardened isolation is the opposite. Instead of overbearing anxiety about socialization and a desperate need for company, you slowly stop caring about others. Ignoring social standards and niceties, becoming inconsiderate of others feelings, impatience with other people, difficulty speaking to people and so on. At max hardness you just can’t communicate with other people and don’t want to. You just can’t see the point of caring about anybody else but you.
THE SELF STRESS
This is the trickiest one. It’s your guilt and self-loathing, but it’s more than that. It’s conﬂicts between what you believe, and it’s damage to your ability to believe at all. A major stress is when you find out you’re not the person you thought you were, by breaking a promise you honestly meant to keep, or by standing idly by when your values, or what you thought were your values, are desecrated. It’s your sense of alienation from yourself that provides, perhaps, the deepest terror. If you can’t trust yourself, then nothing is true. That’s why people with heavy damage to Self are such good liars and bad students: they really can’t care what’s true or false anymore. Where other meters measure how traumatized you are by things that happen to you, Self measures how traumatized you are by your own reactions to those things. To put it another way, the only thing you can ever be 100% sure of is “I think, therefore I am.” The Self meter measures how uncertain you are about the “I” in that statement.
Failed self notches slowly mean you losing your connection to your personal identity. Your actions feel fake, forced, rehearsed. You feel disassociated, out of control of your own actions and behaviors. You feel like a stranger is controlling your body, or that it isn’t your body, or that you’re the stranger in a stranger's body.
Hardened isolation notches mean literally the destruction of you as a person. Your identity, the sense that you are a you is slowly whittled away until you essentially have no personality. You only care about the essentials of living, have no opinions, don’t feel a connection to other people and so on.
When you fail a stress check you mark a failed notch and choose one of three ways to freak out: panic, paralysis, or frenzy. Whatever has freaked you has bypassed your logical thinking mammal brain and sent you straight to Fight or Flight adrenaline spiking no thought blind panic attack.
If you panic, you run, as fast and as directly as possible, from whatever the stressor is. No other actions are allowed, you just physically get away from the stress as hard as you can. If you get stuck in a trap or blocked off you can’t do any other complex actions. You just blindly search for another way out or try to bust and tear through whatever is blocking your way.
Paralysis is the opposite: You stop dead and completely lock down. You might mutter and groan or scream or have twitches and spasms but you aren’t doing anything constructive to your situation, you just freeze up for as long as whatever freaked you out is happening.
And finally frenzy is the Fight in Fight or Flight. You rush at whatever messed with you and go primal apeshit on it. No dodging, no fancy moves, just blind screaming violence on whatever the fuck it is that freaked you out. If whatever freaked you isn’t able to be attacked, you just try and smash and kill and assault whatever is at hand. Beat the walls, smash windows, attack a random bystander that looks sorta threatening, whatever makes sense.
These actions continue until the stressor is either gone, or enough time has passed for you to burn out and call down. One you pick an approach, there’s no changing it. You’re doing it until the stress is gone, or you’re incapacitated.
When you get a full five failed notches on a meter congrats! You no longer have to make stress checks on that meter! Instead you just immediately go to fight, flee, or freeze no take backs no second chances! You also get to pick up a long-term permanent madness. You can get one per stress, and it should be related to the particular trauma that prompted that last failed notch.
There are of course a selection of possible conditions to have, with definitions and advice. The suggested options are: Phobia, Paranoia, Trauma bond (Phobia of things related to the trauma source, but not the trauma itself), Flashbacks, Blackouts, Addictive behaviors, Philia/Obsession, and Delusions. Dissociative Identity Disorder and Schizophrenia are both called out as inappropriate choices. DID is caused by early-life or childhood trauma and shouldn’t come up in games, and playing a character with DID is much more complicated and difficult than a more neurotypical character. Schizophrenia is for similar reasons: It’s genetic and not caused by trauma, and it’s more likely to make your character needlessly complicated rather than fun to play.
Your character can have either condition of course, but it would just be part of them and not a result of the mechanics, and is recommended against due to the added complications and difficulties that come along with them.
BOOZE AND PILLS
A bit out of place, but hey, there’s not really a better place to put the rules for drugs, so in the same bit with the rules for substance addiction makes sense to me! Instead of giant lists of drugs Unknown Armies splits everything into four categories:
Booze is the most common drug as it’s legal, popular, and very very available for anyone to get. You can get a drink and hour with no issues, but put down more alcohol than that, and you start getting stacking penalties for each additional drink to do pretty much anything.
Uppers are things like cocaine, meth, speed, and other things that make you feel top of the world. It gives you a penalty to any tasks requiring subtlety or concentration as well as Unnatural and Isolation stress checks, but you resist shocks to your Helplessness or Self better.
Downers are your heroin, barbiturates, and Benzos. Mild downers like weed can use the Alcohol rules, but the stronger stuff makes you act last in initiative order, take huge penalties to anything requiring any sort of concentration, and you lose your ability to use your passions. You do get a bonus to resisting any shocks though, as you’re too chilled out to freak out.
LSD, MDMA, ‘shrooms, and other Hallucinogens give you a bonus to resisting shocks to Self, Isolation and Unnatural, but a penalty on Violence and Helplessness. Worse, if you do fail a stress check you get two failed notches. Turns out hallucinating is not a good pair with traumatic experiences.
Cops, coroners, and case workers know all about getting callous. When you’ve seen enough horror, it loses its power to horrify you. The more hardened notches you have on a single meter, the more it takes for that kind of stress to rip up your head. Once you have nine hardened notches on a meter you’re so jaded about it that only the most extreme and heinous incidents can endanger you.
This is not a good thing.
Getting too hardened causes issues: You’re so hardened that you’ve cut yourself off from your fundamental human connection. You get burned out. You lose the ability to use your passions, and if you’re an avatar you lose your access to your mystic powers. For those unfamiliar with Unknown Armies Adepts are a type of character you can play, I’ll go into more detail when we hit the Magick chapter. Passions we’ll cover later, but they’re basically your “Oh Shit” buttons and losing them cripples your ability to handle bad rolls. You are burned out when you hit 25 combined hardened notches.
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WHAT YOU DO: ABILITIESOriginal SA post
WHAT YOU DO: ABILITIES
Abilities are Unknown Armies equivalent of Attributes and similar scores from other RPGs. They aren’t the main definer of your characters competence and abilities, but are the general baseline for their abilities. Every character has ten abilities, two paired on each of the stresses. One is based on hardened notches, one on open, with a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 60%. The abilities are split into two categories: Upbeat Abilities based on the open notches, and Downbeat Abilities based on the hardened.
People who have a lot of hardened notches have waded through so many slings and arrows that the little stuﬀ just bounces oﬀ them. “Oh, you slapped me,” thinks the guy with a fstful of hardened notches in Violence, “I wonder if you’re going to strike me in any serious fashion.” The cultural exile with a bunch of Isolation notches may not even notice an insult that would set someone with an open Isolation meter trembling.
But here’s the thing about people with lots of hardened notches: when something does challenge them, it’s more likely to really hurt. Every hardened notch erodes your ability to get more hardened notches in a diﬀerent meter, and when you face something you can’t ignore and don’t have the innocence left to accept, it breaks you.
Failed notches measure that breakage. You don’t want them. But whether you’re hard but brittle, or soft but resilient, they’re always a risk. In Unknown Armies that risk is the ante you pay to play the game.
How good are you at earning trust? Can you listen to people and hear what they really mean, instead of what you think they mean? Are you willing to be vulnerable to build respect? Are you open, honest, and forthright with people, and does your carriage and demeanor convey that? The answers to these depend on your ability to connect.
This is the Ability for talking shit out. You aren’t trying to be manipulative, or deceive, but just talk with someone. It’s for open, honest, persuasion based on rhetorical skill, persuasiveness, and raw charisma. Connect is based on your open notches in Violence. It’s easier to be friendly, personable, and persuasive, if you don’t think everyone you meet is looking for an excuse to slit your throat. Connect resists shocks to Isolation: When you’re all alone, it helps to know that people generally like you.
How much do you trust what you’ve learned? Do you generally think the media is honest and disinterested? Are you a skilled critical thinker who can sniﬀ out bullshit when that’s what your cell phone’s search engine turns up?
This ability is used to recall general knowledge, do basic research, and use technology and machines. It doesn’t cover specialized or technical knowledge. Knowledge is defined by your open Self notches because the more sure of who you are, the more sure you are of what you know. You roll Knowledge to protect against Unnatural checks. A flexible and open mind with strong basis of knowledge means you’re better able to integrate the weird without wigging out.
Do you live right, get plenty of rest, exercise frequently but in moderation, and avoid liquor and fatty foods? Yeah, me neither. But I know some people do, I’ve met them, I swear! Those people — who aren’t exhausted by their inner demons and who aren’t oppressed by a sense of doomed helplessness — take care of themselves and enjoy bodies that are resistant to illness, responsive to physical demands, lithe and limber and strong.
Fitness is used to run, jump, climb, swim, lift, and most other physical activities. It’s also what you use to help resist illness, shake off a hangover, and not die from infection. Helplessness open notches define your Fitness, because it’s easier to take care of yourself if you think you can have some agency in the world. You use fitness to resist Violence stress. Being fit and healthy means you’re less terrified of your impending death as you’re naturally better equipped to do something about it. Or at least you think you are.
Unknown Armies has a lot of mystery and confusion in its stories, and paying keen attention to the world around you can reveal the little details that show the connection between old widow Kowalski and the ghost cats haunting St. Anne’s church.
Notice is your standard senses and perception. It lets you spot things that are out of place, detect lies, catch someone trying to hide, and search for something you’re looking for in a physical way. Notice is keyed off the open notches in your Unnatural meter, because the more innured you are to the spooky stuff the less you notice as being “suspicious” and the more you keep your head down and don’t stick your nose out. Notice is used when checks challenge your sense of self. Self-doubt is easier to handle when you notice all the hypocrisy and lies from everyone else.
If a cop pulls you over on a dark road at night, that can play out very badly. Or he can tip his hat, give you a warning, and send you on your way. What gets one person impersonally ticketed and another pulled out and roughly searched? It’s a slightly ephemeral quality called Status. The way you dress, talk, hold yourself, and project expectations are all based on where you think you are in the social hierarchy. Those expectations, in turn, inﬂuence others, for good or for ill.
Status is your passive weight of Being Someone. It’s your ability to get respect by default, feel the capital P Privilege of your position in society, and have people give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s based on open marks in Isolation. When you’re an outcast and unwanted, it shows, and people pick up those misfit vibes. Status resists stress checks on Helplessness. As the book says:
You ever see a guy shouting “Do you know who I am?!?” at a ﬂight attendant? That’s someone whose Status is struggling with Helplessness.
If you get hit a lot, or have a lot of plates of spaghetti hurled at your face, or if you work in the monkey house at the zoo, your natural ﬂinch reﬂex gets tuned up. Dodge is what you roll to get out of the way of a falling piano or to leap aside when a motorcycle’s coming right at you.
Dodge is your Don’t Get Wrecked ability. Often it’s rolled, but it also has special properties when applied to violent conflicts that we’ll cover in the Conflicts chapter.
It’s exactly what it says on the label. Lie is used to … lie. Tell falsehoods, fibs, mislead, misdirect, and bamboozle. Of note, Lie isn’t like in other RPGS: Success doesn’t mean you’re believed. It means you come off as sincere.
For example, suppose you tell Fred, “Dude,your wife is sleeping around all over the place, every kind of crazy way, lying down, standing up, bending over… she’s outta control!” Even if Fred blows his Notice and you crit your Lie, he doesn’t automatically believe the accusation. But he thinks you’re sincere, and it’s certainly enough to make him watch her, if only to figure out how you could be so badly mistaken
Pursuit means being in tune to both hunter and prey. Are you trying to get away from that rabid dog, angry lover, or unspeakable horror? Roll Pursuit to scale obstacles, run ﬂat out, and avoid tripping on the gnarled tree roots of the forest and the slippery burger wrappers of your polluted downtown. Are you trying to chase down a pickpocket, witness, or lurking voyeur? Roll Pursuit to follow their trail, navigate the obstacles they ﬂing behind them and find that final burst of speed.
Pursuit is also used for car chases and general vehicle handling ability as well. A lot of pursuits uses also ties into the Gridiron, Unknown Armies extended conflict resolution system.
Sometimes you’ve got to hide yourself away. Or you have to hide something precious and secret that other people wouldn’t understand. Sometimes? You are the hiding place, for knowledge that most people can’t fathom and wouldn’t like if they could.
Secrecy is used for hiding of course, being unobtrusive and unnoticeable. It can also apply to hiding things: not just through sleight of hand or sticking it somewhere secret, but through codes, ciphers, and cryptography. Secrecy can also be used for Gutter Magick, a form of basic improv magick.
Struggle is kick. It’s bite. It’s punch, it’s wildly thrown elbows and thrashing. It’s grabbing the guy around the waist and throwing yourself to the ground, hoping to land on him. Struggle is head butting and shrieking and a willingness — even an eagerness — to get your thumbs in eyes. It is not graceful, studied, expert violence. It is raw and primal and scary as hell.
Struggle is used to make unarmed attacks, and attacks with simple and easy to use weapons. Baseball bats and machetes are fine, shuriken and rope-darts not so much. Struggle can be used for guns, but all you can do is spray n’ pray.
RELATIONSHIPSOriginal SA post
What’s a relationship? Well son, when a man and a woman love each other very much, or have been drinking…
OK, I’ll stop. I suppose it’s unfair of me to make jokes and then expect you to take things seriously. But this idea — our relationships, our emotional ties to other people — it’s a touchy thing. We want to cushion it with laughter. There are people who suﬀer all manner of insult with a smile, but crack wise on their sister and suddenly things are on a diﬀerent quantum level. We are often more defensive of others, and of our feelings for them, than we are of ourselves. Humans are social beings, and this is one of the times it helps us be noble and selﬂess.
Being close to someone makes you vulnerable. Not just in the Batman sense, where your parents get killed and you become a badass and then won’t let anyone else get close to you because then the Joker might torture them to lure you into a deadly game of bat and mouse. I mean, that’s there. There’s a reason for the stereotype that evil criminals threaten your family, because, honestly, they do. They do because it works, because telling the Godfather to go fuck himself is a noble gesture when it’s only your head on the block, but saying it when he’s pressing a gun against your kid… again, a diﬀerent quantum level. Beyond that, though, beyond the outside threat, there’s the one inside. When you love somebody — honestly, that’s what we’re talking about here more than anything else — it puts a ceiling on your personal, individual, selfish happiness. If
you know your beloved daughter is in torment, there’s only so happy you can be. (Unless you’re a turd, anyhow.) Being human is emotionally hard enough when you only have to carry the weight of your own bad decisions. Knowing that someone you love could get hooked on meth or, hell, just get clobbered by a BMW? It’s a wonder any of us can even get out of bed.
But we do, and we fall in love and form friendships and develop respect and admiration because we can’t really help it. We belong to each other. It’s our nature — it’s why Isolation gets its own meter and fear of roller coasters doesn’t. Friendships also put a ﬂoor under your personal, individual, self-absorbed misery. You get by with a little help from your friends, your family, the people who have to take you back when you apologize and the ones who can see what’s right with you even when you, yourself, have lost sight of it.
Our ties to each other matter. They matter a lot. So Unknown Armies gives them percentile ratings.
As important as the Shock Gauge and Abilities are, they aren’t very sexy or exciting. Those are the mechanical foundation, the floor-joists of the game. Everything builds on them but they’re not the sexy exciting bits. Relationships are the first one that starts putting things together and showing just how freaking amazing Unknown Armies is, and how disappointing it is that this game has basically gone under the radar of the RPG community as a whole.
Relationships are essentially another category of Ability. They work similarly and can be used in place of ability rolls in certain circumstances. These are when you are coercing the subject of the relationship (Unknown Armies social conflict mechanic), as a substitute for Connect, Lie, Notice, Status, and Struggle when using that ability on the subject of your relationship, and as a general use if the relationship makes sense to be used as the roll or to establish a fact in the fiction based on it.
Relationships can be increased by doing Good Things for the person or organization you have a relationship with. You can do this by 5% every session per relationship, as long as the task meets one of the two criteria: It can’t be something they can do easily themselves, or it has to cost you in some way. If it’s a simple favor the other party can do without any special effort it’s not worth the bump, unless it costs you personally in some way.
Relationships can also, once per session at the GM’s discretion, request you do something for them. If the relationship is with another PC (which at least one will be) then they can do the same to you. If you do the task the relationship increases, if you refuse then it decreases. There’s no penalty for agreeing and failing, just for not trying. Relationships are a two-way street after all.
THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT CONNECTIONS
Each character can have five mechanically important relationships: These are archetypal and are meant to help make such a normally free-form concept more mechanically solid and usable. Every player will begin with two: One NPC or Organization and another with one of their fellow PCs.
