TEAM BANSHEE: Stoon Lake, Part 2


I’m using the scenario Stoon Lakefrom the scenario collection Weep. Now, the book’s been out for some time, so it’s gotta be past the statute of limitations, especially with the third edition on its way. Still, don’t read any farther if you want to make sure you avoid knowing too much about the adventure.

In UA, knowing too much will save your life but damn your soul.


It’s been some time since the last session ((I canceled a session since then, because of work load at the day job. Very unfair, I know, but gotta pay the bills.)), so this may be a bit lacking in detail, but the next session of our UA game is tomorrow night, so I better get something up, right, folks?

The centerpiece of this past session was having a guest player, stopping in for a few days before he had to return to the wilds of academia. I had talked to him a bit about what kind of character he wanted to play, and it basically came out as “Nathan Explosion in a suit, with a brain, and some heavy-metal magick.” ((I’m paraphrasing. That was the upshot of a longer conversation.)) Now, I had just listened to a Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast where they were riffing on the idea of bone music, and suggested using that as our guest-star’s magick. I asked him to pick four heavy metal tunes that he had etched on X-rays of his own body, and then came up with a magickal effect for each of them.

I didn’t map it out like a whole school of magick; just assigned some simple mechanics to an idea suggested by each song. So, he wound up with a big blast power, a concealment power, a persuasion power, and a lesser blast power. No charges or anything; he just needed to have the X-ray with that tune with him to use the power ((No, this is NOT balanced, nor did I do ANY prior playtesting. I used to run a lot of UA back in the day, and I’m pretty good at eyeballing things in the system, so I relied on that. Plus, the fact that he would be appearing in only one session.)).

The character was essentially a pro from Dover, sent in to assess the team’s performance and loyalty ((Also, to pick up the Earhart Compass the group had nabbed.)). I set it up to build some tension and mistrust, but not too much, because I wanted everyone to have fun. It went pretty well, as TEAM BANSHEE tried to answer as few questions from him as possible ((He cornered Cruz, the team leader, and used his persuasion powers to get some truth from him, but not overly prejudicial stuff)) while figuring out what was going on with this whole Bigfoot thing. There ensued several strange interviews, multiple break-ins, the robbery of a Bigfoot Museum, and a high-publicity video made with the mayor.

Things finally broke for our heroes when Leggy used a bit of videomancer magick to make the guy who reported being attacked by Bigfoot to confess the truth. He told them that the broken leg was caused by the dog ((The gang was suspicious of the dog right from the start, to be fair. There was a strangely lengthy discussion early in the session about stealing it, and the phrase “carry the dog” became a euphemism for pretty much anything for the rest of the session.)) knocking him off the ladder as he cleaned the gutters at his mother’s house. He told the Bigfoot story to try and mess up plans by the mayor to capitalize on Bigfoot sightings for tourism ((Yeah, there was a whole weird childhood rivalry between the guy and the mayor.)). ((The way this spell works, the target confesses as if he or she were on Jerry Springer or similar – lots of shouting, lots of bleeped-out words. I put a little too much into it, and almost lost my voice.))

I was just relaxing into the wrap-up of the session, when one of the players remembered a loose end ((Really, it was a red herring that they’d never followed up, so I had kind of written it off.)) – a weird recluse who owned land said to be a Bigfoot burial ground. He was unwilling to let them in past his high-tech security perimeter fence, so they conned their way in posing as the Sheriff. Once on the grounds, they found the house was pretty much a fortress, and their target sealed it up and hid in the panic room. He also called for help, which came in the form of a couple helicopters full of black-ops NSA teams.

So, because they had given away too much about themselves, they killed the fellow ((A high-level NSA decryption coder, with a number of emotional issues, including agoraphobia.)), and tried to get out as the helicopters came in over the trees. It wasn’t looking good, until Mr. Explosion lived up to his name: he used the big blast thing I had developed to target one of the helicopters and tried to buy the rest of characters a chance to escape.

Escape they did, as their assessor fought a hopeless battle to keep off pursuit. A big explosion as the team slammed their SUV through the closed security gate and out onto the highway, and fade to black.

Next session, I’m not using a canned adventure. I’m bringing the team to the site of my old UA campaign to recruit ((Or eliminate.)) a potential TNI asset. They probably won’t run into any of the characters from the old game. At least, not if they’re careful and quiet.

What are the odds, huh?

