Posted by: Sean | April 22, 2009

POST #333 – The Unknown Armies Post!

Welcome to Blogatelle post #333!

One of my favourite websites out there is Eric Burns’s Websnark. It’s not updated as regularly as it used to be, but once upon a time? It was the website for webcomics criticism and discussion. I was a proud Snarkoleptic, contributed my own ‘snarks at the Livejournal community, really kicked along with it. When Eric Burns went with Wednesday White as his co-blogger instead of me, I wept a little. When he married Wednesday White instead of me I … wait, I think I lost that somewhere.

Anyway! One tradition of Websnark came out of the fact that he was an In Nomine fan. In that role-playing game, the numbers 111 and 666 are particularly important, because they symbolise the Divine and the Infernal respectively. As so, on post 111 he answered shortly and selflessly, in angelic tradition. On post 666 he did a full on infernal intervention, and selfishly demanded money.

But, you see, here at Websnark, we’re not In Nomine fans. (Well, Jess and myself aren’t. I don’t know about the rest of the Katafray team.) We’re Unknown Armies fans. And so, much like Websnark broke away from comics discourse to talk about the love of his favourite game, I’m breaking away from World of Warcraft to spend post 333 talking about Unknown Armies. Because while 111 is divine and 666 is infernal, 333 is human, the number of seats in the Invisible Clergy. It is Unknown Armies’ number.

If you’re not a fan, and you don’t care about learning, that’s fine. Go and enter our contest instead, you can win 30 days of Warcraft game time, and more things besides! (We can now PROMISE the more stuff.) For those of you who do care, enjoy Ludomancy.

Ludomancy (Game Magic)
aka Gamers, Arcadians

When you were young, your parents told you that if you tried hard enough, you could do anything. They lied. But we fixed the problem anyway. When you were young, your parents told you there was nothing you couldn’t be. But no matter how much you practised, no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t fly. Every time you jumped off the roof, there was nothing for you but a sudden descent and a crash at the bottom.

And sure, you could learn to fly a plane or a helicopter. But then you’d not have time to learn how to be a top-ranked soccer player. Plus, no amount of time will let you learn how to do something impossible, like magic… (oh, wait).

But video games? Video games fix everything. You can be anything, at all places, in all times. Better than the escapism of a book or film, games give you a tantalising burst of agency coupled to wild, untamed fantasy. As soon as you discovered your first Nintendotm game, it was all over.

Your parents told you that you were wasting your life. That it meant nothing. But it meant everything. Your parents told you that it wasn’t the real world.

They were wrong again.

Bit by bit, you built the video game out into the real world. You found ways to make replace the Newton’s Laws with Mario’s Laws. Now, with video-games in your head and at your fingers, the ‘real world’ is yours to manipulate.

You discovered that if you try hard enough, you could do anything.

Ludomancy is built around the illusion of agency: Players love videogames above film and books because they have agency to affect the game, but they can only affect it within the tightly prescribed rules of the game. You can run Karazhan as many times as you like, but you’ll never sign a peace treaty with Medivh at the end of it. You’re a slave given a plastic sceptre and told you’re a ruler.

Generate a minor charge: Devote a major part of the day (at least 6 hours in one sitting) to playing a single video-game. The game experience cannot be interrupted; pausing to go to the bathroom or have food will nullify any chance of getting that charge (although you can probably talk to a friend in the room as long as you don’t pause), but so will dying and having to restart. The words “New Game” carry just enough symbolism to stop the previous gaming run and make it a ‘new’ gaming run. As a result, persistent game worlds (like World of Warcraft) are a blessing for this school – You simply can’t die and miss your chance at a charge… well, unless the server crashes.

Generate a significant charge: Change the rules of a game in some way, to allow a game effect that would previously have been impossible. Cheating is the obvious way to do this; using a speed hack in Warsong Gulch is an example. Note that if you’re cheating, there needs to be a risk involved; just using a ‘cheat code’ isn’t enough, the game makers intended that use. Alternatively, make a full game mod – Creating a mod for Final Fantasy that lets Aeris live would do the trick too. Another way to gain a significant charge is to make some real world sacrifice in the name of gameplay. Skipping a meal probably isn’t enough to count, but if you miss a first date because you had to run Naxx? That’s a significant charge. So would be losing your job because you’re playing too much, or estranging yourself from your entire family for it.

Generate a major charge: Make your own top of the line, completely original game for a mass market. It can’t just be a homebrew indie game here, you’ll need a studio to pull this off. If it’s not Gears of War or Starcraft II, then it’s too small for this to work. Alternatively, get your own likeness; complete with your name and personality; made into the main character of a blockbuster computer game. (If 50 cent is a Ludomancer, we’re all in trouble.)

