||Mankind is the ultimate enemy and the ultimate cosmic force. For better or worse.
||Combat, bloody combat
||Intro to Magick
||Adepts, pt 1
||Adepts, pt 2
||Adepts, pt 3
||Adepts, pt 4
||Adept wrap-up, Avatar Introduction
||Avatars, pt 1
||Avatars, pt 2
||Avatars, pt 3
||Avatars, pt 4
||Avatars, pt 5
||Behind the Scenes
||Yet More Weirdos
Mankind is the ultimate enemy and the ultimate cosmic force. For better or worse.
Original SA post
It's been a while since I did a F&F and so I figured I'd pick up a game that someone else started but got abandoned a while back...
because it's a really weird game (in a good way for the most part) and people who haven't heard about it definitely should. Unknown Armies is a game of weirdness, conspiracies, occultism and horror. The tagline is "a game of power and consequences." Unfortunately it doesn't take a lot of power for there to be some pretty nasty consequences. It resembles Call of Cthulhu in that its a d% based horror game with a sanity system and secret cults and mysticism. However, in terms of theme it's more the flip side of the same coin: while Cthulhu is a game about being a fleeting speck of dust in the uncaring cosmic void, UA is
horror. That is, everything revolves around mankind and all the horror's you face either are, were or were created by a human being. Mankind is the ultimate enemy and the ultimate cosmic force. For better or worse.
Legacy, The obligatory intro fiction
I'm not sure what it is but just about every modern occult/magic setting seems to be required to include an intro fiction from the perspective of a "mundane" plunged into the supernatural world. I get the idea behind it but it's sure predictable at this point.
Anyway, UA's intro fiction is "Legacy" and it at least does a very good job of introducing the feel and concepts behind a UA game. In fact, personally I use a modified version of Legacy's concept as the intro adventure for pretty much every single supernatural conspiracy game I've ever run. So that should tell you something.
Legacy is told from the point of view of Renata Mers Dakota, a girl with a strange name, a shitty childhood and suddenly missing parents. She just came home from school one day and they were gone: cleared out their things, closed their bank accounts, rented a truck and just fucking
. Not willing to let a shitty childhood get even shittier Renata decides to try and track them down and takes a train to Atlanta (after convincing the rental truck company to tell her where it was going). On the train she's sitting across from Eugene Larue, a hobo with crazy eyes who keeps trying to strike up small talk with her.
After arriving she manages to blackmail (via breaking and entering and self-made nude pictures) an unemployment agency employee into giving up her parent's current whereabouts (don't worry, he was an asshole) but when she arrives at the address she sees none other than Eugene Larue snoozing in a truck outside. Being understandably high strung she apparently decides he must have been stalking her and/or involved with her parents so she pulls a knife on him and tries to get him to spill the beans. Unfortunately he has a gun and gun beats knife in this particular rock-paper-scissors. Fortunately, crazy hobo-ness aside, he's not interested in blowing her brains out and instead takes her knife and the two go have some breakfast to talk things out and he lays some metaphysical truth on her.
It seems that Eugene is indeed after her dad, although he knows him by a different name. It seems that before she was born her mom and dad were both part of a cult led by a man named Dermott Arkane which managed to piss off other cults leading to a short-lived "gang war" which her family's cult lost, causing them to scatter. However, one of Dermott's biggest enemies wound up decapitated a couple of weeks ago and it seems like he might be gathering his allies together again. Oh, and magic totally exists.
Renata obviously calls bullshit on this but does admit that her parents were strong believers in superstition and regularly engaged in small, odd rituals...and it turns out that they (and her) all happened to have fake social security numbers and no official paperwork matching their identity. She doesn't even have a birth certificate.
So, Eugene decides not to beat around the bush and shows her a bit of the real stuff, pricking her finger and blowing the blood droplets into the air, asking "who is the father of this girl". The blood drops spell out "Dermott Arkane". This surprises Eugene who then realizes that Renata Mers Dakota is an anagram of Dermott Asa Arkane. Renata was intentionally conceived to act as a magical "decoy" to help Dermott hide from his enemies: by sharing his blood and his (jumbled) name she has become a sort of magical surrogate for Dermott and allowing him to throw his enemies (including Eugene) off the track.
Well, this manages to kindle a bit of righteous fury in Eugene who takes Renata with him as he storms the cult hangout where her parents are and confronting the rest of the cultists (who seem to mostly be ignorant of Dermott's shenanigans). Renata's parent's show up, tears, awkward denials, lies, gunfire. more tears. Running out into the night. Life never the same. Etc.
Book One, Secret Name of the Streets
Do NOT fuck with the bat gypsy.
Uknown Armies is divided up into three "Levels" of play: Street, Global and Cosmic. This is the Street Level section which also contains the bulk of the game's rules.
The first concept the game introduces us to is the
which is more or less the name for a collection of weirdos, conspiracy theorists, rumormongers, wanna-be mystics and lunatics who all live on the fringes of society for one reason or another. At the Street Level you're a newcomer to the Occult Underground. You aren't "in the know" but you're nosy and suspicious enough to get yourself in over your head and start fucking around with the
sort of people. A few example character concepts are provided:
*A cave diver who explored a flooded cave and found what appeared to be a chamber carved in the form of a christian chapel except upside down from the ceiling with an Egyptian statue behind the altar. He had to leave before he ran out of air and could not find it when he came back.
*A woman who was staying with "Mama Flo" a local widow who took in abused wives and children. When some kids' abusive dad showed up to claim them, with a gun, Mama Flo stands up to him with a frying pan. He blows her brains out and she proceeds to beat him to death with that pan without flinching before falling over dead herself.
*A college student who went to Milwaukee took something that was "mostly" LSD and hooked up with a guy named Drew who (at the time) looked like a guy...but also like a god and a demon and a bit like a seahorse. They spend the night together and in the morning they wake up and drew has turned into a 50 year old woman who screams at her, grabs her clothes and runs out of the room.
Street Level play is all about being on the fringes of power without bieng one of the "players" yourself. It's a bit like being an investigator in Call of Cthulhu: you're in over your head, out of your element and in dangerous territory. You're probably a little unhinged (or you will be soon) and are, for whatever reason, chasing rumors and weirdness. There's a section called "What You Hear" which is a collection of weird rumors, urban legends and lies that are spread around by the Occult Underground. Rather than include them all here I'll sprinkle a few of the better ones here and there throughout the write-up.
Creating Your Group
There is a man who lives behind a trap door in the sporting goods section of a Wal-Mart in South Dakota. If you ask him for a lemon he will accurately predict your future for you.
Appropriately this section comes before creating your character, because unlike a lot of secret occult/horror/monster games there's no overarching justification for PCs to be working together. In most games you're a part of some group that shares certain goals in common (such as the WOD), are professional monster hunters (Rippers, Hunter, etc) or are trying to keep cultists from summoning gods that will eat the universe (CoC and the like).
In UA the stakes are not nearly so clear-cut. Sure, there are people out there trying to hurt or murder other people...but that's true in the real world too and that's why we have the police. There are also people looking to shape the world to fit their personal ideals and to control mankind's future...but we've got that in the real world too and it's called politics. So just why are you delving into the lunatic circus that is the Occult Underground? The game encourages you to think about not only why your group sticks together, what specifically are you trying to accomplish together and what assets and liabilities you have as a group.
Planes do not actually fly. It is a very elaborate hoax created because the general public does not understand or trust quantum physics.
Ultimately the group dynamic is between you and your GM, but as always the book throws you a few examples:
*A circle of friends who all knew Charlie Verrick. Charlie was the guy who really fucking seized the day, exploring jungles, hanging out with the Hell's Angels and dying saving people from the World Trade Center on 9/11. At his funeral you all pledged to live more like Charlie...and now he's in your dreams telling you secrets and guiding you to newer...weirder...places.
*You are all "kept" young men for rich and lonesome women. However you've begun to realize that the rich and powerful are different...really different. Now you're all caught up in their power games and creepy eyes-wide-shut mystic bullshit.
*You're all grad students in Professor Morbious' Psychology Open Study course. You've got one assignment and it's 100% of your grade: investigate and report on alternative spirituality communities and sub-cultures.
*You've got a fatal, incurable disease: cancer, HIV, etc. None of you are going to live longer than 5 years and you've become your own "support group". Rather than waiting for the inevitable, painful end you've decided to do something with your life...something that'll let you go out on your own terms.
As you can see there's no "standard" UA gameplay. Which is probably one of the main criticisms of the system. It's very much a "sandbox" experience. There's no "classic formula" or built in guides or enemies. There's just you and a whole world of weirdness right below the surface. This is especially true at the Street Level when you've got no weird powers of your own to speak of and it can sometimes be tough to come up with a good reason
your PC wouldn't just stay home, get a job and keep his head out of the furnace.
Every single president of the United States has had a glass eye. The same glass eye.
Next we'll get into character creation.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 2: Character Creation
So, you and your group have worked out why you're together and generally what you're trying to accomplish...so next you've got to make your individual character. At the Street Level there's no real magic or powers to speak of (that's saved for at least Global games) so your character is more or less going to be an ordinary person. They might have exceptional training, minor unusual talents or be just plain crazy but you won't be able to go up to James Randi, blow his tiny little mind and collect 1 million dollars.
The first step is to pick your
, what happened that convinced you the world was not as it seems and ultimately drove you to poke and prod the dark corners of reality. The Trigger Even has no mechanical effect, it's merely part of your character's individual origin story and might be used by the GM as a tie-in to larger plots. What
have a mechanical effect is your
, which may or may not be related. Your Obsession is whatever really defines your existence and which you focus on to an unhealthy degree (even the most stable UA characters are a little unhinged). Obsessions could be things like being a kleptomaniac, understanding what makes people tick, accumulating knowledge, music, physical improvement, sex, religious dedication, etc. This is tied to an
which will be defined a bit later on.
The penis of John Dillinger in the Smithsonian’s secret vault is a fake. The genuine article has dark magickal properties and has been grafted onto a chimpanzee which can be controlled via ULF radio waves by the fiendish Brazos brothers, two gifted technological adepts, in the service of darker powers.
Closely related to your obsession is your
. Your Obsession is the thing that fills your days and that you think about all the time. Your Passions are things that you don't necessarily fixate on but serve as "buttons" right to your gut. When your Passions are triggered logical thought and reason goes right out of the window. When you're in a situation where one of your Passions is involved you can choose to trigger it and get a bonus for a single roll (either reversing the numbers on the d100 or re-rolling). You can only do this once per session per Passion. There are three:
This is something that just makes you
. It could be a phobia, a scar from some past trauma or even just a concept that makes you particularly jittery for no good reason. Either way when you're exposed to your Fear passion you get a bonus to all attempts to get away from it: breaking down doors, running fast, climbing over stuff, etc. However, you also have to make a madness Stress Check (described later)
Like fear, this is something that just sets you off. But it's your "fight" button instead of flight. You might have a special, seething hatred of those who hurt women or children, people looking down on you, politicians and even seemingly mundane things like being impolite or a bad driver (see Lost Highway for a great example of the latter). When your Rage is triggered you can call upon a bonus to lash out violently. It has to be violent retribution (even if it's not directly aimed at the source of the passion). No careful plans or schemes, just flipping out.
This is the thing that speaks to your conscience. No matter how fucked up you are you've got
other than sleaze and shit in your veins and that's what this is. It might be respect for the elderly...it might even be respect
for your gram-gram. It could be helping people in the third world or preserving history for future generations. You can trigger it to do something
and selfless to help pursue your Noble Passion.
The interstate highway system was actually laid out as a giant magickal glyph to enable the summoning of a demonic legion in case of a Soviet attack.
After your Passions and Obsessions you need to come up with a short description for the rest of your
. You're encouraged to draw upon simple personality summaries such as role models (like "renegade cop"), zodiac signs, pop culture icons, etc. This is just a shorthand for the GM and other players when interacting with your character.
Next we get into the nuts and bolts: your
. There are 4 Stats which are rated on a percentile scale:
Health, strength and vigor. This determines how much damage you can take as well.
Agility, coordination and literal speed.
Your raw intellect and willpower. It's closely tied with the sanity mechanic.
Your emotions, social skills and charisma. If you've got magical abilities they're linked to your Soul stat.
You have a certain number of points which can be poured into your Stats, which varies depending on the game level. Street level characters get 220 points, Global get 240 and Cosmic get 260. These points can be spent, 1-for-1 on stat points. So a Street character who wanted to be solidly average could drop 55 points into each Stat. 30-70 is the typical range for adult humans.
After that you must assign your Skills. Each Stat gives you a number of points equal to your Stat rating to assign to Skills related to the Stat. Each skill has a maximum rating depending on the game level (55% for Street Level) and can never be raised higher than the related Stat. Each character also gets a small section of bonus points (again based on game level) to distribute among skills of any stat (for Street that's 15 bonus points).
There's a small selection of "free" skills that everyone gets at 15% (or their Stat, whichever is lower...but you really don't want a Stat that low). These represent the absolute basics of human ability:
General Athletics (climbing stuff, lifting things, etc); Struggle (fighting hand to hand)
Dodge, Drive, Initiative (used to determine initiative order).
General Education (stuff anyone might know), Notice, Conceal (hiding stuff or people where they won't be found)
These skills can be renamed at the player's option, for instance you might call your Struggle skill Boxing or Muy Thai, or refer to your Charm skill as Silver Tongue that sort of thing.
However, most skills are player determined. Pick a name or concept for a skill and assign a value for it. Want to have a Body Skill like "Too Sexy For My Shirt" or a Speed Skill like "Can't Follow My Hands" that's totally fine. Each skill has a Penumbra which determines the "umbrella" your skill applies to. Generally speaking, having a skill not only covers practical uses of the skill but related knowledge. For instance a skill like "Dolling Myself Up" would not only cover the skill of applying cosmetics and makeup but could also be used to recognize a shade of makeup, a certain perfume scents and knowledge of different brands and fashions related to cosmetics. Those of you who read my
Fatal And Friends review might think these concepts sound familiar and it should come as no surprise because Chad Underkoffler (the creator of PDQ) is one of the writers behind Unknown Armies.
One of your Skills must be an
which is tied to your character's obsession. So a character obsessed with "Being The Toughest Mother Fucker" might make their Struggle skill their Obsession. You get a bonus whenever you use your obsession skill.
There are several example skills, including a few that play around with the rules slightly like
Do Two Things At Once
which lets you take a second action whenever you succeed at a Speed Skill with a roll lower than your Do Two Things At Once Skill...but the second roll fails if it's higher than your Do Two Things At Once Skill. Or Double-think a Mind skill which lets you briefly convince yourself that something you know to be a lie is actually true, meaning you don't actually need to make a Lying roll to convince someone of it at the cost of a mental Stress check.
There are also Paradigm skills which are a special type of Mind skill which refer to deeply held personal truths or philosophies which protect you from some forms of mental Stress while making you more vulnerable to others. For instance, the Military Paradigm skill helps to protect against Violence based Stress and makes you more vulnerable to Isolation based Stress. Other paradigms are things like religious beliefs, superstitions and scientific thought (which both protects against and makes you more vulnerable to Unnatural stress).
There are a small selection of extremely minor supernatural skills in the examples such as Aura Sight or the Hunch skill (both linked to Soul).
Germ Theory is a lie. Sickness is caused by invisible rays nobody can explain but are expected to be of alien origin.
Now, you've got skills, how are they used? Well, there are three types of skill checks:
*Minor skill checks involve minimal risk, no time crunch and no significant consequences for failure. You automatically succeed if your skill is 15% or higher (a skill below 15% means the roll is at least Significant).
*Significant skill checks involve pressure but not life-or-death pressure. Generally cases where nothing is immediately trying to kill you...but you also probably aren't getting a second shot at what you're doing. This would be things like tailing someone, most forms of social interaction, hacking a computer, etc. You succeed if you roll lower than your Skill, but even if you roll higher you get a "weak success" so long as the roll was lower than your linked Stat.
*Major skill checks involve life or death situations. This includes all checks made in combat. You only succeed if you roll below your skill rating.
It gets a little fancier than that however, because there are circumstances which allow you to fiddle with the roll result. The first is
, which allows you to swap the numerals in your d% roll. So, for instance if you flip-flop a roll of 81 you can turn it into an 18 (turning it from an almost certain failure to an almost certain success). You can flip flop any roll on your Obsession Skill or by triggering one of your Passions (magical effects might also allow, or force, flip-flopping). The second mechanic is simply re-rolling (which you can do through magic or triggering a Passion). In most cases you simply reroll the dice and must take the newest result (better or worse) but some situations might let you re-roll only one of the two dice.
If you manage to get a
roll then the result is exceptional, either exceptional success or failure. For one thing you automatically add 1% to your skill rating (success or failure) the first time this happens in a session. In combat (or magic) there's a variety of special effects which may occur on a matched roll.
Aliens from Proxima Centauri have been living among us now for years, but in the last few months they’ve all started leaving.
Next we'll get into combat.
Combat, bloody combat
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 3: Combat, bloody combat
So, here we have the combat rules. As mentioned in the last, incomplete F&F review for this game it has one hell of an introduction. Like the last reviewer I'll let it speak for itself:
Now, that is a great intro to the section. Not only because it's generally a little bit gut-wrenching and disturbing like any good horror game, but because it helps to emphasize two big ideas behind Unknown Armies[:
First, when you engage in combat you aren't typically going to be battling eldritch monsters or dynamiting elder gods...you'll be killing human beings. They might be human beings with problems or dangerous human beings...but they're still just as human as you are. If you kill someone you have ended a human life. Obviously that carries its own horrible psychological weight but that means there will be people who miss that person, people who might come after you and, of course, the police. In UA, lethal combat should never be undertaken casually and should always have consequences.
Second, you are not good and your foes are not evil. UA rejects objective morality (and indeed, objective
). Almost all conflict in UA (especially at the higher levels) are conflicts of ideology. People might be willing to kill for their beliefs but that doesn't make them monsters or you a roaming paladin. In a good UA game things are not black and white and often you have to decide just how terrible a person are you willing to become in the pursuit of your beliefs?
There are a few exceptions to both of those, there's the occasional magickal abominations or humans so crazed that they're basically mad dogs...but they're the terrifying exceptions not the rule. Remember UA's tagline: "a game of power and consequences" and here is where it starts. With a knife, gun or even just a brick you've got the power to end a human life and there are consequences that come with that.
Bigfoot has a social security number
So, how does combat work? Well, Unknown Armies has a bit of a reputation as an extremely lethal game...but that isn't really true. It is
to die from a single hit from a shiv but overall it isn't very likely. Combat isn't as lethal as something like standard Call of Cthulhu, for instance. It may not be insanely lethal but it is
. If you go after someone with a baseball bat you'll find yourself spending many bloody painful minutes smashing their head in, not just knocking their blocks off.
When combat starts everyone rolls their Speed stat or uses their unmodified Initiative skill as their spot. Highest successful rolls (or your iniative skill) go first then the highest failed rolls. Ties are broken by a roll-off. Initiative stays the same throughout the combat but you can sacrifice an action to re-roll if you want to try higher.
When you attack you can roll an appropriate skill (usually Struggle or Firearms, by any other name). The goal is to roll as high as possible (usually, it can be complicated) but remain under your skill rating. There are a lot of options that might "Shift" your skill rating (adding or subtracting from your skill itself, not the roll). For instance something like being blinded is -30% to your skill but attacking an opponent who's shackled hand and foot is +30%. Some of the shifts are surprisingly small (shooting at someone while jumping through a plate glass window is -10%) and many are extremely specific (shooting an opponent carrying a big, off balance frame backpack gives you +10%) but overall it's just meant as a guide for the GM to hand out situational bonuses or penalties. You can also apply
which is the equivalent of an "all out" or "wild" attack, adding a bonus (+10, +20 or +30%) to your attack roll but granting the same bonus to everyone else attacking you. This is applied at the start of combat which means that everyone who acts before you has a chance to murder you before you can take advantage of the bonus. However, Focus Shifts definitely make ranged combat very deadly. If you know your opponent can't reach you this round a +30% bonus is a big difference.
If you bury empty coffee canisters end to end around your house, lids on, then you will never see the Northern Lights from your yard, and the IRS will never audit you.
Normally, attacks are unopposed: if you manage to roll under your skill then you've hit your target. However, you can sacrifice your action to Dodge. You can then roll your Dodge skill in response to attacks, if your roll succeeds and is at least as high as your opponent's attack roll you can avoid the attack entirely. If you roll succeeds but is higher than the opponent's attack roll you take half damage. Those with incredible (85%) Dodge skills can Dodge and take an action in the same turn.
Now, damage gets a little tricky. There are two types of damage: firearm damage and hand-to-hand damage.
If you successfully hit someone with a gun then you inflict damage equal to the amount you rolled, up to a maximum set by the power of the gun. This ranges from as low as 35 points for a .22 pistol to as high as 170 for something like a sniper rifle. So, a guy armed with a glock (max damage of 50) and a Firearms skill of 30% can't normally inflict more than 30 damage. If he trains and trains and gets up to a 60% skill he ends up with a max of 50 damage without getting a bigger gun. On a critical hit (a roll of 1) you inflict max damage for the weapon (which is why some guns have a damage score higher than 100). A fumble (roll of 00) results in a jam or misfire.
Guns are surprisingly not as dangerous as you might expect (especially if your attacker isn't an amazing shot) and most people will take several hits to die. Even the deadliest sniper with a high powered weapon has a pretty good chance of only moderately wounding most targets. Of course, UA isn't really a game about military action and combat is meant to be more up-close and visceral...the advantage of a gun is uncertainty, sure you might just wing someone but on a good enough roll you can blow a big hole through them...you feel lucky?
The most dangerous is, unsurprisingly, fully-automatic weapons. A 3-round burst adds +10% to your skill and a full-auto burst adds +40% (but requires a minimum roll of 20 to hit at all). Both ignore the normal damage maximum for the weapon and just inflict the damage you roll.
JFK was in fact the Lindbergh baby, abducted by Joe Kennedy who performed a ritual on the baby. JFK gained a power allowing him to tap into the power generated by the fame of his biologic father to fuel his own popularity. The ritual is still performed in the Kennedy family.
Hand-to-Hand combat is a little bit trickier. When you successfully hit someone in hand-to-hand you inflict damage equal to the
of the dice you rolled. So a roll of 23 inflicts 5 damage, a roll of 96 (if it hits) inflicts 15. For this purpose a "0" counts as a 10, so a roll of 10 inflicts 11 damage (1+10). Weapons add a bonus to this based on three factors: is it sharp? is it heavy? Is it big? For each "yes" you add +3 to the damage. So a Knife (sharp) adds +3, a sword (heavy and sharp) adds +6 while a fire axe (big, sharp and heavy) adds +9. On a crit you just plain kill your target. They're dead. If you fumble (00) then
take the damage (that is 20+weapon bonus). Matched successes (55, 44, 11, etc) inflict firearm damage, plus the weapon damage so long as you're using a +6 weapon or higher.
Knives in close quarters combat inflict 1 point of damage even on a miss. The text here points out just how difficult it is to avoid being at least grazed by a sharp, fast blade in close quarters and I certainly get where they're coming from...but 1 damage is such a small amount when compared with the average Wound Points of a character it seems like a bit of a needless bit of record-keeping.
If your Struggle skill is your Obsession and you manage to get a matched success you can get
which add additional effects. These range from adding damage or dazing them to grabbing or blinding them. The exact effects are up to you, subject to gm approval.
The Golden Gate Bridge is laced together with yards of scar tissue. It’s the only thing holding California together.
Then there are some rules on other forms of damage or hazards.
*Point-Blanking: Basically execution of a helpless target. You roll your skill. On a success they're dead. On a failure you either inflict firearms damage (for hand to hand attacks) or the maximum damage for the weapon (for guns). It also forces a Violence based madness test.
*Drowning: You pass out after [Body] seconds unless you manage to get a breath. That's about 16 rounds for the average (body 50) person. Suffocating someone is handled in a similar way, although using a garrote properly can cut it down to 3 rounds.
*Car Wrecks: The rules for this are interesting but a little bit schizophrenic..the GM rolls 1d10 for every 10mph the car is going and then uses any two numbers from the results to assign damage. For instance in the example they give of a 50 mph crash the rolls are 7, 7, 3 and 2 giving possible results of 23, 27, 32, 37, 72 and 77. The GM should pick the damage based on things like position in the car, seatbelts, air bags, safety features, if the car rolls, etc. Given how abstracted shooting, stabbing or smashing people is it seems like the rules for this are a little bit out there. I'd probably personally just do something like firearm damage to those without belts and hand-to-hand damage to those with, maybe with a bonus or multiplier based on speed. Also, unless you explicitly state you're wearing a seat belt you need to make a Mind roll to have it on. Seems a little bit of a dick move there, I think the average person wears their seatbelt more than 50% of the time.
*Falling is handled by rolling 1d10 per 10 feet fallen and adding the dice together. A controlled, deliberate fall subtracts the highest dice. Amusingly this means that most average people can expect to survive falls of 50 feet or more and walk away.
Non Combat Actions
To perform most non-combat actions in a fight you must operate under a 1-round delay. The first round you have to declare whatever it is you're going to try and do on the next round but you can still Dodge or attack. On the second round you can perform whatever action you're attempting but cannot attack or dodge. You can't change these actions after they're declared, at least not beyond slight adjustments (for instance it mentions that if you were going to run to a car and get in you could instead crawl under the car or maybe jump over it and hide on the other side. This assumes that whatever it is you're doing will take only 1 round (3 seconds) to accomplish. Longer actions use the same rules but require more rounds to complete, although there's more freedom to adjust or cancel your actions. If your Struggle is 85% or higher you can still attack/dodge in the same round as a non-combat action...if both Struggle and Dodge are 85% or higher you can do all three at once!
It's worth noting that doing things like running away or repositioning yourself counts as non-combat actions (presumably something like charging an opponent would not).
Most people’s morals and sense of authority comes from a psychic parasite living in their corpus callosum. You have to worry about the people who don’t have the parasite. You can spot them easily: they’re the ones with bad dress sense.
Damage and Healing
equal to their Body Score (so the average is around 50). However, although you know your Wound Points you
get to know how much damage you've taken. All damage is tracked by the GM and you have to figure out how bad-off you are based on the GM's description of your injuries. One of the best reasons to be careful about engaging in combat because you never quite know how fucked up your situation is.
In fact, the GM tracks each
separately (another reason why the knife fighting rule is fairly annoying), because recovery is handled on a wound-per-wound basis.
Once you've lost between 25% to 30% of your Wound Points the GM tells you that you now have a -10% shift to your stats. Once you've lost 60-75% of your wound points the penalty increases to -20%. Oddly enough this only affects your Stat rolls...your skills are explicitly not affected which actually makes the penalty fairly toothless: almost all rolls in UA are skill rolls, not stats.
Minor injuries (anything below 10% of your maximum wound points) can be healed with basic first aid. If you've got some bandages, first aid kit, etc you can roll an appropriate Skill (like Doctor or First Aid) and the patient recovers the sum of the roll (just like hand-to-hand damage). You have to make separate attempts for each injury and no injury can be reduced below 1 Wound Point...that last point has to be recovered with time. first aid has to be performed within an hour of the injury and if the treatment fails it can't be repeated for that injury without professional attention.
Any major injuries (10% or more of your total) requires professional help. If you can get to a hospital or similar facility within 1 hour the GM rolls the doctor's medical skill and you recover Wound Points equal to the roll result (just like firearm damage). Like minor injuries each injury is a separate roll and you are always left with at least 1 wound point per injury. If you can't get treated within the hour the damage healed is the sum of the dice (just like first aid).
Any remaining wound points requires rest and attention from a doctor or nurse. You recover 2 wound points per day of rest. If you've got 60% or more of your total then you're well enough to remain moderately active and still recover 1 wound point per day.
Any attack that does more than 50 points in one injury will never fully recover. The exact nature of the injury is up to the GM but could include a permanent reduction in wound points, a skill penalty...maybe even missing limbs.
Holiday Inns are sentient beings, tied in a large collective mind, with their own agenda. The people working in Inns are just pawns. People sleeping in Inns are sometimes warped in subtle ways, sometimes untouched, sometimes just disappear. Maybe it depends on the rooms, maybe not.
After this there's a brief section on car chases which I'll skip, and a very useful section on combat strategies (use weapons, sucker attacks are a good strategy, don't fight to the death) and a primer on how firearms such as legal issues, transportation, and forensics. It's all very helpful but I'll pass on going over the details here since it's not really game relevant.
Next we get into Madness and the rules for sanity.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 4: Going Crazy
Okay, like most horror RPGs Unknown Armies has a sanity system to model losing your mind from all the crazy stuff you have to deal with. However, where it stands out is the fact that it doesn't model sanity as a form of mental "hit points" or anything similar. In fact, as far as I'm aware its probably the most realistic system for sanity (at least as far as modeling mental trauma from shock and horror, it obviously doesn't delve into more complex mental issues). Personally, it's my favorite sanity system for any horror game.
The Knights Templar did not die out, but are actually still alive via the Masonic fraternity.
So, rather than a single "pool" of sanity, your mental health is tracked by 5 Madness Meters which each measure how affected you are by different types of mental stress. Each has two gauges:
notches which represent failed attempts to resist the stress and you get one every time you lose control from that type of stress and
notches which represent how well you've mentally adapted to the stress and how tough it is to be affected again. It's worth noting that
represent insanity. The more failed notches you rack up the less stable you become...but becoming hardened to Stress is just as likely to fuck you up in the head, it's just slower. Someone who can casually execute a child with a meat tenderizer and not break down is
somehow saner than the person who breaks down crying when he sees a sharp object.
When exposed to a source of mental Stress you have to make a Mind roll, on a success you tick down a Hardened Notch, and on a failure you record a Failed Notch (and suffer a temporary freak out). There are 10 "degrees" of stress for each gauge and the GM decides how intense the Stress is based on that 1-10 scale. As you record Hardened notches it becomes easier to deal with that sort of stress and you can ignore any Stress checks rated at your Hardened level or lower (so a person with 5 Hardened notches doesn't need to roll when exposed to any Stress lower than a 6 on that meter). You just don't roll and so you don't accrue any more hardened or failed notches until exposed to a higher intensity form of stress. Failed notches run from 1-5, at five failed notches you're permanently fucked up.
Note that each meter is separate: being hardened to one form of stress does not help you deal with another. You can be completely used to witnessing magick but go weak at the knees when someone pulls a knife on you in an alley. Likewise, its possible to have both Failed and Hardened notches on the same meter, meaning that you've built up enough of a shell to ignore some of the stress but you're still pretty messed up by anything that manages to break through.
The Knights Templar are directly linked to the international banking conspiracy, via the bloodline of the Rothchilds.
There are five separate Madness Meters and each has their own scale of what constitutes a Stress check and the effect of Failed and Hardened Notches.
is pretty self-explanatory. Any form of violence, regardless of the source. The lowest degree of Violence stress is simply being attacked by a dangerous weapon and increases to witnessing or being briefly tortured, killing someone in the heat of battle, performing torture, etc. The more brutal and emotionally present the violence is, the higher the rating. Failed violence notches cause you varying levels of unease around violence (even fictional violence), the sight of blood and means you can't help but react to anything that might indicate danger (flinching at loud noises, raised voices, etc). At the highest levels you basically can't help but imagine violence all around you: what would happen if strangers on the street assaulted you, a car plowed into you, etc. Hardened Violence notches make you much more callous and matter-of-fact about violence. At higher levels you have a difficult time avoiding thoughts of violence and most people can pick up on it in your attitude. Extremely hardened individuals are the kind of guys whose first thought when they enter a room is the possibility of killing everyone there.
Violence Stress is actually one of the things that makes combat very dangerous (and very powerful). Characters who aren't used to violence can easily go to pieces when confronted with even relatively mild situations and someone who is hardened can often end fights just because they're willing and able to deal with a higher degree of brutality than their opponent. It also makes a great equalizer with opponents who are might be very powerful but are unused to combat: even the most powerful adept might still be cowed by pointing a gun at them if they aren't used to the presence of deadly weapons.
The banking conspiracy had JFK eliminated because JFK was going to pull U.S. troops out of Vietnam. That would have bankrupted several military-industrial endeavors, including Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky, and General Dynamics.
is Stress caused by exposure to something that totally shakes your view of the world. Witnessing Magick in action is obviously one of the most common forms of Unnatural stress (and a powerful weapon in the hands of magick users). It can also be caused by things like understanding the mutable nature of reality or your place in the universe. The lowest degree of unnatural stress don't even require supernatural effects...just the belief that something beyond your understanding has occurred. Being attacked with obvious magick is rated as
on the meter, making it quite difficult to resist (not to mention it can also cause violence stress...not everything hits just one meter). Higher degrees of stress involve realizing that facts you took as completely, immutably true are not (such as realizing the man you're married to is not actually a human being). Failed Unnatural notches gradually convince you that supernatural forces essentially suffuse every aspect of reality. At low levels this translates to a bit of caution around superstition and eventually builds into full-blown paranoia as you no longer have any reliable touchstones as to what is true or false anymore. Hardened characters are similar but tend to react with more cynicism and grim acceptance of the unstable nature of reality: they know that the universe is governed by unseen and baffling forces and have trouble hiding their contempt of anyone who believes that they know "the truth" or are in control of their own lives.
The banking conspiracy is linked to the Illuminati.
, which is probably the form of Stress that's most common in the "real" world. You must make Helplessness checks whenever forces beyond your control (whether premeditated by someone else or simply bad luck) trap you in awful situations. Low-level Helplessness checks are actually fairly common such as suffering dramatic public humilation, getting fired from a dream job of failing at extremely important tasks. Losing your ability to help those you care about and even the ability to control your own actions are more intense. Generally, trying and
to act is worse than simply being put in a situation where you cannot act. Helplessness checks can often be tied with Violence or Unnatural checks as well. Failed notches make it difficult for you to trust in your own ability to affect the world and make it difficult for you to deal with unexpected changes or surprises. Controlling your life becomes immensely important but also immensely difficult. Hardened notches lead to fatalism and pessimism: you assume failure is always likely so you aren't upset or disturbed when it occurs. At extreme levels you assume that nothing we do really matters and are basically just going through the motions.
Since it is so closely connected with real experiences I actually find the Helpless gauge the most disturbing in many ways. I imagine for many people it's probably the most uncomfortable to be subjected to.
The Illuminati manifested themselves in other mediums historically, most notably with the founding of The Order of the Golden Dawn, in 1776—the same year as the American Revolution against England on the basis of a revolution against taxes (economics), and the publication of Englishman Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.
is probably going to be the least common sort of Stress, but it can also be very subtle so it's probably the Stress of choice when attempting to "gaslight" someone. Isolation checks almost always take a lot of time: being locked in a sensory deprivation check, solitary confinement, separated from other people or being trapped somewhere no one speaks your language, etc. However, having extremely important people betray you or (even worse) act like they don't know you can also inflict Isolation stress. Failed Isolation notches makes it difficult to be alone...you need other people around you to a worrying degree and require constant affirmation of your own existence and place in others lives. At the highest levels you probably get panic attacks if left alone for too long. Hardened notches are, unsurprisingly, more or less the opposite. Because you're so used to be alone/betrayed you have difficulty acting appropriately around others and probably stop seeing the point in most social norms such as proper grooming or bathing. You don't care what others think of you because you're fairly sure (on some level) they don't actually care about you at all.
George Washington was a Mason. His monument was dedicated with full Masonic rites, and this is actually detailed in those words in brass at the foot of the Egyptian-style obelisk.
Finally we have
stress. It's kind of the flip-side of Unnatural stress. Unnatural stress is when your view of the external universe is deeply challenged and Self stress is when your view of your internal universe is challenged. It's when you do things that you not only believe are wrong but things you didn't even believe that you were capable of doing. Minor Self checks are caused by doing things like failing to live up to honest commitments or violating your personal belief's or upbringing (say a priest breaking a vow of celibacy). Failing to act on your Noble Passion is the cause for a pretty hefty Self check and utterly betraying it is even higher. More extreme self checks include betraying those that you care deeply about or even killing them. Effectively Self stress involves destroying your own life. Failed self notches wreck your sense of identity: you stop feeling like your beliefs have any meaning and began to feel disassociated with your own actions, as though you were just watching someone else. Hardened Self notches are probably the worse ones: you lose any connection to your thoughts and feelings, have difficulty telling whether or not you even believe the things you say or do and ultimately cease to care about anything and life is little more than mechanical rote actions and you have no real opinions to speak of anymore.
Maxing a Gauge
The results of hitting the maximum number of Hardened or Failed notches are fairly unpleasant. If you hit 10 hardened notches on any of your gauges (or if you reach a total of 35 hardened marks on all gauges) you've turned into a
and lack the essential emotional abilities to connect with other people. You can no longer use your Passions. If you happen to be an Avatar your lack of connection with humanity means you can't use your Avatar skill anymore.
Whenever you fail a Stress check you suffer from either
. The effects are fairly obvious: running away, locking up or going berserk on the source of your stress. You lose all control and can't act with any rationality or thought. The upside is that at least while you're freaking out you can't be affected by other forms of Stress and don't need to make any Stress rolls until you snap out of it. You can choose which way you freak out but you can't change your mind afterwards and have to keep running, fighting or freezing until the source of your stress goes away or you can no longer act.
If you get 5 full failed notches on any meter then you can no longer cope with that form of stress at all. Anytime it comes up causes you to freak out unless you've got enough Hardened notches to block it out. You also pick up some kind of permanent scar or mental trauma such as a phobia, flashbacks, addictions, etc. The details should be hammered out between you and the GM.
Healing from Madness
If you get help you can recover from the effects of stress. You can't help yourself, you need to seek counseling from someone that you can trust and who represents a reliable authority: it might be a psychiatrist or it might be a priest. What matters is that they are willing to help you and that you believe that they can. So long as you seek help
hitting 5 failed notches on a meter you and your counselor make rolls (you make a Mind roll, they roll whatever skill seems relevant to the GM). The effects vary:
*If either of you get a Matched success you can erase a hardened
*If you both succeed you can erase a hardened
*If you succeed but your councilor fails you can erase a failed notch.
*If you fail and your counselor succeeds then you can erase a hardened notch (note you can choose to resist and not remove a hardened notch).
*If you both get matched successes you can erase up to 3 failed or 3 hardened notches (no mix-and-matching).
There is also
psychological first aid
which is basically having a friend talk you down from your freak out. So long as you can talk to a friend or counselor within the hour they can make a roll and if they succeed they can cut off a Failed notch. Hardened notches can't be dealt with this way.
Dealing with permanent insanity is harder obviously. It takes at least a month of residential treatment or six months of normal treatment for you and your therapist to make rolls and you both have to succeed. This erases that fifth failed notch and lets you go back to regular treatment. (matches don't help and you can't remove hardened notches this way).
Seven colors in the rainbow. Seven chakras in the Sanskrit texts. Seven varieties of Barbasol shaving cream, if you count the discontinued Wintergreen gel. Do I have to draw you a picture?
By the way, if you're interested in starting a little crazy (or usually, in starting a bit hard) you can take up to 3 Failed notches divided up between any meters you like and in return take 1 hardened notch per failed notch (which do not have to be on the same meters).
next we'll step things up and get to the Global power level
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 5: Global Gaming
After the sanity system there's a brief "running the game" section that provides suggestions on running a Street Level game. Mostly it's about setting goals for this level of play, which tend to be fairly mundane with a tinge of the occult. At street level you're getting together to get revenge, help someone, get cash, etc. It may involve something unexplained or weird but ultimately your goals here are comprehensible without needing to know the "truth"
But after that we move on to Book Two, "The World of Our Desires". This is the chapter where we get out of the basic rules and vague setting outlines and into the really juicy bits: adepts, avatars and magick. But first a basic overview of the Occult Underground.
Like the first "book" this section opens with a selection of example character backrounds. These characters have been around the block long enough to know that weird shit is out there and they've got some grasp on how it can be dealt with, at least in the immediate sense.
There’s a woman in Louisiana who deals in eyes. She can change your sight. You want to see the world like a child again? Or, maybe you’d like to not have seen something?
: an ex-cop who got assigned to a case that turned out to be...strange. As a result she ended up getting involved in more and more weird cases. Eventually she got fed up and went into business as a private detective but the weirdness keeps coming to her door. Today its a woman with a missing child, except according to the police and records department she never had a baby to begin with and no one remembers her being pregnant to begin with. She barely remembers her own kid herself, but she's got the cesarian scar and stretch marks.
The police are searching for a serial killer who disfigures his victims but can't find any connection between them. Stan knows though. All the victims have phone numbers whose sum is an ascending total and their addresses are all sequential prime numbers. The killer is murdering with math, fucking up the formulas that tell their skin how to hold together and their blood to stay liquid. Stan knows that there's just two more murders until his number is up...27 Fordham drive. Before he can figure out the next two victims in the chain he's got to figure out the killer's "z-axis" that ties them together so he can start building his own pattern. Fortunately the victims all have no middle names with 5 numbers and so does the killer. One more link and he can weave a numerological trap of his own.
Basically, playing on the global level means you've got power within the occult underground. You're not one of the major players and you don't see the big picture but you know enough that you can dabble in secrets and face off with the things that work behind the scenes. You've got at least a few secrets under your belt.
For example, you don't know the "truth" about the afterlife but you know its out there. And you know its full of
. They aren't pitch-fork wielding, bat-winged goat-men, in fact they don't even have a body (unless they can steal yours). The reason they're called that is that for whatever reason everything
has managed to call up from the great beyond is an evil bastard. Not in a bond-villian, "destroy the world" way but they're universally manipulative liars who'll take any chance to steal your body (or anyone else's) and once they get it wreak wild havoc like a frat boy on PCP. The only other detail known about the after-life is that there's something the demons are afraid of: the cruel ones. And we only have the demon's word on that.
At this point you've pretty much found out that
is real too. It's also really fucking weird. Word is back in the day magick was stronger and more primal and anyone could perform a bit here and there and the true masters of magic could do just about anything. Then things started solidifying: languages, concepts, borders. It locked things together and magic became tamer and less powerful. Maybe more reliable but definitely only a shadow of its former self. Science and technology didn't technically suffocate magick...but it definitely helped cause things to "gel" further and for the most part it rendered it irrelevant. Who wants to sacrifice a goat drowned in the blood of a virgin sow in order to cure a wart when you can go to the dermatologist to get it frozen off? However, recently a new magickal Renaissance has begun based on contradiction and bizarre personal symbology: post-modern magick. There are three main types of Magick now:
The secret rulers of the world—Count Dracula, Merlin, and the Wandering Jew—meet every year that ends in a zero in a private club in the West End of London named the Mandragora Arms to discuss “business” for the coming decade.
are the "true" mages. They've taken to the new, bizarre forms of in ways no one else can because its a part of who they are. Basically they practice an extremely advanced and focused form of "chaos magick". That is, they take something that has no inherent power and through obsession, ritual and intense self-delusion they've turned it into something mighty. Each adept "school" really makes sense only to other adepts of that school because it relies on truly and deeply believing that the universe works like
, that it's all about sex, or drugs, or money, or pain. Each and every adept is a certified lunatic but they're crazy enough that what they believe is true for them...and they can make it true for others too. They push against the flow of reality so hard that the friction generates power.
Of course this level of obsessive devotion means that the real world doesn't really make sense to adepts. An adept whose power comes from drugs and booze finds the actual
of sobriety somewhat disturbing, let alone a society where you can't drink in public. Everything is filtered through their obsession and they typically can't operate outside of it.
are adept's "good" older brother. The one who probably has a job, has some friends and doesn't scream about aliens in his teeth. Sure, they're not as fun as parties but they've definitely got things a bit more together. Instead of obsessing to the point of breaking reality avatars "go with the flow" and let it push them forward faster than everyone else. An Avatar is someone who (knowingly or not) has figured out how to tap into the collective unconsciousness and embody one of the "roles" that have become iconic to human thinking. By working to behave like their chosen archetype (and eschewing behaviors that conflict with it) they gradually start to become a part of that archetype and develop powers that echo it. Avatar powers tend to be a lot less dramatic than adept's but are often more reliable and less costly.
Unlike Adepts, Avatars do not have to "drink the kool-aid". Many do, but quite a few just play their roles to get the power that it earns them. An avatar of the Messenger might not care about the truth...they just tell it because it helps to synchronize themselves with their chosen archetype. Since Avatars do not
to be pants-on-head insane they're often better at fitting in with the real world, especially at low levels.
Finally there's the
, the rituals from mankind's supernatural history (some of which have been updated or altered for modern times). Old Magick lacks the power of the adepts or the ease of the avatars...in fact it's kind of on its last legs. For every ritual that works there's a dozen that's lost all of its mojo (or was never any good to begin with). The one thing that the old-school stuff has going for it is that it works for anyone. It doesn't take crazed obsession or years of dedication. Anyone who knows the right secrets and has the right tools can perform it and still get on with their normal lives afterwards. There are also
which have gained power through exposure to magickal forces or were crafted by the ancient magick-users of the distant past. Actually making reliable artifacts is almost impossible now.
People and Groups
The internet is one big engine. The faster the information flows, the more power it generates. If anyone could find out how to harness this power they could rule the world.
