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[OSSR]Unknown Armies
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Ancient History
Invincible Overlord


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:06 pm    Post subject: [OSSR]Unknown Armies Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

OSSR: Unknown Armies
A Roleplaying Game of Power and Consequences

Because you demanded it.

Today's soundtrack will be NewRetroWave.



FrankT:

Today we are setting the wayback machine for 2002, for Unknown Armies' 2nd edition. That's the edition most people talk about, and it's the one I happen to have. The first edition was a paperback book that came out in 1998 and was subtitled “A Roleplaying Game of Transcendental Horror and Furious Action.” The books are pretty different in a lot of ways, but I don't have a copy of the first edition so I won't be talking about them much. It's important to note how drastically the world of Roleplaying Games had changed between the publication of the first edition and the second. In 1998, White Wolf had just killed TSR and Vampire had taken over everything. In 2002, 3rd edition D&D was crushing White Wolf, and Vampire was staggering around trying to relight the fire with Victorian Age Vampire (yes, that was an actual thing, we might do an OSSR of it someday). That of course didn't work, and two years later the Vampire setting would be officially retired.

This book looks like a late period White Wolf book. The interior is black and white, weird fonts dominate in headings, there are “gimmick pages” that pretend to be in-world hand writing or whatever, there are pages of white text on dark gray backgrounds, and if the artwork looks pretty familiar in places, it's because some of it is done by Brian Snoddy.


Yes. That Brian Snoddy.

Unknown Armies is actually produced by Atlas Games, which has a special place in my heart for doing such 90s classics as Feng Shui and the Lunch Money card game. To say that Atlas is no longer a major force in RPGs is rather overstating things. Atlas has never been a major force in RPGs. They are a small indie game company, and RPGs are just a fraction of what they do. But some of their games are pretty cool and they are definitely a name that you should mention when talking about indie production companies in general.

AncientH:

Unknown Armies is by Greg Stolze and John Tynes. Stolze is a flat-out veteran of the field who's done a bit of everything (with, it must be said, a fair chunk of freelancing for White Wolf), and Tynes is probably best known for Delta Green, and is very highly regarded in the Call of Cthulhu milieu, especially his Pagan Publishing stuff, and is highly regarded for his revamp of Hastur: The Road to Hali.

Which is a way to say that here you have two guys who have been dipping their toes in the urban gothic fantasy end of the RPG pond for a long time. Guys who would have grown up on Kolchak the Night Stalker and graduated to the X-Files, and these are the guys that would have seen the World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu at their silliest and grittiest...and basically say "Hey, we can do better than that!"



FrankT:

The book is 335 pages long, and has an introduction and 22 chapters. These chapters are further divided into four “books” and supposedly you can get by reading only some of the books in the book depending on what kind of game you're playing. Spoiler alert: that is a fucking stupid idea, don't try to do that. This puts us in kind of a bind, as we can't really cover a book of this size in 5 posts, and I will be damned if we're going to drag this out for 23 posts. It's just in inconvenient chunks to review. So what we're going to do is try to do this in nine posts. Each post will be half a “book” so it will be 2 and a half or three “chapters.” The in-your-face layout is the kind of thing that people did (and continue to do) when they got access to all the magic of InDesign, but I wish they wouldn't.

AncientH:

Quote:
The television is on / There's been some kind of bomb / You know they got the little ones / They always get the little ones

This quote is at the bottom of the copyright/trademark statement. It's a quote from "Little Ones" by Alpine Valley Mystery School. Which really pretty much sets the tone for the book in a way.

FrankT:

The Table of Contents is out of control. It's two pages long, in three columns with a small font, and fills both pages. There are four entries for page 291. There are eight entries for page 104. This isn't even one of those Nightlife things where every single heading goes into the table of contents regardless of its overall importance in the book structure. The thaumaturgical effects on page 104 that each get into the ToC don't look any different than the epididimancy effects on page 136 that don't get listed. If there's any logic at all to this, I don't see it. It seems like various essentially random things were taken from the book and put into the table of contents until it filled two pages with dense scrawl and then they stopped. Which is probably exactly what happened. I think this is what happens when your book has a “graphic designer” and he's one of the two authors and your book doesn't have a typesetter or even a credited editor.

AncientH:

Quote:
A Roleplaying Game of Power and Consequences

Sure, why not.

Really, this is a game which looks a lot like someone who read Mage: the Ascenscion and got pissed off. It's a step away from Dr. Strange-style fancy pants magic, or the sophisticated mummery of the Nine Traditions. The conflicts tend to be something closer to Hellblazer or Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hardboiled Shaman...except of course that it's kinda of insane.



Introduction

FrankT:

The introduction is twelve pages long. The first page is an “about the book” section that gives you a rather unhelpful rundown on how they think you should use this book (they suggest not reading all of it, which about the worst advice they could give). The second page is a brief description of how the game works. And the third through twelfth pages of the introduction are a rambling story piece interspersed with fake handwritten notes and crap.

The About The Book section really brings the hammer down on out of character information, which makes it look like it was a game from in 1978 rather than 1998. The first best is supposedly to not even read the chapters that deal with things your character doesn't know, and failing that you're supposed to review the chapters that are in your character's purview so you don't use out of character information. Spoiler alert: the rules for not running into a deer on the road with your car are in the fucking GM-only section, so that's supposed to information secret from all players past and future. We haven't even gotten out of the first fucking page and already I need a drink. Fuck this book.


In a post 9/11 world, even the fucking driving rules are classified, citizen.

AncientH:

Yeah, they're a little full of themselves. Maybe more than a little. The basic idea is that the players shouldn't be munchkins that know everything about everything in the setting, which is understandable - it's why you have GM sections. It also breaks down that there are different kinds of campaign you can play, from the one where John Constantine needs to summon a fear demon to scare people out of bar so the Mafia will cancel what he owes to John Constantine having to fly to New York and stare down a night club full of the world's most dangerous magicians with only his magic matchstick, to John Constantine becoming an avatar of the Mystic Hermaphrodite and skull-fucking some asshole that wants to upset the cosmological balance.

No, seriously, the three levels are "street," "global," and "cosmic." The idea is that you probably start out on the street, mundane joes and janes just beginning to run into magical shit, and then as you get deeper in to the secret world of magic you start getting mixed up in bigger plots, until finally you're dealing with shit that effects the very subconscious constructs that embody humanity.

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FrankT:

The second page of the introduction tells you how the game's basic resolution system works. That's good. Unfortunately, the system works like the system in Unknown Armies. That's bad.


The toppings contain sodium benzoate.

The game rolls percentile dice, but even the excessively telegraphic “very basics of playing the game” page at the beginning of the book takes 14 paragraphs of very small font to explain this. This is because in Unknown Armies you do... stuff... with the dice. Rolling higher is better than rolling lower, but rolling under your skill is better than rolling over it but still under your stat, modifiers apply to your skill, which changes the odds of you getting some kinds of success and not others. One tenth of all rolls are “matched rolls” which are either better or worse than other rolls depending on whether they succeeded or not except if the action has a “cherry” in which case a thing happens if you get a match regardless of whether it succeeded or failed. There is a critical success at 01 (which is totally different from the “strong cherry success” you probably get for rolling an 11), and there is a critical fumble at 00 (unless that's a cherry for the power you're using, in which case it might not be). Also, some rolls are “flip flop rolls” where you have the option of reversing the 1s and 10s places. And you get to roll dice ahead of times in some circumstances which is called a “hunch roll.”

