Urban Shadows: Portals

In session two of my Urban Shadows game, I introduced the threats and moves I showed last week. The Wolf remains lost in the underworld while the Tainted and Veteran are left to pick up the pieces.

Our protagonists:

  • Anders, the Wolf is a supernatural vigilante. By day a day trader, at night he turns into a barely controlled killing machine. His territory is plagued by bizarre disappearances.
  • O’Malley became a Tainted through a deal that temporarily made him mayor of the city. Now forgotten by everyone, including his own family, he seeks work his way free of his “patron” Mephisto.
  • Sam the Veteran used be a mystical hero until he got to old, way too old. Now he runs a bar. Deep beneath it however, his old workshop holds powerful secrets.

Session 2: Portals

We skipped the start of session move since the PCs have enough trouble to deal with at the moment.

As the gray mists dissipate from the cemetery only three figures remain.

O’Malley helps a pudgy woman to her feet. Neema looks up at him nervously as he takes out a clipboard.

“This is the usual arrangement,” the demon explains, trying not to stare at the old scar next to her right eye. “Sign here.”

She looks to the old man nearby but Sam concerns himself with the symbols chiselled into the grave stones. Reluctantly she signs away her soul. The paper burns away in an instant, drawn off to the archives of Hell’s Bureaucracy.

O’Malley earns a debt from his patron for completing a job.

As she turns to leave, Sam approaches her and questions her about her role in all of this. She reveals that she and the other members of the Cthonian Eye are apprentices and journeymen whose advancement has stalled within the eight cabals of Sacramento. To move up, a wizard needs to wait until a position opens up above, a task usually taking decades. Impatient, they decided to form their own cabal and force the issue. As for herself, she is an expert in charms and magical ingredients.

As the men head back to the car, Neema calls a friend on her cell and vanishes.


We quickly establish that when Anders is transformed, he looks like your typical man-wolf and speak roughly like a human.

The hulking man-beast sniffs at the foggy air. The death scents of the ghosts have begun to fade everywhere in this gray realm stinks of the cold, rot, and sorrow.

“Are you okay?” Anders growls to the man on the ground.

“I’ll live,” Percy coughs out. “Help me up.”

Anders pulls the blue jacketed man to his feet with one furry paw. Percy grunts in pain and clutches his side. The werewolf helps the injured wizard along. They pass by the ruined crypts and stumble to a listing church. Flickering light leaks from its stained glass windows.

Anders lurks near the entrance. Inside he hears three voices. The smell of brimstone mixes with melting wax. Intrigued, the beast slips his head quietly past the rotting door.

Two of the figures face away from the door, addressing a golden-haired man named Akiva. Akiva winks at Anders but doesn’t reveal his presence to the others. The one of the left, Carter, possesses thick ram horns on top of his head. The other, Samuel, appears human. All three are well dressed.

The trio appear to be discussing a plot to shake up Hell’s Bureaucracy. Akiva mentions there has been an opening in a dukedom. Soon the demons will be fighting at every level to advance.

Anders investigated this place of power and marked Wild.

Anders pushes further into the room, alerting Carter and Samuel. Akiva motions his companions to go and greets the werewolf and the wounded wizard.

The other conspirators leave via the confessional. Akiva asks if he might help them return to the world of the living.

Though wary of owing a demon, Percy agrees. Anders nods his assent.

Akiva opens the confessional with a special key. On the other side they can see Ander’s neighborhood. They pass through.

And now both owe Akiva a debt.


Alfred follows Sam back to the bar. Concerned for the werewolf, the old man lights a candle to guide him back to this world. Meanwhile Alfred notices a large gathering in the main room.

I sort of forgot to give the candle some fictional weight.

Several mortals are avidly discussing the recent strange disappearances with a local parapsychologist. People have vanished in broad daylight, when turning a corner or just out of sight and in one case on top of a telephone pole. The locals are getting anxious. Only one person, Leon, has turned up after disappearing and he hasn’t been the same since.

