Unknown Armies: The Happiest Place on Earth – Mediation Phase 1

Our first session was last night. Initially, I started the group in the park but it fumbled along a little and I figured that the group needed to discuss how to go about their investigation. I asked them where they met as group and they decided on the Waffle House. At the end of the session, everyone felt that it was a good first session. That the story seemed very organic and they all loved adding the Waffle House as a base of operations.

Waffle House

 

Session Recap

Eleven PM at the Waffle House and [insert cabal name here] are sharing what they know and making plans. After ordering their hashbrowns – All The Way, they know that people are being changed at the park and want to find out who is doing it.

Pooling their resources, this is what they know: Before being fired, Alexander had seen families getting on Pirates of the Caribbean and then the families would be jumbled up. He saw a parents leave with children from other families. Parent swap places between families. Alexander had tried the ride himself and experienced missing time. Da’Mon said that it must be spirits doing this. That even machines have spirits.

Patrick noted that episodes of one parent reporting a missing child while the spouse wouldn’t know what they were talking about. Parents were brought to a care center as a place to wait for their missing child and they always left happy.

Sebastian noted that he had been tasked with installing a piece of equipment on Space Mountain that had nothing to do with the ride. When he had brought it to the attention of his supervisor, he received a visit from Walter Lewis, the asshat that had fired Alexander. Walter told Sebastian, “Just do your job and leave the imagining to everybody else.”

Meanwhile Da’Mon said that creepy-ass Goofy has been watching him. Always watching him.

Recently, Alexander noted that other rides and experiences seem to be affected by whatever is happening. That kids at the Country Bear Jamboree seem to act stiffer after the event. While Sebastian has been pulled from other jobs at the last minute.

One thing Alexander noted about Walter Lewis: he was the type of supervisor who went through the park a lot.

They all realized the need for a game plan and decided that they needed to follow Walter. That he was a part of this in some way. Alexander and Patrick would be do this the next day. Meanwhile, Sebastian would try to look up who order the installation at Space Mountain and Da’Mon would look to see if any families were being affected by any of the rides.

The next day, Da’Mon was heading out into the park as Minnie Mouse when Goofy body checked him on the way in. When Da’Mon called him out in a Minnie voice, he was shocked when Goofy talked back and threatened him. Da’Mon threw a wrench that was lying around the utilidors and missed, then dashed out into the park when Goofy moved toward him. After moving through the park, signing autographs and taking pictures with children, Da’Mon went to watch families get on and off It’s A Small World. After two hours, he saw three families get on the ride and when the got off, one of the children leave with another of the families while another child left with other parents.

Da’Mon approached one of the families and found that they acted as though everything was normal.

Patrick waited in the corridors of the utilidors for Walter to come out of his office. He followed him as he moved through the park while Alexander followed Patrick. As they moved through the Magic Kingdom, Alexander’s friend Cindy called out to him. Distracted by his task, he told her that he would see her later.

As they continued to follow Walter, Sebastian was in one of the many maintenance offices looking up work orders. He saw that there were a number of recent work orders that had been completed by workers that had not worked at the park in quite some time. Sebastian looked up the job at Space Mountain and saw that it had been ordered by Walter. He noted the part number and found that several other jobs that involved that part had been completed. He noted one at the Tomorrowland Speedway and headed there to check it out.

Patrick and Alexander followed Walter to Space Mountain. He went through a maintenance door and Patrick followed. He saw Walter go into an office and a few minutes later came out again and recognized Patrick. Walter confronted him and Patrick tried to play it off and goes into the office that Walter just exited. In the office, he watches Walter on security cameras and observes him go into another maintenance door.

While waiting for Patrick, Alexander watches the Space Mountain as it loads and unloads its passengers. Then he sees it: A single mother and her child get on with a mother and father and their two children. When they exited, the single mother left with the other mother while the father went off with the single mother’s child as though it were the most normal thing in the world. Alexander was excited by this discovery, finally, confirmation of his observation. When Patrick returned, he excitedly told him the news. They couldn’t find the couples again but Patrick said he would check the camera footage for the ride and try to observe the couple.

