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Publisher of award-winning card games, board games, and roleplaying game books. Check out Gloom, Once Upon a Time, Lunch Money, and Ars Magica at [email protected]
Updated: 11 hours 16 min ago

5 Ways GMing Is Like Running A Meeting

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 18:55
Intimidation keeps a lot of people from trying their hand at GMing. It's hard to believe you have the skills to juggle all the different factors and personalities. I ran my first-ever RPG session recently, despite being a lifelong gamer. I was nervous, but quickly discovered that I was using many of the same skills from leading meetings and trainings. I'd been GMing the world's most boring RPG all along!

So, for New Gamemaster Month, here are five ways that running a game is like running a meeting:


1.  Meetings start with introductions, explanations of the current situation, and a recap from all players about their own place in the plan. In a meeting, it might sound like this: "I'm Brad. I'm the tech team lead for the new password system set to launch Sunday night. Honestly, most of my time now is spent trying to keep the 24th floor from freaking out."
                       
In a game, the same thing might sounds like this: "I'm Kaerg. I'm still in the city where we're trying to steal the key and leave by water at night. I've been ingratiating myself with the merchant's guards so Groma's distraction will work."
2.   Meetings review the course of action and confirm everyone's place in the plan, especially those parts that require a player to use a special ability or asset no one else can contribute. In a company, that might be a personal connection or training no one else has. In a game, it might take the form of a rare magic item the character might be tempted to use for their own gain instead of the group's.
3.   Boredom is the meeting-killer. If people don't feel like they have an essential, ongoing role, they fall away from the meeting, and they tend to take others with them into distraction. This can also take place in-game, where the meeting isn't the only thing that could get killed by boredom. Keep an eye out for restlessness among inactive players who might split the group to find some action on their own.

4.   Throw out parts of your agenda if a new, better track presents itself. You may think that the only way to success goes through that one point, but others often perceive different potential pathways. And if everyone already knows the rules, skip that part of the agenda too. Filling in a single player can be taken offline by the GM or another player who can explain what's needed.
5.   Give all attendees their moments of contribution, so they build the world and the plan as a thing they helped create. Be sure to incorporate people's plan and suggestions with a "yes, and" as opposed to just rejecting them. The personal investment they make brings them back as a regular team-member.

Categories: Company News

New Game Master Month

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:53
Atlas Games has partnered with Monte Cook Games and Pelgrane Press to help anyone who's always wanted to run tabletop roleplaying games gather the confidence and the resources to actually do it. We know that this hobby can't grow without folks stepping up to become GMs, but it can seem overwhelming and intimidating to take that first step.This month, we're here to help with a series of step-by-step guides for learning how to run our games that are custom-designed for three RPGs, including Unknown Armies. You can start in January and be running your first game by February. Follow this link for details!

Categories: Company News

How to Play Cursed Court

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 18:11
Cursed Court arrives with distributors tomorrow, so today's a good time to learn to play!

For a deeper dive, check out the Cursed Court product page, the Cursed Court rulebook, or download the 3D model files for Cursed Court's crowns and coins to print on your own 3D printer.

 Enjoy!
Categories: Company News

Cursed Court Teaser Video

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 23:33
If you like elegant boardgames that are easy to learn but have deep strategy, take a deeper dive on the Cursed Court product page.
Categories: Company News

First Review of Witches of the Revolution

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 14:36
Bower's Game Corner has posted the first video review of Witches of the Revolution. You should (of course!) watch it for yourself, but here are some of our favorite excerpts:

“I enjoyed Witches of the Revolution… [a] rock-solid one to four player game.”
“Very well done — huge thumbs up on the rule booklet.”
“I love, love, love this board.”
“Component-wise, it’s fantastic. The box insert is outstanding. The board is super-stinking useful — take note other game companies, this is what your board should look like[.] [Board design] is about user-friendliness…and this is a very user friendly board.”
“Tons of replay value.”
“I like it as a solo game.”
“I love the differences [from other games].”
Categories: Company News

Atlas' Gen Con 50 Preview

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 16:48
August 17-20 marks the 50th anniversary of Gen Con, and we'll be there! We're hosting a plethora of games and panels, in addition to demoing games from open to close in the Exhibit Hall all weekend long. Come find us at booth 1401 and check out our event schedule below to get the skinny on all of our newest games, including special previews of Over the Edge 3rd Edition!



