[Unknown Armies] Artikel zu "Playing in the Underground" (von JamesCat)


18. März 2004
Nachdem ich schon in diesem Thread zu Thema "UA nur für Modern Ages" einen von mir sehr geschätzten Artikel aus dem rpg.net-Forum des dortigen Mitglieds JamesCat eingestellt habe (ab Post #17 ), und dessen Ausführungen zu Mysterien-Kulten in UA hier zu finden sind, möchte ich den letzten seiner Artikel aus dem Thread im rpg.net-Forum (ab Post #35) vorstellen.

Final lot of stuff - this bit's on life in the Underground

OK, design goals for this chapter are the following -

a) to emphasise that the Underground is largely clueless, disorganised, and local
b) to provide a framework for groups not associated with one of the big power groups
c) to present the ‘shallow’ Underground as (largely) amiable losers - which they are in real life, pretty much, and the ‘deep’ Underground as desperate losers. Magick, in Unknown Armies, is not something that makes you happy, or powerful, or influential, or healthy; it’s essentially an addiction. On the other hand, I’ve tried to include a few well-balanced, nice people, so as not to be too one-sided.

[I’ve got my comments in, but overall I like it a lot.]

Playing in the Underground

Campaigns based around the New Inquisition have a certain cinematic quality; they’re dramatic, world-spanning, explosive, full of gunfights and car chases, the PCs have serious resources to bring to a mission. Sleeper campaigns have a quieter, more literary feel, like a John le Carre thriller or a more hectic Umberto Eco. A campaign centred around the Underground, though, is more like a TV series. There are regularly recurring characters, familiar locations, developments offscreen, personal friendships and enmities. It’s worth putting somewhat more time and effort into the creation of individual characters and groups for such a campaign, because they’re likely to be around for a whole lot longer.

Cities and Fields


Plenty of occultists live a wandering lifestyle. Sometimes their school or Avatar requires it - as with the Pilgrim or Annihilomancy - but more often it stems from a simple rootlessness, an unwillingness to participate in ordinary life. After all, becoming an adept innately involves a division from mundane existence, a loss of the normal restrictions of friends, family, and work which keep most of us where we are. It tends to be, therefore, the more serious and clued-in occultists who take up this lifestyle.

Travelling adepts are even more obsessive than the normal run; they’ve pretty much given up everything. Some of them are on a power kick; move in, show off, move on, and are rather less discreet about their use of magick than most members of the Underground. When they arrive somewhere, they tend to disrupt the established order of the Underground; flashing the occult equivalent of big wallets around in order to prove that they’re ‘somebody’. More stable occultists look down on them somewhat, but there are a few who have become semi-legendary within the American Underground. Most of the show-off types get whacked by the Sleepers or by nasty rural magicians whose turf they stumble onto by mistake.

More common than the power-seekers, because they’re longer-lived, are the desperate, burnt-out, pathetic adepts who drift from town to town because they have nothing better to do; the Underground and magick have eaten them up and spat them out. They scrape a marginally better living than most tramps and drifters because of their magickal edge, but they’re still scrawny, dirty, and have unnaturally bright, fever-ridden eyes. Dipsomancers, obviously, make up a fair proportion of this crowd. There’s said to be a barn somewhere in Iowa where such adepts gather, drink cheap booze, and tell their stories. Jeeter (see UA, page XX) is a typical example of such an adept.

Some occultists, of course, are simply on the run from the demons of their past [How about we end the sentence there, and then start the next as “Sometimes this is literal, but more often it’s…”], which can be anything from the police, the Sleepers, the mob, a particularly vicious cabal they crossed, or, well, demons. These occultists stay well out of reach of the big towns, and avoid attention like the plague, living marginal lifestyles constantly haunted by fear. They take extreme magickal precautions, and often establish little hideouts and stashes all over the country, if they’ve been running for a while. Quite often, the organisation or entity they believe is pursing them gave up years ago, but they’ve become locked in the paranoid lifestyle. The New Inquisition recruits some of them, of course.

Of course, there are some travelling occultists - particularly Avatars of the Pilgrim - who are neither boastful, burnt-out, or on the run, but just like to move around, see friends, and tell stories. After all, not every serious member of the Occult Underground is ravaged, perverted, desperate, or manic; just most.


As with most subcultures, the Occult Underground has certain figures who assume… not exactly a leadership role, but a kind of mentor-like, “senior partner” position within the communities of each city. This is sometimes because they have awesome mystical wisdom and the power to annihilate a man with a glance, but more often because they just happen to have the charisma, strength of will, or backing to give their words the necessary weight. Most of these ‘gurus’, as they are sometimes known, dedicate much of their life to the Underground, seeing themselves as father or mother figures. They’re not necessarily the most clued-in or personally powerful adepts or Avatars - quite frequently they don’t know anything about real magick at all - but they have friends, status, and pull, and people go to them if they’re in trouble, or just need advice. Some of them act out a Godfather type role, seeing themselves as doing favours in return for later services, some like the attention, and some are just plain nice guys. Monica Barberry (see UA, page 197) is a good example of a guru, as was the old ‘Comte de Saint-Germain’ in San Francisco.


Testimony: Hannah Soskice
Burnt-Out German Epideromancer

I remember back when I was first learning about the bloody tricks, the knife scar magic, back in Frankfurt, when I was young, and I was pretty. I am not pretty now, am I? There was a man there, not my teacher, not even a magician proper, who everybody looked up to, called Stefan, who used to teach at the university, and hold court in his rooms afterwards, where we would all come, and he would tell us how the Priest Caste ruled this, our age of iron, from their black fortress in Washington, controlled our world through the cruelties of logic and capitalism, and it was only through the paradoxes of magick that we, the chosen, would break through, and establish the true socialist utopia. Girls would come to him, often, many girls, and men too, for advice, and for, you know, the other. He told me to give up the knife, that I was killing my soul … someone killed him in the end, left him eyeless in his office. A shame. He was a good man.



