Urban Shadows

Urban Shadows

Session uh…five I think? Yeah. In the bag, tons of fun. Exploring another of my four faerie courts, this time the Court of Stars, filled with partying skeletons and sugar skulls.

I’m running every session like a one-shot now, and that’s a very useful head space to work from. For one, it escalates all my decisions into Big Deal space — there are no time-killing moves, no slow builds, everything is dramatic. For another, it’s helpfully detraining me from the blood-opera one-shot model that’s so very easy to fall into (at least when you’re one-shotting Burning Wheel!). 

More thoughts from the session, since I’m not gonna blow-by-blow this game:

* There are just a shitton of advances characters can pick up each session. I think everyone got a regular advance and a corruption advance tonight. That’s a lot of new stuff. And the relationship map has grown so elaborate that it’s not hard at all to hit all four factions in a session. 

* Players are getting really good at piecing together move combos, which gives them a feeling of more control than they had getting used to the game. Need to Circle track down a known NPC? Hit the Streets! 

* I’m really appreciating that I took the time to build up a bunch of Fronts after the first session. Totally worth doing, and they totally work with the start-of-session move where everyone announces a Faction rumor and makes a roll. I should say that I’m making them work and it’s not taking that much brainpower to pull off convincingly. 

* The first couple hours of tonight’s session was spent with each character pursuing their own agendas. On the one hand, yay, they’re not doing a superteam type thing. On the other hand, as a practical matter, that’s leading to some downtime. Hard to balance. It’s working, not a deal breaker, but I do have to manage that very carefully. Pull a pair of them together, break them up, pair them up differently, and so on.

* Shit has gotten so cray that I have no idea how to integrate the real world into the shenanigans going on. What do cops think when a Tainted takes his demonic form and goes to battle against another demon? In the streets, midday? There’s precious little talk about that, none really, so that’s something I need to think about. I feel like the characters are getting off really easy with what all the mortals are seeing.

* I’m not loving many of the threat/faction moves. They often feel abstract relative to what triggered them. Which can be a PbtA thing, I know: like, you missed your Escape roll so you kind of expect the MC move to be a direct fictional consequence of that, but it doesn’t have to be. In Urban Shadows especially, the MC move “conversation” feels more like a pacing tool than a conversation about the action at hand. Probably true of all PbtA games but I’m feeling it very keenly in this game.

* I don’t recall seeing anywhere that an MC move can be to advance a Front clock, but I’m doing it anyway. Works fine, keeps the background progressing.

* I deployed my first in-game custom move! As in EVER! “The first time the full moon rises over someone injured by a werewolf, they roll +spirit. On a 10+, they’re feverish and confused but the lycanthropy doesn’t take hold. On a 7-9, they succumb but they have enough time to Escape somewhere they can’t hurt anyone. On a 6-, they find out what happened in the morning!” It’s easy and obvious and worked fine. 

Anyway, the game’s hit its groove and it’s easy to run and play. I think we can easily hit 8 episodes and get at least a couple of my Fronts to come to fruition.

0 thoughts on “Urban Shadows

  1. I, too, have started considering the “run each session like a one shot” thing. I’m even going so far as to scene-jump even though we didn’t finish the previous session, fictionally. Didn’t kill the wraith and find his bones last time? That’s cool. Cut to the building burning down as they stand over his open grave with rusty shovels.

    I’m running DW, though and have yet to make some Fronts. Sell it to me – what is it that makes them worth it?

  2. Aaron Griffin – Fronts are cool because (a) they give you the Goals of the NPC/group/landscape/whatever (which like any good GM you already wrote down) but then (b) they have Portents, and the Portents give you a handy chronologically-ordered list of “What Will Happen If The PCs Do Nothing”.  I don’t run DW, but I love the way they did Fronts.  (By the way, DW explains them much better than Vincent did in AW).

  3. I agree that DW is better than AW. I feel like MotW has a lot more variety, but you’re creating the window dressing around a single villain, rather than more abstract happenings.

    I’ll play around with them, see if they fit my prep style.

  4. One shot thing is very interesting. My guys have been drowning in “plot” due to the session start moves. 4 players and we only play for 2.5 hours so I’ve slowed it down to session starts every 2nd session. Still haven’t got to the gate they discovered was important 4 sessions ago! As the moves/events snowball there never seems time for a break. The idea of handling some of that off-screen between sessions is good but players may feel cheated. Play to find out, not play to have the MC tell you how it goes down, right? Plus I have not mastered the one-shot.
    Totally agree about the mortal reactions too, I’m ignoring it as they have enough complications already. I saw the draft NYC book has a mortal front where the US army/govt locks the city down if it gets too hot with supernatural activity.

