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Author Topic: Clownin' Around (session 1): Unknown Armies in actual play  (Read 3395 times)

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets

« on: November 23, 2002, 09:31:10 AM »

Okay, here's the first Saturday morning report on my Unknown Armies game.
Hopefully these will continue for the duration.
The characters are as follows:
Agent Sunshine Black, a no-nonsense collections agent from the IRS,
currently suspended, suddenly tossed into the deep end of the occult
Mask, a mysterious personamancer who naturally assumes the personality of
whatever mask he is wearing.
A brief reminder of the secret history of the game, which the players do
not know"
Mask is the creation of a fairly powerful personamancer who leads a
particular cabal of Mak Attaxers.  After successfully impersonating David
Blaine on one of his TV specials, he used the major charge to create
Mask.  Mask is the condensation and distillation of the essence of the
Clown.  This personamancer plans to buck for godwalker of the Clown by
"wearing" the ultimate mask, which would be Mask.  The ritual to do this
is simple.  First, Mask is submerged in water and "dissolves".  Then,
whoever lies down in the same water will emerge from it having adopted
this new personality.  In game terms, this would automatically boost
someone's Avatar:  The Clown skill to 98% (or 99%, if there were no
godwalker).  This is a big deal.

Somehow, the current godwalker of the Clown got word of this attempt and
decided to sabotage it.  So, he dropped word of this major magickal event
in the right ears and, in the middle of the ritual, the Sleepers
attacked.  In the confusion, Mask escaped.

So now Mask is living his life as normally as he can.  Of course, he
wasn't really created with memories in mind, so he doesn't really
remember more than one month at a time.  Events further into the past
just tend to fade from his mind.

The Sleepers still want him.  He is a major unnatural event just waiting
to happen, and they want him stopped.  Permanently.

The Attaxers still want him.  Having a friendly member of the Invisible
Clergy would be a boon to the overall Mak Attax agenda, and the symbolic
implications of the Clown watching over a bunch of McDonald's employees
cannot be underestimated.

The current godwalker of the Clown wants him, but only to ensure that he
is either destroyed or subverted.  He is hoping that the Sleepers will do
the dirty work for him.  After all, can't break taboo now, can we?

The purple monsters are completely unrelated to this mess.

There is a special department of the IRS that is kept secret from the
public eye.  It is their job to be constantly at work on improving the
collection capabilities of the IRS.  To this end, using both genetic
research and a bit of magick, they have created the Collectors.  These
beasts are the next generation in tax collectors.  Soon, human collectors
will no longer be necessary.  These creatures will do the job.

Agent Black's supervisor receives orders from the head of this secret
department.  It was his job to provide a test case for the Collectors.
Black's supervisor happened to pick Mask's.  He was going to pull Black
off the case anyways.  It was purely coincidence that she was busted for
breaking and entering his apartment.  That just made her suspension
easier.  Her career is being sacrificed for a test run of the Collectors,
and she doesn't even realize it.