Got all that? No. You don't. I have no idea why anyone thought a RNG this complicated was a good idea. Even for an indie game this is some gimmicky bullshit.

AncientH:

If you squint and move your head to the side a little you can see that the bones of this thing is from Basic Roleplaying, with some of the shenanigans borrowed from other games. I kind of strongly suspect that maybe this was some homebrewed BRP variant Tynes had whipped up for a home campaign, because I've seen other people do that and end up with something that broad-strokes resembles this, but I can't say that for a fact. The thing is, while things like "Flip-Flop Rolls" or "Matched Rolls" sounds great if you've been bored with CoC for years and have a stack of gamer magazines you could bury a man in, from a top-down game design point it looks like complication for the sake of complication.

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FrankT:

The ten page is actually only five pages. It's interspersed page for page by fake diary entries in a “handwriting font” on fake lined paper with little doodles and shit. The diary entries are supposed to be atmospheric stuff about investigating crazy person logic. They were written for a 21st century book, but they don't feel like it. The first entry is about someone trying to find out the name of an actress in a crappy Cinemax softcore cable movie. Even in 2002, the answer to that question would probably be “look at wikipedia” and the whole endeavor certainly hasn't aged well. Taping a showing and trying to read her name in the credits at the end of the film was already going obsolete as a thing to do in 2002. Now, kids are asking “What's a video tape?” Anyway, the diary entries aren't set at specific points in the story or anything, it's literally just every other page and it cuts into the middle of paragraphs and even sentences. Not a victory for typesetting, certainly. It makes both the story and the diary entries hard to follow. The whole effect was probably supposed to be pretentious and artistic, but it's mostly just exactly like having someone wave a piece of lined paper in front of your face while you're trying to read.



AncientH:

I think the handwritten pages might actually have been handwritten on notebook paper and scanned in. Which sort of underlines the point, that this is supposed to be a game where you've twigged onto something weird happening and you don't know if it's magic or if you've suffered a psychotic break.

FrankT:

The five page story is not actually terribly helpful. It's mostly about a teenage girl who gets abandoned by her family and tries to find them. Nothing overtly magical happens until page 4, and the payoff is that she shoots her father. It turns out that her father is really her adopted father and she was actually sired by a cult leader and given an anagram of his name in order to make it difficult to track that cult leader with magic. It's all fairly incoherent actually, and doesn't tell you what's going on.

AncientH:

Which, again, I think is supposed to be deliberate. This is supposed to be the edgy tease-in, the peek behind the dirty curtain of reality, and to show the readers how grown-up and gritty they are to be talking about secret pornography and the occult...

...which I think I should emphasize. This isn't "the occult" as most games use it. We're not talking traditional magical methods at all, this is closer to somebody that read the Pseudonomicon and Psychonauts and Liber Null and then sort of worked backwards from there; it doesn't work in a lot of real-world occult trappings and magic. It's trying really hard not to be like Mage or Shadowrun and pay lip service to Voudoun or Hermeticism.

FrankT:

The journal entries ultimately turn out to be written by the guy who explains to the protagonist of the story a little bit about how magic works. Well, he doesn't actually explain shit about how it works, but he explains and demonstrates that it exists. All of the diary bits are written before the main story starts and almost all of it is about the character obsessing about an obscure 90s pornstar who has a secret name and is trying to become a mini-goddess or something. Then on the last page he finds a photo stuck to his shoe of the cult leader and decides to hunt him down and kill him. Yeeeah.

AncientH:



I could see John Waters doing that movie.

FrankT:

Basically, the introduction claims to believe that the less players know about the game the better. It then delivers on this premise by having a 12 page introduction split into four parts that each explain almost nothing. Personally, I find the idea of attempting to do cooperative storytelling with none of the participants having the slightest idea what the fuck to be pretty repellant. It's why I never got into this game when it was new.

Some friends of mine were like “Unknown Armies is so teh [sic] awesome!” and I was like “Really? What's it about?” And they were like “Ooooh... we can't tell you!” And I was like “Well fuck off then, life is too short for this kind of shit.” And the thing is, that wasn't just my dickish and pretentious friends being dickish and pretentious, that's actually what the game tells people to do. I'm going to need more slivoce.

AncientH:

It reminds me of when friends tried to get me into SLA Industries...well, let's not go there. Forward, then, to Book One.
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Last edited by Ancient History on Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:07 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mask_De_H
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I knew if I put it off long enough, better men than I would do an OSSR of Cosmic Bumfights. awesome
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talozin
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

From the way you describe the opening vignettes, they are probably lifted wholesale from the first edition (published 1998). That was early enough in the history of the internet that the porn star thing was not completely silly, but even though it was the pre-Wikipedia era, Alta Vista was already a thing back then. It has not aged at all well, though, and I kind of suspect that that's going to be true of most of the game.
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codeGlaze
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 10:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

This is the book The Alexandrian faps to, isn't it?
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silva
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2014 12:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

codeGlaze wrote:
This is the book The Alexandrian faps to, isn't it?

Yup.

This and that other game whose name shouldn't be pronounced. Big Grin
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Ancient History
Invincible Overlord


Joined: 18 Aug 2010
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2014 9:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Book One: The Secret Names of Streets
Chapter One: Street Overview

Feelin' kinda basic. Nirvana - Where Did You Sleep Last Night



FrankT:

Book 1 is 56 pages long and divided into three chapters. Nominally, it contains literally everything that a player who wants to start playing a new character needs to know. If that were true, that would make this entire game 56 pages long and a masterpiece in brevity.



In actual fact, the “magick” system is detailed in chapter 9, which is a considerable ways into the next book of this book. The authors just apparently think it's really cool for the players to have no idea how the mechanics of things they do work. It's not just the various supernatural creatures and sinister conspiracies that are supposed to be secret from the players, basic questions like “what do I roll?” are above your paygrade. When Paranoia did this, it was a joke. But these guys are doing it for realz.

AncientH:

Quote:
There is an Occult Underground.

This is the first sentence of chapter one, and it basically contains within it the entire conceit of the game. It's one part conspiracy theory to two parts BDSM scene, and don't bring us any of your urban fantasy bullshit because Harry Fucking Blackstone Goddammit Copperfield FUCKYOU Dresden hasn't even been born yet. (Well, okay, Storm Front came out in 2000 mid-way between the editions, but I can safely say wasn't a major influence.)

The basic idea is like falling into any subculture - you get a glimpse of it, somewhere, maybe in a weird book or website or overhear somebody in a bar, and it piques your interest and you look into it further only to find out there's an entire community dedicated to this magic stuff, and it's got its only politics and philosophical camps and asshole internet trolls and everything.

...it's not quite a metaphor for discovering gaming, but there you have it.

