Urban Shadows: The Ritual and the Poison

So at this point in Session 4 of my Urban Shadows game, I began seriously thinking about where I would end the whole thing. It was early January and my daughter was due in a few weeks.

Also at this point I also began taking better notes.

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. Recently he’s noticed some criminal gangs moving in.
  • 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. Now a young upstart named Akiva is trying to take his job.
  • 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.

The Ritual and the Poison

We open with the standard starting move, something I’d avoided for the previous two sessions.

Anders picks O’Malley as the least trustworthy. He tells the Wolf to mark Mortality. Anders relates how the word on the street is that the Asian gang is planning something big. He gets a soft hit on his roll. Father Callahan is involved in all of this trouble. Anders had to save him from the gang’s reprisals. The preacher in turn warned him that the criminals have turned their attentions on him. They owe a debt to each other.
In light of last session’s werewolf carnage, O’Malley and Sam agree Anders can’t be trusted. The wolf tells O’Malley to mark Night and Sam to mark Power.

O’Malley alerts us that the ghosts seek revenge on the wizards for what happened to the cemetery. After rolling a soft hit with Night, he relates that he told one of the cabals about this, specifically Dominic, head of the Mile Long Step (Christine’s old cabal). He owes the Tainted. Unable to determine why he would owe Dominic, I give him a debt owed to the faceless (literally) infernal secretary Mrs. Green who feeds him scuttle butt about Akiva’s plans.

Sam informs us that psychics across the city are having nightmares. He gets a hard hit. Luckily, Sam knows a ritual that will seal off the city to the collector’s realm, ending both the nightmares and the disappearances. He just needs enough spiritually powerful folk in one place.

Sam also earns a new Move: Hard Boiled.

We start with Anders at home a few days later.

Anders glances out his window at the street. Ever since Father Callahan warned him about the monster hunting gang’s change in priorities, the werewolf has been on edge. When is the trouble coming?

He turns his attention the strange jug he found in their hideout. When he shakes it something moves within. Something small and hard. He wrests the cork stopper out.

There is a knock at the door. He answers it, leaving the strange jar behind.

Vince greets him.

The “former” thief tells him that there are rumors this new gang is about to make a move. Anders describes his own encounters with them. After showing some pictures, he takes Vince to the jar. Something about the symbols on it reminds Vince of something but he can’t place what it is.

Anders upends the jug and discovers it is empty. Puzzled he let’s Vince go and calls O’Malley

In the background something small and black crawls up the wall.

“I expected more progress,” Mephisto tells O’Malley after his status report.

“I’ll seal the deal with the ‘Collector’ soon,” O’Malley assures him.

The office door opens and Akiva walks in with maddening grin.

He saunters up Mephisto’s desk and slides a newly signed contract in front of him. “We have another wizard willing to trade his soul for power,” he beams. “Didn’t even look at the collection options.”

Mephisto leans over and smiles. “You can go, O’Malley.”

The tainted politician walks out focused on the ashen carpet. Mrs. Green, Mephisto’s secretary, taps her pen as he passes. He looks up his eyes searching for purchase on her featureless head.

She points to the chairs.

Lukas scowls from across the room. “So he’s moving to usurp you too.”

“Not if our plan works,” O’Malley reminds him.

“Yes,” he replies slowly. “There has been a wrinkle. Mary’s Hellions are looking for a medium. I think they might have a plan of their own. We should be careful. I’ll let you know when I know more.”

In the backroom of Sam’s, the elderly mystic starts a prayer wheel spinning. Slowly the cylinder collects psychic energy, drawing those best attuned to it toward the bar.

I decided to let this just work without any special price. It advances plot and that was enough.

In the next hour a stranger and stranger cast of characters enter, often mystified, and are directed to the back room.

The crystal ladies come first, festooned with large chunks of quartz. The elder, a blue haired woman named Flo, rubs her rose quartz worriedly. Sam reassures her that they serve tea. The other, Kat, smiles at the old man and follows Flo into the private room, stylish blue gems swinging from her neck at each step.

Kimiko enters a few minutes later. The young mage tries stopping at the bar but slowly moves closer and closer to the back room.

A filthy man swatting at unseen creatures stumbles in afterwards. Using his special lenses, Sam spots spiritual parasites at work. He gently steers the addled psychic to the back room.

A trio of shaven headed cultists arrive at the hour mark. The two men and woman seem to be conversing from unseen figures. Ghosts according to Sam’s goggles. As they enter, his granddaughter Sandra stumble into them.

“Hello,” he tells them. “We are gathering in the back.” Quickly he explains his plan.

“We’d be happy to help,” the woman tells him. “Can we get some drinks for our assistance?”

“No free drinks,” Sam tells her.

They glumly agree to help anyway.

