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Tabletop Game / Unmasked

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Unmasked is a Tabletop RPG setting written by Dennis Detwiller and designed for the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games. Set in 1986 America, its protagonists are teenagers, called prodigies, who gained the ability to take on an alter-ego called the mask-form with superpowers only seen in comic books.

Prodigies are teenagers who wake up in a world that has suddenly changed, but only they can see it. Some event has filled the world with mementos, objects containing a single special one-use power. Only prodigies can recognise mementos, and they know what one can do when touching it. Likewise, they are also able to see other prodigies. Some mementos call to prodigies, driving them to assemble them into a mask. When the mask is worn, the teen becomes the mask-form. The teen and the mask are two different entities, with different races, different genders, or even species, as well as goals. The mask isn't you... or is it? And the forces behind the mask-forms, as well as their ultimate source, remain mysterious and frightening.

The default setting for Unmasked is Boundary Bay, New York, a fully fleshed-out small town on northern Long Island. Beyond this setting, there are also detailed instructions about running campaigns in the United States in the 1980s, with a whole part explaining how towns were commonly organised, how schools usually worked, etc.

Like all other Cypher System settings, Unmasked comes with a conversion guide, allowing you to easily mix-and-match elements of Unmasked with compatible settings including Numenera and The Strange.

This game provides examples of:

  • The '80s: Welcome to America, 1986. As described on the Monte Cook Games store:
    Top Gun is in theaters. "Papa Don't Preach" is on the radio. Halley's Comet is in the sky, and Iran-Contra is in the news. The Soviets are in Afghanistan, and the Doomsday Clock is at 3 minutes until midnight.
  • Abusive Parents: Abigail Delgreccio spends as much time as she can away from her home on Dutton Street, because her father is a drunk and her family life is a living hell.
  • Action Girl: In training, there is no contest: Eileen Canty is the fastest member of the Boundary Bay Police and the best shot.
  • The Alcoholic: Howard Jen stinks of alcohol all the time, and is dying of alcoholism. His wife Margaret has completely given up doing anything except taking care of her husband in his last extremities.
  • Amicable Exes: Dorothy Telasco dated Rob Escadero for two years, but they’ve recently broken up. So far, despite their breakup, the two have somehow managed to get along.
  • Anime Hair: Kid Vicious' purple hair is swept up in an improbable coif which wiggles and bounces as he talks.
  • Asian Fox Spirit: The Kitsune mask-form appears as either a fox or a Japanese person, and sometimes as a mixture of both. Wise, nimble and mischievous, it can see through, change and project illusions of all sorts, but always carefully allows its opponent a chance to discover it.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Howard and Margaret Jen were once happy, back before the bottle got him. Now, Margaret only goes through the motions, getting groceries and liquor for her husband. She hates her life and suffers from depression.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The mask-form Morrow resembles a slight Englishman dressed in a tuxedo who carries various clocks, watches and wristwatches all over his body.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Despite her usually sunny disposition, Gail Shaeffer doesn't put up with inappropriate behaviour. Vices such as drug use, drinking, or premarital sex at Shaeffer Marina will show a whole new side of Gail to those subjected to her wrath.
  • Beware the Superman: The most common significant threat in an Unmasked campaign will be other prodigies. Some are greedy, some hateful. Others still are justified in their actions, but they use their powers to push their goals in a destructive manner.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Using the Cypher system's power shift mechanic, while difficulty in the real world maxes out at 10, difficulty in Unmasked maxes out at 15. Difficulty 11+ tasks are always reserved for dealing with threats that are simply beyond human capability. A normal street cop has no hope in hell of dealing with a threat of level 13, but a prodigy in mask-form does.
  • Biblical Bad Guy: Prester John (a name either given to this being by itself, or through some sort of strange psychic bond with its victim) is the name of the legendary Christian king of the East. Whether or not this name has a deeper meaning is unknown.
  • Big Bad: Prester John, a mysterious force somehow inextricably linked to the prodigies that all of them oppose. This being is incredibly powerful, and it seems to haunt the prodigies when they are alone and at their most vulnerable. Though its ultimate goals are unknown, it seems eager to locate and destroy the prodigies.
  • The Big Guy: Smasher types follow the old motto of walk softly and smash everything in sight. Their first and last thought when confronted by a threat is usually, 'Can I hit it?' These mask-forms are often big and brawny, but not always.