Since you've stepped firmly in the occult underground and messed up your shoes you probably know at least some of the players behind the scenes. In the underground the name for an individual who has important power or knowledge is referred to as
(generally speaking the PCs qualify as Dukes at this level, although not necessarily powerful ones). Groups with a common goal are referred to as Cabals. There are many, many cabals (some actually powerful, some just wannabes) but there are a few that are worth knowing:
This is the oldest cabal, centuries old, and they're more or less the "policemen" of the occult world. They've got one law: the occult underground stays
. Don't freak the mundanes, don't fuck around in public and don't get caught. They're the most well-known cabal because any decent mentor makes sure one of the first lessons they teach a new initiate is "don't fuck with the Sleepers."
The New Inquisition
These guys are new kids on the block but they're almost as feared as the Sleepers. They're sort of like a magickal mafia: they've got money, power, influence, weapons and talent but no one really knows what they want just yet. They just know if you cross them or have something they want you can end up dead.
: These guys used to be a bunch of nobodies. A lot of weirdos and idealists pissing in the magickal pool...and they all work for mcdonalds of all things?! They were basically the Occult Underground's bad joke...until they almost single-handedly stopped Y2K. No one is quite sure
they did but everyone knows it was something...something big.
The Sect of the Naked Goddess
These guys are just another one of the cults that pop up all over the place in the Occult Underground...except supposedly their goddess really exists and they have her ascension on tape. Supposedly anyone who watches the tape becomes an instant convert...and they are expanding surprisingly fast.
The Sleeping Tiger
All those cell phone towers aren’t really for cell phones. They are built by the government agency known as CTAP, who found a way to harness innate magical energy from unsuspecting people. What they are going to use it for is still unknown.
Now, the occult underground is
of pissed off lunatics, wizards with a grudge and people who lie, cheat and steal from one another. Enemies are common and friends are rare. They've all got the knives out and the guns ready but there's one thing that's got them too scared to start an all out war...the fucking tiger in the room. The tiger is asleep right now, snoring away. But if you make too much noise it's going to wake up and then
The tiger is the general population. The six or seven billion ordinary and ignorant humans who go about their daily business completely oblivious to the true nature of the world. And the occult underground is
of them. Right now, they don't know jack shit about magick beyond new age self-help manuals and crystal-gripping snake-oil peddlers. But that could change...cameras are everywhere and the news has 24 hours to fill. If actual, solid evidence got out there then the magickal community is
. All the universal secrets and cosmic truths don't mean shit if the tiger wakes. The entire occult underground working together (if such a thing was even possible) has a snowball's chance in hell if the tiger spots them.
The Sleepers are there to deal with those people who're too crazy or too stupid to stay safe. But everyone else knows that if the tiger wakes the Sleepers won't have time to kill you.
There’s a kid in Little Rock, Arkansas who gains magical power from boredom.
Next we'll get into some more details on magickal cabals and some stuff on the old-school magick.
Intro to Magick
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 6: Intro to Magick
So, now we're getting into a more detailed examination of Magick (yes, the extra "k" is part of it) in the UA universe. To some degree or another all magick in Unknown Armies is Sympathetic, that is it exploits the connections (or perceived connections) between your actions and the result you desire. By creating a symbolic "link" you can send your will out into the universe and affect change.
Magick is divided (roughly) into 3 "types" and three "levels". There are Adepts, Avatars and Ritual Magick and each of the three can be divided into Minor, Significant and Major forms (although the distinction is less important for avatars). It's important to note that the three types of magick are not mutually exclusive. An avatar and adept can practice ritual magick in addition to their own form (and often do it better than practitioners who don't channel either form of magick). Likewise its possible to be an Adept
an Avatar at once. In practice there are only a few Adept schools and Avatar archetypes that resonate strongly enough for this to be practical...the competing taboo behaviors from both an adept and avatar background can cause major crossed wires. But when they do work well together the results can be
You cannot channel more than one Archetype as an Avatar, although you could start over as the Avatar of a different archetype if you sever your ties with your current one. Technically it is possible to learn a second adept school the result is more or less immediate and complete insanity, blasting all five Madness gauges to the max.
The Comte runs an email list where you can hear about the plans for the universe and swap cookie recipes and so on.
Ritual Magick is the most basic and universally available of all magickal practices. You don't have to be insane, you don't have to dedicate your life to living naked in the woods, all you've got to do is know the right words and rituals and you can give the laws of the universe a little kick. Rituals are compared to cosmic "back doors" or "cheat codes".
The problem with ritual magick is that it represents the "old-school" magick and it's dying. Every generation less and less rituals retain their power and those that do generally aren't as strong as they once were. Truly powerful rituals are extremely rare and are carefully guarded secrets. No-one knows for sure what is causing ritual magick to weaken but no one wants to give up what little scraps of power they've managed to harvest. No one has been able to create new ritual spells (although it's possible to perform improvisational rituals known as
) and unfortunately there are also a lot of "trap" rituals out there which turn on the user (no one is certain if this is intentional or the result of slow corruption).
The symbolic connections of ritual magick are all external so there's a lot of preparation and frippery that go into making a ritual work. Blood, full moons, wavy knives, the works.
Anyone can perform minor rituals with the right tools and performance. You've just got to succeed at a Soul Check at a -30% shift. Adepts can choose to spend a bit of their own power and use their Adept skill and Avatars can roll their Avatar skill. Both can use the Soul -30 roll if that would be better. You need a copy of the ritual on hand to cast it.
The minor rituals are an extremely mixed bag, ranging from "moderately useful" to "incredibly specific. Here are a few examples:
Before drinking something, rotate the container 360 degrees clockwise while saying "sushem" and then 360 degrees counterclockwise while saying "crechab". The effect will negate any poisons or toxins in the drink (including alchohol, drugs and germs).
: Get a fish tank with at least one living fish in it. Cut your hand and bleed into the water. If there are any spells on you that last longer than a month the blood will take the form of the name of the person who cast the spell and then shifts to depict the subjects face. It detects the most recent person to enchant you. If no one has cast any spell on you the blood forms into egyptian hyroglyphs and then into the face of a woman. No one knows who she is or what she must have done to show up for anyone who casts the spell.
Angel of the Animals
You need some of the target's body (hair, nail clippings, blood, etc) Mix it with two cups of buckwheat flour and then add two tablespoons of butter churned under a full moon.from the milk of an all-white cow. And yeast and salt and bake it in a pan greased with fat from an animal that you hunted yourself. Prick your left ring finger and write a word (any word) on the loaf before baking it at dawn over a fire of sandalwood. Feed it to the target. After that you can speak the word written on the loaf and the target will become the obsessive focus of animals: all animals in the target's vicinity will be compelled to touch and cling to the target. Targets covered in animals who try and fight back will be quickly ripped apart as the animals fight to stay in contact. This lasts for 8 hours.
Cats are powerful alpha-wave generators and are being used by secret government agencies as a renewable source of energy.
Significant Rituals are an order of magnitude more powerful than Minor rituals, but they
a significant "charge" of power to perform (sometimes multiple charges) which generally means they're restricted to adepts who can create them with the appropriate charging actions. Powerful Avatars of an Archetype called the Mystic Hermaphrodite can generate significant charges as well. However, a well kept secret of certain cabals who practice the "old ways" of magick are Minor rituals called "charging rituals" that allow the ritualist to create significant charges which can then be used for Significant rituals. Adepts can theoretically perform charging rituals but the process removes all other charges in the process, as the idea that ritual magick could create significant charges goes against their worldview. Charging rituals are the rarest and most valued of any ritual, even more valuable than the Significant rituals that they allow you to cast.
Charging rituals are difficult and extremely limited. The example ritual given has different requirements month-to-month depending on the caster's zodiac sign and can be performed only on the day of the month you were born in (so someone born the 10th of july can perform the ritual the 10th of every month.). The ritual becomes more complicated the farther you are from your actual birthday. On your birthday you just need to say six words in latin under the open sky. Six months from your birthday it requires specially made robes, herbs, crystals chalk diagrams and a specific latin chant.
Significant rituals are more powerful and broadly useful than minor rituals (for the most part). Here are some examples:
Prowess of Samson
: Cut up a copy of the old testament (or Torah scrolls) and stitch the pages into a robe with camel-hair and a bone needle. Wear the robe and goat-leather sandals along with a beard (fake works fine). Beat someone with the jawbone of an ass. The result is you can now Flip-Flop your Struggle skill and, if you accept a Failed Self notch, you get +10% to your Struggle skill. This can be done 4 times (or until you completely fill your self madness meter) to increase the bonus by another 10%. A ritual with nearly identical results, called
Prowess of Bruce Lee
using a yellow tracksuit and unwound film from the movie
Enter The Dragon
wound around your limbs. No one knows how its possible for a ritual to be "updated" like this.
crush a live starfish in your left hand while making the "fig sign" with your right. It will remove the effects of magic currently on you (to a degree, it won't heal damage or get rid of a summoned entity).
Lead into gold
For 4 significant charges you can turn very small quantities of lead into gold, enough to turn a fish sinker into solid gold or thinly coat a lead coin. There are tons of alchemical rituals available for this one, they just all require enough sig-charges.
If major rituals ever existed they're long gone or are being kept by people who are damn good at hiding them. Some speculated Major rituals would be the creation of the philosopher's stone or a spell to summon an archangel, a truly inhuman being from beyond the veil. Unfortunately its all just speculation and even if you had a Major ritual there are no known charging rituals to generate Major charges.
The ice-cream guy at the corner of 9th and Liberty keeps a talking human head at the bottom of his cart, under the dry ice. For a silver dollar, he’ll let you ask it one question; it knows the identity of everyone who wants you dead—and why.
These rituals are a little looser than the previous ones and have one very specific purpose: tricking the universe into thinking one person is actually another person. Poor Renata Dakota was under the effect of a powerful Proxy ritual in the starting fiction. Proxies allow you to convince the universe that one person is really someone else (usually convincing them that someone else is actually
so unpleasant spells and powers accidentally target your Proxy rather than yourself).
Proxy rituals are two-way...if the victim is aware of the connection. Ignorant victims only get your baggage, not vice-versa, but if they find out they can use the connection the same way you do.
Proxies come in both Minor and Significant varieties. Like normal rituals they are specific spells of varying complexity. However, there are dozens and dozens of proxy rituals which can be performed in different ways with more or less identical results. The simpler the ritual the more charges it costs to use (especially with Significant rituals). With proxies the important thing is not so much how the ritual is performed but what connections exist between you and your target and what you can do with it. Minor proxy rituals allow you to forge a connection that lets you spy on their surface emotions/senses, redirect long-distance spells targeting you, or (if the target is an avatar or adept) push their taboo buttons by performing taboo-breaking actions yourself. Significant proxy rituals allow you to steal charges from your proxy, switch minds and maybe even get them to die in your place!
Major proxies are only theoretical but supposedly would allow you to destroy the victim's body and consciousness and absorb their soul. This gives you all the benefits of a significant proxy except the victim is a part of you and thus can't fight back or cause any trouble out in the world.
When you perform a Proxy ritual you gain the Skill "Proxy of [target]" with a rating based on how similar you and the target are, up to your Soul stat as the maximum. The modifiers start at +50% for close blood relatives (parents, siblings), go to +30% for close coincidences (same address, same birthday, shared a lover, etc) down to +10% for simply having one person change their appearance to resemble the other (dying and cutting your hair for instance) or +5% for wearing some of the other person's clothes. The proxy skill can be strengthened like a normal skill and can be boosted with certain actions: staring into a mirror (+5%), spending a minor charge (+10%), sitting in a mirror room (+15%).
So long as you don't have to be picky about who your proxy is it isn't tough to build major connections fairly easily, maxing out the proxy connection. In fact its generally important to make sure that your proxy is an ignorant normal person, because if they find out about the proxy connection (and understand what it is) they can get a proxy skill of their own (equal to the original proxy skill when the ritual was performed) and can perform all proxy actions right back at you. Or they can try and break the connection, spending XP to
their proxy skill. your skill stays the same but once theirs hits zero the connection is broken.
Some uses of the Proxy bond involve a struggle where the dominant proxy (the one with the highest skill) must roll below their skill rating but above their victim's. It's impossible to use these abilities if you aren't the dominant proxy (unless you can boost your skill with charges or something similar).
“Skull and Bones” is more than just a name. The U.S. government is ruled by the talking skulls of every dead president, animated using ancient Celtic techniques. Kennedy was shot in the head because he was a powerful psychic and would have taken over.
Tilts are the closest anyone has gotten to creating new rituals. They're kind of improvisational rituals that don't produce dramatic effects but do allow you to shift things in your favor. These are basic curses, blessings and warding effects. To perform a Tilt you need a Soul of at least 60 and you have to have been a consenting participant in a Tilt ritual performed by someone else, targeting you. There are few basic types of Tilts:
are kind of a limited "proxy" ritual based on common cause and loyalty. A bonded group can be targeted by positive tilts and be affected as a single unit: bless one and all of them benefit. Minor bonds can shift their roll up to 5% when it comes to helping another bonded individual. Significant bonds let you flip-flop when helping a bonded member. A Major bond lets you get a brief vision of what another bonded target is seeing. all of these effects can only be performed once per month.
grant a one-time modifier to a roll for a specific purpose. For instance you might craft a Boon specifically to "kill that bastard Carl". Someone can only have one Boon active at once and it vanishes once used. Minor boons grant a 5% shift to your roll (up to 5%, you can go less if that would be better, and even subtract up to 5%). Significant tilts let you flip-flop. Major lets you get an automatic critical success.
are identical to Boons but reversed, allowing you to negatively influence their actions when they are doing something specific (such as a hex to make it difficult for Carl the first time he tries to hurt you).
let you make a location more difficult to enter or weaken those who do enter. It's like a Hex but it doesn't require a specific target and affects the first roll they have to make once they're in your warded space.
Actually performing Tilts involves a lot of time and work. You have to build connections, with each connection granting a cumulative chance of success. The big ones are the target's presence (+5%), participation (+5%) and informed consent (+20%). If you're really elaborate you can make a proxy connection with your target so that they're effectively "present", "participating" and "consenting" in the ritual because you are. After that's done you have to build up a set of symbolic elements (+2% per element). Symbols are objects or actions which represent the caster, the target, the intent of the Tilt, and/or the context during which the til will activate. Each of those four elements can only grant 10% individually (maximum tilt chance is 70%).
For instance, say you want to try to produce the magical equivalent of a cut break-line, Hexing a target to have trouble the next time they're making a Driving roll. To represent yourself you might have your name, a photograph showing yourself scowling in anger or grinning evilly, a weapon belonging to you (representing your dangerous intent), your home (where the ritual is being performed) and your allies (who all encourage and help you during the ritual). To represent your target you might have their name, a copy of their driver's license, some fingernail clippings, a personal belonging and an object of yours the target damaged. To represent the context you might provide scrapings from the target's paint, a printout of a map route the target follows to work, a model car that resembles the target, a tape from a traffic camera in the area and a stolen traffic sign. To represent the intent you might put tire marks on the target's photograph, provide a picture of a terrible accident, cut a brake-line or puncture a tire during the ritual and verbally describe what you hope to occur.
You can also "pump up" these elements for additional effect, breaking the normal 10% limit, by spending magickal charges (+2% per element for minor charges, +18% per element for Significant charges), incorporating powerful ritual acts into the element (+2 to +8% depending on the act) such as keying occult symbols into the paint of the victim's car and then using the pain scrapings instead of just chipping a bit here and there. The riskier and more symbolically powerful the gesture is the bigger the bonus. Adepts and Avatars automatically get +2% for elements that synch easily with their school or archetype (for the example above an alcohol-based Dipsomancer would get the bonus if they included a DUI report instead of just a driver's license).
Now, there's one
limit on Tilts: every element you use can only be used
and never again. Speak your name aloud to represent yourself in the ritual? Well, that won't work again for any Tilt ritual you ever perform. Similar elements can work (for instance using a nick name, writing your name instead of speaking it, using your first name and last name separately, etc) but you can never re-use the exact elements for any Tilt ritual.
There’s a guy up in Canada, blind from birth, who paints very pretty pictures of swans on old engine blocks. He says they’re pictures of God.
Next we'll get into the really fun bit: Adepts!
Adepts, pt 1
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 7: Adepts, pt 1
I mentioned adepts briefly in the magic overview, well this is where the book goes from "creepy urban horror-fantasy" to "really
creepy urban horror-fantasy". The adept schools are probably the most distinct and memorable part of Unknown Armies.
Good news: tantric sex magick works!
The book is a bit more dramatic about it, but just to make things a bit easier to digest I'll go over the basics of adepts here. An adept is someone who holds a particularly warped worldview that they have invested with enough belief and focus that it has become more or less true for them. They perform magick by believing
in their own distorted view of reality that they can actually force reality to conform to it. That, of course, means that to anyone else they're basically crazy people...because they are.
There are three Laws of Magick that all Adept schools adhere to:
First, is the
Law of Symbolic Tension
. It's important that not only does your worldview as an adept run contrary to what everyone else thinks and feels but it's also important that it
makes no sense
. Part of what gives the adept power is the "friction" between not only what is real and what isn't, but a sort of cosmic "cognitive dissonance" produced by the acceptance of two ultimately conflicting ideas. This means that central to the idea of each adept school is a paradox. The paradox should make the flaws in an adept's philosophy obvious to any rational person but the adept has so fixated on the paradox that it makes sense to you.
This means you can't just pick any old set of beliefs like "thinking really hard makes people's heads explode." Only certain concepts have the appropriate symbolic power and inherent conflict to produce magickal power. Different adepts explain the nature of their beliefs in different ways, even adepts of the same school. It doesn't really matter in the end because no matter what it's all crazy talk.
The second law is the
Law of Transaction
. Magick is never a free ride and always involves ritual sacrifice. Typically that sacrifice is in the form of effort, time or freedom...but it can be simpler (flesh and blood) or more ethereal (memories, understanding). But it must always come from the adept in some way (other people may be involved but the adept is central to the process) and magick cannot produce magick. For instance, a dipsomancer who gains power by drinking could potentially turn water into wine with his magick...but getting drunk off that wine won't give him any magick back. You can only get out what you put in.
Almost all adepts work by performing personal rituals (the word is used loosely) to gain "Charges" to power their magick. Charges come in three forms: Minor, Significant, and Major. Minor charges are easy to build up and almost all adepts can easily rack up several of them if needed. Significant charges usually represent a lot of work or risk to achieve and can be used for powerful magick. Major charges are once-in-a-lifetime for most adepts, if that often. Some adept schools are harder to produce major charges, some are easier but all of them have big limits. Major charges can produce wide-ranging effects, potentially world-wide (although an effect "spread" that thin won't be too powerful).
Finally there's the
Law of Obedience
. Unlike Avatars, Adepts have to fully and completely accept their twisted view of reality. You can't do magick as a day job. To be an adept means to believe on a fundamental level that
else the in world is completely wrong about how reality works. Even other adepts. You might be able to accept that they know some sort of magickal tricks or have managed to produce some pale imitation of your understanding of reality but you know, in your heart, that you're the one who has it all figured out. This actually makes it incredibly difficult for Adepts of the same school to co-exist. You can at least hang out with another adept whose view of reality is completely opposite of yours. You both think the other guy is just spewing nonsense and you dismiss it. But the guy whose view is almost exactly like yours but
different can drive you nuts. It's like getting a bunch of [insert fandom here] nerds together...even though everyone likes [fandom], you know they'll start arguing about why [character] is so much better than [almost identical character].
The law of obedience also means that each adept has
. Certain behaviors that, while they don't completely ruin your beautiful insanity, shake the foundations of your worldview. This means if you engage in your Taboo you lose
your charges and have to start over from scratch. Some taboos can be broken very easily (although typically those schools have very easy charging rituals) while others take active plotting to force you to break.
Becoming an Adept
There’s a cult in California who’ve found a way of crossing voudoun with The Picture of Dorian Grey. They stay the most beautiful of the beautiful people while a village in Kansas gets steadily uglier.
Of course if you're starting at Global your GM may just allow you to start the game as an Adept, but if you're trying to turn an ordinary person (or an Avatar or Authentic Thaumaturge) into an adept, it takes some extra effort...really nasty effort. To become an adept you have to have an Obsession which jives with your chosen adept school and five Failed notches on the Self meter. You can't just decide to study magick, you've got to take your old life and
burn it to the ground
. Do the things you never believed you could do, betray those who care about you and piss away everything you've built for yourself. Only once you've basically left your life a burning wreck behind you are you damaged enough to accept the new worldview of the adept.
If you're "lucky" enough to have a teacher the process is...slightly...easier. It's basically like joining a cult in that your mentor must brainwash you into a new, twisted way of thinking. To do this they will do stuff to you. Bad stuff. Basically, they have to max out the failed notches on a single stress gauge. Maybe they torture you until your violence gauge fills, force you to ruin your life (or force you to watch while they do it for you) or just show you mind-blowing shit until your Unnatural gauge fills.
Either way, the failed notches can't be removed through therapy (without ruining the process) and once you've got 5 failed notches and go insane you get a 1% skill in your magickal "school". This is a Soul-based skill and is always your Obsession skill, replacing whatever your previous Obsession skill was. At this point you have to spend XP to improve your skill and "fix" your fucked up brain. Every point of XP improves your skill by 2%, removes a failed Notch from the gauge that you busted and learn one spell.
Once you've got 5 XP spent your mind has been pieced back together and you've got your skill up to 11%. At this point further improvement takes place normally (and any new Self failures are dealt with normally).
There’s a tape floating around containing a record of a ritual to produce a soundtrack to the caster’s life. The intention was to never again miss anything suspicious or ignore a romantic moment. At the end there is only a long, eerie note—and then static.
Adepts use spells. There are three types of spells: random magick, formula spells and Blasts
are spontaneous, off-the-cuff spells that you come up with off the top of your head. They have to fit the themes of your adept school. They're very flexible but they tend to be inefficient: it usually costs more charges to power Random Magick and it doesn't give quite as much bang for your buck. For example, an epideromancer (a school devoted to altering your body) might want to say...grow tastebuds on his fingertips because he really needs to taste something without being seen licking it (hey, UA is a weird game). He'd explain what he's trying to do to the GM who decides how many charges it should cost and whether it counts as a minor, significant or major effect. This would probably cost only one minor charge as a formula spell but as random magick it'd probably cost 2 or 3 charges.
The effectiveness and cost of random magick is also subject to change at the GM's whim. It doesn't matter if it cost 1 minor charge last session it can cost more today.
are spells that have been developed as specific, reliable effects. They're typically cheaper and more powerful, but only have one use (or at least a set of closely related uses). For instance, Epideromancers have a formula spell called "Relentless Will" which lets them ignore the need for sleep temporarily. It's cheap (1 Minor Charge) and long lasting (about 20 hours), but it only works as specified. For instance, an epideromancer who is near-collapse from exhaustion due to intensely hard work but needs to keep going isn't going to be able to use it (it'll keep them awake but not fight off normal fatigue) and would have to rely on Random Magick which'll likely be more expensive and last only a short time.
Finally, there are
which is a generic term for spells used to just plain hurt folks. Blasts are half-way between random and formula spells. Not every adept school has Blasts, but those adepts that do automatically start with their Blasts (even if they haven't learned any other formula spells yet) and Blasts are unusually flexible compared to normal formula spells.
cost only minor charges (usually) and inflict hand-to-hand damage. You can also take a penalty to add extra dice and take the best two (although if none of them come up well enough to succeed the GM then picks the worst two!).
usually cost significant charges but inflict damage as firearms (although they have no maximum damage). You can also spend a turn "charging up" a significant blast you can roll an extra die and keep the best two. You can keep charging up as much as you want but if you're interrupted you lose the spell and have to start over. This makes significant blasts
powerful if you can hit your opponent unaware.
Long Distance Blasts
By spending a significant charge on a Minor Blast you can target someone who you can't see, anywhere in the world. You have to have at least met or spoken to your target for this to work. Since it only does minor blast damage you probably need to send out a lot of these to do more than just freak someone out.
This lets you create a booby-trap with your blast. The trap has to be appropriate to your school of magick. So a sex-magick adept could booby-trap a person so the next person they sleep with gets blasted. There's no limit to how long the spell can be left hanging but the caster has to handle the object or person or be in the place to be trapped and you can't trap anyplace larger than a house with one blast. This is for minor blasts and costs an extra minor charge.
for an extra minor charge you can affect a specific body part. This doesn't boost the damage but vaguely implies it can be used to cripple or limit people. No real rules for it though.
Although blasts are not very deadly compared to weapons remember that anyone hit with one must make a Rank-5 unnatural stress check. That's a pretty powerful weapon all by itself.
There’s a sandwich shop in Atlanta where, if you order the special of the day, along with a hot beverage, they include a small slip of paper telling you the date of your death. Most people just throw it away or eat it by accident.
Now, lets start with a breakdown of the different adept schools
Bibliomancers are basically bibliophiles whose obsession with books has led them to magickal powers. Their school is based around collecting books upon books and building up a library which stores their power. The paradox of bibliomancy is the obsession with
as a physical object. The book itself is important, more important than the information contained inside. It's not knowledge that's power it is
. You could collect schlock romance novels or porn mags and it would give you as much power as
A Brief History Of Time
Bibliomancers have a unique limitation in that their power is stored externally in the form of their Library. The number of books you have sets a firm limit on the number of charges you can hold and you can only access your charges when near your library. To even try and become a bibliomancer you need a collection of at least a 1000 books (and they have to be
, being an actual librarian or a book store owner doesn't count). In addition, your library has to be suitable for reading and browsing (well-lit, clean, organized) and it must have it's own symbolic "space" in whatever building contains it, either it's own room or in a distinct, separate part of a larger room. Basically, you can't "game" the library: no sticking your books in steel chests stored under your floorboards.
Books must be printed and bound (unconventional bindings like scrolls are fine). Comics are fine, magazines are cool, and binders full of print-outs work just dandy. Ebooks don't count nor do books on tape or anything that has been removed from its binding. Technically you could invest in a laser printer, pull thousands of books off of torrent sites and print them out cheaply...but as you'll see that actually makes it tougher to gain power from them. The law of Transaction is a bitch. As part of their obsession however, biblomancers are more or less compelled to "upgrade" to the highest quality copy of any book in their library should it be available.
It takes 100 books to store a Minor charge, 500 to store a significant charge and 2500 to store a Major charge. Any charges generated in excess are lost. To access your charges you have to be within (Soul) feet of the library, or roughly on the property where the books are stored (so a bibliomancer can battle intruders on his front lawn or his roof but not down the street). It
possible to have multiple libraries (storing charges at different locations) and it is possible to create a temporary "traveling" library to take charges with you. To do this you can "transfer" a charge to a valuable book (100$ for minor, 500$ for significant, 2.5k$ for major). To access the charge the book must be on your person. You can have a traveling library as large as you can carry.
Biblomancers earn charges by adding books to their library. The greater the value and rarity of the book the more power they give you. Minor charges require 100$ worth of books, any books, so long as they share a common element (same author, same genre, etc ). You can also get a minor charge if you get one of your books signed by the author (or add a signed book of any value to your collection). Lots of bibliomancers make a point of being friends with wanna-be novelists. You can't get charges on copies of books you already own unless the new copy is superior, in which case you must sell or give away the inferior copy.
Significant charges are earned by acquiring a
book worth at least 500$. Note that the value of the book is based more on its agreed collector's value rather than the price you paid for it. Giving a kid 500 bucks for his copy of the latest spiderman comic book does not count. Law of transaction. The inverse is also true, you could buy a first edition Edgar Allen Poe from a garage sale for 1$ and it'd still be worth a Significant charge Again, you can only get more charges from a copy if you're replacing an inferior copy.
Major charges are reserved for one of a kind books of
value. The original manuscript of a master of literature (say the hand-typed pages of an Ernest Hemingway novel for instance) or books of legendary stature such as the gold discs of mormon, the true necronomicon or the dead sea scrolls.
a book of appropriate value from another bibliomancer instead of buying it you get double its normal value in charges. Bibliomancers do not trust one another.
Bibliomancers lose all their charges (from all libraries) if they ever damage or destroy a book, even one you do not own. You can also never give up a book, unless you are explicitly getting rid of an inferior copy to replace it with a superior one (in which case it
be sold or given away, you can't trash it). This includes loaning. Your books must stay with you.
Bibliomancy primarily focuses on knowledge. It's good for finding things, learning stuff, teaching others and doing the opposite: obscuring, obstructing or removing knowledge.
Some of the more interesting biblomancer formula spells:
*Let Me Check My Notes (minor)
You can spend a charge to instantly retrieve knowledge from any of your books so long as you know what you need to find out and can identify the volume which contains it. So for instance you could instantly recall a map of the city if you own a travel guide for that particular area. For two charges you can mentally compile a composite of all information on a topic contained in any books in your library. This doesn't replace the need for skills. Recalling the contents of a foreign language phrasebook does not make you a fluent speaker.
*Speed Reading (minor)
Similar to the above, this lets you instantly and completely absorb the knowledge of a single book (which does not have to be a part of your library). You retain photographic recall for about 30 minors at which point it fades into normal memory, as though you read the book. Again, it doesn't substitute for actual skill.
*Book Learning (minor)
That's what this spell is for! This lets you use your Bibliomancy skill in place of another skill so long as you own a book where the skill is represented. It doesn't have to be a book for learning the skill, owning a sherlock holmes book can let you use "Notice" just like the great detective. However, you suffer a -20% penalty if the specific book is not in your possession.
*Read Between The Lines (significant)
You can, roughly, evaluate the truth of any single factual statement. It will provide true and false answers for mundane statements ("Joe is alive"), but when magic is involved it becomes fuzzier. Avatars are especially tricky, always bringing back an answer of "maybe".
*Book Burn (significant)
This requires a book worth at least 1k$. After casting it (so long as you have the book in hand or touching your skin) the next spell or magical effect targeted specifically at you is absorbed by the book (except avatar powers, tricky bastards) and does not affect you. Any time afterwards you can open the book and unleash the magick on a qualified target of your choice (limited by the range and effects of the original magick).
Discover any single piece of information; Obscure any fact so well that it essentially never was known to begin with. Learn any skill. Crack any code. Trap a person as a character in a book.
At great peril to one’s life and soul, one can use the Vedic texts to predict mundane events, such as the outcome of football games, and thereby make a great deal of money. The Illuminati have used numerous sacred texts to earn money in this way.
Probably the most competitive of adepts. Cliomancers gain power from the weight of human history and the impact decades or centuries of emotion and thought that have been poured into locations. They can harvest this power, which gradually renews itself over time. The problem is that it's not really possible to share. Once one cliomancer drains an area of power no other cliomancer can charge up until the place is renewed. This makes them extremely territorial and cutthroat...especially as available "free" territories get snapped up.
The central paradox of Cliomancy is that history is a lie. Not just magickally but almost all history is confabulations of half-truths and misremembered or poorly taught facts. Columbus wasn't trying to prove the earth was round and he wasn't the first European to find the Americas. Cliomancers powers are built on lies that are widely accepted as truth.
Cliomancers gather their charges from places where historical "energy" accumulates. A "place" is a location of significant meaning smaller than a square acre. Places also can't be "divided up". No taking one charge from the white house lawn and another from inside.
A Cliomancer can gather Minor charges (one per day) from any place that has had a strong association with historical events without actually being of historical importance itself. The home where President Kennedy grew up is not, in and of itself, a major historical site but its association with a powerful figure from history makes it enough to accumulate minor charges. The site of a famous serial killer's murders might also qualify or the spot where a significant work was created (even if most people remember the work more than the location).
Significant charges are generated by places that are famous and recognizable on their own merits or are the focus of a large amount of specific attention as a location. Major landmarks, tourist attractions and sites of immense historical importance all qualify: Gettysburg, the Washington Monument, the Anne Frank House. Really, really big sites might allow you to harvest multiple significant charges a day, but most are only worth one...and almost all of them have cliomancers fighting over them. After the last significant charges are drained from a place for the day it might allow others to harvest a few minor ones before it needs to recharge.
Major charges require that you not only draw powerful from a major historical sight (one worth a Significant charge) but you have to be the first to draw power from it.
That means that there are almost no Major charges left out there. A few extremely isolated or dangerous areas might not have been harvested yet. Mount everest has almost certainly been drained, but the South Pole might still have one, as well as the wreck of the Titanic or the heart of Chernobyl. The moon certainly has one waiting for the first cliomancer in space.
So long as cliomancers have a well-defended territory they're assured of a steady supply of juice. The problem is time. If you don't use a charge within a month of gathering it it vanishes (although unlike other schools you don't lose all charges at once).
Cliomancy spells deal with shared culture, knowledge and understanding. Memories, stuff "everyone knows" or common experiences. Some interesting Cliomancy formulas:
*Familiar Face (minor)
You can pick one person when you cast this spell and they'll fell like they've met you before. A great spell for "fitting in" places you shouldn't necessarily be allowed.
*Common Knowledge (minor)
You can pick one person in your immediate vicinity and gain a skill they have, allowing you to use it as though you were them for the next five rounds (5 minutes out of combat). This includes advantages like getting Obsession bonuses if the skill is their obsession. Only mundane skills, no magickal ones.
*You Remember Now (minor)
For 3 minor charges you can give someone false memories. The memories must be either a vague recollection ("we worked together at your last job") or a single specific event ("I saved your life from a random shooting three months ago."). You can't inject long term memories or a string of related events. For instance, you can make someone remember sleeping with you one night, but not make them remember a year-long relationship.
*Gnostic Gossip (minor)
You can create a rumor about a person among those who know them. The rumor must be a single sentence said with one breath. Everyone who knows the subject remembers that rumor. This doesn't force them to believe it...but they never forget it either. A wife who is totally convinced of her husband's fidelity would not necessarily act on the rumor that he slept with his secretary...but it would be a powerful bit of leverage if you were presenting her with convincing evidence that it had happened. It's also very effective when cast on yourself (most cliomancers have entirely undeserved reputations).
*Urban Legend (significant)
an improved version of Gnostic Gossip. It works the same but it affects
. If you cast the spell on Joe Bob and create the rumor that he's a necrophiliac then everyone he ever meets (or who even hears about him) will recall hearing that this guy likes to bone dead bodies. Needless to say it's easy to utterly ruin someone's life this way.
An improved version of familiar face which affects everyone who meets you for 24 hours plus the recognition is always slightly positive.
*Forget It (significant)
This spell lets you either "wipe" someone's short term memory (basically meaning they don't recall the last few minutes) or delete a specific "scene" or event from their long-term memory. It can also be used to remove specific facts or pieces of info (like your name, or their ATM pin code), but nothing so important that it would force a Madness check (like your husband's name or where you live)
*All Is Known (significant)
A really powerful cliomancy effect: you can learn any secret from someone's memory...but so does
. This basically turns the fact into an Urban Legend effect that affects everyone. This doesn't usually have a dramatic effect (using it to steal someone's email password just plugs that random bit of knowledge into everyone's subconscious to no great effect...although everyone who knows the person will remember having learned the password at some unspecified point). Obviously this can be devastating for famous figures but the major limitation is that you have to touch your target.
*Cliomancy Major Effects
Rewrite history (not changing the past, but changing what everyone thinks happens). Resetting the last 24 hours. Freezing time for an hour for everyone but you. making yourself younger. The scary thing is when you think about how many Major cliomancy charges
to be out there...how much have those cliomancers fucked around with the collective unconscious?
There’s a spot in central Delaware where something very famous happened, something central to the history of the United States. Kids read about it in the history books, and tourists go there to visit. But the Cliomancers who live near there, and who harvest the magick from the area, alter the minds of those who visit the area, so that once they’ve visited the site, they not only forget about the site but are
incapable of learning about it ever again.
Next will be the "big three" of fucked up Unknown Armies magic: the Dipsomancer, Entropomancer and Epideromancer.
Adepts, pt 2
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 8: Adepts, pt 2
Okay, you remember how I mentioned adepts are inherently insane? Well, they are. But that insanity is a spectrum. On one end you've got the hyper-intelligent and weirdly charismatic psychopaths like the bibliomancers and cliomancers. They can blend in fairly well (sometimes really well) with society and don't seem too off until you actually try to get to know them.
Then on the other end of the spectrum you have the next three adepts. These guys are fucked. up. Theoretically they can operate within civilized society but keep in mind that being an adept is about being completely dedicated to a certain worldview, and these guys have a view of reality that is almost totally incompatible with any form of social life, friendship, loved ones or anything on the upper half of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Adopting these adept schools puts you just a few missteps from being locked up, or dead.
Of course, because of that they have become iconic to the Unknown Armies setting and, in my experience, they're probably the most popular adept schools.
Oh, and it probably goes without saying but these guys pretty much spell out "Trigger Warning" in giant, flaming letters.
This guy's clearly got it aaaaalll figured out
Some—many? all?—pets are telepathic, and keep notes on which humans treated them well and which didn’t. One day they will repay us all, for good and bad.
We're starting with the least self-destructive of the "big three", although not by much. The dipsomancer is more than just an alcoholic with spells. It's not that they like getting drunk, it's not even that they need to get drunk, it's that being drunk is the only way reality makes sense. To the dipsomancer the world of sobriety is not the real world. To be sober is to be trapped in a scary, nightmarish world and alcohol is the only thing that allows you to actually see the "real" world underneath. It's a gateway that allows you to actually live for a few hours until the buzz wears off and you're back in the nightmare again.
And these guys are the
self-destructive of the three.
The central paradox of dipsomancy is probably one of the most obvious: You're trading hours of happiness for decades of pain. You gain power by surrendering yourself to an addiction and you can only truly live by filling yourself up with poison. Dipsomancy demands living sacrifice and that sacrifice is you, it'll just be a while before you end up on the altar.
To help explain dipsomancy, I'll skip ahead a little and explain how intoxication works in UA. For simplicity sake alcoholic intoxication is measured in generic "drinks". A drink is enough alcohol to make you feel the effects: one beer, one shot, a glass of wine, etc. You can slug back one drink with no consequences. After that, each drink gives you a -5% penalty to Mind, Body and Speed-based skills. Soul-based skills may or may not be impaired (you're probably worse at social skills, but things like magick or intuition are unaffected).
The penalty decreases by 5% every hour you go without a drink. Once the penalty hits 50% or more you need to make an (unpenalized) Body roll every hour or you pass out. -60% means you're in a blackout. -100% means you've gotten alcohol poisoning: roll body again and if you fail you vomit, pass out and take damage equal to the sum of the dice. You then take an additional d10 damage per hour until you wake up unless you get your stomach pumped.
Dispsomancers have pretty much the easiest time of any adept gaining minor charges: you take a drink. So long as you drink enough enough to take a penalty you get one minor charge. That means if you're already sober you've got to "prime" yourself with one drink but after that every drink gets you a minor charge until you sober up again (you can chug large quantities of alcohol to gain multiple minor charges at once. Someone with a strong stomach and a bottle of everclear can go from "zero" to "blasted" (and blasting) in a very short time).
Significant charges are tougher to get ahold of, but once you have the right tools they flow just as easily as minor charges. To get a significant charge you have to take a drink (again, enough to impair you) from a cup or container of historical or spiritual significance: Oda Nobunaga's sake-cups made from the skulls of his enemies, the hip flask of the Red Baron, the broken bottom of the wine bottle used to christen the Titanic, etc. So long as you have a suitable vessel then any drink from it gives you a significant charge. Its important to note that dipsomancers cannot share these vessels: if you give it away you can never gain power from it again. If its stolen or taken against your will you can keep using it so long as you can get it back. This seems like a real-game changer until you remember the obvious fragility of most drinking vessels and the raging drunks who might be carrying them around.
Major charges are tougher of course. To snag a major charge you need to drink some form of one-of-a-kind alcohol: ancient preserved mead or Glenfiddich 1937. A vessel potent enough to give a significant charge can generally be counted on to give a Major charge if it still has the remnants of the original owner's drink (so if that hip flask still had some dregs left in it you could chug it for a Major charge). You do not have to drink enough for a penalty when it comes to major charges, although you have to be tipsy already (-5%).
With charges coming so easily to a dipsomancer, its not hard to guess their taboo is going to be rough, and it is. Their taboo is sobriety. As soon as a dipsomancer sobers up they lose
Dipsomancy spells are all conceptually linked by the idea of cheating. Dipsomancers have short cuts to power and can get around problems in ways they aren't quite supposed to. This gives them a very unusual mix of abilities. I'm convinced that many dipsomancer formula spells are heavily pun-based. For example Dipsomancers are the best adepts at dealing with ghosts or demons...because they're great at handling "spirits". Get it!?
*Whammy (Minor and Significant)
The dipsomancer blast is basically magically throwing things at people (I'm not sure why either). Basically some loose object flies through the air poltergeist style and smacks someone. Size doesn't really matter: bigger objects fly slower but have more mass, smaller objects have less heft but have enough speed to hurt. This follows the normal rules for magickal Blasts, except that it works exceptionally well on someone who is also drunk: for every 10% of impairment someone is suffering you can add an extra d10 damage straight to the total. This means fights between dipsomancers are going to get very bloody in very short order.
*Hold My Liquor (Minor)
For a minor charge you can take your next action with no penalty from drinking. Keep in mind you still need an action to cast the spell. You can also cast it reflexively to ignore a failed Body roll to pass out.
For a minor charge you can inflict your intoxication penalty on someone else for their next action (it won't make them pass out or get alcohol poisoning: just penalizes their roll).
*Party Like Hell (Minor)
You can summon a demon! Remember these guys aren't physical in UA...and dipsomancers have no power to actually
demons (although some Significant formula lets them hurt or trap spirits).
*Just a Harmless Drunk (Significant)
You are ignored by those around you for about 15 minutes. This isn't invisibility just a SEP Field. In combat this means anyone who tries to target you suffers -30% to hit you (-50% if you're just sitting still and doing nothing) and outside of combat they've got to make a Notice roll at -40% to even realize you're there (-60% if you're sitting still).
*God Looks Out For Drunks (Significant)
you can use Dipsomancy in place of any other skill for one action. Remember, this means you can flip-flop (as dipsomancy is your obsession) and ignore your intoxication penalty (since its Soul based).
*Astral Stumble (Significant)
You can leave your body and wander the astral plane as an invisible and incorporeal spirit. The downside: you stay that way until you wake up sober about 8 hours later. This is potentially quite dangerous as the dipsomancy blast has no power astrally and you can't gain charges in this state.
*Dipsomancy Major Effects:
Switch bodies with someone else, move a group of people anywhere else in the world, raise the dead (although they'll always come back wrong).
Some—many? all?—pets are telepathic, and keep notes on which humans treated them well and which didn’t. One day they will repay us all, for good and bad.
Chaos mages in the most literal sense of the word. Entropomancers live life like they're constantly auditioning for
and they ride that wave of stupid risks and dangerous stunts into some of the most dramatic and powerful forms of magick. Sleepers fucking hate these guys, not only is it tough for them to keep their magick under wraps when they're actually trying...but its tough to intimidate someone who sees playing in traffic as a form of transcendental meditation. Basically entropomancers get power from taking risks. Any risks. The bigger the better.
The central paradox of entropomancy is a lot like dipsomancy, but more immediate: power is gained only through powerlessness and surrender. In order to gain power you must be willing to accept the possibility of losing everything without trying to stop it. It's not about calculated risks or gambling smart and going home: entropomancy is all about complete and total surrender to the whims of chaos before you can make everyone else surrender to
Minor charges are easy, but potentially unpleasant. You have to risk something of significant value (enough money to mean something to you, your pride or minor injuries). This could involve letting someone throw rocks at you while you're blindfolded, pissing on a biker's shoes or simply putting down your paycheck on a roll of the dice. Win or lose you get a charge. Remember the laws of Transaction and Obedience. You don't get to "game" these risks, you've got to surrender control and you have to give over to complete randomness or unknown fate. Insulting a biker is fine, insulting a biker while you've got a bunch of big muscular friends standing behind you is not.
Significant charges are earned by risking your life or livelyhood and there can be no gain involved. You can gamble to earn minor charges and you might end up with loads of cash and plenty of mojo. But significant charges must be earned for their own sake. If you're willing to completely risk your life you can gain significant charges at a frightening rate...grab a revolver and a bullet and you can earn...up to...five significant charges in a matter of seconds.
Major charges are fairly low-hanging for entropomancers, or at least ones with no sense of morals. To get a major charge you've got to take a life-threatening risk for both yourself and at least 10 others. Alternatively, yourself and just one other person...so long as that other person is someone you love (hope you like Self checks). It's good to note that there's nothing that says these participants can't be willing...an entropomancer-led cult probably won't last long but they'll definitely have fun before they blow themselves up.
Its important to notice that risks taken by entropomancers must be done deliberately for the purpose of gaining charges. Fleeing into traffic being pursued by police is not worth a significant charge because it lacks the intent and ritual context. Likewise, driving a hijacked bus the wrong way down the highway won't get you a Major charge if you're only doing it to try and evade police pursuit...simply endangering people isn't enough, you've got to be doing it for the sake of your magick.
And remember the law of transaction: you can't use your magick to help you survive or "win" charging rituals.
Get someone else to take a risk on your behalf. You can't gamble with someone's life if you're not also at risk. You have to be at the front-lines of any conflict and you can't ask anyone to do something you aren't willing to do yourself. Violate the taboo and you lose all charges.
Entropomancer spells, unsurprisingly, deal in coincidence and luck. Basically it lets you stack the deck...you take the risks and the hits at times of your choosing and in exchange you can make sure everything else is smooth sailing.
*Evil Eye (Minor or Significant)
This is the entropomancer's Blast. It causes the victim's body to erupt in cuts and injuries, usually in the shape of words, letters or symbols. You can "gamble" on your blasts: roll a d10 and if its even you add the result to the blast's damage. If it's odd the blast does
damage. You can roll up to five extra dice and can even do them one at a time but the moment you get an odd one your blast fizzles. Victims killed by a blast literally explode.