This is the one that gets all the poems and love songs. Who do you love? Whose happiness do you consider integral to your own? Now, I’m just a simple country game designer, so I’m not going to dig deep into the nature of love, but I have one observation. If there’s something you do that annoys everyone — it bugs your mom even — but there’s one person who thinks it’s cute? That person loves you. Similarly, Will Ferrell invokes the feeling of seeing a waiter coming with your food. If there’s someone in your life who gives you that sensation every time they walk into the room? That’s probably your favorite.
Your favorite should be an individual, not an organization. This sort of deep affection is generally left for flesh-and-blood humans. Uncomplicated functional love is generally not a good idea: It’s kind of hard for anything interestingly dramatic to come from a happy healthy relationship with no problems at all. When your biggest point of conflict is what brand of toilet paper to buy, it’s probably not going to play a part in your psychological occult thriller story. Instead try for complicated shit. Unrequited love, relationships on some very pointy rocks, star crossed love with lots and lots of nasty drama obstacles, or just unhealthy self destructive nightmare situations that get you on daytime talk shows all work better. This relationship starts equal to your Status, it’s your connection to the wider world.
The Guru is your spiritual and emotional guidance. This is your Mr. Miyagi, your Master Yoda, that ex-marine bartender who always listens to your woes and offers just the right guidance. Guru’s are focused on the philosophical and mental. They don’t give practical advice, or help that’s directly applicable, but general spiritual, ethical, and moral advice are their stock and trade. Organizations also make a good fit for the Guru slot: Religions are of course the archetypal example, but the more idealistic political organizations or philosophically minded causes can work as well. Guru relationship starts equal with your Notice ability.
Who explains what it’s all about to you? When you have a deep spiritual crisis, wondering why we’re even born, and why bad things happen to good people, and whether there’s anyone at the helm or maybe God is just, like, an insecure pissy drunk… that’s when you approach your guru.
Who do you look at with admiration? Who’s your aspirational figure? Who do you look at and think“Wow, _________ really has it wired together tight. I’d be better oﬀ if I could only be more like ________”? If the name in that blank is someone in your cell phone directory whom you see often enough, you can consider that person your mentor.
Mentors handle the practical, day to day, useful advice in your life. The pragmatic, grounded, and immediately actionable are their purview. Organizations fit this as well, especially political parties,civic and activist organizations, and clubs. Individuals are more like teachers than philosophical guides. Think more Coach Bombay. Mentors may lead to self-actualization, but they’re more interested in helping you get that scholarship champ, and sharpen up that slapshot before the next game. Mentor relationship starts equal with your Connect.
You could love or hate your responsibiliity, but you feel obligated to take care of them anyway. The main thing is that your responsibility should be a burden. If this relationship isn’t a concern and can be safely ignored then it’s a bad responsibility. It should be something you have to deal with and take care of, or else. This relationship starts equal with your Knowledge.
Somewhere there is someone you have to care for. It could be someone you owe, big time. Maybe you acted badly — abominably even — or maybe this person just doesn’t have anyone else, regardless of their needs. It could be your child, or your elderly parent, or your sister who’s in a bad spot. Or maybe you prospered on someone’s back, the cake got cut and you got all the frosting, and now you feel ashamed and want to make that right.
Similar to the responsibility, except for a protégé you help because you want to. No obligation or requirements, you do it because you want to help them. It may be self-sacrificing or self-interest, but you want to take care of this person, guide them, nurture them. This relationship starts equal to your Fitness ability.
There’s someone who looks up to you — or, at least, someone you think looks up to you, or should. Someone you can guide and help and, if not exactly shape, certainly inﬂuence. Positively! Someone who treats you as their guru or mentor, really.
RELATIONSHIPS, GAINED AND LOST
If you let a relationship drops to 0, or if the person or organization you had a relationship with no longer exists either through death or dissolution you get hit with an isolation 4-5 stress check, and now have that slot open. To fill it, you can either declare a new person or organization in that slot, which starts at 5%, or if the group desires they can treat it as a group objective. This can allow it to start a lot higher, but can take a lot more time, effort, and can derail the campaign. So it’s only recommended if everyone is really interested in doing it.
IDENTITIESOriginal SA post
Identities are the meat of your character. Abilities change over time, waxing and waning, but Identities don’t. They just get better. These are your skills, traits, special abilities, unique talents, and everything else all rolled into one.
So, an identity is as it says: An identity. The actual name of it can be whatever you can think of. A job, a talent, a social role, a hobby, a rank, whatever. The important thing is that it is an identity, not just a descriptor. You can’t have “First Aid” as an identity, but you sure can be a “Paramedic” or “Registered Nurse”. You don’t know “Gunfighting” you are a “Retired Marine” or “Competitive Shooter”. Like with anything, Identities come with a percentage that shows how good you are at what they do. By default you get between two and four to start, and split up 120% between however many you have. Minimum of 15% and maximum of 90%, though that is of course modifiable by the GM if desired.
When do you use identities instead of an ability? Most of the time it’s obvious. Just say of ”Of course I can _____ I’m _______”. If it fits in, then it makes sense you can roll that identity. Firemen know how to drive a firetruck and move around in a burning building, a car salesman can talk fast and knows their way around financial paperwork, and so on. The GM can make the final call of course, this is mostly so you don’t get an identity like “Supergenius” and try and use it for everything. Doing differential calculus in your head? Sure! Calculating the trajectory of a bullet in flight instantly to ricochet it around a blind corner? … No. So as a general rule, if it makes sense for your identity to give you the ability to do a thing, and the GM agrees, you can roll it instead of the relevant ability.
Of course this is still a bit wishy-washy. That’d just be the old freeform skills of previous editions, and those never worked well because total free form generally causes analysis paralysis, arguments, and balance worries. So identities are beefed up by hard mechanical guidelines called features.
Every identity gets one Feature built in: Substitutes For…, which means that you can always replace an ability roll with that identity. This way you can essentially “Lock” an ability into always being good, regardless of your current mental state. A Gym Rat can choose Substitutes For Fitness and make sure that no matter how beat down and weak they feel, they’ll still be able to bench 450 and run a 5k without getting a stitch.
You then pick two other Features to round it out:
This ties into the Magick systems later, but in essence: Rituals are your pentagrams and chicken blood arcane arts. Your hermetic chanting old-fashioned wizard stuff. This feature lets you use your identity when performing magickal rituals based on thaumaturgy and years of research and study.
COERCES A METER
Coercion is the social-combat esque system in Unknown Armies, but in essence this means you can use the identity to attack another person’s Shock Gauge and manipulate them into doing things you want them to do.
EVALUATES A METER
This lets you know “read” another's Shock Meter. You pick one of the meters and you can make a roll using the identity to learn what their meter is. How hardened they are, how many failed notches they have, and so on. This is handy when paired with coercion for obvious reasons: It lets you know where to hit them.
You know how to physically heal people and keep their meat-parts working. This covers traditional stuff like Nurses, doctors, paramedics and so on, but can also apply to chiropractors, Reiki practitioners, faith healers, and curanderos.
PROVIDES FIREARM ATTACKS
You’re trained enough in using a gun to be able to actually hit shit with it. See, most people who aren’t trained suck at using a gun in any sort of stressful situation. I mean, it’s not super hard to hit some targets down at the range, but it is another thing when that target has a face and a personality and a goddamn machete and he’s running right at you screaming oh god why isn’t the safety off… you get the idea. Without this you can just fire wildly in the vague direction of your enemy, while this feature gives you the ability to shoot someone semi-competently.
PROVIDES WOUND THRESHOLD
Unless you take this feature you have 50 wounds, same as every other normal human in the world. This one lets you use your Identity percentage instead. Great if you’re over 50% to start, and it improves over time.
Essentially this identity gives you an edge whenever shit goes down and speed and reaction matters. Instead of using an ability like Dodge or Struggle, you can use your identity, helping you get off the mark first and get an edge when shit hits the fan.
RESISTS SHOCKS TO A METER
This lets you resist stress checks against a single meter using the identity. This is of course very useful: If you see yourself possibly getting a lot of shocks to one of the meters this lets you keep your Hardened status reasonable and lessens the chances of getting a failed notch. Good for shoring up weaknesses in your psychological armor as well.
This is like medical, but for the mind and soul. You can help people heal up their shock gauges, clearing failed notches and opening up hardened ones. While psychologists and such count, this feature also works for priests, yogic gurus, loving grandmas, and just plain soothing people. Anybody who makes the inside hurts go away.
Catch all whatever the heck for people who want something special that isn’t covered by anything else. This essentially acts as a universal “GM says it’s OK” clause. If there’s something you want to be guaranteed to always be able to use your identity for, this is what you want.
Want to own and be able to safely, legally operate a hot air balloon? Unique feature. Want to be famous enough that a certain segment of middle-aged women goes absolutely nuts when they see you? Unique. Be able to forge documents and recognize others’ forged documents? Build and disarm explosive devices? Sculpt beautifully in clay? Unique.
USE GUTTER MAGICK
Gutter magick is your modern day, chaos/sympathetic type improv magick. While technically any character can do it using Secrecy, this lets you roll with an identity for more consistency and bigger numbers.
Identities go up, never down. That’s why they’re better than abilities! The first time in a session you roll on an identity and fail, you get to add 1-5% to that identity (1d10, divide by 2 and round up) at the end of the session. Once per session if you fail a roll during that session. Don’t fail a roll? Why are you complaining?
Want a new identity? Well, not counting magick, which can do all sorts a bullshit, this is a group objective to give one of the PCs a new one. This will be covered in book 2, but essentially get ready for a sidequest. New identities start at 15%.
These identities are the ones that give you in-built fancy special powers! These work a bit differently, and are much more mechanically rigid than mundane identities. This is because too much leeway can make them way too powerful, or lead to arguing with the GM about what exactly an “Indigo Child” is.
Supernatural identities don’t get to substitute for any ability. They can include Cast Rituals and Use Gutter Magick if the GM allows it, but it’s not required. Instead Supernatural identities get a single supernatural feature defining what exactly (mechanically speaking) they can do.
This feature represents any sort of premonitions or precognitions. Vague information is vague: It has breadth of application but lacks specificity. Use of this identity shouldn’t be effortless to do: getting this information should be a bit of a hassle. Maybe visions of the future happen randomly when the GM wants, maybe they require meditative silence, or an hour of uninterrupted card reading, or star gazing, or communing with the spirits.
Examples: Prophetic Dreams, Tarot Reader, Haruspex, Visionary
Mechanically speaking this gives you two things: GM provided hints and hunch rolls. Better the result, the more useful the information the GM gives you. A success is just a useful hint, a matched succes a big clue which is based on what the GM wants you to know, and a crit means the GM tells you a big clue about some personal goal of your character. Success and matched success also give you a hunch roll, with a crit giving you two. A fumble hits you with a stress-check as you witness something horrific and scarring which is vague enough you just get freaked out with no useful information.
This feature represents something like a specific supernatural “sense” that lets you get detailed specific information in a specific way. You essentially pick a thing you can view, a method of viewing it, and discuss with the GM any limitations this power may have. You are limited to scanning a single person/place/thing per use of the identity, and the duration is based on the roll with better successes giving you a longer time to gather what information you need.
Examples: Aura Sight, Clairvoyant, Astral Projector, See Dead People.
Fumble: You’ve come to the attention of some powerful person or entity or force which now seeks to use your powers as part of its grand cosmic scheme. But on the plus side, you see something — you see what that entity wants to show you to lead you into its clutches…
Vague protection is your overall-handy Keep From Getting Murdered magickal powers. The main mechanical use for it is acting as an alternative to the Dodge skill for the purposes of dodging damage. You have to take some action to “activate” the power, and can’t do anything else at the same time but it can let you use this fancy supernatural identity to Dodge damage instead of investing in a “Replaces Dodge” identity. Of course this also comes with another benefit: Pick one category of effect that normally can’t be dodged, and you can use this identity to defend against that. Magick spells, stress checks a meter, poisons and illness, and even roll penalties in general can all be chosen. Whether your power just acts like Dodge or gets some other way of protection like a roll to avoid is up to you and the GM.
Examples: Good Luck, Guardian Angel, Blessing, Quantum Psychic Positivity, Precognition
You get to pick a very specific narrow form of harm, and are now totally immune to that. Whatever you’re protected against should be specific enough that there’s big obvious limitations, but not so specific it will never come up. There are some guidelines for certain types of protection though. If it’s protecting your mind, you get to pick three shock meters you can defend with this identity. Physical harm has to be specific, and requires an action to protect against. Succeed on the roll, and you get no damage. Magickal protection can work just like protection against physical for active spells, and can be used to dis-spell ongoing effects and malignant magickal influences.
Examples: Bulletproof Agimat, Protective Palad Khik Tattoo, Enchanted Molar Twin Decoy, Spiritual Colonic
Vague harm isn’t used to directly hurt someone, instead it fucks their ability to succeed at tasks: Vague harm can hit someone with a persistent -20% to all their rolls if you get a matched success with it. Regular successes give them a -10% until they fail a roll because of the penalty. It’s limited to about once per hour, and can only affect one person with each use.
Examples: Hexing, Curses, Psychic Vampirism.
This is what you go for to get your general magickal attack deals. This power lets you do damage to someone using your supernatural identity, but with some restrictions. Any use of this power has to have some limitations to it based on what the power is. Maybe you need to make eye contact, or physically touch them, or need a calm quiet place to meditate while give them a stroke from three blocks over. You also can only make this attack about once per hour, but on the upside it’s totally undodgeable. If you meet the conditions to hit with it, the harm goes through regardless of whatever the other person does, and gives them a level 4-5 Unnatural check. This power does the equivalent of unarmed attacks, but matched successes include a -20% penalty on the targets next action and crits do max damage and make them lose their next action.
Examples: Evil Eye, Psychic Assault, Dim Mak.
Influence is bad. Like, this is the first bit of the rules I actually don’t like, so I’m not just telling you what it is here, I’m telling you WHY. See, the only thing it gives is vague fictional positioning advantage, which has no actual mechanical effect.
Now I do like the increased fictional positioning, that’s fine, that should be a thing, but I want some beneficial mechanics too! Every other feature interacts directly with the mechanics of the game some way in a positive manner, this one does not. It just interacts with it negatively in the extended conflict resolution rules with no actual positive benefit from it. So no, bad Greg Stolze. Still, every RPG has to have a dud somewhere.
Now, I’m going to propose how we fix it: First, give it some positive benefit to make up for failures in gridiron conflicts being more severe than the default resolution system, so that using your powers is more of a gamble: You could win big or lose big with them. I’d keep the rules in as of now, and simple add:
Success You move the conflict two steps in the direction you prefer.
Crit The other person jumps immediately to the most positive result. If you have a relationship with that person, it increases by 10%
That fixes the gridiron issue by making this power both more useful, while at the same time a big gamble! Failures are more punishing but successes are more rewarding.
I’d also give this power a +10% to any Coerce rolls using the identity, making it better at social conflict in general. Since it gives no other benefits and can backfire catastrophically if you roll poorly, I think this makes it powerful but still balanced, in line with the other supernatural identities.
Now, you people who don’t know the game may think this is a bit OVERpowered, compared to the others. But it’s not, because this interacts with the social mechanics of Unknown Armies, and it’s important to remember this: In Unknown Armies, Nobody can make you do anything but die. Winning a social conflict is not mind control, it does not MAKE the other party do what you want. It makes it much more convincing from a fictional perspective that they SHOULD do the thing, but you can’t ever force them to do it. You can’t just talk someone into shooting themselves, unless they already wanted to and you’re just pushing them over the edge for example. I’ll cover this more when we get to Conflicts next update.
Examples: Telekinesis, Telepathy, Ancestral Memories, Spirit Guide.
This is your catch all for abilities that do a wide variety of stuff. If your chosen power can do all sorts of things, a massive variety of abilities and you don’t want to but strict restrictions on it, then use this. Similarly, this is what you use if your supernatural power is actually specific, but is widely applicable to many many situations so that it could essentially obsolete every other Identity.
How this works mechanically is simple: One per in-game day you can roll this identity to replicate the ability of any other supernatural identity.
You want to use Ancestral Memories to hurt someone? Describe it as utilizing the lost hand-to-hand combat secrets of the Maya, or brewing a poison used by your illegitimate Borgia forebears. Want to learn something with TK? Describe picking the latch on someone’s shrink’s briefcase and teasing out their file. Want to protect yourself with your spirit guide? Tell the GM and then cup your hand to your ear. “What’s that, Ramtha? You say she’s going to stab me?!?”
The GM should be careful about this: If the player can’t come up with a good reason that their power can do the thing they want, or if they look like they’re abusing this ability, the GM is encouraged to shut that down.
But by all means, use a lot of other identities and then paint them as uses of this talent. You won’t fool the rules, but you might impress someone if they believe you deﬂected their knife by millimeters with your psychic powers, instead of just dodging it. Your character might actually believe it’s his ancestors telling him how to solve a geometry problem when, in fact, it’s an unheralded triumph for his high school math teacher.
COERCIONOriginal SA post
Before any physical conflict rules, we get rules for direct social conflict. Coercion is the mechanism by which Unknown Armies lets players make other people do things they don’t wanna do through social pressure. Or, because if they don’t do it precious Suzy is getting found in 17 pieces in a garbage dump in Hoboken, get me?