Of course, now the Sleepers know about the Collectors.  This can't be
permitted to continue, of course.  But can the Sleepers take on the
federal government and win?
So, we ran our prologue during chargen, which resulted in the initial
confrontation between Mask and Agent Black, which was interrupted by
three gunmen in masks attacking Mask's house, with the apparent aid of a
large purple monster.  Agent Black freaked when she saw the monster, and
Mask actually rescued her, hauling her into his van and driving off.
So, session one begins.
(Credit where credit is due.  I took the street gang from an entry for
the Hand of the Future on unknown-armies.com.  The substance was adjusted
a bit for what I was wanting, but the basic inspiration comes from that
Mask is freaked out.  He's driving randomly, trying to figure out what to
do.  Of course, he's wearing a clown mask right now, which isn't helping
any.  Finally Agent Black convinces him to pull over.  He gets out...and
then realizes that he is by the waterfront.  He freaks (further) and
runs.  Agent Black chases him for a few blocks into the downtown, where
they are mugged in an alleyway and kidnapped.
When they come to, they are tied up in a warehouse.  As they listen to
two of the gang members arguing, it becomes apparent that a television
wants Mask (for some unspecified reason).  Mask is able to observe the
gang leader (Render) and uses his spell The Basics to adopt Render's face
and voice.  He then starts yelling for someone, claiming that he is
Render and that Mask had escaped and tied him up.  The gang member who
responds to his call believes Mask and releases both Mask and Agent
Then they hear the sound of a television being tuned in.  So they start
looking around for a way to escape, when they run into Render.  He is a
little freaked out about someone else wearing his face, but he manages to
keep it together.  Good thing, too, because Mask and Agent Black both
draw their guns.
Of course, Mask had taken Agent Black's gun, so Agent Black is currently
wielding a gun that pops out a "Bang!" flag.  But that's hard to tell in
the middle of a fight.
Render takes cover.  Mask and Agent Black take off.  Render calls for
help and chases them.  When he begins firing at them, they both dive for
cover and get separated.  Agent Black almost makes it to the loading
docks but is recaptured by Render.  Mask manages to fake out another gang
member that he meets and decides to climb up into the rafters.  From that
vantage point, he sees the shrine of the television.  There is a "high
priestess" tuning the widescreen television, which keeps trying to
project a face.  The TV is surrounded by candles and burning incense.
Mask also sees Agent Black being marched towards the shrine.
So he decides to open fire on the priestess.  All he manages to do is
draw fire from the gang members below.  One of them hits him in the arm.
So he decides to run along one of the rafters, roll and tumble down onto
the boxes below and use his Clowning Around skill to roll with the fall,
avoiding any damage.
Matched failure.  Bad.  Very bad.
So, Mask rolls onto the boxes, falls, and breaks his ankle.  He is
captured and herded towards the television.
Apparently the television is called Telemanchus.  Apparently it wants to
be free.  Apparently it wants to possess Mask.  Why it wants Mask is
still a mystery.
Render and Sybil (the high priestess) begin arguing.  Render doesn't want
to break the television to let Telemanchus out.  He's been too useful.
Sybil is a true believer, though, and wants to release her master.  Sybil
wins out, and the gang member behind Mask prods him forward.  Instead he
turns and casts Visage of Terror.  This spell makes it appear as though
the caster removed a mask from his face, and underneath the caster's
"face" is a true face of absolute horror.
The gang member screamed in terror and fled, dropping his gun.  Mask
grabbed the gun and fired.
At the television.
The screen exploded.  The concussion knocked everyone to the ground.
Shards of flying glass raked everyone's skin.  And a being of pure
television static burst from the television, screaming "I am free!"  Then
he poured himself down through Mask's eyes into his very soul.  Burrowing
deeper and deeper to the center of his being.
But at the center of Mask's being is only a void.  And the void swallowed
Of course, no one else knows this.  So Mask decided to pretend to be
possessed.  Using one last casting of The Basics, he adopted the
static-filled voice of Telemanchus.  He demanded that the gang fetch his
van.  He demanded food.  He demanded medical attention.  Everyone leaped
to obey.
Everyone but Render.  He wasn't buying it.
So, he is sitting across from Mask, tapping a gun that he picked up from
the floor.  Then he notes that, if Mask is *really* possessed by
Telemanchus, a gunshot shouldn't bother him.  Sybil tries to intervene,
but Render shoves her out of the way and pulls the trigger.
Bang.  The flag pops from the gun barrel.
Cursing in frustration, Render draws another gun, but Agent Black leaps
up from the floor, holding a switchblade that someone had dropped, and
puts it to his throat.  Sybil gets back up and takes the gun.
Then Mask ordered Sybil to kill Render.
Agent Black freezes with indecision.  She doesn't want to be responsible
for the murder of Render, even if he does want to kill her.  Sybil has
been ordered by her master, so she has no choice.  She moves to execute
Render, motivated by his fear of losing his power and prestige and
reputation (gunned down by WOMEN!), pulls free of Agent Black and slugs
Sybil across the face.  She is knocked sprawling, unconscious.
As Render dives for the gun, the switchblade digs a nasty gash across his
shoulder.  But he manages to scoop up the gun.  Mask kicks him, aiming
for the cut, but Render manages to hang onto the gun.  Then Agent Black
stomps on his arm.  Render screamed and passed out.
Mask and Agent Black made good their escape.  By this point, Mask was in
serious need of medical attention, so he decided to head to another
nearby city to seek medical attention.  When Agent Black realized what
was going on, she asked to be dropped off in the next town.  Mask agreed.
But first, Mask decided to get changed into a magician's outfit.
And then, the two of them, the magician and the IRS agent, drove away
down the road.


