Unknown Armies hack

  • 8 Replies
Unknown Armies hack
« on: December 23, 2011, 02:43:06 PM »
I've been working on and off on a Wraith hack (here), but my group has been lukewarm to the idea so I've put it on the back-burner for the moment (it still interests me, but it's more work than I have time for if I'm not likely to use it). I'll likely come back to it at some point.

In the meantime, I've been reminded lately of how much I like the Unknown Armies setting. I like the UA system alright, but it's not my favorite and some of my players really hate percentile systems, so I've decided to take a shot at a UA hack for AW.

Playbooks & Character Creation

This is one of the first areas I looked at. I don't really want to make a separate playbook for each Adept School and each Avatar archetype plus enough mundane playbooks to allow that option, too. That would pretty quickly get to an insane number of playbooks.

I decided fairly early on to treat Avatars as "mini-playbooks" that have a few moves which each have prerequisites to take (and have to be taken in order). Basically, they are added on top of another playbook. I've also decided that adepts can become avatars (as per the normal rules) but I don't want any adepts to start as adept/avatar combos (it's a minor pet peeve of mine that I won't waste time explaining right now). Mundane playbooks will have enough free moves to take Avatar mini-playbooks at character creation, while adepts will have to pick them up during play if they want them.

That leaves adepts and mundanes (authentic thaumaturges are currently being treated as mundane playbooks who pick up some rituals, rather than being a separate playbook--that may change, though).

When I started looking at the Adept schools, I started seeing certain groupings of schools that had similar styles of paradoxes, taboos, and even magickal effects (btw, I'm not fond of the "k" on the end of magick in UA, but I'm using it since it is UA). I divided the core 12 schools into 5 categories. This is preliminary work to my work on streamlining the magick system without giving up the flavor or UA (i.e. I don't want to make Mage the Awakening or Ars Magica in the Occult Underground... though I like both of those games for themselves).

Then I thought about playbooks for mundanes and with a little tinkering and a few stretches (but none too much of a stretch in my opinion) I came up with five mundane playbooks that roughly matched up to the five styles of adept schools. Later on I added "Innocent" as a playbook, which doesn't have an adept parallel.

I may wind up doing something totally different, but here's the current table.

AcquisitionInvestigator (hunting down people, things, ideas, or events)Bibliomancy, Plutomancy (gaining power from their collection, but being unable to enjoy their collection normally)
ControlFighter (control through personal strength)Dipsomancy, Entropomancy, Epideromancy (gaining control by giving up control and/or strengthening themselves by weakening themselves)
CreationGenius (invention and creation)Mechanomancy, Narco-Alchemy (gonzo creations at the cost of rejecting mainstream alternatives)
HierarchyAlpha (a leader with the resources of a group)Cliomancy, Urbanomancy, Videomancy (understanding and exploiting social patterns at the cost of being tied to their obsession)
ManipulationPlayer (working their gigs, whether schemes or suckers)Personomancy, Pornomancy (exploiting human interactions at the cost of being cut off from the related authentic interactions)
VulnerabilityInnocent (when belief is power, naïveté is both power and vulnerability)--


I'm going to use the AW stats. I may rename Weird. Whether I rename it or not, it will mean something different--it's a mixture of noticing weird stuff (like synchronicity, portents, coincidences, the unnatural, etc.) and the paradoxical, gonzo thinking at the heart of UA magick, whether adepts or avatars. And like AW, there's a "downward slope" in the stats, where there are a lot of moves that shift moves towards Weird and the game strongly encourages Weird to be used--the game will have the equivalent of "barf forth apocalyptica" principle about throwing in the weird, gonzo conspiracies, mysticism, and general weirdness of the Occult Underground...

Starting Stats

There will be four choices of stat spreads (like AW) per "theme" (meaning that an Investigator and a Bibliomancer, for example, will have the same four choices).

Mundane Playbooks: Starting Moves and Crap

Each mundane playbook will have some choices of playbook-specific moves and crap. They will also all get one or more "general" moves (see below).

Also, moves that give bonuses to stats (e.g. +1hard) will either be completely restricted to mundane playbooks or at least more common for mundanes. The general idea is that adepts can be good at non-magickal stuff, but mundanes are usually a little bit better (since they're less obsessed and narrow in their world views). 'Course, they don't have magick, so...

Adept Playbooks: Moves, Magick, and Crap

Each theme of adept will have guidelines for creating a school. The twelve core schools are all examples. (The assumption is that you'll use one of the 12, but since I'm doing all the deconstruction anyway, making guidelines for making new is easy enough).

Each theme has a general style of taboo (e.g. "Control" adepts can't give up their special source of "control", whether that means never getting sober, never letting another alter their body, or never letting another take the risk instead of them). They also have guidelines for creating their Charging move (e.g. "Acquisition" adepts get charges from adding to their collection/stash--which I'm currently planning on handling similar to either AW Operator gigs or the Surplus/Want moves of AW Hardholders, Hocuses, etc.). There's more to how schools and magick will be handled, but it's still in the brainstorming phase. there are some notes below, but it's still early on in the process.

