Urban Shadows: Yet Another Campaign?

We’re playing this weekend! RPG #3 with the missus and some friends. She adored Sagas and was meh on Firefly, so I’m thinking going back to PbtA is a safe bet.

Went looking for the Dark Streets material and of course it redirects right back to Magpie’s US landing page. I guess I knew it wasn’t available yet, somewhere at the back of my brain.

A confession: I’m feeling like the city setup advice in US is intimidating and/or contradictory. On the one hand, you want a real city so you have real history and social context. Well…I haven’t lived outside metro Phoenix in forever, and my feelings about playing in your hometown run between fun and horrible. I’ve been to many, many cities. I don’t feel like I have a useful grasp of their histories and cultural textures. And given the game’s emphasis on intersectionality, that seems important.

OTOH Drew Medeiros​​ makes it clear that you can and should just make up whatever about the city you choose and not worry about the details. Real politics are dumb and boring so, yeah, let’s put a thousand-year-old sorcerer in the mayor’s office and a gang of werewolves in charge of the city’s SWAT assets.

So I’m not sure where my feet will land. Set the game up where I know the textures extremely well, and use that knowledge? Or throw a dart at a map and just make shit up out of whatever I’ve seen in the movies? Tokyo is pretty much all katana-wielding Yakuza on street bikes, right? SLC is all LDS and meth heads, Cairo is bazaars and those guys who warble up in the towers.

When I was a callow youth and played shittons of World of Darkness games — yes, US is a huge nostalgia trip for me — I lived and died by the Splat by Night books. And then I’d go to the city, see that the coverage was awful, and decry the by Night material. So I think I have WoD damage. I think most gamers over the age of 40 probably have WoD damage.

0 thoughts on “Urban Shadows: Yet Another Campaign?”

  1. I think it’s a big tension throughout the game: is it about politics and community and a kind of The Wire-ish reflection on systems and factions, or is it about a party of urban fantasy protagonists who are in a team-up crossover novel to take down the evil sorcerer mayor?

    I think both of those games are in there, and they war a bit with each other.

    That’s not to say that you can’t get good games out of that mix. But I’ve always felt that tension with each US game.

  2. Yeah, I totally know what you mean by that.

    I’m going through my final end-to-end readthrough and it feels like it’s trying very hard to bridge that gap. The easy and incorrect answer I feel like is gonna present itself is to dress up the protagonists in the garb of diversity, and then get on with the WoD hijinks.

    Probably there’s as much social awareness in the game as you bring to it, because I’m not seeing those issues really leveraged in the Moves.

  3. And to be totally fair, it’s a thing other games struggle with. Monsterhearts, from a purely book perspective, is much more focused and tightly evocative.

    But even with that, games (especially one-shots) tend to war between keeping focused on queerness and isolation and otherness and the melodramas of hooking up and occasionally devouring a teacher.

  4. I understand Dream Askew hits this stuff more directly. Do you know if that’s true? Might be useful to see what’s involved, even if just at a purely procedural level.

    As an oldcishetwhitedude, my brain is constantly at war against my default modes of play. Superfriend hijinks is so easy.

  5. I always research my cities. But that’s me, and research is fun for me.
    I think, and this applies even when you research, that the bridge between “make it up, real politics are dull” and “think about intersectionality” is that the sweet spot for US seems to be less “real world” and more like “real humanity.” Which is to say, it matters a lot less if you know about the history of the Taylor Creek Rehabilitation Council and how they changed the landscape of Toronto, and a lot more that you know that rich people make nicer parks by kicking poor people out.
    I mean, obviously there are limits. If you don’t know about how intersectionality works at all, it’s going to be rough. If you have no idea how gangs work, your gangs are going to be movie gangs and not real life ones — and thus likely to suck a bit. But in general I personally interpret the advice as much more “make it like your understanding of how people work in preassurized urban environments” and much less as “make sure you know the 25b only runs until midnight, because Rob Ford fucked over Transit City and now you’re stuck on fucking Don Mills at 1 in the morning.”
    Also, at some point I should kick my settings for Toronto and Transnistria into shape where other people could use them.

    The whole issue of superfriends is a separate one. One thing I will warn you about with that — try to avoid Buffy teams and clear and obvious Big Bads that are clear and obvious EVIL. The debts system works best when everyone is a bit dirty and everyone is in to someone. And when the PCs are not loyal unto the death to each other by default.

  6. Also, I find it hilarious that I used to write terrible crap books for WoD, and now work for a civil engineering firm and spend 10 hours a day studying water distribution systems.

    It’s like Karmic payback. The world is punishing me for making up shit by making me read blueprints until I go blind.

  7. So a query directly to Andrew Medeiros​​, since I’m in agreement with Brand Robins​​ regarding the living human element of dense urban play:

    Have you found, Andrew, any particular best practices regarding what details are most useful to hone in on for any given city? Maybe an outline of the Dark Streets writer specs would be useful here.

  8. Interesting side note: I played a short-arc game set in LA, and one of the major plotlines was faerie gentrification of the Wolf’s neighborhood. The fair folk were literally buying up real estate to warp the neighborhood to their ends. Wrapping real-life social issues into fantasy power conflicts is a great way to bring the two together.

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