*Taste of Chaos (minor)
The victim takes a -10% penalty to their next action per minor charge you spend.
*Pierce the Veil (minor)
You can summon a demon. This spell grants you no control, but a significant formula spell exists for that purpose.
*Fortune's Fool (minor)
You can reroll a failed roll you just made (unless it was a failed fortune's fool spell). You can do this only once per action.
*Bulletproof Chutzpah (minor)
Any physical (not magickal) attack has a flat 50% chance of failing as long as the spell lasts. It lasts a number of rounds equal to the ones place on your spell roll (so 6 rounds for a roll of 26).
*Long Distance Call (significant)
Think of someone, pick up a phone and dial the first 10 numbers that come into your head. This will be the phone number for the phone physically closest to the person you're thinking of.
*Luck of the Damned (significant)
This spell reduces all damage from an attack to zero so long as you can come up with a coincidence to explain why.
*Edit The World (significant)
You can alter events from until the last sunrise or sunset. This can't effect massive change (undoing death, winning the lottery) but it can reduce damage, retroactively deciding to do something that only comes up now (for instance, stating that you happened to stick a can of gasoline in your trunk this morning).
*On a Roll (significant)
You get +10% to all rolls for 24 hours.
*Entropomancy Major Effects:
You can change history, although anything before you were born probably requires escalating numbers of major charges. Just remember, you decide what changes, the GM gets to decide what that means for the present. Paradox isn't an issue though...but that also means you can change history to prevent your own birth.
Tzim...I mean, Epideromancers
If you sync the London recording of Jesus Christ Superstar—y’know, the one with Murray Head as Judas?—with the DVD of Casablanca, just wait til the song “Poor Jerusalem” comes on—everything will become clear when you hear the song explaining the visuals in the movie.
A breed of adept that is simultaneously pitiful and very, very scary. They're probably one of the most flat-out dangerous adepts to mess around with due to their unique abilities of "self-improvement". Epideromancers gain their powers through self-inflicted injury. They aren't suicidal, in fact they're probably more protective of their lives than entropomancers or dipsomancers, but they see self-harm as the ultimate form of self-control. Many will probably recognize it as disturbingly close to the reasoning behind real-life self-harm.
For Epideromancers it's deeper though. The ability to inflict harm upon yourself shows that you've overcome your own limitations in a profound way: you aren't afraid of the pain you cause yourself, you aren't bound by primitive instincts of self-preservation. Your body is a temple and you are
Much like entropomancy and dipsomancy the paradox of epideromancy is power through weakness: self-control through self-destruction. You create perfection by destroying yourself. Your need to harm yourself shows just how little control you actually have.
Minor charges are built through minor injuries, at least 3 points. The injury must be self-inflicted, no charging up from others hurting you. Generally epideromancers have enough self-control that they can whack off precisely 3 points of damage at a time to build charges. Remember, injuries are tracked separately so multiple minor charges are a bitch to heal from...and no healing charging damage with magick.
Significant charges simply take greater amounts of injury, simply inflict 2d10 damage on yourself (+3 if you get a match on the roll). This is actually often much more efficient than building minor charges. One significant charge can be "broken down" into 10 minor charges, which would require 30 damage compared to a maximum of 23 from a significant charge. Of course, significant charging is more likely to force you to deal with major wounds and it's harder to heal from unless you're a good doctor. But it is fast.
Epideromancers have the easiest major charges: they just have to permanently maim themselves. Cut off a hand or foot...bam! Major charge. Your eyes are worth two! and you could get another couple for both ears and your nose. How about drinking acid or digging out a kidney? (in game terms this means you take 1d100
damage). Obviously an epideromancer with nothing to lose is one dangerous bastard.
The epideromancer taboo is both really easy and really hard to hold to. You can't willingly allow anyone else to modify your body. Being shot or cut by an enemy won't break your taboo but getting a piercing or a haircut will. This is fairly easy to stick to so a patient epideromancer can build up large quantities of Minor and Significant charges by hurting themselves and then patching themselves up with first aid and allowing their injuries to heal. Combined with the fact that many of their spells allow them to make permanent or long-lasting changes it means experienced epideromancers are often walking nightmares.
Of course, this also means you can't go to the hospital without losing all your charges...hopefully you don't get too badly hurt.
Obviously epideromancers deal in flesh and the warping and shaping thereof. Their power is limited purely to altering the physical bodies of living or once-living beings.
*Warping (Minor and Significant)
Warping is the epideromancer Blast. Unlike other Blast spells its not ranged (and can't be used for long-range blasts). You have to touch your target and then you can just reach into their body and yank bits off. This can be combined with the damage from hand-to-hand attacks (epideromancer martial artists are really deadly). You can also direct the damage somewhere else in their body...touch someone on the arm and make blood gush from their eyes and mouth.
Heal 1d10 damage for yourself or someone else. This can't heal damage you take from charging.
*Relentless Will (minor)
You don't need to sleep for about 20 hours.
*The Mirror Lies (minor)
You can reshape your appearance. This only cosmetic and isn't precise enough to exactly copy specific individuals.
*Greater Warping (minor)
This doesn't inflict damage but it lets you reshape someone's body in messed up ways: seal their lips or eyelids together, make their fingers bend backwards. You can affect an area roughly the size of your palm. This includes simply closing up someone's mouth and nose and suffocating them.
*Body Like a Still Pond (significant)
Your body ripples and flows around attacks. All attacks (hand to hand or firearm) deal only the damage in the tens place of the roll, no physical attack can inflict more than 10 damage to you at once. It lasts a total of 3 rounds.
*Face Shift (significant)
This is a more dramatic appearance altering spell. If you've got a skill related to appearance you can increase or decrease it by 5% per casting, permanently (or until you alter yourself again), up to your Soul stat (even if it isn't a Soul skill).
*Body Like Iron (significant)
You get three extra wound points, permanently. This can increase your wound points up to 250!
*Preternatural prowess (significant)
Permanently increase your Body or Speed by 5 points (increasing your body this way does not increase wound points). Maximum is 85%.
*Master of Flesh (significant)
For five significant charges you can increase your Body, Speed or Wound Points by the sum of your skill roll (so if you succeeded with a 19, you gain 10 points). This can increase your stats above 85% (above 100% in fact) but you still can't have more than 250 wound points.
*Epideromancy Major Effects:
Completely redesign your own body or someone else's. Become young or old. Gain the ability to alter your sex between male and female at will. transform into a different living creature.
Next we've got some of the weirder Adepts: Mechanomancers and Narco-Alchemists.
Adepts, pt 3
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 9: Adepts, pt 3
Those games kids play—“step on a crack” and all that—are actually rituals that do stuff, but you’ve really got to believe in them. Kids believe in them, but don’t know what the rituals really do. That’s why kids can survive all kinds of troubles that would rack up an adult.
These guys are definitely one of the weirdest adept schools...in fact in many ways they're barely adepts at all. Although Cliomancy claims to be the oldest adept school (supposedly having roots in atlantis) the true honor goes to Mechanomancy (or at least they're the oldest one that's still around). Back in the day they were the bleeding edge of magick: creating life from metal and oil, steam and springs. They were the futurists of their time, rejecting old forms of spirituality in exchange for a materialist philosophy. Then magick started fading. For a long time mechanomancy barely clung to power, a remnant of a bygone era much like Authentic Thaumaturges. They were distinct enough (and resonated strongly enough with the advance of industrialism and mechanization) to retain enough mojo to still count as "adepts" but they were fading fast.
Then things went postmodern, and old stuff became cool again. The new generation of mechanomancers were no longer old men practicing an futurist art that the future has left behind, they were youngsters who embrace it for the sake of anachronism itself. This slight twist on the concept was enough to produce a workable adept paradox which has kept mechanomancy alive into the new millenium. It's still shaky though and this could just be a last spurt of energy before it finally breaks down.
The paradox of mechanomancy is that it is the future of the past. Like old-timey "world of tomorrow" shows from the fifties it imagined a future that was simultaneously advanced and hopelessly anachronistic by today's standards. That anachronism is what gives it postmodern appeal and enough metaphysical gas to keep chugging along for now.
Here's where mechanomancers diverge from other Adepts. They don't have spells, at least not by the standards of any normal adept. There's no random magick and they don't have formula spells or blasts. They just make things. The constructs a mechanomancer can produce are definitely magickal (although rarely provoke an Unnatural check unless examined by someone with the mechanical chops to see that they can't possibly function) but they're still physical creations of metal, wood and plastic.
Mechanomantic creations have several built in limits that they all share: first and foremost they cannot include any
devices or parts built after the late 1800's. You could build a device with a clockwork hand capable of pulling a trigger, give it a gun and order it to shoot someone...but you can't build a functioning gun into the device (well, a flintlock would be okay, but why bother?). The same goes for electronics, combustion engines, magnetic storage, radios, etc. Modern
are totally fine, so your construct can be made with plastics, kevlar, stainless steel, etc. You can also include modern devices and electronics so long as they don't actually function. So you could make this guy:
but not this guy:
However, due to their mystical nature they are capable of being built to perform "animal" functions (meaning anything a living creature can do: sensing, thinking, learning) and any
functions a 20th century machine can. So a clockwork could be built to fly (even travel into space), launch projectiles or keep precision time like a modern watch (which are all mechanical functions). But you could also build them to see and hear (despite lacking cameras or microphones), remember, learn and even think and create (which are "animal" functions). Now, sometimes the distinction gets hazy...for instance you could easily build a clockwork capable of launching metal projectiles at lethal speeds...it just couldn't fire *bullets* (think something like the mythbuster's confederate steam machine gun). Likewise you could build a "security camera" clockwork that is capable of sight and sounding an alarm...but it couldn't record what it sees to a hard drive (although a complex enough clockwork could write or draw something it saw).
One area where things are a little vague are power sources. There's no explicit requirement that a machine be powered...but every example mechanomancy device has some kind of power source or limited lifespan. There are no guidelines provided on whether or not a device must or should have a power source and what the limits are on it. There are also very limited rules on building devices capable of performing tasks outside of the normal "stat/skill" system. For instance building a clockwork ornothoper that flies with the speed and precision of a Huey should be possible...but there are no real rules provided other than saying its possible. It's an annoying omission.
Clockworks are also usually unable to perform any strictly metaphysical functions and thus cannot possess supernatural abilities (although Major constructs bend this rule).
Like normal adept abilities Mechanomancy creations are divided up into Minor, Significant and Major.
These are obviously the most limited. Mechanomancers don't "build up" charges like other adepts, instead each day spent working on a minor construct counts as one charge. The rules for minor constructs are as follows:
*They are small, at most 10 pounds and roughly the size of your arm.
*They can obey one simple command of X words. X is the total of the dice you rolled when building the construct (rolling a 25 means the command can be up to 7 words long). This is the only function the device is capable of.
*Minor constructs can only have very basic skills, even within the limits of the previous rule. So for instance, a "10 word" construct could not be commanded to "send me an email describing anyone who enters this room", even if provided with a functioning external computer for that purpose...it just lacks the intellect. It
simply be programmed to hit a button that triggers an alarm, sends a pre-programmed email or text, or riggers a camera. You could build a clockwork capable of shooting something...but it wouldn't be able to reload or pick up or put down a gun on its own. You
have multiple clockwork functioning in tandem to perform separate functions though.
*They have 60 points to be split between Body, Speed and a single skill. Each additional day of work can add 3 pounds to the weight and about 30% to the volume but gives +20 points to divide between those three stats. Skill cannot exceed 50%, Speed can't be higher than 100 and Body cannot be higher than 80.
*Minor constructs can't have skills that you don't. This is handled somewhat inconsistently but it seems safe to assume that it isn't meant to be taken too literally. For instance, devices can have skills that aren't on your sheet but are so basic that anyone can do them (domestic tasks like sharpening pencils or washing plates are examples) or that are "subsets" of existing skills (for instance, devices capable of building copies of themselves which is arguably part of the Mechanomancy skill). But basically you can't put in stuff you don't know how to do, whether its assumed or explicitly a part of your character sheet. However, there's nothing that says the device cannot do it
than you can. You might be an amateur piano player (10%) but can build a device capable of playing professionally (50%).
*Combat constructs are possible but can only inflict damage as normal for unarmed combat unless given weapons.
Significant devices require more than just time. To invest a device with a significant charge you have to include some sort of
object of historical or mystic significance (Aviator goggles belonging to Amelia Earhart, the scepter of King Richard the whateverth). The object incorporated must in some way fit the theme of the creation. Earhart's goggles could be used for a flying machine and the king's scepter might be useful for building a "taskmaster" device meant to herd and control groups of smaller devices.
Alternatively, if you don't have any historic treasures laying around to desecrate you can just give up some of your own memories. Describe the memory you're giving up (it must jive with the intended function) and the GM decides if this impacts your Mind, Soul or Sanity. For Mind or Soul make an appropriate roll and if you fail you lose 2-3 points from the attribute (GM's choice). For sanity you have to make a sanity check on a meter determined by the GM (likely Self or Isolation).
Significant constructs can be much more elaborate and powerful than minor ones: They are about the size of a human being and have 120 points to divide among Body, Speed and skills. By default these devices are not sapient (having no Mind or Soul score) but are capable of limited learning and memory and even some problem solving ability. About the level of a smart dog. This assumes that there's some aesthetics to the device...if you're willing to let it look like nothing but a weird mechanical monster you get +20 points. Otherwise you
create devices that resemble humans or animals.
You can adjust this in several ways by spending additional charges (i.e. giving up additional memories or including extra objects, or a mixture of the two).
*For an additional significant charge you can cut the size to 25%. This can be done up to 10 times. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing the writers may not have done the math on this one. For perspective that means you can potentially create a mechanical device with the strength and durability of an adult human at a weight of .5 decigrams. That's about a chubby housefly. Then again...10 significant charges is a lot and if I want to make a fly-sized killbot maybe that's intended.
*For an extra significant charge you can add 20 pounds to the base weight and increase the points for body/speed/skills by 20 (25 for "obvious" clockworks).
*Finally, another significant charge can be spent to give the device sapience. They aren't
by any means but they've got a Mind and Soul stat of 10 and those can be improved with extra charges or experience points.
*Your device can have skills you do not, they just have to be appropriate to either a machine or living creature. No mystical skills. They can speak, but only pre-programmed phrases or in ways that fulfill their skills (so a "watchdog" device built to spot and later describe intruders has the vocabulary it needs to provide accurate descriptions).
*If given an attack skill they can inflict damage as though they were using a firearm (total of the roll). If they don't they still get the default Struggle skill at 15%, but don't get bonus damage and have to be given very specific orders to understand how to fight something.
Major Constructs require the mechanomancer to incorporate a still-functioning, historically significant piece of machinery (the gun that killed Lincoln, Hemingway's typewriter, etc) that fits the theme of the device. You can also choose to sacrifice large chunks of your memory. For losing Mind or Soul you roll and if you succeed you only lose the sum of the dice...if you fail you flip-flop the result and lose the amount shown. For sanity it inflicts an automatic failed and hardened notch.
Notably, mechanomancers are the only adept who have multiple ways to get a major charge and are the only one who can produce a "renewable" major charge (the sanity sacrifice option, although honestly that one isn't nearly as harsh as the others to begin with so I'd probably disallow it in my games).
Major clockworks are essentially fully sapient living beings...just made from artificial parts. You could create perfect mechanical replicas of a person...or a walking death scorpion. Either way they are built using the rules for character creation except they get
points for their stats (yes, that is an average of 95 per stat) and like normal characters they get skill points equal to the number of points in the stat.
It is not clear, but presumably a major clockwork could inflict firearms damage with hand-to-hand attacks. It is also not clear, but presumably their stats can go over 100. Whether or not its possible to get extra stat points by applying additional significant or major charges is also unspecified (but seems to be implied by an example Major clockwork from the GM chapter).
Major clockworks can bend the rules about metaphysical abilities. For instance, they can be used as a vessel for spirits like demons (or a cage). Other options aren't presented but presumably things like Aura Sight might be on the table as well as Adept powers (the example major clockwork is a mechanomancer, but it is also pointed out that she's a "special type" of clockwork described in a different book).
There are sample Minor and Significant clockworks which seem like they were made purely to piss off the Sleepers. The first is a small metal box which trundles around and uses metal to build copies of itself which in turn use metal to build copies of themselves. The success rate is only 50% but exponential growth quickly leads to a scenario where there are thousands to millions of them. It probably won some kind of award for how to piss off the most Sleepers with the least amount of charges. The second is much subtler but also oddly pointless...its a mechanical device that lives behind the bumper of Lexus SUVs and when it detects another Lexus SUV nearby it will take control of the host vehicle, crash into the uninfected vehicle and "inject" a copy of itself which in turn takes up residence in that SUV.
So, in the interest of showing off some more practically useful mechanomancy inventions...
Minor: Yappy Dog (1 Minor Charge)
This is a small wheeled metal box with a crudely shaped dog's head and tail. When it moves a device inside creates a mechanical "yipping" noise that bears some resemblance to a small excited dog. A switch on the bottom can lock the wheels to "turn off" the device. When on it will seek out the nearest moving person and get underfoot, usually resulting in them tripping.
Speed: 25, Body 5, Skill: Getting Underfoot 20%
Significant: Killer Bee (10 significant charges)
Expanding on my previously theorized "murder-fly". This is about the size and weight of a large bumblebee (8 significant charges) and basically looks like a tiny mass of cogs and propellers (getting the extra 20 points for that). An extra significant charge was used for an additional 25 points. It's typically stored in a small plastic capsule that resembles the ones you get from 50cent toy machines. It has standing orders when released to kill anyone it sees except its creator and then shut down until retrieved. Typically the capsule is simply thrown to pop it open, but can also be launched from a slingshot or even a nerf-ball gun.
Body-45, Speed-45. Skills: Kill Everything But My Creator 45%, Dodge 30%
Since its a significant creation it inflicts damage equal to its roll result (as a firearm) and its extremely small size means its quite difficult to spot, especially in the dark.
The best seer in America is a woman who lives in the redwoods in California. She’s called “the owlwoman” and she can tell what’s going to happen to you if you bring her three live mice.
The Narco-Alchemist, the only adept without the -mancer suffix, is an adept whose magic is based both on the self-transmutation philosophy of ancient alchemy and the mind-expanding properties of recreational drugs. Their philosophy obviously bears some resemblance to dipsomancy but is more complex (as befits their wider variety of mind-altering substances): the intoxicants and drugs are merely a path on the road to self-perfection...a means to an end rather than the end itself. Each drug is a key to one of the doors that stands between the narco-alchemist and the ultimate goal of transcendence.
The central paradox of narco-alchemy is that by improving themselves spiritually they're wrecking themselves as human beings. Obviously this bears a strong resemblence to the paradox of many other adepts...UA gets a lot of milage out of the ol' "power via self-destruction" paradox. It works well thematically and most of the adept schools that use it are quite neat...but it is kind of a large chunk of the schools.
Minor charges are gained much like dipsomancers (and are referred to as "lesser transformations" by narco-alchemists). You take a hit of something psycho-active and you get a minor charge...in fact
Narco-alchemical effects cost only a single minor charge.
Significant charges work in a completely different way and more closely resemble a mixture of Epideromancy (long term modifications to the caster) and Mechanomancy (in that you are creating something rather than casting a spell). All Significant spells (called "greater transformations") take the form of specially mixed narcotics that must be created by the Narco-alchemist (yes, that means that you have to run a drug lab if you want to do powerful Narco-Alchemy) over the course of one or more days. At the end of the time you've got a drug, but you don't actually roll your skill until you take it...which means you can spend days mixing up the drug and then take it when you need it and get nothing but high (although in that case you still get a minor charge). Most significant narco effects include some kind of permanent benefit and can be carried around or stored indefinitely.
There are no Major narco-alchemy effects...this is the stuff every alchemist is
to make, but none have succeeded yet. Basically they're trying to get Philosopher Stoned (buh-bum-bum-tssh!)
Minor effects all wear off once the drugs in your system wear off and you can't keep charges when sober, much like the dipsomancer. Some effects wear off sooner.
Significant effects have a stronger taboo. Like I mentioned most significant Narco creations have a permanent effect...well that effect is lost if you ever take drugs that weren't mixed by a narco-alchemist. This can be tough considering that by the time they've developed a full repertoire of significant effects they're probably hooked on half-a-dozen different drugs. This means that most narcos eventually spend a large chunk of time in their labs: mixing up drugs both for significant effects but just to have stashes available to keep feeding their monkey.
Narco-Alchemy is good for changing perception and altering innate abilities. It can't affect "learned" skills (basically those that would be developed mainly by training, memorization or procedure) but can affect "inherent" traits such as stats, beauty, charisma, health, etc.
*Smoke and Fire (minor)
By immediately toking or snorting something you can ignore the effect of a Stress check (this can negate both Failed and Hardened notches). This can be used to protect against a check you just messed up or on the next one you make (so long as you're still high).
*Serpent on the Pole (minor)
You can fix a person on the spot. They can still fight, dodge, jump...they just can't move more than a foot from their current position. This lasts a number of rounds equal to the tens place on the die roll.
*Aqua Vitae (minor)
You can erase 20 points of damage...but it comes back once you sober up.
You achieve balance of all the chemicals in your system, ignoring any penalties for intoxication for 3 rounds.
*Saturn's Horse (Significant)
This dose of heroin hits the "repair installation" button on the taker's mystic operating system. All lingering maickal effects (including the positive benefits of narco-alchemy) are erased...although damage from things like being Blasted remains (same with body modifications from an epideromancer). The ride is rough...you have to make a Body roll and failure leads to losing 1-5 points from your Body score and a coma...a matched failure kills you.
*Jupiter X (Significant)
You get +30% to your charm skill as you're filled with confidence and a sense of connectedness with everyone. While under the influence attacking anyone requires a Rank 10 Self check...but the same goes for anyone attacking
. This lasts for minutes equal to the creator's skill.
*Mars Dust (Significant)
A mixture of PCP and iron extracted from human blood boosts the taker's Body to 99 (same with Wound Points) until it wears off. Your Struggle goes up by 30% and damage from hand-to-hand attacks are boosted by 3 and you've got the skill "Snap Handcuffs and Kick Out Police Car Windows" at 70%. You also can ignore all Violence checks as though you had 10 hardened notches...but if something ticks you off even a little you've got to make a Rank 8 self check not to go to town on it. The effect lasts approximately 15 minutes and when its over your Body is cut in half for about 8 hours and any damage you took while under the influence still affects you (quite possibly killing you).
*Venus' Roofie (Significant)
This is a dose of rohypnol which, in addition to the normal effects, produces a "love potion" effect towards the next person the taker sees. The ingester also becomes more attractive, boosting any "good looks" skill by 5%, which is permanent. The love potion effect lasts until you next sleep.
*Universal Perception Solvent (Significant)
A mixture of LSD with a bit of mercury. While tripping on UPS (lasts about 30-90 minutes) you can see auras, feel when magick is used, identify avatars on sight (and the archetype they emulate) and see astral beings. You also get a permanent +1% to your notice score every time you take it.
*The White Goddess (Significant)
Cocaine which gives you incredible focus and effectiveness...all the things people on normal coke just think they have. While it lasts you get +20% to Speed and Mind and +10 % to all skills linked to them. Stress checks are all treated one level lower. It also grants a permanent +1% bonus to Speed and you can remove one Failed notch to any meter or
one hardened notch to any meter (this returns to normal if you lose the benefits of the drug however).
The most powerful known transformation: a mixture of THC oil and flakes of actual gold. This is the only Narco-Alchemist significant effect which
affects a Narco-Alchemist. To everyone else it's just incredibly potent THC. A Narco who takes it gets a permanent +1-5% boost to Soul and a permanent 1-5% boost to his Chemistry skill. You may also ask the GM a single question and get a meaningful answer. The GM doesn't have to be specific or detailed...it just has to be useful.
There is a cabal operating in fast food restaurants who want to take over the world by drugging the most popular fast food with powerful magical drugs.
Next time: Personamancers and Plutomancers (maybe even Pornomancers, won't that be fun?)
Adepts, pt 4
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 10: Adepts, pt 4
The president is actually a clockwork under the control of a cabal of seven teenagers.
Like the Cliomancer and Bibliomancer the Personamancer is another one of the "subtler" Adepts. They're probably the best at blending in among normal society because that's exactly what their powers are all about. Personamancers have more or less abandoned the concept of a personal identity...their might be
preferences and goals that they hold to under all the masks but for the most part they are just lies all the way to the bottom. I imagine the personamancer is probably one of the tougher Adept schools to really roleplay since their whole concept centers around a "revolving door" personality which can change from day to day, mask to mask. It's a bit like the early seasons of
, where everything is just a carefully crafted role played to fit in with those around him. It makes sense because Personamancers are best played by those who are Hardened enough to become Sociopaths (especially Self hardening)
The central paradox of personamancy is much like the Cliomancers: all of their powers are built upon the idea that identity is ultimately an illusion but that illusion is also the source of all of their powers. They are obsessed with taking other identities while having none of their own, sacrificing their sense of self in exchange for their powers.
Remember, although personamancer magick is great at imitating people, you can't use that magick to generate charges. All forms of charging have to be done with purely mundane abilities.
Minor charges are generated in several ways:
*Act deliberately counter to one of your Passions (arachnophobes handling spiders, people who love the elderly stealing their pills, etc). This is really hard on your Self meter, unless you're already a sociopath.
*Wear a mask for a full day (including an appearance in public).
*Pretend, for an hour, to be someone or something you are not. You need to perform in front of a mirror or before an audience (it doesn't matter if they believe you're acting or not). You can pretend to be multiple people or things (so charades counts, as do things like LARPing, imaginary games with children, etc).
Significant charges are more straightforward: pretend to be a specific person for one full day. You've got to keep up the imitation even when no one is looking and you have to fool at least one person who knows the person you're imitating. Since this has to be done without magick, it almost always involves "remote" communication such as communicating by phone, text or email. All that matters is that you communicate with someone who knows the person and accepts you as them, it doesn't have to be in person. Obviously a personamancer with an identical twin can rake them in. A pair of personamancer twins would be an impressive set of NPCs, raking in a significant charge every day if they feel like it.
Major charges require that you fool an audience of at least 10 million people into thinking you're a major public figure. This could include posing as the president, a celebrity, etc. This is one of those things that, when this book came out, was practically impossible...but now might actually be (relatively) easy. I'm mainly referring to twitter. Hack a celebrity's twitter account and you're in business. A convincing fake account might do the trick for an immensely popular celebrity who doesn't have an account already.
Personamancers break taboo whenever they let their facade crack and show a part of their true self to anyone else. In game terms this means acting on one of their Passions in front of anyone else. Another reason why being a sociopath and/or heavily Self hardened is very valuable to Personamancers.
Personamancer spells deal with identity: both altering someone's sense of self (removing or adding character traits for instance) or enforcing it (making it more difficult to resist passions or flaws for instance).
*The Basics (minor)
For one minor charge your face changes to match that of one individual, who you have observed for five minutes, of your choosing. Additional charges let you impersonate things like voice, bearing, and so on (it can't imitate someone's actual physique). Remember, no using this for charging.
*Here's My Idea (minor)
Doctor Who's psychic paper, or at least close. Flash any ID card. Unless they succeed at a Mind roll at -10% they see the card as whatever type of ID you claim it is. It has to already be an ID card of some kind, you can make a library card pass for a pentagon security pass, but can't do anything with a blank piece of cardboard.
*I Play One On TV (minor)
You gain a skill of your choice at your Personamancy rank (unlike similar spells you aren't using your Personamancy skill so no flip-flopping) so long as you're pretending to be someone who would have that skill. This lasts (sum of roll) hours or until anyone questions your identity as an expert (including asking for ID or credentials).
*Strip The Mask (minor)
This spell requires you touch someone's face and make a "lifting" motion. After casting the spell the subject must reveal their true self for the next minute. They aren't necessarily forced to blurt out every secret and hidden truth but they will behave completely without pretense or deception, reacting with utter honesty to any stimulus. If someone is attracted to someone else they'll visibly ogle them, if they hate someone they may have trouble not outright attacking them. Any act of deception, no matter how small, requires a Lie roll at -20% and a Rank 7 Self check. It's a powerful interrogation tool, but not unstoppable (many subjects could say, with perfect honesty, "I hate you and don't want to tell you anything."). This spell will also reveal demonic possession or other unnatural beings.
*I Am, Therefore I Think (minor)
You can convince yourself that you are actually the role you're playing. This makes it impossible for anyone to tell you're acting (magickally or mundanely), because you aren't. When you cast the spell you pick a duration (up to a day) and it lasts that long, no canceling before then. While playing the role you don't remember your real life and lose access to any skills that your target would not have (or that you don't believe he would have...if you don't know the burger chef you're impersonating is actually a secret agent you don't get to keep your Firearms skill). You do gain any
, abstract skills that your role would have (imitating a teacher might give you a skill like "Good With Children") but not any physical or intellectual abilities, even if you know about them.
*The Mirror Crack'd (minor)
Personamancers don't have a Blast, but this spell will mess up most people pretty well. First and foremost the target has complete amnesia. They still have their skills but can't use them consciously (think Bourne Identity). This forces a Rank 8 Self check. Second, every living being ignores the target (unliving beings like demons and clockworks are immune) and cannot see, hear, smell or feel them. Likewise the target cannot interact in any way with a living being (this includes indirect action that would directly affect them such as pushing something heavy on them, cutting a rope they're hanging from, etc. The subject can interact with inanimate objects but only so long as they are completely unobserved (even unliving observers like cameras prevent it). Realizing that they are cut off from the rest of the world is a Rank-3 Isolation check. This lasts a number of minutes equal to the caster's roll.
It's worth noting that while the subject is ignored they are not
. Cast it on an attacker and they'll be completely invisible to you...but you know that they were there and will be back again so you can always do things like lock them in a room or simply get away while they can't affect you.
*The Tulpa Method(significant)
For the next half hour you appear to be whoever those looking at you expect you to be. If you break into someone's house and wander into them coming out of the bathroom they'll see you as someone they live with (since that's who they would expect to be walkign around in their house)...but if they lived alone they'd probably see you as their stereotypical image of a burglar. The spell doesn't grant you any skills or abilities of the person you are seen as but you instantly know the anticipated "role" and know if your actions would be inappropriate for the role.
*Identity Crisis (significant)
Like Strip The Mask this spell requires you to touch the target, placing an imaginary mask on their face. For the next four hours the victim cannot fully convince anyone of their true identity. If someone knows the victim well and doesn't have any reason to doubt their identity it will be just an irritating little niggle, but strangers are almost certain to believe that the subject is lying about who they are (whether they care depends on context). This spell is actually much more powerful when those who meet the target know about magick, since they'll assume the target is someone else magickally disguised. This also makes for a great way to support otherwise completely implausible "evil twin" or "brain swap" claims.
*Mask of The Man (significant)
This spell involves the creation of an actual, physical mask that resembles a human target of your choosing (which you have to make yourself and which must include a sympathetic link to the target). Once created the mask is permanent (although no more durable than a normal mask of its construction) as long as you are alive. When you wear it you perfectly resemble the chosen target in all ways. However, if you ever meet the target while wearing the mask it instantly loses its power. If another personamancer uses it then it'll work for 10 minutes before losing power permanently. In the hands of anyone else its just a mundane mask.
*Mask of the Beast (significant)
Like Mask of the Man, This spell is used to create a mask of an animal. The mask either raises a Stat by 20% (say Body for a Bear mask, Speed for a Cheetah or Bird mask, Mind for an Owl mask) or gives you a Skill at your Personamancer skill level. For 3 additional significant charges you get another ability. For two extra charges one of the abilities you gain may be mythically associated with the animal rather than a real-world ability. For instance, an elephant mask that gives you photographic memory or a cat mask that lets you inflict bad luck on others or suck the breath from infants (which it states gives you a significant charge). The mask has to include a body part from the animal and if the animal has a strong bite you can make a mask with a hinged jaw which inflicts fire-arms damage as a bite attack.
You can create masks of entirely mythical beings but only be including body parts that were once believed to have belonged to the subject...the body part
. For instance, its not enough that you have a narwhale's horn as a stand-in for a unicorn...it has to have been a narwhale horn that was passed off as a unicorn's (meaning it is likely to be quite old). Amusingly, one of the easiest is probably going to be a dragon mask: rob a creationist museum of "dragon bones" and you're in business.
The mask lasts only a year and a day and if you wear one longer than 1 hour at a time it loses power for 12 hours. Like before other personamancers can use it briefly but depower the mask in the process.
Yes, you can be spiderman.
*Mask of the God (significant)
This is the biggest of the personamancer's "mask" spells. The mask has to be extremely well crafted and beautiful (requiring an Major skill check unlike the previous masks, and impossible to make without an appropriate skill) and takes a week's work. Each mask must be of a specific Avatar archetype and include a sympathetic link to both the archetype and to a true Avatar of the same archetype. When you wear the mask you gain the Avatar skill for that archetype in place of your Personamancy skill (can't have both at once). If you wear it for more than 3 hours you come under direct control of the archetype itself until the next sunrise (at which point the mask loses all power).
The mask can only be used by the creator and if an Avatar of the archetype destroys it they permanently gain 5% to their Avatar skill. A strict reading of the rules means that a personamancer could really buff up avatar allies for just an investment of time and materials...but participating in that would probably count as a violation of the Law of Obedience and the participating Avatar's taboo.
*Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Significant)
This spell is powerful, but really nasty. To cast it you have to cut someone's face off (and successfully resist a Rank-7 Violence check) and then reverse the skinned face and put it back on the victim. If you fail the spell (either due to failing your roll or the Violence check) then the guy is just left with a mutilated face and nothing happens (the spell can't be repeated with the same victim). If you succeed then the victim turns into a completely perfect duplicate of the personamancer. The effect even changes their fingerprints and DNA. The victim has all of your memories and character traits (including stats, skills, passions, etc) and none of their own. The only differences are that the victim takes permanent damage from the ritual (which inflicts 1d100 damage) and they don't have the personamancy skill.
The victim is still technically in there...something like Saturn's Horse or Spellbreaker could bring them back. If the spell is broken then the victim regains the lost wound points and their memories (although they remember nothing from their time under the effects of the spell). Depending on the nature of the spell used to bring them back they may or may not change appearances.
The copy of you is controlled by the GM and knows that they are a copy (remembering everything up until the spell was completed). They may or may not cooperate with the original depending on his intentions (its unlikely even a copy of the personamancer would be willing to die for the original) and how sane they are (this sort of thing is certain to inflict some Self damage).
*Personamancy Major Effects
Create a mask that can turn a madman sane, pour your spirit into a mask after death, switch identities perfectly with someone else. turn someone else into an Avatar.
Screw the rules, I have money
Nearly every nursery rhyme originated as teaching tools for magicians. You don’t even want to know the magickal meaning of “Three Blind Mice.”
Like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark the Plutomancer's super-power is fat stacks of cash. But unlike Marvel and DC's lunatic vigilante billionares, Plutomancers get power from earning rather than spending money. Normal, rational economics says that currency has no intrinsic value and is simply a stand-in for the value of goods and services you have performed which can then be exchanged for other goods and services. For Plutomancers the exact opposite of true: stuff isn't valuable, work isn't valuable, time isn't even valuable...
. Money is not a way of keeping score or a means to an end...money is the alpha and the omega. Money is the ultimate "common denominator", everything can be converted to money and money can be converted into anything. It's like matter and energy. The more money you have, the more power you have.
Of course, the paradox of plutomancy is that it's about "having" rather than "using". They must live simple, plain lives because actually
their money weakens them.
There's an important note on the Law of Transaction for Plutomancers: You obviously can't earn charges on money conjured or gained by magickal means...but you also cannot be paid for doing magick itself! No earning charges on money gotten in exchange for spells. This also means of course you can't use magick to indirectly gain money (for instance using magick to assist you in performing a bank robbery means to charges from the robbery, even if the actual act of getting the cash is purely mundane).
To get a Minor charge you need to get at least 100$ in one "transaction". It's not important how you get it but it must be in one "lump" payment and must take the form of pure currency: cash, check, money order, direct deposit, whatever. Limited forms of currency don't work (no gift cards or "store credit") and while it's not officially stated anything that isn't directly exchangable for other major currencies is probably not acceptable (so no bitcoins or Bison Bucks). It doesn't matter how you get it: find a wallet full of cash, get a paycheck from work, rob someone at knifepoint or steal it from a safe. Each payment has to be from one "source" (so two people giving you 50$ doesn't count) and single payments over 100$ (but under 1000$, see below) gives you no additional benefit. Being paid in installments is fine but at least one day must pass between each payment for it to count as a separate payment.
Significant Charges follow the same rule as Minor charges, but the amount of each payment must be 1000$ at once. Again, lump sums from separate sources, additional amounts are lost. Being paid 50k$ is worth 1 significant charge, being paid 1k$ by 50 people is worth 50 charges. Being paid in installments requires that a week go by between payments to count.
Major charges are big deals: 100 million or more. At once.
The plutomancer taboo is the act of spending money. Any time you spend more than 1,000$ on a single item, payment or service you lose all your charges. Multiple items on a single bill count, as does a single item paid in installments whose total is over 1000$. Things like loans or interest are handled on a payment-to-payment basis. Notably, the act of getting charged is not a taboo-breaker so long as you don't actually pay, neither does losing money through robbery or misfortune. Giving away money does.
Plutomancy is about acquisition. You can draw things to you: objects, information, fortune, friends, etc. This is through subtle manipulation and coincidence, not actual magnetism.
You can screw with any machine that handles monetary transactions. Order something online and make it so your credit card doesn't get charged. Kick a soda machine and make the cola you want drop out. Stick a library card in an ATM and withdraw 1000$ from a random account. This spell is limited to values no greater than 1000$, but within that range it's really useful.
*Bargain of Pyhhrus (minor)
The next attack against you automatically hits...but your opponent takes the same amount of damage.
*Fiscal History (minor)
By touching an object you get to see visions of previous owners, by seeing every moment during which the object has been exchanged (this isn't limited to just being bought or sold, it works on anytime the object has changed owners). Each owner is shown in reverse order and each vision takes 30 seconds (2 minor charges per minute the spell goes on).
*I Know Your Price (minor)
When you cast this spell, name an action and this spell will tell you what it would take for this person to perform the action (and that action specifically). A transaction must be involved...plenty of people would be willing to kill someone if threatened with death...you aren't "giving" them anything in that context, this spell reveals what they would accept as "payment" in exchange for performing the actions. Obviously there might very well be multiple answers to the same question (which you get is determined by the GM) but it's usually the lowest price that the person would willingly accept...otherwise almost every question could be answered with "a billion dollars and immunity from prosecution."
*Mercenary Will (minor)
This is the Plutomancer Minor Blast spell which doesn't hurt you...it forces you to hurt yourself. In most cases this involves biting your tongue, smacking your head against the wall, etc. In most cases it does normal blast damage (sum of the caster's skill). However if they're near something really dangerous (active construction equipment, exposed live wires, etc) or carrying a gun the spell will instead inflict firearm damage as they use that to hurt themselves. Other than a gun the subject has to be in a situation where they can simply reach out and horribly injure themselves...nothing complicated. However, unlike normal Blasts the subject can resist...by suffering a Rank-10 Self check (in addition to the Rank 5 Unnatural Check). The possibility of making someone jump off of a building is never brought up.
*Bankrupt Will (Significant)
The personamancy Significant blast which inflicts firearm damage like normal
costs the opponent their next turn (because they're busy mutilating themselves). It doesn't do any extra situational damage but it's not possible to resist.
*I'm The Man (Significant)
For the next half hour everyone sees you as their boss...specifically the individual they report to or get paid by (not just generally believing you have authority), or one of their bosses if they report to a committee. You're immune to the effect if you don't have a boss (or if you're your own boss) or an Avatar of the Masterless Man. The imitation is perfect (including voice, face, figure, etc) but it doesn't grant you any special knowledge of the person you're being seen as. If you encounter a group who all report to a single greater authority that's who you appear as (so entering a military meeting means you appear as the superior to the highest ranked person present)...but if you encounter a group who all have different bosses (such as a group of friends who all work different jobs) they will each see you as a different person. Once you start imitating someone the spell will fail if that person shows up.
Write your name on a bill (20$ or less, or equivalent in other currency), name a target and spend the money. The bill will, over the course of a few days) find its way to the target. Once it leaves the target's possession it will return to you (again over a few days) and when you hold it you get a vision (including sound) of what the target was doing while he had the money on his person (not just possessing it). The spell is well known enough in the occult underground that many "in the know" examine bills for signatures. However, the plutomancer can be totally cheesy with the spell: legally changing their name to a symbol, swear word, etc. Make it look like graffitti, or even use microdot printing.
The spell also makes an effective, but slow, form of communication since you can always write additional info on the bill as a "message in a bottle".
*Pluto's Curse (Significant)
This spell makes someone poor. Really fast. It only works on someone with
money than you have however (so unfortunately you probably can't turn Donald Trump into a hobo with it) and it only works on individuals, no countries or companies. You have to know the target personally or be able to see them when the spell is cast. A day later, they lose a penny (that is their net value decreases by a penny, they gain nothing from it). Then John Leguezamo's character from the Happening comes along and explains geometric progression. The loss doubles every day, meaning that even the richest target (assuming you were richer than they were) would be bankrupted within less than 40 days. All the losses are without gains, but can be caused by a wide variety of events: robbery, embezzlement, accident, etc. (money never simply ceases to exist although it might be physically destroyed by a fire). One downside, it only works on pure money. It won't ruin your houses or cars or anything...but unless they know they've been cursed most victims will liquidate resources in an attempt to stem the tide of losses. The spell stops once the victim has no cash left.
*Devil's Deal (Significant)
A more extreme version of "I Know Your Price". This spell lets you know the victim's deepest desire. If you can give it to them (which may or may not be possible depending on the desire) then you can compel them to perform one service for you in exchange. Any service. It doesn't necessarily have to be something the victim can guarantee, or even be likely to accomplish but once they're asked they must work ceaselessly to try and make it happen. The goal you set now becomes the victim's new greatest desire and doing anything contrary to it is a Rank-10 Self check.
*Plutomancy Major Effects
Make any object yours. Direct the world economy for a day. Ensure that you meet any person of your choosing (random coincidence bringing you together).
Cats are powerful alpha-wave generators and are being used by secret government agencies as a renewable source of energy.
Next time Pornomancy and Urbanomancy. I'll try and stick the Videomancer in their too to avoid a dangling adept.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 11: Adepts, finale
There is a magick word. It powers all magick. Every time it is spoken, magick’s flow gets a tiny push. This word starts with ‘th’ and ends with ‘e’. No word is more common. If you never speak it, magick cannot affect you.
Now we've come to the Pornomancer. You'd think something like sex-magick would actually be a pretty universal concept but the Pornomancer is by far the most restricted and specific adept school. In fact, they're almost not adepts at all, sharing much in common with Avatars in that their entire philosophy involves following one of the Archetypes: the Naked Goddess. Understanding the Pornomancer requires a little bit of backstory:
The Naked Goddess is one of the most recently "ascended" Archetypes (there'll be more info on what this means in the global section of the book) and is notable in that A) she was not attempting to ascend...she simply suddenly reached a point of maximum "oneness" with a universal concept and bam! and B) it was caught on tape. A porn tape specifically, because the goddess was a relatively unknown porn star. Now, anyone who watches the tape becomes an instant, worshipful convert to the Goddess. Copies of the tape can do it too, but with less and less reliability the more times its been copied. The original tape will turn anyone to the "cause".
In an attempt to mimic the Naked Goddess several of her followers stumbled, more or less by accident, into the adept art of Pornomancy...generating enough obsession (via the tape) and a suitable paradox to create a new school of magick. Because the school is inherently tied to the Cult of the Naked Goddess you have to be a member, a former member or be taught pornomancy by a member. The only self-initiated pornomancers are those who have seen the Tape.
Pornomancers gain power through ritual sex magick, especially through sex acts that have been performed by the Naked Goddess herself in her mortal life. It's worth noting that despite the slavish devotion Pornomancers have to imitating the Naked Goddess none of them are Avatars...not even accidental Avatars. In fact, no one knows what Archetype the Naked Goddess actually embodies because so far no one has found an Avatar of hers...so it's quite possible, even likely, that Pornomancers are completely off-base with their imitation and don't actually understand the true nature of the Goddess.
The pornomancer paradox is that they've taken sex and strip it of emotion and passion. They can't use sex as an expression of love, affection, closeness or even raw physical attraction...everything must be done following strict guidelines that care nothing for pleasure or feeling. Just think of how uncomfortable it must be to reenact scenes from pornos...especially since you can't take any breaks between cuts. Now imagine if that's the only sex you can ever have.
Minor charges are relatively easy: perform a consensual naked goddess sex ritual, taking about one hour. The details of the rituals aren't provided but given the context they probably involve a lot of loose reenactments of porn tropes. Biggest concern is pregnancy, STDs and chafing.
Significant charging requires you reenact a scene from one of the Goddess' movies (any movie, it doesn't have to be the Tape). The other participants must look similar (although not identical) to the actors in the scene and you have to have a very similar set. It should be noted that you don't have to reenact the naked goddess' role: men can be pornomancers and build charges by acting in the role of a co-star. You also don't have to
resemble the actor in your role: any body type and ethnicity is fine...what's important is that everything around you looks right.
