[Editor’s Note: January 7, 2020 was the launch date of the New Gamemaster Month for 2020, which is intended to provide guidance to give a new/inexperienced GM the skills to run their own game. Participants can choose from four games by four different publishers and Trish Koning has agreed to come on board to take on Unknown Armies, by Atlas Games for us. You can read Trish’s entire series to date HERE. -dc]
Trish’s log, Stardate 97635.18 I’m realizing I am way more of a newbie at tabletop games than I realized. Reading through the intro of book one of Unknown Armies though, I’m instantly put at ease. Clearly the inventors have a sense of humour and want players to enjoy themselves. The creators walk the line perfectly between explaining RPGs to new players while not talking down to more advanced players. The reminders about snacks, drinks, and cell phone usage are highly appreciative, as well the snarky remarks about ensuring the chosen objectives are picked for honourable reasons. Screwing over your GM to be funny or try and sidetrack the storyline from the other players is highly discouraged, luckily for me. That doesn’t mean the party can’t change their mind or decide to pause and regroup. Side quests are always enjoyable, no matter the type of game.
Speaking of objectives, these are measured as percentile chances. Likelihood of stealing that ruby? 64%. Save all the orphans from the building fire? 6%. “If you gamble and fail, you hemorrhage points from the objective and need to go into damage control.” If you succeed, you can earn majorly. Once you accomplish an objective, you can continue on to a brand new one starting at 50% as long as it builds on your previous successes. I’m really curious about GM-ing and watching this type of gameplay roll out. Observing the players problem-solve the objective and creatively discover a solution to the outcome, all while I scheme in the background sounds highly fascinating. Not that I’m usually much of a schemer. (My scheming usually revolves around hiding candy from my kids for my own consumption later on) I’m more of the red-shirt; willing to be sacrificed for the betterment of the party kind of player. But, this whole experiment is about growth and challenge. So non-candy related scheming there shall be.
To scheme, you need puppets to manipulate. Backgrounds need to be established. Skillsets need to be rolled out. Unknown Armies has a unique way of establishing your characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Entitled “The Shock Gage”, five areas of one’s character are measured: Helplessness, Isolation, Violence, Unnatural and Self, and the outcome of gameplay affects how well you handle the various events thrown at you. If you falter during an incident, a supposed weakness may actually be beneficial. A heightened level of helplessness may be expressed as a compassionate understanding of another character. Just like in real life, strengths and weaknesses can have the opposite effect of what we anticipate. That being said though, in Unknown Armies, if you fail too often, it is lights out for your character. As a creative writer, this aspect of the game is a highlight. The creators clearly want more than vague backstory. These creators want meat. The gritter, the better. I like that. No fluff, no generalities. What happened to your character to make them tick and behave the way they do? The darker undertones of humanity will really help make the play shine in this game I feel.
So, what’s next for our journey dear readers? Well, as someone who loves to plan I think I want to mull around a character. I want to create a backstory, try out The Shock Gage and see what insights the five characteristics give him or her. How can you GM a game if you don’t understand the players? Knowing both sides of the board is critical. Eventually, I want to establish two rounds of the game. One virtual (so if you are interested, drop a comment on our Facebook Page) and one locally with some friends. This will allow me to test drive the game in a few different ways. So, as I ask my students at the end of a lesson: “Any questions, concerns, queries, freakouts?”
Born in Nova Scotia, this transplanted Blue Noser has called Alberta home since 2007. Trish Koning is a mother of two and when she isn’t wrangling her own kids, she works full time as a middle school humanities teacher. An avid nerd Trish enjoys all aspects of geek culture from Cosplay to Dungeons and Dragons. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at AtakCosplay.