[Let’s Study: Unknown Armies] Part 4: Conflict

Finally, one of the most interesting chapters in Unknown Armies: Conflict. Mechanically, conflict in Unknown Armies is broken down into Coercion and Combat.


Coercion is defined in the book as the use of non-violent means to change people or their actions. This being Unknown Armies, Coercion is not nice, instead the Coercion rules come in with efforts to threaten people that you will do awful things to them.

In terms of system, Coercion is done by establishing a credible threat. If you succeed your roll, then the target believes you and now has a choice of giving in to your threat and keeping their Shock Gauges unharmed, or risk a Stress Check. The rank of the check is dependent on how well you rolled.

It’s a nasty way to do things, but in this game, Coercion is actually the less risky way of doing things. It opens up a host of tactical information, which is detailed in the book, and at least allows you to get off with less consequences than the alternative.


Combat on the other hand is something all RPG players are familiar with. Unknown Armies opens with my most favorite RPG description of combat of all time, and a matching 5-stay essay on “Six Ways to Stop a Fight” that I feel should be essential reading to any RPG that doesn’t deal with fantasy hack-and-slash.

Mechanically combat is fairly straightforward, with attacks being resolved as an Identity roll. Those with an Identity that Provides Firearms Attacks can shoot someone if they have a gun on them. The game also has the usual rules variants that cover failures, fumbles, dodging and going all out.

Where Unknown Armies gets interesting is that the GM tracks all damage. The GM is also instructed to never refer to damage in numerical values, but instead describe wounds and injuries in descriptive detail instead. It’s a minor tweak, but one that adds a lot to the atmosphere of Unknown Armies and one that I’d love to pull off in other games.

The Rest

The rest of the chapter goes on to detail various maneuvers and special cases (Aiming, Throwing Furniture, Chase Rules, etc.) and more exotic forms of dying such as suffocation, drowning, falling to your death and electrocution.

Medicine and Therapy

The last part of the chapter goes to the details of recovering from the nasty aftermath of Combat and Stress Checks. They’re fairly straightforward systems, so no big surprises here, but it’s good to have them right here rather than elsewhere in the book as they make the most sense to be available right after talking about the joys of illness and drowning.


Honestly, Unknown Armies remains among the most memorable rpg books I’ve read thanks to the combat chapter. The discussion of violence and how to avoid it and the ugly desperate truth of combat is something that merits being repeated, especially in “low power” / “realistic” games in an urban setting.

Next up in this series, we’ll be taking a look at the Weirdness.

If you’re interested in picking up Unknown Armies, you can grab their stuff over at the Atlas Games Website

You can also purchase PDF copies over at DriveThruRPG!

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