It's notable that a cabal of pornomancers can be extremely powerful...with the right mixture of appearance and sexes (and maybe some paid "co-stars") a team of pornomancers can easily rack up multiple Significant charges per day...and unlike most other adepts who can build charges that fast it's relatively difficult to lose charges. When you consider almost all pornomancers are members of the Cult of the Naked Goddess it's not hard to see why the Cult is gaining power so quickly.
Major charges are, of course, very difficult. To snag a major charge you have to reenact a scene from the goddess' life (whether or not it was from a film or her personal life) that no-one else has ever reenacted. Not only that but it has to be exact: the same people at the same place. It's not 100% clear if the acts must be sexual, but it doesn't seem to be the case. Since the cult is so new there are potentially still quite loads of Major charges out there...but it's also difficult to track down since all information on the Naked Goddess' identity has been completely erased from the world. It's unclear if this is a side effect of her ascension or if someone is working to conceal it. No one remembers her mortal name, all records or tapes that showed it are conveniently lost, destroyed or scrambled. They've rebuilt some parts of her life but there's certainly a lot missing.
The taboo of pornomancy is sex for any reason other than communion with the naked goddess. If you ever have sex outside of a ritual context then you lose your charges. Technically you can have ritual sex with someone who you do love or care for...but its unlikely to be very fun for either of you after a while. Although dehumanizing and depressing, the pornomancer taboo is relatively hard to break so Pornomancers often have very large amounts of Minor and Significant charges.
Pornomancy deals with the concept of Affinity: attraction, guidance, coincidence and persuasion.
*The Armor of Desire (Minor)
A very powerful defense...anyone who wants to attack you has to succeed at a Soul check...if they pass and attack you then they have to make a Rank 4 Violence test, if they fail they must make a Rank-4 Helplessness check. Unfortunately it only works on the next attack against you.
*Smooth Move (Minor)
Flip-Flop any roll you just made. This spell can be cast without spending an action, making it just part of the original action.
*Mind and Mouth Go North and South (minor)
This is a powerful "truth" spell...any subject under the influence of the spell has their Lying skill (or any related skill) reduced to 0%. They have only two options: tell absolute, unvarnished honest truth or stay silent. You can't speak half-truths, lies of omission or true statements intended to be deceptive. This lasts for one conversation.
In combat this costs the victim their next action...they just stand around with a dumb look on their face. Cast on someone out of combat and they get completely distracted for about 30 seconds, ignoring any non-threatening stimuli.
*Number Nine (Significant)
A lust spell: the victim immediately and absolutely wants to have sex with you. This doesn't affect emotions...they might still think you're a terrible person and hate your guts but they are still desperate to bone you. Helplessness and Self checks are likely in cases where emotional conflict is extreme (or if the pornomancer does not allow the victim to have sex with them). Obviously this spell could potentially void a Pornomancer's taboo and even if you use it to convince a subject to have ritual sex with you you won't get charges (law of transaction, yo!)
*The Smouldering Glance (Significant)
If you have any Soul-based skill that focuses on sexual attraction you increase it by 5% permanently, or you immediately gain the skill at 5% if you haven't got one. If you're a woman the maximum is 72% (the score the Naked Goddess had in life), if you're a man its 66% (the score of the goddess'' most frequent male co-star). Given how easy it is for Pornomancers to accumulate significant charges over the long term, most of them have maxed out their sex appeal.
This is the Pornomancy Blast. They don't have a Minor version because normally their Significant Blast only inflicts minor damage. The damage is all mental: causing extreme pain but no actual wounds. In fact, Pornomancy blasts can only be healed with Magick...no natural healing or medical science can help you. Death looks like unexplained heart failure. If the pornomancer is actually having sex with you then they can make the blast inflict Firearms damage.
*Defeat Yourself (Significant)
This spell can be used on anyone you can currently see and it causes whatever action they're taking to Fail. This doesn't count as an action and can be used outside of your initiative count in combat. The one exception are any magickal spells using Major charges. Those pass or fail on the merits of the caster alone.
The victim is completely paralyzed...unable to move except for involuntary bodily functions. This lasts for two hours or until the target succeeds at a Soul roll at -30% (you can try once per round). Adepts are harder to affect: they can flip-flop their Soul roll or choose to cast spells in place of trying to break free (since magick requires no movements to cast).
Interestingly, the Pornomancer's large supply of charges and their formula spells make them very powerful combatants, probably second only to Epideromancers, despite their lack of a full-powered Blast. They're especially effective against non-adepts. Once again making the Cult of the Naked Goddess an impressive player in the global stage despite it's small size and youth.
*Inner Torment (Significant)
Pick a mental stress gauge and wreck it. The rank of the stress is equal to the ones place on your roll. The one upside is that success does not Harden the subject. Again, this makes the cult very powerful...a pornomancer who wants to mentor someone into adepthood just has to rack up a few Significant charges then just unload on the student. Since they don't get Hardened you don't have to worry about "escalating" the intensity of your actions and you can probably completely break someone in an afternoon.
*Pornomancy Major Effects
Arrange for every adept of a single school of magick to show up at the same place at once "by accident". Make yourself as famous and popular as steven king, regardless of talent. Undo the effects of one spell (including lethal spells).
If you climb over the old brick wall in Evergreen Street at the right time, you can get into the land of the dead.
The urbanomancer is an adept who expresses their obsession with one city (of at least 100,000 people). Unlike Cliomancers they don't express their obsession through cultural touchstones like landmarks or tourist attractions, their experience is more organic. They're fascinated with the city (their city) as a living thing: watching it grow and change is just as important as being familiar with it's stories and secrets. The city and its residents are one: the crowd is just as much a part of the city as the streets and buildings and they are like blood coursing through its veins.
The paradox of urbanomancy is that although all the inhabitants of the city (including the adept) are a part of it, none of them matter in the "big picture". No one person is needed...everyone is ultimately replacable. Urbanomancer's fight their anonymity by forcing change on the city (similar in some ways to what the Epideromancer does to their own bodies) in a desperate bid to impress something that ultimately will not and cannot care about them.
When you pick up this school you have to pick your city and it cannot be changed. Obviously this can be very limiting for PC urbanomancers but they're quite powerful in campaigns that center on a particular location.
To get a minor charge you just need to study or observe "the city" for about 4 hours. This could involve simply wandering about, staring out of your window, examining data on the city such as crime report maps or demographics, etc.
Creating a Significant charge requires interfering with the city in some way: cause a big traffic jam, organize a parade, alter the "statistics" behind the city (such as increasing or decreasing police presence in an area). Alternatively leaving your "mark" on the city by having something named after you. Depending on how important the thing is you get anything from a charge a year (say a bench dedicated to you) to a charge a day (a large school, major road, etc). Obviously Urbanomancers can become very powerful if they can manage to hold down any high-level civil service job.
Major charges require massive changes to part of the city...arranging for a major disaster is one way (for instance intentionally misdirecting funds or even sabotaging city safety projects such as dams). Alternatively be personally responsible for a major infrastructure change (at least as impressive as adding a subway to a city that doesn't have one). Finally you can just have the city named after you (being named after the city doesn't count, nor does having a name that the city happens to be renamed to...it has to be renamed in your honor).
Leaving the city cuts the urbanomancer off from their magick but they keep their charges. However, the longer they're away the worse the withdrawals get, eventually resulting in stat penalties and probably Isolation and Helplessness checks.
Urbanomancers zero out their charges if they ever touch (skin contact) the dirt the city is built on. Presumably this means fairly fresh earth...a dusty day is not going to cancel your magic but getting a clump of mud thrown on your face will.
Urbanomancy spells manipulate the "cogs" of the city. Not on a personal scale: you can't control an individual police officer but you could make it so it just so happens that a large number of cops converge in one area. Gaining information about the city itself is also their domain. In all cases, their powers only work on their chosen city.
*Day Pass (Minor)
You can ride any public transit for free for one journey. You never miss your stops and everything goes smoothly. no one notices you don't pay and things like turnstiles let you through. A variant of this allows you to slip through traffic without impediment.
You can leave a secret message for an intended person or group (define it how you like "My friend bob", "All blonde women", "Members of the Cult of the Naked Goddess"). To anyone else the message is just nonsense that "takes root" in the area...maybe the neighborhood children start singing some wordless song all day, maybe you just leave some scribbled marks or graffiti, or maybe dead the dead leaves on the ground leaves on the ground take the form of patterns. When a chosen recipient arrives the message resolves itself, but still only for them (this is a Rank 3 unnatural check the first time it happens, rank 1 afterwards). However, other urbanomancers can sense the messages and spend a charge to read it themselves.
Oddly enough this spell is one of the few with an example (weird since it's fairly straightforward) and the example works the exact opposite of the spell's description: it's cast and the message is sent to the intended recipient out in the city instead of waiting around for the recipient to find it.
This spell provides information on groups (not individuals) within the city or portions of the city itself. For instance you can use it for instant polling (knowing how many people would vote for Candidate X at this time) or to learn about how long it would take the police to respond to a 911 call within a certain area.
*Face in the Crowd (minor)
You disappear into a crowd. So long as you remain in a crowded area any attempts to spot or follow you suffer a -50% penalty.
*Vermin Eyes (minor)
Get ahold of some kind of urban vermin like a rat or a pigeon and you can "dive" into the animal, controlling its actions and sharing its senses (although you can't perceive what's happening back at your body). Your actions have to be natural for the animal or the spell is broken (so directing a pigeon to try and make a call on someone's smart phone would not be an option. But getting it to poop on someone would be fine.
*Break Your Mother's Back (Minor)
This is the Urbanomancer's Minor Blast. It doesn't directly injure the target, instead it causes the city to harm them. They might just trip on a loose piece of pavement or get hit by a bike messenger, or get knifed in a crowd. The effect can be immediate if the target is out in the city but if the spell is cast in a home or similar "safe" place the effect will simply linger until the victim is next out "in the wild". Casting it in a safe place is actually a very powerful use of the Minor Blast since you can easily "stack" multiple castings (there's no obvious immediate effect) on the target so they get hit by several disasters all at once.
*Alone In The Crowd (Significant)
The city treats the spell's victim as a pariah. Friends and family treat the victim normally but everyone else keeps their distance (causing a visible "bubble" in crowds) and will keep their interaction with the target to a complete and absolute minimum, ignoring them if that is at all possible. Will often cause Isolation and possibly Helplessness checks.
*My Turf (Significant)
This spell affects up to a square mile but must involve clear borders such as a set of certain city blocks or a particular named neighborhood. Within the designated area you can sense whenever Magick is performed and can specify one other type of event: criminal activity, a member of law enforcement entering the area, the presence of drugs, etc. By spending additional minor charges you can add multiple events that will ping on your magic radar. However, the spell has to be renewed every week (extra minor charges may be applied or left off from week to week).
If your territory contains a Significant cliomancer charging site you can snag the charge from it to give yourself one Minor charge...but if a cliomancer drains it before you do on a day then they'll cause you to lose a Significant charge (although they don't gain an extra one).
*Wrong Turn (Significant)
The next time a chosen target travels in public (not necessarily public transportation, just in public) you can direct it so that they arrive at a public area of your choosing (via coincidence). This can be avoided if the target can "counter" it with a different travel spell (such as Day Pass) but otherwise attempts to resist can be dangerous, you could end up hit by a car and your ambulance will break down right where the urbanomancer wanted you.
*The Madness of Crowds (Significant)
This spell starts a riot. There has to be some sort of tension in the area already (which usually isn't too hard) and the urbanomancer can make it boil over into a full scale riot. You can direct where the mob forms and even include specific targets that it will "attack" (which must be appropriate to the situation). One big problem: you've got to be at the starting location and it begins right away.
*Ragged Warriors (Significant)
homeless people are secretly adepts. Those unfortunates who are ignored and forgotten start to lose their identity to the city itself and the urbanomancer can take advantage of that. This can only be cast on a homeless person within an area claimed by "My Turf" or someone you can see (magickally or otherwise). It operates a lot like Vermin Eyes except you can split your control among multiple homeless targets (although each costs an additional significant charge).
While in control you can use your skills but they can't exceed the target's Body stat (usually 20+1d10...these guys aren't in great shape). And of course it's really messed up thing to do to people. It's a Self-6 check to cast (7 if you control multiple targets). The victims cannot resist if they're already insane (5 failed notches), which is likely. Otherwise they can overcome it with a Helplessness (10) check and has to make a Self-8 check after the spell ends.
*Traffic Accident (Significant)
This is the urbanomancer Significant Blast which is just like the minor blast except for scale. This spell causes car accidents, falling masonry, collapsing grates, etc.
*Urbanomancy Major Effects
Dictate the results of a city election. Start riots in multiple cities across the world. "Edit" your city to add new features that no one realizes weren't already there. Alter the crime rate for an entire country.
That CRT monitor should tell you that this school is a little out of date
The Urbanomancers of Chicago are bad news. They’ve got their fingers in the sticky pot of political power, and can use cops instead of the homeless for their Ragged Warriors spells. Seattle got uppity and they slapped it down with the WTO riots, but now they’re setting their sights on Kuala Lumpur, of all things. Nobody holds a grudge like the Chicago rats.
So a few breeds of adept are a little different now than they were when UA was published in 2002. For example the Personamancer is somewhat more powerful with the increase in online communication making it easier to impersonate people. The rise of Ebay and sites like it have made Bibliomantic charging much easier (assuming you've got the money). Well, none have changed quite like the Videomancer. In fact, its quite possible that in the modern world the Videomancer effectively does not exist...or at the least they're on the way out as their central concept becomes more and more shaky.
Videomancers focus on TV. Specifically the act of watching one (or sometimes more) particular "fetish shows". No it isn't (usually) a sex thing. The thing is...you have to be watching it on broadcast television, because the videomancer concept centers on using these shows as a connection with the millions of other people watching and reacting to shows at the same time, which can then be channeled as a source of mystical power. Of course, the advent of the internet and on-demand content is killing videomancy much like it's killing more traditional broadcast television.
The central paradox of videomancy is that it's about making a connection with millions while being alone. You share moments of joy, fear or drama with an entire country who doesn't even realize you exist.
Remember how I said videomancers have fetish shows? Well, the way it works is that they charge up by watching and getting involved with their fetish shows. Your show has to be broadcast to the country (no regional or public access shows) and has to have new episodes coming out weekly. It's important to note that recordings have no power over videomancers (for good or bad) and this would include things like Netflix, Hulu, video on demand, torrents, mp4s, etc. Only broadcasts.
You get a Minor charge by watching reruns, beginning to end. Not missing a single moment, even a commercial. Remember, it has to be a broadcast: watching an episode of your show on your iphone or a DVD. The whole point of the school is that while you watch millions of others are watching with you, in perfect sync.
You get a Significant charge by a watching a
episode. Again, has to be the full show from beginning to end. News shows are obviously a popular way to gain significant charges daily.
You can get a Major charge by starring (being on screen at least 50% of the time) in an episode of your chosen show. This means if you're chosen show is broadcast live, no major charges for you (see below).
The taboo for the videomancer is missing an episode of their show. Ever. Including re-runs. If you miss any of them then you lose all your charges. Note that events like breaking news or presidential addresses interrupting the broadcast is fine...so long as you're experiencing the same thing every other viewer is. This is why having multiple shows is potentially dangerous...once you pick a show you
to watch (or break taboo) until its off the air completely. So long as any episodes air, even reruns, you have to keep watching. The worst fate for a videomancer with multiple shows is to end up with them broadcasting simultaneously...you can't watch one without violating the taboo for the other (and no you can't do picture in picture or multiple screens, you have to provide complete attention) and so you get no charges ever. Videomancers are obviously greatly weakened during off seasons or when their shows are canceled but still showing reruns, since they can only earn minor charges from them but still go bust if they miss a rerun. But the power is tempting, a videomancer with the right broadcast schedule could earn dozens of significant charges per month...but they become slaves to their TV schedule.
You can add extra shows later at the cost of a significant charge (or no cost if you're watching the world premiere).
Videomancy spells revolve around observing others and adapting yourself (and reality) to the tropes and conventions of television. Yes. Tropomancy.
*Film at 11 (minor)
This spell requires a videotape (generous DMs in a modern game would probably permit a blank DVD). When the spell is cast the adept's experiences are recorded onto the tape as though an invisible camera crew were following them. The "camera" focuses on anything that would be of interest to the videomancer, even if they were not aware of the thing at the time. For instance it would focus on the barely visible people spying on a videomancer's conversation even if the videomancer never knew they were there. This even includes things that the adept could not have identified themselves...so for instance if an adept is looking for a murder and happens to be in the same room as him the camera will focus on their face, especially if they take any suspicious actions (but there's no reason provided...the guy could also be important for other reasons). The spell lasts until the tape is full or it's put in a VCR and played.
The target of the spell experiences events as though they have been through them over and over again. It doesn't grant any precognitive ability but its great for robbing the emotional strength from a situation. This can be used to negate the effects of a sanity check, negate the advantage of surprise and to reduce the impact of dramatic situations (which could be useful in a variety of social situations).
You can communicate via TV. Declare a target person or group. The next time they see or hear a TV your face appears and delivers your message. You get one second of air time per point in your videomancy skill.
You can use your videomancy skill in place of a Mind skill for a single roll. This can include learning short phrases in other languages.
You can use this to make a person mute for five minutes! This also softens (but does not negate) other sounds, granting +20% to stealth based skills that would be helped.
*Dubba-dubba-dumbing it down (significant)
This spell makes someone stupid, like Peter Griffin stupid. If the spell succeeds round your roll down to the nearest multiple of 10 (so a 44 becomes a 40). The target's Mind score drops by that amount for a number of minutes equal to the roll. This obviously is devastating to Mind skills.
*Laff Riot (Significant)
Temporarily turns Unknown Armies into Toon! It lasts a number of rounds (in combat) or minutes (out of combat) equal to the tens place on your roll. While its active all serious injuries are averted. Gunshots all miss automatically. No other physical damage can exceed 5 points and instead targets suffer humiliating pratfalls. This works on everyone (presumably only in the area...but it would be amusing if the effect were world wide).
*Family Drama (significant)
Drama Bomb! This spell causes the target to emotionally fixate on you. This isn't a love spell or anything, it just means that they'll have powerful emotional reactions to your actions, even completely mundane ones. Cast it on a barista and ask them for a cup of coffee and they might break down crying about how no one comes in because they want something and never just to talk! If you play along with the emotional rollercoaster it can be a powerful manipulation tool (one example is getting a loan by generating deep sympathy and pity from the banker). Attempting to fight these emotions involves a Self check of 4 or 5 for most situations. Someone who already hates you (or just people who have been emotionally misused) generally behavior like bitter or jilted lovers...lots of tears and emotional tirades but no violence (unless pushed to it). This is broken if the target is attacked, fails a stress check or 47 minutes pass (the amount of air time of a standard soap opera).
*Watching the Detectives (Significant)
Could just as easily be called "only a flesh wound!". This spell reduces the damage from "one source" is reduced to one. One source is a little vague, the book defines a single gunshot or a thorough beating (multiple attacks) both as one source. This has to be cast immediately after the damage...you can't have someone crawling around one minute then fine the next and it can't undo an instant kill. It can also only be used once per combat per target.
A bit of a goofy spell (well, a lot of videomancer spells are). This spell causes the subject to reveal shocking secrets in the most defiant way they can. (The confession spell kicks in at about 30 seconds:
). As a side effect all swear words are censored by silencing the middle few letters. This lasts 10 minutes and takes a Isolation-10 roll to resist. For two extra charges the videomancer can pick which secrets are revealed (assuming he has an idea of what the secret is).
*Days of Our One Life to Live (significant)
This spell causes the victim to live in "interesting times". Basically it inserts soap opera-style twists into the victim's life like finding their wife in bed with his brother, medically questionable amnesia episodes, comas, etc. Whatever the results they are never lethal and the spell lasts days equal to your casting roll.
*Live on Tape (significant)
This spell traps the target's "essence" in a TV set (requiring you to beat the victim's Soul stat when casting). The person is still alive and conscious they just lack any motivation (the spell removes all passions and obsessions) and they do nothing but go through the motions of their lives out of habit. Meanwhile the "essence" is trapped, tormented, in the TV set, constantly screaming. The essence can be released by the videomancer but the result is a rank 10 Self and Isolation roll (destroying the TV has the same effect) as the spirit returns to its body.
*Videomancy Major Effects
Bring a TV character to life. Manifest a TV special effect in the real world.
Those Make Money Fast emails aren’t spam! They all carry fragments of the secret number of the Beast in them; if you collect enough of these mails, you can reconstruct the name and talk to the Adversary!
Adept wrap-up, Avatar Introduction
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 12: Adept wrap-up, Avatar Introduction
All of the world’s remaining Templar Knights report directly to seven Japanese women who share an apartment in Tel Aviv.
Each adept school comes with a list of 13 Formula spells and your adept may or may not know all of them. If you learned on your own you've got only the 5 formula spells (plus Blast if available). If you had a mentor you know as many formulas as they were willing to teach you. Either way you can be taught formula spells from other adepts (either one of the 13 "common" formula spells or a custom formula spell of their own creation).
Adepts can also turn their random Magick spells into formula spells through repeated use. To do this you have to successfully cast the spell five times and spend 1 XP each time (you can still cast the spell without spending XP, it just doesn't count towards turning the spell into a formula). Once you've accumulated the five xp-loaded casting you can perform a ritual to turn the spell into a formula. There's no set rules for the ritual, the adept comes up with his own and so long as the player can explain the logic behind it to the GM its fine. Next you and the GM come up with the final effects of the formula. It'll usually cost less charges, last longer or be more effective (possibly even all three)...or it may not if the GM thinks it needs to remain costly. Either way, once this has been decided the effects are set and are no longer subject to change at the whims of the GM.
The adept then has to perform the ritual which costs charges equal to its standard cost + 1 Significant charge for minor formula, or +2 for significant formula. You also have to make a Unnatural stress check (5 for minor formula, 10 for significant) as your mind gets further soaked in spook-juice. Then roll your X-mancy skill...and hope it succeeds because if you fail you don't get back the XP, the charges or the stress effect. making formulas is not for noobie adepts.
However, there is a downside to learning too many formula spells...it "solidifies" your viewpoint on magic making it harder and harder to change. One effect is that it becomes harder to learn new formula (an extra significant charge for every formula learned past 14, or two extra for significant formula) and another is that random magick becomes harder and harder. Once you hit 15 spells you take a -10% shift to your skill when casting random magick spells for each spell over 14. You can counter-attack this with brute force (an additional charge added to the cost decreases the penalty by 10%) but its possible to eventually become so set that you effectively can cast nothing but formula spells.
Creating new schools
There's a bit of discussion on how you might create or alter existing schools of magic. For instance, it posits a version of dipsomancy that is based more on the social aspect of drinking rather than the mind-altering effects. Instead of getting a charge whenever they take a drink, they get a charge whenever they take a drink someone has just given them. This still allows fairly easy charging in places like bars or parties but prevents easy charging on your own. Significant charges could be earned by being given a drink by a stranger without prompting or provocation. In exchange you can keep charges indefinitely (the taboo would be ever
a drink offered by someone else) and the ability to ignore the need for a special drinking vessel.
Another interesting alternate ideas for adepts are epideromancers who, instead of hurting themselves, focus on being hyper-conscientious of their bodies...charging up by doing things like exercising or performing tests of endurance and tabooing when allowing their body to be "polluted" (i.e. unhealthy foods, alcohol, etc). Other variants might include masochistic behavior (having others hurt you instead of injuring yourself) or anorexic behaviors instead of cutting behavior.
Finally they point out that, yes, they are aware that "-mancy" refers to a type of divination and that the proper term would by "-magy". It's just that the authors (and the adepts themselves) care more about the common parlance than etymological accuracy.
Chapter 11: Avatars
The reason why no Iconomancer has been able to channel Jim Morrison, the Lizard King, is due to the fact that Jim Morrison made history as the first Iconomancer. Jim Lives. And he’s channeling himself and living in L.A.
If magick were religion, the Adepts would be the crazed cult leaders: they spew utter nonsense and often don't wash properly but still manage to accumulate power and attention through sheer, crazed charisma. Well, if adepts are self-made prophets the Avatars are the smooth talking evangelical preachers and spiritualists. They may believe in what they're saying, they may not. Either way they get their power by "fitting in" with the status quo and using it to elevate themselves.
In the case of Avatars, "fitting in" means living lives that emulate one of the Archetypes of human consciousness. You can play along just for the sake of power (like an Avatar of the Annoying Hippy subsisting entirely on bean sprouts and tofu when he would love nothing more than a bloody steak) or you can honestly believe in the way of life you're leading. In fact, some Avatars channel their archetype entirely unconsciously simply by naturally living their lives in tune with their cosmic "mentor", although this is only common at lower levels of Avatar power.
Archetypes are...sort of...gods. Or at least they're the closest thing to gods that anyone can say definitely exists. Most in the Occult Underground believe that most mythological gods and goddesses are simply different names for the Archetypes. The comparison is hardly perfect as many Archetypes could fit multiple deities within the same mythology or a single deity might represent different Archetypes to different cultures but sharing the same name. Ultimately, names don't matter...each Archetype represents some aspect of human personality or culture (think Carl Jung) that is so ingrained in human thought that they've begun to resonate with the collective unconsciousness, elevating them beyond the mortal world. Some are as old as humanity (like the Mother) while others are much newer (like the Masterless Man)
No one knows for sure how many Archetypes there currently are (although some Global characters know how many there can be) and not everyone is entirely sure what the current Archetypes are...some are known for certain (like the Mother, the Warrior and the Pilgrim) and others are more questionable (like the Guy With Pencils Stuck In His Eyes). There are also cases where its known that an Archetype certainly
but no one quite knows the form it takes (as is the case with the Naked Goddess).
What is known is that Archetypes do not act directly in the world. You won't find the Warrior coming down and blowing up tanks on the battlefield or the True King trying to take over the White House. Generally speaking the Archetypes don't
, they simply
. By existing the Archetype of the Warrior subtly influences the very nature of war and conflict. They can plot or scheme from time to time but only through mortal intermediaries (often Avatars).
Of course, the true nature of Archetypes becomes more clear once you reach the Global power level...
Avatar powers are often much more toned down and subtle compared to the crazed reality-warping Adepts can get up to. There's no such thing as an Avatar "blast" and very few Avatar powers allow you to directly change people or objects....certainly none as dramatically as an Adept. But Avatars are not bound by their powers the same way adepts are either...they don't have weird rituals they have to perform in order to "charge up" their powers and they don't have insane restrictions they must abide by to avoid losing everything.
Avatars do have Taboos but they are much milder and the consequences are more long-term than short-term. An adept who violates taboo has no charges and is utterly without their magick. An Avatar is unlikely to lose a significant amount of power...but it does put them a few steps "back" on the path of their Archetype.
To be an Avatar you must have an appropriate Avatar skill. This is a Soul-based skill and notably it does
have to be your Obsession skill (unlike Adepts). Although of course many Avatars will make it their obsession. If you don't start with the skill during character creation all you have to to is spend 1 month behaving in a manner appropriate to the chosen Archetype. At the end of the month, assuming you perform appropriately, you gain the Avatar skill at 1%. After that every week you spend following the archetype nets you an extra 1% and any week where you violate your taboo subtracts 2%. This continues until the skill hits 11%, at which point you improve with experience as normal.
However, if you violate taboo your skill drops...usually by 1% but possibly by as much as 3% for severe violations.
Instead of spells, Avatars have
. These are specific ways you can use your Avatar skill to screw with reality. There is no equivalent for "random magick" for Avatars...you can either do something or you can't. Each Avatar skill grants only one Channel until you hit 50%, so most Avatars are one-trick ponies, magically speaking but new channels come faster and faster after that: a second one at 51%, a third at 71% and a fourth at 91%. Channels don't cost charges, they're either always active or simply require a skill roll.
Avatars and Adepts
It's worth noting that you
be both an Avatar and an Adept. In doing so you become bound by the taboos of both and you'll obviously advance much slower as you have to divide your XP among both skills. Some combinations are not as powerful as they may initially seem (the Entropomancer/Fool combo is largely redundant for example) while others are much more potent than you might think (the Freak, an Epideromancer/Mystic Hermaphrodite, is one of the settings most powerful mortal characters).
You like the Little Rascals? Smitty, a buddy of mine in ’Nam, had an aunt who collected Our Gang stuff. She gave him a lock of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer’s hair as a good luck charm. Switzer would cut off his trademark cowlick every so often when he was a teen and sell it for dope money. And man, Smitty would do some crazy stuff when we were in the shit, and always came up without a scratch.
After this we'll move on to individual Avatars, starting of course with the Demagogue and the Executioner.
Avatars, pt 1
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 13: Avatars, pt 1
Many high-ranking policemen are initiates in a school of law-based anti-magick. They use the power gained from upholding the law to reinforce morality. They’re fighting a war against a group of corrupt cops who use power from oppressing the innocent to further their own goals. Nearly half of police actions are somehow involved in this conflict.
Now, lets get into the list of Avatars. I expect this'll go a bit quicker as Avatar entries are usually quite a bit shorter.
The Demagogue represents the charismatic politician, the passionate preacher and the rabble-rousing mob-leader. Their role is not specifically "leadership" so much as it is "explanation". People look to them to make sense of the world and to provide understanding, justification and reassurance. They have the power to inspire belief in others and to take control of dialogue whether on a personal, community or even national scale. The Demagogue does not need to be honest or truthful...it's important that people believe in them but not the other way around. But by the same token some are perfectly earnest and sincere (not that this means they're pleasant...you can be an honest and sincere neo-nazi after all).
: The Demagogue can never admit that they were incorrect (especially publicly or to his believers). They can "update" their position to correspond with new information or claim that they always held their current position, using as many lies, half-truths and weaseling strategies as they like...but they can never outright say that they made a mistake or that their previous beliefs were incorrect. So basically...politics as usual.
: It's probably easier to list the career politicians who
channeled this Avatar (consciously or accidentally). Those who are unaware of the nature of the Avatar generally max out at 11% (the amount that can be gained by sticking faithfully to the taboo for 14 weeks). It's widely believed in the underground that both Hitler and Winston Churchill were intentionally channeling the Demagogue.
This brings up one of the issues I've noticed with Avatars in general, but its a bit more glaring with those like the Demagogue. Being an Avatar is presented as acting in accordance with the archetype and gaining power...however from a mechanical perspective it's all about what you
do, not what you do do (heh...doodoo). That is, to start channeling the Demagogue all you have to do is refuse to admit that you're wrong for a month, then continue for 10 weeks until you hit 11% and can start spending XP. That's all, you don't need to have people who listen to you (or even
to get people to listen to you), have a high Persuasion/Charm skill or really
anything that imitates your chosen Archetype. There are things provided like a list of symbols that resonate with the Archetype and it suggests that having these symbols present somehow strengthens your bond with the Archetype but there is no mechanical support for it.
So for instance, so long as you absolutely refuse to admit you're wrong you could be a MMO-playing shut-in with 10 Hardened Isolation notches while still channeling the Demagogue at 90%. In fact, being completely mute would technically make it quite easy to avoid admitting fault. Likewise you could be completely pacifist Executioner (you can a pacifist Warrior as well but that actually isn't a contradiction).
Now, all-in-all its a relatively minor issue because Avatar channels are generally good for specific things and so it encourages use by players who're already looking to play "in character" as their chosen Archetype. But it still bugs me a bit personally.
: The Demagogue can use his Avatar skill to try and adjust the viewpoint of anyone he can speak with one-on-one for an extended period, typically between 15-30 minutes. After "explaining" things to the subject you can make an Avatar roll. In some cases this just allows you to substitute your Avatar skill for Charm or Persuasion skills when it comes to convincing them of something. However, it can also be used to "prepare" a subject for an upcoming Stress check, allowing them to ignore the next appropriate stress check that day. For instance, if you're leading a group of witch-hunters out trying to take down Adepts you could take each member aside and explain to them the sort of things they may encounter when it comes time to bust down the door of the cult you're hunting and prep them for an Unnatural stress check. Or if you're leading a cult of impressionable youngsters and you need to hand one of them an UZI and send him to gun down the bunch of magic-haters who're hunting you down you could tell him about the glory of "the cause" to prep him for the inevitable Violence check so he doesn't freak out.
You have to have a good idea of what exactly might be happening in order to suitably prepare your subject. It must be clear which stress gauge will be protected and each character can only have one stress gauge protected at one time. You also can't use this ability on yourself.
At this level a successful Avatar skill check gives you an idea of what a person
to believe. For instance you could use it to tell if an occult investigator truly wants to find evidence of the supernatural or if they're just going through the motions. Or you could determine if a would-be convert is actually willing to join your cause or religion. This works on groups as well, letting you sense their general mood and what they're willing to accept.
At this level the Demagogue has a power similar to Cliomancers, they can slip ideas into the collective unconscious which filter out into the world. The power is more subtle than cliomancers however, which can be both a strength and weakness. The Avatar simply spends a day meditating on the idea and makes a skill check. Success puts the idea "out there" in the world. While Cliomancers can simply plunk specifically phrased sentences into everyone's mind, this instead insinuates a new concept or idea that is then accepted (or rejected) depending on how much it clashes with direct evidence. For instance an idea like "tap water is explosive" is likely to be dismissed out of hand due to the lack of exploded sinks...but an idea like "George Washington was a pedophile" might take root due to a lack of any available direct evidence
it. People will begin to think it just somehow makes sense...people will start to write "shocking but true!" books on the subject, academics will start to come up with papers proposing evidence for the idea, etc. This doesn't necessarily imply that this idea will become accepted as true or even become mainstream...but its out there.
Tell someone something and roll your Avatar skill. A success means that they believe it. The idea can be as simple or as complex as you're able to express...you could probably yell out "you shouldn't shoot me!" before getting blasted by a hit man but you couldn't convince him that his boss is plotting against him and has actually arranged this whole situation as an elaborate death trap and the only way to stay alive is to fake his own death and skip town as soon as possible without getting some time to talk. The complexity and absurdity of the idea determines how long the belief actually lasts. Telling an already devout christian that "Jesus wants you to help me build a new church" is probably going to stick around more or less indefinitely...but telling them "Jesus has come to earth and is living with me in my apartment disguised as my overweight cat. If you come home with me and give him catnip we can go meet his dad!" will probably only last a few seconds...it may get them in your car or in the door of your house but they'll probably think better of it very quickly. Performing Self-violating actions ("you need to kill your wife and bring me her head or you'll die!") allows the subject to resist by making a Self-10 stress check.
Clove cigarettes with a diamond emblem on them are used to pass charges from one mage onto another. Nobody knows exactly who makes them.
The Executioner is the embodiment of premeditated and targeted killing. Although the Avatar's listing claims that they are not assassins, the role actually fits them perfectly...not sure why it claims otherwise. The most important aspect of the Executioner is that they are killers in the service of some higher authority...the Executioner carries out the sentence, they do not pronounce it (so no Judge Dredding). The Executioner is also explicitly a
, a cop who locks up criminals is not an Executioner (nor is one who guns them down in the street) nor is the politician who supports the death penalty but doesn't pull the switch themselves. Finally, Executioners are precise...they kill only those chosen to die. A soldier on the battlefield is not an Executioner, but a sniper taking down designated targets might be.
The Executioner's taboo is sentencing their victim to death themselves. When the executioner kills it must be specific targets and at the behest of some authority that the Executioner accepts...it could be a mob boss calling a hit on a troublesome politician or a superior officer ordering a special operative to take out a terrorist. It is also a violation to hesitate during an assignment, if you (for any reason) choose to spare your target or call off the job without permission you break Taboo. Executioners can refuse to take an assignment without penalty and can break ties with their accepted authority...but they can't do it
It is possible to wiggle a bit within the bounds of taboo...an Executioner could get away with deliberately misinterpreting his "boss" when it comes to a job. For instance an executioner who really wants to murder someone could wait until his boss says something that could be interpreted as an order ("I wish that bastard would just drop dead") and can even goad their boss into doing so without breaking taboo. Likewise they can liberally interpret statements to indicate that they should spare a target, or contact their boss with information that their assignment might have unforeseen consequences and allow their boss to choose if they should go ahead or not.
The kings of england are believed to have had Executioner servants (one example is the "three good knights" who killed Thomas a Beckett) and certainly Executioners were involved in the bloodier bits of history such as the French Revolution.
When assigned a target by your accepted authority you may Flip-Flop any rolls you make in combat with that target. However, you can only have one target at a time and cannot change targets until the current one is dead and you must have been given a reason why the target must die. This just refers to the use of this channel, an executioner can be instructed to simply kill someone and do so without breaking Taboo...they just don't get to flip-flop. Likewise they can be assigned to kill multiple targets by their authority but they'll only be able to flip-flop against one of them at a time.
You can give someone the crazy-eye. Specifically by locking eyes with someone and make an Avatar roll you can force them to make a Violence check (rank equal to the 10s place on your roll). In combat this takes an action and forces your victim to sacrifice their next action regardless of success or failure.
When attacking your designated target (as per the first channel) you can add
20 points to a Firearms or Struggle roll that has
succeeded. You can even exceed your skill total and still count as a success. So for instance, if your Melee Murdering skill is 60% and you roll a 45 you could add 20 to bring it to 65 and still hit (inflicting 11 damage + weapon)...but remember you can add up to 20...so you could instead add 15 to bring it to 60 because that would inflict more damage (16) or if you've got a big enough weapon you could add only 10 to get a matched success with 55.
Nothing can inflict penalties on you in combat anymore. Not magic, not being tied to a chair, not being blind, on fire and hanging upside down from a helicopter. You can still be prevented from attacking someone (say by being strapped to a table)...but so long as you can at least attempt to hit someone then you can do so without penalty. Basically you can re-enact Black Widow's introduction scene from the Avengers whenever you like.
The Flying Woman
Cats have their own school of magic, which is a bit like dipsomancy, except with cat toys. How do I know this? My cat told me. Why do you ask?
The name is a little archaic but the Archetype of the Flying Woman represents a woman who can and does break free of society's restraints and mores. The Avatar of the Flying Woman isn't blindly rebellious, she can choose to accept advise or even leadership from anyone (male or female) but it must be her free choice...if she doesn't want to follow she mustn't. The Flying Woman is all about freedom: freedom from judgement, freedom from oppression and freedom to chart her own course in life. The Flying Woman is specifically a female Archetype and only women can channel her...the masculine equivalent is the Masterless Man.
: Avatars of the Flying Woman must make choices purely on their own merits...shying away from a course of action because others would disapprove or try and stop her breaks taboo. Notably this means that many of the famous "cross-dressing" women throughout history are not Avatars of the Flying Woman (or are at least breaking Taboo), the Archetype demands boldness and trying to make things more palatable to others is a violation of taboo. The Flying Woman Avatar must also be self-reliant and never ask others to do something she is capable of doing herself.
Amelia Earhart is believed to have possibly been the first Avatar of this Archetype, and if not she probably is the one who defined it for the modern age.
Flying Woman Channels
: You can flip-flop any failed Self, Helplessness or Isolation check so long as the new result would be below your Avatar skill.
: You can freaking fly. Just straight up. You need to make an Avatar skill check every round in combat or every minute outside of it to stay aloft, but if you succeed you can move 10 feet in any direction per round. Honestly, it seems like this might have been a case where the writers couldn't think up a good channel for this level because actually just flying around is probably one of the most blatantly supernatural things anyone can do in UA, let alone for an Avatar (which are traditionally much, much more low key). The only things that really get close are Dipsomancy/Entropomancy Blasts and Epideromancer transformations.
You can overcome any attempts at restraint or imprisonment. Make an Avatar skill roll and knots loosen, cell doors unlock and you can slip free of any attempts to grab or hold you. You have to roll for each impediment, but the definition is very, very broad. For instance if an Avatar is handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser driving down the highway she could make one roll to unlock the handcuffs, another to open the doors and a third to stop the car so she can get out safely. This includes Magick (including mental/spiritual control). It can't stop a straightforward attack however.
9 times per day you can flip-flop any roll so long as the result is under your skill (which at this point it almost certainly will be).
One of the most powerful adepts in the world resides in Alert, in the North-West Territories. It’s worth the trip.
Next we'll tackle the Fool, The Masterless Man and maybe the Merchant.
Avatars, pt 2
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 14: Avatars, pt 2
Who needs hands when you have this much style?
Brendan Behan’s pint glass sits behind the bar in a Dublin pub. Any who drink from it have words flow from them, but at what price?
Avatars are always so easy to explain...that's the point after all. They're not weirdos like the adepts, they represent iconic images that most people can understand by their title alone. In this case, the Fool. They are your lovable morons and feckless blunderers. They are the Homer Simpsons of the magickal world. The upside is their incredible luck and tendency to survive the disasters they themselves cause. Although they're somewhat similar to the Entropomancer they're less likely to seek out danger and chaos so much as they are likely to stumble into it by accident.
: First and foremost Fools are, at best, everymen. Having a Mind score higher than 50% breaks taboo. This mostly would probably happen as the result of some kind of temporary magickal "boost" but I suppose if a Fool ever bought up his Mind score above that level his avatar powers would simply gradually fade away as his skill keeps dropping. Likewise, the Fool must be gullible and trusting. You must take people at face value, walk into ambushes etc. Now, obvious indications of dishonesty and danger (dealing with someone who tried to cheat you the last 5 times is certainly cause for concern) aren't a problem but you've definitely got to have your "skepticism" dial turned down several notches.
This probably makes it very difficult for someone to channel the Fool dishonestly...but it's an amusing thought, imagining someone who takes all sorts of bad deals and walks into danger knowing its a bad idea. Of course that's often the very situation the
of a Fool Avatar will find themselves in.
Some believe Christopher Columbus stumbling into the New World by mistake indicates he may have been an Avatar, or Peter The Hermit who led the disastrous "pauper crusaders". Many politicians are possible Fool Avatars (Reagan and Clinton are both suspected but if the book was printed today I'm sure George W. would have received a mention).
You can make an Avatar check to locate some common item that would reasonably be found nearby. Need change for a meter? there's a quarter over there. Need something heavy, there's a random half-a-brick. Are you in a garage and need a wrench, one is sitting right next to you. So long as an object could plausibly be found it will be near at hand. This doesn't allow you to get items of exceptional value even if they would plausibly be in the location, just because you're at a bank doesn't mean someone "just happened" to drop a 100 dollar bill behind that potted plant.
Whenever you take damage you can make an Avatar roll to redirect the damage to someone else of the GM's choosing. As a result you lose your next action (suffering a pratfall or distraction that just happened to get you out of danger), although you can choose to accept the damage and act normally. Still, don't try and get into a one-on-one fight with a high level Fool or he will start Jackie-Chan-ing you to death.
You can be in the right place at the right time. This is identical to a Pornomancer Significant effect called Synchronicity which I don't believe I posted so I'll summarize here. Basically you can make your Avatar roll and just start walking and the GM will arrange it so that you arrive at wherever you are "supposed" to be. This isn't exactly fate, it's more about arriving in a situation that will be helpful to you or your cause at this time. If a friend of yours got kidnapped Synchronicty may take you right to the warehouse they're being kept..but it could also lead you to where a group of your enemies are plotting to ambush you and your friends in a couple of weeks...or take you entirely out of town if something
bad is about to go down.
Any attempts to harm you suffer a -30% shift automatically (requiring no roll or sacrifice on your end). If you want you can sacrifice your next action to forgo the -30% and make an Avatar check, reducing their skill by the number in the 1's place (so effectively exchanging a -30% for a -(1d10x10)%)...frankly I'd just stick with the -30%. The higher average doesn't seem worth sacrificing an action.
The Masterless Man
The Masterless Man can be summed up in two words: "Basically Shane"
Dolphins evolved from humans millions of years ago.
Although the Masterless Man resembles a "male" version of the Flying Woman there are some important distinctions. Both are independent and answer to no higher authority other than their own personal ethics. However, the Masterless Man is, by his nature, completely rootless. Although the Flying Woman may come into conflict with society the Masterless Man has no place in it at all. Although they may be
a "true calling" or a place to call home they can never find it (at least not without forsaking the Archetype). Although not strictly necessary, the Masterless Man generally represents the fear and attraction of an extremely dangerous man who answers to no-one but himself. While the Flying Woman is often rejected for who they are the Masterless Man is generally rejected for what they can do.
The Masterless Man is rare in modern society but incredibly popular in pop culture: Rambo, Jason Bourne, Mal Renolds, etc, etc. Historical versions of the archetype were the western gunslinger and the Japanese ronin and European knight errant are probably the origin of the Archetype. Only men can channel the Masterless Man.
Like the Flying Woman the Masterless Man's ultimate loyalty is only to himself. He may work for others, but only temporarily and only on his own terms. He may also put down permanent roots...owning any property that can't be easily be packed up and moved violates taboo (so you can rent an apartment, even put some stuff in there...but only enough that you can't easily leave town at a moment's notice).
: Davey Crocket was almost certainly an Avatar, along with many other notable frontiersmen and historical "cowboys".
Masterless Man Channels
Masterless Men are tough]. Once every 28 days you can make an Avatar skill roll in order to gain bonus Wound Points equal to your Avatar skill. This can functionally heal you if you're already injured and it can even take you over your normal maximum. However, any points over your maximum cannot be healed and are gone if lost due to injury. Otherwise they stick around until you next decide to use this channel.
If you try and attack someone and roll a failure that is still below your Avatar skill you can immediately re-roll. This can only be done once per round (so only one re-roll if you're making multiple attacks and you can't try and re-roll a second time).
