Tzetze wants to run a game! Of Unknown Armies. It’s set in Cincinnati, roughly right now, but with wizards and demons and shit (actual shit) running about.
But he’s afraid, so maybe he’ll try a oneshot first. Background below is still mostly applicable.
It’s the early 2000s. You’re internet savvy; normally, when you see something about the Internet Hate Machine, you just have a good laugh. But. A few months ago, your board exploded in drama, as they sometimes do. A day before the climax (itself very dramatic, involving multiple fan writers of note quitting forevermore) a modestly popular artist native to the board threatened to kill herself.
The local news media has noticed, because as it happens the girl’s parents haven’t known where she is since then. Your board is now in the midst of a moral panic.
One of the moderators, a somewhat unstable guy who spends most of his time role-playing, has taken it upon themself to solve this problem, by threatening you, a player in the suicidal drama who happens to live in the same city, into solving this problem. Specifically, if you don’t at least try to find the girl, he will ban you and leak your name to the local FOX affiliate. Hell hath no greater fury.
Valentina "GIR23" Klepin (GMPC)
A real-life friend of the deceased, interviewed enough by the media that everybody online knows her real name. She’s taken a leave of absence from the board, but has been convinced by the moderator to monitor your investigation and report on whether you should face consequences. Despite thinking it’s probably a matter for the cops, she might give you information.
She doesn’t like Invader Zim much any more. Please don’t ask her about it. She’d rather you ask about her makeup, which she spent quite a lot of time applying this morning, or her fashion sense. Girl’s goth and proud of it, through her dour personality.
"False Killer Whale"
If the media hears your name you’re probably fucked: less than an hour before the girl made her fateful post, you told her quite directly to kill herself. Does that count as manslaughter? You don’t know and you don’t want to find out. You don’t feel guilty, particularly - you were hardly the only one slinging those orders around, and the bitch was no saint - but on some level, you don’t want to have cajoled somebody into the river.
Nobody online thinks you’re a very nice person. You came to the board during an /i/nvasion and stuck around. You were actually banned a few weeks after the drama died down, for mostly unrelated reasons, but the moderator tracked you down anyway. Just your luck to live in the same city. In real life, you’re pretty boring, an art student. You like painting landscapes. And yes, you’re a bit fat.
Clytemnestra had nothing to do with the missing girl, and was aloof even from the drama. Your other account, though, had a few bones to pick and you may have said a few things that could be taken poorly out of their proper context. As it happens, the girl was fond of reviewing fannish writing, and as it happened, your other account was (you grudgingly admit) not a very good writer (but you’ve improved!). You don’t know why people can’t just follow “don’t like, don’t read”.
You have a boring job as a secretary, but you spend most of your time, at least mentally, as the famous, beautiful, aloof cosplayer Clytemnestra. You make all your own costumes and you are really damn good at it. If you could, you’d go into work dressed as Spike Spiegel, but even that modest crossdressing would piss your managers the hell off.
The internet forum you frequent is an old one. Some talk about its antecedents on USENET or the WELL. You don’t know about that; as far as you know it was originally a forum for fans of some TV show, Goro Goro Iki or Wormhole X-Treme or some other fixture of 90s nerdery. Since then, it’s grown into one of the larger general discussion forums on the internet, far larger than any TV show. Nobody reads all the boards, not even you, ya grognard.
Despite that, the place does have an overall sense of community, and that’s why you agreed to meet some other members downtown. If it so happens half a dozen or so people live in your city, why not take advantage? You might make some friends.
In particular, your group is from the “Paranormal/Conspiracy” board. It’s not like you’re a tinfoil hat kind of person (if only because you know aluminium is far more efficacious), necessarily, but something about the unexplained interests you. Maybe something very strange happened to you in the past. Maybe you’re just a wannabe magnet.
In any case, you’ve agreed to have lunch and then hit a local concert. Hope you like J-pop. (Ideally one or more of the player characters would have been the ones suggesting this. If not, you get an NPC weeb. Choose carefully.)