Adepts will also get a very limited number of non-magickal moves. These will probably be either from the general moves list (see below) or from the corresponding mundane playbooks list (e.g. a Dipsomancer can pick a Fighter move). Regardless, they will have less non-magickal moves than mundane playbooks.

General Moves and "Qualities"

I'm planning on creating a list of "general moves". Each playbook will have a certain number of "general moves" that they can select from this list, plus advances can be spent here.

Most (if not all) of these moves will have a "quality" attached (I'm not set on that name and will probably change it). The quality isn't a prerequisite, but if you take the move then that quality becomes attached to your character. There will be a space near to top of the sheet where all of your qualities are listed (your Obsession is likely in that box, too).

Qualities can be affiliation with a broad group (e.g., "criminal", "police", "politics", "truckers"), specific group ("TNI", "Mak Attax", etc.). They can be personality qualities ("violent", "coward", "loner", etc.). they can be interests ("occult", "cats", "conspiracies"). They can be themes/sets of imagery or concepts ("chaos theory", "tarot", "astrology", "purifying fire", etc.) Probably a lot of other stuff, too.

The qualities sometimes also narrow down the general move--e.g. there could be a general move about how you know tons of trivia and facts about a topic that adds a question to the "Read" moves (like "How does [topic] relate to this situation?) You have to tie it to a quality. So if you pick "Conspiracies", then you can be prompting the GM to make everything tied to some nut job conspiracy by asking questions about it, but you couldn't ask about occult or criminal groups or political connections.

This is still a pretty hazy idea at this point and I may cut it in favor of only having playbooks moves, but I like the idea of general moves and qualities.

At first I leaned away from general moves because it was different than how AW does it and also because it moves away from the AW idea that everything you need to make a character is right on your character sheet.

Still, I'm leaning towards doing it for two main reasons: 1) Even though it's still only half-baked, I really like the idea of characters having qualities added to them, and 2) UA is in the modern world and characters are less... focused. There's more room for cross-over and broad interests. It makes the character feel more like people (albeit, obsessed and weird people) who get involved in the Occult Underground.

Also, enough other games have lists like this that I'm not worried in general about the players having to reference something off their character sheet.

Note that some moves are restricted to playbook moves. Stat bonus moves are only in playbooks. Certain iconic/niche moves are limited to playbooks (e.g. only leaders get to start with groups like Hardholders, Choppers or Hocuses in AW).

Generally speaking, general moves are about affiliations and interests and making your character more idiosyncratic, while playbook moves are about being really good at your shtick.

More to Come

But I really appreciate any thoughts, criticisms, or suggestions on what I have so far…

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2011, 02:50:12 PM »
(I had to split into two posts because it exceeded teh maximum length...)

Madness Meters

Madness meters are absolutely core to UA, in my opinion. My current plan is to treat them as "wound tracks" basically.

"Hardened" notches will work like they do in UA (if the stress is equal to or less than your number of notches, you don't take stress, etc.). "Failed" notches will also work the same, basically.

There will be a "when you take stress to one of your madness meters" move that is similar to the taking wounds move in AW, but which incorporates some of the ticks and madness consequences that come from stress damage. It will also cover things like freezing, running, etc. (giving choices of exactly what you do when you flip out, like in UA).

(I might wind up making hardened notches like AW armor (e.g. the roll = roll+stress level-hardened notches), but I probably won't, since you can't roll +10 in AW...)

It's more record keeping than AW usually is and it's a bit more complex than wounds, but basically it should work very similar to how it works in UA (with a peripheral move instead of rolling Mind), so I don't anticipate any major issues (e.g. it isn't more record-keeping than it is in UA).

Basic Moves and Peripheral Moves

The Basic Moves are mostly the same.

Open Your Mind (Weird) will work very similarly, but instead of opening to the psychic Maelstrom, it's paying attention and looking for the weird and occult and unnatural in a scene. Basically, its UA flavored. If you've read Last Call or the other books in that series by Tim Powers, many of them have idiosyncratic ways of doing mini-divinations, plus the UA stories and setting are full of weird coincidences and portents--those are the kind of stuff I have in mind. And, like the AW move, it encourages the players to ask the GM to throw in weirdness and it also gives a move for when they don't know what else to do. So really, it's just a re-skinning for the UA setting. Plus, Greg Stolze mentioned in one of the UA supplements that giving visions or flashes is so useful he's surprised he didn't make it a free move that every character has...

Seize by Force is being cut completely. It just doesn't seem to fit the vibe of UA to me.

Instead, I need to make a combat move...


The deadliness of combat is another core trait of UA, in my opinion. I want to capture that... but I also want to tweak it.

"Act Under Fire" (or a tweaked version of it) is the core combat move. You have to roll a strong hit before you do what you want without bad stuff happening back. That said, "failure" from weak hits is about hard choices. I don't really want characters dying left and right (though I don't want it completely off the table, either). Getting hurt is often a choice, but so are other, often more painful, consequences.

I'm thinking that there will be one or more playbook moves that allow a different style of combat. There will also be a lot of emphasis on how it's set up.