People with the same interests tend to congegrate in particular places, and occultists are no exception. Every city has a few hangouts where occultists come to hang out, talk, scheme, and get a good cup of coffee. Normally, these places are set up to cater to the ‘New Age’ market - a small bookshop with a coffee shop attached is perhaps the most common. Small public libraries with a high content of occult books [I cannot think that that there has been an institution fitting this description in any city where I’ve lived. If it’s got a “high occult content” it’s almost assuredly not what an American is going to think of as a “public library”] also draw a lot of attention, and it’s not unknown for a particularly prominent figure in the New Age or Wiccan communities to effectively keep an open house. Bars and clubs occasionally become occultist hangouts, too, due to being conveniently open all night long. More unusual places sometimes become occult centres; there’s a twenty-four hour service station in Arizona that’s a major hangout for wandering adepts, and New Orleans occultists are notorious for their habit of hanging around in graveyards, trying to get that chic voodoo look. [Heh. Ever hear of “Carhenge”?]

Fringe occultists like this type of place because they can see their friends, boast about the spells they’ve cast recently, and generally participate in their sub-culture. Serious occultists like them because the fringe occultists give them lots of cover, and they can talk seriously in the corner while the blowhards and saps go on about rainbow power, Tantric sex rituals, and chaos magic. They also provide a clear ‘neutral ground’ for rival cabals to meet on [“where rival cabals can meet”], as there are lots of relatively mundane witnesses to stop things [from] getting messy. Some hangouts are actually run by adepts, often of some personal power, who will intervene if fighting breaks out. [I’d suspect this is rare. Most are probably run by clued-in hangers-on, but I don’t think a lot of serious, lifestyle occultists would have it together enough to run a profitable business – or even one they could keep open just from the attentions of an OU.]

A hangout is an excellent way to give a focus to a campaign. Think of the diner in ‘Twin Peaks,’ the courtroom and Meredith’s bar in ‘Seachange,’ or the bar in ‘Homicide.’ It locates the PCs firmly in their local occult community, it develops an atmosphere all of its own, and it serves as a good way to introduce new rumours, characters, and conflicts. This shouldn’t be the equivalent of ‘You are all gathered together in a tavern when a mysterious stranger approaches you with an offer …’; instead, it should be a combination of the familiar and the unusual. When one of the kids who are always discussing Black Masses and the Necrominicon on the big window table shows up without the others, but with a bruised face and a missing finger, that’s a hook. Hangouts, essentially, are a way of getting the players to actually care about their community their characters exist in. [Nice. I like this.]

Hangout: Major Arcana

Major Arcana is a big, upmarket New Age bookshop in San Francisco, run by an ageing hippy universally known as ‘Snoopy,’ who has a pot belly, a ponytail, and two diagonal scars running across his cheeks that mark his initiation into the Purified Dragon, a short-lived drug-alchemical 60s cabal. Snoopy isn’t that magically savvy, but he can mix up a few potions that combine herbal teas, various legal and illegal drugs, and his own personal mojo to unique and interesting effect. Some of these - the ones which don’t utilise illegal substances - are openly sold at The Tao of Tea, a café attached to the shop.

Most of the customers at Major Arcana are your normal run of daffy Californians, but the Fellowship of Bad Traffic and Sternos (see HUSH HUSH, pg. 25), the two dominant cabals in the city, have recently found it a convenient neutral meeting point. The selection of books is pretty crappy, being limited to glossy mass-market tomes, Wiccan poetry, the backlist of Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Grant, and a bunch of dribble from the 60s and 70s, but Snoopy’s potions have something of a reputation, too, and adepts from other cities occasionally travel there to dip into them.

Hangout: Big Violet’s

Violet Gardner is one of the most prominent members of the Pagan community in the Midwest, the head of three Druidic orders, and a fiercely imposing, 6’2”, 200 lb. woman with forearms like tree trunks. She lives in a massive rickety house in Des Moines with her equally imposing husband, Euan, and their six children, from where they run a sign-painting business, specialising in pseudo-Celtic styles. Violet welcomes guests, even with the barest of introductions, and tends to be cooking for at least twenty people every supper time, a mixture of random travellers, friends, Pagans, battered women, magicians, and homeless teenage runaways, all of whom find comfort in Violet’s lentil soup. Many a lost, confused, or poor adept has found temporary shelter there, although Violet is barely aware of the real Underground. The Cult of the Naked Goddess especially likes Violet’s, due to her recent friendship with Daphne Lee, and would try to recruit her as a member if it weren’t for the evident happiness of her marriage. Anybody who disturbs the sanctity of Violet’s risks the wrath of the Cult, a couple of travelling Entropomancers, and the fierce Violet herself.​


What’s In A Name?

As you’ve probably noticed, people and cabals in the Underground like to give themselves froody-sounding names. A group of warbucks won’t call themselves ‘The Denver Association of Plutomancers,’ they’ll call themselves Reality Cheque. A dope who wants to get attention doesn’t keep her old name of Ellen Pupkiss, she calls himself Alexandra Crowley. Partially, this is for simple reasons of advertising; a good occult name is clever, memorable, and powerful - The Six Who Dare, The Seven Sneakers, The Fellowship of Bad Traffic. They’re often also powerfully resonant with symbolic imagery for magickal purposes, as in The New Inquisition or the Sineaters, or deliberately evocative of the past, and of mystery, as in the Order of the Golden Phoenix. A good name can also disguise your true purpose to outsiders, while hinting at your true nature to the initiated - for example, take the real-life fascist group Combat 18, where ‘18’ signifies, alphabetically, A(dolf) H(itler).