  • The Blank: Prester John's face is a pink, seamless mass.
  • Blob Monster: Goop is an amorphous Changer mask-form with a body that runs and flows like melting wax.
  • By-the-Book Cop: The current police chief of Boundary Bay is Chester A. Walmer, who enjoys broad support from both the politicians and the public. Chester has implemented a zero tolerance policy for drugs, and he has sent up multiple locals for stints in the county jail and elsewhere. He is tough, no-nonsense, and old fashioned. Chester's primary concern is the safety of the town's residents. If it comes down to it, he will make the right choice.
  • The City Narrows: Several gangs operate out of houses in Dutton Street, including Half-Life, a surf gang; Acey Deucy, a biker gang supposedly affiliated with the New York Mafia; and the Dutton Street Kids, the local gang concern that deals in petty theft and stripping cars; among others. Dutton Street is widely avoided, day or night, even by the police, unless things get really out of hand. If a local wants to buy weapons, drugs or a stolen car, Dutton Street is a good place to start.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Freeze Frame is secretly in love with Danny Deleo, to the point of irrational jealousy, and she will do anything to protect him.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Walter Fedov is an outgoing, bubbly teacher who likes to joke around with the kids and tries to get them engaged through various methods: by playing social studies Jeopardy!, running a model United Nations, and more.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Walter operates dozens of ongoing business concerns from his office in his house in Point East, rarely leaving the property. Some of those concerns have touched on the illegal, and he employs out-of-town muscle to frighten the people living in two houses near the end of Point East that he hopes to get at bargain-basement prices, but he has yet to take the leap into being a full crook yet.
  • Corrupt Politician: Assemblyman Dean Yaros forged deeds and titles to establish dumping areas and construction areas in no-build zones at Meadowdale Mall and Estes Industrial Park. Once his wife has established enough of a nest egg to support herself, she'll drop the evidence at the offices of the Suffolk County Reporter and watch her husband's life implode.
  • Detect Evil: If the junk computer printout is ripped up, the user gains the ability to see the positive and negative intentions of all people within sight. Those with evil intentions have a black aura; others intentions have a white one.
  • Dodge the Bullet: Freeze Frame's power is to stop and allow herself to navigate among the probabilities of individual actions (for example, a single gunshot or punch). This makes her appear to dodge the attack and end up safe and sound on the other side of it.
  • Down in the Dumps: Bluebeard Scrap is the final resting place for most junked cars in the Boundary Bay area. The owner Jose Nunez keeps a section of the yard he calls 'the parts shop', where he stores pieces he feels he can sell through mail-order catalogs for collectors and mechanics. The rest he crushes in his industrial crusher and sells by the pound.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Prester John is an amalgam of human and humanlike entities from a million conterminous worlds—a chain across the multiverses that exists in and can perceive all of them at once.
  • Enemy Mine: Despite their less-than-charitable attitude, all 'evil' mask-forms live in mortal fear of Prester John and its minions. It is likely that, if push comes to shove, they will team up with 'good' mask-forms to fight against this force.
  • Everytown, America: While the setting of Unmasked can be altered and changed to suit the GM's taste, the default setting is Boundary Bay, New York, a small town on northern Long Island which comes fully fleshed-out.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: Yasmine Blumenthal's mask-form, Suomi, looks mostly human, except for its legs, which have reversed knees and end in hooves. It has stubby bone-ivory horns on its head and empty yellow eyes. Its skin blends into a thick, short white fur.
  • High School: Ocean View High School is the public high school for Boundary Bay, where every student has to contend with. Even without the weirdness of the prodigies, high school is scary. Everyone coming into it feels uncertain, eager, ready to change, and just plain frightened on some level. Emulating this feeling is the key to a good Unmasked campaign.
  • Hot Teacher: The physically perfect Ms. Roberta Diamante is the principal obsession of adolescents in Ocean View High School. Her apparent perfection is terrifying to most, and she is universally given a wide berth by her coworkers.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: Farood Khalaji, who originally came to Boundary Bay from Iran, is almost comically patriotic. Every morning he unfurls and hangs the American flag at his store, and every night he reverentially takes it down.