I'm also thinking of making a separate move for gunfights, but I'll look at that closer when I get to that point--basically if I decide it adds something, I'll do it, if not then I won't.

Going Aggro is a much better option when you can set it up that way (for one thing, if they push you, you'll actually get to shoot them instead of having to roll a 10+ or else accept some nasty choice). Plus, usually you want something if you're pulling out a gun or knife (even if it's to get them to back the fuck off and leave you alone).

Or shooting them from behind or while they're tied up is also good.

And like UA, combat shouldn't be the first choice (I loved the first page of UA, 2nd ed. combat chapter with its "6 ways to avoid a fight" article). Violence happens, but going toe-to-toe, in a fair fight, and trying to kill them is a dangerous thing to do and you aren't likely to walk out unscathed. I see it usually happening when something else gets botched or when they call you when you go aggro.


This is an important area, obviously. I'm playing around with several ideas but nothing is fully gelled yet and nothing is set in stone.

Adept Magick

I've mainly played with two approaches here: 1) Either each formula spell is a move and there's a move for random magick, or 2) there's a more generic set of moves (with each of the five "themes" of adepts having a different combination of them) and a set of "qualities"/"domains"/etc. by school that determine what you can do those moves with and/or to (sort of like an Ars Magica "Verb"/"Noun" system, but with both the verbs and nouns having a very different flavor and categorizations, since it is absolutely not meant to be a universal magick system--an Urbanomancer can mess with traffic, groups in his city, crowds, city hierarchies, even city vermin, but he can't do jack to traffic on a country highway and he can't do shit to probability in a gambling den (even if he could get the game interrupted by police or make you get in a wreck on your way home).

I lean towards the second, but I'm only willing to go for a more streamlined, flexible system if it keeps the UA feel. Often "universal magic systems" have entirely the wrong feel (like I mentioned, I don't want it to feel like Mage the Awakening or Ars Magica). So for now I'm going to try (and I'm optimistic), but I may end up scrapping it.

Charging Moves and Charges

I'm pretty sure that each adept school will each have a charging move. What that looks like will depend on which of the five  "themes" it belongs to.

For example, "Control" schools (dipsomancers, entropomancers, and epideromancers) are all about harm and penalties now in exchange for charges (or, in the case of entropomancers, the real chance of injury, penalty, or consequences). These are things that are done real-time in scenes. You do the harm (e.g. getting drunk, cutting yourself) or take the risk (e.g. playing catch with knives) and suffer the consequences. And you get the charge immediately.

The Acquisition, Hierarchy, and Manipulation schools are more about setting up and "harvesting" charges. They're handled like either "gigs" or surplus/want resources from AW. They're primarily done between sessions or in downtime, though each has the ability to happen real-time (like finding a rare book during a scene or being given cash). The three will have differences in how they're set up, but I'm not far enough along yet to say exactly what they are. (As an aside, I love how AW handles things like gigs and surplus/want and it's one of the things that really made me want to convert UA to AW, since in UA, certain schools just seemed so much easier to get charges and other schools often felt like they had to derail the story for a bit to get charges).

And finally, Creation schools have to spend the time and resources. they work similar to Savvyhead workspaces ("to make X you need to do/find/spend A, B, and C"). They also have something they can sacrifice to add to that (mechanomancers can give up memories and narqis can get high, suffering a penalty).

That's not all there is to getting charges (e.g. Mechanomancers and dipsomancers both can use significant historical artifacts to get extra juice, like drinking out of the coffee cup JFK used during the Cuban Missile Crisis or incorporating the first gramaphone into a machine), but that's the basics. I also haven't talked about the diffrence between Minor, Significant, and Major charges, yet. that's because I haven't worked it out completely yet.

Once you have charges, I'm not exactly sure how to handle them. I'm leaning towards mimicking UA: You keep a tally (so you might have 6 minor charges, 2 significant charges, and 0 major charges after building up for awhile) and you spend them for spells. They're sort of like "Hold", I suppose (I've idly wondered if there's a way I can make them Hold and do something clever to take advantage of AW mechanics, but nothing's come to mind yet...).

I'm also sort of brainstorming about simplifying it a bit or tweaking it to take advantage of AW mechanics. I only have very rough ideas, so I'll let them stew longer and talk about them later.


Similarly, each "theme" of school has a type of taboo. For the most part, if you violate your taboo you're stripped of all your charges.

"Control" schools can't give up their source of mystic control (e.g. dipsomancers can't sober up). "Acquisition" schools can't give away what they have (even for a good reason--e.g. plutomancers may be rich but live as paupers) and can't damage the thing they collect. "Hierarchy" schools must constantly be in contact with their obsession and can't be away from it long (e.g. videomancers can't miss an episode of any of their shows). "Creation" schools are limited to their own, bizarre, hyper-specialized variation of a common form of creation and are largely cut off from the bulk of mainstream equivalents (e.g. mechanomancers can't incorporate any piece of functioning tech that came int ocommon usage after the 1800's). "Manipulation" schools use a type of human interaction for power but are cut off from authentic, non-ritualized versions of it (e.g. pornomancers can't make love or enjoy sex as a way to be closer to someone),


I've been rereading Last Call by Tim Powers (one of the inspirations for parts of UA, especially for avatars). Because of that, and my general preferences, I want to make rituals a little more common.