I’ve got a few session hooks but it would help to know some characters before I plan too much, yeah?
Your character is a resident of modern Cincinatti, or else can regularly show up downtown. You use the forum, or else somehow found out about their offline meets (you creep). Beyond that, go crazy with your character. Nobody too ridiculous, of course; how often do interesting people use internet discussion boards?
Think of it in terms of a minor aspect. Say your character doesn’t have a phone. Sure, you don’t need to explain that. Say they have one phone. Yeah, who doesn’t? Say they have six phones, a bluetooth headset, and a nonfunctional VGA port in one of their palms. You’d better have a good explanation for that one.
If your character knows about magic, that’s all well and good, but
- check it with the GM
- if your character tell anyones they’ll think they’re crazy, quite rightly
You don’t need to have your stats perfect or nuthin, but try to have some broad ideas of what you want your character to be. Include some backstory, that kinda thing.
Want to play?
Put your name down, hopefully with a character sketch. This ought to include a backstory (a few sentences), and the parts of the mechanics below that don’t involve number crunching, e.g., passions.
- Tzetze, doy
- IllFlower (as Motoko), if this ever happens
- Thomas Laird. Community college student and wannabe ethnographer.
- Barcode, ever so slightly possibly
- hippie metalhead. Talks like the Dude. Healer and (later on) sorcerer.
- pretentious artist
This is a summary of Unknown Armies’ mechanics. If you want a look yourself, it’s chapter three of the 2nd ed. core book, page 30 on.
Here are a character’s mechanical characteristics. Obviously they have broader personalities and names and such as well, but here’s what you need game mechanics-wise.
- An obsession. People don’t get into the business for fun; there’s usually something they really, really want. An obsession shouldn’t be a joke or a minor thing. It’s the meaning of the character’s life.
- If you’re a magical adept, your obsession is oriented around your school.
- Passions. A character has three important ones: Fear, Rage, and Noble. These are things you are very intense about, buttons that can be pushed. Mechanically, if one of these is activated (and you should have good reason), you can flip-flop (see below) or reroll a roll you messed up, as long as it’s something related to the passion.
- Fear: Something that terrifies the character. It doesn’t have to be a full-on phobia, but the character should not be able to function normally in the presence of something that causes a fear stimulus. The reroll/flip-flop should be used to run, hide, something to get away. They can’t use it for violence. The fear passion is linked to one of the five types of madness (again, see below): Violence, Helplessness, The Unnatural, Isolation, or Self. If you get that afraid, you’re going to have to make a madness stress check.
- Rage: Something that makes the character angry. Very angry. The reroll/flipflop should be used to lash out and hit something.
- Noble: The positive passion, a higher purpose of the character. Given examples are “landmine removal” and “protecting the elderly”. All characters have one of these, even people who are otherwise complete dirtbags.
- Four stats: Body (toughness, athleticism…), Speed (dexterity, reaction time…), Mind (intelligence, cunning…), and Soul (charisma, emotion…). Each is a number between 1 and 100. 50 is average, 10 is extremely low (e.g., 10 in Mind means you can’t live by yourself and are probably brain damaged, Stephen Hawking has a 10 in Body), 90 is extremely high (e.g. 90 in Body can bend metal with their hands, 90 in Soul can convince a cardinal that God was actually an alien). Characters in Ideogrammaton have been around the block a few times, so they get 240 points to distribute among the qualities; newbies to magic would get 220, and high-level wizards have around 260.
- Mind is linked to insanity. When you make stress checks for madness, you’re rolling against Mind, and higher Mind is better.
- Soul is linked to magic. Somebody with a very high (at least 80) Soul can sometimes manifest magic with zero training, see auras, etc. Magic skills are always Soul skills.
