Actual Play – Ashes of Innocence (2/19/2012)

GM: Todd Furler
Players: Sean, Donnamarie, Rian, Carly, Ishtar, Tom,  Adrian Anderson
System: Unknown Armies

This was a messed up horror game. I wouldn’t say that most of Todd’s Unknown Armies are really “horror”, I’d call them suspenseful or thrillers, but not horror. Todd describes them as episodes of the Twilight Zone, were normal people experience something where reality suddenly takes a sharp left turn.

Well, some episodes of the Twilight Zone are apparently more disturbing than others…

I played Lauren Markowitz, a teenage girl with all the normal kinds of issues surrounding a 15 year old whose mom just remarried after a divorce to a man with two kids of his own. Actually, I’d say that of ALL the characters, my horrors were the most mundane, but they were still awful. Deliciously awful.

Todd had some very interesting perspective on family relationships. He noted a few things in the very beginning, as he was actively trying to get players to walk away from the game if any of this upset them.

  1. When we encounter something we don’t like, we can either try to change it, deal with it, or leave. In a family change is often impossible and leaving isn’t an option, meaning we were going to spend most of the game (and we did) just dealing with problems that were never going to be solved.
  2. Unknown Armies has a rule for how your characters become inured to the terrors they experience. In a nutshell, when you encounter something that freaks you out, if you manage to keep your calm, you start becoming “hardened” to that kind of experience (e.g. violence or helplessness). If you fail to keep your wits, you starts cracking along the edges. One of Todd’s rules in this is that you never get “hardened” to family issues.  So, if we experienced “helplessness”, like having to sit at the table eating dinner when the other kids go to go have their damn tea parties (“So unfair!!!”), even if we made the roll (which I was very happy I didn’t) we don’t get hardened to that kind of horror. It will piss us off just as much the next time it comes up!

Thoughts on the game

Carly, the young woman playing my character’s mother had it rough! First off, Todd had all sorts of hell for her to deal with and then I just added more to it. I mean heaping tablespoons of teenage angst and rebellion. I commend her for a) staying in character and b) not feeling too picked on. It wasn’t personal, she was just the one to bear the burden.

Todd had two characters with special rule about how they could interact. Because of this I wasn’t able to interact with them at all during the game, my character didn’t even know of their existence. Everyone once in a while I would do something that was relayed to them, but from my perspective they didn’t exist. I think this played out well in our game and it makes me wonder if this would be a good way to handle Upstairs/Downstairs games like a riff of of Downton Abbey, where some characters are simply unaware of others. Hmm.

There was one point were Todd was getting pretty close to pushing one of my buttons regarding violence against children. I think if it was another GM I would have probably call to cut the scene. In this case Todd asked us to trust him in advance and I did, and it worked out just fine. Yay, trust exercises!

I really, really dislike DundraCon’s proliferation of nicknames. I blame the system here. When you reg there is a line for your nickname. Most people want to fill out most lines on forms. We’re programmed to complete that kind of stuff. I takes tremendous willpower to leave that line blank. But if you don’t, if you enter anything in that line, it goes with you through the whole con. So, in this case “2 Shotgun Kid” was about 20 minutes late for the game. I’m sure he had reasons, but nobody had any idea who he was or how to get a hold of him. And because that was his name on his badge, that’s all I remember as well. Todd got everyone’s actual names for his personal logs, but I couldn’t remember them.  Not. A. Fan.

Max Rocks. Just saying.


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