Coercion has a few steps, I’ll go through them and elaborate so everyone gets it:
1. Establish a credible threat. That means that you actually have to be able to convince the other person that you CAN do the thing you’re threatening to do. If they have no belief at all that what you’re doing is actually possible, then you’ve failed from step one and have to change tack or establish your credibility. Threatening someone with a magickal curse is pointless if they don’t believe magick exists, and a professional MMA fighter probably isn’t open to threats of violence unless you're a scary motherfucker yourself.
2. If the threat is credible, you get to roll whatever ability, identity, etc. that fits. Failure means they don’t believe the threat and whoops, try something new. Succeed and they believe the threat, and take it seriously.
3. If you succeeded that other person has a choice: Do what you want them to do, or they get a stress check to whatever shock gauge you targeted with your threat. The level of the check depends on several factors: How good your roll is, what passions you and your target has, etc. Basically it pays to know about the person you’re putting the squeeze on to make sure it’s a damn good threat.
And that’s it. Now, Coercion is basically an end-around most issues that social conflict systems engender: There’s no confusion about what the result is, no-one is MADE to do anything at all so everybody maintains their free choice and ability to refuse to do something, the mechanical consequences are clear, and it does allow for a depth of strategy and rewards preparation and knowledge.
Now, the book actually addresses an issue that may come up if players aren’t familiar with Unknown Armies: Why use coercion at all? One big reason is there’s little to no risk for doing it. Oh there are consequences certainly, but compared to actual physical violence to get what you want it’s nowhere near as bad. It’s important to note that total bluffs are just fine, the credibility is on your targets behalf not your own. As long as they believe you can follow through, then it will work. If you want to get something without resorting to violence or magick, then coercion works a treat.
What if coercion doesn’t work? No worries, it’s also not a permanent end. Fuck-up in a gunfight and somebody dies, fuck-up magick and something a lot worse than just dying can happen. Someone doesn’t believe your threat, or shrugs off that stress? Fine, you can walk away and try again another day. Maybe you need to hit them somewhere else they’re more vulnerable, maybe you can actually follow through on the threat and not even need to coerce them again. Come back after actually leaving their prize poodle’s severed head on their pillow and they’ll probably just cave to your demands.
This is also a good tool for fucking up peoples heads. If you now where to hit them, where they’re vulnerable, you might be able to push someone into burn-out or even madness. Stacking notches on their meters represents their mental health remember? Maybe the repeated death threats don’t make them cave, but when the Mayor suddenly starts acting, cold, distant, and uncaring, or gets pale and queasy at the sight of raw steak, that can be an end on its own.
Now, some advice on exactly how to target the different meters, because your normal RPG playing nerd probably isn’t used to planning how to destroy someone’s life and sanity for profit.
This is all about making someone feel small, weak, powerless, without agency. It’s that deep gut churning feeling when a cop pulls you over and asks if you know why, the knowledge that you have no control in this situation and you’re totally at the mercy of another person.
Helplessness coercion has to come from a place of authority, if not actual than perceived. You have to make them feel like you’re in control, and whatever threat you’re putting out is something they cannot avoid or stop, an inevitable consequence of ignoring your will.
This is one of the trickier ones, but coercion from isolation involves words like “Outcast”, “Pariah”, “Ostracize”, and “Don’t ever talk to me again”. This is social pressure, threatening someone’s position in society and civilization. People with lots of open Isolation are generally social butterflies, plugged into friends, family, associates, and the general hustle and bustle of human life. The threat of losing all that can be crippling.
Isolation threats work best if you have something in common with the person, some shared society or social circle you move in. It’s easier to threaten a guy with getting kicked out of the Royal Order of the Water Buffalo if you also go bowling in funny hats once a week. Of course good old blackmail can work the same. See everytime someone uses “dirty pictures” as leverage in a crime story to get some rich patsy to do what they want.
Self is hard to coerce, but it’s also one of the most devastating places to hit someone. Self coercion works essentially by making whatever you want seem like something they want as well, and it would be a terrible thing for them to not do it. It will tear them apart inside. A good self coercion should be able to end with the words “...because it’s the right thing to do.”
Self coercion can also leverage guilt, wrongdoing, and the need for atonement. If you know they did something that they feel is “wrong”, and dangle the promise of redemption, or at least a clearer conscience, they’ll jump at it.
This is what you use to plead for your life! If someone’s pointing a gun at your face, you can beg them to look into their heart and just leave. After all, killing someone is widely regarded as, y’know, wrong and unethical. All it takes is a Knowledge roll to give that ice-hearted killer a Self stress check to worry about. Even if she knows she can easily soak the Violence check for painting the wall with your assorted head-juices.
This is your classic “Do what I say or I’ll blow your fucking brains out!”, your Offer You Cannot Refuse, your big muscley guy with a baseball bat leering menacingly. Violence coercion is straightforward and simple: Make the other guy think you can and will hurt them, and they’ll either do what you want or spend sleepless nights in terror of you taking a ball peen hammer to their finger joints.
What changes people most of all, perhaps, is learning that
the way they assumed the world works is all just bunk.
Instead of a tidy world of physics and politics — or even
an unruly world of Heisenberg physics and crooked Jersey
politics — they’re living in the weirdly fair representative
cosmology of a Dirk Allen novel. But even if they don’t learn
of the Invisible Clergy and have no idea what a threat the
House of Renunciation is, finding out that there are invisible
entities who hate you? Kind of a shock. Therefore, the ability
for coercing someone's Unnatural meter is Secrecy. Roll it to
seem plausibly satisfied that you have the hidden answers.
You can, after all, explain what they can’t.
Like violence, this one is pretty self-explanatory: Show someone some spooky stuff, or at least make them think something spooky is happening, and they’ll go along with anything that promises they aren’t going to get eaten by a chupacabra or have their ex-wife’s murdered ghost start haunting them.
SPECIAL UPDATE I AM AN IDIOT EDITION: PASSIONS AND OBSESSIONSOriginal SA post
SPECIAL UPDATE I AM AN IDIOT EDITION: PASSIONS AND OBSESSIONS
This should have been back in the Character Creation section, but I'm an idiot and missed it because I was going to cover it after Identities and then had a brainfart.
When you make a character, you get to pick three passions and one obsession which define what your character really cares about.
The first passion is your Fear Passion. Your fear is essentially what you're most terrified of, concrete or abstract. It's what makes your character freak out, run away, break down in terror at. Crocodiles, giant spiders, college loan debt, getting dumped, The Government, whatever has a starring feature in their nightmares.
The second is your Rage Passion. This is what pisses you the fuck off the most. This could be a righteous fury, or you could just have to hold back whenever someone doesn't enunciate their words properly. This can be a person, cops, yuppies, Jehova's Witnesses, or a thing or action, or even a concept. You might get fuming mad at the very idea of taxes, or hipsters, or being condescended to.
The third passion is your Noble Passion. This is represents whatever brings out the best in you. It's the better angel of your nature, what you sacrifice for and would do without thought of reward. You might be a die-hard NAACP activist, or unfailingly loyal to your friends, or can't stand to see another person cry. Maybe you feel compelled to help the homeless, or fight political corruption, or Save the Whales.
Regardless, if you are doing something in tune with your passions, you get a special thing: Re-rolls. If you're running from your fear, attacking your rage, or following your noble passion you can re-roll any failed roll, and once per session you can flip-flop a roll for acting along with your passions.
An obsession is whatever your really really care about. It's what your life revolves around and what motivates and fascinates you. You choose one of your identities to be your Obsession, and whenever you roll that identity, you get to flip-flop the results. Every single time. You don't get rerolls, but infinite free flip-flops can be incredibly powerful.
COMBATOriginal SA post
Somewhere out there is someone who had loving parents, watched clouds on a summer’s day, fell in love, lost a friend, is kind to small animals, and knows how to say “please” and “thank you,” and yet somehow the two of you are going to end up in a dirty little room with one knife between you and you are going to have to kill that human being.
It’s a terrible thing. Not just because he’s come to the same realization and wants to survive just as much as you do, meaning he’s going to try and puncture your internal organs to set oﬀ a cascading trauma eﬀect that ends with you voiding your bowels, dying alone and removed from everything you’ve ever loved. No, it’s a terrible thing because somewhere along the way you could have made a diﬀerent choice. You could have avoided that knife, that room, and maybe even found some kind of common ground between the two of you. Or at least, you might have divvied up some turf and left each other alone. That would have been a lot smarter, wouldn’t it? Even dogs are smart enough to do that. Now you’re staring into the eyes of a fellow human and in a couple minutes one of you is going to be vomiting blood to the rhythm of a fading heartbeat. The survivor is going to remember this night for the rest of his or her life.
SIX WAYS TO STOP A FIGHT
So before you make a grab for that knife, you should maybe think about a few things. This moment is frozen in time. You can still make a better choice.
Surrender: Is your pride really worth a human life? Drop your weapon, put up your hands, and tell them you’re ready to cut a deal. You walk, and in exchange you give them something they need. Sidestep the current agenda. Oﬀer them something unrelated to your dispute, and negotiate to find a solution.
Disarm: Knife on the table? Throw it out the window. Opponent with a gun? Dodge until he’s out of bullets. Deescalate the confrontation to fsts, if possible. You can settle your diﬀerences with some brawling and still walk away, plus neither one of you has to face a murder charge or a criminal investigation.
Re-channel: So you have a conﬂict. Settle it a smarter way. Arm wrestle, play cards, have a scavenger hunt, a drinking contest, anything that lets you establish a winner and a loser. Smart gamblers bet nothing they aren’t willing to lose. Why put your life on the line?
Pass the buck: Is there somebody more powerful than either one of you who is going to be angry that you two are coming to blows? Pretend you’re all in the mafia and you can’t just kill each other without kicking your dispute upstairs first. Let that symbolic superior make a decision. You both gain clout for not spilling blood.
Call the cops: If you’ve got a grievance against somebody, let the police do your dirty work. File charges. Get a restraining order. Sue him in civil court for wrongful harm. You can beat him down without throwing a punch.
Run away: The hell with it. Who needs this kind of heat? Blow town, get a job someplace else, build a new power base. Is the world really too small for the both of you? It’s a big planet out there.
Still determined? Backed into a corner with no way out? Have to fight for the greater good? Up against someone too stupid to know this is a bad idea? Or maybe just itching for some action? So be it. The rest of this section contains rules for simulating the murder of human beings. Have fun.
THE SO-CALLED COMBAT ROUND
As in most RPG’s, combat in Unknown Armies is abstracted out into “rounds”. Unlike some other games, this is not a hard number of seconds, but it’s just as much time as it takes for everyone to do one thing. This may be three seconds in a hectic bar brawl, or up to ten minutes for a tense mexican standoff where everyone slowly draws their weapons and slides into position for the coming carnage.
Everyone gets one turn, one chance to do a thing, every round. Unlike most games, there’s no hard initiative system to follow. People don’t start a fight by rolling to see who goes first, instead people just declare their actions whenever they want. The first person to draw a gun in a shootout is the first person to say “I draw my gun”. If there’s disagreement about who goes first in what situation, talk it out. Everyone should declare what they’re doing, and can change their minds based on what everyone else is doing. GM’s should arbitrate based on the fiction of the game as a general rule. Sometimes they might leave it up to a roll between whatever relevant identities or abilities. The one big exception is if someone has a Provides Initiative feature on one of their identities: That always takes precedence over anything else.
Attack rolls are like everything else: a percentile using a relevant identity, or Struggle. Generally you don’t bother with penalties or bonuses: The percentile rating of the ability is supposed to represent your chances under a stressful situation such as combat. Only apply modifiers if facing extraordinary difficulties or obstacles, and keep them at 10% or 20%, any more and you start risking mathematical unhappiness.
You can move about ten feet in a round and still do another action, if you wanna move more then roll Fitness or other appropriate identity, pass get up to 30 feet, fail only get twenty, matched drops that down to 10 feet, and a fumble you fall over and have to spend an action getting up off the ground.
NOT GETTING HURT
There’s two main ways to not die in Unknown Armies: Dodging and Armor. Dodging i spretty simple: you say you’re doing it and you are. It’s not a roll, but a -10% penalty to the rolls of anyone trying to smack you. If whatever ability or identity you are using is greater than the attackers, it’s a -20% penalty.
Armor works by “downgrading” damage. There’s three rough categories of armor, bulletproof/resistant armor, helmets, and Misc. Other Stuff. Bulletproof gear is your flak-jackets and kevlar vests. They effect firearm damage by downgrading it so it works like unarmed damage. This still means your character could get seriously injured and knocked out, but it’s nowhere near as devastating as getting shot unarmored. Helmets work the same as bulletproof clothes, but only once. After getting hit they lose their protective properties. They also work to reduce damage from falls and car crashes, and weaken melee weapons my preventing them from doing special stuff on matched successes. Finally, other stuff is for things like football pads, thick leather jackets, motorcycle clothing, and so on. These do nothing to gunshots, but they do make melee weapons treat matched successes like normal ones.
As mentioned previously, by default all characters have 50 wounds, barring magick or an identity with the Provides Wound Threshhold feature. So, you take wounds when you take damage from attacks, get down to 0 wounds and you die.
Now, one big thing Unknown Armies does differently that other RPGs is, well…
If you look you’ll see a bit labeled “Wound Threshold”. You’ll notice that unlike a lot of RPGs it’s not a divided field, separated into “Max” and “Current”. That’s because players don’t track their own wounds! The GM does that. And never tells the player the numbers.
Yes, you, as a player, will never know exactly how healthy your character is unless your memory is really really good. This is to make the spectacle of violence more immediate, more visceral, and more terrifying. It’s not nerve wracking or tense to see you took 22 wounds out of 50 on your character sheet, but it sure as hell is when your GM describes just how much blood that knife wound is making you squirt out and you don’t know if you can take another stab, is it deeper than I think it is? How close to death am I? Oh god, I don’t wanna risk getting killed!
So, this does place onus on the GM to describe ever grisly wound and injury! You want to give your players a clear idea of how badly fucked they are! The game does provide some general rules: Damage up to half the wound threshold is generally considered “minor” damage. These are your shallow cuts, bruises, scrapes, and so on. The sorta hurts that will be sore as hell in the morning, but you probably don’t notice too bad in the middle of a scrap. At the halfway point you’re going to feel like hammered shit, probably be covered in blood, and definitely black and blue all over. Over half to three-quarters then you’re in the “Not moving at all for a few days” level, where going to the hospital seems like a really good idea and slamming prescription painkillers is really really nice. Over three-quarters and you’re into suppurating wounds and broken bones. This is when calling 911 immediately afterwards is a very good idea.
FISTS AND FEET
Damage with unarmed attacks calculate damage based on the total of the dice, treating each D10 as separate. You just add the numbers together to get how much damage you do. A 32 is 5 damage, a 46 is 10 damage, and so on. Matched successes do nothing special for unarmed attacks.
If you get a crit though, the fight is over. 1/100 unarmed attacks instantly end the fight: You choose to either knock them out cold or kill them. If you go for a KO then they’re unconscious for a few seconds, 1 to 5 rounds, then conscious but unable to fight for about ten minutes. Yeah, because it turns out being out cold for more than a few seconds means you’ve got severe brain damage. Still, after getting KO’d, even if they recover they’re probably not in the mood for a brawl, and you’ve got a good few minutes of them being doozy and weak to deal with them further. If you choose to kill them, welp, they’re dead. Maybe you snap their neck, or send a rib into their heart, crush their trachea, smack their head into a wall just so, whatever. They’re a corpse.
Melee weapons calculate damage just like unarmed on a normal success, with some additional damage based on the type of weapon. Melee weapons have three possible properties: Is it sharp enough to cut flesh easily, is it big enough to need two hands to use, and is it heavy enough to break bones. Sharp weapons do +3 wounds and always do at least 1 damage even on a miss. Big weapons need two hands to wield, and do +3 wounds. Heavy weapons do another +3. So your typical kitchen knife does +3 wounds and 1 on a miss due to being sharp, a baseball bat would be Heavy and Large, for a +6 Wounds to any hit, and some nutter coming at you with an axe would be doing +9 damage and 1 on a miss for Big, Heavy and Sharp.
Melee weapons do act differently based on the result of the attack roll though! While unarmed only has miss, hit, or Crit, melee has something new for every result. If you fumble a melee attack, you take 1d10 wounds as you hit yourself with your own weapon. A matched failure disarms you: Either you dropped it like a moron or your enemy took it from you. A failure and a success is as normal: You do damage or you don’t. Matched successes make melee weapons do damage based on the result of the roll: Just read it straight as a D100, which means any matched success over 47, regardless of weapon, is an instant kill on a typical human. Crits are just straight insta-kills, no knocking out, they’re just dead.
Guns always do damage according to the result of the roll, with crits doing maximum damage for the weapon. Yes, guns have a maximum damage rating, so some guns will do less damage than you rolled just because there’s only so much damage a hunk of lead can do. Bigger bullets are bigger, a .22 is not the same as a .45.
Ranges are loose, in Short, Medium, and Long. Short is about out to how far you can clearly see someones face, or how far you can huck a frisbee. Medium is around a city block, and long range is out to the point where you can see them.