FrankT:

The first chapter is six pages long, and contains the actual introduction. Half this chapter is in illegible white text on gray pictures, and the other half is more traditional black text on white. You get one page telling you that there's an occult underground that's magickal and edgy like John Constantine but is also dangerous and urine soaked like John Constantine. I think it also smokes too much and is played by Keanu Reeves in the film adaptation like John Constantine. The next three pages are the ones that are physically uncomfortable to read, and they are each standalone “witness accounts” of three different people who saw some weird ass shit. The last two pages of the chapter are taken up with a jumble of “rumors.”

AncientH:

When I was first introduced to Unknown Armies, it was described to me as a "the bastard child of Mage and Call of Cthulhu." Which is maybe unfair to both games, but you can see the parentage in both, at least as far as systems and concepts. As Frank noted, "magick" is the preferred spelling in this book, and that's coming down through the OMage side of the genealogy, though in this case the authors do make the specific callback to the roots which OMage is stealing from - namely, Aleister Crowley started the whole magic-with-a-k thing, and the traditions that followed him perpetuated it, even the Chaos Magicians like Phil Hine and Peter Carroll.

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FrankT:

Ultimately, this chapter explains very little. Six pages of “atmosphere” and a confirmation that there is indeed secret magic going on, and that's it. What information is given is presented as “rumors” which are not just possibly false but probably false. You basically get told that you're a crazy hobo who knows that there's magic out there and wants to know The Truth. Other than that, the book is literally trolling the reader.


It was either this or Jack Nicholson

AncientH:

One of the core conceits of the gothic punk fantasy milieu was that players didn't want to play silly comic book characters - that instead of blatant wish fulfillment fantasies of being princesses and knights in shining armor, Bruce Wayne-style billionaire playboys and godlike aliens from another planet, but that you'd play a more..."realistic" character who was then initiated into a world of darkness and the occult.


Shut the FUCK up, Greg.

There's two problems with this scenario. The first is, I didn't see a lot of people playing characters like themselves who happened to get bitten by vampires or figure out they could cut themselves and somewhere the asshole that tried to rape them bled out. The cuckoo fantasy makes for fine (and in some cases, dreadful) literature (see: Twilight), but in practice once the players have a grasp of the core concept of the game, they like to play to win. Spending long sessions sucking ass and absorbing exposition as they become acclimated to the occult underground works fine the first time, but lots of players like to start as something more than bootblacks and fledglings.

The second problem is Special Snowflake Syndrome. While players might implicitly not want to start out as blatantly ridiculous, there's a heavy subportion of the playerbase that really does like being the last prince of a forgotten Fae race or something.


A surprising percentage put their career as "Architect."

Unknown Armies is definitely pushing the mortal-stumbling-across-the-occult vibe, and the samples given are really specifically regular people that fall into playing with candles and Ouija boards and holy-shit-it-works. I mean, one of the example characters is a fucking college student. Didn't even pick a major.

Chapter Two: Street Campaign

Unknown Armies wrote:
In a street campaign, you are a normal person entering an abnormal world.


FrankT:

Thank you. Page twenty six and the beginning of Chapter 2 and the book finally tells us a little bit about what it's about. Note that we haven't even had a “what is roleplaying?” section yet. Greg Stolze assumes you know what an RPG is and doesn't give a shit if the reader is on the same page as he is. Not giving a shit whether the author and the reader are on the same wavelength is a pretty common occurrence in this book.

The first step is to decide what crazy magical event you experienced that let you know that there's an occult underground and you want in. You are supposed to write this up without reading the rest of the book. So there's no reason to believe that your character's “trigger event” will be in any way consistent with the magick system or cosmology of this game. Indeed, since all that crap is hidden in chapters that are variously above your security clearance to look at, there's every reason to believe whatever the fuck you just made up won't be consistent with the rest of the setting. Greg Stolze does not give a single fuck. You haven't even really started character generation yet and you already almost certainly have a massive continuity error on your hands.


Meh.

The whole thing is so pretentious that I guess we have to compare it to Babylon 5. Imagine putting together a whole 269 page world and series bible sketching out various story arcs, characters, and organizations for your pretentious 5 year story plan. Now imagine keeping that entire document secret from the guy writing the pilot episode. How well do you think that's going to work out?

AncientH:


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Maybe as a response to the "I am descended from a secret line of witches" crappola in the 70s, the late 90s/early 00s crowd liked to emphasize that you were not someone special. Which doesn't always have to be the case, from a narrative standpoint. You see fairies because Grandma had the Sight isn't the most terrible character origin I've ever heard. But Unknown Armies kind of assumes you were not raised from birth to be the most badass of all badass magicians, so you need an origin story.

FrankT:

The game suggests that the player characters be a tight knit group who work together and help each other out. This is indeed extremely important. They give some suggestions of how you might want to justify that, and that's where things get so that you notice that there isn't a credited editor on this book. There's a series of ideas lumped into paragraphs and each paragraph has a witty heading, and that heading doesn't necessarily have any tangible relationship to the contents of that paragraph. So you got “Circle of Friends” (you solve mysteries together because you are friends), “Goals” (you drive around in the Mystery Machine together because you all want the same thing), “Assets” (you solve mysteries because you're curious... wait... what?), and “Liabilities” (you all have real lives and solve mysteries together on the weekends... huh?).

That's when you realize that “Circle of Friends” isn't supposed to be a separate idea for why you stick together, it's actually supposed to be a super heading and that “Goals,” “Assets,” and “Liabilities” are all dependent. That doesn't make it make any more sense. They proceed to give three campaign seeds, only one of them involving characters being explicitly friends, and then repeat the process for “Occult Investigators” and “Vigilantes.” All in all, the “Creating Your Group” thing takes 3 pages and repeats itself a lot. It could seriously have just been the suggestion “come up with a reason why every character trusts and helps each other to maintain narrative structure, and also make sure that you all have motivation to investigate whatever weird shit is going on.” Only I suppose that wouldn't have been nearly as padded.

AncientH:

So yeah, your group is the Scooby Doo Gang.



I mean fuck, even Buffy: the Vampire Slayer called it. You can be as informal or formal as you like about it; I personally liked it when Marvel took three c-class horror characters and made Nightstalker Investigations.


...not quite.

FrankT:

And that's the chapter. Note that it has told you to set up not just your character but also your group motivations and backstory without giving any hint as to how the game is supposed to work or what kinds of characters are acceptable. Can I play a Navy Seal? An executive at a Fortune 500 company? A mid-level diplomat? The chief of police? A network correspondent? The book hasn't said yet. There's no indication of what level of mundane wealth and power a character could have access to.

To be honest, this sort of “step one is character concept” bullshit is pretty common in RPGs. But they usually separate it with at most a line of white space before they actually start telling you what characters are going to be capable of. In this book, not only is “character concept” an entire chapter to itself before we've given any actual character creation guidelines, but considerable amounts of character abilities are supposed to remain secret even after you start playing.

