Friday, June 3, 2016

UA3: Coercion Rules

This is just a quick post about the UA3 Gamma Playtest rules.  (If you want the narrative side of things, replay reports are over at Cucullus Non Facit Monachum.)

The new coercion rules got used twice last session.  If you're unfamiliar, the new edition of Unknown Armies has a new system whereby you can put pressure on somebody's Shock Gauges (the sanity mechanic of UA and the Madness Meters from UA1/UA2).  You think of appropriate leverage, make a roll, and if you succeed, that person now has a choice — do what you ask, or make a sanity check.

Examples include:

  • "See this knife?  Go up to the hill again and I'll cut you with it."  (Coerces Violence.)
  • "I know you really, really need this job.  Why don't you come back to my place tonight and I'll make sure you keep it."  (Coerces Helplessness.)
  • "I'm pretty sure your family will totally disown you if they see what's in this envelope, so why don't you tell me what I want to know, eh?"  (Coerces Isolation.)
  • "See my friend here?  Ah, good, you see him.  Yes, well, he's small enough that I could hollow out a bird and have him fly anywhere to find you.  If you don't want to see him again, you'll give me the book."  (Coerces Unnatural.)
  • "Don't do it, man!  I've got a wife and kids at home!  You're better than this!"  (Coerces Self.)
The more personalized the leverage, the bigger the sanity check.  It starts at rank-1, but if you can somehow incorporate all of your Passions and all of the target's Passions into the coercion attempt, it rises to rank-7 (rank-8 if you roll well).  If you're clever, you can reach even the most jaded person.  (And if one shock gauge doesn't work, you can always try another one.  Or just use it as an indirect measuring method — "This chick didn't blink when I pulled a big knife and threatened her, so she's probably seen some carnage in her time."  You can get more granular information than you can with the Evaluates Gauge feature, but on the other hand, you don't need to threaten anyone to Evaluate a Gauge.)

I've seen a lot of people say that the coercion rules aren't great because you'll largely be using them against non-player characters, and the Game Master can always choose to ignore the check and take the sanity hit or whatever.  However, I say that's a bad argument because the GM can always cheat.  If you're playing your NPCs correctly, it'll flow naturally.

Here are the two examples from last session:
  • Leah goes all Lysistrata on Iggy, saying that she won't sleep with him any more if he doesn't spill the beans about his dealings with her father — her Hot identity coerces Isolation (and while he might be blasé about the whole thing, this is her family she's talking about, so she manages to increase the rank of the sanity check by drawing on her own Passions).  He's a pretty cool customer, so he says that's just how things will be, but as he's ready to leave, he apparently likes this woman way more than he thought he did, and the thought of never seeing her deeply rattles him.  (Or maybe it's just the thought of having to face her dad in the morning across the meeting table.  Who knows?)  He freaks out and fails his sanity check.  Fight, flight, or freeze?  Iggy seems like he'd fall back on fighting his way out, so he starts slapping her around.  He's never been violent towards Leah before, so she makes a sanity check and fails it.  She also falls back on fighting, and now we're in a full-blown domestic dispute.  It was an unexpected outcome, to say the least.
  • Jones delivers Rebecca's message to Minnie, saying the "wrath of Atlantis" will be on her if she visits the Hollywood sign again.  He doesn't know what any of that means, but he really sells it with a Status test.  She knows he means business, and whatever the "wrath of Atlantis" means, she totally believes it.  She suddenly thinks Jones, Kevin, and Leah are way more important than they are, and if she ever heads for the Hollywood sign again, she takes a rank-3 Helplessness test.  And gets to live with the knowledge that she's just incurred the "wrath of Atlantis."
Both of those took the game in an unexpected direction (particularly the first one), and that's usually a good thing.  We really didn't expect domestic violence to be the sort of thing we'd explore in this game, and yet, now Iggy and Leah find themselves in that place.  And Minnie gave the player characters just enough information to be scared and let them know they're in way over their heads while also letting them know that they currently have a tenuous bit of leverage — anybody she tells about this encounter is going to think they're shadowy, occult badasses and will come to the table with that expectation.

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