Ars Magica Panel
Thursday
6:00 PM
1 hr $0

Cursed Court
Thursday
12:00 PM
2 hrs $2

Cursed Court
Thursday
4:00 PM
2 hrs $2

Cursed Court
Friday
12:00 PM
2 hrs $2

Cursed Court
Friday
4:00 PM
2 hrs $2

Cursed Court
Saturday
12:00 PM
2 hrs $2

Cursed Court
Saturday
4:00 PM
2 hrs $2

Lost in R'lyeh
Thursday
10:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Lost in R'lyeh
Friday
10:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Lost in R'lyeh
Saturday
10:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Over the Edge 25th Anniversary Panel
Thursday
5:00 PM
1 hr $0

Pillar of Fire RPG Panel
Saturday
5:00 PM
1 hr $0

Return to Al Amarja*
Over the Edge, 3rd Ed
Friday
9:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Return to Al Amarja*
Over the Edge, 3rd Ed
Friday
11:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Return to Al Amarja*
Over the Edge, 3rd Ed
Saturday
9:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Return to Al Amarja*
Over the Edge, 3rd Ed
Saturday
11:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Thunderhead Mesa*
Unknown Armies, 3rd Ed
Thursday
1:00 PM
3 hrs $12

Thunderhead Mesa*
Unknown Armies, 3rd Ed
Friday
1:00 PM
3 hrs $12

Thunderhead Mesa*
Unknown Armies, 3rd Ed
Saturday
1:00 PM
3 hrs $12

Unknown Armies Panel
Friday
5:00 PM
1 hr $0

The Very Gloomiest Afternoon Tea Party
Gloom, 2nd Ed
Thursday
2:00 PM
2 hrs $2

The Very Gloomiest Afternoon Tea Party
Gloom, 2nd Ed
Friday
2:00 PM
2 hrs $2

The Very Gloomiest Afternoon Tea Party
Gloom, 2nd Ed
Saturday
2:00 PM
2 hrs $2

What's Up with Feng Shui from Atlas Games
Friday
6:00 PM
1 hr $0

Witches of the Revolution
Thursday
9:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Witches of the Revolution
Friday
9:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Witches of the Revolution
Saturday
9:00 AM
2 hrs $2

Writing & Design Panel
Saturday
6:00 PM
1 hr $0


* These events are currently sold out. However, we encourage you to drop by prior to the start of the game, as ticket-holder dropouts or no-shows do occasionally happen.
Categories: Company News

Opening the Statosphere!

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 19:09
In Unknown Armies, the Statosphere is the realm of pure ideas, a place that those who truly embody a principle or archetype can ascend to, to join the Invisible Clergy that shall ultimately become as one in the form of the demiurge. Or at least that's the running theory.

For the rest of us, though, the Statosphere is the name for Atlas Games' new partnership with OneBookShelf to create a place that fans of Unknown Armies can share their own creative ideas for the game. If you've always wanted to publish that adventure idea, or that creepy game master character, or that new adept school of magick, the Statosphere is here for you to do so and earn a little income in the process.

We've already seeded the Statosphere with two products from UA3 writers Tim Dedopulos and WJ MacGuffin, as well as a handy template package (Word and InDesign) to get you started. Follow the link above for all of the details and a list of content guidelines.

We look forward to seeing you ascend!
Categories: Company News

Atlas And Origins 2017

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 19:20
Origins is right around the corner—June 14th-18th—and as always, we'll be there! We're hosting over 50 events in four days, in addition to our usual dealer's room space where we'll be running demos all day, every day. Get a look at new games, like Witches of the Revolution and Cursed Court, or settle in to enjoy old favorites like Gloom and Feng Shui. Our entire schedule is available below so you can start planning now!