Basically, I want tilt and proxy rituals to be "postmodern" rituals that can be designed and created by anyone with the know-how (which includes any adept, any conscious avatar, and any one with any thaumaturgy training--probably represented by a move). They're probably created similar to Savvyhead Workspace, though with the list of components based more on the lists in UA. Maybe "Proxy Rituals" is a move and "Tilt Rituals" is a move... something like that.

Then there are the old rituals, from the pre-modern era of magick. these are just like the rituals in UA. Each does something specific. They are often pretty overt and powerful, but usually take a long time to cast. Also, the vast majority of them don't work anymore and no one knows how to make more like them.

These really work just like UA rituals. Each one is "equipment", not character moves. You find, steal, or buy them. Each one is a custom move. The GM can make them up as needed, plus I'll probably convert some or all of the rituals in UA and the supplements I have.

As equipment, the GM can make GM moves like taking it away, making them pay, or activating the downside of their crap (which might be that someone knows they have it and wants to take it from them).

I haven't really thought about stuff like "how many rituals can they have memorized"--maybe a number equal to their Sharp? Like I said, I haven't really thought about it much.

Avatar Magick

Ah, avatars. After reading Last Call, I love avatars. (When I first discovered UA, I was much more drawn to adepts, but I've found my tastes shifting over time--mind you, I still think adepts are cool)

I'm thinking that each avatar is a "mini-playbook" that adds on top of other playbooks. Recently, Sage LaTorra and crew out out a Dungeon World supplement with a few mini-playbooks and that's what I'm using as a rough model. There's an intre mov

You have to attune yourself to the avatar (basically go through the "becoming an avatar" steps in UA, except there's no mechanical effect yet). After that, the next time you get an advancement, you can buy the first channel of the Archetype. I'm not exactly sure what the attunement process looks like. Maybe it's something like an obligation gig? Maybe you just have to follow the taboo for a certain period (whether that's downtime between sessions or time in session)? I haven't worked on that yet.

There are probably four moves per avatar--one for each "channel" in UA. I'll probably base them pretty closely on the UA avatar channels, though a few I'll tweak either because I think I can make it fit UA better or because I personally just dislike a certain channel.

Each channel move will have prerequisites. The first prerequisite is having all the channel moves below it. I also have the idea that the taboo gets stricter at each step and so you basically have to "attune" to each step like the initial boost. (This is why low-level avatars are fairly common, even among people who don't realize they're avatars, but the higher channels are mostly made up of clued-in avatars who are consciously walking the path of one of the archetypes).

As far as the taboos go... the UA method of saying your skill drops every time you violate doesn't really fit the AW system. UA, as a percentil system, can bump skills up or down a little bit with little impact, but +/-1 is a big deal in AW... plus there isn't a separate stat for avatar magick anyway.

I'm thinking that if you violate a level of taboo, you lose all channel moves of that level and higher (so violate the taboo of the 3rd level channel and you just lose 3rd and 4th channel moves, but violate the most basic level 1 taboo and you lose all channels). This is a temporary thing. There will probably be some sort of "atonement/re-attunement" move, or maybe you jsut have to go through the "attunment" process again (no advancements required since you've already bought them).

If that's too harsh, there could be a peripheral when you violate your avatar taboo move so there are 3 tiers of consequences (strong hit, weak hit, miss) and only a miss (or a strong hit if it's roll+level of infraction, like the wounded move) do you lose complete access, Other options include things like "-1ongoing until (x)", etc. Hell, there could even be options like drawing the unwanted attention of either your archetype or opposed members of the Invisible Clergy... It's all still in the early phases at this point.

Adepts becoming Avatars

On the one hand, the Freak is cool and I know that adept/avatar combos are part of the canonical UA setting. But I've seen a number of annoying combinations that feel like players trying to tweak their characters (like Masterless Man combined with Epideromancer--which I suppose could be cool, but it was done for the mechanical combo, not the story potential). The UA setting says that to be both you basically have to be crazy, but the rules for the taboos don't always enforce that.

The point is that I want it to be posible for an adept to become an avatar, but I want it to feel like a big deal.

The first thing is that you can't start as an adept and an avatar at character creation. That's personal preference and I realize not everyone will like that.

Second, the attunement process is about focus. During that period, you can't use your charging moves and you lose all your current charges (effectively you violate your adept taboo by focusing on an archetype instead of your magick). If you get a charge, then you have to start the attunement over. (Note that I'd allow a plutomancer to receive money but choose not to get a charge, or a videomancer to wathc their show without getting a charge, etc.)  So during the attunement process, you are basically cut off from your Adept magick completely.

Maybe I'll just say that you can't use any of your current charges rather than saying they're stripped...?

Then I imagine that the successive levels of taboos for each channel get more restrictive.

