Last fall I finally ran a prolonged Urban Shadows game, partly as filler between the end of my Vampire Chronicle and the arrival of my daughter Miranda, and partly to see how the system played over a longer span.
My players were all veterans of both my Vampire: the Requiem Chronicle and Apocalypse World so we were able to dive into the rules and setting quickly.
For the purposes of these recaps, I am not recording all the Moves and rolls (though I’ll be including some). The focus will be my preparations and how the story played out.
Obviously for the first session I did minimal preparation. I printed out Basic Moves sheets, my MC materials, and the playbooks. I included the Angel, Scholar, Neighbor and Revenant playbook as well which was perhaps a few too many options.
Next time I run this I might severely restrict the available choices. One I idea I have is to run an all vampire option for Kublacon where I omit the Vamp and give all the characters Eternal Hunger for free. I might also change the factions into clans instead.
On to the game.
After choosing playbooks, we worked out the stats, moves and began answering basic questions about the characters.
I’ll start with the Wolf. Anders, a Asian American day trader, spends his nights as a supernatural vigilante. He’s lived in Sacramento for 15 years, ever since his first change in college (he dropped out once he realized what he was). He’s not sure where the ‘curse’ comes from but his werewolf nature makes him a match for even a gang of criminals (He fights like a small gang). He enjoys the power the transformation brings though sometimes he loses control. Plus he transforms every night.
For his efforts, the hardworking people of his neighborhood treat him like their champion. They provide him information evenly regardless of association (Alpha Dog move). Even the local beat cop, Officer Harper, looks the other way in exchange for information on low-level criminals too small for the Wolf. In exchange the cop tells him what he knows about the big fish, those criminals who have escaped justice.
In terms of debts, he owes a wizard named Felix (2 debts). He was supposed to retrieve an artifact for him and instead broke it. He also owes Harper (1 debt) for covering up the murder of a ghoul belonging to a vampire named Conrad. For now Conrad doesn’t know.
Several other supernaturals live in his territory and benefit from his protection such as Kimiko, an apprentice wizard (owes him 1 debt). But the troublesome one is Leon (+fealty), an older African-American retiree, who vanished for a few weeks. Leon was only the latest in a long line of disappearances (+haunted) but he is the only one to return. One prominent example was a city worker who vanished while working on top of a telephone pole. For now Anders looks out for him.
Next up is the Veteran, Sam Redfeather. He used be the hero of the city but that was decades ago. Now he is an old man somewhere in his late seventies or eighties. A Native American with mystical leanings, he spends his days running his bar. He is helped by his bouncer, a female troll named Piper. Piper has pulled his bacon out of the fire many times over the past decade (and he owes her 2 debts). Despite his best intentions he keeps getting pulled into trouble (he has the move Too Old for This Shit).
Beneath the bar, he keeps a workshop with an extensive surveillance system both mundane and magical and a testing ground for whatever tools he needs to make. Also below the bar is a portal to another dimension. Sam killed the demon Adramelech decades ago who wanted to use that gate to reach hell itself. The Veteran has it altered to connect to hot nasty world that isn’t actually hell.
Sam is a native of Sacramento and loves the city. But he lost too much: time, friends and loved ones. Some died, others simply cut ties with him. One of his last connections is to his granddaughter Sandra Anderson, a high school student, who he dearly hopes to protect. Another young woman who he looks out for is Kimiko. He taught the apprentice mage about extraplanar threats (she owes him 2 debts). The tainted ex-mayor of the city, Alfred O’Malley, also owes him since he provided the demon a reference book on extraplanar personalities.
Finally we reach the Tainted, Alfred O’Malley, a middle manager in Hell’s Bureaucracy. Before he sold his soul, he was just another cog in the government. The deal catapulted him into the position of Mayor of Sacramento. As he was campaigning for a second term, the price came due. He was forgotten, his term and accomplishments wiped from mortal memory. Even his wife and kids don’t recall him.