See you in Columbus!




Event Date Time Hounded 6/14/17 12:00 PM Lost in R'lyeh 6/14/17 12:00 PM Hounded 6/14/17 2:00 PM Three Cheers for Master 6/14/17 2:00 PM Hounded 6/14/17 4:00 PM Lost in R'lyeh 6/14/17 4:00 PM Hounded 6/14/17 6:00 PM Fairytale Gloom 6/14/17 6:00 PM Three Cheers for Master 6/15/17 8:00 AM Unknown Armies GM Workshop 6/15/17 10:00 AM Hounded 6/15/17 10:00 AM Witches of the Revolution 6/15/17 12:00 PM Lost in R'lyeh 6/15/17 12:00 PM Gloom in Space 6/15/17 2:00 PM Hounded 6/15/17 2:00 PM Cursed Court 6/15/17 4:00 PM Once Upon a Time 6/15/17 4:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/15/17 6:00 PM Hounded 6/15/17 6:00 PM Cursed Court 6/15/17 8:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/15/17 8:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/16/17 8:00 AM Witches of the Revolution 6/16/17 10:00 AM Lost in R'lyeh 6/16/17 10:00 AM Cursed Court 6/16/17 12:00 PM Once Upon a Time 6/16/17 12:00 PM Gloom in Space 6/16/17 2:00 PM Hounded 6/16/17 2:00 PM Feng Shui 2 6/16/17 2:00 PM Cursed Court 6/16/17 4:00 PM Three Cheers for Master 6/16/17 4:00 PM Hounded 6/16/17 6:00 PM Lost in R'lyeh 6/16/17 6:00 PM Cursed Court 6/16/17 8:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/16/17 8:00 PM Cursed Court 6/17/17 8:00 AM Witches of the Revolution 6/17/17 10:00 AM Three Cheers for Master 6/17/17 10:00 AM Cursed Court 6/17/17 12:00 PM Hounded 6/17/17 12:00 PM The Very Gloomiest Tea Party 6/17/17 2:00 PM Feng Shui 2 6/16/17 2:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/17/17 4:00 PM Once Upon a Time 6/17/17 4:00 PM Lost in R'lyeh 6/17/17 6:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/17/17 6:00 PM Cursed Court 6/17/17 8:00 PM Witches of the Revolution 6/17/17 8:00 PM Cursed Court 6/18/17 10:00 AM Lost in R'lyeh 6/18/17 10:00 AM Witches of the Revolution 6/18/17 12:00 PM Hounded 6/18/17 12:00 PM Fairytale Gloom 6/18/17 2:00 PM Three Cheers for Master 6/18/17 2:00 PM
* Note that all events are 2 hours in duration














Categories: Company News

Introducing The White Box

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 17:03
Here at Atlas Games, we think game design is pretty great. If you think so too, we've got something new we think you'll like:

The White Box components image
The White Box is a game design workshop-in-a-box. It contains a book of essays and a whole bunch of prototyping pieces to help you get the game ideas out of your head and onto the table.

The White Box is Kickstarting right now. We're producing it in cooperation with creator Jeremy Holcomb and our friends at Gameplaywright. The White Box will ship in October, in time for holiday gifting.

If you're the kind of person who thinks game design is awesome — or if you know someone who is — have a look!
Categories: Company News

TableTop Day at Our FLGS

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 20:52
This Saturday is International TableTop Day! In addition to having supported some cool retail events around the country, the Atlas Games staff will be out in force at our own friendly local game store, Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota.

Come by and play some old favorites, or even a few titles you can't try anywhere else because they're still at press or in the final stages of development.

  • Cursed Court — 12:00p
  • Feng Shui 2 — 2:00p
  • Godsforge — 10:00a, 12:00p
  • Lost in R'lyeh — 4:00p
  • Unknown Armies 3 — 4:00p
  • Witches of the Revolution — 10:00a
We hope to see you there, Twin Cities locals!
Categories: Company News

Letter Head: And The Winners Are...

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 15:39
In August of 2016 we launched the first ever Letter Head Design Challenge. The call went out to fans and designers everywhere to submit their own game designs utilizing the Letter Head deck. The response was fantastic, and after extensive playtesting, heated exchanges, and shed tears,* we still couldn't arrive at our favorite five. So instead, we broke our own rules and chose six.

And now those six games are available to everyone for free! All you need are a few friends and a Letter Head deck for hours of fun with these unique games that stretch and reimagine Letter Head in all new ways.
  • Anagrabs by Steve Dee. Claim letters from a common pool to form words. But beware, cards you’ve already used are still up for (ana)grabs!
  • Draw! Beat Down Their Weapons! by Jonathan Woodard. Escort your convoys through a dangerous forest, engaging in duels of witty vocabulary with highwaymen who want to make off with your precious cargo.
  • Gadsby! by Steve Dee Inspired by Ernest Vincent Wright’s 1939 lipogrammatic novel of the same name, your challenge is to create words that do not use the letter E, while looking for opportunities to add Es to other players’ words and thus negate their score. 
  • Letter Mine by J. Walton. Explore a series of subterranean tunnels, mining letters from the rock itself in a race to build words faster than the other players. 
  • Tensorial Relations by Nick Wedig. A deckbuilding word game in which the words you create enable you to buy even better cards. When all the cards have been purchased, the player with the highest scoring deck wins!
  • Word War by Aex Kanous. Create words from an always-morphing grid of letters, while trying to block the other players from doing the same.

* Not factually correct. Exchanges were measured and friendly, and instead of tears it was laughter and smiles.



Categories: Company News

Noting a 50th Anniversary, and Credit Where Due

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 21:50
This year is a big Happy Birthday to Gen Con, which celebrates its 50th year! A decade ago we were proud to help celebrate an earlier milestone by publishing 40 Years of Gen Con, a big full-color coffee table book of the convention's history up to then. Written by Robin D. Laws, it includes a gazillion photographs from years gone by, interviews with many game industry luminaries (some of whom are sadly not here to join Gen Con 50), and more.

For a limited time, you have the chance to pick up 40 Years of Gen Con at a bargain price, thanks to a re-run of the "Designers, Dragons & More" Bundle of Holding -- a value bundle that will load you up with game industry history and the stories of some of the best games in our field.

I also want to add a note of acknowledgement and apology. Long after the book was published, it came to our attention that attribution for three photographs by Scott Griffin had been bungled. The digital version of the book is corrected, but in case you have the first printing, know that Scott is the photographer of "Ed Greenwood as Elminster", "Musicians entertaining at Gen Con, and "Gary Gygax in the "Klingon Jail 'n Bail". We thank Scott for his contribution and apologize for this error. Also, if you love game history, you should check out Scott's website, Gen Con in Wisconsin (1968-2002)!
Categories: Company News

Really Regrettable Robots

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 17:30
Although we've had robots — machines programmable to perform human-like functions — since 400 BCE, we only got the word robot in 1920, thanks to a Czech playwright. It's taken a long time for actual robot technology to even approach the potential imagined in the stories we've been telling about robots from this planet and others.

Translating these creations to stage and screen have yielded some truly regrettable robots, some of which are beyond even the reach of Gloom in Space to describe. Let's run down the top five saddest robots from movies and TV.

1)  Ro-Man Extension XJ-2 from Robot Monster: This robot, like many, is just a guy in a suit. That suit, though, wasn't made of metal hardware. Instead, Ro-Man wears a gorilla suit and a Sputnik-like astronaut costume helmet. He's bent on wiping out the last eight members of the human race. He doesn't succeed.


2)  Daleks from Doctor Who: These robots are the scariest foes for the Doctor, but it's hard for viewers to understand the terror they inspire when a Dalek is an upside-down trashcan on wheels, with egg beaters and a toilet plunger as weapons. All the earliest Doctors needed to do to foil these villains was to go up a flight of stairs.

3)  Nomad from Star Trek: The Original Series: A junkyard is a set designer's best friend, and Nomad looks like it was assembled straight from the trash heap. With a head like a coffee percolator and a body like a mesh office wastebasket, it's hardly a worthy adversary for Captain Kirk. Indeed, Kirk shuts down this mechanical menace by convincing it to commit suicide.

4)  Power Droid from Star Wars: This sad excuse for a robot was especially pathetic next to shiny, elaborate droids like C3P0 and R2-D2. Borrowing from the well-established tradition of trashcans as costumes, the Power Droid is just a box around a child or little person. Some flexible plastic ductwork gives them leg warmers to go with flat metal boxes for shoes. And still they managed to make two action figures out of this guy.

5)  Box from Logan's Run: As shiny as this robot is, all that chrome isn't enough to distract viewers from its janky design. The actor's head is wrapped in something like a reflective space blanket, with a slot cut for the mouth. The body looks like a shiny rooftop industrial air conditioner. While it has metal ductwork to cover the arms, it looks as though the actor is holding sticks with heavy, boxy guns on the ends, leaving them to flop around randomly.
Categories: Company News

Unknown Armies Deluxe Set Photos

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 17:06
One of the best things about publishing is seeing all of the hard work of designers, writers, editors, artists, graphic engineers, and printers come together in the form of an actual physical product. Regent of China shipped us a single copy of the Unknown Armies 3 Deluxe Set to review before full scale production and shipment happens, and we took a few photos.



This is the exterior of the Deluxe Set with slipcase, shrinkwrapped, and all three volumes included in hardback.



The slipcase unfolds to become a landscape oriented game master screen, with all the charts and tables you need during play. It turns back into a slipcase with ease (and a magnetic clasp).


Players can enjoy the gorgeous cover artwork of Jason Engle and Aaron Acevedo. Incidentally, when you take all three books and line them up in a triangle, the art forms a triptych image!

Finally, the books themselves are high quality, sturdy, and gorgeous full-bleed photo-illustrated casebound volumes. Thanks to the layout skills of Thomas Deeny, the table of contents, chapter splash pages, and trade dress all works together.


We can't wait for the thousands of Kickstarter backers to get their own print copies in April. Retail stores should see orders filled at the end of April and early May. If you can't wait, and you didn't back the books last year, our pre-orders are still open!

Categories: Company News

Hounded Learn-to-Play Video

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 20:29
Hounded came out in December. It's a two-player game that pits a cunning Fox against a veteran Master of Hounds. The Fox player must evade capture; the Master of Hounds must lead his pack to catch the Fox before the sun goes down.

We made a learn-to-play video that'll bring you up to speed on how to play Hounded in no time. You can stream it below, watch it on YouTube, see it on the Hounded product page, or even download the HD video file (600 MB) to watch later.

Categories: Company News

The Sound of the Unknown Part 3: Creating the Music

Fri, 12/30/2016 - 15:56
To celebrate the release of our three suites of Musick for Unknown Armies, composer James Semple wrote three blog posts about commissioning, collaborating on, and creating music for roleplaying games. This is the third post in the series.

Often when starting a new project I will try and define my palette, the range of instruments and sounds that will be used for the music. Sometimes this will be definitive but often it will just be the core sounds. With Unknown Armies I didn’t really do this. Instead, I defined the kind of sounds I’d gravitate towards but I’d begin my template afresh on each track. This definitely ended up being more work but I feel that it kept the tracks sounding more original and unique.

There are a whole lot of influences on the Unknown Armies music but it never really sits comfortably in a single, definable genre. For instance there are orchestral and choral sounds in there, but they're usually mixed with synthesizers or strange abstract noises, and often contemporary drums or bass. Even the alternative rock tracks include soundscape elements and unusual production tricks.

Most of the music was realised within a computer and honestly I used an enormous number of different virtual instruments to create the three suites. I also used a fair amount of live guitar, sometimes overtly and often as an effect in the background. I played acoustic, clean electric, distorted electric, slide guitar, reversed guitar — pretty much anything I could think of, really. It all went in there. I also used the wonderful cellist Deryn Cullen on the track "Lament for the Incorrectly Processed." The cello was so exposed and sensitive that I knew I needed a live player and her sublime performance truly lifted that track.

One reason I love working on RPG music is the chance to help define a genre and put a stamp on an original setting. The setting here was so original that I had a massive amount of freedom to come up with something new and I’d like to think that now Unknown Armies has its own musical identity.

If you haven't already, check out The Sound of the Unknown Part 1: Commissioning Music and The Sound of the Unknown Part 2: The Collaboration Process, the first and second posts in this series.
Categories: Company News

Rejected Schools of Magick in Unknown Armies

Wed, 12/28/2016 - 18:00
Of all the elements that make Unknown Armies stand out from other roleplaying games, it's probably its strange, postmodern take on magick. Imaginative, engaging, even hilarious schools of magick make kewl powerz that are actually cool. There are dozens of fan-created schools, each of them a singular vision of a certain type of character who has the specific obsession that gives rise to their magick.
This got us thinking: Is there anything that can't be a compelling Unknown Armies school of magick? We gave it our best shot to come up with schools too goofy, too weird, or too dull to be interesting. But actively trying not to be awesome was harder than it seemed! Did we succeed at failing, or do these still sound like interesting schools of magick?
Pagotomancy—The magick of ice cream. Minor charges involve creating new flavors of sweet, cold confections. Of course, the blast involves really bad brain freeze. Like, actual, literal freezing of brains. A secret war rages between the Gelati and the Soft Serve.
Esorouchurgy—The magick of underwear. Acquiring the underwear of the famous and powerful could be a source of charges, but so can acquiring the underwear worn at historic events like Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Spells include things like "Down on Skid Row," "Four Days Good," and "Hyperwedgie." But would esourochurges be required to go commando themselves?
Videofelimancy—The magick of cat videos. Their hypnotic quality and unfailing ability to improve people's moods must surely come from a form of magick. For a significant charge, track down the original video file of the first Internet cat video. The annual cult meeting takes place in Saint Paul, Minnesota at the International CatVidFest.
Ozomancy—The magic of terrible smells. Naturally, high schools are great places to acquire minor charges, from the concentrated stink of a locker room to the weaponized scent of cheap body spray. The paradox is, of course, that the ozomancer must be meticulously clean and devoid of any scent whatsoever. If they acquire any of the scents they work with, good or bad, they must immediately clean up to avoid the taboo.
What can you come up with? Remember, the Statosphere is coming. Unknown Armies 3rd Edition has and always will thrive on the creativity of its audience.
Categories: Company News

The Sound of the Unknown Part 2: The Collaboration Process

Wed, 12/21/2016 - 16:57
To celebrate the release of our three suites of Musick for Unknown Armies, composer James Semple wrote three blog posts about commissioning, collaborating on, and creating music for roleplaying games. This is the second post in the series.


One issue that you may have as a games designer when commissioning music is how to tell the composer exactly what you want. Unless you are also a musician, you may find it difficult to definitively describe your vision. So many words mean different things to different people. For some, "epic" means a grandiose piece that tells a story. To others it means really loud drums.

There are many ways to get around this problem. Reference tracks are a useful way of explaining what you like. Also, conversations with the composer can help really narrow down what you like about the reference tracks you've chosen. For Unknown Armies, we started with conversations about the kinds of feelings the music should evoke and from these discussions surfaced a manifesto where we defined terms that we felt applied to the music. While these terms can never be perfect, they did give a baseline theme to keep me on track while writing the music. Each piece of music was of course signed off by the creative team at Atlas Games.