He turns to Sandra.

The roar of motorcycles interrupts him. Mary’s Hellions, led by their leader Jerome, pull up in front of the bar.

“Grab her,” he says pointing at Sandra.

“Stop Jerome!” Sam says. “This is my bar and my granddaughter.”

He puts a face to name and succeeds with a 10+. Jerome owes Sam for helping save him from some monster in the past.

The gang members pause in their advance.

“We need a medium,” Jerome snarls.

“You back off. You wouldn’t be here if I’d left you for the gator people.”

The biker scowls. He shouts to his team, “Back off. We’ll find someone else.”

Sam turns to Sandra. “Are you okay?”

She nods and he continues, “Good, now call you mother and let her know you’ll be late getting home. I don’t want her to worry.”

Sandra quickly calls home, telling her mom that she’s out studying. She turns to Sam. “You know Mom told me never to come here again. And never talk to you either.”

“I know.”

O’Malley approaches Leon’s apartment complex when his phone rings.

He picks up.

“I need your help with something,” Anders tells him.

“I’m a little busy. Can I call back in an hour?”

“Fine. Talk to you soon.”

O’Malley walks inside the creaky building. At the first door he knocks.

An old lady with a cane answers. “What do you want?”

“Mary Allen?”

“Yes,” she says, looking at him suspiciously.

He opens up the folder in his hand. “I think you know why I’ve come.”

She blanches. “What do, what do you need?”

“I need you to threaten to evict Leon unless he comes with me.”

Breathing heavily she hurries to the elevator. A few moments later (and some shouts) Leon heads down the hall, confused and scared, clutching a cat to his chest.

“What is going on? Why is Mary throwing me out?”

“You have to come with me.”

He leads Leon to his car and drives him to a featureless building downtown. No window or door mars its five stories.

This is Dominic’s sanctum.

O’Malley half drags Leon toward one wall. Before they disappear through the inviolable surface, the cat bolts.

Anders looks at his watch. What is O’Malley up to?

The wolf prowls his neighborhood searching for the stench of brimstone. He picks it up along with Leon’s scent of old candy and insulin. He also smells a cat and…something else.

He uses Bloodhound and succeeds at his Blood roll.

He follows the trail to Leon’s apartment. There the scent moves on but first he talks to Mary, convincing her to let him check out the apartment. He finds catfood on the counter and the stink of the otherworldly. He moves on.

Using Alpha Dog to smooth the Persuade roll.

The trail ends at a large featureless building downtown. The wolf examines it from every angle but finds no way in.

He visits a nearby sandwich shop and asks the man behind the counter about it. He thinks it is pretty strange also but tries not to think about it much. “Maybe there is a secret door.”

Anders dials Leon but his cell phone is out of range. So he buys a sandwich and waits.

Sam looks over his assembled psychics and medium. He can sense a lot of potential but not quite enough for the ritual. He gives the prayer wheel another spin and heads to the main room for the next arrival.

As he waits he is disturbed by a cat nuzzling his leg. Surprised Sam dons his goggles and notices the presence of the Passenger. He heads behind the bar and finds some milk.

Rather than drink it, the cat puts its paw in and begins dabbing on the floor. The drippings and smears form a picture, one that becomes more defined as Sam looks more closely.

Leon drops a realm of ivory pillars and frozen people. Something is waiting for him there.

For some reason, the image brings to mind how he lost his wife back in his “active” days. Another monster and another life lost. Sandra’s mother never forgave him for that. The dead and estranged haunt his past.

Using the Passenger’s move.

Leon and O’Malley head upstairs through the Escher-like structure. A large robed man intercepts them.

“Dominic,” O’Malley says. “I need your help.”

“How so?” the mage asks.

The former politician slides in close and whispers, “I need you to help return this man to the dimension he escaped from. You might find the destination interesting for your own studies.”

And he cashes in a debt.


Then O’Malley’s phone rings.

“Do you know where Leon is?” Sam asks.

“Um, yes,” he admits. “He is safe. I don’t have much time to chit-chat, I’m in the middle of a transaction.”

“Just make sure he’s tied down.”

O’Malley looks at a worried Leon and the circle Dominic has inscribed around him with his staff. “Oh, he is secure.”

O’Malley hangs up and fills Dominic on the rest of the story. The wizard reveals he’s heard something about this creature. There were similar disappearances 50 and 100 years ago.

Leon meanwhile struggles to escape the circle. “What is going on?”

“Don’t worry,” O’Malley tells him. “I just need your help with something.”

And he manages to persuade him to calm down (at the cost a debt).

Dominic attunes a summoning circle to Leon and opens a portal to the Collector’s realm. O’Maley grabs Leon and drags him through the portal.

