I just posted this report on Unknown Armies Second Edition to the UA discussion list, and thought I’d repost it here as well.

Hey folks,

A while back I posted a report on what we were doing with UA2. I reviewed that post tonight and realized that it’s now way, way out of date. Late last fall Greg and I decided to make the second edition a far bigger project than we’d been planning by completely overhauling the structure of the book. In the interests of keeping those of you running or planning campaigns informed, here’s the skinny.

UA2 is divided into four parts. Each part represents a higher level of knowledge and power: Street, Global, Cosmic, and For the GM. Rules and setting material are split among the four parts. The GM (and perhaps the players) decide what level of campaign they’re going to start at, and then either the players only read the sections up to their level or use those levels to judge what their characters’ starting knowledge is. They can read the whole book, of course, but at least now there is a baseline for what their characters know when they begin a campaign of whatever level.

The Street section has nothing about the occult underground except that it exists. It posits a campaign where you play normal people who have had some kind of strange experience at some point in their lives–the Trigger Event–that has clued them in to the secret world that’s out there. It might have happened in their childhoods, or last week. The section begins with a guide to street-level campaigns, and suggests about a dozen specific campaign frameworks (a paragraph each) that involve ordinary people entering a world of magick and mystery. This is followed by the chapters for character creation, combat, madness, and player advice.

The Global section begins with the assumption that the PCs are members of the occult underground and have formed or begin by forming a cabal. It has a short history of magick up to the postmodern age, something a lot of people have asked for–UA magick is finally put in context with western tradition. It includes brief descriptions of TNI, the Sleepers, and so forth, the skinny on adepts and avatars, and some other info. The setting material here is very shallow–Alex Abel isn’t mentioned, for example, and neither are any other cabal leaders. You’ve heard a bunch of stuff, but you don’t know a lot. There’s nothing at all about the Invisible Clergy, Godwalkers, or archetypes. There’s another campaign section that describes the various kinds of cabals you might form, including specific ones like TNI or the NG sect, and another dozen specific campaign frameworks. Then there’s three big chapters: Magick, Adepts, and Avatars. Magick includes the basics of magick, rituals, Authentic Thaumaturgy, Proxies (revised), and Tilts. Adepts has twelve schools of magick and includes full rules for how to become an adept during a campaign. Avatars has fourteen avatars, a rumor about something called “godwalkers,” and discussion of archetypes, but nothing about the Clergy or ascension or 333 or any of that stuff. Avatars also includes full rules for becoming an avatar during a campaign. And each archetype now has a list of Masks: religious/cultural identities that the archetype can be channeled through. Instead of being an avatar of the Mother, for example, you could be a devout Catholic whose patron is the Virgin Mary. The rules are the same, but your character’s understanding of his powers can be very different and you can tweak your taboos and channels to better match the Mask you access the archetype through. Those of you who want to play characters that practice Voudoun or Santeria or Wicca or whatever may find this helpful–it offers a way to integrate and maintain UA cosmology within the context of different belief systems. This is mostly something for enterprising players and GMs to develop specific implementations, but we talk about how Masks work and list likely Masks for every type of avatar.

The Cosmic section begins with the assumption that you know the score. You know who Alex Abel is, you know about the Clergy, you know about Saint Germain, godwalkers, ascension, and so forth. The campaign section offers high-level cabal ideas, like cabals aligned with specific archetypes or ascension attempts, as well as stuff like playing a Sleeper cell or even a Room of Renunciation. The focus is on campaigns that deal with the battle to shape the next world. There’s the usual dozen or so specific campaign frameworks. Then there’s more magick, including the godwalker rules, artifact creation rules and the minor artifacts, the unnatural side-effect stuff from UA1, and probably something else I’m forgetting.

The GM section includes much more info on the various cabals, enough that you could reasonably start playing a basic TNI or Sleeper campaign without the sourcebooks–though you’d still want them for the longer term when the PCs get more involved with the cabals. It’s got significant and major artifacts and monsters. It covers how to set up the three campaign power levels and how to transition between them, how to set up your local occult underground, and how to run the game better.

There are setting tweaks. We finally explain the Sect of the Naked Goddess much better, for one thing, including the reason why it really is a sect. Also, TOSG fell apart post-Y2K and the leadership vanished; post-9/11 the feds came down hard on the remaining followers around the world. The current activities of Randy Douglas and his inner circle are unknown to the occult underground and to the players, but the GM section has the skinny.