Terminator Mode. If you are killed you can keep going by making an Avatar skill check at the start of every round. You won't die until combat ends or you fail the roll. This doesn't help outside of combat and your death is inevitable once you've been killed...you can keep fighting but there's no saving you.
Whenever you're hit by an attack that rolled under your Avatar skill the damage inflicts only the sum of the dice. This means firearms inflict hand-to-hand damage and weapons don't get any bonus. In the rare cases where the sum of the dice would inflict more damage (such as rolling a 10 on shooting which inflicts 10 damage as a gun but 11 damage as the sum) then you take the lesser amount.
Many esoteric economists (okay, about four esoteric economists) see the contests of the “robber barons” in 19th-century America as an occult contest to become the strongest Merchant.
Here's a tip for all you would-be dukes who might end up playing in a game of Unknown Armies, especially at Global or Cosmic level...
Don't. Fuck. With. A. Merchant.
If you think someone's a Merchant, especially if you think they have a skill of at least 50% or higher...do not screw around with them. Make a fair bargain. Keep your end of it and if they decide to alter the deal just pray that they do not alter it any further. You'll see why in a moment.
Ahem, anyway. The Merchant is another easily summed up Archetype. They embody the salesman and the deal-maker. They're often "in business" themselves but just as often they serve as a middle-man, negotiator and facilitator.
The Merchant must always come out on top in a bargain. A fair deal is fine, one that favors you is even better...but get cheated or swindled and you'll break taboo. The merchant can also never give anything away for free. "Thing" is the keyword, they can freely offer their time, affection, advice, services but cannot give away their money or goods without something in compensation. The bargain must be fair (so a merchant cannot give away 2000 dollars for a piece of gum) or you're breaking taboo anyway. Keep in mind that investments, loans and "gifts" intended as part of a negotiation to make someone more likely to deal are all fine.
Nasty thought...Merchant Avatars with children better have a significant other with a job who can do the shopping...otherwise no dinner unless the kids can pay for it.
: Just about any major business mogul has been suspected of being a Merchant, especially in the vicious days of early American industrialism.
You can manipulate someone's perception of value to get a better deal. This might allow you to inflate or deflate the perceived value of an object or let you warp their perception of what
valuable about the object (such as seeing a nickel as worth more than a dime because it is bigger). A normal success on your Avatar skill just gets you a great deal. A success that is also higher than the target's Mind stat allows you to convince them to accept deals that are blatantly stupid (trading a piece of wood whittled into a gun shape for their actual gun because it's "hand-crafted"). Keep in mind that this has to be in the context of a deal...if you've got nothing to offer in exchange it's pointless. It also doesn't force the subject to actually accept the deal...just to see it as a good bargain. This might require a Self check to resist in some situations (for instance if you're already looking for something similar to what the merchant is offering) but it won't force people to listen to you while in combat for instance.
At this point you can, with a successful Avatar roll, make Faustian Deals. Essentially you can facilitate the exchange (no giving, it must be an exchange of something) of things which are not normally tradable such as immaterial or spiritual exchanges or even material "goods" that can't normally change hands (such as youth, good looks or strength). Buying and selling souls is just the start. The only limit is that the bargain cannot involve magical or physical coercion (other forms of coercion such as blackmail are fine) and you must be up front about the terms. This includes your first Channel.
Remember why I said you do not want to mess with a Merchant? This is why. This is probably the single power with the greatest potential for abuse in Uknown Armies. With this power you can buy and sell stats, skills, even your
. The sky is literally the limit. Extremely powerful merchants can live indefinitely by purchasing years from the lives of others, their stats are likely to be sky high (imagine offering a homeless man 100$ dollars for 10 IQ points...now just keep repeating) and they'll be able to invest heavily in their Avatar skill since they can simply purchase skills from other people when needed. Now sure, you've got to have the resources to pay for these bargains...but the first channel is a great way to acquire capital. A Merchant can even act as a middle-man allowing two people to make a trade between one another and taking a cut for himself...so if you find a millionare who'd really like to live 10 more years and a dumb 20-something who really wants his student loans paid off you can make the deal happen for them and take your cut from both the cash and the time.
Obviously this is most abusable by NPC Merchants who've had years to accumulate mass quantities of skills and power...but even PC Merchants can get up to some shenanigans. Imagine a Merchant Avatar partnered with a Dipsomancer buddy. The Merchant buys the drinks and in exchange he gets every other charge the adept generates. Bam, minor charges literally on tap. Heck, help the same dipsomancer get a potent vessel and you're got significant charges flowing like beer...charges that the dipso would just lose in a few hours anyway. Use those charges to power ritual spells or if you're an adept you can use them for your own powers.
The Freak is scary but he's got nothing on his Merchant equivalent. Think twice about taking that hit on Donald Trump.
Everything after the second channel is more or less small fry, but just to add the cherry on top the Merchant can now summon demons and make bargains with it. This form of summoning is completely safe: the demon cannot attempt to possess you and you can dismiss it if no deal can be brokered. As per the second channel you can make deals for immaterial goods and even better, once the deal is made both sides are compelled to abide by it (this is important as demons would otherwise break any deal immediately). Those who know much about demons know that offering them your body temporarily is a great bargaining chip (and since the demon must abide by the deal you can even set hard limits on their behavior), making this a terrific source of knowledge skills and memories.
Anytime anyone wants to harm you they must pay you. It doesn't matter how much but it must be in the form of currency and must be given or thrown to you before anyone may attack you (whether you accept the payment is irrelevant). Each payment (regardless how big or little) buys only a single attack. Throw the Merchant your wallet stuffed with hundreds and you can still only make a single attack...but toss pennies at him one at a time and you can make an attack for every coin. Making the payment takes an action so even a well-funded attacker must still sacrifice every other action.
Everyone who wants to hurt you instinctively knows that they must give you money to do so.
Is anyone reading these? I'm totally running out of rumors
Next we'll go over the Messenger, the Mother and the MVP
Avatars, pt 3
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 14: Avatars, pt 3
When you’re drunk, reality opens up for you and allows you to fly away. Just remember to take your parachute with you.
The Messenger is the Archetype concerned with spreading knowledge and carrying news to those who need to know it. It's worth noting that the Archetype might be more accurately be referred to as the "Journalist" as its powers and themes share more in common with investigative reporters than the old-fashioned runners or pony-express letter carriers its name implies. This is actually quite important as the Messenger Archetype is currently the focus of a philosophical battle, the focus of which is Dermott Arkane (the unseen antagonist from the opening fiction), the most powerful Avatar of the messenger.
: The Messenger may never deny the truth. They can fail to mention information or provide false information in ignorance but can never outright deny something they know to be true without breaking Taboo. This alone gives Messenger Avatars a special place in the Occult Underground, as someone you can be fairly sure is not lying to you is a rare thing indeed. Interestingly you aren't actually penalized for
lies, just for denying true statements made by others. It's a bit of an odd distinction.
It's believed Paul Revere channeled the Messenger, as did the ancient greek soldier Pheidippides, making the Messenger one of the oldest "modern" Archetypes (meaning ones that haven't existed since the dawn of mankind).
When the Messenger speaks it is difficult to deny the truth of his words. To use this you must make an Avatar roll and be making a declaration that you firmly believe to be true
which is actually true. If you think you're telling a lie which just so happens to be the case it does nothing and likewise if you make a false statement you believe to be true. Anyone in your presence who knows the truth of the statement must acknowledge the truth of the Messenger's words. Resisting requires a Self or Helplessness Check (rank 6).
Again, this only affects those who already know the truth, it does not help you convince those who are ignorant...making it a powerful "interview" or interrogation tool but not actually that useful for simply delivery news (hence my earlier Journalist comparison).
If the Messenger is delivering information that would be important to the recipient (whether good or ill) they can make an Avatar roll to remove any physical impediments which may prevent them from reaching the target: gags fall out, doors unlock, knots untie, etc. Messengers make incredible process servers. This is limited to useful coincidences and minor physical alterations. You can unlock a door or unstick a window...you can't step through walls or walk on water.
With an Avatar roll you can perform divination rituals (your choice, tea leaves, tarot cards, etc) to learn about a person, place or thing. There are some limits: the [Noun] must be in your presence and the reply is limited to either vague prophecies or extremely specific 3 word statements. One of those "depends on the GM" abilities.
: This channel is maddeningly vague:
91%+: At this level, the Messenger can get to any important event, as long as he knows it’s occurring. He does not have to know where, or even what it is, but he can simply appear in the area, much like an Avatar of the Pilgrim. The limitation on this channel is that the Messenger can only go where an event is occurring—not where it’s going to happen or has happened. There is also a gray area about what constitutes an “important” event. A presidential assassination, an act of war, or the generation of a major charge all qualify, but for other events it’s up to the GM to decide. (GMs should be lenient, of course: if it’s important to a hundred people or more, this should work.)
Part of the issue is that it's referring to the Pilgrim's abilities for the exact effect (which is bad form when the pilgrim comes later in the book), and the Pilgrim has several abilities that allow them to get somewhere...their first channel lets them flip flop rolls to reach their destination, their second lets them travel cross-continent in a single day and their final channel lets them travel through any door or down any road and step out of any other door or road. So...which does the Messenger do? The text seems to imply the second or final channel but its not clear which. It's also unclear how exactly a messenger would travel to an event when he does not know "...where, or even what, it is...". Is it like Synchronicity? Just walk and you show up at whatever important event might be occurring somewhere in the world?
Cats are secretly the bodily manifestation of angels.
A lot of Archetypes start with the letter "M". Anyway, the Mother seems like another one of those Archetypes that need no introduction...but UA actually has a few twists that are worth noting. Obviously the Mother represents a nurturing, protective force of compassion and love. However, nothing in UA can be completely and utterly positive so there is also a dark side, the "devouring mother" who keeps her "children" dependent and under her thumb. It is also worth noting that this Archetype is not restricted by sex, men and women may channel the Mother.
: To harm or allow others to harm a child breaks taboo. Here "child" is defined as an actual adolescent (15 years or younger), although this is not the case for the Mother's channels. It notes that a "devouring" Mother might kill a child before allowing them to leave her...but wouldn't simply hurt them. It seems like it should really be the other way around, but whatever.
: Eva Peron is apparently hotly debated as a possible Avatar of the Mother, who I had to look up on Wikipedia. No mention of Mother Teresa? Really? Probably the most famous person with "Mother" in their darn name.
: Your comfort can heal both physical and mental wounds. All it takes is acts of physical and emotional comfort and a successful Avatar roll. This can either heal 5 points of damage or act as an application of psychological first aid. This only works on your "children". Children here is metaphorical (although it obviously works on your literal children), it can affect anybody who is at least 10 years younger than you and sees you as a maternal figure.
: You can go mama bear whenever your "children" (as defined in the previous channel) are threatened. It means you can use your Avatar skill in place of Initiative and Struggle skills and you get a +5 to hand-to-hand damage (in addition to weapon bonuses) against anyone who is threatening one of your children.
It's difficult for anyone to harm you, because its like hurting their own mother, inflicting a Rank-10 Self check. Even if they succeed they lose their first action making the roll. You can also use your Avatar skill in place of Charm. There's just one downside: you have to be pregnant for either of these to work...kind of sucks compared to the third channel for most other Avatars.
You cannot be killed while in the presence of an endangered child, you can keep going after reaching 0 until the threat is gone or until the child is dead/gone, at which point you die. It does not actually specify whether it means actual children or simply those who you see as your children (a distinction which was made for the first two channels).
The fate of the world rests upon the shoulders of seven honest and devout ordinary men. If there are ever less than seven, God will destroy this earth.
This one honestly always seemed a little shaky to me as an Archetype...but then again I'm not a sports guy so perhaps it's just my prejudice showing. But then again almost all other Avatars the book managed to "sum up" in just two to three short paragraphs (the merchant took only one) and the MVP takes up half a page to describe. In fact the description is a lot more like a sports-based Adept (bearing a lot of resemblance to the Videomancer in concept).
That could be an adept: Fanomancer. Paradox centered around devotion to an athletic ideal and way of life they'll never attain themselves.
Anyway, the MVP is about
an amazing athlete and a pillar of the community...making it completely unsuited to the standard gameplay of Unknown Armies. Can you imagine getting up to the sort of shit a UA PC gets up to while still having the time (and health) to practice and play
make sure you stay squeaky clean in public? This becomes increasingly obvious with the channels and it seems like the MVP is really just intended for NPCs to be used as catspaws by PCs or their rivals.
: The MVP must display good sportsmanship (dignity when losing and humility when winning) and must never be publicly proven to have cheated or broken the law. It's unclear if the second would basically void your status as an Avatar or if it just counts as a 1-3 point "ding" any time some scandal comes to light.
Michael Jordan, Mark MacGuire, Jesse Owens. Basically any big name in sports who wasn't also publicly known as a son-of-a-bitch was probably an Avatar to some degree or other.
For every thousand people watching and rooting for you, you get +1% to your [Sports] skill, up to a maximum of your Avatar Skill or your Body Stat. Even considering how weak the effect of a boosted sports ability is this channel kind of sucks...I mean your sports skill is almost certainly going to be higher than your Avatar skill at low levels (or you wouldn't be considered a very valuable player at all) and even once your Avatar skill is high enough that it might make a difference you run into the issue that your skill is probably already close to your Body already. Most MVP Avatars will spend the first 50 points in their skill on effectively nothing.
: When outnumbered in any kind of contest (this includes combat) your relevant skill goes up by 5% for each extra opponent and if you're behind in a competition you get +2% for each point you're behind. This can go over your relevant stat unlike the first channel, making it significantly more helpful.
Every time your team wins the GM makes some small improvement to the quality of life in the town or city the MVP lives in.
[i]91+%[/] By giving advice or encouragement to fans (or in the case of children, giving an autograph or other token) the MVP can erase failed or hardened notches from Madness Meters, so long as it hasn't been completely Hardened. This can be done a maximum of once per week.
There are eight insect legs in every bar of chocolate. And it’s some guy’s job to put them in.
Next we'll go with the Mystic Hermaphrodite, The Pilgrim and the Savage
Avatars, pt 4
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 15: Avatars, pt 4
The Mystic Hermaphrodite
Aleister Crowley designed the Susan B. Anthony dollar, and elements of that design have been used in the new dollar coin.
The Mystic Hermaphrodite is a bit of an odd duck, to put it mildly. It's one of those archetypes that, if you attempted to describe it to anyone out of context, would probably make almost no sense. Which makes it kind of questionable as an iconic "archetype" along the same lines as the Mother, Warrior, Merchant or even the odder or newer ones like the Flying Woman or MVP. If you can't really understand it after having it explained to you can it really count as a universal symbol of the collective unconsciousness? Even its claim that it represents the Archetype of magick itself (as the embodiment of paradox) seems fishy since paradox-based magick is really the new kid on the block rather than some ancient truth (and the book seems to indicate the Hermaphrodite is not a modern Archetype).
But then, as I was writing this very entry everything snapped into place and crystallized before me. The revelation was this...the Mystic Hermaphrodite is the Archetype of being David Bowie.
I don't think there's a better way to describe the Mystic Hermaphrodite other than "basically David Bowie". Or Prince, or Freddie Mercury or whoever you like. The weird allure and mystique of clashing masculine and feminine identities combined with odd-ball behavior and strange charisma.
Dedicating oneself fully to an ideal is taboo to the Mystic Hermaphrodite. They should be difficult to pin down and label and accepting being "pigeonholed" or committing to an extreme weakens your connection to the archetype. A diehard athiest would have trouble channeling the Hermaphrodite as would a devoted Christian, they are the agnostics and "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" type. Of course, this is all about
, an Avatar can believe whatever they like but acting on those beliefs can get them in trouble. This actually makes the Hermaphrodite exceptionally difficult to channel since you must carefully monitor your own behavior to ensure that it doesn't get colored by your own loyalties and beliefs, often forcing them to act against their own desires to "balance the scales".
: If she existed, Pope Joan was an Avatar. Christine Jorgensen (the first person to surgically transition) is also listed as an avatar. Other possibilities are Ru Paul and Lady Chablis.
Mystic Hermaphrodite Channels
On a successful roll you can understand someone's gender identity. This is more than just who they want to sleep with, it also covers how they define themselves relative to their gender: are they "butch"? A wilting violet? etc. It notes this can be unpredictable because it can just as easily detect the persona the individual is currently "projecting" as opposed to how they behave day to day. A closeted gay man in front of his parents is not necessarily going to "read" the same as he would out on a date with a guy (although in all cases you will know that they are homosexual).
: You can sense when gain mystic charges in your area (one mile per full 10 skill points). A success means you detect the charge gain and a sense of direction and intensity (whether it was a major, minor or significant charge). A matched success gives you an idea of the school that generated the charge (or if it was generated via rituals). This seems powerful but then I actually consider the sort of world described in UA...the impression I get is that magick is relatively thick on the ground in UA (relatively speaking). After all, there's at least enough Cliomancers around to swarm any significant charging sites...so as a general rule the mystic population of any large city is going to be pretty high so this sense will likely "ding" fairly often. It's certainly going to give the Avatar a headache when the dipsomancers get off work and start pounding down charges. Still I suppose the suburbs are a more appropriate place for the MH.
: Once per day with a successful Avatar roll you can switch your sex. A crit failure (00) traps you in between as an actual hermaphrodite, unable to change back (unless you were actually born a hermaphrodite) without other magick (such as epideromancy) or surgery. One reason why the Freak can do this more or less with impunity. If he screws up he can just spend some charges to swap back. This is a Rank 4 Self challenge (it would be Rank 7 for anyone else, but the MH is more prepared)
: Once per day you can charge up by messing around with your gender. Cross-dressing or otherwise symbolically messing with your gender role gets you a minor charge. Actual changing from male to female gets you a significant charge. You can use these charges for rituals or (if you're an adept) use them with your adept powers. You can also just squirt them out into the world to produce random unnatural phenomena.
This last channel is the reason why MH's are such powerful magick-users (the Freak especially). Remember, Adept laws do not apply to Avatars, so they are not bound by the Law of Transaction (hence they can use their third Channel to provide significant charges) nor are they limited by an Adept's taboo...that means that MH's can keep charges earned this way indefinitely and they can power up quite easily. Someone like the Freak can get 28-31 Significant charges per month, charges that he can use in his Epideromancy without having to wait days or weeks between charges to heal. Even if they aren't an adept they can make Authentic Thaumaturges look like chumps with the sheer quantity of charges they can produce.
The U.S. Patent Bureau hosts a special section for occult material, rituals, and mystic artifacts.
Pilgrims are, despite their name, not really religious. It's more about the journey and the destination than any particular reason
you're going. They share more in common with those who plunge into the wilderness or tackle unclimbable mountains than religious pilgrims. Whatever the reason they keep moving: they must always have a goal and must constantly be moving towards it. This makes it kind of a "make or break" Archetype for PCs. For a group that's relatively local, or has any goals other than the Pilgrim's it's completely unsuitable...but you could easily build an entire cabal around the Piligrim's quest: a pilgrim searching for proof of UFOs or Bigfoot is totally acceptable after all and everyone else can just jump in your mystery mobile.
If you ever spend a game session without doing something to try and get you closer to your goal it counts as breaking taboo. Likewise, giving up or changing your goal is grounds for taboo breaking. However, so long as you do pick a new goal you just get docked some points and you can keep pursuing the path. This also means that if you want to be a powerful Pilgrim you have to pick goals that can be worked towards but not completed, because otherwise you'll start getting your Avatar rating dropped every time you complete a goal and change to a new one (like the Masterless Man, actually achieving your goal is a violation of taboo).
Neil Armstrong is definitely a possibility. Most famous explorers qualify (Lewis and Clark, Robert Falcon Scott, etc), whether or not they were successful.
Name a goal and a skill to achieve it. The skill effectively becomes a second obsession skill, letting you flip-flop (although you can't get cherries for combat) so long as you are in pursuit of your goal. This lasts until the goal is achieved at which point you can name a new goal and a new skill. To "set" a skill you have to make an Avatar roll and a failure means that you can't use that skill with that particular goal (although you can try again with a different appropriate skill). However, if you ever abandon the goal you can never use this channel with that particular skill again.
Note that this is different from a Pilgrim's big "G" Goal. Having a Pilgrim Goal like "Find Proof of Atlantis" does not prevent you from using this channel with the goal of "Kick the ass of that dick who ran me off the road." Nor does completing and changing your channel goal hurt your Avatar rating.
With a successful Avatar roll you can travel cross-continentally in about a day. You start traveling and at some point things start to blur together and you end up at your destination, despite the distance. You can only do this alone and only once every 24 hours.
At this level you can use your dedication to force others to obey you. To do this lock eyes with someone and explain clearly and concisely what your goal is and why its important and make an Avatar roll. So long as your roll succeeds and makes it higher than the target's Mind or Soul (whichever is higher) the target will obey a simple command. The command can't be abhorrent or completely embarrassing/horrible (basically, nothing that would force a Stress check). Actively resisting requires a Self check equal to the 10's place on your roll. Amusingly, the command does not have to relate to your goal or its importance...
"I am on a cross-country trip because an insane wizard is trying to perform a ritual to turn everyone with a smartphone into a bloodthirsty ghoul. I'm going to stop him. Now, go get me a sandwich and thirty bags of M&Ms."
With a successful Avatar roll you can use any door, window or road into a portal to any other door, window or road. Your appearance and disappearances always go unnoticed (although your presence may cause a commotion, they just won't see how you got in). You can do this as often as you like and can bring along multiple people (but must make a check for each of them) and you have to have a clear mental picture of the place (a photo looks fine so long as you've memorized it or have it with you at the time).
Alternatively you can use this to trap someone by causing all passages they take to lead back to one place, like making all doors they go through lead them back to any location you choose. Escape is possible by simply smashing down a wall or digging out but even after that any door will take them back. This fortunately lasts only a few hours because it's only resistible with anti-magick rituals or by being an adept (in which case the Avatar has to roll higher than the adept's skill). The only other requirement is that you have to be looking at the target.
This is probably one of the most powerful channels in-and-of-itself (the merchant channel requires a lot of time and contacts to build to full power and the Mystic Hermaphrodite requires knowing rituals or being an adept to use at full power). The ability to more or less teleport anywhere you have a photo of (or already know) is extremely strong and (at this point) very reliable. A politically-minded Avatar of the Pilgrim could do some scary shit by moving freely into places like the Oval Office (pictures of which are easily available).
...then again I'd bet there are some places that use fake photos of offices of heads of state for security purposes. Would be amusing for a would-be Avatar assassin to end up walking onto a set stage in Nevada when they think they're stepping into the Oval Office. Kidnapping is probably easier though, so long as your target is making a public appearance somewhere, travel into the crowd and use your whammy on [Politician Name Here] and the next time they step through a door they end up in your Pulp Fiction-esque sex dungeon.
Either way, by itself this power has probably some of the strongest utility when used creatively and really puts many of the other 4th channels to shame. But to be fair, the Pilgrim probably has by far the strictest Taboo of any Avatar (except maybe the MVP or Savage).
In Memphis, there’s a phantom Piggly Wiggly. It’s where the local ghosts buy their groceries.
So, ran a little short this time but it gives me three to end the Avatar chapter with next time: the Savage, The True King and the Warrior.
Avatars, pt 5
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 16: Avatars, pt 5
The Golden Gate Bridge is laced together with yards of scar tissue. It’s the only thing holding California together.
Tarzan, Mowgli, your basic "raised by wolves" and/or "survivalist nutjob" kind of guy. The Savage is the Archetype that represents not only the absence of civilized society, but the active rejection of it. The Savage is as one with the birds and the beasts of the forest and field and maybe he might eat raw human flesh. Just sometimes. It's not a requirement.
: The Savage has two taboos. First, they must be simple and forthright. It's not so much that they can't lie as they can't lie well..successfully using a skill that manipulates language or emotion in a "devious" fashion is a taboo-breaker. Basically you can use your skills to clearly express things you feel passionately about but you can't use double-speak, manipulation or rhetoric. Just straightforward bald-faced lies won't necessarily break taboo...but you aren't likely to get away with them very well either.
The second taboo is that you can't have any skills above 30% that involve using, repairing or building machines without breaking taboo...this can actually be a bit of a danger: a critical success automatically increases a skill by 1%, which means if you're trying to game the Archetype by keeping several skills hovering right at the borderline there's the chance you'll accidentally learn too much and effectively wreck your Avatar status.
This is another one of those cases where the fact that taboos are the only measure of an Avatar kind of makes things a little hinky...30% is actually fairly high as far as Unknown Armies skills go...that's enough to know how to drive a car well (the default is 15%), use a computer, a smartphone and maybe even know a thing or two about mechanics or marksmanship. In fact you could own and use high-tech items every day without violating the Savage's taboo...heck I could potentially qualify as a Savage and I make every effort to never leave the city if I can help it. The Savage could make their living as an internet blogger and streaming "lets play" videos from their PS4. And unlike Avatars like The Mother, the Savage's powers are not exclusive to its role, being mostly combat/athletics buffs.
But, at the same time I will admit that the Savage's taboo is one of the more restrictive ones, especially since you've got to be careful not to just hover around that 30% mark thanks to that "+1" from critical successes. Ironically this means that the better a Savage is at using forbidden skills the more likely they are to try not to. A Savage with "Computer Hacker" at 20% might be happy to try and give cracking someone's laptop a shot...but once it's at 29% he's just two lucky rolls away from violating his taboo and he'll probably only try it in the most vital of situations.
: Many biblical hermits and wilderness prophets are considered as possible savages...and needless to say anyone living an actual tribal lifestyle is theoretically constantly channeling the savage but the book is thankfully thoughtful enough not to actually state that.
The savage is exceptionally strong and fast. This means whenever you are making a speed or body based skill and roll under your Savage skill you can add
10 points to your roll. Like the executioner this means that the skill is still a success even if the adjustment takes you above the skill rating. This only applies when using skills not related to machines (so firearms is out but knife fighting or archery aren't). Mainly this will be used to boost your Struggle skill.
You can now use your Savage skill in place of Climb, Swing From Vine, Run, Swim, Stealth, Tracking and Survival. If your Avatar skill is an obsession skill this then you can still flip-flop it when using this channel.
I've got to say I actually don't like how this works in practice. It runs into the whole "Avatars don't do things, they avoid doing things"...because these are all skills that it would be very appropriate for someone looking to channel the Savage to have and this channel renders any points you put into them completely irrelevant (unless they're higher than your Avatar skill in which case this channel provides nothing). Imagine someone trying to take up the mantle of the Savage...shouldn't someone like that be parkouring through the city, sneaking around the rooftops in their underwear and tracking their human prey through the alleys? Well, you better not because any points you put in the skills you need to actually live as your Archetype will be instantly wasted the moment your Avatar skill hits 51. It actually makes it harder to roleplay a character adopting the archetype because it disincentivizes you from actually learning the abilities you need to fill the role.
But as I pointed out you can just sit on the couch playing xbox until you hit 51%, so I suppose it all works out.
You can talk to the animals! With a successful Avatar roll you can command animals to follow your orders or ask them for information. Animals aren't too smart though so you don't get a lot of details from most questions and they can't do anything a well-trained dog couldn't. Still, pretty useful in many situations. There's a lot of houses you might be able to get in if you can talk the family dog into unlatching a window.
Bugs not included.
All magick and firearm damage is reduced by 20 points if the roll is lower than your Avatar skill. This makes you immune to minor blasts (which max out at 20) and means you can generally take a hell of a lot of bullets before going down. A Savage/Epideromancer could be a scary combo.
The True King
The Hertfordshire Constabulary is the only police force in Britain not headed by a Mason.
This is the "fisher king" archetype...the king who is one with their kingdom (despite the name men and women can be Avatars).
The True King's taboo is a bit more complicated than most. In order to become an Avatar of the True King you've got to have a Realm. A realm can be a place (The King of the Bronx), a group of people (the King of Hitchhikers) or a conceptual combination of both (King of the Slums, covering both the place and the inhabitants). The book is actually a bit contradictory here. It states that your Realm can be of any size but then later on we get a breakdown of the "Realm" rules where it states that your Land can only cover (Avatar Skill) miles radius and you can only have Followers equal to your Avatar skill as well. So really, you can't have a very big domain at all...which is probably a good thing (see below).
Your taboo is that you can never act against your Realm or allow outside forces to harm it. In practical terms this means that your Realm had better be pretty small...you can theoretically be "King of The Greenvale Apartments" and you can work to defend anyone in the apartments from being harmed or the building itself from being vandalized or condemned...but there's no practical way to respond to dangers on a global or even city-wide scale, at least without some sort of significant connections.
In exchange you can ask your Followers to face danger on behalf of you and the Realm (although suicide missions are only a last resort), but you still have to look out for them and make sure they've got what they need to do their job and stay as safe as possible.
Here's a hint, pick a place as your Realm, never go with
followers because if you ever completely lose your Realm your True King skill instantly drops to zero. It's relatively easy to ensure the Realm of "Beech Park" doesn't simply vanish but being King of a gang or cult is just asking for all your Followers to get ganked.
Arthur is kind of the ultimate symbol of the True King (which is ironic, because he is
the current Archetype). Just about any charismatic leader (royal or not) is seen as channeling the Archetype.
True King Channels
You can sense danger to your Realm with an Avatar skill check. You can also use this actively (rather than just getting "pinged") to call any Followers. This doesn't compel or provide any information, they just know there presence is desired.
While in your Realm or within sight of (Avatar/10, round down) followers you get +10% to all actions.
You can transfer injury between yourself and your followers and/or land. The rules get a little complicated:
-Your land has effective Wounds equal to you and you can swap points (healing you by draining it and vice versa) so long as you are within it. The land also begins to reflect your general condition (if you get ill or injured it'll show signs of problems)
-You can drain points from one of your Followers by touch, but this requires consent...although you can compel consent by whatever means you wish. You have to protect your followers from outside threats...you can hurt them as much as you want.
-You can act as a conduit between followers and the land or between different followers.
In practice this makes a True King with both a Land and Followers the best healer in the game, so long as everyone he's trying to heal is one of his Followers. It's easy to use the Land in order to easily heal critical wounds to yourself or an ally and then "tax" your followers 1-2 wound points each (which will heal in 1-2 days) to restore the land.
You can punch people with a building. Basically you can channel your Struggle skill "through" your Land. This lets you make attacks against anyone in your Realm using various objects terrain features (which count as weapons...make a tree branch fall on someone and you get +6 for being big and heavy.). Or you can grant one of your followers a moderate boost for 15 minutes. They have to be within line of sight and they have to have the appropriate skill already. Make an Avatar roll and the chosen skill gets a boost equal to the sum of the dice for 15 minutes.
honestly, this doesn't so much say "deadly opponent" as it does "topless hula girl with sunglasses"
The Freak has raised a great deal of money by using random magick to heal those whose illnesses are incurable to medical science.
Unlike most RPGs, the term "warrior" has a bit more complexity than just "guy what fights". To be a Warrior is to have an ideological opponent which you are engaged in a battle with. This may be a very literal battle but it can also be metaphorical. Either way the goal is to eliminate, permanently and absolutely, the chosen foe. You can declare "war" on a group (Terrorists, Racists, Christians, etc), a problem (Poverty, Breast Cancer, Drugs) or even just an idea or class of objects (books, guns, etc).
Yes, you can be engaged in a War on Violence.
I've got to say, the Warrior is probably my favorite Avatar as far as design goes (the concept is fairly appealing too). It fits perfectly into the world (especially the modern world), is easily understood and at the same time has enough complexity that Warrior Avatars are not going to be cookie-cutters of one another (unlike say the Executioner or Savage). The Taboo is demanding and also interesting and, most importantly, it drives the Warrior to act out their archetype rather than simply avoiding certain acts. It's too bad there aren't more Avatars like this.
: To be a Warrior means you can
back down, no matter how much you want to or how much you
. A cop who is part of a War on Crime cannot avoid acting to stop a crime in progress...no matter how outnumbered or outgunned he may be or even if the crime is a little kid who grabbed a piece of gum. That kid is in handcuffs. Basically like a modern-day version of the most ass-sticked paladin you can think of.
Like the Masterless Man and the Pilgrim, actually achieving your goal more or less invalidates your Avatarhood. So remember, if you declare a War on Steve you're not going to make it very far as an Avatar (a War on Steve
, however, could make for a very interesting campaign).
This is one of those "too many to name" categories. Every great ideological movement or counter-movement has had Warriors. Anywhere someone is willing to do "whatever it takes" to support their cause. Specific examples include John Brown and Alexander the Great...but could just as easily count members of the Taliban.
: The Warrior never makes Stress checks when pursuing his goal. No hardening of failed notches, they can just completely bypass the check. It's notably that this is, in many ways, much much stronger than the first channel for most Avatars because it requires no Avatar check to use. It just automatically kicks it with even 1% in the skill. That means, in game, all it takes is one month of indoctrination to turn
into a Warrior who can then pursue their goal with no need to make Stress Checks.
When pursuing their goal the warrior is literally immune to
...they could torture someone to death over a past due library book or use their own children as guinea pigs for research.
Honestly though...this is disturbingly close to reality. That's part of what makes the Warrior Avatar so unsettling and (in light of recent events) actually a bit difficult to talk about. I have a hard time criticizing how easy it is to take someone who may otherwise be nice and good and turn them into a remorseless psychopath in pursuit of a particular vendetta. This is sadly where UA probably matches up most closely with the real world.
You can inspire others. Any allies fighting alongside you for your cause gain a +10% bonus to relevant skills. You don't get this bonus yourself but you can be inspired by another warrior and vice versa but the bonuses don't stack.
Oddly enough that's a second ability with no actual skill check required.
You can now use your Avatar skill in place of one other skill that is suitable for your cause (and that has already been used in pursuit of it). Ehh...okay, I take back some of the praise for the Warrior...it's first two Channels don't require the Avatar skill and here we've got another one of those "use Avatar in place of a skill you've already invested points in, wasting those points". It's going to really suck if, by the time your Warrior skill gets to 71%, you've already built up your Firearms or Struggle or whatever skill to 40-50% because that's 40-50 points that you will now get no benefit from.
You now cannot be harmed by anyone who represent your opposition. It's important that not only do you oppose them but that are attacking you
of that allegiance. If you are at War with drug-users you can still be hurt by someone who shoots up with weed or smokes LSD or snorts hash or whatever...but if they are attacking you in retribution for wrecking their drug lab, or because you're a DEA agent on a raid, etc.
Again we've got another channel with no skill use...it's not like I would even complain if it weren't for the fact that almost every other Avatar's channel interacts with their skill rating in some way. Even when it's really pointless to demand a skill check (like when you're already above 90%) or when you can just keep trying anyway (like the merchant's second channel). It's just odd that the Warrior apparently only uses its skill rating for the third channel and to determine which channels are unlocked.
Whew, done with the Global section. I was really running out of quotes
So, that's Avatars done and the global section as well. next we'll move on to Cosmic gameplay, wherin the secrets of the universe are revealed and we get to see who really gets to shape reality. Hint, it ain't adepts.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 17: Cosmic Gaming
The Big Picture: Cosmic Level
So, at the Street level you're basically just blundering around in the dark. You're ordinary people blundering randomly into various flavors of "fucked up" below the surface of the day-to-day world.
At the Global level you are one of those fucked up things that Street level characters blunder into...or at least you're friends with one...or you know one...or you're out to kill one (or more). In terms of enlightenment, a Street level character might have a book of matches, you've got a flashlight.
Then we come to Cosmic level play, and you're upgraded from "duke" to Lord. If a duke is exploring a big dark room with a flashlight, you've turned the lights on...and you can see just how dark things are outside the windows.
Basically, the point of that tortured metaphor is to explain that Cosmic-level play involves "big picture" stuff. Despite the name, Global characters rarely have a significant impact on the world at large (especially the mundane world). They have enough knowledge and power to have goals, but those goals are primarily personal (get rich, powerful, safe, etc). They may know a few things that are (mostly) accurate about the supernatural but it's mostly in the realm of hard, basic facts. They're the mystical equivalent of "upper middle class".
Cosmic level Lords, on the other hand, know some capital "T" Truths about the universe. They don't know everything, but they've got a pretty good handle on some major facts about how the universe itself really works and the power (mystical or otherwise) to do something about it. Playing on the Cosmic level is about more than just screwing around with a city, establishing a power base or even fucking around with "mundane" politics. It's about actually shaping society, reality and the future.
However, with the bigger playing board comes bigger problems and there's no way one person alone can really start to warp reality. You've got to work together with someone who shares your views, or claw out a fresh new faction of your own and join in conspiracy games.
So...what are the cosmic Truths? Here's the breakdown.
: Reality is more than just a bunch of big rocky balls spinning around bigger, hotter balls. Outside of the realm of human experience is the unseen world of the Statosphere. The Statosphere is...vaguely defined. Merely knowing it exists is one of the big secrets that separates a Global level duke from a Cosmic level Lord, so even the Lords don't actually know what it's like. You can go there, but you better hope the trip is one way because the fall is rough.
The Invisible Clergy
: One fact that is known about the Statosphere is that it is where the Archetypes live, for lack of a better word. Collectively, the Archetypes are known as the Invisible Clergy. And here's the thing about them...they aren't just Jungian icons given form by the mass unconsciousness. Each Archetype was once (and in many ways still is) a living human being. At some point in the past some human so perfectly embodied a nascent concept that helped define humanity that they shot out of reality and into the Statosphere, becoming one of the Archetypes. The Warrior was probably the first prehistoric rock-wielder who decided to pick a fight for reasons of
rather than simply because they were hungry, scared or horny. This is still happening (as can be seen by the Ascension of Archetypes like the MVP and the Naked Goddess) and if you can find an open slot and make it important enough to the world, then you too can carve out a space among the Invisible Clergy
The second big Truth about the clergy is the fact that not only were they humans who ascended and not only can humans
ascend to the Clergy...but you can actually
an existing Archetype. If you can successfully be a become a greater embodiment of the Mother than the current Archetype then up you go to the Statosphere and she goes hurtling earthwards. Replace an Archetype and you get to redefine it to suit your idiomatic view of the concept. That's why the Messenger today is more of a journalist and investigator than a runner or postman. An Archetype who has been kicked out returns to the world as a mortal, knowing that they were an Archetype but with only fragmentary memories.
Why do all of this? Well, here's the final big Truth. There are a limited number of thrones in the Invisible Clergy, three hundred and thirty-three to be exact. Once all of those spaces are filled
the world will end
. Obviously, some Lords want to simply try and stall the inevitable by preventing ascensions, but most are right on board...so long as they like the Clergy members in power when the end comes. This is because when the Clergy is full and the world does end the 333 members of the Invisible Clergy get to create the next one. Their values and ideals can become literal laws of the universe in the next world.
Ascension is what it's all about on the Cosmic scale. Find a guy whose views match yours and help them ascend so you can be sure that Nice Guys (tm) don't get Friendzoned in the next universe, or to make sure that meat isn't so delicious and everyone loves vegetables. Whatever your weird obsession, this is your chance to see that it gets a vote in the cosmic committee. Is there an Archetype that represents values you find reprehensible? Manipulate the collective unconscious and help a competing Avatar oust them to make sure there aren't dicks being dipped in the big existential soup. Become an Avatar, then an Archetype yourself so you can make sure the dick everyone tastes will be yours.
: One thing that everyone is pretty sure of is that humanity is all there is. There might be other worlds, there might even be life out there (if the Clergy chooses it to be so), but ultimately the universe revolves around humanity. We created it, we live in it and we'll destroy it to create the next one. You did it. The universe is ultimately a democracy of the subconscious and everything about humanity, good and bad, influences how it will turn out (and in turn how the next one will be formed). The one constant is free will. No matter what happens it can always be changed if there's enough people out there who want it badly enough.
The Comte de Saint Germain
: The Comte (who I will stubbornly insist on referring to as the Count going forward) is believed to be the only true immortal of the Unknown Armies universe, known also as the First and Last Man. He is the janitor of reality and its his job to make sure that the rules of the cosmos don't get too badly bent and to patch up the holes and clean up suspicious fluids clogging up the plumbing of the universe. Once 332 Archetypes has Ascended then Saint Germain will, inevitably, ascend as the 333rd, ending the universe. When the Clergy create a new universe and vanish, he is born again as the first human and the cycle continues. Essentially he is the ultimate GM plot device.
This is my preferred interpretation of the Count:
: This is one mystery that is still causing the Lords some trouble. It is known that souls (or something resembling souls) exist...but what that actually means is up for debate. Demons are pretty well known...they're the souls of those who died while pursuing overwhelming obsessions...especially (but not exclusively) Adepts. They're compelled to struggle to return to the material world, get a body and keep pursuing their insatiable obsessions. Even worse, if they
adepts when they died they can still perform magick (so long as they can get a body with which to get charges).
I'll be skipping some stuff that gets explained better later, and next time we'll get to the chapter on how Avatars can Ascend.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 18: Going Up?
Assumption and Ascension
Hobos and some homeless are disappearing near an old abandoned railroad yard. It lies near some mountains and is supposed to serve as a gateway to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. This only is supposed to happen once in a blue moon though. Literally.
So, it was revealed that, despite being somewhat unassuming compared to adepts, avatars are actually the ones who have the key to god-hood (or at least as close as you can get). How does all this work? Glad you asked!
Each Archetype has one, single Avatar who is the best in the world, with a skill of 99% in their Avatar skill (the Archetype itself has 100%, obviously). [highlander voice]There can be only one [/highlander voice] Avatar in the world with a 99% rating at a time. The highest ranked Avatar of an Archetype is called the Godwalker. Being a Godwalker comes with two perks:
When you become the Godwalker you get a divine vision of the Statosphere and a brief glimpse of the entire cosmos...along with the knowledge that they are a significant part of it now (kind of a reverse Total Perspective Vortex). In this moment you get to create a new, 5th Channel (although you can put it off). Each Godwalker gets to create their own, custom channel for this final slot. In addition, the glimpse of the Statosphere gives the Godwalker a new skill called Symbolsight (at 15% to start) which lets you see magick and astral beings as well as the "symbolic" nature of an object (for instance, Symbolsight could discern the difference between a normal cup and a Dipsomancer's significant vessel by their symbolic associations). This also lets you spot other Avatars.
Second, the Godwalker is the only one able to oust the existing Archetype. This can make you either the Archetype's biggest rival...or their best friend. Some Godwalkers are fine with the status quo and serve as effective "gatekeepers" to the statosphere. It doesn't matter how many pissed of 98% Avatars there are out there who want to change things...so long as the Godwalker is still around they can't touch the Archetype. And if the Archetype and their Godwalker get along well you can bet the Godwalker is going to be heavily protected.
Here are some of the example custom Channels:
*The Freak (Mystic Hermaphrodite) has not yet chosen its channel.
*Donald Ramses, Godwalker of the Savage, causes all machines within a mile of himself to shut down. (Great adventure idea, kidnap Ramses and figure out some way to use him as a sort of human EMP weapon...just imagine the chaos of him moving through a major city).
*Toshishiro Yamamura, the godwalker for the Masterless Man, has made it so that no other "ronin" (i.e. other Avatars of the Masterless Man) may use their Avatar channels when fighting him. I can only assume that this guy is a massive nerd.
*Dmitri Carnovski, godwalker of the Fool. Whenever he plays music everyone must drink, dance and party, like a mystic Andrew WK.
*Lucy Watkins, godwalker of the Flying Woman. She can free any woman from emotional bondage, removing unwanted guilt, sadness and unrequited love.
* Ibrahim al Masrah, godwalker of the Executioner, cannot be killed by any Israeli. Beware Godwalkers who're willing to get political.
*Thorvald Drake, godwalker of the Merchant, has expanded his 2nd Channel to allow him to alter past events. For example, take a person dying of advanced, untreatable cancer. Thorvald can not only get rid of the cancer...he can give the guy back the 2, 3, 5, ten whatever years of chemotherapy and pain. Remember what I said about fucking with the Merchant? I'll repeat it here:
. I know that I would pay literally any price (including multiple murders) to undo certain past events...I imagine any attempt to even remotely inconvenience Thorvald will be met with swift retaliation by every major country, because you
he's got the leaders of the world in his pocket.
Godwalkers, by their nature, must be
careful about Taboo...break it and you lose that 5th channel and your Godwalker status. Even 1% off is a disaster of epic proportions. They also tend to produce symbolic events and motifs (odd smells, minor unnatural events, coincidences, etc) as a sign of their presence.
Okay, so you aren't a Godwalker yet, but you want to be and you've got your Avatar skill to 98%...what next?
The "easiest" form of Assumption. Once you hit 98%, if you can kill the current Godwalker in a symbolically appropriate way without breaking Taboo yourself then you get to assume their position. The death must by symbolically appropriate for the Archetype. For instance the godwalker of the Executioner might be formally executed (which of course you must have orders to do otherwise you break taboo). Other examples would be arranging for the Fool to kill himself in a clumsy accident or to hunt down and murder the Dark Stalker when he's helpless and alone.
In those cases where actually killing someone is inappropriate to the Archetype you can still perform a closed Assumption by symbolically defeating them (usually by also forcing the to break taboo in the process. For instance, cheating the Merchant. You might trick the Peacemaker into trying to kill you or persuade one of the Mother's children to murder her for you. Remember, it only works if you're already at 98% and you're behind the event. If you're some 15% Avatar chump who managed to screw over the Godwalker then you get nothing, other than a story no one is going to believe. Likewise if you're a 98% Avatar and the godwalker dies due to events you did not orchestrate then you don't get to automatically ascend as well, no matter how symbolically powerful the event is.
