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Unknown Armies - RPG One-Shot

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I'm thinking about running a one-shot RPG which could become a short series of games if everyone is interested in it. So I'm posting up here to see if there's anyone interested in the setting.


System: Unknown Armies

Players Required: 5

Pre-Gen'd characters: Yes

Time PeriodModern Day




The setting?


The group are all employees of a the Allan's Universal Mart, but everyone calls it All-Mart - it's a Costco-esque organisation with a couple of stores spread out across Alabama and perhaps one or two in Mississippi and Georgia. I'm sure you already know the type; it's a cavernous warehouse, a vast, echoing and poorly lit barn crammed with... stuff. Everything under one roof, from root vegetables, to mobile phones - from lawn flamingos to fake beards. Tractors to tiki heads.


All crammed onto industrial shelving, and for such low, low prices you'd think they'd literally gone mad to offer such bargains.


But there's more here than just bargains.


You see, amongst all the drums of baconaise and Three Wolf Moon adult sized pyjamas you'll find genuine items of occult power. They look exactly like everyday items, but they're always weirdly wrong and bristling with arcane potential. The employees call this stuff Exostock and the running theory is that they're deliveries from a parallel universe. Some of this stuff is pretty harmless and just things that shouldn't exist - Coke Ultra is a lot like our Coke, but just tastes a bit different. Products with maps to head offices in towns that don't exist - that sort of thing. Some of it is a lot worse and potentially dangerous.


The Players




The players will take the roll of night-shift employees at the All-Mart. You likely didn't see yourself working here for as long as you have been, and honestly there's a good chance that you just don't give a fuck any more. But unfortunately head office is going to be performing an inspection in the morning and the place needs to be spotless. The town you live in (glorious Wellspring, Alabama) has seen better times economically and if you lose this one - well, who knows when you're going to get another.


Pre-Gen'd characters are: -


  • Tori Hill - The leader-by-default of the group, as you're the Shift Champion. Whether you realise it or not, you're also one of the living embodiments of The Captain, that primal aspect of the human condition which manifests in brilliant leadership, concern for your crew and Never Leaving A Man Behind. You are likely the only one who really gives a shit.
  • Mike Shaw - You're a Military Vet who believes in the Power of Destiny, and Destiny sort of believes in you too because you're sort of like a magic 8-ball when it comes to correctly guessing the answers to the problem at hand. Don't go thinking you're reliable or anything, though. Besides, you were in a war, you lost a leg from just below the knee. You've seen some shit.
  • Ann Paddington - A hard-working employee who is not all that she appears to be. You live in a caravan in the All-Mart Parking Lot.
  • Darby Carter - A rebellious former anthropology student with a chip on her shoulder. You're only working here to suss out what happened to a course-mate who was last seen (alive) in the store. Was last seen dead with runes carved all over his body and an All-Mart Value Brand steak knife buried in her sternum a mile away from the store. Police ruled it suicide. You disagree.
  • Dustin Druthers - A big, balding, broad-shouldered guy with a sixth sense for the Exostock utility.


What the fuck is Exostock?


Nobody really knows what the Exostock is, but for the most part it's not great and poorly handled can cause serious issues for people, or for those around them. You know that Stephen King story Needful Things? Well, think about it like this - the corner store that was run by a sinister individual who tailored the items sold to personally corrupt and destroy people ironically was eventually put out of business by a large, out-of-town shopping barn that sells Chinese-knock off versions of the strange stuff, mixed in with mostly normal things. It's indiscriminate, impersonal and can range from mild-inconvenience to weapons of (spiritual) mass destruction.


The players will already be aware of the Exostock at the start of the game.


The Game


The story will take place over the course of a single night, before the big store inspection in the morning and the players will need to deal with co-workers from other departments, including your hated nemesis Helen Lafferty from night-shift groceries who seems hell-bent on blaming you all for anything and everything that's gone wrong in the place. You'll also need to contend with the strange people who choose to shop in a place like this after midnight and the drifting presence of Mervin Glazer, who's department is unclear and who's apparently aimless nocturnal peregrinations may conceal a darker purpose.


Also, where have all the Trollies gone?


Essentially, this is some way from the Heroic World offered by D&D, and the players are going to need to strike a balance between trying to keep their jobs and surviving the events of the night. The vast, vast majority of the sessions is going to be set in an American retail-barn, with possible trips to the desert that is the parking lot, and maybe even out back to deliveries. As you're not going to be jetting from place to place, this really does sort of hinge on the players talking to one another and roleplaying around the scenario - as a GM, I can feed you strange events, but it's up to you to make the most of them, and interact with the supporting cast.


If you end up spending the entire sessions getting one up on Helen-fucking-Lafferty, then so be it. But really, this is something you need to dive into head first, and just revel in the strangeness of it all.