Of course, not all cabals hit the right note first time. A number of words - especially in neo-pagan and New Age circles - tend to crop up rather repetitively; Chosen, Sisters, Reborn, Goddess, Sacred, Circle, that kind of thing. A common mistake made by new cabals is to put their locality in their name, as in the Atholene Brothers of Austin. Not only does this tell people where you’re from - often not a good thing - it makes you sound small and local, rather than powerful and universal. A lot of cabals change their names, sometimes more than once. Sometimes this is because the meaning acquires comic overtones, as in the unfortunate cabal that named themselves the Backstreet Boys. Duplicates are not unknown, and are often fiercely disputed; the clash between the two White Knights, one of which was a romantic, Arthur-inspired group of Avatars, the other a deeply nasty neo-Nazi group, is still remembered for its bloodiness.

Cabals often name themselves after TV programs or books; occultists are not necessarily an original lot. At the moment, there are at least four Scooby Gangs in the USA, all consisting of young, reality-defending adepts and avatars. The short-lived AMO (Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws) was a widespread group of the early 90s, inspired by Jim Dodge’s book ‘Stone Junction.’ Two new cabals have just formed in Hong Kong; Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. (Dragon is another of those words that crops up a lot in occult names, because it sounds cool.)

As for personal name changes, these are often for purposes of magickal and mundane disguise, as in Dermott Arkane’s frequent use of anagrams of his name (and you don’t think his mother baptised him Arkane, do you?) [He was born Dermott Kane, actually.] Alexander Abel is widely supposed to have changed his name from an unknown original; Alexander, after all, suggests world conquest, while Abel hints at ability and ‘can-do’-ness. AA is also resonant of America, and of being first - first in the alphabet, first in the world of business, first in the Underground. Unfortunately, it’s simply the name his father gave him.


It’s Not Who You Know, It’s What You Know

The biggest division in the Underground is between dopes and dukes; between those occultists who are just posing, self-deluding, or faking, and those who can actually Do Shit. It’s not a clear cut division; there are some people who can only do one unimpressive trick, or who have the kind of power, like divination or aura reading, that might just be well developed reasoning and intuition, but, for the most part, those adepts who are clued-in to real magick of one kind or another see a fairly big gap between themselves and the ‘common herd’ of romantics and wannabes. [I think this sentence is actually two sentences that want a divorce.] Those members of the Underground who have some inkling of the truth of the universe and the realities of magick are sometimes collectively referred to as the ‘deep’ Underground, or as ‘the depths.’

Dukes tend to look on dopes like professionals look on amateurs and fans the world over. Some see them as idiots, vainly striving to achieve what seems obvious to the true adept, and boasting about their petty little successes. Some see them as essentially a source of money, shelter, admiration, and sexual favours. Some see them as sweet innocents unsuited to the real world. Some see them as like themselves a few years or months ago. Dopes may find themselves treated like nothings, like gophers, or like potential apprentices.

It’s not a clean-cut leap from being dope to duke, though; nobody comes along and tells you that, hey, all magick is based on paradox and obsession, except for rituals, which are these weird leftover things, oh, and artefacts - and there’s these avatar types too. Instead, people puzzle it out bit by bit. Some adepts, of course, leap straight into practising magick, but they may well think that their own school is the only one that exists. Most occult dabblers who happen to stumble upon true magick begin by encountering rituals and artefacts, and only later find out about the power of personal magick. [You might want to stress that people who know about avatars tend to be ignorant of adepts, and vice versa. It’s perfectly possible that two separate OUs could operate in a city for years without ever crossing paths. This is referenced in “Special Orders.” One founder of Mak Attax was an avatar from a line of avatars, who had never heard of adepts. Derek, on the other hand, was an adept who learned from a relative and who had no idea about the avatar path.]

Hardly anybody is aware of all the schools out there; the big seven (the main schools listed in the UA rulebook) are the most well-known, but even your average adept may well be blissfully unaware of the existence of at least one or two of these. Maybe one in three adepts is aware, too, of the fundamental principles that lie behind magick. As for ascensions and the Invisible Clergy, most dukes are aware that the Clergy (often under some other name) exist, but knowledge of avatars is surprisingly limited, their powers being subtle, and hard to distinguish, often, from simple competence in a role. [Oh, and here you go into just what I wanted. Nice. You might also mention – or not – that a lot of adepts and avatars felt that SOMETHING big happened in 1996, but almost none of them know what it was. (If you’re wondering, I’m thinking that was the year of the NG Ascension.)] It’s a lot easier to believe somebody who claims to be an alcohol magician and can make tables levitate than somebody who claims to be channelling the Masterless Man, and who gets up a little quicker than the average. [‘You want proof? OK, go on, punch me, and I’ll recover faster than normal!’)


Testimony: ‘Dog-girl’
Voluntary Slave and Entropomancer

It’s all about submission. You’ve got to give it up, all of it. Give up your freedom, give up your self, bow down before the universe and call it master. Make yourself a slave. That’s the only way you can master it. Got to be the bottom before you can be the top.


It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

Full-time cabals are actually fairly rare in the Underground. Most adepts have better things to do than give themselves a portentous name and hang out together all the time. Instead, occultists, whether duke or dope, tend to belong to several different, often quite loosely defined groups; sometimes formed for a particular purpose, like opposing another, aggressive cabal, sometimes just a bunch of adepts of the same school, sometimes just a group of friends.

The Underground is small enough, in any one city, that people know each other, or of each other, and will have fairly firm and fixed opinions on each other, too. It’s not like there’s a web of influence or anything, but you’re known by the company you keep. And occultists have histories, too; it may well be in the best interests, logically speaking, of the demon-binder to help you, but if you’re in with the guy who cheated him out of $5000 and the tongue of a Demagogue back in ’92, you don’t have much of a chance. The Underground, being full of egotistical people - magick, or the desire for magick, is, after all, a fairly egotistical desire, the wish to force your will upon the world - is quite petty; small slights aren’t forgotten.

