Saturday, May 12, 2012

When horror hits home - an experiment with Unknown Armies

So we have just finished a session of Unknown Armies, and it really left the players feeling confused, and a bit freaked out I think. Was that good or bad? I'm going to think out loud about some of that.

First impressions from behind the screen is of satisfaction. I finally got to run a game that reads great, it's the best written RPG bar none, and even though I had to flip through the book a lot, it worked out ok.

We played one of the scenarios in the back of the 2nd ed rules, called Bill in Three Persons. This is a scenario full of weirdness, and also some really twisted NPCs and lot of opportunities to trying to cope in a world full of hard knocks. I thought it had lot of potential, and it had the excellent qualities of working fine with characters (and players!) that know nothing of the setting and don't know each other beforehand.

Once again, my players surprised me by not interacting with the NPCs. I guess I should have learned by now that these players wont actually approach and talk to everyone they meet, like I do when I play. When I asked them after the session, one of the actually said it was a weird scenario, where they was whisked from place to place and didn't have much people to talk to. How does that jive with their efforts to avoid interacting with the NPCs in the game? Maybe they were too freaked out by them? Let me take an example, with spoilers for the scenario, so be forewarned.

The scenario is in three parts, and is about how to three times encounter the person Bill Toge, and maybe put him on a different path in life than the one the PC encounter in the starting scene. Bill is not a very nice person, or at least a person who has been roughened up by life quite a bit. In our session the first part ended with Bill shooting one PC in the chest before being shot to death by a police sniper. I guess that established him as dangerous, and so dangerous that the players stayed out of his way in the rest of the session! That kind of puts a damper on the NPC interaction opportunities when he in the main NPC in every scene.

Mood wise I think the game worked perfectly, though. After the first 10 minutes everyone was already feeling freaked out and everyone could see their world trying to burst its seams. It was very David Lynch, so to speak. I loved it, and I those who commented said they loved it as well. That brings me to another point. How does it compare to Call of Cthulhu we played the session before that?

CoC ended with everyone mad or going mad in the alien city of Carcosa after seeing some alien monsters grabbing them and flying through space. In UA on the other hand, they had seen low life crooks getting shot, child molesters being harassed and drugged cultist being taken out by police. And getting shot. I think it all felt a bit more real.

It will be very interesting to compare when I finally run a modern CoC scenario, if it hits closer to home that way. I know that the idea of alien non euclidean angles and books about arcane non human knowledge doesn't sound horrifying to many modern people, as my players. Modern horrors, and modern non-Lovecraftian ones, feel more real.

After this run, I think it's time for something of a different genre. Horror wear out, and post apocalyptic gaming beckons, or Old West, or science fiction, or something else. But, I will run more Unknown Armies in the future, now I know for sure!
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