Re#RPGaDay 17: Unknown Armies

I’m struggling to remember, which did I buy first? It was pretty close I bought both as cheap bundled PDFs around the same time. They were Unknown Armies (2nd edition) and Godlike. Looking back, it seems Unknown Armies pips the other to the post. Which is good, because I want to talk about Unknown Armies, a lot. Followers of this blog will be aware that I’ve been talking about it quite a lot already. (Incidentally, my “where I read” posts are on hiatus while #RPGaDay I’d on. I’m struggling to do a post a day, any more than that and my brain will explode.)

Obviously, today’s question being about games I have not played, this can not be a recommendation.  But I can use this post to say where I am coming from. I’m a big fan of the Invisibles, Grant Morrison’s magical contemporary (though time-hopping) drug fuelled adventure. It’s a story about becoming, transforming, and through it we learn how each of the characters makes themselves, and through their making, they make the world. Go my god, that last sentence reads like pretentious gubbins, but sod it, I’m leaving it as it is. It’s a comic that taught me stuff, and made me go out and learn more. It’s a comic that I wanted to live, that in small way, through reading it, I have lived. (Crikey, the pretentiousness is unstoppable.)

Look, what I mean to say is, it means a lot to me, OK?

Back to games though. A decade ago or more I would never have considered buying a game and not playing it. In fact, I think I can recall a moment, standing in a shop looking at the first or second edition of Unknown Armies (I honestly can’t recall which, all I can remember,beer things was “This could be good for playing The Invisibles”) and not buying it precisely because I knew there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to run it for ages. (I was getting to game only a few times a year.) What changed since then is the invention of the iPad in 2011, and the increasing utility and so popularity of PDFs. I wouldn’t spend back then I guess £20 or £30 on a book that was just going to sit on my shelves. I had neither the money, nor the storage space. But with PDFs, the storage space of dozens, or hundreds of books even, is insignificant, and PDFs are half the price or often considerably less than paper versions.

I even bought a PDF before the invention of the iPad – the original Cortex system – to roll some of the rules into the Serenity RPG. That proved unwieldy though, to use as anything other than a reference. But with the iPad (other brand tablets are available) you can use them at the table. I still prefer a paper book in many cases, but PDFs of games I might play became a lot more attractive. Offers though make them almost a no brainer. I chanced upon the PDF of L5R for £5 on Drivethru once, and bought it out of pure academic interest. AEG profited many times over on that discount, because I loved it so much I spent many, many pounds on print and PDFs from that range afterwards. Unknown Armies 2 came at a very reasonable price from Bundle of Holding, so even though I might now play it, I eventually picked it up that way.

So, one of the reasons I bought this cheap PDF version of it was because I wanted to play “the Invisibles.” But when I started reading it, it became apparent that the cosmology was so ingrained in the system that it would take a little bit of work, not an impossible job by any means but more than I had time to give, to turn it into the Invisibles game of my dreams. Given that I was the only Invisibles fan in my games circles, it may well have been a wasted effort. But I liked what I read. The system was a bit of a 90’s mish-mash between old school stats and an elegant d100 dice mechanic. I said to myself “maybe one day”…

That day has come. The Kickstarter for third edition sold me an even more elegant stripped down version of the system, with the deadwood of the 90s chopped away to leave the the sparkling core of what made the earlier version interesting. The world itself is updated too. I backed the PDF version, then with a little “non-buyers remorse” bought the print version when it hit retail. (It workout out cheaper than the Kickstarter with delivery and exchange rate fluctuations taken into account). And I will be running it. Very soon.

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