Still, there are a lot of real friendships in the Underground; perhaps more among dopes than dukes, because the knowledge of, and the lust after, real magickal power is essentially [I’d be more comfortable with “often essentially”] selfish. Shared hobbies can mean a lot, and, in some places, merely showing an interest in Wicca, or hermetic magic, or the headhunting habits of certain tribes, can be enough to get you invited into a whole circle. Even the most nebbishy of dopes may have friends, people watching out for them. In some cities, especially smaller ones, the Underground is like a particularly large family; they fight among themselves to the point of murder, but if anybody from outside tries anything, they’re in big trouble.


Testimony: Big Bad Hank
Former Member of the Six Who Dare

So, we were down in Cincinnati, where we’d heard that this know-nothing prick who fancied himself a magician had somehow got his dirty little hands on the Ritual of Folding Five. Heard in New York once that the Bad Man wanted that thing, and we figured we could sell it to him for something worthwhile, like maybe a new eye for Josie and a new arm for Ben, or a few hundred thousand, or the ability to fly, something neat, anyway. So we go down to beat up on this guy, who was about a hundred and twenty pounds wet.

Well, it turns out the guy went to school with Neal Cullen, who’s this bigshot Cliomancer in Cincinnati - well, as bigshot as you can be looking for history in Cincinnati, anyway. And he was pretty good friends with this bunch of demon-freaks who used to come by his house to watch this huge widescreen TV he had. And he was a member of two local Wiccan groups, and at least one of them actually had its shit together enough to find our motel room. I tell you, we got burned bad that time.


What do most dukes want above all else? Power, and especially magickal power. If power is a drug, then magick is the best-quality smack, and once you’ve got a taste of it, shot straight into your veins from the cracks in the universe, it’s damn hard to let go. It’s all very well and good being able to buy a car, or twist men round your little finger, or change a senator’s vote, but serious occultists know that it doesn’t compare a damn to being able to make a teacup explode with the sheer power of your mind. That’s what keeps adepts searching through dusty old libraries, working dead-end jobs, abandoning their families; the sheer beautiful feeling of power you get by being able to force a little bit of the cosmos to do what you want.

Artefacts and rituals are the most concentrated and easy-to-use form of magickal power, and so adepts seek even the most useless of them out with an obsessive intensity, like a junkie scraping up traces of coke from an old mirror. It doesn’t matter if all it does is turn your skin green, or make clocks in the area spin backwards, or work without being plugged in; the buzz of power an adept gets from holding it or using it or knowing it will make it worth their while to go after it. That’s what keeps most of them from spreading their knowledge around, too; not the fear of the Sleepers, but the desire to have all that lovely power for themselves.

More mundane forms of power are a dim reflection of the glory of magick, but they’re still a buzz of their own, and the kind of person that wants magick - even if they don’t actually know jackshit about it - tends to relish other types of power. There’s a lot of control games played within the Underground, a lot of blackmail and bribery and dominance of one kind or another. Even the pretence of magick can be a good tool in these kind of power-games; after all, if your rival sincerely believes that your having their locket will give you power to hurt them, and you show them that you’ve got it, and put a decapitated Barbie doll on their doorstep with their name drawn on it in pig’s blood, they’re probably going to start feeling neck pains. This kind of power-freakery, especially among dopes, is sometimes referred to as bitchcraft. [Oh, that’s magnificent.]


Things Ain’t What They Seem

It’s perfectly in keeping with the spirit of Unknown Armies to have characters make Unnatural stress checks even when there’s no actual supernatural element involved, particularly if their particular perceptions lead them into seeing magick when, in fact, there’s only coincidence or malice. Unless the PCs drop LSD or something, this kind of check will probably never be above Unnatural-3 at most, but that can still be enough to freak them out good. At the GM’s discretion, a failed roll for a superstitious character might well cause them to produce psychosomatic symptoms that they feel appropriate; for instance, if your group happens to be a bunch of runaway teenage occultists, and they’re in an old house, supposed to be haunted, one night when the wind gets up and the floorboards start creaking, they might actually find their flesh going cold and their hairs standing up. At a more extreme example, a character who believes they’ve been cursed and fails their stress check might find themselves suffering from odd pains, loss of vision, or even heart attacks.

AW: Artikel zu "Playing in the Underground" (von JamesCat)


Magick may kick cosmic ass, but it doesn’t pay the phone bill or put food on the table. Dukes and dopes alike need cash, and magick isn’t always that helpful in getting it. Most members of the Underground, too, don’t have either the time or inclination to pursue a proper career; instead, they take dead-end jobs, retail clerks or telephone salesmen or geriatric assistants, just to make ends meet while they pursue their real interests. A lot of them do part-time work; a day here, a day there, in between other things. Dopes tend to look on this as just a temporary thing, or as a revolt against the system; dukes think of it as a hard necessity. Sometimes cabals work together; The Righteous Temple, a Canadian Iconomancer cabal, all work as secretaries for the same law firm, while Hot Package, a very loose alliance of Pilgrim avatars, are all truckers.

The Occult Underground generates an entire economy of its own, too; New Age bookstores, retreat centers, and holistic healing weekends keep a lot of occultists, real and romantic, going. A surprising amount of people are willing to pay large amounts of money for even the illusion of magick in their lives. The ‘Mind, Body, and Spirit’ book market is a large one, too, and it’s pretty easy to get published in, though you’re also likely to get relentlessly ripped off by the publisher unless you have an agent. Ion Disjoint, a Seattle Entropomancer with a vicious reputation, never quite lived down the widely publicised discovery by one of his ex-girlfriends that he was the author, under his original name of Luke Robley, of ‘Healing the Hurt Within; the Psychic Re-union of the Soul’ and ‘Any Small Change; How to Harness the Positive Energy of Entropy in Your Life.’