TEAM BANSHEE: Stoon Lake, Part 1


I’m using the scenario Stoon Lakefrom the scenario collection Weep. Now, the book’s been out for some time, so it’s gotta be past the statute of limitations, especially with the third edition on its way. Still, don’t read any farther if you want to make sure you avoid knowing too much about the adventure.

In UA, knowing too much will save your life but damn your soul.


This session was really about half-and-half Pinfeathers and Stoon Lake. The team had a few loose ends they wanted to wrap up in Boston, so I let them do that before giving them their next assignment.

One thing I forgot in my last post was the cliffhanger I ended the session on ((To be honest, I forgot to include it in the post because I forgot that I had done that. I don’t really know how I forgot; I was inordinately pleased with myself when I pulled it off.)) – the team showed up at the Circle’s Edge bookshop to meet with the Flock ((Against the specific instructions of EPONYMOUS.)) and found that everyone in the room was dead.

Fade to black.

We picked it up right there this session ((After the group reminded me of where things stood, and I pretended that I had known all along.)), and the squad did a quick investigation of the scene, finding that everyone had been herded together and shot. There were no casings around, and no reports of noises, so the gang thought that weapons like their hush-puppy pistols.

They fled the scene just ahead of the police sirens, and sat in the car for a little while eavesdropping on the police using their police scanner. They didn’t learn a whole lot more, as the cops became very careful in what they broadcast once the scope of the crime became apparent. Luckily, Leggy had used her videomancy to create a video record of the scene, and they decided to find a safe place to hole up overnight and see what else they could uncover.

First, though, they headed over to Sid’s place, because his body was not at the bookshop. There, they found Sid dead, shot execution style, at his open floor safe. A business card in the trash led them to the hotel where the mysterious Angela ((The Flying Woman avatar who kicked their asses the previous session.)) was staying. Still ignoring EPONYMOUS’s orders to stay away from the whole situation, they figured they could make one more try at salvaging something from their mission ((Besides, of course, Amelia Earhart’s compass, which they had already stolen from Sid’s floor safe. And the text file of Sid’s ritual plans.)).

The video they had didn’t reveal much more information, but they managed to scam the room number of Angela’s room in hotel from the night clerk at the front desk. When they broke into her room, they found her dead, as well, spiked to the ceiling with the words “Hush Hush” carved into her belly. More Sleeper work.

They spent the night cleaning up the mess and disposing of the body, then hit the road. About that time, EPONYMOUS called them, asking where they were. Cruz told him that they were just about to head back to base, and was told to head to a nearby Kinko’s to pick up their next assignment.

That assignment sent them to the small town of Stoon Lake, Minnesota, to investigate a report of a Bigfoot attack. Their initial investigations haven’t yielded much, yet, though they met the mother of the man who was attacked, plus her very large dog, and the reporter who wrote the story.

The meeting with the reporter didn’t go well. They had hoped, what with her history with strange stories, that she might be a valuable contact with useful information about the occult underground. But the reporter had been burned pretty badly ((Figuratively.)) by her contact with the weird stuff, having lost her job in the city and being stuck out in a little weekly regional paper, so she was less than welcoming. She was downright paranoid, and somewhat abusive, and she really pissed off Skye, who had been hoping to use their common interest in journalism to leverage some co-operation ((Sorry, Fera.)).

That was when we called the game for the evening. It wasn’t a very conclusive session, but it moved them from the last assignment into the new one.

I ran Stoon Lake for my previous UA group many years ago, and it turned out to be the deadliest scenario in that entire campaign. Not necessarily because of the enemy; we lost one character and almost lost another to friendly fire incidents ((That’s what you get with heavily armed, but decidedly urban, bad-asses wandering around the bush at night hunting for Bigfoot.)). Only the epideromancer rolling his bones with a deliberate car crash saved them – he got enough juice to rewrite the previous half-hour or so.

I don’t think this time through will be quite so bad. But you never know.

Next session is tomorrow night, and we’ve got a guest player for the evening. He’s going to be a TNI honcho come to check on the PCs, because they seem to be keeping secrets and playing pretty loose with TNI rules.

Should be fun.

TEAM BANSHEE: Pinfeathers, Part 2


I’m using the scenario Pinfeathers from the UA 2nd Edition rulebook for the first adventure in our UA campaign. Now, the book’s been out for twelve years, and Pinfeathers was originally released as a free adventure for the first edition, so it’s gotta be past the statute of limitations, especially with the third edition on its way. Still, don’t read any farther if you want to make sure you avoid knowing too much about the adventure.