The first level is largely proactive ("act like this and/or do this at least this often and you're good") and the amount of effort and concentration it takes leaves plenty of time and energy for pursuing your adept magick. The fourth level is very restrictive (basically you have to act like the archetype almost every waking moment). Being a first channel or even second channel avatar and being an adept of a sympathetic school should be fairly easy (as long as they aren't totally opposed--you couldn't be a plutomancer and the avatar of the Wealthy Philanthropist or the Trust Fund Kid, for example). but third channel and fourth channel avatars who are also adepts should be hard. The two have to be very sympathetic and closely matched and it pretty much dominates your life (though high-level avatars and adepts are both pretty obsessive already, so they're the types to try it).

Again, any thoughts, criticisms, and suggestions on what I have so far are very welcome. :)


Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2011, 05:05:25 PM »
A couple more thoughts:

Obsession, Passion Stimuli, & "Qualities"

Like in UA, each character will pick an Obsession (for adpets it must relate to their school of magick) plus three Passion Stimuli (Fear Stimulus, Rage Stimulus, and Noble Stimulus). These four are the mandatory "Qualities" that every character has*. They'll be part of the questions in each playbook.

Other Qualities are picked up from "general moves" (see below).

Qualities act as flags for the GM. On the one hand, they don't have mechanical punch (well, the Obsession and the Passion Stimuli have other rules--I'll talk about those later--but that's in addition to their status as Qualities), but they're where the GM looks first during GM moves. I'll revise or add GM moves so that they often point at Qualities.

(*The Innocent playbook doesn't have an Obsession... theyy're whole shtik is that they're sucked into the Occult Underground unwittingly through no fault of their own and are caught up in something that revolves around them but that they don't understand. This impacts their "Open Mind" move--see below--but they also have either changing to another playbook or else completing their storyline and retiring very hard-coded into their advancement options.)

Open Mind and Obsession and/or Archetype

The Open Your Mind basic move (which I'm going to rename) is always filtered through your Obsession (unless you're an Avatar--see below). When the GM gives you your vague impressions, they always revolve around and/or incorporate your Obsession.

If, however, you are an Avatar, your Archetype "overrides" your Obsession. You're on a cosmic path now and that supercedes and subsumes your own destiny in many way. If you are an Avatar, then the Open Your Mind is about your Archetype primarily and your Obsession secondarily (and sometimes not at all).

Also, Innocents don't have the Open Your Mind move; instead they'll have some sort of "things tweak in your favor" and/or "the mentor appears" kind of thing (I don't know exactly what yet, but being out of their depth and not in-the-know is big part of the playbook concept).

Thaumaturge Playbook

I'm going to add another (quasi-)mundane playbook: The Thaumaturge. Like the Innocent, The thaumaturge doesn't match to a category of Adepts.

Thaumaturges have more moves and/or crap for rituals and/or Avatar channels. Basically, any character (mundane or adept) can have a coupel rituals and any mundane character can be an Avatar or the 1st channel level, but only a thaumaturge can be a full "authentic thaumaturgist" and/or an Avatar with 2nd channel or higher moves at character creation.

More Thoughts on "General Moves" and  "Qualities"

I mentioned general moves in an earlier post. I've been revising my thinking.

Basically I'm thinking of a sort of "do it yourself" thing here that is sot of similar to "stunts" in the Dresden Files RPG (if you're familiar with that).

There are a range of mechanical things that a "general move" can do, like +1 in narrow situations, add a question to a Read... move, stat substitution in narrow situations, give you leverage to manipulate or seduce (e.g. you have money, you have mafia connections, you are gorgeous, you have a badge, you have security clearance, etc.), and so forth. I haven't really nailed down the list yet, but that should give you the general idea.

Adding on this, every general move requires a corresponding "Quality", which is added up by your Obsession and Passion Stimuli. You can have multiple "general moves" attached to a single Quality or you can have a different Quality for each "general move".

This does a couple things. The biggest one is narrative. Like I mentioned above, Qualities make tempting targets for GMs. It means both that your "general moves" choices have narrative significance and that you get to tell the GM the kind of stuff you want to keep coming up.

I might categorize Qualities (e.g. "affiliations", "personality", etc.) but I don't currently think it's necessary. If I think of a way that it adds, I'll do it.

You also have to name your "general move"--this is absolutely not optional.

I'll also have a fairly substantial list of examples.

Stat Caps

One thing with the way I'm thinking about doing "general moves" as well as some preliminary thoughts on Obsessions, Passion Stimuli, and magick, is that +1 to rolls are going to be fairly easy to come by if you're doing something your character focuses on. And Help is going to be fairly easy in a fair number of circumstances, too.

Based on my quick look at the probabilities of AW, a +4 is ridiculously good (only 2.8% chance of a miss and 25% chance of a weak hit, so 72.2% chance of a strong hit) and +5 is even worse.

So my thinking is that stats are capped at +2, period, end of story. If there are +1stat moves (and I'm kind of leaning against it), then +2 is the cap.

Further, you may only ever get +1 to a roll from stuff on your  character sheet (if you have 3 things that each could give +1, you only get +1 total) and you can only ever get +1 from any external source (help, tilt rituals by other people, etc.). So the most you can ever get is +2 total (and hopefully +2 is pretty rare--if not, I may say you can never get more than +1 ever).