Once the godwalker is dead or dethroned then tag! You're it. You automatically take their place as the Godwalker and get to make your new Channel.
If a godwalker dies or is deposed in a non-ritual context (say the Mother accidentally harms a child, or the Executioner chokes on a hamburger) then their position becomes open. Any Avatars at 98% get an itchy, urgent feeling (although they don't directly know what's happening if they're already this powerful they probably have a pretty good idea) and become potential heirs to the godwalker position.
To boost yourself to 99% and godwalker status you've got two options:
1) get rid of the competition. If you're the only Avatar at 98% then the position is automatically yours...so simply murdering every other potential heir is an option. Forcing them to break Taboo works but since the difference between 98 and 97% is only a few XP points away you probably want to opt for a more permanent solution. As a bonus all potential heirs become symbolically linked, not quite Proxies but attempts by one heir to magickally spy or search for another get a 30% boost.
2) perform a ritual act to give you the metaphysical momentum to take the top seat. The Warrior might topple a major representation of their foe (for instance, if a member of Seal Team 6 happened to be a Warrior dedicated to the War on Terror then the death of Osama Bin Laden could certainly have qualified). The Executioner might assassinate a world leader. The more symbols of your Archetype (and generally mystically potent symbols) you can pack in the better. If you do good enough you can take the seat.
Of course, if your Archetype doesn't yet have a Godwalker (such as the Naked Goddess, or likely the MVP) then you can just assume their position by reaching 99% in the Avatar skill before anyone else.
There is a .45 caliber pistol floating around the under-ground. Anyone who has it becomes the host to the spirit inside. The spirit is the actual form that the Sleepers travel in. It passes from body to body hunting the over-obvious mages.
Ascension is when a mortal actually turns into an Archetype.
Normal Ascension is when a normal mortal (not an Avatar) becomes so utterly in tune with some newly developed aspect of human existence that they spontaneously Ascend as a new, previously unnamed Archetype. The rapid changes in society have led to a lot of those recently. The Naked Goddess is the most well known since she's the first to do so on film. Ascension is more or less just a natural phenomena: the collective unconscious forms a new niche and demands a mortal to fill it.
This can also happen when society no longer truly fits the Archetype and actively "rejects" the current one. For instance, the first woman to give birth is believed to have Ascended as the original Mother...but at some point she likely got spat out and replaced as the image of motherhood evolved in society.
It's noted that although a certain amount of fame can help a spontaneous ascension, actual celebrity status seems to act as an "insulator" against it...the more well known and famous you are the less likely you are to be plucked from reality. That's probably why Manson hasn't Ascended as the Psychopath or and Tom Hanks hasn't become the Nice Guy.
This actually makes it very difficult for anyone to say how many Archetypes there actually are at any given time...most natural Ascensions occur completely unnoticed and there's no big "list" of Archetypes available to anyone (and no way to simply stroll up to the Statosphere and count the empty chairs). Even when an Ascension is known to have happened, there's no way to actually say what form the new Archetype has taken. The Naked Goddess is a good example. Common theory is that she Ascended as The Girl Everyone Can Have But You...but despite pornomancers religiously (literally) emulating her life and behavior there's no sign of any of them developing spontaneous Avatar connections...so who knows what she actually became.
It's possible to try and "force" a standard Ascension and actually
a new Archetype...but it's really really tough. This only works if there isn't an Archetype already in place for the concept you're trying to create...but at the same time there's got to be the potential.
To force an Ascension you must become an Avatar of a non-existent Archetype, behaving just like an Avatar of the archetype would...but getting no powers for it. You've got to come up with a set of taboos and symbols for your Archetype and then have to start buying up the Avatar skill using XP...a skill that does
. You've got to get it up to 99% and only then can you actually try to Ascend. This requires a major symbolic act, preferably in public. Then..maybe...you ascend. If the act fails then nothing happens...and nothing will happen. You get one shot at Ascension and if it fails then you don't get to try again.
For instance, if you believe that there's room in the Clergy for the Archetype of the Gamer. It's a new enough concept that an Ascension might not have occurred yet but at the same time it's an idea building momentum in the world. Well, after you manage to rack up your Avatar: The Gamer score to 99% you've then got to come up with some big gesture that will catapult you over the edge. Maybe you kidnap video game icons like Shigeru Miyamoto or Hideo Kojima and force them to compete in a game tournament...to the death! Alternatively, you might successfully launch and win a "video game superbowl", a world-wide professional gaming championship which receives major attention. Or just liquify and then drink one of every game system ever produced.
If there's already an Archetype out there (and it's still going strong in the collective unconscious) then it's only possible to challenge it by walking the Avatar path and becoming the Godwalker. This is almost impossible to do if you're too "close" to the current Archetype...the Avatar of the Mother probably not going to Ascend if she's just like the current Mother: a matronly figure with lots of children and an open heart. However, if the Godwalker of the Mother is has strong symbolic differences from its Avatar then you're in business. For instance, if the godwalker of the Mother was barren and has only adoptive children then she might have the oomph to push the current Mother out. Or if the Godwalker of the Mother is a man rather than a woman.
To do this you first have to perform a symbolic "declaration of war", emphasizing your "take" on the Archetype. For instance, if the Godwalker of the Fool was trying to redefine the Fool as the "Sad Clown" (a figure of sorrow and angst rather than comedy) they might arrange an accident which takes several lives or even one that is tragic but in some way darkly humorous. Arranging for the death of a major comedy icon would probably be an excellent example, especially in a way that reveals that their life was actually quite unhappy.
After you've thrown down the gauntlet its war between you and your Archetype. You want to make sure you've got a
ready. Your Sanctum is a place that echoes with the power of your particular flavor of the Archetype. The Sad Clown godwalker might set his Sanctum in a decaying fairground and fill it with mannequins in clown makeup or posters of famous comedians who died tragically. At the same time you should also include an outer layer that inverts the Archetype, serving as a kind of "moat". For instance, to deflect the power of the Fool you might arrange for the area to be surrounded in places of serious, dull tedium...accountancy offices for instance. Depending on how well you've constructed these elements you might get bonuses to resist attempts to affect you while protected by your sanctum.
Needless to say, it's a good idea to start throwing out Proxies as well to try and throw both the Archetype and any would-be godwalkers off your scent (and redirecting attempts to magickally attack you). And having allies is very important. Cabals geared around helping (or preventing) an Ascension are the bread-and-butter of Cosmic-level games.
Meanwhile, the Archetype is trying to find high powered Avatars who'll make a good replacement for you and pointing them your way, as well as trying to arrange for you to break Taboo to invalidate your godwalker status. Outside of your Sanctum the Archetype can meddle with probability to make things go wrong for you (even if it can't kill you outright) and aid your enemies. The Sad Clown is probably going to have a lot of dumb drunks stumbling in front of his car when he's trying to get somewhere important, find "Punk'd" style reality shows suddenly targeting him every waking moment and any attempts they make to get stuff done will be hampered by bumbling incompetence.
Unfortunately, you can't strike back at the Archetype directly and just holing up in your Sanctum leads to a stalemate. In order to fight you've got to start to get your version of the Archetype planted in the minds of people everywhere. In the modern world this often happens through the media. The Sad Clown might bankroll depressing Oscar-bait biopics about famous comedians whose lives were a mess like Richard Prior or Lenny Bruce. Or a TV series about a stand-up comedian whose life is shit because their dreams keep falling apart. Arranging for the murder, overdose or accidental death of famous comics would work as well. The more symbolically powerful the act the better. For instance, arranging for a well known physical comic to take a fall on camera, everyone laughs assuming it's an intentional pratfall only to find out he's actually dead (or even better, crippled for life and unable to perform ever again).
You can also sabotage the Archetype in more direct ways if you can figure out who they "were" in the past. Find their grave, despoil it. Fuck around with their family or descendants (even potentially turning them into proxies to be used against the archetype). Find any lasting symbols of their legacy and have them destroyed, inverted or otherwise ruined.
Once the fight begins you're in it for the long haul because clawing an Archetype out of the Statosphere is
and you'll likely be at it for a decade or two. Finally, once everything builds to a head comes the Test. A situation arises that challenges your dedication to your "version" of the Archetype. There's no getting around this with magick, planning or firepower. This is about figuring out if you're willing to stick to your guns no matter what. The approach of the test is heralded by subtle changes and cues in the world and pop culture that will clue the godwalker and the archetype into the approach of the final "battle".
For instance, the Sad Clown godwalker might be offered actual, real happiness. Their estranged family comes to them with an offer of reconcilliation, their wife's tumor spontaneously goes into remission and they get offered a "dream job" making others and themselves genuinely happy and being successful for the rest of their life. All they've got to do is just be happy.
And they've got to push that aside and keep going down the path they've chosen. If they can do that then the Statosphere opens up and accepts them and the previous Archetype is pulled kicking and screaming into one of the Rooms of Renunciation to be remade and shat out into the mortal world again. Hopefully it was worth it.
There’s a new duke on the scene who claims to be channeling The Guy With Pencils Stuck In His Eyes. He can see just fine, though; nobody really believes him, but nobody wants to mess with him either—just in case.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 19: Going Down
Rolling a dollar bill into a pellet and swallowing it with a mouthful of New Coke protects you against Plutomancer spells until the next time you handle money.
So, Demons have been mentioned in passing during the Global section and they probably didn't come off as too scary. They're not bat-winged monsters or tentacled horrors from beyond...they're just the disembodied spirits of dead assholes. Well, here's where we cover why demons are dangerous.
As mentioned previously demons are the souls of once-living humans. No one really knows what precisely happens when someone dies but it's known that only Demons ever come back to the land of the living. Most souls, wherever it is they end up, just don't respond to attempts to summon or communicate with them. Demons are humans who were consumed with an overwhelming Obsession and their only goal is to get back into the living world to pursue that obsession. Unfortunately, Adepts are far more likely to become demons than normal people. To this end they will do whatever it takes to get control of a human body. They are the crackheads of the cosmos.
It doesn't matter who someone was before they became a demon, they will now do
to get your body (or anyone else's). An activist who died obsessed with the fight for civil rights will gladly eat babies if it means they can take over some meat-bag and get back to the picket lines.
Only Dipsomancers and Entropomancers have formula spells for demon summoning but most other schools of magic can finagle it as an appropriately themed Random Magick. When you summon a demon it joins you in your brain and the two of you get a chance to talk. The better your skill roll the more likely you got a demon that it similar to the kind you're looking for (such as the soul of a former adept, or the soul of someone who knows about the Sleepers, etc). Good successes give you bonuses to any control attempts you might make. Failures lead to nothing but a critical failure gets you automatically possessed.
If you're looking for a specific individual (That asshole Jim). This costs twice as much and requires you to roll under half your skill (a roll above half that's still a success produces a demon whose lying about its identity).
Controlling demons requires a ritual or a spell like the Entropomancer's Cage The Dead. This lets you make a Soul roll which has to both succeed and exceed the Demon's Soul rating (if the demon has a higher soul rating you automatically fail unless you get a matched roll).
A failure means the demon has you for [Soul] Minutes before you can make another Soul roll to take control. A matched failure means [Soul]
. Critical failure means your body belongs to the demon now. Forever.
If you manage to keep the demon from taking over you can make a request, which requires another opposed Soul roll to force the demon to obey (fortunately only matched failure leads to possession).
Very rarely you can simply negotiate with a demon without resorting to straightforward tests of will. Since demons are, by nature, liars and cheats you can count on them cheating unless you've got some serious firepower to back up your side of the deal. The threat of destruction or imprisonment is one of the few things that can get a demon to actually stick to a bargain.
Once a demon has your body they've got full access to your physical stats, but no access to your memories or magickal ability (fortunately the demon's actions do not count as taboo breaking for avatars or adepts). I can use your other skills, but at only half their normal rating. They also have the vaguely defined "Get Back Up" skill that allows them to shrug off debilitating effects from poison, sickness or injury and force their body to keep going.
Demons can spit out minor random unnatural phenomena once per hour and a significant phenomena once per day (think the random shit that happens during an exorcism movie). A demon that knew rituals in life can use those and a former adept can use its powers so long as it can get charges (be really careful summoning epideromancer demons...they don't really care about the consequences of gaining Major charges).
Demons are not considerate tenants. They will use your body to pursue their obsession as thoroughly and quickly as possible (along the way they'll probably partake in any physical pleasures they missed or pursue any vendettas they might still have). No matter what happens you have no memory of it while the demon is in control.
They don't care much about their "host" but demons will almost never cut their "stay" in the body short by letting it die. Really vengeful demons might arrange for death-traps that will kick in after their possession ends (time bombs, poisoning, etc) but will always seek to keep pursuing their obsession as long as possible.
It's also possible for someone to accidentally summon a demon. Anyone with a Soul score of 80 has a chance to accidentally summon a demon when they make attempts to contact "the other side". It could be a seance, a ouija board, prayers to a dead relative, whatever. Unfortunately these victims are almost automatically possessed for [Soul] hours until they can try and break free (which fortunately, due to their high Soul rating, is fairly reliable).
It's also implied that a summoned demon can snatch someone else's body once they're in the mortal world but how this works is never explained.
What Can Demons Do
One primary use for demons is simply information. Being dead they seem to know a fair amount about the spirit world. Most demons know about the Archetypes and the Statosphere as well as the death and rebirth of the world (in fact this is where most of this cosmic knowledge comes from...which makes you wonder what demons
telling us). They never like to talk about the nature of the afterlife itself other than vague references to the Veil and creatures they call only "the cruel ones". Some demons know more than others (some might know information about the identity of specific Archetypes, who the Count de Saint Germain is, etc).
Demons can also teach you how to create artifacts. They have an unfortunate tendency to create "trap" artifacts that make demonic possession easier.
Very simply demons also make effective spies: being invisible and incorporeal there's not many places they can't go. Their ability to produce unnatural phenomena is not powerful enough to be dangerous but it can be an effective way to simulate hauntings or to gaslight someone (simply forcing Unnatural checks on an enemy can be a pretty powerful strategy). They also know how to infect someone with astral parasites.
Finally, you can learn a school of magick from a demon...this is a
idea since it still involves the demon breaking you down just like any other mentor.
Cutting off the head of a living being and writing the name of someone who knows one of your secrets on its tongue makes that person forget the secret for as long as the head remains in your possession.
The artifact chapter pretty simple. Artifacts are objects that have magickal power in some way. There are two types: Natural and Constructed.
Natural artifacts are created spontaneously by the cosmos, often as the result of exposure to powerful magickal or emotional energy. The Ascension of the Naked Goddess enchanted the porn film as an artifact, one powerful enough that even copies of it count as artifacts. As a result, major events often lead to "scavengers" coming out of the woodwork. Not only do such events often produce powerful tools for adepts, but there's always the chance something caught a bit of the whammy and turned into an artifact.
Constructed artifacts are divided into three levels: minor, significant, and Major. Some have only single, or limited uses and others can be used over and over again (unlimited use artifacts count as one level "higher" in terms of power).
Most adepts can make constructed artifacts using one of their formula or random magick spells. Whatever it is has to resonate not only with your school of magick but also with the artifact's purpose. So an artifact for travel should take the form of a vehicle, map or similar thematically appropriate shape. A dipsomancer creating a travel-based magickal artifact would probably enchant the tiny in-flight liquor bottles from an airline for instance.
One-uses Minor artifacts require only the normal cost for whatever effect you're doing, plus one extra. This gives you a "portable" spell that can be used later (potentially by someone other than you). Limited use versions require an extra significant charge and last a number of uses equal to the sum of your dice. Making an eternal use minor artifact requires a Major charge.
One-use Significant artifacts require the normal cost, plus one minor charge. Limited use significant artifacts cost just an extra significant charge (and like minor artifacts can be used a number of times equal to the sum of the roll). Eternal use significant artifacts require the same effort as a major artifact.
Major artifacts are extremely difficult, requiring at least two Major charges and a symbolically powerful object to be enchanted (think like a dipsomancer or cliomancer significant charging element). Obviously, in most cases creating a Major artifact is a waste of hard-to-get Major charges. One potential use, however, is the creation of eternal-use significant artifacts.
*Lucky Charms: +10% shift to your next skill attempt. It requires an action to activate.
*Travel Bond: This "pins" a target to their current location, preventing them from going further than 15 miles for the next night and day (via coincidence). The item must be "linked" to the target when made and activated by somehow "giving" it to the target (usually hiding it on their person or at the location that the effect is centered on), such as driving an enchanted horse-shoe nail into the target's tire. Destroying the artifact ends the effect.
*Obnoxerox: Divination via chick tracts. Seriously, these are little pamphlets or flyers that can be handed out. When handed to someone who knows the information you want to know the contents of the page will change to something immensely offensive to the target (this includes undistributed copies). You now have to figure out how to get the person to tell you what you want to know.
*Wooden Nickels: An anti-plutomancer artifact. Plutomancers cannot get rid of wooden nickels once they accept it. Coincidence keeps the nickel in their possession (or forces it to return to them). Each time you cast a spell the cost increases by one charge and if you can't pay the extra cost the spell fails. Even worse, you don't know this is happening until the GM tells you you've run out of charges early.
To get rid of them you have to spend (and have it accepted) by someone as part of a payment for something worthwhile (so no paying someone for a second of their time, etc). The coins are wooden, carved into the shape of a specific coin (not just nickels).
The invisible clergy are building a cathedral of glass on the surface of the moon. You can see it in some of the pictures taken by the astronauts. When they complete the cathedral, the world will end.
That's technically the end of the Cosmic chapter, it's actually quite short. After this we get into the GM section.
Behind the Scenes
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 19: Behind the Scenes
The world ended on January 1st, 2000. We’re living in hell.
When it comes to F&F entries I tend to skip the GM sections...most of the advice is more or less the same stuff you've read before or it's useful (but dry) advice on how to work with unique aspects of the game system and setting. Certainly appreciated but not exactly worth highlighting. Well, the Unknown Armies GM section is heftier than most, so while I'll be skipping bits here and there I will actually get into these parts...
The Sleeping Tiger
Most of the first part of the GM section is, as I mentioned, useful but not particularly interesting advice on how to set tone, handle failure or unexpected developments, run combat, etc. One thing stands out that calls back to the first half of the book: The Sleeping Tiger.
For those that don't remember, the Sleeping Tiger is a metaphor for the clueless general public. Here's the thing about magick: it's powerful, it's addictive, it's liberating and sometimes it's even useful. However, one thing it
is an opportunity to rub your hands together and "take over the world". There's a reason the Sleepers exist and it's not because they're trying to "keep you down", it's because if the general public found out the truth it would be war between the mundane world and the Occult Underground. And the Underground would lose. Hard.
Sure, it would be nasty...adept's and avatars have some very unpleasant tricks that can be difficult to defend against. Expect world leaders to suddenly end up in bloody chunks from multiple long-distance blasts or Pilgrim assassins. Monstrous epideromancers and near-unkillable Masterless Men will take down police and military by the dozen. Politicians and public figures suddenly get entangled in webs of scandal as the cliomancers and personamancers start throwing mojo around...but it doesn't matter. Normal humans have the numbers and the weapons they need to turn the Underground into paste. The more the Underground tries to fight back the more rabid and paranoid humanity will become...it doesn't matter if the mobs lynch a hundred mentally ill or just eccentric normals for every one adept. Of course a few would survive once things die down but there's no chance of adepts "taking over" and with the modern world's technology it's not going to be nearly as easy for things to get "swept under the rug" as it was in the past. Once the cat's out of the bag that's it...hopefully things will go better next time the world gets remade.
Of course, that's for the "big stuff". Stuff that can't be rationalized or explained and that spreads worldwide like wildfire. It's also possible to "wake the tiger" on a more local (but still deadly) scale. Hence there's handy rules here for rioting.
It all ties back to the Stress system. In the modern "1st world" citizens rarely have any Hardened notches (except maybe on Self). And they
aren't going to have enough Hardened notches to resist the high Rank check required to resist freaking out at the sight of obvious, blatant magick. It's worth noting that technically, you can trigger riots with other Stress check's as well...it's just hard to inflict Self, Helplessness or Isolation checks on a large scale and Violence tends to result in more "flight" than "fight" (but it's certainly possible, don't think a handgun is going to let you boss a mob around). Riots occur because, when you've got a large crowd, a significant portion of the viewers are going to blow their Unnatural stress check and freak out in "fight" mode. That, in turn, will trigger Violence and Helplessness checks in the rest of the crowd, leading to more people switching to "kill it with fire" mode, even ones who didn't directly view the event.
When an unnatural event occurs in front of a large crowd (at least a 100 people in close quarters) then the GM rolls 1d100:
*1-25: The crowd gets all "deer in the headlights" and just freezes, dumbfounded.
*26-50: The crowd runs for it. Several people are likely to get injured or trampled.
*51+: full-blown riot.
This roll is modified...the more "prepped" a crowd is for what they're about to see (whether this is to make them believe it's something wondrous or to convince them it's all a trick somehow) the more you subtract from the roll and the more unpleasant the effect, the more people are present, and the more they already don't like the caster the more gets added to the roll.
The roll result is more or less the percentage of the crowd that has completely lost their head (the rest are mostly just scared and confused). Major characters caught in the riot take damage equal to the sum of the riot roll every 15 minutes for an hour (less if you're Dodging). Anyone who the mob identifies as one of "the bad ones" take damage equal to the roll every 10 minutes for the hour.
A riot lasts minutes equal to the initial roll and at the end of that time the GM rolls again (without modifiers). If the second roll is at least half as high as the first the riot continues with the new roll as the riot result. Rinse and repeat. This means most riots will, eventually wind themselves down. Of course incidents occurring post riot can lead to more stress checks (Self and Helplessness are more common, and Violence checks from police intervention are also likely).
Generally, there's no large-scale "fallout" from these events. Most rioters will probably try and rationalize things afterwards and even the ones that don't aren't likely to be taken seriously. Words like "mass hysteria" will get thrown around and the Sleepers will hunt down whoever thought this was such a fucking good idea (assuming the crowd hasn't dealt with them).
So, here's an example:
An Evangelical Epideromancer has some very weird interpretations of the whole "blood of christ" thing and has managed to wrangle up a hundred or so spectators and they're all crammed into a small church (+10 for tight quarters). He spends an hour or two enthusiastically preaching with lots of "Jaaaysus!" and "Amen!" being shouted and claiming that he will perform a miracle for them (this gets the crowd receptive -10). He then brings out a naked man with no legs, a soldier who got them blown off by a landmine. After some more praying and carrying on he takes out a metal cross, sharped to a point and jabs it into one eye (+10 for the act hurting someone), getting a major charge and then using that charge to regenerate the man's legs in front of everyone (-10 for helping someone).
The GM rolls 1d100+10 and gets a 46. The crowd freaks out and runs out of the church. In the process about 10 (4+6) people get badly hurt but the priest and his assistants are unharmed.
If you think you’re about to get possessed by a demon, put your shoes on the wrong feet and walk around the outside of your house backwards three times every day at dawn for three days. Try to do it without looking behind you.
Next we've got a chapter devoted to more powerful artifacts. These are mostly created through rituals (rather than being Adept created) or natural events.
Hand of Glory
: an old classic that's still kicking around. At least so long as you can get the ingredients...the severed left hand of a hanged criminal along with horse dung, long peppers, virgin wax, nitre and several other unusual ingredients. The final product is a candle molded around the hand with a wick at each finger. When lit, anyone who can see it becomes entranced (adepts can try to break free by rolling their skill). Entranced victims cannot speak, move or think (they can be slowly led about or pushed gently). The effect lasts as long as the hand is lit, unless the victim is injured. A brand new hand of glory stays lit for about 15-20 minutes.
: These are enchanted jesus fish decals. Anyone driving a vehicle with one of these on the bumper has a +20% bonus to drive when trying to avoid danger created by someone else. The effect lasts a week but can be "recharged" by leaving the car in the parking lot of a christian church's parking lot for an entire service. No one knows whose making these for sure but there's a claim that the inverse exists: a darwin fish that worsens your driving when you do something stupid or risky.
. Das Garten is a book, which is actually a spell. Upon finishing the book the words animate and crawl into the readers nose, ears and mouth. Once the words enter the reader can hear the voice of the author, Rebekah Kryzynski. Rebekah "wrote" herself into 8 books (only 6 are left) before she died and reading one of them allows her into your head. She's not a demon and she cannot actually possess your body under normal circumstances. She can make you sleepwalk but loses control the moment your eyes open (limiting her options). She can also make terrible noises in your head whenever she wants. Finally, she's an unspecified Adept (although how she could be anything other than a Bibliomancer I don't know) who can "steal" charges if her host gets them, using them to power her own magick. She can use these to threaten her host into doing what she wants (hope you speaking German or Polish by the way, because that's the only language she knows). Unfortunately for adepts and ritualists there's a common rumor that these books are encoded with several powerful rituals and their age (1412) and hand-written nature means that they're sought after by bibliomancers as a source of charges.
Ghost of a Camera
: This artifact has no physical presence, existing only astrally (making it normally invisible). You can only manipulate it via astral projection. The camera has the power of "reverse" astral perception...allowing anyone looking through the viewfinder to see the mundane world. For example, if you're astrally projecting to follow a crooked politician for some blackmail material and you catch him getting nasty with two 90 year old Russian dominatrixs (dominatrices?) then all you'll really see is their auras touching and wobbling in unwholesome ways. You can probably work out what's going on but it's short on useful details. Looking through the camera will allow you to see the sight in all of its horrible, fleshy glory. You can describe exactly what they're doing to your blackmailee and you can get an accurate image of what they and he look like. What's more you can take pictures which can be transferred to a normal camera by "overlapping" the mundane camera with the astral one. It requires a real camera of the same make, model and year (1945 Mercury II Model CX).
: A frighteningly common artifact. These keys open any lock or restraint, from knotted rope up to high-tech retinal scanners. The one limit is that when "getting in" to a place or thing if you have seen anyone try and open it within the last 12 hours (or done so yourself). When getting "out" of something (say handcuffs) the limit is only a minute. Fortunately the keys can be used only a limited number of times and require a fairly involved ritual to create...unfortunately that ritual has spread around the Underground quite a bit. It requires a key that belongs to you but you don't know what it goes to (easy to get from any thrift store) plus the marrow of a thief (harder...and unpleasant...to get). Finally bury it for one month in the grave of a guard, policeman or watchman and urinate on the grave once a week (protip: don't get caught urinating on a cop's grave).
The Magic Bullet
: This is a major artifact, believed to have been created by JFK's assassination. It's just the remains of the bullet enclosed in a steel locket, but the magick grants +30% to your Firearms skill when aiming at an unsuspecting target.
: This is believed to be one of mankinds oldest artifacts, created by the Acension of the first Warrior (much as the Naked Goddess' Acension created her tape). The stone is a bloodstained hunk of rock. While holding it you automatically pass all Violence checks (gaining a Hardened notch), plus you gain one Hardened notch per day you keep it and fills the holder's head within scenes of violence and bloodshed. Finally, it gives +10% per Hardened Notch to any skill used to attack someone. Nasty.
The Naked Goddess Tape
The tape of the Naked Goddesses Ascension has a strange attraction to adepts. Any adept who hears of it becomes curious about it. Any adept who sees it (the tape itself, not the contents) wants it so bad that trying to resist is a Rank-10 Helplessness check. Anyone watching the tape for the first time gets their mind expanded a bit (+10% to skills related to magickal lore of knowledge of the invisible clergy) and learns the skill Create Desire at 30%. Create Desire lets you make people want things, giving them the irresistible urge for a specific object or person. Resisting is a Rank-10 Isolation check (rank 5 if they get the object and then lose it). Create Desire is "charged" by watching the tape again (and you can only spend XP on the skill when watching the tape). Duplicating the master tape is possible but watching duplicates have a lesser effect. First, you want the master tape, second you get a smaller bonus to your magickal knowledge skill (+5% for 2nd generation copies and dropping 1% for each "step").
17% of the population of North America isn’t real.
Next we'll get into the Unnatural, basically a bestiary of UA weirdness.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 20: Weird Stuff
The current condition of the stock market is reflected in the general condition of a small pond just outside the town of Antioch, Sheridan County, Nebraska.
One thing that's important to understand about the cosmos of Unknown Armies is that it works like a well-oiled machine...that is most of the time it runs along perfectly fine until it suddenly squeals horribly, belches smoke and drives you into a ditch. What I'm saying is that despite the fact that the cosmos generally works okay (up is up, down is down, people aren't squids, etc) it is still capable of breaking in a wide, wide variety of ways. These "glitches" are often harmless and generally get ignored and forgotten or the universe plasters them up and tries to pretend they never happened (which can cause its own problems) but sometimes they get out of hand. Things like Adepts hammering their brains against the walls of reality and Avatars duking it out over control of the future doesn't help when it comes to things running smooth.
This chapter basically covers the weird shit that can happen that isn't directly linked to the Adepts or Avatars and is divided into Unnatural Phenomena (weird events or cosmic hiccups) and Unnatural Beings (weird events and cosmic hiccups that walk around and may decide to stab you in the eye).
Unnatural Phenomena are random glitch in the laws of reality. They are actually by far the most common sort of "magick" in the world and the sort of thing that even most normal people have run into once or twice in your lives (often passed off as a bad dream, a haunting or a UFO encounter). They can be caused by a variety of things but are never "directed"...even if a character or being has the ability to produce Unnatural Phenomena there's no way to pick what specifically will happen. This more or less explains why "hauntings" have such bizarre manifestations: ghosts/demons can invoke a phenomena to try and get attention or torment someone but they can't decide what gets produced. Like spells, Unnatural Phenomena are divided up into Minor, Significant and Major.
*Magick: The more powerful a spell cast by an adept the more likely it is to produce spontaneous Unnatural Phenomena of the same rank (Major charges are almost certain to cause Major unnatural phenomena). This is important to keep in mind, adepts may be able to cast their magick without a bunch of hand-waving and chanting but they're not 100% subtle and unnatural phenomena is a good way for others to tell that some sort of spell-casting is going on in the area. Anyone with a Charge can also spend it to simply produce an unnatural phenomena (Adepts are unlikely to ever do this though, the effects of their spells are a lot more useful).
*Artifacts: Artifacts will generally create unnatural phenomena every once in a while (weeks for minor, months for significant, years for major) of the rank of the artifact. Be careful storing a lot of powerful artifacts in close proximity...hope the government's Warehouse 23 is well secured.
*Unnatural Beings: like Artifacts unnatural beings tend to squirt out the occasional phenomena in their vicinity. It's rare enough that it's unlikely for anyone to pin the effect on the being unless it's isolated to one area. More commonly many unnatural beings can intentionally cause (but not direct) unnatural phenomena.
These are short, environmental effects that never directly target or affect human beings, mostly your typical "haunting" phenomena that'll get ghost hunters and paranormal investigators really excited. Cold spots, odd sounds, smells, strange shadows, static on a phone line or flickering lights. Minor "poltergeist" activity is also possible.
targeted at humans and may persist for hours or days. The sort of crap you'll see in an Exorcist movie or the X-Files. People in "the know" tend to see multiple spontaneous Significant Phenomena as a sure sign of a demon or an Adept in the area.
*Missing Time: One or more people will simply vanish for a few minutes or hours and then return. This never occurs in a situation where it is perceived by an unaffected person...everyone in the area vanishes. No one has any sense of time passing.
*Major sensory stimuli: disembodied voices, apparitions, a powerful sense of "pressure". Despite often appearing as a voice or an image of a person this is simply the anthrocentric nature of reality manifesting itself (and perhaps drawing from memories or impressions of people in the area). There's never any real "agenda" behind it but it may reflect the source of the phenomena in some way (a demon might produce bible passages written in blood on the walls but they're not going to actually be relevant to the demon's desires...it's just random psychic residue).
*Spontaneous Wounds: stigmata effects, never enough to cause actual injury but it can be freaky. Might involve symbols or words cut into someone's flesh (an Entropomancer's Blast could be seen as a more focused and intense version of this effect).
*Telekinesis: major poltergeist activity such as falling shelves, collapsing floors, flying tables, etc. Again, it can't be directed in any way...a knife might fly at someone but that's just because they happened to be a convenient mystic "ground" to center on.
*Visions: Someone gets a brief vision of the source of the phenomena (such as the adept casting the spell, or the artifact producing it). No prophetic visions, just remote viewing.
Major effects are long-term. They're sort of like "scars" left by the presence of powerful magick as it tears through reality and the only way to get rid of it is to clean it up (this is a common adventure hook for Street Level characters caught on the periphery of major events).
*Death: Someone dies unexpectedly, usually in a weird way.
*Haunting: An actual "true" haunting which brings a Revenant from beyond the veil and ties it to the location. Obviously likely to lead to additional unnatural phenomena as the Revenant produces them by its very presence.
*Reality Erase: someone or something blips out of reality totally and completely. They not only cease to exist, they never existed. No records of them exist (and they may be replaced by someone else) and most people lose any memory of them. People present at "ground zero" of the phenomena still remember the vanished individual to some degree or other and any items in their possession at the time are not revised (so you might still have your wedding ring if your husband vanishes). A great way to write out PCs who need to leave the group.
*Sensory Stimuli: Full sensory hallucinations, possibly seeming to last days, weeks or months. Visions of the past or a possible future, a glimpse of the Statosphere, etc. Should be relevant to the trigger (for instance an Artifact is likely to create visions of its first owner or of its creation).
*Telekinesis: Basically anything from a collapsing house to the Tunguska Event.
There’s a special poker school that plays in the exact centre of Central Park every night. It’s made up of demons, but occasionally humans are offered the chance to take part. The stakes are memories: stake your bad, win some good.
These are things that Should Not Be. Not in the lovecraft sense, but more literally. Most of these creatures are quite simply cosmic mistakes caused by messy book-keeping and a lack of proper tidying up. They won't (usually) drive you mad when you see them, they're just bugs in the universal OS. The universe's equivalent of the Minus World or Missingno. Some of them can be intentionally created through Magick but mostly they're just a type of unnatural phenomena with a bit more persistence and self-awareness. Supposedly there are Major unnatural beings but no examples are given.
These are completely incorporeal psychic parasites. They live on the astral plane soaking up the background energy for nourishment. You can't see them and they can't see you. However, they
see humans when they are working Magick (or when they are otherwise strongly surrounded by or affected by Magick) and are likely to try and latch onto anyone they manage to spot. They're not tremendously common and they're generally only a risk if an adept or demon decides to intentionally attach one to someone they don't like. Once attached the parasite sucks away your Soul score at the rate of 6 points per 24 hours until they absorb Soul points equal to its Body score (30-60) or you drop below 10 (rendering you comatose). Once they detach you regain soul points at a rate of 1 per day.
They can be a significant threat to those who are actually projecting their soul out into the astral plane (where they appear as a hodge-podge of animal and human parts about the size of a dog) and they can actually carve into you.
We've covered these guys. It should say something that they're still only considered "minor".
An Entropic is one of the more insidious Unnatural Beings and one of the hardest to classify because they don't really have an existence as such. They have no form or mind and they don't even have the astral existence of Demons or Astral Parasites. They're literally just an awful...but impossible...experience, a set of memories that don't match reality.
Let's say you remember waking up one night, going downstairs and seeing your husband slathered in goat entrails, wearing pentagram embroidered robes and squeezing the guts of a dead rabbit over the bound, gagged and naked form of Suzy, the girl from next door who is silently thrashing and screaming as he chants in some language you don't remember. He sees you in the doorway and rushes you, holding a chemical-scented rag. The next morning you wake up and there's no blood or guts in the living room and your husband tells you he was at work late last night...but he's acting strange and he provides several alibis without prompting. You see Suzy later that day and she won't meet your eyes but when you confront her she insists she was visiting a friend across town and they stayed up all night watching movies. Then she bursts into tears and runs away...but when you call her mother she confirms the girl's story. When you really think about you also remember getting up to get a glass of water later in the night...
The false experience is the Entropic and it's shared among everyone there. You remember it, so does your husband (who really was working late at the time) and so does Suzy (who was likewise at her friend's house). The experience is completely impossible but so vivid and real that you can't help but think it really must have happened. The experiences are drawn from the victim's subconscious fears (the woman above is likely a believer in satanists and also likely thinks her husband might be harboring some unsavory thoughts towards Suzy). No one's certain what attracts an entropic (although you can "sic" one on somebody with a ritual) but it seems to be more attracted to those trying to "create" something: a family, a community, an organization, a cult. They don't try to kill or harm anyone directly...they just seem to exist to weaken trust and bonds between people and to cause suffering and doubt.
Entropics are tough to remove but there are rituals to banish them, and adepts can banish them with a couple of significant charges (or more cheaply they can "target" the entropic on themselves rather than the current victim). Even once an entropic is "gone" the memories it creates won't go away. You've just got to deal with them in whatever way works for you (therapy, booze, layers of denial).
These golems follow the jewish format (made of clay and animated by a word of power) to begin with and became refined and improved over time...but then the process of creation was lost to everyone except the golems themselves. By this time they could be made to look completely human but the sect that created them was targeted by the Spanish Inquisition and wiped out. The only survivor was a single golem commanded by its master to reproduce itself and then return to defend him. The golem managed to create a duplicate from its own flesh but the process was lengthy and its master died in the meantime. The golem and its duplicate stuck around the ruins of their former master's home until someone showed up and (mistaking them for squatters) told them to go away. So they did.
These two commands were imprinted on the golems as their "baseline" orders. They split up and each went separate ways and each made a new golem. Any time they have no master or no new orders that's what they'll do: separate and multiply. Each golem can only duplicate once and the process is lengthy and requires unusual clays and chemicals which the golem will seek to retrieve.
However, they will also follow any orders given to them by anyone. They have basically zero free will and when commanded they will follow any order until they are told to do something else or are clearly left without something to do (in which case the previous two "primal" commands re-assert themselves).
Physically they resemble humans but don't need to eat, breath or sleep (although they can fake it if ordered to). They are immensely strong and have no soul (in both the literal and character stat sense of the word). Most golems end up getting menial jobs...maybe they just were standing on a street corner staring at the wall and someone bumped into them and yelled at them to "get a job!"...so they did. Or maybe someone asked them for help and they just kept doing what was asked until it turned into a job. Most golems have an apartment because at some point they were told they should have one and they go there after work and stare at the wall until its time to go back to work. Some even get in relationships or get married (so long as the other party is willing to make the first move and every single move after that).
Once you know what a golem is they're easy to spot because they are all completely identical to their progenitor. They learn to mimic basic human emotions and gestures because they get the sense that they're meant to...and of course they obey. The only reason that we aren't simply swimming in large, ugly Spaniards is that golem growth is not expontential: each golem can produce only one duplicate (and it's possible there may be no more new golems if the last "virgin" golem happened to be destroyed before it reproduced. But there are certainly a lot of them around.
Their brute strength and tendency to follow orders makes golems extremely valuable tools to those of the Occult Underground. Once they've taken a master they're loyal to them until commanded by someone with a higher Soul Stat (which can make them a double-edged sword since both Adepts and Avatars tend to have extremely high soul stats...make sure your target isn't more authoritative than you).
Okay, so demons are a bit stranger than you might expect and vampires are probably just adepts with a weird charging fetish...but Lycanthropes do exist in UA and they're nothing like you might think.
A Lycanthrope is an exceedingly complicated tangle of broken rules and contradictions. It begins with a demon. Demons are capable of possessing animals...they rarely do because many have obsessions that need human hosts to fulfill but if your sole obsession is eating (and you don't care what) or having sex (and you don't care where you stick it) or something similarly basic you can make do with an animal "host". Animals don't have Souls so they can't really resist possession but they do have at least some spiritual "presence" outside of their purely physical body (it just vanishes after death unlike the human soul). Well, the problem comes with the fact that prolonged possession of an animal (especially dumber animals like cats or pigeons) is that eventually the demon's mind begins to match its surroundings and they become more animalistic. The animal "spirit/mind/whatever" they have in place of a soul also starts to merge a bit with a demon. This means when the animal dies (releasing the demon to find a new host) the animal's "essence" tags along. If the demon keeps hopping from squirrel to squirrel that's no big deal, it just keeps accumulating more "squirrelness" until it's basically nothing but a malevolent squirrel-force.
The problem comes if a demon (with an animal "tag along") possesses a human host. When this happens there are now three "essences" trying to fit into one body: the human, the demon and the animal. That's when you get a lycanthrope. Confused yet?
Well, here's what happens. All three struggle for control of the body (each makes a Soul check and the highest without failing wins.) When the human is in control they're...well they're human. They're normal, except for all the freaking out they're probably doing over being demon possessed.
When the demon's in control the human form is kept and the demon is in the driver's seat doing whatever it is it wants to do (probably with a "glazing" of animal behavior and instinct). The human can't remember what happens when the demon is in charge.
is in charge things get weird because it cause a glitch in the universe. The universe sees an animal spirit with a human body...and that's not right. So it changes it. You become an animal. There's no transformation or writhing around...you're just an animal.
And you always were.
Reality re-writes itself so that you were always an animal. Anyone who remembers you just remembers an animal "being around" and anything that wouldn't have happened to you as an animal, never happened. If you turn into a sheep it doesn't mean your wife married a sheep...she just never got married (but may have had you as a pet, or maybe you were kept in a nearby field). No one remembers you as a human.
It gets even weirder because when your human side takes control the process reverses...badly. Suddenly everyone remembers you as a human again...and they remember you as a human when you were an animal. For some animals this is just interpreted as a period of temporary bizarre behavior. A guy turned into a wolf might have jumped out of his bedroom window and mauled a local 10 year old before being injured and running into the woods. After he becomes human everyone will remember him jumping naked from the window, gnawing on a kid's arm (and the bite marks will be human rather than canine) and then running off into the woods. Weird behavior, but potentially explicable. The true weirdness comes when the animal does something that shouldn't be possible for a human to do. For instance if a "were-squirrel" runs across power lines and crawls through a tiny hole in a fence then anyone who sees it will remember the person climbing across power lines and squeezing through a 2 inch hole. A "were bird" will still be flying, they'll just be an inexplicably flying naked human. However, these events only seem inconsistent if attention is drawn to it. A witness will not freak out the moment their memories adjust, they'll only find it bizarre if they're later asked to recall or analyze the events.
It's actually very difficult to tell how many lycanthropes exist. Several never "change back" from their animal form and are effectively erased from history (if you die in animal form you stay in animal form) and if they turn human and are killed (or manage to expel the demon) then no one will ever remember they were an animal. They'll recall your strange behavior but unless it was obviously humanly impossible it'll just be considered insanity (especially since you may be ranting about possession already). Even if something humanly impossible happens it'll only be recalled if a third party calls attention to the incongruity. For the most part only those involved with "reality maintenance" like the Count de Saint German or the Agents of the Rooms of Renunciation are likely to be aware of the phenomena at all.
One further weird aspect is that the human and animal form have separate wound points. Damage taken to the animal doesn't affect the human and vice versa. Silver bullets are not required and if you kill the human or animal it'll stay dead and not switch back.
A Non-entity is a person without a soul. Almost all of them are literally just "faces in a crowd". In fact, that's how they get created. They seem to be a byproduct of the paradoxical crowding and sense of isolation produced by urban living: a side-effect of the human condition. They just appear from nowhere with no real history to speak of but they do have a kind of natural camouflage, fitting in by emulating other humans in their environment. They're a bit like golems in that they typically just end up working mindless tasks but they tend to be more "office drone" than "menial laborer".
They are utterly and completely Average (50 in all stats except for Soul, which is 0) and it's difficult to notice them even when you're speaking to them and they're quickly forgotten afterwards. They just do their thing: working at an office job, taking the subway over and over again, wandering the streets, etc. until they either cease to exist or die (usually because someone didn't notice they were there and accidentally runs them over). They don't even have the golem's immense strength and innate obedience to make them interesting.
They would be literally nothing but background...except sometimes something goes wrong (or wronger, considering they're mistakes of reality to begin with). Non-entities are not stupid but lack any drive or any emotion at all. They can fake polite interest or sympathy but they never feel anything...unless they happen to be close (about 10 feet) of
intense human emotions such as a Rank-10 Stress check, a human experiencing inevitable death, someone winning the lottery or falling completely in love. This "awakens" the nonentity, allowing them to feel a little bit of the psychic "runoff" from the immense burst of emotion. They feel for the first time ever and they want to feel again.
But they can't. They don't have any way to create their own emotions, they can only experience them vicariously. So a non-entity who happened to be walking by an apartment when two young lovers first consummate their passion will feel that intensity and elation and probably begin to stalk them, getting a "hit" whenever they feel that same level of passion and tenderness again. But of course, human emotions don't work like that, after the initial rush, humans naturally "level out" to a more stable emotional state. No matter how much a couple loves each other nothing will be the same as the first time they truly connection. Unfortunately, non-entities don't really get how it works and will try and want those intense feelings to bask in. At first this might be funny or cute...they'll watch romantic comedies or read self-help books and do things like send one lover gifts under the other's name or arrange for elaborate surprise meetings in a romantic setting. But it never can last and eventually they just settle for trying to force them to love again...by whatever means necessary. This usually ends with both lovers trapped in a basement somewhere strapped to car batteries and being electrocuted until they love each other again like they did before.
Nonentities are much more successful (unfortunately) when they awaken due to negative emotions. A nonentity who happens to experience the fear and terror of a human slowly dying is going to want more as well...it doesn't matter what emotion they feel, they just want to
at all. And recreating that feeling is pretty damn easy, you just need a living person and something nice and sharp. These nonentities become remorseless serial killers...who are almost impossible to catch because no one will notice them or be able to describe them afterwards if they do. They also lack any DNA, fingerprints, blood or anything else that would leave behind evidence of their crimes.