Couple of things to note: -


  • The game can be deadly. If you punch somebody and crit then they're dead. There's always the outside chance that you hit somebody in the wrong place, or they had a "pre-existing medical condition".
  • Similarly, if somebody gets shot (it's possible, All-Mart sells guns and fuck knows who'll be in at 2 in the morning, and it's America, and it's Alabama), then the chance of fatality is very high. Remember that ultimately you're store workers. Firearms are scary as fuck.
  • The system is really easy to use, it's percentile based. A couple of the characters (Ann, I'm looking at you) have some "quirks", but I'll go through those with the player.
  • Unknown Armies is a creative game. Low on Stats, broad on skill categories - with an emphasis on social stuff and the relationships you develop with one another.
  • The above is a bit tricky in a one-shot, but I think the key thing to remember is that as a group you are (if not "friends") a team accustomed to working with one another. Play off that. As a GM, I'm usually pretty happy for players to just write stuff in to make the game interesting in terms of their backgrounds and the town is being kept generally vague so you have lots of space to pull stuff out of your collective asses.




So, any interest in a game like this? Anyone like any particular characters? Any questions about the setting?

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Well, yeah - the whole timing aspect is a whole other demon to slay.


And yep, Greg Stolze and John Tynes were both involved in at least one edition of Delta Green. In some ways, I've had the feeling that Unknown Armies is sort of the dumping ground for ideas too weird to go into a Cthulhu-based game. I especially loved Third Edition of this game, bringing in stuff like a monster that's ability to hurt you is tied to how abstract and pretentious your character concept is. If you're just a plumber or something the worst it can do kick your wallet away from you if you drop it, or knock a picture off the wall if it gets into your house.

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I'd also be up for this, if you'll have me. Been playing with a lot of systems recently and keen to try this out. Love the idea of the demon you mentioned there. Right up my alley.

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Well that's five people interested, whoop! Now we've just got to work out a day of the week when everyone can play. I'm fairly flexible but can't do Tuesdays, and since Dr. Shark has said he can't do that, Saturdays or Thursdays - that leaves: -







... anyone else got any definite no's? If we can get a day sorted out, I'll go away for a week or so to get everyone briefed on characters and to just ensure I know where all the trolleys are around the place.

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Also, just to explain how Unknown Armies works a bit as I realise most people won't have played it, it's actually a pretty lightweight system which doesn't bog itself down too heavily when it comes to specific knowledge. At it's core it's a D100 game so you've got a skill level and you're looking to roll a number under than on a D100, taking into account any modifiers the GM might apply.


There are 3 core elements that basically make up your character: -

  • Relationships
  • Meters and skills
  • Identity

... I'll just talk about them quickly here.




Unknown Armies is a social game, and is about cultivating relationships with people. These stats won't come up too much in a one-shot but basically these are people you can rely on, and your dice rolls for success with them become dependant on the quality of your relationship rather than the skill. Even if you're shit at making connections to people, that won't matter with your mentor if you have a strong bond. Each pre-genned character has one Relationship pre-formed, and you'll be able to define two more if you wish.


Meters and Skills


Your core skills and your sanity are balled up into one area in this game and while it's a little weird, it's great. Here's an image in the spoiler of the section on your character sheet, which might help getting your head around it.





Unknown Armies stipulates that there are basically 5 ways that people can be "vulnerable".

  1. Helplessness - A sense of control is crucial for feelings of safety - even if that control is all smoke an mirrors. When you lose the ability to understand how to control a situation around you, the sense of powerlessness can strip away your ability to hold yourself together. Freddy Kruger would attack this first!
  2. Isolation - A subtle danger - isolation corrodes your sanity by denying you input. Without the opinions of others, you can lose the ability to be able to judge yourself.
  3. Self - This is guilt and self loathing. It's conflict between you and what you believe, and this sort of stress damages your ability to believe at all. If you find out in one horrifying moment that your actions mean you're not the person you thought you were, then this can rise very quickly.
  4. Unnatural - You know how you feel when you try to comprehend an infinite thing too long? That's Unnatural. This is the Cthulhu one - where if you're exposed to the universe not working the way you believed, it can start to drive you crazy.
  5. Violence - The game assumes that people have an instinctive revulsion towards violence. It's stressful to hurt others, to see others hurt, or to be hurt.

... All of this pretty much makes perfect sense, right? We want to be safe and stable, we don't want to be exposed to these deeply unpleasant things. You see those Failure boxes? You can only withstand so many mental shocks before you become numb and then insane. Each time you fail one of these checks, you your hollow out a little - and eventually you're gone. It's not pretty, and the roads back are very hard. It also means that you can have a character who is mostly unphased by violence, but starts to go to pieces when they feel like they've got no backup.


But you're not TOTALLY vulnerable to them. Because you know what? You can harden the fuck up, snowflake - facts don't care about your feelings and all that.


You can see that two skills are attached to each meter. and each meter has 9 dots. Lets look at Unnatural specifically.