With a cap of +2stat, that means that +3 will be fairly common in your specialty and +4 is possible (in other words, like AW, unless I'm missing something--which is certainly possible).


As always, comments are very welcome!

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2011, 05:19:10 AM »
I'm reading what you wrote here with upmost attention, since UA and AW are two of my five favorite games. And everything sounds pretty solid from here. Especially the way you're thinking your playbooks (I LOVE the way you deconstructed adept schools). I'm gonna steal the shit out of your ideas, that's for sure.

I'd simplify the madness meters a little bit myself. Nemesis, the ORE game with MM, has only four, and I think I can deal with only three (something like violence, unnatural and... sumthin sumthin, I dunno, Self maybe).

I'd do it with an armor-like mechanic myself. 1-Hardened (you're accustomed to that shit) to 3-Hardened (you're a sociopath), and stresses like harm (1-stress is already pretty stressfull, 5-stress will definitely make you lose your shit and demand therapy unless you're a sociopathic bastard, and even then you'll have scars).

Four counters (if you count harm), and four types of armour is the most I can manage, myself. I'd even try to model different types of stress with only one counter if I could. I'm a firm partesan of the KISS principle.


Seize by Force is being cut completely. It just doesn't seem to fit the vibe of UA to me.

Are you fucking kidding me? A move that's all "I want that shit now, no matter how badly it will hurt" in a game about obsessed people fighting for power? A game about consequences ? That coined the phrase "when you're hungry for power, you'd better be the one with the fork" ? I can't see any move that suit UA more that Seize by force. You put it back in now, or I will.

I kid of course. That's your hack, do it any way you want. But if I ever play a UA game powered by the Apocalype, Seize by force will definitely be part of it.

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2011, 01:51:08 AM »
Thanks for your comments, grepogor!

Seize by Force

It's funny... I've read the seize by force move a dozen times and I'd built up a very distinct idea of what the move did. I haven't played Apocalypse World yet; I'm currently running a Dungeon World campaign, so I feel like I have at least a fair idea of how AW would run at the table, but seize by force isn't in DW.

Anyway, I hadn't ever thought about the move the way you described it (it always felt like a more... "militant" move to me, like a battle scene instead of a fight scene, or something). I'm not sure why I had that idea; I haven't read it again in the last month or two, so it hasn't been fresh in my mind while working on this hack. But I reread the move a couple times after reading your reply and, for whatever reason, the move looks entirely different to me now. I think it was the name.

Further, I'd been looking at the two systems (Unknown Armies and Apocalypse World) and how they work (e.g. both, for the most part, have the PC rolling against a fixed difficulty that wasn't based on the specific situation, but rather on what's on the character's sheet--whether AW's miss/weak hit/strong hit or UA's rolling against your own skill). For reasons too long to explain right now, the act under fire move in AW struck me as similar to the "major skill checks" in UA, while most of the other AW moves felt more like "significant skill checks" (with "minor skill checks usually being stuff you don't bother rolling for in AW). That thought in the back of my head had lead me to think about act under fire as the default move to whip out whenever there was major consequences and you were rolling under intense pressure. I hadn't thought about it for a few days before writing my initial post, but I think it colored my sense that act under fire would basically replace seize by force for toe-to-toe combat.

Long story short, I'm reconsidering including Seize by Force... :-)


Thanks for your thoughts on Madness Meters, as well. I've been thinking about Madness a lot since reading your post and below are my current thoughts:

The Meters

I like your idea of cutting down to only three meters and I think your split makes sense. Violence and Unnatural feel distinct and are two that play a very immediate role in how many conflict scenes play out. The other three (Helplessness, Isolation, and Self) seem more similar in effect and stresses; I'm struggling to articulate exactly what they have in common, but I think it's that Violence and Unnatural are more likely to make you freak out right the fuck now, while Self, Isolation, and Loneliness are more likely to eat at you and erode you and totally fuck with your sense of who and what you are.

I even think it can be called "Self" and the lists of stresses can be combined. Even though there are differences between the three, Isolation and Helplessness hit you in a similar way to the cognitive dissonance of having done something you didn't think you would ever do...

Hardened Notches and Stress

I've also been intrigued by your idea about cutting down to a single stress track. While I want at least the three stress types for Hardened notches, I don't necessarily want to split them for the stress track (the Madness Clock).

In UA the only difference that the rank of the stress makes is to determine whether or not you make a stress check; it doesn't impact the difficulty of the check or change the severity of consequences.

Basically it works like this:

  • If the rank of the stress is higher than your Hardened, then roll; if it's equal to or lower, then don't roll
  • If you succeed at your roll, mark the lowest unmarked Hardened notch (i.e. your Hardened goes up by one)
  • If you fail, mark the lowest unmarked Failed notch (i.e. your Failed goes up by one) and choose one of the reactions: panic, paralysis, or frenzy

So translated into AW mechanics, every failed stress check does 1-stress regardless of the severity of the stress trigger and every successful stress check causes +1-hardened.

If I use that system, then the Hardened wouldn't act as armor; instead they'd act as the threshold of whether or not you have to roll.