  • Intrepid Reporter: David Dawkins is the Long Island crime reporter for New York Press Incorporated, a stringer service that sells stories to outlets all over the world. Dawkins has an eye for the unusual and loves crime stories that are larger than life. He's drawn to Boundary Bay likely because the general public saw or recorded mask-forms. If he gets a taste of something truly odd, he won't let go until he's gotten to the bottom of it. He will break laws (within reason) and violate all the classic rules of journalism to get proof, or at least to gain deeper access. Once on the trail, he'll be very difficult to shake.
  • It Only Works Once: 'Memento' is what Unmasked calls cyphers from other Cypher System games: items that allow a prodigy to activate a special ability a single time. Once that special item is used, its power fades and vanishes from it.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: Adult humans affected by the August 22 event were infiltrated by some sort of extradimensional intelligence. During the day, these humans act normally and pursue their regular life, but at night they are subject to possession by this external force called the Faceless. Faceless will destroy the human form they currently occupy to execute even a fleeting attack on their target. This is the greatest danger for a Faceless' foe: inside is an innocent with no control over what their body is doing.
  • Jerk Jock: Hal Walmer is a baseball star and an all-around jerk who often breaks all the laws his father, the local police chief, has sworn to protect.
  • Kid Hero: Prodigies are still teenagers, with the same irrational wants and dreams as any normal teenager in America in 1986. They know what it's like to get a slice of pizza, go to a movie, or skip class. The everyday life of being a teenager should be the focus, and superpowers and monsters should be dangers that Unmasked builds toward, not a constant note, hit over and over again.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Arnold Desedero once tutored Steven Yarborough's youngest sister, Clementine, who suffers from severe learning disabilities. She fell for Arnie, but after a brief puppy-love phase and first kiss, Arnie made it clear that he didn't feel the same for her. Clementine goes to a special education program in Rockville now, but she's never forgotten about Arnie or the hurt he caused her. And Steven is going to make Arnie pay.
  • Light 'em Up: Asa Jen's unfinished mask-form is Orbis, which has the power to control light.
  • Light Is Not Good: The mouth and eyes of the villainous mask-form Headlight emit a light that blinds targets at a distance and, if close enough, can eat away at objects like a laser does.
  • Living Shadow: When the Shadow Link mask is worn, the prodigy is transformed into a living shadow known as Link. The main form of the Shadow Link is never clearly visible, though sometimes the shadow liquid retreats to reveal the vague outline of an imposing human figure.
  • Lurid Tales of Doom: Daily View is a pretaped, made-for-cable news magazine focusing on the bizarre, the violent, and the outré. The more sensational the story (or the implied story), the more resources Daily View will spend on it, editing the story up until it sounds intriguing and weird (and in doing so, it will often embellish the truth). The reporters it employs are all second- and third-stringers—people who washed out of other, more prestigious jobs, or who couldn't get those jobs in the first place.
  • The Mall: Meadowdale Mall, built between 1978 and 1980 off Estes Road, soon found itself filled to the brim with the standard fare of shops. Its location next to State Route 25A puts it in easy travel distance of a dozen municipalities in Suffolk County, and it serves over 500,000 people annually. It is a common haunt for the kids and teenagers of Boundary Bay, particularly on the weekends. It does brisk business, so mall leases are extremely valuable.
  • Mask of Power: Every prodigy makes a mask. Masks can let their wearers fly, deflect bullets, survive terrible injuries, and do much, much more.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: On August 22, 1986, at 1:55 p.m., Sand Point Consumer Electronics accidentally released a power into the world by activating an unidentified and secret piece of technology. This effect changed everyone who happened to be asleep or unconscious within a radius of about seven miles around the device. Affected teens became prodigies; adults and children became conduits to the Faceless. Everyone who was awake at the time remained unchanged.
  • Masquerade: Unmasked is a classic 'secret world' setting. Beneath the everyday world, strange forces (in this case, prodigies) struggle and fight and keep themselves concealed from society at large. They have access to powers and abilities far beyond the average person's, and they operate within a set of rules and structures completely unknown to the rank and file of humanity. The mask-forms all are possessed with a single, overriding command: they must not be discovered by normal people. The world at large and law enforcement will meet such powers with disbelief, and, in some cases, with a willful urge to ignore the impossible events, or with an attempt to frame them through personal spiritual beliefs.