So you can probably see that by having a score of 60 in Notice, you have a score of 20 in Secrecy, and Vice Versa. In theory, your character untouched will be at the top of the "Notice" side of things. You are curious about the world, you see things. Nothing has hurt you. If some strange thing happens to you and you fail your stress check, instead of ticking off the box, you can choose to Harden Up. Hardening up means you fill in dots equal to the level of the stress (between 1 and 10). So with a completely clean slate, your Notice is 60% and your Secrecy is 20%. Mark off the first box and your Notice is now 55% and the Secrecy is 25%.


Once you mark off that level 1 box, you'll never be phased by Level 1 Unnatural stressors again. You've just accepted it and it can't hurt you any more. Of course, in a longer game, there's only so many psychological calluses that can form before something starts to go wrong with you as a person, but this is a one-shot so there not need to worry about it too much.


I know what you're thinking - "Lying Cat, these skills are incredibly vague, and it's a bit hard for me if I wanted to be an introverted Private Investigator - wouldn't that mean I needed high Notice and high Secrecy? Well, yes. This brings us on to the last section. And probably the most fun.




Your Identity or Identities are who you are. If you were making characters, you would have 120% of points to spend on as many identities as you like, but the more you have the weaker they'll be. These completely override your skills and they can be absolutely anything at all. It's totally freeform, you just need to be able to justify it in conversation.


So you might say "I am a Private Investigator, of course I can Notice Clues at a Crime Scene". And since you probably put 60% into Private Investigator, that means you're not rolling your useless score of 20% on the Meter, you're rolling 60% because that's who you are. Private Investigator is a pretty simple example. One of the pre-genned characters has an identity of "I'm not going to take this shit any more", so you can start to think about what this might substitute for in the world of a shelf stacker. These identities are only vaguely defined in terms of stats, and are about roleplaying. In a longer term game, these Identities improve whenever you fail a roll with them - after all, you get better by picking yourself up and trying again.




So that's the core of it. The strangest part is not being able to define your core skills specifically as they're slightly out of your hands because of your stress levels, but the Identities heap a whole bunch of control and flexibility right back to you, and let you be properly creative with it.

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2 hours ago, Lying Cat said:

Well that's five people interested, whoop! Now we've just got to work out a day of the week when everyone can play. I'm fairly flexible but can't do Tuesdays, and since Dr. Shark has said he can't do that, Saturdays or Thursdays - that leaves: -







... anyone else got any definite no's? If we can get a day sorted out, I'll go away for a week or so to get everyone briefed on characters and to just ensure I know where all the trolleys are around the place.


I can do any of those nights actually. But Monday sounds good if it suits The Hierophant.


It sounds, mechanically at least, quite like CoC. Looking forward to checking it out!

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13 minutes ago, Andy_Why said:


I can do any of those nights actually. But Monday sounds good if it suits The Hierophant.



Monday is looking hopeful then.


For those of you who don't mind Trello, I have started assembling the cast of NPCs (store regulars, other departments etc) here. Only the people with pictures have anything up about them at the moment.

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Since my last post, my on-going RPG group will be moving to Wednesday nights, so I probably won't be able to do a Wednesday in the future. Sorry gang. And if it works better for the majority to do it on Wednesday, that is no worries at all.

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God dammit. Should have done a poll.


This is how it's looking from what I can tell.




... because we've got a specific preference for Monday from Hiero and we can field a full group for it, I suggest we shoot for that - and I think we should schedule for Monday 18th, just so I've got time to work on the details and get character information over to you, y'know - the usual stuff.


This does mean that Aluco can't play sadly - but if this is actually successful, I'll probably run more "mundane but something's up" scenarios in future, as I like them.




If that's a go (speak now or forever hold your peace), did anyone like the look of any of the characters. Genders can be switched easily enough if that's something you're fussed about.

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I'd like to take a stab at Darby Carter.  I see her as a smart-ass nosy/sassy sort.  Borderline annoying at times.


Or Dustin, he sounds a tasty geezer, even if he's a bit mysterious at this point.

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A bit more about Dustin? Dustin is very much the amateur occultist, and it all started a couple of years back when when you were feeling a little thirsty on shift, and grabbed a carbonated beverage off the shelves.


You didn't recognise the brand but the taste was simply incredible. Every bubble was like a galaxy exploding on your tongue. The drink of dreams. But you only got to drink half of it.


Midway through it was snatched from your hand by the tentacle of... Something, which poured the rest of the drink into one of it's many mouths, burped in your face contemptuously and slinked off back into the depths of the store.


The best description you have for it is "Fat Slender Man". You see it from time to time, and it seems to work to thwart you. You've already told your colleagues on the night shift, but none of them could say for sure that they've seen it.


But since you drank that beverage, you've just had this ability with the Exostock. Finding it, ubderstanding it.


I'll write more about Ann when I get home. Ann is... Well, nobody knows this, but she's not human. Not at all.

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Very sorry @Welrain, not had this in my head this weekend. Yes, you are innif you would still like to play.


Will post up about dates tomorrow!


edit  - I'm going to create a PM group, rather than keep jumping this to the top.

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