"You Did It!"
Unknown Armies (UA), also known by its nickname Cosmic Bumfights, is a horror and occult roleplaying game written by Greg Stolze and John Tynes, published by Atlas Games. The setting is similar to the modern world, but a secret network of occultists work under the surface and seek to uncover the various mysteries of the universe. Unlike Call of Cthulhu or World of Darkness, characters in Unknown Armies commonly use magic, and the focus on human machinations is much greater. The mysterious nature of the setting has generated a large cult following and has spawned many rumour threads where you make up creepy rumours that you could put into your game.
Unknown Armies is based on a percentile system where you must roll underneath the relevant attribute for the situation. You are more successful the closer you are to your ability score without going over it; for example, rolling a 21 with a skill of 25 is better than rolling a 12. A matched success is a roll underneath the attribute with two matching digits, for example, 11 or 22, and it represents unusual success. It also works the other way: a matched failure will be unusually terrible. A crit, a roll of exactly 01, gives the best possible outcome, while a roll of 00 is a fumble: the worst possible outcome. There are also shifted rolls, which add or subtract a skill modifier based on the situation.
The UA system addresses the idea that more stressful situations will make performing tasks harder. There are three "types" of rolls, depending on how stressful the situation is: minor, significant, and major. For minor skill checks, when there is little risk or ample time, you automatically succeed if you have 15% or higher in the skill. For significant skill checks, when there is some amount of pressure, you get a strong success if you roll under your relevant skill and a weak success if you roll under the relevant stat. For major skill checks, when the situation is very stressful and your performance really matters, you must roll under your skill to succeed. All combat checks are major.
For an unskilled minor or significant check, your stat takes a -30% shift. For an unskilled major check, you can roll a Hail Mary, which will only succeed with a matched success or a crit.
The Character Sheet
Stats and Skills
There are four stats in Unknown Armies: Body, Speed, Mind and Soul. Within each stat is a list of relevant skills, some with a free 15% (such as Drive and General Education) and the rest defined by the player. Skills measure your ability to perform the task under duress. Every stat has a rating of 1 to 99, and the points for each stat are distributed among its list of skills, each of which also gets a rating of 1 to 99. Depending on the "level" of the game (Street, Global, or Cosmic), you will get a certain number of points total to distribute and a bonus amount.
Obsession and Passions
Motivation is an important part of characters in Unknown Armies. Unlike in many systems, what drives your character is written right there on the sheet: your Obsession. The player chooses one skill that relates to his character's Obsession, and on any roll using this obsession skill he may choose to flip-flop the digits.
The character's Passions, which may or may not be related to his Obsession, are things that profoundly affect him in specific ways. Each character has a Rage stimulus, a Fear stimulus, and a Noble stimulus. Once per session, if one of your Passions is triggered, you may choose to reroll or flipflop a failed roll during that situation.
It's hard to stay sane when you get involved with the occult underground. There are five categories of mental stress that can and will affect your character: Violence, the Unnatural, Helplessness, Isolation, and Self. Each stress can gain both hardened and failed notches; the former are "successes" that deaden you to the stress, and the latter are "failures" during which you panic, freeze, or frenzy. Every stress check has a rank, and if your hardened notches match or exceed the rank, you do not have to make a check.
As you gain more hardened notches in a stress, you become callous and less affected by it, but with a price. You begin to lose your grip on what is normal, and even highly stressful situations will not get to you. With two full hardened bars or a total of 35 hardened notches, you become a sociopath and can no longer access your Passions. On the other side, as you gain more failed notches in a stress, you become increasingly paranoid or sensitive to it. Once you have five full failed notches, you automatically act as if you had failed the roll.
It is possible to remove notches with psychological counseling, but it is difficult and time-consuming.
The best known description of the setting is as follows:
A Side Note
With a few tweaks, Unknown Armies works fairly well as a Supers setting. No, really; look at the behavior of your typical classic comic book Supervillain (if you know your comics, think Silver Age), and look at the behavior encouraged by the magic system (if you've read that part of the Rulebook), and realize how perfectly the two line up.