Ropecon play report – Unknown armies

12 August, 2008 at 5:24 pm (actual play, Ropecon) (, , )

First, a summary: I prepared (for some, very loose, definitions of “prepare”) two games, GM’d one of them (there were too few players in the other) and then also GM’d an ad-hoc game because it felt appropriate to do so. I played in one of game of UA (also known as Unknown Armies), of which a report shall follow, and also played one game of Bang! with Ari and some friends of his. No luck playing D&D 4th, unfortunately.

Most of the program was mediocre. The GM loot, in which game masters get to participate, works so that game masters are named in order of the number and length of games they GM’d, and when named get to pick one item from a table full of loot. My picks: Two containers of fancy gem tokens (useful for representing, say, artha in BW games) and D&D 4th PHB. I don’t have other core books, so it is unlikely that I’ll run it (though possible, given how much free monsters there is almost certainly floating around the ‘net).

So, all in all, game mastering gives you free access and the chance to get some stuff. I approve of this and will run more games at future Ropecons.

Actual report

Previous knowledge about UA: Modern horror game. Rules use a d100. Knives hurt. There’s madness meters, which mean that when in sanity-killing situations, character breaks more or becomes more psychopatic.

The GM was Olorin, the admin of, whom I properly met for first time during this con. The scenario played was from One shots. Other players included: Opusinsania and Vepa and few forumites from Finnish forums. Taustavoima and Tanan, possibly. One player about whom I remember little.

Hereafter there be spoilers

Characters: Me playing a not-too-smart robber who is overtly protective of his dear brother. Finnish forumite playing the aforementioned brother, who is pretty smart. Another forum person playing German doctor Mendele Mensch (or something to that effect) with something of a obsessive-compulsive nature. Opusinsania is playing the leader of the small group and is something of a cowboy. Vepa plays a hyperactive boy, the son of the final character called Rebecca Borgstrom (which, I suppose, is funny).

A bunch of characters in a trailer park far from everywhere. It seems that radio and TV are not working as they used to be. After plenty of talky bits, the two robbers, the cowboy and the kid go to investigate and shop a bit in the only nearby place where such can be done, which is a semi-deserted settlement with a radio station and a general store. The fact that play now happens in two groups means that two players are basically relegated to an audience role, which is, in general, not a good thing.

Everyone’s dead in that place, as becomes clear after some mucking around. The cowboy and my char’s brother go investigating. My char is obsessed with his bro’s safety and goes after them; there is a loud crash and the boy comes running in panic (a previous loud crash made the car nonfunctional, this one makes a hole in the roof.) Blather about black man with an axe follows. Somewhat panicked reactions, further investigation, flimsy excuses to not call the cops, and trying to get a car going follow. End result being that my char gets hit with an axe and the black-clad latino axe murderer shot thrice, once in the head at practically no distance. Also: Vepa is a good character actor.

During that the doctor and Ms. Borgstrom have started driving to where the others are with the only working car (others don’t start), which eats humongous quantities of fuel (a railroading measure to keep us from not simply driving away). A happy reunion. My char is professionally fixed by the German doctor, as well as somewhat drugged. The axe murderer is found to have disappeared, because it was deemed useful for the cowboy to have a gun and another of my char’s weapons had dropped near where the evil one had died and I told them to go get that gun (the effect of discovering that the murderer is gone was intentional). There is debate about what to do next. Railroading by the way of “you feel really bad leaving your dog there alone to die” pointed towards ms. Borgstrom and the kid leads everyone back to the trailer park, also known as home.

Some calm moments later there is a dead dog and everyone rapidly entering the car, driving towards the second nearby place, a farm (or something similar) of random old man. The old man is dead. Desperate grab for gas leads to climatic battle (Olorin: “You’ll have to roll 1 or 11 to hit.” Opusinsania rolls eleven. There is much rejoicing.) in which the evil one is (again) slain.

The actual content of the play was interactions of the characters. All that plot stuff was there mostly as fuel for the interaction. The railroading was somewhat visible and Olorin said he did it. The module also recommends killing player characters if they are ever alone, which did not happen. It would not have been very compatible with 4-hour con gaming slot.

The rules of UA where largely not used or alternatively were irrelevant most of the time. The combats felt slow. Personally, I would have used another, simpler, set of rules for this scenario.

All in all, it was good enough a game that I would play in something similar, given the choice. This is not true of all games I have played.



  1. Saragon said,

    I have to say that Unknown Armies remains one of my favorite “modern horror” games. There’s a simple reason why: The evil and horror that players go up against may be supernatural, but it’s very human. There are no extradimensional, sleeping, tentacled, hellish monsters waiting for you at the climactic scene — just a person, which makes it at once more believable and immersive, and much more horrifying. That UA has a very simple and reasonably flexible rule system certainly doesn’t hurt; I get a lot less distracted from the game when I’m not trying to keep track of modifiers and stats and the like. It’s really quite solid.

    I believe Atlas Games has the opening preview chapter of the 2nd Ed. sourcebook (mostly flavor) on its website, as well as a very simple scenario.

  2. Olorin said,

    Thanks for writing this. It really bugged me afterwards that I didn’t ask for comments and feedback. And it wasn’t the only thing bugging me…

    “a railroading measure to keep us from not simply driving away”

    Hoo-boy, did I feel agitated during those couple of hours before the game. I truly dislike heavily railroaded scenarios and the fact just didn’t sink into my head while it should’ve, for a reason I’m not quite sure of. So just had to roll with it, for better or worse. If you want to hook up some time in the near future, I could run a way better One Shot. Or two. I’d like to run Chilling Heat again, this time more refined, but because you can read the main points from my blog, that’s out of the question.

    “Railroading by the way of “you feel really bad leaving your dog there alone to die” pointed towards ms. Borgstrom and the kid leads everyone back to the trailer park, also known as home.”

    Yup, that was a very cheap shot, but I panicked and couldn’t think of anything else at that moment. Definitely wasn’t going to wreck the last car and the only ticket out for the characters. Although I could’ve always winged it so that Old Man Ames might have had an old car. But too late to be sorry. And I _did_ stay in line, didn’t I? That Self-check for Rebecca and Timothy was very much justified, as far as rules are concerned.

    “The rules of UA where largely not used or alternatively were irrelevant most of the time. The combats felt slow.”

    There’s only one reason for this. I just don’t have the experience yet. I’ve run ten sessions of UA (including the Ropecon scenarios), and not in a short span. Badly need to get more mileage under my belt, just don’t have the time to play UA regularly, even if I wanted.

    But in the end both games turned out ok, IMO. People mostly had fun, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. And also lost my con-gamemastering-virginity. It was definitely worth it.

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