In UA, knowing too much will save your life but damn your soul.


This was an interesting second session of our UA campaign. The characters spent most of the time trying to clean up the mess they made in the previous session. They had chased a woman into traffic, where she was hit and killed, and then grabbed her purse and driven away in their TNI-issued SUV ((That’s enough initialisms for one paragraph, yeah?)). So, their first order of business was to swap the plates on their vehicle.

This led to a caper comedy of our less-than-inconspicuous heroes ((“Heroes” may be the wrong word for UA PCs. It’s certainly highly debatable for this group of characters. But it is traditional.)) prowled residential streets, stole license plates, fast-talked patrolling police officers, and calling on contacts to get a replacement vehicle. After that, they thought they’d go check out the hotel room their ((Kind of.)) victim had been staying in, to see if they could learn a little more about what was actually going on.

They split the party at that point, for some reason that seemed entirely reasonable but, upon reflection, may have been not-so-good. In the hotel room, two of them were taken at gunpoint by an unseen man who bound them and left them facedown on the floor before vanishing just ahead of the other two PCs arriving. The only traces they had of him were the zip ties on the wrists of the ((Very embarrassed.)) hostages, and the word “HUSH” written on the bathroom mirror.

This got Cruz all fired up, because he had, at one point, been a low-level operative of the Sleepers before TNI snatched him. So, he knew that was a Sleeper warning sign, and that the Sleepers are major-league bad-asses in the Occult Underground. With that information, TEAM BANSHEE called in for directions, and were told by Eponymous in no uncertain terms to break off the operation and not to engage further with the Flock, Sid, or the crazy ritual that was going to happen in a few days.

That rankled a bit, so the team decided that, if nothing else, they could burgle Sid’s place and steal the compass they found there – the one that they think belonged to Amelia Earhart. That’s where they ran into the mysterious Angela that their previous victim had been worried about – she showed up and started to pick the lock of the apartment while they were already inside, so they yanked her inside and tried to knock her unconscious to take and interview her later.

Two things really interfered with that: first, it’s very hard to actually just knock someone out without doing enough damage to possibly kill them ((This is reflected in the combat mechanics of UA – if you get really, really lucky, you might be able manage it, but mostly you have to beat your victim into dreamland in an ugly, violent manner, and hope that he or she doesn’t just die from it.)). Second, Angela is a fairly powerful avatar of the Flying Woman, which means it is very, very hard to capture, confine, or restrict her.

A third factor was the fact that I had introduced the idea of Madness checks this session ((None of the players had played UA before this campaign, so I’m building the complexity of the rules at a slower pace.)). In the midst of trying to capture Angela, there were a couple failed Violence and Unnatural checks. I was tempted to throw in a Helplessness test or two as she kept slipping out of their grasp, but I thought that would just be cruel.

So, the team’s first real combat in the game turned into a confused, desperate, panicked, and chaotic mess, just the way it should be. It ended with Angela literally flying away out a mysteriously open window, and our heroes took their stolen compass and skedaddled.

We’re playing again tonight, and I’m not sure if the group is going to cut and leave things in Boston alone, or if they’re going to defy their orders and see if they can observe the Flock’s ritual and see what happens when Sid tries to channel the power of the Flying Woman through his male body.

I’ve got their next assignment ready, just in case. It happens to be another adventure I ran years ago in my first UA campaign, and had a surprisingly high body count for what it was. It may have been – to my complete and utter shock – the deadliest scenario that group ever got mixed up in.

We’ll see how TEAM BANSHEE handles the mystery of… STOON LAKE!

TEAM BANSHEE: Pinfeathers, Part 1


I’m using the scenario Pinfeathers from the UA 2nd Edition rulebook for the first adventure in our UA campaign. Now, the book’s been out for twelve years, and Pinfeathers was originally released as a free adventure for the first edition, so it’s gotta be past the statute of limitations, especially with the third edition on its way. Still, don’t read any farther if you want to make sure you avoid knowing too much about the adventure.

In UA, knowing too much will save your life but damn your soul.


