[Unknown World] Unknown Armies using Apocalypse World

edited September 2010 in Story Games

Last week, I tweeted a little note about realizing that Apocalypse World is the system I've been wanting for playing Unknown Armies, now that I'm a hippie story game nerd. I've spoken with Seth Ben-Ezra & John Harper about it some, and I thought I would post some initial thoughts here.

Free free to chime in. As I get time and inclination, I'll actually write up some playbooks and whatnot.

The core changes:
* The tentative title for this is Unknown World. Not the greatest title, but it works for now.

* There is no Weird stat. Everything in UW is a Weird stat to someone. But since I like the distribution of five stats, I'm replacing Weird with Money -- it Alex Abel stat. It works like Circles & Resources in BW. Of course, it doesn't just mean "money" -- that's just a sexy name for "I have dudes and stuff at my fucking disposal."

* The Street/Global/Cosmic paradigm is represented in improvement. The "advanced" improvement you can do after five improvements is Global level. After that is Cosmic.

* Each adept & archetype is its own playbook. There are some "normal" characters, too, for enforcers, cabal leaders, etc.

* Some basic moves will change, of course. Opening your mind is something I'm completely striking, in lieu of all the other weirdness in UA.

* Highlighting will work differently. Each playbook will tell you what your Obsession Stat is (otherwise known as Ox). That's highlighted. Then the group highlights another stat each time by some mechanism I have yet to decide on. (In some cases, the playbook will tell you you can choose between a could stats for Ox. And if you take on a new playbook, it must have the same Ox that you already have. Ox should feel limiting.)

* There needs to be another form of Harm for Madness. I neither like the idea of just one meter or all five, though.

* I've given most of my thought to adept playbooks. Each have moves for gaining charges & taboo, and can choose from a number of formula spells as moves. This makes the game feel rather different because the blast spells are effectively Going Aggro...except with Ox rather than Hard. So every adept is fucking dangerous. And crazy. I like it.

* Possible Oxs for some schools: Entropomancy is Cool (you're risking your shit all the time), Epideromancy is Hard (you're fucking cutting into yourself), Pornomancy is Hot (you're a manipulative fucker), Cliomancy is Sharp (you're a goddamned history mage), Plutomancy is Money (duh). Some are hard to peg into one, so you get to choose what your Ox is: Dipsomancy could be Cool or Sharp (you're either a super-chillax drunk or a sharp-minded drunk), Bibliomancy is Sharp or Money (either it's feeding your mind or the resources of books at your disposal is your power), etc.

* I'm ambivalent about keeping/dropping the sex moves. They don't feel right for UA out of the box, but there will be some thematic/content drifting with this hack. It's not about making AW fit UA, but about marrying the two to make something awesome. Or, at least getting them to swap genetic filth all over a dirty alley while we watch.

* There's no barter. This is not a world of material scarcity but the scarcity of power. Plus, that's what the Money stat is for.

Seriously, this idea is on fucking fire in my mind.

- Ryan


  • I am going to be intensely curious to see how money holds up. It seems well suited to indirect action which is an area I'm not entirely sure how AW will handle.

    -Rob D.
  • Ryan,

    You *know* I'm all over this.

    Also, the custom moves chapter in AW has a move to use when a player wants to retcon having set something up already. (Call it the Nathan Ford move.) Seems like a move that could work well with Money (or inspire the correct move).

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • edited September 2010
    I am familiar with Unknown Armies mostly from reading it for ideas for Sorcerer but I am really taken with the urban fantasy generally (I'm not really a Dresden guy but I love a lot of other urban fantasy genres and sub-genres including and especially Hellblazer).

    One of several games I work on is a game about Phonomancers inspired by Hellblazer, Phonogram, and Ribbon Drive.

    I will leave my intrusion there except to mention that I'm in the middle of an Apocalypse World hack mindfire of my own and that Matt Snyder's thoughts on appealing to more mainstream gamers and Rob Donoghue's thoughts about AW as an exception-based design have got me back to work on it in earnest.