Taboo: A Ludomancer can never put real life ahead of a game; you can never miss a Kara run to go see your dying mother or the like. In addition, anything that severs the game from you in a symbolic fashion likewise will trip your taboo. (Being banned from a game or a server? That’s taboo… and it’s why cheating to get significant charges is a risk.)

Blast: You were expecting a Mario fireball, right? Wrong. Ludomancy is all about agency. A ludomancer’s blast is about limiting agency; it does damage every time the victim takes a forbidden action. When a ludomancer’s victim tries to perform the forbidden action, their muscles cramp and even tear. You could always avoid that damage by not doing what the ludomancer has forbidden… but then you’re playing their game. However, it can activate multiple times if they keep on trying, but it only works once per try. If you tell them not to touch the cupcake, and then they grab it and eat it, it works once, but that’s it. But if they tried to grab it, flinched from the pain and only tried again later, it would keep on going and going and going…

Random Magick: Ludomancy is all about the dilation of time and space. Everything is simply a set of pointers to them. You could punch someone from across the room, or you could finish building a house in an hour (“I skipped the cut scene!”) but you can’t go back in time. (Not even after playing Braid.)

Starting Charges: Ludomancers begin with three minor charges.

Charging Tips: Significant charges aren’t hard to get, but they’re also easy to lose. (Along with everything else.) Minor charges are consistent but take time.

Ludomancy Minor Formula Spells

Anyone can shoot a gun.
Cost: 1 minor charge.
Effect: Pretty much any videogame character who picks up a gun shoots it like a pro. With this spell, so can you! This spell lets you use your Ludomancy skill as your firearms skill for one roll.

Vendor Trash
Cost: Two minor charges.
Effect: In real life, few shop owners buy and sell from the same people. In MMORPGs, however, it’s a staple, and this spell lets you swing it around a bit. By casting this spell on someone who is attempting to sell something, you can instantly convince them to buy anything from you. They can demand what they feel is a fair price, and it may be less than what you think it’s worth, but they’ll buy it with no questions asked. This isn’t as useful when you need quick cash as it is when you really really need to get rid of, say, a murder weapon…

Cost: 3 minor charges
Effect: This is the Ludomancer minor blast.
To make it work, the Ludomancer makes some effort to contact the victim. Any way will work: Phone, email, directed twitter message, Xbox Livetm voice message, whatever. If they answer the phone, open the mail, etc. then the curse works even if they hang up as soon as you begin speaking. (And indeed, it’s in their best interest to hear you out.) The Ludomancer then says, for example, “Taking that cupcake would be cheating.” For the next twenty four hours, whatever has been declared ‘cheating’ will inflict minor blast damage on the target. As noted, hanging up won’t save you, but refusing to answer the phone would. Also, if you honestly can’t understand the directive, it won’t affect you.

Ludomancy Significant Formula Spells

Many Unseen Bags
Cost: One significant charge.
Effect: Characters in videogames seem able to carry way more than makes sense. This spell doesn’t let you do that, but it lets you get close. When you use it, one object that you own will instantly be transported into a pocket or bag you’re carrying, provided that the object is still where you left it last, and if it will fit into the place you’re summoning it to. So you could easily enough bring back that library book you left at home and put it in your backpack, but you can’t just pull it out of your pocket. More usefully, you could pull a gun out of your handbag once you’re past the metal detectors…

Deny User Privileges
Cost: Three significant charges
Effect: This is the Ludomancer significant blast. It works in much the same way as the minor blast, although this time you’d say something more like, “Your privileges to touch the cupcake have been revoked.” For the next six hours, any attempts to touch the cupcake (or alternatively, say, call the police) will result in significant blast damage. Which for the uninitiated, is about the equivalent of a gunshot. Have fun!

Save Game
Cost: Four significant charges
Effect: When cast, this spell gives you a split second vision of the next sixty seconds. It’s not enough to really make out massive details, but it will prevent you from being surprised by an ambush (provided you’re suspecting one in the next sixty seconds) and, perhaps more usefully, lets you flip-flop your next role, since you know what you’re about to get into.

Ludomancy Significant Formula Spells

With a major charge, you could rewrite a law of physics, just for you. Saying, “I can move faster than the speed of light” probably won’t help much, since it merely means you could do so (You’ll still need to provide a vehicle with enough power to do it) but saying “Gravity affects me only when I want it to” would basically give you a permanent power of flight. You could also permanently connect two points in space/time, so that passing through one door will always bring you out of a completely different door in a completely different time, and the inverse would work as well. And yes, this time, you could go back in time with it…



  1. Where was this character type when I was playing Tales from the Floating Vagabond?

    This would have been hilarious with the “It’d Take a Miracle” shtick.

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