Sam joins Alfred a moment later. He notes that his regular is getting attention not just from concerned citizens but also a familiar mage from the Cthonian Eye. The willowy woman doesn’t seem to notice them, absorbed in listening to the stories from her corner.

I should have put a face to a name.

O’Malley calls Leon. He has the old man run over what he recalls from his disappearance. When Leon only sputters out the same broken memories, the tainted presses him.

And cashes in a debt.

Leon’s voice sounds odd and disjointed as he related what he saw on the “other side”. There was music and statues. Fire spiralled through the air. Time didn’t pass the same there.

Leon snaps out of his trance, forgetting what he just said. He explains he’s had a lot of blackouts lately and he’s worried he has a brain tumor or something. After a little more questioning, Leon reveals he’s been drawing strangely disturbing pictures during his periods of missing time. O’Malley convinces him to send them to his office.

O’Malley thanks him and hangs up. Then he wanders into the crowd offering to help. Jacob, their spokesperson, accepts his assistance.

He then leaves to find someone who might know more.

Specifically he hits the streets and fails. That happens a lot this session.

Meanwhile Sam tells his staff to serve some more beers to the group before they disperse. The wizard lurks in the corner, turning her attention to her laptop.

A short while later, Kimiko enters the bar. She hurries over to Sam when she spots the woman.

Sam asks her who the wizard is. Kimiko explains her name is Christine and that she is a member of the Cthonian Eye. The young wizard also fills Sam in on the group’s background. They are disgruntled apprentices seeking to force their way into the upper echelons of mage society. He asks her to learn how they intend to do that.

She says she’ll need do some research to answer that question.

And work off a debt.


Elsewhere Anders watches the wounded wizard call Felix. From Percy’s side of the conversation, he hears that “she” went off to do her own research, leaving Percy to stumble back to the others. The werewolf gets the sense that the Cthonian Eye seeks some sort of recognition. The mage tells Felix that “they will never let her advanced, no matter what she finds.”

While Percy calls Uber, the werewolf goes hunting for criminals.

Along the way he notices a teen walking home late at night. The kid is totally absorbed in texting on his phone. But Anders can smell a strange scent in the air, something he’s never sniffed before.

Then suddenly the boy is gone. His cell phone clatters to the ground.

Anders goes looking for some trouble. Unfortunately the trouble he encounters is the Collector. I have him roll +Blood to react in time but he fails.

The werewolf jumps down to the spot where the teenager vanished. The conversation on the phone stops midsentence. Someone named Sandra asks if he is still there.

Anders picks up the phone in his jaws and bounds off in search for his cop friend.

A short search around the neighborhood turns up no trace of Harper so the werewolf looks for the local blood suckers to see what they know.

He fails in his Hit the Streets move. Twice.


O’Malley spots a few of Conrad’s dealers working a street corner north of Ander’s territory. As the tainted considers how best to approach the mortals, a group of Asian men in a rusty Honda Civic pull up and unload into them.

Conrad’s people flee from the gunfire and their assailants drive off.

As they tear down the street, he calls on his demonic form. Wings burst from his back and he flies after them.

They turn the corner quick, swinging into the path of a large hairy beast. Anders.

The werewolf struggles to get out of the way but the speeding vehicle clips him.

He fails a Keep Your Cool roll to avoid harm. I think I gave him 2-harm.

The demon uses the distraction to land on the hood of the vehicle, sinking his claws into the aluminum. The car bounces along with O’Malley just barely clinging on. On the side of the road, Anders picks himself up and bounds after them.

He got a soft hit on his Keep Your Cool roll.

While the werewolf trails far behind, the demon and the gang members pull into a warehouse by the docks.

Suddenly Alfred hears the sound of many guns being cocked and aimed at him. He whispers Mephisto’s name and disappears, leaving only a wisp of brimstone.

He invokes his debt with Mephisto to use the Invocation move. Thus teleporting away from danger.

Anders stops short of the warehouse. He can smell many people inside and the scent of gunpowder. The beast notes the street signs and runs off in search of his informant Vince.