[True story; I have a friend who’s a poet, in which there’s obviously no money. He’s also a healer, therapist, and writer, and his agent once managed to wrangle him a commission to do a book on alchemy. Unfortunately, he met his editor at a party, and he fancied her, and so began a whole ‘Well, of course, I know nothing about alchemy, but it’ll be a wonderful journey of self-discovery we can embark upon together.’ After the party the editor called his agent and said ‘Jay’s not doing the book; he just admitted he knew bugger-all about alchemy to me.’ He then managed to convince a strange Texan woman to sponsor him while he wrote his big book on the true meaning of love, which, depending on who Jay was sleeping with at the time, veered between monogamy and polygamy as the one true form of love. He’s basically my model for the more sappy elements of the underground. ]

Of course, there’s other sources of money. Crime is not unknown, but it’s damn risky, and organised crime, as discussed below, really doesn’t like the occult. Petty crime - stick-ups and muggings and shoplifting - is virtually a way of life for some occultists. Con-games, however, are easily the most popular form of illegal income in the Underground. Some occultists run the normal grifts, but the majority work some kind of occult element into things. They claim to be able to cure cancer, or to find lost relatives, or to contact the dead, and use all the tricks of the faith healer and the medium to do so; pulling ‘diseased organs’ that are really chicken guts out of people’s bellies, operating little knocking tables, and discovering bloody yolks in eggs; a sure sign of a curse. The best possible scenario is when you cure somebody of an ailment or a curse that you invented in the first place.

Depending on whom you target, and how superstitious they are, this can earn you anything from ten to ten thousand dollars in a single sting. Actually having supernatural abilities, of course, is a big plus here; a single minor charge used in the right way can impress a potential mark no end. After all, if you can make your arm stretch, maybe you can cure their wife’s cancer. Some adepts actually follow through on these promises; most simply take the money and run, unwilling or unable to waste significant effort on their marks. Pornomancers have it easiest; the Sect of the Naked Goddess is funded by some very [“fairly”?] rich and mildly gullible people under the influence of only a little desire magick.

Finally, there’s all the normal spiritualist and fortune teller routines, which never fall out of fashion. Reading tarot cards, casting horoscopes, reading auras; all these can be an easy, regular source of income for somebody willing to bluff a little and wear a silly costume. Genuinely psychic individuals rarely waste their talents on the day to day stuff - though occasionally a client comes in with horrors around them they never expected, and they see things they wish they hadn’t. (There’s a great example of this in Tim Power’s LAST CALL, where the hero goes to a Tarot reader and, by virtue of the evil mystic shit around him, terrifies the living daylights out of the poor man.)


How To Be Psychic

Assuming a reasonably credulous audience, it’s not too hard to put on a convincing act of being a psychic or medium. The trick is to take control of the session, suggesting general possibilities rather than being forced to answer general questions. There are three different basic techniques -

First is doing a cold reading, where you know nothing about your target at all. Here, you throw out general questions and suggestions, letting the audience fill in the answers themselves. Even if only a quarter of your suggestions are right, those are the ones your audience will remember. ‘I feel a great sadness about you,’ ‘There’s a … John here, for somebody in the room …’ and ‘You were not happy in your childhood’ are all good cold reading questions. Once your audience eagerly responds with ‘That must be my late husband, John’ or ‘Yes! I was very unhappy in my teens,’ you can work from there, throwing out further suggestions and letting them unwittingly guide you.

Second is a warm reading, where you deduce facts about a target and work from those. Are they wearing jewellery at a spiritualist event? Throw out ‘you have on a piece which was linked with your departed loved one.’ Middle-aged woman, with a wedding ring, at a psychic? Unhappy in her marriage, almost certainly. Young man, not handsome? Worried he’s not attractive to woman. Old woman? Go for the lost love angle, and ill-health. Very much sub-Holmes, but effective.

Third is a hot reading, where you obtain information on your target beforehand, through whatever means. A good pickpocket in a magic show’s audience can work wonders, as can doing surveillance on an unwitting (and hopefully rich) target. The trick here, though, is not to reveal all your information at once, but leak it out slowly, for maximum impact. Let the target tell you they have a sister, and then look at them, deep into their eyes, and say ‘Yes … your sister - Margaret - but you are not telling the whole truth - you have two sisters.’ Play up the drama; you’re more in control of things with a hot reading.

Sex and Drugs

The sexual habits of dopes are pretty normal, whatever that is. Maybe they’re a little more given to playing out their fantasies than the average mundane, but, otherwise, they tend to have the same needs and kinks and anybody else. The Underground, both deep and shallow, has traditionally been associated with alternate forms of ‘hidden’ sexuality, such as homosexuality and B&D (bondage and disclipine), and that’s still the case to some extent. Certainly, occultists are more likely to be given to such practices than normal, and feel familiar in the ritualised, artificial subcultures of sexual fetishism. [“Or, perhaps, they’re simply more likely to admit their desires to themselves.”]

Dukes tend to be somewhat odd, sexually. The obsessive nature required to pursue magick, and the stresses of encountering the genuinely unnatural, seem to bend their sexuality, often, if they’re an adept, in ways related to their school of magic. Epideromancers, obviously, are the most notorious for this; perhaps half [“a quarter”? That’s STILL an awful high percentage.] of them are into some form of S&M. A complete asexuality is not uncommon; it can seem as though the whole of their libido has been drained into their desire for magick. Perhaps as many as one in seven adepts was abused in some way as a child; magick attracts damaged people. It’s rare that a real occultist manages to sustain a serious relationship for any length of time, and even rarer for them to have children.