- Skills are what you know how to do. Each skill is linked to a stat: combat goes under Body, sprinting goes under Speed, it should be obvious. Skill is again measured from 0 to 100. Unlike many games, this means your skill while stressed out, not in normal circumstances, in which the GM should not bother with skill checks. Your skill rank cannot be above the linked stat’s rank. There is no canonical list of skills. You should just figure out what skills are appropriate based on your character, and there’s a lot of broadness and leeway in what’s allowed and what skills can do. Something like “infiltration” is probably too broad, but “hacking” or “sneaking around” should be fine.
- Some skills are free, meaning everyone is assumed to have them. You start at 15% in the following skills: General Athletics and Struggle (fighting) under Body; Dodge, Driving, and Initiative (for determining combat order) under Speed; General Education, Notice, and Conceal under Mind; Charm and Lying under Soul. You can probably replace one of these skills with something more appropriate to your character if you talk to the GM.
- One of your skills is an obsession skill. This is somehow thematically linked to your obsession. Someone obsessed with cars might have “Driving” as it, for instance. If you’re an adept, this is your magic skill. The advantage you have here is that you can flip-flop your rolls against this skill at any time.
- Skill ranks are generally lower than stat ranks. 40s in Struggle is enough to be a black belt. Remember that the ranks are to reflect the character under stress, not in a controlled situation.
- You may optionally pick a Paradigm skill, which is a large part of your character’s outlook on life. Some examples are “Military”, “Scientific”, or a religion. For a paradigm skill, you pick two kinds of madness: One the paradigm makes the character better at dealing with, and one the paradigm makes them weaker to. Somewhat unintuitively, these can be the same (Scientific is Unnatural/Unnatural). You can use this skill to deal with madness. More on that later.
- Madness. There are, again, five types: Violence, Helplessness, The Unnatural, Isolation, and Self. For each of these, there are ten possible “hardened” marks, and five possible “failure” marks. Most characters are going to start with at least a few hardened or failure notches.
- Someone with 10 hardened notches is completely desensitized to that stimulus. Hannibal Lecter would probably have 10 in Violence.
- Someone with 5 failed notches is completely phobic. They automatically fail madness stress checks in that category.
As for using them.
There are some generalities with rolls. Basically everything is with percentile dice, a random number between 00 and 99. You want to get a number lower than something, but after that, higher is better. (So for example, if you’re rolling a skill check and your skill is 58, 58 is the best possible roll for you.)
00 is 100, which is a failure. Even if you somehow have a skill of 100 or what have you, it’s a failure. Nobody’s perfect. Not only is it a failure, it’s a critical failure, which, as we know from Dark Heresy, means that something hilariously bad is about to happen to the character.
01 is 1, which is a success, because nobody’s really bad enough at anything to merit a 00%. It’s also a critical success. Your character is trying to hack into the Pentagon, you roll a 01, your character gets root. Who knows? This supersedes minimum rolls, etc.
Sometimes there are minimum rolls. If you want to make a called shot and blow off someone’s leg, for instance, the book suggests a minimum roll of 30, so, again for example, if your character’s Struggle skill is 48, you’ll want a roll between 30 and 48.
In many situations you can “flip-flop” a roll. This just means you can switch the digits - if you rolled 84, a flip-flop makes it 48.
Skill checks are pretty simple. In a normal situation, the GM shouldn’t bother with skill checks. If they want to anyway for some reason, it’s an automatic success if the skill is over 15%. Easy. In a significantly stressful but still pretty safe situation, you succeed well if you roll under (or the same as) the skill level, succeed decently if you roll under (or the same as) the stat, and fail otherwise. For a major skill roll, such as in combat, less than or equal to the skill is success, and otherwise is failure.
For minor and significant unskilled checks, you roll against the stat minus 30. For example, an unskilled climber character trying to jump a fence, with a speed of 62, would need a 32 or less. For a major check, you roll against your stat with no reduction, but you need to get a critical success (01) or a matched success, meaning the digits are the same (11, 22, 33, etc.). Furthermore, there are some sanity checks here. An unskilled person is never going to succeed on a “Pilot an F-17” skill check.