Urban Shadows: Sombros del Cartel

Everyone had been chewing on what city to place our upcoming game. It was a really easy conversation the last time: let’s just goth up metro Phoenix! That’s easy and fun and everyone knows what the city feels like, where the main points of cultural friction are, and so on. It’s a setting I want to return to, actually.

The current group is different: my wife, plus one of my Tuesday regulars and his wife. None of us really have a shared city other than (Dark) Phoenix. They know Tucson quite well, I know it pretty well, my wife knows it not-at-all. My wife knows Detroit and Minneapolis quite well (but the rest of us only know what we’ve seen on TV). And so on. So instead of worry overmuch about personal experience, we just started brainstorming interesting settings. 

We came up with El Paso/Juárez. Border city, tons of baked in conflict, lots of history, and a couple of us are very interested in cartel lore. I had a hard time pitching Cartel itself as a game to play, so we’re doing the next best thing.

The Hunter is a cartel enforcer and the Aware is an Iraqi expat obsessed by dreams of cartel violence. The Spectre is old, really old, like she died in 1794, before the treaty that established the Rio Grande as the Mexican-American border.

It’s going to be a really interesting setup, I think, especially given that it would be trivially easy to write off cartel badness as supernatural rather than humanity being evil/desperate/opportunistic. Some stuff that popped out at me about setting the game up:

* We had a really interesting conversation about what exactly the Wild faction is in this setting: immigrants and outsiders, right? Well that sure as hell isn’t the local Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (or the Americans). Those folks are just mortals! So, yeah, there’s a creepy demon that hasn’t been on screen yet. And we’ve also introduced some fae (living as eastern European gangsters) that have found themselves entangled with a cartel war that’s about to blow.

* Because two of our three characters are mortal, I’m really super interested in just how mortal their concerns will be. It’s easy, so so easy, to just overload your setting with magical stuff. It’s fun and easy and provides a nice emotional distance. In fact as we were doing our “start of session” moves, our very newest player (with the least amount of current rping experience; I’m still feeling out the trad baggage) started shuffling through the playbooks for inspiration about what kinds of magical stuff to jam into the session. So now we have an NPC wizard, an oracle, that demon, the gangster fae, and a werewolf pack. And I think that might just be enough. Haha writing it all out it feels like way way too much already!

* Because of the cartel-heavy setting, that fact touches nearly everything in the game. That’s terrific. I kind of wish I could just mash Cartel and Urban Shadows together, you know? Make stress and corruption interchangeable or something. When you gain a corruption move you also make a stress move! Ha, can you imagine? Through losing your shit and beating the informant to death, you realize you don’t actually have to honor promises to monsters after all. Take “free agent.”

Anyway, we really had less than 2 hours of actual play time that first session. Lots of questions, lots of easing everyone into the vibe of the game, lots of learning their way around the basic moves as well as their playbooks’ vibes. Next session in two weeks.

(Photo references Santa Muerte, which is a totally fascinating bit of real world weirdness: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100103282/a-mexican-death-cult-is-fuelling-americas-anti-immigration-backlash-this-is-about-crime-not-race/).

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