AncientH:

Along with picking your origin story and the kind of frat your group of friends at the table will be forming, you're supposed to give some thought to your assets, goals, and liabilities. Which sounds okay, until you realize that you still don't know anything about the world, so there's no way you can write down anything that you know is going to hold when you figure out what the fuck is going on. Imagine if you want to do an X-Files ripoff where Mulder slowly learns alien magic, only he reads on and finds out that there are no Greys in this setting. That kind of fucks with his gameplan, doesn't it? This is why White Wolf leaves the Clan descriptions for a bit later.

Chapter Three: Conception



FrankT:

This chapter begins wanting you to describe things about your character's psychological makeup, so it kind of looks like it's going to be another chapter full of filling out character concept information in a total information void. It is however, not that bad. Clocking in at 17 pages, this is actually most of the mundane portion of the character creation and advancement system. It's not the whole thing, as nearly half the character sheet is taken up with stuff you own and if there are any rules for starting possessions in this chapter they are exceptionally well hidden. But the rules for having and advancing skills, such as they are, are here.


Frank: What does this have to do with anything?
Ancient: Looks cool.


AncientH:

The core of this game is that Call-of-Cthulhu-esque treading of the fine line between power and madness...and according to John Tyne, you're not going to start down that road unless you're insane about something. The fine details are more or less left to the player and Mister Cavern to sort out. In World of Darkness games this was more or less shoehorned into "Nature" and a Humanity/Path rating, but in Unknown Armies you start out picking an Obsession and three "Passions": Fear, Rage, and Noble. Flight, Fight, and Fuck, really.


I'll take it.

There's also a nebulous "Your Personality" entry, where you're supposed to think up a worthily pithy pile of core personality traits in a couple of sentences like something from a placemat at a Chinese restaurant, but honestly it has nothing to do with anything and I can't even begin to give a fuck about it.

There are four stats: Body, Speed, Mind, and Soul, each of which has their own entries for related skills. Depending on the level of the campaign, you start off with 220 (Street), 240 (Global), or 260 (Cosmic) points. You divvy up the points between your stats; the more points in a given stat, the more points you have to buy skills in said stat. I couldn't find a rule for what happens if you have 0 in an attribute (except for Body), so presumably if you're willing to be a soulless abomination or a quadriplegic you could max two other stats pretty easily.

FrankT:

One of the things the chapter does is waste a bunch of space telling you what various skills and stats “mean” at each arbitrary increment of 10. This is a waste of space for several reasons. The first and most glaring is that the game uses an uncurved percentile roll, so there's no actual breakpoints for success and failure chances. Such as there are any breakpoints at all, it's every 11 points, because that is where “cherries” happen (at the doubles). So going from 10 to 11 creates the tangible difference that you can get a matched success, but all the numbers between 12 and 21 are just 1% increments in the chance of success (before someone flips out: yes if you have a 15 you unlock the ability to autosucceed at extremely easy tasks, so that's another breakpoint which is also not listed on this “what numbers mean” charts).

But the second and arguably more central reason these are wastes of space is that there's no mechanical support for them. It tells you that having a Body of 90 makes you a powerful strongman able to rip phone books in half, but it's hard to see how that's mechanically true. With a Body of 90 you fail to get even a “weak success” on “Significant Checks” ten percent of the time, and if the check is associated with a skill you don't have, you fail outright forty percent of the time. If you try a “Major Check” then only your skill counts, if you don't have the appropriate skill that Body of 90 gives you a failure rate of 92%. Seriously. 92% chance to fail.

AncientH:

We haven't talked about derived attributes yet - they don't call them that, but that's what I'm calling them - so for example, damage is tracked by Wound points, which equal your un-magic-augmented Body rating.

There's a sidebar called "Mind and Madness Meters" which is supposed to link the Mind stat to the five Madness Meters but...uh...doesn't. Instead, it suggests that if you want to you can start off the game crazy. Alright then.



The points you have to spend on skills is Stat + bonus (15 for street, 70 for global, 125 for cosmic). The max you can have in any skill is 55% (street), 70% (global), and 85% (cosmic), but your skill can't be higher than your stat. So if you have Body 40, your highest Body skill can be 40.

The general idea being that starting characters should have a slightly-better-than-even chance of succeeding at any test they have a skill in, if they max out their skill and have a sufficiently high attribute. However, it also basically encourages you to max out any skill you want to have a hope of succeeding in, and there's so few percentage points that you're seriously probably going to start the game with attributes of 54 (220/4) and a grand total of five skills, four of them set at 54 and one set at 15 which you'll never, ever use.

FrankT:

The game doesn't have a fixed skill list. Which considering how extremely brutal the penalties for not having the right skill are, is kind of a dick move. On the standard “Significant Check” you roll against your stat at minus 30 and are capped to a “weak success” when defaulting. On the “Major Check” you default to your stat with no penalty but only natural doubles count (and double zero is still a critical failure), meaning that if the MC calls for a major check in a skill he just made up (which by definition won't be written on any player's character sheet), even super human characters will have their chance of success capped at nine percent.

And lest you think that skills are generalist enough that you could argue that whatever you actually wrote on your character sheet into being appropriate in whatever circumstances you happen to find yourself: not a fucking chance. Let's skip ahead to some of the skills that are called for in the secret portions of this fucking book:
  • Occult Lore
  • Magick: Cliomancy
  • Viral Reproduction in Lexus SUVs (yes, really).

I can guaranty that your character will not have had all of those skills written on his character sheet on character generation, which will relegate them to the fail parade pretty much forever if the MC decides to start calling for tests in those skills.

The book has a mini-essay about how not listing the skills anywhere is something they have done to speed up character generation. This is completely bugfuck insane. The only way this speeds up character generation is by allowing players to make catastrophic errors. Soldier characters who can't shoot a gun, diplomats who can't speak their own languages, and businessmen who can't manage an office. The lack of a skill list means that even without the secret lists of insanely specific magic skills that the game explicitly won't tell you about there's simply no agreement between any two people about what skills are needed for any task. How many skills do I need to be an effective warehouse foreman? How many skills do I need to be an effective park ranger? How many skills do I need to be an effective small animals vet? None of these questions have answers, and the chances of you coming to the same provisional conclusions as the game master who decides whether to fuck you for defaulting is extremely low. Greg Stolze does not give two fucks whether you're on the same wavelength as he is. Indeed, he flatly admits that you probably aren't and he doesn't give a fuck.

AncientH:

While "4 stats at barely passing and 5 skills, one of which sucks" sounds a bit harsh, it's really just the tip of the iceberg because you get certain Free Skills at 15% each which represent basic abilities.



Body has General Athletics and Struggle; Speed has Dodge, Driving, and Initiative; Mind has Conceal, General Education, and Notice; Soul has Charm and Lying.

On the one hand, I approve. It's like every PC in D&D starting with the Spot and Listen skills along with Speak (Language). It's something that should happen. On the other hand, this actually fucks power gamers over even more because if they dip any stat below 15, they're cutting into their already shitty pool of free skill points.

FrankT:

Skill advancement is actually really slow when you consider how many skills start at zero because they are outside your character's security clearance to know about during character creation. You get an XP for each session plus an extra XP at any time the MC feels like handing one out for the player saying something cool. So people who talk a lot may get several times as many XPs as self effacing quiet types. But that hardly matters because one XP buys you 1 point of a skill. Yes, really. A 1% chance of success in a single skill. And a lot of skills start at zero. Both because you don't start with many skill points, and because a majority of the skills are fucking secret and you aren't allowed to start with them.


