Once more, with feeling. "Unknown Armies" review, take two.
Rumor has it that the "modern magick" genre of games is beginning to burn out. If so, then Unknown Armies is the perfect coda to the movement, as well as being one of the best games of 1999. It's the game Mage wanted to be, before the concepts got too big and the system broke down under stress.
So why buy it? What's the big deal?
The weakest part of the book, it was still great where it counted: on the front and back cover. The art inside was a mix of good and bad, but the layout and information inside didn't make me regret wasted space.
Simple, smooth, near-transparent, but still quirky enough to add to the game's overall atmosphere. It's based on a percentile system, where the closer you roll to your score (in skill or stat)without going over, the better you do. If you get a 'match'(the same number on both dice), you either do unusually good (if you succeeded) or unusually bad (if you rolled over your score). If you roll a 01, it's an OACOWA (Open A Can of Whup-Ass) which is phenomenal. If you roll a 100 (00), it's a BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) and embarassment is the least of your worries. That's it, except for a couple of mutations and some nice rules for cinematic-style combat. Be warned, this isn't Feng shui: one shot from a gun can kill your character, no matter who or what he/she is.
FOR MATURE GAMERS ONLY!
There's tons of info on how to run a good game. This info will help you if you GM or play, and if you're new or expert. This was obviously written by someone who loves the hobby, and saw plenty of good things and mistakes along the way.
Also, in this game, your moral failings and missteps *will* come back to haunt you. All the monsters in this game are human, or at least human-esque. The game involves taking personal responsibility, even about the necessary violence, the dubious allies, the unusual liasons, and the Faustian bargains. The whole world is at stake, and your characters may well shift the world into A Better Tomorrow...or straight to hell.
They even have a handy mechanic for this: The Madness Meter. Let's face it, with all of the violence, betrayed idealism, hopeless moments, and occasions where close friends dissolve into puddles of goo or start speaking in tongues, your characters will experience unusual amounts of stress. Do you pull yourself together, becoming hardened and jaded to the world...or lose your cool and go crazy? Either one is Not A Good Thing, as the first leads to sociopathia and the second leads to, well, the looney bin. Or do you learn from your experiences and grow? This is the best option, but also the hardest. This is the best, most "realistic" system I've seen for simulating shocks to the psyche I've seen in a game. It's light-years beyond Kult or CoC, and it has more depth and definition than the Humanity stat in Vampire.
THE GAME WORLD
This is the really meaty part. It's got all the supernatural stuff you're used to, but it doesn't quite resemble what you've come to expect. It's got kick-ass magick (yes, they use the damn 'k'!), but magick by no means makes you superhuman. In fact, a plain old mortal can have just as much of an impact in this game as the mojo-slingers, quite a contrast to the Storyteller system, or most games with the supernatural for that matter. It's got a well-thought out background explaining why all of these magickal societies are at each other's throats, and all of the GMCs I saw seemed like people I could meet anywhere, excepting the magickal s*** of course. Not a false note in the bunch. Very few games have given me that feeling, and none of them besides Unknown Armies was able to sustain that feeling throughout the book. If it was possible to give this game a 6 in content, I wouldn't hesitate. You really only need this book to play the game, and I haven't said that about any RPG in ! ! a *long* time.
Oh, hell! Just buy it. It'll be the best $25 you ever spent on a roleplaying game. I'm serious; this is not the howl of a rabid fanboy. Just buy it, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)