Michael Jordan as the MVP of Unknown Armies

Githyanki Diaspora has an interesting interview with Jim DelRosso about Unknown Armies, in which Jim mentions that he substituted Michael Jordan for Alex Abel as the person behind the New Inquisition:

Basically, Alex Abel is set up in the text to be a popular figure in the mainstream consciousness; the “reveal” that he’s running TNI is supposed to be a surprise. But it doesn’t work in a game because he doesn’t exist outside of UA’s fiction: he exists only to run TNI. Getting players to be surprised by that fact is like getting them to be surprised that billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is actually Batman. You’d either have to try to subtly introduce him to the narrative over time, or just ask them to pretend to be amazed. Neither seems fun.


So I went looking for a different Alex Abel.

Scroll down about halfway to the section on how Jordan became the man who decided “to just beat on the pinata of the occult until answers fall out,” which includes a timeline of Jordan’s meteoric success and sometimes curious career changes over the 1990s and 2000s, and how they make sense within the context of Alex Abel’s aborted ascension to the Invisible Clergy and his burning need to discover what he unknowingly lost that day. It really is spectacular, and just the kind of backfilled secret history that makes Unknown Armies the role-playing game of Tim Powers novels.

#RPGaDAY 19: Favorite Published Adventure

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

A fast food restaurant worker floats cross-legged over the counter. Glowing french fries are piled in her open palms.

Mak Attax serves it up right.

The adventure I would most like to have run or played in has got to be To Go, an Unknown Armies campaign book in which the main characters are caught up in the creation of a mystical creature from the unconscious mind of the American population. Surprisingly or not, the creation of this entity begins in a meat-packing plant with a sacrificial beast. From there, frozen beef patties are delivered all over the country by a single trucker. The players embroil themselves in catching up with those deliveries, trying to shape the way the creature forms, while other interested factions do the same.

It’s been a while since I read the book — and I since sold off, so I have the double whammy of having spoiled myself and am unable to run it — but I recall a Tim Powers-style poker game where characters can wager intangibles like their memories and abilities, but an encounter with a modern avatar of Dionysus and the bacchae (all referred to as “Becky”).

Man, now I really want to rustle up a copy of To Go and Unknown Armies to break up the Pathfinder marathon going on these days in my circles. To Go was the companion work to Break Today, which detailed Mak Attax, a mystical conspiracy embedded in a fast food restaurant chain. I hadn’t paid them much mind until I read the book, and then the reach of their organization and their potential for positive change amazed me. Often Mak Attax gets written off as uninformed losers, but then they pulled off the safe and happy new year in 1999, and no one blinked.

#RPGaDAY 10: Favorite Tie-in Novel / Game Fiction

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

I was reading role-playing game tie-in fiction before I knew it was tied in to anything. At the time, I thought Dragonlance was purely a gloriously long list of interconnected books to collect and devour. Then TSR published a series of Spelljammer novels to go with their new setting of the same name. The first one was set on Krynn, so that was an easy buy. I was more leery of the second, Nigel Findlay’s Into the Void, since the back cover blurb promised it would feature the Forgotten Realms, which I had studiously skirted for no real reason. And yet, it wound up being my favorite of the Spelljammer novels, and possibly of all tie-in fiction that I can recall reading, because it was so different and novel. Quasi-sailing ships flying through space, the infamous tinker gnomes with their hamster-powered paddlewheeler, alien menaces in the shape of the neogi and the illithid, Into the Void had a great mix of elements to appeal to me at the time.

I’m a little afraid of what I would think of the novel now. Not that it would hurt my memories of enjoying it then, because I don’t buy into the notion of “this new thing, or revisiting an old thing, ruined my perception of my childhood,” but my perception of the novel as an adult would drown out my fond memories of how I enjoyed it then. I’d be amazed if there were extant copies out in the world, but if I ever run into one in a used book store, I’ll give it a familiar nod, like seeing an old acquaintance, and move on.

Extra Credit

Now, my favorite retroactive tie-in novel is another story. That’s the novel that was clearly the genesis for a role-playing game, or campaign framework. That title easily goes to Tim Powers’ Last Call, which became a cornerstone of the cosmology and occult ethos of Unknown Armies. Powers has written more novels in his self-created patch of secret history and improvised symbolic sorcery: Declare, Three Days to Never, On Stranger Tides, The Stress of Her Regard. I like to think of them as the unofficial fiction line for Unknown Armies — which does have a novel of its own, Godwalker, written by Greg Stolze. I highly recommend reading Godwalker and honestly regret writing a whole post about Into the Void before remembering that Unknown Armies had a companion novel.