Sebastian searched the Tomorrowland Speedway and did not find the part so he returned to Space Mountain and examined the part he had originally installed. He found the featureless, black box. He opened it to find a circuit board wired to a picture frame with a picture of a family. He detached the wire and received a shock that singed his fingertips. He was bewildered as the didn’t contain any noticeable power source. Sebastian quickly reassembled the box and put it back in its place, all the while worrying that he would be fired.

 

The cabal reconvened at the Waffle House and shared their day and prepared to plan their next steps.

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Unknown Armies: The Happiest Place on Earth – Antagonist Phase 1.1 (No Players Allowed)

#UAHappiestPlaceonEarth

This is just a quick addition to my Antagonist Phase post from the other day.

I was rereading the Antagonist Phase part of Book 2 and started thinking of the characters in relation to the objective and their identities, passions, and obsessions. And then thinking of the setting. It occurred to me that another major theme is family.

Disney World is the destination for many families of all stripes. Along with this, one of the PCs strongly identifies with family, so much so that Family Man is one of his identities.

So the Room of the House of Renunciation will impact the family ties that people have. In what way, I’m not entirely sure. And I’m not entirely sure how this impacts the PC that experienced missing time.

One thing that it does do is give me an idea for the GMC that fired the imagineer PC. He may be my Agent of the Renunciation.

First Mediation Phase starts tonight. I have some more work to do but it is shaping up.

Unknown Armies: The Happiest Place on Earth – Antagonist Phase 1 (No Players Allowed)

Warning: This post is probably going to be a little rambling as it is a work in progress.

So our first session is coming up soon and I’ve been pretty busy this week so I haven’t had much of a chance to formalize anything for our first session this coming Friday. I’ve been letting things percolate and on the drive to work some things finally gelled. And it is really bad for something percolating to then gel. I know I wouldn’t drink that coffee. But in the case of Unknown Armies, I think it will work out.

Identity

It finally occurred to me what the campaign is going to be about: Identity. The players are trying to find out who is changing people in the park. People go on rides and change. People lose children but always leave the park happy. Sometimes they find their child, sometimes they leave without the child. But they always leave happy. And the best part? One PC went on a ride and experienced missing time.

Creepy Goofy

So I’ve been a little focused on Creepy Goofy (CG). Possibly a little too much so. He is the personal nemesis of Da’Mon (the actor in the Minnie Mouse costume; he finally has a name). I’ve been imagining things that CG will say and do to Da’Mon. Saying things in the Goofy voice. I imagine that for quite some time, we will only ever see CG in costume. Perhaps we will never see him out of costume. Perhaps it isn’t a costume. Another thing is that CG may not be the same Goofy every time and you only recognize CG by it’s speech and actions.

Is CG an Avatar? I really haven’t found a good one. My first instinct is The Fool but it really doesn’t have the right feel. I looked through the 3rd ones and I’m still not finding one. I may need to look at and adapt older material.

Chris from Orlando

One thing that really gelled for me on the drive to work. When a Cast Member forgets their name tag, they get a loaner. All the loaner name tags say the same thing: Chris from Orlando. Who is Chris from Orlando? If you put on one particular “Chris from Orlando” name tag, you’ll get to find out. Personally. Because you’ll become Chris from Orlando for the day.

Part of me wants to make this a little random. Like having the players roll to see if their characters remember their name tags and then having them choose at random to see if they get the name tag. But that risks not having this come into play at all.

The House of Renunciation

The first thing that occurred to me when hearing about rides that change people was the House of Renunciation. While everyone doesn’t change, some people do change. Currently, the rides appear to be the doorway to a Room but the door isn’t always open. Is there a pattern? A trigger? And, again, the best part: One of the PCs has already gone through a door.

Other GMCs

Beside Creepy Goofy, there are several GMCs. I have some ideas for a few of them, while others need a little more time.

  • Whispering Rats: I don’t have a clear idea for them but I did come across the Whisperers in Book 2 and need to look at that a little more closely. And since it is linked to the Channeler, it may be appropriate for that. That also makes me think of the Fiend just before that. Perhaps that is appropriate for CG.
  • Cindy: Her picture is of a cheerful Cast Member pointing the way with an oversized Mickey Mouse hand. It immediately makes me think of The Guide archetype.
  • Maris: Snow White is the girlfriend of one of the PCs. I can’t get to my note on her right now but if I recall she is also a server at Club 33. I don’t know what that means just yet.
  • Walter: the Asshat that fired one of the PCs. Is he just an unwitting supervisor who was doing what he was told to do or is he part of it.
  • The Gate Keepers: the equivalent of Disney “muscle” or something more.
  • Larry Barry Terry: the custodian has probably cleaned everything in the Magic Kingdom (Magick Kingdom? Hmmm…Magic(k) Kingdom?) twice over. Is he what happens when you go through several Rooms of the House?