Hmm. So I'm trying to choose between that or treating stress as harm and Hardened as armor (e.g., a 5-stress event against a 2-hardened character would cause 3-stress).

What I'm currently leaning towards is having 3 separate "Hardened" tracks (one for each of the three madness meters) but only a single madness clock (so there would be a harm clock and a madness clock). This is in large part because suffering a mental derangement is based on any track filling with failed notches; the only difference the balance of failed notches across stress tracks makes in UA is the description of how your character acts (4 failed notches in Violence has different quirks and ticks than 4 failed notches in Self, for example). While those descriptions are great, the amount of simplification that can happen by having a single madness clock is worth the loss, I think (KISS).

The Stress Check

The stress check will be handled by a new peripheral move something like this:

When you suffer stress greater than your Hardened rank, roll+hard. On a 10+, get +1-hardened. On a 7-9, choose 1.
  • get +1-hardened
  • flip-out (panic, paralysis, or frenzy)

On a miss, take 1-stress and flip-out (panic, paralysis, or frenzy).

In UA, if you fail a stress check you have to choose one of three reactions (in addition to gaining another failed notch): Panic, Paralysis, or Frenzy. They're basically what they sound like (run away, freeze like a deer in the headlights, or attack the source of your stress until the cause of the stress is gone). These are built into the move above.

I'm thinking that the above move is only for acute stresses with a clear source (like most Violent or Unnatural stresses). For chronic or diffuse stresses (like isolation for extended periods or the cognitive dissonance of having done something you didn't think you could ever do) I'm thinking there would still be a move, but either you wouldn't have to choose one of those reactions (it's all about the slow erosion into madness without the moment of flipping out) or maybe there's a separate list (like Withdraw, Anxiety, or Anger, or something like that--I haven't really worked on it yet).

Stress Ranks

In UA, there are 10 stress ranks and Hardened goes up to 10. I'm trying to decide if I want to condense that. It would be easy to condense it to, say, 5 ranks by saying that rank 1 & 2 stresses become 1-stress, rank 3 & 4 stresses become 2-stress, and so on up to rank 9 & 10 being 5-stress.

This would have two main impacts:

  • The size of the list of stresses and the number of Hardened notches
  • How long it took to become a sociopath (see below)

I really don't know whether I'll do 10 (like UA), 5 (halving the list), 6 (and making them clocks?), or some other number...

Getting Crazy

If the madness clock fills up completely, that doesn't mean you're "taken out" or out of play. Instead you don't roll anymore: If the stress is under your Hardened, nothing happens and if it's over, then you automatically choose a reaction as if you failed.

The first time the clock fills up, you pick up a mental aberration. These are basically disorders that are "permanent" unless cured and that are closely tied to your obsession.

You can walk around with your madness clock filled all the way for most of the game, really.

Also, I'll need to figure out if that's too fast. 6 "slots" on the clock is potentially only 6 rolls away if you fail consistently... It might also depend on how available treatment and "mental first aid" are. It probably isn't worse than wounds, as long as treatment is fairly easy to get.

Getting Callous

Hardness is not benign; it helps you deal with stress, but you become callous. Mental stress makes characters vulnerable, but also makes them human.

In UA, you become a sociopath if two hardened tracks fill up all 10 hardened notches or if the character's total hardened notches exceeds 35. You suffer the below consequences until you get treatment

  • You can no longer use your Passions*
  • If you're an avatar, you can't use that avatar skill

(*Passions have a mechanical impact, so this is not just a role-playing change--I haven't talked about it yet, but I will)

The exact number (e.g. 35) would change since there's only 3 tracks now. Also, as I mentioned above, I might use a different number than 10 for the number of stress ranks and the number of hardened notches. But I am planning on having a threshold where you become so calloused that you're a sociopath.


There will be rules for healing madness and hardness (in fact, the moves will probably be more detailed than the harm moves, since I'm not planning on having an Angel equivalent--there's a first aid move to stabilize someone who's dying and the rules for healing naturally are the same as AW, but if you go to a hospital, that's more of a time and narrative thing than a move--i.e. it's like going to an NPC Angel in AW).

The rules for helping madness will be similar to the UA rules (mental help before they're crazy and after they're crazy, plus "psychological first aid"). I'll work on defining those moves once I have the madness system nailed down, but they'll probably look something like on a 10+, remove a madness stress and a hardened rank, on a 7-9, choose one.

Madness and NPC's

NPC's Flipping-out

NPC's are definitely vulnerable to madness, especially flipping out (panic, paralysis, or frenzy). It seems to me like this is mainly relevant in fights or similar conflicts. The longer-term stuff, like is an NPC going crazy, is probably better handled as GM moves rather than mechanics, but knowing if they totally flip-out is definitely relevant in a fight.

So... my three current ideas are:

  • to work it into the Basic Moves and other Character moves (so NPC's flipping out in your favor is a choice you can take for certain moves--mainly violent or unnatural ones)
  • to make it GM moves (so the GM can have them run away or go berserk or whatever), or
  • to have a separate peripheral move to determine if they freak out and how

I don't like the third option. I'm leaning towards a combo of the first two: Some moves have stress reactions built in and also stress reactions are part of the GM moves.