As for drugs, pot, Ecstasy, and LSD are all popular among dopes, because they’re seen as broadening your perceptions. Dukes, who live a more stressful lifestyle, tend to be pill poppers or speed freaks; the more upmarket of them snort cocaine, while those desperate for something which recaptures, even as a dim echo, the thrill of magickal power sometimes turn to heroin.


Testimony: Alexander Thomas Urquhart
Academic Occultist

Magic? It’s all about anal sex. Look at the history. The Greek mystery cults, every single one of the Gnostic sects - the Bulgars even give us the word bugger - the Templars, Aleister Crowley, what links them all? Mmm. Exactly. Perverting the procreative powers of the Mother Goddess into an assertion of sterile male power, that’s the key to it all. And what’s been the big trend in pornographic movies ever since the Naked Goddess, who was a tool of one of the Hermetic Hollywood cabals, went up? Exactly. [This is horrible, in a perfect, wonderful way. Thanks!]


The Underground fights over all kinds of things, from the petty to the cosmic. Most quarrels among dopes stay verbal, though destroying a reputation can be far more effective than delivering a beating. Sometimes, of course, gossip can be fatal, especially if you take care to make sure it reaches the right ears. Spinning Jenny, a half-Hopi duke who used her talents to run a surveillance company in Phoenix, was shot by a member of Morningstar, a local clueless Satanist group, because Morningstar’s leader had heard at Clear Vision, a small occult festival, that she was boffing his boyfriend. The Sleepers take particular delight in creating such rumours with the aid of cliomancy.

Physical violence is rare, but not unknown, ranging from casual dust-ups to professional assassinations. Dopes are unlikely to get involved in occult-related violence beyond brawling and perhaps an occasional beating, if things get especially tense. Some of the more extreme groups, however, particularly those with extreme racist or religious views, employ more serious violence. Threats are far more common, though, from a simple insult to a prolonged campaign of harassment. Someone who believes in magick is generally a lot more susceptible to such threats, because they believe that words and symbolic actions can carry real force, and not a few occultists have been driven to illness or suicide simply through sustained campaigns of harassment.

Most of the ‘psychic warfare’ that goes on in the Underground is the result of malice, nasty phone calls, and an overactive imagination. Even Jules de Sade, who was given to proclaiming his ‘liberation from the fearful shackles of conventional morality,’ took to his bed for three days, weeping hysterically and crying that the hordes of hell were after him, after a former member of his cabal, the New Libertines, publicly cursed him with the Bethalnic Words. In actuality, they would have shrivelled his manhood [I’d prefer “made him impotent” or something of the sort, just to get people away from the idea that there are rituals that do direct physical harm. ‘Cause there aren’t. Otherwise this is pretty spiffy.] and caused his hair to fall out, except that the speaker was unaware that they required the target to be under thirty-three, that she had to wear green at the time, and that in the ceremony she’d performed the night before, she’d put the red cross the wrong way round and forgotten to pee on the apple. Such are the misfortunes of translating rituals from an obscure dialect of medieval French.

The real players in the Underground don’t shy away from serious violence, of course. When you’re playing for the future of the universe, or after a piece of the sacred
scabbard Caliburn, or avenging the skinning of your sister, you don’t hesitate to use some well-applied force. Also, some of them just plain enjoy hurting and killing people. Cabals lack the influence of the New Inquisition or the Sleepers, though, and covering up their violence is a lot trickier, which is why many of them prefer to use magick than guns; it’s a hell of a lot harder to trace.

Things Worth Fighting Over

A hell of a lot of conflicts within the Underground start over virtually nothing, of course. More magickal wars have been caused by petty ego clashes, sexual disputes, and disputes over relatively small amounts of money than by anything else. Lisbon saw, in the 1970s, one of the most vicious fights ever to rock the Underground, eventually pulling in virtually all of the small Portuguese Underground, purely because the visting Rasputin III’s claims to be the direct descendant of the Mad Monk were challenged by Humberto Villalonga, the city’s premier Cliomancer. The net result was six fatalities, three maimings, the destruction of two rather good bars, two complete mental breakdowns, and the Chief of Police suffering an infestation of frogs which sang barbershop quartets.

There are, however, some things which do attract particular attention and which, when rumours of them start spreading, are bitterly fought over. [In a strange order, this sentence seems.] Of course, it’s always possible to get such things by raiding the sanctums and libraries of other dukes, but these tend to be well-defended. Still, some cabals - such as the notorious and now defunct Six Who Dare - make a habit of such home invasions, known as ‘going Viking’ in occult parlance. Only powerful and mobile cabals can afford to make a habit of it, though; it darkens your reputation considerably. More general practice is ‘ghost-hunting’ - going after strange events on the grounds that there might well be something worth grabbing there. 95% of these turn out to be fakes or hysteria, of course, but the 5% that don’t - they’re worth the effort.

The key thing to remember is that the Occult Underground spawns rumours like rotten meat spawns maggots. If the PCs get hold of something big and are even peripherally connected with the Underground - and especially if they use it where others can see it - other people are going to know they’ve got it, and there’s a decent chance some of them will come after it. Even the whiff of the unnatural can draw curious occultists; remember, your PCs aren’t the only proactive group out there.


Pure magickal force in a handy box, artifacts are probably the most hotly contended things in the Underground. After all, just about anybody can use them, they lack the time investment and tedious research needed for rituals, and to adepts hooked on magickal power they’re like a taste of heaven. Minor items, which quite a few adepts can churn out with relative ease, are not particularly hotly contended, but significant ones cause dukes and cabals to come crawling out of the woodwork and begin fighting. The whiff of a major artifact - the creation of which sends psychic shockwaves through the brains of every seer around - can cause a massive convergence of the most vicious elements of the Underground.


