Urban Shadows

Urban Shadows

Session three went really well. I’m doing something a little different with these reports, so rather than doing a blow-by-blow I just want to share thoughts and opinions as they occur to me throughout the game. So on that note:

Start of Session, Fronts Threats, and the Storm: Skipped it this time, since we were in media res after last session. Kind of missed it, although it made no sense at all to roll on it. So far (after one use) it’s integrating okay with the Threats/Storm campaign setup. The players also missed getting themselves that free faction check.

I’m honestly really happy to have set up my Threats. It gives me a good touchstone to go back to if I’ve lost track of stuff to throw at the players. I haven’t debriefed with the players yet, but it feels from my side like there’s meaningful momentum building up from several directions.

What I haven’t done yet is set up the Storm concept yet. I think I’ll definitely do that next time, and come up with a City move as well. I haven’t cooked up any custom threat moves yet, and I need to I think. I’m good at doodling up moves! But sort of terrible at it, all the way back to Apocalypse World, when it comes to creating them for a live game. I want to talk about that separately at some point. Many mixed feelings.

Corruption: One character already has three of her five Corruption advances, and sure enough she’s getting way more circumspect about it. It’s perfect. I really like, too, that there’s so much advancement so early, feels exciting for the players to see lots of new stuff get turned on. Two regular advances and three Corruption advances, that’s a lot of new stuff to see in three sessions.

Factions: There are some interesting things left unexplained in the text of Urban Shadows. Most notable to me is just what a Faction actually is. It’s…not a community, not exactly. It’s sorta-kinda a Circle, in Burning Wheel speak: folks who wield political and monetary power know (of) each other, so that’s the Power faction. It’s not monolithic, though. More like groups who share methods and goals. But then there’s the Mortal “faction,” which feels like the fallback (if’n yer not a vamp nor a fae nor a wizard, yer a mortal) and I cannot rationalize the existence of a default faction. And joining a new faction, whatevs, no idea. Very abstract. So I find myself always scratching my head a little to make things like the “put a face to a name” move look like something in the fiction. 

We actually didn’t roll “put a face to a name” even once tonight, somewhat on purpose. It’s one of the main ways the relationship map can fractally spin out into infinity if you use it a lot (not unlike Circles, in fact!). I think we could have rolled it once, when werewolf gangs showed up and a new gang leader presented herself.

Transient residents: There’s also this thing in our game where all three of our characters are new to the city. Pro-tip: don’t let your characters be new to the city. It makes some of the game hard to use or rationalize, since you’re constantly tripping over their newness even as you’re trying to establish debts with NPCs they run into. Honestly I’m not sure why all three of my players went with this, and I’m not sure why it didn’t jump out at me as problematic earlier. But yeah. The fish out of water thing is no bueno.

Secrecy: Another thing that is left to players to decide on is the amount of secrecy present in the setting. Does the public know there are werewolves and vampires? Do wizards have LinkedIn accounts? It’s been hard to get everyone on the same page there. Some of that is Masquerade damage, some of that is just not quite having the same ideas about the setting. I’m going for kind of a… magical realism vibe, but I’m not super rigorous about consistency.

So like…werewolf gangs are coming to the city to join forces with the local oppressed pack that’s trying to get out from under the King of the Moon. They’re at war with the fae, and it’s awesome and bloody. But is the media covering that as a gang war or as werewolves? Dunno. I’m treating the world as mostly blind to the supernatural, but there’s so much supernatural stuff. 

The presence of the Aware playbook strongly implies that there is in fact a secret hidden world of the supernatural, and in fact there needs to be some secrecy otherwise the Aware isn’t uh, aware of anything that everyone else wouldn’t be. There’s just this sort of weird vagueness to the whole topic that I find interesting and a teeny big vexing.

NPC Debts: One thing I realized after last session is that I wasn’t keeping good tabs on the debts that NPCs are owed by the PCs. There’s a lot of good stuff to be had in terms of giving me ideas on what to do in a slow spot, and it definitely makes the debt economy feel more of a two-way street. So I went through the r-map I have (where I’ve been noting debts but they’re buried under squiggles) and it turns out to not be that many. High time for the NPCs to start doing favors for the characters. Get ’em on the hook. 

Demons demons demons: I will share one vignette here. We have a wizard character, and she has a sanctum. It’s an extradimensional space she deploys off her corporate office at BioMedTech, a blood technologies company run (of course) by fucking vampires. Well, anyway, she’s in her sanctum and wants to reach out to the Aware, who is exhausted, beat to hell, scared out of his gourd, and knows that the fucking suit vampires know about him. So we talk about that and settle on Let it Out: he’ll take control of the Aware’s mind, since he’s vulnerable and some kind of magical communication seems reasonable.

So yeah he effs that roll up. I look over the sanctum’s drawbacks: “attracts interdimensional attention” or something. So I have a demon possess the wizard’s trusted assistant. Which in turn spools off not only the entire session — the demon wants to possess someone big and strong out in the world for reasons, and the wizard wants her assistant back and unharmed, so they make that happen and literally all hell breaks loose — but also sets up my fifth Threat that I’ve been scratching my head about. Now we have a whole city of demons possessing people and generally causing grief. And I have a chance to deploy my considerable squick-inducing skills.

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0 thoughts on “Urban Shadows”

  1. In a world where the public knows the supernatural exists, the Aware is best thought of as someone who deeply cares that it exists and is way too overinvolved for some reason (prophecy, birthright, weird experiment, etc) Whatever the Aware is, just portray the public as “not that”.

  2. My bucket list includes designing an Infowars game. 

    Someday.

    I’ll have to retreat to my secret bunker/armory after it’s published, though.

  3. I totally hear you on the “transient PCs” problem. I made that mistake in my PbP game; my Vamp is a kinda-newcomer. I’ve sorta retconned it to “he’s been around a couple months, and also has dossiers on folks”. Which is incidentally also how I work Put a Face to a Name when I’m playing my Vamp: it represents his general familiarity with a faction.

  4. It was such a dumb oversight in retrospect.

    If/when I run this again — I’m really hoping to get a side game of it going with my wife and different friends/family — I’ll set the expectation that the game is about long-time entrenched interests.

  5. I wonder why it’s such a natural inclination to do that? It’s weird. I didn’t even notice and then, bam, all the sudden all my characters are fish out of water.

    Now to be fair, (Dark) Phoenix actually is mostly filled with newcomers. Very few old stock Phoenicians here. So it kinda-sorta works in the fiction. But not at all with the moves.

  6. I think it stems from all those years of “you meet in a tavern”. The players are new to the city and they probably feel more comfortable exploring that city from the eyes of a newcomer. My two cents. 🙂

  7. In York (Toronto) the PCs were a mix of old and new, and the establishment characters drew the new ones in. However, the establishment characters also got more screen time. Just easier to go to.

    When we did Paris, I changed the questions on the playbooks so they said things like “how many centuries have you been here” or “why did your parents send you here from Haiti when you were 9.”

    No newbs in Paris. Game ran tighter.

  8. Oh, also in York, newbs would do a “I know another dude from where I’m from” sometimes.

    So, like, all the folks up from Winnipeg might know each other, by Rep at least, even if they were all new to this town.

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