In Unknown Armies, pretty much all roads lead to failure.

AncientH:

Quote:
Just for playing a session, you get 1 XP. Thanks for showing up.

Click here to see the hidden message (It might contain spoilers)


Nominally you're getting 8 XP per session; skills are 1:1, stats are 1:2. So when you hit your stat-max on a skill (as ya do), it costs 3 XP to raise your skill by 1 - so your progress can at best be seen as incremental, though people that were smart enough to buy their stats up to 100 ahead of time can progress faster in their chosen skill.

FrankT:

In a rare bout of self awareness, this chapter ends with an essay about how characters have very low chances of succeeding at tasks. There's some lame justification about this is because the chances listed are for your chance of success under stressful conditions, but really it's because we're looking at a BRP hack. Characters having tragicomic failure rates at even the most basic tasks has been a staple of RuneQuest and RuneQuest derived games since the late seventies. Percentile die roll-under systems have an easy enough time calculating what your chance of success is (it's already in percents for fuck's sake), but have a horrible time describing actual competence. The entire range of potential character ability is defined in terms of how often you fail at standard tasks. It's stuck in comedy of failure mode, because characters fail a ridiculous amount of the time. Roll over systems are much more elegant about this kind of shit, because you can actually set difficulty thresholds that characters of varying skill levels will necessarily achieve and still have the results of your RNG producing meaningfully distinct levels of success for each roll. It's kind of pathetic that this book came out in 2002, when Dungeons & Dragons is making fun of your game system for being clunky and archaic looking, you got problems.

The book advises players to avoid rolling their skills as much as possible. Specific instructions include using magical teaparty ambushes to avoid having to make initiative rolls and magical teaparty reasoned arguments to avoid the consequences of bad charm rolls. It's basically the authors admitting that their system isn't good and you should just wing it as much as possible. I am forced to agree.

AncientH:

A noticeable thing we haven't talked about yet is, well, magick. It's the elephant in the room. How the fuck does Magick interact with the bare-bones, freeform, admittedly underpowered skill system?


Not well.

They don't actually tell you this, but yeah, magick basically devolves to skill-based. Which means most PCs are going to want to put some or all of their skills into the appropriate magick skills, which they don't tell you about in this chapter. I really think that as far as Stolze was concerned, you were supposed to read the entire book (except the parts you're not supposed to read) and then come back and make your character. Like ya do.

Next up... the rest of Book 1. Starting with the Combat Rules.
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Antariuk
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2014 10:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

This is quite hilarious. And frightening.

The only time I played Unknown Armies was when two friends and I got drunk, and one of them decided to run a 2-players scenario. We came up with a depressing East Germany setting in the late 90's, where one of us owned a gas station, and the other (me) was his useless assistant. We incorporated the whole neo-Nazi and Polish immigrant angle while listening to some local internet radio station from that area. We ended up investigating this goth chick from the local ale house, and it was all so frustratingly vague. It was also silly and weird, but the rules had little to do with it.

In retrospect I can safely say the GM threw all rules-as-written out of the window and probably used Cthulhu or something, since nothing you guys presented so far reminds me of anything we rolled. So I probably didn't play Unknown Armies ever, really.
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silva
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2014 11:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Antariuk, your testimony is hillarious. Its like being invited to play D&D and see yourself LARPing some goth emo vampires because the GM was a fan of Twilight Saga.

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erik
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've played like 5 separate Unknown Armies games (most wound up being 1-shots because we couldn't bring ourselves to play it again for another year or two). I'd like to say that yeah, the rule system is shitty and does not enable fun play, but at least the setting is awesome... but I still have no fucking clue what the setting is supposed to be since I haven't gone to teh forbidden pages. Mostly it has been a modern setting except I have no idea how things interact.

The skill system is definitely "Set sail for fail." We mostly don't use it for any checks, as recommended. Except for important stuff at which point we expected to fail and met those expectations at every turn.

The most endearing thing about the game was that we called it "Army Surplus" rather than Unknown Armies because we couldn't remember its name when we first took it out for a ride. Kind of a low point that that was the best thing about the game.
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Koumei
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 1:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've played it before, and like most others, yeah... it was equal parts frustrating and disappointing, and everyone just agreed to not actually use the rules, which means the MC paid an awful lot of money for us to play Magical Tea Party.

And then after a couple of sessions we decided even the DARK AND GRITTY setting wasn't that good and just dropped the game.
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Mask_De_H
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Unknown Armies, like anything Greg Stolze has ever been a part of, is a sorta-cool idea married to a system that is essentially MTP but ends up being worse somehow. I never actually noticed they straight up tell you to MTP it though, which is funny. It's definitely something you scrap for parts to make something like Doubt.

And when /tg/ calls it Cosmic Bumfights, it's because your Street-level character is about as competent and meaningful as a homeless person both mechanically and magic(k)ally.
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Sashi
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Yeah, I never played it, but while discussing it with a big big fan of the game I remember the system being incredibly dedicated to cockblocking and constipating everyone from gaining anything approaching competence.

Literally a system in which Sex Mages can't run BDSM clubs and Money Mages can't run banks.
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Ikeren
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

"Tagline: Best game of the year."

"If you don’t like simple systems, you won’t like Unknown Armies"

"and then there are games where the flaws are beside the point. UA is [one] of these."

Quote:
The basic rules for UA are dead simple. But unlike many other simple systems on the market they don’t require GM fudging to fill in the gaps – these are a solid set of rules. Here’s the breakdown of the page and a half of core game mechanics – the shortest chapter in the book.

1. Roll percentile dice.
2. A roll of 01 is an extremely great success.
3. A roll of 00 is a complete failure.
4. If result is equal to or less than your skill you succeed. The higher the role, the better the success. Some tasks will need a minimum roll to succeed (so, for example, you’d need to roll higher than 30, but under your skill).
5. If the result is less than your skill you fail.
6. Matched numbers are exceptional results – either extremely good if it was a success or extremely bad if you fail.
7. In some cases (such as you “obsession skill” – the skill you specialize in essentially) you can “flip-flop” a bad roll to make it good (turning a 91 to a 19, for example).
8. The GM may apply “shifts” to your roll – changing the number you rolled. (A -10% shift, for example, would turn a roll of 50 into a roll of 40.)


That's so simple compared to "roll a d20, add some modifiers. See if is higher than set DC or opposed DC."

Quote:
Some have claimed this [skill system] to be a weakness, but actually it gives a huge amount of power to the player in terms of finely tuned control over their character. Since everything is veto-able by the GM it can’t have any drawbacks except that you actually have to think about and personalize your character. Even new players find this type of system easier, in my experience, then attempting to pick and choose from a list of skills they don’t fully understand.


Quote:
Finally the layout is great – with information clearly laid out an important information emphasized and isolated for easy reference during gameplay.


Quote:

Finally, a set of very simple core rules is marred in a couple of places by unnecessary complication.


