Unknown Armies 1:6 Adepts


This may be the meatiest chapter in the book. And I guess, in an RPG about magick, the chaper on magick deserves to be. It distinguishes between gutter magick, ritual magick, and the postmodern schools of magick that are part of the raison d’etre of the game.

There eight of these schools explored, with the promise that we’ll find more in book 3, and a system for inventing your own (though I wouldn’t recommend that until you’ve played a few of the existing ones). At its core, each school works by behaving in a certain way – which to a “normal” person might look a lot like OCD, to collect charges, minor, significant and major, which fuel spells. The behaviours that create charges break the rules of reality, and society – an Adept’s life will be odd, obsessed with something, but not using it in the way that others do. 

For example Fulminaturgs are obsessed by guns, but their magick only works if they never actually shoot anybody. That said the way they collect charges – openly carrying guns in public – might make it too difficult to play a Fulminaturg in a UK set game.

My favourite of the schools presented in this chapter is Cinemancy. The cinemancer is obsessed with cliché. When they get somebody else to describe a cinematic cliché, or quote a clicéd line, they get a minor charge. Acting as a cinematic cliché, for example, The Hooker with a Heart of Gold, for five hours will earn the Cinemancer a significant charge. A major charge can be earned by getting people to act out a clichéd scene without realising what they are doing. They lose all their charges if they fail to follow through on a clichéd behaviour – if they are driving in a chase and they see a fruit cart, for example, they must ram it.

The spells available to cinemancers are clichés too; Charge a banana skin as you drop it on the ground and name someone, and they will slip on it an pratfall; Charge any cloth and hold it over somebody’s mouth, and they will be knocked out; Cast “What could go wrong?” when somebody says something won’t happen, and it definitely will. You can make the bad guys terrible shots, and finish complex tasks in the the takes to play a song too, with the Cinemancer’s power of cliché.

The book goes into some detail about inventing your own school. If you have an idea about a theme for your school, your GM will ask you to think about a paradox that turns something quite normal into something magickal. That leads to to start thinking about the behaviours that earn the adept charges, and the taboo, the behaviour that looses your charges. The example they offer is Refumancy, where a player had suggested they want to base a school of magician upon freeganism, and so suggests that the taboo would be “meaningfully partake in consumer culture. The GM asks for or even suggests some specific examples, like taking any job where tax is withheld (so cash in hand jobs, or favours would be OK) or buying any new mass produced product. Minor charges would be acquired by protesting against corporations (real street level protests count, not simply liking and angry post on Facebook), and significant ones by causing a stock market crash or burning a factory. Or killing a cop. 

The GM gives the taboo and charges an “omega value” based on how difficult they are to do in normal society, to balence out the school against the others. In the example above, the taboo is average, omega zero, but the charge collection is hard enough to be worth -1, the higher the omega value, the more charges will be needed to cast spells. 

Calculating Ω is a little bit subjective, so you and your GM should argue bitterly about it before you grudgingly give in.

Spells are costed according to duration, range and effect. The book lists some broad catagories of minor and significant effects to help you cost out the player’s ideas. To get the cost down the player can suggest extra restrictions, such as, in the previous Refusemancy example some of the spells only work against tools of “The Man”, policemen, security guards etc. (Healing spells are VERY difficult.)

There are also rules for making magical items, and finding and performing forgotten rituals. Rituals can, do have effects beyond the caster’s school. In fact you don’t have to be an adept to perform ritual magick. Some “normal” people have the casts rituals feature, as does the Avatar identity. Minor rituals don’t even need charges to cast, but significant ones do. A box-out also offers the “Authentic Thaumaturge” identity as if you fancy being a Crowley type secret society member. 

This chapter lists a number of rituals, which I find a bit strange as this is the players’ book, and rituals have to be acquired by most PCs they are not already “known” like an Adept’s spells (though Authentic Thaumaturgs do get a couple). Also, some rituals have unintended consequences – ritual to make a man irresitanle to women, for example, actually gets him possessed by a random demon. I guess this may actually be a satirical warning to players: “don’t even try this sort of shit, even in a game of let’s pretend.”

Indeed just reading these rituals opens up an aspect of the game not bad explicit before: there is apparently a hell, get on the wrong train in a ritual involving the Subway(underground) and you’ll find yourself there. And obviously there are Demons too. 

So far, all the magick we’ve seen has been codified. Not quiet Vancian, but restricted to lists of known spells. Yes, we’ve been show how a player can make a whole school of magick up, but so far there’s been nothing about characters being able to create magick on the fly. Gutter magick, or “reality bruising”, is something everyone can try. Or at least everyone with at least one hardened notch in their Unatural meter.

To do magick this way you need to collect a number of symbolic elements, things that respresent you, your target, and the collective unconscious. Then you make up a ritual involving these elements. 

You might conjure up a vodou doll made with a GI Joe and bathed in the photons of your target’s social media page.

There are six broad catagories of effect: Blessing an endeavour makes it more likely to succeed; forming a Bond between you and another; giving yourself or someone else a Boon; or conversely, givening them a Whammie;  Curseing them; or creating a Proxy for yourself so that “bad juju that comes your way from afar may be redirected at them”. 

Of course the actual effect may not be the reason why you do a ritual. The chapter concludes with three ways one might exploit rituals: to freak the squares; to validate your magickal credentials; or, to convince people to do strange (stupid) things. 

And that’s it. The end of the chapter, and book one. 

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