  • The Men in Black: An odd man in a suit who says he is from the government asks a lot of questions about the week of August 22. He never gives his name. His car has a GOV license plate.
  • Metalhead: Word by word the name of a descriptor. Metalheads live for heavy metal music, and always dress in the same kind of outfit: motorcycle boots and a denim jacket with a back patch of their favourite band.
  • Missing Mom: Emma Warzowski's mother, Nancy, lives in New York City and is an 'actress'—that is, she lives off the monthly checks her husband Emil sends her. Emil and Nancy never speak directly.
  • The Movie Buff: Maria Juhasz scored a job at the video store after spending a solid six months talking movies with the owner, and can quote most movies verbatim.
  • Multiple Life Bars: The physical well-being and clothing of the teen and the mask are somehow separate. If the mask-form gets shot up with a dozen bullets, when the mask comes off the teen is miraculously unharmed. This means the mask-form and the teen have different damage tracks.
  • Noodle Incident: Smyk claims he was created in the London incident, and will say no more on the subject, as if everyone should know what that is.
  • Occult Detective: The Circus is a tiny intelligence division in the United States Defense Intelligence Agency that handles the outré, the bizarre and the strange that turns up on the fringes of the government. Since 1970, the Circus has investigated fifty-four individual reports of bizarre phenomena in the United States.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Since the death of Mrs. Janet Wexler's daughter in 1981 from ovarian cancer, her life is teaching. She is forever arriving early and staying late, and she will go out of her way to look out for kids she feels are 'falling through the cracks'.
  • Perpetually Protean: Prester John's features and limbs blend and fade into odd, fractal-like averages of positions, meaning its arms—unless completely still—are blurred motion trails, and its face is averaged into a pink, seamless mass.
  • Phlebotinum Overdose: The cypher limits in the Cypher System also apply to mementos, but in Unmasked, excess mementos carried above that limit do not disappear. Instead, each of them makes all actions for the character one step more difficult as long as the PC holds the excess mementos. This is reflected as a certain slipperiness in probability—what a lay person might call a run of bad luck.
  • The Pig-Pen: Mr. George Saia's lack of personal hygiene is legendary in the school, and kids in his class fight for seats near the back of the room where they can open the windows. Despite this, he doesn't look filthy, he just smells bad.
  • Plague Master: The Shamanistic mask-form's powers involve the creation and spread of disease. It can spray a target with a debilitating sickness, speed up their metabolism with a bizarre infection, or give them specific hallucinations.
  • Power Copying: Mistermind can snatch any skill and expertise from any non-prodigy it touches for 24 hours, and during that time, the target is rendered unconscious.
  • Power Parasite: Vortex can absorb the life force of others while temporarily stealing any powers they might possess so the wearer can use them.
  • Pyromaniac: Lewis Graham is secretly the Boundary Bay firebug; he burned down the town hall in 1947 and the library in 1955, though no one knows this. Even worse, he still dreams about lighting new fires, even all these years later.
  • The Quarterback: Steven Yarborough is the Sailors' premier quarterback and knows it.
  • Reality Warper: When they wear their masks, prodigies can literally do the impossible. They break the fundamental laws of physics and classical reality, and they make amazing things happen.
  • Really Gets Around: It is well known that Dean Yaros is a philanderer who sleeps with many different women in town.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Mister Monster is a selfish, destructive, cruel mask-form who resembles a huge shadow with glowing red eyes.
  • Red Light District: At night, Waukena Avenue tends to be a trouble spot for the police, as there are multiple liquor shops and two bars operating there. Waukena Avenue is where kids from Dutton Street go when they graduate to real crime.
  • The Runaway: Stuart Dill once lived in the Meadowdale Estates with his father, who regularly abused him, but when he became a prodigy, he fled to the Back Lot. Now, he lives in a small tar-paper shack in the reeds and cleans up by sneaking into Ocean View early and showering and changing at the school. Eventually, his father will come looking for him.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. George Saia is a stickler to the smallest degree on all the subjects he teaches. His favourite saying, 'Everything is equally important', torments the bad students along with the best in the school. All live in dread of ending up in his class.
  • Shadow Walker: Mister Monster can vanish and reappear in shadows, teleporting between them.
