We really hit our stride in our second game of Urban Shadows! We pushed the story hard, resulting in some intense scenes. You can see the session here:
- Rain the Oracle discovers her faithful cat is actually a changeling pookah! She lets him stay (and eat all the bacon).
- The immortal Jorgmongand leaves his friends in the lurch to chase the origins of his own immortality, discovers his complex history with Auberon the fae, and discovers he can only die at the hands of “A true friend”.
- Valerie the Spectre has a flashback of her death and confronts her friend Bertrand who admits he did shoot her husband, but “It is all Jormongand’s fault”
- Dakota the Wolf rescues a ‘stupid fucking wizard’ from the Demon Hound and turns him into her minion.
- Angelica the Hunter confronted the red Hound of Destiny, died and was resurrected to kill the beast – it was only the help of her friends that kept her from becoming fully corrupted and turning into the prophesied “Conqueror”. She is now five corruption marks away from the precipice.
Slight deviation as written
We played the game as is, except I replaced the starting moves (where you assign factions to each other) with love letters. Love letters seemed like a good way to:
1) get a few potentially less interesting npc interactions out of the way
2) give the story a good hard shove forward
3) get people excited about playing after a three week hiatus
It achieved all those ends quite well. Other than that, we played as written, although we had to back-track after the session to handle some intimacy and death moves that we had overlooked in play.
My one gripe with Urban Shadows
Urban Shadows doesn’t quite do what we want it to do. This might just be due to different genre expectations, and I’m not saying Urban Shadows is wrong. It just doesn’t quite what we like. This is mostly due to the XP mechanic.
- You can get XP by using a faction move, or
- you can use XP by cashing in a debt with someone
This can drive you to exchange debts with PC’s, but it also drives you to talk with NPC’s. At some point, our wolf said “Sure, I could track him with my blood hound move, but I could also just go ask these guys and get XP out of it“.
That’s power playing, but power playing in games powered by the apocalypse tells you what to do to get a good game. I encourage people to power game in AW*hacks! Except in this case… it leads to a lot of conversations with NPCs.
Which I cater to by having the players create NPC’s and organisations that they are interested in, and adding a few colorful characters of my own. Those characters become very memorable and NPC’s will be excited about interacting with them. But that creates a world where you and the other PC’s seek out NPCs to get your drama done, instead of having it with each other.
Of course, this is perfectly valid for a genre game of faction intrigue… It’s not really fair to blame a game for doing what it wants to do! But we are much more in a character drama mindset. We value PC-PC interaction much higher than NPC-PC interaction. Ideally, I want at least two PCs in every scene. I suppose that really is a different genre, more suited to Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts.
This is a bit frustrating, because a lot of other things about Urban Shadows feel SO right. The archetype moves, the intimacy moves, the corruption, the factions themselves. the grimey city feel. I love it! I guess next time we will try US with the AW xp mechanic for a little customization.