Now who’s ready for pages of detailed gun stats!
First we have the Walther PPK. It fires a .380 ACP round and holds 6 rounds before reloading. Each shot does a maximum of…
Ok, nah there are no detailed gun stats at all.
There we go, that’s literally every gun stat in the game. Note, the only guns that can’t one-shot kill your typical human in a single attack are the Light Pistol and Light Rifle, everything else is perfectly happy to murder you with a single bullet.
There’s also rules for tasers, tear gas/pepper spray, and nets/bolos/other entangling things. I’m not going into super detail on those because I realize I go on too much about this stuff, and am meant to give an overview of the setting not crazy detail. Basically electrical weapons paralyze the target for a few minutes if they hit for more damage than the target has remaining wounds, Pepper spray, tear gas, and mace makes you take penalties to physical actions, you’re blinded and can’t smell due to stinging pain, and there’s a chance you’ll just crumple up and roll around on the ground crying for a bit. Entangling stuff like nets tie you up. If the hits an even it’s your arms and you can’t attack, if it’s an odd your legs and you fall over. Entangled person has to roll to get out of it.
You have several other special things you can do in a fight, this is the bit where they tell you how to arbitrate some of them. Most of these are nothing special: Aiming takes an action but gives you bonuses to your next attack, throwing stuff acts like a ranged unarmed attack, how to handle disarms, etc.
Some points that a lot of games fuck up: Full Auto and Suppressive Fire. Full auto isn’t totally broken or a pain in the ass to handle. It basically gives bonuses to damage for hitting, and lets you hit multiple targets with a single attack in exchange for burning through ammo. Suppressive fire acts by making the enemy face a Violence check to move while being suppressed, and can hit someone with the sprayed bullets if you get a matched or crit success. Of note, suppressing fire is the only thing people without the Provides Firearm Attacks feature can do. It also represents the wild spraying of an untrained combatant.
The last thing in this section is thee rules for Pointblanking someone. This basically means that if you attack someone who is either totally unaware or unable to resist your attack, you use these rolls. It’s your sneak attacks and coup de grace in one. If you have a weapon, you don’t have to roll: Say you’re going to kill the sucker and he’s dead. If you’re using your bare hands you do roll, but they do damage like a gun. Regardless of how you do it, this triggers a 7-8 Violence check, probably a Self check as well, and anyone watching gets hit with a 3-4 Violence check to boot. Cold-blooded murder is not easy on the soul.
THE GRIDIRONOriginal SA post
This is the extended conflict method for Unknown Armies. The Gridiron is used to represent everything from grappling, to car chases, to court trials.
The way it works is simple. First you draw out the gridiron:
Next you decide if whatever contest you’re doing, is compressed or open ended. In other words, is there a limit to how many rolls you get to do or is it going until one side wins. If it’s open ended, you just decide what the win and lose conditions for each party in the conflict is, putting one on each end-zone of the gridiron. If it’s limited then you have a bit more work, as you have to note a possible result on each tier: When the time limit runs out whatever result you’re at is the one you get.
Then you roll! Using abilities, identities, etc. as normal, you make rolls to move a token up and down the gridiron. Fumbles move the marker toward your opponent, failures don’t move it at all, successes move the marker one section toward your favored result, and crits move it two spaces. If you’ve ever played Fate Core, this will seem familiar.
Let’s explore the gridiron system using that old RPG boogeyman of wrestling! So, for a combative grapple you have the endzone set up as follows:
ATTACKER END ZONE: The defender is defeated, they’re either out cold or tied up in knots so badly they can’t do anything productive. The attacker or another person can now choose to kill the defender via pointblanking.
ATTACKER ADVANTAGE The defender is getting their ass whooped. If the round ends at this stage the attacker can do 1d10 damage to the defender by twisting something in a way it shouldn’t go. If the defender has a weapon, the attacker can also disarm them.
BALANCE Neither side has any advantage, neutral and starting position.
DEFENDER ADVANTAGE: The attacker’s grip is weak and the defender can choose at rounds end to switch roles: Now the attacker is on defense and vice versa.
DEFENDER END ZONE: The defender has escaped, and does one unarmed damage worth of attack to the attacker. The grapple has ended, but not necessarily the fight.
And that’s it! Easy, yeah? There are some supplemental rules for edge cases of course, but nothing too complex. To go through them quickly: If you’re in a grapple and other people are helping, each additional person involved automatically moves the result one step towards their favored result every round. This means enough people dogpile you, and it’s basically impossible to escape. If either party has a gun they can use it as long as they’re in their respective Advantage or End Zone stage. Edged weapons can do 1d10 damage to another person in the grapple, in addition to any other roll. And if you attack someone in a grapple you get a bonus to hit him, but if you miss you could hurt someone else in the scrum.
Sometimes, the GM is just going to let you do it. It’s like a bye week in the NFL, only for your dice. Usually this comes up if the GM’s options are “allow you to do it” or “let everything suck.” If your character might reasonably get out of those handcuﬀs and — this is the important part — the GM can’t think of any other cool things to happen until he escapes, then the GM might just let you eel out without even rolling. Even an event that feels important and uncertain may earn a mulligan if all the alternatives are worse. Or the GM may just know something you don’t, and lets you get past the cameras without rolling because the guards are already dead…
If anyone wants me to talk more about the Gridiron feel free to ask!
Just whipping through this, but it’s your standard stuff. Car crashes, fire, electricity, falls, drowning, poison and illness, etc. No need to go into detail, just letting everyone know it’s a thing they address.
Healing! Most of this applies to people with a Medical identity, or when you go to the hospital for a GMC to patch you up.
GOLDEN HOUR TREATMENT
Medical treatment is best done as soon as possible, before the injury gets infected or torn open more, or infested with cursed hellmaggots. If a Medical type person gets to patch you up with first aid and EMS procedures within the first hour after the injury, then they can heal you up a bit. A success heals equal to the tens place of the roll, matched success is the sum, and a crit is 20 wounds. This isn’t too much, but can get rid of little hurts and keep someone badly injured a bit further from death. Of course fumbles and matched failures can cause more damage, both physical and psychological.
Take too long for the golden-hour to pass, or just need some heavy-duty treatment, this is what you want. This is for proper care in a hospital (or mob-basement OR). Rolling for this can only be done once per major injury, so you don’t get to roll over and over to heal someone up. Fumbles do damage, and matched failures do nothing, which is bad, but just a normal failure heals as much as just bed-rest. Successes heal equal to the roll, but can’t heal the last wound. At least 1 wound needs to be recovered by bed-rest. Matched successes work the same as above, but the patient isn’t convalescing after the operation and can be active instead of zonked out on morphine. A crit heals either all but 1d10 wounds, or equal to your identity, whichever is lower.
If you just lay around and relax to heal, you heal up a wound for every day of bedrest or easy going. Wounds over half your threshold also require a Fitness roll in order to heal up.
This works similarly to physical healing, just on slightly different time-scales. Immediate care shortly after a psychological shock lets the person being helped can let them converta failed notch they got to a hardened one on a success, or erase whatever notch they got on a matched success or crit like they never got the shock. Long term psychiatric care can let you remove a mark once a month for normal therapy, or once a week for intensive daily care. You can’t heal-up psychologically without active help from someone with the Therapeutic feature.
THE WEIRDNESS OF THE WORLDOriginal SA post
THE WEIRDNESS OF THE WORLD
Everyone is taught that the world operates on the laws of science, but it’s hard, sometimes, to feel that. When you read about how a ten-year-old girl named Laura Buxton released a balloon with her address on it and it was found by an entirely diﬀerent girl named Laura Buxton who’s about the same age… well, it’s like logic blushes and shuffles its feet, isn’t it? When a mathematician avidly says that coincidences happen all the time and that what’s actually rare is for us to uncover them, that doesn’t really make the world seem more stable and rational. It makes it feel like there’s a deeper order of which we are ignorant, and it deforms the shapes of our lives in ways we cannot predict.
Occultism is all about trying to find that set of secret rules that govern the world. Magick is all about knowing those rules and believing you can beat the house odds.
In Unknown Armies, the unnatural, the hidden and the magickal exist. They’re waiting to be discovered, battled, exploited. They are the patterns we feel but can’t prove, the faith in a lucky shirt that never let us down, while the scientific method can’t explain why that goddamn dishwasher doesn’t work even though we followed the installation instructions exactly. They’re the “measurement anomalies” and “observer errors” and “one-time ﬂukes” that become more reliable than any device we can fully understand. They’re out there, and they don’t need you to believe in them.
The question is, what are you going to do about them?
The world of Unknown Armies is just like ours. It’s 21st Century America, good ol’ US of A. Trumps in the white house, news media is in the toilet, and the oceans are a rising. Everything happened how it happened in the “real” world, just.. The reasons might be a bit different. Or they might not.
The Occult Underground is very very different from a lot of other urban fantasy type settings. In tabletop gaming of course the gold standard is the World of Darkness, but I also mean things like Dresden Files, Harry Potter, all those hundreds of supernatural romance YA stories which are too many to count. A lot of the overarching themes and elements of magick, the unnatural, and the weird, are sort of hidden. They aren’t openly noted, but instead trends one notices while reading through the setting and such. Trends and conceptual frameworks and such that make sense but don’t get explicitly stated. I’m going to outline these themes here, before I go into the specifics of the setting.
First off, there is no giant supernatural conspiracies that secretly control the world, ala Old World of Darkness, where damn near anything that happens has vampires, or werewolves, or Pentex, or the Technocracy, or the Real True Black Hand For Sure, or… you get the idea. Magick is powerful but it’s not ruling the world, in fact even the most powerful, clued in, top of the game organizations and people in Unknown Armies still don’t know jack shit about the whole story and are working with severely limited knowledge, scope, and understanding.
The Occult Underground isn’t isolated from the real world in any way. Magick and the unnatural are literally everywhere, affecting society at every level. It’s just that these forces are subtle, easily overlooked or misunderstood. Learning about magick is less being introduced to a secret parallel world, like Harry walking into Diagon Alley, and more like learning a new philosophy that changes how you perceive the world. Occult literally means “Hidden Knowledge”, and that’s what Unknown Armies is about. You see the patterns and influences that the rest of the world dismisses or ignores, the networks of cause and effect and meaning that everyone else holds as coincidence and statistical noise.
Magick is both very very old, and intensely new. Ancient artifacts and hoary conspiracies aren’t really a thing: While magick has been everywhere forever, as long as humans have existed, it is fueled and defined by the mass human unconscious. Old magick stuff just stops working, because people don’t think the same way they did back then. The oldest existing supernatural conspiracy dates back to… The 1950’s. Real ancient artifacts are rare and hard to find, most old-school grimoires are nonfunctional even if they worked back in the day, and wierd post-modernism is the theme of the occult. Magick changes and evolves and morphs over time, so no weird fetishization for ANCIENT SECRETS here.
Yeah, this isn’t a world that takes pages from wikipedia and crams it into the game. Everything, every conspiracy theory, myth, fable, tall tale, urban legend, it’s all wrong. But they all have a tiny grain of truth, but generally messed up and warped by human perception and lumping. Werewolves for example, don’t actually exist, but they also sorta do. There’s like 6 different things that all kind of got lumped together and mixed up to become our modern conception of “Werewolf”, but they’re all way more fucked up and weird and just plain bizarre than what we think.
Ok, so I think that covers the basic, so let’s get into the specifics of Magick!
There are cults out there that want to usher in a new dark age in which literacy becomes a hereditary privilege. There are scary racists running adept training camps. There are mystics so attuned to their cosmic patrons that they regard the laws of physics as a sometimes food and there are others who have no idea what they are but who have still amassed hundreds of followers willing to kill or die or vote as a bloc. There are grotty old magi who want to smack down any upstart who challenges their occult hegemony. There are magick conspiracies that fester in the government, or tamper with your food, or owe allegiance to nothing on Earth.
There are people who never die.
They know each other, and they’re going to know you, and if you’re lucky, tough, and demented enough, you’ll get to know them too.
In Unknown Armies you’re not the top dogs, you’re the new kids on the block, the ambitious underdogs wanting to carve out a slice of the paranormal pie from the big dogs and shitkickers who already own the bakery. There’s a hierarchy to the Occult Underground, not a very strict one but it’s enough that people can know the difference between a Who’s Who and a Who’s That?
Chargers are the people in charge, named after the currency of magick. A charger is a veteran big dog of the underground, someone who knows their shit and how to get things done on the spooky side of things. Chargers are the people you hear rumors about, the ones who head up conspiracies and organizations, or are just such badasses that they get a bit more than normal recognition.
Checkers are the general in-the-know population of the underground, aka who you play as. CHeckers know what’s going on, they have some inkling of how the world works and some decent juju in their gris-gris to throw their weight around. Some checkers are more powerful that chargers, but just don’t throw their weight around as much.
A pony is the main term of contempt in the occult world. You don’t call yourself a pony, but you sure as hell call other people. These are the stooges, patsies and mooks of the underground. The no-names or dupes who are messing with stuff they don’t understand. This can be people who just don’t know what they’re getting in, enthusiastic amateurs way over their heads, or professional henchmen who work in the underground but keep their heads carefully down and their eyes tightly shut.
Checkers try to figure out these mysteries. Chargers try to control them. Ponies die to show how the monster works.
AVATARS AND ARCHETYPESOriginal SA post
AVATARS AND ARCHETYPES
There is something fundamental to humanity, a drive to know more, understand foundations, grasp not just how things came to be, but why. This drive, this profound hubris, seems both deeper and higher than other similar ingrained desires. The urge to get some sex is, in most of us, certainly strong, but lacks the patina of nobility that cosmic curiosity possesses. We seek the mysteries to benefit humanity, while we get laid for ourselves.
Staring up at the sky’s infinite depths and wondering “Why, though?” isn’t something that seems to preoccupy spider monkeys and sharks and slime molds. It’s us. It’s our problem, uniquely.
According to Unknown Armies, it’s our problem because it’s our fault.
And our glory! Every marvel beheld in the natural world, every great work of art remembered or forgotten or imagined but never shared? All ours. The elegant sophistication of biology, the profound mysteries of physics? We did that. The sublime and the ridiculous and the kawaii cute are all courtesy of humanity.
But on the other hand… cancer? Death? Rape and unfairness and birth defects? Someone put those in the mix. Our instinct for mayhem and the way we learn to shrink from difficult justice without ever being taught… someone thought those were good ideas. They were done to us, on purpose, by people like us. The myriad wounds upon humankind are self-inﬂicted, each and every.
The universe of Unknown Armies is a democracy, controlled by representatives we elect not through conscious action but through the mass will of humanity. These representatives are people, just like you and me, elevated to positions of cosmic importance through our collective will. When enough people believe hard enough in an idea, a concept, a type of person, then a person on earth who best represents that idea is elevated by the cosmos.
These representatives are known as Archetypes, and they form the Invisible Clergy. The clergy are the gods of the universe, the controllers and influencers that shape us as much as we shape them. It is difficult to see the effects of the clergy in the same way it is difficult to see air, they are everywhere, invisible, working through synchronicity and coincidence and imprinting and pressing on the unconscious minds of humanity.
The best way to think of this, is using the metaphor a network of paths. Every path represents a type or pattern of human thought, because after all we all are humans. Humans, mostly, think the same in the same ways about much of the same things. Not identically, but there is enough shared cognition that patterns and trends can emerge. Patterns of thought that have more and more people thinking of them get more and more powerful, meaning more and more people follow that same trend of thought. The more people follow a path, the wider and wider it gets, and eventually the path reaches some critical threshold, and becomes a permanent fixture in the minds of the mass of humanity. This is the point where the path is formalized, and a human who best fits that path is ascended into the Clergy as an archetype.
Archetypes can then shape and reinforce that path in the minds of humanity, changing it and using it to change the world based on their own very human whims. Archetypes aren’t gods, they may have immortality and phenomenal cosmic power, but they’re the same people they were on Earth. They also aren’t omnipotent: An Archetype is severely limited by their mandate, the path they are part of. They can’t do things outside of that remit, and rarely care about anything outside their purview in any case.
They reside in a realm of pure ideas, the conceptual heaven, known colloquially as The Statosphere. When 333 Archetypes ascend, when 333 types of people are indelibly printed into the human unconscious, the universe will end. And those 333 Archetypes will craft and shape the new universe that will come forth, and the entire process will begin again. Nobody knows exactly how many archetypes there are, or what all the existing ones are in the first place.
There are some limitations to Archetypes: Mainly that they must be both real, and current. Real is simple enough: Things that exist only in fiction don’t qualify for Archetype status. They need to have the extra weight of real human experience to give them that boost into the Statosphere. This means Archetypes like the Great Detective, the Cowboy Cop, and the Evil Genius don’t exist, not really. Because as commonplace and widespread as the concept is, there has never been a cackling madman holding the world hostage with death-rays and robot legions.