  • The Smart Guy: Thinker types live in their mind, two minutes ahead of the rest of the world.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Tabitha Shaeffer is secretly in love with Rob Escadero, who doesn't think of her as anything but just another kid. She follows him everywhere, spies on his comings and goings, and does her best to make his ex-girlfriend Dot Telasco look bad.
    • Hal Walmer has an unhealthy obsession with Ms. Diamante, the math teacher, and often follows her around town in a creepy manner. He thinks he's subtle, but everyone knows.
  • Stern Teacher: Ms. Evelyn Hopkins is single-minded in engraining chemistry in the minds of adolescents at any cost. She is anathema to passing notes or communication in class of any kind. Students must be in their seats at the bell, and unless a student is bleeding from the eyes, it is unlikely she'll excuse them. Still, she is a good teacher that students—once they are clear of her class—look back on fondly.
  • Super Hero Origin: At some point, a game or campaign will have to address the big picture: Where do the prodigies come from? Why are they here, and why now? What do they mean to the world at large? In the end, this is up to the GM to decide. In the default setting, a company, hired by a division of the federal government, has accidentally released a power into the world by activating an unidentified and secret piece of technology, turning all sleeping teens in a radius of about seven miles around the device into prodigies.
  • Super-Powered Alter Ego: When the prodigy wears the mask, it's as if they become someone else. Prodigies usually manifest in their mask-form as a being that either offsets a shortcoming they perceive in themselves, or in a way that grants them a kind of power they wish they had. Most, but not all, mask-forms differ wildly from the teens that manifest them: if the prodigy is shy and withdrawn, the personality of the mask is an extrovert, a worrywart may manifest an easygoing mask, and a prodigy terrified of the opposite sex might be a smooth talker.
  • Time Master: Each of Morrow's timepieces is tuned to a 'time' when an event is going to happen, something that he just seems to know. If he pulls the proper timepiece out and stops it, the event it is connected to stops as well, at least for a few seconds.
  • Time Travel: A mask-form that Travels Back From the Future has jumped back from a future time stream to warn the teen, help them, or just plain make their life better.
  • Translator Microbes: If the ruined eight-track tape is pulled out and eaten, the user can understand anything anyone says, regardless of language, obstruction, or other restrictive effects.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Sometimes, a prodigy's human servants have no idea they are being controlled.
  • Video Arcade:
    • Pixel Palace contains twenty-two video game machines, two Skee-Ball machines, and a small counter that accepts tickets in exchange for cheap gewgaws. When it's open, dozens of kids are packed in under the tarp playing Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, OutRun, Galaga, and even oldies such as Space Invaders and Lunar Lander''.
    • Ultimate Arcade is filled with every conceivable arcade machine, including oddities from Japan and Europe. Birthday parties are often held here, and high-score contests regularly take place on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Dead Ringer is a Changer mask-form who can look like anyone from any movie or video (including their clothing). Stars of black-and-white movies appear in full colour. Dead Ringer has no real form, and when not taking a particular form, the mask-form bleeds through hundreds per second in a bizarre mess.
  • Weakened by the Light: A mask-form that Flies by Night thrives in darkness. While they can exist in light, all rolls made when exposed to any bright light count as one step more difficult.
  • Weather Manipulation: The mask-form Stormchaser's powers include absorbing, amplifying, storing and redirecting weather. When the teen-form or the mask-form is exposed to a weather type, it can produce that weather locally for up to an hour per minute of exposure.
  • Witness Protection: Marcus O'Sullivan (whose real surname is Ford) was a federal witness in a 1967 case against various Mafia-linked individuals in Kansas City, Missouri. Occasionally, he is visited at night by Theodore Mott, an FBI agent from Kansas City, who directs the O'Sullivan case for the witness protection program. If there's strangeness in town, especially if it seems a threat to the O'Sullivans, Mott might poke his nose in. Meanwhile, the criminals located Marcus' wife Betty O'Sullivan's son Peter Gramont, and from there, they tracked his bills back to the O'Sullivans.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Old Man Lynch owns Creekside and rents cheap trailers to dozens of families, raking in money. In Boundary Bay, Creekside is considered a dead end or a place you wash up. Nothing good comes from Creekside.
  • Younger Than They Look: Patrick Villanueva is a tall, lanky eighteen-year-old man who appears older than his age—most mistake him for someone in his late twenties.