    Unknown Armies is one the influences on my AW hack work so I'll be very curious to see what you come up with, Ryan. Right now I'm forgoing the Madness cost thing in favor of something more along the lines of Sorcerer's Humanity. I'm dropping Sex moves too but want to have other incentives for fostering connections with the other PCs and NPCs and Contenders is my model there at the moment. (and of course magic threatens those Connections...)
  • Instead of a sex move maybe give each playbook a charge move for how and when they get charges, I love how in AW sex actively changes things, it would be neat to see getting charges have weight too.

    - Colin
  • Posted By: greatwolf
    Also, the custom moves chapter in AW has a move to use when a player wants to retcon having set something up already. (Call it the Nathan Ford move.)
    It's totally a John Constantine move too and it's perfect for ritualistic magic. "Ah, but you see I've encircled your home with lamb's blood..."
  • First off, this is shatteringly cool. A few thoughts:
    • The games of UA I've played in/run have each had a PC with a weird talent: the ability to smell magick in one, the ability to understand the speech of cats in another. Maybe PCs should have the ability to take some kind of custom weird move from the get-go?
    • Along those lines, a wide variety of playbooks for non-adepts and non-avatars would be key. Though I almost wonder if rolling custom playbooks for all PCs might be a way of handling the variety of characters you can get in UA, and capture the spirit of roll-your-own skills.
    • Were it me, I'd rename "Money" as "Pull", to capture the notion that at least as much about influence as it is cash flow.
    • I love the notion of charging moves, and wonder if it shouldn't just be an Obsession move that focuses on dragging other characters into your own twisted worldview.
    I really love this idea.
  • Another suggestion for sex moves (warning, its been awhile since I've played Unknown Armies, so I might get a few names for things mixed up) could be to associate them somehow with the types of stress you get. One of the things that I thought always worked really well in Unknown Armies were the Hardness(name?) sliding scales. Violence could throw you down the deep end as easy as the Unknown. So maybe the Sex Moves could be some kind of Coping Mechanism that the PC's use to help each other cope with the madness of the unreal. Of course, sex could still be an option there.

    You would have to make so many playbooks! Mundane to Mancers to Avatars. That'll be tricky, not sure how to capture that. I like what Jim's thinking in the post above though.

    Also, this of course sounds neat. Not a huge fan of percentile system. Huge fan of Apocalypse World. Keep us updated.
  • Wow! Awesome! UA is my all-time favorite game, and AW is my favorite game of the past couple years, the combination is brilliant!

    My thoughts:
    Posted By: Ryan Macklin* Each adept & archetype is its own playbook. There are some "normal" characters, too, for enforcers, cabal leaders, etc.
    That's a metric fuck-ton of playbooks. And it's going to be weird if you have the "global" improvement to switch playbooks as adepts shouldn't be able to switch to new adepts, and... probably the same with archetypes too, unless they're willing to give up all the moves that came with their old archetype.
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinPlutomancy is Money (duh).
    Got a question about this. it sounds "duh," but I'm not so sure. Does rolling+Money frequently or usually represent dropping some cash? If so... well... Plutomancers are all about acquiring money, but the bastards live like paupers. They don't spend the stuff unless there's no other choice.

    In fact, that leads, in general to an issue I have with the idea of Ox. In UA, you're better with your Obsession skill. In AW, you're not necessarily good with what you've got highlighted. It just gives you experience. It seems like Ox should give you a bonus to using the stat, not experience. But I dunno, that's just a gut reaction.

    Moves for spells, channels, charging, etc. sounds absolutely perfect though. That alone makes me suspect UA is an excellent pick for an AW hack.

    I look forward to seeing what comes of this. Are you going to get a forum on the barf apocalyptica boards for this?
  • Point of note: I am totally listening/watching. I'm letting ideas form in my head rather than immediately replying. Or, as we used to say on Cultures of Play, "I'm thinking."

    - Ryan
  • Nitpick: Please don't call it 'Ox'.