Their lack of any sort of biology also makes them quite tough. They have no blood or organs...they're like a doll: just flesh-like material in a human mold with the proper coloring on top. Guns do the same damage as hand-to-hand attacks to them. Most attacks that don't actually sever body parts or inflict massive physical trauma don't really effect them. So electrocuting them won't do anything and while fire hurts it doesn't inflict the sort of massive trauma needed to actually injure them. Nor do they need to eat or breath.
Finally, you can't target them with magick because they don't really exist. The Dipsomancer blast will hurt them (since it's just throwing objects) but everything else (including things like the Urbanomancer blast) just slides off because there's nothing there.
A Revenant is what most people would identify as a "ghost". They're technically a type of demon (i.e. a human soul bound by an unbreakable obsession) but their obsession doesn't drive them to possess the living (it's possible to force a revenant into someone's body but it's easy for the host to kick them out again). Instead it locks them into repeated patterns of behavior, often re-enacting whatever event they're obsessed with. While demons are pretty much irreversibly twisted it is technically possible (but difficult) for some Revenants to break their cycle and move on.
Most Revenants are classic "haunters". They're stuck in their obsessive behavior and periodically fart out Unnatural Phenomena in their area, producing the symptoms associated with hauntings. Those with Souls of 60 or higher may even have the revenant appear before them as an apparition. However, there are a few specific Revenants that are a little more unique:
*Ghouls: The spirits of those obsessed with death. They'll show up to scenes of death, staring at the corpse until the authorities arrive to deal with it. They have no real agenda to speak of and no goals beyond astral rubbernecking. They can be a useful source of information on recent deaths and the appearance of one in the area is a good sign something bad has happened or will happen soon.
*Snowfallen: These are extremely specific apparitions...the ghosts of mothers who died violently while searching for a lost child. They can only appear while it is snowing and will basically move across the earth with the winter, asking anyone they encounter if they have seen their lost child and sometimes offering vague prophecies to help others avoid impending danger. For some reason there's a ritual specifically to ward them away from your home...which hardly seems necessary as they're basically harmless but I guess they can get annoying especially since they're more likely to appear in places where magick has been performed.
*Splits: These ghosts were obsessed with making others happy at their own expense. They often appear to people who have racked up multiple failed Self notches (3 or more) and may be helpful or malicious (50/50 chance). The split appears identical to its target except that it's a mirror image (in fact it often appears in a mirror). After a few moments of "mirroring" the target it'll be capable of independent movement and speech. It has all of the target's memories and may even know things about people in the target's life that they don't but they will always insist that they "are you". Helpful splits usually give good advice and can lead you to heal relationships or break off unhealthy ones. Malicious splits lead you into traps or encourage self-destruction.
*Suicide Stalkers: These guys were completely in love with someone that they couldn't approach or even get to know and eventually killed themselves with their obsession never the wiser about their feelings. They come back to force the one they loved to acknowledge them...but they can't speak and have all the presence of a nonentity, making this exceptionally difficult. They can't talk to the one they love, write to them or even give them meaningful looks. The only tool they have is dying. They'll kill themselves over and over trying to catch the attention of the object of their affection. The corpse fades away as soon as it's unobserved and sometimes the random suicides are even helpful to the beloved (pushing them out of the way of a car that would hit them, jumping in front of an attacker's bullet, etc) but they're also constant and all but the most hardened targets quickly start freaking out. The only way to end it is for the beloved to die or for them to save the stalker's life by intervening before they die. When this happens the stalker gets a moment to say their peace with their true face and then vanish.
Tenebrae seem like a more physical "sub-species" of astral parasite. They specifically feed off the loneliness and misery of those who die anonymous, unmourned death. When a hobo never wakes up in a dark alley or someone completely alone decides to end it all the tenebrae come out and feed. They'll lurk around the corpse for up to a week until the corpse is discovered. They'll often try and drive off those who might find and disturb still-fresh "prey".
They exist only in darkness and become more "real" the darker it is. In bright light they vanish complete and reappear once it gets dark enough. They seem to be vaguely arachnid or arthropoid in shape and can jump impressive distances and are equipped with several sharp legs. Even worse, they live in packs and so long as its dark enough they'll attack anyone they think they can kill or drive off. There's the possibility of rituals that control or summon them, but no one knows for sure.
Unspeakable Servants come from "old school" magic like golems, but the procedures to create them are still around (as are some of the older servants, although this is rare). They've got a lovecraftian look but they're not summoned from some outer realm and are actually a kind of hideous magickal turducken.
To create one of these nasty bastards you've got to kill a black bull at midnight on a moonless night and scoop out the guts and keep it at body temperature until the moon is half-full. Then kill a black sheep and repeat the process and once it's been emptied stuff it in the bull. Keep both warm until the moon is full and kill a black rooster and stuff that in the sheep, inside the bull. Keep all of them nice and warm until the moon is dark again. Then pull out one of your eyes then stuff it in the rooster. wait another full lunar month and see what "hatches". Depending on your roll you get a lesser, greater or abominable servant. If you screwed up I hope you're at least an epideromancer so that losing that eye gave you a charge. You can try using someone else's eye but then the servant is under the control of the donor. Of course you can always just kill the donor and try and make a deal with the now free servant (although some servants will just dissolve when the master dies). You can bequeath control of a servant to someone else upon your death as well (some old magickal clans have several "ancestral" servants).
Servants look more or less like you'd expect a mass of semi-liquid rot to look after it's been recongealed into a living being. They're a mass of waving tendrils, semi-recognizable animal parts and orifices with one eye staring out. They're perfectly obedient to their master (who can see through their eye at will) and can be quite powerful (especially abominable servants). If the master spends a significant charge they can communicate telepathically with their servant. They can also disguise themselves by hollowing out and "filling" a dead body of appropriate size (sticking their eyeball into the socket of the body to see). This doesn't stop the body from decaying and the corpse needs to be larger than the servant for this to work (making it tough for abominable servants).
A lesser servant is about the size of a rooster and while they're a little on the slow side they've got enough intelligence to learn reading and writing. They're not really creative and must be given very literal orders to be effective. They can squirt out a minor unnatural phenomena once per day and a significant phenomena once per week. They're strong for their size (body 40) and very tough (80 wound points)
A greater servant is about as smart as a person and can learn to speak (although their voice is distinctly awful). Being about the size of a sheep they can easily fit into a human body and learn to behave more or less like any other human (beyond their weird speech). They're not independent thinkers but have enough smarts to ask questions when they don't understand something and to work out the difference between literal language, metaphor and sarcasm. They can produce a minor phenomena at will and significant phenomena once per day...oddly this is the
creature listed where it states they can actually choose the phenomena they want to manifest. I'm not even sure if this isn't a mistake because even the abominable servant isn't stated as being able to choose the phenomena that manifest. They're stronger than most humans (70) and tougher than anyone except a juiced up epideromancer (140 wound points).
Abominable servants are scary. They're smarter and faster than most humans (70) and much stronger (body 100, 150 wound points). They're the size of a bull (or at least a bull that's been reduced to a shapeless amorphous blob). They're completely intelligent and can flawlessly imitate any human voice. They're also practically impossible to kill. All attacks (unless they come from the servants master) inflict only 1 point of damage (keep in mind a proxy can serve as a "stand in" for the master, and using the master's body parts as a weapon is a valid tactic). They can cause minor unnatural phenomena at will, significant phenomena once per hour and major phenomena once per year (with a Soul roll). These are by far one of the most physically dangerous beings in the setting (even the Freak would certainly rather run than fight one of these head on) but ironically they're probably not the most desired "class" of servant, in most cases a Greater servant is actually more useful. The sheer size of an Abominable servant (and the unintended unnatural phenomena they generate) makes them extremely difficult to hide and transport and makes them unsuitable for most tasks. They're terrific guardians for your sanctuary or home but not good for much else.
The Forbidden City in Beijing is symmetrical in layout, except for one small door, allegedly put in for the benefit of an elderly emperor. In fact, the “missing” door on the opposite side of the palace exists, and can be found with the proper ritual.
It seems I somehow managed to miss the entire first chapter of the GM's section which is full of interesting info on NPCs and organizations in the setting, so I'll be backtracking to handle that next.
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 21: Weird People
The Occult Underground
The Titanic was deliberately sunk by someone who wished to complete his ascension as The Survivor. He later disappeared, but nobody knows for sure if he ascended or failed to survive his attempts.
This is the GM's guide to the Occult Underground and it gives you a peek at some of the major movers and shakers of the Occult Underground. You'll notice a distinct lack of "Forgotten Realms Syndrome", that is characters from the backstory (or the creator's games) who're given unbeatable stats and skills that let them shrug off any attempt by the PCs to change the status quo (and freely push the PCs around when they want something). If you want to off Alex Able it'll be tough...but it's tough because he's a smart guy with a billion dollar budget for his own safety. Get in the same room as you and you can put a bullet in his brain just like anyone else. Like any organization most any group in the Underground can be toppled by people crazy and driven enough that they don't care about the consequences.
The Freak is a notable exception. The Count De Saint Germain is another (although of course in his case it's unsurprising). More on them later.
The House of Renunciation
One of the weirdest of the "factions" in UA. The House of Renunciation exists in a weird half-way state between the "real" world and the Statosphere, sort of like the Count de Saint Germain himself. The House of Renunciation is an Otherspace, one of those places that don't really exist in any proper sense of the word. Or it might be several Otherspaces. It's kind of hard to say. The House has many Rooms which never connect directly to one another, instead each room connects to somewhere in the mundane world (and despite the name, a Room can be made up of several actual rooms).
The House's only agenda is reversal. It could be seen as a counterpoint to the Invisible Clergy. If the Archetypes represent the same old stories getting told and retold until they become a power unto themselves then the House of Renunciation could be seen as a source of new stories and new roles. Or not. It also could just be a bizarre flaw in reality or a "side effect" of the process of an Archetype's transition.
Each Room in the house has a specific purpose and those who enter the Room are subjected to it's effects. The purpose is always one of change (although it's notable that the Rooms don't always succeed). No one knows how many Rooms there are, certainly not all of them are "active" at any one time. A Room becomes "active" when it has an Agent. Agents are those who either accidentally stumbled into a Room by mistake or who were taken there by a previous Agent. They have become subject to the Room's effect and then decided to use it. In "choosing" the Room the Room also "chooses" them back, granting each agent special powers and tending to their basic needs. Agents basically live inside of their Rooms and have a few main abilities:
If an Agent of a Room makes a roll (any roll) that is lower than their Soul score then they may add or subtract 10 from the roll. Not up to 10, just 10. So a 46 can become a 56 or a 36 (assuming the Agent had a Soul of 47 or higher).
Each Agent automatically knows a ritual (which requires only a Soul roll and no charges) which can turn a door into a gateway to their Room. The gateway allows the Agent to take others with them (but they can't send or trick people through without going themselves). The ritual can only be used on a door that resonates with the room's theme. For instance the Otherside Room (where deeply held beliefs are questioned) can only be accessed from doors of ideological significance (church or statehouse doors for instance). This ritual is learnable by non-agents but requires 5 significant charges and they'll be subject to the Room's effects.
: Each room in some way provides its Agent with the basics they need. The method varies from room to room. The Otherside Room always has a wallet waiting for its Agents which contains 666$ in the US (in other countries it adds or subtracts decimal places until you end up with something of roughly equivalent value, 66,600 yen for instance.).
So...what do Agents of the room do? Whatever they want really. As far as anyone knows the Rooms aren't intelligent or capable of planning or scheming...Agents are those who see the Rooms as a means to change the world and thus become tied to it. They receive no instructions from the room or any kind of guidance. One Agent might be a Cosmic-level Lord who uses their room as a way to brainwash Avatars or shape society by "Renouncing" major world leaders. Another might be a hobo who stumbled on the room and knows if he pushes a businessperson inside they'll come out throwing their money away.
"Example" rooms are scattered all over, but here's a quick review:
The Room of Upheaval
: This room is a vast library filled with books detailing the true history of the world from now until it ends...plus countless alternate histories which
happen. These histories are not labeled so needless to say the place isn't much use to a researcher. It's purpose is to incite stagnant political forces into action, leading to unrest, upheaval and change. Those who are brought into the room find a glimpse of their own possible future...something that they might yet do which drives them to act. This room is well known as it's first known Agent (a man named Hubert
Roscommons) cut a swath of chaos through Europe in the 1500s by using his Room on them in some mad scheme to control or destroy Europe. No one is quite sure because he was burned as a witch by the Order of St Cecil. However, Hubert was the first to refer to the House of Renounciation, although he was apparently unaware of any Rooms other than his own.
The Otherside Room
: This is the most detailed Room as it's the example write-up in this section. The Otherside Room is specifically "targeted" at those who have deeply held beliefs but lack complete and total sincerity. People who have that tiny grain of doubt or uncertainty despite being ardent supporters. To those with absolute, unshakable conviction the Room is, while unpleasant, no danger to their faith. Those who have cracks in their faith will be tested. Most will crumble under the pressure and are never able to embrace any cause with certainty again. A few will completely misunderstand the message of the Room (that you can't have absolute faith in anything) and instead dedicate their life just as fervently to whatever the opposite of their current belief system is. The current Agent of Otherside is one of those who took the third option. Before being Renounced she was a Randian "Fuck you, got mine" sort. Now she's utterly selfless...but still just as self-righteous and utterly convinced of her own correctness as before. She works towards the greater good, no matter how many lesser evils she needs to use to accomplish it. Unfortunately she hasn't quite grasped the subtleties of her room. She thinks that the "reversal" is a reversal of your own beliefs, rather than the reversal of "99% certain" to "1% certain". Since she's fairly "in the know" otherwise, one of her biggest projects is ensuring the "right" people Ascend to become Archetypes and that the "bad guys" don't. Her latest target was Dermott Arkane. She managed to kill or Renounce plenty of his agents before getting her memories fucked over by a Cliomancer in Dermott's employ (but she still managed to twist him from an obsessive antiquarian to a transhumanist technophile). But now she's convinced that Dermott has been unseated and is focusing on new targets.
The Middle Room
: The Middle Room is a place where the tall nails get hammered down. It is accessible from office buildings, apartments and suburbs. It is a place for those who are unique, driven or special are made not special anymore. Anyone who stands out from the herd or thinks they're better than the majority gets put in their place. Everyone must follow the "middle path". Adepts especially are preferred target, those who are so different that Reality itself is threatened.
The Human Laboratory
: There are those who are driven to learn and advance human understanding and there are those that aren't. This room is for the second type. It takes those who are content with "common sense" and "general knowledge" and turns them into knowledge addicts. Experimentation and research are the most important things, pushing the boundaries of human existence, whatever it takes. The Agents of the lab are likely to put people into the Room just to see what happens rather than out of any particular desire to "change the world". In fact, they're probably just as interested in shoving people through different rooms as well.
: This room requires two people to operate, where it trades "guilt" or perhaps "conscience". By putting in someone who's needlessly worried and stressed over what they've done (or haven't done) and someone who sins but feels nothing for it. The room might "swap" their relative feelings, or balance them out or who knows what. But it'll change them both.
Finally, no one knows which room handles it (or if it's done by the House as a whole somehow) but when an Archetype "falls" they're taken by the House and turned inside out. They'll have some of their memories (including fuzzy memories of the Statosphere) but they'll embody their polar opposite (both in mind and deed, even if they weren't particularly dedicated Avatars). The Warrior will become a coward or a pacifist. The Mother hates children or anyone in need. The Masterless Man is fine settling down in a mindless 9 to 5 job.
Che Guevara ascended as The People’s Hero. Robin of Locksley was therefore ejected from the Invisible Clergy and is now oppressing tribes in Burma.
The Sleepers are the boogeymen of the magickal community. They're the guys who'll come after you if you decide to start freaking the mundanes too much or if you plot to reveal magick to the world at large. At the Cosmic level most of the really "with it" Lords know that the Sleepers aren't nearly as omnipresent or powerful as they're commonly believed...but they also know that the fiction of an all powerful "magick police" is too important to reveal to the rest of the Occult Underground. No one in their right mind (and most crazy people too) don't want to wake the Sleeping Tiger.
However, the Sleepers are even more of a fiction than most people know...
The "official" background of the Sleepers is that they were born as a response to the "witch hunts" of England in the 1600s. Rather than trying, uselessly, to fight back the sleepers instead made sure that they got to (and killed) any magicians first. By killing off anyone showing off real magickal power they ensured that the hysteria eventually died down as it was denied "fuel". Since then they've grown and spread, becoming the magick enforcers everyone knows and loves today.
The truth is very different. The actual origin of the Sleepers is in China in 1945. The founder of Cliomancy (which if you recall also had bogus "ancient" roots), Dugan Forsythe, was traveling there with a band of apprentice cliomancers and his daughter. This was during the young, heady days of Cliomancy when Major Charges were just a plane ticket away and history was more or less their bitch. Since WW2 was currently making Europe an unpleasant place to visit they were hanging around China and they ran into a group called the Brotherhood of Harmonous Repose, a magickal cult centered around bureaucracy. Their general goal was to suppress "disharmonous" magick (ie any magick they didn't like). Well, they got their mitts on Dugan and his crew and, ironically, showed the Cliomancers (masters of messing with memory) how you
fuck over someone's mind.
After the Brotherhood was done with Dugan and his team they believed they were the Sleepers (a group the Brotherhood made up completely) on a mission that took them far abroad. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood sent agents to England to create a convincing "base of operations" for the Sleepers, a place that looked like it would be the headquarters of a powerful, 400 year old magick cabal. Then they wrecked the shit out of it, as though it had been destroyed by some other, competing group. Then they let Dugan and co. go free (believing they had successfully completed their mission) and allowed them to head back to England where they found their "home" had been wrecked and they were the only apparent survivors. So Dugan and his companions started rebuilding the Sleepers from scratch, recruiting new members and building (or to them re-building) their power base.
Ironically the Brotherhood got trashed by the fallout of WW2 and have actually been absorbed by the sleepers, becoming just the Chinese headquarters of the Sleeper organization. There are only three people who know the truth. One of them was an original member of the Brotherhood, Wu Zhanhan, who serves as one of the four leaders of the Sleepers. He considers the origin of the Sleepers entirely irrelevant at this point, what's important is the work they do.
The Sleepers are not nearly as powerful or widespread as most in the Occult Underground believe (being founded by Cliomancers its easy to see why they have a reputation that far exceeds their actual ability) and have only 4 main bases of operation: Their main headquarters in England and secondary bases in Berlin, Lisbon and Bejing. The organization is run by a cabinet of four members (including Wu Zhanhan) and advised by an Abominable Unspeakable Servant known as Lucifuge.
The actual resources of the Sleepers are almost frighteningly slim considering how much of the Occult Underground's stability relies on their reputation. They have under 200 agents total for the entire world and not even half of them have magick of their own. Their bases do have a decent collection of Artifacts and rituals but since their goal is keeping magick under wraps they often find it better to employ as much mundane means as possible. Once they recruit an agent that agent is given 25k$ to buy supplies and equipment and stashed cash. After that the only pay Sleeper agents get is about 500$ per month for extra expenses. Most do the job because they know (or at least believe) that shit will fall apart if they don't. Fortunately most Sleeper agents don't know that their organization isn't the powerhouse its made out to be.
One of the more interesting Sleepers is Angela Forsythe, the daughter of Dugan the founder of both Cliomancy and (unknowingly) the Sleepers. She's about 80 years old but because of the huge number of Major Charges she and her father were able to harvest she still looks (and feels) only middle-aged. When her father founded Cliomancy he included a healthy amount of BS, mostly to do with Cliomancy's acient "Atlantean" heritage. This was, of course, completely made up but it served its purpose: ensure that most Cliomancers were taught that ancient Atlanteans were still around and that they had the "right" to harvest any Cliomantic sites they wished. His daughter was taught what to do to pose as an Atlantean, ensuring that she can usually force any given Cliomancer to allow her to charge wherever she wants...and if they don't (or if they never heard of the "true history" of Cliomancy) then she's more than powerful enough to push most of them around herself.
The New Inquisition
A Dipsomancer dreamed up the entire town of Engerwood, Pennsylvania in 1953. He’s the mayor there, and has a small imaginary family.
Other than the Sleepers the New Inquisition (or TNI) are the other global bad-boys to watch out for. The head of TNI is a billionare named Alex Able. Alex is dangerous not just because he has tons of cash, a magnetic personality and a keen mind but because, most importantly he knows about magick without using it himself. An excellent comparison is made between him and Dugan Forsythe. Dugan is about as powerful as it's possible for an adept to be...he was in charge of both an entire new school of magick and one of the most feared organizations in the Occult Underground, plus his personal brand of magick meant he had access to literally
of Major charges. But he was also a lunatic, obsessed with lies, deception and the past. He was looking to the past when he should have been thinking about the future. His ego and inability to look past the reputation he created for himself meant that he got betrayed by his own followers and probably died with more unspent Major Charges than most Adepts will ever see in their lifetime. Meanwhile, you've got Dermott Arkane who decided to pick a fight with the embodiment of the concept of communication itself which means that he's busy watching everything he's ever built crumble around him and that's while things are going as planned. Even worse there's the Freak, the biggest, baddest supernatural being on the block short of the Count de Saint Germain himself but it's so tied up in his taboos and the shit it had to do to itself to become what it is today that it basically has no other goal than "keep living". The pronoun should be a dead giveaway that there's something deeply wrong there.
Alex on the other hand is smart, cunning and, most importantly,
. He's got a few Failed and Hardened notches here and there but nothing paying a 5-figure per hour therapist can't help him handle. To him, magick is a resource. A powerful and dangerous resource that must be harnessed and channeled by whatever means necessary and the New Inquisition is there to help him with that.
In 1990 Alex almost ascended to the Invisible Clergy, although the last steps where foiled by Dermott Arkane as part of the opening salvos in his war with the Messenger. Despite the failed Ascension he did get a glimpse of the Statosphere and it opened his eyes to the existence of a whole different world. Alex wasn't the type to pick up a Bible and start going to church so he picked up the phone and started making calls...hiring the people he needed to figure out just what the hell was really going on in the world. After assuring himself that magick existed he went to work creating TNI, a multi-leveled organization of mercenaries, researchers, adepts and avatars with him at the top, pulling the strings. Although its well-funded TNI (like the Sleepers) is smaller than a lot of people think. There are only 140 actual members and less than 50 have any magickal ability. But Alex has deep pockets and if the TNI needs additional firepower to get the job done there's plenty of hired guns ready and waiting to swell their ranks.
There are four "levels" to the TNI:
is the lowest and most expendable. They're watched closely and not trusted with anything to sensitive or too important. But they do get paid: 50k a year for most willing recruits (60k+ for adepts).
These guys have earned a bit of trust and may be given authority over D level agents. They make 100k$ per year.
Each B level agent is given a specific "domain" and have clearance for all of TNI's info and resources within that domain. This might be a region (operations in the West coast of the US for instance) or it could be operational (Artifact Retrieval or Political Manipulation). They're mostly desk workers (although a few field ops have this level of clearance) and have been with TNI for years. They pull a cool half a million every year.
: If Alex is "CEO" of TNI, then A-Clearance Operatives are his trusted VPs. Their salaries are classified but obviously they've got more money than anyone could possibly need. Notably, no one at A level has any magickal power, for very good reason.
Their operations are mostly confined to the US (which means they and the Sleepers generally stay out of each others way) and are still very much in their "infancy" (at least as far as Able is concerned). They employee a significant number of Adepts and Avatars but they're almost never trusted above C and D level work. Alex controls his magickal operatives by basically becoming their "dealer". He finds out what they want and gives it to them, or what they can't do themselves (usually due to taboo) and makes sure it's taken care of. TNI also makes a point of recruiting from the more "stable" adepts...you won't likely find an Entropomancer or Dipsomancer even at D level. More subtle and reliable adepts like Cliomancers, Plutomancers and Personamancers are preferred. For instance, If Alex employs an Urbanomancer he'll pull strings to give the guy a significant, but ultimately harmless, position within the city government to allow him to easily charge up by interfering with his city (managing things like parade routes or street repairs for instance). Avatars are often preferred, especially those who aren't looking to Godwalker status or those with a built-in "agenda" (like the Warrior). A sane, reasonable mid-level Avatar is a lot more desirable than someone gunning for the Godwalker or a crazed Adept.
So...with all those lawyers guns and money what is Alex trying to do with TNI? Fortunately he's a "good guy", he's ultimately got a strong sense of justice (although it may not match everyone else's) and he's looking to harness the supernatural for the good of humanity (although his vision of that may not match everyone else's). For now TNI is still very new and is still in the process of making connections, gathering information and eliminating anyone who tries to interfere with them. In another decade or so Alex will probably turn it into a major powerhouse...but for the moment it's still quite unstable. Everything ultimately depends on Alex's resources and willpower and it could all come crumbling down if a big player manages to get to him (like Dermott Arkane did back in 1990).
Alex himself is given a write-up, but his history is so entwined with TNI that you more or less know it by now. One notable thing, although he's smart enough to stay away from trying to learn magick or beocme an Avatar he does own (and use) several potent artifacts: a one-shot amulet that hits anyone that attacks him with a deadly significant Blast, a major artifact he keeps in his briefcase which inflicts a -10% penalty to all attacks against him so long as there's someone trying to protect him and the preserved tongue of an ancient sorcerer that inflicts a -30 penalty to all attempts to magickally spy on him. Powerful defenses, but (amusingly) this does mean he has to deal with the occasional random Unnatural Phenomena.
His bodyguard is the big guy on the left, Eponymous. An ex-green beret who spent several years working as an extremely professional assassin and bodyguard. Then he got hit in the face with a soap opera. Seriously, you'd think some Videomancer had it out for him. He fell in love with a woman who turned out to be a rival assassin hired to break his heart and kill him in that order. The two played a cat-and-mouse in Albania for six days before he managed to kill her. Then he finds out that she was the granddaughter of one of the heads of the New York Mafia. He ends up with a massive price on his head. Fortunately, Alex Able is able to fake his death, clean out his identity and maybe even some plastic surgery (or epideromancer reshaping) to ensure he's not recognized. The return on that investment is one of the most dangerous non-magickal men out there and an extremely loyal bodyguard. The guy is also Hardened to hell and back (he's a full sociopath) and you aren't very likely to shake him with most anything...although he's just one notch short of losing it from a powerful Unnatural shock. As Alex's personal bodyguard he's A-ranked, although he's not directly involved in running TNI, but whatever he says about Alex's security is law.
Violet Mcintyre is a C-ranked Plutomancer and one of Alex's more trusted mystic agents...and a good example of why Adepts rarely make it above C-grade. Alex provides her just about anything she needs: he gives her the cars, nice houses and jewelry she can't buy herself as a Plutomancer and provides her with insider trading tips so she can easily reap Significant charges from the Stock Market. She's protected, valued and powerful in ways most adepts (especially plutomancers) can only dream of...but she's still an Adept. Which is why in the adventure-book
she's willing to betray Alex for a shot at a Major charge...one of the few things Alex can't really give her. And it's not like she wants that charge for what it can do...if she actually thought about it logically she'd realize there's not really anything she can do with the Major Charge that would be worth what she's sacrificing with TNI and certainly nothing she could do with it that would be enough to save her from Alex once he finds out. But she's a plutomancer, that much money isn't a means to an end...it is the end in and of itself. The charge is really just a sort of "side effect" at that point.
The Sect of the Naked Goddess
47 dukes live in Grantham, Connecticut. I dunno, it could be something in the water. And I heard the Comte spends Christmas there.
The Sect of the Naked Goddess is the current incarnation of an older cult, known more simply as the Cult of the Goddess. The Cult of the Goddess is the Occult Underground's version of the relatively common neo-pagan "Goddess" concept as a catch-all for divine femininity in all it's various guises: maiden, mother, crone, etc. Obviously, being part of the Occult Underground the Cult was a bit more "hard-core" than most who use the term. They're still around, but they were never major players in the Underground and after the followers of the Naked Goddess split off they've been mostly eclipsed.
The Sect of the Naked Goddess was created in 1996 with the Ascension of the most recent member of the Invisible Clergy, known by her followers as the Naked Goddess. The Naked Goddess was a porn star who managed to become the ideal embodiment of a new facet of human existence and instantly ascended
. The Sect keeps some of the trappings of the old Cult of the Goddess but is centered around the concept of Affinity...which is kind of a souped-up version of
, that desire is a force like gravity or magnetism and it can produce change in the universe.
When the Goddess ascended the videographer, Daphne Lee, saw it as a revelation and believed she had a mission to spread that vision to others. Fortunately she had a very literal means to do it: the tape of the Naked Goddess ascending. The tape had an extremely powerful effect on anyone watching, allowing Daphne to quickly convert several women to her growing cause. They were not originally members of the Cult of the Goddess but it wasn't too long before they encountered one another. Specifically, Daphne and co. ran into the Chicago branch of the Cult and quickly gained several converts from viewing the tape. However, the actual message of the Naked Goddess followers was pretty repugnant to the Cult as a whole...not only was the Naked Goddess a porn star, it's heavily implied she was involved in much of the darker, more degrading films in the industry which meant most of those who weren't under the influence of the tape found her repulsive as a symbol of female empowerment. It didn't help that Daphne's claim was that she was a purely
Goddess, meaning that the Goddess the cult was dedicated to had never existed in the first place.
The effect of the tape was extremely powerful and it created a schism in the cult between Daphne's converts who had seen the tape (and some who simply found her rhetoric and ideas compelling) and the more traditional Cult members. One of the key events that turned the Sect of the Naked Goddess from a fragment of an already relatively unknown cult into an actually player in the Underground was the creation of Pornomancy. Pornomancy started as an attempt (although Daphne didn't have the magickal vocabulary at the time) to reach Avatar-hood but critically the Sect of the Naked Goddess has not truly grasped some element of the Goddess' Ascension but they did manage to stumble on a new school of Adept magick.
Daphne and her followers had an opportunity much like Dugan Forsyth did with Cliomancy...access to an entire new school of magick and the potential for dozens and dozens of Major charges. Daphne had the chance to make a huge impact in the Occult Underground, but she wanted to think bigger. She wanted to bring the "good news" of the Naked Goddess worldwide by sneaking the original Naked Goddess tape into a TV station and expose a good chunk of the city to the "truth" and make thousands of converts. Well, things didn't go well. The plan was foiled, the original tape was stolen and one of the three founding members of the cult got literally torn to bits by an Entropomancer. There's no sure sign of who was behind this reversal (certainly the plan would have gotten the Sleepers good and pissed. but just about any major power in the Underground is a likely candidate).
The Sect has grown
considering their utter lack of any material resources and backing but they've made enemies even faster. The original Cult of the Goddess, the Sleepers, TNI and even members of their own group are starting to say that Daphne has misunderstood the true message of the Naked Goddess and the Sect may schism again. Only Daphne and her inner circle's enhanced pornomantic powers have allowed them to survive this long.
Every time a certain number of people die, one person figures out the meaning of life. This is the only way anyone can figure it out.
This is a heft chapter so I'll be splitting it up. Next we'll look at Mak Attax, the Global Liberation Society and maybe the Order of St Cecil
Original SA post
Unknown Armies, part 22: Weird
Demons are really the spirits of stillborn babies desperately trying to experience a moment of the life they were denied.
Mak Attax is a cabal of the magickally aware who, shockingly, actually have a job! Unfortunately that job is working at Mcdonalds.
Mak Attax are a group that is loosely organized by both their place of employment and a common goal: bring magick out of the shadows. Obviously this goal does not endear them to many people. Fortunately they are at least a bit smarter and less fanatical than the followers of the Naked Goddess in this regard. They know that simply "coming out" with the existence of magick in a dramatic, public way would simply invite a massive backlash (and/or get them immediately rubbed out by the Sleepers) and so their current goal is to get the world "primed" for knowledge of magick by gradually increasing public awareness of the weird and unnatural in everyday life. Their job at Mcdonalds is the means to this end. A lot of Mak Attaxers are pie-eyed dreamers who see magick as the ultimate tool for eventual utopia, believing that the reason magick is currently so fucked up and strange is because it is kept secret from the world at large. Of course some are assholes with "kewl powers" who really want an opportunity to show off how awesome they are without being shot or burned at the stake. They're a mixed bunch but overall they seem to tend towards benevolence (if a little delusional).
They accomplish this goal by sneaking magick into the meals and toys that they hand out to customers every day, essentially dropping charges into the food and drink to try and induce spontaneous Unnatural Phenomena in the consumers. Most of them know a ritual discovered by the founders of the cabal to pass the charges along to their customers. The group was founded by a Demagogue Avatar and a Mechanomancer shut-in with dreams of magickal do-gooding. They were joined by a third, a "geomancer" who studied ley-line theory. They decided to infiltrate burger joints (eventually settling on Mcdonalds as their primary) located at "nexus points" in the US where magick should, theoretically, be a bit stronger already. The Mechanomancer was also one of the early adopters of internet culture and use it as a tool to recruit and organize other mystically aware members. Nowadays he's the only active "leader" (the demagogue got mysteriously killed and the geomancer ran off) and he runs the organization's website and message board, making Mak Attax kind of a more benevolent mystical version of Anonymous. The site is used to share info, techniques and ask for help...as well as sharing celebrity sex-tapes, casual abuse and flame wars.
Now, for most of the group's 12+ year history they've been considered a joke by the rest of the Occult Underground. They've got ridiculous utopian views, work as burger-flippers and their common practice of passing charges onto customers means that at any given time most of their magickally capable members are too tapped out to actually accomplish anything impressive. They were considered nuts even by the standards of the Underground and so useless that the Sleepers didn't even bother to wipe them out despite their professed goal of revealing magick to the world. Most, if not all, of the Attaxer's don't have Cosmic level info so they're rarely involved in Archetype struggles. Then the year 2000 rolled around and the Max's were able to get everyone's attention in a big way.
First and foremost, the rest of the Underground realized just how huge (by UA standards) Mak Attax really was...they've got nearly 500 members making them bigger than the Sleepers, TNI and the Sect of the Naked Goddess put together and with a much higher ratio of magickal to non-magickal members. If they actually started saving up their charges and decided to take decisive action they could accomplish
things...and that's exactly what they did on New Year's.
You see Y2K had everyone in a huff, especially the conspiracy happy Occult Underground. Well on their website the Attax'ers begin organizing a plan they called Safe and Happy New year, to try and avert any millenial disasters that might hit. The first step was a shit-load of probability-warping magick aimed at making things difficult for anyone planning anything wicked on the new millenium. About 50 terrorists of various groups ended up jailed or hospitalized thanks to the Max's mystic pot-shots, foiling several major plots. The second was an
powerful Ritual (probably one of the only legitimately Major rituals out there) called the Ritual of Light which Max Attax organized to be performed in
time-zone world-wide as the new year arrived. The intent of the ritual was to prevent any magickal disasters that might be brewing as part of the millennium shift. No one really knows if this actually succeeded or not (or if nothing would have happened to begin with) but the scale of the project was immensely impressive and would have been entirely impossible for even the most powerful, but smaller, cabals out there. The Mak Attax group showed that once they get their heads out of the sky and their thumbs out of their ass they could literally change the world...a repeat of the Ritual of Light performance really could make sweeping changes to society, or even reality itself...and for a while it looked like that might happen: the group was getting tons of new members and real attention from the Dukes and Lords of the Underground.
Then the World Trade Center attack happened. For a US-based group whose rep centered on defeating just these sort of incidents not even two years before this was a major blow to morale. A lot of members were lost and a lot of established members are now wondering if it's time to "reorganize" the cabal's leadership and priorities.
: Derek is the "leader" of the Mak Attax group and the sole surviving founder. He was raised by one of the world's last "old-school" Mechanomancers who taught him everything he could about the school of magick. After his teacher died Derek went off to study mechanical engineering where he got involved in the then-nascent internet community and met Janet Kumyar, the passionate and charismatic Demagogue co-founder of their future cabal. One of the things that impressed Janet most about Derek was how well he managed to stay grounded despite his magickal skills, managing to still live and operate fairly well within the "real" world (or at least as well as any heavily introverted nerd does). Eventually they joined forces with Margret Brandt who had discovered the ritual to transfer charges to unsuspecting subjects.
The guy is a nice, trusting sort who's extremely unsuited to leading the group now that Janet and Margaret have died and disappeared, respectively. Unfortunately his naivety is being gradually stripped away by his work keeping Mak Attaxers in line (and safe from outside threats), making him stressed, jumpy and paranoid. One of the main reasons he's still alive is a Significant Clockwork which he inherited from his Mechanomancer uncle who used shell casings from the Normandy invasion to build it (disturbingly, this implies his uncle may very well have been a Nazi but Derek turned out okay at least). The clockwork, called Hermann has the external appearance of a leathery, wrinkled 50-year old german but deadly hand-to-hand combat skills.
Ritual of Lesser Correspondence
: The ritual Mak Attax uses to pass charges onto others. It's actually quite powerful considering the use it gets put to. It essentially allows anyone who performs it to transfer charges to someone else. When used on non-adepts the result is relatively minor but it is possible for one adept to "gift" their charges to another (even another from a different school) who can then use it to power their own spells. It's main limitation (hence being called "lesser") is that the it only works for minor charges. Still, this means that working together a group of Adepts can be quite strong, passing charges from those who can gather them easily (like dipsomancers) with those who have a more difficult time of it.
When a charge is passed to a non-adept it tends to get used "instinctively" as a crude form of random magick. Some examples include a very short ranged teleportation to avoid being run over by a car, seeing the answers to a test spelled out in caterpillars on the windowsill and a vision that led to buried treasure. Most spells are much less dramatic and useful (the previous three probably had exceptional Soul scores) and likely resemble slightly guided Minor unnatural phenomena. A non-adept with a charge who knows the ritual can use it to pass it on to another as well (this is how the cabal makes use of it's non-adept members: An adept with a buttload of charges divides it up among a team of non-adepts who then pass them along to the public).
Ritual of Light
It's not detailed here but I figured it bore mentioning just how powerful the ritual of light is. Unfortunately I don't recall where I read about it and I can't seem to locate it among my books but basically it allows the group who perform it to temporarily hijack partial control of reality by aligning themselves with the Statosphere. Essentially, dice no longer get rolled while the ritual is in effect. Instead events that would be decided by dice roll get decided by a vote...with the GM and each player having a single vote each. Majority rules. Needless to say a group that is united in a single goal can pull off amazing things while the ritual lasts. A group with conflicting goals will quickly founder.
The Global Liberation Society
There’s a glassblower in Xenia, Ohio who makes these globes, etching in the continents and whatnot. If you crack one with a silver hammer, it causes an earthquake right where you smacked it.
The GLS is a "cabal" only in the loosest sense of the word. They don't have any real magickal power or even much in the way of knowledge...they're solidly stuck in "Street" level concepts: they conceive that the world is not as it appears to be but they lack any real magickal "vocabulary" or understanding of the nature of reality. In a Street Level game they might be long-term antagonists. For Global gameplay they're dangerous but clueless and at the Cosmic level they're pawns at best.
Their history is tied into the (real world) I AM cult founded by Mark Ballard which splintered several times into new, more fragmented Sects based on "revelations" given to Ballard by the Count de Saint Germain. The GLS was born after one of these fragments of fragments fixated on Y2K as the tipping point of...something. Unfortunately (sort of) thanks to the Mak's nothing at all happened. The cult collapsed but the leader, Randy Douglas liquidated everything and used it to create the GLS.
While most of the "parent" cults were nutcases or apocalyptic "prophets" they were, on the whole, fairly harmless. The GLS is
. They are anarchists in the truest sense of the word. They more or less see the bonds of society and organization as the metaphysical equivalent of nuclear energy: split them apart and energy is "released" back in to the world. The GLS's goal is the release of as much energy as possible by tearing down any and all large structures and organizations: businesses, governments, societies, you name it. Although he's basically clueless Randy Douglas has somehow gotten a sense that
was meant to happen on the year 2000 that didn't...and to him that "something" was the destruction of the world, the ultimate release of "energy". Now he's looking for a way to make that happen...not in a metaphorical sense like WW3 or the collapse of society (although those are pluses), but in a very literal sense of total annihilation. Now he's looking for a way to make that happen...humanity isn't capable of it but he believes it's out there somewhere.
In the meantime the GLS doesn't actually act directly very much, but they do provide training, equipment and encouragement to anyone who is trying to bring things down, making them essentially a terrorist training camp. They fund themselves mostly by making and selling meth. Almost everyone apart from Randy Douglas and his inner circle is totally ignorant of the actual goal of the GLS and the "truth" of the Count de Saint Germain and the Ascended Masters.
Randy himself has a very, very limited amount of "real" knowledge. He's constantly on the lookout for occult texts and rituals, believing one of them will hold the power to destroy the world and he's somehow figured out (probably tipped off by one of the cabal's enemies) that Mak Attax is somehow responsible for what happened (or didn't happen) on Y2K). However, he doesn't know enough to realize Mak Attax is a fringe group operating within Mcdonalds...he literally believes that the corporation itself is secretly thwarting the true destiny of the world to keep everyone enslaved.
The Order of St Cecil
The Post Office, the Visa Corporation, and the IMF, are corporate manifestations/avatars of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The Order of St Cecil is another sorta-clueless bunch who have only the vaguest understanding of the true nature of the universe...but they're at least a bit more effective and significantly more benevolent than the GLS. They are a group within the Catholic church dedicated to the eradication of magick in the world and the removal of demonic influence. They are all Jesuit priests and monks, essentially acting as a kind of secret "inquisition" operating on behalf of the church. They do
make use of magick themselves in any way (knowingly at least, it's almost certain that several might be unknowing Avatars)
According to UA Saint Cecil is a "secret" saint who brought the catholic church definitive proof of the existence of magick and its power and died in the process. Believing that this knowledge would actually make king's and lords more fearful (and possibly make them seek it themselves) the church created the Order of Saint Cecil as a secret and militant group who investigate everyone who might be using magick...including royalty and members of the church itself.
Modern Cecilites are extremely dangerous, getting the equivalent of special forces training and access to Vatican funding and assistance. They are all dedicated to their mission and while most lack any real knowledge of the "society" of the Occult Underground or the true nature of reality their dedication makes them even more feared than the Sleepers. Like Alex Able, having knowledge of magick without actually using it means they are dangerously clear-headed in pursuit of their goals (although their religious perspective does color things).
The Order is about the same size as the Sleepers but better funded and with access to a much bigger network of information and aid in the form of the Catholic Church (even if most members of the church are ignorant or disbelieving of the supernatural). One of their biggest advantages is that while they lack a lot of information on the true nature of magick they generally know it when they see it. If they get word of weird happenings, possessions or the occult they send someone to investigate. Usually it's a false alarm and the priest notifies local authorities, recommends a good therapist or doctor, etc. They don't waste their time smacking some kid with the bible just because he told his parents that he's gay or splashing babbling hobos with holy water. When they do find a situation has turned "hot" they call in reinforcements and categorize it one of three ways:
To a Cecilite a Haunting is a place where the barrier between earth and Hell has thinned...not enough to allow demons (yet), but enough to create problems. Basically this covers most types of spontaneous unnatural phenomena so the real cause might be an Adept living nearby, the presence of an artifact or unnatural being or just about anything else that lacks signs of direct, intelligent meddling. Cecilites don't actually believe in ghosts. Hauntings are dealt with as directly and efficiently as possible. If an object seems haunted they'll lock it away in one of the Vatican vaults. Haunted locations are usually bought, demolished and consecrated. Tougher nuts are sealed up as much as possible even if they remain active. They often mistake Otherspaces (including Rooms of Renunciation) as hauntings, and those are typically the most challenging of their haunting solutions.
: This is a case where Cecilites are often right more often than they aren't. To Cecilites a possession case is one where a human is being controlled or manipulated by a demon. They've gotten fairly good at recognizing the signs of demon possession and although their exorcism techniques lack any real magickal power they're often surprisingly effective. They get the possessed individual somewhere remote and secure and at least three priests work full-time to perform loud ritual exorcisms every three hours (Cecilites notably do not engage in any kind of physical abuse or torture...they're trying to save the victim of possession and they've found that these methods are unnecessary and counterproductive). A good chunk of the Order are psychologists/psychiatrists and use intensive therapy whenever they aren't bible-thumping, sometimes along with medication to soften up the victim. In cases where they can't finagle some kind of legal permission to "intervene" they can and do stage fast and effective kidnappings: a squad of priests in full riot gear armed with tasers and beanbag-loaded shotguns quickly and (if possible) quietly take the possessed victim down and generally get them loaded onto a boat and into international waters ASAP.
Despite the lack of any magickal power behind the rituals they generally get the job done (more or less) in actual possession cases. Demons are occupying a body to fulfill an obsession and they generally can't do that while locked in a farm being fed porridge and water and prayed over...so they leave. A demon finds loud, aggressive bible-quotes as tiresome as anyone else. Even in the case of especially stubborn demons who won't leave the priests work with the victim whenever they're in control of themselves to encourage them to resist. In game mechanic terms they're essentially "training" the victim's Soul score which will, with time, give them a chance to force out the demon for good. Once free the demon's often try for possessing one of the priests but they're typically characterized by good Soul scores so this rarely works out. One things the Order
do (although they don't really know this) is actually get rid of demons. At best they're pushing the problem off onto someone else as the demon will just fly off and find a new victim somewhere else outside of the priest's notice.
