There are some really good examples of obsessions in earlier versions of Unknown Armies. They didn’t make it into UA3, but they do give players who are new or struggling with suitable backgrounds some helpful suggestions, for both mundane and adept obsessions.
Before we get to those, an interesting idea from earlier editions that isn’t accommodated in UA3 (either in the character creation advice or the character sheets) is to give a 2-line description of the obsession, and what it means to the character.
Even though in UA3 the obsession is tied to an identity, those are very succinct. While the Of course I can statements help define the scope, the rationale behind them can be ambiguous.
In the original Unknown Armies, there are worked examples for two characters, which are also followed up when looking at passions. One is a character called Cage, played by Phil:
Cage’s obsession seems pretty obvious at first: he wants to be the toughest guy in town, the man who owns the street. The GM asks why this is, and Phil suddenly finds himself stuck. After all, Phil isn’t the toughest guy in town, so he has to think about what would make someone want to be that much of a thug.
He decides that Cage was a real weakling and coward when he was young, and got beat up a lot—both by his dad and by the bullies in his neighborhood. His mom eventually ditched Cage’s dad and moved to a new city with a new guy. This new guy told Cage he better learn to fight, and went a long way towards teaching him. In his new neighborhood, Cage decided he was never going to take any crap from anyone. By being the meanest predator, he’d keep the other kids back. No one would ever have to know what a simp he used to be.
Cage’s obsession is “toughness.” Its description is, “If you’re hard on the outside, no one can find out how soft you are on the inside. You’d rather have people’s fear than their understanding, because you don’t like it when people understand you.”
Another character might also have the obsession “toughness,” but have a completely different description.
Another character example is Jennifer Zaraya, played by Kim:
Kim needs to pick an obsession. She thinks about just what Jennifer would obsess on, considering ideas such as compassion, peace, love, and so on, but all of these just seem to be facets of some larger goal. Finally she hits on the concept of gnosis, a Greek word representing mystical or transcendental knowledge.
She defines it like this: “You want to understand the cosmos. It’s so easy to sit back and see only the trees, but you insist on finding the forest. You believe that everything would fall into place and the world would be better if only we could all possess a true personal understanding of reality.”
A brief description is a good way to qualify or explain the obsession, which is why it’s included on our fillable character sheet.
Mundane Obsession Examples
- Breaking & Entering. The violation of a person’s home is an expression of power and daring that pumps you up. The secrets you find inside are just the whipped topping on the dessert of intrusion.
- Egyptian Antiquities. You not only have a large personal collection and a degree in archaeology, you compulsively track current artistic and design trends looking for ancient Egyptian influences.
- Human Motivation. You’re fascinated by what makes people stubborn, what makes them give in, what makes them love and hate different things.
- Knowing It All. You want to accumulate all knowledge for yourself. You love the exchange of information, because you always wind up with more than you started with.you always wind up with more than you started with.
- Music. To connect with people on a deep level, you use the sister languages of melody, harmony, and tempo. You see music as a bridge between our separate worlds.
- Physical Perfection. You diet, stretch out every morning and evening, lift weights three times a week, and try to run ten miles or swim sixty laps at least as often. If you don’t get your exercise, you can practically feel your body turning to putty.
- Pleasure. You tried S&M, B&D, LSD, PCP, and XTC—and then you tried them all again, only this time on a waterslide. Too much fun is never enough for you.
- Religion. Your dedication to Roman Catholicism (or orthodox Judaism, or Zen Buddhism, or whatever you want) guides your every action and thought. You strive completely to live a Christ-like life (or to adhere to the laws of the Talmud, or to annihilate your ego, or . . .)
- Shadows. You dwell in the margins, in both literal and metaphysical shadow. You lurk and you plot and you slip through society like a ghost.
- Top Dog. You want to be the quintessential alpha, the leader of the pack. In every situation, you must be dominant.
- Toughness. You are compelled to be the baddest mofo on the street. Guns, knives, bare fists—they’re all props, all part of the killer mystique you anxiously seek.
Adept Obsession Examples
- (Bibliomancy) Self-help books. They are the alchemical texts of the postmodern era, every sentence a recipe for transformation.
- (Cliomancy) Conspiracies. You must learn the secret history behind history, and revel in the power it grants.
- (Dipsomancy) Binging. Can you drink yourself so far down a hole that you actually emerge on some unglimpsed other side? Through force of will, you can transubstantiate a toxin into pure wisdom.
- (Entropomancy) Vansurfing. There’s nothing like riding on top of a big smoking Ford right down the damn interstate. The ocean is just the ocean; the highway is a metaphor.
- (Epideromancy) Blood Freedom. Your blood is your sixth sense. You must release it so it may share in your experiences and take its secret knowledge into your heart.
- (Mechanomancy) Eccentric Genius. You follow in the path of Tesla, a solitary explorer in the unknown future of human achievement. You do not seek to be understood—only respected.
- (Narco-Alchemy) Following the Dead. They stopped touring when Jerry died, but you’re beyond that now. You follow the true dead: souls and the wisdom they impart, the expanded reality you find in every blunt.
- (Personamancy) Mental Armor. You have a vulnerable core of being you must protect at all times. You rely on social and magickal masks to hide your injured, mewling soul from a long-buried nightmare.
- (Plutomancy) The Price of Freedom. You suspect that every idealist is a capitalist with good spin. You are a modern Diogenes, walking the world to look for the one who cannot be bought.
- (Pornomancy) Desire’s Visage. You believe that in orgasm, we mimic the true face of the Naked Goddess. You must catalog those features, cross-reference points of similarity, and build a composite image of Her.
- (Urbanomancy) Urban Renewal. The dead hulks of abandoned buildings are abused children in your eyes. You believe if you can renew the city, the people renew themselves.
- (Videomancy) The Judges. You know them all. Judge Judy. Judge Brown. Judge Wapner. They dispense wisdom and justice to the masses, Solomons for the media age. You must transcribe their teachings, systematize them, and synthesize the ultimate judgment passed on a passive audience.
Reference: UA1 (pp34-35). UA2 (pp30-31).