[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]
“That proves you are unusual,” returned the Scarecrow; “and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” ― L. Frank Baum, The Land of Oz
Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore (or even Kansas City, although some Superbowl LIX fans would have us think otherwise). What I always found so fascinating about Dorothy’s adventure to Oz was her utter acceptance of the magical world around her. Dorothy was surprised that she wasn’t home with Auntie Em but she never really questioned the fact that good and bad magic existed or that a scarecrow, a tinman, and a lion would become beloved members of her posse. Although some of the magic was dispelled by The Great Wizard of Oz just being a sad, old guy behind a curtain, the ruby slippers really did bring Dorothy home and that horse really did turn a surprisingly large amount of different colours. Walking into the weird, wonderful (and occasionally terrifying) world of Unknown Armies is a little bit like Dorothy’s adventures in Oz but maybe with fewer monkeys….or more. I’m unsure yet.
Various beliefs regarding the unnatural world abound within the realm of Unknown Armies. Just as in our world there is a belief spectrum surrounding higher powers, gods, and magic. Unlike our world, however, is the assurance that these forces do exist and they don’t need you to believe in them to exist or manipulate existence.
On one side of the spectrum is the theory of the Invisible Clergy. This ideology is the main idea that supports the many occultists of Unknown Armies. The idea is that the cosmos is nothing less than a representative democracy. When enough people believe in an idea, a person who stands for that idea, an archetype, ceases to exist in the matter-of-fact-world and ascends to a realm of pure thought and idea – the Statosphere. So, much like current political tides, unfathomably questionable men and women can rise to power given enough support. When 333 archetypes ascend to the Statosphere the universe as it is known in Unknown Armies collapses in on itself and game over. Blue screen of death. The hard drive is wiped clean and a new cosmos is created complete with new rules and a blank slate. The merged 333 individuals leave a little residue, however. These people who ascend survive, at least briefly and are able to influence the growth of the new universe. Ever wonder what would have happened in Oz if Dorthy’s house had happened to land on Glenda, the Good Witch rather than the Wicked Witch of the East? The balance of power and morality, goodness and fear, hope and despair are the things that affect how the new universe will unfold according to the occultists.
On the other end of the spectrum are the non-believers, those who adhere to scientific atheism – believing in the simplest answer that fits the observed facts. Sadly, like flat-earthers, these individuals seem to be in denial regarding the repeated and unquestionable proof of magick in the Unknown Armies world. These individuals come across as jaded and have as much of a distaste for avatars (individuals who act like ascended archetypes – the highest form of flattery is imitation) and mystics as they do wealthy organized religions and a public who stubbornly believing that something out there loves them.
So good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Theists have struggled to explain this issue throughout the ages. In Unknown Armies, it’s easy. Belief in the archetypes suggests that bad things happen because there are people, hidden and undying and powerful who are placed in a position of influence by the unyielding belief of others. (Hmm…anyone else noticing a commentary on our current socio-political circumstances? No? Just the history majors in the house? Fine.) So now, as a player in this world, as a person with a story, a history, a goal, an agenda, how will you navigate this wild, weird world? Appeal to the archetypes who support your personal desires? Strive to supplant one archetype with a new one? Keep your head down in the sand and ignore the situation? Punch an avatar in the face, ridiculing them for a wasted life? Sure. Just know that each and every decision you make will have consequences both in the physical and magickal world (even if you don’t believe). You can try clicking your ruby shoes, but this world is home now, so what are you going to do about it?
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.