Actual Play – Charm City (10/20/2013)

urban shadowsGM: Mark Diaz Truman
Players: Kristin Firth (Ash/Vampire), Sean Nittner (Esther/Immortal), Tim Rodriguez (Tatiana/Oracle), Jonathan White (Meng Xi/Wizard), and Christopher Corbett (Sam/Fae).
System: Urban Shadows (Apocalypse World Hack)

Game Description

The city of Baltimore has many names: Charm City, Mobtown, The City of Firsts. Yet for the supernatural creatures that haunt The City that Bleeds, B’more is a vibrant ecosystem of debt and violence ruled by The Bird: Ravenstown. Everyone who lives here, every vamp, every wolf, every wizard, owes The Bird… no exceptions.

What do you owe him? And what will he demand from you this time?

Urban Shadows is an urban fantasy hack of Apocalypse World in the spirit of the World of Darkness, the Dresden Files, and the Mortal Instruments series.

Five Slots = Five Great Games = Burning Con Wins

I had the lowest priority for this game and was sure I’d be bumped. There was some shuffling of folks, but luckily when all the marbles fell, I was in he game. I was excited to game with Mark because he’s working on Do: Fate of he Flying Temple for Evil Hat and I’m his project manager on the game. I heard about his play-tests and they totally have me excited to play even though the game isn’t written yet.

Urban Shadows

This is a neat looking Apocalypse World hack. Some things that it does nicely:

  • Represent the “powers that be” in the form of factions (Night, Wild, Mortal, Power, etc) and clump character playbooks into those factions (Vampires and Werewolves are Night, Wizards and Immortals are Power, etc).
  • Take the string mechanic and change the power behind it from an emotional tie to a political one. By earning debts, folks are obligated to perform services for each other. This is what I wanted when creating the “Favor” mechanic for Apocalypse Galactica, though in this setting it is even more appropriate.
  • Offer some really classic archetypes with fun powers. I choose an immortal and I really enjoyed the “Been there, Done that” move, which was clearly taking from the Operator’s reputation move, but in the case of the Immortal it felt super appropriate.
  • The corruption mechanic often allows someone to get out of a bind (for instance pay 7-9 cost) by taking corruption and giving in to the power that they wield. We didn’t get to see enough of the corruption mechanic evolve but it eventually opened up new corruption moves (acting like gaining experience) which of course generated more corruption themselves. All to the end of turning your character into a monster. This is what WoD was trying to do… like forever!
  • There were also some high level faction moves. We didn’t see those come into play, but my understanding was that they controlled some of the factions as a whole interactions with each other. I’d be excited to see what they did.

Our game was actually several concurrent stories told onto of each other.

  • Ash’s service to the Raven, and the trials that came up from that.
  • Esther and Meng Xi’s realization of a power grab from the vampire prince Cozlof, trying to wrest control of the city from the Raven.
  • Sam and Tatiana being throw a sharp right curve from their normal day, when a simple drop was interrupted by a pack of werewolves.

Each of these stories played out concurrently with some overlap between the first and third, but enough separation that they painted a mosaic of the developments in Baltimore as a whole, very fitting to the theme of the game. Very Sin City.


Thoughts on the game

At the end of the game Mark asked for Roses and Thorns. First a round of what you liked in the game, and then a round of what you thought could be better, or what you’d like to see more of. This is the exact same format we used evaluating games in Good Omens, and I think it is a really strong format to use when evaluating games. Unfortunately I really just remember two:

Rose: Mark built up beautifully from the PCs contributions. Specifically in the case of Ash being an accountant before he was a vampire…and continued to be after he was a vampire. Ash’s story, and really the story of the game, was that of an accountant just trying to do his job.

Thorn: Because the city is so vast, because the panoply of moving parts was so intricate, I ended up never interacting with three of the four other players in the game. I had a handful of scenes, and every one of them was with the same other PC. It was fun to see where that built, but I wanted interactions with the others.

A very fun note for me. I realized about halfway through the game my character was a lich whose eternal life fed off the wide scale loss of lives only found in horrific massacres or wars. She had been a driving force in every American war since at least WWI.  Ugh, she was terrible.

Oh, and juice box posse for the win!