roleplaying games

After-action report: Urban Shadows, July 19th

A short session, but a doozy. We started with the session move, where everyone is given a faction to mark by the player whose character they trust the least. From that faction, the player offers up a rumor or conflict, and then rolls to see their involvement. A good roll and you get some new debts to cash in, a bad one and people are coming after you.

This move is a doozy in the early game…when there’s lots of whitespace around the factions and the city, the players can come up with pretty much anything and have it stick. This is both good and bad…good in that you’re continually adding depth and character to the setting, bad in that there’s a lot to keep track of. What made things a bit worse, though, was how the players rolled. On a partial or complete success, there are debts added to character sheets which can be addressed later. On a miss, though…the character has gotten wound up in the rumor somehow and someone’s coming after them. If this happens once, it’s a bit of a derail, but recoverable.

Three of the players missed.

So I tried my very best to wind these new players into the conflict that was already occurring, but things kind of went all over the place.

Sierra got a phone call from a distant relative, asking about Sun. It’s not clear why, but it looks like a group of wizards is coming together and looking for demonic influences.

Sun, after the near-fight with Scarlet which led to Eli escaping, left for the night to check on her daughter and cool her heels. Her apartment building showed signs of attempted forced entry, though no one made it inside.

Scarlet also decided to leave, but as a mortal agent went to check out the river where the ward was. She found a suspicious group of people wandering around the bridge, and was picked up by one of them. When the man who spoke to her, who had striking blue eyes, asked about Eli, she shared the story. The group, possibly oracles from the way the man spoke, may now be an ally of convenience.

Selan patrolled his territory, looking for Eli and anything else suspicious. What he found was the Banshee burning to the ground, with a group of hunters scrambling to hide their anti-demon weapons as the arson unit shows up. Around that same time, Scarlet is dropped off, seeing her meeting place on fire.

The session ended with Sierra, finally alone in her sanctum, going to her Focus Circle to find Eli. We leave on a vision of Eli sitting in a hotel lobby, suddenly aware that Sierra still has his wallet…

***

As far as sessions went, it was all right. I was out of it, others were out of it, and my attempts to pull everyone back from the edge of last time did not make it easier to pull the group together. As typically is the case, though, writing out the events of the session has made it more clear to me where things can go.

I am a big fan of the session move, despite the chaos it added last night. It means that every session we can immediately inject some involvement and flavor, which actually makes it a lot easier to run a game where as the GM you’re not supposed to have a plot. I am hoping that fewer players miss in the future though, both because of the disruption of having an instant subplot as well as the fact that gathering more debts leads to even more faction moves and advancement.

The biggest thing is that after two game sessions, a worldbuilding session and character creation, things are finally starting to gel. An entire city of supernatural inhabitants has a lot more moving parts than one apocalyptic settlement, and it’s a little more difficult for a group to take control over the writing when it feels like we’re talking about things that already exist. Still, Urban Shadows has a lot of good prompts to make sure that players own the proceedings. I’m looking forward to this one continuing, but it’ll be a lot of work on my part to keep everything straight and keep the players heading in the same direction.

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