I’m just finishing up a kick-ass Urban Shadows mini-campaign (one more session to go!). Urban Shadows is still in beta and our advanced playing efforts have made us part of the play test team. The play test form asked me if I have tips for Urban Shadows MC’s. I think I do! They mostly come down to: embrace the chaos, and have a great time! But I can go into a little more detail below.
Character creation and world building
Character creation is very easy, but Urban Shadows requires a bit more world building than other games powered by the Apocalypse. Unlike Apocalypse World’s little bubble of a settlement, you kind of need a thriving, bubbling city. You want at least a few ideas for every faction and NPC’s from that faction to interact with.
Sure, you can improvise it all on the spot. But it’s a lot more fun, not to mention less work, to have your players do it. Plus, that way you get to enjoy all the player investment it brings.
When we were making characters, I asked them to add a few extra details in:
Once you have your faction stats, look at the faction you have the least and the most points in, and describe to me
1) From your faction with the least points: The subgroup that you are on bad terms with (The vampires that run Wall Street, the soccer mom witches coven, …)
2) From your faction with the most points: your main go-to guy or gal for information and debt-exchange.
If two or more factions are tied, pick the one that’s most interesting to you.
I would definitely ask those questions again. It’s especially nice to ask for a group they are on bad terms with because it gives you an easy time figuring out what the factions are up to, and to make fronts for them. Example links:
Ally: my go to guy is Dr. Jackson in the St. Mary’s hospital. He will patch me up after a rough hunt and will give me leads on potential prey. He does prefer all supernatural beings dead, so any non human friends or acquaintances I have, I keep to myself…
Enemy: The Court of the twilight, a bunch of pricks who think everyone else are oafish barbarians with the IQ of a pot plant. They reside in the Fae but their most used portal to the mundane world is a modern art sculpture of a free standing door in the nicer section of the park.
Prepping the first session
There’s not that much to prepare for the first session. Just follow people around as usual. Try not to panic about the many npc’s and plot threads that have already been released like a box full of pingpong balls.
I did make a city map with our main locations on it, because I thought that would be a neat touch. It was nice for people to be able to orient themselves in the city.
My main prep was a cheatsheet with a list of factions and NPC’s, pretty much like this:
Papa LeRoy (jamaican), controls the east end district from the smokey pool halls to the docks, powerful wizard (voodoo), Jormungand the Immortal’s friend
Werewolf that Angelica the Hunter is seeing: Rufus Garcia. Owner of a Dot Com company ThoughtLeap (think Google: bean bags, bicycles, ping pong table, annoying hipsters)
Those “fucking wizards of the White Tower”. They’re obsessed with Dakota The Wolf. “Once it got out that I was a natural-born Wolf, not turned, they freaked right the hell out. I don’t know what they want to do with me, but I’m not peeing in a cup, I’m not giving blood, any of that. They can back the hell off.” Derek, Hiro, Harper – trenchcoated young guys who wanted to grow up to be John Constantine
Seloua Akkar (middle-eastern): Powerful wizard by night, an oncologist by day.
Running the first session
- Follow the PC’s around like you would in any Apocalypse World Engine game.
- Provide plenty of time to run through all the opening moves and the archetype opening moves. It can take longer than you think. Players that are anxious to get started might get, well, more anxious. If I was playing at the table, I’d get this started while people were unpacking their bags and getting out their snacks. Use the moves to ease into the game.
- There’s quite a lot to keep in mind as an MC. You’ll forget to trigger an intimacy, corruption or other move here and there, to make factions and other housekeeping. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it after a few sessions.
Onwards: Punching the story forward
- After the first session you might be freaking out a lot about the boatload of ping pong ball story threads streaming out. Stay cool! If you’re running a long campaign, relax and let them bounce around. If you’re running a short campaign, you may want to punch the story forward a few hard knocks.
- Use the opening moves to push PC’s into other PC’s business, and and to push the story threads inward when needed. For example: If an NPC is spying on a PC, lets another PC find out about it in their opening move and see what they’ll do with it.
- Use some hard scene framing to hit the ground running after the opening moves.
- Valerie the Spectre is in Jormongand The Immortal’s apartment and enters his dreams to find out the truth about her death
- Rain the Oracle and her Fae friend Tommo get robbed by armed *and aware* hobo’s on the way to get sashimi
- Angelica the Hunter and Dakota the Wolf walk into the kickboxing club only to find Angelica’s ex (Rufus Garcia) strung up there in silver chains, surrounded by hunters
- Get to the good stuff right away: Whatever good stuff is for your group. If it’s drama, drop them in it right from the start. If it’s investigation, get those clues in right away. If it’s political intrigue, drop those schemes like candy. Because the game feels so much like a sandbox, PC’s can fall into analysis paralysis – don’t let them. Like the agenda says: keep the character’s lives out of control and evolving. Push hard!
Highly Recommended: Love Letters
I ran a four session campaign so I needed the story to move fast. I replaced the opening moves with some (Tough) Love Letters. Every love letter would lead to a hard framed scene, and after that: let the chips fall where they may! Here’s an example of a Love Letter:
You have been making great progress on your quest for information. Finally the pieces are falling together! But what exactly have you been working on? You find one significant clue on either The Demon that might eat all of your friends OR Your Immortality.
It comes at a price, of course. You only have so much attention to go around.What have you let slip? Roll +mind. On a 10+ chose 1. On a 7-9, choose 2:- Your limo is stolen in the night
– Your faithful butler Sörensen has been taking time off at strange moments, offering vague excuses.
– You have neglected to repay a debt, and someone is angry at you.
On a miss, all of the above, and the debt you neglected to repay was one with the Fae.
I’m sure that won’t happen, though, so mark your mortal faction for me, please.
Love and kisses,
These are great. You can also give them to the players ahead of time, which gets everyone excited for the upcoming session.
Urban Shadows is a really fun game to run. You are not particularly stuck in any genre and are free to play it with a drama, investigation, politics, horror or any other flavor you like. You can really go all out with colorful NPC’s and crazy situations. And, unlike a lot of other story games, this is your shot at a big multi-faceted epic you thought you could only have in traditional games. I highly recommend you give it a go!