At Sam’s, Kimiko returns to fill the elderly owner in on the Cthonian Eye and their plans. It seems the wizards harvested the old cemetery of its death resonance. With this mystical energy removed the ghosts who existed there had to move on.

As for the mages, this band of former apprentices intends to use the power to gain formal recognition from the eight cabals of the city, creating a ninth cabal and upending things in the process.

The rumors Kimiko discovered suggest they seek an artifact known as the Verge. Supposedly it could be used to see the future. After the Magus Manus was deposed (and rather violently punished), it was destroyed. But a reflection of it may linger in the Underworld and it could be summoned with the proper application of death energy.

To complete their ritual however, they would need more energy. The only unguarded location with the right resonance that either Sam or Kimiko can think of would be the grave of Tim the necromancer. He was major mover and shaker 50 years ago, thanks in part to a demonic pact he made with Hell’s Bureaucracy. They eventually called it in and he died.

Unfortunately, no one knows where he is buried, except perhaps the demons.

Sam though has another idea.

Kimiko works off one debt.


Anders clambers down to the third floor fire escape of an apartment building around the block from his place. Blood mixed with his saliva coats the cell phone in his jaws.

He knocks on the window to get Vince’s attention.

The scrawny man lets him in and the werewolf tells him about the disappearance he witnessed. In a deep growl he asks the criminal to crack the phone for him.

He cashes in his debt.

Then he limps off to home to sleep off his injuries.


Mephisto glowers down at O’Malley from behind his towering desk. The demon lord informs Alfred that his underling Akiva from two desks down managed to secure the required signatures from the ghosts. In exchange for their souls, Hell’s Bureaucracy agreed to enact revenge for them.

“That,” Mephisto says, “is your job.”

O’Malley nods and finds his desk. In his inbox is a stack of charcoal drawings. The tainted looks through them noting the scenes of people standing in stylized poses amid white columns and trails of flame. The images gain a strange depth as he studies them. A snatch of his wife’s favorite music wafts in the air, Flying Home by Ella Fitzgerald. A strange timelessness swirls about him and the image of a world where people are abducted via weak spots in reality.

This is using the custom move for the Passenger’s art. It is sort of like Opening Your Brain.


The next day, O’Malley decides to consult with the wizard Chetana about the disappearances.

He gets a soft hit on Hitting the Streets.

Chetana advertises herself as a fortune-teller but today the tainted finds her shop closed. With some persistent knocking he eventually forces her to answer the door. The elderly seer doesn’t know about the disappearances herself but knows that a rogue apprenticed named Christine Dey has been studying them. Christine is a member of the Cthonian Eye having left the Correspondence cabal. She apparently seeks faster advancement.

Then Chetana confides that she also has a problem. She was struck by a dart a few nights ago. Since then she hasn’t been able to use her ability to see the future. O’Malley agrees to look into that matter for her.

O’Malley’s next stop is Sam’s, thinking that old man might know something about this poison and the strange dimension connected to the disappearances.

Sam recalls something about such poisons but admits he would need a sample before he could brew a counter agent.

O’Malley then shares Leon’s pictures and his information on the disappearances, When the old mystic looks over the pictures, he also notices the odd effect. Something in the artwork calls to mind his granddaughter Sandra and the scar across her right eyebrow. A reminder of an ice hockey injury, the young woman is very self-conscious about it.

He tells O’Malley he could open a portal to this plane using the gateway in the basement. He would need something resonant with that world, something that had once been there.

The Passenger’s artwork move again in action.

Both the poison and gateway material come from Sam’s workshop.

O’Malley calls Leon and convinces him to come over.

O’Malley cashes in another debt with Leon.

A half hour later Sam leads O’Malley and an increasingly worried Leon down a long set of stairs deep beneath the bar. Behind them, Piper closes the place down for the next hour.

They pass many doors, some dusty and unused, others worn and scuffed up. Finally after an eternity, they reach a final door.