In the end, it all comes down to who goes up to humanity’s parliament. This is what serious Avatars fight and die for; Godwalker wars and Ascension conflicts. Preventing or causing an Ascension is, generally speaking, a long, drawn-out affair; a secret war of ideology, symbolism, and magick, with a few bullets thrown in. After all, they can’t Ascend if you kill them first. The vast majority of dukes are not aware of the full implications of such conflicts, but they can recognise and understand the accumulation of symbolic force that Ascension requires, and some of them, if they dislike the person trying to do it, will make serious efforts to derail it.


After artifacts, the second most fought over thing in the Underground. It’s harder to get hold of a ritual than an artifact, because the knowledge of them is a great deal easier to conceal. Some few adepts commit all their rituals to memory, but the vast majority have to keep them recorded in some form or other, lest they slip on a crucial detail. Kidnapping and torture is not unknown as a way of forcing ritual knowledge out of someone. It isn’t so much their effects and usefulness which attracts occultists to them; it’s their buzz of magickal power.


The Underground fights over it just as bitterly as everybody else in the world does. Becoming an occultist, as discussed before, doesn’t open up a pot of gold; quite the reverse. Pure cash is most often the source of violent disputes, of course, because it suits the secretive lifestyles of dukes, but there are also pretty major fights over good sources of income; particularly gullible patrons, for instance, or the ownership of a New Age publishing house. [If you want an anecdote, you could maybe make something up about a couple cabals in Florida squabbling over a fortune in uncut cocaine, only to see the whole schmear go up in an Annihilomancer’s fire blast. The nihilist died long and hard, but that was scant consolation to the would-be drug dealers.]


Occultists take their neighbourhoods seriously; a cabal that comes into a city and throws its weight around is inviting trouble. Privacy is particularly important to the Underground, too, and anybody who threatens that is in deep trouble. In the case of Urbanomancers, Cliomancers, and True Kings, each of which draws upon some of the same sources of collective energy focused through a particular area, turf wars can be quite literal; a small alleyway may be brutally contended between two different adepts and an avatar.

Law And Order

The police generally look with a somewhat dubious eye upon the occult, and involvement in it is likely to make them a whit more suspicious of you if you get mixed up in some affair of dubious legality. There’s quite a few lecturers, often from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds, who give talks to U.S. police departments lecturing on ‘occult cults’ and ‘satanic rituals,’ which gives rise to a certain bias. And, let’s face it, the police don’t like conspiracies, talk of sacrifices, anti-Christian propaganda, rants about being ‘beyond the law’, or calls to overthrow the government, all of which mark certain sections of the Underground - and they just plain mistrust weirdos. If you’re a suspect in a murder case and the police come round to your house to find the walls painted with pictures of Marilyn Monroe merged in alchymical union with JFK, they’re not going to look favourably on you as a consequence.

The police know nothing about the existence of real magick. There’s no secret FBI force dedicated to hunting down adepts, though many occultists think there is. A cop confronted with ‘magicide’ is going to be puzzled. A lot of blast-caused deaths are attributed to natural causes, which is why adepts prefer them to guns. On the other hand, cops and forensic pathologists are a curious lot, and an unusual death - such as one where the victim’s lungs seem to have decided to push their way out of his body, or where she’s been impaled by a kitchen knife seemingly hurled at a hundred miles an hour - is going to draw their attention. In addition, cops, like most people in dangerous professions, are a touch more superstitious than the average, and some of them aren’t above going to psychics for clues. Sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - these psychics are real.

However, most of the time the police don’t have to rely on such things to nail an occultist. Occultists, after all, tend to make the same stupid mistakes that most criminals do. Fingerprints, DNA testing, neighbours seeing the occultist in the area - many an enterprising adept has been nailed for breaking and entering, for instance. In the course of play, most PC groups perform many, many illegal actions. Remember that the police are smart, and that they do this for a living. Unless your PCs have a suitable background and skills, don’t remind them of precautions that they should take - wearing gloves, for instance, or avoiding deviations from their normal routine - and certainly don’t assume they’re doing them. In the real world, most people who commit crimes do it badly. The kind of cockups that PC groups are given to making - ‘Oh my god. Did we say we were picking up the bag with the submachine gun and Ollie’s passport from Jackson’s house as we ran out?’ - are exactly the kind of mistake that people make in real life. Your great model here should be ‘Fargo,’ which captures criminal incompetence and police determination and resources down to an absolute tee.
AW: Artikel zu "Playing in the Underground" (von JamesCat)

Hiernach könnten SPOILER enthalten sein. - Bei UA bin ich mir nicht sicher, wie das die Gruppen so halten wollen. Ich halte es hier ganz anders als z.B. bei Engel.

Deep Inner Falsehoods

[Might actually want to move this forward a little, since it’s quite important, but I’m not certain where exactly.]

People in the Underground believe in magic. Unfortunately, not many of them know how it works. Even those who actually have unnatural abilities are often quite unaware of the theoretical underpinnings of their powers. Instead, the beliefs of your average occultist are based on a mishmash of the ramblings of 19th century pseudo-Hermetics, theosophy, fantasy novels, comic books, roleplaying games, [Let’s not mention these] and good old Aleister Crowley. There are certain common beliefs about magic, based on this, which are common in the Underground, and which sometimes approximate the truth of things.

The first is that human will is paramount. Magic is the imposition of will upon the universe, a wish given form. This is partly true; human will is vital in working real magick, but many occultists take this to mean that their own will is more important and powerful than anyone else’s. Some seem half-way convinced that if they concentrate hard enough, they can make anything happen.

The second is that magic requires energy. Again, this is a vague reflection of the reality of charges, but within much of the Occult Underground magickal energy is thought of as having a much more concrete reality, attainable in many ways. Belief in ley lines, powerful currents of magickal energy that have to be tapped to cast powerful magic, and nexuses, which focus the crossing of several ley lines into sites of great power, is very common, and battles have been fought over sites which, in actuality, have absolutely no innate magical powers. Other people are sometimes also thought to be a powerful source of energy, and occultists often work in groups for exactly this reason.