  5. I’ve been hearing that faction moves feel more like faction principles than moves proper.

    Your custom lycanthropy move is great.

    As for running each session like a one-shot, what a cool insight. I think I tend to do that with PbtA games, too, without ever acknowledging it. The game of AW I’m currently playing in has been like that, too. I was able to recap the previous four sessions with really simple titles like “the car chase” because each one had a very distinct, stand-alone feeling. For me, part of that might be that I mostly run PbtA games as actual one-shots

    Keeping the group together is a growing problem I’m finding with PbtA games, unless they have a really tight focus on group cohesion (like DW or NW). When I was running The Warren at Nerdly North, a failure cascade resulted in the group being split into three sub-groups of 2, 1, and 1 after the first scene, just because of how the moves followed the fiction. In my AW game, I can see our MC scrambling for ways to move us towards each other, because none of us have distinctly shared agendas. I spent the whole last two session manufacturing reasons in the fiction for my Battlebabe to hang out with the Angel, and pointing out that the Chopper also owed the Angel big-time (for putting half his gang back together after a series of disasters), and then deciding arbitrarily that I was the Driver’s best friend.

    To posit a hypothesis: the clear niche-protection of PbtA games gives each character so many toys to play with in their own sandbox that they don’t need to play together as much. Or maybe a better analogy: each playbook is a house with a PS4, and meanwhile, the MC has built a playground and keeps trying to drag the kids over to play in it.

  6. 1. I bought this game to find out what the faction moves were. Am I missing some GM-focused ‘factions make moves’ section, or are you fine folks referring to the basic moves that relate to dealing with factions?

    2. Adam D My sense is that party-splitting and ‘urban’ go hand in hand – parties are insurance for dealing with the unexpected when travel and communication costs are high. Modern cities eliminate both, so there’s no need to drag Frank to scene 1 just in case we need him for scene 2 or 3.

    3. I once had a BW group that spent a lot of time doing individual things; when I asked if this was a problem they said they actually enjoyed hearing the shenanigans the other players got up to; a bit like a TV show that rotates through various lives. I had been concerned as I was aware our conversation had fallen into a hub and spoke pattern with the GM at the center.

  7. Michael Prescott Oh, you’re totally right as far as “urban,” but I see it in games that aren’t urban/modern as well, when you present the PCs as specialists. This is as old as the hobby itself: If my rogue is super sneaky, and your fighter is Leeroy Jenkins, then we are going to split up a lot. PbtA games create specialized PCs by default, and they often come with big piles of “lonely fun” moves and advantages (like workshops, gangs, etc.).

    Like, in Apocalypse World, I cringe when someone plays the Savvyhead. For some reason, that playbook (in my experience) tends to result in a PC who just sits in his workshop tinkering and all of the other players have to come petition him for help. It should come with a big warning label that says “only take this book if you’re OK with sitting back and watching play, or else working extra-hard to justify getting involved in the action!”

    I do dig the idea of a group of players that is having just as much fun watching each other as they are “actively” playing. That’s great!

  8. Adam D I gotcha – aka the hacker problem from Shadowrun. One neat solution I heard from someone’s AD&D game was troupe play, where a) the players planned the focus of the session and b) chose appropriate characters from the troupe. They had a large enough stable of characters that for recon type sessions, they could all take someone with lots of levels in Thief (fighter/thief, m-u/thief, pure thief, etc.). When they’d scouted the place, they’d ride home and fetch the cavalry (sometimes literally).  (I recognize this doesn’t address the inevitable session with focus A which has a little bit of focus B.)

  9. Just musing now, another thing I’ve seen is when single-character foray activity is handled with a single move. Perilous Wilds, for instance, has a move for ‘scouting ahead’ that breezes through all the hiding and peeking, and just skips to how it went.

  10. Michael Prescott Yeah, that’s a good way to handle it. Leverage and Blades in the Dark both have teamwork rules that allow a specialist to shine while other characters still get to reap the benefits, which makes situations like that a little breezier, too.

  11. Oh, also The Regiment has a downtime move that I’ve just realizes increases cohesion. During the fighting, the party is part of a unit, so they naturally stay together (except for the sniper.. which gave us the hacker problem), but downtime risks turning into a time suck where everyone’s on leave. So a single move swoops past it all.

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