Unknown Armies: GM (Principles, GM Moves, 1st Session, Fronts, etc.)

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(This is one of several topics about my Unknown Armies hack: See THIS TOPIC for general notes about this UA hack and THIS TOPIC for notes about Adept Magick.)

The GM's job in this Unknown Armies hack will be very similar to the MC's job in Apocalypse World. The style of GMing that AW uses is one of the biggest draws for me to do a UA hack into AW in the first place. There will be differences in flavor, of course (e.g. the gonzo weirdness of the UA setting replaces apocalyptica).

GMing Unknown Armies[/size/

Agenda & Always Say
The list for "Agenda" and "Always Say" for UA hack is identical to AW (except replacing "Apocalypse World" with "Unknown Armies", of course).

The Principles

The list of principles is also the same, except that Barf Forth Apocalyptica becomes something like Suffuse everything with the weird and occult (I'll word it better than that eventually).

GM's Moves

Again, for the most part the list  is the same as AW. I'm not sure if I need to create new moves for things like unnatural phenomena that come up  in UA, or whether those can just be easily folded into the existing GM moves with the Principles to guide flavor?

The 1st Session

The basic idea will be the same, though the Threats on the sheet (Hunger, Ignorance, Fear, etc.) will be re-skinned to fit UA (see below). I don't have much to say yet, but I'm putting it down as a reminder to myself to come back to this (and also to invite any suggestions or thoughts).


I think that the same basic idea applies, but again I might change the exact wording.

Fundamental Scarcity

UA isn't about scarcity like AW is, but obsession isn't that different from hunger or thirst in some ways (the motivation is different but the effect is similar). I'll need to change the name to something besides "Fundamental Scarcity"... maybe just "Theme" or something like that?

This list is a quick draft off the top of my head and almost certain to change:

  • Alienation
  • Decay
  • Perversion
  • Ignorance
  • Fear
  • Envy
  • Ambition
  • Cosmic/Transcendence
  • Obsession


The same basic principle as AW certainly applies, though I'll need to make a new list (even if some of the changes are cosmetic/flavor).

This is a first draft going through the AW list of threats and will likely change dramatically before the final version:

Boss (based on Warlord and part of Brute)
  • Cult leader (impulse: to own people)
  • Prophet (impulse: to overthrow the status quo)
  • Collector (impulse: to own)
  • Alpha wolf (impulse: to hunt and dominate)
  • Executive (impulse: to increase power and wealth)
  • Dictator (impulse: to control)
  • Glutton (impulse: craves satiety and plenty)
  • Pain addict (impulse: craves pain, its own or others)
  • Mindfucker (impulse: craves mastery)
  • Savage (impulse: craves freedom and mastery)
  • Godwalker (impulse: craves transcendence)
Society (partially based on Afflictions and partially on Brutes)
  • Law Enforcement (impulse: to restrict & punish transgression)
  • Mobs (impulse: to riot, burn, kill scapegoats)
  • Cults (impulse: to victimize & incorporate people)
  • Family (impulse: to close ranks, protect their own)
  • Movement (impulse: to identify and attack outsiders)
  • Violence (impulse: to justify and promote violence)
  • Social norms (impulse: to victimize anyone who stands out)
  • Everyday life (impulse: to dominate and restrict people's choices)
Locations (based on Landscapes)--I'll probably change the names of the below, but the impulses fit
  • Prison (impulse: to contain)
  • Breeding pit (impulse: to generate badness)
  • Furnace (impulse: to consume things)
  • Mirage (impulse: to entice and betray people)
  • Maze (impulse: to trap, to frustrate passage)
  • Fortress (impulse: to deny access)
The Unnatural (partially based on Afflictions)
  • Artifacts (impulse: to be desired and fought over)
  • Unnatural phenomena (impulse: to trigger obsession or fear)
  • Unnatural beings (impulse: to preserve own existence)
  • Demons (impulse: to lie and to get a body)
  • Invisible clergy (impulse: to manipulate events in their own image)

Agenda / Dark Future

Really the same as AW


Also the same as AW. I might tweak the list of stakes to stick to in the beginning, but I haven't thought about it much yet.


Again, same basic idea as AW. However, my gut feeling is that UA isn't quite as friendly as AW to the idea that every NPC is defined and you never deal with faceless transactions (e.g. in UA, you can and do go to the grocery store and buy food from faceless tellers that you don't interact with in any meaningful way. (In fact, I'm pondering a peripheral move that's like "Circles" in Burning Wheel, since the extended cast and the society around the PCs is so much more populous than AW.)

I think it might be part of the difference between the mundane world and the Occult Underground: in the underground everyone is an individual and there are no faceless interactions...

Overall Countdowns

I see Countdown clocks working exactly the same way in UA that they do in AW.


Creating and incorporating motifs into a campaign is a fun piece of advice in UA. Motifs aren't exactly in AW (though the advice about apocalyptica and asking questions about the Psychic Maelstrom and re-incorporating, etc., drive at a similar goal, I think).

This ties to the Suffuse everything with the weird and occult Principle. I like the tip in UA to create a list of Motifs that will be recurring elements in the setting.

Maybe these can be done spontaneously or built up through uses of the "Open Your Brain" move (which will be  tweaked and renamed, but work the same as it does in AW in general--see the first thread linked above). Or maybe as part of creating Fronts, each Front will have a couple Motifs attached to it (with the Home Front also having several Motifs).

However I do it, I'm planning on making the establishment and use of motifs a part of GMing this UA hack.


More to come later. I welcome any comments.

Re: Unknown Armies: GM (Principles, GM Moves, 1st Session, Fronts, etc.)
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2011, 02:06:22 AM »
Shouldn't you add a principle: "Someone is responsible for everything magical"

That always seemed one of the core elements of UA for me. The idea that magic stuff never just happens. It's always that someone did it (and it was usually a bad idea).

Re: Unknown Armies: GM (Principles, GM Moves, 1st Session, Fronts, etc.)
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2011, 02:14:15 AM »
Shouldn't you add a principle: "Someone is responsible for everything magical"

Oh, good point, Mike! I'll definitely add that. I agree that everything supernatural being caused by humans is core to UA.

The list I've thrown up so far is only a starting point. I created it by going through the corresponding sections in AW and starting to convert them to UA. I definitely need to go through UA next and look for things that need to be principles, GM moves, etc.

Re: Unknown Armies: GM (Principles, GM Moves, 1st Session, Fronts, etc.)
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2011, 02:24:17 AM »
I suspect that the rest can be used pretty much unchanged.

The occult underground kind of works like a post-apocalyptic society in any case :)