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Urban Shadows Potluck Blog

Mar 25, 2019

As we came into the light from out of the Urban Shadows, we were successfully able to compile our thoughts from our Potluck into a convenient dossier for you alone, visitor.

We really like the spread of what kind of characters you can make with each playbook. Each of them have a coherent flavor. Playbooks like The Oracle aren't combat-oriented, but that pushes for more creative role playing. Noa thought the playbooks give interesting spins on fantasy tropes and pointed out The Wolf playbook for its unique moves based around their protection of a neighborhood and loved the Faustian bargain aspect of her playbook, the Tainted. Charlotte thought there were some interesting choices for the playbooks outside the regular tropes of Urban Fantasy and we pointed out there are additional purchasable playbooks available if you want to explore different options. Megan mentioned how the corruption helps balance out character types, giving you the option of being more akin to a poltergeist or a nicer ghost. Sally learned that through play rather than getting it right off the bat, but loved how the choices she made through play helped shape her understanding.

Getting deeper into mechanics, we agreed corruption doesn’t really work for one-shots because it matters more in a longer term campaign. Noa mentioned Corruption in general though is amazing and we love having the slippery slope that we can get sucked into the city. As characters get more desperate, they use corruption more and more. Sometimes it's fun to be a little bad. Comparisons were made to the sanity mechanic in Call of Cthulhu and the Doom track in Masks. 

The faction and debt mechanics help to further the game’s themes as well.  PVP is discouraged in games like Masks, and Bedlam Hall has specific PVP play, but we think that Urban Shadows is a good mix of both. You can both help and mess up each others plans. This is best characterized in the debt mechanics, which color your relationships in the game by what favors you do and what you owe each other. The lend a Hand/Get in the Way moves also help to further the grey area politics in the game. Noa mentioned how the characters play at a micro level but the city is functioning on a macro level, which can be both daunting and exciting.

Our table was divided on our opinions for the faction mechanics in the game. Some thought they are grouped together in a way that the factions function as a singular entity mechanically but there can be many subfactions narratively that can cause dissonance. Noa mentioned how the factions aren’t meant to be monoliths and the she thinks the faction moves are very good, especially the flavor of putting a name to a face.

Delving deeper into basic moves, Marquez felt like there were too many of them. While some agreed and some didn’t, we admitted that the formatting of the playbooks might have also been a trick of the mind where it feels like there are more than there actually are.

The vagueness of the Keep Your Cool move was noted upon. The move doesn’t have a significant storytelling trigger that provides an heavy agency for the player. We may have played incorrectly as the move seems best used when singular characters encountering terrifying situations which we agreed can be better explored probably in a less narrative podcast experience.

The Let It Out move was noted as being not as beneficial for mortal characters but can be used as a catch all move.

We all pretty much agreed that how the stats related to basic moves didn’t feel really intuitive and also the stats names felt strange in relation to what you were doing in game.

When it came to how you advance your character, marking factions didn’t really sit well with most of the table, but Noa gave a good argument about exploring the city and how it encourages world building by connecting advancement with actual experience. Megan noted how easy it is to forget to mark that as experience as opposed to the simplicity of failing a roll in other PBtA games. We all agreed, however, that it should be up to the entire table to remember move triggers and experience triggers. 

Ultimately we liked Urban Shadows and most of us would like to play more of it, though it’s completely understandable if it's not your cup of tea. If you are someone who likes to think politically about wheeling and dealing favors and avoiding falling into the moral morass of your own personal agenda, this game is up your dark and foreboding alley.

You can get Urban Shadows at: