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"You did it!"
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Unknown Armies (abbreviated UA) is an occult-themed Role-Playing Game by John Tynes and Greg Stolze and published by Atlas Games. Subtitled "A roleplaying game of power and consequences".

The game is divided into three levels: street, global, and cosmic. At the street level, you know only this: there is something very weird happening, and you've had a glimpse of it. Now you're about to find out just how strange the world really is. Only at the global level do you learn the truth: magick is real, it's postmodern, and it's everywhere.

The world you know is only the surface. The Occult Underground swarms beneath it like a nest of bugs. Adepts alter reality with the power of their own obsessions and madness. Avatars gain the favor of the cosmos by playing their part in the collective unconscious. Those without magick hunt down those with for their own purposes—to control, to suppress, or to assimilate. Sounds pretty interesting, right? There's a catch. There's always a catch. All labor in secret for fear of the sleeping tiger—magick may be powerful, but all the forces of the arcane aren't worth much compared to the panicked masses on a witch hunt. Further, magick power is bought at a steep price. You can alter human flesh only by scouring your own. You can gain the strength of the archetypal Warrior only by never relenting, even when tact or sanity say you should back down. You can bring about anything with magick—provided you're willing to sacrifice what it takes to do so.

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Why risk so much of yourself for impressive but seemingly minor power? You'll need to reach the cosmic level to find out...

This is a fantastic and extremely gritty roleplaying game. Combat is brutal and bloody—the combat chapter opens up by describing several ways to get out of a fight, since more often than not you're gonna get torn the hell up if you're not careful, or even if you are. The rules are light, but clever and flavorful, with fancy dice tricks adding spice to the usual d% system. The powers of magick are even more flavorful, bizarre, and amazing. The setting is imaginative, detailed, and engrossing.

Greg Stolze also wrote a novel, ''Godwalker'', starring several of the Non Player Characters from the game books as they converge on a small town in the midwest and completely mess up it, themselves, and each other. If you'd like an idea of what it's like to play in a global/cosmic game of UA, Godwalker is a good place to start, and it only costs $3.33 in Kindle format.

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The game is often compared to Over the Edge, due to both games featuring an abundance of surface level weirdness and protagonist empowerment, along with a do-it-yourself skills list. Both Tynes and Stolze also were writers for Delta Green, with Tynes begin one of the original writers creating the first Delta Green scenario ever, Convergence, and Stolze would write for the 2016 edition. Some level of influence can be seen from Delta Green to Unknown Armies and vice-versa: A hidden occult world, gritty and grim ambience, destructive magic and with the 2016 edition of Delta Green, a level of Personal Horror with its own Sanity Meter adapted from Unknown Armies.

There also was a successful Kickstarter for Third Edition, with an unedited beta text for a post 9/11 world available to backers.

Warning: many of these examples contain severe spoilers for those playing Street-level campaigns!


This role-playing game provides examples of:

  • Addiction-Powered: Narco-alchemists gain their minor charges by consuming mundane drugs, allowing them to then cast a spell.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The shtick of avatars of the Mystic Hermaphrodite. At upper levels, this evolves into instant sex changes.
  • Amusing Injuries: The Laff Riot videomancer spell protects everyone in the area from gunshots, reduces other types of attacks to five damage, and can turn a fall from a skyscraper from street pizza into an embarrassing pantsing. Watching the Detectives can retroactively turn any major injury short of death into a single point of damage. Game Masters who enjoy the Rule of Funny can have quite an lot of fun here.
  • Another Dimension: The Otherspaces are like alternate realities where the rules of existence are fundamentally different. Since they're disconnected from real time and space, they can be useful for transport... but they're generally difficult to reach, and they're often very dangerous, if not maddening. In Third Edition, you can even make them, but it's hard keeping them around and they are never entirely controlled by their makers.
  • Anti-Magic: The sample NPC, Eustace Crane, is a walking fifty yard bubble of this that ironically wants to believe in magic. Other sources exist.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Each member of the Invisible Clergy is one of these, personifying an idea of what a human being can be. The very concepts of things like The Fool, The Mother and The Trickster (among others) are represented by ascended mortals in the Clergy.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: GNOMON, a strange governmental data miner program that somehow not only became sentient, but became the focus of an entire adept school focused around the concept of identity, knowledge, and espionage (you dicker with it for charges, and you use the search bar for spells). Not malevolent, but definitely has its own agenda, uncaring of its makers, and is a bit of a Mad Scientist.
  • Arc Number: 333, the number of seats in the Invisible Clergy. Once it's filled, the world will be reborn.
  • Arc Words: "You did it." In every sense of the phrase.
  • Archetypes: Avatars gain supernatural power by consciously emulating Archetypes that exist in the collective unconscious and function in reality. (So you can be an Avatar of The Captain, thoughtful and respected, or The Executioner, unrelenting and grim, but not of the Great Detective, because Great Detectives only exist in fiction.) An impressive route to power and later ascent into the “Statosphere” is to find an unclaimed but widespread archetype and then embody it to the full, but that’s difficult these days, when most slots are taken; a riskier route is to become an Avatar so perfect that you replace the existing Archetype in the Statosphere — but the existing Archetype will see that you’re trying this, and Archetypes have godlike powers…
  • Armor-Piercing Question: GNOMON is always willing to offer charges in return for filling out one of its personality questionnaires... which always end in such pointed and personalized inquiries it forces a Stress check.
  • Ascended Fanboy: A whole team of them: the Team Salvation is a team of occult do-gooders who used to play RPGs and read comics together as kids. The team leader's motivation is explicitly defined as "Be a superhero".
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: A very popular goal in the game is to ascend to the “Statosphere” as an Archetype, a fundamental principle of human existence. This is the ultimate goal of many cabals, since they would then be able to shape the next universe under their own principles.
  • Badass Normal: Most non-Adept and non-Avatar PCs in a Cosmic game. Hell, being one is a prerequisite for being one of the true leaders of The New Inquisition. Their leader realizes that putting actual Cloud Cuckoo Lander mages in charge of his group would be a very, very bad idea.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Thanatomancers, people who gain power over life and death through Human Sacrifice, are not recommended as player characters.
  • Becoming the Mask: A constant worry if you're a Personamancer. The entire basis of Personamancy is pretending to be someone else - it's how they charge up their magic. One of the easiest ways to do so is to imitate someone else in front of a mirror. Over years of continually being someone else, the original "you" has a tendency to shrivel up and fade away. It gets "better": the Personamancy taboo is becoming famous as yourself. In order to keep their powers, Personamancers have to suppress who they really are. Truly experienced Personamancers embody the Peter Sellers quote: "There is no 'me'. 'I' do not exist."
  • Berserk Button: The Rage passion for a character is whatever seriously pisses that character off.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The Sleepers' favorite tactic; reminding you that joining their organization allows you to sense use of magick, especially that which endangers Muggles. It helps they can generate unnatural phenomenon purely based around raising paranoia.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Uder Krazmersky from the One Shots scenario "Jailbreak" appears to be just a gentle, kindly old craftsman who merely wants to be left in peace with his improbably beautiful young wife and fix watches in his home, struggling against a bunch of escaped prisoners who have barged in and holed up. He's an old, powerful Mechanomancer, and is every bit as insane and callous as one would imagine a person whose obsession is with a clockwork universe and whose magic is fueled by sacrificing memories. That wife of his? He killed her in a rage one day. What did he do? Why, he took her corpse and stuffed it full of gears, bringing it back to life as a clockwork automaton who will love him unconditionally without even knowing that. The memory he sacrificed to accomplish that feat? Why, that of murdering his own wife, of course! Living with the guilt would've been awful! And pray to God that you don't accidentally open the bedroom closet emitting scary banging sounds, or you might find yourself facing the clockwork abomination that is Bors Slavandrov, the last person to threaten Uder's wife.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mak Attax is in the aftermath of one of these in 3rd Edition: They pulled off the Ritual of Light, resulting in a global Decon-Recon Switch for the entire Occult Underground and making it so optimism is the driving force of most political agendas... but they couldn't stop the September 11th attacks, and the Underground is no less dangerous — nobody said "optimism" couldn't mean "hopes to Take Over the World"...
  • Biomanipulation:
    • Epideromancy is a magic style revolving around molding the bodies of others (and oneself) like clay and is powered by self-mutilation. Its signature attack spell isn't the one that lets you break bones or tear flesh just by touching someone, it's the spell that lets you mold flesh about the area of your palm. Its most common use? Seal someone's mouth and nose. No surprise that it's the #1 source of Body Horror in the game.
    • The Freak in the novelization Godwalker demonstrates this power via shapeshifting and gendershifting as well as healing of themself and others.
  • Blessed with Suck: Being an Adept means you have to follow some sort of Taboo in order to gain power. Pity they tend not to gel well with trying to live an ordinary life, and do not let you off with the 'following the Taboo would be a spectacularly bad idea' excuse.
    • Agrimancers, being the mages of agriculture, can't let nature get the better of them, or cross large bodies of wild water. So if you want to keep your powers, any flights have to avoid lakes and seas, and travel between continents is forbidden to you. Oh, and if the weather is very bad, you won't be able to go outside until it passes.
    • Amoromancers draw power from "lovin' 'em and leavin' 'em" - they're not called "heartbreakers" for nothing. This tends to leave a long trail of women (and men) scorned behind them. If the shoe is on the other foot, if they fall in love, their power is gone in a flash.
    • Annihilomancers draw power from destroying their ties (or the ties of others) to the world. If you want to keep getting power, you have to steadily cut yourself off from everything you care about. Do you want to fix something? Your magick says no.
    • Bibliomancers gain power from owning books, the rarer the better. (Actually reading the books is optional - by a strict reading of the rules, you technically don't even need to be literate.) All those books can get mighty expensive, especially if you're looking to do the more powerful spells.
    • Cinemancy allows you to make real life like a movie... and to do that, you have to behave as if you were in a movie at all times.
    • Dipsomancers gain power from drunkenness. Such powers do not include a magically strengthened liver, or the ability to retain a sound mind while drunk off your ass.
    • Epideromancers draw their power from Self-Harm. That's bad enough, but their Taboo is that they're not allowed to let anyone else change their bodies in any way. Need surgery? Tough break, unless you're able and willing to do it yourself.
    • Entropomancers gain power from their life being in danger. Eventually, their luck is gonna run out.
    • Irascimancers gain power from causing anger in others. They, on the other hand, are never allowed to get personally angry at anyone. (Notably, this is one of the few schools of magick that prevents you from using a game mechanic - if you invoke your Rage Passion, you break your Taboo.)
    • Kleptomancers gain power from stealing. They can't stop. Ever. Not even after they've been told they'll be dropped off a cliff if they nick the MacGuffin again.
    • Kryptomancers gain power from finding secrets and leaking harmful ones, but they can't auditorily tell anybody truths that the persons hearing didn't know or can reasonably assume to be true. So you'll have to either pretend to be mute and speak via signs and writing (text-to-speech being out of question), or be a pathological liar even when it comes to trivial things, along with avoiding direct answers, especially since others might be listening without your knowledge.
    • Mechanomancers sacrifice memories to gain power, and there's only so many memories you can lose before you start having to sacrifice the important ones. And if you want to accomplish something that really changes the world, the price starts at the important memories. Optionally, you can incorporate unique and world-changing machines into your designs and not lose memories at all... but do you really think the Smithsonian is just going to let you walk out with the engine from the Wright Brothers plane?
    • Motumancers can't participate in anything constructive. This includes obeying the kind of laws that exist to stop people from hurting or killing themselves.
    • Narco-Alchemists can gain supernatural effects from mundane drugs, and create supernatural versions of them, but they're not protected from addiction or other negative effects. In addition, these drugs are highly illegal, and will get them arrested if caught. Oh, and if you ever take (or get forced to take) a mundane psychoactive drug, all the effects of your works, including permanent ones, will dissipate, so have fun satisfying your addictions.
    • Oneiromancers receive charges by suffering from sleep deprivation. Of course, this means being penalized on nearly everything you do, and even the briefest microsleep will taboo you. And while it's possible to compensate with coffee, completely removing the penalties will also taboo you.
    • Personamancers can impersonate other people, but must sacrifice their own identity to do so.
    • Plutomancers gain power by making money. Problem is, this means not spending it.
    • Pornomancy gains power from performing porn. Note, not sex, porn, which can get fairly awkward and uncomfortable to do because it's meant for looking cool, not feeling good. It also means that if you want to keep your powers, you can't have sex in any other way. Want to consummate a relationship with a significant other, have Sex for Solace, or something similar? Tough luck.
    • Urbanomancers gain power from the city they live in. Only that city - if they leave, they're powerless. Oh, and if you see yourself as an observer of the city from the outside, then you can't use it's protection against elements, so you'll have to sleep on the streets or in a vehicle.
    • Ustrinaturgy is the magic of smoking. Like Dipsomancy, the side effects of your habit are not covered by magic. Enjoy your lung cancer.
    • Viaturges gain power from long drives and sleeping everywhere they can, but they lose power if they're a passenger in a motor vehicle. Suffered a serious injury and can't drive yourself to a doctor? Too bad, your companions have to carry you to the hospital or use a horse. Want to get onto another continent? You have to pilot your own plane, or buy a boat and go onto a long voyage.
    • Thanatomancy requires Human Sacrifice. While this doesn't involve hurting yourself, it is an excellent way to put the authorities on your tail.
  • Bookworm: Bibliomancy is the magic of books, with charges gained by collecting rare and valuable tomes. The thing is, it's the magic of owning books, not reading them - a bibliomancer is in some ways even greedier than the plutomancers.
  • Boom, Headshot!: It's possible to do this with firearms. It doesn't increase the damage done (and may actually decrease it due to penalties), but it will instantly knock the target unconscious.
  • Booze-Based Buff: Dipsomancers, and most of the artifacts they make. Pity you have to be drunk to gain the benefits.
  • Brand X: Mak Attax is using a certain multinational corporation ( McDonalds) to further its agenda. The corporation is almost never mentioned by name. Ostensibly, this is because of the power of True Names.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Cinemancy has a spell to invoke this, though it only lasts so long as you don't take even the slightest breaks from shooting.
  • Brown Note: The Alter language, and the book Das Garten.
  • …But I Play One on TV:invoked A Personamancy spell lets you use any professional skill as long as you can convince those present that you are a professional.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: Agrimancers have a variant of this as part of their taboo - they can't cross large bodies of wild water, even by flying. Artificial ones are fine, and only the largest rivers of the continent count towards taboo, but lakes, seas, and oceans are large enough to count.
  • Canon Welding: The Red Book of Westmarch is mentioned as a real book in the setting - implying that all of Tolkien's Legendarium existed in the dim recesses of the past.
  • Cap: All guns have a maximum amount of damage that they can do in a single shot, although some guns do more damage than one can ever do with a normal shot, and automatic fire removes the cap entirely.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Epideromancy works this way, as do certain rituals. All magic schools, however, are fundamentally self-destructive in some manner, whether physiologically or psychologically.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe
  • Clockpunk: Nearly anything made by a Mechanomancer wanders into this trope, and will quite likely be self-motivated enough to rate as a Clockwork Creature.
  • Chainsaw Good: Chainsaws do a lot of damage, up there with katanas. See Katanas Are Just Better below.
  • Chaotic Stupid: Entropomancers are encouraged to act like this, since they're wizards who gain power over probabilities by putting things of value to themself (money, social standing, life and limb, etc) at risk. Unlike most examples of the trope, this behavior is played entirely for horror. As one reviewer put it, an Entropomancer with a single bullet and a revolver can gain, up to, five significant charges within seconds.
    • Motumancers also suffer from this trope. In their case, their taboo prevents them from being able to participate in anything that involves building lasting structure or social order, even obeying a police officer, regardless of how good that would be for everybody.
  • City of Spies: While not explicit, the Sleeping Tiger (ie. The general public) pretty much turns any game of Unknown Armies into spy central. With weird ass magic.
  • The Conspiracy: Unknown Armies' theme that the supernatural world was, in many ways, a lot less amazing than it might first sound extended to its conspiracies. Whereas settings like The World of Darkness were filled to the brim with occult organizations so ancient and powerful it's a wonder history happened without them, the conspiracies that dominate the Occult Underground tended to be rather down-to-Earth. The very biggest one consisted of about 400 people, total, and considered comparatively powerless due to the impracticality of trying to keep track of so many "agents" (it didn't help they were mostly clueless amateurs in it for the lulz). Most couldn't even scratch 100. The "ancient" conspiracy was less than a century old and just thrumming up its own reputation as mystical badasses, and even the ones with millions of dollars to throw around were simply too practical to bother with Hollywood bullshit like sending attack helicopters and squads of mercenaries after people where a hired thug with a silenced pistol tends to be enough to do the trick. It goes without saying that there's not a single organization in the entire setting that wouldn't be squashed like a bug if they ever pissed off the mundane authorities. There's a reason the Occult Underground remains that way.
    • The 3rd edition took things even further by bringing down many of the previous era's bigger, richer and more influential organizations with either infighting, betrayal or an event referred to as "The Whisper War". The New Inquisition has gone underground and can no longer afford to throw money at every problem, the Sleepers have lost control of their ancient holdings and vaults full of artifacts, the Sect of the Naked Goddess split in three, and even Mak Attax has lost almost its whole leadership. All three are now rather more loosely organized, hodgepodge and gritty. This was likely done both in order to further focus the game thematically on the street-level, and to give more agency to player cabals.
  • Contractual Genre Blindness: The basis of the taboo of the Cinemancy school — they see a potential for a cliché, they must complete it. Nothing says they can't avoid situations where a cliché would likely present itself, however, and all of their spells are based around invoking tropes in real life to their ultimate benefit — for example, using Right Behind Me to teleport another individual to their location, or Tempting Fate to summon rain despite a drought.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Inverted. It's the anti-Lovecraft: you aren't scared because the cosmic powers that can crush you like a bug without noticing it are inhuman horrors from the depth of the cosmos. You are scared because they were humans like you, and are living metaphor of what being human means. You aren't mortified because you're helpless, but because you did it!
  • Coup de Grâce: Referred to as point-blanking in the rules. Notably, unlike most ways to kill people, it has an extremely heavy effect on one's Sanity Meter, with inexperienced characters being way more likely to go completely insane about violence than to become numb to it.
  • Crazy Homeless People: There's plenty of these, but watch out. Unknown Armies has a disproportionate number of hobos who are also powerful wizards.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted; you automatically pass out/otherwise go unconscious at 5 HP and die at 0, but you take cumulative stat penalties depending on how messed up you are.
  • Critical Hit: A matched success (that is, a success where the digits are both the same - 11, 22, and the like) ensures very good things happen. A 01 is always a success - and in combat, it's a One-Hit Kill.
  • Critical Research Failure: In-Universe, in the second edition corebook, one cabal is a group of radical feminists trying to replace the Naked Goddess with their own creation, the Womyn. They know just enough about the Statosphere to be completely wrong. First of all, to join the Invisible Clergy, you have to represent a concept the world recognizes as universal, like the Mother or the Hunter. There aren't nearly enough radical feminists for the Womyn to qualify. Even if there were, to replace a member of the Clergy, you have to represent a different facet of their concept, like the "bounty Hunter" replacing the "survival Hunter". If the Womyn ascended, she would do so alongside the Naked Goddess, not in place of her. Also, "pornos" was not the Greek word for "female slave", and isn't what "porn" is short for anyway.
  • Cult: By the 3rd edition The New Inquisition has morphed into this, fueled by Alex Abel looking for perfect loyalty after having been betrayed by his bodyguard.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Plutomancers have as their Taboo that they can't spend more than a certain amount in a single transaction. The game makes a massive deal out of how the school of magik obsessed with money has to live like paupers. The problem? That limit is $1,000 (or $2,000 in the third edition). Per transaction. You can't live like a rockstar with that limit, but it's not exactly poor-house material either.
  • Deconstruction: The game plays with most of the tropes you see in modern fantasy games, but makes sense of them the most mundane ways possible. If they can change reality, why aren't Adepts in charge? Because the very nature of their power makes them loony, and the price they pay to work their miracles makes them as useful as a carefully chosen tool, only weirder. Why is magic falling behind technology? Because technology is just better, and more reliable. Why isn't the supernatural more widespread? Because it makes you batshit crazy, and you don't trust what batshit crazy people tell you.
    • Decon-Recon Switch: Thanks to Mak Attax, 3rd Edition has elements of this; when it comes down to it, Adepts are still the kind of people who look reality in the eye and tell it to get with their program... and reality bows its head. Hence, they may not have power, but having power and getting what you want are two vastly different things.
  • Determinator: One of the powers of the Masterless Man.
    • Avatars of the Survivor also get a power like this, and they're not allowed to give up on survival or their overal goal.
  • Demonic Possession: This is pretty much a demon's entire Goal in Life until they actually get a body; otherwise they're helplessly intangible and potentially vulnerable to the Cruel Ones.
  • Deus Sex Machina: Pornomancy. Subverted in that pornomantic sex rituals aren't much fun at all to their practitioner, and having regular sex is taboo to them. "Real shame about love, isn't it?"
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: You can face the very principles of reality one on one. You can even take their place.
  • Disability Superpower: Some schizophrenics actively channel the backwash from any magic cast nearby, which can be a Very Bad thing.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: While the House of Renunciation is a Genius Loci, it also does not have thoughts or goals beyond seeking subjects of its dubious help. Agents of Renunciation, on the other hand, are entirely human-and thus, beyond their fanatical belief in their Room's cause, can and do have ambitions beyond that and think of ways to bring their Room's way of thinking to the larger world.
  • Easter Egg: Page 333.
  • Easy Amnesia:
    • The Personomancer spell "The Mirror, Crack'd" is a magical case of retrograde amnesia with some interesting side effects.
    • Mechanomancers exchange Easy Amnesia for magickal mojo. The more memories you give up, and the more personal and important they are, the more mojo you get.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What happens when the number of Invisible Clergy hits 333. Not necessarily a bad thing, if the right people are in charge.
  • Equivalent Exchange: There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. To do magick, you have to pay the price. Controlling probability means you have to take insane risks now and then, you have to hurt yourself to mold flesh, and you can't spend your money if you want to magickally manipulate the stock market.
  • Eye of Newt: Ritual Magick. Sample ingredients in the GM section include "A lock of hair from a red-headed lover", "Those Groucho glasses with the fake nose and moustache", and "A copy of the Torah, translated directly from Hebrew into Klingon".
  • Face–Heel Turn/Heel–Face Turn: One of the biggest events in 3rd edition is the Freak and the Comte de Saint-Germain switching places and inverting morality. The Freak is now an idealistic androgine that calls hirself the Human Eternal and is in charge of being the new First and Last Man (the only constant between universes), and the Comte is a bitter, cranky old lady called Old Mother Apocalypse who wants to make the current universe eternal and stop new ones from being created, by killing all of humanity if necessary.
  • A Father to His Men: The Captain archetype demands this of it's avatars - while they can't bear challenges to authority from their crew, they must carefully consider (or make a show of it - it's the actions and words that matter, not the thinking) the fates of their crew, make sure that their conditions are decent, avoid bad treatment, and have a good reason for any grave decisions.
  • Fisher King: Known as "The True King" in this game, and one of several sample Avatar types. The True King must choose an area to be the King of ("the King of 5th Street", "the King of the Homeless", and "the King of the Road" are all possible choices, just to name three), and is bound to answer any request for aid by those they count as subjects. In return, they gain power over that which they have declared their domain.
  • The Fool: Another Avatar type. Known specifically for doing foolish things and somehow surviving. Notably, it's a taboo for them to raise their Mind stat too high - a Fool must actually be foolish.
  • Functional Magic: Mostly rule magic, although ritual magic is popular and wild magic shows up.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Mechanomancers are Clock Punk adept versions of these. Third Edition adds avatars of the Hacker, whose taboos include literally not being able to use things they haven't tinkered with. As they get more channels, they start going into full Sufficiently Analyzed Magic territory.
  • Gender Bender: Avatars of the Mystic Hermaphrodite.
  • Ghostly Goals: A ghost's personality has no subtlety; they can only act to fulfill their Obsession. If they want revenge, they will chase you to the end of the earth. If they want to collect every last Pokemon card, you better not have a tight grip on that Charizard.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation:
    • "Sanity cannot exist for long under conditions of absolute reality." There are a lot of things that can cause you to gain some notches on the madness meters, but suddenly gaining an understanding of some cosmic truth is the most likely to cause a Freak Out.
    • GNOMON's disciples have a spell that allows them to do this, burning a significant charge to turn the occult AI's considerable mental resources to answering any single question about the cosmic underpinnings of reality. They don't like using it, as GNOMON tells them everything it can find out in its report, causing a Stress check. Still, better to know, sometimes-because a lot of that stuff is very useful.
  • God Was My Copilot: The Comte De Saint-Germain, immortal uberpower, sadistic bastard, and appearing in at least half the stock campaigns as a bit part, sometimes in simultaneous roles halfway across a state. Often provides Deus ex Machina and Diabolus ex Machina.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: In the third edition, it's noted that using your default Struggle ability to fight means this. However, being very hardened to violence may raise the character's ability high enough that they could easily beat up those who have the appropriate combat identity.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Averted, at least for more skilled users. Someone with poor skill needs extreme luck to do much damage with a gun, though. Which is pretty realistic. Guns are surprisingly unwieldy and hard to use for people that haven't practiced with them, a problem that becomes ten times worse when threatened and under pressure.
  • Gun Nut: Learning fulminaturgy is likely to make you this, as you have to be obsessed about the magickal power of guns, and are encouraged to always carry one, with some adepts breaking taboo by exiting their home or vehicle unarmed. Ironically, those who view guns as a way to enforce civilization will be unable to shoot a human with a gun without breaking taboo
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: In spades. Among the key factions are a private army of a dictatorial plutocrat (who genuinely wants to make the world a better place; albeit with him running it), a devoted hidden order determined to protect the world from magic's excesses (or just stop the flamboyant mages from ruining the game for everyone else, OR maybe just a pack of serial killers with a justification), and a gang of idealistic youngsters looking to make the world a better place (but who might have turned themselves into the perfect tool for someone looking to rule it). True examples of purely malignant or benign groups are very thin on the ground. Well, other than demons. They're pretty much bastards. But even then, they're selfish and ruthless, not serving a greater evil.
  • Guttural Growler: The Freak, as a result of drinking acid. Not so much as the Human Eternal, though.
  • Hand of Glory: One of the mystical objects that people can craft.
  • Healing Factor: Epideromancers can gain this, although it excludes self-inflicted wounds.
  • Heel–Face Brainwashing: From its perspective, this is the goal of any Room of Renunciation. The key to becoming a particular Room's Agent of Renunciation is, after having gone through its trial, coming to believe that more of that Room's Heel Face Brainwashing can only be a good thing.
  • The Hecate Sisters: These are said to be "masks", or recognized spiritual icons that mirror the Archetypes. It's an open question as to which is which (though "The Mother" is fairly unambiguous).
  • Humans Are Special: One definite given in any UA game, on account of how the cosmos pretty much revolves around the collective will of humanity and its chosen representatives.
  • Immortality: One goal to aim for; apparently, if Dirk Allen could ever get this for the Freak, the Freak would stop hating him so much...
  • Infectious Insanity: Haltolmish, aka the Alter Tongue, is a contagious language that makes people who hear it spoken gradually start using it themselves and will eventually alter their modes of thinking as well.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's magick, not magic. The former is the real deal, the latter is what the guy does at the stage before an audience.
  • Intrinsic Vow: Supplement Statosphere. The Invisible Clergy cannot make a mortal (such as a human) to do something against their will or prevent them from doing something they really want to do. The example given is that if a woman attempted to shoot a man, and wanted to do so with all her heart, the Clergy could not make her change her mind. They could, however, jam the gun.
  • Knight Templar: Literal example in the Order of St. Cecil, who may simultaneously begin to brainwash the party adept and take on quite a number of nasty critters for you. Other groups can serve, especially The New Inquisition and the Sleepers.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Mak Attax were the joke of the Occult Underground. Then they managed to get two dozen terrorists arrested in a single night and perform the single largest magical act in recent memory. (And then they proceeded to do bugger all afterwards, until the events of the To Go campaign, the culmination of their Great Work. Depending on the outcome of the campaign, one of their higher-ups may ascend as the new True King.)
    • Since their goal is the creation of a new age of magic, one of the outcomes where their higher up doesn't ascend is the one they'd really want.
  • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Averted. Adepts require not only a decent skill level to cast any sort of spell successfully, but also must charge up by doing particular ritual acts. Attacking via magic is less efficient than just using a gun. Avatar magic is flat-out linear, providing particular effects at a particular level of skill. Ritual magic progresses randomly, depending on the whims of the GM. Psychics are generally even more limited.
  • Liquid Assets: Played more literally than most, as an avatar of the Merchant can trade any intangible good between two other people.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Unknown Armies" is a line cribbed from William Butler Yeats.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Mechanically, any individual who is alone for prolonged periods of time will fill up the Isolation failed bar to go insane or head a long way toward going sociopath.
  • Look Both Ways: Can be invoked by viaturges, cursing the victim to be struck by a car when they try to cross a road. However, this will happen regardless of the victim actually looking both ways, and the only way to avoid it is for the road to be completely abandoned.
  • Mad Hatter: An adept being this is a good sign-that mean's he's capable of functioning.
  • Made of Iron: While combat is very deadly, certain adepts and avatars, such as an epideromancer or a masterless man, can become very hard to kill indeed.
  • Mage Marksman: While any adept can use guns, fulminaturges embrace the Magic Gunman variation the best, as their school revolves around guns and their social role, with some spells also enhancing their shooting.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Played with, Adepts must embrace symbolic paradox and paying a price for their powers and avatars must act out their Stratospheric patron's archetype... but the very basis of magick working is the internal logic of the universe not always fitting together right. Unnatural phenomenon (side effects of uncontrolled magickal energy) are, by definition, devoid of all but symbolic logic and there's absolutely no law that some otherwise completely normal person can't have a supernatural ability that nobody can explain.
  • Magic Is Evil: According to the Order of St. Cecil, the actual Inquisition (as opposed to The New Inquisition, which is a Nebulous Amoral Organization). Given how damaging magick is to its practioners' sanity, and how their first response is generally psychological help, it's kinda understandable.
  • Magic Librarian: The Bibliomancer class uses his personal library as a power source. The more books he has and the rarer they are, the more powerful he becomes.
  • Mama Bear: A powerful avatar of the Mother gets big bonuses whenever defending someone that sees them as a mother figure.
  • Martial Pacifist: The Fulminaturgy school that views guns as, at their core, benign enforces of civilization, have a taboo of never actually shooting a human. Monsters are fair game though, as is using the actual magic to attack.
  • Masquerade: The occult underground stays hidden because whenever magic is discovered by the public, murder is soon to follow. The core book cites numerous instances throughout history in which accused magic-users have been lynched en masse. They even have (pretty elegant) rules for angry mobs and their consequences.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: This is the game where one of the major dealers in the Occult Underground is a fast food chain that uses its meals in an attempt to align the chakra points of the American consciousness. And it only gets weirder from there.
  • Mind Rape: Entropics, demonic possession, and dozens of adept spells like the one that instantly spread a rumor to every one on Earth.
  • Mind Screw: And how! With extra strength in any scenario written by John Tynes. In one notable case, he wrote a scenario in which you run into a woman who fires bullets from her mouth by screaming "I'm a gun!", heal a man by binding pages of the bible to his body, free a young girl from a circle of corpses who drop coins from their mouths in a constant trickle, before fleeing in an ambulance ride with Jesus from murderous cars who can only be hurt by tossing the aforementioned coins at them. Man, all I wanted was some change. I don't love you anymore. (Said scenario is "A Few of My Favorite Things", from Weep.)
  • Missing Time: No, literally, one of the possible side effects of using powerful magic is that a group of people can just disappear for a few hours, and when they come back they don't realize that time has passed at all.
  • Muggles: But don't you mess with them. They are officially referred to as "the Sleeping Tiger," and the book includes some sobering tables outlining what happens when they wake up.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Because technology is more reliable and cconsistent. But adepts do it in ways that defy logic. Nobody gets to have it both ways.
  • Mutually Exclusive Magic: You get one school of magic, either adept or avatar. Trying to learn more than one, or trying to be both an adept and an avatar, invariably drives you completely nuts (to the tune of an utterly blown-out Unnatural stress gauge). The mind just can't handle it. (The one exception is that avatars of the Mystic Hermaphrodite, whose entire basis for being is ambiguity, can also be adepts, so long as their magick isn't built around anything logical. The Freak, for example, is both an avatar and an Epideromancer.)
  • Mysterious Watcher: Sleepers and Agents of Renunciation tend to be this.
  • Never Sleep Again: Oneiromancer blasts will cause the victim to suffer from nightmares, possibly causing them to die in their sleep. However, it's possible to delay the blast by staying awake, and even win by endurance, thus avoiding the blast, if the adept falls asleep themselves.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: A powerful avatar of the Warrior becomes immune to physical harm - but only when fighting those he is ideologically opposed to.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Part of the taboo for avatars of the Captain, with respect to their crew.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: The Taboo of any magick-user is basically this. There are some behaviors that you cannot engage in, ever, or you weaken your power in some way. On a meta level, the Self meter is meant to be this for the players, to prevent them from doing just anything (destroying own life's work, cannibalism, public denying their most deeply held beliefs) with their characters.
  • Off the Rails
  • One-Hit Kill: Rolling a 01 in melee combat results in this, although you can choose to simply knock the target out if you're unarmed. With guns, meanwhile, you "merely" do the maximum damage, but this tends to be enough to instantly kill the average person.
    • Headshots with firearms will also instantly KO the target, even if they don't die from it.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: The Videomancer spell Watching the Detectives is intentionally designed to invoke this trope.
  • Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous: The Mystic Hemaphrodite archetype is the embodiment of magick. It represents not just men and women, but other dualities as well: love and hate, war and peace, and killing and mercy.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Never directly seen, but demons are universally terrified of what they call the Cruel Ones, and on the occasion they have apparently manifested directly there's always some form of a localized Apocalypse Wow. Since that name seems to exclusively come from demons, who seem to be the only thing they actually hate and all other actions seem to be the will of the Invisible Clergy, most checkers suspect this trope is the case.
  • Our Demons Are Different: They're actually this world's version of ghosts, and are universally terrified of moving on to the next life. Third Edition adds Fiends, monstrous byproducts of cruel magick use who feed on fear and pain, and Whisperers, symbiotes with demons who drive potential victims mad with shame and allow the demons to hop in.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're all descendant from a particular Romanian bloodline which, owning to extensive inbreeding and pure, sheer luck, has managed to gather a itself a hodgepodge of mutations which might've given birth to the myths. They're usually albinos (accounting for the pallor and aversion to sunlight, although the myths rarely mention the poor eyesight that comes with it), are severely anemic (explaining the craving for raw meat), and are incredibly prone to mental illness (accounting for the majority of vampiric behaviors as people with the condition believe themselves to be vampires and insanely decide to play the role). On the plus side, the same genetic quirk causes them to age at about a tenth of the pace of a normal human, possibly allowing them to live for centuries and making them highly immune to disease (as they get to enjoy both a young person's robust immune system and an old one's exposure to a variety of pathogens). Their teeth also fall and regrow every couple of years, meaning they always look shining white. All in all, there's nothing supernatural about them. They're simply one of nature's curiosities.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: They're victims of demonic possession by a demon that had previously possessed an animal, which spontaneously and retroactively change shapes.
    • The 3rd edition adds Vestimancers, fashion-obsessed Adepts with the ability to create magical garments. One of their more notable powers allows them to take the classical route by making a wolfskin belt that allows the wearer to transform into a wolf.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: A high-level avatar of the Trickster can disguise himself perfectly with just a few token props.
  • Personal Horror: The Self madness meter is meant to address this trope specifically.
  • Personality Powers: Adept magic has to match the adept's obsession, and avatar powers match the archetype's theme and personality.
  • Post-Modern Magik: The Trope Namer. Adepts twists the meaning of culturally relevant phenomena, like TV or booze, to achieve their enlightenment. Some rituals are based on VHS tapes, or Bruce Lee paraphernalia.
  • Power Born of Madness: Magic works by taking something that isn't supposed to work and making it work.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: The Hotchkiss Compass from Godwalker, an artefact that utilises an aborted hermaphroditic foetus to detect Mystic Hermaphrodites.
  • Powers as Programs: Skills can be stolen in a number of ways, both temporarily and permanently, even supernatural ones. The infomancy skill to do so is called Download, pointing this out.
  • Powers That Be: The Invisible Clergy have incredibly vague motives other than those tied to their Archetype, operate from ineffable levels of the cosmos, and can attack only indirectly, mostly by affecting probability, causing lucky coincidences, or siccing associates on you.
  • Punctuated Pounding: The Freak does this to Jolene in Godwalker:
    You don't hurt me! You don't fuck with me! No-one! No-one!
  • Psychological Torment Zone: This is the House of Renunciation's raison d'arte; finding people who are uncertain about something stable in their life and inverting it into something else. Not truly Mind Rape, however, as the purpose of the House is to make people want the change it enforces (although it doesn't seem to care if they were asking beforehand, and would rather let its guests die than leave uninverted).
  • Psycho Serum: The Mars Dust, a magical version of PCP made by narco-alchemists, is this, as it makes the user extremely strong and fit, along with being rather hard to kill. However, they will have a very powerful urge to murder anyone who pisses them off, and failing an attempt to resist this can result in serious damage to one's sanity.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Being based in "the real world, except real", 9/11 cast a pretty tall shadow over some of the events of the game. This particularly affects Mac Attax, who saved the world in 2000 only for the end to suddenly loom that much taller in 2k1. The scenario "Fly From Heaven" appears to reference 9/11, but it was written long before it.
  • Reality Warper: The Entropomancy spell Edit the World. Also the random magick of many schools, if you've got enough charges. Get a major charge and this is the kind of effect you're looking at.
  • Retconjuration: A few of the high-powered magicks can do this. If you sell something to Thorvald Drake, the past changes so that you never had it in the first place. A werewolf has either always been a human, or always been a wolf, depending on what it is right now. While Cliomancy can't actually change the past, it can change what everyone thinks happened.
  • Ret-Gone: Pissing off the House of Renunciation, or a particularly powerful Infomancer or Bibliomancer might do it. In addition, this weirdly happened to The Naked Goddess and nobody's really sure why.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Averted. Revolvers have all the flaws they do in real life (low ammunition capacity, bulk, and etc.), making pistols and, for that matter, automatic weapons far more usefull. Entropomancers love revolvers though. To their minds, what good is owning a gun if you can't play Russian Roulette with it?
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: Less scrupulous (and less sane) Avatars of the Executioner have been known to interpret statements like "that guy really pisses me off!" as an excuse to murder someone- an Executioner can't kill anyone they haven't been ordered to by someone they consider an authority.
  • Ritual Magic: Certain rituals seem to be "baked in" to reality itself, allowing people who aren't Adepts or Avatars to get in on the sweet magickal action. Ritual spells are unreliable, can be difficult, and are usually pretty small potatoes compared to what Adepts and Avatars can sling around... but, they do handily sidestep the whole "ruining your life to gain charges" thing.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The players piss off the Freak, the number of Archetypes in the Invisible Clergy hits 333, pop in a CD full of Alter language, the characters piss off the Comte, get a unfiltered vision of The Statosphere, screw up a magick roll with a Major charge, the Cruel Ones show up...
  • Room 101: The Otherside Room is a mystically empowered version, showing any fool with weak beliefs trapped in it the very worst of his or her beliefs. This is non-partisan and all-accepting, by the way; stick a Christian and a Communist in there, and both will walk out with their beliefs torn down. Many of the other Rooms of Renunciation work by similar principles; e.g. the Room of Cold Reflection forces the victim to face the consequences of their selfishness, while the Room of Rusted Things shakes up apathetic people.
  • Rule of Three: Invoked. 3 is a number that comes up a lot in magic. There are 333 members in the Invisible Clergy, for example, but there's no knowing if they started the 3 business or if they're as subject to it as everything else.
  • Salem Is Witch Country: A cabal called the New Salem Coven is mentioned as being unexpectedly wiped out by The Freebusters.
  • Sanity Has Advantages: No Taboo to break, for example. Playing a Badass Normal in this game is perfectly feasible. The New Inquisition's power lies in this. Alex Abel, their leader, is neither an adept or an avatar, so he's better suited to run a high-level organization than most of the characters in the cast. Additionally, the further up you go in the TNI, the less adepts you find, to the point that there are none in the highest tier of leadership.
  • Sanity Meter: Five of them (Violence, Unnatural, Self, Helplessness, Isolation), each with two aspects (Hardened, Failed). And while succeeding on rolls to avoid freaking out does make you hardened to further stresses, the hardening will cause it's own issues (generally causing you to exhibit psychopathic traits and be incapable of relating to normal people, or caring about what they or even you think), up to the point that you burn out and lose access to avatar powers and using your passions to affect rolls.
    • Third edition, in particular, ties your abilities to hardened notches in the various meters. Thus, someone who can ignore any kind of social ostracism will also be very bad at applying his social status and making threats of social exclusion, but he'll at least be good at chases
  • Sanity Slippage: A consequence of gaining "notches" on your sanity meters. Getting hardened notches makes you more and more emotionally dead to a given stimulus, culminating in a complete immunity to stresses of a given kind along with total sociopathy. Getting failed notches makes you more acutely sensitive to a given stimulus, culminating in a severe phobia and total madness.
  • Scaled Up: The Herpemancy formula, "I am become Typhon" — "Sometimes you just gotta turn into a giant snake."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Plutomancy, where holding down a good-paying job fuels your magic (and spending too much for any one object is taboo; most live in modest homes to avoid wiping their power with their mortgage payment). Alex Abel, eccentric billionaire, created a powerful occult cabal from scratch — the New Inquisition — that embodies this trope.
  • Second-Face Smoke: Ustrinaturges (magick of smoking) can do this as an attack, causing real injury up to killing the victim.
  • Serious Business: Adepts in general, as well as their lower-powered siblings, Mageekians. To be fair, said Serious Business causes actual magick powers.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Shotguns have extremely high damage caps, all while still having a decent range, making them well-suited to skilled shooters who would otherwise roll more damage than their guns can actually do.
  • Shout-Out: The Statosphere sourcebook implies that the Comte may have been Rick Blaine in one incarnation.
    • The third edition's Book 4 has the Slender Man, though referred to as the Gentleman. In this interpretation, however, it's powers only come from it's danger to sanity (made worse by the fact it reappears when the victim talks about the creature), as well as people spreading around knowledge of it and thinking of it as more dangerous than it actually is. Otherwise, it's surprisingly easy to kill it, causing it to stop appearing for a few years.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Oneiromants gain their charges through suffering from it, and one of their skills forces the target to briefly suffer the same lack of sleep as the adept.
  • Sleeps with Everyone but You: One theory behind the Naked Goddess is that she ascended as The Girl Everyone Can Have But You.
  • Smoking Is Cool: The magick school of Ustrinaturgy, being based on smoking and the paradox of people liking it despite/because of it being self-destructive, is naturally this. It even requires you to smoke in order to cast spells, and one of them is designed to invoke the trope, thus making you more persuasive. Even cooler, it gives you power over smoke, as well as letting you kill people by smoking at them, or give them cancer if they don't obey an order.
    • Smoking Is Not Cool: On the other hand, any use of the spells basically has a 1% chance of letting the GM screw you by supernaturally giving you cancer, leading to a quick death for any practicing adept. Fortunely, being diagnosed with cancer will give you a major charge, allowing you to cast a potentially world-altering spell.
  • Squishy Wizard: Subverted with fleshworkers, who are usually enormously tough... but go down all too easily all too often because they Cast from Hit Points. Especially true if they go for the Major charge, which involves permanently damaging themselves in some hideous way. (Amputation's a popular one. The Freak drank acid.)
  • Super Serum: The significant works of narco-alchemy are this, granting supernatural abilities (or significantly boosting mundane ones), although they also have the mundane effects of whatever drugs they're based on.
  • Sympathetic Magic: Rituals and tilts use this heavily.
  • Technopath: GNOMON's network gains power over information technology as well as more abstract concepts of data.
  • The Man Makes the Weapon: Comes into play with the rules for melee weapons, as you get +3 for each of the item being sharp, heavy, or big. As it all ties to the same Struggle skill/ability, any skilled fighter can defeat a less experienced one even with an absurd weapon.
  • The Trickster: Another one of the archetypes a character can channel. The powers of an avatar of the Trickster are pretty much straight from the trope, which is of course the idea.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: The most obvious consequence of casting the Ritual of Light is that Unknown Armies changes from being a "rules and dice" RPG to a pure story-telling RPG. Instead of rolling d10s to determine the outcome of any given check, the gaming group votes on whether they think the outcome should be a success or failure. The GM's vote does not count for more than the players'. This is because the player characters who cast the ritual are linking directly into the Statosphere: for a short time, reality is defined purely by their will, and their choices.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Depending on the outcome of To Go, this archetype may just ascend to the pantheon.. Further spoilers: A side-effect of this is that adepts can suddenly turn ten minor charges into sigs, making magick immeasurably more powerful. On a less spoilery note, everyone in a campaign who is directly involved in magic but doesn't practice it is automatically this.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Because much of the background information is given from in-character perspectives, you can safely assume that about a third of what you read in any given sourcebook is straight-out bullshit.
  • The Usual Adversaries: Demons, and to a lesser extent astral parasites.
  • Whatevermancy: Used heavily. Every magic school is some kind of "-mancy." Examples include the entropomancer (who powers up through risking her own life), dipsomancer (power from alcohol), bibliomancer (power from acquiring rare books), and many others.
    • However, calling everything _____mancy is mentioned as a modern fashion. The name "Urbanomancy" is an example of this, with the book stating that if mages cared about language it would be called "Polisurgy". Earlier schools of magic were generally named things like The Way Of The Cogs, or The Way Of All Freedom.
    • One notable fan-made school of magick from the website is "Tropamancy". Yup. Inspired by this very wiki.
  • Who Shot JFK?: The "magic bullet" is an artifact that makes people shoot better. The game suggests some adept caused the assassination just to create the "magic bullet" or just took advantage of the situation.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Fear passion encompasses both the fears listed in this trope with others such as victimization, losing control, and other things that key off one of the Stress meters.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: And with great insanity comes great power. And often the other way around too. Just ask Jeeter...
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Supplement Statosphere. One of the ways for an Avatar to replace a Godwalker of their archetype is to kill them in a symbolically correct manner. For example, to replace the Executioner you would have to render them helpless and then execute them, preferably with an axe. This doesn't work for all archetypes, though - killing the Peacemaker is obviously not going to work. Symbolic killing, however, works just as well - rip off the Merchant in a business deal and you're the new Merchant.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Oneiromancer blasts will cause the victim to suffer nightmares, which will cause the victim to wake up (or die in their sleep) with real injury and mental trauma corresponding to the nightmare suffered.
  • Your Worst Nightmare: Oneiromancer blasts are all about this, which cause tangible injury to the victim in addition to making them suffer mental trauma.
  • Your Head A-Splode: Get hit by a minor Entropomancy blast, and it carves words or symbols into your flesh. Get hit by a significant one that's enough to kill you, and you explode.

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