One of the great aspects of this project for me was how much freedom I was given to experiment and explore when writing the music. I could spend time searching for new unusual sounds or work with challenging harmonic ideas without the sense of being limited by existing genre expectations. Unknown Armies is a very original game and that gave me the room to write some of my most original and personal music to date.

If you haven't already, check out The Sound of the Unknown Part 1: Commissioning Music, the first post in this series. The third series post will go live on December 28.
Categories: Company News

Americana and Unknown Armies

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 16:00
It's been said that Unknown Armies is distinctly American in its outlook. Perhaps some will find Third Edition less so—not because the approach to its cosmology is so different, but because the lens with which we view 2016 is so different than the one through which Unknown Armies designer John Tynes saw the world in 1996. With every passing day, the borders among global powers become blurrier, and Unknown Armies has always thrived on fuzzy logic. Mak Attax is an international phenomenon, after all.

Unknown Armies finds a lot of both love and fear about the American landscape. And why not? Our characters in other games have been to the scary old house in England, the moldering castle in the Carpathians, or the ancient ruins in the Yucatan. In the context of roleplaying games, we think of distance as equivalent to exoticism, but the mundane and familiar where we live is less explored. What about the burger joint we all known and love, or the back of our local post office? Unknown Armies plays upon the past, but it's the recent past of abandoned Blockbusters and Radio Shacks. It finds ample fuel in the tabloids, the strip malls, the pawn shops, and throughout the rotting carcass of the Midwestern Rust Belt. That gothic church over there might be creepy, but more so than the truck stop off I-94?

Unknown Armies' seediness owes much to film noir and the writings of folks like James Ellroy. But these aren't unique to America. Noir films in general, while an American genre, were deeply influenced by German Expressionism and the sensibilities of displaced European filmmakers emigrating to the US during or after World War II. These artists' profound ambivalence about the human condition contrasted starkly with the traditional Hollywood "happy ending." For example, designer Greg Stolze cites the more recent Spanish film Intacto as a near-perfect Unknown Armies story.

There's a grottiness to Unknown Armies, like an old VHS copy of Basket Case that's been viewed ten too many times. But you can find manifestations of that aesthetic all around the world, both in native forms and as an American export.
Categories: Company News

The Sound of the Unknown Part 1: Commissioning Music

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 17:45
To celebrate the release of our three suites of Musick for Unknown Armies, composer James Semple wrote three blog posts about commissioning, collaborating on, and creating music for roleplaying games. This is the first post in the series.

Having recently completed 45 minutes of music for the Unknown Armies suites, I thought it was worth taking a moment to reflect on why a game creator might want to commission music for their RPG or board game.

I’ll be honest and say I think there’s a sense of prestige associated with your game having its own musical theme, but also, it’s useful from the point of view of brand awareness. You now have identifiable music you can play for promotional videos or at live events. It can help to reinforce the mood of the game by calling on evocative musical touchstones that subliminally (or even explicitly) suggest eras, regions, or genres.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider how you'll use the music when you commission it. Is it simply for listening pleasure or inspiration? Do you have a specific utility in mind? While it’s exciting to define short catchy themes for elements of your game, usually the most useful type of music for players is long and ambient. Music that sets a mood but isn’t interesting enough to distract from the session in play. Often this is little more than long drones and abstract sounds but it can use melodic ideas as well. While this is very useful during games it can get a little dull as a listening experience in itself and doesn’t really "sell" the music. In the long run I usually find I’m asked for a mix of themes and ambient music perhaps with some other elements such as short three- to five-second "stings," or maybe loopable action music.

In the end it all comes down to a good working relationship with the composer, setting out your goals and together creating something unique and inspiring for your game. With Unknown Armies I had the distinct pleasure of working with very original source material and some amazing creative people who helped me discover their sound. I think together we’ve come up with something quite unique that I called Americanoir. I hope it does justice to their vision.

The second and third posts in James's series will be posted on December 21 and 28.
Categories: Company News

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