I went all in on the Unknown Armies 3e kickstarter last year. While the dice, PDFs and soundtrack materialised a few months ago, the main books turned up on the Seven Hills weekend this year.
There is no doubting they are gorgeous items, with excellent production quality, from the photographic artwork throughout to the magnetic GM screen that doubles up as a slipcase for Books 1-3. Attention to design detail is noteworthy (eg, aesthetically the three books arranged form a delightfully mysterious triptych).
I really do like the idea of the game and the setting, and there are some elegant mechanics around the shock gauges (previously dubbed madness meters) and the identities/features (like aspects in Fate, with mechanical extensions).
Physical readability of the books (not the dice) is not too bad – there’s decent white space throughout that helps alleviate the density of the text. The imagery is all photograph-based, and hugely evocative for modern urban fantasy horror.
But I am finding these books almost impenetrable.
As a practical set of tools to run a game, they really do seem to be all over the place, and – especially when it comes to character creation – inconsistent and incomplete. Which is a real frustration for me as an inexperienced GM. It feels like so much has gone into emphasising the game’s style over its playable substance that it’s a forensic operation to make sense of it.
Little things like having PDF and hardcopy versions use the same page numbering would reduce some of the friction when doing the heavily-emphasised collaborative world-building / character generation, and help newcomers as well as die-hard fans of the game get on to playing it faster.
And it makes no sense to me that there are three (different) character sheets in the hard copy of Book 2: Run (geared towards the GM), and none in the PDF versions of any of the books.
I know a lot of folks love Stolze’s postmodern writing style. But in the absence of rules that are coherently described and plainly, accessibly and consistently written, flavour text like the script-font marginalia scattered throughout or the throwaway definitions at the start of chapters just grate.
For me, it’s a massive shame. I want to run and play UA3 one-shots and campaigns, because it has absolute potential to utterly rock in actual play. And I hope I will. But I have to say that getting to that point feels more like work – not the kind you take pleasure in, but the miserable slog that you drag yourself through because you’re too far invested.
Is it worth it?
As is often asked in Unknown Armies, is it worth it? Time will tell. If I haven’t put you off and you might be interested in trying to make sense of it together in some online game sessions, please do holler. Or if you have a better handle on it than I’m getting, I’d appreciate that.
In UA parlance, I’d even go so far as to say, I want it.