I’m starting a new go at Urban Shadows tonight for my wife and another couple and I’m so stoked. Out of my gourd excited. I’m aiming for a very modest three sessions — my wife has never actually played an ongoing game of anything — and cross my fingers that we can extend it from there.
I learned a lot about how to run the game the last time I ran it and I think that’ll help a lot. Things that jump out for me:
* Make sure every character is deeply entrenched and invested in their city. In our last game, every character was a newcomer to the city, fish out of water. Dumb. That strains/breaks so much about the game. So don’t do that.
* While I love the urgency and action of treating every session like a one-shot, that also leads me to making my moves maybe a little too hard for ongoing play. So I’m going in now with an eye toward throttling the pace a bit more rather than stomping the pedal every time.
* The game has a start-of-session move where you keep expanding the situation: each player calls out a faction for someone else, and that someone else dreams up a lead/rumor/situation about that faction. Great tool for a session or two, and not great beyond that. We ended up with a way way messy situation and, again, way too much urgency on too many fronts. So the game felt reactive (not terrible) with the characters constantly losing traction on their own start-of-game “things I care about” statements (sort of terrible).
I re-read through the entire text this week with the experience of having run the game. It’s really helpful! I’m not sure why I couldn’t hook into the examples the first time through but having some actual-play context was helpful to me.
One thing that jumped out, like screaming blazingly loud…actually it was two things. First thing was the statement/admonition that misses are not necessarily failures. I most definitely default to that mode: oh shit, time for me to make a move? Let’s step on the gas. Again with the constant driving urgency and chaos. Again, that’s “fun” but boy it’s hard to, you know, build toward things. (With the acknowledgement that “building toward things” is really iffy when you’re “playing to find out what happens.” It’s a built-in semi-contradiction of the game’s RAW procedures and best practices.)
Really embracing that misses =/= fails opened my head up to the possibilities of “say the consequences and ask”. I think I just kind of skip over that move whenever I run a PbtA game, even though it’s the logical result of misses not being failures. Maybe because it feels redundant with Act Under Fire 7-9? Probably.
Anyway! In Urban Shadows there’s, you know, a whole paragraph talking about ways to deal with offering consequences for success. The one that jumped out at me? Making Corruption the consequence. Presumably with fictional dressing to make it extra-awful. But boy howdy does that potentially open up the Corruption economy. It’s easy-ish to sidestep that economy if a player super-duper does not want to engage it, because the written triggers are explicit: your Corruption drama move, refusing a debt, all that. But lordy, adding Corruption as an option to literally every move in the game? And it shows up once, once in the text. And once in the long example. A tiny little dose of something awesome, as well as really important.
Funny the stuff you learn when you read.
Now my big worry/challenge is coming up with a city to play in. Nobody at the table has enough shared experience with cities other than Phoenix (or Dark Phoenix as we played in last campaign), so just picking a city or city archetype out of a hat is equally good/bad I guess for everyone. A big west coast metropolis would be fun, as would be a really old east coast city.
I may also pitch 750AD Toulouse and put my Werewolves in Aquitaine research to new/better use. Very very tempting, although “cities” were kind of small relative to modern cities — maybe the tens of thousands? But as I discovered in my research, just tons of cultural exchange and juicy intersectionalism.
I think Magpie will have some essays about playing in historical settings in Dark Streets but who else has hands-on experience with what may need to be tweaked? I know Brand Robins ran/is running something historical and French. Anyone else?