Beyond steel and wood gateway lies a large chamber containing an empty well. Electrical cables wind around the ancient stones and join at a strange mixing station.

Sam draws a circle on the ground and instructs Leon to stand within it.

The aged black man gulps and asks for a drink. “How long do I need to stand here?” he asks.

Sam ignores him and tunes the device to his frequency. Finally he approaches the well and cuts his hand. A drop of Sam’s blood falls to the well’s lip. Before it hits it strikes a strange vibration in the air, spilling out into a thin circle and revealing the gateway.

O’Malley takes on his demonic form, spreads his wings and dives into the well.


Several blocks away, Anders wakes up sore and still hurt. After a quick call to Vince he learns the minimal information he could extract from the phone. He stops by and picks it up.

Then he looks for Officer Harper.

He finds him doing his beat and hands the device off to him. He lets the officer know what happened so at least the cops can file a missing person report.

The werewolf heads to Sam’s but finds it closed. One of the bartenders, Wait, steps out and lets him know they’ll be opening again in an hour.

The other bartender is Kevin.

Anders shrugs and head to a coffee shop. As he works on some trades he finds his injuries slowly subsiding. Then the wifi for half the town stops.

Side effect of the portal. Also I let Anders erase 1-harm.


O’Malley beats his leathery wings through a strange realm of endless ivory columns. Occasionally a twisting flame snakes up or down in the gray void. Platforms of the same pale material extend unsupported from the pillars at odd intervals or float motionless in space. On each one or more people stand frozen in place.

The tainted swings up around one of the columns passing a tattered campaign poster for his reelection. Music fills portions of the air, sourceless and without theme. The sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, ancient Roman chants, and stranger tunes reach his ear as he flies higher and higher.

Then O’Malley spots motion above. Like a spider, an ivory colored creatures crawls down the infinite pillar. Its many segmented arms end in inhuman hands while its featureless head swivels to take in its surroundings.

Its gaze focuses on the O’Malley and it scurries towards him.

O’Malley addresses it and learns that the creature considers itself a collector. He finds the conversation hindered by the Collector’s ignorance of time. The past and future are the same as the present to it.

However some things do change here. Some of its collection has escaped and it wants them back. Alfred quickly makes a deal to return the missing items, like Leon, in exchange for its “soul”.

Then he flies back to the portal.


O’Malley returns to Sam’s workshop the instant after he left. The winged tainted lands gracefully and heads over to Leon.

As Alfred tells the retiree that he knows how to fix the situation with what is causing the disappearances, Sam rigs up a set of multicolored goggles.

The tainted steps away to call his boss and inform him of the plan, leaving the old men behind. Leon asks if he can leave the circle yet. Sam gestures him out as he scrutinizes his aura.

Sam succeeds on his Let It Out move.

In addition to the weak nervous aura of a mortal, Sam spies a swirling mass of multicolored light over Leon’s shoulder.

He address the unseen passenger, asking it if it could find another host.

Leon is momentarily confused then his gaze turns blank and he begins to mutter about not wanting to return and needing to something to tether it to this world.

Sam suggests a cat would make a nice pet. Small, stealthy, independent, and able to fend for itself.

Leon snaps out of his daze and thanks him for the suggestion. Then Sam leads him out.

Sam used Figure Someone Out to learn how to get the Passenger to move on.


Outside Anders decides to check Sam’s again. Along the way he spots Akiva…and a girl attempting to sneak after him. The smiling demon heads through an alleyway door and into someplace bright and shiny, leaving the entrance wide open behind him. The werewolf stops the tween before she can enter and asks her who she is.

“I’m Julia.”

Or Alfred’s 12 year old daughter.

With that we end the session. Anders and O’Malley gain an advance while Sam failed to mark anything new. Anders gets regeneration, The tainted needs more time to decide.

Looking over my notes, I found the name Pavel Bayer written down but unfortunately I’m not sure who they are supposed to be, perhaps Vince’s phone hacking contact.