He and his family have been in the city for decades.Now in his early 40’s, he sees his legacy in his children and he would die protect Julia (age 13) or Theodore (age 6). On most days, he finds his release in putting things in order but he still searches for some deeper meaning to his life.
He has many ongoing deals but he currently is protecting the pensioner Leon from the things that took him (he owes him 2 debts). His priest Father Callaghan keeps trying to save his soul but suffers for it (and he owes him 2 debts). Meanwhile he grows deeper and deeper in debt to his patron Mephisto, collecting souls and brokering demonic contracts for him.
In his demonic form he sports the classic horns and wings but in his mortal guise, he is unassuming, slightly overweight and wearing glasses. But he seems familiar, almost as if there are thousands of reelection posters decaying on walls across the city. If you owe him you can summon him with a word (through the Invocation move).
After character creation, we created rumors:
O’Malley picked the Wolf who told him that there was trouble with Power. The Tainted revealed that a circle of mages are organizing to control a section of the city. They call themselves the Cthonian Eye. Unfortunately as he visits his son’s school he finds his campaign posters marred with mystic sigils (He fails his +Power roll). He marks Power.
Anders distrusts O’Malley who informs him that Mortality has problems. The Wolf tells us that a new gang is moving into the area. These mysterious Asian criminals are pushing narcotics and extorting the locals. A local crook named Vince has told him some of their doings and demanded protection in return. (Soft hit on Mortality so they owe a debt to each other). Anders marks Mortality.
Finally Sam tells us about trouble with Night, urged by the ever untrusted Tainted. Restless spirits have been haunting an old graveyard due to a lack of reverence. (Sam also fails his roll and my dice are blamed). Sam marks Night.
Mortality: Mrs. O’Malley, Julia O’Malley, Theodore O’Malley, Leon, Sandra Anderson, Sam, Vince the reluctant gang member, Officer Harper a mostly clean cop, Father Callahan, and the as yet unnamed Asian gang.
Power: Kimiko a young and indebted wizard, Felix the finance wizard who seeks foresight; the Cthonian Eye
Wild: Alfred O’Malley, Mephisto (whose office is reached via the “invisible” button in the elevator); Piper the Troll
Night: Conrad and Anders
O’Malley watches his children from across the street. Julia and little Theodore walk past faded campaign posters oblivious to their forgotten father’s visage or the strange symbols etched in red sharpie.
Alfred notices the marks however and wanders over to examine them after they’ve left. He looks at the occult symbols, unable to determine their meaning. He decides to look for an expert.
He hits the streets and fails another Power roll.
Across town, Anders shifts some stocks to take advantage of short-term changes in the market. His messenger system beeps at him.
It’s Felix. The plutomancer brings up how Anders owes him for the artifact he broke. He needs the werewolf to do a job for him.
Felix tells him help clear an old cemetery of ghosts. He requests he arrive before dusk.
The lycanthrope agrees. Then with no other pressing work to do, he decides to investigate the site early in the day.
The graveyard lies near the north end of downtown Sacramento.
Weathered stones lean this way and that. Anders looks at the inscriptions. The most recent date back 40 years or more. But he also finds strange symbols carved into gravestones. Though he isn’t well versed in spells and rituals, he can tell someone is trying to realign the occult energies of the location. It is also likely they are going to anger a lot of dead people.
He succeeds on his roll to investigated a place of power. He marks Night.
He decides to call Kimiko for advice.
Sam glances at the security monitors behind the bar. The elderly mystic notices an altercation outside. The young wizard Kimiko waves a sacrificial knife at O’Malley, the former mayor and demon tainted.
He calls for Piper and asks the towering woman to bring the slender mage in before she gets herself hurt or hurts someone else.
Outside Alfred tries to calm her down. “I just had a question about these symbols,” he says waving a poster in the air.
Kimiko mumbles about needing to find Sam. She says he is the hero of this town and that they need to find him. Piper guides her inside into the back room of the bar. Sam is waiting and questions the young mage.