For currency, the metaphor of a democracy comes in again: Archetypes can be kicked out of “office” and replaced. While the core concept, the very basis of the Archetype doesn’t change, the details can. The nuances and symbols, the policies and influences and flavor of the archetype changes over time. While there may always be a Mother, a Warrior, a True King, the details of what those mean to people change over time. If the universal unconscious starts thinking of an Archetype in a way sufficiently different from the current Archetype, then the person currently in the position can be kicked out. The falling Archetype is returned to Earth as a mortal human once again, while a new human, someone who better fits the current view of the Archetype, is ascended in their place.
Because the archetypes are so potent in the collective unconscious, the paths they embody are familiar and readily understood by all of us. We know, on a deep and visceral level, what it means to be a Lover, a Murderer, or a Soldier. But precisely because they are such burning presences, their paths are imbued with power. Walk that path, and some of its power can be borrowed.
Those that walk the path of the Archetypes, who live like them and act like them, who emulate and imitate them, are known as Avatars. By aligning themselves with an archetype, and living and acting according to its strictures and methods, avatars can borrow some part of that power. They surf along the breakers of thought coursing through the human mind, waving the VIP Pass to Club Synchronicity.
To become an avatar is simple: act in accordance to the path of an archetype. You don’t have to believe in the archetype, or even like or care about them. Your thoughts don’t matter, what matters is how you appear to other people. Walk the right walk, talk the right talk, and wear all the right clothes and you can feel as lame and phony on the inside as you want. The universe doesn’t care. You don’t even need to know what you’re doing! There are plenty of accidental avatars about, channeling the power of the archetypes without intention or knowledge.
Becoming an avatar has two primary effects: First is you gain access to channels, the mystical overt powers of an avatar. While the channels start small and weak, they grown in power as the avatar grows closer and closer to the Archetype of their choice, with powerful avatars possessing great magickal abilities.
The second effect is colloquially called “Theme Music”. In essence, synchronicity and coincidence get warped by avatars, leading to a background “noise” of events linked to the nature of the archetype. Radios near avatars of the Rebel start playing Bad to the Bone, Warriors always end up with war-movies playing on nearby TV’s, Stars spontaneously attract paparazzi no matter how incognito they are. This is rarely helpful or harmful, but it is a good way to recognize avatars. If a grizzled dude with an Open Carry pistol on his hip walks in a convenience store, and suddenly some Ennio Morricone starts up on the radio, he might just be a Masterless Man.
One avatar of a path, a single human on Earth, is the Godwalker. This is the most powerful, most perfect, avatar of a particular archetype. The one person that best represents the archetype in the material world. They are given great power for their position, but face constant threat from others who seek their throne.
In mechanical terms, there are two ways to become an avatar: One at character creation and one during play.
In character creation it’s simple enough: One of your Identities needs to be an Avatar identity. This follows special rules. They don’t get any “Of course” usage, and can’t substitute for any abilities. They get the Casts Rituals and Use Gutter Magick inherently, but no other features. Istead the main function of the identity is access to Avatar Channels. Every archetype gives access to four channels: First at 1%-50%, second at 51%-70%, Third at 71% to 90%, and the fourth at 91%. If you manage to somehow become a godwalker, you get another fifth channel, unique to your avatar that’s created collaboratively by you and the GM.
You increase your avatar identity by rolling at least 1 success every session, or by making increasing your identity a group objective. If you break taboo, every archetype has some forbidden action that they must not do, will cost you percentage from your identity.
If you decide to follow an avatar in the middle of play, you just get the identity as soon as you start following the path of the archetype of your choice. This starts at 0%, but automatically increases once a week by 5% as long as you don’t break taboo. Once it hits 15%, no more freebies, and have to start rolling successes to increase it further.
Avatar identities max out at 98%, to get to 99% you’ve got to become a godwalker. How do you do that? Well, get to 98% first, that’s the only way to be eligible barring some sort of mystic cheating or cosmic shenanigans. THen you have to dethrone the current godwalker. If you manage to do it yourself: By besting the godwalker in some sort of mystic challenge, forcing them to break taboo, or just killing them in some appropriately symbolic way then you get crowned as the new godwalker. If they die some other way, hit by a bus, break taboo through total accident or because they just don’t give a shit anymore, or even just if a non-candidate whoops them then it’s open season. Every archetype chooses a new godwalker differently: Maybe it just jumps to the next-best person, or they arrange some cosmic avatar tournament challenge. It’s pretty easy to get people together when you can warp coincidence and probability like pipe cleaners.
Now, how do you become an Archetype? There’s two main ways, and the first is ascension. This is the process by which new archetypes, completely new ones, arise. There are no predetermined archetypes, though any that are too similar just get bunched together. The Teacher precludes the existence of the Tutor or the Instructor. One way to ascend is just to be a lucky bastard: When an archetype reaches the threshold for permanent enthronement in the collective unconscious one lucky bastard gets their golden ticket. Whoever most perfectly embodies that archetype gets to become a god. Most archetypes were created through this method. You can try to do it knowingly though, but this is a lot harder. You essentially need to act as an avatar of an archetype that doesn’t exist yet, which is quite difficult. You have to identify a role that is significant to a decent majority of humanity but isn’t filled by an existing archetype, and is also important enough that it has a decent chance of becoming a full-fledged archetype. Mostly this is done with 1 part resarch and 99 parts random lucky guessing. Remember, nobody actually knows exaclty how many archetypes there are, or what archetypes already exist or don’t. BUt hey, if you just build this empty avatar identity up to 99%, which does nothing, then you need to pull off some giant mythic magickal symbolic act of power that jumpstarts the collective unconscious into action to solidify the archetype. If you did everything right, then boom! You’re a newly minted god. This method is insanely rare and basically impossible to do.
This is the second way to join the clergy. It’s… more clear-cut but not exactly easier. How to assume a position as an archetype is relatively well known among avatars, but actually doing it is another story. First, you gotta be a godwalker. Nobody but a full fledged godwalker even has a chance, so enjoy that hellmarch. Then you have to shape and identify yourself with a variant of the archetype. Different enough that you are a noticeable change from the incumbent, but not so different you break taboo or lose similarity. Too dissimilar and there’s not enough mental mojo to let you assume the position, too similar and there’s no reason to replace the current guy. But, if you can find a distinct variant of an existing archetype that you can embody better than anyone else, and is more popular in the minds of mass humanity that the current archetype, you can try to assume the path from the existing inhabitant.
The way you do this is to challenge the current archetype in a symbolic contest where you prove your superiority and relevance. This can be easier with some archetypes and hellaciously hard to impossible with others. This generally takes the form of some giant really complicated ritual scheme. If you can pull off and succeed at this ritual challenge thing, then hooray! The old archetype gets booted to Earth and you get ascended in their place. Note, that archetypes really really don’t wanna lose their job. Try to assume and you’re going to have an immortal, omniscient, god-thing with near perfect control of probability and synchronicity trying to stop you. Oh, and every other avatar of the archetype probably wants you stopped too, because there’s no guarantee that the new boss is better than the old boss. Try for an assumption and the universe, quite literally, wants to kill you. Good luck.
ARCHETYPESOriginal SA post
And here we have the rules for the included archetypes in this edition of Unknown Armies! Some are new, some are old favorites revamped. Any missing archetypes are sometimes added in later supplements, or can be considered adaptable to the new rules with a minimum of work.
The Captain is the person officially in charge, making it run and getting it done. The word captain comes from the Latin caput, meaning head. Much of the Captain’s work is done as and by the head. (Also sometimes in it.)
The Captain is the leader of men. Not an army or nation, but a small core of loyal people. His men, his crew, his gang, or squad, or troop. The Captain leads their crew, and the crew follows the captain's orders loyally. The crew has a responsibility to respect, follow, and obey the captain, while the captain is bound to help their crew, build them, care for them, within reason. A Captain is not a distant administrator or out of touch bureaucrat, they are people of action. They earn their authority and respect with blood, sweat, and tears.
Every avatar of the Captain must have their crew. THese crew are inducted and mystically bonded to the avatar by accepting his authority and the Captain accepting them as a subordinate. When someone joins a Captain’s crew, they are very literally bonded to the avatar, and the association can be seen in their aura and with other mystic senses. The Captain also gains some real control over them beyond that given through mere obedience. If the Captain also controls a vehicle of some sort: A ship, a tank, a plane, that vehicle can also be considered part of the crew for magickal purposes. An avatar of the Captain can have a crew of 1-2 people per tens place in their avatar identity, up to a maximum of about 20 people. PC’s can also join a crew, but come with all the complications as well.
The Captain cannot exercise his authority over a group larger than about 20 people, otherwise the distance messes with the close-knit nature of the captain and crew. An avatar of the Captain cannot stand idly in the face of any challenge to his authority. If it is insubordination from within the crew, or from someone of “Lesser” rank than the Captain, then the response must be immediate and unequivocal. If the challenge is from a higher power or authority then the Captain still must respond, but it doesn’t have to be immediate. But it can’t be forgotten or let go without breaking taboo.
The Captain also must make an effort, or at least appear to, care about their crew. They must work to ensure the crew is supported, healthy, has decent morale, and are not sacrificed or left behind without good cause. The Captain can do such things if they have a good justification, but neglect without good cause is a violation of taboo.
1%-50%: This channel gives the Captain’s avatar identity the Therapeutic feature for the purposes of helping their crew.
51%-70%: This allows the Captain to keep a crew member from freaking out from a failed stress roll. They still get the notch, but don’t have to worry about panic, and can even turn this shift in momentum into a 10% bonus on the next roll for themselves or one of their crew.
71%-90%: This channel simply forces one of your crew members to follow an order on pain of a Self stress check, makes them immune to stress checks while carrying it out, and gives them a flip-flop on the next roll they make while following your commands.
91+%: This final channel has way more features but is kind of insane. First, crewmates you command work as in the 3rd channel, but get unlimited flip-flops as long as they’re working to fulfill an order you gave them. If they refuse to obey, they get a Stress Check, and do it anyway. Their bodies literally work on autopilot to follow your orders regardless of what their minds say. If you order a non-crewmember they can get hit with a minor stress-check for not obeying. Animals just obey automatically, unless they’re being controlled by another in which case they just panic. And finally, once per day, a Captain can order an inanimate object or a situation to do something within its normal function. This means a sufficiently powerful Captain can order a bank vault open, make a thunderstorm disperse, command a gun to jam, an ability that rewards creativity.
While on the surface the Captain seems a bit dull, that’s the nature of avatars. They’re stable and reliable but less overt and crazy, with most avatar channels having rather subtle effects. But, never underestimate the advantages of having a half-dozen friendly GMC’s with the rest of the party. If the other PCs are members of the Captains crew, he also acts as a powerful support and helps keep everyone’s psychological condition up to snuff.
Everyone likes finding shiny, new things. That’s how knowledge passes around the globe. Be it the ruins of a forgotten kingdom deep in dark jungles, or a Star Wars Holiday Special outtake featuring a half-nude Bea Arthur doing coke with Anthony Daniels, somebody discovers it and shares it with the world. Yet for some people, this isn’t just a fun way to get some attention. It’s central to their being. These folk are avatars of the Explorer, and they are addicted to finding something hidden or lost and sharing it with people.
While the Explorer used to be all about finding strange new lands, meeting new peoples, and stealing all their valuable artifacts so that snooty british people can look at them at fancy parties, satellite mapping has sort of killed the physical exploration aspect. Instead modern Explorers focus on finding secret, hidden, lost, forgotten, and just plain obscure things. Knowledge, cultural artifacts, people, history whatever. A an explorer could get all their exploring done from a keyboard.
Uncovering the lost and undiscovered is just the first step though: an avatar of the Explorer has to share their discovery with the masses. If nobody knows you found it, what’s the point of looking?
Explorers must find at least one thing new to them every day. It could be a song, a place, a person, a fact, whatever. It just has to be new to you. Explorers also cannot create any cultural artifacts at all: They find the stuff, they don’t make it.
1%-50%: An Explorer can ignore all physical hardships and needs while on a journey for a number of days equal to the tens place of their avatar identity. This means when an Explorer activates this channel while actively looking for something, they no longer need to eat, drink, sleep, or even rest. Sunburn, frostbite, heat stroke, hypothermia, and minor cuts and bruises just don’t happen to them. This doesn’t apply to combat, and only works as long as the Explorer is in active pursuit of something they want to find. This also applies to marathon session of internet browsing: You can get a lot done when you don’t have to eat, shit, drink, or sleep for a week.
51%-70%: This allows the avatar to look at any room, building, or structure and magickally know the safest or quickest way into it. This can also be used to find paths through the wilderness and similar. This channel doesn’t do anything to security, or tell the avatar what is on the path, they just know what the safest or fasted way to go to reach their destination. This also doesn’t work to reveal any sort of magickal pathways or passages, only mundane routes apply.
71%-90%: Explorers sometimes need some mystic help to find what they’re looking for. Using this channel an Explorer can talk to someone who knew about or had possession of whatever the avatar is looking for, then roll to find where it ist. This works like a metal detector: It starts off vague and general and gets more exact the closer they get. You have to roll for each “step” closer: Country to city to neighborhood to block to building to room to exact location and so on. If you fail the roll, then you need to find another person to talk to in order to pick up the “scent” again. This can apply to conceptual “location” too, such as the internet, as long as it starts vague and gets narrower with each “step”. This can only be used to find “lost” objects: If it’s generally publically known where something is, this doesn’t work.
91%+: This channel is both very limited, and insanely powerful with proper creative use. This allows an Explorer avatar to open a door, which will magickally lead to a place they’ve never been before but are aware of. The place you go doesn’t have to have a doorway there: you can easily open a door to the slopes of Everest or the middle of the Gobi Desert. So, this is an essentially instantaneous one-time teleportation ability to anywhere in the world the avatar has heard of.
Explorers have obvious utility in any campaign where characters either are A: Globe trotting, especially into hostile environments, or B: Need to search for and find things. Obviously for most RPG style plots this is damned useful and can borderline derail campaign with judicious use, especially the third channel.
Plenty of people see changes they’d like to make in the world. They grumble against taxes, against the government, against civil and social issues. And while many rebel in small ways, or even big ones, it takes a rare spirit to stand tall and inspire others to come away to battle. It takes a voice and a mind unified behind a purpose to lead the clarion call in a world so inundated with noise. Those that channel their passion into a force for action call down the Firebrand.
The Firebrand is the leader of a movement. That’s essentially it, the core of the archetype. Every Firebrand has to lead a movement, and that movement must have a clear goal in mind. Muddy and vague and wishy-washy goals don’t work with a Firebrand, they need clarity, a hard destination to work and strive towards. The actual purpose of the movement doesn’t matter. Neo-Nazi regressivism works just as well as striving for a workers paradise. The movement of a Firebrand must also be active, constantly doing things in service of their goal. Stagnation and failure are death to an avatar of the Firebrand.
Most of the taboos of a Firebrand are based around loyalty and integrity towards their chosen movement. You cannot speak publicly against the movement, be seen acting in opposition to it, or act in a way that scandalizes and shames the cause. That last bit does have some caveats: It only matters if the shame applies to within the group itself. A Republican Firebrand calling for the beheading of multimillionaires on national TV would be a scandal, a Firebrand for the Peoples Revolutionary Party wouldn’t.
The Firebrand has to take every opportunity to push their movement, to advance their goals, and to gain publicity. It is taboo to turn down or ignore any opportunity that presents itself. They also cannot avoid debate or argument over the merits of their movement. If anyone speaks against the cause, the Firebrand must challenge them.
Finally a Firebrand has to stay connected with their movement and keep it inspired. They have to reguarly interact with the members of the movement, inspire them, and socialize with them. If the members begin to drift away, fall into despair, or start feeling that the avatar is “Not one of us” that’s breaking taboo.
1%-50%: This first channel has three effects: The first is simple enough, a Firebrand can magickally convince someone that they are an authority on their movement and its issues. They might not know the first thing about international monetary politics, but if they really hate the IMF they can make someone feel that they’re an authority anyway. The second effect is to remove hardened or failed notches from followers if they accrued them in the pursuit of the goals of the movement by sitting down with them and giving them a heartfelt inspirational chat. Finally, whenever two firebrands of opposing ideologies meet, they enter a magickal duel: They both roll off with the best success winning. The winner gains % in their Avatar: Firebrand identity, the loser loses some, and the universe has the back of the winner. Random coincidence just goes their way for a week or so, while the loser is cursed and faces ill luck.
51%-70%: When a Firebrand gets up and speechifies to their followers or even random shmucks (though you have to roll to effect non-followers) they can give them a one time +10% bonus to any roll of their choice when they act on behalf of your cause. Each person can get this bonus once per day, and lasts minutes equal to the avatars identity rating. The avatar can inspire as many people as they want, it’s just each person only gets one use of the bonus per day.
71%-90%: Firebrands make lots of enemies, and would have very short lifespans a lot of the time, if not for this channel. At this level, whenever a Firebrand is mortally wounded and killed, they can roll their avatar identity: if it’s a success, the universe rewrites itself so that they survived whatever killed them. In exchange, your Wound Threshold goes down by 10 each time. If you fail the roll, or would get reduced to 0 wound threshold, sorry, the death is permanent.