Well, I actually don't have much in the way of analysis yet.  I'm still hashing out if I plan on running this in an Illusionist manner (i.e. using the freewill decisions of my players to create my own story) or in an Intuitive Continuity manner (i.e. having random plot hooks at my disposal and using them when necessary).  Time will tell.

Part of the issue is that I am training a new roleplayer (this was her very first session), so I'm still feeling out what she is looking for in roleplaying.  In the past, my newbie roleplayers were part of a gaming group of six, so it was possible to allow them to fade into the background until they found their comfort level.  Obviously, having only two players reduces this as an option.  So, it will be an interesting experience.

Questions?  Comments?

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Posts: 15

« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2002, 05:59:31 PM »

As someone who is looking at picking up Unknown Armies, this was a really interesting read. I look forward to future editions!
Steve Dustin

Posts: 99

« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2002, 10:00:39 PM »

I'd have to say your game looks awesome. Especially like the Collectors.

I been in a few UA sessions myself.

1) UA was the game I ran my best combat in, and it was all due to the madness meters and hidden damage. Characters ran and froze up from the threat of violence. PCs were trying to get into a warehouse, and ended up, running out and running back in. The bad guys equally freaked.

Curious, what do think of the madness meters in play? And did you get combat to be quick & frentically paced?

2) On the downside, I think people have a hard time developing good or worthwhile stimuli (Rage, Noble, Fear...) and rarely take advantage of it. It just seems that part of the game just kind of flounders. Did you have problems getting the players to develop useful and interesting stimuli? I don't remember much flip-flopping in the games I played.

Anyway, sounds like a great game,


Creature Feature: Monster Movie Roleplaying

Posts: 1155

designer of Dirty Secrets

« Reply #3 on: November 27, 2002, 11:13:58 AM »

Some good questions.

This is not the first time that I've run Unknown Armies, so I'm used to some of these factors.  So, here come my answers.

I think that the madness meters are of the essence to Unknown Armies.  A large amount of the consequences for character choices are meted out through this mechanic, which is an important part of my playing UA.  Part of the point of UA is that people who pursue power above all will pay the price for it, and the madness meters bring this home to roost.

As to combat, I don't usually approach it in a frenetic way as much as in a "real" way.  (In my family, we talk about movies like Saving Private Ryan or Heat or Braveheart as being "real violence" as opposed to "action violence" like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon.)  Combat should provoke a desire to cower behind cover.  The mostly transparent dice-rolling system assists in this, but the biggest aid is the hidden wound point system.  Since using game terminology is out ("you took 17 wound points"), the necessity of clear communication of the seriousness of wounds results in graphic description of the violence ("you are spun around by the bullet as it rips through your shoulder").  The combination of the raw description and the uncertainty of the character's actual health status makes players more cautious, thus lending itself towards the right mentality towards combat.

As to stimuli....Well, my players have rarely had a problem with it, even the newbie who I'm "training".  Of course, they have tended to think from character concept (including emotional makeup) to character effectiveness, which helps quite a bit.  And since I approach the Obsession and Passions as a distillation of the character concept, it isn't too difficult.  They spring naturally from the character concept.  So, it's important that a player come to UA character generation with a good concept of the character concept, including the character's emotional makeup.  Otherwise, I can see how someone could easily flounder around the Passions.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf

Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
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