It’s been a while since I ran Unknown Armies, so I decided to go with a canned scenario for the first stage of the campaign. Looking through the books, I waffled between a few, but finally settled on Pinfeathers from the rulebook. The reasons:

  • It’s a cool scenario.
  • I’ve run it before ((Though it ended in a very strange confrontation and the death of a major canon NPC.)).
  • It’s a very flexible scenario that lets me respond to player actions.
  • It holds off on the weirdness, letting the PCs find their way into it slowly ((Unlike, say, Bill in Three Persons, the other intro scenario in the book.)).
  • It offers a variety of motivations for the different NPCs, so you can tweak the adventure to suit your group.

I did up a mission briefing for the group ((They’re playing a TNI wild card squad.)), and handed it out at the start of the game. It gave a bit of background, along with the transcript of a vision one of the TNI seers had which started the whole thing off.

We spent a little time with the group reading over the briefing, me answering some basic questions about working with for TNI and the system, and letting everyone meet the new member of the team ((One player was unable to make it to the character creation session, so we finished up her character – Skye, a woman with the Sight, on the run from the folks who wiped out her little cult – just before this session.)). Then we got down to the actual adventure.

They went off to Boston and to the Circle’s Edge bookstore, where they met the owner, Sid. Skye did most of the talking, being familiar with the kind of New Age philosophy Sid and the Flock espoused ((On a personal note, I was both surprised and a little disturbed how easily and fluently I could spin that line of blather. Vestiges of reading a lot of crap researching different kinds of magic for games.)). She got a good pitch on the Flock, and an invitation to one of their meetings in the cafe above the bookstore.

After the store closed, Leggy ((Formerly Cooper – after seeing the video for Bad Romance, the player decided to rename her character Leggy Dada. Watch your overcoat!)) and Skye followed the woman who worked in the cafe, while Cruz and Neon followed Sid. They found where each lived.

This is where things really started to fall into the UA style of play. I had been a little worried about getting the style and feel that make UA such a fun and distinct game. None of the players were familiar with the game, and initial discussions made me worried that they were looking at it like a Charles deLint story ((Nothing against those; I love Charles deLint stories. I’ve read pretty much all of them. But they ain’t UA.)), but I needn’t have worried.

So, Leggy and Skye decided to break in to the woman’s apartment and searching it while she was in the shower. That ended with them sneaking away from the cops with the help of Neon’s magick, and no useful information gained ((Well, they found a little shrine to the Divine Feminine in her closet, but what else do you expect in a devout neo-pagan’s closet?)).

They also had a little run-in with a mysterious woman, tried to follow her, and wound up confronted by her. Again, no really useful information, but some fun roleplaying.

Next day, they did a little more B&E, this time at Sid’s place while he was at work. They managed to find an old aviator’s compass that resonated with power, as well as a copy of the big ritual that the Flock was planning for the next week or so. They left everything where it was, hoping to use their knowledge as leverage if they needed it.

When they went back to check out the bookstore again, they saw the same mysterious woman from the night before in a coffee shop across the street. Again, Skye went to confront her. They had a conversation almost entirely at cross purposes, with neither understanding the hints and references the other was making, and then there was a gun, and people started running, and the mysterious woman was run down by a car in the street.

TEAM BANSHEE then employed the sophisticated TNI-approved strategy – “Cheese it! It’s the cops!” They regrouped at their hotel to try and figure out what was going on and what they should do next.

Which is where we left it.

I’m going to be setting up the next game for early in the new year. So far, we’re having a lot of fun.

You did it.

TEAM BANSHEE: Recruitment

Around last September, I was asked to run a game for a friend whose husband was going off to the wilds of Queens University to finish his doctorate. I sent her a list of games that I could run for her, along with a brief description of each, and asked her to pick one out, and to let me know who else she wanted to invite to the game. She narrowed the list down to six choices, and the four people ((Plus me.)) who signed up for the game voted on which one sounded best to them.

The winner was a game very dear to my heart: Unknown Armies.

That made me very happy, but UA has significantly more upfront work than something like, say, Apocalypse World or D&D. The first thing we had to come up with was the campaign frame.

I pitched them a couple, and we discussed it online, and the group was split. They were interested in playing a team of agents for TNI or the Sleepers, or playing a group on the run from one of those groups. I thought about it for a bit, and then gave them this pitch:

Chain Gang
You thought you were smart. You had the world figured out. Maybe you had the inside track on weird stuff in your neighbourhood, or were a consummate bad-ass, or maybe you even had a little mojo yourself. Whatever it was, you thought you were large and in charge.

But something went wrong. Something bad.