Quote:
the fact that Unknown Armies didn’t catch on the way it deserved to remains one of the great mysteries of the roleplaying industry


I will never pay money for one of this mans products.
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talozin
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Played it for a couple of sessions using the actual rules, and it was by no means the worst gaming experience I'd ever had. We busted up some cultists and saved the girl. Guy. Whatever, it was 15 years ago, memory fails on the exact details.

However, I think three key points helped it be more enjoyable for us than it would be for the average gamer:

1) We were already far, far down the ironic retro gaming/gaming as metafiction rabbit hole, as a group.

2) The GM did the character writeups and the adventure himself, so he could balance them against each other. No chance of picking bizarre skills that have no use whatsoever in the context of the session. No need for the rest of us to actually deal with trying to read the book and figure it out.

3) This was an interlude to an ongoing Warhammer FRP campaign (see note above re: ironic retro gaming), so the general tone of ludicrous comedic failure was already firmly, firmly established.

I still have the first edition book and a couple of the supplements around somewhere -- one that deals with magic and I think one that deals with the Invisible Clergy. The magic book stays on my shelf because it has some interesting ideas, even though I can't see myself ever using them in the context of the actual game.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 5:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The Alexandrian's rant is pretty weird. For one thing, unless there's some 1st edition/ 2nd edition thing going on, he gets a bunch of key details backwards. Shifts adjust your skill, not your roll. That's important, because it means that a positive shift is always good and a negative shift is always bad. It's also important because on a significant test it doesn't affect your chance of failure, only your chance of getting a strong success or a weak success if you don't fail. It's subtle, but he's actually describing die shifts working almost exactly the opposite of how they actually work.

The Alexandrian's rant about how freeform skills empower the player is pure horse shit. They do totally the opposite. The rules are the the MC calls for a skill and if you don't have it on your sheet you are fucked. Having to guess what skills your MC is going to call for is therefore a pretty important part of character generation. Having no skill list means that this guessing game is actually Nintendo Hard.

Now, people are certainly allowed to have dumb ideas in 1999. That was a long time ago. But The Alexandrian stands by his tirade, and claims Unknown Armies was the game of the year (he claims it was the game of the year in 1999, which is not the year it came out, but we know what he meant). Now, Unknown Armies came out in 1998 and that was mostly a dry spell for RPGs. Certainly we wouldn't give game of the year to Alternity or Last Unicorn's Star Trek RPG. However, the game of the year was obviously Munchhausen. If we were actually talking about 1999, the game of the year would just as obviously have been Feng Shui, and if we were talking about the year after that it would be just as obvious that the game of the year was 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons.

-Frank
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Josh_Kablack
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Minor Quibble: 1999 was Feng Shui 2nd edition. First was 96.
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silva
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Unknown Armies is the most evocative RPG book Ive ever seen. From the prose ( Stolze is easily the best writer in the industry right now ) to the concepts to the setting, its pure liquid awesomeness.

Sadly, its also the game with the most confusing and opaque gaming premise ever, the epitome of "what are the players supposed to do with this thing ?".
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Mask_De_H
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Silva you've only read four gaming books in your life mate; that's not saying anything valuable.

If you're willing to take the pretentiousness, some of the upcoming portions are nice. I still like Six Ways to Stop A Fight, even though it's another "our rules are terrible, don't actually use them!" warning.
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silva
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Mask, I bet the few books Ive read actually compose a more eccletical whole than your entire library-castle of D&D-only stuff.

And I already know the "Six ways to stop a fight" passage, pal. Ive got a bunch of UA books in my shelf, right beside my Delta Green collection. (Btw, Delta Green is ridiculously evocative too )


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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Book One: Part Two: The Secret Names of Streets Continued
Chapter Four: Combat

Music: Porcelain Black - Who's Next



FrankT:

The combat chapter begins with a rather nicely written essay about how fighting to the death is actually terrible and you shouldn't do it. How you'd probably be better off talking it out, or running away and calling the cops. As a standalone essay about how there is too much violence in RPGs and there are many other better options for people to use, it's pretty good. Coming as it does as the first page of a 16 page chapter on combat rules for an RPG, I get the sinking feeling that it's basically intended to deflect criticism away from the combat rules themselves not being particularly good.

AncientH:

If you do avoid the advice on how to avoid getting into a fight, the basics are disturbingly familiar: initiative, attack roll, dodge roll, damage roll, rinse, repeat.

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FrankT:

Combat initiative is pretty clunky. The rules specifically tell you that “you always want to roll high” but that's not remotely true. The initiative order is that everyone rolls dice and ignores special dice features, and then everyone who rolled under their speed stat goes from highest to lowest, and then everyone everyone who rolled over their speed stat goes from highest to lowest. So if four players all had speeds of 50, the initiative order might be: 35, 24, 83, 60. Also you have an initiative skill, whose only listed effect is on combat initiative and it does not affect your initiative roll, because go fuck yourself. Since you ignore criticals and fumbles and matches and shit, it now comes up that I actually don't know whether 00 is consider “zero” or “one hundred.” It usually doesn't matter because for most characters in most situations a “zero” would go at the end of the initiative success group while a “one hundred” would go at the beginning of the initiative failure group, and those are usually adjacent counts. But it bothers me that the combat initiative system is so needlessly complicated that it actually has edge cases in the count itself that don't seem to have clear answers. When two characters have the same initiative count, they roll off, and the loser goes down one in the initiative count. No explanation is forthcoming about what happens if three or more characters have the same initiative count or if losing an initiative count causes you to then share an initiative count with another character. The game doesn't really pretend to be able to handle large combats, and it can't.

AncientH:

If you're ambushing someone, you get the first attack immediately, and tell the rest of the combat initiative to go fuck itself.

Quote:
Just tell the GM what combat skill you're going to use and who you're going to use it on. Then roll percentile dice. You want to roll equal to or less than your combat skill, and given that, you want as high a result as possible. If you succeed, you've just hurt or killed someone. Congratulations.


If only they had left it that simple, maybe life would be good. Unfortunately, life and Unknown Armies is more complicated than that, and you have to deal with various combat modifiers, dodging, called shots, multiple shots, throwing midgets, etc. And keep in mind that even if you specialize in attacking people starting off you suck at it. So early combat is likely to be a whole lot of people circling around trying to hit each other at point-blank range and missing.


...and don't get me started on the damage rules.

FrankT:

The actual attack roll rules are that you miss a lot. All attacks are “Major Tests” which are the things you can't default on. So if you didn't remember to actually buy a firearms skill (note: while quick draw is an example skill in the previous chapter, none of the sample skills help you actually shoot a gun), you probably hit things with guns something south of five percent of the time. Even if you did buy a firearms skill, the starting skill caps are 55%, and the game says that you're a filthy powergamer who is trying to undermine the feel of horror and suspense if you invest even that much into combat skills. If you forgot to take combat skills or just ran out of PP, you still automatically get the skill to use “Struggle” which hits 15% of the time. People miss a lot is what I'm saying. You could make people miss you even more often by dodging, but dodging uses up your
whole turn and only affects people whose initiative count comes after yours, so people don't normally bother unless they have access to some ability that lets them dodge and still do other things (which are handed out universally to high powered characters, so if you thought you were ever going to grow out of the flurry of misses that is low level Unknown Armies combats, you were wrong).