Possession is the most likely diagnosis when a priest encounters an Adept...because really the behavior of an adept can be quite difficult to distinguish from the behavior of a demon. They'll treat an adept the same way they do anyone else and the procedure is still quite effective. Effectively they're using the same process as learning an Adept school in reverse: force the Adept to bust on Madness Meter (usually Helplessness) and then use the opportunity to "rebuild" their world-view. Adepts usually come out of these sessions without magick and with a healthier (if possibly a little fanatical) outlook and likely a religious Paradigm skill. Most Avatars fly under their radar and since an Avatar lacks the adept's obsession it's tougher to "re-educate" them but occasionally Cecilites do run across particularly unsubtle Avatars who get the bible-and-beanbags treatment (especially less "sociable" ones like the Savage). Although they can't directly dismantle an Avatar (and powerful Avatars tend to have somewhat higher Soul skills than Adepts), imprisoning them will often force the Avatar to violate taboo until they lose their powers.
are cases where things get
serious and when the beanbag rounds and bible-verses get replaced with SMGs and incendiary grenades. To the Order an Incarnation is a demon in physical form, not merely possessing a human host. This is typically what they classify Unnatural Beings as (things like murderous non-entities and Unspeakable Servants) but Epideromancers tend to get this treatment as well since a trapped Epideromancer will usually change into something that doesn't seem much like a human anymore. The Order does not mess around...they contain the "demon", get any innocent bystanders to safety and kill it. Then the burn the remains, praying over it and grind anything left into a fine powder. The powder is stored in a consecrated urn and stick that in a storage facility that resembles a cross between a supermax prison and nuclear waste storage.
Needless to say, it's effective.
The Order of Saint Cecil is one of the most powerful "cabals" while simultaneously one of the most ignorant. They've got training and funding that TNI wouldn't sneeze at and they've been doing their thing longer than the Sleepers (even longer than the Sleeper's supposed "origins). They combine sanity, dedication and a christian Paradigm skill that makes them tough to shake either physically or mentally and while they may be seen as fanatics they truly believe they are doing God's work and are almost universally willing to put their lives on the line. Plus, they have one thing few cabals have: actual, concrete results. Even if they don't always know what they're doing almost every member of the Order has seen their work result in significant, visible "good": families reunited, lives saved and livelihoods put back together again.
The downside is that they've been collecting magickal info for so long without actually using it themselves that they have almost no idea whats true. They don't know what adepts or avatars are and they've certainly got no clue about the Cosmic truths of the universe (well, they'd disagree). Most of their info is contradictory and even the stuff that was true at some point is hopelessly out of date. That's one reason their practices are so simple...they've found trying to catalog and research events is often ineffective compared to simply, straightforward action.
Thomas Edison’s Necrophone—for speaking to the dead—never worked. However, he did develop the Neophone, for speaking to the unborn.
After this we'll finish up the chapter with the Order of Saint Cecil's polar opposite: Satan's Chosen Temple, a small, baseless cabal of losers and dropouts who worship "the Devil" and summon demons. Along with that will be some unaffiliated but interesting NPCs.
Yet More Weirdos
Original SA post
Or play any Shin Megami game. Although I've got to say my favorite Law/Chaos interpretation in a video game is probably Catherine.
Anyway...it's been a while but back to Unknown Armies!
Part 23: Yet More Weirdos
Satan's Chosen Temple
In a little town in Alberta, there’s a family in which no one has aged since the mother started sleeping 23 hours a day in 1981.
Satan's Chosen Temple is the cabal in the book with the most
name of all...unfortunately they're mostly just a bunch of dangerous, misguided, self-centered idiots (i.e. teenagers). Like the GLS they're clueless, but dangerous...but mostly just to themselves. They're solidly street-level antagonists as most Global level characters would easily steamroll right through them and they haven't got the slightest idea of the sort of danger they're playing with. Basically, it's a bunch of teenagers who're into demon-summoning.
In 1999, a Hot Topic "Satanist" named Judie Brodie was playing around with a Ouija board in a graveyard and (due to her high natural Soul score) managed to "make contact" with a demon. Of course, in this context, "make contact" meant "immediately get possessed by". Under the demon's control she immediately bolted to the nearest Mexican restaurant and bought and ate 60 dollars worth of cheap mexican food. After spending an hour or so vomiting it back up she managed to retake control of her body and demanded to know which "spirit of the abyss" she had summoned. The demon was canny enough to figure out Judie's preconceptions and gave the vaguely biblical sounding name of "Gazadrel, lord of gluttony". The two worked out a deal...'Gazadrel' would teach Judie how to summon demons, in exchange for being allowed to use her body from time to time. Judie, who had already soured on the whole possession experience, decided she'd prefer to summon demons into the bodies of others instead and Gazadrel didn't have any problem with that.
True to her word (Gazadrel actually being the spirit of a woman named Lisa Cisneros who died about 15 years ago) Gazadrel taught Judie how intentional demon summoning worked and Judie started using her contact with the other teenage suburban goths she knew to start making deals with the "underworld".
Now she goes by the name Rebecca DeGhoule and rents a run-down house where she and her fellow "devil worshipers" can drink, party and listen to loud music in between (or during) bouts of demon summoning. She's made contact with several demons and worked out a basic set of "rates" where the demons are allowed to possess willing members of her group. Fortunately, 'Rebecca' was at least smart enough to also figure out how to banish demons as well as summon them and she's gotten pretty good at it. This is the only reason the whole "cabal" didn't go up in flames within a week. Still, she's had two impressive failures where the demons managed to escape with the bodies as soon as they got them. One ended up turning into a serial killer. Now, Rebecca makes sure to chain up anyone who's serving as a "host".
Rebecca is playing both sides. Her teenage followers give up their bodies in exchange for "dark favor" with Satan and the demons, often willing to pay for the privilege. Meanwhile the demons get a body to fulfill their obsessions and give Rebecca what she wants. Some of them give her bits and pieces of information but she's mostly just interested in cash. Unfortunately demons are not great at conjuring wealth...but at least one knows how to easily fix horse races by spooking the other horses and ensuring the one you want wins. This has gotten her a nice car, enough money to keep the lights on in their "temple" and a couple thousand bucks in savings.
So far, Rebecca is the only thing holding the "cult" together because with her gone the demons take over. She's also been fortunate in that the only demons she's made contact with (apart from the two nasty exceptions) have been fairly reasonable and have simple, easy-to-satisfy Obsessions. The moment she accidentally summons a former adept then her and her little group of teenage satanists are likely going to die horribly.
Before 1945, there were people who could fly and walk through walls and all sorts of crazy shit, but when they dropped the A-Bomb on Nagasaki, the world was reborn. People couldn’t remember anyone having those powers, and there was no record of them outside of comic books.
These are various random characters who can be used as recurring plot hooks, allies or antagonists at different levels of play.
Jim is an enigma. He might be a totally normal guy with a bit of brain damage...he might be a weird adept or avatar playing a really long game...the victim of a nasty unnatural event...but who knows? He's got no real ID. He's got a fake (a good fake) driver's license under the name Jim Smith but he goes by just about any name you can think of. He has, as far as anyone can tell, no fixed identity. He fabricates (knowingly or not) new identities with exceptional detail and utter sincerity. Different attitudes, backstories, accents and names.
The only thing consistent with his identity changes is that its never the same. Sometime he'll stick to one identity for days at a time, sometimes he'll switch back and forth when he meets someone that knew him in a previous "life". Sometimes he'll switch from one encounter to another and he'll even make up new backstories mid-conversation.
One thing most people notice if they interact with him long enough is that he's unusually competent when it comes to violence (Struggle 45%, Gunplay 40%, Initiative 50%), no matter what his "backstory" would indicate. He's also rarely surprised or fazed by magick and will often spontaneously create new identities related to the occult (sometimes containing enough fragments of "truth" to indicate that somewhere in his head is some knowledge of the Underground) when asked about it or confronted with magick, although he never has been seen to actually use magick (despite sometimes claiming to).
Molly is a Street level character who is just barely brushing against the existence of the supernatural. She's got vaguely defined "spiritual" beliefs and sees her job as a cab driver as a kind of quasi-mystical/shamanistic role where strangers are allowed to share their experiences with her (i.e. she's one of those
cab drivers who tries to make conversation with you). She has no real magickal skills but is good at reading people and getting them to open up and share their experiences with her.
Basically, she's a story hook in waiting. She might hear about something she shouldn't, stumble upon something genuinely mystical or just be someone who actually
the crazy things Street Level PCs are likely to spout instead of dismissing them.
One of the more powerful and well known Dipsomancers in the Occult Underground, one of Allen's main accomplishments is surviving so long practicing a school of magick that chews up its practitioners almost as fast as Entropomancy. This is partially helped by the fact that Allen has some "real-world" success as a novelist.
The guy has had a rough life. His first wife died in the 60's after a research trip for Allen's novels went badly and caused her to catch a strange wasting illness. He started drinking heavily but also managed to write his first successful book, a semi-autobiographical novel called God's A-Bomb based on a cult he discovered in Brazil.
After spending some time in rehab he emerged and hung around California a bit before going to Louisiana, getting married again and learning Dipsomancy from someone called "Doctor Ugly Mouth". He wrote his second novel while being targeted by the Brazilian cult. He moved to Chicago to escape and after a divorce wrote his third book, Dead Harlots of the Western Sky (adapted to the movie Witch Hunter in 1990). Now his liver is failing (something most Dipsomancers don't live long enough to suffer from) and he's using what's left of his fortune and magick to try and hold on to life. Somewhere along the way he made a
enemy, The Freak. Fortunately(?) the Freak doesn't seem interested in murdering Allen directly, it just wants to watch Allen waste away.
His life has made him mean too, he's already killed a couple of "apprentices" in rituals to extend his own life and is currently looking for a way to permanently steal a younger body to keep going.
The guy is one of the oldest and most experienced Adepts in the Underground, making him a font of knowledge (if you can get his cooperation) and he's got contacts (or at least people he knows...they probably hate him) everywhere. He's also got two Significant vessels (Nixon's coffee cup and the skull of a monk turned wine-glass owned by lord Byron).
Selena is a clueless reporter who stumbled straight into Global territory when she accidentally ran into the Freak and lived to tell about it.
She's the star of an Oprah-esque talk show who has enough shreds of integrity that she prefers to find new and interesting facts rather than making them up. She got interested in the occult when she accidentally stumbled on an Adept's attempt to create a Hand of Glory by kidnapping a corrupt politician and putting him on "trial" in front of a jury made up of his followers so that he could be convicted and then hung as part of a ritual to create a Hand of Glory. She got just enough footage to get good ratings but not enough to prove anything and she got the Hand of Glory itself...which she promptly lost after Alex Able hired the Freak to get it for him.
Now she's in
over her head and she's not letting that stop her. She's got enough mundane resources and connections and the ambition to make things very hard on members of the Occult Underground in Chicago. Her determination to figure things out is probably going to get her killed by the Sleepers eventually (if some Duke doesn't do it first) but in the meantime she's a great contact for a PC cabal, or even a patron with the player's taking the role of her research and investigation team.
The Freak is the Godwalker of the Mystic Hermaphrodite and one of, if not the, most powerful Epideromancers in the world. The Freak has managed to keep its position as one of the biggest individual powers of the Occult Underground by being both immensely scary and surprisingly reasonable. After it wiped out a six-man hit squad sent by TNI, it's reached a "truce" with Alex Able where both have mutually decided to leave one another alone. Likewise it has made it clear to the Sleepers that it has no intention of Waking The Tiger and so they leave it be (and even sometimes pay the Freak for assistance). Finally, it's also got a fairly amicable relationship with the Mystic Hermaphrodite itself...the Freak seems to have no interest in Ascending to the Invisible Clergy but it fiercely defends its status as Godwalker from any other contenders, ensuring that the Archetype itself doesn't have to worry about anyone coming to unseat it any time soon.
Of course, that's when the Freak deals with the major "powers" of the Occult Underground and the fact that it can deal on more or less equal footing with a billionaire's private army, the Underground's "secret police" and the cosmic representation of mysticism itself shows just how powerful the individual called the Freak really is.
The Freak is mostly the subject of rumor, lies and half-truths so very little is known about it. It can change its appearance and gender basically at will with only two consistent features...first an immensely gravely voice (caused by drinking acid to get a Major charge) and it has several slender chains actually strung
the flesh of its torso. If it needs a Significant charge on short notice it simply grabs a chain and tears it free.
If you recall, the Mystic Hermaphrodite can use it's 91% channel to gain a Significant charge once per day by changing gender...which the Freak can do at will (and no it doesn't violate the Law of Transaction, Avatars aren't subject to it). This means that the Freak can, and does, get a Significant Charge once per day...and epideromancers have one of the easiest Taboos to keep. This allows it to charge up without the significant injuries involved in significant charges and keep those charges more or less indefinitely. This means the Freak has had free reign to modify its stats and wound points as much as it wants using Epideromancer Significant spells and it still probably has several dozen significant charges at any given time that it can use to heal itself to turn itself into even more of a killing machine than it already is.
No stats are provided for the Freak, it's basically meant to be a practically unkillable and nearly unstoppable plot device.
Jeeter is a bit like Dirk Allen taken up a notch, the ultimate incarnation of the game's "wizard hobo" stereotype. He's a shitty Entropomancer (30%) and a decent Avatar of the Pilgrim (70%) who's been around the Underground long enough that eventually most people just assume that he must be someone important...once they actually try and get to know him though most give up in disgust. He's got no life, no home and no future and most people who know him long enough have just figured that the only reason he's still alive is that no one has any pressing need to kill him.
The guy is basically the Unknown Armies version of Rincewind from Discworld. He's got a bit of luck and a whole hell of a lot of cowardice and (thanks to his status as a high-level Pilgrim Avatar) a knack for running away. He's got nothing to prove and no real goals to speak of...he just survives. The one thing that's notable is his tendency to show up on the periphery of important events...but even then he's never directly involved enough for anyone to bother trying to off him (he's also got 5 Failed violence notches meaning that any sign of actual danger is enough to make him flee immediately...he's not the sort who's going to stand and fight for his beliefs ).
Tina is not human. She's not like the Freak, she was never human to begin with. She's the final "masterpiece" of a Mechanomancer named Shpresa Dmitrijevíc, who'd had an unfortunate life and weird ideas about the nature of consciousness. At the age of 55 she'd done more than most other people by a fair margin...in addition to mechanomancy, she's been a burglar, a grave robber and a spy for the KGB (which actually turned out to be a front for an Israeli intelligence agency). Unfortunately she hadn't found the "truth" she'd been searching for and she was running out of time.
So after an elaborate heist involving a dead person's skin, statues of an ancient aztec god and a Significant clockwork, she'd managed to get the materials she needed (one of the remaining Enigma Machines) for a Major one. Well, she incorporated
into that clockwork: the statuettes, the significant clockwork, the enigma machine and
of her memories. She completely emptied herself into her new creation, giving it...well giving it a shit-ton of points to play with basically.
Tina Lovac was the final result. Tina is a self-transforming mechanical monster that can take humaniod shape or transform into just about any configuration of roughly the same volume, including a snake-like shape roughly 22 feet long covered in razors or a handy wheel shape which lets her roll along at up to 35 mph. However, she also has a neat trick, by skinning someone of roughly the appropriate size she can wear the skin and do a passable imitation of the person. If she wants the skin to last she's got to take the time to tan it. She's got a collection of tanned skins available, including her original (and most common), the skin of Shpresa herself who Tina skinned immediately after "awakening" (and fitted with a handy zipper).
Tina is a physical powerhouse, with a Body and Speed of 120 (including an 80% Struggle score and fire-arms level hand-to-hand damage.). She's also practically a walking computer with a mind of 85% and about 700 points devoted to Mind-linked skills (mostly intelligence gathering ones like code cracking, languages and analysis). Finally, she's got a 55% Mechanomancy skill. Her one weakness is her need to stay powered...her "power train" is recharged via impact (a questionable design decision to say the least), meaning each point of blunt force impact damage gives her one day's worth of "juice" to keep moving. She can presumably repair herself (this is an aspect of Clockworks that Mechanomancy doesn't really address), but it makes things difficult for her.
Although she possesses all of Shpresa's memories she is definitely
her creator. She has no personality to speak of (although she's good enough at faking it) and an utter lack of morality or empathy (meaning no Stimuli or Madness Meters). She has only one goal, instilled in her by Shpresa: learn the truth. She relentlessly pursues this objective, learning anything and everything she can about history, culture, and reality itself...investigating all conspiracies, legends and rumors in the most efficient, ruthless way possible.
The world has already ended. Magic only has begun to actually work ’cause reality is falling apart.
We're almost done with the book. All that's left are the pre-made scenarios at the end: Bill in Three Parts and Pinfeathers.
Original SA post
Part 24: Starter Scenarios
We're on the home stretch here, the only thing left are the two "sample" adventures at the back of the book. I'll see if I can get them both completed here...
A Bill In Three Parts
Lovemaking is not the only way to create a human body, but it is the only way to create a human soul. All the people created through scientific means—artificial insemination, clones, in vitro fertilization, gamete intrafallopian transfer, intravaginal culture, uterine lavage embryo retrieval, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, and the rest—are born without souls, incapable of real empathy or emo-
tion. If you watch the streets with aura sight, you’ll see them—they’re the blank people.
The first of our starter adventures concerns the unfortunate Bill Toge(s), a guy at the center of an unfortunate space-time thingy-do and a more personal disaster in the form of an entire flock of shit-covered birds coming home to roost. Five years ago a younger Bill Toge was kicked out of his dad's house and drove off to nowhere in particular. He ended up running off the road and splitting into three people (unbeknownst to him) for inexplicable cosmic reasons. The three Toges each went different ways and ended up living their own (relatively unpleasant) lives for five years. Now things have gone bad for all three and they're headed back home...hoping their dad will take them back or at least help them out...when they all crash their cars at the same intersection they "split" before. The wreck turns this metaphysical hiccup into a full-on cosmic heart attack and that's when the PCs get involved.
I'll be honest, I actually do not like this adventure very much...I haven't read the other UA scenario collections like Weep but I get the impression that UA tends to be very "hit or miss" with it's pre-made scenarios and this one is definitely a "miss". The plot seems geared towards Street Level characters but it's far too "in your face" with the unnatural elements for the 'feel' of street level play (involving magic dopplegangers, time travel and teleportation). There's a lot of "setting material" that's mentioned but never directly involves the PCs, so it just comes off as a little pointless. It's also extremely rail-roaded and just generally feels somewhat slapped together. There's hints of interesting ideas in here...but it doesn't match the tone of the rest of the book very well.
Anyway, on with the scenario: As I said, all three Bill Toges' have lived their own lives for the past five years. All have had run-ins with the law and with the Occult Underground. For their own reasons each of the three had a personal crisis which left them driving home when they reach the exact same road as their crash five years previously and all three of them (still driving identical versions of their original car) arrive at the same spot as their accident and get in three-way accident with one another.
The PCs have been driving along a road themselves (it doesn't matter which road, in fact the adventure even suggests having each PC be driving a different car down a different road somewhere in the country and find themselves somehow at this simultaneous location). There's an intro bit of "read-aloud" text for the PCs which...for some reason...lays out tons of info that the PCs have no way of knowing but also provides no context for understanding it. If you actually read this out to the characters odds are good no one would know what the hell you're talking about.
So, after stopping at the crossroads the PCs encounter the wreckage (with the three Bills still unconscious inside) and a sheriff who immediately calls to them for help. He can't do anything himself because one arm's in a splint and the radio in his patrol car is busted but the cars are spitting sparks and leaking gas so he asks the newly arrived PCs to help dig out the three drivers before the gas ignites. The adventure rightly notes that this is not normal behavior for a law enforcement officer because the sheriff is actually the Count De Saint Germain in disguise, working to get this particular cosmic wedgie unstuck from the buttocks of the universe. Unfortunately, this is the Count in his laziest incarnation because he's going to sit there and let the PCs do everything (I get having powerful, semi-omniscient NPCs like Elminster or Harlequin as a convenient source of plot hooks but it's important that there be a reason for them not to get involved directly...here the Count literally watches everything happen and just pushes the PCs into the middle of it).
Anyway, getting the Toge's out isn't too hard, the cars are wrecked but the doors all work and while they're unconscious none of them are so mangled that they require immediate emergency assistance. However, once they're all out it becomes obvious that these aren't just three guys...they're the
three guys. The Sheriff shakes his head and says "I knew it, its that damn Bill Toge again." Then the three cars explode in a giant fireball.
1st Bill: The Supermarket
Suddenly it's 2 PM, about 12 hours earlier and the PCs are all in the pet-food aisle of a supermarket as one of the Bill Toge's and a gang of his "friends" are in the process of holding the place up.
This Bill is a thug who's working with a group of four "buddies" in a cheap rip-off of
. They're all wearing ex-president masks and holding up the Fresh Way supermarket for the cash in the place's safe. The one notable thing about Bill is the magical "amulet" he's wearing: a JFK half-dollar inscribed with nonsense symbols which is a Significant Artifact (provides a permanent version of the Entropomancer Fortune's Fool effect). Bill doesn't know it's magick, he just happened to give a hobo (identified by the book as Jeeter) a dollar and the bum gave him the amulet.
Things are going badly for the "heist". It turns out a police officer was grabbing a donuts when Bill and Co. busted in and he tried to get the drop on them. In addition there's a group of about 40 shoppers clustered in the front of the store being watched by one of the gang.The PCs arrive just as the bullets start flying between the cop and the crooks, the cop gets hit and goes down. Unfortunately for Bill the officer was smart enough to call for backup before engaging and sirens start up in the distance and within minutes this becomes a hostage situation.
Bill is panicky and ultimately doesn't necessarily want to kill anyone (although the rest of his crew might feel differently). If the PCs don't interfere the crooks will grab the money and (maybe) shoot a hostage that tries to flee before escaping out of the back exit, getting into their car and driving off (leading to Bill panicking and fleeing for home...and crashing into himselves).
Theoretically, the PCs goal is to stop Bill from escaping somehow in order to ensure he doesn't make it to the crossroads and hit the other Bills. Realistically...I don't see it playing out very smoothly. It's relatively tough for the PCs to recognize Bill given that all of the criminals are wearing masks and even if they do its unlikely they'll know
they're supposed to do. Not to mention that the PCs are likely unarmed (having just been helping a police officer dig unconscious people out of a car wreck) and the robbers are all toting firearms. This is exactly the sort of situation the combat chapter warned you about getting involved in after all.
The Count De Saint Germain is here too, the PCs might recognize a janitor as the sheriff...but he does nothing to indicate that he knows the PCs or what's going on.
If the PCs fail to stop Bill from escaping then one of them spots a doppleganger, an exact duplicate of themselves who pops up from behind a checkout aisle. The doppleganger waves to his/her original in a mocking and malicious way. Only that one PC spots the double who immediately leaves the store. The scene then shifts back to the car wreck which is just like it was before the explosion except the PCs have any injuries from the scene and are carrying anything they happened to pick up.
If the PCs succeed in delaying Bill (including killing him) then there's no doppleganger and the scene goes back to the crossroads..but this time there's only two cars and two Bill Toges.
Either way the sheriff mutters his line again and once again the cars explode.
Scene 2: The Apartment
Again, it's twelve hours earlier. The PCs are in the hallway of an apartment building outside Apartment 101. From inside they can hear the sound of someone in distress, possibly gagged. The door is slightly ajar and through it they can hear someone say "how does it feel, dead man?" in an angry voice.
If the PCs look inside they can see a crappy apartment. Bill Toge is standing there, with some injuries, holding a knife and tied to a chair is man whose mouth and nose have melted shut. This Bill is an Epideromancer and the guy tied to the chair is a local child molester who is in the process of suffocating.
If confronted, Bill may (if given the chance) explain that the guy is a child molester who kidnapped Bill's daughter (four years old). Bill figured he's got her stashed somewhere and is trying to get the location out of him. Since the girl's mother has sole custody and Bill has a criminal record the cops are also looking at him as a prime suspect (it doesn't help that he beat up the girl's mom a few times...Bill's only a "good guy" in comparison to the guy in the chair). Of course it's unlikely he'll get a chance to go into much detail given the circumstances.
Once Don (the kidnapper) passes out, assuming the PCs haven't disabled Bill in some way, Bill will slash open the sealed up mouth with his knife to let the guy breathe. If the PCs act to stop him Bill will try and explain that it's the only way to keep the guy alive and he's the only one who knows where Bill's daughter is. If the PCs get violent Bill cuts himself and using the injury to Blast someones' testicles off (yes, it does specify that Bill targets the testicles).
If Don ends up dead and he's in any condition to do so Bill will take the guy's keys and head to his house. The PCs might be allowed to come along. If Don lives he'll crack under the supernatural torture and reveal that the girl is in a secret room in his house. He'll offer to take Bill (and by extension the PCs...good thing child molesters always have vans).
Things move to Don's house (the Count is masquerading as a drunk hanging out in an alley nearby, still wearing the same face). The place is full of dog shit, tiny Pomeranians, posters of dolphins and guns (Don sells illegal firearms). If the PCs are looking to "load up" they can get several weapons, boxes of ammo and in the bedroom is 8.5 grand in cash. The girl is in a hidden room in the basement...already dead. She's wearing a gag and ended up choking on her own vomit. If Don is with the group then Bill stabs himself and uses the Significant blast to make Don vomit up his own stomach.
About when Bill comes out of the house, holding his dead daughter's body two detectives arrive (since Don is a convicted child molester they're going to do a routine questioning...there's apparently a long list). At the sight of anyone carrying a limp little girl they'll draw their guns. Bill is more or less crazy at this point and...unless the PCs intervene in some way...he'll stab himself in the eye for a Major charge and turn both cops into flesh-puddles. He would then flee town, heading for the crossroads.
The PCs goal is to stop this somehow (or stop the confrontation from ever taking place, if they can make sure Bill isn't the one in a compromising position when the cops show. If they can keep Bill from freaking out the odds aren't too bad for him...there's plenty of evidence to show that Don was the kidnapper and while Bill might get in trouble for his methods the cops are undoubtedly sympathetic once they know the truth.
If the PCs fail then another doppleganger shows up...driving a duplicate of the character's car down the road. Again they wave mockingly before driving off. Again the PCs show up back to the crossroads just before the explosion (with two or three cars depending on how the previous scenario went).
If they succeed then they show up back at the crossroads with only one or two cars (depending on how things went last time).
Either way, the explosion repeats and the PCs are somewhere else again.
Scene 3: Trailer Park
12 hours earlier again, this time the PCs are in a trailer park somewhere in the Southwest USA with about 3 dozen run down mobile homes. The place is closed in by cliffs on three sides and has no utilities...no electricity or water or phone lines...and looks abandoned. No one is visible but the PCs can hear the sound of idling car engines somewhere out of sight.
If the PCs follow the sound (or just wander around) they'll come to the entrance of the park and see the remains of a fake canvas and wood UFO laying on the ground. A sign over the UFO reads "WELCOME!!! JESUS!!! AND THE ENSALUMBANS!!!" Both seem pretty old and are definitely falling apart.
In front of the "UFO" is a corpse, a woman in her 20s who appears to have been shot several times and holding a revolver in her right hand. Outside of the entrance are a few dozen vehicles: a mix of police cars, camera crews and news vans. A total of about forty people, several in uniform and armed with rifles. If they spot the PCs they'll start opening fire. The group has stumbled into a fun little cult stand-off.
Once the PCs are being shot at one of the trailers will open, revealing Bill Toge who gestures them inside, saying "Kindred! Come inside! The Time is at Hand" This Bill is the leader of an apocalyptic cult called the Essenalumban Collective. A couple of years ago Bill got a premonition that today would be the End of the World when Jesus and his alien buddies return. He managed to attract about a dozen followers, took them into the desert and fed them a lot of shrooms. While tripping balls they stumbled across the group of abandoned mobile homes and decided this must be the place Jesus would arrive to. They built the UFO and sign and provided enough stuff for the trailers to be semi-livable for weekend visits (namely just a portapottie).
A few days ago Bill led his "flock" to the trailer park for the final "arrival" but some of the cult member's friends and family got concerned and called the cops. The first police officer who approached was shot by one of the trigger happy cultists and things got out of hand. The cult members are high as fuck and occasionally one of them takes a shot at the cop's general direction and one of them (the dead woman at the entrance) managed to kill a reporter before the cops gunned her down. The cops are minutes away from storming the compound.
This Bill Toge is an Avatar of the Fool (unknowlingly) at 55%, which is what has gotten him the limited success he's enjoyed so far. This makes him lucky and tough to hurt (but dangerous to be around). The trailer he pulls the PCs in is full of four other cultists and has the body of the cop that one of them shot yesterday (it really smells but they're too stoned to notice). They've gone
off the deep end and cut the cop's body open and eaten most of her brain and organs (they're bizarre logic is that this allows them to take the cop with them when they leave with jesus...making her death okay and really a good thing if you think about it). They're covered in blood and munching magic mushrooms from a plastic bag.
In addition to Bill there's his second-in-command Satchel Phair. The guy with the weird name is looking forward to the end of the world and likes hurting and killing people and sees it as a good excuse...after all if the world's going to end they'd be dead anyway. There's two others a woman named Nickey who's got a bad case of messiah worship for Bill and an off-his-meds kid named Sal who's Phair's "boy wonder" in training. There are eight more cultists scattered through the other trailers.
All four of the cultists in the trailer are tripping balls and have their own goals:
*Bill just wants to ramble about his vision and how great it'll be to meet jesus. He's a nice, gullible guy who has just kind of...stumbled into murder and cannibalism.
*Satchel is looking to kill and eat the PCs. He might try and get them out of the trailer along with him and Sal so they can kill them.
*Nicky is starting to have some doubts that killing, dismembering and eating a police officer is "cool", but is too damaged and drugged to really act on her own.
*Sal will do whatever Satchel wants. No matter what it is.
The group is (on their own) tripping on roughly the same "wavelength" and getting along fairly well...however the PCs could disrupt things and whatever actions they take will be responded to in an exaggerated fashion. If the PCs get upset the cultists go ballistic, if the PCs get cool and froody then everyone might get together in a hug pile and wait for jesus.
Whatever happens the police are going to raid the place any minute (preferably at a crisis point). Eight officers are waiting on the cliffs around the park and will launch tear gas grenades into the midst of the trailers while a SWAT van drives in and disgorges 22 SWAT officers in body armor, gas masks and heavily armed. The driver of the van is the Count De Saint Germain. They'll methodically go down the park, busting open each trailer and disarming, disabling and cuffing any cultists. The officers on the cliff cover them with sniper rifles. This will not end well for the cultists.
The cops can take down the cultists without anyone dying...but the cultists have a lot of (small) guns and the cops are perfectly willing to put down anyone rather than risk losing someone to a lucky shot. If the cultists are smart (or just incapacitated by tear gas) then they can live through this. Assuming the PCs and the four "named" cultists aren't incapacitated by tear gas they'll react in different ways:
*Bill tries to get to the van, planning on reasoning with the "attackers" and letting them know the good news about Jesus.
*Satchel thinks this means its "everyone dies" time and will happily kill anyone and everyone other than Bill.
*Sal will stick with Satchel (who will happily kill him if no other victims are around).
*Nicky sticks to bill but might come to her senses and try and persuade him to surrender.
Bill is also a center of trouble due to his Avatar skill...anyone taking a shot at him has a good chance of having their attack redirected to anyone else around him...friend, foe or PC.
Once the raid ends an ambulance shows up, driven by a hispanic paramedic: Jesus. (if you haven't gotten the joke, remember that AMBULANCE is spelled backwards on the front, now sound it out).
The "bad" ending here is a lot vaguer than the other two...in the "original" timeline Bill got winged by a bullet and was taken away in the ambulance by Jesus. His Avatar skill let him find the key accidentally dropped by a police officer in the ambulance and get uncuffed. At which point he bails out of the ambulance and (somehow) makes it back to the compound and gets his car and (despite his injury, the tear gas and being stoned out of his gourd) he manages to make it out of town and get back on the road towards the crossroads..of course you can't blame the PCs for not realizing this extremely unlikely turn of events is going to happen and thinking everything's peachy when Bill gets put in the back of the ambulance.
The "win" for the PCs is any situation that doesn't have Bill in an ambulance...if he manages to get arrested without being hurt he'll end up in a squad car which he can't escape from and if he's hurt badly enough he won't be able to free himself from the ambulance. If he's killed or unconscious then obviously he's not going anywhere.
If the PCs fail then one of them will spot another doppleganger who vanishes after mockingly waving and the PCs show up at the crossroads with the same number of Bills as when they left. If they succeed then they reappear at the crossroads minus one bill toge.
If the PCs undid all of the "Bills" then nothing happened at all. The PCs find themselves at the crossroads: no sheriff, no wreck, no Bills. This is presumably the best option?
If only one "Bill" remains then the wreck and sheriff are gone and the remaining Bill pulls up next to the PCs, looks at the PCs without recognizing them and says, "what is this, a dork convention" then drives off. This interaction is a little bizarre if you remember that at this point Bill might have just killed people, lost his daughter (and stabbed his own eye out) or been involved in the violent raid and wreckage of his apocalyptic religion (and eaten someone) within the last 12 hours. When Bill pulls off the the doppleganger created by the failed scenario is in the back seat and waves to the PC as the car pulls away.
If more than one Bill remains then the explosion engulfs the cars, the sheriff and his squad car without a trace and the duplicates appear, driving duplicates of the PCs cars and peel off into the night. An ambulance (but no Jesus) drives up to take away the Bills.
And that's pretty much it. Presumably the dopplegangers will cause some kind of trouble for the PCs but this whole thing is basically just something that most PCs will blindly stumble through to a conclusion that cannot be understood one way or another. They may not even realize they "failed" or "won" at the end of it.
Of the three, my favorite is probably the Trailer Park scenario and it seems like that just needs a little more work (mainly a way to organically introduce the PCs into the scene without teleportation/time travel) for that to be an excellent Street Level scenario. It's got crazy people, disturbing violence and just a light glazing of the supernatural (Bill's Avatar skill and visions). The biggest problem with it is the ending where it has to tie itself into the whole "doppleganger" plot with the other two timelines). Alternatively, a version of this event that's been "toned down" would be interesting too...instead of teleporting between different timelines the three Bills all make it to his sleepy little home town without running into one another at all...in fact no one ever sees them together so no one realizes there are three Bills. The plot could involve the unnatural events that crop up when the Bills get close and finding some way to resolve their tangled life-lines.
The guy who tells you “the” is the magick word is full of crap. There is a magick word, but it’s the first person singular. Avoiding the fifth letter and first two letters of “Mephistopheles”—that protects you. The driving force of magick is egotism. That’s why adepts are such assholes. That’s why Christianity and Buddhism teach selflessness and ego annihilation.
Pinfeathers is a bit more down to earth than "Bill In Three Persons" and its more suitable for play at different levels. It centers around Angela Osborne, an Avatar of the Flying Woman. She's trying to infiltrate a mostly clueless cabal called "The Flock". Basically they're a bunch of Neo-Pagans who are preparing for a ritual to celebrate the Phoenix (which they see as a symbol of rebirth and transformation). This is par for the course for "loser" cabals like the Flock who've got barely enough occult knowledge to fill a thimble. Angela is interested for a different reason...one of the Flock members is a blood relative of Amelia Earhart and (Angela believes) owns a compass that belonged to the pilot.
Earhart is almost universally considered a powerful historical Avatar of the Flying Woman and most Lords in the know have the smart money on her actually being the current Archetype of the Flying Woman (a powerful Avatar disappearing without a trace when performing a feat of major symbolic power associated with her Archetype? Definitely likely) and she's certainly the reason the Archetype is known as the Flying Woman.
So now we've got a descendant of an Archetype with one of her relative's personal belongings performing a bird-themed ritual relating to rebirth and transformation (both associated with the Flying Woman) could have a whole lot of symbolic power. Angela thinks that, worst case scenario, the compass could be primed to be turned into a powerful Artifact if it doesn't spontaneously turn into one...and best case scenario she thinks that by being present at the ritual she can call some of that power to her and boost her Avatar abilities.
Unfortunately for her she's got a rival: another Avatar of the FW and an ex-lover who knows what Angela's after and wants it for herself. The player characters serve as pawns, wild cards or fellow rivals (depending on their power level). This scenario is set so there's no "pre-set" good and bad guys...Angela might be after the power for herself but still be ultimately heroic (and willing to throw that power away for the sake of others)...or she could be a complete sociopath willing to burn the Flock alive and roll around in the ashes if she thought it would make things work better.
Each NPC has three "settings" to represent how noble or dickish they might be: Low Road, Middle Road and High Road. This comes along with their character stats...which I notice are pretty full of typos...a lot of them have Skills higher than their stats. Angela for instance has a Soul of 60 and an Avatar skill of 73%.
Other than that, this adventure is put together in a much more satisfying way, instead of teleporting PCs from set-piece to set-piece this one lays out the relevant NPCs: Angela, Maggie Laterneau (her rival/ex), Morris Breecher (an assassin hired to kill Angela) and Sid Anderson (the leader of the Flock). It then lays out suggestions on how the PCs might get involved: a global group might be on assignment (or hire) from TNI, a street level gang might be friends or associates of the Flock or its leader and a Cosmic level cabal might be looking to interfere in the struggle of high-level Avatars for their own ends.
Next it lays out the agendas for each major NPC:
*Angela's agenda has already been established and is the driving force behind the action. What she's willing to do to accomplish her goal will depend on the "road" (high middle or low) chosen for her.
*Morris has a pretty set agenda: kill Angela. Why he's after her will vary, he might be a TNI or Sleeper hired gun or he might be hired by Maggie (if she's on the Low Road).
*Maggie's agenda will largely depend on her personality vs angela's "road". A high-road Maggie will be looking to "save" Angela (either from what she sees as a bad decision or from turning into a monster) while a low-road version is out to kill her
she's proved that she's better than Angela by taking everything Angela wants for herself. Maggie may also have varying levels of knowledge about the situation...she knows Angela is in town and is after something big but may or may not know all the details which'll color her actions and how willing she is to work with others.
*Sid's actions will largely depend on his relationship with the PCs. If they're friends or prospective members of the Flock he does everything he can to look competent, capable and independent (which could end up getting him in trouble). If they're complete outsiders he's more likely to see them as rivals or potentially untrustworthy. The guy is (on any road) ambitious and looking to make the Flock (and neo-paganism in general) the next "big thing", he wants a world where it's got the same mainstream acceptance as religions like Christianity or Judaism. Depending on the Road he's on this might drive him to acts of stupid heroism for publicity/recognition or to betrayal if he thinks it'll help his cause.
Maggie and Sid are the main "on screen" players of the game. Angela drives the plot because the PCs will likely be pursuing her or standing in her way (intentionally or not) and Morris will appear whenever there needs to be a cool action scene or to disrupt any chances of getting everyone to just sit down and talk things out like adults. Maggie will likely be working with the players (even if they don't know why) and Sid will be a constant presence as the open leader of the Flock and (as the leader of the group and owner of the compass) he'll be at the center of all the action one way or another.
Finally, several locations are provided:
*Circle's Edge Bookstore: a New Age bookstore, run by the Flock. Upstairs is office space for the Flock and downstairs is a hidden (but legal) S&M dungeon. The dungeon is totally above board and while the store doesn't advertise it they will freely talk about it if asked (although obviously not about clients). It's mostly a bit of interesting flavor, but the fact that several important financial and political figures in the city are members allows Sid to pull a few extra strings if needed (especially if he's on the low road).
*Sid's Apartment: Sid lives on the fourth floor of a downtown apartment with a locked front door (you need to be buzzed in) a normal elevator and a (locked) service elevator. The compass is on display here unless there's a significant reason it shouldn't be.
*Liston Farm: An organic farm about an hour from town. The place belongs to a Flock member and will be the site of the ritual. The Flock has a ritual circle marked out in a wooded area on the property. The farm will be the site of the Phoenix ritual and it may serve as someplace Sid might run to (possibly along with allied PCs) if he feels that his life is in danger in the city.
Every act of heterosex releases a demon into the world to ruin it. Every act of homosex releases an angel to protect it. Every act of monosex releases a narcissistic and capricious spirit—they’ve fought the demons, but only for selfish reasons. We used to be able to reproduce without perverse heterosex, but the demons destroyed the cloning technology and we’re just now recovering it. The demons
have almost won—that’s what’s up with our sexualized advertising and permissive culture. But with enough homo-sex we can defeat them. Just watch out for those treacherous bisexuals!
Once all the pieces are in place things will typically play out organically enough so long as the PCs have a reason to stay involved. Most likely those reasons will be either looking for Angela or sticking with Sid (or both if they realize that Angela is likely after him). There's no direct "path" to follow but there are some important events that are likely to occur:
Meeting The Flock
: PCs who represent a magickal cabal (or are presenting themselves as one) will likely be welcomed by Sid and the Flock who'll happily give them a tour of the Circle's Edge and the Flock offices, talk about what they're doing and their plans and invite them to their next drum circle. The Flock is pretty much purely "clueless"...they obviously believe in magick as a force in the world but none of them have any real knowledge of the Underground: an Avatar or Adept would completely blow their minds. Any of the three other major players (Angela, Maggie or even Morris) might be present at the bookstore or the drum circle meeting, scoping things out. None will have been here long so they aren't likely to make any moves unless the PCs force their hands.
: If Maggie is aware that the PCs are actually a part of the real Underground (and not the kiddie pool the Flock is splashing around in) then she'll probably approach them for help. She might be honestly looking for assistance or planning on using the PCs as pawns but if the PCs aren't aware of important plot elements (such as the compass or Angela's presence) then Maggie can fill them in.
: Once the PCs have learned about Angela then they will probably start seeing her around town (likely scoping out Sid, his apartment or the Circle's Edge). She's slippery thanks to her Avatar channels and even if the PCs are after her directly it's unlikely they'll be able to act freely in public.
: If it seems like the PCs aren't doing enough to interfere with Angela's plans to secure the compass or infiltrate the Flock or it seems like they're dangerously close to resolving everything reasonably and peacefully (say convincing Angela that they should work together). Morris's attack should fail to kill Angela but it'll spook her and make her harder to pin down. It could also interfere in the PCs own plans to trap or ambush her.
: Assuming things haven't gone completely into a ditch (namely Angela or Sid being killed already) then things will climax at the ritual performed at the farmhouse. The ritual occurs a few days after the adventure begins (usually just one or two) and all fifty or so members of the Flock will show up. Showing up at the farm itself is easy enough to do without suspicion but actual participation in the ritual would be noticed if the PCs aren't a part of the flock (which is why angela is trying to infiltrate it) but its easy to watch from the trees. Sid will lead the ritual (wearing the compass around his neck). The ritual takes 30 minutes to an hour and at some point weird stuff will occur (assuming things aren't interrupted by Maggie, the PCs or Morris).
If the ritual goes without a hitch Sid will start glowing (he won't be aware of it but everyone else can see it) with a blue aura which gradually takes a bird-like shape. A low, quiet hum will also start to spread through the clearing (specifically it is the distant sound of a propeller aircraft engine). If Angela and/or Maggie are there they will step into the ring, holding out their arms to the light (and if Morris hasn't been stopped he may very well decide this is the right time to take Angela out). Either way at this point there's enough momentum that the magick is not going to stop regardless of what happens so this is a good opportunity for a shootout or fight with weird shit happening in the background. The hum grows louder and louder before there's the sound of an explosion and then the sound of an airplane in an uncontrolled dive and the sound of a woman screaming. Random unnatural effects should be shooting off here and there during this time. Finally there's the sound of a crash which knocks everyone in the ring down and fills the ring itself with a column (like a wall-less above-ground swimming pool) of sea water. This can be a danger to anyone badly injured or knocked out already. At this point Sid is in the center of the pool, underwater and glowing brightly...the bird aura unfolds its wings and carries Sid up into the air. Angela and Maggie both think something big is happening (possibly even an Ascension) and may act to try and stop it (including killing Sid depending on their Road). If Sid is killed or knocked out the magick ends and the column of water collapses and everything goes dark (all candles are extinguished and Sid stops glowing).
If things continue uninterrupted Sid flashes brightly and the aura shoots up into the sky and the water collapses. Sid is still here and still alive...but is now a woman. As a man he can't channel the Flying Woman but his biological and symbolic connection with the archetype through the compass and his bloodline still shoved a ton of the Archetypes power through him anyway, resulting in the power taking the path of least resistance and changing his body to match its needs. However, in a final twist this whole mess has made him an Avatar, not of the Flying Woman but of the Mystic Hermaphrodite.
Depending on what's happened people might be dead, panicking, violent or just confused. Its up to the PCs how they want to clean up the mess or if they just run to their cars and skip town.
There are 333 essential stories—333 routes from birth to death, 333 paths from the cradle to the grave. When an individual dies, it reinforces one of the stories—their personality melts down into pure narrative energy. The strongest stories, which have been lived most often, can now influence the living from beyond the grave. That’s what “avatars” are doing. But this creates a feedback loop where certain stories get overplayed, cutting down the options for all of us and throwing the universe dangerously off kilter. There are uncountable ways to be wrong, and only 333 ways to be right.
So, that's it for Unknown Armies, or at least mostly it. I was going to ask, would people prefer I dig out Post Modern Magick and Statosphere and cover a few more Adepts and Avatars or should I move to my next F&F (which will be the Whispering Vault)?