A friend asked me this morning for advice on how to run his first Urban Shadows game. I’ve been thinking about putting my thoughts in one place so here they are.
* Next time I run US, I’ll make super-sure everyone is up in everyone else’s business on the first session. The Debt questions don’t really push hard to make that happen, so you end up with a sprawly outward-focused relationship map. Oh yeah, btw definitely draw an r-map for this game. I would advise quartering out the map, with the four factions being the quarters.
* I would run your game in demo mode for a couple sessions. The things I would highlight as novel are the Debt economy and the Corruption economy. The Debt/Corruption tension is kind of core to the game! So have an NPC call in a debt ASAP. Not a murder debt though. Something difficult but not terminal. Make it okay for them to blow off the debt, too, so they can make that Corruption roll.
* I’d also leverage each player’s Corruption move at least once in the session, give them tasty bait.
* Re hyperviolence: the game doesn’t have a robust violence system, so it might not pay off for them to try this. The only options they’ll have is Unleash and maybe Escape and probably Keep Your Cool. I think violence is stressful so I frequently make them Keep Their Cool as the fiction moves toward violence. Let It Out can also short-circuit a fight, just by being scary/awesome.
* Factions: They’re abstractions of communities, and IMO they don’t work great (and they’re definitely not cyberpunk style monoliths). But they can work if you stay mindful of which quadrant the characters are sitting in (hence my strong advice to draw a physical relationship map).
Mortality is just plain folks, and you’ll need to establish VERY EARLY how much exposure to the freaky stuff Mortality has in your setting. Are they oblivious? Is the supernatural known? Basically: does law enforcement know about vampires? I’d start there. But the game doesn’t define that, and that’s a big question to get out of the way early because Mortality can be the biggest pain in the ass to face once you’ve gotten their ire up.
You also have to decide on the line between power and mortality early. In our game, power means anyone of any ability with an interest in 1%er interests: political access, direct authority, and money. So that can include mortal beings, for sure, but almost certainly once you’ve gotten into that community you know about vampires and wizards. It’s a good Illuminati thing.
Night is criminals, so again don’t get distracted with the vampires and werewolves stuff. It’s gang-bangers and mafia and IME also the most racially fraught. It’s super easy to turn your werewolf pack into cholos in cruisers, so think about that a little.
Wild is immigrant communities, also an easy place to think about race. Like, in our Phoenix game, who are the outsiders? Easy to map fairyland onto, say, the tribes but yikes. This is a place where I feel like the writers spent more time in old east coast cities, where you have more prominent insular immigrant communities.
* Hit the Debt thing early and often. Prompt your players to cash in THEIR debts with NPCs, and have the NPCs do the thing, so they can feel how useful they are.
* Don’t ever forget the “what I care about” questions that are on everyone’s character sheet. Shit can snowball really fast in US, particularly with the Faction and Start of Session moves spooling out new content faster than you can incorporate it.
I’m sure the other US diehards will have better ideas than this. This is just a place to start talking.