Melee attacks do damage equal to the two dice added together when they hit. That averages about 8 points. Firearms do damage equal to the actual roll that they hit with, which for starting characters averages about 25 points. There are a lot of fiddly modifiers, but that's basically the long and the short of it. Characters have a number of hit points equal to their Body stat, which means it takes an average of about 3 bullets or 8 stabbings to drop a starting character. Combat takes a really, really long time and is full of pathetic failures. A “combat munchkin” character has a better than 2/3 chance of getting some variety of special fumble in the 14 turns it takes them to knife someone into incapacitation. Except it's actually worse than that, in that there are wound penalties and penalties reduce not only your chance of hitting but also the amount of damage you inflict when you do hit (the highest damage potential hits are lost first).

Oh, and your wounds are secret.

Not quite like that.

The MC is supposed to roll attack rolls secretly and then not tell you how many hit points you suffer, opting instead to describe your injuries narratively and allow you to know when milestones of injury have passed by the accumulation of wound penalties. And individual wounds are tracked separately because they heal separately. This is a book keeping nightmare. And it takes forever to resolve.

AncientH:

There are separate rules for using firearms (shotguns will kill you), knives, blunt objects, bulletproof vests, disarming attacks, throwing objects, throwing people, critical hits, "sucker attacks" (i.e. feinting), etc. Which is fun and exciting when you could seriously get beaten to death by a guy with the Brick skill, and that somebody with Pistols skill actually is less dangerous if you hand him a rifle.


Special ammo? That's a +10 to damage. Not that it matters, because your 12-gauge shotgun slug is already going to do 80 points of damage and most people start out with a Body <55.

Also, for reasons I don't understand buckshot does more damage than slugs, except 28-gauge 'shot which does less. I don't understand that.

FrankT:

The Combat section spends about a page and a half talking about the legalities of American firearms law. Also on how forensics can match bullets to guns and such. This is... interesting, I guess. But it's not super relevant to “combat.” At least, not in any direct sense. Seems like the book should point out the counter argument: that more than one in three murders in the US go unsolved and that that number goes much higher if you restrict it to murders where the victim didn't know the perpetrator. Bizarrely, the authors seem genuinely concerned that they might be taken for advocating real life violent criminal activity, which is not really a thing RPGs have normally concerned themselves with since the early 90s.



AncientH:

If your combat skill is also your Obsession skill, you get cherries. These are special things that happen on a matched roll (44, 55, 66, etc.) These are weird, and not always as good as, well, killing or injuring your opponent.

There are also some non-attacking options in combat, including the ever-favorite "running away" but not including "reciting the prayer to the Holy Hand Grenade of St. Antioch." It manages to somehow avoid talking about the most important thing, which is mystic blasts - the go-to offensive weapon in the Unknown Armies magic arsenal.

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FrankT:

Going in to the combat chapter, I did not have high expectations, and my expectations weren't really exceeded. Combat is a clunky, over complicated mess and it produces results that are frankly ridiculous. The way it manages to have head shots do reasonable amounts of damage is by having low damage attacks automatically miss. A coup de grace bullet in the brain cannot help but miss more than half the time. That is retarded. These rules are bad even by the standards of BRP houserules – a standard that was already puzzlingly obsolete in 1984. About the only cover this chapter has is that while the combat rules are indeed an offense to god and man, the book spares two and a half pages to essays begging you to not use them. Combat isn't supposed to be the theme of this game (despite being about 20% of the intro fiction and being given 1/6th of the chapters that players are allowed to read), so the game sort of buys itself a pass on having an incredibly terrible combat ruleset. If the basic action resolution system of the game was good (which it is not), I might actually buy that line of reasoning. Instead, I'm downing a glass of Rhodesian coffee-anise liquor.

AncientH:

Damage includes "exotic damage" (drowning, etc.), minor and major injuries, permanent damage, and healing. Which, again, your actual level of damage is hidden from you by Mister Cavern, so you have no idea how hurt you actually are until you die. The chapter also includes rules for car chases, ramming, jumping between cars, etc., because people just tacked that shit on to the end of combat all the time in the 90s, naughties, and now!


I can take Car Fu as a skill; it complements my Steal Car skill. Doesn't work on trucks, though. Or bicycles. I got chased for six blocks by a pornomancer on a segway waving a magic wand once.

The chapter ends with a bunch of mini-essays on shit like combat strategies and forensics of firearms, just to emphasize that you're much better off frying somebody with a bolt of bedevilment if you can swing it. Let's see the police figure that shit out.

Chapter Five: Madness


They say sometimes people go crazy on these long trips.

FrankT:

The fact that this eight page chapter even exists is probably the biggest proof that this entire ruleset grew out of some overly ambitious yet painfully incremental Call of Cthulhu house rules. Call of Cthulhu's madness rules are simplistic and kind of terrible, which is a major concern for CoC players because insanity is supposed to be a major theme of the genre. So over the years, there have been countless proposals for sanity rules that run the gamut from modestly more complex to massively more complex. This version has seventy five check boxes in ten categories on your character sheet, so I would tentatively classify it as one of the more complex versions. Of course, at the basest level it's still the same old “make a sanity check by rolling percentile dice and trying to roll under your sanity score every time you see something horrible,” so its origins as a CoC hack are well displayed even so.

AncientH:

The basic idea is that you have five separate sanity tracks, representing different stresses that can and/or will happen to you: Violence, Unnatural, Helplessness, Isolation, and Self. When you encounter a stressor and fail your Stress Test, you get notches in the given track. The more notches, the harder it is to gain more notches - as you become slowly inured to that kind of thing - but also the less you act like a human being and the more you act like an asshole.


Obviously, this was written before the authors discovered /d/ was a thing.

FrankT:

One of the things that annoys CoC players the most is the total disconnect between the cause of your mental breakdown and the effects of your mental breakdown. You lose your marbles because you see a gelatinous snake made of eyeballs rip an old woman in half and you roll on the big chart of mental disability and get... arachnophobia? What? So one of the holy grails of CoC houserules is to make the punishment fit the crime. To this end, this game divides up mental stress into five different categories and tracks your hardness and PTSD separately for each one. I can totally see where they were going here, but there's only branch given over to “the unnatural” so we're still basically at the point where you get spooked out by religious symbols or obsess about prime numbers because you failed a sanity check when you saw a manticore.

http://www.davidspicer.com.au/sites/davidspicer.com.au/files/imagecache/lightbox/punishment-fit-the-crime.jpg" border="0" />
This image is conceptually related to the discussed concept, and if you get the reference you probably watch too much light opera.

I can totally see how this grew out of Call of Cthulhu's painfully limited system, and it is probably an improvement, at least if you're willing to have 75 check boxes on your character sheet. But judged on its own merits it's not actually very good. The representation of traumatic stress isn't very medically accurate nor is it especially accurate to any narrative tradition I'm aware of. You go full PTSD because of failing checks on four occasions – everyone is good for one mass killing without risking the nightmares. And of course, it's a lot of minutiae to track for relatively little gain.