With Leon begging to let him go, O’Malley delivers him to the spider-like Collector. He hardens his heart to Leon’s begging and in moments, Leon is frozen like the other statues.

He denies a debt and marks corruption.

“What about the second one?” the Collector asks, tilting its head improbably to the side.

“What other one?”

“The second one,” it repeats. “The far realm being.”

“I’ll be back with it soon,” he assures it, realizing why the cat acted so odd.

I think we put a face to a name here but I’m not sure.

O’Malley returns to Dominic’s sanctum. “I need you to find something. A far realm being in the city.”

“You’ll owe me for this,” the wizard says smiling.

Dominic now has a debt on him.

“Sure whatever.”

Dominic casts a standard scrying spell.

Then everything goes crazy.

Dominic grabs his head in pain while across town Sam’s antiscrying security system triggers. The portal, still open, waver and surges.

Sam pointed out his workshop has a security system and includes an antiscrying trap that delivers the essence of a hangover.

O’Malley reaches out to help stabilize it.

As he touches the wavering portal, he is consumed in hellfire and the whole building shakes.

He failed to Let It Out. So I dropped him into hell.

Outside Anders watches as windows and doors open up across the building. He rushes in.

Inside he finds dazed acolytes, smoke and fallen plaster. In the center, Dominic tries to staunch some blood with a scrap of his robe while unravelling the humming and churning portal.

“What happened?” Anders asks.

“That damn O’Malley had me look for some extraplanar creature. It was a trap.”

“Where is he?”

Dominic gestures to the portal which already shrinking and dimming. “He’s gone, teleported somewhere.”

Anders heads for Sam’s.

With the sun low to the horizon, Ander’s reaches the bar.

“Have you seen Leon,” he asks Sam.

“No. He might be in trouble however.”

Anders considers his options. Realizing his transformation is imminent, he heads into the alley next door.

A persistent meowing draws his attention. A cat crouches on some cardboard, scratching a pattern into it.

Anders can smell the strange scent about the animal as he approaches. On the cardboard he sees Leon trapped in a realm of pillars and flames. The image grows more defined, almost real. Somehow he knows the ruler of this realm spies across dimensions and snatches people who interests it. In some ways it reminds him of how he chose his hunting ground to target the city’s criminal element at its epicenter.

Again using the Passenger’s custom move.

Next we put a name to a face.

He regards the cat or rather the being possessing it. He recalls a similar creature, possessing a woman who could only communicate through symbols and images. A far realm beast.

The bar’s door swings open. Sam looks over as Vasquez enters phone in hand.

The technowizard nearly crashes into a patron as he argues with the phone. “No I’m out.”

“I don’t care that you got it.”

“Fine do the ritual. I don’t care.”

He hangs up and looks bewildered at the door to the back room.

Sam opens it and gestures him inside.

Vasquez takes a seat beside some old ladies drinking. “What’s going on?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Sam says before detailing his plan to use the group’s psychic energy to seal the city off from an extradimensional threat.

“But won’t that leave us drained?” the wizard asks even as some murmur their assent.

“For a short time,” the mystic admits.

In two and threes the various mediums and psychics agree to help until Vasquez is the only hold out.

“I’ll help,” the technomage admits. “But this is a favor.”

In other words, you owe me a debt.

Sam begins to light the incense and describes what everyone needs to do.

The sky burns above O’Malley as he stands on the edge of an endless abyss. Below layers and layers of damned souls scream in torment.

The tainted politician spots a scrawny demon nearby cataloguing souls in an endless line.

“Hey!’ he calls out.

“Head to the back of the line,” the bored reptilian figure says.

“No, I’m not supposed to be here. I work for Hell’s Bureaucracy.”

The demon perks up and looks at him. “Oh, I see. You should head up to level 7. Go to the main office. Lookout, they have a bit of a backlog at the moment. Only a century or so I hear.”

As the demon turns back to his work, O’Malley gets in his way. “No I need to get back now!”

He then fails to Intimidate.

“Sir!” The demon shouts, swelling with each word. “If you must act like that I’m afraid I will need to send you further up.”

Now two stories tall, the demon grabs O’Malley like a toy and hurls him into the burning clouds of diamond shards above.


After an eternity of agony, O’Malley finds himself seated in Mephisto’s office. His boss glowers down at him.

“I don’t like retrieving underlings. I think you need to conclude some projects and fast.” He slides a sheaf of papers over. “Conclude these deals.”

O’Malley picks up the infernal contracts.

As he reads, Mephisto continues. “Akiva made a deal for Vasquez’s soul. Get it. The business with the ghosts also needs concluded. Enact revenge on the wizards who evicted them from the cemetery. Lastly…well you wanted to get ahead of your rival.” Mephisto smiles. “He’s after your daughter’s soul. Get it first.”