Most Honorable Mention

And holy cow, how could I miss the opening fiction in Break Today, also part of the Unknown Armies line? It’s a tight little vignette that’s so engaging, my coworker at the time loved it and wanted the whole book to be the rest of the story.

Role-Playing and Board Game Garage Sale

The time has come to weed the game library. Behind the jump you will find role-playing games, board games and card games I would like very much for someone else to own. Generally speaking, it’s all older stuff, so if you’re looking for titles from the 90s and early 00s, this might be the sale for you.

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Selling Things Always Has That Pang of Time and Money Wasted

I’ve participated in this tabletop hobby in some form or another for just shy of ten years. That’s not a long time in many gamers’ estimation, I suspect. But I seem to have made up for that brevity by diving whole-hog into the ancient art of accumulating too much damn stuff to do with the hobby.

The time has come for a reckoning. I’m going to start a roleplaying and board game garage sale in the coming weeks. Preparatory to that, I went through my shelves to note everything of which I wish to be rid. I surprised myself at the things I suddenly decided that I no longer wanted to stare at.

Last week, I woke up one morning knowing I didn’t really care if I owned the full line of Unknown Armies. As I rifled through my shelves, I realized that yeah, I have no use for the Changeling: the Dreaming books scavenged from eBay and used book stores.

I have no idea if anyone else has any use for these books and games, but it seems more productive to at least put them out in the world, rather than hang on to them and become increasingly depressed by the physical ties and impediment they constitute.

Soon the time will come to put up the list and notifications in various places this stuff is up for grabs. Not right now, but soon.

Beware the Krampus

A pretty impressive Krampus mask.

Insertname brought it up on RPG.net: using the Krampus as an antagonist in one’s role-playing games. Coming out of eastern Europe, particular Austria and Hungary, Krampus accompanies St. Nicholas on his journeys, warning children to behave and punishing those who don’t. So he’s the bad cop to St. Nicholas’ good. It’s the classic buddy situation.

Krampus Comes to Town

1901-1910 saw a wave of over two million immigrants to the United States from Austria and Hungary. With so many believers living beyond the old country, St. Nicholas and Krampus expanded their travels to include the land of opportunity. When reports of a shadowy demon-like figure stalking St. Nicholas circulate among the “they know just enough to be dangerous” portion of the occult set, they undertaking the capture and banishment of the fiend lately come to America.

Doing so throws the balance of Christmas dangerously askew, of course. Without the threat of the Krampus’ punishment to keep them in line, children run amok in New York City. St. Nicholas correspondingly declines to travel the land. It’s a huge mess, one that can only be resolved by freeing the Krampus from his Leyden jar prison — and convincing him not to take it out on the well-meaning, if foolish occult investigators.

The League of Extraordinary Companions of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, it transpires, has a whole entourage of companions, scattered all across Europe. Typically they work alone or with Nick himself, rarely collaborating together. Every once in a while, though, there’s that one child so recalcitrant, so truculent, so incorrigible who requires the attention of an entire pantheon of corrective spirits, with Knecht Ruprecht corralling their efforts. They’ll put that child through metaphorical Hell before the night is over. It’s the preventative maintenance version of A Christmas Carol.

Dark Ascension

In the world of Unknown Armies, some clued-in goon has decided to scoot into the Invisible Clergy as the Dark Companion, the shadowy figure of questionable means and motives that follows so many more visible characters. Come Christmas-time, that means he’s emulating the behavior and signs of the Krampus, including terrifying the local children. This is not going down well in the community, never mind the occult underground. Representatives from the different factions present on the scene come together to put down this would-be Krampus before someone other than him gets hurt.

The Aluminum Skull

The brazen head of Roger Bacon — among others — is one of those recurring widgets in supernatural fiction. It’s a source of prophecy, arcane wisdom and all that fun stuff. Whether or not such a thing existed or had any of the capabilities ascribed to it, the idea of such a thing is enough to inspire any number of mystics to attempt to craft their own.

The particular example pictured to the right is certainly a more modern expression of the concept. With a name like Egocentric Armillary, it puts me in mind of Unknown Armies‘ human-centric universe. Everything in the game world is the product, consequence or fault of humanity. There are no beings from beyond or aliens. It’s all humans and the things they do to each other. In that world, I can see the aluminum skull working as a sort of avatar detector, since avatars and the Invisible Clergy members they emulate are the underpinnings of the current universe. This armillary swivels to stare in the direction of the nearest avatar utilizing one of their channels within a range of three miles, three feet and three inches, while constantly shrieking “You did it! You did it!”

Needless to say, most members of the occult underground tend to pass this one off in trade sooner rather than later, or at least invest in some sturdy foam earplugs.

Thanks to Propnomicon for the link to Egocentric Armillary.