It was a weird experience when I first read over the file of Unknown Armies 3rd edition and discovered that their basic list of adept schools was 100% new and around half of their archetypes were new as well. Though it was cool to have a lot of new weird magic stuff, especially with a couple of the concepts clearly taking centre stage in the section describing modern events in the Occult Underground, it seemed like the new rulebook had devoted itself a a little too much to throwing out the old. After all, certain magic schools such as Mechanomancy and Pornomancy still play a big part in the world of Unknown Armies. In particular, it was strange to see the Sect of the Naked Goddess be extensively discussed in the 3rd edition core rules, but have no space for Pornomancy itself. It also reminded me how strangely eclectic the core list of UA archetypes feels in the basic rulebook. A lot of eccentric concepts tossed together while some very, well, “archetypal” archetypes getting surprisingly short shift (for example, the Trickster has appeared in none of the core books, only in the Statosphere supplement).
That being the case, and because I always like tinkering with role-playing stuff, I’ve decided to figure out what I thought were the most “core” Unknown Armies avatars and archetypes – the ones I felt were either the most pivotal for the characters in the world or for their central ideas. To give myself limits, I decided to only list the same amount of archetypes and adept schools that UA 2nd edition had: 14 archetypes and 12 adept schools. In perhaps a very UA moment, I discovered that I ended up one over in both categories and couldn’t bring myself to drop any of them. So here are the 15 archetypes and 13 schools that seem to be the most important.
I’ve always found the avatar list in the basic Unknown Armies books to be something of an oddball assortment, especially in the 1st edition book. The two most prominent investigators of the archetype concept were the psychology Carl Jung and the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who both outlined what they felt were the main archetypes – Jung from a psychological perspective and Campbell from his concept of the “Hero’s Journey” (the different archetypes that embody the roles in a heroic story). I feel that the main archetypes in Unknown Armies should link to Jung and Campbell, as well as to the stories in the game itself.
With that in mind, here are the 15 archetypes I’d identify as the “core” ones in UA, either because they were core for Jung and Campbell or because they are used by prominent characters and cabals within the game itself. There are certainly far more archetypes running around in the world, but these are the most important.
- Demagogue. Was channelled by Randy Douglas, leader of the True Order of St. Germain/Global Liberation Society. Though his group is gone by 3e, it is also the archetype of 3e’s Ulrike Frink, agent of the Milk.
- Executioner. One of Campbell’s main archetypes is the Guardian, who challenges the Hero at various stages of his cycle and is often an agent of the Shadow. The Executioner works pretty well as the general “villain flunky” archetype.
- Fool. A good embodiment of Jung’s idea of the Maiden & Child, as well as an archetype used by several UA NPCs and the only archetype in the main book of all three editions. A pivotal archetype in numerous ways.
- Guide. Though it was only recently added via 3rd edition, it is clearly the same archetype as Campbell’s “Mentor” and Jung’s “Wise Old Man,” and so certainly should be counted as one of the main archetypes.
- Merchant. A minor UA NPC from the first rulebook and a prominent one in Postmodern Magick are both avatars of the Merchant, and an entire adventure is set around them. Perhaps more importantly, it just has so much style. Thea ability to buy and sell anything opens up so many Mephistophelian opportunities.
- Messenger. Clearly the same as Campbell’s “Herald.” Furthermore, it’s the archetype of Dermott Arkane, one of the most prominent avatars in the game and the spark of many adventures.
- Mother. Not only is it a prominent Jung archetype, but also the UA rulebook itself describes the Mother as one of the oldest and most potent one. It clearly should be treated as such.
- Mystic Hermaphrodite/Sexual Rebis. The archetype was turned inside out in 3rd edition, but still remains the joining of two genders and fundamental concepts. It has elements of Jung’s Anima/Animus, and incorporates elements of alchemy that were important for Jung. Furthermore, it is the archetype of the Freak, one of the game’s most prominent NPCs.
- Naked Goddess. Like the Sexual Rebis, this has ties to the Anima. More importantly, it is the figure venerated by the Sect of the Naked Goddess, and the focus of one of its factions.
- Pilgrim. Jeeter, a prominent NPC, is a Pilgrim. Also, like the Merchant, this avatar matches UA’s vibe of occult exploration so perfectly.
- Trickster. Probably the most noticeably absence from all the main books. One of the most prominent archetypes in Jung and Campbell, though relegated to one of UA’s supplements. Should be featured more prominently.
- True King. Erica Fisher, avatar of the True King, has become one of the leaders of Mak Attax, and most of the prominent avatars period.
- Two-Faced Man. Comparable to Campbell’s concept of the “Shapeshifter,” who no one is sure is a hero or a villain.
- Unsung Champion. Campbell’s “Ally,” the person who assists the main character.
- Warrior. The archetype that best captures the “Hero” that is present in both Jung and Campbell.
Both Jung and Campbell also talk about the Shadow – the nemesis of the Hero who often shares attributes that the Hero seeks to deny in himself. No Unknown Armies archetype seems to fulfill that particular element, and perhaps it isn’t needed. Arguably the Warrior with an opposing ideal would capture that the best.
Unlike archetypes, adept schools do not derive from any pre-existing psychological plan which should be accommodated. Thus, these “most important” schools are based on whether they were prominently used by NPCs or cabals in the game, and/or if their concepts were in someway important to the themes of Unknown Armies.
- Cliomancy. Dugan Forsythe was one of the most powerful and influential adepts of the 20th-century and Cliomancy plays a big role in the development of the Sleepers.
- Dipsomancy. Practised by Dirk Allen, one of the game’s most prominent NPCs
- Entropomancy. Practised by Jeeter, another prominent NPC. Also this school connects effectively to the “Order and Chaos” theme that the game sometimes used.
- Epideromancy. The magick of the Freak, one of the most frightfully potent figures in the game.
- GNOMON. The strange Internet power that derives from the new cabal Flex Echo.
- Mechanomancy. The source of various clockwork monsters in the game, the magick school of Superconductor, and a good school for showing how definitions of magick and power change in the game – the movement from “modern magick” to “postmodern magick.”
- Motumancy. The magick of rebellion practised by one of the Naked Goddess’ powerful new splinter sects.
- Narco-Alchemy. Though it hasn’t prominently been used in the game yet, it is an intense magick school that shows how old occult ideas get modernized in the world.
- Personomancy. The magick of identity is a compelling one, and practised by Dame Benedicta in the 3rd edition core books.
- Plutomancy. An effective magick school for showing the links between magick and power, acquisition and illumination.
- Pornomancy. Probably the most prominent magick school in the game, the teachings of the Sect of the Naked Goddess.
- Sociomancy. One of the new magick schools. Subcultures are such a defining part of human society, especially in the Internet Age, that a magick school drawing upon this makes a lot of spiritual sense.
- Urbanomancy. The magick of cities has been used in so many works of fiction that it feels so universal.