Thirdly, occultists tend to wildly overexaggerate the ritual element of magic. Rituals are neat, certainly, but many occultists think they’re essential, and surround themselves with extrinsic and unnecessary objects, people, and symbolism which only clutters any real magick that they do attempt. There are epideromancers, for instance, who are totally unable to work their magick unless the bloodletting is part of a group ritual, and cliomancers who can’t drain charges from sites without dancing naked for half an hour, painted blue.

Fourthly, a kind of weak pantheism is very common among occultists; the belief that everything and everyone in the universe is connected, and that the movement and position of one object intrinsically affect another. Some adepts go to great lengths to ensure that their magick is cast under specific stars, in a particular month, or in the right country; totally unnecessary, but it sometimes helps bolster their confidence.

Fifthly, occultists, especially clueless ones, often claim that magick is naturally subtle and natural seeming in its effects, that it works through seemingly normal people and events, merely changing the flow of luck or the feelings of others. This, of course, is a get-out clause; it’s much easier to convince people (and yourself) that your magic can subtly influence their husband into staying faithful to them, or protect their house against general and unspecified spiritual attacks, than it is to convince them you can turn people into frogs.

A very common mistake made by people who’ve just encountered or learnt one school of magick is to, naturally enough, that the principles of that school underlie all of magick. The rising popularity of the Naked Goddess, for example, is causing many outside the cult to look into tantric sex, swinging Satanic orgies, and so forth, for magical powers that simply aren’t there.


Millions of people, both inside and outside of the Underground, believe in spirits, ghosts, loa, demons, faeries, angels, saints, aliens, and gods. Some of these exist, but most, unfortunately [“perhaps fortunately”?], don’t. There are no nature spirits out there, no elementals, no djinn, no fallen angels seeking to corrupt mankind, no guardian angels looking out for your health, no greys intent on probing any part of you, no Pan or Ishtar or St. Michael.

On the other hand, there are an awful lot of desperate human spirits, stripped of their flesh by death and willing to pretend to be anything in order to get a foothold back on the physical world. There are lots of people in the Underground who sincerely believe that they talk to spirits or angels, but are, in fact, making contact with a bunch of frantically bluffing demons. This accounts for the rather ambiguous, slightly confused statements that most of these spirits seem to give. They do have powers, but often not those their summoner believes them to have, and they try and fake things as best they can. For instance, a pagan magician who believes he called up a fire elemental to burn his enemy’s house to the ground probably just summoned a demon who used a touch of entropomancy to make some candles fall over; different technique, same result.

The ultimate aim of any demon, as delineated in the UA rulebook, is to get a foothold in a human’s psyche. Just about any spirit, angel, or ultraterrestial, then, will end up proposing some kind of elaborate ceremony, ostensibly to the caster’s benefit, but which actually opens them up for possession. Daphne Lee speculates that perhaps as much as 5% of the Underground is actually possessed at any one time, and older and wiser adepts tend to spread rumours about ‘do not call up any which you cannot put down,’ and generally discourage any attempt to summon supernatural entities.

Some demons, however, become thoroughly convinced that they are, in fact, another type of supernatural being. This can lead to a slow erosion of their desperate need for corporeality, as they become more and more caught up in their role as the Guardian of the Sacred Henge, or as the God Apollo, or as Gurganthor, Demon of the Fifth Echelon. (Demons are just as fond of capitalisation as everyone else in the Underground.) A very few of them have even formed groups of human worshippers around themselves, whom they take for a ride whenever they feel in need of a physical buzz. The most powerful and canny of them rarely last more than a century; the Cruel Ones tend to find most of them.


Testimony: Susan Murphy

Oh yes, my tree talks to me. My spirit guide awakened it for me months ago, and now it gives me advice. It’s the soul of the tree, talking to me, telling me how to progress on the Six Sacred Stages. I’ve been purifying myself for months, eating no meat, drinking only pure water, and not touching iron, and soon I’ll be ready to progress to the Second Stage, when the spirits will fill my body, and I’ll be able to begin the Great Work of making the world whole.


The Invisible Clergy

The Invisible Clergy, or the Unseen Priests, or the Hidden Masters, or whatever, is often used to describe the conspiratorial cabal of magicians which much of the Underground is convinced runs the world, but the true nature of the endlessly reincarnating cosmos is known to only the most hardcore of occultists. Many more are vaguely aware of some aspects of the Clergy, but put a completely wrong interpretation on things. For example, it’s a very common belief that the Archetypes are preset and eternal (and reflected in the Tarot), and that humans are merely chosen to fill one or another spiritual post temporarily. They’ve been associated with any number of ancient pantheons, from the Egyptian to the Aztec. There’s a rumour going round in South America that the Clergy is rechosen every day, and the universe remade. It’s also not unusual for even a clued-in occultist to believe that the Clergy is just a myth.

Le Comte de Saint-Germain

The funny thing about Le Comte is that the more knowledgeable you are about the occult, the less likely you are to believe in him. Among the clueless, he’s commonly invoked as a Secret Master, an Adept of the Thirty-Third Degree, and so forth. Real adepts tend to think of him as either an exceptionally skilled con-artist or an adept with incredible PR skills. It’s only a very few really knowledgeable individuals who are aware of the true nature of the First and Last Man, and that’s just the way he likes it.


Testimony: Reverend Ken Pattison
Teenage Revival Preacher

Oh, I see it, brothers and sisters! I see his coming! The coming of the Antichrist, the Great Beast, the Horned Dragon! He will walk among us, now they are complete, the 666 devils of the Vatican’s Hidden Masters, and he shall be their herald, their witness most terrible, the dark preacher of the New World’s Order! He is called the Count, but in truth he is the First and the Last Man, Cain reborn, the bloody-handed sinner! Fear his coming!

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