Sam quickly realizes she is possessed by multiple ghosts. The ghosts are upset because a group of wizards has desecrated their resting places. They want this rectified. O’Malley listens in from nearby.
Sam heads downstairs to find what he needs to exorcise Kimiko. Deep down under the city, he finds what he needs among the rows of trinkets and amulets. He decides against casting the spirits out here and resolves to take her to the old cemetery the spirits keep talking about.
He uses his workshop and I offer a choice of quick and dangerous to him or slow and careful.
While Sam gathers the necessary holy salts, Kimiko’s phone rings. Piper reluctantly picks it up and informs Anders that Kimiko is indisposed. Alfred snatches it from her hand and tells him what is going on.
Same returns and directs Kimiko to follow him to the cemetery. Alfred joins them. Meanwhile Anders decides to wait for everyone to arrive.
They arrive at the graveyard shortly before dusk. Sam quickly makes a ring of salt around the young mage and then casts the spirits out.
He keeps his cool and no one gets (re)possessed.
Kimiko blinks and asks how she got here. Sam questions her. The last thing the wizard remembers was walking a few streets over earlier in the afternoon.
O’Malley calls his boss, Mephisto, and fills him in on the situation. He gets the go ahead to make a deal with the ghosts. Then Hell’s Bureaucracy can act as legal arbitrators against mages.
Anders asks Kimiko about what the symbols on the graves mean. She explains they seem to be realigning the occult energies. When he asks about Felix, she gets skittish. It seems the wizard is attempting to establish a ninth cabal in the city, breaking the grip by establishment. He leads this nascent group, the Cthonian Eye.
Just then Felix enters the graveyard along with three disciples. Sam warns Kimiko to leave. As she runs off, Anders leans against a tree and watches the setting sun.
Sam steps forward blocking the progress of the Cthonian Eye. O’Malley joins him and points out that the ghosts have the right to this place. Felix calls his bluff on his supposed jurisdiction.
The wizards form a diamond and begin to chant. A grayish portal forms between them.
Sam tosses some of his salt into the eyes of a mage named Percy. Percy shields his eyes as best he can with his gray-blue jacket. Turning towards the old man he unleashes a blast of purple light that knocks the mystic back against a gravestone.
Sam Unleashes and fails.
As Percy returns to the ritual, O’Malley calls on his patron and transforms into a demonic figure complete with burning scourge.
He also fails his demonic form roll and gains another Debt to his patron.
The tainted lashes at Felix, disrupting his concentration and pulling him the ground.
O’Malley succeeds at his Unleash roll.
Caught in burning rope, Felix calls out to Anders for help.
The sun sets.
Instantly Anders transforms into a hulking man beast.
Eager to be free of his debts to the plutomancer, the werewolf leaps on O’Malley. As the pair of monsters struggle, Felix slips free and teleports to safety.
Anders gets a partial hit and the pair both take some harm.
Just then the remaining mages complete the rite. A gray triangular portal opens in the cemetery, spilling forth mist. As ghosts begin to reach out from beyond, Sam slips up between two wizards and grabs the protective amulets around their necks. The plump woman and blue clad man cry out in alarm.
I think I had Sam roll to keep his cool. He succeeds.
Instantly the ghosts reach out and grab them. They pull Percy through the portal while the others begin to strangle the woman. Anders leaps into the gateway to eliminate the ghosts while the final wizard, a tall willowy woman, teleports away.
As the werewolf claws at the now tangible ghosts, the tainted offers to save the remaining woman in exchange for her soul. She chokes out an agreement.
The Werewolf gets a partial success on his Unleash roll. He takes a little harm.
Alfred earns a Debt with his patron for completing a job.
As O’Malley pulls her to safety, Sam attempts to stabilize the portal.
Unstable and unmaintained, it collapses. Anders and Percy remain sealed on the other side.
Another Keep Your Cool roll failed.
That was it for the first session. Next time I introduce some new moves as various threats emerge and define themselves.