Locations

I have fewer ideas for the locations at the moment.

  • Club 33: the number 3 in itself is well represented in Unknown Armies. Perhaps a 3rd three fell off the door at some point. Perhaps the club exclusively serves avatars.
  • Mickey Pylon: is it a transmitter or a receiver? Is it a lighting rod for charges?
  • The Haunted Mansion: are there answers in that book? Or in the book that originally occupied that spot (the book was originally a 14th century book of witchcraft.
  • Discovery Island: I’m not sure how this will fit in just yet.
  • Space Mountain: Another entry to a Room?

I know that I have a little more to develop. I have to see what to confront the players with for the first session. More likely, the first session will be about the players getting to know their characters better through play and the introduction of some weirdness.

Unknown Armies: The Happiest Place on Earth Session 2

Session2Map Full

#UAHappiestPlaceonEarth

We had our second session last night and completed setting and character creation. Everyone enjoyed this segment of the game and as we talked at the end of the session we discussed how several of us were a little leery of how the whole map thing would work and were surprised at how it all unfolded. One player really like how there is so much fodder for the GM to play with; while another said that it really helped develop deep characters. I was happy that Roll20 was able to accommodate the creation of the map and I honestly enjoyed cleaning it up to make it look more like what I think it would look like in the real world. At some point, I may do a small article on what I did to make it look the way that I wanted.

We went through steps three and four tonight, after catching up one player who had to leave early last session. For the most part, the characters remained the same. The one that we caught up to speed changed a little bit. He went from being another Imagineer to being a mechanic with a strong focus on being a family man.

The shock guages were interesting. In some ways, they informed the players about their characters as much as using the players used them to define what their characters were like.

Some things were clarified, like when one player had chosen a picture last session and had named it “Whispering Rats. I didn’t catch on that he was referencing the figures in the picture.

Polaroid Picture Frame: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/photo-paper

New locations were added as well.

  • The Haunted Mansion, where the actor asked the mechanic to get something for him.
  • Space Mountain, where some very non-standard equipment had been installed.
  • Discovery Island, a closed part of the park where a person once got a brain-eating parasite (this part is true).

More GMCs were added, many of which are adversarial.

  • Walter Lewis, the man that fired the Imagineer.
  • The Gate Keepers, two Cast Members that kept the mechanic away from the Mickey Pylon.
  • And Creepy Goofy, the actor’s identified adversary.

Here are some close-ups of the map.

Session2Map LeftSession2Map CenterSession2Map Right

The players have several pieces of homework

  • Name their character and provide me with a photo to add to the board.
  • Define the features of their identities.
  • Transfer their characters a form-fillable character sheet (the Roll20 sheet isn’t quite working for us, it is a little glitchy and doesn’t format correctly).

One of the last things we discussed was a question one of the players had for me, “What picture didn’t get up on the board that I wanted up there?”

There was an old picture of the Mickey Mouse costume that I thought was really creepy that I wanted to use in some capacity, either as some supernatural manifestation. I debated what would be creepier: encountering this and it appearing in black and white, or seeing a cartoon walking around. I think the former is creepier.

We are eager to get into the game…so much so that we are scheduled to start next week.

Unknown Armies: The Happiest Place on Earth, Session 1

#UAHappiestPlaceonEarth

Last night, we started our Unknown Armies 3rd Edition game. We started the setting/character creation session. We only got through the first two steps but everyone is having a good time and really enjoying the “game” of creating the game.

While a few of us were familiar with the older editions, and a few players had some time to get through Book 1, I was the most familiar with the new system and still had never played it. I think it was the unfamiliarity with the system and the mythology of the overarching setting which slowed us down. Also the collaborative nature was something new to us.

So here is a summary of our first game session with a picture of the resulting board.