And, just like magic, someone showed up and made the problem disappear. Unfortunately, you had to disappear along with the problem. Now, you’ve got a new name and a new job. Your name is an alias, and your job is doing whatever The New Inquisition tells you to do. Yeah, they saved you, but they have no intention of letting you go. You owe them. You’re useful. And now, they own you.

When you own someone as completely as TNI owns you, you give them all the shit jobs.

Some of the things you’ve done for TNI don’t sit well with you. And they’re getting worse. They know they have you over a barrel, and they’re taking advantage of that. You’ve committed crimes for them, committed blasphemies for them. You’ve sinned against the law and the church and humanity and reality itself. You need to get out before you lose what’s left of your self.

Yeah, they own you. But not every part of you. And not forever.

You’ll show them.

Because the UA universe has a particular flavour, and the players weren’t really familiar with it, I pointed out some important considerations for this campaign frame:

  • I’ve tried to mix the feel of the TNI/Sleeper team with the feel of the fugitives/outlaw frames.
  • The fact that you have all been rather forcefully recruited means that it’s cool to have disparate backgrounds, and even ties to other cabals. So, if you want to be, e.g., a Grail Knight still focused on your quest, but now roped into doing TNI’s dirty work, or a member of a mystical outlaw biker gang working for TNI to avoid going to prison forever, that’s totally cool.
  • In a frame like this, you’ll have to come up with one extra piece of background for your character: what went so horribly wrong that the only out you had was disappearing into TNI.
  • The idea in a set-up like this is that the first couple of adventures will be doing nasty stuff for TNI. At some point – not too soon, but not too late, either – you’ll make your break from TNI, and then the game turns into a fugitives frame.
  • Because the idea in this framework is for you to really chafe at working for TNI, I will not be gentle with your characters while you work for them. I will do my best to hurt them – not necessarily physically, but I will certainly gut-punch their souls and consciences.

They decided they liked that pitch, and so we moved forward.

We got together about three weeks ago for character creation. I planned to use the session to create characters, instill some of the UA feeling in the players to shape their expectations, and build some more detail into the campaign using Backstory Cards. There was a bit of a glitch, as one of the players had to cancel, but we decided to go ahead anyway, and work something out with our missing player after the fact.

Character creation was fun. We got all three characters worked out, which takes a while for first-time UA players. The passions and drives take some fiddling to get right, and the skill system has some nuances to it that can take some time to explain and grasp. But, in the end, we had our characters:

  • Cooper, a videomancer obsessed with Twin Peaks, that TNI hunted down and forcefully recruited once she started messing with network executives to get the show back on the air.
  • Cruz Gibson, an ex-special forces, ex-Sleeper agent who managed to burn ALL his bridges behind him, and took TNI’s offer of “employment” rather than get snatched by a Sleeper hit squad.
  • Neon Shadow, a kleptomancer hacker and thief, who ran afoul of the Five Families in magick-free NYC by using his mojo to try and steal the Kimberly Diamond, and thus was amenable to a new job offer.

Then we trotted out the Backstory Cards. I backed these on Kickstarter, and had the print-and-play basic set. The horror or noir expansions would have been nice, but the basic set worked just fine for us. In short order, we had enough background worked out to see the dynamic of the team: the bromance between Neon and Cruz, Cooper’s unrequited love ((Or maybe lust.)) for Cruz, and Neon’s general manipulation of everyone and everything, and Cooper and Neon’s rivalry. Also, it brought Eponymous into things, as the one who prevented Cooper from attending Comic Con where the Twin Peaks miniseries was announced, and the big stick that keeps Cruz and Neon in line.

And they came up with their own unit name, in keeping with TNI practice: TEAM BANSHEE.

I’ve compiled a setting bible for the team and sent it out for their review. It’s incomplete, mainly because it doesn’t include anything about our fourth player’s character, because that character is just a concept right now.

I’ve given the player some options for her character: she can be the newest member of the team, with minimal connection to them ((So, no connecting Backstory Cards.)); she can be a standard member of the team ((So, we’ll do her Backstory Cards at the first session.)); or the team’s first assignment can be to recruit her character for TNI. I told her to think about that stuff, but not make any decisions until she had seen the setting bible.

I’ve sent it out, now, Fera. I’m going to start pestering you for decisions, and trying to set up a time to create your character.

So, that’s it. We’re almost set to start playing. I’m looking forward to it.

And, for the record, Backstory Cards absolutely rock.