91%+: At this level, the avatar has complete control over their movement. They can, one per day, speak with such authority that listeners must follow their orders no matter what. To disobey is a rank 10 Self check. The only way to avoid it without harm, is to be given a conflicting order by another Firebrand with the same channel.
Similar to the captain, the Firebrand either can provide a hell of a lot of GMC support, act as a terrifying support character if PC’s are members of their movement.
The Fool goes where she shouldn’t, says what she ought not and gets into what is forbidden. She’s a walking disaster area, an accident waiting to happen, a seething focus of chaos that seems to wreck everything around her while she wanders on, blithely ignorant of what she’s doing. The fool is feckless, random — and undeniably lucky. “Fortune favors the fool,” even as she walks unheeding into the abyss.
The fool is pretty self-explanatory: They are the gullible but lucky, the dim but fortunate, who bumbles into success and and away from failure. One thing of note: Steven Universe is listed as a “Mask” (fictional character or mythological figure inspired by the archetype) of the Fool.
A Fool has to maintain their figure as the dimmest bulb in the room. If a Fool ever lets an Identity that substitutes for Knowledge get over 50%, they’re in risk of losing their status as a Fool. By the same token, a fool must always be gullible. You can’t act suspicious or cautious of any situation or person unless the reason is blindingly obvious.
1%-50%: This channel allows the Fool to find a common object of their choice if it could reasonably be in the place where they’re looking. So the thief can always find something, just nothing particularly valuable. But any common object that could, possibly, be where they’re looking they can find.
51%-70%: This essentially allows them to “bounce” any wounds they take to another person. It’s random, up to the GM to decide where the retargeted damage goes. This means a Fool in a fight can be surprisingly dangerous: They pratfall and goof about while everyone around them starts killing each other through sheer comedic chance.
71%-90%: The fool can always be in the right place at the right time. It’s not teleportation, but instead the Fool just sort of mindlessly wanders about until they just through blind luck end up exactly where they need to be. They may not know exactly what they’ll find, but there will always be an upside. Some piece of information over heard, a friend in need, an opportunity ripe for the taking.
91+%: Anytime someone tries to hurt the Fool, no matter what, through conventional or magickal means, they take an immediate -30% to the roll. No checks on the Fools behalf, anybody trying to hurt them is just working with 30% less ability that they normally have. The Fool can also choose to give up their action in a conflict to directly wield the forces of chaos: After the opponent’s roll they can use this channel to reduce the result by ten times the number of the ones place. So a 50% does nothing, but a 38% means the identity or ability in question is dunked down -80%, almost guaranteeing a failure.
Don’t fuck with the Fool. I don’t really need to go into detail why being nearly-impossible to hurt, able to bounce damage to others around them, and having luck always on their side is a good thing.
ARCHETYPES 2Original SA post
We’ve all had that time in our life when we weren’t sure which direction to take. Perhaps we lost faith in our religion after a tragedy, perhaps a bad breakup drove us to the banks of the Thames with thoughts of suicide. This is where the Guide steps in. From the person who drives a taxi to the wise mentor we remember from our youth, the Guide lights a path for us to follow. It may be something as simple as getting directions to the address you’re seeking, or it might be advice that changes your life.
The Guide represents both philosophical and practical guidance. Kung Fu Sifu’s, trailguides, self-help guru’s, preachers,cult leaders, MLM proponents, sport coaches, and so on all fit into the Guide. They help people find and travel along a path, giving guidance and training and helping them reach whatever goal they seek. Scale and motivation don’t matter: Selfish guides making people do things for their own benefit are as applicable as saintly mentors. The homeless guy who helps new bums find dry places to sleep is as much a guide as the financial advisor making 500K a week doing success seminars for Fortune 500 companies.
Guides only have one, but it’s a biggie: They cannot walk the path they teach. A boxing coach can never step in the ring, a business advisor can never join the company, the matchmaker can never find love. Guides must teach but cannot do, or else they step outside of the role and lose their connection to the archetype.
1%-50%: Whenever the guide is asked for help, guidance, or advice by someone they can roll their avatar identity to magickally produce the exact right advice for the situation. The better the roll, the more useful, relevant, and helpful the advice is while failure leads to nothing helpful and a matched failure or fumble leads to maliciously misleading advice that follows the letter of the request but violates the spirit.
51%-70%: Once per person per day, the Guide can give the person advice and if they follow it, they can flip-flop their next roll. If the person being advised has the guru or mentor relationship with the Guide, or the guide has the protege relationship with them then they can receive a once-per-day hunch roll as well.
71%-90%: This one interacts with the “objectives” mechanics that are covered in Book Two, but in essence the guru can advise the group to do some task, and if they follow the advice it is essentially blessed. By doing it they progress closer to their objective that they otherwise would even if the actual act they took seemed daft and unrelated.
91%+: An upgrade essentially to the second channel. The advice flip-flops are now unlimited: Anybody can get as much advice as they want for a flip-flop each time as many times a day as they want. The only limit is the Guide can’t use this in combat or high-stress situations as it requires a few minutes of talking. The guru/mentor/protege hunch roll is still once-per-day, but now the hunch roll can be flip-flopped upon use.
Another powerful supporting avatar. A guide can really help out any goal-oriented cabals, especially if the Guide in question is the one who knows the path everyone else is following.
William Gibson observed that the street fnds its own uses for things. Prisoners turn toilets into whiskey stills, a substance created to purify ammonia for the space shuttle became a popular sex lube, Lysol was supposed to be for feminine hygiene(!), and bubble wrap was developed as a groovy new wallpaper. Email was supposed to be for arguing about Star Trek, but Nigerian princes have turned it into a scam machine. Kickstarter was meant to democratize art patronage, but instead sees a lot of function as an escrow account for pre-orders. Everywhere you look, someone has tweaked a device or idea into a bold new form. Those people operate in the shade of the Hacker.
The hacker modifies, tinkers, invents, reinvents, and improvises. From the junkyard mechanic to the cutting edge cybersecurity experts and disruptive tech engineers, anybody who works to make something new regardless of the morality or practicality of the creations.
An avatar of the Guide must always prioritize their tinkering and inventions over any social obligations or situations. If you have a hot date, but your custom 3D-printed solar-powered go-kart is on the fritz, sorry you’re troubleshooting bootleg solar panels tonight.
Hackers cannot refuse a request to exercise their skills. The morality or importance is irrelevant to them. They only care about the potential of a new idea and invention.
Finally a Hacker cannot use any technological device without modifying it in some way. If you have a smartphone you have to jailbreak it and start running custom kernels ASAP. This of course varies based on exactly what sort of Hacker the avatar is, but generally if they can modify it the archetype expects them to do so.
1%-50%: When building, crafting, repairing, or tinkering the Hacker can use anything they have to hand to do the job. They don’t suffer from lack of proper tools or materials. In addition, once per day they can use their avatar identity in place of any mechanical identity to perform such tasks.
51%-70%: This is the Scotty Power. WIth a successful roll, the avatar can do tasks in impossibly short times. Years become months, months weeks, weeks days, and days hours. This can’t be used to replace another identity to actually do the task, it just makes it finish impossibly fast.
71%-90%: With a few hours and some supplies the Hacker can make a single-use device that can replicate a magickal effect that can duplicate spells, unnatural effects, and so on. They can only have one at a time, and it only works once.
91%+: This lets Hackers essentially modify magickal artifacts. If they get any magickal item they can change it to do something else, as long as the change vaguely sorta makes sense to the avatar in question. The item doesn’t get more or less powerful, but just does something else. At this level of power the universe also seems to guide magickal artifacts to the hacker, giving them a constant stream of occult objects to tinker with.
While they look underwhelming, the Hacker is heavily dependent on the player being very very creative. You can do some crazy things, especially with the final channel.
The Messenger carries the news. Anyone who tells you something important, something you didn’t know, is weakly echoing the archetypal Messenger. Banishing ignorance and spreading knowledge, the Messenger seems to be a one of the more positive archetypes. But sometimes the Messenger is only as good as the news he brings.
The Messenger was once super-important to the Unknown Armies setting in the older editions via the Godwalker Dermott Arkane. He was a major GMPC and his attempts to assume the Archetype were a major element of 2nd edition. But, Arkane has disappeared in since then and some believe that he succeeded, becoming the Heisenberg Messenger. Now truth is subjective, shaped by the mass consciousness and interaction of mass and social media. There are still traditional Messengers around, so it’s still a contested issue whether Arkane succeeded or not.
A Messenger can never knowingly deny the truth. They can lie by omission, refuse to speak, and misdirect with weasel words but they cannot deny a known true fact. This doesn’t stop them from spreading mis-information, the Messenger just has to believe it is true.
1%-50%: When a Messenger communicates an objective truth that he also believes, then anyone listening must either consciously acknowledge the truth or face a stress check from the mental friction of denying what the universe itself is enforcing as true.
51%-70%: When the Messenger is working to deliver information to someone in particular, then synchronicity helps him. Physical barriers between the Messenger and their target are removed. Locks unlock, gates open, chains break, cars that would break down keep going, and if someone tries to restrain him the bonds fall off. THis doesn’t work against active opposition or things too big: He can’t walk through walls or split an ocean.
71%-90%: A messenger can learn a single important fact about a person, place, or thing. The fact must be important: trivial nothing information doesn’t count. It’s either vague and general, or concrete and specific. If specific, then it has to be stated in three words or less. And finally the Messenger has to be physically near the thing they’re trying to learn about. The Messenger does this through any divination or other occult information gathering information they want. In basic rules term this works like the vague information feature, or like specific information where the information must be limited to three words or less. The effects of fumbles don’t apply in this situation. This power can only be used every few hours, so no non-stop information mining.
91%+: The Messenger can get to any important event anywhere, as long as he’s aware of it. It has to be happening at the moment the Messenger activates this channel, and it has to be somewhat important or notable. If it wouldn’t make at least the nightly news then it’s not important enough to matter. This is explicitly teleportation: The avatar just appears wherever they need to be.
The Messenger is highly situational, and can either be hilariously powerful or totally useless depending on the context and type of campaign. But any campaign based around the gathering and use of information, the Messenger is terrifying. Imagine the implications of his channels when applied to blackmail and coercion for example: A Messenger can easily find where to hit you and be perfectly convincing if he means what he says.
This is one of the oldest and strongest archetypes. It embodies nurturing, comfort, protection, and a powerful, sense of a benevolent higher power. Mother stands for comfort, safety, and love. The negative aspect of this archetype involves control and a suppression of autonomy: someone who is always worried about what mommy thinks can never grow into a fully independent human being. Some mothers create a sense of dependence and need in order to keep their children close;,such children may have trouble breaking the apron strings.
An avatar of the Mother cannot harm a child, or allow a child to come to harm by inaction. In these terms this is very literal: This taboo only applies to people under the age of 16 or that the avatar has physically given birth to. Note, what constitutes harm is up to the avatar in question. What one mother might consider harm, another might just consider “tough love”.
1%-50%: When a Mother is around someone who fails a stress check, she can immediately make an avatar roll to perform psychological triage. She can also heal minor physical damage of up to 5 wounds. Though physical healing can only work once a week on an individual. The largest limit is that subject must see the avatar as a motherly figure. They must be at least ten years younger, and see the avatar as a comforting motherly figure. Anyone who considers the Mother a guru or mentor qualifies, as well as anyone the avatar has as their burden.
51%-70%: If somone threatens anyone you can use the first channel with, then the mother can hulk out with a lot of combat advantages. The avatar identity now Provides Initiative, Substitutes for Struggle, and any hand to hand attacks do +5 wounds.
71%-90%: If the Mother is physically pregnant, then anyone trying to harm the Mother, in any way at all has to make a Self (10) check to succeed, and the mother can use her avatar identity in place of Connect.
91%+: A Mother this powerful literally cannot die when a child is in danger. She will keep racking up Wounds, just until the child is safe, killed, or separated from her she will not die. Once those conditions are met, then the avatar will immediately drop dead.
The Mother by far is the most situational of all Archetypes so far. To let a Mother be useful you really want to make sure the campaign is built to accommodate her, as without children and pregnancy and other such things a Mother would be sitting about quite irrelevant. But if situations can be built to allow her to shine, for example another PC being her child, or even all of the PCs playing her children, then you have a powerful and flexible Archetype to work with.
ARCHETYPES 3Original SA post
THE NAKED GODDESS
She’s visible, present, close enough to touch. But you can’t touch her. Her pedestal is too high, she’s too perfect, and you don’t even deserve to know her name. She’s above you, and worst of all, you put her there because that’s what you do with a goddess, right? No one knows what she wants, no one knows what she’s up to, her moods are mercurial and her passions violent and ever shifting. Everyone wants to tear her down, everyone wants to build her up.
The Naked Goddess is one of the most recently ascended archetypes, and one of the very few who who’s ascension is a matter of (occult) record. The avatars of the Naked Goddess are… very strange. This path is one of the hardest to follow of any archetype, and in fact it took decades of people knowing about the Goddess before anybody figured out how to actually channel her. Even then it took, what is essentially, divine intervention to figure it out.
The Naked Goddess is… sort of the embodiment of female objectification. She was a porn-star before ascension after all. It is women seen as an object of beauty and sexual desire while denying their existence as a flesh-and-blood person. Paradoxically while based around a phenomenon and cognition that disempowers women, avatars of the Naked Goddess are quite possibly the most powerful, terrifying, and unstoppable in the world.
This is the main reason that nobody figured out how to channel the Goddess for ages: this is the single worst most restrictive and difficult to maintain taboos. An avatar of the Naked Goddess has to actively deny any understanding or categorization, changing their identity, personality, and appearance constantly to prevent being “known”. She has to be capricious, unknowable, flighty, and mysterious. Being a fully fleshed person in the eyes of others is anathema to the archetype. These avatars must create intricate webs of lies and misdirection, being defined by lies and illusion.
1%-50%: This is, essentially, supernatural magnetism. This channel has two levels of power: the avatar can choose to simply interest the target of her supernatural pursuasion, causing them to beinterested and come closer to interact with her in some way with a Self check to resist the compulsion. Or, the avatar can stoke full on obsession. The target then is compelled, or face a Self check, to investigate her. They obsess and feel compelled to learn as much about the avatar and to spend as much time as possible around her until the next sunset. If the avatar rejects these compulsive attentions, then the subject gets whacked with a Helpless check as well.
51%-70%: This is where the Naked Goddess starts getting kind of insane. The avatar now doesn’t appear as herself to observers, but instead those who look at her see their ideal woman. THeir fetishes and obsessions and ideals given physical form. The avatar can suppress this for five or ten minutes, but otherwise is constant. An observer can see through the illusion with a Self check, but without effort they can’t see her for her. If the avatar can figure out what they’re seeing her as she can play along for great effect.
71%-90%: The avatar is now actively being erased from people's minds. To describe anything specific about her is a Knowledge check at -20% and you can’t use an identity to do it either. Photos exist, but as soon as you stop looking at it you forget what she looked like. The avatar can also use this power willingly, actively deleting one memory per successful roll about her out of a target's mind.
91%+: She can now teleport. Whenever an avatar of the Naked Goddess is unobserved by human eyes: Camera’s don’t count unless someone is actively watching the feed, she can vanish. Even covering the camera, or the observer blinking, gives a chance. She immediately vanishes from where she was, everyone who saw her in the last hour forgets her presence, and she reappears in the nearest theater, restaurant, or hotel lobby.
So. The Naked Goddess turns her avatar into a woman that can escape any situation or confinement, becomes impossible to track, recognize, or identify in any way, and can actively delete memories about her. An avatar of the Naked Goddess could shoot the President on national TV and get away with it. Of course as a trade, you’re going to be very very messed up. Just pursuing this path means racking up Self and Isolation checks left and right. So you get to be totally untraceable and able to escape from any situation without consequence, but also are probably deeply mentally scarred. That’s a good combination, yeah?
The Opportunist is always looking for an opening, a shot at the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s not necessarily a case of selfishness: Opportunists love a win-win situation where everyone benefits; call it rather a need to optimize outcomes, and an aversion to wasted resources or circumstances.
The Opportunist is one who pursues a goal by any means necessary. THis goal and achieving it are all they care about, and even that goal is just a means to an end: Winning. Real Opportunists will change goals at a heartbeat if they see a better opportunity for success, because that’s what fuels them. Winning, success, being The Best. Wealth, fame, power, affection, glory, all of it is secondary to the neverending drive to success.
Avatars of the Opportunist must always be pursuing some objective, a definite ambition they work to accomplish. It should be achievable but difficult, and definitely ambitious. You can change plans if desired once per day, which is important as this connects to your taboos.
The Opportunist has two main taboos, which drive and enforce their obsessive competitiveness and need to take every advantage. First, they cannot pass up any advantage or opportunity. If they have a chance to do something that gives them some sort of personal benefit they have to do it. By the inverse, they break taboo if they ever do anything that’s totally selfless and gives them no benefit at all.
The second is that an Opportunist can never stand defeat. If something happens that means they cannot accomplish their goal, if they fail or lose or just give up in defeat, that’s breaking taboo.
1%-50%: The avatar can flip-flop a roll once per day if they’re in a competitive situation where winning means they get some advantage or just get a moment to shine and bask in the glory. You have to be competing directly with another person for this to apply.