After Step 2

Objective
“Discover the person behind the public mental manipulation in Disney.”
After looking at this and thinking about the other stuff that came up later in the session, I was thinking that we should tighten it up a bit so I put forth this as a suggestion: “Discover who is changing people at Disney.”

Characters

  • An Imagineer who was fired for asking too many questions and may have been changed by the ride.
  • An Imagineer who is beginning to suspect that something isn’t quite right.
  • A Cast Member who gets to wear the Minnie Mouse costume and may be a conduit for spirits or a medium.
  • A Disney security guard who has witnessed seen kids go missing but the parents always seem to leave happy.

Pieces of the mystery

  • The experiences (rides, etc) seem to change people.
  • There are some really non-standard pieces of equipment installed in the park.
  • People seem to go missing but no one ever reports it…not even the family members.

GMCs

  • Cindy, a Cast Member.
  • Maris, a Cast Member who used to date one of the PCs and sometimes works at Club 33.
  • Barry Larry Terry, a custodian at Disney.

Places

  • Club 33, the VIP club at Disney World.
  • The Electric Mickey Mouse Pylon.
  • The Utilidors where the rats whisper.

From the start, I already see possibilities for certain things that are classic UA. Rides that change people make me immediately think of the House of Renunciation. I especially like this because one of the PCs has already been on a ride and has experienced missing timed.

I also like the idea of people going missing yet no one ever complains about it.

And the great part is that we are only on Step 2 of game creation.

Red Markets Preorder

Summer is my chance to get a lot of reading done and, having finished reading Star Trek Adventures, I've moved on to Red Markets: A Game of Economic Horror by Caleb Stokes of Hebanon Games.

Red Markets is a horror game where the zombie apocalypse was unevenly spread. It is about the have-nots trying to eek out an existence while the haves live within safe zones. It's about groups of Takers completing bounties for supplies, for survival, and for the haves, with the hope of surviving to retirement.

I'm bringing this game up for a couple of reasons:

  1. It's a cool idea for a game and combines a lot of the tropes of modern zombie horror. We've got Dawn of the Dead Remake/28 Days Later fast zombies and Romero slow zombies. We have enclaves just trying to survive.
  2. It has a new take on the genre: The fact that everything isn't The Walking Dead is the real hook of the game, especially when there are plenty of zombie RPGs. Government and society still exists, even if the PCs are mostly cut off from it.
  3. It was developed in a level of transparency that was just astounding and, in my opinion, hasn't been seen since the early days of Evil Hat.
  4. And the creator of the game hit a really rough patch in his Kickstarter.

It is the last two that I wanted to talk about here.

Mr. Stokes is a regular host of Role Playing Public Radio, a well known RPG podcast. The development of Red Markets can be followed through RPPR's semi-regular Game Designer's Workshop episodes where Mr. Stokes and Ross Payton, RPPR's founder and game designer in his own right, discuss various aspects of game design and development.

The Kickstarter updates are also very informative and continues the level of transparency.

Listening to the development of Red Markets is a real lesson for anyone interested in seeing how a game starts as an idea and goes on to become a published product.

The other part is that the Red Markets Kickstarter is one of many Kickstarters that has suffered from the increasing cost of international shipping.

In response to this, Mr. Stokes has gone above and beyond to find better options for his backers. He has done this by splitting the shipment from China and engaging the services of a European fulfillment house…all at his own expense and after enduring no small level of abuse from a number of his backers.

This was a well researched and openly developed project that got hurt by forces beyond its control.

If you want a unique zombie RPG then head over to the Red Markets BackerKit Preorder page and place your order.

Ordering just the PDF and Stretch Goals PDF is, to my mind, like giving him money. But he is also happy for print orders.

Star Trek Adventures & The 2d20 System

Modiphius Entertainment recently released the core book PDF for their latest roleplaying game product, Star Trek Adventures. It was big news when Modiphius announced the license for Star Trek last year and this is their big release, along with Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of.

The new Star Trek RPG uses Modiphius’ in-house system, the 2d20 system. The basics of the system are that you have an attribute and a skill that are added together and you roll 2d20. For each d20 that rolls under the total of the attribute plus skill, you score a success. If you roll a 1, it counts as 2 successes. That is it from a very basic standpoint.

