Unknown Armies 1:5 Avatars and Archetypes

So, we know how to create characters, and indeed how the rules work … for normal people. But you don’t want to be “normal” do you? Well actually, this game might well be one where you do – as the players set the campaign tone and objectives, it’s a flexible enough system to help normal characters have a lot of scary fun. But of course, lots of players play RPGs to escape from reality, so Unknown Armies offers two sorts of “superhero” to play.

Interestingly, you can argue that the first type, the Avatar, is normal. In fact it’s ultra-normal, it’s so normal it goes right through normal and comes out the other side. Remember how we said that society creates the Invisible Clergy? Well the Invisible Clergy are (up to) 332 Archetypes, embodiments of societal norms – The Mother, The Fool, The Firebrand, The Hacker, The Solid Citizen etc. They come to define society just has society has defined them, altering the collective unconscious and bending humanity to their will.

Together, they are God, or shards of God, or a pantheon of gods, or contructs of our species, or patterns given will, or all of these and more.

When there are 333 of them, the world is destroyed and remade and society starts defining new norms, new archetypes.

But let’s not worry about that, let’s live in the now. Players characters can choose to follow in the path of any Archetype, to live their life so exactly in the footsteps of their chosen archetype that they get to borrow some of its power. You are a walking, talking cliché. Players can pick an Avatar identity at creation, assigning a percentage rating like any other identity. The get mystical powers depending upon the level of their identity. For example, from 1% an Avatar of the Warrior does not need to make stress checks while perusing their purpose. From 51% anyone fighting along side them for their cause, gets +10% to a relevant ability or identity. From 71% they can substitute their Warrior identity for a chosen useful ability. And from 91% can not be harmed by individuals who represent the opposition.

Players can choose to become an avatar surfing play, starting at 0% and simply choosing to live the life of the archetype.

If the Driver is more your speed, better get yourself a car and a pair of leather gloves.

Improving your identity doesn’t work like other identities. With most, when you fail a roll you get a chance to improve, because you are learning. As an avatar, you only get that chance to improve when you succeed, because you are becoming ever more like that archetype. You can also improve your rating but setting it as an objective. Succeed at you get +1-10%. But your rating can also drop, if you break the taboos of your archetype. In the example of the Warrior your taboo is compromise with your enemies. You can be a warrior against anything you choose: people from France; Big Pharma; Nazis; student debt; whatever, but cut any sport of deal with the enemy, even give up a fight from them and you risk dropping 1-5%.

Get up to 98% in your avatar identity, and you have a shot at becoming the top dog, the Godwalker of your archetype. To actually do that though, you have to kill the current Godwalker, or force them into breaking your shared taboo enough to knock him off the top spot.

It is possible to become an archetype, through Ascension (creating a new archetype, bringing us one closer to the 333 that trigger the end of the world, or Assumption, the latter being a plot to displace the current archetype with a more relevant new variant. Either way, you don’t get to play as an Archetype  – your character’s arc is ended.

The book then lists 16 archetypes to get you started, from The Captain to The Warrior, and including: The Hacker; The Mother; The Solid Citizen; The Survivor and The True King among them. Each comes with the sort of things you must do to follow its path; the Taboos, the things you MUST NOT do; Symbols, that you should wear/use to better follow the path; suspected Avatars from history; Masks, fictional or mythological versions of the Archetype; and the Channels, the powers you get for being an Avatar.

Finally the chapter offer characters advice for exploiting Avatars and Archetypes, including flattery, manipulation and alliances.

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