51%-70%: This channel lets the avatar know, by observing someone for a few minutes, whether that person is acting to oppose their avatar goal. This works once per person per day, and failure means you get nothing from them.
71%-90%: Any time an Opportunist succeeds on a roll they carry a +10% bonus to the next roll as long as it’s part of an ongoing process. This bonus persists until the avatar either fails a roll, or does something else that doesn’t naturally flow from the last success.
91%+: Same as the last channel, but now the bonuses accumulate up to a whopping +50%. This means an Opportunist who’s doing something consistently starts getting terrifyingly competent.
Overall the Opportunist seems a bit dull, but that’s just because instead of discrete cool powers they’re all about fucking with the math of the game. That last channel can make a lot of rolls all-but guaranteed successes if they’re allowed to build up a head of steam.
THE SOLID CITIZEN
Sometimes an ordinary person, seemingly destined for mundane obscurity, is thrown by circumstance into a crucible of fire from which she emerges unexpectedly triumphant, made greater by the experience. The truck driver who selﬂessly runs to pull the victim of a road accident out of a ﬂaming car, the grandfather on a fishing trip who rescues a drowning man from the ice-cold river, the teacher who hides her students from the crazed gunman may all be examples. You may know the Solid Citizen under another name, like the Everyman Hero — though “hero” can be a misnomer — the Dark Horse, or the Unexpected Leader. Sometimes it’s the obscure little corporal who emerges from a brutal losing war to become a national luminary, then a tyrant. The self-appointed vigilante who shoots a teenager to “defend the neighborhood” may also be a Solid Citizen. In all cases, though, the Solid Citizen does what she does to express the rightness of her actions. She cares passionately about people, her people, and does whatever it takes to protect them, improve their lives, or lead them to take their rightful place. Or at least, that’s how she has to make it look.
An avatar of the Solid Citizen is defined by their noble passion and obsession. Their obsession identity is the main way the act upon their noble passion, which defines what driving motivation makes them act above and beyond the call of duty.
A Solid Citizen must identify themselves with some group of people. Nation, club, ideology, race, industry, social class, age group, all work. A Solid Citizen cannot refuse to help a member of that group that is in serious trouble, or refuse an urgent call to action from those people. This does not mean they have to be slaves to their chosen group, or martyr themselves, but when the chips are down a Solid Citizen has to step up.
1%-50%: The Solid Citizen gets some help from the universe when the chips are down. Whenever they are pursuing their Noble Passion and are racing against time or fighting against some opposition to accomplish their goal, they get to flip-flop any rolls. This doesn’t help them do the thing they actually need to do, just helps make sure that they’re where they need to be when they need to.
51%-70%: The avatar now has a sixth sense, alerting them to relevant danger. This sense gives Solid Citizens an ability to know when they’re needed, and helps them know where to go to do what they need to do. Passively this just provides a feeling of “I’m needed!” and a rough direction, but a successful roll can give distance, location, and even premonition of what the situation is before they ever arrive.
71%-90%: When aiding a member of their chosen group, the avatar can retcon a failed roll. As long as the result of the roll is below their avatar identity, they can declare it an automatic success. This only works once an hour though, so no abusing it.
91+%: At this level of power a Solid Citizen is always where they need to be. Roll an avatar check and you magickally transport to wherever you most need to be right at that moment. Distance and space don’t matter, you can walk from Manhattan to Mekong if that’s where you need to be. You don’t get to choose where you go or why you’re going through, so sometimes you end up in surprising situations. And of course there’s no guarantee you can actually do whatever you have to when you get there.
A Star doesn’t simply have to be an artist or traditional celebrity. Sports stars count, but so do politicians, preachers, reality TV show contestants, social media mavens, and twitch streamers. The Star is anyone who favors popularity and mass appeal to create a cult of personality.
There have always been singers, actors, and similar artists who perform for a love of their craft. Others do it for the paycheck. But avatars of the Star become performers to be the center of attention, loved by fans and admired as great artists. For these avatars, success and happiness are defined solely by others’ delight. If there is an inner sense of accomplishment, that’s nice but not important. Producing an acclaimed album with poor sales is a failure. The Star needs a trilogy of critically-panned films that millions see, or a book series derided by the media but loved by the people. Yet this isn’t some sort of populism or anti-elitism. It’s simply a case of numbers. The more people who say he’s number one, the more true it becomes. 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong.
The Star cannot let anyone else take center stage. If they have a chance to be the center of attention they have to take it. They can share the limelight, but if you don’t at least try to get a “Featuring” credit in the situation you’re breaking taboo.
1%-50%: The Star always knows when someone is paying attention to them. It’s automatic in person, and requires a roll if mediated by technology. This doesn’t tell them who is watching but it gives them a vibe on which direction the gaze is coming from.
51%-70%: You can use this channel to negate a failed Notch from a stress check with the help of a avatar: Star check. This applies to one meter, the one that closest relates to the Star’s Fear passion. It also requires someone be watching the Star as they get traumatized, if nobody is watching there’s nothing to console themselves with.
71%-90%: The Star can use their avatar identity to turn any performance into a, to the fans, success. Even if they fuck up and make an embarrassment of themselves, this will salvage the show and make everyone forgive any transgressions for essentially no harm. Alternately you can choose to re-roll instead of just negating the fail. If this succeeds then the performance was retroactively mind blowing, everyone’s talking about it and you get a big bonus to the next roll that capitalizes on that success. If you fail though, it’s a bomb so bad that it breaks taboo.
The avatar can also focus the full force of their unnatural charisma and fame onto a single person. As long as they’re acting the part and working to keep them enthralled, the target is glued to the Star, hanging off their every move and word unless they accept a helplessness check to pull away.
91+%: This channel allows the Star and their entourage (up to 5 other people) to have always retroactively been at any sort of media event. The star just has to know the event is happening, and can immediately rewrite reality so them and their entourage are there, either just before or in the middle of the shindig. To the people the channel is used on it’s a sudden teleportation, but to everyone else they’ve always been there. They have invites, people remember them walking in, small talk retroactively occured, drinks were drunk, and so on.
ARCHETYPES 4Original SA post
His ship has foundered and wrecked, leaving him adrift on an ocean of despair. He is trapped on a high mountain peak in the middle of a blizzard, no way to move without tumbling into an abyss. The love of his life lies dead before him, his very soul leaking out with the blood. He’s been broken and betrayed. His chute fails to open. The wolf stands before him, slavering.
Screw them, he’s going to live.
He doesn’t give up. He perseveres. Hell, he might even win.
He is the Survivor.
The Survivor is a particularly ancient archetype, for as long as humans have existed they’ve been trying to not be killed by nature. While traditional survivors are all about your 1 in a million inspirational wilderness survival tales, the archetype is broader than that. Survivors can be those who brave emotional and mental danger, just as much as environmental ones. The main thing that makes a Survivor a Survivor is attitude and approach: A true Survivor faces their impending death or destruction with calm, determination, and clear thinking practicality. Surviving by blind luck doesn’t do it, or just getting in dangerous situations. A Survivor is someone who gets in the worst situations possible, but never gives up or gives in and makes it out under their own bloody minded power.
The Survivor has two big taboos: They can never give up, and they don’t take stupid risks. Giving up isn’t in a small-term way, but instead more about despairing and losing hope. You can lose the fight, but never give up the war. A Survivor can abandon and modify plans, back away from no-win situations, and run away from obvious danger but they can never lose hope and abandon a course they’ve set. The risk taboo is simply referring to unnecessary risks. A Survivor must be cautious and careful, but bold and decisive. Hot dogging and hot headedness don’t work, but doing the impossible and dangerous because damn it, if you don’t you’re going to die! That’s the essence of a Survivor.
1%-50%: Once a day you can gain 5 “phantom” hardened notches to put in anywhere on your shock gauge. These do not count for burn-out, and do not affect the avatar’s abilities. All they do is let him ignore shocks that normally would lead to a stress check.
51%-70%: The avatar can ignore hunger, pain, thirst, exhaustion, impaired senses, lowered mobility, and so on for the purposes of negative roll modifiers. The Survivor can also, when under the effects of the first channel, use their avatar identity to substitute for Notice. If they have another identity that substitutes for Notice, instead the avatar identity lets them Notice magickal things. Invisible beings and such.
71%-90%: If the situation is lethal, for you or another, an avatar of the Survivor can perform superhuman physical feats. Mechanically, this allows the avatar to substitute Fitness or Dodge with their avatar identity for the duration of one task, or a linked series of rolls.
91%+: If a Survivor takes wounds that would hit their wound threshold or exceed it, they can make an avatar: Survivor roll to cut those wounds in half, and if it would still kill him it stops one wound short of the threshold. Every time they use this though, their avatar identity goes down by 1%.
He can’t die from any one thing or the eﬀects of that thing — whether it be a gunshot, poisoning, catastrophic blunt trauma, exposure to the elements, or bleeding out — but as soon as his avatar identity drops to 90%, he’s no longer protected.
“Not dying” is within magick-stretched reason, of course. A human being can live three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food; a high-level avatar could easily triple that, but quintupling it seems to push the limits of the organism. Survivors still die.
THE TRUE KING
The True King represents the unity of the ruler, the people, and the land. Since ancient times, kings and their realms have had a symbolic link — the royal “we” is a remnant of that belief, referring to the ruler and the realm. Avatars of the True King makes that symbolic link actual. As a king’s fortunes go, so goes the fortune of his realm, and vice versa. The True King is a caretaker, protector, counselor, and leader of his realm. In today’s world, the True King may be more of a spiritual and secret ruler rather than a political and open one.
All True Kings must have a realm: An area of land, group of followers, or type of people, or a combination of all of the above. A King of the Homeless may have many followers but no land, the Queen of the Badlands may have very few people but miles of territory, and the King of the Strip will have both. The size of the land and number of followers are limited by the True King’s avatar rating.
A True King can never act against their realm, deny aid to a follower, or allow their realm to come to harm through inaction. The avatar must do everything they can to shield their followers and land from external threat, as well as guests and those the King grants protection to. If a True King ever loses all their and and followers, the avatar: True King identity immediately drops to 0%.
A True King’s realm is made up of land and followers. Of land, a True King can rule an area equal to their avatar rating in miles. This is a maximum though: Realistically it’s how much land a King can control and influence. True Kings, like the more mundane sort, must engage in war and diplomacy with their fellow True King avatars for control of land and people. To claim land as their own, a True King must make an offering of literal blood sweat and tears at a symbolically important place on the land.
Followers are not people who simply live within the land of the True King, but those who have knowingly offered fealty to the True King, and have had that fealty accepted. A King can have a number of followers equal to their avatar rating. To make someone a follower is simply a ritual offering of fealty: There is no set action or performance required and it is not necessary to be obviously magickal.
1%-50%: An avatar is one with their land: They can sense if their realm is under attack, or if one of their Followers requests aid within their land. The True King can also use this to communicate with followers, sending a mystical message of summoning to them.
51%-70%: The True King gets a blanket bonus to any rolls as long as they’re within the borders of their realm, or surrounded by a significant number of followers.
71%-90%: At this channel, you get to become a true Fisher King. The realm of the true king now has a wound threshold equal to the True King’s. Whenever the avatar takes damage, they can instead inflict it upon their realm. They can also cause wounds to the realm to heal themselves or other. To heal the land, the true-king must take some of that hurt back onto themselves, and heal it through other means. The True King can also transfer wounds to and from specific followers by touching them, or from land to follower and vice versa. While wounds to followers are of the physical sort, wounds to land or the realm as a whole are represented by poor fertility, degradation and decay, and general bad luck. Classic “cursed land” stuff.
91%+: The True King can now use their realm as a weapon. They can use their avatar identity to attack enemies within their realm, making the land itself act in their defense or attack. With followers, this channel essentially amps them up. As long as they can see the King they get shifts to a single ability for the next fifteen minutes.
THE UNSUNG CHAMPION
Think of the people who make accomplishments possible but go unknown or are quickly forgotten by the lives they touch: line cooks, personal assistants, editors, tech support, air traffic controllers, construction foremen, farmers, second-unit camera operators, 911 dispatchers, soup kitchen cooks, laboratory technicians, etc. But all these people are the protagonists of their own stories, not just nameless, dismissible entries in another’s day. The Unsung Champion embodies this very identity as a person’s central value: the world revolves around her because they keep it going, even if others don’t see.
Every Unsung Champion must choose a role, a place in society they fill and exult. While an avatar can change their role it is only one way: to backtrack to a role one has abandoned is a betrayal of the competence that an Unsung Champion is supposed to represent. The avatar must always identify with a role, even if they’re unemployed or on vacation.
An Unsung Champion must first always exult and promote their role. They can never doubt, denigrate, deride, or lessen the importance of their function. THey also cannot look incompetent in that role: a failure isn’t enough to break taboo but looking foolish or stupid while failing is. An Unsung Champion must be a Champion of their position.
The Unsung Champion must also be Unsung. They cannot achieve any sort of fame or notoriety in their role. THey must avoid the public eye as much as possible, and any publicity or awards must be quickly forgotten. As long as the avatar can retreat to obscurity then they don’t break taboo with minor notoriety.
1%-50%: An Unsung Champion is sure in their self and their role in the world. They can flip-flop Self stress checks and to counter mundane attempts to coerce the Self meter. This can only be used if the resulting roll is lower than the avatar: Unsung Champion identity.
51%-70%: At this level the avatar always knows where and when they’re needed. This works like a specific information supernatural identity, to know specifically when and where the Unsung Champion is needed or wanted.
71%-90%: At this tier the Unsung Champion is such an essential part of the universe that the universe itself has their back. Whenever the avatar is threatened by physical or psychological harm, they can instead roll their Unsung Champion identity to avoid damage instead of Dodge. This requires no action on their behalf, but if there is no conceivable way that synchronicity and the favor of the universe could prevent the damage, then it doesn’t apply. Essentially, the player or GM has to be able to explain what happened or else the avatar has just go to use Dodge or similar like everyone else.
91%+: The avatar is now a very literal “miracle worker”. Unsung Champions at this level of power can warp reality itself, causing coincidence, luck, and random chance to fall their way perfectly so as to complete tasks at superhuman speed. Minutes become seconds, hours become minutes, days become hours, weeks become days, months become weeks, and so on. Overuse could lead to breaking taboo, but when you need it you can make miracles happen.
People have a natural inclination to hate and fear outsiders. Maybe it’s genetic — an atavism from apes who excluded mangy cousins for fear their illness might pollute the pack. Or maybe it’s psychological, a necessary downside to aﬀection for society and family. Or maybe we’re all sinners, living in a fallen world.
In any event, the Warrior is someone who exists to eradicate some problem, policy, or people he deems dangerous to society. He is a spirit of uncompromising extermination. While he might die for the cause, he’s far more interested in killing for it.
The Warrior is the archetype of militant ideological purity. They draw the line in the sand, man the wall, and call for the crusade. While the archetype as a whole has a martial bent, there are many kinds of warriors. Warriors against poverty, against disease, against illiteracy, against ignorance, against capitalism, against socialism, and so on. The important thing is that the warrior is steadfast and uncompromising in their opposition to their chosen foe.
Every Warrior avatar has to chose their ideological foe. This can be a person or people or nation, but in the modern day a social ill or philosophy is more common and attractive. Toward this chosen foe, no compromise is allowed. A Warrior can never back down from, give up against, or make a deal with their enemy. A Warrior against Disease has to put everything into every case and patient they have. A Warrior against Crime can never ignore or ease up on lawbreakers, but also can never fall to corruption or graft.
1%-50%: The avatar can ignore all stress checks that are directly related to or incurred while pursuing their purpose. A Warrior Against Crime doesn’t check Violence while in a shootout with the mob, a Warrior against Poverty won’t succumb to Helplessness, and so on. This doesn’t have any effect on the shock gauges in question, the check just doesn’t happen.
51%-70%: Everyone fighting or helping a warrior in pursuit of their cause, besides the Warrior themselves, gets a +10% bonus to a relevant ability or identity. This bonus never goes above 10%, even with multiple Warriors working together.
71%-90%: You can designate one ability that the Avatar: Warrior identity substitutes for. This choice is permanent, and cannot be changed.
91%+: A Warrior becomes invulnerable to all harm by their chosen enemy. No physical attack against the warrior by those designated as enemies of the Warriors cause, or supporters of that enemy, will work. They just fail. This means a Warrior in their element is literally unkillable, at least by mundane means. Magick still works, as long as the effect isn't’ through purely physical means.
ADEPTSOriginal SA post
If avatars are the folks skipping to the front of the line because they’re dressed right, adepts are the guys getting thrown out the back screaming about how they’ll start their own goddamn nightclub! With klezmer music! They go against the grain, sometimes out of deliberate contrarianism, sometimes because their nature is just alien to cultural norms and they don’t even have a chance of hiding it.
Every adept is obsessed with something important that most people take for granted, and every adept insists that everyone but them has it wrong. There are sex adepts who can’t do it for pleasure or procreation, only as a ritual that gives them the keys to the coincidence engine. There are car obsessives who don’t care where the road goes, and gun nuts who don’t see firearms as weapons that propel bullets, but as talismanic expressions of the boundary between the rights of the state and the individual.