There are a lot of additional bits that go into it as well, such as the ways you can get additional d20s and what you can do if you exceed the number of successes needed for a task. But that is the basic mechanic.

Modiphius made the decision for the 2d20 system to be it’s in-house system back when they were working on Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and there had been discussion about how it would be adjusted to go along with each game that uses it. Mutant Chronicles was mentioned as being the system at its crunchiest, while there was talk that the John Carter RPG would be at the light end of the crunch continuum.

I own Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of and I’ve found the crunch of those two games to be fairly intimidating. In addition, they are pretty similar in how they use the 2d20 system.

Now Star Trek is the first game from Modiphius to use a much lighter version of the 2d20 system and really show how the system can be modified to fit the property.

This iteration of the 2d20 system is very streamlined in comparison to Mutant Chronicles and Conan. Mutant Chronicles has 8 attributes while Conan has 7 and they are all pretty traditional. Star Trek has reduced the number of attributes to 6 while providing names that fit Star Trek, such as Daring, Control, Reason, and Insight.

Where there were significant skill lists in the previous games, Star Trek has it broken down into 6 disciplines, which are areas that encompass a large number of skills and cover what a Starfleet officer would be trained to know. These disciplines include Command, Conn, Security, Engineering, Science, and Medicine.

The streamlining of the system is really noticeable at this point. Star Trek uses the same basic resolution mechanic: Attribute plus Discipline (skill) and roll 2d20.

Here is the difference: in Mutant Chronicles and Conan, each skill has two parts, Expertise and Focus. Expertise is the number that gets added to the attribute while Focus increases that chance of a critical success – remember where rolling a 1 generates 2 success. If you have a focus of 2, you score 2 successes on a roll of a 1 or a 2.

In Star Trek, this has been simplified. Character’s still have focuses…uh, foci?…but they act as specialties under a particular discipline (such as Trauma Surgery or Phaser Operation) and don’t have a numeric value. If you engage in an action that uses the focus then your discipline level becomes your crit range.

For example, Doctor Bashir is performing trauma surgery on a Ferengi. He has a Control of 12 and a Medicine of 5 which means that he has to roll under a 17 on each d20 to score a success. Since he has the trauma surgery focus, he will score 2 success if he rolls a 5 or lower, as opposed to only getting 2 success on a roll of 1 on a d20.

There’s no need to track two different ratings for each skill. I find that to be brilliant!

There have been other modifications that have made the system much easier, while there are Talents there are no longer Talent trees.

There are also Traits which have the flavor of FATE aspects in the sense that they can be an Advantage or a Complication. Characters, situations, environments and locations can all have Traits.

In the system, an Advantage may reduce the difficulty of a task by one or make it possible to do something that wasn’t possible before while a Complication may increase the difficulty of a task by one or make something impossible to do in that situation. Either way, it is a very way of dealing with situational modifiers, possibly right up there with D&D5E’s Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic.

There is one more area that I want to discuss which has to do with character creation. Modiphius has used lifepath systems with most of their games…at least with the games that I own…and Star Trek Adventures is no exception here.

Upbrining is one stage of the Star Trek lifepath system and the part that really impressed me is that the character can either accept their upbringing or rebel against it and it will impact what attributes are increased.

I’ll give an example that brings this home for me:

James T. Kirk would have the Starfleet upbringing since both his parents were Starfleet officers. In the TOS timeline, he was apparently accepting of this upbringing while in the Kelvin timeline, he clearly rebelled against it…at least until Captain Pike dared him to do better.

So TOS Kirk would receive a +2 to Control and a +1 to Fitness. Meanwhile, Kelvin Kirk would get +2 to Daring and +1 to Insight.

Again, this whole idea of accepting or rebelling against an upbringing is just great and something that I don’t remember seeing in any game before.

Overall, Star Trek Adventures is the first 2d20 game that’s really been changed to fit the property that is using it. The simplification of the attributes and skills (disciplines), as well as the changes to the system itself completely fits the feel of Star Trek and improves the pace of the game.

There are other parts of the game mechanics that I haven’t reached yet, such as their social challenge mechanics, as well as their mechanics for exploration and discovery which continue to support the Star Trek feel but I just had to write something about this now.