    The weird health-care shorthand terminology thing is an artifact of the writing style for AW, and hacks really really really don't need to carry it forward.
  • My first reaction to this was to see two great tastes that should taste great together.

    But upon thinking about it, I want to carefully and politely suggest that the best way to play Unknown Armies might just be with Unknown Armies. Hacks, for me, are birthed from equal parts adoration and frustration and with UA's mechanics, I don't have the frustration. That doesn't mean that others don't or that others even need frustration to hack at will.

    That said, on a miss, one MC move should always be to tell the players that they did it.

    Maybe a Move for each kind of madness meter?
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: JuddMaybe a Move for each kind of madness meter?
    Not just that, each meter should be one of the 'scarcities' that you use to build 'fronts' (whatever those end up being called).

    That said, I'm pretty much with Judd... I'd say all that you need to do is write up definitions of the UA threats and how to build fronts, write up the principles to use, and go for it with the rest as is.
  • Judd, as someone who really likes the UA system, that was my first reaction as well.

    But I can see the charm of doing a hack, especially if it gets others excited about UA.
  • I'm torn about this as well. My issue with Unknown Armies hasn't been the system, but running it. Judd pointed out something about playing UA straight instead of hacking it in a thread I started a while back that made me realize this.

    That being said, should the system of a game help with running it? I know that Mouse Guard and PTA does for me, and it looks like AW may have slightly codified ways to GM that make it easier.

    I'd really love to play UA again one of these days, but I don't really know how to GM it in a satisfying way. If a hack does that, great. But is there a reason that one can't just use the UA mechanics and swipe the GM advice from Apocalypse World?
  • Hey, guys,

    Keep the "I don't know if this is the right hack" to yourselves? Because y'all are being a wet blanket on my fun. I fucking love UA, system and setting. That's *still* my favorite game. I'm just trying to have a different kind of love affair with it right now. I do appreciate the follow-up thoughts on it, but it's a bummer right now with the "maybe your fun is wrong" tone. :(

    - Ryan
  • My bad. I didn't mean to discourage this in the slightest. The thread merely brought out some stuff in my head. Not paying attention to the OP's intent with the thread is bogus. Sorry, man.

    So, I'm wondering? How are you thinking about doing the damage stuff? UA is big on keeping the numbers (as far as health goes) hidden from the players, but describing the effect and feeling of the pain and hurt. Is this something AW can do? I'm curious about how you are going to use Harm.
  • Maybe something with the countdown clocks, like the MC could keep one for each of the players that details stuff beyond the normal harm that they are tracking... like:

    12-3 o'clock a player has been hurt
    3-6 the player has been shot or otherwise seriously wounded
    6-9 player is getting woozy from the bloodloss and needs medical attention stat (must roll to act under fire)
    9-10 fuck that is worse then you thought
    10-11 fuck you may be dying... is that a light you see?
    12 Dead

    - Colin
  • Man, you guys have unlocked some ideas for damage. I wasn't feeling how AW does damage for this (although I do for AW itself, don't get me wrong.)

    I'm about to go on a flight, but I'll chime in later with responses to all these ideas.
    Posted By: fnord3125Are you going to get a forum on the barf apocalyptica boards for this?
    Probably not, because that's One More Tab I have to keep track of in my browser. Maybe. I dunno.

    - Ryan
  • (I'll be watching this thread even more closely, now, as one my secret-project games has opaque damage mechanics, too, and they could be better refined. So I'm watching with one hand out, ready to yoink any good ideas.)
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinMan, you guys have unlocked some ideas for damage. I wasn't feeling how AW does damage for this (although I do for AW itself, don't get me wrong.)
    I will say that the harm move feels quite UA for my money. Though, maybe you have the GM roll it. ;-)

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • The more I look at UA and play AW, I'm understanding where the appeal is, for me. And that it's a really compelling system for a street-level game. I'm not feeling it pull as strongly for a global-level game and definitely not for a cosmic one.

    - Ryan
  • My games tended to live either at street level or on the low end of global, so maybe this is why I'm feeling the same vibe.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
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