How hardened the NPC is against that particular kind of stress (Violence, Unnatural, etc.) can be a tag for NPC's and groups. How it all plays out is up to the GM, based on principles (e.g. barf forth apocalyptica (revised for the UA setting, look through crosshairs, respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards, etc.).


The rules for groups rioting is something I like in UA that helps give certain tenets of the setting some teeth. Unlike personal madness and flipping out for NPC's (see above), I'm thinking this should be a peripheral move. Like suffers harm, it's one that you want to miss. The bonus to the roll would be based on how overt the effect is (and/or modified by the size of the crowd, etc.).  I'll worry about the specifics later but wanted to jot it down while I was thinking about it.


I'm out of time tonight (I've already stayed up too late). As always, any and all responses and comments are very welcome!
« Last Edit: December 27, 2011, 01:19:53 PM by John B. »

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2011, 02:49:14 PM »
I created a new topic to talk about Adept magick (HERE). I'll continue to put general rules and notes in this thread.

EDIT: I also created another topic to talk about GMing the UA hack (principles, 1st session, fronts, threats, etc.) HERE.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2011, 06:22:20 PM by John B. »

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2011, 05:19:00 AM »
Really interested, but definitely want Seize By Force. DW doesn't need it but in UA it would be essential.

I also agree that you should keep it simple. One of the real tricks to hacking AW, in my admittedly limited experience, is add / changes the rules just enough to get what you want without spoiling the beautiful simplicity of the design.

Anyway keep at it, I want to see more.

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2011, 04:20:37 PM »
Thanks, wightbread.

I'm pretty set on using seize by force now. I also have the goal of simplifying as much as possible. In some areas (like adept magick in this thread), I'm often starting more complicated so I can get it down, then I'll go back through and look for how I can do it simpler and better, but KISS is definitely my goal.

Re: Unknown Armies hack
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2011, 01:13:49 AM »
Daily Grind: Using moves to make adepts feel like adepts...

I've been buying up PDFs of some of the UA supplements I haven't read and I'm reading Postmodern Magick tonight for the first time. The section on the "daily grind" of adepts (pg. 14-15 if you have it) has gotten me thinking. One thing that's always left me a little disappointed with games like UA is that they set up this awesome setting and vibe, but actual game play usually winds up feeling like something different (often really cool, but not like the vibe in the books).

One of my favorite things about AW moves is how much of the story and feel is packed into the moves. That's a big part of what drew me to a AW hack for UA. I want a player who's never read any of the UA books and knows little about the setting to be able to juat play their character based on their playbook and have the result feel like UA. In fact, it's reasonable to say that's my single biggest goal.

Reading Postmodern Magick has given me a bunch of half-formed ideas about how to make adept moves and avatar moves to try and make them feel and play like the parts that make them cool rather than just their lists of powers (e.g. adepts don't just have kewl powerz, they're all obsessive, half-crazed nut-jobs pushed to the edges of society by their inability--and unwillingness--to function in regular life; if you want to play a character with some powers who isn't crazy, look at an avatar or a thaumaturgist--they have their own taboos and quirks, but it's a role you're acting out instead of basically being crazy).

The Occult Underground (jockeying for position)

Here's an excerpt from PM:

Quote from: Postmodern Magick, "The Daily Grind" (pg. 15)
(After gathering charges) the next order of business for any self-respecting adept is to jockey for position with the other hard fellows in the occult underground. You have to understand that the occult underground, by simple virtue of its hidden, secretive nature, breeds an intense competition and paranoia. When an adept gets wind of someone—or something—sniffing around his neighborhood or staging some kind of mystical operation, he has to assume the worst(...) Basically, a long-lived adept keeps a mental checklist of potential threats at the forefront of his mind:
• Is it after me?
• Is it unnatural?
• Is it another adept?
• Is it someone working for another adept?
• Is it someone who has it in for magick and those who work it?

For the cautious and conscientious adept, any answer in the positive is enough to warrant a defensive response.

Man, I want to capture this in the playbook moves, too! You know, I'm really starting to like the idea of building adepts almost like operators (or hardholders or hocuses or choppers, depending on their type) and having them pick gigs (profits/catastrophes) and/or set up their resources (surplus/wants) that they roll at the start of every session as they work their corner of the Underground. Give enough choices of "gigs" that they can be reclusive or precarious kings-of-the-hill or anywhere in-between or slantwise from there.

Also, that list of questions might provide some fodder for both their gigs or surplus/want types of moves, as well as fodder for Fronts and Threats (so it relates to THIS TOPIC).

And of course, Avatars have their own thing going on (with its own set of obligations, threats, and competitions). Mundanes do, too, to a point, but they have a different relationship to the underground, which is a big part of both their edge and their liability...


Obviously this is all still mushy and half-defined at this point. I know these posts tend to be really long and are in large part thinking out loud rather than nailing things down. I'm going to start a Google doc soon where I'll start compiling an actual draft of the hack. Thanks for bearing with me and (as always) any and all comments are appreciated!
« Last Edit: December 30, 2011, 01:26:38 AM by John B. »