There are rules tweaks. All skill checks can now be Minor, Significant, or Major. Major checks work as normal checks do in UA1. Significant checks give you a strong success if you roll under your skill, weak success if you roll over your skill but under its stat, and failures if you roll above the stat. Minor checks are automatic successes where the check roll indicates how quickly you succeed, and still allows matches, fumbles, etc. All combat and obsession skill checks are major. Casual checks are minor. Interesting but not critical checks are significant. I expect most non-combat/non-crisis checks to be significant, meaning that it’s now easier to succeed, but giving the GM enough leeway to finesse the results in interesting ways.

Unskilled action checks for minor and significant work similarly to the skilled action checks for those, but at a penalty. Unskilled major checks are a Hail Mary: if you get a match or a crit, you succeed, otherwise you fail.

Experience points are a bit different. It’s a lot cheaper to upgrade your skills, and every time you roll a match–good or bad–that skill goes up by one point immediately. (One point per skill per session. So you can go up in several skills by one point each per session if you roll lots of matches, but no skill goes up by more than one point per session.)

The player now picks a cherry each time she rolls a match. You don’t assign cherries. You just pick the one you want from the list every time, depending on the situation you’re in. This makes obsessed martial artists a *lot* cooler–every match can be a knockout, if you want–and gives adepts some more control.

Combat has some refinements that I’ve mentioned before, including a new initiative system and some hand-to-hand tweaks. Focus shifts let you take a bonus on your attack vs. a single target, but anyone attacking you that round gets the same bonus against you.

Your starting points for skills now varies by campaign power level. I don’t have the numbers at hand, but you get an extra chunk of points at each level. We’re still assuming you only have a handful of skills

Adept and avatar rules haven’t really changed except for the adept cherry stuff.

I think becoming an adept is especially interesting.

You can be a self-taught adept by having a suitable obsession and racking up five failed Self notches over time. After the fifth, you become an adept at 1%. For the next couple months you can quickly work up to about 10%, erasing those five notches as you go. It’s not because you’re becoming sane, though; it’s because you’ve redefined your notion of Self to incorporate your magickal worldview. You get the minor formula spells and no significant formula spells–you’ll have to develop them yourself or get another adept to teach them to you.

You can also become an adept by finding a guru/mentor. Over a period of months he does awful things to you to trigger madness checks. Once you have five failed notches in *any* meter, you’re at Magick 1%, and you reach 10% in a few weeks. Which formula spells you learn is up to your guru/mentor.

To become an avatar, you choose your path and must avoid breaking *any* taboos for a few months; breaking one sets you back, but not to zero, unless the GM rules that it’s too egregious to ignore. After that, you’re at Avatar 10% and can advance by experience points.

There are a couple of new free skills–the aforementioned Initiative and Hide, which covers hiding yourself or concealing an object.

There’s a new class of Mind skill you can take called a Paradigm skill. Samples include Military, Science, and Christian. You can roll against your Paradigm skill to avoid some madness checks, since your worldview is sufficiently hardened that you can explain or ignore what you’re experiencing.

There’s tons of new artwork, including portraits of every kind of adept and avatar. The layout and graphic design is new. The cover art is new. The logo is new. The book is a 256pp hardcover that sells for $35.

I think that’s most of it.

Greg and I are still working very hard on the project. This street/global/cosmic revamp proved to be a tremendous amount of work. The character-creation and combat chapters are mostly rewritten from scratch to be easier to understand and refer to in play. It’s all worth it. The new edition kicks ass.

UA2 is officially scheduled for release in April. We may slide a little bit, but not much, unless we just have a complete meltdown and claw our eyes out.

Please feel free to forward this, post it on web forums, etc. I’m not looking for comments at this point in the project, although the earlier period of public comment on the UA list was very helpful. UA2 is going through a peer-review process with a number of our long-time freelancers who are of great assistance. But I do want to get the word out for those who are playing or are soon going to play the game, so they know what to expect and can plan accordingly. I’d rather not get into more detail than what’s in this report for the time being, especially since we’re still making revisions as we work, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t email me asking for more information. Greg and I are both putting in long, long hours on this project as well as juggling our other responsibilities, and time is very precious right now. Thanks for your patience, and we’re really looking forward to getting UA2 into your hands as soon as possible.