They’re crazy — or, at least, weird as balls. But what sets adepts apart from the far more common lunatics and strangelings of the world is that when an adept screams, “Not your way, MY WAY!” at the normally-uncaring sky… sometimes the sky backs down.
Adepts are the rough Unknown Armies equivalent of what other tabletop RPGs would call “Wizard” or “Mage”. They’re the ones that can do no-bullshit, real-ass, spellcasting magick, on demand powered by nothing more than their own crazed burning will. But of course, this is Unknown Armies, and adepts aren’t like any sort of “magic user” found anywhere else.
First off, there is nothing externally or inherently special about being an adept. You aren’t born one, don’t have to have some genetic predisposition to treating objective reality like silly putty to be one. Every single human on Earth technically has the potential to become an adept. The only requirements are that you have to see the universe through your own special idiosyncratic paradoxical lens, and have the sheer burning insane willpower to be able to tell the mountain to go around you instead of you going around the mountain.
With this in mind though, it’s not easy to become an adept. Ignoring the simple fact that most humans just aren’t wired right to be able to think like an adept, or have the personality that allows for it, willpower and being weird are just the starting point. Adepts are made by two sources: Sheer self-intuition, or by being taught.
The self-intuition is essentially a person folding in on themselves, navel-gazing until they bootstrap their brain into a new mode of cognition and intuit magick. This is normally how you get “new” types of adepts, or some of the more bizarre out there breeds. Being taught is simpler, though certainly not easier. You have to seek out an existing adept who is interested in possibly teaching you magick, and then let them beat your brain into the particular shape needed to do their form of magick.
Mechanically, an adept is an identity just like any other. If you start as an adept, you just choose your school of magick as an identity, and buy up percentage in it as normal. Your adept identity must also be your obsession identity, and is used when doing magick. Adept identities automatically get Casts Rituals and Use Gutter Magick, but no other features or substitutions, and can only be used for the casting of spells, nothing else. It still improves by failure just like any other though. If you want to become one during play, it starts at 15%, and you have to mark one hardened and one failed notch on one of your shock meters.
THE LAWS OF MAGICK
Technically an adept’s magick can do and be… anything. There’s gun-magick, dream-magick, booze-magick, fashion-magick, car-magick, garbage-magick, fandom-magick, grammar-magick, and so on. But even as wild-west as it is, adepts have to follow three basic rules, that are seemingly baked into the fabric of reality, or at least of the human cognitive machinery.
Adepts care about the same things as everyone else, often much more so, but wrongly. They have a diﬀerent view, one incompatible with the common perspective, impossible except that it works.
Someone obsessed with the novels of Colette, but who stacks them up unread is, by the common understanding, doing it wrong. The patient who tries to trick a doctor into performing surgeries, not to provide health, but as an aesthetic statement, is doing medicine wrong. The mathematical savant who, after instantly memorizing your name and phone number, cannot rest until he’s written down a formula that shows how they’re connected is doing identifiers wrong.
For an adept’s magick to work, it has to be based on some sort of fundamental paradox, contradiction, or symbolic oxymoron. Magick is the frisson between what is and what is not, the worldview and cognition of an adept has to be contrary in some way to reality, or at least the common view of reality, to be able to generate the sort of metaphysical oomph necessary to do something with it. This is the hardest to understand just having it described, but with examples it’s fairly easy to intuit and get the “feel” for how it works.
The currency of magick is the charge. In order to do what they do, adepts have to build up charges, literal packets of magickal energy, and spend them. Adepts get charges by performing certain symbolic acts, generally those that create or reinforce that special paradox that lies at the heart of their school. There are three types of charges: minor, significant, and major, and they are not just different sizes of the same thing. You cannot, no matter how much you save, make any amount of minor charges into a significant, or a significant inot a major. While you can convert downwards, the loss in energy is incredible so it’s generally not recommended. Most adepts get by with just minor and significant charges, with majors being something special. A major charge is the white whale, the holy grail, the big thing they’re all chasing. Major charges can do incredible things, but require incredible feats and sacrifice to gain.
The universe is pay-to-play. If you want an eﬀect, you need to add energy to the system. It’s like Isaac Newton’s third law: what you get out of it is equal to what you put into it.
Charges don’t go away though, and an adept can stockpile mojo for as long as they want, or can. Turning yourself into the magickal equivalent of a industrial capacitor can have weird side effects on your localized reality.
The final law means that, when someone follows a school of magick, that’s their thing, forever and always ‘til the wheels fall oﬀ.
You can’t double-dip with magick. This is because being an adept inherently requires you to permanently rewire your brain to see the universe in a totally different way. Doing this once is rough on your mental health, doing it twice is damn near suicidal. Mind, people have done it… but it’s not recommended in any way. You’d be looking at a ton of failed notches, a ton of exciting new mental health issues, and possibly a bifurcated brain.
This law also covers taboos. Just like avatars, adepts have certain actions or behaviors that they must ritualistically avoid. Unlike avatars, breaking taboo has no long-term effects on an adept. It doesn’t lower their identity, or anything like that. It just makes them lose every charge they have, all at once. This generally isn’t too much of a concern to the adept in question though, as taboos are things they’d hate and fear anyway.
LESSER MAGI AND QUITTING MAGICK
It’s important to note that you can totally be an adept and a functioning member of society. There’s no requirement to go hard-in to occult magick-junky behavior. It’s perfectly fine to just act sensibly, only charging up when it’s safe or convenient and basically being a normal person with a weird hobby or some odd quirks. You’ll never ever be as powerful as the adepts who do go all in though, who chase charges at every opportunity, who flex their mystic muscles hard and often… So feel free to be a magi of convenience, but also understand you’ll always be second banana to the people who don’t half-ass it.
By the same token you can totally forsake your magick. Mind, that doesn’t mean you lose it or anything. You can’t. Ever. Once an adept, always an adept. It’s always there. In you. You can’t stop seeing the world through that twisted lense, you can never forget where the real power in the world lies, can never stop wanting that warm tingly rush of pure magick charging through you. Being an adept is like being a drug-addict. You can stop taking the drugs, but you can’t stop being addicted.
ADEPTS 2Original SA post
AGRIMANCY: Landbreakers, Tamers, Sodbusters
In the beginning, we were alone at nature’s mercy, naked and afraid, ignorant animals. But we did something the flying birds and racing horses and screaming tigers could not.
We gave names.
We said to the wolf, “Your name is dog. You serve me now and I do not fear you.”
We said to the lightning, “Your name is fire. You serve me now and I do not fear you.”
Floods struck us and we named it irrigation. Our food spoiled and we named it fermenting. One by one, challenge by challenge, we took nature’s chaos and bent it to the service of the human order. This is the oldest, deepest, most profound magick. What we call science is a collection of triumphs so old and chewed-over that their novelty is gone.
We seize from nature and make it feed us, clothe us, protect us.
We say to the world, “Your name is farm. You serve me now and I do not fear you.”
Agrimancy is the magick of man against nature, of the eternal war between human order and the inherent chaotic entropy of nature. To generate charges, agrimancers must commit sacrifices, taking the things they have tamed and exercising that final and supreme act of dominance: the taking of life. To make a minor charge you kill a small animal that the agrimancer has raised from infancy. A significant charge is a large animal, such as a pig or cow, or human sacrifice. The human sacrifice route is seen as a twisted form of the art, not so much for moral reasons as because it’s a cheap shortcut to avoid the effort of actually fighting with nature.
Major charges require truly impressive feats of agriculture or sacrifice. Domesticate a new species, feed a million people at once with a single farm’s output, own and run a farm of 100 square miles or a ranch of 1,000, and so on. You can only earn a major charge once per decade from the same farm, want to get one faster you’ll have to start from scratch with a whole new plot of land. You could also sacrifice your own adult child.
Agrimancers can never let nature get the upper hand. Minor inconveniences don’t count; You don’t lose your charges when you get wet in the rain, but you sure do if it makes you hydroplane out of control. Basically anything that would be physically dangerous or cause a roll counts. Same for losing control of or being attacked or harmed by an animal. Finally, no crossing wild water. Ocean, seas, lakes, or major rivers. Streams, ponds, and smaller rivers don’t count generally, but an agrimancer can never go across the Mighty Mississippi or cross any ocean without losing their mojo. This includes flying in a plane. After all, if it makes you exploit a loophole in air physics to soar over it, it’s beaten you.
RANDOM MAGICK DOMAIN
Agrimancers have sway over anything wild, natural, and untamed. Things already shaped by human hands or bent to human wills are outside the purview of the agrimancer, as their magick is the shaping and the bending. But anything else of the natural world that has not been tamed by human hands is fair game.
HIGHLIGHT FORMULA SPELLS
ORACULAR FEAST: Cast this spell while eating cooked animal flesh: You can now remember everything that animal smelled, saw, heard, or otherwise sensed for the last few days of its life. This does work on humans.
RAISE FROM STONES: Cast this over a patch of bare earth and you summon a squadron of small dirt-golems. They’re unnaturally strong, and follow all the casters orders, but aren’t very smart and are totally non-aggressive. A single good whack will make them collapse into dirt again, so they’re overall useless in a fight but are terrific at any sort of manual grunt labor, or just to terrify the straights with a small army of silent waddling soilmen.
ACT OF GOD: You summon down a lightning strike on a patch of earth of your choice, in 168 hours. That’s a full 7 days after you cast it. The strike is powerful enough to total a car or blow a room to smithereens, it hits random people in the area, and does damage like a gun.
VITAL BEAST: This spell is cast on an animal, and makes it bigger and beefier, by 5%, applied to identities and body mass. You can cast this as much as you want, and there’s no limit. You can make a chihuahua the size of a rottweiler, or a cow that’s as big, and as strong, as a semi-truck.
WHOLESOME: You make a magical loaf of bread, that when eaten whole by yourself, stops you from aging from one year. Other people can eat the bread to get the effects, but an individual has to eat the whole thing by themselves, no sharing. This doesn’t regress aging, just stops the clock for the next year, before you need to re-cast it.
CAMERATURGY: Lensers, Imagicians, Paparazzi
It used to be that producing an image was the domain of a privileged few, those who had access to pigment to put on a cave wall, had the time to do so and, most importantly, had the inner eye that takes the transitory and unique image that I see and transforms it to a permanent and universal image that I display. As humankind became more sophisticated, and our paintings gained fidelity, the technical demands on their makers became more stringent.
The camera changed all that.
With a box you could hold in your hand, you could cage light, freeze time, show the world something that existed only for a moment in the refection of your eye. The chemicals that fix the photo to paper are alchemical, and the darkroom an underworld from which the hero returns, triumphant, with wisdom to show the tribe.
There is the world you know and directly experience but there is, too, a much vaster world you’ve seen only through pictures. Pictures span space to show you the pyramids, the war, and the mountains of Tibet. They transcend time and offer resections of it, a sailor embracing a nurse at war’s end, the face of a princess, people long dead but immortal in photos, Edgar Allen Poe and Marie Curie and Aleister Crowley.
These images fix the transient, take what is momentary and make it infinitely repeatable, and they steal souls. For while the image can unveil the nature of what it depicts, or preserve it forever, it can also eclipse it. It’s possible that nurse was actually a dental hygienist and she didn’t want that sailor to kiss her, but history doesn’t care. The image is in the gallery of the world’s mind, and that matters so much more than mere fact.
Cameraturges are those who recognize how important it can be to take a picture of something that doesn’t look like what it looks like.
Cameraturges get charges by taking photos. Obviously. Minor charges just require you to work on your photography for an hour, setting up and taking photos. A significant charge requires you to take a photo of an emotionally intense moment, one charge per event. A major requires you to take a photo of a historically important and defining moment, the sort of photo that wins pulitzer prizes, gets spread around the internet, and winds up in textbooks.
Cameraturges have three taboos they must avoid. The first is simple: No digital photography. Real photographs have to be purely physical, light imprinted on film. The second is they must take at least one photo every 24 hours. These two are generally simple and no effort to follow, but the last one is a doozy.
All cameraturges must maintain a gallery. This is a formal defined place where you keep your photos. It doesn’t have to be a proper art gallery, though of course it can be. It could be a rented out storage unit full of filing cabinets or a dingy apartment with photos pinned to the drywall. A cameraturge must maintain the sanctity of their gallery at all costs: One an image is part of the gallery it cannot be removed. Temporarily taking it out is fine, but if it’s stored anywhere else for any length of time, is lost or stolen, or is destroyed then all the charges go poof. If a stranger even rearranges the photos then it triggers the taboo, but if someone else does it, the cameraturge immediately knows.
This only applies to the negatives and the original print of a photo, copies don’t matter for the purposes of taboo.
RANDOM MAGICK DOMAIN
Light, images, reflections, sight, and preservation.
HIGHLIGHT FORMULA SPELLS
THE EX TREATMENT
Take a photo of someone you want to hurt, look at them, and then cut or burn out their eyes in the photo. The target will then experience violent hemorrhaging from their eyes, nose, throat, and possibly anus. This does unarmed damage, but is freaky as hell to the target.
X-RAY FILM: Take a photo of a wall and cast this while developing it: The wall will be gone and the photo shows whatever was on the other side.
Take a photo of someone feeling an intense emotion. While happy emotions work, normally this spell is used on pictures of trauma and suffering. Show this photo to another person while casting the spell, and they feel the same emotions depicted in the image, likely causing a stress check.
Take a photo of someone who can do magick. This does work on people who can’t but it doesn’t do much to them. With this spell, you can seal up a chunk of the targets soul in the photo. They get the result of the casting roll as a negative percentage to any supernatural or magickal identities they have. They recover those percentages at a d10% a day rate, until it’s all back to normal. While under the effects of the spell, they do not show up in film photography. The photo the adept used slowly fades until it’s blank, at which point the adept can throw it away without consequence. The adept can also choose to voluntarily end the spell, blanking the photo instantly.
CINEMANCY: Auteurs, Cliches, Tropers
Because many writers are lazy, and because many moviegoers seem to prefer it that way, many movies have the same conventions, clichés, and tropes. When one character in a horror film won’t leave with the rest, someone says, “Fine, then you can wait here by yourself” and walks away. What happens next? Exactly, that character gets spooked and runs to catch up with the group. (And usually gets murdered.) These tropes have been driven into the collective mind of humanity, like ruts driven into the ground by the same damn car riding on the grass.
Everyone knows you can cure amnesia with a blow to the head, right? Except you can’t. That only causes more brain damage. But it’s been used as a cheap writing technique in so many movies that it’s become part of our collective knowledge. More importantly, people believe in that amnesia cure. If only a few people believed that, no biggie. But so much of humanity has seen that cliché so many times, the illusion is more real than the truth.
That’s where cinemancers come in. Not only do they see those ruts in the ground, they can get other people to agree that it was caused by a 1998 Nissan Sentra that wouldn’t start when a monster was creeping up on it. Cinemancy uses magick to make clichés real. After all, everyone knows about them already. Magick just gives the tropes a push needed to manifest in our world.
Cinemancers get power from re-enacting cinematic cliches. Minor charges are by getting someone to remember and describe a cliche out loud or in writing. This has to be prompted by the cinemancer, and only works once per week per cliche and person. Quoting a line from a film works, but they can’t just say it. It has to be performed, imitated in some way through acting beyond just saying it out loud.
Significant charges come from the cinemancer themselves acting like a cliche’d stereotype character for a period of at least five straight hours. They can’t break character once, but don’t have to act like anyone specific just fill a cliche or trope from film.
A major charge comes from getting someone else to unknowingly act out a cinematic cliche. It has to be prompted by the cinemancer but it can take as much time to set it up as they want.
A cinemancer can never leave a trope unfulfilled. Whenever possible they have to complete any cliche they come across. A cinemancer can’t not hit a fruit-cart in a car chase, meet a loved one at an airport at the last dramatically appropriate moment, or act like a romantic comedy lead when in a relationship.
RANDOM MAGICK DOMAIN
Banality, and illusions. Lowest common denominator stuff, especially based off film, but they can’t make anything permanent or concrete.
HIGHLIGHT FORMULA SPELLS
DOES THIS SMELL LIKE CHLOROFORM?: Stick a white cloth over someone’s face and cast the spell, and they go to sleep for five minutes. That’s all. Obviously real chloroform doesn’t work like this, but hey, that’s the idea!
TALKING AND DRIVING: Cast this spell and for a few minutes your car safely and sanely drives itself. This lets you do literally anything else while the vehicle autopilots to your chosen destination. The car obeys all traffic laws and common sense though, so if you want to do sick stunts or just get in a chase, you better take the wheel. This spell does make the car easier to control in such situations though.
RIGHT TURN, CLYDE
Your next punch always, always hits no matter what.
The cinemancer hits a tune, at least 3 minutes long, and casts the spell. Whatever task you do will be finished b y the end of the song. You have to still technically know HOW to do the task, and have all the relevant materials, this just warps spacetime so you end up doing whatever you wanted impossibly fast. This doesn’t work for travel or combat either, so the usage is limited.