But I think the biggest problem is the categories. They have separate tracks for Violence/Helplessness/Isolation/Self but only one for “Unnatural.” Given the subject matter of the game and how weird shit is supposed to happen every adventure and combat and lengthy imprisonment only rarely, this seems to be a major oversight.

AncientH:

Quote:
Cops, coroners, and social workers know about getting callous.

Basically, there are two roads to go down when it comes to mental health: failed or hardened. If you fail checks, then the stress stays with you and you jump at loud noises, have nightmares, pee yourself when the bell rings, and whatnot. When you get hardened notches, the old shit doesn't faze you anymore - you can stare Cthulhu in the eye without blinking - but you're also a card-carrying sociopath who is unable to relate to other human beings.

Click here to see the hidden message (It might contain spoilers)


FrankT:

When you've run out of mental health boxes, you go crazy. This is basically like the Call of Cthulhu thing where you pick up a random derangement except that you're supposed to choose a form of craziness that arises from whatever sent you over the edge. That's an improvement I guess, but it's basically magical teaparty.


This is less encouraging.

Basically, this chapter is people raging at specific aspects of Call of Cthulhu's admittedly excrement flavored sanity check system and proposing incremental changes to make it less annoying in those specific ways. I'm not expecting the DSM here, but for the amount of work they put in they probably could have designed a sanity system from scratch that was simpler and better.

AncientH:

Quote:
You can try normal therapy, but as you'll see, it takes a lot longer once you've gone mad.


You can't spell parapsychology without psychology, and most magic games have "delusional break with reality" and a brush-up with the mental health service in there somewhere. As with most of the game, the rules involved are surprisingly light - no bonuses for drugs, lobotomies, hypnotherapy, electroshock treatments or any of the other standard go-tos of Call of Cthulhu. Instead, you spend a couple months in therapy and then you make a Mind check and the shrink makes a Skill check, and if you're lucky and both pass your checks then you're cured! Of course, it doesn't say which skill is involved, so you could potentially have an interesting time getting cured.


...so, does my insurance cover this?

Chapter Six: Playing the Game


I fucking wish.

AncientH:

There's a major problem with Unknown Armies, and they lead with it: what the fuck is the point? What are you doing? What, in point of fact, is your goal?

In Dungeons & Dragons, you're explicitly adventurers, banded together to go adventure. Maybe do a little dungeoneering, maybe slay a dragon, but the basics are there. In Shadowrun, you're a shadowrunner, and you have someone that gives you job in exchange for monies. Certainly you could go beyond those basic concepts, but those are the defaults built in to the premise of the setting. You shadowrun because you're a shadowrunner; that's enough for a lot of games. In Unknown Armies though, it's a bit like Mage in that you're a magician in the occult underground, but you don't have a default side that you're connected to. You don't even have a Tradition in the sense of OMAge, because adepts and avatars are fairly individualistic. So like with your initial character premise, you kind of need to come up with a goal for yourself. Which could be as simple as becoming the Baddest Man Alive.


I can take the pitchfork from the Devil...

FrankT:

This “chapter” is four pages long and contains no mechanics. It's a pep talk about how you might want to have character goals and have character driven stories from the player side. Considering how the game's official stance is that you can't handle the truth and aren't allowed to read the part of the book that tells you what there is to interact with in the fucking setting, this comes off as nothing less than insulting. If you want me as a player to provide plot hooks that tie into the campaign world, you have to fucking let me read about the god damned campaign world. It's like the authors are actually mad at their players for being listless and having no clear direction. Well no fucking shit! You refused to tell them what directions there were to go, of course they aren't choosing one.

This whole chapter made me want to punch the authors in the dick.

AncientH:

The main problem is that this chapter is all about narrative devices which work best for solo stories of occult detectives as written by Steve Niles. They don't really describe group dynamics or playing these out in a roleplaying settings.


Bless you, Thomas Jane.

But this isn't Criminal Macabre: the RPG, as kind of awesome as that would be. So while you can talk about "Losing Allies" and "Data Analysis," the juice is that you the gamemaster and players really need to do is figure out some way for the player characters to have come together for a common cause - and honestly, that's shit that would be more valuable to discuss here. What does unite a bunch of urban occultists and Scooby Gangers?

* Threats - The easy one. Something is wrong in town; babies are getting eaten; the cops are useless. The PCs are the only ones that seem to know there's something deeper going on, and are prepared to find out why and stop it.

* Semi-Pro - The PCs are paranormal investigators, occult detectives, or the X-Files special squad. They all had a brush with the paranormal, and have pursued that interest, coming together with like-minded people to try and pry up the rocks of ignorance and see what's living underneath. This could reveal threats or wonders; the PCs could be heroes who keep the local cemetery clean of ghouls or villains who steal a book on death magic and start dealing in necromantic drugs.

* Work for Food - The PCs have a niche carved in the occult underground, rather than being openly antagonistic about it. They pool their skills and resources and protect one another, which makes them worthy enough that other parties can engage them, or they know enough of what's going on to look to actually do things - like stage a large-scale occult theft and auction off the contents, take out the crack magician that's screwing up the ley lines of Manhattanhenge, or act as mercenaries in an occult war between two rival clubs or cults.

* Sorcerers Supreme - The Cosmic Bumfights level; the PCs are powerful and savvy enough to act to protect the mundane world from the large-scale occult threats; they don't bother with the occasional baby that goes missing - hell, they might be responsible - they keep the Uncreated from waltzing into this dimension and eating your neural electricity.

...but we didn't get any of that.



FrankT:

Next up... Book 2: The World of Our Desires. 120 pages long and it actually covers (some of) the magick system. But you're not allowed to read it because fuck you.
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codeGlaze
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2014 4:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Thanks to the fucking rules "lite" crowd, the word evocative has been utterly ruined for me.

Forever.

(Forrrrreeeeeeverrrrrrr)
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Stinktopus
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Joined: 26 Jan 2013
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

codeGlaze wrote:
Thanks to the fucking rules "lite" crowd, the word evocative has been utterly ruined for me.

Forever.

(Forrrrreeeeeeverrrrrrr)


Also, "cinematic."
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silva
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2014 11:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

codeGlaze wrote:
Thanks to the fucking rules "lite" crowd, the word evocative has been utterly ruined for me.

Forever.

(Forrrrreeeeeeverrrrrrr)

If that was directed at me, its important to know that I used evocative to refer to the setting and writing of UA, not its rules.
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codeGlaze
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 12:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

silva wrote:
codeGlaze wrote:
Thanks to the fucking rules "lite" crowd, the word evocative has been utterly ruined for me.

Forever.

(Forrrrreeeeeeverrrrrrr)

If that was directed at me, its important to know that I used evocative to refer to the setting and writing of UA, not its rules.
Not really. I thought your over-use of it was a personality quirk of yours.

But it seems to be that it is a "scene-wide" fucking pattern which just comes across as obnoxious once you've been over-exposed.
In any case, personal opinions and all that.
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Whipstitch
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Joined: 29 Apr 2011
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 01, 2014 2:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Mask_De_H wrote:
Cosmic Bumfights


I would go see this band.
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